February 14, 2008

My Valentine's Day Tribute

Today is the day when most people take time to celebrate someone special in their lives. This year I have come to realize I really don't care much for a romantic Valentine's Day. To me, it seems sort of cliche, though it's fine if you and your special someone want to celebrate. But I have spent some time today reflecting on some of my favorite Valentine's Day memories through the years. Here are some of them:

- In elementary school, Valentine's Day meant lots of candy.

- When I was in 8th grade my parents gave me earrings for Valentine's Day. I don't remember anything about the earrings, other than when I got them. That was a good gift.

- Some time in elementary school I figured out that conversation hearts (the weapon of choice on this day) were one of my favorite things to eat in the entire world.

- At some point my family began the tradition of raiding the drug store a few days after Valentine's Day (and every other major holiday) and getting the candy at 80% off. In later years my dad began to hide candy in his closet to keep away prying hands. He probably still has some chocolate hearts in a shoebox from 1999.

- During my freshman year of college my friend Nathan asked me to be his valentine. There was nothing romantic involved (what I always like abut Nathan), and the gesture was very touching. It made me laugh to think my valentine was a lanky, philosophy major with brooding tendencies and the most hilarious laugh. We had dinner together that night. It still makes me smile.

- One year on Valentine's Day I found my wedding dress at Bridal Treasures in Butler, PA. That night I got my first cell phone as a V-Day gift from Lindon. I still think that was the best cell phone I ever had and the best calling plan. If only CellularOne still existed.

-Two years ago as a Valentine's Day gift Lindon took me to an Auburn basketball game. He assured me that he hadn't actually purchased the tickets.

-This year I kept forgetting there was anything special about the day. When people wished me a happy Valentine's Day I stared at them blankly for a few moments while their words registered. I took the dog for a walk this evening, made vegetable chickpea curry soup for dinner, and had a serious discussion with Lindon while we did dishes. Oh, and we watched "Celebrity Apprentice," and no one got fired, so it was a good day.


February 12, 2008

Out of chaos, hope

The St. Louis community is reeling from the fallout of a run-of-the-mill city council meeting that ended in tragedy.

Last Thursday evening in the city of Kirkwood, about 20 minutes from our house, an angry citizen stormed Kirkwood City Hall and gunned down city officials. By the time police killed the shooter five others were dead, including two police officers.

As the events surrounding that evening have come to light, it has become clear the shooter was ineffably frustrated at Kirkwood for what he perceived to be their gross mistreatment of him. Charles Thornton had racked up over 150 tickets for illegally parking his construction vehicles, and he believed the city government was indifferent, even hostile, to his situation.

Unfortunately, Thornton's anger passed the point of reason and snuffed out five innocent lives in the process.

But on the other hand, this tragedy forces us to rethink our notions of peace and equality. The comment I read over and over from in news stories from Kirkwood residents was, "This is Mayberry. Nothing like that could happen here."

But it did. The facade of perfection proved to be just that, a facade. Underneath was a brewing storm of frustration and bitterness from people who feel that the city treats them poorly because of their economic status. While no amount of mistreatment justifies murder, perhaps this is an opportunity to honestly address some problems that apparently persist in Kirkwood and elsewhere.

As I have reflected on these sad events, I have been reminded again that humans are bad. We're really, really bad. We are not essentially good creatures who slip up now and again. Left to our own devices, we will always hurt ourselves and others. The only thing that keeps us from acting so evil all the time is the presence of God.
I don't think this is the place to tackle the question of "Why did God let this happen?". That is a great question (though perhaps improperly phrased) that C. S. Lewis tackles in the book The Problem of Pain. I highly recommend it.

But one brief observation from a newspaper story has been stewing in my mind. A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed that at the funeral for the director of public works, several people wore blue t-shirts that said "Out of chaos, hope." The wearers worked with the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief at a project organized by one of the deceased city council members.

The observation caught my eye because we own one of those same blue shirts. Lindon got it on a Katrina Disaster Relief project, too. And while the words on the shirt were written for a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions, they also ring true about devastation wrought by human hands. Our God can bring hope and peace out of senseless tragedy. He binds up the brokenhearted and set captives free.

I say this not to preach to you, but to remind myself. In the wake of loss this profound it encourages me to hear again the truth of who God is and what He does. As one pastor says, we're in God's family.

And the family business is hope.

February 7, 2008

Wishing Lindon's Ivory Tower had Room for Two

I had one of those experiences today that reminded me theology is so much easier to study than practice - and that being merciful isn't as easy for me as I'd like to think. Here's what happened:

I was having a hard time getting out the door for work (no surprises there) when I heard Nash barking like crazy outside (no surprises there, either). As is my custom in such situations I looked out the window to make sure everything was fine, and I notice my neighbor's two young children walking past our house. It seemed off that these girls, ages 5 and 6, would be wandering around the neighborhood at 8:40 a.m. and not at school. My suspicion was heightened by the fact that they were wearing their book bags and looking anxious. But due to my time constraints, I didn't investigate. I just waved, brought the dog inside, and hurried on my way. "Besides," I thought, "their mother probably knows what is going on."

Fast forward three minutes, and you find me pulling out of my driveway and around the corner to work (finally!). My work route took me past the house of my neighbor with the wandering children, who lives two houses from me. Before I even passed their house I noticed the girls sitting in the car owned by my next-door neighbor (who happens to also be named Megan). All the doors were open, but Megan was nowhere in sight. Since these girls tend to have poor understandings of social or physical boundaries I decided it was time to ask a few questions.

I put down my window and, as patiently as I could, asked, "Girls, does Megan know you are in her car?"

The younger girl ran right up to my window. "Yes," she said, "she's taking us to school because we missed the bus, and my mom had to be at work early."

This couldn't be right. To be sure I understood, I said, "So your mom left you home alone to get ready for school and catch the bus all by yourself?"

"Yeah," said the 6 year old, "because she had to be at work early. But it's ok, because Megan is going to take us."

All of a sudden it made sense. The girls had been wandering past my yard earlier looking for the bus, or someone who could help them. Their mother was long gone, and all they could do was ask their neighbor for help.

On my drive to work my heart fluctuated between rage and pity. What kind of mother leaves her two children to get themselves ready for school with no adults to help? Their father abandoned the family several months ago, but surely there was a grandmother or aunt who could have been here to help. Why hadn't she made a phone call to someone, anyone, rather than leaving her children to fend for themselves?

As soon as I got to work I consulted with Matt, one of my bosses, about slapping this good-for-nothing mom with child neglect charges. He shrugged and suggested that, while it probably wasn't the smartest idea to leave the girls home alone, there are certainly worse things that parents do all the time to 6 and 7 year olds. Lindon seemed to agree when I shared the story with him. But I wasn't assuaged.

When I came home for lunch Lindon shared with me a discussion from his class on Acts in which the professor explained how the term "household" as used in the book of Acts indicated a group of people who shared with those in need and welcomed all. "That's what I want our household to be," said Lindon.

And then the Lord touched my heart: "You mean we care for our neighbors by offering to take their children to school when they have to be at work early?" I said. Lindon's face lit up. "I hadn't thought about that until now, but yeah!" he said.

We went on to discuss what it means to love our neighbors well - to graciously show Christ to them by serving them as well as by helping set boundaries. We talked about what an opportunity we have to invest in the children of our neighborhood who often seem to be overlooked, ignored, and mistreated by the people closest to them.

In that moment I realized again that God has put us in this neighborhood to give us a place to live out the difficult lessons that seem so exciting and doable in the classroom. It's easy to love the person who looks and acts like you; it's harder with the dirty people who have poor social skills. But the heart of the Gospel is that God came near the most unlovable and loved them perfectly.

When I came back from lunch I told Matt that I had repented from wanting to have my neighbor arrested. I look forward to seeing the girls again and offering them more than a wave.

I will keep you posted on what happens!

February 6, 2008

The Launch of Fearless Fowler

This is my first post in my new blog.

I realize I am late to the blogging game - just like I was late to the Facebook game, ballerina flats, capris, short hair, and the list goes on - and it's only the example of many friends that has given me the courage to take on this new adventure (read: "I am only doing this because my braver, more original friends did it first.").

So already you can deduce that this blog title is a misnomer. This Fowler is anything but fearless. In fact, for a long time my life motto was "I'm not very brave." So why this title? And why now?

The "why now" is easy. I wanted an outlet for my writing itch, a place where I could publish my musings for a small audience and just keep writing. Also, I thought this would be a nice place to direct friends and family who want to know more about our life in St. Louis.

The title part requires more explanation.

My fear of pretty much everything has haunted my all of me life. This is the kid that didn't want to play soccer when she was 4 for fear that she might accidentally touch the ball with her hands and get yelled at by the coach. Later in life my cowardice took the form of worrying like crazy about virtually everything. And that part hasn't gone away completely (though the soccer fear has).

But my general uneasiness with all things unknown really came to a head in May 2006 when my husband and I decided God was calling us to pack up our life and move to St. Louis in order for him to go to Covenant Seminary. The thought of moving from our comfortable situation in Alabama to the vast unknown terrified me. Where would we live? How would we pay for grad school? Would I be able to get a job? When would we have time to pack?

I remember walking into my boss' office (the amazingly inspirational Leigh O'Dell) with tears in my eye. I stood there for a second and said "Leigh, we're moving to St. Louis." She knew we had been waiting to hear from the seminary, and with the news she glowed with excitement. I, on the other hand, looked like I had just informed her of my impending death.

I explained to her all of my fears and summarized by telling her my life motto, and her response was immediate: "Girl, you better get over that." I knew she was right. A life lived in fear isn't really lived at all. More importantly, if I claim to love and serve the God of the Universe who holds you in the palm of His mighty hand (which I do, a helpful bit of info about me), what reason have I to fear the unknown? Shouldn't the knowledge that God will guide my steps free me from the bondage of worry?

I have wrestled with these questions for the last 18 months as God as revealed His faithfulness to me time and again. He has graciously provided for all of our needs, and it has been exciting and humbling to watch. So this blog title is more of a hope for the future than description of the present. I want to be a fearless Fowler, and by God's grace I am getting there.


...but surely.