Pausing

For the first time since I started this blog in August 2008 I skipped one of my monthly masthead updates (the March 2011 masthead). I won’t describe what this does to my obsessive-compulsive nature; I had to volitionally exhale, meditate on the true things that matter in life, and let. it. go. I traded in that masthead — and many, many other things — for doctoral candidacy. Not a bad trade off. The process of creating a dissertation prospectus, presenting the proposal to my committee, and getting approval for the project was the hardest step thus far in my PhD experience, and I will even go so far to say that it was one of the more challenging feats in my life. By the grace of God, I have finished that leg of the race.

Because most things in life can be analogized to triathlons, I think about the finish trusses that some races have for each triathlon leg.

At this point in the race, there is no medal for your neck and no formal finisher’s ceremony. But there is celebration. Family and friends congregate at these finishes. Triathletes smile as they pass through (you don’t always see the smile through pain-filled grimaces or tears, but it’s there). Whatever fear that was associated with that leg has been overcome and, whether the greatest challenge lies ahead or not, there is an unmistakable opportunity to celebrate.

Similar instances occur in life, so take them. Take those opportunities to celebrate the smaller victories along the journey, especially if the greatest challenge lies ahead. Even if it is an ever so brief moment allotted to pause, put hands on knees, take a few recovery breaths, and say “Wow, I did it!” before turning full stride again, soaking in the victory helps to fuel us for the legs that lie ahead.

My PhD program is a pentathlon. The dissertation proposal was the 4th leg. There was no blue inflatable finish truss for this stage (though one would be a welcome addition to the department), but seeing my committee’s signatures on the doctoral candidate form was a rite of passage in itself. So I celebrated, albeit briefly, and am already full stride in the final leg of the program.

The April masthead — what I really wanted to write about in the first place — is an example of nature doing its own celebrating as it survived the winter leg and welcomes spring. The trees with these blooms line the streets of our neighborhood and they humbly proclaim, “Wow, we did it!” Because this kind of celebration is so inspirational and contagious, every time I step outside of my house I briefly pause to join them in the celebration. Yes, we did do it. We survived a rough season, a challenging leg of the race.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Aaahh.

Okay, now back to work.

Treating the Cancer

First and foremost, the violent act and the loss of life in the recent Arizona shootings are a tragedy. I weep with those who have lost loved ones and with those who have serious injuries to overcome. May God keep you tightly in His Grip and give you a peace and comfort that surpass your understanding.

Yesterday I found myself commenting on another blog (something I don’t do often), offering a sliver of my perspective on the latest controversy with the Arizona shooting. The dialogue got me involved enough to conjure up my own post. The claim in the news is that violent, divisive rhetoric from the Republican political party is to blame for the shooting. Just a few (of many) thoughts I have on this…

First, if you search for assassinations and attempted assassinations of U.S. Presidents, it is clear that both Republicans and Democrats have been victims to this heinous act. This is not a partisan issue.

Second, many of these acts occurred long before Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, and Glenn Beck even existed. This is not a current issue.

Zeal on this matter is warranted, however I believe the current attention in the media is misdirected. We all believe something wrong has occurred and we want justice, but to blame things like violent rhetoric is a distraction from a more central dilemma. There is a conflict within us all — we want to see fairness and justice and “good,” but we have the incapability (neither as a race nor as individuals) to perfectly uphold this standard. This want for good yet inability to be perfectly good, if not dealt with, becomes restless within us.

For many people, it is an unresolved conflict, and it’s much easier to blame some surfacey problem than to address the crux of the issue. If politicians will just speak more kindly about each other than this wouldn’tve happened. If we banned violent movies and video games then there would be no crime. If we were more educated about mental illnesses (which the shooter was believed to have) then all will be well. Stricter gun laws will bring world peace.

No, no, no, and no. These may help reduce crime rates temporarily, but these will not fix the core issue. Treating abdominal pain with a pain pill seems rather foolish if the root cause of the pain is cancer. The pill may offer temporary relief, but to ignore the underlying disease would be fatal.

We are in a predicament. We understand there is some moral code, some Golden Rule, that we cannot bear to see violated, yet we ourselves are incapable of perfectly upholding it. None of us on our own are capable of being perfectly good.

After you peel back all of the culpable layers, this core dilemma pervasive throughout humanity is the cause of the tragic Arizona shooting. The shooter fell way short of the standard. And even though it might seem like our blunders aren’t nearly as shameful as his, the truth is we all fall short of the standard too. No, a pain pill will not treat this cancer.

Two Times Makes a Tradition

For the second year in a row now, dare I say it’s tradition, two of my chiblings* have come to stay with Brian and me the weekend following Thanksgiving. For years before this new “tradition” has been in place, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been bookmarked as the Thanksgiving celebration for my dad’s clan. My dad’s children, children’s spouses, and children’s children all convene in my grandmother’s 1970s ranch for our day of family chaos and wonderment. Sometimes there’s hula-hooping, or charades, or wrestling, or a game. Every year finds the youngest generation playing in the basement, football on TV, laughter, conversation, and Grandma’s roast beef and Texas sheet cake, to name a few of the staples.

(*Chiblings is a term I coined to fill a gap in the English language. It is a gender neutral word for the children of one’s siblings and is much more succinct than always having to write “niece(s) and nephew(s).” You’re welcome, English speakers.)

Thanksgiving 2007

Thanksgiving, 2007

Last year my brother and his wife had plans after the family gathering, so Brian and I arranged to take their two youngest, Brady and Paige, home with us to Pittsburgh to spend the night. This year, without impetus we did the same, extending their stay until Sunday.

After a lazy Saturday morning and easy afternoon with Penn State football, video games, and the game Tri-Spy, Brian, Brady (9), Paige (6) and I set off to a nearby playground. Closed for construction. Bummer. Thinking on the fly, we went to the bowling alley. An hour-and-a-half wait. Strike two. As we loaded the car and headed to the movie theater for Tangled in 3D, I twisted around in the front seat and told Brady and Paige, who were still upbeat and cheery, that if we didn’t get to do anything fun this weekend, they could at least tell people that we had fun ideas.

Fortunately things turned in our favor and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the movie and the amazing Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort. The chiblings didn’t have a camera with them, but each took 70-100 photos of the light displays using their Nintendo DS systems. One of Paige’s favorite displays — that I happened to capture, albeit crappily, on my cell phone — was the carousel with moving horses. Throughout the entire evening, even after we left the resort, she continued to exclaim, “How did they get the horses to move like that?!”

On Sunday, we scored again with an afternoon at Carnegie Science Center’s SportsWorks. We were fortunate to pick a day with a small crowd, giving us pretty much free reign and nearly unlimited access to whatever “exhibit” we wanted. Brady (who is flipping on a trampoline in November’s masthead) loved the virtual roller coaster best. Paige’s favorite was the 25-foot (that is, about 7 Paiges) rock climbing wall. The weekend was officially a success.

Brian and I pulled our car into the garage Sunday night, children returned to their parents and our cats in charge of the house again. The house is quiet, which is nice on one hand, but missing a joy and presence that only those amazing little people can fill. A couple times I have caught myself sitting on the couch or at my desk staring off into nowhere, reflecting on the fun weekend and the kids’ antics, smiling as I remember Paige beam as she told the SportWorks attendant that she had pushed the button at the top of the rock climbing wall not one, not two, but three times. I too was in awe of her boundless energy. She had climbed that wall 6-7 times at least, ringing the proverbial victory bell with a push of the button on the last several attempts, and then she would rappel down as though she had been doing it professionally for years.

But that beaming. There was no prize for the number of button pushes; she was just so delighted in her own accomplishment. We are impressive creatures, aren’t we? Almost always capable of achieving so much more than we ever credit ourselves able to do. Anyway, it’s these little moments with our chiblings that inspire us to rustle up our home for a weekend with their imprint and to create new traditions.

Still Learning

The masthead for October 2010, “A Work-filled Fall,” perhaps could be better titled — “So What If It’s Late November and I’m Just Now Posting an October Masthead.” The photo was taken at the Philadelphia Convention Center with a cell phone that I’m eager to replace. Under one of the escalators/staircases was this huge wall of chinaware magically secured in place. I nearly blew right by the artistic expression as one who is distracted by her thoughts might do, but after I frustratingly tried to dodge a small crowd of people taking photos of it, I got out of my head long enough to see what they were actually taking a picture of.

Until someone pointed out to me on Facebook that none of the bowls and cups have handles, I thought this was a massive collection of coffee mugs. I’m going to go ahead with that initial impression and dedicate this masthead to the night in mid-October when I went to McDonald’s at 9pm and ordered a large mocha latte. I very rarely order a coffee-based drink, let alone an espresso-based drink. It’s more to do with taste preference than to do with caffeine. Actually, I’ve always purported that caffeine doesn’t affect me like it does others. That is, until I ingested 20 ounces of liquid adrenaline on an empty stomach that night at McD’s.

I entered the restaurant already exhausted but in need of a quiet work place because earlier that day my advisor had set a lofty deadline for the next morning. I worked there until 1am, then headed home for another 4 hours of dissertation bliss. Mid-all nighter, the shakes started. And the muscle tensing. And the heart pounding. I thought I was having a heart attack; of course I wasn’t in the mood to die, but it did cross my mind that I would at least have a good excuse not to meet my deadline.

Well, I didn’t die, I did meet my deadline, and I did realize that I am not impervious to a caffeine high. Just when I think I’ve figured myself out, there I go and surprise myself all over again. And I’m not just talking about the caffeine here.

Rocks

Twenty-five days in to the month and I have finally managed to get a new masthead up.  As with writing, I am not up to speed with my picture-taking, so I thought I’d dig in to the archives for this photo.  This month’s masthead is a shot from the Australian Outback at Uluru, or Ayers Rock.  Because the Outback is so flat and desolate, and because this monolith is so grand (the largest in the world of its kind, in fact), you can easily see Uluru from a couple dozen miles away.  So majestic.

“There, in the middle of a memorable and imposing emptiness, stands an eminence of exceptional nobility and grandeur, 1150 feet high, a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around, less red than photographs have led you to expect but in every other way more arresting than you could ever have supposed…You cannot stop looking at it; you don’t want to stop looking at it. As you draw closer, it becomes even more interesting. It is more pitted than you had imagined, less regular in shape. There are more curves and divots and wavelike ribs, more irregularities of every type, than are evident from even a couple of hundred yards away. You realize that you could spend quite a lot of time — possibly a worryingly large amount of time; possibly a sell-your-house-and-move-here-to-live-in-a-tent amount of time — just looking at the rock, gazing at it from many angles, never tiring of it.”  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

However forced or cliché it may seem, I cannot help but to compare the most impressive rock on Earth and the Rock of the Bible.

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” I Samuel 2:2

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2

God is like Uluru, but living, bigger, more powerful, more dependable, holier, more personable, more loving, full of grace and redemption…  Okay, so they’re nothing alike, but I do love the imagery.  “See this magnificent rock that is so awe inspiring you can’t stop staring at it?  Yeah, well I am the unshakable, eternal Rock that is exponentially more arresting and majestic.”

In the midst of a cold and bleak Midwest American winter, here’s one small reminder of the warmth, inspiration, and fortitude that comes from standing at the foot of the Rock and gazing tirelessly.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

A wedding, a birthday, a cousin reunion, a bizarre trip to the allergist’s office, a day with Mom, the National Anthem at a ball game, a 10th wedding anniversary, a mountain biking accident, a couple photo editing projects, some really good days, some really hard days, some spiritual nuggets, laughable moments, a couple fleas…and, yes, my comprehensive exams.  I certainly cannot attribute lack of material as the reason why I haven’t written any posts for nearly the entire summer.  I told myself – in an attempt to channel all writing energy towards my comps – no posts until my paper was turned in, which was supposed to happen in June until I had a little meltdown in my advisor’s office and got an extension.  The second deadline was again a soft one – no specific date was set, but the new game plan was to be done mid-July.  Well, it is officially August and still no paper.  Still a lot to go, in fact.  So I will keep not posting until I get relief from this project, which hopefully can be completed within the next ten days, though I’ve completely surrendered any attempts to mark a specific date.

I’m writing a little blurb now, however, because I posted a new masthead this month, a slice of a painting, and I wanted to give props to the artist.  For our TENTH anniversary last Friday, Brian and I were simply going to celebrate with dinner and a movie.  Because we are exciting people.  All day long I anticipated the movie theater popcorn.  Because I like to think about exciting things.  But then, at the last minute, we spontaneously slipped away from our world and spent the night at a high class resort.  It was a rare opportunity to experience the type of luxury the rich and famous experience on a daily basis (and to spend more money than we normally would ever pay for a bed and a couple meals).  For the twenty-four hours we stayed at the resort I was sure that I would run in to either the Queen of England or Jessica Simpson.  Didn’t happen, though.

Our hotel was named the Chateau LaFayette.  It was designed to replicate the Ritz Paris, which is slightly ironic because nearly twelve years ago a bellman kicked me out of the Ritz in Paris, yet last weekend the bellmen anticipated and met my every hotel and traveling need before I could even ask.  So I guess the Chateau is just like the Ritz Paris only kinder.

I cannot speak about every floor of the hotel, but our gorgeous hallway was lined with artwork by Boyer.  Just outside of our exquisite room – decorated with a recessed ceiling, crystal chandelier, and marble in the bathroom – was the painting that I used for the masthead.  If I were Boyer and someone posted my artwork on their blog then I think I would want people to see the entire piece, so here it is:

01-chateau-painting

I wanted to find out more about this artist so I could cite him (or her) appropriately, but according to Google there are a lot of Boyers out there who like to paint.  This makes you wonder, are all of these Boyers related?  Wow, what a testament to genetics that would be!  Anyway, Boyer, if you are from this century, are currently alive, happen to be a faithful reader of Moore Tokens, and recognize your artwork that I posted, please give us an “About the Painter” blurb in the comment section!

Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?

Making Room for Truth

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-talk lately.  I’ve been more sensitive to the lies I let in about my capability and my worth, and have realized how poisoning these lies can be.  I like what others have said about this issue…

A college friend, Sarah (Gale) Evers, wrote sort of a New Year’s resolution in January, 2009 on Facebook:

I’m calling 2009 “The Year of Kindness.” What could life look like if I treated myself with kindness? What if I worked out not because I ought to, or as punishment, but because I wanted to, or it was the kindest thing to do for myself? What if my self-talk was more kind and gentle? What if I relaxed in my expectations for myself and lived in grace? And what would happen in my relationships as that sense of freedom and KINDNESS overflowed from me?

***

myjoy, a commenter on the Stuff Christians Like website, wrote:

My anthem right now is Ephesians 4:29, it’s everywhere around me, in sermons, in studies, on TV, everywhere! God is clearly trying to tell me something.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

God is challenging me to have everyone be better off than before they talked to me.

And today I just had a revelation. It’s not just directed at other people. It’s also about what I tell myself. Is my internal dialogue helpful for building me up? Or am I tearing myself down? Am I better off after hearing my own voice, than when I started? Or do I remain dejected, discouraged?

So I pray God will use this verse to change my heart, to tame my tongue, that the same mouth I use to bless His name I do not use to curse others or myself.

I too am challenged to add more kindness, more grace, and more truth to my internal dialogue.  When my head hits the pillow each night, I want to look back over the day knowing that I was better off after listening to my own voice all day long.  After all, if the God of the Universe can forgive me, love me unconditionally, and see me as completely worthy in his eyes, surely I should do the same.

Moving the Party Outdoors

abby-standing3

A Cat Story

She asked, “Are you coming outside or what?!”

I said, “Not until you do your tap dance routine.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

She said, “Fine, but not unless you get me my top hat and cane.”

So I did.  And then she did.

Then I said, “Ha ha, I was going to come outside whether you did the routine or not.”

Then she came inside and puked on the carpet.

I guess we’re even.

***

(Side Note: Are cats supposed to be this long?  When I look at this picture I can’t help but think Abby was playing a trick on me.  Like she persuaded Scout or a neighborhood cat to go in on the “Super Tall Cat” gag.  They rented a Giant Abby costume made from real fur and catskin.  Inside the costume the accomplice cat was on the bottom standing on its hind legs while Abby was sitting on its shoulders to convincingly look like the tallest domestic cat in the world.  I’m not sure if all of this was for laughs or attaining greater power over humans.  I am watching their moves very closely.)

If I’m being honest, when this photo was taken Abby wasn’t really eager for me to frolic outdoors with her.  She actually wanted me to let her inside.  Just like the second photo of Scout in this post – Scout isn’t really screaming; she’s yawning.  It’s okay though, they’ve both given consent for me to create whatever story I want with their photos.  Between the verbal consent and the fact that cats don’t recognize their own reflection or pictures of themselves, I figure I’m in the clear.

But there are parts of the Cat Story that are true.  For example, I am planning on spending more time outside.  In fact, I am going to fight every ounce of lethargy and overwhelmedness in my body and attempt to get back to triathlons.  After not racing for nearly two years, I am ready to start training for the Pittsburgh Triathlon in July.  Training this month will be a huge challenge since I still carry the weight of my comprehensive exams (due end of May/early June), but I’m hoping that making a public proclamation to compete in the Pittsburgh Triathlon will serve as one form of accountability to help that goal come to fruition.

Another aspect of the Cat Story that’s true – Abby can totally tap dance.

I’ll Have a Pepsi, Please. And Super-Size It.

This past weekend I had a chance to chat with my grandmother (my dad’s mom) on the phone for almost an hour.  I always enjoy our conversations.  Usually there’s a story or two that is recounted, like the time when I was a toddler and, as soon as my grandmother came over to our house, I grabbed her hand, took her to my room, and closed the door, apparently wanting to keep her all to myself.  “Do you remember that?” Grandma always asks, smitten by the story.  I don’t remember the incident when it actually happened, but I do remember it from the previous conversation when she shared it with me, and from the time before that, and each time before that. It’s a favorite memory of hers, so I’m glad to listen as many times as she’d like to share it.

We also talked about her life as a navy pilot’s wife, a young widow after 20-some years of marriage, and a mother of three.  She told me about the people for whom she’s cared and about her faith over the years.  For her it’s just her story, it’s just the hand that she was dealt and the life that she’s lived.  For me it’s this example of strength, of endurance, of sacrifice, of devotion.  Sometimes you just need to hear perspective from someone who’s been doing this for 85 years.

Oh, and there’s a matter-of-fact quality to my grandmother.  If she has a question about your bowel movements, by golly she’ll ask it without lowering her voice or using delicate language.  No sugar coating here.  This straight shooting usually makes me laugh, more so when someone else is in the hot seat being asked how often they wash their face or if they use the quilt that she hunched over for months to make for them.

I told her about my recent state of overwhelmedness.  Trying to make headway with my comprehensive exams while juggling work in the lab and a big load of personal stuff at times leaves me falling short in all I do.  When these feelings of defeat peak I can become almost paralyzed, leading to, among other things, inefficient use of my time, which of course feeds in to the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and falling short.  To this Grandma responded: “When I start to get that way I drink a Pepsi and it helps me to get going.  And I know that it’s not good for you, but it’s either that or shoot myself, so I figure the Pepsi’s not so bad.”

She’s funny and she’s blunt, but she’s right.  I have dozens and dozens of pages to write and only a few weeks until my deadline, so yeah, I need to get going.  And maybe life for the next four weeks (or five or six weeks) is going to be a little disjointed and wearisome and out of balance, but this is my spring.  It’s either get going or give up, so even if I need to cheat here and there on my healthy eating plan, ignore a few emails, or let the bathrooms stay a little dirty, it’s not so bad.  It’s worth the trade off of not giving up, of meeting another goal along this (sometimes very painful) journey, of knowing that I never really was defeated after all.

Dedicated to You, Mom

Okay, so I know there are still the extensions, the quarterly reports, and the back log from your ‘real’ job, but I hope you can still appreciate this little e-card I made for you. (Click on image to enlarge.)

tax-day

It will probably take your eyes a while to readjust to natural lighting after constantly being exposed to only desk lamps and fluorescent lighting for so long, but they’ll get there.  Even though you still have a full load on your plate, please, please allow yourself to fully recover with pedis and massages and walks and sleep and American Idol…or whatever.