Blessed to be a blessing

So it’s Monday morning and I’m on my way to Starbucks.  In my defense, I usually don’t visit Starbucks on a Monday morning, but there was a lot of gardening and the ensuing sore muscles yesterday, and the child woke me up at 2:30, and biology woke me up at 4:30, and the puppy woke me up for good at 5:30, and this week’s liturgy just needed a boost of caffeine.

So I’m on my way to Starbucks, a two-minute walk from the church, and I pass a guy pushing a grocery cart with a big garbage bag in it, which I assume is filled with cans and bottles he’s planning to recycle for the 5 cent rebate.  I’m on a mission for coffee, but I do think to myself, “God, bless that man” as I walk by.  But in the seconds after I pass him, before I get to Starbucks, I think to myself, “Maybe God wants me to be a blessing to him.”  And I go in and order my tall latte.

I have brought $3.oo with me; the coffee is $2.65 and I put the change in the tip jar.  I’m chatting with the barrista who’s foaming the milk and I hear the guy come in.  “Have you seen my friend who was pushing the thing?  Has he come out yet?”  No, says the barrista.  But then his friend comes out of the loo – an older gentleman wearing an Oregon State cap, pushing one of those walkers that has a basket and a padded seat.  The gentlemen leave.

I get my coffee, go outside, and pass them by.  They nod to me, and I’m expecting them to ask me for a dollar or two and I regret having only brought was was necessary for the coffee.  But they don’t ask me for anything; I’m pretty sure they don’t even notice me.  We end up  next to each other at the light and cross the street together.  The guys are chatting away, oblivious to my theological musings.  And on my way back to the office, I think to myself, “Who’s to say that man isn’t meant to be a blessing to me?”

May there be caffeine and the blessing of strangers for you today.


At Least It Wasn’t a Bake Sale

auction paddleMy husband and I recently attended the annual auction at our local school.  It was a good event.  The parent volunteers  who planned it did a great job.  It had a groovy theme.  Many teachers and staff were in attendance, as were many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the students.  The food was good, the wine was fine.  And a lot of money was raised.

But two things about the auction have not sat well with me.  One, I hate the fact that here in Portland (and likely in other places) we have auctions to raise money to pay for things like a music teacher, or this year, for I-pads for the students.  (Not one per student, but about two dozen; this is a public school after all.) I won’t spend this post talking about funding public education, although I could.

The thing that really did not sit well with me was the class divide at the auction, and the bigger problem it points out.  It’s not cheap (at least by my standards) to go this thing.  It’s $50 per ticket, and for some families in our school, that is simply too much.  And then once you get there, there are lovely items to bid on at the silent auction (another $25 minimum), free wine but beer and cocktails to pay for, and then the live auction, which was great, but the $4,800 (not including air fare) Canyon Ranch weekend for two was beyond our means.

I hate the fact that not all the families at the school could afford to participate even if they wanted to.  But it points to a larger issue about gentrification in our neighborhood, captured by the Fifth Grade Art Project.

Most classes at the school made an art object for the auction; some were part of the silent auction, some were part of the live auction.  Three of the kindergarten classes had items in the live auction.  They were darling, each of them.  The kids and their teachers did a great job with them. One of them was hot – it was quite the bidding war and it went for an astounding $3,800.  And that is great, great for the student artists, great for the school.

Then the fifth grade art project went up for bid.  I thought it was just as great as the kindergarteners’.  Starting bid: $500.  No takers.  Not a one.  None.  Nobody.  Nadie.  Pas de personne.  So the auctioneer lowered the opening bid: $200.  I was crushed.  I felt so awful for those fifth graders and their parents.  A few paddles raised, and it went for $250.

And here’s what my husband said: it’s all about the changing demographics in our neighborhood.  Two years ago we bought a home in a nice neighborhood that’s on the upswing; we could not afford to buy it now.  Younger families with more money are moving in, and moving out are families that are a little older who can no longer afford the upkeep or the property taxes.  They move out, out east, out north, where the prices are still manageable and the taxes not exorbitant.  They move out, and maybe don’t even bother to buy but just rent.

There’s a developer at work in our up-and-coming neighborhood, a guy who takes modest, 1,200 square-foot bungalows, tears down all but one wall (so that it can be considered a “remodel”) then builds up a 4,000 square foot house on a lot smaller than a quarter acre.  One of those went up down the street from us, and has sold for twice what our house is worth.

I love our neighborhood and I love our school.  I love the cherry trees in bloom, and the vegetable gardens people plant in their front yards.  I love the friendliness of the place.  I love our school.  I love the kids and the teachers and I love the fact that in a not-very-diverse Portland, there is diversity of race and class.  But I don’t like the changes that are happening, maybe because they all feel out of control.  And maybe because we are part of the pogo-31problem.  We bought our house from a flipper, who bought it out of a foreclosure, prettied it up, and sold it for a nice profit.  We have met the enemy….

Back to the auction.

Every year at this event during the live auction there is a special appeal.  This year the appeal was for I-pads.  The staff made a fantastic video showing 1) how outdated the current computers were (oooo!  a 1990’s Mac!) and 2) the ways that I-pads could help the educational process especially among the youngest learners.  And the auction began.  First category: those willing to make a gift of $1,000.

And the paddles went up – about ten of them.  I had tears in my eyes, despite all my misgivings about the event.  I had tears in my eyes because I thought, “Oh thank God, these kids are going to have a chance.”  Next category: $500.  Another $3,000.  Next category: $100.  I looked at my husband, and up went our paddle.  All in all, about $30,000 was raised in this special appeal for I-pads.  I still get teary thinking about it.  These kids – all of them – are going to have a chance.

But will they be able to stay in the neighborhood?

Word Nerd at the Doctor’s Office

So I went to see my doctor (actually my nurse practitioner) yesterday because I’ve been having some stuff that might feel like arthritis and I’ve had a really, really, really sore throat.

I don’t wait long, the nurse calls me in, first stop the scale – yay! 40 pounds by their measure!

Onto the exam room. The nurse verifies my name and birthdate, and why I’m there. She asks me about my pain – where does it hurt? Well, I think to myself, it doesn’t really hurt. “Hurt” is not the right word to describe what I feel. “Ache” is a better word. My ankle and my knee and my hip ache. But she doesn’t ask how much it aches, she asks how much it hurts.

And then, because I’ve been having this internal conversation and have evidently been a little slow on the uptake, she shows me this handy “pain level” chart with smiley faces on it. Now I know they have to do this. I once served as a lay person on an Institutional Review Board, a group of medical and non-medical folks who review the protocols and consent forms for new drugs and devices and procedures. So I know that those things have to be written so that a person with an eighth-grade level education can understand it.

But smiley faces? Really?

I point to the smiley faces that is more of a wavy line that a curve and describe my pain as a 7.5.20130419-151237.jpg

But then I go inside my head again. My pain doesn’t look like a circle with two dots for eyes and a wavy line for a grimacing mouth. Then again, my pain does not look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Nor does my pain feel like what St. Teresa20130419-151304.jpg felt as the cherubim stabbed her into ecstasy in Bernini’s sculpture at the lovely little Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Put that on your chart.

My pain is not absent as it would be in a lovely Fragonard painting; there is no peace in my body that mimics a classic Dutch landscape.20130419-151331.jpg

If the nurse had asked, “Which painting in the great repertoire of Western art most evokes the ache you feel in your ankle, knee, and hip?” I would have been happy to ponder that and answer. “Why, thank you, Nurse Shelly. My ache is best represented by Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1669. He’s not wincing, but there are shadows around the eyes and a set-ness to the mouth that evoke some ongoing pain and sleep-interrupted nights.” And then Nurse Shelly and I might get into a conversation about the evolving nature of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. But we don’t. She notes in my chart that I pointed to the wavy-line mouth smiley face, then tells me the nurse practitioner will be right in.rembrandt self 1669

My only consolation in all of this is that my nurse practioner asked if the symptoms in my leg started at the same time as my sore throat because the two might be related, except she didn’t say “at the same time.” She used the word “concurrently.” I was so happy, and answered her right away, because my little brain did not need to imagine synonyms or paintings that would better describe it all.

Of course, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me….

ps: If you are my mother reading this, it’s probably just a virus and nothing serious, so please don’t worry

How Much Va Va in the Voom?

hubba-bubbaThere’s this saying among people losing weight:  “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.”  I would like to go on record as stating that I do not believe this is true.

Pringles taste awfully good.  So does chocolate, in any form, but especially melted.  So does a good pizza, or hamburger, or frites when they are very salty and greasy and crisp.  You can add your list of things that taste better than being thin feels.

But truth be told, I’m not really sure what being thin feels like, although I do know what it feels like to lose weight and have people tell you that you look great and then gain weight and have people say nothing.  That feels good and bad, but not as good as  m&m’s.  It’s been a LONG time since I could be called “thin” in any way.  But I have lost a lot of weight in my life time, and I have gained all of it back again.  I’m in a losing phase right now, and I must admit that I feel better.  Exercise is easier.  My back and hips don’t hurt as much.  I have better energy and stamina.  But I crave, crave, crave salty crunchy things.

It’s a mental game, this losing weight thing, so I set bench marks:  10% of my weight lost.  15% of my weight lost.  Down to my pre-pregnancy weight.  Down to what I weighed when I started college.  Moving my BMI from obese to overweight.  20% of my weight lost.  50 inches lost.  Pants size in the single digits.

None of that feels as good as half a bag of tortilla chips.

But it is a mental game, so I try a lot of different motivational tactics.  The ones struck-through I have disregarded.

God wants me to be a healthy temple for the Spirit.    People will respect me more if I’m not fat.

I am tired of feeling gross.   I want to be around for my daughter and possible grandchildren.

I need to set a good example for my congregation.

It will only get worse.

So this time around, the motivation is totally for myself.  I want to feel better, and I want to be healthy enough to live a good long while so I can be a great mom to my adult daughter and maybe a great grandmother to her children.  But how far do I go with this diet?  How much weight do I lose?  What’s enough?

For me, today, at age 48.5, this is enough: a BMI in the overweight category.  A size 12 pants.  A total weight loss (this time) of 67 pounds.  That’s my goal, and I’m halfway there.   That will keep enough va-va in the voom, because a few curves look good on me, and a few curves make me feel like me.

And maybe, with 67 fewer pounds on me, and a few curves to make me feel like me, the occasional serving of Pringles will be just fine.

But the chocolate croissant is another matter.choc croissant

Easter Post-Mortem

lemon pledgeWell, it is finished, and by “it is finished” I do mean Holy Week and Easter.  And for all the pastors and preachers and church musicians and church secretaries out there, I say “Phew.”  Of course, Jesus rose from the grave in spite of our best efforts, but there you are, God accomplishing God’s work without the help of us ministry professionals.

Easter is over, and the post-mortem has begun.  Yes, the services ran long.  Yes, the microphones were a little wonky at first.  Yes, we changed some traditions and yes, we did not change some traditions.  Yes, there were flowers and no, not everyone has picked theirs up yet.  Yes, there were dyed eggs and yes, one child did smush his all over the chancel steps.  Yes, the restless little girl waiting to be baptized did eat said smushed-up egg on the chancel steps while her parents promised on her behalf to turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world.  Yes, there were crowds, and  yes, there were enough regular-size bulletins but not enough of the large print.  And yes, God provided us in Portland with a perfect, 72 degree, blue-sky day.

So here it is, bright Monday, and I awoke at a charming 4:30 am today.  I am such a Calvinist.  No rest for the wicked despite all of yesterday’s efforts.  It is bright Monday (as our Orthodox brethren and sistren call it) so that means it is Accomplish the Semi-Annual Dusting of My Office day.  That always feels like an appropriate response to resurrection: to clean, to wipe off the old dust (which, a friend reminded me, is mostly dead skin cells.  Bleh.)  I hung up my robe, I organized my stoles by color, I finally put away the Christmas creche which had been tucked behind the couch since December.  I bagged up old throw pillows for Goodwill, washed the dirty coffee cups, put all the sermon-prep books back on shelf, and pulled out the Lemon Pledge and dust rags.

I’m not sure  that cleaning as a response to the resurrection is what Jesus had in mind.

Anyone who has been to our home will confirm that I am not a clean freak.  I like things picked up, but if I get to cleaning every week or two, that’s good enough for me.  So it’s not like I’m always walking around with my arsenal of Murphy’s Oil Soap, Lemon Pledge, white vinegar, bucket and rags at the ready.  But I love to clean the office on the Monday after Easter; I think of it as a spiritual discipline.

I mean, if Jesus went to all that trouble to rise from death, and folded up those linen cloths neatly (with or without the imprint of his face on them) and gave us shiny, new, eternal life, the least I can do is clean my office, fold up the prayer shawl that was crumpled up on the couch, and give the impression that things are in pretty good shape.

There’s an understatement: after the resurrection, things are in pretty good shape.  Except that not really.  Crap still happens.  People still practice their bad juju on the innocent.  Death still appears victorious and sting-filled.  The dust will come back, and sooner than I want.

But I offer what I can in response to the new life.  I clean, and I will clean again, though not soon enough.  I am grateful for the spring, knowing that the perfect 72 degree, blue-skied yesterday means a rainy, rainy April awaits us.  I am convicted by the gift, and at least for today, try to live generously in response.

After the resurrection, things are on their way to being in pretty good shape.  And my dusting is part of that.  Thanks be to God.