Not Cut Out to Be a Choir Director

“Three miles to the world.”

That’s a catchphrase my church likes to use. You see, Dallas is one of the main hubs where the US government likes to dump refugees. People from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Somalia,  and many other countries (some of which I’ve never heard of) find themselves in my illustrious Southern city. The government pays their way for six months, and then they are expected to have life figured out.

One of the opportunities that this allows me is the privilege of working with an African refugee church that meets at my church on Sunday afternoons. It is made up of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Their services are taught in Kirundi, and the people sure know how to sing and dance and worship God! Even though I don’t speak the language of most of the adults, joy spills out no matter what language is being spoken.

Not your typical English praise song
Not your typical English praise song

Of course, since I’m typically the only white, English-speaking, American adult there and only come every other week, I don’t always know what is going on. This can create some interesting situations.

On this particular Sunday, the church was hosting a conference. Other African churches were meeting together, and each group had brought over their choirs to join in the festivities.

For the conference, I was told that the children’s choir was going to perform one of the English songs I had taught them. The song was a lovely repeat-after-me song, and I had purposely picked out half of the kids to lead the song and the other half to repeat. I arrived when I thought I was supposed to so I could practice with my kiddos, but something was lost in translation. I was given a “Glory Choir” T-shirt and rushed into the main auditorium. A quick whispered conversation let the kids know which song we were going to do, and I took my seat with a sense that everything would be fine.

As the service progressed, I began to wonder how I was going to pull this off. The children were going to sing a couple of songs in their native language, and then we were going to close with mine. Because of the hand motions and the lack of practicing, I figured that I would do what I’ve seen my choir directors do: I would simply go to the front of the room, kneel down facing the kids, and lead the song. That way they could watch me if they forgot anything.

Things didn’t go quite as planned.

As I waited, the kids who were supposed to start the song didn’t.

Their lovely artwork
Their lovely artwork

Perhaps if I start singing, they’ll join in, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I burst forth into song.

Unfortunately, instead of joining in, all of the children decided to echo.

Now, I’ll pause right here and make this confession: I am not a singer. While I may be able to hold a tune in a limited range, I’ll make my mark on the musical world playing the piano way before I win American Idol. 

So, sitting on my knees, with about a 100 African refugees staring at the back of my head, I began belting out this song while flailing about doing hand motions, desperately hoping that the children would join me rather than repeat me. After the first verse, a very friendly African fellow hunkered down beside me with a microphone. He proceeded to hold the microphone for me while I continued waving my arms and singing slightly off-key for the remainder of the song.

I don’t know what the African refugees thought of the crazy girl teaching their children that day. I’m not sure if they understood why I was sitting perched in the front of the room with my back to them. Perhaps they wondered why I was waving my arms like a wild woman at their children. But at least they had no idea what the song was supposed to sound like in the first place so perhaps they’ll think it sounded like it was supposed to.

I didn’t get any compliments on my singing that day, but I’m chalking that up the to the fact that most of the adults don’t speak English.

Working with the African church is such a fun blessing! I never know quite what to expect!

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The kids are always a lot of fun!
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The Deceitfulness of Cabbage

Now that I have reached the prestigious age of 24, I am recognized by most of the world as being an adult–or at least adultish. I’ve survived college, bought my first non-clunker car, and have so-far managed to hold down a job in corporate America. (We’ll leave off admitting to the “still living at home” part for the present.)

As a responsible, respectable young person, I do what responsible, respectable young people do. I go to the grocery store and buy (most of) my own food.

On this particular day, I headed to the local Aldi’s on my way home from church to buy what I usually buy myself for a week of nutritious lunches. First passing the massive amounts of chips, I pick out a tasty looking bag. Next comes the cookies lined up and looking scrumptious. A package of these joins the first. Weaving my way up one aisle and down the next, I finally arrive at the produce section. Like every week, I grab some strawberries, lunch meat, tomatoes, and a head of iceberg lettuce. My trip was quick and cheap–just how I like it.

Sunday evening came around, and I was preparing my lunch for the next day. After discovering how mushy bread gets when it is in sandwich form for five hours before being consumed, I moved over to a type of sandwich wrap/taco-like creation. Not much flavor, but it does its job.

Popping open my strawberries, I took out a few, washing and dicing them for easy eating. Next, the carrots were plopped in a Ziploc bag, and the chips and cookies went next. Finally, I ripped open my head of lettuce. It had a strange shiny texture to it–almost like what waxed fruit looks like.

Hmmm, I thought to myself, it must not be quite ripe yet. Since a chicken and tomato wrap seemed rather lonely, I decided to take the lettuce along anyway. The color was good; the texture just seemed a little funky.

Monday arrived much too early, as always, and the hours ticked away until noon. Adjourning to my lunch-eating corner, I pulled out my materials and began assembling my wrap. The tomatoes weren’t quite ripe either, and my eyes didn’t make my stomach grumble with pleasant thoughts of what was to come. With a shrug, I took my first bite.

Crunch.

I continued munching on my sandwich wrap as I tried to figure out what was so loud and crunchy about it. Could it possibly be that the tomato was more unripe than I thought? Making it through half a wrap, I decided that a chicken-only wrap wasn’t too bad after all.

That evening, I began preparations for the next day. Pealing open the lettuce again, there was that same lime-green color. That same waxy texture. That same tearing sound when I ripped off a piece. I studied it a bit more. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps it was going bad.

“Is lettuce supposed to look like this?” I asked as I carried the head out into the living.

My sister took one look at it and laughed.

How is one supposed to tell which is which?
How is one supposed to tell which is which?

“That’s not lettuce,” she said. “That, My Dear, is a cabbage.”

A few important lessons were learned that day:

1. Make sure you know what you are buying (Just to clarify, nowhere on my cabbage did it say “This is a cabbage. Beware.”)

2. Watch out for sadistic supermarkets that place the lettuce and cabbage next to each other.

3. Finally, cabbage sandwiches will not be catching on anytime soon.

P.S. Don’t even get me started on the deceitfulness of Chicken of the Sea! 🙂

Just Like Dropping Marbles

The day was like many others that I had spent at my new place of employment. Get to work around 8 o’clock, putter about trying to stay out of trouble, head to lunch, do some more puttering, and head home for the day. Only one particular thing was out of the ordinary on this day, and it happened at lunch.

As was my custom, when the clock struck 11:55 am, I gathered up my packed lunch and headed to my designated area. While my company has a cafeteria chocked full of tasty goodies (though I have yet to sample any), my Dave Ramsey-ness has prohibited me from partaking. While $5-$10 entrees and sandwiches seem to be a good investment comparatively to Dallas food prices, I prefer my sack lunch that saves me a few dollars here and there. While I look listlessly at my wilting lettuce and hope the slightly rancid smell my lunch meat exudes doesn’t mean it has expired, I rest confidently in the knowledge that I am saving money.

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The lunchbox

This particular day, I avoided the busy cafeteria and headed to my quiet grotto. While some of my coworkers have lunch together, I usually pass on their invitation. Their discussions on food (which I’m too cheap to purchase), sports (Texas people are crazy football fans!), and former coworkers (who I’m probably glad I never met) don’t seem to relate to me. An hour spent reading a good book or staring into space with a dreamy grin on my face as I world-build does more to rejuvenate me for the second stretch of the day.

I found my spot at one of the high-tables and had to hop to land on the tall stool. Three other high-topped two-seaters and four low, four-chaired tables surrounded me and sat overlooking the escalators in my office. People, like me, who preferred reading, thinking, or (most frequently) playing on their phones joined the ranks of the lone lunchers.

As I stomached the last of my salad, emptied my fruit cup, and tried to decide whether to save my chocolate square or scarf it down immediately, I began to absentmindedly fiddle with my necklace. The black pearls were nothing more than costume jewelry, but they stretched my meager supply of ornaments. Spinning the large and small balls in my fingers, I gradually worked from the front of my necklace to the back.

Snap!

They went everywhere!
They went everywhere!

Without warning, my entire necklace exploded! Bead after bead cascaded down the front of my red button-down, hit my lap, and shot out from me in all directions.

I sat frozen, helpless, incredulous as the small black spheres continued to form a growing half-circle around me. Like dropping marbles on a cement floor, the pings continued unchecked.

In unison, a dozen sets of eyes turned to me. I just sat there as the last of the beads rumbled down my chest and oozed away.

“I guess my necklace had all it could stand,” I said with a frazzled chuckle.

The dozen pairs of eyes all swooped back to their forms of entertainment. Perhaps they thought that ignoring the problem would save them from having to help.

I hobbled off my stool, my pencil skirt restricting my movement. Slowly, I began the process of scooping up my beads. One lone lunch buddy, who I never spoke to before or after, helped me gather up my two dozen beads. Hurriedly depositing them into my lunch pail, I headed back to work with a bare neck and a lunchbox full of costume jewelry.

My quiet lunch hadn’t been so quiet after all.

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Safe and sound inside

 

Wisdom Did Not Descend on Me on My Birthday

On the morning of December 28th, I awoke to discover that I had survived 24 complete years of life. On this day 24 years ago, Angela was born into this world. While this is a great accomplishment in itself, apparently, being a year older does not automatically make one smarter. I found that out quickly.

My birthday began relatively quietly as I dragged myself out of bed and prepared for church. My five day sabbatical from work seemed to have left me more worn out than before I began. Since my family all separates and evangelizes the entire city of Dallas by going to four different churches, I headed to church on my own.

Pulling into the parking lot of my place of worship, I was quite pleased with myself. With the holidays drawing to a close, traffic had been light, and I made good travel time. Pleasant thoughts of arriving early for the service for the first time in months swirled through my head as I pulled into the parking lot and found a close spot. I gathered my belongings as I listened to the end of a song on the radio, and then I went to turn off my car. I switched off my vehicle and started my normal routine. Suddenly, I realized I had a problem….

I had no training on what to do in a situation like this!

My key wouldn’t come out of my ignition.

Panic began to swirl in my chest, but I tried to calm myself down. When I had purchased the vehicle in October, I was only given a single key, and the key was bent. On Tuesday, I had had the hardest time getting my key to slide into the ignition (though I finally got it in after pushing on the brakes and straightening out my steering wheel). As I jiggled the key, turned the car on and off, and yanked as hard as I could, my stomach began to clench up. The key was not coming out, and I had no idea what to do.

The minutes ticked by. I was pressing, pulling, and praying frantically as I tried to process what to do about my problem. I had a warranty on my vehicle–should I call and say my engine swallowed my key? Should I call a locksmith? I was alone, and my family was inaccessible. I considered going into church and coming back later, but I couldn’t leave my car with the keys in the ignition sitting in a packed parking lot.

Five minutes of stress dragged by. I decided I needed a second opinion. No use getting the authorities and specialists involved if I had simply made an error. Like mothers who are able to find something in two minutes that took others hours to find, I wondered if perhaps someone else would have the magic touch I was missing.

A couple of cars pulled in, and I sprang from my vehicle to assault the other drivers.

“May I borrow one of you?” I called attempting not to seem too frazzled. “This may sound very dumb,” I said with a meek, frenzied chuckle to the 35-year-old man climbing out of his vehicle, “But I can’t get my key out of the ignition.” I went on to explain about the bent key, and my inability to free it from the jaws of my Camry.

The man began working to help this damsel in distress. He began asking questions about which way my key was bent and if this had happened before. I stood in the cold, swirling breeze trying to be helpful but really being no help at all.

“I don’t want to pull too hard and break your vehicle,” the man said. He seemed about ready to give up. I understood his feelings. At least my diagnosis had been correct.

As a final resort, the man began playing with the lock buttons and fiddling with other gadgets. Shoving my hands in my pockets, I let out a sigh. Now what was I supposed to do?

Click.

Suddenly, the man turned to me with a great grin on his face. In his hand, held aloft, was my free key!

These foreign cars are so tricky to use!

The man climbed out of the vehicle and handed over my released treasure. Trying to swallow his grin, he said, “Next time, try putting your car in park.”

With profuse thanksgiving and gratitude, I allowed the man to return to his family. He assured me that this would be our secret. I had a profound wish in that moment that my hair hadn’t been blonde.

So, moral of the story: wisdom did not descend on me on my 24th birthday. In fact, I couldn’t even make it to 9AM without having trouble. With a start like this, I’m a little concerned about what will happen to me in the next 12 months!

Artemis vs. the Fire Hydrant

One month ago last Wednesday, I found a new companion. His exterior glistened in the sunshine, and his interior was vacuumed and perfumed. After a summer of researching, test-driving, and withstanding numerous sales pitches, I had finally found him: my 2007 Toyota Camry. After trying on a collection of names, the name I had picked out two years ago in college stuck: Artemis Gordon, the faithful sidekick of Mr. James West from the 1960s television show The Wild Wild West. 

While I had planned this post to be an ownership announcement, recent events have changed my focus. Here is my beautiful new vehicle last weekend:

The illustrious Artemis Gordon!
The illustrious Artemis Gordon!

And this is what he looks like today:

What happened? Well, it's a funny story....
What happened? Well, it’s a funny story….

Oh, Tuesdays! I had recently decided that Tuesdays were my least favorite day of the week. Mondays begin a new week, and after a weekend of recovery, usually the first day has a bit of enthusiasm tied to it. Seeing coworkers again after a brief respite gives one something to discuss, and four more work days provide plenty of time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Wednesdays through Fridays are comforting because the pinnacle of the week has arrived and the rest is a downward slope. Tuesdays, on the other hand, are rough. Any freshness about the beginning of a new week has worn off, and there are still too many days left to look forward to the weekend. Bad things happen on Tuesdays.

This last Tuesday was no different. The work day was fine, and by 4:30 p.m., I was glad to take my leave. I tromped through the new cold front to the parking garage that housed my new vehicle. A bitter wind blew through the six-story structure, and I had to dodge oncoming traffic and crazed workers who were in just as much hurry to begin their evening as I was.

Bracing myself against the cold and wondering why I had chosen to wear a pencil skirt and nylons that day, I made it to the farthest row from the building where I had chosen to park. I may have had to walk farther to get to and from my car, but at least I was closer to the exits. Cars sped past in a rush to get home, and I was glad to finally slide out of the wind and catch my breath. Rubbing my hands together and switching from heels to tennis shoes, I prepared for my commute and an evening of p.j.s and warm blankets.

Putting my car in reverse, I began inching my way out of my spot. Two cars were parked close on both sides of me, and I remembered again how much I dislike parking garages. There is a reason I always park in the outskirts of parking lots and choose parking spaces that I can pull through. With as much care as I could manage, I made sure that I was backing straight out.

My eyes zipped back and forth to scan the pickup truck and sedan that had made friends with Artie. As I inched out more, I checked my back windows to keep watch for rogue drivers who zipped past my bumper on their way to freedom. I checked my side mirrors to watch for other parked cars–though I purposely parked on the main thoroughfare so that I had more room to back out.

My breathing was quick and my body tense as I finally cleared the car on my right just enough to complete my turn. Glancing in my side mirrors and over my shoulders, I saw that I had a clear passageway to freedom. My foot darted from the brake that I had been cradling to the accelerator. Just a little gas to complete my backing up process, and I could switch gears and zoom away. I touched the gas and accelerated backwards.

BAM!

A jolt shook the car. I knew that I had made a mistake. My car had taken on the fire extinguisher box that was attached to one of the cement pillars of the parking garage. It had lost.

The assaulting pillar!
The assaulting pillar!

What followed is a sorted tale of putting back on my heels and trudging all the way back to the main building to confess my faux pas to the security guards. From there, I had to go show the damage and stand by awkwardly as pictures were taken of the pole and my car. Why the fire hydrant box looks like someone bumped it going 5 mph and my car looks like someone plowed into it going 50 mph, I’ll never know.

Doesn't look too worse for the wear, does it?
Doesn’t look too worse for the wear, does it?

This week has been a fun combination of getting damage estimates ($1600-$2000 for a new trunk lid) and filing my first insurance claim. My one month anniversary with my new vehicle didn’t go as wonderfully as I had hoped. For 5 years of driving on icy roads in blizzard conditions in Michigan, I never crashed into anything, but three and a half weeks of parking in a parking garage was all it took for my first infraction. At least, now I’ll have some sympathy when my 16-year-old smashes into her first tree.

So, meet Artemis Gordon! My much sought after and waited for companion. Perhaps he would have been better off with someone other than me! 🙂

The Joys of Job Hunting

For the last three and a half months, I have been seriously job hunting. Actually, ever since graduating college, I have been looking for a good position to get settled into. With a background in creative writing and no strong career callings, deciding on a life trajectory has not been easy. Our little town of Ortonville did not offer many opportunities, but once I arrived in Dallas, I was sure the perfect job would present itself. As I applied for my 55th job, I was getting a bit discouraged. Suddenly, the 14th job I applied for three months previously came through, and I began my new job last week. While I was waiting for it, I had some other memorable job interviews in the meantime. Here are some of the questions I was asked and how I responded. Perhaps they will help you in your next interview.

The all-powerful resume!
The all-powerful resume!

1. Shepler’s Interview: What do you know about western wear?

The question took me by surprise. I was sitting across from a lady in cowboy boots and plaid, and she was interviewing me for a a copy writing position with this western fashion store. I had researched the brands sold and the history of the business, but I wasn’t prepared for this open-ended question. Truth-be-told, I knew nothing about western wear. I had lived in Michigan the last ten years, for heaven’s sake! With a swallow and a stammer, I said something like, “My Aunt Connie has horses, and she has Levi jeans and stuff.” The words slipped out before I could completely develop them. It was  a total guess. For the next three days, I was guilt-ridden. I had no idea if my adopted aunt had Levis, but I figured everyone had owned a pair at one point or another. When my thoughts were confirmed, I was greatly relieved. Needless to say, I was not offered that job.

2. The Dallas Standard: If you had a week and unlimited funds to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

As a final interview question, this one was a fun to answer. While I wasn’t sure about my interviewer’s personality, I answered truthfully: the Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand is what I’d do. The answer elicited a smile so I suppose it was well-said.

3. Numerous Interviews: When did you experience conflict in the work place and how did you deal with it?

While it might sound unbelievable, I don’t usually experience conflict in the workplace. Perhaps it’s because I try to take a learner perspective in my positions or because I’ve never been in one job long enough to take sides in an epic coworker battle. I’d love to tell a story of an obnoxious college student who refused my writing tutor advice and we had to arm wrestle to win the debate, but that has never happened. My response to this question is usually some vague answer about getting contradictory directions from coworkers.

4. Neiman Marcus Interview: If you were an animal, what would you be?

Dressing for success!
Dressing for success!

As the girl in the orange rimmed glasses asked me the question, I stared back at the three people facing me. This was the first time I had been asked this, and the three sets of eyes were staring at me in expectation. I tried to come up with some witty response, but nothing came. Suddenly, I remembered the animal I always told my family I wanted to be. “I’d be a duck,” I stated. “I’d be able to fly and be in the water, and they are just so much fun to watch.” My response was met by three deadpan expressions. The silence stretched, and I began to feel very stupid. Finally, one of the other women spoke up. “Yes, a duck would have a good life–especially if it lived on a golf course.” She paused for a moment. “I think I’d be a turtle.” The conversation went on from there. I realized how much fun a room full of writers could have as they discussed random questions.

As my job search has drawn to a close, I am pleased to leave the endless applications, repetitive questions, and interview prep behind me. In the meantime, perhaps you can form a response to the above questions so you won’t be in the same situation I was.

Church Hunting

Moving across the country has involved a lot of “news”: a new house, new neighborhood, new friends, new car (hopefully), new job. One of the first “new” things that we had to do was choose a church. As a former P.K., this was a rare occurrence. Besides a brief stint in college at church hunting, I have never had the job of picking out a church before. And in Dallas, this task isn’t easy. Churches are everywhere, and each one courts new members with brochures, candy, coffee mugs, and other free stuff. My sister and I are now settled in a nice one, but it took some work to find. This summer, we were able to check out quite a few of the establishments. Here is how I would describe some of the more memorable ones:

We have a lot of recycling to do!
We have a lot of recycling to do!

1. The tourist church. As we attended a Tuesday evening function, cars filled the parking lot and were parked on both sides of the street for a half mile. Food trucks packed with customers sat beside the huge facility, and security guards in sunglasses and vests watched us suspiciously. Every seat in the place was filled, and a stadium-like excitement infused the room. As soon as the service was over, huge swarms of bodies hurried to cars to avoid getting stuck in an after-church traffic jam.

2. The cootie church. The average age of a member of this church was about 25. People came in pairs, and a lot of rubbing, patting, and snuggling commenced. I got the feeling that if I stood in one place too long, I’d be married and then pregnant within six months.

3. The intellectual church. After a 50 minute sermon, people headed to classrooms to listen to another 60 minute lecture. The “school” in Sunday school was quite obvious. I left feeling like knowledge had descended upon me.

4. The Southern Gospel church. As the banjo and fiddle dueled with each other, I couldn’t help but smile. As “In the Sweet By and By” closed out the service, my dad let loose a rousing “Yeehaw!” My 13-year-old sister was completely scandalized.

In Dallas, the hard part isn’t finding a good church; it is deciding between all the good ones available. Each one on the list has been a very solid church, and it is fun to see the differences between them.