This is My Crowd

This is My Crowd
Picture by: Photography by Vicky Campos

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Clock Watchers

With few exception, around the globe people work. Whether it be in a more traditional business setting, at home or in the field, people work. Of the people that work, most of those people have a time frame within which they work; be it an American 8 hour day or a stay at home mom's day that starts before her children awake and ends when she lays her head on her pillow. Without judging another persons work for quality or quantity, I think most every person feels like a worker bee.
Photo by: Digitalart
I can't speak to the mentality in other parts of the world, or even other parts of the U.S., but in my limited experience, I have found that working people are also clock watchers. Without doing any type of research other than exploring the memory files of my own mind, I have been able to narrow it down to two basic types of clock watchers:
  1. The "Is it 5 yet?" Worker (or insert the time of day that you get off of work) - This worker often glances at the clock to see if time is magically passing faster than the standard sixty seconds per minute. This worker works for their evenings, weekends, vacations, their dream job or, in the big picture, retirement. They don't much care for their job, sure they have pleasant, possibly even fun, moments, but for the most part, their heart isn't in it. For people that work in a less scheduled work environment, they drudge through the day just waiting for the moment they can rest or shut down and watch T.V. They may see their work as an endless supply of projects and repeat tasks to be performed each day until they turn into dust or retire to the coast, where their life will truly begin.
  2. The "Is it 5 already?" Worker (or insert the time of day that you get off of work) - This worker starts each day eager to see what awaits them. They thrive on accomplishing projects and tasks, relishing the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. Sure, they have "Is it 5 yet?" days, but they aren't waiting for some special occasion or invitation to start living. Retirement isn't even on the radar, and it's not that they don't believe retirement won't come and that they haven't taken steps to prepare for it, it's just that they are focused on completing what is set before them. Their "job" is no "job" at all, simply a part of their life.
Now, I'm quite certain that these are extremes, but I believe most people ultimately fall into one category or another. I'm also sure that many people can justify falling into category one by the type of job they hold or the unfulfilled dreams that they once held dear, but the truth is we all choose how we approach our work.

Colossians 3:22-25 instructs us:  Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.

As Christians, we are also called to be workers. Jesus uses workers in various parables in the New Testament, so it stands to reason that in addition to being described as a Bride, Children and Siblings, we also have the less than glamorous role as worker. In His parables his workers are jealous, lazy, fearful, greedy, mean spirited, even oblivious to work that needs to be done. Humanity has not changed much over the centuries, and people continue to fall into these categories too, but what about the two categories submitted above?

As Workers for the cause of Christ, our charge, our job description, if you will, can be found in Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So, I ask you today, what type of worker will you be? The person waiting for heavens pearly gates, doing the minimum here on earth because you are so "Not of this World", that you can't be bothered to shed a little blood, sweat and/or tears? Or will you be the person who at the end of this life, as you stand before your maker, asks, "is it time already?"

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favorite Thing I Did This Past Christmas Season

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I had a "lightbulb" moment.  I decided that I wanted to do something to mark the arrival of Christmas that was more significant than our annual, milk chocolate-filled advent calendars with the kids.  Being that my husband and I are both people that love to fill our house with friends and loved ones and then feed them, weekly Advent dinners seemed to be the answer.

Photo by Vudhikrai

For those of you unfamiliar with advent, I found the following term definition "The liturgical period preceding Christmas, beginning in Western churches on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in Eastern churches in mid-November, and observed by many Christians as a season of prayer, fasting, and penitence."  Granted, we didn't fast, in fact, we kind of did the opposite, however, we did do some reflecting during the gathering and we also prayed.  Well, I prayed one of my lengthy, "when-will-this-chick-stop-talking-so-we-can-eat" prayers, but it was good nonetheless.

The other primary difference would be that we gathered on the three Thursdays before Christmas instead of the four Sundays, simply out of convenience.  A convenience that turned out to be a little less convenient than I had imagined, by the way.

I must admit, it was a bit more stressful than I had envisioned.  First off, on the day of the very first dinner we hosted, our power was out from 8:05 a.m. until 5:15 p.m., which made food preparations a bit of a mad dash to the finish line.  Secondly, I work on Thursdays.  It's a little tricky to get home to finish the final bits of tidying and prepare my food contribution prior to the arrival of the first guest at 6:30 p.m.  Fortunately, as stress prone as I am, my husband was always there relaxed and had most everything done before I even arrived home.  There was always something that I would freak out about though, like hand prints on the door jambs of the bathroom or the disaster that is my sons bedroom... Oh! the boys bedroom always got me!  But, it always worked out.  Every time.

In fact, once people arrived, it was always an amazing time.  My house was bustling with kids and conversation.  It felt like home should feel like during the holidays.  Then as we prepared to all sit down at one big table (kids were relegated to the "kid table"), I would read aloud the weekly Billy Graham Advent meditation in my typical pseudo-self-effacing, goofy manner with which I approach speak in front of people.  It was always something that had the potential of cutting deep like "Are you following the plan of God in your life?" or "Are you spreading the Gospel of Christ with those that need it most this Christmas season?"  It was a brief introspective moment in an otherwise fun and raucous night.  Then I would pray, as previously mentioned. 

Once everyone had their food, the adults would gather to eat at one table.  One really long table.  It was great!  A usual Harwood gathering would include buffet style serving and people sitting in small groups where seating could be found.  Not this time!  We crammed in around one table and I loved every minute of it.  To be able to see everyones faces at the same time.  Sure, you could only really hear the people in your immediate vicinity, but to share a glance or a smile with everyone throughout the night was priceless.

We of course had desserts, yes, plural.  It was kind of a different crowd each week and even the repeat visitors didn't want to bring the same thing week after week, so our menu was a little different every time.  Even now, I can't pick my favorite night in the arena of food or company! 

I just hope that those that attended our dinners enjoyed themselves and left filled with the warmth that can be gained only by sharing a meal with those you love.  I also hope that each person that sat at our table had some time to consider Jesus; His birth, His life, His death and all that He means to each one of us. 

I cannot wait until next year!   

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. 1 Cor 13:7 (amp)
Photo by Maggie Smith

I met a new person at church on Sunday.  His name was Russell and unlike most people hanging out after service, he showed up after service let out.

He was tall, slender and had warm, light-brown eyes.  He was tired and he was hungry.  He didn't walk onto campus as a result of an invite card, a personal invitation, seeing a post on facebook or seeing a sign.  He'd heard there was food.

He said that he hadn't eaten a good meal in two days.  I believed him.  He said he'd spent most of the previous night walking and had fallen asleep behind a trash enclosure at 3am.  I believed him.  He said that he was from Louisiana where he'd left behind parents and a brother to come to California for work.  I believed him.  He said that he'd spent time in Bakersfield trying to find work and instead found himself on the streets.  He said he'd never been homeless before and I believed him.

I found myself desiring to help him, but lacking in resources.  I gave him what I had - 3 bananas.  I listened as he told me some of his story.  I recommended Poverello and Fresno Rescue Mission, but he was discouraged by the drug use, alcohol abuse and prostitution in the downtown area.  Finally, I explained that Lifebridge down the street from us was possibly giving out groceries and eventually he headed off down the street.

Before he left, I invited him back for Christmas service and asked if there was a place where we could find him during the week, but his life has nothing stationary and promises cannot be made.  Such a kind man; in his fifties, clean shaved, hair combed, clothes cared for and polite; yet, he is found downtrodden and at his breaking point. 

I don't know if I will ever see Russell again, though I hope I do.  Our chance encounter was but a reminder that I need to be prepared at all times to meet a need.  Bananas were nice, but money for a hot meal would have been nicer; my conversation was pleasant, but I imagine that the opportunity to sleep in a bed in a heated room after a nice hot shower would have been more so.

It makes me think of the "good Samaritan", he was able to take the beaten and broken man to a place where he would have some time to heal.  What a blessing I could have been had I been prepared to take this man to a hotel to spend some time considering the goodness of God from on top of a fluffy bed under a warm comforter.  Instead, he most likely slept in the freezing cold of a Valley winter night.  Opportunity missed.        

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cramming for the 2011 Year in Review

I didn't learn much this year.  But, it's been a good year overall and I do feel like I've made strides in my personal growth, but I also know that I floundered a bit for the first 8 months or so, which, for the record, is like 66.6666666...% of the year.  That's a lot of sixes and, being a Christian, I try to avoid grouping the number 6 together as much as possible.

Side Note:
The appearance of the number 6 in triplicate is EEEEVIIIILLLL, in case you didn't know.  I'm not hyperspiritual or anything, but it's better to be safe than sorry. 

Back to my languishing the year away... In my defense I was adjusting to life with a baby and all that it entails (just in time to start adjusting to life with a toddler).  I think that counts for something, I sure hope it does. 

But, as I sit and reflect on 2011, I realize that what little I've learned has impacted me greatly. 
Picture by Dream Designs

First, I realized that I can't do everything.  I've tried.  It doesn't work.  People viewing my life from the outside think that I AM doing it all, while my loved one's who are stuck in my vortex of chaos are intimately aware that I, in fact, am not.  My knee jerk reaction was to dump everything and hide in my bed.  That choice was good and bad.  As I slowly start to rebuild, I will be more cognizant of what I'm choosing to add and whether or not it is intended for me.

It's funny, as often as I've discussed this topic with other women or read advice from ladies in "the know", one would think that I could have avoided this pitfall.  So, if you are reading this and think "I CAN do it all!", you might consider the possibility that doing a bunch of things half-way is not really doing it all. 

Second, I realized that among the things that I put on hold, my service to others is something I need.  Once you begin helping others in some capacity and choose to stop, the ickiness of being self-centered starts to build-up and become uncomfortable.  Without the purposeful action of serving others, we become emotional and spiritual hoarders.  We become so concerned with our things, it keeps others from us.  If you've ever seen the show Hoarders, that would be a good picture of it.  People need to see where you live.  They need to sit your living room and chat or at your dinner table and be fed.  My husband and I have determined that this, for us, is very literal.  So, hospitality it is! 

The third thing, and possibly the most important, is that there really is a world of hurting people surrounding us every day.  People say it, I've heard it.  We see pictures on television showing hurting people in third world nations, people at war, people being oppressed and we, or rather I, feel separate from it because it's so far away and not really a part of our reality.  We bury people in single graves and count individual deaths, in not so far away lands, they count them by the dozen or hundred and graves are communal.

As sad as that reality is, that separateness is prevalent all around us, even here.  I had the opportunity to help at The 99 (Link to website Here) and found that we are immediately surrounded by hurting people.  My role was to be one of about one hundred people to just talk to people as they came out of the walk-thru theater.  In the various "rooms" there were depictions of the top 5 real-life events that end in death for young Americans between the ages of 10 and 25.  The intent of the event is not to use fear but truth to simply reveal the real consequences of poor decisions that young people make on a regular basis.  In fact, the term The 99 represents the statistic that 99 young people die in the United States every day. 

Though it was designed for young people, men and women of all ages went through the tent.  It was freezing.  The lines were long, but in they streamed.  At the end of the nearly hour long tour, people were provided the opportunity to speak to a volunteer about what they experienced and how it affected them.  I had the honor of being one of the many volunteers, though only for one night.

What I found over and over again was that so many people are broken hearted, worried and need God.  As we find ourselves just less than a week away from the birth of our Salvation, it just reminds me that all of the cars on the road are not just cars.  Each vehicle represents a person or a family that needs kindness and compassion.  Regardless of how "together" a person may appear, there is likely an underlying struggle or situation that is causing them pain that you simply cannot see. 

My heart was broken many times on that night.  My only only regret was that I had not gone sooner and more often.     


Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Traditions

I love traditions. 

Photo By Naito8 

I'm not super sentimental about material things, but holidays traditions are a different story.  Which can be good and bad.  The upside is that I love the holidays and want to make them special for my own family.  The downside is that as a result of my love for holiday traditions, when things are not "just so", I can get all out of whack and my enjoyment levels plummet.   

The other day as I was sitting and folding laundry, considering where we might put the Christmas tree, my mind wandered to how much I loved Christmas when I was a kid.  I know, most people feel that way.  It wasn't just all of the presents, though presents are fun.  It was the way my Grandmother's house smelled, the guarantee of my favorite cookies, the laughter that filled the room for the whole night, moments of real connections with family members interspersed throughout the entire visit; it was the love.  Sure, the anticipation of Christmas Eve gifts following dinner, dessert and cleaning the kitchen wasn't too bad either.

I'm not sure if my Grandmother planned it out this way to delay the gratification of gift opening as long as possible, but on Christmas Even not only do we have to look at all of the sumptuous presents before and during dinner, people have to finish eating, snack on some dessert and then, are you ready for this?  I don't think you're ready for this.  The kids have to clean the kitchen, infants and toddlers excused.  In order to get to the present portion of the evening, the kitchen has to be cleaned by less than skilled hands at an achingly slow pace.  I remember eagerly waiting by my uncle and aunt's chairs, staring at their bowls, wondering if they were quite through, praying that they wouldn't ask for another helping.  Now, as an adult, I partake in the slow eating and the smirky smiles as I loudly contemplate the possibility of another bowl of soup. 

Christmas Eve at the Warren's home is likely different than yours.  Aside from tormenting the kids with slow dinners and piles of dishes, we do not eat ham or turkey or roast.  We eat soup and these delightfully artery-clogging, toasted cheesy english muffin thing-a-majigs.  You have the option of clam chowder or minestrone, that's it.  We have tasty eggnog... with or without a pick me up and persimmon cookies and pecan puffs, both of which are incredibly addictive and are not portioned out like it was World War II.

Back to the poor kiddies.  Ok, so once the table is clear, dishes washed, dried and put away, everyone gathers in the living room.  Imagine a beautifully decorated Christmas tree woven with red ribbon and sprinkled with snow, set just over a train set and surrounded by a sea of gifts, leaving little room for people to sit or stand, for that matter.  You would think that after all of that, we would dig right into present opening.  Nope. 

My grandmother has collected a nativity scene, made up of hand carved olive wood figurines purchased in Israel over the years.  Each person is assigned a figure, from baby Jesus to the shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph and even the sheep and other animals (camel included).  As the kids sit anxiously, again, surrounded by a sea of gifts with their names on them, we read aloud a pieced together version of the birth of Christ.  Now, this, however torturous for the kids, I think is the best part.  As the story is told, people bring up their figurines and place them in the Nativity Creche.  It's interactive, complete and poignant. 

Though, we acknowledge the importance of family at Christmas and participate in the tradition of gift giving, we absolutely do not forget to focus on who brought us together.  Jesus.

It saddens me that I will not be able to be there this year, but know that the evening will transpire just as described above.  Next year, when we are able to go, I look forward to being able to participate in this family tradition once again. 

Though I LOVE Christmas Eve at my Grandmother's, I look forward to creating our own family traditions and weaving in elements from the traditions I grew up with.  This year we decided to have Advent dinners with friends.  We weren't able to swing the four Sunday nights leading up to Christmas, but we just had our first of three Thursday nights.  We enjoyed our time with friends and took some time out to focus on the person who brought us together.  Jesus.  I can't wait for next week.

What are some of your Christmas traditions?  Do you love them or are you a person that likes to change it up? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

¡Viva La Revolucion! - Repost Original from May 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011 - It is my hope that this date will be yet another "Shot heard 'round the world," or at least a shot heard throughout Fresno! Scarlet Revolution has completed it's first big "Love Run", providing lunches to more than 170 people in addition to handing out toiletry care packs and clothing to so many.

As many are are aware, the phrase "Shot heard 'round the world" has it's origins in the American Revolutionary War. Specifically it refers to the beginning of the War when an unknown party pulled their trigger in an armed stand-off between British forces and local militia, turning civil disorder into the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Think about it, someone had to pull the first trigger or else there would have been no movement. Just armed men, standing ready, but accomplishing nothing. Though there are so many individuals and organizations in the Fresno area that have been battling against displacement, addiction, starvation, prostitution, and so many other cancers that have been consuming our community from the inside out for years, the people involved in Scarlet Revolution have been armed, standing ready... accomplishing nothing. But Saturday, May 7, 2011 changed everything!

The first shot has been fired and we are believing that the enemies encampment has felt the repercussions to its very core! These bullets of truth have cut through the obsidian fog that surrounds the displaced communities in downtown Fresno, allowing light to penetrate. In the natural realm, the Central Valley is know for it's fog, it is especially heavy in areas that are not well populated. Where light standards have not been set, homes and buildings are spread out. This tully fog, as some refer to it, can be daunting. It's blinding abilities are two-fold, in that it not only conceals what lies just ahead, but it also intensely reflects, refracts and disperses the light being shined so that it affects ones vision as well.

In a simple search online, I found that Fog is described as "a collection of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. While fog is a type of a cloud, the term "fog" is typically distinguished from the more generic term "cloud" in that fog is low-lying, and the moisture in the fog is often generated locally".

I would assert that the fog that has gripped the downtown area of Fresno and the lives of so many throughout the Fresno/Clovis area meets this criteria, it is a collection, but not of water, but of lies, lies about who these people are, their value to God and others, their ability to change their circumstances, the very existence of a God that loves them and people that care.

This fog is low-lying, it surrounds these individuals, the homes that they've made for themselves and keeps them from seeing the possibility of a different life. It keeps them imprisoned in patterns of behavior and broken thinking. It keeps them immobile in fear, fear of additional failure, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection.

This fog is generated locally, it feeds and grows solely on the lies perpetuated by their life experiences. Experiences that have told them: No one genuinely cares for me, therefore no one will. I have not accomplished anything in this life, therefore I never will. I have not been able to change, therefore I can not. These statements may be logical outside of a relationship with Jesus, but that does not make them true!

The opposite of fear is Love... dark, Light... death, Life...

Scarlet Revolution launched many flares into the darkness on Saturday and we pray that these flares would position us to go back in and lead people out of the fog by hand into the all powerful, never inhibited, all loving, never failing Love of Jesus. The One who DOES LOVE fully, CAN REFLECT the person God actually created them to be, IS ABLE to show them the path back to a life abundant, and HAS CHANGED so many lives already! Including mine.

If all Christians were honest, despite how the world might view our lives before Jesus, we were all in a dense fog of lies and are now free. Jesus alone offers true freedom!

Isaiah 58:6-12

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

If you find yourself armed, ready for something great and accomplishing nothing, I encourage you to join us! The more hands we have the more we can accomplish!!

Please go to the Scarlet Revolution facebook page for more pictures of Saturday's efforts and learn how you can get involved!