Monthly Archives: December 2009

My Homeland Security

After handing the gate agent our boarding passes at LAX, Mike and I headed down the little gangway for the plane.  There were still 50 people ahead of us, so we had to wait in the tunnel until the line moved along.  We were small talking, the kind of talk when you know everyone around you is listening to your every word.  All of a sudden, the gangway jolted.

Jolting is not a preferred feeling when boarding an aircraft, particularly when it’s a mere 48 hours after a near-major jolting over the Atlantic.

We gave each other a worried look, and then looked at the other passengers who were just as bewildered as we were.  One midde-aged Chinese-American woman turned around to face us.

“Did you feel that?” she asked, somewhat panicked.  “I felt that!  I saw the plane move too!”

“Yes, what was that?  Why did this tunnel just move?” I asked in reply.  “Like we really need this sort of alarm after the scare on Friday.”

Apparently I thought it would be smart to remind everyone of the danger we were surely encountering.  I’m sensitive like that.

Neither Mike nor I gave much thought to flying despite the thwarted Christmas day terrorist attack.  We both have a very practical, somewhat unspoken agreement that we won’t live in fear of the things we can’t control.  Do I have control over the odds that I will board the same plane as a terrorist?  No;  I am too busy controlling the hyper-increased security check to make sure none of my orafices are searched.

It was all the more surprising then that the lady in front of us told us she DID have control over the terrorists.

She replied to my statement, “They’re not taking ME down.  We fight back,” she said assuredly.  “If there is a terrorist on this plane there is no way he would get away with his plans.”

Suddenly I felt a surge of love for this woman, this small person who was in no way small, who represented the collective anger and strength the US has endured the last eight years.  Here she was, knowing in all certainty that no person hell-bent on hurting her would ever succeed in doing so.  She was ready to give her life to prove a point.  She would go down fighting.

Her “FEAR NOT!” stance didn’t look anything like our “fear not” stance.  We choose to assume that what will happen will happen, and we’ll deal with it as it comes.  This lady has a battle plan laid out, practically daring a radical to be assigned to the seat next to her so she can show him what’s what.  That is courage.

This lady is one reason why I board planes without trepidation.  I know there are hundreds of thousands of people like her, people who would never sit in fear while an extremist lights a fuse in front of them.  Just last Friday passengers saw smoke and pounced on the offender before any harm could occur.  Why?  They’re angry.  They refused to be treated like sheep hunted by wolves.

Me?  I’d like to believe that I would leap from my seat and attack a terrorist with whatever I could get my hands on, and if nothing, then just my bare hands.  But when I’m honest, when I really picture a large man yelling at me in a foreign language with explosives in his hands, I hesistate.  I fear.  I see a more accurate picture of pulling myself under a seat so I can just pray or escape being shot.

And that’s not a pretty picture.

After all, since I know my soul lives eternally, why do I fear death?  I considered this for some time, and realized that it’s not death that I fear.  It’s much more that I love my life.  I love my husband and family, and I would hate to see this rich adventure come to an end so soon.

I never learned where the jolting came from, and the flight proceeded smoothly.  I was able to obsess over my glossy People magazine without worrying about my safety, and that’s exactly how every flight should be.  But unlike every other flight I’ve taken, this one reminded me of my God-given right to demonstrate courage.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to; we made it home safely.  But that initial shake-up did serve a purpose — it jolted me awake.

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Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 3: On a Plane

Today I board a flight to LA toting both my carry-on luggage and hopefully, my best behavior.  I always brace for the impact of encountering airline passengers; when people are treated like cattle, they can hardly be blamed for reacting like baboons.  Here, rules of engagement for the most ruthless form of travel.

Pre-flight
Awkward Situation: Despite the airline calling for people to board by seat rows, 150 people are clustered around the gate, jockeying to get to the front.  You seem only to have two options:  shove your body through the masses like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert, or literally be the last person to board (forfeiting your access to overhead bin real estate).

Solution: Follow traditional traffic rules.  My brother-in-law, Phil, (who will be traveling with us tonight) works at Swerve, a driving instruction company.  He says most people on the road should already know the common-courtesy rule of “Each one lets one.”  The same applies here.  As you move like so much human sand through the hour glass, let one person go in front of you and then someone else lets you in.  We hope.

Takeoff
Awkward Situation:
You are finally seated and prepared for takeoff, when the person next to you reveals the undeniable fact that they are a Chatty Cathy.  Your eyes glaze over at the prospect of speaking for two hours with a total stranger whom you will never see again in your life.

Solution: Engage in minimal small talk until takeoff, wherein you pull a book from your bag and show it to the Cathy, saying kindly, “Have you heard of this author?  She’s supposed to be fantastic.  I’ll let you know how it is!”  And then promptly open it.

Beverage Cart
Awkward Situation: It’s your first official day of “Christmas break” and you and your friends are eager for a little yule-tide cheer — in the form of a beer.  Or wine.  Or cocktail.

Solution: Plane rides are not the time to party-hardy.  When you’re stuck in a stationary position and can’t even converse with more than the two people next to you, you’re not in a place to have too good of a time.  Just have one drink and pay with cash.  Order quietly so you’re not obnoxious.  Don’t ask twenty questions to see what brands they carry — check ahead of time by looking in the airline guide in the pocket in front of you.  Then raise a glass and cheers to a safe flight.

Switching Seats
Awkward Situation: The person next to you asks if you would please switch seats with their spouse so they can sit together — but said spouse is 15 rows behind you and in a middle seat.

Solution: If you can swing it for a short flight, consider it your good deed of the week and say you’d be happy to help.  If you are already sitting with your own spouse, kindly explain that you understand their situation but you would like to stay with your traveling companion.  Also, even if you aren’t traveling with someone, you’re under no obligation to move seats.

Bathroom Break
Awkward Situation: You’re practically bursting at the seams after four diet Sprites and two hours of resisting the urge to visit the dreaded airline bath-closet (how could we call that a room with a straight face?).  But there are three people already clustered around the stewardess area waiting their turn.

Solution: It depends on your seat.  If you’re middle or window, get up as soon as possible to expand the amount of time between disruptions of your seat mates.  If you’re aisle, wait until there is only one person or no line at all before hopping up.  Also, keep in mind that the people in the unfortunate seating of the last few rows of the airplane shouldn’t have to stare at your backside that hovers directly in their faces as you wait for the bath-closet.

Warm thanks to those of you who sent in great etiquette conundrums.  For those of you who have yet to inquire, feel free to ask about your awkward situation at wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.

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Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Mas! Mas!

If I were a cheerleader, I’d cheer for Christmas.

Christmas has always been huge in my family — tons of decorations, celebrations, feasts, presents and Christmas Eve church services.  This year is the first Christmas I will spend apart from my family, and we’re a little sad about it.  We know it will be hard to be apart, but we’ll see each other several times before that day.

I’m using this time to examine my thoughts about Christmas, since Mike’s family’s traditions are very different from mine.  I’ve learned a lot about the history of Christmas through them and it’s given me much to consider.  I’ve learned that  Christmas shouldn’t have anything to do with Jesus or his birth, based on the fact that in the Bible neither Jesus nor anyone else says that we should remember His birthday (conversely, we are told to remember his death and resurrection) and in fact, we don’t even know His real birth date.

We can love and honor Christ apart from anything to do with popular holidays.  Rather than try to focus Christmas on Christ, they’ve explained, we should accept that the two have nothing in common and just celebrate it for what it is — good cheer, festivity, presents, family.  In essence, let’s take the Christ out of Christmas and let’s just have…mas.  In Spanish, that would be MORE.

And I’m always all for more.

In fact, I think I’m well on my way to more.  This December has already been decorated with several events that are indeed mas but have absolutely nothing to do with Christ.  Years ago (even last year) I would have felt a twinge of guilt for celebrating without focusing completely on Jesus, but now?  Bring on the mindless merriment!

Christmas Tree: To start our season, we got a tree.  Yes, it’s alive, and yes, it’s the same height as me:  five feet five inches.  We love our tree because it makes our home cozy and cheerful, it holds meaningful symbols (baby ornaments, second grade pictures of Mike, gifts from friends), and it delays us having to buy a new chair to fill the space it occupies.  (If you look closely, you can see a cross ornament…so I guess I haven’t figured this out quite yet.)

After all, Christmas trees were virtually forbidden by our colonial leaders in 1659, when a law was enacted that made any “heathen traditions” such as Christmas carols, decorations and trees a penal offense involving a fine.  We Rephs enjoy setting up our tree without paying a fine.

White Christmas: The same night that we got our tree, we attended “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” musical at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater.  Two other couples invited us to dress up and go out on the town, and we thought nothing could be more Christmasy than the stage version of the Bing Crosby movie (which I had only seen once and Mike had never seen).  It was uncomplicated, plump, shiny and almost too cheesy to bear — and that was entirely the point.  “May your days be merry and bright” indeed!

Tacky Themed Dress-Up Party: Every year we are invited to a number of parties that require an ugly sweater, santa hat, or this year, 80’s ski gear.  The only thing 80’s ski gear and Christmas have in common is snow, I suppose, but we went with it.  The results speak for themselves.

Cirque de la Symphonie: Certainly the highlight of the Christmas season so far was attending the mind-boggling circus acts performed in front of a full orchestra playing classic Christmas favorites.  Mike took me and my sisters to Benaroya Hall and we all gasped our way through this stellar performance.  Previous to this evening none of us had seen a man in a handstand on another man’s HEAD with only ONE HAND.

The champagne at intermission didn’t hurt, either.

White Elephant Gift Exchange Parties: Two of these are on the calendar this year, one of which happened at my workplace — I arrived with a bathrobe and departed with two bags of candy.  Lame.  And what could be less Christ and more mas than giving gifts that are utterly random?  Myrrh and gold are not random; those gifts were intentional, I assure you.

I totally respect those who see Christmas as a holy holiday, because I do too, to some degree.  After 25 years it’s virtually an innate response.  But I love examining why we do what we do, and seeing if we can do it differently and still be honorable.

After all, when it comes to Christmas carols, for every “…the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,” there are just as many “…oh bring us a figgy pudding, oh bring us a figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer.”

As for me?  This Christmas I’ll ponder the wonders of His love — while sipping a cup of good cheer.

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Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

No Soup for You!

In the spirit of holiday feasting, it seems apt to share what is undoubtedly the most embarrassing incident of my life involving food.

It also happens to be the most degrading moment of my very first job.  I was 17 and working at Willows Lodge, a five-star hotel in Woodinville, WA.  I thought I was hot stuff because I wasn’t working at McDonalds or Jiffy Lube like other high school classmates.  (As luck would have it, this incident never would have happened had I worked at those places.)

You see, Willows Lodge serves lunch to its employees.  On my first day on the job I probably heard this fact twenty times.

“Oh and did you know lunch is provided?” one perky employee informed me.  “Isn’t that incredible?”

I didn’t know how to tell her I was a student in high school, an institution that also serves lunch every day — forgive me if I’m not thrilled.

“Oh but you don’t understand,” they’d tell me.  “This is lunch from the Barking Frog!  We get a gourmet lunch every day!”

Whatever butters your bread, people.  As long as it’s presented as a buffet, I’m not going to light fireworks of elation.

My job was as a customer services coordinator, which is a fancy way of saying I worked the front desk.  I checked people in and out, escorted them to their rooms, served as concierge, and booked reservations.  It was fantastic, because I felt like an established, working adult, despite having the face of a 14-year-old.

The job also came with loads of perks, like earning free spa services and free overnight stays on slow nights (I’d invite girlfriends for sleepovers).

I worked with a woman named Mary who was in her sixties, wore gobs of makeup (including fake eyelashes), gossiped incessantly, and had worked at Willows since it opened.  Due to all of these reasons, she was only allowed to work the phones, not the front desk.  She was like a television news anchor forced into radio: everyone knew why she wasn’t allowed on TV, except her.

Mary became my buddy because the people in housekeeping were bitter that I was given front desk, the front desk people didn’t think I was old enough to be there, and management…well, no one is friends with people in management.

Naturally, then, it was Mary who I gushed to about the recent Willows Lodge lunch I’d had, after turning my nose up at it for weeks.

“You guys weren’t kidding.  Lunch was fantastic!”  I told her.

“Wasn’t it?” she replied.  “Especially the garlic chicken.  I had two helpings.”

“I know!” I exclaimed.  “And the soup!  I can’t get over it.  It was so creamy and delicious, I hope they make that more often.”

Silence.  Mary blinked at me twice, then looked at the ceiling, thinking.

“Soup?  That’s weird, I didn’t see any soup,” she thought aloud.

“Yeah, how could you miss it?  It was down at the end of the buffet, in the metal dish,” I explained.

She slowly covered her mouth with her hand, a look of horror crossing her face.  Then she wheezed with laughter and could barely look at me as I stood there saying, “What?  What?” over and over.

“Ohmygawdohmygawd that wasn’t soup!  That wasn’t soup!  That was the gravy!!!”

I turned away from her and gasped.  No.  No. No, that wasn’t possible.  I did not mistake gravy for soup and eat it with a spoon.  I grabbed Mary’s hand and dragged her down the hall to the kitchen were we both ran over to the buffet and stared down into the metal tray.  Oh my gosh, it was a tray.  Who serves soup in a tray?  No one does, of course; it was gravy.

I felt my stomach turn in revulsion to the ounces and ounces I had eaten of what?  Pure fat?  Gristle and left-over meat parts?

I gagged.  Mary howled.

“So you actually scooped the gravy with the ladle into a cup and ate it?  Ohmygaw!” she exclaimed.

I grabbed her shoulders.  “Mary you can’t tell anyone!” I begged.  “Don’t tell a soul!”  Remember, I was a teenager and felt my reputation could be destroyed at the slightest slip.  I could hear the nicknames: The Soup Kid.  The Lying Luncher.  Gross Gravy.

Of course, being a mature adult, she swore secrecy.  And I, being a reckless teen, immediately told my parents when I got home that night.  I think my mother actually cried, she laughed so hard.  Just as I feared, Sam, being 13, didn’t waste time in coming up with nickname, which she still uses today from time to time:  Gravy Girl.

Perhaps I should have given that Jiffy Lube application a second glance, after all.

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Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

Finishing the Race Together

In early August I emailed several close friends and family inviting them to join me in my third half-marathon.  I had an irresistible urge to invite specifically those who would otherwise never pursue such an endeavor on their own.  In particular, I desperately hoped that my two sisters would accept the challenge — both because I wanted us to experience this thrill together, and because I knew beyond a doubt they could do it, even if they didn’t think they could.  Happily for me, perhaps begrudgingly for them, they accepted.  In their own words, here are their stories.

Erin, 28, Ballard resident, Mars Hill Church Wedding Ministry Director and Biblical Families Administrator:

 

I have never been particularly athletic; in fact, one of my favorite things to say regarding myself is that “I’m built for comfort, not speed.” 

Throughout my formative years and into my early twenties I was overweight in varying degrees, at most when I was 14 and about 170lbs.  I used to fake ankle injuries and asthma in order not to run the mile in PE.  I simply couldn’t do it, and had no desire to.  I’ve grown up a lot since I was 14 and now take care of my health and myself.  Thankfully I weigh quite a bit less than I once did.

When Abby invited me to do the half-marathon with her, I thought it should be pretty easy because I “run” three miles on the elliptical three times a week at the gym.  So I put my sneakers on and ran a mile near my house.  I didn’t get a quarter mile before I had to walk.  “What the junk!” I thought.  “It’s supposed to be just like the elliptical machine, what is going on?”  It took me over 20 minutes to do that first mile.  I was ashamed.  “There’s no way I can do this,” I thought.  “Forget it – I’m going back to my routine.” 

A few weeks later during our family vacation I agreed to do a mile with my sisters.  Abby promised to keep pace and not speed ahead.  Abby has the spiritual gift of encouragement and she wields it well.  I didn’t feel like a failure.  I decided to train – I wasn’t committing to the race, just training.

I diligently followed the training schedule.  The longer runs I tried to do with Abby or Sam because I’ve discovered I do much better with a buddy.  The first time I ran five miles, I thought it was going to kill me.  By the time I got to seven, I was actually handling it, dare I say enjoying it.  I even signed up for a 5K with a gal in my community group.  I pushed myself to keep pace with her and nearly, literally, passed out at the end.  I did it in 33:40, which was phenomenal for me.  I was so excited to know I could finish a race — I started to think maybe I could do the half-marathon after all. 

It occurred to me recently that I have prayed for the ability to run (albeit very few times) and God gave that to me.  My heart has totally changed toward running.  There are days when it’s hard to get up in the morning to run; and there are days that I don’t run as far as the schedule dictates, but most of the time I get up and run.  I’m now running 15 to 20 miles a week and thinking forward to a half-marathon in the summer and a few 5Ks before that. 

I have realized this is perseverance.  In the Bible, this is what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians and the Hebrews to run the race that is set before them.  Praise God for teaching me the practical example of actual running so that I could understand what that means in my spiritual life.  In both running and life, it is about discipline, choices, setting the course and reaching for the goal.  Paul says that I am striving for an imperishable wealth and therefore I do not run aimlessly.  However, I cannot simply show up and expect to achieve it – I have to build up, train, be self-controlled and disciplined.  I had no idea. 

The day of the half-marathon was a great day, but by the time it arrived it was no big deal.  I had trained well for it and knew I was ready and could do it.  Somewhere in mile eight, I looked at Abby and said, “I’d do this again, it’s kind of fun.”  Around mile 10 I got really hungry (I mean really hungry), which I’m told is a good sign but all I could think about was bacon and coffee.  My biggest takeaway has turned out to be not the medal I received, but the implications and practical expressions that running has in my spiritual walk — or run.  Praise God! 

Sam, 22 (it’s her birthday today!), Woodinville resident, graphic design student, Red Robin waitress:

If you are expecting inspiration, you can close the web page now.

This experience was…trying, to say the least.  I am not a long-distance runner.  I figured, “Alright, I can do this.  It won’t be that bad; training will be annoying, but I’ll build up and do it and lose weight and it’ll be rad.”  Wow, was I sorely mistaken.  

I did the first few training sessions and got a little better, but I couldn’t do much midweek training because of work and school overtaking my life.  Training three times a week turned into just one big run per weekend, and it was awful because I wasn’t building up the endurance I needed.  I began to look toward weekend runs with disdain and dread.  During one such run (a 10 miler with my dad) I broke down and cried as I ran, totally believing that I looked like the biggest idiot this side of Kansas, running down the insanely busy Avondale Road sobbing and telling my dad I couldn’t do it.  However, my embarrassment stopped the tears pretty quickly.

Flash forward (because all my training runs were heinous) to the race.  I had just gotten back from Arizona for Thanksgiving with my fiancé and his family, and had to wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get to the race on time.  We got there and started the race with 18,000 other people, and I found myself thinking, “Hmmm this isn’t that bad, everyone’s running and walking, so it’s alright.”  

Miles one through four were OK, five through seven were painful but manageable, eight through eleven were hilly, and twelve through 13.1 a mix of, “Please Lord, shoot me down right now,” and “OK, I might actually finish this thing.”

My goal was to survive, but my mother gave me a better goal:  to beat Abby across the finish line.  Now please realize that had this been a real life goal, it would not have happened.  Abby has done this a million times and has been a runner forever.  Erin has never run, yet picked it up with the grace of a gazelle, and my father has completed a marathon.  Needless to say, they all could have easily left me in the dust.  So as I panted and tried to die every other mile, they stayed back and walked with me so I didn’t feel so lame.  I wish you could see all the emails from Abby since August: each one was signed, “Finishing the race together.”  And finish together we did, purely by the grace of my sisters and father who sacrificed an awesome time in order for me to push myself to the finish line. 

So just after mile post 13, Erin said, “Ready Sham? Lets do it!” and I turned to Abby and said “Gotcha dude!” and took off.  I am a sprinter.  I like sprinting.  Even after 13 miles, I can sprint.  So, I blasted past her and heard Mike screaming my name from the crowd as I blazed through the stadium (yes, we had an entire cheering section) and crossed the finish line not only in front of my family, but before the first marathoner crossed as well.  After crossing, I got a piece of tinfoil (heat blanket) and got a warm welcome from not only Mike, but my mother, my fiancé, and my best friend, who surprised me by giving up a day of snowboarding to come see me finish.  

It was a cool finish, but now I am being begged by my sister Erin, my mother, and my best friend to do it all again in June.  I don’t think so, people.  Muscles I didn’t know EXISTED hurt right now.  By the way, our time? 3:09.  Rockstars.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am so proud of my sisters!

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Filed under The WORD (Faith)