GNO: Jamie Afshari’s Favorite Things

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I’m Jamie Afshari and still girlishly giggle when I say that because it’s a new- to- me last name as of September 2. My husband Jahan and I live in Tower Grove and love city living. I work at Central Presbyterian Church and love serving the women there. I was fortunate to get my Master of Divinity two years ago from Covenant seminary and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of plumbing the depths of God’s love. As a Chicago transplant I am thrilled to say that St Louis is right; Baseball is pretty great in October. Who knew? 😉


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My Favorite Place to Travel: A Chinese proverb I love says, “Make some corner of the world distinctively yours.” I’d have to say that place is Washington State, specifically the Northwest corner.

When I was 18, I moved to Spokane, Washington to attend a satellite campus of Moody Bible Institute. When I moved to Spokane, I didn’t even know how to say it – Spo-CANE? But corrected promptly, No, “Spo-CAN.” Spokane was full of wonderful hills, mountains only an hour away, and lovely parks with rapids and waterfalls and high swinging bridges. The smell of pine hung faintly in the air all year, almost like picking up an old sweatshirt and smelling the bonfire traces on it from weeks before. The people were quirky and kind, something I loved as I learned how to “adult.” When I moved back to Illinois a year later, it broke my heart. In fact, if you go to the Spokane airport I’m certain you will find my claw marks in the tarmac.

A dear friend I made in Spokane hailed from Mt Vernon, Washington, just 45 minutes from Seattle (5-6 hours from Spokane). She would take short weekend trips once or twice a month and would bring as many of us along that would fit in her tiny Honda. My first trip out to Seattle was my clue that even after I left Washington, it would forever be apart of me. She took me on a ferryboat ride to Orcas Island. On the way a whale surfaced in Puget Sound. The trees were rich green and textured all differently bringing deep breaths and a new sense of thankfulness. The people were casual and laid back allowing me to think and process at my pace. The mountains were so majestic that when I stood next to them I felt like nothing else on earth mattered. The ocean so wild, big, and profound that every creative nerve in my body trembled and longed to join the mystery.

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Annie Dillard, my favorite author (see below for more on her), said it best when she woke up one morning in her house on Puget Sound:

“Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.” – Annie Dillard

“BUT IT RAINS ALL THE TIME! “

Hogwash. That’s just what they want you to think so that you don’t visit and ruin the best kept secret to the US of A. Well friends, I have been to the promised land, returned alive — and better, and I’m here to tell you, if you are looking for a way to sense God’s love and pleasure, then you need to spend some time in the PNW mountains and see, feel and hear her ocean. This is the corner of the world that I’ve made distinctively mine.

Oh! I also need to say God blessed my double decade long love for the PNW this past September by allowing me to marry a man from there, so it’s basically like a guaranteed trip out west every year.


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My Favorite Book/Author:  If you have known me for any time at all you have heard me quote Annie Dillard (see above), talk about Annie Dillard, pull an Annie Dillard book out of my purse or direct all conversations back to Annie Dillard.

A young, right- out- of- college English teacher, during my high school tenure tried to make me like Annie Dillard. I enjoyed writing and potentially wanted to do it for a living, but she told me that I “told” too much and needed to “show” more. At that point I didn’t know what she meant. She gave me an Annie Dillard article to help me show rather than tell. I began to understand but Annie Dillard didn’t make an impression on me at the time. She only annoyed me because my teacher waxed on for what seemed to be whole class periods about the saintly Dillard. During the Dillard love fests we were also reading Pride and Prejudice, a book I didn’t like at the time and still do not care for. (Did I just lose my woman card for admitting I dislike Austin? Oh well…).

Four years later, a professor in college whom I adored assigned Holy the Firm, Dillard’s shortest (76 large print pages!) but most startling and gritty book (she gets under the skin of Christians for giving soft and easy answers to the purpose of suffering). I was not looking forward to it but decided that I could easily plow through those short pages and write a response in no time. Except. Annie Dillard Happened. I was … Dillardified! I felt the rush of my conversion happening and I couldn’t stop it. I started weeping over her beautiful words not even realizing the ultimate meaning of them. I read each paragraph three times. I underlined the whole book, give or take a few lines, by the time I was done. I immediately wanted to re-read it.

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I don’t know about you, but sometimes Christianity can seem so tidy and palatable the way we package it. There are cute little angles at the bookstore on cute little shelves with cute little verses (taken out of context) with cute little employees wearing cute little aprons (who needs to wear an apron at a book store? Are they eating pasta in the back and not sharing? That doesn’t seem very Christ like.) while they stand behind cute little desks with a bowl of cute little Christian mints (OK- What is a Christian mint? What was wrong with the regular ones?).

Annie Dillard taught me that when we neatly package our very hard- to- package message we inevitably lose. Annie Dillard gave me the freedom to say “suffering is painful and doesn’t make sense — won’t you come sit with me in it?”

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In high school, I lost my mother and all my grandparents. After college, five different friends and a family member all passed away in a period of three months. I read Holy the Firm every week for a while and still pull it out about once a month and read it again. The pages are tattered and worn, the markings of a tattered and worn sufferer. Annie travelled with me and comforted me in her pages.

Later she gave me the gift of observing creation and loving it when I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She allowed me to not let a destructive relationship ruin me when I read The Maytrees. She gave wings to my creative bursts in Teaching a Stone to Talk. She allowed me to go back in time and see life from another’s eyes in An American Childhood. She helped me pursue a writing career when I poured over the pages of The Writing Life. She put words and emotions to the most abstract of thoughts in her poems.

I am forever indebted to my dear Annie.


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A few other of my favorite things that don’t need a lot of commentary:

People who bring me a caramel macchiato are my favorite people. Green is my favorite color and 4 is my favorite number. My favorite date is September 2, my anniversary. My favorite season is football and my team is the Chicago Bears. My current favorite Cubs player is Baez and my favorite pizza comes in a Lou Malnati’s box. My favorite food is the steak Fajitas at Uncle Julio’s Hacienda in Chicago. My favorite St Louis thing to do is reading and walking in Tower Grove Park and having coffee at the Gelateria. My favorite pets are the kind that purr and don’t need to be walked or bathed. My favorite smell is the one you’ll find at your local used book store.


Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll someday be Dillardified!

Your friend,
Jamie


Click HERE to return to the landing page for GNO: Our Favorite Things 


Spokane photo Matt Wagner / Mountains photo Zach Bardon / Annie Dillard photo source /  Ocean photo Jeremy Bishop / Coffee photo Padurariu Alexandru

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