The “Not Until” List

Summertime at Sweeney’s on the Creek is a little different now that it’s July.    While Steve and I go about our normal daily routines (even with longer daylight hours to ease some of the pain), the kids are winding down a bit from travels and camps.

Shannon, 21, is in between conferences right now, and as usual, spends much of her days reading and blogging on her book blog site.  This is actually a productive use of her time, given that she will be starting a publishing internship in NYC in the fall.  Travel and conferences start up again in a few weeks for her.  Jack, 14, has finished his sports camps and will be leaving for church mission trip in Colorado and scout trips to New Mexico in a few weeks.  Then he starts marching band with the Might Mustang Band at JJ Pearce HS in Richardson, all day, every weekday, in August.

book-expo-america                        BSA                   denum

As much as I’d like to let them just “be,” there are things that need done, and, as in many households, Steve and I expect help around the house so that we can all relax and take part in our favorite activities in the evenings.

To help manage the flow of their days, I implemented the “Not Until” list.  Each day, before I leave for work, I list five items for Jack to complete – three before lunch and two after.  He cannot turn on electronics (video games, cell phone, television, etc.) – not until the list is complete in the morning, and then again in the afternoon.  Shannon gets a list, too, but less than five items most days.

I actually started this challenge for myself a few weeks ago.  See, I tend to get distracted if I sit down at the computer and immediately click on a social media site.  To try to break that habit, I wrote out a list of things I wanted to do every morning before I even think about clicking on email, Facebook, twitter or Instagram:

  1. Bible Study (currently studying the Book of James) and prayer
  2. Journal about prior day, hopes for the current day, and observations from the study
  3. Calendaring in my traditional Franklin Planner – yep, as social media savvy as I am, I still prefer to carry my planner with me, paper and all. Old habits die hard!  I update any incomplete items from the prior day and make sure any new to-do are added to my lists.
  4. Household chores as needed – laundry or kitchen cleaning, empty dishwasher.

to do list

So far, so good.  I feel more organized and that I am getting started on the right foot every day.

I asked myself, “If I can feel this way every day, what about starting the week?  What is on my “Not Until” list for the week?”

I’ll bet my list is the same as yours, and it only has one thing on it:  Start the week with worship and community.  Not one or the other – BOTH.  See, we can worship without community, but then how are we sharing the joy and confidence we receive from our faith, if we aren’t in community with others?  And we can share in community over a breakfast, but it is in the worship service that we can turn our hearts and minds completely to God, to give God thanks and praise, and to hear God’s call to us for the rest of the week.

Where do we worship?  At church.  Where do we find that community?  In our classes, small groups, choirs, etc. – at church.

I believe we need to participate both in worship and in community.  Not until we have started our week with those two things can we begin our week, reminded in a very special way of God’s promise, grace, and importance in our lives.

What about you?  Do you feel different when you ‘skip’ worship or class on Sunday mornings?  What is it you miss, when you can’t be at church?  My prayer for you is that your “Not Until” list begins on Sunday morning with a trip to church, for worship and Sunday morning classes.  My prayer for you is that you know your attendance matters – to you, and equally important, to the rest of us.

See you Sunday.  Even on a holiday!

I Wasn’t Supposed to be There….Right?

A few months ago, a friend in St. Louis asked me to contribute books to a new children’s library in the St. Louis area.

books from my childhood susy morris flicker

The Sweeney’s managed to pull together two full boxes to contribute.  I loaded the boxes in my car, where they stayed for two months.

This last week, we drove to St. Louis for a wedding.  My friend Tom wasn’t supposed to be in town.  He was supposed to be at a conference in Squaw Valley, but scheduling conflicts caused a last minute cancellation.  I arranged to meet Tom for coffee on Friday morning, to deliver the books personally.

Thursday night, we stayed on the Illinois side of the river.  Tom had arranged for us to meet on the west side of St. Louis, so on Friday morning, I notified Google of the destination address, and let the phone navigate my way there.  Heading into St. Louis on IH64, however, there is a lot of construction.  Google decided to route me a different way – up St. Clair Avenue, which would lead me right into East St. Louis, or at least to the edge.

East St. Louis – in 2007, it had the highest crime rate in the United States.  The city still struggles with high crime, and I knew I needed to get back on the highway before I put myself in danger.

Because I wasn’t supposed to be on that road.  I wasn’t supposed to be delivering books to my friend Tom.  He wasn’t even supposed to be in St. Louis.

But I stayed on St. Clair Avenue for awhile.  I saw the burned houses, the blight, the vacant stores and the vacant streets.

abandoned home in St Louis ken fager flickr

I heard the silence.  I felt the pain.  But I got off the road and back onto the highway as quickly as I could.

After coffee, I decided to drive back the same way I came.  This time I noticed more:  boarded up windows, rusty metal buildings, and a man pushing a shopping cart with all of his possessions.

I asked, ‘God, I’m not supposed to be here.  What are you asking me to do?”

On Friday afternoon, we moved closer to St. Louis.  We were going to stay in the hotel with other wedding guests, but at the last minute, we decided to rent a nicely renovated townhouse that was made available for us.  We checked with local sources – the area was “in transition,” but considered safe.

934 Rutger St Louis

But God wasn’t finished with me yet.  God had a place for me to be.  God wanted me to see something.

As I drove down the street to the townhouse, I realized that we would share sidewalks for a few days with Peter & Paul Community Services.  PPCS provides housing and support services to the homeless.  During our stay, on some incredibly hot days, we encountered volunteers handing out bottled water to those who needed it.   Across the alley from us, there sat a building that housed the Society of Friends (Quakers), who are known for their community outreach to the needy.

We shared sidewalks and parks with people who lived in housing sponsored by the St. Louis Housing Authority.

And across the street, behind the house, we had perfect access to Saint Vincent de Paul Parish, a Catholic parish whose members serve hot meals to the hungry one week each month.  Every day of the week, volunteers at Saint Vincent de Paul’s Parish provide sandwiches and fruit to the hungry at lunchtime.

church of saint vincent de paul

We walked the streets, smiling back at our new neighbors.  We greeted the children, playing on the swings.

I wasn’t supposed to be there.  But where else would I be?

This is, after all, where Christ is found.  Christ is found with the poor, and with the orphan, and with the widow and with the sick.

Highway construction caused Google to push me onto St. Clair Avenue and near East St. Louis.  But I believe God, not Google, was my navigator in the LaSalle Park area of town….God showed me where I was supposed to be that weekend.  Now I am charged with being the hands of Christ in my own city.

Tell me, God, where am I supposed to be back home?


Photo credit:  “Books from my Childhood,” Susy Morris, Flickr; “Abandoned Home,” Ken Fager, Flickr; “Little Red Church,”  All other pictures original to Cathy Sweeney.

Stand by Me – Wherever You Are!

A friend of mine from Central America sent this video clip to me.  During this week of US Thanksgiving, I find it especially joyful …

I’ve written in previous posts about the Tower of Babel story in the Book of Genesis.  It’s appropriate here, as well.  The first verse (Gen 11:1) shares the origin of language : “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”  It was not until the people started to build the tower, to keep themselves close in proximity to each other, so no one would wander away – that’s when the story shares that God created other languages and spread people across the earth.

Above all, we were created with one language – a language of love.  Watch this video, listen to the song, and realize that wherever we live, whatever our color, or our spoken language – we all move to the same rhythm, as God intended.  (Make sure you get to at least the one minute mark)

Have a peaceful week, everyone; and in all things, Love.

The Story of Sweeney’s on the Creek

We live on a creek, in Texas.  Some people just assume that the moniker, “Sweeney’s on the Creek,” derives from that location (and it does).  But, as usual with nicknames, there is a hidden meaning that I’d like to share with you now.

Steve’s father was raised in Lansing, Iowa, a small community of about 1000 people today.  Lansing is located in the far northeast corner of Iowa, right on the Mississippi River.  It’s a popular tourist location in the warmer months, because of the fishing, boating, and general relaxing atmosphere.  Right at the bend in the river is a bridge that connects Iowa to Wisconsin.  Drive up the Iowa side a few miles and you are in Minnesota.

Relaxing – that’s how I came to know it, when I married into the Sweeney family.  There are two places in this world I know I can go to relax, and Lansing is one of them.  Mount Hosmer, Fish Days, farm league baseball, the Blackhawk Bridge – nothing like it.  I’ve not been back in ages, but remember it fondly.

There’s a small restaurant on the River, at the base of Main Street in Lansing.  It’s a popular place for boaters to stop, gas up, grab something to eat and drink, play a little pool, watch a little sports, and – just ‘be.’  Many years ago, William “Ben” Sweeney, one of Steve’s relatives, built and ran this establishment.  And he named it “Sweeney’s on the River.”  In the last few decades or so, it’s changed hands, even changed names – but it’s back to Sweeney’s now.

Cathy Shannon at Sweeneys on River

Sweeney’s is a gathering place.  A place where people can feel welcome and build community, with each other, and with the travelers who pass through Lansing.  What better place to model?  So “Sweeney’s on the Creek” is not only a location, but a shout out to history.  A history I married into, sure – but a history that supports community.

What other name could we choose, other than “Sweeney’s on the Creek?”  The Sweeney’s may have moved away from Lansing, but we give a shout of thanks for building community each time we refer to it.  We host annual parties, including an egg nog challenge, in honor of Steve’s grandparents.  We try to bring the small town generosity to our own little bend in the creek.  Imagine our surprise, then, when we realized that – less than a mile from our house – lives a gal named Chris – born and raised in Lansing, Iowa, graduated from Kee High School.  Our kids sit next to each other in the Jr High band.

Community, indeed.  And a very small world, when we let down our defenses and share a bit of ourselves with others.

The Start of Something Wonderful

My professional life is surrounded with numbers, analysis and reason.  I spend a lot of my day solving newly generated problems, and trying to anticipate the next question.  I work with builders, attorneys, city staff, engineers, marketers, brokers, tenants, residents and visitors.  My professional life is a compilation of various industries that come together to build community.

This new blog is an effort to do the same, in a more creative way.  Learn with me, if you will, and together we’ll build an online community, with members who are not shy about using their voice.