This weekend Emmaus House held their annual “Christmas in Peoplestown” event along with two other organizations in Peoplstown called the Rick McDevitt Center and the Study Hall. The event was a progressive event where community members would start of with ornament making and cookie decorating at the McDevitt Center, Cake and punch at the Study Hall, and then end at Emmaus House for a tree lighting and Christmas Carols.
After finding out how much I love decorating for Christmas, Elizabeth, the assistant director, gave me the task of putting lights on the big donated Christmas tree in the front yard for the big tree lighting ceremony as well as decorating the front porch with garland. I accepted thinking that it would be easy. I did not anticipate, however, that the Christmas tree in the front yard would fall over the night before I was planning on putting the lights on. I had planned on putting the lights up on Friday because it was my Sabbath and it sounded like a relaxing way to spend my day. However most of the day was spent wrestling with a 10 foot tree. Grant and I tried to put it up but it kept falling over on us while we were trying to stake it down. Some guys walking by chuckled as they saw us struggle. I tried to ignore them but Grant said, “Hey! Want to help us?” So with the guys help we were finally able to get the tree up and standing. Then Grant and I made short work of putting on the lights. However, my hands and wrists are now covered with tiny scratches from the tree.
Then on Saturday morning, the day of the event, I put up the garland on the porch railing. This didn’t take very long but I did have very Shannonish mishap. I got off the porch to get a better look at the garland. At Emmaus House there’s a chain along the walk way to protect the lawn. Forgetting that this was there I stepped back another step to get a better look and came crashing over the chain, flat on my back onto the lawn. The worst part was that I had an audience of the guys who hang out on the corner. And they didn’t just snicker at me. They guffawed! At least one of them asked me if I was okay and I indignantly said I was. So now I had a sore back and a headache to add to my scratches. Harumph!
Then the event came. I was so surprised to see so many community members there! I think every kid in the neighborhood came! The kids had so much fun making ornaments, the cake was delicious, but my favorite part happened at the tree lighting. Christmas songs were blasting, people were singing at the top of their lungs, and everyone was dancing and having a good time! Even police officers showed up to join in the festivities and were chatting with the kids and the neighbors. (People don’t generally have a good opinion of police officers around here so it seemed like a miracle) Then the tree was lit and I was so proud of mine and Grant’s work! It really felt like community and it was absolutely wonderful. A few minor injuries on my part were more than worth the magic of that night!
While on Mission Year we are given only two breaks: Christmas Vacation and Spring Break. All other holidays are meant to be shared with other members in the community. Our first holiday away from family members this year was Thanksgiving. We were encouraged to accept any invitations for Thanksgiving from neighbors and even try inviting ourselves over if we start getting desperate. We were fortunate to have an invitation fall in our laps. A woman named Christina, who is the mom of one the girls in the after school program, kept telling Grant and I that she was a good cook and that we should come over some time for “Soul Food.” Then she asked if we had a place for Thanksgiving and if we wanted to come then. Yes! Success! Although I had my hesitations about a “Soul Food Thanksgiving.”
We found out a little later that Christina’s birthday was falling on Thanksgiving. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Christina called me and told me that she didn’t want to cook on her birthday and if I could come over on Wednesday and help her cook it. I said sure and so I found myself the next day, chopping cabbage and onions and apples and learning about how everything would be cooked. I saw how the pork neck and oxtail were boiled before being added to the cabbage and the collards greens. The turkey was cooked with bell peppers and onions. We made dressing and potato salad too. There was so much food that I didn’t feel guilty securing an extended invitation for Josh and Debbie as well. Then I took Trinity, Christina’s daughter, back to my apartment to make brownies, pumpkin pie, and a lemon birthday cake for Christina.
On Thanksgiving Day, Grant, Josh, Debbie, and I walked over to Christina’s with desserts in hand. Everyone we met on the walk wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. When we got there Christina got us women folk in the kitchen. Debbie reheated plates while I made fresh lemonade. The men folk were told to stay in the living room, to Josh’s chagrin and Grant’s relief. There wasn’t a table big enough so we ate in the living room on the end tables. I shouldn’t have worried because the food was delicious! And there was a TON of it! Between us, Christina, her for kids, her mother, her grandson, and the cats we only ate about a quarter of everything that was prepared! We spent the day talking with the family. Grandma made sure to ask us if we were Christians and went to church every Sunday. We watched some movies. We sang Happy Birthday to Christina and ate cake. It was a good day.
Then the next day, we as a team decided to have our own Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving at Christina’s but we were craving traditional Thanksgiving food. We bought a 10 pound turkey for $6! (Woot! Woot!) I brined it and roasted it in my usual. (I am the best turkey roaster I know) We had mashed potatoes (one thing that Christina did not have much to our disappointment). We had stuffing mix that had been sent to us from Josh’s family. We had frozen green beans that we steamed with butter. And we had a homemade pumpkin pie made from pumpkin that had been donated. It was delicious. And we have lots of leftovers. 🙂 God is so good to us. We have more than enough food, new friendships with our neighbors, a great married team, and a support network of family and friends around the country who support us financially, send us care packages, and pray for us regularly. We are truly BLESSED!
So many people are shocked when they hear that we only have $68 a week for groceries for the four of us. Others instantly get worried. “What will you do if your money runs out? How will you eat? Do you only eat beans and rice?” Despite such a low budget, we actually eat quite well. We have to control portion sizes a little, but I think most people eat far more than they need to anyway. How do we do it? Creative planning! For one thing we know what cuts of meat are the cheapest and then we buy them in bulk. Such as 11 pounds of pork shoulder for $17. That’s %1.55 per pound! Or we buy 5 pounds of ground beef at a time, split it up into 1 lb. chunks, and freeze. We’ll over spend one week to do this and then the next week we won’t buy meat and spend well under $68. We also watch for sales. It’s not uncommon for us to find chicken breast on sale for $0.99 a pound! For veggies we buy large bags of frozen broccoli or green beans. Then I’ll steam them and melt a little butter and sprinkle a little salt and…it’s delicious. We also shop at a discount grocer called Aldi. Aldi is able to be so cheap because they put their own labels on everything. Much the way that Trader Joe’s does it, although TJ’s has much better quality. We also shop at Kroger because Aldi doesn’t have everything we need or Kroger actually may have a lower price on certain items. Another way we get food is through Emmaus House. They sometimes get donations of fruits and vegetables and we are allowed to take some! Also, as I am the food pantry manager I keep my eye out for certain finds. For instance, the random can of chipotle peppers with no expiration date. We usually don’t use random items and we’re not allowed to give out food past the expiration date, so snagging the can to make tortilla soup is an exciting opportunity! We plan our meals out for the week and assign a person to make the meal. Then Debbie and I go shopping together. Debbie and I are amazing at this. We even try to buy at least one frivolous item to bring home for our husbands. A couple weeks ago our item was canned pumpkin on sale for $0.99 a can! Debbie made pumpkin bread and on Friday I decided to try to invent pumpkin waffles. We already had a $2 box of pancake/waffle mix that we had bought at Aldi. The “just add water” kind. So I took 1 cup of mix, 1/3 cup of canned pumpkin, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, a few sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and mixed them together. Then I slowly added water until the batter was the correct consistency. (As thick as you can get it while still runny enough to pour off the spoon). Then cook in the waffle maker. Top with syrup or Josh’s aunt’s homemade apple butter. AMAZING! So I hope you will believe us when I say that we are eating just fine.
BTW – Our technology fast is over
2 blogs next Friday. Sorry. It’s late. 🙁
This weekend we had a solitude retreat. We went to a camp an hour outside of the city. It was beautiful! The fall colors were showing and there was a peaceful lake and it was so good to get away from the noise and the business and just be alone! During the day I was inspired to write my first poem ever. (Meaning I don’t think it will win a Pulitzer Prize)
Lord, I see leaves of red and gold
My breathe catches at the beauty they hold
But my heart cries out, “oh, why.”
To display so much beauty the leaf must then die.
But the Lord said to me,
“My child can’t you see?”
“I am making all things new.”
Lord, I long to be with you
But when everything changes, I can’t find you
Why must such a good thing end?
I’m forced to go find you all over again
Then the Lord said to me,
“My child can’t you see?”
“I am making all things new.”
Yesterday, while sitting at the front desk of Emmaus House, I got a call from Charlotte. Charlotte is the After-school program director. “Tell Debbie and Emily that you all need to come with me to pick up the kids because Jimmy Johns in Decatur is giving out subs for $1 but we need to get there by 3pm.” So I round up Debbie and Emily to go pick the kids up from school, something I had never done before. We got to the school and the kids come piling in not thinking much about the fact that all three full time tutors are also on the bus. As Charlotte began driving the kids realized that we weren’t going the normal direction. “Where are we going?! Where are we going?!” the kids ask. “We’re going back to Emmaus House of course,” we say with a smile. “No we’re not! No we’re not! Where are we going?!” We tell them they’ll have to wait and see. They didn’t take that answer very well. Soon, however, the kids decided to sing a song together. But not your ordinary camp song. Instead they sang, all of them, at the top of their lungs, “BABY GONNA LOVE YOU DOWN! THERE’S SO MANY WAYS TO LOVE YA! BABY I CAN BREAK IT DOWN! THERE’S SO MANY WAYS TO LOVE YA!” This was hilarious to me. Most elementary school kids I’ve known don’t even know who Usher is. We finally pull up to the Jimmy Johns and the kids are pretty excited to get sandwiches, but there was a huge line that we had to wait in. Outside. In 50 degree weather. As we were standing there, the kids discovered that my cream colored fleece hoodie was ridiculously soft. (Many people have discovered this, most notably Linsy H.) So the kids all decided to cuddle me from all sides. As I am an avid cuddler myself this was actually quite pleasant. Once we got inside I helped 5 year-old, Peter, the youngest of the ten kids, order his ham and cheese sandwich. Then I got to order my own sandwich! (Never refuse free food on Mission Year) I also got a soda. Then I sat at a booth with the three boys in the program who happily wolfed down their food as growing boys should. They were shocked that anyone would willfully order a vegetarian sandwich as I had done. It was a good outing. As little Peter sitting next to me declared, “It is SO GOOD to to eat FOOD!”
We’ve been here almost 2 weeks now. We’ve slowly gotten settled in and have started building routines. We’ve walked through our neighborhoods and tried to introduce ourselves. We’ve been to church. We’ve been to 2 community meetings. However, it’s been a little difficult to find people who are willing to have a relationship with us. Josh and Debbie have invited quite a few people to our Saturday community and even though some people have said that they were going to come, no one has. It makes us feel very frustrated and unwanted. In fact it’s made me feel anxious some this week. Until during my quiet time I read this:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36
So basically Jesus is telling us to love even those people who don’t love us back. Even though the people here continue to not want us and continue to decline our invitations to dinner, we’re still going to keep on trying because we want to show them that we love them.
So after reading that, I felt better about what we were doing and the very next day, Josh and Debbie met the mom of a couple of the kids in the after school program we volunteer at. She and her three kids have given us a definite yes for dinner tomorrow! We’re praying really hard that they show up!
(also check out my new meals page)
We finally made it to Mission Year this past Monday! This past month has been one of the most hectic in my life. Thank you all who have been praying for our stress. I could really feel them!
We’ve both started headlong into our service sites. Grant goes off to work each day at 8 am, on the bus, dressed in slacks and a button down. With a lunch packed into his backpack. Way different than working at Microsoft! I’ve been learning my way around Emmaus House. I’m supposed to do office work during the beginning of the day but a few of the people that I’m supposed to be working with were out this week so I’ve found myself with little to do other than answering the phone. I’m looking forward to a little more to do next week! In the afternoon I help with the after school program with a few other people. The kids are very loud and very chaotic but there are only ten of them so I think I can handle it. Hopefully, knowing the kids will help us to get to know other people in the community as well.
By the way, we are currently in a technology fast. We are not allowed to use our phones, the internet or watch any television or movies for 6 weeks, except on our Sabbath which is Friday. Then we’re allowed to us our phones and the internet but still no tv or movies. So…if you need to get a hold of us try Fridays!
Well, I’ll tell you more next Friday. I’m thinking about posting our meals that we have come up with. Most of our dinners have come to be about $1.25 per person! And they’re still tasty!
I’m in Southern California for my sister Megan’s wedding!!! This week has been very nostalgic. I drove my car down on Monday and Tuesday and I stayed with my high school best friend, Jilee, on my way down. We had some amazingly deep conversation and it was really cool to reminisce over how much we had changed in the past 15 or so years and all the cool things God is doing in our lives. I’ve REALLY been enjoying the fantastic weather and the spectacular driving skills and I’ve loved talking about Mission Year with my family and old friends.
I’ve basically just been spending my time doing whatever my sister needs me to do and it’s been wonderful. When two people get married with the complete love and support that Megan and Carlos are getting from their families and friends, the wedding turns into such a beautiful process. I keep thinking back to our wedding 2 years ago and how much I felt loved by all the hard work people invested in our wedding and by how far so many people traveled to be there. Seeing how the same things are happening for my sister makes me unspeakably happy. Not a lot of money is being spent here but a whole lot of love is. As Grant says, “God LOVES weddings!” And speaking of Grant, he’s getting here tomorrow!