A Frosty Thanksgiving

May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump,

May your potatoes & gravy have nary a lump,

May your yams be delicious, may your pies take the prize,

May your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs.

~ A Thanksgiving Poem by C.J Beaman

Everyone’s pretty familiar with the button-bursting power of Thanksgiving food, but what about the cool traditions? Can you think of any in your family? While you ponder, I’ll share a few of mine.

For starters, my family is a bit dispersed, letting life sweep us up and scatter us about as the years pass. On Thanksgiving, however, we are always sure to fly in, drive in, or dogsled in to spend time with one another. Then the next concern is that year’s Thanksgiving dinner host. As with most families, it’s hard to decide where to enjoy this special meal: who has the largest TV, most seating, and who’s cooking? This brings me to our first two Thanksgiving traditions, 1) that we disregard the first two concerns and 2) simply pack into my great grandmother’s house, sporting rumbling tummies for the meal she elected to cook.

Speaking of, our third tradition is being non-traditional with our Thanksgiving meal. Not in the “adding a little nutmeg to the pumpkin pie recipe” kind of way but a complete switch-a-roo. One year, the family table was decorated with necessities for a Mexican-food themed Thanksgiving. Dishes of chips, salsa, sour cream, and fresh veggies surround a couple of flour and corn tortillas filled with beef and cheese. The year before, a tart fragrance would linger in the air from my aunt’s mouth-watering lemon peppered fish served on a bed of white rice. Last year, to be even more rebellious, we didn’t even bother preparing a meal. Instead we pitched in for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which worked out imPECKably.

After gobbling down our chicken-fixin’s or whatever else we’ve determined to eat that year, my family and I, in all our largeness, usually gather around to watch the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game. With great pride and admiration for “America’s Favorite Team,” we sport our jerseys (both real and not) and shout at our favorite players through the TV, with comments varying between congratulatory and critical – based on each play.

Our final Thanksgiving Day tradition is to put up our Christmas tree. That’s right folks, with bellies full from our Thanksgiving meals, we pull out my mom’s pack of 500 silver and gold Christmas ornaments. By nightfall, our Frosty the Snowman figurine is back in its proud position on the coffee table with fresh batteries in his back and a pep in his step (as he is motion activated to dance). Waving another successful Thanksgiving goodbye, my family and I eagerly welcome that big day in December, with tinsel, lights, and hundreds of ornaments – we make it rain Christmas on Thanksgiving.

Written by Ashley

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The Man on the Train

At a train stop somewhere between Berlin and Frankfurt, I dragged ten days’ worth of luggage from one car of the InterCity Express to another. My seat was at the end of the aisle, and my seatmate—an elderly stranger—was already settled into the window spot.

Two steps before my row, I was intercepted by one of my group leaders. “Do you want to switch seats with me?” he asked.  His intentions were sweet, but his inquiry was based on a false assumption that I, a female American student, would have a problem riding next to the German gentleman.

“No, that’s okay,” I assured my classmate, mulling over the possibility before me, “I’m fine.” To prove my point, I hoisted my bag into the nearest luggage rack and slid into my rightful seat. He looked skeptical, but he quickly forgot his concern and re-submerged himself into the conversation consuming the majority of our fellow DBU classmates.

This was the final day of our study-abroad class in Germany; first thing tomorrow morning we would be on a non-stop flight back to Dallas. Everybody—professors included—seemed to be done. Done with learning and done with new cultural experiences. I couldn’t blame them. It had been a long, exhausting trip. The introverted part of me, the rarely-disputed queen of my personality, longed to put in earbuds and mentally disappear from the whole world. Too bad, though, because I had a hunch that I might be sitting next to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Either he was being polite or the rowdy chatter of the other Americans had somehow evaded his notice, because as the train pulled out the gray-haired man addressed me with the most obvious of questions: “Where are you from?” I couldn’t fathom how he could mistake us for anything but Americans, but I didn’t care. He spoke English. And even better, he was speaking to me.

“We’re college students from Texas,” I explained, “We’re here to study the Reformation.”

His eyes lit up the way mine do when people talk about the American Revolution. “Ahh. Martin Luther.” He smiled and motioned out the train window. We were already racing past open fields. “This is Luther Country.”

I nodded earnestly, but said nothing. I didn’t want our conversation to die, but my natural shyness was creeping to the surface. “It’s…beautiful,” I managed.

Almost as afterthought to his own comment rather than a response to mine, the man added, “If you want to know about anything, please ask me.”

I let his words sink in slowly.

To my left, the guy who offered to swap seats was engrossed in a book about Reformation leadership. I’d always dreamed of traveling to a foreign country and befriending a local, an eyewitness to history who could teach me what no tour guide or professor ever could.

Behind me, the other Americans shared a collective laugh, probably about one of the memes in the group message. I aspire to experience culture apart from tourist traps and to resist the natural urge to retreat into my own worldview.

To my right, the fulfillment of my dreams sat between me and the German countryside which was alive with yellow blooms. The seconds felt like minutes. Take him up on his offer, I begged myself. Ask him something. Ask him anything.

I stared out the window, denying myself the words I so desperately wanted to form. Yellow and green fields flashed by.

“The flowers,” I blurted, bubbling with excitement. “I’ve seen those yellow flowers everywhere. What are they called?”

It was all I could come up with, but somehow it was enough.

For the next hour, the man on the train, whom I learned was a retired professor, gave me a crash course in all things German. He talked extensively about growing up in post-World War II Germany in the days before reunification. My new friend shared stories about taking the very train we were on to visit his relatives in East Germany. When we barreled past what he said was the former Soviet checkpoint, the other Americans didn’t lift their eyes, but mine were wide with wonder. I soaked up the professor’s wisdom on distinguishing the economic, geographical, and architectural scars of a divided Germany. I marveled at his insight on the evolution of Germany’s political landscape. I even enjoyed pictures from his vacation in the United States.

Before I knew it, his stop arrived. After talking so easily over the past hour, my mind once again struggled to form proper words of gratification for all he had shared.

As it turned out, it was he, not I, who would deliver a thank you goodbye.

“Your country is going to be okay,” the professor assured me as he collected his things. I realized he was referring to the discussion we had about the current situation of American politics. “You’re a strong country.” He paused. “I am grateful for what America did to help Germany form a democracy after the fall of National Socialism. Without that, we would not have prospered the way we have.”

I was stunned. Had he just thanked me, as an American, for the gift of democracy? “Thank you,” I insisted.

He smiled one last time. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Germany.” And with that, he was gone.

I never did catch his name.

The last leg of the ride was the most void of people, but it was also the noisiest. My homebound friends enjoyed themselves openly with jokes and stories. I finally appeased my introvert queen by inserting my earbuds and hiding behind my travel journal, content to remain an outsider of my group. I had a wealth of memories to record before the exhaustion of the journey faded the memory of my brief time with the professor. There was much to say, but I knew where it was important to begin.

“I am grateful for what America did to help Germany…”

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Vashti’s Rejection

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.

As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”

I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.

You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.

It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.

As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”

The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.

Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.

Written by Karoline

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Letter to the Overwhelmed Writer

Writing a paper is a huge ordeal. Plain and simple. The process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can seem like an uphill battle. We’re all climbing Writing Mountain to reach the peak where we finally understand what we want to say and how to say it. From here, our thoughts flow freely and easily until the final point is driven home and we arrive in the next lush, green valley. But getting to the peak of Writing Mountain is probably the most daunting of all tasks. The climb to the peak can include getting the assignment, choosing a topic, selecting a stance, doing research, creating an outline, creating a thesis, penning the words, and restarting said paper halfway through. That’s a lot. No wonder it takes longer to climb than descend.

This little blog is for you, Overwhelmed Writer. I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m here to offer some advice on the matter of climbing Writing Mountain.

Give yourself time. There is nothing worse than waiting till the last 1-2 nights before the paper is due to start. Like I said, climbing a mountain takes about 2x as long as it does to descend. It will take you awhile to get your thoughts together, so give yourself that time. Set deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track and ahead of the due date. This way, when you get to the peak, you’ll have plenty of time to coast to a conclusion.

Break it up. There is a lot involved when trying to write a paper. If you’re like me, you like to plan before you pre-plan. All the planning and writing is like a giant tree that is blocking your path up the mountain. You have to take an axe and break it up. Make the logs small and manageable. If the chunks are too big, you won’t be able to move them by yourself. But don’t make them too small, or you will waste time picking up individual pieces and possibly leave parts behind. Figure out the right size for you to make them manageable but efficient.

Bring a guide. Climbing a mountain by yourself can be scary, especially if you don’t know the path. What happens if you get lost? What if you’re attacked by an animal? What if it gets dark? There are a lot of things that could go wrong along the way. The same goes for writing a paper. What if you can’t find sources? What if you don’t know how to format the paper or have terrible grammar? What if you just don’t know where to start? A guide can be a friend, a professor, or best of all, the Writing Center. The people at the Writing Center are paid to walk alongside you throughout your entire writing process. They help guide you up Writing Mountain. Lean on them and ask them questions. Once y’all get to the peak, it’s time for the guide to say farewell and let you start taking off down the mountain with your own abilities, assured you’ll reach the bottom successfully.

Don’t let Writing Mountain scare you out of climbing it. You’re capable, and you don’t have to do it alone. Give it time, break it up, and use your resources, and you’ll reach the peak in no time.

Written by Maddison

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Glücklicher Reformationstag!

Nothing says “Happy Halloween” quite like black hooded figures chanting in a strange language, a creepy old castle, and runaway nuns. Well, maybe not the nuns, but all these things do have something in common with Martin Luther, and believe it or not, Martin Luther has something to do with Halloween. Christians are quick to dismiss Halloween as a holiday for heathens and unclean liberals, but next to Easter and Christmas, October 31 should be one of the most important anniversaries on the Protestant calendar.

The story starts with Luther as a lowly Augustinian monk. Luther joined the monastery after a near-death experience with a thunderstorm prompted him to make an irretractable vow to Saint Anne to spare his life at the price of becoming a monk. This is why we don’t play in lightning, kids; you might end up selling all your possessions and donning a wicked-awesome hooded robe while you recite rhythmic Latin prayers. Anyway, as a monk, Luther had time to study Scripture and noticed discrepancies between the actions of the Church and the actual commandments of the Bible. For instance, the Pope cannot take money from people in exchange for the pardoning of sins. The Church should not be the biggest oppressor of the poor. The realization of the rampant presence of these atrocities prompted Luther to nail a list of 95 complaints against Christian leaders to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany on—you guessed it—October 31, 1517.

Stopping the story here would be like offering a bowl of carrots to trick-or-treating children: misleading and highly disappointing. Luther is most famous for helping reform Christian theology, but that is only a fraction of his story.

Despite furious backlash from the Pope and his goonies (is that sacrilegious to say?), Luther stuck by his claims and successfully got himself excommunicated and outlawed, which meant anyone could beat, rob, or kill him without any legal consequences. To protect Luther, a friend hid Luther in his (creepy, old) castle under the alias of Knight George. When Luther got bored playing hopscotch and skittles—which are actual medieval pastimes, look it up—he translated the New Testament into German, the common vernacular of the people.

Impressive as that was, Luther was determined to do more. He returned to Wittenberg where he spent the next decades of his life preaching the truth of the Bible, composing hymns, writing passionate books, penning history-altering laws, and occasionally helping Catholic-turned-Protestant nuns escape their convents and assimilate into normal society, usually by introducing them to suitable husbands. One of these runaway nuns was named Katarina, and the suitable husband Luther found for her was himself. Katie proved to be not only a faithful wife, but also a savvy business partner and exceptional encourager for Luther’s reoccurring seasons of depression. Without Katie’s support, the Reformation could have died after the translation of the Bible.

This is only a fraction of Martin Luther’s story, yet its implications for believers and non-believers today are too many to name. Luther was looking for an academic debate when he nailed his grievances, but what he got was a spiritual, social, and political revolution that deeply affects our lives. Luther’s translation of the New Testament empowered the masses to read the Bible, and the study of Scripture skyrocketed the literacy rate, which then in turn prompted the creation of universal education and boosted the economy. Luther’s relationship with Katie also radically shifted the cultural perspective on marriage and family. Gone were the days of celibate church leaders parading themselves as holier-than-thou. Women were given the potential to become spiritual leaders in their homes, and children found a new place of honor and discipleship.

Little actually changed in Germany on Halloween of 1517, but without the events of that day and the decades of radical transformation that followed, the world as of Halloween 2017 might be totally unrecognizable. So if you still want to hate Halloween, that’s fine. Somebody else can wear this fabulous Martin Luther costume. But do take a minute or two to learn something about Martin Luther and the Reformation because it matters to you as a literate Christian living in a country with free education and protected women’s rights. I think you’ll be surprised how important black hooded figures, creepy old castles, and runaway nuns are to your life.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

The House That Made Me

When the sun rises on the tired old street of Nottingham, the quiet Sunday morning descends on the neighborhood with a hushed whisper. The small street is entirely abandoned, save for a single elderly gentleman hobbling to his car with the aid of a cane. Both sides of the street are lined with plain, single-story houses, many of which have run-down cars in the driveway. All in all, the neighborhood is nothing much to speak of; there are several dozen others like it in the city.

However, there is one house on the street, right in the middle of the block, which has a large rose trellis out front. Now, these roses in and of themselves are nothing special either, but they set the house apart from the others. This house is cared for. While most others have too-long grass and sparse flower beds, this one is clean and well-kept. The front is lined with colorful flowers and the grass looks recently mowed. But the special part about this house is not the outside, but the people inside.

The family that lives there is young, unlike most of the residents of the neighborhood. The husband is a quiet character, but he loves to laugh and joke around. His wife is his perfect complement, with a loud and out-spoken personality. They don’t have much money to speak of, but they make do; they are happy. With them lives their infant daughter, a tiny, round bundle, all bald and smiley.

Despite the dreary nature of their street, it is the perfect place for the little girl to grow up. The empty streets will soon become her playground, the cracked sidewalk her race track. Here, she will have her first interaction with nature and adventure. While the old brick house won’t see her first prom, and the driveway won’t house her first car, they’ll still be some of her first memories. Alongside her sister, who isn’t even a thought yet, she will grow into a writer and explorer, all thanks to that house, on that street, in that neighborhood.

Written by Taylor

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Chip Bowls Crashing Down

The air is chilly. Dark red and yellow leaves lie restlessly on the damp evergreen. Jack o’ Lanterns with whimsical faces nestle in bunches outside of people’s doors. The aroma of cinnamon scented pinecones and pumpkin spice fills the nostrils of many as they cuddle around their roaring fires. In October, autumn is casting about mini tornados of leaves, brushing the feet of those in its path as the trees dance in the wind. This month is witness to the increased purchase of candy, fake spider webs, and Batman costumes. Only few know why this month is so significant, but don’t worry, I’ll clue you in. Besides all of the fantastical autumn themed scents, ten-pound bags of Snickers, and funny-looking pumpkins, this month brings sports fans together. October marks the halfway point of football season and provides a map for predicting which teams will make it into the Super Bowl.

Football season usually begins in early September when the pungent scent of Kingsford Match Light charcoal lingers in the air and hot dogs and burgers sizzle on the grill. Families and friends come together sporting the jerseys of their favorite teams and players, finding community in those who support their choices and even those with whom they can argue. While the kids are slip-slippery-sliding and cannonballing into the pool, their parents engross themselves in the nearest television, chanting and hollering in support of (and on many occasions, at) their favorite teams until another chip bowl comes crashing to the ground. This time is the start of the season, the first four games in which all teams have something to prove, and if your family is nearly as competitive as mine, then you do, too. If you were disappointed in last year’s performance, it is during this time that you are most optimistic, hoping your players have had rest and practiced and are prepared to dominate the season. September proves to be just that for football fans: a phase of optimism.

By the following month of the season, players are competing in games five through eight, which, to me, is truly when the season begins. October marks the point at which all the teams have exposed their secret super stars, those who run sixty-five yards upfield to the touchdown or kick an eighty-five yard field goal. These super stars help us football fanatics gage which teams will most likely advance to the playoffs and ultimately compete for the title of Super Bowl Champions. Now, instead of the smell of burgers and franks on the grill, the aroma of a Glade Warm Flannel Embrace plug-in fills the room. With one obnoxiously large marshmallow topping their cups of hot chocolate and s’mores filling their bellies, groups of football connoisseurs and amateurs, alike, continue rooting for their teams. With a scorching flame from the fireplace keeping them warm and a hot season approaching, fans are on fire for football during the chilly month of October.

Written by Ashley

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