Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

It was the day before Thanksgiving and Jay and I had split up kid duty for the day. I worked in the morning and Jay brought the kids to our noon communion service for the handoff.

When we all got eventually got home in the afternoon, I flopped on the bed to veg for a minute. Then I heard the goats, which was strange, because they're normally very quiet. After hearing them off and on for awhile, I decided to look out the window and see what was happening. This is what was happening

Sweet Elizabeth was giving birth while I was hanging out on my bed for a rest. We waited around, thinking that there might be another, but after awhile she birthed the placenta and we figured that the show was over.

We suspected that she might be pregnant when we got her, but because she was only carrying one, she didn't get as big as we assumed she would.

After the birth, we watched intently to see what would happen next. Dear Elizabeth licked that slimy thing for about five hours, trying to clean it off and get it to stand up. It finally stood up and we all cheered. Then we watched to make sure it would nurse. It didn't until the next day, which made us (mostly me) a little nervous, but things seemed to be going fine.

The baby spent Thanksgiving Day testing out her new legs, which are surprisingly long relative to the rest of her body. As my dad and I were watching her, she randomly starting hopping. Not around anything, not over anything. Just because. So we named her Hop.

Joshua has lobbied to change her name to Hope since that sounds prettier with Elizabeth and Lucy. We all finally gave in, because it just seems right seeing that she was born just before Advent.

More pictures of Hop(e) to come!



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Sunday, Part 2

So, I don't regret not having gone to any of the Big Room sessions, but I'm sure I would have really enjoyed them had I gone. The multimedia components of the sessions were a riot--YS is nothing if not masterful with multimedia. There were Scenes from the Youth Van and Youth Ministry Boot Camp that were true enough to real life to be pee-my-pants funny. Although I promise I didn't.

We started with Propaganda (a spoken word artist) and went directly to Superchick. They're not

my favorite, but I really do like Stand in the Rain.
Then it was time for Kenda. *Cue chorus of angels and the warming of my heart, Wesley-style.* She talked about the National Study of Youth and Religion and the church's need to reclaim its missional imagination. And that lady preacher got a whole Civic Center full of youth workers and youth to holler Amen! She was brilliant. Have I mentioned that I love her?

And the only thing that might have been better than that was David Crowder. I think it takes a special artist with a special heart to show the lyrics of all of his songs so that the crowd could sing along, and that's just what he did. In fact, he occasionally stopped singing so that we could. It was really fantastic.

I had been trying to figure out all week what to get the kids. T-shirts get ruined too quickly, and they have too many anyway. Blah, blah, blah. So I got them each a David Crowder CD, and when I told Joshua that I had heard the real singer of "How He Loves" sing "How He Loves," Joshua's head almost exploded.

Heading back to the hotel, I found myself walking next to a professor at Asbury Seminary who had been on the panel that I attended yesterday. It was nice to be able to pick his brain some more and swap kid stories. I got back with just enough time to eat and purchase download cards. Yes, one more stop at the bookstore to buy cards to use to download MP3s of some of the speakers that I missed. The people at the bookstore assured me that they were closing soon and that the temptation to purchase would no longer be ever-present (22 pounds of books, people. 22 pounds.)

One final session and I was off to the airport. It wasn't the most helpful session I went to, but it was a good way to close my time there. One of the last conversations I had at NYWC was with a woman that had also been in the Spiritual Retreat with Mark Yaconelli. We both shared that we were probably ready to go home but wouldn't have hated one more day. My problem was that I was starting to get a little anxious about picking the "right" seminars to attend and thus potentially missing something crucial in another seminar. Enter the beauty of the $6 MP3 download.

I arrived home to find all of my people intact and happy. I was too.

Blogging from NYWC--Sunday

I did not rally. I wanted so desperately to get into my jammies and take out my contacts that I succumbed to the temptation. After an episode or two of Big Bang Theory.

I went to Lauds again this morning. I'll be so sad not to do that tomorrow morning. It's been such a lovely and centering way to start the day. My morning choice was Duffy Robbins. I've heard of him in multiple circles, but have never read any of his stuff or heard him speak before.

Have I used the phrase "It did not disappoint" too much over the past few days? Because it applies here too.

His session was titled "The Ministry of Nurture: Helping Teenagers Grow Spiritually." This guy should do standup. His timing is impeccable.

More importantly, his content was fantastic. And he recommended a few of his own books which I will eventually purchase. But not now. (Hindsight from Sunday afternoon reveals that I bought so many books that I had to check an extra bag. A 22-pound extra bag. Full of books.)

After Duffy? My first Big Room.

Why? My new heroine Kenda and, of course, David Crowder.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Saturday, Part 2

After my brunch and much-needed nap (I think the true sign of Sabbath is the ability to listen to the body and respond to it appropriately. I'm totally giving that up as soon as I get off the plane--not looking forward to it).

One of the highlights of this year's event is a Theological Forum. It's geared toward youth workers who don't have theological degrees but are still interested in engaging in theological thinking and discussion (which I would hope would be all of them). The topics were:
  • What Does it Mean to Be a Person?
  • The Interaction Between Human Action and Divine Action
  • Theological Issues Impacting the Christian Formation of Adolescents
  • How Do Practical Theology and Culture Interact?
That doesn't really include me, obviously, but I was drawn by the panel members, particularly by Kara Powell and Kenda Creasy Dean.

For once, I was disappointed. But I probably should have guessed that I would be. The information wasn't very practical and it was really a little obtuse. But I got Kara and Kenda to autograph their books, so there you go. And I found out that Kenda is a UMC clergywoman, which I didn't know. She was splendid.

So I bought a few more books (I'm going to have to ship my new library back home because it's not going on the plane with me) and went to rest for a while.

I was headed back down to the Exhibit Hall for more free stuff when, get this...

...I ran into someone I knew!

Well, almost knew.

Gavin and I have been blogging and Facebook friends for about 6 years now, but we've never met in person. And seconds later he introduced me to a colleague of my aunt in Kentucky, and then I found myself walking in a group of 15 people to Ted's Montana Grill for dinner courtesy of the Kentucky Annual Conference! Thanks Becki!

Back at the Exhibit Hall I met another friend, too! I ate with people! And found friends! I feel like I'm in kindergarten all over again!

Friends!

Tonight there's a United Methodist shindig. How did it take me two days to find the Methodists?

Blogging from NYWC--Saturday

Even though last night was long, I decided to get up early for breakfast before Lauds, which wasn't really at 3:00am, but we're doing the best we can here. Starbucks has great oatmeal, if you're interested, and, yes, I ate alone.

Lauds was a wonderful way to start the morning and then I had another tough decision. The options for the morning Seminar were many, and most of them interested me. There was more Tony Campolo, Doug Fields, Michael Novelli, Kara Powell (she is such a babe), Duffy Robbins, and even more Mark Yaconelli.

But I went with the Wild Card: Steve Argue (isn't that an unfortunate name? Good thing he's got a sense of humor about it). His seminar was called "What Youth Workers Must Understand about Adolescent Faith Formation and Why it Matters."

The presentation itself was over-the-top fantastic. Even more, and what I love about this event as a whole, is that he hung around for about 30 minutes after it was over so that the desperate among us could ask him more questions.

I'm trying to decide if there's some meaning behind the fact that, when the rest of the room emptied, there were three UMC youth workers still there asking for help. He was brilliant and humble and funny and I was so sad when it was really time to leave.

After that I was hungry. So I bought myself a salad and some pretzels with hummus, went to my room, ate, and then took a nap. Yes, I ate lunch at 10:30 (9:30 my time) and then slept until 1:30.

You would have too. Admit it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Friday, Part 3

So, I rallied.

Actually, I wanted to hit the Exhibit Halls for some swag.

Little did I know...

I got a ticket when I walked in the door. The cutie that gave it to me said that they would be giving away prizes every quarter hour. And when she came through the exhibit hall at 10:15 (about the time Evening Prayer started, which I had planned to attend) I followed her and her bullhorn to the back corner where the giveaway was to be held.

And I won an iPad2.

And then I hung around the exhibit halls some more and decided to stop by and see if Lost and Found was still playing. And they were.

And I bought their stuff. And they indulged my photo desire.

This totally cracked me up. It was on the Message Board at the Conference. You know, So-and-So meet me at Starbucks for coffee at 1:00, stuff like that. This was my favorite.

Blogging from NYWC--Friday, Part 2

I have eaten more meals by myself in the last few days than I have in the rest of my life put together. But I think it's good for me. I'm so used to being with other people and enjoying distraction that it's probably a good way to stretch myself. I don't think I would have been ready for it had I not had the retreat experience with Mark. Yeah, we're on a first-name basis now. If we're ever having a conversation and I casually mention "Mark," you'll know who I'm talking about.

I'm a sucker for a sale, so I dropped an obscene amount of money in the bookstore before lunch because, you know, it was only 10% the whole selection until 1:00pm.

Just trying to be a good steward and all.

Then I had lunch. By myself. Here. (I had breakfast by myself too, for the record)

And then I had a problem. To go to Tony Campolo's lecture or to Kara Powell's lecture. It's a good problem to have, really, because there's no wrong answer.

Just for fun, here's the text conversation I had with Dan, my Senior Pastor.

Me: Do you think I'd enjoy Tony Campolo? Or would he not be my thing?
Dan: Ooooooooo! Don't you DARE miss him!
Me: Yes sir. Is he Methodist?
Dan: American Baptist. With a PhD in Sociology. Wonderful tradition-challenging man.
Me: Oh, then he's not some crusty old conservative. That's good.
Dan: No - neither crusty nor conservative.

So my mind was made up. And, again, it did not disappoint.

The lecture was called Recasting Theology for Postmoderns and most of what he said can probably be found on his website and in his book, both titled Red-Letter Christians. He is funny and wise and I think I may be just as crazy about him as I am about Mark Yaconelli.


After the lecture, I ran down to the bookstore to buy Red-Letter Christians, because now it's become a challenge to get a picture and autograph from each speaker I hear. He was
surrounded by a bunch of high school and college-aged students who wanted to talk more about the early church and pacifism. And then, bless him, his handler made him stop talking and leave.

But not before I shoved my book in his face.

Dinner was at Mary Mac's Tea Room, mandated by the boss man. I ate chicken and dressing that would make you smack yo' mama. And then I chose poorly which street to take home. But I'm alive. And now considering whether to be done for the day or to rally for a chance to see Lost and Found. But I sure wouldn't leave my room until I finish listening USJ trounce Knoxville-Webb in the state semifinals!

Blogging from NYWC, Friday

Oh, yes, there was more on Friday, but this time it wasn't quite so brutal.

Today Mark asked us to spend time reflecting on
someone we love dearly, to imagine ourselves filled up with love, and then to turn that overflowing love onto someone that we really don't like. Then we got clay. Once again, the profundity of the experience is lost in words, but this is what I made. I made it for Jay. I don't have it anymore, but I took a picture of it so I could tell him about it.

Afterwards, we sat around the floorpiece again, and took turns placing our clay symbols at the foot of the cross. As we did so, we were welcomed with a hug and the words "Welcome Home."

It was funny, but when it was finished, most of us didn't want to leave. We had been out to the lobby the use the restroom or to get a cup of coffee and it was so loud and busy and swirly. We wanted to stay in the dark and the quiet and silence--the outside felt so unholy,, so not sacred.

But I left, remembering what Mark said, "God is an ordinary experience."

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday, Part 3

There were three huge things that struck me.
  • I was amazed when, over and over, I heard people name the fear that I was going to name--often even using the exact same words. Every single person in the room had some profound fear or longing--even though, by all appearances, they had it all together. While I was sad that everyone had such deep fears and longings, part of me was relieved that I was not the only one who felt exactly the way that I do.
  • When we finally all sat down, Mark asked us to picture ourselves with Jesus outside at night, sitting with him like the disciples would have. And I thought for a second if it might be that just sitting in the presence of Jesus would have mended all the broken places in the disciples; if just being there with him just somehow healed up the wounds like the phoenix tears healed Harry's shoulder. And then I realized that of course that wasn't the case. But the profundity was that even in their brokenness Jesus was happy to sit there with them and call them friends.
  • Mark reminded us several times of the compassion and vulnerability of Jesus. He talked about how the compassion of Jesus makes Jesus willing to sit at the very bottom of our pain and brokenness and wait. And that when we're not willing to go there--when we stay out of our pain and choose not to look at it (and he certainly wasn't judging us for choosing not to look at it) we often wonder where God is. But when we descend into our wounded, we find that Jesus has been there all along, holding it himself and treating it tenderly. So even though it hurts, maybe we don't need to be so scared about going there. Because that's where Jesus is.

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday, Part 2

The name of the retreat was Come Home: An Invitation to Rest in God. The scripture that formed our time was the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus comes to visit.

He talked, then he'd send us out to do a prayer exercise. Then we'd come back and he'd have us share in small groups. I usually hate that, but in this case it wasn't bad. No one felt the need to overshare, and no one was attention-seeking, which are the two things that can make small groups really obnoxious. We were all just sort of overcome by the silence and contemplative spirit of the retreat, so we shared and then we moved on.

The tough part was that he had us digging around in some pretty tender and wounded places. So much so that by 6:00 Thursday night I was pretty worn out. He had us spend a lot of time thinking about our childhood home and our childhood selves, and then we had to have conversations with our childhood selves about their greatest fear and their greatest longing.

Yeah, it was intense.

Then we spent a lot of time reflecting on a time that was sacred for us in our past, and when I say a lot of time I'm talking like 30 minutes...a far sight longer than most of us (me included!) are comfortable sitting in silence with ourselves.

There were other exercises that won't sound profound if I describe them. It was a very sensual and experiential time...and so unbelievably cleansing. By the time it was over I was deeply centered and grounded. I had pushed aside the anxieties that I had brought with me. I found myself able to respond rather than react, and I found myself to be much more compassionate.

At the end of the night we sat stood in a circle around a floorpiece made of a cross and three candles. He asked each of us to name our deepest fear or our deepest longing and then to sit down in the way that Jesus encouraged Martha just to sit with him (the premise being that Martha felt that she needed to be "doing" instead of just "being" in order to be found acceptable.

Profound doesn't begin to describe it.

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday

First things first--The Atlanta Marriott Marquis is massive. It's like its own city. There are four lobbies. Fortunately, there are little cheat sheet plaques in the elevators that
list some of the things you can find on each floor. But sometimes I still get it wrong.

There are people with bullhorns everywhere. They stand in the street to direct people to the Civic Center for Big Room events. They were standing in one of the lobbies to direct people to registration, the bookstore (dangerous!) and the Exhibit Halls. It's loud.

There are two massive exhibit halls giving away enough swag to require another piece of luggage on the way home. And the bookstore is just the right size to be dangerously manageable.

It feels a little lonely. I feel like I'm one of the only people here by myself. But it took about an hours for me to get over that. Now I appreciate it. I appreciate being able to come and go as I wish and not needing to coordinate with other people. I'll be happy to come with other people next time, but this is good for now.

Now let's talk about Mark Yaconelli. Before I started at Grace in 2010 I knew zilch about youth ministry. Let's face it...that's mostly still true. But I happened to be looking through a Cokesbury catalog and saw a book called Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus. It didn't sound like your typical youth ministry book, so I bought it as well as Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry.

Oh my goodness did they make sense to me. I read and reread. I took notes. I decided that Mark Yaconelli was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I hemmed and hawed about coming to NYWC. Would it be worth it? Do I want to leave my family for four days? Is it going to be all skinny, hipster guys with goatees? But when I saw that Mark Yaconelli was directing a Spiritual Retreat the day before the event started--not a seminar about leading spiritual retreats, but an actual Spiritual Retreat--my mind was made up.

And it did not disappoint.

NYWC

I'm in Atlanta at the National Youth Worker's Convention sponsored by Youth Specialties. My intent was to blog every day about my life here, but last night I was just pooped and went to bed instead.

Why was I tired?

Because I spent five hours in spiritual retreat with Mark Yaconelli. It was a pre-conference offering that I couldn't pass up. Then we got up and had three more hours of retreat this morning. Whatever they charged for it, I would
have paid three times as much. Or asked the church to pay three times as much. Or something.

Anyway, here I am with the man whose book I happened to run across, and with whose theology and philosophy of youth ministry I find no fault.


I am so grateful for this.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Milestones

Seventeen years ago today (also a Saturday) I met my husband and went on my first date with them. You can read about that here.

Six years ago today (almost to the minute, also a Saturday that year) I was eating Portillo's (Jay may never forgive me for requesting that that be our "last supper") between contractions and trying to decide when to go to the hospital. You can read about that here.

November makes me happy. And it makes me reflect on my amazing journey with this incredible family that God has given me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Birthday Fun

A workday, midweek birthday isn't exactly recipe for a rockin' good time, but it was certainly made extra-special by a staff serenade of Happy Birthday during our weekly staff meeting. Then Jay picked me up from work and we went to Memphis for dinner.

I had a place in mind, but when Jay sent me the menu for Circa, I thought we should try that. And wouldn't you know that in a city of 700,000 people covering 300 square miles, the restaurant we chose was right next to Cokesbury. Seriously.

But it was fabulous. The walls are lined with wine bottles. The food is superb. I had the spinach salad with goat cheese (not shown on the menu), the Sorghum Cured Rack of Lamb (hold me!), and the hot chocolate souffle. Jay had the House Salad, the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast (the menu doesn't show it, but it also came with foie gras), and the Artisan Cheese Plate.

I only have one complaint. We ordered the Crawfish Beignets for an appetizer but the server forgot them. By the time we realized they weren't coming we had already been served our main courses and didn't really want to put it in reverse to go back to the appetizer. So he applied a $25 coupon to our ticket, which covered dessert. But I still never ate crawfish beignets. Sad.

All in all a great experience, topped off by great conversation with my soul mate on the way home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And Then There's the Guilt

I'm sitting on my living room floor, dressed for a run, and feeling so guilty.

Today's my day off. It's the day that I do absolutely nothing except that which I want to do. I usually use Thursday for my long run, and when I get home I'm pretty much wasted for the rest of the day. It is truly my Sabbath.

Why do I feel guilty? Because my baby girl was so teary when I dropped her off at school today.

We went to the doctor yesterday after a week of whining, fussing, and general malaise. Two nights ago she woke up crying because her teeth hurt, and yesterday morning she finally said that her ears hurt. A perfect explanation for all the unhappiness, and when we went to the doctor yesterday it was clear that she had a nasty ear infection. She insisted on going to church last night, though, because she said she didn't want to miss choir and her class. I thought she'd be feeling better today, but she was still a little whiny.

The problem is that she hasn't been thrilled with school yet this year, so it's hard for me to tell if she's whiny because she doesn't feel good or because she just doesn't want to go to school. And if I'd followed the same path with her that I did with Josh, she wouldn't BE going to school full-time right now. But she is, because that allows me to work full-time.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I don't want to set her up to hate school because I've forced her to go before she's ready. But selfish me wants to be able to work because I love my job. So I'm sad and confused.

Bleh.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And Then There's the Running

One of the things that I did during Lent was cancel my membership at the YMCA. Don't get me wrong...I love the Y and I love that the teachers there helped me get my body back into a shape other than "globular" after I had Clare. But after a few years I started to feel like maybe I was post-Y.

When I first started going in 2008, Y time was my time. It was the only time during the day that I was assured conversation with other adults, and the only time during the day that was completely my own. I left the house without having to strap someone into a carseat, and I got out of the car with both arms swinging.

And for the next two years I was a faithful member. I went to Spinning class at least once a week, and I went to aerobics classes at least three times a week. Then I started getting in to Zumba, and I even tried swimming once or twice. It was a great place, and I was glad to support it.

But my needs changed. As the kids got older and as I started working part-time outside of the house, I wasn't as desperate for my time. I could get that other places. And I felt like I had my fitness under control. I knew how much I needed to exercise, and what kind of exercising I needed to do, to keep myself healthy.

So about 9 months ago I decided that I was going to take care of exercise myself. I pulled out the Pilates DVDs again, and downloaded Week 1/Day 1 of Couch to 5K. I ran my first 5K last May and in June I started learning to run again, but barefoot.

Now I try to run at least 2 5Ks a week plus one long run as I train for my first 10K.

My body isn't as tough and toned as it was when I was going to the gym everyday, but that's OK. I really like running, and I really like knowing that I can keep myself healthy on my own.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When We Left Off...

So, after Lent was over I didn't say much more about what I learned. Honestly, I'm still processing it all. But one thing that was clear was that I could do a much better job of living simply.

Then I discovered Crunchy Betty. Any thoughts I had ever entertained about the possibility of reducing my dependence on things purchased at the store found a home right here. For years my family has been committed to eating locally--I can't tell you the last time I bought meat in a store--but I just knew there was more out there to help me get by with less.

So in the last few months I have been experimenting in my kitchen. Here are some of the changes I've made.
  1. I wash my face with local, raw honey. I know you think that sounds nuts, but try it for two weeks and you might just never go back to soap or cleanser or whatever else you use. Just honey. That's it.
  2. I make my own laundry detergent. My first try was a powder and it was fine, but I ran out quickly. On my second try I used too much Zote and ended up with a gelatinous goo. Fortunately I was still able to use it. On my third try I hit the jackpot. And the best part is that my children love to help make it, and in turn they love doing their own laundry. No, really, they do.
  3. I make my own deodorant. Yeah, that sounds shady, I know. The first recipe I tried worked well for a few weeks and then let me down. Then I tried another, simpler recipe which has been faithful to me for awhile, even through a 5K and an overnight canoe trip with the youth group.
  4. I make my own all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, and heavy duty cleaner. I love them all.
I've recently run into some concoctions for homemade stain removers, and I think those will be my next experiments.

I love doing this because it's cheap and because I know exactly what's going on my 'pits, on my laundry, and on my countertops. I don't worry about my children touching cleaner, and I feel like that in itself is just a healthier way to live.

If you're feeling a little froggy, give it a try!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cleaning Up

My profile description was all wrong, my profile picture was old, most of the links to other people's blogs were broken. At least it's been a while since I removed the links to "Sites I like because I'm a (nursing) mom"!

I did a little bit of housekeeping and updating tonight, hoping that would motivate me to return to the world of blogging. There's more to be done, but at least this is a start!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Government vs. Church

It's been a while since I've written, mostly because I read The Hole in Our Gospel and Radical by David Platt back-to-back. And that's a lot to process. I'll talk more about Radical later, but for now it's enough to say that it's a pretty amazing read. To be clear, I am theologically worlds away from David Platt, yet I agree with his conclusions about what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.

But something else has been on my mind for a week or so, and that's the role of government vs. church. Lately I've been keeping up with two organizations that work to eradicate world poverty. The first is called ONE.org, and if you're not terribly familiar with it, it may still ring a bell because Bono is its co-founder and biggest champion. The other is called Bread for the World. Its president is Lutheran pastor and economist David Beckmann (as far as I know, he doesn't play soccer) and its mission is to "urge our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad." They do this mainly by mobilizing communities to write letters to their representatives in Congress.

ONE.org says that it "fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, by raising public awareness and pressuring political leaders to support smart and effective policies and programs that are saving lives, helping to put kids in school, and improving futures.

I think that what I appreciate most about these organizations is that they are both effective in their mission of raising awareness about global poverty. They both also provide hope in that they show how regular people have made a difference, and they give "us" something to do.

But after reading The Hole in Our Gospel and reading about the resources sitting in the laps of American Christians, I wonder if we aren't just passing the buck by pressuring political leaders to make policy changes. Last I checked, the government of this country isn't obligated to make decisions that will eliminate poverty all over the world.

But the church is.

And if we are asking the government to make that task its responsibility, then we run the risk of absolving ourselves of that duty.

I'm still a member of both Bread for the World and ONE.org. I haven't written letters yet, but I am grateful for the hopefulness that both of those organizations bring to the feeling that "I'm just one person and I can't make a difference." But if I do choose to write letters, I will have to do lots of self-checking to make sure that I'm not doing so just to get myself off the hook.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Slight Departure

So much for First World Subsistence Living, at least for 24 hours.

Last October Jay and I went to the Flavors Culinary Event in Nashville sponsored by the American Liver Foundation. We knew that there was one in Memphis in the Spring but hadn't really planned on going to it until a few weeks ago. Things sort of fell in to place (it was the kids' Spring Break, we had childcare lined up, a Confirmation Retreat meant that I didn't have to teach Confirmation that night, Jay doesn't have Monday class until 11:00) and we decided that we might regret missing given the ridiculous amount of fun that we had in Nashville last Fall.

And it did not disappoint. As always, the ALF people were lovely and wonderful. The Mid-South Division Vice President of the ALF has no reason to know who we are but she does, and she always treats us like old friends. She even listed us as sponsors for the event even though we didn't pay any more than anyone else did.

Other highlights:
  • Our chef was from '37 at Harrahs in Tunica and prepared a menu that was just unreal. Here's the rundown: Duck confit risotto with smoked duck breast and black port cherry sauce, Tomato tartar with greens and lemon vinaigrette, Cauliflower Bisque with lobster tail, Thyme crusted lamb with sauteed arugula and bordelaise, and Orange and lemon zest cookie with vanilla bean ice cream and candied macadamia nuts. Heaven.
  • The LIVEr Champion this year was a woman named Amy Pollan whose husband, Benji, required a liver transplant due to Hepatitis C that he had contracted at two years old when he received a blood transfusion after a car accident. It wasn't diagnosed until he was 34. He got a transplant, the virus came BACK, he had more treatment, and they're still waiting to see if it will return again. They have two young children like Jay and I do, and it was great not only to hear their story, but to be able to thank them both personally for telling it.
  • One of the major sponsors of the event was a 70-year-old retired bigwig from FedEx who received a liver last December. He was an inspiration to see. He had no problem cheering himself on and basking in the recognition he received for pouring a pile of his own money into the event. It looked like his whole transplant team was there, too. He hopped from doctor to doctor talking about how well he was feeling. It was great.
  • Jay totally got pimped by the doctor who did Steve Jobs' liver transplant. It was a little annoying that he singled out Jay, who would like for people not to notice that he's a different color than everyone else, but it was still slightly cool to shake hands with the guy who replaced Steve Jobs' liver.
And of course it was great to spend time alone with the hubs. We carried our indulgence over into this morning when we went to the Trolley Stop Market for breakfast.

Oh, and Gina rocks my world. She took care of her two as well as my two, whom she treated as though they were her very own. I have a wonderful little village, I tell you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Simplifying

One of my projects over Lent has been inspired by the folks over at Simple Mom. She's identifying one "Hot Spot" for each week and challenging her readers to declutter that spot. So far I've donated about 5 garbage bags' worth of stuff to RIFA and gathered enough stuff for the Montessori Yard Sale that I could stock it without anyone else's contributions. It's been a great exercise in simplifying...really thinking about what I need and realizing that what I don't need might be better and more intentionally used by someone else.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choosing Poverty?

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day about my Lenten discipline. She stated that it was easier for her to have compassion for people living in poverty in other countries than it was for her to have compassion for people living in this country who "choose to be poor."

Of course no one chooses to be poor, but I've heard enough political and religious (!) rhetoric surrounding poverty and joblessness to know exactly what she means when she says that some people "choose to be poor." You know, those welfare moms who just keep having babies because they can get more government aid. And those folks who would rather sit and home and collect welfare checks that go out and get a job because that's just too hard. I don't doubt that there are such people out there who have given up looking for jobs, or that there are single women who are tired of struggling to make ends meet and decide that having another baby is a sure-fire way to get more money. And let's not forget young men and women who decide that the only way to break the cycle of poverty is to sell drugs.

But I say let's not pass judgment until we've been a mile in those shoes. It's easy for those of us who live in relative comfort to look down our noses at those people who'd rather lay in bed all day than go look for a job, especially when we haven't had the door slammed in our faces a million times, or when we haven't had to miss multiple days of minimum-wage hourly work to take care of a sick child--and then be fired.

If you believe that there are folks out there who choose that life, go ahead and read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and see if you think you can manage any better than she did.

Or take this challenge from Urban Ministries of Durham:


Or watch Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days episode where he and his girlfriend try to move to a new city and live on minimum wage for a month.

Go ahead.

Richard Stearns calls it the "web of poverty."
While it is true that systems that oppress the poor must be challenged to achieve any lasting escape from poverty, even righting all of the systemic wrongs in a community does not automatically liberate the poor from their shackles. There are other, more subtle factors at play. After decades of entrenched material poverty, many communities suffer from poverty of spirit as well. They have lost faith in themselves and given up after too many heartbreaks and disappointments. My World Vision colleague Jayakumar Christian calls this the 'marred identity' of the poor. After a lifetime of exclusion, exploitation, suffering, and want, they no longer see themselves as people created in God's image with creativity, potential, and worth. They have lost the last thing that can be taken from them--hope.
He also says this:

There is no space here to do justice to all of the various theories on why people are poor and how they can move toward wholeness, but it is important for you to understand that poverty is highly complex and that there are no simple and quick fixes. And when we prescribe one particular 'pill' because we see just one particular symptom, the poor never seem to get well. In fact, they find themselves gulping down handfuls of pills prescribed by too many would-be doctors with too little real understanding of their lives. The poor are not lab rats on whom we can experiment with our pet theories; they are human beings with rich cultural and personal stories of their own. They have hopes and dreams, tragedies and triumphs in their lives. They need us to love them first and then listen to them. They need us to see their assets and their God-given abilities. Mother Teresa once said, 'When we see [those in poverty] as God sees them, we will glimpse His image in their faces--Christ in His most distressing disguise.'
Doesn't sound like something I'd choose.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Money

One of the things that Stearns talks about in his book is tithing. And of course I have lots of thoughts and questions about it. I agree that we are to give to God our firstfruits, and that the money that we give should be the first thing to be paid out of the budget. I don't do that, but I think it's the right thing to do.

Here are some of the statistics he shares:
  • The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion dollars.
  • It would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty.
  • American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control about half of global Christian wealth.
  • If every American Christian paid his or her tithe, we would have an extra $168 billion to spend in funding the work of the Church worldwide.
  • Less than 40 percent of the $168 billion (only $65 billion) could eliminate the most extreme poverty on the planet for more than a billion people.
Wow.

Which led me to think...How many of us, when we go to visit a new church and are considering becoming members, ask to look at the budget? How many of us who are active and long-time members of a church take a regular and careful look at the budget?

I ask this because the budget of a church tells a lot (maybe everything) about the church's values and and priorities. And if I'm going to give 10 percent of my income to that church, then that church's priorities had darn well better align with mine. What if my church spends the lion's share of its budget to maintain an enormous and ornate building? What if my church spends its money to replace the computers every two years and to ensure that every staff member has an iPhone and a brand new iPad? (I'm just making this up as I go along. Forgive the silly examples).

What if, on the other hand, the church created and abided by a budget in which a full half of its income went to missions? What if they decided not to own a church building so that they could keep property maintenance/management costs down and give that money to local programs for those living in poverty? What if they used part-time staff and lots of lay volunteers to be responsible for the leadership of the church so that other money could go to community development projects? That's a church where I would be glad to fork over my 10 percent. (That's not to say that I don't do that now because I don't agree with my church's priorities. I just haven't gotten my own financial house in order).

Which leads me to the question, Does a tithe, to really be a tithe, have to go to the church? Or can it go to other agencies and organizations whom I believe to be doing the work of God in the world.

Ideas?

A Conundrum

I have a wonderful friend, Gina, who has outfitted Joshua for the last 4 of his 5 years. Her older son is 1 1/2 years older than Joshua, so Joshua borrows his clothes and then we give them back for Gina's younger son, Henry. I am profoundly grateful for Gina's generosity since I have rarely had to buy clothes for Joshua--that's really huge.

In an attempt to be frugal with Clare's clothing, I have relied heavily on consignment stores and consignment sales. Unfortunately, the awesome consignment store in Jackson recently closed, which leaves consignment sales as my only option. And when are those consignment sales happening? During Lent, of course.

I had originally justified shopping for kids' clothes during Lent by convincing myself that it's for my kids and not for me (I have already wept a tear over not shopping for myself at the upcoming sale in which I am also a consignor). But to be true to what I'm doing as a mother I feel like I should have to forgo buying clothes for my kids as well. But if I miss these sales then I'm stuck buying full-price clothes, and I really feel like that's a poor use of money too. I can't stand paying full price for clothes (unless they're from Sew Sassy) that my children are going to wear for 6 months max.

I looked to see if there were any other sales after Easter, but of course there aren't. So I guess I'll shop and chalk it up to another fail, along with my art purchases and my van.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Thoughts

Last night I finally finished Richard's Stearns' The Hole in Our Gospel. He's the President of World Vision and he has quite the story to tell. He had spent his life climbing the corporate ladder until he was the CEO of Lenox, and then he got the call from World Vision that they wanted him to serve as their President. He's traveled all over the world and seen the unimaginable in all of its corners. He presents all sorts of statistics about hunger, poverty, deaths from preventable diseases, and the effects of AIDS in developing countries. At the same time, however, he encourages readers NOT to be overwhelmed by these statistics. Becoming overwhelmed, he says, can give us the impression that there's nothing one person can do to make a difference. But each of us can do something to change the lives of people who know such despair.

As a result of the book, and of my own discipline of doing my best to live only with what I need (I know, I've already blown it), I've become much more interested in the problem of hunger, both in this country and around the world. I've been poking around at Bread for the World and ONE. I was already getting emails from ONE, but I often deleted them before reading them since they got bogged down in all of the other junk email I was getting. So today I unsubscribed to about 20 email sources. I hope that this will make the emails that I get from ONE and Bread for the World stand out in greater relief when they show up in my inbox.

Anyway, both sites have given me more to think about, as have the different pages on Stearns' website that give concrete ways that individuals can take action to address hunger and poverty.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Which I Discover that My Van is Really a Tank...and Then Cheat

Yesterday I backed into a telephone pole. I hit it so hard that I didn't even notice that I had spilled my entire cup of coffee in my lap until about 5 minutes later. I hit it so hard that I knew my back bumper must be crushed. But when I got to my next destination and got out to inspect, I realized that there was only a 3-inch long vertical gash in the bumper. When I wiped the dirt off, it was hardly noticeable.

But I decided that this was the opportunity to take care of several body-work issues at the same time since we never got the car fixed after hitting a deer last December. So I called Jay to let him know that I was going to call a Claims Agent at our insurance company to get the repair work started, and then Jay mentioned "deductible."

Oops.

Paying for a non-necessity. Of course I can justify it. I'm simply being a good steward of what I have by taking care of it. 1) If there's unseen damage, it's better to have it repaired now than find out later that there were issues I didn't know about. 2) I wouldn't want my bumper to get rusty where the paint stuck to the telephone pole.

Oh, how easy it is to justify. If I was being really true to the spirit of what I'm doing, I would spend the next six weeks worrying about those things instead of actually taking care of them. That would be true to my discipline--worrying about something that I couldn't take care of right away, and feeling that angst and concern.

But I can take care of it. And I will. And I'm making a BIG exception here that I can only make because I live a life of privilege and contentment. There's my confession.

And I've already purchased pieces from the art show that I mentioned. They are beautiful, and Jay is technically buying them. But let's be honest, he hasn't even seen them, and I'm the one who's been in contact with the artist about purchasing them. Again with my life of privilege.

It's easier to cheat than I thought. Easy to pat myself on the back for not ordering my Sunday NYT on my Nook. Hard to stick with the discipline when I can so easily justify the big things that I want.

Feeling like a poser.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Lenten Reflection


I tend to be a little bit behind, so I didn't discover this powerful video until last year. But I went back to several times during Lent last year, and was glad to remember to watch it again this year.

I'm a little late to the David Crowder Band, too, but now I'm a fan!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taking Things for Granted

There are already a few things that I am aware of that I will be sacrificing for Lent. In the spirit of not purchasing anything that isn't necessary, I will be giving up:
  • The new running shoes that I was going to buy as I train for my first 5K. The race is the Saturday after Easter, so I will probably forgo them altogether since it's probably not a good idea to run 3 miles in shoes that aren't broken in.
  • Haircut, eyebrow wax, and pedicure I was going to get in anticipation for the Flavors of Memphis event on March 27. Good thing I haven't given Molly her dress back from the last Flavors event. ;) Maybe I should do that. I don't like this much. My hair is dry and split and desperately needs a trim. My eyebrows are neanderthal, and my feet are not pretty. The dinner was going to be my excuse to do all of that. Not anymore! In fact, the only reason I'm allowing myself that one luxury meal is because we already paid for it.
  • Books, books, and books. I would love to have these books that I found on Simple Mom's recommended reading list, and my friend Sarah also recommended a great-sounding book called Chasing Francis. But those will have to wait. Jay asked last night if I could accept gifts, but I think that goes against the spirit of what I'm trying to do.
It's a good thing that the only coupon from Living Social that came in today on my email was 10 units of botox. Wasn't hard to delete than one.

These are just things I take for granted. When I want them, I just go out and get them without thought of price, convenience, or impact.

Now I will think about them. Especially as I get ready for my first Saturday of fasting tomorrow.

Edited to add:

There's one other thing... in keeping with our family tradition of only hanging art in our house created by local artists or people we know, I was really looking forward to this Senior Art Show at Lambuth. I know I'm going to love her work, and I imagine that we will want some of it to come home with us. In this case I may have to accept a gift from Jay.




Thursday, March 10, 2011

Well Goodie for You, Abraham

Matthew 19 tells us that inheriting eternal life hinges on one's willingness to leave behind siblings, parents, and children to follow Christ's radical call. No, you may argue, inheriting eternal life hinges on asking God to forgive us for our sin, and asking Jesus to come into our hearts and be our God. But I submit this for consideration:

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are last will be first, and many who are first will be last." (Matthew 19: 29-30)

For another example of "eternal life means more than saying the right prayer," see Matthew 25:31-46.

But back to Matthew 19. Obviously I'm not so much concerned about receiving a hundredfold in exchange for obedience to Christ. Nor am I concerned that disobedience will result in an eternity in hell. I'm concerned that, when Jesus tells us that something will result in eternal life, it must be pretty serious. And so it's pretty serious that Jesus tells us that we must be willing to leave home, family, and livelihood for his sake.

And as I've thought about what I wouldn't be willing to give up in my life for the sake of obeying Christ's call to a complete reversal of values, I have come up with one thing. But it's a biggie: The health and safety of my family.

Jay's continued health is dependent on being near specialists and hospitals and, one day, crack transplant teams. And my kids? Forget about it. If I had been Abraham, I would have laughed right in the face of Almighty when I was commanded to sacrifice my child. I would have said, "Look, Friend, this has been a real trip, but this is where you and I part ways. I'm out."

So if those things are non-negotiable for me, am I ready to be radical? Am I really ready to submit to countercultural, reversal-of-values obedience? I don't know.

And what does health and safety entail? If I find out along this journey that God is calling me to give up my life savings, the treasure that I have "stored up on earth," does that compromise the health and safety of my children? What about college funds? (Let's face it, my dad's the only one who's been filling up those coffers) But does that compromise their health and safety? Do I cheat them somehow?

Questions I am pondering.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lent

On Christ the King Sunday last year, my pastor took a quick detour to the Parable of the Talents, where he asked us to consider that maybe the servant who buried the talent was the most faithful of the three. When the youth group was discussing it that evening, they characterized it as “Sticking it to The Man,” which I thought was pretty accurate. Ever since then I have had an ache in my heart, wondering how—and if—I ever Stick it to The Man. Or if I just ignore the parts of the Bible where Jesus calls us to be completely countercultural. Where he calls us to sacrifice everything (no, really, everything) to follow him. Where he calls us to abandon anything (Right. Anything) that keeps us from giving our hearts fully to him. Or if I am just like everyone else, Christian or non-Christian, who lives in relative comfort, not really rocking the boat, not really doing anything that screams, “Jesus is my Lord! I trust Jesus ALONE! Not money! Not stuff! Not anything else! Just Jesus!”

And I have to conclude that, really, there’s nothing about my life that says, “Look, I’m following a radical teacher who tells me that I have to be willing to give up everything to follow him. Nope. There’s really nothing that much different about me, except that I go to church several times a week and really think there’s no better way to talk theology than over a beer (because really, there isn’t). I’m good at talking theology. But my life is not radical.

I started thinking more about this radical obedience to Jesus when my youth did the 30-Hour Famine for World Vision. Then I started reading Richard Stearn’s book The Hole in Our Gospel. He’s the president of World Vision and has an incredible story to tell. He says that the hole in our gospel is that we skip over the part where Jesus tells us that whatever we’ve done to the least of these, we’ve done to him. And when we’ve turned our backs on the least of these, we’ve turned our backs on him too. And then my friend Jason posted this, which just made me sick to my stomach.

For these last months I have felt this ache in my heart, this unsettled feeling that there is something more to my life, to my family’s life, than this complicit participation in a world where 10 million children die in Africa each year because of preventable diseases. Where children in our own country look forward to getting their school breakfast on Monday morning because they’ve had nothing to eat since lunch on Friday. How dare I call myself a follower of Jesus in the midst of my own comfort and complacency.

During the next 40 days of Lent I will be doing what I’ve dubbed, “First World Subsistence Living.” During Lent I will only be consuming what I need. I will not buy clothing, home improvement “stuff,” cosmetics, Living Social/Groupon/SnagMob deals, or anything else that isn’t essential. I will not radically change the kinds of foods I consume, but I will be eating only what I need to eat. No desserts, no lattes, no snacks, nothing rich/decadent. If I go to restaurants I will eat simply: salads, small portions, etc. On Saturdays, when I usually allow myself to eat whatever I want without worrying about calories…I will fast from sunup to sundown. Someone asked me tonight how I will know what’s “nonessential” and my answer is that I will be accountable to myself. I will approach each situation with intentionality, keeping in mind the spirit of what I’m doing and why.

I trust that during this journey, which will also include lots and lots of prayer and scripture reading, I will have a clearer picture of how I (and my family) am to respond to the upside-down-world call of Jesus.

I’ll let you know how that works out.