Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beginning of the Semester Craziness

This is going to be one of those spattering-all-over kind of update posts. Just to warn you.

Last week was my first week back for training, and this week was my first week back for students and classes. I've gotten over my fear that I'll fail as a literature teacher, I've nerdishly loved the return of structure, and my people-loving self has cherished the return of frequent interpersonal contact.

I've also been reading for comps. Currently, I'm reading DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. I wasn't going into it planning to hate it, but I was approaching it as "A book I'm reading because I have to." My goodness, though. This book is beautiful. Sure, it's Lawrence and therefore a little heavy-handed with the sexual undertones and metaphors. But it's also one of the most beautiful portraitures of family life I've ever read. In fact, no book has made me cry this early into it since Little Women made me cry halfway through. And that was 15 years ago. Sons and Lovers has it beat by making me cry in the first quarter of the novel . . . and that just because an oldest son comes home to his dysfunctional family and "Everyone [is] mad with happiness." And then, one of my favorite sentences, "Home was home, and they loved it with a passion of love, whatever the suffering had been."

So. Beautiful.

Okay, so those have been happy highlights of my week. I really am so glad to be back. Today, though, I found out through facebook that someone I went to college with passed away this weekend. At first my logical mind went, "Oh no! I feel so badly for her family and husband! I wasn't very close, but it makes me very sad," and then was ready to go on. But the emotional part of me won over and I sat in my office and cried for probably half an hour. (These are the moments you're glad you mostly have an office to yourself!) I think that part of it was that we had a lot of friends in common and even talked on a semi-regular basis, so it was strange having someone who had been a constant part of your life for three years be gone. Another part of it is that I over-empathize, so just thinking about her husband and remembering how in love they were broke my heart. And another part of it was the more selfish, scared "people in their 20s aren't suppose to die" reaction. And a last part of it was a "feeling guilty because I could have been closer to her and chose not to" reaction.

But most of it, I think, is because I over-empathize. I just slip into people's situations and imagine myself in them so vividly that I tend to get very upset no matter who they are, and I get even more upset if people's situations at all relate to me and my life. After today, though, I think that I decided that empathizing is a good thing as long as it helps me love other people, serve them, and pray for them more fervently. It's just not a good thing if I let it consume me, depress me, or make me more focused on myself than God and other people.

So as not to end this post on a sad note, though, I will share something exciting . . . I contacted the US office of the Kenyan university to ask about teaching there next summer! Who knows what the response will be, but I'm praying that the answer is, "yes, come!" and I can start planning and support-raising in the next few months. I'm a little nervous about planning to be out of the country for 6+ weeks and having to raise a couple thousand dollars, but I'm mostly really excited that an actual missions trip may be in my near future! It's been very hard wanting to do overseas missions and feeling like God has been saying "wait" the past seven years. (And actually saying "no" by canceling missions trips post-tornado.) But it is all very worth it to follow him where he intends me to go . . . and I think that might be Africa this next summer!

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Retrospect: The Epic Roadtrip

So you know how I promised that I'd post about the epic roadtrip, like, a week ago? Well, I didn't. Obviously. And I'm sure you've all been looking forward to it all week. So I'm sorry, y'all. But here they are . . . the highlights of Epic Roadtrip 2011.

1. Jackson

So first I went to Jackson. I spent Thursday night hanging out with Katie, eating pizza, reminiscing about honors classes, all nighters, and Oxford, and discussing the possibility that we might never get married. So, you know, normal 25-year-old-(single)-girl stuff. And it was really good. It felt super natural to be hanging out with her again, and I felt like we fell right back into our friendship from college. It's nice to know that some friends will always be there, even if you don't get to see them or talk to them as regularly as you like.

Friday I hung out at Union. I talked with three professors, saw the awesome new commons building, and got a sweatshirt at Lifeway. Being there also renewed my dream of being hired as the Union English department's British Modernism specialist. We'll wait and see if that happens.

Friday night, I hung out with the Pflasterers. It was both wonderful and sad. Natalie was super sweet and asked all about my life and shared about hers. It felt like nothing had changed. Isaac, however, is much younger than she is, which probably means that he doesn't remember me living with them over three years ago as well as she does. Two years ago, he cuddled up with me and watched a movie when I came to visit. He also arranged all our meal seating arrangements so that he could sit on one side of me. This time around, he didn't want to ride in the car with me, and he ran off to play with his friends when we went out for frozen yogurt/gelato. I totally expected it to happen, but it still made me sad that he wasn't my sweet little-kid-who-adores-me Isaac friend any more.

2. Harrogate

Saturday through Thursday were Harrogate days. It was SO good to see Amber and Cody again. I hadn't seen them since their wedding two years ago, and two years is a long time to go without seeing your best friend. Amber and I have a pretty awesome phone/skype/facebook message relationship, though, so we're good at staying in touch, and it felt really normal to be together again. We went camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains and had dinner at the most amazing restaurant in Ashville. It's called Tupelo Honey Cafe, and it's . . . awesome. They serve honey biscuits before the meal, and the actual meals were really good, too. I had a sweet potato pancake. Yeah. That's right. Sooo good!

I also love how I feel like I'm getting to know Amber and Cody as a couple. I feel like I'm getting closer to Cody and being friends with him, and I really feel like there's not much that I don't feel comfortable talking to both of them about. So that's really neat, that my friendship with Amber can turn into a friendship with them as a married couple. Of course, it's still good to get plenty of girl time, and since Cody was writing a paper much of the week, we got lots of that.

3. Richmond

Friday and Saturday were Richmond days. I got to see Taryne, a friend from grad school, and we had a fabulous time. Friday night, we took my computer to the Apple store and passed a Whole Foods on the way. I got really excited and Taryne agreed that we could go. And the great thing about Taryne is that she totally gets the being super crazy excited about stores with food that you can actually eat. I got cookies and rice cheese and a pastry. Then, the next night, we got dinner from another grocery store with a salad bar . . . with salads I could actually eat!! First time that's happened in 14 months! I was quite excited.

Lest you think that the only good thing my time in Richmond had going for it was the food, I also had a really good time with Taryne. We talked a little bit about various health things, and she was super encouraging to me. And I hope that I was encouraging to her in the midst of the different things she's dealing with in life. The visit both reminded me how much I enjoy her friendship and made me miss her being in Iowa.

4. Fairfax/DC

Seeing Ian was so great. I know that it's cliché to say this, and that all the movies warn against saying it, but I really do feel like Ian's like a brother to me. I guess it's just the "You've known me pretty much my entire life and you're still friends with me" thing and the "We know each other so well that we don't need to be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing" thing. We had so much fun. Also, I was a little nervous about being a guest in his host family's home, but I really loved them. They were super friendly. Tuesday morning, I woke up early and spent half an hour just chatting with the mom of the family before Ian woke up. That's how great they were.

We went to the National Gallery, the Museum of the American Indian, and the American History Museum. All of them were great. We have somewhat similar tastes in art (except that I like modern art better), so it worked well. We saw some great Degas--whom we both liked quite a bit already--and discovered that we really liked John Singer Sargent. In the American Indian museum, I discovered an entire section of an exhibit about a Mohawk tribe in Quebec! It was pretty great to see so much about the tribe my family is descended from. Then, we went and ate fry bread. And that was awesome :-)

After the history museum, we took the train home and had dinner with Calvin, a friend from our freshman year. Then we headed to his apartment and watched Star Trek (TNG). Because we're all nerds.

5. Pittsburgh

Whenever you've lived somewhere, I think you must get connected to it in some kinda semi-physical way. Because I get this tingly physical and emotional reaction whenever I drive to Jackson, fly into Minneapolis, and--now--arrive in Pittsburgh. It's just that "part of me belongs here" feeling, I guess. Pittsburgh was great, as always. I got to spend Tuesday afternoon with Aunt Jo, which was so good. Wednesday, I spent the day cooking large quantities of food because that night, Shari and I celebrated Christmas. After our first year living apart, we decided that we didn't like celebrating Christmas over the phone. So, now we wait to celebrate Christmas until we're together. We had a fun dinner, watched Christmas episodes of TV shows, and opened gifts. I got a really pretty bowl, and I gave Shari all the freezer meals I had made. (It might sound lame, but if you were super busy and had health stuff to deal with, you'd want lots of freezer meals too.) On Thursday, we hung out, talked a lot, went shopping, and just generally had a great time being all best-friend-y.

6. Peoria

Last stop was Peoria! I had a great time with Tricia. We went out for dinner before returning to Tricia's home to watch . . . Doctor Who!! She showed me three of her favorite episodes, and I got hooked. I've now got the first series out from the library, and I'm working my way through it. We also had a good time catching up on life and talking about big life issues. Once again. Normal mid-20s stuff :-)

Tricia's kinda an awesome photographer, so people are now paying her to do senior pictures. She wanted to practice before doing this girl's pictures on the Riverfront, so she took me down there to be her model. It was fun doing "senior pictures" again. I totally think I should ask her to send copies to me so that I can write cute things on the back and give them to all my friends :-P

7. Home

After Peoria came home. It was weird being all alone again after 17 days of visiting people. Iowa felt weird, but I think I appreciated it more too. I wouldn't want to live here forever, but there are things I like about it. It was good to remember that before the semester began.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thoughts on "The Cave" and Life

Starting tomorrow, I'll write a few posts about my EPIC ROADTRIP!! (Which was just as amazing and epic as the all caps and double exclamation marks indicate.) However, for tonight, I want to just post briefly about something else.

This evening, because of various things I've been praying and thinking about, I listened to "The Cave" by Mumford and Sons. I listened to it because I needed to hear the chorus about "I'll find strength in pain . . . I'll know my name as it's called again," but I also really noticed a verse in a new way:

"So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears."

I had always just listened to this verse as "The Odysseus" verse. Yes, I love this song for being so sickeningly rich literarily. However, I also love it because of what it says about fighting against temptation and about strengthening each other during our trials. And, today, I loved it because . . .

A) This verse spoke pretty directly to how I've been feeling about my future these past few weeks. Going to Union was great, but it made me really want to teach at a school like Union (okay, so even Union itself), and it made the life I envision for myself as a professor, writer, and mom look maybe actually possible. And that confused my desire to go into missions. Thankfully, I also saw awesome people like Cody and Amber--who are going into ministry--and Tricia--who is all about missions and fighting the allures of the American dream--so God didn't let me get swept up into something without reminding me of the other desires and the call he's put on my heart. In addition to seeing these people, I listened to a sermon by Pastor John about how in missions we should, "remember the poor," and it made me realize that even if I ended up at a Christian university in Kenya, it would mean that I'd get to teach a lot of students who could not afford an education or who's culture and family would normally not allow them to (if they were women). It helped me see how even something like that could visibly fulfill a clear, Biblical element of missions, and that was good.

Anyway, when I listened to this verse today, the first thing that happened was to realize that part of my call is to "see widows and orphans"--or students in third world and developing countries who need education--through my desires for a comfortable life in the United States. And speaking about "comfortable life"--that's another thing I really realized during this vacation. I don't want to leave the states. By which I mean, I don't want to leave my family behind. I love my family a lot and I can't imagine only getting to see them once or twice a year, especially if I have kids or my brother gets married and has kids. But despite the "sirens' call" of shiney, glamorous academia or a comfortable life in the same country as my family, I need to remember that God's passion for the lost and poor in the world should trump any of my own desires which interfere. Maybe he will call me away from the US and maybe he won't. But I know that he has called me to minister to the lost "despite my growing fears."

B) Part A was about 3 times as long as I meant for it to be. This will be much shorter. Basically, I love the way that the song interprets Odysseus's experience. I always thought the message of the song and the Odysseus story of the song were two separate things. But today, when I heard the "I know my call despite my faults/and despite my growing fears" part, I realized how cool it was that Odysseus captained his ship the way he did and came home to his wife and reclaimed his home despite all the things he did wrong and badly. He knew what was right and did it despite the fact that he wasn't perfect and had made some really bad mistakes. And, just like Odysseus (says the song), we need to pursue our calling despite our imperfections, sins, mistakes, and fears.