For the first time in (almost) forever…

Regular readers may have noticed that I appear to have, well, disappeared.

(Apart, of course, from my new blog at Religion News Service.)

It’s been a very, very long couple of months. The 100-calorie, snack-size version is that we’re back in the States now.

And here is some of the emotional truth of the whole story; the story of our long and winding road to this particular point, a guest post at Cara Strickland’s blog.

Photo credit: Lisa Beth Anderson/Spark + Tumble (www.lbanderson.com)

Photo credit: Lisa Beth Anderson/Spark + Tumble (www.lbanderson.com)

I cried while unpacking plates yesterday.

My son, who is eight and a half, watched me put them away in the freshly cleaned cabinets of our new home; the first home we’ve owned — the first home that was not consciously and intentionally a stopping-off place between where we’d come from and where we’re going.

“Wait — the stuff in the boxes is ours?” he asked. “I thought it was just some junk left in the basement.”

These are the plates we got when we married, eleven years ago this month. Between then and now we’ve lived in eight different dwellings in four countries and four states. We have eaten off of plates in fully furnished apartments we’ve rented; off plates I grudgingly purchased for the short time we lived here or there, while our plates, the plates from Macy’s, graceful but sturdy, practical plain white porcelain, waited, packed carefully in their original boxes.

Padding those original boxes were clean cloth diapers. When I packed them away, my son still wore diapers. Now he reads Harry Potter and plays Mozart on the violin.

I cried while unpacking plates yesterday because I am a reluctant adventurer; hobbitlike in height and hair texture and love of eating; of peace and quiet, of flowers and of the comforts of home. More than almost anything, I have longed to watch the years go by from one beloved spot, not so as to avoid the inevitable changes that time brings, but rather to know that at the end of the day my family and I will eat off the same plates at the same table.

How I learned to stop worrying and just eat the darn cupcake

Food wasn’t a good gift from God to be received and eaten with pleasure and gratitude. It was something to fear, and fear it I did. The original sin, I believed, was a kind of gluttony: a deadly sin. It was better, according to Proverbs, to put a knife to my throat than to indulge in that sin. And in a distorted attempt to please God, I came to regard almost every meal as potentially gluttonous. One day when I was 16, my mother came home from work to find me sobbing on the front stoop, unable to focus on the AP history textbook open on my lap.

“What on Earth is the matter, Rachel?” she asked with alarm.

“I was so hungry, and so I found a chocolate cupcake and ate it.”

I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life.

Later that year, my mom sent me a postcard at church camp proudly announcing my AP test scores—to my embarrassment, the camp director read it aloud before congratulating me and calling for applause. When everyone in the dining hall looked at me, smiling and whooping as only rowdy camp kids do, I nervously adjusted my clothes and looked down at my plate, thinking not of my test scores but only of whether or not I looked like an undisciplined glutton, and whether everyone was judging me for how much food I’d piled on my plate.

I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life. I was starving, and not just physically.

{I’m at Today’s Christian Woman this week with an essay on discovering how to Eat With Joy. Click here to read it.}

Unfortunately, I’m told, it’s for subscribers only. If you don’t want to subscribe, but want to read further on the topic, you could always just buy my book!

Why I hope there will be more cartoon characters like Hiccup

My sons are small and skinny. They are nothing like the heavily muscled superheroes they admire.

That’s just one reason we love How to Train Your Dragon: because while we’re used to hearing about girls’ toys being relentlessly slimmed-down, sexed-up, and princess-ified, we tend to talk less about the vision of ‘masculinity’ presented for our boys’ consumption.

Hiccup & Toothless in flight. Photo courtesy Brett Jordan via Flickr Creative Commons. - See more at: http://rachelmariestone.religionnews.com/2014/02/28/boys-need-better-cartoon-role-models/#sthash.lqYv4kgP.dpuf

Hiccup & Toothless in flight. Photo courtesy Brett Jordan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Hiccup is skinny and small and brilliant. He breaks the rules and breaks new ground. He is an inventor and a creator. He is a peacemaker.

And the meta-message of Hiccup that my boys take away is something like:
It’s okay to be different. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s great. And it’s best of all to be who you are.
And I love that.

Can reading help us to become better people?

I have a confession: sometimes when I’ve finished a really good novel, I miss the characters badly. I worry about what’s going to happen to those whose fates are left mysterious; I grieve for those who have suffered or died, I rejoice over marriages and babies and feel and think all sorts of things about people who don’t actually exist.

But of course, there’s nothing unusual in that confession; it’s the thing that keeps us turning pages — immersing ourselves in an imaginary world and caring deeply about the people that live there, and what happens to them. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t continue reading. And the best books, I think, are those that make us care the most deeply.

Belle and I, just doing a little reading together.

Belle and I, just doing a little reading together.

People have debated the value and potential of stories — particularly the fictional kind — for millennia. Plato felt that his ideal republic should exclude poets because of their extraordinary power over the imagination, and a great many parents and teachers have spent a great deal of time fretting over the effect certain books might have on kids.

Yet even as people have struggled to make sense of what feels like a need for stories that simply aren’t true, we can’t seem to stop ourselves. And most of us have a sense that reading is somehow good for us, even if we don’t know exactly why. That, too, is an argument that goes back a long way, although it has become less popular of late.

{from my most recent post at iBelieve. Continue reading here.}

About that bill in Arizona…and what other implications it might have had

“The Sinner Series.” Photo courtesy Bernt Rostad via Flickr Creative Commons. - See more at: http://rachelmariestone.religionnews.com/2014/02/26/sb1062-arizona-religious-freedom-law-gay-gluttony/#sthash.j8JjtyH1.dpuf

“The Sinner Series.” Photo courtesy Bernt Rostad via Flickr Creative Commons.

I grew up in a Baptist church that didn’t condone the use of alcohol. But it was also located in an area where tourism was a key industry, which meant that a lot of young (and not-so-young) people were employed in restaurants. Restaurants that served alcohol.

Different people in my religious circles had different opinions on the subject, but I can remember more than one conversation ending with the acknowledgement that almost anything could be construed to violate certain Christian beliefs.

You could be a librarian and have to check out offensive, anti-Christian books.

You could be a city clerk and have to issue marriage licenses to people who were divorced.

You could be a cashier and have to sell condoms to unmarried people.

{Continue reading at Religion News Service.}

*updated* Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the bill.