Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013: A Year in Review

One of my favorites of the shots I took in 2013.

At the end of 2012, I talked about the good things I'd accomplished that year. This post will be more about the significant things that happened during 2013, whether they were good or...not so. The year was...rather eventful, on both sides.

Starting even before 2013 and lasting through April was uncertainty about whether I'd be retaining my job. My company was converting a bunch of contract positions (one of which I was in), but each contractor had to apply and interview for their own job. Fortunately, I was hired as a full-time employee in April.

In January I started dating. If you know me and are shocked to hear this, it's because we didn't tell a lot of people. There were some legitimate reasons for that, not the least of which is that we met at work (and at first were even in the same department) and didn't want it to be a big deal there. The relationship held real long-term promise...I thought...until May, when I was dumped (by Facebook message, 3 days before my birthday).

After that happened, I realized that here I am, 44 years old, and I've never been in a significant relationship where the official dating portion lasted any longer than about 6 months. A fact that frankly kicks my ass. You can bet this is a subject I'll be bringing up in therapy, which I intend to start again this year.

Also happening during the first few months of the year was a health scare that I won't detail. Suffice it to say I feared I might have breast cancer. Turned out it was just a scare, but gawd, was that stressful.

February brought the devastating news that my doctor, Dr. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz, had passed away. He was more than a doctor to me; he was like family. I still miss him and always will.

In April and June I enjoyed Camp Widow East and West.

The photo on the right represents a bit of a triumph for me. I'd gotten that gorgeous dress—the first time I'd worn a fancy dress to a Camp Widow banquet. (The other times I wore either a casual dress or a fancy top—one of which you see in the photo on the left—with dressy pants.) Anyway, I worried that this dress would accentuate certain parts of myself that I didn't exactly what to highlight. So I'd brought a black wrap to wear with it. But when I was otherwise ready to go to the banquet, I thought...forget it. I'm just going to go in this dress. And own it. And that's what I did.

I mean, this is the body I have. And it ain't all bad. And—maybe it'd be good if I loved it a little more. But, having said all that...I've seen other pictures of myself from that night (the ones where I forgot to suck in my gut, if I'm being perfectly honest with you), and...I can't help it: I don't like some of what I see. Clearly, I still struggle with this body image thing, and one moment of "owning it" doesn't change that. I mean: how do you love your body and still wish you could change parts of it at the same time? But—I digress...a topic for another time.

Also at Camp Widow West, I gave free makeup applications for the banquet to 2 people whose names we drew out of a hat. And I bought this necklace, personalized with Ron's initials:

The Classic Initial necklace
by Urban Sparrow Designs.

In July I became a Regional Group Leader for Soaring Spirits International and created Soaring Spirits Central Ohio, which provides local community to widowed people through regular social events.

Some of the members of SSCO

In August I joined my other siblings in traveling to Minnesota to help our sister Becky celebrate her (milestone) birthday. Without a doubt the best moment was when she opened her gift from us—a new laptop!

In September, on the anniversary of Ron's passing, I hosted a virtual event in his honor. On Facebook and Widowed Village I asked my widowed friends to share the story of how their life was changed by having their loved one in it, along with a photo of the two of them. I was simply blown away by all of the amazing stories. If you want to be moved and inspired, click on the picture below (and scroll down past the event description). Long Live Love.

Later that month, on a Friday night after work, I drove to New Jersey to attend a weekend-long widowed gathering hosted by my friend Arnie (on the left, below). I had a bit of an adventure in that I didn't find his street until around 2AM and couldn't find his house at all, so I got a hotel room for that night. But overall the weekend was a blast, and I'm glad I went. There's nothing like the bond between widowed people, and I try to experience it as often as I'm able to.

Arnie and his mom, Marion, who are both widowed
My friend Kelly Lynn and I at Arnie's
In October I met Rachel Held Evans, a Christian author and blogger that I've admired for a long time. She spoke at a church in Louisville, KY, which is the closest she's been since I became a fan, so I drove there to hear her speak and meet her. (Apparently, long, solo car trips are what I do now. 'Course I don't do them because I love the "solo" part but because I want to do whatever it is, and I'm not letting the solo part stop me. And—it's nice to know..."I can do this!") After I tweeted her links to the pictures I'd taken and to my post about meeting her (above), she retweed it, and that post quickly became my most-read post of all time—by a factor of at least 4. Amazing. The following Sunday, in her Sunday Superlatives post, she mentioned having met me, included a link to my post and this picture.

December brought another sad loss. My uncle, Wayne Price, passed from this life, claimed by the cancer he suffered for nearly a year. Wayne was one of the kindest, most accepting, and most caring men I've ever known. He will surely be missed.

So there you have it—my 2013: some things I hope never happen again but also some things I'm glad happened. Here's hoping for an even better 2014.

* * *

My favorite books I read during the year:
My most popular posts of the year:
  1. Rachel Held Evans and Me
  2. "I Want to Live"
  3. Books That Made a Difference:
    When We Were on Fire
  4. Camp Widow East 2013: The Same and Yet So Different
  5. The Mighty Warrior Who Advises the King
  6. R.I.P. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz,
    June 17, 1952 - January 22, 2013

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Evolving in Monkey Town, Part 1: On Slants and Evolution

"I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can,
to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it,
find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day." 
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet1

* * *

Note: This post is part of my occasional series Books That Made a Difference.

As I've said before, I don't remember exactly when or how I first discovered Rachel Held Evans. And I don't remember how I first heard about her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. I just know that at the time, I didn't really know what it was about; I'd just heard about it and was intrigued. Maybe I'd caught wind of some controversy around it? Seems likely. Anyway, it's fair to say I bought it mostly out of curiousity. By then I was quite familiar with Rachel through her blog and just really loved how she espoused what I'll call a different kind of Christianity. By which I mean a (very) different kind  from the kind I inherited.

And as it turns out, that's what the book is about—that different kind of Christianity and how Rachel transitioned to the back cover says, "from certainty, through doubt, to faith...." I could talk here about how, for me growing up, practically everything was about certainty—it is fundamentalism's core; certainty and faith were the same thing. But...I would be getting ahead of myself.

The book's title is a takeoff from the fact that Rachel's town, Dayton, TN, was the site of the famous Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925.

This book has been so eye-opening for me, I knew I had to write about it. So in this and in future posts I'll be sharing my thoughts on it.

* * * 

In the Preface, Rachel shares a series of things about herself to let the reader in on the "slant" she brings to Christian faith and the Bible. Which is great, because I think everyone brings their own slant, as much as many would like to claim otherwise. Some of them are amusing, like, "The Stuff White People Like blog is painfully representative of my lifestyle and habits" (page 13). Some are serious, like, "I'm judgmental of people I think are judgmental" (page 13) and this set: "I've been hurt by Christians" and "As a Christian, I've been hurtful" (page 14). I love that she included those last few, because they're real, honest, and humble. Who isn't at least somewhat judgmental? (Brené Brown says, "We all do it [judge others] and most of us do it all the time."2) And it can be really easy to talk about how you've been hurt, without acknowledging that you've dished it out too.

Near the end of the preface, Rachel says,
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not exactly an impartial observer. My culture, my childhood, my gender, my prejudices, my hopes, my imagination, my virtues, and my vices—these things color my view of the world and infuse it with meaning. I've got baggage just like everyone else, and it's as much a part of my faith journey as the high peaks, the low valleys, and the long, lovely stretches of road that I wish could go on forever.

I'm a lot of things, but fair and balanced I am not. (page 14)
And again, I would say: who is?

My first real "Whoa" moment came with the title of the Introduction, "Why I Am an Evolutionist." At this point, I am not an evolutionist. But then again, origins is not one of the things I've specifically re-examined yet. Creationism (of the literal, 6-day variety) was pounded into me in my fundy upbringing and evangelical college. Of course. What else would a good Christian believe? A particular standout in my memory is a "Back to Genesis" seminar put on at my college by people from the Institute for Creation Research. At that time, Ken Ham was among them (he is now the Answers in Genesis guy). He had a whole session, which I believe was called "Creation Evangelism," where he posited that the entire Christian story is based on a literal interpretation of the events in Genesis. And that otherwise...the whole thing falls apart. And I bought that; I bought it hard.

Rachel relates that, like me, she was "...told that belief in evolutionary theory and belief in a personal, loving Creator are mutually exclusive, that if the Bible cannot be trusted to accurately explain the origins of life, it cannot be trusted for anything at all, and the Christian faith is lost" (page 16). And she, an evangelical-raised (no less) Christian, is boldly declaring she's an evolutionist. What am I supposed to do with that? If Christianity and evolution are fundamentally incompatible, what of Christians who believe in evolution?

Honestly, I have no idea.  In any case, I'm no longer inclined to be judgmental (see what I did there?) toward people based on how they believe on this topic.

Now, to be fair, she seems to hold that position less strongly than the Introduction's title might lead us to believe. Witness this passage:
Monkeys make me nervous. Whenever I hear about chimpanzees solving math problems or Koko the Gorilla using sign language to order her breakfast, I feel inexplicably threatened by their humanlike qualities and intelligence.... I suppose my monkey-phobia has something to do with the sneaking suspicion that maybe the biologists are right after all. Maybe man and ape share a common ancestor, and that explains our eerie similarities. (pages 15 & 16)
I like that she admits that. I've had similar thoughts (though I was probably so disturbed by the implications, that I didn't even form them into actual words in my head). I mean, if we're not related to chimpanzees, for example, how come we share so much genetic material? Ponder that one for a while.

And then there's this one:
I'm still not sure what to make of evolution. Scientists have perfectly good evidence to support it, while theologians have good biblical and philosophical reasons to be wary of its implications.

However, I have a feeling that if Darwin turns out to be right, the Christian faith won't fall apart after all. (page 16)
And that is a conclusion I can live with.

As the Introduction continues, Rachel talks about why she believes that to be the case and about what kind of evolutionist she really is. But that is topic enough for its own post, so stay tuned for part 2.


1I owe the discovery of this quote to author (and incidentally a high school mate of mine) Elissa Elliott; I first saw it on her website. Elissa's book is Eve: A Novel, which is fantastic.
2Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) (New York: Gotham Books, 2007), 38.