Tuesday, December 27, 2011

hello snow


Finally, snow we can get excited about!  

Big white flakes started falling this afternoon, which was a welcomed surprise as I walked out of my office.  The weather forecast shows it gone by Thursday, so we're enjoying it while it lasts.

Sadly, we didn't have a white Christmas, which was a shift from last year's blizzard season.  I like to think that snow is God's reward to me for suffering through our sweaty summers.

So far, it's felt more like a Seattle winter than a midwest one, but I'm grateful the humidity won't return for another half dozen months, and I still get to wear layers.  I don't even mind waking up to a house that's 56 degrees inside.

Not one bit.

Monday, December 26, 2011

goodwill


Two weeks ago, we gathered a thirteen member team and embarked on a six hour road trip to Cowen, West Virginia.

Our mission was to help two other churches host a Christmas party for families in the area, included the distribution of presents to kids.  It was a quick trip (less than 48 hours), but an important one.

During the three months prior, I collected friendship bracelets to take as a small gift of our own.  My hope was that the children of West Virginia would feel loved by other children, from other states, who knotted and braided the bracelets just for them.  We brought 317 of these, along with crafts made by our congregants.  The most popular items were the colorful hair bows created out of duct tape.


We stayed overnight at Camp Caesar, ate camp food, slept in bunks, and all worked together to prepare a festive atmosphere for our guests.  The men on our team spent a few hours at a local mission, organizing their pantry and warehouse.

Rev. Gary & Lily Melton are the cute elderly couple who run the mission in town, which feeds over 300 people each week.  Their tiny facility is located a few miles down the road from the camp where we hosted the party.  The Meltons have felt called to serve the poor all of their lives.  Once their own kids were grown, they relocated to the area and began their work 16 years ago.









Next summer, we'll take a larger group back to help the Meltons with their work, and to host a ministry week for the families there.  We're talking about a sports camp for the kids, construction projects, and possibly an event with our Spa Team.

I am amazed at the level of poverty that exists in our country, including the families we met in West Virginia.  As we drove to the camp, we saw several remote areas covered in snow with single trailers and mobile homes.  Not trailer and mobile home parks, but single units scattered throughout the region.  I remember wondering to myself if any of those families ever get lonely.  The folks we met looked tired and worn - their children seemed to be the ones carrying joy for them.  Simple joy in desperate times. 

"Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark." - George Iles

One week ago, we joined our senior pastor at a home in Wellington, Ohio.  Two families in the area have a desire to start a home church there, as an extension of Cornerstone Chapel.  We shared a rich evening talking about their hopes and joining in their excitement about this opportunity.  At one point, two of the daughters played violins for us, someone else played piano, and we all sang songs and shared stories in their living room.

It's fun dreaming with people who share our heart for community.

Then last Saturday, Chris & I helped lead a Christmas Eve service with our friend, Jeff, who works as a guard at a women's prison in Cleveland.  We were surprised by the zeal that flowed out of these ladies, despite their circumstances.  They sang the Christmas carols with gusto, and blessed us with performances of their own (sign language & dancing).  Hubby did a little preaching as well, and we were both so moved by the time we spent there.  We had our own church's gathering to go home to, but were tempted to stay and do the prison service all over again.  

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

small town



Bettye from Evansville, IN: "The tradition is, if you are single you have to sit on Santa's lap, when you get married it's an option."

Julie from Sioux Falls, SD: "Dad checked to make sure I had my "long johns" on so when walking the mile to school I wouldn't get frost bite again."

Jan from New Bedford, MA: "When I was very young, my Dad used to tease me and my brother, saying that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals could talk."

Julie from Rawlins, CO: "Once a year we ate homemade pickled herring and potato sausage, and were required to remain seated at the table while my parents ate lutefisk."

Virginia from Quitman, TX: "Why decorate a tree when the person we loved the most was there with us?  We decorated Grandpa instead."

I wonder what Mary would write about her memory of Bethlehem the day Jesus was born?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

gifts


One of these things is not like the other.

We're grateful for all the gifts we've been given this holiday season: handmade ornaments, sugary sweet baked goods, festive cards, family photos, care packages.. and chicken.

You know you've achieved midwest status when you receive a whole fryer for Christmas!  Thanks to Derek and the Newton clan for sharing your bounty with us.

And to everyone else, we are blessed by you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

on stage

Chris and I have an affinity for the arts.

The production doesn't even have to be Broadway caliber for us to buy tickets.  We like going out on the town.  Plus, we enjoy the live entertainment, especially when we are familiar with the playwright or one of the actors in the show.

Growing up, my parents often took us to see stage performances. Everything from local plays and dinner theaters, to full scale productions ala Phantom of the Opera and Stomp, they fostered our creativity.  When I was in elementary school, we auditioned as a family for regional shows at our community theatre.  We had a good run acting in Oliver Twist, The Music Man, and Working.

I have the VHS tapes to prove it.

Over the past month, we have taken in a one-woman show at the Cleveland Public Theatre (called Ya Mama!), and Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, featuring our talented friend, Chloe, who played four different characters:




Plus, David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries, which was followed by the irreverent SNL-parody, The Loush Sisters:



I also attended a dance presentation, featuring my young friend, Victoria (who danced on pointe for the first time), and the choir performance of another young friend, Kaitlyn, at Strongsville High School.




Needless to say, it's been a colorful month on stage.  I'm eager to see what comes our way next year.  We already have our eyes set on this, and my hope is that I will actually get to New York before I turn 40.

I have a few years yet, but it's out there. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

empanadas


What are empanadas?

My answer: "Fried pockets of love."

Would you believe that I avoided making these for the first ten years of marriage?  My only excuse is that Chris's mom is an excellent cook. She was a personal chef for wealthy estate owners when Chris was small.  Everything she makes is from scratch, without a recipe, and dang good.  It can be intimidating.

I was not an excellent cook in 1998 when we said our vows.  I mean, I knew enough that we wouldn't starve.  But, grilled cheese sandwiches and pasta can only be interesting for so long.  Someone even gave us a crockpot as a wedding gift, but it turned out to be a lemon.  I could never understand why our meals were tepid after eight hours on high.  

Finally, after years of trying recipes, reading cooking magazines, scouring cookbooks, asking friends and coworkers what they ate for dinner and how they made it, and watching cooking shows.. I got the hang of it.  There are still some foods and dishes that I find daunting, but I have definitely grown in confidence over time.  I'm not sure why it took me ten years to try my hand at the fried meat pockets my husband likes so much, even when his mom assured me they were easy.  Then, I found the pre-made dough at a Latin American mercado in Seattle, and the rest is (delicious) history.

Turns out, my mother-in-law was right.  

Yesterday, our young adults group met at our house for the last time, and I made sure I fed them something they loved.  I prepared 72 empanadas for our 15 hungry friends.  Half of them were a combination of chicken, green chilies, salsa, black beans, lime & cheese, and the other half were refried beans, black beans & cheese. I served them with sour cream, two kinds of salsa and Tapatio hot sauce on the side.  I've cooked for this crew twice a month for a year, and each meal is something different.  I made the empanadas once before and their reaction was so memorable that I knew this would be the perfect finale.

Then again, I've never met anyone who hasn't fallen for love..
deep fried.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

trumpets resound


As you know, my husband is one of the associate pastors at our church and the music minister.  His job has evolved over the past 21 months, including implementation of change within the structure of the worship program.  Not surprising, that change has been met with both affirmation and resistance.  

The good news is that we have all grown together since we got here, and it's refreshing to see the fruit of that labor become sweet. Since the start of this year, Chris has envisioned a brass section for the worship band.  Today, that vision was realized.

What I love about how my husband leads is that he doesn't accept only the best most polished musicians and singers on his teams.  He looks for some measure of skill, sure, but it's not the only qualifying factor. He genuinely desires to see people grow in ministry, and welcoming amateur horn and string players is part of that equation.


I absolutely loved having the tuba, trombone, French horn, and trumpets in worship this morning.  What a joyful noise!  

The only thing that made me smile wider than seeing my husband's vision become reality, was when each musician took turns shaking out the spit from their instruments on stage.                                              
"Shout your praises to God, everybody!
Let loose and sing!  Strike up the band!
Round up an orchestra to play for God,
Add on a hundred-voice choir.
Feature trumpets and big trombones,
Fill the air with praises!"
- Psalm 98:4-6 (The Message)