Where Logic Meets Love

The Big Adoption Comment and Answer Post

Friday, November 29, 2013

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The Big Adoption Comment and Answer Post | Faith Permeating Life

Hello friends!

Thank you for all of your supportive comments when I shared I needed a break. It turned out to be absolutely the right decision, and sadly I am not planning to return to a regular blogging schedule anytime soon. However, I told you I might pop back occasionally if I had something to say, and at this moment I do!

Mike and I started the adoption process in early October and have made it through most of the steps on the pre-activation checklist. I won't bore you with the long list, but it's included lots of paperwork, writing a profile about our life, taking pictures and filming video of our everyday life, getting fingerprinted (twice), asking for reference letters, and launching a fundraising page.

Throughout this process, I've heard a number of different comments, mostly well-meaning though not always. I realize that most of these comments come from a place of ignorance about the adoption process. So I thought, well, I've got a platform for educating people -- let's use it.

Below are some of the various things I've heard, and what I think but usually don't say.

It's ridiculous how hard they make it to adopt a child! Any person can just have sex and have a child and nobody checks their credentials!

People share this complaint with me all the time. Guess what? As the person actually going through the adoption process, you will not hear me complaining about the many steps we have to go through. There is not a single thing we've been asked to do to which I've said, "That's stupid; I don't understand why we have to do that."

In our case, we are doing a domestic private adoption, meaning someone who is pregnant (or has a child they've decided they can't parent anymore) is going to have to actively select us as the family to raise their child for the rest of their lives. If you were that birth parent*, would you feel comfortable placing your child with someone who hadn't had a background check to see if they had a history of committing child abuse? Someone who hadn't had a professional review their living situation to make sure it was safe for a child? In almost all cases, a birth parent is not making an adoption plan because they don't care about their child, but because they care so much that they want their child to have good life opportunities. In order to feel certain about that choice, that requires being confident that the family in question has been reviewed to be mentally stable, financially secure, etc.

And from the agency's perspective, who is helping to make these matches between birth parents and adoptive parents, their reputation is on the line. They're matching complete strangers with one another for a lifelong relationship. Of course they want to make sure that the families they're providing birth parents with information about, as options for forever families for their children, are going to be capable of caring well for that child.

There are additional concerns when you talk about something like international adoption. Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan, who has adopted children from other countries, has written a number of great blog posts about the importance of adopting through a reputable agency. There are too many cases of people separating children from their families through deception or bribery and passing them off as orphans, either as a money-making scheme or through a misguided savior complex. Of course there need to be safeguards on these processes. And when adoptive families are not screened carefully enough (or even when they are) and tragic things happen, a country may shut down its entire adoption process, making it impossible to connect available families with children needing homes.

Finally, even though we personally are not adopting because of infertility issues, you better damn well not say to someone who is adopting for that reason, "It shouldn't be so hard to adopt when anyone can just have sex and get pregnant." Way to pour salt in someone's wound. (And yes, this has been said to me by people who don't have any idea why we're adopting.)

I wish every single person had to go through a process like this before they could become parents! I know too many people who shouldn't be parents.

No, you don't really wish that. Do you really, actually want to live in a country where every single person has to be screened before they can reproduce? Aside from the general impossibility of that kind of biological regulation, I don't think anyone would want to live under that Brave New World type of control. And we certainly don't want to end up with more abortions or more children shuttled into foster care than necessary. We already have a terrible model from China about what happens when the government tries to control reproduction.

Also, whose standards would we follow for this kind of setup? There are already horror stories from adoptive parents of social workers conducting home studies and then denying people the opportunity to adopt for bizarre or trivial reasons. Many times those people can reapply or go through another agency to be approved. Would you want someone to be sterilized because one other person said they were unfit to be a parent? I don't think so.

The truth is that there are a lot of different ways to be a parent, and most of them result in the child being more or less fine, despite the raging debates about every aspect of how a child should be raised. If we have a good social worker for our home study, we will be approved even if they disagree with us about things like co-sleeping or babywearing. Making a judgment that another person shouldn't be a parent at all is a very serious judgment to make.

And even though this country doesn't regulate reproduction, this doesn't mean that people can continue to parent their children indefinitely no matter what. Child Protective Services departments exist so that there are consequences if people actively harm their children (no matter whether those children are biological or adopted).

So when you say "these people shouldn't be parents," do you mean, "I think they are abusing or neglecting their children and should receive state intervention"? Or do you, more likely, mean, "I disagree with these people's parenting approaches"? Guess what -- in the second case, even if those people did go through the whole long process we are going through, they might still have been approved to be parents.

Interestingly, I often hear these first two comments together, from the same people, who are effectively saying, "You should not have to go through this long, time-intensive process -- but I wish other people did." That's not really a comment on the adoptive process, then; that's just your personal opinion that we will make good parents and some other people you know (or know of) are not good parents.

It should not be so expensive to adopt when there are so many children out there who need homes!

OK, first of all, when people say this, they seem to be thinking about children who are already born and in foster care, which is an entirely different ball of wax, as I'll explain in a moment.

But more importantly, it drives me nuts when people say this because it makes it sound like there's this giant cage o' babies somewhere, and someone's standing between it and us with a key and setting some arbitrary, astronomical number in order to unlock it and hand us a baby. This is not even remotely close to how adoption works.

What we are paying for, when we pay for adoption, is services. We are paying the staff at our agency, which includes 1) people who walk us through the adoption process, 2) people who counsel birth parents, 3) people who market the agency so those who are planning on placing their child for adoption can find them and subsequently us, and 4) people who edit our adoptive family profile to help us communicate to birth parents who we are and why they might want to choose us to raise their child. We are also paying the staff at the local agency that's doing our home study to review lots and lots of paperwork (see above about the need for safeguards), and to take the time to come out and visit our home to make sure it's a safe place to raise a child, and to interview and counsel us to make sure we're completely prepared to become parents and have thought about the things unique to raising an adopted child. We have to pay the places that fingerprint us and run background checks. We may have to pay medical costs for the birth if the birth parent(s) are uninsured. We have to pay for our travel to where the baby's being born. We have to pay the lawyers who make sure that the adoption is totally legal and finalized.

We are paying for services associated with matching us with a child and making that arrangement safe and legal. That is what we're paying for.

We intentionally chose to go with an agency whose fees are a little more expensive than some. In exchange, we get our hand held through the entire adoption process (with people regularly checking in on us and going above and beyond to help us out with every step), and we also have a very good chance of having a child within the next year, not waiting multiple years like many people. That is because they are a very large and well-established organization, and higher fees allow them to have more staff members who specialize in different tasks. In the future, we may choose to go with a smaller agency with lower fees where we have to be more proactive and may have a longer waiting time. If we'd wanted to, we could have tried to do everything on our own -- designing our own marketing and using our own networks to try to find a birth parent who would entrust us with their child for life -- which might have saved us a lot of money in agency fees, but also would have added a lot of stress and could have taken forever, and we would still have had medical, travel, and legal costs.

In case you're wondering, some agencies (including ours) do have lower fees associated with adopting African-American children. This is not because it costs the agency any less to facilitate that match or because any of the other costs are less. It is not because the agency is assigning arbitrary numbers to different babies. It's because it is more difficult for the agency to find families who are open to these children. So in order to make as many successful matches as possible, the agency is willing to subsidize these adoptions by asking slightly more from the families who are not open to African-American children, and then using that to cover some of the costs for families who are open to these children.

It makes sense that adoption would cost so much. Children are valuable! They shouldn't be cheap!

Again, we are not paying for a child. We are paying for services that are going to match us with a child and make that arrangement safe and legal. In some cases -- for example, with some foster-to-adopt situations -- a family may pay nothing at all. Does that mean that those children are not valuable? Of course not. Nobody is setting a price on children. Only on the amount of work a family is asking other people to do in order to help them adopt a child.

Have you considered foster-to-adopt? It would save you a lot of money.

While I appreciate the concern, it strikes me as a little ridiculous that someone would think we'd entered this very expensive and time-intensive process without researching and considering all of our options first. We have a lot of reasons for choosing a domestic private adoption for our first child, and we may very well go a completely different route in the future as we continue to expand our family.

But private adoption and adoption out of foster care are two very different things. In the first case, you have a birth parent or parents intentionally deciding that they want another family to raise their child, typically playing a large role in choosing who that family is, and often having an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship with the adoptive family and the child. In the second case, you typically have a situation where the birth parents are determined by some outside organization to be currently incapable of parenting their child(ren) for one reason or another -- the child(ren) may be taken out of the home as a result of abuse or neglect, or the parent(s) may be in jail, for example -- and it's likely that the parental rights will be completely terminated, making the child(ren) available for adoption.

Children in foster care need a loving and safe home just as much as children do whose parents decide before they're born that they won't be able to give them the life they want to. But children in foster care are more likely to have suffered abuse or trauma and are often older than children intentionally placed for adoption (who are generally newborns), and the relationship with the birth family is likely to be more difficult. That's something that needs to be entered into with a lot of thoughtful intentionality and preparedness as an adoptive parent. It's not something you do just because it's cheaper or because "the kids are already there and need homes." It's a very different way of growing one's family than private adoption, and not the way we've chosen right now.

Additionally, saying this to us when it's clear we're already well underway with the adoption process is a little bit ridiculous. We've already spent several thousand dollars in various fees and are more than halfway through the approval process to become an active family with our agency. If someone you knew was pregnant and realized they were going to need help paying their medical bills, you wouldn't say to them, "Have you considered fostering to adopt instead? That might save you money." It would be absurd.

In general, anyone who hasn't contributed to our adoption fund but wants to sit there and pass judgment on the cost of adoption / the cost of the particular adoption path we've chosen can just shut it.

Is there a reason you're going with an out-of-state agency? People in this state are looking for adoptive families.

This was actually said to me by someone at a local adoption agency whom I'd contacted about doing our home study. Our main agency is a national agency and not licensed to conduct home studies in all 50 states, so we needed to find a local agency to do that portion of the process. I contacted several and explained the situation to see if they'd be willing to do the home study for us.

This response irritated me for some of the same reasons already mentioned. Yes, of course there was a reason we selected the agency we did. We didn't just pick them randomly out of the phone book. And even if we had, I'd made it clear that we'd already selected and were well into the process with this agency, so disparaging our choice to go with a national agency wasn't going to cause us to switch to the local agency. It only ensured we wouldn't use that local agency for our home study either.

With a national agency, our profile is going to be shown to more birth parents in a shorter period of time. The fact that the pool of other adoptive families is also much larger doesn't really matter that much. It's not a competition; it's a matchmaking process, and the more options, the closer the match can be between a birth parent's ideals and the possible families they're matched with. Working with such large numbers is also one reason our agency has such consistency that it can tell us that most placements happen within 12 months of when a family's profile is activated. Again, there's no right or wrong option here -- many people have very successful adoptions with local agencies. But for the kind of situation we wanted for our first adoption, from depth of hands-on help to average length of wait time, this was the right agency for us.

I don't mind questions about the adoption process (assuming they're real questions, and not "Why didn't you do things the way I think you should have done them?" questions). I enjoy talking about it because I'm excited at the genuine possibility of our becoming parents in 2014. But I get frustrated by hearing these kinds of comments over and over, especially when people seem to assume I'll agree with them (about the process being too complicated or expensive). I'd be happy to answer any questions you have, to the extent that I can, in comments below.

By the way, if you're interested in learning some things not to say to a birth parent, I recommend this post from The Happiest Sad.

*I choose to use the term "birth parent" because it is the most common and most well-understood. I recognize that there are some who prefer to be called a "first parent" or some other term, while others think these terms are silly and that "birth parent" is most accurate term to describe them.

Taking a Break to Figure Things Out

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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Hi all,

I've had this blog for almost four and a half years now, and it's changed a lot over that time. It was originally launched as a way to track my goals the summer I finished my master's degree and was looking for a job, looking for an apartment, trying to solve a health problem, and planning my wedding, all in the span of about two months.

After all those pieces were in place, I started blogging about marriage, life as an adult, and, of course, how my faith fit into all that.

In 2011, I did a happiness project and used this blog to track my monthly goals, and starting reflecting more about my life purpose. I also committed to a regular blogging schedule, which has changed over time but has meant blogging 2-3 times a week for more than two and a half years.

In August 2011, I attended the 20SB Summit and got more serious about blogging. I bought a domain name, hired a web designer, and set up a Facebook page.

I starting writing more regularly about LGBTQ issues and their intersections with Christianity. I branched out my reading of other blogs from reading about the lives of other 20-somethings and other married couples to learn more about privilege, feminism, and other big topics. I had more conversations with people about these topics, which changed what I wrote about.

I developed the Three Books on Thursday and Blog Comment Carnival linkups, neither of which ever really got off the ground. I started tracking my stats two years ago and watched them go slowly up and then plateau. I guest blogged. My stats went up a little, then down, then plateau, plateau, plateau.

This blog has always been a place for conversations and learning, and I've continued to have wonderful, loyal readers and commenters. But I've wanted -- and tried -- to start conversations I just don't have the audience for. I've struggled with how to build the audience while continuing to have quality posts that will sustain them until we can have those bigger conversations. I've wondered who, exactly, I even want to have those conversations with. And what it means when people continue to say they love my writing but then never share it with anyone.

And then I've gotten fed up with watching bloggers I respect oversimplify and mock each other's arguments, and I've wondered if this is even the realm I want to fight for a place in. And I've gotten frustrated with commenters who misunderstand and attack me. And I've been hurt when out of 400 Christian blogs not one person thought to nominate this one. Or when I put questions out on Twitter and, only occasionally, one person out of 188 followers responds. Who am I talking to? Who am I writing for, after four and a half years?

So I'm taking a break. I need to take some time, where I don't feel pressured to put out content, to figure out what I want this blog to be. What do I what to write about and who am I writing for? What, exactly, am I trying to accomplish here? Or is it maybe time to put this project to rest once and for all, and focus on the many others on my plate? Make an impact in some different ways?

I don't know what this break will look like -- I may pop back in and write something when I have something I want to say, or thoughts I need to work out. I just know that right now I need to take off the pressure to write that is paired with ambiguity about why and for whom I'm writing.

Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to join in the conversations I've started here. I've learned so much from those conversations, and that more than anything is why I hope I don't end up putting this blog to bed permanently. But then maybe it's time to learn only by listening for a while, and not by talking first. Even if I don't come back to it, I'm proud of what's here.

Much love,

The Problems with Female-Only Self-Defense Classes

Friday, September 6, 2013

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The Problems with Female-Only Self-Defense Classes | Faith Permeating Life

Content Note: Sexual assault, victim-blaming, gender binary

Our school recently announced that a local martial arts place is going to offer free self-defense classes on campus. I think this is a great idea. I took a self-defense class in high school and I think another one through Girl Scouts. Just knowing that I have at least some tools at my disposal in the event that someone should ever try to attack me or take me somewhere against my will makes me feel more confident, which tends to be a big selling point for these types of classes.

Here's the problem: The classes are only offered to female students, faculty, and staff.

There are actually a number of problems with this, and I want to go through them just to put my thoughts out there. You may disagree with some of these, but I hope that overall you'll see that maybe this isn't the greatest idea.

1) This contributes to a culture of victim-blaming, particularly female victim-blaming.
When a self-defense class is offered to all genders (or to men), the tone tends to be, "Here are some skills so you'll know what to do if you're ever attacked." When a self-defense class is offered to women, the tone often is, "If we teach women self-defense, they won't get raped so much." The female self-defense classes I've attended before often include the standard "safety tips" like "Don't walk alone at night" that equate limiting women's freedom with keeping them safe. This is based on the problematic assumption that rape (or other violence against women) happens not because people choose to rape, but because women just don't know how to act. It's based on an assumption that if women just did something differently or learned more (putting the burden on the supposed potential-victims), there would be fewer assaults.

To be fair, our school has taken a proactive approach against sexual assault with a campaign that focuses on the responsibility of the entire community to prevent sexual assault. But I can't help but feel that whoever arranged for these female-only self-defense classes thought, "Maybe the number of incidents of sexual assault will go down if we can teach all the women on campus self-defense!"

2) This presumes that either men don't get attacked or that they can protect themselves if they do.
My husband does not have a great deal of physical strength. We have friendly arguments over who is stronger (I think he is, he thinks I am). His build is fairly skinny. If an intruder were to come into our apartment and we for some reason needed to fend them off physically, we'd be evenly matched -- except for the fact that I know more self-defense than he does. And ironically, because men generally are not warned constantly throughout their entire life that they're going to get attacked if they walk home alone at night, they may actually be more likely to be in a situation to get "jumped" by someone (which tends to be the focus of the self-defense classes I've attended) and thus in need of knowing how to defend themselves.

3) These self-defense classes tend to have an unhelpful "stranger in the bushes" focus.
Again, this is only based on my past experience, but the self-defense instructors I've had tend to present the material in a way that's like, "Here's what you should do if someone comes out of the shadows and tries to pull you into their car" (or some such scenario). If, as I suspect, the purpose of offering these classes is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault and violence against women, then it would be helpful to have them presented more realistically, with information about domestic violence and date rape, and without all the "keep your eyes up and don't walk alone and don't carry a purse" context. And given that domestic violence and date rape (as well as the less common "stranger in the bushes" attacks) affect men as well, there's no reason they shouldn't have the opportunity to learn these things.

4) The defining factor for inclusion is gender (rather than on a factor like bodily strength) and potentially erases non-gender-conforming individuals.
If classes are limited to women because of the idea that "women are weaker and need more skills to defend themselves," this is a case of letting an average drive a rule. If the school wants to empower its weakest members, it could do that most effectively by letting people self-select whether they feel they need self-defense skills rather than by allowing participation based on gender. There's also no indication of what the definition of female is. If someone was assigned female at birth but identifies as genderqueer or male, they have the same "biological disadvantage" that ciswomen do, but can they not attend?

I could see someone rationalizing grouping self-defense classes by gender if there is going to be partner practice, since men do have more bodily strength on average and some women might be intimidated by being paired with men. However, I think this is somewhat of a weak excuse because people of the same gender can still have vast disparities in size and strength (I would be intimidated being paired with a strong, athletic woman), there are no comparable classes offered for men, and the problem of a simplistic binary category is not addressed.

Also, people within the same class could be taught together and then paired for practice based on a particular factor (gender, strength, etc.) -- this doesn't require limiting the entire class to women. Not to mention, if I only ever practice releasing from a woman's hold, then how do I know I'm able to do the same on a large, strong man?

I think offering free self-defense classes is a great thing to do. I think limiting participation in those classes to females is problematic.

What do you think?

3BoT Vol. 23: Three Novels about Growing Up Female

Thursday, September 5, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 23: Three Novels about Growing Up Female | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

I've read a number of good books lately, and the three I want to share with you today have something interesting in common. They take place in three different eras (mid-19th century, mid-20th century, present-day) and three different countries (China, Canada, and the United States), but they all tackle in a substantial way the experience of growing up female. All three have first-person female narrators whose gender not only is an important part of their emerging self-identity but also directly affects their opportunities and how they are perceived by others. The first two also delve into the complexities that undergird many female friendships.

Whether you're seeking a book to give voice to your experience growing up female, or you want to better understand what that's like, here are three books for you:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan cover
#1: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
In rural China in the 1800s, it is not just gender but social class that rigorously dictates one's opportunities in life. Lily is given the opportunity to someday marry above her family's rank by careful foot-binding and being matched with a laotong, a best friend for life, at the age of seven. The novel explores the development of Lily and Snow Flower's friendship over their lifetime, but more than that, it gives a detailed picture of what it was like to be a woman in China in Lily's day -- how utterly powerless women were, except over each other, and how stories and sayings women passed down to their daughters reinforced acceptance of this low place. As horrifying as the descriptions of foot-binding are, you find it hard to blame Lily for doing the same to her own daughter. The writing and the plot development in this book are fantastic, and the glimpse of history is valuable.

Cat's Eye cover
#2: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
This book has more passages highlighted than any Kindle book I've read so far. Central to the plot is young Elaine's experience being bullied by her friends under the guise of "improving" her, though naturally she can never measure up to their impossible standards. It is clear how even young girls quickly internalize the message that to be female is to be compliant and pleasing to others, and that this goal takes precedence over all others. Throughout the novel, we see glimpses of both the small and large disadvantages women face as the novel flashes between Elaine's experiences growing up and her present-day experience as a controversial painter in the 1980s. But it's never heavy-handed; it's simply true. From Elaine's childish observations as a young girl to her cynical ones as an adult, the descriptions of life as a woman ring painfully true over and over.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks cover
#3: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks, 15 years old, is brilliant and ambitious. But that means nothing when it comes to joining her private school's secret society, because she doesn't meet the one requirement for entrance: being male. She finds a way to secretly work the strings in the background so the guys in the society start pulling off spectacular, clever pranks under her written orders, all while they (including her boyfriend) continue to treat her like she's harmless and adorable. Lockhart beautifully illustrates the dilemmas faced by being an intelligent woman, trying to avoid being seen as overly aggressive, meek, sexual, or anything else that might box her in. It's also clear from the descriptions of Frankie's father just how much all-male secret societies and other "old boys" clubs perpetuate male advantage in small and informal ways, and how much harder Frankie has to work to achieve her ambitious goals. Plus it's just a very fun book.

What are your favorite books about the experience of growing up female?

Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

A One Word Update: Putting the "Peaces" into Place

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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An Update on Putting the 'Peaces' into Place | Faith Permeating Life

The year is two-thirds of the way over, so it seems an appropriate time to check in again on my One Word goal for the year. (Here's the first update.)

My word for the year is "peace." I was seeking this back in January because I was at a job I hated that made me feel both worthless and unsettled. When I checked in last time, in May, I felt I was getting closer to peace -- not all the time, but more of the time than previously. But I still felt a lot of anxiety about my life path, and having tons of unstructured time made it hard to go to bed at the end of each day feeling at peace with what I'd accomplished that day.

Finally landing a job has made a larger impact on my overall feeling of peace with my life than I could have anticipated. I think there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one, surprisingly, is how busy the job is keeping me. I have a great desire to work hard and steadily, something no prior job has been able to offer. I have a feeling I will be less busy further into the semester, but right now I love that the day flies by. And because I'm an hourly worker, I refuse to stay late, take work home, or check my e-mail at night. It's an amazing feeling to work hard all day and then be able to put it behind me for the night.

Working on campus has also made a big difference for me. The simple combination of getting more sleep, feeling less rushed, and working among people I know has had a calming effect overall on my life. And of course, having an income again (plus my small meal plan) has made our financial goals once again seem attainable, which is hugely important for me. Not to mention that just knowing what my days will look like day in and day out into the foreseeable future makes planning the future seem like a realistic thing to do again.

I went back to the notes I took after reading 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, and it was gratifying to see the pieces fall into place. I had answered the questions about how I wanted to spend my time with a kind of amorphous blob of "work" in my mental picture, unsure whether I would actually be able to fit in the things I wanted to do with my time. But now that I know my real schedule, I know that fitting in exercise, choir, and reading on a regular basis is entirely reasonable.

I don't want to say, "OK! Mission complete! Check 'peace' off my to-do list for the year!" It's not that simple. I've still run up against some anxiety spirals. I still wonder and worry about the future as things will change, like as we start looking forward to having kids. I still have to deal with frustrating people. (Don't get me started on the horrendous conversation I had with TIAA-CREF customer service the other day.) But I do feel that overall, I have succeeded in moving my life toward a more peaceful state of being.

Gretchen Rubin talks about four components to a happier life: Thinking about feeling bad, feeling good, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. It seems that, unintentionally, I've been systematically tackling these four aspects of my life in my attempt to cultivate more peace. First, I eliminated what was making me feel bad: My job. Then, I started from scratch and added in the things that make me feel good: Reading, choir, spending time with Mike, spending time with friends, exercising, prayer. I decided what deserved to have priority over my limited time. Then I landed a job that makes me feel right: Working hard continuously during the day and fitting together the other elements of my life in the rest of my time.

My focus for the rest of the year, then, is on growth. To me, this means using the foundation of peace in my own life to look outward toward serving others. I believe that self-care is vital, but it's only a first step. The Gospel challenge I come back to again and again is living out love and serving others.

In my job, for example, I spent the first week or so just learning the basics so I didn't have to put every person on hold to answer their question. I'm at the point now where I can answer maybe 85-90% of the questions I get on my own, so I can confidently say, "Oh, you need to talk to X office or fill out Y form to do that." Now, I'm starting to think about what extra steps I can take -- calling over to an office to get an answer so a student doesn't have to walk across campus, or setting up my iPad so the dozen people who come in asking to change their meal plan can do it right there.

The end goal of seeking peace in my life should not be for my own gratification, but so that I am able to radiate peace and love and kindness to others.

What changes were you hoping to make this year, and how are they going? And perhaps most importantly, what do you see as the ultimate goal of making those changes?

Blog Comment Carnival: August 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: August 2013 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

The best part of the comments this month was the wide variety of voices who chimed in on different topics. I have a deep appreciation for my long-time readers and regular commenters, but I love hearing different perspectives as well!

I responded to a post from Danielle by saying that Having Children Is a Matter of the Heart, and appreciated hearing the perspectives of readers who know they don't want kids:

Melbourne on My Mind said:
I don't want kids, but I've never been asked why I don't. 90% of the time the response I get is "Oh, you'll change your mind". Which drives me insane - it's like my opinion is completely irrelevant and that my biological clock will force me into changing my mind. It used to be just my parents' friends, but it's increasingly extending to my friends, people I've known since primary school, who've known my feelings on the subject for years.


DarkLight replied:
Ditto. This is often combined with that sort of condescending tone older people take towards younger people whom they consider naive. I have rather often caught the feel of "Silly little girl thinking she doesn't want kids! Of course she's not old enough to know something like that."

I am, as a matter of fact, at the age where many of my same-age friends are having babies. I notice no one has questioned whether they're old enough or mature enough to make that decision, absent specific immature behavior. But in my mid-20's I am not treated as old enough to know that I don't want children.

I shared how a Scripture reading helped me identify Anxiety as a Form of Vanity.

Amanda liked the psychological shift:
That is a little helpful to think about. I mean most of our problems really aren't as big as we think they are, right? The challenging part is getting our anxiety to follow suit with these new positive thoughts. I get the feeling in my chest and my heart feels like it's beating way too fast. Usually going for a run cures it although I come back feeling slightly dead.

Thanks for this piece and I will try to think about it this week...hopefully the feeling in my chest understands I don't need to be anxious!! :)

LL has had the same physical manifestations of anxiety:
I have the yawning/breathing problem quite often, and have only recently started making the connection to anxiety. It's a vicious cycle, because then I get anxious about my breathing in addition to whatever else I'm anxious about! Not that I'm glad you also suffer from anxiety, but it's comforting to hear this is a real thing and I am not alone.

And Rachel reflected on the Scripture passage itself:
Love this wide-angle view, Jessica! That's how the book of Ecclesiastes makes me feel too. In some translations, "vanity" is rendered as "meaningless," and that helped me understand it much better. I used to feel sad at the endless lists of things that were meaningless, but now I see it as a way of pointing toward the few things in life that actually are meaningful and life-giving.

Happy that you have one more weapon against anxiety!

I started a new job and shared my First Impressions of the New Job, and Nikkiana noted one effect of having a new work routine that I've also noticed:
Glad to hear you're enjoying your new job!

I started my new one a month ago, and I'm loving it, too.

I'm finding that I really function a lot better with having the external routine, and the fact that I have limited hours to myself makes me prioritize my off time a lot better.

I liked the advice that Q added to my Advice for New College Students:
The one great piece of advice that I always wish I'd heard when I was beginning college instead of preparing to graduate was from our journalism professor: Don't worry about choosing the "right" major. Take courses that interest and challenge you, and a major can emerge from that, but your major is not the end-all be-all determining factor of your future career and life.

Since graduating, I've always been struck by how people end up working in fields that are wildly different or unrelated to their majors, and yet how something in their college experience did end up being relevant to their work experience.

Finally, Queen of Carrots had some suggestions for Confronting Well-Intentioned Racism (and I'd love to get more!):
This is certainly not my area of expertise, but I can understand why people would be defensive if you accuse them of anything resembling racism--it is the unpardonable sin in today's society. But it seems like the broader issue is failing to see the person as an individual. So perhaps it would be more helpful either to treat it as cluelessness or draw attention to their individuality in some way. (I'm thinking something like, "Well, since there are 450 million people in that country, chances are against it," or "I bet it annoys them that you're always getting their names mixed up--X is taller and has the cute orange backpack.") Does something need to be labeled racism to be dealt with?

What topics have you been discussing this month, on your blog or with people you know?

Confronting Well-Intentioned Racism: Seeking Suggestions

Friday, August 30, 2013

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If you haven't seen it already -- watch this video:

As I mentioned earlier this week, our new students have arrived on campus. This means many new faces and lots of questions to get to know people. Usually it's your standard three: "Where are you from?" "What are you studying?" "Where are you living?" Each of these three provides some opportunity to continue the conversation and make a connection with that student: "Oh, I'm from a town nearby there." "That's what my husband studied in college." "Oh, you've got so-and-so as your hall director; she's great."

However, I've noticed a not-so-great trend with the way a lot of people interact with students who are racial minorities. As we're on the West Coast, this tends to be mostly Asian and Pacific Islander students. White faculty and staff, trying to engage students in conversation, make cringe-worthy statements like those in the video. "Your name is so exotic; what does it mean?" "Oh, do you know [other student from the same country]?" "Your English is wonderful." "I love [stereotypical food of that country or a country in the same part of the world]."

I cringe and I roll my eyes, but I don't know what to say.

I've gotten better at calling people out for saying things that they should really know not to say. I try to follow my own advice to speak up against blatantly homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. remarks. And when I do this, I find that people (at least the people I tend to be around) often get embarrassed and look guilty, and will probably apologize.

I find it more difficult to know what to say when someone is coming from a place of goodwill and genuinely doesn't know or understand why there's a problem with what they're saying. I understand why it's problematic mostly because I read stuff like this giant resource post for "Good White People" in my spare time, but putting it into a few words to explain to someone else can be difficult.

And I do want to put it in a few words because it's not just the same person, where it would make sense to sit down and have A Serious Conversation about the way they talk to minority students. It's just an offhand comment from this person here, that person there, where I'd love to have an equally low-key way of being like, "Actually, that's a really condescending and kind of racist thing to say because..." (Either in the moment or after the student leaves, as appropriate.)

To be clear, this isn't a case of "I want to tell them to stop without making them feel bad." Although these tend to be people I need to maintain at least a working relationship with, I'm generally OK with reacting quickly to let someone know they've crossed a line. My concern is effectiveness. If I tell someone, "Hey, that's not appropriate," and they think I'm making no sense or overreacting, they're going to roll their eyes at me and are not going to see much of a need to stop what they're doing.

Also, people are way more likely to be unreceptive and defensive when they mean well than when they already suspect they're saying something off-color. A lot of people seem to have this notion that you can only be offensive when you actively want to harm someone or think badly of them. In fact, you can think positive things about someone as a result of their race, and that is still racism; it's known as "benevolent racism." Sometimes it's done with neither positive nor negative intentions, but just as a result of not putting forth effort, like continually mixing up a person with another person of the same race or nationality. (My French teacher in high school mixed up the two Indian girls in my class the entire year, even though they looked nothing alike).

The problem I run into is that incidents like these are much easier for people to try to explain away because they don't fit with the typical mental model of "what racism is." People don't want to think of themselves as racist to begin with (except maybe in an abstract "we're all racist" way), and they especially have a hard time understanding that something they said while trying to be nice and friendly could possibly be racist.

So, I'm asking for your thoughts, my dear readers. When have you run across these kinds of well-intentioned but ultimately problematic comments? Have you found any effective ways of responding to them?

Advice for New College Students

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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Advice for New College Students | Faith Permeating Life

Classes have started up again here on campus and they're about to start at many more colleges and universities, so I thought this would be a good time to share some advice on being a college student.

I have spent almost a decade living or working on a college campus -- I spent five years as a student, then worked for a college for three years, have been living in a dorm for the past year, and now am back working at a college again. So I feel like I have a pretty good sense of both sides of the fence -- what it's like to be a student, and what it's like to work and live with students.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Repeat after me: "I can always change my mind."

College is the time when people expect you to change your mind. You will probably change your major, if you come in with one. (I was dead-set on being that rare student who didn't change their major. I ended dropping it two weeks in.) You can sign up for a dozen student organizations and then stop attending the ones you don't like. You can drop classes (early in the semester) if your class load is too heavy or you decide the class isn't for you or you want to change your major. Have some spare credit-hours? Try something brand-new like guitar or ballroom dancing or whatever your school offers and see if it's something you might want to stick with. A group on your floor going to a campus event? Go check it out with them, and then head home if it's not your thing or you have more studying to do.

So my point is this: Say yes. Try things. You will have more opportunities in one place than possibly any other time in your life. So pick something and go for it. You can always change your mind.

2. Ask for help as often as you need it.

You know where a good chunk of your tuition dollars are going? To pay the salaries of people whose job it is to help you. Where I went to college, undergraduate students could go to the counseling center for free. Find a good counselor. Does your school have a freshman resource center? They are there to answer your questions. Librarians? There to help you find resources for your papers. Does your professor have office hours? Is there a tutoring center? Can you catch your TA at the end of class? Ask. Get explanations. Learn.

I work in Residence Life, and a good portion of my job is answering people's questions about their housing. I love it when somebody asks me a question because that's one student I probably won't hear from in a panic mid-semester when they realize that they missed a deadline or never got something changed that they wanted to. When I taught, I loved students who asked questions because I knew they were paying attention and actually cared about learning the material, which definitely wasn't the case for everyone.

Seriously, I can't stress this enough -- ask, ask, ask. Get help. Get answers. Some people may not be able to help you, or may (sadly) not want to help you, but no one can help you if you don't ask. If navigating the web of resources is difficult for you, try to find at least one person you feel comfortable talking to, whether it's your RA or one of your professors. When you have a question, ask them to help you find out which office to talk to.

3. Build relationships with staff and faculty.

This starts with #2. When you seek out people one-on-one, you let them get to know you as an individual. This will be extremely helpful when you're looking for recommendations for jobs or graduate school down the road, but the benefits go beyond that. It's just good to have someone a little older and wiser, particularly in your field, that you can go to for advice, and you'll have the advantage of being plugged into their network. I'm still in touch with two of my professors from college that I was closest to, and they've both been instrumental in connecting me with new people in my various adventures after college.

4. Take care of yourself.

Seriously. I meant it when I said to say yes to things, but that you can always change your mind and drop out of things as well. You're probably going to find yourself with a lot of moving parts to juggle -- classes, homework, student activities, a social life, a part-time job. I promise you can do all of these things and still eat and sleep regularly. You will see people who are like, "I AM TAKING 21 CREDIT HOURS AND WORKING TWO JOBS AND I AM PRESIDENT OF FIVE ORGANIZATIONS" and while it's awesome that everyone on campus seems to know their name, you do not have to be like that to succeed, and you will probably burn out and hurt yourself if you try. Unless you have a ridiculous attendance policy (some schools/classes do), you will occasionally be able to skip a class. Use this ability sparingly and wisely, but use it when you need it.

College is a great time to seize the moment and do wild things at 2am, but you also don't want to make this a regular habit. Eat. Sleep. Bathe. Go to counseling. Take time to be active. Give yourself permission to take a day off from studying. Take care of your body -- and your mind -- and you will enjoy everything a lot more.

5. Check your school e-mail.

This might sound like a minor thing, but all the important information you need is going to come here. When you get an official e-mail from the university, actually take the time to read it. Some people are not good at writing clear and concise e-mails, but if you find out too late that buried in an e-mail was the information that you have to fill out a special form to apply for graduation, that's going to be on you, not them. If you can't stand checking multiple accounts and want to keep using your old one from high school, figure out how to forward stuff from your school address. The most common reason I hear for people not checking their e-mail is that it's inundated with irrelevant information (like announcements about upcoming events), but in my experience you can get rid of 90% of those by setting aside 10 minutes to unsubscribe, change preferences, and/or e-mail people to get off lists for organizations and programs you're no longer in.

6. Find your people.

My biggest fear starting college, by far, was that I would not be able to make friends. I had not really made friends since middle school, and even then it wasn't as much making friends as getting absorbed into the friend group that the people in my gifted program had already formed. When I first got to college, I tried to be friends with this group of super-Catholic girls, and eventually realized that I just did not fit with them and should stop trying to be like them. Eventually I figured out who I actually enjoyed spending time with, and spent more time with them.

Also: Organizations -- join one, start one, find people who love what you love. Even though my school was a "party school" where supposedly "everyone" drank every weekend, I found a group of people who threw wild alcohol-free parties on Saturday nights, and eventually was part of launching an organization to sponsor anyone who wanted to host an alcohol-free party. And my junior year I joined the gay-straight alliance, which was one of the best decisions I ever made -- that group was my family during my last year when I was finishing my master's and almost all my friends had graduated, Mike was two states away, and I was super-lonely.

So what I'm trying to say is: Your people are there. You will find them if you look. Don't feel like you have to conform to anyone else's ideals to make friends in college. Any college campus with at least a thousand people is diverse enough to find people like you.

Captain Awkward recently had an open thread with advice for first-year college students, so if you want way more detail than what I've got here, I suggest you check it out! There are a lot of good suggestions about specific things, like not paying full price for textbooks, developing good study habits, learning to cook, and building up credit with a student credit card.

Current and past college students, what would you add?

First Impressions of the New Job

Friday, August 23, 2013

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First Impressions of the New Job | Faith Permeating Life

Thanks for your understanding that I didn't get a post up this Tuesday. I wasn't expecting my new job to cause such a time crunch for me! Part of it is just the regular adjustment to not having all the time in the world during the day every day, but part of it is that I started in literally the busiest time of the year for the office and was trying to oversee logistics for RA training while simultaneously answering ALL THE QUESTIONS from incoming students and their parents (for all of which I had to find out the answers myself) so I've been kind of exhausted.

But now training is over and the new students are moved in, things have settled down into a steady-busy pace rather than a my-head-is-going-to-explode pace. I thought I should take the opportunity to share my first impressions of the job, for later reference, particularly because there are so many good things about it that I'm afraid I will end up taking for granted down the road.

Here are the upsides and downsides to my new job:


I can walk to work.
The office where I work is a five-minute walk from our hall. I knew that I would like not having a commute, but I didn't realize quite how many reasons there would be for loving this. Here are some of them:
  • I have more time in the morning. I can wake up at the same time I had to catch the bus last fall and still get in a run before I get ready for work. I don't have to take time to pack a lunch, nor do I have to pack snacks because the stretches between breakfast, lunch, and dinner are no longer more than 5 hours.
  • I have more time in the evening because I get home by 4:40pm instead of 6:30pm, so I can get things done and still be ready for bed before 10pm. Consequently, getting a solid eight hours of sleep has become infinitely easier.
  • I can go home for lunch. Unlike previous jobs, where my lunch was subjected to surrounding conversations or could be interrupted by coworkers, I can go home, lock the door, and eat in silence. Since my job requires regularly interacting with people, this midday break is heaven for my introverted soul.
  • I can take a nap on my lunch break in my own bed. I haven't done this yet, but I remember occasions at previous jobs when I felt exhausted but even on my lunch break there wasn't a good way to take a quick nap. When I realized I now have this opportunity, I was so excited.
  • Forgot something? No problem. If I forgot something at home, I can grab it on my lunch break. If I forgot something in the office, I can get back into the building at any time with my keycard and get what I left. This is a big change from "Oh crap, I left my dress shoes at work that I was going to wear this weekend and it's too much of a hassle to go get them."

I love helping people.
I remembered liking the customer service aspects of my work in Chicago, but I'd forgotten how genuinely I enjoyed it until starting this job. I've had to learn a ton of stuff this past week, and I'm still having to put people on hold to ask my coworkers questions, but I get excited when I can answer someone's question on my own. My boss was afraid I'd get frustrated having to answer the same questions ("How big are the beds?" "When do meal plans start?") over and over, but it's the opposite -- I feel great when I am 100% confident that I'm giving someone the right information that they didn't know a moment ago. And even though there are the occasional people who are angry or upset, it's gratifying to hear the surprise and gratitude in most people's voices when they realize that all their questions were answered quickly and cheerfully, and I feel appreciated every time someone says, "You've been very helpful."

I have two student workers.
There are two students who have worked in the office for several years now and who are directly supervised by me. From my interactions with them this past week, they are both incredibly nice and helpful, and being able to delegate things to them has been amazing when I feel like I'm losing my mind. I feel bad giving them some of the most tedious work to do, but they both seem genuinely eager to do whatever they can to help the office run more smoothly. I also like being in a kind of mentoring position to help prepare each of them for work after college.

My coworkers are amazing.
I kind of already knew this going in -- one of the reasons I applied for the job -- but the people I work with are so great. The director and associate directors were in and out this past week, so my one coworker got to answer about 95% of the questions I had, which at first was every single phone call that came in. She is incredibly calm and patient and never once looked irritated at having her work interrupted. Everyone has been willing to answer questions when they're around, and if I manage to tell someone the wrong information they never act like it's a big deal, and just tell me the correct information so I can pass it on.

Mike is a resource for me.
Because Mike works for the same office (in a different way), he is able to be a backup resource for me. We've tried to draw clear boundaries around times when we talk work stuff (during my work hours, since his job is 24/7), but if I need to, I can come home at night and say, "OK, explain this whole process to me" or "What advice do you have about this?" He knows me well enough that he knows how to explain things in a way that makes the most sense to me and he knows which things cause me the most anxiety. Not having to give him a lot of backstory is also really nice.

I get a small meal plan.
Because our office manages the meal plans, the staff each get a partial meal plan that's enough to cover lunch each day. Since I live on campus and like to go home for lunch (see above), I use mine for dinner. This means that Mike and I could make the small but important switch from most dinners in the dining hall to almost all meals in the dining hall, and I no longer have to carefully watch our balance and plan occasional meals at home to ensure we make it to the end of the semester with two people on his one-person meal plan. Also, I had never really understood that feeling that people (usually women) describe when they've been a stay-at-home spouse or parent for a long time and then have their own money they earned themselves for the first time, but the first time I bought myself my own dinner with my own ID I was ridiculously excited. Logistically, this is a big help because it means that if Mike is off campus for some reason, I no longer have to arrange to get his ID ahead of time to be able to buy myself dinner. And I get just enough money that I should be able to have lunch with him one day a week as well.


Staying "just a few minutes" longer is possible -- and tempting.
This is a blessing and a curse. I've always had a train or bus to catch, which meant I had to book it out of there right at the end of the day. Now if I need to, I can stay and finish up what I'm doing at the end of the day because there's no rush to leave immediately. I definitely don't want to make a habit out of this; I need to protect my schedule, particularly since living on campus means I could always be in "work mode" if I let myself.

The boundaries can get blurred.
Keeping work within my scheduled hours isn't the only difficulty with my unusual life/work blend. There's also the relationships to balance. Mike and I speak and act differently when handling work transactions during the day than we do at home, but not everyone wants to draw such a clear distinction between Mike-as-husband and Mike-as-coworker, thinking it's funny or cute that we work together and are married, and constantly referencing such. I am also good friends with several of the other hall directors, which is fun when they stop into the office and chat while picking things up, but which could cause problems if one of us screws something work-related up. The hall directors already deal with this somewhat among themselves, but their work relationships are somewhat more cooperational, while their work relationships with me are more transactional (they need me to order this, I need them to pick this up). And it's not yet clear when Mike and I can vent to each other and when doing so has the potential to jeopardize the other's working relationship with someone.

I'm lacking in some potentially important skills.
I'm able to do everything that was listed on the job description -- I'm organized and detail-oriented, and I interact with people well. But my supervisor, by his own admission, places a very high priority on first impressions and how things look (whether that be "fun" or "professional" depending on the particular vibe needed). I am very much not a visual thinker or visually creative, and I also panic when given vague directions, so being told "jazz this up" or "make this look cleaner" is gobbledygook to my brain. My challenge in this job, I can tell, is going to be figuring out how to ask for clarification (and ask again, and again if necessary) in a way that helps me understand what's going on in my boss's brain so I can translate that into actual work.

I'm one of three new people in the office.
Three out of the five of us in the office are new as of just a few months ago, including the director (my boss). In some ways, this is exciting because we can overhaul things that need to be overhauled. (I just cleaned out over 100 outdated posts from one of our websites yesterday.) But it's also a little terrifying because "we're learning as we go" seems to be the name of the game, and this means sometimes I can't give people answers to their questions because we don't know the answers yet. "We're in transition" is a nice catchall phrase for the moment, but I'm not someone who handles uncertainty well to begin with, and when other people are relying on me to help them it can be a little anxiety-inducing to not have a good handle on what's going on.

I have to carve out intentional time for my "commuting" activities.
As much as I love having more time on either end of my workday, there are certain things -- primarily reading -- that I did a lot of while commuting because I didn't have many other options for that time. Audiobooks during my morning runs help me keep up with my reading somewhat, but I can tell that making time to read in the evening when I could be chasing my to-do list and catching up on personal e-mails I neglected all day is going to be a challenge for me. However, once we get farther in the school year I think things will calm down at work and I should have more time during the day to take care of some personal things (like responding to e-mail), which I hope will cause me to take more time to read, knit, etc. in my spare time.

So that's how things are shaping up so far! I'm enjoying myself far more than I expected, but I know that things will change (for better or for worse) once the school year gets up and running and the type of work I have to do changes somewhat.

If you work, what positive aspects might you have started taking for granted about your job? What surprised you -- good or bad -- when you started that job?

Bookish Q&A

Friday, August 16, 2013

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Even though I give you three book recommendations every month, I also love answering questions about reading and books. I saw Kirsti did a Q&A about books that were different than questions I'd answered before, so I'm going to go through the same questions and share my answers.

Favorite book cover?
A graph? About marriage? Excellent!

Then they went and renamed the book and gave it a cover with Post-Its or something.

What are you reading right now?
On audiobook, I'm listening to The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. On my Kindle, I'm reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that?
Yeah, I have to read The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin for my local book club. Then I have How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, recommended here, ready to go on audiobook.

What five books have you always wanted to read but haven't got round to?
This is challenging, as I have 100 books on my to-read list now (which I think you can see on my Goodreads profile). The ones that have been on there the longest aren't necessarily the ones I've wanted to read for the longest, they're just the ones I could remember when I first created an account earlier this year.

Probably the ones I've had on my to-read list for the longest time are
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
Mike used his expiring airline miles last year to subscribe to three: TIME, Entertainment Weekly, and Sports Illustrated. So we've got a bunch of those in our bathroom; the trick is getting him to get rid of the old ones before they spill out of the magazine holder we have in there.

What's the worst book you've ever read?
Another difficult one. I abandoned 90 Minutes in Heaven because it was completely unconvincing and the majority of the book was just excruciating detail about his physical recovery from the accident that "killed" him. Of books I've actually finished, I have quite a few 1-star ratings in my Goodreads (meaning "I hated it"), but I hate them all for different reasons.

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt may take the cake for the worst; besides just being badly edited, the book basically consisted of creating far more characters than anyone could keep track of, then having everyone have sex with one another for most of the book, and then killing off most of the characters at the end. I also hated Wicked by Gregory Maguire for having zero plot resolution (disappointing when the musical is so intricately plotted and cleverly worded) and The Younger Gods by David Eddings, book 4 of The Dreamers series, for being the worst series resolution I've ever read.

What book seemed really popular but you didn't like it?
Definitely more than one on this one:
What's the one book you always recommend to just about anyone?
Books that I recommend often in the course of conversation are 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, Quiet by Susan Cain, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and Ask for It by Linda Babcok and Sara Laschever. If people specifically ask for fiction recommendations, though, I'll recommend The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, or the Belgariad and Mallorean series (starting with Pawn of Prophecy) by David Eddings.

What are your three favorite poems?
Not sure I can narrow it to just three poems, but I've previously shared my three favorite poets!

Where do you usually get your books?
The library, in particular the OverDrive/Library2Go digital system. Just a couple clicks and a new ebook is sent right to my Kindle, or downloaded to put into my iTunes. So laziness tends to prevail in which book I read next. Now that the campus library's back open, though, I may start picking up books from there on my way home from work.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
Like Kirsti said, "Read All The Things All The Time?" I'd get a big stack of books from the library and blaze through them. Mysteries were my favorite for a long time; I think that phase finally petered out once I'd read Agatha Christie's complete works.

What's the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?
I can't remember when I last stayed up super-late reading, but the last book to really absorb me was probably Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Before that, I couldn't put down the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Have you ever "faked" reading a book?
No, and in fact, I found out near my college graduation that I was one of the few people (if not the only person) who did all of the reading for my scholars program; apparently since I participated in class so much, everyone was just taking cues from me what the book was about and adding their own commentary accordingly. I had no idea until a bunch of them told me. It would not have occurred to me to even try that -- I'd be too worried about getting caught.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Not for a long time -- I rarely buy books nowadays unless I've read them already and want my own copy. But I have picked up library books based on the cover/title, including Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog and I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker (both of which are good).

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I liked the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, and anything by Roald Dahl.

What book changed your life?
Funny you should ask... Here are three books that literally changed my life.

What is your favorite passage from a book?
I don't think I could pick one favorite. There is one passage that comes to mind from King of the Murgos (part of the Mallorean series) that had my friends and I cracking up for weeks, but as it contains a fantastic plot twist (or maybe "character revelation" is more accurate) I don't want to spoil it. I also entertained my friends in high school by reading the "Sex" passage from Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys. Neither is particularly profound, though; for that, I've started using the Quotes section of Goodreads to record favorite lines and passages.

Who are your top five favorite authors?
Last time I was asked this question, I gave 10, and I think those are still pretty accurate, so here you go:
  • William Shakespeare
  • Agatha Christie
  • David Eddings
  • Bill Bryson
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • John Green
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • C.S. Lewis
  • E.L. Konigsburg

What book has no one heard about but should read?
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. I don't remember who recommended it to me, but it's incredible. Look for it on an upcoming 3BoT list.

What books are you an "evangelist" for?
Definitely Torn by Justin Lee. I think it's one of the most important books written in the past year about the church in America, which is why I ran a giveaway for seven copies of the book in January.

What are your favorite books by a first-time author?
I was surprised to learn that Jenny Wingfield (The Homecoming of Samuel Lake) was a first-time author. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was also a debut novel. And as much hype as John Green's The Fault in Our Stars has gotten, his first novel, Looking for Alaska, is pretty amazing as well.

What is your favorite classic book?
Probably The Count of Monte Cristo or The Scarlet Pimpernel. I don't remember much about either of them, just that I read both of them in middle school and loved them.

Five other notable mentions?
Have I not named too many books already?? OK, here are five more books that got five-star ratings from me:
Want even MORE book recommendations? Check out my monthly Three Books on Thursday posts, or visit my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

What do you think about any of the books mentioned here? If you answer the Q&A, leave a link in comments!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book title and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books listed here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today's Sermons

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today's Sermons | Faith Permeating Life

This month's synchroblog is on parables, specifically Jesus' parables as recorded in the Gospels.

Reflecting on these various stories, I noticed how they differed from stories in most present-day sermons and homilies. These sermons might start out with a joke or a personal story of something that happened to the priest or minister, which then ties into a broader theme of "sacrifice" or "unconditional love." The joke comes fully formed with a punchline; the personal story happens as it happens and then must have connections drawn to the topic at hand by the speaker. They are not created from scratch; they are included for illustration of a broad idea.

This is not the role Jesus' parables took, however. Jesus used familiar elements from the lives of his listeners (e.g., seeds, sheep, coins), but he created brand-new stories out of them. His parables were used as analogies to explain very difficult concepts. He spoke much more in the style of a classroom teacher, one trying to convey a difficult mathematical or scientific concept through the use of a story, where the different players in the story represent the interacting pieces of a concept or model.

This contrast, between Jesus' parables and the stories in today's sermons, tells us a number of things.

One, these ideas were new to Jesus' audience. Priests are taking well-worn ideas from the Bible that they themselves will never fully understand and trying to find new ways to shed light on them, new ways to think about them. They know that we've all heard the story of the prodigal son before, and so they crack a joke that may be only tangentially related to get our attention before revisiting an old theme about God's unconditional love.

But for those Jesus was speaking to, this idea of God was novel enough that Jesus had to weave a whole new story about a father and two sons in order to attempt to explain it. He was trying to use a new, surprising story to explain something as broad and abstract as God's relationship to us. Whereas we've probably had every parable dissected for us in one sermon or another, these stories were brand-new to Jesus' listeners.

Two, Jesus spoke with authority. We hear this about Jesus from the writers of the Gospels, but we can see what is meant through the parables. He does not speak as someone who's right there with us trying to puzzle things out, nor as a tutor trying to reframe familiar material in a new way. He speaks as a teacher, one who has the degree and the teacher's manual and is trying to come up with an analogy that will explain this broad and unwieldy concept he already understands deeply to students who he knows will find it difficult to grasp.

Finally, Jesus wanted his listeners to understand specifics. Jesus spends a lot of time trying to explain the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven." As many scholars have suggested, I don't think he was talking about some place we go when we die, but a vision for what can be created on earth in this life. After all, why spend so much time and use so many different parables simply to give his listeners a glimpse of the afterlife? No, he wanted to make sure people understood their marching orders: This is how you are to treat each other. This is the relationship God wants with you here and now.

It would be a mistake to see Jesus' sermons as just like today's sermons, and his parables as the same as the stories that illustrate those sermons. He was sharing brand-new ideas that only he understood, trying to use familiar concepts and language to explain them so that people would see what they needed to do. This means that no matter how often they're unpacked for us in church, it's worth revisiting them from the perspective of those first listeners to see how amazing and radical they really were.

Check out the other contributors to this month's synchroblog:
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