Category Archives: About Aj

Favorville

In high school and college I went on many a Serve Day, service project – some sort of organized activity where we went and helped out folks in the community. It always seemed kind of trite to me: I was ususally trying to help someone out in ways a) I didn’t understand how it would help or 2) I wasn’t good at doing. I understood the purpose, but it didn’t seem a very real or authentic way for me to give of myself.

Favorville.com is a social networking tool which provides members with the opportunity to help and be helped by others. With Favorville, members can post help requests, offer help and help grow the community. Favorville makes it easy to get in touch and build lasting connections with helpful neighbors, both in your locale or across the global village.

I like how this site encourages the building of community – something that was lacking in my experiences of service as a youth. I wonder if it will truly take off . . .

Isn’t this pretty much what the church is called to do? I wonder what it would look like if it was put on by a church – would strings be attached, or would it be serving for the sake of serving. Would the church be willing to air out areas they need a favor, or would they be a little *too* willing?

Man, technology’s great — if it can truly reach those who need help.

Examen: Church to Me

Whenever someone asks what church is to me, I have three images:

  • After service gathering times at Boise Friends Church. Church was ìokayî: I spent most of my time studying the music in the hymnal and reading the shortest books in the Bible (Jonah and Esther). But after church, I didnít have to be quiet and sit still: I could run amuck in all the classrooms and in the social hall and sanctuary and balcony (oooh, the balcony – where sound equipment was kept that was a big no-no to touch . . .but we did anyway: shhhh – donít tell). Kids were given lethal doses of sugar cookies and red Kool-Aid, and parents told them anything they wanted to hear as long as they could carry on a conversation with their friends (many a Going Out To Eat Sunday Lunch occurred from those times). All the adults took responsibility for all the kids, and all the kids acted like we were siblings. Potlucks were the best: a good Sunday had us going home two or three hours after the service concluded.
  • Saturdays on the clock tower lawn at the beginning of Yearly Meeting (an annual gathering of Quakers affiliated with the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Churches): while the main focus of the week is to do business, I have always loved the bi-product of being in community. I get to see friends, whoíve become like family, whoíve journeyed with me since I was a tantrum-throwing tyke to becoming a (not quite as frequently tantrum-throwing) young adult. That first Saturday is a play day: ministries set out displays, folks wander in to register, teens whoíve been on summer mission trips reunite with friends and family. Coming from a very small family, I imagine itís what family reunions are like – running around to see everyone, chatting with everyone, catching up, getting hugs and countless greetings of ìHow ya been?!!î.
  • An intergenerational small group experience that I participated in with my husband. It was one of the first things Iíve done where I felt accepted into the church as an adult. We shared our journeys – good times and bad -, worshiped, encountered God, and connected as we went about the daily walk of our lives. Instead of talking about God, we talked to God – kinda nice to be more practical than theoretical.

This week as Iíve been doing my Examen, I have another image to add to my collection: this last Christmas Day service at Newberg Friends. See, we generally have three services, but this Christmas we had one (partly because three Christmas Eve services were given the night before, and partly because it was the funky ìshould we/shouldnít we have service with Christmas falling on a Sundayî thing): and MAN – was it packed! Initially I wasnít going to go: lifeís been a tornado, and adding one more event would just send me flying to Oz with Dorothy. But my in-laws requested that we attend church on Sunday, and no matter how many hints I dropped that it wouldnít be convenient, they simply smiled and acted as though they had no idea what I was alluding to. And Iím actually glad they didnít budge.

Christmas Eve was less than extraordinary (service without nursery care for a family of an energetic, extroverted moveríníshaker toddler does not lend to a ìSilent Nightî atmosphere); but Christmas Day had beloved and sainted nursery workers, so I could actually be present during the service.

And how interesting it is to see the three services combine. Normally I sit in my balcony spot, seeing about half of the church. With all the exits and the balcony and the odd angles of the sanctuary, itís easy to not know that someone attends NFC – even if they go to your service! But this time I sat in a little different spot, as did most people. Folks couldnít stop looking around, smiling at each other and waving. Warmness and familiarity filled the air, blossoming even more as we entered into the real reason we were there – worship.

Iíve been hearing about Revolutionaries – the noticings of folks that the traditional model of church is crumbling. Many think it will reshape itself into simple or house church models. I definitely think thereís a place for that: I find that closeness, accountability, sense of being known in my small group. But if this happens and the larger gatherings fade away, part of me would grieve for the loss of these fellowship times – the coming together, not simply because weíre part of the same ìchurch clubî, but because weíve come together to praise, worship, adore, acknowledge, and encounter our Creator. Whereís the place for those types of gatherings? How can we come together as a large group, but still recognize that weíve got more work to do during the week than smiling at our neighbor? As the next generation steps up, what are these ìfamily reunionsî going to look like? How are they going to change? I do hope I donít still have to wear a name tag. . .

Christmas Cookie *MADNESS*

In honor of the tide being Yule-ish, I believe it would be helpful and prudent to post some quick yummy recipes for those “drop-in” situations. Because I like doing things fast, these saving graces will be of a baked-and-small-and-circular in nature.

Here are some recipes that are sure to please:

Ginger Cookies

Peanut Butter
In my family, the peanut butter is not to be ignored.

Other

  • For a shortbread-ish type cookie: Holiday Snowball Cookies from VeryBestBaking.com. No soda or powder to worry with – just a real simple cookie. Use chocolate chips if you don’t have the shapes, or try using a mix of mint and chocolate chips. Tasty.
  • For a quick treat that’s salty and sweet: Candy-KISSed Twists from Hershey’s. It’s the efficient/lazy person’s chocolate-dipped pretzel. SO EASY. Use plain M&M’s with flavored kisses, or use plain kisses with peanut-butter M&M’s, or for a whole new take – rolos and pecans.
  • Cookie Specials
    Many sites are highlighting some quality cookie recipes for this time of year. Check out:

    So, there’s my Christmas present to you. Now, go: make people happy and chubby. If anyone needs to work off the pounds, I have a toddler I’ll gladly donate for you to chase.

    Yes, I am a Pacifist, and it’s my birthday, too

    Figuring out youíre a pacifist is a defining moment. Figuring it out when youíre eleven is an odd thing. Figuring it out on your birthday when youíre eleven because Ted Bundyís being killed that day is a very odd thing. And defending your pacifist beliefs on your twelfth birthday to your class of adolescent peers and condescending teacher stinks, but is a definitely a defining moment.

    As a kid growing up in a Friends church I heard about the importance of the peace testimony. It had special significance growing up in Idaho: a very ìlive free or dieî state with an air force base less than an hour away from my home. I *love* my Idaho: some of the most real, friendly, giving people live there – but sometimes they want to give you their beliefs whether you asked for them or not.

    On my birthday in sixth grade convicted serial killer Ted Bundy was being electrocuted. I remember students buzzing with ìmy mom and dad sayî information regarding the sensational event; but for me it was, ìmy aunt says . . .î because my aunt made sure to talk with my brother and I about things like this. She said it was wrong: humans were not meant to take anotherís life, no matter what the wrong person did. Aunt Faye liked U2, watched MTV, and ate tofu: I figured she was hip enough to know what she was talking about.

    For me in sixth grade, it was an odd thought: on my birthday, someone was dying – someone was being killed by another person. He wouldnít have any more birthdays – his life was over. I also thought in the semantics of a kid: shouldnít the man who pushed the buzzer to kill Ted be killed, too, since he killed someone? But who would kill him? Would we all end up dead if people kept getting killed for killing others? In my public grade school I talked freely with my friends about this: we came to our own conclusions, and then ran to the monkey bars to do cherry bombs and zebra drops.

    The next year I was still processing it, except I was in a private Christian school where I moved from my public school classification of “not-Mormon” to “not-a-community-church-attender” – I don’t think Quakers are ever on the “inside”. Great place to talk about things outside of the ësocial normí, right? Wrong-O. One year after Ted Bundyís death my geography teacher brought it up. I was feeling a little bit ballsy, living off the birthday high. Normally I wouldnít rock the boat, especially in a school that didnít feel ìsafeî to me – I knew I was different than the majority of kids there, but didnít know why exactly. But that day, I was dressed up, I was going to get cake and presents, and I decided to speak up:

    ìI think it was wrong to kill him.î

    My geography teacher had abnormally buggy eyes, and all of a sudden, the enormity of their bulgingness was directed at me.

    ìWhat?î

    ìI said, I think it was wrong. God is the only person who can give and take life. Humans shouldnít take life.î

    All the students, including the delinquents who were sent to my school because public schools couldnít handle them so they spent their days carving on desks, looked at me. A showdown was about to happen.

    ìSay that again.î

    ìCapitol punishment is wrong.î

    Awkward silence. Then . . .

    ìHow can you say that?!!î

    My past experiences of teachers had been of a loving and bi-partisan nature: they might tell you their opinion about holiday crafts – if they should involve letting the students use power tools or not – but never of a political/personal opinion nature. But not in my private Christian school.

    ìSo youíre saying that this man who killed countless people out of cold blood shouldnít have died?î

    ìNo.î

    What should we have done with him?î

    ìUh . . . keep him in prison?î

    My face started to flush; my birthday high turned into a fight-or-flight response.

    ìWhat about the Old Testament commandments regarding an eye for an eye? Iím sure the rest of you students remember that.î

    Nodding heads. Lemmings.

    ìWho told you this anyway?î

    ìMy aunt. She said that humans donít have the right to take lives.î

    ìOh, and I bet she doesnít think we should have guns either.î

    He then used the majority of the class to continue to grill me, pointing out ìflawsî and getting affirmation from the rest of the oh-so-knowledgeable seventh graders.

    I didnít feel like I had the answers, which was really frustrating to feel so attacked and awkward. I knew I couldnít sway him. But I refused to be swayed: for one time in my life, my German stubbornness did something good. What my teacher didnít know is that he affirmed my belief in pacifism all that much more: if folks who disagreed with pacifism were so mean and hostile and judging of others, especially those so much younger than them, then why would I want to believe what he believed – to follow his path to become like him?

    As I hear about the government spying on peace protestors, I am reminded of my first defining moment as a pacifist: Iíve never fit in, especially with those in power, and thatís fine – I donít really like what youíre all about, anyway. You can try to bully me around like a teacher bullying a seventh grader, but that looks pretty pathetic, doesnít it? If I can make a stand when Iím an ignorant kid, Iím not about to back down with more life experience under my belt. Anyway, Iíve got to go live my life which today includes playing on the monkey bars with my son – weíre gonna rock at doing cherry bombs.

    Why the Picture #3? Presence in the Midst

    First of all, thanks so much to those of you who responded with your Quaker/other denominational mashup with the emerging conversation. Thereís still more of you out there with good stuff: címon – fess up. 😉

    When I first started this site, seemingly a long time ago but in reality less than six months, I started a series on the meaning of the pictures posted in my masthead. Itís a tricky thing, putting them there: many bloggers love to change their mastheads frequently, but Iím so attached to these photos that I canít bring myself to lay them down yet. At any rate, things picked up in life, and I forgot to explain in importance of the later pictures. As part of my ìWhy Iím Quakergingî thoughts, I figured itíd be good to give my background as a Friend [the picture is a pretty famous, at least in the Quaker realm, called “Presence in the Midst” – it details the idea that Christ is in the midst of all of us, not just pastors or priests or white anglo-saxton protestant males].

    My folks were raised down South – in the church, but more as a social club event: potlucks and rallies and lots of guilt heaped on if you didnít attend Sunday in your Sunday best. My parents never really connected with their church, didnít see a lot of relevance in their lives. They were stationed in Germany shortly after they were married, but not before living for a brief while at the Air Force base in Mountain Home, ID: see my dad wanted to get as far away from the South as possible – he asked for a station in Alaska, but Idahoís as close as he got. They fell in love with the landscape – the wide open areas and the close accessibility of quality backpacking. When their time in Germany was complete, my dad enrolled at the University of Idaho and got his chemical engineering degree. Soon they wafted west and ended up in Tacoma – land of eternal rain and gloom (at least, according to my mom). I was born, was not an easy child, and Dad traveled *a lot*. Mom prayed to God out of that desperate place: ìIf you get me out of here and into the sunshine, Iíll start going to church.î About three months later, we were in Boise, ID.

    Iím not exactly sure how we ended up at Boise Friends – I think someone invited Mom to a Bible study who invited Mom to church? At any rate, she was the main instigator, dressing me up and dragging Dad. But somehow they found their home: Mom immediately got involved in childrenís church, and Dad found his first spiritual mentor in Harold Antrim. I loved attending Boise Friends as a kid: we had a seemingly large group of kids to run around with, and anyone seemed to parent any child tearing about. Potlucks and going out for Sunday lunches abounded; I wasnít so fond of the plethora of programs I ìgotî to be in (when your piano teacher is the Music Pastor, itís a tricky road you walk down). But I was *known*: I knew almost everyone there, and they knew me, and there was love.

    Attending church, and a Quaker church, in Boise is an interesting thing. The town is primarily made up of Mormons (I heard a statistic stating that there are more Mormon children in Boise that Salt Lake). Because I wasnít part of the ëclubí, I felt a lot like an outsider, especially in school cliques. My Mormon friends would talk about church some, but because much of their religion is secretive, church was more of a ìhush hushî thing. I think I picked some of that up for myself: Quakerism isnít necessarily a predominant religion – most folks thought we were Amish, and I didnít feel like explaining that we werenít. But it was in Boise that I first heard about the splits in the Quaker church as we were stopped by a gay rights parade downtown and I saw a ìFriends support Gay Rightsî sign – that was a fun talk with Mom. 🙂

    At the tender age of twelve my parents made an executive decision to a) start a new church which had no youth group and 2) pull me from public junior high where I had risen in the ranks and had a chance of hanging out with the ìcoolî kids to put me in a brand new private school with a bunch of ìprivate school dorks.î Note: I was twelve and a girl – what was coming up? THIRTEEN. There was much pain and suffering and wailing in the land that year. But as I watched them endure the punishment I doled out, I started to gain a sense that there was something important in this for them – something they found valuable enough to endure an adolescent rage. I still attended some youth group events at Boise Friends – Bible quizzing (brand new that year!), camps, retreats, etc. Youth group was a place to run around with friends I didnít see, stay up late, eat bad food, and complain when the youth pastor tried to work any God or Bible stuff in there.

    In high school my dad got a new job not so much in the chemical engineering field: he became the superintendent of our yearly meeting (head of our denominational district). This time, I was ready and eager to move, but the rest of my family – not so much. I already knew a few folks from my times at youth
    events (Youth Yearly Meeting, an annual ìbusiness meetingî for youth while the adults had their real annual business meeting) and was immediately adopted into the fold. We left Boise on Wednesday, arrived in Newberg Friday, went to church on Sunday, and I was hanging out at Hannah Macyís house that afternoon. Iíve joked that my parents havenít seen me since.

    Coming to Newberg Friendís youth group was like coming home for the first time. The youth were *fun*: they were funny and entertaining and welcoming and thoughtful. And they actually liked hearing about God-stuff: it wasnít an obligatory annoying speech awkwardly thrown in by the youth pastor as a means of stamping the event with a church feel. Now, we had our fair share of activities, and we didnít always make a ìGod momentî out of each one, but I had the chance to hang out with youth and youth leaders who had a real relationship with Christ – it was a safe place to question and experience. Camps and youth events really defined my time in high school and early college: thatís where I encountered God – in open worship times at camp, in praise times at Yearly Meeting, in one-on-one time with my camp counselors – being with folks who were in a really real relationship with Christ.

    I didnít know I had anything special at church until I attended another church with a friend in high school. She went to a four square church, and man: I was exhausted by the end of the service. There was no time for silence, or even to pray for ourselves: the pastors did the *whole* thing, AND music played during the prayer time! Church shouldnít be that tiring.

    During college I didnít attend church anymore: I became too focused on the events and not enough on why I was participating/organizing the events. I burned out. Being a young adult is an awkward thing when youíre not dating/married/have a kid: the church adults didnít know me because I spent all my time with the youth, and we didnít have a lot in common. I moved back to Boise and worked at a library for two years. I tried to reconnect with Boise Friends, especially since the new pastors were friends of mine, but the church had just gone through a very traumatic time, and it felt like I was going to my parentsí church – not my own. And it felt kind of selfish: for me, church was about personal salvation, sin management, and being part of a service that I ìlikedî – not really equipping me to be part of the ìreal worldî I found myself in. So I stopped going. Being in Boise was my wilderness time: God pulled me out of the hustle and bustle I expected with church, took me out to a very alone place, and said, ìNow I get you to myself.î Good – hard, but good.

    I moved back to Newberg after that: I was dating my soon-to-be husband, and I needed some healing-up time (I know God loves me and is the most gentle person, but sometimeís the intensity of His touch requires some community healing). I started attending Newberg Friends again with my folks, this time as a real adult. We sat in the balcony and snuck out as the sermon came to a conclusion. I had a bit of a hard time with the ìslicknessî of the service: the more raw, introverted worship style of Boise Friends seemed more honest and real to me. Itís just different styles for different folks. A sense of disconnect still remained.

    A friend was invited to be part of a small group called Companions In Christ: it was a spiritual formational group with a variety of participants – all ages and walks of life. There I found my adult church home: it was a place I could be me and be accepted and not be thought of as ìso and soís kidî or ìso and soís youth leaderî. I could question, I could explore, I could offer help and pray for others. I made connections with adults who valued me for who I was, adults who I greatly respected as I heard their struggles to walk an intentional life of living and loving Christ.

    I feel like Iíve come a long way since then: Iíve gotten married, changed jobs, had a baby, quit my job, bought a house. Iíve become a member of a board on our yearly meeting which has opened connections to encountering folks on a whole new level. I try to write and have found an unexpectedly welcome community online. Iíve recognized my God-placed ache of ìthis isnít *it*î with some of my current church experience, seeking out what Godís called me to.

    Why am I a Quaker? For many folks itís the peace and social activism testimony. For some, itís because theyíve been born into it. For others, itís because of their love of open worship. For me: itís home. Iíve met amazing people with an open testimony of Godís love and activity in their lives. Through their times with Christ, theyíve become compassionate to His compassions: peace, social justice, community action, the priesthood of all believers, the ministry of all, praying in all circumstances. They respect me and believe I have something to offer both the congregation and the world at large. They urge me to get out of my comfort zones, to follow Christ through all circumstances. We see the light of Christ in each other and in others and share it all round – we want to worship our God together: and thatís why Iím a Quaker.

    Does Your Youth Group Need a Rabies Shot?

    The fatal sin is building our churches and youth ministries around the appetites, desires and wishes of our congregations.

    At my “Why Young Adults Don’t Attend Church” workshop, a person threw out a concept I’d pondered but hadn’t put such eloquent words to. As of late Iíve been recognizing that my high school church experience was segregated: my friends and I were quarantined to our safe youth-group experience where we were entertained, occasionally we gave back ìif we had to,î and we created a community of folks who were pretty Wonder bread (bland, palatable, nutritious . . .to a degree). I had some awesome experiences, events and folks who helped shape me into the person that I am today, but it was a pretty self-centered, demanding, consuming experience. The image I got was that of a rabid dog: theyíre foaming at the mouth to consume, consume, consume: just to bite down on something – but nothing ever satisfies that mad craving.

    The person at my workshop talked about how youth ministry as we know it is dying. Youth leaders are recognizing that theyíre creating ìfalseî communities – communities that last only as long as the kids are in school, and then they dissipate, causing the individuals to flounder as they are community-less. They look to the larger church, but are so used to their self-centered experience that they donít know how to participate. And they mourn for the loss of their community, not knowing how to experience that again.

    My mother-in-law sent me this article, talking about all this stuff – again, much more eloquently than I ever could.

    For years now we have watched as study after study and survey after survey tell us what we already know- those students who graduate out of our professionally led youth ministries struggle to maintain their church ìconnectednessî during their college years. For me it tends to be one of two things: either my graduates end up being ìcling-onsî- graduates who find ways to still hang around the youth ministry – or they simply disappear a few months into their college careers, and I end up hearing about them after theyíve moved to another church or out of the church altogether.

    What happens is that we feed the beast when we leave our teens with the impression that, like everywhere else in the world, they are ìconsumersî who by their consumeristic nature drive the shaping and programming of the church. When we are consumers, then we have the impression that we are or should be in control. We, the consumers; we tell the church how we need it to be. Is it any wonder then, that our little consumers shun the authority of the Church? How much authority can the Church have if the Church does whatever I tell it to do?

    Oooh, good stuff. So, what are your thoughts? Do you see this type of rabid-attitude in your youth? Have you succumbed to it as well? How did you become free – to turn and focus on Christ rather than your self?

    Why the Picture #2? Pacific College, a.k.a. George Fox University

    My mother will laugh, or wonder outloud, at the placement of this picture on my site. ìWhy would I have a picture of that building, knowing all of our history surrounding it?î Well, thatís why – history: lots of it.

    The scene is Newberg, Oregon, at Pacific College founded by local Quakers. It later became George Fox College, and then George Fox University, but I donít really know all the details. I should, since I was present for the centennial as well as the college to university name change, but I had more interesting things going on like wondering when I could escape the boring history talk and run over to 7-Eleven to get a slurpee.

    I have made annual treks to this campus for as long as I can remember. At the age of two or three my folks loaded up the car, and we began our first of many trips for the annual yearly meeting sessions. We marveled at Oregonís lack of air conditioning (bought our first fan over here, affectionately known as The Yearly Meeting Fan) and Newbergís lack of one-stop shopping (Freddyís didnít invade until we moved here in the nineties).

    In high school my trips to campus generally consisted of seeing a play put on by the drama department, taking part in Yearly Meeting sessions, playing in the Yearly Meeting sponsored volleyball tournament, or maybe visiting a few friends who had graduated from high school and moved all of a mile to take classes at Fox.

    And yes, Iím one of those who chose to move that grand mile. I wasnít sure where I wanted to go to college, until I visited Whitworth: it was in February during the flood season, I had a hole in my pair of ìgoodî shoes – needless to say, my experience wasnít pleasant, and I decided Fox would be a fine school for me. I knew the campus, I knew most of the staff (either attended my church or were my friendsí parents or both), I wouldnít have to go through that whole adjustment period – just slide on through.

    College sucked. Really. I could try to paint it eloquently, talking about the defining times of going out on your own, learning to navigate the waters of living with others, spending hours of luxurious agony discerning my call in life. Basically: I didnít know what I wanted to do, I hated living with lots of girls (I mean, who would actually like it? All those hormones and baggage – both physical and emotional: gives me the willies just thinking about it), I was burned out from doing too many activities, I was freaking out that I didnít know what in the world to do with my life. So I spent my time skipping class, freaking out that Iíd flunk out, hanging out with folks who felt the same way, and feeling guilty that I was ìsquandering awayî my college experience (my mama worked her patootie off at Fox so I could go for free – see the levels of guilt I should feel?).

    I managed to squeak out: oh, the nightmares I had before graduation. Itís not fun getting your diploma holder and not knowing if thereís actually one in there. I spent some time away from the rain drain that is Oregon. And yet I came back. To live in Oregon. To work. . . . at Fox. I was looking for something different to do with my life: either move or change jobs or something. My folks were kind enough to offer their abode while I sorted things out. I also happened to be dating a cute bass player who was living in Beaverton at the time, and we werenít sure where things were going with that, but itís a lot easier to figure out a few miles apart than a few states.

    I got one job at Fox: it was amazing that I could find a job at all – Oregon still has quality levels of unemployment. It was working in the Security Office – definitely not my call in life, but something that brought in a paycheck while I could spend time doing other things, like planning a wedding (yeah, things did kinda work out with that bass player). And then I ìinheritedî a different job: my momís. She was going to be student teaching and needed to simplify her life. I applied for her job, and I got it – well, I got a job in the Admissions office supporting the Executive Director, which was one element of her job – the other elements got farmed out.

    It was a great year: I loved working in that office. It wasnít necessarily my call in life, again (I donít know anyone whoís really called to balance budgets, but you never know), but I loved the community, had a great boss, and liked working so close to the home I shared with the bass player.

    Then, lo and behold, a Little Bassplayer came along, I relinquished my job, and my husband ìinheritedî it – except it wasnít really my job at all: the director changed the position from being his assistant to being the IT guy for the Admissions office (heís a great boss – sacrificing for the greater good).

    So I visit George Fox at least weekly, to see my bass player and his co-workers, to let the Little Bassplayer roam around the offices greeting people, to take advantage of my alumni library card, and to sit at the tables outside of the student union looking at the clock tower and being amazed at the amount of history I have with this location. Times have been good; times have been horrid; but they all are foundational in the person that I am today.

    In a few short minutes, Iíll be taking my son to Yearly Meeting for the first time: taking him onto campus to start creating his own memories that we share together and yet experience differently. Iím excited. 😉

    Why the Picture #1? The Mug

    I love my coffee mug. Itís big and pretty – oversized, black, with two faces etched on it. Itís a mug that says, ìOooh, Iîm artistic! Creativity flows about me like honey.î (See how artistically I can write? It must be the mug). Funny thing about it is that it doesnít usually hold coffee: itís so large that by the time I see the bottom, the coffeeís cold and less than appealing. Generally it holds water, because for some reason I find lukewarm water more palatable than lukewarm coffee.

    Each day I get up, fix my breakfast (low carb eggo waffles, cottage cheese, and fruit as of late), and warm up a mug full of water. A friend of mine once told me that caffeineís not what wakes people up – itís the warmth of the beverage. While I canít completely get on board with that theory (I know Iíve gotten quite a few buzzes off of iced mochas), I have found that a hot drink certainly helps start the day off on a right foot.

    The mug is a gift, perhaps one of my most prized gifts, from my brother. He got it for me while on a high school field trip to Ashland, Oregon, home of the well-known, artsy fartsy Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

    In my experience high school was a real drag – not a lot of redeeming aspects: state winning water polo and wrestling teams (a sport that you canít really see whatís going on, and a sport that you probably donít want to see whatís going on), national attention for the senior prank involving filling the gym with road kill, an open building facility in the ever-soggy Northwest . . . you get the picture.

    But one redeeming activity was Mr. Plantzís annual trip to Ashland. He taught sophomore English (the highlight for him being the baseball unit. How does baseball fit into English? Thatís one I still ponder). Each year heíd load up a bus of 40+ people to head down to southern Oregon for three days of plays, wandering the town, and general merriment. Priority was given to the upperclassmen, but sometimes the humble sophomores could sneak in.

    Weíd see three plays: usually one was blah, one was okay, and one was fantastic. Thereís nothing like sitting in the second row, getting spit on as actors from ìTwelfth Nightî engage in their witty Shakespearean banter that pretty much went over our heads but weíd laugh with the audience accordingly to keep up the appearance of ìyouthful sophistication.î Watching Tom Stoppardís ìArcadiaî I felt . . . smart: like a secret door in my noggin had been opened that held a bounty of treasure and knowledge . . . but then it closed after we made a Safeway trip and almost sent ourselves into a Fun Dip coma. I loved going to Ashland because for the first time I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to be an adult – not to be ruled by your hormonal emotions, to engage in substantial culture, to experience freedom and fun and be an individual.

    When the time came, my brother too took advantage of the lucrative perk of attending our high school. As he took off for his trip, I told him what a fantastic time he would have and, of course, that he should buy me a gift. I donít know that I ever got him anything when I went to Ashland; but at the time of the request, I was in college and believed that Copernicusís theory should be revoked, because in fact, the world actually revolved around me. It was mostly a joke (getting me a gift; not the world-revolution thing) because what high schooler really wants to spend money on his bratty college sister? But he did: he got me my mug. And it was the best present ever.

    See, my brother and I didnít do a whole lot together as kids. We shared the same parents, occupied the same address, ate at the same table (occasionally before we wore down Momís will to eat at the table and instead moved to eating around our glowing friend television); but really my brother and I lived separate lives. We didnít share friends; personally, I got the distinct impression that he would prefer I didnít talk to his friends. Much as the high school quarterback father expects his son to follow in his footsteps, I assumed my brother would like to do the activities I enjoyed: youth group, newspaper, yearbooks, etc. I wasnít respecting him as an individual, that he had desires and interests of his own. My brotherís not one to do things because others want him to, so donít worry that I oppressed him: heís far too stubborn to be oppressed (a ìproudî family trait).

    Going to Ashland mightíve meant more to my brother that it did to me. In high school I worked in theatre doing backstage stuff (didnít have the confidence or belief that anyone would want to see me attempt to act), but my brother is an *actor*. He had parts – major parts – funny parts: he was *good*. Heís acted, heís directed, heís sang in a musical and had to dress up in womenís clothing (I think thatís the sign that youíve made it in the theatre world). Heís won awards and the praises of countless folks: people still tell me how funny he is . . . and that was over five years ago!

    Going to Ashland was one thing that we shared, that we both enjoyed. He too had his own adventures with his friends, wandering in and out of too many shops, feeding the swans, drinking the nasty water at Lithia Park, being amazed at the sets and actors and scripts and all that goes into putting on a play. And while he was there, he took the time to think about me, to get me a gift – a thoughtful gift, not some free hotel soap, something that he thought was cool and that Iíd like. And he was right: I love my mug, not so much for how cool it is (it *is* awfully pretty and holds an excellent amount of liquids), but because it came from a time when my brother and I shared something. Danke, Bubba.

    Why the Picture #1? Boy with Mug

    During these past 27 trips around the sun Iíve gotten to partake of a number of roles on the spinning ball of earth. Iíve been a daughter, a wife, a student, a coffee maker, a librarian (almost), an assistant, a ropes course instructor, an elevator-operator girl. But the most recent role Iíve engaged in, the role that has perhaps stretched me the most and continues to day-by-day, moment-by-moment . . . is that of a mother.

    For ten months Iíve had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of entangling my life with that of a rapidly changing, oftentimes illogical, completely self-centered, full of wonders and feelings and poop and delights Little Person. Lifeís a precarious balance of meeting his needs while not neglecting mine: respecting him as a person but giving him limits and freedoms; recognizing that while he came from me, he is not me – he is his own person, and my privilege is to walk alongside him and equip him to encounter this great wide world.

    With the arrival of the Little Man pictured above, I joined the ranks of countless others who have engaged in the art and skill of parenting, which is just a tricky way of saying that I learned that the world no longer revolves around me ñ it revolves around him. Iíve heard it said that Christ talks about dying to self (I donít think He come right out and says it – thatíd be a way to kill a movement in five seconds flat. When talking about things that make us squirm, he seemed to think it best to paint a picture, tell a story, so that people could sit and reflect. And then when Heí was safely up in heaven, it hit them: ìWait a minute . . . he didnít *really* mean . . . ?). Ií thought I understood that concept; but, nothing hammers it home like attempting to parent.

    In the picture Judahís being assaulted by my favorite coffee mug. Actually, he tore the empty mug from my hands and started rolling around with it – quite a feat since itís about the size of his noggin. If you know me well, you know that this mug is sacred: itís a gift from my beloved brother, and it is to be used only by me. While I can convey the importance of not touching the mug to logical creatures, the Little Man could care less: if Ma has it, I must have it, for we are the same being.

    For a while it turned into a grand game: Judah sneaking up on the mug while my back was turned, throwing it on the floor with a grand ìthunkî, and rubbing his drool-dripping mouth all over it. Then came his favorite part: my reaction. Weíd wrestle, heíd grab, Iíd grab and tell him to knock it off. Iíd place it back on the table, and the game would begin again. Somehow he didnít grasp that it was mine: hands off!

    No matter how desperately I want him to realize the sanctity of leaving another personís stuff alone if they politely ask and itís not an emergency (for instance, if there was a small fire, Iíd be perfectly fine with the borrowing of the mug: virtuous uses of the mug are acceptable), itís not going to happen. He is all about him self – his world – his experience – him. Not to mention, he doesnít even recognize that Iím a separate person: to him, I could be just another play thing. And how silly is it for one play thing to not want you to use another play thing? Toys, the world is full of his toys.

    So I had to have a talk with my self. ìTalullah,î I said (I think my self should be called Talullah – itís easier to talk to your self when a name is involved. Otherwise, you just sound crazy). ìIt ainít gonna happen. You gotta just let it go.îî I realized that I couldnít argue with Judah, I couldnít use logic. Either my son could take the mug and I could get pissy, or my son could take the mug and I could let it go – the only factor I had the power to change (besides always drinking upstairs where Judah canít get me, although he does enjoy picketing at the bottom of the blocked-off stairs) was myself. I had to let some things go, to die . . . you might say.

    Itís a baby step: just as Judah learns to take baby steps walking around the apartment, Iím learning to take baby steps in releasing my self-centered world, in learning what parenting entails, in living as a child of God. Each day is, in the famous words of Bob Wiley, ìbaby steps to four oíclock. Baby steps to four oíclock.î And so I post a picture in a reminder of the little steps Iím taking in becoming less self-centered and more Christ-centered.

    Now when Judah attempts to bond with my laptop . . . well, boundaries have to be drawn *somewhere*, yes?