Emily

Emily French is probably the first friend I made when my husband and I moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma just over 5 years ago. I’m a very introverted and socially awkward person (although I am getting better!), and if it had been up to me by myself it may well have taken two or three years to make a good friend!

But if you know Emily, you know that she simply loves people, and she has a way of making you feel welcome and loved in her presence. She went out of her way to get to know me… why, I still don’t really know, ha! Maybe it was that my husband plays bass in the worship band she leads at church. Maybe it was that she found out I run a Knitting for Charity blog, and as she calls herself a “craftivist” (she loves to make jewelry and sell it for charitable fundraising purposes), she thought I was a kindred spirit.

Or maybe she just sensed that I may well have never made a friend, a real friend, at our church if I had been left to my own devices, and she thought that simply wouldn’t do.

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Thoughts for the Mo(u)rning After

So, I have some thoughts.

1. My heart aches so, so much for those of you who are terrified. Those of you worried your rights will be trampled, if not forcibly taken. Those of you worried about violence. About deportation. About feeling a loss of safety in general. I’m scared for you, too, and I’m trying so hard to do what I can to figure out how I can in any way help to protect you. I know you’re feeling defenseless, and I want to help. I don’t know how yet. But I’ll do my best.

2. For those of you who are heartbroken: you don’t need my permission to cry, scream, or do whatever you need to get those feelings out. But know that I won’t judge you, even though some of what you say is hard to hear. I understand that you’re frustrated, and I know you won’t begin to heal until you let some of this out.

3. Those of you who don’t share my political beliefs: many of you are my friends, and this won’t end that. I know that those of you who voted for our new president-elect aren’t racist, misogynist, xenophobic, or homophobic. Please try not to take offense to people who are claiming your vote is proof that you are. I know this election wasn’t easy for you, and you were trying to vote your conscience. Just try to realize that these people are frightened, and maybe think about how you can try to reassure them.

4. Maybe let’s think about trying not to point fingers or hurl insults. Part of the reason this country has become so polarized is because so few of us are willing to own our own faults or flaws. And rather than look for solutions, we look for blame. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. I’ve thought “HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?” more times than I care to admit. Then I think about how often I’m more concerned about myself, my own life, how I can make things better for myself, than I am willing to help out others or to sacrifice for others. And I think, yeah… I’m not really doing my part, am I?

5. Throughout history, evil has prevailed for a time, but goodness eventually wins out. Mourn, but don’t despair. Be angry, but don’t become bitter. Be frustrated, but don’t become complacent. Recognize that each one of us can make the world better if we dedicate ourselves to doing as much good as we can, with all the resources available to us, for as long as we are able.

That is all.

Not That Bad

The details are incredibly sketchy. I don’t remember the year. I don’t remember how old I was, though I was probably at least 16 because my dad didn’t let me out of the house alone with my boyfriend until that age. I don’t remember the month or the day, though it had to have been summer because one doesn’t go camping in Ohio during any other time of the year.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I believe that my boyfriend at the time was camping with friends. He had brought me to the campgrounds to hang out with him and his friends (none of the other guys had girls with them at the time, that much I do remember).

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My Eyes Have Seen the Glory – a Sunday School Tale

Here’s a little Monday-morning encouragement for you.

As you may know, I lead children’s worship before Sunday school at our church. We call this our “Gathering Time.” This Sunday I had planned for us to sing along to a couple of YouTube videos and one song that we sang earlier this summer during VBS.

After we finished with the second of the songs from YouTube, another song (that I hadn’t planned on our singing) started playing before I had a chance to close the browser. That song was “Glory” by Common and John Legend. This is a song I found a couple of years ago and was so moved by it that I decided to play it for the children during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. I’ve since done so for the past 2 years.

It played for maybe a second before I hit the “pause” button, but the kiddos — many of whom had only heard the song once or twice during our Gathering Time — immediately perked their ears up. And they unanimously asked me to play the whole song for them.

A reminder: our Sunday School group is composed of K through 5th graders, with the attending short attention spans. I usually play upbeat, bouncy children’s worship songs because that’s what tends to get them most revved up and eager to sing and worship, as you can imagine. “Glory” is the opposite of upbeat and bouncy! It is a gorgeous song, powerful and soaring, but not at all the kind of song I would normally pick for a normal Sunday. Yet here they were, clamoring for that song.

I made the split-second decision to play it after our VBS song.

When the time came, I warned them that I was playing it because they had asked for it, and that they were not to talk over it or be disrespectful during it. In retrospect I don’t think I needed to. They were spellbound. A few made comments as it played, but nothing disrespectful. One of the children, a black boy that I’ve often babysat, told me his father would love this song. (I said “Yes, I’m sure he would!”)

I’m no rapper (ha!) so I didn’t bother trying to follow with the verses (though I couldn’t help speaking during the “My eyes have seen the glory” line), but I did sing the choruses. And I wasn’t the only one.

I’ve rarely been prouder of our kiddos than I was during and after that song. You never know what will strike a chord with a child at church, but clearly this song does just that. I have a feeling I might be receiving more requests for that song. And I’ll be happy to fulfill them as often as I can.

Just before the kids departed for their Sunday school lesson, the oldest kiddo there — a white boy — said to me, “I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would have something to say about what’s been going on lately.”

I didn’t have to ask him what he meant. I responded, “Yes, I think he would have. That’s another good reason for this song today.”

“Yeah,” he said.

For all the nonsense going on in our country over the past week — if not over the past several years, if not over the past several decades — I feel good about our future. These kiddos, they’re our future. And they have more love than you can imagine.

Redemption at Roland Garros

As a young child (elementary school age), I loved tennis, especially Chris Evert. I was so young that tennis matches did not hold my attention for very long. I preferred hitting tennis balls against walls to watching! But still I idolized Chris, and would become sad anytime my parents told me she had lost a match.

Fast forward 6 or 7 years. I was 14 years old. The year was 1988, and I happened to turn on the TV and see that tennis was being played. Not just tennis, but Wimbledon. Not just Wimbledon, but a men’s semifinal match between Miroslav Mecir and the man who would become my first tennis love, Stefan Edberg.

I think the match was in its final set. I began watching and couldn’t stop. I was entranced by the blond Swedish serve-and-volleyer with better defense than any serve-and-volleyer had the right to possess. I was more excited by all the balls he could retrieve than anything else. When he won the match, I was thrilled, and for the first time ever I actually took the time to find out when the next match would be shown so I could watch.

As you may remember, 1988 happened to be the first of three straight Wimbledon finals contested by Stefan and Boris Becker. I think it also might have been Wimbledon’s first Monday final (I remember being so very bummed out that the match wasn’t on Sunday, when I had been all ready to watch — good ol’ London rain!) If Stefan had lost that match, who knows if my renewed interest in tennis would have stuck. As it was, he won, and a diehard tennis fan was minted.

(I became more of a men’s tennis fan than a women’s tennis fan then. I still liked women’s tennis, but I think my teenaged hormones drew me more to the men. It wasn’t the women’s fault at all – I wanted to be them, but I wanted to marry the men. I was a silly teenager, what can I say…)

That also happened to be the year that Steffi Graf won her incredible Golden Slam. I remembered watching the U.S. Open final between her and Gabriela Sabatini. Though I rather liked Gabi — with her long dark hair and gorgeous Argentine looks — I was also really excited to witness the history of the Grand Slam. (I also remember my parents were less than thrilled. But they were diehard Chris and Martina fans…)

Because I became a tennis fan at Wimbledon, the first French Open (also called Roland Garros) I ever watched was the following year, in 1989. It was incredibly exciting to watch an adorable Spaniard named Arantxa Sanchez defeat Steffi Graf in the final. But I was also excited because my main man Stefan was in the final against, of all people, Michael Chang.

Michael Chang, for heaven’s sake! He who had absolutely miraculously defeated Ivan Lendl. I had watched parts of that match, and it was an amazing upset, but I was quite certain there was no way he could beat Stefan.

If you’re a tennis fan, you know what happened next…

… I experienced my first big French Open Fave Upset.

I was sad when Stefan lost, but I also sort of figured it was no big deal. Stefan would have other chances, right? He was still quite young (22 or 23, I think). Surely he had many, many years left in his career to pick up that title.

I watched him year after year, listened to the pundits admire how well he was playing and say that surely, this man is the favorite for the French Open. (I know this makes no sense in retrospect, but when Stefan’s beautiful game was really flowing, it was hard not to think he could win everything, even on clay.)

As it turned out, Stefan never returned to the French Open final. I don’t recall him even getting close. I think the furthest he got was the quarterfinals.

Stefan retired in 1996, 8 years after I started watching and admiring him. As it turns out, just 2 years after I began watching, another young male tennis player caught my eye. His name was Pete Sampras. He won the U.S. Open as a 19-year-old in 1990 and became my second-favorite player.

I actually remember in 1991 at the French Open when he played Thomas Muster. Muster was an Austrian and an absolute beast on clay (he would win the title a few years later). And he was Pete’s first-round opponent. I spent the first two sets rooting for Muster because I was convinced he would make it further at the French Open than Pete would. And Muster won those two sets. But when Pete mounted a comeback over the next two sets, I couldn’t resist. I cheered him on heartily and was overjoyed when he wound up winning the match in the fifth set.

In retrospect, I probably should’ve stuck with my original guns. Pete won that match, but he promptly lost in the next round. I was very bummed out about it!

1991 wasn’t a total washout. I discovered my third-favorite player, Jim Courier, when he defeated Andre Agassi in five sets in the final. (I did not like Agassi at all in those days, and I was delighted that Courier kept Agassi from winning his first Slam. I know, I am an awful person.)

The next few years gave me more of the same. Stefan kept losing early. Pete couldn’t get over the quarterfinals hump. But 1994 was really painful. Pete had finally regained his 1990 U.S. Open-winning form in 1993 when he won Wimbledon, then the U.S. Open again. And he topped all that off with a win at the 1994 Australian Open.

Sound familiar? Yes… it was exactly the scenario Novak Djokovic faced in both 2012 and this year (more on this later.) Pete was 3/4 of the way to a Sampras Slam (not that it was called anything like that at the time, but dang, that would’ve sounded good, wouldn’t it?) — holding all 4 Grand Slam titles at the same time.

But clay was still Pete’s weakest surface. As much as he owned Jim Courier off the clay, Courier owned him on it, and he owned Pete again in 1994. Another quarterfinals loss, and another French Open disappointment for yours truly.

1995 may have been the lowest of the low for me, French Open-wise, and favorite-player-wise. Pete lost in the first round. Stefan lost in the second round. The final was an interesting matchup — Michael Chang versus Thomas Muster — and it was heartwarming to see Muster finally win the French Open he’d been dreaming of since he rehabbed his leg after a freak car accident.

But here’s what was happening. I was basically watching two different tournaments at the French Open. I was watching for my favorites — Pete and Stefan — but resigning myself to the fact that they wouldn’t last till the second week — or if they somehow did, they wouldn’t last long. So I started learning about the clay-court specialists that I knew would take over the tournament once Pete and Stefan lost. I found my favorites and cheered them on.

But then came 1996. Pete made the semifinals of the tournament for the first time, after years of losing early or getting no further than the quarters. In fact, he finally beat Jim Courier in the quarterfinals. In a fifth set, no less! Pete’s coach and friend Tim Gullikson had succumbed to brain cancer earlier that year, and after that quarterfinal victory I thought, “maybe this is the year. Maybe Pete is fated to win this tournament for Tim.”

And then came Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who beat Pete and won the tournament.

For well over a decade (a decade and a half, really) after that, I knew I was just a hopeless curse on my favorite players. Stefan retired that year, and though I got my hopes up every now and then, deep down I think I knew Pete wasn’t ever winning the French Open, either.

Pete retired in 2003. For whatever reason, no player really caught my fancy for years after that. I kind of liked James Blake. I kind of liked Andy Roddick. I did not like Roger Federer AT ALL. I’m not sure if it was because it all seemed to come too easily to him, if I found him arrogant, or what, but he just never excited me. (If I’m honest, I also didn’t like how quickly he started winning Slam titles and threatening all of Pete’s records.)

When Rafael Nadal came along, I kind of liked him, but honestly it was mostly because he seemed to be keeping Federer from winning the French Open. (Hey, if Pete could never win it, I sure as heck didn’t want this upstart Federer winning it either!)

It was 4 years of drifting aimlessly through tennis, watching it but not really getting excited by any one player, until that fateful day in 2007 when I decided to turn on the TV and watch the U.S Open. I had my curiosity piqued when I heard the announcer say that Novak Djokovic would be playing next. I had heard about the Serbian kid who had beaten Federer and Nadal in the same tournament earlier that year. I remember thinking, “let’s see what he’s like.”

As it turns out, I fell in love the moment I saw him play. The rest is history.

He reached the final and lost to Federer, but he won my heart for good.

My lousy relationship with the French Open remained iffy at best. My new fave won the Australian Open the following year, which was exciting. And he did then reach the French Open semifinal, which was something considering how often Pete and Stefan had faltered in quarterfinals or earlier. That might have even got me wondering if perhaps Novak might succeed where Pete and Stefan had failed so frequently (and often spectacularly).

The following year, though, my worst fear was realized: Federer won the French Open, reaching the milestone that neither Stefan nor Pete had ever been able to reach. I probably threw a tantrum when that happened. (Okay, maybe not. But I’m sure I pouted a lot that day.) The 2010 French Open might have been even worse: Novak lost in the quarterfinals to Jurgen Melzer, after being up 2 sets to love no less!

On one hand, that was a low point: Novak never lost before the semifinals again after 2010. On the other hand, it might have been the last truly stress-free French Open I had. Because after 2010 came 2011, and we all know what happened then: Novak 2.0, aka The Serbinator, aka Godjovic was born.

Nothing in my entire tennis-watching career had prepared me for 2011 Novak. Stefan, though a fine player and one who reached #1 and kept it for a decent amount of time during his career, was never a very dominant #1. Pete was a dominant #1, except when he wasn’t. The thing about Pete is that he really cared only about the Slams, and even then he considered Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to be the most important. Australia was a distant third, and the French Open was barely even on his radar.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Pete may have set a lot of records, including 6 straight years ending the year with the #1 ranking, but he was really not an incredibly dominant #1. Not the way Novak became in 2011.

The French Open that year was absolutely petrifying for me. Novak had amassed an absolutely insane match winning streak at that point, and that streak was marked by Novak’s repeated defeats of Rafael Nadal. It was starting to look as though Novak could beat pretty much anyone, including Nadal at the French Open. If he did that, he would be halfway to a Grand Slam. No man had even been halfway to a Grand Slam since Courier in 1992!

It was all going so well… until it wasn’t.

First Fabio Fognini happened. (Pulling ridiculous antics to get normally-not-allowed medical treatments for cramps in his previous round match.)

And then Federer happened.

(You will never convince me that Fognini’s subsequent withdrawal from his quarterfinal with Novak did not at least contribute to his loss to Federer in the semifinals.)

You look at the rest of Novak’s year — his domination of Nadal in both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals — and it’s hard not to make the case that, if Novak had only beaten Federer in that semifinal, he’d have then beaten Nadal in the final and won the Grand Slam. That’s a hypothetical in the extreme, of course. But still. Not hard to imagine it happening.

Instead, I got a second chance for a non-calendar year Grand Slam (aka Novak Slam) in 2012, after Novak won the 2011 Wimbledon and U.S. Open and then won an incredibly long, physical, hard-fought battle of an Australian Open final versus Nadal at the beginning of 2012.

Could Novak have managed to win that French Open title if rain hadn’t managed to interrupt their final at the worst possible moment? Novak had won a set and taken an advantage in the next set when the rains came. The momentum was on his side. It’s not hard to argue that had they continued, Novak might have pulled out the victory.

Then there came 2013. Rafa wound up in Novak’s half of the draw. (thaaaaaaaaanks) and their semifinal was a de facto final. Novak was up a break in the fifth set. UP. A. BREAK. Then he went for a smash, touched the net, lost the point and the game and the set and the match.

2014: I don’t even know what happened in that match because I was at church and couldn’t watch it. I’ve not been able to find it since. All I know is that Novak actually won the first set, but he couldn’t do anything else, even though Nadal was gassed by the end of the fourth set. (I heard Novak got sick, which certainly would explain what happened to him, at least partially.)

2015: NOVAK FINALLY BEAT RAFAEL NADAL AT THE FRENCH OPEN. Unfortunately, somehow that match wound up being a QUARTERFINAL rather than a final, and Novak still had two flipping matches to play. One of which, the semifinal against Andy Murray, not only went five sets but also ran into a precious rest day that Novak surely needed to prepare for the final. Even so, it didn’t seem possible that he might lose to Stan Wawrinka.

(Sigh.)

So you see that I’ve had a VERY long history of disappointment with this tournament. For 26 years I watched my favorites flounder and flop at the French Open. And I’ve also spent the last five years riding the emotional roller coaster that was “There’s no reason why Novak Djokovic shouldn’t win the French Open.”

Add the fact that Novak was, once again, going for the Novak Slam — after Pete had failed to pull it off in 1994 and Novak himself had failed to do it in 2012 — and I hope you’ll understand why the two weeks of Roland Garros this year were among the most stressful of my tennis-watching life.

… wait.

He won, didn’t he?

Well glory be and hallelujah! Novak Djokovic actually won Roland Garros this year!

He overcame so much. He overcame the immense and impossible-to-overstate pressure that came from his annual quest to win the French. He overcame the whispers that some of his “aura” had dissipated thanks to losses during the clay warm-up season. He overcame the “asterisk talk” that came when Rafa withdrew from the tournament after the second round. He overcame the “he’ll never have a better chance to win the French than this year!!” talk. He overcame 4 straight days of tennis without a rest day in between after torrential rains delayed matches, including a complete washout on the day of his fourth round match. He overcame nasty murmurs of “he could’ve been defaulted!” after throwing a racquet in anger that bizarrely bounced and nearly hit a line judge. He overcame the ridiculous assertion that his post-match celebration was “manufactured” and “manipulative” in an attempt to “win over the crowd.”

And, in the end, he overcame his own obvious nerves as he tried to close out the match to win the one Slam tournament he had never won.

He even overcame what was likely the most difficult obstacle of all: the fact that he was my favorite tennis player playing at the French Open.

Thank you, Novak Djokovic, for making my Roland Garros Redemption happen at long last.

“A Boost from the Evangelicals”

On December 7, presidential candidate Donald Trump announced that he believed the United States should ban all Muslims from entering the country.

An hour or so later, a broadcaster named David Brody said the following on Twitter: “Expect the Donald Trump statement on USA Muslim ban to give him a boost with evangelicals.”

And I can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m going to put this out there very clearly: I believe that a ban on Muslims entering the United States places us on a very slippery slope that will send us straight into fascism. Go ahead and explain to me how banning Muslims from entering the U.S. is any different than Nazi Germany rounding up the Jews to get rid of them. Go on, I’ll wait.

Or, let’s take another approach. Tell me how this is any different from the Islamic State – also known as ISIS – telling Christians that they need to a) convert to Islam, b) pay a hefty tax, or c) leave, or they’ll be executed.

You might say, “Well, no one’s calling for Muslims to be executed.” That’s true enough. But do we really think this will end with banning them from entering the country? Do we think they won’t be rounded up and interned like Japanese-Americans were during World War II? We’ve already had certain politicians saying we should do with Muslims like FDR did with Japanese-Americans, talking like that was a really good idea that FDR had (never mind that it’s since been roundly condemned as one of the worst things the U.S. has done).

So anyway, that’s how I feel about this whole ban-the-Muslims thing. I think the idea that the United States, a country founded in pursuit of religious freedom, would try to prevent one religion’s adherents from entering is repugnant.

But I want to delve a little deeper. I want to tackle David Brody’s comment that this pronouncement of Trump’s will “give him a boost with evangelicals.”

I’ve never really identified with the term “evangelicals,” maybe because while I was growing up, it seemed to be synonymous with 700 Club-ers who declared that you couldn’t be a Christian and be a feminist. But digging deeper into the term, I found that it refers to a Christian who believes in the good news of Jesus and desires to spread it. Which, yeah, that refers to me. So I guess I’m an evangelical.

… can I just keep calling myself a Christian instead? Thanks.

I’m not totally sure if David Brody means Christians like me when he refers to “evangelicals.” But I don’t think that the general non-believing public differentiates between “evangelical” and “Christian.” I think most people put the two terms together.

Regardless, I’m horrified that such a stance could possibly give Trump a “boost” from people who believe in Jesus.

Do you remember those “WWJD” bracelets that were so popular in the late 90s and early 00s? They were supposed to help us remember “What Would Jesus Do?” And I’m wondering… would Jesus support a ban of an entire religion from entering a country that, ostensibly, is a refuge from the horrors of the rest of the world?

The Jesus I learned about in the Bible was a man who consistently reached out to the same people the rest of the world wanted to leave behind and ignore. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. General “sinners.” Women – including those of ill repute, those who were sick and suffering, and even, horror of all horrors, a Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan woman is of the most interest to me because, in my opinion, Jews and Samaritans kind of parallel Christians and Muslims. Jews and Samaritans shared a common background, but Jews were what you might consider “pure-blood” (to use Harry Potter language – sorry!), while Samaritans were more “half-blood.” Christians and Muslims are quite similar. Both religions believe in Jesus, but what they believe about Jesus differs. Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God. Muslims believe Jesus was a great man and a prophet, but not quite God.

So I think I can be relatively confident in saying that, were Jesus walking on earth today, he would reach out to Muslims and minister to them, just as he did the Samaritan woman.

The biggest reason I have been drawn to Jesus half my life, the biggest reason I am to this day head over heels in love with Jesus, is because of his tremendous love. Jesus’ compassion was extraordinary. He did not seek to be king even when the people around him wanted to force him into kingship. Instead, he spent his entire short life on earth serving, teaching, caring for others. He healed. He fed. He loved.

There was one group of people that earned his scorn, and one group alone: the religious leaders in power who wanted to exclude the very people Jesus invited into his presence. And even these people, Jesus didn’t hate. He loved them! But he also was upset with them because they continually hindered people’s access to God through their love of burdensome rules and back-breaking rituals.

And because I am more drawn to Jesus’ life of love than anything else, I am heartbroken that Christians have this reputation for hatred and intolerance.

Please don’t get me wrong. Of course I don’t want Muslim terrorists entering our country. But terrorists are a very small fraction of the Muslim population of this world. And I don’t understand why we – and by “we,” I mean Christians, the people who are supposed to be known by our love, according to Jesus himself – would be willing to shut out huge portions of the world, many of whom are trying to escape the same terrorist Islamic group(s) that we hope to eradicate, on the tiny possibility that we’ll allow a terrorist into our country.

Lest we forget: one of the two shooters in San Bernandino was born right here in the United States.

And should we want to continue having a target on our backs, we – and by this “we,” I mean all of us Americans – ought to go right on ahead condemning all Muslims and referring to all of them as terrorists. If you’re a terrorist organization like ISIS and hoping to recruit non-extreme Muslims to your cause, you’re hoping and praying that the United States continues to do just that.

So I’m going to stand up for once and say, as loudly as I can, “Mr. Trump, you’re wrong.” We should not seek to ban Muslims from the United States. We should, of course, vet them thoroughly (just as we should do with everyone wanting to enter, not just Muslims) and do due diligence to prevent those with terrorist links from entering.

But the only way we’re going to – to completely pervert Mr. Trump’s own words, thank you very much – “make America great again” is with love. Not with fear, and not with hate.

What I Learned from “Inside Out”

Today I watched Pixar’s Inside Out via Amazon rental, at my younger daughter’s insistence. (She watched it with her father yesterday while I was chaperoning a band trip with my older girl.) I expected an enjoyable movie; I did not expect the movie to affect me the way it did.

[If you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, a word of warning: I may very well drop spoilers here and there. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to, you probably should hold off on reading the rest of this until you’ve seen it.]

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