Monday, September 29, 2008

Location.

I read this poem the other day on Nicole's blog. Her beautiful family is part of Common Ground Montgomery which is a ministry in Montgomery, AL serving the urban poor. She, along with Delta, has been an incredible encouragement to me in our ministry in Dallas although we've never met face to face.

Nicole posted this a couple of days ago and I loved it the moment I read it, so, I stole it. Blogs are really the only place I can do this so I like to take full advantage of the opportunity. Nordstroms will put you in jail.

Separating West Dallas from the rest of our city is a large bridge and, although we live on the rougher side of ours, we spend a lot of time traveling to the other side and back again. I've thought about this poem all weekend and how I relate so much to what this author has to say.

I've posted before about how living this life in ministry rubs up against all that's in me wanting to blend in and have my life resemble those on the beautiful side of the bridge. However, to my great delight, it's not where we've been called and it has been a source of incredible freedom and joy in Christ that I didn't know before. Sometimes, looking around at all the decay and hopelessness, that joy seems like such a juxtaposition. That's when I know most that it's a joy that comes from Him alone, who created us ALL in His image and gives us the propensity to be more at home on the ugly side of the bridge.

Location
They say I'm brave to live here-
A courageous soul, more so than most
And I believe that they intend it
As a compliment to me
But what they fail to understand
Is the grave insult implied
To those I choose to live among
If being their neighbor
Makes me a hero

Why should it be harder
For me to dwell beside
A family who differs from mine
In hue and size of paycheck
Than it is to share a street
With those who show no sympathy
For the differences and weaknesses
Of others?

What would they say
If they knew the truth-
That the suburbs with their perfect lawns
Their swimming pools and soccer moms
Terrify me
Far more than the dangers
(Real and alleged)
Of my beloved 'hood?
What would they say
If they discovered this fact-
That I am not brave at all
Just more at home
Where I can be
As broken as the next?

- Alexis Spencer-Byers


Friday, September 26, 2008

Breakdown Enchiladas

I love it when people surprise you. I don't mean the - coming around the corner and yelling "Hey!" while you're drying your hair and it makes you scream - 'surprise'. I mean the people who have fun, crazy, little parts of their lives that you would never guess at first glance.

My friend Carrie did that for me when I first met her. She's this tiny little, beautiful thing who's southern to the core. Her favorite movie is Gone With the Wind and she's a self proclaimed "make-up girl". She looks fabulous, pretty much...well...always.

And, her first job was in a prison.

She was a teacher before she became a wife and mom and taught in a prison for boys. You mean a juvenile detention facility? Well, if what you mean by juvenile detention facility is that these boys were just waiting to turn 18 so they could be transferred to up the river to the Virginia Correctional Institute, then yes. She had a guard outside her classroom and had to set a timer for the trips to the bathroom. The boys were in for murder, rape, and all sorts of other heinous crimes, and Carrie was right there in all her beautifulness, teaching some of the toughest kids that never heard of Scarlet O'Hara.

Needless to say, underneath all that femininity, she a pretty tough cookie who loves Jesus more than anything in the world.


As we all know, even the toughest cookie sometimes crumbles, or gets eaten by a loose mouse in your house but that's another story. Because of, well, life in general, which includes, but is not limited to, trying to sell her house while closing on a new one, four kids, her oldest child just starting first grade and her youngest being about 3 months old, Carrie's feeling a little overwhelmed.

I saw her the other day and she said she felt like she was on the verge of a breakdown. She thought any minute now, she might curl into fetal position and start babbling. At least she hasn't lost her sense of humor.

I stopped right there and prayed for her and then went home to make her Breakdown Enchiladas. Ok, maybe I didn't stop right there and pray for her, but I should have, and Carrie, if your reading this, I did pray for you later while I was cooking. I swear. And it was a really, really long one.

These enchiladas are pretty yummy and guaranteed to make all your cares float away on a rainbow of marshmallow sunshine. So if you're feeling the weight of the world, stop and make some and everything will be perfect again.

Right Carrie? Riiiight.

Breakdown Enchiladas
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (7-ounce) bottle salsa verde (I use Herdez brand)
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (I just buy a rotisserie chicken and viola! Easy as pie.
  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 lime wedges
I doubled this recipe and made two pans which my friend Gini promptly took from me when I was delivering Carrie's. I don't think she was near a breakdown but, you know, who couldn't use dinner already prepared?

Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a blender and whip those puppies into smooth green goodness. Combine chicken and cream cheese in a large bowl and mix it up with your hands. Make sure they're washed. Stir in 1/2 cup salsa mixture. Reserve remaining salsa mixture.

Bring your chicken broth to a simmer in a little skillet. Working with one tortilla at a time, add it to your pan; cook 20 seconds or until moist, turning once. Remove tortilla; drain on paper towels. Spoon about 1/4 cup chicken mixture down center of tortilla; roll up. Place tortilla, seam-side down, in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, broth, and chicken mixture.

Pour remaining salsa mixture over enchiladas; sprinkle evenly with queso fresco and chili powder. Bake at 425° for 18 minutes. VERY IMPORTANT: When you serve these babies, squeeze your lime wedge over them. It gives them a fresh, little kick.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Channeling Violet Beauregarde.

Over the course of the last several days, Sadie has taught herself to blow a bubble with bubble gum.

She's got mad skills. I think she gets her uber-talent from me.

While we were at Target this morning, she asked if she could please get some more bubble gum. That made me ask the obvious question "Where did you get that big-ol piece you've got in your mouth?"

"Nanny give-ed it to me."

I was astounded. Candy and gum don't usually last in our house longer than 1.2 hours and it had been almost a week since Nanny had given her some gum. "Wow, Sadie, I thought ya'll chewed all that gum. Did you save a piece?"

"No, this is the thame pieth Nanny give-ed me Fwiday. I put it in a plastic baggie every night so I can chew it the next day."

Yeah. That's right. I'm glad she's finally learning the lessons of stewardship we've been teaching her since birth. And, since we believe in tough love at the Hill's, I quickly explained that, maybe when she does all of her chores and saves her allowance, she can buy another piece of gum.

And then I thought about that piece of gum being in Sadie's mouth for another second and practically ran to the candy aisle to get her some fresh, new Bubble Yum. Everybody has their limits and five day old bubble gum may be mine.

*

Oh, the rich history.

I'm so sorry I haven't followed-up from my Friday post to reveal the historical significance of Ray's Sporting Goods in West Dallas.


Several of you guessed correctly that it was store where the gun Jack Ruby used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused murderer of President John F. Kennedy, was purchased.

"Ruby was a Dallas strip-club owner and small-time mobster who killed the alleged killer of the president. Just why he did it remains a mystery. But on November 24, 1963, in the basement of the Dallas jail - which at the time was crowded with police officers, reporters, and cameramen - Ruby walked right up to Oswald and shot him once in the side. The gun he used was a .38-calibur Colt Cobra revolver that he bought at Ray's Hardware and Sporting Goods (on the advice of Dallas police detective Joe Cody)."

Not exactly positive but, historical all the same.

In the same vein, West Dallas was also home to the infamous criminal team of Bonnie and Clyde.

"During the 1920s and '30s, West Dallas was known as "Little Cicero" due to its association with Bonnie and Clyde, the Hamilton brothers - Ray and Floyd, and scores of lesser known criminals. Never one of the more attractive parts of Dallas, it remains today a poverty-stricken area consisting of industrial buildings and many of the same modest wooden frame dwellings that were there when Bonnie and Clyde called this part of Dallas "home." Bonnie's family moved here in 1914, after her father died in Runnels County, Texas, where she was born in 1911. They lived with Bonnie's maternal grandparents, Frank and Mary Krause, in a rural area near Cement City - a neighborhood adjacent to the Trinity Portland Cement Company. Clyde's family came to West Dallas much later, in 1922. "

"Clyde Barrow was buried on Friday, May 25, 1934 and an airplane dropped a huge floral wreath (reportedly ordered by gambler Benny Binion) from the sky."

Benny Binion was the founder of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas and was known to gamble up and down the main street of West Dallas when it was lined with bars and clubs. Today, West Dallas is dry.

And that my friends is the first and most likely last installment of the History of West Dallas.

Trey and I have been talking lately about the promise of redemption, not only to the souls of men, but to the Lord's creation as well.

The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18 21)

We have been called by a Holy Father to be ambassadors, used by him as He ushers in the new heavens and new earth. May we be faithful in our call to West Dallas, and may we have the privilege of seeing this community rise from it's history to His promise.

*

Monday, September 22, 2008

Love thy neighbor, Part II.

I've told you before about our neighbors who have decided we are horrible and vile and prejudiced. They're not exactly confirmation of our success in this ministry.

The other day, Graham and Tee had the audacity to play four-square in front of our house. We've talked to them about playing outside, and especially about laughing and having fun but darn-it if they won't listen.

Our neighbor told the boys again as he was watering his grass of solid gold, "Don't step in my yard."

"Yes, sir.", they replied. Oh, the rebellious disrespect of my six and nine year olds.

Well, unfortunately, their big, red, four-square ball took an unfortunate bounce - as balls sometimes do - and rolled into our neighbor's yard.

Crud.

The boys were so scared and for sure weren't going to step into his yard to retrieve it so they came running inside and just looked out the window.

Our neighbor came out, took a picture of the ball in his yard, thereby documenting the offense, and carried it inside his house.

So yesterday morning before church, when all was very quiet and we were sure everyone was asleep, we tiptoed over to his house and did this...


Ok, not really but we did think about it for three and a half minutes. Trey's idea.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A view from the hood.

I know I haven't posted all week and ya'll are probably wasting away from a lack of the strong intellectual nourishment that flows like a river from this blog.

Or you've been as busy as me and haven't noticed.

In addition to my four year old muggin' in the backseat of my car, my week has been full of little surprises and stories. I also realized it's been a long time since I posted some pics. from the hood so I thought I'd start there and see where that takes us.

It was a beautiful day yesterday so I took some shots on our way home from school. My kids were mortified but I figure that this is just the beginning of the multitude of ways in which I will humiliate my children over the course of their lives.

This is one of the taco stands in our neighborhood. The tacos are divine and, in fact, I have planned, in the near future, an entire post dedicated to the tacos of West Dallas. I'm not bragging but one such taco stand in the hood, appealingly located inside a gas station, was voted the "Best Tacos in Texas" by Texas Monthly Magazine.


Put that in your pipe and smoke it whydon'tcha.

These two photos were shot in front of some homes that have not realized that, although bulk trash is supposed to come to our neighborhood the third week of every month, they never actually make it across the bridge. Most of the stuff is eventually stolen and used for...I don't know...something useful, like building a 'trap' which is the new slang word for 'crack house'.

See what I mean by intellictual nourishment?



This is one of the many hair salons/barber shops. I'm going to lay it all out there now and tell you I have never had my hair cut here or at any of the hair establishments in the hood. Dea and Darius go bi-weekly but so far, they've refused to take me with them. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. I wonder if I gave them $8.00 on a Tuesday, would they let me just to sit in a chair for an hour or two and listen? Maybe if I promised not to say anything or try to dance.

Here's a couple of the 146 churches in the three square miles that make up West Dallas. Do you think I'm exaggerating that number? Think again.


I love this street sign. Sometime, back in the day, when the powers that be were naming the streets, someone hoped for more from this community.


I have no idea where Vilbig comes from but it's a pretty interesting street to drive down. But not late at night. Never late at night. I'm just sayin'.

Our delightful tour through West Dallas was topped off by our neighbor ridding the leaves from his lawn with a leaf blower. He is a fairly overweight man and had his shirt off. And, to my and my children's surprise, both of his nipples are pierced with giant hoops. Oh, the things you wish you didn't know. My children were screaming, "Mom! Take a picture! Take a picture!" but, in the interest of, oh, I don't know, not repulsing my friends, I decided against it.

Now for the fun stuff!

Who of you can name the historical significance of this establishment located right here in the hood? Leave your best guess in the comments and I'll post the answer in a few days.


Hannah, you can't answer.

Ya'll have a great weekend!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Comin' around.

When Trey and I were newlyweds living in Nashville, we met a young man who was engaged to be married. Back then, we loved hearing stories about how people had met and gotten engaged mostly because the conversation inevitably turn to our own uber-romantic story of the way we met. At a car dealership. It reads so much less fairy-tale-esk than I thought it would. Hmmm. (Note to self: think of a super romantic, albiet fabricated, story about how you and Trey met so that it won't sound as cheesy as it actually was.)

Anyway, back to this young man. He was engaged to a woman he had known since childhood and had courted. Courted? What the..? What doth it mean?

Well, as he explained to our clueless expressions, he decided one day that he wanted to "court" this young woman and went to her father to ask his permission. The father then answered the boy by forbidding him to see his daughter for a year to "prove" his commitment to the courtship. After the year had passed, the boy was permitted to court the girl under the supervision of her parents. They would never be alone and would not kiss until they had been pronounced "Husband and Wife".

Huh. Interesting.

The second Trey and I got into the car we burst into hysterics about how crazy we thought it was. "Courting?!? Who does that? How absurd!!!"

In our defense, he was also sewing his fiancee's wedding gown. Sewing. With a needle and bobbin and lace and silk. So we weren't total heathens.

It seems as though the passage of time has softened me to the idea. I think we've lost our sense of purity and patience and made the process to marriage into something so far from what it was originally intended. I think most of us who dated a lot before marriage can attest to the fallout that remains long after the relationship ends.

I think courtship, or at least very limited, supervised dating for our kids might not be such a bad idea after all. We'll have to find a capable chaperone because evidently, I'm not one. This afternoon I was driving Sadie (4) and her friend Walker (4) home and I looked in the rear view mirror and saw them totally lip-locked.

They were KISSING!!!!

"Momma, Walker and I kiss-ed on the lipth. We're gonna get mawwied."

"Just one question; does he sew?"


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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Am I being too sensitive?

I've discovered that being woken up by my children frantically wanting breakfast and help finding their school shoes is not the gentlest entry into my day. Last Spring, I started waking up at 5:30 every morning to exercise. It's honestly more for my sanity than anything else but something has been bothering me lately and I need to know if I'm overreacting.

The majority of people at the Y that early are over 80 and pretty spry. There's Al who tells me about his girlfriend and brings me tomato plants and Jack who gets mad at the news. Both ride the stationary bike and score on each other like a couple of teenage ghetto boys. "You actually combed your hair this morning!" or "You're late, that'll be an extra five minutes for you!" Love them.

There is a man who comes every so often, not every day mind you, and thinks of himself as a little bit of a fitness guru.

Sometimes, when I'm lifting weights, he'll tell me how I need to do more reps or do my crunches a different way. That's fine. I can take some constructive criticism.

But, every time he sees me, no matter how much I'm sweating or how hard I'm breathing, he'll say, "I saw you over there getting your little workout on."

Getting my 'little workout' on?

I'm dying. Sweating and gasping for air and he's calling it my 'little workout'.

I'm sure he's just trying to make conversation but, sometimes, when I'm on the elliptical machine about to pass out, there's a dark little part of my heart that wishes I could be like Sydney Bristow on Alias for just one day. I'd flip him over my shoulder and then stand over him and say, "HOW'S THAT FOR A LITTLE WORKOUT?!?"

Maybe I need to spend a little less time at the gym and a little more time in the Word.


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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brownies on steriods.

Today I found myself with three, precious, beautiful hours totally alone. It was unexpected so I had absolutely nothing planned and it caught me off guard. Since I'm never in my house all by myself, I decided I would just go home and enjoy the peace and quiet. We've also had the back- to-school-bank-account-hemorrhaging so shopping was definitely out.

I totally had to look up how to spell hemorrhaging.

On my way home, the 'Check Tire Pressure' light came on in my Suburban so I pulled into a tire place to get that fixed in a jiffy and be on my way.

Surprise!

It seems that my resolution for not spending any money was going to be very short lived. I needed four new tires. Four. And it would take 2 hours. There went my peaceful afternoon at home. Alone. By myself. By myself, at home, alone. Instead, I spent my time in the lobby of Discount Tire figuring out how many pair of shoes I could have bought for the kids. I was really bummed.

So, when we got home this afternoon, I made these brownies. They're a balm for the soul.

Ok, they aren't really any kind of balm, especially for my thighs. But, they're so stinkin' delicious and easy, they feel like it sometimes.

You need some brownie mix. I like this one because they taste yummy and one box makes a batch big enough for the 9x13 pan that you'll need.


And you'll need three of these. These Symphony bars have almonds and toffee in them but if you're not a fan of almonds or toffee, especially combined in a big luscious bar of chocolate (crazy), you can use the plain one.


Follow the directions on the back with the eggs, water, oil, etc. until you have yourself some good ol' brownie batter. Aren't I easy?

Pour half of the mix into a greased 9x13 baking dish.

Cover the mix with the candy bars like so, and then* top the bars with the remainder of brownie mix.


You might have some left over. You can share it with your kids who are standing behind you or climbing on the counters drooling.


Have you ever wondered what the sanitation engineers (and I'm P.C. to boot) would think of your trash? When I see this pile, I do.


Bake according to directions on the box of brownies and cool completely before cutting.

Milk, ice cream, or Diet Coke are perfectly acceptable accompaniments.

Enjoy!

I did.


*if you've had an especially bad day, go read Psalm 23 and then melt a bag of caramels and pour those on top of the chocolate bars before adding the remaining brownie mix. Your soul will be restored by one, your sweet tooth, by the other.


*

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Waking up is hard to do.

Graham has a little bit of trouble waking up for school in the morning. Please notice the bedding. Does it look like a six year old boy's first choice? It's ours. He comes in almost every night nowadays to 'fnuggle. His thrashing boy-sleep is kinda putting a damper on my beauty rest.

"Rise and Shine, Cutie!"

He's still asleep. I swear.




Making progress.


Maybe not.


Uh, oh. Found a pillow. Back to sleep.



Ladies and Gentlemen, we have vertical.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rotten Johnny.

Trey just left to go pick Dea up from work at McDonald's. Several nights a week Dea works until 10:00 and Trey goes and picks him, and sometimes a few co-workers, up and gives them a ride home.

It's an easy drive and usually takes about 15 minutes round trip.

Why am I telling you this? Because it's harmless and should not be something even remotely interesting enough to blog about, right?

You would think.

The other night, Trey and Dea came home looking a 'little deer in the headlights' and when I asked why, Trey got a little sheepish.

Dea chimed in, "Mr. Trey picked up some homeless dealer and gave him a ride."

As I went to check our life insurance policy to make sure it was up to date, Trey explained.

"Baby..."

Now, we've talked about this. He only calls me "Baby" when he wants a dog, ate my Milk Duds, or has done something where his safety might have been questionable.

"Baby, I was waiting for Dea and this guy came up to my window and asked me to roll it down. I said 'no' because I didn't have any money." (For the record, Trey pretty much always talks to the homeless and felt a little guilty for not engaging this guy.)

"Well he starts going off on me acting all indignant saying he doesn't want any money and yelling that he just needs a ride across the bridge."

Across the bridge would be into our neighborhood.

Trey continued, "He told me about his eight kids and how he was just trying to get over the bridge to take his wife some Church's Chicken. He did have a bag of chicken so I gave him the benefit of the doubt him and told him I'd give him a ride."

At this point, I'm just going to tell you that the next time you're filling out a life insurance application and it asks you if you,

a. skydive
b. use tobacco products
c. engage in intravenious drug use
or d. pick up homeless people with a bag of chicken and give them rides over the bridge

you have my permission to blame Trey.

There was more, "He told me he was a counselor, a construction worker, a teacher, a musician, a car salesman, and a mechanic. He also explained that several of his kids were in jail and he was strapped trying to pay for all of their bail and lawyers."

When they got to the other side of the bridge, the gentleman, his name was Rotten Johnny, said, "Uh, you better drive on off. I don't want you implicated in anything."

The fact that his name was Rotten Johnny should have been a little red flag, don't ya think?

Trey said, "IMPLICATED? IMPLICATED? What are you talking about?"

"Uh, yeah, about that, I gotta do me a little slingin' to make some money. Thanks man."

He got out of Trey's car and ran off.

Slingin' would be selling drugs.

In light of Trey's call into full-time inner city ministry, this little episode might be considered counter-productive. But, I do love the man because he continues to see hope in the hopeless and knows there is no such thing as a chance encounter. Judging from past experience and the way Trey loves his 'hood and the people in it, Rotten Johnny hasn't seen the last of my husband.

.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How I learn to die to self.

How does it make you feel when something incredibly amazing happens to you and no one notices? You know, like you get a new pair of earrings, you paint your toenails a bright, sassy color, or you get a new haircut and no one says a word?

This happened to me the other night and I'm really having a hard time getting over it. Really.

I got my hair cut. Just a trim, a little shaping up but still. A 1/2 inch is totally comment worthy, don't you think?

We all went to the airport to welcome home the Alexander's from Ethiopia and our newest nephew Abe.

There was a huge crowd. Surely someone would notice.


Nothing.

Everyone had posters that I was sure would say stuff like, "Love your hair!" and "Great hair!" and "Whoohoo, way to go hair!" But alas, I was wrong. They all said, "Welcome Home, Abe!", "We love you, Abe!"



I guess they were preoccupied.

Everyone spent way more time looking at the arrival schedule than they did my hair.

Totally frustrating.


Our good friend Corinne flew in from Nashville to surprise Emily. Great, another distraction.


Look how close to me she is.

Zip.

Then the plane landed and there was cheering, tears, hugs, and more tears!


Still, not a word about my haircut. Nada.


Lots of people noticed Abe's hair with all it's curly lusciousness, but no one said anything about mine.


He does have pretty good hair.

I guess since the first time I held him he 'fnuggled with me and fell asleep, I'm going to let the whole 'nobody noticing my haircut' thing go.


I'm dying to self that way.

*Wink.*

And I'm in love with this little booger. He's so stinkin' beautiful I can barely stand it.

Graham's first question to Emily was, "Can he please spend the night with us, tonight?"
We're all pretty smitten.

*

Monday, September 1, 2008

What we do for fun.

Olivia had a sweet friend spend the night Friday night and when it was time to go to bed, the girls wanted to sleep in the playroom.

Olivia wanted to sleep in her box.


We received something in the mail this week that came in a huge box. Ok, I don't want you to get all undone with curiosity...it was a unicorn. Actually, when I was in third grade, I won a prize for a story I wrote about my dad sending me a big box with a unicorn inside. Isn't it amazing how life comes full circle?

Whatever.

Ok, Olivia has been playing with this box all week and, tonight, in the presence of her friend, wanted to SLEEP IN IT. I love her confidence.

She's actually asleep in her box. I'm not making this up.


Trey said she was having her own poverty immersion experience.

I'm thinking ballet might not be such a bad idea.


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