Friday, February 27, 2009

An Answer to Prayer

As part of my Lenten discipline, I have been setting aside some time every afternoon when the kids go to bed to do a centering prayer and then write some in a prayer journal. Yesterday I wrote in my journal that I needed to forgive myself for putting my desire to clean my house before my need to spend good, quality, on-the-floor-and-having-fun-time with my children. And while I recognized that I needed to forgive myself, I also prayed that I might do better.

This morning, Clare projectile vomited--twice--all over me. I spent all morning sitting in a kitchen chair, holding a bleary-eyed Clare in my lap, watching Joshua disassemble and reassemble the smoothie maker. There are three gigantic mountains of clothes that need to be put away, and I only loaded the dishwasher because Clare eventually wanted to sit in front of the open front door and enjoy the breeze for a few minutes.

Be careful what you ask for...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I'm shamelessly stealing this from my friends at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries. It was definitely the word that God had for me today and I wanted to share it as I look forward to a long Lenten season, wondering how I am going to keep my own vows and live out my own repentance.

Come, Come Whoever You Are by Mevlana Jelaluddin Runi

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valentine's Day

I've never really gotten into all the hype surrounding Valentine's Day. I mean, it was cute and all, and much more fun when I actually had a Valentine than when I didn't, but it was never high on my list of favorite holidays. Before kids, Jay and I usually celebrated Valentine's Day like we celebrated our birthdays: a really nice dinner out that may have also included a room at a Pricelined hotel (when we lived in Chicago). After kids, we were lucky to get each other a card.

But this year was different. I appreciated Valentine's Day so much more this year because it was a Hallmark holiday. After surviving Christmas and anticipating Easter, both of which are significant religious holidays loaded up with all kinds of other marketing garbage, it was so nice not to have to try to separate the sacred from the profane. What a relief.

I celebrated by buying as much junk from Hobby Lobby as I could find and making Valentine's Day cards with Joshua and Clare. We fingerprinted, fingerpainted, stickered, and colored our way into a whole raft of homemade Valentine's Day cards that we gave to grandparents, Vati, and Joshua's playschool class. We talked about how we like to do nice things for people we love to show them that we care about them, without any of the "Yes, but" conversations that were so much a part of Christmas.

And Jay and I even took the opportunity to spend some much needed time together. On and around Valentine's Day I heard and read a lot of people who went on about how people shouldn't have to have a special day to acknowledge their love and blah, blah, blah. But to tell you the truth, I do need that. And I think Jay does, too. We're constantly running around in such a frenzy that we need to be reminded of how important it is to take a break and just be together. So what if it's a Hallmark holiday. It was the excuse we needed to hang out together and have fun. And hopefully we'll remember how important that was and won't neglect to do it again.

If it gives me an excuse to have fun with my kids without having to spend all my time trying to help them untangle religious understandings from marketing ploys, and if it reminds me of how important it is to spend time with the guy I love for 364 other days, then I say bring it on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Quandary

Most of my friends and family know that I am a customer service nightmare. When a company or its employees claim that they are going to do something, I expect them to follow through. My penchant for customer service has led to some interesting situations, like the time when I got the direct phone number to the Customer Service manager at Cokesbury and was told that I was only to call her when placing an order, or the time that the shady mattress store manager was called a series of foul names and had his card thrown back in his face. (I was 37 weeks pregnant. That's a good enough excuse right?) But I haven't had much reason to be a customer service nightmare lately. Until now.

Jay and I decided we wanted to go to the Flatiron Grille for Valentine's Day. It's a locally-owned restaurant that serves good drinks and good food, and it's got a really nice atmosphere, especially for Jackson. We've been there several times and have been mostly satisfied with the experience, particularly since it's one of the only two upscale dining options in town. So I called about a week before Valentine's Day to ask if they were taking reservations. The man I spoke to said that they weren't, but that they were doing call ahead seating. On Thursday before Valentine's Day, after seeing a full-page ad in a local magazine that implied that they were taking reservations, I went to the restaurant in person. I talked to the hostess who confirmed that they were not taking reservations, but that they would be doing call ahead seating. She recommended that I call about an hour before I wanted to eat in order to put my name on the list.

I arranged for a babysitter to arrive at 7:30 on Valentine's Day, planning to get to the restaurant by 8:00. I called the restaurant at 6:00, just to find out how long the wait was. It was 2 hours. Perfect!

"Great!" I said. "Can you go ahead and put me down on the list?"

"Ma'am, we're no longer doing call ahead seating."

*Stunned silence. It's 6:00 on Valentine's Day. I have a babysitter coming and nowhere to eat.*

"But I was told twice this week that you were doing call ahead seating tonight."

"We were, ma'am, but our waiting list is two pages long and we have people hanging out the doors. My manager told me a few minutes ago to stop taking call ahead seating."

I asked for the manager's name, but didn't ask to speak with him. Maybe I should have. I figured that if he didn't care enough about customers to honor his call ahead seating plan then he probably didn't care enough about customers to talk a really disgruntled one on that phone.

Despite the fact that my head was about to explode, I called our favorite sushi place and was told that there was no wait. We went there, had a good time, chatted up the owner, I got free beer, and Jay got the promise of a bowl of kimchi chigae every week, made by the owner herself.

Since then I've left scathing reviews on about ten restaurant review sites and sent a comment via the Flatiron Grille website. Today I received a reply. Here is an excerpt:
Ms. Bernheisel,

In an effort to serve our customers, we were offering
call ahead seating for Valentine's Day. By 6:00 p.m.,
our staff was overwhelmed with long lists of call-ahead
guests and large numbers of walk-in guests accumulating
inside the restaurant, waiting to be seated. It was at
that point that our Proprietor, XXXXXXX, opted to forgo
call ahead seating. He felt at that time that if we
did not do so, we might not be able to serve all of the
guests who were already inside the restaurant, waiting for

Please accept our apology for being inconvenienced. We
would like to offer you and your guest a complimentary
dinner. Please call me at your earliest convenience to
set up those details. My direct number is XXXXXXXXXX.

Mr. XXXXXXX would like for me to extend his personal
apology, as well. He would like to have the opportunity
to speak directly with you. He asked me to pass along
his number to you. His direct number is XXXXXX or you
may reach either of us at the restaurant number of XXXXXXX.

So here's the dilemma. I already said in my note to the owner that I was never going to darken the door of the establishment again, and I really don't intend to. What about this free meal? What about the fact that the whole first paragraph of this letter is one big lame excuse for miserable customer service? Do I accept the meal? Do I just drop it, even though the Marketing Director who sent me this note obviously doesn't get it? Do I call the guy? I'm really bad at ending up a big sputtering ball of mad during confrontations, so I'm not sure what good that would do. Could he really say something to make me less angry about the situation? What would you do?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Liver Chronicles

When we last left you, Jay had just emerged from surgery to expand his common bile duct. The surgery was a success in that the surgeon was able to place a balloon in the duct and expand it, but there is also a lot of diffuse stricturing in the rest of the biliary tree preventing the flow of bile. Jay still looks like the victim of a Mystic Tan incident gone awry and his numbers are still the same.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous about what the doctor in Nashville was going to say when Jay went to see him today. But it wasn't anything really earth-shattering. The doctor said that he thought Jay would probably be ready for a transplant in several more years, so that was good to hear, and he also explained a little bit about the procedure for being placed on the transplant list. Position on the liver transplant list is determined by MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) number, which is calculated using the date of birth, bilirubin levels, serum creatinine levels, and International Normalized Ratio. You can see a calculator here. So even if the doctor were to put Jay on the transplant list today, he'd probably hang out at the bottom for awhile. Better to wait until things start to really go downhill, right?

So, per doctor's orders, no drinking, no smoking, and no drugs, which I'm sure will be a real hardship for Jay. Jay's supposed to call if he shows any signs of an infection in his liver (abdominal pain with fever and/or chills), and he's now taking both a Vitamin D supplement and another 5-ASA drug for his colitis. Hopefully this one won't send his liver function down the tubes like the last one did.

So here we go! Hurry up and wait!

Thanks for all of your prayers and well wishes. We appreciate it all so much more than you can know.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

First Communion

Joshua loves church. Big church. The kind where you sing hymns and listen to music and listen to prayers and listen to sermons, and sit still the whole time. Two years ago I never would've believed that he would be capable of sitting and attending to an hour's worth of church service, but now, every Sunday morning, he asks if he can go to Big Church. Sometimes he gets squirmy, of course, and sometimes he asks questions too loudly, but for the most part he does quite well.

Most United Methodist churches only celebrate Communion once a month, for better or for worse, and most of those that celebrate once per month also celebrate on the first Sunday of the month. Not so at our church. Our leaders are intentional about celebrating at least 12 times per year, but there's no established pattern. One day you just walk in and there it is.

This was one of those mornings, and I probably wouldn't have noticed if Jay hadn't said, "Hey! If Clare's hysteria doesn't drive the nursery people to call us down there, we might actually get to celebrate Communion together!" It was then I realized that we hadn't really chatted with Joshua about Communion. So, in whispers, I explained that at the end of the service we would go to the front of the church and take a bite of bread and a small cup of juice. I told him that it was called Communion and that it helps us remember that Jesus loved us enough to die for us. "OK," he responded.

No need to debate substitutionary atonement, no talk of mystery, no reason to get gory. Just the simple fact that Jesus died because he loved us so much. One day we'll talk about what that means, and we'll be sure to let Joshua know that Christians through the years have understood Jesus' death in any number of ways. And we'll trust that if the symbols of death and resurrection have meaning for him in the context of Christianity, he'll choose for himself what those words mean: Jesus loved us enough to die for us.

As we approached the Communion rail, I was glad to see that we were going to be served by one of the current pastors rather than one of the retired pastors who was also serving. I don't have anything against the retired pastors, but they were an unknown quantity in this situation. I wasn't sure what they would do when they saw a three-year-old on the kneeler, eyes exactly level with the rail itself. But David, whether he is an advocate of children and Communion, or whether he simply trusted that Jay and I were going to do the right thing, followed our lead and served Joshua as well.

I've always served Communion to children. After all, we say that everyone is invited. Who am I to rescind that invitation when a see a child approaching who is under X years of age? And we teach that Jesus says that we must have faith like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And the argument that children don't understand? In our liturgy we "proclaim the mystery of faith." I would argue that our proclamation is an admission that we don't understand it either.

So there was no great celebration, except for the one in our hearts, but Joshua had his first Communion today. He probably doesn't feel any different, but we sure do.