Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tartans - Lara

I have always loved plaid. Perhaps it had to do with the detailed pattern that engaged my creative design oriented mind. I even felt tempted to buy various items in plaid to get into the Scottish spirit, from a lovely umbrella to a pair of daring slacks. This idea has been postponed until we actually arrive in Scotland.

The idea of seeing hundreds of variations to this iconic material in its traditional form of the tartan is very exciting. I don't know how a man in a plaid skirt can be the root of so much confidence and national pride, but somehow the kilt does carry an ancient sexiness that is rare in the states. With all that said, there is still something mysterious about the tartan and the plaid material that makes them unique. Can anyone wear any color they want or are they like gang colors where you can get jumped for wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood?

In my primary research I discovered that certain colors and patterns were named after certain clans of even specific areas, such as the beautiful plaid named after the MacDonald clan from Glencoe (same as the clan massacred in the 17th century, which may be explained in another blog post). Further research showed that the 19th century, it turns out, was when the family named plaids started and these names may have nothing to do with the historic costume that became illegal to wear during the time after
"Bonnie Prince Charlie" fought for Scotland's independence. This disappointment spurred more research.

In the vast history of the tartan, the plaid was used, but ran
domly just as each person thought looked nice or were specialized by certain makers in specific areas. In the 1700's, Scottish romantics started to celebrate their heritage by making the tartan fashionable again. The plaid manufacturers were eager to comply by creating unique patterns for each family. After a while clan chieftains were asked to provide the Highland Society of London a sample of their pattern to record for posterity. Many of them didn't have one, but decided on one at that time.

So all this is to say that it matters very little what pattern you pick if you wear the plaid for fashion or taste. In o
ur research, we found that Texas and other states have tartans as well. So perhaps we will make Texas our clan. Then again, I may just collect any pattern I like. Does a Gregory blanket match a Campbell rug or should I have a set of MacCleod curtains with MacDonald cushions?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Report on Lara's mother - Kerry

I am just now come back from visiting Lara's parents in Garland. As many of you probably know, Lara's mother had a cancerous tumor removed from her brain several weeks ago. She has since been in rehab and gathering her strength for the coming radiation and chemo treatments which began today.

This weekend was a pleasure. We left on Saturday night after I got off work and spent the evening talking. Sunday morning we got up early to attend the 8:00 AM retro-licious southern gospel "classic" service at Garland First Assembly at Firewheel (long name, great church). Afterwards we attended a Sunday School class whose focus recently has been a weekly dissection of Jesus' "I am" statements, this week's being "I am the bread of life." I actually felt engaged by the class, which, I am sad to say, happens rarely anymore in church. I realize that it must be at least partly my attitude that is the problem, but I also think that the Bible is just too rarely taught in church. The class began with the testimony of a man in whom I sensed a depth of spirituality that I desire for myself. His speech, while mild, was resplendant with a simple and balanced profundity deriving not from extensive education (though he did go to college) but from an actual and dynamic relationship with God.

The second part of the class was the lesson which had as its launching point John 6:25ff. The passage captured me with Jesus' response to the crowds seeking him: "Truly I say to you, you do not seek me because you saw signs, but because you ate from the loaves and were filled." What is interesting about this statement is that what Jesus says they both do and do not seek Jesus for comes down to the miracle of his feeding the 5,000. They are not seeking him because of what this miracle says about reality but because the miracle fed them. In other words, he is making an observation about their perception of reality and what they deem important as a focus of attention. They are not philosophical people, they are concerned with what they perceive to be the essentials of life. But Jesus doesn't leave them there. After making this observation he utilizes their attention to physical things to teach them about spiritual things, thus teaching that what they perceive to be the essentials are actually secondary. I don't know if I am communicating this well, but Jesus did not talk down to "simple" agrarian people as we often do in the American church. I have heard numerous ministers give their reasoning for not teaching the Bible in their pulpits, and it always boils down to a lack of faith in the real power of God's word and low expectations of either their congregation's ability to understand or their own ability to teach. Our focus on "felt needs" as a determiner of subject matter in the American church is but one of many things threatening to render it unsalty. But I digress.

We ate lunch at Fuddruckers, which I am convinced is one of the most dangerous words in the English language for those trying to have a pure speech but who are prone to metathesized consonants. I had the "Dogzilla." Nuff said.

Lara's parents both took a nap in the afternoon, leaving Lara and her grandmother to sit and chat and me to study Hebrew. Then in the evening we played Carcassonne. Today Lara's parents left early to take her mother to rehab and treatment, so Lara and I spent the morning and lunchtime with her grandmother.

Overall, this weekend was a real treat. Whereas I had thought that I might come back exhausted (as I often do when visiting Lara's family - they have a lot of energy and are constantly on the go), instead I feel energized. I am hopeful that Lara's mother with respond well to the treatment she is currently undergoing. Without going into too much detail, she is participating in a clinical study in which she is the first to have a certain additional treatment in this particular frequency and intensity. I ask everyone to remember to pray that Lara's mother does not suffer from side effects (like nausea, etc.) in a way that renders the treatment unfeasible for her.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Return to Normalcy, the Predictable Type of Chaos - Kerry

The sudden lack of unusual things happening toward the end of May sort of took my breath away. I was struggling to find something to write about when everything was normal, but then I realized that many of the four of you who read this blog may not really know what "normal" means for me. This "normal" is likely to change radically in September, so I have decided to prepare you for what this change will mean.

To begin with, "normal" does not mean "consistent" or "regular." A term was invented during World War II by low ranking members of the military: SNAFU, which means "Situation Normal - All @$#%* Up." I don't actually know how to pronounce that fourth word, but it's supposed to be something really bad ("atdahlerpowndpursentahsturesk" was my best guess). I would say that this aptly describes, and has long described, what "normal" life means for most of us. We struggle toward some semblance of predictability when life arguably has never been predictable for anyone.

I wonder if God even intended for our lives to be predictable and perfectly ordered. A life without change sounds boring. This, incidentally, was an attitude that kept me from being able to look forward to the afterlife when I was a child, because the way it was typically described was as an eternal worship service. I know the praise and worship leaders among you might find this offensive, or even heretical, but that doesn't really sound appealing to me. And my undergraduate degree is in music composition, so I am somewhat favorably disposed toward music, but the eternal mosh pit seems terribly impersonal and static.

Back to the subject at hand. What pattern can be discerned in my life at present typically looks something like this:
  • Monday - Work 8:45 to 5:15, pick up Lara, wash clothes, eat dinner at Subway, group dance lesson.
  • Tuesday - DAY OFF!!! but there are usually things that have to be done, including mowing the lawn, taking care of any car maintenance, playing video games ... you know, necessary stuff.
  • Wednesday - Back to work, sometimes have a private dance lesson.
  • Thursday - Work, sometimes watch a Netflix DVD at home.
  • Friday - Work, get jealous of Lara for being happy that it's Friday
  • Saturday - Work, last minute preparation for Sunday School lesson the next day, sometimes we have a dance to go to.
  • Sunday - Church, which includes teaching a Bible study during the Sunday School hour, teach Hebrew biweekly in the afternoon, chill out at home with Lara for whatever time is left.
To flesh out this skeleton, you must know that our daily commute is 45 minutes one direction. Also, though this has not been consistent by any means, we semi-regularly attend a Bible study with some friends of ours (shout out to Mark and Sheila) one night a week, which is now Tuesday. Also, it seems that every other weekend has some new event or challenge not listed above because there is no discernible order to them.

During May, this outline got all messed up. Because of the intense amount of stress and extra work involved in trying to sort through our belongings and sell them, we dropped the Bible study and group dance lessons. Each evening became much less predictable, and often what we intended to do was trumped by the needs of the immediate. I had not realized how much I drew upon those "extracurricular" activities to anchor me emotionally and give my present situation a sense of direction.

Dancing especially has been vital to my feeling that my life is not absolutely depressing. It has given me an artistic, physical, and competitive outlet and has introduced me to a number of new friends. It has also taught Lara and me a great deal about each other and our dynamic as a couple. Learning to be a strong communicator through subtle pressures in my arms and torso has been one of hardest and most rewarding things I've ever done. Sure, sometimes I have to resort to the drill sergeant style of ballroom dance leading with some dance partners ("LEFT ... RIGHT ... SIDE TOGETHER ... LEFT ... RIGHT ... SIDE TOGETHER ... ABOUT FACE ... PRESENT ARMS"), but this is getting more and more rare.

Things are not completely as they were before May, though. The closer we get to September, the more inadequate I feel, academically speaking. I have embarked on a comprehensive review of Hebrew and German, which will be followed by Aramaic, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Egyptian, and Greek, and I am reading everything I can that includes the "Old Testament Theology" in the title. I sometimes feel amazed that the University of Edinburgh accepted me, but accept me they did - I just got the visa letter this week.

One aspect of my life which has been fairly regular is Logos, my Sunday morning Bible study class. Having finished a study of Revelation a few weeks ago, we have begun to study Genesis, and I am spending a great deal of time reading commentaries and translating the pertinent portions. Just recently I was reading chapter three in Hebrew while on a break at Lifeway when I realized, ironically, that I was eating an apple. Suddenly it struck me that if Adam and Eve had been meat-eaters instead of vegetarians we might still be in Eden. I'm sure many of you have heard the first few chapters of Genesis used to support a vegetarian diet, particularly by Christian dietitians trying to sell their books and proprietary vitamin supplements (which become all the more necessary since their diets have eliminated some nutrients most abundantly found in meat). What I think is funny is that if Adam and Eve and eaten only meat, we wouldn't even be in this mess. We might all be fat, have high blood pressure, and smell bad, but there wouldn't be war. Instead, they eat fruit and look what happens. The love of fruit, then, is the root (or shall we more appropriately say seed) of all kinds of sins. I made this observation to a coworker who was in the break room with me. "But I like fruit," she responded.

Yes. Don't we all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Somewhere Else - Lara

To research the culture in which we are about to be immersed, I have begun to read about the ancient settlement of Scottish clans that eventually turned into Edinburgh. I have discovered some interesting facts, like that the castle in the center of the city is actually built on one of many dormant volcanoes that define the landscape, and the North Sea touches the east coast of the city. I even learned that every year the city's population of 400,000 swells to a million as it hosts their internationally known Arts festival. The medieval city plan is peppered with innovation. They pride themselves on being modern and culturally savvy. The countryside is described as something that came out of a fairytale with its green hills, country roads, and mysterious lochs.

I found it hard to imagine living there. In fact, I harbor a fears: that we will get there and move into an old dorm room in which we have to share a bathroom and kitchen with the rest of the floor; that the city is rowdy and gruff; that no one likes us and we can't fit in any group; that I will discover I can't work for some reason; and that our finances end up in shambles because we could not sell the house, car or whatever. They aren't rational fears, but fears are still there.

I then look and see all that has happened so far. Kerry was accepted into a very prestigious University, we have the funds to qualify for the visa (which I am eager to return to the lender so it doesn't get spent), we have been able to sell a good portion of what we own, and all while watching my mom recover very quickly from her brain surgery. It has been a full month of miraculous things. Every negative thing was countered and superseded by something better.

So back to those green hills and rainy days. Kerry and I look at Edinburgh as a fulfillment of quite a few dreams. Kerry dreams of getting his PhD and becoming a professor. I dream of improving in my career to the point that I can work at home and have plenty of business. I look forward to a city so tightly compact that I don't have to drive. We want to travel and explore the world while we are there. We may even start a Bible study and make life-long friends. And we are hoping to be able to finish the three years in better financial shape than when we started. For Edinburgh to be all this, it will take the hand of God. Is it possible to be so happy?

When we had moved to East Texas we had some dreams too. It was different. I had wanted to farm and raise animals and work freelance. Kerry was going to work on his music and apply for PhD programs. But things turned out differently than we had imagined. It was harder. Everything took a lot of hard work. We didn't farm or do much to our land that we had wanted because of finances. We worked hard in the work place dealing with feeling like failures because everything was being sucked away by school loans and debt. We struggled with the issues of infertility and not being able to have children. We had to push beyond well water, long commutes, and a frustrating driveway. We did learn a lot of things and made some good friends, but every step was a deliberate fight to push beyond the daily irritations. We couldn't give up and take an easier route because it would have prevented us from being able to do what we are about to do. I look over the 3+ years in East Texas and find that we have changed because of it. In the end many of our core dreams seemed to happen. We have paid off a lot of debt and re-evaluated our dreams and goals. I still struggle with how hard it was though. I can't help but wonder if this is the way life is supposed to be. Is this what I should expect in Edinburgh?

I think life is like a picture in the office of one of the ladies I work with. It was of a man and a woman sharing an umbrella down a cobble stone road with store fronts on either side. The rainy scene evokes the romantic dream of Edinburgh that I fear is unrealistic. I looked at the picture and knew that this would be the way things would turn out. The struggle in the rain was part of what made the picture so wonderful. It drew the couple closer together and made the street empty just for them. I find that the time here in East Texas was not as bad as it could be. It drew us closer to God and cleared out of our life all the clutter that we were holding onto so tightly. I see the good things such as even owning a house and wondering how did that happen? I see the jobs and friends at our jobs and wonder at the good people that we have encountered. Then I look at the future and see the road before us. We are in fact going to Scotland. It is real. And there are still dreams coming true. The impossible things are happening everyday. When I decided to put my trust in God, life did not become easier or harder, it became both.

When you are no longer satisfied with anything but what you were created to do, you have to push against the tide that is dragging you back in your life. This always causes conflict, problems, and trouble. When God is in control of your life, He makes sure you can go where He leads even if that means moving mountains. The miraculous and impossible still happens today. Some people see a miracle in the little things in life, which is legitimate, since it takes the active involvement of God to put the life spark into a seed to let it grow. The difference between the living and the dead is only the sustaining force of God allowing us one more day. The normal work of God in the everyday is one end of the spectrum, but God is not just "luck". He also does things that are unexpected too. In our church in Longview, a woman attends who had been dead for over an hour. God brought her back to life without medical help. That is pretty amazing. He is actively involved in my mom's life too. We feared many things only a few weeks ago, including death. She lay in bed unable to move her left side at all, before the operation, but this past Sunday she stood in church and worshiped God with use of both sides of her body and full mental ability. She should have been in the rehab center with so many others who went through similar things while struggling to regain these functions. God was with her and I believe He will continue His work until she is completely cancer free. If God can do that, I am sure, as I read about this far away place, God can work somewhere else as well.