Thursday, July 31, 2008

a short story of household and neighborliness

Last night was my night to cook. I whipped up a quick frittata with whatever leftovers I could find, made a small salad with our home-grown zucchini and tomatoes, and pulled out some bread. Just a simple weeknight dinner during a very busy week. A few minutes before 6:00, my household and I were about to sit down to eat when the doorbell rang. Our next-door neighbor, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, and her husband walked in and thanked us for inviting them over to dinner ...

... which we hadn't. Of course we've had them over many times before, so it wasn't a strange idea, it's just that we've all been on vacation and this was the first dinner our household has had together in a month. So we were pretty sure we hadn't invited anyone over.

But the Lord provides! We quickly masked any surprise and Anne B. accompanied me to the kitchen where I fried up some potatoes and broke out the pre-made cookie dough we miraculously had in the fridge, and Anne sauteed some squash and added more lettuce to the salad. We set two extra places without anyone noticing, then brought everyone in to the dining room for a lovely meal.

It may not have been the feeding of the five thousand, but it was clear that the Lord provides. I was so thankful for what we, as a household, are able to do and to be for these neighbors. What other Alzheimer's patient could show up unexpectedly for a dinner she "remembered" being invited to and be welcomed like this? I wouldn't fault anyone for gently saying, "I'm sorry, dear, we hadn't planned on having you tonight. Maybe we can plan this for another time." But because we work smoothly as a household - able to expand a meal at a moment's notice, without stress - and because we share the desire to be Christ to our next-door neighbors and to love them the best that we can - we were really able to be a blessing to them, and to be blessed by their presence.

Praise God.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Just a few words about camping up at Warren Dunes. The days on the beach were nice - lounging around, reading, swimming, sleeping, eating "sand"wiches - but it was the mornings and evenings I liked best. Morning: waking to sunlight, getting up slowly, eating eggs cooked on the campfire, lazily getting ready for the beach. Also, our last morning there a couple of us went for an early morning swim, and it was so delightful to float around without tons of other people there. Evening: dinner at the picnic table, then off to enjoy the beauty of the earth. Friday night we climbed what I affectionately call the "dune of death" and watched fireworks miles away all around us. We could even see way across the lake to Chicago. Amazing. And Saturday night, after an improvised Lord's Day (nine people around the campfire trying to remember all the LD prayers), we sat on the beach and watched the sunset. Overall, a wonderful weekend with wonderful friends.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

stream of life

TJ posted an awesome video on his blog the other day, and the gorgeous song from the video has been in my head since I heard it. It's called "Praan," by Garry Schyman, and it's based on a Bengali poem:
Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

The song is beautiful even without translation, but I like it even more after reading this poem. These words remind me of how I feel about water ... just this weekend while camping up at Warren Dunes (for the Pennsylvanians reading this, that's a beach and state park on Lake Michigan) I was telling Beka about why I love being in the water. I told her, it sounds kind of new-agey, but I feel like it brings some kind of balance or peace to me to be in the lake or the ocean, to have the water in my body rock in the same rhythm with the waves rocking over the earth . I know, I know, it sounds like I'm about to start talking about the Earth Mother or something, but really, the Lord created a beautiful world, and he created it for us to enjoy. This is how I most enjoy it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

one week in Shreveport

So after my adventures getting to Shreveport, I spent a week there working and sweating and having fun. Some highlights ...

... I stayed with Mary C., a member of the Shreveport branch, who was so incredible welcoming. I felt bad that I didn't have more time to hang out and chat with her but we did a lot of chatting during the 20 or so waking minutes I spent with her at the beginning and end of each workday.

... the first night I got there we did some missionary work - visiting nursing homes in Shreveport. We split up to different places and I went to Harmony House. Most, but not all, of the people there are mentally ill in one way or another. I've seen enough mental illness not to be fazed by it, at least not much, but the high-schoolers that I was with were a little freaked out by the lady who proclaimed that she was Jesus. After that incident (five minutes into the trip), the big group of us split up into pairs and trios to knock on doors and pray with people. My little group was especially touched by two elderly people who prayed over us. Another memory I personally took away from the evening is of one particular guy whose door I felt moved to knock on - it was partially open and when I glanced in as we walked down the hallway, I saw him curled up on his bed just looking so lonely. "My heart went out to him" is such a cliche but that's the only way to say it. We went in and asked him if he wanted prayers for anything; he tried to talk a little but we couldn't understand anything he said so we just prayed the best we could.

... during the days I did a lot of throwing cement. (Or was it concrete? What is the difference? This was a major topic of discussion during the week.) The PoP business in Shreveport - Windows, Doors, & More - AKA WDMO, pronounced "Widmo" - needed to get ride of some cement in the back of their property. They got it broken up and then sent a lot of us over there during the week to pick up these big old chunks of cement and throw them into the truck to be taken to the dump. One afternoon we actually loaded the truck up with so much cement that it became un-drivable and someone had to unload some of that cement the next day. Sad but also super-cool that we worked that hard! Throwing cement was really hard work. Which is exactly what I'm looking for when I'm in Allendale. Lots of sweat and sore muscles = major satisfaction.

... some of the work down there did not involve major sweat and sore muscles, and was much less satisfying, at least for me. I spent two mornings working with camp. I'm not naturally a camp person and it was really hard. The girls didn't always pay attention or follow directions, and in some situations that was really understandable, especially for the littlest ones (like age 3), but at the same time, no matter how understandable it is, it still means chaos, and what do you do with that? And the other thing was that one morning two of the girls just randomly decided to pick on a third and I just couldn't get them to stop! What a terribly frustrating, helpless feeling. I ended up spending quite a while sitting with the picked-on girl on a rocking chair away from the other girls, helping her finish her craft, and hopefully helping her feel loved and valued. I came away from the whole camp experience really wanting to get better at working with kids in this type of environment, but unsure how to do that. Since getting back to work I've found out there's a good chance my job description will change drastically within the next few months and I will work with children and not adults. Bring it on.

... other work included digging a drainage ditch underneath one of our houses on Yale (by the way, when digging into Louisiana clay underneath a house, the claw of a hammer is more effective than a shovel), and drilling holes into the seats of the stools the campers made. The first day that I worked on drilling, the drill was not my friend, and I became extremely frustrated. So the next day when I was given a stack of 15 more seats to drill, I said a quick prayer, and had no problems. Praise the Lord :)

... what a great time getting to know the high-schoolers. I was impressed with the girls' openness when we talked about prayer one evening, and the guys' great leadership instincts, and how hard all of them worked.

... but I also hung out a lot with the grownups - Patti and Gerry D., Jack and Haidy B., Susan H., Bruce B. ... they all tended to gather at the same table on the porch of the big house for breakfast and lunch, and that was pretty much my favorite place to eat too. All of these people were super-funny and I had a great time with them.

... I also laughed a lot with Laura, Abby, and Gianna. Thursday night we played the best game of Catch Phrase EVER. And Laura made me laugh pretty much the entire week. One day when I called her old cell phone number, without knowing it was old, I ended up talking to her mom in Minnesota and was delighted to be able to tell her how much fun her daughters are.

... Friday night Nathan talked about friendship - friendship with purpose, lifelong friendship, etc. - and I've been thinking about friendship ever since. More thoughts on this later.

... I was happy to learn that the 17-hour drive from Shreveport to South Bend is a lot easier when you have a relief driver! And more fun too. I got to know Susan H. a lot better and she taught me some songs - a great way to keep both of us awake and entertained.

I would tell you more but this blog post is already awfully long, and also I'm blogging on my lunch break which is almost over and I haven't had time to eat. Please excuse me if anything above doesn't make sense, because I don't have time to read through it again either ;)

The end.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

south bend to shreveport

The first part of my trip to Shreveport, LA was ... the actual trip. To save Action Division $150 or so, I decided to take an Amtrak train rather than fly. I'd done it before - it's long, but do-able. My train was set to leave Chicago at 1:45, so I decided to take the 11:40 South Shore from South Bend to Chicago, leaving me "plenty of time" - 45 minutes - to get from the South Shore station to the Amtrak station and onto my train.

But then the South Shore was late.

I've never had trouble with the South Shore before so I didn't plan for any delays. But as 11:40 became 11:45, then 11:50, and the train wasn't there yet - when it became 12:05 and we were just leaving - I started to realize I was in trouble. I spent the entire South Shore ride panicking, and calling Amtrak to see if there was any other train I could take to Shreveport, and calling Anne B. for help ... in the end, 1:45 came before I even got off the South Shore, and when I finally did reach Chicago, I just hauled my luggage out to the sidewalk and sat down on some steps, because I had no place to go. The next train to Shreveport would be a full day later. It was a pretty weird feeling, surrounded by hundreds of people I don't know, feeling tiny amongst these tall buildings, and just not knowing what I was going to do next.

But fear not, the Lord and the People of Praise will never leave me alone! Back in South Bend, Anne B. was calling everyone and their brother to figure out who I could stay overnight with in Chicago. And praise God! Megan F. is the daughter of Bill and Elena, good friends of Dan & Anne's, and she's also a fellow ND graduate. We'd met a couple times and she's a really neat girl. Within about fifteen minutes of my arrival in Chicago, Megan called me to tell me how to get to her apartment. Within an hour of my arrival I was settled in at her place, completely taken care of.

I made some calls to inform Action of my status, Patti D. said exactly what I needed to hear at that moment: "Are you SO FRUSTRATED? I wonder what the Lord's plan is in all this."

For the record - I don't think the Lord planned for me to spend 24 hours in Chicago. I think I planned things too tight and didn't leave enough time for unexpected circumstances. But once I reconciled myself to the fact that I was not going to get to Shreveport on time, I took Anne's advice to just enjoy Chicago, and once I made that decision, the Lord just threw delights at me.

Megan was going to be out for the evening so she gave me a spare key and advice on where to get dinner. It was a lovely night in Chicago so I strolled down the road, ate a delicious dinner out in the sunshine while reading a good book, visited a chocolate shop, watched a DVD at Megan's place, got a call from South Bend friends who just wanted to cheer me up, finished the book, and got a solid, lovely night of sleep.

The most precious detail of the evening for me, though, is that for several months I've been wanting to paint my toenails, since it's sandal weather, and up til I left for Shreveport I had been so darn busy that I hadn't had time. That had actually been my marker for myself of how ridiculously busy life had become - that it was late June and I didn't even have my toenails painted. So my unexpected visit to Chicago gave me that time. I stopped by a drugstore after dinner and then while I watched the movie, I painted my toenails a lovely red. Now that I am home, life is very very busy again, but I am so comforted by the fact that my toenails are painted.

The loveliness continued Sunday morning - I got to go to breakfast and Mass with Megan and we had lots of time to chat. She works with the disabled and I work with the homeless and we're both really interested in each other's work and in our different experiences working in the nonprofit world. It was so lovely - Megan was the perfect person to stay with.

Then I got back on the El, and got to the Amtrak station, and got on my train. Hooray!

The story of the actual train ride is much less interesting. I will say that one small downside to my lovely time in Chicago was that with one book finished, I had only one left for the 20-hour train ride, and it only took me three or four hours to finish. Boo! Fortunately while I was in Chicago I picked up a copy of StreetWise and it included a crossword and a Sudoku ... and since I am terrible at Sudoku that kept me busy for a long long time.

The Amtrak train was delayed too, due to the Midwest flooding, but that was OK. It took me to Longview, TX, then a bus took some of us to Shreveport, where due to poor sleep quality on the train, I became incredibly dismayed by the fact that we got dropped off someplace different then I remembered from my other train trip to Shreveport. But Susan H. and Joan P. managed to find me and take me to Allendale ... and that's where I will leave things for now.

Until the next time I find a moment to blog ...