Sunday, August 31, 2008

denouement

de·noue·ment , n.
1.
a. The final resolution or clarification of a dramatic or narrative plot.
b. The events following the climax of a drama or novel in which such a resolution or clarification takes place.
2. The outcome of a sequence of events; the end result.
alternate: the last day of summer

We've had our share of "last days" this summer.
On Memorial Day weekend we moved from here...


to here.

August 31 was my last day of work as an interim worship coordinator at Union Center.
It also happened to be my sister Alicia's last day as an administrative assistant.
The staff threw us a party.
We tried to pretend that we were sad to go.
How sad do you think we look?

My sister and I realized that the last time we did something on the very same day was April 8, 2006. It was Alicia's birthday and she was living in China. We decided to celebrate her birthday by getting our noses pierced.

It's a good thing China's time zone is ahead of ours because I would have chickened out if Alicia hadn't already held up her end of the deal.
September 2 was my kids' last day of summer.
We spent it running around Kendra's new school building -- and getting lost.
Thankfully, she had no problem with her locker combination.

Since we're in a brand new school district this year, the kids had plenty to be anxious about.
I think they did way better than me.
I bawled like a baby after we dropped our youngest off to fifth grade.
My parents stopped by the house the last night before school with back to school care packages for the kids. You know, all the important stuff -- candy, cookies, gum, mouthwash, deoderant.


I'll never be able to say enough times how thankful I am for parents who love Brian and me this much. And for grandparents who love my kids this much.

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We are blessed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

look what I found in my "draft" folder!

[*NOTE: i was searching through my draft folder and found this post that I never finished and never published. i figured, what the heck? it was originally written on 7/14/08]

I am nearing the end of a two-week vacation. Although, we spent most of it at home, it may be one of the most restful I've ever had. As on every vacation I've ever experienced (since my earliest memories) the closing moments of rest and relaxation bring out the contemplative in me. (and what a glorious beast she is!) While I have not ever intended this blog to be a private diary, I'll warn you now that in my current state -- that being 1:56am and I've just opened a large bottle of champagne(we're out of merlot) and pulled up Chopin's Nocturnes-- this will most likely get a little personal.

With that confession spoken, I already feel paralyzed. And that, clearly, is part of the problem in Houston.

I spent the past several hours waiting up for my three oldest children to return home. (does it make us bad parents that the more of our children gone, the later we allow curfew?? no. there is no safer place for my children to be than within sight of each other's sight!) During those hours I indulged myself - without guilt - in a regular blog-surfing marathon.

(did you know that a word exists to allow us to be able to physically type fewer letters when I want to tell the world that I've been "blog surfing"? Blurfing. As in am blurfing, will blurf, have blurfed.)

Did you know that an event is taking place this very weekend in San Francisco for blogging women, BlogHer. I surfed at least half of those 38 million sites tonight. Another issue became clearer and clearer with each click. I feel completely inferior as a woman.

So many great sites featuring what women are writing, wearing, sewing, cooking, crafting, reading, selling, donating, persuading, cooking, baking, growing, gardening, photographing, painting, and parenting. I read books and watch movies and go to events and every once in awhile get in a great fight with Brian and talk about it. That's it.

Not only that but I'm 37 years old and I should fit right into this BlogHer craze with pictures of my kids in their adorable yellow rubber boots jumping in perfectly photographed mud puddles and the organic and locally-farmed vegetarian dinner I made tonight for the family and the ubiquitous self-portait photographs of me looking like I'm trying to look like a busy mom, but really coming across in the bathroom mirror as a freshly scrubbed and lipglossed and vintage jewelry-wearing beautiful female.

I missed this boat somewhere along the way. (I realize I've now jumped from a space ship metaphor to a nautical metaphor....sue me).

I'm 37 now and I'll bet not a whole heck of a lot older than the average BlogHer female. But I had my first kid when I was 20. I had been married for nine months (almost exactly to the day). I did not own a computer or a digital camera or a whole lot of baby supplies, for that matter. I know this makes me sound like a blotchy, wrinkled great-aunt at a family reunion, but it's true. I barely knew what birth control was, let alone baby-wearing or breast-pumping . I did not know that I should not drink caffeine or eat fish when I was pregnant. I did not know what an Old Navy was, let alone it's maternity department. I shopped for my maternity clothes in a Philadelphia Sales "plus-size" rack. (seriously, I remember coming home to Brian flush with excitement that I had found cheap clothes that fit my pregnant body!)

Remember, I was 20. My friends who could have made great maternity clothes swap partners were in their junior year of college, wearing pegged GAP jeans and oversized rugbies. (an oversized rugby might have worked, huh?)

Before I go further, I want to clarify that I am not complaining. I love that I am a 37-year-old mother of an almost 17 year old, a 14 year old, a 12 year old and a 10 year old. That, if we do our jobs close to right, Brian and I will be empty nesters before we turn 50.

Still, when I spend an evening peeking into this other world where the feminine and the domestic and the maternal is so celebrated and photographed and shared, I feel just a little bit wistful. I would have loved to be part of this universe. I guess I still could, but, honestly, a picture of my hairy, teenage son jumping in a mud puddle is just not the same! And, who am I kidding, no one wants a picture of our Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner.

[*UPDATE: must be the wine made me too sleepy to finish this post. Yesterday I had an interview with two counsellors in my church. I'm participating in a 15 week program this fall called Living Waters. I hope to tackle this gender issue that seems to border on misogyny. If you're at all interested, maybe I'll post some learnings here. *]

Thursday, August 21, 2008



Deep in the heart of Jesus is a burden. His passion was not to establish an organization but to start a movement of people that love sacrificially for those around them. Elevate has been pressing into this theme of acquiring a genuine love for those who are in great need. Still, we struggle with selfishness, materialism, ungratefulness and apathy. For six days we'll venuture into the heart of suffering, loneliness and elusive hope in Philadelphia. This trip is not a tourist trip but an invitation to servanthood. We don't go teaching or bringing Jesus, we go to find Jesus in the eyes of the least of these. Your prejudices and securities will be challenged. Throughout Philadelphia's history the themes of freedom, justice, liberty, unity and equality for all reverberate. However, for many of the city's current residents these ideals are beyond their experience. Instead, drugs, poor education, few job opportunities, and difficulties in overcoming the past is the norm. Still, in the midst of despair there is a hint of hope. The hope can be seen in a sandwich, a helping hand, a personal presence and in generous acts. God is at work in the city of Philadelphia through many ministries. He is working through his people to achieve renewal. Help transmit this revolutionary message of Jesus.

In the spring of this year, both of my sons read these words written by their youth pastor, Dan White. They decided they wanted in. For several months they trained for this urban missions experience by meeting with their team, reading and writing book reports, praying and being amazed by the generosity of their friends and family who provided the money for them to go.
Now they are in Philadelphia. And I miss them. I check every night for the newest blog posts. And I read the stories out loud to Brian before we fall asleep. And we both cry a little bit.
It's a good work. Go to the site and read for yourself. I don't know if Pastor Dan realizes that this missions trip extends beyond one city. I am pretty certain it will continue back here in our house next week. Jesus said that doing for the least was doing for him. When I read the stories of the people my boys are meeting and talking with I begin to feel a little bit less ; as one hungry and thirsty and unclothed in story and experience and understanding. The body of Christ here in my home and in my church are needy for this story. We are impoverished in this experience. God help.
p.s. today is Andrew's 17th birthday. I miss him, but I'm pretty certain it will be one his most memorable ever.











(In June my mother's sister, Margaret (we call her Aunt Peg) took my sons aside during a family dinner. She wanted to hear what their hopes and goals were for Philadelphia. She wanted to do this before she gave them a check to send them. She wanted to pray deeply and effectively for them to experience God and share God. She wanted to discern their hearts. Although they can count on one hand the number of times they've spent time with this great aunt, they will never forget her. And I know that years from now they'll have a richer imagination of what "the saints who go before us" look like. I'm guessing they'll picture at least one with a furrowed brow and a little bit of chicken barbecue on her fingers.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hill Family Stay-Cation 2008: a video diary

day 5: Syracuse art museum and IMAX theatre

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day 6: swimming and hiking at Treman Park, Ithaca

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day 7: rafting on the Deleware River
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

flying a kite in a hurricane


It's the annual celebration of family in the Hill/Murphy/Ehret household. Maybe it's better titled Family Euphoria. Really we've been vacationing together my whole life, but when numbers started growing exponentially with marriages and grandbabies we made this an official holiday. We've titled this year a "Stay-Cation", what with my sister ready to give us a new nephew any day now and the whole range of weird employment issues for several of us this year, who has the time or money to go away? So far, it's been a hit. We may never vacation away again.

Sadly, I imagine someday-- years and years and years from now-- this event will become a one-day picnic event attended by a bunch of strangers eating pasta salad and gathering around lumpy old photo albums trying to remember the genetic connections, but for now this is one glorious week-long event - full of cross-generational bonding and unapologetically inside jokes and unspoken relational dynamics. It's a sociologist's dream come true, I tell you.


It was in the middle of this euphoria -- less than an hour's time from the absolute peak of familyness, a midnight rendevous on the dewy grass of my parents front lawn to lay on our backs and tell jokes and recite goofy poetry and watch the lighty bursts of the Perseids Meteor Shower -- that I clicked on David Taylor's latest blog entry. We were all waiting for the main event, trying to stay awake in whatever way each deemed right. Most of the others were huddled around the television watching men's gymnastics in Beijing (oh to be able to provide the transcript of the men's running dialogue intended to preserve even a smattering of their own healthy self-image in the light of the specimens on Dad's television -- it may be the first-ever gymnastics smack talk right there in my parents' living room). All this to say, catching up on my favorite blog sites was my personal method of self-induced insomnia.

And, cue the Hurricane Kite-Flyer.

I read Taylor's post, laughed along with him at the picture at the top of the post, clicked as directed on the Statesmen article and, obliging, clicked along through the many posted comments to the article. Swaddled in the warmth of my family euphoria I felt the string of my experiental kite slipping through my fingers, bobbing in the sky over my head. And I blurted it all out in a posted comment on Taylor's page.

There's two ways you could think about a girl flying a beautiful kite in a wicked storm -- all innocence and faith and charm or a little touched in the head.

I mean I knew the post and the article was about the serious business of sex and birth control -- biology and theology and all that. And I knew that this beautifully subversive couple, David and Phaedra Taylor, braved the jaded world of newspaper readers with their purity and faith and, well, spunk. (He says the pic is cheesy, but only in the most beautiful of ways. Really, it's their own kite-flying experiment. You might also call it a rebellion of beauty.) I knew that all this crucialy important talk of biology and theology was clicking and linking its way through the stormy horizon of the blogosphere. I guess, emboldened by the tribalness of shacking up with 19 of my family members for seven days I just let the kite string go and started skipping along into the turbulence.
But I don't think anyone got it. I have this terminal disease of being misunderstood. I am not dumb, I promise. I just don't usually need all the dots connected for me to get the bigger concept. Conceptual thinking is my playground. But, in my experience, it feels like most of the world around sees me more of an annoying or child-like or touched in the head storm-ignorant-kite-flying girl. 

Maybe it's true.

I don't fault Taylor. Here the guy put his six-month-young married sex life in chart form on the front page of the Sunday paper (right smack in the middle of hippyesque Austin, no less!) and I posted unfortunate words like adorable and giggling. It's no wonder.

But I had already made the conceptual leap from science to experience, theology to mud-in-the -eye miracles. Man can make his plans, but the end results are the Lord's.

My parents' parents didn't talk about sex. My parents began the conversation, but either they weren't speaking above a whisper or I wasn't listening. I managed to have my first son three days shy of nine months from the first time I ever had sex. When he was born I still wasn't sure I'd ever had it. I didn't care. I flew the kite of that beautiful baby boy for all the world to see.

We have a history of honeymoon babies in this family. It's pretty much legendary now. Possibly all this hushing up about sex has something to do with it. So I called my mother-in-law, the medical professional, from my honeymoon hotel room. Possibly we should know something about birth control, we thought. Of course, it was most likely too late by this point. Brian and I had spent about a half hour discussing it once during our engagement. He'd heard somewhere that the Pill could be dangerous so I blundered my way through my first ob/gyn visit and left holding some oddly-shaped doo dad that I was too embarrassed to let the family doctor know I hadn't understood the first thing about. (that thing is supposed to go where?)

During my growing-up years, the oldest child of six, my parents continued silently in their quest to limit the number of mouths they brought into existence. My dad's pastor/pauper paycheck and my mother's exhausted bouts with clinical depression probably had something to do with this. As far as I know now the only people offering advice were radical feminists and post-war baby boomer pious surbabanites. Not a lot of help. God kept sending them new kites of their own to fly. There probably comes a point when kite flying in stormy weather scares the hell out of you, but sometimes you know you're not the one controlling the string.

This week I'm laughing and playing and getting my feelings hurt and being an obnoxious big sister with two or three of these stubborn siblings - who broke all the rules of science and insisted on being born anyway. You can see why I skipped a few steps in the conversation, can't you?
On the verge of being a mother myself, I had my first experience with mixing theology and sexuality. Experience is probably a gentle word. More like got bashed over the head by it. It was the era of the Pro-Life Stance and the Homeschooling Revolution and Operation Rescue and all that. The Church had taught me that sex could be shameful, but I'd never yet heard that choosing to limit offspring was the unpardonable sin. By then, I'd figured out enough to "plan" baby number two, all without the aid of chemicals (or weird-looking doo dads), thank you very much.


Now I had self-righteous rhetoric on my side and I felt like I'd stumbled into the right "camp". Sometimes, you just get lucky and the storm's blowing the other way, you know? But idealism about family planning doesn't mean a speck when you've spent the day laying aside your every need as a human being to meet the needs of the arrows in your quiver and the nights sleep-walking from marriage bed to crib to toddler bed, only to end up slumped over a nursing infant and waking up thankful you didn't smother it to death. Idealism did not last through the storms of reality for me. And then I had baby number four. I'd been married six years. I was 26 years old. We'd been making a real salary for less than a year. I was tired.


So we, Brian and me, got interested in science real quick-like. The information was easy to come by, even before Google. Of course, we covered Theology, too. It consisted of getting sage advice wrapped in euphemisms from my grandmother and mother. The same women who didn't talk about sex were full of wisdom when they saw me teetering on the edge of the looney-bin. I am grateful to them to this day. You trust God to keep you safe at night, but you still lock the doors. I was more than relieved to agree that this must be true, even if it wasn't terribly deep. When you're teetering on the edge, sometimes a quip will do.

So we blundered and bumbled and stumbled our way through these ideas and truths about what it means to enjoy sex and to create children and to avoid creating new children and in the middle of all that uncertainty and shame and hushed and unspoken questions, I was schooled in the deepest theology of all. What it means that God is sovereign and full of grace and forgiveness. That it is not my wisdom or understanding that brings out the best in God. His expectations for me are surpassed by his delights. I do not deserve these four divinely created images of the one true God -- Andrew, Alexander, Kendra and Natalie. I do not deserve to be living in joy and harmony with these amazing siblings and their burgeoning families.


But I will hold the end of the string - flying the beauty and hilarity of this gift of family that came down as lights from Heaven. I will hope that my children will know and be known at a deeper level because of the wide-open fields the Church is walking in now -- led, in part, by the child-like and sagacious likes of Taylor and his wife. I would stand side by side with them in that field and point my children's attention toward them. Run beside them, children. There is truth and freedom and beauty flying overhead. Go on ahead of us, offspring. We will watch from here. And love the watching.

And, even in the middle of the blustering hurricanes, I will laugh as Abraham and Sarah at the holy absurdity of it all.

Friday, August 08, 2008

been a little busy


















(our Kinney and Gravelding family BBQ and jam session)




It's been a little bit crazy around the Murphy house. In the span of 7 days my family entertained 42 people, four creepy bats and one minor house fire (a bridal shower party game gone awry!).
I'm pooped.
Although flying indoor bats and tissue paper fires were not planned events, the forty-two houseguests were completely intentional. About a month ago when Brian and I finished up our first major round of setting up house in our new place I was so excited I put a bunch of dates on the calendar. People we've wanted to have over for awhile. A surprise bridal shower for my new boss' fiancee.
I tend toward this kind of bipolar planning frenzies. When I feel good I fill up on life. When I feel down I hide in some cozy corner of the house in a pair of old sweats and a good book.
Guess what I'm doing today?
I guess I kind of blog that way too. When I'm feeling inspired I plot out elaborate plans for a whole series of posts on an arts symposium. When I'm feeling depleted I hide out in a corner of my house with a glass of Bully Hill red and/or a Big Mac and old episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Guess what I'm doing today?
Since a part of the joy of blogging is the whole freelance aspect I won't feel guilty for this unplanned, hormonal dip in my literary output. I'll be back -- as soon as my medication kicks in.
In the meantime, here's a whole bunch of pictures from this summer. They make me happy.


























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