Impressions, l’Orangerie and Giverny

We just got back from our big trip of the year, a combination conference, family visit, and vacation in Paris and Versailles. There are so many things I could write about – the amazing meals, the sweet time with family, the blessings and kindness that we encountered at every step, how our second trip differed dramatically from our first, and toddler travel. 

But today I will write of Monet. He was a father of Impressionism (it was named for his painting, Impression, Sunrise). We saw many Parisian museums last time; this time, toddler in tow, we only visited L’Orangerie, home of Les Nymphéas (the water lilies). 

Outside, the afternoon sun is brutal. The toddler is overtired and crying, crying. I circle quickly through the cool crowded downstairs galleries of Impressionists. There is an exhibit of art from Ishibashi, the Japanese founder of Bridgestone, who collected Impressionist art. The toddler falls asleep and Chris rejoins me. We wander through the galleries again, enjoying the new and the familiar. 

We finally decide to visit the Water Lilies. We walk into the great rooms crafted to display them, designed to have the best light. They are huge! I expected walls full of small canvases. These are vast, they are magnified. These are a journey, from tree to tree, over reflections, ripples, lily pads. Different panels show different tints, different lights. 


The toddler wakes up, querulous; we leave quickly. 

After that we had to see Giverny, Monet’s home for many years. After the death of his first wife, Monet and Alice, his eventual second wife, and their large blended family set up shop in the rolling French countryside, where Monet created and painted fantastic gardens. 

We find our way along winding roads by the Seine, through narrow streets in red roofed towns. Monet saw this place from a train. It happens that way, finding a home. I buy tickets while Savannah naps in the car. A little girl bumps into me and her mother scolds her in an unknown language, perhaps Portuguese; she says “sorry” and I smile at her. We have a French picnic by a carp pond – cheese, a baguette, a coffee for me, Orangina for Chris. We walk to the museum. The formal gardens are a profusion of flowers in full sun, alive with insects. 

Savannah is fascinated by the chickens, bored by the gift shop, obsessed with the gravel. She pours stones in and out of a paper bag. Meanwhile, we take turns touring the house. It is full of Japanese prints that Monet collected – and tourists from Mexico, Korea, Japan, and of course us –

We wander through the tunnel to the Japanese garden. We are very good at converting the stroller into a litter for the stairs. The pond water is still, green; a bevy of frogs begin a chorus of croaking and stop just as suddenly. The bridges are hung with wisteria and crowded with tourists. It is shady, ethereal, magical. 


We leave reluctantly – we have another museum to visit, and are looking forward to an evening in Paris with our French famille. But first, an impulse buy at the gelato cart.

Of course, I have to get violet. 





The Fork in the Road

We all face those moments of choice. Sometimes they are big choices – yes or no? Minnesota or Colorado? Sometimes they are more gradual – a dead-end, a recalculation, the decision to get cake instead of icecream. Often these choices are best viewed in retrospect. Robert Frost put it best in “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Yogi Berra famously said , “when you come to the fork in the road, take it!” My interpretation of that is this: sometimes you know which fork to take and sometimes you don’t. The important thing is making the decision. 

Recently I have been going through The Artist’s Way, a book that has helped me find a renewed joy in creating and reminded me that God created us to create. Our gifts and talents are from him, and he delights when we use them! However, this book is hard at times, addressing past baggage and disappointments. 

When I went to college, I knew I was going to be an English major. I had originally planned to be a nurse – the safe choice – but I wanted to write, I loved to write. I loved my high school English teachers. So I took the initial English major class.

I have repressed most memories of that semester but I remember a lot of pain, disillusionment, and disappointment. My teacher certainly did not encourage or draw me to the English major. I did take a Southern Lit-themed class much later and again  found it decidedly not my cup of sweet tea. 

As I remembered my disappointment, I felt very angry. I wanted to write that teacher a letter and let her know how much she turned me off of English. Then I realized that she did a good thing. I don’t think the English major at that school was a good fit for me. Many friends and classmates found a home there, and I am happy for them. 

Because of her class, I found my way to Anthropology. I LOVED my anthropology major and professors. During the intro anthropology class, I felt like the garage door had just opened on my worldview. Because of that class, I did archaeology in Mexico instead of whatever English majors do in the summer (haha just kidding… internships, they do internships). Because of that class, I studied all kinds of things I would not have known about otherwise. I interviewed women pastors; I learned about sociobiology and the construct of race. I spent time drinking hot chocolate in a Latina friend’s kitchen and went to her church. I studied Spanish poetry and film music. Eventually, I found my way back into nursing, and that is my calling too. 

I am still reading and writing. I would have been fine as an English major. I am so glad I was an Anthro major.
So thank you Dr. A! I am so thankful for the way things turned out. God used that class (even though it was unpleasant) to guide me another way. 

And that has made all the difference. 

Claim Your Prize

I hit rock bottom one day while starving in my dead end job. Once I had it all. I had liquidated my trust fund and plunged into the life I had dreamed of, not worrying who I hurt in the process. But my friends weren’t friends, my money didn’t go that far, and soon I had nothing. And that’s when I thought – what am I doing? I should go home! My dad is reasonable, and he treats his employees better than this! So I left my job, went home – and my dad was thrilled to see me. He exceeded any hope I had, welcoming me home, throwing a party. The only one who wasn’t thrilled to see me with my older brother, the responsible one and I can understand why: I certainly didn’t deserve the warm welcome. 
The Prodigal Son is such a familiar story to Christians. For a long time, as an oldest child and a good girl, I identified with the older brother. Why should God treat us equally? Why shouldn’t I get a party for being so good? I read a wonderful story by Patricia Wrede called “Roses by Moonlight” in her Book of Enchantments that captures this feeling (from a modern day, female, magical perspective). It opens with older sister smoking a cigarette (her only vice) outside by the car as her sister and friends have a rocking party inside. 
Then after going through my rebellious stage in early college, I certainly understood the Prodigal’s emotions: gratitude, joy, and the relief that comes with returning home, where we are known and loved no matter what we have done.  

But it is only recently that I have understood the father’s perspective. Parenthood has transformed my understand of faith. First of all, the capacity to love! I love my child so much, I would do anything for her. She is the most precious thing. And I believe God loves us the same way. He delights in us, He wants all good things for us.

My daughter is a strong willed toddler who is figuring out her boundaries. She is in a hitting phase. I discipline her for hitting, not because her little attempts to hit hurt me – because they  don’t – but because that’s not what I want for her. I don’t want her to grow up communicating through violence and driving playmates away by hitting them. I don’t discipline her because I’m mad, I discipline her because I want something better. It’s the same, I believe, for God – He can handle our sin, we can’t do anything that would surprise or offend him. But he wants something better and so he presses us relentlessly towards perfection. 

Sometimes my daughter does hit a playmate, and when that happens I have to do something dramatic to protect the playmate. I will take my daughter away to time out. I will take the toy away that she used to hit. I don’t do this out of rage, but to protect. So in my mind, that is why Biblical discipline sometimes appears dramatic.  Because God was protecting others. 

I forgive my daughter, but she doesn’t get it yet. She won’t until her little brain begins to process that what she is doing is wrong. Our pastor on Sunday noted that forgiveness begins, not with the celebration party, but when the Prodigal’s heart turns homeward. His father had already forgiven him. His father lived by forgiveness. The son had to make the first step to go home, to accept the forgiveness, to start over and rebuild the relationship. He had to claim his prize, just as lottery winners have to claim what is already theirs. 

The Prodigal Son is a parable and it does not tell the whole story. The good father wouldn’t wait for his son to come back from the far country. He is the good shepherd, after all. He would be texting, sending letters, trying to keep tabs on his son even when his son ignored him.  When his son went off the grid, the good father would set out to track him down. He would find him in the pig pen, ready to come back, ready to accept his father’s forgiveness. The father would give him a ride home on his own Aston Martin donkey. 

God sends the Hound of Heaven for us. Once he has become involved in our lives, He will give us opportunity after opportunity. I don’t just mean about accepting Christ and giving our lives to him; I also mean doing what He is calling us to do. It is never too late for Him. His forgiveness is never out of date. Our prize never expires.  

Do you have a prize to claim? Is it Eternal Life or trusting God with your future? 

What are you waiting for? 

“I Am Legion”

I attended a conservative Christian middle school in the loop of the Bible Belt. My life and worldview have changed greatly since the days I was taught that the earth was  created in six 24-hour days,  or believed that Christian and Republican were synonymous, or thought the “Left Behind” books just might be prophetic. But a couple things haven’t changed: my belief in Christ, nourished by loving parents, caring teachers and kind friends (many of whom I am still connected to via Facebook). And the Bible. The same stories just keeping turning up, like precious, insistent pennies. 

Recently, a friend taught the story of Jesus exorcising the man with many demons (check it out in Mark 5)  at an international Bible study that I belong to. Jesus lands on a literally godforsaken side of the lake and meets a strong, naked, demon-possessed lunatic who lives among the tombs. When Jesus asks the demon’s name, the man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (This is Ring-level creepy!) Jesus casts the demons into a herd of 2,000 pigs and they plunge off the cliff into the sea. Rather than being impressed by this miracle, the locals ask Jesus to leave, and he tells the man he healed to stay behind and spread his news. 

 I love this parable, partly because I remember doing a rap about it when I was in middle school. I had never heard rap (except of the Christian variety), but my two friends and I put on sunglasses, wore backwards baseball caps, and rapped our hearts out. The refrain, as I recall, was “I am Legion!”

I really, really wish I had a video. 

This time, I started thinking about it from the other people’s point of view. It helped me understand why they asked Jesus to leave. Somebody owned those pigs, and they were worth a lot of money. And then – poof! A total loss! 

“Who does this guy think he is, destroying all those pigs? If he can do that, what could he do to us? We thought the crazy guy was scary… this guy could destroy everything we hold dear!”

But somebody loved this man, loved him enough to try to take care of him – although he kept running off, although he behaved like a wild animal.

Just like I love my child, but more.

Jesus knew that this man’s life and sanity was worth far more than 2,000 pigs. Not that he doesn’t care about animals – He knows when a bird falls out of the nest (Matthew 10:29). Yet he allowed this to happen, because pigs and people are apples and oranges. 

How much is a human life worth today? 

Today this man might have a different label. “Schizophrenic.” “Multiple personalities.” “Subhuman.” The label may be different, but I think demons are still doing their dark work in our world today – on my mind is the recent Slenderman case

Today, people might still see this man’s life as not worth more than 2,000 pigs or the equivalent. But Jesus calls us to care, to support those with mental illness, or demons, those who are feared and ostracized. He cares for everyone. For embryos, for fetuses, for teenage moms, for 50 year old moms, for drug addicts and work addicts, for murderers on death row, for all of us sinners with our baggage. He grieves at the injustice that rules in our world. He came to break down barriers of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status – everything that we use to dismiss or dehumanize others. He still works through us to break those down today.

How is he seeking to use you? 

Ask Questions

My maternity leave from blogging is over. It’s a New Year and my resolution is to post monthly. Also, my resolution is- less journaling, more originality. After all, my other social media sites pretty much chronicle my life. This is the place for deep thinking…

Of course, pictures especially of cute children make all blogs more readable, so we’ll see.

So the first question- why a blog about questions? A coworker the other day was asking me many questions and then apologized about it. I remembered a teacher saying there  are no dumb questions. Yet I admit, sometimes I am annoyed by questions. 

But then I ask myself why I am annoyed and it’s usually because I don’t know the answer and am afraid of how I will appear.
So this is my manifesto on why you should ask  (and answer) questions.

– It reinforces what you know! And it helps remind you why you are doing this. Whether at work or home, it is important to review the whys. 

– Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we are all new and unsure once. Because it’s better to find out and i things right than pretend. 

– Because asking questions is a good time to reevaluate whether this is best practice. So many changes for the better have started with this exchange:

“Why do you do it this way?”

“Because we’ve always done it this way.”

“But why? Why not this other way?”

“Huh. That does work better…” 

So ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer. 

What questions have you been afraid to ask?

Is it time to ask them? 

The True Morals of  Common Baby Books

In the past I read a lot of great books… novels, nonfiction, memoirs, travelogues, you name it. I am so thankful for the Rochester Public Library.

But recently most of my reading takes place with Savannah. I know our board books quite well. A little too well, some would say…

1. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?

Comments: I love this book but I have to wonder what medication they were taking when they saw a blue horse and a purple cat.

Moral: Animals see animals, teachers see children, and children can see everything.

2. The Mitten 

Comments: The coexistence of this many prey and predator animals seems unlikely… And white mittens are a bad idea for other reasons too.

Moral: Yarn stretches like you wouldn’t believe! And sharing is caring. 

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Comments: This book reminds me of me when I’m breastfeeding. 

Moral: you’ll feel better if you don’t eat too much on Saturday and just eat that green leaf.

4. Good Night, Moon

Moral: Little bunnies will say goodnight to anything – even mush and nobody- to avoid going to bed.

4. Good Dog, Carl

Moral: It’s okay for your dog to babysit your kids… Although you may want to leave the nanny cam on.

5. Each Peach Pear Plum

Moral: Gun control is important, especially for baby bear (that kid is reckless!) And, pie brings everyone together, even people who were shooting arrows at other people pages before.

OK Savannah and I are going to go read my new favorite board book from the library, A Carnival of Cats. If you have other kids’ books of which you would like to know the true moral, mention them in the comments! 

Savannah’s First Christmas Season

Let’s be honest… Christmas is more of a season then one particular day! We started off this Christmas season with a visit to my parents, where we got to see Savannah’s uncle and aunts and great grandparents and great uncle and aunt. 

  
Then she came along to a couple Christmas parties. At my bowling party for my work, she got passed around while Chris and I bowled. Chris’s white elephant exchange resident Christmas party, she got glitter everywhere!

  
Daddy had to work on Christmas Eve, but we visited him and brought Chinese food to the hospital! On Christmas Day, we flew out for Virginia. Traveling with an infant is not as difficult as many would have you believe… as long as you don’t forget your stroller!

We got to spend time with Chris’s parents, grandparents, and high school buddies, as well as many other dear friends…

   
 

  
  
As you can see we had a magnificent time seeing all these lovely friends and family members. 

Of course we also had to catch up with our favorite restaurants, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Bojangles, Riptides… plus get our barbecue fix! We won’t wait so long until the next time we head back to Virginia! 

We made it back safe and sound. Thankfully some dear friends had shoveled the foot and a half of snow that had accumulated inour driveway! It was great to get back to real life and work rested, refreshed, and full of hope for 2016.