One Day In Austin

Don and I met at a coffee house today. I suspect we’ll be announcing wedding plans in a few days…we just want to take things slow, ‘ya know, don’t rush things…really get to know each other well.

I should back up for my friends who are new to this conversation. My small group from church read Don Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz this past year. It was a really good book. (This is why I don’t write book reviews. War and Peace? Well, that was a very long book. Gladwell’s Outliers? That was a very interesting book.) I digress, so back to Don.

I like the way his brain works. He’s got some synapses that seem to be firing in the right patterns, and I’d say he’s capable of stringing together a sentence or two. (A million or more sold copies of his book might attest to the fact that someone out there agrees with me about his writing skills. Or, more likely, his amazingly beautiful and honest thoughts about faith.)

Shortly after I finished Blue Like Jazz, my friend Kris (who has a massive crush on Don but only in a very holy and spiritual way of course, because she’s married) sent me a link to Don’s blog where he had posted a video of Lucy, his new chocolate Lab. It was total puppy love. It might also have been a classic case of transference.

Lucy was careening around Don’s home chewing up everything in sight. My black lab, Whistler, chewed my rugs. Whistler destroyed my shoes. I was waiting for video footage of Lucy chewing Don’s walls down to the studs, and while I waited, I thought about how committed I was to my crazy beast. I love Whistler. I love Labs, which meant that I loved Lucy, and while I was at it, I probably loved Don, too.

As fate would have it, Kris pointed out that in addition to Lucy, Don had an iMac. That clinched it. Same breed of dog. Same brand of computer. I mean, forget the fact that Labradors are like the most popular breed of dogs in the U.S. I’m taking it as a cosmic sign that we have the whole world in common with each other. Soul mates.

So fast-forward to the Q conference here in Austin, Texas. We’re listening to a series of 18-minute presentations from some pretty interesting folks: Gregory Berns, Chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University on how the brain of an iconoclast works; Author Shane Hipps on the impact of technology on our souls; Tyler Wigg-Stevenson on the post-atomic world. Ten presentations on Day 1; nine more on Day 2 and then a panel discussion and breakout sessions.

I know that I’m a complete nerd, but I feel like a fly in a meat house at these conferences. I scribble notes. I soak in the speakers and the discussions. At our breaks for lunch and dinner, I like to talk with other conference attendees—particularly this one because of the shared passion for social ventures—and collect their business cards for possible interviews/features for the World Vision Report, where I work.

This afternoon, conference organizers sent us off to various sites across Austin to meet with small groups to discuss what we’ve heard over the past day and a half. I was in Don Miller’s group. (Confession is good for the soul, so I need to state that I wasn’t actually assigned to his group, but I might have misread the group number on my lanyard so as to end up at the coffee house where Don was group leader. Fate needs a helping hand at times.) I entered the coffee shop and noticed that our small group was rather large. A lot of young women were there. Pretty, single, young women who apparently were also having a hard time discerning their proper group assignments.

Don entered and surveyed the scene. We did not lock gazes across the room, so I casually walked over and introduced myself. I’m certain Don was instantly smitten. True love was looking him in the eye. All time stood still. [Fill in your own cliché.] He tried to play it cool, but he was shaking. My hand, that is. We shook hands. I told him we shared some mutual friends. (Larry Wilson who worked on World Vision magazine with me was now married to Susan Isaacs, a friend of Don’s…) I wanted to tell him all the other commonalities we shared. Dogs. Computers. Both of us reside in the Pacific Northwest. Both of us are citizens of planet earth. I needed a few more minutes to figure out what other ties bind us together…but Don was heading off to the barista to order something so he could start the session.

Our group talked about how dumb we felt to have our smart phones confiscated from us during the presentation on technology. We discussed the session with Ted and Gayle Haggard and the response of churches to leaders when they fall.

Don observed how easy it was for people who merely buy products connected to good causes to feel like they have done their part as humanitarians but they resist really getting involved. He talked about his foundation for fatherless boys and how difficult it’s been to recruit mentors to commit to befriending 7- to 12-year-old boys.

I told him that World Vision had an opposite version of this problem. Everyone wanted a hands-on, experiential involvement beyond financial contributions—take a trip somewhere, volunteer with us. But these were short-term involvements, so perhaps Don’s correct that there is a lack of response when it comes to messy, life-altering and life-involving, long-term commitments.

I wanted to say, “Don, I believe in long-term, life-altering commitments,” but another lovely lady was asking him to please come over to their table to tell them about The Story: “You’re the only one who can really talk to us about writing the arc of a story,” she said with batty eyelashes.

Don declined. He had another appointment to keep. I like to think he was just letting her down gently because today, he met me…and if nothing else, well, we’ll always have Austin!

An Open Letter to Jason Mesnick, The Bachelor

Dear Jason,

My friend Kris thinks you have nice skin and teeth. My friend Kari thinks that good teeth tell you a lot about a man. Hadn’t thought much about it, but I guess they’re right. Kris and Kari are always right. And I like both of their husbands, so they must have pretty good instincts about men.

But I wasn’t really writing to talk about dental hygiene or dermatology or Tom and Lee. Thing is, I’ve been sucked into this crazy show, The Bachelor. I made a New Year’s resolution to try to watch more TV because I’m hopelessly lost when it comes to pop culture, and The Bachelor is what came up. This is the first season I’ve watched it, and while I’d like to be pretentious and say that I spend my evenings listening to Mozart while reading Proust and Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer and Goethe, the truth is I’m listening to Journey right now and blogging. I happen to be able to correctly pronounce Goethe, but at this moment I’m thinking about how you said that the sleep over with Molly in your backyard tent ended at first base. Really? In my definition book, first base never included a slumber party. I’m so confused!

Despite the fact that you’ve decided to date and select a spouse through a reality television show (twice) in front of millions of views, you seem like a semi-normal, decent guy. So from one single Seattlite to another, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts about dating with ‘ya:

1. Avoid general questions like, “Tell me about yourself.” Or you’ll end up with answers like Natalie’s: I really like bears. All kinds of bears. [On second thought, maybe that kind of answer tells you enough about the person right there! You may want to skip the whole fantasy suite thing and head directly to Build-a-Bear.]

2. You won’t get very helpful responses by asking any of the girls, “Are you ready to be a mom?” No one knows what motherhood/parenthood is really like until you become a mother/parent. Nothing prepares you for it. No one can explain it. And no one can anticipate how she’ll do in the role. If she does, it’s pure conjecture.

Like job interviewing, you really can’t ask, “Do you think you’d do well in this job?” What’s the candidate going to say: “I’m lazy and dishonest and lack problem-solving skills”? Better to ask these ladies to tell you stories of how they’ve handled themselves in the past. When have they failed at something? What was the best thing that ever happened to them? What stresses them out and what do they do when they’re stressed? Listen to their answers. Look at their attitudes. Best indicator of future performance? Past performance.

If you really want to get a sense of who’s mother material, invite them to the fantasy suite and set an alarm clock to go off every two hours. When it rings, hand them a wailing infant with a smelly diaper to change, feed and burp. Have them measure out accurate amounts of antibiotics at measured intervals through the night, and then wake them up in the morning to pack a diaper bag, pack a school lunch and then get dressed to go to work. See who has “chemistry” with you when the night in the fantasy suite is over.

3. Keep in mind the oxytocin factor. It’s that good ol’ bonding hormone released in a woman during childbirth and when a mother nurses her child. It’s the hormone that makes a mother look at her cone-headed, squishy-faced alien of a baby and fall punch-drunk in love with the world’s most beautiful being. Quite simply, oxytocin is cupid’s arrow. The sirens’ song. A hormonal spell of sorts meant to create strong feelings of attachment.

Do men produce oxytocin? Science says yes, but the hormone isn’t present in the male species much of the time. To borrow your baseball analogy, men’s levels of oxytocin significantly increase as they’re achieving a home run.

So if you’re trying to keep a clear head to make a wise life-long decision…well, ‘nuf said.

There you have it, my pearls of wisdom before the swine of reality television. And while the show’s a bit short on reality, I can’t help but quote good old Goethe: “Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”

Good luck and see ‘ya at the final rose ceremony!

Shelly

Of Birds and Bees and Ryan’s New Squeeze

Megan’s the writer in our family. She started a blog which I stumbled upon, and, of course, read. How else would I know what’s going on in my preadolescent’s mind and life? And since she posted it, it wasn’t like I was picking a diary lock or something, though I probably would pick a diary lock if I thought it had any good scoop in it.

As it turns out, the blog was very helpful. It revealed that Megan has a strong vocabulary, a way with words, and a wry sense of humor. It also revealed that Ryan secretly confessed to Megan that he has a crush on Emily, a little girl in kindergarten–already starting with the younger women! Megan honored his secret by posting the news to the world-wide web.

“My 7-year-old brother has a crush on girl,” Megan wrote. “Good grief! When I was 7, I thought a crush meant that someone had stepped on your toes.”

Later that night, I was reading “The Longest Trip Home,” the memoir of John Grogan (author of “Marley and Me”). Grogan writes detailed recollections of his childhood awakenings to females starting with his request for a telescope so he could gaze at the next door neighbor sunbathing in her backyard. (His parents praised their son’s interest in astronomy… their “young Galileo.”)

Megan’s blog and Grogan’s insight into a young boy’s brain nagged at me. And I realized I hadn’t had THE TALK with Ryan or Paige. They’re young, but kids in school share things and allude to things, and I’d much rather be the one to share this with them and provide them with accurate information and at least a broad framework of what’s what. Specific details could be filled in later.

I have long thought that my kids should come upon this knowledge without coy analogies of “special hugs” “seeds” or talk about birds and bees. The conversation should be respectful. Honest. Direct. That way they wouldn’t think anything was dirty or something to be embarrassed about.

We sat down for dinner. I passed a bowl of broccoli to Paige and very casually asked the kids, “Do you guys know how babies are made?”

“Yes,” Megan said. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Well, I kinda know, like I know some things,” Ryan said.

“Mom!” Megan interrupted. “My stomach is totally nauseous. Can we NOT talk about this or I’ll be sick.”

“Yeah, Mom,” Paige said. “Like that stuff is really eewey and gross. Let’s not talk about it.”

So much for exploring the beauty of God’s plan for procreation. Eewey and gross. A vomit-inducing conversation. After the week we’ve had, I suppose I should avoid any discussions of bodily fluids and functions. So I shelved the talk and somehow we moved on to how some men (and all gentlemen) pull out a chair to seat a woman. We interrupted our meal to demonstrate this with me holding Paige’s chair out for her and instructing her to stay standing until the chair touched the back of her knees–you can’t push in a chair with a woman plopped down on it.

Ryan jumped up to demonstrate his fine manners. He marched over to Paige and barked at her, “Get out of your chair, Paige, so I can seat you.” Wow, the hearts you could win with that approach!

I give up. I think I’ll hit Amazon for a good ol’ book to educate the young the way that generations before me have handled this. And while I’m at it, maybe Emily Post will have a thing or two to share with Ryan about Emily etiquette.

My Secret Fantasy Life

In 2007, Michael J. Easley, then President of the conservative Moody Bible Institute, stood up and shared with the intimate crowd of six or seven hundred National Religious Broadcasters that he no longer had sexual fantasies; he had father fantasies. In these dreams, Easley would ask his children to help him rake the leaves in their yard, and his three teenagers would eagerly grab the rakes and thank him for the opportunity to contribute to the care and maintenance of their household.

Easley went on to fantasize about the day that his teenagers would stop sharing their list of needs with him and instead stop him to say, “Thank you, O Father, for thy bountiful provision and ways that you have provided for us.”

We all have our dreams. Mine were interrupted this morning at 4:30 a.m. by the third of my four children to be stricken with the stomach flu. If I could have videotaped the next 30 minutes of my life, the footage would be a powerful teaching tool for teenage abstinence or for better contraceptive use among couples.

Ryan, somehow, thought it necessary to run from his room to the bathroom to my room, barfing along the way, to let me know that he was sick. (In case I wouldn’t have figured it out by the trail along the carpet.) So I’ve been up cleaning the hallway carpet since 4:30 a.m. (Stupidly served the kids rice with their dinner…and I probably should not go on with any more detail.) I’m cleaning and thinking that mother’s day should be a week-long celebration. Heck, make that a month-long worship-fest to the mother/god.

I’m cleaning and thinking of my friend Erinn’s Facebook note about the pleasures of being single and sans children. I’m happy for her. Okay, I’m a bit wistful of her situation. Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m Incredible Hulk-green with envy of her as I think about her day likely starting hours later than mine this morning.

I’ve also been having imaginary conversations with a non-existent spouse. He’s saying to me, “It’s okay, dear. Why don’t you go to bed and I’ll clean this up.” As you can see, I have a vivid imagination by the time 5:00 a.m. rolls around. Or maybe I’ve been breathing the fumes from the carpet cleaner?

I’m picking up a pile of clothes that got left in the hallway–a pile which Ryan apparently stumbled over and uh, well, another laundry challenge. I’m drifting to the next fantasy conversation where I coo to my spouse, “Don’t worry about helping me, honey. You have to go to work tomorrow in that strenuous job you have as an underwear model (when you’re not managing those hedge funds), so why don’t you let me clean this up since I’ll just be napping and eating bon bons after the kids go to school.”

My spouse flashes a dazzling smile at me. He rubs my shoulders and tells me how great and sexy I look at 5:00 a.m. wearing those rubber gloves and wielding my spray bottle of Resolve Carpet Cleaner. He tells me he’ll be home early to fix us dinner now that he’s dropped his consulting work for the American Association for Nuclear Physicists and is cutting back his volunteer hours for Habitat for Humanity.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re awake or still dreaming. The odor is usually one clue…

It’s Sngo-ing

I told my mother I’m a good all-weather driver. Snow’s no big deal. There are multiple routes back to my house if one road is icy. We headed out in my rear-wheel drive car this afternoon. Hmmm. Maybe I should have thought that one through.

Evening settled in. Snow melted and then re-froze on the road. We tried one road with an incline back to my house and gave up after a few slides back down. A second hill wasn’t any better. I’m so glad for neighbors with AWD vehicles. We abandoned the car on the side of the road (where six other vehicles were stuck), and my neighbor, Dave, came and drove us up to my house. It was nice to be home…except I didn’t have my car to open the garage door. And I didn’t have a house key. And we didn’t put the key back in the key safe. And every friend with a spare key was unavailable/out of the area!

I walked around the back of the house and tried the doors and windows that I normally forget to latch and close. (Thank you, Jeff, for noticing my unlocked windows yesterday and promptly bolting them for me!)

I peered in the backdoor and saw that Whistler had once again opened the refrigerator. The fridge light showed that he was sampling a bit of buche de noel, some spanakopita, and had emptied the remaining tray of caramelized onions puffs with feta. I don’t get it. He usually prefers a diet of Legos, American Girl doll arms and plastic Target bags… sometimes little lead beads from wrist weights that look like buck shot when you x-ray his intestines.

If the dog can open the refrigerator, you’d think he could meander to the front door and unlock it for me. But he just stood there in the light of the fridge and looked blankly at me. Was there a trace of a smirk on Whistler’s face?

Desperate times require one to swallow one’s pride. Mom, after all, was standing at the front door with her purse and her second bag filled with food she had packed in case we got stuck in the snow. (Mom could have been a boy scout, she’s so prepared. Except when it comes to having a spare key.) I called my ex-husband and asked if he could bring Katie to my house. What did I need Katie for? Well, to crawl in through the dog door to let us into the house.

He showed up an hour later with my baby, aka as Chinese acrobat girl. I had to remove her puffy coat and a few more layers to allow her to lithely climb through the dog door. I could hear her cooing inside to Whistler. “I wuv you, Whistlewer. I missed you so much, doggie.”

Oh no. They were going to have a love-fest in the laundry room, and Katie would forget her mission! Stay on target, Katie. Stay on target!

She eventually remembered her cold Mommy and Grandma and opened the front door. I cleaned up the leftover smears and crumbs that Whistler had left in the kitchen and dining room. (He prefers to take his meals in the formal dining room.) I found the string cheese Whistler had buried underneath the cushions in my couch–stored for his midnight snack, I guess. He went out his dog door and returned with another piece of string cheese he had buried out in the snow.

Then mom came downstairs and announced that she was cleaning out her purse. And whadda ‘ya know? She had a spare house key in her purse the whole time…