Friday, January 23, 2015

Christmas Outreach

Decorations glowing from the stained glass windows.

The holidays are tucked away in another memory book now. We've gotten through the post-holiday "catch-up" plus some surprise life zingers. Now I have a few moments to reflect on our annual Christmas Outreach.

The church next door once again loaned their facility. It's an older building with a declining congregation but they are generous, sharing a kindred spirit for helping people.

Guests started lining up at 4:00 AM - as in, way too early! I told the first people in line that this was not Black Friday! They laughed. The line went around three sides of the building. The sanctuary was packed to capacity, with people even being seated in the choir loft.

People of all ages, races, health status and various other demographics came to get a little boost in their cupboards and a little gift under the tree for their children.

A sister church partnered with us, bringing the most incredible group of volunteers I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

They held a toy drive prior to the outreach. They brought talented musicians, prayer warriors, hard workers and servant's hearts. Their pastor was the guest speaker for the mini-church service and he connected so lovingly and easily with the people. I wish I could show some photos I got of many individuals who were so engaged with what he was saying. They're leaning forward, laughing, smiling, hanging on every word. I don't like to show people's faces on my blog. It seems an invasion of privacy. But oh, their faces were so beautiful.

The church was packed.

While they were being ministered to, another group of volunteers was in the fellowship hall bagging up toys according to the gender & age the parents had given at check-in. Food boxes had already been packed and were waiting to be distributed.

Some volunteers getting last minute instructions.

Busy elves going to & fro carefully choosing the best toy for each boy and girl.

Every year, someone will always question why we do it. Don't we know these folks are abusing the generosity of churches and community services? That they go from outreach to outreach collecting food & toys?

Have you ever wondered Who Does That? And why do they go to so much trouble? Because it's a lot of effort to get something free. Phone calls to see who is having an outreach this year. Registration. Transportation. Proof of identity. Standing in line. Waiting. Sitting through a service or meeting. Standing in line again. Waiting some more. Repeat at the next outreach. Who does that?

I'll tell you. Because I've talked to them.

Foster parents.
Legal guardians.

They do it because they believe in their children. They will do anything for them. Just like you and me.

What about the people who put hours into preparing to serve these needy people, these "takers." Why do they give away their time, money, food, toys? And so cheerfully!

Because God believed in them. Because God was willing to do anything to save them.

And now God is working through them.

Because God believes in those they are serving.

God believes in me.

God believes in you.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflections: 2014 From A to Z

Inspired by Bono, who summarized his adventurous year in an A-Z list, I thought it would be fun to do the same. It seemed like a good way to organize my thoughts and reflect on the past 12 months. I included some photos that didn't make the blog last year.

A is AJ, the most important man in my life. The one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world when I was a mere lass. 

A is also for Anniversary. We celebrated 40 years of marriage in 2014 plus 4 years of "going steady." How fitting that his initials should land him first on this list.

Sidewalk art.

B is for Breakfast. One of our favorite things is to go out for breakfast on our day off, then take in an early movie. It's a special time shared only with my best friend and love. Our routine got disrupted by job changes last summer but we still manage to go once in awhile.

A & B is also for my Afghan hound, Blu2. He'll be 10 this summer. He's a member of our family who had his own little health challenges last year but he's doing just fine now. He's also a very late bloomer - he finally "saddled out" at the age of 9!

Cell phone picture at the park.

C is for Christmas. This annual celebration is never the same for us. Some Christmases have been fantastic , some just ok, and others have been very somber. 2014's was made memorable by a special ministry outreach and time with friends. Family was afar off again this year, so thank God for technology that keeps us connected.

Speaking of Christmas, C is also for church. My church - home to my soul for 30 years - has undergone such drastic changes that I don't even recognize it anymore. It's been a source of great pain the last few years. Time to end an unhealthy relationship, I think, and begin a new one.

 Replica of the Gol Stave Church in Scandinavian Heritage Park, Minot, ND.
Original built in 1250 in Norway.

D is for Dolls, art-dolls to be specific. I love my art doll club, Tulsa Dolling Dames. They are the most generous group of artists I've ever been around. I've learned so much from them about making these colorful, funky, whimsical creations. Last year I only made 4 dolls, plus learned the beginning ropes of sculpting a ball-jointed doll. Since I joined this group, I've enjoyed gleaning from some of the finest and most interesting art doll teachers and 2014 was no exception.
"Treesa" a Cindee Moyer pattern. I made 3 of them for Christmas presents.

D is also for death. I know that seems weirdly dark for a year in review list. The good news is, we didn't have to experience the passing of a loved one this year. Losing both parents in a 2-year span, both around the holidays, was devastating. But, oddly, the passing of Robin Williams also hit me hard, for someone I don't even personally know. Partly because he was always on my list of "people you'd love to meet" and always my favorite comedian; and partly because my husband has very similar features, humor, and mannerisms. So losing Robin was maybe a little too close to home.

E is for  Empress. Many years ago, My hubby started an inside joke about me being an Empress. It slipped out amongst friends and became a thing for awhile. People even bought me little crowns which I displayed here & there.  But the Empress in me has grown rather bored with the title.  Maybe the events of 2014 were more humbling than I realized, haha. :)

I am just an earthen vessel, made for the service of the Father.
Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

F is for friends & family. How lucky I am to have such good friends.  Two of them live out of state - again thankful for technology! Two are here in town; they're like sisters. Good ol' Facebook has reconnected many high school friends and distant relatives. Family: I know, at the end of the day, it's family that counts most.  I'm proud of my family, humbled by their love and acceptance, and grateful to know they'll always have my back.

G is for Game of Thrones. ("G" for God just goes without saying) I'm a huge fan-girl of the books, the series, and even the soundtracks. Waiting impatiently for book 5 and the new season on HBO, which doesn't start til spring. Talk about an interactive effect - you have to literally go through "the long winter" to get to new seasons of the tv series!!

H is for Health. Health has been more appreciated than ever and did not come cheap last year. Some issues will still be addressed in the new year, but overall, I and some of my family members met the challenges head on. By the grace of God and the promises of His word, we are the victors!

H is also for Hobby. I should make that plural - hobbies, as in, too many of them. I began to feel overwhelmed by my hobbies and needed to cull some from my life. It was frustrating that I couldn't do them all, and even more frustrating that I couldn't do them well. It was time to cut some loose.

I is for Inspiration. There are certain people God has brought into my life who continue to amaze and inspire me year after year.

J is for Job. As mentioned elsewhere, we both left our jobs last year; hubby after 21 years and 17 for me. His new position was foretold to us 22 years ago, so it was not that big of a surprise but, still it brought some big adjustments for us. I got to experience job hunting in the 21st century and boy has it changed! Not for the better, I might add, but that's a whole other post.

Empty chairs at empty tables Where my friends will meet no more. ~Les Miserables
Their office chairs accumulated in the foyer as people left my former employer, one by one.
The cardboard boxes hold grand ideas that never materialized. Some of last year's sadness.

K is for Kiddos. My kiddos being my son & his wife. I love their spunk. '13 was a hard year for them but they survived and came out stronger for it. Last year saw their first experience in very sub-zero weather, far from family, and they passed with flying colors. That's a big deal for two people who don't like winter. Being a mom, they are always on the top of my prayer list and I'm believing for great things for them this year.

Sculpture on the capital grounds of Bismark, ND.

L is for Lens. I saved up, sold stuff, and bought my dream lens last year. While I'm still learning how to make the most of it, I am really enjoying this addition to my gear.

This web was hanging in mid-air between a fence & tree in our yard.

M is for Moon. 2014 was the year for the first two of the four so-called Blood Moons. Hubby & I enjoyed many a pleasant summer/fall evening chasing the moon trying to get a good picture. One of my forever favorite memories will be the night I  wanted to see the full moon rise over a big field a photographer friend had told me about.  He said it was a great place to get a picture.  We left work late with no time to get the camera but I wanted to see it anyway. Instead of complaining he was tired & hungry, hubby drove out there with me and we watched a magical moonrise while listening to Christmas music on the radio. Now THAT's a Christmas gift I'll always remember. (oops - that was 2013. No matter, it's still close to '14)

Early morning at the Arkansas River, when the moon was supposed to look red.
Missed the shot, but I love that inky blue of first light.

N is for New. I was blessed to get a new car last year and we had so much fun shopping for it. As we tend to do with so many ordinary things, we turned it into playtime.

N is also for North Dakota, Nebraska and the states between here and there. We went to see family and did some sight seeing along the way. I don't care what anyone says about "nothing but fields", I thought it was beautiful. What a gorgeous country we live in! That was one of my favorite road trips (see also [R]).

O is Oops. I let frustration pile up to the explosion point. Not a good thing. I exploded on the wrong person, my frustration and tart tongue getting the better of me. Oh well, it led to new beginnings!

O is also for Outreach. Much better than "Oops." In our new journey, "outreach" is a key word. Three times a week plus Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holiday outreaches last year were two of the best I've ever been privileged to be a part of. Thanksgiving with hundreds of lonely, hungry people and Christmas better than any church service!

People lined up early for Thanksgiving dinner.
At the Christmas outreach, the line started at 3:30 AM.

P is for Photography. Looking thru the lens of my Canon brings people, nature, and life into a much crisper focus and greater depth than seeing with my eyes alone. It's a hyper focus that totally relaxes me. Taking pictures at various outreaches and events, I see profound, beautiful and interesting things that I'm sure others are missing.

Q is for Quirks. I have more than one, depending on who you talk to. I will admit, one of my quirks is difficulty with re-entry. After vacation, after a great day out, after getting lost in a movie. I think real life is too harsh for people like me.

R is for Road Trips! We rediscovered the joy of road tripping by accident when we had to make an emergency trip back home for my mother-in-law's funeral. We had made this trek yearly to visit family but it was always with the attitude of "get there & get back." Very focused and rushed. Maybe because of the sadness of the occasion, we took our time on that particular trip, talking and talking.  Now we look forward every year, if not to a vacation destination, at least to a couple of day trips. Equipped with music, coffee, and camera, the open road before us has become one of life's simple and most joyous pleasures.

R is also for Rapture Watch. Many people were "looking up" last fall. Several books came out reasoning that signs in the sky (the 4 Blood Moons) combined with Israel's holy days were a Harbinger (another book) of the Lord's return. I'm ready any time He is, but honestly, those books & personal prophecies didn't bear witness with me. And we're still here!

S is for Sixty. Both of us reached that milestone last year. I still can't wrap my mind around that number, but as I declared on a Facebook post, "I have decided to embrace my sixtyness; grab that bull by the horns and ride the he{{ out of it! Dye my hair red at least another year and party down right to the last day of my life. Look out world - I'm full of brand new sass!!" 

Well, anyway, it sounded good that day.

T is for Tulsa. I discovered last year how much Tulsa has grown and improved, with more delightful things to come. We can be proud of the revitalized downtown, the arts district, the zoo, the library, the parks. However, should I one day find myself alone, I know I won't stay here.

U has to be for U2. It was Bono who inspired this list! Their free album release on iTunes was genius. The backlash was puzzling. I loved what Jimmy Kimmel said, "when you see presents under the Christmas tree, do you go "hey! I didn't ask for those! Take those away!" It just goes to show that people are crabby no matter what.

V is for Vacation! See [R]. I had a mini-vacation when I left my job. The first few weeks I felt a little disoriented, but then got the hang of it. It was very good for my soul and spirit. I took Blu for early morning walks, picked up a coffee on my way home, took time to read my Bible, went to the gym, did some overdue closet cleaning. By the time I had really settled into a comfortable routine, a job opportunity opened up and back to work I went.
V is also for Volunteers. I certainly have a new appreciation for them. Without people who joyfully give their time, we couldn't do what God has now called us to. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and I love every one of them.

This little girl was serving butter at Thanksgiving.

W is for What if? What if arrived for us last year. It's just beginning to unfold and the possibilities are endless.

W is also for Wonder. I hope I never lose "the wonder" of beauty, creativity, loving and being loved, simple things, thankfulness and most of all, salvation. The world situation looks bleak and scary, but there is still much to be in awe of. I also wonder what I'll be writing about a year from now?

Morning sun at a ladies retreat I attended in the spring.

X is for, what..marking the spot? Maybe X-files. I enjoy a good conspiracy theory, having only discovered them a couple years ago. It opened up a whole world I didn't know existed - there are thousands of people who actually believe the most outrageous, crazy things! But it was fascinating and some of it actually seemed to make sense. However, after a couple years of casually sifting thru that stuff on the internet, I concluded it needed to be put back in the X-files.

The first stage of my first attempt at learning to sculpt a ball-jointed doll.

Y is Yearn. I yearn for a year of no drama. Well, heck, let's be greedy. I yearn for many years of no drama! But that's not realistic, is it? Yearn is one of those words that when you say it a couple times, it doesn't even sound right and it looks strange in print, too. But I couldn't think of a relevant Y word. I didn't take up knitting, so yarn was out.  Didn't get a ride on a yacht. I did buy a yarmulke in Israel, but that was in '92. I closed my Yahoo account & switched to Gmail, so there is that. Ah ha! Got one - I bought Jane Fonda's DVD on Yoga for Seniors ("seniors" - eek!) And I got bored with it pretty quickly. Decided yoga is just not my cup of tea. I'm thinking about taking a belly dance class again.

Barn at the retreat I attended in the spring.

Z  is for Zoo. Funny that should come after my yearning for peace & quiet. Life is a zoo, isn't it?! But now I'm talking about the Tulsa Zoo.  I took a day to myself and went to the zoo with my camera & new lens. It's been over 15 years and I'd only ever been there with a flock of little kids on class field trips, usually in hot or rainy weather. The zoo has grown and gotten even better. I even treated myself to a round-trip train ride. It was such a perfect day!

That's a long-winded look back at my 2014. '15 is already underway, so....let's roll!