All posts by Vanessa Hoogeboom

spicy peppers in grocery store

Two Weeks a Texan

So I’ve been here two whole weeks now, and wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned or found funny in Texas after spending my life up till now in Michigan.

– ‘Frontage’ roads can allow you to drive next to the expressway without necessarily getting ON the expressway, sort of but not really. The concept is still foreign to me.

– Driving 75 at night (or anytime) on non-expressway back roads. Legally. (It’s just more scary at night.)

– Michigan has deer crossing signs – Texas also has cattle crossing signs.

– An entire section of the grocery store produce is spicy peppers. (At least the avocadoes are cheaper here!)

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– ‘Pootin’ is another word for ‘Tootin’. At first I imagined it somehow involved pooping your pants

– ‘Chunk’ means throw something away. I still have trouble not associating it with ‘blowing chunks’.

– STEAK. Have I died and gone to heaven STEAK.

– Okra. I’m still not sure I’ve officially tried it, because I’ve only tried it deep fried so far. And as far as I can tell, it just tastes like deep fried.

– My first drive-in movie! In January, no less! Couldn’t happen in Michigan.

– A car company offered free boots with the purchase of any car. I guess they aren’t talking about winter snow boots..

– It might be just me, but I think there are more trucks in Texas.

– And the trucks are all shiny. None of that salt-induced Michigan rust.

– the SUN. In two weeks, there has been one cloudy day. (Not to mention an hour more of daylight than MI right now.) I’m sure I’ll learn to avoid it in the summer.. but right now I feel like a moth attracted to a flame. Sun! Open the window shades! I’ll be outside! And sunsets- every day a beautiful sunset.

– Being called Ma’am. And a random old guy wanted to buy my coffee at a gas station.. Wasn’t sure if that was creepy or just a common gender nicety. (I refused.) And the local news reports ‘ladies first’ for the local high school sports scores.

They say everything is bigger in Texas… but I found one thing that isn’t (or should I say ain’t?)

We drove by a small man-made pond in a cattle field, with a sign by it saying ‘Fresh Water’.
Michigan’s still got Texas beat on the biggest fresh-water!

Denominational Identity Crisis

I grew up catholic.  Catholic school, burning my fingers dipping them in candle wax as an altar girl, going to confession..    When I went to college, I went to the catholic church on campus, got involved in their choir (being a music major, finding a place in church among the musicians has always been a natural fit.) And then the fall of my Sophomore year, some mostly-baptist friends started inviting me to their officially non-denominational church.  I finally went to one of their services where I heard the bible story of how this really religious pharisee guy Nicodemus sneaks off to see Jesus at night (so he doesn’t get caught by the other religious people who don’t think Jesus is legit) and Jesus tells this dude that he has to be born again.  (There’s something else in that same story I’d heard before about how God so loved the world, but it didn’t make sense until that day.)  That night in my room, one of my mostly-baptist friends led me through the sinner’s prayer over AOL instant messenger (I feel old, talking about AIM!).  Suddenly, I was born again, ‘saved’.  (And since they were mostly-baptists, I got fully dunk-baptized a few weeks later in a water-filled feeding trough.)

Now growing up catholic this idea of being ‘Born Again’ was something those strange people who might lift their hands in the air during the music at church might have talked about, and up until then I always thought they were weird.  But here I was, having my own salvation experience, being born again, getting saved, seeing the light, or however you want to put it.
At first I was angry at the catholics. I thought they’d been hiding this powerful truth from me all this time I’d been trying my best to be Christian by going to catholic churches.
But then I went back to a catholic service after being saved – and I wept as we read the liturgy together, full of the same messages about God, His sacrifice to forgive us and His glory I heard at the basically-baptist church.  It had been there all along, staring me in the face, but I had been blind to it.
My journey hasn’t been back to regularly attend Catholic church since, but my appreciation and understanding of the high church tradition has grown since my early-salvation days.  God is big, and to me seems to be seeping through high church traditions, simple explanations of the gospel, and everything in between.
Having gone through several church transitions in the past 10 years, from Catholic to mostly-baptist to presbyterian to trailer church to REALLY baptist..  I can’t really say I identify myself as any one of them, but I am thankful and keep looking for (and finding) God in all of them.  I am finding that I belong with them as a member of Christ’s Church (big C church intentional) even when my culture or choices or preferred version of the bible might be different.  I don’t fit in completely now with any of the denominations I’ve been a part of.  But by the grace and mercy of God, It’s turning out that I feel I belong in places I don’t really fit in.   
Jesus,  you did not fit in here on the Earth – you were made to belong to something much bigger than we can imagine, fitting in the trinity in a kind of unity we humans can’t yet achieve.  Help us remember the Church is yours.  Help us find windows of unity and belonging to each other.  Let my prayers join Yours:   
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17: 20a-23

Exhaling

At a recent yoga class I attended, the teacher began with instruction to focus in on our breath and become aware of balance: were our inhale and exhale both even and balanced?  I was surprised as I began to pay attention that my exhales were less steady and shorter than my inhales.

I started thinking about how our body uses exhales to let go of what it doesn’t need.  Perhaps in life I am used to taking in so many good things: a LOT of information, teachings, friendships, spiritual and religious learning.  But this reflects in my schedule: I have so traditionally been over-involved and over-committed.  Steady at inhaling, at committing to all these things that feed me in various ways, but unsteady in letting them go: exhaling feels a little like carrying too many things at once and being surprised when one occasionally drops.  I almost feel afraid or reluctant to exhale, to let things go.

I’m becoming aware of this unsteady tendency of how I let go of my breath and so many other things in life.   I’m learning to accept letting go of good things, of transition, to make space for my next inhale, for my next friendship, for the next company or church I will be a part of.  I’m letting go of the way life was as a single person to make room for the way life is living in union with my spouse.  I’m letting go of the way I connected with my church as a single person to make room for the way Jeff and I connect with our church as a couple.

God, I believe you are the center, the balance of my life.  Guide my intentions, how and what to let go and exhale, and to inhale and pick up.   

Indifferent

Sometimes I get this (wrong) impression of God as being indifferent.  

I think in our culture it’s perceived as politically correct to be indifferent: this idea that I should ‘not care’ what other people do or believe as long as it isn’t hurting themselves, others, or most important, me.  We don’t want to give people the idea we don’t like them or disagree with them, so we quietly disengage and live our own (lonely) lives.  

Admittedly, sometimes disengaging is necessary instead of fighting unprofitable battles – but I can’t help but wonder if we (I) am more often too disengaged.  If being indifferent is ‘not caring’ about other people – then we have a lack of truly caring for one another.  

Truly caring can be exhausting and difficult, like disciplining your children or having the courage to (respectfully) tell a friend you believe the choices they are making are not good for them.   

With God, I think I fear His indifference because it is often so hard to recognize how He is engaged in my life.  Sometimes He feels very distant, and it becomes hard to believe He cares about what I have to tell him or ask Him.  

And I think in order to truly care for others, I need to first let God care for me.  He is not indifferent and cares for me, for us in a way I do not yet fully comprehend.  What kind of care would I show people if I first let God overwhelm me with his care for me? 

 

God, help us know You with clarity, that you care deeply for us and are engaged and with us in the details of our lives.  Fill us with greater and deeper understanding of Your love and care for us that we would overflow with that love to others.  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…” Phillipians 1:9-10

Devil in the Details

I’m sometimes known for my attention to details (Just ask my husband about doing dishes!)  

So of course I like the idea that God notices and cares about the details.. the small things that aren’t noticeable at first glance.  The way one family I know composts, because they think that detail of caring for the environment matters.  The way another friend gets crazy deals with coupons, because those details add up to more money they get to keep (which they often choose to give away.)  

Our church services are full of details.  

Making the coffee.  Setting the sound system.  Setting out the treats.  Making sure people know where to park, how to get inside the church.  Someone thought through the details of the building long before sunday ever happened.  How would someone in a wheelchair get in the building or go to the restroom?  Can the sound system help someone with hearing aids?  What kind of coffee is the church going to purchase, and how does that affect the people who grow the coffee?  

All these choices (and so many more in our personal lives) involve more details if we keep breaking them down than we can ever handle understanding or wrapping our minds around.  They all affect people in ways we can’t even imagine.  

As a musician, I focus in on a lot of details other people would never notice.  How is that chord voiced?  What harmony should I sing to work with the melody and the chords?  I spend time practicing and working out details that ‘other people wouldn’t notice’.  

Except, when a professional takes the stage, it seems like people notice.  Often not the details themselves, but… something.  They notice something is different, more details are thought through, even though the average listener can’t articulate what additional details are added to the music.  

In my job at the library, sometimes the staff will spend time straightening the books on the shelf so the spines are even and flush with the edge of the shelf.  Someone commented that walking into an area that had just been straightened that it ‘felt’ professional.  Taking care of that detail was small and subtle, and arguably not important, but it still made an underlying difference.  

I say all that perhaps to reassure myself that the work I put into the details of the music I bring to church means something, matters in some way more than the sum of the details themselves.  I say that also to point out the opposite: in the details of my life I let slip, when my tongue is out of control, and the details are chaotic or cutting – it’s the little details where the devil likes to meet me.  One out-of place book in a library is often VERY difficult to find.  One letter spelled wrong in someone’s name in a database can cause expensive errors.  One word I say can hurt my closest relationships.  The small things, the details, matter.  (Sorry guy who wrote the book about not sweating the small stuff!) 

Perhaps it is not the nature of details, but the far more powerful effect of grace in our lives that really allows us NOT to ‘sweat the small stuff’.  The small stuff all matters; Grace is the force that sets it right, that takes the best of our details and makes up for the details we miss, the small ways we go around sinning that we don’t even know about.  

 

 

God, help us honor and worship you in the details of our lives and our work, that all of what we do would be to your glory to the last syllable, bolt, sixteenth note, or coupon..  Help us see the way the details of our choices affect those we are close to (and those who might live on the other side of the world.)  Fill us with your grace to learn and forgive ourselves and others for the details we miss.  Thank you for making up for all the details we miss and gently teaching us as a father teaches his children.  

Worship Elements: Communion

I married an incredible man this summer.  I had three requirements on my list for a guy: must love Jesus, must be musical, and must eat onions.  (Not necessarily LIKE onions, just has to be willing to eat them.)   After several meals prepared with onion by my friends who knew my requirements, Jeff passed the bill with more than flying colors (and likes onions, to boot.)

While we were dating/engaged we prayed that our relationship would be a light for Christ to our friends, family and all we interacted with.  When we got engaged and started planning our wedding, we wanted to celebrate communion – and per our pastor’s suggestion, decided that we should be the ones to serve our gathered friends and family the bread and juice (in our case), the elements of communion.

The more I thought about this the more excited I got about it.  We were going to get to act out our prayers of being a light to our friends and relations.  As the highlight of our wedding, we got to hold out the symbols of Christ’s death, to be human hands holding Jesus out to those we love and care about most.  We as broken people were given the privilege of holding out Christ’s broken body, holding out the source of hope and healing Jeff and I have founded our relationship on.

2634105_1378835840Communion tends to be a rather somber practice.  We are sometimes directed to reflect on our sins, shortcomings and attempt to be ‘right’ before God in receiving Him in communion.  This is turned upside-down if you participate in communion at a wedding!  I have never experienced such a JOYFUL time of communion.  It reminded me of the promise we as Christians have ahead of us – the glorious reuniting of Christ with the Church, his bride.  Instead of being about Jesus’ death, this communion experience reminded me of our reuniting with Christ as we will be in heaven, a glorious feast we will share with all those who belong in Christ.

And there were some of our friends and family who did not participate in communion with us.

Some, like my Catholic family, did not participate because their commitment to Christ involves commitment to the doctrines of participating in communion only with the Catholic church.  They responded with joy that we chose to celebrate communion.  I find sadness that now, the Church is broken enough that we cannot all yet participate in an event that reminds us of the reuniting to come, but Joy that one day, even the brokenness of the Church will be healed, and Catholics and Protestants will be no more, and we will all celebrate as united with Christ.

And some simply do not believe.  We aim to continue to find ways to hold out the elements of Christ to them, that they might taste and see how good God is.

God, help us hold you before us in all our relationships: teach us by your radical sacrifice how much we are loved, and to love others the way we are loved.  Thank you for the promise of what’s to come, the great wedding feast when the Church is reunited with Christ.  Thank you for the reflections and images of that hope here on earth now: Your Kingdom Come.

Starting in the Middle

I feel like I’ve been blogging for a long time, only my thoughts have never quite made it out from my head to a keyboard to the internets.  So this really doesn’t feel like much of a beginning, other than taking a step to actually start communicating in writing what’s been building in my mind all along.  Welcome.  

 
Some of the things I’ll write about (because they are things I think about): worship, the church, the Church, yoga, other spiritual disciplines, books I’m reading, differences between the north and the south (all thanks to my wonderful Texan husband) and whatever else comes to mind, like it has over the past several years when I think “Oh, I should blog about that”.  
 
Thanks for reading.  Really.