I was asked to take some pictures and video at little baby Eliyas’ baptism a couple weeks ago. First of all, I had no idea what I was getting in to. I thought this would probably be a pretty casual affair. You know, like a little church basement reception with some cake and a few family photo ops. But there was easily over 100 people there, a huge buffet line, live muscians, balloons, booze flowing, dancing, etc. I was told relatives and friends came from Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota to help celebrate.
It seemed like the entire midwestern Eritrean community came together. And it was a gorgeous cultural experience to witness. Everyone was so affectionate and happy and they partied from 3pm to well after midnight! Ayyy oohhh.
Please notice: Guy pouring straight up Black Label into plastic cups for everyone, guy with a mullet that rivals Joe Dirt in terms of greatness, and how much of the serving and childcare men are doing. Claps all around.
The video is kind of long (it actually ends at 5:22) and horribly edited (thus why it continues the length of the song and not the footage) but you can check out some Eritrean dancing here (its very beginner friendly and awesome): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHx7QSR4msY
I long to share and break bread.
For rectangular tables with rows of strangers-turned-friends.
To hear the sound of forks scraping on plates and inebriated laughter hovering in the air.
For the day’s worries to dim like the light and for hearts to fill alongside bellies.
I long to love and be led.
For legs intertwined in sheets, a place where sacred and stupid meet.
For steady hands that pull and careful feet that pursue.
To grow, to root, to sink, but to always keep our wings.
I long to be with, not for.
To stand in the right place, not take the right stand.
For the call that elicits response to touch and see.
To share cries, stories, prayers, meals, beds, families.
I long for simplicity, nothing more.
For rhythm and ritual that satisfies and sustains.
For garden sprinklers to run through and a swing on the porch.
For a tiny dwelling that collects memories and not things.
I discovered at some point as a teenager that people feel comfortable confiding in me about their problems. Sometimes people I barely knew would message me to hash out whatever happened to be troubling them. And still today, whenever someone tells me, “I haven’t told anyone that before” I feel slightly astonished that suddenly I’ve been picked to be on the receiving end of such intimate knowledge. I sat next to a lady on an airplane who told me about how she’s felt alone her entire life. My friend and I were checking out at a gas station really late at night and the cashier just started telling us about her failing marriage. I was reading alone on a park bench once and someone I had gone to school with came up and went on to tell me a really messed up life story that I won’t repeat here. I can’t tell you why this happens. A friend once said, “You just have one of those faces that makes people feel like they can word vomit on you, and you’ll still be smiling.”
Don’t get me wrong. I will still smile if you vomit on me, metaphorically…or literally for that matter. I do genuinely care about people…even random flight buddies and gas station strangers. I do genuinely enjoy listening. I’m happy that my face potentially has some sort of invitation stamped on it. BUT this also means that from time to time I hear information that I didn’t want or need to know. There are no precautionary measures I can take. Words get said and then they’re out there. There’s no going back. They just float in word space for a few moments before they make themselves at home in my brain. And this is what happens every time: I keep cool as a cucumber in the moment. But after a few minutes/hours/days of trying to be really okay, mature, handling it like a champ, etc…I.freak.out.
This sort of happened recently. I called my sister. This conversation ensued:
Me: “X was telling me about Z and I thought I was fine. I really did. But then it just totally threw me off my game and I’ve been in a funk lately. I can’t figure out why! I don’t want to do anything with anyone. I sleep all the time. I slept for thirteen hours yesterday. THIRTEEN. I want it to be fine. It’s so annoying. Gaaaahhhhh.”
Sister: “What do you mean you can’t figure out why? It’s because you’re a human with feelings. You’re not a rock.”
Right. She’s such a cheeky little voice of reason.
So, for anyone else out there who finds themselves in the same place: HEY. Shit happens. It’s going to affect you. Let it. But then maybe you can think of some things that make you feel fierce and do them. Here’s my list:
One. Stress cleaning! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this) Clean out the fridge. Refold everything in your dresser. Organize that drawer you put everything that doesn’t have a home in.
Two. Cook. Ordering take out when you’re bumming is oh-so-tempting. But cooking forces you to focus on what’s in front of you. Whip up a favourite or try something new. Take some satisfaction in making something with your own hands. Plus, call me crazy, but I find chopping vegetables kind of therapeutic.
Three. Get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Hike. Bike. Walk. Run. Swim. Downward dog. Just go stand and breathe somewhere else.
Four. Feel the rhythm of the night. One night last week I was walking to a friend’s flat, had my headphones in, and was listening to a song that pretty much demanded dance moves. So, as I approached this street lined with empty bars, I unashamedly danced past the bouncers, who were thoroughly entertained by my mad skills. I also rediscovered this gem thanks to Spotify, which took me back to 2009 when I drove around in a giant metallic blue pick up truck and practiced my Lil Jon voice. Its just so unnecessarily aggressive. I die of giggles every time.
Five. Pray. Praying tends to stop the me, me, me and I start meditating on something far greater. I focus on people I love or causes I care about. And I listen, but it’s the kind of listening that doesn’t deplete me in any way.
Six. Do one thing you’re passionate about. I hadn’t painted in forever. I couldn’t bring my paints with me. I don’t have money to buy new ones. But I was talking about this to an invigilator at the City Art Centre and he told me there’s an art room that’s technically for children, but I could use it any time I wanted. So, I did! And it felt sooooo good.
Seven. Force yourself to do something social. I think pretty much everything we look for in life can be found in knowing and loving other people. In a world that shouts at us about being independent, the reality is that we need community. I’m all for taking time to be alone. Sometimes I need it to reenergise. But when I get stuck in a rut, I find that ususally all it takes to shake it off is being in good company.
PS- on a completely pointless and unrelated note…did you guys know that Brad Pitt’s brother looks exactly like the lovechild of Zach Braff and John Travolta?
There’s a little voice in the back of my head that tells me I won’t make it to graduate school this fall. It’s only a few months away and I’m doing everything in my power to make it happen. I realize if it doesn’t, the world won’t stop and my life won’t be over but it would feel like failure. I mean, the only thing standing in my way is having enough $$$$. What else is new? But I’ve been thinking about why I want to go. And I’ve been writing about my dreams. And regardless of whether I have a MA or not, I just hope the dream part works out. Even if just an aspect of it works out, I would be one happy girl because I recognize that most of the time our dreams change, evolve, and become extensions of other dreams. And that’s cool.
In my years as a studio arts student, I came to some important realizations about myself. One was that even though I posses the qualities most people might associate with an artist; visionary, creative, intuitive, and passionate, I’m also very organized, detail oriented, and a planner. In school, even though I loved to paint and talk about my work, I was just as (if not more) interested in the work of my peers. I love to encourage creative pursuits and ask questions. I want to plan things that happen. I want to make spaces that house artistic ambitions. That is why I’m pursuing graduate school in a field that combines the arts and administration.
My dream/goal/ambition is to one day run a studio-ish space. In my head, I picture it in an under-resourced urban area, but why put limitations on dreams, right? As long as people are benefitting from it. I want it to provide opportunities and support for people who want to be creative- whatever that looks like for them. When I say “people”, I literally mean anyone and everyone. People with disabilities, grandmas, the homeless, refugees, toddlers, college students etc. I have seen the power art has to build and transform community. We live in a day and age where art programs continue to get cut from school budgets and the general population is always in front of screen. *Sigh* I want this dream space to promote creative outreaches within a community, fostering and celebrating what happens when we work together to make something that brings new life to a place. I want to encourage people of all backgrounds, cultures, ages, etc. to learn from each other, try something new, create and discover how therapeutic art can be. Ideally, I would love for every art medium usable to be available in some capacity. I want there to be a room where dancers can perform, a stage where poetry can be slammed and music can be played, and I want the coffee and tea pots to always be going. I want there to be big artists mentoring little artists. I want there to be a gallery and exhibitions. That might sound a tad overly-encompassing and lofty. Maybe one day, years from now, I’ll read this and shake my head at my naivety. By why crush it with self-doubt now? At the right time and with the right people, it could/will happen.
Holding my breath.
Three people I adored passed away this month. As my love for each of them has surfaced and the love they shared with the world has been remembered, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. How love transcends death. How the love we have for a person lives on after they die. How the love a person has for you lives on after death. How we carry love. How love can simultaneously be a huge sacrifice and a natural, uncontrollable outpouring. How as a culture we can get the idea of love so wrong. How as a religion we get idea of love so wrong even though we were given the most perfect example.
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Col 3:14 (ESV)
I don’t know for sure what any of the people who passed away this month believed about Jesus. I know they all had issues with the Church (which I would speculate means they just had issues with religious people. Jesus had those too.) but they certainly lived lives that reflected Christ’s love. They got it. They got the message. They sacrificed their resources, time, and energy for others, whether it was of benefit to them or not. They cared for the under resourced. They loved hard. What this means for them in an eternal perspective…I don’t know. I don’t believe that is my job to assess. I’m good with only God knowing that.
But its funny how many people like to think they know. They like to think it’s crystal clear. We think we can be like God in terms of how we judge, but the opposite is true. We were created to be like God in terms of how we love. Period. The moment I start judging someone (which 99% of the time happens in my own head), I block the love that was created to flow out of me. Radical, unadulterated love is the distinguishing mark of God’s kingdom. Author and speaker Rachel Held Evans recently returned from a Gay Christian Network conference and wrote on her blog,
“After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian. After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized. As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in. …And who it calls to lead.”
One of my favorite sermons of all time came from pastor Greg Boyd, where he taught about the early church in the New Testament. Churches then were primarily 20-30 people who met in houses on a daily basis. They ate, hung out, served and studied together. They were committed and invested in each other’s lives. They did life every day together. They were dedicated to helping each other live faithfully. They were small groups of people capable of really knowing one another. If we don’t really know a person, if we haven’t been given permission to speak to them discerningly, if we aren’t invested and walking life out daily with someone, then our only opinion of that person should be the one Jesus gives us: this person was worth me dying for. They are wholly loved and wholly made in my image.
In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
Thanks, Paul. What is the point of judging even yourself? I know I can’t trust my own self-absorbed thought processes. It’s like Paul is saying, “You’ll know when it’s revealed to you. In the meantime, love. Be a blessing. Leave the rest to God.” We live in a world addicted to critically thinking, analyzing, evaluating, assessing and accusing. I’m right. They’re wrong. Guess what? YOUR ACCUSATORY OPINIONS ARE WORTHLESS. When someone I truly love and respect, who is committed to me and invested in my life, talks to me about an issue I’m having…that has authority. That means something to me. If an acquaintance, or even family/friends who aren’t in the trenches with me, offer up their opinion in regards to my words or actions…it doesn’t have that authority. That doesn’t mean I won’t take it to heart. I’ll still take it before God because I believe he can speak through anyone or anything, but it makes me question the motive. I feel judged. It isn’t loving. I question why they think their opinion would matter to me when they don’t really know what is going on in my life.
So here’s how I’m trying to apply all of this to my life: I’m trying to live in intentional community. I hope that in doing this I learn to get it like those who have gone before me. To get the message. To learn what it means to love and discern. Clayton and I don’t go to a typical church on Sunday mornings (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with. We’ve done it our entire lives. This is new for us.). We don’t enter a building, mingle over coffee, sing some songs, listen to a message, leave and then have small group night later in the week. We know our church because we’re best friends with them. We live in the same neighborhood. We get together and make dinner Sunday nights. We talk about Jesus and sing about Jesus. We pray for each other all week. We see movies, dance and go out for drinks. We show up to their events. We babysit at last minute. We’re trying to figure out how to live out the Sabbath. We’re realizing what works for one family doesn’t always work for another family. We’re trying to figure out how to love ourselves. We’re trying to figure out how to be emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy, and mentally healthy. And it’s all pretty contrary to the American ideal- the right to individualism, privacy, and tolerance…in the most loving way. Because the kingdom starts and ends with community. For me, right now, in this season of life…this is church. I know I need these certain people in my life because they encourage me to live a distinct kind of life. I’m not always good at knowing and monitoring myself. I have blind spots. I need these people because they know me and they reveal God’s love to me. They are committed to asking me if my priorities are straight. They notice when my passion is lacking. They call me out of self-loathing. They hold me accountable to my goals. They don’t judge, but I trust their love and knowledge of me and thus, their wisdom is welcome and wanted in my life.
I’m not sure if this even came full circle. I’m feeling a bit jumbled and ramble-y.
What do I know?
I just want to end with this goose bump-inducing new single from JMM …
Imogene, Mike and Rhonda…I’m thankful to have been on the receiving end of the love you radiated. Rest in peace.
Love, love, love, love,
The issue of clean water along with our overuse/waste of water as Americans (Oh, what? Yeah! That glass of water you didn’t finish and poured down the sink? That would have been saved and used to the very last drop in most parts of the world) has become a hot button topic. In recent years I can’t tell you how many campaigns and fundraisers I’ve seen to build water wells and develop water filters in under resourced areas. To be honest, the over saturation and lack of real exposure to the issue numbed me, as I’m sure it does for most people.
But then I saw how clean water impacted the hurricane affected villages of Haiti and the rural community of Lukodi, Uganda where I worked last summer. The University of New Hampshire Engineers Without Borders team visited over the summer and tested local borehole wells in Lukodi. According to the community members they spoke with, having clean water is top priority. Waterborne diseases from the community’s water supply led to severe illnesses (I’ve personally had a couple of waterborne illnesses and let me tell you-they are very debilitating). They found that roughly 80% of the community’s water supply was contaminated with E. coli. The team then worked to disinfect the wells and educate people on how to protect the water from contamination and fix issues that arise (“Offering a Helping Hand“).
Not only is the sanitation of water crucial to a community’s well-being, but the availability of it is, too. When our Ugandan friends would fetch water, they would carry a full jerry can (which is roughly 45 lbs when full) on top of their head and one in each hand. So, that’s like 135 lbs of water to carry! And most people have to walk MILES to get that. Some kids can’t even go to school when they have to fetch water. It becomes a huge day-long endeavor.
How do I let this change the way I view and treat water? I don’t take a shower every day. Call me gross, I don’t care. Unless I have excessively sweat or smell bad, I don’t need to take one. Now my goal is going to be to turn the shower water off in between my rinsing and repeating. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. It’s really the little things. I can water my house plants with the water I’m done drinking rather than toss it down the drain. I can shut the faucet off when brushing my teeth. I can avoid buying bottled water. And I can do my small part to encourage others in doing the same. Which brings me to (drum roll please)… The Water Ride.
The Water Ride is happening May 11 in Des Moines. Emily Boyd, Des Moines’ The Move Project and Des Moines Water Works are teaming up with wonderful volunteers to put on a bike ride where 100% (!!!!!) of the proceeds will go toward the $50,000 goal of building a solar-powered well and trench in a TBD location in Africa. There are 85, 40, and 20 (family friendly) mile bike routes to choose from. Prices go up April 12, so reserve a spot here. For additional information click here. Come to reach a personal goal, ride with friends, eat some good food, and do a small thing to make a BIG impact in a community across the world. Spread the word!
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Last week I was working at the mall when a mother and daughter came in to shop for some new clothes. While the mother was browsing, the daughter began a small stack of clothes that she had set behind the counter. Then, she went on to try on a bunch of clothes for her mother and briefly mentioned in the dressing room, “Oh, I have stuff up at the counter too.”
Once they got to the check out line and mom sees the other pile of accumulated merchandise she exclaims, “You’re getting all of THAT too?!”
“Okay, well that’s about it for Christmas then.”
“Are you serious…?” (que whining)
And there went $600 to a teenager’s wardrobe. Cha-ching.
Anyway, that story leads well into a something I read recently at Where My Heart Resides. Jen Hatmaker wrote a wonderful blog about the Christmas conundrum many of us experience. She started a gift-giving policy for her family: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. That’s it. Simple. And our “wants” and “needs” don’t have to be material things. I want to make dinner and watch a movie with my parents. I want to go to yoga and grab coffee with my friend. I need to go serve the homeless in my city. I need to spend time with my refugee friends. Someone “getting” or initiating those gifts for me would be incredibly special and low-budget. The gifts of time and experiences are always the best and the longest lasting. I want to make it a goal to give those gifts more frequently, but especially during the holiday season rather than dealing with crowds and the stress that comes with spending big $$$. But, if and when you’re purchasing gifts this season buy what you can LOCALLY. Most of what you can get on Amazon or at Target you can also find in independently-owned stores. It puts your taxes to good use, creates jobs, reduces environmental impact, supports non-profits, and keeps your community unique. Money spent in a locally owned business stays in the community. It’s definitely an investment worth pursuing!
Something she needs: Liquitex paints (found at Creative Cold Sno), BareMinerals Foundation in Medium, Warby Parker prescription sunglasses: Thatcher in Greystone
Something she reads: Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, Whole Living Magazine subscription, The Story of God, The Story of Us by Sean Gladding, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Ever since I returned from Uganda I’ve been itching to find a way to more or less continue some of what I was doing there. I have a beautiful, wonderful friend who works with refugees. We ended up getting together a group of 6-10 women who meet once a week to learn about art. They range in age from 4 to 40 and come from all over the globe: Burundi, Congo, Nepal, Eritrea, etc. We look at famous art eras from history, eat, laugh, paint and most recently took a trip to the Des Moines Art Center. Next on the agenda is exploring the art of dance. Which, with a bunch of African ladies, is bound to be AMAZING. I’m always fascinated by which pieces the love and the reasons they hate others. I get lost in thought about how crazy it would be to see a Picasso for the first time EVER and learn that, “When you mix blue and yellow you get green,” as an adult instead of when you’re in 1st grade. But in turn, they teach me what art is to them, what art looks like in their country and their thoughts (while sometimes absurd and hilarious) inspire me. To me, the community IS the art. The relationship between the participants and the process of making IS the art. It’s all about the experience.
And we have so. much. fun.
I LOVE IT.
Parental influence and involvement in political activities is one of the largest predictors of where their children’s vote will go.
So, this election I’ve been seriously pondering why my political tendencies are different from that of my own family. Politics were rarely brought up in my presence. In my opinion, this was great because I always relatively knew where my parents stood, but it allowed me to keep a very open mind and make a decision for myself.
I believe for most people, political preference simply comes down to personal life experience. When I think about my depression-era Grandpa who grew up in rural Iowa, a staunch Dutchman, man of God’s word, a tax accountant who had two or three kids by the time he was my age, it makes sense for him to vote Republican. When I think about my friend who is Hispanic, Catholic, left a gang when he became a dad of two, juggling a job at Wal-Mart and an auto-body shop while taking college classes to become an art teacher, I understand why he votes Democrat. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. And it’s a good thing, because America is a melting pot for a reason and we need to see things lots of different ways.
When I think about myself, I come from a conservative, hard-working, middle-class family. I chose to be a Christian and for me following Jesus meant loving the poor, homeless, orphaned, and broken. Not just sending them a check and prayers. It meant praying with them, touching them, smelling them, eating their food, sleeping on their floors, and attempting to see their life in the way Jesus so profoundly did (and I should still do a better job). And those people affected me and changed my way of thinking. I married someone who shared those thoughts, or actions. We got married young-really young. So we’re kind of broke and have had to live life in ways a lot of married couples don’t. But I’ve never been worried about being poor and desperate because we have networks. We have LOTS of family, friends, and churches that would cushion the blow if something devastating were to happen. So many people in America don’t have that. And here’s where my background and my current state divide.
I think a lot of people, perhaps some of my own family included, have a very inaccurate depiction of the poor. And this deeply, deeply saddens me.
First of all, to understand the poor, you must know the poor. If you want to talk to me about the poor I want to hear you say their names, show me their faces; tell me about their lives, and what your relationship with them has been like. Because if you’re going to tell me that volunteering to feed the homeless twice a year or donating your used clothing to a local mission is how you “know the poor” I think you have the Gospel all wrong.
If you think the majority of people on welfare abuse the system, if these people would just get jobs it would solve a lot of problems, or if you think tough love is going to change them then you don’t understand the culture of poverty. If my grandparents were poor, and my parents were poor, I’m going to be poor. And if by some miracle I make it through high school and into college and I make good money, my money goes to my family because they need help whether they’re in America or in another country. If I have an influx of income, I spend it because it could be taken away at any moment. No one has sat me down and taught me how to save and honestly, you really can’t live off of minimum wage. Point being, if you didn’t grow up in poverty you have no way of comprehending what it is really like. I know I don’t! But I’ve tried hard to. You can get a better idea by building ACTUAL relationships with the homeless, orphaned, widowed, and disabled in your community. I promise if you do (and if you’re a Christian, you are CALLED to do this), your heart and your head might change a little or a lot.
I’m not politically savvy in the least bit and I choose to put my hope in God no matter who sits in office. I realize these conversations about poverty and politics and religion could go on for days and I really only skim the surface of a lot more I’d love to say. I understand it is not a black and white issue and am not claiming to be correct about everything. I just want to encourage people, especially my fellow Jesus-followers, to ask yourselves what your relationship with the poor looks like? Do you even have one? If you don’t, do you make judgments or have pre-conceived notions about the poor? Spend some time reading over scripture about God’s heart for justice. Justice for the physically poor, spiritually poor, homeless, widowed, orphaned, and foreigner.
“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that wealthy Christians do not care about the poor but that wealthy Christians do not know the poor.”