The Post About Fear

My weekend adventuring found me smack-dab between wall-to-wall revelers at Chicago’s 20th annual Christkindlmarkt, an outdoor German Christmas market. Choosing not to brave the crowds alone, I invited my parents and sister to join me Saturday morning at this festive event, held on weekends throughout the month of December. I’ve always wanted to go, and this year I finally made it happen! I warned my family ahead of time about the weekend crowds, but even I was not prepared for the land-locked, stock-still standing in droves, and the bumping, inching, moving, but it was all cool because ALL THE SAUSAGES and ALL THE CHOCOLATE!

IMG_20151205_124747

I’ve mentioned before on my blog my crush on Germany (it’s where my parents fell in love) and how tiny bits of German culture have found their way into our family. Needless to say, we all enjoyed browsing vendors of authentic German goods, from nativities, to ornaments, to German Christmas pyramids (a beloved tradition of my childhood), to cuckoo clocks, and other hand-carved crafts. And of course we enjoyed fresh Bavarian soft pretzels, German marzipan, and sausage and sauerkraut! (All in all, a bit kitschy, but a good kitschy.)

Despite the crowds, my family did great! We all agreed that reserved parking was the way to go! (Thank you SpotHero App!) Ahead of time, I was able to procure for us a cheap parking space within one minute walking distance of the festival. (Located beneath the Block Thirty-Seven mall, we also had easy access to public restrooms.)

IMG_20151205_113206~2

These are literally the only three pictures I took. There were so many people, I could barely even raise my arms to get my smartphone in the air.

IMG_20151205_124714

But this is the post that’s not about Christkindlmarkt, but rather about fear. Because, honestly, I have to admit that my family was a little nervous about being in a large crowd like that in a major American city, considering recent current events. My family and I mentioned it before we went. Would we be safe if we go? I knew we would be less than two blocks from the location of last week’s Chicago protests (where three people were arrested). And considering other current event headlines… could it be possible that even Chicago could be the location of a terrorist attack at some point? (Normally, I’m not a very anxious person in large cities, but I have to admit that I did think about it before I went.) And the crowded spaces didn’t help either.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, a piece of music offered a brilliant contrast to these fears and suspicions.

Creeping past yet another wooden food booth offering German sweet dumplings and bratwurst, I tuned into the holiday melody pouring out of the speaker of the tiny stand: Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Faith of our Fathers,” his respectable baritone and cheery orchestra weaving in and around the bobbing bevy of gray hats, black coats, and warm cheeks. My sister and I unconsciously began humming the familiar alto line… And as the lines of humans pushed me up against a wrought iron gate (behind which were free, liberated fat gray pigeons pecking at nothing, really), I thought about the words to that nineteenth-century hymn. Those words spoke to me in the midst of that slow-moving, confining crowd.

It spoke to me and to my questions of: What is the answer to all this violence? What is the hope for humankind? What shall we do for this injured and battered world? (Because I’m living a little heaven right now compared to the people of San Bernadino or compared to displaced Middle Eastern refugees.) What answers do I have for others? What answers do I have, especially in this world of bitter reactions to religious answers? What message do I have for the conflicts that seemingly abound on every front? Where, more and more, religion is aligned with fanaticism? And where fanaticism is aligned with violence, carnage, and death? Or where it seems that one cannot make any claim (especially about the relevance of God in these issues) without getting bitterly struck down?

The hymn spoke of something deep. Of a faith that gives resilience during times of antagonism. Of a love that is stronger than death. Of a love for our fearful friends and also our hostile enemies. Of a faith that gives one courage to follow one’s conscience. Of a faith that sometimes uses words. And of a love that always uses action.

(Interestingly, this hymn comes to us from a rather awkward time in Christian history, during the martyrdom of Catholics by the Church of England, beginning with Henry VIII. Inspired to memorialize these shattering, appalling events, Frederick Faber penned this memorable hymn in 1849.)

I can’t think of a more hopeless history, than of the church fighting with itself. Fighting with itself unto death. What despair these events must have initiated.

Perhaps this hymn has something to say about the multiplicity of conflicts in which we find ourselves today. (I’m thinking of the conflicts of politics, the conflicts of race and class, the conflicts of spirituality and nonspirituality, and the ultimate inner conflict between God and godlessness.) Yet instead of despair, these words offer hope (though it may seem harsh in its solidarity).

Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword:
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Our Fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our Fathers! we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife:
And preach thee too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life:
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

This tune floated above the faces of the crowd that slipped past, and as I searched their expressionless, multiethnic faces, I hummed the alto line, and I became strangely proud. Proud to be a Christian. Proud of my faith. Proud that I am celebrating Christmas. Proud that I partake of a faith, that, truly expressed, loves instead of hates. Proud that I serve a God of mercy, Who teaches me mercy (even though I am a slow learner).

It is this faith and perfect love that casts out fear.

And as sour smells of Glühwein and spicy scents of sausages punctuated the air, and as little families formed human chains midst the puzzles of shoulders, as college students laughed raucously, as inexpressive elderly couples munched on potato pancakes, and as strangers pushed and shoved past, this realization of the surety of love casting out fear brought a moment of peace. And I smiled.

Eyes on the Prize

Hello friends! Just a little update on my birthday-present marathon!

DSC_1679

So this year I turned 26 on the 26th, and following a very magical golden birthday celebration, I planned an even more epic celebration: running a 26.2 marathon!

And this post is announcing that….

Last week, I dropped out.

ALL THE SAD FACES.

Five weeks ago, I suffered an injury in my right foot which I have yet to identify as either a slight sprain or plantar fasciitis. Two days after my 18 mile long run (which I can only describe as exceedingly exotic, one of the most perfect long runs I’ve ever had), I went out for a short run on a route I don’t normally run. Two mistakes: I didn’t stretch out properly, and I was running on uneven ground. The following day I was experiencing noticeable arch pain and bruising on the right side of my foot. I immediately R.I.C.E. ed and quit running for two days. Foolishly, I went out later that week for six miles, running at normal pace. I was able to endure the tightness in my foot. By the time for my next long run, I could barely pound out four miles, and I limped home, collapsing in my laundry room like a tipped-over bucket of tears for my roommates to clean up. Determined not to give up, I resolved to stay off my foot for a solid week and a half. I turned to biking and circuit training to maintain my physical fitness. I wore a brace, iced religiously, and did stretches and therapy daily. (Though I fought the urge to throw in the towel and simply eat copious amounts of baked goods.) Instead of running my last long run of 20 miles, I opted to bike instead, after a morning workout. This was a very low day for me. I was quite upset about not having the chance to run 20 miles. (Yes, I understand not very many people can relate to this!) I slowly returned to running by first walking several miles, then slowly increasing mileage over the next week. My next mistake was thinking I could throw in a longish 13 mile run the same week. I felt the need to run that distance because I had missed my last long run, and I wanted to test myself to see if I could expect to finish a marathon distance in two weeks. I finished 13, but I was grimacing the last three miles. An ice bath and stretching didn’t amend the pain I was feeling in my arch. With two weeks til race day, my hopes were slowly fading. I eased up on running again and focused on stretching, icing, and easy balance exercises. However, the closer it came to race day, and the more reading and research I did, I realized that it was wisest to drop out, heal up, and focus on healthy running, rather than a defiant finish that could have finished my running career forever.

So this weekend, instead of running 26.2 miles, I celebrated four solid months of valuable long-distance training by skipping town with this chica, a running buddy and very dear friend.

IMG_20151017_143056

We began our day with retail therapy at IKEA,

IMG_20151017_121637

before consuming allllll the steak at a the very delicious Wildfire restaurant in Oak Brook, just west of Chicago.

IMG_20151017_152326

I enjoyed the Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Tenderloin Tip with grilled red onions and wild rice, and I will spare you the details, which is really just me saying, “OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS THE BEST MEAT I HAVE EVER TASTED.” The benefit of running is learning to eat good protein, and I’ve certainly branched out in this area due to training.

IMG_20151017_143707

The sun shined brilliantly as made our way from shop to shop, leisurely browsing some of our favorite stores, and discovering new favorites (including Anthropologie, which I’ve never had a particular fancy for, until this Saturday, when I found these cunning blue coasters, each one featuring an extra-large, drab bird perched atop an ugly, crooked horse creature.) The find of the day.

It wouldn’t be the end of marathon training without a significant dessert, which I chose to be the Cheesecake Factory’s chocolate tuxedo cream cheesecake, topped off with Starbucks coffee.

IMG_20151017_212502

It was a very happy day indeed, despite the disappointment of a missed goal.

I really do hope to run my race sometime. No matter when I finish, it will be significant, but as thethingaboutchange says, “just less poetic.” Yet I refuse to look at this as four months of “wasted” training because I’ve learned so many lessons, and, additionally, I simply just feel great! Yay, fitness goals!

IMG_20151003_113020

For now, I can turn my attention back to the classroom, and relish in all those little moments that make my day-job worthwhile. Like pointing out to my students that I actually HAVE descended from a witch (my mother’s maiden name matches that of one of Salem, Massachusetts condemned witches), like watching tenth grade boys laugh hysterically while listening to stories about apostrophes in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and, at our school’s annual open house, convincing students and parents alike, that, yes, you actually CAN eat cactus, and isn’t it nice, and doesn’t it taste like pickled peppers?

IMG_20150912_123700

So long, everyone!

A Hipster New Years

Riddle: What do you get when you cross a speech pathologist, a musician, a respiratory therapist, and an English major? Answer: An incredibly fun, creative, and meaningful New Years vacation.

This week I drank deep of convivial friendship. I am so blessed by these girls who are iron to me. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Sometimes you have totally average experiences and take totally average trips with totally average people. But when totally average people are dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the fellowship that happens (on trips like this one which I will entitle “Small-town Indiana/Chicago”) make all the frivolities of life a little more bearable, make the Italian coffee taste sweeter, and make the frigid Lake Michigan winds a little warmer. For me, the fellowship of believers is an embodiment of the kingdom of heaven; it realizes our longing for God, and it makes God more personable.

And boy, did we have fun!

We decided to throw a Hipster New Years Eve party.
1. Costumes: nerd glasses, skinny jeans, scarves indigenous turbans, and Apple products.
DSCN0254 (2)
100_8841

2. Organic Menu: noodles, sushi, and goat cheese salad
3. Soundtrack of Bands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of: Beautiful Eulogy and Andolino. (We also included “mainstream” hipster music on our playlist: The Vespers and Paper Route).
4. Activities: hand-made crafts, knitting, and discussing really meaningful life issues. Like my giraffe socks, which I wear because “I care about the animals.” And taking as many Instagram pictures of our food as possible.

Image
“If you shake it like this, it looks antique.”

But we kind of failed as hipsters, because we kept wanting to take happy, smiling pictures of ourselves instead of bad-postured, sulking ones. Our hipster-ness started fading. We had planned to watch a foreign film, but we just ended up playing speed Blokus until early in the morning.

We enjoyed sleeping in on New Years morning, and our host Camille rose to the occasion and prepared us an authentic, New York-style brunch.

100_8872

Camille, who recently moved to New York City, on brunch: “People are so serious about brunch here. Like they dress up and go out. They take it very seriously. It’s a thing.” (Camille is turning into quite the little New Yorker. On our drive to Chicago, she missed a road and had to take a different route. She’s like, “It will be okay, but it’s like taking the local instead of the express.” The train metaphors give her away.)

100_8867
Serious and severe.

Brunch in heels.

100_8869 (2)
“Stop being sterile! Happy friend thoughts!”

New Years Day was for relaxing. We watched My Family and Other Animals, a semi-true story about a 1930s British family who visits (invades) the Greek island of Corfu. Stunning location and videography, yet as quotable and as awkward as Napoleon Dynamite.

January 2nd dawned bright and clear, and we found ourselves driving to the city. Our hipster party, exclusive in the extreme, was set in an obscure small town, but we shed our anonymity for the Big City. Chicago, here we come!

100_8931

100_8880
The Aqua Building

The Aqua is one of my favorite sky-scrapers. It is the tallest building in the world designed by a female architect (Jeanne Gang). It is also very sustainable and an aesthetic masterpiece! The wavy exterior suggests natural limestone outcroppings common to the Great Lakes region.

IMG_20130102_091241
Photo credit: Camille

We had lattes and breakfast at Café Rom, a modern Italian coffee shop. Best latte I’ve had in a long time. I think I recognized the barista from when I was there two years ago. She at least remembered Camille, who had stopped in two weeks before. “What’s your name again?” she said. “Camille.” “Oh, that’s right.”
And people think cities are impersonable.

100_8920

Our museum for the day: The Shedd Aquarium. So many happy fishies! We even saw some hipster fish; they had mustaches.

100_8896
These guys looked a little surprised to see us.
100_8908
Slut puff hairstyles.

Our paparazzi photos from Lake Michigan. Lol.

IMG_7929

100_8948 (2)
Delora, the celebrity, caught on film!

I should note here that I have a really bad habit of visiting cities in extreme weather conditions. When I went to New York City several years ago, it was over 90 degrees (in the morning)! I endured total body chafing as I walked the entire city.
On the other end of the thermometer, the last time I went to Chicago, it was 20 degrees and windy.
This time? 13 degrees.
By the time we walked to Café Rom, our faces were unmoving, literally frozen from the cold. (Basically…) I mean, we were dressed for the cold, but these extreme conditions have to stop! Does anybody know of some more temperate cities where I can vacation?

Giordano's
Photo Credit: Allison’s iphone

We chose world-famous Chicago-stuffed pizza for dinner: Giordano’s! Best pizza one can ever have! (Though some day I would like to try authentic Italian pizza, like Delora will get to do in Europe this summer!)

Next we embarked on a thoroughly successful (for me, at least) shopping trip. We conquered Michigan Avenue, recharging with coffee, Italian gelato, and Ghirardelli ice cream. Evening deepened, and the city lights began to flicker on, and after even more shopping, we finished our day at Starbucks, with more coffee. Tired, wind-blown, and giggling, we continued redemptive conversation threads that had been woven into our time together.

And it was not surprising that our trip together ended with prayer.
You can take trips, drink coffee, and be cool together, but those things in and of themselves are shallow. Our fellowship had such higher significance than I think any of us even planned. It was not that we explicitly planned to admonish, rebuke, and encourage one another, but that is what these dear friends did for me. And it is possible because as believers, we are “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” I thank God for Friendship, and for these specific friendships, and for these friends who have been friendly to me when I needed friends desperately. God truly supplies for our needs.

100_8971

Happy New Year to each of you! I hope and pray that in this new year you might find Christ’s joy to be richer and sweeter than any of the best and worst of 2012. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

One more New Year thought: “There are far better things ahead than anything we left behind.” C.S. Lewis