Golden gladiators shuffling down a long and dusty driveway. I knock on the farmhouse door, and sheepishly pointing to the Mercedes on the side of the road, ask if I could make a phone call. It may be twenty years old, but this car is still a fish out of water along the forgotten backroads of South Carolina. Instead of handing over his cell phone, my new friend gets right to work, slithering under the trunk of my car to take a look. He determines that the job is too big for him and calls his friend, who drives over to help a city damsel in distress. Between the two of them, they reattach my muffler with a few coat hangers and point me in the direction of Mercer's Mufflers.
Mercer's turns out to be the kind of place you would have thought was closed twenty years ago. I don't see anything in sight that isn't covered in rust, and there's no office, waiting room, or vending machine. There's just this one guy, Richard, or as his friends call him, Roach. He clamps the muffler on for $10 and replaces a rusted out pipe for $40 more while I wander around the place taking photos and hoping he isn't offended by my intrigue. As it turns out, this sketchy twist of events is a blessing. When I talked to Tim hours later, he said he was looking for just this sort of guy to help us detour around a $400 Mercedes muffler replacement.
It's funny how a good turn of events overshadows a few bad moments. This all started because I heard some tin cans clanking behind my car and knew I wasn't a newlywed. I was stranded on the side of a two lane road in inland SC with no phone and no friend. Nonetheless, four nice guys turned this day into a gift so that I barely remember that I wouldn't have needed them without that car trouble. Maybe it's good to need them. Maybe a little dependence is healthy.
Someone (and it may be my Dear Husband) will use this story as an excuse to insist that I need a cell phone. Perhaps that's true, but there's another side to this, too. It turned out better that I didn't have one. Sure, I could have called right up and gotten someone to come out and tow my car to the nearest Midas 36 miles away. They would have replaced my muffler and I would have been on my way, my wallet a lot lighter and my car in great shape. Instead I made a few friends, got some great photos, proved to myself that I can survive a little car trouble, and had my muffler fixed instead of replaced. I suppose we'll see how that turns out in the long run. For today, I'm all gratitude and not a bit annoyed with the detour.
1. Admission. No young lady shall become a member of Mt. Holyoke Seminary who cannot kindle a fire, wash potatoes, repeat the multiplication table, and at least two-thirds of the shorter catechism.
2. Outfit. Every candidate for admission must be provided with a pair of rubber boots, one pair of cowhide shoes, a copy of Todd's Students's Manual, one orthodox bonnet and a clothes-line. N. B. No cosmetics, perfumes or fancy soaps will be permitted on the premises.
3. Exercise. Every member of this school shall walk at least a mile a day, unless a freshet, earthquake, or some other calamity prevent. The bounds to the north are marked by a stake, also those to the south and west. If any young lady shall go beyond said bounds, she shall scrub floors and wash dishes two weeks as a penalty.
4. Reading. No young lady shall devote more than an hour of each day to miscellaneous reading. The Atlantic Monthly, Shakespeare, Scott's Words, Robinson Crusoe, and other immoral works are strictly prohibited. The Boston Recorder, Missionary Herald, Doddridge's Rise and Progress, and Washington's Farewell Address are earnestly recommended for light reading.
5. Dress. No young lady connected with this institution shall adorn herself with flowers, plumes, or other vanities, and no colors of excessively gay nature will be tolerated, unless they be a composed yellow, dignified mouse, or puritan gray.
6. Company. No young lady is expected to have any gentleman acquaintances, unless they are retired missionaries or agents of benevolent societies. Daguerreotypes and plastic busts are also prohibited. "Thou shalt not worship any false images."
7. Hour of rising. Every student shall rise and three and retire at eight o'clock. Any violation of this rule will receive the penalty of additional work in the laundry.
8. Essays. No young lady shall write at any time write compositions except upon the following subjects: Friendship, Hope, Flowers, Beauties of Nature and Benevolence. Those designed for old maids may add Love.
9. Time at the Mirror. No young lady shall spend more than three consecutive minutes at the mirror.
10. Sabbath rules. No young lady who is a member of this school shall laugh or look out of the window on the Sabbath. Failure to observe this rule will be attended with severe punishment.
After being heckled in Peru for the last 2.5 years, I finally fought back today at the Giant Penny. Wish the leering had happened somewhere else to defy the stereotype about my favorite ghetto grocery store, but no surprises here. As I left the gym (granted, not wearing my most modest outfit, but still well-covered and expecting to be treated like a human), I had to go by the Giant Penny to pick up some chicken necks for Ellie's breakfast.
Some thug walked by and made a slew of inappropriate comments. I didn't know exactly what to say, but I was done letting it slide. Particularly in Charlotte where this kind of behavior is really not socially accepted the way it is in Peru. I just stared him down for a moment and then asked him if he could please attempt to treat me with a little more respect. When he tried to defend himself, I told him I really didn't appreciate his treatment of me. He sheepishly apologized and walked off. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL! Score one for me!
Generally I walk away from these situations feeling degraded, violated, stripped of my humanity, ashamed of my weakness, downright furious, filled with bitterness and thoughts of evil revenge. Instead, today I left proud, happy, empowered, and dignified. I don't know why it took me this long to stand up for myself, but honestly it feels like a major life turning point!
Living in Charlotte, I probably won't encounter this kind of situation often. That's good. But for now at least I know that I can fight back with grace and dignity.
That was a headline in the Portland paper today. You know you're in Maine when....
And I'm so glad to be here! It's been three years since I sat at this same spot overlooking the Casco Bay and writing about our upcoming journey to Peru. From the other side, it seems so short.
Time is flying indeed. I've been happily busy and am equally happy to have made it to this vacation. Nevermind that it's 90 degrees in Maine (why did I fly all the way up here?!). Last week was very full-- tutoring some GED folks at a post-rehab place, an interview for a Spanish immersion teaching position, lunch with my 93-year-old grandfather, putting a turquoise stripe in my hair ;-)
It's lovely to be in a place all of the sudden where I can't drive anywhere (even if there were somewhere to drive... and there isn't) and my only order of business for the day is to work on my online course. Wish I had brought my camera card reader, but I'll keep taking some photos to post when I get home.
This weekend Tim and I tried some new activities and communities in Charlotte, places to connect, serve, and have fun. Exhausting, but rewarding all the same.
1. Pet Therapy. Taza and I went (with a volunteer group) to a nearby retirement home to share a little fluffy love. She was a big hit of course and behaved herself quite well. I'm grateful for a chance to connect with some old folks, to slow down and listen for a moment, to meet people who live so close but whose life experience is so different from mine.
2. Latin Birthday Party. Our Mexican neighbors invited us to their 1-yr-old's birthday party. Having experienced this type of event before, we knew already that it wouldn't start on time, would be 99% about adults, and would last until the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately we had plans for the evening, so we just stopped by at 4:30 to drop off a gift. The party was supposed to start at 4, but there was barely a hint that it was going to happen. I imagine people showed up at 6 or 7. Anyway, we were glad to chat for a moment and so honored to be invited into this event. The mom brought by some cake and spaghetti the next day. I hope we can get to know them better in the future.
3. Contra Dancing. My college friend Julie gathered a small group and we spent a thrilling evening doing what Tim describes as "Pride and Prejudice meets line dancing" (Tim, of course, is very familiar with the movie and knows the dancing well). What fun! We were all pretty dizzy and exhausted by the end, but I definitely want to go back in July. The community there was perhaps the most welcoming I've ever experienced, and the facial expressions we saw were reason enough to attend on their own.
4. Pops in the Park. How have I never participated in this Charlotte tradition? The symphony plays on an outdoor stage on Sunday nights in the summer and the whole city (well, at least a certain subcategory) shows up to enjoy picnics on blankets while the sun goes down. It happened to rain a little before the show, so the weather cooled down enough to make breathing fairly easy. I went with Marty and Emily and for a few moments, just sat in awe of the gift that they are to me. I'm so grateful that they are willing to share their amazing friendship and open their lives to me. Plus they have precious children.
I told Tim last week that I really need a day off. At first I didn't understand why he was laughing at me. Then I remembered that I don't even have a job. Oops. I've been satisfyingly busy but also sometimes covet a day to pretend I have no responsibilities or goals. We'll see.
My 120-lb Neapolitan Mastiff has a problem with dog aggression. Not good. She snaps at other people's dogs and forces them to hang out in a corner when they visit our house. With Taza it's worse. A few times I thought we were going to lose her. Last weekend, she picked up Taza (11 lbs) and shook her in the air. Now you see what I mean by "problem."
Luckily we're back in the United States of Everything is Available and Possible if You're Willing to Pay, and after meeting with six different dog trainers and behavior modification specialists, I think we've found a good solution. Surprisingly it wasn't the most expensive option, although this dang dog is getting pricier by the day (mango pit extraction surgery, international flights, etc).
Next week she will be boarding with a pack of German Shepherds and getting some practice in friendliness. Or at least socialization. I'm pretty sure that getting her at 3 weeks (yes, she was tragically pitiful) has something to do with her inability to be nice to other dogs. Then in late July we'll be joining a group class with both Ellie and Taza. By the end of this, I expect that Ellie will not only be non-aggressive but that they also will be super obedient. Yay!
That's what I'm hoping for at least. Every time I met with a trainer, I realized how well we actually do have it-- calm, people-pleasing dogs that seem willing to obey most of the time. I don't think we're very far off from what I'm looking for. We'll see....
Couldn't be more excited about the new folks who moved in across the street last Thursday. They're a married couple about our age without kids and with two dogs, one smaller than Taza (Pomeranian) and one larger than Ellie (Great Dane). Ironically their Dane is named Nellie. They came over for dinner last night and we really enjoyed getting to know them some.
As I continue to pray for positive relationships in our own neighborhood, I find God opening new doors all over the place. It feels good. Besides just trying to be friendly, here are some of the plans I have for meeting people around here:
joined a gym 3 minutes away instead of the (cheaper) YMCA 10 minutes away
volunteering down the road-- Taza and I are scheduled to start "dog therapy" at the retirement home on Saturday!
we're hoping to repeat the neighborhood cookout in July
I'm attending my first book club tonight at the International House and hoping to make it Wednesday for Spanish Conversation Hour
Let me know if you have any good ideas to add to my list!
Tuesday night we threw ourselves a homecoming party. Really it was more to get to know better the new folks we've been running into-- hair stylists, coworkers, neighbors, etc. As we re-enter Charlotte and find our new lives here, Tim and I find ourselves pursuing different interests. One thing we definitely share is a desire to connect more deeply with old friends and branch out to engage in meaningful new friendships as well, particularly with people who aren't so much like us.
In the end we had 25 people show up for a low-key cookout. Nine of them were from our church, mostly people we met since we've been home and with whom we've been meeting biweekly for a book discussion. Of the rest, 13 were neighbors, 3 were college friends, and 3 were coworkers. We were thrilled to see them all.
The neighbors, really, were the most exciting part and the inspiration for the party to begin with (not to say that I don't love the other folks!). I've written before about our wildly fun next door neighbors, whose friends have recently moved in across the street. In addition to that crowd, we had a couple who just moved here in the fall from Atlanta and a Mexican family with 4 kids. Of course we were delighted to see the Mexican family at the party and get a chance to practice our Spanish (which is better than their English). The ecclectic and interesting group was everything I hoped for and a lot more.
As it turned out, we sort of had two parties-- one at 7, which included the majority of the people and the food. As those folks were leaving, the next door neighbor crowd showed up. It was a gift to have them at that point, when we could sit down and chat more about their lives and interests. They gave us a copy of their CD, which turned out to be the best white-boy rap I've heard (no, seriously, it was pretty good). They hung around until Tim kicked them out at 12. Sweet.
I've probably said more than enough by now, but in general, it was a super encouraging evening for us. We're so eager to dive in relationally right here where we live, and I think we're off to a good start.
*While I'm thinking about the neighbors, here's some neighborhood news to give you a picture of our street:
The Mexican family tried to raise rabbits to eat. They have about 6 domestic rabbits (black and white) that hop around the neighborhood, mostly in their own front yard. Unfortunately they say they can't seem to catch them. So long dinner, hello dog food. Honestly, watching these guys hop around is the highlight of my day.
Our next door neighbors invited another friend to live with them, but since they don't have a third bedroom, he calls the tool shed home. Way to be resourceful.
While walking around inviting people, we discovered that one of our neighbors is a dog groomer with two full-sized poodles. Can't wait to see if we can get a deal!! She has her screened in porch all set up as her dog salon.
Because most of our street is either rental properties or newly built fancy dancy homes, most of the residents are new. That makes it easier to make friends in one sense. I think we've been here the longest of everyone except one older couple with an angel statue in their front yard.
Hope to have more neighborly news later. I wish I were a columnist (or could write like one). Don't you think this would make some good material?
First produce of the year from my garden! It's part of my summer "job," which includes lots of reading, signing up for the gym, volunteering, and finishing up my two online seminary courses. I couldn't be happier.
Yesterday was graduation for my 13 seniors, all of whom walked across the stage and proudly took their diplomas. There were some questions and some last minute dramas, but in the end, they're done and there's no reason to look back.
Garinger. What an adventure. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to work there and so glad it's over. I got to see a new side of Charlotte, my side really, and learn about a population of kids that really need some support. I hope I don't forget about that soon. I have a lot of thoughts rumbling around about how to take make these lessons work for me. We'll see where they go.
Well I tried at least. When the kids were still throwing books and screaming at each other while I was trying to read the standardized test instructions, I lost my cool. For me, that doesn't mean yelling and cussing them out the way it does for some teachers. It means hyperventilating. I fled the room in a panic and was fortunate that the principal was in the hallway.
Three times in two months. Something is not right.
Is it really them or is it me? Hard to say. I wonder if my emotions aren't a little too close to the surface, perhaps an indicator that I'm experiencing more transition stress or reverse culture shock than would be easily apparent.
Several of my coworkers reminded me that I can't let the kids get to me and certainly can't let them see that they got to me. They say it in a friendly and consoling voice, and I know they want to make me feel better as well as give me advice. All I feel is frustrated that I can't do that. It doesn't feel like a choice over which I have any control. It just happens, often coming out of nowhere, and then I'm left trying to pick up the pieces. With all this practice, I'm getting the hang of that finally.
Off to the beach when Tim gets off of work. I think I deserve a vacation!
Have I mentioned yet that I'm obsessed with our neighborhood? It's been so good to return. As we drove down Central Ave. this evening, Tim made the point that we've got everything we need in one place--- the Honey No Grease Barbershop, a tattoo and piercings parlor, and plenty of antique stores :-)
We went by the Giant Penny (lowest end grocery store) to pick up our dog food-- 40 lbs of chicken necks. I was thrilled to discover this week that one of our school's top students works there. I touched base with her and with all the meat department guys tonight.
This is what I want: a life that takes place in one geographical location, where I work and shop and live and eat with the same people in an organic, community kind of way (I'm not sure "organic" is the right word there, but it feels good). I want to know my butcher and waiter and tattoo artist (kidding... no tattoos for me).
Speaking of neighbors, our next door neighbors (of tool shed party fame) are continuing to intrigue me to no end with their massive community of friends that come over all the time, their wonderfully surprising outfits, and the frisbee golf post-thing in their front yard. They hang out all the time outside, which means that we get to talk some, although the mosquitoes don't give me much of a chance to sit and while away the hours. I'm eager to get some Off and get to know them, or perhaps have them over for a drink or dinner soon.
called no parents (parents of those three have already heard from me plenty)
chased a student around the campus
looked at pictures of one student's one-year-old child
found out another student miscarried
got called a b**** a** teacher from across the room
got to speak in Spanish a lot
told several students how much I appreciate their determination and believe in their futures
enjoyed lesson planning in a quiet office after school
What a day.
Right now I'm sitting at my desk looking out the window at my eclectic and green neighborhood that I cherish so dearly. Taza is on my lap getting her snuggling in, and Ellie is lying on the floor chewing on her minty fresh rope. We're waiting for Tim to come home in 22 minutes from his job, which he is enjoying by the way.
Aaaah, a deep breath and I feel at peace. The fact that I get through these days is enough evidence for me that God is real, and getting through them still in a good mood? A miracle!
A 12th grader smacked this down on top of my overhead projector today somewhere around the 8th time I asked him to please turn around, face the front of the classroom, and focus on Spanish. The 8 requests don't seem all that shocking, but this combination of spelling and handwriting definitely caught me off guard. I expect this from 1st graders, but not seniors.
The bottom line is that basic literacy is a problem in low-income schools, and it's holding kids back from success in every subject, not just English. It's a reminder to me to work on these basics. It's not just the ESL kids (spelling "cheek" as "chick") but every one of them that needs help.
Ellie has found her best friend forever and it's not Taza. You can read more about our amazing and generous friends and how they took Ellie in for the weekend (while we went to the beach) here. Love it.
In Ellie's defense, she doesn't always look that bad around the mouth. I'm guessing she had just finished a tasty rawhide.
A student from my school was hit by 2 cars and died this morning. The scariest part is that no one seemed too surprised. They told me that it happens from time to time and then proceeded to recount one student who was shot in the chest two times and lived.
What does it feel like to be a teenager and not know if you'll make it to graduation, much less adulthood? It seems too hard, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
I didn't know quite how to handle the news in class. The students wanted to talk about it, but it didn't seem to be processing talk. More just gossip.
Who are these kids?
What do they need?
Can I offer it?
Do I want to?
I know God will show me more when I need it, but for now I feel confused.
I (Tim) am starting work tomorrow at Bank of America. A week ago I accepted a position as a Quality and Change Delivery Analyst and after a round of background checks and finger printing, I'm all set to go.
I'm really excited about this job. In many ways it feels like a gift from God. I first found out about the position in February through a friend and ever since I've felt that it would be a great fit for me and I'm thrilled that the hiring manager felt the same way. It's amazing to think that within seven weeks of being in Charlotte both Hannah and I have found jobs and they're the exact jobs we wanted while we were in Peru!
I'll be working at the heart of uptown Charlotte and taking the bus to work each day (which is awesome). In many ways the environment is a long ways away from Peru but it's interesting to think that my time in Peru, in many ways, prepared me for this position.
Thanks to everyone who has been praying for us. God has definitely answered some prayers!
p.s. If you're wondering what a Quality and Change Delivery Analyst does, I'll have to let you know. I have a general idea but it's a bit to vague to try to put into words. Hopefully I'll be able to communicate it better in a week or two.
Bad day at school today, and by that I mean that I didn't make it to my first class (8:45) before I was crying in the secretary's office and the principal offered to let me go home for the day. At least this time I knew how to handle the panic and kept my cool (ie, didn't hyperventilate).
Is the job really this hard? Maybe so. Sometimes I wonder if my fragility is more a part of reverse culture shock. When Tim came to pick me up, he reminded me that we're coming out of a culture (and certainly a school environment) where this kind of disrespect is unheard of.
As it turns out, it was a situation with an adult and not a student that set me off this morning. That's good in a sense, because it makes going back tomorrow a lot easier.
What is God trying to say to me? I had an interview yesterday for a fall position at a small Christian school. There are so many enticing things about working in that kind of environment, but the idea of losing the mission aspect of my current job leaves me a little sad. I want to make this work. I want to be successful in making a difference in the life of one child, one coworker, one parent. But if I'm hyperventilating twice a month and not making it to class, I don't see how that will be possible.
I have moments where I wonder if I will make it through to the end of the week, much less next year. My friend Jean reminded me when I started this job that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. So I guess the question isn't so much Can I? but Should I? and Do I want to?
Four or five more weeks. I can do this. The days are spiced with sweet moments of connecting with the kids, calling parents to thank them for the support they're offering me from home, laughing with coworkers. No morning do I wake up uncertain about what I can do to follow and honor Jesus that day. I'm grateful for a job and grateful for the chance to reach out to this small population of truly troubled kids for the most part.
Still curious about what the future holds and what God is trying to say in the present. Still coveting your prayers and love as much as I did through every trial in Peru. The mission is only beginning.
It's been almost six weeks since we arrived in Charlotte. Things are beginning to fall into place at last. I'm sick with some American bug I hadn't seen in a while (mostly a cold). Tim finally got over his, which lasted 3 weeks.
This week we attended our small group, refilled the driveway with gravel, took the dogs to the vet, and made a chicken pot pie. All very normal for life in the US, I would say. In the midst of that, I'm trying to remember what makes my life worth living and how to keep my mind on things above, not on the grass in my yard.
Today I was reading about outsiders' view that Christians are hypocritical and how it basically lines up with reality. Like everyone else, we don't do what we say we want to do. I don't do what I say I want to do. My life doesn't always look so different from anyone else's.
What makes a Christian teacher different than any other teacher, particularly teaching in a secular school? I want to know, because as glad as I am for Jesus' grace, I'm eager to learn how to live a life empowered for holiness and radical faith decisions. I wonder what the students and other staff think of me and if the fact that I claim to follow Jesus plays out in my work and professional relationships.
I don't want to be a hypocrite, although I imagine there will always be people who could make that claim of me. I want to know what it means to follow Jesus and then to do it. I want my beliefs to make a big difference in my actions. And I'm curious to see how that will play itself out in the weeks and years to come.
One week into my new and insane job. After Monday (my last post) I hyperventilated at school and seriously considered quitting. Nonetheless, it gets exponentially better every day and after 8 if them, I'd stay they're stuck with me for the next 8 weeks.
Believe it or not, today was actually good. For the first day yet, NO students written up and NO parent phone calls. I turned in my attendance, prepared my lesson plans, and still left school by 2:30! Are they getting the message? I think so, but no promises yet.
One month now that we've been home from Peru. Hard to believe. I'm grateful for this job and hope to have a minute to say more soon!
Assault. Sexual harrassment. 6 or 7 students referred to the office. About 25 parent phone calls. It has been a looooooooong day in a number of ways, beginning with the fact that I went in at 6:30 am and left at 5:30 pm. Nonetheless, I got all my work done and emerged alive. Tomorrow morning I will speak with the school police officer about pressing charges against one of my students. Keep me in your prayers.
Yesterday in church we sang the hymn This Is My Father's World. I tried to remember that today as I walked into the classroom. I don't have to cower in fear. This classroom belongs to Him and He put me there today to accomplish something.
This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise. This is my Father's world: he shines in all that's fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!
Let me say too that despite some of the odd incidents today, each day is better than the last. The majority of the students are getting the picture that I'm not here to mess around and that they'd better get to work. I appreciate their willingness to do that and am hopeful that I can soon provide a safe, productive, positive learning environment for them.
Time teaching my first day before the first student was sent out: 3 minutes
Total students: 69
Black students: 37
Hispanic students: 21
Asian students: 6
"Multi" students: 3
White students: 2
Number of boxers I've seen: too many to count
"Good" kids I've encountered: a majority
I will be working for my paycheck this month! This is no cake walk (mmmm... where can I find a good cake walk these days?).
This is the kind of school where they send Teach for America teachers (college scholarships in exchange for teaching at America's lowest schools). This is the kind of school that foreign teachers end up in when they apply through "work in America" programs. This place is tough. It's totally like in all the teacher movies, except don't expect me to work any of those miracles in the next two months.
Nonetheless, let me say that it has gone better than my first year teaching and better than when I had to take over another teacher's classes in the middle of the year (2006). Is it me? I'm not sure. Could also be the small class size. It doesn't seem like attendance is a high priority for these kids. I just keep remembering that I've been through a lot worse than this. It's proof to me that I can make it.
They've asked me a million times why I came to teach here, and I get a chance to tell them about my passion for compassion, for working with Latinos, and for teaching. They're curious about my background, my experience, my life. It's the first time I haven't had anything to hide from my students (even if before all I had to hide was my age and lack of experience).
I'm trying to remember as I battle through these days that I'm an ambassador for Christ, Profesora Murray on a Mission. I go with His strength and His purposes, to love every person with a supernatural capacity for mercy and grace. I'm pretty sure some of my students don't see that yet! But I know that within a month things will calm down some.
On a positive note, I want to report that the ESL teacher (from Spain) and all of the Hispanic students assumed that I was a native Spanish speaker after talking with me! The students in particular just kept asking more questions to try to figure out why in the world I speak fluently. Where are you from? Yeah, but, where were you born? Yeah, but, where are your parents from? What?! You're American?As you can imagine, I'm floored. Way to make my day. I've been working on learning Spanish for half of my life, and I'm so happy to know that it's showing.
I think I heard about this band at the infamous toolshed party a week ago. Now I find out they're playing at the Neighborhood Theater on Friday night! Tim will be in Austin visiting Phil and Christal, but basically I'm going to this concert whether I can find a friend or not! I'm super excited. If you're in Charlotte and free, let me know. And regardless, you'd better check out this fascinating YouTube video.
I officially got the job this afternoon! I'm starting next Thursday as the one and only foreign language (Spanish) teacher at the Garinger Business and Finance School. The pros: close enough to walk or bike, normal schedule, two decent paychecks, an opportunity to do what I love, a chance to love and discipline tough kids, meeting new people (coworkers) in Charlotte The cons:tough kids, it's only two months, no benefits (bah)
We bought a car yesterday and a washer and dryer today. Busy! Both are pre-loved, and I think they will be good solutions for us. Mostly I'm just glad to be done stalking Craigslist.
Yesterday we had a consultation with a dog trainer. Our dogs just don't have good enough manners for Charlotte, and we're looking for some help. Not sure yet what we'll do, but I did learn that Ellie has some dominance (but not aggression) issues. Immediately this morning I started correcting her every time she did something I didn't like, and I have seen an instant change in her. I'm not kidding. I think she just needed some structure maybe. We'll see where that goes.
Got my hands on some rhubarb, and Tim made a strawberry rhubarb pie yesterday! Wowsers! The US has some awesome treats.
By the way, here are some good people I've run into recently in Charlotte: Used appliances: JS Appliances 704-719-6600 (Call ahead or you'll never find it. It's sort of a sketchy location, but the appliances were good if you're willing to go! He buys them from foreclosed homes.) Mechanic: Charlotte Star Service, 4225 Monroe Rd. 704-332-4111 (they specifically service Mercedes and BMWs) Consignment stores: JLC Wearhouse 1117 Pecan Ave, JT Posh 2400 Park Rd. Suite 2-A, Consign by Design 739 Providence Rd., Men's: Revolve 339 Circle Ave Suite 1 Alterations: Anna's Alterations (already knew about this and LOVE it)
Any one know a good but inexpensive dog trainer in the area?
This morning on my dog walk I met a family waiting for the bus, ran into Jessica walking with her dog Lucy, and said hello to Mark as he ran by. That's what I'm looking for as I seek to create a life more central to where I live. I want to see people I know and know people I see. I want to live in a place where people are outside and talk to each other, where my neighbors aren't so far away that I can avoid chatting when we're both getting out of our cars.
I missed that about Pucallpa before I left even. Our sweet little next door neighbors were so close that the 2 year old twins would stand in their window in the morning and greet me as I sat on my couch in my own living room reading the Bible. When Tim sneezed, they laughed. Just a few steps further away were our friends Marshall, David, Rachael, and her David. Plenty of people to borrow eggs from, catch a ride with, and run to when we need a listening ear.
I'm blessed still to live in a neighborhood where that's a possibility. Two ridiculous dogs are helping us make friends, but in general it's a pretty friendly place. It's fun to be on a street with people speaking all kinds of languages and paying all kinds of mortgages and rents. I appreciate that our community walks places, and that there are places to go nearby. I'm not sure how I feel about gentrification in general, but for now, I'm enjoying how eclectic our neighborhood is.
I mostly got a job! There are a few pieces of my application that need to be completed for HR to officially offer me the job, but the principal at a nearby high school asked HR to hire me as an end-of-year Spanish teacher. I don't expect that this will be an easy 2 months, but I'm happy nonetheless at the prospect of having a normal schedule and getting a normal (ish) paycheck. It's been a long time. More about the specific job/school when it's official!
In other news...
It's 80 degrees in our house and feels perfect to me. I wouldn't dream of calling this hot. On the other hand, I'm a little nervous about August if this is what early April feels like.
Tim had a pre-interview this morning for a possibly good job. I actually haven't gotten to hear yet about how it went (other than "well"). Please pray for the next steps!
The dogs are adjusting well to being home, but I got some dirty looks today when Ellie was wandering peacefully around the local playground. I asked my friend about it, and she confirmed that big dogs off leashes aren't really kosher.
I washed a car for the first time ever this morning. Then I got on a roll and started washing the shingles and posts of our house. Spring cleaning!
We're hoping to buy our own car this week and have some good leads. Maybe I'll have something to report there soon!
I made baked sweet potatoes and ratatouille for dinner last night. When we sat down to our first me-cooked meal since we got here, it felt so normal. Amazing how long (and wonderful, really) 3 weeks without cooking turns out to be.
Tim bought me Easter tulips, and they're brightening up my whole life from the dining room table.
We went by Gordon Conwell (seminary) yesterday to pick up books and get me ready for summer classes. I'm really excited about some of the courses that are being offered this summer!
All the new (to us) folks at our church have been super gracious and welcoming. I'm really excited to get to know many of them and am hopeful for making meaningful new friendships.
Met a couple of ironic white rappers, a cute girl who kissed my hand, and Dylan the whippet. Discussed jewelry making, professional DJing, and the perfect mashed potatoes. Learned that underwear can be an accessory. Drank beer from a can. Came home, put on my Lilly Pulitzer pajamas, and went to sleep.
If I ever wanted to meet people who were different than me (and I do), I did it last night!
Blogging time seems to be scarce, so I'll take this 10 minute window to mention what's going on with us tonight.
Both Tim and I have a huge desire to connect more with people in Charlotte than we did in the past-- deeper relationships, friends that aren't necessarily like us, especially people in our neighborhood. As I looked at my to-do list the other day and saw that it was mostly people I needed to call or email back, I realized that I'm not making relationships a priority in my schedule. I want to bring my schedule and my values into agreement.
This weekend has been good for that. My brother came to visit last night and today, which was super fun. Hanging out with him is always so low-key in a great way, and I like showing him around my life. Plus his awesome dog came, too.
Friday night we hung out with my friend Julie (from Davidson) and some of her Charlotte folks. Taking social risks (like going to her house when she's the only one we know) is not really my strong suit, but I'm so glad we did it anyway. I really enjoyed reconnecting with her and meeting some of the people she loves.
Tonight we had dinner with Thadd and Laura, friends from our cross-cultural training who are now in Charlotte after 2 years as missionaries in Germany. What a gift to spend time with others who are going through what we're experiencing and understand the ups and downs, ins and outs.
Getting out of our car in our driveway just now, our neighbors invited us over for a little party of sorts in their backyard. Bed is calling my name, but I had just asked Tim this afternoon how he thought we could get to know these guys. They beat me to the punch. I'm glad for the chance, even if it means delaying my date with my pillow.
So off we go to chill with the neighbors. Pray for us in particular as we seek to meet new people in our neighborhood and share our lives. And let me know if you have any wisdom or ideas for me!
Tuesday night we had the privilege of attending a vision dinner at Carmel Country Club for a local Christian foundation in Charlotte affiliated with the National Christian Foundation. You may remember NCF if you knew Tim in 2006 or 2007, because it's about all he could talk about for those two years. The dinner Tuesday night was held to present the idea of a locally based and focused "chapter" of NCF that would encourage philanthropy in Charlotte and help fund local ministries. Pretty exciting.
As we expected, we were the youngest people in the room by 5-10 years. It was largely a gathering of Christian financial planners and big givers, coming together to dream about how to make a difference with their money and lives. I think I had forgotten the passion for transforming Charlotte that was brought to the table on Tuesday night. What a blessing to be part of this evening and be reminded of my calling not just to the world but to my own community.
Ron Blue, the founder of NCF and a noted Christian leader in the world of finances, spoke on the way the biblical story of Nehemiah gives light to this calling to a city. He mentioned that we need to be "out there" far enough to experience some fear. I'm reminded as I write of one of Tim's tee shirts that I folded this afternoon that says "Confesso que vivi -- P. Neruda" (I confess that I have lived -- Pablo Neruda-- and I think it's in Portuguese if you're wondering why I spelled my Spanish so poorly!). I want to come to the end of my day and the end of my life ready to say that with confidence.
How can I use my time, my talents, and my treasure to make a difference in Charlotte? How can I contribute to the growth of God's kingdom here? How can I reach out in compassion to people with deep physical, social, spiritual, or financial needs? I'm not sure, but I'm glad for the reminder to ask the questions.
As a side note and an update, I had two interviews yesterday at nearby schools that serve very low-income kids. I'm hopeful and also heartened, if that's a word. These are tough student populations, and I know that kids who haven't eaten since yesterday's free school lunch aren't necessarily going to be the most motivated to talk about conjugating verbs. That's okay with me. I love teaching but I know it's only valuable because people are valuable. I hope that my offering can make a difference in their lives.
I mentioned before that I was surprised by the degree to which America has "gone green" in our absence. I'm not exactly sure what to think, because I imagine that part of this is a passing trend and that much of the propaganda is actually aimed at increasing consumption (sneaky companies). Nonetheless, I've been challenged as I consider my role in caring for this earth that God put me on.
With that in mind, we've been doing "green" shopping-- not buying energy efficient appliances per se but hitting the consignment shops, thrift stores, and yard sales. It's exciting to think that instead of buying new things that increase production and therefore pollution, we can give new life to cast offs. So far we've picked up a couch, some awesome jeans, a salad spinner, and about everything in between. While some of this shopping may end up as a waste of time (and gas!) for people who have most of what they need, it's pretty productive for us as we look to restock our wardrobe and home.
I'm looking forward to a spring of yard sale-ing as well as a new season of prayerfully considering the decisions they make and what God would want from me in the details of my life. Let me know if you have any ideas or guidance!
My interview last week for an end-of-year Spanish position wasn't an interview per say because the principal can't do interviews until he has "the list" from HR. Hopefully this week I'll be back for a "real" one. I did schedule an interview with another principal for a job starting in the fall. It's hard to know how confident or not to be about all of this. Honestly, I feel like I'm extremely qualified, but then again, all of Charlotte seems to be hurting economically and I just wonder....
Everyone we talk to has been laid off or had financial set-backs at work. It feels dark in some ways, but no one seems too disillusioned by it actually. Maybe the shock has passed.
Pobrecito Timoteo is sick with the worst sore throat of his life. We bit the bullet yesterday and splurged on a whole slew of throat remedies: lemons and honey for tea, other tea, special throat lozenges, regular ol' Halls, salt for gargling salt water, zinc tablets. I'm sure I'm forgetting something.
Charlotte is feeling surprisingly normal. Every time we sit down for a meal with someone, it seems like it has only been a few months since we were last in that same spot. I love it. What I really love are my friends. It has been so good just to be with them. I don't think I realized how much I had missed that. Two and a half years is a long time.
My mom and brother came to visit this week, too. It was such a blessing to have help setting up my house, and sitting down for dinner with the two of them felt right. I'm hopeful that both of them can be frequent weekend guests in the years to come!
Our neighborhood is continuing in its process of gentrification. They are knocking down little houses and building monstrosities, but they architects seems to be doing a good job of keeping the same bungalow-type style. It's actually not that bad. And certainly good for our house value. It's been fun getting to know all of our old haunts and new ones, and I'm looking forward to getting to know my actual neighbors soon. They're all new people since we left (mostly renters on our end of the street).
We've hit Chick-fil-a (a little bit of a disappointment) but are trying to hold off on indulging in all our old favorites. People from our church have graciously been providing meals for us, and I'd say we've both lost a few pounds in the last week! Definitely a surprise. I think it's partly because we're too busy to snack.
Off to church in two hours. I'm seriously intimidated. It will be the first time seeing so many people after our long adventure in Peru. How many times can I say, "Oh my gosh! It's so good to see you!" Of course I really will mean it, but still.... The other scary part is that I imagine a good chunk of our congregation (including our pastor) is new. We have a lot of new friends to meet. Whew.
Enough updates for now. Still busy, busy, busy and hoping things will calm down this week so that I can digest what's going on.
Goodbye, Harris Teeter! I have two new favorite grocery stores since returning to Charlotte: Trader Joe's and the Giant Penny. They couldn't be more different, but I'm pretty stoked about both.
I suppose many of you already know about Trader Joe's. While we were gone it moved into Charlotte and won the hearts and wallets of all our friends. And now mine. As if it weren't cool enough already, let me tell you about their customer service.
My mom and I went in the other day, and she picked up about $30 of groceries. When we left, we realized that Tim had the car keys in a nearby store. We tucked the groceries under the the front of the car and we went to go find Tim. When he returned 5 minutes later, they were stolen! Can you believe it? I hope it was someone who needed the food badly. When we went in to ask at Trader Joe's customer service if perhaps someone had turned in some groceries (yeah, right), they offered to replace them!
The whole thing was probably a good lesson for me. I definitely did not think putting the groceries under the car was a good idea, but I tried to tell myself that I was being paranoid and unreasonable after living in a culture with more delinquency. It appears that was not the case. Note to self: Charlotte is not a utopia.
So on to the Giant Penny. This place is an independent grocery store 1 mile from my house. It's the kind of spot that has a sign on the door about not allowing concealed weapons or bicycles inside. And it sells Hannah's Pickled Pigs Feet. We went in search of chicken feet/backs/necks for dog food (they're on a raw food diet because of Taza's allergies-- look it up! very interesting!). If anywhere in Charlotte would sell them, it was sure to be the Giant Penny!
Lo and behold, the Giant Penny was overflowing with weird animal parts. Chicken feet turned out to be prohibitively expensive-- $1.69/lb.-- since our two doggies consume almost 3 lbs. a day between the two of them. Backs and necks were a steal, though, and after chatting with the butcher, we worked out a great Giant Penny bargain. Yesterday I went and picked up a 40 lb. box of chicken backs for $20. That gets Ellie through 16 days of raw chicken goodness and lands our dog food budget at about $45 a month (roughly the same as in Peru). Pretty good for 145 lbs of doggies! Oh, the Giant Penny. Just make sure you lock your car when you go in.
Here's what we've been up to in the last few days:
beginning to unload some storage stuff
visiting Trader Joe's for the first time (love it!)
scoping out the estate and yard sales
eating some delicious chicken chili from Mark and Jess
bundling up on an air mattress
organizing our kitchen with my mom (thanks!)
preliminary interview for an end-of-year job for me
learning to drive again
So far so good. I'm busier than I ever expected to be but having fun. I keep waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep because I'm so excited for the day! Hopefully that will calm down soon because I'm getting very sleeeeeeeepy.
The number one thing I've noticed over the last few days is that America has become obsessed with organic and green. Two and a half years ago all of these organic/green products weren't available, and those weren't the key words for selling any and everything. It's good to see this evolution, although I'm curious to see what happens next.
More stories to tell but I'm exhausted. I hope this schedule will slow down soon so that I can do a little more processing.
We're home! We left the SAM guest house in Lima at 6 am Sunday morning and arrived at the Finks' house in Charlotte at 2 am Monday morning. There was some inclement weather in there and for a moment we thought we might be stuck in Ft. Lauderdale until Tuesday (today). Whew.
It has been so so so fun seeing our friends and their children, and I know we have many more great reunions in the next few weeks. Outside of the house is a little weird-- gray, cold, quiet, vast-- but inside is warm and wonderful, full of catching up and thinking forward, 2 year old smiles and hot showers.
From the delayed planes, serious turbulence, first Target trip, and long to-do list, I've been filled with peace and hope in a surprising way. I know you must be praying for me because this is so far from my normal reaction. Thank you. I feel like I am riding on grace.
By the way, keep praying! Both for our emotional state in this transition and for our jobs. We both have interviews on Thursday that we hope could lead to employment. Mine is actually for a new opening as an end-of-year Spanish teacher at a nearby school.
More later, but I'll leave you some highlights from my "what I've noticed" list:
an apologetic waitress
lots of Vera Bradley and Coach
big houses far apart
9 kinds of Brita pitchers to choose from (I gave up... I'll have to come back to that another day)
Here we are in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, waiting at Chili's for some lunch/dinner. Ironic because Lima is covered in Chili's. And because I don't even like Chili's. Anyway, I'm sure it won't be the first anticlimax.
My dad told me to make sure I write down all the things that stick out to me at first before they start to be normal again. Here's what I've noticed so far: Americans are really funny. All day long people have been making witty comments all around me. They seem happier, which surprised me. Maybe it's just a perk of working in an airport? :-)
We had a little hiccup going through customs and almost got some notation on our passports about contraband. Eek. Other than that no problems (and that one worked out fine actually). We still have to fly to Atlanta and then Charlotte tonight. Miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
Here's how we celebrated our last day in Peru! I've seen others paragliding over this particular area of the coast for years and have always wanted to go. So glad I did. It was relaxing, beautiful, and not at all scary.
We also got to share meals with our Lima friends-- both JJ and Amber and John and Heather. They have been a huge support to us and dear friends over the last two and a half years. I'm sad to leave them behind and am scheming now for how to make it to Syria (JJ and Amber's next embassy post) and California (John and Heather's US home) in the next few years.
Leaving for Ft. Lauderdale in 9 hours! See you soon!
Still dark outside. Tim just took Ellie and Taza off for their flight to Lima, where Continental will check their crates and make sure they're ready to fly on Sunday. We're leaving at 3 pm.
It's been a tough few days, partly because of the stress of moving to another continent and world, but mostly because we're sad to leave our friends here. One thing that has caught me off guard is that they seem to be making a big deal out of us leaving (mostly involving feeding us lots of sweets!). Since we've only been here since last July, I didn't expect that. I'm glad they did. I think their attention and intention is helping me to process better. I need to know that this is a big deal, leaving these relationships as much as this place.
This bed, these floors, this sunshine-- they've all become so familiar to me. I wonder if "home" will feel like home or if it will be another new place to explore and adjust to. Two and a half years doesn't seem like all that long, but I know we are not the same people we were when we woke up early on Halloween to haul our life belongings to the airport and set off for an exotic adventure.
Tim laughs about how he's getting old (at 28). He played Ultimate Frisbee a few weeks ago and nearly left crippled. He says his body is tired. I don't see that, but I do see a new maturity in him that has grown deep and wide, a new passion for people and God, a new clarity about who he is and what he wants in life. If you talk to him long enough to listen, I think you will be surprised.
What will be the joys and struggles of the next week, month, or year? Where are we going? I don't know. I've spent half my life waiting and working for this season that ends today. Now what? Everything I dreamed of doing in my life is done. I'm 28 and have a long road left ahead of me. I'm never felt lost before, and my mind (if not my heart) knows I'm not now, but it's strange not to see beyond the curve in the road.
[One more jungle cockroach killed. Millions to go. Nope, I won't miss that.]
This week I find myself meditating on Psalm 138:8--
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
I love that it is an affirmation but also a prayer. Sure, but still not. I'm glad to know that God has purposes for me even when I don't know what they are. And I'm glad to know that I belong to Him. I commit my life and spirit into His hands, fix my heart on loving and serving Him, and trust Him to take care of the rest.
being able to buy pretty much whatever I need or want (in terms of accessibility, not finances!)
having options like a dishwasher, dryer, and hot water
meeting my new nephews and baby Walt
family vacations on Little Diamond Island
King of Kings
a fresh start
You may notice this list is shorter than the last (things I'll miss). I feel a little lost about going home right now. I'm sure it will be exciting when I get there, but today it just feels like a loss and an end.
Please keep us in your prayers over the next few days! Tomorrow afternoon we fly to Lima and then Sunday to Charlotte. There's plenty of stress to be avoided in that time.
Andrew's visit couldn't have been timed more perfectly, and certainly not due to planning on anyone's part. I wouldn't have imagined that a visitor two weeks before our departure would have been advantageous (although since it was Andrew, I knew it wouldn't be a burden either). Nonetheless, I'm deeply grateful for the way it worked out.
Of course I enjoyed catching up with him and hanging out, but what I want to mention now is how helpful his presence was as we begin this transition process. Andrew lived in Syria for 3 years and has done this re-entry thing before us. It was so good to be able to hear about his experience and ask him questions about it, both the transition itself and in general how things are in the US these days (You have to pay for incoming cell phone calls?! What?!).
I know that when we get home there will be plenty of people who really aren't interested in my story. They'll hear me out as I mention that I've been working abroad 2.5 yrs, but that's about it. It was a gift to have a friend here who could both listen to that story and understand it.
It's amazing how God knows my needs and provides for them in the most surprising ways. I look forward to seeing more of that provision as we throw ourselves on His mercy over the next few months.
Monday after the SAM Peru Field Conference we headed a few hours south of Lima with our friend Andrew for a daytrip to Pisco and Ica (where the earthquake occurred when we first arrived in Peru).
We first went to the Islas Ballestas, which they call the poor man's Galapagos. I believe it's the place closest to the equator where you can see penguins. The islands are one of the largest producers of guano in the world and are covered with thousands of birds and sea lions.
Afterwards we went to Huacachina, an oasis just outside of Ica, and spent the afternoon riding a dune buggy in the desert and sand boarding (or sand sledding in my case).
Our friend Andrew is visiting us and our mutual friends JJ and Amber, so we've been hanging out in Lima with the three of them this weekend. What a gift. Today we went down to Barranco for lunch, and something about being there seemed too good to be true-- sitting out on the deck of this super restaurant laughing my head off with good friends. Love it.
This week we've been in Lima for our annual SAM Peru field conference. It's always a great time to connect with others, hear about the awesome work that people are doing, and be challenged and encouraged by our keynote speaker (in English!). I love this community, and I love a scheduled time to get away for renewal.
Yesterday the women got together to share some about how they've been and what's going on in their lives. Lots of tears of course and great stories. When it was my turn, I had nothing to say. Is that possible? As much of a talker as I am, I promise, I couldn't come up with one thing to share. I certainly surprised myself.
As the conference comes to an end, everyone is digesting what they've learned and giving some responses to it. Me? I'm totally ashamed to say it, but I don't really feel like I've learned anything. Unusual to say the least. Part of me feels disappointed. Another part relieved, as if I don't have space right now to have a new breakthrough in my life.
People keep asking how I'm doing, expecting that I would be stressed out or excited or something I guess about our imminent return to Charlotte, stepping into an English-speaking country for the first time in 2.5 years. Nope. Nothin'. I feel neutral, planar. Not sad to leave, happy but not excited necessarily about getting home. I can't seem to answer questions about what I'm most excited to leave or get home to.
What the heck is going on with me? I'm happy. I feel close to God. I'm learning new things. I feel loved by the community around me (here and at home). Tim and I are in a great season of our marriage. I feel peace throughout-- body, soul, and spirit. Actually, now that I think of, what's wrong with me that this feels so abnormal?!
Emotional stability has never been my strong point, and that's okay with me. I'm grateful for the roller coaster of tears and laughter, the way it makes me cling to the Lord and know Him deeply. I receive my passion and tenderness as a gift from Him and not a curse. I'm okay here, too, in this week where I'm surprisingly unmovable. Just a little baffled.
I wonder if this is some kind of denial about all that's about to happen, but honestly, after the last 15 years of introspection, counseling, and self-help books, I'm fairly self-aware. Denial seems unlikely given the total absence of hints about something underneath. Maybe God is giving me this season of peace in anticipation of what we're about to go though. Maybe I've already worked through a lot of it in the last 10 months in Pucallpa. Maybe there's another answer hidden in God. To Be Determined.
Keep me in your prayers as I seek to be present to what God is doing in my life!
Recently I've been thinking a lot about hospitality, generosity, and being part of a community that loves and supports one another. Partly it's because we spent the weekend with our friends JJ and Amber, whose lives and words always challenge me in that regard. Also because of a few instances recently that reminded me that most people don't do crazy things like loan their cars out for 6 weeks.
Being part of a community that does just that has transformed who I am. It's a demonstration of the extravagant love of Christ already received. It's also a proclamation of detachment from things and attachment to heaven.
JJ sent us this video today. This guy wears his hair and lives out his faith in a way that is different than mine. So does JJ actually. I'm coming to appreciate those differences deeply as they stretch and grow me. It reminds me that I need people in my life whose strengths reveal my weaknesses and whose ideas and lives inspire me. I'm praying that God will open the door for relationships like that in Charlotte, too.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
I ran into this verse again on Friday, and it brought back a flood of memories from late 2008 and early 2009. To say that was a hard season would be an understatement. God laid this verse on my life last November, and I clung desperately to its promises of redemptive pain for the next six months or so.
As I look back on those trials, I can say with confidence that the testing of my faith developed perseverance and that God stretched and grew me in maturity. Honestly I wouldn't do it again, but I'm glad for what I've gained. I think we've made a difference in our time here in Peru, but the biggest difference is the one God made in me.
Food is undoubtedly a big part of your life. How much time a day do you spend eating, thinking about eating, planning to eat or what to eat, wishing you were eating, and wishing you hadn't eaten so much? For a person who loves food and cooking (me), that takes an even bigger chunk out of your life.
That reality makes me a little nervous when I read things like Philippians 3:18-19:
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
How much of my worship is directed toward food? How many of the decisions I make have to do with my stomach? It's a scary thought, and that's one reason I think fasting is an important practice for me. It's a reminder that food isn't everything.
My desire is that this Lenten experiment in simplicity will dethrone food in my life to some degree. I think it's okay to love making and eating food, but I'm interested to see what six weeks of quietness on that front would look like. If there were ever a hard time to make that happen, it would be these particular six weeks. Between visiting friends, attending our yearly SAM conference (meals provided) and returning to Charlotte, it's not really possible for me to follow a strict rule about food or fasting.
Here are some of the ideas I have for how to seek simplicity with regard to food.
drink only water
don't eat sweets
avoid processed foods
cook as simply as possible (without necessarily making it unpleasant to eat)
avoid richer foods
take advantage of what's already in the house
be content eating random groupings of leftovers
As I said, that's not something I could easily do during this season or something I feel called to take serious measures to make happen. So I'm pursuing that in my home and setting it aside when it would be more appropriate. Since this is my Lenten discipline and not Tim's, I want to be sensitive to his needs and desires. When we're sharing a meal with others, I want to be gracious and involved, not putting this above God's gift to me of a communal experience with friends. You get the idea.
In the end, I don't want food to be my god. Nutrition is important, but food is one of the most temporal things I can spend my time and money on. I want to try to keep that in perspective. We'll see.
How can I practice simplicity as an antidote to consumerism? Since we're leaving Peru and resettling in Charlotte during this Lenten season, I knew I couldn't make any clear prohibitions about buying things. There are too many unknowns. Nonetheless, I'm trying in general to avoid buying things until after Easter.
At least when we get home, I know that some of this will be more about putting off buying things than making less purchases. I'll still need a computer, new clothes, and some kitchen items, whether I buy them before or after April 4. Somehow, though, I think having two weeks at home before I dive into the mall will make my transition somewhat more sane.
There's something to be said for self-denial, too. In Pucallpa, there's not much worth buying, but every once in a while I find a knick knack I think I need. Last week my 2 "good" pens died on me. Honestly I panicked a little bit. How can I go 5 more weeks using ball point pens in my journal? Impossible! Just about every day since then I've had this itch to go find a new pen. What's $2? Then I look at my basket of 143 other pens and decide that there's something to be said for waiting. That doesn't make it much easier, though.
Yesterday we arrived in Lima and a whole new world of consumerism opened up to me. There's also this urge to take advantage of the fact that I'm here. I'm going to need a new bedspread for my guest room when I get home. Shouldn't I look for one here where it will be cheaper? As I thought about it this morning, I felt a little push to say no. Four days in Lima without shopping at all would give me more space for other things-- friends, rest, exercise, prayer. Those are the kinds of priorities I want in my life.
My friend Laurie sent me another Kierkegaard quote that she found rummaging through some old things this week. It's a good reminder when I'm tempted to abandon simplicity for things or food or the internet. "Busyness makes it almost impossible for an individual to form a heart."
What do I really need? Let the other activities and objects fall away. More than those, I want a heart, and I want to pursue God's heart.