Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunset Beach

A beautiful new day dawns at Sunset Beach

Beach=read, even before you get out on the sand! Mom took this shot before I'd even had time to suit up for the day.

Mom & Dad

The new bridge to Sunset Beach. The old swing bridge allowed only one lane across at a time, but was more quaint. After more than fifty years, the bridge was moved to another location for preservation and the new bridge was opened. The island isn't quite the same, but at least you don't have to waitan hour to get on and off. Though, I tend to agree with what I read on a t-shirt that I saw at a souvenir shop. It read,"Sunset Beach Bridge 1958-2010. It was always worth the wait."

Can't ever seem to get away from these...

Time to head to the beach!

The only bad thing about this beach trip- no Andy. He's off making the world a better place right now. Still miss him, though.

I hated to say good-bye to the ocean this morning. I miss you, Atlantic. See you again soon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ways in which you alter

I'm reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom. Sometimes I think I read books like this because I want to become smarter. Sometimes because I want to look smarter. But this time, I was just really interested. I listened to a book on tape the last time I drove from NC to Texas called Forgive Me. I'd chosen the book because the author is an Austinite. But I ended up getting sucked into the story which was about the volatile and controversial days leading up to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Though Nelson Mandela wasn't a main character in the story, I couldn't help but go digging further into history for more facts and details. I do this sometimes- for the reasons I mentioned above- I go digging through history to figure out how I feel about events from the past. It's like I need to emotionally connect to it all or something. I don't really know why. But I've done this sort of excavation with the Holocaust, the Soviet invasion and subsequent wars in Afghanistan, the Civil Rights Movement (though that dig is ongoing) and now, apartheid. Though it doesn't just jump out at me until I put it into words like this, I guess you could say that I'm a little obsessed with injustice and oppression, but I feel like I'm always arriving to the fight a little too late. Like, I'd give my right arm to have ridden with the freedom riders, but the bus left the station a long, long time ago. So I read books and try to get as connected as possible with people who have overcome oppression and lived to tell about it.

What's interesting about that process is that I often find myself connecting on many different levels with the characters whose lives inspire me. Even though my life is incredibly boring by comparison, I had such a moment with Nelson Mandela this past week. His autobiography is amazing, by the way, full of unexpected details that whittle away at the Mandela mystique just slightly. My dad says that his friend Rex Harris has a picture of himself sitting with Nelson Mandela on his sofa. So I could argue that there are three degrees of separation between me and the real Nelson Mandela, but if I happened to be in the room when that photograph was taken I'd be mute as a mouse, because I think it's the voice in this book that I feel connected to. The real guy is still elusive and intimidating, in a good way. What would I say to someone who was imprisoned on behalf of the cause he believed in? When I believe in something, the boldest thing I do is write on my blog about it- and when that gets me into trouble, I cry and wish that people would be nicer to me. The real Nelson Mandela is too much stronger than me to sit on my sofa. But the voice, I like. The voice, I feel like I know.

And here's what the voice said that I connected to this week. When writing about a trip back to the place where he spent his youth, Mandela writes, "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." I like this thought much more than Thomas Wolfe's "You can't go home again" mentality. You can go home. But when you get there, you'll realize that you've turned into someone else during your absence.

I like home. I like smelling the sweet aroma of saturated Earth and detritus that wafts up from the swampy creek running through Water Oak Farms. I like the way the sun illuminates the leaves on the tall trees around my Aunt Judith's house, turning them into miniature green lamp shades on its evening journey westward. I like to hear the sound of my dad on the lawnmower on Saturday afternoon, and I like how the smell of the cigar he smokes to keep away the mosquitoes lingers in the carport and garage after he's finished putting away his yard tools. I like getting texts from friends with invitations to meet up somewhere, and being able to respond, "see you in a few minutes!" I like all of this very much.

But Nelson Mandela is right. Every time I come back here, whether things have changed here or not, I can't help but recognize that I'm not the same person I was the last time I left. Sometimes, there's nothing but pure gratitude that comes from that thought because I know I've come back stronger or happier or healthier in some way. But sometimes there's a tinge of bittersweetness or even frustration. I've been thinking about that this afternoon, about the things I'm thankful I am or am not on this particular trip home, and also the things that I'm frustrated about that have come along with that process. I haven't "figured it out" yet, and I don't think that I will. I'm not really writing about an answer. I decided to write, actually, because part of what I realized had altered was my willingness to be honest about not having an answer. That comes from an intensified desire for honesty and authenticity in general. That is surely one of the things in me which has altered. I've seen the devastation of platitudes, untruth, two-faced double-dealings since I left home. And it broke me. I want no part of it. I realized today, while riding my bike in the green-tinted light from my aunt's trees, that I've got to stop writing like I've got an answer when really all I have is an experience. I did that a lot in Snapshots, and it's going to have to change. I don't have the answers. I just know how I feel and what I believe.

The other way in which I've altered isn't so different from who I used to be. But I guess that I've just gotten a little stronger in my convictions about this particular thing, and maybe that strength will get put into further action. This change stems from the passion I already shared about- to research and connect with those who have suffered injustice/oppression. I got obsessed with the Holocaust when I was 13, so caring deeply and searching for meaning in such things isn't new, but I think the way in which I've altered is that I'm starting to get really tired of being too late to ride the bus. There are a couple of things that I think God is planting in my heart- and maybe there's a ticket for my bus ride in there somewhere. That's coming through what I've been through. Though my experience is lame by comparison, I've learned first-hand what it feels like to be in a position where you feel oppressed, like there's no escape, no hope for justice. That experience has caused me to know for myself the deep need to KNOW that God Almighty is against that oppression. People need to know that God is against all oppression- because oppression comes from sin, not from God. And I feel stronger about that than ever before. Not so scared anymore- even though people might read this blog and in their minds and hearts, hate me even more for it. I'm beginning to just not care about that sort of thing. Because the glory of God is at stake. You can't save the oppressed and fear the oppressor- it doesn't work out that way. If you want to become a player in overthrowing oppression, if you want to take part in God's incredible story of redemption, then you have to stop being so daggone scared of the people who will resist your stand. And I guess that as my heart heals, and I trust God's character more, I am not so afraid anymore.

I'll be here a few more weeks still. There will be more precious time to meet with friends and talk with family and smell the sweet, smoky smells of home. And with all that, maybe there will be more revelations about how I've altered.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Missin' you

I'm in North Carolina. I'll be here for a while because Andy has some super secret National Guard stuff to do. I love being home, especially since I'm spending the time filling in for my friend Danielle at Jack Britt while she's on maternity leave! There's nothing bad about being here right now, and hopefully I'll get a chance to write about great times with friends and family while I'm here. But the downside is that I miss my favorite person in the world- my Andy. So I thought I'd post a few pics from last weekend's kayaking adventure to remind me of him, which always puts a smile on my face.

Andy had an idea to make some artisan bread.

Andy's dough

Doggies and I are waiting for a taste, but it'll be a long wait. Andy let the dough rise in the fridge overnight.

Next morning, Andy gets back to work in the kitchen.

Doggies can smell it this time!

The finished product. :)


After playing baker, Andy soaked up some rays on the Colorado river.

'Yaking is so much more fun with our "outward hounds."

Andy and Gats went to say hi to a cow while Daisy and I look on.

Daisy got pretty caught up in all the action.

Cows don't like kayaks.

But Andy likes chasing them with his kayak. :)

After so much action, Gats needed a nap.

This was a really beautiful section of the river. I loved how the trees stretched out across the water.

Me smiling at the man who makes me smile.

I love you, Andy! Thank you for your endless help, patience and love. You are my favorite person in life. I miss you and can't wait 'til our next adventure together!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stories that Need to be Told- RBI

This little guy showed up for one of the first official RBI clinics. MLB will assist with these clinics, but it takes a village to raise a baseball league.

Matt and another volunteer coach talk strategy at a Reagan High School varsity game.

Major League Baseball footed the bill for this beautifully restored practice/JV field at Reagan. Without the field, Austin might not have been approved as an RBI city.

Throwing heat at the Reagan/Eastside Memorial game

You'll see a few of these signs in the St. Johns neighborhood

Matt signs a baseball at one of the clinics, evidence of how much these kids look up to him.

At the end of the writing class, we had a final project. We were paired with a photographer and given these instructions- "Tell a story." And that was about it. We could tell any kind of story we wanted, in any way we wanted, but we had to keep in mind the elements of story-telling we'd learned in the class.

My partner in crime was Jenny Pinkston- a photographer/first grade teacher with a heart for story-telling and, what I guess would be called "scoop" on some great stories that are being lived out at the Austin Stone. So it was Jenny who first told me about RBI- which stands for "Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities." Jenny knows about RBI because she's friends with the guy who God used to bring RBI to Austin- Matt Price. Jenny set up an interview for me, and I got to ask Matt all about this unique program that's bringing restoration to baseball fields and, more importantly- baseball players. I had a time limit on the story, so there are a few great details that I had to leave out, but I got the gist of it out there in this piece:

I used to think that the New Jerusalem would be nothing but gold streets and crystal seas. I thought there would be buildings everywhere, with gems embedded in their foundations. I imagined that everything would always be shining, light reflecting from the Lamb. But now I'm not so sure. I've started thinking that somewhere inside that golden city, there might be a field. The field won't reflect the light, it will absorb it, and the grass will be as green as spring time. On that field, there might be some boys- some boys most people on the Old Earth thought would never see this city. And those boys will be playing baseball.

I know one person who thinks those boys should play ball in that city. His name is Matt Price, and God gave him something that I do not possess- athletic ability. So much athletic ability that he got to play baseball from the time he was eight years old all the way through college. God gave Matt more than just the ability to play, He gave him a love for the game. That love birthed a desire for a career in baseball. What more could a kid from Corpus Cristi want than to go off to college at Wheaton, play ball for a few years, and come back to an internship with the Round Rock Express? That was the plan, anyway. .

But the following year, with graduation approaching and adult life looming ominously, like thunder clouds threatening a rain-out, Matt connected with the Express manager only to find that the internship he had been counting on was already filled. Without any other plans, Matt planned to work at a summer camp in the Hill Country. But before the camp got started, God provided Matt a job at a bank in Austin. He was able to take the job and still work a couple of weeks at Still Water Sports Camp, where he played baseball with some inner city kids. Then he traded his cleats for loafers and went off to start life in the air conditioned financial kingdom.

But something happened to Matt at Still Water- a new desire had been conceived there- a desire to make an impact. So when a friend alerted him to the needs of Reagan High School's baseball team, Matt was ready to respond. When Matt began to volunteer as a coach, he became familiar with the needs of the team and the brokenness of the community. Reagan High School is in the St. Johns neighborhood. It's a community that has been deteriorating for years as poverty and crime have increased in the area. Thirty-four percent of the community lives beneath the poverty level, and many more people skim just above it. High school drops- outs are common, as are teenage pregnancies, drug use and gang activity. But in the midst of this, there are boys who want to play baseball. And Matt was determined to give them a chance to play.

The first thing that came to Matt's mind was to give players an opportunity to keep playing ball after the spring season ended. He had grown up playing year round and knew that to be competitive, the guys would need a chance to play through the summer. So he and his friends pooled their resources and funded a summer team themselves. They called the team the East Austin Blazers, and they invited kids from Reagan, Eastside Memorial and Lanier High Schools to play that summer.

During the spring, Matt focused on the team and its athletic skills, but that summer, he got to invest more time into the guys lives. There were road trips to games, pool parties, and, at the end of the season, the team celebrated with a trip to see the Rangers play. Matt was building a team that could hit, field and even win- which came as a shock to the Reagan players, who had never won a game. But he was also developing relationships based in trust and transparency. He recruited other coaches to volunteer, and with time, they started a weekly Bible study for the players. Matt even moved into the St. John's neighborhood. He was already much more than a volunteer who dropped by to play catch after a busy day at the office, but now he was a part of the community.

In January 2010, Matt learned about Major League Baseball's RBI program. Its purpose is to revive baseball in inner cities by increasing interest in and support of baseball programs just like Matt's. The Blazers fit the profile almost perfectly, but there was just one problem- they didn't have a field. In order for RBI to take on the Blazers, they would need a field where they could consistently practice, play and host clinics.

Reagan's varsity team played on Nelson Field, but that field is owned by Austin Independent School District. When Matt first began his summer team, he contacted AISD about using the field and they said no. The other options available were to rent a field or use the devastated junior varsity field. Matt had rented a field in the past, but for RBI, they would need a field of their own. The JV field was covered in weeds and thorns, the pitchers “mound” was elevated by only a few more particles of dust than the rest of the field, and there wasn't much grass to speak of. It wasn't the kind of field that would make them eligible for RBI.

But January 2010 was a busy time for baseball in Austin. The Major League Baseball grounds keeper's convention was being held in the city. The conference brings in the League's experts on field maintenance, and as a service to the host city, the grounds keepers select a field in the city to restore. Matt and his team alerted to the opportunity to submit Reagan's JV field for consideration. And, as God would have it, their offer was accepted. A year-long overhaul began, and in February 2011, the field began official use as a part of Major League Baseball's RBI program.

But it wasn't only the field that was overhauled. Matt's life was going through drastic changes, as well. In order to meet the increasing demands of the RBI program, Matt left his job in banking and began to work full-time raising funds and coordinating schedules for the league. He went from a steady paycheck to nothing at all, living off of his savings for three months, while he did the start-up work for RBI. He said he was unwilling to pay himself until the league was on its feet, but I have a feeling that Matt's treasure is stored up in another place all together. Instead of working 9 to 5, Matt's time is spread thin- making phone calls, planning fund-raising events, going from game to game and hosting clinics. The work is difficult, costly and challenging.

But I think that Matt must have long ago come to the realization that I've just come to- that God must be a baseball fan. Because He has displayed His splendor in the new grass in the outfield at Reagan High School, and that splendor is just a shadow of what's to come. So my guess is that Matt is not working as much for games that will be played on the Reagan field, beautiful as it is, as he is toward recruiting a team for another field- where Matt and some boys from St. Johns will play baseball in a shining, eternal city.

So, hopefully, if you made it through all of that, you realize that God put the puzzle pieces together so that His love and redemption could chase some baseball players around their new diamond. This weekend, our missional community got to get a little bit involved with the RBI program by providing snacks and drinks at their first summer clinic.

If you live in the Austin area and you're interested in getting involved with RBI- I believe there is still a need for summer volunteers. You can check it out by going here:

If you're not an "Austinite" you can check and see if RBI is active in your city or, you can just take some time to play ball with a kid this summer or go to a game with your friends or family. Investing in people's lives is what this is all about. Hope you're as inspired as I am to take some time to invest in other people, no matter where you are or how you do it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grace like rain

It's been really dry in Texas lately. Last spring, we were in El Nino, which meant that lots of moisture came our way from the Pacific. But following El Nino, there is La Nina, and apparently La Nina hates Austin because she never brings us any rain.

So it's dry. The lakes are low, the rivers and creeks look more like hiking trails, and the plants are already dingy brown in some places- and it's not even summer yet. Some days, there are dark clouds that pass above, but for weeks I haven't seen any of them so much as drip.

But yesterday, I woke up and noticed that the house was dark. I had to keep all the lamps on, even after I opened the blinds. After Andy left for work, I heard rumbling sounds and, finally, I took a good look outside. A thunder storm had descended upon our neighborhood- at 9 o'clock in the morning. Having grown up with afternoon thunderstorms as an almost daily experience in the summer months, I'm always a little weirded out to hear thunder in the morning. Seems unnatural to me. And it freaks Gatsby out. He spent the morning sitting on my lap, which meant that I had to carefully maneuver the Physics textbook I was reviewing so that he could have adequate space.

Then, the rain came. Not just drips and drops, but sheets & buckets of glorious rain. I moved my houseplants out to the porch to get a little shower, and left the door open so I could enjoy the sound of the storm. Then I went back to preparing my tutoring lesson.

I was in great spirits, not just because of the rain, but because a little while before I received a phone call. The call was an invitation to meet with the headmaster of Hill Country Christian School, the school where I currently tutor and occasionally fill in as a sub. Weeks ago, after I returned from our March trip to NC, I went over to HCCS and dropped off my resume, though I had no way of knowing if that would amount to much of anything. For months, all I've heard from the TV and radio are stories of devastating cuts in public education. Two of my friends in Austin did not have their contracts renewed due to these drastic cuts (one of them has since gotten hers renewed- praise God). I usually change the channel after listening to the reports for a little while. It's tempting to feel like the odds are so stacked against you when you're a teacher in these circumstances, that you can doubt God's sovereignty in all things. So in a time when so many teachers are in a scramble, I went, not scrambling, but seeking- for a teaching job. And yesterday, during a rain storm with strange timing- I got one.

I'm going to teach Chemistry and Biology at Hill Country Christian School next year. And yesterday there was a thunderstorm in the morning. God made both of those things happen.

I'm amazed at God, sometimes. I like being amazed at God. Last year, when I moved to Texas, I scrambled to find a job- I looked hard and worked hard and spent money trying to get one. And nothing happened, nothing at all. Then, a year later, when I am not really looking at all, God opens the heavens and says, "Here! Look, I've been saving this one up for you!" A job when you're not worried or desperate, a storm when you least expect it- I think that's amazing, and I think He's amazing for putting it all together that way.

Yesterday, after the rain storm, Andy and I took the dogs for a walk in the beautiful evening sun. I said that I felt like God's grace had poured out on me today, but that I knew that, really, His grace has been with me all along. I haven't worked in a year. But Andy and I have had every possible need met by the Lord, and then some. His faithfulness astounds me. We have not feared, we have not panicked, we have not lacked anything. Thank you so much, Lord God.

Sometimes it seems like God's grace is dried up in our lives, like He's forgotten us and left us dry and weary. I've felt like that sometimes this year, even though God has met so many needs. Sometimes I've felt like I had no purpose. So many times I felt so worthless. And for the entirety, almost, I've struggled with whether or not His love for me and devotion to me is as great as His love and devotion to other people. There have been so many times that I've prayed and asked God for help, and I expected it to come in a certain form. When I didn't get the help I asked for in the form I expected, I sometimes thought He didn't care, that I meant less to Him because of the circumstances He was letting me go through. But sometimes it thunderstorms in the morning, and that is when you least expect it. But when it comes, there's something so thrilling and right about it. And we know that God always wanted to send the rain, that He knows how much it's needed and how beautiful everything is when He quenches His thirsty Earth.

In this time that I have waited on the Lord-while I haven't worked and while I've doubted and been hurt so terribly- I have learned, truly, that my God will not delay. At the right time, He will open the Heavens- and He will send rain. There are a couple of areas in my life that still feel a little dry. But I know that when He comes into them I'll see with fresh vision that He's always been storing up His grace for me. That's His nature. Until then, I'll do my best to wait patiently- and be thankful and hopeful because His grace always comes- and so does the rain.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day in the Sun

Just a couple pics from Sunday's trip out to Muleshoe Bend Park. The lake was low, but the picnic was good and there was plenty of sun and time to play fetch with Gats.

San Antonio