Thursday, October 18, 2007


Let's dish some commentary, shall we? I'd like to start off today's program by reminding everyone of the value of keeping up with current events. Of course, you are free to define current events for yourself, you history buffs, you.
1) Joe Torre quit as manager of the Yankees. The Yankee empire has disgraced itself by being the jerk of the season for offering this classic, classy manager a flimsy one year contract worth less than he earned this past season. So, the headlines read that Torre quit as manager. What that really means is that they shamed him out of the position. I guess you can buy players, but you can't buy class. I hope Steinbrenner walks into a press conference with toilet paper stuck to his shoes.
2)It's no secret: I love "The Office," which airs Thursday nights on NBC. For anyone located near Scranton, PA, or desiring to road trip there, Scranton is hosting The Office Convention at the end of next week, filled with visits from many cast members. You can learn more at
3) Exiled former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto - a woman - finally returned to her native country today after an exile of eight years. In a too close to home reminder that terrorism thrives in many parts of the world, explosions near Bhutto's caravan killed at least thirty people, though Bhutto herself is uninjured.
4) A legendary star of the silver screen succumbed to Parkinson's this week. Deborah Kerr, who played in "The King and I" and "An Affair to Remember," among other films, died Tuesday in England. Upon receiving this news and a proposal to make October 18th Deborah Kerr Day, my friend Emily promptly acknowledged the sad event by putting on her vintage hat and grimacing, at least according to a picture she sent me on my phone this afternoon. She also suggested the highly appropriate plan of watching "An Affair to Remember" this evening after The Office. It's one of the few activities capable of wrenching my nose out of Harry Potter at the moment. So pluck your vintage hats out of storage and pay homage to the graceful, red haired actress who entertained us in our childhoods. You can read her obituary here:
5) Here we have our favored segment, "things that gross me out." Check out, "the most curious canned foods found online." seriously, jellied eels? really? really?
Well, that's the nightly news with Baba Wawa. Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dangerous Surrender

I love my job. Partly because of some unique perks. Working in an editorial department means early exposure to new books. Given that I'm such a bookworm someone may try to stick me on the end of a fishhook at somepoint, this is a truly glorious situation. It's also why I moved a couch into my office area; sitting in a desk chair reading and proofing is rather uncomfortable.
I just finished reading Kay Warren's new work, "Dangerous Surrender," due out soon. Now, I admit, I had been skeptical - when you have gourmet chocolate, you worry about disappointment in M&M's. After you've had your head stuck in academia long enough, it can be easy to slip into this mindset: if it's popular, it's probably shallow. You know, like Brittany Spears, or the show The Bachelor, or the Prayer of Jabez.
Kay Warren is not shallow.
The Purpose Driven wife, as my roommate christened her the other day, breaks whatever misconceptions I had about bestsellers and those associated with them. "Dangerous Surrender" is as un-health and wealth gospel as you can get.
In it, she narrates her walk with God as she grew in her surrender to the burden God was placing on her heart - ministry to those with HIV/AIDS, care for AIDS orphans in Africa, etc. Voices ring in your ears after reading her blunt account, as she easily draws on the wisdom of Amy Carmichael, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oswald Chambers. There's a lot about dying to self, becoming like Christ, and the unglamorous walk of the faithful. She brings readers face to face with skeletal women dying under a tree in Mozambique, children forced into prostitution in southeast Asia, and women who have contracted AIDS from the husbands, only to be kicked out of their houses and villages. Kay vividly paints the kingdom of God in recognizable, if difficult terms - dying to self means sharing with the dying. Dying to self means knowing the fellowship of Christ's suffering. Through the lens of her own diagnosis of breast cancer, Kay accepts this new tutorial in identifying with the sick, lending her something new to give - empathy with the ill.
It is easily the best devotional/spiritual memoir/call to action/biographical narrative that I have read in a long time. Corrie ten Boom comes to mind. Any "classic" you've read will drift through your thoughts as you find yourself repeatedly challenged to surrender yourself more and more to God's work.
I found it humorously challenging and helpful to read this at this season in my life. The other day, I arrived at work and shared with a coworker the weekend's activities. John and I had walked through that rite of passage, gift registry. It's all hearts and doves until, "you don't like blue? what's wrong with blue?" he asks. I am categorically making my way down an aisle while he bounces ahead, blurting, "...and see this red casserole dish? and here's a cutting board..." "I'm still at the bread pans!" I cry out. It's on to a detailed discussion of salt and pepper shaker preferences. It was wonderfully, beautifully, exhausting. It was retail tug and war, give and take.
On sharing these moments with coworker, church elder Bob, he grinned wisely. "That was a gift from God," he announced. "I forgot how opinionated we both are," I admitted. "Best to be reminded now, in that relatively insignificant situation," he reminded. Then he went on: "what we should ask every young couple is this: where are you going to get married? where? in a church? where in a church? up front? where up front? oh, really, at the altar? what's an altar? yes, yes, a block of wood, but WHAT IS an altar? ahh...a place where things are tied down kicking and screaming with a knife at their throat dying as every bit of them is burnt up in smoke and flames...that is what marriage is, the dying to self, and that's what you're proclaiming at an altar, that you are dying to yourself for this other person, and it will make you grow like you've never grown before - and that is God's mercy to you, an amazing gift."
Dying to self. On our registry at Target, there are blue bath towels - a nod to him - and blue placemats - another nod. There are also a red kitchenaid chopper - because I've long wanted one - and an electric knife (I think he'll like that once he uses it). There are also two sets of salt and pepper shakers.
There is more, though. How rare is it to be a bride with a crazily enthusiastic groom during gift registry? One that cares about kitchen supplies?
There is more, even, that that. Part of why we both (strongly) care about napkins and welcome mats is this - we both intensely wish to offer hospitality to others. Part of dying to self, is dying to ourselves as a couple - letting our very relationship be a threshold at which others can come and meet Christ's touch, the love of Jesus in as practical a form as a bowl of soup or mug of tea. To be poured out as a couple means sharing our home, our lives, to be poured out for others.
Kay's "Dangerous Surrender" doesn't make that look easy. But it does make it look worth it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Those Two Little Words; or, But I Don't Know How: The Tale of the John & Elizabeth DuckTurkey

Two small words caught my whirling mind like a fishhook. "What was that?" I stammered. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills. "For what?" I didn't understand. "For saying yes," he replied. "For saying yes, for marrying me." Without meaning to, I laughed out loud, my mirth echoing against the rock and hills and falling leaves. "Thank you? After today - all you've done - you're the one saying thank you?" I laughed and giggled and guffawed and punched him in the arm.
It had been, as a coworker later described it, a "fourteen hour tour de force." An expedition that uncharacteristically took me several days of reflection before I could even sit to type these words. How do you describe a before and after that some take reams of paper to elucidate?
Saturday morning started out like any other - sleeping in. I awoke briefly around eight, called John to wish him well at work, and rolled over to continue my symphony of drooling and slumber. To my surprise, he later entered my room to wish me good morning. "How sweet," I thought, "he stopped by on his way to work." But even without my glasses I noticed a distinct lack of suit jacket and tie. I rolled over and looked at the clock. "9:45? I thought he had to be at work an hour ago..." My fingers brushed against something lying atop the coverlet. That's when the tour de force began. For me, anyway. A parchment letter sealed with red wax waited for me to open it. I tore it open. Words of tenderness and love stared back at me; they had been in on the surprise for some time now. I bounded downstairs to the kitchen, where the kettle was beginning to hiss and pop. "Get dressed and put on tennis shoes," John commanded, avoiding my quizzical eyes. I bounded upstairs, and upon returning, found tea and another letter ready for me. It, too, a tender, if mysterious, epistle. I drained my cup, and it was Time To Go. We followed the winding road to the nearby town that has hosted several dates, pulling up to an antique store. I smiled. One of the first times we spent together was browsing around the last century's books, tools, and hats. I greeted the resident cat and we spent happy time attempting to discover the uses of unfamiliar utensils. As we prepared to purchase a couple of dusty tomes, the owner smiled. "I believe this is for you." Another parchment letter, sealed in red wax. At our beloved old-time, small-town drugstore up the street, the same thing. Root beer float, and a beaming proprietor, parchment in hand. Next we hit the river, swinging out on a rope from a tree, Huck Finn style, then settling down on a rocky beach for a game of Scrabble. But not before discovering an additional parchment declaration of affection in the Scrabble box. It was at this point, by the riverside, that an extremely large, unfamiliar bird swam up to us in the midst of the epic battle for verbal victory. We christened it the John and Elizabeth Duck Turkey, mostly because he thought it resembled a duck and I thought I detected some recessive turkey genes. (Later it turned out he was right. It was a duck.) After being sorely beaten at Scrabble, I gathered the tiles and was further surprised when we headed back towards town. Now, the following demonstrates one of my (pseudo-nerdy) loves: he took me to see the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln's parents were married. This was like giving me crack and taking me to a rock concert. Next we toured the old fort which comprised the original settlement of the state's oldest town, and browsed around a museum gleefully looking at original Lincoln letters, 19th century weaponry and a large grammar chart that I made John take my picture in front of. Oh yes, and a sly looking cashier at the gift shop handed me - in unison, now - a sealed parchment. I was beginning to wonder how vast this conspiracy was. Step aside, JFK. We drove home, my soul happy with antiques and Scrabble and arguments with John about states' rights versus unification that had been spurred on by my negative visceral reaction to the sight of Confederate bullets. When we arrived home I was instructed to get gussied up (my words, not his) and off we went again, in time for supper. Instead of traversing a main thoroughfare, however, we snaked along narrow, curving back lanes until he pulled over at what appeared to be a completely random spot. I did spy Angie's car pulled to the side up ahead, though. "Here, put these on." John handed me my running shoes. I looked down at my cute dress, shrugged, and slipped my heels off. We rambled along a path that looked like it had been formed by hobbits until I heard the sound of water. Ahead, I caught glimpses of a large, flat rock protruding out into the river, and adorned with candles and a blanket spread ready for supper. This "picnic" featured warm lemon rosemary chicken in a crock pot that melted deliciously with the serene autumn surroundings.
Now, by this time I knew it was a special day. Okay, that morning, it had been apparent that this was not the time to be a foolish virgin, because the bridegroom cometh. John had been focused but relaxed all day. I looked with raised eyebrow, though, when he abandoned his half-eaten dinner and stood. "Ready?" he asked. I looked at my partially consumed bread and nodded. We climbed up a rock path that wound around to a flat overlook about twenty feet above our dining area. Here, I discovered cheesecake and hot cappuchino, the desserts we had shared one of the first times we'd hung out. As I sipped french vanilla cappuchino from a large mug, I moved closer to the edge. "Hey look, the candles are so pretty from up here, next to the water." But I heard my name called, and turned, and found my beloved on one knee, ring in hand. He said something - my mind turned the consistency of tapioca - and I found myself hearing the famous words. I heard myself answer "yes" a trembling moment later. He slid a ring on my finger and kissed me, and so far, I hadn't cried. But then he led me over, to my surprise, to a communion set. "One of the first things I want to do now that we're officially engaged is to take communion." Now the tears came, and wouldn't stop. We served each other bread, and juice, and he held me. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills.
After that brilliant day, those were the words he uttered when it was all over, and it is that tendency that I couldn't get away from when we were dating. Thank you? After presenting me with surprise and delight tumbled on top of each other, thank you was the first thing out of his mouth.
Those two words will lead to two new words - I will - in the wedding vows.
I don't know how to be a fiance. I don't know how to be a wife. I have tried to develop a spirit that shines as a woman, hoping that this will carry over into these new roles, still as foreign to me as the ring that shines on my finger. My hope is that the beauty these roles enable a woman to display will come close, some day, to matching the round emblem on my hand. I don't know how to be a Christlike wife. I hope I've had good practice by being a Christlike girlfriend, sister, daughter, and comrade. I don't know how to live with another as one. I don't know how to share lives.
I don't know how. But I will.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Your Personal Katie Couric. Or At Least Mine.

Well folks, we're headed into the temporary floatie in a warm summer pool: The Weekend. To catch you up to speed on headlines that I found interesting, funny, or bizarre, I've added a few to the "Extra, Extra" column at the right. There. I'm your personal Katie Couric. Or at least my own, because if all else fails, I've at least entertained myself, with such headlines as:

Japan Vs. The Jellyfish
Spicy Thai Chili Clears Out London Neighborhood
Children's Book: The Pope's Story through the Eyes of His Cat
Texas Baptists Could Have Woman Leader
Halo 3 Captures 300 Million in First Week

If these and others don't pique your interest, then frankly I don't know what will.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Votive Candles, Smiling Friends

I wore an apron as a cape yesterday. I could explain, but if you need an explanation, you don't know me well yet.
It came in the mail, courtesy of a dear friend who saw its bright, retro print and thought, "ah! Made for Bitty." I traipsed around the house in it for a while, reveling in the fact that it perfectly matched the outfit I had chosen for my Birthday. I soon noted, however, that the ties around the waist could easily go about the neck, and the apron became a cape for about an hour. It was lovely. I discovered, though, that when I wear capes, I become melodramatic. Note to self. I wore it in the car on the way to the store and screeched at inopportune times, overreacting to slight turns and speed changes. It was lovely.
My "flatmate", as someone recently called her, made a homemade devils food cake with cherry almond frosting. She festooned it with flowers and three large votive candles snuggled into cupcake paper liners. Apparently we were out of birthday candles. A festive sight, that. A ridiculously loud, off-key Happy Birthday song later, and I was wiping frosting off my mouth and playing Apples to Apples with gusto, vim and vigor. They're friends of mine (rimshot, please!). I am the proud recipient of a one hour massage gift certificate, the movie Constant Gardener, an upcoming day out, red and yellow daisies and mums, an apron-cape, and the memory of the six year old announcing proudly and shyly that he was going "to sit next to the birthday girl."
A nice foreshadowing of a reception in which I plan to hang numerous pinatas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Democratization of Leadership; and Chaingangs

My birthday has been weird so far. Like a lopsided cake, to put it aptly. It began with a trip to traffic court. This was not nearly as benign as it sounds. There were Prisoners in Chains and Jumpsuits. Aaaaaaaahhhhh. Now, the irony hit me, as I reflected on a highlight in which I once got my picture with a convicted felon. Now, that felon happened to be Chuck Colson. Nonetheless, I found myself eyeing the Men in Chains with slightly less trust and enthusiasm than I had demonstrated in the former Watergate mastermind photo op. The judge read the entire courtroom our rights before proceeding. We all had to rise when he entered. The closest parallel that came to mind was the up-and-down of responsive readings or high church liturgy in Sunday services, which brings to mind another thought: the liturgy of the courtroom might be evoked for ex-cons in your congregations. Just be aware that you might be eliciting negative visceral responses. On the other hand, the themes of punishment, wrongdoing, and mercy are all familiar. Anyway, I skipped up to the microphone when His Honor read my name, wearing a cute birthday-ish outfit. He could tell, I sensed, that my presence in the courtroom was rather a Shirley Temple moment. He knocked off my speeding fine considerably and took off the 'failure to appear' that I had been unaware of because I never changed my address on my driver's license and didn't get any bureaucratic municipal mailings for the past six months. It was all extremely thrilling and boring at the same time, and for about five minutes I yearned to be a Prosecutor so I could Throw The Book at people. I got over it when I saw how much mundane activity they have to endure.
I then proceeded to a New Bank to open a New Account with a voucher for $100 if you switch to this bank. Yay. After sitting for fifteen minutes drinking watered down complimentary coffee and flipping through a magazine full of Hillary coverage, a gentleman who had been doing next to nothin' finally cheerily offered to wait on me. Yeehaw. His friendly demeanor wore thin when he started strewing 'dear' in his ongoing dialogue of question and answer. My nearest and dearest friends know that I have been known to stare down a waiter and inform him that, "first of all, I'd like a diet Coke, and second of all, I'm not your sweetheart." Gentlemen sixty five and up may call me sweetheart all day long. Women my age and up may call me hon or honey. Seventeen year old cashiers should not call me hon. A man roughly ten to twelve years older than I am should not call me dear, or I'll dear him. I finally began to feel sorry for him though, because if you have that job at his age, I don't know, it's a little Michael Scott-ish. So, I benevolently smiled mercy down upon him and resisted the Urge to Squelch. Particularly when I saw the books lined up behind him. The recent leadership title by Rudy Giuliani. A John Maxwell. That's when it hit me: my primary problem with the John Maxwellization of the world is simply this: not everyone is meant to be a leader. I honestly don't believe it. Everyone is meant to have character. Everyone is meant to be an honest, hard worker. But try sending a battalion of leaders to boot camp. They quickly learn that their leadership skills mean as much as the drill sergeant says they're worth, which is diddly squat. And not everyone can "build a skill set" that will make them an effective leader. To suggest that anyone is a leader is a cute, Cinderella, you-too-may-be-a-Princess kind of appeal, but we all know people who have leadership books sitting out on their desks who have little or no ability to carry it out, no matter how many things they underline or dogear or quote at the bottom of their emails. And anyone opening a bank account for me who gives condescending glances when he asks if I have a job and calls me 'dear' when he doesn't sound any more Southern than a two-bit actor will not be able to learn leadership. The democratization of leadership is a bad idea. I challenge someone to pen a book entitled, "how to be a gracious follower." Now THAT might be a very valuable contribution to functioning in an organization.
On a completely unrelated note, the University of Kentucky is a startling 5-0 going into this weekend, and Notre Dame is a dismal 0-5 for the first time in their history. Ok, universe. You win.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Prison of Ivory Organza

On my Birthday eve - yes, tomorrow is my Birthday, Happy Birthday to me - I reflect on a friend's recent description of a dress shopping experience from the weekend. On trying on multitudes of fluffy confections, I, in her words, struggled to free myself from a "prison of ivory organza." Indeed, one wonders why boutiques offer small dressing rooms for giant dress situations. A space smaller than a handicapped bathroom stall is expected to accomodate yards of tulle and train as a woman realizes that preparing for one of the most graceful moments in her life involves an absolute loss of grace, dignity and poise. A consultant may help alleviate the more confusing moments involving seventy zippers, lace up backs, crinoline underskirts and hidden snaps, but even then I realized that in those moments, she serves a similar capacity to a nurse at the doctor's office. You form a bond with some woman named Danielle because she sees you in your underwear and cues you on what's happening next. "I'm going to take your temperature now." "I'm going to smother you in yards of ugly taffeta." You wear a gown open in the back in front of several people so they can diagnose the situation. "That color looks really good against your skin." "That waistline is wierd." "Where did your bust go?" "Your butt looks good in that." But all of this is endured, for the rare, inevitable moment that makes the longsuffering infinitely endurable. The lights dim, the ivory cathedral length veil glimmers, and suddenly the heavy hospital gown feeling fades, cinderella emerging from the servanthood of oversized bows. It borders on miraculous, that sense that one is seeing in the mirror what echoes from childhood dreams and fancies, this vision of a woman's rite of passage preparing the soil of the soul for what will become. In an instant, the bedraggled shopper is caught by the image reflected back to her. She will be a bride. And a few - a very few - gowns remind her that they are all subservient to this reality. The best gown will magnify it the most clearly, the most simply, the most beautifully.
Recently I read an intriguing article in which the author suggested that dressing up actually prepares us for being like what we're dressing up as. When we try to "dress up" like Jesus, that actively begins to make us more like Jesus. We are practicing our new role, mimicking the words that shape a new season.
Poor fits, overabundant ruffles, and heavy skirts must be waded through. It is a burden women dream about having. "I want to wrestle through circus tent sized gowns only to find they look revolting on me." Because we know that, soon enough, a familiar looking woman will smile back at us in the mirror and we will catch a glimpse of what we will be. It is a glimpse worth waiting for.