Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Random Thought

So I realized today that the state of my house - ie. how clean it is, if I'm keeping up with the laundry, did I pay the bills, etc, etc, etc - is oftentimes a reflection of my mental and emotional state. As I got up this morning to go to church, I knew that when I returned home I was going to have to face the rather disastrous thing that used to be my tranquil, well put-together, organized, clean home.

What happened? Well, events over the last week or so have caused me to feel like a battering ram has been jammed into my stomach over and over and over while at the same time weights have been carefully placed around my neck designed to slow down all mental and physical processes as I struggle to stand up and operate against them, the total end result leaving my physical and emotional being in a state of pain, confusion, and shock. Thankfully, I'm finally beginning to move past that point somewhat; although, my body is still seriously sore (though, in all fairness, I think that might have something to do with dragging huge suitcases and boxes up to the fourth floor of Lewis Hall to get my sister settled into her new dorm room). And for the first time in nearly a week, I was actually happy and satisfied to be cleaning up my house and removing the chaos of incomplete laundry, abandoned dishes, random piles, and all-around bleaghness, putting it back to it's usually neat outlook.

Truthfully though, despite the fact that I have developed good routines over the last few years that help me (normally) keep my home neat, tidy, liveable, and more importantly, my haven from the outside world, when I found myself that attacked spiritually and emotionally, my routines tumbled down around my ears and I just flat-out did not have the energy to devote to them.

The funny thing is that I'm pretty sure had I tried to stick a little more closely with those routines and regular schedules, it might have actually helped. Not because I particularly had a lot of energy to devote to cleaning my house but because it would have maintained a little normalcy and even more importantly, not added to my stress levels by forcing myself to live in a chaotic home!

*sigh. Hindsight is an interesting thing. Totally useless for changing the past. But I suppose if I use it to shape and change future chaotic moments, maybe it will be worth it!

And that's my random thought for the day.

Essay: Lifeless Dwelling of a Living God

As I walk through the narrow, cobblestone lanes, following a pilgrim’s path through Canterbury, the air is chill yet vibrant, waking up every cell in my body with its brisk massage. The cobblestone under my feet feels smooth yet bumpy. To my right and left are tight rows of houses and stores, all jammed on top of one another, joggling for elbowroom. The antiquity of the buildings is evident, even to an uncultured eye, making one wonder at the history of this place. Before me, tips soaring above the rooftops, lies a glimpse of the Canterbury Cathedral. Leaning down from an arched entranceway to the Cathedral, a metal, forbidding statue seems to glare upon all individuals passing under its guard. A look at my guidebook informs me that this is a statue of Jesus Christ. The wind seems to blow colder, and I shiver in response to this revelation – this forbidding image, my gracious Lord? I pass underneath his watchful gaze and head for the heart of the huge structure.

The building’s outer structure is intricately engraved with the images of saints and bishops, worshipers and pilgrims. The whitish stone walls seem to rise higher and higher ending in spires that look like the fingers of a giant clawing at the sky. Archways line the sides of the building protecting stained-glass windows that lie hidden in their depths. While awe inspiring, the building is no more than another cathedral, many of which I have visited, admired, photographed, and left. Later, I have shown the pictures and talked about the beauty of the building, but never have I encountered a cathedral with a soul – with the presence of God residing tangibly within its walls.

I enter the building at the far side, noticing a hush fall over all who enter with me. Immediately, I feel like an insignificant thorn on a rosebush. Taking a few steps forward, I turn and face the far reaches of the massive edifice. Above me, the ceiling rises so high I have to strain to admire its intricate design. To my right and left are two rows of seemingly endless columns that climb to the ceiling and reach out to one another, forming an archway beneath which to walk. At the far end of the columns, I can barely perceive a screen of stone which I assume leads into the inner sanctuary. Taking a breath, I step confidently to one side of the church and walk along the rows of columns. To my left, covering the wall of the cathedral, are tombs and plaques of those who have died. I could easily take days reading all the inscriptions and tributes found within the plaques. My guidebook provides a succinct recounting of the lives of the numerous archbishops who are buried inside many of the tombs. Looking at the ornately decorated tombs, I wonder if the archbishop’s lives were really as simple as the book portrays. Military officers and soldier’s memorials also line the walls in great profusion. “In Memory of…having faithfully served his country…World War I, World War II, India, South Africa, America…leaving behind his wife and children.” The inscriptions are endless and yet ever similar in idea. The cathedral seems a place of death and burial.

While there appear to be miles of never ending tombs and plaques, I do eventually reach the outer wall of the inner-sanctuary. My mind tells me that the beautiful stone statues of the archbishops standing over this wall are amazing. My heart remains untouched. I walk into the sanctuary and look at the wooden pews built for the upper class of society. Many of the seats have names on them: important people, religious people, people beyond my social standing. A note informs me that last week the 104th Archbishop was just enthroned here. Moving farther on, past the pews, I see encased in glass a Bible that is used only when an Archbishop is enthroned. Ahead of me are the altar and a set of stairs leading up to the Archbishop’s chair. Dating from the Thirteenth century, it is an impressive throne cut from cold stone. Seeing a throne for humans in a Cathedral that is supposed to be God’s strikes me as odd. I walk forward to take a closer look at the altar and throne, and it is then that I observe him.

A middle-age man is standing motionless before the altar. As I move around to the side, I examine his face. He seems to stare unseeing at the altar, body upright, hands loose at his side, no emotion in evidence. Just then a voice comes over the intercom system asking all to please find a seat or stay where they are and join in a moment of prayer. I move to one of the pews and sit down. As the voice prays for the nation, for leaders, for the world, the man reaches out pleadingly towards the altar, and a look of utter heartbreak spreads across his face. Falling unheeded to the floor, tears begin to roll down his cheeks. Oblivious to any around him, he is silently crying out to the Lord like a hurting child.

I bow my head in awe and feel the exhilarating presence of life flowing through my veins, even as tears form in my eyes. I have felt the warm presence of a living God in this cold sanctuary of prayer.

Essay: Obliteration

In one afternoon, my perspective of the man changed completely. This man was ---------, my ballet teacher of eight years in the Southeast Asian country of Thailand. His students called him Ajarn, the Thai word giving importance to one who has a university degree. Although American-born, I had lived my entire life in Thailand with my missionary parents resulting in my studying ballet with this man.

I had always viewed Ajarn -------- as an edgy man, having a square shaped face with deep-set, slightly slanted Asian eyes; a square, if slightly flattened nose; a square neck leading to a squarely shaped body with two long rectangular legs set underneath. His feet, however, were prime examples of the curvaceous arches that mark a great dancer.

Ajarn’s beliefs were also very squarely set in his life. In Thailand, where to be Thai is to be Buddhist, he was the most devout Buddhist I had ever met. His faith in his religion was sincere and unshakable. Many times a year he would take his students to meditations and Buddhism training. Being a Christian, I never participated in those trips; however, I would often arrive for my ballet class and find a number of students sitting around him in a silent circle on the floor while he lectured them in Thai on how they should behave and live as good Buddhists. He was ever leading them in the pursuit of peace within their lives. Roughly translated, he would promote ideas such as, “Peace is the goal of your life. To maintain a peaceful existence, you must remember who you are in comparison with the other creatures of the world. Be wary of pride. You are no greater than others; be careful of harming any other being.” Ajarn was like a father to all of us. Indeed, in that Asian culture, when a teacher takes a student under his wing to train, he essentially becomes that student’s father. Even the legitimate parents of a student would acquiesce to such a teacher’s demands.

He did seem like a peaceful man to my eyes. Always neatly dressed in a simple style that blended with his personality, Ajarn spoke gently and softly. When, as a class, we were being lazy or not working as hard on perfecting our training as he felt we should, he would literally lecture us for hours on how to perform better. He was forever challenging us to stretch ourselves farther and farther into our art. “As dancers, your goal is not to perform for yourself but for your audience. If you are so focused on techniques that you fail to grasp the message of your story, your audience will never be touched. You must show discipline in your lessons; being lazy will simply hinder your future opportunities not only in dance, but also in every area of your lives.” Despite all his lectures, Ajarn would rarely raise his voice. The intensity of his speech was all that was necessary to focus our attention on him as he would sit cross-legged on the floor in the pose of meditation, lecturing us on our talent, our art, our lives.

In contrast to his gentle voice, Ajarn had strength of iron when he walked amongst us correcting our technique while we were dancing. If we were not pushing ourselves hard enough to lift our legs that extra half-inch, Ajarn would wrap his manacle-like hand around the errant leg and push it up higher until we would wonder if our backs were going to snap in half. Then, he would release his hand, and, in that gentle voice of his, he would command us to hold it there – use our muscles. And we would.

I loved him. Ballet was my world, and his commands and directions were the axis of that world. Despite his strength and determination to push us to our boundaries and then beyond, I never feared him. Well, I never feared him until that day.

I will never forget that steamy, tropical afternoon. As I sat stretching my muscles out on the smooth wood floor of the studio, a fellow student, Ayra, sat beside me. I noticed she was quiet, but that was not unusual. All of a sudden, Ajarn stormed into the room, focused only on his prey, oblivious to any others. He grabbed Ayra’s hair-bun, forcing her to the floor where he proceeded to scream in her face for the next hour in a voice unlike any I had ever heard come from him. To this day, I do not know what caused the onslaught against her; my abilities in the Asian language were not strong enough to follow the tirade that came so quickly after Ajarn’s entrance to the room. Later, I never had the courage to ask her what had happened. During the tempest, I sat curled up, half-hidden under the bars. I was too stunned to move, too wary of the monster in front of me to act.

Where had that gentle nature gone? The peace he was always admonishing us to seek was no longer evident. Ajarn was a changed man, a cruel fiend, a tyrant. His strength was no longer for teaching but for punishing. Neat clothing array, hair flamed out over his head in no set fashion, soft-spoken ways dissipated - he was a nightmare.

The next day, everything was back to normal. As I cautiously entered the studio, Ajarn
was sitting cross-legged on the floor lecturing on peace. In the following days, weeks, months, years, he acted as he always had before his eruption. Yet he was changed in my eyes. He no longer was representative of peace and honor; he was a volcano full of hidden power and cruelty. My love and regard for Ajarn had been indelibly altered in that single hour.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Avoid Tetanus Shots!

So, I have discovered, as is true for most medical things in my life, that I have extreme reactions to tetanus shots! Sometimes I think that if given the option for one thing I could change about my body, it would not be to lessen my Thorley style back-side :), but it would be to have a stronger immune system. It's like if something is out there to catch - I catch it. If something can be caught lightly or hard - I catch the worst variety possible. This tetanus shot I had the other is horrific. And a prime example of this whole phenomenon in my life.

I innocently go to the doctor for my yearly check up. Which, on a side note...I love my doctor, and I now have to find a new doctor because of my insurance change, and this makes me very sad...any who...this doctor, whom I love so much, asks me when I got my last tetanus shot because she can't find any records of it anywhere. I confess, silly me, that I can't remember. So as her parting words to me after quite a long consultation, she informs me I need to get my tetanus booster and the nurse will be in to do it before I go.

That was Thursday. It hurt. A lot (not the actual getting of the shot - that was mild - but the whole extreme soreness of the arm that developed). By Friday night, I had a temperature of about 100, could barely move my arm, my shoulders and neck had completely swollen up, I was exhausted, and had a huge, nasty red welt type thing where the shot had been given. It's now Sunday, and I can still feel a continual stinging in my arm where I continue to have a rather large, nasty looking red, swollen lumpish thing where I received the shot. At least I'm no longer exhausted or running a temperature - look on the bright side I guess!

So, my final conclusion is that tetanus shots are evil, and I'm not sure what would be worse - actually getting the tetanus or dealing with the prevention!

That's my gripe and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Boxing up God

I wrote the following two paragraphs two Sundays ago. We were in the middle of worship service, and one of the songs was talking about how expansive and beyond our understanding God is. Being a good reader, I made the connection between that and a conversation I had recently had with a dear friend of mine. As I love to write, and process best through writing, I took a few minutes in church at that time to write down the following thoughts I had as a result of that connection.

In our human minds, we have to try to see God from the minute perspective that we have. I had a conversation with a friend recently about how much she resented people trying to put her in a box – forcing her to be something she does not want to be. After talking with her for awhile, we (Chris and I) raised the point that people don’t put us in a box. Yes, they have a box that they mentally see us in, but they cannot actually shove us into the confines of their box without our consent. And that is the key. We choose how we live – who we are – regardless of the perceptions (boxes) of those around us. Yes, other people can have an impact on who we are, that cannot be denied. But how we respond to that shaping and pushing is still our choice. No other person can force us to be something we do not choose to be. A wise individual will recognize that we all do this to one another and not feel affronted by other people doing the natural human action of boxing people up. It is the human way of trying to grasp that which is so far beyond us. A wise person will also remember that he or she does the exact same thing to other people – consciously or unconsciously.

In the same way, we do this to God. The trick here though, and with humans, is to realize that we do have these boxes (expectations/perspectives) that we put around other, and to do our best to keep the walls of these boxes flexible enough that not only can that person (or God) change the look of our boxes, they can change the very shape, size, and content. It takes humility and an open mind to be willing to allow our perspective to be changed. If we refuse to see anyone else but by the box we have placed them in, we have a warped perspective of whom they are. Most people morph and change over time. How much more so does that apply to God. Trying to place Him in a box leads to stale religion and liturgy with no meaning. Recognizing that He is as vast and diverse – while simultaneously being omniscient and omnipresent – than anyone other being, will allow him to move and shape – not just our perspective of him, but the very fabric of the boxes we place Ourselves into.

Those were my thoughts a few weeks ago. Imagine my amusement when, on Sunday, pastor stole my ideas in his sermon. And expanded on them a little bit! For the past few weeks, he has been talking about how important it is, as a Christian, to not sit idly by and expect God to come to us and do great things in our lives. Our God is a living, active God who constantly is on the move doing new and vital things. Assuming that the way in which we experienced God at one point in our lives will stay the same forever and ever, is ridiculous. Yes, that experience we had with Him when we were 16 was precious and great, but is He always going to meet us in that way? Probably not. Paul talks about growing and eating more adult food instead of milk. So, why shouldn’t our perspectives and experiences with God morph and develop as we get older (both literally and spiritually)? We place unrealistic expectations on Him; no one wonder people sometimes become disappointed or feel jaded. That’s like meeting someone you used to play with as a child and expecting that person to be exactly like the five year old they were when you last saw them despite the fact that they’re now 32!

Any ways, those are the basic ideas behind this boxing thought I’ve had rolling around in my brain the last few weeks. It’s been a good reminder to not only remember that I have changed over the years – and so hopefully others won’t refuse to reshape their own perspectives of me, but that I too need to recognize the changes in others and be willing to shape my perspectives of them and not try to shove them into the box that I originally formed for them in my mind.

Just a last note. I was talking to my Dad about this, and he commented that it has been proven that one of the common features of all societies (and I remember talking about this in one of my TESOL classes) is that people have to categorize things. I wonder, sometimes, if that is not one of the reasons we are so limited in our mental usage. We don’t allow ourselves to – great cliché phrase here! – “look beyond the box.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mutually Exclusive

So my darling husband and I had an interesting conversation two nights ago.

Over the last few months, I've made some rather huge changes in my life. All of this has been done through much discussion and prayer (and occasionally gobs of tissues) with my husband. I'm thankful that we have worked so hard on our marriage in the last few years that there is basically no subject that we don't discuss in our marriage. Makes life quite simple.

Any who...when I decided to quit my teaching job, there were several reasons for that decision, two of which are the following:

1. Teaching is a very demanding job. I've begun to realize over the years exactly why so many of the best teachers whom I have come into contact with are either divorced or single. It's obviously not impossible to teach and be married, but it definitely puts strain on a marriage and requires a goodly number of sacrifices either from the job or from the marriage. Now, to some degree, that might be due in part to the particular classes/age levels/subject matter I taught - either way - my dearest of husbands has put up with a lot over the last few years. So, one of the reasons I had for leaving my teaching job and taking a slightly less time-consuming job was that I wanted to have a job - for at least a small time in my life - that I worked for 40 hours a week and then leave there and not have to worry about extra grading etc. I wanted to be able to do things on a weekend without factoring in how many hours of grading or lesson planning I needed to do, and if I would have time to do them if we went out and did _________ (fill in the blank with any number of a myriad of activities). I wanted to be able to hang out late in the evening during the week and not be constantly worrying about dealing with all the students the next day. Basically, I wanted more free time to "live" my life - not just pour into teaching. For those who don't know, I've never actually held a regular 9-5 job in my adult career. For five years I taught ballet which took up nearly every evening during the week and much other time as well. Or else I worked a job but was in school full-time as well which meant all my free time was taken up. And I went from all that straight into teaching. That's why the luxury of leaving work on a Friday and knowing you truly don't have to think about your job for two whole days is such a novelty to me!

2. The other major reason I gave for leaving teaching when I did was to work on my masters. I was trying to do that and teach and it was HORRIBLE. When you are already working 50 to 60 hours per week, tacking on 10+ extra hours every week is extremely hard. Yes, yes, I know tons of people do it, but I'm not tons of people. I'm me. And I'm learning to be nice to me....So, by finding a more 9 to 5ish kind of position, I opened up my schedule a little better to make getting my masters a little less frustrating.

Side note: For those of you who don't know me well, I love school. I love learning; I even like homework in some sick way :) I have every intention of someday earning my doctorate, partially because I'd love to be able to teach on the college level, but even more because I want to earn my doctorate! I know, I know...I'm an odd duck...I can't help it. I just love learning. However, also for those of you who don't know me too well, I have a tendency to stretch myself to thin at times. I forget that I'm really not super-woman (a very frustrating fact btw), and so wind up taking on too much and having to let other things suffer - which sadly often becomes friends and family. This is an area I've really been working on the last few years.

Back to the main point: Here's the problem. Reason 1 and Reason 2 are somewhat mutually exclusive. It's hard to have more free time when you're taking on doing a masters full time and still working full time!

This was the issue my dearest of husbands raised the other night (the night before I was on the verge of signing all my paperwork stuff to start school in the Fall). We wound up talking for several hours (we're really bad about that. We start these conversations right before bed and end up staying up way too late because we have to finish the conversation! Plus, we're both so analytical, that one small point can lead to 10 other points which lead...well, you get the picture), and the final upshot is that I'm not starting my masters this fall. In fact, I'm going to do something I'm going to take some time off for a whole year. Scary thought - Hanna take time off?! Yes, I know, it's mind-boggling to me as well, but there you have it.

The funny thing is that I never even considered taking time off. This just seemed like the next immediate step I had to take regardless of whether or not I was still currently teaching. But my husband knows me well enough to be able to look at my face and realize what I could not - that ever since I started this new job, I've looked exhausted and unhappy. I personally didn't notice anything. Sure, I was tired, but it's just having a new job - I told myself. But when Chris brought up this idea and we talked about all the different surrounding aspects to it, I realized how much relief and even hope I felt at not starting school this fall. And that is a serious wake-up call for me.

Why? The job is relatively straight-forward - lots to learn, but I'm picking it up fast. I had my schooling all planned out. But, as is sometimes my nature, I was looking to the future but not stopping to look at the what was actually going on around me. And Christopher felt like he was being left behind as well...and that's never good. So, we are taking a year to ontologize but also to pray and search for where God wants the two of us to go and what he wants us to do. We hope to get involved more deeply in some of the different ministries our church offers or other areas that are out there. Not take on too much, but try to put some feelers out to see if maybe God will open some doors or otherwise clue us in to what He wants from us!!! C has also talked about opening up his job-options a little more by pursuing a masters, but he's never settled on what area, partially because of my tendency to forge on ahead and forget to wait and catch up all the other details of my life!

All in all, this was a somewhat humbling conversation I held with my husband, but it was beneficial. And I feel so much peace right now about this decision, that I'm alsost holding my breath in anticipation to see what we might discover next!

One Year Ago Today

On this day, one year ago, we completely changed our lives. We drove away from jobs and home and loved ones to a new adventure of the very m...