Monday, April 28, 2008

An Incredible Liturgical Experience

I am completely delighted and honored to share with you the ritual blessing that my friend/priest/mentor Elizabeth created for my baby shower. This is not an event that's usually spiritualized; often it consists of silly games (too frequently involving poop) and a central focus on gifts. While we had our fun, for me it was very important to acknowledge the deeply spiritual nature of what has been happening with me over the last several months, and to bring my friends - particularly the women - into the joy and gratefulness that comes from being honored with the ability to house life within our bodies.

So I asked Elizabeth to form something around these ideas, from the primal elements of womanhood on to the celebration of all women and the men who support them. She took these ideas and added even more wonderful elements: blessings on our family, poems and scriptures, a renewal of our marriage intentions, and promises to our daughter. Everyone participated and was touched deeply. I feel so privileged to have had this created for me, and now I am sending it out into the world (please contact me for permission if you would like to use it or any part of it). I hope it will inspire others to try similar rituals; it's incredible what a little liturgy can do for the soul. We will always carry the memory of this event in our hearts.

Stasi, John, and Baby McAteer
April 26, 2008
A Blessing
(prepared by Revd. Elizabeth Davenport)


Introduction

We have come together this day to celebrate three wondrous things: a mother, a father, a child to be born. No, four: the Creator who shares with us her love of making life.

For most of us, the image of God as Father runs deep in our souls, in our prayers. It’s a wonderful image, and we honor John – and all fathers – for the way in which they embody God to us.

But throughout the world, and threaded through its many faith traditions, is another image – that of Divine Mother. In India, where I spent part of last month, prayers frequently begin with the salutation, “Father God, Divine Mother….”

If the Divine is our Mother, it is no stretch to say that motherhood is something through which we encounter and touch divinity. Stasi – it is our joy today to come together as women, with men supporting us and marveling at the divinity in our female bodies, to celebrate you as a mother, and to bless you and the child within you.

Centuries ago, some of the great mystics of the Christian faith experienced Christ in their midst as mother – the one at whose breast we drink life’s milk, the one who would give all that those whom she birthed might live, and thrive. Our mother in kind, our mother in grace, as Julian of Norwich once said – the feminine as the door to union with the divine.

It’s so good to be woman! To be maiden, and then mother… to partake in the creative activity of God and of the universe in our very own bodies.

Stasi, we celebrate you this day as a mother! And first, a poem which celebrates your own birth – as you approach your own birthday – and your almost readiness to birth your own daughter….

* * *
Rowan and Red Thread
by Rose Flint, 2006

If I think back into my emergence
from my Mother’s womb I feel the miracle
in the center of my body as if I held within me
a chalice filled with fire. My daughter flamed out
on the red life thread, as I had done,
as my Mother did, and beyond her all the mothers
in the clan – some clear and close and others gone
into the mists – reaching back into the land,
passing on this fine red cord that binds us,
turns us inside out.

And what we make between us down these years
of generations, passing on the gifts – strength,
red hair or black, love of cats, second sight,
a need for making art or policy or healing

is a chain….

Red cord of life: mother, daughter, mother
red thread wound between the rings of stone,
the wells and hillsides of the birthing land;
our bloodline winding back and going on
beyond the distance, beyond the patterned dance
we name our lives within this time, this space,
this tiny moment of the world’s destiny:
mother, daughter, mother – red thread
strong as mountain, deep as earth’s bright heart.

During the reading a red thread is held up, then passed to Stasi. Following the reading, a small piece of red, unspun wool is presented to Stasi.

* * *

Reading, from Deuteronomy, and from John and Stasi’s wedding ceremony
(read by John)

Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts…. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out…. The Lord will command blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God will give you. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you will keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and walk in His ways.

* * *

Children, by Kahlil Gibran
(read by Sarah, shower hostess)

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”

And he said: Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your
dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

* * *


Promises

Stasi and John, you have said to me that one of the things you want for your children over the years to come is a stable home in which your commitment to each other and to them goes unquestioned, and in which they will always feel safe and secure. I’m going to ask you now to reaffirm the intent with which you promised yourselves to one another on your wedding day.

John, is it your intent still to live together with Stasi in the holy bond of married life? Will you promise anew to honor and uphold her, and to join with her in making a home that shall endure in love and peace? Will you reaffirm your purpose of a deeper union with her, whereby you both shall know joy and fulfillment of love? Will you pledge again to her your complete faithfulness through all the changing experiences of life? And will you give yourself to her completely, body, mind, and soul, each day of your life, that you shall be hers alone, as long as you both shall live? I will.

Stasi, is it your intent still to live together with John in the holy bond of married life? Will you promise anew to honor and uphold him, and to join with him in making a home that shall endure in love and peace? Will you reaffirm your purpose of a deeper union with him, whereby you both shall know joy and fulfillment of love? Will you pledge again to him your complete faithfulness through all the changing experiences of life? And will you give yourself to him completely, body, mind, and soul, each day of your life, that you shall be his alone, as long as you both shall live? I will.

And now I’m going to ask you to make some promises to your daughter.

Will you commit yourselves now to building a home where she will find her deep belonging, a never-ending well of love? We will.

Will you endeavor to shape your family life in such a way that it nurtures and supports her, that she might rise up and call you blessed? Will you teach her by word and example to value what is good, what is holy, what is life-giving, what is just, and will you strive to learn from her the things she will teach you from within her own spirit? We will.

Will you help her to grow in the knowledge and love of God, and to become all that God intends her to be? We will.

And I ask you all who hear these promises today:

Will you who witness these promises do all in your power to uphold Stasi and John in these commitments they make this day? We will.

Will you love and honor the child to be born, accompanying her on her life’s path and praying that she may grow in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and with all living things? We will.

* * *


Blessed are you, O God. You have blessed the union of Stasi and John. Amen.

Blessed are you, O God. May your blessing be upon Stasi and the child she carries. Amen.

Blessed are you, O God. May these last weeks of pregnancy be for Stasi and John a time of drawing nearer to you and to one another. Amen.

Blessed are you, O God. May Stasi’s and John’s experience of birth be filled with awe and wonder at the joy of sharing in your creative power. Amen.

Blessed are you, O God. May this child grow in health and strength, and may her days be long upon this earth. Amen.

* * *

Blessings
At this point Elizabeth puts on her stole as a symbol of her priesthood. She places her hands on Stasi’s head.

Greetings, Stasi, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed may you be among women. Blessed be your own womanhood and the fruit of your womb.

By the winds that bring change, by the fire of love, by the waters of fortune and the strength of the earth do I bless you.

Elizabeth places her hands on Stasi’s belly.

Child conceived at the harvest, we give thanks for you. Birthed as summer’s sun lengthens, may you be a light to all whom you touch. May the world rejoice in the gifts that you bring, and may all who know you call you blessed.

Elizabeth kisses Stasi’s belly. She then invites each person present to place a hand on Stasi, and to offer a blessing, as they choose….(spontaneous prayers follow for Stasi & John)


Blessing of the water in which the child will be bathed upon her birth

We take water, symbol of life and growth and abundance. We give thanks to God for the gift of water. Over it, God’s Spirit moved at the beginning of creation. In it, we grow in our mothers’ wombs, and through it, we are brought to birth. By it, we are baptized and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Invite each to add blessing, as they choose….(spontaneous prayers and love are offered for baby as water is touched by each person present. Water is collected to be taken home and saved for baby’s first bath in the blessings of friends)


A Gaelic blessing (traditional) over the water
(read by Edette, in whose home we gathered, as Elizabeth swirled the water)

A small wave for your form,
A small wave for your voice,
A small wave for your speech,
A small wave for your means,
A small wave for your generosity,
A small wave for your appetite,
A small wave for your wealth,
A small wave for your life,
A small wave for your health,
Nine waves of grace upon you,
Waves of the Giver of Health.

* * *

Response of Stasi and John (spontaneous)

* * *

Benediction
Stasi and John are each anointed with oil at the following words.

Stasi, I anoint you in the name of Christ. May you, like him, be present among us as mother, gentle healer, and prophet.

John, I anoint you in the name of Christ. May you, like him, be present among us as brother, wise teacher, and friend.

May you each be the face of God to your child, loving her as God loves you.

Child, may you know and feel the love of God in your life.
May you grow and flourish as the person God has dreamed you to be.
May you demand of us who love you that we make the world a safe and healthy place for you, and for all children.
May you in your turn be the face of God to us. Amen.

* * *

Song: “The Deer’s Cry” (The Pilgrim)

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, radiance of Moon, splendor of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of the Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's eye to look before me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me.

From all who shall wish me ill, afar and anear
alone and in a multitude
Against every cruel, merciless power that may oppose
my body and soul:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I rise, Christ to shield me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me.

I arise today…


Music by Shaun Davey
Sung by Rita Connolly
(Tara 3032,
http://www.taramusic.com/press/pr3032.htm)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Praise & Worship = Sacrament??

In the most recent issue of the journal Worship, Sarah Koenig makes a case for the sacramentality of Praise & Worship (for Evangelicals) by comparing it to the Eucharist (and, in some places, saying that it meets the same functions as Eucharist for the Evangelicals). This week we had a roundtable discussion at Fuller about this issue, spurred by her article but broadening into our own take as a largely Evangelical group at a decidedly Evangelical institution. I was asked to present a response to her article, and I shall post it here for your general amusement. It would be very helpful for you to read the original article first, if you're really interested in the whole picture, because I reference it frequently and I don't completely explain what I'm referencing (iow I assume the article has been read). But even if you can't get ahold of a copy, it should make some sense.

I was quite surprised that, instead of being tarred and feathered, me & my conservative sacramental self were pretty much agreed with. I think I have a much more "high" and mystical view of the sacraments - certainly a more instrumental belief in what they do - than most of my Fuller colleagues, and yet the feedback I received was mostly positive. That was really great. I must have made some sense. J helped me a lot in clarifying my thoughts, and it was in discussions with him that we came up with the real clincher in my response (something Koenig doesn't use, though it would serve her argument well), which was arguing for the physicality of music. I think a very interesting paper or book could be written about some of these germs of ideas on that topic. I love especially the universal interreligious aspect of music. There's much to be done there...but I can only write one dissertation. :)

Anyway, here is the response. Wish I could do more with it than just publish it here, but I'm not sure what forum would be appropriate. So you just get to enjoy it and if you like it you can tell other people to check it out too. Peace.

Response to Sarah Koenig’s essay “This is My Daily Bread: Toward a Sacramental Theology of Evangelical Praise and Worship”

Sarah Koenig attempts to draw a parallel between the sacrament of Eucharist and the practice of Praise and Worship singing in Evangelical churches. According to Koenig, because these two activities share the common themes of encounter, invocation, anamnesis, thanksgiving, locality and universality, and charity, Praise and Worship may be understood to be “functioning as a kind of Eucharist” (160). Koenig is careful to say that she does not believe the Eucharist can be replaced by Praise and Worship, but at the same time she advocates for expanding existing sacramental theology to include Praise and Worship as an acceptable sacrament in its own right.

I would like to look briefly at two of the six categories in which Koenig draws comparison between Praise and Worship and Eucharist, evaluating whether in fact she is successful in equating the two experiences. I am specifically interested in her focus on encounter with God and on anamnesis as commonalities between the two which, she believes, makes them both sacramental. Then I will evaluate her conclusion that the “congregational activity of Song …performs a sacramental function as it connects participants with divine grace” (158); this, in her view, makes the theology of Praise and Worship a justifiable sacramental theology.

In comparing the encounter between God and congregation in Eucharist and Praise and Worship, Koenig rightly notes that the Eucharist offers God’s presence through “tangible substances that may be eaten and drunk,” and proceeds to argue that Praise and Worship describes encounter in “highly tangible terms, describing seeing, touching, and even tasting the Divine” (149). She seems to equate the actual physical, sensual encounter of taste, touch, sight, and smell that is part of Eucharist, with the description of physical encounter in the lyrics of Praise and Worship songs. But how can mere words stand in for actual senses? One is the real encounter with real objects that are literally ingested and become part of our bodies; the other is an encounter facilitated through the imagination and emotions, what amounts to a mental assent to a description of an action. As Koenig says, “this partaking takes place through the memory of a meal, the verbal imagery of a meal, a meal of poetry and song” (150, italics added). I would argue that there is an immediate, “bio-mystical” aspect to the Eucharist that cannot be duplicated by memory, verbal imagery, and poetry alone. There is an integral physicality to the Eucharist; talking about symbols of water and food and cognitively understanding what they symbolize is not the same thing as physically embodying and experiencing them. This is an ongoing problem with the entire evangelical (i.e, Zwinglian) “memorialization” approach to Eucharist, one that does not allow for a “Real Presence” (whether understood in terms of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, or Anglican, or Wesleyan theology) in the physical elements of bread and wine being imparted to the believer through the physical act of eating and drinking, but rather keeps the entire practice on a mental level.

Now song can certainly be understood as embodied and physical because it involves movement, utilizing the voice, and sound waves that affect the air around and inside the hearer and singer,[1] but this is not Koenig’s argument (though I find it more convincing, and may write a paper of my own about it!). Koenig merely argues from the song’s lyrics, and here she misses the possibility of physical encounter which could be facilitated by music. I would accept the notion that music is able to fulfill physical encounter via the sense of hearing and the motion of invisible sound waves, and the way that the body responds to emotional changes with biological manifestations. Perhaps if Eucharist is hearkening to the basic human needs of food and drink, and Baptism recalls the basic human need of water, then music could speak to the human need to breathe. But Koenig makes none of these arguments, and now I am just doing her work for her. It is a fundamental error when, in trying to prove that music is embodied, she relies on the texts of the songs, thereby making her argument rational and not physical, cutting off its connection to the very physical nature of Eucharist.

Another element held in common by Eucharist and Praise and Worship is anamnesis, the “meeting point between past, present, and future” (152). Koenig again correctly points out that Eucharist richly illustrates the concept of anamnesis by facilitating participation “in the cosmic, timeless, salvific event” of Jesus’ death and resurrection, its purpose and significance in the congregation’s life here and now, and the recollection of the future eschatological banquet which is both called to mind and visibly enacted through the sacrament (our Orthodox friends would say that the sacrament actually brings heaven to earth, opening a window through time and space to the heavenly realm).

Koenig then states that Praise and Worship functions with the same anamnetic purpose as Eucharist. She notes its emphasis on revisiting the paschal event, which “becomes current again as its effects spill over into the present” (152). However, she goes on to point out that personal story takes precedence in this remembering, as for Evangelicals the paschal event is made “legible and effective” by their “individual salvific moment” (152, italics added). Essentially she claims that Praise and Worship validates Christ’s death and resurrection through the personal experience of each individual: “Worshipers recall the crucifixion through the lens of their own personal salvation, and anamnesis of the cosmic salvific event becomes subjectified…” (152). Even if we accept the Evangelical theology of the necessary subjectification of “the cosmic salvific event” (i.e., in order to be saved, we need to appropriate God’s work for ourselves through an act of will), the problem remains that the dialectical flow is backwards. The important thing is not that worshipers interpret the cosmos “through the lens of their own personal salvation” – the goal is to interpret our own lives through the lens of the cosmic event. In other words, we must learn to interpret our own stories in light of God’s story and not the other way around.[2] How can Praise and Worship, with its focus on an individualized interpretation of salvation, substitute for a sacrament like the Eucharist, which privileges God’s story over the human? Aren’t these diametrically opposed types of anamnesis, and if so, which is the truly sacramental one?

Koenig does go on to claim that evangelicals are not exclusively engaged in individual anamnesis, but their songs also proclaim “Jesus’ significance for their community” (152). She argues that “song serves as the bread and the wine, as the familiar communal activity that assumes layer after layer of meaning as it is repeated over weeks and years” (152). But here again her view of anamnesis is shallow: she is still privileging the story of a small group of Christians – a particular church body – over the cosmic story of God’s work in the world and particularly the Church over the last 2,000 years. One cannot simply participate in the layers of meaning of a localized body (which is the focus of most independent Evangelical churches) and claim to be having the same level of anamnetic experience as one who participates in an apostolic church connected to a worldwide body, using a sacrament that stretches back to Jesus himself and has remained, if not identically practiced, certainly recognizable with the same basic purpose and elements throughout time and across space.

This brings us to what I believe is the fatal flaw in Koenig’s argument for Praise and Worship as a sacrament: although it may fulfill many of the same functions as Eucharist for the participants, it has not stood the tests of time, apostolic confirmation, or worldwide practice that are found in the more traditionally and universally accepted sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist (and we might add confession, anointing the sick, ordination, marriage, and confirmation, which have also been practiced from the beginning of the Church and across the world). As the Church matured, these sacraments remained as varied but steady practices, while music went in and out of favor and fashion. Moreover, music has always been widely variable based on cultural and historical factors. I would daresay that the music utilized in churches in the third, eighth, and fifteenth century bears so little resemblance to current Praise and Worship as to arguably not even be the same animal. Praise and Worship as a specific, recognizable, and consistent genre has only been in existence about 40 years, give or take; it simply has no apostolic succession.

Again, we might make a reasonable case for music itself as a sacrament that has stood the tests of scripture, time, culture, and worldwide practice, but Koenig does not make this argument. Rather she is claiming sacramentality for a particular style of music. But again, I have not set out in this response to rewrite her essay into a stronger case, although that could certainly be accomplished.

Koenig specifically claims that it is the similarities between Eucharist and Praise and Worship that confirm the latter as a sacrament. In doing so, she implicitly states that anything that serves the same purposes of a recognized sacrament must itself be sacramental. If it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it must be a duck. Yet she never actually defines “sacramental function” on its own terms, simply equating it instead with “eucharistic encounter with the transforming grace of God” (158).

By this, she seems to say that anything that facilitates God’s presence – meeting Augustine’s definition of “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” – must be a sacrament. In accepting such a broad definition, we may also have to include such practices as the meditative creation of art, chanting the syllable “Om,”[3] or taking a nature walk. Are we ready to define these in the same category as the Eucharist and Baptism? We have to evaluate whether we believe that God’s presence in a physical object or action is the sole or even major criterion of a sacrament. Perhaps it is a way towards defining sacramentality or a sacramental, but I am not ready to go with Koenig’s vocabulary of “sacrament” for activities that lack the historical and universal heft of the canonical sacraments.

The fact is that the Church has almost always set strong boundaries around the definition of sacrament. How much do we trust the institution of Christ, the acts of the apostles, and the traditions of the Church to set fences around what we may accept as sacramental? And if we have no problem with such a broad definition of sacrament, we must ask ourselves how much we actually understand and value the sacraments themselves. What is their purpose in our worship and theology? Often I witness that the unwillingness to be specific and cautious about labeling something a “sacrament” belies a lower regard – or a complete disregard – for the meaning and function of sacraments in the Church. I for one continue to believe in the efficacy of sacraments, including their instrumental function in imparting God’s grace and actually making changes in reality. For this reason, I cannot define new sacraments by whether they function like traditional sacraments, or even whether they meet a list of criteria that facilitate encounter with God. I require a stronger connection to the universal Church across the ages, and this is simply not the case for Praise and Worship music.

[1] I owe these ideas about the embodiment inherent in music to John McAteer.
[2] Thanks to John McAteer for helping me clarify my thoughts on this point.
[3] “Om” is a good example of why music could be a sacrament – it is a way of embodying a connection to the mystical ultimate reality through breath and the physical vibrations of sound waves.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I win

So I had my doc visit today, and she looked over my bp and my sugar and she said, I kid you not, "You win." I thought that was such a funny reaction, but SO appropriate and wonderful. I didn't even say anything, she just showed her resident that everything was under their standard (which it wasn't entirely, but apparently it was enough). Then we looked at the baby for a little while and she was "perfect perfect perfect" on everything they check.

We went over to the office and she told me to go see the midwives from now on unless something changes for the worse. She told me I could cut back occasionally on sticking my fingers (which I shall interpret to mean I can do it once a week), esp after I showed her my lovely bruises. She told me to keep up the dietary stuff that's good for bp and sugar, all of which I pretty much always did on my own anyway. So OK, I will lessen or cut out juice, but other than that, I'm fairly good about diet anyway. I'm just relieved that I can go back to eating when I'm hungry, and eating what my body asks for. At least that's what I'm planning to do. We'll see if my sugar does anything wonky with that.

Overall, though, it was exactly what I wanted them to see: that I am in fact quite quite healthy, and my baby is absolutely perfectly healthy. We are in great shape, the two of us, and this is major cause for rejoicing and thanks be to God. I asked if any of this would affect how they allow me to labor and deliver and she said no, as far as she was concerned she'd recommend that I get to go to the birth center and have my happy, mobile, drug-free experience. So basically I got everything I hoped for - and what I knew was right.

Now I'm on to more fun pursuits like figuring out whether our car seat will actually fit in the car, and finding a pediatrician. Wow, that's the kind of stuff that really makes this real. Now I can quit worrying about myself and just focus on creating a happy, healthy space for baby around here. That's such a relief. Thank you for your prayers and good thoughts. I visualize them washing over me and surrounding me with a cushion of warm protection. Me & baby, we good.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Failure again

Well I failed the blood test yet again. Their diet, which I followed religiously, did nothing (OK, it dropped my sugar 2 points, but it is still over their standard, and it is still under the national standard). I took my sugar at home 30 minutes prior to their test and it was much lower. So either my meter is broken or their results are bullshit. It makes no sense for my sugar to go up in half an hour when I'm fasting.

I am done with this. I think I'm going to point out to them that I have no symptoms of diabetes and I will respectfully decline diabetes care. I have my two weeks of normal readings to show them - normal from day one, before I'd started the diet. They have no case except their overcautiousness. This is doing nothing for me except making me far more stressed out than I should be, and making me sicker and sicker with worry and with lack of food. It has to stop. They are just going to have to leave me alone.

I'm so disappointed. I prayed so hard for this to work out easily, for my body to cooperate. I checked my own readings and they were fine. But I go into that damn lab and the numbers just go up. There's nothing I can do. It's the same with my blood pressure. I'm just always high.

And you know, yesterday I had a really scary experience that makes me wonder if I'm going to be terrible at this whole parenting thing. I told a friend I'd watch her kid for a minute. It was 15 minutes, actually. So when the friend left the kid started screaming, of course - she was left alone with me, who she doesn't know, in a house (mine) she'd never been in. And even though it was only about 5 minutes before J walked in and distracted her, and we found ways to keep the screaming down to every few seconds by sticking kitchen implements in her face and feeding her cheerios, even in those 5 minutes when she wouldn't stop crying I simply wanted to put her down and leave the room. It took all my will power not to cover her mouth with my hand. I couldn't talk to her. Yet when I tried to put her down she asked to be picked up. I don't know why she wanted me, the stranger, to pick her up. She kept screaming when I picked her up. And I realized that I still really don't like kids at all. I thought I did, but in fact I really hate how uncontrollable they are. I don't think it's at all right, but I do understand why people shake babies. You can't make them stop. You can't do anything. You are helpless. I have never felt so helpless, and it didn't make me feel like a failure, it made me want to get rid of her. Thank God it was only a couple of minutes, but come on, I can't even go a couple of minutes? I'm completely screwed.

People say that when it's your own kid it's different, that you can live with more crying and you actually want to meet their need instead of giving up. I sure hope that is true because otherwise I am going to be one terrible mother.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gaaahhh!!!

Now the damn cat's butt is leaking some kind of nasty yellowish stuff!! Certain to mean several hundred dollars at the vet's. Not to mention the gross factor and the could it be harming the baby factor. [I don't think it's as simple as worms, she's had that and this isn't the same - it's not coming from the anus hole itself but from another swollen spot on her anus - probably some kind of infection with pus...gee I hope it's toxoplasmosis so we can really have some fun!]

CAN I GET A BREAK PLEASE, UNIVERSE???

What is the freaking point of saving money when it's all going to disappear in one week!!!


Okay, Okay, I just found out it could be just a tapeworm after all. Sometimes they start off with a discharge instead of going straight to egg sacs (the egg sacs I'm familiar with). It's definitely not toxoplasmosis, that presents entirely different symptoms. I don't think the worm can harm the baby. It just means that we have fleas too. And undoubtedly the other cat will get it. Joy. This is always so fun. Get to spray everything in the house with poison. Maybe I should find a mommy spa to stay at for a few days.

Honest to God, my karma is complete crap at the moment.

What a week this has been!

I'm exhausted. Being the poster child for health care reform is overwhelming. But at least it's an election year so people are all the more aware of why our problem is a problem.

Then yesterday we took the car in and wound up with $1,500 in repairs and maintenance. All necessary stuff, but man, was that painful on top of the other financial stuff this week, the looming prospect of thousands in insurance costs that we weren't anticipating. I'm starting to wonder if we'll have any savings to live on in the fall after all. (oh well at least we'd qualify for medi-cal then)

Had a little breakdown over all that. It was just too much - after we've saved so carefully and really tried to plan everything so well. Just goes to show you that you can't possibly control your life. Which is fine. God's better at it anyway. Or at least She specializes in rescue from the crap situations.

So. Now tomorrow is my blood test. Am praying for miraculously low numbers, and then on Monday to be told I'm fine and can be released from specialized care. Then I'll happily go back to believing I'm a healthy pregnant woman, in touch with her body and able to listen to its unique needs. And hopefully I can get hands-off care, and have a hands-off labor and birth (if everything goes smoothly). Here's hoping.

At least there are many pleasant things to look forward to. We have not one but TWO lovely baby showers coming up, and on my birthday I'm going to a Buffy musical sing-a-long. Now that's a celebration! Also the time to hear about the fellowship is coming up. Oh, what a tremendous blessing that would be. I know it's a long shot, but I have to be hopeful. (the other night I watched "A Mighty Heart" about Marianne Pearl, and at one point she said she was hopeful because "I have to be. I'm a pregnant woman." Yeah, it's pretty hard not to be hopeful when you are carrying new life around inside of you)

And today I get to babysit for a few hours, just a little getting my feet wet. I imagine it will be quite different than babysitting has been in the past. It's really prep now! I'm lucky to have friends who are willing to let me do this, although quite honestly I'd feel better just making mistakes with my own poor girl.

Oh, and one other nice thing is that the house in Berkeley really does look like it could work. We just have to find someone or a couple to share it with. I put out the word to the admissions people at GTU, but I know others affiliated with those schools read this, so please let me know by email (see my profile) if you want me to send you my ad. I think it's a good deal, compared to the other stuff I've looked at in the city. It's not glamorous, but it's a good solid place that I think I'd be happy to live in for a while. So here's...yes...hoping.

Guess I'm feeling hopeful today. That's a much nicer way to approach life. Occasionally it will get overwhelming, can't help that. And it's especially hard when you have nothing else to think about but obsessing on your problems! I need some distraction. All you friends who've been talking to me about having coffee, let's do it!

But today's project is to write my birth plan, so I need to visualize and get into a very positive frame of mind. I think I'll go watch David Cook's performance again. That was pretty awesome. :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Update

OK, this gotta be quick b/c I gots to go sing. If baby lays off my diaphragm. You know, I know she's in the right spot, because I swear I feel her hiccuping in my cervix. Now THAT is a weird feeling.

Anyhoo, here's the update on the insurance situation:
After talking with a few more of J's colleagues yesterday (who were equally appalled and ready to pull out picket signs and/or torches/pitchforks) we were advised to go visit HR in person, with the belly and the tears. So we went over and met with the main benefits lady. Turns out that basically their hands are completely tied by J's contract. They can't do anything beyond what that paper states because it's a legal document and it could threaten everybody else's insurance if they tried to "slip something by."

BUT, that doesn't mean that there's nothing to be done. What she told us is that they have to abide by whatever the contract says. So if J can get a new contract drawn up that changes his last day from May 15 to, say, July 1, then bam we suddenly have benefits until the end of July. It's a simple (not easy) matter of convincing the powers that be to change his layoff date.

Which means that this issue isn't actually going to be decided by those in HR, but rather by the Provost. Or, as I put it, by fellow faculty, who have been where we are. Or, as J put it, by theologians. Yes, now we leave this decision - this moral quandary - up to people who study Jesus and the ways of God for a living. What will they decide?

I'm trying to be hopeful. I'd like to think that they could get on board with this. After all, it doesn't cost the university that much money to do the benefits two extra months, and it saves us two grand. Big dif. They still pay him the same salary they planned to (and he'd still get a lump sum at the end for what was owed), but it would just be spread out a bit longer, and it would include an eentsy bit more support on the benefits side. Which IMHO is only fair, considering it's a bit poopy to offer someone 12 mos of salary but only 9 mos of benefits (unless they're returning, then they get 12 mos of benefits).

It helps also that J's department colleagues are fully on board and rarin' mad about this. We're hoping that they will have some pull with the provost. But in the end, it will come down to praying that God will work in this man's life so that he can see that the morally responsible thing to do is help us out (even if it's not the absolute tightest thing financially).

Here's hoping he will make the right decision, the decision that I hope his conscience tells him, and I hope will help him sleep at night.

p.s. Everybody keeps pointing out Cobra to us - yes we know about it and that's our backup plan. But Cobra takes our monthly payments from $200 to $1000. When one is being laid off, one would prefer to save that money. Yes, we can get insurance, it's just wildly expensive. For three months, it's the same amount they pay J for a four-month adjunct class ($3,000). When you think of it in those terms (four months of work), it seems like an awful lot of money.
And as I've said before, we don't qualify on our own for insurance b/c of our previous conditions, and we don't qualify for Medi-Cal because we have savings and we don't qualify for Healthy Families without income. So that's why we really just need the insurance through the school to continue as long as it can, because every month means $800 to us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Disappointing news

Yesterday we received some bad news. You may remember that we'd been told back in December that we would get paid and have benefits through the summer. Well it turns out that the person who told us that was confused, and we learned yesterday that our benefits will indeed stop at the end of May (2 weeks before my due date). J will receive a lump-sum payment of what they still owe him for the rest of the summer, but no benefits along with it.

It sounded a bit fishy to me, but his contract simply says it ends May 15 and that he's paid XX amount and gets his benefits while under the contract. They had been pro-rating his contracted salary over 12 months. But now that he's not coming back in the fall, they'll make up the last 3 months with a big check at the end. Unfortunately there's nothing in the contract saying he'll be paid over the summer. They only do that when people return for another year's work. When they don't, they get this lump-sum deal. It's just a tricky thing that HR does to save themselves a few thousand in benefit money (passing that cost on to the former employee).

We're pretty frustrated, especially because he works for a Christian school. It seems wrong to take away medical care for a pregnant lady so late in her pregnancy. At the same time, it's simply policy, they are not targeting us; the timing just happens to be bad. Fortunately J's boss is really pissed about it and thinks the whole system should change, and not just for us. He's going to the Dean to ask for at least one extra month for us, just to get us through the birth (but also for the whole summer if that can happen). But apparently HR is a little kingdom and their policies are hard to crack. There's not too much hope for an exception.

And really, we won't lose our insurance, we simply have to pay for the entire premium (if we elect Cobra payments). This will work out to about $1000/month for the three of us. Thus, it is $3,000 we didn't anticipate needing to have. Obviously since we're heading into a long stretch of time without income, that $3,000 could have come in handy.

We are also checking into whether we qualify for the state's free or low-cost insurance programs, at least for the baby or baby & me. One concern I have is that his big final check might disqualify us from that (which makes their method of laying him off all the more...rude...evil...unfair...tricky...I don't know, there's a bevy of fine adjectives I could come up with).

This is stressing me out even though I'm trying very hard to see that it's not that awful. It's not like we'll have no insurance, we'll just be paying for it a bit earlier than we expected. And hopefully we will qualify for some assistance, seeing how our entire fall's income is set to be my whopping stipend of $2500. There is still a chance that I will receive the fellowship I applied for; we will know about that next month. I know that we will be OK, it's just all terrible timing.

We did have one bit of positive news yesterday: someone answered a housing wanted ad I placed for Berkeley. It's a house that seems very nice. We can't afford it on our own, but if we find another couple or roommate to live with it might work. Don't know if we could find such a person, considering we'll have a newborn not sleeping through the night, but you never know. There have to be others in our situation trying desperately to find housing, and this place is a pretty sweet deal.

Well thanks for listening, like always. My sugar's up again, but I'm told that can be stress-related. Not surprising.

UPDATE
After talking with the people at Medi-Cal and Healthy Families (two of the state insurance programs), we came to a horrifying conclusion: we have fallen into a hole between the two programs and won't qualify for either one. We will have too much in our bank account to qualify for Medi-Cal (because they are electing to pay us this big lump-sum), but we won't have income which disqualifies us from Healthy Families (again because they are paying by lump-sum, which they expect us to treat as the next three months of income - only it's not over three months, it's all in one month). Furthermore, the artificially-inflated final paycheck will disqualify us from a lot of other assistance for several months at least.

So basically the school has not only removed our benefits, but their manner of doing so has screwed us out of qualifying for the state programs that are in place for people in our position. Thank you, Azusa Pacific. WWJD.

As to the other options: we can't qualify for our own coverage; we've tried before, but because of "pre-existing conditions" we were denied. So we can't get insurance except through group coverage. For the state coverage, we are falling into a hole between Medi-Cal and Healthy Families.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A few random thoughts today

Everybody keeps asking me how I'm doing. What a complicated question! It depends on the moment you ask, honestly. If I've just taken my blood sugar reading and it was high, I'll be crying my eyes out. If it was low, I'll be elated, but still very nervous about what it will be when the lab test is taken in a couple weeks, still nervous about whether the doctors will proclaim me healthy. Honestly it's so dumb - it completely rules my life, thinking about what I'm eating and when I have to stick myself again, not to mention that my fingers are getting really sore. I so wish it was over. I'm sure it's doing a ton of good for my blood pressure too.

Then the news from GTU is alternately nice (like when a prof will check on me to see how housing is coming along) and annoying (like when I'm told for the umpteenth time that there's no room in yet another student housing complex). The move is just so complicated with the baby's unknown arrival date and the complete fog we're in about what we can afford. Also, when we should look, and where, and whether J will have to go without me to look, and whether I can handle him being gone, and it would just be so nice to work it out ahead of time, to know a place will be waiting for us, but I just don't think that's happening. In fact, I'm starting to think we'll probably have to pay rent on 2 apartments for at least 1 or 2 months, just to secure a good place and take our time getting the move done. Where will the money for that come from? And for movers? It's the great unknown.

I'm also trying to navigate California's assistance programs, and let me tell you, that is a headache. There are so many programs that we may qualify for, and I don't know which to apply to or what order to apply for them in, and I don't want to disqualify us by applying to the wrong thing or waiting too long on something. There are all these income programs - such as unemployment and family bonding - and then there's also the insurance stuff - whether we'll want to put baby on Medical, whether we'll all qualify for Medical, and the fact that we can't apply until our income stream dries up, and I don't want baby to be not covered for even a moment. And honestly, with us both being parents, I really don't like the idea of not having coverage for me or J. He's going to be the primary care provider - we need him to be covered if he gets sick or is in an accident or something. I don't think we can skip insurance for him, not anymore, not now that he's a daddy. But damn if it isn't so expensive - the school's plan is nearly $1,000 a month for the three of us! God, what I wouldn't do for universal health care.

If anybody who reads this knows a social worker type person who might be able to help us navigate this maze, I would so appreciate a referral.

Yesterday I also found out that the class I'm supposed to TA for doesn't have enough students to carry a TA. The prof will appeal this if I want, but suddenly I'm wondering if this could be a good out for me so that I'm not tied into the work. Then I stop and think about the money I'd be making, knowing that in a few months I'm really gonna wish I had it. So I don't know. I am so freaking busy, life simply hasn't slowed down, and I haven't even started any TA work yet. I'm terribly tired - sleeping 9 hours at night and still needing a nap every day - but I attribute that largely to the lack of sugar in my system. Still, is this a signal that I need to baby myself a bit more? This little one is getting awfully heavy. Making all my commitments is getting more and more difficult. And to think, at one point I was thinking this would be 10 weeks of boredom! Ha!

Okay, enough about me, now I need to talk just for a minute about American Idol.

First: WTF with Michael Johns????
Second: WTF with Kristy Lee Cook??? Who coated her with teflon, man?
Third: WTF with them singing "Shout to the Lord"?

There are so many ways that was just completely weird. First off, is that show - that stage, all those celebrities, the whole giant corporate money-making behemoth of it all - the proper forum for a worship song? Was the message of the song completely watered down by it being used to raise money (granted, money for a good cause, but still)? And this is American Idol, i.e., Pluralistic Nation Idol, so why are we singing songs from only one religion? I suppose the lyrics are vague enough that a Jew or maybe a Muslim could go with it; I've even heard some Hindu devotional songs (usually to Lord Krishna) that aren't too different lyrically. But still, it just made me so uncomfortable because it wraps up Jesus in the American flag and equates the church with this cultural giant and it all just seems a bit too cozy.

The other day President Mouw made a comment about how Christianity used to put an emphasis on "this world is not my home." Now I don't like how that movement pulled Christians out of social justice concerns, but I did take his point that it was very counter-cultural and not focused on having a comfortable and safe existence in this world now, be that economically, socially, vocationally, whatever. Yeah, the AI thing just tied my stomach up in knots, and I think that was why. It was just the implicit assumption that Christianity is so safe and vanilla that it can be conflated with American Idol. I'll bet we had a few saints rolling in their graves.

So that's my beef today. But as usual, it's time for me to eat something (not very tasty). Luckily I have until tomorrow dinner before I have to do blood sugar again, so I can try to shake off this morning's numbers and do my best to improve for next time. One week until my lab test; a week from Monday is my next OB appointment, where I may or may not get out of this. I can't tell you how much I'm begging God to heal my body, to make it cooperate. I just want so badly to be healthy.

And then, I get to rewrite the liturgy for a new service at church! Because hey, what else do I have going on! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha....

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good News on Food Prices

Here's an optimistic way to look at the current rise of our grocery bills. Let's also note the fab description of the man who, if she's lucky, the Feminarian soon may be working with: the "defacto leader of the food intellectuals." SCORE!

I do also have to say that I disagree with those who claim this is not an elitist diet. I think it is. The question is more whether elitism is a bad thing. But for Alice Waters (another Berkeley resident!) to say just forgo the cellphone or third pair of Nikes is rather snobbish; after all, I doubt many food-stamp single-mamas are really indulging in such luxuries. Yes, there are people who can afford it and simply choose not to eat that way; they are making bad choices. But there are lots of people who really can't afford to eat well, and are not being helped by government policies. We have to fix their situation. We have to get food stamps accepted at the farmer's market! (and they have to go farther than $1 per meal)

Anyway J and I have been having this discussion about elitism for a while now, because in his last dissertation chapter he's going to have to defend it as necessary (he believes Hume was an elitist for good reason). So you'll probably see me write some more about that issue. I go back and forth about it. I don't want to be elitist, but then if you define elitist as simply admission that some things are objectively better than others (iow, the world is not based on subjective opinion but there is right, wrong, truth, falsity, and actual standards in existence), then I would have to plead guilty. It's a fascinating question.

But on to the article...

April 2, 2008
Some Good News on Food Prices
By KIM SEVERSON
(from the NY Times)

WHILE grocery shoppers agonize over paying 25 percent more for eggs and17 percent more for milk, Michael Pollan, the author and de factoleader of the food intellectuals, happily dreams of small, expensivebottles of Coca-Cola.
Along with some other critics of the American way of eating, he likesthe idea that some kinds of food will cost more, and here’s one reasonwhy: As the price of fossil fuels and commodities like grain climb,nutritionally questionable, high-profit ingredients like high-fructosecorn syrup will, too. As a result, Cokes are likely to get smaller andcost more. Then, the argument goes, fewer people will drink them.
And if American staples like soda, fast-food hamburgers and frozendinners don’t seem like such a bargain anymore, the American eatingpublic might turn its attention to ingredients like local fruits andvegetables, and milk and meat from animals that eat grass. It turns outthat those foods, already favorites of the critics of industrial food,have also dodged recent price increases.
Logic would dictate that arguing against cheap food would be the wrongmove when the Consumer Price Index puts food costs at about 4.5 percentmore this year than last. But for locavores, small growers, activistchefs and others, higher grocery bills might be just the thing to bringabout the change they desire.
Higher food costs, they say, could push pasture-raised milk and meatpast its boutique status, make organic food more accessible and spark anational conversation about why inexpensive food is not really such abargain after all.
“It’s very hard to argue for higher food prices because you are cedingpopular high ground to McDonald’s when you do that,” said Mr. Pollan, acontributor to The New York Times Magazine and author of “In Defense ofFood: An Eater’s Manifesto” (Penguin Press). “But higher food priceslevel the playing field for sustainable food that doesn’t rely onfossil fuels.”
The food-should-cost-more cadre wants to change an agricultural systemthat spends billions of dollars in government subsidies to growcommodities like grain, sugar, corn and animal protein as cheaply aspossible.
The current system, they argue, is almost completely reliant onpetroleum for fertilizers and global transportation. It has led toconsolidations of farms, environmentally unsound monoculture and, atthe end of the line, a surplus of inexpensive food with questionablenutritional value. Organic products are not subsidized, which is onereason those products are more expensive.
As a result, the theory goes, small farmers can’t make a living,obesity and diabetes are worsening, workers are being exploited andsoil and waterways are being damaged. In other words, the true cost ofa hamburger or a box of macaroni and cheese may be a lot more than theprice.
“We’re talking about health, we’re talking about the planet, we’retalking about the people who are supporting the land,” said AliceWaters, the restaurateur, who has more than once been accused ofpromoting a diet that is either unaffordable or unrealistic for aworking person.
Urging others to eat better (and thus more expensive) food is notelitist, she said. It is simply a matter of quality versus quantity andencouraging healthier, more satisfying choices. “Make a sacrifice onthe cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,” she said.
Anna LappĂ©, founder of the Small Planet Institute, which studies foodand public policy, said that equating cheap food with bad food is anoversimplification, because food pricing is a complex process.Investors skew the volatile commodities market. And less money is spenton the actual food than it is on marketing, packaging, transportationand multimillion dollar compensation for the biggest food companies’executives.
“But it is really hard for people to understand speculations oncommodities markets and even how food companies externalize costs whenthey are going to the store to buy a gallon of milk,” she said.Besides, an intellectual debate on food costs might not be exactly whata cash-strapped grocery shopper needs right now. In fact, arguing formore expensive food seems, at the least, indelicate.
“Someone on the margin who says ‘I’m struggling’ would say rising foodcosts are in no way a positive,” said Ephraim Leibtag of the UnitedStates Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Even ifthe food budget isn’t an issue, there are plenty of people who viewlow-cost food as a national triumph.
“If you think that mass production and vast distribution predicated oncheap energy is a good system, then the dollar hamburger is a goodthing," Mr. Leibtag said.
Still, there are likely to be some tangible advantages to currentprices. For one thing, the relative bargains are likely to be found inthe produce aisle and the farmers’ market stalls. The Consumer PriceIndex for fresh fruits and vegetables is slightly lower than a yearago. That is good news for many shoppers, including the poor who usefood stamps and are experts in stretching a food dollar, said LauraBrainin-Rodriguez, a public health educator who helps the poorestpeople in the San Francisco Bay Area eat better.
“People here will take two buses to get to Chinatown to get cheaperproduce,” she said.
Policies meant to support local farms and urban agriculture programswill likely be strengthened, too. Shorter supply chains becomeincreasingly attractive as fuel costs rise, said Thomas Forster, aformer organic farmer and veteran of four farm bills who is workingwith the United Nations on food issues.
To that end, both state and federal governments have begun to encourageinstitutional buyers like school districts to consider geography andnot just price when seeking bids on food contracts.
“It could also lead to a move toward more local slaughterhouses andstronger regional meat systems,” he said.
In the category of meat and dairy, rising commodity prices could verylikely help the small but growing number of farmers who raise animalsthe old-fashioned way, on grassy pastures. With little or no need forexpensive grain, these farmers can sell their milk and meat for moreattractive prices.
That is welcome news to Ned MacArthur, founder of an organic,pasture-based dairy in Pennsylvania that sells milk, butter and otherfood under the Natural by Nature label. Unlike dairy farmers who feedtheir animals grain, people on the 52 farms in his consortium arelooking forward to the coming months, he said.
“The grass is starting to grow now so within the next couple weeks thecows are really going to take off,” he said.
Although prices for organic groceries are rising at least as fast astheir conventional counterparts, organic shoppers may soon find thatthey have more low-priced options. Tighter grocery budgets could drivethe expansion of less-expensive “private label” organic brands, assupermarkets and big box stores try to attract new consumers and keepestablished organic shoppers from walking away.
“Organics are still considered food for the elite, but private labelsmake organics more the norm in the market place,” said Gary Hirshberg,president of Stonyfield Farm and a board member of four other organicfood and beverage companies.
Of course, all of this is theoretical. If the American shopper decidescheap food is the most important thing, the intellectual musings of thefood elite might be trampled in the stampede to the value menu.
Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior research analyst at Mintel who has analyzedfood trends for 17 years, said it was too soon to tell.
“The main thing is that you need a little evidence before you sayeveryone is clipping coupons and eating dirt,” she said. “All we knowfor sure at this point is that people are going to the supermarket andnoticing butter is $4 a pound and not $2.”

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ten things I learned about getting into a PhD program

So as you know, if you made it to the end of my last post, the life of the Feminarian will continue at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley come fall. Sorry to disappoint all the Canada fans; I’m just a California girl and I can’t deny it.

I thought I’d write a bit about some of the things I learned in the process of applying for a PhD. I had a lot of great advice going in, and some of it worked well and some of it was less applicable in my case. So I want to throw out my own take on the conventional wisdom, in the hopes that it might be useful to anyone who’s considering this path.

1. Initial contact by email is good, but it is not the only determining factor. The only instance in which email worked the way I was told it could – that is, I emailed a professor I wanted to work with and we wound up with a great conversation that led to my application and acceptance – was in the case of Laurier. With GTU, I had emailed some of the profs last summer in my initial inquiries; I didn’t even hear back from the person who eventually became my advisor. The others were decidedly lukewarm about my prospects there (in a turn of events I find quite amusing, one of the people who is now most excited about my project had initially really tried to turn me away!). Had I relied on the email contact alone, I never would have even applied, much less decided to attend. Which leads me to my second point…

2. Nothing can replace in-person contact. I made the effort to meet one of the GTU profs in my field when he was in town giving a lecture. He encouraged me to visit the school, even though I’d entirely written it off as a place not interested in me or my work. I’m still not entirely sure why I listened to him, except that he was just so charming. So I went there, and wouldn’t you know, I fell in love with the place. Most importantly, I was able to be myself with them, talk face-to-face about my goals and passions, and convince them – and myself – that I did in fact belong there. I don’t think I could have possibly done that over email alone; I certainly couldn’t have gotten the “feel” of the school without actually visiting. And while I was there, I learned…

3. Don’t stand for misperceptions about your school or your degree. There is a reputation involved when you are coming from any school (let’s hope) or armed with any degree. I was coming from the Evangelical world, where liturgical studies is not exactly all that valued. People had no idea what kind of experience I could possibly have in the field. Furthermore, I was coming with an MDiv, a “professional” degree that, at many schools, is kind of the Mickey-Mouse program designed to train pastors but certainly not theologians or academics (which is the opposite of Fuller, where it’s the most rigorous academically). So after educating myself about the obstacles in my path, I had to…

4. Learn to translate your experience into their vocabulary. For GTU, that meant literally translating the words Fuller uses to refer to liturgical subjects into the more traditional terms used by liturgical theologians. The fact that I could hold my own in several conversations about the topic tipped off the profs that I was a serious scholar in this subject. It also helped a lot that I had good papers to show them from the doctoral seminars I’d taken. I had to know how to speak both languages: the Evangelical “worship” words and the more traditional “liturgy” language. Then I was able to explain how I had in fact gotten the experience they were looking for; I just had it under different terminology. A similar situation occurred with Laurier, where they were looking for a candidate with experience in religious studies. There I had to show that I was not only a theologian but also a scholar of religion. Having been around such persons through my interfaith work, I knew how to talk that talk as well. I was able to…

5. Present the candidate they want in their program. I’m not saying don’t be yourself. But there are ways, as mentioned above, that you can help them understand how well you fit with them. For me, the biggest aspect of this was in my transcript; mine was somewhat of a liability for both schools. So I created an addendum to the transcript for each school that explained the classes I’d taken, listed out the books we’d read and the papers I’d written, and connected the experience I had with the experience they expected to see from a person with an MA in either liturgy or religious studies. Beyond the transcript I also played up my experience as a TA, research assistant, and the interfaith work I did. Interestingly, the latter was spawned by my internship at USC, and internships are often pooh-poohed as non-academic wastes of a scholar’s time (they are part of the “professional” degree). In fact, I could show how mine had deepened my scholarly interests and played into exactly what I wanted to study. Every experience you’ve had can count; you just have to figure out how to present it. If you do this well, you’ll be accepted into programs that initially were very suspicious of your suitability. And then it’s time to…

6. Know thyself. As you know if you kept up with my decision process on here, once I knew where I was in it became less about the programs and more about myself. I realized that I had to discern who I really am, not only as a scholar but also as a person, to determine which program would fit me the best. It wasn’t just about future goals and how much money they offered, though those played a role, of course. It became about digging into myself and seeing where the deepest parts of me – my passions, my curiosity, my years-long fascination with worship, my sense of calling, and even my childhood dreams – matched one of these schools. And what I kept coming back to, I can only say was to…

7. Follow your heart. Or, as one of my mentors put it, “Go with the very center of your heart, not the peripheral stuff.” Or as several of my friends advised, “Trust your gut.” The fact is, when I was at GTU it just “felt” right. Add to that the fact that it matched what I’d wanted to do for years: since I was young and felt called to helping people get more out of church somehow to when I decided to go to seminary because I wanted to be part of worship renewal. The very middle of my heart was, I had to admit, in theology. I mean, look at what I do here on the blog – I mostly write about theological subjects in my spare time for fun! Once I focused on these things, the decision became clear. And I owed it to…

8. Surround yourself with honest people who know you. One of my mentors half-jokingly (or maybe not jokingly at all) told me I could come ask him when I was ready to know who I was, because he knew (and he wanted me to choose GTU). And my husband was great about listening to all my back-and-forth, but he had said from the beginning that he could tell where we belonged. Still, my most valued mentor was the person who kept pointing out the assets of each school, who forced me over and over to reevaluate and keep asking questions until I was sure I really knew everything I wanted to know to make the decision. Most importantly, he was brutally honest in his references for me, even telling schools not to take me if they couldn’t be for me what I needed. And he knew me well enough (and the schools I applied to well enough) to be able to say exactly who I am and how I may or may not fit with them. That is who you want writing your recs, my friends. Even if it causes you to get a rejection letter, it’s better than choosing a prestigious school where you’d be miserable. In the end, I honestly can’t say which school he wanted me to choose, because he was so incredibly neutral. Well, almost…

9. Don’t settle. The one issue on which he wasn’t neutral – and didn’t work in his favor, either – was that he admitted that Fuller simply did not have the resources, financially or academically, to match the other programs I’d been accepted to. Here was the person who admitted me to work with him (one of two he takes each year), who I’m pretty sure wanted me to do so, and yet he flat out told me not to settle for the comfortable school, the easy school, because he could see down the road that I’d hit a ceiling and be ultimately frustrated. I cannot express how grateful I am to have had people able to look me in the eye and say yes, Fuller will be a simpler choice, it will make your life easier now, but in the long run, it can’t serve you as well as the other programs. That was truly humble, honest advice that was finally about serving me well as a student and not about serving the school’s interests. And so once that final hurdle was removed (that is, the temptation to go the “easy” route and stay put)…

10. Never look back. My decision is made, and it’s all forward from here. Today my letter finally showed up from Laurier (I knew it would as soon as I sent my acceptance to GTU), and there simply wasn’t anything in it that tempted me. I was able to tell Fuller they could give my spot and my scholarship to another student, and that felt really good too. Now I can get to the fun work of reading up on the people who I will work with (which, btw, conventional wisdom says to do before you apply – and I did somewhat, sort of, ummm….not as much as I probably should have! But I had great mentors to trust!), and planning out my program for the next few years, and learning about where I’ll be living and the fabulous foodie world that’s up there. Yes, it’s going to be one helluva ride, and who knows how we’ll pay for it all? But me, J, and baby, we’re ready for the next great adventure. And we know God’s with us every step of the way.

And of course the blog can – and really, must – continue, even though I’m no longer going to be in seminary. Wouldn’t you agree?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hungry!!!

So I have now officially shopped for all the foods that they want me to eat on the diabetic diet. By the way, I should say that I'm not actually diabetic, at least not by any standards I can find save Kaiser's. And I'm not officially according to them, either, since they didn't do - and now won't do - the 3-hour glucose test on me. But I went ahead and did their nutrition class, at which they drummed into our heads repeatedly that we were all sick, and now I'm demoralized. Also, I have to stick myself and take my blood sugar readings every day, which only adds to the psychology of feeling like something's really wrong with me (on the plus side, it allows me a lot more control and say in this process - I can show them how normal I am every day and maybe they will take the hint).

Anyway, I'm on a very strict diet that, so far, has left me feeling tired, cranky, dizzy, hungry, and shaky most of the time. Pretty much all the things I was supposed to be feeling before the diet, when I was supposedly prone to bad sugar levels. Now they have put me, a person with probably normal insulin or just slightly not enough, on a full-on diabetic diet, and I think it's making my sugars drop so low that I'm actually getting sick. Craziness. My readings so far have been well in the normal range (yes, even below the Kaiser standards), and it makes me a bit sad. I mean, if only my fasting blood sugar had been 78 in the morning 2 weeks ago, like it was this morning (which was prior to any diet changes, mind you), none of this would have to be going on. Sigh.

Basically the diet just doesn't let me eat enough. I already ate the right kinds of foods before (save for my love of juice, which is strictly forbidden now, and is really bumming me out), but I have to eat much less of them now. Combining that with the hunger that came on a few weeks into my 2nd trimester, and the fact that I have been fortunate not to suffer heartburn or constipation so I could keep eating big meals, and it's just a big adjustment. Fortunately right around the time I feel like I'm dying I usually get to eat again. But that doesn't stop me being quite stressed and irritable between meals. Putting together a grocery list was completely miserable; shopping was worse. Everything has too many carbs in it; even whole wheat bread! I can eat like a half of a serving of most things, and since serving sizes tend to be pretty small anyway, I'm going nuts (I'd pick up a loaf of bread and announce, "Oh, I can have 1/4 of a slice! Great!"). I also had to buy brown pasta, which I'm sorry but that's just nasty, and lofat dairy, again with the nasty. My foodie sensibilities are deeply disturbed. God, why can't we all just live in France and eat cheese & baguettes??

And did you hear Mariah Carey now has more #1 singles than Elvis? The apocalypse is nigh.

The mantra in our house now is "two weeks, two weeks" because in that amount of time I get to go in for another blood test and prove that this is all ridiculous. Since I can test on my own, I'll be able to see what, if anything, makes my sugar spike and cut that out. My prayer is that I will pass the test, the doc will say I'm fine to go back to "normal" "healthy" pregnancy care, and I won't have to stick my poor sore finger anymore. And I will be left alone for the rest of the pregnancy!! I certainly won't start eating boxes of chocolate, and I probably will stay off the juice just to be on the safe side. But just to know that I'm not labeled, and I can maybe ease up a little on the strict diet, would help a lot. I already miss my morning cereal so much (no milk, fruit or cereal is allowed at breakfast, and my breakfast was always shredded wheat with fresh fruit or raisin bran).

I also wanted to update you on our moving situation. I had recently started to think that maybe it would be smarter to move before the baby comes. Lots of people were pointing out that it's obviously easier to move her with her inside me, and after birth I'll apparently be completely incapacitated for weeks or something like that. But I really think we just have to move after the baby is born. I know, I know, I'll be tired and sore and it will be harder in some ways. But if we move before the birth, it would have to be in the last two weeks before my due date (J's working until then; alternatively I could move without him...no, not gonna happen. I'm not going to be 8 hours from him when I could go into labor any time). Furthermore, with him still working, I would be doing ALL the moving by myself: taking trips up there to find a place, organizing and overseeing the move, handling all the utilities/bills/address change stuff, and, oh yeah, somewhere in there finding a new doctor for myself and a pediatrician and getting used to a new apartment and new part of the state while simultaneously walking into a new hospital for perhaps the first time when I'm in labor. No, I just don't think I can handle that.

But if we wait until after baby's born, then the scenario looks like this: everything I mentioned above is done by my dear husband, who is not working at all but has, as his full time job, taking care of me and getting us moved. He does the scouting trips, he handles all the moving arrangements, he probably even will be in charge of finding doctors and setting up our new life. My job will be to be with the baby at all times and take care of her. Period. Yes, it will be uncomfortable to drive up there post-labor (well, ride up there - J would drive, and we're already resigned to hiring movers for our tiny amount of stuff - donations for that are welcome, btw, ha ha). But we can stop a lot - heck, we can do it over two days if we want. And with the cats and the kid I think that taking it easy, instead of rushing rushing to get up there before going into labor, just makes a lot more sense. J is the one who has said, adamantly, that I will do nothing except take care of the baby. He is completely on top of everything else. And I know I can trust him to take care of housework & meals here, because he already mostly does, and to find a good new place, because he's always the one who chooses anyway (he has much stricter aesthetic standards than me). Yes, I just have to sit around my apartment and wait for him to say it's time to go, basically. Then I'll have a leisurely drive, and arrive in plenty of time to be acclimated before school starts. Then I will hand the baby-care duties over to J, and we'll see how things go from there.

I for one think that sounds like the only sane way to proceed!

Well I am going to sign off now and prepare my acceptance letter for GTU. I'm tired of waiting for the other school and my mind's made up. That's right: it's gonna be Berkeley, baby!!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Soft Landings

So probably the blog will get a bit more baby-centric in the next few months...it's to be expected, right? Anyway I had to send notice about a great blog I found that focuses on safe (read: non-toxic and eco-friendly) ways to feed baby. I'm so thrilled to have found this clearinghouse of information, because I was about going nuts trying to figure out which kinds of bottles, nipples, pacifiers, etc. to use.

You know I'm all about the eco-friendly stuff as well as avoiding anything that can hurt human bodies. I long ago said goodbye to parabens in my lotion (though weirdly, they were in the cough medicine I just had to take! I had to take the sugar-free one for diabetics, and instead of HFCS, it had methylparaben - wtf?) and drinking water out of plastics (I must admit I feel a lot less cool now that my SIGG bottle is available at Whole Foods...mine came from Europe via internet, people! I had it first!! But I don't mind other people having it).

Anyway, now that it's time to feed, diaper, clothe, and play with a baby, a whole new world of dangers seems to be opening up before me. First of all, why is everything baby-related made of plastic? I mean for crying out loud, you could power small countries with all that oil! Plus most of it goes into landfills shortly after it's purchased. What a waste. And when you can't avoid the plastic, you have to worry about what type it is, and whether it will leach horrible things into baby's mouth and body. Yicko. It's such a headache.

We're trying to get as much organic stuff (clothes, toys) as we can, and now that I found the Soft Landing blog, I'm using them as my primary info source on everything feeding-related. I think we're going to try a diaper service at first (it's cost-prohibitive to wash your own cloth when you pay for laundry by the load) and then maybe switch to g-diapers after moving from Pasadena. At least I know my breastmilk will be fairly non-toxic, considering my diet and lifestyle, but even there, I should probably check to see if my Brest Friend pillow has a foam core made of the bad stuff that could gas out into the air while we're feeding. Ay yi yi. There is already enough noxious gas in our house, thanks very much (husband).

Anyway, I gotta give you the link, don't I? So the Soft Landing blog is here, and I'm linking to a special giveaway post (free stuff!!) that you can be entered into if you just leave a comment. Easy as pie. And cool stuff too. (I was pleased to see them giving away bibs that we chose on our own for the registry - must mean they are safe!)

OK, gotta take my big belly over to dogsit now. Can't wait to hang out in my little retreat house in the hills!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Killing time

Hi friends, I'm still coughing. Doc says my bp is fine but my sugars are elevated, so I have to go to a dumb nutrition class (like is there anybody who spends more time thinking about eating good food than me? I doubt it). I am praying that it goes down - I want to be pronounced healthy and be left alone. I'm tired of being treated like an invalid just 'cause I'm pregnant. And I want to have a nice natural birth, not be labeled "high risk" and hooked up to machines!

I realize that if I were really sick all the technology and medication would be right and good for me. But I don't think I am. I think it comes down to protocols set a bit too stringently and insurance being a bit too overcautious. Honestly, I feel better than ever (apart from the coughing). I've put on 9 pounds the whole pregnancy (3 of which is baby, 2 is placenta, and at least 1 is fluid) and I'm 7 months in. And my body has always been able to handle a little elevated bp when I'm stressed and a little juice or fruit every day. I don't eat fast food, I don't drink soda, I don't eat processed food, I don't eat sugar cereal, I mean, I pretty much follow a natural diet with occasional lapses into something like organic full-fat (but all natural) ice cream.

Sorry, I have to defend myself here because the docs won't always listen. The fact is, I know my body fairly well, and I know what it can handle. And I feel strongly that I am made well to do this childbirth thing. So I have a little extra weight on my hips and middle - that's cushioning the baby and giving her lots of nourishment! I have freakishly strong and flexible legs, even for an overweight person - I can bend in ways the skinny girls in class can't even do, and I can squat with the best of 'em. I really want to squat for birth!

Yeah, I hope this whole thing simmers down. Just let me take care of myself - I'm really quite good at educating myself on this stuff! I'm running into the medicalization of birth and pregnancy and it's tiring. Because I know my body can do this - the longer I'm pregnant the more I realize how perfectly made it is, how ingenius the whole female system truly is. And of course there are people whose systems don't work so well or who cause problems by bad habits. But I don't think I'm one of them. I come from a long line of women who are excellent birthers. We have big ol' hips and strong muscles. And we have a huge pain tolerance. So I have high hopes that I can handle this baby pushing thing on my own.

Speaking of, my sis-in-law pushed out a nearly 9 pounder the other day! Way to go, Shan! So now I have a new niece (Naomi Jean), a new best-friend's-daughter (Mary Rose Maxine), and a new cousin's daughter (is that a second cousin? Or first once removed? Anyway that's Eileen Tokiko). Three new women in the world! What a blessing!!

And we're still waiting to hear that our new nephew, Levi Allyn, has been born. Any day. But I'm especially happy with all the girls. And ours is definitely a girl too - we got a nice clear ultrasound (one of the perks of going to the high risk OB office). And for the first time, I saw a face - I mean, eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, a real face. It was pretty amazing. Near as I can tell, she has my chubby cheeks (my baby pics look like Winston Churchill), J's pronounced nose, and Angelina Jolie's lips. She's either going to be terrifically cute or freakishly puffy. I'm sure we won't care.

Anyway, I've got to go hack my way through choir soon. I guess in the end all this pregnancy stuff is about producing the healthiest baby possible, so I can submit when I need to (oh, but that's hard for me!). Just hoping that I can be categorized as "healthy"!