Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lilies of the Valley

Pray for me.

There are now six days left of school for Ashley. Six. With those six days comes some stress (finals, papers), but many good times. It is definitely bittersweet. Tonight was another last. The last school BBQ and talent show, which meant missing evening worship. I feel emotionally depleted and need that time to recharge spiritually. 

Pray for me to concentrate on my devotions this week so I am open to feeling God's presence.

There have and will be a few huge expenses, unfortunately I have had less income to off-set them. In the beginning of the year I was being called a lot for subbing, and had more freelance work (yet neither paid exceedingly well), but had little free time to pursue a memoir writing business. Now I have free time (and even less income) and have no idea how to pursue paying clients.

Pray for me to be open to business ideas.

Last week at WiNK Rev. Joanne Epply-Schmidt preached about The Samovar. The Samovar is a fancy word for a Russian vessel used to serve tea. A strange man gives this woman a Samovar to keep for him for seven years during which time she will receive great treasures. The Samovar is tarnished beyond repair. As she does something good for others, the Samovar starts to return to its original glory. She tells her husband to keep only what they need and give the rest with the community. After seven years he returns and is amazed at how well she has taken care of the Samovar and tells her she can keep it forever. Joanne did a much better job of telling the story with feeling.

Pray for me as I struggle with how much do we truly need to live? Pray for me to distinguish the wants from the needs.

I'm feeling spiritually and emotionally drained as I write this. I keep reminding myself God clothes the lilies of the valley and feeds the sparrows, surely He will take care of our needs.

Please pray for me. Please tell me how I can pray for you.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Psalm 67

A few weeks ago the scripture reading at our Taize service was Psalm 67.

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known upon earth,your saving power among all nations.
Let the people praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
 and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Truth is, I should have written my thoughts at the moment because I remember the passage resonating with me. Three weeks later, though, I don't remember exactly what I was thinking.

I like the reference to music teachers. But, I doubt that was it. I'm writing as there is a massive game of hide and seek happening around me. So you can say I am distracted and not thinking about praising God.

This passage was read at a Taize service, which means there was no sermon to go with it, only silence to reflect upon it. Silence, which is not happening in the house right now.

I do remember being drawn to the thought of ALL the peoples praising God. Everyone. In harmony. In agreement. In joy. Everyone being blessed, which is in contrast to the Revelations passage that was also read at the same service (see below). In that passage it says 
But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abominations of falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Fortunately the judge of what is "unclean" and what are "abominations of falsehood" is someone who also blesses us and wants us to "sing with joy." It is not my place, nor yours, to cast judgement. God has freed us from that role so we can praise and worship Him.

So what would such harmony look like? What can I do to encourage such harmony in the world? 

The corresponding New Testament reading was Revelations 21:10, 21:22-22:5
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day -- and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abominations of falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
To repeat ... "nothing accursed will be found there any more." Healing will take place for all of the nations. What a lovely thought! After having seen the Northern Lights, a part of me would be sad if there was no more night. I am not a huge fan of night (especially in the bleak midwinter), nor do I doubt God will continue to find ways to amaze us as He shows us His glory, but change (even good change) can be scary. "Its gates will never be shut by day" reminds me of something our Icelandic tour guide Erik told us -- in Iceland most of the six prisons do not lock their doors during the day; prisoners are free to come and go as they please as long as they return to the prison at night. Perhaps Iceland is a little slice of heaven. It has many other good qualities.
God paints a picture of the future in Revelations, which is probably why I have had a hard time understanding this particular book of the bible. I am not a visual person. I like words, but I have troubles seeing the words and painting the image at the same time. I need to hear the words of Revelations in order to paint the image in my mind. Listening to this passage in church I heard the imagine of people worshiping God forever and ever. What a beautiful image!

Again, what can I do in my daily life to show the world I am worshiping God. That his name is on my forehead (without actually going to a tattoo parlor). How does God want me to be His agent of healing?

The house is a little quieter now. The girls are together instead of hiding from each other. They continue to play as if it is not night. I wish I could take the metaphor a little further and say they are all worshiping God together, but they are just having fun together. Graduation is only two weeks away. This time together is precious. After graduation one is moving to Pennsylvania, another will go to her local high school. Life will change for all of them so soon. I want them to enjoy themselves and treasure this time together. Hopefully they will always remember that "God, our God, has blessed us" and may they continue to praise him as they seek His way.

May I remember God has blessed me and continue to praise him.


Writing in the Torah

At the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, where I attend their evening WiNK worship service, Temple Micah also meets on a monthly basis. The church and synagogue have shared this space since 1969. Their first rabbi, Albert Ginsburg, brought with him a large Torah when he started his service in 1970. He stayed with this liberal congregation for 22 years. When he left to continue his service as a semi-retired traveling rabbi, he traded this large Torah for the smaller one that was at the synagogue at the time. Sometime during Rabbi Ellen Greenspan's time as rabbi (1992-2012), she guided the congregation to acquiring a beautiful Torah, and the one Rabbi Ginsburg brought with him from Germany many years earlier, sat unused.

Rabbi Greenspan was followed by Rabbi Vicki Tuckman in 2012. Sadly she died three years later. At that time a fund was created in her honor to repair the old Torah. Which brings us up to today.

Linda Coppelson was selected to restore the Torah. She is a trained Sofret, role until recently that could only be held by a man. I truly wish I had taken notes during her presentation to members of PCOL and Temple Micah. She talked about what she had to do to become one of the only women in the world in order to do this mitzvah.

Linda also talked about the materials that go into making a Torah. In this case it is made from cow skin. The librarian geek in me got excited when she showed a book that shows how the words of the Torah are supposed to line up. There is space for 54 kerns on each line, and so many lines in each column. She showed us her tools -- from erasers to scalpels (which was a huge debate as metal objects are not supposed to touch the Torah, because metal objects are used in war). There was so much she told us, and so much I did not absorb. 

In the end she let us each write a letter in the Torah, even non-Jewish people like me (I asked first). Technically she did the writing and I put my hand on her wrist. I wrote an "ryash" in Joseph's story in Genesis. My friend, Nancy, also wrote a letter on the same line. I feel honored to be a tiny part of their Torah and their history.

The Torah restoration is expected to be completed in time for the High Holy Days in October.

Friday, May 20, 2016

National Zoo

After talking about it for years, we finally decided to spend the night in Washington, DC and get to the National Zoo as soon as it opened, rather than showing up in the afternoon.

The plan worked. We stayed at "cheap" hotel just inside the beltway in Tacoma, MD. Google maps said it was a 22 minute drive away from the zoo, we doubled that for rush hour traffic (and were pretty accurate).

Arriving at the zoo around 8:30 AM meant we had the place to ourselves. We also went the day before, on Mother's Day, and have never seen it quite so crowded. We left before they closed and walked around the National Mall instead. It was fun seeing all the families visiting together all dressed up, but seeing it before the crowds was magical. It reminded us of visiting Disneyland before "rope drop" when the true magic takes place. We did, though, have to duck golf carts with people bringing food and supplies to the animals.

We went straight to the panda bears. Two and a half year old Bao Bao was setting down for a nap. 

Her mother, Mei, was outside but clearly interested in going back inside, where they were cleaning her tank and getting the place ready to open to the public at 9 AM. After a number of attempts by the staff, she found breakfast and started noshing on the bamboo.

Meanwhile Papa Panda Bearn, Tien, seemed quite content to be outside on a nice day, especially once he found his treats and could work on getting them out.

The question for all of us, though, was where is Bei Bei?

Sign on the bottom center directs visitors to
go to the Panda Overlook Cafe and look
in the trees.
It took us a couple of hours to figure out that answer, but once we did we had the cutest view of the baby panda. Bei Bei was hanging out in the tree about 10 feet away from us. Sometimes he would even shift positions so we could take a slightly different position. We returned a few times during our morning to see him. At one point (around noon) he started to climb down the tree, but would stop and take another nap. The crowds were growing with kids on school trips, and it was raining (so long nice weather) so we headed home before he headed inside for lunch. What is really neat about this spot is it it away from the panda cams, so the only way to see him like this is in person. Sort of like being in the club.

While visiting the pandas, someone from the Nixon Library interviewed Ashley and I for their piece on why people love panda bears. What's not to love, right Cousin Nancy?

We enjoyed watching locals run through the park, and push their baby strollers. Around 10:30 crowds of school children arrived. Polite groups, but we no longer had the place to ourselves. We saw the gorillas, and the rare Carolina Bird (Ashley in her Notre Dame Carolina blue sweatshirt).

I enjoyed seeing the 2 month old baby swamp monkey, named Zawadi. A keeper said she just started separating herself from mama for small stretches of time, and really small distances. This was the farthest apart I saw them.

Our one other wish for the day was to see the orangutans use the O-Line. We are always too late. Unfortunately it was just drizzly enough they were afraid for the safety of the animals. Maybe next time we'll leave home at 5 AM so we can beat the crowds.

As always it was fun walking around the zoo and enjoying time with Don and Ashley.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

National Mall at Night (DC)

For the first time with all of our trips down to DC to see panda bears at the National Zoo, we decided to stay overnight. Spending the night in DC meant we could get to the zoo around the time it opened to see the panda bears outside. That was worth the trip! But it also left us with an evening in DC, and no real plans.

Before heading down to DC I called my friend Nancy to see if Sandy Dragon could spend the night. Sandy is doing great, BUT (always a but) he has a tendency to flip himself over when he walks. We suspect at some point about 2-3 years ago he suffered a stroke. As a result, I don't like leaving him alone overnight. That morning he was especially active -- which usually means he is about to poop, though he had just pooped a few days earlier, so he wasn't on schedule to again so soon (they poop about once a week). Well, he did. Not only did he poop, but he managed to hit every article of clothing I was wearing. Yup, I'm in TMI territory now. Nancy said he flipped himself over once as he was getting settled, then got comfortable for the rest of the time with them. Whew!

Long way of saying Nancy suggested we walk around DC after the zoo closed. Here are some of our pictures.


Statue of Alexander Hamilton hidden behind the Treasury Building

Superhero 5K Fun Run (TSC/TCNJ)

I really did not like this 5k.

I will start by accepting some of the blame for not liking it. While I enjoy wearing a costume when I run, I still have certain expectation for a race to be well-run (I'll get to those in a moment). This race didn't do any of that.

I bought a Groupon, which is one of the reasons I did this race. Another was that my friend Gabrielle was running with a team of educators and invited me along. The third reason was that it was close to home.

The special effects look in these pictures is purely accidental. Kind of cool, but not at all intentional. They had a cool super hero scene on the one side -- along with a long line, and a blank white spot on the other side. They also had super hero sayings like CAPOW! to liven up your shot. We stuck to the plain white side.

I posted a question on the organizer's website about the number of runners. When (if) I get a reply I'll post it here. Someone said last year they had 500 people, but based on what I've seen at the Big Red Race, it felt much larger. That could be in part that this race had a lot more strollers.

Pet Peeve #1: packet pick-up for the race in Ewing took place in New Brunswick the day before. New Brunswick is a 45-60 minute drive EACH WAY. We received emails warning us that the line for cape and bib pick up would be very long day of, so go to New Brunswick. There is no way bib pick up could possibly last more than two hours. They just wanted us to "visit the gift shop" the day before at the running store that sponsored pick up.

Pet Peeve #2: They kept referring to this race as taking place in Princeton, NJ. While College of New Jersey used to be in Princeton over a century ago, The College of New Jersey is in Ewing, about 20-25 minutes south of Princeton. Though that would put it only 30 minutes away from packet pick-up.

Pet Peeve #3: It started about 10 minutes late.

Pet Peeve #4: This is totally my peeve -- it was completely un-timed. When we picked up our bib and cape, there was no timing chip, therefore the bib number did not line up with my name, therefore I cannot figure out how many people ran this race.

Pet Peeve #5: Clear the course for the race. They held it the weekend before finals, so there were still some students living on campus. Hold it a week or two later, thus eliminating traffic. If you can't eliminate all traffic, at least keep tour buses and street sweeping machines off of the course. It is only a 5K. It is not that long.

Pet Peeve #6: NO water stations. Are you kidding me? This is a fun run, meaning some people will take an hour to finish the 5k. It was also our first warm day of spring (even without knowing that, they did know the race was in May). Set up a water station.

Pet Peeve #7: Do not tell people at the finish line they can run an extra lap to bring it up to 3.1 miles. In this case it wasn't that my watch was off, they admit their course was too short. The finish line could have stayed in the same place, just have us run the track in the opposite direction to finish.

On the plus, we did all get capes and medals, and no other junk. The race was a fundraiser for a charity, but I don't know what charity. It is a nationally run event that happens throughout the country throughout the running season. I think each city sponsors a different charity. Maybe? 

Costume watching was a lot of fun. No idea how these people did not pass out on the course as I thought about doing so around the 2.7 mile run (if only I realized I had very little to go, I would have pushed through more).

Another plus, it is always fun seeing my local running friends.

So no, I do not plan on running this race again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Peer Pressure Race -- a.k.a. 2016 Big Red Race

The morning of the Big Red Race was cold. Raw cold. Bone chilling. The kind of cold that gets in your skin and works its way to every part of you. I think the actual temperature was in the upper-40s -- which is good running weather -- but it was raining. The rain meant we got wet on our 1 1/2 mile stroll to the start line. On top of that, I left my running watch at home so I ran "naked."

I call it the Peer Pressure Race because my friend Lisa texted me an hour before the race to see if I was still on. I had already paid for the race (only $20, and all proceeds going to the summer programs the school runs for local children), she had not. I said I'd do it if she was doing it. Then I said let's go outside and see how we feel. That's all the encouragement Lisa needed to do it.

We walked down to the start line (down as in, downhill). It was so quiet we saw three deer run across the street in front of us. The rain had paused, but because of the rainy day, it was a completely different set up. Normally kids races are happening outside and there are lots of people around. This time it was eerily quiet. Everything (except the actual 5K race) was moved to the building with the indoor track. 

I went to one side of the building to pick up my bib -- #147. Lisa went to the other side of the building since she also had to pay. We put our tickets in for the raffle (neither one of us won). Finally we ventured back outside. It wasn't raining at this point.

As I said earlier, I left my watch at home which tells me my intervals. Lisa, though she swears she is not a runner, is at least a minute per mile faster than me. I kept pace with her for at least a mile, then did some random intervals. Unfortunately there were no mile markers this year (washed out in the rain?) but the course was the same as usual, so I had a sense of distances.

I was keeping pace with this trio of Lawrenceville students who were singing the soundtrack to Hamilton for all of our benefit. Yes, SINGING while running. I could barely talk long enough to thank them. I tried to change the words to non-stop to say "why do you RUN like you're running out of time, " but they were purists. Another year when I did the race, a group of girls skipped the entire time. I suspect they were different girls since that was a few years ago.

In the end, I finished 34:46 -- 12 seconds faster than in 2013, though since it wasn't a chip start, I can safely subtract a few more seconds. Had I kept up with Lisa, my time would have been in the 31 minute range, but I probably would have also puked or at least passed out. I know who I am, and I am not a 10 minute miler (nor do I wish to do what it would take to get there). I was 12th in my age group. However, there were only 371 runners this year. Other years the number has been closer to 600.

Lisa looks fabulous. I need lessons in how to take a good selfie with a digital camera.

One of the neat things about the race is that I left without any extra stuff. I turned down the t-shirt (I'd never wear it) and reusable bag (I have enough) and they even wanted the bib and pins back at the finish. Plus the money went to charity. Not a bad deal.

Then came time for the 1 1/2 mile walk uphill and home again. That was probably the toughest part because we went inside after the race to check the stats and warmed up. 

It was fun.