Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post: Feed the alligators. Just don't get arrested.

At the beginning of the summer, my best friend and soul-sister Michelle and I take a traditional Memorial Day trip to Charleston for the annual Spoleto Festival. Whenever she’s here, we like to head in that direction for a visit to Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island because of our mutual and unnatural love for Edgar Allan Poe. In addition to Poe’s, it was also on our list to see Magnolia Cemetery (I’m a Civil War buff), go to the SC State Aquarium, have lunch at Poogan’s Porch, visit Middleton Place, and watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dock Street Theater.

Good to know...
Aside from the fact that the experimental Shakespearean play was nothing like what I remember from high school (experimental apparently meant “rated NC-17”), most things in the Holy City were enjoyable. We managed to deal calmly with the sign at the cemetery telling us that under state law, we could be arrested for feeding the alligators. I knew this, though I had forgotten it because it’s not really one of South Carolina’s laws that I fret over.

I’m still questioning who would want to feed them, not to mention the fact that feeding anything is generally the last thing on my mind while in cemeteries. Still, I assume the sign had to be placed there for a reason. It did come as something of an eyebrow raiser to Michelle, who is from Brooklyn, New York, where the scariest animals she has to deal with are the Subway Rats (capitalization on purpose–they have their own union).

I didn't feed him, I promise!
While Michelle wished she were back with the Subway Rats, I enjoyed the large presence of alligators at Middleton Place. I like reptiles–I keep trying to tell her that rats are merely small furry mammals, sort of like cats, but so far it hasn’t taken. Fortunately, the fact that one of her favorite shows, Army Wives, had just aired an episode filmed at Middleton, drew her attention away from the gators that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

I always expect good times in Charleston, but not always something profound. This time the profundity came, unexpectedly, from the back of a shirt on a young boy in the middle of the Charleston Market as we shopped for myriad things we didn’t need but had to have (this would include a Kilwin’s caramel apple and a Market Street Sweets praline).

Now, since returning home, I’ve looked up the quote on his shirt and found that I’m probably the last person on the planet to have heard it (which is surprising because I am a hockey fan). But the boy’s shirt read: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” From my research, it’s a Wayne Gretzsky-ism.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I had to think about that one for a moment. It didn’t quite hit me right away the way some sayings do. The fact that it was on the back of a loud, lime green, Nike shirt may have had something to do with this; my eyes are still hurting.

How often do we take a shot only when we’re standing at the free throw line with everyone else waiting and watching until we’re done? Perhaps we only take penalty soccer kicks. Or maybe we live only in the hockey world, making our move when everyone else behind us has crashed to the ice and the goalie is looking in the other direction. Do we sit with the ball or puck in our laps, always imagining, “What if I had or hadn’t?” Are we really content to just exist? Is that what God wants from us? For us?

I think He wants more from and for us. In John 10:10, we’re told that through Jesus, we are to have life, and have it abundantly. The fullest type of life we can attain, of course, is that of one lived with Jesus in eternity. But as for the life lived with Him here, shouldn’t it also be full? We should live untainted by fear, hesitation, and restraint. Can we truly be content with a lukewarm, mediocre existence? Maybe if there’s any regret to be had, we should have it for the things we did, not the things we didn’t do.

What are YOU doing with this life He gave you? In the words of another great Nike slogan, figure it out. “Just Do It.”

Heather Eddy is Assistant Director of Christian Education here at Sardis. When she's not traipsing around Charleston feeding the alligators, she finds time to teach college courses in Anatomy and Physiology, bake cakes for staff lunches and listen to Fleetwood Mac.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guest Post: The Hotel of Doom

As most of my ­friends know, I have a few quirks. Perhaps the strangest one, though, is my fascination with abandoned buildings and structures. I recently found photos of the 33 most beautiful abandoned places in the world, and I couldn’t take my eyes away. These places are strange and breathtaking.

Pyongyang skyline before construction resumed.
My favorite quasi-abandoned place is the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea. Construction on this began in 1987 in answer to South Korea's growth and expansion. However, the 105-story nightmare was quickly dubbed the “Hotel of Doom” as construction hiccupped through the next few years, eventually being abandoned in 1992.

Anemic funding, vast construction costs and unstable infrastructure brought ignominy to what had been intended to serve as a symbol of North Korea’s supposed economic and political prowess. There are rumors that the hotel was even photoshopped out of official photos of the Pyongyang skyline because of its hulking presence.

A few different companies sought to redeem the building and construction eventually resumed in 2008 when Orascom, an Egyptian telecommunications company, proposed to use the top of the building as a cellular tower and finally finish the hotel, despite huge structural deficiencies. Hopes were high that the hotel would open to the public in 2013, albeit with a small number of finished rooms, but a video tour in 2012 revealed sparse furnishings and nothing resembling a five-star hotel.

The lights are on, but nobody's home.
As of this blog’s publication, the hotel hasn’t opened and many speculate that it is cursed...and never will.

So why am I telling you all about this bizarre hotel? Why do I care?

I sometimes wonder that myself.

But Proverbs 19:21 keeps coming to mind: “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.”

We all make plans. Some are small. What you’re having for dinner Tuesday night. Where you’re going on vacation this summer. Some are large. Where your high school senior is going to college. What to study there. Which job offer to take. Whether or not to buy that house.

And it’s important to plan. The problem comes when our plans diverge from that which God has made clear to us.

The Ryugyong Hotel stands as a testament to just how feeble human planning can be. A modern-day Tower of Babel, it reminds us that just because we have a great idea, it won’t necessarily come to pass. 

I leave you with Psalm 127:1. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Here at Sardis, plans are being made daily as we continue to grow as a worshiping community. We are excited about what the future holds and that many of you are an integral part of bringing these ideas to fruition. Your prayers, support and input enable us to follow God's plan for Sardis. Thank you!

JJ Getz is our Communications Director. She loves telling the stories of Sardis in creative and compelling ways. You'll find her around the office being perpetually startled by coworkers.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Guest Post: The Hidden Menu

Tom's on "Blog Vacation" over the summer and will return in the fall with enlightening and delightful posts. Meanwhile, guest bloggers are keeping the ship afloat. So check back each Monday for a new blog from our amazing guest bloggers!

Have you heard about the Panera hidden menu? The company launched this concept in their New York stores last fall, and now it is available in all the “bakery-cafes,” as they are called. The Panera hidden menu items are low-carb, high-protein meals designed to appeal to Cross Fit enthusiasts and people doing the Atkins diet. The menu also carries the obvious appeal of allowing customers to be insiders, to be “in the know.” It’s a brilliant marketing idea—make something exclusive, don’t talk about it, and before you know it you will have generated some buzz about your product.

As a church staff member sometimes I feel like I’m an insider to the “hidden menu” of Sardis. There are so many incredible things that folks here are doing in quiet ways that you would never know about from just sitting in a pew on Sunday or even reading the weekly email or the newsletter. But the secret is too good to keep to myself! So here are a few of my favorite Sardis hidden menu items:

Lora Zalaquett getting ready to serve 
this past Sunday at the Women’s Shelter.
Beans and Biscuits
There’s actually a line item in the Sardis budget titled simply “Beans and Biscuits.” That’s where the church buys #10 cans of green beans and cases of frozen biscuits to be served twice a month at the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter, alongside lasagna and other food items that are donated by the Sardis volunteers, who also prepare the meals. Sometimes instead of biscuits we get garlic bread, but you get the idea. It makes me think of the old song Beans and Cornbread Had a Fight. Have you heard it?

Lately the people who make the meals have asked me to increase our order of biscuits: a few weeks ago they ended up serving 200 meals instead of the 100 they expected. Think about that—every month through your gifts and volunteer work Sardis is feeding 200-400 hungry women and children at the shelter! It’s one of those programs that is so well-run and is of such longstanding that very often, unless you are involved, you don’t know about it.

Prayer Chain
Often here in the office we will get a call from someone asking for prayers. When that happens, the Prayer Chain is activated.  When a prayer request is received the receptionist calls the first name on the prayer chain, and keeps on calling down the list until a live person is reached. The office staff won’t leave a voicemail, because the goal is to protect confidentiality and also activate the prayer chain immediately. When the first person is reached they take down the information, then immediately say a prayer, before calling the next person on the “chain.”

What I love about the prayer chain is that it shows such a strong but simple faith in the power of prayer. It’s also something that just about anyone can do—even if you are homebound, a single parent, work 60 hours a week, are disabled, whatever—God hears your prayers, and you can pray on behalf of another person.

Office helpers
I have to give a plug to our faithful office volunteers as well. Again, if you are only here on Sunday you would never see these folks in action. Every time an insert falls out of your bulletin in worship, know that most likely Irene Hubbard is the one who stuffed that insert there in the first place. And when you receive your Communicator know that one of our volunteers assembled the issue and put the sticky tabs on the outside to hold it together in the mail. Having volunteers to help with many of these type of routine tasks instead of additional paid staff allows Sardis to continue to devote more resources to ministry.

I bet you know of some great “hidden menu” items at Sardis—what’s your best kept Sardis secret?

Jessica Otto has been on staff at Sardis for over six years. She started out as the part-time newsletter editor, and now is our Business Administrator. The rumors being spread by her daughter from the lectern during Minutes for Mission, that she “runs the church,” are unfounded.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The best vacation spot

This is the time of year when I hear the question, “Where are you going on vacation?” Seems everyone takes some kind of vacation during the summer. Some folks take trips to exotic, faraway places. Others return each year to a familiar spot as comfortable as an old hammock.

Each year I look forward to our favorite destination: Litchfield Beach. People ask me what I did on vacation at the beach and I say, “It was the best vacation of all, I did nothing!” Actually that is not true, my days are spent reading a good book, trying my hand at cooking a few new recipes, taking naps, looking at the ocean and trying to spot a shark’s tooth in the sand as I take a daily stroll.

There is something mysterious and transforming about the sound of waves lapping against the sand, the smell of salt in the air and the mesmerizing horizon where the sky kisses the ocean. I can gaze at it for hours and always get this strange feeling that it is staring back at me.

Of course, you really don’t have to travel far to experience some of life’s best vacation spots. They might be as close as your own back yard. I remember reading about a famous naturalist who left his footprints all over the world. One year, however, he decided to spend the summer discovering his own backyard. Investigating all the insects, butterflies, birds and flowers that he never really took the time to notice. He said it was the best vacation of his life.

Elizabeth Sherrill, whose devotion, The Two Minute Vacation, was published in Guideposts magazine, tells of stopping for the night with her husband at a motel set in a grove of ancient live oaks. The next morning at breakfast, they were glancing over the menu, when they came across these words in The Oak’s Prayer for Today:

Slow me down Lord
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations
Of slowing down to look at the seashells, to chat with a friend, to pet a dog
Let me look up into the towering oaks and know
They grew great and strong because they grew slowly and well.

Take some time this summer to slow down and truly experience the world around you, even if it’s just for a minute. Who knows, it might be your best vacation yet.

PS. Since the first Monday of the New Year, I have been blogging. But now it's summer and I'm taking a blog vacation. Keep your eyes open though, guest bloggers are on the way.