Monday, June 25, 2012

The Fruits of the Spirit

 Below is the manuscript from my meditation used during Trinity Presbyterian Church's service on Sunday, June 24th. My roommate Ashley and I both attend Trinity, and we planned the entire service based on the themes of justice and service.  Much of our material was the poetic work of the Iona community.  The following is only a small sample of what I have experienced this year, but it provides an accurate depiction of the face of God in each on of the children at Preston Taylor Ministries.

Galatians 5: 22-23; 6: 2-4 (I used this as the scripture reading for my meditation.)

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.
4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride.
5 For all must carry their own loads.
6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 

** The format may seem slightly strange at times, but this is how I formatted it to verbally present the meditation.**
I have spent this year working at Preston Taylor Ministries (or PTM as I will refer to it.) PTM is an after-school program for urban youth living in a low income area in Nashville.  I work directly with the students, engaging them in academic classes, in games, working with behavior issues, and surrounding them in love through the work of God.    
The fruits of the spirit are gifts I was reminded of often this past year working at Preston Taylor Ministries.  Mostly because I was witness to the fruits through the actions of PTM students while equally hyper aware of my struggle to possess them. 
As our children filed off the bus after school each day, Chan (our executive director) would greet them outside the door.  He would crouch down to be at eye level,
Sometimes he would gently rest his hand on a child’s head or on her shoulders, and then he would intentionally pause as if he was making a life altering decision.  
After this pause, he would look up, directly into each child’s eyes and announce a fruit of the spirit he felt that child possessed:
faithfulness and so on. 
His announcement was normally met with a smirk, and mandatory eye roll as each student walked through the door.  And I will admit, first I could only see this at face value, a means of calming each child before entering the building.  I was unable to truly appreciate Chan’s intentions until the end of the school year. 
Chan captured this uninterrupted moment to affirm God’s work in each one of our children’s lives.   He took the time to challenge students to live up to the fruits of the spirit, and to encourage a sense of purpose a sense of pride… far more than many of our kids may usually receive.
As I reflect back on those moments now, I am reminded of stories in which the light of God and the fruits of the Spirit were present through our students.   
We have one student, Cincere, who just finished Kindergarten.  He is six years old, but still the size of a toddler, and suspected to fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum, a more severe case.  This year has been one of a magical transformation for him, as well as for our other students through their interactions with him.   
Each day after school Cincere would hop off the bus, Spiderman backpack in tow, wide-eyed,  extremely aware, but unequivocally silent.   When he wished to have something or to do something he would do so by independently working towards his goal or silently pointing to the object of his desire.  He continuously exhibited a sense of peace. 
I would often recount stories of his genuine delight as he stood in front of the water fountain, water flowing through his fingers.  No one could touch his happiness, it was the purest most innocent sense of joy. 
This is the picture I described in this piece.  As a meditation, I
couldn't provide the picture, but here I have the opportunity to do so.
Through his movements and silent actions Cincere elicited a sense of peace an individual sense of peace and joy.  These fruits of the spirit were captured perfectly in a picture taken by one of our volunteers.  I will try to do this picture justice.   Picture with me Cincere no taller than three feet and extremely petite.   Cincere is sitting at a table, in this picture he is the only child you can see.  We were in the middle of a prayer.  His hands are perfectly aligned resting on the table just like this…
His eyes are peacefully closed
And he has a slight, but very apparent smile on his face. 
The picture almost feels intrusive, in such an intimate moment with God through prayer peace and joy abounding.
This picture was taken in the past few weeks.  This is not a picture of the quiet Cincere from September.  As the months passed, Cincere began forming and using words, the first few being Batman and Spiderman as he is a slightly obsessed.     
  I distinctly remember the first day Cincere audibly spoke the words, “Yes, ma’am” to me when I asked him a question.  These words felt like a fireworks display-spoken softly but a grandiose, booming statement full of sparkle and flare because of who spoke the words.    I stood in awe at what I could only understand as an intense patience with God, and with himself.  It was as if these words had been itching to come out, tickling his tongue, but Cincere patiently waited as he developed and learned to speak.  
His speech has continued to improve and his interactions with others have increased, as well.  The other student’s at PTM have been witness to God at work through Cincere’s patience and joy, and I believe it has surrounded others as well.  Day after day our students exhibit an instinctual and maternal gentleness with Cincere.  Eager to please, or maybe rather an eagerness to feel needed, students offer to read to him play with him walk him to the bus and the list goes on.  They exemplify faithfulness not only to Cincere, but to God through a willingness to live in God’s love and serve as children of God through acts of kindness and generosity.
These children of God continuously pour out love to us at Preston Taylor Ministries.  They love through simple acts:  hugs, smiles, and other quiet moments.   When a hug lasts a few seconds too long, or goes on forever, it is a desperate cry for love, not only to be loved, but to show their capacity to love deeply. 
Theirs is a love that can fill the greatest abyss,
one that can melt the firmest heart,
 and one that is shared with exuberance. 
For children who have witnessed such heartache, their ability to love so purely and freely is a testament to faith in God, and their work as a part of the Kingdom of God.   
I have not mentioned self-control up to this point, as I would say it may be the one fruit with which our students struggle the most.  In many cases, the reality for our students includes little supervision or structure at home, which naturally leads to these kids filling their time as they please.   Therefore, I see them using self-control in instances where a child is provoked by another student and consciously chooses to respond peacefully or to ignore the situation completely. These behaviors are likely a result of the principles and values we impress upon students during their time at PTM and it takes a great deal of strength to exhibit self-control considering the mentality in their community where this may not be modeled for them.
The stories of Cincere, along with the many stories of our students are whole-heartedly grounded in God’s Kingdom.   Giving up on God, or losing faith seems easy when a child lives questioning where his next meal will come from, or spends the night sleeping in a car because a family member was arrested, or wondering when he will next see his incarcerated father.  Our student’s live in these tragedies every day.  There is no moral justification as to why our students are in these situations. 
So who am I to try and comfort or empathize when I have lived an extremely blessed and easy life?  No matter who I am, how do you look a child in the eyes 
and justify that sadness
that fear
and that loneliness? 
It is these times that I feel so completely unqualified for my job, but I try to bring myself back to two facts.  The first is this… I may not know the right thing to say or do, but my presence, my hugs and praises can be all that they want.  Our students simply long for a consistent relationship with those that they love.
The second fact is that I am incredibly thankful we are rooted in a loving God.  Having a higher power to answer to, reassuring students that God has a unique and amazing plan for each student and above all us, reminding these children that God does not give up on us.  These children have been given every reason to lose faith in God, to fall away from His truth. 
At PTM, we continually remind them that they are never at a point where God believes we are beyond help.  As Galatians chapter 6 says, we must bear our own loads, but with a faithfulness to God those loads become a little lighter allowing our light to shine through the fruits of the spirit-uniquely and lovingly gifted to us by our merciful God.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Contributor

I distinctly remember one particular moment during the first weekend I was in Nashville while my parents were helping me move in:  my parents were staying at my aunt's house about an hour away from Nashville.  After the first night, they met me for lunch where they informed me, in a slightly concerned tone, that a man had come up to the car window asking for money on their drive to meet me.  We were in a completely new place with little understanding of the culture or social norms, and based on our past experiences, this moment was out of the ordinary and truly uncomfortable.  My immediate thoughts included, "great, that is going to be annoying," and "that's a little scary."  Goodbye, small town State College.  Hello, big city Nashville!

Since that experience, I have learned about The Contributor; it is Nashville's street paper, and the #1 street paper in the country.  It is quite commonplace to pass a vendor at most high traffic intersections throughout the city limits of Nashville.  This job opportunity is run out of Downtown Presbyterian Church, in the heart of downtown Nashville.  A group of volunteers work with the vendors to assure a safe, legal, and respected institution is in place.

Vendors must sign up to be part of the program that puts out two editions of the paper each month, which was recently increased from a single paper per month.  The articles in The Contributor are written primarily by the vendors themselves, which increases the sense of ownership in the producing and selling.  Papers are bought for $.25 and sold for $1.00 by established vendors.  They are able to buy any number of papers based on their typical selling rate.  If a vendor is able to sell 300 papers in a month then he or she is granted exclusive access to an intersection of his or her choosing, as long as it has not already been claimed.  These workers will stand at the intersection from dawn until dusk or whatever it takes to sell enough papers.  From my experience, they have such amazing attitudes and drive to be successful.  Many of the Contributor vendors are formerly homeless people because they are able to make enough money selling papers to pay rent on an apartment, as well as buy groceries.  This business is many peoples jobs, a job of which they are extremely proud. 

A movie about The Contributor debuted a few weeks ago at The Nashville Film Festival where they had to move the screening to a larger theater due to such a high demand for tickets.  I was lucky enough to see the film, Street Paper, which followed a select few vendors through the ups and downs, beginnings and ends, and successes and failures.  Each person had a enriching story to tell, and relied heavily on The Contributor to sustain a living.  Most vendors have 'regulars' whom drive through the same intersection often and come to know their vendors.  Many Nashville residents will keep water, food, clothes, etc in their cars to provide to a vendor in need, as well.   I am glad I have learned more about The Contributor as well as the people behind the paper.  I am proud of the business that provides an opportunity for people to find success.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Confession...

After writing the previous post I was reminded of a constant struggle of my own.  It has to do with the financial curriculum I am teaching in the SaLT program.  As I began teaching these lessons (which I must admit -again- feels far too much like school...another bit of a struggle) I became far too focused on the intricacies, or differences rather, between the group of students and myself.  The "FutureProfits" curriculum is generally geared toward a low-income community, which is many of the SaLT students' realities.  The curriculum does an excellent job of accounting for feelings or opinions of the targeted community, but I did not.  

During a Friday meeting when our group meets with our site coordinator, Ben, to share our "Pows/Wows," and focus on a discernment activity it was my turn to talk and I was focused on my recent ascension to "Life Skills teacher."  I began this role as November rolled around and as I planned the lesson each week I noticed myself being hyper-sensitive to my privileged upbringing in comparison to my students.  I wondered if it was insensitive to use the examples of a lower class students likelihood to fail in the vicious cycle of poor education --> no college --> minimum wage job, etc. vs. an upper class students extent of opportunities.  Next it was, is it acceptable to assume drug dealers hold a powerful role in the community and police are scorned?  Each week I would frantically ask my co-worker what she thought appropriate in hopes that I wouldn't appear in front of the students preaching about something I knew little about.  I was so concerned I would lose any credibility or offend someone that I ended up acting like we were from two different worlds.  

So, there I was...exasperated about these feelings and sharing a long-winded version of my woes to my friends.  Convinced that this was so hard for me, but truly unaware of my behavior.  I realized that these students don't want to be, nor should they be, treated any differently because they may be from low-income households.  But that is exactly what I was doing.  They are a part of this program determined to break the cycle of poverty, and there I was condemning them to a life of minimum wage jobs by keeping the discussion "safe."  My hyper-sensitivity was increasing the distance between myself and these teens.  I realized I was a total hypocrite because I was unintentionally treating these students as if I was "better" then them.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I intend to learn from this situation.  I have since tried to use this curriculum to spark the discussion it was intended for, to get students thinking about the message of money in their community, what it means to save, and what barriers may be holding them back.  We have had many very honest discussions about the aspirations, goals, and fears of the students in the past few months.  However, I must check myself daily to be sure I remember how much I have to learn from this experience, and these students.  Most importantly, my background in no way makes me better than anyone else.  

This was certainly not presented in the most eloquent of ways, and I apologize.  I am still thinking my way through this one, but felt compelled to share.     

Monday, February 20, 2012

SaLT of the Earth

My main responsibilities at Preston Taylor Ministries involve working with the after school program Monday-Thursday.  Every day is different, there are many ups and downs, but I do love (nearly) every minute of it!  However, I also work with a high school program on Monday and Thursday evenings.  The program is called SaLT (Servant and Leadership Training.)

SaLT involves nine high school students interested in exploring opportunities for the present and the future.  Each Monday the students meet with tutors for two hours, eat dinner together, then meet with a mentor.  Students are paired with an adult mentor who they meet with once a week to explore lessons from the Bible, as well as modern examples of teenagers who beat the odds and excel.  In my observation though, all the mentors provide so much more than just Monday lessons; they are a support system, and great network of adults to whom these high schoolers are exposed.  

Thursday evenings also start out with two hours working with tutors.  This time is geared towards working on homework, as well as studying/preparing for the ACT, which is needed to apply to college.  One of the tutors is currently working on her masters in nutrition at Lipscomb University; she is vegan, dairy free and gluten free and she cooks dinner for the group every Thursday.   The food is always delicious!  It has been so interesting to see how she cooks in order to fall within all her restrictions, but she has yet to disappoint me (the students are always a bit more wary than I am since they haven't heard of some of the food she serves!)  We have had sloppy joes (made with chickpeas instead of meat--so convincing!), enchilada casserole, marinated portabello mushrooms with hummus and roasted red pepper, baked sweet potato with black beans, cheese and sour cream, and chocolate ganache pie.  Simply divine!  I have loved that little snipit of nutrition and excitement in my food  each week since my options are limited with our stipend.  Anyways....after dinner the students have a life skills lesson taught by me.  I took on this task when the youth director went on maternity leave in October, but now she is back and I still find myself in charge!  It started out with lessons about good interview skills, proper etiquette, phone manners, etc.  Now I am teaching a curriculum about financial responsibility called FutureProfits.  We started by exploring our ideas about money based on the community and environment around us, what is means to make fast money versus working for money, and how we have to ability to shape our life based on the decisions we make (essentially we do not have to be stuck in the situation we may be born into, but through hard work and determination we can work towards a bigger goal.)  Now we are in the middle of a budget simulation where each student received a job with an annual, and monthly salary with which they need to determine their expenses.  It has been a unique experience to prepare these lessons, and they have been mainly rooted in discussion rather than a lecturing atmosphere.  I have really enjoyed hearing the student perspectives and facilitating discussion based around the community.  With the recent simulation the lessons have begun to feel much more like I am a personal finance teacher at school, and I don't know that any of us enjoy that prospect.  I am trying to keep it light and interesting so we will see how it goes!

Teaching a SaLT has been a wonderful experience, and quite a change from the after school program.  I am glad I have the opportunity to spend time with the younger kids as well as the high school students.  

I am still enjoying my time here immensely and can't wait to see what the next six months brings!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

I had to preface this post with an explanation about the Nativity Store at Preston Taylor Ministries.  A few weeks before Christmas, I was amazed at the generosity of a couple I had only known for about 45 minutes.  It restored my hope in humanity in many ways.  I only hope you find a sense of hope in this story as well.

One morning before I headed off to work I was out on the town doing some Christmas shopping.  I stopped by this adorable antique shop in East Nashville (near our house) in hopes of finding something special for my mom because let's face it, there likely wasn't any antique jewelry or dish that would suit my dad's fancy.  Now, an antique tool on the other hand, maybe...

Anyways, I had been in this same store earlier that week, and in my truly indecisive nature I wondered around and around and around without purchasing anything.  Well, this day I arrived just as the store was opening.  As I roamed, admiring each beautiful item, it was just me and the couple who owned the shop.  Once again I looked, and looked without wanting to commit until the woman finally approached me hoping to offer some assistance.  I was very little help, but we decided on a pair of vintage enamel plates with a blue leaf pattern.  

As I stood at the counter waiting to pay, we made the necessary small talk.  We moved from where I am from to where I live in Nashville to why I am here to where I work and what we do, especially at Christmas.  I excitedly described the Nativity Store to this couple, and how it provides presents for our children.  The woman, Debbie, and her husband, Wayne asked if we were still accepting donations.

I said, "why yes, we are! I am doing the last minute shopping tomorrow."

Debbie reached for her fanny pack (an important distinction to be made!) and says, "we would like to contribute.  We were just talking about how we haven't given much this holiday season."

I am standing there, already thrilled because she had given me a discount on the items I was buying, and excited at the prospect of another 20, maybe $50.  To my surprise, she begins pulling out $100 bills asking her husband to count them for her.  Debbie and Wayne handed me $500 to donate to the Nativity Store.  500 DOLLARS!!!!  I stood there in disbelief and grappled for the right words to express my true appreciation.  I am pretty sure it came out in a mumble of  "this is so kind of you," "you don't have to do that," "thank you so much," and many more "thank yous."  I took their business card and hurried outside, excited to share this story (and money) at work!  

I was truly astounded by this extreme act of generosity, and trust.  People may say they were crazy for trusting some random girl who had no proof of work or no proof that she would get this money, all of it, to the right place.  That thought may have crossed my mind, but I choose to focus on the happiness, and excitement I felt in that moment.  It seriously lifted my otherwise downtrodden spirits leading up to Christmas.  Even now I find myself searching for the right words to explain my emotions.  I am just happy to share this story with y'all, a Christmas miracle...who knows?  But, it was wonderful!!!  

Saturday, December 31, 2011

PTM's Nativity Store

First, I must apologize for the long delay in posts.  I seem to have trouble motivating myself to sit down and articulate my thoughts.  This post may explain my absence as this work event kept me very busy during the month of December.  

This was the second year of the Nativity Store at Preston Taylor Ministries, and upon starting my job I was informed that I would be this year's coordinator.  In August, no problem.  As December rolled around I wondered how I was qualified for this position.  

The Nativity Store works much like an Angel Tree does, sponsors buy clothing items/gift for children in need (in our case, each child received a shirt, coat, pants, shoes, and a gift.)  However, instead of these sponsors wrapping and delivering those gifts we have them return them to our building, unwrapped.  It was then my job to check through each bag full of goodies to be sure the sizes were correct and all the items were there.  Once that was done, all the items were combined into general categories, such as: boys shirts, girls pants, shoes, toys, etc.  This is where it can become a little confusing because it no longer mattered what items were intended for what child.  We simply had to begin that way to insure we had all the sizes and items we would need for the store.  

I collected all the children's information during the month of October, then I had to master mail merging in Excel to create ornaments to be sent to participating churches.  We sponsored any child in any of our programs, as well as younger siblings.  This totaled about 200 children between three participating churches, and our weekly volunteers.  I spent much of November and December emailing volunteers to sponsor children, or to volunteer during the Nativity Store.  I created spreadsheet after spreadsheet in an attempt to maintain some organization in all the facets of this event. 

The first weekend in December, we asked that all donations be dropped off at PTM.  Then, my wonderful group of YAVs and I, plus my boss, Sarah spent an afternoon rechecking and separating all the donations. We had piles of coats, shoes, pants, and toys as we went through bag after bag.   I think we all enjoyed seeing all the exciting items, and adorable clothing people had picked.  We then began organizing clothing items by size, and toys by subject (i.e. video games, action figures, dolls, board games, and the list goes on.)  Each of these groupings then went into large trash bags which were then neatly (shoved) into our very small supply closet until the store began.  We were no longer able to use the storage closet in December because there was no room, and we didn't want the kids to see the gifts!

The weekend before Christmas we got to work decorating our building (crafts made by the students), then cleaning and organizing rooms.  We had a boys room, girls room, shoe room, and toy room; then, there were multiple wrapping rooms, a checkout area, entertainment and food.  The week before the store Sarah and I were busy calling parents to sign them up for a shopping time.  

Parents would show up at their assigned time, and receive a shopping bag, one for each of their children.  The bags were labeled with the clothing sizes and requested toy as a reminder to the parents of what to look for.  They then made their way through the rooms (a volunteer was stationed in each room to help, and to keep it organized) finding the items they felt that child would enjoy.  After each child had a shirt, pants, shoes, coat and toy the parents paid.  It was $5 per child up to $20 (many of our parents have more than four children.)  Then it was off to wrapping where volunteers were eagerly waiting to help package up the gifts and wrap them in holiday paper with bright ribbons and bows.  

We had allotted three days for this event, but were far more efficient than we had planned.  We were able to shop all our parents during the first day!  We used the second day as bonus shopping, which meant we called our parents again and signed them up to come back the next day.  On this day, all items were $1 (each family was allowed a max of 10 items, and there was a room full of free items, as well.  This gave parents a chance to shop for children who may not have originally been included, or for cousins, or for themselves!  

It was an exhausting weekend, but so rewarding.  We were able to give these parents the independence and freedom to shop for their children.  The Nativity Store originated from an Angel Tree program after parents  expressed feeling shame and grief when a person would deliver the Christmas present a parent could not afford to their home.  This new program allows parents to maintain a sense of pride and delight in picking out, wrapping and delivering presents to their children on Christmas Day (even if they are from Santa, instead.)

I loved interacting with the parents and volunteers, seeing the joy in the faces of all who were involved, and feeling a sense of pride in a successful weekend!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

To Trinity, and beyond....

Trinity Presbyterian Church
I cannot believe I have gone this long into my placement without talking about Trinity Presbyterian Church.  While living in Nashville, each YAV is placed with a local church and in my case that is Trinity Presbyterian Church, along with my housemate, Ashley.  Trinity is a small congregation, but one that is alive with love for everyone, hope for the future, and joy in the present.  Trinity Presbyterian is one of three More Light churches in Nashville, which means they support full inclusion and participation of the LGBT community.  It's an inspiring movement, everyone should check it out. Ashley and I were also each given a host family while at Trinity.  The sanctuary is beautiful, it provides a much different atmosphere than the one I am used to at State College Presbyterian.  Trinity's sanctuary has a sort of ethereal feel to it; simple stained glass windows in light blue, yellow and red, a large stained glass cross at the front of the church that allows the natural light in, simply, light colored wood, and high vaulted ceilings.  I really do love it.  

From the very beginning, and even before that the congregation at Trinity has shown the most remarkable compassion and welcome into their church family.    After we returned from orientation in New York, one of our "hosts" at the church, Judy, stopped by the house with an envelope full of letters and messages expressing everyone's excitement about meeting us at church!  Well, Ashley and I absolutely loved that and knew good things were in store this coming year.  And we were right!

Our first Sunday, we were enthusiastically introduced during the service by Pastor Heidi.  Afterwards there were refreshments and of course everyone wanted to introduce himself or herself, which was excellent but it was hard to keep track of names.  I am still working on learning everyone's name, but either way everyone is beyond wonderful to us each week!  It was probably our third week when we were commissioned into our year of service in Nashville, with Trinity at our side.  Our commissioning included Ashley, myself, my host family (Rachel and son Diego), Ashley's host family (Pam and Fran), Heidi, Judy (another host), and Janet (our spiritual/vocational director, if she had been there.)  We were surrounded by people who already loved us and whole heartily had accepted us despite knowing us for only a few weeks.  Defying all odds, I agreed to be the liturgist one Sunday.  I was hesitant because of my past experiences (and humiliation) but it went really well, I can only hope the curse is broken. 

Our wee cabin at NaCoMe
Discussing tactics for the
horseshoe tournament.

Our first activity with Trinity was family camp at Camp NaCoMe.  Ashley and I went for Friday night and stayed through the afternoon on Saturday. It was a good chance to meet many of the people at Trinity and get to know them a bit more. Ashley and I especially appreciated the drive through the country which reminded us both of what we are used to at home. We had good food (delicious cinnamon rolls!), and good fellowship with the people who will be our family for 
the next year.

       Within a few more weeks, we had lunch with the entire Trinity staff, which is probably about 7 people, and the 3 loyal bulletin folders (women who come in each Friday to fold all the bulletins for Sunday, how wonderful!) Out of that lunch, we gained some wonderful relationships, and multiple outings planned.  Ashley and I spent a Friday with Lillius (apparently a distant relative of the one and only Minnie Pearl!) She took us out to lunch at The Harding House, the restaurant at the historic Belle Meade Plantation.  Then we moved on to Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art; unfortunately, it was one of the coldest days in October so we didn't do too much walked around outside, but the inside exhibit about the American West was pretty interesting.  Lillius continues to apologize to this day about how much she talked, but she was absolutely wonderful and she gave us a social and historical tour of Nashville.  We also drove around town looking at some of the magnificent houses (which is something that I loooove to do.) We drove down the "Boulevard" (said in the a delicate Southern drawl for the full effect), which is apparently THE place to live in Nashville, only to best of the best have to honor of living on that road.  It was interesting, and the houses were huge!
Ashley, Lillius, and me at Cheekwood

The Hermitage
         Two weekends ago, the administrative assistant at Trinity, Linda, took us to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's old estate.  Linda grew up on the lot next to The Hermitage and used to play in the gardens, and yard of the estate as a child so she had a sentimental attachment to this historical landmark.  Ashley and I met her there to begin our marathon day at the Hermitage. We got our tickets, retrieved our audio equipment for the audio tour, headed up to the mansion, hopped on our horse and cart tour, then took a tour through the mansion, then back to the museum for the orientation video (we did things a little backwards), then a quick look through the museum and we.were.starving!!! It was a really interesting day, though.  My favorite part was our narrated horse and cart tour; the man who was our guide really brought the realities of life on the estate to life.  We learned were the different slave quarters were (fieldworkers, industrial workers, housemaids, cooks, etc.)  and saw the fields, the well, the carriage house, and many other things.  They say that as far as owning slaves went, Andrew Jackson treated his relatively well.  He believed that the slaves deserved a part of their work so they were allowed to grow their own gardens, take home some of the harvest, and he tried to keep families together.  Hopefully this is true, but it is mostly speculation.  We ended the day passing by Tulip Grove, another Jackson home, and the old Hermitage Presbyterian Church, and then it was finally off to get some lunch!

A few weeks ago, Ashley and I were contacted by Heidi to see if we had any interest in being Sunday School teachers, what?!  There was a need to split up the current Youth Sunday School (6-12 grade) because the maturity levels were so extremely different and it was causing some complications during Sunday mornings.  After a little hesitation (on my part, not Ashley's), we agreed to be the Younger Youth Sunday School teachers.  This includes 6th and 7th grade, and at Trinity that covers at most 6 kids, but only 4 girls ever seem to show up.  We are having a lot of fun with them, they sure have a lot of personality, and a lot to say!

      Our latest Trinity experience was Thanksgiving!  First of all, the Sunday before Thanksgiving we had pre-Thanksgiving luncheon, which was delicious!  Then, Heidi, her husband, and their son had us over for Thanksgiving on Thursday.  It didn't make a lot of sense for me to try and make it home for only about 3 days so I stayed in Nashville, and I was definitely missing being at home for the holiday.  But, I couldn't have asked for a better place to be if I couldn't be with family!  The four of us that remained went to Heidi's house and ate some delicious food, played Jim's numerous instruments, and just hung out.  It was really lovely! And, it was Ashley's very first Thanksgiving (she is from Northern Ireland so they don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, as you might suspect!)  

Musically talented
The Thanksgiving table

We assembled a Lego turkey without instructions
---it may not be right, but it looks like a turkey!
I will certainly keep you more up to date with Trinity, PTM, and all the other happenings here in Nashville! Until next time, peace.