Friday, July 23, 2010

Tabouli and the 4th of July

Yesterday we went to the mountains. It was beautiful, blue skies, warm breeze, cold, cold water, and lots of rocks to climb. The adults got ourselves situated while the kids played, and once we all settled down, we could fully enjoy our surroundings. Our surroundings. Which included numerous other family groups in similar situations, save one minor detail. The picnic area was beginning to smell delicious - cooked red meat delicious. And that heavenly scent was not coming from our little picnic area. No. Because I grew up in a tabouli family. The kids took about five minutes of all this before asking when dinner would be served, and what exactly had we packed in our picnic basket? Indeed, what had we packed? Well, I graciously informed them that we had luscious strawberries, carrot sticks, and...couscous and fresh parsley salad. Yeah! Oh, yes, we were all thrilled with our yummy organic vegetarian meal amidst a constant breeze filled with the fumes of charcoal and barbecued beef. For my children, it was torture. They asked if someday soon we could go to Chick fil A. My father thought the whole situation hilarious - he was the maker of our gourmet organic vegetarian couscous salad. For me, well, it felt just like the fourth of July back when I was around sixteen. Because I distinctly remember those wonderful summer holidays where we would pack up a cooler, pop a squat in an ampitheater somewhere nearby, listen to a patriotic concert, and eat....tabouli salad. My best friend, Christie, will most certainly have the same memories, since I dragged her along. Tomorrow, we will have salami sandwiches. In the mountains. It's a compromise. But I have finally insisted that once we come home, we will eat hamburgers and roast marshmallows. Maybe we'll even go all out and make smores. I mean, seriously, a girl can only take so much.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

VBS Homework: Jesus take two

For the past several blog entries I have been answering questions that will be discussed during my children's VBS in August. In the last entry I discussed feelings I have towards Jesus. I would like to elaborate after coming back to that entry and rereading it.

I grew up in a liturgical church that talked a lot about the Trinity, but I feel it also spent more time educating me on God, the divine being, and the Holy Spirit that dwells in and amongst us. By no fault of others, I did not have as close of an understanding of Christ, the third link to the Trinity. In my opinion as a teenager, openly talking about a relationship with Jesus sounded very Baptist to me. And I was not Baptist. As I have grown older, I have often talked to God, and have gradually melded into talking to Jesus, but I still did not have a clear image of this relationship in my mind. I use imagery to help me comprehend intangible things, and I have been able to imagine God and the Spirit. Now, after having the book, The Shack, shake up stereotypes of the Trinity, I have started having an easier time in understanding the three parts as a whole. In my mind's image, Jesus now rides in the car with me, and he wears Levis bootcut jeans, a Target t shirt, Keens on his feet, and hippie jewelry. He's much more approachable to me in this image. Call me crazy. My point is, I think I came across earlier as not liking Jesus. It has never been that. It has just been not feeling as connected with him as with the other branches of the Trinity. And now that I've cleared that up, I feel better. Don't you?:)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

VBS Homework: Five loaves and two fish

Read John 6:1-14

Make a list of seven things about yourself.

1. I have grown more appreciative of pink since having two boys. A little girliness helps me feel balanced in my testosterone world.

2. I love kids; I love working with kids; I love having kids; I love observing kids; I love kids.

3. I have lots of hobbies because I have a short attention span and must mix it up regularly.

4. Flip flops should be our state shoe. I mean, really.

5. I used to want to be African American so that I could have an afro. I am not kidding. I am pale with freckles and straight average brown hair. When I was younger I wanted dark chocolate skin and big hair that held headbands in all day without pins. I even permed my hair twice in one month to try to get this look. It didn't work. And I think my kids have the same dream because they made their Miis brown skinned. With afros.

6. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I don't have to buy anybody presents or feel guilty about not writing thank you notes, I get to see people I love dearly - both families are great - and I get to cook and eat fabulous food. All day.

7. I am leaving this one open, because I have lots of things I could say, but I have an indecisive personality and could not decide what to share:)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

VBS Homework: Hearing Jesus

Read Matthew 4:18-22

Following Jesus - We all have different experiences when it first comes to "hearing" about/ from Jesus. What's yours?

I have something to admit. I have avoided talking directly to Jesus for most of my life. It's not that I didn't believe in him. When I get down to it, I have always believed in Him. It's that he didn't make sense to me. Most people have trouble understanding the Trinity because they don't get the Holy Spirit, or they don't like the idea of God as the Father. But I'm different. I have a great dad, so God as Father is comforting. Always has been. And the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in me, flows through me, bounces around in the world, and infuses our lives makes perfect sense to me. His presence natural. His absence scary.

Yet I have struggled with getting Jesus. I decided early on in my prayer life that God loved me enough that he wouldn't hold it against me when I didn't pray, " Jesus' name, amen." My reason for refusing to pray in this manner was also my confusion as to how he even worked. If he is God and man, why can I not just go ahead and talk to God, like talking to the CEO instead of the vice CEO? In my maturing of faith over the years, I have settled into including Jesus in the mix, but when I read The Shack, I finally had an analogy that worked for me. A friend in Jesus - cheesy, corny, just plain embarrassing - until I had permission to make him an old guy friend I could shoot the breeze with and talk to whenever I wanted. Now he's not so cheesy anymore; he's also not wearing long robes either, which helps.

I guess the reason I finally, openly, admit this difficulty with understanding Jesus all the while considering myself Christian is because I am guessing I am not alone. But doubting for me is also a form of curiosity which spurs me into a deeper, seeking faith with God. I don't want pity because I am a Christian that is at times uncomfortable with pieces of my faith. In the end, I am Christian, and I have always been Christian. I have had times where I have doubted, where I have felt confused, where I have wondered if I'd ever feel comfortable with the idea of three in one, where I believed and yet felt frustrated in choosing to believe in something I didn't understand. I have had times where I have told myself it's better to agree with Jesus just to be safe eternally, only to lecture myself that only admitting his existence on the surface as a form of self preservation was still doubt - not true belief. I have then soulfully gone back to the point of, okay, this isn't it; this struggle, this life, is not over at death. I cannot accept a fate so dire. And so, out of desperate need I choose to believe. Maybe this too is another form of self preservation, but it comes not from caring about covering my rear, but surviving while I drag my rear around in it's current condition.

When I was little, it was easy to be Christian; I sang songs, went to church, and played the heck out of some hand bells. As I became a teenager, I took pride in being Episcopalian, linking myself with the Catholics, and continuing along fairly easily. In college, I partied, and in late night deep philosophical discussions debated the existence of a divine being. In adulthood, I come back to where I started, minus the hand bells; only this time it's harder, the responsibility for my faith on my shoulders instead of my parents. And yet, it is where I do belong through all my searching, back to the place where I was raised, ultimately believing in Jesus, and a curious mind to continue learning more.

Monday, July 12, 2010

VBS Homework: Money issues

Read Mark 12:41-44

What do you spend your money on? Go through your material belongings; Choose one thing that you could give away. Find one person or charity that needs that item. Give it to them, then write about it.

I actually give away lots of stuff. I gave lots of old glasses and glasscases to the Lion's Club. (America's Best is a collection site.) We take car loads of old outgrown clothes and home items to Goodwill several times a year. When we renovated our house we gave furniture to Habitat. When I clean out my closets I give found items to friends. And yet to count all that seems like cheating. Those are all merely examples of leftovers. Things I don't miss; that I am glad to get out of my house. So here's the rub, if I give something I love away, I will miss it, and yet that is what I am feeling called to do. Also, I actually am willing to give up something, but what? What do I have that another would find useful? I am still pondering this one. I will say that as I continue to think on this assignment, more and more spaces in my house are getting cleaned out and more stuff donated in my search for a precious item I feel good about letting go.

On another note, the widow in the passage gave away all that she had, while the rich only gave a portion of their earnings. Yes, we are to give, as other passages also state. This passage tells us to give all we have. And so, in all we do, in all we go through, we are to give all of ourselves to God. I am still working on this as well. Maybe my devotion is with the item I am meant to give away. Hmm...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

VBS homework: Gratitude

This year for Church of the Apostles VBS, our children's director is asking the volunteers to do weekly homework relating to the various lessons. Our youth run our VBS, so this is an exercise for them to get familiar with individual themes. My niece, Joyce, is coming to stay with us and volunteer, and I have decided to also do the homework for fun. It is fun stuff, as you'll see.

Read Luke 17:11-19
Think of a favorite gift. Why was it so special, and how did you show gratitude?

This is a hard question. I've gotten lots of favorite gifts over the years, and as I think of the ones that stand out, I realize I suck at thank you notes. Shameful, though in my defense, I will say I received each gift face to face and thanked the giver personally.

There is one gift I want to share with you.

I taught at Rosewood Elementary School for three years, from 1998-2001. The kids in every third grade class rocked, though I did have those difficult days, and I was a newbie. Let me also explain that I was twenty-two when I started teaching, and quite naive about the world, especially the world right here in Columbia. When I interviewed for my first job, Ted Wachter asked me why I was interested, and I was honest. He must have hired me for entertainment because of my sheer stupidity for interviewing skills, and because, as he told the other teachers, I was perky. He asked me why I wanted to work in Columbia. I told him I really had wanted to move up north, but I had fallen in love with this guy in law school in Columbia and figured I could find some inner city elements here as well. For those that don't know, I graduated from a school nicknamed the country club of the south, and I grew up in small town Tennessee. Needless to say, he smirked, told me I had the job, and that Rosewood would be good practice before I moved on to more inner city environments. See? Naive or stupid? It's a toss up.

But I digress. One year I got this kid, Kerry Dunlap, in my homeroom class. His grandmother lived in an apartment across the street from the playground, and oftentimes we'd see her sitting at the fence watching her grandchildren play. She breathed with an oxygen pump, and was physically frail. And yet she cared for her many grandchildren. I knew of four and a mother that stayed with her. The mother had drug addictions, and so there was also an aunt, and between the family they survived somehow. As Kerry's teacher, when I needed to talk with Miss Winola, I walked across the street and visited in person. And so that is how I know how they lived - Her on oxygen, one bedroom for six? people, cardboard covering rotten holes in the floor. The place was always clean, and I never felt unwelcome or awkward, but the conditions tugged at me. One Christmas, all the kids in my class brought me Christmas presents, and Kerry did as well. Wrapped in newspaper in a recycled box were two ceramic angels. I knew those angels. They had previously sat on a shelf in the apartment where Kerry spent his evenings. They had been his grandmother's. And so, from a student and his grandmother, I received one of my most memorable blessings to date. They obviously gave from their heart when they had so little, and it is the one gift from all my years of teaching that stands out above them all.

One month after Michael and I got married and moved to Aiken, a fellow teacher called. Miss Winola had passed away. The kids went on to live with family. However, this family had such an impact on our lives that when I told Michael Miss Winola was gone, he asked me if we needed to adopt Kerry and his siblings. We were newlyweds, living in another town, and yet she had been such an example of the Holy Spirit that Michael was willing to take her four grandchildren without having ever met any of them and without hesitancy. I have kept those angels close all these years. So, to Kerry and Miss Winola, thank you. For more than words express.