Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Everyday Heroes

With my church job, I have a golden opportunity to do lots of volunteer work. There are SO many places and people that need help. The other day Julie asked me for a list of suggested service projects (she is beginning to work with a volunteer group in NYC called One Brick). In about five minutes I had listed at least 15 suggestions, right off the top of my head. As overwhelmed as we sometimes feel about the world’s pain, lending a hand does assuage some of those helpless, hopeless emotions.

Last night, a group of us served dinner at a downtown church, mostly for folks affected by HIV/AIDS. It was a whirlwind of heating up food, dishing it out, cutting and serving cakes, clearing tables, etc. At the end, we all felt good about our evening’s activity. We were rewarded with many thank you’s, both from the guests and from the staff of “Feast Incarnate.”

On Rosebud Mission Trip-where is my young friend now?

It got me thinking. We did our little bit, then we went home to our comfortable houses. I am personally guilty of compartmentalizing these experiences, on to the next project with very little further thought about those I have just served—until the time, weeks, months or even years later—when I return. The variety of opportunities keeps things fresh and interesting, so I am ever on the hunt for new ones.

But what of the incredible people for whom these places are an ongoing ministry? The ones who prep everything before we occasional volunteers arrive? The ones who will still be there long after we are gone? I am in awe of these everyday heroes, many unpaid, who don’t collect a ton of service projects, but stick to one that matters deeply to them. They do the unexciting, day after day stuff that keeps doors open and hope alive. Last night I took special note of some regulars at the church. Michael, who lives quite a distance away but is there every single week to keep things running smoothly. Isaiah the dishwasher, who works miracles in that tiny kitchen (he can polish off dishes from 130 diners in a matter of minutes), while engaging everyone with his great sense of humor.

Then there is Violet Little, the wonderful pastor of Welcome Church, the homeless ministry of the Lutheran church in Philadelphia. Violet not only leads outdoor worship, she leads weekly Bible studies, organizes meals and even sets up safe winter housing for women in need. This is Violet’s calling, unglamorous work but such a blessing, every day of the year.

I pray that I may learn to focus, not on the quantity of ministries I support, but on the quality of my involvement—wholeheartedly serving fewer, but on a more regular basis. May I remember that what people hunger for most is relationships, and relationships take time to develop. 

And so today I lift up the everyday heroes in our midst, the ones who show up, and stick around. God bless them, every one. 

Welcome Church Hands

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Writer's High

My favorite 5K runner!

Though I love the idea of running, in actuality I hate it. The panting, the sweating, the aching legs: are we having fun yet? When I was in school, running (remember “jogging”?) was not yet a thing, so we rarely engaged in that form of exercise. But when we did! My gym teacher in 8th grade did not suffer non-athletes gladly, and I was a particular target of her exasperation. One day she decided the class was going to run a mile. Not only did I not finish, but I threw up at probably the half-mile mark. After that, running was associated in my mind with extreme nausea; even watching other people run made me sick to my stomach.

Then, about six years ago, I decided to get in shape and (of course) wanted to find the quickest possible exercise. Can’t get much faster than running, right? Over the course of a year or so, I worked up to running a mile and a half. There came one magical morning when I ran—and then kept running, two miles and beyond, without effort. I felt euphoric!! I had broken through to the adrenaline rush known as “runner’s high.” Now mind you, that never happened again, but I have never forgotten that amazing feeling. I understood at last why people love to run—and why they are able to run long distances.

On October 31st, I announced my crazy plan to write a blog post (a 500 word essay) every day in November. Once announced, I figured, I’d be too embarrassed to quit. And so, on November 1st, I wrote about my favorite coffee cup. Those first posts took quite a while to compose, and I didn’t hesitate to ask writer friends and family for subject ideas. Many of the ideas I thought of on my own seemed strangely familiar. A quick look back at my blogging history confirmed that I had, in fact, written about the same thing in May of 2012, for example. You may say, “Who cares? Who remembers?” But here’s the deal: I remember. I care. You runners wouldn’t say you had completed a marathon when in fact it was a 5K; honesty is my policy too!

And now, here we are, one post away from completing my blogging challenge. While I can’t say the writing month has flown, it hasn’t been bad. The essays have been written and published, and overall I’m pleased with them. I’ve proven to myself that I can write more, and more frequently, than I thought I could. And there have even been a few, magical moments when I got that adrenaline rush (my writer’s high) and felt I could keep writing forever. I know the memory of that feeling will sustain me on those “staring at the blank page” days to come.

The finish line is in sight. I invite you to stick with me one more day—and I thank you all so much for keeping me company this month.

Photo from my very first blog post (Nov. 28, 2011) 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Committing Planticide

I’ve written before about my Black Thumb of Doom where outdoor greenery is concerned, and that hasn’t improved a bit over the years. The last survivor of our house’s former owners’ once-gorgeous garden, a large peony bush, blooms less and less each spring, dying slowly and dramatically, like Mimi of opera fame. Once in a while some tulips or daffodils will spring up in the front yard. No memory of when we planted them, and the flowers look a bit dazed, as if wondering why they are there as well.

But indoors, I used to have a modicum of good luck. When we lived in an apartment in Mt. Airy, our large living room got lots of sun. There was a big window with a capacious window seat, perfect for potted plants. I recall jade trees and spathiphyllum growing beautifully there with minimal effort—ditto kitchen treasures like basil and parsley. We co-existed with our plants happily for four years, and dared to hope that we could succeed elsewhere.

Those hopes were dashed at every residence we have inhabited from then on. Oh yeah, sometimes it was lack of sunshine, but more often it was flat-out neglect that killed every plant we purchased, especially after the children started arriving. Who had time to baby an African violet when there was a real human baby screaming for attention? Not us! So gradually we stopped getting new foliage for the house, and while we missed the special look of real plants and flowers, we didn’t miss it enough.

Our new addition! Polly Pothos!

Several years ago, we decided to try again. We bought two pothos plants (known for tolerating low light and little water). Ever since, we have a routine: buy the pothos, watch them die over the course of a year, replace the pothos, start cycle over again. It reminds me of Bob and Sally, the children’s goldfish. It was always the same: the kids were enchanted with their shimmery pets, then the fish were overfed or something, and within days went belly up. To forestall the outpouring of grief, we would flush the dead fish and rush to the pet store while the little guys were at preschool. When they came home, presto! Bob and Sally were alive again!  We probably dropped a hundred bucks on this charade before we gave up. I don’t even want to add up the cost of our annual pothos binge. 

As I write this, I view the two sad bamboo plants that have stuck it out four years, since they were purchased for Sher and Ya-Jhu’s wedding reception. Bamboo is said to herald good fortune, and we have been blessed indeed, so we hold onto the browning, wilted stalks, just in case. I tip my hat to you, indoor gardeners; I guess we’ll never know your secret for success. We’ll have to just muddle along, doing our best. Miracles can happen, and maybe one will happen here. Come on, little plants! You can do it! Live, darn you! Live!!

Our sad bamboo!