Feathers in 2020

 

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Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers”, has long been a favorite of mine, and I memorized it years ago. She compares hope to a plucky little bird, who can’t and won’t be silenced and who perches quietly in the soul. As Christians, we know her to be describing one of the crown jewels of the Christian faith, and what it exclusively offers.

I’ve been quietly pondering hope the last little while, and wondering what it looks like to live and give hope in the year that is 2020.  Anxiety and fear were palpable in Walmart today. People scooted their buggies away from each other and didn’t smile and chatter like they used to to. Worry lines were visible above masks. The air seemed thick with tension.  But as I’ve been turning these things over in my head, and reading the beautiful and ancient words in Scripture, I’ve found a few ways to build and cultivate hope during these uncertain times:

  • Live out of what I know and not out of what is unknown. Here are a few questions I can’t know the answers to: Are we living in the end times? Are we headed for a one-world government? What will happen if either Trump or Biden gets elected in November? What is the economy going to do? To what extent is power and corruption a part of the pandemic and response? Are we looking at upcoming persecution?

When I start living out of these unknowns and turning them into the lens through which I make my decisions, I quickly fall into anxiety and despair. And hope, the feathery companion that warbles and chirps, gets quieter and quieter.

Instead, living out of what I do know is not only reassuring at a soul level, but it also gives me something meaningful to give to others. Here are the things that I can know: If we are in the end times, I’m that much closer to meeting my Savior. How is that a terrible thing? I follow Jesus, who breathed out the stars, and who holds all things together. I belong to Him, and no Presidential election or world government can shake my standing in Him. He doesn’t owe me health or a nice life in exchange for my surrender. My resources are His, and many people do with far less than I have. Even if I’m being misled or lied to about things like pandemics, what God asks of me doesn’t change. He has promised to be with His children, even to the ends of the earth.

The difference in living between the unknown and the known is the difference between worry lines and squinty-smiley-eyes above masks.

  • Worship music. Not just playing it, but singing along to it. There is something powerful in joining your voice to others who are exalting and worshiping God.
  • Gratitude. I’ve found that the most vibrant, hope-giving people are openly thankful, maybe even for the most insignificant things. There is always, always something to be grateful for.
  • Documentaries that tell stories of other victorious- through- difficulty children of God. Tortured For Christ, by Voice of the Martyrs is challenging to watch. I was thoroughly convicted but also deeply inspired. There is something reassuring in a Faith that runs through the ages, through fire and persecution and that I’m a part of today. Another good documentary is When Things Seem Impossible, about missionaries who were ambushed by guerrillas and their miraculous escape. We tend to think that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in are especially bad, but watching these lets us zoom out and see that our problems aren’t unique, but not in a misery-loves-company  way 🙂
  • Making eye-contact with people and offering as many warm smiles as I can. The truth is, with the pandemic and racial tensions, we are all looking at each other with a lot of suspicion. I’ve found at my job, when I can make direct eye contact and smile, there’s often a lot of face relaxing and smiles given in return.

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As Christians, we live with incredible blessings and hope, and that sets us apart from those without God. Can they see a difference? Do they see worry lines or squinty-smiley-eyes above our masks? Do they hear us complaining about how dire everything is or about God’s faithfulness? Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were to be said of God’s children, “Yeah, 2020 was a crazy year but there were those people who smiled through their masks and said cheery things to others. You couldn’t help but be encouraged. It’s like they knew something we didn’t.”

And sweetest in the gale is heard, and rough would be the storm, that could abash the little bird, that kept so many warm.”

Instead of giving others the gift of our opinions and chiding reprimands to a world almost crazy with fear, what would happen if we’d give the gift of hope?

Interesting Methods of Saving Money

If you do a quick google or Pinterest search, you will find many beautiful and well designed blog posts on how to save money. I like reading them, because i’m always up for learning new ways to stretch the dollar. But, they’re all, kind of the same, so I decided to come up with a list of more unconventional ways to save money.

And lest I sound like some expert or one who’s figured it all out, I must confess that I don’t do all of these well. In fact, I do rather poorly at some of them, and I can see where it’s cost me money.

If you’ve been with me very long, you may have read my series of posts on Consumerism that I wrote a couple years ago. It describes my journey away from mindless consumerism into a more simple and contented lifestyle. I wrote on: shoppingsocial mediacontentmentmultilevelmarketing, and why all of it matters.

It remains a struggle, living in such a privileged country, and I continue to have to work hard to make the right decisions.

In David Platt’s book “Follow Me”, he describes the openly idolatrous practices of some of the people he encounters in other religions. But he brings it home in paragraphs like,

When we think of worshiping idols and false gods, we often picture Asian people buying carved images of wood, stone, or gold or African tribes performing ritualistic dances around burning sacrifices…… But we don’t think about the American woman incessantly shopping for more possessions or obsessively consumed with how she looks. We don’t take into account men and women in the Western world constantly enamored with money and blindly engulfed in materialism.

Ouch. And so when I speak of saving money, I’m not speaking of being smart with your money so you can afford bigger splurges or nicer things. I like to think of it as saving for opportunities or needs that arise that bless and impact more than just you.

This was a really long preface into this list, but I hope it gives some context.

  1. Be organized with your possessions. This is where I don’t do well, and I realize when I clean out the junk drawer that I actually did have two tubes of super glue, and because of my mess, I now have three. Little things like that seem hardly worth mentioning, but they add up.
  2.  Figure out good quality-to-value ratios. Again, I struggle with knowing where it’s best to invest in quality, higher cost products and where value is most important. This is especially true in home ownership, where it’s tempting to buy/pay for cheaper services and products that won’t last as long or perform as well. I haven’t figured this one out, but I do know that going the cheap route can ultimately be more expensive in the long run.
  3. Know your weak areas and work to avoid them. In my posts on Consumerism I talked about how powerful media influences can be and how easily accessible products are. Literally any product you can think of is two days away from you with the click of one button. Marketing ploys are everywhere and they are all after your dollar and sense of contentment. If you have a weakness for certain things, figure out how you talk yourself into them, and then pull out your mother tone, and respond to yourself in a way to get your own attention. just kidding. kind of.
  4. Stay away from places that accept money. This comes as a shock, to be sure, but research tends to agree that when you go to a place that takes money, you will spend money. Going on a hike, would therefore, be wiser than going window shopping with friends, if you’re trying to save money.
  5. Utilize natural resources. That’s fancy for saying, “hang out your laundry.” As a child, this was probably my least favorite chore. Any ominous clouds, or suspicious moisture in the air was sure to have me running back to the house to try to persuade my mother to use the dryer. My mother was wise. Wisdom is acquired, apparently, through the paying of bills. I usually had to hang the laundry out anyway. And now, in some strange twist of irony, I scan the sky again, this time as the bill payer, and sometimes before the last drops have fallen from the sky, I’m out with the laundry. My theory is this: if the sun will run my power bill up through the hot summer months, than it will also dry my laundry. I find some peace in that. Also, it gets you outside, which is desperately needed anymore. And then you can stop buying your vitamin K supplements. Cha-ching!
  6. Stock up when you can, on products that you use, when they’re at rock-bottom prices. My sisters were rather wide eyed to come home and find 6 bottles of our favorite coffee creamer on the refrigerator shelf. We had the space, we would use them before their expiration dates, and that sale saved us $6. Would I buy another refrigerator for deals such as this? No, but I stock up where I can. We also have enough dish washing soap for this year, thanks to running across our favorite brand, full size at our Dollar Tree. Maybe an eight dollar savings, but guess what, they add up!
  7. Learn the discipline of sticking to shopping lists.

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We laugh because it’s funny, but guess who’s bill will likely be the highest?? Granted, he won’t have the cool dollar spot stuff in his cart and the trip won’t be as fun, but if you’re after saving money, follow your husband. I would also recommend your presence by his side at Bass Pro, to be fair, but this picture makes the point about lists. We tend to get in trouble in the meandering, wandering shopping trips and those little impulse buys can quickly add up.

8. Don’t litter. I saved the best for last here and this is a tribute to my departed Hershberger grandpa. He enjoyed calculating all the money that he saved by not littering when he was on road trips. Just look for the signs with the dollar amount posted for littering and then add them all up at the end of the trip to see just how much you saved by not littering. The savings are truly remarkable. I saved over $10,000 on a recent trip to South Carolina. Depending on how you look at it, it makes all of your trips free, because the savings always way outweigh the trip expenses.

In case you don’t know me, I’m totally joking in that last point.  But I can’t see a litter road sign without thinking about my grandpa.

I’m curious now, what interesting ways do you have, of stretching that dollar? To what extents will you go? What are your secrets?

That Time We Went to California::

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So a little background for this trip:

We are a group of girls who met at a Bible School fairly many moons ago, and I, in fact, was in the same dorm with Jen and Sarah. We are all discovering how much fun traveling  is and thought it would be fun to do a big, international trip sometime, somewhere, but we didn’t have enough experience under our belts to do something so big, so we thought we’d practice on a smaller trip.

Easter weekend is a nice, extra-long weekend for some of us so we set that as a date and then came the fun of choosing a location. After coming through a long, cold winter, we all knew we wanted someplace sunny and warmish. So we threw a few ideas around and ultimately ended up choosing the Big Sur area, in California. This area is known for its scenic drive along Hwy 1, and its amazing views. We all booked flights into Monterey, found a cheap motel in Marina, and rented a nice little car for all the sight-seeing.

We flew into Monterey on Thursday afternoon and after eating a delicious Thai lunch and sort of getting our bearings, we hit the road with the first stop being the Carmel Mission in the beautiful town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This Franciscan mission was the second to be established in California and has beautiful gardens. There’s a history video you can watch, describing the attempts to convert the native Americans to Catholicism and what that all entailed.

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It was quite literally a feast for the eyes, all the flora and fauna that are not native to any of our areas. Calla lilies, for example, bloom randomly in ditches in this area. We then headed back to our motel to settle in and then we did a Walmart run for picnic supplies for the next day.

The next day day found us all raring to go at about 7:00, thanks to the time change. But, to our disappointment, there was dense fog, so thick you couldn’t see much of anything. This was the day we had set aside for driving part of Hwy 1, which boasts incredible views. Mountains are on one side, and sheer drop-offs and the ocean lay on the other side. While we were disappointed with the visibility, the fog gave the views an ethereal, almost other-wordly feeling, and Sarah and Jen exclaimed how much it reminded them of Ireland.

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In all the research we had done about what to see and do in the area, Calla Lilly Valley came up as a place worth seeing. We knew we were pushing the end of their growing season and so our hopes weren’t too high about how they’d look. But just look!!!!

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I think it was a little taste of heaven. The vivid, mossy green of the grasses and hills, coupled with the delicacy of lilies, set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean had us all rather speechless with awe. It was so amazing, we, in fact, revisited it the next day 🙂

The further south we drove, the more the fog lifted, and when we arrived at Linekiln State Park, it was mostly clear. One of the things I wanted most to see on this trip was redwoods, and while we were a little ways from the legendary, massive, ancient trees, Linekiln gave us a few younger ones. Maybe teenagers, in tree years? Whatever the case, they were beautiful and fulfilled that desire 🙂

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We hiked beside a stream that ran through the redwoods and led us to these beautiful falls. We hiked back, following the stream, and found it dumped into the ocean, and we had our picnic lunch on the beach.

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Our lunch spot.

We headed back north and with better visibility now, we were better able to see the beautiful panoramas that the fog had been concealing. The following picture is McWay Falls. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. It was one of those places where you just wanted, like Peter, James and John, to set up a tent and dwell 🙂

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The famous Bixby bridge. I did a lot of the driving on the trip and while the heights didn’t bother me at the time, I’d dream at nights of getting too close to drop offs and such things.

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We then spent the evening in Monterey on the Fisherman’s Wharf, where we ate the legendary clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. Outside the restaurant, sea lions were hanging out on rocks, barking occasionally.

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There were so many places that we could have explored more thoroughly and Monterey was definitely one of them.

The following day dawned bright and sunny. We had a little pow-wow and decided to change plans and drive Hwy 1 again, to really experience the views.  But before we retraced our route from the previous day, we headed north to Moss Landing to enjoy a bit of beach time. As one who has spent lots of time on Atlantic beaches, the reality of cactusy succulenty ground cover instead of sea oats was rather awesome.

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On this day, we experienced more local culture by stopping in at a few places such as a farm market with fresh strawberries and other produce that was grown in the area. We drove past fields of strawberries with what appeared to be migrant workers out picking them. A lot of strawberries that you buy at the grocery store come from Salinas, which is where we were on this day. Another high light was stopping at this succulent farm. As we were wandering around, admiring all the unique succulent varieties, the owner approached and we chatted for a bit. He asked if he could take a picture with us for Instagram in exchange for a succulent for each of us to take home. We agreed and sure enough, we were on his business’ Instagram page in a few hours 🙂

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He got the Idaho part wrong. Jen, in fact, is from Ohio 🙂

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We then headed south again, to see the same Hwy 1 scenery in the sunshine. Notice how dramatically different the pictures feel, with blue skies and sunshine.

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Our flights home were Sunday afternoon so we decided that it would be special to attend Mass in the morning. We chose a beautiful, historic old cathedral and were disappointed when we got there that morning, that they moved their services to a nearby building to accommodate all the masses of people that were there for Easter Sunday. Before the service started we met the very friendly, and welcoming…. Father or Priest or Pope or whatever he was. He kind of embarrassed us by publicly welcoming us at the beginning of the service, asking us to stand in the midst of hundreds of other visitors and members. I still concur that being friendly and approachable even in travels is key to having a good experience, but sometimes it can bless you in embarrassing ways 🙂 The service was very interesting, and we all ended up getting re-baptized by the same priest and his assistant, who went from aisle to aisle, flicking water at all the people with what appeared to be a little whisk broom. The irony of a few Anabaptist girls, getting “baptized” again, in a Catholic service was not lost on us at all.

We ate a delicious brunch at a nearby cafe before heading to the airport, returning our car and then getting on our respective planes to head home.

It was truly a special trip, and we saw so many beautiful places and encountered so many friendly, interesting people. My memories of trips always include two kinds. The ones where you reap the rewards of doing good research and have those pinch-me-is-this-true kind of moments. Stunning vistas, interesting plants, wonderful food. That kind of thing.

The other memories are the ones you can’t plan and happen organically as a result of experiencing it with people who too see the beauty and humor of situations. They often include lots of laughter. I have two of those memories from this trip. The one happened during our grocery trip, where we discovered, to our dismay, that plastic bags don’t come with your purchase. “We are of good, German stock. We don’t buy bags.”, one in our group was heard to mutter, so we left Walmart with armloads of unbagged picnic supplies which we dumped in our trunk. We then had to reload them all in our arms and carry them through the hotel in front of everyone who was around, which was both hilarious and kind of embarrassing.

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It was a good tip for me to remember for any future trips. Take a disposable bag with you. They are usually lightweight, don’t take up much space, and can be used for multiple purposes. Pictured below is my aunt’s Piggly Wiggly bag in Levanto, Italy. Maybe you could even negotiate a deal with your local grocery store. Feature it in a beautiful, foreign locale in exchange for free groceries for a month????

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The other funny memory is the evening we decided we were going to watch a beautiful sun set over the Pacific Ocean so we rather frantically looked up the sunset time, as well as beaches nearby. It turned into something of a joke, with some of the beaches being closed or inaccessible, and sunset quickly approaching. When we finally found a beach, we laughed ourselves almost silly with the forthcoming sunset. It was a little……underwhelming for all the work we put into finding a spot to enjoy it.

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But those moments are also part of the fabric of a great trip. Learning how to re-calibrate when the unexpected happens, learning how to experience both the beauty and fun of situations out of your control. Understanding that the attitude you take into it determines your level of enjoyment and appreciation. Travel does more than exposes you to new places. It teaches you things about “being” that don’t happen as naturally at home in the familiar, comfortable rhythms of life. It also has a way of putting you and life into perspective. I’m just a small part of a big, beautiful world. My God of the familiar eastern, coastal, sea oats and calm waves is also behind the cactus and the crashing of giant breakers on Pacific sands. I find a bit of comfort in my smallness, because I’ve seen the bigness of my God and His ability to hold everything together. The ache of unexpected beauty, the cramping of a stomach wrecked with laughter from bizarre experiences, the almost palpable nearness of God in a redwood forest- this is why I choose travel over 15 pairs of shoes and daily drinks at Starbucks. It’s why I eat rice and beans frequently and hang my laundry outside. Basically I have become my mother and therefore occasionally get to see the world 🙂

If you are a girl/lady/female and are interested in traveling but want someone else to do the legwork and take care of logistics, check out this post. I don’t know Camille personally, but I think her trip to Italy this summer looks really good. She’s traveled extensively  and enjoys the planning/preparing part of it and is passing this love on to others in the form of an opportunity.  I’ve been to most of the places she’s going in this trip and I can assure you, they won’t disappoint you!

I hope you enjoyed the post. tt serves as a beautiful memory holder to me, of dear friends and a very special place.

Vicki

 

A Year for Coming Home

I’m sitting at home on this Sunday morning, coughing and sneezing from a very nasty cold I picked up in Poland last week. You would think a European-derived head cold would be somehow more charming, but I can assure you, it’s not. It snot. Or whatever.

My visit in Poland, minus the head cold, was actually very pleasant. It is quite magical to have big, snowflakes swirling around you while surrounded by very old and beautiful buildings in old cities. It was fun to actually need scarves and gloves and boots. But probably the best part were the inspiring and interesting conversations I had with my dear friend who I went to see, and with new friends I made over there. Because of how much we wanted to say in a short amount of time, and because of my cold, I lost my voice. I was literally only able to whisper when I left Poland early Wednesday morning. Sometimes it is your heart you lose in places, sometimes it is your voice 🙂

I suppose being thousands of miles from home is a really good place to be when considering a new year and new possibilities. And being forced into silence due to a voice issue, is probably also beneficial for introspection and looking forward.

I wrote a blog piece here about my goals and direction for this past year. It has been a good year. For those of us who love learning and who love ideas and who are always curious about what’s around the next corner, it can be overwhelming. We don’t always know when or how to stop and so putting some safeguards into place for me really helped me.

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Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

I think even in taking a break from all the noise out there, and getting involved with every issue that comes along, there is still a lot to sort through, a lot to try to understand.

My generation is the generation of the wanderers. The wonderers. “Not all who wander are lost,” is our slogan as we exchange city limits for open roads and mortgages for cool retro vans. And I get it. I love the thrill of the unknown, especially as it relates to travel. The foreign languages in international terminals and exotic destinations on airport screens tease of places to explore and new cultures to love.

I think this way of thinking has subtly moved into areas of faith and into how we see God and each other. It has moved us away from each other as we all experience God on our own individual journeys. “You do you, and I’ll do me”, while it sounds good, can easily turn into walls that we build around ourselves, protecting us from the hard parts of relationships but also keeping out the potential of the beautiful. Spiritual life on the road can also give false illusions that God’s goodness or abundance is a thing to be experienced around the next corner, or at the next pullover. Chasing more, but never really getting there. I think the scariest part of spiritual wandering is that there ultimately is no desired destination.

Some of the above is where I could naturally go spiritually if not for God. And I think for me, the years of 2019 and 2020 are the years for coming home. The Bible is full of beautiful imagery for dwelling. (“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”) For postures of stillness: (“be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work.”) For the boldness of confidence in knowing Who and What we have and are believing. For abiding.

This seems like it should take away the thrill factor of faith but it actually doesn’t. It just provides the framework in which it can most deeply be enjoyed and experienced.

Tuning out the noise of all the authors and speakers and platforms and everything that goes with that is a practical way for me to park my van. Choosing instead to have God and His Voice and His Word as my filter for everything in life is a practical way to erect my tent and to live in God’s house. God’s kingdom is full of tents, and here we engage with each other and build each other up, and here we reach out to those who have yet to find and experience Him. Abiding in God’s house collectively is how we best interact with each other individually.

This might sound all poetic and fru-fru, but here is what it means for me practically:

  • I cannot learn and tangle with ideas and literature and music merely for the sake of learning or fitting in with certain crowds. Whatever I pursue intellectually should ultimately lead me closer to Christ and truth.
  • I must learn honesty with myself and my desires. Why I want to pursue or engage with something is sometimes more important than the thing itself.
  • It does not mean spiritual or personal laziness. I must find ways as I dwell in God’s house, to exercise my faith and to encourage growth that are God- honoring and Spirit-led.
  • It means a narrowing of my worldview and my focus. It means exchanging some abstract for the grittiness of reality, which many of my kind can struggle with. It also might mean saying no to engaging with popular but questionable issues that come along.
  • It means putting in the work of relationships and going the second mile when it’s hard. That’s what living in tents next to each other in God’s house is all about.

I probably could have worded it better because it could sound depressing and restrictive and stifling, but I can speak from experience that this past year for me in this has been incredibly liberating. It has cleared my head and my heart, and it has replaced anxiety with peace, and wondering with knowing. It has given me confidence in knowing Who and what I have to offer to a broken world.

I have no idea who all reads this, but if you struggle like me in these areas, and life can quickly become hazy and complex and confusing, try parking your van and coming home this year. God’s house has the best views!

Vicki

Disclaimer: This is not to diminish the necessity of owning and coming to grips with your faith. Our faith journeys should include asking hard questions, prowling around down in the foundations, and really seeking to understand. But it should ultimately lead us to God’s house and His people and His kingdom. Some of us can easily stay in the questions, get lost in the basement, and consequently miss out on some of the most wonderful aspects of what it means to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

 

To Clear Up a Few Things

The last post has generated lots of interaction and I’ve enjoyed all the private messages,  comments, and the in-real-life conversations. You all have been so thoughtful and kind, even in the places where we differ, and for that I’m so thankful. I wanted to clear up a few things that came up in some of these conversations.

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First of all, if you’re an email subscriber, I think you received a, shall we call it, *bonus* post in your email. You probably discovered that it was not, in fact, on my blog. In getting the last post ready, I needed a link from a previous post that I never published. In that process, I somehow accidentally published it, and immediately deleted it. I talked in the last post about writing in preachy style, and that was a post I couldn’t feel good about publishing, and it was never meant to be viewed. I have to be honest with myself when I write, and sometimes there is ugliness within me that results in reactive, confrontational style writings, and I feel a check in my spirit that keeps me from progressing. My motives in writing are something that I take very seriously, and sometimes they expose areas that need sanctification and growth.

Some of the response from the previous post involved what I didn’t say, and probably could have included for a more rounded out perspective. I wrote in generalizations and rather broadly to keep from bunny-trailing into other topics that certainly overlap with feminism. So I want to clarify a few things, but instead of leaning in for a closer look, I want to zoom out for a larger picture.

When Jesus came to earth and lived among us, and then died, a new Humanity was birthed. He spent his three years in ministry sketching out the outline of this new society. Through His teachings and in parables, He described this new way of living. His followers would love both their neighbors and their enemies. They would not fight back when wronged and would actively love the wrong-doer. They would live in life-long covenants of marriage, broken only by death. They would not give their lives to riches and to the storing up of earthly possessions and would love Him above all else. This wasn’t just a revision to Jewish morality, it was a whole new Culture. A kingdom, He called it. And then the apostles, in letters to the early churches, colored in the spaces of the sketch, practically detailing what this new society living would include. Husbands would love their wives as Christ loved the church and would live with them in understanding. Wives would love and submit to their husbands and children would obey and honor. Men would not wear religious head coverings but women would, in honor of the authority design God created. Together they would enjoy abundant life, live with hope for both the present and the future, and their lives would taste of fruit- love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. This is just a small composite of the whole thing, but to get the whole picture, you’ll have to read the entire New Testament.

When we become God’s and He infuses us with His Spirit, we aren’t  merely just born-again and saved so we can go to heaven. We become part of His narrative, part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Something that defies geographical and social barriers and limitations.

So often, when topics such as womens’ roles come up, we seek to understand it for ourselves and the implications it means for us, instead of seeking to understand them in the context of the narrative and the Kingdom. That means, when God gives instructions both to men and women, He cares about more than just the men and the women. It is crucial for the well-being and the design of the larger Kingdom Society. I suppose you could say, the success of His Kingdom hinges on our obedience to the way He wants it to work.

Women living obediently cannot alone, make the Kingdom run smoothly. That’s not a load we could or should try to carry. That’s not a burden that churches should put on us. We can’t do it alone.

And that’s where some of the rub is in all this. We live in churches and in homes that don’t perfectly reflect this Kingdom model. In fact, so much of Christianity bears little resemblance to Jesus’ sketch. And because of sinfulness, many women live with abuse or spousal unfaithfulness. How is a woman to be Christ-honoring in situations like this? What is her role?

I’m not going to sit here and pretend to have answers, because I don’t. I can’t imagine living with that kind of pain. I also don’t know the pain of being made to feel that I was in some way inferior, or of less value to God because I’m a woman, and that my thoughts or questions were unimportant. My dad has consistently shown me what God must look like, all throughout my life. Even as a child, he wasn’t threatened or annoyed by my many questions, but encouraged me to think, to wrestle, and then to own my faith. This is among the most precious gifts a dad can give his girl, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

If this has not been your experience, and you instead live with the pain of what I described above, I’m so terribly sorry.  But please don’t write off God’s whole design on account of one part gone terribly wrong. The answer to being silenced isn’t in finding your voice and then seeking, above all else to finally be heard. Its in finding the God who hears and who accepts and who values, and then settling into Him. You will find the sweetness of His voice and His peace and He will give you identity and purpose that nobody else can or should.

And I think in conversations like this, we dare not box in and create constructs that go tighter than God’s design. I think a man who lives with his wife in understanding will value her input and seek it before making decisions. I think it could also include him pitching in and helping set the table for dinner and bathing the children afterwards, and being understanding of the demands of long days at home. I think women can be God-honoring and enjoy new tools and building things. And while it took many sweaty minutes and then Youtube to help me conquer ratchet straps, for you it might be fun and easy. I think there’s space in gender roles for fluidity and flexibility. I suppose I’m just not ready to compromise on God’s design, as sketched out in Scripture.

I may have muddied the waters more, in an attempt to clear them, and if I have, I’m sorry. I don’t plan on elaborating more, as it’s time for me to move on mentally from this topic. But thanks again to all of you and your graciousness in engaging. I really do appreciate it!

Vicki

 

 

 

Regarding Women Going Home

 

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I said I wasn’t going to weigh in. And I wasn’t. And then one of you (hi, you know who you are :)), stopped in at my place of work and asked what I really thought of it. We proceeded to have a stimulating conversation, because she’s great like that, and as a result, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

I weigh in because it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and also because it affects the future of my blog.

I feel like this post needs lots of disclaimers, and no matter how I write, there will be differences of opinion. I love healthy interaction and I welcome it, so chime in, but please be nice!

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the world of evangelical women blew up when John MacArthur’s two word response, when asked about popular author and teacher, Beth Moore, was “go home.”

The older I get, the faster I’ve gotten at filtering through the outrageous and the hysteria. This opinion piece by the Wall Street Journal is well worth your while if you want to understand how outrage works and the effects it can have on a society. It is a secular piece, and uses some rather, interesting, words, so if you can overlook them, I think you’ll enjoy it.

So after my friend asked me about it, I actually dug into what really happened and listened to the video clip. I had to turn it off because I couldn’t take the disrespect. Not because Beth Moore is a woman, but  because she’s a person. I can appreciate public disagreement but not disrespect.

So he wasn’t very nice, but apart from his personal attack on her, was what he went on to say about women in leadership true? That is the bit that I’ve been mulling the last few days.

I suppose to answer this you have to establish Biblical authority and relevance, because the Bible does in fact have instructions for women. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand so much of women and how they were treated throughout recorded Scripture. I don’t understand the times where innocent women and children paid the price for men’s recklessness and sin. I don’t understand why women seemed like little more than property in the Old Testament, and why they aren’t included in genealogies and family lineage. I don’t understand why Jesus in Matthew 15, ignored a woman from a minority race and referred to her as a dog before healing her daughter. By today’s standards, this was textbook “toxic masculinity” and racism.

It finally clicked for me today, when I was washing a stack of dishes, that God doesn’t have to explain His actions. Creator privilege. An artists draw a picture- he controls who uses it. Bobby makes a paper airplane- he says who can fly it. If God indeed made us, than He has the right to set the terms. But we aren’t just owned by God, we are beloved to God, and for that reason I choose to be a Christian. Even though there are parts about Him that I don’t understand, I’ve found Him to be trustworthy. A Creator that made a perfect world, watched it decay in sin and suffering, sent a part of Himself to die for it, and then comes to live in us? That’s why I’m a Christian.

I suppose most of what is going wrong in the world today could be chalked up to copyright infringement. Society and culture re-defining God’s terms for His kingdom and then wondering why it seems like it’s about to fly off it’s axis. Setting their rules and then looking for His grace.

Feminism, to me, is one of the scariest copyright breaches that is taking place today. Feminism, as I’m using it, is the blurring of lines between the sexes, not in questions of value, but roles. I would wholeheartedly agree that in the sight of God, both men and women are equally valued and loved, but have distinctly different roles and callings. A woman who is made to believe that she is of less value to God or needs to go through a man for a relationship with God is a different conversation and one that makes me sad.

Culture is rewriting the terms for what it means to be a woman (and subsequently- a man) and that is what MacArthur describes in his response. Women thirsty for power and control. Women finding their voices and then roaring. And I think when we’ve crested the wave, and ridden it to the bottom, we’ll find that power isn’t what we thought it was and it’s cost us something very dear. For all the successful strides towards equality and opportunity, women have never been more emotionally vulnerable and fragile. We read a lot about self-care. Maybe it is because it is emotionally exhausting doing what we weren’t meant to do. Maybe in fact, God is merciful, not mean, in His instructions to us. Maybe home is the best place for mothers because they do it best. Not because they aren’t qualified to do anything else, but because no one else is qualified to fill that role. Maybe submission isn’t sexist, but actually appropriate for healthy relationships. Maybe men filling spiritual leadership roles is the patented design by the Almighty and the only way homes and churches were designed to thrive.  His Word seems to indicate that.

I did a quick Pinterest search for “quotes about women”. And then I searched “quotes about men”. You want to guess what I found? It shook me up a bit. They both had the same kinds of quotes about women. The first search pulled up quotes like:

18 Strong Women Quotes to Remind You How Resilient You Are #MotherandGrandmotherGifts

And the second search pulled up quotes like this:

Quotes About Strength  #Quotes #Strength #Inspiration

Even if I was to suspend my Christian beliefs, I would still find these kind of “empowering” quotes…. embarrassing.

So many of the quotes in the search results seem:

– Petulant.

-Almost childish in their demand for attention.

-Taunting and fierce

-Verbally manipulative

In a strange way, as a woman, I don’t feel empowered when I read those quotes. I feel smaller. I feel a shrinking of all that is feminine and beautiful and generous. I feel the loneliness of a self-made bubble. The despair of thinking that it’s me against everyone, especially men. The emptiness of promises that can’t be kept.

Fragile like a bomb? Bombs are two things: volatile and destructive. I want to live with the discipline of self-restraint, of care and of building others up. How is being bomb-like supposed to be empowering to women? Is the idea to blow up the men?

Ironically, feminism is the ultimate reduction of the woman. It makes smaller, less generous, less compassionate, and less soft. It strips the woman of all that is rightfully and beautifully hers, and replaces it with empty promises. She is a social genetic modification, this new woman, and the modifications have weakened her and left her vulnerably exposed.

I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to post this. I’ve painted with a wide brush.  I’ve used terms without defining them. But please know this. I care deeply about women and am the biggest champion for meaningful, vibrant, and abundant living. And I’m old fashioned enough to think that we don’t need loud voices and bullhorns and hashtags to be influential and to make a difference. I think the influence of women graciously serving their families and the steadiness of walking in truth and with grace is more powerful than any platform anywhere.

Go home? I don’t mind if I do. Home is a rather nice place.

Vicki

(In considering future content for my blog, I want to be conscious of what I’ve just written. I struggle sometimes with writing in a preachy kind of way about things I care deeply about. And because I have a mixed audience, I am choosing, going forward, to not have spiritually instructive kinds of content. It’s just a personal thing God has asked me to do and I’m choosing to honor that.)

 

 

 

 

A few of my Favorite Things

It was the Girl’s first day at home in weeks. She was tired from long weeks of work and weekends away with Very Good Friends. She decided to wage war on her house. It was a very close battle, but the Girl won. Sources would confirm that apparently, a woman armed with a broom and rag and with fire in her soul were indeed forces to be reckoned with. They also noted that frequent breaks for iced coffee and chocolate crunch cake, and Celtic music playlists seemed to boost her morale. Areas of most intense battle included her bedroom Ceiling Fan, with it’s remarkable layer of dust, the interior of her Microwave, a few Very Unorganized Kitchen Cabinets, and the removal of exquisite but equally embarrassing Spider Webs. She sat down, very tired, and remembered that somewhere in the dusty basement of the Internet, she had a blog. Did she have anything to say to her readers? What did they want to read? Her response to John McArthur and his “go home” remarks to Beth Moore? The Girl is too tired to engage in the hysteria. Something inspiring and motivating? Again, the Girl is tired. Maybe she should just share a few of her favorite things she’s been enjoying. She could do that and so she did, but she decided to stop writing in third person because it was too cumbersome:

A few Good Books:

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Snow Treasure is a favorite chapter book from when I was a young girl. Based on true events, it is a story of how a few brave, young Norwegian school children outsmarted Nazi guards by smuggling gold out of the country in front of their very noses during World War II. I was happy to pick it up at a thrift store this weekend.

The Following of the Star by Florence Barclay is one of my favorite love stories. Any of her books are well worth your time but this story is one of ultimate love and commitment, centered around the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus.

Instruments in the Redeemers Hand is proving to be a rich resource for understanding ourselves and how we fit into the broader story of Redemption. It addresses the pain and brokenness of a world wrecked by sin, and how redemption is both personal but also part of a much grander story. I like that it is very Scriptural and strong without being preachy. Tripp writes graciously and beautifully and his words ring with truth. I’m only half way through it but I’m really enjoying it so far.

A Few Favorite Purchases:

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When I saw this print on @houseofaaron’s Instagram, I knew I needed it. I like to keep perspective shaping verses in my room as decor and I loved the whimsical art surrounding the verse. Being appreciative of and embracing temporary joys while still yearning for the Eternal is a delicate balance. You can see more of her work here in her Etsy shop

Another purchase I’ve been enjoying is my new Bible. I’ve had my older Bible for years and it’s just like a dear old friend. Marked up and falling open to all the right pages and it feels right in my hand. However it is falling apart and I’ve been on the hunt for the another good one. I prefer the ESV version, but when I found this NKJV Bible at Ollies, I decided to give it a try. I like the wide margins on the sides for note taking and I like that cross referenced verses are actually written out, instead of just the references beside the verses. I don’t like that the words of Christ aren’t in red, and I’m having to get used to a thicker Bible but so far I’m liking it. Did I mention it was $10? If you have an Ollies nearby, keep them in mind for your Bible needs. They have a decent variety and they are all priced well below retail value.

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A Few Favorite Scripture Passages:

Isaiah 40 (the beautiful word pictures of a universe holding God, who stretches out our heavens as a curtain and then draws near to us, His creation, at the end of the chapter, to renew our strength pretty much gives me goosebumps)

John 17 (there is something about the Father/Son intimacy and the way Jesus pleads on behalf of His disciples to His Father that sometimes makes me cry when I read it. That’s the love we are to have for each other. It’s a great, big, enveloping and spacious kind of love.

Proverbs 30 ( random, I know, but Solomon’s series of lists towards the end just really amuse me. He just kind of amuses me in general. I wrote another blog post about him here.  He references cranky, annoying women rather frequently and it makes me wonder how his 700 wives/ 300 concubine thing worked out?

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A favorite recipe: Cabbage and Sausage

I think cabbage is probably one of the most underappreciated and overlooked vegetables. It is lettuce’s heartier, more versatile cousin and it is yummy cooked or raw. One of our local friends is a a cast-iron chef and he introduced us to this dish. It’s so simple and plain but the flavors pack a huge punch.

Basically you saute an onion and garlic (if you like) in about a half stick of butter. Cut the cabbage up kind of mediumly (not too fine, not too course). Cook it down until the cabbage is nearly  soft and then add the can of Rotel and the sausage. This brand of sausage is delicious and while it’s a bit more expensive than other brands, it’s worth it.  Season it with salt and pepper and you’re ready to go. It sounds overly simplistic, but there’s a depth of flavor there with the spices in the tomatoes that is hard to describe.

And lastly, to continue the Martha Steward vibe:

A Few Household Hacks that Actually Work:

Using a pillowcase to clean ceiling fan blades is pretty much genius. The dust bunnies collect in it and it keeps it from falling everywhere. It makes it so easy, then, to just wipe the blades with a wet rag and cleaner, and the mess is minimal.

Use Lysol Clinging Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach (wow, that sounds awkward!) for mold buildup along the grout lines in your bathtub or shower. The Clinging kind is essential because it’s thick enough to sit on the mold and attack it. I let it sit for few minutes, and came back and the mold had disappeared. I’d tried every other trick in the book and this is the one that worked the best.

And I’m saving the best til last:

My favorite nephew:

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He made me an aunt and he has brightened my world! Hudson is the most perfect, funny little human and I can’t wait to read him books and take him on adventures as he gets older.

I think that’s all for now. I’m struggling a bit with vision for my blog and that keeps me from writing sometimes. I don’t know what my niche is and there’s something about hitting “publish” and sending it to Everywhereville that leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable. Maybe if you’d introduce yourself in the comments or just say “hey” i’d have a bit more of a face to put to my audience. And to those of you who’ve subscribed recently, welcome to this space! I’m glad to have you!

Vicki

The Flowers You Carry

 

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picture from the web of another bouquet

They brought them back to our vacation cabin and carefully set them on the kitchen counter-a stunning arrangement of local flowers and greenery, purchased inexpensively from the local farmers market. My aunt found a pretty white pitcher to put them in, and they graced the counter top for a few hours.

We gathered for dinner that evening, and the flower arrangement had been moved to the dining room table, for us to enjoy over our delicious food.

The flowers appeared in the living room at some point, where we gathered for worship on Sunday morning.

I don’t know who else noticed this flower progression, but someone was quietly moving them, room by room, to give life and beauty in whichever room we were occupying.

They sat, wilting and tired, on the coffee table when we left for our homes. But when I got home and reflected on our trip, I realized they had kinda followed me home. Something about them begged to be considered and I’ve been thinking this week about the power of the things we carry through life.

There are so many people in my life who carry warmth, generosity, truthfulness, faithfulness and confidence, and who naturally brighten any place they’re in. They have tasted God’s goodness and flowers have sprung up. And when I know they sometimes face discouragement and exhaustion, I know they’ll be okay because what they carry not only blesses the world, it sustains them as well. They are the finders of God’s goodness, not just the seekers. And when they find it, they begin to carry it.

I think life must be more than an eternal I Spy Game, with some vague, far off prize of eternal life at the end. I think hidden throughout the rooms are little tokens of the bigger gift. Earth-sized portions of joy and fulfillment, meant for us to find and enjoy now while whetting our appetites for the consumation of all desire- being with God Himself forever.

What that looks like practically involves a lot of ordinary life. It means wearing lenses of gratitude that can find abundance and joy in the most unlikely of places. It means choosing truth over things that play with our minds, and steal our peace. Its the difference between surviving and thriving. Between being a taker and a giver. Between being a spectator and being a participant.

We all pick up and carry something throughout our lives. What we end up with is the sum of the choices we’ve made, the things we’ve pursued, and the thoughts we’ve entertained. These determine whether we carry flowers or weeds. Whether we live in abundance or lack and whether God’s goodness is a constant reality or a distant dream.

I’ve been overwhelmed this week with immense gratitude for the family and friends who surround me. Who carry their flowers faithfully and consistently. Who walk, room, through room, finding and experiencing God and then showing that picture to others. I feel so blessed and I just want to encourage you to keep on, not just seeking, but finding as well.

~Vicki

 

 

 

On Living In Pause

 

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Hey everyone!

If the third time’s the charm than I’ll be publishing this post this evening. There are about 14.5  thoughts running through my head, and they all connect,  though somewhat tenuously, so putting them together on here has been difficult.

As I mentioned here, at the beginning of the year, I hit pause on certain interests in my life, things that were starting to affect me negatively. I love learning, and figuring out people and new ideas. I enjoy new literature on a multitude of topics such as ministry, relationships, singleness, and social issues.  I have advocated personal growth and intentional living on here, in the pursuit of living more vibrantly and wholly as women in Christ. It is a message I will probably always be passionate about, but the why’s and the how’s have been changing for me over the last six months.

The book of Isaiah is nestled chronologically in between some very difficult places in Israel’s history. There is fighting, sin and idolatry and God continually threatens to destroy them. Then God shows up in a blaze of glory and fury in Isaiah and records in beautiful language, who He is and the reality of who mankind is as well. There is some poetic interchange between God and Isaiah as He establishes just What It Means to Be God and Isaiah who attempts to explain What It Means to Be Human. This beautiful-back-and-forth has continued through the centuries as the created and the Creator interact. A few themes have emerged as I’ve read through this book, and one of them sums up beautifully what I’ve come to during these past six months in pause.

I’ve come to quiet.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” 

And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust[a] forever.

At first glance they are beautiful verses that could likely be found somewhere in Hobby Lobby on a sign or coffee cup, or maybe under a pretty picture on Instagram. However, to accept and embrace and live in these promises requires asking some very important questions. In returning to what, will we be saved? Quietness in what becomes strength? What is righteousness?

Answering these questions requires one to make truth claims, and Christians are finding that harder and harder to do. We want to know who everyone else says God is, and we want God to say, “Blessed are you. You are___________________(insert name) and I will do ____ (insert thing) for you.” Sound like an exchange between Jesus and His disciples? It is, but it leaves out the most important part- the dramatic personal belief and declaration of Peter. Popular Christian literature and psychology has inverted this concept and most likely the millennial Christian today would connect more with Jesus’ address to Peter, than Peter’s beautiful declaration of Jesus.. Our primary desire is to be understood, to have an identity and to be accepted. We seek to figure all that out through books and podcasts and tests. We’ve been led to believe that in understanding ourselves and in being more self-aware, that it will somehow lead us to God. In the past ten years, as I’ve watched this evolve, it’s been interesting to note that this hasn’t solved the human problem. Even with all these formulas, Christians are still depressed. Still confused. Still lonely. Still looking for God.

Where is He? I found Him, or maybe He found me in the quiet. In the seeking of Him through His words to us. In turning off the noise of the thousand voices that too are searching. In the reading of old books whose themes reflect His values. He’s there. He’s here. He’s findable. But He won’t compete with the voices and He won’t re-arrange to fit our versions of ourselves and how we understand ourselves to be.

It is only in finding Him that we can understand and are willing to accept who He says we are, but we also find that we aren’t that big of a deal. I suppose that’s probably a bit of a drastic statement but I find myself somewhere between oh what a worm am I and if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.  This has been liberating for me, though at first glance it seems rather demeaning. As one who is prone to over analyzing and overthinking, it has been good for me to come back to God and let Him settle me back in His truths and my place in Him. And when I’m most connected to Him, I’m less likely to stumble all over myself.

Anyway, this has gotten kind of long and deep and it wasn’t supposed to. But I’d like to encourage anyone else who is is also struggling with the overload of ideas and concepts and books and podcasts to just hit pause and find God for yourself. Return to quiet and there find strength. And if you’re like me, you’ll find the daily things with which we tangle, start falling into place.

-Vicki

 

 

 

Italy and Switzerland~ the Dolomites

I have been pushing off this post for so long for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I feel like my pictures don’t do justice to the majesty of what we saw and secondly, there aren’t quite the right English words to describe this part of the trip, and thirdly, I’ve had some technical difficulties with WordPress. However, last night after thinking about our trip with awe and thankfulness, I discovered that I might  have a few words for this part and the rest you’ll just have to imagine. 🙂

One of the technical difficulties I’m facing is the inability to download my photos from a file to this blog. I am able to access Marylou’s pictures and she has graciously let me use them on here. All but one of the pictures are hers and if you want to see even more stunning images and a more detailed summary, go check hers out.

So we left the crowds and the colorful concrete jungle that is Venice, and hit the open road, heading north. We were surprised at how quickly the flat coastlands gave way to rolling foothills, and I remember seeing our first set of baby Alps, and it was quite impressive!

You have to keep in mind that we’re from Georgia and well accustomed to the sea and to land at sea level, and so even baby mountains really wowed us!

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These stunning views were just outside our van windows on our way to Fiè allo Sciliar, our destination in the Dolomites . The timing of this part of the trip was perfect, with the trees starting to change color, but with the brilliant October skies.

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We kept stopping every couple of kilometers it seemed to oooh and ahhhh more adequately. You’d think a soul would run out of awe but the tank is bottomless, thanks to a good and kind God who not only created such beauty, but the capacity to enjoy it as well. Missing a road on our route took us within a few kilometers of the border of Austria but we didn’t have the time to keep going.

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Because of some excellent research by Marylou, we came upon Rainbow Lake just as the sun was about to set. The crystal clear water made the perfect mirror for a set of craggy mountains in the background. You can’t really make stuff like this up, I promise, and to experience it is to leave you almost speechless, and that says a lot about a group of Hershberger ladies 🙂

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We finally made it, after many stops and photos, and pleasurable sighs, to our destination, and it was one of two places where we only spent one night. In this part of northern Italy, there is a lot of Swiss influence and flavor, and our hostess for the night spoke fluent German, not Italian, and she helpfully pointed us to what was to become a highlight of the trip for me- the Alpe Di Suesi, an alpine meadow tucked in between some more wonderful, craggy mountains.

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This meadow, along with other stunning villages we drove through, was relatively quiet due to the time of the year, but when skiing season starts, these places are crawling with people. We spent the morning here, and it felt as though we had wandered into Heidi’s book, and even ran into one of her goats! We split up and all headed separate ways for the morning. I followed a little road to the top of the mountain and was rewarded with more incredible views. Some cowhands were bringing a herd of brown and white Swiss cattle down the mountain and I stepped off the path to let them all pass, cowbells clanging, and hooves clomping. I also bought a little wooden spoon from a roadside stand, with an honor-based pay system. Those few hours were incredibly special, with the panorama of beauty and a heart full of worship. Clouds starting rolling in and were so low I felt as though I could nearly touch them, so I scampered back down the mountain and met up with the others who had wonderful experiences of their own to share. Dolomites-3

Here we are with the goat. RuthAnne’s goals for the trip included petting all the animals so she got to add a goat to her list 🙂

Lois and Marylou drove Peppy (the van) down the mountain, and Kelly, RuthAnne and I took the cable car down.Cable Car

We hit the road again, this time headed for Tirano, up near the Swiss border. As usual, we punched the address into the GPS and buzzed along. We had left enough margin in our timing for more photo stops, as we were wont to do by this point, but it was mid-afternoon when we finally really tried to actually drive more than a few kilometers without stopping. We were about to stumble upon the most unexpected, memorable part of our trip. I still can’t really think about it without shivering a little.

It started innocently enough, until we hit this spot:

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Of course we HAD to stop and take a million pictures and pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t on a puzzle box. I mean those are glaciers up there in the right corner! We couldn’t even!!!! Eventually we settled ourselves back down and starting driving. Uphill. Very uphill, and there was no downhill in sight. Soon we were nearly eye level with the glaciers.

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We were soon above the tree line and going around one hairpin curve after the other, winding up a road to who-knows-where. At one point we were about 25 miles from the moon, or so we imagined. The curves were so sharp that those of us in the back had to give the all-clear for the next right or left hand swing. The average gradient was 8%. The higher we got, the quieter we all got in the van. I’d venture to say that was the quietest, non-sleeping time of any part of our trip. We were all controlled and not outwardly freaking out, but you could almost feel the tension rising. It’s hard to describe how lonely and otherworldly it felt up there, above the trees and civilization. The occasional oncoming vehicles were reassuring  that indeed, life was happening and possible, but it just felt incredibly lonely.

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(the photo above is mine, and excuse the quality but notice the road!)

Forty-eight hair pin curves later (I’m not exaggerating), we made it to the top.  At this point, we noticed on the GPS that we were almost in Switzerland so we made a turn and drove for just a bit down a side road to get into Switzerland and then came back.

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Coming down was definitely easier, although Peppy’s brakes were running kind of hot, so we pulled over to let him have a break. Coming down the mountain and seeing the friendly lights of villages was one of the most beautiful moments of the trip 🙂

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When we got to our place for the night, we looked up our route and discovered that we had successfully driven the Stelvio Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the Alps. The highest point is 9,088 feet but it seems a lot higher when you aren’t expecting anything of the sort and have no idea where you are!

We settled in for the night; Lois got a back massage for the incredible and difficult driving she mastered, and the rest of us cooked a yummy supper of vegetable stir fry, with groceries we picked up in the welcoming little town.

The following day we did a train-trip up into St. Moritz in Switzerland where we spent a few hours. The Bernina Express train does the same route but we found that taking the local train, with windows that we could open, was a good bit cheaper. Here is the local train station in Tirano: Bernina-59

The train trip was wonderful, but our experiences along the tops of mountains the day before was hard to beat! We sort of expected to see more Swiss country with towns and chalets but we really just saw a lot more mountains and glacier lakes, and lots of tunnels. Train travel is always relaxing in the country and this was no exception. We enjoyed walking around the glitzy resort town of St. Moritz, and it is definitely different from any Italian city we had been in. For one thing, everything was in francs and everything was expensive! Finding a burger meal for less than $25 was impossible so we opted for kebabs in a little shop off the beaten path. French fries, kebab meat and a special sauce made for a deliciously fattening meal. The dear little grandpa running the place charged me $.13 for my meal and about $300 (I think) for Lois’. The language barrier and credit card machine confused him a little but we got it all worked out. Visit Marylou’s page to see our take on some of the Gucci and other designer stores in this town 🙂

St. Moritz is beautifully set by a lake and is fun to explore for a bit but if you aren’t into fashion and glam and high-end living, you might not completely appreciate what it offers. T to St Moritz-27Bernina-32Bernina-18Bernina-16Bernina-3Bernina-10

Friday morning we packed up and headed south, this time with no mountain pass on our route. I’m not sure we were emotionally ready for another pass 🙂 They have a great road system and the interstate was similar to American ones. All we saw of Milan was driving around the outside of the city on our way south. Our route also took us along Lake Como, so we stopped there for a bit, to eat our leftover stir fry, and to use the bathroom. The bathroom part is a long story but lets just say there were some desperately happy ladies who finally found a “banyo”and who consequently sang a few songs in four part harmony to the restaurant owner who let us in. We were just that thankful and relieved (pun kind of intended). I’ll probably never sing for a bathroom again 🙂Lake Como-9Lake Como-10

Stir-fry wasn’t really classic food for a Lake Como picnic but we were within 48 hours of flying home and were trying to eat up all of our food 🙂  We saved many $$$ by occasionally preparing simple one-dish meals and then eating leftovers on the road. Obviously we didn’t do it at the expense of trying and enjoying local foods, but it did help our pennies stretch further. Lake Como-17b

Lake Como is absolutely gorgeous and it’s easy to see why the rich and famous vacation here. Again, due to being off-season, many of the places were closed and it really felt like not much of a happening place but during peak season it is a lot more lively.

We then ended our driving back in Florence, where we dropped off the van and then got on a fast train back to Rome. We arrived in Rome in the early evening and ate our last dinner at one of the places they tell you not to eat: the places with the bright menu pictures and where the menus are in English and pushy waiters are out in the road trying to coax you in. Well, we just did anyway and turns out, Roman made-for-tourists- lasagna, though disavowed by the Romans, is quite delicious. Served up by a very flirtatious and charming waiter, and that was the final flourish to our Italian adventure! We spent the night in an ancient hotel with peeling paint and a rather sketchy looking elevator, but we all slept well. Our flight home was early afternoon the next day and we got to the airport just in time, and that was with taking an earlier train than we had originally planned. The airport is out of the city about 30 miles. Our flights home went well and we arrived home tired, but supremely happy and full of amazing memories.

I don’t think I’m done with Italy just yet. I’d love to visit the Amalfi Coast and spend more time at Lake Como, but overall, I’d say we experienced Italy about as fully as one can in three weeks time. However, there are many other lovely places on my to-experience list so we’ll see about a return trip to Italy 🙂

Definitely the most important ingredients of a great trip are good and thorough research, good and compatible travel companions, and an open mind and willingness to explore new cultures.

Italy is an ancient civilization and a proud one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand it and unpack it in the short time I was there.

There is so much more that could be written about our trip, but it’s hard to know how many details are of general interest, or are dear little gems to just keep in my heart. If you are thinking of visiting Italy and want more specifics, shoot me a message and I’ll be happy to help.

Until next time,

Vicki

 

 

On not living a hashtag

It’s a new year. Humanity is doing its annual declutter, probably KonMari style this year. Bullet journals are being set up and the exercise equipment at the gym is being put through its own paces. It’s a fresh start.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who laughs when they read Ecclesiastes, but I feel like Solomon either had kidney stones, or was looking forward into the twenty first century when he moaned out some of his chapters. Water cycles and wind circuits and life spans are all subjects he laments at some point or another and when you finish his book, you really wonder if there is any hope for humanity.

I laugh at him because I’m really laughing at myself. I think we’d get on marvelously, as we are both prone to overthinking and both like poetry.

I wrote a series awhile back on Women and Consumerism and how I changed my thinking patterns on consuming and accumulation. I’m happy to report that this has indeed become a lifestyle and not just a passing trend. To date, I can think of no area in my house that needs to be decluttered or purged, and I even live in a house with a basement. There are spider webs and dirty corners and unorganized cabinets, and a couple cats but nothing that needs to be gotten rid of, except maybe the cats.

Living a simpler life in terms of what I want and acquire has truly been life changing. The hunt for a new purse because my only purse is wearing out has become fun and guilt free. Choosing a new notebook because I need it is significantly more enjoyable than mindlessly grabbing one at a store because it’s just too cute to leave there but I have no immediate need or plan for it. I know minimalism is all the trend right now, but I’m not minimalist and my lifestyle change is a commitment to contentment and not a nod to an ascetically pleasing empty space .

What followed the physical and tangible choices and decisions I made has been really  interesting and it brings me into my goals for the new year. It was about the time that I was most invested in my Amazon business and my little hobby couponing ( both things that contributed heavily to my accumulation problem) that I was also most active in the ideas marketplace- interested in all the ministry formulas, personality tests, psychology analysis (I love understanding how people and things work). I was reading the books, taking the tests, establishing my goals and trying to just, you know, get my life going. However, with time, the information and constant stimulation of all these different ideas started to stockpile and collect like the shampoos on my shelf and I soon realized I was overwhelmed. Because I was living on borrowed ideas and in other people’s hashtags, I got discouraged when my life and goals didn’t work out like theirs. I got a bit disillusioned with life and somewhat Solomonesque in my outlook.

Interestingly enough, it was when I started my journey to contentment in my possessions that I was able to see what was happening and had the clearness of mind and eye to start addressing it.

The problem with the Ideas Marketplace, where as ladies,we both buy and sell, is that it is never ending. There is virtually no aspect of life that is unaffected. Relationships, Parenting, Marriage, Singleness, Health, Spiritual Life, Education- each topic is a virtual community with devoted scholars and speakers, and unique buzzwords and hype. Trying to keep up with them all and do them all well is exhausting and defeating.

It really makes life so complex and complicating and stifles the instinctive and natural. Do X, Y, and Z  if that’s your child’s  love language and make sure that as a single, you make the time for you because others will walk all over you, and eat lots of grass-fed butter, and make sure your child’s carseat is rear-facing until such and such an age, and do this and that and the other if you are reaching out to this kind of person, but if they respond in this way then you must not do those things but instead this other thing and does anyone else have a headache yet too? Now, these things aren’t all bad but they are overwhelming.

A few things jarred me last year in relation to this topic:

  • Reading Elizabeth Elliot’s biography and wondering who will be the role models of today’s little girls. Hers was a life of emotional strength, fortitude and resilience in the midst of hardship and we are trading out these qualities for an Ikea kind of womanhood. Trendy, versatile and even functional, but ultimately light-weight. The ones that show up well on camera and shape up prettily on blogs but collapse under pressure.
  • the realization that a lot of my worldview and thought processes turned to others instead of Christ and His Word to troubleshoot my problems or influence my thoughts on a topic. I really didn’t need Him that much and was content if the ideas contained at least His flavoring.
  • The amount of women  I discovered through books, social media and IRL who are anxious, depressed, discouraged, and lonely. If we have the tools, the podcasts, the relationship books and the platforms, why do we struggle with these things?
  • Jesus’ invitation to rest.  If we are overwhelmed and anxious from doing all Jesus’ things, then something’s likely wrong. He expects our participation in His work, but He also promises to give us what we need to do it.

I’m still an ideas kind of girl. I still believe that an open mindedness to new ideas is a very attractive character quality. I firmly believe that a vibrant, Godly woman will always be a scholar in life and will be ever learning and growing.

However, I think the biggest problem facing women today is not that we are taking in nothing, but that we are taking in everything and consequently drowning.

So this year is a year of simplicity for me in pretty much every area of life. I want to balance my love of new books and ideas and foods with the old, and tried and true. I want to reread old books that inspire and challenge my character. I want to visit old recipes and cook with simple foods. I want to spend quality  time with my Grandmas who are from a generation that experienced hardship and whose characters I want to emulate. I want to further pursue the character qualities of contentment, holiness and wisdom-qualities that don’t photograph well on social media and don’t get any sort of airtime.

I want to explore the whole of God, not just His beauty and his love, because living only in His beauty and love actually makes me pretty selfish. I want to familiarize myself with His Word and have His Voice be immediately where I turn when facing decisions. I want to live instinctively and freely and not by the books and the hashtags.

If you’re overwhelmed, and would like to unsubscribe from ALL THE IDEAS and experience the simplicity of Jesus this year as well, I’d love some accountability in this. I’ll put my email address in the comment section.

Also, my final post on northern Italy will be up soon, hopefully. I wanted to get this New Years post up before June, you know 🙂

Vicki

Italy:: Venice

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Photo credits: Marylou

::VENICE ~ VENEZIA::

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There are many words to describe Venice, but one of the most common and fitting is the word “magical”. Without a doubt this island is about as tourist-centered and splashy as tourist destinations can be. And sadly, because of the tourism, many of the residents are leaving the island for more affordable and sustainable places to live.

The real charm of Venice lies in its canals. If you were to replace the canals with roads, it would lose 96% of its personality. The fun of getting on a boat instead of a car, and getting into a canal instead of an interstate is what sets Venice apart from other splashy destinations. I’m supposing that when she floods, she probably isn’t as charming and is more along the lines of inconvenient, but we didn’t experience that in our 2 days there.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and waited in a very long queue for the overcrowded parking garage located just off the causeway. It was literally let one car out of the garage, and let another in. Parking is rather limited on the island and we found that when we left Tuesday morning, it was a lot less crowded. We had arrangements for meeting our apartment host at 2:00 and when the line for the garage wasn’t moving much, Marylou and I left the others and sprinted to our apartment to finalize details. We discovered instantly that Venice is very, very crowded. It is not a very big island, approximately 4 km east to west and 2.8 km north to south. It averages about 60,000 tourists a day and so there’s not a lot of places for people to spread out.

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The view of our “street”, er, “canal”.

One of our first matters of business was to buy our vaporetto passes which gave us unlimited access on the boats for the duration of our stay. Vaporettos are a bit like water buses and there are a few main lines that each run. We found the stations to be well marked and for the most part,  the routes were easy to understand. We rode around the island for a few hours that evening because boats are fun and also to orient ourselves with the layout of the island. The Grand Canal, which empties out into the sea is quite magical at dusk when all the ristorante lights come on. We also got to see a huge cruise liner leave and after being there a few days, we were happy to see any cruise ship leave 🙂

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There are hundreds of little bridges spanning back alley canals.IMG_2987

One of the most famous bridges in the world is the Rialto Bridge pictured above. We enjoyed walking it and shopping the local market at the one end.

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There are a few iconic places in Venice that are definitely worth visiting. St. Mark’s Basillica is one of the most famous and unless you get there right when it opens, you’ll wait in line awhile. I’d recommend paying 2 euro and wearing a headset with the history and information of everything you are seeing. Rick Steves also has an audio download for many of these sites and we used him as well throughout our trip. The apostle Mark was killed and buried in Alexandria and it is rumored that two Venetian monks smuggled  his remains out of the country under a pile of pork and cabbage leaves. Since Muslims aren’t permitted to eat pork, this was a perfect way to avoid rousing suspicion. Supposedly his body lies underneath the altar of this Basilica. We were not permitted to take pictures inside but it was yet another ornate and elaborate church, and we wondered yet again what Mark would think of his namesake basilica.

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In the same complex is the Doge’s palace which we heard is also worth some time exploring. We were running short on time and kind of tired of spending money so we enjoyed this from the outside. Venice in the 14th century, was the seat of the government before it moved to Rome and the doges lived here in the palace. It has a decidedly Gothic style and the intricate arches and moldings were pretty incredible!IMG_3026

The famous Bridge of Sighs linking the palace to the prison. Supposedly prisoners would take one final look at their beloved Venice through the windows on the bridge and sigh before going into their cells. There was a wedding photo shoot happening while we were there and I thought it added a somewhat romantic layer to this iconic place 🙂

Everything is a bit more expensive in Venice, due to literally everything including supplies being boated in. Mornings on the canals were a bee hive of activity, with loading and unloading supplies and tools, moving things around, picking up and dropping off passengers and everything else that a normal city does, this just being done on water.

And of course, no roads means no fire trucks or police cars but they do have police and fire boats, pictured below. We saw a casket being taken down a canal in a….. hearse boat?! The one day when we were riding the boats just because we could, we got off at our stop with a bunch of school children. There were pockets of normal life that we got to see happen but mostly it was tourists like us who were taking it all in like we were.

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IMG_3060IMG_3068And of course there were the gondolas with the renowned gondoliers in their striped shirts. It costs a pretty penny to ride one of these and for even a bit more, you can hire a singing gondolier 🙂 We thought it was beautiful and could be very romantic but as I mentioned, we were hitting the spending fatigue part and opted to enjoy Venice on the vaporettos and just take pictures of the gondolas.

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We enjoyed one of our most memorable dinners in Venice. Some lovely fellow Americans that we had met in Tuscany recommended this little restaurant in Venice and raved about the Cacio e Pepe so we decided to give it a try. I think our waiter was a bit disgruntled with having to make it five times because we all ordered it 🙂 Cacio e Pepe means cheese and pepper and the process by which it gets to your plate is most intriguing. They cook spaghetti noodles before hand and then bring it out to your table alongside this huge hollowed out cheese wheel. They scoop out the noodles and a bit of the hot water into the cheese (in this case, cheese from pecorino sheep ). They stir the noodles around in the cheese wheel, the hot liquid melting the cheese and then work it together for awhile resulting in basically a very glorified pile of macaroni and cheese. They then use a mortar and pestle to grind peppercorns to sprinkle over the top of the entree.

This was another one of those meals where we all ended up with a huge serving of pasta and not much else, but another (by this time very familiar 🙂 bowl of gelato finished our dinner. We had mucho leftovers so we combined them all and took them home and enjoyed another meal the next day  for lunch. We added a bit of ham and some extra cheese and it was quite nice. We got rather creative with our leftover food and saved lots of money by re-purposing leftover food.

So yes, we discovered Venice to be fun and charming as well as expensive and crowded, all of which we were prepared for. It is definitely has romantic vibes and I think we saw more love-birds here than any other spot. Here’s a PSA for any potential honeymooners in Venice- the streets are very crowded with people and suitcases and bags. It won’t always be conducive for holding hands and so be aware when its suitable (cue gondolier music) and when to momentarily unclasp those loving hands. P.S (it makes it easier for all the other tourists walking beside you)

That’s a rather strange way to end this part so I’ll leave you with one final beautiful picture:

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From here we head north to some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We trade beautiful old buildings and congested streets for Alpine heights and lonely roads.

Vicki

Italy:: Tuscany

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Photo credit: Marylou

As I was sorting through and selecting my pictures for this part, and as I walked back memory lane (lined with pencil trees), I realized that Tuscany may be my favorite part of the trip. And I’m fully prepared to feel that when I get to Venice as well, oh, and the Dolomites for sure! See, we just really had a wonderful trip and I find myself still thanking God for allowing me to experience all these wonderful places.

So it’s harder to describe Tuscany because Tuscany is a region and not one particular place with a zip code. There are many different aspects to tell about and so many little towns to describe and I’m not sure I can describe such a big, classic area in one little post, but I’ll try.

One of my objectives for our trip in general was to experience and enjoy Italy organically, and not just for the touristy photo-ops and places, beautiful though they were. Tuscany fulfilled that wish. Tuscany is famous for its olive and wine production and for those stunning vistas with pencil trees (forgive me, that’s what we called them 🙂 and stone villas.

But let me back up. We left the Cinque Terre on a fast train and arrived in Florence on Wednesday evening. I regret (just a smidgen) that the only part of Florence that we experienced was the rather sketchy train station, but we were still struggling with PTSD from the crowds of Rome and the option of more crowded museums and places was rather low on our priority list by this point. We hired a rather (read VERY) self assured, dashing young Italian taxi driver to take us to the car rental place outside Florence proper. This was our first experience in a car driven by an Italian and it did not disappoint. We careened rather wildly around corners and between cars and I was pretty much leaning away from the window, willing him not to hit the car inches from me. He parked with everything but  a smirk and we were just thankful to have gotten there alive. We picked up our big, spacious van, which we named Peppy, here and we had it for most of the rest of our trip.

We definitely recommend using the efficient and inexpensive train and metro systems in the bigger cities, and getting from place to place, but then renting a vehicle for easy access to little towns and villages off the beaten path.

We spent the biggest part of our trip in Tuscany (Toscana in Italian). This was day 7 of our trip and some of us were struggling with colds and so a more relaxed itinerary was lovely at this point. We stayed in a little village in the Chianti area called Ponte Agli Stolli. Our farm house had an old Tuscan feel and it was most amazing.

The view out the front of our house, and the view from the back. This was a typical road through a village, with buildings just feet from the side and mirrors mounted off the buildings to show oncoming traffic around corners.

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Photo credit: Marylou

We were rather desperate for fresh fruits and veggies by this point, as the Italian diet consists of many carbs, so we drove to Aldi for groceries and enjoyed many a wonderful, homemade meal in the wonderfully furnished kitchen. Grocery shopping quickly became a highlight and we enjoyed seeing all the local foods and the ridiculously cheap, fresh pasta.

Italy was unified from a number of different states into current Italy as recently as the late 1800s. Prior to that, regions were ruled by kings, and the castle towns exist to this day, giving a peak into town life, surrounded by walls and guarded by castle towers. We day-tripped into many of these towns, which are now popular tourist spots, and saw many beautiful, old buildings.

IMG_2821IMG_2808IMG_2807We loved stumbling upon little villages that weren’t teeming with tourists, and Pienza, (photo above) was another favorite place from our trip. IMG_2792You quickly see differences in architecture design and style. This particular Basilica in Siena had a more elaborate, Byzantine feel, distinctly different from the Roman and Greek styles we saw back in Rome and even the Cinque Terre.

It was in St. Catherine’s Basilica in Siena that we saw her (Catherine’s) very dead but preserved thumb. Apparently, if you can acquire a saint’s body part or parts, you can name the basilica after them. You have to take their word for it, but it is rather startling to see a black thumb in a case 🙂IMG_2788IMG_2783IMG_2896Some of the towns we drove through and enjoyed: Siena, Pienza, Greve and Radda in Chianti, Montepulciono, San Gimignano. I could write more about each place but we didn’t adequately explore nearly all of them and so they remain decorative little memories of a very beautiful region.

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These are the classic views of terraced, Tuscan hillsides and vineyards. It took us a long time to go anywhere because we kept stopping for pictures. My pictures don’t do justice to the beauty, as they were taken with my iPhone, but if you want to see the real deal, go check out Marylou’s website where she is also blogging about our trip.

A few personal Tuscany highlights:

MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE MONASTERY in Asciano

Because one of my favorite books remains The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy, (I reviewed it here), it was important to me to see a working monastery. This particular Benedictine monastery (built in the 14th century) is set on the top of a beautiful mountain, with breath taking views all around. We got there at sunset, and in time for Vespers (the evening service) and got to hear their Gregorian chant. I suppose I mentally compared it to the one in the book, and this one was much more elaborate, with art being highly celebrated and displayed here. There was the beautiful quietness and serenity that I expected, and the monks were dressed appropriately in long, white robes, so it all checked out well 🙂 The picture of the medicine above, available for purchase in their gift shop) is in honor of Brother John in the book and his loving, healing hands that loved the aged and infirm right on home to their God.

TRADITIONAL ITALIAN MEAL INVOLVING FLORENTINE STEAK

Marylou was gifted some travel money and she generously offered to put it towards a classic, traditional meal for all of us to enjoy. Italians eat late at night, usually after 8:00 and it can take up to 2 hours to enjoy all the courses. You have to understand that Italians eat in courses, and they never eat their meat and pasta together. Being budget travelers, we usually chose one course as our meal which meant we usually ended up with a pile of pasta and not much else. In retrospect, we should have ordered more courses between us and then shared for a more rounded out meal. However, for this special meal we chose a few antipasti (the appetizer course including things like olives, smoked meats, some vegetables, etc) and a few pasta dishes including one infused with truffle oil. Truffles are expensive fungus that grow underground and are found by trained dogs or pigs. We then ordered the famous Florentine steak, which are from the local and world famous Chianani cows. When we put our order in for the T-bone steak, the waiter repeated it to make sure he understood correctly. The owner then came out to verify and others were looking at us kind of strangely. It was brought out, seared on the outside, but rare in the middle, which is the only way they will cook this steak. We pretty much devoured it down to the bone, much to the waiter’s amusement. Soon, kitchen staff  started peeking their heads around the corner and the owner came back out and made enough of a to-do about it that we finally asked if we were missing something. Turns out, Italian women don’t usually eat steak, and to see a group of 5 women scarf it down in record time was rather note-worthy to them and we won their approval 🙂 The waiter indicated that his wife eats food more along the lines of, and his English wasn’t perfect, so he made delicate, ladylike motions with his pinky finger in the air. 🙂 🙂 Dessert ended up being an assortment of marvels such as creme brulee, chocolate molten cake, tiramisu and panna cotta.

IMG_2948We finally finished our meal around 11:00, and the locals were still going strong, drinking their espressos and everything!

Overall, Tuscany was lovely and just what we needed for the middle part of our trip. It gave us the space and time to go out and explore during the days, and then come back to our house when we needed some down-time and time to just absorb and savor all that we were experiencing. Like I mentioned, renting a vehicle allowed us to do this, and we found the highways and road systems to be well marked and easy to follow. The little towns and villages were the most difficult, with roads that would narrow down to one lane, and no clear visibility around upcoming corners. We definitely worked together to check for traffic, and with Lois’ confident, expert driving and Marylou’s capable navigating, we got around just fine.

I mentioned in my first post about enjoying a culture and place without always comparing it to your home culture or mentally trying to make it conform to your experience, but it was here in Tuscany that I did make some interesting comparisons.

There is virtually no individuality in certain aspects of life in Italy, anywhere. Coming from a culture that values self-expression and celebrates individuality, it was quite interesting to visit one that values history and tradition. You want a Cape Cod style house in Tuscany? Well for starters, you probably shouldn’t even be wanting it, but you for sure won’t get it. What makes all the idyllic scenes possible anywhere you go, is the template of life handed down from generation to generation. There is a continuity that you see regardless of which town you drive through. The houses are the same, the colors are the same, the landscaping is the same, the terrace designs are the same. Traditions are important to the preservation of this ancient culture.

Our Australian tour guide in Pompeii told of a birthday party her friend was hosting, where she decided to stretch her Roman friends’ food borders by serving an entree of chicken and pasta together. The friends arrived, took one look at the entree, asked what the chicken was doing with the pasta, and refused to eat it.

Okay, so my America is all about listening and not just accepting, but celebrating new ideas and ways of doing life, and this new mindset was rather startling 🙂

Italians aren’t as concerned about new ideas or others feelings, which means you could take it personally that they don’t do more to make you feel welcome. We encountered some fairly rude and unhelpful people on our trip, and I think it might be part of their proud, traditional culture. We also enjoyed many warm,  and wonderfully inviting people, and they were usually the ones from whom we rented our houses or did business with  in general.

I guess I found the culture kind of refreshing in certain ways and while I think I’d find it stifling living in a culture that regulates creativity and individuality, I do think there is a certain structure and stability that I could appreciate.

And if you’ve made it this far, bravo! The next stop is magical Venice, which is also my favorite location from the trip 🙂

Ciao!

 

Italy:: The Cinque Terre

While Rome was everything that it should be- cultured, timeless and beautiful, it was also very, very crowded. I think we were all ready to get on the train and head north, to the Cinque Terre, which hugs the Italian Riviera coastline. The Cinque Terre means five towns, and it is just that- five villages that sit precariously on the cliffs along the sea. Before tourists discovered it, they were only accessible by the sea, and survived on fishing and wine-making. Today, they live on tourism, and are easily accessible by train, boat or hiking paths.

We stayed north of the Cinque Terre, in a little village called Levanto. I will never forget train-ing into the area and getting glimpses of sparkling blue waters on one side, and terraced mountains on the other. We chose to stay in Levanto because it is only a 5 minute train ride away, and because accommodations were considerably cheaper there. Our first stop was a stroll to the grocery store that took way longer than it should’ve because of views like this:

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Italian villages are effortlessly charming and Levanto was no exception. I fell in love with the quietness and the authentic culture of this town. While the CT (Cinque Terre) is set up for tourism and is teeming with people enjoying the views, Levanto is quieter and more unassuming. We viewed Levanto as our little refuge, and we’d escape here after the masses of humanity engulfed the CT. This remains one of my favorite locations on our entire trip.

If you intend to spend any length of time in the CT, I would highly recommend getting a Cinque Terre Park Card. This pass gives you unlimited train rides between the villages and Levanto, as well as access to the hiking trails. The train system is mostly easy to understand and we made good use of our passes!

We discovered that while they all have similar characteristics, they all feel distinctly different. Monterosso is resorty and flat with the nicest and biggest beach front. Vernazza has the classic Riviera views and looks like a postcard, Corniglia is quieter and sits on a hill with no harbor front or beach, Manarola is smaller with beautiful views and Riamaggiore is the most workaday and least touristy.

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Monterosso

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Vernazza from sea level (picture from Kelly)72a

Vernazza from mountain level and I-can’t-even level. (also taken by Kelly, as well as the next one)73

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Cannoli at mouth level 🙂 IMG_2590

Unedited, brilliantly blue water. We really tried to get our fill of this beauty, and continually marveled throughout our trip that our beauty capacity never completely filled up. There was always room for one more gasp or delicious sigh.IMG_2602

Riamaggiore. You can see the railroad tunnel through the mountain, IMG_2642

We decided to experience the villages from the sea so splurged on a private boat tour and enjoyed sunset views of the five villages. Our boat driver was a nice, friendly guy from Spain and he took us into delightful little coves, like the one pictured above, and showed us things like sea tomatoes and other interesting things. And then God showed His stuff with a breathtaking sunset, and even boat driver was taking pictures 🙂

78It was in the Cinque Terre that we ran into friends from Thomaston! Seeing familiar faces five thousand miles from home was a special high light of our trip. We knew the group was going to be in Italy the same time as us but we didn’t know if we’d run into them. Most of them, however, had no idea we were around and I think we shocked them really well! And now its fun to say Ciao! and stuff when they come into the deli.

Everybody has been asking what our favorite place in Italy was and it’s really a tough call to make. If I had to say, I’d probably choose the CT because of its beauty and because I love the sea so much in general. It’s a place like none other and I’m secretly hoping to go back someday!

If you are reading this and thinking about visiting the CT, here’s what we recommend:

  1. Get out and about early. Cruise ships often dump hundreds of tourists into these small villages and it completely overwhelms them. Going out early in the mornings or later in the evenings gives you breathing room and the space to adequately take all this beauty in.
  2. Be prepared for climbing. We were a bit surprised by all the steps and inclines but since they are built onto mountainsides, I guess it makes sense. Some of the steps aren’t that great and are really steep so be prepared for that. You’ll get toned legs as a reward 🙂
  3. Stay either in Levanto (to the north) or La Spezia (to the south). Rates are cheaper and it feels good to get away from the crowds at times.
  4. Spend no less than two full days here. We were there from Sunday evening to Wednesday morning and found that amount of time to be good. I’d recommend briefly visiting all five villages and then finding one or two to thoroughly explore.
  5. Be prepared to leave a bit of your heart behind. One of my most treasured memories of our whole trip was sitting on a rock in Monterosso, with the blue waters gently lapping over my feet and just being quiet and enjoying the moment. We saw and experienced a lot in a short amount of time and so those 15 minutes of just being quiet and absorbing it were really special.

And I think that’s it for this little piece of coastal paradise. Next we head inland to Tuscany, in a post coming soon, hopefully.

 

Italy:: Pompeii and Rome

The success of any trip lies in the research and planning preceding it. For those of you who don’t know the back-drop of this trip, it was an aunts and nieces trip planned months ago. We missed our other cousins who couldn’t make it because of schedule conflicts, so it ended up just being a group of five. Depending on where you want to visit, I would caution against a much bigger group. The bigger the group, the more it plays into lodging accommodations, vehicle sizes, and just the overall logistics of keeping everyone together in crowded places.

The behind-the-scenes parts of planning involved several meetings where we all got together, bringing our must-sees and preferences to the drawing board, where we then mapped out a general itinerary and time frame. Things we considered in the planning:

  • Weather. Optimal weather in Italy is late spring/early fall. Doing our  research helped us figure out the best time for us to be there.
  • Crowds. We chose October for the weather and also because it’s at the tail end of peak tourist season. There were masses of tourists in many of the places we toured and I can’t even begin to imagine peak tourists season!
  • Expense. Researching everything from lodging accommodations to transportation costs to attraction tickets gave us an idea of how much to budget and how long a trip we could afford 🙂
  • Lodging. A whole post could be written about how to choose lodging and Marylou could very capably write it but how to choose lodging is key to to the enjoyment of a trip. Finding places near public transportation costs more up front, but gave us easy and cheap access to going nearly anywhere we desired. Your time is a valuable commodity and so being smart about transportation keeps you from spending precious time walking when you could be traveling faster and seeing more sights. Also, we spent less than two nights at very few locations and we highly recommend that. You lose precious time trying to orient yourself in new places/connect with the new VRBO person, etc, so doing it as few times as possible was important to us. We also would suggest one person getting an international phone plan to make contacting new people easier. We spent precious time trying to find wifi to get a hold of contacts about lodging because none of us were able to make in-country calls. Also, offline maps are hit or miss and we would have used phone maps many times if we would have had access to them.
  • Luggage. We took everything we needed for 2.5 weeks in a carry-on suitcase and day bag. If that seems like unusual and cruel punishment, think again. Keep in mind that you have to take everything everywhere you go and that means up and down stairs and hills and everything in between. Packing smartly allowed us to easily take what we needed and still left room for souvenirs to bring back.

I could write much more about planning and if you’re interested in those details, contact me and I’ll happily give much more information.

But now, on to Rome. There’s nothing quite like landing in a new country all bleary-eyed and sleep deprived from a sleepless night on a plane. We landed around lunchtime and finally found our Flavio who took us in his van back to our apartment in Rome. Tiredness was quickly forgotten as we took in all the ancient sites and ruins on our way in. After some confusion, we finally found our lodging, situated just down the street from the Coliseum. rome1The view from our apartment. You can see the Coliseum at the end of the road. We were tired and jet-lagged but we reckoned we hadn’t come to Rome to sleep so we hit the town immediately. I was rather picture happy at the beginning: trying to document every set of ruins I saw, but I soon realized they were as plentiful as Dollar Generals in GA and so I slowed down 🙂

We ended our day with dinner in the Jewish Ghetto where we enjoyed our first pasta and yummy pastries.

The following day all of us except Marylou did a bus day trip to Pompeii, which is about 3.5 hours south of Rome. Our tour guide from City Tours did a wonderful job of explaining not only Pompeii and Vesuvius history, but also Rome’s long and complicated history of conquests, invasions, and finally unification and peace.

P O M P E I I:

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Ancient Pompeii with Vesuvius looming behind.
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For those who need a history brush-up, like I did, here’s a bit of what you are looking at. Pompeii was a medium to upper class city back in AD 79. Situated right along the coast, it played vacation destination for the rich Romans. Teeming with life and industry, it was a happening kind of place. One afternoon, Vesuvius, blew her top in an intense and catastrophic eruption. These people had no idea they were living under an active volcano and there had been no volcanic activity in their lifetime. Vesuvius blew rocks and debris 21 miles in the air, for 12 hours, burying the city in 13-20 feet of ash and pumice. The city was completely destroyed and forgotten until the 1500s when building excavations unearthed the city, frozen in time and perfectly preserved.

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Original frescoes from 80 years after Christ.

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The ancient bathrooms and laundromat, conveniently located side by side. Apparently  the ancients believed the ammonia content of urine was good for washing so they’d collect the urine from the bathroom to wash the clothes in the laundromat.

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Prior to the eruption, the sea came up and covered this area. The eruption completely rearranged the shoreline, pushing it back and re-situating it.

In the excavations, they uncovered many pieces of pottery and other pieces of a normal ancient city. They also discovered cavities where the remains of the people were at one point, and by filling in the cavities with plaster, were able to show the positions of the people as they died from the intense heat. Seeing these plasters made it very real.

After touring Pompeii and enjoying our first Napoleon margarita pizzas, we then drove part ways up Vesuvius before hiking the last little bit. I gotta say, hiking an active volcano was a bit freaky but we were assured that there will be plenty of warning before she blows again. When the animals and birds act erratically and start leaving the area, it is time to evacuate. Modern day Pompeii has its evacuation plan ready to go, with cruise ships coming in to move many residents away. It is also believed that when she blew in 79, she sealed her top or crater, and the next eruption will likely be out the side. Here is looking down into her crater:

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We arrived back to our apartment late that night, and a bit sore from a strenuous hike in still -swollen- from flying feet 🙂 We averaged 5 or 6 miles of walking on many of our days and so our feet needed a bit of time to recover.

The following day we conquered Rome, and by that I mean we successfully navigated and toured it along with approximately 33.9 billion other people 🙂 It was a rainy day and we thought with great optimism that we might not deal with crowds in the Vatican Museums. It was a cute idea but it looked more like this:

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Thankfully we pre-bought our tickets so we didn’t have to stand in the long lines in the rain, waiting to get in, but we should have been there when it opened. Basically, this sea of humanity was throughout all the gorgeous rooms in the Museums. We were pushed and pulled along, and really couldn’t even enjoy the stunning art, tapestries and maps. I highly recommend getting there at opening time and purchasing the earpiece tour guide which tells you about everything in the rooms.

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We visited the Sistine Chapel but were too tired of fighting crowds to visit St. Peters so maybe that’s a stop for next time 🙂

We trained back to the apartment in time for our ancient Rome tour.

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The Arch Of Titus celebrating the Fall of Jerusalem. We are accustomed to thinking of Jersualem’s fall as a very sad time in history but to the Romans this was yet another successful conquest and the Arch was built to celebrate Titus’ victory. The Jewish slaves he brought back would eventually help finish building the Coliseum where some of them would give their lives.  r6r5

There are so many emotions to feel in the Coliseum. From an engineering and architectural standpoint, it is a marvel. The Romans were good at engineering but not so good with design so they borrowed ideas from the Greeks for its decorations. But then its hard to ignore the horror and the incredible sadness of a civilization whose sport was human fighting and death. The bloodshed was so great that the sand in the arena was frequently changed out. Walking those shadowy corridors and halls was really an unforgettable experience. r7

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The Pantheon- formerly a temple to all the gods of Rome’s polytheistic system, but later becoming a temple to the one true God after Constantine made Christianity the state religion. Interestingly, there was a group of young people outside protesting Kavanaugh’s confirmation when we were there. It was a transport from the ancient to the here and now like none other 🙂

We ended our time in Rome with attending Mass at a nearby cathedral. Prior to St. Peters becoming the Pope’s official church, the church we attended was his. We had to go through metal detectors before entering. The opulence and grandeur was fun to look at, but left us all with a deep sadness of how Christianity was more about magnificent, amazing buildings and less about following Jesus’ teachings of self-denial and loving the less fortunate.

So much more could be written about the Eternal City and if anyone is interested in visiting or wants more details, please contact me, as we certainly learned some tips and tricks.

Rome was good but exhausting and so we were glad to exchange the crowds and walls for the sea breezes and crowds of the Riviera in the beautiful Cinque Terre, which I will write about next.

The Case for Traveling

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We’ve been back from our Italy trip for over a month, and I find myself increasingly desperate to remember all the little and big details that made up our wonderful experience, so I’ve decided to document it all for myself and for anyone else who wants to visit Italy vicariously.

I feel like I need to explain and describe the details leading up to a trip of this size and length and I also want to put a plug in for traveling and exploration.

I would be lying or misleading to indicate that this trip or similar trips are inexpensive. They are not, even with being economy travelers who looked for the best deals and tried to make smart choices. I hope to break it down a bit in a future post, telling how we made our choices and where we chose to spend our money.

Here’s the thing. We all have our little pleasures: the plant that somehow ends up at home after grocery shopping, the morning coffee run, the newest supplements from the health food store, the seasonal decor, or latest hunting gear. Its easy to justify a $5 splurge but somehow, its hard to put down money for a trip. I realize that not all travel is equal and it is very possible to travel and experience selfishly. This is true of any pursuit or hobby and should not be lobbied against travel because it is experienced selfishly sometimes. And obviously, I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money, but I hope to tell and show you how traveling and experiencing new places can do things for you that nothing else can.

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T R A V E L:

  • Gives you new lenses for seeing God. Seeing His beautiful sun and moon rise and set on new scenery and seeing how He cares for people quite different from me is nothing short of a privilege. Obviously, walking around looking for epiphanies or intimate spiritual moments is kind of counter-productive but if you are in tune with Him and if you have genuine interest in His world, you will have some really special moments. The goose-bumps from unexpectedly wandering into a postcard scene is a feeling like none other.ct
  • Gives you new lenses for seeing others. God has created some really interesting people groups and cultures have developed that are fascinating. Seeing other ways of doing things,  and being exposed to new ideas and foods puts who you are and where you fit into the world into perspective. Going into these cultures ready to appreciate and enjoy without mentally comparing them to me and my world is a great position to adopt while traveling. Obviously, you will draw comparisons and contrasts but being willing to accept and enjoy a new way of doing and being is key to appreciating a new place.venice 3
  • Gives you a chance to learn new things about yourself. Travel frequently takes you out of control. How well do I accept change? Am I flexible? I found that I have greater fear issues than previously thought, thanks to a mountain pass experience that I will never forget. And of course, being set up against a huge, craggy mountain really puts your life into perspective. I felt indescribably little and insignificant, but also totally warmed and content with the love of the Creator/Father. I highly recommend that everyone stands in front of a beautiful mountain at some point in their life.vicki

In a nutshell, travel, in all of its components: wonder in the wandering, worship and exploration is a wonderful way to zoom out and to see life from a broader perspective. It tends to define and clarify the blurry and crazy aspects of our lives while giving a wonderful desire to come back home and live even better in the places and seasons of life that we find ourselves.

I realize that travel of this nature is not possible for everyone and it was likely the trip of a lifetime for me. If you have a family, the expense and logistics of this kind of travel are probably impossible, but there are ways of seeing new scenery and enjoying new experiences that are much closer to home. Take a drive and try to get lost. Visit a new city and enjoy a new food cuisine. Dig into your own local history and try to unearth how life was 100 years ago. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about other countries and if nothing else, read! Books are one way tickets to exotic destinations and you can immerse yourself in their worlds without spending a dime.

Stay tuned for more posts about our trip, and drop me a comment about where on God’s beautiful earth you’d like to visit next. I think I’m going with Ecuador.

Life update

I really don’t even know where to start. There are probably 15 drafts in my folder- pieces begun with good intentions, but that died the classic literary death. See, I have a problem. It goes like this- I get hit with an idea or an epiphany and so I start to explore it and write it out, but then after editing and overthinking it literally to death, I discard it, wondering why I ever thought it was a good idea to start with. So I’m intentionally keeping this light and chatty, with the hopes that I can get back into the discipline of writing.

A lot of life has happened in the past year; big, life-changing experiences and also little mundane ordinary moments that compose life’s rhythm. I bought a house, turned 30, started a new job, lost a beloved grandpa, and toured Italy. This year has been hard but the morning sunlight faithfully danced across my plant collection, and the steadiness of God acquired new dimensions in a year of change. Leo Tolstoy was right: “All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadows.”

I suppose I’m feeling particularly melancholy because I just finished my annual reading of “The Hawk and Dove Trilogy.” I always feel a familiar tightening and dread as I approach the end because the ending is so gutting.  I always end up in tears because it is so achingly beautiful but sad. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, please go read it already! This particular reading became especially meaningful since we got to experience a Benedictine monastery in Tuscany. The monks at the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore are white-robed and their abbey is quite extravagantly decorated with beautifully old and even scandalous paintings which contrasted starkly with my book monk-friends whose lives were defined by strict poverty and simplicity. I suppose even the Benedictine order is allowed to change a bit from the 1300s to now 🙂

It is hard to know just what all to write. I find it rather surprising that at the ripe old age of 30, I have less of life figured out than I did at 25. You know how it goes, you start your 20’s with all of life’s answers and with the confidence and zeal to change the world. And then you actually hit real life and those neatly packaged theories don’t fit into reality very well at all. So I’ve been revisiting some of those beliefs and theories and feel about 3 months old in some ways.

I’m hoping to continue writing, especially with long, winter evenings coming up. To all of my new readers, “hello, and welcome to this space!” I hope to offer up posts more regularly and you can keep me accountable 🙂

So, what would you like to hear?

A Detailed Account of our Trip to Italy

A Series on Being A Young Homeowner and Ways I Save Money

Deeper Stuff Like How I Think Christians Have A Problem With Spiritual Out-Sourcing

or More Chill Stuff Like How To Make the Best Curry In The World (where i’d have to get my sister RuthAnne’s recipe)

Drop me a comment and let me know!

Vicki

Women and Consumerism- Why It Matters

Whew! This marathon of posting has been intense. The nature of the subject, mixed with my own trepidations has made this an emotional kind of week.

My fear in relating some of this was that I would come across as sanctimonious, and as having figured it all out. This post is mine in which to ‘fess up.

I referenced in earlier posts my bad consumer habits and how it affected my lifestyle. Backing up a little will give it some context.

A couple of years ago, I got into couponing. Not the crazy kind, where I amassed hundreds of bottles of bleach, and ketchup, because who needs that much anyway? I provided for my household, for friends, and then donated lots of products to our soup kitchen and pregnancy center. It was fun; it was addictive. Getting stuff for free or for mere pennies gave me a sort of satisfaction. It still hurts to pay for toothpaste, when I’ve gotten it for free in the past years.

More recently, I also tried out my hand in online selling. I developed an amazon selling account, and would purchase products at stores, and then ship them to amazon where they would be sold at a higher price, thus making me money. The amount of time it required, plus the lack of physical space to store the products forced me to give it up. While it didn’t work out, I don’t consider it a loss, because I learned a new skill.

These two ventures took me into the active consumer marketplace and interestingly enough, took me out of it. Both ventures left me with accumulation, with the thrill of a bargain, and with disgust at what Americans spend their money on. Those cheap trinkets and gadgets that I bought at stores? They sold on Amazon! But in the meantime, they sat in my room and looked at me and I grew to disgust them. I didn’t want a life surrounded by cheaply made gadgets that would probably break in weeks.

This all influenced my love for shopping. That unknown next bargain, more free toothpaste, the thrill of the hunt, making a bit of money- it all took me to unhealthy places. It’s taking time to walk away from it, discipline to not stop at the good looking yard sale, and saying no to bargains that I don’t need. But it has brought a measure of freedom and contentment that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

The other and more significant part that changed the way I view things is the hefty dose of conviction that God administered when I was working on my last mission statement. I highly recommend that every lady has one, and I may do a post about what they do and how I write mine. Basically, I take an afternoon and go sit out in God’s green world, and think about my life and what it is that I want to do with it. I was attempting this a couple of months ago, in thinking about my new home, and God met me, and kinda cleaned house a bit with me. I came away shaken.

Here’s the deal. I am a Christ follower by claim and so I spent some time thinking about His life. And then I wondered:

How should the homelessness of Jesus affect how I see my earthly house and its care?

The singleness of Jesus- does it affect how I see marriage and family?

The people with whom Jesus associated and spent most of His time? Do my associates look like His?

The way He chose to rest and get away? Does my downtime look like His?

His life calling, and last instructions to carry it on- does mine reflect that?

See, I kinda wanted a Pinterest home that would look good on Instagram. I wanted marriage for selfish reasons. Friendships were easiest and most convenient with people who were similar to me. I chose shopping or some other easy, fun activity when I wanted to get away.

I was a Christian, but apart from my spoken beliefs, there wasn’t a lot of interaction with Jesus’ lifestyle. It felt like a kind of spiritual and intellectual lie I was living.

Popular Christian thought says that the impacts of Jesus’ life and teaching are like a glaze. They drip down into the expected areas of spoken belief and Sunday activities, but flavor little else. The nature of Jesus’ teachings and His impacts should work more like marinade- infusing the whole and leaving nothing untouched or non-impacted.

We know this in our heads, but struggle to connect it to daily life.

It is and will be a long journey. We didn’t choose to be born in a first world country and struggle with excess. And I still don’t understand it all. The answer to this is not minimalism (as the trend), or asceticism. Buying ugly curtains because they are ugly isn’t somehow going to impress God. Neither is self-loathing as opposed to self-exalting on social media. I don’t think its the right balance of God versus things, and as long as the God side is higher, than its okay. Unpacking pleasure and its purpose in Christians’ lives might need to be my next research project 🙂

There is no formula to wholeness and healthy choices. God’s neighborhood doesn’t really have a lot of formulas. But it has life, and freedom.

I’ve been praying that these posts won’t send people on one-way guilt trips into Shame but into Freedom. If this has resonated with you, and if you have felt the same kind of convictions, I’d encourage you to sit in the conviction and allow it to change you. God needs us women, and His economy requires time and money. I’m praying that we women will rise up and embrace these challenges, and together embrace a Jesus-centered lifestyle- where His desires and words infuse every bit of our lives, in both the good and the hard spaces.

Bless you for following along with me!

 

Women and Consumerism-Multilevelmarketing

I have anticipated both writing and publishing this post as one anticipates getting their shots. This post has been bathed in prayer and sweat, and there were moments when I thought about just scratching the whole thing. But, it was promised and it is a big part of our consumer world today, and so I carry on with resolution, and a fair amount of shaking in my boots.

We all come to the table with varied perspectives and experiences. We each live very different kinds of lives and the circumstances that make up our moments and days are as varied and complex as the hues in the sunset. I know this subject is explosive. I know that posts like this usually do not change minds and comments and attitudes can get ugly. I also don’t profess to completely understand this subject and so if I misspeak, or have some information wrong, I genuinely want to be corrected.

I sketched out the framework for this post in my previous posts on women’s consumer habits in shopping and social media. In a traditional home, the woman will typically spend most of the household’s consumable income because her role includes buying the groceries, clothes and diapers for the children, the household decor, and basic household needs. With modern conveniences, she has more time than ever before, and with social media, can interact with a plethora of people all over the world.

It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that mulitlevelmarketing is largely a ladies’ world, with less than a quarter of men making up the difference. The product lines are largely geared towards women’s interests and tastes- home decor, skincare, fashion, health, kitchen gadgets, makeup, and jewelry and the list goes on and on and on and on and on and well, I think you get it. A simple google search will bring up just how saturated our world is with these network marketing lines.

What’s the big deal or problem, you might ask. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. The products are typically nonessential. I’ve not seen a MLM company that sells trash bags, coffee filters and paper towels. Why? Probably because we wouldn’t spend our hard earned money on overpriced necessities.  Now I’m not against buying non-essentials. I’m a woman and its in our DNA to like candles. But if we have tendencies towards overspending, and if we have to work to say “no, I don’t need this,” in our shopping, then these MLM companies that encourage and pressure us to buy these extra things can really cause a problem. Saying no to the product at Walmart is a whole lot easier than saying no to a good friend.
  2. The products are typically expensive. So much so  that at times, people have to sell them to be able to afford them. Nearly any product sold in a MLM company has a box-store equivalent that costs a fraction of the price.  Each company claims to have superior quality, be the purest,and most natural products and for these reasons, they want you to spend the extra money. I can respect that. And I even choose Tupperware over Rubbermaid when I see them together at second hand stores. But I also choose unleaded gas for my car, along with most Americans, even though premium might work better. We have to make these decisions of quality versus cost daily, and the same is true of these products.
  3. The way the products are pushed. In MLM you aren’t just buying a product, you are buying a dream or possibility; the chance to make some money, to better your life, to create a new social circle. The marketing techniques are suggestive and persuasive. “If you care about your health, than you will buy _______.” Frankly, I find this one a bit insulting. Because if I don’t buy the product, than apparently I don’t care about my health? The guilt trips continue- “this is about sisterhood; supporting and empowering each other”. Hey, I’m all about encouragement and support. I really think we ladies could improve in this area, but not merely by financially supporting each other. Because we all know that I couldn’t buy a box of trash bags from Costco and turn around and sell them to my friends for three times the price, regardless how well they work. As it relates to buying and selling to each other, its not quite that simple. I think it can work as it has worked for centuries. Martha’s chickens lay extra eggs and so Martha sells them at a fair price. Her friends can stop by as they choose and purchase the eggs. Martha makes a bit of extra money, and her friends have good eggs as they need them. Buying Martha’s eggs and my trash bags are two totally different things.
  4.  The likely lifespan of the products. While there are a couple companies that have been and will continue to be around for years (Avon, Tupperware, Amway, etc) many of these will not live to be 20 years old, and the next new thing will be out to excite the world. This is the part of the puzzle that I don’t understand. In a typical business, competition can be good, but it can also run you out of town. In the sandwich shop where I work, we don’t hand out the sandwiches saying, “here, if you enjoy this sandwich, please consider opening up a similar shop two doors down.” We would soon have more restaurants and business owners than people to actually buy the sandwiches. Apparently, this is what is needed for network marketing to succeed. Signing people up and creating a downline is as important as selling the product. And it’s not technically competition because you are still directly benefiting from the recruiting. So if recruitment is actually the big thing, the product is more or less secondary? Or am I missing something?

Basically, these products are probably only around temporarily, are rather expensive and are being marketed as things we really need or should at least, really want.

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Please do not hear me saying that if you are involved with these companies, that you automatically somehow have a problem. You selling a product that I have a problem unhealthily desiring is my fault, not yours. We are each responsible for ourselves and our own weaknesses and struggles. I write as a consumer who struggles with consumer temptations.

I want to step back from the finer details to look at the bigger picture. Consumerism is a struggle for many of us. Like our mother Eve, we love new things, new ideas, new ways in which to make our lives better. We struggle with living in the space of enough, with attitudes of contentment and gratitude. Since we live in a world that promotes the American dream, we struggle with how to live with excess, not need. That gadget, that supplement, that earned vacation, that dream is so tempting. But is all that we ladies can do?

Just this week I heard of two situations in my area in which people are struggling to choose life. A mother is facing an unwanted pregnancy and is considering abortion. A discouraged man is losing his will to live. Two people, both somewhat local. My town isn’t very big, and your town has these people too.

Ladies, the spaces in us that are bent towards consumerism can be bent back to the Father’s heart. The selfish and hedonistic desires can be replaced with desiring Him.  Am I investing and giving my life to the things He values most? Does my heart ache for the things that make Him sad? Can I stand before Him, look Him in the eye and say, “Here’s my life. I hope you were pleased.”

I would love to see a network of ladies band together and encourage and support each other in ministry; empowering and supporting each other to better serve their communities and families, cheering on victories, and sympathizing in the hard places.

Network marketing- where we peddle hope and encouragement and everybody benefits. Anybody else in?

I plan in my next and final post, to share the parts of my journey in which God has jolted me. Where I was deeply convicted and had to take ownership for where my love for consuming had taken me. It might not be pretty, but it will be real, and if it can help somebody, it will make the posts worth it.

 

Women and Consumerism- Contentment

A beautiful gift the internet has given us is the place to exchange ideas and information. I have enjoyed watching ladies share their lives and experiences from Xanga days, all the way to now. And it seems in the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of blogs, books, podcasts, seminars, all by women and for women. Many of us could easily list four or five popular authors, bloggers and speakers. I love the input and interaction.

I have found, however, that two things have happened with this movement:

  1. We don’t look back as far or as often in history as we should. With the constancy and fluidity of new information and ideas, we have gotten stuck in the present. Its hard to keep up with the new, much less pay attention to history. Are we telling the stories of Gladys Aylward and Corrie Ten Boom to our daughters? Elisabeth Elliot and Mary Slessor? Going back even further, stories from the early church, stories of the marytred Christians? These ladies lived meaningful, useful lives and their stories could possibly speak into our struggles.
  2.  The Bible has become more of a spiritual-part-of-our-lives book, while the other books inform our shopping-hobbies-extra part of our lives. This happens so subtly, one could hardly notice. We have gotten accustomed to the new style of pretty words and whimsical ideas presented so attractively and we build our life mission statements around them. For example: the new doctrine of beauty whose premise rests in the fact that God is the designer of beauty, and therefore we should display beauty in our lives is in fact, partially true. But truth lives in community with other truths. It’s also true that drinking a can of diet coke every day won’t kill me, but to use that truth as the premise for how I eat would be destructive. The problem with so many popular new ideas is not that they don’t have elements of truth, but that they aren’t presented with their balancing counterparts. The balancing counterparts aren’t all that whimsical or pretty. “Godliness, with contentment is great gain,” just doesn’t have the same appeal and won’t get the same response. I’ve been convicted of the amount of weight and priority I have given to this at the expense of the practical, straight-forward words of Jesus.

I used to think somewhat negatively of the concept of contentment. That it involved a lot of saying no to things we really enjoy but don’t need and that it included a good bit of self-denial. I’ve come to see it in a bit differently. The reason most of us like to shop after we’ve eaten is to keep us from wandering the Cheetos and ice cream aisles. We intentionally eat something good, to help us resist the temptation of the not-so-good. Contentment is the same idea. It’s the place of living in enough; in fullness. It’s the thought of filling our lives with meaningful things,  so that the lesser things don’t really tempt us. It’s not just saying no to the Cheetos, it’s not even wanting them.

I’m not going to sit here and act all sanctimonious and pretend that I never want the Cheetos. I’m a full-blooded woman, preparing to move into a house that will need new paint and furnishings. I love beauty and the expression of beauty. I think this room is gorgeous:

Gorgeous Scandinavian Interior Design Ideas You Should Know	---- Design Interior Food Poster Christmas Fashion Kitchen Bedroom Style Tattoo Women Farmhouse Cabin Architecture Decor Bathroom Furniture Home Living Room Art People Recipes Modern Wedding Cottage Folk Apartment Nursery Rustic Office House Exterior DIY Lighting Pattern Men Fireplace Rug Dining Table Hair Illustration Nature Industrial Wallpaper Chair Loft Entryway Winter Lounge Baby Outfit Floor Closet Kids Desk Small Decoration Cloth

picture from Pinterest

Frankly, it scares me a little. I’m single too, so I don’t even have a husband to act as my brakes.

Contentment will mean different things for each of us, and our calling is not to project our standards onto others, but to figure out what it means for us.

Maybe for me it means being content with the chipped counters in my new house. Not getting a new bedspread because I’m tired of the one I’ve had for years. Maybe it means choosing paint and curtains that match the things I already own, instead of creating a new style of what I really like.

I don’t know what it means for me yet, but I do know that God and I are going to have to have some really good talks in the next couple months.

What does contentment look like to you?

Women and Consumerism- Social Media

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Who else remembers looking for the toothpick when the Taste of Home Magazine came in the mail? And who else thought those themed kitchens (apple-cow-chicken) were absolutely beautiful? And did anybody else argue with their siblings over whose birth month picture was prettiest in those calendars that came in the mail?

Before the internet was really a thing, peeks into the greater world were rare, coming in the mail or through the paper. Life, as you knew it, mainly happened in the geographical area around you. Influences were greatest from those with whom you shared life.

Some of my girlfriends from school were fortunate enough to live by a graveyard and got to decorate their rooms with discarded floral arrangements. To me, they were practically living by Target. Since there were no discarded flower piles near my house, I had to forage the trinket tables at yard sales to decorate my room, spending my change on doilies and candles.

In my childish eyes, I lived in a beautiful home. Country blue and rose were my mom’s favorite colors so she incorporated them in billowing, ruffly curtains in the living room and in hand-crafted wall decor and accessories.

Life was pretty simple. We lived in normal houses, ate normal food, did normal things.

And then the internet happened. And life, as we knew it, was forever changed. I was listening to a Ted talk the other day and the speaker said the following, ” the internet gave us access to everything, but it also gave everything access to us.” This written statement looks flat and cliche, but if you read it out loud with a British accent, it packs a bigger punch. I was really touched, but I digress.

See, when we got the internet, the Jones’ went global.  With a few clicks of your computer mouse, you can see the living room in a home in Washington, the wardrobe of someone in Texas, and what a housewife in Alaska purchased at the grocery store. Companies have taken notice and now partner with influential social media users on Instagram, Youtube, etc to promote their products, because they understand the power of suggestion and the appeal of popularity. So now, in the simple scrolling of Pinterest, or looking up something on Youtube, we are being hit with ads promoting products that we “need” or surely, at least want. That is the commercial side of consumerism on social media.

What hits closer to home for many of us is not the pushy, flashy ads, but the quiet, day to day posts about daily life from our friends or people with whom we share interests and tastes. Each platform has its circle of influential people, and we all know who it is in our feeds. The ones who get the most likes, who know how to style their content and get the best angles for their pictures. These people are often quite nice, lovely people, but because of a particular skill or talent, whatever they do or have is likely to become popular. This is how trends form, and these trends are quite likely to impact everyone.

Here’s a fun exercise: Stop reading and grab a pen and paper. Quickly list three things that are popular right now in home decor.

Now consider if you have ever seen the items on your list in real life. If you haven’t, then you have just witnessed the power of social media. Constantly being exposed to the ever changing trends can easily wear down our contentment. Comparison and resentment can easily set it, and our joy leaves.

We are responsible, as ladies, for our own actions. If we struggle with discontentment in our social media interactions, lets own in and take appropriate action. Maybe it means taking a break, or unfollowing the accounts that tempt us to covet. Maybe it means cancelling our subscription to the Magnolia Journal or Ikea’s catalog.

We are responsible, as well, for how we portray ourselves. There is a growing circle of creatives, those who are more naturally interested and talented in the arts- music, typography, painting, design, etc. I play around in some of these hobbies and understand that part of the joy of creating is in the expression. Mozart gifted us with music, and Longfellow with poetry, and today we too  give our offerings.

But as a creator, I struggle with knowing what is the appropriate sharing of these offerings, and what is showing off. Its tempting to cloak the offerings in Bible verses or inspirational thoughts to somehow validate them, but it doesn’t really work. The carefully styled photo of my living room captioned with a simple Bible verse? The comment section is more likely to blow  up with people wanting to know where I purchased my curtains, than exclaiming how good God is. My guess is if I really wanted to portray God’s greatness, an unedited sunset picture would work better.

I fear sometimes, that we creatives linger too long at the altar of beauty. Beauty has become the thing, the pursuit, the justification for how we spend our time and money. I wonder sometimes if it has become the object of worship instead of the means to it. I wonder, because I’ve struggled with it, and with my own heart.

It is somewhere in this tension that ladies struggle with contentment. I’ve talked to you, I’ve heard the despair. We struggle when it looks so perfect and so effortless, wishing we could be the same way, live the same life.

This piece has been incredibly difficult to write. I’ve written, erased, and rewritten more times than I’d like to count. I know we all want both our physical and virtual worlds to be places of growth, of encouragement and of building each other up. I found a few beautiful verses from Scripture that spoke this to me:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23

Ladies, the privilege of knowing and understanding a God who delights in steadfast love makes us some of the richest people in the world. Living in the extravagance and responsibility of that love is one of the best safeguards for the struggle with consumerism.

So, do I really need those new curtains?

Vicki

 

 

 

 

 

Women and Consumerism-Shopping

To understand the scope of this subject, we need to travel back in time 200 years. The pioneer woman, living with her husband and children on the western frontier, lived a very different life than that of ours today. Making breakfast included building the fire, preparing the food and then heating water to wash the dishes. Sewing the entire household’s clothing, plus preserving food for the upcoming winter left her with little free time. A fun day may have included butchering chickens and talking about the latest Sears-Roebuck catalog with the neighbor ladies. Her life was built around survival.

She would have purchased the necessary household items from the local dry goods store along with all the other ladies from her town. When the peddler came through, she and the other ladies would all gather to exclaim over the new fabrics from New York. If the bean crop was good, she might be able to afford glass windows for her house. If the crop failed, she would have to wait another year. The lines between needs and wants were as obvious as the patchwork design on her handmade quilt.

But times changed. The Industrial Revolution came, improving not only the lives of the men, but also the women. More goods were produced with less effort which translated into more money. In 1913, keeping up with the Jones’ became a thing and their never-dying family tree was established.

And here we are today. Throw some waffles into the toaster and we have breakfast. Throw the dishes into the dishwasher and we’ve cleaned up breakfast. A fun girls’ day out might include a shopping day at three clothing stores, a couple thrift stores and Panera for lunch. Conversations could include which white on the paint chip card would look best with Sue’s living room furniture, and should she get her curtains off of Amazon or Overstock.

The consumer landscape has changed and the lines between needs and wants have blurred. The price of goods has come down because the demand has gone up. We can afford to change our decor every couple years, thanks to second-hand stores and Craigslist. Women have less to do than ever before, but somehow we stay just as busy.

According to this post, women are the world’s most powerful consumers, driving 70-80% of all consumer purchasing through a combination of  buying power and influence. While this number is staggering, the reality is that in nearly every culture, women are the primary caregivers of children and the elderly, and so they will buy for their needs.

So, if you are a traditional mother and assume responsibility for your household, you likely will be the one to purchase the groceries and products for the home. Which in turn means you will probably spend most of the consumable household income.

Do you see how the elements are coming together to create a potential problem? Less to do, more money, cheaper goods and conveniences like one-click ordering. Throw in social media yet and Hurricane Consumerism has become a real thing.

In my journey away from consumerism and towards contentment, shopping is something I cut out almost completely. Through the process, I realized the emotional part of the craving to shop. When I had a day off with nothing to do, I’d want to shop. When I was feeling depressed or overwhelmed, I wanted to shop. Shopping was a time-filler, a mood booster, and obviously a money drainer.

I’m that weird person who likes to watch Hoarders. This likely points to a psychological deficiency but there is something so satisfying about watching a life-times worth of filth and clutter get cleaned up in mere minutes.  The common denominator in nearly every episode centers around compulsive shopping to satisfy an emotional need.

Hoarding isn’t something with which most of us struggle, but I think many of us can identify with unhealthy appetites for shopping and the burden of accumulation. I think we would be wise to look inward, and see if there are unhealthy habits that contribute to this desire.

Separating this subject into parts cramps it a bit. The post on Contentment will deal more extensively with aspects of shopping. But I must say here, that if we struggle with contentment, the choice to spend a day shopping when we don’t really need anything is a setup to walk right into the temptation of coveting. Target and Goodwill become unnecessary battlegrounds and we aren’t prepared to do battle.

The answer is easy- stay away. Stay away from anything that tempts you to buy unnecessarily. We are all have different triggers. For me it meant unfollowing certain buying/selling groups on Facebook. It meant staying off of Pinterest unless I had a good reason for being there. It meant not going into a store unless I needed something, and it meant learning to stick with a list if I did indeed need things. And I have found that the longer I’m away from the frenzy, the weaker the desire becomes. I took myself shopping yesterday and was happy to discover that the passion is just not there anymore. Saying no has become easier. It is taking more for me to commit to a product.

Merchants and product lines have picked up on our unhealthy habits. They send us tempting coupons, colorful and beautiful ads and beautifully curated catalogs, all with one goal: to get us to buy. As trends become more powerful and persuasive, the line of goods remains fluid-constantly changing to keep up with the styles. The social media wheels grind on, and we get sucked into the trends, and continue to buy, and the cycle continues.

Overcoming bad shopping habits is possible, but we have to recondition our minds. In the post on Why It Matters, I will explain the implications of consumerism for a Christian, and the price we have paid for these misdirected appetites.

Because shopping is easy and is considered a social activity, it is often the activity of choice for women who want to spend time together. Ladies, we can do better than that. I’m not against shopping but to use it as a constant filler is to stifle creativity and space for deeper relationships to happen. Here are a few ideas to consider instead of shopping:

  1. Have each lady prepare a dish that she’s never made before and enjoy a meal of new foods together.
  2. Find a social issue that is relevant to your community and organize an evening of discussion and prayer.
  3. Host a show and tell. Each lady brings an object that depicts her life and is ready to explain the reason.

Any of these evenings will leave you much richer than an evening on the town. I’m not talking only of money but of a richer degree of relationship and friendship.

The first step to overcoming a problem is owning it. To own it we have to be gut-wrenchingly honest. We have to face up to the ugly parts of our lives, the parts nobody else sees. We have to call the problem for what it is. If we are a Christian, it means begging God to help us desire better things. To replace these misdirected loves with honorable and glorifying loves. The second step in overcoming a problem is action. Develop a goal with an achievable plan. Find somebody to become accountable to. Commit yourself to improvement and don’t give up.

And you now you have freed up two resources- time and money.  Use them for honorable things. Things important to God and His Kingdom. Invest in relationships. Seek out opportunities in your community in which you can plug in and help. Pregnancy Centers and soup kitchens are constantly needing volunteers and are beautiful ways to get to know other ladies in your community. Awareness of needs then becomes another set of brakes to frivolous spending.

My goal was to leave us all with hope as we thing of beating the Consumer Monster. That in saying no to one thing, we are saying yes to a better thing, and the trade-off is freeing and life changing.

~Vicki

 

Women and Consumerism- Prelude

The following series has been gestating for weeks. Swirling and forming in an embryo of thoughts, conviction, and lessons learned. As they developed and took on form, I knew I had to birth them. For me, more than for anybody. It’s scary though, this birthing process.

What I have learned over the past 10 months  in my steps away from consumerism has been life-altering and hopefully life-changing. I am writing this to chronicle my journey and to bring awareness to a topic that gets too little attention. I’ve had conversations with a number of ladies over the past six months, and realized more strongly than ever, that it strikes a chord in all of us.

The following thoughts are birthed out of these conversations and out of lessons I’ve learned. I will write in sweeping generalizations at times, and what may be true for me, may not be true of your story, and I respect that.

I am nearing the end of a house buying journey, and so I write to keep myself accountable. A new house is a clean slate- a blank canvas, and I know myself and my tendencies toward misplaced loves and priorities.

I used to wonder if Eve was created with a flaw. You know, because she was targeted by the Serpent and sucked into a really dumb dream. I have also wondered if we, her daughters, were born with the same flaw. A flaw that takes us to Target. A flaw that dreams and wishes for things not good for us. A flaw that has us living with second best things when we could be tasting Eden.

But we know that God created her perfectly, and her leaving 101 Perfection Avenue was her choice, not God’s fault. Still, that leaves us with the question: What was it in her (and in us), that gravitates towards half-baked truths and the lust for more and more and more?

I have a theory, but dishing it is a life dream and still in embryo form. It’s scribbled in notebooks and in cobwebby spaces in my head. The following series deals with the problem and with practical solutions for overcoming.

I plan on breaking it up into five posts.

~Women and Shopping

~ Women and Social Media

~Women and Contentment

~ Women and Multilevelmarketing 

~Women and Why it Matters

Is it evident now why this birthing process is scary? These topics are explosive by themselves. Covering them back to back feels like dying a slow death. I’ve struggled with it, wrestled with it and with my insecurities in the parts in which I am still growing. But I have felt the call to share what I’ve learned and I will try to speak responsibly and graciously. Because at the end of the day, we all want the best of the abundant life promised to us by our Redeemer.

~Vicki

We are all Michelle

I’m a news junkie.If there is something big happening, I’ll likely know at least a little bit about it. I don’t know why that is, apart from the fact that this world I live in is just so interesting and there is so much to be learned and understood.

I’m concerned about North Korea, excited about the solar eclipse, incredulous that this church is using booze as a way to reach people and indifferent about this debate on drones.

What really grabbed my attention last week, though, was the story of Michelle,  the now-famous girlfriend who persuaded her 18 year old boyfriend, Conrad, to commit suicide. I don’t recall ever watching a case where the crime lay completely in written text. She didn’t kill him, she only encouraged it via text message. The prosecution asked for a prison sentence of  7-12 years, but she was  sentenced to just 2.5, of the which she will serve a mere 15 months.

The most compelling aspect of this story is that this is the story of humanity, starting back at the beginning when the famous question, “am I my brothers keeper?” was asked. We wrestle with the value of human life, and mourn when its so easily thrown away.

One could call out the hypocrisy of the Left, which would have allowed an abortion doctor to end Conrad’s death 18 years prior. You can drive a lady to an abortion clinic, encourage her to end her baby’s life, and then drive her home and it’s just another day on the job. No court case, no judge, no sentence.  To encourage someone to end a life outside the womb is a crime, to encourage it in the womb is somehow acceptable.

The Right is morally no better, however technically pro-life they claim to be. It’s relatively easy to sign your name to a petition to save the unborn, to enjoy the feelings of self-righteousness and smugness for “being pro-life”, but not to lift a finger or attempt to understand what drives women to these choices. Being right is better and much more convenient than seeking to understand and getting involved.

In the Biblical Creation story, the Creator breathed into the man and the woman, and they became living souls bearing His image. The value of human life rests there today. To be pro-life is to be aware of Gods image in each person; the unborn and the aged, the ISIS fighter and Mother Theresa, Mark Zuckerburg and the Syrian refugee. God doesn’t pick and choose who gets value and in what amount; He infuses it in each person at conception and nothing can change it. To be pro-life is to understand and celebrate that value, to speak life-giving words, to be available for the undervalued and overlooked, to call out the best in your neighbor, and to ache for reconciliation and redemption. More than a theory and stated belief, it’s an action, a lifestyle, a calling.

The truth is, we are all Michelle, grappling with choices, with the power of our words, with the responsibility of our humanness, and with the effects of a world full of brokenness. How we see ourselves and the image of God in others is ultimately what makes up the headlines and what makes up our world. So yes, I would argue, I am my brother’s keeper.

 

The God Who Holds

It’s as though the sky is weeping with us-liquid drops of emotion falling from the sky, landing and forming puddles on the already soggy earth.

Pain, tragedy, disappointment. The senseless attack in Manchester, a young man, full of fire for His God, now battling stomach cancer, a family whose world has been rocked by a tragic accident.

When the pain is closer than an international headline, when the sheer heaviness threatens to suffocate you, when the bedrock of your faith is shaken to its core, when you blindly hold on to the One whom you cannot see and whose ways you don’t understand, He is holding onto you.

A favorite author, Alicia Britt Chole in her book, Finding An Unseen God, tells the story of a man’s experience with his young son.

“Little Joel always loved holding his daddy’s hand, but since Joel’s hand was so small, he could just grip his dad’s pinky. Kyle would smile and secure his thumb and index finger tightly around Joel’s wrist. Joel thought he was holding on to his dad but the truth was that his dad was holding on to him. Once when they were crossing a parking lot hand in hand, a large pickup truck suddenly turned a corner, racing towards them. In fear, Joel let go of his dad’s hand. Kyle, his grip still tightly around Joel’s wrist, pulled Joel out of the trucks path and into safety.

Little Joel thought Daddy was in his grip. It took a time of crisis to realize that he was actually in his dad’s grip. That lesson can only be learned if you are holding onto someone who (1) is real, and (2) is also holding onto you.

To those of you grappling with numbing, yet searing pain, deep disappointment or grief that is larger-than-life, I’m praying for you. And as you blindly hold on to that pinky, I pray that you will feel His hand wrapped tightly around yours.

Only in the Christian faith does a God sustain and carry His children with the same hand that flung out the heavens like a curtain and measured the waters in his palm.

“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness. I will take you by the hand and keep you.” Isaiah 42:6

The God who holds.

Vicki

Book talk

Today is a quiet day, the sort of which I have to be intentional about because of my life in general. I work in a busy sandwich shop, and there are usually long lines of hungry folks, so there’s the pressure of getting them to their food in a timely fashion. I’m also involved with other things, areas of ministry, etc, and if i’m not careful, I can just live in a hurry.

I bring to you a review of two good books, both of which  I finished just recently. I skimmed through them again this morning to refresh my memory, and found myself wanting to reread them in their entirety, they are that good.

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To be honest, I found these books, on account of the writing style, a bit hard to read. I have other friends who’ve shared the same struggle. They are partially autobiography, with excerpts of letters both sent and received from the author and his friends, the most notable being C.S. Lewis. The sequel tends to jump around a bit which makes it a bit more difficult to read.

But THESE BOOKS MUST BE READ! And here’s why: I’ll start off with A Severe Mercy

The story begins of a young couple who fell in love over a shared love of the sea, poetry and the pain of beauty. I liked them immediately for this 🙂 In a quest to experience the ultimate inloveness (which is more than just being in love), they put safeguards in place. Separateness, they decided, was the worst enemy to inloveness and so they determined to experience everything together. They chose to read the same books, enjoy the same hobbies and music because sharing was union. And these thousand little threads of togetherness were to bind them tightly together. They even decided that when one died, the other would as well, completing the Long Dive together. This was their Shining Barrier, against which nothing could come to separate them. They dreamed of sailing the world in their boat, the Grey Goose, and adventuring together.

They made it to Oxford where they encountered C.S. Lewis and eventually God. Through a group of vibrant, thoughtful Christians, they decided to study Christianity. I enjoyed the intellectual and emotional struggle as God pursued them and eventually they both gave themselves to Him, understanding what all it meant. This was to be pivotal in the darkest night of Sheldon’s soul.

But the Barrier was breached by God Himself, because by nature it was selfish and this presented new challenges. Davy, the wife, bounded ahead spiritually and Sheldon lagged behind. Resentment began to creep in as she explored and enjoyed new parts of her journey of which he was not part.

The climax of the book is when Davy  gets sick and dies. Completely overcome by grief, Sheldon turns to his friend/mentor, Jack, aka C.S. Lewis. Deeply disappointed and even angry at God, Sheldon tries to leave Him but discovers he can’t. (I found this intriguing and hugely comforting). So he sets about attempting to understand why God allowed this to happen. C.S. Lewis writes in a letter, what became the title of the book, that God in His Severe Mercy, allowed this to happen for the actual saving of them from themselves. Had she  not died, three possibilities existed for might have happened. He, Sheldon, may have given himself wholly to God, just as Davy had, but this possibility wasn’t likely because of the events in the hospital during her sickness. The second possibility was that he would have damaged or lessened her commitment to God because of his jealousy. The third possibility was that he would have grown to hate God or Davy or both. His conclusion was that God’s mercy allowed for her death.

The concept of eternity is also beautifully explored in this book. That as humans, we unconsciously resist time. Our best memories and moments are when time stands still. We wonder regretfully where time has gone. That we weren’t made for time but for timelessness, for eternity. That chapter alone is worth reading even if you don’t read the whole book.

This book was written with great introspection and deep emotion and I loved the analyzing and getting to peak inside a terrible struggle and a great mind that was able to work through it.

I enjoyed the sequel, Under the Mercy, in a different kind of way. It describes his life after Davy and the tumultuous years of the angry 60’s, where he got caught up in feminism and social activism. Where he put his neighbor before his God and how that nearly derailed him. This particularly was helpful to me as I’ve been struggling with my role and place as it relates to the ills of my society: racial discrimination, abortion, refugees, etc.

But the danger of social action is -well, what happened to me. First a generous and loving Christian  response to injustice and suffering. Then, putting the neighbor first-ahead of God. And finally, putting goals and victory first, ahead of both neighbor and God. Hating ones enemy. Feeling virtuous, as the social activist always does. Finally, the feelings of virtue lading to pride, even arrogance. In some respects its a noble sin, but it may lead to Hell all the same, as putting something else ahead of God does.

That’s how Christians get to throwing trash at clients at abortion clinics. How hating a racist feels righteous or virtuous. It doesn’t answer the questions I have of things I can do, but it calls into check my attitudes and priorities.

Another must-read chapter is VIII on Women and Men-and Neuterists. He got sucked  into feminism and was the most hard core of them all. Writing papers and giving talks, he was the poster boy for the movement. But then he talks about his journey back to God and then talks in depth about the evolution of gender roles and the damage it has had on our society. I loved the balance and the tact he used in talking about a polarizing topic. The most interesting idea was that a society in crisis mode (Great Depression for example) always goes back to original design in areas of gender roles and lifestyle. Fledgling feminists gave up the idea when they saw it play out on the Titanic-the men giving up their lives for the women and children. He suggests that when one gets away from nature, growing up in the wilderness of brick, perhaps with a fixed cat, that only in these kinds of conditions can unisexism grow and thrive, but in crisis mode, will revert back to original design.

I also recommend his chapter on the Loves, where he deals with the different kinds of love-romantic and friendship. I enjoyed his take on male friendship and just how powerful they can be. Women in friendships seems to be the topic of the day but he talks about the the deep bond that can happen in a brotherhood.

The final chapter tells about journey into Catholicism and while I found his thought process intriguing, I still don’t agree with him 🙂

That’s all. Go read these books! They’ve opened up all kinds of tabs in my mind and I continue to think about them, even weeks after I read them.

Book reviews

I’m going to try to review more books on my blog. I read a lot and probably half of the books aren’t worth mentioning, but I hope to review the ones that were particularly interesting or unusual.

Speaking of unusual, my sisters thinks I read weird books. It’s probably because I do. I recently finished a book entitled “Garbology” and it dealt with the subject of waste, consumerism and the throw-away mindset. I found it fascinating and convicting, and I determined to do my part in contributing less to the problem.

The following book is one that I recently finished reading, at the recommendation of a friend, and is quite different stylistically from my usual choice of fare. It is the story of a missionary family who lives in the Congo, each chapter written by a different family member. I enjoyed the African nuances and flair, because I too lived in Africa. When you give yourself to the people and land of Africa, she never gives it all back.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of the misguided spiritual fervency of  a man who refused to understand and accept the native culture and was set on presenting God’s story in his familiar, and understood way. The story chronicles the discouragement, the heartbreak and eventually the destruction of the family as  they battle Africa. Africa eventually wins and the family falls apart.

The book is somewhat cryptic, and portrays religion and Christianity to be something of a farce. Obviously, I don’t agree with that portrayal, but it is healthy and sobering to understand why people have this perception and the damage that misguided religious fervency can cause.

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When I get asked to name a favorite book, it feels like choosing a favorite child. But my all-around favorite, which I read once a year is The Hawk and The Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock. I may have reviewed this before on here. I apologize, but I just can’t help it.

If you must have action, and a fast-paced story line, this book is not for you. The story is set in England in the confines of a monastery and describes the human struggle in the lives of the brothers who had taken the  vows of poverty and holiness. Under the careful leadership of Father Columba, who was both like a hawk and a dove, the brothers learn about relationships and brotherhood and what it means to master oneself in order to give God his best. The stories are beautiful in their stark simplicity and I’m usually reduced to tears at about page 38. And then I’m crying in the next chapter. And then in bed as I replay the scenes in my mind.

It is the story of the struggle of humanity. How greatness isn’t about discovering or expressing oneself, but in mastering it. How to love generously and the vulnerability of letting oneself be loved in return. How to face your personal Gethsemane instead of walking around it. How the raw wounds of stripped away pride and fears can find healing in the tenderness and care of God’s forgiveness and love. How loving and being loved can rip the soul right out of you. How to cope with failure as well as victory. How hope can spring out of even the driest of deserts.

This book stirs the deepest parts of me. It makes me ashamed of my pettiness and calls me to more Christ-like living. It calls me to a higher way of life and mindset.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Please, order a copy or reserve it at your local library and then let me know what you think.

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What should I read next? What have you been reading?

 

Singleminded

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I’ll go ahead and admit it. I was working on the typical single blogger’s perspective on singlehood. You know, the generic kind, with lists such as “what singles wish you’d understand.”

I kept stalling. Perhaps it was not my time to die. Writing about emotionally explosive subjects without sounding whiny or petulant is difficult. Plus, original content was scarce. It’s all been said by every other bona fide single blogger out there.

Then God hit me with an entirely new perspective. How would it change my perspective if I viewed it from a broader one? What does marriage and singlehood look like in the context of Kingdom Christianity? I’ll try to explain this concept:

Kingdom Christianity was established by Jesus and remains an active, growing organism. It’s more than about one’s personal relationship with  Christ, and the future event of living with Him. It’s a present, global reality. It is the concentrated, intentional efforts of combined Christians working to increase it, and to shrink the gates of hell. Christ’s final commandment to go make disciples is the Kingdom cause and should be the mission statement for each Christian.

The Kingdom is not a museum, where we merely serve as exhibits of the ideology. It’s a boots-on-the-ground operative where we do active battle, where we engage the powers of darkness, pulling people into the Kingdom and into community.Where we disciple and love and live in community together.

What does this have to do with marriage and singlehood? How about everything, for starters?

What if we’ve been asking the wrong questions? What if life was bigger than marriage and singlehood? What if both thriving marriage and thriving singlehood were secondary things?

The truth is, when you look at this subject outside of a kingdom perspective, things break down. Happiness and pursuing God- given desires are sanctions for marriage but in singlehood are often labeled selfishness. The aimless, purposeless single is viewed less graciouly than the aimless, purposeless marriage. We’ve somehow promoted marriage to The Best, and anything else as somewhere beneath it. In scouring the New Testament, both in Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of the Apostles, I’m struggling to understand how we got there.

In my understanding, there are clear roles for both singles and families. The most beautiful picture is Acts 18:1-4. Paul,a Kingdom single joins forces with Aquila and Priscilla, a Kingdom couple, and together they bless the church in Corinth. Kingdom singles often have more time and resources for God’s work (1Cor 7:32). Kingdom marriages better portray Christ’s relationship with the church. Neither one is inherently better than the other.

If living the Kingdom life was the most important thing to or about us, it might change our set of questions. Instead of only asking “why aren’t our young people getting married” we could also ask, “why are our young people getting married?” “Are they staying single or getting married for selfish or for holy reasons?” What if a healthy Kingdom church is a good ratio of vibrant singles and marriages? What would happen if we’d push young people into Kingdom building instead of spouse-finding? What if we’d commission the singles and the families alike and send them on specific missions?  Wouldn’t it take singlehood and marriage to the next level?

You know what would happen? Those things that singles struggle with (identity, value, meaning, purpose), would take care of themselves, as they participate in the bigger cause.

I’m a hopeless romantic. I love building the ideal. The reality is that the real world is messy and not so easily formulated. But I still dream and struggle on to the better, and the questions above really make me excited 🙂

In many ways we’ve bought into the American/Western idea that we should get what we want, particularly if the wants are good. We believe that God wants us to have good health, financial stability, spouses, and children. We give our lives to these pursuits instead of the greater cause. We idolize the gifts and overlook the Giver.

I feel deeply about this and this is written out of life experience and circumstances. Here’s a little background:

I was raised in a home infused with Kingdom consciousness. Growing up, life wasn’t primarily about our happiness. At early ages we were pushed into spaces of Kingdom building and were introduced to a foundational Kingdom concept-servanthood. It wasn’t easy. We messed up constantly. But we struggled on. My parents didn’t try to make life easy for us, because they expected us to hit the real world realistically. They moved us to stretching places both geographically and socially. Life was far from easy. I had times of  immense frustration and resentment. They’ll be the first to tell you they didn’t do it perfectly but they did do it intentionally. Consequently they gifted us with one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child: A framework for processing life that let’s God fill His own spaces. The holy privilege of doing His work. These gifts continue to shape my life today and I hope that if I ever have children, I can pass them along to them.

So I lived the majority of my life in places where potential life-mates were/are scarce. Has that been devastating? No. Disappointing? In some ways, yes. In ministry, there are times that I long for a strong shoulder on which to cry, a balancing perspective, and companionship. If there were a  1-800-KINGDOM HUSBAND number, I sure would have called it.  But in these times, God continues to fill His spaces. I’m living and breathing the most fulfilling life imaginable: I’m loved by the Almighty, and attempting to live that love to a world that’s falling apart

I’m not saying what God has been calling me to is the only or best calling one can have. If God were to bring a man into my life, I could happily change it, so long as I’m joining forces with a man who also is pursuing his calling.

I will get vulnerable here for a minute. It is hard to respond graciously when well-meaning people continue to push/wish marriage on me as though its the only life worth living, and as though it’s the gift I should want most. It’s hard because marriage is only one of my dreams, and it’s the only one a lot of people care about. Wish and pray bigger for me. God has called me to good and hard things. Pray for wisdom, for empathy, for courage. Pray that God will continue to give me what I need for what He wants me to do. It might or might not include a husband. And I will cheer you on in your marriages, in the good places where God has blessed you, in the hard places where it’s not easy. In the kingdom we are better working together, on the same team, for the same cause.

At the end of the day, and in the perspective of eternity (where the only marriage is the best of all-Christ and his Church), it’s not really about marital status. Those warriors from history:  Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, Paul, Jesus, they stand out in history not because they were married or single, but because they lived for God, breathed Kingdom air, and impacted their worlds.

To idolize or treat flippantly the concepts of marriage and singlehood is to destroy their strengths.

We can’t afford that. We need to affirm and value both. Because together, we’re stronger.

For Christ and for the Kingdom.

Dumpster Diving

It wasn’t the morning of my dreams. There I stood, one foot on top of the dumpster, the other shakily on the ladder. I am usually drinking my steaming latte, and spending some quiet time with God at this time, but this morning was a Different Kind of Morning. I accidentally threw away my retainer, and it would cost upwards of $300 to replace. I had better uses for that money. That’s a trip somewhere, a weeks wages. So I made plans for my first ever dumpster dive (at our deli), and that’s where I was found that morning.

Opening the lid was the hardest part. I wasn’t high enough to give it the swing power it needed to fall back. Trying to maintain equal amounts of balance and forward arm motion proved futile, and with despair I realized that I needed less balance and more arm motion. That left only one option. Fall in.

Now I’m a lover of beauty. I thrill and think poetry when I sit by the river with my book. Little spots of unexpected beauty don’t go unnoticed. I like to make my world a more attractive place.

Falling into a dumpster isn’t something I do regularly or mentally prepare for. But $300 is what it is and so as the heavy lid fell back, I fell in, with as much grace as I could muster, and with fervent prayers that our business neighbors weren’t looking out their windows.

I dug around, amid the dirty plates, the crusts of bread, the congealed bits of soup. My mom came, because my mom has a beautiful, sympathetic kind of heart, and because I learned the value of $300 from her.

It was gross. It was disgusting. I tried thinking spiritual thoughts such as “The God who sees the sparrow fall can surely direct me to my retainer.” and, “what a great testimony this would be if I find it.” It’s kinda hard to be spiritual in a smelly dumpster, I soon discovered.

I didn’t find it. So I made an appointment and thought about playing my waves app as they made the new impression, and pretend I was at the beach spending $300. I ended up getting hit with a big wave of kindness, when my good orthodontist team informed me there would be no charge. Humbly accepting bits of grace like that are harder for me than extending them. I managed a few wondrous “thank you’s”, and stumbled out in a daze.

I learned something in the dumpster.We try to rearrange the pain and the ugly in our lives to make it seem less terrible than it is both to ourselves and to others. There’s always a filter to make the picture brighter, to cover up the junk on the side, to make black and white the areas of color clash. The struggle isn’t trying to find the beauty, its struggling to be okay with the rawness of the mess.

Sometimes life is just ugly, and the moments painful. It’s okay to acknowledge those areas as well as the spots of beauty. I’d be as brave as to say it’s actually healthy. Sometimes those areas don’t need a filter or a redemptive hashtag. When Jesus looked into the cup of sorrows, He felt it for what it was. He didn’t imagine it away or pretend it was to be easy. He let Himself feel the awfulness, and he wept.

Running from the hard, the pain, the brokenness is a natural human reaction. Insulating ourselves from it all is our first instinct. “It’s not as bad as it seems”, is what we try to pretend, but the healing can’t come when we are in denial. A good cry, honesty with ourselves and the Healer, is where the relief is found.

“Joy and pain are flip sides of the same coin. If you succeed at insulating yourself against the one, you deny yourself the ability to experience the other.” -Kelly Grayson

The truth is, most of life usually happens between the dumpster and the river. Between the harshest pain and most intense beauty. Allowing yourself to experience both is to allow yourself to be most fully human in all the beautiful ways God designed us.

And I think I’m done dumpster-diving for awhile.

Wherein she cleans up her mind and house

I wasn’t going to be one of those people. Newly arrived back home from living in Liberia for four years, I stood in bewilderment before the shampoo shelves at Walmart. Not just ten different brands, but ten different varieties within the brands. The card section was no better. I stood with a jet-lagged headache and wanted to cry. The myriad of options and decisions were overwhelming.

Nine years later, I’m a different person, and I’m sad. I’ve become the standard American consumer and I’ve accumulated stuff. Not at the hoarder level, but just clutter. Stuff I thought I’d use. Stuff that was too cheap to resist. Clothes I thought I liked. Books I thought I’d read.

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The more I collected, the foggier my mind got. When the mind is constantly bombarded with new information and ideas, and the acquiring and storing of possessions, however good they may be, it tends to slow down and gets sluggish, much like an electronic with little memory. Pinterest with its never ending feed, and the cheap book section at the thrift store had my house and my mind filling up faster than I could handle. Input was far greater than output, and though I had a great bookshelf,and boards with many great ideas, my mind couldn’t keep up.

2017 is going to be a lifestyle change for me, and I’m excited about what all has been done. In an effort to reclaim and clean out both my physical and mental space, here is what will change:

  1. No more Pinterest, unless I’m needing something specific or needing an idea. I helped make a very basic, delicious supper recently using old, favorite recipes, and was amazed at how simple and yummy it was. No more overthinking food and ingredients. I’m freeing up a bit of brain space that way.
  2. Cutting way back on shopping. I love shopping, so this is going to be hard. I’m getting rid of stuff, so giving myself opportunities to acquire more would be bad for me.
  3. Being smarter about my social media. I’m pulling the plug on bloggers/vloggers whose content isn’t inspiring or worthwhile to me personally. I’m also unfollowing facebook groups that tempt me to buy more stuff.
  4. Being choosy about my clothing purchases. Unless I absolutely love or need something, it will not be coming home with me. I had far too many barely-used, ill-fitting pieces that I’m giving away.

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I’m a creative person, and love the creative process so this is really going to cramp my style. This will bring a whole new discipline to my life that hasn’t been around, and it’s going to be challenging.

Here are the goals for my labors 🙂

  1. Bible memory. My church is learning Psalm 119 right now and its been hard. Do you know how many synonyms there are for commandments? They are all used at least 12 times throughout the chapter, I think 🙂 Less stuff and more time will help me concentrate on this discipline.
  2. More creative output. I love writing and creating and I feel like God can use these talents to glorify Himself and bless others. I want to start peddling in the marketplace of ideas, not just consuming. I foresee more blog posts in the near future.
  3. The reading of my good books. A book is only good when it is read and enjoyed and there are so many I have yet to read. Slowing down on accumulating will enable me to get through these faster. Not gonna lie though, I’m not promising to completely refrain from purchasing books. I sorta can’t really help myself there, and I don’t think its bad, but I do have to slow down.
  4. Saving money. Not buying the cheap sweater or the discounted lotion will save me money. A deal is only good if it is useful. While these two trash bags of clutter to give away was most likely purchased inexpensively, I’m giving it back so it wasn’t a good deal. I want to start collecting moments,not things. Traveling is a big part of those moments so less stuff= more travel money.
  5. Understanding contentment and simplicity and integrating these virtues into the fabrics of my life could be life-changing.

dscn9340Another goal is to keep collecting favorite literary pieces and printing them out for my literature binder. The following is one of  my new finds, but the photo shows just part of it. A google search will bring up the whole piece.

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The kick-start of this process came in a series of messages my dad is preaching on “Loving God With All Your Mind.” I’ve been trying to love God with a foggy, cluttered, distracted mind, and that’s not fair to Him or to me. Giving God the best of my mind is a spiritual goal in all this and I take it seriously. Having space to take in more truths and continue growing and learning should be every Christian’s desire, and I haven’t done so well in the past.

Here’s to an uncluttered 2017, both in mind and in house, and I wish the same for all of you.

And we have a winner!

I have loved reading the comments for this giveaway. The wonderful thing about God is not only does He customize our bag, but also the stones we need to equip us to live vibrantly for Him. There’s no one size fits all for His people, and I loved the variety and the different perspectives y’all have shared.

But we do have a winner, chosen randomly by a number generator, and that winner is Krista! I’m so excited to share this with  you, and I wonder how much of our shared Liberia experience will be reflected in your book? My time there continues to shape and inspire me.

Thanks to all for entering and sharing. I wish I had one to give to each of you, but hopefully this can inspire you to make your own and customize it to suit your life. And I hope to see you around on here, on the kinda rare occasion that I actually write something 🙂

 

Of Collections:: and A Giveway

I have a theory that the most interesting people in the world are collectors. Not collectors in the sense of acquiring coins or stamps or artifacts, but collecting experiences, stories and moments.

Much-Afraid, in Hinds Feet on High Places, was encouraged by the Shepherd to collect a smooth stone from every beautiful or difficult place she experienced. As her little pile of rocks grew, so did her confidence and her stack of life lessons.

I’ve tried to be intentional about recording both the mundane and the special moments that have made up my life this year. From the trivial to the heartbreaking, things as small as delicious new recipes, interesting media clips, social issues from the world- all have gone into my book. I don’t journal in the traditional sense of filling pages with my thought processes and feelings. However, I did want a place to record everything for the year, and then have to look back on and remember. Here is my collection book for the year:

 

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IMG_9855 I started off with the my mission statement page, where I wrote my life vision. This statement is fluid, meaning it changes from time to time as life changes and develops. Good questions to get you thinking on writing your statement:

Who am I?

What is my life about?

What do I want my life to be about?

How can I get there?

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I have a page for new foods I discover and enjoy and how I learned about them. I also source them for easy reference when I want to make them again.

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My page entitled “The Moving” has to do with current social issues or stories that I run across that are moving, shaking, and life-changing. In looking back on this book, I’ll be able to get a good feel of the local and global landscape of 2016.

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This page is one of my favorites, and it records the moments, both  little and big, that impact my life. In reading through it just recently, I remembered things that I would have otherwise forgotten.

The fun thing about a book like this is that the possibilities are endless, and it can be tweeked and personalized to fit personalities and lifestyles.

I hope to make a new one each year, and store away the old as a collection of the best and worst parts of my life, my favorite music, books, recipes and media.

And it so happens, that I’d like to give one of these away to someone else to enjoy. And since a giveaway is just so fun, I threw in  a few of my other favorite things:

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  • a fun, cute notepad
  • my new favorite scented body lotion
  • a set of starry lights
  • a calendar (for what’s left of 2016)
  • a set of cute pencils
  • and of course the year journal complete with pictures.

Whoever wins the giveaway will be able to customize their book by telling me a bit about what they like and interests they have.

To enter, comment about one of the smooth stones in your bag: a life lesson you’ve learned or something that has shaped you and made you want to be a bigger person.

Giveaway will close August 3.

Thrills of Discovery

I often think about Anne Shirley’s conversation with Matthew Cuthbert on their way home from the train station. Matthew, still reeling from the shock of picking up a girl instead of the boy they ordered, is also being forced to see Things From the Imagination. Cherry trees in bridal veil, rose-leaf complexions, avenues that produced pleasant aches, and all by a girl with bright red braids. At some point, she asks him if things he sees and experiences gives him a thrill, to which he replies, after some thought, that the grubs in his cucumber patch do. She gently remarks that the thrill of a grub and the thrill of a lake of shining waters aren’t exactly the same and the conversation continues.

I think I have bits of Anne in me, and my hunch is, that we all have, to some degree, areas of wonder and delight in our souls. We all thrill to different things, because a creative Creator made us all differently.

I chose the name of my blog because of a little girl who regularly got thrills on the littlest things in life. Her nerves were always quivering with the joy of discovery, and as she experienced each new wonder, she would throw a paper and pen at the nearest person and ask them to “write it down big”.

 

I get it. I try to write down big in my many journals and notebooks the little things that stir and grip me. The collection of both the thrills and the aches of living shape our lives and write our stories.

I hesitate to write about my latest thrill, primarily because like dreams, it probably will be special to only me. And to even put into words, and into cyberspace what I’ve been learning and experiencing seems futile.

image via google

In my quiet times with my God, I keep coming around to the concept of light. It hunts me down and catches me, even when I try to study other things. This morning again, I stumbled across it and as I studied it more, the Thrills came. Goosebumps. The Presence. And then, the shaft of light suddenly streaming in through my bedroom window. These times make you feel so little, yet so big; so humbled, yet so excited, so broken, but so whole.

Light and the connection to Life has been an incredible concept to unpack.

“In Him was Life and that Life was the light of men.”

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
As I was thrilling to these verses in my bedroom this morning, and thinking about the moments following the crucifixion and the Light of the World dying for humanity, and thinking about the darkness that enveloped the world, a  brilliant shaft of light came through my bedroom window, and I knew my little time was being Noticed by Someone Else.
 
Light- glorious,flickering,  blinding, piercing, shining.
Life- powerful, giving, empowering, changing, sharing.
His life coursing through us, emboldening us, changing and transforming us produces a beautiful light that cannot be denied.
Is it possible that the darkness of our world isn’t so much that the lights have gone out, but that His life isn’t in His followers? When we become His, when He merges our lives, when we are breathing his will and our hearts are beating together, the  Light will come and it will be undeniable and it could change the world.
Life-breathers, light-carriers. My existence and sacred calling.
My latest written-down-big.

On my bookshelf

A few months ago, I did a post on what I was reading, and I’ve decided to do it again. For one, I enjoy looking back over my posts to see what all I’ve read and what I thought of the books. I also enjoy seeing what others read and I thought it would be fun to get some discussion going.

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As is apparent by the picture, I try to read a wide genre, but two books in this stack have really stretched my literary borders. I read a fair bit over the winter, but still have a couple that didn’t get touched. I joke that I don’t “put up” food for the winter, I put up books. I had a drawer full and picked out a few but still have a ways to go.

By The Great Spoon is a whimsical book set during the gold rush. The illustrations are perfect and add so much to the content. I enjoyed this as a light read.

Love Your God With All Your Mind by J.P Moreland was a thick, complex but wonderful read. It appeals to the intellect and bemoans the departure of it from the modern church. It is deep and thick, and headache invoking and I trudged through some of the chapters because they were so hard to get. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite.

“I am responsible for what I believe, and, I might add, for what I refuse to believe because the content of what I do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what I become and how I act.”

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“The mind is like a muscle. If not exercised regularly and strenuously, it loses some of its capacity and strength. We modern evangelicals often feel small and without influence in the public square. We must recapture our intellectual heritage if we are to present to our brothers and sisters, our children, and a post-Christian culture a version of Christianity rich and deep enough to challenge the dehumanizing structures and habits of thought of a society gone mad.”

He bemoans the fact that church leaders were once the intellectuals and thinkers of their generation,but now have turned to emotionalism instead, leaving empty selves sitting in their benches, embarrassed because they don’t understand and articulate their faith, leaving them vulnerable and easily turned away.

It’s an excellent read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This would be beneficial on any pastor’s bookshelf, and any person interested in a well trained and ordered mind. If we are to engage in a thinking world, a world that is asking questions, then we have to know and be able to articulate what it is that we do believe, in a way that will compel others to experience it.

The Quakers of New Garden- I probably shouldn’t include it because I didn’t enjoy it, or find it well written,but I picked it up because of the Quaker part. It’s about four Quaker brides and is one of those canned books, you know, where you open it up and it tastes just like 4,329 other books. I wouldn’t recommend it, because as a food it would be a marshmallow fluff dessert, but i did read it, and wanted to be honest 🙂

I picked up Of Beetles and Angels at Dollar Tree and it was well worth my $1. The true story of a Syrian refugee family- it was moving and touching and gave more padding and structure to my refugee context.

I bought The Clear Light of Day by Penelope Wilcock, because her Hawk and Dove Trilogy is one of my all time favorite books. I’m not feeling this book though, and really having a hard time engaging with it. I do want to finish it though and see if the last half redeems the first.

Okay. So The Kite Runner deserves a whole blog post about it. Seldom have I been so stirred and moved by a piece of fiction. If you don’t like sad and melancholy books,run as fast as you can from this one. My dear friend Amanda warned me that it just pretty much stays sad throughout the book, and so I hesitantly and nervously plodded through. It is set in Afghanistan, and so culturally, it was very interesting and included themes like Taliban activity, and stuff like that, of which I don’t usually read about. I don’t think I breathed in the last few chapters, as it gutted me but still left me full. I hated it because it was gut-wrenching but loved it because it was beautiful. It is the book of paradoxes, and when I put it down, I did almost respectfully, because I had just read something so well-written, so rare, so masterfully communicated. Now I will warn you, it’s not a Christian book, it has a very small amount of bad language, and it’s not particularly inspiring, so if you need those qualifications in your reading, it’s probably not for you. Here’s the quote that I read on Pinterest, that made me seek out the book initially,

I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

I’m a bit sheepish to include the last book in the picture, Straw Dogs- thoughts on humans and other animals– because its so terrible and false, but Ravi Zacharias recommended it to understand other worldviews. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a book before where I knew going into it that it was false and wrong on every level, but I’m reading it to try to understand this world I’m living in and to equip me to help others more effectively. To give you an idea of how depressing it is, here is the first paragraph:

Most people think they belong to a species that can be master of its destiny. This is faith, not science. We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be masters of their destinies. Why then humans? We do not need Darwin to see that we belong with other animals.

Shocking, huh? Especially because I know that humans are special to God because He breathed life into them, setting them apart from the animal kingdom. And that He gave his own Son, in the form of a human, to redeem the rest of humanity. And that I get to be part of this growing, living Kingdom, and I get to give light and hope to people like John Gray.

Which raises a topic of discussion. What should guide a Christian’s choice of literature? Two of the books in the list above are not necessarily Christian, and the last one is decidedly opposed to it’s worldview. For John Wesley, the study of extrabiblical information and the writings of unbelievers was of critical value for growth and maturity. (excerpt from Love Your God With All Your Mind)

What guiding principles should we embrace, especially considering that our mind is a muscle, and needs to be exercised to retain strength? Will that broaden or limit our exposure to books such as the above? Do these principles vary by individual? Does the spiritual growth of a person determine some of this? What do you think?

 

A Coal-Smudged Princess

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image via flickr

Maybe its because I’m not the starry-eyed girl of 17 with the world figured out and the moon in her hand. Maybe its because I’m old and jaded and pudgy and boring. Maybe it’s because the dreamy ideals I embraced have seen some real life. And the moon is further away then I thought.

I was chatting with my sister Kelly tonight, and talking about her upcoming job description at Calvary Bible School in Arkansas where she will be Dean of Women (aka mother to the girls, listener to life stories, turner offer of lights at 10:30, dispenser of hugs and cough drops.) We were discussing the different vibes and styles that deans bring to the table, and the messages that get promoted. Each is unique because it reflects on her own personal journey.

“Are we princesses?”, she asked, referring to the spiritual title that a lot of us grew up embracing. I understand the premise and technically we are, because we are daughters of the King.

He was also a Servant, which would make us scullery maids, but I digress.

Princesses, as the story books inform us, are fairly useless. They are basically a title and a bunch of pomp and ceremony. They are valued and protected because they have The Right Blood and that gives them a lot of immunity to the real world. Now, to be fair, the more modern princesses have tried to live normal lives and live more like the populace than their venerable royal ancestors.

I’ve been trying to find some way to wrap up this past little series on vibrant womanhood, and this clicked tonight.

More than princesses, with the fluffy demands and red-carpet treatment, our lives should be also of the scullery maid, who daily does her Masters bidding. Our Master happens to be the greatest, kindest, savingest Master that you ever did see, and that makes service not a drudgery, but a delight.

As women, we dream. And we believe when society tells us that we deserve certain things: good health, financial sufficiency, religious liberty, a good husband, etc.

We feel cheated when we don’t get these things because we view our relationship with Him as a contract. I do x, y, and z, and you will give me the above list. We wheedle and beg and promise and demand.

He hasn’t promised us good health, and money and husbands. You won’t find those promises in His Word. You won’t find the sign-up sheet for a contract in the heavenlies. Its not there.  Our happiness is not His primary concern. Our obedience and our relationship is.

Beware of the program or book or speaker who tells you that God wants you to be healthy and happy and satisfied. Compare that to the stories of the Syrian refugee Christians and the ladies worshiping in secret. Their princess gowns are tattered and threadbare and look awfully like servant rags.

I don’t know if I’ve articulated everything that I’ve wanted to in this. What is a true woman, a real, sure-enough woman?

A true woman is the softness of Mary, and the strength of Esther. She embodies what is pure and good and right. She is ready for any occasion because in the valleys, and wilderness of disappointment and pain, she has learned how to live. The mundane decisions and the training of her mind prepare her for crisis. She is a collector of stories, of experiences. of moments. She worships regularly and deeply. She is plugged into life, into relationships and into the broken world she shares with others. She is ever learning, always growing, and constantly in awe of her Father. She is a listener and a soft shoulder. She is a microphone for truth. She is a kisser of babies and chef of good foods. She thinks and reasons and leads her emotions, not follows them. She makes the world a better place, not because of what she does, but because of who she is.

Sometimes in princess gowns, but also in scullery rags.

 

 

 

 

Through Thinking Deserts: Womanhood Series Part IV

The Hurt You Hide, The Joy You Hold

Did you know that in addition to beauty appreciating, service rendering, and baby-producing faculties, there are other organs we give lesser thought to? The mind, for starters. Now that seems fairly obvious, but please hear me out.

I’m going to be really honest here and spill my heart. This is a topic I feel deeply about and I think God does too.

I have a love-hate relationship with those Period movies and books- you know, like Pride and Prejudice and Emma and books of that era. The scene is often a handful of dramatic, manipulative, and ever-fainting females (often mother and daughters), and a man or two who allows himself to be manipulated, can’t stand up for truth and bows to every whim, whether good or bad of his females.

It’s also the setting in many hyena dens. Look it up.

So you have the softness of ridiculous amounts of petticoats and bustles, accompanied by control and manipulation and pathetic assumed weakness, and together, it makes no sense and frankly, makes me nauseous.

And usually out of this chaos, a young woman emerges who is different than the rest of the women, and whose only apparent different characteristic is her bright and inquisitive mind. She wants more than her mother is experiencing and she is intrigued and touched by people beneath her social circle, much to the chagrin of her high-society family.

And of course, a young man usually shows up and is intrigued by the girl’s spark, her fine mind, and her rebellion to what is socially expected. He is a real man, and values what is good, and she is attracted. The story progresses as the man and woman both struggle to stay true to themselves and true, beautiful love emerges. The love of equals. The love of two people who are whole, both physically, emotionally and intellectually. And it’s beautiful. And that makes my nausea slightly better.

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It’s the struggle of the centuries- I don’t know if it started at the Fall, but the thread is seen through history. The struggle of the expectations of doing over being. It is seen in Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha, and women throughout the ages have felt sympathy for Martha while knowing they should be like Mary.

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In weddings, the message to the bride is often in the running of the household, the cooking and housekeeping and the submission. The grooms often hear about leadership and taking responsibility of the home. You see the difference? The doing versus the being.

When all women are valued for and encouraged in is their skills, their abilities, and the needs they provide, a part of us dies, because life is not ultimately found in doing, but in being. “The truth shall set you free,” said Jesus of Nazareth, not, “your housekeeping skills, or your child-raising abilities.” There is life in a thriving, vibrant relationship with our Redeemer, where we are constantly growing and learning more.

Do not hear me minimizing the doing. The doing is beautiful because of the being, not in spite of it. A lady who is interested in growing, in learning, and in personal development will be that much better as a homemaker, as a cook, as a teacher, as a wife. She will do it well, because that’s who she is. What naturally flows out of her in her doing will be a direct reflection of her character and who she is.

The men tend to get pushed towards personal development because of how we do gender roles and because of what is expected of them. They will often get elected to offices in the church where they are forced to study and grow, and good things often happen personally. The expectations of being a good leader and husband and father are quite high and they naturally expand and grow.

The women don’t get that. Their cultural expectations are to oversee a well-running home, and provide for their families needs. That’s not bad because of what it is, but it’s bad because that’s all. Any personal development is strictly that, personal, without much outside encouragement.

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That’s why womens sunday school classes tend to be more dry, and conversations less interesting. We speak out of what we know and experience, and often it’s not that big.

I’m here to shake things up. To call women to be more. To call women to think and live vibrantly because they love their Redeemer and are plugged into His Kingdom. I’m hear to urge women to start thinking, not out of emotions, which proves to be tragic and makes men’s meeting’s necessary, but to think logically and live truth.

Teach your children how to think, not what to think. I appreciate my parents doing that. We grew up listening to Ravi Zacharias because my dad enjoyed it. We learned simple logic lessons through the debates. As a result, our childish squabbles would often include terms like, “you’re not being consistent.” Because we knew that if A, that we just said, was true, B couldn’t logically follow. At this point the squabble was over, because if you weren’t consistent with truth, you lost. And then, as young adults, we were encouraged to think for ourselves and they guided us through decisions as we searched for Truth. That is powerful for young adults and provides a beautiful slate to develop worldviews and vision.

And if, in all this, you men think I’m shouting “mutiny”, and are feeling intimidated, guess again. As we grow and develop and learn and think, we won’t overpower or control you, we will complement you in beautiful and Biblical ways. As you lead in healthy, Christ-like ways, we will bring our submission to you as a gift, and it will be beautiful.

The Proverbs 31 lady? I’m guessing she was a combination of softness and strength. Of doing flowing out of her being. She  was a lady of strength and of thought, and her husband encouraged her to buy fields because she had an eye for it. That’s my theory.

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all images via flickr

Those Period Women were not really women, they just pretended to be. Real women are women like Esther and Rahab and Deborah, who, under times of extreme tension and stress, didn’t faint and require smelling salts, but were strong and resilient and courageous. That is what being a woman is and that is what God is calling us to. Anything less is a travesty of the design that was Creator-inspired and breathed. Anything more is… well there is nothing better than that.

Why Did She Buy That Field? Womanhood series part III

::The Contradiction of the Virtuous Woman::

As ladies, we’ve all been in those study groups before. You know, where Proverbs 31 is studied and the virtuous woman is being extolled. Happily, we immerse ourselves in this mystical woman we are all trying to emulate.

An excellent wife? Check.

Her husband trusts in her? Check.

She sources good clothing materials, usually from the $1/yard table at Walmart, for her household? Check.

She provides good food, sometimes ordering it from afar, like on Amazon? Check.

She gets up early and makes cornmeal mush for her household? Check.

She considers a field and, wait,  WHHHAAAATTTTT? WHY DID SHE DO THAT?  Awkward silence. She’s that stereotypical stay-at-home-mom who buys fields.

(and at this time the moderator announces a bathroom break and resuming at verse 17)

Honestly, I don’t have the answers for all that. But I do have a theory. But that’s a topic for tomorrow.

 

The Balancing Act – Womanood Series, part II

The balancing aspect of vibrant womanhood is service. Not the legalistic giving-to-the-poor-because- I’m-supposed-to, but the natural response of worshiping a Creator who is also a Redeemer. The vibrant woman knows how much it cost, and that it’s not hers to keep, so she gives it away.

She gives because she can’t help it. She gives not merely things, but herself, her time, her giftings, her love. She does it in a thousand different ways.

She has friends and builds relationships with both people who are like her and also those who are vastly different. She realizes that she needs both to keep her balanced. Having friends of different ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and worldviews is healthy. Her eyes get opened to a whole new way of doing things. She gets to experience other cultures in her own living room. And her friends benefit from her Godly lifestyle and friendship.

I have to brag a bit here about the ladies in my church. They are busy, homeschooling moms who work hard. But they do so well at volunteering at the Pregnancy Center, running errands with the less fortunate, and blessing the elderly. And I love to see the children picking up the vision. They are so sweet to the elderly people, and of course, the old people adore them!

If you are a mom, your children can be a wonderful asset in relationship building. Children, in their innocence, have a way of tearing down cultural and social walls and creeping into people’s hearts. Tap into this! Not only will they be a blessing, but they will also benefit hugely. The only side effects they might experience are enlarged hearts and a heightened awareness of needs around them.

all images via google

I see beauty complimenting service and together, they are powerful. One without the other can become self-worship or ugly legalism.

This giving of yourself shouldn’t only be done away from home, in a foreign clime or on a mission field; your neighbor is just as needy as the cannibal. We have created boxes for our versions of reaching out, and for whatever reason, our box for those around us isn’t as well developed or pursued. As ladies, the Great Commission is for us too! Jesus didn’t say how to do it, He just said do it and it can be done many different ways.

This aspect doesn’t come as naturally because opening up our hearts and billfolds and schedules requires more, opens us up to be hurt, and is generally more difficult. Admiring dolphins is easier than developing a relationship with somebody who God might be asking me to love and serve.

A good test of the worship/service relationship is our online persona. What does our instagram or facebook feed say about us? Are we valuing beauty over relationships because we like to be admired? Are our followers and friends too important to us that they take away from real-life relationships that we should be developing?

What does service look like to you?

Blame It On The Dolphins- womanhood series part I

I sat in my beach chair, toes curled in the sand, basking in the sunlight and salty sea breezes. The last year had been tough, draining, exhausting. I felt drained, depleted.

Time on the beach has always been therapeutic for me. It is my happy place. Heartbreak and cancer and stress and mushrooms mysteriously disappear, and for those brief moments, the world is perfect. As the sun and the wind work their magic, my mind clears and my soul relaxes.

As I sat there a week ago, my senses were fully engaged and I worshiped. I couldn’t help it. I read aloud the conversation between God and Job and laughed at God’s humor.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its measurements, surely you know! Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band……..” Job 38: 4-9 ESV

I like God because He is funny at times, and also because He paints beautiful word pictures.

As the waves crashed before me, I felt appropriately small and humble, and then love and affirmed, after reading Psalm 139, where the psalmist paints a picture of a powerful Creator, intimately involved and interested in His creation.

The moment could not have been more perfect. About this time, my aunt further down yelled, “Look at the dolphins. A school of dolphins was swimming by, within mere feet of the shore.

And I quietly lost it. The dolphins did it. In that idyllic moment, when my tired soul had come home, the dolphins brought me to tears. And I worshiped again.

They say there are happy tears and sad tears. That day I experienced a third: beauty tears. 

I think that is what being a woman is about- experiencing and expressing beauty. It can be powerful and it can be beautiful, if it is Creator-honoring and inspired.

We experience and express it in a thousand ways. Cooking beautiful, nourishing food, taking pretty pictures, designing and decorating homes attractively, crying at dolphins- all are powerful expressions of worship. This is one of womanhood’s finer and most beautiful qualities. She gives a softness, a beauty, a finer touch back to the world she lives in.

This aspect of womanhood usually comes naturally and doesn’t have to be cultivated like other aspects. I think the vibrant, glowing, fully-engaged Godly woman will worship regularly. They may be conscious acts, or unconscious, but she will worship. She sees the beauty in the mundane and ordinary, as well as the exquisite.

This is only one aspect of womanhood, though, and if this is all we experience, it can turn into self-absorption and admiration, both of which are the complete opposite of Creator-worship.

The other, balancing aspect of womanhood will be explored tomorrow.

Prelude

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis

As I prepare this series, I’m feeling like an anxious mother, wondering if this thing she’s birthed will be understood, and if she even fully understands her own content. The awareness of my own life and the struggles I experience seem 10x bolder as I attempt to make them viewable for others.

This has been birthed over several years, as I watch women struggle with weak desires and low expectations. Easily satisfied with the far-too-little that is expected of us, we are surviving, and not thriving. Some of us want more, and some of us don’t even know if we should.

Wherever you are, and whatever your context, this is for you. I’m nervous too, because I’ve seen many a blog mercilessly slaughtered, because people took offense at slight details, or refused to see it because it wasn’t their experience.

Please hear my heart, and know that I want the absolute best that our Father has to offer for each of His children.

The first post will be up tomorrow 🙂

New Series Coming Up

Chalk it up to the new year, or to recent conversations with kindred spirits, or to thoughts and ideas simmering in my head, but I have Writers Itch and hope to have a new series on Vibrant Womanhood on the blog soon. I’ve had some response on one of my last posts on the bit about  Mennonite women being less interesting conversationally than the men, and I plan to revisit that in this new series. I am currently doing a study of different facets of womanhood and so while a lot will be for the ladies, I also plan to write a post for the guys as well. It might also involve a guest post too…. so stay tuned.

Fighting against Morality Wars

I would first of all like to remind my readers that in our society, we no longer desire people’s heads when unpopular ideas are given.

And since I have refreshed your minds on this important fact, I present what may be controversial and uncomfortable to some of my readers.

I’m sitting in my chair, stirred, grieved, and shaken by what I’ve just read in my current read: Searching For God Knows What, by Donald Miller. I know he’s controversial, and I can’t support everything he says, and I think he should be read alongside A.W.Tozer or somebody in his league, but he makes three staggering points in this book, and for those, I can recommend the book. I may do a more thorough book review later, but what I’m squirming under today is his serving up of morality wars.

He talks about his radio interview with a conservative host, where he is asked to comment on the homosexuals taking over America. After some initial confusion about what the host was talking about, here’s his response.

“Here’s my position: As a Christian, I believe Jesus wants us to reach out to those who are lost, and yes, immoral-immoral just like you and I are immoral; and declaring war against them and stirring up your listeners to the point of anger, and giving them the feeling that their country, their families, and their lifestyles are being threatened is only hurting what Jesus is trying to do. This isn’t rocket science. If you declare war on somebody, you have to either handcuff or kill them. That’s the only way to win. But if you want them to be forgiven by Christ, if you want them to live eternally with Jesus, than you have to love them. The choice is yours and my suspicion is you will be held responsible by God, a Judge who will know your motives. So go ahead and declare war in the name of a conservative agenda. That’s what militant Muslims are doing in the Middle East, and we don’t want that here.”

I again want to remind you that about that head thing.

I guess I got weary and frustrated by the conservatives who are waging morality wars in our culture, stoking peoples emotions, working people up, trying to show their right-ness. And who are doing nothing about some of the problems they are warring over. For example: Planned Parenthood and those videos.

It’s so easy to sit back and sign the Defund Planned Parenthood Petitions and feel self-righteous and angry in a Godly-kind of way. But what if those of us who are grieved and heartbroken about these precious little lives would get involved in our communities and do the very think that PP is doing in a very sick and depraved way, offer help and support to ladies who think they have no other option? What if we would get out there with compassion and help the homeless and the lady struggling with another unwanted pregnancy? And better yet, what if the Community of Christ Followers would reach out to those committing these heinous acts of murdering babies, and share the message of Good News and Redemption? Which would be the most effective? After all, what did Jesus do? Set up scroll petitions for Defunding the Debauched Tax Collectors? Work His followers all up about how unfair and wicked they were? Sitting down and eating with them with redemption in mind shouldn’t have even been in an option by our standards today.

Miller also talks about the “us versus” them mentality, overflowing in war rhetoric. He suggests that this war rhetoric is not the methodology that came out of Jesus’ mouth nor that of His followers. And he finally quotes: “If we are preaching a morality battle without Christ, and using war rhetoric to communicate a battle mentality, we are fighting on Satan’s side. This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war you shoot the enemy, not the hostage.”

We misunderstand the hostage for the enemy in many situations today. And sometimes the line is blurred between the two. I’m not here to judge between them. All I’m saying is pity, and desire for reconciliation with their Maker should be greater than anger in most situations.

I’m not undermining the fact that sin is sin. I know that. Jesus knew that. But yet his approach to sinners was so vastly different than what I see today. His desire was relationships and in these He would insert Truth, and people would have to make a decision. Some chose Him, others chose themselves, but they all had the privilege of knowing Him, and eating at His table,and sharing His life.

Is that asking too much of us?

Vicki, hanging onto her head

On Why I’m Not a Writer

I heard the pleading in their voices, and saw the deep longing in their eyes, “Please update your blog,” they begged.

Over-exaggerated to be sure, but some of you have been strongly hinting. So here’s new reading for you and it’s titled, ‘Why I’m Not a Writer.’

Sure, I can string words together and make pretty, funny little sentences. I can make you laugh or cry, or stir some other emotion in you. And,

Funny Pictures Of The Day – 92 Pics

image via Pinterest
As a two year old, I enjoyed concepts and words that were much bigger than I. There is a tape recording of me asking my mom to babysit my child while I go to the hospital to have a C-section.
I’ve always liked words and the art of putting them together to make beautiful things. Of evoking emotion and creating mind pictures.
But that doesn’t make me a writer. 
I don’t really enjoy writing, and only write when I can’t help myself, which is about twice a year. I don’t even journal consistently. 
I spent part of a week at Faith Builders in PA and when I was there, I felt a little spark. I quickly ran for my notebook and pen and started an allegorical piece about a campground. I felt a thrill as I chose and re-chose words to fit the narrative. The thrill of new ideas and old words coming together on paper to create something new. Maybe there’s hope.
Part of the problem is lack of material. Or lack of the right kind of material.
The material I have would raise a firestorm and I’m thinking the fire probably wouldn’t be worth it.
But since you insist on knowing, they would be along these lines:
Why Multi-Level Marketing Products Work

The Truth About Multi-Level Marketing Products

Why Mennonite Men are More Interesting Conversationalists than their Female Counterparts, and How This Problem Could Be Helped

Singlehood- and the role of the Unmarried in our Churches

Why Apple is Better than Android.
Just kidding about that last one. 
You see what I mean? I have enough ammunition to fuel a sewing circle. 
Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be a writer and write on worthy topics with such passion I can’t help myself. Until then, you will probably see me only occasionally on here.
Peace~ Vicki

:: Little House ~ Big Dreams ::

For a few months now, my sister Kelly and I have been praying and thinking deep thoughts about our future. We sensed something was on the horizon, but didn’t know what. The story is long and bizarre, but I can simplify it in one sentence: We are renting a house.
It should probably read: WE ARE RENTING A HOUSE!!!!!! Those are the truer emotions about it 🙂  Our landlords are good friends of ours- an older couple, and I know they will take good care of us and we hope to return the favor.
We are so excited about all the possibilities contained in the walls of this home. We envision it full of laughter and guests and yummy foods and ministry. We’ve already had a great deal of company in the nearly 3 weeks we’ve been here,and decided we need to pace ourselves a bit. We both love to host so that works out well. 
We want this place to be restful and inviting. A place for our local girl friends to come and hang out and talk about life. A place for church families to drop off the children for a date night out. A sanctuary for others involved in ministry who need a breather or a bit of encouragement. We have big dreams for this place!
This was in the works for a couple months before we moved in, so you can imagine where Kelly and I were early Saturday mornings 🙂 We got a great deal of stuff from yard sales and flea markets, which was wonderful, cause we really like to be frugal like that 🙂 Saves more money for jaunts around the world (she’s flying to Australia on Sunday).
So I present:: Our Nest::

The dining room is lovely and has lots of natural light. Funny thing is, we rarely eat in there. We usually eat in the living room. The table and chairs cost us a whopping $25 at a yard sale and we were thrilled!

 

The living room is a sanctuary, and we spend a great deal of time in there. It also has beautiful, big windows that let in lots of light.  
We joked that we wouldn’t feel at home until our books were unpacked so that was one of the first things we did. We are both avid readers and our books make our home feel complete. 

Kelly’s room. Obviously these are works in progress but we love them. The hardwood floors throughout the house are gorgeous!

My room. I naturally gravitate toward blues and grays and love the cool, restfulness it portrays.

 The bathroom initially was our least favorite room in the house, but our shower curtain made it all better. Is it weird to like a shower curtain so much? 🙂 
And last but not least: the kitchen.

The space is perfect for two people and I like how everything is an arms length away. We are having so much fun cooking and washing dishes and just all the domestic things that ladies get to do. It’s a bit of a learning curve though, because we both work full time, so we’re trying to find quick, economical and nutritious ways of eating and it’s kinda hard! I’m not interested in eating out of cans and boxes for convenience, but it’s taking a bit to remember to get meat out and prep ahead of time when we can. For dinner tonight I made breakfast pizza and that was yummy and quick. 

This part of the house is not being used too much because of the high heat and humidity, but during the spring and fall, you will likely find us out on this screened in porch a good bit.
That concludes it. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us. And we are excited about our future here in town.
Vicki

Most of the photo credits go to Kelly. She captures beautifully with the lens.

Revisiting the Bookshelf

It feels strange, this coming back to my blog after such a long time and after so much has happened and so much life has been lived. It feels like there isn’t much to say at times, or when there is, I don’t have the where-with-all to write, and so it sits quietly. Of course, when I do have the occasional brilliant thought (ha), it is when I’m up to my elbows in dishwater, or in the sandwich line or somewhere else that I can’t get it written down. And then when I re-visit the same thought later on, turns out it wasn’t so brilliant after all 😉
Spring is here! I bought a fluffy bunch of hydrangeas this morning to celebrate. Greenery is returning, along with fresh energy and the assurance that God hasn’t forgotten us in our winter brownness and deadness.
I have enjoyed the long winter evenings and have gotten a good bit of reading done. Nothing completes a day like a chapter of a good book, or a few favorite lines from somewhere.  Here’s evidence:
These books have to be among my favorites, which might explain why I revisit them so often. I bought Freckles at our local thrift store for $.25. I may or may not have happy danced in the aisle and totally turned the rest of the bookshelves up-side-down in case the person who gave away such a find may have given more of the same sort. A little exaggerated maybe,but I was supremely happy for a few hours. Gene Stratton-Porter writes with such soul, and such feeling and her books are some of the few that make me cry. For example:
Doesn’t it do something to you? Mother-hunger. Something most of us never feel because we never experience its absence. The themes of these books are so true, and so pure and honorable without being priggish or stuffy. Real manhood and womanhood are celebrated in their wholesomeness and unaffectedness. That last word isn’t actually a word but it wants to be there so it stays.
The next two books are good reads as well. I blogged before about these, but I want to bring attention to them again. When Jesus Came To Harvard is heavier reading, and I had to consult the dictionary numerous times, and there is some theology that I am not sure about, but it is still worth reading. The author taught an undergraduate class on the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the book is about his experiences in class as they walked through Jesus’ teachings and revisited His life.

 My book is all marked up with question marks and high-lighted lines, and even a grammatical goof 🙂 
I highly recommend the other book to anyone who is interested in apologetics or rubs shoulders with people from other religious worldviews. It is the story of a young atheist lady who met two happy, friendly Bowheads (these girls wore the ridiculously large hair bows of the 80’s). This is her story of living without God and her unexpected encounter with His Presence, and how it changed her. It is engaging, interesting, educational and extremely well written. Be my guest and read it, please?!
And to be honest now, and to talk about a book that I wasn’t so fond of, meet:
 
This is an extremely popular book. A poll from last year showed that it was the second favorite book of American readers, just behind the Bible. It was set in the South, back in the Civil War, and I frequently see memorabilia or references about this. When my sisters and I were in Charleston, our historic carriage tour took us past a Rhett Butler home. A few years ago, part of our vacation rental was decorated with Rhett and Scarlett. Clearly, this is a popular, well-loved story. I picked up the book one evening and read most of it that night. In literary terms, it has some value. The fact that Scarlett (the main character) was a southern belle and was not beautiful, but was loved for her keen mind and spunk, is noteworthy. And I understand its value with the civil war backdrop and the excellence of the writing. The plot, however left me both sad, and a bit mad. 
Basically, Scarlett is in love with a man (Ashley Wilkes) who is to marry his cousin Melanie (because that’s how the Wilkes’ did). In retaliation and to get his attention, Scarlett marries Melanie’s brother, and shortly thereafter becomes a widow as he is killed in war. She then marries two more men, the second of which is Rhett Butler, a fiery, determined man, in whom she meets her intellectual match. Through all of this she makes Melanie’s life terrible because she still is in love with Ashley Melanie is nothing but kind and sweet in return and on Melanie’s deathbed, Scarlett realizes she really isn’t in love with Ashley after all, but her very own husband, Rhett. By this time though, Rhett has grown tired of her whims and isn’t sure if he still wants her. And the story more or less ends there.
Some observations:
I see enough heartbreak across the headlines each morning to make me feel heavy, without reading a fictional work of the same sort. Scarlett intentionally wreaked havoc with many hearts, nearly wrecked another marriage, and wasn’t happy in her own. She wanted everything she couldn’t have, and carelessly trampled others in her quests for love. Why do Americans appreciate this? Why is she so popular? Melanie should be the hero for her selflessness and love to a lady who was bent on undoing her.
There is some racial slang and epitaphs that I can not approve and do not wish to read.
Scarlett bore 3 children, none of which she loved or wanted. She was disappointed to learn she was pregnant. I can’t celebrate even the fictional life of someone so self-centered and whose value of children is so low.
I could write more, but this was more on my throw-across-the-room-into-the-trashcan pile than- to- be read again.
That is my honest and candid review. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book, even if they are totally different, or on any others. I would also love to hear suggestions on what to read after this book comes:
The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
And finally, a parting shot of my favorite pencils. I think maybe Freckles was originally written in something similar? 🙂
Catch y’all later…. like maybe 9 months 🙂
Vicki

The Christian and The Arts

photo from google
I am incredibly blessed to be a part of a living, thriving body of believers. I often marvel at God’s blessings to me in this, and can’t be thankful enough that I get to be part of it.
Part of what I love so much about my brothers and sisters is the perspectives and the gifts they bring to the brotherhood. Today we were blessed to hear about church history from a man who knows and enjoys his stuff and delivers it in an interesting and informed way.
He went into some detail today about monasticism and the role that played in church history. I must admit to a certain fascination with the subject and one of my very favorite books deals extensively with this subject.
There is a certain beauty in the starkness and the austerity of that lifestyle. Sadly, a lot of these stories didn’t end well, with corruption becoming prevalent in the monasteries. 
I picked up the book again and am re-reading it. It is incredibly well-written, crafted by one who knows how to work words.
After I put the book down and turned out my light, my mind began wandering toward the other end of the spectrum.
The Arts.
As a conservative Anabaptist Christian, I haven’t heard much teaching on this subject. We choose to live simply and abandon all for Christ, estranged from the world in mind and thought.
But there are those among us who are Artists of sorts. Gifted with the pen, with a voice, with a quick and keen mind. People who feel things deeply. People who are often misunderstood. And honestly, sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all.
It feels frivolous, to care or be concerned with such things when the world is falling apart. When people are being beheaded and bodies are stiff with death from ebola.
And yet, I think God designed us for worship, for expressing our thoughts and feelings to Him beautifully and with care. Yes, it can easily be taken too far and turned into something else. Something called pride. When we use our talents and display them to draw attention to ourselves, to create spaces that cause other people to admire us unduly and cause jealousy (aka social media), that becomes a problem.
When I feel a thrill upon reading a well written line, hear a difficult chord sung beautifully, admire a beautiful painting or hear a brilliant, well-delivered address, I need to realize that God wants me to enjoy it. But He is most pleased when I walk in obedience, when I live well in the ordinary, when my feet get dusty with the common.
He created us with the capacity to enjoy and the need to worship. As individuals we worship differently and uniquely. While He loves the worship of hundreds of perfectly on-pitch voices of talented singers, I think He still thrills to the off-key, but enthusiastic praises of another group. He is praised in the well-written, but also in the writings of the uneducated. He values the childish paintings of a three year old as much as perfect portraits of the talented.
He is adored in the simple, as much as in the talented.
Is it wrong to enjoy the beautiful and the well-done? Absolutely not! But if it is anything more than a natural out -working of a heart turned towards it’s Maker, beware.
Madeline L Engle’ says it well:

The purpose of the story or music or painting is to further the coming of the Kingdom, to make us aware of our status as Children of God,
and to turn our feet towards HOME.

 

image also from google

Be blessed, and worship well!
Vicki

On my bedside table edition II

Hey friends,
So it’s mid-September and we’re all pretending it’s fall. Kelly made delicious pumpkin cookies yesterday, and I had a cup of hot tea this afternoon.
I sweated afterwards and realized I wasn’t fooling anyone. I also pulled out my heavy white comforter and fuzzy blue blanket in case it ever decides to get cold.
Today was a wonderful day at home. I did some much-needed organizing and cleaning in my room, cleaned up the kitchen, did some laundry and enjoyed a pan of delicious roasted vegetables for lunch. I don’t know how I got to be the ripe old age of 26 and was never educated on the delectableness that is roasted veggies. I thank my friend, Tina, who enlightened me last weekend. My life will never be the same.
Basically you just chop up whatever veggies you have (I did cauliflower and carrots), drizzle them with a goodly amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, (I also used garlic powder and seasoned salt) and bake until soft. They retain their form (as opposed to cooking them till soft), plus develop flavors that I know not from whence they come. It’s nearly like eating candy, but they are quite healthy, which makes me happy. Do try it!
I decided to do another post on books I’ve read recently. I enjoyed hearing what you all have been reading when I posted about it here.
This summer has been quite busy, so I haven’t read as much as I sometimes do, but I do have a few to show you:
It looks like biographies was my thing recently 🙂 All of these books are true stories, and while I recommend them all, there are parts in Breaking Night and Wings of the Morning, that are a bit graphic. Breaking Night is the story of a young girl who grew up in a very dysfunctional home, with drug addict parents, and her story of overcoming it all and getting on with her own life. This is not a religious book or written in a religious framework. The peek into a life so sad, so devoid of all that a child needs, was heartbreaking, and I had to periodically put it away because it was more than I could handle.
Unbroken did the same thing to me. It took awhile for me to get into the book. The first couple of chapters are not very interesting, but lay a framework for the rest, which is riveting. It is the story of an American fighter pilot who crashed into the ocean, his days of survival on a raft and then his capture by the Japanese  and his life in a Japanese prison during WWII. The themes are resilience, hope, and forgiveness. The graphic description of the horrors he endured was more than I could take at times, and so I just put the book down and came back to it when i felt ready.
I think I talked about my love of Andy Andrews books, and the Heart Mender may be my favorite. It is also a true story from WWII. Two people one German and one American, whose spouses were victims of the war, find themselves thrown together in the most unlikely way possible. I won’t spoil it for you any more but do read this book! I was thrilled to find another Andrews book at a thrift store, entitled Island of the Saints. As I eagerly started reading, it seemed way too familiar,too much like the Heart Mender and I finally looked and discovered it is the same story, but with a different name. I will happily send the copy to any interested reader. It’s like sending a friend to a friend 🙂 Just comment below if you would like it and I’ll try to get your address and get it sent out.
Unplanned is the story of a lady who leaves an abortion clinic and joins her former enemies in an effort to save babies. It is another heartbreaking story of the horror that goes on in those places, but also of the goodness and mercy of the Father, who wants and yearns for those people as well.
Wings of the Morning is also an interesting read. A Cuban fighter pilot flies a daring, secret mission to the U.S where he seeks political asylum, and later secretly returns for his family. It is the kind that has your toes curling and your fingers clenching as he crosses forbidden airspace with moments to spare.
The next stack is my to-read pile:
The Hardest Thing to Do is the sequel to The Hawk and Dove Trilogy, that I raved about in a previous post. I bought the book as soon as it came out but couldn’t get into it. I am determined to try again, and read it the whole way through.
I’m also enjoying scribbling and sketching and journaling in these fun notebooks. TJMaxx has a ridiculous paper goods aisle.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile, in case it is helpful for anyone out there. I have a binder that I keep a collection of all my favorite writings in:

 

Whenever I read something interesting, fascinating, though-provoking, or inspiring I cut or print it out and put in there. 
I have handwritten quotes,

A piece from a World or Time magazine:

A number of Slices of Infinity by RZIM

and a poem or two. I love it because they are all contained, and I can easily access them when I need them.
Our thoughts are still frequently in Liberia. We continue to get emails from our friends who are struggling because of the inflated food prices, and whose relatives are sick but have nowhere to take them because health centers have closed.
And I am always looking for updates on Dr. Sacra, the last American doctor with ebola to be flown back to the U.S. In my last post I said that Kent Brantley could be our family doctor from Liberia. Interestingly enough, that is who Dr. Sacra is/was. He was our American doctor over there, and we rested easy, knowing that in a medical emergency, he could take care of us. I am glad he is improving and being well-taken care of in Nebraska. We were hoping he would be flown to Emory, which is a little over an hour from here. Kent and Nancy were flown there and successfully treated. 
That’s it for now. What have you all been reading?

A face for Ebola

My heart breaks a couple times a day. Whenever I look at the headlines and remember our friends, my heart just sinks.
Granted, I have more in this personally than the average American, and so what I have to say here comes from my heart, not my head.
Thanks to the media, Liberia is all over the news, and as usual, it’s bad news. Ebola. The dreaded disease that is killing thousands. People are living in tremendous fear because of how deadly it is, and because hospitals are shutting down. I saw the story today of a lady who died in childbirth because 4 clinics turned her away.
What makes me the most sad, is how it has once again reduced Liberia to broken down hospitals, unsanitary living conditions, and ignorance. The article on CNN detailing the terrible conditions of one of the main hospitals made me sad and angry all at the same time. I feel maternal and protective and it feels like Liberians have been violated and stripped of their dignity. See, I told you I’m thinking with my heart right now, and not my head 🙂
I realize that every word is true, but Liberians are more than all that. They are funny, warm, friendly, and creative. They have faces.
They are more than just statistics. More than willfully ignorant people. More than dirt and poverty and broken down buildings. They have names and emotions and personalities. They have faces.
What makes me sadder yet is the attitude that many Americans have displayed about the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to help out with this horrible epidemic. 
Most don’t realize that working in the hospitals over there is no walk in the park to start with, and then to stay to help with Ebola? That takes a special kind of person, a Christ-like kind of person, a life-giving person. And when I hear people suggesting that if they would truly be unselfish, they would not have decided to bring Ebola back to the States, well, words fail to adequately describe how I feel.
Articles like this leave me speechless. 
Our definition of inconvenience is the waiter bringing the appetizer late, or worse yet, the wrong entree.
The driver pulling out in front of us as we are running late on the way to work.
Golden Corral’s buffet prices going up.
Having to park way out at Wal-Mart on a busy day.
How about this for a new definition:
hauling all your drinking water and any other water for household use in buckets on your head for a mile.
a terrible health care system, where many people die for lack of proper care and equipment
eating once a day because you can’t really afford more
relying on public transportation because you couldn’t nearly afford your own vehicle.
Honestly, I don’t know how this will pan out. I can only pray and cry to the Father to have mercy and stop this epidemic. I’m preparing to hear that some of our friends will have gotten it. This disease is ruthless, painful and most times life-taking.
In the meantime i will remember the better days,
of a colorful people
of beautiful, happy babies
of sandy beaches
of friendly folk
My Liberia.

A Colorful "Baby Wash"

Welcome, Christopher Hudson!
About a month and a half ago, a sweet little boy was born to a family in our church. He joins a family of three sisters and a brother. His brother was especially thrilled for a little brother, and I know there are lots of fun times ahead for those two!
So Amanda and I thought it would be fun to host a baby shower, to celebrate this new life, and who doesn’t enjoy a good ladies afternoon?
We brainstormed, started our own secret board on Pinterest and both decided we liked the same theme. We are book lovers, and Hannah, Christopher’s mom, is also an avid reader. So we decided to go with bright colors centered around beloved children’s books. On the invitations, we requested that people bring children’s books instead of cards, so Christopher now has the beginnings of his own personal library!

A week before the shower, I was chatting with Cassandra and Hadassah (C’s sisters). Hadassah said she was so excited about her mom’s anniversary that we were going to have a party for and Cassandra quickly corrected her: “it’s not an anniversary, it’s a baby wash!” Baby wash, baby shower, whatever.

We chose fun foods that corresponded with childrens’ books and then bought the cute little food tents here.

I think Pooh got it right:
I tried my hand at a diaper cake and was disappointed when the diapers I ordered were patterned on the outside, making so my completely white cake vision couldn’t come to pass. I would suggest if anybody tries this, make sure they get plain white diapers.
We played a number of games throughout the afternoon. The first one was the “Don’t say baby” game that lasted throughout the whole shower. The sign is a bit hidden on the picture but the idea was to not use the word “baby” and the punishment was having a clothespin taken off. It was amazing how creative some people were with using synonyms to get their point across! The person with the most pins won.
We played a few others as well. There was a Points in Your Purse game and then a baby food tasting/guessing game. I think we were all a bit appalled at the nasty baby foods that people feed their infants 🙂 I also found a game on Pinterest using book titles and rewriting them and having the guests figure out which book it was. For example: The Unsightly Aquatic Fowl is the Ugly Duckling. 

After playing the games, we cut the cake, made by the talented Leah, also from our church. How cute is this? And the details were just amazing!
Big sister certainly approved!

After eating the yummy cake, Hannah opened the gifts.
We all had a lot of fun and Christopher was well-celebrated. He was passed from one set of arms to another all afternoon and we never got a picture of him. But here is one from his photo shoot when he was less than 36 hours old:
 I find I am becoming more and more like my mother and grandmother. As I was cleaning up after the party, I just about threw the food tents in the trash, but couldn’t bring myself to do it 🙂 They were only used once, and are in great condition, so if anyone wants them, contact me with your address and I will send them to you at no charge. They would be perfect for a birthday party too. I just think they are too cute to throw away and if someone can use them, I will gladly send them to you. It’s first-come-first-serve so whoever replies first gets them 🙂

That’s all for now!
Vicki
photo credits go again to my talented sister, Kelly
UPDATE:
The cards have been spoken for, and will soon find their new home across the ocean. If you want to order them, the link is above. The lady does customized orders, so you can play around with the food names.

Unexpected beauty~

I saw it yesterday in the face of a sixteen year old boy/man. Bravely, he held back the tears, but his trembling chin gave it away. I saw it in the face of my sobbing 10 year old cousin, raw grief coursing down his cheeks. I saw it the beautiful, strong face of my aunt, who had carried on so selflessly and tirelessly. I saw it in my uncle, the terrible ache of losing a mother.

It was heartbreaking. A husband shouldn’t have to bury his only daughter and wife in seven years time. A son shouldn’t grieve his sister and his mom . A grandson said goodbye to his grandmother, while standing beside the grave of his mother, who died seven years before, when he was only nine.

The raw grief and heartbreak was terrible to watch and experience. Kathy’s life was so full of life and vitality. The slideshow playing during visiting hours were full of action and joy. She lived a full, rich life, and she was very loved. We laid her to rest, and celebrated her life, in a way that I think she would have approved of. In fact, I could almost hear her laughing and saying in compelling, Kathy-ish tones, “hey y’all, look down there!” as she saw it from heaven.

However, on the flip side of pain is a strange kind of beauty. The gut-wrenching pain is the result of having loved and having loved deeply. Love is beautiful, and in a sense, it purifies and beautifies the pain. How sad is the death of the unknown homeless man who dies in the alley, alone and un-grieved. Nobody grieves him because nobody loved him.

Pain is inevitable when one loves and so the two walk hand in hand. The stronger the love, the deeper the grief. Pain, the outworking of grief, is therefore a celebration of deep love. And when we grieve and shed tears and mourn a passing, it’s our last way of saying, “I love you.”

And speaking of beauty….the same juxtaposition of beauty and pain existed somewhere else, on a hill, on some boards, with some nails. We often see Jesus’ crucifixion from His point of view and not the Father’s. I think God knows a little something about heartbreak too, and about a love so huge that it gives itself away. I think His heart broke too, as He watched his only Son suffer away, for crimes He didn’t commit, to make His family bigger still.

He understands pain, He sees the beauty, and He holds us close. That kinda gives me chills.

Vicki

photo credits go to Kelly, as always 🙂

An "I Do" Down Under part 1

 :David and Carolyn:
Their Celebration
So the story is told of a young man, a dashing young man who lives in Australia with his family. This young man, with jet black hair and a pleasant demeanor, is studying medicine. He follows in the footsteps of his parents, both doctors. This young man loves history and knows a lot about religious history. He picks up a book on nonresistance, written by Stephen Russell of Guys Mills, PA. This book is about Biblical Nonresistance, a position held by Anabaptists. He is intrigued and looks to see if there are any Anabaptist churches in Australia, and to his delight, he finds there is one not far from his home in Brisbane. He shows up at church and learns to love the beautiful, multi-cultured church. He soon notices a maiden. The maiden is very fair to look upon, and soon the handsome young man and the fair young maiden start a courtship. Their celebration of marriage was on 18 January 2014.
The maiden is a cousin of mine and the oldest daughter of my uncle Jason. I thought I had to go to the wedding and so I did!
I was thrilled when Melanie,  my cousin, decided she had to go too, so we made plans to go. These plans included many travel decisions. We found it was a lot cheaper to go the indirect route to Australia and so we chose that. If you to ask either of us right now, after going and coming back, we might choose another route next time 🙂
I had a 5 hour flight to Los Angeles, where I met Melanie. We also met our airplane, a whopping A380:
These are the biggest passenger planes there are and they are massive. Holds 644 passengers plus the crew. I hear there is a nice lounge upstairs as well as a gift shop, where you can be if you have $10,000 to shell out. The economy class is nice too, with fairly roomy seats, and nice entertainment screens to watch movies or see what area you are flying over. On Emirates they also greet you fairly soon with hot washcloths with which to refresh yourself. Quite nice!
So we boarded (they use up to three jetways) and thought we had it made in our seats in bulkhead (area behind the dividers, with extra leg-room), with nobody beside us. However, an hour into our flight, a flight attendant came back and said a mother and baby are moving back with us because she needs the bassinet. So Karim (15 months old) and his mother came back and we were promptly charmed by his curls and big black eyes. He was happy for awhile, and then after we settled down to sleep, he thought it appropriate to start screaming, which he continued to do for a long time. As in hours. So we didn’t rest very well and were kinda exhausted when we reached Dubai, 15 hours later.
We got to Dubai in the middle of the night, but you would have thought it was the middle of the day by the crowds and the noise. I was amazed again at the money that is in the place:
 There were high end jewelry stores that were swarming with activity and many nice restaurants too that were filled. Since we had a nearly 7 hour layover, we walked around a while and then got a bite to eat and then looked for an adapter to use to charge our computers. We then looked in vain for a place to charge up. Everybody else was plugging into these outlets under floor tiles, so we eventually did too. It seemed unsafe and unsanitary, but it’s all we had.
 
And then there was the funny Bangladeshi guy with very broken English who talked our ears off while we were trying to email our families. He would talk and laugh and so I would laugh and comment on every 4th English word I could understand. We finally got up and moved off to a more quiet space to enjoy some peace and quiet. Right before we left, he wanted to give his phone number to me so I could “remember to him” when I next come to Dubai. I politely laughed and thanked him and said “no thanks!”
We then boarded our 16 hour flight to Brisbane, with a stop in Singapore. Melanie and I had a good laugh over this screen in a Singapore bathroom:
I think we both gave it a good 🙂
Finally, many hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, we landed in Brisbane. Since it was such an unearthly hour, we hung out and tried to sleep until 7:00 when we saw the lovely faces of our dear cousins Heidi and Charity who had come to pick us up. Lolita and Hadassah H. had flown in from Poland for the wedding as well so we all headed to Gympie together where we reunited with the rest of the cousins and Jason and Melody. We each took long naps in the afternoons, while our weary, confused bodies tried to figure out where we were and what time it actually was.
The next day we hit the ground running with wedding prep. Carolyn had a very clear picture of how she wanted everything to be so that made it easy during the setup. Heidi, Melanie and I ran around collecting flowers and weeds for arrangements and may or may not have raided some beautiful flowering bushes beside a petrol station. There was nobody there to ask so we just kinda helped ourselves 🙂
 Janae, busy at flower arranging.
Carolyn had collected white ceramic containers for her wedding and she and a church friend planted a bunch of greenery in them. The effect was gorgeous. There was a symmetry with each white container and green plant, but the plants were varied and unique. 
 Jason built this beautiful white arbor as the entrance to the reception area, and  David and Carolyn also used it to take pictures with their guests.
 And now…the Big Day. It started off bright and early with a household of 12 family members and 6 guests to feed and dress. David’s sister Daniella came over to help Carolyn get ready and so we got to entertain her sweet little Miriam. 
And then Carolyn got all dressed in her beautiful white dress, lovingly made by her mom. Her baby sister Charis was so proud of her own dress and looked darling as well. Jason’s family enjoyed a last few, sentimental minutes together singing and praying and then we headed to the church.
 Is is customary in David’s culture for the wedding party to be escorted into the church with singing. They chose not to have a bridal party and their families were their special people for the day so we all met in a side building until our cue to enter the church, whereupon the violinist came and led us into the church with beautiful, happy violin music. The service was beautiful, with Scripture readings by different friends and family of David and Carolyn. Carolyn’s grandfather Frederick had a very nice devotional and Jason then had stimulating and fatherly things to say in his message. He and a Hungarian pastor officiated the vows and then Carolyn and David said their hand-written vows to each other. And so they were married! We snapped a few pictures before heading off to the reception.

Melanie and I quite unknowingly matched David’s family that day. We felt bad after we discovered it but they were pleased as pie and kept commenting on how glad they were that we matched them, cause they were so outnumbered 🙂 
His family is wonderful! They pitched right in and helped with everything and were so respectful and nice.
We then headed to the reception and I regret that I have no nice pictures of that. I took a few but most ended up blurry. 
The meal was delicious: grilled chicken and kufta (a Lebanese meatball), rice pilaf, potato salad, a salad bar, homemade rolls made by Carolyn’s grandma, and then a dessert table with different cakes, pavlovas, etc. The children from church did such a good job of keeping everybody’s cups filled and the tables cleared. During the program part of it, Heidi and Matthew, (David’s brother) gave nice speeches about their older siblings, and then both parent sets got up and talked. There was lots of music: Heidi, Janae, BethAnn and Charity sang a beautiful song to the couple, Lolita and Hadassah sang a song with Hadassah accompanying on the piano, Carolyn sprung a surprise on David by singing “the servant song” to him, and David returned the surprise by playing a cello piece along with Matthew and a husband and wife team. Another special feature was playing video messages from the grandparents who couldn’t be there.

 
David and Carolyn gave a speech and then soon afterward, it was over and the happy couple drove off into the almost sunset to take their pictures and then head off to their honeymoon in a beautiful rain-forest town.
Coming up next:
our adventures to the beach
a visit to the honeymooners (don’t worry, we were invited!)

King Solomon Takes on Pinterest

I think sometimes we are too hard on King Solomon. True, he was rich, was probably spoiled, but was also very human, meaning that he too, had those days.

 You know, where his gold rimmed chariot developed a funny rattle and his two hundred talent sandals tore a strap and where the chef served roast fowl when he had specifically ordered fried.

 We have those days where we could write our own Ecclesiastes. And so I wonder about him. Was he really as dour and negative as his only biblical book suggests? Or was he uncannily wise with some hunch about the future? He kind of reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ PuddleGlum who would go out of his way to find something negative to say about everything. PuddleGlum is a favorite character of mine, not because I admire negativity, but because I like the pluck and enthusiasm with which he carried out these ridiculous quests. He was enthusiastically negative, which I find compelling in the literary sense.

And I kind of have to wonder if Solomon could foresee the Pinterest of 2013. Would have that impressed him at all? Remember, he says, “there is no new thing under the sun.” And so I wonder what he would think of this: 
 
It’s a used dryer sheet wreath, in case you can’t tell. I pinned it onto my “create” board on pinterest. You basically tie a couple hundred used dryer sheets onto a bent wire hanger that is shaped in a circle. 
Try not to be too impressed.
And all the other useful, resourceful things out there that are being showcased.
But he was sort of right. 
I get all excited about a neat idea or recipe or tip and go show my mom or tell my grandma and they just nonchalantly say, “Oh, I’ve been doing that for years.” And then I feel small and all 2013ish again.
It’s interesting watching life cycles. Ten years ago home decor’ was all about cow themed kitchens and everything matching just perfectly. Now it’s all vintage and eclectic and DIY.
Blogs are abuzz with chevron everything and ruffles and shades of grays and yellows and appliqued mustaches on little boys onesies and healthy eating and trim and healthy mama. And it feels so modern. But then those cow themed kitchens did at the time too.
Which just goes to show that these things really don’t matter. In 50 years, these babies are going to look back at instagram pictures of themselves lying naked in a brown bowl with a crocheted hat and are going to roll their eyes and say, “that was so 2013.”
I always get amused at old tattered books that boast titles such as “Modern Medicine”. Each generation’s besetting problem is their idea that they have it together, they have attained and silly ‘ole previous generation.
So I think Solomon had it right. Things come and go. In the light of eternity, they really don’t matter, and even narrowing it down, in 50 years they won’t matter. Which  proves his subsequent point; that there is no lasting meaning in them and those who place all their energy into them at the expense of what’s truly important will live very empty lives.
So I’m thinking he was sort of wise, even though at that point he didn’t know that you could clean your headlights using toothpaste.
Vicki
 
 

:On my bedside table:

Have you ever read a book that has left its mark on you so indelibly that you can’t stop thinking about it? Those books are few and far between for me but this one has:

I read Andrew’s Heart Mender months ago, loved it, and promptly got my hands on as many others as I could. I have an amazing library system here that can get me books from all over the state so i usually go that route and then buy from there. The Noticer  is about Jones, a man who has always been old and shows up in time to help people in dire needs. He meets up with Andy, a young homeless man who lives under a pier at the beach and invites himself into Andy’s life and they start talking. Andy spreads a meager supper out on the sand and the two start talking and eating. Jones asks Andy, “So what are you eating right now?” Puzzled by such an obvious question, he replies kinda bitterly, “I am eating sardines and vienna sausages out of a can on the beach.” Jones then looks at him and says, “Well, I am dining on surf and turf with an ocean view.” He then talks to Andy about perspective and how that can change one’s life. He leaves a few books for Andy to read and then goes on his way. The rest of the book is about his encounters with other people, a workaholic businessman who is neglecting his family, a suicidal man in despair, a couple who is on their way to get  a divorce, intertwined with his further encounters with Andy. The key to his success in working with difficult situations is his careful attention to detail and perspective.
It’s a different sort of book, which I happen to be partial to. I keep thinking about that surf and turf bit and wonder what all would be different if we could see things from other perspectives.
Other books on my bedside table:
 
A review of some of them:
  • When Jesus Came to Harvard by Harvey Cox- I haven’t finished this one. I got half way through and then stalled. Cox started an undergraduate class at Harvard on the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The book tells of his experiences in the class. It’s thick stuff and somewhat interesting but since I didn’t finish it I can’t review the whole thing.
  •  
  • The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. He fluctuates between random and brilliant in his writing. His style is distinct and if it wouldn’t be for those one liners every couple of pages that leave me going, “Wow!”, I probably wouldn’t keep reading.
  •  
  • Desiring God and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper. I haven’t read a whole lot of these yet but the whole Christian hedonistic concept is mysteriously intriguing. I don’t know how I feel yet so please don’t ask 🙂
  •  
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I just finished the first chapter here and love it because I know what these views and beliefs cost this man (the movie about him is really good!).
  • Finding an Unseen God deserves its own picture:
What drew me in initially to this book was the great design and layout. Seriously! A crossword puzzle title?! It even has a crossword puzzle inside to fill out. This is not a story book. It’s a book about a former atheist’s life and her journey to the Lord. Interwoven in this too is practical tips for dealing with nonbelievers and a condensed course on apologetics, which happens to be one of my very favorite subjects. I highly recommend this book to anyone who rubs shoulders with nonbelievers and feels like there is no way to connect. All the chapter titles are in crossword puzzle form too which I love. 
And lest you think I spend all my time wallowing around in this deep, thick stuff, I may or may not have just read a Karen Kingsbury book about autism. I typically don’t care for her work; it’s too fluffy and the plots too predictable, but this book was good. 
And then there’s O.Henry. How I love that man!  Reading a chapter in his book is like eating a slim piece of cheesecake. Rich, delicious and filling. You can’t read too much without feeling all full but he is always a treat and never disappoints. One of my favorite O.Henry stories is A Cosmopolite in a Cafe.
Have I mentioned on here before how much I like Chris Fabry’s books? June Bug in particular is great. A friend thought it ended a bit anti-climatically which is true. However,  I would rather have a sad sort of ending that leaves you reeling, then a happily ever after ending that you saw coming after the first two paragraphs. 
So those are what are gracing my table. What are y’all reading?
And this is just a bit of nonsense to finish this off. If O.Henry in desserts is a cheesecake, what would these be?:
  • L.M Montgomery
  • Karen Kingsbury
  • Francine Rivers
  • Harold Bell Wright
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jerry Jenkins

Utterly silly I know, but kinda fun too, huh? 🙂

So tell me, what are you reading? And list a dessert that embodies one of the authors, just for fun 🙂
 
Vicki

Family times

A lot of my posts are my ponderings, what goes on inside my brain, and what I am reading and so consequently I have very few pictures on my posts. You wouldn’t want to see my brain insides or ponderings in photography so that is something to be thankful for 🙂 I come to you today with a post full of pictures. Now, I’m no photographer. Most of these were taken by Kelly and my cousin Melanie. Kelly did the editing so most of these photo credits go to them.
I present to you:
:My family:
from Australia, Arkansas,Turkey, Georgia, Florida
My uncle Jason and his wife Melody, and their youngest five children, came back to the U.S. recently for a short vacation and to attend a family wedding. They live half way around the world in Australia so their visits are far apart and very precious. We stay in touch via email and etc but there’s just nothing like being together in person. We dearly missed their girls and the spice they add to our reunions. There are five girls, then four boys, and then God decided to add some icing to the cake in the form of another baby girl. Charis (Greek word for grace) is 14 month old and was not intimidated at all by her position of only little girl at our get together. Quite the contrary, she enjoyed lots of cuddles and love.

We missed others as well and the circle was far from complete. David and Toni couldn’t make it from Florida, Doug is in nursing school in AR and couldn’t come, and Kenneth is in Turkey. We missed everyone and yet understand that as life moves on, it will be harder and harder to make things like this work for everyone.
We rented a beautiful house in the north GA mountains from Friday through Sunday morning. This place happened to have a heated pool that was enjoyed all weekend.
 

 We are a big, happy, loud family when we get together. At the breakfast table one morning, there must have been 4 conversations going simultaneously. We’ll chalk it up to the fact that we live so far apart we have to talk fast to get everything said 🙂

When Kauffmans get together there is often a good bit of reminiscing from the siblings of things that were done in their childhoods and there is much ensuing laughter. What’s as funny to us grandchildren is watching them laugh. They laugh almost silently, faces all contorted as they gasp and hold their sides.

 We also enjoyed games, mini-golf, discussions of various and sundry subjects, eating and a fun ladies’ time in the hot tub. The children kept the pool occupied every chance they got.

  We had to be out of the house on Sunday by 11:00 so after breakfast and a worship service we headed over to a nearby state park for a picnic lunch before heading to our various destinations.

We wanted some pictures of the little boys, who were a big part of the group. What’s with boys and pictures? Is it like girls and snakes? There is a very real distaste for it so the biggest deal that can be made out of it is certainly the best, even though it takes twice as long as it would have needed to thanks to this:

Alex is going for the cool four year old snoot while Christopher looks on in patronizing amusement and Josiah pretends to not be related.

 Meanwhile Matthew is seeing how many cameras he can see with crossed eyes and Jeremy looks on in disturbed consternation. Matthias is rubbing his eyes with the tired hand of an 11 year old remembering what it means to be six and woefully immature.
 Jeremy’s cuteness merits it’s own snapshot and we then notice Matthew has ditched the crossed eyes and is beaming benevolently at the world.
And after forty eleventy two pictures, we end us with this and call it good enough:


And then we add a beautiful baby girl to the picture, just because we can. Precious little thing, her! And to these boys’ credit; they are a great bunch of little gentleman. I loved to see how careful they were with the baby and how they liked to hold her and take care of her. They are going to be amazing dads one day, once they outgrow the snoots and crossed eyes. Bless them all!

   
“And I’m just like, what’s going on? I’ve barely known these girls two days and they are all six inches from my face making these stupid kissing sounds. Dumb Americans!”

There is a good chance we spoiled her in those two days. She got lots of cuddles, was followed around by her ever present picture taking cousins which meant we got a ton of cute ones:
  
 Other snapshots:
 
 
Photo- bombing uncles.  RuthAnne had no idea until I showed it to her 🙂
 Trying to duplicate the 2003 look, you know, the chic little head bump pose. Nailed it totally! 🙂
This sums it up well:
 
I love my family and can’t be thankful enough for them. In a world of pain and broken relationships, hurt feelings and rejection, healthy families are a gift. I’m reminded of that when I see pain first hand, or when I see the homeless man who wanders the streets, or read stories of little children who don’t know what love looks like. I am blessed beyond measure and am also accountable for this gift. Am I making the load a bit lighter when I can, to some struggling soul who needs help? Do I begrudge my time to those less fortunate, or even look down my nose at them?
On a lighter note, it’s been a good Saturday. The house is clean, I caught up on my sleep, and my stomach is full of a good, home-cooked meal of Swedish meatballs and baked potatoes. What more could a girl want? 🙂
Vicki

Mr. Right, Peanut Chicken and Apologetics

Whoa, right? Exactly what’s going on in the title? Sounds like a philosophy and cooking show casserole with a little romance for garnish. That’s how I roll, which is why this makes me smile: 
  A woman's brain.... 
Here are a few online thingies I’ve been enjoying lately:
This brave lady tackled a subject that few people dare touch. I read her post “My-husband-is-not-my-soul-mate” and enjoyed it hugely. She makes the claim that there is not necessarily a Mr. Right for you. We’ve been taught that all of our lives but there could be a bunch of different spouse options that could work. God, in His foreknowledge, knows who it will be, if you get married, but He didn’t create someone especially for you; He created a number that could work. It’s radical, but I like it in some ways. It explains a little why, in our culture, divorce is so accepted. With our push for finding Mr/Mrs. Right, and finding the Perfect One, it becomes a hit or miss situation where if you happen to marry the wrong one, the quest can continue for the perfect one. We value Perfection over Commitment and hearts get trampled in the process. I can’t say I agree with everything she says, but she makes an interesting point.  Her blog went from almost obscurity to over 1,400 comments on that post alone. Go read it and come back and tell me what you think!
And now let me tell you about the beauty that is Thai Peanut Chicken. I just finished a big, yummy plateful. I developed a taste for savory peanut dishes when my aunt Lois made us Peanut Chicken wraps. I was dubious, at first, because PEANUT BUTTER? In SAVORY dishes? do dosh net the ross kumma havva epp epp! (Kelly’s homemade mangled Pa. dutch phrase that she created to mean “You’ve got to be kidding!) However, I humbly confess my narrow-mindedness and  I now crave it.
 So today I made some peanut chicken to eat over rice and I am a very happy woman.
Basically you mix small amounts of peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder and sugar together, marinate it with some chicken pieces, simmer it with broccoli and carrots, and eat it over rice. I can’t give measurements cause I’m a stir and dump cook. I tweak and add as I go along.  But do try this, your taste buds will thank you!
(if you want a recipe: this recipe gave me some inspiration for the dish I created)
And one final thing that I’m enjoying:
A lecture by one of my favorite apologists, Michael Ramsden. If you have a heart for reaching out to our culture in meaningful ways, and trying to understand them and their questions, you will enjoy this lecture. He’s funny, has the beautiful British accent, and auctions off a question in this talk. I want to finish the second part tonight but I can certainly recommend the first.
So that is what marriage, peanut chicken and Michael Ramsden have in common. They all occupy spots in my brain simultaneously 🙂
Vicki
 

Yet Another DIY Recipe

  Hi all!
I’m at home today…. enjoying the quiet joys of cleaning and organizing and thinking. We’ve been extremely busy at the deli this week  and so these quiet days at home every couple weeks give me a chance to relax, recharge and enjoy thinking. I like to think….. am I weird?? 🙂
So I’ve been all domestic this morning and decided to show you how to make:

HOMEMADE FOAMING HAND SOAP
I don’t know about y’all, but we go though a lot of hand soap, and we don’t even play in sandboxes and mud puddles either :). I don’t particularly care for the cheap antibacterial soap you can buy and I also don’t care to spend $2-$3 dollars on a bottle of good smelling stuff that will last about a week so I make my own 🙂 Once again, I found this  here and promptly tried it and loved it. That website is amazing for all kinds of DIY cleaners and laundry soaps, etc. 
Your first stop will be a grocery store/Walmart/whatever. You will need to buy a bottle of dishwashing detergent. I got mine at WalMart and the options are endless:
I use mostly Dawn, simply because they have good scents and the soap isn’t as strong as Palmolive and as weak as Sun or whatever else. This is going on hands, not dishes, remember, so don’t get anything too powerful :).
On a whim, I picked up Great Values knock-off of Dawn’s Olay with Hand Renewal and I like it. I paid $1.97 for the bottle and have no complaints.
You will also need an empty hand-soap bottle. NOTE: you MUST buy a foaming soap with the special pump in order to have your soap turn out foaming. I bought a Dial hand-soap awhile back, used it, and am now using the bottle to make my own.
Pour about an inch of dishwashing soap directly into the empty bottle. 
 Fill the rest of the bottle up with water from the tap, and then shake well. It will result in looking like this:

If you like a stronger soap, use more dishwashing soap; if you like a more mild kind, use less. I’ve seen suggestions for adding food coloring to give it a boost of color but I never do that. I’m scared it will stain my hands plus I just find it unnecessary.
I love making soap this way…. it literally takes seconds to make, smells really nice, and is a whole lot cheaper than buying new bottles every time you run out. After I made this bottle, I estimate that I can make at least ten more batches after this. Probably closer to 15 but if I can only make 10, that will be a cost of $.20 a bottle. Not bad, compared to $2.00 for just one bottle that would last us a week.
I was telling my grandma about this a couple months ago and she told me she’s been doing this for years. Ha! And I thought it was a new pinterest thing :). Goes to show Grandmas are more valuable than Pinterest, because what is now in vogue to do has been done for years and years by the older generation.
Catch ya next time,
Vicki

Book download!

Hi all,
I’m interrupting this series of posts to tell you about a book written by a friend of ours who is a missionary in Liberia. We met Nancy Sheppard and her husband Mark and their family when we lived over there.

 Amazon describes the book this way:

When Mark and Nancy Sheppard began missionary service in Liberia, Nancy had no idea what God would ask of her. Their idyllic first term was followed by the Liberian Civil War and a nightmarish year working among Liberian refugees in the Ivory Coast. Conditions were difficult, expectations overwhelming and the tensions of the war at their doorstep. Fear, self-pity, resentment and depression haunted her. God used Nancy’s difficult decision to follow her husband’s leadership and remain in refugee work to begin an amazing spiritual journey—one that led to a clearer understanding of biblical womanhood as well as a deeper relationship with the Lord and with her husband.

The book chronicles Nancy’s journey to true peace in the midst of very difficult circumstances. As God teaches her about genuine service, submission, sincere prayer, reverence and humility, she is totally and completely transformed. The scenarios are unique to Nancy, but every seeking Christian can fully identify with the spiritual lessons.

A unique reading experience, this interactive eBook contains many full color pictures as well as links to pertinent YouTube videos. This Kindle edition of “Confessions of a Transformed Heart” will not disappoint!

I snatched this book right up when it was released and it really is a good read. And the good news right now is that you can get a free ebook download from amazon for the next couple days. Here is the link:

and if you read in spanish here is the link:


 Each download improves the amazon ratings of the book so download away and help bless the Sheppards in their ministry in Liberia. Feel free to pass the word around as well. It’s a wonderful book and I know you will enjoy it.

Their son, John-Mark also wrote a book about Liberian English and it’s on its way to my house now. I can’t wait to read it!

Thanks!
Vicki

Homemade Fabric Softener

Okay, so here I am again, with a frugal DIY tip. I love being frugal and spending my money wisely so I love new tips on better ways to do it.

And so I present to you:

Homemade Fabric Softener
And giving credit where its due: I came up with this formula after seeing a couple “recipes” floating around and combined what I liked best about each. This is where I got the base.
It’s quite simple and actually kinda fun because you can experiment with different scents. The cast of ingredients:
6 cups hot water
4 cups vinegar
2 cups hair conditioner (any scent)
2 Tbsp. Purex crystals dissolved in hot water
I usually just pick up the cheapest brand of conditioner. Suave has good prices and a good variety of scents so that’s what I use. It’s really simple. I just pour all the ingredients together in an empty fabric softener bottle, shake really well to mix and then its good to go. The purex crystals are optional but I like to use them to calm down the vinegar scent of the mixture. It’s not very strong but the crystals do make it smell more like Downy. If you wait to get them till they’re on sale it really shouldn’t be too expensive, considering that you only  use two tablespoons per batch.
I haven’t done any calculating but I think homemade softener is cheaper than buying especially expensive brands like Downy. This recipe mostly fills up the following large Purex bottle. ( don’t go by the half-full amount on the picture).
So there you go! It works great, is fun to make, and what’s not to love about it? 
Coming up: 
Homemade Foaming Hand Soap,
A Great Alternative to Glade and Febreeze Plugins
A Book Sale From My Very Own Collection of Books
Stay tuned!

Kindness Drives a Black Truck

We could hardly have figured out a worse predicament. We had just left a lovely weekend with Liberia friends at a reunion and were 25 minutes down the road when our engine light came on. It was pouring rain, on a Sunday evening, in a town whose name we could hardly pronounce and our power was going out. The windshield wipers were going slower and slower so we pulled in to a small gas station. On my dad’s way in to see what he could do, he happened to ask 3 country boys standing around outside if they knew where he could find an alternator, since he was fairly sure that was the problem. They told him there wasn’t much around so we decided to keep on going and see if we could make it to a place with more options. We had hardly started when he figured out we wouldn’t make it so we pulled into a nearby bank parking lot to make some calls. My dad went back to the same gas station to see what he could do and the aforementioned boys were still there and remarked that we hadn’t gotten very far. My dad soon came back and we waited in the pouring rain, trying to figure out what to do, when they drove up in their big, black truck. They jumped out and said they had been talking among themselves, trying to figure out how they would feel if they were traveling through GA and got stuck with the same problem, so they decided to come see what they could do. Turns out one of them works for a junk yard, so he thought he could get an alternator for us. They roared off and returned 15 minutes later with two alternators. They grabbed the second one last minute in case the first didn’t fit and it turned out to be a smart move. They labored away in the pouring rain, bent over our van, taking the old alternator out and putting the new one in, while we sat in the van, slack-jawed that these people were taking time to help us (and we weren’t even in the South!) The Lord heard many bits of thanksgiving and beseechings of blessing for these men as they toiled away. They got the alternator put in, jumped off the van for us and made sure it was working properly. We paid them well, and thanked them profusely for their labors but they kinda shrugged it off and said maybe if they are ever in the same shoes, someone will return the favor.

It’s easy to get jaded in a world full of murders and rapes and kidnappings and suicides. World events are hostile and uncertain. But because of three unselfish young men, goodwill and compassion reigned supreme and became proof that they really do exist. Kindness is a universal gift, and sometimes it drives a black truck.

The Art of Dining Out

My family owns a deli/sandwich shop in a beautiful, Southern town. We thought we were busy when we opened two and a half years ago but we are busier than ever now. That is, if you call making 200+ sandwiches and 15 gallons of soup a day, busy. Our food prep line is similar to that of Subway, so folks get to watch us make their food, and chat in the meantime. There are six of us that run it and it keeps us all busy most of the time. So we have definitely learned a lot about food service, customer service and how to keep customers happy. And trust me, we have the best customers a person could wish for. We talk about it constantly, how blessed we are. In spite of hastily serving a couple hundred people every day, we have managed to get to know a lot of our customers on a first name basis and are privileged to call them friends. We have folks who eat with us almost daily. Fine, fine people. In fact, for every disgruntled, demanding customer, we probably have 50 super nice, friendly and obliging customers. And since we’ve been in business now, and have developed a kind of routine, we have learned a few things, which has changed some of our mannerisms of eating out. So I’ve compiled a list of things that hopefully can help you be a better customer when dining out:

As a customer:

-Be friendly.We have customers who can just walk in the door, and we all sorta smile and perk up because they are just so funny, or upbeat, or happy. That would have to mean shutting off the cell phone. We try to provide fast, friendly service because many of our customers are on lunch breaks. When you are on the phone, we can’t be fast or friendly because we don’t have your attention. If the call is urgent, finish it before stepping in line or ask the other person to hold so you can answer our many questions about bread and cheese and veggies, and all that good stuff. I realize that this friendliness thing is not always easy as a customer, particularly if the one serving you is not friendly or chatty or helpful. But be as friendly as you can.

-Don’t take advantage of free. We provide complimentary cups of water to our customers. Free water is great for those trying to lose weight, or pinch pennies. Please don’t fill your cup with lemons provided for paying customers, and dump in the Splenda. It might be poor man’s lemonade but it’s not considerate to the restaurant. We do have cost in the water, the cup and everything else, not to mention the time it takes to cut up all those lemons. This might not be illegal, but I deem it unethical- along with taking extra packs of taco sauce from Taco Bell with the intentions of putting it on your homemade burritos at home. And making cutesy DIY crafts with paint chips from paint stores. Google it once and you’d be surprised at how many projects promoted on Pinterest and other places demand huge quantities of these paint chips. One I saw was for decorating a dorm (since you aren’t allowed to paint) by gluing hundreds of these paint chips to a wall for a splash of color. Don’t try to tell me too that it’s free advertising for the paint companies. Half of the finished projects don’t even have the paint names on them. And who’s going to look at a cute little homemade paint chip bookmark and say, “Oh, I want to paint my room that color!” Probably not happening.
-Be aware of what’s going on around you. If you have finished eating and are just chilling, while others are leaving the restaurant because of no free tables, it would be considerate to think about leaving. We aren’t going to ask you to leave, obviously, but we do appreciate when folks give up their tables for people waiting to eat.

-Leave a clean table. Especially if you are doing fast food, or don’t have a waitress to clean up after you. A few crumpled napkins on the table and floor can make a dining area appear very messy. We try to keep the dining area clean but crowds of people and limited tables don’t always let it happen. And speaking of dirty tables, please don’t choose the only dirty table in the room and ask us to come wash it when you are surrounded by clean ones. Seriously! And when you are finished, push the chair up neatly against the table. These are little things that can make big differences!

 And now,even when we eat somewhere where we have a  waitress, we still try to tidy the table. Put all the trash together, stack the plates, etc. It shows the waitress that we care about their job and appreciate all that they have done for us. Trust me, we have learned a lot through this experience 🙂

-Be aware of the dynamics of the business. For example, we serve long lines of people and try to do it quickly because people are on lunch breaks. Therefore, if you want your veggies cut up finely, ask for them on the side and then do it yourself. In a busy food prep line, we are chefs, not food processors.

– Be honest with your experience. We hope you enjoyed your stay with us. But if you have a complaint, do tell that as well. We can’t fix what we don’t know about.

This wasn’t written to incriminate anyone or put anyone on guilt trips if you have or have not done some of the things I mentioned. We were ignorant of  a lot of them too, because we had never been on the other side of the line.

And once again, here’s a big shout-out to all the wonderful, funny, friendly souls who grace our tables. They have become friends and we couldn’t make it without them!

I should probably do a follow-up post on The Art of Making Dining Out A Good Experience– in other words, to the folks on my side of the line. We certainly aren’t perfect and make many mistakes in customer service. The responsibility of not only providing good food with a smile, but of representing Jesus is huge and we feel it.

So now…. you out there. Yes, you! What think ye? What do you do as a customer to make eating out a win-win situation all the way around? Or what are pet peeves of yours as it relates to those making your food and serving you. This could be really interesting 🙂 


Vicki

beautiful words

I am enjoying some new (for me) Christmas music this year. This song especially is beautiful and the words powerful. An excerpt:

…..” By holy intervention
An act of love divine
In union with mortality
Make incarnation mine.”
Beautiful…. the Holy One, taking on flesh, walking our roads,eating our foods, getting dusty with our dirt
all to save us.
I keep thinking of Mary and her amazing role in this. She began His life by delivering him. He ended His by delivering her. I wonder if He has a special place in heaven for her; his mother/daughter?
I hope to write more later….
Vicki

Today…..

was one of those days. You know, where everything goes somewhat wrong and you do stupid things. First off, it was my day off, but I had to go in to the deli over lunch time to help with the lunch crowds. And today everybody in Thomaston, 1/2 of Atlanta and parts of Colorado and Puerto Rico came in to eat. It was hectic for awhile because we only have six people working and we needed more like 10. People wanting sandwiches, people calling in sandwich orders, people calling to see what kind of soup we have, people placing cake orders, making 14 gallons of soup, deliveries to unload and put away. At one point we just laughed cause there was nothing better to do.

So when I was finally able to leave I stopped at Dollar Tree to pick up a few things for our dinner tonight. Dollar Tree really has some neat stuff although most of it is fairly cheap (as in quality). I happily discovered this:

and added it to my cart. It hit me a full 4 hours later what I had actually bought. My lower set of braces came off last week and I’m going in tomorrow for my retainer and I’ve been thinking of it all along as dentures. I think I even told someone I’m getting my dentures tomorrow. Thankfully it only cost a dollar so it’s not worth a trip back (or my dignity) to return it.

So after that experience, I filled up the white car with gas. It’s a little different than my car because the gas tank lid screws completely off versus screwing off and hanging by it’s cord. So I filled up, and was heading home when I saw the lid was open. I immediately was scared that I had forgotten to put the lid back on and it was laying somewhere on the busy four lane highway I had just turned off of. So I quickly pulled over, and relief! I had just forgotten to close the lid.

On the way home I was mentally reviewing supper plans which were to include a white chicken chili, blueberry muffins, and a new starbucks caramel apple cider copycat recipe that I had found. There, laying on the floor of the passenger side, was a big jug of apple juice staring up at me. I thought I had bought apple cider which I needed for the drink. So we didn’t have that special drink after all. We had Fruit Punch KoolAid instead. It’s not what you’d call an upgrade at all.

Oh, and I was feeling all DIY-ey and made some homemade shaving cream. It was super easy to make but ended up being really runny and not very lathery. Ingredients include baby oil, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.

Then my mom came home sick. And when Mama’s sick, it kinda affects everybody. Hopefully it won’t hang on long, although friends of ours have been battling this for over a week.

But then there were a few bright spots in the day. The white chicken chili ended up being delicious and creamy. It has the perfect amount of heat to make it interesting.

I enjoyed playing with the dogs for awhile. They were in desperate need of attention and I got in some fresh air.

I also did some writing. I do very little of that so an assignment is just what I need to make it happen.

And like I said, I was feeling DIY-ish so I spray painted some thrift store picture frames white. I intend to fill them with scrapbook paper for a cheap, artsy looking wall display at the store. I’m not a very even spray-painter, but that’s all I’ll say cause this half of the post is supposed to be positive :).

Oh, and then there’s the chocolate candy bars infused with strawberries that came all the way from Europe via Aldi, the supermarket. You can’t be too upset after eating a few bars of that.goodness. Why can’t Americans make good chocolate?

So all in all, it’s a good ole world, even after one of those days.

A New Post (cause I have nothing more creative to call it)

Good evening….and a quiet evening it is. It seemed made for dusting off an almost forgotten blog and trying to catch up on some news.
 
A lot has happened in the past few months. God seems to enjoy changing things up every now and then, which keeps life from getting monotonous. Some of the changes have been good and some hard. And through it all, God steadies us with His faithfulness, grounds us with His love, and comforts us in His great, big God-arms.
 
A very trivial, yet welcome change was the addition of Maya, to our family. She’s half Australian shepherd and half German shepherd, and altogether adorable and fun. We can’t help but love her, even when she pulls laundry off the line, adds yet another stick to her scraggly collection on the patio, and jumps up on us in muddy exuberance at seeing us come home. We are working on her training and are happy that she seems to be a fairly stubborn  smart dog.
 
 

She could about get away with murder with that look!
 
Part of her playfulness/naughtiness issue is the fact that Shadow, her rolemodel, mother figure, seems to be “in the family way” and gets tired of immature puppy antics. Bless her heart 🙂
 
I’ve also been on a few trips since the last post. One such trip was to get acquainted with this beautiful little baby:
 

 
Her mom, Tina, and I taught school together in Arkansas and therefore (that is such a KJVword) have lots of shared memories of good times together. I so enjoyed loving up on a little baby again and Sierra sure is a honey!
 
My family spent Labor Day down in South Ga with my mom’s folks. We always have such a fun time and get to do things such as visit the Islands. We spent part of the day on St. Simons along, with bakoodles of other people. I tried to get my fill of the beautiful old live oaks with the spanish moss hanging from them. I  would give a lot to have one in our yard. St. Simons Is. is the setting of many of Eugenia Price’s books and that makes it doubly interesting.
 
Another major highlight was going flying with my cousin Derrick, who recently got his pilot’s license. Flying in a small plane is just way more fun than riding in a jet, because you can do more stuff in a small plane. Derrick is a terrific pilot and did a wonderful job of taking a number of plane loads up and over the area. We are so lucky to have him in the family 🙂 😉
 
 
My grandma is such a good sport and enjoys stuff like that as much as the rest of us. She climbed right in as agilely as could be and thoroughly enjoyed her ride. I want to be just like her when I’m her age!
 
And then God brought us to a valley…. a deep, dark valley which we are still in but still feel His Presence.
Our dear friend/member of our church was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor two and a half weeks ago. It was a huge blow/shock to us. She went into surgery a few days later and they removed what they could of it. She was in the hospital for a little over a week and came home last Saturday. You can read more of the story here.
She is the mom of some of my best friends, so walking through this valley with them has been so very difficult. Everything happened so fast and they didn’t have much time to process things before more were piled on. And yet, I see peace in them…. resignation to God’s will…. and a sweet spirit of acceptance. And like I mentioned, seeing people you love suffer so deeply and not being able to do anything but care for them is hard. I’d love to make the pain go away, turn the clock back in time, shake them up from the bad dream. But I can’t. Here are a few words I penned in a very dark time for me emotionally in this:
 
Pain
Jagged
Tearing
Blinding
Crippling
Numbing
Stripping
Raw
Hope
Enfolding
Life-giving
Comforting
Soothing
Healing
Trusting
Beautiful
God
Loving
Upholding
Changeless
Timeless
Merciful
Giving
Forever
 
 
Please continue to pray for the Whitt family. The future looks uncertain. There are many things they will have to work through and figure out.
But God is good, and somehow that thought comforted me through this. For some reason, it is His will and His intentions for His children are always good.
 
Well, I should run along. I hope to post more in the future. Several topics include:
 
1. Restaurant Etiquette (I’m loaded on this one 🙂
 
2. What It Means to Be A Southern Lady
 
3. Living Intentionally and with Purpose in a Ready-Made World
 
etc. etc.
 
until then,
Vicki
 
Photo credits for all but the Sierra pictures go to Kelly. Don’t think i could do stuff like that. Please.
 
 

Wherein she returns

Hi y’all!
I know, it’s hard to keep up with everything I post on here so just take it easy, okay? 🙂 I have had many posts swirling through my head in the past months but they never made it this far. The convenient thing about mental posts is that they don’t have to be edited or polished for viewers pleasure. I’m still trying to figure out the line between writing as a discipline and writing because I can’t help it. I took a creative writing class at Bible School one year and our teacher told us never to write unless we can help it. I like that. Typically, when you just can’t stop yourself, you put out something that conveys passion and conviction about what you are thinking about. On the other hand, I think writing can be a good discipline.
     Another reason why posting on something as public as the internet is challenging, is because we have no idea who, if anybody are reading the posts. There might be 3 of you, there might be 333 of you, blogger really doesn’t tell me all that.
But anyway, a friend of mine (hi, you!) told me over the weekend that she regularly checks my blog to see if there’s anything new up and after having disappointed her for 6 months, I figured now is the time to get current!
Today is my day off, meaning that today I am home. I love these days fervently and enjoy just puttering around the house by my lonesome and doing catch up work. I am often greatly inspired to cook while I am at home because I LOVE to cook. To me it’s a form of art, a way of expressing what I enjoy through food and spices and condiments. Today I made manicotti. I’ll show you how I did it but don’t expect a recipe because i’m a cook that doesn’t follow rules. I make mine up as I go. Cookbooks are my springboard for cooking but certainly not my rule book. Well, except for baking cookies and cake and all those other things that you have to follow instructions. Maybe tha’ts why I don’t enjoy baking….  I have to follow rules. So anyhow, here is my morning of manicotti….

I have two things to say at this point. Number one, I share a love for cooking and especially cooking Italian cuisine with my aunt Marylou. What I don’t share is her photography and photo editing skills. What you see in the above picture is a pound of sausage with some fresh mozzarella cheese, some spring onions, some basil and oregano and an egg. Well, you don’t see an egg, but it’s there. Just didn’t want you straining your eyes too horribly looking for it. This dish could probably be made without it but it just felt like it should be in there. I don’t believe in predestination in any cases except this one.
Meanwhile I had some manicotti noodles cooking in water. (duh, what else?)

 This is the manicotti in case you needed a mental picture. I guess it’s manicotti even if you didn’t.

This is the pasta sauce of my choice. There are many options available so I say go with what looks good and sweeten it. A wee bit of sugar adds a pop and really pulls some of the flavors out. I’m really weird that way. I get it from my dad. He taught us how to sweeted Mexican restaurant salsas. They are really, so much better that way. Try it and see if you don’t like it better.

 I cooked the noodles a la dente and then stuffed them with the sausage mixture. Pour the sauce over the noodles and bake for I don’t know, 45 minutes. I apologize about that brown pan in the above picture. It was the perfect size  for the noodles so I used it. I hold some fairly significant grudges against that dish. It takes me back to my childhood on school mornings. After awakening from peaceful slumbers, wafts of baked oatmeal would come floating back to my bedroom and you know, start my day off on a bad note. It was always served in this brown dish and I’ve never quite forgiven it.
And here, la-deees and gentlemen, is the finished product. When the sausage was nearly cooked, I sprinkled fresh mozzarella cheese on top. I used fresh because we own a deli and it was readily available but I’m sure the pre-grated stuff would work too. I wanted fresh basil as a garnish but alas! All my basil sprigs are only 3 inches tall and I didn’t feel like aborting so young a life.

(the steam arising from the pasta in this picture sorta amuses me. It’s heading north east quite rapidly)
I enjoyed an Italian lettuce blend salad with homemade ranch dressing and cashews and more mozzarella cheese. And I ate manicotti. Like all afternoon. My family’s really not into Italian cuisine that much which means I probably get the rest of it. Feel the pains of resignation as I accept my plight. 
Anyway, hopefully this inspires you to explore the joys that are manicotti. You can do so many other things with it too. I think a spinach/ricotta cheese stuffing would be good too.
Now this is late and today wasn’t my day off. Yesterday was. So I’ll  just post and edit later 🙂
See y’all!
Vicki

The Acquiring of books

Well, after such an exhaustive list of book recs, 🙂 i decided to take a break 🙂 and let you know about some really neat places to get such books….. at a fraction of the price you’d pay brand-new.

First up:

Paperbackswap.com. This is a sort of book club. When you join, you automatically are given a credit or two, to have fun with until someone requests one of your books. This is a really good way to get rid of books that you enjoyed, but don’t really want to keep. You post these books and then when someone requests one of them, you mail it to them, and when they receive it, they mark it as “received” and you are given a credit. You can use that credit to choose any book on the website and they will mail it to you. The only expense involved is postage, and the gas to the post office. I’ve done a good bit of sending and receiving, and the only problem I’ve had was a book getting lost in the mail, meaning I never got the credit even though I paid to send it.

A few other cheap used book websites:

Thriftbooks.com. They have a really good variety of books and the best part is the free shipping. I often get books for $3.50 or less making it a really good deal. Oh, and you can do a wish list as well. Post what books you’d like to get and they let you know when they become available.

Betterworldbooks.com is another good place to find books with free shipping as well. They also have a bargain bin and sometimes have sales within the bargain bin making the books really cheap.

This next thing is not really book-related but I thought I’d tell y’all about swagbucks, if you have not already been enlightened. Swagbucks is a program that gives you “bucks” for searching the web. You download the swagbucks toolbar and use it to search for whatever you usually do with your google toolbar. And it will randomly give you bucks that you can redeem as gift cards,etc. For example, just the other day I searched for a restaurant menu in my swagbucks toolbar and I won 23 bucks. Now, you don’t win every time you search, and if you do goofy searches constantly in hopes of winning, they can detect it and shut you down. You also receive one swagbuck a day for using the toolbar. You can also win swagbucks by voting in their daily polls, completing some surveys, etc. And the best thing about it is there are no strings attached. No junk emails or spam messages. I like to use my swagbucks to redeem amazon gift cards. 450 sb gives you a $5 gift card. So far, I’ve gotten more than $30 in giftcards…. all from searching. Getting paid to do what I usually do online isn’t such a bad idea in my book! If you want to get started, here is my referral link. It will also help me out 🙂

If y’all know of more great places online to get books, drop a line in the comment section whereby we may all benefit and our lives may theretofore be enriched.

Vicki

Randomocity


“It is virtually impossible to be in a bad mood when surrounded by flowers.” I said that to Kelly and the others when we were at Callaway Gardens on Saturday. She said that we should have flowers in every room in the house. She might’ve not meant it that way.

 When you have a dear friend who volunteers at the aforementioned Gardens and can get you in for free, you go. And let your soul feast on soul-cheesecake, ie-flowers. When I come away from there I dream of being a botanist or a landscaper or a flowerbed engineer or designer or whatever those folks call themselves. I’m playing around with  getting a greenhouse this winter and seeing what all I can grow.


 
The mum balls were breathtaking………..

And don’t even get me started on container gardens.

    
Have you ever seen cascading mums? We got to meet the lady who painstakingly tied each mum stem down to train them for the cascading effect.


 
And now that I’ve sufficiently persuaded you of my love for flowers, shall we move on to other things?
Such as…….. flower bouquets?
Just kidding.
I had plans of doing some fairly regular book reviews on here but obviously it didn’t last long.
I hope to do a random assortment so today we have….
A cookbook!
   
This cookbooks is more than just recipes…. it has lots of interesting tidbits about the origins of foods, the different ways they are prepared depending on which state you live in, etc. It also contains a few digs at the North, but it is, after all, a southern cookbook. 
That’s my thumb in the corner. Hopefully it’s a green thumb cause did I tell you that I love flowers?
 This makes me an awful southerner, but I must confess that I really don’t like cornbread. Or gravy. Just say it a couple of times….. gravy, gravy, gravy. It even sounds blah. I don’t dislike the flavor of gravies, I dislike the lack of flavor. It is monotonous. Dull. A dipperful of gravy over a pile of mashed potatoes does not automatically make it better, just as writing “lol” after a sentence doesn’t automatically  make it funny.
I have no clue how I got so far off track. 
Anyway, if you get a chance, at least look through this huge cookbook. It has all the good southern-style recipes that have lived through the years, plus it has more elegant, gourmet recipes. Which include ingredients I can’t pronounce. The beautiful, full color pictures are a feast for the eyes as well. 
And lastly, a recipe from the cookbook that I want to try:
Layered Cornbread and Turkey Salad
(I don’t like cornbread by itself. It makes a mean salad, though.)
1 (15)oz bottle roasted garlic dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
1 1/2 cups chopped smoked turkey
8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 (12 oz.)jar roasted bell peppers, drained and chopped
2 cups crumbled cornbread
8 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
5 green onions chopped
Stir together dressing and buttermilk, blending well.
Layer a 3 qt glass bowl with half each of lettuce and next six ingredients; top with half of dressing. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients and dressing. Cover and chill 2 hours.
’till next time,
Vicki

And I remember….


Well, they say the third time is a charm so maybe you will see this post tonight 🙂 I sat down and attempted to write it at least twice but nothing came so here i am today and it will come. It must, because today is a day to remember.
My mind has been thousands of miles away today, re-visiting a land and a time that my family holds dear. Today three years ago we left Liberia and came home to the States. I think back to that day and can remember with a lot less pain then I could have two years ago. I was not prepared for the depth of emotion that I felt as we said goodbye to the people and the land that we had come to love with all of our hearts. I can still so vividly remember the heart-tearing sobs, the unreal feelings of this-is-the-last-time for so many things, the last clasp of Vashti’s arms as she hung onto my neck, the sight of all of our friends waving goodbye through the glass doors and the pulling up of the jet wheels as we left Liberian soil. 
And today, three years later, I look back and remember. And miss so many things:

 
The children, who loved us in spite of, or maybe because of, our white skin. They have the warmest of hearts and are so friendly and fun. There were always neighbor children around always up to making pizza or playing lappa. They crept right into my heart and will always have that spot. I miss them so much…..


The ocean, ever changing and always beautiful. We had a  healthy respect for it after a few close calls. We lived only a few blocks from the ocean and could hear the waves crashing on the beach on especially quiet nights.



It feels a bit irreverent to mention our monkeys after the children and ocean. However, they were a very entertaining part of our lives and kept life interesting at all times. Let’s just say our dog was kinda boring after we got home 🙂 Stinker’s (the biggest monkey) grand finale after we left and gave her to someone else, was her debut into a pot of pepper soup, after she bit the children too many times. I’m sure she died fighting. That’s just the kind of monkey she was. We got Sassy, the smallest monkey, as a traumatized, wee little thing. She wouldn’t sleep unless someone was holding her, we had to blow her food when it was too hot, and she pretty much lived it up until one night she squeaked one too many times, and had to go out and live with Stinker. Stinker willingly and capably adopted her as her own and they spent many happy hours together, playing and helping each other get out of the pen.


We were blessed to work alongside a lot of wonderful people during our four years there. Together we battled homesickness, loneliness, malaria and all those overwhelming feelings of trying to understand a new culture. We became family to each other when we had to miss out on weddings and special events that are part of family life, and holidays when family gets together. 
There is still a special bond there between us and we can do and say things that no one else gets. Our reunions would be fairly entertaining for non-Liberians 🙂 

This group is the same group as the picture above. A few spouses and children can change a lot 🙂 We had a little Liberia missionary reunion back in July and talked and ate and reminisced all things Liberian.
 
It’s a little sad, but the memories are already starting to fade. We have to scratch our heads a little harder when we try to remember names. Our Liberian English is so rusty it’s embarrassing to talk it. 
Basically, we have slipped back into North American life. And while we do look back with the most awesome of memories of our Liberia stint, we know that we were called back home too, and are happy to be back. Sure, it still does ache inside sometimes to remember all of “our”children, that we loved on and had in our house and yard so much of the time, to remember the richness of the culture, to remember the fun times we had with our high-energy, interactive monkeys, to remember the chocolate-skinned fingers tentatively feeling our hair and exclaiming over how soft and straight it is, to remember the acceptance and love of even the neediest of the people…… the list could go on but I’ll stop.
We came back richer people than when we left. I’m not talking monetary riches either. The Liberian people taught and gave us so many things, and parts of our hearts will always be there.
~~*Vicki

Wherein she has an adventure…


Hey y’all!
Life has been very, very busy. I’ve been hither and yon and back a few times and have had such a nice time doing it all 🙂 A couple of weeks ago I flew out to Arkansas to be with my friends out there for a very short (48 hour) weekend. I basically always fly Airtran (go Airtran!), cause it’s the cheapest way to go. Kelly and Ruth Anne got me to the airport nice and early which I was all over. The last time K and I flew to Ohio, we got to our gate just as the plane was backing up 😦 It was due to a combination of not allowing enough time and the picker-upper guy who was supposed to pick us up 5 minutes after we parked the car at Park-N-Go, showed up 22 minutes later. Oh, and it was July 4th weekend which meant that flights were packed and even overbooked. We had to change our destination and ended up at our friends’ house at 1:30 in the morning. So I was all good with being in Atlanta in good time. I really do love the Atlanta airport. I’ve been through there so many times i feel right at home and know exactly which train to get on, cause you have to get on the train to get to pretty much any gate. (I’m not sure why y’all need to know all this. Consider this a tutorial on how to do the Atlanta airport).


Ok, so to make a short story very long, everything was on time for my flight to Branson. I boarded, said “hi” to the little old lady beside me, picked up the In-flight magazine, perused it (just felt like using that word 🙂 and then waited, and waited. Finally a flight attendant showed up, and said, “Victoria _______?” I indicated that she was indeed talking to the right person, and then she handed me a new boarding pass and asked if the little old lady and I would mind moving because they were trying to accommodate a family with children. Would I? Not if the new assigned seat was 2A. The little old lady looked at me and said, “What are we doing?” I grinned kinda cheesy like and said, “they’re moving us north.” I happily got my carry-on down from the overhead bin and headed north. I’m one of those stingy flyers who will do everything not to check in luggage which means I often probably have the heaviest bags on the plane. I always appreciate when a gentleman notices that as well and offers to put them up or take them down for me. I’m never quite sure if they are looking out for me or themselves but that’s all okay. I have this phobia of losing control and having it whank some nice old man on his shiny bald head. ( I coined the word, “whank” myself. It means to fall and hit with a resounding, will hear-it-the-rest-of-your-life, sounding thud.)

So I settled into my new seat and tried not to look as excited as I felt. You know, the cool, done this lots of times before, old hat kinda look. It is so roomy up there! I just wanted to stretch my toes and move around just because i could. All my fellow first-classers had already gotten their pre-flight beverages so i tried not to be too miffed that I missed out. It wasn’t their fault or anything.

Well, we took off  and I decided that first class passengers get tilted back in their seats further because they are up front. That was my only rational thought on the flight. I spent the rest of the time trying to keep my eyes to the right size. They just kept wanting to get bigger. Because, for one thing, they brought us beverages on trays. We got beverages…. the ordinary people behind us were served drinks.  The trays were little and black and plastic, but every so much more elite than just being handed a glass from a flight attendants’ hand.

Oh, and here is where I faced the moral dilemma. How much does an upgraded passenger impose on the good graces of the crew when he or she really paid for drinks, not beverages? Ok, so I wasn’t going to ask for a bottle of the most expensive wine. I am a Christian and a teetotaler and all that so I’m good without the wine. But chocolate milk now…… that’s where I started to waver. Yes? No? Should I? Should I not? The ordinary people behind me had to pay two bucks for a small bottle of chocolate milk but it was mine for the having. I broke down and nonchalantly asked for a bottle and they brought it, no problem. Even served it on a little black tray.  And then they brought the snacks out. (in a  pretty wooden basket). We had a choice of several elite things such as some kind of gourmet cookie and TGI Friday potato skins. I again, nonchalantly picked out a bag of potato skins, had moment of silence for the pretzel-eating folks behind us, and enjoyed my high class snack of potato skins and chocolate milk. Oh, and then the nice flight attendant came through and asked if we needed anything else. I asked for a glass of water. I needed it, I promise. I have no idea where you’d get the idea that I’d ask for it just because I could. Duh!

The landing was uneventful and I was the first person off the plane! Wit whew for writtendownbig! I love the Branson airport. It’s the only privately owned airport in the States and it’s decorated like a Bass Pro Shop. Everything is rustic and there are animal heads mounted all around and there’s lots of greenery. It has all of two gates I think and the whole terminal area is about the size of a fairly big house. Coming from Atlanta to Branson is quite a study in contrasts.

So that’s the story of how I got to Branson. 98% being true and 2% being writers privilege 🙂 What I did in Arkansas is a whole other story. But relax. I’m not going to write it here. It included lots of good times and chats with friends and my first and second graders and family. I taught school out there two years ago and i have so many good memories of my time there. Culturally, it’s a bit different than central GA 🙂 You can still buy snuff at Wal-Mart if that tells you anything 🙂

So that’s the story of my first business upgrade….. and I could have enjoyed another first on my way back. It was my first opportunity for being bumped but I felt like getting home and crawling into bed.

Stay tuned for another book review soon…..
Vicki

P.S. I didn’t take the pictures in this post. Just didn’t want y’all thinking I was capable of such art.



The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy

I love to read. In fact, I often read a chapter or two (or 7) of a new or favorite book before going to sleep at night. I read a large variety of books and I admit to even enjoying childrens’ books 🙂 You should pick up or borrow the Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. It is a charming re-telling of the old favorite and I like it better. It is colorful and has lots of great pictures.

I’ve decided to start doing reviews on the books I love best. Today’s book is :

The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock.

 I find it a little hard to describe what I love about it. It’s a book that takes me to places and times I have never been in and will never go. It’s a story about quietness and a monastery and prayers and love and forgiveness and fighting personal battles. It’s not your average, easy reading book. It is out far enough of my world that it’s fascinating, yet not too far that I’m bored and overwhelmed. It somehow strikes a chord somewhere deep in me that not many other books do.

Living away from society and being shut away from the greater world doesn’t take care of man’s problems. The men in this story facing their problems and facing themselves is a large part of what the book is all about.

Do pick it up and read it. It may be dry as cornbread to you, and if it is, I am very sorry. Then would be a good time to pick up the three little wolves book. 🙂

And I realize that several months and posts ago, i asked you (whoever is reading this), what your favorite books and authors are. But I’d love to hear again, especially if you are new to this blog.

 I’ll try to keep going on this book review thing and eventually I’d like to have a special section for recommended reading (using suggestions from y’all).

So, what’s on your bedside stand?

My Calling~ His Pleasure

Do you ever wonder if God gets any pleasure from what you feel He has called you to do? Do you ever feel like it’s pointless and wonder what’s the use? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about callings and our wills and decisions.

A very dear friend/cousin is needing to decide which fork in the road to take as it relates to vocation. All her options are wonderful, fulfilling and kingdom building. And yet she has to decide which one to do. I remember the feeling of uncertainty. It seems like surely God must have an opinion about what He wants you to do but you feel no clear leading one way or the other. It’s like you are whirling around God’s roundabout, the choices veering off like the spokes of a wheel. And not only are you flying around trying to get some sort of direction, but the people behind you are honking their horns, impatiently waiting for you to decide which road to take.

Why is it so hard to decide God’s will? Why doesn’t he put your name and an arrow at one of the roads?
And then there are those who seem to easily understand the specifics and the reasons of His calling. He calls them to something that He made them good at doing. I think of Eric Lidell, the man who could run like the wind.

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Eric Lidell

We sometimes struggle with the mundane-ness of our callings. I don’t feel His pleasure every time I arrange juicy red tomatoes on top of a bed of lettuce, put the bread on top, and finish a sandwich. There’s no sort of spiritual thrill there. There is, however, an inside-my-heart sort of feeling that I am doing what He wants me to do right now. There are times when I look out and think of what all I could be doing. Bigger things. More thrilling things. Things that I feel would surely pleasure Him more. 

But you know, if I can’t even happily put a sandwich together, wish someone a blessed day, smile at the grumpy and listen to the hurting, right in our own store I’m not sure how I’d do in the jungles of Ecuador. For, after all, “she does most in God’s great world, who does her best in her own little world.”

I highly recommend the book, The Grand Weaver, by Ravi Zacharias. He says,

The doctor reveres the patient for the same reason the ball player takes care of his physique. The particulars of their call differ because the site of their sancturary differs. But the privilege of individual access to God-anytime, anywhere-remains the same. That is what makes their calling equally sacred.

I like that. We each have a sanctuary. The place where we are in active service for God. Mine happens to be a deli/specialty food store. It’s ordinary, glitter-free, and simple, but it’s there I can worship. Because He has called me to be there.

And maybe someday I can be big enough to say:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me to serve people. And when I prepare pasta salad, I feel His pleasure.

~*“*Vicki

Makeover!

Cheers and thanks to my dear friend Julia for transforming my blog! My siblings and I were over at her family’s house for a few hours on Saturday and we had such a good time together. I wanted some tips on the technicalities that exist in blogger and she helped me out and more! She whipped that header together in practically no time and I love how it turned out.

We always enjoy being with them because we share a lot of the same values and love the same Lord. Oh, and they live only a few miles from us too. Double plus! Her brothers have a really neat duct tape weapon business and can make all kinds of swords, shields, etc with what i always thought of as ordinary duct tape.

More posts coming up. Gotta do this new makeover justice!
Vicki

Half a Century of Love and the Celebration Thereof

Ok, so it’s really embarrassing how long it’s been since I posted. There have been lots of thoughts twirling through my head but if I would have written everything down it would’ve been a virtual thought casserole. I keep up with a lot of blogs and there’s really a lot of neat stuff out there. I enjoy all the clever DIY projects but I’m really not that creative. I did blog about a sonic drink holder that I converted into a…..ummmm……well something. You can read it here .
I know each blogger has a different style and mine is more along the inspiration/humor line.  I probably err on the side of not enough pictures so here’s a post with pictures. Because I really do like people. Especially the people pictured in this picture post. Amazing alliteration abounding here. 🙂
So anyway, where was I? I was trying to get to my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and I’m not sure how i was getting there. (for one thing I’m hearing 5 family members yelling out numbers from all areas of the living room as they try to calculate the cost of of a cabin for a few days.) Doesn’t do much for me when I’m trying to concentrate, I’m tellin’ ya.
So yeah, my grandparents have reached the golden year of their marriage. Amazing and wonderful and blessed are three words that come to mind. They are really special to me and all of us grandchildren because they have invested so much in us. Grandpa usually did his little grandpa thing when we’d come to visit. He’d get us to gather all the stuffed animals and then he’d position one or two on each fan blade. We all huddled underneath with eyes as big as saucers as he’d turn the fan on and watch them get slung off. (this all happened when we were young, please understand.) Grandma would let us comb out her hair and then put it back in a bun.
Grandpas are just plumb special!
So, the family got together for the weekend and we celebrated! Kens came from Arkansas and Davids came from Florida. And we keenly missed Jason and Melody and their family in the faraway Australia place. It just didn’t seem complete without them.
Saturday was spent getting ready for the Sunday open house. Some of them worked on food stuff, we girls decorated and pulled displays together, the boys moved tables and chairs, and this young man:
just sat there, decorative-like being adorable and smiley. We love this newest member of the family pretty much 🙂

After all the work of scooping the melons out, this was documented.

A very special and key point of the decor’ was this pencil sketched drawing of Grandpas done by my 16 year old cousin, Janae, from Australia. Her sister, Carolyn, has a few pictures on her blog as well. Carolyn is my cousin too, being Janae’s sister and all. You really should hop over and check out her blog. This drawing is amazing and especially coming from someone with just a knack and no special training or anything.

Melanie, another cousin, put this display together with some of Grandpas’ memorabilia. The blue thing you see on the right is a sample of Grandma’s wedding dress 50 years ago. An interesting thing about their wedding is they had a double wedding with her sister Vernie and her husband Mahlon.

Back in the early 70’s I think, my grandparents and some other families from their church sponsored a few Laotian refugees families’ move to the States. The families here were responsible for them after they arrived here. They are all scattered now but we keep in contact and get together with them occasionally. Boonchahn, Chahn, Kahmpooey and Sahmpoo with a few of their children came down for the event. I’m positive that’s not the way to spell their names but it’s exactly how they sound so there! And they brought with them *gasp* some of their delectable cabbage rolls and sticky rice and suh-lod (salad). There are moments when I can’t understand why I’m not Laotian.
America is just so boring. Other people/food groups have all the fun. If I could be who I’d want to be (food wise) this would be me: 30% Italian, 30% Mexican, 20% Laotian, 10% Chinese, 5% Liberian, 3% American, and 2% Oreos and milk.
That’s how much I love oreos and milk.
So baaaaaaack to the open house….
During the open house there were speeches by the children. Jason’s was recorded in Australia and played via projector, which was next best to him being there,I guess. We grandchildren sang a few songs, one being a song that grandpa wrote, and then the whole family sang our favorite “Jesus Lover of My Soul”. The formal part was wrapped up with a speech by the celebrated couple themselves.
Another family member that we missed and remembered was my Uncle Jim, who, at age 23, died suddenly of a heart condition while enjoying recess with his students. His wife of 3 months, Lois moved in with grandpas for a year or so, and while there started courting Gary, one of Jim’s good friends. Gary and Lois and their 7 children came for this. They  seem like part of the family. I guess when you share somebody you love, and walk the valley together after he dies, it strengthens, not weakens, family ties. I love how she calls my Grandpas mom and dad. Somehow she makes Jim seem a little more real. Because I was just a year old when he died, I have no memories of him. And yet I miss him. I wonder if he’d still be the fun of the family, the one with all the original jokes, the one who cared and loved his nephew and neices.
So yes, the open house/celebration was enjoyable and we wish for grandpas many more happy years together.
In between all the activities of the weekend, we enjoyed just relaxing at Grandpas.
My youngest uncle David and his wife Toni, with Kenneth giving a back rub.
We enjoyed lots of good food…
And just enjoyed being together. Isn’t that what families are for?
Well,  tis very late and i should run off to bed. I had all this and more written before but then I closed it for a bit and lost pretty much everything. Blogger isn’t exactly once saved always saved I guess.
I do want to write more. I’d like to start using writing as a discipline which will be very good for me.
I suppose to be professional I should do or host a giveway. Except I haven’t anything really fun or extra to give away. Except for some socks. Those are extra, not fun. And everything fun that i possess is not extra. Which = giveaway.
I told you I was tired……
Vicki
Oh, and btw, I have had several page views from cool places like Germany and Poland and Thailand. Do let me know who you are and what you eat and I might replace my Oreos and milk percentage with some of your local cuisine.

Beautiful Lines~

To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury;
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy not rich;
to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds, to sage and babes,
with open heart;
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasion, hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.
-William Henry Channing
\Anita gave this verse to her girls in the Christian Womanhood class one year. It’s been in my Bible ever since, because I like it so much. In a beautiful way, it portrays what a good, happy life should be.
I’m still pondering on it though, and wrestling with the line: elegance versus luxury and wealth versus riches. The contrasts seem so similar and I don’t grasp fully what it’s supposed to mean.
Channing uses his words carefully and beautifully.
To let the spiritual,unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
Wow.
I try so hard unbidden and unconscious, and wish for the mountaintop experiences grow up through the common
That’s just plain ‘ole everyday life. No mountaintops there. Nothing sparkly or rose tinted.
Just the hum-drum of life. But it can be beautiful. And that makes me happy inside.

Vicki~*~

I Think We’ve Grown Up

For the first time in all my life (23 whole years as of today), I finished a monopoly game. I had never finished a monopoly game before with my siblings. See, we always felt so sorry for each other whenever any of us were approaching debt so we’d just forgive each other and keep going. It always ended up like the 4 blondes at the four way stop. So when the properties were all bought, we figured it was a good time to end the game.
That was back in the days when we’d sneak our hundred dollar bills  into our laps when nobody was watching to give the impression that we had less money. Then, when we needed to purchase something big we’d smugly pull it out and everybody would wonderingly gasp, “She was hiding money!”

or something like that.

You would have thought that we’d cease to be surprised with time but we weren’t exactly 500 watt when it came to bright.

That was also in the era of Lots Of One Dollar Bills = cool. 40 one dollar bills makes a bigger stack than two $20’s. I think our thoughts of ourselves were fairly high with this intelligence.

So last night we pulled out Monopoly and played a brutal game. There was no forgiveness anywhere. I really smoked them….. and then too eagerly challenged them to a game tonight. Yep, that’s why i’m on this blog while they are exchanging rents in increments of hundreds. 

It’s sorta sad that we grow up….. but at least our games aren’t never ending anymore.

The end.

Things That Made Me Happy Today

~–~ the tulip trees, adorned with frilly pink and white blooms

~–~ the newly bloomed daffodils, nodding and agreeable in the sunshine

~–~ the green grass, emerging from brown nothingness

(ie. all things bright and colorful)

~–~ the roundabout between here and Montezuma. One important fact you should know about me is that I destest four way stops. I think thoughts in Portugese when I come to any of them. And I don’t even know Portugese. It’s always a thing of who’s there first and what if I got there only .00000008th of a second before the other car? I know there’s a rule to go by in such a situation but it always evades me at that point. So, yeah, roundabouts are just great. I think warm thoughts in English whenever I wheel around one of them.

~–~ the grins I weasled out of my young cousin, Jeremy, who I babysat today. When one chirps in baby talk and whistles and coos and in all ways looks ridiculous, it is nice when they do condescend to grin at you.

~–~ the fact that I didn’t have to change a messy diaper. I got a sniff of something suspicious, and girded up the loins of my inexperience and reluctance, but thankfully it was just  a *false alarm*. I was more hating it for his sake, see? 🙂 I’m known for putting on diapers backwards and completely forgetting the protective rubber pants. I’m doing good to remember that they do sometimes need to be changed.

~–~ our big, airy bedroom in all it’s blue and whiteness. Freshly cleaned up. That sentence was really the main point.

~–~ our creative old dog burying a piece of red velvet cake out by the fence. Well, it didn’t exactly make me happy, more cracked me up.

~–~making taco rice that we are going to eat tomorrow. I. love. taco. rice.

~–~ the fact that nobody wrecked into Kelly on her way to the airport this morning, and that her plane didn’t hit a bird and that she didn’t get lost in the peanut sized Branson airport which has two gates and one baggage belt thingie. And that she’s having fun with Melanie and Kenneth and Justin even though I really want to be there.

~–~ listening to my old Calvary Bible School 2008 chorus recording and remembering how it was to be 19 and at CBS. As all recordings from that dear place, the value is primarily in the fondness of memories, not the recording quality. Those were good times and good peoples.

~–~ the fact that the previously mentioned recording did not pick up the snorts and coughs of laughter coming from the back row of the soprano section. I can’t remember what was provoking the laughter of me and two girlfriends but I do remember trying to pull ourselves together and stop. Because, after all, giggling on recordings is unheard of.

The last song we sang was “Homeward Bound” and today I couldn’t help thinking of Casey, one of the guys there that term, who was taken Home two weeks ago by “the rough, restless tide”. He had done a year or so of voluntary service at a nursing home and was in Puerto Rico on a mission trip. Minutes after taking a group picture on a cliff by the ocean, he stumbled on some shaky ground, and plummeted 70+ feet to the ocean below and after swimming awhile and fighting for survival, he finally drowned. It all seems too horrible for words, so freak and bizarre, so unnecessary. And yet we choose to believe God didn’t make a mistake.

And since random is the theme of this post, I’ll  wrap it up with an informative piece about the difference between the North and South. It’s not original with me but I did find it highly humorous.

The difference between the North and the South – at last, clearly explained...

 

The North has Bloomingdale’s , the South has Dollar General .

The North has coffee houses, the South has Waffle Houses ..

The North has dating services, the South has family reunions.

The North has switchblade knives; the South has .45’s

The North has double last names; the South has double first names.

The North has Indy car races; The South has stock car races .

North has Cream of Wheat , the South has grits.

The North has green salads, the South has collard greens …

The North has lobsters, the South has crawfish .

The North has the rust belt; the South has the Bible Belt .. 

FOR NORTHERNERS MOVING SOUTH . .. ….. 
In the South : –If you run your car into a ditch, don’t panic. Four men in a four-wheel drive pickup truck with a tow chain will be along shortly. Don’t try to help them, just stay out of their way.
This is what they live for.

Don’t be surprised to find movie rentals and bait in the same store…. Do not buy food at this store.

Remember, ‘Y’all’ is singular, ‘all y’all’ is plural, and ‘all y’all’s’ is plural possessive

Get used to hearing ‘You ain’t from round here, are ya?’

Save all manner of bacon grease. You will be instructed later on how to use it.

Don’t be worried at not understanding what people are saying. They can’t understand you either.. The first Southern statement to creep into a transplanted Northerner’s vocabulary is the adjective ‘big’ol,’ truckor ‘big’ol’ boy. Most Northerners begin their
Southern-influenced dialect this way. All of them are in denial about it.

The proper pronunciation you learned in school is no longer proper 

Be advised that ‘He needed killin..’ is a valid defense here.

If you hear a Southerner exclaim, ‘Hey, y’all watch this,’ you should stay out of the way. These are likely to be the last words he’ll ever say.

If there is the prediction of the slightest chance of even the smallest accumulation of snow, your presence is required at the local grocery store… It doesn’t matter whether you need anything or not. You just have to go there.

Do not be surprised to find that 10-year olds own their own shotguns, they are proficient marksmen, and their mammas taught them how to aim.

In the South, we have found that the best way to grow a lush green lawn is to pour gravel on it and call it a driveway.AND REMEMBER: If you do settle in the South and bear children, don’t think we will accept them as Southerners. After all, if the cat had kittens in the oven, we ain’t gonna call ’em biscuits. 

~Vicki

Thinkings from a dentist’s chair

Sitting in a dentist’s chair with enough Novacaine in your mouth to make it feel like you’re harboring an elephant gives you lots of thinking time.I had a few teeth that needed filllings and two that needed extracting, per my orthodontist’s orders. I blithely thought, “why not take care of everything at once.” To do that, howsoever, they had to numb every bit of my mouth except for the floor. It’s an incredibly odd feeling, that of having ownership of lips and a tongue, but not being able to feel them. What’s worse, they asked me to stick out my tongue so I stuck out what I thought was my tongue, hoping devoutly it wasn’t my tonsils or small intestine.
 
 
And you know, nothing really hurts after the initial pricking and pinching off the big, bad needle. It’s just a whir of pulling and noises and lights and tools that bump and grind and an occasional, “You okay down there, honey?” ( he’s allowed to say that, because this is the south and he’s over 50 🙂 You really want to get honeyed and sweethearted, and dolled and stuff, just try standing behind a cash register and help a couple hundred of people a day.
 
The dentist left for a little after the fillings were done and I was done fighting unfair battles with forces not to be reckoned with so I said to the nurse, “ahhhhh eeeeeee eeeeeee ewwwwwww ohhhhhhh ewwwwww uhhhhhhh ahhhhhhh ewwwww.” She looked at me sympathetically, remarking on how long I’d been on the chair and kindly showed me the bathroom. I’m in awe of her foreign language expertise.
 
But back to the thinking…..I was trying to imagine a numb life. A life without pain. Or suffering. Or hardship. There are times I foolishly think I could really enjoy that. It would be nice not to feel the heartbreaking pain of the death of a dear friend.To not have a heart bleeding for abused children and the pain they go through. To not have to worry and wonder over children in Liberia who are for various reasons, involved in witchcraft and things you and I have never gone through. Can you imagine life without all that?
 
 
But imagine also a life without joy. For without pain, one can not experience joy. You can’t experience the good in the absence of the bad because there would be nothing to define goodness and badness. Lasagna wouldn’t taste nearly as delicious if I wouldn’t have baked oatmeal to compare it to. (now you know my feelings on both food items 🙂
 
 
 
  Imagine a life without smiles, for smiles are a result of joy and happiness. A life without laughter and kindness and thanksgiving.
 
 
I tried to find the story of the People in the land of the Middle. It’s an interesting and soul searching read about a land devoid of emotion. It was never hot nor cold. The people were neither happy nor sad. Theirs was a life without color, without tears, and without smiles. I find it fascinating and disturbing all at once. Give me a life with tears and heartbreaks and questions…..because then I can know happiness, comfort and healing.
 
There’s all kinds of emotional novacaine out there to rob you of feeling. Lies. Society is out to numb you of certain things to get you to experience others. I think of the many innocent young children all over Africa who are brain-washed, given a gun and told to kill. And they do, without emotion.
 
This is not a post about letting your feelings dominate you and celebrating them to the extent of not living in reality. This is just a post of thanksgiving to the One who gave me the capacity to feel love and pain. To laugh and cry. And to live with meaning.
 
~-~-Vicki
 
 
 
 
 

The miracle of life

 
A letter to Jeremy
Welcome to the world, Jeremy, and more specifically, welcome to our world! It’s nothing short of a miracle, how such a little bundle can bring such great happiness. How such a little bundle can turn a household upside-down, can keep a grown woman up most of a night, and can have cousins fighting to hold it. All this to say, you are a pretty special bundle.
 
You came to your family, and to us in a very special way. God, the Creator/Weaver, pulled the strings and wove together a very beautiful design that led to your arrival. You were prayed for and cried for. Your brothers wanted another sibling very badly. Your mom wanted another armful of babyness to hold. And your dad wanted another son to trail him on the farm. And then God answered prayers, and sent you.
 
You were surrounded by love since your birth. The people who took care of you before you became part of your forever family loved you very much. Love surrounded you and will surround you through your life.
 
You will learn all kinds of things in the next couple years. You will learn about colors…..white is for cows, your dad will teach you. Green and yellow are for tractors and equipment. Black and blue is for tussling and playing with your energetic brothers. And red, for a whole lot of love.
 
You have grandpas who will give you gator rides and teach you about golf. Your grandmas will fix all kinds of good things to eat and give you horseback rides. And your cousins…. well, we won’t even start on that. Because they’ve already spoiled you. You whimper a little, and they all come running to see what you need. We will cuddle you when you are little, read books to you when you get older,teach you to read when you turn 2, and discuss and debate with you when you grow up. Yours will be quite the life, I can already tell.
 
You came to us in a unique way and because of unique circumstances. As you grow older, you may hear you are inferior becauses of it. That’s not true! We are made in His likeness and He never sends Himself down in inferior or second-best packages. Adoption is a beautiful metaphor of the Christian life. We have all been adopted.
 
 You are neither more special, nor less special because of this. You are exactly how God wanted you to be, a sweet little 8 lb bundle that could win a yelling contest, no problem.
 
We love you Jeremy…..welcome to our world!
 
 

overheard at piggly wiggly

(guy stocking shelves)”yeah, you know that magic word snow?” Well, people came and bought us out of __________________.”

We had a snow flurry shower this morning. Little flurries were dancing everywhere in the wind. And obviously people were preparing to be snowed in.

We pulled our sleds out but took them back in cause we couldn’t find the snowflake anymore.

They are calling for some real snow on Wednesday evening. I should probably go and get bread before it’s gone.

~-~-~Vicki

P.S. Piggly Wiggly is the name of a southern chain of stores.

P.P.S. We actually don’t own a sled.

Dusting off the cobwebs

This is the kind of evening of which odes were written and songs were sung. It turned out wonderful and I’m so impressed because I have been looking forward to it for awhile. I planned what all I was going to do and the feelings that I’d have as I experienced each action. So yeah, everything was all planned out, which left me a little worried because there are some things that one can plan to death.(weddings aren’t one of them.)

I didn’t get married.

(I’m really trying to see how long I can go on about this without saying what it was we actually did).

I’m also trying to figure out what kinds of evenings you might be imagining.

It’s kinda hard.

So maybe I’ll just say it.

We started our fireplace. And lounged around drinking white chocolate cappucino with belgian chocolate toffee creamer. And smelled fresh clean laundry. And laughed at a lame joke. And just LiVeD. 

We have mostly lived at the store/deli that we opened up a month ago and one can’t live so well at a place like that. Business is wide open and we make between 150 and 200 sandwiches every day. So while we are so very thankful for the income, it does leave us rather tired and brain dead at the end of each day.

I fall into bed and sleep within minutes. In my previous life I would lay awake for awhile thinking and discussing things with myself. That sounds very boring and blah but I can carry a pretty good conversation with myself. And ask some very hard questions. Such as: How can we say that we love sleeping and love taking naps when in all actuality, we are quite unconscious through the whole process? That one had me baffled for awhile and we never got that one worked out.

There are more serious, deeper questions that I’ve been asking too but maybe I’ll do a post on that later. It all has to do with God and His ways. And pain and suffering and the powers of darkness.

But there’s also a deep abiding joy and a wonder at a miracle that’s occuring even now. I’ll write more about this miracle once I can tell the news 🙂

~*~*~ Vicki

The Marriage of Honesty and Tact




I’m discovering in my limited experience with blogging, and with  keeping up with others’ blogs, that being “real” online is challenging. We tend to blog about things that excite us or that we take interest in, so the sparkly aspects of us really shine, but the real parts of us are obscured in the shadows. And that’s all good to a certain extent because there are parts of me that you just really don’t need to know about. I’m sorry if you are offended by it, you may just skip on to the next blog.




Being real in today’s world is more complicated than it should be. We are friends with people we have never met on social networking sites. It’s fairly easy to make our online identity completely different than who we really are. And since they are none the wiser for it we somehow feel better about ourselves.


That’s the scary part of blogging, along with the fact that anybody can read what I write. I do have this really neat site meter that tracks people on my site, telling me their latest splurges and how much they weigh. Well, I do have a site meter. I guess it sorta stops there.


Honesty and tact has been on my mind a lot lately. How can one be tactfully honest? In our North-American culture, we beat around bushes. Oh, YES we do! I thought I just heard somebody say that they really, for the most part, and most of the time don’t. Really, it’s amusing at times, how we tiptoe around the obvious. And I say that because I’ve spent 4 years of my life with the most honest people group I’ve ever met, Liberians. There were times I cringed inwardly and wished I didn’t understand the Liberian English. They said things the way they were. And they didn’t say it in four different languages to soften the impact. At times they lacked tact.


And then I come back, and everybody knows there’s a problem with something, and nobody talks about it. They speak of it in vague enough terms so it’s not too obvious, but everybody knows what they are talking about. We lack honesty.


Somehow, I think the union of tact and honesty should be possible. It was in the life of Jesus. He was honest even when it hurt but there was a certain dignity and tact that accompanied it.


I love southern-style honesty. Our neighbor from a few houses back came to us soon after we moved. In her high, sugary voice she said, “Ah brought you a key-lahm pah and ah do make a good key-lahm pah.” For those of you not acquainted with this language, it translates as “I brought you a key lime pie and I do make a good key lime pie.” And we are thinking !!!!!!! The neat thing is that they are quick to acknowledge other people’s good points. And if they do have to say something not-so-complimentary about something or someone they tack “bless her heart” at the end. As in, “Mrs. Lotus painted her house a most unusual apricot color, bless her heart.” That phrase covers a multitude of sins down here 🙂


I think if we would all make honesty a lifestyle, it would be easier. And when I say honesty, I mean facing issues and confrontations head-on. I


Confrontation and conflict is not pleasant. But avoiding and dodging it doesn’t take care of it. It won’t go away. There is where the marriage of tact and honesty should take place.


Being real and honest is not about letting everyone know whenever you are upset or having a bad day. I’m talking about a sanctified kind of reality. We all know what it’s like to be around someone who is constantly bemoaning something or another. That is honesty, I guess, just not the right kind.


Today I heard the most wonderful message about confrontation and forgiveness. It wasn’t about forgiving and forgetting. It poked right down to the nitty gritty of forgiveness and attitudes. I may write more about it later but the thought most impressed on my memory was:


(in regards to forgiveness)

We need to remember that we stand between a King to whom we owe a debt we cannot pay, and a person who owes something that we can forgive.


 Forgiveness is absorbing a debt and then releasing the person who owes it without making sure they realize how much they hurt us.

Wow.



~*~*Vicki

Of good books and stuck cookies

After perusing the book aisles at several Goodwill stores today, I was rewarded with several potential good books. I love the feeling of picking up a never-read-before book. It could quickly become a favorite, or it could be thrown out, never to come in contact with my life again. It’s hard at first glance to tell a good book from a no-keeper.

I love reading and my books quickly become old friends. When I move into a new place I feel at home when my books are on their shelves, not when the curtains are hung. Case in point-my bedroom now. My stash of books was set up the day we moved and I have yet to hang curtains. Actually, I have yet to get curtains. And we’ve been here nearly three months.

I confess to being a lover of old books and old authors. Give me books by Harold Bell Wright or L. M Montgomery. I like Francena Arnold and Gene Stratton Porter. Another favorite is End of The Spear. You gotta love the old gentleman from the jungle who came back to the States with Steve.

 I like books that don’t just entertain me. I like when they move me and unconsciously push me to become a bigger person. I like reading a book and then thinking about it for the next couple of hours.

Occasionally I can get into a newer book. But somehow the newer ones don’t have the “old acquaintance” feel.

My problem now is I feel stuck in a rut. And your solution to my problem is to tell me who/what you enjoy reading. I love recommendations.

And since I love recommendations, here’s one for you. Visit thriftbooks.com for a wide variety of books and better yet, FREE SHIPPING in the U.S. Prices start at $3.95. I can handle that 🙂

I’ve got about 25 in my wishlist and when I finally start making money, you probably won’t find me on here very much 🙂

So, don’t be shy and do tell. I would be so very obliged.

G’night!
Vicki

P.S. To any thriftbook executives reading this, A-HEM! This is what a lot of people call advertising.

P.PS. I’m having issues with posting pictures on here. “It” says my browser cookies function is turned off. Whatever. I know nothing whatsoever about browser cookies and what to do to make them stick. I’ll stick with macadamia nut, thanks.

Feeling-fallish

     
 
Happy Fall!
Isn’t fall just the best? The fresh, cool air is so delicious I could write odes about it. I wish I could can it in Mason jars and pull it out sometime around July. And the falling leaves and brilliant blue sky. I wish I could eat it on a spoon. Life somehow feels better, the spirit less stifled, and I feel just about frisky. Kinda like our dogs. I love watching this season turn our old, arthritis-ridden dog into a frisky acting young pup. I’m not sure if it accounts for our other, not-so-dear puppy tearing thirty-one (31) articles of clothing off the wash line during our daily absence at the store. Yep, you read that right. I’d write it in Vietnamese if I knew how, to make sure you’d get the point. Once you recover from that shock, lay on the floor to absorb the next. He did it all over again the next day, He did it all over again the next day, after a good spanking from his owner, aka, RuthAnne. That funny lookin’ stuff in that sentence was written in Marlett. Just so you’d get the point. I’m not sure what ethnic group speaks that language but maybe it’s that group over in Microsoft Fonts, I’m not sure about all that.
 
Someone should invent the phrase, “Dance in the Leaves.” It would make more sense than this lastest phenonomen of catchy phrases such as dance in the rain. Depending on your geographical location, couldn’t that be fatal? I’m thinking doctors don’t have this hanging in their waiting rooms. I really enjoy rain, I’ll just stay under the umbrella, thanks. Why not dance in a mud puddle, or in a snow drift. Then there’s Life isn’t measured by how many breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away. If I would get brave and dance in the rain, would that take my breath away?
And while we are being random anyway, I’ll throw out something else that wonders me. What does a Hawaiian sunset smell like? We have a candle with that scent and it puzzles me whenever I smell it. It smells really good. But why Hawaiian? Why not Liberian or Ohian? If that scent is unique to Hawaii, I’ll have to start saving airmiles. I could smell those kinds of sunsets for  a long time.
There’s other things that I wonder about too. Like how do the gas station billboards beside the interstate change the gas prices? I’m aware that it’s done electronically somehow but I didn’t think they make extension cords that long. And I didn’t think space satellites could pick that up.
Why does Sonic have drive-thrus ?
 

And I have body wash called Midnight Pomegranate. It also smells good. I wonder if it would smell better or worse during the day time.
Who comes up with this stuff? I know it’s called marketing but I still choose to be puzzled by it.

And this is just word stuff here, which I like, but recently in devotions in the O.T. we read about a widow lady whose husband had died. That just makes it very clear. 
Then there are the people who when talking to you start a sentence with, “Frankly,” and you think they are going to divulge how much they weigh and instead they say that they think gas prices are crazy high. So different than the Liberians who, when they said, “Frankly,” you want to curl up in a hole and close your ears tightly. Because most of their conversations occur in our “frankly” mode and when they get honest, they get really honest.
Which brings me to the greatest wonderment of all…..
How can the human heart contain so much joy and so great pain at the same time? I was sitting here reading over Liberia newsletters and VDRs from a couple of years ago.
  Torn between laughter:

I was going through some of my old stuff and came across the following prayer prayed by the lady on the left who I was teaching to read in Literacy Class. I had obviously given them cookies…..


“Oh, Lord Jesus, we thank you for this day. We give our whole country, Liberia, into your hands and all the countries all over the glove (meaning globe). Daddy Jesus, bless this little child (ahem!!) who has come to put knowledge into our heads. May you guide and protect her. We thank you for the cookies, Daddy Jesus. We know that this helps us live nicely with all men. May you bless Pastuh’s family so they can do it again sometime………”  She didn’t mean it to be funny, as I recall, but meant it from her heart.

and tears:

Something just squeezes inside of me as I think about leaving. I’m really going to miss all this. Interaction with children. Buying right off the street. Feeling comfortable enough to ask to hold a baby you’ve never seen before. Little voices calling my name. And little red blobs flying down the road to meet me.
Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m ready to go home or not. Little incidents like what happened 15 minutes ago make me question. I was walking down the road to a shop to buy some cough candy (cough drops) when I noticed in the distance a little blob of red start flying down the road at me. Fast. Throttle wide open.We have quite a few little friends down there so it could’ve been one of a whole group. I got closer and there coming as fast as her fat little legs could carry her, was little 2 year old Donna, alias, Cherry. She had a huge smile on her face and her look was one of pure joy.

 I miss and think about the most ridiculous little details. Such as the kitchen drawer that didn’t go in right and had to be coaxed in just the right way.
I miss sitting outside the gate and watching and interacting with vendors, children, neighbors, etc.
I miss our little Vashti. She probably doesn’t remember us anymore; doesn’t remember the afternoons spent at our place, all the cuddling and spoiling, the cookies and hammock rides. She’s a little girl of 3 and I’m guessing a  fairly independent one.
I miss church people and their unique ways of just being themselves.
……..our Security personnel and the good times we shared.
……. Stinker and Sassy and the hours of entertainment they provided.
……..the little formalities that used to frustrate me.
…….. holding the bright eyed, curly haired little babies.
………buying “twenty dollah bread”
……the taxis with their hysterical messages on the back
……. the ocean and palm trees
……..Libeera!



 Two weeks from now marks our two year anniversary for being back. It’s been a good 2 years-tough at times, but still good.  There are things that I definitely do not miss about Liberia. The frequent stomach aches and problems due to unknown causes. Pepto Bismal, it was a loyal friend. I don’t  miss the emotional tiredness. Seeing people’s needs and trying to meet the ones that we could was exhausting at times. Having people take advantage of us and our resources put extra stress on us. 









I still dream of going back. I’d love to write or design a curriculum for a young girl’s class and go back to our church and maybe some orphanages and work with girls. I’d love to see our church girls blossom into dedicated Christian girls who understand, first of all, salvation, and what it means to be a godly woman. Somehow, somewhere in their culture, there has to be a key, something that would make the whole salvation concept click with them. I think of Don Richardson’s stories of working with the Auca’s and using stories and ideas from their own culture to make salvation understandable.
 A good day and wonderful fall to you,
-*-* Vicki
P.S. The fall pictures were not taken by me, nor anybody that I know. It’s called clip art. Believe me, if I could take pictures like that I probably wouldn’t be painting shelves at an old tire store 🙂