Consider this a sort of "examen" for what I'm learning month-by-month - both the weighty lessons and the daily hilarities.
September is, was, and always has been a somewhat stressful month. I assumed that would change when we no longer marked our lives by the school calendar. Nope. Granted, we moved in August which precipitated a ripple effect of undealt-with stressors, and included the most painful back experience of my life (including labor with four children). Still, there were plenty of milder moments of reflection, listening, and insight.
Here's five discoveries from September:
1. Kids never outgrow first day of school cookies
My kids still want - no, expect - homemade cookies at the beginning of the school year. And some of them are no longer even in school (although, one of our sons is a school teacher, so that's kind of the same thing.) If you've known me long enough, you know that only means one thing. What's round, and orangey, with chocolate dots all over?
Only now, the preparations include finding suitable shipping packages, racing to the post office asap after removing from the oven, and paying a small fortune in shipping. If it helps prop up my false claims at being a cookie-baking mother, it's totally worth it.
2. Stew Leonard's is worth the occasional drive for groceries
I've been hearing about this store since we moved to Connecticut 14 months ago. In September I happened to be driving nearby - close enough to stop in for a few minutes. What an experience! I need to go back when I'm not on a time-crunch (and, maybe, not during rush hour). I didn't even make it to the world-famous dairy section!
3. Eleanor Roosevelt is a social and political hero, which is way better than being a first lady-lifestyle maven
In July some friends from Austin visited us, and on their way, stopped in Hyde Park to visit Eleanor and FDR's homes (now preserved as a part of our national park system.) Prompted by their description (maybe even, especially, by their elementary-aged kiddos' descriptions), I borrowed from the library Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front During World War II. In September, my parents visited us, and we were looking for a couple of "touristy" things to do together. I was delighted when my mother suggested we travel to Hyde Park (approximately an hour and a half away from us). She and I enjoyed every moment touring both Eleanor's Val-Kill cottage (bonus: We learned that "Val-Kill" is a Dutch abbreviation for Valley Stream, which sounds so much lovelier than "Val-Kill", doesn't it?) as well as the main home, the Springwood mansion, technically owned by FDR's mother, Sara. So much of what I'd just read took on more meaning as we walked through the rooms still displaying the furniture (including a homemade wheelchair used by FDR after his tragic bout with polio). One aspect that was especially meaningful was the difference in formality between Sara's (the mother) mansion and Eleanor's (the wife) taste. The King and Queen of England and Senator JFK, among many other global political and civic leaders, were guests in Eleanor's simple, even somewhat plain, home and she managed to out-royalty most them, anyway.
4. #BlackOut is another way to boycott the NFL
When I wrote a personal response to the controversy over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, I titled the post "Is boycotting the NFL another example of white flight? and 18 other questions I'm asking myself about the response to the #TakeAKnee protest"
For more perspective on the various responses, my daughter recommended I watch this clip of commentator Shannon Sharpe's critique of what he feels is a hypocritical response of the NFL to the President's comments about the #TakeAKnee protest in Alabama last week.
This is what Natalie said about the clip:
I also hadn't realized that there was already a boycotting movement to protest the way the NFL responded to Colin Kaepernick in the original protest. My friend Glorya told me about #BlackOut, a growing number of African Americans that are boycotting the NFL because of the organization's treatment of Colin Kaepernick and their implicit system of racism.
Here is the video introducing the #BlackOut protest produced by several African-American pastors in Alabama. Here's a boycott I could get behind. (I love that there are 4 tiers to the protest which addresses so many layers of need.)
5. It is a good and beautiful gift to worship with churches of other denominations and cultures
In the 14 months we've lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut we could probably count on one hand the number of times anyone's had anything good to say about the city of Bridgeport. It's one of the state's largest cities with one of the nation's highest crime rates. When I'm talking to out-of-state friends about Bridgeport, I say "People talk about the city like the biblical question about Jesus' hometown, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" There's unemployment, poverty, and blight. In the way of all God's gifts, He led us (without our even realizing it) to move into a loft apartment inside a renovated factory in the south end of Bridgeport. Without our realizing it, God placed us directly across the street from a church whose pastor we'd had the privilege to meet on couple of different, important settings in our first year in CT.
During the last 10 days of September, this church, New Vision International Ministries, hosted a city-wide event, 10 Days of Prayer for Bridgeport. For 24-hours a day, for ten days straight, the sanctuary was open for prayer and worship with three concentrated services scheduled for each day. I attended a couple different evenings (literally walking out my door, across the street, into their door), unsure of what to expect in a church setting unfamiliar to my own experience in several ways. The discomfort didn't even last to the front door, as several greeters met me along the walk way and into the sanctuary with hugs and "God bless yous". I slipped into the center of room, without knowing anyone around me, and was swept into the fervency of the prayer and worship going on around me. One time, on the day that Brian was scheduled for a 3-hour time slot as a pastoral prayer, I walked across the parking lot to meet him. A car drove in past me, and a little girl (like, maybe 5?) stuck her head out the window, a headful of braids blowing behind her, and called back toward me, "Peace!!"
Another time, during an evening service, the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart more deeply than ever God's commitment to make His name and truth known in power - with or without the help of the White American church. I responded with both lament (for all the ways White American Christians have let our brothers and sisters down) and with a substantial hope that caused me to intercede deeply for that congregation: "Lord, let the congregations of color in our country lead us closer to Your purposes." I was quite caught up in prayer and worship and, suddenly, felt someone's arms come around me. I opened my eyes and saw a teenage girl who'd earlier been sitting at the end of the row, hugging me and resting her head on my shoulder. I was so surprised I only thought to hug her back and say "Thank you, honey." A moment later she was gone from our row. I don't know what any of that meant (maybe just that the congregation at New Visions is incredibly hospitable). But as I think back on it, in light of what the Holy Spirit was impressing on me in prayer, the story takes on an even deeper layer of meaning for me.
We're grateful for the beautiful welcome we received, and for the vibrant hope for healing and transformation within the church community of Bridgeport. Each night for those ten days, we headed into our apartment with the sounds of full-scale song from inside the church across the street blowing across the sea breeze of our neighborhood. It felt like we lived under a canopy of worship each day. Like the angels who are bowing and worshipping in God's presence night and day, whether we realize it or not.
We are hopeful for all the good to come out of Bridgeport and Fairfield County. Let it be so, dear God.
Did you learn any lessons - lighthearted or weighty - during September? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
(here's what some other folks are sharing)