Dinner: A lament


The other day, I was having some angry feelings.  They were there a little bit when I woke up in the morning, but not overwhelmingly so.  I made coffee, which usually helps with all my morning feelings, and I took some chicken out of the freezer.  Once you thaw that chicken, take it out of the freezer like that, you’ve made a commitment.   You’re basically saying, at 8:00 in the morning, that you’re going to do something to that chicken 10 hours from now.  You haven’t even had your morning toast yet, but you’ve got chicken on the brain.  And I resented the chicken.  A lot.  I felt a flush, a surge, of irrational anger toward….dinner.  I drank my coffee.  That took my mind off the chicken for a while.  Because, coffee.

As the day went on I could see the chicken there, thawing on the counter, taunting me.  “You wrote Chicken Cordon Bleu on the menu, it’s your son’s favorite.  He’s been looking forward to it all week.  He’s been talking about since 10 am.  Bet you can’t wait to stuff me with some ham and cheese and roll me in breadcrumbs!  By the way, you’re going to need to start that process in approximately 3 hours in order to get me into the oven on time.”  Shut up, chicken.  I would  like to read this book here and take a nap.  The anger burned brighter.

Around 4 pm I realized I had some serious issues that I maybe needed to work through.  So I texted my friend, Keri.

Me:  I just need to tell someone–I feel so unreasonably angry at dinner right now.
Keri:  I’m sorry.  Vent away!  Tell me all about it.
Me:  Dinner is so selfish.  It always wants me to make it.  It never makes itself.
Keri:  Stupid dinner.
Me:  I used to like to cook.  True story.  It was even on my bio on the website at the first pediatric office I worked in.  So was gardening–LOL!
Keri:  Haha!  What would your bio say now?  I know….at home, Tracy enjoys running, making sarcastic comments, and avoiding her children.  At work, she misses her children, enjoys making (mostly HIPPA compliant) sarcastic comments, and fighting against “the man”.
Me:  YES.  You know me so well.
Keri:  I get you, Tracy.  I really do.

I felt really validated after that.  And I started thinking about this complicated web of emotions that I have around dinner, trying to put my finger on where it all went wrong.

It really is true, that I used to like to cook.  I used to watch Food Network, try new recipes every week, make all this stuff from scratch.  I was not a “foodie” by any means, but I was a solid home cook there for a while.  Then I had kids.

Let me tell you.  Nothing is worse for your self-esteem as a home cook than a couple of kids.  There is nothing quite like spending an hour plus in the kitchen preparing a meal for your family, only to have everybody weeping at the table within minutes.  And no, I don’t make my kids a separate meal, in case you’re wondering.  You would think that they would get used to the fact that they either eat what we serve, or they don’t eat at all.  But it has been 9.5 years now, and almost every night at least one of them will leave the table without eating anything at all.  They would rather go to bed hungry than risk certain death from teriyaki salmon, jasmine rice, and steamed broccoli.  If they don’t refuse to eat altogether it’s almost worse, because then I get sucked into the “dessert negotiation”.  This is usually my daughter’s M.O.

Her:  “How much more do I need to eat to get dessert?”
Me:  “All of it.”
*Takes smallest bite possible*
Her:  “Can I have dessert now?”

So at this point in my life, I just feel really worn down, and extraordinarily tired of dinner, and all the baggage that comes with making it, serving it, and cleaning up from it.   AND, I am lucky enough to have a husband who works from home, so I only really have to endure dinner duty twice a week.  You would think that a little distance would help with my dysfunctional relationship with dinner, but it really hasn’t.  It is really dinner’s fault, for this tension between us.  I think dinner needs to take responsibility for some things.

Dinner is inconsiderate.  It always comes between 5-7 pm.  This is the same time that my children lose their minds every night.  I have not been successful in rescheduling my children’s meltdowns to any other consistent time of day.  That is the time.  So you would think that dinner could take a hint and give a girl a break, while her kids are having their breakdowns. But noooo, dinner can’t do that.

Dinner is time-consuming.  All the planning, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up is a real schedule-buster, especially if you want to eat healthy.  Don’t even get me started on how long it takes a 7 year-old to eat 1/4 cup of pasta and 2 lettuce leaves.

Dinner is never-ending.  You have to make it every day.  And the more you make it, the more the people who live with you expect it.  And they say things like, “I’m hungry, when is dinner?”, or “what’s for dinner?”, so you can’t even pretend like you were just going to serve snacks and hope they don’t notice that you didn’t feel like making dinner today.

Dinner is one of the most stressful, noisy, chaotic, emotional times of the day for a parent.  It is filled with whining, complaining, endless questions, messes of epic proportions, interruptions, and a ridiculous amount of potty humor.

I just need some time away from you, dinner.  I can’t go on this way.  You take more than you give.  It’s unhealthy for me.  I think a few weeks of Cheerios and toast in front of the TV would help me a lot.  I just need some space.

I told my husband about all of my messy feelings toward dinner.  He suggested I focus on the good things that come out of dinnertime.  Who’s side is he on anyway?

I don’t know, dinner.  Maybe you and I can make peace someday.  Pretty sure it won’t be anytime this decade.

 

Shades of Grey

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I used to think I had my faith all figured out.  Maybe it is more accurate to say that I used to have religion all figured out.  I am, for the most part, a rule-follower.  This is particularly true when it comes to matters of faith.  I would have made an excellent Pharisee, back in the day.  I was raised Catholic, and the impression that I had growing up was that being Catholic is not just something that you are, but also something that you DO.  I was pretty good at DOING what I needed to do to be a decent Catholic.  My mother made sure that we attended a Catholic school, went to church regularly, and performed all of our sacraments as expected.  I went to confession, where I unburdened myself of as much of my Catholic guilt as any Catholic can reasonably be expected to let go of, temporarily.  Our community had a large population of Catholics with varying degrees of church involvement.  Those of us who attended regularly would shake our heads and cluck our tongues at the “Christmas and Easter” church-goers.

When I was in high school, I started attending a youth group at a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.  This was my first introduction to a Protestant church, and I loved it.  Instantly.  It seemed so different from the church I was raised in.  There was no mechanical chanting of the liturgy, no (overt) rituals.  We were encouraged to read our Bibles, study on our own, and the emphasis was on a personal relationship with God.  I threw myself into that.  It made me a very awkward high-schooler, but at youth group and church, I fit in.  I felt I had been relieved of what I perceived as the legalistic burdens that had been placed on me growing up in the Catholic faith.

Now, looking back, I realize that I didn’t really unburden myself of anything.  I let go of some things passed down from my Catholic upbringing, and exchanged them instead for a conservative evangelical worldview, which had its own set of standards and expectations, and its own brand of legalism.

Here is a confession.  Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to admit that I am a Christian.  Not because of my belief in God or Jesus, but because of how we as Evangelical Christians have (rightly or wrongly) become this caricature of ourselves.  Over the past two decades, the world around me has changed, church leaders have risen and fallen, certain societal issues have become hot buttons in the media, and I have been humbled as I have come face to face with my own legalistic beliefs, and my lack of love and understanding for people who  don’t share those beliefs.

I am not at all trying to say that the Church–Evangelical, Catholic, or otherwise–is inherently bad or wrong, or not worth being a part of.  On the contrary, I think the Church is filled with good people who are really trying their best to get it right.  But all of those good people are also imperfect, still learning, and still being shaped, and sometimes we get it wrong, either individually or collectively.  We want to label everything, put it into neat little boxes, maintain order, and have everyone follow a consistent formula that will add up to the sum total of our faith.  So when issues are difficult to categorize, we try to make them fit into a category.  Right or wrong.  Black or white.

For the last decade I have just felt confused about how to look at controversial issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, social justice, racial inequality, or gay marriage, through the lens of my faith in Jesus Christ.  I thought I knew how I felt about all of those issues.  But mostly I just knew what the well-meaning, imperfect people from my church upbringing had taught me about those issues.

I have spent years weaving the fabric of my faith out of black and white threads, only to find out that when I take a step back, it all looks grey.

I am making peace with the grey areas right now.  I think it is OK that they are there.  I think embracing the grey areas has made me a kinder, gentler person.  I am still working on the more militant, legalistic parts of me that pop up every now and again.

I think Jesus actually did his part to point out some of the grey areas, while he was here on earth.  I think of the woman who was to be stoned to death for adultery, when Jesus encouraged anyone in the crowd who was without sin to cast the first stone.  Also, he was a rule-breaker, wasn’t he?  Healing on the Sabbath, hanging with the bad crowd, getting the most devout people of the time all in a tizzy.

My worry is this:  when does this pondering and wrestling with the grey areas of my faith cross the line and become complacency, apathy, or a form of moral nihilism?  If I remove all those absolutes, get rid of the list of moral and religious “do’s and don’ts”, am I subscribing to a watered-down version of faith that I have designed to make myself less uncomfortable in the culture in which I live, or am I breaking through a barrier?  Am I embracing grace, or am I conforming to my culture?

I don’t have any answers yet, in case you were hoping I would have a closing paragraph that would bring clarity.  But I am interested in hearing comments from those who can identify with me and are willing to share!

Image credit:  rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

It’s a small world after all

 

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Today I got to make a new friend.  Her name is Kelly, and she is sweet, bubbly, and so cute and little I could just put her in my pocket.  Kelly and I are going to Haiti together next month to visit Heartline, and it turns out we live in the same city.

Can you believe this?  We have a total of 5 people from the USA going to Heartline, and  2 of us live in the Rochester area.  It gets weirder….

…we both work for the University of Rochester Medical Center…

…we both have husbands named Jeff/Geoff…

… We worked at Strong Memorial at the same time for about a year, somewhere around 2001, and we both thought the other looked vaguely familiar….

… Our husbands are both avid bikers and, in fact, when we met for lunch, both Jeff and Geoff were racing this morning, at the exact same race

…we even wore the same shirt to lunch (different colors, but same shirt).

It was a joy to get to know Kelly this morning, as our kids played with their food and we ignored them as much as possible.  The kids hit it off too!  When lunch was over, Nate suggested, “why don’t we head back to our house, and you girls can talk while we play?”  Alas, there were birthday parties to attend and errands to run, so we had to take a rain check on that.  Hopefully Kelly and I will be able to get more acquainted on the plane ride down, if we can score seats beside each other!

Only 3 more weeks until we depart!

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The offspring (minus Kelly’s youngest, who had better things to do apparently)😉

Do short-term missions trips really help?

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I had my first conference call for our trip to Haiti last week.  Three out of five of our group members called in, and we had a chance to talk to each other, and to the group leaders, about the upcoming trip.  Most of it was helpful information to assist us in preparing for our trip, travel information, and knowing what to expect once we get there.

One of the things that I asked, that was not (initally) answered to my satisfaction, was “what kind of work will we be doing once we get there?”.  The answer that I received has lead me to do some introspection about my motives for going on my trip, as well as some more reading on the pitfalls of short-term missions trips.

What I was told is that we will be flying in and getting settled on Saturday, April 9th.  On Sunday we will get to go to church in the mountain village of Chambone with the people who live there.  Monday through Thursday we will have an opportunity to experience the things that are going on at Heartline Ministries.  We will be visiting 1-2 schools that are associated with Heartline’s sponsorship programs, and likely one orphanage as well.  We may be involved in a maintenance project if there is a need, or sorting and stocking supplies.  In terms of our medical skills, their goal is for us to be able to find a niche within the ministry that suits our skills and our passions, so we can start to build lasting relationships with the organization, and be in ongoing partnership with them if we wish.  They frequently do missions trips at Heartline, but apparently this is their first medical team!

I am really excited to do all of those things.  From the start, I have really just wanted to help where it is needed, big or small.  But I admit I was a little surprised that there didn’t seem to be an area where I could just let loose with my mad, crazy, nurse skills.  I am very task-oriented much of the time (show me a nurse who isn’t!).  So when people ask me after my trip, “what did you do there?”, there is that part of me that wants to be able to fill in that blank with proclamations like “I administered 200 life-saving vaccines and debrided festering wounds!”, or something equally nurse-y.

There is actually a lot of buzz out there that talks about how short-term missions trips (medically or surgically-related trips in particular) can actually harm more than they help.  The premise of having a group of Westerners swoop in to offer their services for one or two weeks has not necessarily been shown to improve health outcomes in third-world countries in the long run.  Follow-up care is often inadequate to maintain any kind of lasting effect.  Moreover, these types of interactions often undermine the efforts of local health care workers, by giving the people the impression that adequate health care can only be administered by Westerners.  It does little to provide the people with a sustainable system by which they can continue to receive adequate follow-up treatment and care for chronic conditions.

I admit I have never taken this into consideration.  I have always been of the school of thought that “every little bit helps”.  But does it?  Some have argued that the money spent to transport and house a team of volunteers could go much farther if given directly to the host organization.

I read a very interesting article, published by G. Schwartz in 2004, which addressed the issue of wanting to be task-oriented in our approach in short-term missions.  In it he says,

“…in the preparation of short-termers, the anticipation of “doing good” for someone else is frequently overplayed.  Americans are to be commended for their willingness to help those whom they perceive to be in need.  Our worldview includes a substantial portion of charitable or philanthropic concern.  Some of it is driven by the benefit of a tax-deductible receipt, some by a spirit of adventure, but much of it is genuine compassion.  “Doing” (what we accomplish) is often in conflict with the importance of “being”, (who we are).  This important distinction could well be at the root of the problem.  Someone once referred to such people as “human doings”, rather than “human beings.”

He further goes on to say, “…the attitude that an ‘outsider’ can do the job better than ‘local people’ is often at the heart of how we as westerners view ourselves….Our challenge is to find a way to help that does not leave others with the impression they are too weak, too helpless, and too uninformed to help themselves.  “

It seems, then, that if we want to truly help those in need (at home or abroad), we need to find a way to do so that truly sustains them, builds their communities, supports and builds infrastructure, and honors each person’s humanity and dignity.

I guess that is what I love about Heartline, at least what I have seen of it so far.  And I guess that is what my team leader was trying to tell me on the phone, when she answered my question about “what” we would be doing.  Heartline’s focus is on building long-term relationships, strengthening the families and communities in the area, and showing love in practical ways.  I want to be a part of that.  Even if that means I don’t get to unleash all my mad crazy nursing skills.  I want to be a learner.  I think that missionaries who have given their whole lives to a work like this have much to teach me, and I would be wise to watch and listen.  “Do” less.  Listen more.  Be still.  I fully expect that I will receive much more than I give on this trip.  I hope to bring back with me a renewed focus for life in a first-world country, which itself is not lacking in opportunity to help others.

I started reading an excellent book this week, called When Helping Hurts: Alleviating poverty without hurting the poor… and yourself.  Wow.  So much content in here.  This book has already deeply changed the way I think about the world around me, and yet I feel the need to read it at least a few more times, so I can internalize it all.  I feel like really internalizing and implementing the things in this book would take a lifetime.

For those of you who have participated in short-term missions trips, medical or otherwise, I would love to hear your comments below regarding your experience, and your perception of the value of such trips!
Image credit:  Naypong Image by 9comeback at Freedigitalphotos.net

Article credit:  Glenn Schwartz, 2004.  How short-term missions can go wrong.  International Journal of Frontier Missions, 20 (4), 27-34.

 

 

New list of items needed for children in Haiti!

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Hello family and friends.  I have been sick at home all week, on my couch.  It is not as relaxing as it sounds.  It is mostly very achy and chilly and sweaty, and there have been lots of tissues involved.  And now I have a little 7 year-old home with a fever who, once medicated with ibuprofen, wants to do things like ride her bike and go to the museum, like she’s on vacation or something.  Ha!  Kids.

Anyhow, I got an email from Heartline today, with a list of things they are collecting for the orphanages and schools they are affiliated with. We will be visiting some schools and orphanages on our trip, and interacting with the children there.  For anyone who hasn’t done their shopping yet and would like to still contribute, Heartline has a need for the following items:

Jump  ropes
Flip  flops
Regular  shoes
Children’s  size  T-­shirts
School  supplies
Backpacks
Soccer  balls
Frisbees
Jacks
Decks  of  cards
Uno  (card  game)
Stickers
Water  bottles  or  those  bag  type  water  bottles
Jump  ropes
Kazoos
Whistles
Bells,  Shakers
Rain  sticks
Chalk
Slap  bracelets
Matchbox  type  cars
Hats
Sunglasses
Clothes
Balls
Candy  (non-­‐sugar  like  jolly  ranchers)
Jewelry  accessories
Small  matchbox/hot  wheel  cars
Art  and  craft  supplies

I am still collecting supplies for the maternity center too.  If you missed it, that list is here, and their Amazon wish list is here.

I had my first conference call last week and will have an update for you, when I have the energy!