Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Girls

The View From the Pier

La Vita

The City

The Pizza

The Windy City
Last Friday, that alias belonged to Dallas, not Chicago. High winds caused my flight a two-hour delay, delivering me to O'Hare ten minutes before Saturday. I eventually arrived at the Ramada, waking up my pal San, by 12:40 a.m. A short sleep later, and we were up and moving for our big day in the real Windy City (Sandi tells me it's named thus for its gossip, not weather, but I think it could go either way--we were buffetted around all day by some brisk gusts).

San had an all-day board meeting, but I had a date with an old friend from my younger days in Baton Rouge. Sonya (nee Ragusa) Raymond met me at the door with a big hug and a ride to a local bistro for coffee. I mean, breakfast. No, really, it was the coffee I was most desperate for, but the waffle was good, too. We caught up on family news, showed pictures, and just talked for hours. After coffee, she drove me to "the city"--downtown Chicago--and proceeded to play tour guide. The only time we got out of the car was at Moody Bible Institute, where we briefly crashed a Kay Arthur convention.
The Magnificent Mile, Sears Tower, Hancock Building (see at right) Navy Pier, a triple-decker McDonalds, Soldier Field, the Chicago River...Sonya gave a running commentary these and many more sights unique to the Chicago area. She's been there only four years, but it was easy to see how much she loves the city and all its opportunities for play and adventure. No surprise there, if you know Sonya.

By noon, we were hungry. She called her husband and asked him to order a pizza, which we picked up on our way back to their "Near West" suburb of Berwyn. Giordano's pizza pie...I thought I was Italian, but this pizza put me to shame. One slice, or wedge, was more than I could handle. Wow!

Sonya and Matt live in a Sears bungalow, so called because back in the 1930s these homes--plans, bricks, wood, etc--were literally bought at Sears. While the homes have a similar pattern to them, they are more cozy, old-fashioned (obviously), and inviting than the cookie-cutter homes we find in North Dallas. Theirs is a "baby bungalow" because it is smaller than the typical large-family sized ones. The attic was converted into a bedroom to make it a 1 1/2 story house (with a furnished basement as well). Sonya and Matt have been remodeling and redecorating since they bought it a year or two ago, and it looks wonderful.

After lunch, I napped while they ran an errand. By 3, Sonya had brewed up some Community coffee, a Louisiana memory we couldn't resist. By 4 we were headed back to the city to spend some time at the Navy Pier. Then San called to say her meeting was over, so we swung by to get her. The rest of the evening was divine. Check out San's blog for her account of that night--she has a way with words.

In terms of time, transportation, and food, Sonya's generosity humbled me. She insisted on getting the check for breakfast, lunch, and the parking garage (no measly $5 there...we're talking $22 for what turned out to be just over an hour). She changed her plans for the day when I first told her I would be coming to visit. She drove for miles without complaint--yes, even cheerfully. She also apparently married a guy with a similar outlook on life, because Matt wouldn't let us even see the charge account for dinner.

Dinner! Oh yes, the highlight of the day. After a short and sweet visit to the Navy Pier at sunset (beautiful!), we endured the logjam in the parking garage (complete with attendants directing traffic), sped out of the city on Lower Wacker (love that name), and back to Berwyn to pick up Matt. They then took us to Little Italy. You don't have to be a Ragusa or Maranto by birth to appreciate La Vita, a charming yet elegant restaurant that combines Italian tradition with sophisticated contemporary dining and decor.

We started with Capesante Alla Griglia (grilled sea scallops served over asparagus, topped with gorgonzola cheese & crispy onion), followed by Insalata Gorgonzola (mixed greens tossed in raspberry vinaigrette with more gorgonzola, apple slices & toasted almonds), after which I still had room for a small helping of my main course, Rigatoni con Salsiccia (rigatoni noodles with with crumbled Italian sausage, mushrooms, & parmesan cheese). Matt shared a bottle of chardonnay from the Napa Valley, as we asked them to tell their love story. I always enjoy hearing a couple tell the same story from two points of view. I was tickled to realize that Sonya has met her match in Matt. He "handles" her very well. We finished the evening by splitting a chocolate-raspberry dessert.

The day couldn't have been more pleasant, more satisfying, to me. The best part? Having Sonya and Sandi meet. Sonya, for most of my late teens and early 20s, had been a spiritual mentor and friend. She shared in many of my Pine Cove experiences, my college days at The Chapel where we had/have several mutual friends and memories, as well as home Bible studies with her family and others. She encouraged me to tackle leadership positions and to persevere in my biblical faith. She provided a wonderful example of friendship and loyalty. I moved away to Dallas, she eventually moved to Chicago, but we've always kept in touch.

So I was delighted for her to meet Sandi, who unknowingly followed in her steps as an influence in my life. Sandi, my writing and spiritual mentor, a bridesmaid in my wedding, godmother of my boys...a dear friend with whom I have great fun and meaningful fellowship. When another friend, who happens to know both Sonya and Sandi, saw our picture on the Navy Pier, she wrote this to me: "I get the warmest, fuzziest spot in my heart when I see people I love get connected with other people I love. It's like heaven is gonna be!"

I couldn't have said it better!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Clear Vision

Stolen from the web site of Katy McKenna, a friend of a friend of a friend whom I met via her blog, this very cool quote:

“Coolness might help in your negotiation with people through the world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on.”
-- Bono (who knows all about cool shades)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Active Duty

Say a prayer (or two or three) for my friend Erin and her husband, Brian. Brian Anderson is an Air Force officer on his way to the Middle East for a two-month stint of active duty. Brian can tell us that he is not going to Iraq, but otherwise he is unable to disclose his destination. He left yesterday, a few days before his son Austin's 5th birthday. He is set to return on Christmas Eve, the day before his daughter Sara's 7th birthday. However, knowing the "open-ended" nature of such deployments, they do not assume he'll return on schedule. In an email to friends Erin requested specific prayer for the following:

Pray for safe travel. Brian will head overseas on Saturday.
Pray that Brian will have regular access to the web and e-mail while he is away.
Pray that I will stay FULL of energy and FULL of God's grace while being a "single" parent. (Days 47-60 can get a bit tricky...)
Pray for CHEERFUL holidays in spite of Dad's absence.
Pray for a smooth transition as the kids adjust to life without Dad. Sara is taking this deployment especially hard.

Hopefully, I will get a specific address and info on how to send care packages to him, and if so, I'll share that in a future post. Thanks for your prayers and support.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not In me

The last couple of weeks have found me in thinking mode. It's kind of oppressive, and I'm not a melancholy person. Life is going well right now. My days are mostly filled with Mommy activities--discipline and diapers, food and fun. I also work from home as a grader for two online graduate classes. I'm working on a book with a team of writers, with a deadline far away. I try to keep the house clean since we are trying to sell it. I'm dealing with an irritating case of hives, but it's not painful, just...irritating. My relationships are good. Probably the most painful thing going on there is worrying about my mom and working through the occasional spells of sadness at losing my step-father last spring. Nothing too huge is going on, just life mostly normal.

So what's going on in my head? I tried to verbalize it to a friend and could only come up with age old truths that were recently incarnated in my life. My husband had jury duty last week. He came home shaking his head at the number of people in his jury pool who had been directly affected by a violent crime. More than half of the 60 people there. It got us thinking about how our family is not "normal." Not the way most of the world works. Nothing like that has touched us directly.

Around that same time, I read a blog article titled "The Mystery of Sexual Orientation" in which the author shared her youthful struggle with attraction to girls and how Christ delivered her from that struggle and deep depression. She's been married (to a man) for many years now, yet because of her past she has a deep love for the gay community and even works among them as editor of Dallas's alternative magazine. This article, published on that magazine's blog, was beautifully written. I highly recommend it. But be warned--the comments it elicited range from the supportive to the vitriolic. Never have I read such hateful responses, such blind rage that someone dare consider homosexuality to be wrong. The author had to know that her words would provoke many, and did they ever!

Many of the responses were politely supportive of the gay lifestyle and sympathetic to the author's plight. Some were firmly convinced the author lived in denial, while others encouraged her to press on. But there were those that spewed evil--heavy sarcasm mocking her God, her faith in Him, the Bible she follows, her choice to remain obedient to Him. It was sometimes hard to read. It hit me like a slap in the face, for they mock my God, too.

So those age-old truths are these: there is darkness in this world, and by God's grace I live in the light. Hence my unfamiliarity with such people, such violence and hate. I know about them but rarely experience them personally. And yet--and here's what's really bothering me--I am called to let my light shine before people, so that they may see my good works and praise my Father in heaven. I'm not called to hide in my little bubble of Christian friends and family, never reaching out or even exposing myself to those who don't know God. I know that truth.

But I'm here with my kids, tied down as it were to the house most of the time, with my hand in various projects that do serve God. At this time, I seem to serve other believers, whether guiding students through class work or providing a resource for church leaders or leading a Bible study for other moms. And hey, mostly I'm called to raise up my kids so that they will also come to love and put their trust in Jesus. That's a full-time job!

But I wonder if I can't break out of this sorority sometime. Meet people who don't love Jesus, get to be friends with them. Remember why I love Jesus and why he is the only hope for any of us and maybe be able to communicate that to someone who doesn't already have the answers.

A song came on tonight that encouraged me to remember that it's not about me :) Even if and when I do find a place to serve the "world" I won't be doing anything great for God. He doesn't need me, but He wants me. And that lightens my heart.

If You ask me to leap out of my boat
on the crashing waves
If you ask me to go preach to a lost world
that Jesus saves
I'll go but I cannot go alone
'cause I know I'm nothing on my own
But the power of Christ in me
makes me strong, makes me strong

Cause when I'm weak, you make me strong
When I'm blind you shine your light on me
Cause I'll never get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know you don't need me
How amazing to find that you want me
So I'll stand on your truth and I'll fight with your strength
Until you bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me.

"In Me" --Casting Crowns

Say What You Mean...

...and mean what you say. I was recently told that I have found my "voice" in my writing. Apparently it's sort of punchy--short sentences, sometimes fragments, that get my point across in a fairly simple way. Kind of like how I talk. I was pleased to hear that opinion, which I consider high praise, but it is probably not altogether deserved. I've got a long way to go in my writing.

I came across this quote on another site and thought I'd lift it right over for your enjoyment. On writing well:

C. S. Lewis advice to a teenager:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Letter from June 26, 1956, quoted in Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, eds., The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1989), 623.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Putting On A New Face

I finally did it. With the help of what turned out to be a better than half-price coupon, I offered up my face and hair to the artists at Glamour Shots today. Three hours later, I was looking at 21 photos of myself--at least that's what the name on the screen said. I wasn't sure that poufy hair and gorgeous skin were really mine. But I thought the smile looked familiar.

The helper who greeted me knew she had an amateur on her hands when she asked, "Where's your jewelry?"

"Forgot. But I have my rings on!" (I never wear earrings or necklaces because my baby grabs them. So of course I didn't think to throw them on before I left the house. Oops.)

"Oh, I want the natural look. Nothing too poufy, please. And try to keep the makeup toned down, OK?"

Cindy was so gracious. "Hmm...let's just see how it goes. I know what the camera does to a face." And off she went.

It really wasn't so bad. In fact, I found myself wishing my husband were with me, so he could pick out the pose he wanted for his free 8x10. But since I'd left him home with the kids, the choice was mine. Hope he likes it.

Why go through all this when I could have been watching the Cowboys beat Vince Young and the Titans?

Publicity. Book jackets (which haven't happened yet), PR forms, web sites, bylines on articles...everyone seems to want a photo to go along with your bio. And if you've seen the photo here on the blog...that's about all I've got. And to get that one, I had to cut out the face of an old friend sitting next to me! This seemed a good time to suck it up and lay down the cash for a quality photo.

I love coupons!