18 August 2017

But isn't that dangerous?

When talking with some friends about actions to do in response to the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I mentioned that I'd like to participate in more rallies - at least partially because it was something I could do where I could take Lydia with me.

After mentioning that I'd take Lydia to a protest/rally, the response I received was "but isn't that dangerous?" And my thoughts were no, not really. This is Lansing, after all, and I've been to a few demonstrations/rallies here. But I expect people would say the same thing about Charlottesville, and multiple people were seriously harmed there, so participating in a (counter)protest does involve some risk.And yet.
Every time I want to go somewhere I put myself (and Lydia) into our car. Statistically speaking, this is by far the most dangerous activity that we can participate in. But I still do it - almost daily - because I want and need to get around. And so I calculate that the danger is worth the risk.
How much more should the potential danger of participating in an event that speaks against hatred of others be worth the risk? Especially when Lydia's charming smile also speaks volumes about joy and acceptance.

17 August 2017

But i do still want my old life back

I wrote this about a month ago, so my sentiments have changed somewhat. The challenge now is to figure out how to spend good time with her while also spending enough quality time working. 

As much as I love our little girl and am deeply thankful for the joy she brings into our lives, I do still kind of want my old life back. I have found it hard that so much of my life - time, plans, activities - has revolved around her. I am thankful to say that it has become a little less hard with time. I've gotten a bit more used to our daughter, I'm getting a decent amount of sleep, and she is taking less time to breastfeed: so my time is spent doing more than breastfeeding and helping her or me sleep. I am also learning how wonderful and good it is - for Matthijs, our daughter, and me - when I sometimes hand over care of her to Matthijs. I am thus slowly regaining some freedom and the sense that I have a bit more control over my life, which has been very helpful in making me feel less overwhelmed with being a mom.

At the same time, it's been good to hear others who also express the challenges of motherhood. A wonderful book I've been reading, Spirituality in the Mother Zone by Trudelle Thomas, expresses the complicated reality of becoming a mom, including how hard it is to be honest about it:
"While it's acceptable to talk about the intense love of new motherhood, mothers are often reluctant to mention the 'darker' emotions that are often just as powerful. They may complain, even joke, about outward difficulties like hours of labor, sore episiotomy stitches, and sleepless nights, but few will speak candidly of the confusion, rage, and grief that may come with the territory of new motherhood and last far longer.
No religious initiation is any more intense than the deprivations new mothers face: interrupted sleep; seeing your once orderly home strewn with receiving blankets and dirty dishes; the vigilance of trying to understand a baby's unfamiliar cries; often not being able to eat, dress, shower, or even use the bathroom at will [for me it was not being able to go to sleep when I wanted or needed]; suddenly having to learn all the practical skills of breastfeeding, dressing, bathing, and attending to the medical needs of a helpless human being.
Even amidst the joys, it is a painful time of surrendering to a new way of life, of being stripped of the familiar." (page 33)
As much as I still sometimes chafe about how this small human has control of my life, the stripping of my life that she talks about has also at times been good for me, as it put things in perspective. For example, the times when I am not responsible for her make me more motivated to do the things I can't do when I'm with her - in this way her presence and absence is teaching me more about giving up myself, including the self that wants to procrastinate and wait until I'm in the right mood to do something.

As for wanting my old life back, I'm getting used to life with Lydia so that sentiment is decreasing, although I do still miss the freedom to plan and do things when I want to - and I miss being able to bike. Thankfully the bike problem is being resolved, as I've finally brought it in to the bike shop to get fixed.

22 July 2017

But i didn't do anything

One of the most striking moments of my pregnancy was hearing at the twenty week ultrasound that our daughter was healthy and well formed. While these are the words that one does hope and even expect to hear, it felt a bit surreal. I hadn't really done anything, so how could all be well? Sure, I had taken my vitamins, eaten fairly healthy and not had alcohol, but that was it. So many people long for children and greet pregnancy with deep joy and thankfulness for the gift from God growing in the womb. I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings about how this small person growing inside me would change our lives. My prayers surrounding the baby were not about her and her health but about us: prayers that I might not offend others by my lack of enthusiasm about babies, prayers that we as parents would have the strength and wisdom to welcome this small child and a prayer that I might greet her eventual arrival with joy (thankfully, God answered most of these prayers).

Those words that our daughter was healthy and well helped me understand grace a little bit better. Because even though I know in my head that I have done nothing to make me deserve salvation, there haven't been that many moments in my life where I've felt that awe of 'how can this be true when I don't deserve it?' Salvation and grace have been something I've grown up with and accepted with deep thankfulness but have rarely been startled by. Somehow this moment of being taken back by our daughter's well-being - how, without us doing anything, this small person was healthy and growing well inside me - allowed me to be surprised by how much God had done form me (and was continuing to work in my life) despite how little I have done and can do.

10 July 2017

This small person God gave us

I'm not sure how I feel about being a Mom. I do know, though, that I love the small person God has given us to take care of. And for that I'm thankful.

We've been gifted with a cheerful little girl, and it's a great joy to watch her smile at me and others and begin to interact with the world around her.

03 June 2017

Learning to be an academic

An article on Inside Higher Education, "The Confessions - and Confusions - of a First-Generation Scholar," helped me reflect on my own academic journey.

I would categorize the family I grew up in to be very much in the "not academic" category. We were down-to-earth blue collar folks, a family who worked hard simply to make ends meet. We had few books in the house, and the fact that I wanted to read all the time was seen as strange. Most of those I went to school with were also children of blue-collar types, and I learned to hide my high grades from classmates because it would only ruin my already disastrous social standing.

Going to college and then Seminary introduced me to families + situations that were vastly different, and there was a phase when I was jealous of other people's families because I seemed not to have fit so well into mine. I am thankful that phase has long since passed, and even though I sometimes wish I could carry on a coherent conversation with Matthijs about classical music, I am deeply grateful for my family, especially the love of laughter and life skills that they taught me (and continue to teach me, such as buying a house and taking care of a baby).

I have sometimes beaten myself up that I haven't already finished my PhD: it shouldn't be taking so long since I'm smart enough and lots of other people finish earlier. I don't think it ever occurred to me to see a correlation between my non-academic family and my current academic progress (or why, at forty, I am not currently a tenured professor somewhere). Yet, this article argues that there is a correlation, which then also helps me extend a bit more grace to myself and my (lack of) accomplishments in this area.

One section that especially stood out to me is Herb Childress's description of his own academic progress:
"I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 1989, at the age of 31. Had I come from a college family, I’d have finished my Ph.D. by the time I was 31. Had I come from an academic family, I’d have had half a chance of being tenured at 31."
It is those words that gave me the sense that perhaps my failure to complete my PhD before now was not simply about incompetence on my part. Perhaps more played a role, including the possibility that I had brought with me to the academy the sense that I did not belong - a sense that would only have been compounded by being a female in a predominantly male field and studying at a foreign university. 

Childress's words regarding how first generation scholars often do not fit well either in their home community or their academic community also resonated with me:
Every first-generation scholar becomes the butt of jokes about not knowing how to do some task like replace a toilet gasket or stack firewood, how to make a good pie crust or a tortilla, because our labor doesn’t really look like labor.. . .
As with any immigrant community, naturalized scholars are never quite welcome in their new homeland, either. We study the habits, master the vocabulary, serve on yet another committee. .  . We take nothing for granted; we always think our cover will be blown, our ruse revealed, our passport revoked. My first-generation colleagues tell me that they can never allow themselves to be seen as “that farm girl,” the former truck driver or warehouseman, pretending to be scholars like little children wearing their parents’ shoes. We master the camouflage that keeps us hidden and safe. We smooth out our jarring regional accents, stop telling jokes, take up skiing rather than snowmobiling. We are double agents."
The words also make me realize that it is perhaps not so strange that I've found a fit within campus ministry. Not only do those words above describe the unease of first generation academics, they also can be applied to some of the unease that Christians feel when they go into the academic community - or when academics become part of local Christian churches. 

31 May 2017

Learning to work with men

Billy Graham is known for his rule not to ever be alone with a woman who is not his wife. Vice-president (US) Pence came up in the news awhile ago, as he had adapted a variation of it.

As much as I can admire the intent behind the rule (to limit falling into sexual sin), it's not a rule I condone or appreciate as a female who is both a pastor and struggling biblical scholar. Most of the people in my field and my line of work are male, especially the ones having more power and authority. If I'd had to hold to this rule - or had my many mentors along the way who'd held to it - I would never be where I am now, having been challenged and encouraged by so many men up to this point.

Tish Harrison Warren, in an article at the Well puts it better than I could:
"I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for meeting with me — some of you years ago, some of you last week — to disciple me, befriend me, love me, and honor me as a fellow follower of Christ and as a human being."
She goes on to describe the specific situations and persons who had encouraged and honoured her. My list would be similar, so I will simply say 'Amen' to what she has said, including her final words that point out the sexism that this rule perpetuates:
"Thank you for seeing me as someone worthy of love and investment, and not simply as a temptation to avoid. Mostly, I thank you for seeing me as a human being, God’s image bearer, who, like you, needs Jesus and pastors and friends and good conversation over coffee.Your impact on my life is clear to me each and every day. And I thank God for you."

29 May 2017

Why I bike

I'm going through old drafts, editing and posting them. I haven't been biking lately since my bike is malfunctioning (and having a baby is not so conducive to biking), but editing these words remind me of why I miss biking.

In Amsterdam I biked because it was the fastest, most efficient way to get most places. In Lansing, though, almost everything is faster and easier with a car. Yet, Matthijs and I both choose to bike here. We do it because it's cheaper - parking on Michigan State's campus is expensive, as is car insurance and upkeep for a second car. Biking also means that I don't have to deal with many of the annoyances of rush-hour traffic or finding parking on campus. And it's a great means for me to get exercise.

As much as those are all good reasons, what I like most about biking here is how it allows me to get to know my neighbours and people around me. Because I bike by often enough, I know the house down the street with numerous cats: one is almost always sitting on the porch (I've also bumped into a raccoon near there). I can tell you when the water level has risen so high that it crosses the River Trail near Kalamazoo Street. I've greeted numerous people on their porches or walking or biking (many people will smile or say hi). I've even bumped into some of Campus Edge's grad students along my route and enjoyed a short conversation to catch up on how things are. I expect yelling hello to a neighbour's husband as I biked by after dark while he was putting out his garbage was less appreciated, but that, too, creates memories and appreciation of my neighbourhood.

Hopefully I'll be back on my bike soon, but for the next little while, I will have to make do with learning to know and love the neighbourhood more through walking and other means (The Banner magazine has a good article about hospitable neighbourhoods that I can use as food for thought). And my enthusiasm for learning to know the neighbouurhood better has been increased by the wonderful discovery that people are even more apt to greet me when I'm pushing a baby buggy.