Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dancing in the dark

Well, not quite dancing... but grooving on the elliptical trainer at the gym. The power went out this morning at Planet Fitness, so instead of watching inane stuff on the tv, I was grooving to my Afriki album on the Ipod. (Which I coincidentally brought for the first time because I was bored with the junk they broadcast on the tvs at the gym.)

I have a love/hate relationship to the ipod. On the one hand, it is cool to have your own personal soundtrack as you go about your business. On the other, I think music is meant to be a communal experience. I love listening with others, dancing and singing along. It seems isolating to listen alone.

Working out has been great, thoough. I started a few weeks ago because I wanted to be in better shape for the Big Trip. So every day I have been doing about 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer and then working either my arms or legs on the nautilus machines. (Do they still call them that, I wonder?)

Yup. I am superwoman:

Faster than a lazy water buffalo. More powerful than a kid selling gum on Nha Trang Beach. Able to lift extra large bowls of pho.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Big Trip

I am thinking it is silly to spin off yet another blog. (Three and counting at this point...) So I will be posting about my big trip to Vietnam here.

First, the particulars:

6 of us are traveling together. My husband, kids, my parents and I are flying from Providence to Chicago, from Chicago to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Saigon. (No one, and I mean no one, calls it Ho Chi Minh City!)

The flight between Chicago and Hong Kong is the longest leg, of course. It is just under 16 hours. Oddly, it is the one part of the trip that worries me. (Bad food? Nah! Malaria? Nope. Cockroaches the size of poodles? Pshaw! 16 hours in a confined space? It's enough to scare the crap outa me.)

I have prepared for the long flight by buying an inflatable pillow and packing ambien. Better living through chemistry, I say. I'll probably get some saline for my nose, too. The last long flight I took, my nose hurt like crazy by the end of it.

But oh, we are so excited. We leave in 2 weeks. My father in law is preparing for us. We are beginning to pack. We have our shots, our passports, our visas (very official from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, complete with a red star in the corner.) We have rehydration salts and immodium. We have water tablets and nalgene bottles. We have 6 bottles of bean sauce for my father in law. We have a box of wine and a phrase book.

We are getting ready.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Confidential to A.F.

Welcome home!

I can't wait to hear about India. Wanna do lunch? I don't have your email!


The evangelist

Suddenly, I am evangelizing.

Not the showing-up-on-your-doorstep-talking-smack-about-the-state-of-the-world kind. Not telling my friends that they are destined to an eternity of hellfire and bad food if they don't mend their ways. Not even Jesus is Lord and until you accept that you are doomed.

Nope. I am just inviting people to visit my church. And they have been. And some have stayed. My son's friend mentioned a couple of weeks ago that they were planning to visit the Baptist church in the neighborhood.

"Really?" I said. "What's your mom's number at work?"

At which point I called her and invited her and the family to come to Grace on Sunday.

"I'll swing by and show you how to get there." I said.

They came, and it turned out that long ago, they had been Episcopalians until their parish closed and they never found another church.

They loved Grace. They joined. The kid is now in the middle school youth group with Noah. The teenager is excited about the mission trip this summer. The parents are going to volunteer to make sandwiches for the homeless. They all went up and took communion for the first time in years.

When I talk about my church, I talk about it with such joy and affection, I think people get interested.

A week ago I had dinner with friends and yesterday one of them showed up for the 10am service at Grace. She is a Unitarian Christian who is, I think, coming to understand that there is an oxymoronic element to that. She is longing for the sacraments. She is longing to hear about Jesus in church. She longs to sing his praises. So there she was. Next week she is coming to Lectio Divina before the service.

I loved my UU church, but interestingly, I never invited any of my friends to come with me. Well, maybe once or twice. A lesbian friend checked it out once, but it was the most dour of services. Doom and gloom, like Lent without the uplifting possibility of redemption. Even the hymns that day were like dirges. One of the problems with a UU church is you really never know what to expect. One week it was a sermon on the redemptive elements of Harry Potter. The next it was a survey of Sufi poets. The next it was a diatribe on how the Catholic church mounted a smear campaign against Mary of Magdala. My friend never came back.

Getting people excited about a church is, admittedly, a little bit of bait and switch. Because it is not that I think that Grace is the be-all of churches. Or that going to church is even the point. It is that something remarkable has been happening there. God is kicking butt. People are experiencing transformation. Redemption. Miracles are occurring. Yesterday a man who has been coming for almost two years took communion for the first time. (Maybe he figured if Nguyen could do it, he could too, LOL.) Grace is a community of people who are earnestly seeking to be in deeper relationship with Jesus. So, by inviting people to our beautiful building with our great choir and sweet, funny priests and friendly parishioners, I am actually inviting them to open a door to God. I figure if I try and get them in the pews, God will do the rest.

So, what are you doing this Sunday?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

1 Corinthians

Thank God for the bible. I love reading it. I love studying it. I love living by it.

Lately I have been struggling with myself. I have been obsessing over whether this person is mad at me, or that one thinks I am a jerk. Essentially, I think, it has been a kind of self-centeredness gone berserk. Of course you are cranky because of something I did. Doesn't the whole world, including yours, revolve around me?

So today I was at Bible study with all my dear dear friends and we were reading Corinthians and leave it to Paul to get straight to the point and whack me upside the head.

1 Corinthians 4:3

3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

For me, this means that I need to let God be the one to judge me. Not you. Not my friends. Not myself, even. And I need to be very careful not to judge others.

After bible study, I sat in a pew and prayed for awhile, asking Jesus to let me rest in his peace. In him, I do not fret. I am calm. I am safe. I am free.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jesus' baptism

Yesterday during Lectio Divina, we were reading Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism. I read first. Inexplicably, about half way through the reading, I choked up. I just started crying.

Next it was my friend's turn to read. I pulled myself together and tried to understand what had caused my reaction. Since there were only two of us, I read the passage a second time. Once again, halfway through, I began to cry. This time I was nearly sobbing. I had to get some tissues to wipe my nose. My makeup was smeared all over my cheeks. My face turned red.

What in the world happened?

The night before my baptism 4 1/2 years ago, I randomly opened the bible and landed on this very passage in Matthew. At the time, I didn't know what baptism meant. I had asked my minister to baptize me as a symbol of my surrender to God... but did not understand the sacramental nature of what I was doing. I don't think my minister had a clue about that either, to be honest. He knew I was earnest. He believed I was genuinely being called to do this thing. But he had no idea what it really was. We sailed past the whole Jesus issue. Being a Unitarian at the time, it didn't occur to me to specifically talk about Jesus at the baptism. It wasn't until days later that I realized that the made-it-up-as-we-went-along baptism had done something totally unexpected: I was baptized by the Holy Spirit. I became a Trinitarian. I became a Christian. And most importantly, I died and was reborn in Christ, Jesus. I died and was reborn.

Which to someone who hasn't experienced it, sounds a bit off the wall. Maybe even frightening. But to me, it was blissful. Scary at times, especially in the weeks following my baptism. But joyful nonetheless.

Yesterday, when reading the passage from Matthew, the feeling that opened the floodgates was gratitude. And a sense of calm and peace and joy, mixed with a bit of longing, too. John was unworthy, and yet Jesus chose him. I am unworthy, and yet I, too, feel I have been chosen to serve God. Mostly what I felt was a kind of calm that only comes with resting in the presence of God.

Mat 3:13

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
Mat 3:14

But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Mat 3:15

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Mat 3:16

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.
Mat 3:17

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Monday, January 07, 2008


Every once in awhile I feel drawn to purge my old notebooks and diaries. A couple of years ago, I threw out my diary from High School. Today, I was looking at my tattered collection of bad poems and adolescent declarations of love from 9th grade with intention of tossing it. My stuff was positively embarrassing.

But in the midst of the schlocky poems and gushing love letters, I found a type written letter to the parents of a friend:

Oct. 9, 1979

Dear Mr. and Mrs. F_____,

I am a friend and somewhat of a confident of your son G. He seems to feel that your punishments are unfair and he is afraid to talk to you about it.

I realize that this is not my business, but I think that G is really depressed. He constantly mopes about in class and feels that everyone is out to get him, which, needless to say, is totally untrue. I think you should have a talk with him about his feelings.

I know G loves you both very much, but I believe he feels a complete communication block. If you could learn to accept him as he is, rather than ask him to be something he isn't, I am sure you would both be better off.

I left the letter unsigned. Apparently I never sent it. It is such a strange artifact of my life as a prep school kid.

My friend G killed himself 4 years ago and though I am certain that nothing I could have done would have ever changed that, it seems that even as a 9th grader, I could see that something was wrong.

Beloved God,

I pray that my friend G is at peace. I pray, too, for his parents, who even now must be filled with grief. And today I pray for all who suffer from mental illness and depression. Give them strength to seek help, Lord. And be with them in their pain.