Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ladies in Waiting

I hate when speakers begin their speech by saying how nervous or unqualified they are to speak. If you have something to say, why disqualify yourself to your listeners before they've even had the chance to hear you? But here's the thing: a lot of people read my blog, some I know and some I don't know. I'm not sure which audience is more intimidating when I have things to say that stem from personal experience. But I do feel as though I have something to say, a "fire in my bones", as my fellow-pilgrim Anita describes the urge to write. Now that I've admitted my qualms, will you hear me out?

A few days ago, Amanda and I visited a boutique in town to do what girls do. I haven't done it for years, but we tried on pretty dresses. Actually, we did what I've never done before: tried on wedding dresses. 
The first dress fit absolutely perfectly.


The cap sleeves, pleated waist, beaded detail, and train were just that. Perfect. Here's the thing: I have never been the girl who fantasizes over her wedding dress. This dress made a believer of me. I didn't want to take it off. Wearing it was a waking dream. Guys, I apologize if you're tuning out. It's a girl thing. It's fine if you don't understand.

I do believe submission (literally, having a sub-mission... supporting a man you love in his mission) is beautiful thing. I hope to marry someday, but it's not the final goal and aim of my life. The final goal and aim of my life is to love people like Jesus does. Whether or not that includes a husband and biological children is up to Him. 

I stated the former paragraph because I take an issue with the idea that life is a race to the altar. I also take issue with men who treat women as dolls... as empty-headed, pretty things to be amused and amused by. 
Are these two issues related?

At worst, this is a complete misconception and at best a gross generalization, but I've caught the sentiment in my (plain, Mennonite, etc.) culture that this is a woman's order of life: grow up, wait, get married. Very few apply their minds and energies to educations and jobs that could easily be the ministry of their entire lives. It's pointless, right? Because you'll "just" get married anyway. Wrong.

I am convinced that the "living in waiting" mentality is both crippling our culture and robbing the world of the influence of Christian... and particularly Anabaptist... women in arenas where our uniquely female gifts, combined with our love for Jesus, are most desperately needed.

How is our culture being crippled? First, the "doll" phenomenon. If a woman isn't developed mentally, how can men treat her as an equal? If women would just rather be told how the church and home is going to operate, rather than taking the bother to understand the implications and core issues of her faith and the broader world, we are left with a male-dominated culture... one lacking the female insight that balances and complements the male. It gets lop-sided and the guys are left with more responsibility than should be theirs. Secondly, no matter which way you turn it, mothers are the first and primary educators of their children. If her world is only as big as her house, her cultural experience limited to her own, and her reading material limited to romance fiction, she is poorly equipped to gift to her children the broad scope of change their faith is meant to bring to this world. 

I want to be careful here, because I have very dear friends... vibrant women... who honestly have no greater ambition than to be a wife and mother. I consider their ambition to be the highest of any woman. Maybe these women aren't undertaking careers or becoming activists, but they are not merely living in waiting. They are broadening their minds, finding new places to bless with their talents, and finding people within the reach of their influence to love. So, while I am not saying that every woman "has" to use her single years to get an education and experience in a particular field, I wish more women in my culture would. At the very least, learn the implications of your faith. Don't consider conversations of an intellectual sort to be off-limits for you. Take the trouble to learn. A vibrant role awaits, and only you can fill it. Whether as a mother or as an employee, knowledgeable, passionate, compassionate women are desperately needed.

If you don't want to be a doll, get off the shelf.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on Generosity from Erwin McManus

There is a poverty that kills generosity, but it is never economic.

While the greedy see the world with limited resources, the generous always operate from an abundance mentality. The greedy take to ensure that they will never be without; the generous give without fear.

The generous invest their lives in the prosperity of others. It isn't simply that the generous are unconcerned for their own lives and well-being; it is that they have discovered an unexpected secret: Life is most enjoyed when we give ourselves away.

The generous give more than their things; they genuinely give themselves. In the most marvelous of ways, those who give most freely live most freely.

Generosity is the natural overflow of love. Love not only expands our hearts, but increases our capacity to give of ourselves.

You are both indebted and made free by a generous giver.

Generosity flows in so many directions. Few investments are as important as our time. How many father have lost their sons when they were generous with their resources and yet were never there for them? 

You can never underestimate the importance of being generous with praise. A person's self-esteem can be nurtured through encouragement and crippled through continuous criticism. 

Generosity creates an environment for emotional health. Those who have had the privilege to grow under the nourishment of someone who is truly generous reap immeasurable benefit. 

[The generous] know Jesus to be the greatest lover who ever lived. 

Do we treat people as objects to be used or gifts to be treasured?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Day of Autumn

The trees are donning vivid gowns, the birds staying around for the winter are eating their weight in sunflower seeds, and the sky is so blue that I get lost in it. Autumn. It's glorious.

Amanda and I both had off work last night, so as soon as the sun came up, we went walking on Woodcock Dam... in the delicious, mysterious mist. I love when the whole world is simplified to quiet shades of gray...
(photo credit to Amanda)

Upon reaching the end of the dam, we took the wooded trail and Found Things.
I found the coolest berries ever.

(another photo credit to Amanda)

I think the pines with long, curved boughs look so... maternal. I tried to capture them, but I couldn't, really. The most frustrating, most incredible thing about nature's beauty is that it is so intangible. Touch it, and it dies. Try to capture it, and you are left with the knowledge your copy in flat and lustreless in comparison with the real.


Though, I must admit I was pleased with this shot. No post-processing. :) Mushrooms are just cute. They look so happy.


By the dam spillway, we found a catfish in the grass.


Upon close inspection, we saw his gills still feebly moving. My heroism reared itself to full height, and I picked up its cold, slimy self with my bare hands (thank you, thank you, thank you very much) and threw it back into the water. It swam happily away.

At the top of the spillway, we found a guy fishing. I hope it wasn't his fish.



If he had not the decency to club it out of its misery rather than let it smother, I have little remorse.

As stunning as the woods are in Autumn, our city is a close runner-up. Church. Yellow tree. Blue sky. Exhilarating.


Did I mention Yellow Tree?


Place de la Concorde (our house) is dressed for Autumn, too.


I love the scroll work on the chair that I found at a yard sale for $2.50...


...and the chipped paint. :)


I re-use the same wreath for the front door, wrapping it in seasonal garland. It's much cheaper than buying seasonal wreaths, easier to store, and not nearly as garish as most wreaths.


The plants in the coal scuttle outside the back door have been moved to a flower bed. I filled it with sticks from the back yard. The pumpkins are blissfully unaware of their fate in the canner.


Simple things such as replacing vanilla candles with pumpkin-scented ones make the house more festive.


The centerpiece that I used in my classroom every fall I taught school is glad to be out of her box.


Did you notice the Willow Tree girl? She belongs to Bekah. Tragically, she lost her hands when Bekah moved from Faith Builders to here... she's awaiting surgery.

Soon, I'll put my flower beds to sleep for Winter. But not until they tell me they're sleepy.


Soon, my garden won't be yielding any more of her riches. But, for now, I'll spend the rest of the day canning them.


Welcome, Autumn.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sometimes

I usually wait to blog until I have (what I consider) profound things to say or epic experiences to share. I consciously avoid posting (or even being around people very much) until I'm feeling benevolent, glowy, and on top of my game. When forced to communicate, I try to do a good job of pretending. I tell myself I'm being considerate of other people. I tell myself that I want to be the sort of person who doesn't add to the general depression and lack of sunshiny-ness around. Besides, who wants to air all their dirty laundry for the world to see? Not I. I'm too dignified, I say to myself.

So I've been thinking about that, and I'm pretty sure I'm proud.

Here's my confession for today:

Sometimes being who I want to be is not glamorous at all and I wonder if I'm even making a difference.
Sometimes I have a headache and do not feel in the least bit cheerful and positive.
Sometimes I'm mad at the people who hurt me and have to forgive again.
Sometimes I can't escape the fact that I need the forgiveness and redemption of Jesus just as much as everyone else.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amanda

 This is Amanda. As I write this, I have just finished drinking a milkshake she made me. I like having her live here. :) 

The "beautiful inside and out" tag is a bit cliche, but it is true of Amanda.


She is a geriatric LPN and just started working for her RN degree, then plans to earn her BA. 
I listen to her work stories, and I tell her I hope I have a caretaker like her when I'm old and decrepit.

She is caring,



competent,


thoughtful,



fun,


and just pretty much cute. 



She, Bekah, and I had fun shooting these downtown. "Fun" is usually an understatement when all three of us do things. Shooting without a tripod when you're laughing is just difficult. :) 

After paying due respect to the stunning churches in Diamond Park, we, jaywalking chronically, traversed the block-or-so to Artist's Cup for smoothies, mochas, and couches. 

Oh, and a piano for Amanda.



The barista joked that they charge per note, but I am of the opinion SHE could charge. :)





I think the little point-and-shoot camera I used did quite well. 
Someday, I want one of these...



As in, WANT. Badly. But... it wouldn't pay for itself as I'm only amateur... and I'll have school expenses starting next year... 

But dreams are free. :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Holidays

Yesterday was Redo-Furniture-in-Your-PJ's Day. 
I think I was the only one who knew about it
and celebrated it,
but it was glorious. 

I've had this old piece for a few years. I think I got it at Goodwill for a few dollars, an old, solid wood secretary. She served me as a dresser at my first apartment, but when I moved here, I took the secretary desk fold-down thingy off and put her in the kitchen. She serves as caffeine central station and mail collector.

She was beautiful, despite her missing knob


and dated, worn finish.



So, I gave her the royal treatment. 
Sanding, sanding, and more sanding...
several coats of ivory paint,
and new knobs. 
She feels quite refreshed.



I love how the paint showcases her elegant details



and makes the space simpler and cleaner.



A few of my favorite thrift store finds look very much at home.



Today is Scrub-the-Paint-off-Your-Hands Day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An Experience of Truly Epic Proportions

Spending the afternoon digging a new flowerbed affords a person a lot of time to think. So I did. Having taken due stock of my life, some parallels to scenes in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings struck me. Hence, my thoughts strayed out of space and time as my hands continued to remove sod and crumble dirt. Crumbling a clod, I sensed the presence of an odd object in my gloved hand. I opened it slowly, and, like the scene in which Isildur picks up the Ring after having taken it from the hand of Sauron, the dirt fell away.

But the words I uttered without forethought were those of Bilbo: "What's this? A Ring?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Snapshots [why i love my job]

"Becky, do you want kids?"
"Yes, I'd love to have kids."
"Then why don't you have some?" She's fourteen and missing her one-year-old daughter.
"I am going to wait until I'm married to have kids, so they have a daddy who loves them as much as I will."
Her deep eyes met mine. She dropped her gaze, then looked back and nodded. A heavy question seemed to have been answered, and she smiled. She's growing, becoming less demanding and more mature. I cherish the teachable moments.



"Becky, come look out my window! Deer!" Four noses pressed to a window for long minutes while the teacher in me popped out deer habit facts and stories of hunting with my dad. Three girls that a few minutes ago were telling stories of getting hype and drawin' on people gazed at the graceful deer in speechless fascination. I thanked God for the calm that settled over us.



I turned on her light and told her good-morning, and she exploded from under her blankets, cussing me roundly. Normally the words don't stick, but that morning I was tired. A few minutes later, she said she was sick and was going to stay home from school. I believed her. Several other girls had had a mild flu. I like to "mom" my girls a bit, but I didn't feel like babying her. Not after that. My attitude appalled me, and Jesus' eyes steadily stared me down. I went to her room and asked her if I could make her toast. She quietly said she'd like that. As I was buttering the toast, the other girls watched, round-eyed. D. asked incredulously, "You makin' toast for her?" She stretches me, makes me live the way Jesus lived instead of just talking about it.


She made a mistake a few weeks ago. A big mistake. She lost privileges she had worked hard to earn. Her dimple was missing for a week, and her lively conversation was reduced to monosyllables. Finally, she wrote a note to staff. "I just mess up every time I get somewhere. I guess it's just true that I'm nothing and never will amount to anything." And did staff ever write back. I think she had no choice but to keep going, with all of us pulling for her. "It's OK to feel lost and hopeless, but I want you to know that when you don't believe in yourself, someone does. When you hate yourself, you are loved. Just keep walking, girl, and your heart will catch up with your feet." I meant every word I said. I came home and cried for her. I called people and begged them to pray for her. And our prayers were answered. She's back to being her old self, only she's deeper. More thoughtful. I admire her and tell her so. It takes a mad lot of strength to make a life for yourself at age seventeen when you've never really been loved and have no one to go home to upon your release.


I love them, and they reciprocate.



"You my favorite staff. When you moving to day staff so you can be with us more?"



"You know Becky would do anything for anybody. She cares about us, real rap."


They've made so much progress. Our unit's mornings have progressed from restraints, verbal and physical altercations, and time-outs to a secure group of girls that looks out for each other and rarely needs any reminders to do what they should. My two favorite scenes from this morning are four girls using their free time to help each other study for a test at school today, several of them patiently helping the girl they used to pick on mercilessly... and all of the girls sitting in the living room, telling stories of how they used to get beaten for things they did. No, that wasn't cool, but soon we were all rolling in laughter at the recounting of her and her sister beating each other up before they knew they were going to get "whooped" so they'd "be toughened up". 


Yep, most mornings I can hardly believe I get paid to love these girls.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hero Quotes



I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.” -Red Cloud, Sioux Chief






“I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.” -Geronimo, Apache leader






"Each man is good in His sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows." -Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux holy man






"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr.






“Me only have one ambition, y'know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together - black, white, Chinese, everyone - that's all.” -Bob Marley






"There are some things to die for but none to kill for. " -Shane Claiborne








"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." -Mother Teresa






“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” -Albert Einstein












“Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. Love others as well as you love yourself.” -Jesus Christ





Monday, September 6, 2010

Playing a Game

"At times he heard within him a soft, gentle voice,
which reminded him quietly, complained quietly,
so that he could hardly hear it.
Then he suddenly saw clearly
that he was leading a strange life,
that he was doing many things that were only a game,
that he was quite cheerful
and sometimes experienced pleasure,
but that real life was flowing past him
and did not touch him.
Like a player who plays with his ball,
he played with his business,
with the people around him,
watched them, derived amusement from them;
but with his heart, with his real nature,
he was not there.
His real self wandered elsewhere, far away, 
wandered on and on invisibly
and had nothing to do with his life."
-Herman Hesse

Do the quote and picture seem contradictory? Good. They are. If you knew Dave, the contrast would be even more stark.

Dave isn't just playing a game. Instead of toying with his work and people for his own amusement, he engages. Mine was the privilege of working with Dave when I lived in Lancaster, and I hope I assimilated something of his characteristic love for people.

One Sunday afternoon, while taking a walk, I witnessed a motorcycle accident. One man, my neighbor, landed in the ditch with obvious head injuries. The other man dragged himself and his nearly severed leg off the road. I sat on the bank, lacking the training to do anything about the groans and screams, waiting for the ambulances and police to arrive. One of the ambulances was driven by Dave and his wife, Mary, who have been EMT volunteers for many years. Just seeing them at the scene, I felt comforted. The gentle, professional manner in which Dave served the patient was familiar to me; that was how Dave treated his employees at work. I knew the man was in good hands. The following morning, Dave met me in the entry at work, asking if I wanted to talk. "The responders have a chance to debrief and talk about the trauma they witnessed, and you didn't have that," he said. Not only was talking therapeutic, but also the fact that he thought about me and made sure I was alright.

When Haiti was struck by an earthquake, Dave and Mary immediately joined a team of medical volunteers sent by Christian Aid Ministries... during a busy time at work. Everyone said it was "such a Dave and Mary thing" to do, and the picture of Dave changing the bandages on the little boy's head is "so Dave". He gives with heart, and he lives a vibrant, full life.

Visualize, for a moment, life as a crystal of myriad facets. Imagine the earth, people, self, and the Maker of All being the primary facets, the ones with the most surface area, the predominate interactions one makes on a daily basis. Just as blocking the light from any facet of a crystal banishes the rainbows that dance on the walls, refusing to give one's self... to genuinely know and be known... on any facet of life dulls life of the splendor it was meant to be. Conversely, in really loving people, I love in them myself. In loving people, myself, and the earth, I love in them their Maker. In loving Him, I love them.

Knowing and being known... loving... is much harder than wandering aimlessly apart from my own existence. However, I'd rather be purified by the humility, vulnerability, and work requisite to unity with the existence gifted to me. I'd rather dive deeply into the vibrant depths of this communal gift, the gift of life.

I don't want to be only playing a game. I want to receive what a great Man named Jesus (whom I suspect taught Dave how to live) offers: not only life, but Life Abundant.



Friday, September 3, 2010

Happiness


Happiness is the little things that make your soul swell
and leave it a little larger,
a little deeper,
long after the moments have faded from conscious memory.

Today,
happiness is


picking a Pink Brandywine heirloom tomato
from plants I raised from seed.
Somehow,
I love plants a whole lot more when
I've witnessed their growth
from the first time
their tiny green heads popped through the soil.

Happiness is also
a thriving rosebush 
from a little cutting.

Happiness definitely is 
putting up a washline
and hanging a quilt out to dry...
a quilt made by
the moms of students I taught,
and a few stitches done by the students themselves.


Happiness also is
wandering through a new exhibit
of T. Alan Kirk's works,
drinking a mocha,
discussing art,
education,
and names
(punctuated with much laughter)
with Tim himself
and Bekah
to a backdrop of a violinist both
very talented and live
and a cafe full of happy people.

At this very moment,
happiness is 
eating fresh apple crisp
(courtesy of Bekah)
after decorating the front door and dining room table
for autumn.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Prayer in the Garden


Lord,
As you have entrusted the earth to me,
So I entrust myself to you.
As I clear away sod to make room for flowers,
Uproot the crowding in my soul choking peaceful fruition.
Break up the clods of my adamant pride,
Add the rich compost of the wholeness you intend for the world,
And quench me with the showers of your continual love,
That I may be an oasis of beauty and peace...
A resting-spot for others,
As my gardens are to me.

Amen.