Monday, February 3, 2014

I Want Good News so I can Eat a Cheeseburger

So I'm still not sure whether this is a wholly Western culture thing, or maybe it's global, or maybe it's just in Ohio, or maybe it's just in my family? but I grew up eating things to celebrate. When there is something to be happy about, there is going to be cake to be happy all up in. And around and through. Cake and pasta? Mozzarella sticks. Also lasagna. And cheese plates. French fries. Those almond crunchy cookie things my cousin Stef makes. If you do not have these things, you are not celebrating properly. (Often these things in themselves become reason to celebrate.)

I'm about a week and a half (sweet gluten-free ravioli it seems so much longer) into an experimental eating regimen I've imposed on myself to see if I can't cure the ol' Forever Stomach Ache of My 20's. Not to be dramatic but it has been the WORST WEEK AND A HALF EVER THAT YOU'VE EVER HEARD OF. Also, my stomach feels amazing and hasn't hurt in like, six days. I know. I can't believe it.

You ego-maniacal psychologists in the audience (?) will look at my new eating regimen (which was not created by me and is not created to lose weight - this is a topic for another day but I want you to know I'm being reasonable and healthy and am consulting people much smarter than me on this) and say, ah yes, so predictable. SO predictable that you would do this now, Maria. Because life feels like it's in a bit of a limbo, and not the good kind with margaritas and all that but the bad kind; where you feel like change is coming but you can't tell what kind, and you're not even sure what kind you're hoping for anymore? And maybe also the kind of limbo where God is like, so... "how's it going down there - sorry I haven't been able to check in lately? I'm busy elsewhere." He of course does not and has never said such things but my heart has inaccurately heard them, and continues to.

So, psychologists, you may be right that this month-long stomach-healing food thing is a coping mechanism for a larger hole of weirdness in my psyche. It is giving me something to think about and focus on when the rest of life is full of brow-furrowing misunderstandings and long-suffering WAITING. So, I fill my time instead with 4 page grocery lists and boring crock pot recipes (my GOD the vegetables.)

People who have done this particular intestine-friendly eating regimen before warn me I will start to experience pregnancy-strength cravings for some of my favorite food about halfway through. So far I've had two food-related dreams, one about Diet Coke (and I'm a Pepsi person, so um wtf) and one about Jimmy John's, which is especially weird because if I could have anything I wanted right now, Jimmy John's wouldn't necessarily be on the top of my list. Although I wouldn't refuse a #9 Italian Club right now. I wouldn't refuse it.

I think more than the food, what I am craving right now is some kind of good news.

Guilt: "Maria, darling, you can't be serious. You got up this morning and stood on two functioning legs. You drove a car that you own to a job that pays you. You ate food for each meal. Your husband called to say hello and he has a beard. Your dog pretty much lives and breathes for you. Don't EVEN with the "I need some good news."

I'm sorry, I'm ungrateful, but I want to work through that by still being honest with you and telling you that in addition to a Diet Coke (seriously what is happening) I also want some good news. I am craving a phone call; an email; a Facebook message for goodness' sake with something that would CHANGE things. I'm craving that speeding up of my heart, the flash of heat to my face, the scrambling for my phone to call other people and tell THEM the good news.

And I'm craving the Good News Cheeseburger that will follow. Just you wait.

I know I haven't been around in a while. Well, I wrote something today. Here it is. Do you like it?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Heart in Israel

So it's day time right now and it actually feels like day time in my body. Kind of. At least I'm not dozing off every 20 minutes and having to spend 5 minutes upon waking up trying to figure out where I am. It is much harder to adjust to coming back from a time-zone change like that (10 hours ahead) than it is going into it. But we're back from Israel.

I still have to pinch myself every morning that we were there. It was incredible, to say the least. It was life-changing. It was different, and uncomfortable, and so painfully beautiful. It was smelly and noisy and stressful and relaxing and I didn't like the food and I loved the people and some things scared me and other things inspired me and the climate was a lot like Phoenix, which my skin was happy about.

My current project is furiously writing down each day's itinerary in my journal. I'm spending my lunch breaks chewing pen caps and going through photos, trying to piece together what we did each day by looking at what I was wearing in each picture. We saw so much. We went all over that beautiful, stubborn country and I loved every single inch and footstep.

I'm planning to share more about the sites we saw and all that we learned in this blog, but what I want to write about right now is a feeling; or a lesson I learned or at least wrestled with while I was there. It turns out being where Jesus lived and walked and taught and wept dredges up some stuff, you know?

Before I go any further, though, I have to give a shout out to Morning Star Tours. If you are ever planning a trip to the Holy Land, USE THEM. And request Shmulik as your guide. He is an absolute ENCYCLOPEDIA on Israel, Jesus, the Old Testament, and British accents. I can't imagine what our trip would've been like without him - each site was absolutely fascinating but we were never sorry to have to get back on the bus because he would have some ridiculous story to tell.

So, being in Jerusalem was really something. It was a culture shock, first and foremost. The food seemed strange, the people were somewhat rude, the shop keepers were aggressive and every structure was drop-dead gorgeous. On our second day, we visited the temple steps that were built during King Herod's Second Temple Period. This Herod is the one that died right around the time Jesus was born, and this is the temple Jesus would have visited. Herod made the steps difficult to navigate - one long step, one narrow, one long, one narrow and etc. - so that people couldn't run down them away from the temple. (This wasn't a holy thing. This was a money thing, I'm guessing.)

And in front of the steps are dozens and dozens of little stone structures (they reminded me of the "famine houses" we saw in the Burren in Ireland) that Shmulik said were the ritual baths, where Jews would have washed themselves before going up to the temple courtyard.

Jesus walked up these very steps, and He likely spent some time teaching on them as well, because that was common back then. I wanted to sleep on them. To eat on them. To spend the whole rest of our trip on them. I wanted to look in every single direction from them and wonder "did he see this?" And I wanted to touch them and take them with me.

But at the same time all I could suddenly hear was Mark 2:17, where Jesus tells the Pharisees that He didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinners; because it's not the healthy who need a doctor.

I have no idea where it came from.

I was not sitting there thinking I am "righteous" or not a sinner. What I was thinking was - I am a boring sinner. I am an ugly sinner but a boring one; I don't cheat people out of money and I'm not a prostitute. I believe in Jesus but I lie and I'm lazy and I manipulate people and I'm proud. But these are boring and not showy and not always noticeable. And suddenly I had this thought - He would've ignored me! If we had been here at the same time, He would've ignored me.

It's like that feeling in school, when maybe you're doing really well in a subject so the teacher gives all her attention to the kids who are struggling, and suddenly you feel left out and sad. And again it's not that I was thinking "I am perfect so I wouldn't have needed him," it's that I was thinking "I already believed in Him, so would He have wasted time on me?" Or, maybe more accurately, "I wonder if He would have liked me enough to spend time with me" and then, answering, "no."

I went around for days ruminating on that, mourning over it, even waking up in the middle of the night in our hotel and crying over it. It broke my heart. To think He would've ignored me. And I started journaling about what I wanted - what did I want? I didn't know. I wanted Him to tell me that He wouldn't've ignored me; that He's not ignoring me now; that I mean something to Him. And then I realized that if He told me those things, I would think less of Him. Who am I that He'd think of me? Do I want a God who would? Could He still be Power and Might then?

As the days went on and we went to more and more places, I wouldn't say I ever came to terms with it, just that it softened to make room for all the other things going on in me - wonder, gratitude, repeat. It was such an unbelievable gift to be there and I felt that, and it made me feel loved even despite.

But when I got home I was talking to my mentor about it and she smiled a little bit and asked me - are you the "healthy?"

Then she brought up the story of the 99 sheep, and the one goes missing, and He goes after it. I said, yes! Perfect example! I'm the 99. The timid, boring ones who are easily hearded and scared to toe the line; never the squeaky wheel. And now I'm feeling hurt that He's ignoring me for the one.

(Now I picture Jesus taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes, and sighing, because how do I manage to get every single thing wrong?)

"We're all the one," my mentor said. "That's the point."

We're all the sick. Who knew that could be so difficult to figure out? Or that it could make someone so happy?

More to come.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "Am I Over-Sharing" Conversation

So, a few things. I haven't written much lately, and there are a few reasons for that.

First is our upcoming trip to Israel in less than two weeks. Currently I'm in the "OH SHIT" stage of the pre-trip emotional roller coaster, where I wake up at 2 am every night to write down something I'm terrified I'll forget to pack ("BUG SPRAY") and I spend all day convincing myself that I don't love Jesus enough to walk where He walked; you know, just your average pre-travel psychosis.

Then there are the freelance assigments I've received this month, on top of my usual nightly writing, and I'm super grateful for that but deadlines are just so suffocating.

Then there is my general waffling about privacy and blogging and what they mean to me and which one I should value more and why I'm wrong after I make that choice.

I've been giving a lot of thought to my online presence and how much of one I want to have. Last week I found this delicious blog called "Wait by Why" and they did a brilliant tongue-in-cheek breakdown of why everyone becomes their worst selves on Facebook, and I gave myself a headache with how furiously I was nodding in agreement.

I look at Facebook every day, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. And every time I consider updating my "status" I find myself in a sweat-inducing existential crisis about why anyone else would or should care about my weekend plans and whether I'm adding or detracting from the goodness in the world and you know, this and that. And every time I read all of YOU people's updates, I find myself getting really disproportionately annoyed. You just can't possibly imagine how little I care about your trip to the nail salon, and I want you to sit there and listen to how little I care, and then I want you to give me back the 5 seconds it took me to read about it!

There is also the case of people who over-like, or over-engage, or over-whatever themselves online. There is an etiquette to social media, which I don't think is unreasonable to say, and some people simply do not follow it. A month or so ago I realized that every. single. time. I posted something on Facebook or Instagram, it was truthfully less than 10 minutes before this same person would either "like" it or comment on it. I don't know this person particularly well, though we are acquaintances. He is a married dude around my age. And so all of that added to the just general weirdness I felt, I suppose.

After a while I decided to block him, and I felt so self-righteous in doing it; convincing myself that this is what Blake Lively must feel like walking down the street and all that. (Adoring fans) But then I had to face facts, that I am the one posting pictures about personal and private moments and "status updates" and what have you - how can I fault someone for engaging with that?

I follow the Eisley girls on Instagram and they are adorable and fun and I love their updates, but it's mostly baby pictures and baby feet and hands and snot and what-have-you - and oh my word, the comments! The other day I saw a photo of one of the babies under which a commenter, who admitted to being a fan and so presumably did not know the girls in person, had written "I love your daughter so much I feel physical pain when I look at her - I can't imagine how YOU feel!" I felt so gross after that that I almost got out of the line at Chipotle. (I didn't though, obvs. Barbacoa.) This stuff is creepy as hell, but are the posters inviting it? Or at least enabling it?

Ultimately I decided that blocking the above referenced dude was still the right thing to do, and I still believe there is an etiquette to the whole thing, (it started to feel like a dude with a crush trying to get my attention, and that is yuck) but it did get my wheels turning about exactly what I want out of being on social media, and I'm not sure I like my honest-to-goodness answers, which are essentially:

1. To look at people I'm jealous of so that I can try to be more like them
2. To try to make other people jealous of me

And honestly, that's about it, and that's ugly.

Now Twitter is a bit different - I follow mostly comedians and reporters, and I get news and laughs from that and that's ok with me. But Facebook and Instagram... I just don't know. I do like staying in touch with friends but most friends are using it less and less if my observations are correct, and I talk to my closest friends via text and email much more than through social media anyway. Blogging is different, I assure you, but I am also giving some thought to how personal I want to be here. We can write about ideas without me having to tell you about my medical history and whether my parents loved me enough as a child, yes? (They did)

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Re Miley Cyrus and Moral Judgments

I feel like there's a predictable cycle these days with "news" or semi-news or old news (RIP Neil Armstrong...still) or Breaking Bad spoilers on social media. First, the thing happens and everyone's talking about it. Then, everyone's talking about how everyone's talking about it. Then, everyone's talking about the one or two dumb dumbs who take the 'minority view' to be cool. Then, everyone's talking about how horrible it is that we're talking about it when X is happening over here.

Cue Miley Cyrus.

Last night I was writing the news round-up for Rhode Island and one of the stories I saw mentioned that the town of Warwick is raising money for a memorial to the 100 people who died in the Station Nightclub fire ten years ago. Remember that? When there were too many people inside and they got stuck in the doorway?

I spent the rest of the night clinging to Aaron's neck and trying to dam my mind flood of all the terrible things that happen all the time, and whether or when they will hapen to us and what they will be.

But when I went to bed, all I could see was Miley Cryus. Going to bed after the VMA's. Alone with her thoughts. With what she just did. I immediately sat upright in bed and said to a sleeping Aaron who never heard me - Aaron! Miley Cryus is alone somewhere right now! And that was almost as bad as the Station Nightclub fire in that minute.

I saw the Onion's article yesterday faking CNN Managine Editor Meredith Artley's reasoning for covering Miley's performance (performance?) at the VMA's. I understand why people take issue with its prominence in the headlines, but I do think it's news. Because this is where we are now. This is what we do. No one booed her. No one cut the feed. This is what we do now.

It's kind of unbelievable to me (though predictible) that we're so up in arms about it, though. The collective We usually pride ourselves on being rabidly non-judgmental, don't we? Aren't we the tolerant relativists your grandmother never had?

It's a legit question, this one: can we make moral judgments? About anything?

We certainly have about Miley Cyrus. And cigarettes. And pedophiles. And cheating on your taxes and going to war with Iraq and using your NSA title to snoop on your ex-boyfriend.

But then curiously, several other things are simply out of bounds. We must NOT make moral claims about homosexuality. We must NOT make moral claims about abortion. We must NOT make moral claims about art, or curriculums, or how the government spends its money.

I think we need to do some soul-searching, because I think we all know that we need to make moral judgments, not just about some things but about everything, about our role here in general; and in fact it doesn't matter whether we THINK we should because we do make these judgments every day.

Now, re: Miley:

When I was in kindergarten in Massilon, Ohio my priest's name was Father Kolp and he rode his bike everywhere. He had bright white hair and every year on the feast of the Assumption he prayed from the pulpit for Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. A few years back I finally asked my Mom why he did that (I remember assuming as a kid that all Catholic churches were praying for pop stars that day.) She said for some reason he had some special burden for her. Her mother allegedly named her for the Blessed Mother and she was so lost that it broke his heart, enough to pray for her from the pulpit every year at least.

So let's do that for Miley.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Las Vegas in Pictures

I'm in a funk this week and it's just no good. I know what I need and I can't do it, but I can dream about it. What I need is a rainy afternoon in the fall. Nobody needs me to be anywhere. Glazed donut holes. Louisville High School sweatpants and a sweatshirt that's too big for me. Nichole Nordeman's cover of "Time after Time" on repeat.

That's it. I can't have that though, and I am in a funk. In the meantime, I'm going to tell you all about Las Vegas. Last weekend we drove the four hours up to Nevada, a state Aar and I had never been to before, hurrah. My sister Jen and her husband and his brother are there this week for a convention so we went up to see them.

Please to enjoy the picture show.
Jen and I at dinner

Garden in the Wynn

New York New York. We rode the roller coaster.
Jen and I, the Wynn pool which was delicious

tulip sculpture - I think at the Palazzo?

A sleepy Aaron Michael and I shopping (and spending way too much money at Anthropologie) at Caesar's Palace, and a tower of delicious cupcakes. I got the Snickerdoodle and oh my. Yes to that.
Rainbow on the way home

Hoover Dam and a storm

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Even For Us

I was sitting in my office today, chugging away at all my little HR duties, when I had my usual morning epiphany that hey! I'm married to Aaron Baer! And I texted him to say HI (just like that) and he texted back and asked if I wanted to do lunch and I'm telling you, I was as excited as a 16-year-old getting asked out on a date to go see the second Lord of the Rings movie and smuggle in Starbucks in my purse and it spills but I don't care because it was carmel apple cider and that stuff smells gooood. (This may or may not have happened to me once).

It was a lovely lunch; we finally went to this Thai place by Aaron's work that he gets to go to all the time but I've never been to. Delish yellow curry, just the right amount of spicy (I am inherently distrustful of the "spice scale" they ask you to use but this one seemed pretty accurate, but also what do I know about curry spice scales.)

We talked about some articles and blog posts I've been reading online this week, and how they've been leaving me wringing my hands and grinding my teeth and longing to crawl back in bed. Because they hurt.

I read a lot of theology blogs and other "commentary" blogs on religion. Lots of religions. And I read writers from across the spectrum - some I agree with, some I believe are misguided, etc. I do try to keep an open mind. I want to learn.

But for some reason this week (every week), everyone is out for the Church (again.)

We're "Abusive." We're "Fake." "Hypocritical." "Old-fashioned." "Judgmental." "Failing."

These are Christians saying these things. This is Relevant Magazine. This is Rachel Held Evans.

And they've been said before; last week, and last year, and ten years ago, and twenty years ago, and twenty years from now. Ya'll, it's not new to criticize the Church. If you take nothing else away from what I'm writing here, PLEASE TAKE THAT. You're writing is unreadable with how novel you think you are. It makes my stomach hurt, I'm serious.

And so in response, my heart wants to say four things:

1. The Church is not always, categorically, wrong. In fact, the Church does a lot right. (Believing in Jesus, for starters?)

2. The Church does a lot of good.

3. The Church is a human institution.

4. God asked us to be a Church.

Have you ever heard that pithy little phrase people like to spit out on College Green and stuff, where they say "I considered being a Christian until I met one."? If that's you, and you're really saying you refuse to be a Christian and/or you left the faith because you came into contact with some really terrible Christians (they probably watched the Bachelor) I have to give you some tough love here, because presumably you're better than that. This would be akin to me saying "I really thought the science of chemistry was true but then I had a super mean chemistry professor so now I think it's all a bunch of bullshit." (I do secrectly think chemistry is bullshit.) Either Jesus died and rose from the dead or not. Whether you believe that should have everything to do with whether it's true and nothing to do with the actions and/or personalities of other people who believe it. (And it's true.)

And if you're someone who does believe in Jesus, but you're really fed up with the Church, please understand it's human. I understand holding it to a higher standard because of the moral claims we make; and that's appropriate. But if you are letting human pain and relational squabbles interfere with your belief in or communion with your Father - well that just doesn't compute.It's hurting everyone. It's hurting you.

And if it makes you want to spout off, and complain, and accuse, and diagnose; for you I'm reminded of this incredibly beautiful blog post by my brilliant friend Kate. (When I texted her for her help in locating that post, I couldn't believe it was 3 years ago. That post had such a huge impact on me - it felt like yesterday I read that! 3 years in your twenties is NOT like 3 years in high school and something about that feels very sad to me; sorry for getting off topic but oh man, aging, am I right?)

That post is such a gut punch. At some point, all of us self-appointed 'commentators' need to stop considering our rage-filled "criticism" constructive and start finding the line that we're crossing. The line beyond which this becomes ugly, and angry, and too much and too often and incorrect. The line beyond which we''re starting to feel entitled to the Bible and the Church fitting US.

The last thing I have to say is that "pretty writing" doesn't make "true writing." This keeps me up at night.

You are - we are - Christ's bride. We are His people. He delights in us. We are trying. We are beautiful.

So have some grace and love and patience - even for us.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We Went to a Cabin, Etc.

It's been a while since I've written around here and I totally have a complex about it. You should see me when I haven't written in my journal in a while. My palms get really sweaty and I spend at least two pages apologizing first. (To a journal.) (Now try to imagine my prayer life. OOF!)

 Anyway it's just been a busy season, is all. We're in the middle of the busiest time of year at work, and AB and I have had our fair share of extracurriculars as well. (I even got an endoscopy, for fun! It was really great.)

 But here I am now, to write, to regale you with tales of Life on Libby Street and all related nonsense and things. Aaron is playing another riveting game of college basketball on Xbox and Jethro is napping while squarely facing the front door TO BE READY FOR INTRUDERS. And I just spent 20 minutes praying over a Bible verse Aaron assigned me this evening to deal with my frantic heart. It worked, and it made me want to write.

 So does this past weekend.

 I don't know how Aar and I keep finding ourselves surrounded by and loved on by these incredibly generous people. It occurs to me that in our relatively short time together, as college punks and now young married twenty-somethings with not much money, we've vacationed (and honeymooned) in an unbelievable condo in Fort Lauderdale (for free), we've spent every anniversary in swanky hotels at discount rates thanks to my first job and the connections I still have from it (shout out, Morgie), we've taken whirlwind trips to Hollywood and LA and hung out on rooftops and the sets of TV shows, we've stood on the dock the Titanic was built on, and now we've skipped town for a weekend in this breathtaking cabin up in Pinetop, AZ. Because someone offered it to us.

 Pinetop is just like, I mean, it is like, well I don't know. It's like a place where things LIVE. Not where they go to die (the desert.) It's green and rainy and hilly and high (6,000 feet or so, I'm told). The houses have carved wooden bears on the front porches announcing the owners' names. (Are the owners bears? This is a burning question) There are hanging plants. It stormed TWICE. There is a local barbecue joint. Why in the world is Phoenix where people decided Arizona's main city should be? This is what happens when I'm not consulted on these things.

 The porch of this place was bigger than our house; I didn't measure but I know it in my deepest heart of hearts and I am absolutely ok with it. This is the porch. LOOK AT THIS PORCH.

Seriously, we spent the entire weekend out there if you must know; even in the rain. We hammocked. We read books. I wrote some freelance assignments. We read our Bibles. We drank tea. We watched it storm. We talked about our favorite teachers in high school. We talked about the Lord. We talked about each other.

 We couldn't bring ourselves to leave, even for food, so we cooked all our meals in the kitchen inside, with a glass of wine never far away (well we cooked everything with the exception of the local barbecue, WORTH IT). And that's pretty much all we did. All weekend.

 Except we also watched Friday Night Lights.

 Ok listen, it's kind of getting out of hand with the Friday Night Lights at the Baer house. I have been wanting to write about it for a while because it MAKES ME FEEL FEELINGS but I haven't wanted to because I don't want some party pooper to say OH! I LOVE that show! and then proceed to tell me things about it that I don't know yet. (So don't be that guy, is what I'm saying, I will ban you from this blog. And then where will you go for your nonsense reading? HUH?)

Honestly, how do I write about this show? Shall I compare you to a summer's day, Friday Night Lights? Seriously I know I might sound dramatic and this might just be because we're still in the middle of watching it but I'm pretty sure this is my favorite show on television. Ever. (Star Wars wasn't a TV show so we're good.)

 I'm going to write about why I love it and why it's going to save the world and why it's giving me renewed faith in humanity in a little bit. I have to collect my thoughts first. Also just an FYI I have loved Kyle Chandler ever since he was Gary Hobson getting tomorrow's newspaper today, so you can just back off, because we have a history. (My sister and I were so obsessed with that show that our neighbor, whom we used to babysit for, once saw a profile of Kyle Chandler in the newspaper and clipped it out and brought it down to our house for us. In the rain. This is what it's like to be me.)

 So for now, why don't you fire up your Netflix and start watching it so we can talk about it in a little bit.

Sorry I haven't written in so long (THE GUILT)