Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Hosana

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

We sang "Hosana" in church this morning.  The lyrics directly speak to what God has been teaching me through my church's Discipleship series and the Radical Read-Along. I want my life to bring God glory. I want to be part of a generation that has selfless faith.  I want my heart to break over the things that break His heart.  I feel things moving and shifting in my life and know God is at work. 



Bridge: Heal my heart and make it clean
           Open up my eyes to the things unseen
           Show me how to love like You have loved me
           Break my heart for what breaks Yours
           Everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause
           As I walk from earth into eternity

Lord, let these not be empty words but a call to action.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Library

Hi, my name is Leigh and I'm a Bookoholic*.  I would not be here today if it were not for my friend, the library.

We've always had a grand relationship.  I remember signing up for my first library card when I was 9 years old.  We'd lived in an unincorporated town previously so I'd never been able to check books out before.  This was a brand new world!

I loved the Wheaton Public Library.  The children's section, where I began, was huge.  I devoured Ramona Quimby, horse books galore, and Nancy Drew mysteries.  In no time, I graduated to the teen section, inhaling Canby Hall, Sweet Valley High, and anything by Caroline B. Cooney I could find.

Between the library and the stellar English teachers I encountered in high school, my reading tastes grew up. I still love a good fluff book but I now appreciate well-written prose and the occasional classic.

Aside from my goal of reading 100 books this year, I've averaged 65-80 books a year the last few years.  You see, I love me a good book or three.  There's no way I could ever afford to buy all the books I want to read, which is why the library is an ideal companion.

Incidentally, WPL has been one of the top 10 libraries in the country for many years.  An enormous collection. Something for everyone. It has perhaps ruined me for all other libraries.

The library here was another adjustment. Urban libraries are different, in general.  Instead of going to the big library downtown, where there is a larger collection, I head to the branch that's several blocks from my house. Now instead of browsing the stacks, I reserve books on-line and have them sent to my local branch. It makes me glad that I've had a To Read list for so long.  I miss wandering around, looking for titles or authors I recognize.  I can still do that at the local branch but it's on a much smaller scale.  I think that WPL's new titles take up as much space as the fiction area in this local branch.  It's a new way of doing things.

And as long as they continue to feed my addiction, I'm fine with that.

*This term is not meant to be disrespectful in any way to those who deal with very real addictions.  Obsession might be a better term than addiction when it comes to my love of books.  But Book Stalker just doesn't have the same ring to it.  My apologies if Bookoholic rubs anyone the wrong way.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Compassion International

You may have noticed a new banner on the left side of this blog a few days ago.  Over the weekend, a staff member at Compassion International emailed me as she had come across my Comfort Food post.  I had linked to two of the Compassion Bloggers who were in Guatemala at the time and challenged everyone to consider child sponsorship.  We are blessed by virtue of living in America and I firmly believe that most of us can spare $38 a month so that a child will be fed, clothed, offered medical care, educated, and taught about Christ.  When I compare that new sweater I want to the idea that a child who is cold and hungry, it's a clear decision.

And when Emily asked if I would add one of their banners to my blog, it was also a clear decision.  I'm proud to feature the work and ministry of Compassion International.  Compassion started 57 years ago and has helped more than 1 million children from 25 countries during that time.  1 million kids!  Still, there are so many more that need help.

As I perused the different banner options, I was struck by the one for children who have been waiting more than 6 months for a sponsor;  Six months of wondering whether this will be the day that will change their lives.  We all have times in our lives where we are waiting for something.  Wondering whether it will ever happen.  Trying not to get our hopes up.  Trying to stay positive.  Trying not to let the dream die.

Six more months of experiencing hunger. Cold. Illness. Poverty.

My childhood was so far removed from that reality, I can scarcely imagine it but it happens every day all over the world.

Understand that this is not a guilt-trip.  I won't know whether you sponsor a child after reading this, even though I hope you'll at least pray about it.  Perhaps your finances are really tight right now and you can't afford to sponsor a child.  Hey, I've been there.  Perhaps you give toward other worthy causes, in which case, thank you for being faithful in giving. But maybe there's someone reading who can afford to be stretched, who is looking to give back, and who would be blessed to get to know a sponsored child.  If that's you, please click on the banner or head to Compassion directly.


I'm putting my money where my mouth is.  I sponsor children through World Vision; it just happened that way.  I've long admired Compassion's work however.  After reading the Compassion Bloggers' recent experiences, I started to wonder whether I should sponsor a child through Compassion.  Kind of mix things up.  When I received the email over the weekend and when I saw children who have been on a wait list for far too long for things I have ready access to, I knew what I needed to do.

Tuyizere is a 6 year old boy in Rwanda who is no longer waiting for a sponsor.  (Kelly, I chose Rwanda to honor the country where your adoption is taking place.) His picture brings tears to my eyes and I look forward to getting to know him in the coming months and years.

Do you sponsor any children?  Are there any worthy causes you'd like to plug today?

Disclosure: Compassion asked that I place their banner on this blog but I am not being compensated for doing so.  The banner is here because I believe in the work they are doing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

#1: Visit Brudder in Virginia

My brother Matt has lived in Virginia for over 3 years.  Had I ever visited him?  Well, no.  He came home a few times a year since he moved so it's not like I haven't seen him during that time.  Still, I knew if I was going to keep favorite sister status, I needed to get out there stat.  This past weekend I was able to cross off the first item I listed on 31 Things.

I flew in Friday night, which gave us enough time to wander around Borders.  I gave him some reading recommendations, most of which he ignored, but he did promise to read a couple. Success!  Saturday we headed to DC for a day o' fun.

 Doesn't Matt look happy that we're hanging out?

 Outside the Holocaust Museum (Crossing off #7- more to come)

 Either DC residents are used to tourists or everyone is really friendly...so many people would offer to take our picture together out of the blue

 Washington Monument

 I was mesmerized by these flags

 We may both be Southerners now but we'll always be Yankees at heart

 Some new state pride


 Honest Abe.  Seeing him made this former Illinoisan proud.

 Another memorial on the way to the White House

Barack didn't realize I was in the neighborhood or I'm sure he would have invited me in.
It was cool to see the apiaries and other changes Michelle has brought to the grounds.

 The view from Lincoln Memorial

Outside the Vietnam War Memorial

Saturday night involved fried pickles, a fine ale, and lots of food.
Sunday we went to church, ate Indian food for lunch, then chilled for awhile as I made my infamous chili.  After dinner, we watched Invictus, which I highly recommend.  We all know that Nelson Mandela is a great man but to see his brilliance, his vision coming together, watch forgiveness in action...powerful beyond words.
I left early Monday morning, navigating the train to my gate at the Dulles airport in a bleary-eyed haze.  I'm not a morning person at all.  That it allowed me to spend more time with my brudder?  Absolutely worth it.

I'm not sure Matt and I have ever spent that much one-on-one time together before.  We were not the closest of siblings growing up but the older we get, the closer we've become.  That makes me happy.  (And I'm sure our mom is elated by it!)  This weekend I shared my heart.  He shared his.  I left Virginia feeling I knew him better than before and that means #1 on my list turned out better than anything I could have planned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

$80 Tea

I accidentally bought $80 tea a couple of months ago.

Trust me. This illustration of American excess on a social worker's salary was accidental but it could have been prevented.

My parents raised me to be a fairly financially smart kid.  I earned a $1 a week in allowance money, dependent on chores being completed.  I'm not sure how old I was when I stopped getting an allowance but I'd hazard a guess that it was around the time that I started pet-sitting and babysitting.  I had a work ethic at a young age.

My parents allowed me to get my first credit card when I was a freshman in college.  The deal was I had to pay it off every month, no exceptions.  I quickly learned that lesson.  Given that I was also paying for half of college, I worked a bunch and watched my budget.  I was on my own for grad school, worked even more, and had a very lean budget.  After my first job with a decent salary, I stopped pinching those pennies.  I tried to be wise but I'm aware that I could have saved more.  I could have given more.

Still, the last few years, I have upped my giving in a lot of ways.  Then I moved. There have been unexpected expenses and unplanned needs. And living on my own means no one else splitting rent or utilities anymore.  Everything is manageable but I haven't sat down to create a budget yet.

$80 tea is a wake-up call.  Or at least it should be.

There were free samples at Teavana and I was completely taken with the Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom blend. Maybe I was distracted when the cashier told me about the special deal- a pound of tea with an air-tight canister.  I didn't stop to do the math. By the time she told me the grand total, I was in shock and it was too late to back out.

I left, knowing that my spending habits had to change and fast.

Still, when I read chapter 6 of Radical, I hadn't created a budget yet.  There's no rationale to it.  I've spent less, to be sure. I've kept myself from buying all the sweaters I want (this takes huge self-control- I am powerless against a good cute sweater) but I haven't looked at my new income vs. my expenses.  That's not how my parents raised me.  It's not how God would want His steward to act either.

This is the wake-up call that I need.

And so I'm trying to answer these questions:
  • What if we took a serious look at [the blind spot of materialism] and actually began to adjust our lifestyles for the sake of the gospel among [the poor and needy]?  I don't want to be immune to statistics like 26,000 children dying of starvation every day.  This statistic was quoted at a Shane and Shane show last year and no one gasped in shock, which they commented on.  That statistic should horrify us and bring us to our knees until we figure out what we can do about it.
  • Why not begin selling and giving away luxuries for the sake of the poor outside our gates?  I'm not sure that I have anything to sell or give away beyond my usual Goodwill donation.  But I pray my eyes will be opened to see what else I can do.
  • Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more? Even though I commiserate about my social worker's salary, the truth is I do just fine. I live in America and that means, even as a social worker, I have more than billions of people in the rest of the world.  I can afford $80 tea, even if it sickens me. Lazarus couldn't afford even a morsel of food. I am positive I can give much more than I already do.  I'm trying to be sensitive to how God would use my money.  Or rather, His money.  Reading this chapter, however, illustrated that I still have much to learn.  
  • What if you and I had simple caps on our lifestyles and were free to give the rest of our resources away for the glory of Christ in the neediest parts of the world?  This one nailed me.  I've heard of people that set caps but figured it only applied to the wealthy.  Now I know that's not true.
  • What could happen if we stopped asking how much we could spare and started asking how much it was going to take?  Yikes. 
  • How many clothes do I really need?  My friends and I started a clothing swap a few years ago so we could have some fresh looks at no cost. as well as clean out our closets.  I've thought about starting up a Nashville-version.  I've also figured out one item for my 32 Things in January (see 31 Things if you're not sure what I'm talking about.)  What if I only shopped at resale/thrift stores for the next year?  What if I couldn't spend more than $5 on an item of clothing?  I love a good bargain, I love thrifting, and this would prevent any unnecessary clothing purchases, which ultimately frees up money to be used how God sees fit.
  • What luxuries does God intend for me to savor and what luxuries does God invite me to sacrifice?  This portion of the book reminded me of the ending of the movie Schindler's List, where Schindler looks at all the things he could have sold to save more Jews.  Here, I think we're looking at priorities.  I don't think it's bad for me to buy a CD or a new sweater but if it comes at the expense of being used by God, then I'd better look at the return policy ASAP.  However, this does mean that my dream of owning something from Chanel is on hold indefinitely.  I just can't justify the cost!
  • If we have savings, where is the line between responsible saving and irresponsible hoarding? I'd been saving for a house before I moved.  Now I'm in the position of needing to buy a new car. When I read this chapter, a knee-jerk reaction would be to hold off on a new car. Except my Corolla needs some big wear-and-tear repairs and I've discussed this with my parents at length for the last year or so.  Still, I'm not committed to buying a new car- it might be new-to-me instead.  Right now I still have student loan debt and dreams of being a homeowner but when those are dealt with, I pray I can be in a place to answer this question thoughtfully.
  • Am I standing with the starving or with the overfed?  To be determined.
Am I more like the rich man or more like Lazarus?  Even though we'd all like to say Lazarus, I would guess that most American Christians fall into the rich man's camp. While there's a balance between giving to the poor and enjoying God's blessing, it is far too easy to enjoy God's blessing.  This must be why the prosperity gospel is so popular in our country.  Everyone is attracted to bigger, better, more, and new.

Just in case I missed Platt's message, my pastor said the following this past weekend.  When more time is spent on things than people, materialism is at work and we are off-kilter.

I don't want to live my life like that anymore.
 
This post is part of the Radical Read-Along hosted by the fantastic Marla Taviano

In case you missed it last week, here's my volunteer quest for reals.  I shared 8 different opportunities and just learned about a potential new ministry at church so it could be 9 pretty soon.  I have a glimmer of an idea of which causes I'll commit to with time and which with money.  Stay tuned...

Monday, October 25, 2010

DC Food

I visited my brother in DC/Virginia  over the weekend, knocking off a couple of 31 Things in the process.  I'll be writing about my trip over the next week or so but today I wanted to start with the food.  Ah, yes.  The lovely, lovely food.

Incredibly delicious lunch at the Holocaust Museum cafe.  The museum is well-worth experiencing, as is its cafe.  (My brother thought it was strange that it would have its own cafe.  He was appeased by the fact that it's located next to the museum, not technically a part of it.)
A pear, spinach, and brie on raisin walnut bread sandwich, paired with a chocolate chocolate chip cookie.  I'm not typically a raisin-fan but that sandwich was inspired.


A friend visited Mad Fox Brewing Company a month or so ago and promptly told me about the fried pickles on the menu.  I promptly told Matt that we absolutely, positively had to go there so I could experience them for myself.  Listed as "frickles" on the menu, Mad Fox makes their own pickles and cuts them into thick chips.  There appears to be a cornflake-type breading.  Then the piece de resistance- a spicy chipotle dipping sauce.  We tore through the basket in no time!
I then enjoyed a lovely grilled chicken panini (marinated chicken, oven roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a basil pesto aioli on toasted house-baked bread) and freshly cut fries.  Huge serving!  I'm impressed by how many things Mad Fox makes themselves, from ketchup to sausage. You can't go to a brewery and not sample the brew.  I settled on a pale English summer ale, which was a perfect way to cap off the day.


After church we had lunch at an Indian buffet in Ashburn.  A lovely selection and the right amount of spice.


Finally for dinner, I made Matt (and his roommates) my Illinois-famous chili.  No Krispy Kremes nearby, unfortunately, so we settled on an olive oil ciabbata as the accompaniment.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Hallelujah

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

While nothing compares to the original "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, some might find the lyrics to be a bit provocative or lacking a certain spiritual soundness.  I'm such a music lover that I appreciate it for what it is. There's a reason a million people have covered it, from the well-known Jeff Buckley version to Justin Timberlake.  It simply resonates.We are all crying out Hallelujah to something or someone.

It's no surprise that someone came along and "Christianized" the song.  Enter Lincoln Brewster's "Another Hallelujah."  The beautiful music, some of the haunting original lyrics, and yet now the Hallelujah is directed towards the Lord we glorify.

Today simply listen, reflect, and enjoy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On-call

I'm writing this at 7:57 pm Thursday night with the intention of posting it tomorrow morning for you to read.  I'm in the middle of my first night call for work.  By now, dear reader, I am no longer on-call and I am breathing a huge sigh of relief.  Can I tell you how much I have not missed on-call?  I haven't been on-call since the beginning of May and it has been a luxurious break.

Anyone who has been on-call before can relate to the pit in your stomach, the nervous energy that swirls about during those hours.  Waiting. Anticipating. Wondering when the pager will go off, if it will go off.  Then, what will you have to do?  It could be quiet.  It could be back-to-back.  You never know.

What I'm realizing tonight is that as much as I hate being on-call, it brings me closer to God.  I tend to pray throughout the day but when I'm on-call I'm praying every time I look at the clock.

Thanks, God.  I've been on-call for 27 minutes now and the pager has stayed quiet! 


Waking up in the middle of the night: Thanks, God, for letting me sleep 4 uninterrupted hours.  Then rolling back over to sleep until my alarm, hopefully not my pager, wakes me up.

Answering the call: Please, God, help me know what to say and do!

Afterward: Thank you, God, for helping me do this.  Please work in their lives and draw them closer to you.

Post-call: Thank you for getting me through another on-call.

Scripture comes to mind often when I'm on-call, especially regarding my on-call anxiety.
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13
When I get called out, this is the verse I cling to.
And God is able to do make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8
Actually, I cling to that verse every day.  So much of what I do is simply being present to others in pain. Any effect I have on them is not based on anything I do.  It's God enabling me and shining through me.

When I get called for something and I feel like I'm in over my head?
So do not fear, for I am am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
I find that when I focus on God and remember that any calls I get have already been sifted through His fingers, the anxiety lessens. Right now it's sharper because this is my first night call for this job. I really don't know what to expect.  This is different from the end of my on-call with hospice, in which I didn't like being on-call but had done it enough times to know the types of calls I could get.  On-call is unfortunately a necessary evil to any social work job, until budgets are not longer an issue and separate on-call staff are hired.  (What a lovely dream!)  I think after a few more day calls, a few more night calls, and my first weekend call (yikes!), I'll have a better understanding of on-call when it comes to my new job.

In the meantime, I'm clinging to God and wondering how this hyper-awareness of His grace and strength can translate to my every day life.
Windy Poplars

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Friendship Swap



Kristin at Windy Poplars dreamed up the Fall Friendship Swap.  Those of us Fall-lovers were invited to sign up.  She then assigned us each a partner.  Our assignment?  Buy fall-inspired items, spending no more than $15, and send them to your partner.  You then receive a present of your own!  I love getting presents so this was a no-brainer.




Raechel was my partner and I received her lovely gift on Saturday.  Can I just say I was blown away?  I'm pretty sure she didn't stick to the $15 budget based on the amount of loot she sent my way.
 Lovely box with a homemade card
"Hope you 'fall' into new blessings each and every day!"
Thanks, Raechel!

 Whatever will it be?
The pile of colors is tons of leaf cut-outs- perfect for decorating
 Whipped Pumpkin and Cranberry Wine- that box smelled good!
Write Your Own Story paperweight and cute journal...it's like she knows my dream is to be published
You can't go wrong with Early Grey and English Breakfast teas. 
In addition to those close-ups, there's hand lotion, fun kleenex, fall greeting cards, a recipe box and cards, plus the most delightful magnets

Thank you, Raechel!  It was fun being Fall Friends with you...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Ugly to...

Are you acquainted with Mary Kathryn Tyson's blog Beauty for Ashes yet?  If not, you should be.  We found each other a couple of months ago and I have been so encouraged by her posts.  Often I feel like MK is reading my mind when she writes about a particular topic.  I hope someday our paths will cross in real life!

Recently she used a clever prompt.
I used to____.  Now I ____.  As in, I used to be this way.  Now I'm this way.

I quickly came up with a few:
I used to sit in the corner. Now I boldly dance.
I used to be blinded by tunnel-vision. Now I view my life with the eyes of Christ.

Then I came to the one I knew I needed to write.  I'd just posted about my self-esteem journey so it was fresh on my mind.  I used to believe I was ugly. I believed this for a long time and have grown so much in this area.

Still...

The opposite of ugly is beautiful.  Do I really believe that I'm beautiful?  My fingers froze over the keyboard.  I wanted to just write, Now I believe I'm beautiful.  But I knew that wasn't accurate.  I believe I have a beautiful personality.  When it comes to physical appearance, I think I'm cute, some days I think I'm pretty.  But beautiful?  I can think of a handful of times in the last 10 years where I've looked in the mirror and believed that deep down in my heart.

I've been coming to grips with the fact that God believes I'm beautiful.  I shared in my self-esteem post about "viewing myself as God's creation, the work of His hands.  When I criticized myself, I was actually telling God He screwed up when He made me."  It's not just that God created me but He created me well.

Even though no one who reads MK's blog would know whether my comment was true or not, I would know.  It forced me to consider what I really believe when it comes to my physical looks. 

I used to believe I was ugly.  Now I know I’m far from it.

This is true.  I know I'm not ugly.  I know that it was my skewed perception and that it was wrong.  I was far from ugly then and I'm far from ugly now.  I know I'm beautiful on the inside.  And I hope that someday I'll look in the mirror and tell myself, "Leigh, you're beautiful."  Beautiful, inside and out.  Believe it because God made me this way and He got it right on the first try.  Not cute, not pretty.

Beautiful. 

The day is soon coming.  I can feel it.



Other encouragement:
Another Mary Kathryn gem: The Ministry of Make-up
Sarah Markley: Writing Words in Journals
(In)courage: Has anyone told you lately how amazing you are?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Pumpkin Patching We Will Go!

Every auntie should experience a pumpkin patch with her niece-in-love.  And so, with Anna's parents in tow, that is just what we did!

 I love taking pictures of them walking together.  So cute!



 A friendly reminder during the wagon ride


We highly recommend Gentry's Farm in Franklin as a family-friendly pumpkin patch.  There are tons of activities for kids, a munchkin maze and a corn maze and an activity maze, goats, a wagon ride and more.  $6 admission is all it takes.  Buying pumpkins or snacks is, of course, an additional cost.  And a word to the wise...be sure to have cash or a checkbook with you; they don't accept credit cards.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Volunteer Quest

When I read chapter 4 of Radical almost 2 weeks ago, I was convicted. I've lived in Nashville for about 5 months now and hadn't moved forward with plans to volunteer.  So I decided that it was time to get down to business and figure out where to volunteer.  I have many interests but I work full-time in a job that involves on-call work.  Plus, I'm a social worker so I need to be sure that wherever I volunteer, I'm not being utilized as a social worker.  It's all about preventing compassion fatigue and being good about self-care.

Here's my list of possibilities.  There are pros and cons of each, which I won't spell out for you here.  I'm praying my way through this list and this week I'll be sending out queries to a few.  If the time commitments match up with my availability, then hopefully I'll get started in the next couple of weeks.

1.  Soup Wagon with Salvation Army-Nashville- Feeding the homeless on Friday nights under Jefferson Street Bridge.  They're looking for food donations, servers, and entertainment.  The homeless have been on my heart for some time and this opportunity combines that interest with my love of cooking/serving.

2. Mercy Ministries- I actually applied to work at MM about 6 years ago during my post-grad school job search.  They had no openings at the time and then I got my hospice job but I've always been interested in working with the population they serve.  MM works with girls looking for healing from abuse, eating disorders, addictions, self-harming behaviors, depression, and hope for unplanned pregnancies.  They offer a free, biblically-based program to girls age 13-28.  They are doing remarkable work there.

3. Big Brothers, Big Sisters- My friend Casi, who works for BBBS in Illinois, kindly reminded me of this organization's need for volunteers.  The commitment is once a week and day and time are flexible.  I could see myself mentoring a little girl.

4. Special Kids- I just learned about this wonderful organization a few days ago and promptly added it to my list. Special Kids is a Christian organization that offers therapeutic rehabilitation and skilled nursing to children with special needs.  There are so few respite or professional care options for children with special needs.  I can't imagine how much parents appreciate Special Kids.  This is completely up my alley, right?

5. Alive Hospice- You can take the girl out of hospice, but you can't take hospice out of the girl.  End of life issues are still supremely important to me.  Before I moved, I thought it would be important to get connected to a local hospice.  I was already very familiar with Alive, thanks to my professional blog and a little networking I did before my move.  I actually toured their residence a few weeks ago and was so impressed!  I think it would interesting to visit with a family, help out at the residence, or assist with their bereavement programs.

6. Room in the Inn- This is truly impressive program for the homeless.  There's an actual residence but also day services, classes/education, support services and more.  It might be interesting to see if my community group could serve there together.

7. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee- I've thought volunteering at a food bank would be interesting for awhile.  It never worked out to do it back home but perhaps it'll work out here!  Sorting and putting together food boxes = tangible way to help prevent hunger.

8. In2Books eMentor- This is such a cool concept to this book nerd!  Adult volunteer penpals are matched up with a 3rd-5th grade student.  Through the course of the school year, you and the student read 5 books together.  You write an email about important issues in the book and then the student has a chance to respond.  I love encouraging kids to read!  And because it's all through email, I'm pretty sure I'd have time to read the books and respond.  Books. Penpals. Encouraging students.  Win, win, win.

Even if I end up not volunteering at a particular place, I'm considering whether I can give financially.  They are all worthwhile organizations making a big difference in such different ways.

Anything else you think should be a contender?  Anyone living in Nashville want to be my volunteer buddy?  If you don't live in Nashville and are intrigued by one of these organizations, check to see whether they have a site in your area- many of them do!  I'll keep you posted as I make my final decision...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Let Go

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

I've had the lyrics to Frou Frou's Let Go floating in my head this week:
"So, let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown"


This resonates with me. This is what I need to hear.
Let go.
Jump in.
Beauty in the breakdown.

I am considering how to give more of my life.  I am considering how to be less of me, more of Him because there is beauty in this. When I align my will with God's, beautiful things can and will happen. Change can be scary but the older I get, the more necessary it becomes.

Do you need to let go of something or someone? What risk do you need to take?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Happiness

The other day I was asked about the last time I was happy.  A true moment of happiness.

I thought for a moment. We're not talking about joy, something we experience in spite of circumstances.  We're not talking about contentment, which is how I can describe most of my days. We're talking smile on our face, laugh out loud happy.

And then it came to me.


This little girl makes me happy.  When she sees me, she squeals her gibberish and stomps her feet with excitement.  With a reaction like that, I can't help but feel amazing about life!  She lets me snuggle her while watching Veggie Tales or when I read her a story.  She brings me her Pink Animal to hold for awhile- sharing at its best.  We play silly games and just have fun together.

It's hard to remember that before May, I'd only seen her a few times a year since she was born.  Now I see her a few times a week!  I'm so thankful that Tracy and Joel share their daughter with me.  They thank me when I babysit but I feel like I'm the one that gets the gift.  She's not just my best friend's daughter.  She's my niece-in-love and she loves me back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Christian Bookstore

I wonder how many people start working in retail and decide to make a career out of it.  It certainly wasn't my intention when I was hired at The Christian Bookstore the summer before my senior year but I ended up working there for 7 and a half years.  Previously, I'd been working at a local pharmacy where I was sexually harassed by a customer (another story for another time). While my boss dealt with the situation, I no longer felt safe working there.  My family and I had shopped at The Christian Bookstore ever since I was a little girl.  When I found out they were hiring, it seemed like such a God thing. 

I worked part-time during the school year, as well as one night a week at an allergist clinic.  I wonder now how I managed to work two part-time jobs, take advanced classes at school, and have an active social life. 

I started working at The Christian Bookstore with glowing expectations.  Christian products!  Christian bosses and coworkers!  Christian customers!  We'd all be happy in Christianland. 

Of course, I came to learn that just because a product is declared Christian doesn't mean it's theologically sound or worth selling.  A Christian boss will still make mistakes in how they lead.  Christian customers might yell at you and behave in very unChristian ways.

Yes, there was the drivel but there was also quality fiction, authentic artists that would otherwise be relegated to a corner, and books by authors that dared you to think outside the box. Working at TCB made me a more critical, sometimes cynical consumer of Christian products. The Jesus Junk is irritating for sure- but it sells.  You can't fault a store for selling what customers want to buy. 

While I could complain about those things with the best of them, I really enjoyed working there.  I excelled in that environment.  I made lifelong friends. I was promoted. I made improvements to the store and to our sales. I knew our products well- strangely, I still have much of the inventory (circa 1997-2005) memorized.  Just the other night, someone mentioned the book Love and Respect, which I've never read, but I easily recalled the author's last name and what the cover looked like. How's that for a party trick?

The bookstore was started by a husband and wife team in the late 1970s. Their son joined the business in the early 1990s and was largely in charge by the time I came on to the scene.  I considered all three to be my bosses, however, and worked for them in a variety of capacities.  They taught me much. While I didn't always agree with the son's managerial style, I owe much to him and TCB.

After my senior year of high school, I fell into a pattern of working full time during the summer and any college breaks.  I graduated college early and went straight back to work.  When graduate school started, I cut my hours to part-time.  After grad school ended and a social work job didn't instantly materialize, I worked part-time and babysat the rest of the time.  They always let me come back.

PhotobucketI started out as a sales associate.  About two years later, I was promoted to Senior Sales Associate: TCB's version of Assistant Manager.  By the end of my tenure there, I was in charge of scheduling, employee relations (an unofficial role consisting of decorating the staff room bulletin board and more), music displays, and floor displays.  For one of my first store displays, I used Father's Day signage to create a sailboat, complete with shining sun and gentle waves in a little used area.  It was well-received and fostered my confidence as an artist and saleswoman.

I received many, many shipments and played a variety of roles when it came to visiting authors and bands.  I knew how to imprint Bibles with the best of them.  I realized I paid great attention to detail as I inventoried books, Bibles, and CDs, somehow tracking down missing items.  I could probably still write up a special order and ring up a sale.  I dismantled outdated display cases and designated an area as the Teen Scene, which proved highly profitable.  In short, whatever I touched in that store, turned to gold.

The irony being that for much of the time that I worked there, I was apathetic toward God.  You can work at a Christian bookstore, you see, and not necessarily act like or be a Christian.  God had His hand even in this.  My coworkers Dave, Victoria, and Andy were instrumental in listening, challenging, and encouraging me as I made my way back to God.

Would it surprise you to know that we had a lot of fun working there?  I remember store closes where we'd blast whatever songs we were obsessed with at the moment as we powered down registers and tidied up.  There was the time I may or may not have danced on top of the customer service counter- a way of breaking it in, so to speak.   The all-night, all-day inventory weekend that led to delirium, many Phish CDs (unrelated to the delirium), and some of the best conversations of my life.  Meeting the authors and artists I'd admired and realizing they were genuinely nice people.

PhotobucketI got a book signed by Brock and Bodie Thoene who wrote one of my favorite series (Zion Covenant) after setting up the store for a book signing for them and a few other authors.  Taylor Sorensen was so impressed by the display I built showcasing his first CD that he took a picture of it.  I met Geoff Moore and took a picture with one of my favorite artists, Bebo Norman. I stood next to Max Lucado as he signed book after book and heard from person after person about how his writing changed their life.  He is the real deal.  I have a poster signed by the Supertones and a Kansas demo inked by Jennifer Knapp before everyone knew her name.

Not every artist was kind.  I met more than a few egos.  I was turned off by quite a few people that people continue to rave about.  If you only knew..., I think to myself.  It makes sense though.  Christians, no matter what they do, are imperfect people.

That's what I remember when I think of our crazy customers. Imperfect people who were maybe a little more imperfect when they shopped in our store.  The Lamb Lady, for instance, who would barge into the back room demanding her special order, in spite of the Employees Only sign.  The elderly woman who pooped in the middle of the store- then left, leaving an undesirable task for one of the sales associates to clean up.  People who demanded extra discounts because they were pastors, or missionaries, or lived on this street, or had eaten cereal for breakfast.  Creepy stalkers.  Con men.  An elaborate scheme involving Africa and a bunch of Bibles, which would have left us out of a lot of money if my boss hadn't been so wise.  You wouldn't believe some of the things customers would say or how they would treat our staff.

It didn't matter though.  I loved my job.  I loved how creative I could be with displays and promotions and taking care of staff.  I loved that I could direct a customer to exactly what they wanted based on a few words.  Book and CD recommendations were my forte, even if I didn't like the books or music myself.  I knew my customers and it was good.  I even won a gift card when a mystery shopper came by and gave me an excellent review!   Not only did this job help me pay for much of college and grad school, it helped build my sense of who I was.  Realizing that I was good at something.  Making peace with my faith. Forming life-changing friendships. I grew up in a lot of ways. When I got a "real" job, I was sad to close this chapter on my life.

Even sadder, TCB went out of business in the fall of 2008.  I stopped by one last time to see coworkers, hug the owners, and buy a book or two.  TCB fell prey to Amazon, Wal-mart, and all the other big book businesses that crowd out independent stores. No other Christian bookstore has measured up to the variety and quality found at TCB.   I'm thankful for the effect TCB had on my life.  I'm a more thoughtful consumer in many ways.  And I am always, always nice to whomever is helping me at a store. I like to think of it as reverse customer service.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Open Letter to the White Sox


Dear Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox organization,

I'm sorry.  I let you down this year.  I should have known better but I got caught up in the moment.  Like when you're watching a no-hitter in progress- you know you shouldn't say anything but you wonder, "what if?  what if I'm about to witness history?" and then when the streak is botched, you curse yourself for saying anything at all.

The home opener started the season off strong.  I was so happy to be there- my 11th consecutive home opener with the Bond clan.  Our group has changed over the years but we always have a good time.  With my move to Nashville just 6 weeks away, this would end up being my only game this year.  After 5 seasons as an Ozzie Plan ticket holder and a lifetime as a fan, 2010 would be my first season from afar.




Still, I had a quiet hope that maybe there would be baseball in October.  By then, I'd be well settled in my new job and able to take some time off to come back home and celebrate.



Just before I moved, my reign as the Eternal White Sox Optimist was dampened, I suppose, by reality.  My beloved team was not playing as well as they should.  Even though every other year I've believed that things would turn around, I couldn't muster up the optimism this time.  Perhaps I was trying to protect myself from the strangeness of no longer living in Illinois, no longer having access to all the games on TV, or heading down to The Cell.  I was frustrated with the players.  Part of me thought, this is what happens when you don't keep Jermaine DyeOr Aaron Rowand.  Sorry, I can't let that one go.

But then things started heating up again!  I was able to watch a game or two each week on TV, cheering my boys on.  Who could have imagined we'd be in first place by the end of the first half after an awful spring?  I found my optimism coming back in droves.  Which, I know, is the mark of a fickle fan but trust me when I say I'm not fickle.  I blame it on the fact that I've always been surrounded by Cubs fans- even in Nashville.



I came back to the Chicago suburbs the first weekend of August for Jill's wedding.  I may have been riding on the high of good baseball, my friend's wedded bliss, and a glass of wine.




When the Gate 5 Gang reunited at the wedding, I couldn't help but speak the words that no fan should ever speak in August.    


Post-season.

I know!  I think back now and wonder how I risked jinxing us.  I was just so happy!  When people asked about Nashville life and when I'd next be home, the standard answer was Christmas.  But...my boss had already given me future permission to take time off if the Sox made it to the playoffs.  She's a Red Sox fan so she understands all about not making plans in October...just in case.  So when people asked about my next visit, I risked it all and said, maybe, just maybe October if we were lucky.

OK, I can't take all the blame for why we're not in the playoffs right now.  Clearly, the actual players are at fault here.  They had the tools to win but didn't win enough.  We should have been playing against The Evil Empire this past week instead of the Twins.  So I implore you, players, step up to the plate- literally- next year.  I'll cheer my heart out but I won't jinx you, I promise.
 
I've learned my lesson.  No more post-season talk until we're actually in post-season.

Thanks for 2005.  Thanks for letting me be Ozzie's Angel. Thanks for winning game 3 of the 2008 ALDS while I was there.  Thanks for 88 wins this year, in spite of the ups and downs.  Thanks for always being "Back in Black."  Thanks for being the best team Chicago has had ever had.

Leigh

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finding Community

I chuckled to myself when I sat down to read chapter 5 of Radical Sunday afternoon. Titled "The Multiplying Community: How All of Us Join Together to Fulfill God's Purpose," I was relatively sure it would touch on the same things I had just written about in Sunday Sentiments, where I noted that discipleship has been the most recent theme in my life.  You can read that post to see what I've been pondering when it comes to discipleship. Platt echoes a lot of those thoughts.  I was more gripped by the discussion on community.

When you move to a new state, your life becomes about creating new community.  I didn't have to start completely from scratch but much of my world is about developing new relationships.  At work.  At church.  In my community group.  Wherever I go, I am in search of friends not because I'm needy but because relationships are what this life is about. Relationships offer us the chance to grow and be challenged.  They give us a context for support, encouragement, and comfort.  Within a community of believers, we can mentor others and be mentored.  For those who do not know Christ, we can be living and breathing examples of what discipleship looks like.  And in all situations, we can glorify God's name.  Without relationships, we are not just lonely.  We are missing out on the life God created us for.
"Brought together from different backgrounds, and having journeyed through different struggles, we find ourselves joined together as one in the life of Christ. Disciple making involves identifying with a community of believers who show love to one another and share life with one another as we live together for the glory of God." -p. 97
This is not just a picture of life to me, but a picture of heaven.  Too often, our differences divide us instead of uniting us. I am drawn to communities where different backgrounds, cultures, marital status, and genders are celebrated.  I believe we have so much that we can learn from one another.  I believe it is important to have a community in which the members are authentic and honest with one another.

Perhaps that's why I felt one of Platt's most important points in this chapter is that discipleship/community requires vulnerability.  This has been a struggle for me in the past.  I realized a few years ago that I was so used to being the Listener, that I was not always good at being the Sharer.  I can talk about past struggles but when it comes to current areas of sanctification, I found myself holding back until it's resolved or just not talking about it at all.  It robs me and the people in my community of a chance to become more intimate with one another.  If I can't openly share about my life, then you will not know who I really am.  Discretion is wise- you don't need to share everything with everyone- but developing a friendship involves both people sharing issues of substance.  My "inner circle" of friends knows enough about me to make a case for blackmail but it works because I can say the same about them. 

But those are people who have known me for some time.  My challenge now is being vulnerable with new friends.  At community group last week, our second time meeting, I took a deep breath and shared the darker pieces of my testimony, not knowing what the response might be.  It is not always easy to talk about the person I used to be but it informs the person I am today.  Accept me, accept my past baggage.  And they did, with open arms.  This simple act of freefalling has allowed me to feel safe in this group of believers.  It reassures me that this is a place where discipleship will occur, where we will learn from one another, and care for one another.  Had I not taken a leap of faith and shared, I would have missed out on my community group's response.

This also makes me think about how I want to help others who have struggled with depression and low self-esteem.  I want God to use the difficulties I've experienced.  I want to be open to mentoring a teenage girl or whomever might benefit from hearing my story.  I want to intentionally disciple someone.  Maybe the beauty of creating my community here is that I have the time to seek out these opportunities.

Community is not something that can be rushed. 

There's a progression here. 

Vulnerability. 

Discipleship.  

Community.

While I'm impatient to know where I'll volunteer and which new relationships will stand the test of time, but for now it's a matter of coffee dates, drinks at happy hour, Bible study conversations, and random opportunities. Revealing pieces of me to foster depth through it all.  It's an interesting dance- getting to know new friends, testing the waters of trust- but I know that this is my new home and the community will come in time.

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

For those of you interested in my volunteer quest, I've come across 7 different opportunities, from the homeless to hospice patients, and am starting to research the organizations and figure out which one I can commit to and be consistent.  I'm pretty excited about these options and hope I'll have it figured out soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Growing in Esteem

If I met the person I was before I went to counseling for unresolved depression and self-esteem issues, I wouldn't recognize myself.  I flipped through my old journal from freshman year of college and was amazed by the confusion, self-hatred, and insecurity screaming from the pages. 

Words like this from March 11, 1999:
"I hate my life. I'm sick of it. I would like to feel good about myself or at least good about something for once. I don't feel like I'm good at anything. Nothing- not one thing. I think my parents favor my brother over me. And I don't even think my friends truly give a da(r)n about me. I'm tired of always listening to their problems when they don't have the decency to try to do the same for me. I don't know where this leads me. It just reaffirms the fact that I am one very screwed up, messed up person. But that's been obvious for years."

I read that and I want to comfort that girl.  I want to point out all the good that was in my life at that time. My eyes were blinded to who God created me to be and the blessings that did exist, even if some of my dreams were delayed in coming true.  The fact that I believed my parents showed favoritism or that my friends didn't care?  Absolutely ludicrous.  I was so completely absorbed in my misery that I no longer recognized truth.

I marvel that that is not who I am anymore!  While I know that depression is a part of my story, it hasn't been a part of my present for so long that it's easy to forget about the pain I used to experience daily.

It didn't come easily though.  A week after that entry, I decided enough was enough.  I was tired of not feeling "good about myself."  A month after that, I met my counselor for the first time. 

In between my decision to see a counselor and actually meeting the counselor, I began keeping a log.  Every compliment or recognition I received. Anything good that happened to me.  Anything I thought I did well.  I hoped that on my down days, I could read through the log and remind myself of the truth until I started believing it myself. 

It's hard to say, "I'm ugly" if you can turn to May 31 and read "Erin said I looked beautiful and like I was 26 years old."  (Clarification, as someone who at age 30 still looks so young, being told I looked 26 at age 19 was a huge compliment!)

At first, it was hard to come up with something good to write each day.  I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, log book open, pen in hand, mentally reviewing my day for something, anything positive.  Then it became habit and some days would have several entries.  By my senior year of college, I didn't need to keep the log anymore.  I could have written pages each day about the blessings in my life. 

A small sampling:
4/5/99- "I hope you guys will always be my friends" -Tracy to me and Erin (they're both still my best friends!)
5/11/99- At practice this morning, we rowed the farthest we've ever rowed and it was great and we survived and it was probably the best I've ever rowed!  (crew team)
8/15/99- "You're hot." -Brian

2/21/00- Mom sent me a shirt she bought because she saw it and it made her think of me
3/22/00- "I am so glad we are friends. I love hanging out with you or even when I see you in the hall, it just makes my day a little better." -email from Kelly
6/17/00- Aunt Laurie said I was gorgeous and skinny
8/29/00- Tracy said I was the source of laughter in her life and that she loved me so much

3/19/01- [my crush] emailed me and he was mad we didn't get to see each other over my break
8/21/01- I'm Staff of the Week!
11/2/01- "Excellent. Thank you. It is a joy to read your work." -professor's comment on my midterm

It's fun to read through and see what I decided to write down.  So many little moments that I would otherwise forget.  Sometimes my enthusiasm and happiness about a certain moment leaps off the page...so much better than the screaming in past journal entries.

Between the log and therapy, a lot of healing occurred. Still, while viewing myself through everyone else's eyes improved my self-esteem, the picture was not quite complete. A few years after that, I would come to view myself through God's eyes.  That was a crucial moment, viewing myself as God's creation, the work of His hands.  When I criticized myself, I was actually telling God He screwed up when He made me.  I also realized I had a choice when it came to my self-esteem.  I could either ignore the signs of an impending downward spiral and find myself in a black hole.  Or I could proclaim myself "dead" to the old ways of thinking, embrace the freedom I have in Christ, and continue on my way.

I might always struggle with self-esteem in some way. I still have moments where I must choose freedom or darkness.  God always gives me the strength to confront those moments and this is why I have been free of my self-esteem issues for so long. Looking back at where I started and seeing where I am now is evidence of how much I have grown and how much I will continue to grow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Discipleship

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

There's been a theme lately, from the blogs I read to the latest sermon series at church.

Discipleship.

A few weeks back, my church launched into our Disciple: Dying to Live series.  My pastors define a disciple as a continual learner who continually teaches. If we want to grow disciples, we need to be sure that we ourselves are disciples.  Last night the takeaway moment for me was what it means to daily die to ourselves when Jesus told us to take up our cross daily.  Lloyd said that dying to ourselves means choosing His agenda over mine, over and over and over again.

A small portion of my Breaking Free homework was about discipleship, specifically looking at spiritual mentors.  I've never had a mentor per se but I have had wonderful godly women who have poured into my life.  I'm so grateful for Susan, Lynn, Victoria, and Jonna who always patiently listened, encouraged, and prayed with me during various times in my life.  I would be remiss without a special mention of my mom, who has been a continuous godly example in my life.  I am so blessed that she's my mom!  While I would like to have a mentor, I am also blessed by my friends who ask tough questions and wrestle with what faith looks like in this day and age.

Then there's this Deeper Walk devotional from the other day. 
"WHEN WE BEGIN TO wrestle with what it means to live in community, we are wrestling with what it would look like to be honest, vulnerable and transparent with other believers. If the Church is going to stay relevant and engaged in our culture, we need to figure this community thing out.
 What could happen if through prayer and commitment we allowed those we worshiped with, maybe those we were starting a new small group with, that same level of trust and intimacy? I believe that is the type of transparency the Gospel is calling us to- to recognize that we are people of an eternal story. We are old friends.

Ultimately, the key to intentional Christian community begins with intentional transparency."

Dying to self. Mentoring and being mentored. Being intentionally transparent with fellow believers.

This is what I strive for. This is why I'm asking myself what discipleship costs me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Checking In

I received a phone call the other night that I've been treasuring in my heart.  I still marvel that this person saw a need that I had never verbalized to her.  I was so touched by her insightfulness that, as we were talking Tuesday night, I did not want to forget one word.  I don't often feel that way about phone calls.

I almost didn't answer the phone that night because I didn't know the number.  It was a 615 area code though, which made me curious about who had my number.  I'm so glad I answered.

It was the wife of my new community group leader.  Our group met once, a get to know you affair, and then took the last two weeks off.  When I was invited to join the group, I asked about the composition of the group.  It would be nice to have other singles there but it's not a requirement of mine.  I just wanted to be prepared to be the token single if that's where the chips fell.  As the group was coming together, three other singles were invited to join, as well as 4 married couples.  When I arrived for the first night, I was the only single there.  While there were the inevitable odd moments, my impression was that these were my kind of people.  There was the right amount of vulnerability, transparency, and imperfection.  This was a group I could grow in.

When I answered the phone and heard Emily's voice, I figured she was going to ask me to bring dessert for our gathering the next night.  Emily wasn't calling about community group business though.  She was calling about my heart.

She wanted to see how I felt about being the only single in our group.  She wanted me to know that she wanted me to be part of the group but she gave me permission to join another group if I didn't feel comfortable with them.  She welcomed the possibility of other singles joining in the future, as well as other couples. 

I was stunned.  Someone who recognized that a single person might feel out of place in a roomful of married couples.  That is rare, my friends.  Rarer than it should be.  I can count on one hand the number of people in my life who check in with me to see how I'm doing in my singleness, who recognize I might feel sad after attending another wedding or learning of another friend's pregnancy- no matter how happy I may be for them.

Words cannot express how much Emily's phone call meant to me.  She saw an unspoken need and spoke it out loud.

While it would be nice if another single or two joined, I'll be fine if it doesn't happen right away.  We both recognized that singles and marrieds have a lot to potentially learn from one another.  I love being in small group Bible studies that celebrate the differences between gender, marital status, and background.  It is a beautiful thing!

Emily has set the tone for this experience.  As I sat in my new community group Wednesday night, taking in more of everyone's story and feeling everyone's warmth and acceptance of me sans spouse, I knew that I was home.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Last weekend, Tracy and Joel invited me on their family hike to Percy Warner park.  By hike, I mean trek.  It was awesome!  I haven't been hiking in so long.  While my body initially protested, soon I was sailing over the trail.  It was a marvelous start to a marvelous day.
 Anna is excited to start hiking!
 Hiking backpacks are good for little girls
 Daddy and daughter
 Happy family.
Can you believe they do this 2 mile hike every week?
 Anna had had enough of being carried!  It was hiking time.
 She's a tree hugger. For reals.
That grin means "I love my auntie!"  Or Dee as she likes to call me.