Wednesday, August 31, 2011

PYHO: The "C" Word

For too long, I've not been truly honest.

I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Bible. I believe Christ died for my sins. I believe in Heaven and Hell. I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe that if I do it right, I'll go to Heaven when I die.

Why yes, actually. I do. I do! And I'm not ashamed of it, either.

It's hard for me to say these things out loud sometimes. It's not that I have doubts or don't believe. Quite the contrary. I do believe in Christianity. It's just awkward for me to "admit I'm a Christian" in secular company. It's frustrating to be "outed" in the company of friends who then stare at you, aghast, and say, "You? You believe in that stuff? But....but you don't seem like 'one of them.'" And I'm not sure how I feel about that. Am I "one of them"? Or not? Because you can't be both.

Sometimes I don't do the best job of living my faith out loud, let alone speaking it. I curse. A lot. I'm lazy and prideful and stubborn. I definitely don't pray like I should, attend church each Sunday, think before I speak (or type), or put others before myself. I'm really, really stubborn, and I like getting my way. Often. I try, but I fail at it each and everyday. I'm not exactly the best, most shining example of what a "Godly woman" should be.

With friends who don't believe, I keep my mouth shut. SURPRISING, I KNOW. Me? Who is widely opinionated on every other topic ever? Yes. I suppose that's because religion is such a sensitive topic. I've found you can't just storm the castle of unbelief with your Bible and your pitchfork and expect to transform and enlighten your friends. It's a big turnoff.

I'm often asked by friends who don't believe, "Why? Why bother?" Sometimes that's accompanied by "...because there's no proof!" or some other such statement, reminding me that they think it's all just a nice story, a way of telling people how to be good human beings. A way of scaring ancient societies into playing nice with each other. A way of exacting control over weak-minded individuals who are scared of the here-after.

So why believe? Why put myself out there and put my faith in someone I have never seen? Why believe in the invisible when the visible is around me each and everyday? It's simple, really.

Because I have seen God.

I've seen God in small children exploring their world and speaking honestly. I've seen God in teenagers passing out granola bars to Chicago's homeless, using a strength and honesty most adults will never have. I've seen God in my legs, when I walked away from a car accident that should have killed me. I've seen God in my daughter, who is a miracle I get to wake to each and everyday. I've felt God in the love my husband has for me, and in the selflessness he brings to our home each day. I see God everyday, even if I don't realize it when I see it.

Most of my friends don't believe at all. It's not really something that's affected our friendship since faith doesn't  always come up in casual conversation. When it does, the topic is usually "The Church" and "Churchy People", and that's where a number of their frustrations and turn offs lie. I understand. I've been a member of a dozen different churches and no matter what--no matter how wonderful or full or empty and sad--churches always get it wrong. I like where I'm attending church these days, and I loved my college church. Both buildings and congregations have been integral parts of my faith formation. But still, churches--man made bodies--get it wrong. How can they not? Women and men are fallible. We all make mistakes, even if they're well-intentioned.

Church members get it wrong. Pastors and priests get it wrong. Casual Bible readers get it wrong. Bible scholars get it wrong. Politicians get it wrong. Average bloggers and blog readers get it wrong.

I disagree with most of the "moral majority" in this country. I don't consider myself anywhere close to the religious right. I voted for Obama. I am pro-life, but I believe in pro-choice. I don't think that Muslims are evil or that Jews are going to Hell. I like gay people and I don't believe they're all going to hell, either. I don't believe in any "gay agenda", and I'm pro-marriage for everyone, not just the heteros. I believe in science. I don't believe in using religion as a scare-tactic to scare voters and swing the population to the right, and I believe that when you do that, God gets pissed. I don't believe God wants us to be scared of Him, and I don't believe He's sitting up there, A-OK with people using His name to scare, shame, and threaten.

I believe. I go to church. I call myself a Christian. And yes, I still believe in all of the above. And I think--with the exception of the pro-choice thing--God's probably okay with that.

But so many of those people who get it wrong? Sometimes they also get it right.

How can I not believe when I've seen churches power together to rebuild a home for a member after he lost it in a tornado? How can I not believe when strangers provided a home-cooked meal for 30 college students each Sunday--often without a thank you? How can I not believe when someone quotes the Bible in a way that passages I've heard my entire life are suddenly made clear? How can I turn away from God when How can I deny the existence of something greater when I've been so richly blessed through no doing of my own? How can I look at my daughter and chalk her up to a happy accident of science? Even if I don't see the beautiful creation that I am, I can't deny that my daughter isn't made up of more than a meeting and division of cells.

There's a lot of crap in this world. There's a lot gone wrong everywhere you turn. There's a lot that can't be explained, and it's hard to look someone in the face and talk to them about your God, the one who's loving and kind and who fixes all things....especially when they've been dealt an awful, unfathomable situation. And sometimes, I just can't explain why I believe in Christ when faced with something like that.

But what I can do is live my life. I can continue to be an example, the best example I can be, of God's love and goodness. I can continue to improve on myself and continue to pray. I can continue to have faith, because I know what's waiting for me when my life is over. And maybe someday I won't have to answer when someone asks me why I believe, because just by looking at me, they'll know.

We're Aunt Angie, Uncle Graham, & Cousin Hannah!

Yesterday, at 5:44 p.m., my sister(-in-law) gave birth to a fabulous, beautiful, wonderful baby boy! I'm an AUNT! I've never been one before, and I'm ecstatic for them. (And for me! I'm an aunt! Woo hoo!)

Declan James weighs in at 8 lbs, 5.2 oz, and is 22 inches long. He's a gorgeous combo of his mom and dad. This is a picture of the happy family of three*:

*Artist's rendering

**I've seen a photo, and he's much cuter! (Not mine to post, though, not without parental consent.)

Congratulations to the new mommy and daddy! Your life is about to change, and parenthood isn't easy. Some days it's hard. Really hard. And some days, it's easy peasy and life is good. No matter what kind of day it is, it's a pretty awesome ride.

Welcome to the world, Declan! Aunt Angie, Uncle Graham, and your favorite cousin, Hannah, can't wait to meet you!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcoming Baby Robyn & Brian

In early July, we got the chance to shower Brian & Robyn, parents-to-be, with lots of presents and love for their little one. Working closely with Robyn's mom, we secured a location and a cake and date and time. All that was left was to have a little fun!

First, we all got together. The shower was held in Robyn's family church way up in Crystal Lake. It was....far.

Celebrity Baby Game
One of the first things we did was invite everyone to play in a "Guess the celebrity baby photo" game. I found pictures and wrote clues. I was....not successful. I'm no good at stuff like that. Some of the clues were a little to esoteric. Shower fail!

Celeb babies & coloring pages
Another "game" we played...when people arrived, they received a coloring page. Each page had a letter of the alphabet on top, as well as the ASL finger alphabet hand sign representing that letter. (Robyn is an interpreter for the Deaf, so his her mom. Robyn's brother is also Deaf.) Everyone was asked to color a picture or pictures that start with their given letter.  They were all put into a binder for "Declan's Alphabet Book".

I drew a very pathetic excuse for a panda.

We ate  some food....

The spread
 Played some games.....
Some prizes
 Ate some cake....
Dairy-free cake for the Mama
 And as Brobyn opened gifts, we all got to decorate a few onesies or t-shirts for their little baby. This, my friends, is a terribly fun activity.

My sister-in-law Mary couldn't make it to the shower because she was in Paraguay, visiting her bestie. Her mama took it upon herself to decorate a shirt for her.

"Aunt Mary went to Paraguay and all I got was this t-shirt. Que pasa?"
 Cousin Lindsey, with her sister Kim, made a kick-ass onesie for Hannah at my shower (photo TBA). Kimberly was off in the Caribbean for this shower, so Lindsey was on her own this time. Thanks to the magic of smart phones, Google, and the search term, "cartoon abs", she came up with this:

Because we live so far, I wanted to make sure my nephew gets to know and love me as much as he will his Aunt Mary. So, I told him what I want to hear:

This baby has great taste.

All told, it was a good day. The mama and papa to be had a nice time (I'm pretty sure), and we were glad to be able to celebrate with them and help them prepare for their little one. From here, it was less than two months before their lives changed forever!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Springfield Stay-cation Vacation

At the end of July, we went down to Springfield to visit my brother & sister (in-laws) one last time before they became parents (yay!), to get away for a few days and chill out, and to take in some of the sights downstate has to offer. If you're not familiar with central Illinois, let me tell you this: Lincoln is bigger than Jesus down there. Lincoln is everywhere.

Here are "just a few" photos from our trip. We had a blast, and while we didn't take pics of everything, let me also say this: We played Catan, and the Catan debate will live on. I think someday we might have to implement some house rules because the actual rules were a little confusing. (But Robyn will probably still win, regardless of whose rules we play by!)

First we went to the state capital building. It's really lovely. It's also probably best they built it 150 years ago. It's so gorgeous and ornate. Can you imagine the government trying to justify building a structure like that now? The taxpayers would crap themselves.

I paparazzi'd them outside the capital.

Cool architecture
 We spent quite a bit of time inside wandering around. It's a neat building if you ever get the chance to see it.

The State of Illinois welcomes YOU!

Hannah didn't have to go through security. Graham and I, however, looked shady.

I thought this was cool.

I love the dome.


Shock and awe

Every state needs a seal.
 There are statues everywhere inside. It's kind of ridiculous.

Some upstart politician. Can't remember his name.

Painting of gigantic proportions. 

Neat-lookin' and skinny skinny door.

IL's other favorite politician: Stephan Douglas.

Richard the First has a statue here, too. Dad, here are your tax dollars at work.
 The governor was not in that day. His office, however, was open.

Office of the Governor. No Blago here.

Custodian too? Times are tough!

Rules need to be followed.
 I like that he has an "open door policy". I wonder if that policy is in place when he's actually sitting behind his desk.

Governor's desk.
 I, clearly, cannot be trusted in nice places.

Rules need to be everyone but me!

From the second floor.
 It was a Friday afternoon, and everyone had cleared out for the day. Good to know that, should there ever be an emergency on a Friday afternoon, NO ONE will be around to handle it.

What makes him so special?

Supremely awesome.
 Except the Lieutenant Governor. She's got power. Kind of.

 Statues and artwork. All. Over. The. Building. There's an entire hallway dedicated to ex-gov's of IL.

John P. Altgeld. One of IL's governor's, and also the namesake of Graham's first school.
 Then we noticed that someone was missing......

Portraits of two of the last 3 governors. Note the lack of space next to George Ryan for Blagojedouche.

Let's play a game! Spot the corrupt governors!
 There's quite a bit to see in the capital building.

Hall o' Statues.

Carvings depicting IL's history
 We went off in search of our representatives, and one.

Senate chamber

House chamber

Higher up. More dome.
 I know I took quite a few pics of the dome. I can't help myself. I'm a sucker for gorgeous glass work.

I'm not fancy enough to pee here.
 Afterwards, we walked around the exterior of the capital where there are still more statues and memorials.

Police and Fire memorial.

Being artsy.

Capital exterior

Sundial is not set to daylight savings time.
Okay, note the photo below. You can't quite see the kid in the picture (holding the hand of the lady in the red shirt), but note the composition. The woman at the back is....pushing an empty stroller. The woman at the front is....holding the hand of a kid who looks to be about 7 years old. TOO BIG FOR STROLLER.

I'm super judgy today.
 The next day, we hung out at Uncle Brian & Aunt Robyn's house. We took some photos....

 Then we told Hannah to get excited....Declan is going to be here soon!

 Later that day, we went to a few other Lincoln-ish spots. We started at the old capital building.

This building is interesting in that they took it apart, brick by brick, and rehabbed it. They put in central air, electricity, and even an elevator, all while trying to keep the integrity of the building.

The giant poles are holding up the senate chambers upstairs. Yes, really.

This cracks me up.

My heart, it goes pitter-pat.

We stopped for a chat with Mary Lincoln who was, sadly, not crazy.

Normal lookin'.

Always happiest in a library

 We took a tour of the building which I wrongly assumed would be boring. It didn't thrill me, but I did learn quite a bit about the state and the building. Color me surprised.

Lincoln's last state paycheck.

Wavy glass.

Even Hannah learned something!

Knowledge is power!

Check out Virginia.

Another cool map.

 Funny story: We're taking a tour in the old capital with a guy in period clothing. He keeps making eye contact with us, but I think that's because he asked a few nerdy questions and both Graham and I knew the answers (NERD ALERT). When we get upstairs, he stops in the Senate chamber, looks at us, and says, "Graham! That's it! That's your name."
We've met.....
 Turns out they worked together at New Salem in 2004. This guy was a high school student at the time, Graham was an intern in the summer camp program. This guy is hardcore with his Lincoln history. Hard. Core.

Neat architecture.

Ceiling designed to look like the sun rising in the East

More artsy.


Governor's old parlor


Governor's old office. Lincoln was in this room when he learned he'd been elected President.

Lincoln used this very elevator.

This is where you went to sign up for the Army.

House Chamber.
 On the last bit of the tour, we went to the House chambers, where Lincoln served. This was also the room where his body lay in state before burial. The ceiling in this room was also designed to look like the sun setting in the West. The architect designed it such to remind politicians that "the sun rises and sets with them." Pretty cool.

Lincoln laid on that stage up there, right below Washington.
 We made an attempt to visit the law office, but we got there after the tour had started, and by the time we caught up, Hannah let us know she was tired. Loudly.

The next day, we went to visit the Lincoln museum! It's really cool. Honestly. You can't take pictures except in the rotunda, so the pics you take have to count.

We wanted to take this seriously, so we started out by seriously posing with the Lincolns. Even the dead ones.

God don't think stuff's funny.
 When you start learning about things in the museum, you start off in Lincoln's youth. We met young Abe!


Every baby will be envious.

Contemplating things.

Being inappropriate. Again.
 When we were done, Hannah and I took a break in the gift shop.


Yeah! Chairs are awesome!
 We went home, got our stuff together, and took some final pics with Hannah's aunt and uncle. The next time they see her, they will be a threesome and Hannah will probably be driving cars and working at McDonalds. Gotta get those memories in.

Taking photos of a very cranky baby.

Yay family!!!
We had a great trip, and it was so nice to get away for a few days. We were very blessed to be able to stay with family--pregnant family, at that--and see not only Robyn and Brian (sometimes I call them Brobyn. Makes me feel like I chill with celebrities) but also Mary, Justin, and very briefly Mom G. We played games: Killer Bunnies (Yes, really), Catan, and Chicken Foot, the latter being the most important.

Next up.....Baby Brobyn!