three reflections on Sabbath

A couple weekends ago, Transfiguration held its annual parish retreat, up at the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, which is a lovely and particularly Episcopalian place to hold a retreat, nestled in the middle of wine country as it is. The theme was Sabbath, and we spent time in activity and conversation and reflection, thinking about all the different ways you can experience Sabbath: as rest and relaxation, but also in playfulness and silliness, community and solitude. These are mine.

I. On weekend mornings, growing up, my family would gather for breakfast. When we lived in California, we’d eat outside, venturing into the yard to pick an orange from the orange tree before returning to the picnic table. Much later, when we had moved to the Netherlands, we had a backyard with a little patio area in the back, and weather permitting (or, honestly, weather not permitting—my mother loves the outdoors and we would put on sweaters and join her, suffering more or less in silence), you would find us there. I’m pretty sure these were not all the kind of breakfasts memories are made of, as I’m also pretty sure there were plenty of arguments and tears and words said that perhaps needed to be said and perhaps did not need to be—that is how my family is. But we come together around the table.

I think of Christmas as my father’s holiday, and Easter as my mother’s. This may not at all be accurate, mind, but it’s a categorization my brain finds helpful, so, I run with it. I think of of Christmas as my dad’s and Easter as my mom’s, not because of any religious significance—both my parents are very lapsed Catholics that raised us with art, and music, and books, and science, and curiosity about the world around us, but not with religion—but because my father loves the magic of Christmas, the trees and carols and the presents you’ve picked out for each other. And my mother loves Easter breakfast and will load up the table with a million different little dishes and we’ll all have coffee and tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice and the butter will probably be shaped like a rabbit or there will be little fluffy chicks on the table. I distinctly remember feeling so homesick after skyping with my mom the first Easter I spent in Utah, because I had met Loel, and I knew I wasn’t going back to the Netherlands in any permanent capacity, as least for a good long while, and I knew this would mean I would not be sitting at my mother’s Easter table next year or the year after that, and I knew I would miss out.

When I converted and began to structure my life around church, all of us were still living at home and Sunday breakfasts were still happening. Every week, we’d say we’d start breakfast early enough so I could eat before church, and every week, something would happen and you would find me at nine o’clock, frantically biking to church, sometimes still with breakfast in one hand while I tried to pedal and breathe and eat at the same time. (It was good practice for weekday mornings, when I’d bike with my notes for that day’s French or Greek or Latin test in my one hand and half-eaten toast in the other.) I’d arrive feeling rushed and out of sorts and betwixt and between—no longer fully part of my family but also not an insider in this new community—as evidenced by the fact that I’d be the last in our pew at nine twenty (or, God forbid, nine-twenty-five, doing the shuffle of shame along with the other people too unrighteous to get to church at least fifteen minutes before the service began).

My family has found a good balance, I think, in accommodating my religious practices and keeping up old traditions. I usually attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but not both, choosing to spend the other hours doing the things we always do—sing carols on Christmas Eve, squeeze orange juice in our pajamas on Christmas morning. We’ll pick out a music-filled late service for Christmas Eve, and one or all of them will come with me. Sabbath is where I first learned this balance—that sometimes I would pick church over family, and sometimes Sabbath meant skipping church and going camping, or to a museum, or listening to musicians play Bach with my dad, or sleeping late and eating breakfast in pajamas with my mother and my sisters. Sometimes I skip church and go adventuring with Loel, and sometimes Loel comes with me and sings the hymns but skips the prayers and the creed, and we laugh at the antics the kids get into together, and then stop at the board game and/or book store on the way home. It works, is what I mean, and it mostly works because Sabbath isn’t about rules and what you’re supposed to do, but a kind of reset and a way to practice what you preach and express the things you hold dear.

II. I know Sabbath is often supposed to be relaxing, and I try to leave it free. You’ll often find me on my bike on Sunday afternoons, cycling up the rolling hills of Portola Valley or Woodside, or on the wonderfully flat Bay Trail, or walking Josie, or at the library, or just sprawled on the couch, watching Jane the Virgin or NCIS or some weird documentary. But in a very important way, Sabbath isn’t relaxing for me. Sabbath is an interruption, and I think that is the way it should be.

I am an introvert. I am an introvert in so many ways, and Monday through Saturday I live an introverted life. I like it that way. I see friends, I see co-workers, I do not cut myself off from human contact, but after work most days? I read and I do puzzles and I go out on my bike by myself to recharge. I write, sometimes more successfully than otherwise. Loel and I go out for dinner and both bring a book (this sometimes puzzles the servers, and sometimes they love it). But on Sunday, I take a deep breath and enter into community.

In a lot of ways, the Episcopal Church is perfect for an intellectual introvert like me. I love liturgy. I love that everything we do has a meaning (even though I would be the first to admit I still need to read up on why, exactly, we do what we do). I love that some of our hymns celebrate nature, and others celebrate learning and knowledge and books, and I love that we are sometimes given complex music, and sometimes we sing a children’s song and find meaning in that. I love knowing that after the prayers of the people we move into the Eucharist and after the Eucharist follows the post-communion blessing and that the sermon will be short and meaningful and that I can participate in a way that works for me. Except for two things: the passing of the peace, and the Eucharist itself. Both terrify me and both have me coming back for more.

The passing of the peace is the most terrible thing you can do to an introverted, shy, socially awkward newcomer, because that is the moment you see community happening, and that is the moment you have to plug yourself into it and greet people you don’t know but that are still your brothers and sisters in Christ. (Honestly, usually I greet those directly around me but am too shy to move beyond my pew like other people do, freely hugging people on the other side of the room. How other people do that so confidently is beyond me). The other is the Eucharist, when we all move up to the front and receive the bread and wine from those presiding—there is no hiding in the pews there either. I’ve gone to churches where you receive communion from the priest, and to churches where it’s passed down the pews. The first is safe, and that is why I prefer the second. This may only make sense if you’re made like me, but to receive something as meaningful and grace-filled and complicated like the Eucharist directly from someone’s hands, someone who knows you and will greet you by name, and then to walk back to your seat, tasting the bread and wine…it breaks down all my walls and defenses and makes me both confront my need for human connection and feel so, so loved. At that moment, I’m not thinking about the roles I have (grad student, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, nerdling), I’m not letting myself be defined by those roles or worrying about what I’ll do when one or the other falls away. I just am. It is, I think, the closest I get to feeling like enough, like I can just be present for a moment without worrying or planning or trying to control what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year.

And then Monday I go right back to my overachieving, type A ways, but if I’m really lucky, I can remember that feeling of being God-oriented, of being part of a story bigger than myself, and let go a little bit. Sabbath is the interruption that shocks me right out of my comfort zone and into a community trying to be his people in the world.

III. In some ways, I think Christianity itself is an interruption. In a theological sense, sure, in that the way I read it, Christianity is about siding with the marginalized and subverting existing power structures and feeding the hungry and giving voice to those that don’t have one but need to be heard. I’m a liberal for a lot of reasons, and one of them is my religion. When done properly, I believe that religion interrupts our cozy, comfortable little lives, in which everyone is like us and we can ignore those who aren’t. Religion forces me to see the divine in everyone I meet, whether it’s Loel or my best friends (easy) or that one co-worker I’d love to banish to the moon (harder) or a strict complementarian promoting patriarchy with simplistic theology (ugh, don’t get me started) or even Donald Trump proclaiming hate and walls and the gospel of greed (so hard. I fail at this, most of the time). Christianity is about seeing that we are all Other, and therefore no one is. N.T. Wright once wrote, “all are equal at the foot of the cross,” and that is the kind of theology that keeps me coming back for more.

But Christianity is also an interruption on a deeply personal level. I have tried so many times to quit church, to stop going and declare it all irrelevant to my life and move on and become spiritual but not religious or agnostic or a None. Church can trigger me and bring up all kinds of deeply traumatic and panic-inducing memories, and I have left the service crying more than once, or fled out the back hoping no one would notice. Some days, I want to proclaim that I quit and I will find meaning somewhere else (most likely in a library because forget Disneyland, those are the happiest places on earth). But I don’t. Because it keeps pulling me back. There are enough Sundays when I wonder whether I should be saying the Nicene Creed, whether I believe enough of it to say it, when I wonder if I would ever pass a litmus test if it was administered, when I wonder whether my baptism still counts since my theology has shifted so radically and I’ve changed so much since 2004. And then I take communion, and realize it doesn’t matter, because I am here and I am showing up to do the work and I am trying to be God’s hands and feet in the world and that it is worth it and that I hope I never stop. Christianity is an interruption in that it confronts me with my brokenness and moves me towards grace and wholeness. It—God—asks too much of me, sometimes, and sometimes it—God—gives me so much that I can barely hold the grace and the brokenness in one body and I marvel at it all.

my new favorite cookie recipe

You know what I miss since going dairy-free? Dessert. (Actually, a lot of things. But dessert definitely ranks high on that list.) Sure, my body didn’t need all that sugar anyway, and it’s a lot easier to say no to things that don’t fit my calorie or macro goals when there’s dairy in them too, and I definitely don’t struggle with decision fatigue anymore since at least three-quarters of the restaurant menu (and probably seven-eights of the dessert menu, basically everything that isn’t a sorbet) is off-limits to me now, but still. Dessert is amazing and I love baking and I don’t love figuring out vegan substitutes and pretending they taste as good as the real thing.

All of which is to say that I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and they were amazing. They’re vegan, and gluten-free, and probably as healthy as a cookie can get, and L. absolutely loved them. And did I mention they’re easy? One bowl, one whisk, and ten minutes in the oven. Bam. I’ve found my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

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The recipe is from Oh She Glows, and I highly recommend you check them out. The base is rolled oats, which practically makes them breakfast food, right? (Please say yes, since both L. and I had one for breakfast on Saturday morning. hashtag adulting, but not really.)

Facebook tells me this was a year ago today

I bought my wedding dress in the Netherlands, at a wonderful store in Arnhem, with my mom and sister and two really good friends.

I didn’t particularly enjoy a lot of wedding planning. I didn’t care about so many of the details, I don’t like being the center of attention, I was overwhelmed by all the options (take the usual options and multiply it by three to account for our different cultural, national, and religious backgrounds), my family was so far away and I never have been very good at asking for help so I did most of it by myself, and I thought about eloping every time we figured out how much something was going to cost. I thought about eloping extra hard when we moved to California and suddenly I had to plan the wedding all over again, or so it felt. In the end, I wanted a marriage more than I wanted a wedding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with how our day turned out, I don’t regret not eloping for a second, and as soon as we get our pictures back I’ll share some of the details I did care about with you.

But this day? This I enjoyed. I had the support of my favorite people, I came home with the best dress (and so different from what I imagined!), and although I never really experienced the manic joy that movies show brides having, I did have the magical “say yes to the dress” moment.

I thought that was complete and utter bullshit made up by the wedding industrial complex, but it wasn’t–at least not for me. I thought I’d end up with a short, A-line, practical dress, something pretty and inexpensive, but when I tried some on, I just felt meh. I felt fine, but not especially special. After I tried on a couple longer dresses, but still wasn’t really feeling it, the saleslady came bearing a dress that didn’t look like anything I would like. But because I am very non-confrontational, I tried it on anyway. And as soon as it slipped over my head, I knew it. I hadn’t even seen myself in a mirror before I knew I’d found my dress.

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We ended up spending more money on the wedding than either of us really wanted, but I don’t regret buying the dress one bit. It was made all the more special and meaningful because I got to buy it with some of my favorite people. In that sense, it was a good foreshadowing of the day: everything that I loved about our wedding is tied to the people who made it possible.

Military Reads

June was Military Month when it comes to my reading habits: one book on military science, one book written by a physical therapist at Walter Reed, one book about women in the military.

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Timely, according to the articles in my Facebook feed about the possibility of requiring women to register for the draft now that combat positions are open to women. For the record–I’m not opposed to being drafted. I don’t particularly want to go to war, but I doubt many of my male friends do, either, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t do my part if it’s needed. (I did, however, look up what would happen if I got drafted, since I have dual citizenship. Turns out that there’s a nice little loophole that as long as my two countries aren’t at war with each other, and I’m drafted and don’t voluntarily enlist, I can keep both nationalities. Good to know. (Please stay friends, guys.) I also learned that I can’t, however, serve as a military chaplain–single citizenship is a requirement there.)

Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Medical Center, by Adele Levine. 

Levine works as a physical therapist at Walter Reed, working with soldiers who have undergone amputations. It’s hard work, and a hard world: all-consuming, painful, but with a surprising amount of humor too. Most of the book tells the stories of the soldiers who come to her for rehabilitation, but she also writes about how she got into the work and what it does to her and to her co-workers to see the effects of the war on a daily basis. Recommended if you’re interested in the human cost of war. (Levine writes about the prices soldiers pay for policy decisions made by mostly white men in Washington DC, but doesn’t go into politics itself, so this book is suitable for both sides of the aisle in that sense.)

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach.

I love Mary Roach. I’ve read all but one of her books, and I love her irreverent approach to life and science and the wacky questions she comes up with that end up being super interesting. And she knows how to write for those of us who aren’t particularly science-minded or didn’t take a lot of science classes in school. As Goodreads says, “Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” Roach tackles the varied topics of hearing loss, heat, exhaustion, proper clothing, fear, submarines, ducks, and stink bombs.

Roach is famously funny and irreverent, and I will say that she tries very hard to find the humor in a lot of situations, but doesn’t become disrespectful–she is writing about the military, after all, and people willing to risk their lives for other people’s safety. I think she’s conscious of that and tries to stay on the right side of that particular line. You can judge for yourself how well she succeeds.

A couple of reviewers on Goodreads and Amazons remarked that the book seems a little disjointed, and I’d have to agree with that. It’s still worth your time, especially if you’re a Roach fan, but if you’re new to her work, I’d pick up one of her other ones first to get an idea of her style. (Try Packing for Mars, for example, I liked that one a lot.)

Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War, by Helen Thorpe.

This was the most heart-breaking book of the three. Thorpe writes about three women who joined the Indiana National Guard and were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. She talks about their time overseas, but also what happens when they come back after their first or second deployment, what happens to their families, and how they try to adjust back to civilian life. Embedded in a military that is inherently  male in nature, these women try to navigate their way through boot camp and training, drill weekends and deployment. Thorpe follows them for more than twelve years, and this longer-term view makes for a particularly interesting narrative.

Michelle is a student who enlisted in the National Guard because she needed money for college–and then 9/11 happened and suddenly she was sent overseas. Debbie is a beauty salon manager and has been in the Guard since the 1980s, serving as a kind of den mother to the soldiers. The Guard means community to her, more than anything else. And then there’s Desma, who signed up on a dare and ending up needing both the camaraderie and the steady paychecks to support her family. A New York Times piece about the book says that Thorpe “gives us a dynamic understanding of what it’s been like for Guard members who unexpectedly found themselves shipped off to the front lines of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, their lives and plans disrupted, their families thrown into disarray. She chronicles how these once ordinary civilians were abruptly transformed into full-time soldiers, and how they coped with the boredom and isolation and terror of serving in places where land mines and I.E.D.’s and roadside bombs were a constant threat.” This is also a good book to read if you’re interested about the support work that goes on during a deployment–one of the women works in the motor pool, while the other two are a part of the armament team and spend their time repairing and keeping track of deadly weapons. None are meant to see combat, but of course those lines aren’t as clear overseas and eventually one of them will even encounter an IED and will later be diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. This was an interesting book to read given the debates over women in combat, as it showed how women are sometimes already on the front lines, how gender comes into play while deployed, and what a female draft could mean for those left behind.

Main take-away from all three books? There is no good excuse for not taking care of those we ask to fight for us. Whether it’s before, during, or after deployment, there are about a million different ways in which we are letting soldiers down. I don’t know what to do about that, honestly, so if you have resources or further book recommendations for me, let me know!

2016 Summer Bucket List

We returned from our honeymoon on Monday. Reader, it was glorious. We had so much time to just relax, and hike, and talk, and read, and people-watch, and eat that I think everyone should go on a honeymoon at least once a year, whether you’re married or not. (I think other people might call these vacations, but like a true grad student, I don’t really know how to take time off. A honeymoon seemed like a good enough excuse, though.)

While driving back on Monday (so much driving!), I started thinking about what I wanted to do this summer. So here it is, my summer 2016 bucket list, in random order:

  • take L. to camp at Sequoia and/or King’s Canyon National Parks (this was a favorite family destination when we were growing up so obviously L. needs to go, too)
  • visit Santa Cruz
  • go to a baseball game (Go Giants!)
  • visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • experiment with spelt bread recipes
  • make my own yogurt
  • run a 5k (I’m on week 5 of couch to 5k now, which is like three weeks further than I’ve ever made it, so I’m hopeful)
  • ride another century
  • visit friends and family in the Netherlands this summer
  • write and submit an article to an academic journal
  • not get sunburned (which is harder than it looks, at least if you’re me. I went on a bike ride a couple of weeks ago, and cavilierly applied sunscreen, thinking I’d only be out for 90 minutes or so. Thanks to my abysmal sense of direction, 90 mins turned into 3,5 hours and my arms and legs got very red indeed. I’m going to aim at not repeating that experience). Also included in this goal is to avoid heat exhaustion/sunstroke
  • go to Yoga in the Park, put on by a local yoga studio here
  • go see a movie on Courthouse Square in Redwood City (the city puts on free movies on a big square in the summer–it’s a good mix of older and newer movies, and there should be at least a couple I’m interested in)
  • volunteer with CASA San Mateo (Court Appointed Special Advocates–I’ve talked with them and they’re amiable to me helping out. I get some hopefully relevant work experience, they get an extra pair of hands)
  • check out Cal Academy of Science’s new show, “Incoming!”, narrated by George Takei
  • attend at least one meet-up event
  • find a new book club
  • watch Love Between the Covers, a feature length documentary on romance novels, readers, and writers
  • keep writing cover letters until someone finally hires me

My reading goals are separate. The biggest one is to make a dent in the unread books on my shelves, but specifically:

  • Ron Chernow’s Hamilton 
  • Greg Prince’s Leonard Arrington and the Making of Mormon History 
  • Annie Clark Tanner’s A Mormon Mother
  • Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel
  • Heather Hansen’s Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bisons and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service 
  • Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. 
  • Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
  • Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You
  • Annie Barrow’s The Truth According to Us
  • Frederick Backman’s My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
  • Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian
  • Marilynn Robinson’s Lila
  • Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

although I also reserve the right to reread the Harry Potter series for the fifth hundred time, and anything I might find on my no doubt frequent trips to the library. Hashtag spontaneity.

reader, I married him

It’s still a little hard to believe, but I’m married. Sunday night, after the ceremony and reception, we stayed the night at the Claremont hotel in Berkeley, and then returned home bright and early on Monday morning to have a last breakfast with L’s family before most of them left town. And now we’re home again, and everything is different, but also the same.

On Facebook, I posted the following:

I washed the makeup off my face last night, took the pins out of my hair, and hung up my dress. There I was, the same Saskia, but also a little different. We’re back to normal now, the two of us. Except we carry the love of so many people with us going forward, and that makes all the difference.

Thank you to everyone who made our wedding day happen. Thank you to my family, and Loel’s family, who are now also mine. Thank you to our officiant, who helped us craft a ceremony that reflected who we are and what we value. Thank you to our friends and family who came, and those who loved us from afar. We are so blessed.

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I have a husband now. I am a wife. L. and I have been joking around all day, saying things like, “this is our first breakfast as married people!” “hey, look, this is our first time walking Josie as married people!” and calling each other husband and wife. Per Dutch tradition, I switched my rings from one hand to the other, and although it’s a little jarring to feel them on the other side, I think I’ll get used to that pretty soon. It might take me a little longer to get used to these new identities, though, and this new reality  in which I am mine, always mine, but now also his.

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We leave on our honeymoon tomorrow: the Grand Canyon, Vegas, and then a stop in Salt Lake City, both so we can go to all our old haunts, and because I have a paper to present at the annual Mormon History Association conference up at Snowbird. (What, you didn’t spend two days in a conference hotel with a bunch of nerds on your honeymoon, talking about Mormon history? just me? Oh.)

I have some posts planned about our ceremony, what we wore, how much I cried (so much!), and how happy I am (so happy!). But first, I have to go enjoy this feeling of being L’s wife.

see you on the other side

On Tuesday, L. and I had our last marriage prep session with our officiant, the rector at my church. Where other sessions had focused on our relationship and the ceremony, this one went more into what marriage means, why it’s considered a sacrament in the church, and what it means to start a new family. The rector stressed that we should be wanting to bless the world, not just ourselves, through our marriage. While I certainly don’t think you have to be married to do good in the world, something about that idea stuck with me and I’ve thinking about it since.

Yesterday, we had our rehearsal, at the venue. Standing there, running through the service, saying some of the words we’ll say on Sunday, even just seeing our names on this sign at the parking lot:

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It hit me. We’re getting married on Sunday, the day after tomorrow. It’s finally here.

Shit just got real.