pancakes on plate
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream

Pancakes Are Sweeter When You Add Syrup

Every January, I celebrate the new year with a stack of homemade pancakes and round tables filled with friends. Blueberry, chocolate chip, even old-fashioned original pancakes—the baked scents reminds me life is good. The year is new. And I have people to share it with.

This year was different. There was only one person at my table.

Instead of celebrating within the walls of a welcoming church I’ve grown to love in Reno, I ate my pancakes on the back patio of well-worn restaurant joint in Southern California.

pancakes on plate

You see, last year on March 4th, Anthony and I moved from our Nevada home to pursue our dreams. I’d chosen “Dream” as my defining theme for 2013, and we reached the pinnacle rather unexpectedly early. In Los Angeles, I joined a creative team of exceptionally talented individuals in the bustling city, and Anthony began to write and revise his fantasy novels, the Shade of Silver trilogy.

What I didn’t know at last year’s start is that to “dream” is to accept change.

In Reno, we had grown deep roots. We had developed friendships, built careers. 

In Los Angeles, we were uprooted. Take a plant out of its pot, and place it on the dinner table. See how long it lasts. Plants need soil. They must have roots, or they will die.

I had been grieving the loss of my Reno roots for a while. But when we ordered pancakes on a Sunday morning, far from the church where we first experienced the New Year tradition, we memorialized. It was a good kind of remembering. We laughed, and we joked, and we reminisced. 

Then we looked across the metal bar that separated us from the sidewalk in this warm “winter” weather, and we knew: We need roots here.

Earlier that morning, at a different church located in Burbank, a pastor named Billy spoke from a slightly raised stage. “If you had a plant that wanted to bear fruit, but it never saw the sun, it wouldn’t grow any fruit.”

I’ve stayed away from the sun lately. It’s a poor effort to keep the thoughts at bay—in which I wonder about my decision to dream.

“Every good renovation starts with some demolition,” the pastor spoke, and for the first time in a long time, I listened. “God is not afraid of the toxic places in your life.”

This year, I want to remember where I’ve come from without wishing for the past. I need this plant to be pruned. I need mildewed leaves removed, and I want to see the sun. I want to make peace with this city, to find the soil and grow deep roots.

As Anthony and I talked about this, the waitress with dark hair and thick black eyeliner delivered our dishes. The golden pancakes on my plate were dashed with powdered sugar and a thick helping of whipped cream. Beside them, a tin cup of warm syrup waited.

Across the table, Anthony grinned at his berry-laden breakfast, and the waitress walked through the diner’s back doorway.

“Hey, Anthony,” I said and poured syrup on my pancakes. “Can we use your phone to take a picture?”

He agreed, held out his hand and aimed the camera. We both leaned in. Click.

A&A with pancakes

I won’t stand amid the demolition rubble any more.

This year, I’m choosing to rebuild.



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Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: What theme will you pursue this year? What’s one word you’d choose for 2014?

Words and photos: Ally Siwajian © 2014

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Bob Goff speaks via live stream
Connectivity, Influential Interviews, Scripture Study, Stunted World Changers

Be Available: What I Learned from Bob Goff’s “Love Does” Talk

What if we told people who they are? Not that we commanded: “Be this” or “Do that.” But what if we honestly told people the talents we see within them, the character qualities we appreciate, the stuff they’re just good at?

This weekend, as author Bob Goff spoke to a church crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada, I couldn’t get his question out of my mind.

“What if we’re the ones who say: ‘This is what I see in you’?” he challenged the crowd and the online audience.

How Bob Goff Became Available

Bob Goff speaks via live stream

Bob Goff laughs a lot! I’m glad I watched this storyteller online for good laughs and good encouragement.

In his short talk on Saturday, Bob Goff told of personal experience that led him to this realization. “I was getting less and less available,” he confessed.

In response, he did something drastic. He gave people his phone number. Not just friends. Anyone.

Bob Goff wouldn’t screen calls. He’d just answer, talk for a bit, and encourage the person. If he was spending time with someone in person, then he’d answer his phone and simple ask if he could call the person back. Then he actually would.

It’s such a simple concept. But I find it’s difficult to do.

A Time to Rest, A Time to Invest—in Others

For me, it’s definitely been a busy season. This spring, I finally scored my dream job. But soon I found I had little time for anything else. I’d arrive home from work mentally spent. My creativity for writing—emails to friends, blog posts, or even text message replies—lacked. I became tired. Then I just wanted to retreat.

Time to rest is good. Time to process and to recharge is vital to our health as people. But at what point did we decide to put up the barriers? To screen calls? To only meet a friend when it was scheduled far in advance and fit in “my schedule”?

Bob Goff said: Jesus, “He had more time for everybody.”

Yes, Jesus rested—he slept on boats, and he went away to mountains to pray. But he also aimed to be there for people. On His way to raise a girl from the dead, He stopped to heal a bleeding woman in the crowd. On His journey to Bethsaida, He paused to feed 5,000 people. Jesus knew His mission.

Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: Encourage People

If I want to be a good friend, then I need to take a lesson from Jesus. I want to begin to be intentional about caring for people. It’s as easy as showing people you love them. Since I’m a person who values words, one of the ways I can do that is just to tell them.

“What if we’re the ones who say: ‘This is what I see in you’?” Bob Goff said.

Let’s start telling people what we see in them. I want to live to encourage others in their journeys. All I need to do is be available.

PANS AND PICKPOCKETS CHALLENGE: How do you like to encourage others? Leave a comment. I’d love to talk with you here. 

Words by: Ally Siwajian © 2013 

Photo by: Ally Siwajian, featuring a live stream from Canyon Ridge Christian Church 

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traditional church with book pages lining front walls
Connectivity, Stunted World Changers

Why Non-Christians Might Feel They Don’t Fit at Church

I am beginning to understand why non-Christians don’t feel comfortable at church.

Angelus Temple skylineChurch people are weird. They hug a lot. They sing a lot. They even have a lot of terms every church person seems to catch that don’t make sense in daily life: prayer request, praise report, clap offering, secular, and even non-Christian. But while these words can be disarming, it’s the stuff that happens in a church service that can make even less sense.

Since I moved to the greater Los Angeles area earlier this year, I’ve been looking for a new church to call “home.” In Reno, where I’d previously lived, I’d found a family in my church. But recently I had to start over.

And even as a Christian, I wasn’t sure how to feel about half the things I saw in churches I visited.

At one church, while people collected tithe (10 percent of your income, given back to God through His church for all He has given you), a young girl belted out lyrics in a solo with a literal spotlight. I blinked. Wait, was there a Beyoncé voice impression scheduled that I didn’t know about?

Then there’s the church with gluten-free communion crackers beside miniscule plastic cups of grape juice. That’s conscientious, I suppose. It just struck me as odd.contemporary church service

Then I saw countless banners, proclaiming the names of Jesus, the attributes of Jesus, the predictions for Jesus. All in jewel-toned primary colors with gold tassels and Brush Script style fonts.

One church had a literal wooden bridge outside for people to walk across as they chose to accept Jesus as the bridge between sinful people and a holy God.

One church had three tiers of balconies, a big screen to see the pastor preach in contemporary style, and stain glass windows as a reminder of its history.

One church had ripped pages of random books stapled to its walls, parchments to signify the story we’re all living.

Some churches have their own T-shirts, their own sunglasses, their coffee shops, and their bumper stickers. Some still use pews and hymnals and an only old-school piano. Some church people even meet outside on the lawns of public parks.

Gluten-Free communion crackersAmid these atmospheres—whether the air is clear or clouded with smoke from a backstage fog machine—are people. And church people can be weird.

I understand, to a small degree, why people who aren’t used to church don’t feel comfortable in our churches. I found my reasons, and I’m sure each person can add their own. I don’t presume to know them all.

Between the communion crackers, the jewel-tone banners, and a preacher’s words, we feel a bit lost.

It’s not familiar.

We don’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But church is filled with people.

Many times, I reminded myself that going to a church for the first time isn’t much different than going to a party or going to a first day of school. There’s the introvert who can’t muster the nerve to talk to his neighbor. There’s the know-it-all who forgets she can learn from others. Cliques still form when people find people with whom they connect.traditional church with book pages lining front walls

And if you don’t reach out to others, they likely won’t reach out to you. Sure, you might get lucky. An extrovert might find you on your first day. But you also might be alone for a while. I learned I had to make the effort even at church, and I couldn’t expect everyone to come to me.

Jesus promises to meet you where you are, and He never fails. People try their best to emulate Him, but sometimes we fail. So, please, be patient with us when you come through the church doors.

In the meantime, reach out. Get involved. Team up with someone you meet, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after the service, and ask questions.

Every church has its own customs. Every family has its own norm.

Like a family member, try your best to connect with others in the house. You may not see eye-to-eye on it all, but you’ll likely find the friendship (or as Christians might say, the “fellowship”) is worth coming together with people different than you.

Together you can discover what church is designed to be.

Photos (featuring churches visited) and words: Ally Siwajian

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youth group in winter
Connectivity, Daily Life

This is my church

This is a church where jeans prevail over dress pants, and women won’t look down on you for failing to acknowledge Jesus with a dress’ knee-length hemline.

This is a church where you walk in and people know your name. And if you’ve taken the time to ask, you know their names too. Debi. Petey. Tim. Joni. Louie. Colby. Claire. Rod. Kate. Danae. Ronnie. Katy. Geneva. John. Chris. Tiffany. Andrew.

In this church, we take time to connect over free-of-charge coffee and tea and pastries that a certain coffee chain kindly donates to our Sunday morning services. Kids race each other, ducking in and out of rows of maroon, cushioned chairs purchased for our building by the lively Spanish congregation that meets in our sanctuary in the evenings. A pair of three-year-old girls eye the Communion crackers that haven’t been eaten, and no one smacks their hands for wanting to participate in this symbolic reflection of remembering to come into union with Jesus.

In this church, I’ve found a family. I’ve discovered more about who God has created me to be, and I’ve been given opportunities to live that out in real, tangible ways.youth group in winter

I’ve learned so much from my church family and from a compassionate pastor who wears baseball jerseys and Doc Martens when it snows. I’ve learned nature is a gift, to be explored and enjoyed. I’ve learned to care for my body as well as my mind and spirit. I’ve learned to lead we must serve, and I’ve learned we must go beyond the church doors with love, hope, and mercy if we wish to see true change in the world.

I’ve learned it’s okay to be who I am. It’s okay to love nerdy books, and it’s all right to talk about how I was inspired by The Hobbit or The Dark Knight Rises or The Return of the Jedi.

In this church, I realized it’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to experience emotions. Then instead of exploding like a shaken soda can, it’s good to ponder these feelings, give them to God as David does in Psalm 4, and invite a friend to help you in your journey.

In this church, I have learned how true it is that it is not good to be alone. We need each other. We’re a community. It’s not an unhealthy dependency that demands we always function in stride. No, it’s a healthy unit, a working body, a family that knows when to give advice and when to simply share a story and when to provide a car when yours is broken down or make a meal to take home when you’re out of food or say a prayer that communicates I really do care and I will be thinking about you.

In this church, I have rediscovered my voice. I have discovered who I am. I have discovered what God wants of women—not for us to be quiet when we should speak—but for us to embrace who He created us to each be. Unique. Beautiful. Relational. Powerful. Unified with sisters and brothers.

In this church, I have overcome grief. I have survived the deaths of a friend and a family member, and I have seen healing power overwhelm my husband’s sicknesses.

In this church, age doesn’t matter. I have been invited to the table of a couple who already have shared their fortieth wedding anniversary, and I have held hands with a child as she showed me plants in her family’s backyard. I have danced. I have sung. I have attended a rock show within these walls. I have seen people overcome thoughts of suicide. I have dreamed of days in the future, and I have been encouraged to continue.

In this church, I realized the power of God’s redemptive story. He loves me deeply, and He loves you. He wants relationship with us, and He wants to empower us to become people who pursue Him and care for those around us.

I’m still learning. My life does not reflect a complete picture of Jesus. But I hope when people see this church, they see a little piece of the puzzle we are working to complete.

In this church and beyond its walls, we all matter. We all contribute to the puzzle. And I’m looking to the box cover with its perfect example, to find where I fit in this design.

Photo credit: Debi Johnson (from my church)  © 2012

Author: Ally Siwajian

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