First words

baby-stock-today-150526-tease_7ae06a79c925b4e8706ef6bc2e5d4ca1.jpg

He wanted to say something.

He was staring at me with those big, grey eyes, blinking like a baby kitten. He had even made noises like one, a mewing sound I’ve heard before from voiceless young children.

His mother told me how she had never heard him speak. She said he likes to play, especially outside, and how he laughs and points and looks, but never speaks. I could tell how much they loved each other in how she said his name, how he looked to her for approval, affirmation, praise. She said he likes to be physical, running and throwing himself into the sofa, squeezing and rubbing her face, laying down on his wagon to feel the vibration.

I have been in similar experiences many times before. This is my job, the part that is scary and intoxicating at the same time. I am here because he doesn’t speak. Besides the love for her son, I hear the desperation, the tearful hopelessness that’s edging into his mother’s voice. I imagine her watching her friends with their little ones, babbling eagerly, first words emerging to say things like, “mama,” “ball,” and “woof woof,” indicating the first thoughts and most urgent desires of our youngest humans.

But her boy mews like a kitten when pleased, screams as if in agony when dis-pleasured, and otherwise remains silent. She’s scared. I hate to admit it, but I’m scared too. What if this time, the silence wins?

I speak with compassion, how I would like to be spoken to if I was feeling vulnerable, unsure of myself and my next steps, wanting so desperately to hear that I am fine, everything is going to be ok.

I explain to her how we bridge the gap between not-speaking and communication: using sign language, pictures, objects. I also explain what might underlie his overly-physical play. I tell her that we all experience our sensory world on a spectrum: on one side, some of us recoil at touch, grimace when someone tries to pat our back or pet our hair. We loathe tags, and every itchy article of clothing is immediately replaced on the rack with disdain. It is as if the world is encroaching on us, too close for comfort. On the other side, there are those of us who adore touch. It as if this world holds us too lightly, and we crave more. We hug, kiss, cuddle, pay large sums of money to be rubbed, squeezed, caressed. We wrap ourselves tightly in blankets just to feel the reassuring weight upon us. I explained children like her son might be referred to as, “sensory-seeking,” or on the second end of the spectrum. I explained how there is nothing right or wrong about this behavior, only that we seek to find socially appropriate expressions of this need. I demonstrated the hugs, and as I did so, embraced myself tightly with both arms.

Suddenly, the boy made a gesture. He embraced himself with his arms, just as I demonstrated. His first word, and his word was, “hug.” His mother and I looked at each other. “Give him what he asked for!” I instructed, and she immediately began hugging her son. He grinned and giggled. When she let go, he looked pointedly at her and hugged himself again, with the clear message, “I want more hugs Mommy.” She was floored. “I’ve never seen him do that before. He’s never imitated any signs, gestures, or words.”

I smiled, because these moments are why I do my job. Dear Mother, that’s why I’m here. Your son will talk. He’s been waiting two years to say something, and what he wanted most was a hug. There is hope ahead. It will be a long, slow, rocky road, probably different from the one you imagined. But I can assure you, the road will be filled with an abundance of loving embraces.

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Time for some recipes. No-brainer cooking 4.06.14

So… I realized that I have quite a bit to post about (as usual), but I thought I’d start with some recipes. Because I cook every week, and when I don’t post to you about them, I not only fall way behind, I also forget what I have made! Perhaps this will be a post of four misses (or, recipes I would change in order to make again), followed by four hits. Yes, I think that’ll do.

egginablanket   When looking at what recipes I love, most of them are chicken based. I could really title a book, “Cooking with Chicken.” I won’t go into detail about how to make the miss-ishes, because you can pretty much follow the recipes from the links and use your own creativity to improve them. I’ll explain what happened, and what I would do differently.

Here are the four miss-ishes:

piccata1) Mushroom chicken piccata: This is a 3/5. I added too much lemon, essentially, and got a very sour dish. I quickly googled, “What do I do if my recipe is too sour?” and the genius (if obvious) answer was, “add sugar.” I did this, which made the dish less sour, but it still lacked overall pizzazz. Kinda bland. And I think I would double the sauce.

ranch chicken2) Blue cheese chicken: I probably would’ve done a lot better had I actually stuck to the recipe as it reads, “Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs.” I made the chicken in a skillet, only marinated it for 45 minutes, substituted ranch dressing with blue cheese, and used rosemary that was about a week old. The result: pretty plain. I thought it tasted like I hadn’t marinated it. Also, the rosemary was tough; I should’ve chopped it into smaller pieces. And I think grilling is key here. I might try this again and actually follow the recipe (and marinate overnight), but it seems to need a lot more seasonings.

pork53) Slow cooker Pork Roast: I ate this at a friend’s house and it was delicious, so I decided to try it. Result: TOUGH, DRY pork, a 2/5. I’m not sure how her’s tasted so delicious? I have a few ideas: first, marinate the pork roast first. Second, use a good, expensive pork shoulder, not the cheap cut I bought at our market. Third, don’t cook it for very long at all, or use a meat thermometer (mine is broken and I haven’t replaced it yet). I think our slow cooker is very hot and often overcooks meat.

squash4) Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash: I am actually giving this a 4/5. The problem was, my husband didn’t like it, and it seemed to make WAY more than 6 servings, so I had to eat it all by myself, every night, for a week. It seems like it would also be better as a side dish than as a main dish. Use fresh feta: I think the smell of the cheese was too strong for my husband. I’ve tried two spaghetti squash recipes (this one and a lasagna, both of which I liked a lot), but I had a lot of trouble getting the spaghetti squash to cook thoroughly. I tried baking, boiling, and microwaving… it just seemed to stay crunchy. Any suggestions?

Alrighty, enough with the miss-ishes. Here are some dishes I’ve made over the past six months that we just can’t get enough of because they are so amazingly delicious, healthy, and easy:

The Menu

  1. Black-Bean-Soup1 “Souper” healthy Black bean soup
  2. Paula Deen’s basil sliders with roasted red pepper salad. (Note: please don’t go all crazy on me here and shout things like, “Paula Deen uses way too much mayonnaise!” “Paula Deen is racist!” I am not here to condone unhealthy food nor prejudiced opinions. I am simply referring to a recipe that I found and modified into a pretty healthy, darn good burger.)
  3. divan Chicken divan with rice
  4. uglies “Uglies” – BBQ muffin cups with salad and zucchini fries

Your grocery list

  • 1 medium sweet potato, rinsed, peeled and cut into bite size cubes
  • 1 medium zucchini, rinsed and sliced into bite size rounds
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced (or about 1/2 bag of baby carrots, chopped)
  • 1 stalk celery, rinsed and diced (since you’ll end up with a lot of leftover celery, you could dice it up and throw it into all of the recipes. You could use more in the soup too if you like celery).
  • 1 medium onion, diced and divided in 2 (will use in 2 recipes)
  • 4 cups baby spinach or kale, loosely packed, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 colored peppers, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 large zucchini, peeled and sliced* (this is to make zucchini fries. You could also buy a bag of frozen sweet potato fries and these are great and easier)
  • 4-5 fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (optional)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (if you have it, but it’s not necessary)
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked chopped broccoli (2 heads steamed and chopped, or 2 packages frozen)
  • salad fixings: package of spring mix, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese… whatever you like for salad
  • One 1-ounce package fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (optional, the beans are for added protein so choose beans you like)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth, low-sodium (or water, whatever you have)
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans reduced fat condensed cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup (I use reduced fat cream of mushroom)
  • 1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce (I like Stubbs original, but whatever you like. This will make or break the dish, so go good)
  • 6 eggs
  • one pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 3/4 lb. ground turkey, chicken or lean beef
  • 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken meat (approx. 1/2 lb. chicken breast, cooked and shredded)
  • 1/4 cup lite mayonnaise + mustard mixture (or use only mayonnaise or mustard if you dislike one of them)
  • 1 8 oz. (or 16 oz., depending on how much you like cheese) bag of part-skim shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 package refrigerated biscuit dough (8 biscuits)
  • 1 cup rice (your choice. I like brown rice or wild rice)

Things you should have in your pantry:

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • minced garlic, 1 clove and 3 cloves approx (or 1 tsp. and 1 Tbs., to use for 2 different recipes)
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional, don’t go out and buy it. maybe try some cumin or cinnamon if you have that)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons paprika
  • 1-3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs. curry powder
  • olive oil
  • cooking spray
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs*
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese*
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt*

*These are all for zucchini fries. So if you omit the zucchini fries and make something else, you can omit these ingredients. I like to buy a frozen bag of sweet potato fries and make them because they are easy and pretty healthy.

Directions

A. First boil your chicken:

  1. Cook your chicken breast (bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add whole chicken breast, boil about 10-15 minutes. You’ll be baking this chicken so it can be a little bit pink in the middle.)
  2. This water can be used for the black bean soup if you want a little extra chicken flavor.

Black-Bean-Soup1B. Prepare your “Souper” healthy Black Bean Soup:

  1. Combine your 1 clove (1 tsp) minced garlic, chopped sweet potato, medium zucchini, carrots, celery, 1/2 onion (diced), beans, vegetable broth (or water or chicken broth from part A), can of diced tomatoes, paprika, allspice (if you have it, otherwise, try some cumin or cinnamon), bay leaves, salt and pepper (to taste) into a large dutch oven. Make sure all the vegetables are mostly covered with liquid (add water if needed). Turn on the heat to high. Cover and bring to a boil (approx. 2o minutes). Reduce heat to simmer, allow to simmer an additional 30 minutes. Add kale or spinach for the final 5 minutes, simmer. When serving, remove bay leaves.

divanC. While your soup is cooking, begin preparing your Chicken Divan:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (175 degrees C). Grease a 3-quart casserole dish (I think that’s 11″ x 17″) by spraying with cooking spray.
  2. Take your boiled chicken and shred, using two forks.
  3. Arrange cooked broccoli (steamed fresh or frozen) in prepared baking dish. Arrange chicken over broccoli. Add mushrooms (optional).
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the 2 cans reduced fat cream of mushroom (or chicken) soup, 1 tsp. lemon juice and 1 Tbs. curry powder. Mix together and pour sauce mixture over chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle approx. 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese on top and bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese is golden brown, about 30 to 45 minutes.
  5. When ready to eat, prepare rice according to package and serve over rice.

ugliesD. While the soup is simmering and the Chicken Divan is baking, begin making your Uglies (isn’t that fun to say?):

  1. In a large skillet or frying pan, cook the 3/4 lb. ground chicken/turkey/beef (whichever you chose) with the 1/2 diced onion and 1 tsp. garlic powder until evenly cooked (approx. 7 minutes); drain off the grease. Stir in the barbeque sauce and simmer for another 3 minutes.
  2. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.
  3. Open the biscuit dough. These 8 biscuits will become 12, so rip off approx. 1/3 of every biscuit. Put two 1/3rds together to make one biscuit. Smooth out the 2/3 remaining into approximately a circular biscuit.
  4. Put each biscuit in the muffin tin and fold up sides to create a cup shape. Fill each biscuit fill almost to the top with the meat mixture; top with cheddar cheese.
  5. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F (if the chicken divan is still baking, this will make it bake more quickly so be prepared to pull out the Chicken Divan early).
  6. Bake in preheated oven until biscuits are baked, cheese is melted and tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

PB1107H_basil-turkey-sliders_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni18colE. Your soup is probably cooling off, so make sure it’s moved to a back burner. Your Chicken Divan is or soon will be coming out of the oven. Your Uglies are baking. It’s time to make Paula Deen’s Basil Sliders:

  1. Get a large skillet or grill pan ready (this might involve cleaning the one you just used. But I would use a grill pan if it were up to me). Grease the pan by spraying with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the 1 lb. ground chicken (or turkey), basil, 3 cloves or 1 Tbs. minced garlic, salt and pepper. Add the 1/4 c. mayonnaise/mustard mixture (I make this by putting some mayonnaise and mustard into a 1/4 measuring cup, and stirring). Stir ingredients to combine. Shape the mixture into patties (this works best when they are relatively flat, and I’ve found that it makes 8-10 patties).
  3. Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the turkey sliders in batches, and cook until done all the way through, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
  4. When ready to eat, reheat patties along with sauteed peppers/onions (which we will saute soon). I like to serve this over salad, and top with a fried egg.

zucchini friesF. The finishing touches: time for some sauteed peppers and onions, and zucchini fries:

  1. Take your two sliced colored peppers and one small sliced onion. place them all into a bowl or a one gallon ziploc bag. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 Tbs), balsamic vinegar (about 2 Tbs), salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Coat thoroughly and allow to sit together for a few minutes to marinate.
  2. While marinating the peppers, peel the zucchini.
  3. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil lightly greased with cooking spray. (Remember, if your uglies are still baking, this heat increase will again cause them to bake more quickly, so keep your eye out!)
  4. Cut the peeled zucchini in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice the zucchini ito 1/2 x 1/2 x 4 inch pieces.
  5. Combine the 1 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, and 1 tsp seasoned salt in a gallon bag or large bowl.
  6. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a shallow bowl. Dip the zucchini fries into the olive oil, then press into bread crumbs. Gently toss between your hands so any bread crumbs that haven’t stuck can fall away. Place the breaded zucchini onto the prepared baking sheet.
  7. Bake the zucchini in the preheated oven until the fries are golden and tender, about 15 minutes.
  8. While zucchini are baking, prepare a small frying pan by heating over medium-high heat. Once hot (will fizzle when flicked with water), spray the pan with cooking spray. add the sauteed peppers and onions and cook about 10-15 minutes, flipping the peppers about halfway through cooking.

There you have it! You will have about a weeks worth of food for a family of four, I think. We definitely did not finish eating all of this with just the two of us, but it was very good!

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A whole year

Wow. It’s been a whole year since I last posted. It is likely that I am now truly writing into a void.

But, I feel that it’s never too late to return or start over. So here and now, today, I’m back.

I began this blog to write the funny things my students say so that I wouldn’t forget. Then it began to involve travel because, well, let’s be honest: I spend half my time thinking about travel. Later it started to include food because… isn’t it obvious? Food is delicious. And finally I write random thoughts.

So I had a few student quotes I didn’t want to forget. I have been working on “Our Five Senses” with several groups of students. We had been speaking about what we do with each body part. What we do with our eyes, and all the things we see… what we do with our ears, and all the things we hear… what we do with our hands, and all the things we touch…

nose“What do you do with your nose?” I encouraged.

Without skipping a beat, my student answered enthusiastically, “Pick it!”

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House of Nanking – San Francisco, CA

house-of-nankingThe nose goes.

My husband and I just spent a wonderful weekend in San Francisco. We decided the theme of the weekend should be “nose goes,” meaning that we would stop and taste wherever smelled amazing. Or where had been recommended, or where was highly rated. Any would do.

This led us on an incredible adventure to many amazing eateries we might never otherwise have found. I’ll start with one we’d visited before: House of Nanking.

house-of-nanking_insideIf you’re looking for the most Authentic Chinese food in Chinatown, house of Nanking isn’t your place. The restaurant is at least half filled with tourists. They open at exactly noon, and don’t expect a friendly reminder if you show up early.

The floor is covered with linoleum. There’s nothing fancy about the restaurant, just a few photos and framed awards on the walls. In the back, you can easily see boxes of sodas stacked hip-high. “Watch step,” is scrawled on a piece of paper, too far after the step (and off to the side) to actually help anyone keep from tripping.

The waitress came to our table with a simple, “hello.” No other questions asked, we began to order. After we finished, she nodded and walked away. The menu is simple: three soups and about a dozen entrees to choose. The prices are reasonable, under $7 for soup and $9 for an entrée, unless you add seafood. We ordered the House Chicken, chow mien, and the hot and sour soup.

thumb_600The food arrived quickly. The last time we ate here, it was too crowded for quick service. This time, since we arrived when it opened, the restaurant was only three-quarters full.

I am not a huge fan of hot and sour soup, so I am not a good judge of its quality. My husband proclaimed it delicious and promptly ate both tiny bowls.

The house chicken is like a more flavorful orange chicken, somehow more sweet and spicy at the same time. About the same ratio of breading-to-chicken you receive at any other standard Chinese restaurant. It came with these thin rounds of yams, which were better than sweet potato fries. Also apples. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because they taste amazing in the sauce.

The chow mien was my favorite. I could have eaten the entire plate myself. At one point I accidentally swallowed half a clove of garlic, and it was delicious. The sauce was perfectly tangy.

Two average eaters could split an entrée. We struggled to finish off most of each, and we are hearty eaters. However, it was so tasty, we didn’t want to stop eating.

Maybe next time we’ll try a different Chinatown restaurant, but Nanking is so tasty, it always keeps us going back for more.

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Crab Hut, San Diego, CA

We walked into the restaurant, butter and cajun seasoning immediately assaulting our senses. “Your table will be ready in 15 minutes,” the hostess informed us, “but you can wait at the bar if you wish.” We looked up and saw the sign which read, “monday – $3 drafts.” The bar sounded perfect. I ordered a green flash IPA, Justin ordered an Arrogant Bastard Porter.

Soon we were seated, our beers still three-quarters full. Our server greeted us with a cheerful, “my name is Mai, my sister Tai is at home. My mom doesn’t drink; I don’t think she got the reference.” She asked us if we needed a few minutes, which of course we didn’t.

We each ordered our 3 course menu: crab chowder, king crab, bread pudding for me. jambalaya, king crab, and bread pudding for Justin. Yes, we would like that with the “full house” seasonings. She took our menus.

lThe pair next to us appeared to be mother/daughter, sharing a pitcher of beer and a bag of king crab legs. The mother leaned over conspiratorially and whispered, “excuse me, this is my first time. Are there no plates? How are we supposed to eat the potato?” She pulled a baby red potato out of her bag of crab legs, dripping with butter and seasoning, a questioning look in her eyes. We calmly explained no, there are no plates. you are supposed to pick up the potato and eat it. along with everything else. “It’s fully contact,” I added.

Two tables over, a couple was getting trashed. We had seen them at the bar ordering oysters and shots of vodka. In case that wasn’t enough to do their stomachs in, they were steadily working on a bottle of red, a bottle of white chilling on the side of the table. We caught snippets of their conversation – entirely lopsided toward the woman – which got progressively louder as the evening progressed. “So are we gonna eat crab or not?” No response. “This [wine] tastes like apples and pears.” Silence. “This tastes like apples and pears. It’s my wine and that’s what I call it.” Brief nod… they left the restaurant to smoke. and fight. Twice. Later in the evening, more comments. “You pay for everything, you saved my life” (imagine exaggerated hand gestures). To the server: “Oh, we used to be married and we aren’t anymore. but we still love each other and now we’re here. We’re old farts.” plenty of cussing. and drinking. Dinner and a show.

P1030578-2The food came. Appetizers were never the crab hut’s strong point, so Justin finished both mine and his. Then came the entree: a plastic bag filled with butter, seasonings, garlic, corn-on-the-cob, sausage, baby potatoes, and of course, crab legs. We dipped our already-saturated bites into a light lemon-salt-pepper-mixture. The taste… how do you describe such things? Only that it is the best meal I’ve ever had, every time. I wore the gloves to keep my hands from smelling like garlic and fish for the next few days, but they didn’t seem to work as advertised (although the bib which read “I like it dirty at the Crab Hut” did save my shirt on numerous occasions. Too bad I couldn’t pull up my sleeves).

crab-hut-1-580x435The spines of the crab poked my hands in my enthusiasm to rip the meat from the shell. There was a lot of crab meat; big, juicy chunks that came out whole and I promptly dunked into my butter/seasoning mixture before putting them into my mouth. I couldn’t help but put my fingers in my mouth too, just so I wouldn’t miss a drop of the buttery goodness.

I couldn’t eat more than a bite of bread pudding although it tasted good, topped with a light vanilla sauce. I’m salivating thinking about the dinner, and if I could handle all that food two nights in a row, I’d go back again.

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Happy 2014!

So I guess I got caught up with browsing pinterest work activities that I never finished posting about Africa. And I have made at least a dozen new meals that have never been shared with my mom the world wide interweb. So I think today calls for a combo sort of a post, a festivus, a turduckin, of sorts.

efc1_pair_of_giant_googly_eyesFirst, I will start with my kid’s quote of the month, because it was adorable to the nth degree. I walked into my preschool classroom just before Thanksgiving. I have walked into that classroom every week since the start of school, and it has only been in the last month I’ve seen the light of recognition in the children’s eyes as I walk through the door. “I memember you!” They say, one of my most favorite phrases in the English language (spoken in preschool dialect).

One such student takes several extra seconds to study my face. “You’re wearing glasses!” He announces after his examination is complete (I have worn glasses every week). “Yes, I am,” I reply. He continues to watch me curiously. “Why?” He asks. “So I can see you,” I say, with dialogue from Little Red Riding Hood running through my head. “With my big ol’ eyes,” I add, pulling my glasses down my nose and peering over the top for effect.

628x471His eyes grow wide. “You do have big ol’ eyes! Big ol’ giant eyes!” He exclaims with surprise. “Like a alien!”

Second, I will talk about celebration. Because New Year is about celebration. But I want to talk about celebration in Africa.

ry%3D400Anywhere we went in Kenya and Uganda, the children ran out of their houses shouting, “muno! muno!” which means “white person, white person,” in a sweet, endearing way. Their exuberance was unparalleled. I felt like a celebrity, with children shouting and chasing after the car. They weren’t asking for more than a wave, a smile, maybe a high five.

As soon as we got to the children’s village, the celebration kicked into high gear. The locals explained to us that in Ugandan culture, having guests to your home means you are blessed. Having so many guests is a huge blessing. Not only did the children welcome us with their traditional greeting, they also crowded around as we stepped out of the van. They danced and sang with gusto I thought was only reserved for a gospel choir.

These people knew the meaning of celebration beyond what I have ever experienced. When you have been stripped of everything – parents, family, food, country – you have known the meaning of having nothing. You understand tragedy. Children made to watch the murder of their parents, children forced to murder their parents. Starvation, the lethargy of a toddler who hasn’t eaten in days. Rape, corruption, no one to take care of you.

But the most surprising realization is when someone has had nothing, and has come out the other side, they celebrate. They raise their head from the ground to the sky, their body moving to the sound of the music. They dance as if this could truly be their last dance. They sing loudly, their voices reaching farther than you knew possible for such a small frame. They praise God and thank Him endlessly for His mercy. His mercy! Because they came from nothing into something. Into a bed, clothes, food, an education. It was the reality of 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (NLT). They thanked us for taking our time and money to come and visit them. They recognized that we sacrificed to be there. They told us they would pray for us and that they were sorry for us. We asked why. “Because you have so many choices,” they said, “You are drowning in your choices. That is hard.”

gamesI couldn’t tell you how it felt to be pitied by someone who has had nothing. To celebrate with them. To watch first-had the meaning of thankfulness. The sense of humility that comes with the knowledge that all things could be taken away. The gratitude that comes from receiving attention, kindness, gifts.

I want to celebrate this year.

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We Live in a Spiritual World

photoOn the radio this morning, they asked the question, “do children really have a sixth sense?” They invited listeners to call in with stories of whether or not their children saw ghosts. Some of the stories were easily explained and laughed at, others were admittedly creepy. It reminded me of this summer in Africa.

First, I need to explain myself. I am a Christian. I have a healthy sense, I’d like to think, of when things are explained through science and rationality and when things are more supernatural, even if I personally attribute all things to an Almighty God. Sometimes He uses science, other times He uses mystery (if you were God, wouldn’t you do the same?)

Although I am a firm believer in the spiritual world, I am incredibly skeptical of mystical things. I believe in ghosts, for example, but I don’t think mediums genuinely communicate with them, at least not very often. I believe in the likelihood of aliens, but I’m pretty disbelieving of people who claim to have seen them. I believe in angels but don’t think I’ve seen one, and I believe in demons but again, haven’t seen one.

All that said, I was confronted with my spirituality and my skepticism this summer in Uganda. For the first time in my life, I experienced a culture vastly different from my own, and accepting in ways I could hardly understand.

The history of Uganda in the last 60 years is devastating. Ask any local, and they will explain it to you, but I don’t have the room to post about it now. I will start where they start, with a mystic named Alice. They say she would “throw stones,” and the “stones would explode” in her efforts to overthrow the government.

“Throw stones?” I questioned. “Do you mean bombs?”

“No, no,” they would reply adamantly. “Stones. She would pray, and the stones would explode.”

After hearing the same account from different people three or four times, I stopped questioning. I wouldn’t be able to understand what happened, but to them, she threw exploding stones.

That was my first encounter with Ugandans acceptance of the supernatural. Then, there were the personal stories. “I was plagued by a demon,” one person told me. “The demon made me very sick. Very, very sick for many, many years. I could barely eat.” I hoped my skepticism didn’t show on my face. “The demon made you sick,” I repeated. “Yes,” they nodded emphatically. “But then, I met Jesus. They prayed for me and the demon came out of me. I fell to the floor. I was healed.”

I wondered about what he said. I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that when I am sick, I am sick. No demons. Medicine could heal me, or at the most God might use medicine to heal me. I hadn’t met anyone in the U.S. who was miraculously healed by faith, although I chuckled when I saw that sort of thing on T.V. Was I being rational or irrational?

ry%3D400Finally, there was church in Uganda, Truth Fountain. I love church; my husband and I attend almost every Sunday. I feel refreshed, encouraged, affirmed, and inspired by church. But I have never in my life been to a church like this. It was more like a concert than a church. The entire place was alive.

The people collected in a big, cement building. Banners hung from behind the stage. Guests were invited to get up and dance on the front stage as everyone welcomed them: a mixture of cheering, whistling, shouting, clapping, and stomping. During worship music (which carried on for over two hours), everyone stood. Everyone danced. Some people got so excited they came up to the front to dance. It was like a mosh pit. A congo line broke out. Women of the church waved giant flags, like color guard. The church was filled with the shouts, songs, and praises of people worshiping God. It was so loud that a woman who brought a whistle and was blowing it with all her might couldn’t be heard over the noise.

Church was undeniable. The joy, excitement and hope I felt was real, even surrounded by worse poverty and oppression than I have ever seen. The Spirit was alive there.

And I thought, maybe they are the ones who have it right and I am the one missing out, blinded by my skepticism. We live in a spiritual world (yeah we do, yeah we do).

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