Christmas 2008 Wrap-Up

Typically, I get great joy out of wrapping a nice gift in some plain red paper and plaid ribbon...or some such configuration. I will attempt to wrap up a YEAR (hard to contain) in mere words (lowly containers, indeed).

So, if you'd like to stick around...here goes nothing.

Jerod and I have cruised swiftly through our FOURTH year of marriage! I can't believe that it's been four years already. We celebrated by taking a trip to Asheville/Biltmore, NC, at the beginning of December. (the first two pics)

I am slightly sad to say that we have only a few interesting milestones to share this year...(so if you were thinking of checking on the price of an 52" HD TV at Bestbuy.com, go ahead, I won't fault you).

We have been busy taking classes--his for teacher recertification, and mine for digital design. I have finished 21 of 33 hours (as of 12/10!) for my certificate. Lord willing, I'll be done at the end of this summer. No, I'm not sure exactly what I'd like to do with my meager photoshop and other adobe software skills...but I surely have had a BLAST learning this stuff and creating some meaningful projects. (click here for small design portfolio)

Jerod has been on his toes keeping up with his "kids" at school, and driving through Charlotte each day to go teach them. The work is draining and satisfying, as I'm sure all teachers out there can understand. He often gets feedback from current and old students about how much they love him as a teacher. I would have loved him as a teacher, too. He gets so darn excited about whatever it is he's teaching. His students this year have named him "The Math Daddy."

Good ole Winthrop University is my neck of the woods these days, as I continue to serve in the President's Office coordinating events and maintaining two historic homes. I love being at a place that serves as a home and a community as well as a place of employment. I think few people are so blessed as this. We're feeling the money crunch at Winthrop as a state-supported school. The state of SC keeps asking for money back...so at this point, we're nearly private. So, in that spirit, I encourage you to do all your Christmas shopping in the state of SC since it seems to be lack of money in the sales tax area that has been the biggest contributor to the shortfall. (Or fire Governor Sanford, whichever you can manage for me. :)

In March, I was again able to travel with the Men's Basketball Team from Winthrop to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. We were sent to Denver, CO, so I had a few days in the Rockies to explore, cheer on the team (we lost in the first round...), and see my cousin, Elasha. Elasha lives in the best little neighborhood near downtown Denver, and it was quite a treat all the way around.

June took us to Orlando, as I had convinced Jerod that we should use our economic stimulus check for its intended purpose. We had a blast at the Universal Parks, botanical gardens, and zoo. A great time for R & R after long school years for us both. My favorite was the Dr. Seuss land in Islands of Adventure. Everything looked candy coated and unreal. And of course I could ride "the Hulk" roller coaster all day without stopping (see pic below with my YIPPEE IT'S A ROLLER COASTER!! face). There is at least one post about that from June should you want to hit the archive and read all about it.

I don't know exactly what has happened to the last half of this year. One minute it was July, and the next, December. Classes and church functions and fun have been a blurry whirlwind, plopping us smack in the middle of the holidays. I still have my two faux pumpkins on the side porch with orange lights (not lit since October)...but the tree is up, and there is some sense of festive around the house.

Finally, I've been keeping busy with "The Birth: A Reflective Celebration of the Coming of Christ." A play that I'm singing in this Christmas...and also that I've done some of the graphic design for. There is a post from earlier this month with details about that. But for the sake of the wrap-up, between this play and the messages I hear at my dear Renovatus (church--click for website), I am reminded that the Jesus I believe in is very real. He very much came here to show us how to live. He very much wants to be part of our everyday lives. It is a truth that I face every day, as I navigate both "the mud and the muck" of this life, as well as the completely happy moments. Our community, our friends, our faith..it's the glue that hold us together.

Our hearts are grateful for another year to learn, to worship, to give, and to share with you. Merry Christmas, and may God bless you in the coming year.

The Joneses

Jerod's email: jeirdo@yahoo.com
Shelley's email: iamshelleyjones@hotmail.com
And, we're both on Facebook, too. Come "see" us!


Why so quiet, Shelley?

It's December. I seem not to have much to say. Or much time to say it. Not sure which. The holiday season has been a whirlwind already. I can't tell whether I'm coming or going. Whichever direction, my hands are always full. Decorating at my own home was limited this year to a tree, some festive items in the kitchen and a something here and there. Possibly because my job involves decorating two OTHER homes. By the time I dragged the eighteenth box out of whatever attic or garage, the Christmas spirit that motivates decorating was in a puddle on my floor. I mopped it up and got to the other tasks on my to do list...which included finishing up my class projects for school, preparing program and marketing materials for "The Birth" play that I'm in, and traveling.
We're all hustle bustle this time of year. Holiday parties, work, school, play...{Breathe.}

And the past few days we've had news of every shape, size, and color come a-knockin'. Jerod's dad in the hospital, his oldest brother took two trips to the hospital this week, and my dad was suddenly asked "to retire" with no notice. Our American cars in the driveway push toward extinction. We have a long list of folks we need to put on the social calendar, but our calendar keeps eating up days. My job is giving me furlough time (furlough sounds like a nice word until you realize it's the same as UNPAID vacation--hey! time to clean out closets!).

That's not my jolly list of complaints, however. I am prayerful for our family. I am thankful to have friends who want to spend time with us. I am gleeful that we have two cars that run and that gas is cheap. And a day off here or there won't be altogether bad. I will think of it as nearly two weeks to do things I've been putting off that really need doin'.

Most of all, I'm blessed out of my skin by the Lord. He knows the plans He has for me. He is still on His throne. He longs to relate to all of us, not just observe us (props to AM for that). He wants to carry us through these trying seasons of life. He came to show us how to live through the storms, not just to save us from them. He braved body odor, mean people, and siblings, bad cooking, foot washing, and any number of human unpleasantries to come to us...to be born on a bed of hay in a stinky barn. My wee worries are His opportunities to show me once again that He will take care of me. So, in the midst of my scurry, I breathe. I thank. I worship. I remember.


Turkey Time

My dad entitled this one. As usual...food on the brain! This will be a family blog.
We've just stuffed ourselves a little silly with turkey, gravy, cornbread dressing, fried okra, rutabagas (?), green bean casserole, sweet potato souffle, mashed potatoes, and rolls. Goodness gracious...a plentiful table full of goodness.
Now that we're all sitting around (mostly...mom is still finding things to clean...), I will ask everyone what they're thankful for.
1. Dad-"Family and for health...and I could go on and on and on."
2. Jerod-"Cake." (the Fresh Orange Italian Creme Cake that sis-in-law Suzette made!)
3. Harry-"You guys."
Here, Jerod adds in "Being so sexy...my drop dead attractiveness..."
4. Shelley-Fried okra from Golden's...and truly the fact that I love both of my families so much. I really enjoy being around all of them. I was given an amazing family by God and by marriage.
Jerod adds "Lost. I'm thankful for LOST."
Mom asks from the kitchen, "You reckon we're gonna eat again?" I answer in my head, "Are you kidding? There's more dressing the fridge with my name on it!?!"
5. Mom-"You kids. And for family" (as she washes another dish...how many did we use??)
6. Suzette-"For getting over jet lag. And for you (to Harry)." awwww. She might have added the last bit because he was squeezing (hugging?) her. Suzi just got back from Japan. She's still falling asleep at random times of the day.
In other breaking thanksgiving news, for the record, today I tried a rutabaga for the first time. May I add, also for the last time. A little earthy and rooty for me. There is a magical chemical reaction that happens between the crunchy fried onions on the green beans and the soft cornbready dressing. Magical. If you ever visit Newnan, GA, please head directly to the Main Street "Court Square" downtown and visit Golden's on the Square restaurant. A good meat-and-three place...I've been eating at some incarnation of this restaurant since I can remember. And their fried okra is to die for. It is unlike any version of this dish you can imagine. Crunchy, tasty, and addiction-causing. That's why it makes the short list of things to be thankful for. It's like candy to me.
The dogs are now all resting about the house, tired from begging for savory scraps (there were none to be had). My brother and I are staring at glowing screens and planning our next venture to the cake plate. Jerod is resting his aching back by lying on the floor. (probably thinking about how good looking he is) I agree with him. We should all be thankful. For Jerod's good looks, for good food, family, and roofs.
And Suzi's father offered this prayer today, from the archives of "Dear Abby."
Oh, Heavenly Father,
We thank thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service, That thy gifts to us be used for others. Amen.
Ahhhh. Thank you, Lord.


My Christmas Gift to You

I have a long love of the stage--any stage. Not because I am the greatest performer, but more because I love the excitement, the rush, the edge of it all. (Speaking of 'edge,' I do wish someone had video taped my fifth-grade baton routine to the song "Fame--I'm gonna live forever!" as my baton came down unfortunately on the edge of the stage and was only saved by teetering on a mic stand.) I am a pretty lame actress, and my baton career ended, ironically, after the "Fame" performance. But I like to sing, and that seems enough for stage opportunities from time to time.
For the second time, this year I am privileged to be part of an intimate little production entitled The Birth: A Reflective Celebration of the Coming of Christ. We're very official this time around, as the director/creator spent countless hours setting up a cool website. I also got to test my graphic design skills by creating the poster (pictured).
So, I'm not just here to toot my horn...but to marvel in the story that we are telling. We are crafting an experience for our audience to participate in the Birth of Christ...the most cosmic and earth-shattering event that has happened since He created the earth itself! We are telling His story...we are singing His songs...and moving to the rhythms of His grace. It's quiet and powerful. It's entrancing. And I am humbled to take the stage here...my feeble attempt to illuminate the most amazing gift ever given. It's my Christmas gift to you.
We will step inside this story as He stepped inside a suit of flesh, to let the cosmic mix with the common. I invite you to join in the story of the ages, see the creativity of my friends who wrote pieces and songs, and of my cast-mates who offer their talents (like this boy offering his little star to the great big sky >>).
Visit http://thebirth.net and join us as we tiptoe on this sacred stage together.


The Fort Rock Stars

I often brag about how awesome my small group is--i.e. church small group. We call ourselves the Fort Rock Stars as we hail from Fort Mill and Rock Hill, SC. There is always great hilarity mixed with great spirituality. We have loads of seemingly dominant personalities, but somehow we have formed a community, seeking to be disciples of Christ, family, and fun.
A recent example: in the middle of prayer time (after 10 straight minutes of laughing time), John Zimmer prayed, "And Lord please help Paul...who has it all." (say it out loud if you need to and realize how awesome it is to rhyme while trying to be serious)
As with any pack of friends, we have our own quotes and jokes...and Michelle is the keeper of those. She will draw pictures if necessary to convey the moment. Elisabeth is loud and proud and is quick to let us know what is crazy with this world. Julia will cut to the heart of the matter and ask you the question(s)--40 usually--that will move you closer to God or will move her closer to understanding the matter. Paul sits in the corner with his own personal fan and drops on us alternate funnies and nuggets of wisdom. Jerod provides our insane animal trivia and the questions about faith that I can't begin to dream up. Richard was frightfully quiet at first, but has since become the master of the one-liner at the appropriate time. Iris lives out loud with an amazing mix of insight, acumen, and a lovely dose of humility. Dear Emily has been through more in the past two years than almost anyone I know, and the Lord has truly blessed her with a meek spirit and inner strength. She's our caring Mommy and our brilliant Harvard lawyer. John keeps us focused on the real meaning of Scripture, making sure that we are reading it well...then he shows off his white boy dance moves and makes me cry because I'm laughing so hard. And back to Michelle...her enthusiasm about everything is infectious...like you want to run and join whatever it is she has going on. And it's my job to corral all of this...(it's like herding cats). We nudge our hearts closer to the Cross, we learn patience and practice, and we laugh...the deep belly laughs of acceptance and love.
And just so you know the depth of our oddness, read this invitation sent via email to our group regarding this Thursday night's activity:
Kind people,
So as it is the Thursday before Thanksgiving Day,
So as we all may partake in gastronomical investigation,
In spirit of fellowship and healthful consumption of elements shared by our forefathers,
I, IRIS EMILLE ROWE HARTNESS, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 20, 2008, as Small Group Thanksgiving.
It would behoove you all to prepare or purchase a side item or dessert of your liking and bring herewith to said joyous occasion at the good hour of seven o' clock in the evening. Please respond to this communication piece with affirmative reaction and declare your intention to attend and what accoutrement will accompany.
Please take heed, the following has been fortuitously determined:
Main course: Hartnesses (Rotisserie Chicken...Since Emily did such a nice job carving the first one...)
Side: Jones (Stuffing ala Shelbur)

Good day and God speed.

And so, I give thanks right here on my bloggy for this awesome assortment of souls with whom I share my Thursdays.


Doppleganger Effect

Doppelganger: A double, an identical replica of a person. The idea behind this is that everyone has a Doppelganger, an identical copy of themselves somewhere in the world. If the person is good, then the Doppelganger will be evil and vice versa. It is even said that if the two should meet, then they will both perish. Although there is no evidence that Doppelgangers exist, some people have actually reported claims of witnessing what they believe to be their Doppelganger. In all likelihood however, Doppelgangers are an aspect of myth only.

I can't believe I've never written about my doppelgangers in the world. On average of once a week, someone tells me I look "just like...(fill in the blank)." It's uncanny. Jerod just laughs now because it really happens so much. Apparently, I have "that face."

There have been some strange occurrences of this. On a high school trip, some of my guys friends came rushing up to me, excitedly relaying their sighting of my evil twin. I did catch a glimpse of her before we left town, and yes, she did look remarkably like me in the short moment I saw her. (Score one for Georgia)

Another time, I was standing in line at Blockbuster Video with my mom. I was visiting my hometown for a holiday. After several minutes, the lady behind me touched my arm to get my attention.

"You don't know me, do you?" She asked.

I racked my brain...had we gone to elementary school together? Her face rang no bells for me. I said, "I don't think so..." trying to leave the door open for 3rd grade homeroom possibilities.

"You look JUST LIKE my best friend from Alabama. I just moved here. I thought it was her, because you look exactly like her. But I knew you would have recognized me. You even sound like her...(me thinking..."Really? From Alabama? Really?"). She continued to talk to me, telling me how much I looked like her friend. (Score one for Alabama)

This lady was unsure if I was her best friend standing two feet away from me. Creepy?!

And Saturday, I was uptown with some friends when a man asked me: "Hey, I know you." (Hmmm...I don't think I know you. But I did work at a mega-church in this city, so there's a slim chance...) "You work at Urban Ministries." He looked at me expectantly, as though were I this person, I would give him a great big hug or at the least recognize him.

I had to respond that I did not work uptown at Urban Ministries, maybe he had me confused...at which point he told me "It must be your twin or something, because you look JUST LIKE HER." He proceeded to ask me if I was sure it wasn't "me." (Score one for North Carolina)

I do get told I remind them of so and so or look a lot like so and so...but I have been MISTAKEN for other people on more than one occasion. Like to the point I wonder if my mom had quadruplets and gave the other three up for adoption or something. (thinking she could only handle my brother and me--he WAS a handful!)

I would like to meet up with my twins sometime, though I hope the doppelganger effect doesn't hold. It would stink to perish just after having confirmed my multiple existences in the world.


Optimism and Things that pile up.

When it gets quiet on the bloggy front, I am usually knee-deep in real life. Who am I kidding...let's go with waist-deep!
I am a natural optimist. It's sad, really. Because it causes me to think grandly about what I might do or will do "someday." So today I am thinking of things that pile up. And why. Here's MY short list:

1. Mail at the kitchen table. Because I think that there are things in the pile that I will need shortly, like coupons and catalogs, and bills.

2. Shoes in the den. Because I toss them off at my earliest convenience upon entering the house (oy, my aching feet!), and don't see them for the better part of a week.

3. Emails in my inbox. Because I have a terrible case of "out of sight, out of mind..." and they're either waiting to be answered, or I still need to do something to tend to them...or in the case of my hotmail...it's easier to let 1500+ emails pile up than to deal with them.

4. Magazines. I will read them someday. And someday never comes.

5. Coupons. I can't ever seem to get myself and coupons in the store at the same time.

6. Things to file. I can get the items TO FILE in one PILE, but have more trouble getting the file pile filed.

7. Leftovers. Good intentions end up growing mold...then it's really fun to deal with them...

8. Clean laundry. I have no idea why I really like to fold, but not to put away.
9. Photos. Because I know that free time is right around the corner, and I will scrapbook like a maniac with it.

Things that are GOOD to PILE:

1. Money. Let me know if you find a money pile. I'm coming over. I'm bringing cookies to bribe you. (Or put you to sleep.)
2. Poker chips. Means you're winning. Winning is awesome. Can lead to above.
3. Clean laundry. Clean piles are better than dirty ones.
4. Books. Nothing says lovin' like a good pile of books. Memories and potential in one stack. Delightful.
Wall-E is the best piler ever. He knew what to keep and what to discard. He was efficient. He compacted and stacked the trash, and sorted the keepers.
Can I become more like him? I'm putting that idea in a stack of ideas to think about later.


Questions that keep me up at night

Along with a fun bout of sinus drainage (hmmm...that's what you came here to read about!)....there were questions that popped into my brain every time I awoke last night...which was often. For all the reasons people are citing about the greatness of Barack Obama, and the historical implications of it all (**cue dramatic music swell, as they did on my morning show**), I still have my doubts. These questions don't even get into the policy proposals or promises. These are just essential questions. I am interested to see how they are answered in the next few years.
  • Does the ability to INSPIRE equal the ability to LEAD?
  • How is a junior senator in any way qualified for the highest job in the land? No matter what his/her beliefs?
  • Is change for the sake of change always a good thing?
  • What, exactly, are his qualifications for righting the wayward economic ship? Americans overwhelmingly cited that as their number one criteria for their vote. When did he ever balance a budget or study economics? I hear him saying "Spend, spend, spend."
  • Has our nation jumped on the bandwagon of youth and charisma without regard for discipline, diligence, and experience?

I said that I was dispassionate about this race. Now that it is over, I am passionately watching outcomes. Not surprisingly, I see that this contest was more about smoke and mirrors, marketing, money, and the machine than about comparing apples to apples. We'll get what we voted for. Untested inexperience and wildly left ideals. I pray that he walks alongside advisors and recognizes his own weaknesses, as I would hope for any President. Most of all, I look forward to a fervency about my prayers for our Leader. We have no idea what we're really in for.


Oh delighful silence!

I will awaken in the morning to the delightful sound of silence. No more political ads peppering my favorite shows, interrupting my morning time...pundits will abound, but I can mute them too. I could sing a song right about now!! But that would even disturb my delightful silence.


King of the World

When I watch the news, especially in the last six months, I get the feeling all the journalists are Chicken Little, screaming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
My patience wears thin at the name-calling, back-biting, mud-slinging garbage...those who do not live in NC or the Charlotte-metro area might not be privy to the Kay Hagin/Elizabeth Dole ads. It's gettin' hot in herrrrre. I think there's an actual lawsuit involved. It's that bad.
I have been relatively dispassionate about this political season. Mostly because I do not believe that politicians hold the answers to my life or to the life of our country. I am not apathetic about the direction of our country...I will vote...I have beliefs about government's role in our lives, etc. However, I do not put my hope and trust in America, in its people, in its elected leaders.

Our sermon at church got fiery this morning. But not like you might think. Most people hear that and think that the preacher preached against sinners and talked about how they are all going to rot in the pit of hot, hot Hell. It's tragic that that's how we're perceived...we Christians. Jonathan got lathered up about what we can and should DO versus what we're not supposed to be doing. He ignited a passion in us to LOVE our enemies, rather than curse them ('cause that IS in the Bible, y'all.). He told us that SHOWING unbelievers a true love and compassion would lead them to the cross. And the cross leads to peace. We get sentimental about how "Jesus died on the cross for me." But we don't complete the sentence... "Jesus died on the cross for me...to love people, make disciples, go into the world and share the Good News, feed the poor, and be his vessel for peace and reconciliation."

Colossians 1:15-20 speaks of Jesus as our hope, our peace, our salvation...and the One who cares about the earth and its inhabitants:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Jesus' job, and thus OUR job as his disciples is to work for reconciliation, for peace. It's not to keep a set of rules...a list of things we DON'T do that somehow make us better than those who DO. It is to replicate the life of Jesus in our everyday lives...to look for opportunities to mend, and not to divide...to make disciples who's chief agenda is not to argue why they are right, but to extend the hand of mercy to the wrong and the wronged.

I shouldn't attempt a re-preach, as Jonathan delivered this message with a holy authority that I may never attain...(LISTEN once it is posted--it's long but worth it), but I feel so relieved that I can get passionate about what TO DO. It's the Kingdom of God here, living through us, that will bring hope and salvation. In this world of war and turmoil, I was reminded of one of my favorite hymns today:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
When darkness hides His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Obama and McCain did not come to save me or America. They are subject to the only King. In Him I trust.


The Gift that Skipped a Generation

I suffer from a very real syndrome. "Jack-of-all-trades, but master of none." I can do a little of everything, but am just not fantastic at any one thing. The one gift that I definitely DIDN'T get even a small dose of is cooking. It saddens me. I mean, I like to EAT. I can follow directions very well. I have a heritage of good cooks on both sides. What happened??
I have a particularly affected issue with the cooking. I can make something three times very well, and somewhere between my fourth to sixth time attempting a dish, something falls apart. After numerous quality quiches, I mucked the last two up, and my normally not picky at all husband wants no part of quiche now. I have a long history of tasty enchiladas, but the last batch tasted like they were seasoned with roadside weeds. There was an odd bitter taste. Then, there was the great broccoli cheese soup I ruined. The Tall One is very gracious and usually eats these tragic concoctions.

Much to my dismay, I get confident about a recipe and attempt to make it for "company." This attempt usually ends in culinary crashing and burning. My most notable crash and burn was making breakfast for 10 at a recent retreat. Easy things like biscuits and eggs went down the tubes. Breakfast is usually something I can whip up blindfolded!

Sometimes my own creativity gets the better of me. I think because I've watched a few minutes of a cooking show, I can throw in a dash of this or that to enhance the flavor. It's my particular sickness in general, trying to figure out ways to fix or enhance or change everything I see. I've been known to fix hand-written grocery store signs with my own Sharpie when I see a misspelling. Sadly, with my audience of mostly one Tall eater, I've about run through my recipe box with a virtual chainsaw. I presented another bland and uninteresting Chicken Marsala last night...thus ending my quest for homemade Chicken Marsala. I will retire it. Pretty soon, I think we will just be eating cereal for every meal.

Here are the recipes that I have effectively marked off:

1. Beef Stroganoff--there was an incident with my deciding that Dijon mustard would be a good addition. Wrong.

2. Chicken Marsala--can't get the chicken to brown before I add the saucy stuff...keep ending up with a mushy mess in the pan. And blandness.

3. Quiche--of all types. Not sure what happened here. Made about 10 successfully, with the exception of the one where I tried the fake, healthier eggs. Fake and healthy usually tastes bad.

4. Beef Enchiladas--didn't have my green chilies, tried to make a substitution. Very bad results.

5. Broccoli Cheese soup--over salted, over cheesed...icky gooey ickyness

Like most bachelors, I can make you some spaghetti! My roasts are fairly consistent too. Both of these dishes have avoided my cooking curse. Come on over. If you dare.


What I learn in class...Storytime with Shelley

The first eight years of my full-time working life I spent at a mega-church, working with prison outreach, sports/recreation, missions, and youth (mostly youth). It's amazing how out of touch you can get with real people working at a church. Not that our congregants were fake, but we were all sorta similar...mostly white, evangelical, middle-to-upper class, etc. I know that I was living in my calling, so I don't diminish where I was or what I was up to for those years.
Three years ago, though, I knew it was time to move on...first from the job itself on staff, but a few months later...from the church itself, as Jonathan and Amanda were starting a new church (Renovatus--and their new fancy website, BTW). Both decisions have been life-altering. (read like...the whole blog for some of that info.)
But today's Storytime with Shelley is about my friends at York Technical College. Night classes. Digital Design. Rock Hill.
Though I work at a mid-major university, and can take FREE classes here...the program I am interested in is computer/graphic design. Winthrop's program is geared toward art and a four-year degree, so I opted for the local tech school. The schedule and certificate program better fit my life.
I have so enjoyed the sheer diversity. At age 33, I am often on the younger side of my classmates. The older ones are there mostly because they need more training to be employable and times are tough. They have kids, sometimes grown children, full-time jobs, and major set-backs in life. Like Fred.
Fred's design work was mediocre at best...but he always had something to say with it. He fueled his passion for politics (he's a Libertarian) through his art. Even his bank logo was a soapbox. I loved Fred, with his ever-present Fedora and love for Fellini films. Fred's dad was never around, and his mom was...well, from what I can gather a paid "escort." Fred is on wife number 6 and has children all over the U.S. Fred has a soft heart and has lead a rough life. After a year in classes with him, I got to know him pretty well. Sometime over the summer, Fred disappeared. Rumor had it he up and moved to Virginia in the middle of the semester. I miss Fred.
My nature is to walk in, sit at the computer, and be absorbed in my own work. I have learned to stop, to help, to take advice, and to listen. I have been truly frustrated by my own lack of skills and knowledge, and have depended on classmates and teachers to get me past the point of wanting to throw a monitor across the room. We're all in it together...young and old, talented and not-so-much talented...trying to fuel our artistic sides and one day perhaps our wallets. It is fascinating to see how many different interpretations you get with the same assignment. I love my night class people. They have taught me so much about life and art.


Guest Blogging

I am a guest blogger...kinda like a guest star, just with less pay! I am involved in a Christmas production this year called "The Birth." We're in our third year, and this will be my second year to be involved.

Click here to read my guest blog. Apparently, not only am I a co-conspirator, I'm also inimitable! (that is, according to Nathan Rouse, the incomparable writer/director/performer)

Click here to buy your tickets...it's not too early! We'd love to pack it out with our Charlotte-area family and friends!! Make it a night out in Plaza-Midwood! Or make a trip from wherever you live.

It's not too early to start thinking about Christmas. Big box stores have had their junk out for weeks now. Fight back by supporting your local artists!

~The Inimitable Shelley Jones


What our country needs most...accountability

Oy vey. I'm up to my ears in political rhetoric these days. Not only the Presidential hotbed, but being in a "border-town," I'm getting all the North Carolina ads every 30 seconds. I live in South Carolina. I don't care about "Wasteful Walter Dalton" or crazy Kay Hagin. I'm tempted to DVR EVERYTHING I MIGHT WANT TO WATCH over the next three weeks and zoom through the mud slinging commercials.
So, a political post? Yeah. I feel the need. I got fired up watching the debate the other night. I have no desire to discuss the merits of either candidate...as I really don't think either one really has a total package. I have chosen my candidate, and we'll leave well enough alone. What fired me up was the discussion on education. I'm not an educator, but I am surrounded by them...my own husband and family members, and then I do work at a university that is the foremost teaching training school in South Carolina...
I hear the candidates talk about competition and vouchers, and I think they're missing the boat altogether. What our schools need is a huge dose of ACCOUNTABILITY...not only for teachers, but also for STUDENTS and PARENTS and ADMINISTRATORS.
We wonder why our students don't measure up to the rest of the world? We have baseline expectations for them, that's why. Just pass 'em through. No Child Left Behind grades schools on a variety of factors, one of them being attendance. Low-performing schools will do anything they can to receive a "good grade" on any part of this scorecard. So, often times, children who should be suspended for consistently deplorable behavior get to come to school and continue to disrupt classrooms so they are counted in the attendance. Students who sit in class and do NO WORK are passed if they "show improvement," because we need to move the students along...why? To increase the grade on the scorecard. And the teachers who fight with said students all year to get them to behave or to write something besides their names on an assignment are to blame? (can you hear me screaming now?)
I have lived through these scenarios. Parents today are quick to believe their children over teachers. People, teachers do not get paid enough to have time to hold a personal grudge against a child. They really aren't singling the kid out. They really don't have time to concoct bad behaviors and frame your child for classroom "crimes." Our society of "me and mine" has infected our classrooms. Richy rich parents want a completely customized educational experience, in which their children are appropriately challenged, but not so much that the child cannot make an "A" without studying. Parents on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum are just trying to get by, and often don't have the time or money to assist with their student's education. A call to the greater good would be in order for all of us. There are more children than just one in a classroom. Ideals of community have been lost on us over the past 30 years. A crippling selfishness is hurting all of us. These kids who disrupt have been enabled by parents who cut others off in traffic because they're in a hurry or yell at a store clerk for making a small mistake.
Better reforms in the educational system would be to hold administrators accountable for provided relevant teacher training, instead of throwing something together to check it off their list. Hold administrators accountable for disciplining unruly students, despite what it might mean for the school report card. Hold teachers accountable for teaching and interacting with students, for creating an environment in which students can learn HOW to learn, instead of how to pass a standardized test. Curious students will fuel a good school. Hold parents accountable for reinforcing good habits at home and make participation in their child's education inevitable. Reach out to parents who don't have resources...feed hungry students and provide real-world support. Let's learn some lessons about living peaceably together in community...about not lashing out when things don't go our way. While I'm at it...a National Standardized Test would give us benchmarks to see where we need to pick up the pace, or whose educational practices are working.
It's complicated, I know. Inspiring hard work and instilling discipline are more difficult than lowering expectations and a turning blind eye to bad behavior. If there's one thing I know about people, though, we really do like clearly defined parameters. We really do want to live up to expectations of others in a healthy way. We really do want to succeed if we're encouraged. We are selfish by nature, but in order to have a healthy society, we need to put some thought into how we can service the collective community through education. And I'm off to see if I can practice what I preach.


Into the woods.

When I go to the woods, I begin to wonder if I could just stay. I mean, I want to stay. But could I make it? I have these moments when I indulge a crazy-wonder about moving to the middle of nowhere and becoming hermit-like. When the world keeps spinning so fast and furious, the politicians are slinging mud, the stock market is bottoming out, family members are losing retirement money, deadlines are looming, demands are increasing, and days just aren't long enough...I long for the rhythm of the woods. The fading light of sunset, the crickets and frogs, and yes, even owls...delightful. I love waking up to the sound of a stream versus the scream of my alarm clock. And need I mention the fact that comfortable shoes are the norm here?

Some pics from our weekend in the woods...


Penny Sue Price...or...Patience has a Price

I sit next to a lady named Penny Sue Price in my photoshop class. I knew better. There were so many seats I could have chosen. But there I sat, and as you know, wherever you land on the first day is usually where you end up...otherwise you upset the cosmic seating arrangement balance. Plus, you can create a folder on the desktop and store stuff there.
But Penny Sue might have been worth a move. Or maybe I'm supposed to be sitting there. The Lord likes to teach me lessons about myself and my pride and my ignorance through Penny Sues. Penny Sue is older, and most everything about the computer confounds her in general. She blames it for losing her files, for crashing (when it hasn't), and for myriad other things that it can't do by itself. She mutters constantly and blurts out questions during lecture...questions that make no sense. Even when she addresses a question directly to me, I usually have to ask her 12 questions to understand how she got to where she is in her problem. Sometimes I think we don't speak the same language. As I hurriedly try to refresh my brain for a quiz in the next class, she chats it up with me about solar power and her car payment...and the way she talks always makes me feel like I was dropped into the middle of the conversation and have no idea what she's talking about.
Basically, I don't understand how she got to this class with few computer and social skills. But I am starting to admire her tenacity. I would not have stayed. From what I can gather, up 'til now, the class may as well have been being taught in Chinese, because opening a new file is a challenge for her...and we are chugging along at a pretty good clip. She continues. She asks questions. She struggles, but she stays.
All of this to say, at first, I thought I'd continue to sit by Penny Sue because it would be a good thing to teach me some patience, and be another step in getting over myself. I am learning, however, that as I continue to see the less fortunate as "projects," I will never really get over myself. Julia reminded us last night to live from our HEARTS, not our MINDS. My heart needs to learn to love as Christ loved...and he loves ME in all my ignorance about the way HIS operating system runs. When I doubt whether he has lost my files or has crashed my life...I am Penny Sue. He continues to be patient with me and to love me and to show me that I am not his project; I am his beloved. I cannot conceive that He doesn't get frustrated with my ignorance and inability to learn simple lessons the first eight times He teaches me. But he doesn't. He is gentle and loving. And the more time I spend with Him, the more I become gentle and loving...less prideful, as though I have something besides His love to offer Penny Sue. That's ALL I have, humbly, together with His patience, as we both learn how to photoshop. Stay tuned.


Compassion, Justice, Jesus

So, I totally stole this video from Michelle Wheeler's blog (thanks!)...but it was too stirring not to post. How do we serve the poor and neglected in our everyday lives? Whether we're in cities, burbs, or countryside...there must be a way.

This video was shot entirely on a cell phone.
It won the Tropfest, NY 2008 Film Festival.
Click for link (I couldn't get it to upload!!) It's just amazing and poetic and beautiful.

For more, our Pastor spoke about this very topic on Sunday: link to study notes or link to web page for podcast.
How can I make this a way of life and not just a random, occasional act?



Mystery solved. We now know "who?" Last year, our pond was violated and fish disappeared...(see post and picture). A series of events just unfolded, and we have discovered the culprit. He visited a few weeks back...sitting boldly in our yard, staring at us...then staring at our precious fishes. He sat on the kennel fence just feet away for almost an hour, daring us in a way. I kept having visions of him flying toward my hair. Even when he flew away, he settled on a high branch overlooking the pond...his presumed sushi buffet. We covered the pond with a screen and other sundry items to keep him at bay. But we felt optimistic, and uncovered it...putting the plants back in, and hoping the coverage would be enough.

He returned last Thursday and picked off the slowest fish...my favorite, Otis. The other fish were traumatized and would not come to the surface for days, even for food. Screen now firmly in place for good.
Jerod sat by the fire pit Saturday night, and heard a "crumpet" behind him (his word, not mine). The pesky bird ninja had landed on the top of the shed, looking for another free meal. Not this time, silent flier. It was easy to feel bold watching him from the inside. But I'm quite sure the owl was as interested in the fish as he was my hair and eyes. Freaky, I tell you.
As we all sat around the fire making our s'mores, he teased us from the darkness of the woodsbehindourhouse..."WHO?" I know who. We captured you in action, you ninja bird of darkness. Stay away from our fishes.

Click for more photos.


Dream a Little Dream...

I had a wee dreamlet last night. I was walking down a sidewalk and the Lord said to me to rest in His grace, to trust in His provision...and as I did, I began to fairly float, as if gravity had no hold on me and the walking was not remotely difficult. It was such a light and lovely feeling, not to be hostage to gravity and striving. Then, I went to church, and Margaret Gaines expressed some of the same ideas...and I felt like I was floating again. It felt like my natural state, as if I were finally doing what I was supposed to be doing...that the walking was weird and the floating was normal.


No sooner...

...do I pray for Holy interruptions, and I get one in the same week! Dear Friend stopped by to drop off some items for a yard sale...gets offered some of our dinner...sits down to eat a few bites before her next event...And ends up encouraging and ministering to us for hours. We were all knocked off our plans to go to a party, clean out a closet, and vegetate on a sofa. Praise God for people who question and listen and grasp tightly to a beautiful, simple faith. Praise God for community, even spontaneous community. And Praise God for country fried steak to share.


Embarrassing Moment

Sheila dared us to write out our most embarrassing moment on our blog and post them to HER blog...ugh. This would have to be it:

When I was working in youth ministry a few years back, it took A LOT to embarrass me. I really have very little shame, and would regularly sacrifice my reputation to keep attention, get a laugh, or make a point. I've even sat in a dunking booth for a good cause...in other words it takes a mountain-sized embarrassment to make me wish for a hole to open up and swallow me whole.

We had just finished up a video scavenger hunt with dozens of students...running around town, capturing THEIR embarrassing moments on video...making them sing songs about vegetables in the produce section of a grocery store, paint fingernails of complete strangers...with bonus points if they could find a guy who would let them paint fingers and toes...you get it. Embarrassment was in the air.
We were enjoying a quick trip to the local Dairy Queen before heading back to church, all of us lined up, laughing, and salivating over impending butterfinger blizzards.
Aaron Yancey (who was a student then) came up behind me and put his hands over my eyes, just goofing around. Being ever the dramatic person, I started saying in some affected accent, "Oh, I can't see...I'm blind...who could it be? I'm blind! I'm blind!" and generally carrying on. I wasn't being particularly loud, but it was loud enough for the couple in front of me to hear.
I knew something was amiss when a hush fell over the entire DQ, and Aaron uncovered my eyes. I was disoriented. Everyone was staring at me...
...including the husband directly in front of me in line. He shook his head at me. ("WHAT'S GOING ON?" I wondered.) It was then I noticed his wife had a blind cane in front of her, and his hand was on her elbow to steady her.
Honestly, I had NOT seen here there, and would NEVER, EVER make fun of someone for a physical impairment. It was a nauseous coincidence.
Needless to say, it was awkward in there for a few minutes. I was speechless. The teenagers were staring at me like I had slapped Jesus in the face. That's what it felt like...I really did want the earth to open beneath me and take me once and for all.


Why I am surprised?

When my day gets rearranged and things seem to fall in place as if by divine intervention...why am I always surprised? God just loves to interrupt me and "my business" and usually leaves a blessing behind like a calling card. And I have a sneaky suspicion it's just because he loves me. I shall leave the door open for him to come and go as he pleases. If he chooses to disguise himself as an interruption or potential irritant in my carefully-wrought agenda, I will breathe deeply and know that my life should be ruled be the Spirit and not by the clock. I humbly submit this proclamation in faith, that my dependence may bring far more for the Kingdom than my usual routine. I shudder to think what might happen next. But I need to be free from the suffocation and restraint of Time and Duty.


The List of Craig

I've been trolling craigslist.org this week hunting for a nice desk. We are rearranging the office space at the house and in need of something smaller. I hadn't found just the right thing at any regular retail outlets, so a few times a day, I'd hit up the online exchange.

What I learned:

The man selling the farmhouse table (which I thought might make a nice computer table) was showing MORE THAN A TABLE. I flagged him and his...well...and the nice people at craigslist promptly removed his posting. Bizarre.

There are words in the English language that completely confound the average joe looking to unload some extra furniture. A sampling:

1. Fruniture for sell--not just a typo, it repeated several times
2. Not selling seperately--Jerod tells me to remember it has "a rat" in it--separately
3. Serious injuries only--YIKES! Fruniture is danjerous.
4. Must sale today--sell, sale, sail--they are different words with different meanings
5. Chabby chic--Chubby Checker, Charlie Chaplin, Shabby Chic
6. Armour--or armoire, it's French, they get a pass
7. Non smocking home--good thing, I hate it when people smock
8. Rod Iron--half pass, as "wrought" is odd, and iron can be rod-like
9. Chester Drawers--had a friend named Chester, didn't know anything about his drawers.

And then...the "Executive Desk Hooker." Upon further inspection, "hooker" is a brand name of nice desks...but I'm fairly sure that wasn't the best headline.


The Anchor Holds

What are Christian mime troupes to do? Ray Boltz, an absolute STAPLE in the cheesy Christian drama genre and a blessing to many...has come out of the closet. The man who brought us "Than You," (which I may have sung to my pastor when I was about 14 for an offeratory), "Watch the Lamb" (which I may have had to learn an entire "routine" to with dowel rods at a drama seminar--oh my), and "The Anchor Holds" (which blesses my dad unlike any song I've ever seen)...is gay.

Click here for story.

This issue is one that Christians must face. How do we LOVE homosexuals in the church? We have not done a good job with it thus far. It seems far more noble to love other people that we label "sinners." This is such a complicated issue, and it seems to be going nowhere. I have dear friends who have been vibrant servants of the Lord, who later come out of the closet in a flurry of confusion and condemnation. Some have embraced the gay lifestyle and have defended their Christianity. One such friend even has a ministry to gay Christians, after he came out in seminary. Another friend has undergone counseling, and felt compelled to reject the lifestyle and embrace the Lord's help in living a heterosexual life with a wife and child. Homosexuality is pervasive in our media unlike never before. If we call it "sin," we are labeled bigots--uncaring, uneducated homophobes. If we call it ok, we are not being true to God's word and laws. Unlike any other issue, I think it is impossible to "win" here. We aren't going to get anywhere by condemning people (have we LEARNED THAT YET???). We aren't going to get anywhere by trying to change people--hello. That's God's job. The simplistic response to an increasingly complex issue is to love them into Jesus' presence. Let Jesus do what He does. We should be responsible for extending God's love, without arguing or condoning. "What if they don't get fixed?" What if...it's God's responsibility to heal people who are in pain or deception? I still wrestle with these questions. I have friends who TRULY wrestle with these questions. What else can I do but love them?


Mishaps in Church

Yesterday's service was a little wacky for me, with my view from the "slide show." I make the media presentations for church each week...patching together some photos, videos, words to songs, and scriptures to make a visual worship experience. Usually, we have a service with very few hiccups.

Then sometimes, things get a little hairy.

Our guest worship leader got lost in Charlotte before service, so the house band was hastily pulling out some oldy-goldies, which put me typing in some songs just before service began. Fast typing, distractions, questions, and confusion leads to songs like this showing up on the screen:

(for context...this was at the particularly serious altar call time)

'I love You, Lord...And I lift my voice...to worship You, Oh my soul rejoice...

Take joy my King...in what You hear...Let it be a sweet, sweet sound...IN YOUR EYE"

I noticed it just before we got there. Behind me, I hear Nathan say, "EYE?" I look over to see Iris and Richard dissolved in giggles. (Iris had to leave service she was laughing so hard). With our new, fancy media program, I can edit without anyone noticing. I debated for a second, and swiftly changed the words for the next run-through to read, "In your ear."

Talk about holy laughter.

Pictured: traditional "God's Eye" art common to Mexican Indians.


Quick Funny

I was getting some online help from Apple yesterday by chatting with a customer service person. My main question was about having more RAM or more hard drive space...RAM is the answer in case you're wondering. I mentioned getting an additional external hard drive. He then reminded me that we should always back up our files on eternal hard drives.
At which point I asked him if I could download directly to God's brain?
How WOULD one retrieve those files?


Lizard Adventures

Sometimes oh so serious, the blog. It's my stopping off place to slow down and gather my thoughts about this life. But today, just a snippet of funny, as my life is so often hilarious...those little moments where you wish someone had captured you on video just so you could re-watch it and laugh again.
My morning routine includes coffee on the sofa, Good Morning America, and putting on make-up while I warm up to the idea of wakefulness. Tink, the Boston Terrier, is usually curled up beside me taking her first nap of the day. Last Friday, however, I was startled to see my green blanket sprout legs and start walking. There was wee little lizard keeping company with me on the sofa. Being the same color as my green throw, I had not seen him.
"Oh crap! Jerod is not here! What am I going to do with this lizard?"
First thoughts run toward just pretending I don't see him at all. Then I imagine him crawling into my sheets and greeting me in the night. That won't work.
Jerod can just pick up a lizard with his bare hands. I cannot do this. I coached myself into believing I could, but when the lizard ran over my fingertips I came as close as I ever have to fainting. I know. It's silly. I know.
I thought to perhaps trap him in a can with a lid previously used for hot chocolate and release him outside. He was having no part of that scheme.
I dried my hair.
Lizard's still in the den.
Ironed my pants.
Lizard is now on my shoe. SHOE! I will carry him outside on my shoe.
Nope. No go.
Tink has yet to bat an eye at me, and is snoozing soundly. Too bad she didn't have it in her to chase him for me! She should be good for something besides napping.
It's now or never. The lizard must go. I need to get to work.
I chased him to the kitchen door! He went behind. Lizard is visibly panting with fear. I feel badly. He does not know that I mean him no harm. I just do not cohabitate with reptiles. He runs up the side, and around to the inside. "RUN OUTSIDE, STUPID LIZARD! YOU ARE SECONDS AWAY FROM FREEDOM!" I was actually talking to him by this point. Telling him it was ok, soothing him, and coaxing him like a puppy. "Come on. You can do it. The outside is nice. You will like it here."
He flew to Jerod's giant black flip-flop. BINGO! Just a foot away from the outside now. And score! Wee lizard is on his merry way with a colossal story to tell his own lizard friends about the crazy lady who chased him tried to trap him in a cocoa can.


Revival in the Land

I am forever thankful for my upbringing in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles. I was exposed to the ideas that God is alive, moving, and present in our lives. I have experienced His power, His guidance, and His grace in amazing ways. I have sung to the highest rafter, hands lifted high, and heart aflame.

I have also watched as Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lea, Richard Roberts, Fred Price, Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, Ted Haggard...and now Todd Bentley...have fallen off pedestals because of egregious hidden sin and lies. There could be many more names on the list, as almost everyone I know who has grown up in this movement has a local man (or woman) to add to the list.

The Pentecostal-flavored Christian faith is not at its core flawed. It is one that embraces the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as "the spirit that guides us into all truth" (to quote Jesus in John 16:13). We recognize that our power to encourage, worship, correct, admonish, administer, minister, help, plant churches, and prophesy can only come through an active and vibrant relationship with the entire Trinity, and that the Holy Spirit is our power to walk out the Christian faith. It's not "added zest or zeal" as my Pastor reminds, but a real, living and integral part of our relationship with God.

I read a letter today that has peaked my interest. Dutch Sheets http://www.dutchsheets.org/index.cfm has written a letter about the recent downfall of heralded revivalist Todd Bentley of the Florida Outpouring in Lakeland, Florida. Of the many fine points he makes, one of them is the need for actual INTEGRITY among our ranks...(and I would add from the top to the bottom, as it were). So many in our movement follow the show, the big bang-boom-ba, and then blame the show on the Holy Spirit. Most of us know that with the right music and the right smooth-tongued preacher, it is fairly easy to get people worked into a frenzy. Sadly, I think most of the Spirit-chasers have hearts for God in the right place. I think many are seeking to know Him more and to be full of His Holy Spirit. But we have to keep our eyes on the LORD. We have to be discerning. We have to walk into all situations with our ear attuned the STILL, SMALL VOICE of God as much as it is attuned to the yelling and histrionics of some on a stage.

In short, we also have to have our own personal revival of the heart, that comes not in fireworks and parades, and full bands with forty-hundred singers; but in times of meditation on the Word, study, prayer, and reflection...and dare I say...fasting. The Holy Spirit can be present in the quiet. He can teach and heal in a bedroom, a boardroom, or a grocery store. There is no magic or incantation that "calls Him up" when several hundred people get together and have a hoe-down. The Lord desires to be worshipped in Spirit and IN TRUTH. When we are walking in the TRUTH, our worship will be sweet to the Lord, whether we are in a stadium or in a corner of our guest bedroom all alone. The Lord is always looking to "pour out His Spirit" on those who are seeking His heart.

Pastor Sheets makes another fine point. We have all of this focus on being "restoring" ministries or ministries for broken people...certainly!! The church at large must be in the business of restoration. But the other side of the SAME COIN requires us to be accountable and responsible to our community of believers DURING THE PROCESS OF SALVATION AND SANCTIFICATION!!!!! During, not after the tumble. There should be a reasonable expectation of integrity among our leaders. These few examples and countless other leaders have cut themselves off from anyone who will correct them or bring them under spiritual authority. They have shunned true community, and therefore have shunned the power of the BODY of Christ. They have spit in the face of the church, the body that God placed on earth to help us all in our journey. These ideas are the very backbone of the real Christian faith.

I am saddened that Sheets did not voice his concerns earlier. Many people seemingly have been uneasy, but have been hesitant to say anything. Paul would have called it out. He did this regularly in Scriptures when churches were off-kilter or false teachers were spewing lies. We are so afraid to offend sometimes or to squelch a work of the Spirit. We should be more afraid that shysters and unrepentant, unbroken sinners are leading the church into confusion and disarray.

As a body of believers worldwide, we must now more than ever seek the quiet place, where the Lord can speak TRUTH to us through his Word and by his Spirit so we can see our own failings first, and then we can discern the truth of world around us.

I am not pointing fingers. I, too, must submit myself to my own body of believers. I have to make time and space for the Lord to speak. I have to be on guard for heresy and ideas that will crumble my faith. I have, in the past, cut myself off and indulged in a life free from accountability. I thank God that His grace and mercy extends over us, and that He walks us through times when we are stupid. I am thankful for the cross and the atonement. I am hopeful that Spirit-chasers will get tackled by the Spirit and wrestled into a grace-filled, deep relationship with the triune God and will stop looking for hype and highs. Can't we learn from all of this??



It's my three-year BLOG-O-VERSARY this month! I can't believe it's been three whole years. There have been dry spells where I neglected Mr. Blog, but for the most part, it's been a valuable tool for reflection, updating, laughing, and marking moments in our lives.

Three things that have changed since I started blogging:

1. Our church officially began holding services in early September 2005!

2. I started a job at Winthrop University shortly after the blog commenced, in October 2005.

3. I began taking classes in graphic design in August 2007.

I can't believe the major life changes that the past three years have brought. Feel free to think back to YOUR last three years and post a comment about what has changed in your lives!! Perhaps three years ago, you have never even HEARD of a blog!! Visit the "Archive" on the right to view old posts...and take a stroll down memory lane.

If you're still a bit unsure about all of this blogging stuff, check out this WALL STREET JOURNAL story about the history of the blog and some important people's perspectives about them. My google search for "blog anniversary" generated over 3 million hits. Crazy. Thank you for dropping by to celebrate the blogoversary with me.


I'm a Human Doing. Thoughts on Prayer.

(long one. no apologies.)
If you've come across me here before or know me in "real" life...you'll know my battle with being a performance-oriented do-er. It's one thing to struggle with that in the day-to-day life, but what about when it permeates my spiritual walk, too? God and I have had some talks about this need to mine to produce and be affirmed...constantly.

On one particular occassion a few years back, I was scurrying around preparing for a youth service at the church where I worked. I had done a good job on this night of delegating to volunteers--so good a job, in fact, that I worked myself right into having not a task to accomplish as the service began. What an odd feeling it was. Just the freedom to BE in the service and not worry about what needed to happen next. But my reaction to this freedom was the problem. The music began, and I started churning about what I might have forgotten, what else could be done...when God hit me upside the head with a thought just as clear as day. "Be a worshipper, Shelley." He didn't want me to engage with anything but HIM at that moment.

I tend to find this is the case. We want to know what we can do FOR Him, BECAUSE OF Him, or IN HIS NAME...instead of just being near to Him and letting Him move us to doing. The "being" needs to come well before the "doing."

So, our church had a week of 24/7 prayer last week. We all signed up for an hour-long slot and were asked to go to a particular prayer center in downtown Charlotte. Can do. Sign me up! I do very well with clear expectations. Jerod and I signed up for an hour each, in back-to-back time slots between 8 - 10 pm. We're there.

I expected a cold, dark room with a pillow...maybe a candle...and just some quiet for the Lord to reveal all His great and wonderful plans to me. I expected maybe to sing Hallelujah while doing arms gestures the moment I walked in the door. Instant epiphanies! I don't know what all I expected...but those were darn near close.

As we entered the space, we were greeted by a familiar couple coming off a two-three hour stint in the center. They explained a bit of what was there, and left us to it. There were stations, information, cozy chairs...there was dim lighting, beautiful decor...a shabby-chic, thrift-store, well-worn secret spot feeling...like "The Secret Garden," but with candles and ottomans instead of flowers. There were cubbies and DVD's, paints, paper, and Bibles, post it notes to write down secrets and names and prayer requests...and then there was me. Very overwhelmed. Here I expected to have a pillow and Jesus...and here is all this stuff...TO DO!!!!! I didn't know whether to cry or cheer. "But I didn't come here to DO!" I thought. "I came here to PRAY!"

I immediately set about going through the cubbies, putting on headphones for DVD's on various topics, such as discipleship, forgiveness, etc. I found myself at odds with the whole experience at first. I didn't come to listen to a person! I came to listen to GOD!!!! These quotes and photos and books and videos are all very cool, but they make me think about how I could re-create such a thing...that's a great font...where did they find that picture?...I love this chair...it was all becoming a project for me somehow.

God at this point is probably just chuckling at my denseness.

After being somewhat annoyed and trying to figure out how to open myself up to this prayer process, I finally ended up in a corner cubby. Most of what I remember about it is that the one word, "SUBMIT" was taped to the wall there. And there was a journal, filled with handwritten prayers/thoughts/quotes/verses and magazine clippings...like someone had emptied thoughts from his/her creative brain onto paper and gathered them all in a book. "What the heck...let's look at that. I'm not getting much else out of this yet..."

And, forty minutes into my first hour...I finally realized I had yet to PRAY (at the prayer center...I know!). As I pored through the journal, the Lord FINALLY was able to get through to me. The first thing that jumped off the page: "How can you lead others by still waters when you are in perpetual motion?" OK. Time to get serious. I continued to read, prayerfully now...asking the Lord to speak. Of course He did. He always will when we get still and quiet our brains and bodies and ask Him to.

Thankfully, Jerod and I chose to combine our hour slots and be in the space at the same time...so I had another hour and some change to get myself in the right frame of mind. Prayer can be so difficult for do-ers because it insists on your BEING first. You can't switch the two. You can't come into His presence with a to-do list and expect to get anything DONE. You have to come to him empty-handed. He does the work. That's why He says "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." He does the heavy lifting if we let Him!!! And that, my friends, is why RESTING in HIM and PRAYING is the best doing we can do. Start there, and the other stuff will make more sense. What He asks us to do will be more effective and less frustrating and just less...busy.

So, I've been singing this song lately...especially at the beginning of my prayer time:

Breathe in Your presence...Breathe out my prayers

A Holy Reunion

You whisper in my ear.

I long to see Your face,

I long to hear Your voice,

Wrap me in Your presence, Oh Lord.


Let it Rain!

sidebar: I seem to be posting a lot with audio-visual effects. If you can play this, please do. It makes a nice accompaniment to the post. If you really want the full effect of the blog today, sing along.

I know first-hand the need for rain. We have been in exceptional drought conditions for over a year now in South Carolina. Silly as it sounds, I had to watch my sweet little plants wither up to nothing because we felt the need to conserve so we could do things like brush our teeth and clothes. I remember watching the red clay earth dry up and crack open last summer...then, when we had a 10-minute flash shower after months of nearly nothing, I remember running outside and doing a rain-jig on the front lawn (this is not a metaphor...I literally was doing a jig! The Tall One didn't know whether to laugh or commit me.). I remember another day that some threatening clouds came overhead, looking as if they might release the needed water onto our thirsty ground. I sang this song at the top of my lungs as I stood in my doorway, hopeful and expecting.

And my soul has been singing this song for months, years, maybe my whole life. And the Lord is faithful to answer the cry. And recently, I think, He has loaded the rain clouds with His truth and grace and power. But I wasn't expecting to get such a flood. There's nothing worse sometimes than being caught in a rainstorm unprepared...you just have to resign yourself to complete drenching. Typically, you resist by trying to find something just to cover your head...an overhang...a newspaper...you try to protect your cell phone...etc. But even if you're not expecting it and it seems a pain at first, you give in. Let the mighty truths of God come crashing to earth, splashing all around you. The big ideas of His grace falling all around, soaking you from stem to stern. You know that it will wash off your make-up and ruin your hair...but that's quite the point. Instead of hiding from the rain of God, we should run out into it, embracing all the possibilities that it brings for growth and its life-giving power...it will heal the dry cracks in our soul...we focus on little more than the rain itself...washing away the stilted air and filth that has built up in the drought. And the beautiful thing for a crier like me...no one even notices your tears in the rain! And then, after the rain...abundance!

Isaiah 30:23-26 (The Message)

God will provide rain for the seeds you sow. The grain that grows will be abundant. Your cattle will range far and wide. Oblivious to war and earthquake, the oxen and donkeys you use for hauling and plowing will be fed well near running brooks that flow freely from mountains and hills. Better yet, on the Day God heals his people of the wounds and bruises from the time of punishment, moonlight will flare into sunlight, and sunlight, like a whole week of sunshine at once, will flood the land.

LET IT RAIN!!!!!!!!


You consume me...

...moving through me. Like a burning flame running through my veins...click to listen and see a favorite song of old.

I started this thought in an email to a friend today...and liked it well enough to elaborate...

Oh, to be able to dance upon His clouds of grace without fear of falling! Instead, we trudge in meadows of mud, finding delight in what we can see on the ground...getting bogged down more often than not. We admire some nice flower or a moment of sunshine as a ray kisses our face. Content with a fleeting moment of beauty in an otherwise sloggy hike. Imagine the freedom of dancing on clouds of grace...lighter than air! Which one would you like to describe your spiritual "walk?" Will we rest in his grace and his ability to maneuver us, or will be be content to have small moments of grace and continue our striving with heavy feet? I want to be consumed by His grace, close to His face. Close enough to know when He turns to the right or left. To feel His breath. To know that however He consumes me, it will be for my good. But if He does not consume me, I am destined to the misery of the in-between.


Report on the report and thoughts on community

Well, I must say everyone pulled through with the Annual Report...albeit at the last minute. But, at the last minute is far better than AFTER the last minute. :) Go team!! I think we were finally hitting our stride as a group, despite the fact that all have very different styles. It was good to be stretched to design in a way that's different from your natural inclinations. It was good to have to come to a middle ground, so to speak, and blend our ideas. It was really entertaining to watch as three very opinionated people and two "just tell me what you want" people tried to decide on themes, colors, concepts, etc. I was desperate to sit back and let it roll. But you can only fight your nature so much.
It's interesting to watch "community" dynamics. Wherever that community may happen--in a class, at a job, on a committee, or at church. It is in all of our natures to compare and compete to some degree. You may never say it, but often you think "My idea was better than his..." or "So-and-so isn't working as hard on this as I am..." What I have to remind myself: we are all learning. We all have some valuable ideas. We all have contributions. Even the people that I may think are in left field...we should all be open to listening and learning from those whom we think have nothing to teach. Competition among a community is a killer. It kills ideas and creativity. It creates drama. It is the face of selfish ambition. Instead, we should find a place of encouragement and inspiration...a healthy competition to do one's personal best while making the rest of the group look good at the same time. Selfless ambition. Lofty goal. Hard to attain. Let's try, shall we?


What did I do to deserve group projects?

...just a whine about another group project...this time, an Annual Report. If I don't die of boredom first, I might explode from the sheer torturous plight of working with people who don't even check their email and don't do their work.

Whine over. I will not detail the agony on the blog. I might show you some of the design work though. :)

Next topic: Tuesday Furniture Funny

We are searching high and low for a petite accent chair for a particular place in the living room. Mostly because it's a smallish room, and all of our furniture is B-I-G. We have a few finalists, but no clear winners yet. So, just a funny moment when Jerod entered a local furniture store yesterday (without me).

"Hi, may I help you?" furniture store lady asked.
"Yes, I'm looking for a small chair." Jerod replied.
Craning her neck to see the full 6'11" frame, she replied, astonished..."YOU'RE looking for a SMALL chair????"

Good times.


Group Project, Eye Twitch, other Fun

I know I should quit writing about this group project at some point...but my eye is still twitching from the sheer agony of it all! We submitted it last night. I must say, one of the guys really pulled out some good stuff at the last minute. I was mucho impressed. I was caught in an epic struggle to lead this group. They appointed me leader; I did not volunteer. Probably because they knew I was the type of person to get an eye twitch if things weren't going well! One lady in the group just refused to be led. She did her own thing without regard to the group...which is not so good when the assignment is come up with an ad campaign. All parts need to look very similar to one another. Wild cards are not in play, kids!!

I'll share the idea with you, as I was proud of what we ended up with. The premise was a product of the entire group, with about 80% of the art direction at my discretion--fonts, colors, illustrations, etc. Our basic idea was to create an environmental awareness campaign for the fictional "National Environmental Council" with a series of ads. We based it on the "This Little Piggy" nursery rhyme and showed our pig poster boy doing all kinds of horrible environmentally-unsound things. The slogan was then, "Don't be a pig."

Here is an ad and a book cover that I created, and a billboard idea from another team member. The book would be used in public schools and/or sold at retail stores. We also created reuseable shopping bags, recycle bins, and apparel whose proceeds would help the NEC:

Whew! Glad that's over!


Otis is ALIVE!

I blogged too soon, dear friends. The fish named Otis is back! He must have gotten caught in something in the pond and wiggled free, as he showed up for breakfast on Monday morning. Jerod has been tending to him in a "hospital" tank...I know...it's a fish. But he seems happy and healthy. It's weird how one can become so attached to a little living creature like a fish.

Group project presentation is tonight. I am not hopeful. My eye is twitching, and I've been having stress dreams about having to re-design everyone's work. Control-freak? Me? My teacher called me "Type-A" on Tuesday. TYPE A? Really? I know I'm a driven, task-oriented person, but I don't think I'm particularly impatient or a stress junkie. I have really worked on being more in the moment with PEOPLE rather than focusing all of my attention on tasks to do. I am a perfectionist about stuff I produce...so...compared to people in the class who don't BEGIN working on their designs until the day they are due...I guess I would come across as Type A. However, I did just take a test online: "Are you a Type A?" and tested in the middle closer to Type B (laid back, etc.). Is there anything wrong with wanting things to be right and well-executed? As long as people aren't being well-executed, I suppose...



1. Group project status: of course, I'm the only one who showed up with what I was supposed to on Thursday. So, we went with my idea since it was the ONLY IDEA THAT CAME TO CLASS! Still, our overall theme is good. I'm interested to see what everyone else contributes. I want to believe in group projects, I do!

2. I am convinced that Nacho Cheese Doritos have an addictive agent in the cheesy powder. Studies should be done. I will volunteer for the study.

3. We had a fish go missing from our wee pond despite the faux heron that is supposed to ward off evil fishing-birds. His name was Otis, and he was an Oranda. R.I.P. Otis. We loved you.

4. I love my small group at church. Fairly random comment, but we are learning so much from each other and I enjoy their company. Yay! Small group!

5. I have to go now and make some sandwiches for my ice cream social tonight. :) I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM!!!