Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sayonara, 2011!

This time last year I was preparing for a New Year's Eve date with a man who would some two weeks later break up with me via text message.  I lived in a little apartment by myself in Grand Prairie, Texas, and I worked out approximately 4 times a week.  I fit into my skinny jeans, and I spent lots of time writing songs and going to Opening Bell Coffee in Dallas for open mic night.  I liked my life, but it was definitely missing something.  What a difference 365 days can make.  2011 has been a good one.  It has had its share of bad, but overall, I am happy with the things this year has brought my way.

2011 was the year that...

  • I bought sparkly gold shoes
  • It was cold and icy in Dallas for more than one day
  • I rediscovered my skill for making homemade buttermilk biscuits
  • I turned 34
  • I met Jake Turner and
  • I went on a date with him and
  • I married him
  • I got to travel to Nashville
  • I discovered that my body cannot handle roller coasters anymore
  • I spent five days in Mexico and gained three pounds
  • Urban Taco came out with potato, zucchini, and poblano tacos (this is a noteworthy event)
  • I bought Simon and Garfunkel Greatest Hits Collection on record for only $2 at an estate sale (which necessitated the next bullet point)
  • I bought a record player
  • I bought a new couch
  • I traveled to Chicago and spent time with my lovely friend Dotti (aka Christi, Dooters, Dotterpants)
  • I used my iPhone 4 for just about everything- photography, banking, recipes, social networking (of course), blog writing, dining out, scheduling, Alabama-football-score-keeping, traveling, keeping my two-year-old niece entertained (which might also make me her favorite)
  • I got a Keurig
  • I got the worst haircut of my life.  Thank you, Clarice
  • I wrote a blog and got Facebook unfriended (twice) by an adult family member that didn't agree with me
  • Netflix raised its prices and I didn't bat an eye
  • Netflix threatened to changed their DVD service to "Qwikster", which would have required me to keep up TWO Netflix-related accounts (to which I almost deleted the whole thing)
  • I decided to buy clothes that fit, no matter what size they are (no one sees the size tag but me)
  • my Mary came to visit (four whole times)
  • beautiful Amasa Joy Thexton was born (aka Dooters Julianne & DJ)
  • Caryn (Amasa's lovely mother) had a baby and looked like a supermodel the next day (giving me hope that I will not end up morbidly obese when I have a baby)
  • My best bud Elisa found out that she is having a sweet baby boy
  • I decided to learn to crochet a baby blanket (for Elisa's baby boy)...  I really should get on that
  • I watched all seasons of Mad Men on Netflix
  • I got a new job
  • I moved to The Colony, Texas
  • I finally got a two bedroom apartment
  • I became a part of Ranch Community Church
  • I had a conversation with my twelve-year-old nephew about his having a girlfriend
  • I got deleted from Facebook by the twelve-year-old nephew AND his girlfriend
  • I got a fancy camera for Christmas (but don't think for one second that I will give up my Hipstamatic)
It's funny how quickly life changes.  I am sitting at my dining room table, looking out at my new apartment, which has been newly decorated by my incredibly talented brother.  My husband is in the chair in the corner with his computer, trying to find out if there is a legitimate iPad 3 release date (he will not rest until he gets an iPad).  I am about to get up and get ready to go to my new church and get a few things ready for church services tomorrow.  Pretty much everything that my day will consist of are things that have come along in 2011.  Lots of changes and lots more to come.  About 12 more hours and I will welcome 2012 with open arms.  Sayonara, 2011!  It's been fun.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AT&T Stinks

Every time I move, there is always a certain level of frustration in the doing of the small things.  Beyond the obvious enormous task of packing and unpacking, there is the transferring of all services.  This last move proved to be particularly frustrating, especially in the internet service department.  And that department's name is "AT&T Stinks".  Internet is kind of important in this day and age, and much of my preparation for my job as a children's minister is done on the internet.  (Plus, there's blogs and Facebook and Pinterest)  So access to it is kind of essential.  But let me tell you, at this point, I wish AT&T had a backside so that I could kick it to the curb.  I wish I didn't need the services AT&T provides.  Here is my story.

The week of my big move, I ventured into the great abyss that is the AT&T website.  It seems simple at first.  My choices are laid out before me.  Wireless.  Digital TV.  Internet.  Yes, Internet.  That's what I want.  So I click.  And let me tell you, right off the bat, I was overwhelmed.  I needed a person to talk to.  I wanted to tell a person what I needed and I needed the person to tell me how he or she would make that happen.  And so I searched for an additional ten minutes or so to find an actual phone number to call.  Like a real, ten digit number (eleven, if you include the 1) where I could talk to an actual person.  So I called.  I answered approximately six questions to get to Representative #1.  I explained to Representative #1 about how I was moving and I needed to get internet set up at my new home.  She responded that the high speed internet service I had been using was not available at my new address, but that I could be set up with DSL.  No problem.  Whatever.  I assumed that Representative #1 was in the process of handling my situation when the line went very quiet.  Representative #1 was gone.  I don't know how it happened, but she was gone.  So I waited a few minutes (my phone number was right there in my account information) to see if she would call back.  She didn't.  So I called again.  Same six questions.  And I believe that call eventually led to me yelling the word "Representative" into the phone repeatedly because the computer on the other end didn't understand me.  Eventually, though, I got a real person on the line.  Representative #2.  But Representative #2 couldn't help me.  Neither could #3.  Finally, I was transferred to Representative #4.  She understood what I needed, assured me that she would set it all up, and she set to work on making internet magic happen in my new place.  The modem would be free.  All I had to do is commit to a year contract and I would be eligible for a discounted rate.  Fine.  Whatever.  After an entire hour (yes, an hour) of talk time with AT&T, it was settled.  The modem would be in by Friday, the day after move-in.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then came Friday.  We received our box.  I wasn't home, and Jake texted me "We received a box with two cables in it".  Seriously?  Two cables?  I assured him that I would call AT&T.  He said that he already tried.  They were closed.  Of course they were.

So Monday (Thanksgiving week).  I called AT&T.  By this time, I knew the customer service number by heart.  The first woman was a harsh Middle Eastern woman that I could not understand for approximately 40% of the conversation.  The conversation went something like this.

Me: We didn't receive a modem.
Her: You didn't order a modem.
Me: I was told you guys were sending me a modem.
Her: Not if you don't order one.
Me: I figured if you said you were sending one, I didn't need to request one.
Her: silence
Me: So, with these two ethernet cables you sent me, can I get internet?
Her: No.
Me: So how did you expect me to be able to connect to the internet without the modem?
Her: more silence
Me: So, can I order a modem?
Her: Not today.
Me: Why not?
Her: Because your order hasn't posted in our system.  You can order one tomorrow.
Me: Seriously? I have to wait until tomorrow?
Her: Yes.

And the conversation went downhill from there.  What it comes down to is this: I don't know how internet access works, really.  I assume that the company I purchase it from does.  I was wrong.  There were a few awkward silent moments, mostly due to the fact that I didn't understand Representative #5.  She blamed me, apparently I didn't say the magic modem-ordering words, and I was suffering the consequences.

I called AT&T back twice that day.  Not ordering til Tuesday meant not receiving the modem until Thursday, which was Thanksgiving, which meant not receiving the modem until Friday, a week later than promised.  Both Representative #6 and #7 confirmed the order issue.  Tuesday.  I would have to wait until Tuesday.

Long story short: We decided to drive to an AT&T store.  We checked their return policy, and we purchased the same modem that was supposed to be sent, with full intentions of returning it when our free one came in the mail.  It sounds a little shady, but it's legal and all that.  So we went home, connected our two cables, and we were up and running.

Rest of the long story: I called AT&T to get the modem ordered.  I waited a week or so, mostly because I procrastinate, but also because I wanted to be sure that they had plenty of time to make sure our original (incorrect) order had posted.  When I asked about ordering the free modem, they dropped the bomb.  It's not free.  It's $100 (same price that we paid at the AT&T store).

Conversation went something like this.
Me: It's not free?
Her: No, ma'am.
Me: Then why would they have told me that it was free?
Her: I am not sure.
Me: Do you have recordings of that original conversation?
Her: No, ma'am.
Me: Do you have notes from that conversation?
Her: No, ma'am.
Me: So, basically, she could have promised me internet access for $2 a month and a free trip to Hawaii and there would be nothing I could do about it.
Her: silence
Me: Can I speak to a manager?
Her: We have a 48 hour call-back policy.  A manager will return your call within the next 48 hours.
Me: Fine.  I can wait.

That was exactly one week ago.  I have received no phone call.  I guess when I said "I can wait", AT&T took me seriously.  And the terrible thing about all of this?  I don't have much of a choice.  AT&T is one of two service providers in my area, and the second one has great promotional pricing... the kind of pricing that they lure you in with and then it changes to the price of a mortgage as soon as you are comfortable with their service.  So it looks like I am stuck.  Stuck with my $100 modem and internet service that goes out at least 5 times a day.  Unreliable internet service is better than none.

So for today, in the spirit of the season, AT&T is going on my Bad List, second only to Wells Fargo (you can read about that here).  They get no presents from me.  No Christmas cards or fruitcakes.  No customer referrals.  AT&T stinks.  Please remember that.  And Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Today my Mama (or Mawmaw, for those of you in extreme southern states), my dad's mom, is celebrating her 90th birthday. And it seems that at 90 years old, there is so much that deserves celebrating. She survived the Depression. And childbirth. And a life married to an old grump. And then his death. And then life on her own. She could celebrate three children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren that love her. And having a sound, clear mind, even though the rest of her isn't always in prime condition. Having a reasonable amount of hair and mostly her own teeth. Lots to celebrate. And yet, there was no real party. Just a nursing home cafeteria lunch and some balloons and a note taped to her door announcing her big day.

My mom, dad, my brother Craig, my niece Reagan, and I loaded up this morning to head out to see her. It was a long drive from my home in The Colony to my parents' house in Grand Prairie, and an even longer drive to Conroe. And the truth is, I considered not going. The weather has been rainy and gross, and yesterday was busy and exhausting. I was tired.  But family is important, and grandmothers only turn 90 once, so I made the decision to go. And I am so thankful I did.

We brought my guitar because the O'Dell family doesn't go anywhere without being prepared to sing a little something. We found Mama sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway in a red housedress, her silver hair looking a little frizzy from the humidity outside (thanks for the frizzy, gray-haired genes, by the way). She cried when she saw us, either from relief that we came or to make us feel guilty that she has to live there. I would not be surprised by either.

We wheeled her into the front lobby of the nursing home and we sat amongst the tacky Christmas decorations and watched her struggle to unwrap birthday presents and cards. I reached over several times to help her tear off tape and ribbon and thought about how thirty plus years ago, she probably did the same for me. We talked family and life and we all repeated ourselves three or four times to be understood. She asked me if I still had a good husband, and I laughed. Yes. Yes I do. My aunt and uncle joined us, and I took out my guitar and we sang hymns and other old songs, some very badly and some only partially because we couldn't remember the words. That's what happens after 30. Your mind gets all full up. There's only so much room up there. But every now and then, on a familiar one, I would see Mama's mouth moving, and I occasionally heard her scratchy singing voice over the sound of the guitar.

And then came the inevitable. We had to go. The four hour drive back to Dallas was looming before us, and Mama probably needed a nap before dinner. So we wheeled her back to her room, and I made a silent note to myself to exercise more so that I can be one of those old people that walks three miles a day instead of one that requires a wheelchair. We sang a few final songs for Mama and her roommate Ruby. We took a few pictures, cried a little, and said goodbye. There is always that uneasy feeling of finality in those kinds of goodbyes. The knowing that this could be the last time we sit and talk. The last time for a goodbye hug.

And even though I am sad, today isn't about being sad. It's not about goodbyes. Today is about celebrating the life of a woman who invested in the lives of her grandkids. It's about playing dominoes at her kitchen table. About standing on her little kitchen stool to cut out homemade biscuits. It's about playing outside with Craig and Kari on the rolling cart reserved for wheeling the trash cans to the curb on trash day, but knowing that Mama wouldn't mind (even though Papa definitely would mind). It's about days spent with her as she worked at the dry cleaners with her magic moving clothes rack. It's about a lifetime of cooking and cleaning and telling stories and dancing for your grandchildren to make them laugh.

She has been saying that it's her time to go for twenty or so years. And yet here she is. It's not her time. Not yet. And so long as she is healthy and not in pain, I am happy that she is here. So happy birthday, Mama. We love you very much. I hope to see you again soon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Julie the Water Snob

Me (on the left) and my sister Kari, watching Grandpa feed the lamb- Skidmore, Texas 1979

As a kid, one of my favorite places to visit was my grandparents' house in Skidmore, Texas.  Unless you are born in Skidmore, or you are related to someone who lives there, chances are you have never heard of it.  But my grandparents house was incredibly fun.  At different times throughout my childhood they had chickens, sheep, cows, and even a Shetland pony that my sister Kari laid claim to and named Jennifer.  Grandma and Grandpa's house had woods that you could get lost in for hours and a little creek running behind the woods, marking where their property ended and someone else's began.  They had an electric fence that I was always afraid of, even though my cousins and I regularly dared one another to touch it.  No way was I touching it, even when they swore it was turned off.  There were fields that we ran through, careful to avoid the cow patties and the stickers. (I don't what you people call them outside of Texas, but they stuck to my socks and shoelaces and hurt like heck when you tried to pull them off.)  We slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room with the window unit air conditioner roaring loudly to keep us cool in the summer.  We woke up to the smell of coffee and bacon, and my grandpa could almost always be found sitting at the head of the kitchen table in his starched Wranglers and his ribbed white tank top undershirt working overtime to cover his belly.  We watched The Price is Right every morning, but the commercials in between were always muted.  Grandma's fragile nerves couldn't handle the volume of advertisements, apparently.  But with all of the sweet memories I have of my grandparents, one of the most memorable things about trips to their house was their water.  It was disgusting.

I tried to like it.  Really, I did.  And I even pretended to like it.  Grandma and Grandpa loved it, and I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  So when we went go for a visit, I would buck up and get out a glass and drink right from the tap.  I didn't complain.  In fact, I faked liking it so well that when they broke down and bought a water cooler for their kitchen, complete with decent tasting purified water, I was the lone grandchild that stuck with the well water.  I was obligated at that point.  I couldn't give up the act.

The water was so hard that nothing rinsed off.  Many times I stood in front of the bathroom sink, trying desperately to make the lather from my grandpa's green bar of lava soap (which felt like sandpaper on my little kid hands) rinse off.  And it wouldn't.  Nothing rinsed off.  Even shampoo and conditioner stuck to my hair like glue.  I learned to be careful about how much of anything I applied to my body that I didn't want to stay there.

I don't know when I became a water snob.  I was so easy to please back in the day, drinking mineral-filled well water by the gallons, pretending to love it.  But somewhere along the way, I lost my tap water drinking roots.  And now, I drink 99.9% bottled water, unless I am at a restaurant.  And not just bottled water, spring water.  I don't do purified water.  I hate the taste of it.  I don't do Aquafina or Dasani unless it's the only thing available (and even then I have to be really thirsty).  Spring water.  Only spring water.  I feel like David Duchovny's annoying date Marcia on the movie Return to Me.  She requests a bottle of water (no Swiss, preferably French water, no bubbles, cold, no ice, no glass, just the bottle and the straw) and then doesn't even notice when Minnie Driver replaces her bottled water with water straight from the tap.  And I hate that.  I hate being high maintenance.  I don't want to be David Duchovny's annoying date Marcia.

My water snobbery has bled over into my ice preferences.  I don't like the weird, crescent-shaped ice that comes from freezer ice makers because it forms to the cup and blocks my drink, causing me to overtip the glass and pour my drink all over my face.  I am clumsy enough all by myself without having my ice and glass work against me.  Regular cube ice from ice machines is okay.  It's acceptable.  It works, but it's not my favorite.  I prefer Sonic ice.  It's small, easily crunched.  Dissolves a little too quickly, but you put it into an insulated cup and it's the perfect ice.  

Recently I read an article about the safety of tap water vs. bottled water.  Did you know that the guidelines for tap water are more stringent than they are for bottled water?  Spring water actually contains more bacteria than tap water.  And honestly, the visual of bacteria swimming around in my bottles of water is just kind of gross.  Plus bottled water is expensive.  I buy the cheapest stuff out there, but it adds up.  And the waste from the plastic bottles... every time I throw one in the trash I imagine my children (that I don't have yet) growing up and being forced to live in the middle of a landfill because of all the things I didn't recycle.  

And so... I am going back to tap water.  At least for now.  I have moved to a new city with water that doesn't taste like metal.  We are going to try to use the weird moon shaped ice because our new apartment has a fancy ice maker, which our last apartment didn't have.  I may not make it.  The water snob in me might resurface, and I might go back to buying what comes out of my faucet for free.  Well, not free, but almost free in comparison.  So if you come to my house, don't plan for anything fancy.  We will serve you tap water (because we rarely buy Cokes and such) and ice right out of our freezer, hard enough to crack your teeth.  You might not love the taste, but we will never run out.  I think Grandma and Grandpa would be proud.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why I Hate Christmas and Valentine's Day... only not really. I just hate people fighting about them.

It starts every year about Halloween, and it doesn't really go away until Easter. Thankfully, we have a reprieve from spring through summer, but I always dread it when the warm days of summer end and I know it's coming around again. If you don't partake of the madness that is Facebook and Twitter, you still may have to hear about it via forwarded emails and such. And the more Christian friends you have, the greater the probability that your Facebook newsfeed is full of them. The Christian Holiday Complainers.

Halloween is too evil. Or maybe it's spiritual and we can witness to our neighbors and you are evil if you don't participate. And why do we skip Thanksgiving and go right to Christmas... If we do that, we will never be thankful! And why are the Christmas decorations out in July? And those pagan trees... my goodness at the pagan trees. And don't say Happy Holidays or shop anywhere that does say Happy Holidays if you love Jesus. Santa Claus is basically the devil. Red suit? Check. Scads of little helpers that no one ever sees? Check. Home that boasts extreme temperatures? Check. Busiest during nighttime hours? Check.  Letters A-A-N-S-T in the name?  Check.  See?  The devil with rosy cheeks. And Valentine's Day is a made up day for stores to make money so we shouldn't buy Valentine's gifts for people we love. Then there's Easter. Don't get me started on Easter. It's the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ mixed with bunnies and duckies and eggs. And chocolate. Don't forget the evil chocolate.

It's the topic of blogs and status updates and the subject of great debate. And the conversation gets old. It makes me want to avoid the newsfeed from October to March, but then I wouldn't know that you finally cut bangs or that you went to Destin on vacation or that your cute baby finally slept through the night, all of which are newsworthy things that I wouldn't want to miss.

You may feel free to disagree with me, but I don't think that a three-year-old dressing up like a princess and collecting candy is a threat to the cause of Christ. Jesus doesn't need us to get mad on his behalf about Christmas trees and overspending. God is still God whether your local discount store chooses to say Merry Christmas or not. Christ's resurrection is not made less powerful because we give Easter baskets and chocolate bunnies to children. (Besides, I like a chocolate bunny every now and then, especially if its dark chocolate. Or peanut butter eggs. As long as they are Reese's and not the waxy Palmer's brand kind. Those are disgusting.)

We all have opinions about holidays and commercialization and how Christ is no longer the focal point of holidays where he should be. But the truth is, we are surrounded by unbelievers. And we expect them to honor Christian holidays with the same kind of Christ-focus that we have. It's unwise to expect Christian behavior from non-Christians. It's probably unwise to expect it from anyone, other than ourselves.

So go ahead, decorate your tree or don't. Do it on November 5th or 25th. I don't care. Buy presents for no one or everyone.  Listen to Christmas music in July or only on December 25.  Dress up as a scarecrow or a Power Ranger or a sexy teacher (I learned this year that this is a real costume you can buy and I actually don't recommend it because you will look stupid and because there is nothing sexy about grading papers and cleaning boogers off of desks).  Give your children Easter baskets, only skip the dumb Easter grass because it just ends up all over your carpet.  And keep telling the stories of truth.  Read the Christmas story as a family.  Read about Christ's resurrection on Easter morning and celebrate that we serve a God that is alive and well.  And don't worry that the truth will be lost because of the fiction.  We all know that Santa's not real.  Unless you are a child and you are reading this.  In which case, Santa is very real.  And he's not the devil.  That was a funny joke.  And please stop wiping your boogers on your school desk.  The end.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moving Day Eve

I am tired. Like I-could-pass-out-right-here-on-the-couch-and-not-wake-up-until-tomorrow-night tired. For the last few weeks, my days have been filled with packing, church work (at two different churches), sitting in the hospital waiting room (my sweet daddy had bypass surgery last week), and more packing. I have done more cleaning in the past 24 hours than I have in the past 24 weeks, which probably says more about my housekeeping skills and less about how busy my day was. But I am looking around at my apartment, piled high with boxes and littered with an assortment of books, shoes, and mail, and I don't wonder if I will get it all done. I know it will get done. It has to get done. We have to turn in our keys on Friday afternoon, and they expect for all of our belongings to be gone. The question is, will I break down and throw a huge crying fit and who will be harmed in the process. I guess that is two questions.  But there they are.

I should be a moving expert, really. I have had 27 different residences in my 34 years of life, if you count the three different travel trailers (used while we were missionaries), one mobile home (also while we were missionaries), and the four different dorm rooms for each year of college.  And each time I move, I envision something that never comes to pass.  I envision myself the night before the move with a clean house (except for neatly stacked boxes) and an early bedtime.  And this vision has never, ever come to pass.  Not once.  And really, I don't know what I'm doing wrong.  I do start early.  I started packing two boxes a day a month ago.  And according to that plan, I should have been in bed hours ago, knowing that my things were securely packed and my house was white glove clean.  But here I sit on the small corner of my bed that is free of clothes and magazines, typing this blog and praying that I am able to function tomorrow on the few hours of sleep I will get.

One of these days I will figure it out.  I feel like each move I get a little closer to perfecting the art, and maybe one day my vision will become reality.  But like I said, it will all get done.  I will move tomorrow, and I will not leave anything behind (although one time I did purposely leave behind a washer and dryer that were too old to be worth moving).  Today the new apartments painted a green accent wall in our living room, and I changed my address on the US Postal Service website.  I spent exactly 48 minutes on the phone with AT&T to get my internet service switched over.  My refrigerator, freezer, and oven are all sparkling clean (and seriously, I am going to learn to clean those things more often in this next apartment).  I have double checked every drawer and cabinet to prevent the "Oh my goodness, where the heck am I going to put all of this stuff?" reaction that I usually have when I come across a cabinet that I am certain I had already cleaned out.  In the morning, I will wake up and I will clean baseboards and scrub bathroom floors like there is no tomorrow, even though there most likely will be.  Although, let me assure you of this, if there is no Friday, I will be super mad that I did all of that cleaning and packing for nothing.  And you should be watching for that fit and careful of your proximity to it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Facebook Flirting (It's the Same as Real Flirting)

I have a few ex-boyfriends as Facebook friends.  This past week, an ex-fiance (a victim of my indecisive, immature early 20's) added me as a friend on Facebook, and I accepted.  He has a beautiful wife and two kids, and it was great to see how his little family is doing.  I have accepted Facebook friend requests from lots of men- old colleagues, former college friends, and guys that I met on my mission trips.  If you are on Facebook, you are undoubtedly virtual friends with people of both genders.  I mean, if we are friends in real life, then being friends on Facebook is no different, right?  The problem is this.  Facebook feels different.  Digital communication in general feels different.  It feels controlled, and so people treat digital communication far more lightly that they would real, live, in-person communication.  I would not sit in a closed room with a married man and have a private conversation.  But married women will carry on private, super-secret Facebook (email, text, etc.) conversations with a man other than their husband, and will not think twice.  I know it happens.  And you probably do, too.

I assure you, earlier in my life, I would not have thought twice about this, but I was ignorant then.  I am not ignorant now.  At least not about this.  And let me tell you that I know how it works.  I know that good intentioned communication and innocent friendships can turn into something more.  And it happens in the lives of good Christian husbands and wives, ones that would never consider being unfaithful to their spouse... until they are.  And then they don't know how they got there.  Slippery, slippery slopes everywhere.

So let me be clear about something.  Flirting on Facebook is the same as flirting in real life.  Flirting via text message is the same as doing it face to face.  Email or instant message, same thing.  Expressing affection or admiration for someone other than your spouse, no matter what your communication method, is a dangerous thing.  It's not okay.  And it comes in many forms... questionable Facebook photo compliments, communication that your spouse does not know about, random text messages asking about your day.  Some of these things seem kind of innocent and people may shrug them off as fine.  But most likely, it's not fine.  If you hear from someone of the opposite sex and you light up a little, there's your red flag.  Run, don't walk, far far away.  Run.  Because if you don't, it could cost you everything.  Your marriage.  Your family.  Your home.  Your testimony.  Everything.

You may think I'm extreme in this.  And I may well be.  I can assure you, though, that I would rather be on the cautious side than find myself in a situation where I am confiding in someone other than my husband.  I can't see any harm in being too careful.  I see the potential for all kinds of destruction in being careless.  It's a chance I can't afford to take.  And if you are married, neither can you.

So what do we do?  We have to be in relationship with people.  We work with people.  We interact with people.  We catch up with old friends.  We can't avoid it, and I wouldn't want to.  So I will tell you how this works for me.  I have myself set up with all kinds of accountability.  My husband has access to my email and Facebook accounts.  He can check my text messages any time he wants to.  He doesn't, but he knows that he is free to do it.  If I hear from a guy, via Facebook or email or text, he knows about it.  I tell him everything.  And he does the same when he talks to a woman.  Before Jake, I had girlfriends that I counted on (and still do) for accountability.  If I received random communication from a married ex-boyfriend or guy friend, I would let them know about it.  And they would encourage me to make right decisions in response to that communication.  Every now and then, they still check in with me.  And this is invaluable.  I don't do this because I am a man-crazed maniac and can't control myself.  I do it because I am a regular person, a sinner, with the potential to do anything.  I want to protect my marriage and my ministry.  Constant communication about who I am in communication with keeps me from unintentionally starting down a dangerous road.  Very few people start out wanting to be unfaithful.  Most are just being friendly.  And without excellent boundaries, friendly can turn ugly very quickly.

So if you are single, feel free to flirt with other single people.  In fact, I encourage it.  Flirt in person, via Facebook, text, email, however you like.  It's a great way to change that Facebook status from single to married.  I did it in a little over 3 months.  But if you are married, for the sake of your marriage and your children, save the flirting and the admiration for your spouse.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

The summer of 2008 was a rough one.  I was going through a fairly unpleasant divorce (is there such a thing as a pleasant divorce?), I had spent a year away from the kids that I had raised for three years, my roommate was getting married and moving out, my lease was almost up, and I could not find a full-time job.  My teaching job from the previous year had taken its toll on me.  I taught kindergarten at a Christian school, but the truth is that I had no business teaching that year.  I was an emotional mess.  That, combined with less-than-pleasant school administrators, made for a horrible year.  And then it was summer.  I should have breathed a sigh of relief.  But the summer brought a million uncertainties.  What next?  I should have prayed more.  I should have sought God more in all of it.  But honestly, I was tired.  Life felt hard.  I was spiritually numb.  I was done.  I needed to go home.  Back to Texas.  Back to family.  Back to my kids.*

I moved out of my parents' house when i was 17, and I went to college.  Aside from the summers that I spent back at home in Corpus Christi, I never lived at home again.  I moved from Missouri to New Zealand to Tennessee.  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would load up and make the drive to the Dallas-Fort Worth area where all of my family had settled.  And then I would go back home to Tennessee and spend the rest of the year missing everyone.  In my mind, home was Tennessee.  It was where I belonged.  And then one day, it wasn't.  That's where I was when I got the call.

I wouldn't have been ready for it any other time, but that's how it works, you know.  God plants a thought in your mind.  He works and moves (or sometimes doesn't move) to get us to the place where we are open to His plan.  The night before I got the call, I had a fleeting thought of looking for a teaching job in Texas.  It was the first real thought I had about moving back to Texas in almost a decade.  And my Tennessee job search was a miserable failure... so I thought maybe Texas.  I decided not to tell anyone, especially not family.  Not just yet.  And then the next morning my dad called.  The church that he pastored in Texas was looking for someone to come and take over their children's ministry.  And he wanted to know if I was interested.  And I definitely was.

A month later, I was on my way.  I packed up a Uhaul truck... twice, actually, but that's a different blog for a different time.  My brother drove the truck and we towed my little Ford Focus behind it all the way to Texas.  I settled into a new home, a new job, a new church.  I started small with our little children's ministry, making little changes here and there.  I took over our Sunday morning kids church.  I taught the kids new songs.  I got involved in women's ministry.  I joined forces with my mom to teach a Ladies Sunday School class.  I started a Thursday night Bible study for pre-teen girls, hoping to instill some truth into them before they hit their teen years and the boy craze hit.  By the way, I learned that I was too late.  They were boy crazy when I got them.  But I taught them nonetheless.  We cooked together, worked together, studied together, and prayed together.  Satan fought me on those Thursday nights.  There was always traffic while going to pick up the girls.  I was always more tired on Thursdays than any other day of the week.  I got sick multiple times.  But we kept going.  And girls were saved.  And the truth was planted- the truth about God and real beauty and dating and friendship and forgiveness.  

That was three years ago.  Things have changed.  Our church has changed.  My pre-teen girls are now teens.  I am now married.  My extended family has grown.  Everything looks different.  And Jake and I have just accepted new jobs at a new church so that we can go to church together.  In three weeks we will be moving an hour away from where we live now.  We are excited, but honestly, after working for my dad for three years and being less than 10 minutes from my parents' house, I am feeling a little sad.  I have loved spending my days with my mom, working on Bible studies and newsletters and solving the problems of the world from our church office.  With a brother and a dad and a mom all in the same office, I have rarely found myself at a loss for a lunch partner.  We occasionally skipped lunch and headed to a local estate sale.  Being an O'Dell means that one must love bargains and old things.  Estate sales are perfect for both.  But most of all, I have spent three years working in an office with some of the most genuine Christians I know.  And I know they are family, and I admit they are not perfect, but they are most certainly real.  And I will miss them.

I am excited about our new church and our new opportunities.  We are moving into a two bedroom apartment, and I am so excited that I could turn cartwheels (and our new apartment affords the room for such things).  The friends we have made at the new church are already some of my favorite people.  There is so much hope, so much possibility.  But I have five more days here.  Five more days to be in my same old office doing my same old things.  I will go out to lunch, even though I should save the money and bring my lunch.  On Thursday I hope to find a good estate sale to visit.  And on Sunday, I will spend one last day of worship with the family I already loved and the church family that I have grown to love and, of course, a few church people that I have to force myself to love.  Sunday night we will decorate our cars for trunk or treat, and we will pass out candy and hot dogs and we will share the gospel with our community.  It will be a perfect ending to a great three years here.  Three years of healing and ministry and family.  And for all of those things, I am incredibly thankful.

*My kids are not really my kids.  They are my nephews, but they were my kids for three whole years and no matter where they live they will always be my kids.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Got Sprigs!

Oh no! My hair was sticking out all over the place.

"Sprigs!" I said.  "I got sprigs!"

That's how come I started to cry.  Cause sprigs are shortie little sticklets.  And they are not attractive, I tell you. 
- Junie B. Jones is a Beauty Shop Guy*

Everyone has done it.  We almost always regret it, but we have all done it.  We have our reasons.  Convenience, money, time, or maybe we are looking for something new and different.  We have all learned that it is a mistake, but experience is not always a memorable teacher.  Sometimes we forget.  And today, I got my reminder.  Today, I cheated on my hairdresser.

To be fair, I am fully capable of doing certain hair-related things on my own.  I can color my own hair.  I can even put foil highlights in my own hair if the top layers are short enough.  And it's a good thing.  I have more gray hair than the average 34-year-old, and so if I didn't do some of the maintenance myself, I would never be able to afford the upkeep.  But today, I did the unthinkable.  Today, I walked into a hair salon that I had never heard of, and I entrusted my hair to a woman I didn't know.

My first clue should have been this: I found the salon on Groupon during my lunchbreak, and when I called, they were free to take me.  But I rationalized this in my mind.  Busy salon, but it was around lunchtime and people were eating and not getting their hair cut.  Makes sense.  So, I chose my hairstyle, texted the photo to several girlfriends for input, and I got back all positive responses.  Sold.  This was the goal.

Within the first five minutes of my haircut, sweet Clarice the hairdresser and I had become friends.  She told me about her family and her life and this new job she was working (she had only been at this salon for three weeks), and we exchanged basic pleasantries.  And then I asked a question that I should have asked before the haircut started.

What did you do before you started here?
Um, I was in school

Oh, Clarice.  Really?  I tried not to panic.  Clarice worked very slowly.  I assumed that was good news for me.  It wasn't.  By the time she finished, I had a thick top layer of hair that was cut straight across at shoulder level.  Shoulder level.  Only about 6 inches shorter than when I came in.  I also had a thin layer of hair underneath that was approximately four inches longer on one side (only 2-3 inches longer on the other side).  She looked at my hair with a puzzled look, and then she decided to face the obvious.  In order to fix the mess, more cutting was necessary.  At this point, I had been sitting in the chair in Clarice's private hair cutting room for approximately 45 minutes.  And I had lost a huge amount of hair.  In the mix of this last part of our conversation, Clarice had made the mistake of telling me another shocking truth.  She didn't have her license yet.  Apparently, she was waiting for it to come in the mail, but here was a woman that was working in a full-service salon that didn't even have a license to do it.  I made the prompt decision to cut my losses and run.  And run I did.  I told her I would have to think about what to do next with my hair since it was shorter than I had intended.  I pulled my hair into a ponytail to cover the craziness, mumbled a lie about possibly returning tomorrow to get it finished, and I left.  The second I stepped out the door, the magnitude of the situation hit me.  I have been growing my hair out for so, so long.  I have resisted the urge to cut it all off.  I have trimmed and deep conditioned.  And in one fell swoop, Clarice had erased months of my patience.  And so I cried.  And I cried.  And I cried some more.

I was crying too much to make the phone call to my regular hairdresser.  Plus, who wants to have to make that call after such a huge mistake?  So Jake called, and we headed across town to see Letty, my lovely hairdresser who always does exactly what I ask for.  I wondered if she would be able to fix the mess Clarice had made.  When I got there, she combed out my hair and assessed the damage.  And she didn't laugh out loud, but I feel certain that she was laughing on the inside at my puffy eyes and butchered hair.  And I don't blame her.  It was ridiculous.

Letty set to work, making no guarantees, but assuring me that she would try her best to give me a haircut that would allow me to keep some length but would also make sense.  She kept reminding me to calm down and breathe.  And she cut and evaluated and measured, and I have to say that I didn't think she'd be able to do it.  I didn't think she could pull it off.  I thought it was too far gone. But after about 30 minutes and a little bit of genius, she had created a haircut that didn't make me cry.  I loved it.  And so did my husband.  She was the hero of the day.

I drove away from Letty's, and I kept thinking about the disasters that I have created and seen created by people being too impatient, too cheap, too impulsive with their hair.  A girl in college turned her hair green because she was sure that ash brown would look beautiful over her bleached golden blonde.  It didn't.  And I have gotten chin length bobs when I meant to get half inch trims.  And people cut sprigs when they mean to cut bangs.  It's just a mess.  And really, we get what we deserve.  Because after our first childhood experience of cutting our own hair and seeing how it turns out, we really should know better.  We should leave it to only the most experienced and trusted professionals.

So, if you hear me talking hair changes, please question me.  Make sure I am seeing someone I trust.  Not sweet Clarice, who would make a perfect coffee companion, but a terrible haircutter.  Not my friendly neighbor that has never had training but has a reputation for giving cheap haircuts.  Not Super Cuts or Great Clips.  Make sure I am seeing my tried and true hairdresser, one that has other customers that have cute hair.  And a word to the wise, if your hairdresser doesn't wear her own hair, it might be advisable to not let her take scissors to yours.  The end.

*If you are a parent and you are not reading Junie B. Jones books with your children, you are missing out on laugh-out-loud hilarity.  This particular book is my favorite in the entire series.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Independent Fundamental KJV-only Biscuit Eatin' Baptists... a little lesson on the way I was raised

I am a preacher's daughter, a P.K.  I hate that term.  I also hate all of the dumb stereotypes that people like to throw out about preacher's kids being wild and crazy.  Seriously, I feel guilty when I don't put the shopping cart back in the shopping cart return and when I throw away recyclables.  I don't have the conscience to be too wild and crazy.  Besides, I am not just any kind of preacher's daughter.  I am an Independent Baptist preacher's daughter.  And that, all by itself, changes everything.  My Independent Baptist preacher kid friends know what I am talking about.

When I met my Southern Baptist husband, he had never heard of Independent Baptists.  I introduced him to a world he had never known.  And honestly, we are a people like none other.  At this point in my life, I don't necessarily claim the title of Independent Baptist, but don't tell my dad that.  Because as strange as my upbringing was, I would not trade it for anything.  I am thankful for wonderful Godly parents who made choices about how to raise their six kids based on what they believed the Bible said, with a little bit of tradition mixed in.  As time has passed, many of our Baptist churches have changed and there is no real standard for what you will find in the average Independent Baptist church.  But for those of us who spent the 80's sitting on hard pews, drawing on the back of tithing envelopes (which was strictly forbidden), we remember the way it used to be. And for the number of friends and readers who are not familiar with the Independent Baptist way of life, sit back and I will enlighten you.  Here are the real Independent Baptist Distinctives.

  1. No Pants on Women.  Let me assure you, I wasn't raised with nakedness from the waist down.  But good independent Baptist women did not wear trousers in the 80's.  We wore skirts and dresses and our beloved culottes (knee-length or longer, of course).  Pants were for males and old ladies, because apparently once you became old, no one wanted to look at your sagging bottom  you in pants and so you were safe.  I did not start wearing jeans until my junior year of Bible college, and I thought I looked like a boy in them.  This was the year they changed the rules to allow "modest, loose fitting slacks" on women.  And we could not wear them until 1:00 p.m.  Up until 12:59 p.m., they were still sinful.
  2. No Movie Theaters.  Movies in your own home, acceptable.  Movies in the theater, unacceptable.  The truth is, I believe this started with the intentions of no movies at all.  Do not support Hollywood because it is wicked (and that's still the truth), but with the invention of the VCR, the no movie thing went right out the window.  We all brought Hollywood and its movies into our living rooms.  Heck, it was cheaper.  Still, I will say that my parents knew what we watched.  There was no sneaking anything by them, seeing a rated R movie when we were only allowed to watch PG.  I did go to the IMAX in high school with my family and we saw Jurassic Park.  And I kind of thought we might be going to hell for it.  Also, for the record, my first movie in a regular theater was not until 2008.  So there.  I am a freak of nature.
  3. No Mixed Bathing.  This sounds far dirtier than it actually is.  I don't know who got the bright idea to call swimming "bathing", but it indeed sounds scandalous.  In reality, it just means that we girls didn't go swimming with boys.  It means that every year at camp, there was a girls' swim time and a boys' swim time.  We carefully clothed ourselves for our walk to and from the pool, because the sight of a scrawny eleven-year-old girl in a neon colored Walmart one-piece might just ruin a boy for life.  
  4. King James Version Bibles.  Seriously.  Do not mock the KJV.  I kind of love it.  It's what I was raised on and what I have memorized my whole life.  I do read the ESV and the Amplified Bible, and I love those as well.  But Independent Baptists are serious about their KJV's.  I draw the line with the people who believe that you can't get saved out of anything else.  Those people are idiots.  It's not sweet to say, but it's true.  And you can use whatever you want to read from, but please do not tell me that you don't understand thee's and thou's.  If you don't understand what those words mean, I recommend you return to elementary school.  Unless you are in elementary school... in which case, you should stay there and learn something.
  5. Hymn Books.  We loved our hymns.  Bringing in the Sheaves.  Come and Dine.  When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.  First, Second, and Fourth Verses only.  The third verses are worthless for whatever reason.  I don't even know why hymn writers wrote them.  We Independent Baptists were too good for third verses.  And so we ignored them.  But please, whatever you do, give us those verses from the hymn book.  Don't print them in a chorus book or project them onto the wall.  We'll take our Soul Stirring Songs and Hymns Book, thank you.  We will even buy new ones so that we can place a hymnal dedication label in the front in memory of Aunt Deloris and Grandma Sue.  
  6. Southern Gospel Music.  I know we are not the only denomination to like it, but we Independent Baptists do love our four part harmony, or at least three.  We like fancy piano playing and shaped notes and convention songs.  And please sing lots of songs about heaven and the blood of Jesus.  We will shout and wave our hankies*.  And run the aisles if we are in deep South.  And bass singers and tenors are our favorites.  (Sorry, Craig)
  7. Door-to-door Soul Winning.  We like to go right up to people's doors and knock and ask people if they are going to heaven when they die (actually, most of us don't like it... most of us are scared to death of it).  Sometimes they say yes.  Sometimes they say no.  Sometimes they slam the door.  Sometimes they get mad and cuss.  And sometimes they want to hear what we have to say.  And sometimes those people accept Christ.  This is why we keep doing it.
Within the realm of Independent Baptists, there are a thousand differences, things that others were allowed to do that we weren't and vice versa.  I remember a pastor's wife scolding me for playing solitaire because I was using playing cards.  I was only eight.  And I thought she was crazy.  There were rules about music and dancing and gambling.  My dad remembers a day when preachers preached against sideburns and mustaches and wire-rimmed glasses and double knit pants and leisure suits.  No, seriously.  But it's too complicated to go through and try to figure out why.  At this point in my life, I can separate the spirit of the law from the letter of the law.  And I am thankful to know that I am free from the law altogether.  My strict upbringing served as a guide, a starting place from which I was able to work out my own salvation, as it were.

So this is me.  This is where I come from.  I am a little strange, a little different.  I am 34 years old and I have still never been to a water park.  (Seriously, who wants to spend a day swimming around in the dirt and urine of the masses?  Not this girl.)  But rest assured, if I ever change my mind, you will know how to find me.  I'll be the girl in the neon colored Walmart one piece bathing suit covered by culottes.

*My clever friend Caryn, also a Independent Baptist preacher's kid, writes about southern gospel music and hankie waving, here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Almost Homeless... living life in Limbo

My lease is up in four days. Four. And you know where I am moving? Yeah, neither do I. So until we know, we will be paying a ridiculously inflated price for the privilege of living somewhere without a lease. As in, I-should-be-living-in-a-luxury-townhome price. The timing is impeccable, really (please hear my sarcasm here). My husband quit one of his part-time jobs a month ago, a faith-move that we both happily agreed on. But honestly, we had expectations. Expectations of God rushing right in and providing something else. And here we are over a month later (which feels longer when you are right in the middle of it) and He hasn't. He has provided financially, in crazy ways really. Unexpected ways. Ways we could have never planned or plotted on our own. But we are definitely missing the element of consistency, of knowing that a certain amount is coming on on a certain day. And while some people like the thrill of uncertainty, I can tell you that I don't. I prefer knowing how to plan.

There is opportunity on the horizon for us. Opportunity to minister together. For those who do not know, Jake and I are on staff at separate churches. Sundays are not days of worship as much as they are days of work. We get up, get ready, and we wave goodbye as we head out the door to our different churches. And while we have learned to live with the current situation, we have always known that it wouldn't work forever. And we were right. It has gotten old. So we are praying and looking for what God has next. We both love our current churches and the people we minister with, but we know we need something new. Something together. And so we wait. We wait for God to move us or to give us a clear indication that we need to stay right where we are. We wait for direction. And in the midst, I struggle to find peace.

Surely you know this place. It should be familiar to us both. The place where you can remember just a few months before you were comfortable and content. And then God makes it less comfortable. He sends gentle nudges to move you out of the place of comfort. The change is hard, but the uncertainty about what comes next is harder. I have been here before, and I am here again. And it's a little scary and a little intimidating.

One of the interesting parts about being a children's minister and teaching the truth of God's Word to children each week is that I often get more out of the lessons I teach than the kids do. I can't tell you how many times I have been in the middle of a lesson, and the Holy Spirit sends the message Do you hear what you're saying? This is for you. And one of my commonly repeated phrases in kids' church is I can trust God no matter what. No matter what. And it's a good reminder. It's a simple concept, but it changes everything when I live like I believe it. I don't have to worry. I don't have to freak out (though I sometimes do). I don't have to sit and look at my watch and think about how long God is taking to work things out for me. And I don't have to develop a plan B in case my current plan A doesn't work. I can trust God no matter what. 

Today is Monday, and I hope to end this day with direction. I am expecting it, even. But if it doesn't come, I will be fine. I still won't know what comes next, I am coming back to this simple truth. I can trust God no matter what. And I will.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Happy Blogiversary to Me

I hate the word blog.  I always have.  I get where it came from and why it's easier to say than weblog.  It just sounds gross.  But after years of having stories to tell and no real discipline to sit down and write, I gave in and joined the world of blogging.  That was one year ago.  And so, as much as I despise all forms of the word blog, I have learned to love blogging.  And blog readers.  And blog comments.

It has been exactly one year and four days since The Potluck Diaries appeared on the internet.  I remember the day that I asked for blog name suggestions.  Jewels from Julie.  The Cat's Meow (I don't even like cats).  The list was long, and most of the options... well, they weren't really options.  My friends were throwing out suggestions left and right, and though their efforts were generous and appreciated, none of their names stuck.  Until "The Potluck Diaries".  If you read my one of my first blogs ever, I explained the name.  And it fit.  And so I began telling my stories, and you, all ten of you,  began reading.

And so this is my thank you to you.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit my tiny part of the internet and to share in my life, past and present.  Thanks for the reposts and the comments.  I love telling stories, and it makes it far more exciting when someone is there to read them.  I will post another real, actual blog later in the day, if time permits.  But for this morning, I just wanted to send out thanks and blessings to you and wishes for me to commit to another year of ridiculousness right here.  You know where to find me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicago, the Miami of Canada*

Chicago.  I hate the band.  Love the city.  My first trip to Chicago was in October of 2006.  The thing I remember most was that the weather was beautiful.  Simply beautiful.  Blue skies, temperatures that hovered around the high 60's.  Just perfect.  My next trip was in February of 2008.  What I remember most about this trip is the freezing cold.  So, so cold.  Apparently I didn't learn my lesson about Chicago winters, and I went back in December of 2008, right after Christmas.  It was beautiful and snowy, and though my teeth chattered everywhere we went, I got to experience the magic that is downtown Chicago at Christmas.

Fairy tale Christmas displays in department store windows.

Giant wreaths on storefronts.

Christmas lights glowing on the naked trees that line Michigan Avenue.

Creepy stuff elves dangling from the ceiling at Water Tower Place.

Twenty minutes of waiting in line outside Gino's East for a table for two.

Watching the ice skating in Millenium Park.

Rigatoni Ala Vodka from Barnelli's Pasta Bowl.

Wreath necklaces hung on the bronze lions that guard the doors of the Art Institute.

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo.

It didn't take long for Chicago to become one of my favorite cities.

Then came the summer of 2010.  I had reconnected via Facebook with a couple of girlfriends from college, one of whom lived in the Chicagoland area.  And so the WWF** Reunion Tour was planned.  I had no idea what our five days in Chicago would be like.  Caryn lived in the DFW area and we had met up a few times before the trip.  But we hadn't seen Dotti (aka Christina, Christi, Dooti, Dooters) in twelve years.  You know those people that stay the same?  The kind that you can skip more than a decade and pick up right back where you left off?  Turns out that Caryn and Dotti are those kind of people.  It proved out to be one of the funnest trips ever.  

Three trips into the city.  

Shopping at H&M.  Several times.  

Deep dish pizza from Giordano's.  

Chicago Mix popcorn from Garrett's.  

Playing in the water at the Faces display at the Crown Fountain.  

Train rides in and out of the city.  

Lunch at the Signature Room (with a view from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center)

And more than this, we had five days to catch up on the last twelve years of living.  And catch up we did.  We had dinners in the backyard in the cool weather, complete with flowers and our official WWF salad (spinach with feta cheese, craisins, and walnuts).  And we talked about kids and husbands and ex-husbands and how they came to be ex-husbands.  We talked time and change and struggles and mistakes.  We painted a bedroom, even though we were too weak to move the furniture completely out of the way (sorry, Dotti, for the weird painting mess you will have to remedy if ever you move out).  We bonded over Nutella and pretzel sticks and stories.  We laughed, we cried, and when it was time to go home, we agreed that the WWF Reunion Tour was going to need to be an annual event.  

This year, because of Caryn's being in the motherly way and my wedding, we settled on skipping the Chicago trip, and hanging out a day or two together before the wedding.  That would have to count for 2011.  It was a short reunion, and it was filled with busyness, but it worked.  And it was officially recognized as the the WWF Reunion II.  And while we had planned on making another trip to Chicago next year (and are still planning it, come hell or high water... or more babies), the goodness of God and allowed me to return just a few short weeks ago.  $50 tickets each way.  I paid less for me and Jake to fly to Chicago this summer than I did for a single ticket last summer.  We were so excited when we found the bargain flights.  I quickly messaged Dotti who said that we should definitely come.  So we bought our tickets.  And honestly, the main thing getting us through this miserable, dreadful, awful, triple digit heat Texas summer (where we hated everything and almost everyone because of the heat) was the thought of Chicago, the city and the weather.  We knew it wouldn't be a WWF Reunion because Caryn was missing, but it would be fun.

When we stepped out of the Chicago airport, we were greeted by sunny skies and a lovely breeze.  We had a little wait for our ride, but we were so happy to be escaping 107 degrees, we were delighted to have to wait.  And then came more train rides, more Giordano's pizza, more Garrett's popcorn, more shopping at H&M, and more stories.  A couple of days of hanging out with Dotti and her sweet kids, Maddie and James.  The day before our departing flight, Jake and I said our goodbyes to them, and we headed by train into the city for one last night on the town before heading back home.  Our hotel was right on the Chicago River, and we were given a beautiful room with a riverfront view.  We had our dinner riverside at Bridge House Tavern, spent too much and probably ate too much.  Two yachts pulled up beside us while we were eating, and the passengers casually climbed over the wall and sat at tables near us.  I wanted to ask for a ride, but for safety's sake (and for the sake of my worrying mother), I decided against it.  

The next morning we got a little exercise down on Lake Shore Drive, admiring the sailboats and the people who were out running when we only had the energy to walk.  We followed it up with breakfast at Intelligentsia, makers of the the best coffee that I have had outside of Ethiopia.  Then a day of walking and shopping and photographs and more walking.  We lunched at Rosebud on Rush ("lunch" is a verb when you are on vacation... or if you are rich, which we are not), where we shared a sandwich and fries.  We later completely spent our remaining week's worth of Weight Watchers' points on a Cookie Bottom Sundae from Ghirardelli, which was delicious and well worth the splurge.  In our final hours in the city, we took a taxi down to Navy Pier and were sad to find that the windiness of the Windy City had closed down the ferris wheel for the day.  Still we walked around and saw stained glass exhibits and watched the city from the pier.  But our time in Chicago was coming to a close.  We took another taxi to our hotel to pick up our luggage, and we were dropped off at a train stop.  After a confusing walk through the underground maze that is the Chicago Transit System, we finally made it onto the correct train and to the airport.  And then home to Dallas.  

For two days we experienced a temporary but very real depression.  The swing from the highs of our trip to the lows of regular, everyday life was just too much, too quick.  But after a few days and a significant change in Texas weather, we are all better.  So now we can think about the trip and not want to break down and drive back to the airport and get on the next plane back to Chicago (partly because we are over it, but mainly because it's expensive).  

I am excited for next summer.  We have plans for the third installment of our WWF Reunion.  Maybe we will plan the first part of the trip without husbands and let them come fly out for the last few days.  Or maybe we will keep this a girls only trip.  Either way, I am looking forward to it.  We will have more stories to tell.  We will eat more popcorn and pizza.  We will shop at H&M (even though Dallas has finally opened their own), and we will hopefully get to ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier.  So until then, Chicago, just know that you are on my list of favorites.  We miss you, but don't worry, we will be back.  Please have favorable weather waiting for us, and please let the Cubs be in town when we visit.  

*This nickname is brought to you courtesy of The Simpsons.  And it made me laugh.

** WWF is the nickname give to the girls of my fourth floor dormitory in college, Woodworth Fourth.  Technically, it should be WFF (Woodworth Fourth Floor), but we thought WWF was way funnier.  And it is.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Girl in the White Scarf

In August of 1998, I was barely a college graduate.  I had spent the summer wavering between two boyfriends, one that was incredibly fun and the other that was responsible and stable, and in my 22 year old mind, those things couldn't be found in the same person.  It was one or the other.  In the end, I chose neither.  I chose to move overseas to complete a year long missions internship.  As the summer drew to a close, I packed up my clothes, a used portable Discman, and 12 cd's (that I had gotten for the price of one, thanks to BMG music club) and I moved to New Zealand.

My flight path was strange.  Corpus Christi to Houston to Chicago to Los Angeles to Auckland. I was exhausted by the time I arrived some 24 hours later, and because of time zones, I had missed an entire day on the calendar.  I arrived on a Friday morning, bright and early.  I remember the flight attendant came over the speakers and said that the temperature in Auckland was 15 degrees Celsius.  Strange the things that stick with me.  The day was spent taking a brief tour of the city.  Denny's for breakfast, I remember.  I was tired and nervous and thrilled all at once.  I spent the day touring Auckland with missionaries Zane and Cindy Edwards, parents of my college friend Jonathan Edwards.  That night, they took me to the weekly church event they referred to simply as "Club", and there I met Michelle.

I have to admit, when you are in a new place with new faces, people tend to look the same.  Everyone had brown skin, dark brown hair, dark eyes.  It was difficult for me to tell people apart at first.  But on this first night of Club, Michelle was wearing a gray sweater, jeans, and a white scarf.  She was the only girl wearing a scarf.  So she stood out.  Michelle, white scarf.  Easy enough.  She had the secondary distinction of being one of the only girls whose name I could pronounce.  Sefulu, Fia Fia, Azariah, Lika.  Michelle was a dream to say.  And our friendship started there.

Over the year I spent in New Zealand, I grew to appreciate Michelle.  She married young, and had a toddler aged son at the time.  I was impressed by how competent she seemed as a parent at such a young age.  She and her husband Asaua had been saved under the Edwards' ministry, and they were faithful to attend church, special events, and extra Bible classes the church offered.  Because she was a stay-at-home mom (or mum) and my church work didn't usually start until the evenings, Michelle and I spent time together at Maraetai beach, at the local pools, and going to the gym.  When I left New Zealand in the summer of 1999, I wasn't sure when I would see her again.  But 2004 and 2007 brought us back together, first with my trip back to New Zealand, and second with Michelle and Asaua coming to the U.S. to visit me in Tennessee.

And then came 2009.  I knew Michelle had a love for Ethiopia.  Back in the 1980's she had been moved by television coverage of the famine taking place in Ethiopia, and she longed to go even then.  Talk of Ethiopia continued, but by 2009, Michelle and Asaua had five kids.  It kind of seemed like a big move for such a big family.  In April, Michelle sent me a message that she was interested in going to Ethiopia with a group called Mocha Club.  She learned of Mocha Club through a link I had posted on Facebook, and because I love missions, Michelle wanted to know if I wanted to go with her.  Because of the timing, there was no way I could go, but she pressed on and within ten weeks, God had provided more than $5000 it cost for her to go to Ethiopia.  She went and fell in love.  She wanted to go back.  So in October of 2009, she and I planned to go to Ethiopia on another trip the day after Christmas, this time her husband Asaua would go, too.  Their money didn't come through in time, and at the end of the year, I traveled to Ethiopia with a group of strangers, sad that my New Zealand friends were not able to join me.  But through a series of God ordered events, Asaua traveled to Ethiopia alone in 2010.  He saw firsthand the need of the Ethiopian people.  He saw the hunger and the poverty.  And like his wife, he wanted to do something about it.

Michelle and Asaua have sold everything, including their home in New Zealand.  Right now they are somewhere between Malaysia and Ethiopia with their five children.  They will be arriving in Ethiopia on September 3 and will be working with an American organization called Blessing the Children.  They will be volunteering their time and energy to meet the needs of orphans in their community, Debre Zeyit.  I am still amazed that they are finally on this journey.  Each time I hear from Michelle, she has a new story of God's provision for her family.  I can't wait to see what happens next for them.

And this is how missions works.  It starts with one person.  One person reaching another person who is called to go and reach another person.  Churches invested in the ministry of Zane and Cindy Edwards, who invested in the lives of Michelle and Asaua Tiatia.  Other teachers and preachers and mentors came along and picked up where the Edwards left off.  And now Michelle and Asaua are equipped to go and invest in the lives of others.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of my friends.  There is so much more to their story.  So many more details of trials and hardship and mistakes and grace.  There is so much that can be said about God's ability to hold together families through the darkest of times.  But tonight, as I sit here at my kitchen table, I am thinking of my friends and their new adventure, and I am a tiny bit envious of all that they will see and do.  I am praying for their safety, for God's provision, for comfort during the difficult times, for an easy adjustment for their children.  I am praying that lives will be saved, both physically and spiritually, because of their sacrifice.  Michelle and Asaua, I love you guys and I am incredibly proud of you.  Kia kaha and Mā te Atua e manaaki.* 

*Yes, I know you guys are Samoan and those are Maori phrases, but apparently the internet knows more Maori than Samoan (Be strong and God bless).

If you would like to donate to the Tiatia family, they are about $700 short of their initial deposit for their internship fees.  A lot of people doing a little can really add up!  You can donate by clicking here and under One Time Gift, click on Other and write "Tiatia Family" in the box below.  Your donation is tax deductible.  


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zesty Morsels and Succulent Veggies (a blog about words that will make you cringe)

You don't hate the word "moist". You like the attention of pretending you hate the word "moist". -  Alec Sulkin (a random guy that I don't know that someone else I don't know retweeted on Twitter)

Actually, Alec, you are wrong.  I really don't like the word.  However, I will admit that it is low on the list of words I dislike.  My best recollection is that the list started in college.  Inspired by an ex-boyfriend's excessive use of the word "gig" (in reference to music), the list was started.  Soon after, the word "flick" was added to the list.  Over the years, the list has grown and has taken on a life of its own.  There are so many words that I can't bear to hear, read, or write.  I die a little inside when I come across them.  So, for your enjoyment, here is a short sample of my list, divided into neat little categories. 

1. Menu items.  Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity.  Moons over My Hammy.  Just can't do it.  Jake ordered the Pork Belly at a restaurant the other night.  It was delicious.  But it sounds horrible.  No Pork Belly for me, thanks.  

2. Celebrity Couple Renaming.  Bennifer, Brangelina, TomKat.  I cringed while typing those.  Ridiculous.  

3. Dumb Band Names. I admit that I have kind of refused to listen to Mumford and Sons and the Christian band Gungor because of of the names.  I know it's a little crazy, but when someone asks what I have been listening to lately, I don't want either of those names to have to come out of my mouth.  I just can't do it.

4. Words that pertain to grossness. Pus.  Pimple.  Festering.  Goiter.  Abscess.  Soggy.  Fungus.  Lump. Secretion.  Bunion.  Go ahead.  You can throw up now.

5. Words that just sound funny.  Panties. Goulash.  Seeing the word panties next to the word goulash.  Morsel.  Teats.  Dumpling/ dumplin'.  Smear.  Bosom.  Warble.  Sassafras.  Hubby.  Zesty.  Succulent.  Veggie.  Supple.  Patootie.  Creamy.  Scrumptious.

6. Words that aren't words. Irregardless. Boughten (the internet tells me that this is a word, but I refuse to believe it).  Supposively.  Supposibly. Could of.  Should of.  Would of.  Try have, friends.  Could have.  Anywho.

7. Words that make me want to punch you in the throat if you use them. Chillax. Badonkadonk. Peeps. Tweeps.  Don't go there.  Sammies (for sandwiches). Yummo (we can thank Rachael Ray for this one).  Besties.  Preggers, preggo, etc. (Almost all of these words could actually be combined with the previous list, but I did want to make the distinction)

Jake and I have taken to using ugly words on purpose.  It's a game we play... see who can come up with the most annoying nickname for the other one.  Husby is my go-to name for him.  Wifey-pants seems to be his favorite for me.  And though they are horrible, they make us laugh.  When we leave each other, Jake's customary parting words are "Smooches", to which I reply "Huggles".  And then we both gag.  And laugh.

So there you have it.  These are a few of my least favorite things.  So feel free to offer up your own.  I would love to hear about it.  

And don't worry, I do have plenty of favorites, words I love... abysmal, appropriate, celebratory, centrifugal, shenanigan.   But I will save those for another day, a whole nother blog.  (Add that one to list #6)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Please Remember Me

My memory is failing. At the age of 34, I can be introduced to someone and fifteen seconds later my mind begins to scan the conversation to see if I can bring the name back up. Searching... searching... searching.  And the Apple rainbow wheel turns.  Elizabeth?  Amanda?  Katie?  Nope.  I have no idea. Where did I put my ipod?  When was that appointment?  How old am I (this was a real thought when typing the second sentence of this blog)?  Memorizing scripture has proven to be equally frustrating.  Two verses.  That's my goal for this week.  And honestly, right this second I can only tell you the reference for one of the verses and a few phrases of both.  And it's Thursday.  I started on Monday.  So, what has happened to my brain's ability to retain information?

This has not always been a problem.  When I was in kindergarten, I memorized Psalm 1.  Psalm 121 was first grade.  I also memorized Romans 6.  At my kindergarten graduation, my class and I stood in my navy blue uniform dress and white knee highs and recited a three stanza poem called "Mr. Nobody".  And the scripture, poems, and songs that I memorized when I was young have stuck with me (maybe a good reason for parents to monitor what their children listen to... but that's a whole other blog).  I can sing every word of New Zealand's national anthem, despite the fact that I probably haven't had to sing it since I was 13.  I can sing all of the presidents of the United States to the tune of "Ten Little Indians" (up to Reagan, anyway, who was President when I learned the song).  I can sing the fifty states.  I can quote all of the books of the Bible (you'd be hard pressed to find me an kid that was raised independent Baptist that can't).  I can recite Sonnet 60 by William Shakespeare, thanks to a group of mean upper classmen that laughed at me while I was having to recite it in front of the class in the 9th grade.  Social trauma like that can make things stick in your mind.  I can also sing all of the words to every theme song for four of the five American military branches because I overheard my sister's class practicing them when she was in fifth grade.  Yeah, I haven't always been so forgetful.

So what on earth is the problem?  Surely there is a scientific explanation for this.  But I think I have figured it out.  And here it is.  Last night, Jake and I were on our way back home from an evening spent at a church in Plano.  I was tired of listening to the music on my ipod and so I fired up my Slacker radio app.  And rather than setting it to my preferred "Indie chill" station, I opted for 90's country.  And in this, I found my answer. Hal Ketchum, Jo Dee Messina, Bryan White, Collin Raye, George Straight, Mark Chesnutt.  Songs I hadn't heard in over a decade.  And I knew every word.  I remembered every bridge, every vocal run, every repeated chorus, every tag.  No wonder I can't remember where I left my keys or what on earth I did with that Cheesecake Factory gift card I got in the mail.  There is a reason I keep forgetting to mail the last of the thank you cards from my wedding that took place over three months ago.    My brain is full of lyrics.  Beer drinking, Amarillo traveling, California/Carolina decision making, small town Saturday night loving, lying, cheating, cold dead beating, two timing double dealing, mean mistreating lyrics.  After the fourth or fifth song, I started to laugh at the ridiculousness of my brain's ability to hold onto such things.  They aren't even things I want to remember, but I do.  Jake seemed embarrassed impressed by my magical 90's country memory (any man of mine better be proud of me).  I can't remember anything I learned in Algebra, and I can't recall names of actors in movies I have seen a million times.  I am the world's worst Trivial Pursuit partner.  I can't name the three Cartwright sons from Bonanza.  I don't remember what year the Berlin Wall went up, and I don't remember anything about the Pythagorean theorem.  But I can sing you some Patty Loveless.  Word for word.     

So, as far as my memory loss goes, I'm Alright.  I feel lucky to have figured it all out.  And as far as the 90's country goes, I swear that am amazed that even still, decades later,  I like it, I love it.  So to all of my friends (in low places), I am sorry that I often forget your birthdays and the names of your children.  Whenever you come around, and I can't recall just how I know you or what your name is, I'll think of something.  But just know that it matters to me.  

P.S.  What's cluttering your brain?


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