Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vacation Fake Out

Last year, I stood in Times Square with some of my best friends in the world. “The Color Purple” on Broadway, purses on Canal Street, and dinner in Little Italy filled our weekend. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile to gather together for our annual Girls’ Weekend.

We decided in college that people rarely get one really great friend in life; somehow we were lucky enough to have a handful come along. So, each year, we celebrate that friendship with a hand-picked vacation. All travelers decide on one vacation spot where we plan to travel the next year. This year, we had hoped to travel to Washington, D.C.

However, plans can change. Stephanie is eight months pregnant; Ellen is nursing; Sarah has two babies under the age of three. During Christmas, the women dropped from the trip one-by-one. We decided to postpone Girls’ Weekend next year.

When our vacation weekend rolled around, I found myself overwhelmingly disappointed. I should have been hopping on a plane to meet my friends under the Nation’s Capital. Instead, I sat and painted my toenails.

Everything can change in a moment. My cell phone buzzed with a text message from Ashley. “Noon tomorrow. Spa Sydell. Spend the night at the Westin. Girl, we are going on vacation!” The three of us who live around Atlanta would gather anyway.

My brain spun as I formulated our vacation weekend rules. #1: No one we meet can know we are from Atlanta. #2: We only eat at restaurants recommended by someone. #3: We must ride in a cab once we arrive. #4: We must resume all vacation spending behavior (magnets, postcards, celebratory shoes, etc).

So, Ashley, Cathy, and I walked into the spa last Saturday as visitors in our own hometown. After our delicious spa experience, we shopped in the boutiques on the block. “Excuse me,” I asked the girl behind the counter,” if you were on vacation with your girlfriends, where would you eat lunch?” She stopped, smiled, and directed us to her favorite restaurant just down the road. We sat and enjoyed homemade guacamole and did not count one calorie because they evaporate on vacation. During lunch, a dear couple from my church stopped by our table to say hello. They looked a bit confused when I told them I was on vacation; they were just in town for a Tech game.

The rest of our vacation filled up with movies in the room, fantastic restaurants, cab rides, pictures, dessert at the Sun Dial, hysterical laughter, free therapy from two ladies who are wise beyond their years, and endless conversation with lifelong friends. It was as grand as New York City.

How could one small decision to walk in my own town with a new purpose change my entire experience? Nothing felt the same.

My mother tells about how her life changed when she made a decision to become a follower of Jesus. She always tells that she walked outside and “saw the color green for the first time” that afternoon that she said a simple prayer. It was if God opened her eyes when she opened her heart.

Last weekend, I walked through my city as if I was a visitor. My only purpose was enjoying every second. This weekend, we will all walk through our own town just as we do every day. Maybe we can really see God’s design in it. If we are lucky, we might even see the color green.

I am worried about the daffodils

I am worried about the daffodils. Usually, like Wordsworth, my heart “dances with the daffodils” when I see them splash a hillside with color in spring. This time, the daffodils are a few months off on their timing. The unseasonably warm December confused them. They think spring has come, and some of them have decided to go ahead and show us what they are made of. So, in the middle of January, a few daffodils are peaking up and taking a glance around. They must be terribly disappointed.

After consulting with a few friends at lunch this week, I have learned that many pre-season bloomers will not flower again when their time comes. How can they complete another cycle in just a few months? Instead, my yard will be a bit barer when the weather warms.

The daffodils are not my only little friends in bloom. A few dear ladies are waiting for babies any day now. Last week, I joined two lifelong friends for Pad Thai and spring rolls. One of those friends is days away from having a baby girl. We celebrated her birthday a few days early in case the baby came on her special day. Between the Thai food and birthday cake, we listened to her tell about having this baby inside. “They told me we could go ahead and induce labor, but I am not in a hurry. It is so healthy for her lungs to keep growing, and I honestly will miss having her so close to me.” Instead of pacing the floor and wringing her hands, my friend waits with purpose.

How can we see waiting as a blessing?

So much of life is marked by waiting. High school seniors are waiting to hear what colleges have accepted them. Their younger friends are waiting to start driving. Their parents are waiting for them to grow up. We wait for pay raises, job changes, housing upgrades, and betters cars. We wait for true love, a moment of peace, and a glimpse of a better life. One satisfaction compels us to more waiting. College happens; we wait for a job. Careers happen; we wait on love. Marriage happens; we wait for babies. Children happen; we wait to retire. When can we stop waiting?

Psalm 37:7 reads, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Maybe my understanding of waiting needs to expand. Instead of clocking down the minutes until the waiting ends, I can shift my perspective to understand the waiting as an experience in itself. Be still. Wait patiently. My friend holds her pregnancy, her time of expecting, as the time her little one will be closest to her. Is our waiting the time in which we find ourselves closest to God?

In Thailand, they respond with “mai pehn rai,” meaning “nevermind, no problem, no worries.” Maybe our Thai food with the pregnant mom was symbolic. Instead of fretting over the waiting, she relaxed, enjoyed a meal, and laughed with her oldest friends. No problem. Nevermind. She showed no worries.

Well, “mai pehn rai” for the daffodils. Maybe they need to just wait a little longer, or I should learn to enjoy the rare pleasure of daffodils in January. If my friend has her baby before they go, I know what I can do. Baby Rylee will have a vase of daffodils in her nursery. It will remind all of us that life is worth the wait. Sometimes, we might even find our life in the midst of the waiting anyway.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The 30-Day Challenge: 2007

I absolutely love New Year’s Resolutions. We can stop and dream of grand or miniscule changes to help create the life just around the corner that we imagine. Resolutions bring direct effects; the future stands at our fingertips. All we need to do is reach out and touch it.

My resolutions in the past resembled great scenes from romantic comedies. Maybe they were just my own futile attempts to become Julia Roberts, Meg Roberts, or (most importantly) Audrey Hepburn, but these resolutions took great thought and consideration as I planned for the year.

In 1996, I vowed on New Year’s Eve to have breakfast at Tiffany’s. Now, I was not planning to eat pancakes at the jewelry counter. My resolution mimicked what still stands as my favorite movie of all time. Like Holly Golightly, I dreamed of strolling up to the picture window in New York City, bagel and coffee in hand, and then looking inside at the marvelous diamonds. That summer, my two oldest friends, Jennifer and Melanie, hopped on a plane with me. We hit New York with a fury, wearing oversized black sunglasses, just like Audrey Hepburn.

Grand Canyon trips and hot-air balloon rides checked off my list as the years passed. However, those resolutions gave me quick scenes in my life, but they end so quickly. This year, my friend, Carey, has inspired me to a new type of resolution. She created the 30-Day Challenge for herself as she launched into her 30th year of life. Carey (who I plan to have over for dinner next month since she will not be eating out) designed a series of challenges, each lasting 30 days, to take her through her year. The challenges are ideas that make life better if we changed them. They are concepts we are not doing in our lives currently, or they are things we would be better off without. Each task is big enough to bring great change if executed daily. Still, they are manageable since each will end in a month.

As I sit a day away from New Year’s Eve, my plans go further than my outfit for the evening. It is time to draft my list that holds my challenges for every day.

January: write a letter and mail it
February: no caffeine
March: create art
April: no eating out or fast food (does Starbuck’s count?)
May: do something I have never done before
June: no vain spending (hair, nails, make-up, smelling things, shoes, purses, etc)
July: work to make my dreams come true
August: connect with someone
September: walk in someone else’s shoes
October: eat organic
November: in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 6 a.m
December: be 10 minutes early to all commitments

The seasons of 2007 hold all sorts of surprises. However, we have the patterns and cycles that do not change because the Spirit directs them. The season of Lent grants focus and cleansing as we look at the sacrifice of Jesus. The season of Spring brings new life and hope. The season of Summer offers us rest and connection with memories and friends we need and love. The season of Advent brings hope as we prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

As our hands fill in our calendars and our day wash by us, may 2007 hold intentional change for you as well. Let us slow down our pace or pick up our Cross. Whatever you add or take away this year, I pray that it brings you closer to the God who knows you already.

Now, I must go and make my list for my letters. January is just around the corner.

The Christmas Truce

“This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now,” these simple words read in a letter from an anonymous British soldier, fighting in World War I. The battle happening on Belgium soil in 1914 found a quick break on Christmas Eve.

The British and German troops fought in the trenches of a war that brought the greatest devastation the world had ever known at that point in history. Because of progressing technology offering the battlefields machine guns and bomber planes, trenches and foxholes gave the only hope of sanctity. This “War to End All Wars” brought devastation and horror like no one had ever seen before.

As they lay in the trenches on that cold, December night, a German soldier remembered it was Christmas Eve. He decided to place a few candles around the trench as his best attempt to decorate for the Season. Other soldiers followed, and soon their lights were visible to the enemy across the Western Front. The fog cleared for a moment, so the stars were bright. Once the British saw the candles, they British followed their example. Soon after, someone began to sing.

“Stille Nacht” echoed through the trenches. The words of the Germans touched the hearts of the British soldiers. Even though they could not understand the lyrics, they recognized the melody. The British joined them by singing, “Silent Night.” Despite the different uniforms, flags, and language, they sang the same song of Christmas.

One German soldier decided to step out of his trench when he heard the enemy singing along. The British soldiers heard approaching footsteps, so they looked out of their foxholes. That German soldier, brave enough to cross enemy lines, stood holding a tiny, wiry Christmas tree. He grabbed a small tree, stomped by the soldiers, and brought it as a gift to his enemy.

His gift spurred a Christmas party.

“They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations. Some of our chaps went to over to their lines.” On that Christmas Eve, the enemies walked into No Man’s Land to celebrate together. The sparse rations were shared, and a festive Holiday meal was created that night. The Christmas carols they had sung in their living rooms and churches now tied the men together as they sung on the battlefield.

“I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics.” As the soldiers emptied their packs and pockets, a gift exchange quickly ensued. No one shopped or even made a list; they only offered to each other what they had. The generosity of one replaced the sacrifice of another. All the glad tidings emerged that night in the hearts of the soldiers. Food, gifts, song, and celebration took precedent that clear night.

“A few of us that were lucky could go to Holy Communion early this morning. It was celebrated in a ruined farm about 500 yards behind us.”
They even worshipped together. Holy Communion, the most intimate of sacraments, linked the enemies together. They offered the Bread and the Wine, the Body and the Blood of Jesus, to one another.

“Silent Night, Holy Night; All is calm, all is bright.” That night on the Western Front, just like that night in Bethlehem two millenniums ago, brought peace in the midst of chaos. This year, may you find the same peace.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Waiting and Trees

Christmas at the Ingle house meant the children would need to wait. My dad hurried to finish year-end business responsibilities, and my mother, on the other hand, directed many Christmas festivities at her school, our church, and with the extended family.

My big brother, Chris, felt the same angst that I did. We wanted Christmas. By mid-December, we usually saw no hint of decorations. Our parents’ scheduled filled with responsibilities, and they had a plan for Christmas. It always happened for us. However, if Chris and I could not see the tree in the living room, then we doubted if Santa would come that year.

Chris decided one year that we would handle the problem. Christmas was less than a week away, and no one saw any glimpse of a tree. We walked outside to play, but he had instructed me of our mission. With a quick knock on the door and a “Can you play?”, we went and collected the kids on the block. The children filed out and formed the ranks behind our 11-year-old commander, my big brother.

Armed with a hatchet and a camouflage cap, Chris gave us his orders. We would march through the woods behind the house, find the most beautiful tree in the forest, chop it down, and then drag it back. When my parents came outside, they would see the tree on the back porch, and then we could have Christmas.

Angie, Midge, Emily, Chip, Dana, David, and Daniel joined Chris and me (along with our basset hound, Buck the Wonder Dog) as we trudged through the woods. The perfect tree emerged during our hike, and Chris cleared the way and began chopping. The little hatchet went to work, and the Giant Cedar fell to the ground. The children stepped around the tree, reached in, and everyone began to pull. Since I was only seven, I found myself barely holding on to the top of the tree. In fact, I had to run with Buck to keep up with everyone.

When we finally reached the house, we screamed for Mom. Dad grabbed his chainsaw and cut the top out of our 25-foot tree. That year, the top of our home cut tree sat in the living room. Our parents were so proud. Most importantly, our family was prepared and ready for the Christmas season.

As the Advent season begins, we remember the birth of Jesus. This season offers us a period to wait and pray for everyone to be reconciled with God and with each other. Advent allows us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Our waiting is greater than patience until our gifts come; instead, we are waiting for peace on earth through a greater connection.

Throughout Scriptures, we see people waiting and preparing. The prophets waited for the Messiah and prepared the way for Jesus by telling the truth that burned in their hearts. After Jesus died, His followers waited for His return. The disciples waited a few days between Jesus’ ascension and the time in which God sent His Spirit.

Preparing involves action beyond just waiting. When we prepare, we engage ourselves in the days prior to our expected event. Instead of tapping our toes for a Christmas tree, Chris spurred us to walk outside and find the tree. The time came to start chopping!

This Advent season, the time has come to get moving. As we wait for the sacred day of Christmas, may we prepare for it by opening our hearts to God and to each other. In the midst of our crazy season, the Messiah is alive in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Do you all have any great ideas about celebrating Advent in your community? I would love to hear!

Friday, November 24, 2006

I Feel Like Eve

I feel like Eve. The apple looks so good; I might do just about anything to have one. God placed the fruit in the Garden of Eden and told Eve to keep her hands off. My temptation is a little different. The apple of my eye is a 13-inch, white MacBook laptop.

Last week, a cute guy working on his Mac while sipping coffee in Starbucks told me countless reasons why the Mac is a vital necessity in my life. Writing would be so much more convenient on the Mac, and it would catapult my creativity. My i-pod would be compatible for music, and I could take the cute little computer with me anywhere. I must have one.

So, I have devised a plan. If everyone gave me an apple gift card for Christmas (this is a hint; all of you should be reading this article), it would bite a chunk out of the cost of my Mac. I could save each month and shoot to write these articles on my new MacBook somewhere around February. Wanting takes planning.

My three-year-old niece knows how it feels to really want something as well. As we sat on Thanksgiving morning and watched the Macy’s Day Parade, Sarah Grace shouted, “I want that!” after each commercial. The Disney Princesses Ocean Salon; “I want that!” A Barbie ballerina DVD; “I want that!” Dora the Explorer Talking Cash Register; “I want that!” When we heard, “I want . . . oh, never mind,” we knew that the Charmin commercial had thrown Sarah Grace off her consumptive track of desire.

A friend discovered a clever ploy to trick himself out of overspending. Personalizing his credit card cut his spending by 30 percent. Instead of printing a picture of his family or his pet on the face of the credit card, he decided to let Clark Howard’s mug shot glare back at him each time he took the card out to make a purchase. The twinge of guilt after asking “what would Clark Howard buy?” stopped his shopping before he could even reach the counter. It seems that we will try anything to cut the growing need to own more to gain satisfaction.

What drives our need to have more?

Many people keep quoting the verse from Psalm 37 that reads, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Does this really refer to any of our desires? We have manipulated this verse in such a way to support our temptation to have more. Whether we want a Mac, a Barbie dream house, a new job, or a boyfriend, none of these wishes are promised to us. Wanting does not guarantee receiving.

In 1 Chronicles, King David speaks out on behalf of his son, Solomon, as they prayed to consecrate the temple. King David told of all they willingly had given in order to build this temple for God. He prayed in 1 Chronicles 1:14-18, "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? . . . . And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.”

The “desire of their heart” was generosity. God meets our needs as our requests reflect the heart of Jesus. This Christmas, what is on your Christmas list? What can we generously give away?

The Chinese Buffet

The Chinese buffet is a marvel. Watching people approach the lanes of food leads me to wonder how they select their meal. Some people dress their plate based only on proximity. Everything on aisle one goes on the first plate. Everything on aisle two will sit on the second. Others base their selections on color. One friend of mine picks according to style; fried foods (crab rangoon, won tons, fried rice, and chicken legs) sit together. At the end of the meal, most people have eaten plate after plate of food.

We seem to have a culture of compulsive comsumers. Standing at the little restaurant on Ponce, I can watch thousands of Krispy Kreme donuts rolling down the conveyer belt, baptized under a waterfall of glaze. My brother and I watched ESPN’s coverage of the national hot dog eating contest, complete with competitors dunking hotdogs and buns in water to help them get more than one down a second. We see no limit to the amounts we consume. Value meals now include drinks with cups big enough to take a swim. No one notices how many times consumers return to the buffet line as long as they pick up a clean plate each time.

Our consumption is not limited only to food. I-pods hold literally tens of thousands of songs, each carefully downloaded by its owner. 800 channels now extend our surfing time with a remote, and it seems that we still find nothing on the television. New construction on houses shows homes with double or triples the square footage, even though families keep getting smaller. Unlimited credit limits and closets full of shoes offer us endless selections to complete all of our new outfits for next season. Campouts at Best Buy and E-bay promises show the PS 3 and the updated Tickle Me Elmo as our greatest need this holiday season.

Our day planners and blackberries reflect the same compulsive nature. The average child hops in the back of an SUV, changes from ballet slippers to soccer cleats, as mom orders dinner from Applebee’s curbside pickup on her cell phone. Some of us see church membership as an opportunity to serve and fellowship literally every night of the week. Appointments for a haircut and color, fill-in on our nails, pedicure, massage, and tan causes us to give countless hours to sit in a salon.

“We need a theology of enough.”

Those words of Melanie Hardison burned my heart as I read the most recent post on a friend’s blog. He referred to a conference in which she described the importance of the church practicing simplicity and sustainability. Instead, we give away our time and money to our never-ending need for more.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Practice Of A Life, describes her budding prayer life as she studied and practice the Daily Offices. This sacred prayer practice fashioned her day around prayer times, observed by Christians around the world for centuries. In fact, we can still go to the Monastery and celebrate the prayers with monks who live on a spiritual schedule.

This type of prayer causes us to stop during our day to focus on God. Then, our days are marked by connection instead of consistent chaos. Now, God is not another check mark of completed task in our day planner. Conversely, He the center of all that we do.

Thoreau believed the only way we could ever really live was separation from society as he discovered the reality of solitude. Can we, as followers of Christ in our culture, really “live as Christ” in the midst of the chaos?

Tales of An Almost Bowler

So many wonderful people in Rockdale County comment about this article, and they have gotten to know little bits about me through it. When I run into someone in the grocery store, at Starbucks, or in a restaurant, they are so kind about the article. Yet, I feel that I must make a confession. A small detail about me might change the way you feel. Dear readers: I am a bowler.

Many of you may be shocked, but it is true. In fact, I have seen most of you at the lanes (that includes you, Mr. Russell). My weekly habit started off as a funny alternative to a usual night out. Eventually, it has turned into a weekly occurrence. The lanes, the left wall that was once a mural of the Dinky, the balls, and the hip shoes keep pulling me back.

Do not assume that my bowling implies that I am skilled at the sport. Bowling, like most other sports, leaves me with a pitiful score. My goal of breaking 100 shines as my beacon of hope most games. Every week, nonetheless, my bowling partner always seems to do worse than I do.

Most would assume that finding such a pitiful bowling partner would make for an exciting time. The first time we bowled, I was thrilled to win at something requiring some sort of athletic skills. My big brother would be proud! As I continued to win, it became less exhilarating. I am convinced that he is losing on purpose. How can someone with athletic skills and a competitive nature be that terrible at bowling? Also, his horrible bowling skills are following a pattern. He consistently bowls just a few pins less than me on most of the frames. Then, he falls behind by a huge margin. He finishes out that last frame with at least a spare and a strike every game. In the end, I will win by less than five pins.

He keeps telling me that he really is terrible, but his words mean nothing. Having someone lose because they feel sorry for me and my poor skills or he just find it more of a challenge to see how small of a margin he can create between our scores mimics my game, even though it is an awful one. My whining for him to “play for real” just makes him laugh. “Just let me be bad at it!” he says.

In our ongoing debate about the ultimate bowling charade, it is clear that nothing will change my mind. Every time he tosses the ball, I find more evidence to support my theory. If he hits a strike, it proves that he really can bowl. His mistakes and bad throws show him faking it again.

Are we ever so convinced that we have God figured out that we drown Him out completely?

In the midst of our world today, so many of us are overwhelmed with the mass amount of suffering and tragedy we find. Natural disasters, personal losses, and continual disappointments further implement our hidden theory that God is not good. How can you be God really be good if we feel this alone?
Jesus told us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33).

My friends, take heart. If we let go of our hidden agendas and open our eyes to see God, then we can start to see the reality of His goodness. He is good; you can trust Him on it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It's Official!

A friend told me once that I am not "official" until someone gets offended.

Most of my posts on this blog are really my articles that run in the religion section of our local newspaper. Apparently, the one listed below got one reader hot under the collar.

A woman called me this morning with her number blocked to make sure I knew what a terrible person I was for writing the article on Starbucks. "I can't even believe you would write about Starbucks (I know it was just a little story and everything), but they DO NOT SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!!" She was furious.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Stop and Smell The Coffee

Starbucks is my third place. It is my home away from home away from work. Even though their marketing campaign offers no white ribbons to us third place winners, we find great comfort in their purple chairs, smiling faces, and dialing doses of caffeine.

Around this time of year, my order consists of Wild Sweet Orange teas, hazelnut lattes, or the house blend. As Christmas approaches, the calendar pulls me closer and closer to the Anniversary Blend and a gingerbread latte. Starbucks has been my safe haven while living in so many different places. Now, in Conyers, I go there to see friends, work quietly, or just sip a cup of great coffee.

If you find yourself at Starbucks on 138, make sure you say hello to my friend, Russell. He absolutely loves his job, and he is one of the few people I know who really loves to go to work. The updates of what happens at Starbucks over the course of a day are no less than inspiring. Sometimes I dream that all of my life was as tranquil as my moments in the coffee shop.

On Tuesday, Russell was working drive-through early in the morning. After arriving at Starbucks at 5 a.m., he proceeded to fill the orders of friends starting their day. One patron commented that he knew the woman in the car behind him, so he offered to pay for her coffee along with his own. His act of kindness inspired her to pay for the car behind her. Russell told me that this chain of generosity continued for over twenty more cars.

Each driver seemed touched by the decision of the stranger heading off to work one car ahead, and he or she felt compelled to mimic that same kindness. Starbucks, this week, pulled over twenty residents of Conyers out of their normal routines as they prepared for long commutes and an even longer day. That morning, the giving away became the norm.

When Russell shared his experience with me, I was moved. However, part of me could not help but ask how the chain was broken. Who finally decided not to return the favor? The last recipient still does not know that cup of coffee already was paid for by the car in front. She was on her cell phone and missed the chance to talk to Russell. He would have smiled, sincerely asked her how she was doing, and then he would have told her the story. His face would have illustrated just how special that morning had been for him. Instead, she continued to talk, paid the amount she knew by heart, grabbed her cup, and headed off to work. She failed to put that conversation in her pocket to conduct commerce with one of the best people I know.

How many blessings do we miss because we are too distracted by our day? Today, I walked into a high school filled with young lives on the brink of great change. This afternoon, I will grab a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop that invites me to join the circle of friends gathered around the tables.

Stop today and see all that is happening around you. Maybe one of you will even bless the stranger behind you with a simple act of kindness. Your story may never be told, but someone out there will not forget it. Thank you, Conyers, for making Russell’s day. Thank you, Russell, for telling your story. Let us join in on the generosity that changes people.