Wednesday, December 26, 2007

meditation of the day

It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ teaches us the Truth about human life. The Christian faith affirms much more. The Truth of life is the Mystery at the origin of all that exists. All religions seek to discover this Truth. Only the Christian, however, will affirm that the Truth became a human being in the womb of a Jewish woman; that he was born as a baby and grew up as a man; that he was followed by people who were struck by the way he lived his life; and that he was executed by some of his opponents but rose from the dead victorious over space and time and is thus still present in his humanity in our midst. Only a Christian would say this. Jesus is the name of a concrete individual man who is the human embodiment of the Truth that all religions seek. He is the Truth made man. This is what we believe. It is not enough to say that Jesus is the name we give to the Truth. Jesus is the man who is the incarnation of the Truth. For this reason, before identifying himself as the Truth, Jesus calls himself the Way. Jesus is the Way to the Truth. To be a Christian is to embrace the Way to the Truth that Jesus is ... we do not seek solutions to the problems of life derived from religious sentiments, spiritual approaches, or philosophical convictions. We do not have answers to questions. In each circumstance of life, whatever it is, we seek not an answer but a Presence, the human presence that is the way to the "Answer," to the Truth. We do not come together as Church to find intellectual answers to our questions about the meaning and purpose of life. This is to reduce to the Church to an ideology. We come together not to find answers but to learn how to recognize and affirm a Presence. The Church is not "our way" of finding answers to our religious quest for the Truth; it is the method through which the Truth becomes humanly present to us. As the prolongation of Christ's presence in the world, it is the method through which the Truth becomes incarnate for us ... We come together as the Church to learn how to recognize the fact of this Presence, and to witness to it in any circumstance of life, especially when there are no answers. Jesus Christ is the way to the Answer. In him, way and answer coincide. - Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete

Monday, December 24, 2007

watch this video

Cool art/homelessness project in Albuquerque ... for every unique view this video draws during the holiday season Mudhouse Advertising will donate $1 to Art Street and Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas music

official Christmas albums of my childhood: Harry Simeone Chorale, and the Beach Boys Christmas. I would play that first one over and over until my dad pleaded with me to stop. The second one included a priceless greeting from the Boys themselves:

"Hi, this is Denny, and speaking for the rest of the guys
I'd like to say that it has been a great pleasure
for all of us to bring you this Christmas album.
We hope you will treasure it the way we do.
And if you hap happen to be listening to this album right now,
Mike, Brian, Carl, Al and I would like to wish every one of you a very merry Christmas,
and we hope the new year brings you as much happiness as this year has brought us.
Thank you very much."

what I'm listening to this Christmas: MercyMe's The Christmas Sessions, also Christmas with the Rat Pack. MercyMe's version of "O Holy Night" is my favorite ever. Another favorite is Chris Rice's song "Welcome to Our World." I've been listening to Bebo Norman's Christmas album a lot and I love his version of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." I also love the album "The Court of a King" by the Crossing but the CD is funny and will only play in my car.

I change the radio station immediately when I hear: Relient K's "12 Days of Christmas" (not my style); anyone singing "The Christmas Shoes." (worst Christmas song ever. No, worst song ever.)

What about you? What did you listen to growing up? What are you listening to now?

Friday, December 21, 2007

king of glory

Saw a link to this video on Justin's blog, and have been laughing ever since. It spurred a conversation at dinner Thursday night about the Internet and what "viral" means ... I've e-mailed this video to my household, a coworker, and a choir director ... enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

moo

I've been told that perhaps I don't post enough anymore, so I wanted to put something up today, but I don't really have anything to say, so I found a link for you all to enjoy instead ... my mom e-mailed me this years ago, in college ... how to tell if your cow has mad cow disease.

Have a great day!
Sheila:)

Monday, December 10, 2007

uncle scrooge and nephew fred

Just a quick post because I haven't blogged in a while ... this past weekend I saw A Christmas Carol twice: Thursday night in South Bend and Saturday night in Amana, Iowa where Dan is doing his acting internship. Who doesn't know this story? and I have to say that the line "God bless us every one" has never inspired me in the least. But I haven't actually seen the play in years and I was surprised by a few things ... first by how modern Scrooge sounded as he talked about the "surplus population." Second by how quickly he changed once he was shown a new perspective (by the way, it was the showing, not a lifetime of people telling it to him, that changed him). By the time Christmas Present comes around, Scrooge really wants to see and learn and change.

But the thing that moved me the most (much more than that trite little Tiny Tim) was the patient love that Scrooge's nephew Fred had for him. For Pete's sake, if your uncle was Ebenezer Scrooge and he was mean to everyone and rejected all your invitations and shut himself off from all the world, wouldn't it be easy to just leave him there and stop trying? I was kind of touched by the way that Fred came in with all his Christmas spirit, undoubtedly knowing he'd be rejected again, and even more by how he joyfully welcomed Scrooge into his home once Scrooge has had his change of heart. He doesn't berate Scrooge for taking so long to get the Christmas spirit, he doesn't even question what happened, he just welcomes him in. Kind of like the Father's love for us. My hope this Christmas is to be more like Fred, to leave behind cynicism and self-righteousness and just invite people wholeheartedly into joy and love.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving numbers

6:30 was wake-up call so I could drive Dan to the airport. 8:15 was the meeting time at Sarah's house so she and Nora and Pete and I could all drive up to the race together.

41:07 was my official time for the 5K. That's 49th out of 50 women in my age group, and 307th out of 321 total women, and 664th out of 688 total runners. But gee whiz, who cares about those numbers. I ran and finished and had fun AND improved my personal 5K time by 6 minutes. The more important number here is 8 brothers & sisters cheering each other on at the race.

5 was the number around the table at Thanksgiving dinner. My choir-friends Joni and Kevin and their daughters Sarah and Bridget, and me. I had 2 servings of stuffing. We played 2 rounds of Skip-Bo after dinner and then chilled in the living room listening to Nanci Griffith, whom Joni and Kevin have seen in concert 6 times.

When I left Joni & Kevin's, the snow was falling thickly and I couldn't resist going to Notre Dame to see how beautiful it would be. 25 is the approximate number of snowy-tree photos I took there while my fingers froze numb ... would have been more (and I would have gotten frostbite) but my battery died.

2.5 hours is how long I spent watching a cheesy movie on TV (and resting my race-weary, snow-chilled body). 62 is what I turned the thermostat to before going upstairs with the intention of going to bed. Instead of bed I started my 56th blog post.

11:34 is the time right now, and it's time to go to sleep.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

yes, i am still here

Wow, it's been almost two weeks since I blogged. Crazy! I don't have anything particularly momentous to share today either but I thought I'd post something so my regular readers (i.e. my mom) know that I am still alive. So, random thoughts ...

... my ankle is way better. Thursday was the first day that I woke up and realized by ankle wasn't hurting. And then on top of that it started feeling *normal* again. Not just not-hurting, but like "oh, this is what it felt like before I sprained it." Hooray for the power of the body to heal itself, even if it does take a month! My ankle injury and healing process has also made me super-grateful for the overall health of my body. And even happier that I am using my body to its fullest (in soccer and running) while it is young and healthy. I'm not getting any younger you know!

... THE RACE is just three days away! My dear running buddies Kyle and Sarah have helped me run the distance (5K or 3.1 miles) twice now. So now I feel like the actual race will be rather anticlimactic ;) but maybe having all those people watching and cheering will make it more exciting ;) In any case, I am still kind of astonished that I can actually do this. Someday I will do it in less than 47 minutes ...

... my workplace, which shall remain nameless, has asked me to remove all references to it from my blog (new blogging policy). Erasing everything was pretty painful, and there have been a number of things I've wanted to write about in the past few weeks and couldn't, which has also been hard. But for now I'll hold them in my heart and try to keep my eyes open for the beautiful and interesting things going on in the rest of my life. Maybe this will help me not to focus on work too much :)

... tonight is the first Citybuilding discussion for the South Bend branch. Having heard a talk on it yesterday, and anticipating the discussion tonight, already made me think more throughout the day about what our city should look like. For example, read this article about the infamous Wooden Indian motel. The controversy over new licensing policies for budget motels is interesting but for me, the real question is how do we care properly for the mentally ill in our community, and how can we be Christ to the prostitutes and drug dealers ...

... "we need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the window, carols at the spinet ..." I couldn't wait for Thanksgiving this year to start listening to Christmas music. Partly that could be because we had a Thanksgiving dinner for Anne's birthday last Sunday and after cooking a turkey, it just has to be Christmastime. It's also because things were a little rough at my unnamed workplace and I just needed a little cheering up. I needed to sing in celebration of the Incarnation and think more about Christ being born into the muck of this world. He's here with us, came to be with us even though we'd messed up the world so darn much - just because He loves us. Praise God. (So, don't laugh at me for listening to Christmas music early!)

... some of my Christmas music is swing and when I put it on I couldn't resist holding my invisible partner's hands and dancing around my room (gently so as not to hurt my ankle). Can't wait to swing dance again!

... I've been out of soccer for about a month now and I realized Saturday night, when we were kicking a ball around lightly in Kyle's basement, that sometime in the past year and a half I transformed from a person who is afraid to play soccer, to a person who doesn't mind it, to a person who likes it a lot, to a person whose feet itch for movement when she can't play. I wonder if the same will happen with running.

... this blog is quite long enough now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

cleaning house

My dear friend Kristin is moving across town, and twice I've had the opportunity to help her get the new house ready. Last Thursday a bunch of us went over to wash walls. I used to live in Kristin's new neighborhood so it was delightful to work with (and chat with) my old friends from that area - Mary Ann and Larry, Geoff and Sue, Peggy and Bill, and Ron and little Owen (who is not so little anymore, when did he get so tall?). The nicest part, though, was seeing that big group of people, whom I love, pour out their love for Kristin, whom I love. Everyone was scrubbing cheerfully and seemed entirely happy to be there. Such a nice and quiet but also profound way for them to welcome Kristin's family more into their lives.

Then last night my women's group and another group from the new area (and Sarah too because she is always there when there's work to be done) got together to paint some wood paneling in the basement and take care of miscellaneous items on Kristin's to-do list. We had a lot of fun! I had a major flashback to Allendale since the wood paneling was just like the house that we painted down there. I unconsciously slipped back into crew-chief mode and after I finished taping around doorways, I walked around for a few minutes checking on everyone and quietly inspecting their work ;) I was even working with the mother of one of the teens I went to Allendale with, and it was fun to have a chance to tell her how much I'd enjoyed working with her son.

Anyway, the house was filled with people and we all got a lot of work done. And all the men will be there tonight moving everything in. How the heck does everyone else in the world handle a move like this? Well, I guess they hire movers and painters. But movers and painters don't welcome you into the neighborhood and make your house into your home before you even move in ... praise God for what Kristin got to experience with all of us and what we all got to experience with Kristin!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

yes, you can have my photos

So, I got a digital camera this summer ... so that I could post photos on my blog, edit them to make them look nicer, do digital storage instead of shoeboxes under my bed, and stop buying disposable cameras. I wasn't really thinking much of the sharing part ... not that I was opposed to sharing photos, I just wasn't aware what it would take.

Whenever I got photos developed before, I would get doubles and when people looked through my new photos, if they wanted one, they just took it. Done. Now that my photos exist on CDs instead of on paper, people see me taking a picture, they ask me to send it to them, and much to the surprise of oblivious little me, now I actually have to do something to make that happen. I could e-mail it to them, but I take my photos on the high-quality setting and it takes a billion years to email them. So about twenty people suggested I get a Flickr account, but it just wasn't that simple for me. As scatterbrained as I can be, I can also be pretty finicky - I wanted my photos to be just right, and I wanted them nicely organized so that family did not have to look at twenty shots of my friends before getting to the Christmas photo of my nephew, and my friends did not have to see all my family members when all they wanted to see was that one beach picture, and nobody would have to see my six dozen landscapes unless they wanted to.

So, I had all these standards for photo sharing, and thanks to Kodak picture CDs and my digital camera, I had fourteen months' worth of photos to both edit and organize. And that was a little overwhelming. (It became more overwhelming every time someone suggested Flickr.) So I decided to dedicate my October vacation to getting things organized, and I spent three days on my mom's computer, editing each and every photo and putting them all into albums on Picasaweb. I can't guarantee that I will keep up with all this, but I'll try ... but for now, for all of you who have been waiting patiently for me to share my photos, they are now ready to be shared. Enjoy!

(PS - I probably didn't have to write such a long blog post about all this, but I felt like I had to explain to you all why I took so long and why I got that look on my face whenever you said "Flickr.")

family


people of fun


PoP general

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

i heard it on NPR

Somewhere in Ohio, early afternoon on Saturday, as I was driving home to South Bend, I heard a set of stories about violence. The first was about a new program in Philadelphia, the second was about memorial T-shirts for victims of violence, but the third, about a personal response to violence, was the one that literally made my jaw drop. Go listen to it here. The whole set is eleven minutes long, the third story begins around the 7:30 mark. The Washington Post also covered the same story, not as well, but if you'd rather read than listen, then go here to read about it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

sprained ankle, broken heart

We had an awesome game of soccer last night! Except for the part where I was rolling around on the floor in pain. The good news is, I did not break any bones! Hooray for my 26-year "no broken bones" streak! The bad news is, I need to wear an air cast and take it easy for the next two weeks at least, so I am officially out of the 5K on Nov. 3.

I was pretty bummed this morning when I woke up and realized I probably needed to go to Med Point and that I probably would not be running my first race anytime very soon. My most recent training run, out in Pennsylvania farmland this weekend, surrounded by cornfields and mountains and a sunrise that glorified the autumn leaves, was quite inspiring and I was starting to get really excited about the Run Baby Baby Run. So at 7:00 this morning, after a sub-par night of sleep, realizing this Baby would not be Running was worthy of a few tears. But Anne helped me put things in perspective and really, things are not so bad. I'm not in much pain, I'll recover pretty soon, I may even be able to do the Turkey Trot race on Thanksgiving, and even if I'm not better in time for that, the world will not come to an end.

* But, it was still enough of an event to blog about. So you can post your sympathetic comments now. ;)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

covenant

A week and a half ago, a couple hundred people told me they would stick with me forever. Now, I was actually the one "making the covenant" (myself and six others in our branch of the People of Praise), and I did tell those hundreds of people that I would stick with them too; but the cool thing about the covenant ceremony is that the newbies and the already-covenanted members all say the covenant together. Because "together" is the point of it all.


I've delayed writing this post because I just couldn't settle on the right words, especially because some of you reading this don't exactly know what I'm talking about. For you, here's a brief explanation: the People of Praise is an ecumenical, charismatic, covenant community. It's not my church (I go to Mass at Holy Cross and try to be pretty involved there); it's a way to live with other Christians, and build God's kingdom, beyond my life in my parish. In the People of Praise I live in household, work in the Action Division (that's the group I go to Louisiana with every summer), hang out with my women's group once a week, hang out with the young adults group the rest of the time, and get together with everybody in the branch on Sunday afternoons for a prayer meeting. There's tons more to say about it, but that's a basic explanation.

(If you click on the "POP" tag at the end of this post you can take a look at all the other posts that have had something to do with my life in the People of Praise.)

So that's PoP. What's "making the covenant"? Basically it's making a formal statement that I am going to be part of the People of Praise for the rest of my life. It's a pretty big deal (my mom even came out for the covenant ceremony, thanks Mom!). But in another way it's not a big change. I made the covenant on a Sunday. Monday morning I got up and lived the same PoP life that I lived on Saturday and many days before (I've been in PoP for about seven years). Actually, the whole thing is beautifully mundane. While much of the covenant statement is eloquent, the last line is decidedly un-poetic: "... we agree that the weekly meeting of the community is primary among our commitments and that we will not be absent except for a serious reason." The end. I love that it's not poetic. Because Christian life is not about poetry - although sometimes it is quite beautiful - mostly it's about practical decisions and day-to-day details. Rolling out of bed in time to croak out a song at household morning prayer. Cutting errands short to make it to the PoP center on time for a prayer meeting. Bringing pretzels and two liters of Dr. Pepper to a women's event. These are the things I've been doing for the past sven years and I'm just going to keep on doing them.

But the part that really is awe-inspiring is the people. Apart from all the things we do - we could change it all tomorrow if the Spirit so led us - apart from all the meetings and routines, I have quite simply bonded myself to a couple hundred people in South Bend, and hundreds elsewhere, anf they have bonded themselves to me. We've promised to support each other "spiritually, materially, and financially." We will praise the Lord together, build His kingdom together, live life together, for the rest of our lives. As a covenanted friend joked last night: "We're stuck with each other."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

i jogged a mile ...

without stopping ... it took me 14 minutes.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

slow but steady

(more info than you ever wanted on my training process)

I did not want to run with anyone this morning. Despite the fact that Kyle and I planned weeks ago to run together this morning so he could help me train for the 5K, I just did not want anyone to see me "running." Between lackluster results (couldn't run more than 2 minutes at a time) and a not-fun running experience (felt like dying about half the time I was out), it had been a discouraging week, and the last thing I wanted was to display my total incompetence in front of a real runner who clearly, despite good intentions, would clearly not be able to help such a hopeless case.

(I'd already been seen by some friends who happened to drive down Riverside the same time I was running on Wednesday. Brian told me on the phone Friday, "we saw you running ... you were gasping for breath ... looking like, 'What am I doing out here?'")

But because I didn't want to let Kyle down, I drove up to his place and we started down the street. I'd told him that in the past couple runs I actually hadn't made it past the minute mark, and he said we should try for a minute fifteen. "OK," I said doubtfully, "we can try ..." Of course he then quoted Yoda.

We ran, I asked him how long we'd been going, he wouldn't tell me, we kept running, I felt like dying, I stopped, he said it was a little over two minutes. He also told me I was running too fast.

Too fast? I'm the slowest person I know!

I ran a little slower next time and managed to go for two and a half minutes. Then Kyle told me to jog as slowly as I possibly could. I followed orders and crept along, going slower than I do walking. But I jogged, and kept jogging, and when I finally stopped, it had been six minutes! And, I didn't even feel like dying. I was pretty winded but overall I didn't feel too bad.

We ran some hills, they were pretty terrible, but when we got back onto flatland, things went better. I was getting pretty tired, though, which was silly considering how agonizingly slow I was going, but that's life. We jogged past a little old lady and her dogs, waved and said hello, and she called out to Kyle, "You might have to pick her up and carry her!" But we kept running and when we stopped, it was seven minutes and thirteen seconds.

At this point, I might actually be able to RUN the entire 5K. Hooray for friends who help me through!

Friday, September 28, 2007

belated birthday thoughts ...

... my Tuesday night volunteer at the front desk, Stuart, asked me what I'd be doing for my birthday. "We're going over to my friend Sarah's house," I responded enthusiastically. "We're going to play Scrabble and have rice krispie treats." Stuart was not impressed. In reality, I spent the weekend before my birthday in Angola, IN at Justin's family's place on Crooked Lake with the other young adults. We canoed and kayaked and jet skied and looked up at the stars from a boat in the middle of the lake and sang a lot of songs together and it was altogether lovely. And when we did go to Sarah's house Monday night for my birthday-eve party we ended up spending half the night swing dancing which is pretty much my favorite thing to do right now. But even if all I had done for my birthday was play Scrabble and have rice krispie treats ... it's just all about the people. I love to spend time with Laura and Sarah and Beka and Justin and Peter and Jon and Kyle. We could pick up trash along the roadside together and I'd have fun.

... Birthday Question #1: the highlight of your year or the best thing that happened to you. I said running (and I really meant running and soccer). I'm still amazed to see how much I've changed over the past year. Change is exciting. Everyone laughed at me when I said running, because, well, look at my last blog post, and Laura asked me last night why I want to do something that I find so miserable ... well, it's not THAT miserable, or at least I forget the misery quickly enough after I finish, but I'm just thrilled by the fact that it's possible.

... Birthday Question #2: the biggest challenge of the last year. I said working Tuesday nights at the Front Desk. Every Tuesday I am blessed with an excellent opportunity to see how much patience I really have and whether I can maintain a compassionate and loving manner for five hours amidst chaos. Many Tuesdays I go home very discouraged because of my short temper and something less-than-loving that I said or did to a client. The front desk is really the front lines and you have to be armed with quite a bit of patience, humor, and objectivity to make it through. It's hard work and it's constant work - you're called on to serve and be loving every moment, no matter if you have five people wanting your attention or you just had to deal with someone obnoxious. Some of my friends were surprised to hear that I was short-tempered with a client last week, but I can guarantee you none of the clients were so surprised. On the bright side, though, it truly is a great opportunity to increase in love and especially in humility!

Thank you, Lord, for twenty-six great years, and for friendship, and new experiences, and challenges to make me a better person!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

running hurts!

... well, it's not so much pain exactly, it's more like leaden feet and having to work really hard to breathe and sometimes getting lightheaded. At one point during Tuesday's run I really thought I might fall over. And I'm not even really running that much! I'm still on my run-walk-run-walk routine, although I did increase my total distance to three miles. Even with the increase, I thought that since I've been doing this for a little while now, it would begin to get easier. But then my dear encouraging friend Justin gave me these inspiring words: "When you're running, you hate everything." So now I understand. No, I'm not quitting, I will continue to go out on Tuesday and Saturday mornings and make myself miserable for the better part of an hour ... and wonder, as I stumble up the stairs to take a shower, why I do this to myself .... and then do it again the next time. What is this?!

(seriously - any runners who are reading - does it ever start to feel less awful?)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

today it worked

Hooray! My iron was OK, my pulse was OK, my blood pressure was OK, and I am now one pint lighter. Interesting fact: over my lifetime I have gone to give blood seventeen times, but only was able to give seven times. So they reject me over half the time ... but the bright side is, I'm one visit away from giving a gallon!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

jeez, take my blood already


Just got back from the South Bend Medical Foundation where once again, they would not take my blood. I haven't given in MONTHS because they keep rejecting me for one reason or another. Once it was for blood pressure, several times for iron, today my pulse was too high (probably because I went running this morning?). I've been rejected at least four times in a row now, maybe more. I'm so mad because there are thousands of people who are afraid of needles and stuff and here I am, not afraid of giving blood, committed to going every eight weeks if I can, and what happens? I can't give.

Grrrrr.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

instead

things i could have done instead of watching Notre Dame get beaten into the ground: call my mom ... work on an art project ... walk around the river ... read a good book ... vacuum ... think of something more interesting to blog about ...

But I did watch every last miserable minute of it. Because that's what a good ND alum does, right? Stand by your team in good times and bad. And horrifically terrible times too. I have to say honestly though, when the team is doing badly it does make me re-think how I spend my time - whether I really ought to spend 3-4 hours every Saturday being consumed with worry over a bunch of guys throwing a ball around ...

Friday, August 31, 2007

i will follow you

For the past several weeks, a ton of cool people and I have taken advantage of a free swing dance class up at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Boy, did we have fun. I now spend boring meetings at work going over swing moves in my head and whenever I get together with friends I try to figure out if we could make it into a dancing event. Yesterday I heard swing music at the Chocolate Cafe on my lunch break and could not help myself from grabbing my coworker Kelly, who fortunately has done some swing dancing herself. We danced quite well given the narrow space in between the tables and the chocolates.

During each of the three lessons, the instructors had us rotate partners every few minutes. So each night I danced with about fifteen different people. Which was more fun than I expected! But it also gave me a chance to observe some very different leading styles. The guys have a tough job ... as one of the instructors told us, "If the woman looks bad, it's the guy's fault. If the woman is uncomfortable, it's the guy's fault." So the poor guys really had to know what they were doing!

Some guys were terrific dancers but poor leaders. They'll swing a girl around 'til she's dizzy and they'll make it look great, but the girl has no idea what's going on or what's coming next. Other guys don't know the moves quite so well but they are courteous leaders - they will never make their partner uncomfortable. Sometimes it takes them a long moment of the step-step-rock-step basics to think of the next fancy move to do - but that's because they're trying to remember how to begin the move correctly so that they don't confuse the girl.

Some guys, of course, are the best of both worlds - good dancers and good leaders - but they are few and far between.

And for my part - the instructors also told us, "If the woman back-leads ... it's all her fault." I did have to restrain myself (and didn't always succeed in restraining myself) from leading my partner a bit when we'd missed a step or lost the beat. I also tried to keep from suggesting moves unless a partner was actually wondering out loud what to do next. It's quite an interesting job, being a follower. But a fun one :)

*please note - I do not mean for these thoughts on leading and following to be taken as my opinion on the roles of men and women in today's world ... it's just a dance class :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

stronger

Two years ago, my household took a trip to Weko beach. Jenny and I climbed the stairs up the dunes and I remember dragging my feet up the steps, reaching for more breath that just wasn't there ... not fun at all. So when I went to Weko with some friends yesterday, I was gearing up for quite a climb. I wanted to do it, because I'm in my can-do phase of life (I can play soccer and volleyball, I can swing dance, I can run ...), but I was not looking forward to huffing and puffing in front of all my friends. But we started climbing up the steps and wow, this isn't too hard yet, it must just be up near the top ... before I knew it we were at the top, gazing across the lake at Chicago, and sure I was a little winded, but -

I am stronger than I used to be.

I don't know how to put this into words for you. I didn't know that I could actually become stronger and more fit. Really! Of course I knew that exercise puts you in better shape. But I never imagined that I would actually be running twice a week and playing soccer every Sunday night - I never imagined that exercise would ever be a part of my life. That's just not who I was. And I'm not exactly Sporty Spice now either, but - I'm becoming different. I want to play soccer, and I want to run, and I'm open to new challenges.

(A friend who thought he knew me well enough said that he would only go out dancing with our group if I would run a 5K. "It's a deal," I told him. "Crap," he said.)

I've been amazed all along that after twenty-five years I have just up and changed my life in ways that are, to me, really big. How could I possibly be running? But in the midst of that amazement, I never really stopped to think that all this would actually make me healthier. So when I reached the top of the dunes at Weko, it was a revelation to me, and a gift from God:

I am stronger.

Friday, August 24, 2007

music

I've been listening to Jack Johnson all summer. Anyone who's been in my car knows that I will let his "In Between Dreams" album (borrowed from, renewed by, overdue at, returned to, borrowed from again, renewed by, overdue at, returned to the library) play two to three times in a row during long car trips. And yet I still don't know most of the words to his songs, I just kind of hum along and bob my head and drum my hands on the wheel, but it's the perfect music for driving to the beach. So Jack was mostly car music ...

Norah Jones will forever be my favorite dishwashing music.

Movie soundtracks tend to be good for Saturday morning chores. I used to do Return to Me every week and now I'm into the Parent Trap soundtrack, although the random mix my friend Chris made for my 22nd birthday is also good for cleaning. (The mix includes Billy Joel, Cake, Mandy Moore, CCR, Rich Mullins ...)

Daniel recently told me about Ben Lee and "Awake Is the New Sleep" which I've really enjoyed. Laura K. thinks his song "Catch My Disease" is kind of obnoxious but I get a kick out of it and I like to listen to it while I get ready to go out and/or blast it when I'm alone. The title track, though, is what gets stuck in my head. So wake up and do it, whatever it is, whatever it is ...

So tell me what you've been listening to ...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

zucchini

Zucchini is the blessing or affliction of the summer. What do you do when you have nine zucchini, some baseball-bat sized, and more growing in the garden? If you're like me and you love a cooking challenge, you design an entire meal around it. For any of you who have an overabundance of the stuff, here are some zucchini recipes, accompanied by pictures of the actual Zucchini Meal that I made for my household ...



Zucchini Bread from 101 Cookbooks: this awesome recipe includes curry powder and lemon zest. Outstanding.



Zucchini and Tomato Salad - don't actually have a recipe for this, but dill goes well with fresh zucchini.

Stuffed Zucchini from Allrecipes: tastes better than it looks.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake from Chocolate & Zucchini: tastes like chocolate, not zucchini.

Have fun with these! If you cook any of them, let me know how they turn out!

i ran a mile ...

... just not all at once.

After a year of hanging out with people who run, I started to get the vague idea that maybe I, too, could someday run. Or maybe jog. I can definitely speedwalk ...

So several weeks ago I started out for a walk around the river, not telling my household that I was going to put in some running too. I ran a bit, then walked, then ran, etc., doing five intervals of each before I started to feel seriously sick, at which point I walked the rest of the way home. A day or two later I caught something at work and REALLY got sick, so I didn't pick up "running" again til this weekend. I decided to try out the new Riverside trail, which is lovely (and flat). Saturday I did more walking than running, I think, but this morning I went a mile up the trail and a mile back. I was doing very short intervals - the distance between every second streetlamp - but I did the same intervals for walking and running so overall I actually ran a whole mile! Hooray for me.

My only problem is whenever I'm getting ready to go out I don't know what to call what I'm doing. "I'm going for a run" does not feel honest, but "I'm going to take a walk" isn't true either, so sometimes I say "I'm going to run slash walk" and today I said "I'm gonna go pretend to run." Maybe, eventually, the scale will tip to the running side so that I could honestly say I'm going running ...

... but don't hold your breath ;)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

haunted by these words

"Before this he had met life with a welcome - it had its trials, but none that a man could not face. But now, in the nighttime, when he lay tossing about, there would come stalking into his chamber a grisly phantom, the sight of which made his flesh curl and his hair to bristle up. It was like seeing the world fall away from underneath his feet; like plunging down into a bottomless abyss, into yawning caverns of despair. It might be true, then, after all, what others had told him about life, that the best powers of a man might not be equal to it!" -- Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

After sitting at the keyboard for a few minutes I've decided I can't explain yet all the things this book is making me think and feel. Maybe some other day, but for now I'll just leave you with that passage while I try to go to sleep.

Monday, August 6, 2007

no photo available

I had my camera with me the whole time.

I could have taken a dozen photos of us playing with baby Joshua during the hour and 15 minutes we spent at Sarah's figuring out our plan for the day. Justin feeding him Cheez-its, Sarah standing him up on the table, every photo would have been adorable.

And when we ended up at Rio's and Emily joined us and we called Evan and Peter in Minnesota and sang Happy Birthday to Peter on speakerphone - that could have been a good shot, the group of us in a semi-deserted restaurant midafternoon on a Sunday, disturbing the few other customers with our singing.

After we saw Ratatouille we had time to kill and we went to the park and to the East Race ... I definitely should have taken a picture of Daniel pointing out the "no boating" sign right next to the kayak route.

I've been meaning to take pictures at soccer for ages and since I wasn't feeling well and sat on the sidelines half the game anyway, last night would have been a perfect opportunity to get some sport shots, especially of the little boys who joined us - a shot of 6-yr-old Vinnie scoring a goal would have been perfect. And at DQ afterwards, I ought to have taken a picture of Emily and Emily together.

This is why I bought a digital camera, right? So I could capture all of those moments?

But why do I have to capture them? Can't I let them be free?

Free of the worry that I'll someday forget. Free of the need to show others how much fun my friends are. Maybe next time, I won't even blog about it. We can have a great day and I don't need to prove it to anyone or feel validated by seeing it in text or on film. I don't need to plan for twenty years from now and try to make sure I remember each fun time we had. I do hope I remember, but the important thing is just that I live it now.

Monday, July 30, 2007

summer reading list

I decided to do the summer reading program at the library, partly in hopes of winning an ipod, and partly because I would have read most of these books anyway. I had to push a little to read 10 books in between May 21 and July 28 (each book log - each entry for the ipod drawing - had to have five books on it) but I managed to finish the last one Thursday night. For my book logs I only had to list the books and whether I would recommend them (I recommended all but one), but you all get the extended version ...
  • The Light on the Island by Helene Glidden. This is my mom's favorite book from her growing-up years; it was out of print for ages but she finally got a copy a few months ago. She kindly lent it to me when I was last in Pennsylvania and I finished the book shortly after returning to the Bend. It's about a girl whose family lives on an island off the coast of Oregon - her father is the lighthouse keeper - no one else lives on the island but her family (well except this one guy ... just read it...). The book is mostly picaresque and the stories in it are fascinating - I could immediately see why they stayed in my mom's head and heart for so long - Glidden tells them so well that they start to feel like your own family memories.
  • Walden Two by B.F. Skinner. A reread from AP Psychology in high school. Interesting portrait of a fictional "utopian" community (or commune) and some intriguing ideas on freedom and control. A good read, not necessarily something to get excited about and try to copy in real life ...
  • Chocolate Beach was so not worth it that I don't even feel like searching for the author's name. This was in the "Christian women's fiction" category at the library, which is usually light, fun, harmless stuff with some worthwhile ideas scattered through - but this one harmed my brain and there was absolutely nothing worthwhile about it. Unless I win the ipod.
  • The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu was quality literature and washed my brain out after reading that Chocolate Beach thing. About an African immigrant in Washington, D.C. Sad but absolutely beautiful.
  • A Room With a View by E.M. Forster was scathingly funny. Hooray for classics :)
  • Emma by Jane Austen. Hadn't read it since high school, what fun it was to read it again! Ever since a college essay on Pride and Prejudice I've taken special notice, when reading Austen, of the sneaky ways that she describes her characters - if you read closely enough you can tell right away what kind of person the character will turn out to be.
  • Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. A small novel about a woman's life in India as the times change and she is left behind. Depressed me more than The Grapes of Wrath, which however is an all-time favorite ... if you can handle the sadness, it's a good read.
  • The Preacher's Daughter by Beverly Lewis. I have a weakness for Lewis' novels, which are all about Amish women ... in every one of them, somebody becomes Amish or leaves the Amish for the Mennonite church because they've come to know the Lord. I am only half-joking, though, when I refer to these books as "Amish romance novels."
  • Blue Shoes and Happiness and The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, both by Alexander McCall Smith, from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Fun and easy reads, but still pretty well-written stories with very decent characters. I was intro'd to this series by Pat R. who had our WG celebrate her birthday by watching a travel video about Botswana.
So what have you read this summer?

Friday, July 27, 2007

the Word of the Lord

Friday afternoon, my last day in Allendale ... the work was finally done. All that stood between me and South Bend was an 18-hour drive with a bunch of teenagers, the last three hours of which would be in the formidable 15-passenger Preuss van. I was nervous about the upcoming drive, kind of brain-dead from the last two weeks of work, but quietly delighted to know that I would soon be back home living my normal life.

The afternoon and evening passed pleasantly: I watched people play Kubb and volleyball, I had dinner with Karen and Mary Beth and MB's husband and daughter, I sang loudly in an empty house while doing dishes, Hannah's lovely voice joined in my song for a bit, and I just reveled in the feeling that I was almost done and almost home. Do you see a theme here? I could not wait to go back home. I'd had some fun moments, some good conversations, got to meet a lot of great people, but the only word for the trip was hard. It had been a hard two weeks.

The evening session began with some words about taking responsibility for your own life, and then Nathan talked to us about choosing to intend to follow Jesus. (The reason for the strange language there is that the only choice we can make is in the present. I can choose to follow Jesus now. I can't choose now to follow him next Thursday - that choice comes next Thursday. But I can choose now to intend to follow Jesus the rest of my life.) We were asked to go find a quiet place alone for fifteen minutes to make that choice.

I'd made that choice a long time ago, maybe not in so many words, but I sat down at the bottom of some back porch steps just to pray for a few minutes. The Lord felt really present so I spoke directly to him. I haven't done a very good job following you these past two weeks, I told him.

You did fine, I know, I was there with you.

I know you were there but I didn't call on you enough.
You called on me a lot actually.
But I kept failing, Lord! I ought to have been more cheerful and less discouraged and a better role model for the teens. And I ought to have built more relationships with the teens and talked with them more.
You did great. You tried. And when you failed you tried again. And when you failed again you tried again. That is humanity.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

the end of my rope

A new PoP catchphrase, at least among the missionaries, is to be at "the end of your rope." They say that the end of your rope is when and where God will work - because you have nothing left but him. And they say that many times life puts us at the end of our rope, but we can also choose (through fasting, etc.) to put ourselves there.

For me, it wasn't so much the end of a rope as the top of a ladder.

This summer was the first time I was able to go to Allendale for the whole trip instead of half, and it turns out that two weeks of manual labor in Louisiana in July is harder than one. By the time the second week rolled around, I was already out of energy, physically and mentally and emotionally. But I had to keep going. Each day I got up and vowed that the heat, the mosquitoes, the smell, the difficulty of our job, and the burden of leadership were not going to get to me. We would get a lot of work done, have tons of fun while doing so, and at the end of the day, we'd be tired but happy. I would be proud of myself for being such a good crew chief. I developed a routine of praying early so that during personal prayer time (twenty minutes before beginning the work day) I could sit with a cup of coffee and a list of all the people on my crew and I would plan out the work day. That part always went really well.

It kind of went downhill from there.

Trying to get eight people to the work site on time. Sending two people back to get that one piece of equipment we always seemed to forget. Slapping at the first mosquito of the day after he'd already bit me. Finding yet another place that we missed with the primer. The never-ending battle of getting the grooved siding completely painted. Trying to paint trim with a huge, much-used brush because we just didn't have enough good brushes. Little things, but over and over, on top of exhaustion ...

It was our last day on the job. I really wanted us to finish the trim before we all left town and I kept going back and forth with myself over whether we could do it. I would start to get optimistic, then see another part of the house we'd forgotten ... it was maddening. Like unpainted pieces of trim were getting together and multiplying. Midmorning saw me up on a ladder with my paint bucket hoping no one from the ground would see I was crying with pure frustration. I got over it quickly enough and kept painting until I saw a guy from my crew walking by. "How's it going?" I called.

"Terrible," he said, bristling with anger. "I dropped my paint bucket. There's paint all over the ladder, and my hands, and ..."

The poor guy looked like he'd had it and my heart went out to him. I told him to go ahead and take a break, take a buddy and walk down the road a bit to cool off. I turned back to my painting and realized we really were not going to finish this house. There wasn't enough time and we didn't have enough energy.

With that decided, I went to take a water break. My beleaguered crew member returned from his walk. "Oh no," I said without thinking, "there's paint in your hair too ..." He looked even more dejected than before, which I hadn't thought possible. "Hey," I said spontaneously, "I'll be in solidarity with you. Go get some paint, put paint in my hair." And man, could this kid follow directions. I still have paint in my hair.

Soon about half the crew had paint in their hair, and while normally I would have gotten on the teenagers' cases for the amount of time they spent running after one another with paint, I had let go of my need to see the house finished and I was more interested in seeing the kids smile.

That was the bright spot of the work day, but my woes were not over. Just before lunch I discovered we hadn't taped correctly and a ton of our trim work was ruined. After lunch I had my own paint accident, except my white paint splashed not onto my ladder but onto the freshly painted blue house and the floor of the porch.

And that's all I have to say about that.

(tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of Sheila's Adventures in Allendale)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Teenagers

I spent a lot of time with teenagers during my trip to Allendale. We had 42 people on our trip; I think seven of us were adults. I think the last time I was around so many teenagers for such an extended period of time, I was a teenager. (And because I know you're wondering - that was five years ago, almost six, OK, so that doesn't sound like much, but those are five to six pretty important years!) Honestly, I had forgotten how hard it is to be a teenager. The boys don't know how to act around the girls, the girls don't know how to act around the boys, and none of them know how to act around adults.

As for me? As an adult ... I didn't know how to act around them either. I had a lot of responsibility during this trip - driving teenagers 15 hours to Louisiana without losing them at rest stops, being a crew chief at the job site, and a lot of just being the only adult around a group of teens. I had a lot of learning and growing to do - I kinda had to learn how to be an adult. And that was hard. Trying to rein teens in when they were speaking badly of a friend; trying to actually look like I was in charge on the work site; breaking up a water fight (against the rules) and getting a snotty remark back from a teenage girl ... being an adult amidst so many teenagers was hard. Especially because I'm so short and don't even look like an adult!

But when I didn't have to exercise any "adult" authority and I had a chance just to spend casual time with the teens - it was a joy to get to know them and see them growing. A few girls were talking one day about what they wanted to do with their lives; one wants to become a nurse and open a home for unwed pregnant women. Another wants to work for NASA. Several other times I got to hear girls talk about what the People of Praise is doing and I was amazed at their passion for the Lord and his kingdom. And I got to meet a lot of hard workers. One of my absolute favorite moments of the trip was down at the paint-washing station, cleaning paintbrushes. Matt Brickweg (on staff at Allendale) was showing us how to clean the brushes correctly. He demonstrated on one side of a brush and then flipped it over for one of the teenage girls to clean the other side. She took the brush and scrubbed it and scrubbed it and would not rest til her side of the brush looked better than Matt's. All the other teens were excited to do it right too. I was surrounded by a bunch of teenagers doing their absolute best on one of the most tedious chores of the trip. Praise God.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Citybuilding

Each day after the workday was over (and after our scheduled 12-minute showers, and unscheduled chill-out time, and a delicious dinner, thanks Colleen) we got together for the evening sessions. I have to say, after working hard all day, there were a couple evenings when I was taken back to college seminars and just could not keep my eyelids up, so my memories of those talks are hazy. But the talks that woke me up and actually kept me up into the night thinking were about citybuilding.

The Lord works in lots of different ways, and is always doing something new. What he's doing with the People of Praise right now is calling us to build cities. Specifically, we've heard a call to build 200 cities in the next 40 years. That sounds pretty funky, and I still have a hard time getting my mind around it. But basically, it's a concrete way of building God's kingdom - we want to have real places that you can walk to, places that are part of God's kingdom on Earth. I've heard it compared to Chinatown - a whole different culture and life in the middle of society.

We want our cities to be places where Jesus is king; where good housing is available to everyone; where we live purposeful life together, across boundaries of age or race of economic class; where our businesses and jobs are close to our homes; where money works (people have enough and it is spent well, and in some cases, it is held in common); where there is friendship and peace; where health care works; and where everything is beautiful and functional.

We're not necessarily talking about building a city from scratch in the middle of the prairie somewhere, although that could happen too. For now, we are building cities inside existing places. Allendale is our first "new start": we moved into the neighborhood and are simultaneously buying up unused land to build on and working for and with the neighbors who already live there. We've already transformed Yale so that you know you are in a new place when you cross Gary or Dunlap onto our block. Up in Minnesota, we've moved into Dinkytown, a college-housing area at the U of M, to build the Kingdom there and revolutionize student life. There's also work being started in Indianapolis, and some people will move to Memphis this fall.

And then there's this whole other part of the picture - "branch citybuilding." So we have missionaries whose job it is to "locate and secure new starts," but citybuilding is actually something the whole People of Praise is part of. The idea is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying - that all 3000 of us are called to do this revolutionary thing. In some ways it's not scary at all, we just have to keep doing what we've been doing - worshiping together, living in households together, having men's and women's groups and youth ministry, taking care of each other in times of transition or crisis, etc. - because that's what is going to make our cities worth living in. But the other part of branch citybuilding is that each branch - we have 20 by the way, in places all across the country - each branch is going to have to figure out how to become a city.

Portland's already started. My new friend Luke told me a lot about what's happening there while we painted together the first week in Allendale. I'd heard about it before but never from someone who's actually living there, and I was fascinated. The branch in Portland just decided on a section of the city they wanted to live in, and now there are several "hubs" of families living together within that area. A hub would be several families living in close proximity - next door or across the backyard or something - the new catch phrase is "close enough to bring a pot of hot soup over for dinner." Life together is intense and intentional. Families even went to look at each house all together before one family would buy their house, because everyone needed to agree it was what would work for life together. Amazing.

What kept me up late at night (other than the coffee I had after Lord's Day dinner, which was my first caffeine in a week) was wondering what we're doing in the South Bend branch to build a city in South Bend. My mind was racing with possibilities and questions and I couldn't wait to get back and start talking to people. Now that I'm back I don't quite know where to start, though ...

I do know that I am passionate about branch citybuilding, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than hearing how left-out people feel when we talk about missionaries and new starts. Maybe because I have so often felt that way too. But ... the missionaries are doing amazing work, but when it comes down to it, our regular life is pretty amazing too. It's the Lord's work and we need to keep doing it. Raising families, renewing our churches, being Christ to our coworkers and neighbors and friends ... one college student from my Allendale team is dedicated to her younger brothers and sisters in her branch. She's the youngest committed member of the branch and she knows the teenagers (and younger) need to have her around, to see what it is to be a young person in love with the Lord and committed to Christian life together. That is where the Lord is, just as much as he is in Allendale and Dinkytown.

We just need to pull it all together ...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Allendale, part 1 of 5

Eleven days in Allendale, plus two full days driving, thirteen days. From leaving South Bend to coming back last night at midnight, it was actually three hundred and twenty-two hours, and almost every one of those hours was an experience unto itself, so actually you're lucky that I'm only taking five posts to tell you all about it. I've planned it out too, here's a preview of topics to be covered:

1. Intro
2. Citybuilding
3. Teenagers
4. The End of My Rope
5. The Word of the Lord

So hang in there with me. Now, without further ado, your introduction ...

Allendale is a downtrodden neighborhood in Shreveport, LA, where the People of Praise has been working for the past five years. We have a number of people living there year-round - a men's house, a women's house, and a retired married couple - and they are claiming that neighborhood for Christ. They live life in common with one another, as the early Christians did, and seek to draw more people into the kingdom of God. They pray with people for healing, they talk to people about Jesus, they call people on to live better lives, and they extend the love and friendship of Christ to everyone they meet.

In the summer, the rest of us get to join in their work. Since the crucial parts of their work involve long-term relationships with people in the neighborhood, what we can help with is mostly the physical labor part. Over the past five years we have built six houses and done fix-it projects in a number of neighbors' houses. The picture to the left here is Yale Ave., "on campus", where our houses are. What I like about Yale is that it simultaneously is a departure from the rest of the neighborhood - no trash in the yard, the houses are well-kept, etc. - and also blends in with the neighborhood, unlike the gated apartment complex down the road a bit, which is better housing than most of Allendale but sticks out like a sore thumb. Yale Ave. shows Allendale that it can change for the better and still be Allendale.

So this summer there was some work to be done on campus and also at a business PoP runs down there, WDMO (Windows, Doors, and More Outlet, or "widmo"). But most of us were sent out each day to neighbors' houses. Here's how the day went: breakfast at 6 AM, group morning prayer at 6:45, personal prayer time at 7:05, workday starts at 7:30. A list is posted outside one house to show who's on what crew and where they're going - you might not be on the same crew every day. There's all kinds of work to be done - in addition to Yale and WDMO, our team refinished a kitchen and a bathroom and painted two houses. Other teams in other years have propped up people's sagging porch roofs, hung new doors, and built wheelchair ramps. You might not have any experience in the work you're assigned to, but we all just have to learn.

Sometimes the work is gross. The first two days of this trip, I worked on this woman's kitchen cabinets. She wanted them refinished so we had to sand them down but we had to get the grease off first so I ended up spending long hours with dish soap, a green scrubby, and a paint scraper to get the cabinet doors ready for sanding. I had grease under my fingernails for days. But that really wasn't so bad. Grease happens, right? The other job I worked at was much harder. Trash and beer cans strewn everywhere, rotting food in the back yard, a pervasive sewer smell ... the first time you go to Allendale you wonder if it's worth it to do these fix-its when people's houses are still gross and/or falling apart. Having been there three times now, I'm past that particular issue - we desire to love them as Christ by meeting the needs that they want met - but this house certainly was difficult. One girl on my crew almost threw up one day from the smell. And we had a hard time getting work done in the backyard because nobody wanted to be near the corner with the rotting food and the flies.

But we just kept going.

The work is usually just hard too. In the heat and humidity of this past week, I was dripping sweat by 8 AM. My wrists were sore from painting, my ankles were aching from standing on ladders, my shoulders hurt from the wheelbarrow, which at times contained ten gallons of paint and a 5-gallon cooler of water. My right shoulder was bruised from carrying ladders. But ... it's wonderful. One day, heading home from the work site, there were two of us and just the one wheelbarrow. The other guy volunteered to take it; "No," I told him, "I'll wheel it to the end of the street here, then you can take over." At the end of the street he offered again. "No - just to the top of the hill there ..." When else do I get to really use my God-given health like this?

(Speaking of my God-given health, this body needs some rest, so this post is over ... tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!)

I'm back!

Two weeks later, here I am in South Bend. I have a lot to tell you all but I need some time to organize it all before blogging. Stay tuned ... in the meantime, here's a picture from midway through my trip - this is the house that my crew painted. I'll tell you all about it soon ...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Leaving town tomorrow - a quick trip to Indy with seven teenagers, then caravan with seven or eight other people Monday for a full day's drive down to Shreveport, LA. It took me until tonight to get excited, to put on the reality of leaving here and going there and entering into another life for two weeks - I've finally reached that weird dreamy detached feeling of transition, when what has been doesn't matter a whole lot and the mind becomes focused on what's ahead. Running through it all in my head - the long hours on the road and the stiff exhausted greasy feeling when you've been in a car twelve hours and the refreshment of stepping out unsteadily onto ground and looking around when you arrive and you're finally there. And the clear and simple, hot and sweaty, life in Allendale - structured work and prayer and food that tastes so good after working, and the peaceful afternoons on the porch at the end of the workday, letting my hair dry in the Louisiana heat while I chat with people I've never met who are my brothers and sisters, and going to bed bone-tired, praise God.

I probably will not be blogging for the next couple of weeks, but I will collect stories to tell you when I get back. God bless you in the meantime, and keep us in your prayers!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

My first digital photo!

Not the best photo ever ... in the middle of a very sunny day ... but I just couldn't wait to take a picture with my new Olympus FE-210. I wanted my first pic to be of something special and this is what I decided on ... the St. Joseph River from the Angela Blvd. bridge, looking south. Whenever I walk "around the river", which is the traditional walk here at the Brewer household (through the neighborhood to Leeper Park, across the Michigan St. bridge, up Northshore Dr., across Angela) I stop and gaze at this view for a few moments. So here it is for you to enjoy.

Monday, July 2, 2007

humanity = relationship

Check out this article from Christianity Today. About how "finding yourself" is a fallacy because we were created to be in relationship with others. Not created to be individuals.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

"amazing"

(This post is ridiculously long, read it when you have time.)

"God is the King. He's in charge of everything. And that's something that's really huge for us, that we've been learning as missionaries. And it's really good to be amazed by it. People- it's been my experience that people close to God are amazed a lot. Because - they know God, and God is amazing. And personally, for all of us, I think we've grown in our amazement."

Cat and I drove down to Indianapolis last Saturday. The morning was sunny and we laughed our way down 31, sticking close to a fellow driver whom we dubbed "Speedmeister" and catching up with each other for the first time in weeks. She told me about Montre, whom she was going to visit. He'd been a student of hers and was now seriously ill in Riley Children's Hospital. Cat, who has the biggest heart of anyone I know, had been down to visit him a few weeks earlier and wanted nothing more than to stay by Montre's bedside, hold his hand, and read him some books. Montre had a trach and couldn't speak so she had made up a board with pictures of the book covers so that he could just point to the book he wanted.

I was along for the ride. She told me quite honestly that she'd understand if I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the hospital room. Montre was pretty sick and it could be hard to see. So when the missionaries with whom we were staying offered to have me hang out with them for the afternoon, I felt OK saying yes. We dropped Cat off at Riley and went over to the near southside to go "missionarying."

So who are these missionaries? They are Mary, Molly, Nick, Jon, Rus, Abe, Dan, Tom, and Brian. (There are others too who were not there last weekend.) You can read their blogs to find out more about them, or just keep reading this story. They're living in Indianapolis, with not much furniture and not much food, but what they do have is faith ...

After dropping off Cat, we drove down West St. and I started to recognize things. I lived a summer in Indianapolis, five years ago, living/working at Holy Family Shelter (my first time working with the homeless). I knew we were driving toward the "target area" where the missionaries do their stuff, and when we drove east on Raymond and took a left on Meridian I started to feel lightheaded. My neighborhood, the run-down little place that I had loved for those eight weeks and ever since - this was where the Lord had sent my friends to spread the good news. Amazing.

We went out by twos. Nick and I started walking north on Meridian. We had a thirty-second chat with a woman who left us to catch a bus, and then we hit the jackpot. A tall young man with tattoos and long hair was walking toward us, and Nick went straight up to him. "Hi, I'm Nick, and this is Sheila, and we're missionaries. Have you ever heard God talk to you?" I thought he would walk away, or at best, argue us down and/or cuss us out. Instead we had a half-hour talk about how God might work in the neighborhood, and what friendship with God might look like. Amazing.

Nick went off with this guy to talk more and he dropped me off with Jon and Molly. They were finishing a conversation with an alcoholic whom they had just baptized in the Holy Spirit. Amazing. We walked up the street a ways and Jon went chasing after a teenage guy carrying some groceries home. Did Jon really just do that? There's no way that kid really wants to talk to him. Half an hour later Jon has told him about God calling together his people Israel and the ways that God is calling people together today. "I don't know what to think about all this," the kid says. "But I think I want to be part of it." Amazing.

As Jon is finishing with the kid, Rus joins us, and he and Molly and I walk a few doors down. We meet Laura, a Christian who can't always get out to church because of old injuries that limit her movement. "We think God has called us to this neighborhood," Rus says. "What would it looked like if everyone came out on their porches every morning and prayed for the neighborhood?" We chat about that for a while and Molly moves in to create a relationship. "We'd like to share a meal with you. We can bring dinner over here if you can't get out. Here's my cell phone number." So now we've made a friend. Amazing.

Jon rejoins Molly, I go with Rus, we walk over one street and talk to a married couple on their porch. We talk more about friendship and reconciliation. This one is hard - their marriage is in trouble - and I am tempted to walk away. They don't seem to be listening. But maybe one ear is open. Rus, in courage and love for these people we've just met, keeps talking. Amazing. Sadly, we leave without "success" exactly. But keep praying as we walk down the porch steps and onto the street.

The last chat of the day is largely just funny. This guy asks us what we think happens to the soul after death, and in my first real contribution of the day, I tell him we actually spend a lot more time thinking about life before death. He then asks us if we think that Earth is the only planet with life on it ... what?

We get into the car and go to pick up Jon and Molly at White Castle where they just bought food for these homeless guys and also prayed with them. We drive home hot and tired and thirsty and hungry and sunburnt and - amazed. At least, I am amazed. "So is every day like this?" I ask someone. "Yeah," they reply, "pretty much."

We drive to Riley, and Molly and I go up to get Cat for dinner. Montre is doing pretty badly so Cat decides to stay with him. We can't enter the room without "suiting up" in gloves and gown, so Molly and I pray over Montre from just outside the room.

Dinner after such a day is absolutely perfect and delicious. Ray & Robin Gonzalez, an awesome couple from the PoP branch down there, make us tri-tip and salad and garlic bread ... "Thank you God, for giving us food!" the missionaries frequently sing when sitting down to a meal. Did I mention they don't eat lunch? Our stomachs filled, we work on the spirit with song after song - praise songs, Johnny Cash, you name it - Nick on the guitar, Rus doing some kind of stomping percussion, all of us with voices raised. Life together, generations together, joy together. Amazing.

It's getting late and Cat has been at the hospital about ten straight hours. When we go to pick her up, we find that Montre is still not too good and that Cat never ate dinner. We take her home, feed her some leftovers, and all go exhausted to sleep.

The next day , after church, Cat goes back to the hospital and I again chicken out and stay at the house. Mid-afternoon I go to Riley to pick up Cat so we can drive home and be back in time for soccer. She walks out of Riley, gets into the car, and tells me Montre is dying. One of the nurses said he probably won't make it through the night.

Now I finally go in with Cat.

I spend a short while sitting in the corner chair, trying to be quiet and unobtrusive, as Cat stands quietly at Montre's bedside holding his hand. Montre has been given some sort of paralytic drug so we have no way of knowing whether he's in pain, or whether he knows we are there. Montre's uncle comes in, we leave him to have time alone with Montre, and we visit the McDonald's on the first floor of the hospital because Cat has again forgotten to eat. We finish and the missionaries arrive to visit Montre and pray with him. (They've been regular visitors for the past couple of weeks.) They decide to keep a vigil and have two of them there at all times, switching off every hour and a half. Amazing.

For about three hours - broken up when the nurses shoo us out so they can clean Montre up - Cat and Mary and I pray with Montre. Mary tells us that she thinks the Lord wants to heal Montre and that we should keep praying for healing. Have you ever stood by a dying child and prayed fervently for his healing? Amazing. I wavered between really thinking he'd be healed, and just quietly saying, "Lord, you gave sight to the blind. I don't understand, but heal this boy."

It's eight o'clock at night and I have to be at work tomorrow. Cat is staying - she just can't leave Montre - and I drive her car back to South Bend alone, thinking about these two days of amazement.

***

To let you know the end of Montre's story - he died on Wednesday. I could give you halfhearted attempts at explaining what the heck God was doing there, but I really don't have any such words. For me, right now, I am simply amazed.

All weekend I was frustrated trying to find another word to use, instead of saying "amazing" over and over. But sometimes, there just aren't any words for it. God is King. I don't understand all of his ways, but he is King. And he is amazing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

this weekend

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
(Isaiah 52:7)

Later (when I'm not at work) I'll post more about my weekend with the missionaries in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

here in this place

Being in my church choir means I get to sing a lot of lovely music, and sometimes some pretty dumb music too. Each one of us has songs we just groan over - some of the lowest on my list are "God of Eve & God of Mary"/"God of Adam, God of Joseph" and the second verse of "Dust and Ashes." There's also just a whole category of overused, done-to-death music from the 60's and 70's. "Gather Us In" is one of them, and Marty Haugen, who wrote it, is absolutely despised in some circles. Personally, "Gather" doesn't bother me much, although I could definitely sing it in my sleep. But this Monday, singing at a funeral at my church, I was struck by the fourth verse:

Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place, the new light is shining;
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in - and hold us forever,
gather us in - and make us your own.
Gather us in - all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

Now perhaps my taste for liturgical music has been warped by too many years in the choir, but I got choked up singing this! Maybe just because it was an emotional event, but I think maybe because of the words too. Try reading it without hearing the tune in your head. (I know, it's almost impossible.) I think there are some good ideas here.

Anyway ... um ... no conclusion to this post ... just wanted to share.

Monday, June 4, 2007

last night at soccer

Said to me by the biggest guy (and one of the more talented guys) on the field, as I, half as tall, ran around him time after time: "Oh man, can't you go guard someone else?"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

when a stranger calls

Wednesday night, at a quarter after midnight, the phone rang and jolted me out of sleep and into the creeps. I fumbled for my glasses and the lamp; got up and pulled on a robe; and went cautiously downstairs to check the caller ID. "Private Number," it said.

Now, logically, it was a wrong number and nothing to worry about. But logic is not my forte in the middle of the night when I am alone in the house, and all I could think about was these books I would read as a kid where the thieves call the house to see if anyone is home before they break in. Normally the heroine would thwart the intruders, with the aid of her fellow fifth-graders and a friendly policeman. But all my friends were asleep and all the policemen I know were off-duty.

But, the reason I was alone in the house to begin with was that Dan & Anne were in California, where it was three hours earlier. So I called Dan's cell phone. Dan gamely played along and made small talk with groggy creeped-out me until I felt safe enough to go back to bed. ("We'll invest in a pit bull," he said.) I have no idea how long it took me to get back to sleep, but I woke up Thursday morning sore from my muscles being stress-tight all night.

I figured I was done with that creepy feeling, though, since Laura was scheduled to get back from Minnesota last night (yes, we have a new person in household!) and I would no longer be alone in the house. But before she arrived, as I was puttering around the house, I noticed a pair of sunglasses sitting on the back porch table that were definitely not there yesterday morning. So someone was on our back porch yesterday ... I managed to sleep through the night pretty well, but I am really looking forward to Dan and Anne's return, when I will feel totally safe again!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

surveyor's eye

This evening I was sitting at a table with a ruler and pencil, meticulously laying out the design for a poem I am copying out for a gift.

My father, a surveyor, died thirteen years ago today. I've always figured I didn't inherit his surveyor's eye. Give me a yard and ask me how wide it is, I have no idea. I have no concept of large spaces, and distances. But you can definitely find me hunched over a piece of paper, measuring out the inches and eighths of inches and even the sixteenths ...

But it occurred to me this evening that you could actually find my dad doing the same thing. Once the wide open spaces were measured, he'd go to his drafting table with his cool triangular rulers and draw it all out. He had this great graph paper that I would steal sheets of to make multicolor designs when I was a little girl.

I only remember Dad's drafting table from when I was little. In later years he must have done most of his drafting at the office. So my image of him, as a worker, was standing out in the woods somewhere with a couple other guys, using three-legged instruments to capture the topography. Not something I comprehend much. But I can understand a pencil and a ruler, and he used those too, and I am my father's daughter.