Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Mixtape: 5 selections of art that help us tell the Olympic stories

Each week, usually on Monday, I compile a metaphorical mixtape, a few "tracks" of art I can't wait to share with you.  It might help you to know that tracks are loosely related by theme and very much influenced by whim.

This week I'm behind schedule around here.  Between writing missive-style posts like this and watching Olympics coverage I sort of lost track of the days.  This week's theme is unquestionably all things Olympics.   And London.  Around this house you couldn't ask for a better combination.

This week I've curated for you a collection Olympics-related artwork.


updated with a bonus track

bonus track:  Abide With Me tribute from opening ceremonies (dance)



track 1:  Royal Mail Olympic Welcome Stamps (design)

I love the concept for these postage stamps.  Love the way they combine the beauty of both the games and London's landmarks.  Click here to see all the stamps and watch this short clip describing the design process.

                                                  track 2: Flag Food via imgur (food)

Source: via Tamara on Pinterest

You must click through the link to see the larger, close-up shots of this food.  Ingenious!

track 3:  BBC London 2012 Olympics Trail (animated short)

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Another beautiful piece designed to combine the beauty of sport and the beauty of London into the same imagery.  Also, the animation adds to the warm fuzzy factor, don't you think?  Lovely!
from the BBC site:  "The campaign shows the landscape of the United Kingdom transformed into a giant sporting arena inside the Olympic Stadium.
The music is First Steps, written and performed by Elbow, alongside the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the NovaVox gospel choir. It will be available as a digital-only download from 27 July with all profits going to BBC Children in Need and Sport Relief."

track 4: 3 favorite Olympic-related blog links

  • Olympic Feasts -- One world. One Table. at The Schell Cafe:  Kristin Schell is the daughter of new and dear friends of ours here in Austin.  I love the Olympic-themed posts with thirteen different friends from thirteen different Olympic nations sharing feasts and stories each day of the Olympics.  You'll definitely want to subscribe
  • Learning from the Olympics at Think Christian:  Jeff Munroe shares the memories and morals he takes with him from the Olympic games.

track 5:  The Fighter by Gym Class Heroes, ft. Ryan Tedder (music/video)

My 15-year-old daughter can't stop singing this Gym Class Heroes tune.  And who doesn't love US men's gymnast John Orozco?  Honestly I could watch the clip of him on the rings as a little guy about 100 times.  

Maybe my favorite thing about the Olympics is all this story.  


Before I go, I should tell you that I love to hear what poems, pictures, songs and reasonable words you are enjoying.  Please do stop by the comment box and share a bit with me.  

Hoping that you find your common days aflame  with good books, 
pictures, poems, songs, words and ideas!

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dying the Many Little Deaths of Ordinary Service

For several years I've been writing reflections from the spiritual disciplines devotionals that I use during Ordinary Time (the time of the year that doesn't fall between Advent and Pentecost).  Some years I use the book Disciplines for the Inner Life by Bob Benson, Sr. and Michael W. Benson.  This year I'm using A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines by Richard Foster.  I am no speed-reader, especially when my intention is to not just hear but do the words I'm reading. This means my written reflections pop up rather sporadically here, but my hope is to share something from the series with you at least once a month.

The Sacred Practice of Serving God in Every Task

defintion of service:  "Loving, thoughtful, active promotion of the good of others and the causes of God in our world, through which we experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves."  -- A Year With God by Richard Foster
Since June I've been meditating the sacred practice of ordinary, everyday service.   The devotional breaks this practice into two categories: serving God in every task and serving others rather than being served.  

A confession before  you read further: I am a weakling when it comes to everyday service.  There's a whole set of psychological reasons -- some rather legitimate -- I could give as rationale.  At the end of the day, though, I don't like to do mundane, grubby work.  Plain and simple.  The purpose for this disclaimer is to say I've only just begun to learn what I'm about to share here, four practices of everyday service.

My son Alex meeting his cousin Cade for the first time.

1.  The Sacred Practice of Carrying

"The Gershonites by family and clan will serve by carrying heavy loads: the curtains of the Sanctuary and the Tent of Meeting; the covering of the Tent and the outer covering of dolphin skins; the screens for the entrance to the Tent; the cords; and all the equipment used in its ministries. The Gershonites have the job of doing the work connected with these things. All their work of lifting and carrying and moving is to be done under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. Assign them specifically what they are to carry. This is the work of the Gershonite clans at the Tent of Meeting. Ithamar son of Aaron the priest is to supervise their work."  (Numbers 4: 24-28, MSG)
The brilliance of our orderly God who thought of everything -- including forming entire Levitical clans solely for the work of carrying -- never ceases to amaze me.  While the work of everyday, ordinary service extends far wider than the work we do in corporate worship, reading about this specially anointed tribe of Levites reminded me of people I've worked with in ministry in the past.

In our former church building, the sanctuary and many other ministry spaces were built on as an extension to the end of a long, narrow  former elementary school building, forming an "L"-shaped structure.  At one end -- the top of the "L" -- was an attic one floor up and storage closets one floor down.  Any time we needed to use an item from storage we had to walk as far as humanly possible and still remain within the building, load up our arms with all that we could carry and trudge back to our ministry spaces on the other side of the building. Each special event required whole teams of people just to carry items from the attic and basement:  artwork, easels, supplies, candles, wreaths, boxes and boxes of fabric, furniture, props, benches, rugs, wood and metal. I was especially mindful of the sacred act of carrying watching a team of people work together each year lugging rugged crosses for our Good Friday exhibit.  I saw them as a beautiful reflection of the suffering servant. 

In our current church, we do not own a building. Every Sunday teams of people arrive early and stay late to carry toys for the children's rooms, signs to the parking lot, candles, bread and wine to the altar.  Every cross, every cable must be carried into the worship areas before service and then carried back out again every single week.

This act of carrying for no other purpose but to serve others forms us into a the image of Jesus, the Servant of all.

The beautiful truth is that we are surrounded by opportunities to practice this sacred act every day:
  • carrying baskets of dirty clothes to the laundry room and then back upstairs to bedrooms, folded
  • carrying a mug of coffee to a co-worker
  • carrying children on hips, over shoulders, in car seats or tucked in slings
  • carrying bag after bag of groceries from the store to the car, from the car to the kitchen, from the counters to the cupboards
  • carrying random bits and pieces scattered hither and yon throughout the house to their rightful place
  • carrying box after box from moving truck to a friend's new house -- such as the grueling work scores of our friends did for us three times in the past four years.  (in our last move, one friend asked hopefully "any chance your new home is one-story"?)

I also thought about the time, six years ago, we carried mud-logged boxes, furniture, carpets, books, toys out of flooded homes.  We carried entire sepia-soaked neighborhoods, dumped them on street curbs. We carried stories and prayers for each neighbor we served.

We carry spiritual and emotional burdens for each other, yes.  It seems, though, that like the God-ordained calling for the ancient Levitic clan, the service of carrying required real sweat and muscle.  There's nothing else quite like it to form humble servant hearts.

Two practices I've been learning to help me die the little deaths of ordinary service:
  1. Be a Carrier:  Find stuff to carry for people (without them noticing is even better)
  2. Remember Your Calling:  See myself as set apart for God to carry burdens for others
We actively promote the good of others and the causes of God when we die little deaths in the service of carrying.

2.  The Sacred Practice of Making Meals

I was brought up in a culture steeped in a timeworn practice to care for families of new babies, extend comfort to the sick, welcome new neighbors -- the liturgy of taking them a meal.

In the past few years, I've gotten a bit sloppy in this act of service. I was re-membered into the liturgy; reminded by this very study that it had been too long.  In a flurry of nostalgia, I set about the work of making two meals -- one for a friend ready to give birth and one ready to move.

What started out in the morning as bright and noble intentions became a big, ol' reality check on my list of frustrations with myself.  My cooking skills, organizational skills, even driving skills were tested so that any amount of warm fuzzes I'd hoped for at the beginning of the day fizzled into plain old humble service by the end of the day.  Humility is a healthy side effect of ordinary service.

Two practices I've been learning to help me die the little deaths of ordinary service:
  1. Join a care team: Most organizations, churches, schools and workplaces promote community care through the efforts of some sort of care team, welcome wagon, community outreach committee.  Volunteering in even a small way will keep your meal-making muscles healthy.
  2. Visit Take Them A Meal blog: I love the mission and tips on this blog. (If you have other resources you find helpful, please share them in a comment!)
We actively promote the good of others and the causes of God when we die little deaths in the service of making meals.

3.  The Sacred Practice of Our Work

"You have your work. It will be more meaningful for you, whatever it may be, if you took all the opportunities it affords to serve and give joy to others; if you reverence the things you work with and are conscious that your working with them gives them an opportunity to express themselves at a higher level through your activity and love; if you share some of the fruit of your labor with those less fortunate, if you do all for the love and glory of the heavenly Father, knowing then that your work is part of the transformation of the whole creation, including especially yourself."  (From A Place Apart: Monastic Prayer and Practice for Everyone by M. Basil Pennington)
In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul reminds slaves to obey their earthly masters as a way to please them, yes, but most importantly as a wholehearted effort to please their Master, Christ.  In his translation of the New Testament passage, Eugene Peterson speaks plainly: 
"The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work."
If we're to take seriously Pennington's flowery exhortation we'll remember that our work is "meaningful" and "affords to serve and give joy to others."  Depending on where you spend your working hours, this may be easier to recognize for some more than others.  A new friend of mine told me recently, over coffee and with a sparkle in her eyes, "I love my job."  She told me about one of her first weeks at work, being the only hospital staff available to greet a pregnant woman in the parking lot for her emergency delivery.  Because she did her job well a woman and her baby stayed alive.  But what if your job is cleaning warehouse bathrooms during the middle of the night?  How meaningful is that?  

Somehow in God's service economy -- God's good gift of work -- He receives pleasure from our vocational skills.  Paul reminds us that our Master, Christ, will see our work and reward us well.  

This topic of work could fill up hundreds of posts.  As every other good gift from our Creator,   we've treated this ability to do meaningful work haphazardly far too often in both recent and ancient times.  Certainly, discovering our own special strengths and pursuing work that makes the best use of our passions is an ideal most of us pursue.  In that pursuit, it'd be good to remember Paul's words to the Colossians are targeted toward a demographic of workers who had no say at all in their work, slaves.  

For now, for me, I need to embrace God's gift of work.  When I energetically, cheerfully join His great service economy I become part of His work to transform the whole creation, including my own self.

Two practices I've been learning to help me die the little deaths of ordinary service:
  1. Do what no one else wants to do: Every workplace has its own "dirty work" no one wants to do (cleaning the dirty coffee mugs in the office kitchen comes to mind).  Make an effort to do that work, unnoticed, on a regular basis.
  2. Get good at what you do: Look for ways to re-energize your normal work rhythms.  Where can you improve your skills and enthusiasm?
We actively promote the good of others and the causes of God when we die little deaths in the service of our work.

4.  The Sacred Practice of Making Home

             "This virtuous wife [in Proverbs 31] is a woman who lives in response to the grace of God..." (from A Year With God by Richard Foster)
I have spent more time as a wife and mother protecting myself from being used up by the needs in my home than as a woman who lives in response to the grace of God.  To be kind to myself, I started out young and unprepared for all the work four kids in my first six of years of marriage would require.  Sometimes I responded to this reality out of fear, acting like a control freak against mess and chaos.  Other times I responded with selfish preoccupation as if my family were out to take advantage of me and I needed to keep myself at a distance from their needs.

I am sad about all the days I've not served my family well.  I am glad for the grace of God that is never used up, never kept out of reach, never given with strings attached.  I'm grateful for this bonus year I've been given to spend intense amounts of time trying to make a comfortable, happy home for my family.  

I also developed a secret strategy that I hope will pay off when my kids leave home.  I made sure to take advantage of memorable moments, building memorable traditions of serving my family with meals, gifts and homey touches.  (see an example of this sort of tradition: Pumpkin Chip Cookies on the First Day of School)

In the meantime, I'm trusting the God who makes all things new to give me decades more opportunities to serve my family and my home as a grateful response to the generous grace of God. 

Two practices I've been learning to help me die the little deaths of ordinary service:
  1. Give up martyrdom: Refrain from complaining -- outwardly or inwardly -- about serving my family.  Instead practice gratitude for all the goodness each need represents.
  2. Learn how to do daily tasks with more awareness.  For example, find out the best secrets for getting a sink shiny clean and take pleasure in the finished product.  Pay attention to the sensory details of mundane tasks (the warm suds of dishwater, the lemony smell of cleaner, the churring sound of a working washing machine).
We actively promote the good of others and the causes of God when we die little deaths in the service of making home.

unable to find proper credit for this artwork
Source: via Tamara on Pinterest

Share your story.  What practices do you use to die the little deaths of ordinary service?  What practices do you need to develop to promote the good of others and the cause of God through ordinary acts of service?

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Friday, July 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Sister Reunion! Alex the Backpack Model! Olympics pep rally and more!

--- 1 ---
I can't figure out how I forgot to mention that my youngest sister and her family visited us in June.  It's been so long since I've seen her she's had THREE children!  Talk about time for a reunion.  She and her family drove from Kansas to San Antonio's Sea World and we're so glad they  made a way to stop in Austin on their way back home.

Y'all know how hard it is to get lots of people -- especially little people -- to sit still for a photo, right?  Here they meet Alex before he has to go to work.  (also, for those who've been asking, this doubles as a photo of our new living room)

--- 2 ---
We took these five cutie-pies to one of Austin's favorite dessert spots, Amy's Ice Creams.  We're pretty excited that our new place is only a few blocks away from all 350 rotating flavors.  Luckily for us, we were served by the world's most entertaining ice cream scooper.  You might not be able to tell in this photo, but the server, in fact, flipped a scoop of ice cream through the air for Andrew to catch in an empty paper cup.  

Andrew catches his ice cream scoop mid-air at Amy's Ice Creams, Burnet in Austin

Between the server's show and the outdoor playground, Desiree's kids barely cared about the actual taste of the ice cream.  Hopefully they worked off most of the sugar rush in time to sleep their way home to Kansas.

playground at Amy's Ice Creams on Burnet, Austin

Now we can add Amy's Ice Creams to our Austin, Nice to Meet You checklist.

--- 3 ---
A few Mondays back I shared how-to links to throw your own Lowcountry Seafood Boil but I forgot to show you proof that we enjoyed our very own feast not once, but TWICE, during our New York vacation.

Proof #1:  Todd and Young-Mee's meal for the Hill family vacation

Old Bay Seafood Boil for a family of 20!

Proof #2:  Our friend Scott treated us to a privately-catered affair at the cabin

--- 4 ---
More vacation left-over stories: In last week's 7 Quick Takes I told you about the winery tour Brian and I took at Seneca Lake, but forgot to show you our photos from the Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast in Trumansburg where we spent the night.

Our hostess Laurie set this gorgeous table just for Brian and me!

Every time we make plans to stay in a B & B I get nervous about staying in someplace unknown.  Every time I come away thinking, "why don't we do this more often?!?".  The quiet of staying in a home where someone else has done all the work of thinking about our comfort and rest always refreshes me.  The Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast in Trumansburg was one of our best experiences yet.  The owner, Laurie, took care of every need without intruding our need for privacy.  Then, when we were ready to chat, she joined us in a hearty conversation about beauty, society, and heaven.  Thank you, Laurie!

--- 5 ---
And who knew we'd find so much to do in Trumansburg, of all places?!?  We hit a dive bar for New York-style pizza and wings (sorry, Austin, but you just haven't impressed us in that category yet).  And then to the long-loved folkbar/dancehall The Rongovian Embassy for a live show.

We walked in, saw this, and knew we'd ended up in the right place.

The Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg, NY

--- 6 ---
We just heard about a start-up backpack company OAK (Ordinary Acts of Kindness).  The concept is cool -- buy a backpack and the company donates a backpack to a student-in-need.  Also, each backpack comes with a pouch intended to store items you could share with someone you meet who might need a bottle of water, granola bar, a couple of dollars to give to a homeless person or tip a musician.  Great concept.

How did we find out about them, you ask?  Well, click through the photos on the site and you just might notice our son Alex and his girlfriend Bekah.  You just never know what a day will bring when you've got teenagers in the house.

OAK product line

--- 7 ---
My friend David -- arts pastor, doctoral candidate at Duke University, Olympics mega-fan, posted an epic video homage to the 2012 Summer Olympics.  I watched every. single. one.  You should too.  

Consider it your 2012 Olympics Pep Rally.  Here's one to get you started:

Enjoy a beauty-filled weekend!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Will You Be My Tribe? (part 6 and final, for now)

This is the final post for this series, although I suspect I'll pull it out again as needed.  Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all you wonderful tribe people for taking the time and care to thoughtfully respond to the questions I've posted during the last six weeks.  Thank you for helping me journey into a new season as a writer; I'll carry your words with me from this day forward. I promise.  

To show that I'm not only a hearer of your words, but also a doer, I'm going to blog a parenting series.  This is only a baby step toward a book, I realize, but baby steps turn into bold leaps, yes?

Here's four questions in a row for you, today, then:

  • If you have kids in your home now, what's a question you wonder on an almost-daily basis?
  • If your kids are grown, what's a question you wish you'd thought to ask when your kids were at home?
  • If you don't have kids, what's a question you hear your friends with kids asking?
  • Anyone:  what's a question you wish the parents who live on your street were asking about their own daily parenting practices?


Joining this tribe is super simple!  All  I'm asking is that when you see a blog post titled "Will You Be My Tribe" that you'll read it and answer in the comment box or via email one or more of the questions . No pinky promises, pledges or club dues required.

Today's tribe post is sponsored by one of the only sure-fire parenting tips I have to offer:


For those just tuning in, wondering what the word "tribe" has to do with anything: 

Checking off my "Learn to Be A Blogger and Writer" checklist, one of the first recommended books I read was Seth Godin's Tribe: We Need You to Lead Us.  You couldn't accuse the book of overflowing with practical nuts and bolts for people like me, but Godin deserves all the accolades he's got for being inspirational.
   "Human beings can't help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can't resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new."                                                          -- Seth Godin, Tribe: We Need You to Lead Us
So that's my ask:  Will you be my tribe?  I promise I won't hold you to it for life, but maybe for the next few months you could join me in this conversation.  To get some clarity for my own nagging dreams, yes, but we might just discover that the combined sheer genius of our discussion will surprise us.  We might just discover together the thrill of the new.

*Thank you to the passionate Grant and Deb of GrantandDeb Photographers for the sweet picture of Brian and me I used for this post.*

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