Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lent



I think I'm selfish.

Have you ever seen that Friends episode where Phoebe is trying to find a purely selfish act? She notices a mistake to her bank account, a several thousand dollar credit. She calls the bank to tell them, the right thing to do. To thank her, she's rewarded with a phone shaped like a football. She tries time and time again to find some act in which it doesn't look like she's trying to gain from it, but can't.

I've been thinking this way about my life. Am I friendly to people just so they'll be friendly back to me? Do I work hard at school and get good grades because I want to do my best, or because I want others to notice that I always do my best? Do I talk openly about an eating disorder to help others, or solely to help myself? Do I write on this blog because I just enjoy writing, or do I need, above all else, other people's feedback?

A family friend warned me of this over spring break. He said that creators, may it be photographers, painters, singers, or writers, can get stuck in this desire or feedback: Am I okay? Is this good? Do you approve?

I want to surround myself with people who can tell me the truth. If I push them all away, I'll probably end up alone and sad, because everyone will be afraid to tell me how it really is. One of these honest people is another friend and mentor who replied to one of my emails in February saying, "You are one of the most selfish people I know!"

I tried to listen. I tried to hear where he was coming from. But I was hurt. We got together while I was home in Colorado and I told him that. I asked why he felt I was so selfish and why hadn't he told me sooner? We talked for 2 hours. Apparently there was a misunderstanding (as there often is in digital communication). We talked about how I was incredibly selfish when he knew me in high school, but how we learn and grow and change. Hallelujah.

Still, after being labeled "Selfish" and spending a month thinking about it before I replied to his email, I started to see areas of my life that need some work, one of which is this blog.

Why do I write here?

What is the purpose of this blog?


I'm not sure, but as a result I haven't felt much urge recently to write. I've been unsure of my motives and unsure of my purpose. I think I'm going to take some time to figure that out.

I think I'll hop on the lent bandwagon and go without blogging for forty days. Yes, I realize lent ends next week at Easter, but since I'm not doing this for any directly biblical reasons, I think it's okay. I'll stop blogging on Easter and go until May 14th, forty days later.

Yes, I think this will be good for me. I have a week to decide if I really want to follow through with this, but as I've witnessed, once it's on the blog, I'm kinda asking for accountability and I'm doomed to follow through.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Have a Dream Too

I have a dream that one day women will rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all women are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day in Beverly Hills the daughters of former celebrities and the daughters of former plastic surgeons will be able to sit down at the table of sisterhood.

I have a dream that women will not be judged by the measurements of their waist, but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that women will not be estimated by the size of their jeans, or the number on the scale, but by their compassion, patience, love, and joy they bring to those around them.

I have a dream that one day the magazines writers, movie makers, and fashion designers of our country will join hands with little girls and build an industry that accurately portrays women to their young, innocent eyes.

I have a dream that girls will believe they are beautiful and perfect without dieting or a stitch of make-up, because, they are.

I have a dream that women will start a radical revolution and stop hating their bodies and themselves.

This is our hope. This is the faith we go to bed with at night. With this faith we can change a culture that tells us we are never beautiful enough, thin enough, or perfect enough. With this faith we can be who we truly are and love every part of it.

Let freedom ring from Cosmo magazine.

Let freedom ring from Pro-Ana websites.

Let freedom ring from middle school playgrounds, junior high locker rooms, and college campuses.

Let freedom ring from breast enhancement surgery tables.

Let freedom ring from dieting centers, make-up counters, and the Playboy mansion.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, we will be able to speed up the day when all women; gray-haired or wrinkled, large or small, models or model citizens, will be able to join hands and say, “Free at last, free at last. I’ve been beautiful all along, now I’m free at last.”


(Originally posted, January 2009: but a much needed reminder today)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guilty



Yesterday, I sat comfortably in a La-Z-Boy watching a young wife tell the story of how her husband died, how he no longer exists, how he is now gone from her life forever because someone crashed into his car while texting on their phone. While texting. "Stupid" is a strong word, but that's downright stupid. A woman no longer has her husband, children no longer have their father, parents no longer have their son, all because another guy thought it completely necessary to be texting and driving. What a senseless way to die.

I sat there hearing this woman say what we all do when tragedy strikes, "I never thought it would happen to us" and "It happened so quickly." I don't believe that some people are pre-disposed to tragedy, as if they are just less lucky then the rest of us. They were bumbling around in this life just like us, until one day, their telephone rang like any other day and a police officer had to break the news.

I don't want to be that woman. I sat there imagining if it were my husband, my mom, my best friend. I'm not talking about living in constant fear for what could happen. But I do think there's something to be said about taking seriously the risks. We only seem to do when the situation gets personal.

Kevin W. Bakewell, senior vice president of the AAA Auto Club South, puts this idea into context: Someone driving 70 mph, travels 100 feet per second. While writing just a three-second text message, a driver can go the length of a football field without looking at the road.
talking on the phone is the equivalent of driving drunk. A recent study found 71 percent of people between 18 and 49 admit to texting or talking on the phone while driving. There are 500,000 people injured in accidents involving distracted driving every year. Six thousand people each year are killed in accidents involving distracted driving. Only 29 states have any kind of law restricting texting and driving.

If my brother got into an accident and died because he was talking on his cell phone, you bet I'd take action. I'd put a bumper sticker on my car touting the risks. I'd write letters to Congress seeking stricter laws. I'd attend awareness rallies. I'd write newspaper articles. I'd stop people on the street and tell them my story. I'd honk obnoxiously at all the people using their phones while driving. I'd take some serious action IF it happened to me. So what do I do until then? Hope for the best?

I've thought often about how I want to die. It'd be much better to die climbing a mountain or bravely battling some disease. I'd probably prefer dying in my sleep. I don't want to die because I got so angry with a vending machine that I rocked it back and forth in desperate need for my potato chips that it tumbled and squished me. I don't want to trip over my own shoelace. I don't want to fall down the stairs. I don't want to die while driving and using my cell phone.

I realize some things are beyond my control. Some things just happen. I can't very well prevent the possibility that I might fall down the stairs, but I can change my behavior behind the wheel and I have nothing to lose by doing it. The way I see it, fifteen years ago none of us had cell phones. We didn't carry them everywhere. We didn't require them to be with us every waking moment of the day. We sure didn't think twice about driving somewhere without our phone in hand. Cell phones are useful tools. I like having one. I don't need to adjust to a culture that tells me I need to be constantly connected. If I just adapt to whatever our culture tells me I should do, where does it end? If my life is so hectic that I actually feel it is required that I talk on the phone while I'm driving, what needs changing: the cell phone laws or my life?

I want to build an intentional life in which I am not required to be on Facebook several times a week to feel connected to people. I want to live in close community with enough people that we actually see each other and talk instead of being constantly bound to my cell phone. I want friends to know where I live and they just stop by instead of having to schedule times when we can get together. I want my life to to be slower, less filled with "stuff" so I can actually sit on the couch and call a friend. If driving is really the only time I have to connect with good friends or call home, it's my life that needs an overhaul. My over-busy life does not give me permission to be irresponsible with other people's lives or my own.




Oprah Winfrey has done it again: challenged my thinking. She's taking this seriously, and just as Bob Barker reminded us to have our pets spade and neutered to help control the pet population, Oprah's taking some serious action. She's been calling out celebrities like Lisa Ling and Nate Berkus who are irresponsibly putting theirs and others lives at risk. Oh Oprah.

As I've learned from Twelve Steps groups and some goal setting books, I'm starting slow. I can't go cold turkey. I am not texting while driving anymore. Guilty. Period. That's just plain ridiculous. I'm not quite ready to give up talking on my phone and driving, but I will always use my Bluetooth while driving. I'm starting here.

You can take the No Phone Zone Pledge here.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dance-ish

Zumba makes me a better person. Period.

Zumba could be called the Latin version of Jazzercise. But before you go getting these ideas in your heads of middle-aged women in neon spandex rockin' to 80s music, hear me out. Zumba is different. Most specifically, Zumba is cardio Latin dance. So while dance is good for your health anyway, there's just a little added fitness bonus, plus, it's freaking fun.

Tuesday and Thursday nights I spend 45 minutes shaking my booty with about 30 strangers. We've become friends pretty quickly. Like Steve, a 40-something balding man, who comes dilligently each night to Zumba. With a farmer's tan, purple shorts, knee socks, and a squeaky voice, Steve started shaking and he'll never go back. After his first night in class, he approached me with bright eyes and sweat dripping down his cheek, "That was a blast! I like that Salsa stuff. I'm coming back."

"Wow, I'm so glad. Please do," I said.

He leaned in a little closer and said in a hushed tone, "You know sometimes, when I'm all alone at home, I'll crank up some hip-hop music and dance around the house. So it's kinda fun to come here and do it."

He's a hoot. He comes everynight and claims his spot in the front row where he hollers and "whoo-hoos" and dances his heart out.

Then there's Elizabeth, from South America, who insists I've got some Latin in me. "Are you sure you're not from my country? You Salsa like we Salsa at home."

I've also met Agatha and Edgar, who recently moved here with their family from Mexico. They drive 25 minutes across town to Zumba because they miss Latin dance. Agatha gets her groove on like nobody's business, and Edgar, all 6'6 and 200+ pounds of him, just kinda shuffles side-to-side, but I think he likes it too. Last week they even brought their kids.

We have high schoolers and college students, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, friends and co-workers. One pair, a mother and her 15 year-old daughter, like the hip-hop music best so we work in some thug music where we can. Two 40-ish women come on Thursday nights with their husbands and make it a double-date. They are all sorts of flirtacious in the back row and I like it.

Zumba attracts a wide variety of people. We look silly. We stumble over ourselves and each other. We shimmy. We laugh. We sing along to Mambo #5 and Louis Armstrongs, "It's a Wondeful World." We dance, or something dance-ish.

Every night before class I announce, "There are two rules in this class: If I miss a step and mess up, just improv and do your own thing; and, nobody's allowed to look at each other's underarms, because then, none of us have to shave. Deal?"

There's something, dare I say, "holy" about complete strangers coming together and having this much fun. No matter the contents of my day, life feels lighter thereafter.

Recently an online magazine contacted me to do a Zumba demo for their site. Four women and a camera crew showed up at the other gym where I work and we did a short interview and class.

Here's the video
Here's the article

I make money exercising and connecting with people three times a week. I don't get paid much, but I get paid. Zumba contradicts that voice in me that says exercise should be miserable. Zumba contradicts that belief that I don't deserve to have fun. Zumba argues with that idea that I need to be perfect and grown-up and rational. While I'm still learning the ropes on balance and the basic human need for joy, Zumba keeps me on track and I'm so grateful.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dominos

Yeah, you're going to want to watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w

Kagna

I went to bed feeling pretty sorry for myself. Waking up to a dreary Sunday, I plodded to the computer to waste time before I had to be at work.

Two emails from students in Cambodia.

Sonita, a 12th grader at CAS writes, "Hi Ms. Bo! how are you doing? how is your work and studying? i am really miss you! last week i cried a lot because my grandma's shop was burned by the fire and next day my brother was hit by a group of guys. now they all are ok. but i am so sorry for the things that happen at the same times like this. i keep praying and asked God to comfort me. i am happy again. see you"

She's resilient that one.



Kagna, now a first-year student at AUP (Adventist University of the Philippines) writes, "Life is not easy as you already know...My study is going ok because i used to those classes. Next semester we'll move but the teacher's house is also in campus. it's difficult and many problems wish i could work to get some money for my school...when i was in high school i thought that when i got to college i could earn some money for myself but now nothing.....it's not easy to find a sponsor because not all people willing to sponsor us....do you know any one that could help? cause i'm desparate for help. i understand that you are not rich to sposor me because you're in school so no alot of money... if i could not find sponsor i have to wait until my parents have money to sent me school again and it's accordding to God's wiil also."

She's hopeful.


Sonita fears for safety amidst a recent fire and random violence. She hopes for peace.

Kagna fears she'll have to drop-out of school and return to Cambodia. She hopes for $3,500 to continue in college.

I fear mounds of homework. I hope that someday my boyfriend can live closer.
Doesn't really seem to compare does it?

Last week, I sat puttering around on my computer attempting a Technical Writing report when a "Hi Ms. Bo" popped up in my Gmail chat. My (now) tenth graders were just sitting down to computer class at 8:45 on Thursday morning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; as I did homework at 8:45 on Wednesday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After two years being back in the States, I still cannot wrap my mind around this. It's not the time difference. It's not the revolution of the sun. It's the fact that life goes on in both places whether I'm there or not. When my plane landed in Cambodia, life might as well have stopped in the U.S. I could not comprehend how these two vastly different worlds existed at the same time, on the same planet. I still can't.

I can't comprehend that while I sit in Nebraska, they are sitting in the computer lab in Cambodia, fingers sticking to the keyboards, fans whirring above them, blowing papers off of the wooden tables, metal being pounded at the construction site next door, sweat slithering down their foreheads as the teacher drones on in Khmer.

I can't comprehend that while they sit in Cambodia, I go about my life, frankly, as if they don't exist. I bundle up in coat, scarves and boots and plod my way to class. I shop at a grocery store abundant with everything I need and everything I don't. I enjoy the friends and family I missed so badly while I was gone. I go to work. I go to sleep. Life goes on.

Vitya found me online and we chatted for awhile about nothing in particular.
Then Daroth came on, "Hi Ms. Bo. This Daroth, the boy with the big smile and funny laugh."
Then Ratana, "Ms. Bo, when are you get married?"
Then Joanna, "Hi. I send you email. Did you get?"
Then Puthereak, "Vitya wants to be your boyfriend."
Then Vitya, "Ms. Bo, Puthereak lies!!!!!"
Then Rassmey, "Hi Ms. Bo. How are you? When you get married?"



Those scrawny, noisy 8th graders are now scrawny, noisy 10th graders. I can't understand it and life doesn't wait until I do. Life goes on.

My small, selfish little existence grows to worldly proportions when my students pop back into my life. It's easy to get stuck in my education, my job, my friends, my schedule, my life. It makes me sick. Cambodia reminds me of the bigness of life.


Two years ago, when I taught at Cambodia Adventist School, Kagna was that student who knew English just well enough to cause some commotion, then act like she was innocent. She and Leeta would banter back and forth in class, then try to get me into it.

"Ms. Bo, Leeta crazy. She belong in crazy house. Save me!" as they pulled each other's hair and goofed off after class.



She despised me when I first got to Cambodia, but slowly we earned trust in each other and by the end of the year, she was the hardest student to say goodbye to. We email and Skype from time to time. She's a brilliant girl. I see it. I was so proud to find out she was accepted to AUP for college. Some never go to college and just continue the cycle of ignorance. Kagna's different. She's a smart girl. Witty, intelligent, a natural leader, a hard worker. She's worth it to me.

Since I've returned to the States I've realized, everyone doesn't need to be a missionary. Some people are made for travel and overseas work, others aren't. But if I'm not going to go and do something about the problems in the world, the best thing I can do is fund good things with my money. If I won't go, I can fund someone else. My dollar is my vote.

I don't have much money. I definitely don't have $3,500, but I have $50.

You might have $10. You might have $100. You might be part of a book club or Sabbath school that likes to take on special projects. I'm going to start saving ten percent of my dinky monthly income for Kagna. If you'd like to help Kagna or have further questions, please email me at hbohlender@gmail.com.

I believe these students have taught me more than I could ever teach them.
I believe Kagna deserves an education.
I want her to believe this too.
I believe I can do what I can--though it may be small--to help her.

So, I will.




Saturday, March 6, 2010

Not Your Grandmother's Soybean: How to Start Enjoying Tofu

Admit it: You don’t want to like tofu. You don’t want to like tofu because it’s weird and jiggly. You don’t want to like tofu because that’s what hippies eat. You don’t want to like tofu because it’s not meat and never will be. You don’t want to like tofu for a lot of reasons. Maybe you’ve heard that real men don’t eat meat and eating tofu will actually turn you into a woman. Whatever your reasons, I dare you to suspend your judgment and continue reading. After all, approaching life with an open mind might just rock your world. Centuries ago, it was those daring revolutionaries who accepted, “Hey, maybe the earth is round!”
Let me introduce you to the amazingly useful soybean. Originating in China, Asian people have been using soybeans for centuries. This humble bean can be made into tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, miso, edamame, soy meal, soy flour, soy milk, textured vegetable protein (TVP), soybean oil, and even soy biodiesel for your car.
Soybeans supply all nine essential amino acids needed for optimal health--the only plant-based food to do so. The amino acid content of soy protein is nearly equivalent in quality to meat, milk, and egg protein. An abundance of minerals exist in soybeans: potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium. Soybeans are also high in vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, and vitamin E.
Tofu is made from soybeans, water, and a thickener. In addition to a wealth of vitamins and minerals, four ounces of tofu contains more calcium than a glass of milk and boasts as much protein as a 2 oz. serving of meat. Tofu comes in two main forms: silken or firm. Silken tofu can be used as a replacement for eggs or milk in many recipes like cookies, muffins, smoothies, or even alfredo sauce. Use ¼ cup silken tofu for each egg in a baking recipe. Replacing eggs for silken tofu saves you 211 mg of cholesterol and 5 grams of fat, you won’t even taste the difference.
Firm tofu is more often used as a “meat replacement”, but let’s not even call it that. Tofu is not meat. Don’t think of it as meat. Tofu is made of soybeans, not animal tissue. They can’t be compared. But if they were and the recommended protein allowance were to be reached with only steak or only tofu, the steak would contain 11 grams of saturated fat, tofu has none; 130 mg of cholesterol, tofu has none, 137 grams of sodium versus tofu’s 43, and the exact same amount of protein. But who’s counting?
If you choose to use firm tofu in a few recipes, try it in stir-fry’s, soups, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and curries. Anytime you use firm tofu drain the liquid, wrap it in a dishtowel and press it with something like a heavy skillet to remove the excess water. After pressing for at least 20 minutes, cut into cubes or strips and use as the recipe advises. Frying the tofu in 1-2 tsp. of oil until lightly browned will make for better, user-friendly texture. You can also freeze and thaw a block of tofu which creates a different more absorbent consistency for soaking up yummy flavors like basic soy sauce or curry paste, BBQ sauce or pesto.
Let’s be honest, some people have sought to ruin tofu. They might smear it in soy sauce and call it food. They might mash it up, fry it, and convince you it tastes “just like eggs.” It doesn’t. Just as with any food, it all depends on how it’s prepared. Eating plain, raw tofu doesn’t appeal to most people including myself. There are some downright nasty versions of tofu recipes like tofu “cheese”cake, pudding, or “egg” salad. Until you get comfortable with tofu, avoid recipes in which tofu makes up any more than 50% of the recipe. Slowly get creative with cooking and seasoning. Look up some recipes online and try making them with friends. Don’t let people ruin tofu for you.
So we’ve established that tofu might look weird, but so does a raw piece of chicken breast if you stop and think about it. “Hippies”—those crazy young people in the 70s who lived for love and peace—often eat tofu because they choose to eat lower on the food chain thus lessening their footprint on earth. Eating a plant-based diet is the best thing a person can do to take care of the earth. The average meat-eater will eat 760 chickens, 5 beef, 20 pigs, 29 sheep, 46 turkeys, 15 ducks, 7 rabbits, and half a ton of fish.
Tofu is not meat, but it could replace or simply supplement a meat-eating diet. Meat-eaters can eat tofu, just like meat-eaters can eat vegetables. It’s all about balance. Eating meat does not make you tough, or cool, or better than anyone else. Eating meat does not make you stronger than someone who eats tofu. Vegetarian triathletes, Olympic medalists, and weight lifters compete right alongside the best of them.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding tofu to your next Bangkok Curry or Pesto Cavatappi at Noodles and Company. Check out websites such as: vegetariantimes.com or vegcooking.com, to do your own experimenting. Educate yourself on different ways to use a wide variety of foods in your diet. We would all do well to eat less Ramen anyway (though you could add tofu to that too). If we resist change, we resist progress. The world is round and tofu just might make that world a little tastier.


squidoo.com
findarticles.com
veganforum.com


(The Clocktower, March 2010)

The Four Myths (and some tips) of Being A Student Missionary

Imagine that you have just come home from your first year in college. It was a bumpy year and you meet a long-time friend for coffee to catch them up on the events of your year: classes, difficult teachers, new friends, that ridiculous roommate, fun ASB events, issues with your girlfriend or boyfriend—an entire year of ups and downs. Now imagine if this friend looked at you disgustedly and said, “What are you whining about? You were supposed to have fun. Didn’t you learn something meaningful? Didn’t you get closer to God? I don’t want to hear about all that stuff. Just tell me about the good stuff.” You might feel like your so-called “friend” isn’t being fair because life isn’t just sunshine and lollipops, we all have our days. Life comes fully-loaded with bumps and struggles, and a year in a different location doesn’t suddenly make all of that go away.
Student missionaries often feel the exact same way. In fact, I haven’t met one returned SM who hasn’t felt that way at one time or another people only seemed interested in the good things they had to say. Endless myths exist about what the student missionary experience “should” look like. Returned travelers are often met with disinterest from people when their stories don’t involve jungle adventures, witch doctors, and direct encounters with God, but instead struggles and hard times.
“Only go as a student missionary if you are cool with the possibility of loneliness, sickness, and struggle,” Katie Booton told me. Exhausted and run-down after her year in Nicaragua, Katie warns prospective SMs about this idealistic thinking that the experience will assuredly be easy.
Jasmine Martin, who volunteered in Albania, told me a similar story. “Being an SM doesn’t make you invincible, it makes you vulnerable. No one is trying to be deceptive, but it’s unhealthy how we run missions because people need to have a realistic understanding of what being an SM could entail.”
Talking to many different travelers, we identified four main myths related to student missions. Myth number 1: Because you are serving God, everything will be easy. Not true. The world will continue to be a broken place, full of broken people regardless of your geographic location. Rich Carlson told me, “Stepping off a plane as an SM won’t miraculously change you. You’re still the very same person, just in a new place. Being an SM is not a miracle cure for spirituality it’s a marathon through the stresses of new culture.”
Myth number 2: Missionaries are perfect, super-humans, closer to God than the rest of us. Nope. Short-term and long-term missionaries may be glorified but they still lose their temper, their direction, and their perspective just like everybody else. Many SMs admit that the hardest people to deal with overseas were actually other Americans or missionaries, not the locals.
Myth number 3: Whoever you go to serve will be thrilled that you came. Chances are the locals have seen foreigners come and go. Some might be overjoyed at your service, but others might be flat-out difficult. Humans are human on every corner of the globe.
Myth number 4: Everyone should go as a student missionary. What if the same were said of medical school? What if someone decided that everyone should be a doctor or an accountant? Traveling alone overseas for a year may not be for everyone and that’s okay. Everyone should not necessarily go as a student missionary.
Here is the truth. These are only suggestions, guidelines, and ideas from several people who volunteered overseas for a year. If you are thinking about going, talk to some of these people. There are endless benefits and rewards and many people don’t regret that they went. I am grateful for my experience. My year overseas was the most meaningful, lesson-filled, eye-opening experience of my life thus far.
We offer these suggestions.
-If you have anger problems, God problems, drug problems, pornography problems, they won’t just cease to exist because you change location. Take a good record of your “baggage” before you go and don’t expect them to disappear in a foreign country. Honest assessment can be your friend.
-People are people. They make mistakes. They’ll lift you down; they’ll let you down. Patience and good communication skills will go a long way.
-Do not go into any situation assuming that you are some sort of saint because you have come to help. You are not better than anyone else. People will respond in different ways. Love them anyway.

(The Clocktower, February 2010)

Valentine's Day Scrooge: Show Your Love Throughout the Year

I despised Valentine’s Day by 2nd grade when my boyfriend, Levi, broke-up with me on February the 14th. I don’t blame all of my anger on Levi, just some of it.
To some V-Day, is the most wonderfully romantic day of the year. For others, it serves as S.A.D, or singles awareness day. Valentine’s Day worsened for me in 4th grade when I realized that the very same “Lion King” valentines I was handing out that year were landing on my desk as well. If everyone is expected to give a valentine, it’s not nearly as special. Usually, the most meaningful gifts are those that no one expects you to give. I want people in my life to feel loved every day, not only those days that are designated by the calendar as days I “should” love them.
The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that nearly a billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making it the second largest card-sending holiday, behind Christmas. I’m not out to steal any one’s joy, but tell me this: On February 14th when you get a dozen roses and a box of chocolates like a billion other woman on planet earth, is it special or typical?
I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to holidays. This truth became especially clear to me on my 21st birthday. I hold the belief that the day of our birth means something more, that really, when someone says, “Happy Birthday” they are saying, “I’m celebrating the day you began to exist!” So on that day when people I hardly knew said, “Happy Birthday,” I felt myself becoming testy. Why are they wishing me happy birthday? They don’t even know me! Because for me, a meaningful birthday involves time with close friends who remind me of all the things and people that make life worth living. But to some people. just having ninety-eight “Happy Birthday” comments on Facebook marks a great birthday.
Most of the time, our response to life comes down to the meaning we place on words. Some people view birthdays differently than I do and that’s okay, because most likely we’ll disagree on other words too. Ask someone to define “peace,” “Christian,” or “good.” Our conflicting definitions related to important questions like, “What is peace?” or “Was that the Christian thing to do?” can bring about dispute, anger, and even wars. For example, consider the current dispute in our country over the word “ethical” especially when related to gay marriage or abortion. What is ethical? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Vast and innumerable definitions must be considered when we’re interacting in the world. Whether we’re discussing the purpose of a Valentine’s Day card or the solution for world peace, we really can’t get angry when our views differ, we might just need to continue editing the dictionary.
This is what I have to do during any holiday season. Around Valentine’s day, I have to remember that holidays mean different things to different people. I can appreciate pink cards and chocolate, but I also want to be intentional about reminding people how much I love them the other 364 days of the year, not only on the days when I “should.”

(The Clocktower
, February 2010)

Union College 2030: What the Future Could Look Like

Now with the year 2029 behind us, we move forward into 2030. The only constant in life is change. Twenty years ago, in 2010, I was just a twenty year-old student at Union and thought the world was going crazy. Now I’m 42 years-old and proud to report, hope lies within reach.

The world looks a bit different now. Those hippies who furthered the revolutions of the 1970s would be proud to know that finally the world has accepted: No, the planet is not our own personal wasteland. The green movement was less of a “movement” and more of a wake-up call. We can’t freeze new ice caps and that ozone layer’s still giving us issues, but people have begun to see the little things that make a big difference: riding their bike to work, buying locally grown produce, and recycling. Plastic bags are no longer used in any store, anywhere. Pesticides have been made illegal to use for their contributions to autism, diabetes, and certain kinds of cancers (hard to believe that spraying chemicals on our food, might not have been the best idea after all).

Since Oprah Winfrey was elected president a year ago last November, big changes are taking place. Our troops finally captured Osama Bin Laden and in addition to his trial, McDonalds and Walmart have also been brought to court for their own crimes against humanity. In addition to the crack down on terrorism and major corporations, Winfrey has also achieved what the United States claimed we had for years: equal rights. Widespread respect and value has finally come to women and minority groups who’ve sought similar reconciliation for centuries.

In the early 2000s, we had wireless coffee shops and campuses, but in the last few years we’ve become a wireless world. Internet access is readily available anywhere on planet earth, even in the newly formed country Appleland, started by the corporate giant Apple Computers, who have revolutionized the world and actually started owning portions of it.

For several years, phone companies have fought for the easy and “necessary” implantation of cellular phone devices in babies. We all use them anyway. We strap them to our ears; why not implant them in our brains? Luckily, small, grass-roots organizations fought it arguing that we actually used to live in a world where people had no cell phones and, remarkably, we survived. Gladly the issue has been pushed to the back of the Congress agenda.

It’s been interesting through the last twenty years to watch the rapid decline in popular culture. Thirty-seven year-old Miley Cyrus just released another album, but no one bought it. Someone finally told the Victoria’s Secret models that they are too skinny and outlandishly busty. Hollywood fumed angrily through low ticket sales because families have started talking again. Our national parks overflow with campers and televisions are being kicked to the curb in favor of family game nights. Children know and learn from their grandparents, a recent and revolutionary phenomenon.

Overall, people have stopped “tolerating” each other and are actually learning to love one another. The streets are safer, the government is doing its job, and most importantly people are stepping forward to realize they can make a difference and change can happen.

In other news, Union college marches proudly toward one-hundred and forty years since its founding. Enrollment remains at the 1,000 mark, but that’s the way they like to keep it. Union’s friendly atmosphere has much to do with the small group of devoted people who form the campus.

The never-ending squirrel jokes have indeed persevered and the now famous, Slinga Da Ink, has become Nebraska’s official state song. Dr. Friedline still teaches chemistry in Jorgenson Hall which still stands as they eagerly await their new math and science building. Some things never change. But gladly, other things do. The often debated “Jesus points,” or worship credits, are no longer required. The faculty sensed a strong dislike for the policy and compromised by agreeing that only students who “want” to attend, should. Also, after about thirty years of comments in the suggestion box, the cafeteria has started recycling.

Proudly, the clock tower still stands over Union college, but the hands no longer keep the time. Most students leave their cell phones in their dorm rooms and haven’t put their watches back on either. An incredible development on campus is that Facebook receives much fewer hits from Union college because people are talking again, on the sidewalk, in the dorms. If only we knew twenty years ago what we know now: that personal, face-to-face interactions with other human beings really does do the body good. Suddenly, everybody has more time and walks a little slower through the snowy drifts, remembering what life is all about.


(The Clocktower, January 2010)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

51 Percent

There you are Mr. Quote. I've been looking everywhere for you.

From a book I used in the class Psychology of Religion called Psychology: Through the Eyes of Faith, written by David G. Myers and Malcolm A. Jeeves:

"It's okay to have doubts. Doubt reveals a mind that asks questions, a humble mind, one that does not presume it's own ideas to be certainties, one that checks its presumptions against the data of God's creation. Indeed, the intellectually honest words belief, faith, and hope acknowledge uncertainty. We do not believe that three times three equals nine, or have faith that what we throw upward will come down, or hope that day will follow night; we know these things with psychological if not logical certainty.

To take the leap of faith is to bet one's life on a presumed truth that makes sense of the universe, that gives meaning to life, that provides hope in the face of adversity and death. One need not await 100 percent certainty before risking a thoughtful leap across the chasm of uncertainty. One can choose to marry in the hope of a happy life. One can elect a career, believing it will prove satisfying. One can fly across the ocean, having faith in the pilot and plane.

To know that we are prone to error does not negate our capacity to glimpse truth, nor does it rationalize living as a fence straddler. Sometimes, said the novelist Albert Chamus, life calls us to make a 100 percent commitment to something about which we are 51 percent sure."

Eat, Pray, Love

"People tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend like fine weather if you're fortunate. But happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it."
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


"When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings."
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


"Look for God. Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water."
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


"I met an old lady once, almost a hundred years old, and she told me, 'There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And Who's in charge?'"
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


"Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can't even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I'm aiming for, how will it ever occur? Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don't have this, all your pleas and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift."
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


"That’s the thing about a human life-there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed."
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)


Yes, I might be doing some advertising for Elizabeth Gilbert, author of one of my favorite books, Eat, Pray, Love. I hear she's coming out with a new book. I hear that I should read it. Her wisdom convinces me to.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Simple

It's interesting to me that the more digitally "connected" we are, the more distant I feel.

It's interesting to me that people (including myself), will actually pay money to sit quietly and hear there inner-voice again. It's called yoga.

It's interesting to me that people will pay money to go to "Smash 'n' Shatter" where they can throw porcelain plates to relieve their stress. "Cheaper than Therapy" they say.

It's interesting to me how only 100 years ago, people were still growing and producing a large percentage of their own food. Now, we have no idea where our food comes from and we don't seem to care. Our grocery stores have no seasons or continents apparently, while we eat pineapple from South America, in December. You must see Food Inc.

It's interesting to me that our great-grandmothers would not recognize half of the food in our grocery stores. We've over-processed the life out of what natural food looks like. What's in a Cheezit anyway?

It's interesting to me that we don't make our own clothes anymore.
We rarely send cards through the U.S. Postal service.
We Facebook someone on their birthday and call it good.
Instead of walking down the hall to ask someone a question, we email them instead.
We text when we could call.
We seem to have become contact-phobes and human interaction seems to make us uncomfortable.

It's interesting to me how the big diet buisness has only existed for the last 30+ years and yet we're more overweight than any other time in earth's history.

It's interesting to me how gyms and fitness facilities have only become necessary in the last 100 years because we all started sitting on our butts. People used to move and work and exert energy just living day to day. Why would they pay to go do more at the gym? People were strong and healthy from living life.

It's interesting to me how forms of pornography have always existed (thanks Hugh), but it's availability, as well as it's ugly twin (a.k.a. child pornography), has sky rocketed with exposure to the internet.

It's interesting how eating disorders increase as does our objectification of women by way of media. Women continue starving themselves to death as we cheer them on, "You look great! Have you lost weight?" As if it's always a good thing.

It's interesting to me that if you educate a woman, great things happen.

It's interesting to me how disconnected we are from nature. When was the last time you dug your fingers into the earth and came up with dirt under your finger nails? When was the last time you were outside and it was completely still?

It's interesting to me that we can't recite even our best friend's phone number or address, and if we were asked to give directions to somewhere we've been several times, we'll still pull out the GPS.

It's interesting to me how we've crossed "text-speak" or on-line talk into English. When people are actually saying, "LOL," we've got problems. Our language is getting sloppy. Computers fix our spelling errors, so we don't even know how to spell. I can barely remember how to write in cursive.

It's interesting to me how we have a wealth of useless knowledge at our fingertips. Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to know how to make sticky rice, how to cut my own hair, or what the capital of Korea was, I had to actually ask someone or look in a book. Heck, now we have the internet! We don't need people or books!

It's interesting and it's sad.

What are our options? How do we fight this new way of life? I believe in contradiction. I believe in intentionality. I believe I can make decisions that create a life quite different than the culture around me. It won't be easy and it's not like I'm actively fighting it right now. It's hard to do the opposite of society when this is all I've ever know.

I want to learn to sleep in more often.
I want to seek peace and quiet in the morning instead hitting the ground running and rushing to get the day over with.
I want to wear what makes me feel comfortable and beautiful, even if that's my pajamas.
I want to sew my own clothes.
I want to read more books.
I want to use my computer and my cell phone less. They are great tools, but they become chains.
I want to walk slower.
I want to cook meals that do not involve instant rice, pre-mixed seasoning packets, dehydrated vegetables, sugar-free this, and low-fat that. It might even take 60 minutes or more, you know like in the olden days? I want to actually make food.
I want to grow a garden.
I want to walk more.
I want to write more.
I want to form a community of friends and family where we come together, often. We might not gather around a TV or a computer either. We might play board games.
I want to get outside and take deep breaths of clean air.
I want to take time for people.
I want to travel and see and learn.
I want to live a life that doesn't require a daily planner, chock-full of to-do's and to-don'ts.
I want to create writings, pictures, scrapbooks, and paintings. I want to use my hands.
I want to help people.
I want to spend money based on necessity versus want. I want to buy used. I want to buy off-brands. I want to buy generic. I want to buy local.
I want to stop perpetuating this belief that women are objects and beauty trumps everything else. I want to be at peace with who I am and what I look like.

When I look around me, I can't help but ask, "Is this worth killing myself over? What would happen if I stopped constantly trying to keep up?"

I crave a simple life.