Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16: Give to Lincoln Day: Especially my Former Employer!

Today, May 16, is Give to Lincoln day.  Every gift given today will be matched by a proportional share of the $200,000 matching grant available from the Lincoln Community Foundation.  The Center for Legal Immigration Assistance (CLIA) is participating and, like most non-profits, is always looking for continued funding.  I got to see firsthand how dedicated, competent, and compassionate the staff are there, and the benefits our clients received from our legal help.  The main clientele CLIA serves are domestic violence victims who are either being abused by a U.S. Citizen husband or are victims of crimes (perpetrated by anyone, usually domestic violence again) and have helped law enforcement with investigating or prosecuting the crime.  There is a very arduous process our government has created to apply for temporary protection from deportation and ability to work if their application is accepted.  These clients are some of the most vulnerable neighbors we have in Lincoln, and although these cases take tens and tens of hours, CLIA does not charge for this life-changing service.

When I saw the Give to Lincoln website before noon, I saw CLIA had only received one gift.  The leader is Hearts United for Animals (as a non-animal-loving person, this leaves me befuddled, and I recognize perhaps my non-animal-loving position is in the minority.  For the record, I like dogs ok!)  In second place, is the Pius X Foundation.  As a Norris alum, you can imagine how I feel about that.  C'mon, Lincoln!

I'd love if any of you felt the tug to help CLIA continue to provide free or low-cost immigration legal services, as we are the only non-profit in Lincoln providing a full array of immigration legal services.   I'll provide the website below:

Even if you don't give to CLIA, think about supporting some Lincoln non-profit.  I do think Lincoln is one of the best places because of the types of orgs we have, even if there are a lot of animal-heavy ones.  

Joy's Job News


Hi!  It's been way too long since I've last posted.  There have been trips home to Lincoln, books read, beer tasted, and job interviews had in the meantime.

On the book front: I've been deeply encouraged by N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope."  Read it and let the message inform your days and your hope.  I can't say hands down that I'm with Wright on every point, but the basic thesis of  reclaiming the Christian hope of the resurrection of our dead bodies, the coming new heavens and earth and the bearing this has on NOW has given me greater hope for beyond the grave, and a greater sense of partnering with God in the restoration of ALL things.

Other encouraging and thought-provoking works I've read or am reading: For the Life of the World by Schmemann (thanks Monica!) The Church by Clowney, David Copperfield by Dickens, Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch (highly recommend.)

Now to news:

I have a job that starts on Monday!  I will spare you all the twists and turns of last week's interviews, but let's just say this position is providential and unexpected.  After interviewing for a job here in Des Moines that would only allow me to use only some of my lawyer-ing skills, for only half of the time (and be unpaid as an attorney), I shot out some e-mails to orgs that I respect to see if they had a need and ability to pay me.  Justice for our Neighbors in Omaha had exactly the need that I was looking to fill, and within a day I had a job offer-- and I also am getting paid!

I will be traveling to Omaha/Council Bluffs one day a week, starting out consulting with new clients, and the rest of my hours will be spent working from home on case preparation (meaning, sweat pants and no showers most days of the week!)  I am hired for 30 hours a week, which will allow me to work towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness and hopefully ease me into the working world after 3 months off.  I am very impressed with my new boss- I have not met a non-profit attorney in the Heartland like him and I am excited to learn from him.  I will probably take court cases for the first time, so I'll need to learn how to approach the bench and act like I know what I'm talking about!  I gained quite a bit of experience working 6 months in Lincoln, and I hope to only build on that foundation.

Who knows whether or not I'll continue blogging.  I've enjoyed processing and updating people these past few months.  Maybe you'll continue to see me on the interwebs, but don't hold your breath.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Musings on Violence- This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez

The aforementioned book by Robert Andrew Powell caught my eye at the library, partly because S.L. Price reviewed the book favorably, and I’ve read Price quite a bit due to Sports Illustrated existing in the Henning house for all my waking memory.  Plus, this was more than a sports memoir, but a book about the drug war in Mexico, particularly Juarez, where I have spent five days of my life.  Coincidentally, I found out through reading this that the year we visited to build a house, 2008, was the start of the uptick in murders to astronomical rates (from 300 executed in 2007 to 1,600 in 2008, to a depressing 2,700 in 2009- THAT IS JUAREZ ALONE, not all of Mexico). 

Powell moves down to Juarez for the year 2010 to follow “Los Indios” a team in the coveted Primera league, who loses nearly every game.  What is amazing about this team is that anyone will play in Juarez, because when you are rich you are an especial target for extortion, kidnapping, and robbery.  Powell connects with one of the young soccer stars, and is bemused to ride with him in the only vehicle the star feels safe in: a dented, old, beater with so much wear and tear that even the drug-lords shouldn’t find it worth stealing.  It creates tension in the reader to watch this team (and really, any person that lives in Juarez,) try to focus on their job, when the news meets their ears daily of new violent murder after senseless murder.  The reader, through Powell’s eyes, learns about “Los Indios”, their crazy, pot-smoking fan club, local politics, and a bit of an insight into the messy drug war.        
I’ve been thinking about this book particularly in the wake of the tragedy in Boston (and other horrifying news in the U.S. and abroad) and recently watching the movies Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  The people of Juarez live cautiously; their public life plummeted with continual carnage.  People normally do not go out to restaurants or bars anymore; they only feel safe when their own doors are shut and bolted.  Everyone is touched, in some personal way, by the violence.  For one, I do not want to live in a place like that, where murder is the norm rather than the exception.  And I assume that it takes a community a long time to heal from a constant foreboding of violence after their safety is threatened in such drastic ways as we have seen lately.  The other response, as outlined below, is to develop “tough skin” and ignore the tragedies around you. 

This book shows us how an American grapples with this barrage of bloodshed in his adopted “hometown.”  Powell writes that he hoped Juarez could have become his new home; he moved there indefinitely in December 2009.  For me, the most moving scene in the book is when Powell decides he needs to leave Juarez because the violence is beginning to be so commonplace that he is barely moved by an insidious cartel bombing- “world-class terror-” that happened two blocks from him as he watches a soccer game on TV.  After the attack, he gets a call from a friend of his, a Mexican pastor named Manuel, who visited the site of the bombing, just to make sure that it really happened.  I’ll quote some of the exchange, and Powell’s thoughts, as it is a very human, very poignant response to all this evil he breathed in (long-ish, but really interesting):

“Everybody’s acting like nothing happened!”  he (the pastor) shouts.  It’s five full days after the bombing, an eternity.  I ate at McDonald’s only one day after the consulate murders.  I went running along the river just one day after they dumped federale (federal police officers) body parts up and down my normal route…Five days is five lifetimes in this city, yet Manuel is dismayed to see everything already back to normal….I’m not sure why Manuel gets through to me.  Why I don’t just tell him to get over it and move on like the rest of us.  So much of what I’ve seen has dribbled off my psyche.  I’m Teflon by now…He may have broken through because a man of his age and stature, at least around here, isn’t supposed to be affected, to show weakness or fear.  He tells me it’s not even that the car bombs went off, as unspeakably horrible as they were.  It’s that we are not speaking about them!  As if nothing happened! 

…He gets through to me.  His words—his plea for me to wake up, for all of us to wake up—pierce my calcified skull.  Everything hits me.  Months and months…They dropped two bodies in the drive-through lane of a convenience store and the store stayed open for business.  They murdered that crusading mother, and while we admire her, we remember above all to stay on the line.  They shot up a house full of high school students.  They kidnapped, tortured, and murdered a groom on his wedding day…They murdered a doctor who’d rushed to the scene (of the car bombing) because he felt he could do some good.  They killed him.  They fucking killed him.  And I ran a 10K on that same street the very next day.  A 10K!  A road race!  How ridiculous is that?!  It all hits me, and it hurts me, and I’m feeling pain and the pain is telling me I’m not yet dead.  That somewhere inside me I’m conscious and human and still sane.  And by the time Manuel and I end our conversation, I’m feeling my own tears.  And when I click off the phone they just come…I open up and I cry and I cry and I cry.  And my face is so twisted and ugly even my dog is wondering what’s wrong with me…and I know I’ve got to get out.  I can’t stay here.  I’ve got to go.”                 

Powell’s response is his own, but I can connect with it.  Maybe it’s because I don’t watch the news often enough that I can still cry when I see televised faces wrenched in grief and fear.  But I know I can only take so much pain—and then I feel like I have to leave other tragedies unacknowledged or under-stated, so I keep myself sane.  However, I know that one of the beautiful gifts we can give each other is empathy and presence, feeling the pain of another human being, in their physical presence.  When global and local violence and tragedy desensitize us to a grand degree, I think we may lose the ability to be to others as Christ was and will be to us: incarnational.  Present.  In our flesh, feeling our unique sorrows, dying our death.  This violence of late (and really, of always) is horrific, and I do not think we will be imitating Jesus without letting it affect us, in some meaningful way.  Of course, we have to have some Teflon to our constitution, lest the barrage of sorrow keep us in bed forever or push us to end our lives once for all.  It is the paradox of our existence, hitting me in the face once again.  We are neither to be so strong that tragedy does not move us, nor so weak that we cannot rise up in the face of pain.  We must be joyful, because life is not only or ultimately pain (think: bodily resurrection of Jesus at Easter, as a harbinger of ours as well), and is full of good gifts given over and over.  But we must identify with our fellow human beings laboring under great sorrow, even though it causes us great pain.  Joy and sorrow- the two inescapable realities in this earth, where we groan inwardly, awaiting the great hope of resurrection and restoration.  

I guess the question I’m still asking myself is: how do we respond to far-away tragedies that we will never be present to empathize with in a physical sense?  Powell, living in Juarez, saw dead bodies, heard the stories of countless people who lost a family member or friend, was a few blocks away during a (drug)-terrorist bombing.  I have not had that type of experience.  I think the feeling of pain and anger and overwhelming sadness he experienced at devastating and local bloodshed was good, and he made a tough and personal decision to embrace the pain and leave Juarez, realizing living in Juarez deadened his human responses.  It is harder for me to know what is a healthy, sustainable response to the tragedy that strikes further from home.  I have a feeling that there is not a right answer.  My musings have brought me at least thus far: we should fight to keep responding in some emotional manner to violence and disaster when we are told of it, so that when tragedy strikes our friends and neighbors, we are incarnational: empathetic, present, and not emotionally deadened to the particular form of pain experienced on our front porch.    

Monday, April 15, 2013

Travel of Late

Good day, fine friends.  

I have been gallivanting around the U.S. and reading some very interesting books.  The most succinct manner of describing the last few weeks.  Visiting with people and refreshing my overall health through reading are two of the main goals of my "sabbatical," and I feel grateful for the opportunities afforded to enjoy both at a deep level.  

Over Easter weekend, I was extremely blessed to reunite with some of the dearest people to grace the DC Metro area.  Monica (who was a HUGE part of my DC story-- a God-send I could not have hoped for) flew in from her home and work in Orange County, CA and we strolled around the Capitol and Eastern Market on a picturesque DC Saturday.  (As a Californian, the weather wasn't as shocking to her).  Tyler and I were able to worship at our former body in Arlington on Easter Sunday, and eat lots of great meals over the weekend and reconnect with precious people that defy my ability to describe in this post.  Leading up to, during, and after this weekend, Tyler and I marveled at how special that time in our life was.  DC is just a unique place to live, full of traffic and protests, beauty and humidity.  It was unique to be able to join a church in the "planting" phase, affording us opportunities to know the people very well who also were a part of the "plant."  And, crazy as it is, we developed a beautiful and lasting bond with our landlords.  Again, it was strange to stay, "Yes, we're going back and going to stay with our landlords."  They're our friends, but most of our other friends know them as "the great landlords."  I also am truly thankful that half of our closest North Carolina friends also currently live in DC and make it that much easier to see them more often!  

I was wiped out after this go-go weekend, but a day and a half later, headed out to Austin, Texas, with Tyler again.  Wow!  Austin is beautiful...this is not the terrain I anticipated in Texas.  We were able to see the dear Downeys (who are planning on moving to work among Arabic-speaking people), visit UT, and connect with some great Egyptian-Americans (who speak Arabic)--- which was the perfect storm that pushed me towards buying Rosetta Stone-Arabic at the Dallas Airport kiosk.  Not a complete impulse buy, but not something I was planning on caving on.  (I'm ready for my immersion period, Monica!) 

And no, Mom, all the moving around and learning exotic languages does not mean I'm a secret agent.  Yet.  

Tomorrow, more travels...this time of the car-driving variety.  I am heading to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to connect with dear Jenna.  I am really looking forward to seeing her, D, and her little girl, as lil' Lila was only 4 months the first and last time we met, and now she's a toddler!   

This is getting too long.  I will wait to process some of my reading in a future post.  

Teaser of current reading topics: introversion, drug war in Juarez, history of Protestant denominations in America, fiction exploring Catholicism, unexpected pregnancies, and home life in medieval Norway, Deuteronomy and Acts, and mourning the end of Bleak House.




Wednesday, April 3, 2013

One Year Anniversary: Post Dedicated to my Favorite Mom- Mine!

A sweet pic taken 2.5 weeks ago.  My Aunt Candy next to Dad at Candy and Tom's surprise birthday party, one day before Mom's 57th Birthday!  Mom is looking gorgeous and, most importantly, has survived one year post-diagnosis of Stage IV Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
Today is a special and sober and celebratory day.

April 3, 2012: Mom went in for a colonoscopy, to check out her stomach pain.  A tumor was found.
And then, my mom's life dramatically changed.  As did many other's lives who love her.  

I really marvel at this story.  I tend to be a dramatic person (slight cough to assent that perhaps 'tend to' understates it a bit), but, there is more drama in this story than I could ever create.

First of all, Mom was diagnosed and underwent her entire treatment plan while Tyler and I were living back with my parents in my childhood home.  Considering the fact that we were living on the East Coast for 3.5 years preceding our stint back in Roca, it does seem like impeccable timing to force us out of DC and into hopeful opportunities in Lincoln, only 2 months before cancer loomed large in our lives.  However, for Tyler, the hoped-for job never materialized in Lincoln or nearby areas, and we spent 11 months in Roca eke-ing out an existence and trying to bounce-back from consistent job search defeats.  It does seem like the principal reason for living in Lancaster County for 2012 was to be a part of the community project of being with Mom during her chemo treatments and stem cell transplant.  And I would never trade being present during those dark days.  There were so many gifts in the suffering and uncertainty, and Mom (and the rest of my family) became more precious to me than I could imagine.

Even though we were in Nebraska during that time, Tyler and I were seriously considering accepting a job in India working with IJM for June 2012-June 2013.  We had the offer extended, and wrestled over it for a good month.  Our deadline to accept or decline was April 2nd, 2012.  We felt awful about our decision to say no, seriously considered calling back the next day and accepting.  On the morning of April 2nd, there was a lack of peace; to say "no" felt very much like we had only the slightest millimeter of an urge in the negative direction.  It only took about 30 hours post-decision to understand why, mysteriously, we each felt tugged "just enough" to turn down IJM.  April 3rd's colonoscopy results gave us our "six-month" plan.

That's just my angle of the surprise and heartbreak of early April 2012.  There are countless other "dramatic" stories from others I could tell from the last year, that do not seem like coincidences, but providences.

You all know that Mom is doing pretty well right now.  One year later.  I cannot believe we have the privilege of still living together on this earth.  When the eventual diagnosis was Stage IV Mantle Cell Lymphoma, I certainly thought she may not be with us on Christmas 2012.  Or her birthday on March 17.  Or one year later.

I could write so much about this past year regarding Mom's journey.  I am afraid I would lose all my readership if I wrote all that was in my heart--- meaning you would grow weary of scrolling and looking at a screen.  However, I do want to express a bit of what I have learned watching my Mom.

My Mom was courageous to a degree I did not know possible.  She endured so much trauma on her body, in order to hopefully achieve a cure and/or a longer life.  She continued to care so deeply for others during her battle, often praying as much as her mind could focus when she lay on her hospital bed or our Roca couch.  She had days of tears and frustration, but overall her year has been marked by an overwhelming amount of positivity, hope, and gratitude to God and others.   I have always considered my Mom one of my nearest and dearest friends and confidants, and my respect and love for her have only deepened when tested by this cancerous fire.  When things were really bad at the beginning of her treatment, I would beg God to just get her through this day, or out of the hospital back to home.  Our Triune God answered so many specific prayers in an encouraging manner, that I have been bold to pray for more decades for Mom (over and above the "just help her survive this day" prayers), and that those decades may even be marked by a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle.

Mom continues reminding me that no one knows the number of their days, and we are all staring death in the face, if we truly acknowledged that.  That is a tough truth.  Nevertheless, having Mom in a near complete remission state feels, in one sense, like Lazarus being raised back to life.  I experienced the reality of Mom's mortality in a unique way this year, and am living today with the undeserved and unbelievable gift of a sweet, present (albeit 3 hours away) beautiful Marcia Henning still blessing me beyond measure as only a Mother can do.  I love you, Mom.

And thank you, Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.  You have spared our family and friends sorrow upon sorrow by healing Mom during this past year and You have given Your world the ultimate living hope in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Thank you, all of you, who have prayed, however little or much, for Mom.  Thank you, all of you, who showered tangible and intangible kindnesses upon me and my family during this past year.  Thank you, nurses and doctors, for your caring bedside manner, and your extremely competent skill.

Here's to the start of year two.  I hope and pray for continued healing, strength, and abiding joy for Mom!                    

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marilynne Robinson's novels

Today marked the end of my journey through Robinson's three novels, Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home.  I had read Gilead during law school and enjoyed it, but I did not savor it.  What better time than retirement (as some have named this phase in my life) to really "feast" on her work.  (Not least because Gilead and Home both take place in Iowa, my land of exile.)

My English PhD pal Emily, who introduced me to Robinson with the recommendation of Gilead, directed me to the fact that Robinson waited 24 years to write her second novel.  That is either serious writer's block or measured restraint.

Gilead, her second novel, is indeed worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.  It is the most life-giving fiction I have read from a living voice in our culture.  Reading the story is to feel blessed to be alive, and I agree with the back-of-the-cover reviews that it will be one I return to again and again- as I've already read it twice in three years.  I cried many times throughout each of her novels, but the emotion was not one of despair, but of sweet, sad response to the "twining of joy and sorrow" on this earth (quoted material heard first from Mike Hsu...thanks for that emotive phrase).

As I'm returning Housekeeping and Home to the Des Moines Public Library today, I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from these works.

"Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it.  God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes.  And while He was on earth He mended families.  He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again.  He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest Him-- a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail.  

(Housekeeping, emphasis mine).

"Fealty to kin, actual and imagined, and the protection of them, possible or not, were their father's pride, his strongest instinct, and his chief source of satisfaction, frustration, and anxiety.  He had drawn himself up so that this words would have the force and dignity of their intent, but his eyes were closed and his mouth had turned down and the rectitude of his posture exposed his narrow shoulders and his fallen throat.  Jack gazed at him as if his father were the apparition of all the grief and weariness he had cost him, still gallant in his weakness, ready to be saddened again, to be burdened again."

(Home, when Robert Boughton, elderly and ailing Presbyterian minister, addresses his estranged son Jack about a delicate matter; Jack has struggled with alcoholism and stealing and been away from his family 20 years). 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Ahhh, Greece.  You are lovely.  Tyler and I would not recommend a Norway/Greece vacation to many people; we chose polar opposite parts of Europe which required too many hours of travel.  On top of the kilometers we had to endure, a snowstorm in central Europe re-routed us ultimately to Istanbul, Turkey to get to Athens.  We arrived 6 hours later than scheduled, so unfortunately, we chose to toss out our side-trip to Delphi.  Sad, considering how beautiful it appeared in photos.

Anyways, the above picture was taken from the rooftop of our Athens Gate Hotel, featuring the Acropolis/Parthenon behemoth.  We were impressed at how high up this site was built (you're looking at it from a 8-floor building, and it's obviously much higher.  We were also amazed at how little we knew about Greek/Athenian history - we feel like that may have a little to do with the last-minute nature of the trip.  We stayed two nights in Athens, walked around the major sites, ate incredible Greek food, and inhaled life-destroying second-hand smoke.  On the last note, we asked to be seated in the non-smoking section (weird to be in restaurants with smoke in the first place) and a Grecian promptly lit up in the adjacent table the moment we got settled.  Ah,'s Europe, people.

After Athens, we spent 2 nights in Santorini, an island in the Mediterranean about a 20-minute plane ride from Athens.  Thanks, Charlie Goldberg, for the advice to visit Santorini.  It was simply breathtaking, easily the prettiest place I've been in my life.  I already would like to return.  It did not rain during our days there, but it was windy.  And there are a heckuva lot of stray, tame, clean-ish cats and dogs here (along with Athens).  As the island is pretty much uninhabited in late January, we felt like we had all the wild beauty to ourselves, and became foster-parents to a few of these Santorini animals.

Photo time...and now I think I'm done trip-blogging on Europe.  Unless the people rise up as one and demand more tales and pics.

Pretty much the view as we walked out of our little villa's room.

Oia, about a 20 minute bus ride from where we stayed.  Loved it.

One of our many semi-stray little buddies, enjoying the view.