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

Friday, July 25, 2008

On retreat

With somewhat confused and reluctant silence I entered into this space of retreat, but I leave with a widening vision of the joy that might be found in silence.  Though defined as absence of sound, I have learned that silence is anything but empty and yet at the same time wearing the habit of silence can in all of its fullness create space- to understand, to appreciate, to listen (of course), to observe.  I'm getting philosophical I know, a territory in which I don't feel quite prepared for what might emerge from this state of mind, but adventuring into the mystery of who I am as a created, named, and called being is what I've been doing for the last three days so I embrace this opportunity to explore.  

Praying through scripture has been my task during this directed spiritual retreat.  Though I believe every entry of this blog has journeyed in and out of my faith reading such a full disclosure of this faith might not be something you have come to expect from this blog.  Indeed, I have a faith tradition that is full, inclusive, marked by love, and dependent on reflecting justice in word and deed.  I have come to my faith through a rich heritage of believing people and actually part of my family leads this retreat center in rural Georgia, Green Bough House of Prayer in Scott, GA.  

I was reminded during retreat of just how extensive the root system of my faith legacy is with the mention of Grandpa Ches, my great-great-great grandfather.  Alexander Chesnut Flanders was a farmer, a captain in the Confederate Army, a local pastor, and as I found out over the retreat a man of great passion and fiery spirit.  Grandpa Ches was know to preach with great fervor and when called for by a stubborn mule or disobedient pigs curse a blue streak.  He was also known to pray with great faithfulness for the "seeds of his loins," in other words me.  (smile) His prayers and the confidence of such an awesome legacy have encouraged many generations of active lay members, workers of social justice, and ordained ministers.  I feel so much that confidence of being his legacy of faith.  

Back to the sound of silence...  The silence of this retreat at Green Bough has pervaded all aspects of habitual living for these few days.  Silence rising to greet the morning, silence in community around the table for lunch and dinner feasts, silence in worship, and silence 
in retiring at night.  Even after practicing silence for these few days I may understand it better, but I'm not sure that I am any better at it... we shall see.  Most of the time it was the enthusiastic joy in my surrounding or curiosity that made me want to shout aloud or break silence with a multitude of questions.  As I mentioned at the beginning, my discovery of the joy of silence is an expanding horizon.  

One practice in silence was particularly enlightening for me... the silence of the table.  Silence at meals was awkward at first... where does one look, how does one eat without talking or my great standby, reading.  I do think I understand this practice a little better now.  By remaining silent at a communal meal, one is blessed with the opportunity to contemplate all that the meal entails... the people around the table yes, but more organically the food that is there.  I have never tasted better food that at the silent table!  Because I wasn't distracted by conversation, I felt like I was tasting fruit and vegetables and breads for the first time.  I guess my discovery of the pleasures of silent meals hints at what the real purpose of practicing silence is all about... contemplation of the ordinary, acknowledgment of the universal abundance in the simplicity of that which comes from the earth.  Each meal ended with a reading of some kind, at lunch the daily witness of the life of a saint and at dinner a poem.  As one voice broke the silence of our meal, my ears seemed more alive to hear the wisdom and enlightenment found in these words.  

Yes, the silence and prayerful nature of this time has been good for me.  I have discovered more about my faith heritage and so much more about myself.  Unraveling the mystery of who I am is a partnership with my journey toward unraveling the mystery of the One who creates, redeems, and sustains.  More reflection of this time will come I am sure, but for now I am...

Just, Margaret

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Generation of Hope...

This is another catch-up blog, but I promise this is the last one for a while.  Last Friday I attended the Unthinkable Project's My Concrete Mattress premier in Dublin... I think I mentioned that I was planning on going in a recent post.  It was an amazing and inspiring evening.  The film was so well thought out and tastefully done.  It followed the lives of four homeless individuals who simply told their own story in their own words.  At no time were conclusions drawn by the young people interviewing and editing the film.  I think one of the individuals summed it up best, "We are just us."  

The entire evening was so hopeful.  I am convinced that people in Georgia who take the time to actively see and listen to this film will act.  Maybe I'm overly idealistic, but I do believe change can happen, even if that change is only that someone sees homeless people with better understanding.  I'm not sure what I'm trying to say is at all coming out right, but you just have
 to see the film!  One of the individuals in the film was a young man I think his name was John.
  His story was phenomenal and I can hardly do it justice... suffice it to say his is a product of our foster care system, achieved an associates degree in legal aide, and now that he finds himself homeless is volunteering at a shelter/soup kitchen in Atlanta and each evening hands out food to the homeless on the streets of Atlanta.  Seriously his generous spirit is amazing! 

I want to share a few other thoughts expressed by people in the film and by some of the young adults participating in the Unthinkable project.  I hope they inspire you as I was inspired or at the very least make you think.  

My little sister, Sarah, painted this do as part of the opening act for the evening.  This is not her first experience with performance art, but I think its her best effort so far.  It was so amazing to see her artistic interpretation of the movie and organization.  

Yes, I am homeless...

I wonder will we ever find peace.  
I wonder if you should write a verse to heal these hurts.
-From a song by one of the individuals portrayed in the film.  

Nothing is lower [than homelessness] except death and at least then you are going to a nice place. -A homeless man living in an abandoned building in Atlanta.

The final painting with the Unthinkable project logo... See, Go, Do.

Cost of living going up, while the ability to live is going down.  
-Jon Goode, a spoken word poet from Atlanta (check him out on CNN's Black in America series)

Where is Hope?  
Where is the love we all need, 
The reasons to fight for more?
-Roan Williamson, one of the young adults originally from Dublin who wrote a song for the Unthinkable Project organization.

Just, Margaret

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rotary Orientation Weekend

I know this post is way overdue and now that I've started my catching up posts really out of chronological order, but I did want to share a few pictures of the Rotary Scholars Weekend I attended in Tampa that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago and share one funny anecdote that actually just came full circle yesterday.  First the pictures...

The University of Tampa

The orientation weekend was held on the University of Tampa campus and considering I didn't even know the school existed until about a month ago I was really impressed with what I found.  The main admissions and administrative building of the campus was actually built in the late 19th century to serve as a hotel for the country's elite.  If you're ever in Tampa or nearby seeing the restored hotel and museum are worth the trip.  From what I gathered the rest of the campus is relatively new construction. 
Our seminar room, once the music hall of the old hotel.  See the balcony on the upper left... apparently that's where unmarried and unaccompanied ladies were required to sit as to preserve their reputations.  

This is a photo of my group acting out the proper way to respond to certain shall we say not quite ideal situations that could arise while we are overseas.  

Okay now for my funny story... well I think its funny, but my friend Bill told me once I wasn't great at telling jokes.  So I'm going to try, just don't get your hopes up.  Part of the weekend's purpose, I think, was to get us all comfortable with speaking in front of an audience- something I don't think I really have a problem with... except I guess when I have a topic I know nothing about, which was the case over that weekend.  So the first night we arrive, we are each give this slip of paper about the size of a fortune from a fortune cookie.  (I've always loved fortune cookies, but I don't think I'll look at those little slips of paper the same way ever again.  Okay I think we may have found the cause of my inability to tell jokes well... I can never keep on subject.  Perhaps this will all make more since if you just read it without all these random asides.)  Each slip of paper contained a  different word- some of them associated with food, others made up of too many letters to count, but each was different and probably something we hadn't encounter ever or very often.  Although one girl got the word "peanut butter" which I thought was a little unfair, especially considering my word was "pusillanimous."  For once I am totally certain I've spelled a long, unusual word correctly.  Those letters were burned in my brain as soon as I laid my eyes on them.  If you were like me, your first thought was that this had to be a joke and that this wasn't a word.  Let me assure you that it is just not one I'd run across before.  We were given the chance to change words if we wanted, but I decided to have courage and accept the card I had been dealt.  Ironically I found out later that evening from my parents that "pusillanimous" actually means "contemptuously timid."  My 3 minute "speech" went well, I think.  It was definitely not the most humorous, but I did manage to get several laughs by refusing to pronounce the word I was given and spelling it several times instead.  What makes this story funny?  Well yesterday I actually read the word in Gone with the Wind, my current summer reading material.  Its on page 478 and I quote, "But I think that pusillanimous feller, Hilton, that married Miss Cathleen knows, because he laughed kind of nasty when I tried to sound him out."  It took a second to register and then I think I just about gave my mom a heart attack when I exclaimed that I couldn't believe what I just read.  Anyway I guess having to give that speech was for some good after all.  

I hope you enjoyed the anecdote.  Please try to remember that in no way is this an audition for The Last Comic Standing.  

Just, Margaret

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where to start?

Let's start at the very beginning... of my life.  [Smile.]  Last weekend my dad, mom and I traveled to Colquitt, Georgia to visit the little church where my parents began their ministry.  It's also where I was born and lived until I was 2.  Although it isn't often that I return, I love going back to Colquitt.  I have a real feeling of hometown pride for this place where I began my life.  

So give me a moment to brag a little... Colquitt is a small town of about 5ooo residents in deep south Georgia (just about in Florida).  If you're looking it up on a Georgia map its not in Colquitt County, look west in Miller County.  Colquitt, Georgia has only one red light, but it is still kinda a famous place in our part of the country.  It's the home of the Mayhaw festival and according to my parents the only place in the world where you can get authentic mayhaw jelly.  What's a mayhaw?  Its a berry found in the swamp.  Another claim to fame... Colquitt is the home of Swamp Gravy, the state play of Georgia.  Yeah, until my 8th grade Georgia Studies class I didn't realize states had state plays either, but they do.  I saw Swamp Gravy several years ago (I guess it was more like 10 years ago) and its not something you want to miss if you have a chance to see it.       

This time we returned for Homecoming.  My dad was the guest pastor.  (Side note:  It was the first time I've gotten to hear my dad since moving back home and I know I'm biased but I think he is great.  I love listening to him.)  Back to the service, what can I say?  It was really down home... complete with a gospel quartet dressed in red, white, and blue.  And of course the service concluded with a massive covered dish, a.k.a. pot luck for any Midwest readers out there.  I love church lady casseroles and homemade cakes and pies.   
The simple church where I was baptised.  

My first home. Can you see that little white shed to the left of the picture?  That was my dad's office, without air conditioning, but equipped with mimeograph machine to print the bulletins.
Family friends: Buckshot and Bonnie Sue with Mom and Dad.  Buckshot gave my dad a river baptism remembrance on their first Easter at the Cooks Union in a place on the Flint called Hell's Gate.  Daddy shared this story during his sermon and it seems that incident was for him an epiphany moment.  

Just, Margaret

A crazy two weeks...

I've been at home for two weeks now and it might have been a full month with all the different things I've done and places I've been.  Mostly I've been tagging along with my parents or little sisters to things they've had planned for a while.  Now I'm beginning to make plans of my own and it doesn't look like this crazy schedule will be letting up anytime soon.  Happily one of my journeys included shopping for my new computer and now that I have it blogging should be a more frequent activity.  Because I've had some really fun experiences that I don't want to forget I'm going to use the next few posts to retrospectively.  So I hope you enjoy catching up with me.  I'm going to post all I can tonight so that hopefully by the middle of the week I'll be back on track.  

Just me, Margaret

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My 4th

Our family 4th of July celebrations actually began on the 3rd and I have to say that they were so typically American that at times it made me want to laugh aloud (in a good way). I know next year when I'm living abroad it will be nice to have these memories of my authentic 4th. Anyway the celebrations began with a spectacular fireworks show in the local high school stadium. Daddy had gotten special passes for us from a member of our church involved in the planning and had also staked us out a special spot to watch all the festivities, which lasted about 4 hours I might add. Warner Robins, where my parents live in Georgia, is the home of a military base and so their fireworks show is particularly special. As I understand it, the pre-show and then the explosive ending is broadcast internationally via the Armed Forces Network. Below are some pictures of the show.

Here are several photos of the crowd.
The paper reported that their were around 25,000 people in attendance.

Parts of the family: Granddaddy, Grammy, Mama, Daddy, and me

A picture of Lonestar, the show's headliners. I had very little idea who they were when we first arrived and was surprised to recognize lots of their songs. Not my favorite type of music, but it was fun to just listen to live music.

Fireworks, of course.

So the actual 4th began with a trip to IHOP for an all-American breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Then several of the family went to Big 6 Farms for fresh peaches to top our homemade boiled custard ice cream we would enjoy later that day. I love living in middle Georgia where peach and pecan orchards are always only a few miles away. Dinner was grilled hamburgers/veggieburgers. Grilling seems so distinctly North American and I remember smelling our neighbors meals throughout the day.

Just, Margaret

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sitting at home with the dog in my lap

I have finally made it home. Well I've actually been back in Georgia since Sunday evening, but this is the first time I've had to sit down and really reflect on the last week. It seems so strange that just a week ago I was finishing up my last day of active work as a US-2 missionary and now I'm home with our sweet little dog in my lap and thinking about all I have to do to get ready for my next adventure.

It occurs to me that I haven't really shared what's next for me on my blog yet. Mostly because I think most of you who read this already know, but if I happen to have some random readers who don't know me outside of the Internet world let me clue you in. (By the way, I'd love to know if any of you actually exist. I have an automatic stat counter on my blog, but it can only tell me so much about who is reading this.) So back to my new adventure... in September I'll be moving again- I can hear the audible sighs and the "can't this girl stay in one place for any significant length of time"- to the U.K., specifically Bristol. I'll begin a master's program in historical archaeology of the modern world at the University in October. My first real international adventure... I mean I have had my passport for about six years and been out of the country twice for about 10 days each, but I wouldn't really qualify that as an "adventure". They were just trips or visits. Now I'm applying for a visa and will be living in the U.K. for a full year. This is a real adventure.

In addition to being a student, I'll also be serving as an ambassador of the Rotary Foundation. Like my friend, Jane Marie, whose blog link is on the right, I've been awarded a scholarship by Rotary to help fund my studies. Which partly helps to explain where I've been since leaving Louisiana. Over the weekend I attended a orientation seminar for my scholarship. I met tons of other scholars mainly from Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, but with a few random states (and neighboring countries) thrown into the mix. The scholars I met will begin their programs around the same time I will, but in places all over the globe (Russia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, etc.). We are all commissioned by Rotary to be creating pockets of peace, which I've learned can take many forms so who knows what my year will hold. I have so much more to share about my weekend and lots of photos and at least one video to post, but I think I'll go unpack a little more of my life and get back to this later.

Just, Margaret

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Just seafood for me!

Today marks my one-year anniversary of becoming a pescatarian, which basically means I haven't eaten any meat from land dwelling animals. Why make this choice? It started out as sort of a challenge from my little sister, Sarah, who is one. So I thought I would try it out for a month and it just stuck. It wasn't a very difficult decision for me. I was moving in that direction anyway. Since becoming a US-2 two years ago, I had backed off from purchasing meat for financial reasons. On a limited income and living alone, it wasn't a priority. When I started to really practice pescatarianism, the whole process of "fasting from meat" became a spiritual discipline. I fully expect to eventually adopt a total vegetarian diet, but this pescatarian diet has given me a chance to gradually make that commitment while still participating in the local coastal food culture- a must when you live in the heart of Cajun country.

I've labeled this post as "life changes" and that's really what becoming a pescatarian has been about for me. I've learned a lot over the last year about what constitutes a healthy diet. About a month after committing to the pescatarian diet I began to cut out my caffeine intake too. No more Coca-Colas a real difficult task for a Georgia girl. : ) But I've succeeded and actually have had two cans of Coke in my fridge that I haven't touched since giving it up all together. Now my only caffeine comes from a coffee every week or so. After eliminating soft drinks, fast food wasn't far behind. Let's face it there is really not much on the menu that fits into my new diet. One pretty great benefit has been the relative ease I've had in controlling my weight. It really hasn't even been an issue. Of course picking up a fairly regular exercise routine has helped too.

By far the best thing about being a pescatarian has been finding out that I really enjoy fruits and vegetables. Raw, stewed, steamed, baked, and every once and a while fried. I've even experimented a little with tofu. I'm hoping to continue to grow my recipe repertoire in the next year. Hey, I'll have lots of new food experiences to add to my list I'm sure since I'll be living in a different country.

Just, Margaret