What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

20 August 2017

Change Comes in Pieces

I wrote this post in 2012 for the alumni site of Adventures in Missions (AIM), the short-term missions program for young adults that I participated in straight out of high school. AIM gave me incredible experiences and lifelong friends. Alas, the alumni site did not give me a storage place for my words. This piece came up in my Facebook memories a few days ago, but when I clicked through to re-read, I got an error message and then remembered that the alumni site is no more. 

Since I don't want a perfectly good 700 words to go to waste, I'm reposting it with a few tweaks but no updates that bring us to present day. So here's a bit of time travelling back to Austin during London 2012.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched 14 different sports. Right now, I’m flipping between three channels on my TV and two live feeds on my computer, and I have TV Guide, NBC Olympics, and London 2012 windows also open so I won’t miss anything. You might say I’m a fan.

My earliest Olympic memory is of fellow (eventually) Longhorn Mary-Lou Retton in ’84, but it wasn’t until ’88 that I understood that these mysterious Olympics were something special. And like everybody else, I couldn’t have been more into ’92. The Dream Team. The Unified Team. Kristi Yamaguchi and Viktor Petrenko. Dan and Dave. Janet Evans. Kim Zmeskal. It was an amazing year.

And then it got better, I thought—the IOC separated the Winter and Summer Games into different years, so we had an oh-so-short wait before the next Winter Games. I was delighted at first, but the closing ceremonies had more of a sense of finality than usual, because there were no forthcoming Summer Games. A two-year gap didn’t seem so short any longer.

In some ways, the Olympics are better than ever because each set of Games gets its own year, without the world’s attention being divided between the two. But the price for making both versions more special was that The Olympics as a whole have lost some of their mystery. The rarity and sense of occasion is diminished when the Olympic rings never vanish from Coke cans and McDonald’s wrappers. A little bit of the excitement and anticipation is lost, because it’s always an Olympic year.

But why should my post-AIM life make me think of the Olympics? In many ways, my time in Scotland was no different from anyone else’s field time: I learned. I grew. My personal horizons broadened. More importantly, my spiritual life expanded as the bounds I had placed on what God could do were dissolved again and again. But my heart broke into pieces.

There’s a gorgeous story about Dr. David Livingston, one of the pioneers of western missionaries to Africa. His compatriots in Scotland wanted to give his body a proper burial in the country of his birth, but the African people he had devoted his life to were not wild about the idea. Their ultimate solution was to send Dr. Livingston’s body back, but keep his heart. Why? “His heart belongs in Africa,” they said.

Yes. This. Exactly.
As short-term missionaries, we left our hearts behind when we came home. But I’ve found that two years of my life wasn’t sufficient for Glasgow to have all of my heart. There’s a piece of my heart at Spring Mill Bible Camp, my teenage safe haven. Bits of my heart live in Denver City, where I spent so much time as an AIM student and assistant, and at South Plains Church of Christ, where Chadwick and I were members for 8 years. Slivers of me sit at South Plains College and the University of Texas. You’ll find pieces of my heart with Chadwick at our little apartment on the edge of Austin and at workplaces like BikeTexas and the Wound Care Center. Even more bits of my heart are scattered across the planet right now, attached to people I love who have touched my life and left me as a better person. A better follower of Jesus. Better able to love the next person I meet.

Maybe that’s why, even as a mere observer, I feel such an affinity with the Olympic Games: not just because of the passion and dedication of the athletes, not just because of the excitement and joy and emotion of giving one’s whole self to a single moment. It’s because despite the storms, through some horribly wrong days and because of wonderfully right ones, and in contact with many hearts and minds, the Games change, and grow, and keep striving to be better.

Don’t be afraid of scattering your heart. Don’t shy away from leaving pieces of yourself behind. It hurts when your heart breaks, but that pain is not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us at the time when we will again be made whole.

19 August 2017

Cold Light

I deleted a tweet that I regretted yesterday.

If you come visit me, I will take
you to admire this. I will probably
not take you to OTR, because it's
a pricey place to hang out.
The New York Times ran an article this week about things to do in Cincinnati, which has been doing the rounds of all the local Twitter accounts. The article includes many local things I love, namely Red Bikes, the Purple People Bridge, the Roebling Bridge, and Cincinnati Shakespeare, so I wanted to share it. However, it also refers to Over the Rhine (OTR) as "the gentrifying district" with no other comment except to enthuse about all the fun things one can do there.

Factually, that's true. Not only is OTR gentrifying with lots of new (expensive) stuff popping up all the time, but if you keep walking north, you can practically see the line where the money runs out. I haven't been here for most of this process, but goodness knows I was in Austin long enough to see how many folks, usually people of color, had to push back against being priced out by developers from the neighborhoods where their families had lived for generations. A community with its own social cohesion and culture being scattered to the four winds by the "drive 'til you qualify" mentality is not exactly worth celebrating, no matter how many hip bars spring up where children used to play.

Last month, the Austin Statesman ran an online advertisement blatantly glorifying gentrification, which was pulled and replaced with an apology after the social media uproar engulfed them. I don't know if anyone in Cincinnati has made similar complaints about this NYT article. Maybe because they're not a local paper, maybe those who would complain have better things to do than reprimand every touristy column that gushes about OTR, maybe I just haven't seen them yet. I don't know. I tweeted the article with a comment that though the recs were solid, there was no need to be so happy about gentrification.

And then about 18 hours later I realized what a stupid thing that was to say and took it down. If praising--or even just being totes cool with--gentrification is a bad idea, then it doesn't matter how good the recommendations are. I don't know what OTR was like 10 years ago, but I do know that real people used to live and work and play there and now they don't. Outsiders may not have wanted to spend time there, and some bad things probably happened there. You know what? That's true of almost everywhere.

I don't have a solution to this web of issues. But if my way of entering the world is with words, then I have a responsibility to be careful with them, even in a casual tweet about a city I'm growing to love. And sometimes, as now, my responsibility is to shut up and listen to people who know more about this than I do, people who've been hurt and displaced and disconnected by an influx of "cool" into what used to be their home.

One might ask, "what took you so long?" and one would be correct. It takes me way too long, always, to remember that there are other people whose experience of the world has been dramatically different from my own.

18 August 2017

#Project333: Not Exactly An Update

Halfway through the Project 333 challenge, I have to admit: this project is not for me.

Not because I'm having a hard time with it, but rather because it's not like my closet could be made a lot simpler. I still pull what I'm wearing for the day from the front of my closet and put clean clothes in at the back. I just don't have enough clothes for this challenge to make a difference in my life. In fact, when the other Susan asked me a week or so ago how the project was going, I had to think for a second to even remember what she was talking about. (The other Susan is also the one who said I covered my blanket in hostility, by the way, and I remembered a bit late that I've already mentioned her around here a lot so there's no reason not to give her credit for her funny lines and general cleverness.)

So it's going pretty well, I guess.

This is on my mind because I recently listened to a few episodes of The Minimalists podcast. Small wardrobe aside, I don't consider myself a minimalist, although I think their underlying principle of only keeping things (including activities, goals, etc.) that add value to your life is a good one. I do think it's hilarious that they frequently get bitter comments about not getting rid of anything important from their lives, which naturally they answer with some variation on, "Of course we kept the things that are important--that's the point!" Some folks, it seems, confuse minimalism with asceticism, which is certainly not the same thing.

Some of Grandma's collection that
I inherited. This particular set is
best enjoyed from a distance, it
turns out. Now I'm wondering what
they get up to when I'm not looking.
I have a medium-sized collection of angel figurines of various types. Angels as a collection item were chosen for me by my grandmother because she wanted to give me gifts appropriate for her churchgoing granddaughter but, not being of a religious turn herself, had no clear idea of how to proceed. After a few false starts with some obviously Catholic gifts that were a bit puzzling to young Protestant Su, she finally settled on angels... and so did everyone else, so that people are still buying me angel gifts for relevant holidays. And my aunties pressed Grandma's own angel figurines on me after she passed, on the grounds that no one else wanted them.

But whether that collection is adding value to my life is hard to quantify. Certainly, anyone who wanted to snaffle them would have a fight on their hands. Most days I don't notice them, but when I do--when I do, they're silent reminders of a time that is gone and a person I can never have back. And there's no putting a value on that. So for now, I'm happy with my non-minimal life.

What do you think about minimalism--interesting idea, ideal goal, not for you? Something else?

17 August 2017

A Tale of Two Blankets

I brought home an incredible souvenir from my last trip to Indiana.

My grandma told me the story of this blanket, which I somehow had never heard: when my great-grandmother passed away in 1997, she left behind rather a large stash of leftover yarn. My grandma gave it to her sister-in-law (Grandpa's sister, that is, not one of her brothers' wives), as a thank-you gift for housing them in their many comings and goings through my great-grandma's illness, I guess, and also because Grandpa's sisters were prodigious producers of things made of yarn and Grandma thought one of them could put the yarn to good use. (This is a skill none of them bothered teaching me, by the way. I had to learn it from a non-relative.)

One of them did. Great-Aunt Estelle set to work and knitted this massive blanket in something like a couple weeks and gave it to Grandma on their next trip through. She's had it in the house ever since, and when she told me this story, I asked, "May I have it when you're done with it?"

Apparently she's done with it. This pic doesn't do it justice,
nor does any other pic I've taken of it, so you'll have to come
visit me if you want to know what it looks like in person.
So that's blanket #1, now safely ensconced in my house where it shall remain for a very long time indeed.

Blanket #2 has been the subject of much bitter complaint, and a little bit of triumph, for several months here in Su-Land. I've been reliably assured that in the course of making this blanket, I covered in in so much hostility that it was hard for the folks who saw it the most often to really appreciate it. You gotta love a blanket that has a backstory like that.

I posted the finished product on Facebook and someone said,
"That looks just like a temperature blanket!" Yes, very
much like, indeed.
Blanket winner! At least four people
bid on it (I'm not 100% sure because I
refused to look), but she was
determined that it was going home
with her. And so it did.
This was my first attempt at a temperature blanket (using data from 2016 in Cincinnati), and my first knitting project that was any bigger than a scarf. You'll understand why I've returned to another scarf as my project du jour, although I've promised blankets to ever so many people if they'll just buy the yarn for me to use.

In the course of its making, this blanket visited at least three peoples' houses, the Circle Center Mall, a bar, a Megabus, church, Shakespeare in the Park, was carried through a flooded neighborhood park during a downpour, zoomed along in one of Sharlie's panniers, and was basically my constant companion those last couple weeks. Its ultimate destiny was as a prize in a silent auction for work.

I hope Great-Grandma and Great-Aunt Estelle and the rest of my knitting aunties feel that the family legacy of making things is safe on my needles. Although I suppose they would prefer that I carry on their hobby with the help of fewer swear words and less hostility.

Even in the afterlife, one can't have everything.

16 August 2017


A car being used as a weapon is nothing new to active transportation advocates. We all have stories of drivers intentionally endangering our lives, and have read folks on the internet, many times over, call for us all to be run over. Something about driving brings out the absolute worst in so many people.

We saw the worst on Saturday. But it was hardly the first time.

Active transportation advocates, and people on the side of the Constitution, raised an outcry early this year when North Dakota introduced a bill that would have shielded drivers from prosecution if they hit protesters with their cars. Fortunately, sense prevailed in ND and the legislation was defeated. At least five other state legislators have tried it, with similar results. I hope the graphic, real-time video we've all seen, and the tragic result, stand as a lesson to those who would (unwittingly, one hopes) embolden and encourage anyone to think this behavior is okay.

(By the way, drivers who unintentionally strike humans with cars already have tons of protections under the law. Driving toward a crowd of humans, even very slowly in the hopes that they'll move out of your way, is not exercising "due care." That's the opposite of care.)

Are protests inconvenient and disruptive? Of course they are--that's the point! Might someone blocking the road make drivers have to wait? Yes, that's certainly possible. But we have processes in place for that, which of course take some time to carry out. However, even protesters with whom one disagrees have, at least in theory, the right to the same due process under law as everyone else does. (Many protests, of course, are over the very reality that due process under law is not as equal as it ought to be.)

"But if they're standing in the road, they deserve what happens to them!" No no no no no no no NO. That's not how this works. Protesters who act in civil disobedience understand that they'll be arrested and charged. People who drive cars understand that sometimes things happen that block traffic, also including:
  • Road construction
  • Natural disasters
  • Street-closure events
  • Bad weather
  • Infrastructure failures
  • Public officials making terrible choices
  • Thousands of people each driving home alone at the same time
  • And of course, car crashes.
If every one of these things causes your blood to boil and your chill to be lost, then maybe for the sake of your own mental health you should reconsider your transportation.

We don't have to look far to find stories of people during the Civil Rights Movement who would say they were in favor of civil rights for all but would also ask why lunch counters had to be blocked to get there. Protests are not convenient. It's the price we pay for living in a democracy. Why would anyone want the alternative?

My friends, if you're on the side of vehicular violence, if you feel that driving through a crowd of protesters is a quicker and easier way to get to "justice" than allowing due process of law to work its course, if you'd prefer that people with whom you disagree not be allowed the same rights of speech and assembly as everyone else, then we have come to a parting of the ways. By the way, in case anyone has forgotten: 1) Incitement to violence is not protected speech; and 2) Freedom of speech does not preclude others from forming their own opinion about, and desire for association with, the speaker by the nature of his/her speech.

I would not want anyone with these attitudes thinking they have my tacit agreement by association.

15 August 2017

What I Read: July

For the sake of accuracy, perhaps I should rename this series, "Not Reading a Freaking Thing." One of these days I'll do a craft post so I can share what I've been doing instead of reading.

As always, all links and images are from Goodreads. Let's be friends and you can see all the things I've read.

First-time reads:
Shakespeare's London on 5 Groats a Day, Richard Tames

Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett
No Impact Man, Colin Beavan

Books by women:

Goodreads challenge: 15 of 52 books in 2017

What are you reading?

14 August 2017


Running without a goal in mind, except a vague remembrance of the health benefits and the feeling that I should continue doing this thing, is not working out that well for me. I'm going in fits and starts and having to pep-talk myself into heading out the door at all. ("Two miles! Two miles are great! Come on, I can totally do two miles if I just get out of bed!")

These shoes aren't doing me any
good without feet in them.
So I've been toying with the idea that maybe it's time to write "The End" on the "Running" chapter of my life, to let it go altogether and focus on any of my 78 other hobbies instead. Maybe this part of brain that's hanging on needs to finally acknowledge what the rest of my body has been telling it--that we're done doing this. Or maybe, because I don't know if that last thing is really true, maybe it's that without my biggest cheerleader beside me, the relevant neurons can't conjure up the motivation to keep moving any longer. It's more work and less fun without him.

Of course, there's also the fairly obvious solution of signing up for a race and seeing what happens. Once upon a time I could go out and run for the sake of running, but it could be that that is the chapter that is really behind me (more than 10 years behind me, in fact), and far from lacking the will to keep going, I've instead been trying to get back into a groove that was filled in long ago. If that's the case, then really my only problem here is a temporary wrong turn. I can fix wrong turns--I do it on an almost-daily basis, what with my keen sense of misdirection and inability to use a digital map.

A previous Turkey Trot shirt,
as outlined on Chadwick's
t-shirt quilt
. Maybe my
favourite thing about the
whole blanket.
Which is it going to be? No idea. The thought of never running again fills me with despair, so that's probably not it. But I could easily keep putting off the decision and de facto stop running without ever having made a conscious choice. I want that less than anything--if this is indeed to be a parting of the ways, then I'd like to be present for that decision.

On the other hand, I did get an email this week about early registration being open for the Turkey Trot. An easy, non-threatening, go-as-slow-as-I-want event that barely requires training at all. Is that enough to get the neurons firing?

Maybe today is the day I'll find out.

13 August 2017

Being Seen

A few weeks ago, during a Sunday morning sermon about the Samaritan woman at the well, I commented on Twitter that I'd once started a fight in a Bible class over this passage. Some folks asked to hear more, so here it is.

I'm going to call her Edna, which is not even close to her real name. Edna, God bless her, was an elderly woman of boundless, sometimes misdirected, energy; strong opinions and a stronger need to express them at all times (a trait she and I share, it seems); and the remarkable ability to cause annoyance in even the most saintly of her fellow churchgoers. Usually, when she spoke, people would nod and then change the subject so as not to get swept up into an unwanted conversation. (Which is a real shame, by the way, and something I absolutely regret having participated in.)

Enter me, at home on a visit, age 22. Fresh off a couple years of short-term mission work that had been preceded by a year at Bible school. Either out of kindness or a misunderstanding of the amount of Bible knowledge one is able to pick up in three short years, the Bible class teacher that day had sought me out before class to encourage to feel free to jump in to the discussion and share my thoughts.

Do you know what happens when you Google "Jacob's
Well"? You get a bunch of pics of the swimmin hole
in Wimberley, Texas
. This pic is just a well. Source:
Dora Lupeanu on freeimages.com.
So here comes the simple question, "Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria in the first place?" Edna says, "He was afraid of the Pharisees and went through Samaria so they wouldn't follow him there." (The Jews of the time did not go through Samaria as a general rule--they were definitely not friends.)

Did I even stop to think before words came flying out of my mouth? I did not, and said something like, "Jesus was afraid of the Pharisees? Where did you get that idea?" Edna insisted that of course Jesus was afraid, because he had to be afraid sometimes, but I wasn't having any and told her that was ridiculous--surely the guy who argued with Pharisees in the temple every day, the guy who had turned and walked away from the mob who tried to throw him off the cliff, the guy who knew what his ultimate destiny would be--that guy did not go hide in Samaria because he was scared.

Meanwhile, my dad is sitting next to me grinning very much like a Cheshire cat--I'm pretty sure this was the moment for him when all that time & effort put into keeping me alive until adulthood suddenly bore fruit--and the Bible class teacher changed the subject. (He and his family are wonderful people, by the way, and I'm far from being the only young person he encouraged to find their feet with Biblical things by speaking up in his class. It's still a highlight of any visit home for me to spend a few minutes chatting with him.)

Edna spent the rest of the class writing me a long note about why I was wrong. Neither of us changed the other's mind that day, and indeed I still firmly believe that Jesus went through Samaria because here were people, and especially this wounded woman, who needed to hear his message of hope. He wasn't acting out of fear, but rather was doing exactly what he came here to do. I would just say so much more kindly now, if Edna were still on this earth to hear me say it.

And perhaps that's the real thing I learned that day and am still desperately trying to apply to my own life. This journey that we're on is full of twists and turns and sometimes the road leads to unexpected people and places. Perhaps the best gift we have for our fellow humans is to take a moment to hear one another's stories, to offer a moment of hope and kindness, to look one another in the eyes and say, "I see you. You are real. You matter."

Which is exactly what Jesus did for the woman at the well. And although I didn't know it at the time, it's exactly what Edna and the others in the room that day were doing for me.

02 August 2017

8 Years, 4 Cities, 9000 Miles

Facebook was kind enough to tell me that yesterday was my 8th anniversary... with my bicycle. Yes, Sharlie (short for Charlotte; she's named after Charlotte Brontë) entered my life on August 1, 2009, and we've been BFFs ever since. This is my first proper bike of my entire life--up until that day, I'd only owned department store specials. Not really the best thing for someone who rides as much as I do, which is probably why I've never owned any other bike as long as Sharlie.

She's a lot less shiny now. Also, it looks like it was rainy
in Lubbock on the day she came home, so clearly she's a
good-luck charm.
Mind you, she objects to my characterization of the relationship (yes, my bicycle has a Twitter account):

Chadwick and I went to two different bike shops before I finally settled on Sharlie being the one. (He was pushing me toward the equivalent Trek model. I held firm on wanting a Giant.) I asked the gent in the shop to air up her tires so I could ride her home, mostly because there was no way we were fitting her in our tiny car, but also because I couldn't wait another minute for our first ride together. Also, Chadwick was convinced that hopping on Sharlie would magically make me faster and he wanted to see just how quick the ride home would be. She has some magical qualities, to be sure, but that hasn't been one of them so far. (He thought that it was, though. That day and every day after.)

We've ridden over 9000 miles together, and barring any dangerous/careless/just plain dumb drivers taking either of us out, we plan to carry on for another 9000.

She likes Cincinnati so far, although we both agree that
the bike parking around here leaves a great deal to be desired.



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