Tuesday, May 13, 2008

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she is WAY more than martha

I am Blessed with a capital B to have many close friends. I have girlfriends from childhood, from college, from my long exile in Indiana, and in my new life in Portland. But I have a small group of girlfriends with whom I've grown up practically (and in some cases literally) since birth. There are six of us, and our fellowship runs deep and wide. My friends have, as people tend to do, grown up and changed and changed again and grown some more. The dynamics of our friendships have evolved, but I can say with confidence that we love each other fiercely and loyally. We don't always agree, we don't always share common interests or values - although we've certainly shared common boyfriends (cue great joke drumming noise) - but we care about each other and we respect each other. We would move mountains to rescue each other from the pit. I love and admire these women so much that I've decided to write a tribute to each of them. Whitney is first.

Whitney and I were born into our church at the same time (that paints an interesting mental image), but we weren't "besties" in grade school. Whitney moved away in the fifth grade. One of my rare crystal clear memories of that age is Whitney's going-away party at Roller Magic, that sanctuary of glitter stickers and giant jawbreakers. At the end of the party, we requested "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx. (side note: I will love that song until the day I die.) I so vividly remember all of us skating in a long line, grasping hands with the person on each side, and singing along through our choking sobs as we circled the smooth wooden floor again and again. I love that memory because, juvenile as it was, it perfectly illustrates our bond.

I had little contact with Whitney while she lived in tiny Paul, Idaho and I grew up in the big city of Nampa. She moved back to our town in the summer after our sophomore year (sorry Whit, if I have the timing wrong). We immediately became glued at the hip. I don't remember becoming friends with her, exactly, I just know that nearly every memory of high school from then on involved Whitney in some way. We had such fun together. We staged elaborate make-believe Miss America contests, complete with costumes, an opening group number, and variations on the talent of interpretive dance (Whitney's whale sounds dance was a highlight). We learned that the song Innagoddadavita (I had to look up how to spell that) was actually fourteen minutes long, way too long to dance to, so we sped it up on the record player and caused bodily injury in the process. Whitney and I went on road trips in her white Geo Metro, trips that took us 45 whole minutes away to Ontario, Oregon, to see her oral surgeon. (I've never before wondered why she had to see an oral surgeon in Ontario, but I am now.) We spent hours painting various esoteric quotes on the walls of her bedroom. We laid on her floor in tears, listening to Candlebox and knowing that we were the only teenage girls experiencing true emotional angst. We traveled together to Seattle to preview the college we wanted to attend, but when Whitney was immediately accosted by a homeless man who asked her if he could drink her urine (quite politely, to his credit), I knew that my dream of going away to college together might not happen.

We had our down moments. Whitney began dating someone briefly after I broke up with him, and when I found out I felt pretty betrayed. Never mind that he had already dated three of our friends, or that they wound up getting married and making adorable babies. I was very angry with her for awhile for not coming away to college with me, and hurt when I learned second hand about her engagement. It was a tough time for us.

But our friendship persevered, and when I moved back to Nampa my sophomore year of college, we grew closer than ever. I spent nights with her in her cinder-block-walled married housing apartment, where we played Nintendo half the night and fell asleep to Empire Records. After I was married, we took long walks every day and talked for hours about the adventures of being a young wife. Or, we met up go for a long run at the lake, but wound up eating Blizzards on her couch, instead. I still love Blizzards, by the way.

Whitney is delightful. She is impossibly smart (much smarter than me, which pains me to admit), ambitious, funny, spontaneous, creative, slightly neurotic, and wonderfully loving. She has grown tremendously in Christ, but there is no one with whom I would rather share my least Christ-like moments. She is a terrific mom, even though she thinks she is terrible. Her son is brilliant and loving and obeys at least 30% of the time, which is saying something for a five-year-old. I still can't believe she had the nerve to have a kid so much sooner than me, but at least her new daughter Adeline can marry my son.

Whitney and I live hundreds of miles from each other, but with a phone call from her, it feels like no time has passed. I like to imagine us in fifty years, driving a responsible speed down the freeway (safety first), singing along to "My Sharona," on our way to DQ for a cold treat.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

why i am not too good for God's pursuit

I have a confession to make. I have, lately, been in a funk. I've felt downcast, discouraged, weary, and a failure. After an amazing, healing, refreshing time with the Lord at our Women's Retreat a few weekends ago, I was surprised to feel this way only days after coming home. It shouldn't surprise me, because I believe that Satan is very real, and that he "attacks" us anytime we have a breakthrough with God. But it still caught me off guard. I neglected to spend any time in the Bible for a couple of days, which turned into a week, which turned into three. After awhile, I felt too distant from God to pray, beyond the occasional "help me find my car keys." I kept thinking that God just had to be so over me - my inconsistency, my self-centered focus, my stubbornness, my pride. I mean, I was sick of myself, so surely He must be even more. He did give His life for me, after all. He probably expected a little something in return.

My turning point came just this past weekend. As I prepared my Sunday School lesson on Saturday night, I knew that I had a terrible attitude about teaching, and was giving hardly any effort or thought (or prayer) to the lesson. Going to church the next morning, all I could think about was the things I don't I don't like about our church. During worship, I stood with my arms crossed and barely sang words that I knew I didn't mean. The point is, I was spiritually a wreck, and I knew it, and I couldn't figure out why I didn't just fall to my knees and cry out to God. I mean, I know Jesus. I know him as a beloved friend, my Saviour, my King... why couldn't I run to him and talk to him and listen for him?

Later that day, I determined that I was not going to let another moment pass without opening my Bible and spending some time with God. I'm in the middle of a wonderful Beth Moore study on the Psalms. It happened that the lesson I was on was all about fixing our gaze. Where we look, she explained, determines what (or who) we listen to. That determines what we feel, and in turn what we expect. How true that is in my life! I had been looking only at my circumstances - financial challenges, frustrations of parenting, disagreements with Ben - and stubbornly refusing to look up to Jesus. He was speaking, but I wasn't listening. So of course, I felt even more discouraged, and I expected that nothing was going to change.

Then I read this in one of my devotionals: "If you have a murmuring spirit, you cannot have true cheerfulness. Your cheerfulness can only spring up freely and healthily when your heart is truly at rest in God; when you are satisfied with His ways, and wishing no change in them. When this is truly the case, then your heart and mind are free, and you can rejoice in spirit (Priscilla Maurice)." If you know me well, you know that I am generally a very cheerful person. I pride myself on being light-hearted and full of joy, even in challenging circumstances. Which, I came to learn, is exactly my problem. Pride.

I've been reading a powerful book (which deserves an entire post to itself) called Blue Like Jazz. I came to a passage that so eloquently explained why I was refusing to turn to God. The author talks about his struggle to receive God's grace and forgiveness. He writes, "It seemed wrong to me not to have to pay for my sin, not to feel guilty about it or kick myself around. I love to give charity, but I don't want to be charity... I believed I was above the grace of God." I realized that I wasn't running to God for his grace because I was too proud to humbly ask for it again. I was reminded that God doesn't grudgingly pour out his grace on us, He rejoices in doing it! God loves me intensely and intimately. He doesn't want any barrier to exist between us, and He is thrilled when I break down and cry out to him, no matter how stubborn and sinful and selfish I've been. I was so humiliated by my failure to live up to expectations that I forgot that Jesus came for sinners such as me. As Donald Miller write, I am not above the charity of God.

Friday, May 9, 2008

eli takes a girlfriend

my friend dara has an adorable daughter named sydney, who is about 6 months older than him. they play really well together and dara and i have decided that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. this morning we took them for a walk, and my son got a little too aggressive with his affection for sydney's taste. it looks like we may have to talk with him about his intentions.

Monday, May 5, 2008

eli's 1st birthday

My darling son turned one on April 20. I know everyone says that the first year flies by, but to me, it felt like a year. Maybe it's because we went through so many changes in the past year - Ben finished school, we moved across the country, we moved a little bit farther across the country, settled into a brand new state/town/house/church/etc. Maybe it's because I quit teaching the day Eli was born, and being a stay-at-home-mom has allowed me to savor the moments more. At any rate, Eli's birthday didn't sneak up on me and leave me feeling like, "How could this be here already?" Which is strange, because I certainly feel that way with other events (like turning 25... for the fifth time).

But this isn't about my amazing ability to age in reverse. This is about Eli and his super first birthday party.

From the beginning, I was determined not to throw an out-of-control party for Eli's first birthday. I started with the idea to have my parents come from Idaho (like they need a reason to visit), and we would just have a nice little family celebration. Then, my sister moved back to Idaho just in time to be able to join us. "Hmm..." I thought, "maybe we should invite just one or two of our friends. I don't want Eli to be lonely on his big day." So I added a couple of couples and their little ones to the list. I realized that even that many people was too much for our little house, so I decided that a tiny outdoor party at a local park would be perfectly manageable and much more fun.

Here's where one of my loving friends should have intervened and said: "Alisa, an outdoor party in April in Portland? Are you on crack?" But they did not.

I decided to have the party at the cute little neighborhood playground in our subdivision. That way, just in case it decided to rain (very unlikely, in the second rainiest city in America), we could easily move the party back to our house, and our guests could just take turns sitting down.

As the big day drew near, the party grew, as parties are known to do. I added a friend here, a friend there, a fifth cousin who just happens to live in Portland, and before I knew it, my party had grown to 21 people. Not quite an extravaganza, but definitely bigger than I had originally planned. At some point, I decided that our party just had to involve baby swings, and since our humble neighborhood park doesn't have them, I moved the party to a beautiful (and, I learned, quite popular) park several miles away. Savvy planner that I am, I thought to reserve a covered pavilion at the park, but learned that until the first of May, they were first-come, first-served. "No problem," I thought. "Surely no one else will want to have their party there on the same day."

This is where one of my loving friends should have pointed out that Rood Bridge Park is an incredibly popular spot, and chances were good that someone else would want to have a party there on the same day. But they did not.

The location was taken care of. Now there was the issue of a theme. I'm not much for character parties, so I looked for something without Elmo's crazy smiling face on every plate. I found an adorable set called "Safari Babies," which I loved. "Now, don't go crazy," I told myself. But of course, I did. I started with a couple sets of plates, cups, and napkins. Oh, but they had regular plates and dessert plates, and they were both so charming that I couldn't pick just one. Then I needed a tablecloth, of course - maybe two. And matching plastic flatware, and the mini-centerpieces, and the seven dollar balloon shaped like a lion. I felt very righteous for putting back the jungle animal water squirters and the dozen balloons with color-coordinated ribbons.

My greatest accomplishment of the day (other than the fact that my son had survived my parenting for an entire year) was his birthday cake. I was determined to make the cake myself. I made a double-layer lion cake in my all-time favorite flavor - Rainbow Chip. Oh, the miracle that is Rainbow Chip cake. I cut the bottom layer to resemble a lion's mane, and turned the top layer into its snout. My mom made a delicious cream cheese frosting and I frosted the cake yellow, then added frosting "hair" to the mane. I was running out of time to finish it, and Ben saved the day with awesome cake decorating skills. The cake turned out incredibly cute, and I was very proud.

Eli's big day started out cloudy and chilly, and the weather quickly went from bad to worse. As I was finishing the goody bags in the last hour before the party, I glanced out the window and was greeted by the sight of pouring rain. Over the next hour, the rain turned into sleet, snow, and hail. It never snows in Portland, but of course, it snowed on a late April day, just for my outdoor party. I calmly finished my job and prayed for a miracle. God delivered! As we left for the park, the weather cleared. We didn't have the brilliant sunshine and 70 degrees I had hoped for, but at least our guests weren't getting soaked.

The final "Oh dear" moment came when my sister and I arrived at the park. I had expected that we were the only people brave (or dumb) enough to actually hold an outdoor party on that beautiful day, but I really underestimated the Oregonian's ability to ignore terrible weather. As we pulled into the parking lot I saw that not one, not two, but all three covered pavilions were taken! Not to be defeated, I marched over to the smallest party, which was still being set up, and asked if they would mind sharing their space for a darling one-year-old boy whose mommy doesn't understand the meaning of "back-up plan." They were kind enough to give us two of the tables, and we were in business!

After that, the party went off without a hitch. Our wonderful friends braved the elements to celebrate with us, the food was delicious, and Eli thoroughly destroyed his lion cake. Ben and I were able to forget the chaos of the day and enjoy our baby boy turning one. Having Eli has been an incredible joy, and we can't wait to see what comes next.

the zoo

things my son could have marveled over on his first trip to the zoo: zebras, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, bears, monkeys, turtles, polar bears, otters, elephants, and many birds and fish. also the spectacular forested setting of the portland zoo. not to mention the remarkably warm weather, the bright sunshine and the brilliant blue sky.

things my son showed a teensy bit of interest in: my elephant ear, my sunglasses, and girls.

way to go, zoo!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

why my husband is neat

i've been blessed to be married to ben for almost eight years. so i know him well enough to say that he is one of the good guys. he's kind and sensitive, loving and funny, smart and witty. he's man enough to play golf (well), and man enough to wear pink while he does it. ben has impeccable taste and picks out my most adorable clothes. he's an incredible daddy. he would never write a blog entitled "sometimes being a dad sucks." but he doesn't judge me for writing one. ben has a hugely compassionate heart. he cares about people who no one else cares about and befriends people who have no friends. ben is disgustingly good at rock band and is, as i type, beating every song on the expert level. i can barely finish "roxanne" on the easy level, but whatever. his rockband band name is "no wait, now go!" if you don't understand how awesome that is, you can't be my friend. i'm incredibly thankful that God put ben in my life, and that, when i told ben that i could marry him on our third date, he didn't leave me on the shoulder of i-84.

sometimes, being a mother sucks

so, hopefully it goes without saying that i love my son, but just in case there's any doubt, let me assure you that i love my son. i love being a mom and i am excited to have more children. that said... i'd like to address for a moment the many injustices of becoming a mother. i'm sure there are people (beeyotches) out there who would say, "whoa now, she must not really love her child to speak this way!" to you, please see above. i've been told that i'm the girl who says what everyone else is thinking. so i'm going to take license to speak for the mommies out there who wish they could, just once, complain.

as a mom, the party line is, "i can't imagine my life without alexis/madison/jacob/atticus!" i've said this myself, usually while backpedaling after complaining about my son's incessant whining or inability to sleep through the night. but really, come on. of course i can imagine what it would be like to sleep until ten, go out to dinner on a whim, and leave the house to run errands carrying only my stylishly tiny purse. i remember what life was like B.K. (before kid), and it was good. at the time, of course, i thought i was exhausted, stressed out, and generally run ragged. ha. i miss being spontaneous and unplanned and unprepared. i miss going out for late dinners and drinking too many margaritas and watching an entire episode of top chef uninterrupted. i miss my pre-baby body. when did i go from being the cute girl at the bar to the lady with the back fat buying gloria vanderbilt shorts? yes, that actually happened.

it's no secret that having a child changes your life, but i wasn't prepared for how dramatically. no one is. and that's good, because if we all knew exactly what we were in for, nobody would have kids. one night, after my flu-ridden baby puked on me for the tenth time and my husband and i argued over who had to give the five a.m. bottle, and after i found that i still couldn't fit into any of my adorable pre-baby skirts, i sat on the floor of my closet and cried... and cried... and cried. i'm sure it won't be the last time. it's tough, this mommy business.

thank goodness there's a good news. the good news is, there is seriously nothing that can compare to my son's giggle, no smile that can match his two-toothed grin, no kiss better than his slobbery one on my nose. my son walked for the first time this week, and those four wobbly steps made me feel more accomplished than my best day teaching. it's okay to remember my free-wheeling days and even to wish, from time to time, that i could go back there. but one sweet "mama" makes me remember that, back-fat be damned, being a mom rocks.