Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Red Light, Green Light

I would like to take this opportunity to write about something that has been on my mind for a long time: something that bothers me greatly, that causes much headache when it occurs. I am talking about West Des Moines stoplights (or as my friend Chris loves to call them, spotlights, hehe).

I have lived in the same area my entire life. Actually, aside from four years at Simpson College (which is a mere 25 minutes from my parents’ house), I have lived in the same five mile radius. My parents never moved, and my husband and I lived first in a townhouse less than five miles away, and now in a house basically in my parents’ front yard. Sometimes it bothers me that I never ventured out (I said in high school that I would go to college far away and live even farther away!), but I like it here, it’s home, and it’s generally a great place to live.

In the 25 years I’ve lived here, things have changed….a lot. Cornfields have become megamalls and parking lots, dirt roads have become four-lane highways, and businesses have come bursting onto the scene where not even a decade ago the rustling of corn and chirping of birds were the only sounds you’d hear. Jordan Creek Towncenter happened, and the rest was history. I like the city feel, the suburban lifestyle, and the general ritziness of everything being so new. The one thing I despise above all else, however, is the stoplights.

For some reason, whoever was charged with creating street and traffic patterns for Jordan Creek Parkway (remember when it was 74th Street?!?!) decided to forego the green circle option when turning left and replaced it with a green arrow only. This means anytime you need to turn left, you cannot simply yield to oncoming traffic and then proceed to your destination; no, you have to wait for your own special “turn” in the sequence to make your left. It doesn’t matter if the only oncoming traffic are mere dots they are so distant; you….must….wait. Joel can tell you how upset I get when sitting at these stoplights, which happens frequently. Yesterday I went the entire length of Jordan Creek Parkway without hitting a single red light, and it was glorious! Not to mention I was 10 minutes early to my destination.

Not only did the light engineers do away with my beloved green circle option when turning left, I truly believe there is some kind of conspiracy with the lights on Mills Civic Parkway. Instead of anticipating your arrival by changing colors in your favor, every time I approach the lights around the mall, they turn RED. I kid you not, try it sometime. It’s like trying to get to the back wall of The Buckle and out again without being harassed by an employee; it is simply impossible. It’s like the engineers got it backward and instead of helping traffic issues, the lights create them.

And then there are the lights around the new Aviva building. The building is not done, no one works there, and yet the stoplight is still functioning. I cannot express how frustrating it is to sit and wait at a light where not only no one else is around, but they couldn’t be if they wanted to because the entrance isn’t even open. When I was almost rearended this winter by a truck because that stoplight felt the need to let nobody turn into the Aviva building before I could proceed straight ahead (which wouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place if they hadn’t eliminated the green circle option), I was livid. The stupidity of these engineers very nearly cost me thousands of dollars in vehicle repair for a light that doesn’t even need to function yet. Awesome.

My brother is finishing his first year at Iowa State University as an engineer….if the aeronautics thing doesn’t work out for him, perhaps he should give the traffic light engineering gig a try. If you feel my pain on this, stay tuned for a similar post to come regarding Jordan Creek medians….

Editor's Note: I got my first ticket the other day. One of those stupid cameras caught my slightly running a red light. I was late for a baby shower I was co-hosting because the balloon people messed up my order, and I was caught know it - a green left turn arrow that was turning RED! So I went for it a little late, they snapped my photo, and $70+ later, I'm ready to bash those cameras in with a baseball bat. 


Just a quick note to let you know if you have had issues posting comments on my blog, I have attempted to correct them! I was informed by a friend (thanks, Jess!) that she couldn't comment, so I did some investigating and hope to have the issues resolved. I am no computer guru like my hubby, so no promises, but we'll see how it goes now. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Let it Grow: Garden Update #2

It feels like I’ve hit a wall with my garden. Things haven’t been growing as quickly, a couple are dying off, and I don’t know why! I think maybe I overwatered them at one point: the Styrofoam cups don’t have holes in the bottom to drain excess water, so it just pools. Lesson for next year! Plus, I used just a wee bit of Miracle Grow and I’m not sure you are supposed to this early on. But, what’s done is done, and we’ll just keep pushing forward! I guess all in all, even though things seem slow, the plants are doing really well. I did notice a few plants growing true leaves now, so that’s a step in the right direction! The first sprouts, which look like two leaves, are actually cotyledons. They supply nutrients to the plant until the true leaves form and photosynthesis begins. Bring on the true leaves! I keep meaning to grab a photo to share, but I forget! It’s a pretty sweet (and by sweet I mean GHETTO) set up in our garage. Two fluorescent lights duct-taped to the top of a shelving unit; 80-ish plants in cups (don’t worry, everything is legal – no mysterious plants growing at our house!); dirt EVERYWHERE because I still haven’t cleaned up from when I re-potted them all; and the best part: an old yellow towel draped over the side of the shelves to keep heat in and little boys OUT. Couldn’t you just see Brady knocking over all those cups, or picking the leaves off?

Menards is having a big sale on decorative brick, so I think Joel is going to buy some this weekend to build our garden soon. We decided with the above-ground method due to the walnut tree at the edge of our yard and the woods. If anyone has any topsoil they don’t want, give me a shout! I will even share some veggies with you come harvest time, if anything makes it that far :)

I’m going this weekend to get some hostas from my grandma. She usually gives me some parsley and peppermint to grow, too. I have very little faith that the hostas will outlast the packs…nay, DROVES, of deer that surround our house, but so far so good with my tulips! Plus, hostas are nice filler for around the foundation of the house, are expensive to buy, and multiply really quickly!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Rumor Mill

When I was in seventh grade, about to enter eight grade, Mrs. Porter was this scary witch of a lady who was rumored to have hit children with rulers. We were terrified of her. She even had black hair and wore black clothes. But it turns out she was one of the most engaging teachers I had, and I learned and excelled more in her history class than I expected. When I received the best score on our semester test out of the entire grade, I was proud of myself. She had a fun way of teaching, as long as you paid attention. We all grew to love her class – and while I did witness one of those rumored ruler smackings, it was more light-hearted than mean, and was actually well-deserved.

Have you ever believed a rumor before verifying it's truthfulness or source? Do you often believe things you hear without further investigation? Or, have you ever been the instigator of a rumor you know isn't true or may not be true? Rumors can be nasty, deceitful, hurtful, and just plain mean. Really, it's a fancy word for a lie. While not all rumors prove to be lies, I think that unverified truth is a lie simply because you don't know if the information you are passing on is true or not. So before heading to the water cooler Monday morning and perpetuating the ye old rumor mill, check your facts, motives, and if the information you are about to share is even relevant to or the business of those you are going to share it with. And above all, remember what the bible tells us about rumor-spreading, gossip, and judgment:

Leviticus 19:16 – “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.”

Proverbs 11:13 – “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”

Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Proverbs 18:8 – “The words of gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Let it Grow: Garden Update #1

Last week I told you I was starting a garden, and that I would keep you updated on how things are going. Pretty soon I will be including pictures, but for now, you'll just have to imagine it :)

I started my garden in an old egg carton, but soon realized I did not go through enough eggs or save enough cartons to get my garden started, so I bought one of those peat kits with 72 little pods. Now my little dirtballs (literally) are overgrown with greens....the sprouts of watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, onion, tomato, corn, peppers, and more are showing signs of life! Pretty soon I am going to have to transplant them to Styrofoam cups or larger peat pots; they are all a few inches tall now and the roots are busting out of the dirtballs.

I'm still really nervous about the actual outdoor garden, though. I'm not sure what to do about this walnut tree situation. It seems like my only solution is to do an above-ground garden, but I'm still worried the poison that the tree emits through its roots and fruits will get into my plants and kill them. I feel really (strangely!) protective of my growing plants, and feel like planting them outside will be like a death sentence for them. I suppose it's kind of like having a baby (just go with me on this one....). You spend nine months waiting for those first signs of life, getting excited at the first kicks, knowing he or she is safe inside, and that you are solely responsible for not only his or her existence, but his or her survival. YOU control how able your baby is to survive. Sure, there is some room for error, but as long as you provide the necessities, your baby should grow and thrive. 

Then one day, the baby is removed from that safe, comfortable, controlled environment its always known and transplanted to a world where you are no longer the only factor in your baby's survival. It's a little bit scary every time you leave your baby with someone else, or feed him or her food you did not prepare, or leave him or her to external factors you cannot control. At some point, you just have to trust that the lungs will work, the safety measures you prepared will protect, and that you've done all you can to prepare this baby for a fruitful life outside the womb. 

Yes, strange as it might seem, I feel like a mom getting ready to transplant her kids to a world where not everything is controllable. And all I can hope for is that I have done all I can to prepare them for the elements of life outside the "womb"...and maybe that a hungry rabbit won't come and eat my garden.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Easter Revelation

“Page NINE!” he mouthed in desperation while flapping his arms. That is what it took for me to relax and enjoy what will probably forever be my most memorable Easter “performance”.

As many of you who read this know, I attend Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa, and have since its inception 16 or so years go. I like to consider myself the “original” child singer of the church J and have grown up as part of worship ministry in one form or another. One of the things I love to do most is connect people to God through a song.

Anyway, if you know Hope, to say Easter is a celebration is a bit of an understatement. I know this style of service is not for everyone, but for some 18,000 people this past weekend, it was their church of choice to celebrate the resurrection. And while they might not have realized it, some 4,000 or so of those 18,000 witnessed an Easter miracle right in front of their eyes.

I am very fortunate to almost always be involved in Easter services at Hope in one way or another. This year, I was asked to sing a duet with my good friend, Bridget, at all of the services, and we readily accepted. Revelation Song is just one of those songs that, once you hear it done by a certain person or people, no one else can do it justice. For example: John Cheatem and Amazing Grace. Or really anything he sings, but he’s an exception. I’ve never really had a song like that before, but I would say Revelation Song, when sung with Bridget, comes the closest. Sorry Philips, Craig, and Dean, but you got nothin’ on us :)

So there I was, ready to start the “marathon of services” as we like to call it, at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. We would be singing at six services that weekend, and the first is usually a little bumpy because, well, it’s the first time we see the entire service unfold. This year, however, we didn’t have a bump in the road: the San Andreas Fault opened up right in the middle of the service. And somehow I was charged with bridging the gap.

Last month, we Iowans, specifically West Des Moinians, had the delight of watching Hope’s own Kaitlyn Epperly make the top 24 of American Idol, season 9. As an on-and-off watcher of the show, it was nice to see one of the very people I always thought could do well on the show actually make it. When Kaitlyn was prematurely and surprisingly cut from the show, she became available to sing at Hope for the Saturday evening Easter services. She would sing “Call on Jesus” with our church choir, which she had done a few years before, at the 4 and 6:30 p.m. services.

She showed up for rehearsal, did her thing, and left for a couple hours to get ready. Thankfully I caught the end of her rehearsal, although in hindsight, I sure wish I had paid closer attention to what she was singing! The 4:00 service rolled around, the service started smoothly, and we were off and running.

After the opening songs, I left the worship center and was chatting with Bridget and Chris Petrick. We were just hanging out when the music began for the offering piece, “Call on Jesus”. I was subconsciously listening to the music: I think mostly because I wasn’t expecting to hear that song. I thought Kaitlyn was only singing at the 6:30 service, so I was a little confused, but immediately dismissed my confusion and went back to my conversation. Until I heard where she was supposed to start singing, and noticed the introduction loop back. I said to Chris, “Something’s not right….Kaitlyn missed her cue or something, she should be singing right now”. We both went into the worship center to see what was going on, and realized that while the choir was in place, the pianist had started playing, and the offering plates were being passed, there was no Kaitlyn on stage.

The details past this point get fuzzy in my mind. I don’t know if it was the speed at which the next things occurred, the adrenaline, or simply God taking over that caused the fuzziness, but I will do the best I can to relay how the next five minutes transpired. Somehow I figured out that Kaitlyn had not shown up. I’m not sure if someone told me, or I just figured it out or what, but when I realized what was happening, I didn’t even pause for a second to think, I just heard “GO!” in my head, and I went. Somehow in high heels and a dress that didn’t exactly allow for long strides, I ran backstage. At some point I thought, “This is dumb, just stay out of the way and let someone else figure it out. It isn’t your problem to deal with and you will just delay the solution.” But yet my feet kept running. I opened the backstage door and found a wide-eyed music director trying to figure out what to do. I quickly approached Perry and before I even knew what I was doing, I said, “Do you want me to try it?” The look on Perry’s face was priceless: it was a combination of fear, hope, and skepticism all rolled in to one expression. He asked if I knew it well enough to do that, and I said I wasn’t sure. He handed me a microphone and we walked to the stage curtain. I asked if there were words; if I had words, I would be fine. He said no. I peeked out of the curtain and met our choir director’s intense gaze as he was desperately looking for some form of rescue to come through that curtain. I remember thinking, “What else are they going to do?!?!” So, I pointed to myself and with a flick of Mike’s wrist, my feet were walking once again.

I walked across the stage and planted myself somewhere toward the middle-left of the stage. I think maybe I felt less conspicuous back there than front and center, which sounds silly really, but then again I clearly wasn’t thinking straight. I knew I had the first words ok, so I started in and away we went.

The start of the song was somewhat of a train wreck. I made up some words because I couldn’t remember the right ones; I remember thinking, “Just sing about Jesus and you’ll be fine!” I still have no idea what words came out of my mouth. Then I skipped an entire verse because I had no idea what the words were, and went straight to the bridge of the song. To say that this confused the band would be an understatement. The pianist was lost. The drummer had no idea where to come in. And then apparently it was just a little too easy for them because I decided to skip the second half of the instrumental interlude and jump in with another verse. All while this was happening, I could feel myself shaking, wanting to shut down and just admit defeat, but yet I just had this overwhelming confidence that it would work out. I kept thinking, “If I can just get to where the choir comes in, it will all fall together.” That’s when I looked over and saw him.

As the pianist was frantically leafing through her music, mouthing, “I don’t know where we are!”, I saw our choir director, with his flapping arms directing the choir, “shout” (as much as you can shout in a whisper) to her “PAGE NINE!!”. That was all it took for me to relax and know that we would be fine.

The choir came in on cue and carried us out the rest of the song. If there was a part I was unsure of, I had the choir to cover it and back me up. Once I was past the part where I felt like I was on some frantic lyrical game show, I was able to enjoy singing a song I’ve always wanted to sing with a choir I always love to sing with.

Now I’ll take you inside the story and explain why this was truly a miracle. First, even though I sing quite often, I sometimes get bad stage fright. I let my nerves get the best of me, and it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The longer I have to sit and think about it, the more nervous I get. So, it was truly miraculous that God made all of this happen so quickly because if I had had time to think about it, I honestly think I would have stage fright-ed my way out of doing it. No, I KNOW I would have. Second, let’s consider the fact that I was even there for this service. Had I not been asked to sing Revelation Song for every service, I most certainly would not have been there, and definitely not ready to sing at the drop of a hat. I was not in the bathroom, or seated in the congregation, even though my family and my in-laws were all there. I thought about sitting with them, but decided that since it was the very first service, I didn’t want to risk missing my cues so I would just remain in the backstage/lobby area. And then there’s the fact that I showed up in time to hear Kaitlyn’s rehearsal earlier that day. Had I not seen it, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off as much of the song as I did.

Then there’s the vocal side of this. There’s the fact that Kaitlyn and I happen to have similar enough voices that I could do the song. This part gets a little musically technical, but here it is anyway. People think singing is easy for me, but it’s not. I have to deliberately rehearse what I’m going to sing because I actually don’t have that great of a chest voice range. So to compensate, I often bring my head voice down and make it sound as much like my chest voice as I can, but it MUST be rehearsed. Otherwise, I risk cracking/shouting or sounding weenie in a really powerful moment. Yet somehow this song fit perfectly in my register, unrehearsed. And honestly, I have sung along to that song in my car before: there are notes that I was very concerned about hitting and yet, I hit them with less effort than songs I’ve sung a million times.

Then there was, I would say, the biggest factor of them all: I went. If I had been on my own that day, I would not have gone. I felt little bits of me bubbling up at every crossroad, but God instantly smashed those thoughts with His own. As my feet stumbled and turned away from the backstage door, He righted my path and kept me going in His direction. And as my mind collapsed around the actual words of the song, He gave me words to sing.

As soon as I was done and walked off the stage, my thoughts returned to me and I remember thinking, “What did I just DO….” I would later tell Joel, “Who DOES that? Who willingly gets up in front of 4,000 people to sing a song she doesn’t know?” I can honestly say, not me. Not me apart from God, that is. But with God, he prepared me and gave me the tools for the moment he would call to me and say “GO!”.

The next day, I learned that Revelation Song was being bumped from the sermon. I thought the service felt bit disjointed, but that was not the solution I was hoping for. Perry can tell you, I was more than a little peeved when I heard this. We gave a lot of time to prepare for and rehearse that song and to come to every service, and we are not paid staff members. And honestly, I felt like it was kind of a huge slap in the face after the previous evening. But then I started considering this: maybe the reason God had me singing at all the services had nothing to do with the song I had prepared and labored over for a month. Perhaps it was simply the excuse for me to be present when God came knocking. And while my plan was to sing the heck out of one song, God had a different plan and chose to move through a different song, maybe even more powerfully. Quite a revelation (pun….ha ha) compared to how I first reacted.

Now, if anyone needs proof that God has a sense of humor: a mere hours before this all happened, I was listening to John rehearse his song and I commented to someone that the reason John is so good is that he just feels the music and lets whatever is in his heart come out of his mouth – which is different every single time. I can’t do that, I have to rehearse exactly what I’m going to sing and do it the same every time with minimal improvisation. Little did I know God was preparing me for the biggest improvisation of my life in just a couple hours. And I have to say, it felt pretty good to put all the logistics aside for once and sing only what God orchestrated. Those of us on that stage truly did have to call on Jesus, because without him we were toast. I would like to think that if God had chosen to speak audibly to me after the song, he would have said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow!

I am growing a garden. I was going to just buy plants from the farmer’s market, but I got antsy, bought a bunch of seed packet and a florescent light, and how I have a bunch of little sprouts growing in my kitchen. I went all out, too, and am growing like ten different vegetables right now. And I have very little idea what I am doing. 

We recently decided on the perfect place for the garden: on the south side of the house where lots of sun will shine and hopefully few deer and other wildlife will traipse. Then I just found out that you can’t plant a garden near a walnut tree, of which we have at least one, probably more, in our wooded backyard. So now I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I do know those tiny little sprouts in my kitchen are just going to keep growing and growing, and I have but a couple weeks to figure out a plan. 

I can’t tell you how excited I get each day to see how much they change, and how many new seedlings have sprouted. It’s so weird to think one tiny seed can grow into a massive tomato plant or corn stalk or cucumber vine. Same goes for kids I guess: Brady was nothing more than a microscopic nothing, and how he’s a living, breathing, screaming little toddler. Amazing. The more I’m around Brady, and my garden plants, the more I am amazed by life. If all the conditions are favorable, they will grow. If not, they won’t. And I am responsible for their success. Is it weird to feel motherly toward my sprouts? Well, I kind of do, so I guess I’m just weird. Anyway, I will keep you updated weekly on the progress and hopefully success of the garden. Wish me luck! 

PS – if you have any gardening tips, ideas, or tricks, especially when it comes to the walnut tree thing, leave me a comment because I need all the help I can get!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Won't You Die For Me?

It is holy week, and due to my incredibly busy Easter schedule, I am writing my Easter post today. This week in the Christian religion celebrates and remembers Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, his "conviction" and sentencing, beating and crucifixion, triumph over death, and ascent to heaven. It is arguably the most meaningful time of the year for Christians, thus the name "Holy Week".

Holy week began with Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts and praises of many believing he was about to conquer the Roman empire. If you have never seen Jesus Christ: Superstar, I would highly recommend it, especially for this scene. As the crowd sings "Hosanna" with praises, their song changes from "Hey J.C., J.C., won't you smile at me"... to "won't you fight for me", and ultimately to "won't you DIE for me". It's an incredibly powerful scene that we get to see in Jesus' mind: while the crowds are actually shouting praises, He knows the events that are to come.

Then in some denominations, Maundy Thursday is set apart and celebrated. This includes the Last Supper between Jesus and his Disciples as well as the betrayal and arresting of Jesus. Followed by Good Friday, these two days account for probably the most difficult in Jesus' earthly life. Good Friday is the crucifixion and ultimate death of Jesus. It is a somber reminder of what Jesus sacrificed for the world.

Of course Easter Sunday is the celebration of His defeat of death, his victory over hell. As you enter the next few days during this Holy Week, I would challenge you to ponder these thoughts and questions:

What does Jesus' death and resurrection mean for mankind?

What does the cross represent to you?

Who would you be in biblical times? A Taxpayer? Pharisee? Disciple? Bystander? Betrayer?

The very people who were celebrating Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem were responsible for his crucifixion. They turned on him because his ultimate purpose did not fit with theirs. In your life, how have you turned from God because His ultimate purpose for you did not fit with what you thought it should be?

If you don't have church plans, or are just curious about this whole Easter thing, I would highly encourage you to attend one of Hope's seven Easter services. It's a great way to get started if you are searching for answers, and we always have hundreds of guests at our Easter services. Plus, I will be singing Revelation Song at all of them, so you'll at least have a familiar face in the crowd :) Check out for details and information on Saturday and Sunday service times, free breakfast and dinner, children's activities, and more. I hope you see you there.

He is Risen...He is Risen, Indeed!!