Jun 23, 2013

On Flatulence and Judging Others...

While I was out jogging one morning recently I came to the construction site along my route.  I usually run by before anyone arrives to work for the day. However, on this particular day I got a late start, so my normal times got moved about 20 minutes to the right (or left? I can never remember which direction means later), and by the time I got there, several folks were already readying equipment, moving road barriers, and so on.

One of the great things about morning workouts is that they are good for clearing the body of excess, um, things that accumulate overnight.  Bits of soreness, funky little muscle twinges, air (gas), and so on.  Also, while there are many advantages to working out with friends, some things are best experienced solo, and I can never do yoga in a group, because yoga is probably the best ever for clearing the body of excess things.

Bringing me back to my running path, 20 minutes later than normal, while my body is still going through the clearing of the things. I have made a habit of waving or acknowledging anyone I encounter along a jog, regardless of their demeanor or mode of transportation.  I try to vary my method according to how I feel it will be best received.  Stern-looking folks with earbuds get a solemn nod. Moms pushing jogging strollers get a wave and a "good job!" and sometimes even a high-five. And so on.

I actually have a reason for this, and it's not (necessarily) to spread cheer or be super-annoying before 7 am.  I read somewhere that waving is good because it humanizes the other person, and over time they are likely to respond more favorably.  Meaning, if I wave to the bus drivers as they are pulling out for their morning runs, they are more likely to see me as that-friendly-running-lady, rather than one-of-those-annoying-joggers, and not run over me when it all hits the fan.

That said, spreading a little cheer isn't bad either.  We can all use an acknowledgement of our humanity, at the very least.

So of COURSE at the exact moment I was debating when and how to greet the worker, some air decided that it needed to exit my body.  And of COURSE I am working on my core strength to be able to control these exits better, but like many women after having one or several children, my core strength has a long way to go.  So I was jogging past the guy setting out cones, willing myself to make it just a little further because, seriously. While I would love to think I don't give a rip, "Good morning! >toot<" is not good for my public persona.

A couple things happened at once.  First, several cars passed, greatly increasing the background noise, especially in the worker's vicinity, thank God.  Also, I was concentrating so intently on being as quiet as possible in all regards, that before I knew it I had passed the danger zone and was back to solo status.

So then of COURSE Contrary Kerri made an appearance, reminding me how unfriendly and selfish I had been to not wave at the guy, and how he probably now thought I was incredibly standoffish, and probably a snob. I told Contrary Kerri to dial it back one or ten notches, because good grief it was first thing in the morning, and maybe the guy was worried more about his work than about joggers passing by, and oh my goodness, are we this worried about what people think of us while we're trying to hold in toots?

Well. That made me think about how I perceive other people.  Living in the area I do, there is a perception about people's affluence, and friendliness (or lack thereof), and emphasis on appearances. When someone doesn't greet me, or seems preoccupied when I attempt a conversation, it's easy to assume they are being mean, or snobbish, or whatever. But when I put myself in their place, suddenly I can see about 23 other reasons they might not be gazing intently into my eyes, thanking the Lord Himself for this gift of conversation with Skerrib. And the interesting thing is that I'll never know exactly what's going through people's heads when they are talking to me (or not), but the assumptions I make definitely affect how I view the world.  And that makes me want to give people the benefit of the doubt more often. Maybe not always, but usually.

So the next time you are tempted to think bad things about someone for ignoring you or blowing you off, just remember: maybe they were trying desperately not to fart loudly in front of you.  Then you can thank them silently for preventing an awkward situation.

You're welcome...

Jun 17, 2013

Making Manifest Giveaway Winner...

The competition was stiff, but the nifty random number generator came up with number 9, and by my calculations that means Andrea is the winner--congratulations!

So Andrea, please send me an email at skerri_bATyahooDOTcom, and I'll get your mailing info and so on.

Thank you everyone for participating, and if you are so inclined, I hope you will check out Making Manifest and let me know what you think.

But even if you don't, God still loves you. Write that down, kids...

Jun 10, 2013

Making Manifest (Giveaway)...

The truth is, I let myself off the hook of "daily devotionals" years ago.

I remember clearly a conversation I had with one of my youth pastors back at good ol' Grace Community Church.  I was feeling bad, and couldn't quite articulate why or even what it was about, but eventually I launched into some pious self-flagellation--Contrary Kerri was well-developed even then--assuming that my inner angst was probably due to something I wasn't doing enough of--not praying enough, not being consistent about my daily quiet time, and so on. And the pastor interrupted me, saying "Who said you have to do a daily quiet time?"

I was a little dumbstruck, which is in itself a little remarkable.  I still am today, as I search for where or from whom I got some of my silliest, most burdensome ideas about what is required of me to grow and mature when it comes to the things of God.  Occasionally I can point to a particular conversation or sermon that might have pointed me toward a direction of legalism or triggered my neuroses to form some sort of thing, but more often than not I'm left with fuzzy memories and overall performance-based, "sin-management" cultures, rather than concrete words from specific people. Mostly, anyway.

Besides, my point in this story is that in this instance, my pastor communicated freedom to me in that simple interruption.  He didn't downplay the importance of talking with God and reading His words (i.e. the Bible); he just challenged my superstitious idea that I could manage my own life and/or God Himself by checking a little box marked "Quiet Time" each day.

Since then I've gone through lots of seasons and phases regarding Bible-reading and overall spiritual development, including books, book studies (Romans has pretty much everything, and we could probably get rid of everything else, except that would be heresy so I'm NOT recommending that), devotionals (lots of legalistic life-suckers out there), workbooks (some better than others), spiritual gifts inventories (maddening), and a One-Year Bible, which took me about 14 months. And it's true, I have gone through periods where I barely crack the Bible open, if at all.  But I've also been through periods of profound awe and joy, re-discovering scriptures I learned back in Christian school, seeing them in a new and more mature light. And I have never (ever, ever again) let myself be re-imprisoned by that stupid notion that I had to finagle my devotions in just the right way to get God to bless me, or make me feel good.

And by the way, lots of people do quiet times (daily!) without the neuroses I manage to inject into them.  And lots of people can go to Cornerstone or Berean or Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore without feeling either browbeaten or a sense of sarcastic superiority, and can pick from a variety of devotionals and learn something from it without getting all jaded about boiling God himself down to fill-in-the-blank answers.  But one of the cool things about God is that he made all of us so unique, and He can minister to each of us regardless of our personality, season in life, literacy level, or insolent refusal to go along with the status quo (ahem).  He knows our hearts, and he knows how to speak to us in just the right way when even Beth Moore can't, God bless her*.

**Random aside: the Cat Daddy just asked what I was blogging about. I said "Oh, this devotional I'm going thru." He said, "You're going through a devotional?" and I said "Yep" and he said, "I'm sorry." This is how well daily quiet times and prepackaged devotionals are generally received in my household.**

Having said all of the above, when I read this post about a Making Manifest book giveaway, I was immediately hooked.  Then I had a moment of panic, and a talk with myself about not getting my hopes up too high that I would win it.  Then I read someone else's comment that she was ordering the book right then & there and if she won it she would give away her extra copy to someone else.  And I thought "Hey, great idea" and did the same.  And I received the book before the drawing was even complete, which turned out to be just fine since I didn't end up winning it.

I was worried that it might be too artsy-fartsy for me.  The whole point of the book is drawing out one's creative expressions, and I'm sort of creative, but I'm also a whole lot of engineer and literal thinker, so I got a little nervous at the mention of poetry.  I was worried about a lot of things really, which maybe speaks more to the expectations I place on things like devotionals and other things, but in the end even the hopes I cautioned myself against have been surpassed. Which is saying a lot.

And the great thing about Making Manifest is that it's OK with my concerns.  The book's author, Dave Harrity, invests quite a bit of energy quelling worries along the way.  The introduction alone devotes considerable space to mentioning potential fears and hangups with a creativity-based devotional, and calming them with words of comfort, like a gentle pat on the shoulder.  From a book.  If books had gentle, comforting hands.

I've been at it for about a month now and am on approximately Day 10 of the 28-day study. There are several reasons behind this.  First, I find myself not wanting to rush through it--I really want to take my time with the readings and responses, and savor the contemplation time. Second, it turns out sleep really is important to my overall sanity and functioning, so if it is too late on a given night I just scrap it and pick up the next day.  Also, the Littler One needs to stop falling asleep right at dinner time, sleeping for two hours, and then staying up until ungodly (un. godly.) hours of the night.

But here's a first for me--I enjoy and look forward to this devotional so much that I find myself planning my daily time better so I'll have the energy to spend on it each night.  Seriously, people.  I usually think devotions are dumb (not the concept, but most actual devotional thingies), but this one is not dumb.

I think one of the things Making Manifest does well is to gently yet skillfully ease into heart-depths.  Within the first week I had gone from describing myself in a nutshell to exploring my own deepest fears and doubts--the topics that are usually too scary and vulnerable to allow out--to learning about and writing actual poetry to/about God.  I have been pleasantly amazed.  And while at first glance some of the writing exercises may feel awkward for some, they are usually followed by a sentence or two explaining that it's perfectly OK if they feel awkward, along with helpful suggestions for dealing with/re-framing the awkwardness.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is not a Bible study, per se.  Scripture is definitely a part of the devotions, but the approach focuses more on prayer, exploring scripture, and relationship with God through creative means, rather than scholarship and gaining Biblical knowledge.  Not a bad thing by any stretch; just something to be aware of going into it.

All told, even though I'm less than halfway through, I would recommend this devotional to the following people:
  • Creative and/or poetry-types
  • Those who enjoy writing for work or fun
  • Those whose questions are outside the box and/or don't necessarily have clear-cut answers
  • Those who have a toe outside the mainstream or are interested in a different approach to devotions
  • Those in a place where fill-in-the-blank studies aren't cutting the mustard
  • Those who are introspective and like to process life
  • Those who like to cut the chit-chat and dig a little deeper
  • Those willing to take a risk and see what happens
  • Those feeling a little fragile and/or needing a safe place to think things through

You can find more info about the book or order it here.

And guess what? I am loving it so much I'm gonna give away a fresh copy, just because I can. At least I think I can. I guess if I'm violating some sort of law or tradition we'll find out together.

Just leave a comment on this post by 1159 pm EDT this Saturday, June 15.  No pressure to be brilliant unless you want to--"yes please" is sufficient.  I'll pick a winner via random number generator and announce it on Monday June 17.

Good? Good. It's my first-ever giveaway; should be fun...

*I have nothing against Beth Moore.  Zero.  I think she's smart, credible, stylish, and a good speaker, and I bet if I met her in real life we would have a lovely time.  Just not necessarily my, um, cup of tea when it comes to Bible studies.

Jun 6, 2013

A Grand Send-Off...

I get cynical, and too often I use humor and sarcasm to create a crispy shell and hide my feelings. Sometimes it's to hide fears and pain, and other times it's a (misguided) attempt to be cool, but the truth of the matter is that on the inside I'm a big ball of mush.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not all flowery rainbows and pink butterflies or anything, but certain things catch me just the right way and make me break out into a dumb goofy grin. 

Such was the case today, His Highness's last day of kindergarten. I started the day wanting to take photographs of His Highness entering the school as a kindergartener and coming out a first-grader, but he put the kibosh on my whole idea. He actually had the nerve to say "Don't even think about taking my picture, Mom" (he's in an entirely aggravating anti-paparazzi phase). So I didn't get the photos I was hoping for.

The younger two and I spent a whirlwind afternoon running errands (ie, hunting down a nifty pair of aqua-colored shorts I really wanted) and buying groceries, and made it to the school with what would normally have been 10 minutes to spare.  But as we drove into the parking lot, I saw bunches of kids heading for the buses and I thought, "Hmmm, I guess they let out a little early on the last day."

Now usually when I drive over for dismissal, I wait in the (parked) car until the buses leave, so that it's a quick and clear shot over to the doors to pick up His Highness as he exits with what I call the Parade of walkers.  The Parade moves in an orderly fashion toward the crossing guard, which is in the opposite direction of our house, so I have to pick him out of line if I don't want to hike all the way over there and back.

Today however, as the buses cleared I saw the above scene--the entire front curb lined with children and teachers and school staff, waving to the kids on the buses as they pulled away.  If you click the pic to enlarge, you can see on the left the orange signs held up--the media staff spelled out "R-E-A-D" as a reminder for the summer, and there was music playing as everyone waved and, back by the doors, teachers danced.  I assume that more would have been dancing had they not been holding umbrellas and wrangling littles and whatnot, but there you have it.

I got out of the car and waited, as usual, to allow the buses to clear.  They were going slower than normal, allowing everyone to really take in and enjoy this moment of triumph.  And they kept coming, and I thought "Um, how did we get this many more buses than normal?" until it dawned on me that they had done an extra lap around the bus loop. No matter where they started, every kid on every bus had the opportunity to go through that whole line of waving, cheering teachers and kids.  Everyone had the chance to say "Have a good summer!" and "See you next year!" or "Good luck in middle school!" or simply "Good bye!"

Most of the kids crowded on the side toward the curb, but a few stuck their arms out and waved toward me, and I waved back as if I'd just spotted a bus driving by with all my favorite people inside, along with celebrities and maybe Jesus himself, and before I knew it my cheeks hurt because my smile was so wide.  I stood there, in the rain with no umbrella, wondering at the moment. 

I (almost) always enjoyed school, and I loved my teaching years, and I still love most anything school-related.  And while I try to be careful to let His Highness have his own school experiences, I delight in the memories they bring back for me, and I love it when I get the chance to share them with him. 

I do get cynical sometimes about all the friggin' extras.  Parties and treats, and all the dang Oriental Trading Company bits that weasel their way into my home (and within days, my trash can), and this gift and that fundraiser, and collecting these things, signing those papers, and "Mom, we're supposed to wear mixed indigo fibers for National Hug-A-Basket-Weaver Day," and so on.  Half of me loves the care and experiences these kids get, and the other half simultaneously wants to spit from exhaustion. 

But something about this was just right to me.  They did it, every single one.  From the principal to the bus drivers, to the biggest fifth-grader to the littlest kindergartener--everyone had reason to celebrate a job well done, and what better way to congratulate each other than this?  No money spent, or trinkets handed out, or junk food wolfed down (that came after we got home). Just this year's school family, all together one last time for a grand send-off.   

Soon enough the buses pulled out of the lot and onto their routes.  I grabbed His Highness and got to thank his teacher one last time for all her work.  I got to yell a thank-you to the principal (hopefully the assistant principal didn't feel excluded, but it would've been too awkward to try and yell at them both).  And for this time, we got to say "See you next year." 

And tomorrow we will be onto summery things.  There are swimming lessons to take, and the library to visit, and summer "homework," which we'll probably do for about a week before we throw our hands up and cave to the summer regression.  But for today, he had an important lesson in feeling it all--the excitement and the sadness and all the other parts of leaving well. 

Well done, Mill Run.  Well done, indeed...

Jun 2, 2013

Nipples Crosses a Line...

We left off in the last post with Nipples having reached a baseline level of notoriety in our community. After a minor kerfuffle, he had grown familiar with the area and had been exposed to the local religious institutions and veterinary facilities.  If I could impart wisdom to creatures smaller than myself, I'd have shown him the prudence and comfort of his state in life in that exact moment.  I'd have encouraged him to press the pause button ever so slightly--not on his adventuresome spirit or killer instincts, but simply on that aspect of him that pushes the envelope of "personal boundaries" and particularly "assuming one is human and/or entitled to go all the same places as humans."

I don't know that I've adequately explained the lay of the land around our neighborhood.  Our community has a thing about appreciating and preserving nature. And I don't mean that the residents all happen to do those things (although doubtless many do); I mean the planners or HOA or whomever made it a formal and conscious theme of the community to appreciate and preserve nature. Dispersed among our neighborhoods are several little habitats and preserves where one can find an uncanny variety of wildlife.  In addition we live directly across the street from a dedicated Nature Center, where people can visit a sampling of the local wildlife (including a resident corn snake, which was not viewable when I visited because it was getting ready to shed its skin and needed solitude. Which I was fine with), and also pick up their pool passes. Surrounding the Nature Center are a decorative pond, wooded area complete with a creek, and a small grasslands. In this same area are the tennis courts and playground, all of which provide a convenient source of outdoor recreation to anyone who visits. As the Cat Daddy says, it is Nipples's own personal Shangri-la.

All of this backs up directly to the "outdoor classroom" portion of the school grounds, so if you can envision this, you can perhaps understand that as far as Nipples is concerned, the elementary school happens to occupy the northwest district of Shangri-la.

After the first public school encounter, we had a peaceful time of maybe a week or two.  Nipples turned up during recess, the teachers shooed the kids away from the cat, and all was well.  One day while walking His Highness to kindergarten (with the younger two in tow), we happened to catch Nipples at the right time and he tagged along. We were our own, personal parade.

Once we were on the school grounds, Nipples veered off toward the playground and tennis courts, and I didn't think much beyond "Perhaps he has business to attend to over by the Nature Center."  Enough of the other parents and kids had seen him that we had a few "Oh, that's your cat!" conversations, but not much else.  The afternoon passed uneventfully, and soon the Littler One, Tiny E, and I headed back to school for the end of the day pick-up.

Now, at school dismissal there are kids and teachers everywhere. Going here, going there, catching the bus, directing cars, and so on.  It is controlled, but it is busy.  As we walked onto the grounds, we heard more commotion than usual, and cries of "There's the cat!" "It's Nipples!" "The cat's going into the school!" etc.

That's right. The cat was trying to go through the big, wide-open, green doors leading inside the school.

And here's where I sighed a little on the inside.  Because while it was hilarious to me, I knew that it was a logistical nightmare to those in charge of keeping an orderly dismissal, and trying to protect individuals with cat allergies, and probably anyone else who might take offense to a certain curious kitty wondering where his oldest kid went every afternoon. I went over to talk with some of the staff members, a little worried about what sort of tones I might encounter.  But overall the conversation was pleasant, if terse.  "Yes, I will try to shoo him away from the doors,"  "Yes, I will try to get him to come home with me," and my personal favorite (with escalating intensity), "I understand your concern, but I really need to pick up my kid BEFORE I WORRY ABOUT THE CAT."

I grabbed His Highness before he headed off away from the school (and in the opposite direction of our home) with the rest of the walkers, and I shooed the cat away from the building enough that he headed down a storm drain to wait out the excitement, and we all headed home while I thought about ways to alleviate the situation. While every so often there are stories of cute little animals becoming unofficial school mascots/companions--and while I considered the possibility that Nipples was in fact auditioning for a role portraying the school's resident Mountain Lion--the non-cat-person portion of the staff had already shown that this would not be like the heartwarming circumstances I've read about.  I sent a quick email to one of the administrators, and as a gesture of goodwill offered to provide spray bottles as a deterrent to any future attempts on Nipples's part to enter the school.

The next morning the phone rang.  And I saw the school's number. And I sighed a little.

"Hi Skerrib, this is the principal."


"Don't worry, I'm not calling about anything bad."

(Secretly thinking, 'it's about the cat, isn't it') "OK..."

"I'm calling to talk about your cat..."

And here is where I have to be clear that the principal was and continues to be very cool about the whole thing. Completely understanding, and even appreciative of Nipples's forthrightness, I got the feeling that if he hadn't been busy running a school he would have let me talk his ear off about my cat. Because Nipples remains awesome, and there's very little to dispute about that.  On the other hand, the principal also shared about some of the heartburn as a result of the cat: having to comfort little girls who started to cry upon seeing him disappear down the storm drains, convinced that the kitty was gone forever, fending off the more uptight parents who really wanted him to call Animal Control and be done with it, and so on. It was apparent that the cat had crossed over from providing amusement to being truly disruptive to the educational environment.

I again offered to provide spray bottles, but he didn't seem too keen on that idea. He said, "I'm not even sure how to ask this, or how you would do it, but if you could somehow keep him at home during school hours, my problem would go away completely." I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it either, but I assured the principal I would indeed try my best to keep the cat in during the school day, and I thanked him for not contacting Animal Control, and we ended the conversation on a positive and pleasant note. 

After talking with the principal, I went to have a stern talk with Nipples, who it turns out wasn't home at the time.  So I waited until the next time he wandered in, and gave him a piece of my mind for getting into so much mischief ("I got a call from the principal, Nipples").  I told him as a consequence of his actions, I was forced to enact a Kitty Curfew, and while he could still come and go in the evening and on weekends, he would now be expected to stay in during the school day. 

Less than impressed, he looked up at me from his food with slightly narrowed eyes, licked his lips, and immediately went back to eating...