tiny people don't need scarves

My three year-old cousin informed me this weekend that "Tiny people don't need scarves." When he told me, he used his "Matter of Fact" face where he rolls his eyes over to the right corners of the lids and and slightly cocked his jaw to the left.

Duh, people.  Tiny people don't need scarves.

They don't have much of a neck to keep warm and fashion is not the concern of tiny people.  Cowboy boots and train sets occupy the minds of tiny people. At least tiny people of the male variety. I think the female kind focus on princess power or something. Scarves are clearly a sign of lost perspective.

Being around a tiny person gives this not-so-tiny person some perspective on more than just scarves.

First of all, sentimentality is for suckers. After Christmas dinner, we watched a family video from Christmas 1984 in which The Cabbage Patch Dolls came to town. Watching my toddlerself argue with my family about my doll's name was hilarious to everyone over the age of three.  The three year-old can't stand to watch it because it hits far too close to home. He has to argue with adult every day just to get a little extra playtime with the train set.

Second of all, words have lost their meaning. The tiny person in my family has a nasty habit of saying, "I don't like you" when he's not getting his way. Except that it rarely garners the reaction he desires. We laughed at him and said, "Too bad." And then he went to his room for time out. I wonder what would happen if I adopted his tactics with the not-so-tiny people in my life.  Especially if I pronounced it like a tiny person, "I don wike you." Maybe if I furrowed my brow, they'd know I meant business.

Lastly, despite the tendency of in some Christian Christmas conversation, I think family is the focus of the holidays. In the incarnation of God in the Christchild, humanity was given a new meaning, a new hope, a realization of forgiveness and mercy. Tiny people bring new meaning, hope, and mercy into many families. When my cousin was born, our family was freshly grieving the loss of my grandmother--the most recent of many significant losses. Our losses weren't punctuated with hopeful happenings, but took on the character of a firing range, one after another after another. His arrival was the signpost of change (albeit, surprising and challenging to his parents). Family is a place where we experience grief, hope, anger, and joy in its most carnal forms. It's only natural that we celebrate the Incarnation of our Savior with our family.

Even those horrid pagan celebrations that drum up all the enthusiasm for the presents, pie, and jolly elving remind the observers that there is more to being human than food and stuff. We are beckoned home for the holidays, to be with faithful friends, to put aside our failures to be perfect (namely, in the form of a nose so bright) to stick a hand out to someone in need. The underlying current, despite its commercial wrappings, is the hope for new meaning and forgiveness. Sometimes the wrapping is distracting, but the tiny person in my life reminds me that mostly it's a vehicle to get me home.

Home for the holidays is so much more than a place, a theological idea, or a group of people. It is a scarf-less place where everyone is warm and free of fashionable concerns. When we are home, our tiny hearts are filled with hope, convinced that we are loved by someone much greater than us.


known sickness

When I was a younger sort of girl, I frequented the camp circuit throughout the summer. If I was home for more than five consecutive days, my sanity became questionable. I loved adventure. I loved meeting the new. I scoffed at those who were homesick. I didn't need my mom or my safety blanket or the chirping of a certain kind of cricket in my windowsill. Homesickness is for the weak and wobbly.

October was difficult for my older sort of girl self. I spent a good part of every weekend praying for people somewhere else, dreaming about the memories they were making, the laughs that they were sharing, the joy they were creating. I distracted myself as best I could. I surrounded myself with laughter and food and beautiful sights and even some hefty homework assignments. But as much as I tried, I was plagued with the longing to laugh with someone who has also shared my tears, borne my exasperation, and held my hand when words failed. Laughter is magnified with it knows pain.

This longing feeling gnawed at me through every weekend and into the weeks in an unsettling way. I was happy in my new home. I was thankful for the blessings of house, and school, and work, and friends. I didn't want to return home--home is full of its own challenges and its own problems. I wasn't sick for home. But I was sick.

I was sick to be known.

Known-sickness is the heartbreak I feel when I long to be with someone who just knows. It isn't the need to be in a certain place, but is the need to say four words (like, "remember loud laugh boy...") and receive a perceptive nod in return. The void can happen anywhere--your hometown, your college dorm, your new home. Its struck me in places I've lived for ages in moments of acute loneliness.

Feeling unknown tears at my inner self. I question if I am knowable, if I am worthy to be known, if I am inaccessible to my friends. I believe that it is known-sickness that drives us to unhealthy relationships and excessive hours in darkened rooms. If I can't be fully known, I want to maintain a façade of known-ness or give up trying. 

I don't have a cure or remedy for known-sickness. It comes and goes in my life. This time, it eased with an acknowledgment of its existence, explaining it to those who know me and those who don't, and in creating new definition of known. Knowing me is not understanding the abyss of my emotional landscape. Knowing me, knowing you, is acknowledging that we probably won't journey through all things together, but we can love one another anyway: acknowledging the limitations of knowing, embracing what we do know, and creating a new known together.


don't make me leave my tacos

A disclaimer: this post is not about one of my catastrophically hilarious adventures on a bike. I haven't climbed on yet today, so the day still has potential.

I find it terribly easy to get focused in life. I want the perfect handouts for a presentation. I want to finish writing this essay and I want to edit it six times. I want to research all of the best Mexican restaurants in Durham and eat at all of them. If I want it, I give you my half-hearted blessings to attempt to convince me that I don't. I'm not changing my mind and I will convince you that it is in your best interest to want it for me, too. And then I am going to do it.

There are million and ten unhealthy points to this focused behavior. Potentially, there are an equal share of healthy ones. The point isn't really the health or unhealth of focused behavior, but that it exists in me and I can't get rid of it. Deep within the way I am wired is the potential to make people feel like they are interrupting my life's important work. This is a problem.

It has become especially problematic in my life because I recently moved away from a horde of solid and amazing friendships. They are friendships that are meaningful and important and that I hope to nurture, except that there are papers, Mexican restaurant scavenger hunts, and new friendships in need of attention. I don't function well with divided focus.

With this in mind, I have been pondering what it means to have a goal with the capacity to be interrupted. That is, the goal is designed to be flexible and malleable enough that it can be interrupted by a friend's goal or need, a Vietnamese food excursion, or bicycle catastrophe.

What does it mean to anticipate others' needs and life without anticipating the actual content of their needs or the change that life brings? How can I build within me a capacity to be interrupted, an ability to stop, listen, and respond even if my tacos are getting cold? 

Am I patient enough? Am I generous enough? Am I loving enough?

I can try. I can try.


some pretzels aren't very tasty

This blog is quickly devolving into a "Things that Happen on  Bike when Alaina is on it" Blog. Let's face it, most of my life is spent in lecture halls and libraries. The most interesting things happen when I am getting between my home and school. Until the clamoring for posts on the Christian exercise of power becomes too loud to ignore, I'll stick with the humorous end of things.

Today was going to be just another day on the bike. Except that somewhere between home and school, I hit a bump.  This bump caused my newly purchased bike headlight to bounce out of the pocket of my backpack (how does this happen?!) and onto the street. I quickly slowed, turned around, and reached to grab the light from the ground. Then, my bike collapsed on me. In the absence of an image (Praise GOD!), let's settle for a word picture: I became body-bike pretzel.

In case you are worried for my safety, I have half a brain and waited until the cars passed to do anything about any of it. I also turned my face towards the houses so that in the off chance that one of the 50 people I know in this town happened to pass me on the road in that moment, there would be no possibility of recognizing me. Priorities, people.

If all that wasn't enough, a bolt/screw/fastening device loosened and, when I hit that bump, my handlebars rotated about 75º. While not humiliating, this poses a few safety concerns, such as, I can't reach my brakes. Don't worry, a little Allen Wrench action saved the day.

True confessions: I learned, just today, that those little L-shaped metal pieces that you use to put together IKEA furniture are called Allen Wrenches. Who knew?


it makes me want to line dance

Fall has finally come.

It is gorgeous...

...and beautiful

And it makes me want to line dance?


puttering toward beauty

I puttered behind two dear old friends on our hike. There were moments and images to capture with the camera. The peace of the forest reeled me into its silence. As I puttered, I saw this:

Words from the past haunted me. They made me smile.
Life is no longer a collection of all-too-short walks shared with others, but an opportunity to marvel at the beauty created in and around each person who travels beside me for a moment.


bike riding isn't always glamourous

I started taking a new route home from school on my bike. It's less trafficky, the hills are easier, and the view is especially beautiful.

As I peddle up the residential streets on this route, I bike towards the middle of the lane. I'm rather petrified that a car driver turning onto the street won't see me if I bike too far to the right. The street is wide, so I'm not preventing cars from passing me.

Today, my theory proved correct. A driver saw me coming towards the intersection, waited for me to pass, and then began to take her turn. It was all fine and good, except that there was a car behind me that she failed to notice. The second car driver honked but the turning car continued to turn. The honking continued and I peddled faster thinking that I had done something terribly wrong. The two cars drove parallel to one another as I peddled in front of them praying they would resolve their dispute before reaching me.

I nearly fell off my bike in fear.

Not only would that have been painful, but incredibly awkward. You see, as I climbed onto my bike minutes before, I suffered the embarrassment of a hem-to-zipper seam split in my skirt. I determined that if I didn't get up off of my bike seat, no one would know. No standing to peddle up hills or to move faster.

The drivers figured it out and they zoomed past me. I didn't have to reveal my seam split. Embarrassment averted.

Of course, when I reached the only four-way stop of the route, I fumbled on my peddles and held up traffic for a good ten-seconds.

Bike riding keeps me humble. 


spider bite dreams

Over the weekend, I had an extremely vivid dream in which I woke up to discover that a small spider bite on my leg (that I had in real life, not only in subconscious dreams) had festered and grown severely problematic. The dream was so vivid that when I actually woke up, I had to check my leg about twenty times to ensure that the bite hadn't actually grown stiff red and blue veins and that I wasn't in need of an emergency room visit. It was so vivid that when the image of the festered bite comes into my mind's eye, and it does so often, it makes me shudder and squirm.

I've had my fair share of survival dreams and epic dreams featuring strange people of the past, but few of these dreams have haunted me as this spider bite has haunted me. I can't get it out of my head. It is always there, at the tip of my thoughts, waiting to excised from my leg. I even googled (and stared at) disgusting images of real spider bites to convince myself that it was just a dream, that my dream bite was nothing like an actual infected and festered bite. No matter what I've done, I can't get it out of my mind.

I can't help but wonder at what it means. I can't help but wonder if there is something festering in my life. Something that is primed for excision. Something that began inconsequentially and without my awareness and has quickly become dangerous and threatening to my very being.

I have to admit, I'm a little scared.

Also, grossed out. Spider bite images are nasty.


the things that are

Moments that surprise us, that take us off guard, are almost impossible to remember.

Maybe it is that we don't really try to remember less surprising moments. Maybe it's that our brain can't move quickly enough to create a reference point for all of the disarmingly new information that comes with surprise.

Sometimes we want to remember and we forget. Other times we don't want to forget and can't remember. And in yet another separate category are the things we cannot wish to remember or forget. They mar our thinking with in a way that is unsettling or painful but that is changing and significant. They are the things that are. Let me explain.


Yesterday, I went for a run with a friend in the early hours of the morning. We ran on a public trail, a nice flat rails-to-trails project that winds through Durham neighborhoods. No traffic, few people, lots of quiet.

On our return route, there was some distinct rustling in the brush. My running partner was being very observant, looking back multiple times to check out the noise. His attention gave me permission not to worry about it. In retrospect, this was not a very wise decision.

Suddenly, my running partner shoved me. Hard. I don't really like to be startled, so I screamed. By the time I realized there was an enraged pit bull charging us from behind, my running partner was facing off with the dog.

I don't remember how long it took for the dog to go away. I don't remember where the dog went. I don't remember. I do remember how fast my heart was beating and that the last mile of our run was much quicker than the previous. I remember feeling thankful that I wasn't alone and that my running partner had the somewhat random knowledge of how to get a dog to back down.

I don't necessarily want to remember the dog charging us or snarling at us, but I don't want to forget it either. There is value in knowing the fear of gnashing teeth. There is value in knowing my life and limbs are not my own. There is value in feeling reliant on the knowledge, strength, or protection of another.

To forget the snarling scary dog is to forget the lessons he taught me. I don't want to remember him, but I don't want to forget him either.  He is a memory that is.


a prayer for the day

God be in my head and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes and in my looking.
God be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
God be at my end and in my departing.

--John Rutter, 'God Be in My Head'


the temptation to cry

I sat at my dining room table for several hours this evening. I should still be there, but my fingers are asking me for some exercise, as if five hours of lecture note pecking wasn't actually exercise.

As I sat there, reading page after page on cultural change, my life began to change with a series of minor interruptions. A phone call from my sister reminded me how this newly created distance disables me from helping her with the many things on her plate. A series of text messages from a beloved former coworker that reminded me that my church home is no longer my weekly resting place (or my daily work mill). Unanswered phone calls to friends leading to trailing voice messages about nothing in particular made me wonder why I'd called in the first place.

I sat at my table and the temptation to cry set in on my lower lids.

My heart is filled with the joy of new friendship and beginnings and even a new view of bike riding. But somehow it is simultaneously heartbroken that I won't get a hug from my dearest friends tomorrow night and I won't cook a meal with my sister this weekend. It seems the vastness of this opportunity to learn and grow (and read my brains out) is juxtaposed with an deeply ambiguous loss. It is a loss not rooted in death, but in the uprooting of life and the withering of many once-vitalizing roots.

The temptation to cry, to mourn, to acknowledge my sorrow was quickly set aside. Not only did I remind myself that I still had many pages to go, but I remembered the root that really matters has refused upheaval more times than I can count. Though I've lost many roots, the one of greatest strength remains. 


are you in or are you out?

Today, I sat in Duke Chapel (it's a grand sight) and listened to Dean Richard Hays share a homily on a gospel lesson I can't remember. I can't remember it because I was lost in an intense and nearly impenetrable daydream.  It wasn't that I wasn't paying attention, I was merely lost in applying his words to an image that I'd left for the dust on the shelves of my mind.

Hays asked the listening crowd, "Are you in or are you out?" And with his question, I was gone. The image of a fork in the road appeared, the same fork that I had seen over ten years ago on a late night in Spain.

Just prior to leaving for Spain, I had a crisis of faith during which I decided that I didn't have any use for a god that would let my brother die and leave me to sweep up the pieces of my family. I was out of the church and off to Spain.

My time in Spain was rudderless. When I arrived, I had no language to express myself, no mother to force me to church, and no friends with whom to vent about my mother. This changed over the course of my time there, but my early months were deeply introspective and lonely. I survived on sheer stubbornness and some of the best food I'd ever tasted. All that time in my head stirred a series of existential questions that most people wait to ask until they are in college or later or never.

I was lying in my darkened room one night waiting to fall asleep when those questions began shoved their way into my thoughts. I wondered, like many 17 year-old girls, what I was going to be when I was older and what I was going to do for fun. And then the fork in the road appeared. My mind traveled through the two options before me. To follow Christ down the path of righteousness or to follow my own seemingly brilliant thoughts and ways down the other road. Neither path was very appealing. Neither screamed "Walk this way" like Steven Tyler is so apt to do. I was smart enough to know that following Christ meant suffering and following myself meant falling on my face.

I didn't choose a path or answer Hays' question that night. I somehow flipped onto my side and fell asleep. But the image haunted me for days and months and ultimately (in combination with several other sleepless nights and weighty conversations) led to my reaffirmation of faith in Christ. Today the image is no longer frightening and dismal, but an encouragement that I am not finished here. I am in, on Christ's path, struggling and surviving on his sheer stubbornness and the best food I've ever tasted.

Though, somehow, his stubbornness is considered a virtue.


everyone's a sweetheart

One of my favorite things about living in the south is that everyone is a sweetheart.

Checking out at Walmart? You're a sweetheart.
At a business office filling out piles of boring paperwork? You're a sweetheart.
Signing insurance papers? Thanks, honey.

This makes me dread the DMV slightly less.


perhaps I will be walking

Due to the cost of parking, the lack of parking, and the close proximity of school to home, I made the idealistic decision to bike to school.

Today, I biked the route to school and nearly died.


Oops, got lost.

Tires not actually filled, despite several attempts.


Feeling more out of breath than when I run up hills, much bigger hills.

Sweat so profuse I was too embarrassed to walk into the employment office to fill out some paperwork. (It was paperwork enough to line my entire way back home, I believe.)

It took me an hour to work up the courage to bike home.

And then, as if the whole incident were a story about a bad day, it rained.


where life is leading

Last week, I met my new life. For a first date, it was pretty stellar. New life and I had emailed and even briefly talked on the phone, and I felt fairly confident about our future successes. Yet nothing matches the intensity of getting on an airplane and staring at a a baggage carousel knowing that new life is standing outside of the door, waiting to meet you, loudly and inescapably.

We only spent a few short days together. We wandered around together a lot, in and out of buildings, eating meals, listening to each other, sharing truths about any life, and getting excited about the impending time when "new life" is just plain life. I stared off into space more than normal and wondered if new life will like me as much as I am liking it.

I was overwhelmed by the clear blessing new life has set out for me. New life has roommates full of zest and passion. New life has libraries galore. New life has short distances between home and school and work and play. New life is exciting, different, and humid (then again, so is current life. Sigh.).

New life has some serious challenges and does not set out to be a cake walk. I'm not entirely convinced that I deserve new life, but I've never been convinced that I deserve current life either. (Deserving is tricky word from the roots. I suppose I should I avoid it.) I bought a t-shirt declaring my entrance into new life, but when I put it on, it scared me. I never actually imagined new life actually happening. I imagined multiple others, but not this one. This one was a pipe dream, but now it isn't. It's real, happening in a few short weeks.

Deep breaths and prayer are my friends.


how to throw an artichoke party

I am certain, beyond a doubt, that you have been dying to throw an artichoke party. So anxious to do so, in fact, you have been lying awake in bed pondering the potential awesomeness of such a themed party.

Have no fear. I have all the party-planning details RIGHT HERE.

Step 1 Have awesome friends. Their awesomeness can been enhanced if you prime them with several years of inane themed parties (think: Caribbean Christmas! Godfather Movie Marathons! Port Party!).

Step 2 Develop a reputation as a reliably good cook. Where there is food, friends will come.

Step 3 Don't over plan. Truly insane ideas should come out of left-field and at the last minute so no one will have a chance to question the insanity.

Step 4 Send out crazy instructions. FriendAmie was responsible for ours:
Please bring the following:
  1. your favorite fact about artichokes - it will be required for entrance
  2. a dish that somehow involves artichokes and is delicious
  3. at least one play on word joke involving artichokes. please wait for the appropriate time to share.
  4. an artichoke inspired outfit (optional)
Please do not bring the following:
  1. disdain for themed parties. you should know by now that if you are friends with Alaina, you have to embrace themed events.

Step 5 Have truly great friends that will decorate cakes with artichoke effigies:

    Yes, that is an artichoke cake. Actually it was a delicious white cake filled with KUMQUAT icing!

    Step 6 Have hilarious friends that will drive around town to find rare Italian artichoke liquor.

    For the record, it was disgusting. But the stuffed artichokes in the background were pretty tasty.

    Step 7 Enjoy all of the stupidity and fun with those great friends. (Our hosts rigged up a backyard screen and projector where we watched The Wedding Singer. There weren't any artichoke references, but you can't beat root beer floats on a late spring night accompanied by the 80s best attempts at music and Adam Sandler.)

    We had such a good time laughing about artichokes that we are dreaming up our next odd food tribute party. Ideas? Best suggestion wins an opened bottle of Cynar!


    gonna do it anyway

    I am slotted to run in the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half-Marathon this weekend. By "slotted," I mean that I paid big bucks (err, big for me) for the registration cost and reserved a hotel and made plans with equally insane family members and.....

    The forecast is screaming thunderstorm all weekend. I have weather.com trained to tell me if my workouts are going to be comfortable outside and it is clearly screaming "NOT" for Sunday morning.

    Am I scared? UBETCHA.

    Am I gonna do it anyway? I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am. I'm telling myself that I am.


    fighting the not-good-enoughs

    I don't care who you are or what you've accomplished in life, the not-good-enough demons have struck you.

    At least, I know that they have struck my closest friends, my dearest family, and me one-thousand time over. I can sometimes sense their impending arrival like the darkening, dampening, and still pre-storm sky. Then always suddenly and surprisingly they are there, shouting at the top of their lungs in my very voice, that I have yet to do anything good enough. (Question: How did they perfect that voice imitation? And can I go to that acting school??)

    Theologically, it's true. It was the not-good-enough demons that locked Martin Luther in his personal despair, confessing for hours upon hours in his young monastic life. The reality of being human is that some of our noses are big and crooked, some of us can't sit to read a book if it killed us, and others have the coordination of Steve Urkel. We aren't good enough.

    I'm not good enough. I'm just... not.

    But that's only telling half of the story. The other half is the supernatural part, the part that exceeds all expectations of good-enough.

    I have to remind myself that it is because of the not-good-enoughs that Good Friday ever came to pass. Peter had a serious bout of the not-good-enoughs on Good Friday. He walked away from his friend, the guy he was pretty sure was the Messiah. Not only was he guilty of denying the faith, he was a bad, not-good-enough friend.

    Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus made breakfast on the beach with the disciples. Jesus sat with Peter and he didn't rehash the denial details. He didn't get in on the salacious gossip of who else hid in fear. Jesus looked forward. Jesus looked at Peter in love, in his eyes he saw good-aplenty. Jesus saw in Peter a man ready to share that good-aplenty. Jesus refused to hear the not-good-enough voices and trusted Peter to feed his lambs.

    Thank goodness, John told us that story, told ME that story. I will likely never be good enough by my carefully constructed self-standards, but I trust that God's view of my worth has little to do with me and everything to do with The Good-Aplenty.


    don't whore out my human rights

    Yes. I said that. And I meant it. Because I am A-N-G-R-Y. Because I read this. Did you know that vacation is a human right? It is in Brussels.

    Maybe I sat through one too many U2 concerts in which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was read.

    Maybe I know too well that actual human rights are violated on a daily basis right underneath our self-righteously entitled noses.

    Maybe I think that the concept of human right, though a secular conception, has a sacred value, a value bestowed upon us when we were created in the image of the living and eternal God.

    When we declare the right to vacation a human right and deem it equal to the right to freedom of thought, right to life, liberty and security of person, and the right to be free from slavery or servitude, we demean the value of human rights. We demean the plight of those whose rights are violated. We demean what it means to be human.


    deafening silence

    I can't breathe due to the overwhelming amount of pollen in the air. Things aren't actually silent in these parts, more wheezy and hacktastic. During this silent but wheezy time, I checked two things off of my mighty life list.

    #49: Seeing Chuck Berry: Live the Duck Room

    The experience was the most endearing musical treat. An elderly man, well past his prime, donning his sparkles and his sailor cap, singing his famous music with old friends, family, and a room full of adoring strangers. Saint Louisans, buy your tickets. You won't regret it. Legends don't live forever.

    #5: Bike the Missouri Wineries along the Katy Trail

    I cajoled a large group of friends to undertake this 28 mile adventure with me. We worked our hineys off to get to each place, but the memories we made will be precious to me forever. It was an amazing day of beautiful weather and a testimony to the friendships I have in St. Louis. The picture doesn't speak to its glory.

    I don't have the funds to plan any of my travel items, so I am brainstorming things I can make to get closer (albeit only slightly) to my goal of making 1000 wonderful things. Suggestions are welcome. I am reading The Infinite Jest which has 1000 pages each of which require the energy to make one wonderful thing. Perhaps if I finish, we shall call it even?


    grieving the impossibilties

    There is a strange side-effect to making a dramatic life decision:

    Grief over the choices not taken.

    A buyer's remorse, so to speak.

    Within excitement, there is doubt and fear and a general "just shut-up about it" feeling.

    I need to grieve in peace.

    While much is gained, much is lost.


    looking like a loser

    On the cross, he looked like the world's biggest loser: someone who claimed divinity, being shown up by a bunch of haughty religious leaders and a swarm of soldier punks.

    On the cross, he was weak, mocked, dying.

    And still somehow, his heart burned with compassion for the people. He asked that they be forgiven. He offered freedom to his fellow crucified. He knew what no one else knew: power doesn't win.

    Love doesn't exert power over others. It serves those whose need is great. Love is sacrificial and difficult.

    Ultimately, love brings a new kind of victory. A victory that has defeated the need to be powerful. A victory that celebrates the beauty of sacrifice.


    a lenten hymn

    I love the song Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.) by Monsters of Folk.

    It struck me while listening to it this week, it sounds a bit like something like the prayers of the church in Lent. You can play the video for the sound and read along.

    Dear God, I'm trying hard to reach you
    Dear God, I see your face in all I do
    Sometimes it's so hard to believe in
    Good God I know you have your reasons

    Dear God I see you move the mountains
    Dear God I see you moving trees
    Sometimes it's nothing to believe in
    Sometimes it's everything I see

    Well I've been thinking about,
    And I've been breaking it down without an answer
    I know I'm thinking aloud but if your loves
    Still around why do we suffer?
    Why do we suffer?

    Dear God, I wish that I could touch you
    How strange sometimes I feel I almost do
    And then I'm back behind the glass again
    Oh God what keeps you out it keeps me in

    Well I've been thinking about,
    And I've been breaking down without an answer
    I know I'm thinking aloud but if your loves
    Still around why do we suffer?
    Why do we suffer?


    crud and the Christ

    Following Christ is easier said than done especially in our day to day lives. We have meetings and games and concerts and homework and more meetings and more games and practices and more homework and then it is bed time.

    I feel this pressure to be busy, to live a life filled with all kinds of things that promise to make me a better person, a better runner, a better Christian, a better version of me.

    Those things we do aren’t bad by themselves, but they will never fulfill their promises 100% and they often distract us from following Christ and serving his kingdom. The things filling our lives are no more than a snickers bar—filling us up, but getting us nowhere nutritionally. No wonder I need a caffeine run at 2pm just to stay awake with life. I'm filled with unsustaining crud.

    Jesus lived a life full of service. Sure, he jumped from place to place (have you read Mark lately??) but not with the intention to make himself better (he didn’t much need that) but to point to his Father.

    Are you pointing to the Father? Have you let go of the need to be a better version of yourself and focused in on pointing to Christ?

    We have been forgiven of our failings, we are free of ourselves.

    Now, let’s truly live—embracing the freedom, filling life with free things, sustaining things and things that bring freedom to others.


    mighty life list

    I like to read Mighty Girl (Maggie Mason)'s wanderings through completing her mighty life list. It's fun and it inspires me to take joy in random adventures in life. I made a life list this summer and have crossed a few things off the list. Here's the list as it stands today. (I'm all for additions and deletions over time; goals change!)

    Alaina's Mighty Life List
    1. Have photo taken by noah kalina or scott schuman or someone just plain amazing
    2. sail the Grecian Islands
    3. attend graduate school full time
    4. successfully manage finances
    5. bike the wineries along Katy Trail
    6. read a book by a Russian novelist in Russia
    7. solve mystery eye allergy problem
    8. dance with a famous salsero, yet to be determined
    9. be a kicka** MOH to my sister
    10. visit the MOMA in NYC
    11. Check off the last 8 states on my list:
      1. Maine
      2. New Hampshire
      3. Vermont
      4. Connecticut
      5. Rhode Island
      6. North Dakota (?)
      7. Hawaii
      8. Alaska
    12. Take pictures that friends would like on their walls
    13. Make 100 soups from scratch
      1. chicken noodle
      2. Gazpacho ala Concha
      3. minestrone
      4. beef barley
    14. Call my elected representative's office informed and concerned
    15. Hike El Camino de Santiago
    16. Go on a Silent Retreat
    17. Visit Montreal
    18. Go on a sister trip every few years (other people can come too)
      1. Chicago 2009--U2!
    19. Write thank you letters to my favorite teachers
    20. Visit the Holy Land
    21. Grow, Can, and Eat Vegetables
    22. Help someone realize their dreams
    23. Re-learn how to sew
    24. Take up Vermiculture composting
    25. Mentor a young person
    26. Read The Stranger in August and Franny and Zooey in October
    27. see the taj mahal
    28. visit the pyramids
    29. share life
    30. learn to dance salsa on2 not great, but i can do it!
    31. attend SXSW or other cool hipster music festival
    32. take a watercolor painting class
    33. Write a memior that more than just my mother will read
    34. listen to all of the music in storage
    35. read all of the books on my shelves
      1. 7 storey mountain
      2. dante's trilogy
      3. ayn rand anthem
      4. a tree grows in brooklyn
    36. learn how to bake bread
    37. eat ice cream for dinner at least once a year (2008, 2009, 2010)
    38. Go paragliding
    39. visit Prague
    40. See the Northern Lights
    41. Drink a Mojito in Cuba
    42. Live more sustainably
    43. hike to Machu Pichu
    44. Read the Bible cover to cover
    45. See U2 live as many times as possible
      1. September 09 Chicago!
      2. October 09 Las Vegas!
    46. hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up
    47. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
    48. Throw parties to celebrate friend's accomplishments
    49. See Chuck Berry in the Duck Room
    50. Make 1000 wonderful things
      1. tshirt scarf
      2. painting on the wall
      3. streusel topped banana bread cobbler http://bakingbites.com/2010/02/streusel-topped-banana-bread-cobbler/#more-4294


    popcorn wielding sadist

    This afternoon, I was delivering a handful of snacks to our youth room during 2nd grade recess. Four-square and soccer players made a mad dash to my side to see where the popcorn and other goodies were headed.

    "Are the snacks for us? Will you share?" Their pleas were shameless.

    "Sorry, girls. The snacks for 7th and 8th grade bible study."

    "Oh. Like their religion class? They get snacks in school?"

    "No. It's an after school bible study. They come after school."

    "THEY HAVE TO GO TO BIBLE STUDY AFTER SCHOOL!?!?!" The exasperated horror flooded out of their gaping mouths.

    "They choose to come. We have snacks, games and laughs and then we study the bible to grow in our faith."

    "Oh. I'll see you later." The skepticism in their eyes spoke louder than their feet stomping quickly away from me.

    I'm pretty sure they think I am a popcorn wielding sadist now. Great.

    it isn't easy

    I am blessed with friends that are faithful, generous, and concerned about their place on this planet. They are imperfect like me and the rest of us. Yet, they strive to be mindful of their imperfection and seek forgiveness when needed.

    Recently, I've noticed a generally frustrated attitude surrounding the barrier schedules create to serve. The times when service is requested are times not available due to work, family, and the variety of other commitments.

    I don't have a solution, only reflection. If service were convenient and easy, the need for it would be null. Helping and loving others demands sacrifice and priorities.

    I am not saying my friends are justified in their frustrations but that their frustrations are, in fact, with the defining quality of service--it isn't easy.

    Makes Jesus seem like a Superhero or something...


    ecclesiastical footracing

    From John Cheever's Bullet Park:
    ... Mrs. Trenchham was carrying on her particular brand of competitive churchmanship. Mrs. Trenchham was a recent convert--she had been Unitarian--and she was more than proud of her grasp of the responses and courtesies in the service; she was belicose. At the first sound of the priest's voice in the vestarium she was on her feet and she fired out her amens and her mercies in a stern and resonant voice, timed well ahead of the rest of the congregation as if she were involved in a sort of ecclesiastical footrace. ...

    I can't help but giggle knowingly. (Also, I just discovered John Cheever thanks to my brother-in-law. I'm loving it!)


    insanity strikes back

    Over the holidays, my cousin asked if I might be interested in running a half-marathon. We ran a very relaxed half two years ago and had a great time. We have the mutual interest in wanting to get into shape and I have been tossing around the idea of a race in the darker corners of my mind for some time.

    And so we committed. To the Cincinnati Flying Pig. We are dragging the sister and the new brother-in-law in on the sadistic fun because adrenaline-induced misery loves company.

    Which means that I need to run around twenty miles a week during this cold and miserable time of year.
    Which means, I go to the gym and run on a treadmill to avoid the cold.
    Which means, I feel like a hamster.

    Also, considering my aversion to pork products and byproducts and other things snout-related, I spend a good deal of my hamsterhood convincing myself that no pigs will actually be flying by my head (or past my car) during this race.


    nouwen says it better

    Four months ago, four of my dearest friends in ministry sat around a table of home-cooked food and dreams. We knew that within hours people from all over the country were coming to a gathering of our doing. This reality baffled us, inspired us, and scared our tiny little egos into total submission.

    As we sat around this table finalizing logistical and minor details of hospitality and ministry, our hearts settled back on the conversation of purpose. Why did we call these friends to come and join us in the first place? Why did we send countless emails and peddle our pipe dream like a gaggle of cookie-selling scouts?

    We each had our reasons to ask for a gathering of ministry leaders. We hoped for Gospel and compassion and heart. I hoped for the anti-professional gathering, a gathering that wouldn't promote a product or another event or even an adherence to a brand of theology.

    Ultimately, our gathering* was wildly successful in reminding most of us that Christian people need to hear the Gospel on a daily basis. It reminded us that we are more fully human when we hear of God's love. It reminded us how wonderful it is to healed of our infirmity.


    Today, seeking respite from the newly bitter cold, I climbed into a hot tub with Henri J. Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. I've owned it for months, failing to read it in fear of obtuse and inaccessible language. Quickly realizing my fear as needless, that fall day's meal came to rest in my mind. His words express our hopes for that gathering so well:
    Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his millieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. page 20-21

    Professionalism without compassion will turn forgiveness into a gimmick, and the kingdom come into a blindfold. page 42

    The Christian leader is called to help others affirm this great news, and to make visible in daily events the fact that behind the dirty curtain of our painful symptoms there is something great to be seen: the face of Him in whose image we are shaped. page 44
    Nouwen in 1972 wrote my deepest concerns in ministry. Perhaps it is his critical contemplation of society and God's Word and gave him such foresight. I can only hope that I will listen and follow his lead in healing our world.


    *We gathered under the name Regeneration and will be gathering again this spring in Milwaukee. Find information here. I'd love for you to join.


    nouwen on juxtaposition

    "Through mass media he is confronted with the most paradoxical human experiences. He is confronted not only with the most elaborate and expensive attempts to save the life of one man by heart transplantation, but also with the powerlessness of the world to help when thousands of people die from lack of food.

    He is confronted not only with man's ability to travel rapidly to another planet, but also with his hopeless impotence to end a senseless war on this planet. He is confronted not only with high-level discussions about human rights and Christian morality, but also with torture chambers in Brazil, Greece, and Vietnam.

    He is confronted not only with incredible ingenuity that can build dams, change riverbeds and create fertile new lands, but also with earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes that can ruin in one hour more than man can build in a generation.

    A man confronted with all this and trying to make sense of it cannot possibly deceive himself with one idea, concept, or thought system which could bring these contrasting images into one consistent outlook on life."

    --Henri J. Nouwen "The Wounded Healer"


    empty fields

    She drove us into a neighborhood. A neighborhood that was once filled with homes on top of other homes, people filling the rooms and streets and sidewalks. Today it is filled of empty concrete slabs and grass and a construction truck or two. It's infamous number nine hangs heavy in the air.

    The wreckage is gone, but the people are still wandering far from their homes in the some proverbial desert.

    A few homes sprinkle the fields, but they are the exception, the result of someone's goodwill and hard work.


    There is a city rejoicing because it's player kicked a ball through steel posts and won the game. But it is not a city that has healed. Its wounds have bled so wide and far, the blood is gone and dry.

    Pain is made evident in the absence of life.



    Five steps on the treadmill, water sipped, music playing.

    Looking up, there they are. Ten screens whirring their images ahead. The pictures of children crying. Lost. With their parents. Women singing in grief. Reporters grimacing past their hair gel.

    On the other side, a mother and daughter recovering from rhinoplasties, contemplating the next extravagance.

    The band keeps spinning. I keep running. The urgency of need numbing.


    favorites moments from the holidays

    Waking up early and taking pictures of my favorite toddler before the chaos ensued on Christmas morning.

    Reading Curious George at the Parade to said adorable toddler.

    Spending time with the Swisster. Seriously, I love that girl. She might be Swiss and not genetically related to me, but I love that girl like a sister.

    Getting to know some of the sister and new brother's favorite people.

    Hanging with the family.

    Showing the kiddies how it's done.

    Getting fancy with my sister and her best friends.

    Loop-di-looping all 456 buttons on her dress. Yay crochet needles!

    Being with my sisters. Even in iphone blur.

    Sharing the weekend with Christy and Kameron. Love them!

    they are married!

    My sister and her now-husband were married over the weekend. Between the typical Christmas festivities, wrapping up wedding details, New Year's Eve fun, a hilarious bowling rehearsal dinner extravaganza, and a very long and wonderful wedding day, I'm still tired.

    Even still, the matching bowling shirts my sister got were pretty hilarious. I don't think either of them can bowl over 100... ever.