Category Archives: Uncategorized

Yes, what about Chicago?

I grew up mostly in suburban Cook County, near O’Hare, in what is locally referred to as “Chicagoland.” For as long as I remember, Chicago was, at minimum, the most fun place to be. As an adult, it has been home a few times, including now.

love my city. I always have.

There is a spot on the inbound Kennedy, right before North Avenue, where you can get a gorgeous view of the skyline as well as the smaller buildings that make up the city I love. I’ve probably photographed it a 150 times. I love the architecture, and how walking between the skyscrapers downtown makes me feel somehow embraced. I love how the details on older, smaller buildings make neighborhoods feel unique, and hold its history, however long forgotten.

In my neighborhood, it seems more common to hear a foreign language than it is to hear English. If I want ice cream, the nearest places to go are either Latin or Indian. I have a dozen taquerias within about two blocks, and the grocery stores stock foods I cannot pronounce, and in some cases, have labels written in Gujarati or Arabic or Korean, so I am even less able to guess.

Since moving back, I’ve gone to comedy shows and met a ton of funny, talented people. Some of those people, I am sure, are going to be quite famous some day, and I will get to say that I knew them before they made it big. My city is a city of blues, art, comedy, folk, and all kinds of wonderful things.

I love my city.

My city is also broken. I have driven around the south side of Chicago, unable to find a gas station that didn’t have a long line of cars, waiting to fill up with gas that costs 25% more than gas in my north side neighborhood. I’ve parked a van full of food on the side of the street and stood in the cold as people lined up, hungry, and eager for whatever sustenance was in the cambros. I have gone from one block to another and noticed the spraypainted tags change, the color of clothing change, and realized that my ability to move so freely was aided by the fact that I clearly didn’t “belong” there. I’ve spent time with my neighbors who are homeless and addicted, been brokenhearted by children who do not know what it is to have a bedroom or a constant place to call home.

I’ve heard the stories of friends who were pulled over for being black, by cops who wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going, without citing any kind of traffic violation. I’ve heard stories from white friends, pulled over on the south or west sides and asked if they knew where they were, warned that lone white girls shouldn’t be in this part of town. One friend told me about the time he was informed that he, a minister, should not visit his congregation in the projects without a resident escorting him because he probably wasn’t safe.

I know that in some cases, my whiteness and my north side residence give me a more privileged experience than some have. I am not blind to what is around me, nor am I immune from the heartbreak.

I still love my city. I want everyone to have the chance to love my city.

Today, Trump used my city as an example of the horror this nation has become. I’ve read countless articles in which a stranger to my city uses statistics to make some very ugly arguments. While the statistics are true, the way they were used was manipulative, and is at best ignorant of the reasons they are what they are. Unfunded and overcrowded schools, food desserts, gangs without leadership, few jobs to be had, and a long list of reasons contribute to the heartache my city faces. 

I love my city. I ache for my city, the way one does when a loved is deeply troubled, or seriously ill. I still see her beauty. I still know her joy. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

Three Sevenths Yooper

It takes seven winters to make someone a Yooper, I was told. Seven full winters in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, during which massive blizzards and week after week of snow would set the stage for thousands of miles of driving on sandy, packed snow, up and down the Porcupine Mountains. Lake Superior is its northern border, and the vast beast rages while it brings more and more snow to the wooded grounds and the flannel clad people to the south of it.

When I read the brochures for Northern Michigan University, my alma mater, the amount of snow mentioned was unfathomable. 170 inches? Who knows what that looks like? I chalked it up to “a lot of snow” and sent in my application. I moved up north in June. The drive across M35, along the north edge of Lake Michigan, was lovely. The trees along interstate 41 were kind. It was a freakishly hot summer, so I got familiar with the beach that was a few blocks away.

Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. I wasn’t a stranger to snow, having lived in lower Michigan as a young child and then northern Illinois. It wasn’t like I was from Mobile, where a few flakes would surprise me. But there is something interminable about the snow in UP winters.

I am only 3/7 Yooper, since I only have three winters under my belt. However, the UP is where I learned to love snow. Snow in the UP has quite a few lessons to teach those lucky enough to live there. It teaches you a different shade of friendship and neighborhood, where you don’t hesitate when lending your snow brush to a neighbor whose own brush is trapped inside their frozen car.
It’s where I learned to like shoveling, both for the workout and the feeling of satisfaction I got after digging out the cars in the parking lot. Snow teaches you, over and over, that you are not the master of the universe. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves, building up our own importance, until the snow moves though, and there is no controlling it. The only way to work through the snow is to work with it, much like the other storms in life.

I love the first snow of the season, when the world I live in suddenly gets turned into a glittery globe of wonder. This week, most of the people I know here in northern Illinois were pretty worked up about the coming snow. When the forecast was three to five inches, people fretted. When it was increased to six to eight inches, people had palpitations. By Thursday, meteorologists were saying eight to ten inches, and you would think it was the coming apocalypse. That isn’t an unusual amount of snow for Northern Illinois, but enough that stores were busy selling rations.

I, on the other hand, could not wait. I needed a good snow storm. It was oxygen to my deprived soul.

It started snowing when I left work on Friday, and I picked up Chinese take out a few blocks from my apartment. I took the dog out and went inside where I ate too much kung pao chicken, read some Green Lantern comics, got my laundry done, and drank half a glass of chardonnay. I opened the blinds and watched the snow fall. That’s one of the best things about a good snow fall: you pretty much have to resign to it. It is nature’s way of forcing me to stop doing and start being.

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I slept deeply that night and woke to about eight inches of snow. I had breakfast, put my boots on, and headed out to go to Target. While I was clearing off my car, a couple teenagers were trying to clear the snow off of their car with a paper towel covering their hands. I lent them my snow brush. I cleared off my car as the snow kept falling, and I breathed in the smell of snow. It was beautiful and I was happy. So happy that I forgot about putting on makeup before I went about the rest of my day.

When I posted that picture on Facebook with a caption about being happy on the snow, my sister commented that I looked “so relaxed and happy.” I was. The rest of my day was awfully good, too: I made pumpkin cake bars and took them into the city, where I met up with Mike, we ate Italian take out in the hallway of the Irish American Heritage Center, then watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 with some friends before heading back home.

It was a really good day, and would have been regardless of the weather, but the snow took it to a new level.

By April, winter in the UP feels endless, relentless, and cabin fever is tough. When the last of the snow melts in June, people are thrilled to see muddy grass coming back to life. In Illinois, spring is rarely so desperate. In four months, I will probably be anxious for warmer, sunnier weather, but for now, I delight in the heavy white blanket that lays on the ground and weighs on the trees.

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The Unbearable Silence of Being

I remember deciding, about a year ago, that the year I was 33 was going to be a big one. I was going to do brave things, and be honest about who I am, and make more of an effort to be myself. My friend Steve, the Godzilla of Love, often says that it shouldn’t have to be so hard to be who you are. He’s right.

Tonight, it feels very hard to be me. I am stuck between the incessant need to write and the paralyzing fear of writing it. The problem with being brave is that it makes you that much readier to be brave again. So with the warning that my thoughts tonight are not cheerful, it is, if nothing else, an honest piece, and one that doesn’t come easily:

I am writing this from a closet. Literally. The reason I am in a closet tonight is because I moved again. My goal was to be in my own apartment again by June, and instead, it is 11:23 p.m. on May 31, and I have moved with my parents instead of away from them. The old apartment wasn’t very good, and it wasn’t safe for my dad, and so with his retirement official tomorrow, they needed to move.

The new apartment puts me an hour and a half from work, meaning my gas expense will multiply seven-fold. I’m back in a small town, within sight of cornfields, and of all things, small towns like this are anything but good for me. And as for the closet: I don’t really have a room. I have a space at the end of a hall, but there is no door for any semblance of privacy. If I want privacy, my only option is to sit in the closet, tucked in the dark behind the folding doors. This is the place I sleep, but it is not my home. Not my space. I am the recipient of a favor, and I need to remember that… Or so I’m told.

I hate it, but I’m not allowed to say so. Saying so means that I’m selfish, uncaring, and ungrateful. I’m told I should just be happy that I’m not living in my car. As if I don’t know that already. As if I am unaware of my own poverty. I know that this move is what they needed. I wish I could say that it’s NOT what I needed without being made the villain for having said so.

Today, I was told I am unstable. Sigh. I didn’t really answer, because there isn’t any use. I am stable. Remarkably stable. My ability to remain stable in times of crisis is, according to my former therapist, “outstanding.” But this is my fourth address in a year, in the fourth town in a year. I went from being solidly middle class to having to apply for public health insurance and trying to live on sublevel wages. I went from living alone in a four bedroom house to having to sit in a closet for privacy. I am stable. My circumstances have not been. Reacting to those circumstances has been a sometimes bumpy road, but I have handled it pretty well. Who on earth would NOT have been rattled by the year I’ve had? I’m told that my problems are less than the problems of others, so I need to keep my mouth shut.

I didn’t speak up because I am tired of rehashing everything and trying to convince others that I’m not broken and not a loser. I spend enough energy trying to believe those things myself, and I have none left to try to convince you, too.

I received fourteen rejection emails those week. I think I probably sent 75 resumes out and I don’t know how many online applications I have filled out just this week. My followup phone calls were ignored 100% of the time. “Thank you for your interest, but at this time, we are pursuing applicants who better fit our criteria.” I barely read them anymore. I can usually tell by the email address, or by the subject heading. I am a little more immune to them than I used to be, but how can it not hurt at least a little?

I don’t tell people when I apply somewhere anymore. I am worn out by explaining to them how many companies are not interested in me. I don’t talk about how much I would like this job or that job. It’s almost all I think about, though… About how nice it would be to work in a place where I am not told to expect a “mild” level of sexual harassment at work, where I am not openly mocked for doing the menial tasks my job requires, or -of all things- how much of a relief it would be to earn a liveable wage. When I talk about those things, I’m told that I need to stop whining and “get over it.” So I try to not talk about it anymore.

I can’t really blame them. They don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to me.

People talk about poor people all the time. Politicians, teachers, journalists, and everyone else wants to talk about poor people, about how we can fix our own situations, or how a program will or won’t help us, or how much we drain society. Very few want to listen to poor people. They may be pushed to listen to people speak about poor people, or to read a small, poignant message on a HONY post, but listening to poor people is something else. Listening to poor people becomes uncomfortable very quickly because if you are listening correctly, you’ll soon see that there is no quick and easy answer, and you become aware of how easily you can join their ranks. Even those who try become weary of hearing about the same struggles for long periods of time (so try living with them). So middle class people don’t listen to poor people, generally.

I try to not talk about it too much. I try… But sometimes, it’s like I can’t take it any more. The silence becomes so oppressive that I just start talking, and out comes all the word vomit, all the emotions, all the things I haven’t said. It never ends well. I get reminded that things could be worse, and that I should be more thankful, and that it’s my attitude that is the problem.

So I go back to the silence again. I go back to the place where I don’t talk about the reality that I live every day or about the reality I don’t live every day.

My dog just came and laid next to the closet, next to me. For four years, she has been the most steady thing I’ve had. For now, that will have to do.

Lessons

Paul (not the apostle, someone I know) taught me what it is to lead with kindness, so I cannot follow someone who is rude.
A different Paul (still not the apostle) taught me what it is to have a gentle spirit, so I cannot find solace in callousness.
Mary taught me what it is to pray like prayer’s your very breath, so I cannot find inspiration in hollow phrases.
Leona taught me what a life of humility looks like, so I cannot be impressed by posturing.
BobbyJeff taught me that it is the heart, rather than the title, that makes the minister, so I cannot be hard-hearted.
Cory taught me that it’s worth it to do what’s right for me, so I cannot keep ignoring my self.
Ange taught me that who I am is who I am, so I cannot – will not – keep apologizing for it anymore.
Jess taught me that I do things I never thought possible, so I cannot let myself give up.
Al taught me what it means to be joyful in uncertainty, so I cannot be defeated.

 

Cooking: A Love Poem in Photographs

1607014_10100839226300967_2783017495446474500_nHeld long and smooth
in my hand, firm flesh and
thin skin, examining the veins,
coaxing out the seeds that
spill everywhere;
it is most definitely the star
of the evening, but only because
I know what to do with it.
Red pepper, chopped.

I didn’t hesitate to pull1380128_10100839226340887_4180434938949517361_n
back layers and display
everything that had been hidden
and speculated about, thankful
that I found quality, strength,
yet with quick movements,
I turned that nerve into bits.
Onion, chopped.

 

10712904_10100839226405757_7087650198388075323_nI pushed through people
to get to you, grabbed brazenly
with my whole hand, and took
you straight home where you
were swiftly disassembled and
crushed, for my benefit;
my need is all that mattered.
Garlic, minced.

 

10482073_10100839226515537_1719495179856291131_nSudden heat and corresponding
sweat, a dissolution of individual
identities until there was just
fragrance surrounding me,
clouding my vision, almost
transcendent, lingering on my hands
long after I was through
with the handling.
Medium heat, until tender.

1528685_10100839226485597_3423709291077621631_nDrown everything in unexpected
spice and ease, tightly lidded so that
nothing escapes, not the heat, not
the sweat; relish the anticipation of
flavor, the melding of particulars
into that which is something entirely other,
more beautiful and lovely than then its parts.
Simmer 30 minutes, blend.

10269440_10100839367018967_5201095481048835091_n
In a whir of color and motion,
it’s about damn time, hotter than
expected as it burns my lips too
swiftly to keep it from scalding my
tongue, a welcome pain drenched in
pleasure, and my eyes close
and I sigh, satisfied.
Serve with caution.

Yes. No. Everything. Maybe. I don’t know. Great. Lovely.

Last week, I wrote a decent post about how I was feeling just before I moved. I had hoped that tonight, I would have some sort of similar post about having arrived in a new town/church, but instead, I have started and abandoned three posts. For the first time in a long time, I feel like there’s no way to spill it all out. No way to eloquently say what’s going on in the 40-ring circus inside my head. At the same time, I feel like I’ve been asked how I’m feeling, how I like it here, what kinds of things I’m going to be doing, etc. by so many people so many times that I can’t think of a creative way to answer them anymore. So here’s the not-so-eloquent list-like blob of words that I have to offer:

  • I like it here. In some ways, it already feels more like home than my last town. I miss some of the people there, but I’m not sure that I miss living there.
  • I am afraid of what living in Iowa means for some of my relationships. Distance isn’t always kind to the heart.
  • I don’t quite have a clear picture of what my ministry will look like here. It’s strange to have so many people to work with, and the ministry here is different than the ministry in my last town. It’s always going to be different, but I don’t know much of what to tell people when they ask. We’re figuring it out. I’ll let you know when I know.
  • I have mono, and moving while you have mono COLOSSALLY SUCKS. Especially when you’re moving ALONE. My sainted, glorious mother came and worked so hard to help pack things, and I could NOT have done it without her. Even so, it is really really hard to say “I have to go sleep now,” knowing that she’s going to keep working. And despite her help, it still felt very solitary: no one else was going to be making the trek across the Mississippi with me.
  • Having mono is kind of scary, because it set into my liver and if I’m not careful, there’s the (slim) possibility of rupturing my spleen. Gross! It just gets added to the list of physical realities that remind me that I’m human and not invincible, and that’s scary and dumb.
  • I handle change pretty well, but I have to confess that I am in desperate need of normal and routine.
  • I know I mentioned it before, but I don’t think that I can overstate how worried I am that moving changes relationships. I think about it all day long, a kind of current running under the surface, but every now and then, it surfaces, and it’s completely overwhelming.
  • The people here are very friendly – except in the HyVee parking lot. As long as I’m not trying to find a parking space at the grocery store, people are surprisingly polite.
  • I like that the other ministers with whom I’m working are people I’ve known for a few years already. It’s less foreign that way.
  • There are a million little bits of anxiety that run through my head all the time: What if they don’t like me? What if I mess up? What if my dog barks too much and the neighbors get really mad and hate me? What if….
  • There are a million things that I don’t know. I don’t know how to get around town if it’s not on the way to the office or Target. I don’t know how to get to our regional headquarters from here. I don’t know if I’m responsible for shoveling my sidewalk or if the association does that. I don’t know more than I know.
  • I haven’t been to the gym since I got mono, and it makes me feel horrible. Even though I know I wasn’t healthy enough to go and I had WAY too much going on with the move, it makes me feel lazy, fat, ginormous, disgusting… basically every bit of verbal garbage I could possibly throw at myself has been hurled on account of me not going to the gym. I know it’s garbage and untrue (mostly), but nonetheless, it’s what has been bouncing around my head with all the rest of the stuff I’ve mentioned.

A lot of that seems negative, or sad, and I don’t want you to think that’s how I am feeling. I really am feeling like things are heading in a good direction. More than anything, I’m tired and stressed, and sad that the person who is most effective at lowering my stress is on the other side of the river. I am looking forward to seeing what this little town has in store, but right now, I just want to sleep.

Things I Am Not Good At (A Partial List)

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Waiting….
It is 1:57 p.m. and I am waiting for a phone call that will tell me where I am going to live and minister as of the last week of June (less than two months away). In my denomination, we are placed, and though there is a fairly routine schedule on the calendar, the truth is that at any moment, I could receive a call telling me that it is time to move on. This time, I had much more notice than most ministers get. I have known I am moving for months. Waiting was easy when it was so far off. Waiting was easy when I was distracted by the to-do lists. Waiting is NOT easy now, as I sit in my office, emails answered, banking done, unable to distract myself with cleaning due to a leg injury that has me hobbling around like an old lady. Instead, I am alternating between staring at my phone, talking to Brandon, and looking at adoptable dogs on petfinder.com (hey, don’t judge – it’s a helpful coping mechanism, and how I found my current dog, Mrs. Weasley). Writing this, in fact, is an attempt to give myself something to do while I wait.

Hoping….
In this case, I am not sure what to hope for because I cannot seem to divorce my hopes for my new location/ministry from what feels like selfishness: if I hope for something not too far from family and friends, in a ministry that falls easily (or even somewhat easily) into what I perceive my gifts and passions to be, am I putting myself before others? Before God? If I hope for what I want and end up getting something else, have I set myself up for disappointment? Or failure?

Trusting….
I’ve had some rough conversations with people in the last year or so, and I’ve realized recently that I am not as trusting as I used to be. Some of these same people are the very ones who are deciding where to place me. Can I trust them? Depends on the minute, to be honest. Do they trust me? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. Perhaps it depends on the minute with them as well.

It’s more than trusting them, though: I know that it’s about trusting God. I don’t really believe that “God’s will” or “plan” is outlined like an itinerary, as in “God’s plan is for me to live in Bohunk, USA for 3 years, then move to Random City for the next 2,” because frankly, if God had my life planned out that way, I’ve already blown it in all my years of doing what I wanted to do. Instead, I think that “God’s will” or “plan” is for me and Him to remain in a good relationship no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Right now, I trying to trust that no matter where I am, that relationship will still be there. That He’s the constant, and that I am not required/asked/permitted to be the one in charge – He is.

Being….
One of the better-known verses in scripture is “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). I know that having a really, really limited knowledge of and exposure to ancient Hebrew means that I really can’t say a whole lot about what it “means” when the author wrote “raphah,” translated here as “be still.” When I look up the definition, it appears to be more than just being still – it is to relax, to “sink into” the knowledge that God is God. When I combine that with the German concept of geborgenheit (described here by my friend Timothy), there is a sort of calm, restful, anxiety-free existence to which I am called – one that is not at all within my tense nature that craves control. I am not good at just being.

Being gone….
Yesterday, I had a doctor’s appointment, which meant I was in the town where my sister lives (and right next to my other sister). I texted them to see if we could get together, and one sister was able to meet for lunch and the other let me tag along while she went to Home Depot and the grocery store.Then, I went back to her house and played with my youngest nephew, E, who is five. When I got there, I picked him up and he put his arms around me and told me about his day at school. He told me that they learned You Are My Sunshine, and then they made a craft of clouds and sunbeams. I told him about how I used to sing that at naptime every day to his older siblings when they were two. He put his head on my shoulder and was OK to just be there, wrapped around me like a monkey, and I was nearly knocked sideways by my desire to not be gone from him, or my sisters, or the rest of my family. The twins are 12 and the oldest is 16, and my heart just beats differently when I’m far away from them all, and I don’t like it.

Waiting….
It’s now 3:13, and I have gotten the call, told my family and bffs, done what little crying there was to be done (I’m not a crier). I can’t tell you where I’m going. Not until tomorrow. I don’t know who is going to take my place.

Now, it’s a different waiting game – a month and a half of trying to keep my head on straight, get things done, and readying myself for what’s next.

Have I mentioned I’m not very good at this?