Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Few Things

We had our second small group meeting last night. An opera singer and a student from Juilliard (viola player, if you're wondering) joined us. I am so enjoying these nights...Do you know how long it's been since I've been in a bonified, dig-deep, draw-from-the-marrow Bible study? 4 years. 4 years! I've squeezed in a few light-weight studies here and there, but when Steve went back to sem and I started working more evenings and our calendar was scheduled down to the last second, there was no room for one more weekly activity. Now, because of the Redeemer Mom's Group I've joined and our Friday night small group, I'm in 2 great studies. Yum, as my friend Karyl would say.

Next weekend we'll be back in Michigan for Steve's ordination. The plan is to drive through the night so the kids will sleep during the 12 hour drive. We'll see about that. My guess is that the kids will be awake all night, and I will be the one fighting off sleep.

One more thing. An interesting story with some interesting lessons and analogies, which I'll let you draw.

Yesterday morning, Jonathan and I were walking home from the grocery store, my little pull-behind grannie cart overflowing with grocery goodness, when I passed a homeless man digging through the garbage at the curb. I had taken a few steps past him when the thought hit me, "How can you call yourself a follower of Christ and not acknowledge that man?" So I turned back, selected some food from the cart, and set it down carefully and quietly next to this man's personal belongings--a black garbage bag overflowing with what looked like more garbage. I didn't want to make a production out of it all, so I caught his eye, smiled, and started to walk away.

He didn't want the food.

"Ma'am! I don't want that! I'm not hungry right now. I'm sorry. I don't want that, Ma'am."

"You don't have to apologize. Are you sure?"

"Yes ma'am. I don't want that. Don't give it to me."

I picked up my food, put it back in the cart, and went home, thoughts swirling.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Comfort Food

We went to the World's Largest Applebees last night. Any self-respecting native New Yorker who is reading this (who am I kidding?) is groaning now..."With all the great, unique, gourmet, etc., etc., restaurants in the city, why would you choose to eat at a hokey, tourist-driven, unimaginative chain restaurant?" they would ask, with no little amount of distaste.

I'll tell you why. Because yesterday was one of those days when adventure did not appeal.

I wanted a place where I knew there were kids' menus with food that my kids will actually eat. A place where crayons with the menus were a given. A place where the music was loud enough to drown out any crying, giggling, or over-the-top exclamations, and I could be assured that no one would give our family The Look. I wanted a place where quick turnaround was the name of the game and we wouldn't get stuck trying to entertain our kids for an hour while we waited for the food. I wanted a place that was roomy and comfortable and smelled like french fries. Applebees was that place.

I know that we were probably the only people in the whole restaurant (other than the starving artist wait staff) who actually live here, but it was a brief reprieve for our family, a comfort in knowing what to expect. And as a bonus, we could look out the window and see the lights of Broadway. Not a bad combo.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Delight is in the Details

I do like this city.
Very much.
It's the small, daily experiences that encourage this affection--the details of our lives here. Admittedly, I choose to overlook some of the less appealing details, the rough edges of the city. Still, there are some great things about living here that probably wouldn't show up in the tourist guides. Here are a few that I've found in the last few days:

  • Catch the Flava: The business savvy Delicioso Coco Helado vendors that situate themselves on the bus stop corners. Helado is a sorbet-type dessert that is indeed muy tasty. I go for the coconut, while Jonathan prefers mango and Chloe chooses the politically correct rainbow flavor. And it's only a dollar (which, you know, goes a long way in my book).

  • Do you Smell Horses?: The Riding Academy up the Street (aka The Barn in the Building). It's quite incongruous, really. The stables are located in a residential area, and you don't even realize that they're there until you get a whiff of something and peer back into the building. Every once in a while you'll see a horse and rider emerge and clop down the street, the cars and buses wheeling by. And if the breeze is just right, I'm reminded of the summer 4H fair in Lowell, which is a welcome memory.

  • Stand up, Sit down, Fight, Fight, Fight!: Subway Seating Courtesy. Riding the subway during rush hour can be a bear. Assertiveness is a valuable asset then, when sometimes there is literally not room for one more person on the train. However, when I travel with the kids, people are usually good about making room for them to sit down. Even at the busiest times, they'll give up their seats for them. It's a small thing, but it makes my life easier, and it's refreshing to see the evidence of the good in people.

  • Butterfly Lesson: The Man in the Perrenial Garden. A few nights ago we were walking through Riverside Park with the kids when we noticed a man with a butterfly net walking through a perrenial garden area that is maintained by volunteers. When we saw him catch a Monarch, we asked him what he was going to do with it. The kind man showed us how he tags the butterflies with a small sticker here in the city, so that scientists can study migration patterns as the butterflies meander to Mexico for the winter. He held up the butterfly for Chloe to inspect, and then opened his hand with a flourish to release it. We all watched it wing away, our imaginations following it when our eyes no longer could.

You know, you really should come to visit so you can see these things for yourselves. I'd like to show them to you.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Global Community

Steve and I hosted our first small group meeting on Friday night. 3 people came and a handful of others told us they plan on joining us next time. A good start.

As we shared stories with one another, it stuck us anew the potential global impact of a church plant in a city like New York.

A profile of the group:

  • A Scottish med student, in town for a few months doing research. He plans on returning to Scotland to practice medicine.
  • A Malaysian med student who isn't sure if she's going to practice in the UK or Malaysia.
  • A woman who was born in Argentina, moved to California in her teens, and now is searching for a job that could take her anywhere in the world.

It was great to share our differences while appreciating the community we have through Christ.

Steve and I were also reminded of the transient nature of city life and the sustainability challenges that come with that.

Please pray for this group...that we'll continue to build community... that God will use this group for his purposes...that Steve and I will be wise leaders.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thank You for the Words, Thomas Aquinas.

Give me, O Lord,
A steadfast heart
which no unworthy thought can drag downward,
An unconquered heart which no tribulation can wear out,
An upright heart
that no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.
Bestow upon me also, O Lord, my God,
Understanding to know you,
Diligence to seek you,
Wisdom to find you,
And a faithfulness that may finally embrace you,
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Don't Ask Me

I must be looking more comfortable and confident in the subways and the streets of the city, because people are starting to ask me for directions.

Or maybe I just look non-threatening, relative to some of the other characters around here.

Either way, it's a bad idea. I've never denied that I am directionally challenged. Every time I emerge from the subways the only way I can figure out where I'm going is to orient myself to Central Park.

Last week someone asked me how to get to West Broadway, and I told him that Broadway only runs north and south, so how could there be a West Broadway? Turns out there's an actual separate street called West Broadway, downtown somewhere that I've never been.

At first when people asked me directions, I would say, "I think it's that way," or something similarly vague, and then the poor lost souls would look at me and wonder, Well, do I take her word for it or not? Does she know her head from her tail?

So now, to relieve any indecision, I simply say, "I'm sorry, I don't know." Even if I think I do. Because I probably don't.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Geography Lesson

Remember that scene from Spider Man where the dastardly Green Goblin separates a tram car from its wires and leaves a bunch of kids hanging until Spider Man saves them?


Then perhaps you recall the news features last spring when a tram car was stranded over the East River and the people inside had to be rescued mid-air.

That's the tram that connects the east side of Manhattan to Roosevelt Island, a small stretch of land between Manhattan and Queens.

Jonathan and I took an exploratory tram ride over to Roosevelt Island yesterday. Roosevelt Island is the late 1800's and early 1900's it was mainly a site for prisons and insane asylums (leading to the name previous name, "Welfare Island"), but the city's unquenchable thirst for residential housing spilled over to the island, morphing it into a small community of high rise apartment complexes. A single Main Street runs up the middle of the island; there is one school, one post office, one grocery store--NYC's version of Mayberry?

Hmmm...I wonder if Roosevelt Island could use a church?

Monday, September 18, 2006

What in the World?

So, on Saturday, the whole family was walking down the sidewalk, happy as can be, when we heard an unusually loud airplane pass overhead. I happened to glance up and saw this:

A Stealth Bomber? What? My first thought was that it looked like something from the X-files. My second thought was more along the lines of terrorist attacks, etc... Thank God it wasn't that. Turns out they were just doing a fly over at a Yankees game.

Still, it was a little disconcerting. Here's a picture captured by The Gothamist.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Chloe's school uniform arrived yesterday


I was honored to write and deliver the prayer of adoration for this morning's worship.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,
All my inmost being, praise his holy name.
For God,
You give us love when we don't even know we need it.
You give us peace when we have nestled in the arms of anxiety.
You give us freedom when we seek only the familiarity of bondage to sin.
We are ignorant and foolish,
We don't know our own selves.
At times we don't even know how to accept the beautiful gifts that you give us.
But in your wisdom and generosity, you give us the things our souls crave.
And you give them to us again and again,
Until we turn our clouded eyes to you and truly see your grace.
You are faithful in your care,
Constant in your mercy,
Healing our broken lives even as we seek to break them yet again.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all his benefits.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I'm It?

My friend Michelle "tagged" me in a game of virtual tag...and the rules are that you are to list 5 unusual things about yourself. And even though I pretty thoroughly examined my oddity in an earlier post, I'm game.

  1. I'll only drink my coffee if it's scalding hot. Anything less than burnt-tongue hot, and it's down the drain.
  2. Some of my favorite movies of all time are "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I can thank Steve for that, I think. (And no, I don't plan on donning a Hobbit costume and going to any conventions any time soon.)
  3. I cry, at least a little, at almost every movie I watch. Even comedies. Case in point: We watched 50 First Dates last night, and yep, there were tears. Not Steve's. Mine.
  4. I read Science Fiction. (Number 2 isn't so surprising anymore, is it?)
  5. I wouldn't know how to prepare and cook a whole chicken if my life depended on it. Ditto on most other meats. And to think my father used to own a meat locker.


Not it!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dear Steve

Happy Birthday, Steve.
I love you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Magical iPod Super Powers (aka Adapting)

There are over 8 million people in New York City.

I try to keep my heart open to the many, many people I interact with every day. But surviving with almost nonexistent personal space requires adaptation...somehow I've become less aware of the constant presence of people, both known and unknown. For a time, I felt like a painfully self-conscious teenager, wondering what the hundreds of strangers I passed daily were thinking about my presence next to them on the sidewalks and subways. And then I remembered the lesson I first learned all those years ago: People aren't thinking about me to begin with.

But I also have a secret weapon to help protect my personal space: my iPod. Maybe it's not such a secret, as 50% of subway users seem to have the same idea, but there's something about popping in those earbuds that makes me feel like I am once removed from the crush of people around me. The music that only I can hear, selected by me for my particular mood, not shared with anyone else... In my more imaginative (and admittedly geeky) moments, I almost envision an invisible force field around me, providing a buffer between me and the sights, the sounds, the smells...the sum of which is sometimes overwhelming.

iPod magic works in the apartment, too. Turn up the volume, and I'm all alone...the tiny apartment with too many bodies per square foot disappears and I can do my work without interruption.

I will not become a calloused New Yorker--that is not what Christ would have me be--
But there is something to be said for a little adaptation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

You know what I miss? Meijer Brand.

These past years while Steve has been in school, I have been a faithful purchaser of Meijer Brand products. I bought them out of necessity, out of respect for Dave Ramsey's principles, out of cheapskatedness (I know spell check isn't going to let that word through. Ah, well). It's safe to say that if I needed something and Meijer made it, the brand names weren't even an option. I fondly recall that sometimes Meijer would run sales on their brand, making a good deal spectacular.

Those were the days.

Store brands don't exist much around here. I get groceries about every other day, which means that I've been to the grocery store at least 2 dozen times since we've moved. And yet I still feel a prick of guilt every time I buy a brand name item. Rather ridiculous, that guilt.

Old habits die hard, you know?

Searching for Steve

I haven't written much about what Steve has been up to these days, and some of you have asked me about him.

Steve is finding his way. He's begun his classes at Redeemer, which are scheduled randomly throughout the months. He spends 1 or 2 days a week there. Steve is looking forward to an informal Q&A session with Tim Keller this coming week, where the Fellows can ask Tim any questions about church planting and urban ministry. I wish I could join in that one.

Steve has his hands in a lot of different things at Emmanuel, where he is completing the practicum portion of his fellowship. He's doing some campus outreach, partnering with Campus Crusade and Intervarsity. He's developing an adult Sunday school class. He's part of a group of pastors that are beginning a book club (Steve picked the first book: "The Sun Also Rises," by Ernest Hemingway). He's meeting regularly with Emmanuel's pastor for mentoring. He's leading a home group (me too, really). And he's leading worship about once a month--not preaching, unfortunately, but leading the worship.

And then there's the work he's doing with CRC Home Missions. Steve is starting to do some pulpit supply for the Jersey CRC churches, to get to know them and for them to get to know him and his vision. He's talking with church planters around the city to learn more about the successes and challenges of planting in NYC as well as to identify gaps and opportunities for new churches. It's our hope that by early spring, we'll have found the exact place in greater NYC that God has called us to. Right now, lower Manhattan (Ground Zero-ish area), the Upper East Side, and Jersey City seem to be the most likely options. That could easily change, though.

It is important that we develop a strong and compelling vision so that we can share the vision with Christians around the country, inviting them to join us in this beautifully difficult and rewarding work.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

And you thought this only happened in the movies

A good number of people have asked me if I have seen anyone famous yet. The answer to that is no...I just can't seem to make it to the hippest nightclubs on Saturday nights or the trendiest cafes for Sunday brunch. My only hope is to run into someone on the playground--Uma Thurman maybe, or perhaps Gwen Paltrow?

I have seen some interesting things in our short time here, though.
Here's a short list:

  • A Very Glamorous photo shoot in Central Park, complete with models dressed in next season's clothes and an additional 20 people fawning over each of them.
  • Rats in the subway. Big rats.
  • A nun, dressed in full habit, flying by on a bike with her robes billowing out behind her.

  • Project Runway's latest window at Macy's.

  • Someone destroying a "Vandalism is a crime" sign.

  • A man peeing in a garbage can while hundreds of people strode by.

  • Jockey representatives giving away underwear on the street corner (yes, I took a pair).

  • Let's not forget the Saw Lady, along with countless other street musicians. Just yesterday there was a full string quartet set up in Times Square's subway station.

And although I didn't actually see her, I did hear a woman in our building practicing opera the other day.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Stumbled Across Some Good Tunes

So there's this musician, Derek Webb, who is experimenting with a new way of music distribution: giving it away. And he's good. If you like acoustic guitars and insightful lyrics, that is.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Change of Plans

...a whirlwind 24 hours for our family...

Late Wednesday afternoon I received a phone call from the school at which Chloe had interviewed in July, announcing that the admissions committee had just finished meeting and Ta-Da! there was a place for her in the kindergarten class. The finance committee also smiled upon us and converted the tuition into something that former West Michiganders could more easily swallow. Official first day of school: Today.

At 6:00 last evening I was able to determine what time we had to arrive at school (8:15)
...what to do about lunches (bag lunch, not even lukewarm half-rotten milk is provided, as it was when I was in school)
...uniform requirements (must be ordered from Lands End with school logo embroidered. Too late for that, sorry kid, but you'll have to be "special" for a few days)

So it happened that Chloe and I found ourselves in the midst of much plaid and many knee socks this morning. She was thrilled; I surprised myself by feeling a bit emotional. Her kindergarten, like many in the city, is 5 full days a week. They have recess in Central Park and P.E. class is in a gym a couple blocks from the school. NYC provides free buses to the private schools, and though we have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop, it beats having me take her (and Jonathan) on the subway.

After I left Chloe in the care of her kind teacher, I attended a parent's informational thing, where I met many more people who have intentionally decided to stay in the city, sharing their lives as Christians. It's a motley bunch of folks: church planters, investment bankers, actors, stay at home moms. I'm excited to know these people better, witnessing how God works through each of them over this next year.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Good Day

Labor Day was a surprisingly beautiful day here. It had been predicted that Hurricane Ernesto would upset the weather for a while, but it turned out to be 75 and sunny with a nice breeze and no humidity--one of those perfect days. Steve and I decided to take the kids to the Victorian Gardens in Central Park. In the winter, this area of the park is the ice skating rink. But in the summer, they turn it into a quaint amusement park, perfect for kids Chloe and Jonathan's age. We expected the lines to be long, but we didn't wait for more than 15 minutes for any ride. Plus, Jonathan won a useless red plush soccer ball at a water pistol game, which was thrilling for about 30 minutes and has been forgotten since then.

After the Gardens, we joined some families from Redeemer at a beautiful little cafe in Riverside Park at 105th St., over-looking the Hudson River (That's 12 blocks from our apartment, a little over half a mile). A sandy play area was conveniently in line of sight, so Chloe and Jonathan and the other children played while the adults talked and ate. When we were there with those kind, hospitable people, I realized how much I needed to have some down-to-earth, belly-laugh, honest-answer conversations with people who know the city and love the city well.

It was a great ending to a good day.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Urban Propaganda

From a series of ads for a storage company--they're all over the subways.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Curb Your Confuse-iasm

There are quite a few dog lovers in our neighborhood. The Petco store up the road is as big or bigger than the actual grocery store...the dog runs in the parks are as busy as the playgrounds...and every day we have to watch our step, lest we inadvertently carry home a gift from some dog whose owner is less than considerate. And I see these signs everywhere:


So what does that mean, really? It bothered me that I didn't know what those signs meant, yet I was too proud to ask someone
(which would 1. reveal the true word-loving nerd that I am, and
2. reveal, once again, my city ignorance.).

Does it mean "Kick your dog to the curb, as far away as possible from these plants?"
Or perhaps it means "Keep your dog under control," similar to curbing your enthusiasm?

My best guess was that it was an antiquated way of saying, "Please have your dog do its business in the proper place, where it will do the least amount of destruction."

I did a little research and found this from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Curb Training: "Curb Your Dog" signs are found in many cities and townships. Curb training is in the public interest to keep the sidewalks clean. Owners who do not obey can be fined. A Philadelphia ordinance forbids any person to permit an animal to defecate on the sidewalks or other public places in the city (including playgrounds, schoolyards and public parks). This ordinance requires that you clean up your dog's waste as soon as it is deposited.Watch your dog closely as you lead him along, and just as he is ready to go, pull him gently but firmly toward the curb an into the street. It is not difficult. In fact, most dogs take to the idea readily. The same trick may be used when crossing the paths of parks and other public places. A responsible owner considers others, and never permits his pet to foul or damage people's property or areas where children play. Part of being a responsible pet owner is picking up after it! No fancy pooper-scoopers are necessary. Plastic bags work very well.

The cultural lessons I learn here are quite something. And we're never getting a dog while we live in the city. No way.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Saw the Saw Lady

Today in the Columbus Circle subway station, Chloe and I both heard an ethereal sound floating toward us. I thought is was a slightly off-tune opera singer wannabe, Chloe thought is was a ghost. We were both wrong. It was the Saw Lady. Apparently this woman is fairly well-known around the city subway stations, where she plays a carpenter's saw with a violin bow. It makes a high pitched woo-woo sound (think Scooby Doo ghost sound, not Pretty Woman "Woo woo woo!"). She accompanies her saw with some recorded background piano music. The selection we heard was Josh Grobin's "You Raise Me Up."