Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  
Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I walked with the world at General Conference 2008

The Downtown Fort Worth Convention Center where the General Conference was held.

I spent this past weekend in Fort Worth at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I've been trying to think ever since I got back for the perfect word to describe my experience- a word to sum up how it felt to be in a place with thousands of people from all around the world who have all felt their "hearts strangely warmed." Even with a dictionary full of words sometimes the English language just Needless to say I felt so inspired by the good that is happening all over the world because of these people. Although I was at the Conference for little more than a day, I left renewed in spirit and empowered to continue my work as a social justice missionary now more connected with my sponsor denomination, more ready to represent these people of faith.

I attended the Conference with Glenn, UMCOR Sager Brown depot manager, and Kathy, the director at Sager Brown, i.e. my co-worker and boss. We were invited to share in the rural life celebration, which honored all of the town and country ministries in the US. Along with our organization, individuals representing Appalachian Service Projects, Henderson Settlement, Hinton Service Project, were a part of the celebration. Each ministry was asked to carry a banner and parade it onto the convention floor. Preceding our banner parade were butterfly streamers created by one of the rural life ministries representing all of the rural ministries (those like ours as well as rural churches) bearing the United Methodist Church name in the US. If I remember correctly there were about 25000 total. The celebration ended with a rousing "These are the Days of Elijah" by a rural life choir with all the banners swaying with the music.

After exiting we joined the other ministries for an outdoor information fair that lasted about 3 hours. We spoke to a couple hundred people I guess, but definitely the most memorable visitor were the delegates from the Central Conferences, ie countries outside the US. Many were dressed in their native garb and very few understood English well enough to grasp the purpose of our display. Part of our ministry is to inspect and ship health kits, school kits, sewing kits, ect. to places of need throughout the world and so to encourage people to donate we had several of these kits on display. A few delegates from one of the Central Conferences thought we were giving away the contents of these display kits and it took several minutes of confused English and attempts at sign language before the message that these items were for display purposes only was delivered successfully. I can imagine that after everything was explained the delegates left thinking it was pretty silly of us Americans to have cloth diapers, toothbrushes, and soap as part of our display. Near the end of the information fair someone drove up to our booth on a "PET" or personal energy transportation vehicle. PETs are basically handcranked tricycles that can be used by people in impoverished rural areas around the world who have lost the use of their legs due to polio or landmine injury, ect. Check me out below riding one. I have to say that it was lots of fun, but is way harder than it looks. According to what I've read about PETs, each different part is made by different non-profit, faith-based groups in the US and then assembled and sent to someone in need. What a great symbol of working together!

After the fair we spent several hours exploring the different displays set up by various ministries, General Board of Higher Education, General Board of Discipleship, General Board of Global Ministries, Cokesbury, ect. My favorites by far were the display about the history of inclusiveness in the church by the General Commission on Religion and Race and the international display by the Advance- our charitable giving program. The display about inclusiveness (photo to the right) included a self guided timeline equipped with video and audio clips of individuals or events highlighted by the timeline. At the end of the timeline was a "human race machine." I'm sure you know what I'm talking about you've probably seen one on TV before. It kinda looks like a mall photo booth, but instead of printing a picture of someone a la Van Gogh style it computer generates a picture of someone as a different race. Of course, Kathy, Glenn, and I all tried it out and we had a fun time laughing a ourselves. The message that I think they show fairly well is the beauty of each race's distinctive features. "There is no gene that determines race." The Advance display (photo to the left) featured life size replicas of ministries that are supported by the funds collected through Advance giving by United Methodists. Basically the Advance provides a whole catalogue of ministries and programs to support and each has its own distinct number. People may choose exactly which program to support and know that their money will go directly to that program. The display pictured left is of the Kissy Medical Center in Sierra Leone.

Before heading back to Louisiana the next morning, Glenn and I attended morning worship at the convention center and heard Bishop Minerva Carcano (click on the link for a copy of her sermon). She was an amazing speaker and I couldn't help but join in on the standing ovation at the close of her sermon. She spoke about the real issue of justice for immigrants in the US. As a bishop in the Desert Southwest Conference its an issue she faces daily and it was so nice to hear what someone deeply connected to the issue had to say. She connected the radical hospitality needed in our treatment of immigrants with the story of Jesus healing the madman, Legion, who lived in a village cemetary... a living man relegated to a land of the dead. Worship concluded with "You Shall Go Out with Joy." It felt so appropriate to be leaving on such a joyous note from an experience so spiritually uplifting.

Just residing with hope, Margaret

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.

-Luther Burbank, American botanist

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thinking about saying goodbye already...

Today was the day that we distribute commodities at work through a program called Food for Families. We only hand out food once a month, but since I've been in charge of the program for over a year now several of the faces that I see each month have become friends-- sweet people who have chosen to share a little part of their lives with me. Today a few of our elderly clients, found out that I would be leaving soon, that my time as a missionary in their community was coming to an end. I was so touched by one older man's response to this news that I wanted to share it with all of you. He of course first questioned me as to when I'd be leaving (which is actually in two months) and then said "We'll miss you." I told him that I would miss seeing him, too, and he reached over to me. I thought he was going to just pat me on the shoulder, but instead he gave me a great big hug and said thank you. It was nice to see that these people who I have only known for a year and who I spend maybe 30 minutes total each month with would miss my presence. I'm so glad that I chose to spend some time serving in a new community after graduating. I feel like I've learned so much about life and I got to meet such sweet people. Serving others makes me feel so alive when I take the time to remember to slow down and recognize what's going on around me. Today receiving a hug from that old man was one of those moments.

Just, Margaret

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

Our Earth Day celebration was great! All my plans for what the day should represent were highly exceeded and as I drove around from one project site to the next I was simply joyous. To think that I helped make this happen was unbelievable. I guess this day was just a testament that when people work together great things can happen. Here are some photos of our fun day with a few captions for explanation.

Connie and a volunteer picking up trash near our campus.

Our makeshift factory, manned by volunteers of course, cutting out conservation reminders to post around our campus.

Enthusiastic volunteers about town in all shades of green.

Bill and Ken and all the trash we picked up.

"O God, make us prophets of our time."
A closing worship to focus our actions back on our responsibility to serve as stewards of the world God created.

Just believing that together we can make a difference, Margaret

Monday, April 21, 2008

A new pair of glasses

Friday night I picked up my new pair of glasses from Target. I love that feeling of new glasses... being able to see again is great. It always reminds me of when I was a little kid and got my first pair of glasses. I remember that I wasn't too happy about having to wear them all the time, but putting them on and being able to see the leaves in the trees in our backyard was an awesome experience. My parents kept asking me if I could see this or that. I saw the world clearly for probably the first time. So all day Saturday I wore my new glasses revelling in their newness and how well I could see. (To qualify: I very rarely wear my glasses all day and lately it hasn't even because my last pair split down the middle. Plus, since middle school I've been pretty attached to my contacts.)

Today I put on my glasses again and I happened to catch a glimpse of my self reflected in a window pane as I walked into my office building. I'm sure why, but I just started to think about all of the superhero alter egos who wore glasses, like Clark Kent or Peter Parker. I am not a comic connoisseur, in fact I'd say I'm barely a novice in the field. But I do find it interesting that glasses somehow came to signify a change in the comic world from superhero to ordinary guy. Anyway, I began to think what's different about me when I wear my glasses. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I keep thinking about it and let you know. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy seeing clearly.

Just, Margaret

Friday, April 18, 2008

What are you doing for Earth Day?

Today I was hoping to take off a little early from work, but I'm not sure that will work out. Earth Day is just around the corner and as the youngest and closest thing to a eco-justice expert on our staff I'm in charge of planning our activities. I've always loved celebrating Earth Day, but it does take some thought to plan activities that will be significant to a wide audience. For me taking steps to live green make so much sense. It's also a justice issue. Global climate change is a problem that is largely initiated by the world's wealthy nations and is most devastating to those living in economically depressed regions. Anyway, I don't want to get on my soapbox. I guess I'm just trying to say that you should try to do something on Tuesday to learn more about eco-justice yourself or share what you know with someone else. So what are my plans... well, I'll be wearing green of course and joining the rest of my work community picking up trash around town, putting up water and energy conservation notices around our campus, and leading a discussion on appropriate responses to eco-justice issues in our community.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gardening Project Update

If you'll remember a couple of weeks ago I put up a post about working at the local Senior Center. Here are a few pictures of the final project. It looks so much better! Kudos to all of the volunteers who helped with the gardening projects this Spring!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A $10 blue plastic lawnchair

Yesterday after church I stopped by WalMart and bought a bright blue plastic lawn chair. One of those lawn chairs that when you first open it is completely flat, then you bend one side or another, and it makes that clicking noise. My thought was that I'd enjoy a nice afternoon outside finishing the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for book club on Tuesday night. I did have a nice afternoon, but I forgot one important piece of the puzzle. Sunscreen!!

Yipes! I'm sure you can guess where this is going. Anyway, today I'm paying for my mistake, with two bright red shins and a slight sunglasses shaped burn on my face if you look hard enough. My legs are literally the color of the boiled crawfish I ate with Mom and Pop last week. I know I don't really have anyone to blame except myself, but I've decided to blame WalMart anyway. Why? Well, with my sun drained and fever induced reasoning, I've decided that WalMart made that lawn chair too readily available and also haven't set up their usual, somewhat obnoxious, summer display of sunscreen yet, even in Louisiana where we basically bypass spring every year. I'm sure I'll feel better tomorrow, but its all I can think about right now.

Time for another application of aloe vera. Just, Margaret

Friday, April 11, 2008

Scrabble tiles and crawfish

My week with my Mom and Pop is now at its end. They began their long drive home this morning at 8:30AM. I know that I've neglected posting this week, but sometimes its more important to just be present in the moment with people, instead of spending time reflecting on it. Spending time with Mom and Pop has been really special and according to Pop "genuinely an experience of a lifetime." Of course I've already shared that we spent time playing games and in case you were wondering Mom was our overall winner hands down. I did manage to squeeze to Rummikub wins out of the week, but Mom is an amazing Scrabble player and no matter how hard Pop and I tried we simply couldn't even give her some healthy competition. Each game she inevitably drew the Q or Z and then proceeded to squeeze all of the possible point value out of them.

We enjoyed time together at meals and I even expanded their culinary horizons with my awesome homemade pizza and my favorite Mexican restaurant's spinach enchiladas. By far the most fun meal was on Saturday night at a very local seafood restaurant, where Mom and Pop ordered Cajun crawfish boil. Picture a tin bowl full of bright red crawfish and a roll of paper towels on an old heavy wooden table. After a several lessons with the waitress on the proper way to crack open the crawfish shell, Mom and Pop were enjoying an authentic Louisiana feast. It was great and I hate that I forgot my camera.

Just Margaret.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


This is a pretty old song (in fact it came out on a Priscilla Herdman album the year I was born), but I just heard it today. I love the lyrics- a woman reliving moments in her life. I instantly wanted to share it because its an expression of "authentic selfhood." I'm not sure if May Alice Jeffers was a real person, but if she was she didn't allow her life to be limited by what people thought she should be or should do or how she should live. Plus like lots of great folk songs its not afraid to bring up issues of social justice. Sorry I couldn't find a link to the song being sung. For now the lyrics will have to do.

Just, Margaret.

Letter From May Alice Jeffers
Fred Small

I'm an old woman typing
Old as the year, seventy-eight
Hear what I say
I was born in Laurel, Mississippi,
I live in North Carolina today
With my grandson James.
Now about the children
I had five children before the Great Depression
Five more since then.
All of them are living now
But the one that died in the war.
All the rest had children, too.

Don't blame the children
Every girl, every boy,
They ain't no burden,
They're my pride and joy.
I know they're beautiful
Like leaves on a tree
And as I am growing old
They shelter me.

I have worked at every kind of job
Nursed people, preached, and sang
When I was a young woman, I built roads
I have not worked a job
In nineteen years--my grandchildren
Take care of me.
Now listen to me
Babies don't cause poverty
'Cause poverty
Is just people never paid enough for what we done.
You hear them talk--barefoot and
Pregnant. But I been barefoot
Pregnant or not.


I have known socialists
They stayed in my home in 1964
For the vote drive
They were like my children
I don't care if they be black or white
God bless you and all the socialists
My first husband was a Methodist
We did not drink but we did dance
When we had our family picnic
I think the white folks thought the colored
Was taking over, there was so many,
And the young men still ask me to dance.


Monday, April 7, 2008

A Family Visit

Mom and Pop, my paternal grandparents, are visiting for a week to volunteer at the mission camp where I work. It is so nice to have some family around. I'm hoping to store up plenty of Georgia hugs. Sorry this is so short, but I have to get over to my apartment for a game of Scrabble or Rummikub.

Just, Margaret

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Getting my hands dirty...

So I told you earlier this week that I'm working on community gardening projects with my job. Mostly I've been supervising, but today I got a chance to get out and work with our volunteers (from North Carolina, Texas, and Washington). Today we were working on the local Senior Center, basically a place for senior citizens to participate in various recreational activities and receive a free hot lunch. As I'm sure you can see, their landscaping needed a lot of TLC. While the volunteers added plants and mulched the front bed, my job was to wash the sign. It's pretty menial labor cleaning a sign, but while I was working on it all I could think about is how much this small job would mean to the older adults who visit the Senior Center everyday. I've worked with many of them in other settings and I know that so many are plagued by loneliness and feelings of being forgotten. Today was Mr. Dan and Ms. Patricia's day to be remembered. I guess what I'm trying to say is it takes so little to let people know that you care, but it makes a big difference to everyone. Now that I've passed sunshine all around, I'm ready for a shower.

Just, Margaret

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Today a quote...

Hope this encourages you. Just, Margaret.

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from

James M. Barrie

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two happy fools

I've been trying all day to think of an April fool's joke to put on my blog. But I've not figured out one that people who don't necessarily know me would understand and there is definitely no way I could work up one as intricate as Gmail's this morning. Custom time stamping for emails... talk about an ethical dilemma! I will admit that it did take me a few minutes to get what was going on. So, Google, you got me! I thought instead of trying to play tricks I would share with you one of the reasons I love April Fools Day.

Fifty-five years ago today my Grammy and Granddaddy were married. They are still together today and I think they would be proud of the title I've given this post. In many ways they have been fools in love. Whenever I visit, I can tell that their affection for each other has grown with each passing year. Their love has a great story... one that I've always loved to hear. I'm not going to share all of it now, but I do want to share with you one of my favorite anecdotes. This encounter happened not too long before they were engaged. My granddaddy, Elick, paid a visit to my grandmother, Margaret, in her hometown of Broxton. Margaret was engaged to be married... dress purchased, invitations ordered, and announcement already in the local newspaper. Elick knew of the engagement, in fact he was in a pretty steady relationship too, but he decided to visit anyway. Margaret did agree to go out for a drive with him around the county. They stopped on the local college campus to talk. And this is my favorite part-- I can hear my grandmother tell me this part of the story right now. She told Elick, "My mother always said, 'you can't have your cake and eat it too.'" With that she decided to call off her engagement to Ross Lily and Elick decided to end his relationship too, the rest as they say is history.
My grandparents were married on April first in the small church next door to my grandmother's childhood home. And if you were wondering, their were no jokes played at the altar. Margaret wore the dress she had already decided upon and Elick stood next to her as the grateful bridegroom. During those fifty-five years, they started a family of which I was the first grandchild and eventually settled back in Broxton across from my grandmother's home and the special church where they began their lives. I love them... I'm sure you can tell. Happy Anniversary, Grammy and Granddaddy.
Happy to be among a family of fools, Margaret.

Thanks to Benjamin Chia for letting me share your fun photo of old playing cards through Flickr, titled Le Forgotten.