The Screams After Dark

I’ve mentioned before that the seminary campus is beautiful.  It’s truly a 75-acre oasis in the middle of New Orleans.  The architecture and landscape is lovely.  It’s also incredibly safe.  This safety is a stark contrast from the surrounding area.  Parts of Gentilly are beautiful.  There are many gorgeous homes, schools, and trees.  Parts of Gentilly are also really run-down.  Poverty certainly runs rampant everywhere, but this is a poverty like I’ve never seen.  Trash is all over the streets and parking lots.  Police officers regularly man the doors of grocery stores.  People of all ages are seen pushing carts along the street.  The space underneath bridges is always filled.

I wouldn’t describe myself as paranoid.  I try to be safe, but I’ve also spent a lot of time out at night and safety is not something I’m constantly anxious about.  However, living here has caused me to implement a few cardinal safety rules:

  1. Never stop at a gas station in Gentilly or the Ninth Ward after dark. I’ve literally taken the interstate a few miles with my gas light on just to go get gas elsewhere.
  2. Day or night, don’t put air in your tires off-campus. I have filled my tires up near my church, which is in a better part of town, but now I only use air compressors on campus.
  3. Take as little to the store as possible. There are some instances where I just can’t do this, but most of the time I try to only bring cash or a card, my phone, and keys into the store.  I figure if those items are taken, I’ll be less inconvenienced than I would be if I had my entire purse.
  4. Don’t shop after dark, especially by yourself. Working nights during the school year makes this rule pretty easy to follow, but it can definitely be inconvenient at times.  I have stopped at stores in different parts of the city after dark or gone with a friend that can’t go to the store during the day, but I don’t shop by myself near campus after dark.  Except this one time…

The one time I broke rule #4 I had just gotten back from a trip, worked a 13-hour-day, and desperately needed groceries.  The next day I had a potluck in the middle of a 15-hour-day and didn’t see another solution.  That said, I would still handle this situation differently if I were given the chance.

I got to the grocery store a little after 8:30pm and quickly gathered each item on my list.  The check-out lines were packed, so I picked what looked like the shortest one and waited.  The two guys in front of me each had two bottles of alcohol and were clearly tourists.  They were laughing with each other when we heard a scream to our left.  We could not see the source of the scream, but there was no missing the deafening wail coming from an adult woman.  Soon an employee came over the intercom calling all available managers to the pharmacy.  We saw several people scurry over there.  The cries continued off-and-on until a police officer came to escort a middle aged woman out the door right before I checked out.

Thankfully, my one after-dark experience at the store was not one where I was harmed in any way, but hearing this woman’s screams was enough to make me never want to go to the store that late again.  Her screams were unsettling, the kind that penetrate your soul.  Her face and demeanor were desperate, leaving me aching for her.

I could easily make a few assumptions about this circumstance, but instead I left remembering why I implemented these safety rules in the first place and caring deeply for the people that live in my community.

Manna from Heaven

Has something ever tasted heavenly when you’re famished and mediocre when you’re only mildly hungry? I have a feeling most of the things I cook in my dorm will have this same disappointing effect if I attempt to make them five years from now (when I hopefully have an actual kitchen).  Regardless, I’m convinced that the bread I made a few weeks ago was truly manna from Heaven.  Not because I made it (believe me, that’s never to any food’s benefit), but because the Lord provided it.  The week before I made this bread, I’d been praying the Lord would provide food until my next paycheck.  At the time, I had approximately 3 cans of black beans, 1 protein bar, 3 cans of tuna, 1 individual bag of pasta, peanutbutter, bags of frozen fruit, oatmeal, carrots, jelly, and baking items (like flour, spices, etc).  Oatmeal and smoothies would cover two meals a day for at least a week, but I was still missing another meal (and a lot of calories).  As much as I love black beans, tuna, and peanutbutter, it’s hard for me to eat those plain for very long.  I really needed some sort of bread.  That day I learned the importance of the prayer “give us this day our daily bread.”  So I got on my knees, prayed, and here’s what happened…

I was at work the next morning worrying about the next couple weeks (I’m excellent at worrying in case anyone ever needs a lesson) and the Lord reminded me to pray.  The Lord promises that His unfathomable peace will come if we pray.  As always, He was faithful to keep that promise and peace quickly covered my anxiety.  Being more peaceful, I was able to start thinking through some more logical responses to the food issue (other than mixing black beans, peanutbutter, and tuna).  I started praying for creativity.  Throughout the day the Lord flooded my mind with new thoughts.  It took hours of dead ends for me to finally find something that worked.

Without yeast, baking powder, eggs, or milk, my options were limited.  I also had no vegetables to do something like zoodles, cauliflower tortillas, etc.  I finally discovered a recipe for bread that required no yeast, eggs, or milk.  The only catch was it did require baking powder.  At first, that discouraged me.  Then the Lord helped me find an alternative to baking powder that was actually in my dorm: lemon juice and baking soda.  The instructions I found online were pretty complicated (math also isn’t my strong point), but I just prayed (and laughed) as I was making the dough that the Lord would help it turn out okay.  If anyone else tasted this bread, they might turn their nose up, but I thought it tasted wonderful.

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I ate it plain, with honey, and made it into a PB&J.  I probably could’ve eaten the entire loaf in one sitting.  I kept thinking about Exodus 16:30 where manna “tasked like wafers made with honey” (HSCB).  How much sweeter is the Lord’s provision? If I had relied on my own resources, I would have paid a bill late or borrowed money to buy bread that would not have tasted as good.  Or I might have just eaten scoops of peanutbutter by itself.  Yet, the Lord truly provided food that I could rejoice over eating.  I just had to wait on Him and trust His plans.  I too often take matters into my own hands, unwilling to wait and trust.  I worry that He does not have things under control, forgetting to remember the work He’s done.

(And to all the moms out there, I promise I didn’t just eat bread, honey, and oatmeal all week.  The Lord provided some other recipe ideas that helped make my other pantry items come to life.  He also provided some other food unexpectedly.)

Waiting for the Thunder

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One thing about lifeguarding in New Orleans is the likelihood of weather.  Most seasons are pretty mild here, but summer is not.  When it’s not raining, it’s hot and humid.  When it’s raining, it’s pouring.  While rain may have a cooling effect in some places, it only intensifies the humidity here.  One thing that does cause me to look forward to the rain is lifeguarding in a thunderstorm.  If there’s just rain, that makes for a miserable shift.  If there’s thunder or lightening, the pool’s closed for a period of time.  I don’t like it when these closings cause kids and families disappointment, but I do like it when they allow lifeguards to go in the air-conditioning for a little while.

On days when there’s an occasional sprinkle or dark clouds, listening for thunder can be a bit of a mind game.  We’ll hear a train, car, or plane and wonder if it’s thunder.  Suddenly, someone’s stomach growling or phone vibrating will be cause for us all to listen hopefully.  Waiting for thunder can be almost maddening.

The same can be true about waiting for the Lord.  His timing is perfect and love relentless, but waiting can still be maddening to my finite mind.  A Bible study leader once told me that if I don’t know clearly what the Lord is telling me then I’m not reading the Bible enough.  I would urge anyone needing clarity to spend more time reading the Bible and many times my Bible study leader’s statement is correct.  But I also think there are times when we’re just called to wait on the Lord—where we don’t clearly know our next step or our next step is simply waiting.  Like waiting on the thunder, these seasons can be maddening.  I’m usually ready to jump at anything that could resemble the Lord’s voice.  I have to remind myself to wait and be patient.

Waiting seasons also remind me how often I don’t wait to hear the Lord’s voice.  My eagerness can quickly lead to my own demise if I’m not careful to pay attention to the Lord’s calling.  The Lord needs to be the thunder that motivates my activity each day.

What to Make in a Microwave

I’ve heard people say that I am part of the “microwave generation.” I think that’s normally meant as an insult, but I like to think of it as a compliment.  Sure, bread may get soggy, fires may occur, and there are some health concerns about microwaves, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons in my opinion.

The microwave is fast.  I don’t have to wait for it to preheat or let the contents cook all afternoon.  In a few short minutes  (or maybe even seconds), whatever I’m cooking is finished!

For me, the microwave is also easy.  When living in a house or apartment I might have found it easier to use a stove or oven, but the thought of having to carry my food, pots, pans, skillets, and cookie sheets downstairs just to use the stove or oven means that I very rarely use a stove or oven.

Since moving back into a dorm, I’ve learned that there are a lot of things you can make in a microwave that I never imagined.  Of course, there are still the classics (mac ‘n cheese, oatmeal, soup, etc.), but I’m enjoying these new quick ‘n easy discoveries.  Here are a few examples:

1.  Eggs: pre-dorm life I would never have considered using a microwave to make eggs.  Frankly, the thought was revolting.   However, I’ve learned to embrace this egg-cooking method recently.  For Christmas, my mom bought me this microwave omelet maker.  (I’ve also seen them at grocery stores.) This little guy has made protein-consumption so much easier! It takes two minutes to completely cook the eggs and I can quickly add vegetables or whatever else without dirtying up more dishes (having to hand-wash dishes in a sink down the hall influences a lot of my cooking decisions). It also tastes good.  The eggs aren’t dried out.

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2.  Cheap Popcorn: I know what you’re probably thinking, “other than movie theatre popcorn, what popcorn isn’t cheap?” But snacks over a couple of dollars are pretty much outside my budget, so I’ve found a less expensive alternative (and it’s certainly more entertaining).  I buy popcorn kernels in bulk and pop them in brown paper sacks.  When I first started this activity, I added oil and salt.  Now, I just eat it plain (I already exceed my daily intake of salt and oil most days).  The hardest part of this activity is getting the timing right.  Determined not to set my dorm building on fire (which definitely is not up-to-date on fire safety), I normally have to have a few rounds of popping to get all the kernels popped.

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3.  Cookies: yes, cookies.  Although I’ve never done this by myself (cookie dough is the last thing I need to keep in my freezer), a girl on my hall regularly makes a cookie in a mug for herself.  She chooses to not cook the cookie all the way and add extra sugar, icing, etc.  She did learn never to use a plastic spoon to stir the cookie though…that ended up a big mess with a melted spoon! This method of cookie-making is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without making dessert for a crowd.

A Loving “No”

One of my classes this semester is Chemical Dependency.  It’s been an interesting class . . . to say the least.  We were required to attend two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in addition to giving up some sort of “addiction” for two weeks as part of our coursework (I gave up dessert…needless to say, it was a rough two weeks).  Although there’s still a lot of required reading and writing, this class is different than a lot of the classes I’ve taken.  Recently, my professor astutely observed one of the main reasons that the church is inhibited from reaching addicts:

“As a church we know how to say ‘yes’ lovingly, but we don’t know how to say ‘no’ lovingly.”

In other words, we’re pretty mean when we finally say “no.”  Of course we are! We’re burnt out by that point!  But whose fault is that?

It’s rare that a statement a professor makes resounds with me as much as that statement has.  I cannot get it out of my head.  I’ve observed this behavior so much in myself since I heard him say that.  I desperately want to say “no” lovingly.  I’ve been so convicted that I’m the one causing the broken to hate the church, not someone else.  I’m as guilty as hypocrisy as anyone when I smile and say “yes,” but I really should say “no.”

That hypocrisy is spurred by fear: fear of humility, fear of the unknown, and fear of men.

Creation Care Part 1: Stewardship

We’re at the point in the semester where all of us are questioning our callings, wanting to quit, and regularly having emotional breakdowns. Our grades aren’t what we’d like them to be and the situation has seemed pretty hopeless for most of us…UNTIL the extra-credit-opportunity-to-end-all-extra-credit-opportunities arrived: a forum hosted by the school that professors were asked to incentivize to increase student attendance.

Professors started offering the most outrageous extra credit I’ve ever seen to attend this forum: 3 points added to our overall grade, 10% added to our overall grade, and 3 hours of excused absences are just a few examples of these generous offers. Thrilled, we all naively signed up for the forum.

We should’ve known that such incredible grace comes at a high price…

Let’s just say there’s a reason the professors needed to incentivize this beast of a forum: it began on Friday night at 7 and went until after 9:30. If that weren’t enough, it continued the next day from 8am (on a Saturday) until around 2pm. The forum was highly academic, experts were invited to come and discuss climate change in our chapel. They read lengthy research papers and presented extensive data on screens. I can think of about 1,000 ways I’d prefer to spend a weekend.

Yet, the forum proved to be interesting (well, the parts I understood)…and convicting. The speakers were intentionally from different backgrounds. The two main speakers stood on different sides of issues regarding fossil fuels and global warming. I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly “green” person. I try to recycle (or I did before living in a dorm) and I try to waste as little as possible, but I could definitely be a more informed citizen on these issues and a better steward of that which God’s entrusted to me.

Despite that weakness, I love seeing God in His creation. Like everything else post-fall, I believe what God said was very good isn’t quite as good as it was before and will only get worse (before it gets better in the end, that is). Sinful man is good at messing things up! Yet, I am grateful that we are still able to see God’s glory in His creation.

Two days before this forum, I walked out of work and saw a captivating sunset. Although I’ve yet to see a sunset that compared with an Oklahoma sunset, this one came pretty close.

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There’s no denying that the sunset itself is beautiful, but what struck me was seeing such beauty in the middle of such destruction. I was standing in a neighborhood filled with poverty, violence, and hopelessness–still not fully recovered from Katrina. Yet, God’s glory was displayed just as magnificently there as it was on the other side of town. It could not be contained by its surroundings! God cannot be contained by His surroundings!

Seeing A glimpse of God’s glory that night made me think of the account when Jesus’ disciples said, “’Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” (Luke 19:38-40 ESV)

I don’t want to let the stones cry out. I want to be the one leading the way in praise. I don’t want to be the one trying to squelch God’s glory by glorying my circumstances or idolizing my life. I want to worship Him in all that I do.

This weekend reminded me that I don’t worship enough when it comes to taking care of His creation. I’m not a good steward of that. It also reminded me that as I’m called to share His love with the world, that includes considering how my stewardship choices impact the whole world…His highest creation, mankind, not just selfishly focusing on myself. I think that’s at least closer to what God called “very good”…

Top 10 Ways to Do Homework in Seminary

As I’m close to completing my third (ish) year of seminary, I’m realizing I’ve had a lot of “creative” homeworking-doing experiences…

Here are the top ten I remember:

1. Submitting assignments at 4:00 AM while monitoring a camp out in a Chick-fil-A parking lot (very similar things have happened while babysitting, youth-sponsoring, etc.)

2. Frantically turning in an assignment while counseling a youth at midnight (sadly, this was not an over-the-phone counseling situation…)

3. An all-nighter the night before youth camp…. (Or a dnow, retreat, lockin, vbs…I’ve heard it all from fellow seminarians) We’re supposed to be serving and studying, right?

4. Typing an entire 4 page, single-spaced paper on my phone while working.

5. Listening to an audio version of a textbook on the way to a wedding, half marathon, workshop, etc.

6. Helping a friend put together a slideshow from a mission trip the night before it’s presented while doing homework…resulting in another all-nighter (and a super creative seminary presentation).

7. Posting assignments in the parking lot of a restaurant with free Wi-Fi while dogsitting for people without internet.

8. Lugging an enormous stack of books through the airport to complete a research paper during a vacation. (My traveling companions are normally a little frustrated with me during these adventures.)

9. While staying with my grandmother, realizing that she no longer has a computer that works the night before a research paper is due (which I, of course, was nowhere near completing). This resulted in another all-nighter…on the couch in my dad’s bachelor pad.

10. Reading textbooks at the beach. Although a textbook tends to kill the mood of the beach, I always enjoy finding sand and sunscreen residue in my textbooks later. 🙂

I am not proud of most of these stories (though I’m continuously impressed that I’ve made it as far in school….totally the grace of God), but I do hope these stories give you a good laugh. They certainly made me smile as I celebrate the end of another round of midterms!

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.

The Frozen Pizza of Seminary

Like January 1 of a New Year’s resolution, the first week of class includes good intentions, ambitious goals, and great planning.  Unfortunately, the second week of class tends to hit as hard and fast as January 15.  Now, the greens in the fridge are ready to be thrown out and the gym clothes have been pushed to the back of the closet.  Instead, the frozen pizza bakes in the oven and running into work leaves you breathless.  The second week of class includes more skimming than reading, more procrastinating than productivity, and more cramming than sleeping.

These second-week habits are the frozen pizza of seminary.  Instead of doing our best to learn and glorify God with our studies, we do enough to get by…to survive.  Instead of sitting down to savor something nutritious, we eat a lukewarm frozen pizza while we fold laundry, talk on the phone, and watch TV.

Students are remarkably chipper the first week of class, taking time to talk to one another.  By the second week, talk is rushed and focused.  Now, anxiety begins to loom and moods change.  Once prompt, well-dressed students are flying in at the last minute, disheveled.

I could list a whole host of things to prevent these cycles, but they still always seem to happen.  By the end of each semester, my classmates and I always look at each other and resolve, “we are NOT doing this next semester.”  Yet, we always do…

I’m not advocating poor study habits nor would I suggest that better study habits are a lost cause; however, I do think there’s freedom in accepting our imperfections sometimes.  If most nights we sit down to eat a salad or at least have a vegetable with our meal, why not forgive ourselves for the frozen pizza nights as well? Similarly, school is full of many victories, but it’s also full of many self-inflicted late nights, surprise quizzes, and caffeine-induced headaches.  Instead of dreading the semester, knowing these things are coming, I’m ready to laugh between breaks… not just during them.

A Can of Green Beans

Recently, a new student stood in my dorm before we migrated to the common area to watch a movie.  As I made eggs in my microwave, she asked, “how do you cook in your dorm? I need ideas!” The other girl in my room began listing ideas while eating chips and salsa for dinner, “sometimes I eat popcorn for dinner.  Other times I eat carrots and hummus.  I also eat PB&J.  One time I ate a can of green beans.” Laughter quickly filled the room as the girl tried to justify her dinner.  I’m confident the new student will ask me for cooking suggestions first from now on…

Cooking in a dorm can be difficult.  We have a full kitchen downstairs, but it’s shared by over forty girls.  Most of us have make-shift kitchens in our dorms…or cans of green beans filling our bookshelves.

I thought everyone was poor in college until I came to seminary.  Free meals are more readily attended than ever and our idea of “eating out” is usually making pancakes in the common area.  We’re all broke…

…but we’re also blessed.  In a season where a can of green beans for dinner can be justified, it’s easier to empathize with the extreme poverty filling the streets around us.  Although we live in a safe, comfortable place and most of us will never know the extent of poverty of our neighborhoods, we are gaining a new appreciation for what we’ve been given.