28 March 2014

My Photo Biography

While I know it might be illogical to blame the weather for my writer's block, I am utterly convinced the freezing temperatures that have persisted into Spring are the direct cause of my lack of inspiration. It's as if my creativity is a flower waiting for sunshine to bloom.

But, I still want to maintain my discipline of posting each Friday and it occurs to me that this medium is a largely disembodied one. You see my face in the sidebar and hear some of my thoughts, but there's no real biographical narrative here. And since I haven't the energy (or, arguably, the life experience) to write a memoir, I offer this mini photo biography. A highlight reel for my life, of sorts. I hope it will to help to create some more context for my writing.

Ohio, 1989


Visiting my sister in San Francisco, 2002

Beach trip while doing Oregon Extension, 2005

My sister's wedding, 2007

The last time I saw my father, 2008

Goshen College Graduation, 2009

Maccu Piccu, Peru, 2009

Philadelphia, 2011

The whole family, 2013

21 March 2014

Comfort Food

Author's Note: So, I just wasn't feeling particularly inspired this week. I had several half ideas, but nothing fleshed out enough for a whole post. Not wanting to disappoint my avid readers (my mom, sister and BFFs) I decided to resurrect something I wrote in college. I wrote this piece about 5 years ago for my senior seminar class at Goshen College and reworked it a little for this audience.

I have few recollections of church services from my early life and I can't recall many Sunday school lessons, either – but I do remember potlucks and picnics. When I was young, it was a time when all that was expected of me was to be a kid. I ate delicious food of all kinds and I played games with all my friends, none of which ever seemed to have a clear winner. As I've gotten older, I've found the joy in preparing food to share; either making that old favorite or trying out a new recipe for a group of (hopefully forgiving) friends. I've also discovered the importance of fellowship over heaping platefuls of each other’s food. Mealtime is a time to fellowship together and to share our joys and sorrows with one another. We can mend old fences and build new bridges over plates of casseroles, salads and pies. Potlucks and picnics have taught me joy, community, laughter, fellowship and generosity.

Growing up, my father was most often the one who prepared our evening meals. This was not because my mother was not a good cook, but because my father loved to cook. Around the time that I was in high school, my father began to branch out and started cooking more gourmet meals. My mother has always loved planning big meals for groups of friends, so they made a perfect team. Mom would prepare the place settings the night before and dad would spend the whole week prior to the dinner testing out recipes he hadn't tried before to see which ones would be perfect to prepare for the guests. I remember the care they both took in the preparation and the joy they felt when everything came together perfectly. Though it may seem unconventional, my father's cooking taught me pride. It taught me to be passionate about what I do and that if I'm going to do something, I ought to do it right. My mother taught me hospitality and that the gift of entertaining was a spiritual one, indeed.

The most powerful thing that food has given me, though, is comfort. In the weeks following my father's death I truly began to understand the power of food. Our meals were being brought to us by members of our congregation and since so many of them wanted to see us, we had several people bring different things for each meal. This supplied a constant stream of support and sustenance into our home, both from food and fellowship. I will never forget the sheer volume of food we had in the house; each casserole, pasta salad, loaf of bread and plate of cookies was a token of love for both my father and our family. This food gave me hope, love, peace, comfort, support, strength and community. I suppose the real thing food taught me in this experience is that it is more powerful than I had ever thought before.

A huge part of Mennonite culture is our food. My whole life, I have been surrounded by food filled with love. Food prepared in the fervent hope that whoever eats it will be filled and content and pleased. When Mennonites cook, we cook for others. For years, my father prepared meals that he himself did not particularly care for, but that his children loved. He did this because our enjoyment was more important than his own. At mealtime in most Mennonite households, food is a means and not an end. Yes, we come together to eat, but eating is not near so important as the fellowship.

13 March 2014

A Miracle for Lent

Nothing scares me more than money. I make enough to pay all my bills and I'm able to do most of the things I want to do, but I still live pretty much paycheck to paycheck. This makes unexpected bills especially terrifying. I received one recently from a collections agency for nearly $100 for medical treatment I received and was billed for three years ago. I paid that bill three years ago, but somehow it was decided sometime in November 2013 that I owed more. I get very anxious when it comes to matters of money that I don't understand (taxes, medical bills, insurance premiums) and that feeling is extremely exacerbated by the fact that calling my daddy and asking his advice isn't possible anymore. I wrote a letter to the collections agency saying this charge was crazy and I wouldn't pay it (but in a grown-up sounding way). A few weeks later I received another bill and, because anxiety had gotten the best of me, I ignored it.

Monday morning as I was walking to work, a number I didn't recognize called my phone and I answered it. Predictably, it was a woman from the collections agency. I immediately felt my face turn bright red and my heart started to pound. I took a deep breath and in my best big-girl voice told the woman why I hadn't and didn't feel I should pay the bill. She told me that she could lower it to $75 if I paid right then, or she could "close" the matter and I would get a 60-point hit on my (not bad, but not awesome) credit score. Since money scares me, you better believe bad credit scares me. I felt my fear and anger rising. I kept asking her why I was being billed so long after I had paid the original bill and she didn't have an answer. She just kept telling me that I had two options: pay now or deal with bad credit later. I was getting increasingly frustrated and loud. Sometimes I would catch myself and apologize and tell her I knew she was just doing her job; other times I would just snap at her. She began to warn me that they only have a limited amount of time for each call and if we didn't "resolve" this (if I didn't just pay) we would get cut off and she would be forced to "close the account" (kill my credit). I yelled at her that she wasn't giving me a choice and this wasn't fair and I just wanted to understand what this bill was for and I didn't know what to do. "Ma'am, you can either pay now or I can close the account." Defeated, I pulled out my wallet and told her I would pay. She took down my card number and the payment went through. As we were about to hang up, something I did not expect happened. I thanked her for remaining calm with me and being patient. I told her I knew none of this was her fault and apologized for getting angry. More surprising than my apology, though, was that she told me that it was okay. That I was only human and I needed to vent. She told me she understood how frustrating this was and that if she had more understanding bosses she would have liked to do more for me. I thanked her again, this time through tears, and we wished each other a good day.

When she first called, we weren't humans. She was a Collections Agent and I was a Debtor. We filled our roles and committed what we both considered to be necessary violence toward one another. My violence was my anger; her's was bullying me into giving the collections agency money. Neither of us as humans desired to do violence, but we were trapped in our roles by an unfair system. She felt forced to be a bully; I felt forced to be a bitch.

But once we both stepped out of our roles, we found our humanity. I recognized that I was speaking to a woman who probably hated that this was what she had to do to make a living. She recognized that she was speaking to a scared little girl. I hope that she encountered God when I validated the difficulty of her work. I know I encountered God when she affirmed that it was okay for me to be scared.

Lent is a time for us to focus on creating space to encounter God. But I think God also takes advantage of this time by getting into everything. Squeezing through every crack and showing up in every shadow. God wiggled into my conversation with a collections agent of all places!

I'm sure God loves the big, booming miracles like parting a sea or raising the dead, but I'd bet that God's favorite miracles are the little ones. Lent is a season abounding with little miracles. From every bulb that waited patiently all winter to sprout to each time we take a moment to embrace each other's humanity. I don't know if my Lenten miracle was me apologizing or her forgiving me, but I do know that it was a miracle. And I think she felt it to.

My other Lenten miracle this week: blooming snow drops.

05 March 2014

The Season of New Things

This is my favorite season: early spring and Lent. How perfect that they coincide! Both are seasons of preparation and hope, hard work and renewal. When I reflect back on my life, the greatest personal changes I've undergone have happened in the spring. I come into each new year with the expectation that big things are stirring - that something new is happening.

I've also always loved the Lenten discipline of giving something up or adding something new. The practice of making a commitment to God and keeping it, even if it's something superficial, can be transformational. The more control we give God over the little things, the easier it will feel to give God control of the big things.

Since I've loved Lent for so long, I kinda feel like I've reached expert-level. I've given up coffee, caffeine, all drinks but water and milk, chocolate, all sweets and, most recently, gluten. I've also added things like praying everyday, trying a new prayer discipline every week, reading something everyday and reading the Bible everyday. This year, I'm going all in. My Lenten disciplines will be:

No Screen Sunday
This is something I've been considering making a year-round discipline, but I've never been able to get in the groove. Now is the perfect time. No screen Sunday is exactly what it sounds like: no TV, computer or iPhone (beyond calls and texts) for the whole day.

Fasting Monday
For about 6 months during high school, I observed a 20 hour fast every Monday (9:00pm Sunday to 5:00pm Monday). I would read my Bible instead of going to lunch and try to remember to pray every time my stomach rumbled. College does not lend itself to routine, so this discipline fell by the wayside. I'm excited to pick it back up this Lent. I'll be fasting from 11:00am Monday to 7:00am Tuesday. I plan to spend my lunch hour going outside and praying or just resting in God's creation.

One Hour of At-Home Productivity Everyday
I will be the first to admit that when it to comes to household chores, I'm terribly lazy. Too often I let things reach a critical mass and then spend one intense weekend getting my life in order. Not this Lenten season. I will commit to spending one hour each evening doing something productive: Vacuuming the floor, cleaning my room, grocery shopping, making a meal, sorting through and getting rid of things, etc.

Read Everyday
This is my Lent go-to. I've done it many, many times before and I always love it. Reading is important to me, but I struggle to carve out the time. Again, this is the perfect time to focus on creating that space.

Last spring, I found myself in a wilderness and Lent helped me to find a way out. I enter this season with anticipation and excitement. This is the season of new things.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
     ~Isaiah 43:19