This is My Crowd

This is My Crowd
Picture by: Photography by Vicky Campos

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Smorgybord Saturday - This Is Halloween

This post is a tad delayed because my life has been merged with the season.  It has become My Life In Harvest Season... or My Life In Pumpkin Peddling, as it were.  In either case, my life has become a blur of pumpkin, straw and cotton candy; it's a bit like having Halloween as a conjoined twin.  It's been good though. 

As the Halloween season comes to an end, here are some new things I've learned after helping run a pumpkin patch for a couple of weeks:

  1. The MSRP of a vehicle is no indicator of what a person intends to spend.  A semi-rude lady pulled up in a brand new, blacked out Jaguar and was annoyed we wouldn't sell large pumpkins for $4 like Trader Joe's.  She left with nothing except the frown she came with.  Conversely, a very kind lady in a 20+ year old k-car made sure to buy a couple of very nice pumpkins for her daughter and grand-daughter.  She left happy and was given a very sizable discount.  Lesson:  Be nice to people, if for no other reason than you might get a better deal JUST for being kind.  Unless you are at Target or Walgreen's or some other retailer that operates on price tags and predefined register buttons, there may be a "Jerk Tax" included on your next purchase.
  2. Most people don't realize how heavy and awkward pumpkins are and ignore suggestions to grab a wagon.  Aside from those coming to pick a single small pumpkin, most people return sheepishly to the wagon area and grab one, force to give us that "You were right." smile.  Lesson:  If someone is more familiar with a situation than you, at least consider their suggestions.
  3. Cotton candy machines should be outlawed.  They are too simple to operate and too easy to flip on.  Also, once you've purchased all of the cones and sugar, it becomes that much easier to justify cone... after cone.... after cone.  Lesson:  See first sentence.
  4. Our pumpkin patch was located within a short jaunt of a Baskin Robbins/ Togo's, which was very convenient for restroom breaks.  However, they also have 88¢ soft serve cones available for purchase from 10am until 10pm.  With 4 kids, it's still a great deal especially when you're searching for a quick and cheap reward for hanging out at a pumpkin patch 19 days straight.  Lesson:  Though soft serve is near impossible to eat on a sugar cone without making a great big mess, it is totally worth it.  Oh, and, eventually, the reward value is diminished when the kids just complain because you won't buy them the good ice cream from the cold case.   
  5. People genuinely appreciate it when you offer to take a picture of their group, once they feel confident you won't steal their camera.  I don't think it resulted in extra sales, but I always felt appreciated and that was enough, only because I really wasn't trying to sell them product they didn't want to buy.  Lesson:  When you are genuine in your motives, you will never be disappointed in the outcome.  Also, really try not to come off as a person that will steal their camera or phone.  It helps if you work there OR have kids.  Kids always give a person moral cred, even if they don't deserve it.
I might yet do one last blog on the pumpkin patch; it was definitely a memorable 2 1/2 weeks of my life.  I pray that my kids will have fond memories of this time and I also pray that they will think of their time relegated in the POD truly as a boys club house and not as the pumpkin patch prison.

All and all, it was a good experience.  I know that I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, eat my weight in cotton candy (which is difficult feat, so be proud) and play a part in making fond family memories for every person who wandered onto the Wybie's Pumpkin Patch grounds.  All except for that lady in the Jaguar, of course. 

Here's a Cute Lil Punkin on Her 1st Birthday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the Real: The Truth Is...

The truth is that unless you are my husband or children, you probably don't really know me all that well.  The truth is that even being my husband and/or children doesn't really get you past the red rope of my mind; they too find themselves limited in their access to what makes me tick. 

The truth is, the same could be said about you. 

Regardless of the facade we project to our friends, family members and even perfect strangers, there is a real person (soul) neatly tucked away in each body that walks upon this earth.  We may identify ourselves by what we see in the mirror each morning or by the "About Me" section of our Facebook, Twitter or blogging account, but the genuine "us" is found beyond the primping and coordinated clothing and the clever personal descriptions we leave for others to read. 

My Grandmother once told me when I was in my twenties that I needed to know who I was, beyond my titles as mother, wife, employee, friend, daughter and the numerous other interchangeable references that float above my head on any given day.  At the time, I thought, "Yes, absolutely!  I know who I am!"  But as time slipped by, and continues to do so, likewise has my grasp on who that woman is or was, if ever I even had a grasp at all. 

Who am I really without any reference to who I am to others or what I do for them?  Sadly, I'm not really sure.  I know that I'm a property manager/lease administrator/girl friday from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.  I know that I'm a mother of 3 boys and 1 girl every moment of every day.  I know that I'm the wife of Rob; married for nearly eleven years.  I know that I drive a minivan.  I know that I help with Scarlet Revolution, however scattered and inconsistent I am.  I know that I volunteer at the "volunteer table" as well as the 2SM tent at church.  But, there should be more, right?    

I know that I have brown hair that is ever being grown out or chopped off.  I know that I have hazel eyes and hands that are too large for women's gloves.  I know that I'm 5' -7 1/2" tall, yes, I'm including the 1/2", it matters!  But, there must be more, right?

I know that I'm not a goal oriented person, preferring to travel the path of whim and scheduled chaos.  I know that I genuinely care about connecting to and helping girls and women I meet, though I'm still not entirely sure how to do that effectively.  I know that I love Jesus, however silly that sounds to you, and hope that my life will result in a "Well done!" at it's close.  I'm sure there's more, but this is at least a start, right?

Have you taken a moment out of the daily hustle and bustle to take your own pulse?  To check your motives and your life's trajectory?  Who are you, really? 

Here are some little known facts about me, some of which I intend to adjust, some of which I intend to embrace, and others of which just, well, are:

  • I'm a terrible housekeeper.
  • I hate folding clothes and will often leave baskets of clean clothes untouched for days.
  • I've never really gotten on board with the idea that work should come before play, thus the first two facts.
  • I love to watch cartoons.
  • I hate to yell at my kids, but I do more often than I'd like to admit.
  • I snack like a stoner, do with that information what you will, just know that I'm not actually a stoner.
  • I hate to get up early.
  • I love to make forts in my living room with my kids.  There is a chance that I will still do that when they move out.
  • I love to make my kids laugh; love, love, love it!
  • I am dedicated to learning to love people, I'm not really that good at it yet, but I'm committed to getting better.
  • I hate to exercise, but I'm trying to wrap my mind around becoming a runner.  Since, the only "extra" time I have is in the morning BEFORE I wake up, it's been a difficult undertaking that hasn't really "took" just yet. 
  • Lately, I haven't been spending as much time with my kids as I should.  This sucks, but it's about as honest as the color of my roots.
So, there you have it.  Again, I ask, who are YOU, really? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To blog or not to blog, that is the question.

I have enjoyed reading my whole life and my ability to write has been present since elementary school.  I had never given much thought to writing as a talent since it has primarily been used for school and work projects, though I did dabble in poetry for a short time during my own, personal dark ages.  It's only been recently that I began making an effort to write on a regular basis, thus The Pact.  In my efforts to write consistently and see where it leads, I've also been reading blogs about writing and, more specifically, blogging.

Though it has been useful and I've even implemented some of the recommendations, I have found that it's also become a bit of a sick, self-inflicted torment.  I would compare it to a young girl obsessed with beauty magazines to get tips on weight loss, makeup, fashion and boys, only to feel worse as they close the pages because they realize they will never be like the women plastered on those pages.  In case you thought it, reading about and seeing pictures of less than successful, overweight women wouldn't make them feel better either.     

Reading magazines (and blogs, for that matter) for fun is great!  However, using this material as the point of reference in judging oneself is not.  I read a great and timely blog today about accepting one's own abilities.  After reading it, I realized that I, as it relates to the blogosphere, am but a slightly overweight preteen with braces, looking at Victoria Secret commercials wondering when I too will turn into a 6 foot tall, Brazilian model.  Much like the 99% of girls in this world that will not become a famous actress or model, I too must come to terms with the fact that I just need to be happy in my own skin and with my own blog.

With the intent of becoming a better writer, I've read so many blogs about writing and blogging that I may have gone on overload.  The following is just a sampling of the topics discussed:

  • How to get published.
  • How to make money blogging.
  • How to become a guest blogger.
  • How to build the number of followers.
  • How to format your blog.
  • How to write a great blog.
  • How NOT to write a great blog.

The list could continue, but I think you get my point.  There is a lot of information out there and most of it is incredibly useful to a person in my position, as fresh meat in the world of blogging.  But at what point am I doing myself a disservice?

This issue doesn't just apply to me and my journey to discovering the plans God has for my life, but it can be applied to anything that any one of us desires to be great at or accomplish.  At what point does all of our information gathering and comparison making discourage us from our dream?  Yes, we can read articles online about healthy living and we can look at online instructions for effective exercises; we can read testimonials about people who have lost 140 lbs and watch the Jenny Craig commercials with Jennifer Hudson, but at some point, if we don't implement some of it, all of that information can become a burden and overwhelm us.  Then the months and the years go by and we're not any healthier and our BMI may have even increased as a result of my pity induced and guilt inducing "midnight snacking".

The Take Home

Here's what I took away from today. 

  • I may never have more than 11 followers, that's ok, I'm gonna keep at this.
  • I may never be published, that's ok, I'm gonna keep at this.
  • I may never figure out a niche for my blog, that's ok, I'm gonna keep at this.
  • I may never make a dime blogging, that's ok, I'm gonna keep at this.
  • Despite all of this, I will get better and, possibly, one day, I'll write something significant for someone and have fulfilled a purpose on this earth through my writing.
Yes, I will continue to read some articles so that I can grow in my craft, but no longer will I look at every blog I come across as proof that I shouldn't be wasting my time on this.  I'm gonna keep at it. 

Is there something that you beat yourself up about?  Perhaps it's a goal you've set for yourself or a dream given to you by God, perhaps a talent that you've let stagnate.  What have you done or what do you plan to do to get things moving in the right direction?  Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Smorgybord Saturday: The Dance

As the couple glided across the dance floor in unison, everyone was amazed.  Had they really been married for 60 years?  The game at the wedding, in lieu of the garter and bouquet toss, had been quite clever.  All married couples were ordered to the dance floor positioned at the center of the banquet hall.  As the couples gathered, it was explained that the game was such that the couples would be excused by length of marriage, shortest to longest.  Immediately couples left who were married less than a year, less than 2, then 5, 10 and so on, until only one couple was left who had just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary earlier in the year. 

They didn't appear old enough to have been married 60 years, but family members quickly verified it as fact.  The proof, however, could be seen clearly as the wedding guests watched them move fluidly as one.  What they could not see were the triumphs and troubles that they had passed through together to arrive at this moment in time.  The truth was that though they had had always danced well together, they had not always moved so fluidly in life together.  60 years of marriage had required a great deal of work and a blind commitment to an uncertain future regardless of circumstance. 

Divorce, as Bill had discovered fairly early on, was not an option for Helen.  He suggested it once and she flatly explained to him that it was not possible, she was Catholic.  In his youthful inexperience, he assumed it was truly impossible and didn't realize until later that she simply refused his efforts to open the escape hatch that so many pass through.   

Bill and Helen had married young, running away to Nevada at the green ages of 17 and 15, respectively.  They legalized their union in the only way they could, they lied.  If the wedding guests realized this bit of information, it might have explained the discrepancy between their appearance and their 6 decade long marriage. 

Shortly after they were married, they started their family.  Bill had joined the Navy and traveled for extended periods of time.  Despite his time away, they still managed to have 6 children, though 2 passed shortly after birth as a result of prematurity.  It was during this time of difficulty that Bill realized he needed God, and God changed everything for the both of them.

60 years is a lifetime for some and for this couple 60 years represented a lifetime together, building a strong marriage, building a close-knit family, building a powerful ministry and building the Kingdom of God in this earth together.  There are many tales told around the Thanksgiving table each year in their home, tales of joy, heartbreak, rebellion, love, triumph, salvation, forgiveness, amongst others.  On those special days, their home is filled with 4 adult children and their spouses, 12 grandchildren, some grown and married some still single and at home, 8 great-grandchildren and the promise of many more to come.  Still dancing as one and living as one and at the core of it all is God. 

As the song wound down and the guests rejoined them on the dance floor, the question as to how they made it 60 years slipped from their minds.  The young unmarried people returned to their thoughts of love being a feeling or an attraction as evidenced by butterflies and distractedness.  The various newlyweds believing that they would be just like Bill and Helen when they themselves had been married so long, not realizing the hardships they would have to pass through, the injuries, pain and loss they would endure to get there.  Those couples who found themselves a decade or 2 into their nuptials understood what lay ahead, hoping and praying that they too would persevere. 

Love is a commitment, a covenant that is sealed through marriage and refined over a life time.  It is a choice, not just at the altar on the big day, but in every moment of every day.  Our marriage relationships are a big part of our overall spiritual journey in Christ and we must consider His example as we make our choices. 

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

To spend time with Bill and Helen in the comfort of their home would only show that they are not lucky to have made it 60 years, but they have daily chosen to endure the obstacles of life with one another.  They continue to move through this life just as they do on the dance floor; gracefully, fluidly and comfortably as one.               

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Chair

Lately, you may have noticed that I have been posting information about The Chair series at my church.  I know that in the past I've posted videos and plan to do so once again once they become available.  If you've never seen a segment, you really should, it's the most real and authentic way to see the difference that Jesus can make in a persons life.  The thing to understand about this series is that these are real people, most of which I personally know.  Some may only be acquaintances or people that I've stood next to in line while waiting to pick up my kids or sat behind in service, but they are real people with real stories of freedom and salvation.  It's amazing.

I remember when I first started attending Celebration Church, I was recharged as many times a week as I could manage in the chairs there.  They are extra wide, black metal chairs with dark gray fabric, more comfortable than you'd expect, but not so much that you might get too comfortable and nap during service.  They have no arms, so when you sit you are immediately adjacent to the person lucky enough to take the seats to your right and left.  They are sturdy and easy to sit in and jump out of when Pastor says something stirring.  They are perfectly uniform and unassuming, easily stackable and useful in any number of situations.  They neatly fit at long rectangular tables and round tables, likewise they line the perimeter of classrooms and are suitable for all ages.  They are neither too dowdy for weddings or garish for funerals.  They don't mind if all they do is hold your purse during a prayer meeting or get pushed out of the way to make room for people who find themselves prostrate at the feet of their God.  They neither condemn you nor celebrate you for your consistent attendance or lack thereof.  On the seat-backs of each chair are pockets, different types depending on if you go to Clovis or Fresno, but each chair dutifully holds the giving envelopes and connect cards and the blue info card that explains the tithe and offering.  There's even a spot for a pen or two.

The chairs play many roles on any given weekend.  They are great places to hide for the littlest church goer's as they wait for their parents to finish chatting.  They are also great places to hide for the not so little church goer's as they wait for service to start and avoid talking to all the happy, shiny's outside and in the lobby.  They become a place for counseling and encouragement between believers and friends, a place to pray with others or cry out to God alone.  A place to simply catch up with friends old and new.  The chairs toward the back often hold newborn carseats and become miniature playgrounds for toddlers not wanting to attend class.  The chairs toward the front are often for students, the brave, the familiar and the hungry.  Never choosing, but always being chosen.

There are so many significant seats we take over the course of our life, the chair in the doctor's office, the driver's seat, the chair in our counselor's office, the chair at our dining room table or our favorite restaurant, the chair in our own living room or the chair we sit in at work; each of these chairs represent good and bad memories, freedom, sorrow, comfort, joy, pain, fear, boredom, excitement as well as so much more.  All of these chairs have had the potential to change your life, but you had to choose to take the seat.  Similarly, the chairs at Celebration, or any church really, have the potential to change your life, but you must choose it.  You must choose to sit and be open to the experience and the ride of a life time.

Each and every moment in one of these chairs is the moment that could change everything.         

Click to Go to Website and View Promo Video


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tis the Season for... Pumpkins!

About a week and a half ago I was called abruptly into a meeting with my boss and our pumpkin patch/Christmas tree lot tenant.  I innocently gathered up my notepad and my pen and headed in expecting to take notes so that I could draft the leases needed for him to operate at the properties in Fresno and Clovis where he had been last year.  To my utter shock, I began taking notes on how my co-worker, husband and myself would be operating a pumpkin patch this year.  Nay, (yes, I said nay) how we would begin operating a pumpkin patch in about a week.  In it's most basic form it sounded simple.  Peddle Punkins... what could be easier.  Well, we are on day five of operation, after 7 days of planning and coordinating, and I can think of several thousand things that are more simple than organizing and operating a pumpkin patch.  I suppose that the operating of the pumpkin patch is fairly simple, but the preparation is incredibly trying.

Here's the Kids When it was Still Fun, On the First Night!
Fortunately, I have friends that have truly rallied around us and have pitched in however they could by lending us wagons, wheelbarrows, easy-ups, generators, tables, chairs, and children.  Yep, teenage boys are awesome, they are helpful and can carry a 70 lbs. pumpkin.  We've also had lots of friendly faces show up and buy their pumpkins from us.  Sure, it sounds crazy to take on this effort given our already full plate, but it's been fun too and I suspect that the real fun and excitement will truly begin as we get closer to Halloween.  It's been an adventure and I do like me some adventure.  Here are a few things that I've learned during my time as a punkin peddler:
  1. My husband is a talented artist.  No really, he is and sadly, I was very surprised.  After fifteen years, one would hope a wife would know something like that.  But I know now and plan to take advantage of that gift.
  2. Pumpkins are cool!  No really they are.  We have several varieties and as different as the varieties are, each individual pumpkin is unique too.    
  3. Light towers are hard to come by less than a month before Halloween, especially with the fair going on.
  4. Kids get tired of a pumpkin patch more quickly than you'd think.  After spending some SERIOUS amounts of time at the patch, my kids beg me to go home.  Though, I suspect their story will change when the slide, face painting and cotton candy is made available on Friday.
  5. Facebook is not the master marketing tool I thought it was.  Even after blowing up Facebook about our Pumpkin Patch, I still have friends that don't know about it, who I see post regularly.  If that is you... it's ok.  I don't read every single post that floats down my screen either.  
  6. A pumpkin patch is a wonderful place for a baby to really learn to walk.  The hay softens her fall and uneven ground challenges her ability, encouraging her to get better and stronger every day.  It's also a great excuse to buy baby, bedazzled combat boots.  Stylish and utilitarian.  Perfect.
  7. Eating homemade food at home is a good thing.  Though convenient, sometimes all you want to do is eat food that wasn't passed through a window or over a counter... unless you have a cool pass-thru counter from your kitchen to your dining room like we do.  
Here's the Coraline Display for Taking Pictures
By the time Halloween actually arrives, I suspect that I will have had my fill of pumpkins and the festive fall season, but for now, I will enjoy inspecting pumpkins each day and deciding which is my favorite.  I will enjoy sitting and seeing Bubba's face peeking through the hole in the picture of Coraline, Wybie and Cat painted by my husband.  I will soak in this wonderful opportunity that few get, to actively participate in building family memories for friends and strangers alike.  To provide little patch of childhood for every customer that walks on the lot.  I mean, our family gets to help run a pumpkin patch!!  How cool is that!  Just more proof that my God is good and that He has planned good works for me to accomplish in this life.  How awesome that I get to meet so many people, make new friends and simply be kind to them!  Sometime I'll tell you about all of the other exciting adventures I've experienced without even leaving California... 

Have you ever been presented with an extraordinary opportunity that may have stretched your talents, but also expanded your horizons and opened your eyes to God's incomprehensible creativity when it comes to "Life Plans"?  Please, please share!  I love to read comments and promise to respond.      

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Smorgybord Saturday: Sung Heroes

Typically on Saturday, The Pact would require me to do something creative. However, on  this particular Saturday my maternal grandparents are being honored at their Diocese Bishop's Awards Dinner, which is established to honor Bright Lights in their Catholic Community.  Given this special occasion, it seems appropriate to honor them myself in the only truly public platform I have readily available, my blog.

If you've spent any extended amount of time with me, chances are you've heard of them; Bill & Helen Warren, or Poppa & Dama as they have lovingly been referred to since my eldest brother dubbed them when he was mastering the english language.  It's odd growing up with family in ministry.  When I was young I  didn't see world changers, I saw a woman that made the best cream of wheat and the biggest, most huggable man I had ever met.  The reality, though, is that they are world changers.  They have touched the lives of so many people through their testimony, their love, their prayer, their teaching, their example, their generosity, basically their life and more specifically how they choose to live their life.  Some people choose to spend their time trying to get ahead, some people spend their money on extravagance and comfort, while other's spend both for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.  Fortunately for me, my grandparents are the latter.  Now that I am older, I am able to recognize them for the world changers that they are and strive to be more like them, which to be more like them is really to be more like Jesus.

Their life story is a testimony to God's unfailing love and enduring faithfulness to His people.

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." 2 Chronicles 16:9

The Lord's eyes have rested upon Bill & Helen Warren and because of their faithfulness, He has shown Himself strong in not just their life, but in the lives that they have touched and impacted.  I heard it said on several occasions during the awards dinner that it was "amazing" that they were being honored, but I disagreed.  I believe that lives that my grandparents lead, as well as the lives of all of the honoree's last night, are amazing.  Truly an example to us all of what the life of a follower of Christ should look like.   

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unsung Heroes

Today I read a blog about unsung heroes.  It was a great reminder for me that if ever I run out of inspiration for writing, I can simply look around me.  I personally know so many people that sacrifice something in their lives for the benefit of others.  People that would give you their last buck or carve out precious time from their day simply to listen.  I am truly blessed to  be in such company. 

On that note, I am going to share with you a particular true story.  One that is but in the very beginning of the first chapter of a bigger story that is just now in the process of being written.  Please keep in mind that this is from my point of view and one day, perhaps, I'll do proper research and get information from somewhere other than my brain. For now though, just keep in mind that I had a pretty good vantage point.

The unsung heroes I am writing about today are a couple named Brett & Nicole.  I considered changing their names to Brent & Nicolette for their privacy, but thought this direct approach more fun... ummm... I mean more appropriate. 

First, you should know that they are simply one of the funniest couples I've ever met, which is saying a lot since I know lots of funny people.  I know comedic repore is not very heroic, but it certainly helps in their ministry, which is interestingly enough, an outreach for those displaced and misplaced in our community, those that live in tents near abandoned train tracks and atop unfinished freeway on-ramps, or bunk down for the night under the largest piece of cardboard they could find, those dubbed homeless.  Funny word: homeless. The word "home" is so much more than four walls and a roof. Likewise, there is so much more to the epidemic of homelessness and poverty in this area than the lack of housing and food.

Let me rewind just a bit to earlier this year.  I was innocently working in my office on a gray and dreary looking day. I believe it had been raining off and on.  During the weeks leading up to this day, God had been working on my heart, opening my eyes to the truth about the incredibly large population of homeless individuals and families in Fresno.  So on that dreary, gray day when Nicole excitedly entered my office and announced God had instructed her to pack as many sack lunches as she could with $40 and some Costco ham her mother had donated, I said count me in.  I still chuckle when I think back to that conversation, as she explained that God had put this on her heart sometime before that, but that she'd always put it off until a day she thought she'd feel more prepared.  Finally, God told her to just use what she had and go do it and, finally, she listened.  I'm fairly certain she thought it was just as crazy as it sounded because even as she was saying the words, the look of disbelief in her face was pretty apparent.  Not disbelief in God, just an astonishment that she was actually doing it.

So off we went with 80 sack lunches and twice that many bottled waters split between a minivan and a PT cruiser.  It was rainy and I don't think Brett or Nicole knew what they were doing.  But it didn't matter, God knew what He was doing and they knew how to follow His lead.  It was a life changing experience for all of us.

Subsequently, a much larger group made the excursion, this time loaded down with 300 sack lunches, water, dog food, toiletry care packs and clothing.  We were able to pray for individuals, hear their stories, be invited into their homes, meet needs seen and unseen and on many occasions simply be a friendly face.  This was a taste of something amazing.  To see the Holy Spirit work as volunteers found their niche and ministered in the way that they were created to minister.  You see, the goal was not just to fill an empty stomach once, but to fill a soul, connect to a kindred spirit.  If you were to ask Brett & Nicole how they intend to change the world with a single sack lunch in the face of dire, pervasive, inescapable poverty and despair, they would quickly tell you that those lunches simply represent a door.  A door that, if invited, we can enter into the life of someone God cares deeply about and for whom He desires better.  No, we aren't bringing new cars and keys to a new apartment, but we are bringing The One Who can heal, deliver, bring provision and break bondages.  That being said, as we walk through these areas, there are many things we offer, included in that list is a God who can help and ourselves as friends, but it is fully up to each person to accept what we bring.  Though we desire that all would take one of everything, we operate on an a la carte basis.  Just water?  Ok.  Just Lunch?  Ok.  Water, Lunch, Conversation?  Ok!  Water, Lunch, Conversation, Small Tent Revival Prayer Meeting?  Absolutely!!!      

Since that time, I have witnessed a grassroots movement sprout from what appeared to be forty measly dollars.  I have seen a family open their home to stockpiling socks, wash clothes, toothbrushes, condiment packages, clothing and other items. I have been front and center in watching as this couple has emptied themselves into this dream that God has given them.  It is in their every thought, every word they speak is laced with a hope intended for this dream, it inhabits the air around them and they truly value this dream that God has given them.  It would have been much easier to cheapen what God intended by just going and doing, but Brett & Nicole have expended the time and effort to do this right and I know that God will bless their ministry because of it.  In case you were wondering, the path to obtaining "Non-Profit" status is scary, long, windy, laden with pitfalls, detours, delays and barriers, but they are making their way.  In addition to watching this ministry be born, I have also witnessed as this pair was redefined and re-identified by this new dream.  God has established them as leaders both in our church community and our community at large.  They are stepping out of their comfort zone and connecting with other ministries in our community and doing the leg work required to ensure that their ministry can streamline with those ministries and increase the effectiveness of all.  I'm sure that there are still moments when they doubt their ability to handle this responsibility, but I believe and so many would agree, that God chose wisely.  Though, I doubt He requires our approval.

As I stated in my introduction, this is but a small part of a bigger story.  The planting season, where a lot of work is accomplished, but the rewards are not seen yet.  I am excited to be a part of something with such significance and can hardly wait to write about so much more.  Though, I know so many more that are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into the lives of those around them, this is one notable example of heroes that doin' the dang thing!  If you would like to know more about their ministry, Scarlet Revolution, please visit their facebook page and keep checking back to their website as it should be up and running very soon.  Also, if you'd like to read one of my previous blogs about the second "Love Run", you can check that out too!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the Real: What Defines Me?

Last Thursday I posted a blog about how I perceive and consider other people and their mistakes, predicaments and downfalls.  Admittedly, it was kind of harsh, but my tone was aimed internally since I have a long row to hoe when it comes to pride.  I ended that post with the following statement: 

"The second realization is but the counterpart of the first, which is I must refuse to embrace my predilections or dysfunction as that which defines my character or my worth. I cannot buy into the lie that being broken and miserable is how God intended me to be, that it's my identification and rightful inheritance. Sounds crazy, but I've done it.

But, that can be saved for another day."

Guess what!  Today is that day!  Are you excited?  No?  Well, that's OK because I am!

I will start this discussion by stating that I am ever in the process of transformation and, though, I may pause a while in one form or another, I know that I cannot become stagnant in my growth, always trusting that God has a better way, a better life, and a better me in mind.  Therefore, in no way am I claiming perfection or that I have absolute knowledge and understanding in this area.  I have only my life experience, thus far, to offer as an example and the Word of God to bring clarity and encouragement.  
If I had to draw a word picture of me between the ages of 18 and 29, it would look like this.

It's not a pretty picture.  I was a fairly miserable person, but it was who I was.  It was who I thought I was. 
The truth is, without Christ to intervene, over the course of a lifetime, regardless of the amount of time, we allow the world around us to tell us who we are and to direct our character development through our relationships and experiences.  My life, for example, taught me, through a series of bad relationships with fellow classmates in middle school, that I could not be friends with other girls, they could not be trusted.  I was still basically OK, and then I entered high school, which taught me that really all people could not be trusted.  Those four years clearly illustrated to me that if I was ever going to preserve my own heart and mind, I needed to reject, reject, reject.  By the end of high school, I had already cemented in my mind that boys could not be trusted, and that if I desired to have a relationship with them, it had to be on my terms.  My terms, by the way, were one foot in, one foot out, ready to bolt.  In college, I maintained my 12 foot tall invisible block wall that kept everyone away only to exit on a couple of occasions to be crushed again.  So, what did I learn?  Who did I figure out I was? 

Well, having not used the Bible as a picture reference for who I should be and how God sees me, I determined that I was shy and by shy I mean unfriendly.  My husband and I used to fight... not discuss, but fight about my needing to make friends.  I, of course, justified it by declaring that it was who I was and it couldn't be helped or changed.  When I became a Christian, that didn't just go away.  All of those emotions listed above still remained.  The still defined me and affected how I perceived people and myself.  Most importantly, it affected how I perceived God.  That wall I had constructed didn't just shield me from bad people who might hurt me, but all people and even God himself.  The thing is, I didn't even know it was a lie.  I didn't realize that it wasn't actually who I was, who I was designed and created to be.  I wouldn't say it out loud, but on some level, I assumed that God made me that way.

Sound familiar?  Well, I believe that most people make this excuse.  Sure, you might not be unfriendly and cold, but you might lie about pointless things without any thought.  You might desire to have everyone like you, so you do whatever is needed to make it happen.  You might be a perfectionist or a workaholic, a hoarder or a miser, a professional pity party event coordinator or perhaps you just reject God on all accounts.  No matter what the definition you've inscribed on your own soul or self-portrait you've painted, if you are not seeing yourself through the eyes of Jesus and living the life that God carefully crafted for you, then you are living a lie, my friend.  It might be a big lie, it might be a little lie, but it's a lie nonetheless.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered! Psalms 139:13-17 (NLT)

The final straw for me was one day when I was driving home from church in my humility building white Ford Aerostar.  I was excited about life and all that God had already done in me and in my life.  I was praying and going over my service notes in my mind.  I wondered what else God could possible have for me?  He had already blessed me with so much.  Then the Holy Spirit asked me a question.  "Did Jesus attract people or repel them?"  I suddenly had that sinking feeling.  You know the kind when you are about to be scolded, but just aren't sure for what.  Suddenly, I pictured Jesus walking down a dirt road, surrounded by his disciples and other followers, with a crowd of strangers just beyond that.  The only answer I could give was that He clearly attracted people.  Then the follow up question hit.  "So, if you are supposed to be a representative of Christ in this earth, a reflection of Him, how can you do that if you reject people and are not friendly?"  Bam!  There it was.  I am designed to be ever transformed into someone that increasingly reflects Christ.  So how could the very thing that I allowed to define me be in direct opposition to the very person of Christ in me.... one of them had to go and though, certainly, I have to push myself to be friendly and loving and kind and forgiving , I am being redefined daily. 

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you,
will continue his work until it is finally finished
on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philipians 1:6 (NLT)

My question to you today is:  Are there aspects of your character that are in direct opposition to the very person of Christ in you?  Or if you've dealt with this in your own life, can you share some pointers?  I could sure use them! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Liam - Wisdom's Friend

Some time ago, I spent an entire blog post describing my eldest son, Jacob.  In honor of my middle son's birthday, this blog will, likewise, be dedicated to him. 

I am big on family names.  So much so, that each of my children's monikers honor someone to whom we are related.  Without going into detail, Jacob's full name references Rob's dad's side, Liam's full name references both sides, Domenic's full name references Rob's mom's side and Helena covers my mom's side as well as Rob's mom.  As you can see, I wasn't joking.  Back to Liam.

You might be surprised to know that Liam's name is short for William.  When I was pregnant with him, Rob and I went around on names and even went back and forth between William and just Liam for sometime.  Finally, we decided upon William Scott Harwood, but we would immediately refer to him as Liam.  It's funny, for not having known him at all outside of the womb, the name Liam fits him perfectly.  If we had gone with the more common Will, Willy, Bill or Billy something would have definitely have been lacking.  The name William has its origins in the English language and means Resolute Protector or Strong Willed Warrior, the name Liam, as a separate name in Gaelic means Helmeted.  I like both and though, I believe that God can change your identity if you have, in fact, been misidentified in this world (Jacob/Israel and Saul/Paul), I believe that God gave us this name for him and that he has been accurately identified in this life.

When he was younger, he was of a slight frame.  We always had issues getting him to eat, which is true even today, but he has grown taller and more broad.  He has become quite solid.  Of my boys, he is the only with straight hair, which he prefers to wear long.  He was born with a "V" shaped "Angel Kiss" type of birthmark on his forehead.  It has since faded dramatically, but it can still be seen if he gets his circulation moving (i.e. mad, crying, running around).  Since it was in the shape of a "V", we determined it was "V" for Victory, though with his latest remark to Jacob about "Seeking revenge", perhaps it should be for Vendetta.  We're sticking with Victory given the meaning of his name. 

Of my children, so far, he is the most spiritually aware.  We've exposed them equally to the elements that go along with living a life that, to the best of our ability, can be described as Christian.  That is not a cop-out, by the way, just a little disclaimer that we are indelibly imperfect, but are ever working to become more like Christ and less like the broken versions of ourselves born to this life and further adjusted incorrectly through this thing we call life.  Back to Liam specifically, though, he's pretty extraordinary in his own way.  He has always operated in an awareness that exceeded his age.  Even when he was an infant, his approach to the world was more guarded than his siblings and he typically established trust through a trusted reference.  He quickly learned that if Jacob liked someone, he could like them too, but there was very rarely a direct connection.  As he entered pre-school he quickly learned the in's and out's of attracting and making friends.  He went the route of humor and a certain amount of aloofness.  He's very intelligent, but has also learned to maintain a low profile on that quality to keep a balance between excelling and keeping friends.  Though, he may keep a balance between overachieving in school and keeping friends, he has not tried to balance his faith with anything. 

Here are a few stories:

- A few years ago when I picked him up from pre-school, he hopped into the car and explained to me, in shock, that some kids don't go to church or believe in Jesus.  I explained that that was true, but that we can share Jesus with our friends, which he responded by telling me that he already had done just that.  

- Later that year in pre-school, when 90% of the kids at his pre-school were sick with the stomach flu (picture 4-5 kids being sent home every day after having vomited), Liam and I discussed that he wasn't subject to the same sickness.  After discussing it, we prayed and, as you migh expect, he was stomach flu free!  He remembers that to this day. 

- When he was in kindergarten, we were headed home from an evening church service and just we passed back in front of the church, we saw that there was an ambulance parked in front of the church.  In the process of walking to our vehicle (it was a fairly lengthy walk), loading up and driving back down the street, an ambulance that was not there when we left the building was suddenly there, which surprised us all.  All three boys were concerned and I reassured them that if someone was hurt, they were most certainly getting help and prayer.  We had only made it a quarter of a mile, when Liam spoke up and suggested we pray for whoever was hurt.  He prayed out loud and we all came into agreement.  Still pretty incredible in my mind.

- More recently, Liam came home and told me that one school chum in particular doesn't go to church and doesn't know Jesus.  Something we'd obviously come accross before.  However, this time, he told me that he led his friend to Jesus and said the prayer with him.  He also said that since we can have church anywhere, they just have church at school.  He even explained the tithe and offering to him because the little boy thought churches just try to take people's money.  (If you're reading this and agree that  churches only want your money, I might know someone that can teach you the principle of sowing.)

As much as this little guys faith is big and only growing, of my boys, I can see the potential for an increased number of pitfalls in life.  With high intelligence comes a certain pride that, I believe, can become destructive.  This pride breeds the lie that we don't need anyone or anything and that nobody and nothing can teach us anything, the veil of self-confidence blinds us from how much we don't know and how much we need God.  I'm not sure what God has planned for his life, but it appears to me that it will be big and I'm prepared to beat off any intention of the enemy to upend that plan. 

Backing down from the hyperspiritual, Liam is just a great kid, here are few memorable quotes:

"I am fong!" - This was when he was 2 and he couldn't pronounce strong.

"I'm the only real Liam, all the other Liam's are aliens." - He firmly believed this between the ages of 3 and 4.

"Follow me, I'm a genius!" - This was when he was 5.

"People change."  See this blog for background.

"If you hit me, I will seek revenge." - This statement was just last week.

Some of my favorite moments with my son are just chatting.  He never runs out of stuff to talk about and I love to hear more about the things that make him tick.  One of the things that is best and worst about him is that he loves to make goofy faces when we take pictures and, to some degree, it's almost like he can't help it.  He is truly an awesome individual and someone that I am proud to call son.  He is proof that God loves me and thinks highly enough of my husband and I to entrust him to us. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Smorgybord Saturday: Do You Know Him?

I bet you thought this was another Jesus post, and YES it is important to me that you know Him too!  But this time, I'm talking about Bill Withers (is this a reverse Jesus Juke?).  Bill Withers is The Man!  If the name doesn't sound familiar, his music will.  You probably know at least one of his songs by heart and most likely more.  On top of being an amazing lyricist, he's a loving husband and father, he is dedicated to his art without the thirst for fame, and his story is amazing!  He went from factory worker (he helped build airplane bathrooms) to famous musician nearly overnight.  His contribution to modern music is significant.  I know that Ms. H and I listen to him daily.  Here are some transcribed lyrics and a couple videos for your pleasure.

Just the Two of Us (Condensed)
I see the crystal raindrops fall
And the beauty of it all
Is when the sun comes shining through
To make those rainbows in my mind
When I think of you some time
And I want to spend some time with you

We look for love, no time for tears
Wasted waters's all that is
And it don't make no flowers grow
Good things might come to those who wait
Not to those who wait too late
We got to go for all we know

I hear the crystal raindrops fall
On the window down the hall
And it becomes the morning dew
And darling, when the morning comes
And I see the morning sun
I want to be the one with you

Just the two of us
We can make it if we try
Just the two of us
Just the two of us
Building big castles way up high
Just the two of us
You and I

Ain't No Sunshine

Grandma's Hands

And my very favorite!!

Who is He (and What is He to You) 

Lean on Me
Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are not wise, we know that there's always tomorrow.

Lean on me when you're not strong
I'll be your friend I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on.

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show.

You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you'll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you'll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can't carry I'm right up the road
I'll share your load if you just call me.

Call me (If you need a friend)
Call me
Call me

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On The Real: The Unthinkable

If you've been following my blog, you probably read my post about a young, bleak, rebellious girl. I know it seems impossible, being that my personality is much like cotton candy wrapped in a rainbow, beautiful to behold with an oh, so sweet center, but that girl was me. To be blunt, that girl could still be revived if I made certain choices in my life.  Fortunately, I'm too far in my relationship with Jesus to mess up like that. 

Or am I?

I still struggle with pride, I suspect I will until I find myself awash with true humility worshipping at the feet of Jesus upon the completion of this life. That being said, I've managed to cultivate such a highly dense and expansive pride that, despite God working it out of me daily, there is plenty still to go around.  Over the years there have been some really exciting and yet painful realizations. Some made me feel lightheaded, others felt like a suckerpunch to the gut, but all brought me closer to becoming the person I was created to be. To avoid romanticizing life changing revelation, I'll cut to the meaty, if not slightly raw center.

First, to make effective strides toward becoming truly compassionate, I needed to realize, and continually remind myself, that, without Christ, there is no difference between me and anyone else.  And by anyone else, I mean ANYONE else. Most often, it is easy for me to look at people who have committed crimes or made mistakes that have dramatically changed the course of their life from its intended purpose, and pity them or resent them or despise them.  In no way can I ever relate to them.  I can never relate to a thief or a prostitute, a drug addict or a homeless person, a woman who kills or abandons her own child, a man who beats his wife, a drunk driver responsible for the death of a teenager, a suicide bomber or a serial killer, a man who unintentionally forgets his child in his car on a hot day, or the digruntled worker that enters his place of employment filled with violence, or any other person responsible for the UNTHINKABLE.  To maintain my pride and my shiny-happy exterior, I must remain convinced it could never be me. But the truth is, I am separated by only the thinnest veil of holy DNA and without it, the potential for the UNTHINKABLE remains buried at the center of human iniquity. 

In my own effort and strength, I am not special.  Using my own life experience and conscience, all things have the potential to be logical and acceptable and most certainly justifiable.  To believe that at any point I can begin to rely solely on my own discretion, however sanctified, will lead only to an unexpected, yet inevitably, UNTHINKABLE end.  Yes, it is true that I can do all things through Christ, who strenthens me; but it is equally true that I am capable of all things through sin, which is my ruin.  I may never actually do any of those things listed above, but I refuse to be so prideful as to sit in judgement over those that have, convinced of my worth because my issues aren't as obvious to those around me.

We are only weakened by, and susceptible to the predilection within, when we lie to ourselves about who we are and what we are capable of.

The second realization is but the counterpart of the first, which is I must refuse to embrace my predilections or disfunction as that which defines my character or my worth.  I cannot buy into the lie that being broken and miserable is how God intended me to be, that it's my identification and rightful inheritance.  Sounds crazy, but I've done it.

But, that can be saved for another day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

PTL (Praise The Lord)

As a result of my increased involvement in online communities, I've become aware of numerous threads where Christians discuss/debate/argue their individual or, on a wider spectrum, their denominational interpretations of the Bible.  Sometimes, even non-Christians jump in and mix it up.  For a period of time, I used to get involved and try to convince people that the way I interpret scripture is correct.  I mean, I'm filled with the Holy Spirit and pray that He will bring revelation when I read and study, and He does.  It's awesome.  I wish more people would do it. 

Wouldn't it be nice if people would be more open to understanding the Truth of God's Word as it's intended, you know, the way I see it.  I'm sure that I've never misunderstood God or His direction in my life.  I'm positive that I've never taken the Word and molded it to fit into something that is more convenient and comprehensible for me.  I would never do any of that.

I just can't wait until we all get to Heaven, assuming that certain incorrect beliefs don't disqualify some people, and God says to me "Well done!  You were right and they were ALL wrong, my good and faithful daughter!"  Then I will humbly turn in circles, grinning from ear to ear at the great cloud of witnesses, pointing with alternating left and right index fingers yelling, "See!!! I told you so!"  What a glorious day THAT will be... for me!  PTL!

I think there's a really good chance of that happening.  I'm just sayin'.  IMHO (in my humble opinion).

Ephesians 4:1-6
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Smorgybord Saturday - The Girl & Poetry

In honor of Smorgybord Saturday, where those bound to The Pact must offer up creative writing samples,  I have decided to post some poetry written long ago by The Girl mentioned in the previous post.  I hope she doesn't mind.

We'll start out with a real light hearted one:

Death of Humanity
The shadows sway as the breeze blows
A strand of hair is removed with a delicate hand
Conversations are carried away on the milkweed
Whispers from long ago rustle in the trees above
Sunlight is lightly sprinkled on them as if God were flavoring
the world with His grace
A chill is sent
A single black cloud
On droplet of cold, hard pain has fallen
The trees no longer gently whisper, but scream with the injustices
never spoken of
An icy wind howls with the hunger for compassion
The once pure hand is now callused and wrinkled
Humanity slowly dies

The second one is only slightly more desolate:

When the cities come crumbling down around our feet;
When the children no longer exist;
When there is nothing to live for but the death of another;
When power means more than the survival of many;
This, my dear, is when the world is dead.
Sincerely yours,
No Longer

Ok.  The last one, which I actually think isn't too dreary:

A Flower Pot
Like the rose you gave, our relationship died
Petal by petal it dwindled
I still love you, 
but there is no life in this rootless flower
It came wrapped in plastic, 
meant for only a short time of beauty
I'm looking for more, for a future,
for something that will last.
A flower pot, instead of a vase.

Hopefully, you could really sense the deep, desperate depression.