Why This Church? (Kristina)

The following is Kristina Spaude’s “testimonial” from the service this morning (at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent). Her speech was so well-liked, we asked her to do it again at the second service (she was originally just scheduled for first).

When I was first asked to participate in this service, I naturally said yes without thinking about it. When I got home later that day, I started to wonder, though, what I would say. So many people here have heard my story – and I know that there are more of you now who haven’t, but I thought, meh. So I returned to the sermon title, “Why This Church?,” and I knew that I would find something worth sharing.

The first service I attended here was October 1, 2006. That day only one person talked with me, but I knew that this would be my home. Granted, I had been intentional about the first service I came to – a Yom Kippur service, which I knew that I would almost certainly enjoy. But it wasn’t just the sermon that I liked – it was everything about the service. And although only one person spoke with me that day, I was aware that this would be my home. I decided to make this my home. To testify to that is the fact that I almost never miss services. Apart from this last summer, when I was unable to attend for about 4 months due to my back problems, I have missed only 4 services. I don’t share this for any reason but to reiterate that this church, this congregation, this community is important to me. Church is not structured around my life; my life is structured around church.

It’s about 4 years to the day now since I officially signed the book and became a member, but I had already been getting involved in different activities – primarily the Social Justice Committee and the Small Group Ministry program (now named Chalice Groups). Since then, I’ve been involved in… Well, so much that I can’t even remember it all off the top of my head. Currently I’m serving as a Worship Associate and as a Youth Group advisor. I also now have the privilege of having served as the Interim Office Administrator after Judy retired, which was also the time that Rev. Melissa was preparing for and going on leave, as Rev. Katie was coming on board as our consulting minister, as Pam stepped down as Sexton and Colleen agreed to serve as Interim Sexton, and as a permanent replacement was found for the office, who I also helped train. That was a position I loved – it was a gift to be able to do it, really like a dream come true, if but for a time. In considering the position permanently for myself, I had to make a decision – to serve the congregation in the office or to serve the congregation in the church. But it wasn’t really much of a decision for me – I chose to remain here with you.

Why? The only way I can begin to explain why, what you mean to me, is to ask you to take a moment and look around this room and at the people in it. Not the people you know and you don’t know, not faces and names you recognize, but look at each other. Look into each others’ eyes. If you can’t see their hearts and souls, their divine spark, look again because you aren’t looking closely enough. Each of you made a choice to be here this morning, to be here together. To be here as your whole selves, because you know that you can be whole here – and you know that truthfully, we wouldn’t want you any other way.

So, why? Why am I here, week after week, serving the congregation in most of the ways I’m asked to, to be here with you? Like you, I come here to be present and to be whole-ly present, to share this holy presence. I come here to be grounded, to be restored, to be renewed. I come here to share my journey with you, to receive what you offer me, to love you. I come when my heart is radiating with love and when I can’t help but cry, and you are here to celebrate and comfort me. I come because you help sustain me. You remind me of all that the world can be, that my hopes and your hopes, that my work and your work are for good cause and make a difference. You remind me of who I am, you teach me to grow more than I ever could have imagined, you ask me to share myself with you. I come to be, I hope, a reflection back to you what you are to me and so that perhaps my presence will serve as an expression of the gratitude I have for each of you and for this home we covenant to make here together.

I’ve got friends in high places

On the subject of endurance athletics, a friend of mine from Colorado, Dave C, is attempting two serious mountain climbs at this very moment: Mt. Fairweather at 15,300′, the highpoint of British Columbia; and the “big kahuna,” Mt. McKinley (known to climbers by its original Native American name of Denali) at 20,320′. This is his second attempt on both mountains and you can follow his story on his team’s blog as well as track his actual positions on their Spot website.

I have to admit that I’m seriously jealous. There was a time in my life when I was way into mountain climbing in almost the obsessive way I’m into cycling now. I read every book of mountain climber’s adventures up Denali and Mt. Everest that I could find–Into Thin Air by Jonathan Krakauer, In the Shadow of Denali by Jonathan Waterman, High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2 edited by Clint Willis, just to name a few. I was really convinced that some day I would climb Everest. While someday I may get back on track with my highpointing to climb Denali, I don’t think Everest is realistically in my plans anymore.

There’s something very spiritual about climbing that makes it even more sacred to me than cycling. Not only do you push yourself to the edge of your endurance–which is what you do on a bike often–but you get to see along the way the greatest treasurers of the world, places you know only few have the bravery to tread. The endurance is worth the privilege to see the hidden places in the world. Mountain peaks offer the most majestic sights on the planet. Often times while climbing, I’ve had what I would describe as a religious experience–an overwhelming feeling of elation and awe at the supreme beauty of the universe. I’ve felt connected to something greater than myself. You could attribute it to a supreme being, call it God or the Divine or whatever language you choose, but for me–the ever questioning agnostic–it is simply an understanding that I am one small piece in vast, beautiful, mysterious universe. I can praise that. However small my piece is in the universe, I’ve felt my connection to the whole… and that was a awe-inspiring feeling.

Dave C has been a good friend of mine through the US Highpointers Club, of which I’m a member and have been a member since my husband and I started highpointing in 1998. I wish him the best on his endeavor to get to the top of those wondrous summits and make it down safely. I will be keeping tabs on his movements. Perhaps someday I too will see the top of Denali. Though it’s honestly hard to imagine right now, given how much time I’ve devoted to cycling and how out of touch I currently am with the climbing world these days… just not enough time in life with work to do all those things you really want to do!

New personal record: 4,000 miles

I have to say that I really couldn’t have attained this kind of mileage without all of my friends.


It’s not that any single friend rode 4,000 miles with me, but some people (like Michael) have done 2,500+ miles with me. Some people (like Diane and Jeff) have done as little 15 miles with me. It doesn’t matter how many miles a single person did with me; each one of you contributed by spending time with me. Just having someone to talk to while I ride or keep company with is enough to make a ride a hundred times more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. You helped motivate me when you didn’t even know I needed motivation.

Sure, I’ve done a lot of rides by myself–commuting to work, the MS 150–and I don’t mind it at all on most days. I used to ride by myself all the time because I didn’t know anyone who wanted to do the miles with me. I thought I would always ride in solitude. Until I found my place with the Akron Bicycle Club. It was with ABC that I found more rides and more people to ride with. It really changed my cycling intensity. Some would say for the worst; I say for the better because even though I don’t look with my beer gut, I’m probably healthier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life. And I’ve gone places, climbed hills and done rides, I’d never even knew I could do.

XOBA was a real turning point for me this year. I’d never ridden the nearly 500 miles in one week that that ride required. I pushed myself 72 miles with a knee that was determined to inflict pain on me. But I did not give up. Ironically, that is the day that I rode alone and very well could have jumped the next SAG wagon without an ounce of guilt–no sidelong glances from a friend as he/she watched me quit. No, I found it within myself to push onward, to put the pain in a small compartment in the back of my mind. Determination. I think my life–all that I’ve been through–is proof that I have determination to surmount any pain, whether physical or emotional. Pain I never knew–never dreamed–I could survive.

Survivor. That’s what Mike used to tell me I was. And he was too. I never really fully believe that I have the strength I do until I push myself beyond what I think I can handle and then, when I come through okay, I am surprised. I like to test myself and push. I hate giving up. That’s what makes me a good athlete. If you can call what I do athletics. For some reason, I always downplay my riding. People have called me athletic and I’m aghast. My elementary school gym teacher–Mrs. Meers, that evil hag–used to tell me I was defective as an athlete. She wanted my mom to have my legs broken and reset to fix a problem I have where my legs splay out when I run. She told my mom I would never have athletic prowess. I wish I could see her now.

The girl without athletic prowess has run in more 5Ks than she cares to remember. The girl without athletic ability rode west to east across the state of Ohio–496 miles by her calculations–and she did nearly 100 of those miles on an injured knee. The girl who was told she never would do anything physically spectacular just rode a bicycle 4,000 miles in one year! Who doesn’t have athletic prowess now, Mrs. Meers?

Of course, I know that there are many people who do a lot more miles than I do. Some who do a lot more miles in a single ride than I’ve ever done in a day. My accomplishment looks minor to some and impossibly huge to others. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I ride for myself. I ride because I like it. I ride because I can. And for me, 4,000 miles is a personal accomplishment. I’ll take it. Everything happens in baby steps. I remember when I didn’t ride more than 100 miles a year. I remember the first time I did the MS 150 (on a mountain bike, ugh!) and only completed the first day of 75 miles. Back then, 75 miles was a major accomplishment. I never knew I would become a total bike-a-holic and complete not only one 100 mile ride–which was something I thought I would do once, someday–but eight in one year. Who knew?

I still contend I could not have done this many miles without friends. Besides my injury day, I had friends riding with me throughout XOBA. I had friends riding with me all year. If I didn’t have the many options of rides to attend in Ohio or with my bike club every week, I don’t think I’d be as inspired to ride because I’d be tired of all my own routes. And I’d be somewhat lonely. It’s nice knowing that on a day when I feel kind of like riding, I’ve got some friends whom I can join. It’s nice that when I get to the top of a really hard climb on a ride like the Fredericksburg Library Roll last week, I’ve got a friend waiting for me at the top. I can do a lot of riding and I can do it alone but it’s nice to know I don’t have to.

So thanks, everyone! Thanks for keeping me going! Here’s to many more great miles!

By the way, it was Beau who pulled me over to 4,000 on this very chilly Wednesday night. Whew-hoo!

One for child services

My aunt Gabriella, Cousin Angy’s mom, just sent an email filled with pictures of my new “first cousin once removed” aka My Favorite Female Cousin’s New Son, Grayson Martin. Is this not a most blatant example of child abuse? Please tell me that if I ever have kids, I would not subject them to such torturous use of photography… Is it not bad enough that the clothes we consider “cool” right now will be outdated by the time our progeny grow up, causing them to voice disgust with how we dressed them (not unlike the brightly colored and grossly mismatched 1970s style clothes I’m wearing in many, many of my childhood pictures). I truly think this is why we rebel against our parents!

Can you see the shame in his eyes? He’s just screaming, “Mom, why did you put me in a little Santa suit? I’m helpless and can’t dress myself, and now look what you’ve done to me! Fodder for embarrassment when you show this to future girlfriends to whom I’m tried to present a ‘cool’ and ‘dignified’ image. Oh, the humanity of it!”

Okay, I admit that he is a cute little bugger. Maybe he won’t be too mad at his mom and grandma some day. But if he needs some solace from the shame, he can come to Aunt Mars Girl. I will understand.

Miss October

This precious baby’s Republican father has stated that he hopes she grows up to be the next Ann Coulter.

Knowing this girl’s bipartison parents (each representing a side of the political coin), I think she’ll probably grow up to hate politics. Regardless of what she grows to love, I hope she does not become the new Ann Coulter.

(I just had to post this picture which my friend Gwenn sent me via my phone last Sunday. What a cute baby!!)

I broke down…

Yep. Turned on the heat this morning. Despite my warm PJ’s, when I stumbled off the couch this morning (where I habitually sleep), the atmosphere around me was bitterly cold. I was afraid I’d see my own breath. I know it was only 45 degrees, which most Ohioans can bear, but I’m a freeze baby. I decided paying for gas was less of a threat than being uncomfortable in my own house. And, really, since I’m the only one living there, I have no one to argue with about turning it on this early in the season.

So bitch at me, you environmentalists. I don’t care. I didn’t use my air conditioning much all summer. I hate being cold. I could probably live without air conditioning, but I must turn my heat on when the house gets too cold. I can’t help it. People tell me that it’s better to be too hot than too cold because you can just put on more clothes. That philosophy does not wash with me. Once I’ve been cold, my core is frozen, and no amount of clothes or blankets are going to warm me up. And, dammit, I deserve to be comfortable in my own house.

My thermostat is set to 67 anyway, so it’s not like I’m blasting tropical heat in there. Just that raise in temperature did much to cheer my spirits this morning. I was able to put on a simple long-sleeved blouse instead of a turtleneck like I did yesterday (which was really too much and made me hot all day at work).

I guess turning on my heat heralds the beginning of the colder season. Soon I’m going to have to break down and put my bike on the trainer. The days of riding are growing sporadic. Last night’s Wednesday ride–the last one of the season–was cancelled but we still had our end-of-year feast. So I had all the eating without the exercise. This is how the winter gets me.

I’m debating whether or not I should get a temporary membership at Fitworks. They have these memberships where you can turn them on and off at will. I just hate to have to pay the extra monthly fee, especially during the season in which I will have $200+ gas bills. But I don’t think using my trainer and Total Gym is enough. I need to go somewhere with different machines. I think I need to start running again. I don’t want to gain the weight back this year. I think I need to diversify my cardio from strictly using my bike on the trainer…

Well, anyway… I love fall, but I hate not getting the exercise I need as regularly. Maybe that walking crap everyone talks about works… I don’t know… I ascribe to the “No pain, no gain” philosophy of exercise. I just don’t think you lose enough weight from walking a half hour every day. Maybe you maintain your present weight, but I can’t see it as a completely healthy exercise plan.

In other news:


He didn’t want me to make a big deal about it… I hope announcing his date of birth to the entire internet world is not considered a big deal. ;)

First cousin once removed has arrived

Sarah wins the “booby prize” for guessing most closely the date of birth for my cousin Angy’s first child, Grayson Martin, who was born yesterday, September 3, at 4:50am. Whew-hoo! I’m a first cousin once removed. Or something.

Ironically, this was after all night dreaming about my cousin having her baby… It was an odd dream too because it was taking place at her wedding and I was running around looking for the bridesmaid toast I’d written for her. I couldn’t find it and she went into labor. As I watched her begin the process of labor (as I’ve only ever witnessed on TV so we know I have no real vision of it), I felt a lost, empty longing, like this knowledge that I would never know what it is like to be a mother. I felt life as we knew it–childhood, growing up, the confusion of adulthood–slip away from her while I felt the same as I always do. I was almost jealous. Her world was about to change and I was, once again, left behind on some distant planet. Always the girl from Mars.

Not to take away from this grand moment, of course. It’s just that this morning I realized that maybe I do, after all, have a working biological clock. And I also realized how much I love my cousin even though our relationship has been altered with the changes in her life.

Ah well. It’s completely selfish for me to take something out of this moment for Angy and Peter. Congrats to the new parents! May parenthood be all that you hoped it would be and more!

And don’t forget “Aunt Mars Girl.” Free babysitting and gifts. Call me when he’s old enough to get his first bike.

Baby birthday pool

Okay, folks, I’ve just corresponded via email with my favorite female cousin, often affectionately thought of as my chosen sister, and it seems she’s in the home stretch of her pregnancy. The doctor told her lil’ Grayson Martin, her son-in-womb, may be born any time from now until her due date of Septemember 10 (?). Or later, if his arrival in the world is anything like mine.

Therefore, I feel it is necessary to begin taking bets on when this baby will be born! I’ve already got my money on August 28th, as that is, as previously mentioned, my wedding anniversary. I would rather have some other memorable event on that day to help me look past the sadness and remind me that, though I often seem to think so, everything is not all about me.

So that’s my guess. You can take a stab at this game. No money required; the boon is the ultimate respect and knowledge that you guessed the right date of birth for a baby whose mother most of you probably don’t even know!

I mistakingly thought my relationship to this child would be a second cousin. Upon further research, I’ve learned that Grayson will actually be my “first cousin once removed.” That hardly sounds affectionate. Can he just call me “aunt”? ;)

By the way, does anyone else find creepy the theory that every human on the planet may be 15th cousins to each other? (Though this sentence was not cited so the author of this wikipedia article could just be bull-shitting us all with his/her own agenda.)

I found the chart below dizzying. Trying to figure out your relation to other members of your extended family is one of those things where you just might say, “Hey, we’re related. Let’s dispense with this title business.”

In Shakespeare plays, anyone related to you who wasn’t your brother or sister was simply called “cousin.” Maybe we should just go back to using that terminology.

Best maid-of-honor toast ever (okay, maybe I’m biased)

Mars Girl & Angy at the “I love you, man” hour of the party.
(Yes… I’m a little tipsy… notice the red face.)

Maid-of-honor toast below delivered on May 31, 2008 for my cousin, Angy, on her wedding day at the Bear Valley Lodge in Bear Valley, CA.

I met Angy when we were very young at my Aunt Sue’s wedding. Because she lived in California, and I in Ohio, she was to me this mysterious cousin I didn’t know I had. We were close enough in age that we hit it off immediately. She and I spent the entire night dancing in our best imitation of the adults, which looked something like this [demonstrated our arm swinging slow dance move — you’d have to see it to get it.]

Perhaps you’ll get to see us reprise this performance tonight when the music starts. You’ll see that we can cut the rug with the best of the five-year olds!

Our grandma, who recently passed away, used to call us her Snow White and Rose Red after the two fairytale sisters with blonde and brunette hair. This sentiment always reflected to me the kinship I felt with Angy–she was the sister I always wanted and never had.

Though we didn’t live close to each other, we corresponded erratically through letters and our grandma to whom we always inquired about each other. When family gatherings or a vacation brought us together, we always managed to find special time together. Here are some of my best memories of Angy, the ones that warm my heart whenever I think of them:

– In the 1980s, as young teenagers, she taught me how to rat my hair so that it would stand up straight with the help of some hairspray to glue it in place.

– One summer when I was visiting California, we made dozens of paper dolls, complete with entire clothing lines and accessories and, yes, even pets for our made up people. We gave them first, middle, and last names and invented families for them reflecting our own large family.

– On my grandma’s Apple IIe, we played a computer game in which you led a rabbit through a maze. I liked to smash the rabbit against the maze walls because it would angrily react with “args” and “oafs” and it would stamp its foot. Angy, ever the animal lover, would get annoyed at me for doing this to the computerized rabbit and forced me to stop. We changed the maze game player to a gnome, which she let me smash into the walls. (I guess gnome abuse is okay by Angy!) It was her love of animals that earned her the nickname of “Angy Rabbit” which my dad used to call her.

There are many more memories I could share, but I have to end this toast so that everyone can eat before midnight. It’s been a real pleasure having Angy in my life as my surrogate sister. I was touched when she asked me to be the maid-of-honor in her wedding. I’ve been a bridesmaid many times, but this wedding is the most special one I’ve ever been asked to be in because my relationship with Angy is the oldest of all my friends. I really am happy for her and the life she is starting with Peter. I wish that I had a son of my own so that he could find a brotherly relationship in Angy’s soon-to-be son like the sisterly one that she and I shared.

So let’s raise our glasses in the toast that I always give to my friends on their wedding day when they dare to let me speak. In the words of Mr. Spock from Star Trek: Angy and Peter, live long and prosper!

Happy Birthday, Mindy Nelson, Where ever you are…

March 8th, I remembered this morning, is the birthday of a former Hiram classmate, Mindy Nelson. It may be one-sided, but I have a knack for remembering the birthdays of people born in March. Mindy was one of those crazy friends you could get completely nuts with on a Saturday night like this where the weather has you trapped indoors or as a pedestrian. I think everyone’s had one of those friends in their lives.

Mindy has gone missing. No one seems to know where she is and some of us have desperately missed her fits of silliness over the last several years. We’ve tried googling her, but you know, “Mindy Nelson” or even her proper name of “Melinda Nelson,” is not exactly unique enough to yield the kind of revealing results that brings one conclusively to the person you’re looking for. And the number of results is mind-numbing, to say the least.

Anyway, thanks to Diane for going through her nostalgia boxes tonight and locating what she has dubbed as the “last known picture of Mindy Nelson” at her graduation. What year was that? 1999? 2000? (She was supposed to graduate with the class of 1997, but she took the “extended study plan” as it were, which only allowed her to become the legend of additional classes of Hiramites.)

If anyone has seen this woman, please let me know! Or share your stories about wild nights with Mindy. I can’t post all of mine, as some of them involve activities that may be deemed illegal and thus bar me from future election to office…