Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over

I'm a pretty big fan of my dad - and now everyone who reads can see just how cool of a cat he is. This is an article written by a church member and a good friend, Cliff Denay, about my dad's children sermons in church. Enjoy!

By Clifford E. Denay Jr.

I’m sitting in row seven watching Dr. Bob, our senior pastor, give today’s sermon for children. He raises a box and squints his eyes as though he is trying to figure out what is in it. Now most of us, children and adults alike, love guessing games. So, Dr. Bob calls his weekly children’s talk “What’s in the Box?” Talk about mystery. The kids love it. So do the adults. Especially me.

Next, Bob invites all the children to come to the front of the sanctuary. Sometimes a few brave adults join them, but not today. The children sit in a semi-circle with Dr. Bob as the master of ceremonies. Then I listen for the same question the eager ears have waited for.

“Who’s got the box this week?” Bob’s intonation makes the question sound brand new, exciting, fun and playful.

The gift-wrapped and much-loved shoe box is proudly presented by last week’s lucky kid. You see, children’s hands fly skyward each time he asks for a volunteer to hide something mysterious for the following Sunday’s service. So, the child who presents the “Sabbath-day secret” each week beams with the powerful knowledge of the sealed box. All eyes are fixed on the treasure cradled in his/her arms.

Even the adults lean forward in their seats, straining for a peek. I’m usually on the edge of my seat, too. Dr. Bob begins with a few observations designed to exaggerate his attempts to figure out what lies hidden under the lid. He lifts the box, shakes it and sniffs at it.

“It’s not too heavy. It doesn’t rattle when you shake it. I can’t smell anything. Nope. It’s not making any noise.”

Then, he stirs in questions: “What could be in here? Is it something you eat? Can you wear it, like a mask or a hat or clothes? Is it dangerous? Hmmmmm.”

I listen as the children answer each question with a chorus of “yes-s-s-s-s…!” or “no-o-o-o-o-o…!” And laughter. Lots of laughter. Giggling. Joy. One child jumps to his feet, shifts from one foot to another, anticipates the revelation. I feel the tension building. The grown-ups lean forward, chuckling, pretending they’re not being taken in by the ruse. But, they are.

Then, every soul in the congregation is fully engaged. Bob knows he’s got every child and adult in the palm of his hand. I listen to him launch into another extemporaneous sermon that he “hand builds,” without missing a beat, around the soon-to-be- revealed object. As always, his message seems to ignite everyone’s spirit this morning. Every child and child-at-heart is captured, “boxed in” with the word of God spoken by this precious pastor.

Is this children’s sermon, again, for this child of God? I wonder. I ask myself the same question each Sunday. And today’s answer is the same as always – yes. Dr. Bob’s message is for me, too. It’s for me every time.

I try to remember who told me to think outside the box. It’s what’s inside this box that counts.

On this day, two plush artificial kittens spring forth from under the cover – cute, cuddly and colorful. Dr. Bob tenderly raises them high so we all can see.

“These kitties are beautiful. They’re soft and furry. They’re easy to hug. They hold still when you want to hold them.” I study his eyes, watch him begin to frame his message. They sparkle. I’m watching an idea being born, God reaching out through this man.

He continues, “But, do these kittens need to be fed? Do they cry when they’re hungry? Do you have to clean their litter box? Do they lick your face?” The kids’ chorus answers every question.

I watch him carefully, wondering where he’s taking us.

"Are these kittens real?” he asks.

“No-o-o-o-o-o!” everyone answers. “They’re just play kittens. Real kitties would wiggle out of your arms,” one child declares.

“So, these kittens aren’t real?” Bob asks.

“Yes-s-s-s-s-s!” The chorus is stronger than ever. Their declaration is firm, convincing.

“Yes-s-s-s-s-s-s! They’re just play kitties!”

Dr. Bob eases into a short talk about the differences between “real” and “artificial” pets. His young audience joins in, offering their opinions, helping him understand. He graciously accepts their instruction. His smile widens. Staccato examples fly between the members of this altar-bound group.

Then, pausing, Dr. Bob gets to the heart of his message.

“Is God real or artificial?” he asks.

“God is real!” a little girl answers. “He’s real!” “Jesus is real, too!” another joins in. “He’s always real! He’s cool. Not like these kitties.”

Hands fly up. More affirmations follow, declarations regarding God’s reality are proudly pronounced, affirmed, supported. Then, the kids start to wiggle, sensing closure. Dr. Bob sits back slightly, offers a few more examples of what life would be like if God wasn’t real, if Jesus was a fake. Small heads nod vigorously. One boy stands and stamps his foot on the floor, his own signature of his belief in God.

For the closing prayer of petition, Dr. Bob asks each child to recognize the real God at work in his/her life, the real Jesus walking beside him/her every day in the form of friends and family members, precious pets and surprise secrets hidden in the box.

I slide back in my pew and consider his prayer. I think of Jesus’ promise, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”(Matt. 28:20). Bob’s done it again. Is there a better “take away” from a sermon than this?

I know this message is for me.

So what’s in the box this week? The guessing game’s over for today. I know the answer. Stuffed, plush kittens. But, next Sunday, who knows? I’m confident and grateful that when the next secret peeks out from under the shoe box lid, Dr. Bob will use it to teach another spiritual truth.

“I want the children to recognize God in the things of this world, to see God all around them,” he told me recently. “If I can do that, God becomes real for them.”

"Yes,” I replied, “and for me, too.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

37 *

Living in DC, you'd think everyone would have all the federal holidays off. Not so for me and my fair fellow employees slaving away at CSE. We are working away every Columbus Day, each year on Veteran's Day, and never have the chance to plan a fun day out on Arbor Day. But by some stroke of luck, we were actually granted President's Day off this year. I suppose since I live fairly close to where a few of them have lived, I should have spent the day out honoring the Presidents, or at least making a stop by the Giant Sharpened Pencil in the Sky and said thanks to George the First for, well, being the first and stuff. Instead, I spent the day doing my three favorite activities: going to the early movie at E Street (Persepolis!), cooking up a storm, and cleaning.

For the last 7 years, I have moved at least two times a year. This gave me an excellent opportunity to be constantly going through things, cleaning out the closet, making room for new things, re-organizing the ever growing pile of shoes, etc. I've never had to actually plan a spring cleaning - it conveniently was the same time I needed to pack up from school and head home. After moving out to DC, I've been bouncing around a bit, and in my first year, moved 4 times. Each time I have to pack, I re-evaluate how much of this stuff I really need to keep (or rather carry...again) for the new place. But for the past 15 months, I have not moved once. It's a little mind boggling that I've found the ability to suppress my Moving-ADD habit this long. And from the looks of my closet, my lack of mobility has caused great havoc on my tendency to keep things long past their shelf life.

I attacked my closet Monday afternoon, first going for the fun stuff (I literally tried on every tank top, jean, sweater, and any 'questionable' article of clothing I own and pretended Stacey and Clinton were there with me), then dove into the more difficult stuff (how many pairs of brown pants do I need to own? Am I too young to have items for a costume box already because some of this stuff is hilariously bad...) and then my most difficult cleaning project of all - my shoes.

I love shoes. Seriously. I. LOVE. SHOES. Shoes can make an outfit. Shoes are the most fun way to accessorize. Shoes bring in a pop of color to an otherwise conservative/modest/dull outfit. Shoes, unlike your favorite jeans or lucky top, always fit. With all this said, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my shoe collection is a little out of control. I bought a lot of shoes last year. I wouldn't go so far as to say I bought too many shoes last year, but we teetered on the line of a full blown addiction for a while. I've tried to enforce the rule of throwing out one pair of shoes each time I buy a new pair (or two), but it's hard to say good bye to the favorites. Yes, those ridiculous pink sneakers give me blisters and make my toes bleed, but I had such a FUN time in those in Georgetown. Oh those old brown sandals I wore my first summer in Hell even though they were against the dress code but I received many compliments on my self-pedicures. Am I ready to let go of the memories and let these shoes walk into someone else's life?

In a word, yes. It's time. I have a hanging shoe organizer, a double stacked shoe shelf plus floor space and the shoes are still being double stacked and forced in. It was time to let go.

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I parted with almost a dozen pairs of shoes. When all was said and done, I recounted my precious collection and was astonished to have it down to a reasonable level - 37 pairs of shoes. Everything fits, every pair has it's place of honor, and amazingly enough, I even have a little room to grow.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Very Presidential

Last weekend I found myself between very important appointments with time to kill. What a perfect time to go to my favorite Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery! I have yet to make it all the way through the museum, but this day, it was important because of a new (temporary) addition to the Hall of the Presidents.

Usually, people head upstairs to see this guy: Mr. Numero Uno in all his glory.

Don't get me wrong, he's an impressive guy. There are many many pictures of him, looking very...uh, presidential. And one unfinished one of just his face floating on a blank canvas. I'm sure there's a great story to that one, but I had moved on before I had time to care.

The rest of the hall is filled with amazing pictures, and even more amazing stories of the paintings, like Norman Rockwell's painting of Nixon. Rockwell was so disturbed by how intense and ominous Nixon seemed, that he purposely softened his look to keep from being forever creeped out by Tricky Dick.

But the real show was just outside the hall of Presidents and was the actual reason I took the trip on Saturday. Just as I came up the stairs to the Hall of Presidents, I stumbled upon this:

No, it's not a line to the bathroom, although it IS where the bathrooms are.
It's because of this:

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, one of the future presidents of the United States, in his own place of honor, between the throne rooms at the Portrait Gallery.

I stood in line for a few minutes to get this picture, walked away, then realized I should get a better shot, had to get back in this line, which after only 20 minutes had turned into not only a longer line but also included a camera crew from the Colbert Report, filming people taking pictures of a picture. Hilarity ensued.

Here's the close up:

Outstanding, I know. It was pretty much amazing.

I wasn't sure I could top this until...I saw the portrait of the next President of the United States. Don't ask me how the Smithsonian folks figured this out already, but after hours and hours of research and polling, they have pre-determined the future President. And already have the portrait up. Now keep in mind, it was a quick job - a better portrait is to come when she officially takes office, but in the mean time, here she is, the future President of the United States of America:Please send your contributions to the campaign/life/shoe-fund now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Giant Triumph

In case you missed it, Sunday was the greatest Super Bowl e v e r.

I, unlike Klue, did not blog in advance about my pick, but I was rooting for the Giants, although to be 100 % truthful it was more of an anti-Patriot choice rather than a pro-Giants choice.

My anti-Patriot sentiment comes from two places - Boston Fans and My Boss the Boston Fan. I'm a little sick of Boston fans. woo hoo you won the World Series. Good for you, now go home. But no, then the football team had to have a 'perfect' season and build up a ridiculous amount of press about Tom Brady, god of football. Puh-leeeeeeese people. He's not all that.

My Boss the Boston Fan, whom we'll call Geeves, is obsessed with all things Boston Sports related, but all his sports love is nothing compared to his ridiculous Man-crush on Tom Brady. It goes beyond admiration for an athlete - it's down right creepy. After last year's season, all I heard for days and days and days was Geeves saying "If I died and could come back as someone, I'd want to be Tom Brady, no question." Over and over. The affection he has towards Brady has gone too far. This along with a perfect Pats season has made the fall sports season annoying at best. Stop. With. The. Brady. Madness.

Last Friday, Geeves was all but running the victory lap around the office in complete faith in the upcoming Pats victory in the Superbowl. I had a flare up of nausea. He was insufferable. He was obnoxious. He was ... a typical Boston Fan.

Fast Forward to Monday -- Geeves is traveling all week, much to his happiness, as he won't have to face the rest of us (who were ALL cheering for the Giants) here in the office. We've been trying to come up with something tasteful to a) celebrate the victory and b) rub it in. just a little. Or a lot.

In a situtation like this, there is only one thing to do - dig deep, channel Ashton, and do a little punking. Here's the result:

Geeve's office before:

Geeve's office after:

Heck yes.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Trials of Kate-erella

Its been a looooong week. Work is crazy. People at work are crazy. And I'm right smack dab in the middle of my continuation of my attempts at actually keeping a New Year's Resolution, which means I'm cranky while eating my healthy food on the way to the gym but my is it nice to feel lighter...

Anyway, today in lieu of meeting my workout buddy for our typical late night work out session, we decided to attempt an am work out session. As in before work. As in before the freakin' sun was up. As in dosh Tate your alarm is going off early this morning...

I have a certain paranoia about sleeping through my alarm when I actually have something out of the ordinary on the agenda that morning. Generally it means I won't be able to fall asleep for at least an hour while I'm calculating a) how many times I can still hit the snooze when the alarm goes off at an unGodly hour, b) how much sleep I can get if I fall asleep rightnow and c) did I turn the oven off? do I hear the TV on? Is the door locked? It's midnight - do I know where my cell phone is? etc. Then, without fail, a minimum of 20 minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off, I am wide awake, pissed that a) I'm too awake now to enjoy hitting the snooze button, b) I can't help but to calculate just how much sleep I gave up for whatever I am about to attend grumpy and tired, and c) who cares if the oven is on, the TV is buzzing with static, door is unlocked, my cell phone is under my bed in an unreachable spot beeping its swan song of a dead battery because I forgot to plug it in again, and why is there not Starbucks on the Metro??? And yet today, I thought it was a genius idea to not only get up over an hour earlier than normal, but was getting up over an hour earlier to go to the gym, which I don't even like doing but am trying to be a big girl and get over my complexes about public gyms.

When I got to the lobby, I looked out the window and saw it was down pouring, not just raining but build-yourself-an-arc-to-cross-the-street down pouring. And I had no umbrella and a very absorbent sweatshirt on. I could go upstairs and get my umbrella, but I'm already late sooooo let's RUN to the gym!

I forgot my ear phones, so I read the close captioning on my tv, which made no sense until I realized it read from the bottom up. This I find obnoxious and defying reason - who reads from the bottom up? Why can't this scroll like a teleprompter? Why is there a 15 second delay? Why is Diane Sawyer so chipper in the morning? Thankfully, the confusion/aggression/anti-morning behavior made me work out harder, so I wrapped up my time on the elliptical, finished my brief but challenging upper body workout, and headed out back into the torrential down pour. And then the day just went down hill...

Who's idea was this morning workout again? Why was I up so freaking early?

It's 4 pm and I'm ready for a nap.