Saturday, March 29, 2008

Minor Milestone

I started running again a few months ago--after a twenty-four year hiatus. That's a long time to go without lacing up the track shoes. It feels good to push myself this way again. For a long time I didn't think it was even worth trying to run, because my joints just didn't seem to want to cooperate with the process. I have these freaky knees that turn in and don't line up with my feet. It was always a challenge when I danced ballet, and even more of one when running. All that pounding on the joints made them scream a little too loudly. Okay, a lot too loudly. So, I gave it up, and stuck to hiking. A breakthrough happened last fall, though. I found these amazing squishy balls that when you lay on them (that's it, just lay on them and relax) loosen up the joints so much that they don't seem to have the same problems that made running a thing of the past. I also got some advice from a marathoner I know about technique that has really helped me keep my joints happier during a good long workout.

You might wonder why, after all these years, I even want to pound my body that way. Who's crazy enough to start running again in their forties? Yes, I know I'm a little touched in the head, but I have several good reasons for wanting to keep in shape. First off, both my parents developed heart problems at very early ages. My mom had a (non-fatal) heart attack in her twenties, and all six of her siblings and both her parents had heart disease issues when they died. That is reason enough right there to take fitness a bit more seriously than the average couch potato. Another reason is a theory I've developed lately regarding my allergies. My environmental allergies are severe enough to hinder my lifestyle significantly. Fevers and migraines and no end of general sickness and fatigue are common doings in my life. It affects me and, worse from my perspective, it affects my husband, and there hasn't seemed to be anything I could do about it. I've been told by several doctors that what it comes down to is that my liver simply doesn't process out toxins well enough, and so my immune system has gotten turned on too high, thinking that everything from perfume to pollen is an invading enemy. I don't understand it all, but it has gotten me thinking of ways to try to rid myself of those toxins in a way that bypasses my liver. Thus, the running. My theory is, if I get myself to sweat like crazy for a few hours a week, maybe that will "wash" some of the things I'm allergic to out of my system. It actually seems to be working. I'm recovering from allergic situations much more quickly, am generally stronger and more energetic, and, most amazing and wonderful thing of all, I haven't had a migraine in over a month!! This is a major source of rejoicing and celebration here chez meow.

Anyway, here's my minor milestone. Today I ran five miles straight, no stopping. I've run that far in spurts, with walking rests in between stretches of running, but this is the first time in two decades I've made it so far in one swell foop. It wasn't even that hard. Since I know other people who run 26.2 miles at a pop, this doesn't seem that impressive in the grand scheme of things, but in my little world it's a pretty exciting accomplishment. I feel most triumphant!!

BTW: Those squishy balls really are amazing for loosening up all sorts of joints and muscles. I don't usually give product endorsements, but these Miracle Balls are great, and really inexpensive for the amount of good they do. Here's the Amazon link if you want to check them out.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thought For The Day

I've been mulling over some of the issues swirling around the Barrack Obama/ Reverend Wright kerfuffle. I've been reading an awful lot about it, a fair bit of it from black pastors and pundits who all have their own take on racism in America and Liberation Theology. It's been very interesting reading. I'm not going to get into the political side of this, but one spiritual thing has struck me rather forcefully. Much of what I have read has claimed that the black church in America breaks down into pretty much two camps, the Liberation Theology camp--blacks are an oppressed people on whom the wrongs of the past are still being wrought today--and the Prosperity Gospel camp--God wants you to be financially prosperous, healthy, and untroubled in life. I'm not sure how accurate this assessment is. I personally went to a church for over a decade whose black pastors and black members of the congregation completely rejected both these teachings. However that may be, many now are saying these two belief systems are the predominant lines of thought. What I am convinced is the case is that these two ways of thinking may seem like different ideologies to the people who embrace them, but they are two sides of the same coin.

Think about it. If you believe that God wants you to have every material comfort, if you, in fact, believe this to be a spiritual law, when (as is inevitable in life) you face trials and adversities, you are going to have to find some reason to explain why God is not blessing you as He has promised. You have to blame Him, yourself, or someone/something else. If you see yourself as following His rules and complying with the things He requires to guarantee these blessings, then something, or someone else must be at fault when they are not forthcoming. It is a natural progression. It also follows that you would do the same when you see others who you believe to be worthy facing an inevitably imperfect existence, especially if you see your condition and theirs as intrinsically linked. I don't care what race, color, gender, etc. you are. Most of us try to find ways to reconcile when our worldview and our reality come into conflict. Often that reconciliation takes the form of blame and resentment.

Now, the problems I see in this type of thinking are myriad, but I will limit my response to just a couple. First off, we are flawed and sinful beings, and the first person whose goodness and virtue we ought to look to question is our own. After all, we know ourselves quite intimately, and see the things inside our heads which no one else gets to see. Casting blame should always come back to "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." That, however, is really just the surface of the issue. The Prosperity Gospel's intrinsic flaw, in my opinion, is that it perverts the nature of our motivation for coming to Christ. What the Bible clarifies over and over is that humans are separated from God by our own sin, and that He has made a way, through Jesus, for us to be reconciled to Him and to be changed. The Gospel is all about spiritual restoration and transformation--often a very uncomfortable process as we let go of our selfishness and submit to God's better understanding of what would be best for us. (To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, God's goal is not to make us happy, but to make us good.) We come to God because we love Him and are grateful that He loved us first and wants a relationship with us--that He made a way for that to happen.

What happens when people make it about God making us comfortable instead? They lose the very essence of the love relationship. I ask you, on a strictly human level, do you want people in your life who are your friends because they love you come what may and are grateful for your love in return, or because you give them stuff and make things easy for them? On a less self-focused note, if you want what is best for those you love, where is the benefit to them from merely having things given to them? If your goal for those you love is to see them become better and stronger people, more able to help themselves and others, how will those traits be developed if you never allow them to face trials to develop and prove that growth? Weight lifters only get stronger by adding more weight. Runners gain endurance by pushing their limits. How many of us grow personally during the good and easy times? How much strength and perseverance and wisdom and virtue are gained on a beach in Maui? Now, how many of those do we develop as we work hard to support our families, or endure physical pain, or serve a suffering loved one? It's the hard times that teach us best. All of us naturally want to avoid pain and suffering, but we should not look to avoid them completely, nor desire a life with no trials for the ones we love. Would you want your children so coddled in life that they never develop any character, but remain weak, selfish, dependant whiners their whole lives? Now, take that limited human understanding of wanting what is best for those you love, and combine it with God's infinite love, knowledge and foresight. It goes against His very character to suggest that His goal for any person or group of people is perfect health, wealth and happiness. He loves us too much for that, and He does not want us to come to Him because He can give us stuff, but rather because He can change who we are.

I don't know how really prevalent the teachings of "prosperity" and "liberation" are in the black church, or any other church in America for that matter, but I do believe that those who cling to such teachings deny the true power of the Gospel. That true power is the power to change lives, through forgiveness for our sins and an ongoing changing of individual character which makes us able to say with Paul:

...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

My husband always says, "Circumstance is nothing. Character is everything." It's who God is shaping us to be that matters. All the rest is just circumstance.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Post Of No Interest anyone but myself. At least that's what I'm assuming. This post is not one to entertain the masses. In fact, I can't imagine why anyone but those who have to love me (because they've made a promise before God, or because they think they owe me some indulgence after I listened to them go on for hours about their goldfish having babies or something) would keep reading at this point. You have my complete understanding for bailing right now. Honest. No, really, I mean it. . . Okay, but any boredom you experience falls on your own head.

You might recall that I got sucked into a new hobby after giving my niece some wire-and-bead jewelry making supplies for Christmas. I liked the hands on design process, and found myself making the shiny baubles, despite how very rarely I have ever put jewelry on my generally unadorned person in the past. I honestly have no need for jewelry in my life, if my past behavior is to be used as any indicator of future wants, but somehow the need to make the stuff has grown, not diminished over the last few months. I don't want to wear jewelry for jewelry's sake any more than I ever have. It's not the wearing, but the making that has me hooked.

In an effort to find some justifiable reason to make more sparklies, I started picking the odd item out of my closet to have something to match. This can only go on for so long. I've already started coming to church far more elaborately decorated than I ever have in my life before, and once you get past the Sunday-going-to-church attire, it gets more difficult. I don't have a job outside my home (which explains why I have the time to waste on a jewelry-making hobby), and even an addicted-to-making-pretties Kat such as myself cannot justify making earrings to go with the very casual clothes that I wear on the average weekday. T-shirts and elaborate earrings or bracelets just don't mix in my world.

I've managed to pawn a few of my pieces off on a good friend, who indulges me by letting me design coordinating baubles to match some of her clothes, but I'm starting to think that I'm going to have to find another outlet--selling them maybe, or making the rounds of hospitals and passing out bling to cheer up despondent patients. I've been toying with the idea of selling it to raise money for the musical based on The Screwtape Letters which my co-writers and I recently got permission from C.S. Lewis' estate to produce. We will definitely need a lot of money for this--we do not want a second-rate "churchy" production on our hands, so finding ways to raise substantial cash is important. We'll see whether that includes my new hobby. I need to continue to improve in technique--not scratching the silver and gold as I form it, for example, and getting consistently perfect shapes in the wire. I also need to continue to develop a sense of what makes a good design work, and get more original in what I produce. At this point I would not feel entirely comfortable charging money for my creations, although I am steadily improving. As I said, we'll see what happens. I sure am having fun, though, even if I never come up with a better reason to create jewelry than, "Gee, I love to do this."

Anyway, here are some pictures of pieces I've made recently that I like. (If you've made it this far, you must not be so easily bored that I need to be afraid of scaring you off now.) Ked and I had fun tonight, playing design photographers. We dug out a black velvet dress from the back of my closet to drape bits of jewelry over, and tried to get my magnifying lamp to work as photographic lighting. We did okay, considering we are total amateurs, but please overlook the seams, color variations and other visual distractions. We had a hard time getting the crystals to sparkle without the whole piece washing out, and the colors are not entirely accurate. I had read that it's difficult to photograph silver wire well, and we found this to be true, but decided to cut ourselves some slack. After all, this is just for fun.

These rose and gold beads are so full of beauty and "life" that I couldn't resist making a whole matched set. (I wish you could click on the picture to get the larger image. I have no idea why, but sometimes Blogger lets that happen and sometimes it doesn't. This time it's being uncooperative. Wah.)

It's hard to tell in this picture that these amethyst Swarovski crystal beads and gold wire sparkle like Mirror Lake on a clear day, but they really do gleam somethin' fierce.

This was my first project using a jig to help shape the wire. I never could have made all those little loops with just a pair of pliers and my own steady grip. Even I don't have that much free time.

I'm not sure how well you can see it in the picture, but these beads are so pretty. They are a swirl of pink and gold suspended in a clear ball. Altogether the bead and silver filigree make a much larger earring than I've ever been comfortable wearing, but what the heck. In for a penny, in for a pound.

This very simple design was fun to make. I don't have much blue in my wardrobe, but I'll make do. One thing I simply refuse to do is go out shopping for clothes to match whatever jewelry I've put together. I have to draw the line somewhere!

I got the jig out again for this one. Turns out that copper wire is pretty easy to work with, and a less expensive option as well. The ear wires have to be something hypo-allergenic, but that's not hard to swing, and colored wire adds a decidedly less formal feel to some pieces. Hey, maybe I can make jewelry to go with my sweats and t-shirts after all!!

These light amethyst Swarovski crystal cubes are absolutely stunning in the real world. In Photography World (at least the one inhabited by Ked and me) it's a little harder to see how much they let the light dance through them. Oh well. Use a little imagination, please, to make up for our photographic deficiencies.

This last one I just love because of the color. Green is a big player in my wardrobe, and this very clear peridot is a personal favorite. I really like the Flemish spiral design in the wire, too. It looks solid without looking too heavy.

Well, there you have it. If you stayed this long without being one of the people who love me, thanks for the indulgence. If you stayed this long, and are one of the people who love me, thanks for the love. Watch out, though, I may be trying to make you take some jewelry soon. I'm running out of places to store it all!!