Gone to Carolina [in the Church Van]

In a few hours I will be on my way to North Carolina with a group of our middle school youth for a mission trip.  We are spending the week repairing homes near the coast (low-income areas… not people’s beach houses, as my mom suspected :)), and I am so looking forward to it.  Missions and local service projects are a key piece of our youth ministry, and here’s why:

In the book of James, chapter 2, James poses the question, “What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace;  keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

In other words, if all we ever do is sit around reading the Bible, then go about our lives and ignore those who are hurting in the world, what’s the point?  That type of faith is not sincere.  In light of that, I am humbled and thrilled to have opportunities like this trip as part of my job.  Plus, I get to hang out with all our crazy middle schoolers, whom I love dearly. 😀

I am not sure how much I will be able to blog while I’m there–maybe a few brief posts–but I plan to give it a try.  If not, I’ll be back next weekend!  In the meantime, please pray for our team, those we are helping, and Andrew, who has to hold down the fort by himself this week.

As the very talented James Taylor put it:  “Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in [the church van.]” (Or something like that. ;-))

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Liebster Award

Thanks to Wendy over at The Scarred Runner for nominating me for this cool little blog award!  I am very flattered and excited to write this post. 🙂

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The Rules:

  1. This award is given to new or up and coming bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers.  Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to them in your post.
  2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.
  3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 new bloggers (with fewer than 200 followers) to pass the award to and link them in your post.
  4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

11 Random Facts About Me:

1.  I am very easily startled.  Not scared–just startled.  The majority of my coworkers have caused me to jump, gasp, and take a step backwards simply by walking through a doorway.  Recently, I was walking into the bathroom right before going to bed; the light was on in our bedroom and off in the bathroom, so there was just enough light to make out shapes.  For the briefest of seconds, a pile of towels on the floor looked like a wolf.  Obviously, I knew there was not a wolf in the bathroom, but my body reacted before my brain.  I gasped so loudly and turned to run.  Andrew looked scared at my reaction and asked what was wrong.  “I thought…there was a wolf in the bathroom.”  Yep.  Not going to live that one down…ever.

2.  I am very squeamish.  I once passed out while having my blood pressure taken because the cuff was so tight and I could just feel the blood pooling up in my shoulder and…
Similarly, a few months ago I cut my finger while slicing a bagel.  I didn’t need stitches, but it was a bad cut.  Andrew told me to hold it under the water and NOT look at it while he went in search of a band-aid.  I looked anyway.  Andrew had to carry me to the couch and later quoted me saying, “I’m bleeding out!”

3.  I really enjoy pranking people, and I always have.  Once in elementary school, I wrote down a fake message for my sister that her friend Sarah had called.  This was before 8-year-olds had cell phones, so she actually had to dial the number on our wall-mounted phone.  Instead of writing down her friend’s number, I wrote the number of one of my friends who was also named Sarah.  I correctly suspected that they’d have an entire conversation without realizing who they were actually talking to.  When Whitney finally figured it out, she chased me outside and around the house.

4.  I think I am hilarious.  One time in college I laughed so hard that I peed…I was laughing at a joke that I made.

5.  I have two nieces, and when each of them were born, I understood love in a whole new dimension.  But seriously, how cute are they?

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6.  I am at greatest risk of laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate times when my mom starts laughing.  A few years ago, my brother was participating in “No-Shave November,” or “Movember.”  When Thanksgiving rolled around, he looked a little scruffy, and we gave him a really hard time about having a Dirt ‘Stache.  At Thanksgiving dinner my very Southern, proper grandmother said, “Ross, I see you’re growing a mustache.”  I smirked, anticipating the criticism he was about to receive.  Instead of criticism, however, Grandma said, “I think it’s kind of… sexy,” raising her eyebrows on the last word.  My mom literally spit out a bite of mashed potatoes and laughed so hard she was crying.  I might have been able to control myself, but seeing my mom try to stifle her laughter while wiping tears off her face was too much.  We were quite a non-discreet mess.  It happened again recently, but the situation was so inappropriate that I fear we, along with my brother, are still in the proverbial doghouse with my sister, and therefore, I cannot tell the story.

7.  When I was little and couldn’t fall asleep at night, I’d sneak down to the living room where my dad was watching television (the rest of the family was asleep.)  I’d sit in his lap, and we’d eat popcorn and watch old Westerns, and he never told me to go to bed.  Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

8.  My grandmother–not the sexy mustache one, but my dad’s mom–is probably cooler than your grandmother, and has more awesome one-liners than anyone I know.  Prior to suffering from Alzheimer’s, she was a feisty little Italian woman with a huge heart and strong opinions.  She was our babysitter growing up, and when I was in middle school, she drove me to the drug store one afternoon to buy supplies for a school project.  While standing in line at the checkout counter, she scanned the magazine rack and started angrily reading some of the taglines aloud:  “50 ways to please your man?? 100 ways to please your man??  If you did all those things, you wouldn’t have time to do anything else!!”  😀

9. I skipped school once during high school.  It was during our standardized testing week in the spring of my senior year, and I had a two-hour study hall that day.  My partner in crime, Whitney, had a two-hour physics class in which they were watching a movie.  (In other words, we weren’t missing much.)  We met in the parking lot after checking into and then excusing ourselves from class, and drove to Starbucks.  Immediately after ordering our Frappucinos, Whitney side stepped toward me, leaned in, and said, “Don’t turn around, but the librarian just walked in.”  Keeping our backs to her, we both went into the single stall bathroom, locked the door, and spent about five minutes freaking out.  What are the chances?? Why did we skip school?? We’re going to get in so much trouble!!  Finally, we peeked out the door, saw that she was gone, and claimed our drinks.  We were young and wild and free.

10. I am, as Andrew likes to say, an “emotional sponge.”  An easy crier.  I’m not sensitive in the sense that my feelings are easily hurt, but when I see/hear/read/imagine that other people are sad, it’s like I absorb the emotion.  Around Christmas this year Andrew and I were watching Home Alone.  <Spoiler alert> At the end of the movie when Kevin’s mom walks in the house and sees him standing in front of the Christmas tree, I started crying.  Andrew was incredulous.

“Why are you crying??”
“Because he’s okay!”
“…He’s been okay!  We’ve seen that he’s okay the whole time!  And you’ve seen this movie before!”
“But his mom didn’t KNOW that he was okay, and now she knows!”

True story.

11.  I love telling stories.  Thanks for reading a few of mine. 🙂

Questions from The Scarred Runner:
1. What do you do to unwind for the day?  When I get home I grab a snack, lounge on the couch, and watch a few episodes of whatever sit-com is on at the moment.
2. What is your favorite dessert?  Ice creamNo contest.
3. Cats or dogs?  Undecided.  If a cat is raised right, as ours were, they are awesome pets.  Ours totally broke the cat stereotype, but I don’t necessarily like other people’s cats.  Theoretically, I like dogs, but there are few things I find more gross than getting licked by a dog.  I am allergic to both.
4. What color is your car?  Grey
5. What inspired you to start blogging?  I enjoy writing, and I love reading other people’s blogs!
6. Beach or Countryside?  Beach.
7. Drive or Fly?  Drive.
8. Do you always have the latest tech gadgets before anyone else?  Definitely not.  I went from flip phone to iphone just a few months ago.
9. Least favorite celebrity?  Lady Gaga.  I don’ t know what it is about her, but her music makes me want to gag-a.
10. How do you feel about magic tricks?  I hate them.  Magicians are so smug, and I don’t like feeling tricked.  Seriously, don’t ever show me a magic trick.  I have very strong feelings about the matter.
11.  Have you ever modeled professionally?  Why yes, I had a brief stint with Rosetta Stone in college.  Look for me as you’re learning a new language.  (I just made up that question because I wanted to share that fact :-D)

My Nominees for the Liebster Award:

Races, Reps, and Ramblings
Lucy On The Lookout
Gluten-Free 2013
Reluctantly Skinny
Run With Perseverence

*You can answer any of the questions above or make up your own 🙂 *

Thanks for reading, if you’ve hung in this long. 😀

The Bacon Festival and Parking Deck Prison

This weekend Richmond held its first ever Bacon Festival.  I typically enjoy festivals–and our city holds a lot of them: Greek Food, Folk, Wine, Vegetarian, etc.–so when we saw ads for the Bacon Festival (basically Andrew’s dream come true,) we decided to attend.  Admission was free, food and drink tickets were relatively cheap, and who doesn’t love an afternoon of people-watching?

Well, from start to finish, the afternoon was a disaster (though admittedly, many of our complaints were completely out of the hands of the event organizers.)

The festival was held at the 17th Street Farmer’s Market downtown.  Street parking in the area is tough when the aroma of bacon is not luring people in, so we decided to pay to park in a parking garage a few blocks away.  We pulled in, grabbed our ticket, and noticed the line of cars backed up at the exit gate.  The festival had been happening for a few hours at this point, so I assumed there was a wave of people who were leaving around the same time.  This assumption was quickly put to rest when I saw that our line (those entering the garage) had stopped, and people were getting out of their cars.  We asked a man walking by what was happening:  the exit gate to the garage had broken, and despite calls to the owners over the last hour (yes, people had been sitting there for an hour at this point,) no one had come to fix it.  Plus, because no one could exit, there were very few parking spaces available or accessible to those who had driven in, so everyone was just waiting in their cars.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  There were three parking spaces very close to us, but they were blocked off with caution tape and paint buckets.  After about twenty minutes of sitting, the girls in the car in front of us got out and moved the buckets.  The spots looked fine, and we decided that any ticket we might receive for parking there would be worth not being trapped in the garage for another minute.  As we walked down the stairs to the street we said, “Okay, we’ll go get some good food, probably a drink at this point, and by the time we are ready to leave, the gate will be fixed.”  After all, many calls had been placed notifying those in charge that the gate was broken.  Surely, help was on its way.

Now, in fairness to the organizers of the festival, we were already irritated when we finally arrived, and as I previously stated, many of our complaints were not things they could control.  The parking garage incident.  The fact that it was 90 degrees, but felt hotter because people were so packed in to the Farmer’s Market.  The crowds: the event was so well attended that we could see lines of people wrapping around the perimeter like bacon around a scallop, but could not actually see the front or end of any line due to its length.  Step one was finding where to purchase food and drink tickets.  We saw signs, we followed them, we reached the other end of the market (after saying, “Excuse me… excuse me…” to push through the aforementioned lines,) and saw no tickets.  We ran into a few friends who also could not find the tickets.  I was sweating, hungry, still worked up from the parking garage (and now more worked up from the chaos,) and looked up at Andrew and said, “This sucks.”  He responded, “Yeah.  Want to leave and just walk up back up to Shockoe Slip?”

So we left…  baconless.  On our walk we passed our parking garage and saw one car exit.  Hooray!  That put our minds at ease, and we continued walking, stopping in a bookstore for AC and a bit of browsing entertainment.  A little while later, when we were ready to head home, we walked back to the parking deck and, looking up at the second and third levels, saw tail lights and people standing around outside their cars.  (Not a good sign.)  We arrived at the entrance/exit and saw, once again, a line of cars backed up, unable to exit.  A few people were standing there with their cell phones, calling the number listed at the booth. (As a side note, that’s great that you have an automated payment system, but when there is a large event happening, and you know that deck is going to be a popular parking option, pay someone to work in the freaking booth!!)

At this point people were angry; some had been waiting for hours, with no response from anyone who might be able to help.  Andrew and another man decided there was only one option:  free the people.  Using nothing but brute strength, they lifted the gate and directed people out.

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Drivers were flying out of there like it was a jailbreak at Alcatraz (and cars were boats, of course ;-)), and people sitting on the patio of the restaurant across the street cheered.  Someone called the parking deck’s helpline again and said, “Hey, don’t worry about coming down here.  We’re lifting the gate and letting people out.”  And you know what happened after that call?  They finally sent someone to help!  When the man arrived he walked up to Andrew, and said in a very stern voice, “Sir, put the gate down.”  Andrew, riled up from the injustice of the whole situation, said, “Sir, OPEN the gate.  People have been trapped in here for hours, and NO ONE has come to help.  You can’t do that.”  No argument.

We returned to our car and still had to wait almost thirty minutes to actually get out of the garage (and if I believed in karma, I’d say the fact that my debit card didn’t work at the gate, so he let us out for free was good karma for Andrew rescuing the oppressed… but I don’t believe in karma.)

On the drive home, we had a very stimulating conversation:

“That was a complete waste of an afternoon.”

“I hate bacon.”

To redeem the day, we parked ourselves on the couch and watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation, went out for sushi, then watched a few more episodes of P & R.

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Cucumber rolls and Leslie Knope to the rescue.

Have you ever been trapped in a parking garage?

Richmonders: what did you think of the Bacon Festival?  Was anyone else in that parking garage?

Squeaky Clean

Saturday night.  9:30 p.m.  I just started the washing machine on a hot water cycle, no clothes, lots of bleach.  Why?  Oh, friend, take a seat…

After a long day working in the garden, Andrew and I cleaned up to go out to dinner.  Around 7:15 p.m., right before leaving home, I remembered I desperately needed to start a load of laundry if I wanted to wear clean clothes to church in the morning.  I started the laundry.  We went to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant.  Andrew kept his dish mild, while I requested the medium heat.  We talked about our day.  We talked about our friends.  We talked about tomorrow, and Andrew suggested that perhaps I was unnecessarily stressed this week.  On the way home, we stopped for sorbet.

But all this is irrelevant to the bleach in the washing machine.

When we returned home, I remembered that I needed to put my clothes in the dryer.  I began pulling the clothes out of the washing machine, a few pieces at a time, shaking them gently to avoid wrinkles.  As I neared the bottom of the washer–only a few socks (no matches) remained–I saw something at the bottom of the drum, partially hidden by the agitator (I just Googled, “washing machine diagram” to learn the technical names.)

Is that a…?  No.  No way.  Catherine, you are being neurotic.  It’s just a big wad of lint.  With a tail…

“Andrew…?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you please come here?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think… there’s a mouse…a dead mouse…in the washing machine.”

Oh yes, indeed there was.  I considered not writing about this because it is So. Gross., but figured the story was worth it.  We have no idea how it got in the house, much less the washing machine.  The best guess we have is that it came in through the garage, which opens right by the door to the laundry room.  We had been keeping a double-bagged bag of bird seed in the laundry room because when we had it in the garage, a mouse broke into it. We checked the bag, and it had (recently) been chewed, so we think the mouse must have smelled it and sneaked in while we were working in the garden with the door open.  Gross, gross, gross.

So now, 10:08 p.m., I put my wet, took-a-bath-with-a-dead-mouse clothes back in the washing machine, shaking each item individually, intentionally–just in case.  Just in freaking case.

I will not wear dirty clothes to church tomorrow;  they will be squeaky clean.

(Squeaky clean??  I can’t believe I said that.  Great word play, horrifying mental image.  I’m so sorry.  I might wear dirty clothes tomorrow.)

Today

April 16, 2013.

The day after the horrific explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The 6th anniversary of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech.

What can be said on a day like today?  I feel tremendously saddened by each of these events, and equally inadequate to write about them.

Here’s what I know for sure:

In the Gospel of John, chapter 16 verse 33, Jesus tells us, “…In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart;  I have overcome the world.”

I don’t know why these tragedies happened.  I can’t say what good will come from them.  I don’t know that I’d be able to restrain myself from punching those responsible in the face, if given the opportunity.

What I do know is that we have a God who loves us more than we can fathom, and that He has already overcome every ounce of evil in this world.  In Him alone we can take comfort.

Please join me in praying for those who are grieving today, those who are remembering in sadness, and those who are on the road to recovery.  Kristin Armstrong said it well:  “The road ahead is long.  But little do they know, [runners are] good with that.”

 

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Weekend Highlights

We had a very full weekend here, and while I know this post is a little late, I wanted to write about some of the highlights.

Thursday Night–(I know, not technically the weekend… but close enough.)  Andrew’s church league basketball team progressed to the championships last week, and the final game was Thursday night.  The guys played well…and won!

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Our good friend Kevin, who lives in Dallas, was in town for a meeting that day, and he was able to make it to the game and cheer on the guys.  We enjoyed visiting with him for a while after the game!

Friday–My alma mater, James Madison University, played their first and only game in the NCAA tournament.   They got their butts whooped, as expected, but I was still excited that they made it to the tournament.  There was a small part of me that held onto hope that maybe, just maybe, they’d be the first #16 seed to beat a #1 seed 😉

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I was really excited, okay?

On Friday night we took a youth group trip to Jumpology–a new indoor trampoline gym in town.  It.  Was.  Awesome.

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The room was essentially wall-to-wall trampolines, plus areas for basketball, dodgeball, and a foam pit.  It was quite a workout!

Saturday– Yesterday I recapped the 5k I ran with my brother; you can check it out here. The short version:  we kicked butt.

Rebel Run

In the afternoon, our friend Andrew came over to watch the VCU basketball game.  Unfortunately, no havoc was wreaked.

Later in the afternoon I helped with a youth group service project.  Once a month we help wheelchair-bound adults with disabilities (residents of the Virginia Home) enjoy an afternoon of bowling.

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Everyone–youth and bowlers–had a great time!  I love to see how excited they are, not only when they do well, but simply to be there bowling.

When I arrived home, I found that Andrew had been hard at work in the yard and made some awesome progress on the garden:

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Doesn’t it look great??  We cannot wait to start planting.

Saturday night our friends Amanda and Diron came over to watch some more basketball.  With JMU out of the tournament and VT not in the tournament to begin with, we were not particularly interested in any one game other than for the sake of our brackets, but we had a great time hanging out!  Amanda and I have been friends since college, and for a long time would say, “We need to go on a double date!”  When the four of us finally hung out a couple of months ago, we realized just how similar we are, and now we get together often.  We laugh a lot, although I think it often centers on how neurotic Amanda and I are 😉  Regardless, we are very thankful for these “new” friends in our lives!

When Amanda and Diron left, we continued watching TV, and I fell asleep on the couch, as often happens (I think I inherited this ability from my grandmother.)  It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or how interested I am in what’s on TV–the couch + the sound of the television are my personal recipe for sleep.  Andrew finally turned off the TV, and the instant the sound was gone, I sat up straight, opened my eyes wide, and said, “We should go to sleep!”  Andrew started laughing and said, “Oh you think we should?  You think we should go to sleep now?”  😀

Sunday– We had a pretty typical spring Sunday until the evening when…it snowed?

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It started sticking to the ground in the middle of youth group, so I decided to send everyone home early just to be safe.   I know everyone is saying this, but I am very ready for spring to actually be spring.  Snow is great–in January–but I am so ready for warmer weather.

Even so, a blanket of white was not a bad way to end a great weekend!

 

Love is a Big Bucket of Fried Chicken

“What comes to mind when you think of Valentine’s Day?”

This is the question I asked the middle school youth group on Sunday as a lead-in to a lesson about love–specifically love as an action word.  I received many of the answers I’d anticipated: chocolate, flowers, hearts, etc.

One girl raised her hand and said, “A big bucket of fried chicken!”  I laughed (who thinks of fried chicken when they think of Valentine’s Day?) and asked if that was a family tradition.  She shook her head, no.  Then I asked, “…or would that just be a good way for someone to show you they cared about you?”  She nodded her head with a big grin and wide “I love fried chicken” eyes.

As a side note, this is a prime example of why I love middle school youth.  You never know what they are going to say.  You think you know, but you don’t.

I laughed to myself and mentally filed that gem away as Reason # 5723 why I love middle schoolers, but as I reflected on it later it occurred to me that what this girl said went deeper than the bottom of the bucket.  In fact, she pointed to the very core of our lesson on love.

Dr. Gary Chapman is a world renowned expert on love and marriage.  In his book The Five Love Languages he describes five general categories, or “languages,” in which we communicate love: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts.  The idea is that every person speaks one or two of these languages stronger than any of the others, and when that person is loved in that particular language, they feel especially loved.

For example, a person whose primary love language is words of affirmation might melt upon receiving a sappy love note for Valentine’s Day, whereas a person whose primary love language is receiving gifts might think, “Are you kidding me? Where are the roses?  Where are the chocolates?”  Someone whose love language is quality time might feel most loved by taking a walk together; a physical touch person would need to hold hands on that walk to feel really loved.  Someone whose love language is acts of service might feel most loved if their spouse watches the kids so they can take a walk by themselves.

I have found this concept to be true, not only in marriage, but in non-romantic relationships as well.  Regardless of a person’s love language, however, I think the underlying truth is this:

Love is a choice.

Love is an action word.  In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  You see, Christ demonstrated the greatest love by dying on the cross for us.   Love doesn’t get any more true than that.

There’s no question that when God commands us to love our neighbor and love our enemy, He is not suggesting we attempt to conjure up a warm fuzzy feeling toward them, but rather that we choose to love them in an active way.  In the same way that Christ loved us by laying down His life for us, we must love others by choosing to lay down our lives and put them first.

I don’t scrub the toilets because I enjoy doing so;  I do it because… oh, who am I kidding?  I don’t scrub the toilets.  Better example: Andrew doesn’t scrub the toilets because he enjoys doing so;  he does it as an act of love, because doing so means that I don’t have to.  And I hate scrubbing the toilets.

Loving someone could mean taking them on a picnic.  It could mean giving them flowers.  It could mean doing the dishes. Giving them a foot massage.  Cooking dinner.  Writing them a heartfelt note.  Sitting on the couch and talking.  Holding hands.  Telling them you are proud of them.  Buying them an unexpected gift.  Taking out the trash.  Answering the phone when they need to talk.  Giving them a ride when their car is in the shop (even if it requires you to wake up 30 minutes early.)

Loving someone could simply mean putting a big bucket of fried chicken on the table for dinner because you know they’ll love it.

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Today–and tomorrow, the next day, and so on–I challenge you to love the people around you.  To lay down your life for theirs.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but what a beautiful example we have in the One who laid down His life for us.