Monday, May 16, 2016

Struggling to love

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch posits that "the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective." That, combined with the wisdom my best friend Marissa has shared with me - "preach the sermon you yourself need to hear" - means tonight's blog post is more about what I need to learn, and my hope along the way is that someone else, whether you're friend, family, or a stranger on the Internet, will join me in my journey toward trying to have a little more understanding a little less judging. It's a journey on which I frequently stumble and trip and fall.

I am struggling to love. I am struggling to act like I believe I, as a Christ-follower, should. And I am struggling to have mercy and compassion and understanding toward those whom, in my hurt and broken judgement, I do not want to extend Grace.

In short: three of the past four weekends have each beaten me down emotionally, and quite severely. The details of each incident aren't that important, because I'd rather dwell on my response, than the hurt. (Also to be clear: this isn't about "oh poor me." This is about documenting my struggle, because while I wish I had it all figured out, I think it's more edifying to be honest.)

In each case, my natural desire was, and remains: lash out. I've been wronged, after all! Shouldn't I defend myself? Isn't that fair?

It probably is "fair" by most people's definitions. But it's not Jesus-like.

Last week at Upper Room, Stefan (our worship leader, who is preaching for a 4-sermon series this month) presented a beautiful sermon about violence. Not only physical violence; also emotional, sexual, economic (like sanctions against other countries), social, cultural, and psychological. And at the end he talked about what our response, as a Church, and as individual Christians, might look like. I think it's worth sharing:

  • Recognize and confess our own violence.
  • Seek to understand the violence of others instead of condemning it. There's a message they're trying to tell you. It's hard to condemn if you're honest about your own violence.
  • Disrupt the law of necessity. When you put God in the mix, it changes the scenario. For example, we think work is going to give us fullness, and so the Christian response is Sabbath, which cuts off the lie of necessity. Everyone thinks money is going to give us freedom, and Christians instead give, to resist that lie of necessity. We need to do the same with violence.
  • Absorb the violence we deserve and don't return it. The only way to stop the cycle is that it has to stop with someone. This is really hard. This is redemptive for the self.
  • Absorb the violence we don't deserve. This is the picture of Jesus, of the cross. This is redemptive for the world. And the world won't be able to make sense of it. It's the most Christ-like thing we can engage in.

That last one on the list. Wow.

Less than a week after Stefan preached that, I would have the opportunity to put it into practice.

And let me tell you, it sucks.

It's going through withdrawal from an addiction I never realized I had: self-righteousness. Fighting against a deep-seated need to prove why I'm right, and the other person is wrong. Restraining myself every hour from the urge to whip out my phone and start drafting a scathing response.

In the end, my addiction to "rightness" was defeated only by God's grace, not my own strength. This frustrates me, because it makes me dependent (on God), and I don't like knowing I'm dependent. (though isn't that exactly what Christian doctrine teaches me I should be, even from the earliest stories in my book of scriptures?)

Even though I'd given myself a hard-pass on seeking reconciliation, God hadn't. I rarely invoke the "God Called me to such-and-such," because I think the words lose their power when over-used. This is one case, though, where I believe I can say God was tugging at my heart to seek peace. I can say that because, well, it didn't come from inside of me, and it certainly didn't come from my spiritual enemies, so that really leaves only one other source. With this intent in mind, last night at church I asked two separate prayer-warriors to pray over me, because I knew I didn't have strength to fight the devils whispering constant streams of anger into my mind.

While the final outcome is yet to be determined (both in terms of this specific relationship, and in general about my addiction to proving myself right), I can say that for last night, the prayers worked. I was able to collect my thoughts into a letter that turned out calm, thoughtful, compassionate, thankful, and also, sincerely apologetic for the wrongs I had committed. How the other person responds is well beyond my control. I only can control my own words and actions, and the choice to respond with love, rather than escalating violence.

I even got to share my story with a coworker today, too, and who knows the reaching effect that may have in his interactions with others?

Jacob's Well played this song a few weeks ago, and the lyrics have been resonating around my head ever since. It's well-worth a listen, if you need a few minutes' break from the day:

I used to think I needed all the answers.
I used to need to know that I was right
I used to be afraid of things I couldn't cover up in black and white.
But now I just want to look more like love..."

Monday, May 09, 2016

Jesus in McDonald's

A couple weeks ago I flew to visit a customer site. I had a bit of a drive from the airport, and after consuming a large quantity of juice and water I was feeling some pressure to give those liquids safe passage out of my body. And also I was hungry. It was getting late, and I didn't want to spend a lot of time at a fancier sit-down restaurant, so I made the next-most-responsible and healthy adult decision: McDonald's.

As I stood admiring the lists of tasty (and I'm sure healthy) food items, I observed a man and woman ahead of me in line, wearing bright red shirts with ginormous black lettering on both front and back proclaiming "JESUS SAVES". I eyed them up, wondering what flavor of ... well let's be honest the first word I thought of was "whackos"... Christians they might be. But the truth is that at the same time as I gawked, a feeling of peace descended upon me in that place.

I chose a table nearby them where I could casually observe (there's nothing creepy about that at all, right?), and what I saw every time I looked over were two people so incredibly joy-filled, that I was forced to start asking myself "what am I missing in my own faith? I want some of THAT!"

After consuming my probably-wasn't-that-healthy-for-me-after-all meal, and channeling my inner Elwood P. Dowd, I approached the red shirts, apologized for interrupting their conversation, and inquired, "I have to ask: obviously you're missionaries, what're you doing?" (blog text doesn't emote, so to clarify: this last clause was asked with a tone of genuine curiosity, not accusatorially).

Their names were Jerry and Cheryl, they had just married 6 months ago, and they felt God calling them to embark upon a weekend trip up into the city with nothing but their sleeping bags, to minister to the people they met in the community, and sleep under the stars like Jesus did in His ministry. That day already they'd witnessed to a dozen or more people (in English and in fluent Spanish!), many of whom experienced God in those moments and chose to embark on their own Christian journeys. That afternoon while visiting a yard sale, after the seller asked the story behind their shirts, she donated to them two hiking backpacks to carry their things. Jerry shared with me story after story of God's provision in their journey, and it reminded me of the verse about "take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (citation: in the bible somewhere, in red text). I shared with them about my sense of peace in the restaurant, simply being near their presence. And Jerry gave me the Words he felt God speaking to him for me. We talked for probably half an hour or more. (and, living up to my Elwood P. Dowd aspirations, we ended with me saying "here, let me give you one of my cards...")

I consider our meeting a Divine appointment, a spiritually-uplifting encounter I hadn't realized how much I needed until afterward. And having had that encounter, I wish I carried an aura like Jerry and Cheryl do, one that brings peace to the people around me. (I could also describe my coworker Tom in this way, for he is the most serene man I've ever met; and I'm not just saying that because I know he reads my blog :) This is something I hope to improve on, because while perhaps some of the time I do [bring peace], I fear that too often I instead succumb to negativity, or at the least, intensity, which lends itself not toward peaceful and serene living. God, grant me grace, that I would be as full of You as were my brother and sister whom I met in a McDonald's two weeks ago.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Book of Job as written by a lawyer

I follow a legal humor blog called Lowering the Bar, not because I love law but simply because I find the guy's writing style hilarious. I also love the Torah / Old Testament book of Job (which is why any time a sermon or article mentions Job, it instantly grabs my attention... and sets my expectations high, because I like to make-believe I'm extremely knowledgeable about the subject). So you can imagine my excitement about today's LtB headline: "And Then Job Spake, and Said, Let a Restraining Order Issue Against the Lord".

After stifling giggles from my cubicle (for example, this sentence: "The reporter apparently has a transcript of the hearing, and yet has failed to link it, which hath caused me to rent my garments and wail in frustration (working at home today)."), I followed a link at the bottom of the article with the words, "If Great Literary Works Had Been Written by Lawyers." Here I found a 2-page Lawyerly retelling of the book of Job that was hysterical (namely, Job's now-infamous words, "Indeed, this sucketh") and also, as all great parodies should, showed a deeply intimate knowledge of the original source text.

As I read Job's law firm woes, I starting picturing the Venn diagram of how extremely narrow a population this particular piece of prose might appeal to: lawyers (and also real people) who enjoy law, have a sense of humor, and who are at least passingly familiar with the book of Job (aka likely "religious" people). While I have no solid statistics, I suspect that total number world-wide to be ... rather small. Yet Kevin wrote the piece anyway, and I think that's beautiful.

My friend Michelle writes frequently on her blog how vitally important it is for authors to write the stories that are yearning to burst onto the page, rather than wasting time worrying how many readers may read them:

"You love writing fantasy? Then write it. You have a passion for Westerns? Pen a saddle-buster of a tale. The point is that whatever genre makes your heart go pitter-patter is the genre you should be writing."
- From Writer Off The Leash

Which, from my view, is exactly what Kevin did. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading the end product.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


I'm'a let you finish, but...

One of my pet peeves in being interrupted by the person I'm talking to. I know I do it myself, too, sometimes, though, so I'll confess to a minor hypocrisy there.

One of my pet peeves of greatest egregiousness, though, is being interrupted by someone else who wasn't ever part of the conversation (and wasn't invited in). Now to clarify: it's not that they're interrupting for the sake of contributing something into the conversation (a fact-correction, or a jog-your-memory when you're struggling to think of a movie title, for example; those interruptions I will oftentimes value). I'm talking about, just to use an example from this past Sunday, when I'm listening to a story from a friend after church and a stranger-to-me comes up, interjects him/herself into our conversation, and begins talking to my friend about a completely different topic, cutting off my conversation and excluding me.

If you pay attention, you'll start seeing people do this all. the. time. At church, at work, at weddings, in the lunchroom, basically anywhere and everywhere social. It irks me when I see it happen to others, and drives me nuts when it happens to me.

When did this behavior become an acceptable social norm?

I've struggled for years about what to do in this situation. On the rarer occasion I'm the person who the newcomer is engaging, rather than being the odd-man out, then I tell them, hang on, I was just talking with so-and-so, let me finish that conversation up first (or, if the newcomer brings urgent news that must be addressed immediately, then I'll apologize to my first friend, and promise to follow-up with them later; this is less preferable, but sometimes necessary).

But most of the time I'm the one not being approached, which typically leaves me standing by uncomfortably until the 3rd party finishes and walks away, allowing person #1 and I to resume. By then I've wasted 5 minutes waiting (and awkwardly eavesdropping) on another conversation to resolve in order to continue the conversation I was already having. Frankly, I'm sick of this solution.

From now on, I think I'll try implementing some new approaches:

1) Walking away. Clearly, if my friend thinks the newcomer's conversation is more interesting than the one we were having, well, then sadly the odds are they were already disengaged from our conversation anyway.

2) That solution won't work all of the time, though, because sometimes I still need information from the friend I was talking to. In that case, I need to work on a polite and direct way of asking the newcomer, "may we finish our conversation first, or is this urgent?" Actually, that right there might do it...

People checking their phones in the middle of a conversation is also a pet peeve, but I've probably ranted enough for one evening.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Engagement update

As you hopefully heard, Alissa and I got engaged a few weeks ago. Many thanks to those of you who read through that previous blog post - I know it was exceptionally long! And despite its length, there are still a few details I forgot to include, so I'd like to address those now.

Detail 1: timeline to engagement

Early on in Alissa's and my relationship, we shared what we each thought a likely/reasonable timeline was for dating before getting engaged. Her opinion was 6-12 months, whereas mine was 1-2 years. These were general guidelines, not something we'd necessarily lock ourselves into. For Alissa, her timeline was shorter because she pictured a short time of dating, followed by a longer (>1 year) engagement; for me, I held the opposite viewpoint: a lengthier time of dating, followed by a short (3-6 months) engagement. I know it was a struggle for Alissa waiting for me to reach an emotional readiness for engagement, though in my defense, once I was ready, I acted immediately, and this allowed our official engagement date to fall on the one and only day that overlapped both our definitions of dating length: exactly 12 months / 1 year.

Detail 2: after she said "yes"

Right after Alissa said "yes," as soon as I stood up from kneeling, we embraced and she exclaimed "I get to keep you!" It made me misty-eyed. We have our disagreements, and we have our own issues to work through, but I love this woman.

Detail 3: the price of her ring

My mom suggested it might have been tacky of me to post publicly the price of Alissa's ring. I disagreed. Neither Alissa nor I believe an expensive, multi-thousand dollar ring is required to prove your love. She picked the ring she wanted, and it happened to be $100 (actually less, on sale). She thinks it's beautiful, and that's what matters. And for me, I chose to post the price publicly because it combats the materialistic notion that the more expensive and fancy the ring, the more you love someone. Alissa has four younger sisters who, presumably, will one day get married, and this is a teachable moment.

Now, a few new frequently asked questions (FAQs) that have come up in the past few weeks:

Do you feel any different now that you're engaged?

No, not really. Nothing much has changed. If anything I probably see Alissa less now than before we were engaged, because she's very busy helping students as the school year wraps up.

Did you get the ring resized?

Yes! Despite what Zales' website said about this particular ring being non-resizable, the guy in-store said "I absolutely guarantee it is, and I never guarantee things in this business." About one week later it was ready for pick-up, and now Alissa's wearing a correctly-sized ring that fits and doesn't fall off!

What church will you be involved in?

We will each continue being involved in our current church communities (her: Grace Fellowship; me: Jacob's Well and Upper Room) for the foreseeable future. We will also continue to be involved in the young adults bible study at Alissa's church, rather than transitioning to the "young marrieds" group, which is really targeted more at "young families". Years from now when we have kids, we agree we want to have one unified church for the family, and will need to negotiate at that point where that might be. That transition will likely necessitate church-shopping, because Alissa wouldn't feel 100% comfortable at either of my churches, and I wouldn't feel comfortable at hers. That is a decision we get to put off for now.

Have you picked a date for the wedding yet?

Yes and no. We have a date we would like, but nothing is confirmed yet. Originally we were looking at next summer, because this summer would be too soon, and a school-year wedding would be difficult given that Alissa's a teacher and therefore has very limited time off. However, like I wrote before Alissa is afraid that if we wait over a year, I might get cold feet and run away, so she suggested Thursday, December 8 of this year.

Why that day? Because it's my birthday! My family has a tradition of getting married on or near birthdays: my parents married on my mom's birthday, my grandparents married 4 days after my grandma's birthday, and my aunt and uncle married 3 days before my aunt's birthday.

The week of December 8 happens to be the beginning of a new trimester, so it should be no issue for Alissa getting a couple days off. And then, by the end of Thursday night, the wedding is done, leaving us a three-day weekend to ourselves. This as opposed to a Saturday night wedding, which leaves only Sunday - barely enough time to catch one's breath before returning to work.

We were all set on this idea until I talked with my best friend Marissa (who will also be my Best Woman in the wedding ["best woman" other than Alissa, of course]), who suggested a Thursday night wedding might not be in the best interest of the guests. After I did some Googling about "Thursday vs Friday wedding," it appears the entire Internet hates the idea of a Thursday. So we are now eyeing Friday, December 9, 2016, as our leading candidate. Since we don't have a venue for-sure picked out yet (though we're narrowing the list), I'd suggest penciling, but not pen-ing, that date into your calendars.

Okay great but will I be invited???

The answer is still "maybe". We've compiled a preliminary guest list, divided into four sub-lists:

  • Have to invite (family and wedding party)
  • Really, really want to invite
  • Want to invite (but could be cut if needed due to venue size limitations)
  • Possibly (friends we haven't talked to in a while, but would be fun to invite if space allows)

Including kids, we're just shy of 400 people total from all these lists. How many we get to invite (factoring in a standard 25% decline rate) depends on which venue we choose, and how good of a deal we can strike with a caterer.

What's your wedding mission statement?

Okay no one has actually asked this question ever, but you should! Marissa gave us a book called "A Practical Wedding Planner," and the first task the author suggests is creating a mission statement for our wedding day. She explains how useful this will be later in the planning process when we are mired in muddy details, to be able to look at and ask, "how is this decision helping further our mission?"

After throwing a few drafts back and forth, Alissa and I crafted this as our wedding mission statement:

Joining together our two lives, celebrating with our community of family and friends, and focusing on God, service, and social responsibilty.

Hopefully, you will see these elements intentionally reflected in all aspects of our ceremony and reception.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Living through history

My future sister-in-law interviewed me this afternoon for a school project, in which she will collect oral histories from three people of different generations, about how they experienced September 11. On the surface level I enjoyed sharing my story - I think most people crave and value being listened to, and for me it was affirming that she believed I had something valuable to say. Recollecting the day also made me misty-eyed, because even though I had no direct connection whatsoever to New York or any of the victims, I think most of us who lived through the day feel some sort of emotional tie because of a sense of national unity.

But I'm not here to talk about September 11. What really struck me was the realization that my sister-in-law is [approximately] the same age now that I was on September 11, and that 15 years ago, she was 2. For her, September 11 has always been "history," which was a bit of an "I'm old" moment for me, much in the same way I like to remind my friend John how old he is whenever he starts talking about the 80s. Or, put a little more sympathetically, whenever someone 15 years my senior mentions Chernobyl or Challenger, both of which happened within months of my birth, and therefore for me have always been "history" of which I have no personal recollection.

It's a fascinating feeling.

For more entertaining adventures in the "I feel old" category, I always recommend reading Beloit College's "Mindset List", which provides "a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall." Check out the 2019 list here:

Friday, April 08, 2016

Jeremy's Engaged!

On this past Monday, April 4, 2016, I asked Alissa Carsten to marry me, and, spoiler alert: she said "yes."

Now I must digress. After years spent opening Facebook only to find another relationship status, engagement, marriage, or baby post, and longing so very much to be in that situation myself, I know that my own engagement announcement may come as yet one more stab of loneliness to a reader craving their own relationship and wondering "when will my time come? Will it ever come? Why God why?" And I desperately wish I had any words to make that time of searching and longing easier to bear and less painful. The truth is I don't, and so if you find yourself in that position today, I won't patronize you with trite sayings whose only effect is to make the sayer feel better, rather than the recipient. Waiting sucks. Not knowing when or even if you'll ever meet that forever man or woman, sucks.

With that acknowledgement I hope you can at the same time rejoice with me in my own celebration. As you know I have longed for my Forever Woman for many years, suffered a number of heartbreaks along the way, loved, lost, made mistakes, learned lessons. Today I'm able to joyfully announce my engagement.

Table of Contents

Our story, in brief
Pre-proposal: my family
The List
Pre-proposal: her family
The proposal
The ring
Telling family and close friends
The camels

Our story, in brief

Alissa and I met on eHarmony last year, and went on our first date on April 4, 2015 at Hidden Falls. Even though Alissa was "Girl #20" from when I'd started keeping track of first dates, I dressed up in my best "first date" outfit, one recently picked out for me by my friend Hannah: skinny blue khakis, a red & blue button-down plaid shirt, and contacts instead of glasses. Because I was so dapper (and sans glasses), Alissa almost didn't recognize me in real life! (now to be fair, her eHarmony profile pictures were all pretty blurry so I wasn't 100% sure what she looked like either until we met in person)

Our first date was at 2:27 p.m. (because I think picking times on the hour or half hour is too boring, and naming an unconventional time makes me more memorable), and as she drove into the parking lot I was leaning up against a tree, looking "hipster, suave, and debonair" (her words). We walked and walked and walked, working our way through your typical first date get-to-know-you questions, for about an hour and a half. I tease her for this now in retrospect, but at the time Alissa maintained about 3 feet of personal bubble space between us as we walked (I swear I'd showered recently!) - she told me later this was because she thought I was too cool for her. Ha! I can hear my friends Pam and Wendy both laughing from here. Clearly, little did Alissa know me yet if she thought I was too cool! Apparently I made up for this on our second date, when my geekier side came out.

As our first date came to a close, I'd not seen or heard any red flags, so following my own rule of "if there are no red flags I'll always ask for a second date," I asked Alissa if I could take her out again. (Later I learned she was surprised to get asked for a second date, because, again, she thought I was too cool; and yes, I'm going to get as much mileage from that as I can :) She said yes, and on-the-spot we set up a time to get together again. Our second date was at Mall of America: dinner at Tucci Benucch (a favorite in my family), window shopping, and mini-golf at Moose Mountain. Unbeknownst to me until later, our second date almost didn't happen because of some medical emergencies in Alissa's family; she went out with me anyway, and then went straight from our second date to visit her family in the hospital (everyone's okay now, don't worry).

Our third date was to the Walker Art Center's sculpture garden, our fourth date was to see the new Cinderella movie, and then beyond that, well, it's history. Even from our first "monthiversary," we've tried to do something special on the 4th every month. As those months have gone on, we've settled into a very comfortable relationship, with more than a few Old Married Couple™ moments along the way. We've taken a couple trips to Wisconsin Dells to play in the water parks, and got to vacation in DisneyWorld with my parents last October. We've had some disagreements, some "heated discussions," and lots of moments of laughter. Alissa has fit well into my various friend groups, my parents love her (she's a teacher, my mom's a teacher, instant connection), and she enjoys board games and Star Wars. What more could I ask for? :) She's become my best friend, someone who balances me, someone I emotionally love, and also choose to love, because I do believe in the long run, that love is a choice more than an emotion. I first said the words "I love you" in late July, I think, right after I'd come back from one of my trips to Saudi Arabia - we were in the car driving to ValleyFair the day after I'd flown home, and I ruminated how there's never a perfect time to tell someone how you feel, and so I've learned not to wait for that perfect time. She returned the sentiment.

It wasn't all unicorns and puppies and rainbows, though. In September, after returning from my third trip to Saudi, we had an argument that, I learned later, nearly cost our relationship (the argument was about how soon I'd be ready to get engaged - I did not respond in the most loving way). This created a rough patch for the next several weeks until we got to DisneyWorld - Alissa worried we might end up breaking up while in DisneyWorld, but the trip ended up helping heal our relationship. That's not to say there were no rough patches afterward, but for me - an introvert - learning that I could be around someone pretty much 24/7 for over a week straight, and not get sick of her, was a huge green flag in the relationship. (side note: for anyone who's met me in the last 5 years, it might be hard to believe I'm an introvert, because I can be very outgoing and, well, loud; but, it's true: I'm an introvert at heart, and need regular healthy doses of alone-time to recharge).

This past December I was counseling a friend over a breakup, and he asked me, "if you and Alissa broke up what would you do to get over that?" First of all I realized that I would actually take my own advice that I was giving my friend - I think that's always a good feeling to realize you'd follow your own advice. But secondly I realized I would be quite heartbroken if Alissa disappeared from my life, and I didn't want to even try imagining life without her. I realized that, for more than just a romantic sense, I choose to love her, because she is a good influence on me: she prevents me from making irresponsible financial decisions, she shows me how to love people that I might rather not love, she encourages me (words of encouragement is definitely one of her love languages), she accepts me for who I am, accepts that I love my stuffed animals, and she doesn't try to convert me to vegetarianism; we work well together, handle conflict respectfully and are able to communicate effectively, even when emotions are high. I'm sure that there will be days of more intense disagreement ahead, but seeing how we handle the little stuff, and the medium stuff, gives me confidence in how we will be able to handle the really big stuff.

Anyway, I realized all that during this phone call with my friend, and that put me on the path toward eventually being ready to get engaged. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster with a lot of "am I sure?" moments along the way, but I'll spare you all those details, because they really don't matter now. Though I will throw out there: huge thank you to my friend John, who coached me through the ups, downs, and in-betweens. (Alissa adds her thank yous, for talking me down from the break-up cliff more than once)

Pre-proposal: my family

Throughout the relationship, my parents did a phenomenal job of not prying, even though I'm sure they were super curious how things were going between me and Alissa.

A couple months ago, I had dinner with my parents to let them know I was working my way toward being ready to talk with Alissa about engagement, and ask did they have any concerns. They did not. They expressed their approval of Alissa, their happiness that things were going well, and that was that. Again two weeks ago, I took them out for lunch, this time to let them know I'd made my decision, I was going to engage in this conversation (pardon the pun :) with Alissa, and if they had any concerns or red flags, now would be the time to voice those. Otherwise, I asked for their blessing, which they gave heartily and joyfully.

The next day I had dinner with my Uncle Mark and Aunt Lisa, who have helped mentor me in the past through difficult decisions; it was a great dinner, because I probably learned more about their marriage and lives in that couple hour conversation than in the past 20 years of knowing them! In the end they had no red flags, they really liked Alissa and specifically appreciated how she interacted with their daughter (my cousin) at family dinners, and gave me their blessing.

With my family blessings in hand, a few days later (at what Alissa tells me was possibly the worst timing ever) I texted her to say, I'm ready to start going through The List.

The List

Early on Alissa made clear to me that she did not want engagement to be something that happened to her, but rather that she wanted to be actively involved in the process. Specifically this took the form of what I will hereinafter refer to as, "The List." The List was a two and a half page list of questions (double-spaced at least, whew!) that Alissa had prepared for us earlier in our relationship, to ask me once I decided I was ready to be engaged. None of the questions were necessarily intended to scare either of us away from getting engaged, but rather to make sure we were both truly ready and knew what we were getting ourselves into. Much as I teased her about The List earlier on (because she didn't share it with me until quite recently!), once the questions were finally revealed, I've come now to the opinion that every couple should work through these kinds of questions before committing to getting engaged. (we also did one session of pre-engagement counseling with my pastor, which I also recommend as useful)

A sampling of questions from The List:

  • Why do you like/love me?
  • Why will it work? (meaning: I'd mentioned to her before that I'd previously been invited to a couple weddings where I [accurately] predicted the marriage wouldn't last 5 years; why would our marriage, if Alissa and I got married, be successful?)
  • Why is it me? Do you want to marry me specifically, as opposed to simply getting married in general?
  • Are you truly ready?
  • What will our marriage look like? (church, faith-life, time together/apart, eventually kids)
  • Are you willing to handle my flaws?
  • Am I enough? Don't settle.
  • Do you prefer/want to be single?
  • Are you able to give up all others?
  • Will the timing work?
  • Family issues?
  • How will we handle conflict?
  • Do you see me as a problem that needs to be fixed?
  • Are you truly over past relationships and almost-relationships? Or at least, over them enough?
  • Are you proud of me?
  • Is there anything else from your past that I need to know about?

There were a few more but that gives you a general overview.

When I texted Alissa to let her know I was ready to start tackling The List, it was the night before Easter, a couple days after her great aunt had passed away, and about an hour after Alissa had brought herself to a place of acceptance that engagement for her would be a year or two more away. Turns out the hints I thought I'd been dropping over the last month... were more subtle than I'd intended. So in her words, about the worst timing I could have picked, because now she had to emotionally 180 from "I'm not getting engaged any time soon" to "I'm about to get engaged." This is because, as she'd warned me previously: once we worked through The List of questions, I would only have about 2-3 weeks to pop the official question afterward, or else, in her words, "it will not go well for you." Lesson: best not to toy with someone's emotions.

On Easter night, as I drove home from my evening church, I called Alissa and we started going through the questions. We got through the introductory remarks (setting ground rules like, "I can take a temporary pass on a question if I need to think about my answer for a few hours or a day before responding," and, "the purpose of the questions is to make sure we're both ready, but not because either of us are looking for deal-breakers," and, "if any deal-breakers do unexpectedly come up, we will spend additional time talking through those before making any long-lasting decisions in either direction") and the first two questions on The List above. While Alissa's intention was only to ask the questions, I made her answer them in return, too, after I'd given my schpiels.

The List then went on hold for a week because of schedules and other conversations that needed to pre-empt it. We resumed this past Saturday at my house, and in 9 hours successfully worked our way through Alissa's list, my [much shorter] list of considerations suggested by my parents, and even worked in there a Skype call with one of Alissa's best friends whom I'd yet to meet. We both expected The List to generate significantly more pain and tears than it ended up creating, which was a huge relief to both of us. Mind, there were a few difficult questions in there. One of my best qualities, and also most hurtful qualities, is that I'm always honest; Alissa knows that when she asks me a question, I will always give her a straight and honest answer. Even though that can be painful, she's told me she appreciates this aspect of my personality.

Not all answers were painful, though. As part of my answer to Alissa's question, "why me?", I read to her a journal I'd written for myself back in December 2012, years before we met:

I want someone to pray with, to worship with, to serve with. Maybe even join a bible study with. Someone I can invest in deeper than any other. Someone with whom I can share my everything, holding nothing back. Someone who will challenge me to be a better me. Someone I can [learn how to] cook for. Someone who will hold my hand at the doctor's office when I'm scared. Someone who'll encourage me to chase my craziest dreams. Someone who'll roll her eyes but still giggle when years from now I keep saying "Welcome to the Adventure." Someone to decorate the Christmas tree with, and who's Santa Bears will hang out with mine. Someone to kiss under the mistletoe. Someone to dance with 50 years from now in a cruise ship lobby (seen it before). Someone who can deal with my idealism and hopeless romanticism.

While there are many reasons that I love Alissa, many more solid and less "fluffy" than these, I realized when I rediscovered this old journal a few weeks ago that Alissa fit every single one of these "fluffier" attributes I was looking for, and that was a very powerful moment for me, and one worth sharing with her in the midst of the other, more difficult questions.

Pre-proposal: her family

Having made it through The List and mutually deciding we wanted to get engaged, Alissa went home that night and told her parents that I'd be coming over the next afternoon to talk with them, and gave them the heads up what the conversation topic would be.

Even though I knew Alissa's parents liked me, my stomach was still in knots Sunday morning. On the other hand I'd been sick for a week or more at this point, so whether it was illness or worry, I'm frankly not sure. I digress. When I arrived Sunday afternoon, Alissa had sequestered herself upstairs, giving her parents and me the basement to ourselves. I explained that Alissa and I were interested in getting engaged, and I/we would like their blessing. Her parents (Mike and Tammy) and I talked for an hour and a half, them asking me questions like, "tell me about my daughter - what do you like about her, what are some of her strengths, areas for growth?", and the same questions about me. We talked about some of the growth I've seen in Alissa as we've dated, some of the rough edges I still need to work on in my own character, what marriage would look like (like how many grandkids they can expect :), and the importance of cheerleading - up until now, Mike has been Alissa's champion, fighting for her and taking her side; now he would be passing that torch to me. In the end, they offered their blessing, and we closed in prayer.

Afterward, Alissa and I went for a short walk. She was anxious to hear how the conversation had gone, and how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling mostly good, but also knew I would need to grieve the loss of bachelorhood. To this she responded, "what's there to grieve, giving up all the rejections?" Oooh, touché, my dear, touché. I laughed heartily, and then agreed.

The proposal

Alissa and I went through The List on Saturday, I talked with her parents on Sunday, and then Monday, April 4, was our one-year anniversary of our first date. Her parents asked when I was thinking about proposing, so they knew in advance, but Alissa didn't know for certain other than "soon."

Monday after work, Alissa and I met at the Loaves and Fishes where I serve on the first Monday of the month, and we helped serve dinner to 100+ guests. Because part of my answer to The List question "what will our marriage look like" was "service," it was meaningful and important to me that our one-year anniversary (and as I'd known it would be, engagement anniversary) reflect that.

After helping clean up from serving, we headed off to Hidden Falls. This was an unintended adventure in and of itself. As we drove east on Franklin Avenue, I saw a lot of brake lights up ahead, so I pulled off onto some side streets. Alissa, driving separately (because we'd each come directly from work earlier), got stuck in the traffic. At this point I made a choice: I wanted to get to Hidden Falls a couple minutes ahead of her, in order to strike my pose up against the tree where we'd first met, and so I didn't call her to suggest an alternate route. I hadn't realized that in the 20 minutes it took me to arrive at Hidden Falls, she would have only traveled 5 or 10 blocks. During this particular hour, there had been a fatal crash on I94, closing the eastbound lanes in exactly the same stretch of town where we were, and much of that traffic must have been redirected onto Franklin. So, as I pulled into the Hidden Falls parking lot, I get a call from Alissa telling me she's barely moved.

Well drat.

I told her we still had plenty of time before sunset, and I would help navigate her through the unfamiliar-to-her side streets of Minneapolis to get her here. I was grateful for my car's Bluetooth connection to my phone, so I could keep Alissa on the car speakers while I zoomed in my phone's map to give her turn-by-turn directions. (And now thinking about it more in retrospect, I'm also grateful for Alissa's ability to follow my directions, because when one of the women I'd gone out with from eHarmony two years ago got lost, she completely ignored my guidance help!) Less than 20 minutes later Alissa was turning into the parking lot and I was dashing from my car to lean up against that tree, wearing my same red & blue plaid shirt from our first date (except this time carrying a coat, because it was cold outside!). I though I saw Alissa smiling as she pulled into the parking lot and saw me posed there, all suave and debonair :)

When she joined me by the tree, we started walking. I put on my coat, and awkwardly shifted sides walking by Alissa so that the ring box bulging in my coat pocket would be on the opposite side of my body from her. Amazingly, she never noticed the bulge, and thought I was just shifting sides to indicate she wasn't walking quickly enough. Whew!

As we began to walk, I asked her, "tell me about our first date." It kind of made me think of The Notebook, asking for a story out of our own history. We reminisced for a while, maybe 10 minutes, about our first couple dates, what we were thinking about each other, and how after our first date as I drove away I was dictating all sorts of notes about her into my voice recorder so I wouldn't forget details like how many siblings she had and that her favorite color was purple, etc.

When we reached a bend in the path, I suggested we stop for a little bit. It was a nice view of the river, and across the river were some Fort Snelling buildings (Alissa loves history, so this seemed fitting). We stood there and I told her, "I have a story I'd like to tell you, that I haven't told you before." And I will recount that story for you now, dear Reader:

Six months before I met Alissa, I was out for a walk, heartbroken by yet another rejection from a woman I'd had strong feelings for, and I was praying with God, wondering when is it finally going to be my turn? When do I get to meet my Forever Woman? As I listened, I felt JC reassuring me "Jeremy, just wait, I've got someone *amazing* in mind for you. You're gonna love her. Just wait." Along with this, I felt God reassuring me that I was finally ready to be in a lasting relationship, that my work at improving myself emotionally and spiritually had been successful, that I was becoming not only the man I wanted to be, but also the man my future wife needed me to be.

This was followed by a declaration I've shared with very few people up until now: a revelation that the next real relationship I would be in (not just a one-off date, but the next actual relationship), that she would be my one. I questioned back, "Are you serious? Am I hearing you right?" and resolved that for the time being, I couldn't know for sure whether that was God's voice, or my own inner voice telling me what I wanted to hear. Time would vet out the truth.

I went on a few first dates after this, a couple that made it to second dates, but nothing lasting. Until April, when Alissa and I met. A month down the line, when Alissa asked me, "so, are we officially dating?" I took a moment to pause and consider the implications. If I believed the earlier promise was truly from God, and not just my own head-voice making things up, then me agreeing we were dating carried much more weight than just "dating." Unable to conjure any red flags about Alissa, though, I confirmed what she had suggested. And though I gave myself permission to invalidate my previous conversations with God as manifestations of my own design, always in the back of my mind was the thought, "that promise might be true, which means this might well be the woman I marry."

Back to the present, at Hidden Falls, as I finished recounting these stories to Alissa, I followed by saying "and now I have a question for you. I know we said we weren't getting each other presents today, but, I got you something anyway..." It took me a moment to finagle the ring box out of my coat pocket, then I got down on my right knee in front of her, opened the box and presented her the ring, and asked her to marry me.

She said yes.

The ring

The ring didn't fit, adding to my list of imperfections of the day (traffic, cold weather, me being sick).

Long before this, back in September while I was in Saudi Arabia, Alissa and I had exchanged emails about rings. I knew she felt strongly about picking her own ring, because she's picky about jewelry, and even though I wasn't anywhere near ready to be engaged at that time, I wanted to have a ring in my metaphorical back pocket, ready to go when the time eventually did come. In retrospect, I've learned this was not my wisest choice. Despite that I thought I'd explained my rationale, it still set up some expectations on Alissa's end that I wasn't ready to fulfill for many months to come. This caused some conflict. (my friend Ingrid confirmed for me: bad idea to talk about rings until you're actually ready to buy one. Lesson learned).

But in any case, we emailed about rings, and based on her descriptions of what she liked/didn't like, I eventually sent her a link to this one. She replied "I really, really like this one!!!!" and that I need not look any further. She measured her ring size based on their website guidance, but... somehow that didn't quite work, so now we'll need to resize or replace the ring. Not a big deal. My point is simply to say: "not my fault!"

Now, a funny story about that ring. Back in January, Zales emailed me that they were having a 20% off sale site wide, so I could get the $100 ring for only $80. "A sale!" I exclaimed. "I'd better save that money while I can!" Then I thought, "you know, if I buy Alissa some earrings for Valentine's Day, too (while they're on sale, of course), I could save on shipping." So I found a nice pair of amethyst earrings (purple is her favorite color) and got all the way through to the last step of checking out when I remembered, "oh yeah, she's picky about jewelry..." I stopped, emailed her the link to the earrings to ask whether she'd like them (even though it ruined the surprise), and she said she would. She then spent the next month teasing me "are you sure you don't want to order another piece of jewelry [meaning: an engagement ring] with those earrings to save on shipping?" Little did she suspect :)

Telling family and close friends

We walked back to our cars as the sun set, and Alissa presented me with a present (so much for either of us sticking to the "we're not getting each other presents" idea) - a Winnie-the-Pooh music box / jewelry case. It's adorable. A little pink, but it's Winnie-the-Pooh, so I love it. Inside was a handwritten letter - I love Alissa's letters.

We drove our cars to my house, and on the way I called my parents to tell them the news. They knew it was coming, I'd told them the day before, but now that I had an official "yes" I thought they might like to know. I don't recall their exact reactions, other than they sure sounded more surprised than I thought was appropriate! On the other hand, maybe it is surprising that I found someone willing to put up with me! Like I said to Alissa later, "it's not easy dating someone who's perfect, but you've handled it pretty well." She promptly disagreed with my premise :)

When we arrived at my house, we started texting family and close friends. (Even though I made a list over the weekend of all the people I needed to tell before posting the news online, I'm worried I still forgot people, so if that's you, I'm sorry! - it's been a whirlwind week). For many of my texts, I used some verbiage Alissa suggested as a belated semi-April Fool's joke: "Thought you might like to hear some news before it's on Facebook: Alissa is no longer my girlfriend... because now she's my fiancé!" Sounds like I got a couple people really good because of how the message previewed on their phones' lock screens!

And then when texting my friend Peter, I had to re-use the same riddle he'd played on me when he got engaged: "What does Picard say when he wants the Enterprise to go?"

While I was still texting my people, Alissa started to type a text to someone using the exact words and phrasing I had suggested weeks earlier, that had caused a rather tumultuous and heated disagreement between us. I pointed this out, and she uttered the words, "you were right, Jeremy. Jeremy, you were right." Now that I think is a good start to our engagement! Although as a coworker pointed out, that may well be the last time I hear those words from her (just kidding, Honey! :)

The camels

The day following our official engagement, I went over to Alissa's family's to hang out for the evening, and I brought with me a gift I'd picked up in the Saudi Arabian airport last time on my way home. As I explained to Alissa's parents, in Middle Eastern culture when a couple gets engaged, it's customary for the groom to pay the bride's father for her in camels. I told them not to read too much into this, as I presented them with some small plush camels and a small metal camel sculpture. Apparently Alissa is worth 5 camels.


Whenever a couple gets engaged, people start asking lots of questions. Here are some answers!

When is the wedding / Have you picked a date?

We haven't picked a specific date, other than agreeing "sometime before August 31, 2017."

What's special about August 31, 2017? Well, Alissa's a teacher, so that limits our wedding availabilities to summertime (and she doesn't want to give me any longer than a year because she's afraid I'll get cold feet!). Our other option would be to get married during the school year, but when Alissa asked "would you want to get married on Saturday and then I go back to work on Monday?", I responded, "absolutely not!"

We also need to decide what size of wedding we will have. I want a super huge wedding, she wants a very small one. Or we might elope and save all the money of a big wedding. We will be discussing these options in the weeks to come.

Will I be invited?

Maybe! It depends what we determine about wedding size. Right now, we're not promising invitations to anyone, simply because we just don't know enough details to make those promises yet.

Where will you live?

Alissa will be moving into my house (soon to be our house) once we're married. I asked whether she'd prefer that we both move into a different place that would be "ours" from the start, instead of my home where I have lived for 10 years, but she said she's comfortable moving in with me and making it ours. The bigger hurdle will be for me, mentally shifting from "mine" to "ours," and getting used to someone else's stuff all over the place. As Alissa told me, she wants our stuff to be intermingled, and not have it where all her things are segregated into one corner.

Will Alissa be changing her last name?

Probably not. Our [eventual] kids will take my last name, but Alissa plans to keep her own last name. I support her in this decision.

Kids?! When and how many?!

Whoa there, Buckaroo! Not quite yet. We'd like a couple years of marriage together before kids come along. (our definitions of "a couple years" differ between us, Alissa's being "1-3" and mine being "5-10") We are both interested in having 2, or possibly more, children (adopted and/or biological). Alissa is the eldest of 6 siblings, whereas I am an only child. I say "2 is a good number," to which she responds, "2! That would be so lonely! The house would be so quiet!", to which I reply, "yes, quiet, exactly!" Time will tell.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

From "Hosannah!" to "Crucify him!"

Recently I've been joining my girlfriend's bible study group (I've had pretty bad luck with bible studies in the past, but so far this one hasn't been catastrophic), and a couple weeks ago we read the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, on what we now call Palm Sunday1. The scene is this: cheering crowds, palm branches2 laid on Jesus' path, general excitement and hope that Jesus is indeed the messiah the people have been waiting for. A mere few days later, Jesus is on trial, and the crowds are shouting again, this time calling for his death. In the bible study, someone suggested this 180-degree change in attitude was shocking. I disagreed.

I disagreed because in this aspect of human behavior, we haven't changed. Take any variety of public figure - a politician, CEO, athlete, actor, public speaker, etc - and watch what happens when any accusation of scandal crosses their path (never mind whether there's proof). That human being, who before may have been loved and respected, instantly is demoted to sub-human, a "less than." I've noticed oftentimes the torches and pitchforks even make an appearance (usually via Facebook). Or on a smaller scale, take for example the son or daughter who comes out as gay to their Christian parents or friends, and is instantly disavowed. The en masse betrayal of popular opinion that lashed out at Jesus 2000 years ago, still shows up every day in our modern-day world. I admit I'm probably overly sensitive to the topic, having witnessed the very same happen to one of my best friends.

In my mind, this human behavior is reminiscent of 1984, wherein history is revised to fit the current whims of the government - histories of wars are re-written, and references to un-persons (political dissidents who've been killed by the government) are removed from written archives of the truth.

It's as if we're all waiting to blacklist each other and be the loudest to cry out, "I never knew him!"

We are all Peter.3

And that is why I'm no longer surprised when I read this part of Jesus' story. I just get very sad, because we - humanity - haven't changed.

1 We celebrate Palm Sunday one week before Easter, though after some Googling on the exact chronology of events, it looks like there's some ambiguity about exactly how many days come between Jesus' entry to Jerusalem and his crucifixion. For the sake of this blog post, let's just define it as a "few".

2 Even after four trips to the Middle East this past year, I still haven't figured out how palm trees grow in the desert. I've concluded it must be magic.

3 Not everyone may be familiar with my reference here. Peter was a disciple of Jesus, and after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied three times ever knowing him. He then felt guilty. This is a key part of his story, because I don't think we do a particular good job with that last bit today, myself and the general American populace suffering from a condition of over-amplified self-righteousness anymore.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Death surrounds us; a Friday story

When I visited Facebook this morning, it was to find unexpected sorrow: announcements of deaths of people I don't even know directly, yet deeply saddening me all the same (one, the wife of a college friend whom I haven't seen in years; two, the newborn baby of two friends from a years-ago small group; and every day I wonder what news will come from my girlfriend's aunt, who is in hospice care).

I remember last year around Easter writing about how pervasive death was then, too. Maybe it is year-round. Maybe I'm just noticing death more because Easter is next week, and Easter is all about death.

Recently I read (listened to) a book called "Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus" by John Ortberg. In one of the later chapters he talks about Friday stories, and three-day stories, and some of the quotes are beautiful:

All three-day stories share a structure. On the first day there is trouble, and on the third day there is deliverance. On the second day there is nothing, just the continuation of trouble. The problem with third-day stories is you don't know it's a third-day story until the third day. When it's Friday, when it's Saturday, as far as you know, deliverance is never going to come. It may just be a one-day story, and that one-day of trouble may last the rest of your life.


Some people, silently, secretly, live here [Friday]. You can choose denial, simplistic explanations, impatience, easy answers, artificial pleasantness, hydroplane over authentic humanity, forced optimism, clichéd formulas, false triumphalism. Paul wrote to Timothy that "some say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." In other words, apparently some said, "it's already Sunday. The resurrection has already happened for all of us, so if you're having any problems, if you're still sick, if your prayers aren't being answered, you just don't have enough faith. Get with the program!" Or there is this third option. You can wait. Work with God even when he feels far away. Rest. Ask. Whine. Complain. Trust. Oddly, the most common song is the song of complaint, the Saturday song: "God why aren't you listening?"


The miracle of Sunday is that a dead man lives. The miracle of Saturday is that the eternal Son of God lies dead. So Jesus Christ defeats our great enemy, Death, not by proclaiming his invincibility over it, but by submitting himself to it. If you can find this Jesus in a grave, if you can him in death, if you can find him in hell, where can you *not* find him? Where will he *not* turn up?

- "Who Is This Man" by John Ortberg, Chapter 14

I said earlier that Easter is all about death. It's all about life, too, of course - that is why 8 days from now we will dance and sing and shout for joy as we remember a miracle two millennia old. But I worry that in our post-Sunday mentality, we minimize the reality of the pain of Friday. Because even though Sunday's coming, when it's still Friday, hearing that Sunday is around the corner doesn't make things magically better. The pain is real, now, here, this moment.

In my post-AWAKEN years, when Easter comes around I end up longing for more time between Friday and Sunday to mourn, to wear all black, to feel all the emotions of loss. I long for this because even my favorite church services of the year - the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Vigil of Easter - will resurrect Jesus on Saturday night, minimizing the time He spends in the grave. This is good, I suppose - who doesn't want to minimize pain and sorrow and suffering? But at the risk of reading too much into it, I feel like we've lost, churchy-culturally, the willingness to sit patiently in the midst of that sorrow, and if we aren't willing to sit in it while we wait for Jesus, how can we honestly sit with those who've lost a loved one, or a relationship, or a job, or any other loss, and not try to rush them through their grief? Sunday's coming, yes, but I don't want to lose the power of Friday and Saturday.

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. - Job 2:11-13

Monday, March 07, 2016

Audiobook reflection: The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes

I'm pretty sure my introduction to Sherlock Holmes came from television - either episodes of Wishbone (one of the only dogs I've ever loved), or Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which Data develops a fascination with the detective). In more recent years, I've greatly loved BBC's new Sherlock series as well. But apart from these on-screen adaptations, I had never actually experienced any of Sir Arthur's original works until a little over a year ago, when I finished reading (technically: "listening to the audiobook of") The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, a 70+ hour audiobook containing all 56 short stories and 4 novels in the canon. Whereas most of my audiobooks are around 10 hours long and easily listened to in under a week, Sherlock was an investment of 50 days. Fortunately, the narrator accompanying me in this journey was one I'd consider "good" in my book (pardon the pun :) for the fact that he used different voices for each character, so I could always know who was speaking. My only quibble is that he could have spoken marginally faster, and shaved a few hours off the grand total. Also there were a few awkwardly long pauses, and the random watch beeping in the background, though given the sheer mass of material those are forgivable.

One of my favorite aspects of reading "older" literatures is the vernacular. Like Nicolas Cage's character nostalgically says in National Treasure, "People don't talk that way anymore." In Sherlock, some such words that stood out to me (often due to their over-use) were:

But pronounced the British way: "ad-*ver*-tis-ment" (and with a short "i").
Agony column
Apparently in old-timey newspapers, there was a column for missing persons and items. Based on its frequent usage to ensnare Sherlock's suspects, I'm given to believe every person in all of Britain must have read their newspapers front-to-back back in those days.
Bad business
Unfortunate circumstances.
Exactly what it sounds like. I just love this word.
Interjected or interrupted. Watson was always doing this.
Involved in an activity.
Knock you up
Come knocking on your door.
Unique, standing out (although for as often as the word was used, it became quite unsingularly commonplace).
Tut tut
Tsk tsk, you're better than that.

Being so bold as to imagine myself in the shoes of dear Watson for a moment, I could easily picture him writing the following sentences in one of his Sherlockian journals: I engaged myself to reading the morning's agony column, whereupon I discovered a quite singular advertisement. "Holmes!" I ejaculated. "You must see this! Someone has burgled–" "Tut, tut," he interrupted. "It's bad business to be knocking a body up at this hour."

And on the subject of language: a frequent frustration of mine (and I imagine Holmes's as well) was how many of his clients dilly dallied around their point, giving all manner of unnecessary introductory remarks. As a made-up example: "Mr. Holmes, this is a most singular tale, you will no doubt agree with me once you have heard all the details which I'm about to reveal to you. Surely you have never heard a case quite like mine before in all your adventures, for let me tell you it is quite remarkable..." and they'd just go on and on and on!

Some reflections upon the character of Sherlock himself: he rarely asked his clients for money (with a few rare exceptions of the super-wealthy). And he rarely took praise or credit - he frequently reassured the police inspectors they need not share credit or mention him at all in their reports. He was sharp, or rather, blunt? And arrogant (as you'll read in a number of quotes below). Yet he had a human side - there were those singular cases in which his conscience actually led him to let the murderer go. I lack the specific quote, but in its essence he conveyed "I understand why you did what you did, and I'm not going to turn you over to the police, I'm just going to tell them the case is resolved." One example is in The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, and it's a fascinating moral question: was Dr. Sterndale really "guilty," or could his crime instead be called "justice," avenging another murder of someone he loved? I liked that Sherlock occasionally showed this human side instead of being 100% of the time cold and calculating. The intentionality of working separately from the police force allowed him this leeway.

For a one-and-a-half month investment of my audiobook listening time, I'd say Sherlock was worth it. Though the whole collection won't be on my re-listen list in the near future, mayhaps when a new season of the BBC series approaches I will find myself inclined to listen to a few specific short stories again.

My favorite quotes

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain, originally, is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge, which might be useful to him, gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now, the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these, he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it. There comes a time when, for every addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
"But the solar system!" I protested.
"What the use duece is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently.
- Sherlock and Watson
"May I ask whether you have any professional inquiry on foot at present?"
"None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brainwork. What else is there to live for?"
- Watson and Sherlock
"I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule." - Sherlock
"The main thing with people of that sort," said Holmes, as we sat in the sheets of the wary, "is never to let them think that their information can be of the slightest importance to you. If you do, they will instantly shut up like an oyster. If you listen to them under protest, as it were, you are very likely to get what you want." - Sherlock
"He remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate, he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do. But you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician." - Sherlock
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts." - Sherlock
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbors, but I was always impressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened, but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque. - Watson
(Sherlock just deduced something about the killer)
"It is wonderful!" I exclaimed.
"It is obvious."
- Watson and Sherlock
"What do you intend to do?"
"In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you be alive or dead, shall be safe with us."
"Farewell, then," said the old man solemnly. "Your own deathbeds, when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peace which you have given to mine."
- John Turner and Sherlock
"I suppose that I am committing a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again, he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now and you make him a jailbird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and it's solution is it's own reward." - Sherlock
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. - Watson
"We can't command our love but we can our actions." - The Runaway Wife
"Crime is common, logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic, rather than upon the crime, that you should dwell." - Sherlock
"And above all, do not fret until you know that you really have a cause for it." - Sherlock
Like all Holme's reasoning, the thing seemed simplicity itself when it was once explained. - Watson
"He's been behaving very queerly, and he's very much excited."
"I don't think you need alarm yourself," said I. "I have usually found that there was method in his madness."
"Some folk might say there was madness in his method!" muttered the Inspector.
- The Inspector and Watson
"What business is it of yours, then?"
"It's every man's business to see justice done."
- Henry Wood and Sherlock
"I've heard of your methods before now, Mr. Holmes," said he, tartly. "You are ready enough to use all the information that the police can lay at your disposal, and then you try to finish the case yourself and bring discredit on them."
"On the contrary," said Holmes. "Out of my last 53 cases, my name has only appeared in 4, and the police have had all the credit in 49. I don't blame you for not knowing this for you are young and inexperienced, but if you wish to get on in your new duties, you will work with me and not against me."
- A detective, and Sherlock
"I have noticed that when he is off the trail he generally says so; it is when he is on a scent and is not quite absolutely sure yet that it is the right one that he is most taciturn." - Watson
"By George!" cried the inspector. "However did you see that?"
"Because I looked for it."
An Inspector and Sherlock
"Lie number 1!" said the old man. "I never saw either of them until two months ago and I have never been in Africa in my life. So you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, mister busy-body Holmes." - Mr. Woodley
"Good Lord, Mr. Holmes, where have you lived?"
Holmes laughed at the young giant's naive astonishment.
"You live in a different world to me, Mr. Overton. A sweeter and healthier one. My ramifications stretch out into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say, into amateur sport."
- Mr. Overton and Sherlock
"It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts." - Sherlock
"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." - Sherlock
"This chance of the picture has supplied us with one of our most obvious missing links. We have him, Watson, we have him! And I dare swear that before tomorrow night he will be fluttering in our net as helpless as one of his own butterflies. A pin, a cork, and a card, and we add him to the Baker Street collection."
He burst into one of his rare fits of laughter, as he turned away from the picture. I have not heard him laugh often, and it has always boded ill to somebody.
- Sherlock and Watson
"I have no more notion than you how long it is to last," Holmes answered with some asperity. "If criminals would always schedule their movements like railway trains it would certainly be more convenient for all of us." - Sherlock
"I was helping Uncle Sam to make dollars. Maybe mine were not as good gold as his but they looked as well and were cheaper to make." - John McMurdo
"I should prefer that you do not mention my name at all in connection with the case as I choose to be only associated with those crimes which present some difficulty in their solution." - Sherlock
"It is art for art's sake, Watson. I suppose when you doctored you found yourself studying cases without thought of a fee?"
"For my education, Holmes."
"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last."
- Sherlock and Watson
"But your appearance Holmes. Your ghastly face."
"Three days of absolute fast does not improve one's beauty, Watson."
- Watson and Sherlock
"Besides, on general principles it is best that I should not leave the country. Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes." - Sherlock
"And a singularly consistent investigation you have made, my dear Watson," said he. "I cannot at the moment recall any possible blunder which you have omitted. The total effect of your proceeding has been to give the alarm everywhere, and yet to discover nothing."
"Perhaps you would have done no better," I answered, bitterly.
"There is no perhaps about it. I *have* done better."
- Sherlock and Watson
"How do you know that?"
"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
- Dr. Leon Sterndale and Sherlock
He stared at the writing with a face from which every expression save amazement had vanished. - Watson
"This agency stands flatfooted upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us, no ghosts need apply." - Sherlock
"Touch him where you would, he was false." - Sherlock
Mr. Nathan Garrideb proved to be a very tall, loose-jointed, round-backed person, gaunt and bald, some 60 odd years of age. He had a cadaverous face, with the dull, dead skin of a man to whom exercise was unknown. - Watson
"But how did you know, Mr. Holmes?"
"I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive mind for trifles."
- Mr. Murdock and Sherlock
"There being no fear of interruption, I proceeded to burgle the house. Burglary has always been an alternative profession had I cared to adopt it, and I have little doubt that I should have come to the front." - Sherlock