27 May 2015

Atlanta 2015

This is long and mostly for my family, so feel free to peruse or not as your heart desires. (My cousin took the photos, so I only have two or three, which I haven't uploaded yet.)

Day 1

My birthday present from my parents and cousin Alyssa this year was a set of Atlanta City Passes for Alyssa, my kids, and me. They had all arranged ahead of time to send us on a getaway to the Big City, and the trip was set for Memorial Day weekend. Alyssa drew up an itinerary, and we were super excited for a chaotic but fun three-day weekend!

When we arrived on Saturday morning, we went straight to the Georgia Aquarium. Timothy went there on a field trip with his class a month ago, so he agreed to be our tour guide. Unfortunately, one of the highlights of his trip was the dolphin show, and we were told at the desk that because of the crowd, we should be in line for the show at least 45 minutes early. Ugh. We find it a challenge spending any amount of time in line, and we had another activity planned for after the aquarium, so I made the executive decision to skip the dolphin show. Timothy wouldn’t let me forget it and complained on and off the whole rest of the time we were there. But we still managed to have fun! We touched the sea anemone and sea stars. We watched the otters play—and this is when I got injured. Anna was standing under me, and she jumped up, banging into my chin. I bit my tongue and two small sores on the edges of my bottom lip, which then became huge sores. After the initial shock—with Anna crying and crying because she felt so bad that she’d hurt me—I rinsed out my mouth, and we kept going. Eating, smiling, and even talking still hurt, but it’s much better than it was.

From there we went to the penguins, where the kids got to climb through a tunnel into the middle of the penguin habitat, where they could stand in a clear plastic bubble observatory and see the animals close-up. That was Anna’s favorite thing about the aquarium. We were disappointed to not be able to see the beluga whales, as the female had just delivered a baby beluga on Mother’s Day (yes, for real), so the curtains were all closed. (I only saw about a dozen episodes of Full House when I was little because I wasn’t technically allowed to watch it, but “Baby Beluga” is one thing I actually do remember from the show.) We met a Nigerian gentleman working by the curtained beluga enclosure and chatted a bit. After lunch we saw the Deepo 4D movie about a man who becomes a fish and learns how humans impact sea life. (It was another of Timothy’s highlights from his field trip.) Both kids loved that, especially the bubbles and getting splashed. Next we visited the river area, where the kids got to go into another observation bubble to see the piranhas up close and personal. (Piranhas always make me think of Tarzan: “Sweetheart, there are no piranhas in Africa.” – “Shh. Don’t tell the kid that. Of course there are piranhas in Africa.” – “No, she’s right. They’re native to South America.” Lol) Japanese spider crabs are huge, by the way. From there we moved on to the ocean exhibit, which was my personal favorite. We got to see whale sharks, sawsharks, sting rays, devil rays (Anna called them “double rays”), giant manta rays, and lots of things we didn’t identify. The walkway is a tunnel through the middle of the tank, so you can see the sea life all around you. So cool! Lastly we visited the coral reef exhibit, where Anna was delighted to identify several unicorn fish, which she had seen in a photo at the Columbia, SC zoo where we’re members. J All in all, except for Timothy’s meltdown about missing the dolphin show, the bad mood from which persisted for a half hour after we left the aquarium, we had a delightful time!

Next we walked to the CNN center, but their tours were sold out, so we enjoyed ice cream, and the kids explored the outside of a military Humvee stationed in the lobby before we decided to enjoy the playground by the aquarium for a while. This significantly improved Timothy’s mood, and the weather was perfect in the shade. We even got to see Dora and Elmo walk by, delighting Anna. While Timothy enjoyed the monkey bars, Anna spent time “making ant holes” in the dirt. Ha.
We had dinner at The Varsity, apparently the largest drive-thru in the world. (We didn’t drive through, though!) Yum! When we got to the hotel at last, the kids and Alyssa enjoyed some swim time (it wasn’t warm enough for me!), and we tried out the whirlpool before heading to bed for an early night.

Day 2

Sunday morning we drove to Passion City Church. We were 40 minutes early, but that seemed to be totally normal, as there were already parking attendants and a state trooper directing traffic. Whoa. Anna refused—as usual—to go to kids’ church, so we signed Timothy in and waited ten minutes ‘til the kids’ area opened. When we finally went in, we saw it was a large room full of tents—as in, tent camping, not like carnival tents—each of which had a sign for grade and boys or girls. Interesting. Timothy was with the 1st grade boys and had a blast. We went to the auditorium and waited for worship. Anna loved the lights, which are set up as for a concert. In fact, the music was very concert-style, with David Crowder and Kristian Stanfill leading worship. Great music (though, as you’d expect, very loud), and even Anna was delighted that she knew a couple of the songs from having heard them on our local Christian radio station. The sermon was interesting. It was geared toward those who are dating and interested in dating, which apparently is most of the church’s composition. (Yeah, I wouldn’t really fit in there long-term.) The pastor—who wasn’t actually there but who had recorded his lesson earlier in the week—encouraged people to focus on why they want to date instead of whom they want to date, to look inside and work on improving themselves before dating, and to only be willing to date someone who has the same mission: ultimately to worship God through service. (Basically.) He had some great points, and I gleaned what I could, but I’m disappointed that it wasn’t more relevant to me—and to the people there who didn’t fall into that specific demographic. Still, I’m glad we got to go to the church, and Timothy—as I said—had a good time in kids’ church.

We’d originally planned to save the zoo for Monday, but because of the chance of rain on Monday, we decided to head to the zoo on Sunday and save the indoor activities for the next day. After a quick lunch, we found our way to the zoo and discovered that our entrance included unlimited activities as well—the carousel, climbing wall, mesh climbing jungle, train, etc. We stepped inside to look at the flamingos while I oriented myself with the map, and wham! Anna fell headlong onto a curb. She started screaming and holding her face, and my first fear was that she had hurt her eyes. (I hadn’t seen it happen, as I’d been reading the map.) We finally deduced that she had hit the bridge of her nose, and Alyssa comforted her while I stepped away to get ice at the nearest snack shop. I was all choked up and could barely even talk at that point, so I’m glad Alyssa was there to care for Anna! (That happened when Anna fell on the playground and knocked her teeth back, too; I could hardly talk for fear of crying myself!) We iced Anna’s nose on and off for the next 20 minutes or so—while we rode the carousel and while Timothy climbed the mesh jungle and then went partway up the rock wall (before a kid fell on top of him!). At that point we realized she had also hit her forehead between her eyebrows and was developing a lump, so we tried to ice that before the ice melted. In the meantime, Anna perked up at the carousel and especially a few minutes later at the petting zoo, where she made it her goal to pet every goat in the pen. (There were no other animals in there, just goats.) Both kids enjoyed the fans blowing mist in the pen. J We stopped to medicate Anna—she wanted Powerade, of all things, to wash down the medicine—and then headed to see the pandas! Grandma (my mom) had reminded us several times that there had been twin baby pandas born there in the past couple of years, so we had to snap a photo for Grandma. I think the two bears we saw were the twins. There was quite a crowd—not regulated like at the San Diego Zoo—but we managed to watch for a few minutes. I wondered aloud why we find pandas to be so lovable. (Because they’re non-threatening? Cute & cuddly but not scary like grizzlies? Because they’re herbivores?)

Both kids enjoyed the naked mole rats, but they were intent on going to the splash pad, so they whined through all of the other animal enclosures. Alyssa and Anna saw the gorillas while I sat with a morose Timothy. They did both like the living tree house, where we got to walk among the birds. In the reptile/amphibian house, Timothy mostly wanted to play with the touch-screen activities rather than see the actual animals. (He’d fallen and scraped his knee just before we went into the reptile house.) We whizzed past the giraffes, looked for the rhino but couldn’t find him, sped past the meerkats, elephants, and warthogs, and finally got back around to the play area. The kids got into their swimsuits, and Alyssa took Anna to the splash pad while I took Timothy on the little train ride. (His words were, “Doing something with you is more important than playing in the water.” Too sweet!) Then we joined the others and splashed for about 40 minutes until they asked us to leave because the zoo was closing.  

We went on a wild goose chase for a non-burger place to eat and settled on Cook Out. Haha. So we had to get non-burger items, and the kids’ moods were significantly improved by milkshakes and a few games (Anna’s choice: “I Spy” and Timothy’s choice: the alphabet game with compound words). We didn’t get back to the hotel until well after 8, so we decided to skip swimming (since the kids had splashed anyway) and spend 15 minutes in the whirlpool instead. Everyone was finally in bed by about 9:30, and both kids fell right to sleep!

Day 3

The next morning was cool and cloudy. After breakfast, we packed up, wrote some postcards to leave with the hotel clerk, and drove to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. We got there just as it opened and discovered our entrance included an IMAX film. We got our tickets for the later show and then went to explore! They have a wonderful kids’ educational play area, and we spent the first hour there, seeing bugs up close with a microscope; discovering gravity through balls coming down chutes; watching time-progression of fruit decay, season change, plants growing, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis; finding fish and other sea creatures in a computer simulation; trying to reconstruct a clay jar from an archaeology dig using magnetic potsherds; and several other activities. We had to practically drag the kids away from the play area in order to see the rest of the museum! 

We spent about a half hour in the hands-on science activity area (not just for kids!), making huge bubbles, doing visual experiments, having a conversation from far across the room using cavernous circular seats, pretending to be weather-reporters, watching a manufactured cyclone, seeing electricity zap the edge of the glass ball where we placed our hands... So fun! I kept wishing that my dad were there—but then we could have spent the whole rest of the day in just that area!

With our last 25 minutes before the IMAX film, we went through the Natural History of Georgia exhibit (although Anna and I zipped through it because of a potty emergency, so I can't really say much about it, except that it winds hither and yon in the building, and it took a lot longer to get out than I expected!). At noon we headed to the IMAX and watched a film called "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which was pretty incredible. It covered things that are too fast, too slow, and too small to be seen by the naked eye, and things that are invisible. Wow!

After the film we drove back toward the skyscrapers, had lunch in the CNN Center, where my aunt and uncle joined us, and then visited the World of Coca-Cola. The kids had been looking forward to this all weekend, especially the taste-testing. I had told them about that part, and others had mentioned it as well. I specifically remembered the drink Beverly from when I visited as a 15-year-old. But that was at the end of our self-guided tour. First we walked through the history of Coca-Cola exhibit, saw bottles being filled, got a photo with the Coke bear (or, as I called it, “the Coca-Colar pear”), and watched a short 4-D video (during which Anna cried, poor kid). The taste-testing was the jewel of the experience, I guess. Timothy and I sampled every single international flavor they had (very, very small sips!) and several of the North American ones, which I’d not tried. (I may have tried them when I was 15; I only remember Beverly!) My personal favorite was something apple-y from the Asia section. Timothy and I were both brave enough to try Beverly (again for me), and it wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered. (Chloroquine is a lot worse.) We finally left the place full of bubbles and very happy. J

We drove back to Augusta, had dinner at my aunt & uncle’s home, and then finally got home about 9:30pm Monday night. The kids were giddy with exhaustion and went right to sleep! We were all exhausted but full of happy memories! I’m so thankful to my parents and to Alyssa for this super birthday present!!

14 April 2015

Seeing things

My mom said something last week that made me really think. She said that sometimes she wished she'd chosen to study something more practical for her poor eyesight.

My mom, my brother, and I (along with several others on my maternal side of the family) have a disease that causes optic nerve degeneration. There is no treatment or cure, it's genetic, and it is progressive. My mom is legally blind, and I will likely be so someday, too. She has never been able to drive, but as she's gotten older, she's also lost her ability to read--including her ability to read music. My mom is a gifted musician with a college education in music. She once played numerous instruments, but what I remember is the piano. She has not been able to read piano music since I was little. She can read choral music if she holds it right up to her face...but then even I have to do that.

Being visually impaired is hard. My vision is correctable at this point to 20/40 so that I can drive, but driving at night or in the rain makes me anxious. I've never been able to read the blackboard or white board at school, for as long as I can remember, without getting up and going to stand right in front of it. Overhead projectors were the worst. In college I sat front and center in every class so I could focus and take notes from listening rather than from the board. I can't see the words projected on the screens in churches more often than not. I just have to fake the words or ask for a printout. I have a lot of trouble reading street signs; the GPS is my God-send. When I get lost, I get really, really lost. I set my computer screen on large fonts and use CTRL+ to make my browser fonts larger. I have Timothy read the aisle signs in the grocery store for me.

I can see so much more than my mom, and I am thankful for my corrected vision. But I have to admit that my vision is failing a little bit every year. I have lost some of my peripheral vision in the last four years, and I have developed mild color blindness on top of my optic nerve atrophy. As a single mom in particular, I am terrified that I will lose my vision before my kids are old enough to take care of themselves, that I won't be able to drive them to school, to appointments. How can I take care of my kids by myself when I can't see? Will my vision last that long?

This is always at the back of my mind, this anxiety about my ability to take care of my children if I can no longer see clearly. But my mom's comment made me think more about my work and education more directly. I love medical things, and I wish I could have had a career in some medical field. I would have loved to have been a nurse or a doctor, or maybe a PA. But the truth is that I can't see well enough for those occupations, and even if I could see well enough now, there would soon come a day when I couldn't perform my duties. That is the hard, bare truth.

So what shall I do with my next few years? I can't say. For now I will keep doing administrative work, or editing work if I can find it. In the long term? I don't know. What sorts of careers are open to the visually impaired? It's time I face up to the truth and actually think about that.

My name is Saralynn, and I am visually impaired.

This is my reality.

22 March 2015

Who Cares?

Our pastor's in the middle of a sermon series on reaching the unreached. This is a very common theme in his sermons, as I know he has a heart for those who don't yet know Jesus' love. The sermons have all been good, moving, convicting, and I wholeheartedly agree I need to do more to be neighborly.

That being said, he focused today a lot on "the broken and needy," implying that that is exclusively people who are unchurched. This bothers me a great deal, as I feel it assumes that people in the Church aren't broken and don't have needs. He talked about the widows and the orphans, again implying these are people outside of the Church who need the help and love of the Church. But I couldn't help thinking, "What about the widows and orphans inside the Church? Are we neglecting the legitimate physical, emotional, and relational needs of our church members simply because they are 'saved'?"

We discussed William Booth's vision as portrayed below (more info here).
And while I get it--I get the vision and the immediacy of the need for salvation--I also wonder this:

Do we sometimes reach into the water to pull people out and then just assume they make their way to safety and security, turning away to "rescue" someone else without realizing they are slipping back into the frigid water? Are we so focused--with tunnel vision, perhaps--on the people struggling in the water to see the people tottering on the edge of the platform, or already slipping off, hanging on for dear life to the slippery edge?

I want to have a heart for the lost, as Jesus had a heart for the lost. Absolutely I want that.

But I don't think--in my understanding of Jesus--that he would have us neglect the needs of those who are already "saved" and in the Church. I'm not saying we need to have more potlucks or family activities or Sunday school classes or whatever. Those things are fine, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people in the Church who are hurting and broken and needy. Doesn't the Church have a responsibility to minister to them as well? Where is the balance?

I speak as one who is broken and hurting. How can I reach out to grab someone from the water when I myself am barely hanging on for dear life? And I know I'm not alone. I speak for the thousands upon thousands of churchgoers out there who are grieving, hurting, broken. As a Church, in your haste to rescue the lost--who I know need rescuing--please take some time to pull us back to safety so we are better prepared, in due course, to reach out to others.

09 February 2015

Burning bridges

I'm a Star Trek fan.

Hmm, let me clarify. I have not seen more than a dozen episodes of the original series but generally think that Captain Kirk is a womanizing renegade whose "cowboy diplomacy" is equally impressive and disgusting.

I like Voyager and The Next Generation most. There's a great Voyager episode, "Day of Honor," in which B'Elanna admits that she just pushes people away when they get too close. She finally realizes how unhealthy it is and agrees to let Tom in, to stop pushing him away.

I find myself starting to identify with B'Elanna. A lot. I'm an introvert and like my personal time and space. And I've got very poor social skills (mostly because--like Mr. Darcy--I don't take the time to practice them and have no interest in bettering them. I'm not good with people. I've never been good with people. Since college I've had very few actual friends (as opposed to friendly people who are really just acquaintances).

As an army wife, I made three really good friends at different times. We hung out a lot, babysat each other's kids, went on outings together. And then things started falling apart--with one friend after another. Out of anger and pain--some of which I still feel when I think about it--I lashed out and ended the first friendship. Out of anger and pain, I made a snarky comment that ended the second friendship. And the third ended basically because she was tired of giving me rides places. (This is why I will never again believe anyone who says s/he doesn't mind giving me a ride more than once.) 

And by the time we moved away from that duty station, I was so ready to move on. I had let three people into my life, and all three of them had rejected me. I was bitter and hurt and angry and alone.

Since then I have avoided making real friends. I've gotten to know people, tried to be friendly at church, made an effort to put on a happy face and not let on that I'm antisocial. The real me inside has ached and begged for friendship, but I have shut it out.

But after being here for almost two years, a couple people are actually asking to be friends, to know about me, and my instinct is to push them away. After being so badly burned the last time I tried, how can I ever open up to anyone else again? I know these people love me, but they don't even know me. And the real me is savage, brutal, raw, so terribly messed up. The real me says No wonder your husband left you. You deserved it. The real me is reaching out and pushing others away. I can feel it coming--the "OK, it's time to move on" inside me. I see myself--as from a distance--starting to burn bridges, leaving them in smoldering ruin. There is new hurt here, new anger and bitterness, and I am watching helpless as things go up in flames.

The pain is real. You'll never fit in. You'll never belong. You're not good enough for us. My joyful voice in worship of my Maker has been silenced. I'm not good enough.

I cough and splutter on the acrid fumes and turn away from the flames. There will not be a next time. The future will see my plastic smile and a shallow heart full of cheer. 

There will be no more need to burn bridges if no bridges are ever built.

12 January 2015

The Dance

written January 1999

The warm night air is filled with excitement and joy. Three boys beat out a steady African rhythm on the drums as the rest of the children sing and dance in ecstasy. In the darkness, I can barely make out the faces of my peers, joy radiating from their faces. I feel myself pulled along by the current. The rhythm flows through me, and I am suddenly part of a different world.

Bodies press tightly around me, moving me with them, and I am sucked into the whirlwind of activity. Resistance is futile. My feet beat out the rhythm below me, causing me to look down at them in surprise. They begin to carry me away in a dance. Then my hands are taken in, and I cannot resist the impulse to clap in syncopation. Before I know it, my voice is also getting carried away. Music and words I do not know escape my lips. The whirlwind tugs on my heart, pulling gently but firmly. As it pulls, the cold fingers of common sense lose their grip on my heart, and it slips away to join the flurry of activity.

The joy of the moment overwhelms me. We move together as one, lift our voices as one, keep rhythm as one. We are God's people, and in praising Him, we are one.

I wrote this piece 16 years ago in response to an evening worship service in Kagoro, Nigeria. A group of us missionary kids had gone there to spend a weekend at the Bible college. I don't honestly remember much of the trip or even when it was. I remember Ben Rinaudo tried to explain to us "stone" when we visited a missionary who kept an ancient British weighing scale. And I remember laughing when an Australian short-term missionary pronounced "compost" differently. (I still say it her way.) I remember Patrick leading our group in a Shabbat service with candles and everything.

But mostly I remember that time of worship with the local children. It was dark; there was no electricity that night. I remember Stephen Foute preaching in Hausa--or maybe translating for someone else--and finding joy simply in hearing one of our own MKs speaking the local language. And then there was music and dancing, singing in English, singing in Hausa. Everyone joined in. There were no language barriers, no lines drawn between nationalities. I'll never forget that night.

And listening to the Voices of Zambia this past Friday night took me straight back to that night in Kagoro. Sweet memory.