Saturday, March 22, 2014

New TV

I just needed a place to park this picture for a second:

The starburst effect is from the flash.

It was my intention just to park the picture for a bit to get an address to use to post it on a message board, but I never got around to taking it down from here.

This is our new 55" Smart TV. It is sitting on a new TV console, since our old TV armoire, purchased in 1999, was too narrow to hold more than a 37" screen. I am amazed that I was finally able to convince my husband to buy a larger TV, which means needing to let go of the old armoire. At the moment, the old armoire is sitting in a corner of the room, waiting for my husband to ask around at work to see if anyone needs it. It's in excellent shape and could probably be converted to other kinds of storage if someone had the interest, but we have two other armoires and a chifforobe scattered around the house already, and it needs to go.

The old TV, really only three years old, is now in our bedroom, and the old picture tube TV that had belonged to my late MIL has gone to a better place (Goodwill). We used to call it the haunted TV because every 24 hours it would click on for about two minutes, and then click off again. It would have cost a couple of hundred dollars to get it fixed, so we just lived with it as was. That TV sat on top of a small but very sturdy solid wood TV stand that had also belonged to MIL, and which is now a perfect stand for the newer style TV's.

The new one is perfect for watching the NCAA playoffs. I had really hoped to get a new one in time for the Superbowl or maybe the winter Olympics, but John is not the sort to make hasty decisions about big purchases. He carefully researched televisions with Consumer Reports and then we went to view them at several locations before making a choice. We also went shopping for consoles.

And that is when my very deliberate, thoughtful, careful husband shocked me. He saw the console pictured above, fell in love with it, and wanted to buy it the same day. Not since he proposed to me eight weeks after our first date has he done anything that hasty. I had my reservations about how well the console was going to fit with our motley collection of living room furniture, but I kept them to myself. He liked it. I don't have any real objections to it. We bought it.

As it turns out, the new console has fixed another problem that has vexed me for years. We have an old encyclopedia set that is outdated and that takes up some 4 or 5 feet of bookshelf space. John refuses to get rid of them because sometimes (once a year or so) he wants to look up some information that hasn't gone out of date and he prefers a real book to an online version. The encyclopedia has been living in the room that I use as my office while other books I wanted to put on that space sat in a box on the floor or stacked on the top of the shelf.

We have a built-in bookshelf in the living room, but it, too, is filled with books. It has some storage space behind doors at the bottom that was filled with boxes and albums of pictures (the ones I vowed to go through once I retired).

There was just enough space in that console to stash the albums and boxes from that area, meaning that the encyclopedia could be moved to the doored shelf instead. Now all my books are on the bookshelf, I have clear floor space, and I even have room on my bookshelf for storing printer paper and DVD's for my computer. Oh joy, oh bliss, oh happy day.

Now if someone will just take the old TV armoire off my hands, life will be perfect.

Old TV armoire, with a picture tube TV that we replaced three years ago. That's Truffle watching the 2010 Winter Olympics. When TV's were square, you could fit a 42" screen (measured on the diagonal) in that armoire. Now that they are rectangular, you can't. Oh, and that fake plant to the left? It was there to block the view of a tangle of wires. The tangle is now out of sight behind the console and the plant has been eaten by the trash truck.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Yesterday's Sermon Bothered Me

Let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If I seem to have overreacted to the sermon Dr. J preached yesterday, as discussed in my last post, there is a reason. One of the blogs I follow is Libby Anne's blog, Love, Joy, Feminism at Patheos and just two days before the sermon, she posted Bill Gothard has resigned . . . but is that enough? That post contains a graphic used by Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) in counseling victims of sexual abuse.

Major, major content warnings. Think about someone doing a bad parody of how not to counsel victims of abuse, double it, and then raise it to the third power. This graphic is worse. It has nothing to do with real counseling, as practiced by people who care for victims of abuse, and everything to do with preserving power and privilege. Unfortunately, real victims have been dealt with, not just at IBLP but at some colleges as well, using the guidelines summarized on the graphic. (It follows the "read more" link, if you are reading this on the main page.)

So Yesterday In Church

Yesterday was United Methodist Women’s Sunday at St. Anonymous. Usually UMW Sunday is in January, but this year it wasn’t possible to work out a mutually agreeable Sunday with the pastor until March 9, which was the day after International Women’s Day, so it seemed appropriate. UMW Sunday requires a lot of volunteers to take over as greeters, ushers, readers, and a speaker. We started out having members give the sermon, but few people liked doing that, so we moved onto having women guest speakers, often pastors from surrounding churches, but lay speakers as well. This year, we weren’t able to get our choice for speaker, so Dr. J spoke as she does every Sunday. 

I had volunteered to be an usher for the new and sparsely attended 9:45 service, and figured I had better get there early. I got there so early that the sermon from 8:30 church was still going on. I was able to hear it, too, because we have a flat screen monitor and sound in the narthex.

And I got there just as Dr. J was illustrating her point with a story told to her by a friend. The friend has been dating a man who has been divorced for many years. I’m not sure what constitutes “many” in this situation: five, ten, twenty? At any rate, it sounds as though Dr. J’s friend, let’s call her Sue, came along after the divorce and wasn’t a factor. Sue’s boyfriend’s first grandchild was born, and of course, he and Sue went to visit the child.

While they were there, the story continues, the ex-wife (let’s call her Barb, and the ex-husband Mack, just to simplify my typing) also came to visit the child. At this point, as Sue told Dr. J, she was prepared for some discomfort, but what she wasn’t prepared for was the “wall of hate” she felt coming from Barb’s direction.

What a familiar sounding story, I think, and knowing I’m going to have to hear it all over again at the next service, I head outside where the coffee is, while scratching “talk to the pastor about it” off my list of potential solutions to my ex-husband problem. Because I know what I am going to hear next. After all, the sermon is one of a series built around the Lenten Study book, Final Words by Adam Hamilton, and deals with the words, “Father forgive them”. 

When I do hear the sermon, an hour or so later, the Sue and Barb story is as bad as I think. Sue, in later talking to Dr. J, says something to the effect of not knowing the whole history of the divorce, only having heard one side of the story, but then asks something like “Can you imagine what an effect it must have on a person to hold that much hatred in their heart for so long?” 

I am happy to report that I did not stand up at that moment (or any other) and scream what I was thinking, namely, “WTF makes you think that just because Barb seemed hateful that one time, that she has been feeling hatred in her heart 24/7 since the divorce?”

And I will get back to that thought, but first, the rest of the sermon. In a nutshell, hatred, bitterness and judgement fill your heart and don’t leave room for God’s love and grace, and one way to get rid of hatred and bitterness is to pray for the people that have wronged you. Dr. J herself has a few people she is still working at forgiving, through prayer, and it is helping.

Back to Barb. Having been in her shoes (hi, Barb, my sister), I can easily think of several things that could have been going on with her, other than “bitter woman eating herself up with hatred 24/7”. There is a bias in human thought called the Fundamental Attribution Error, the attribution of our own behavior to external, situational forces and other people’s behavior to their intrinsic character.  I think it’s more likely that Barb has made her peace with the divorce, and has been living her life since then, sometimes happily and sometimes not, like all the rest of us, but something about that visit sparked an anger that may have surprised her as much as it did anyone else. She was visiting her first grandchild. At some point, she and Mack had been the new parents, bringing their firstborn home, in all likelihood thinking the love that created that baby would last forever. Why wouldn’t seeing the new baby bring up powerful feelings about how all that had gone wrong?

Maybe it was something even more mundane than that. Maybe Barb had told Mack when she would be visiting so he could plan his visit at another time, and he forgot or didn’t care. Maybe she had simply asked that at the first visit to the grandbaby, Mack not bring Sue. Maybe it was some thoughtlessness of Mack’s in the present that got to her, not the past at all. 

Maybe she really is a hateful, bitter woman who can’t let go of the past. I’m not ruling that out, I’m just saying that in the absence of other evidence, the charitable thing to do would be to assume that she isn’t like this all the time, and that at that moment she was hurting badly.

My first reaction was to want to tell Dr. J that I thought it was her friend who was being judgemental, but a few moments reflection led me to realize I don’t know that, either. Maybe the next words out of Sue’s mouth were, “Well, I don’t know that she feels that way all the time”, and Dr. J didn’t include them because they didn’t fit the theme of the sermon. Even if she didn’t come to that realization, I can empathize with Sue as well as Barb. It must have been scary feeling what seems to you like a “wall of hate”. Most of us don’t do our best thinking under those circumstances. Sue was doing her best to show what empathy she could in recounting the story to Dr. J. I wasn’t there, I can’t judge her, either.

What I can do is reflect that there is an obvious, Christian solution to the problem of forgiveness, and that is, to extend love and support to the person who is struggling to forgive, or doesn’t even want to forgive. Why is it that our first impulse in these situations is to preach forgiveness instead of to extend love? I didn’t stand up and yell that, either. Can I have a cookie?

What I did is reflect on the many times Juliet has told us that when she preaches a sermon, she is preaching to herself as much as to the congregation. She holds herself up to these high standards of love and forgiveness when she has been wronged, unlike me, who figures that if the people who wronged me are still walking around free with their pieces and parts intact, that’s forgiveness enough.

So I decided to take my own advice for once. When the service was over, I found her and give her a big hug, and told her, “I don’t know what those people did who wronged you, but I know you have my love and support.”

It may not have been what she needed, but it’s what I’ve got.

There's more to this story.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Lot To Look Forward To

Two weeks ago we went to Houston to celebrate my soon-to-be instant grandbaby’s fourth birthday. I call Ace my “soon-to-be instant grand baby” because my son has been dating the boy's mother for over a year and they are planning to get married. Ace already calls me Nonna, Italian for “grandmother”, so we’ve made a start.

I am very happy over these developments. Not only is Ace a delightful child, but his mother, M, is also a darling, and able to juggle more than the normal complement of mothers-in-law (me, my son’s stepmother, and her ex-husband's mother) with aplomb. So we are looking forward to the wedding, whenever that may be.

Right now, however, what the happy couple is doing is building a house. There apparently has been a new wrinkle in the process of gentrification. Now instead of older houses in desirable locations being remodeled or replaced by one intrepid owner at a time, builders are targeting neighborhoods for upgrades, buying up old houses, razing them to the ground, and building new, larger houses on the old lots.  Since my son and his intended want to stay near her work (he works mostly from home), this is a solution for them. At this point, their house-to-be is a recently cleared lot.

A new house is going up in the lot behind, with an older house to the right of that and on either side. You can see the new houses are going to be about double the size of the old ones.

The morning of party day, while M was making party preparations, Neal took Ace and the four of us: his dad, his stepmother, John and me, to see the lot and to walk through a larger house being built in the neighborhood so we could get an idea of what their new home would be like. We had already looked at the house plans, which included one change, an in-law suite on the first floor so those of us with creaky arthritic knees won’t have to climb stairs when we visit. 

So we do have a lot to look forward to, but there is one problem that I am having with all these changes, and that is, that after a decade or so of not having to have anything to do with him, I now have to be involved with my ex-husband again, at least on occasions like birthdays, holidays, graduations, and, oh, yes, the wedding.

My DIL-to-be, bless her, sent me a message asking if this was going to be a problem, since they were making plans for all of us to go out for dinner. I was able to assure her that although being around my ex isn’t my favorite thing to do, we get along in public and no one was going to start flinging plates. I didn’t add that for the entirety of my son’s growing up, having to be in my ex’s presence for things like parent-teacher conferences, parents’ day at scout camp, and other activities always produced a knot in my stomach. The last time we were at an event together was at my son’s college graduation party. By that time, I had been doing weight training for over a year and was pretty confident that if I had to, I could clock my ex with my twenty pound dumbbell. The occasion didn’t arise, but neither did the knot in my stomach.

After that, we didn’t have to have any contact, except for the occasional phone call to co-ordinate Christmas and birthday gifts, until the birthday party. As much as I wanted my son to find someone special, I also enjoyed not having to interact with his dad.

I know by now that it sounds as if I can’t let bygones be bygones, and that is true as far as it goes, but the reason I can’t let bygones be bygones is because the root of ex’s abusive behavior in the past still manifests itself in the present: not in screaming, name-calling, and potential violence, but in his ongoing inability to empathize with me and respect my boundaries. The boundary violations are small, but it’s also the case that he hasn’t been afforded scope for anything larger than intruding on my conversations with other people, answering questions I intended for someone else, and finding a reason to stand in my vicinity or position himself where he is in my line of sight. I should point out that I don’t think he does these things out of malice or even because he is still pining away for me. I think these are his ways of trying to mend fences and make us all one happy group of friends. As I said, he lacks empathy, which means it would never occur to him that letting me go about my business of ignoring him as much as I can without being ostentatious about it, or better yet, asking me what I need to be comfortable in his presence, might be the best way to mend fences.

As I pointed out to my best friend D while telling her about our weekend, I don’t need to come up with a solution right away. We may see each other as little as once or twice a year, and my comfort level may increase without my doing anything more than talking to friends and family afterward. John and I might wind up moving closer to my son, in which case, except for occasions such as the wedding and graduations, we can absent ourselves when his dad and stepmother visit so as to give them more time together.

So I do have a lot to look forward to, more of it good than bad. And if all else fails, I still have my dumbbells.