September 23, 2011

After we left our church, we decided to visit another nearby church. Our attention had been caught by banners proclaiming that the church was in the middle of a series on poverty, so we took our social-justice selves and bruised egos on in through the door.

The service was…eh. The music was painful, and the well-meaning sermon was somewhat lacking in a call to thought or action. But the people were friendly. Even if there was a dearth of young families, no one seemed to mind my daughter’s wiggles.

A few days later, we received a letter in the mail. The new church was hosting something of a prospective member brunch, and we were invited by name.

At this point, I must admit, I was struggling. And grieving. Despite the fact that we had spent more than two years at our old church, despite the fact that I had been in the choir, despite the fact that one of my business partners was a member, despite the fact that it had felt like home…not one single person had called to talk to us. Not my business partner. Not a fellow choir member. Not the head of the children’s ministry.

It was as if we had never been there. As if no one even noticed that we were gone.

I was crushed.

But part of me still wanted to go back.

Why? Michael asked. Why do you want to go back, after how they treated us? When here we have a letter inviting us BY NAME to return to a new church? Why?

The answer, of course, is complicated.

Mission Accomplished!

June 26, 2011

Finished reading Of Human Bondage this week! One less item on my long-term to-do list.

Some people just should not drink

May 24, 2011

When I was in college, I worked a few summers with a darling man. He was tall, good-looking, funny, goofy, immersed in his faith, smart… We shared an immediate and intense friendship. I adored him.

One night, we traveled to a small-town festival a few hours away. Lots of our friends and co-workers were also headed that way, and we had a friend in town whom we all planned to stay with. There would be a lot of alcohol and dancing and eating, and we would return home (back to work!) the next morning.

My beloved friend had only turned 21 a few weeks prior to the festival, and he decided he was going to DRINK. He bought hands-full of drink tickets and passed them out like candy. He downed one beer after another, and it became obvious that despite his towering frame, he had no tolerance for alcohol. Very quickly another friend and I conspired to acquire his car keys, since he had driven to the festival.

The evening progressed in a series of unfortunate and uncomfortable encounters. He would dance only with me, then grew mean and turned against me. He ignored me. He forced me to take drink tickets. He kept drinking long after I and other friends asked, then ordered him to stop. So drunk he could hardly walk, he decided he needed to carry me piggy-back. He was so much larger and stronger than me that it took the intervention of three other friends to get me back on the ground.

After we had made our way to our home-for-the-night, my friend was sweet and contrite and heartbreakingly candid. Or delusional–I can’t say which. He told me he loved me. He asked me to stay and sleep beside him. I sat and told him whatever he wanted to hear. I held his hand. I stroked his face. Finally, he fell asleep. And I, not drunk and well aware that he was engaged, broke every one of the promises I had just made.

A few days later, I tried to tell him what had happened. I tried to make him understand. But I was too chicken to tell him what he had said to me, and I don’t think he fully believed how out of his mind he was. He agreed he had had too much to drink, but was unwilling to avoid it in the future. He would not even promise not to drink at his wedding. “I think it will be expected…” he said.

I have only seen him once since that summer, and I do not know if he drank at his wedding. I just hope that he never went so far off the deep end again. Sober, he is a wonderful person. Drunk, not so much.

Why am I writing about this? Well, I have someone in my life now who drinks too much. She blacks out and she gets mean and she falls down and she makes scary-bad decisions. I really like her (when she’s sober), and I worry about her. And I wish she would stop drinking, but I can’t talk to her about this. I can’t do it at all.

The Awkward Phase

May 17, 2011

We decided to find a new church in the fall. I wanted to let the pastor and congregation know why we had left, but hadn’t yet figured out the best way to do it. The pastor had only been installed a few weeks previously, and I really didn’t know him at all. Besides, I’m not very good at telling uncomfortable personal truths face-to-face.

I thought a letter would be best. Or maybe an article for the semi-monthly church newsletter. Something.

Before I had a chance to decide, the church called me. Rather, the church secretary–who periodically checked in to see if we were ready to officially join the congregation–called. “We’re welcoming new members in a few weeks,” she began. “I know you weren’t interested before, but we would love to have you if you want to join.”

And I was caught. What could I say? The thought of lying crossed my mind, but I didn’t really want to. But neither did I really want to tell her everything that had happened, because–among other reasons–that would mean crying. Again.

The silence lengthened. “Well…” I began, the high pitch of my voice betraying my emotions. “We’re not really going to church there anymore.”

“You aren’t? Why not?”

Slowly the story came out. About my noisy daughter and the reactions of people around us. About the man who said my child did not belong in church. The secretary is a very sympathetic woman and was much disturbed by what I had to say. She asked if I would tell the pastor, and I reluctantly agreed.

“We don’t all feel that way about kids in church,” she said before transferring me.

With the pastor listening, I hashed through it all again, my stomach tight, my face wet with tears. And he couldn’t say that the people who had rejected us were a minority, because he was new and barely knew anyone at the church. But he did say that they were wrong, and that it bothered him, and that he would address it.

He asked if we would be back at church; I said I didn’t know. I asked that they not call us, that he would know our decision by our presence–or lack thereof–at church.

A Brief Aside

February 15, 2011

From my Simply in Season cookbook:

A shopper’s prayer
Provider God,
Transform this chore, this reluctant shopper.
Journey with me on this expedition of privilege.
I stroll past the breads cooling on the trolley;
yeast-smells proclaim their rising
and invite me to taste and see that they are good.
My hand hovers over the carrots, parsnips, beets….
Thank you for signs of your presence,
for foods and peoples rooted in the soil.
Bless me as I choose.
–Ruth Preston


Getting over it

November 19, 2010

I have been attending the same church for, oh, about three years. It’s a biggish church, but not huge. It’s close to our home. I know people there. The theology espoused aligns fairly well with my own, which is to say that the preaching tends to encourage me in the acts I already feel I should do (and challenges me in ways I need to be challenged).

Sometime last year, when we had a generous and loving interim pastor, it started to feel like home. The feeling sort of snuck up on me, as I have spent a great deal of my life seeking a church home, without a lot of success. Plus, the idea of a church “home” is still somewhat alien to my sweetheart, although he understands how important it is to me.

Anyway, I decided it was time to stop standing on the sidelines of the church. I have gifts, and I knew God wanted me to use them. So, as an initial step, I joined the choir. The Bean started to go to children’s church (which unfortunately happens during the worship service). As part of a larger group, M, Bean and I visited home-bound church members. We didn’t exactly throw ourselves into every activity the church has to offer, but it was a start.

As time passed, I made friends in the choir. At the end of each rehearsal, we shared our joys and sorrows, and we prayed for each other. We supported one another, bolstered one another, hugged one another. It was a strong group before I joined, but I felt very welcome.

In the summer, however, the choir takes a break. Last summer, my family traveled a lot, so we weren’t around every Sunday. In the meantime, my little Pumpkin grew bigger, more vociferous and more active. Those Sundays when we were at church, I held her in my lap when she started to get wiggly.

Then came the fall. Choir started up again. The first Sunday we sang in church, Pumpkin did not behave like an angel. She behaved like a tired, cranky one-year-old who did not want to sit still and be quiet and who did not understand why her momma wasn’t there to cuddle her. In short, she cried. M took her out of the sanctuary several times–one occasion lasting nearly the entire sermon.

I was mortified, but more than that, I felt sorry for my little girl. When the choir walked back down the aisle, Pumpkin nearly launched herself onto the floor in an effort to get to me. I left the group to hold her and comfort her.

A few moments later, when the service had completely ended, I became aware of some angry words coming from a few pews ahead of me. A furious older man was addressing my husband. I did not hear the entire tirade, but the gist of it was that my daughter did not belong in the sanctuary during worship.

My daughter was not welcome in the church.

My baby was not welcome.

I sat in my choir robe and rocked Pumpkin, but inside I felt as if I were falling. Alternating waves of anger and sadness washed over me. I wanted to hand the baby off to my husband and confront the man. I wanted to remind him that Jesus asked for the little children to come to him. I wanted to ask him why he chose to sit next to a small child if he could not deal with some restlessness. I wanted to hand him the laminated note that resides in each pew to remind people of WHY kids need to be in church. I wondered how many other people felt the way he did. I wanted to cry.

Instead, I rocked my baby and held everything in. Two well-meaning women came over to comfort us and remind me that the church does have a nursery.

Yes, the church has a nursery. But call me crazy; I think kids belong in church. I could list off a dozen reasons, but that isn’t the point. The point is, it’s my choice. Mine and my husband’s. And we have chosen to keep her in the service.

We sit near the back for an easy escape, should one be necessary. We bring toys and snacks and pacifiers. We do what we can to make our kids’ presence tolerable for other churchgoers.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough. When we left church, I exploded. I spent the next three days trying to deal with my anger. M was furious, too, and not inclined to forgive. We debated the merits of leaving the church, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Perhaps the man been in a bad mood for some unrelated reason. Perhaps he regretted what he had said. I had to find out.

Wednesday was choir rehearsal, and the man whose words had begun this upheaval would be there. I was nervous, but I went. Afterward, I headed outside to confront him, but he ducked out in a hurry.

The following Sunday, we were running late. M and the girls dropped me off so I could get into my robe. While I was hurrying through the vestibule, a woman said to me, “Got your kids in the nursery this morning?”

Not hello. Not good morning. Not nice to see you. Because obviously all of those sentiments were secondary to keeping my girls out of the sanctuary.

I was livid, and I could think of nothing else as I donned my robe, as I walked to the front of the church, as I sat and tried to turn my thoughts to God.

The service began. M and the girls were in the usual pew in the  back. Five minutes later, as usual, Bean and the other school-age kids left for children’s church. A man stood to read scripture, and with a jolt, I realized it was the man who had been so mean to us. Not only was he in the choir, he was a church leader!

I had hardly had a chance to deal with that surprise when Pumpkin began to wail. M picked her up and walked out of the sanctuary and straight on out of the church. I began to cry.

The sermon began. It was Christian Education Sunday. Our new pastor preached about how important it was to teach kids about God. He extolled the efforts of the children’s ministry. I looked around and began to count. How many kids were in the sanctuary, anyway? Exactly one, and he is thirteen years old.

I cried some more. I prayed. I hoped that M and Pumpkin would come back. They didn’t.

The choir stood and sang an anthem. I don’t even remember its name; I sang with tears running down my face. The service ended. I walked to the back of the church with the rest of the choir. A church meeting was beginning, but I gathered the bags and jackets M had left behind. I walked to the choir room and put away my robe. Still crying, I set out to find the Bean.

I found her in a basement classroom, still finishing up children’s church. I took her outside to look for M and Pumpkin, but they were not in sight. We went back inside and made our way to the fellowship hall. They were not there, but I did find three teenagers who had opted to nap rather than attend worship. Obviously the Christian education was working like a charm.

Finally someone stepped in from the patio door and asked if I was Holly. Someone had told her my husband and daughter were sleeping under a tree beside the parking lot. With tears still on my face, I walked past the choir director and his family and headed out to find my own.

We found them. We left. And we decided to start looking for a new church.

Nyom, nyom, nyom

November 15, 2010

Note: I’m not sure why I didn’t publish when I wrote it, but here it is: only three months after composition.

I’ve been on a baking streak lately. First it was the Bean’s birthday cake:

Then I made chocolate-peanut butter chip cookies, using–alas–the Doubletree Hotel recipe instead of my old Betty Crocker standby that has all the family-approved adjustments written in. They were good, but not great. Which is why we still have a dozen left after two whole weeks–a situation unheard of in our household.

Next I tried a new Smitten Kitchen recipe: Peach Shortbread. Oh, it looked so beautiful in Deb’s photos. And it was tasty, but not what I think of when I think shortbread. A little too close to pie crust in texture. I’d like to try messing around with this recipe to see if I can come up with something more like shortbread, but embedded with some sweet little peach slices as in this recipe.

Tuesday was a dear friend’s birthday, so I made her a single-layer chocolate cake, cutting down the recipe I used for the Bean’s birthday.

Wednesday was the weekly garden Weed-and-Feed potluck, so I made Plum Kuchen. I had a few pints of wild plums from the farmer’s market and a Deborah Madison recipe accompanied by yet another gorgeous photograph. Mine was delicious, even if it wasn’t as pretty as the inspiring picture. I love to cook for garden night, because I can try new recipes without fearing I’ll have to eat a ton of the result. Aside from the Green Tomato Cake (which was HUGE), I have yet to bring home any leftovers.

Yesterday I received a few gallons of pears and apples from my grandparents’ trees. Today I searched for pear recipes online. I found another Smitten recipe: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake. So I made it for tonight’s dessert, to share with my parents and in-laws. Ooh, yummy.

Up next? Another Deborah Madison recipe: Cornmeal Crepes with Plum Compote (for breakfast, because I still have at least a pint of plums). Then maybe Emeril’s Blue Cheese-stuffed Figs with Lavendar Honey. Or perhaps Fig and Orange Flower Water Custard Tart, also from Deborah Madison. But then what will I make with all of my remaining apples and pears?

Am I in a rut? Is it irrational that I want to bake at least three desserts between now and our trip to New York (only five more days!)? What does it mean that my baking is suddenly using more fruit than chocolate? Will I ever learn to take gorgeous food pictures for my blog?

Bucket list

November 14, 2010

Okay, not a bucket list. Just stuff I’d like to do nowabouts.

  1. Read Our Bodies, Our Selves, Of Human Bondage and the Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual–all books that are sitting on my shelf but that I haven’t read.
  2. Submit a piece of writing for publication.
  3. Clear the too-small and never-worn clothing out of the family’s closets and DONATE it.
  4. Repair all of the damaged books and toys the girls have given me to fix.
  5. Finish the sofa cover I started last summer.
  6. Hem the tablecloth I started at the same time.
  7. Redesign and add lining to my black winter coat.
  8. Cut and style my hair.
  9. Send (on time) the gift I bought for my sister’s family.
  10. Apply to and start grad school.
  11. Mop the house.
  12. Read Julia Child’s autobiography.

Kind of an odd mix of short-term and long-term goals, but whatever. These are the ideas that have been preying on my mind. How long will they take?

Zombie snacks

November 1, 2010

Last weekend was the third annual Omaha Zombie Walk–a fundraiser for the Sienna/Francis House. We took the kiddos up to The Waiting Room and paid $3 per person to be made up as zombies, then joined the horde for a mile-long stagger around downtown Benson. It was awesome.

1217 zombies; more than $3000 raised for charity!

So…what do vegan zombies eat? GRAINS!

Unemployment Appeal

October 18, 2010

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to appeal the “Notice of Adjudicator’s Determination” sent to me on September 28, 2010, which reduces by ~40% the amount of unemployment compensation I qualify to receive.

According to this letter, I left the employment of _______ Company on June 17, 2009 because I did not have satisfactory child care arrangements. This is incorrect. Beginning June 17, 2009, I took a leave of absence to give birth to my daughter.

I contacted ________ several months later to inquire about returning to work. At that time (roughly March 2010), I found I needed a more reliable work schedule in order to have the money to pay for child care for my daughter. The work I had done prior to June 17, 2009 was strictly on-call.

When I spoke to my former supervisor, I was told that a) the company had replaced me out of necessity and b) there were no positions available, either on-call or with a regular schedule.

To sum up, I did not resign from my job with __________ Company.

I have a second objection to the determination made in this letter. The letter states that a lack of child care arrangements is a “personal reason not connected to” work.

As one of thousands of working mothers in this state, I strongly object to the idea that child care is a solely “personal” issue. In 2007, the Nebraska child care industry serviced 100,000 children. Nebraska also has the third highest female labor force participation rate of any state. Without the available and appropriate child care, the state of Nebraska would lose most (if not all) of the mothers in its workforce.

Child care is not a solely personal issue; it is also an economic one. The Office of Unemployment Insurance needs to treat it as such.