Meet the Seminary Family

Living on campus is like living in a little oasis in the middle of New Orleans.  There is a stark difference between what is inside the seminary gates and what is outside.  Although the seminary welcomes the community, the campus is maintained and protected in a way that is not like the surrounding community.

I spend a lot of time off campus.  By the time I get back to campus each night, I am ready to be there.  There is a reason that memos to the entire campus are addressed “seminary family.” When I pull into campus, I wave at the student officer manning the guard shack.  I drive past the president’s house, who regularly welcomes students to his home.  I turn left, passing the road that leads to all the staff housing.  I turn right as I see my Christian History professor and his wife crossing the road.  I continue forward, pulling into a parking spot in front of my dorm as a PhD student runs by my car.  I get out of my car and walk into the dorm parlor.  I wave at a girl cooking and quickly walk past the couples snuggling on the couches.  Unlocking my hall door, I walk through the hall, up the stairs, and to my unlocked room (trying to avoid being stopped by girls down the hall before I eat dinner).  When I used to come home late while living with my mom and sister, I often had to spend a few minutes in my car before going inside.  As an introvert, I needed a few moments alone (and my family knew that).  When I come home late to seminary, I have to sit in my car for a few moments alone because I know I’m not just going to see my two closest family members.  Here, the seminary family is like seeing the WHOLE family every night.  It’s like living with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and second cousins twice removed.

There are certain comical aspects of this type of living—like seeing my counseling professor run barefoot around campus or walking outside in sweats while the president and his wife unload groceries.  However, encouragement is the primary result of this kind of living.

This weekend a professor’s kid, who I help teach at my church, invited a friend and I over to play with their litter of puppies.  I love puppies.  More than once I’ve gone to a pet shop just to see puppies.  I hardly ever see dogs in New Orleans, so this invitation was such an encouragement to me…and even someone that isn’t a dog lover should find some joy in these pictures…

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This may sound cheesy or cliché, but I am encouraged by how God meets our needs—even our smallest, puppy-cuddling needs.  I also love the example that our seminary professors are setting for hospitality and generosity.  I cannot imagine how exhausting it is to see students 24/7, but their ministry to us reminds me of Jesus’ ministry to the disciples.  It is also refreshing as we serve in a dark city to come home to light-bearers.

His Love is Better Than a Coconut: What I’ve Learned About Mardi Gras

  1. Mardi Gras is not just a day, it’s a season.

Carnival season, to be exact.   This season includes king cake, parades, beads, costumes, balls, and so much more!

King cake is literally served everywhere during this season.  There is king cake flavored ice cream, coffee, and just about anything else you can think of.  King cake also has a ton of different flavors like cream cheese, strawberry, and pineapple.

You even have king cake for breakfast!

We even have king cake for breakfast!

Parades are just about as prevalent as king cake.  Below is a link to the parades in New Orleans.  You’ll see that there is not just one big parade on Fat Tuesday, there are MANY parades throughout the carnival season.

http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/schedule.html

Beads are around all year long.  If you look up while visiting New Orleans, you’ll see beads hanging from trees and streetcar lines.

Costumes are as prevalent as they are at Halloween.  People do dress up like jesters and queens (which are more traditional for Mardi Gras), but they also dress up in anything you can imagine.  Today I even saw Santa!

At the country club, there is literally a ball every weekend during carnival season.  (The staff is definitely ready for the season to be over!) Krewes, which are basically organizations that host parades, throw balls before their parades.  They are extremely fancy and very southern.  I sometimes feel like I’ve stepped into the 1800’s or a fairy tale.

  1. Parades can be fun, not obscene.

When a seminary professor first said there are “family-friendly” parades, I was skeptical.  Very skeptical.  I asked so many different people for reassurance and they all said the same thing.  I hesitantly attended my first parade and, sure enough, it was family-friendly for the most part.  People were drinking, but there was nothing obscene or vulgar.  (And I’m convinced the only place drinking does not regularly occur in this city is on the seminary campus.) In fact, there were a lot of middle school marching bands and kids dressed in sequence and feathers.

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My understanding is that the more obscene parades are in the French Quarter.  If you know where not to go, you can have a really good time.  My experience was honestly a lot of good, clean fun.  It was wholesome, free, and enjoyable.  I’m sure you could quickly find the wrong crowd doing the wrong thing, but that was not my experience.  My only reservation about parades is that they literally happen every night for a few weeks.  It makes the traffic awful and I don’t know how people function when they stay out so late on weeknights.  (In fact, I’m ready for the season to be over just so the girls in my dorm will come home earlier.)

  1. Getting beads does not require flashing.

There are some parades in the Quarter that encourage flashing, but no parade requires flashing.  In fact, tourists are the ones that keep this “tradition” alive.  Locals don’t flash.  The parades that aren’t tourist-driven do not encourage or even suggest flashing.  I did not see one person even mention flashing at the two parades I attended.

Beads are also not the most desired throws.  The Krewes that host the parades often have a special throw for their parade.  The Krewe of Nyx throws purses, the Krewe of Muses throws shoes, and the Krewe of Zulu throws coconuts (technically, they now hand people coconuts for safety purposes, but I did get handed multiple coconuts).

3 of the 15 coconuts my group caught

3 of the 15 coconuts my group caught

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What one of the guys in our group used to catch coconuts...quite a success!

What one of the guys in our group used to catch coconuts…quite a success!

  1. Mardi Gras isn’t just a big party, it’s a tradition.

I scoffed at Mardi Gras before coming to New Orleans.  I’m sure I still don’t get it and I definitely don’t support a lot of it, but I think I’m closer to understanding than I was before I came.  People here care about their traditions.  It is a huge part of their lives.  Personally, I don’t have such deep-rooted or festive traditions, but I do care about my traditions.  I think we are all people of tradition.

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Jesus wasn’t a fan of a lot of traditions.  The Pharisees were pretty harshly rebuked for some of the traditions they added to the truth God gave them.  Jesus did still adhere to some traditions though and he used a lot of traditions to teach us valuable lessons.

This Mardi Gras, I watched crowds of people SCREAM to get coconuts, beads, and other worthless items.  We were begging the float-riders to have mercy on us.  My group arrived at 6:30 AM to get a place at the front of the crowd, increasing our chances for a coconut.  Although it was all in fun, it was somewhat degrading to beg people for something and then have them turn away.  It was also thrilling to have someone hand you a coconut or throw you beads.  One girl said afterward, “I just felt so special when the Mardi Gras Indian chose me out of everyone to receive the coconut.”

I am so grateful that I don’t have to beg Jesus for mercy.  I can just ask.  He gives it freely.  He gives it wholly.  He doesn’t torment me with a gift that He’s not willing to give.  He doesn’t overlook me.  He doesn’t favor or discriminate.  He has enough for everyone.  I know He loves me and He has my best interest in mind.  He cares about the person in the back as much as the person in the front.  I don’t have to do anything to earn His love.  His love never ends, never fails, and doesn’t perish.  His love is better than a coconut.

Valentine’s Day: a Day of Dread or a Day of Love?

While those in a relationship are often portrayed as romantic, boring, or dysfunctional, sitcoms show singles burning notes from their ex’s, spending the night in front of the TV with tissues and ice cream (and/or alcohol), or partying with fellow singles. (And by the end of the episode they often end up making up with their ex or in bed with a stranger.) Our society thrives on drama and Valentine’s Day seems to be the most dramatic of them all.

I’m sick of the pity party. I’m sick of the grotesque distortion of what God intended for love and relationships. I’m sick of a lack of commitment and lack of contentment. I’m sick of this “poor me” or “forget everyone” attitude.

I can only speak as a single, but I imagine loneliness in a relationship would be just as bad (or worse) than loneliness outside of one. However, singles are constantly reminded of their “state.” It’s almost like a disease. The hardest part of dinner with married friends is no longer what to order, it’s what to do when someone prays over the food. Your friends immediately grasp their partner’s hand and you shamefully wonder “is it better to hold my friend’s toddler’s hand (who just picked his nose) or the male waiter’s hand (who’s already refilled my water 3 times)?”

But why is our identify found in our sexuality?

No wonder the LBGT community is up in arms when the freedom that society’s declared for them is challenged by evangelicals.  If we didn’t distort sexuality in the first place, this wouldn’t be an issue.  Society bases its identity on sexuality.  The single is either a loser or loose. The married woman is boring or an adulteress. The married man is trapped or unfaithful.

The Bible warns us about this. We are told to “flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV). Sexual sins are dangerous. They’re inside us. They aren’t just our actions, they’re our attitudes. They’re our thoughts.

As a single, there is a temptation to embrace the attitudes and thoughts that society encourages, like bitterness and discontentment. I want to see singles thrive. I want to love like Christ calls me to love. I want to celebrate Valentine’s Day as much as anyone as I meditate on the love of Christ, the only perfect, all-fulfilling love.

So let’s celebrate marriage, celebrate singleness, celebrate unity in Christ, and celebrate love…the way God intended.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I know what you’re thinking, “to get to the other side!” That answer does make sense…until you watch a rooster cross the road each time you drive to work.

I don’t live in the nicest part of New Orleans. In fact, I live in one of the worst parts of the city. One of the only parts that’s worse is the area where I work, which means the drive from school to work can be interesting. My favorite sight is the rooster that regularly crosses the road. Yes, the ROOSTER. The animal normally found on a farm or in a zoo… Yet, I see this silly animal on my way to work…in a city.

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The first time I saw him, I stopped and gawked. I thought, “does no one else find this strange?” One lady, who was standing right by him, didn’t even look up from her cell phone. The other cars just passed it like it was a squirrel.

After seeing this rooster a few times, I decided to follow him. (Thankfully, I was running ahead of schedule. New Orleanians don’t really seem to care about punctuality anyway, but that would’ve been a pretty unbelievable excuse for tardiness.) As I followed the rooster, I quickly discovered several other roosters. I laughed out loud at the sight of the rooster community in the middle of a metropolitan neighborhood.

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The strangest part of this rooster phenomenon is the fact that I didn’t see a shelter for them. I could truly not figure out where they lived and I don’t want to know what purpose they serve.

The one thing I did come closer to discovering was the answer to that age-old question, “why does the chicken cross the road?”

I’d venture to say that “to get to the other side” is only part of the answer. This rooster seems to have some additional purpose: maybe it’s escaping from all the other roosters, going to find some sort of food, looking for a chick, grieving his friend pictured in the convenience store ad labeled “fried chicken,” or it’s simply an unsuccessful suicide mission. Whatever the cause of the rooster’s behaviors, it’s entertaining to consider.

One day, I will probably speed by the rooster and not find his behavior or location funny. I will probably stop looking up, becoming as numb to this oddity as everyone else.

I think I do the same thing with the gospel.* This week in my theology class we talked about Christ’s death. My pastor also preached on Christ’s  death and my quiet time was on Christ’s death. I’m pretty good at skimming through that account. I’ve heard it countless times, why examine it again? This week though, I was reminded that I should not be numb to the gospel. The best way I heard this reminder explained was when I went street evangelizing with a friend in college. As she was explaining her group’s method, she said that the group shares the gospel with everyone and prays for each person they encounter. She explained that even when people walk past saying they’re saved, they’re prayed over. “Afterall,” she explained, “why wouldn’t someone saved by Christ want to hear the gospel again?” Ouch. I can’t even get through the sinner’s prayer at church without planning lunch or calculating how much I need to tithe for the week.

This week I also watched The Good Lie. A scene stuck out to me when the Sudanese refugees laughed about hearing the joke about the chicken crossing the road for the first time. Below is a link to that clip. I hope their genuine joy in the simplicity of something we’ve grown numb to reminds you of the joy we should have in the simplicity of the gospel.

*If you’re reading this post and have no idea what the gospel means, visit http://www.whativaluemost.com.  If you search my name, you’ll find my story of how Jesus changed my life and get a more thorough explanation of the gospel.

Beeutiful

Winter is a wonderful season in New Orleans. Bitterly cold days are few and far between. Instead, we are blessed with Fall-like weather most of the season. (But before you get too jealous, don’t forget what our summers are like…)

I’ve tried to take full advantage of the fantastic weather. One of my absolute favorite places in New Orleans is City Park. I love the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees, the water filled with turtles, the street cars driving by, and the lovely architecture (especially the building that houses Morning Call…yet another coffee and beignet stand).
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The other day, I was about to start reading my Bible on a bench at the park and a bee landed on my journal. Having been stung by numerous bees, I was frightened at first. I hoped it would just fly away. Instead, it just stayed on my journal for a moment. I began to relax, noticing the beauty of the little creature and the intricacy of its design.

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Then the little bee began crawling around my journal. I was still intrigued by it until it crawled on my finger. Suddenly memories of the time I sat on a bee as a child or the time I found one in my towel as a teenager, and I decided I could no longer be friends with this little guy.

Unfortunately, it was too late. How was I to get rid of it without being stung? If I moved my finger, there would be no chance of escaping unscathed. Instead I waited until it moved back to my Bible and I threw my Bible and journal on the ground (excuse my poor treatment of God’s Word. I know believers in other countries would stick their hand in a beehive just to retrieve one verse of the Bible…) This action wounded the bee and left it barely moving on the sidewalk. I ended his torment with my sneaker and said “good-bye” to my former friend.

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For a moment, I felt a little bad about killing the bee, especially in such a violent way. I mean, what had it done to me?

Then I was reminded of sin.

The way I let the bee in was very similar to the way I let sin in.

I start by admiring something sinful. At first, it seems scary and I know I shouldn’t look at it. After looking at it for a while, I decide it’s probably okay to just look. It seems harmless, after all. Then, I let it creep in. I ignore all logic, advice, and past experience. I play with it. I realize halfway through that I needed to change direction, but at that point it’s more difficult than it would’ve been if I’d just avoided it in the first place. There are other times when I’ve let myself get stung. Either way, it hurts. It hurts to squish something you’ve grown attached to and it hurts to get stung.

But isn’t it awesome that God redeems us from our sin when we return to Him? He is capable of healing the worst stings and working all things for good. That is more beautiful and desirable than any temptation.