29 February 2016

Listening for Water

Yesterday I preached my very first sermon. Here it is:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
     and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
     and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
     listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
     my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
     a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
     and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
     for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
     call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
     and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
     and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
     nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
     so are my ways higher than your ways
     and my thoughts than your thoughts.
~Isaiah 55:1-9

I love the imagery of God as water. In the desert context of the biblical authors, water was precious, necessary and all-powerful. Scriptures are full of this imagery - the Living waters which offer everlasting life; God bringing water forth from the rock, the parting of the Red Sea and so much more. Water is intrinsic to our ritual of baptism which is the symbol of committing to be a part of God's calling for us. Gregory of Nyssa compared the trinity to a fount, a stream and a spring - all three part of a larger whole, but distinct from each other in their function. God as water offers us rich metaphors of cleansing, nourishing and strength.

There is nothing else besides oxygen that we physically need more than water. It is absolutely essential for our survival. The longest anyone has been known to live without water is two weeks; though most people would only survive a few days. Our bodies are 60% water, our brains 70% water and our lungs 90% water. For me, this reframes my thinking about God as water. Not only does it quench and satisfy us - but we wholly and desperately need God. We cannot survive without God. God is essential for life. Thankfully - God promises that she is always with us, so we know we won’t go thirsty.

In our scripture today, the prophet Isaiah tells us to come to the water. All we need bring with us is our hunger and thirst and we will be fed and quenched. Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Isaiah writes “The initial verse, perhaps in the summoning mode of a street vendor, offers to passersby free water, free wine, and free milk. This of course is in contrast to the life resources offered by the Empire that are always expensive, grudging, and unsatisfying. Israel is invited to choose the free, alternative nourishment offered by Yahweh.” God is calling us to a life of more depth and richness than anything the world - the Empire - has to offer. God's water of life calls us into more fullness - calls us to freely be more wholly ourselves and to connect more deeply with our community. The only thing required of us to receive the Living Water is to seek it - to follow God's call - to listen for water.

Do you remember those wilderness survival shows? Where a survivalist like Bear Grylls, Les Stroud and the like get dropped off in the middle of nowhere with a camera crew and try to find their way back to civilization. One particularly boring summer during college I watched a lot of random television, Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls being one of my favorites. I would pay close attention just in case I ever found myself lost in the wilderness. Thankfully, this knowledge has yet to come in handy. But one thing I’ve always remembered is Bear listening for the sound of water. No matter what kind of wilderness he was dropped in, he would always need to look for water. Sometimes it was loud and clear, other times he had to sit still for long minutes, his ear turned to the wind.

This listening for water can be like listening for God’s call. When we are in the wilderness of our lives - when we face uncertainty, physical challenges, emotional pain or psychological trauma - we are desperately listening for God’s call to us - toward our path, our healing, our salvation or our reawakening. The prophet Isaiah urges us to listen; commands us to give ear. The water is there for us to freely partake, but we have to find it. On occasion, the water is easy to find. Sometimes we stumble blindly into the stream - stumble blindly into grace. But often times, we feel utterly lost and alone before we are blessed with the gentle sound of God's call and find ourselves on the banks of the river.

But what is “God’s call” even referring to? It is often used to talk about our vocational calling and I think that can be one aspect, but it is also much bigger. We are called to repentance - called to forgiveness - called to serve - called to speak up and called to listen. We have all been called many times in our lives. I imagine many of us felt called to this church. Several in our congregation are feeling called to Nick’s ministry to returning citizens. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. I view calling as a sort of journey where there are no paths. We are called in different directions that might not seem to make sense together, but we are always moving in a steady direction. That direction is toward God - toward the water.

One thing that can make hearing God’s call difficult is that, as Isaiah tells us, God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes even if a booming voice is heard, we don’t recognize it because it doesn’t make sense. God’s vision for this world is far greater than we can imagine. We approach our choices with the limited view of humanity which can easily cloud the greatness of God’s plan for us. This makes me think of Robert Frost poem: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled by. Our instincts tell us to take the clearer path - the safer path - but God's plan calls us to the more difficult and more fruitful work.

Oftentimes God’s call comes when we aren’t expecting it. My dad was an avid birder and always pointed out hawks when he saw them. Now I always find myself on the lookout for them. I try to go to the Woodlands Cemetery about once a week. I feel incredibly connected and calm walking through the beautiful old gravestones. Over the last few months I’ve noticed a pair of hawks who I think live there. They have an uncanny ability of only showing up when I’m not looking for them. On days when I go and squint at every tree and mistake every far off airplane for a hawk, they’re nowhere to be found. But on days when I’m lost in my own thoughts one of them will suddenly fly right in front of me. God’s call - the sound of water - can be just as unpredictable.

This experience of being called is one that plays a major role in my family history. Before my father was a pastor, he was a carpenter. He was, however, very involved in the church and conference. He and my mother were youth sponsors and they taught Sunday school frequently. Dad was also the chair of the peace and justice commission for the Ohio conference. He was invited to go to a conference in Kansas in the 1980s as their representative. While he was gone, Mom stayed behind and went to a woman’s retreat. While there, Grace Brunner, a local pastor and mentor to my mom, asked her if she and my father had ever thought about going into ministry. Mom told her that they hadn’t and she suggested that they should. Meanwhile, someone dad met in Kansas asked him the same thing. When dad returned home, he and mom compared stories and were startled to discover that they both had been asked the same thing. They realized that these people had spoken with God’s voice to them - that this was their calling.

Dad was excited and they decided to pursue this. However, mom did not want to leave her family and friends in Ohio for dad to go to Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She had a lot of misgivings about uprooting everything to move halfway across the country. Dad wanted mom to be one hundred percent certain about it, and he said he wouldn’t do it without her full support. One day, Grace Brunner invited mom to breakfast and mom divulged to her all of her misgivings. Grace told her, “God would not lead you and leave you.” My mom responded to this call to faith and she committed fully to moving our family to Virginia to pursue our calling.

I have been very blessed to hear God’s voice and calling clearly in my life. One of the most profound experiences of this came the summer I did my internship with Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Northeast Philly. I spent much of that summer wrestling with my ideas about God, Jesus, religion and the church. I was nineteen and having my first real epistemological crisis. What was really bothering me was my uncertainty about Jesus’ divinity and what that meant for the whole of my theology. One Sunday, pastor Leonard preached on the passage “Who do you say that I am?” I was really hoping that this sermon would help clear things up for me, but he offered me nothing that I hadn’t already heard. When he was finished preaching, pastor Leonard asked us all to sit and reflect on and pray about who we thought Jesus was. I was sitting in the sanctuary feeling so lost and confused and all I could think was “I don’t know.” I was nearly to the point of tears when I felt something. It was, as most experiences of God are, indescribable. I just felt that God was standing beside me, telling me “That’s okay. It’s okay that you don’t know. So long as you know that I’m here and I love you. I want you to explore these doubts. Have your crisis of faith. Just know that no matter what – no matter where these doubts take you – I will be right here beside you, loving you.” God was calling me to explore my doubts - calling me to freedom.

I came back to visit Philadelphia several years later and when I went to Oxford Circle church that Sunday morning, I was so clearly reminded of how much I loved the people there and what they were trying to do together. As I sat in the service, I once again felt God’s presence very strongly, but I did not know then what it meant. I felt that God was telling me that there was a plan for me, but I was uncertain as to what that plan was. I could hear the water, but I could not discern what direction it was calling me to. It was not until later that day when I was riding the train back home that my eyes were opened. I suddenly understood what God had been trying to show me: That Oxford Circle (and Philadelphia) is where I am meant to be. As soon I had formed the thought in my head, I felt in my very soul that it was right. I knew, without doubt, that Oxford Circle is where God wanted me to be. I soon as I gave in to the call, my very being affirmed it for me. I called my mom the next day to tell her of my newfound purpose in life and she, as good moms do, began to ask me questions. She asked me what I would be doing there and where I would be living and how would I get around and all those really good, reasonable questions. I had answers to none of them. In fact, I hadn’t even really thought of any of them. It was then that I realized that I had no reason to be so certain of my place at Oxford Circle, but I was. I then remembered Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” and suddenly I understood it. Having faith in your calling means going toward the sound of water even when the path is uncertain or treacherous because you know for sure that God will walk with you and that reaching the water is worth the journey.

When I started coming to WPMF, I was ready and eager to offer my gifts to this congregation. I very quickly became a deacon and began helping with worship. It was at my very first church retreat that a few of our youth asked me to be their youth leader. Even as things with my job got more challenging and the growing responsibilities of adulthood weighed on me more, I never wanted to stop saying yes to helping and serving this congregation. It was in thinking hard about my boundaries and how much would be healthy for me to take on that I realized how very life giving this church work felt for me. A desire to go to seminary that had sat dormant in my heart for so long was being awakened by the joy I feel here.

I imagine that I will never forget the chilly January evening when I bumped into Megan Grove while walking home from work. She was headed to the church for a worship committee meeting to plan Lent for 2015. she remembered that I was worship leading 3 times during Lent and invited me to take part in the meeting. I happily agreed and it was as I was sitting there looking over the resource materials that I heard the sound of water. I felt God stirring within me the realization that church work - specifically worship - is my call.

Sometimes we hear the sound of water in the voices of friends and mentors. Sometimes it is heard in our minds. Sometimes it is a feeling of deep faith and certainty. Other times it is merely a coincidence - a divinely orchestrated meeting. The sound of water can be as loud as Niagara or soft as a gentle trickle; but God's promise is that the water is always there - always within reach. No matter what kind of wilderness we find ourselves in, we need only to listen for the sound of water and God will lead us to the banks of the river of life.

05 December 2014

I have nothing to say

With the recent attention being given to the abhorrently violent institutional racism in this country, so many people seem to have so many things to say. My Facebook feed has been full of lament (and some blaming and defensiveness). My Twitter feed is absolutely flooded with one-sentence opinions and judgments. Even people on Instagram are posting pictures of text reading "Black Lives Matter" "I Can't Breathe" and "We Can't Breathe."

And I have nothing to say.

This is not to say I don't think this racism affects me or that these problems are not mine. But rather I do not think that my voice is relevant. We do not need more white people sharing their thoughts and ideas about racism. We need more white people to shut up and listen to what people of color are trying to tell us.

So I have nothing to say.

That does not mean I am not filled with rage, sadness and despair. Nor does it mean I don't want to scream and fume and write diatribes about injustice. But in this I am perpetrator and not a victim, so I must be quiet and listen. I must faithfully follow the lead of my brothers and sisters of color and heed any advice they offer me.

I have nothing to say.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
Look at the nations, and see!
Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
that you would not believe if you were told.
~Habakkuk 1:2-5

21 November 2014

Therapy is Awesome!

(Sung to the tune of "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie)

The first place I experienced therapy was with the counselor at my elementary school. I had just gone on AD/HD medication and so I was meeting with her weekly to assess whether the medication was working and if I was adjusting to it well (it was and I was). We talked about my friends and whether or not I was happy and if my parents were nice. I felt so special. Nobody else got called out of class to go talk about their thoughts and feelings weekly.

The next time I went to a counselor was college. I returned from the Oregon Extension (I'll tell you about it sometime) and was really struggling with the re-entry into college life. That was the semester I failed ceramics and gym. (For serious.) I went the school counselor, not knowing where else to turn for help. She had a lamp that was this spinning underwater scene that I would stare at while we talked. She was wonderful and affirming and made me feel so validated in my struggles. She helped me find ways to ask my professors for help and we made game plans. With her help I got back on track so that I only failed gen. ed. classes (ceramics and gym) and not my major courses. I loved feeling like I wasn't alone and that I was getting the help I needed.

I went back to the same counselor after my father died. He died in August, so I spent the rest of the year at home with my mother. When I came back to school in January, my mother asked her to reach out to me. I went back to her office and stared at that same lamp and told her I was fine. I told her about how happy I was to be back at school and how it was good to have that time with my family. I would guess now that she believed me because I believed me. We were both wrong.

I didn't go back to therapy for three years after that. I'd convinced myself I didn't need it. (I was still wrong.) My life was by no means terrible those three years; but I was not handling things very well. I hadn't given myself the time or permission to really grieve. My pain from not having not my father was causing me to damage important relationships and hindering me from moving forward in my life. But I didn't see any of this at the time. I just figured that I was a crazy 20-something who was self-destructive in an alluring way. Like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. (Who was I kidding?)

But when my best friend's father died, I couldn't hide from my grief any longer. I stayed strong for as long as I could; but when I finally broke down, I very quickly spiraled out of control. I began drinking too often and stopped caring about any of my obligations. I've found that one major benefit of wearing your heart on your sleeve is that you find yourself saying out loud to people things like, "I'm not doing well." and "I'm not okay." This is beneficial because more often than you might expect these people will say back to you things like, "What can I do to make things better?" and "How can I help?" One such person was my pastor. She referred me to my current therapist.

Since I'd been so open with my struggles, I decided to post on Facebook "I made the call. Counseling, here I come." The response was overwhelming and immediate. Within hours so many of my friends had left comments encouraging me and supporting my decision to get help. Many revealing that they also go to therapy and love it. It definitely bolstered my confidence and helped me actually show up to the appointment.

The first time I went to her, I instinctively sat as close to the door as was possible (I still sit there now, out of habit). I subconsciously wanted the option of a quick getaway if facing my grief turned out to be as harrowing as I expected. In a lot of ways it was worse than I thought it would be, but it's amazing what knowing you're not alone can do. It did not take me long to figure out that this was worth investing in - that I was worth investing in. I was only working part time then, so I begged, borrowed and stole to pay for therapy once a week. I got grants from my church and help from my mom. I was determined to make it work.

And it was working. I was identifying unhealthy patterns and making useful connections to things from my past. I was beginning to work on building healthier relationships and making positive steps for my future. It was the first time in years that I let my walls down a little and just expressed how I was feeling. Therapy was making a real and positive impact on my life.

But after six months, the money ran out. I couldn't afford to go anymore and I had to make that decision very suddenly. My best friend paid for me to go one last time and I spent that last session crying - ashamed that money was once again keeping me from doing something important.

But then after another six months, a lot of things had changed. I'd gotten a new, full time job. I'd quit drinking and smoking. I'd gone gluten-free and felt physically healthier than I'd ever felt before in my life. I was in a much better place emotionally. Still, the moment I could afford it again, I contacted my therapist.

I've been going to therapy 2-4 times a month for over a year now. It's expensive and some weeks it doesn't feel worth it; but usually I recognize that I couldn't do it without this. Knowing that every two weeks or so, I'll get an hour to just sit down and figure out my life. No interruptions, no other obligations - just an hour to dig deep. My therapist and I talk about strife in my relationships and my work. She helps me identify what stressors in my life are a result of the grief I still struggle to deal with. We've been able to locate patterns from my family that have a deep impact on my life today. We work to get to the root of my disproportionate responses to some things. It's hard and some days painful, but therapy is awesome.

I've never been ashamed to tell people that I go to therapy; but it's clear in some of the responses I get that some people think I should be. Too often people get awkward when I say, "I can't do that then, I have therapy." They'll squirm or ask "Is everything okay?" Sometimes I just say "No. Everything is not okay. Is everything in your life okay? Because that is very impressive." Others say, "Good for you!" in a kind of nervous, patronizing way. Not everyone, obviously; I have so many wonderful friends who have affirmed and celebrated my choice to go to therapy regularly. But too often my honesty about this choice makes people uncomfortable. I think this is because when you admit you're getting help, then you're admitting that you're struggling.

That's why I wanted to write this blog. I wanted to be another voice saying to anyone who is struggling, "Therapy could really help you. It really helped me and it's nothing to feel shameful about." Admitting we're struggling is important. Every time I've been able to say out loud, "I'm not okay." things have gotten better. Therapy offers me space to regularly say out loud, "I'm not okay." with absolutely no judgement and that is awesome.

14 November 2014

On Accountability

I've been struggling. I'm anxious about the direction my life is heading. I'm consistently overwhelmed at work. I'm still getting over my breakup. My room's a mess. My dishes aren't done. My bathroom hasn't been properly cleaned in weeks. I'm just struggling.

It's really hard to admit all those things. With our ability to cultivate our online presences, it's increasingly easy to make your life look perfect. I know that I've cropped messes out of the background of an Instagram and only posted on Facebook the pictures from before the wind messed up my hair. Pinterest tricks us into thinking people have perfect, cutely decorated, Martha Stewart lives with just the right lighting. These days, a facade of well-being is all too easy.

When someone says "How are you?" I instinctively respond "Good" regardless of whether that's true or not. Even when it's someone who I would feel comfortable opening up to, I automatically put on a happy face. Sometimes when I'm having a really bad day, I'll go so far as to say that I'm doing "Okay." I think most people are guilty of lying like this without even thinking about it. Why is it so difficult to be honest about how we're feeling when we're feeling poorly?

I think this is part of why I've been avoiding blogging some. As a writer, I desire to write about what's going on in my life and admitting to the public that you don't have your shit together is scary. But, dear Public, I definitely don't have my shit together.

Turning 28 really freaked me out. For some reason, I always thought that was the age when everything would click. I would turn 28 and suddenly start consistently cleaning my room and always remember to brush my teeth before bed. I would turn 28 and my shit would magically get itself together.


Surprisingly, just waiting around for things to get better did not actually accomplish anything for my life. I'm as shocked about it as you are.

But, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. So, I'm here to tell you that I'm struggling and it's not going to get better unless I get off my butt and do something about it. No more excuses and no more waiting. But I can tell myself that all day long and nothing will change. I need my community to support me.

I have a lot of friends who don't go to church. I have a lot of people who ask me why I go to church when so few of my peers chose the same path. I'm still working on coming up with a coherent answer, but the best I can offer now is: Community. Part of what that means to me is having people to support me and keep me accountable.

At Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, where I attended before becoming a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, accountability was something that was stressed. It was not enough to show up on Sunday, you had to be open to relationships with other church-goers and it was understood that part of that relationship meant accountability.

To be honest, I kind of hated it. I was in my early twenties and wanted to make poor decisions and think stupid things without anyone telling me I was wrong. But that wasn't an option and people told me I was wrong. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they weren't; but I wasn't able to just keep doing something without thinking through whether it was a good idea or not. And when I said I was going to do something, there were people who invested themselves in making sure I accomplished it. As much I hated it at the time, my experiences at OCMC taught me how important accountability is.

But I've learned the only way to be held accountable, is to make our shortcomings known. So, friends, I'm letting you know that I'm falling short of who I want to be. That I need to make changes that are substantial and obvious to those around me. That I need to stop waiting for my shit to magically gather itself and DO something about it.

One thing I've always desired for this blog is that it be authentically me. I've been falling short of that lately. I've been trying to gloss over my cracks and rely on superficiality to hide any hint of struggle. But that is not honesty and I am dedicated to honesty in my writing. So, with this new layout I've built for my blog, I want a fresh start. A re-dedication to being open about the experience of my life - which includes my struggles. I'm telling this to all of you because then I know that you're expecting it. Because then I'll disappoint more than just myself if I continue to fall back into patterns of polishing my life so it seems better or more interesting. I'm grateful to have a readership that I desire to be authentic with.

31 October 2014


It's Halloween!!! While I love Valentine's Day the most of all holidays, Halloween is the most fun because nearly everyone is on the bandwagon with me. I feel like with Valentine's Day, I have to convince people that it doesn't suck. Pretty much everyone agrees that Halloween does not suck. I know there are some, mainly Christian, exceptions; but I was spared most of that growing up. My parents always embraced Halloween as fun and silly. A time to play make-believe on a grand scale and get rewarded for it with candy.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I did not live in a very safe or welcoming part of town. Some areas close by were great, but my immediate neighbors were wary of me and I them. We'd nodded in greeting at each other, but had never really spoken. But then came Halloween. I love Halloween and always have and that was the first year that I was a grown-up passing out candy and not a kid getting candy. I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to be on the other side of this holiday love I so much. So, even though I wasn't so sure about this neighborhood, I decided I couldn't let that stop me.

My next door neighbor was a big, tough looking guy. He was tall and muscular and often scowled. Of all my neighbors, he was one that I kept my guard up with the most. But then came Halloween. I'll never forget when I first saw him come out of the house. I thought I was hallucinating or maybe seeing big, red spots. He was in a full-body Elmo suit. Never has anything been more disarming. When he saw that I was also dressed up and handing out candy, he came over to talk with me. We exchanged names and compared and traded candy. We shared our love for Halloween and how great it was to see these cute kids and give them candy. I kept my guard down and said hello to him every time I saw him after that.

That's what I think people don't think about with Halloween: it's all about your neighborhood. You go out and actually walk your streets and go up to peoples' houses and talk to your neighbors. When else do you get that kind of opportunity? It's a chance to touch and see and be silly with the people Jesus calls us to love as ourselves.

Last year I was a peg-legged pirate.

As promised, pictures from my Halloween party last week.

24 October 2014

Halloween Party

Okay, so you obviously already know of my love for holidays. I mean, I went all out for Labor Day, of all things. And, while Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday, Halloween is a very close second. Growing up, my parents did not ascribe to whole "Halloween is an evil and un-Christian celebration of witchcraft and mischief" thing. Rather, they thought it was a great time to have fun and be silly. They understood that going out Trick or Treating gives the whole family a chance to meet our neighbors that we wouldn't otherwise have. I was raised with the understanding that Halloween is about fun and candy.

Next week I'll go into my thoughts about the holiday itself and, if you're really lucky, I might even get into a historical discussion of the origins of Halloween. But, this week, I'm feeling very distracted by a Halloween party that I'm going to tonight. I recently became a youth leader at my church and we're having a Halloween party this evening. I'm so excited, I could burst! I spent the last several weeks perusing Pinterest and getting ideas for festive snacks. Last night I made much of what we'll be serving today.

As you can see, I really got into the spirit. What can I say, I love a theme!

These Rice Krispie pumpkins turned out to be so easy! You just make Rice Krispie Treats and dye the melted marshmallows orange before you mix in the Rice Krispies. I found that it took A LOT of food coloring to get them bright enough because the white marshmallows make the color pretty pastel. But, as you can see, I accomplished a nice pumpkin orange. Once you've mixed the Rice Krispie Treats up, let them cool for a little while before you shape them into balls. If they're too gooey, they won't hold shape and Rice Krispie Treats remain pretty malleable, even at room temperature. You'll want to spray your hands with cooking spray to keep the marshmallows from sticking to you. Don't worry about making the balls squatty like a pumpkin, that will happen when you add the stem. The stem is made from a tootsie roll, cut in half. When you push it onto the top, your pumpkin fattens and gets more pumpkin-y. Some of the pictures I saw online had icing leaves, but I liked them like this. (Plus, I didn't feel like making green frosting.)

This is my attempt at offering a healthy(ish) snack. Turns out, apple slices, peanut butter and marshmallows make a surprisingly great mouth. These were just my prototypes and I think I will have to cut thin apple slices for the party as they kept falling over. I love how cute and simple these are. I wish I would have been able to find the colored mini-marshmallows since then they would look more like zombie teeth. These are still pretty awesome, though.

This one is super cute and it was really easy. I'm calling it Zombie Puppy Chow. All you have to do is make puppy chow using whatever recipe you prefer. Then, add Halloween/fall themed candies. I chose candy corn, Reese's Pieces and candy eyes. 

This was by far the most complicated of all the snacks, but the payoff is pretty great. These Jello Worms are going to be a big hit, I am sure of it. You take three packets of unflavored gelatin and one packet of red jello (I chose raspberry flavor, but anything red will do) and mix them into three cups boiling water. Once it's fully mixed, stir in 3/4 cups whipping cream; this gives it the two-tone look since it will separate. Add a lot of green food coloring to make it kind of brown/gray. (As you can see, I was too frugal with the food coloring.) Then, take 100 straws and extend the bendy part to get the ridges. Rubber band them together and put them in a cylindrical container, bendy part down (only to make sure it gets filled with jello). You don't want the container to be much wider than the bundle of straws because the jello on the outside is just waste. (I'm sure I could come up with something clever to do with the leftovers, but I've got a lot on my plate already.) I decided to do two bundles in two tall tumblers since I didn't have a container that was the right size for all of them. Let them set and then squeeze the worms out into a bowl. Squeezing them out is time-consuming, but look at how cool they are!

I'll try to post pictures of the actual party next week. Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween!

10 October 2014

On Choosing Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
~James 1:2

In the wake of my father's death, I found myself doing something strange. I identified anything good that had come of his death, and clung to it. I know this sounds crazy - to search for goodness in something terrible; but there was so much terrible in my life, that I needed something - anything - to ease it all. I was blessed to have been able to see so many people I love gathered at my home and at the memorial services. I was blessed to be in Colorado for the birth of my first nephew. I was blessed to have some of my college debt forgiven because my father had taken out the loans in his name. I was blessed to spend the most difficult and challenging months of our lives at my mother's side. At the time I called this search for goodness finding the blessings; but now I think of it as choosing joy.

I find myself coming back to this verse in James over and over again. Throughout my life, it has meant many different things to me. When I first read it, I was drawn in by the idea that trials develop perseverance - that adversity brings growth. Later, I read it as an admonition of grumbling about my struggles in life rather than facing them and growing through them. I wrote recently, of a time when it gave me strength and hope about where I am and where I'm going - that perseverance is both something I'm developing and something I've developed. But as I read this verse today, it speaks to me of choosing joy.

There is a scene in Romeo and Juliet that I think about often. It's act 3, scene 3, just after Tybalt and Mercutio have been killed and the Prince has sentenced Romeo to banishment. Romeo is hiding in Friar Lawrence's cell and the Friar returns to tell Romeo of his fate. Romeo goes on to lament and says that banishment is bad as death because there is no life beyond Verona's walls. The friar keeps trying to get Romeo to see that this sentence is a generous one, but he is having none of it. Finally, when Romeo draws his sword and holds the tip to his own chest, the dear Friar snaps. He admonishes Romeo for shaming his shape, his love and his wit with this threat to kill himself. He reminds him of just how many things and people he has to live for and smacks Romeo as he lists them, ending each sentence with "There art thou happy?!" Near the end come my favorite lines:

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

The Friar is telling Romeo to choose joy. 

It can sometimes be hard not to think of joy as something that happens to us. Like we can only experience it when there is something external that influences it - when someone is kind to us or we do something fun or accomplish something difficult. But what I think James and the Friar are trying to tell us is that joy is a choice. James tells us to consider it pure joy, not simply that it is pure joy. Even in trials, we can, and should, choose joy. 

I have a little way I check in with myself in the morning on the walk to work: I ask myself if the sun is on my face or in my eyes. If the sun is on my face, I'm choosing joy. If the sun is in my eyes, I'm not. It's the exact same external experience, but it's my choice how I respond to it. On days the sun is in my eyes, I try to feel its warmth on my face by the time I get to work. It is amazing what this practice has done for my psyche. 

Choosing joy can be so hard, though. When you're in the middle of trials, everything seems terrible and out to get you. It all seems like it can't and won't ever get better. But if you can open yourself to finding the blessings, you can find hope. Finding a way to take a step away from our pain to look at the landscape can be transformative. 

To me, choosing joy means taking time to find it. It means listening for the sound of birds, or celebrating a silly holiday to its fullest, or calling a good friend just so she can make you laugh. It means taking stock of your circumstances and choosing to focus on the good stuff, rather than the bad. It means feeling the sun on your face and not in your eyes.