Clutter

This past year I have been on a mission. I am determined to eliminate a bulk of the clutter that Doug and I each brought into our marriage as well as the unnecessary things we have collected here in L.A. My husband and I can both be sentimental creatures so this has not been an easy task. So much so that I have turned to an outside source for help in how to think about my attitude toward “stuff”.

This past week I read one of her essays that described how things are not necessary to represent relationships: in other words, that statue or vase or sweater from your great-aunt whoever doesn’t really need to sit in a corner of your house for you to honor your relationship with her. This is where my sentimental butt gets a good little kick!

I am reminded, though, of a promise I made ten years ago to a fourteen-year-old boy.

Ivan was a kid in my neighborhood in Chicago, one of the original “crew” who won my heart and led me into God’s calling for my life. One night I took him out to dinner. Now kids in my neighborhood didn’t “go out for dinner” anywhere. McDonalds was a treat, as was the walk-up Chinese restaurant. But I had told Ivan that I would take him out for dinner as a treat–I don’t even remember now for what. So we went to this little Italian restaurant next-door to the Cubby Bear where I used to work in Wrigleyville.

I remember that the tables had white paper coverings, and each table had little packages of four crayons along with the centerpiece. I remember us coloring on our “tablecloth” and laughing a lot that day. I remember the look on Ivan’s face as he sat in this “fancy” restaurant, ordered a nice meal, and told me that he would never forget this day for the rest of his life. I remember getting ready to leave and having Ivan look me soberly in the face as he held one of the boxes of crayons: “I am going to take these home and I will never throw them away and I will always remember this day.” I looked at him, picked up the other box of crayons and promised him I would do the same.

Six years ago, Ivan’s best friend, another young man I deeply loved, was murdered. I will never forget knocking on Ivan’s door, his grief-stricken face, the way he collapsed in my arms. I will never forget his anger, his despair. And I will never forget walking into his room where he had dumped out a box that held all of his “treasures”. Photos of him and Jamar, most of which I had taken over the years, covered the bed. As I picked up a photo and strained to look through my tears, Ivan reached down and picked up a little white box and held it out to me: it was the box of crayons from the restaurant. “I told you I would always keep these, Erika. I will never, ever throw them away.”

I still have mine too: they have moved with me from Chicago to Spokane to Portland and Los Angeles. I don’t care if that box of crayons is just “stuff” and isn’t necessary to honor my relationship with Ivan. I will never, ever throw them away.

What do you mean?

I made an amusing discovery this past week. Mercy is generally a very good talker. She knows a lot of words and her pronunciation is great (except for blanket which is “biktet”, “bagdhad”, or “biltlek”, or some composite of the three). However, there have been two words that she uses with great frequency that have remained a mystery to us: “thank you” is “meeeenaaaak” and “spoon” is “muuuuuunsch”.

A couple of days ago I was reading the perennial classic, “Goodnight Moon”, to her and we came to the page that reads: “And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush” and as I looked at the picture I realized that what you see is a bowl with a very large spoon in it. Suddenly it made sense why Mercy just may believe that the proper word for “very large spoon” is mush.

This past week we had a congregational visioning meeting for our church. It was one of those meetings where we reflect together about the past, accomplishments and disappointments, as well as what we have learned and hope for our future together. There was a fair amount of emotion in the room at various points, and during one such moment, a dear individual grew quite passionate and said, “Maybe we need a new theology of neighboring.”

It was one of those O.J. Simpson verdict moments where half the room nodded vigorously in agreement while the rest looked on in confusion. I can imagine some people puzzling: “a theology of neighboring? What is that?????”

Now any self-respecting Southern California Intervarsity graduate knows exactly what that term, taken from the writing of Bob Lupton, means, as does someone like myself who owns all of Lupton’s books. Any first or second generation Latino, however, would not have a clue how a word they thought was a noun is suddenly working like a verb.

Language is so potent. And it can be so divisive. And sometimes the best you can guess is that “mush” simply must mean “spoon.”

Because we live in L.A.

I guess that everyone who lives here has their big star-sighting story to tell. Doug and I laugh because we NEVER see anyone famous and there are very few people we would actually be interested in seeing. But having Jack Bauer walk up to you while you are playing with your daughter at Manhattan Beach and strike up a conversation–now that is something.

Special Day

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Top ten things we love about our Daddy
by Mercy and Aaron Emmanual Haub

10. He loves taking us to the beach
9. He’s the best mango cutter in the world (Mercy)
8. He’s always willing to listen when I have really important things to say, even at 5am (Aaron)
7. He lets me pick out my own clothes (Mercy)
6. He always convinces Mom to let us buy the totally overpriced nectar at the Aquarium so we can feed the birds
5. He makes great Puff
4. He works really hard to make sure we have food to eat and a place to sleep
3. He reads us lots of stories
2. He makes Mommy happy
1. He is ours

Margins?

I realized in writing my last post that I have never explained the source for the name of my blog. Some have asked, so here it is…

I recently spent three years as a student at Fuller Seminary earning a Masters in Divinity. I have never been one of those students who sits though class busily typing away on their laptops (or playing solitaire, which I saw a LOT of in my classes). I have always been the old-fashioned pen and paper type. In every class I would take thorough notes, and as I was provoked by ideas or questions, as I was stirred emotionally, as I was troubled, I would scribble my musings in the margins of my paper. I have never been a talker in class. I was the student, in both undergrad and in seminary, that got notes from her professors on the papers she wrote that read: “You have great insight! We need to hear your voice in class.” But the shyness that marked my childhood actually does continue in many ways.

My husband used to go nuts sitting next to me in class at Fuller. Some discussion would be going on around us and I would scribble in the margins of my notebook my thoughts on the issue, and Doug would do everything short of actually lifting my hand in the air to get me to make my comments aloud. But I would opt for the anonymity, the silence, the privacy of my thinking instead.

So when I first considered starting a blog, I was motivated by the idea of having an outlet for the things relegated to the margins of my notebooks. And that is where the title originated, and I liked that it held a double meaning for me as well: I live in South Central, Los Angeles and I share my life with people considered by most around me to be “marginal” for a host of reasons: race, economics, nationality, citizenship status, culture. A lot of what I write about is my experience of life in this community, so the title seems a perfect fit.

So there it is…

What’s in a name?

I just stumbled across a collection of blogs from folks in my denomination. As I scrolled through the list looking for any familiar faces/voices I came across a blog named “Marginal Thoughts” . Intrigued by the similarity with my own blog name I clicked on the link. To my delight I found a blog belonging to a woman I have known since I was in college. She and I went on a mission trip to Mexico together when she was a youth intern in Mercer Island. I was a last-minute add-on to the trip, primarily because they needed someone who could speak Spanish to join them. I was on crutches at the time following foot surgery and one of my funniest memories is wearing this ridiculous sock on the tip of my open toed cast so that scorpions wouldn’t crawl into my cast at night.

I didn’t see this friend for a few years until she and I later overlapped at North Park Seminary in Chicago. It was great to be in touch once again.

Many more years have now gone by and so my heart is warmed to “see” her again through her blog, and to share a kindred spirit of blog names with her.
Blessings to you, Jo Ann.

Quatro

Yesterday Doug and I celebrated four years of marriage. Someone asked me tonight if we had a good time celebrating and I told them that it was the best date I had ever had. My husband is very very good to me. Thanks, baby.

Life

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Welcome, baby Zoe.We can’t wait to meet you and we are so excited that you have entered this world and joined our family. Mercy talks about you a lot already, and I am excited that you and Mercy and Aaron will grow up together as cousins. I pray that we might live closer to each other as time progresses so that we can enjoy lots of time together!

Zoe, your name means life and that is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Sometimes your Uncle Doug and I really wonder what we are doing here in Los Angeles, and we feel the burden of things being really hard a lot of the time. I think a lot about “life” and what kind I want for myself, for my husband, and for my kids. There are a lot of things right now about “life” that I don’t understand and can’t seem to figure out.

Zoe Rose, you are a reminder to me that life is a gift not a right. You remind me that life is fragile and dependent. You remind me that life only matters in relationship to those around you. You remind me that life sometimes IS hard. But you also remind me that life is bound up in hope for the future. I remember reading somewhere that having children is a prophetic act; it is a declaration of hope in the midst of so many things that feel painful and hopeless all around us.

In the midst of the darkness here, Zoe, you remind me to live prophetically. You remind me to live with the end in mind; to live as one who yearns and hopes…

from death to life

When I became pregnant with Mercy, it was as if everywhere I looked there were nothing but other pregnant women. It’s the same with cars, right? As soon as you buy a Subaru, that’s all you ever see on the road!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my newly acquired poverty-induced stinginess. Since writing those words, I think every day has offered me some opportunity, some invitation to live generously toward others. Every day has given me desperately needed chances to learn to die.

There was the phone call from a neighbor who was literally down to one slice of meatloaf left in her refrigerator to feed her family of four and who would not receive her paycheck for two more days. Of course I did not hesitate to send Doug to Ralph’s to purchase a grocery gift card for her family out of our church’s benevolence fund. But he would not be home with that until after the dinner hour, so I quickly packed up the last meal’s worth of groceries we had in our cupboard, the food I intended to prepare for our family, and brought them over to her home. Now we did not go hungry that night. But it was a chance for my heart to move toward the other and away from my own self in a very small way. It was a chance for me to live as a slave to love and not to fear. It was a chance to hold loosely and not to cling, to release and not to hoard.

Last Thursday Doug and I were guest lecturers at Fuller Seminary for a course on evangelism. We basically offered our church as a case study for some of the different ways that evangelism can look in different contexts. At the end we had time for a couple of questions, and the last question we were asked was about our kids and how we felt about raising them in this environment. Doug spoke for us both when he answered that they are the first thing to cause us to want to leave. But they are also the thing that makes us stay. In Doug’s words, “I want my kids to grow up not thinking twice about giving away a car.”

C.S. Lewis writes this:

“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’”

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.