Apr 28, 2012

New York, Part 2

I thought I would share some reviews and tips about my trip to New York. Now, I am far from a seasoned traveler, and this was my first time in NYC, so take my tips and reviews with a grain of salt, as they say.

I flew with Southwest Airlines. They had the best price ($263 round trip). They fly directly from St. Louis to Newark, but it wasn't as easy to get to my friend's apartment as it was to get from LaGuardia. So I flew into LGA via Baltimore on Friday and home via Chicago Midway on Monday. I had an excellent experience flying SWA.  They don't assign seats; rather, they assign boarding groups (A, B, and C) and a number. You board according to your number (so, A1 would board first and get first pick). You're assigned these numbers at check in, which you can do 24 hours before hand. I paid for early bird check in ($10 each way) and I'm glad I did. EBC checked me in and got my seating assignment 26 hours before my flight. I was in the A group each time and was able to sit pretty much wherever I wanted. Also, my flights on Friday both landed 20 minutes early. Sweet! When I flew home, my flight out of LGA was delayed about half an hour, probably due to the rain we were having in New York. They also changed the gate number, but I got a text message letting me know about that before they even made the announcement at the airport. Sweet!  One last thing: SWA has WONDERFUL "charging stations" at STL, BWI, and MDW. Comfy leather chairs with 2 outlets between them. There are also "counters" where you can charge. LGA doesn't have them. My tip, if you have a longer layover, is find a gate which has recently flown out (or get to yours early enough) to ensure you have a nice comfy chair while you're waiting for your flight.

Since I flew SWA, I could have 2 checked bags for free. I didn't check my suitcase on my way to LGA because my layover in Baltimore was only supposed to be half an hour. I'm sure they could have handled it, but I felt more in control of my life if I had my bag with me. I used a smallish suitcase I borrowed from my grandmother. It ended up being the perfect size for the weekend, even with the few souvenirs I picked up.  As for my purse, I knew I wanted to bring something a little tighter to my body than a purse, something like the North Face Roo II, but it was too expensive, so I bought this instead.It's kind of a knock off of the Roo; it's cheaper and a little bigger, and has an extra pocket or two. It was perfect. I was able to fit everything I needed for the airport in there -- my Nook Color, phone, phone charger, sunglasses, money, etc., and keep it all within easy reach. Bonus -- everything that was important felt safe. The zippers for the main pocket tuck behind and inside the strap and the pocket that held my money is underneath the plastic buckle.  I kept unimportant stuff in that top front pocket -- my gum, chap stick, and ear buds. Great size and very comfortable. I wore it as a cross-body bag.

I did a lot of babysitting and tutoring in the ten weeks between booking my ticket and my trip. As a result, I saved $400 of spending money (after I paid for my bag above and metro pass). I was conflicted with what I should do. I didn't want to take $400 in cash to New York (I wouldn't walk around my suburb of St. Louis with $400 in cash), but I wanted it to be accessible. We recently switched banks from Bank of America (boo!) to PNC (yay!) but the nearest PNC ATM was like 20 blocks away while the nearest BoA ATM was on the corner. Luckily,we hadn't closed our Bank of America account, so I put it in there. I made sure to have about $40 in cash on me and that was a perfect amount. Also? Bank of America has one heck of a presence in NYC.  It worked out wonderfully.

I can't really help with this; my friend has an apartment on the Upper West Side, which ended up being really awesome, not just because I didn't need to pay for a hotel, but because I got more of a residential look at New York City and not the tourist. We stopped in her neighborhood market (seriously there's a market like every 2 blocks) on Friday for dinner. We ate at some of her favorite neighborhood places. It was cool to get the glimpse of NYC life.  I also got some sticker shock of how expensive it is to live there. I was going to buy a box of Crystal Lite drink mix but it was, like, $6 (it's $3 at my supermarket when it's not on sale). No thanks! Also, her share of the rent? More than we pay for our condo. Crazy.

I saved quite a on meals while I was there using 2 apps: Scout Mob and Foursquare. Our lunch on Saturday was 50% off thanks to Scout Mob, an app that isn't available in St. Louis yet. And we got our plate of fries free at lunch on Sunday thanks to checking in on Foursquare. Suh-weet!

Also, Google Maps is able to tell you what public transportation to take to get to your destination. I had my friend with me and she knew how to get most everywhere, but had I been forced to go on my own, the app would have helped immensely.

Apr 25, 2012

New York State of Mind

**You can see all the photos I took on my trip here.**

Friday, April 20, 2012
I woke up this morning at 3:30 AM. That's 45 minutes before I'm usually awake on a Friday. (And my cats were confused...) At 4:30, J dropped me off at the airport. At 5:30 I boarded a plane to Baltimore. By 6 I was in the air. Before my kids laid down for nap I had traveled 900+ miles. I made it!

Seriously, when I booked my flight in February I thought it was so far away. Then when I had to push it out 3 more weeks I thought it was even farther away. Luckily, the time went fast. Sadly, day 1 is under my belt.

I have a pedometer app on my phone and it says I walked 20000 steps today. That's twenty THOUSAND. Becca and I met up near her apt after her class and then went to lunch. We ate at a Mexican place a few blocks down from my friend's apartment. We each got a sandwich and then split and shared with each other.
Lunch! My pork sandwich was better than her chicken sandwich.
After that began 5 hours of non stop walking.  From lunch we went and saw the Seinfeld diner:

Then Columbia University, where she goes to school. Then a large part of southern Central Park (Strawberry Fields, the Bow Bridge, and the big fountain that's in Enchanted):

And finally, since the tip of Central Park is only a few blocks from it, Times Square:

 I've been on 2 subways and a cross-city bus. I'm exhausted. A good exhausted, but exhausted nonetheless.
My first subway ride!

Saturday, April 21, 2012
We woke up this morning and went for a "traditional" NYC breakfast of bagel and cream cheese. There's a little family owned shop down the street from my friend's apartment, so we went there. I got a cinnamon raisin bagel and apple cream cheese. It was actually really good, but there was a lot of cream cheese on it (and this comes from a girl who likes a lot of cream cheese on her bagel).

From there, we went to the Staten Island Ferry. This is a free and easy way to get a nice view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines, as well as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I felt bad that we didn't have time to stay and see Staten Island, though. I'm betting a lot of people ride the boat over and then just turn right around and come back to Manhattan. Maybe next time...

I took a bus tour this afternoon I took a bus tour around Downtown Manhattan because my friend had to take a certification test to teach ESOL. It was a fun way to see more of the city, even though I didn't get off to see most of the things we saw (i.e. the Empire State Building, the huuuuuuuuuuge Macy's that's out there, etc.)

After that, we went over to Grand Central Station to take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought we were only going to walk half, but we ended up doing the whole thing. Then we went back towards her apartment and got some pizza. And then later we went for ice cream.

I really lucked out today because the weather forecast said it was supposed to rain all day, but the rain stayed away until the middle of the night.

Sunday, April 22, 2012
The rain that was supposed to start yesterday came today in the middle of the night. Which meant that today was chilly. And wet. And... gross. But it was still fun.

We took the subway to Chelsea and walked a bit of the High Line, a park built up above the street along where there used to be some train tracks. Underneath is the Chelsea market and we walked through there, too.

Then we headed down to the 9/11 Memorial. There's a lot of security right now because they're building the two new towers but once those are finished, it's going to be an open courtyard for people to visit as they please. But let me tell you, if you go to New York, you have to do this. There is nothing more sobering than this site. The huge reflective pools, the names around the edges... I was sixteen when the towers went down -- old enough that I can remember when and where and how I heard about it. The images of the planes flying into the towers. The images of people desperately searching for their family. I can't forget. And now I can't forget the memorial. There will be a museum opening later this year in Building 8. They had a few artifacts in the visitor's center/gift shop. I ended up buying a t-shirt and a bracelet that say "United in Hope" and donating money to the museum and memorial.

We took the subway into Times Square with plans to enter some ticket lotteries, but when we got out of the subway station we were right at the New Amsterdam Theatre that shops Mary Poppins so we popped in (haha... see what I did there?) to see how much tickets were. For $32 we got "partial view" seats in a box with a better view of the stage than the "cheap" seats in the balcony. We couldn't see about 15% of the left side of the stage, but most of the "action" was in the center anyway, so we didn't miss much. This is definitely the way to go if you want to see a Broadway show but can't spent a whole lot of money for the better seats.

After that we went back to my friend's apartment and watched a movie. I know what you're thinking, "WHAT?! You opted to spend an evening in?" Yes, we did. It was cold and rainy and we had crammed in a whole lot of stuff over the last few days, plus my friend had to work the next day and I needed to pack because I was leaving the next day. So we just hung out for the rest of the evening.

It was an amazing, whirlwind trip, and I still have more to explore next time I go (hopefully with J)!

Apr 14, 2012

On My Mind

If you've been around this blog for anytime at all (Or even just since the last post), you know that music at church is a big deal to me. I've been singing in church since I was 17 and it has played a massive role in my relationship with God and I've made a lot of amazing friends. I also love my church I feel like it's been a steady source of comfort, support, and and incredibly welcoming place; a place where you can come as you are and we will love you.  I have a lot of friends at my church.

 Which is why this post is probably going to get me into a LOT of trouble.

 A year ago our worship leader stepped down. She wasn't leaving the church or moving, she just was stepping down. They were looking outside the church for a replacement and I committed to supporting and helping whomever they hired. Several people told me they hoped I would get it and I'm not going to lie, the thought crossed my mind, but I didn't voice that to but a few people. For six months, our piano player was our worship leader and she did the job wonderfully. Once the selection committee had whittled the candidates to two guys, they came in and worked with us and we voiced our opinion on who we liked. Someone was hired and in October he stepped in to the role. And since then I have had dozens of people come up and complain to me about his style of worship, about how I should have gotten the job, about how they wish we could go back to the way things "used to be." And I'm stuck in the middle. I may not get paid for it, but it is my job to get up there every Sunday and help lead worship. It is my job to support the worship leader. It is my job to help that worship leader create an atmosphere in which people can worship the Risen Christ and a loving God.

But right now it feels like a one sided effort.

Have I liked everything the new leader has done? At first, no. Change cause friction. And there was friction. He led worship differently. We went from piano-led to guitar-led and, yes, it was difficult for me, too. We went from female-led to male-led and, yes, it was difficult for me (mostly because I was used to being able to take melody all the time and now I can't all the time because of the differences in ranges of men's voices and women's voices). He introduced a ton of new songs (okay, that wasn't so difficult for me because there were a TON of songs I wanted to do but we couldn't because of our instrumentation). He staggers the singers in a way that we aren't used to and, yes, that was difficult. But you know what? I talked to him about it. I approached him in love and we talked about it. And guess what? When something he does pisses me off, I still talk to him about it. Because he's willing to listen.

A few weeks ago a lot of things came to a head at a rehearsal. Some things were said and feelings were expressed in a way that made me ashamed of my team. And my church home. Because in the six months he's been there, more people have complained to him than tried to get to know him. He's experienced more negativity from my family in the last six months than I knew could ever exist. And it makes me sad. And mad. And disappointed. And ashamed.

J and I went to another church on Easter evening. Some friends of ours had started attending and aren't firm in their religion (spirituality, beliefs, convictions, whatever) yet, so we wanted to check the place out, plus we're both so involved in ours that sometimes it's nice to go and just worship, and not have to worry about all the responsibility (or how people are going to respond to something new). The music didn't do it for me, to be honest, but the Pastor nailed it. You know how sometimes you get the right message at the right time? That is what happened for me last week.

I really hope I'm able to get this across correctly.

The pastor preached the resurrection story from Mark 16:1-8, with a focus on verse 7: "...go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."  The idea is that Jesus is everywhere before you are. Jesus knows everything before you do. And we constantly expect him to be in the same place we left him. In the same worship model. In the same conference. IN the same Bible Study. But Jesus doesn't stay the same. He doesn't stay in the same places. And he sure as heck doesn't want you to stay in the same, and int he same places. The pastor asked three questions in his sermon: 1. In the situation you're in or the person you're dealing with, where is Christ? 2. In that situation or person, what is He already doing? 3. How can I partner with Him?

That last one, in particular, struck a chord with me, because with all the drama going on at my church I think it's something we (even me at times) have failed to consider. We're called to be a missional church, but what does that look like? To me, it looks like we're partnering with Jesus to bring the church to the lost. And right now, I'm not feeling it. We're all so concerned with what worship has "become" (and in reality, it's not that much different than it used to be) that we've lost sight of Who is important, and what our call really is.

Listen, I get it. Worship is personal. I started this post with that statement. Worship is how you communicate with God, and vice versa, and it sets up your heart for the sermon. I understand how a "bad worship" can put you in the wrong place for a sermon. But I also think that half of worship is your responsibility. You have to come with your heart in the right place. That's not my job. That's not the worship leader's job or the pastor's job. When you enter church on a Sunday morning, are you prepared to worship? To partner with Jesus? Or are you prepared to find any and every thing you can to criticize what's going on. Because I can guarantee that Satan will take that negativity and make it bigger and bigger and bigger until finally it explodes and some one writes a blog post about it feelings get hurt. That's what he does. The question is, are you going to let him? Are you going to partner with Satan, or are you going to partner with Jesus?

It's very possible this post will self destruct. I know I'm going to piss off a lot of people because of what I just said and I may end up taking it down, or being asked to take it down.  However, this doesn't just apply to my church. There is a term "worship wars" for a reason, and while I don't necessarily think that is what's happening in my church (maybe to an extent), I do know that because worship is personal, people feel very invested in it.  So whether you're in my church or a church somewhere else going through the exact same thing, here is my challenge to you tomorrow and next Sunday and the next and the next:

Partner with Jesus. Find one thing you like about your new worship leader (or even new pastor/youth leader/children's ministry leader), AND TELL THEM. Introduce yourself. I'm not saying it's going to change over night, but if we all agreed to partner with Jesus together, open a dialog about how worship (or sermons or youth ministry, etc) can be improved -- specific things, not just "make it the way it used to be" -- I can guarantee that Jesus will deliver. Because that's what He does. He's always willing to be there.

The question is, are you letting Him?

Apr 6, 2012

Why I Listen to Christian Music

For the purpose of this post, secular will be used to any music that is not sacred. It is not meant to be an offensive term, or derogatory, or used in a way that insinuates that secular (mainstream) music is bad. This post is entirely about my choice and it is not meant in any way to demean the choices you have made.

Music runs in my blood. My grandfather sang in the internationally acclaimed Ambassadors of Harmony for many years of my childhood, my mother plays the piano, and I did choir in grade school and band (clarinet) throughout junior and senior high. My brother plays the trombone and trumpet fluently (if you can apply that word to instruments) as well as a little of every other instrument since he studied music education for a while.

All this is to say that music has always been special in my life. In my faith, it's probably the biggest way I communicate with God. Some people are awesome pray-ers. (Seriously, how can people pray for hours on end???) Some people are great speakers. Music is my prayer. Music is my sermon. Music is my worship.

I didn't grow up going to church. I mean, I went to Sunday School with friends, I did AWANA, and I was baptized when I was about 12 -- because my friends did the same thing. Not because it was where my heart was. It wasn't until I was in high school that I started getting serious about my faith. And when I was invited to start singing on the worship team... I can't really explain what happened, but that was probably like my "great awakening" or something. I was baptized (for real this time -- my heart was in it) when I was a senior in high school and I've never looked back.

As I began singing on the praise team I began learning a lot of new songs. These were songs that I had never hear before or been exposed to. And in the days of Napster and Limewire, I was able to find just about any song I was looking for. I discovered artists like Nicole C. Mullen, Third Day, and Switchfoot. As time went on, I fell in love with the easy worship melodies of Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman.  And I realized how one simple chorus can be full of God's presence.

When J and I started dating, I was introduced to a lot more artists and together, we just kind of slipped into the decision that Christian music was the only music we wanted to listen to. Honestly, there wasn't a cognizant moment where we decided not to listen to the mainstream secular stations anymore. I just know that shortly after we started dating, I stopped listening to and even enjoying most secular artists.

Why? Mostly because of content, I guess. There is a lot of lyrics that focus on sex. Or materialism. Or just... things that I don't want to focus on. Paul says to focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Phil 4:8). We're also told to make a joyful noise unto the Lord (Ps 100:1, and many other places). Because music is how I communicate with God, I want to stick to the guideline set forth in Eph 4:29 (Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful... NLT) and listen only to positive, music. A lot of times my quiet time with the Lord comes when I'm listening to Spotify in the shower or JoyFM in the car. The moments when I feel His presence the most and feel most in tune with him.

Now, this is my decision. I know a lot of people who enjoy Christian music and secular music. I also know a lot of Christians who don't like Christian music because a lot of the lyrics seem shallow. And the idea of a Christian music industry turns them off. Trust me -- in my time working at Family Christian I discovered a fair share of artists and bands whose music did nothing for me. Just because you sing of His name does not make you a good artist, after all.

But more often than not I find songs I love, songs that move me, songs that get stuck in my head for. days. because God is speaking to me through them. Those are the songs I LOVE. I also love that I'll have a song mean something to me one get-stuck-in-my-head cycle and something completely different the next.

And so I wrap up this longer than I planned post explaining myself with some of the songs that have been speaking to me recently. I hope that they will speak to you as well.

Apr 1, 2012

Back to the Beginning....

Today was day #1 of my first Facebook fast. I had at least 4 people mention it to me at church this morning. So far it's going okay. I realized today that the only thing I'll really miss is posting things. It's not even the checking to see what everyone is doing. In church this morning, I wanted to share a piece of Scripture from Isaiah 53 via my YouVersion app and then realized -- wait! I can't do that!  Haha.

Anyway, I chose this week because one thing that I NEVER do as often as I should is get in the Word. I mean, I'm awful about it. And it's not like I spend a whole lot of time on FB, either. It's just easy to get sucked into it. So in lieu of Facebook this week I am getting in it. And I'm memorizing the first of 3 Scripture passages: Psalm 51:1-7. I think it's fitting because it is a Psalm of confession.

I was listening to a sermon this week about idolatry and the preacher made a good point in saying that anything that comes before Jesus is an idol. I (and a lot of people, I'm sure) have an image in our minds about what that means. It means it consumes you. It's all you can think about. It's an obssession. But in reality, an idol doesn't have to be something that consumes you. Facebook becomes an idol for me any and every time I choose to check statuses instead of read Scripture or pray. Even if I only take five minutes to do it, it can often be the wrong choice to make in those five minutes.

Now, I'm not saying that Facebook is bad and no one should ever have Facebook or that I will be getting rid of my Facebook. I've just recognized that this is an area in which I falter, and this is one step I need to make to right my path, so to say...

But that doesn't mean I'm taking a break from blogging. I actually have a few things on my heart that I want to write about, so I will be doing that soon. =)  Happy Palm Sunday! Enjoy your Holy Week!!