We’re having a…

A few weekends ago, we celebrated my husband’s 30th birthday. He is an incredible guy and has been through a lot in 30 years – academic success, medical school, marriage, cancer, house ownership, residency, fatherhood, and getting a real job. So when he said he wanted to go to a Brazilian steakhouse for his birthday, I said, “You betcha!” And I planned a few surprises for his un-surprise birthday party .

First, I had invited my dad. We knew he was coming, but I hadn’t read his flight information very carefully and was sure he was coming on Friday. So when he texted me on Thursday and said he was at the airport I said “what?! Awesome!” He walked in to surprise Chris at handbells, and we got to spend all day Friday together!

Second, Chris’s dad and partner had secretly planned to come as well. We walked into the party room on Saturday evening and – there they were, all the way from Virginia!!!

Another surprise for the guests – the beautiful chemistry-themed birthday cake was also a gender reveal cake. We figured it was a great time, with so many friends and family already assembled.

After a delicious dinner of meat on sticks – so tasty for this iron-craving mama – we cut into the cake and found pink frosting! “It’s a girl!”

As we drove home, I was thrilled but surprised. This time I had been sure it was a boy. Of course I love our daughter and baby girls. I began to look forward to our girls being best friends, sharing a room, not having to buy new clothes…

We got home and I double-checked the genetics report hidden in my bedside drawer.

Y chromosome material present?!!! Male fetus?!!!

I walked out of there, stunned, waving the paper at my family. “The cake decorator got it wrong!”

A glance at the report revealed the problem… it’s very confusing to read. I had just printed it from my record and handed it to her – NOT the best idea. I should have had a friend look and tell her!

So then we had to call all the guests and family we had already notified and let them know….



The Deer on our Road

I almost hit a deer this week. I was driving down our neighborhood road after an Oktoberfest celebration at church when the deer plunged in front of the car. When it first ran out, I thought it was a jogger, then a really big dog. Then I caught a glimpse of antlers – a young buck. I slammed on the brakes, swerved a little, and watched the silent animal disappear over the hill into the drainage pond that he was no doubt seeking. 
I felt as though I’d just seen a falling star. This is only the second deer I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood. It had come from a dense plot of houses. Was he eating someone’s flowers? Taking a stroll on the sidewalk?
“You okay, mommy?” my toddler called.

“Yes!” I told her. “We almost hit a deer.”

“Where?” She twisted, wanting only to see this rare animal.

“It’s gone,” I told her.

Almost everyone in rural areas has a story about a deer-strike or a near-miss. How many times have I white-knuckled my way on curving country roads at night, freezing internally at the glint of eyes? 

Yet even our city lifestyle does not guarantee that we will not meet a deer. Freak things happen. People hit deer even in urban areas. Mountain lions attack people in parks. Recent disasters remind us that no one is immune from natural disasters like floods or fires. 

 Yet we forget that these are possibilities, instead worrying about schools or work stress or the many other mundane mosquitoes that suck our life blood. In our bubble of computers and Facebook, we distance the possibility of these tragedies. 

I say this not to inspire a life of constant fear and vigilance, but to encourage us to minimize those vampiric details. Life is a precious gift best held gently; we must treasure our days and loved ones because there are no guarantees. Why do we let little issues steal our joy? We are alive! 

Mixed with the gratitude at having missed death (at least for the deer) was delight with the serendipity of the experience, this brief moment of magic, a glimpse of something extraordinary.

Anthro in Action 

A decade ago, I graduated with my degree in anthropology, unsure where that study would take me. I had decided against a life in academia, and I wished at some points over the next few years that I had double-majored in something more directly applicable to the job market. However, I was always thankful for what anthropology taught me and the amazing people I met because of it. 
When I was doing my senior thesis, I did a whole chapter about “Thanksgiving Tamales.” The church I visited had an Anglo American and a Latino population, and they came together for a Thanksgiving potluck with tamales, tacos, turkey and all the fixings. It was delicious and fascinating; it was a highlight of my year. 

Ten years later, I found my way to an English class/Bible study for the international ladies who come to Rochester. They are usually here for a year or two as their husband does research or a fellowship at Mayo. These ladies are brilliant and accomplished; many are doctors or nurses back home, and most have two or three children that they are caring for while navigating a challenging new culture and difficult language. I am teaching them conversational English this year; thankfully they all know English already, so I am just attempting to add a few phrases to their lexicon. 

As I attended a potluck social with these women and we talked about their lives back home, and ate delicious Korean and Japanese food, I felt a sense of deja vu and remembered our “Thanksgiving Tamales.” Then I felt elated – this was anthropology in action! 

Of course an anthropology degree is not necessary to join an international Bible study, or to qualify me to be an English teacher, or to give me a heart for welcoming people from other countries. However, I truly believe my Anthropology experiences opened my eyes and heart to other cultures and taught me important things about recognizing my ethnocentrism and the power of food to bring people together. 

I still don’t know where God will use all my life experiences, my gifts and talents. I love to write and am still searching out where, when and how He plans to use that drive. However, I know where I saw him this week – at a potluck with women from all over Japan and South Korea, enjoying some deliciously unfamiliar delicacies, reminding me that He works all things together for good. 

When I Feel God

When I see his creation – the crescent shadows of the leaves mirroring the eclipse. When I see a dramatic sunset, purples, pinks, and reds. Or a sunrise – the brilliant colors. Either one at a beach. Anything at a beach, where I feel his power in the ocean. When I see a waterfall or feel the gravity of the mountains. 

When I see the life He has created: a rabbit with the sunlight in its pink ears, quivering, watching me while pretending to ignore me. A bold redwing blackbird singing his defiant song as he guards his territory. A blue heron standing on the edge of a pond, sipping the small silver fish, winging away when I get too close.

When I feel a warm breeze blow and I feel like He is caressing my cheek, whispering to me in a language I don’t yet know. 

When I listen to a beautiful hymn or solo or play handbells at church and feel caught up in the music, in praise to him. Sometimes I want it to just keep going forever and I think that’s what heaven is like, eternal music. 

When I get a sweet tender sleepy sticky hug from my daughter and realize what a blessing, what a privilege it is to be her mom, even though I have to muddle through helping her grow into a functional adult. When I spend time with my friends from around the world and family members and feel part of a vast and caring clan. 

When do you feel God? 

Privilege: A Pedestrian’s Perspective

Have you ever been on foot, walking your dogs or baby or both, when you come to a four way stop? And nobody lets you cross?

I have, and how frustrating and powerless it makes me feel! When the private school up the road starts, sometimes there will be a long line of cars with drivers that don’t make eye contact or recognize my pedestrian self and my need to cross the road. Finally SOMEONE will take pity on me and let me cross.

From what I have heard, it is worse for those on bicycles and motorcycles who actually use the same lanes as cars. Sharing the road is a difficult concept to practice. 

We technically live within the walking zone for our elementary school. It would be (will be?) a long two mile hike for a kid but as a neighbor around the corner has learned, unless you pay to bus, the school district won’t budge. So every school morning if I am not already at work there is a line of children down the side walk to the Main Street crossing, where a crossing guard in a yellow vest waves kids across. 

Of course someone could ignore the crossing guard. But it is a lot harder to ignore a full-grown crossing guard in a yellow vest than children with backpacks waiting to cross! 

What does this have to do with privilege? you may be asking. Or maybe you already see where I’m going with this…

I will be honest, I am still new to this journey. I spent an amazing, difficult summer in St. Louis in college talking about social justice in ways that changed my mind. I learned verses like “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”‭‭(Micah‬ ‭6:8‬ ‭ESV.)‬‬ Or this one, speaking of God: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭10:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬.) Those verses have remained in my heart. 

God loves justice; he loves the least fortunate and the most vulnerable of our society. I recently went to a talk at work about racial disparities in health…. African American babies are born earlier and smaller. First generation African immigrants don’t show this effect, but by the second generation they do; the stress takes a toll on mothers and babies. And this is true throughout the life continuum. This was a waking call for me; this is affecting my patients, the people I work with.

So back to my metaphor. When I am walking my dogs, those people on the road are not inherently better because they are driving a car. They are dropping off kids; I have the day off and am talking a walk. Their cars are big and dangerous, and they certainly can ignore me and any applicable laws and drive through the intersection, relatively confident I will stay out of the way.  

However, we do have laws. We have crossing guards to try to protect the most vulnerable. We can’t rely on those; we also need to watch our own driving. Are we being kind? Are we yielding to others? 

Even if spiritual arguments hold no weight, the golden rule is always something to consider. We all have pedestrian experiences. Maybe it is when we travel or when we need health care; maybe it is when we are students and our professors show mercy in extenuating circumstances (or not.)

Based on our ethnicity, our citizenship,our financial situation, our jobs, we come into positions of relative power, we have “privilege.” But what do we choose to do with this power? Do we use it to preserve the status quo? Do we use it to show off our status, to ignore those who are lower on the perceived totem pole, to endanger them because it is not convenient for us? Do we drive through the intersection without a second thought or look?

Or perhaps I should say – “what should we do?”

The World as Garden

Down the steep and winding steps, you find the garden. Here they quarried the stone that built the elegant house above for Dr. Plummer. Now the quarry is a green lawn, a pair of stunning fountains, a recessed garden set with rare trees and hardwoods. A secret path leads to another smaller garden and then into the woods. Walking here feels like a deep breath, a thirst-quenching sip of lemonade, the crisp bite of a summer watermelon. 

Why are gardens so enjoyable? I think it is because we have been gardeners from the beginning. Genesis 2 talks about the Garden of Eden, planted with trees both beautiful and delicious. Gardening was man’s vocation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis‬ ‭2:9).

I have always felt insecure about humans’ environmental impact. Are we the great despoilers of nature? Is every footprint the destruction of a delicate biome? I have never subscribed to the idea, though many from necessity or choice appear to, that the world is a limitless resource to exploit. However, would the world be better off without us? 

I think the answer is no. The world is a garden to be tended. There is a place in the garden for wilderness – but there is also a place for human dwellings, for human industry. The important thing is to not lose sight of the goal – our stewardship of creation. 

Now, are we doing a great job being gardeners right now? The Great Garbage Patch and the stark moonscapes of many former mines suggest otherwise. We have lost many animals to our gluttony; we have taken too much, too often. 

I think some people in their minds justify this because “Jesus is coming soon and it won’t matter.” But we can’t live that way; we can’t keep taking, taking, taking. There is “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3:2b-3a). This is a time to plant and heal, a time to turn our quarries into gardens. This is our chance to turn things around!

The beautiful movie The Secret Garden is based on the book by Frances Hodgkin Burnett and shows how Mary, a bitter and lonely orphan, transforms and is transformed by her discovery of a hidden garden. I will close with one of its quotes: “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Are you being a good steward? How are you tending your garden? 

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.