Thursday, September 30, 2010

Singled Out review Part 1

I read my fair share of books on singleness during high school and college, mostly from the Christian perspective.  A perk of working at The Christian Bookstore was borrowing books so I didn't lose money as I waded through books on courtship, emotional purity, and dating in the church.  There was an occasional glimmer of truth but most of the books were a waste of time. I mean, I didn't want to kiss dating goodbye.  I wanted to kiss it hello!

In recent years, I stumbled on to works that addressed being an older single and finding contentment during this season of life.  Now and Not Yet and Revelations of a Single Woman let me know I was not alone.  Gilliam, the author of Revelations, was especially vulnerable, discussing issues that are typically taboo in Christian circles.

As I've talked with my fellow single Christian friends, I've found our frustrations are the same.  No one in the church seems to know what to do with us.  We haven't followed the prescription to get married right out of college and we didn't follow the rules to then marry someone from the young adult group at church.  Sermons are primarily directed towards families or young married couples.  All that aside, the church doesn't address the issue of sexuality when you're not having sex.  Given our culture's propensity for all things sex-related, this is a staggering gap.  To tell people not to have sex outside of marriage, yet not address how to do that seems to be a recipe for disaster.

That's why I found Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must be Reinvented in Today's Church to be a breath of fresh air.

I first heard about the book last year when a friend forwarded a Christianity Today online article by one of the authors.  Her byline mentioned the book, which I promptly looked up.  It sounded promising but I didn't like the word "celibacy."  I also didn't understand what it meant.  A year ago it reminded me of a coworker at The Christian Bookstore.  R was in her 30s or 40s, a single mom.  I put together different surveys and fun things for our staff and then would create a display with the answers in our break room.  One particular month the question was "what is something we don't know about you?"  The answers ranged from silly to serious but I always remembered that R had written down that she was celibate.  A lifelong celibate, in fact.  There's more to the story than I can write about but her answer never sat well with me.

This is why it took another year for me to get a copy of Singled Out.  Ironically, it was worth the wait.  From the introduction and first chapter alone, I laughed, I cried, and I started recommending it to my other single friends.  Finally, I told them, someone gets us!
 I underlined, asterisked, jotted notes, muttered in disbelief at some of the flawed thinking directed against Christian singles, celebrated the sources that got it right, and felt by the end, that perhaps my heart was a little less cracked and fragile.  Colon and Fields thoughtfully examine the issues older Christian singles face, the way the church and society view us past and present, and suggest a new direction within the church.

The authors note that much of the current conversation centers on the ideas that sex is our ultimate goal, therefore virginity is temporary and will someday be relinquished.  However, what happens when abstinence is not a short stage?  What if we don't all get married?  They are trying to shift the discussion from "how do we remain pure until marriage" to "what does it mean to be a single Christian apart from the possibility of marriage." 

The first step is properly defining abstinence and celibacy.  Abstinence is an external response to an internal process, while celibacy is an internal response.  Celibacy is not simply the absence of sex but the reason behind it: personal growth.  This could explain why programs that only focus on the withholding of sex are not as successful as we'd like them to be.  If my aim is personal growth (mental, emotional, and spiritual) and my relationship with God is the priority, then I will be more likely to adhere to a celibate lifestyle.  If my aim is marriage/sex/romantic relationships, then my life is going to center around those pursuits, with God as an afterthought. 

The authors examine society and the church's positive and negative responses to celibacy.  I enjoyed the pop culture references and reading what various church leaders and Christian living books say about this topic.  Much of the overall opinions I've been exposed to for some time but I was quite surprised by the more subtle messages we are presented.  For instance, in Chastity & Holiness: Positive Christian Views of Celibacy, the authors examine teaching on premarital sex.  Everyone learns that you should not have sex before marriage.  No way, no how.  Sex becomes the unpardonable sin.  They mentioned believing that if they'd had premarital sex, they would "not only get pregnant and contract every venereal disease known to humanity, but we would also become cautionary tales."  I have had the same fears but thought that I was just a walking "exception to the rules" kind of girl.  Knowing that other women felt the same way was eye-opening and freeing to me.  How has good teaching about premarital sex evolved into a Hellfire and Brimstone kind of message?  What if these scare tactics don't work?  What about addressing the gray area between meeting someone you find attractive and sleeping with them?  By only addressing one specific act, the church is ignoring a host of other behaviors that could be less than edifying to God, to yourself, and to your partner.

The history of abstinence programs was quite fascinating.  It used to be that society agreed with the church's belief that premarital sex was sinful.  This all changed in the 20th century. By the time we made it through the sexual revolution in the 60s, the Protestant church began to actively promote its message of abstinence before marriage.  The Catholic church has had to overhaul its image when it comes to celibacy as well, given the sex abuse scandal, questions regarding the needs for priests and nuns to be celibate, their stance on birth control, and so on.

Next, the authors looked at materials on dating.  Here we see "a dangerous train of thought that may be found throughout many of these Christian dating guides as well as in the rhetoric of the abstinence campaigns:the idea that singleness is simply a stage to pass through on the way to marriage and that if you just have enough faith or just correct a few problems in your life, the right person will automatically arrive (p. 64)."  It's not only dangerous, it's misleading!  To say that if you have just enough faith, you will get married or be healed of cancer or your loved one will not die...well, what happens when the opposite happens?  Why do we paint ourselves into corners at the risk of losing faith?  Our measure of faith cannot stop the inevitable from happening, only God can.  His decision to act or not act is His alone.  One of my frustrations- with myself, not just others- is that God has not guaranteed I will get married just because I want to.  When I try to explore the idea that marriage may not be in the cards for me, friends/family typically shut the conversation down with the usual platitudes.  But that's not helpful!  The reality is I may not get married.  If that happens, I don't want to get sucked into thinking that it's because God has it out for me or that there's something wrong with me.  I want to continue living a vibrant life that glorifies God.

The Ashley Stockingdale series is enjoyable Christian chick lit I came across a few years back.  In it, Ashley attends a church singles group that she likes to dub "The Reasons."  As in, there's a reason they're still single.  She's hoping she falls into The Seasons camp.  As I would say anyone longing for marriage does!  I don't think older Christian singles need to fall into reason vs. season categories.  God can and does use us wherever we're at.  Everyone, married or single, should be working to become more Christ-like.  Even marriage doesn't come with lifelong guarantees, thanks to divorce, infidelity, and death.  We could argue that any point in our life could be for a reason or a season.  One of the best takeaway quotes from this section is this: "The Lord doesn't require that we attain a particular state before he grants a gift."

Singleness, for those who do not want it, may be an important factor in their sanctification.  That certainly seems to be true in my own life.  When we can take our pain and longing back to God, we allow God to accomplish what He wants to accomplish and are drawn closer to Him in the process.  I have been reminded again and again that He alone satisfies us.  Marriage, children, money, vacations, these things will not satisfy.  We are left wanting more and more of the grass that is greener.  I am under no illusion that marriage is the end all, be all.  Marriage is hard work and also used to sanctify.  The point being God uses whatever our circumstances to draw us closer to Him.

Given how much I've written already about the first quarter of the book, I'm going to stop here and maybe later I'll write another part.  Please feel free to respond to any of the points that the author raise or that I do.  I wish this book could be required reading for everyone!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What I Wore Wednesday

I'm linking up with Lindsey today.  I came across WIWW on one of the blogs I frequent but haven't gotten around to capturing my daily outfits until now.  Actually, I took the first photo two weeks ago and then forgot to take pictures the rest of the week!  So here is one outfit from two weeks ago and then what I've worn this week.  It's kind of fun keeping track and getting to see what everyone else is wearing.  Fashion inspiration at its best!
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1. A stranger complimented me on this outfit as I walked to work- made my day!
3/4 length sleeved shirt, Old Navy
pants, J. Crew
cropped hooded cardigan vest, clothing swap
scarf, AliKat boutique (Glen Ellyn, IL)
silver leaf earrings, Kohl's
shoes, Target

2.  3/4 length sleeve striped tunic (tucked in), Old Navy
skirt, J. Crew
scarf, AliKat boutique (Glen Ellyn, IL)
rain boots, DSW
yellow purse, Cocoon boutique (Geneva, IL)

3. Originally worn with navy dress pants from Gap
black cardigan, Old Navy
sheer sleeveless tiered shirt, Target
black tank top, Old Navy

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4. hooded sweater cardigan/vest, Macy's (my favorite thing to wear in the fall!)
brown long sleeved t, Gap
pants, J. Crew
shoes, Target
silver leaf earrings, Kohl's
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5. long sleeved gray t, Old Navy
scarf, World Market
pants, Old Navy
shoes, Target
chandelier earrings, gift

What have you been wearing?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big vs. Little Dependence

When I first started to read chapter 3 of Radical, I thought, "but I've already done this!"  I have had some "God can move mountains" moments in my life.  In fact, the biggest one happened this year.

A quick recap for those of you who are new: I read Crazy Love about a year and a half ago and was challenged to consider an area of my life where I was living out in faith, where if God didn't show up, I'd be in big trouble. I was shocked to realize that I couldn't come up with anything. Yes, I rely on God for strength to do my best at work but I knew that I have some talents and skills that help too.  That led to much prayer about how I could learn to be more dependent on God.  Which led to my decision this past November that I would not renew my apartment lease in May because I was going to step out in faith and move to Nashville.

I started looking for social work jobs in February and heard back fairly quickly about my dream job.  Then I didn't hear anything for almost 2 months.  I knew I was moving one way or another so I started mentally preparing to be a nanny again.  (I was actually excited about this, my parents not so much).  Six weeks before the move, I came out to Nashville to see my best friend and find a place to live. Two days before that particular trip, I was contacted by my dream job to see if I was still interested in the job.  Yes, I was.  Oh, and did I happen to mention I would be in town?  An interview was quickly arranged, which went fantastically well.  You might say it went God-ordained well.

I looked at places to live.  Hmm.  How about a duplex just 5 blocks away from Tracy, Joel, and Anna?  Sounds good to me!  I came back home and continued packing.  I then had a phone interview with my dream job.  They had more interviews to do and were not planning on making a decision until the end of May, at least a week after my planned move.  Through it all, I felt at peace about my decision to move to Nashville.  I was nervous about it, as it's a huge change, but I knew that things would work out and that my faith would be strengthened as a result.  Which is what it was all about anyway.

Long story short, I was offered my dream job 4 days before I moved!  House, job, new friends, being closer to my best friend.  Everything about this move has had God's handprint all over it.  Adjusting to Nashville hasn't been all lollipops and sugar plums but I continue to feel that this is my home now and that I am doing the work I was meant to do.  It is a beautiful thing and such a testimony to God's power.  It sure has taught me to depend on Him!

Or has it?
"The question for us, then, is whether we trust in his power. And the problem for us is that in our culture we are tempted at every turn to trust in our own power instead. So the challenge for us is to live in such a way that we are radically dependent on and desperate for the power that only God can provide." -Platt, p. 45
Do I trust God's power every day?  Do I trust Him in the mundane, silly details of life?   Do I trust Him about dreams deferred?  Am I desperate for His power?

I recognize that I can't rest on the laurels of my "radical" move to Nashville.  It isn't my "get out of jail free" spiritual pass.  The question is how can I continue to learn dependence when I'm at work, in my relationships, and in my singleness.

I touched on this briefly last week but I think one of my biggest fears/concerns is that I am still single because I would otherwise be dependent on my husband. I'm not sure why I think this- maybe I'm just grasping at straws!  I don't want my relationship with God to be displaced by anyone or anything.  The lack of a wedding ring shows that my efforts, such as they are, have not brought "success" in this area.  I believe that if I do get married, it will again be a testimony to who God is.  Not because I'm "single for a reason" but because there doesn't seem to be a reason for my singleness. Right now it seems I can better glorify His name by myself than I can with a husband. 

At times I am close to the end of my rope in terms of patience with being single.  If being single is God's best for me, then I want to be fully on board. If it's His best for now, then I need to wait on His timing.  All I can do is keep going back to God.  Ask Him for strength to keep doing this life on my own.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to comfort me when I'm hurting and lonely.  This is the little, daily dependence that I need.  This is the growth that I seek.

This post is part of the Radical Read-Along hosted by the fantastic Marla Taviano.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fried Pickles

I saw the fabulous Madi Diaz and The Civil Wars at 3rd and Lindsley a few weekends ago.  The show was amazing from start to finish.  Equally amazing?  The fried pickles.

I prefer my fried pickles to be spears.  However, it seems that the chips are more common.  I was so excited when I saw "Breaded Pickle Spears" on the menu.  I'm not sure what type of dipping sauce it was.  Lauren, Tracy, and I felt it was a combination of ranch dressing and tartar sauce.  Either way, it was delicious.  The pickles didn't appear to have much seasoning in the breading but they were fried perfectly.  I will definitely have these fried pickles again!

Are you as obsessed with fried pickles as I am?  Do you prefer pickles or spears?  Any places with fried pickles in the Nashville area you would recommend?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Exceptions

Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

A few years ago I was heading to my monthly dinner with college friends.  My good friend Melissa was in my car and we chatted the whole drive there.  I don't remember what we were talking about.  Maybe she was worried that we would be late, while I was sure the traffic would start moving and we'd get there on time.  I do remember that she turned to me and said, "you're so positive, Leigh!  I need to spend more time with you."  It was a nice compliment but it absolutely floored me.  I'm a positive person?  Did she realize who she was talking to?

Of course, she did.  She was talking to her friend who always listens to others, always encourages everyone else, who is always sure that things will turn around...for everyone else.

I realized that I am indeed a positive person- but only about others.  I tend to be more pessimistic about my own life. If anything can go wrong, it will.  Because it's me.  The dreams of my innermost heart will never come true.  Because it's me.  God loves me but He doesn't want those dreams to come true.  Because it's me.  Somehow, somewhere along the line, I began believing that I am the exception to the rule. 

This faulty belief system has been nagging at me the last couple of weeks, in the sense that I need to actually work on it. Someone brought up a similar struggle during our discussion of the Beth Moore study we're doing. I don't think I'm alone in this. I have no idea why I feel like I’m the exception to God’s rule. Is this some aspect of my past self-esteem issues that I've never dealt with?  Perhaps I don't believe I'm worthy of God's love or blessing.  I've overcome a lot of those hurdles but this could be left over, a lie I didn't realize I believe.

Is it easier to believe that God doesn't want good things for me, than to keep hoping and waiting for His timing?  That's my default.  Instead of going to God with my hurts in these particular areas, I just chalk it up to "God doesn't want me to be happy."  In a sense, that's true. My earthly happiness is not God's greatest concern. God wants me to be dependent on Him.  Maybe if some of these things happened, I would not lean on Him.  Maybe God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that my desires would not truly be met if these things happened, or at least if they happened NOW or in my sense of timing.  We will never be satisfied in this lifetime.  Instead of wrestling with that truth and the fact that my dreams may not be in my best interest, I revert to "exception clause" beliefs.

I don't think I'm the exception with everything in my life, though.  I can clearly point to how He’s worked in my life.  God has done some huge things (um, my entire move to Nashville), He's allowed some dreams to come true (my cheap trip to Ireland), He's given me strength to deal with my past depression, and so much more.  I apparently cling to the fact that He hasn’t done some of the things I think He should do. It's a lack of faith really.  It's a belief that my way is better than His, which is getting me nowhere. 

I’m not sure how to embrace truth in this area. I’m hoping between the Beth Moore study, quiet times, and conversations about embracing truth, I’ll move a step closer.

Do you ever believe you're the exception?  What has helped you move past the lies to the truth?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thai Ground Turkey and Mushroom Risotto

I couldn't help myself.  I started out planning to make a variation of this sausage risotto.  It's good on its own so I already knew I'd skip the pepper-stuffing and add mushrooms.  I had ground turkey defrosting, which is a simple enough substitution for sausage.  The beauty of risotto is that it provides a good base- the possibilities are endless! 

I'd been putting off grocery shopping all week but today I started work an hour early.  I was going to leave an hour early but got caught up with some patients' needs at the last minute.  Still, an extra half hour before rush hour traffic heats up is priceless!  It was smooth sailing to Publix.  I keep chicken broth on hand but thought I'd grab a replacement for the one I'd be using tonight.  That is when I noticed this:
College Inn Thai Coconut Curry broth.  It piqued my interest.  I have a deep abiding love for Thai food and I haven't had any since I moved here.  My mind started whirling...what would a Thai risotto be like? 

The answer is absolutely, positively delicious!  The spice is subtle but reminiscent of my favorite green curry. If you'd like to up the ante on the spice factor, throw in some extra curry powder. A dollop of plain yogurt added a nice creamy texture as well. And so my friends, I present to you my new recipe.  I'm already considering what other tweaks are possible...

Thai Ground Turkey and Mushroom Risotto
1 lb. ground turkey
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 c. white wine (don't use a Riesling or sweeter wine)
4 cups College Inn Thai Coconut Curry broth
1 c. risotto
Dollop of plain yogurt as garnish (optional)

1. Heat a large saute pan. Add turkey, onion and celery. Saute until veggies are soft and turkey is cooked completely. Just before the turkey is finished cooking, add the mushrooms.

2. Add wine and risotto.  Increase heat to medium-high. Reduce until the liquid is mostly absorbed, stirring occasionally. If you don't like to cook with wine, substitute with another cup of broth.

3. Stir in 1 cup of broth. Keep stirring until liquid is absorbed. Then add another and stir until broth is absorbed, repeat. At cup #4 taste to see if the risotto is cooked. By this point the mixture should have a creamy look and texture. The broth process takes about 15-30 minutes. Yes, it's a lot of stirring but you can do it!

4.  Plate the risotto and add the yogurt garnish, if desired. 
 Thai risotto, Honey Moon Ale, and a romantic comedy on TV...the perfect way to ring in Friday night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coco Avant Chanel

I bought and watched Coco Avant Chanel last weekend.  I typically don't buy movies before watching them but 1) Audrey Tautou is starring, 2) it's about Chanel, and 3) it got rave reviews.  The gamble paid off.  I absolutely loved this movie!  I knew bits and pieces about Coco Chanel's origins but it was fascinating to watch it come to life.  Coco was truly avant garde for her time.  She resisted corsets and insisted women's fashion could be fashionable yet still accommodate our lives.  Audrey was absolutely phenomenal, as was the rest of the cast.  I watched some of the DVD Behind the Scenes extras and loved learning more about the characters, the set, and how the screenplay came to be.  Definitely worth watching, even if you're not as intrigued by Chanel as I am.

I also loved that the filmmakers incorporated the inspirations for her clothes.  For instance, when she goes to the beach, she notices sailors wearing striped shirts.  Voila!  Shortly thereafter she's wearing this cute number.
I love shopping for fall fashion.  Granted, I have to work within my budget so you won't find me buying any full-price Chanel.    (Side note: I personally believe Coco would roll over in her grave if she saw the house's fall/winter line.  What on earth are those strange fur concoctions?)  It's more fun to find deals and steals.

When I saw Coco's striped shirt in the movie, I was instantly inspired.  I knew I wanted a striped shirt and thought I'd keep an eye out.  I rarely shop at TJ Maxx but I needed to stop there last week.  I browsed the clothes and was surprised to see quite a few striped options. Nothing was quite right until I found this wonderful, slouchy cardigan with pockets.  Swoon!
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These Blackberry pictures don't do it justice! I wore it to work the other day and my ensemble was tres chic!  Sure, it's not the best fabric but at $17, it's cheap and just what I'm looking for.

Since the weather has insisted on staying in the 90s, I wear cardigans and blazers at work and quickly take them off once stepping outside.  Oh, if only fall weather were here so I could wear my sweaters again!  Rumor has it, it'll be in the 70s next week.

One last fashion-related note for anyone who is interested in watching The September Issue, it's airing on A&E this Saturday.  I can't wait to finally watch this movie!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Random

1. I've lived here four months and I'm already starting to drawl.  I knew I'd pick up an accent fast but this exceeded my expectations!  My parents picked up on it when we were on the phone the other day.  Expect teasing to ensue.

2. I finally succumbed to Twitter.  All the blog experts say that if you want to build your blog audience, you should be on Twitter.  I'm giving it a go.  You can click the button the right side of the page to follow me or look me up: @hopefulleigh.  If you follow me, I'll follow you!

3.  I'm contemplating going to Blissdom in January. It's right here in Nashville so I'd only have to take time off from work.  It's completely intimidating but I know many people feel that way.  I want to take it all in, learn some tips and tricks, and meet other bloggers.  Have you gone to any blogging conferences?  Are you planning on going to Blissdom?  Any tips for a first-timer?  (I'm already starting to work on business cards.)

4.  My book club is reading The Wednesday Sisters for next month.  I've heard good things about it.  Let me know if you've already read it.

5.  Even though I love my church, I've started wondering about some of the other churches in the area.  I was so relieved to move here and already know where I wanted to attend that I didn't give the church search another thought.  Still, I'm curious about the places where my friends worship, not because I want to go elsewhere, but because I think our places of worship often say something about us.  We all worship in different ways and so our churches reveal an aspect of our personality or character.  At least, I think that's true.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is God Enough?

I can't help but be awed by the persecution many Christians face overseas.  Over the years I've listened to refugees, missionaries, and immigrants share stories of imprisonment, beatings, torture, harassment, and so much more.  All for the love of Jesus.  I confess my reaction is often relief that I didn't grow up in China or Russia or anywhere that necessitates a secret faith for fear of death.

I can speak openly about my faith, worship at a church that is known to my town and government every week, and own as many copies of the Bible as I can fit on my bookshelves.  I often don't take advantage of that freedom.  In fact, I didn't go to church this week.  It can be altogether too easy to come up with excuses to sit out for a week of church.

In chapter 2 of Radical, David Platt talks about meeting with believers in an underground house-church.  They took painstaking efforts to make sure no one would detect their meetings.  When he spoke for a few hours, they decided it was not enough.  They needed to hear more.  They needed to learn more.  They asked to be taught about God's Word all day...for the next 10 days.
"God's Word is enough for millions of believers who gather in house churches just like this one.  His Word is enough for millions of other believers who huddle in African jungles, South American rain forests, and Middle Eastern cities.  
But is his Word enough for us?"  -Platt, p. 26
Sadly, I can't imagine wanting to study the Bible for the bulk of my day for days on end.  How selfish am I?  I'm diligent about my evening quiet time.  I have my stack of go-to verses that I try to meditate on.  Though I talk to God throughout the day, reading my Bible can become part of the day's to-do list.  I don't often crave my time with God.  While this has been stirring in my mind and my heart in recent years, I haven't known what to do with it until reading about a group of underground house-church members shamed me.  They would do anything for the freedoms we have and I have squandered it for far too long.

Is God's Word enough for me?  My gut reaction is "yes, of course, no doubt about it."  Do I live that way?  I fear not.  When is the last time I wanted to read the Bible as much as I wanted to read whatever book I'm currently inhaling? Or have I ever wanted to read the Bible as much as said book? I say that "God is my everything" but if this were true, I think I would want to have a morning quiet time, in addition to my evening quiet time.  I would consistently and constantly look forward to spending time with God.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't miss out on an opportunity to go to church or any forum that would allow me to learn more about God. If given a choice between the Bible and some other book, the Bible would be my first choice.

I always go into my time with God with an open heart but not always with ears that are willing to hear and patient enough to wait.  Sometimes it's easier to listen to the pastor or go to the Bible study or read the latest buzzed about Christian Living book instead of simply and quietly listening to God Himself.  These things all have a place and God certainly uses them in our lives but I'm realizing that they're not a substitute.

Just as I was started to wrap my mind around this, Platt dropped another bomb on me.   How much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical?  Do I see God holistically or do I choose to view Him with warm fuzzies?  If we don't view God with fear and trembling, we will never fully appreciate His loving, merciful side.  You can't ignore His judgment and wrath if you want to experience the beauty of the cross.  They go hand in hand.

This means we have to own up to who we are.  I am a sad mess of a person who is hopefully, by God's grace, becoming slightly less messy every day.  It is a daily choice.  I can sink back into my self-esteem problems or I can declare "Dead to that!" whenever a negative thought comes to mind.  It's been a process and I am grateful that I am not who I was.  There is no part of me that can do it on my own.  I take it as proof that I will never be "good enough" to get into heaven.  Until I grasp that I am hopeless without Christ, I will never realize my need for Him.

Still, it's easy in our day to day lives to forget that we need Christ.  Our sins don't seem that bad and so we continue on our merry way.  Why is it that those little sins eventually add up to a mountain of sin?  I am reminded that perhaps where I need to start is having God point out those areas of sin that I have become numb to. Sanctification is not fun but it is necessary. I don't want to be numb to the areas of my life that God hates.  I forget that he hates sin, all of it. 

This is why I am thankful for grace.  I am thankful for the reminder of grace at salvation and grace in my daily life.  I am praying that I will view God as enough.  That I will desire Him alone.  That I will daily recognize my need for Him, not just when I mess up but an honest appreciation of who He is.  I think if or when this happens I will be less caught up in the things that I want in this life.  I want to get married and raise a family, some days more than anything.  Waiting to meet Mr. Right might not weigh as heavily on me if my greatest priority is better knowing God and seeking His heart and if I truly believed that "he is indeed the great reward of our salvation."

Most days I don't live as if I believed Christ is my greatest reward.  Living radically may mean I will sacrifice my dreams and this scares me like nothing else.  While my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak.  Lord, help my heart to be aligned with yours. 

This post is part of the Radical Read-Along hosted by the fantastic Marla Taviano.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reverse Bucket List

I couldn't help but be inspired by Suburban Turmoil's Reverse Bucket List.  While Bucket Lists are all about getting stuff done before you die, a reverse bucket list celebrates all that you've accomplished thus far.  I've enjoyed working on my 31 Things this year and I'm not feeling too pressured about crossing every item off before January.  In fact, I know there's a couple that probably won't happen and that's OK.

I really like the idea of looking back on my life and coming up with all the things I'm proud of, as well as all the things I never dreamed would happen.  And while my list can't really compete with Lindsay's (hello, she won an Emmy!), I'm feeling pretty good about myself.
  1. Volunteered with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Thailand for 3 weeks
  2. Got into my long-shot grad school: School of Social Service Administration at University of Chicago.  Pretentious name but that school is serious about social work success.
  3. Started Chili and Doughnut Night, a timeless tradition 6 years later
  4. Partial season White Sox ticket holder 2005-2009
  5. Witnessed the White Sox win the 2005 World Series!!!
  6. Went to game 3 of the 2008 ALDS playoffs- and the White Sox won!
  7. Jermaine Dye (my fave player) waved at me during warm-ups before a 2008 game
  8. Baked an awesome 3 layer cake
  9. Drove a tractor on my Grandpa's farm when I was 11
  10. Impressed a monk with my meditation skills
  11. Won Most Improved Player on my 7th grade volleyball team
  12. Worked as a hospice social worker for 5 years
  13. Developed the child and teen bereavement program, in addition to my hospice social work duties
  14. Started my first blog on a whim 4 years ago and now it's solely a professional blog and a two time host for a palliative care blog carnival
  15. My professional blog was listed in the top 50 social work blogs
  16. Pinch myself that my dream job became reality this year
  17. Compile a mean mix CD every year for friends
  18. Drove on the "wrong" side of the road in Ireland
  19. Rowed on the college crew team
  20. Hiked parts of the Grand Canyon- twice
  21. Canoed a million miles on a week-long trip in the UP
  22. Met one of my favorite authors: Madeleine L'engle
  23. Told Geoff Moore that his talk at Second Saturday led me to Christ (he was signing autographs at The Christian Bookstore 4 years later)
  24. Stood on stage with the Newsboys and the rest of my youth group during DC/LA 97
  25. Had a poem published in a poetry anthology
  26. Developed an independent study in which I taught a few sections of sophomore English during my senior year of high school.
  27. The teacher who graciously allowed me to teach also adopted a few of my curriculum ideas!
  28. Won an honorable mention in my high school art show
  29. Helped my school win Battle of the Books two years in a row- this started our school's dynasty within the BOTB competition.  I think they've lost maybe once in the ensuing 20 years.
  30. Read 80 books last year
  31. Traveled to 22 states
  32. Traveled to 4 countries
  33. Plus, I crossed into Peru "illegally" via a river on the back of a friend of a friend's property
  34. Small group Bible study leader for the young adult group for a year and a half
  35. Youth group leader- that was a crazy year
  36. Worked with a boy who is autistic so he could participate in Sunday School
  37. Volunteered at a special needs adult Bible study for a year
  38. One of the elite volunteers for a whiskey tasting at Jameson Distillery in Dublin
  39. Sat front row at a concert
  40. Put on the VIP list for a Sleeping at Last show
  41. Hung out in the VIP room with a band after their show
  42. Created incredible music displays at The Christian Bookstore, which were complimented by some of the artists themselves
  43. Ate a Colonial Kitchen Sink (6-scoop ice cream sunday), not just once but twice!
  44. Moved to Nashville after 30 years as an Illinoisan
  45. Performed bridesmaid duties for 5 dear friends
  46. When I was in 5th grade, I appeared in the newspaper 3 different times in the span of a week.
  47. Went to Ecuador for a missions trip
  48. Designed 3 pieces of furniture and helped my dad build them
  49. Attended two trainings at the Center for Loss and Life Transition
  50. Surprise party planner extraordinaire
  51. Known for my cooking and hostessing skills
  52. With my grandma when she died from multiple myeloma- a difficult yet sacred moment
  53. Attended the Pitchfork Music Festival for 4 consecutive years
  54. In the audience during the taping of Demetri Martin's These Are Jokes CD.  You can actually hear me laughing!
  55. Performed "Silver Bells" with an ensemble for our junior high Christmas recital
  56. Sang Alison Krauss's "A Living Prayer" with two friends at a young adult Coffeehouse night
  57. Seen The Nutcracker...on Horseback
What does your Reverse Bucket List look like?  Comment here or write your own blog post!

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Sunday Sentiments: Waiting

    Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

     Many, many thoughts racing through my mind today and I'm not sure how to synthesize them enough for a post.  God is certainly teaching me a few things that need to change but I'm not sure how that's going to happen.  The themes seem to center around idolatry, finding satisfaction in Christ alone, and viewing myself the way God sees me.  In the meantime, I've decided to share an excerpt from the Deeper Walk daily devotional put together by Relevant magazine.  This particular excerpt touches directly on some of the things I'm thinking through and I'm hoping it will speak to you as well.  I highly recommend you sign up for Deeper Walk if you're not already.  They're quick reads and a great way to center your day around God.

    "I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope."
     Psalm 130:5 TNIV
    Jesus seems to remind us, in the way that He lived, that sometimes saying "no" to good things is necessary in order to tend to the needs of the heart...In essence, true spiritual renewal arrives when we become boldly aware of our own weakness. The exposure is painful, but in these moments we are closer to God than we could know. When we wait on God, we develop an expectant faith, pregnant with hope.

    Finding the rhythm and grace in this sacred effort of waiting teaches us to renew our hearts through divine resources instead of conjuring up some pseudo-strength of our own.

    Waiting goes against our natural instincts. But when we stop and wait for God to renew us, we receive what only God can give: a fresh expression of faith and a new passion for life.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Vitamins

    I can't help but pass on this opportunity to help others.  Meg has asked that everyone donate vitamins for children in Africa.  She went there in March with a team and their donations were put to good use.  However, the need is still great.  We are incredibly blessed.  It is astounding to learn of children receiving one egg and one vitamin per week.  That's it.  I have a carton full of eggs in the fridge and vitamins I never remember to take.  I take it all for granted.  The least I can do now is send some vitamins their way.  It may seem like a drop in the bucket but it's a start. Read here for more details and consider what you can do.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Residential Care

    If you saw the boys from Alton House*, perhaps out on a day pass, you would simply categorize them as "teenage boys" and move along. You wouldn't know that, by virtue of living in Alton House, they are all juvenile sex offenders.  Alton House held the rapists and pedophiles.  Residential care, an ironic name.  It broke my heart to learn that these labels were being applied to boys age 12-17.  Many of them had been sexually abused themselves.  The fact that they were in residential care pointed to some hope, some belief that they can be rehabilitated. 

    I got to know some of these boys during the year I worked in residential care, incidentally my senior year of college.  In some instances there were just 4 years between us.  I worked at Horizon House with a group of juvenile delinquent female teenagers.  They could make or break your day in a span of 5 seconds.  Each day was unique. I might supervise school in the morning for those whose behaviors had not earned the right to attend public school.  By afternoon, I might have meted out punishment- negative points- or called staff assist if someone was particularly unruly.  On good days we might tend to the garden outside or play a game.  We housed runaways, substance abusers, cutters, the depressed, the suicidal, the sexually promiscuous, the bullies.  The abused, the raped, the downtrodden.  I would read their files and think, no wonder they've turned out this way.  Then pray that it was not too late.

    A silent cheer of victory when one of my girls finally used the anger management tool I developed for her...and realized that it worked!  Encouraging words when a girl would reach Silver or Gold status, another step closer to returning home.  Hearing, in their own words, their life story, what reasons they attributed for their stay in residential care and their fervent desire to change.  This made everything worthwhile.

    Part of working at our residential care complex was helping out at the other cottages. This is how I came to know the Alton House boys.  I admit I was nervous the first time I headed there to cover a staff member's absence for an hour.  While I could logically point to the factors that may have influenced their crimes, I was still a 21 year old college girl.  Even though other staff were always around, I went in feeling more vulnerable than I did at the other houses.

    But then, these were just boys.  Regular teenage boys.  We played games, we watched tv, sometimes we chatted.  They seemed so normal.  They were so normal, trying to break cycles of abuse, trying to understand their behaviors and preventing them from happening again.

    One night I headed back to Horizon House after a few hours covering at Alton, only to hear "Staff Assist Alton" come across my radio.  I ran back over, wondering what could have changed during my few minute walk since I'd been there.  One of the boys that I'd joked with earlier and helped with his homework had tried to kill himself once Alton House had gone lights out.  Blood everywhere in his room because of a pen cap he had honed into his instrument of choice.  Even though we monitored what went in and out of rooms, it was often pen caps, pop tabs, paperclips.  So easy to sneak in when they were determined.  This boy's pain jolted me.  Did he fear he would never change?  Did he not have hope?  Did he feel damned?  I never learned the answers to those questions, as he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital, but it haunted me.  Had I missed something?  What if I had said the right words, would he have shared his plan before he attempted it?  Could I have boldly shared my faith instead of waiting for an opening, as is the ritual of any secular job?  Would it have made a difference?

    When I received the September edition of Christianity Today and read the article "Sex Offenders in the Pew," my initial reaction was not the most Christlike.  I felt scared, vulnerable, worried about those who are defenseless.  Were there sex offenders at my church?

    Then I thought of that boy and realized anew that he had needed the hope only Christ can offer.  He could be the sex offender in the pew.  If anyone needs the message of salvation, it is these.  If anyone needs a community to walk beside them as they move through sanctification, it is these.  If anyone needs to learn compassion for the least of these, it is us.

    God detests sin, all of it.  We in the evangelical church seem to have elevated sexual sin to the realm of Too Far Gone.  It has become the unforgivable sin in the church, maybe because you're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting others.  It's easy to become indignant and outraged about these sins.  They're horrible.  There's no getting around it.  However, we conveniently forget that we too are sinners.  We like to think that our sins aren't as bad. Except in God's eyes, sin is sin.  I am so grateful that I do not remain this way, thanks to His grace.  We must be conscientious in remembering that grace is for everyone, no matter what they've done.  We might not like the idea that serial killers, rapists, cheaters, and swindlers will be in heaven if they've accepted Christ as their savior and confessed their sins.  It might be tempting to think that they're getting away with it.  We're marked by our sins though.  When we confess them and accept Christ's grace, they no longer own us but we still face consequences.  Our pasts inform our futures, after all.

    The CT article doesn't advocate for blind acceptance when it comes to sex offenders within the church.  There need to be rules and guidelines to protect those who need protection.  This is especially important if victims of sexual abuse attend the same church- church must remain a safe place for them.  Somehow we need to accommodate both needs.  However, I fear that it is easy to fall into the trap of "yes, sex offenders (or any ostracized group) should go to church but not ours- they can go Church B" and then Church B echoes the same response, sending them onto Church C and so on.

    Sex offenders can never escape the impact of their past but it should not prevent them from learning more about God and perhaps finally have the support and accountability around them that they need.  Are we willing to do that for "society's most despised"?  Am I willing to do that?  This is not an easy tension but I think somehow we must.  I pray that the boy from Alton House has found relief from his pain and satisfaction through Christ. Read the CT article for yourself (hopefully you're already a subscriber or know someone who is) and consider the church's role in offering grace to these fallen people.  If you don't have access to CT, this Washington Post article raises interesting points as well.

    *House names and identifying information has been changed.

    This post was written for Walk with Him Wednesday at Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience.  The community is answering this question: How Do You Care for the Least of These? Join us in prayerfully considering what it means to be Jesus' hands and heart to a hurting world ...
    Windy Poplars

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Skin Solutions

    I've had eczema since I was a baby.  It affects mainly my legs, although my elbows occasionally get in the mix.  It's not the worst thing in the world but it has been a thorn in my side. I remember many hot days throughout my childhood, in which my mom made me wear pants instead of shorts because my legs were so torn up from scratching.  Some people grow out of eczema but mine has insisted on being a lifelong companion.

    I've tried various things over the years and consulted dermatologists.  I was anointed with oil when I was a kid.  I'm not saying faith healings never work, I'm just saying it didn't work in my case.  I've used all manner of creams and ointments.  I use detergent that is free of perfumes and clear of dyes (thank you, ALL!)  I don't use any scented lotions because the perfume dries skin out, although sometimes scent-free lotions are irritating too.  I try not to take long or hot showers.

    I expect to have more problems during extreme temperatures.  I try to keep cool in the summer and bundle up in the winter.  I never sleep with "weighty" blankets over my legs, it just guarantees I'll wake up scratching.  If I do scratch, I have a steroid cream I try to put on right away so that the area will heal and not itch more.  You can imagine that any flare ups make shaving especially difficult so I try to work around it or take a lesson from my childhood and wear pants.  This has all been trial and error.

    My skin-related frustrations tend to cycle and I was rather aggravated around my birthday.  I added "consult a naturopath" to my 31 Things list.  Then I sent out a query to a friend asking for a recommendation.  Instead of telling me to go see her naturopath, she hooked me up with some helpful articles from a naturopath who has quite an online following.

    This gave me something new to think about.  First, it could be a gluten allergy.  I asked my doctor to test me for a gluten allergy but he said I should just cut it out of my diet for a couple of weeks and see if it made a difference. Given how much I love my carbs, I haven't tried it yet.  Surely a baguette is worth a little scratching? There are all kinds of crazy eczema diets I could try but they cut out nearly everything good on this earth- no thanks.  

    Staying away from soy products was recommended. Except I really enjoy soy milk. Exposure to sunlight is good for the vitamin D (interesting- sunlight is good for eczema, bad for skin cancer.)   Use saltwater compresses to relieve the itch. Add omega-3 supplements, like fish oil.

    Right after I read up on Dr. Mercola's recommendations, and balked at most of them, I decided I could add a supplement.  I mentioned this to a friend and she had started taking Evening Primrose, which was making a marvelous difference with her skin, including acne.  Since Evening Primrose sounds more palatable than fish oil, I picked up a bottle the next time I went to Trader Joe's.  How I love that store!  I took it for a week or two but it's dropped off my radar since I moved.  I'm hoping in writing this that I will be more conscientious in trying these suggestions out.

    As if the eczema wasn't enough, I also have sensitive skin and am prone to acne.  Whoever said that you stop having acne once you get through your teenage years should be shot for lying to us all.  I've tried different skincare regimens and have had different prescriptions in the past.  For a few years I've been using Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and Moisturizer.  I also use salicylic acid wipes for good measure. Nothing seems to eradicate the acne or fully moisturize my dry patches.  That's why I've been so intrigued by the Oil Cleansing Method, as described in Megan's informative post.  It seems so counter-intuitive but people are raving about it.  And after Hollywood Housewife posted on her recent skin care finds, I'm more convinced that I should give oil a chance.

    What do you do to care for your skin?  Am I the only one with such skin care woes?  Do I need to make peace with my eczema or should I give radical diets a chance?  I welcome any and all insight you might have.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Sunday Sentiments: Sanctification

    Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

    I know I've said that sanctification is a beautiful, messy process.  It's still true.  It's also true that sanctification sucks.  I can't wait to be on the other side of this.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Bench

    There's a new addition in my bedroom: a bench.

    Ever since I spider-proofed my home and got the additional back up of pest control, I've been thinking of ways to store items so that nothing is left sitting on the floor.  I thought a bench would be perfect for holding suitcases and weekender totes whenever I pack before a trip.  Or to hold blankets for when I'm cold in the middle of the night, which isn't happening now with our sunny weather but will happen come winter.  I also have one storage bin of clothes that I want to keep in my room but is too high to go under the bed and my closet is packed full.  A bench would solve all these problems!

    It's not a big space though, between the dresser and the hope chest and my bed.  A bench would need to have a cushion high enough for the storage bin to fit underneath.  And it couldn't be wider than the dresser.

    I searched high and low.  Everything I found was either the wrong size or Pottery Barn-expensive.  Enter Tracy's find for me at Kirkland's:
    I picked it up last weekend on sale.  It was originally $149.99 and I snagged it for $60.  The color, the leaf accent...it was meant to be in my bedroom!
    The bench is just the right size.  I tried centering it under the window originally but it actually looked strange given the composition of the room.
    Already getting used

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Comfort Food

    It's a cloudy day.  My sinus headache has been going strong for two days now.  The rain teases us with sprinkles here and there.  What else was there to do but make chili?

    I spotted this White Chicken Chili recipe yesterday and thought it sounded delicious.  When I left work today, I eyed the clouds and immediately did not want to go to the grocery store.  I just wanted to go home and make chili.  Except I didn't have chicken, an onion, sour cream, or whipping cream.  All essential ingredients.  I did what any lazy person would do and called Tracy to see if she was running errands and would she please, pretty please pick those things up for me?  Miracle of miracles, she was at a grocery store and graciously agreed to pick those items up.

    After I hung up with her, I wondered if I should invite Tracy and Joel to be my guinea pigs.  It's easy enough to use products that are gluten-free (i.e. the chicken broth) and I thought they'd probably like this recipe.  Tracy called me when she was leaving the store and so I pitched the idea to her.  This is how my dinner for one became dinner for three.

    As I diced onions, cut chicken, and stirred the pot, I felt tension leaving my body.  Cooking has always been therapeutic for me.  Cooking for friends, however, has an even more magical effect.  I somehow feel complete.  I'm nurturing someone else.  I don't have a husband to cook for but I have family and friends around me.  I've missed that since I moved here.  I've continued to cook for myself but tonight reminded me how much I love cooking for others.  This is who God created me to be.

    This makes me wonder if there is a soup kitchen I can serve at or if there are people I should be inviting into my home to break bread.  When I read Lindsey's post today, I am reminded that I have so much love to share and I need to be intentional to do so.  If you're not already following the Compassion bloggers who are in Guatemala this week, you should start now. In the interest of full disclosure, I support three children through World Vision.  I would challenge everyone to consider sponsoring a child through World Vision or Compassion International.  Sponsorship has a profound effect on a child's life.  Lindsey is a good place to start, as is Ann, whose account today of meeting her Compassion child is incredibly beautiful and moving.  (I also loved her mention of Ruth whose mission is her kitchen- I can relate to that!)

    Oh, and as for how we liked the White Chicken Chili?  It was "I'm taking a second serving" and "can I have this recipe?" good.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Does a dollar make a difference?

    "Just ignore them.  You don't know what they'll use the money for."


    I heard some form of this directive whenever my suburban school would head to Chicago for a field trip or on the rare family and friend outing downtown.  I learned that homelessness was a consequence of addiction.  If we gave them money, they would spend it on alcohol or drugs.  Therefore, don't give them any money at all.  Even worse, don't make eye contact and don't acknowledge their humanity.


    As I got older, I began to wonder if this was the best way to deal with the homeless.  Could the entire homeless population in Chicago- and the suburbs for that matter- be victims of substance abuse?  Was it possible that some of them had rotten luck and honestly needed a helping hand to turn things around?  If that were true, how did you distinguish between who would take the money to get a hit and who would use it to buy a meal?  These people are someone's sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, maybe even someone's parents.  Their life was not always like this.


    I remember in high school noticing people selling Streetwise, a weekly publication sold by those who are or are at risk of becoming homeless.  The vendors buy into the paper and then sell as many as they can, hopefully earning enough to afford rent, food, clothes, the basics.  I thought it was a brilliant idea.  A way that most people could give to a homeless person and have faith that the money would be used wisely.  A way for the homeless individual to feel a sense of purpose, respect, and dignity.  Although different, I wonder if this is how the street performers feel.  No, they're not all homeless, but they are in search of recognition of and respect for their talent.  I suppose that's why I don't mind tossing some change their way.  Regardless of why they're performing on the street instead of a club, their heart and soul is on display with their music.


    To this day, I don't feel right walking past someone panhandling and not giving them anything.  But it's ingrained in me.  "You don't know what they'll use the money for."  I have some friends that will buy the panhandler a meal instead of giving them money.  However, I typically find myself alone in those situations and don't feel comfortable going off somewhere with a stranger whose past and habits I don't know.  Something else I learned throughout my childhood: "be careful, people like to take advantage of girls."  I find myself over-aware of my vulnerability, ever vigilant of my safety.  This is a good thing given this day and age.  However, I find myself wondering if I've passed up opportunities to be God's hand and feet to an often ignored group of people.

    Case in point.  About a year or so ago I was driving to visit a friend in rural Illinois.  As I drove on to an exit ramp from the highway, I saw a man hitchhiking with his dog, a backpack with his belongings in tow.  I wanted to pull over and give him a ride to at least the town I was going to.  Maybe it was the Holy Spirit prompting me, maybe it was the dog.  In my head, all I could hear were whispers that it wouldn't be safe.  All the warnings to never pick up a hitchhiker. That this man with the adorable dog might be mentally unstable or a serial killer.  So I kept driving, unsure if it was the right choice, even after I could no longer see them in my rearview mirror.  I was so unsure that I mentioned it to my friends, wondering what they thought of car safety, hitchhikers, and random acts of kindness.  Their immediate reaction was that I did the right thing by not pulling over.  "The dog is probably a ploy to lure innocent young women!" one friend exclaimed.  I wasn't convinced.


    The homeless population has been on my heart for several years now but I've never been sure what to do about it.  I attended a church for a year during grad school that had a soup kitchen and held a free Thanksgiving dinner every year.  I volunteered at the dinner, talking to the people who came.  Some were homeless, some simply had no family to speak of, some were lonely, some had never been in a church before.  My impression was how much we all need to be noticed and acknowledged by others, no matter what our situation might be.  I always enjoy hearing a person's life story, learning the ups and downs and how they got to where they are now.  I suppose that's part of why I'm drawn to the homeless.  I want to know where they've been and see if I can help them go where they want to go.


    When I was working for hospice, there were limited opportunities to minister to the homeless in the suburbs.  My availability and resources never seemed to match up with the possibilities.  When I decided to move to Nashville, I was praying about what God would have me do here.  Where could I volunteer?  How should I spend my free time?  I'm still keeping an eye out for what I should do next.  I've found a small way that I can help for now. 
    Like Chicago's StreetWise, Nashville has a monthly paper, The Contributor.   Their vendors start out with 15 free papers.  If they like selling, they can buy copies for 25 cents and sell them for a dollar.  They keep the profit from what they sell.  They do not solicit tips, although they often are tipped.  Rain or shine, the vendors are out in their territories.  They wait, watching cars drive by.  I noticed vendors within my first few days of living here and decided that I would be intentional about buying the paper.


    Whenever I'm in my car, I try to be conscientious of the cars behind me.  Whether buying a flower from a street vendor or The Contributor from a vendor, I never want to hold up traffic.  I've solved this dilemma by keeping a dollar in my car, usually next to my extra set of sunglasses or with change for the tollways.  (Not that Tennessee has tolls but old habits die hard.)  This way when I'm driving by a vendor, my money is ready to go.  If the light doesn't turn I'm free to chat for a little bit.  If it hits green, it can be a quick exchange.

    The Contributor started with a print run of 1,500 in January 2009.  The print run for this month is 60,000. Even more impressive than those numbers is this.  Of vendors that had been selling The Contributor for more than a month, 29% had found housing since they started selling.  Vendors who had sold for at least 3 months had a 35% rate of finding housing.  Talk about a little bit of money going a long way in making a difference!

    Of course, there are still questions.  Should I buy more than one copy of the paper each month?  Should I give a tip?  Should I try to buy from the same vendors?  Should I hand out bottled water and snacks when I see someone or would that be presumptuous?  What more can I do?  It's a learning process.  I've decided that I have to start somewhere.  One dollar for a paper with interesting, informative stories about homelessness is a good place to start.  The rest is up to God's leading. 

    This post was written for Walk with Him Wednesday at Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience.  The community is answering this question: How Do You Care for the Least of These? Join us in prayerfully consider what it means to be Jesus' hands and heart to a hurting world ...

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Best. Cake. Ever.

    I'm an awesome cook.  Give me a recipe- or don't- and I'll turn out an amazing meal.  When it comes to baking, I'm more of a brownie mix kind of girl.  There are some exceptions.  I can whip out my Grandma's Coffee Cake with ease and I've been on a homemade bread kick for the past year.  (Hello, PW's Olive Focaccia!)  I also have a certain obsession with Gooey Butter Cake.  But...Please don't ask me to bake cookies or cake from scratch.  I usually prefer to buy from a bakery then take the time to do it myself.

    And then I saw this recipe on the lovely Surprised by Joy.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.  May the person who first combined chocolate and peanut butter be forever blessed!  I could not resist.  I knew that this would be the culinary feat of a lifetime for me.  Three layers?  Frosting and ganache?  I bought 3 round cake pans and decided I was up for the challenge.
    My kitchen was taken over by baking tools and implements, as well as ingredients.  I'm not a messy cook but I'm apparently a messy baker.

    This is a fairly time-intensive recipe.  It took the better part of my Labor Day.  There's the mixing.  The baking.  The waiting for things to cool.  More mixing.  More waiting.  
    And then figuring out how to flip cake layers so they're perfectly aligned on top of one another.
    It was done on a wish and a prayer.

    It was worth it in the end.  Caroline has much prettier pictures on her blog.  (I so need a new camera!)  Still, I'm proud of my attempt.
    It's not perfect but it was entirely delicious.
    I made it gluten-free so Joel could have some.  He, Tracy, and I enjoyed the cake while feasting our eyes on the drama known as Bachelor Pad.  Tracy asked me if I'd ever make this cake again and I told her it would have to be a very, very special occasion.  Entirely delicious but like I said, very time-consuming.  I fully intend to make the peanut butter frosting for the next box mix of chocolate cake or brownies I prepare though!

    The Living Room: A Place Where Form and Function Meet

    Everyone's favorite [but ever so slow] tour of my new home continues. We'll wait for at the front door if you need to catch up on my bedroom (here), bathroom (here), or kitchen (here).

    While there are still a few changes I'd like to make in my living room, I find it to be a comfortable and inviting place.  Aside from the ugly couch pattern, it really looks like my space. My fingerprints are all over the design, from the entertainment unit to the pictures on the wall.
    Here's what you'll see when you walk in the front door.
    The ugly, yet comfy sectional couch has been broken up, with the bulk right there, one piece next to the front door, and one piece in the office.  It's lovely propping one's feet up on the ottoman.
    Here's the view from the kitchen.
    Don't worry- we're going to take this piece by piece so you can take every detail in.
    Ah, my beloved entertainment unit.  I designed it, my dad built, and together we stained and varnished it.
    It's truly one of a kind.  And while many have asked whether he'll make one for them, it's a deal you only get if you happen to be the daughter of the ever-talented Rick.
    The lamp was a Target deal a few years back.  I used to keep it in my bedroom since my old apartment didn't have a light fixture.  Now it provides light to the living room!
    The basket keeps blankets for cold winter nights or whenever you need something cozy.
    The inside of the entertainment unit.  
    The drawers house movies, candles, games, and more.  Quite handy!
    I painted the canvas a few years ago.  I handstretched it in a college art class for what was originally a nude painting.  Even though I did a great job, I don't really want a nude painting in my home.  I started experimenting with color and layering and ended up with this.
    A couple of weeks after I finished, I found the duo flanking the canvas at World Market.  I couldn't believe how well the colors complimented each other!
    Behind the couch is one of my bookshelves.  In my old place, the entertainment unit and bookshelves stood together.  Given the size of this space, it made more sense to break up the band.
    I adore my bookshelves!  There's space for my scrapbooks, pictures, magazines, old camera collection, and so much more.  This particular one holds what I like to call "bridesmaid row."  It represents about half of the weddings I've been in.
    The cocktail table is from Dania, purchased at a family friend's garage sale for a bargain amount.  If I ever get around to buying a new stereo, it'll go on top.
    My favorite shelf is, of course, an Ode to the White Sox.
    It doesn't get any better than my Legacy Brick, Jermaine Dye picture (I miss you, JD!), and the 2005 World Series keepsake book.
    Near the kitchen, we find the wooden chest I bought at the flea market in July.  It is a perfect storage space!
    The docking station is perfect for all my work-related paraphernalia. 
    There was a sticker on this front section that was impossible to get off.  
    I hunted through my pictures and found this ceiling from a barn, cut it to size, and covered the sticker up!
    Here's the other bookshelf.
    (Can you tell it's laundry day?)
    Ikea frame between the living room and bedroom.  (Ireland and Thailand pictures!)
    And we're almost back to the front door.
    I have grand plans for the space above this couch section.
    Right by the front door.  This framed key was a gift from my friend Jill, whose design expertise easily outruns mine.  She sweetly remembered what I plan to do with the empty space I just showed you and thought this might compliment it.  I guess we'll have to wait and see...

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Sunday Sentiments: Perspective

    Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

    I've been in a funk the past week.  If you saw me at work or at play, you probably wouldn't guess it and you'd be right.  While I'm working or hanging out with new friends or going to fabulous shows, I'm distracted and don't have to deal with what's lurking beneath. 

    When I'm home, I have time to contemplate.  I started Beth Moore's Breaking Free Bible study this past Monday night.  This is not my first Beth Moore study so I'm used to the homework, the teaching format, and the small group discussion.  I know that she'll unpack the Bible in a way that's fresh and relatable, which is why I continue to do her studies.  There's some trepidation about this particular study though.  I have an idea of what's ahead because of other friends who have gone through it.  I know that in some way, shape, or form, my faith is going to be stretched and that it won't look pretty.

    I know I'm not perfect but I have no idea what part of my character God is going to be developing through this study.  It could be a new tweak on my old, familiar issues.  It might be laying some dreams down (scary!!!)  I might have to step out in more dependence on God, when I thought I was doing a good job just by moving here.  I know that I can only use that excuse for so long!

    I don't know what God will be teaching me but I am trying to keep an open heart.  Sanctification is sometimes ugly but it's ultimately for the best.  It helps to keep that in mind during the tough parts.

    I've been feeling a bit weepy this past week, too.  I'm someone that needs to cry every so often.  Some of this is because of my personality, some of it is how I naturally cope with life, and some of it is how I process with my job.  If I don't just let myself cry, after a certain point it'll come out during a movie, book, song, whatever's handy.  Only, I've been irritated by my weepiness this week because it's due to the same old things and I want to stop being bothered by them.

    Enter life.  Enter this morning's sermon.  Enter the news that the mother of an old friend died Friday night after a long journey with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  Enter the news that Amy at New Nostalgia has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Enter the books I've been reading that are challenging me to keep it all in perspective.

    This doesn't mean there's not a time and a place for my tears.  It does mean I need a right perspective of myself, God, and what's truly important in this life.  It's a wake-up call that I needed.  For all that's wrong in the world around me, I still have much to be grateful for.  I'd rather focus on that.  For now, at least.  Chances are I'll be learning this lesson for the rest of my life.