Navigating the Crowd

I have always been fascinated by how things move. Even as a young child I was one of those who played on the beach by building dams and waterways in the sand, watching the different gullies being etched away, detecting the ebb and flow of the tides, following the eddies in the lee of the jetties, trying to predict how it would all flow together. And sure, this is part of my greater love of water, but it has also deeply informed how I watch other things move. Especially crowds. 

I don’t know exactly when I started, but by the time I was hitting puberty, I knew how crowds worked. I can predict their movement. I am easily aggravated when I know the best way to do something and the designers clearly do not. (Don’t get me started on bathroom design…) Probably the first time I remember really being aware of crowd disfunction was at a women’s conference and all of us were trying to get to the exit, and none of us were moving. Everyone was putting themselves first and so keeping anyone around them from going where they needed to go. (Is it irony that this was a Christian conference? I’m thinking so. We have so much to learn.) 

Since then, I’ve watched crowds at theme parks and ball fields, traffic patterns on hi-ways and parking snafus, people who are oblivious in conferences and airports, and the thousand other places I’ve been since. I get annoyed at people who don’t understand that they shouldn’t block an entrance, but simultaneously recognize that I have been thinking about the crowd around me while the individuals in the crowd are concerned with other things. On some level I know that I am over-thinking how the crowd moves, but I also want each individual in the crowd to know the best way for the crowd itself to move. I don’t believe that is ever going to happen. I’m not even sure it should. 

When I was in Tokyo my sister informed me that the cultural pedestrian right of way is passing people on the right (always take the left side of the sidewalk when facing oncoming walkers). I religiously adhered to this in the same way that I always take the right here in the United States. Sometimes I would forget, and it would cause a pause between the two of us. But, because I was a visitor in a new culture, I always corrected to fit the culture norm. I consider it one of the most important things about travel, observing and respecting the culture of those with whom you walk, both metaphorically and literally. Don’t walk into people seems like something that shouldn’t have to be said, but I am constantly surprised of the number of times this feels like a relevant reminder. 

When I watch crowds, it is always a dynamic observation. I know how to interpret these people in each individual place, and each group can move slightly differently depending on whether they are hungry, scared, joyful, tired, friendly, cautious, or anxious. Interpreting on the move can have advantages, but it also means that sometimes I leave people behind. I’m learning how not to leave people behind, but instead lead those with me so that we all get to the same place at the same time, together. It’s taken me over thirty years, but I have learned that getting somewhere together, with your people with you, is more important than getting there first. It is all about learning how to navigate the crowd. 

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I Love You

I love you. 

We might not have met yet, but. 

I love you.

I love you because you are made in the image of God. 

God knit you together in the womb of your mother and loved you and said you were very good. Supremely good. God loves you and I am working on learning from God. 

And so, I love you.

God says you are worthy of love. God says you are worthy of friendship and welcome and grace. It is part of your intrinsic being, no matter what you do or say. God loves you and wants you to share that love with those around you, so that you can experience even more the way that God loves you. And I want to keep learning about how God loves. 

As I learn, I love you. 

God is the only one who is perfect. God is the one who gave a perfect son to show us how love can be perfected in life here on earth, and I am working each day to be made perfect in love. I don’t expect to get it right today, tomorrow, or next year, but that doesn’t give me a reason not to work at it right now. I’m trying to love the way God loves. 

Loved, I love you.

If we are strangers, if we have never had the chance to meet and share around a table and celebrate that God loves us the way we are, I hope and pray you would give me a chance to show you how much God loves you by loving you in my own imperfect way. I won’t always get it right. I will make mistakes. I have scars and wounds and memories of times when I didn’t feel loved. 

But, or even because of these things… 

I will love you. 

Pi(e) Day

I have a grand total of two kinds of pie that I like. (I will allow that there may be others that I have yet to try, but two so far.) They are Key lime pie and my chocolate chip pie.

I am always tempted by Key lime pie on a menu, even though I rarely order it. My favorite experiment last spring was making little Key lime pies in tiny mason jars to take out on our picnic for Easter lunch. I think it is the clear cool tang of the lime mixed with the smoothness of the cream that keeps drawing me back. I’m going to have to make them again.

But the pie that has been part of my cooking repertoire since I started cooking is my chocolate chip pie. I must have gotten the recipe from momma from somewhere, but twenty-three years later I have no clue where. I’ve claimed it as my own, and it continues to be my best pie.

I remember making it for the first time for a covered dish at the Open Door, where dad worked in Columbus. I made it, we brought it, and then when we went through the line, we couldn’t find it anywhere. One of the women who was preparing the dishes for people to have them took one look after cutting into the deliciousness, and moved it to the kitchen so the servers could have some.

The second memory I have with it was when I made it for a dessert cooking competition in Woodbine, and I won. The reason I was given is that the judge hates walnuts, but there are walnuts in my pie, and he loved it. I won an apron for my feat. (I don’t win many things, so winning this was special. One of my few happy memories at Woodbine.)

I know I made it a few more times, because I had made it often enough to memorize the recipe by the time I was in Peace Corps. The United States embassy families opened their homes to all the Peace Corps Volunteers to celebrate Thanksgiving. And my host asked me if I wanted anything special. I wanted my pie, so they let me make it, buying fabulous chunk chocolate and letting me have free reign. The family’s Kenyan cook made a homemade piecrust for me to use, and we dined on delicious memories for dinner. (He also made a pecan pie, and it remains to be the best pecan pie I’ve ever eaten, better than any southern cook I’ve ever had, it was more like candied pecans in a crust than anything else.)

I make the pie for anyone who loves chocolate and it does not disappoint. It’s rich. It’s decadent. It’s good with vanilla ice cream. And, it is good both warm and at room temperature (which really does make it perfect to take for a covered dish). And, now that I’ve altered my diet, it is just as good vegan.

I’d love to make it for you, if you come to visit. Just let me know so I can make sure I have everything I need. And, if it is a while until I see you again, you can make it at home:

(Award Winning) Chocolate Chip Pie

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs (or 2 T ground flax mixed with 6 T water)

1/2 c (1 stick) melted butter (or earth balance)

1 t vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips (vegan, if available)

1 cup chopped walnuts

9″ deep dish pie crust

Mix flour and sugar. Blend in eggs. Add butter and beat until creamy. Add in vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour in pie crust and bake at 325 F for 60 minutes until set. Cool on rack and serve with vanilla ice cream if desired. (And why wouldn’t you?)

the Pie
My Simple Pie (gosh, that’s an old picture, but, you get the gist)

Postscript: Upon further reflection, I can come up with at least one other pie that I like, my dark chocolate frozen silk pie. But. No whipped pies. No meringue. No fruit pies. No cobbler. Apple crisp is ok, but only the way I make it. Normal pecan pie loses out because I don’t like the gel syrup filling. Pumpkin pie is a no because: pumpkin. Bake me a cake instead.

Does Spiritual Growth for Parents Pause While Kids Grow?

TL;DR: I invite you and your kids to come on a retreat.

Roar and I have gone to church twice now. It’s a mostly new experience, Rebel was in the nursery for the first year while I was working. Also, what will surprise no parent of more than two children: my two girls are very different. Roar roars. She can roar so loudly my eardrums rattle. (I’ve started facing her towards my bad ear when she cries, so my good ear doesn’t go bad.) She doesn’t always roar, most of the time she’s just making baby noises and trying out her smiles. Even though she’s got lungs to match the angels, I keep her in worship with me. (There’s no nursery, but, she’d stay with me anyway.)

I keep her in worship because I believe it is never too early to let children know they are loved by God. The community reflects God’s love especially when it welcomes children who act like children. Churches are richer when there’s a kid or two or seventeen present. If Roar starts roaring, I do get up and go change her diaper in another room, but then I stand in the back and rock her. As I was rocking her on Sunday, I got smiles from those around me who heard her cooing, they know the value of seeing the face of God reflected in a child.

I am grateful for spaces where I feel welcome to be present with my small children. There seem to be far too many spaces in our culture where kids should be allowed, but aren’t welcomed. It’s kept me more isolated than I need to be. (So is the fact that simply leaving the house can be a production.)

Even in the midst of constantly caring for my two young children, I seek to grow spiritually. I’m going to turn 35 this week, and I don’t want to wait until after I’m 40 to grow deeper in my spiritual development. So I want a space for spiritual reflection and growth with babies welcome. I’m going to lead this retreat. We will create space for messy holiness. The Spirit can speak in many places including both in silence and the squeals of the littlest child.

We will partner together so each participant can have a time of silence and solitude each day (a minimum of half an hour a day), but most of the time we will gather together with our babies and learn together. If you don’t have children, you are also welcome, just know there will be kids there, too.

Spiritual growth doesn’t have to wait until you can be away from your kids for two days. You don’t have to spend an hour a day in your morning quiet time to grow spiritually. Children learn from their parents, a good way to teach them is to show you value their presence even while you retreat.

I’ve not encountered this idea before. Who wants to pilot it with me?

Perfect Happiness

I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect happiness. There are times when I am incredibly happy and times when I am nearly completely happy and times when I am perfectly content. But I don’t think I strive for perfection in happiness. If only so that I am not evaluating the level of my happiness. When I am happy, I am happy.

This morning, my daughter came and snuggled with us in our bed in the early morning, cuddling cozy between the covers, one of the last few times that it will be just the three of us. It was a happy moment. Part of what made it all the more sweet is that it was fleeting. Soon it will not be possible to have a moment like that, with just the three of us, because there will be four of us. (Also, we had to change the sheets afterwards, because she left us a “gift…” which takes away from the perfection, but does not detract from the sweetness of the moment in the slightest.) It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

I suppose that in my happiness I do have levels of closer and further to complete, but happiness doesn’t really seem to be something that should fit into a category of perfection. I quibble with the idea of evaluating levels of happiness.

Things, times, and situations that make me happy: my daughter’s giggles, hiccups in utero, early morning solitary cups of coffee, fresh sheets on my bed, sunrises at the ocean, weather perfect for wearing my silk skirts, new music that I can instantly sing along to, Rhapsody in Blue, snuggles and kisses, a good search in finding the answers to the three questions we ask after watching a movie, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, good walks, snow days, new recipes, happy lights, haircuts, naps, figuring out new spaces, learning a new town, finding new and old friends, ice cream, and Santa’s Favorites.

I am still learning how to be happy and simply rest in it. Perhaps in ten or twenty years, I will be able to tell you what perfect happiness looks like for me, but probably not. What makes happiness good for me is that it doesn’t have to be complete to be enjoyed. Maybe that’s what makes it perfect.