Monday, November 30, 2009


I hope you have all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it. If not, I hope you had a great weekend just because you deserve one!

The kids and I were out of school for a week. The first two days we devoted to sleeping in a little, having fun, going to the library and meeting friends for lunch since we don't get to do that much anymore. We packed up and left on Wednesday right after lunch to go to Arkansas, where my dad's brother and his wife have a house big enough to accommodate all of us. We go there every other year, and my cousins have arranged their holiday schedules so we can all be together every two years. This year, my brother and his new wife couldn't come because she works in retail and had to work on Black Friday, and my youngest cousin had to stay in San Diego because he just got a job and couldn't take off. They were missed, but we enjoyed seeing everyone else and eating turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, candied yams, cranberry salad, rolls, deviled eggs and other relishes, cherry pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, coconut cake, and chocolate-chip cookies that I made for the kids since my kids don't like any of those other desserts, which was fine because that was more for the grown-ups.

It was a little different because the last time we were together, my grandmother was still alive. She had just suffered a stroke and was unable to talk much, but she said, "Yum, yum" and had a big appetite. A few months later, she was gone. My grandfather and my aunt's mother, both regulars at the Thanksgiving feasts of the past, are also gone. We reminisced a little but none of us would choose to call them back to the pain and paralysis and dementia they were facing. We are grateful for the memories, though--and we'll never forget them, since the recipes we use are from their kitchens and are still made with just as much love.

It was hard to be sad with the children around, too. The cousins had seen each other this summer, and they picked up right where they left off, with few squabbles. The two oldest girls get along as well as my oldest cousin and I always did, while the boys rode a tricycle through the house and the youngest girl inserted herself confidently into whichever group she chose. The second-oldest of my cousins is pregnant with her second child, due in January, and they are choosing to be surprised about the gender, just like we did with Miss Pink. Life goes on. And for that, we are thankful.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Telling the Truth

Part III in the story of how I stopped adhering to the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle. Here are Part I and Part II.

We now skip ahead to 2004: I had been married for seven years and Miss Pink was two. I'd been sticking to the "standards" pretty closely, mostly because Justin was raised in a church that was even a little stricter than ours. I knew that my long hair and skirts were part of the reason he was willing to get serious about me, since his family expected him to marry someone who looked like every woman in their church.

It wasn't very hard to stop going to movies and wearing leggings (I wore them under my dad's button-down shirts, which billowed around me like sails. SO attractive.) But the whole time I was dating and married to Justin, I never stopped trimming my hair.

It was a dilemma, how much to cut off--enough to get rid of the worst of the split ends, but not enough to look like it had been cut. (I always curled it, wore it up or braided it, so the split ends ot lack thereof weren't as obvious as you might think, but Pentecostal women are very good at noticing when hair has been cut.) I didn't dare go to a stylist--I had heard horror stories of asking for an inch or two off, and ending up with hair around your ears. So that meant I had to cut my hair myself, pulling it over my shoulders and snipping off tiny bits that peeked out from underneath my comb. I doubt it was ever really even, but it made me feel better that my hair wasn't so scraggly. My husband never guessed.

Yet something had begun to bother me in 2004. Our church had been changing for the past few years. Plenty of people had openly discarded the standards, and--get this--they had not lost their spirituality. Their faith was still strong, they still prayed and worshipped and served others. If anything, they were more friendly and caring toward people who didn't attend church than the traditionalists, who tended to have only Pentecostal friends.

We had always been warned that if we looked like "the world" on the outside, then our hearts would turn away from God toward worldly desires. For traditional Pentecostals, Christianity was judged (and I do mean judged; judging came as naturally as breathing to us) by the way a person looked on the outside. Yet it was beginning to seem as if what was inside a person was far more important--the way Jesus had said. (Imagine that.)

I knew, however, that I couldn't make the leap without my husband. And I couldn't see him abandoning those beliefs. I was scared that he'd be angry with me if I said, "I'm cutting my hair and I don't want to stop." Thank goodness for a dear friend who knew about my journey, and who hinted ever so gently that it might not be good for my marriage to keep a secret like that. I didn't argue with her suggestion but did not make any plans to tell Justin.

However, my mouth apparently had its own plans. One night as we were driving home, somehow cutting hair was mentioned and Justin said, "You wouldn't do that, would you?"

My mouth must have been completely disconnected from my brain, which still did NOT want to tell, because it opened and said, "Actually, I have, and I've been doing it for a long time." Then I stared straight ahead at the garage door opening and wondered what was about to happen.

"Really?" he said. I was thankful to hear that his voice was not angry, only surprised.

Then I apologized to him. "I don't feel bad about cutting my hair," I said. "I don't think it was wrong. But I do think it was wrong to keep it a secret from you."

And...I think I have to leave the final part of the story--where we are now--for later.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Red Chair

Part II in the story of how I stopped adhering to the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle of long skirts and long hair, etc. You can read Part I here.

I continued to live the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle after I graduated from high school, but discontent had begun to sneak in. Mainly, I didn't like looking so different from my fellow college students. I was already different in that I didn't live on campus, didn't belong to a sorority, and didn't drink, so having hair down to my butt and skirts down to my ankles made me feel like a total oddball. Still, I had no plans to rebel. That would have made me feel like an outcast in the only place I felt I belonged, and I didn't want to take that risk.

A pastor friend of my dad's recently wrote about his journey towards accepting a more "liberal" lifestyle, and this analogy made sense to me. He said that if you were taught from your earliest childhood that you would die if you sat in a red chair, you would almost certainly believe it. All through your school years, you would avoid red chairs. Sure, other people sit in red chairs and nothing happens to them, but how could you be sure you wouldn't be struck down? Better to be safe than sorry.

Then one day at work, your staff (who know nothing of your belief) decide to surprise you with a new desk chair. They make you close your eyes and lead you into the office, and have you sit down in the chair. You open your eyes and realize you're sitting in a forbidden red chair. Your heart pounds wildly--Oh no! I'm going to die, you think--and then you realize: It's just a chair, and a comfortable one at that. The information you had been taught your whole life was false. You timidly begin to accept the idea of living in a world where you can choose any chair you want, without fear.

My first experience of "sitting in the red chair" was in a movie theater. The first movie I saw in the theater was Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. (I KNOW. My boyfriend chose it.) I wasn't afraid God would smite me with actual lightning, but I was a little uneasy. However, I was smart enough to see the flaw in the logic that permitted renting a movie and condemned watching it in the theater--as if the size of the screen determined the size of the sin. (No one ever gave me a good reason for banning theaters. I suspect it had something to do with the make-out sessions teenagers were supposed to have during movies. But if we were forced to avoid places teenagers make out, no one would ever drive a car. To be consistent , the church leaders should have banned ALL movies along with TV, but they were out of touch, and by the time they noticed that their constituents were loading up on videos from Blockbuster, it was too late--even most preachers had VCR's, and I'm sure they weren't only watching the latest G-rated Disney cartoon.)

Even though the rules didn't make complete sense to me, I had still followed them all of my life. I didn't want to disappoint or embarrass my parents. And I didn't want to do anything to damage my relationship with God, either. That's why I prayed (silently, of course), "Lord, if this is wrong, make me feel guilty about it. I mean, REALLY guilty. And if it's wrong, then I won't do it again."

I still think I had the right attitude about it. If I was in fact guilty of violating any law except that of sophisticated taste in movies, I really did want to know so I could refrain from doing it. A movie was not as important to me as God. I still believe that. If I believed that God wanted me to give something up or start doing something, even if it meant being an oddball again, I would do it.

But on that day, God apparently had no problem with Jim Carrey. As I walked out of the theater, I searched my heart for guilt and found none. I felt...normal. I had sat down in a red chair and no harm had come to me.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Just the Two of Us

My husband and I haven't gone away for the weekend together for a couple of years, so it was time.

I took the day off on Friday. Justin was going to, too, but he ended up going to work for a half day. As I mentioned, I took a 2.5 hour nap. My dad picked the kids up after school. Justin and I went to dinner, then drove to our hotel and checked in. We went to a big Barnes & Noble downtown (bookstores are our usual date night destination but we hadn't done that in a while) and had dessert and coffee. The city is alight with white lights on the buildings and in the trees, so we enjoyed walking around downtown. Then, thanks to the very comfortable bed, I had no trouble going to sleep.

We had a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which was free for us but would have cost $17.95 per person plus tip. My favorite parts were the made-to-order omelets and mini Belgian waffles. I want to find a waffle iron like that. Then we went back to the room and I fell asleep again. Yes, really!

For lunch we went to a kosher deli we like and shared a corned-beef-and-turkey sandwich and a piece of chocolate meringue pie. We decided to drive to some houses Justin has been building cabinets for. After that we went to a movie at the Modern Art Museum. The movie was called An Education; it's about an English high school girl in 1961, and how she meets and falls in love with an older man. We liked it a lot. Then we had dinner at a Chicago-style pizzeria and watched another movie on pay-per view.

The next morning, breakfast again and I AGAIN dozed off for a little while before we left to get the kids. I feel more rested than I have for a long time!

Justin and I enjoyed being together without interruptions, holding hands without having to yell out, "DON'T GET OFF THE SIDEWALK!" or eating dinner without having to take anyone to the bathroom. Sometimes it's all too easy to forget you're a couple because you're so busy being parents. We got to revisit being a couple again this weekend.

Of course, we were happy to see the kids. But I am glad we were able to be alone together, too.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Fill-Ins #150

I took the day off today because Justin and I are going to a nice hotel this weekend for a romantic getaway. It's a hotel downtown in the nearest city, but whatever, at least we don't have to drive a long way to get there! Plus we are staying two nights for free (with a free breakfast!) because we got it through our bank's rewards program. Free is good.

Anyway, I didn't work so I wouldn't be tired when we get to the hotel, after we leave the kids with my parents. The plan was for me to hang out here and do some laundry and clean the house. After I took the kids to school, I lay down on the couch because I don't get to do that anymore. Just a little nap, I told myself as I snuggled under the blanket.

I woke up 2.5 hours later.

Oh well, at least I won't be falling asleep like I usually do on Friday night! That's why we don't see many movies--too tired to stay up. Any suggestions for a good date night movie?

Here are the Friday Fill-Ins!

1. The last band I saw live was hahahaha--I'm sorry, you wanted to know the last band I saw live? I don't even remember. We have a great band at church every Sunday, does that count?

2. What I look forward to most on Thanksgiving is the dressing. Family, togetherness, yadda yadda yadda--I look forward to cornbread dressing all year long. And the desserts, too, of course.

3. My Christmas/holiday shopping is all in my head. I know some things I want to buy, but haven't actually bought anything besides a couple of stocking stuffers.

4. Thoughts of being alone with my husband without interruptions fill my head.

5. I wish I could wear skinny jeans.

6. Bagpipes always sound mournful to me.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to spending time with my honey, tomorrow my plans include sleeping in and maybe getting a pedicure and Sunday, I want to pick up my kiddos and hear about how much their grandparents spoiled them!


Monday, November 9, 2009

Separated From the World

I have often wondered if I should write about my religious background and how it has changed in the past five years, and now that lots of people Beck expressed interest, I've decided to write about it. It may end up being too long for one post, but I'll try to give you the picture without too many extraneous details.

First, some background. I am a preacher's daughter--third-generation Pentecostal on my mother's side and fourth-generation on my father's. My dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all pastors, so that gives you an idea of how deeply rooted our family was in our denomination. When I was growing up, church was the center of our lives, not only for worship, but also for almost all of our recreation and entertainment, mostly because we weren't allowed to do so many other things that were "worldly." We also had a church-school, so of course I attended it. Therefore, I spent my youth in a very small, sheltered world in which it was possible to hold on to the beliefs that separated us from the secular world outside.

What were we allowed to do? It's easier to list all the things we weren't allowed to do: drink and smoke, of course; dance; curse; gamble; listen to secular music; swim with members of the opposite sex; go to the movies; and TV was frowned on by my grandparents' generation and still forbidden for ministers. Women were not supposed to cut our hair at all, wear pants or shorts or skirts above the knee, wear anything low-cut or sleeveless, wear makeup (fortunately when I reached puberty, my mom interpreted this rule as "no colored makeup," so I was allowed to wear foundation and powder over my pimples ) and no jewelry, except some churches allowed wedding rings. Men had it relatively easier: they were not to wear shorts or tank tops; and long hair and facial hair was frowned on.

These were the unspoken rules at our church. Some churches were much more strict. I know a woman whose former pastor banned bows in the girls' hair. Bows might have been an unfortunate fashion choice in the eighties, but were they really evil? Even at the time I thought that rule was silly. My parents once sat through a sermon titled "Five-Dollar Red Shoes" which were apparently too expensive and a dangerous color. And on and on--whatever a particular man (I almost hate to call them "ministers") was against, he railed against as sinful and many people were obedient. It was almost sinister, the amount of control these men wielded over their congregations.

As I got older, the rules began to relax--or, rather, we stretched them. My dad let us do some things on vacation, like watching TV or wearing a bathing suit in a motel pool, that we couldn't do at home. I now know that he was starting to feel ambivalent about the guidelines he had been raised to uphold, and he must have decided that what the church didn't know about would be okay for us to do.

Of course, that led to more hypocrisy--although we would have been shocked to hear ourselves called hypocrites. In reality we were trying to rebel, but for a long time it was a secret rebellion, because my parents were too afraid to openly proclaim that they didn't believe everything their denomination stood for. I don't really blame them. After all, their whole livelihood was at stake. But it wasn't that they cynically decided to espouse beliefs they didn't hold in order to keep a job. No, I think they genuinely didn't know what to believe, because they had been taught for their whole lives that if you maintained the "holiness standards" (that's what we called the rules), you were holy. And by contrast, if you didn't--if you trimmed your hair, or snuck into a movie theater, God wasn't going to be pleased with you. I never got the impression that God would cast me into Hell for wearing jeans, but he would be disappointed and upset and would punish me in some way that I was pretty sure I wouldn't like. (My view on this probably had to do with my father's discipline style, which worked well on me because I hated to be disapproved of. My dad would say, "Ali, I'm so disappointed in you," and I would dissolve in a puddle of remorse and wish he would just spank me. But other parents and pastors certainly did imply, or even mandate, that God was marking down all your transgressions and you were just about this close to getting on his last nerve, and then if the Second Coming was that night, you were getting Left Behind.)

Next installment: how I started to realize that maybe God didn't care as much about outward appearances as I'd been told.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Fill-Ins #149

1. Plans and schedules make me feel more secure.

2. I'm happy when things are peaceful.

3. The last thing I drank was a Coke.

4. One of the most valuable things in my life is the relationship I have with my family.

5. I like pepperoni on my pizza (but lately plain cheese has tasted just as good).

6. Dear November, please be gentle.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to eating some of the kids' Halloween candy after they go to bed, tomorrow my plans include attending (and volunteering at) the carnival at Miss Pink's school and Sunday, I want to enjoy praise & worship with the kids in their service--I like dancing to the music!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Cowgirl and the Fireman

I just realized I haven't posted any pictures of the kids in a long time. But in my (admittedly lame) defense, the rechargeable batteries that came with the camera have started losing their charge much faster than they used to. I need to buy some more but I want to get some that last a good long time. (Any recommendations?) I did get a few pictures on Saturday night, including these:

This is a vast improvement over last year, when he hated his costume and only let me take one picture before he wanted it off!

Miss Pink chose the larger pumpkin, and it has its front teeth missing, while Mr. Blue wanted the smaller pumpkin. It was as hard as a rock--Justin had a hard time carving it. It has two tiny vampire teeth.

If only I could resist the urge to steal some Halloween candy while Mr. Blue naps!


Monday, November 2, 2009 guess I still do have a blog!

Who am I trying to fool, I have actually not forgotten this blog at all. I've been dying to post--not because anything major has happened, but because I miss not writing. Yet last week was very busy. I do get a conference period off when I sub, but I don't have internet access. Most of the teachers take their laptops, but even if I did have a computer, I don't have a password to use the network. Twitter and Facebook are blocked so students can't use them, so I wouldn't be surprised if Blogger was too.

Anyway, I am staying busy and now teachers are starting to book me in advance. Last week a teacher emailed me to ask if I could come back, and told me that her eighth-grade students described me as "awesome but teacher-like." High praise, indeed. I certainly wouldn't want to be awesome but not teacher-like, since that would mean I would be more popular with the students than the teachers. Nice to know I am doing pretty well with both groups. I am enjoying getting to know the kids. It's fun when they recognize me and are happy to see me again.

In the evenings I have been too tired to post. I am keeping up with the basics, and Justin is being awesome. Mr. Blue is doing very well at his full-time preschool. He likes his teacher and the kids in his class. He eats lunch and takes a nap there every day and comes out smiling when I pick him up. He is a happy little guy and I'm thankful things are working out well.

Miss Pink is also doing very well in school. She got a good report card for the first 9 weeks. She also lost the other front tooth and her smile is adorable. She is a bundle of energy--the other day she did 190 cartwheels, one after another, while I lay plastered on the couch and wished I had the energy (or the ability) to just do one!

The kids both had fun on Halloween. Miss Pink went as a cowgirl and Mr. Blue was a fireman. Our church had a Trunk-or-Treat this year, the first time we had done that, although we have had a festival many times. Justin signed up to decorate our trunk the week before, without telling me (I had been planning to just help volunteer since I thought we were too busy to decorate our car). Apparently they were wanting a lot of cars, but trust me, they could have done without ours; some people went all out. We did harvest garlands and had a couple of carved pumpkins. The kids were happy to take our candy! It was way more fun than going door-to-door. Justin wants to be way more creative next time, so I guess he has a whole year to plan.

Also, there was a talent show. Miss Pink wanted to sing in it, so we'd signed her up weeks ago and practiced her song, called "A Smile Is a Flower From the Heart." She had an attack of stage fright that afternoon. We told her she didn't have to sing, but it would be great practice to give it a shot and to just keep singing if she forgot the words or something. Well, the CD malfunctioned (it worked fine in both of our players) but that little trouper just kept singing even after they turned the CD off. She didn't win, but we were SO proud of her, and she was proud of herself for not quitting!

I'm sorry this picture of her singing is so small. Someone sent it to me via email. Maybe later I can add some more pictures.