Thursday, January 31, 2013

Choosing to Love

It doesn't take much effort to think of a topic that causes political and social division. In today's world, they seem to be a dime a dozen (I thought of 5 off the top of my head while writing that sentence). As our country begins to bring about change on these issues, people scramble to affirm their beliefs and blast those who oppose them with hateful comments, campaigns and publicity. I've seen friendships ruined and people deeply hurt because people can't let go of their hatred for the other side of an issue long enough to remember that there are people behind that issue. People like them who have feelings and fears just the same. 

So why the random political topic all of the sudden? No, I'm not becoming a political opinion blogger or trying to get people to take sides on an issue. In fact, quite the contrary. This blog is centered around an article I read in the Huffington Post today. 

If you don't want to read the entire article (it is a bit long), I'll give a quick recap. First off, it's written by Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride and "lifelong gay rights activist." For anyone acquainted with the fissure between the gay community and Chick-fil-A, the title of the article is shocking to say the least: "Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.In a nutshell, Shane tells his story of how he became friends with Dan how they each display a level of humanity and love that has thus far been absent from the "gays vs Chick-fil-A war." Yes, Dan believes in a biblical view of marriage. Yes, Shane believes in marriage equality. But they both also believe in something more important: showing love to others.

It was never new news that Chick-fil-A supported the traditional, biblical view of marriage. But it has recently spawned a terrible battle between Chick-fil-A supporters and gay rights supporters. I have heard people accuse Dan Cathy of being a "filthy bigot" and worse. And on contrary, I have heard Christians call gay rights activist "faggots" and enemies of the American family. At the start of the article, Shane shares his initial feelings towards Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A:

"I have spent quite some time being angry at and deeply distrustful of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A. If he had his way, my husband of 18 years and I would never be legally married...Dan is the problem, and Chick-fil-A is the enemy, right?... I had the background and history on him, so I thought, and had my own preconceived notions about who he was. I knew this character. No way did he know me. That was my view... I had researched Chick-fil-A's nearly $5 million in funding, given since 2003, to anti-LGBT groups. And the whole nation was aware that Dan was 'guilty as charged' in his support of a 'biblical definition' of marriage. What more was there to know?"

Shane goes on to explain his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy that started with a simple phone call and turned into in-person meetings with Dan and other representatives of Chick-fil-A. While Shane had never heard their side of the story, they had never heard his either:

"It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before."

This part of the story really touched me. Here they were, the leader of a national campaign against Chick-fil-A and the founder of the company taking time to learn about the lives and views of the other. As it turns out, Dan Cathy had never had this kind of open discussion with an LGBT member before and was unaware that the financial decisions of the company were spawning instances of hatred among college students across the country. What they both came to realize was that Chick-fil-A was being used by both sides of the political debate and "the repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides."

The point that stands out to me most in the story is not one about the issue itself. Rather it is Shane's description of how Dan expressed his faith and beliefs. Shane says this:

 "I gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being a follower of Christ more than a Christian."

The difference in the two at first seems obsolete. But when you think about it, it is the most important difference there could be. As a Christian, you may be for or against certain issues. And if that's what is  most important, then hatred and anger towards the opposition is inevitable in the name of standing for what's right. But being a follower of Christ is so far beyond that. It doesn't discount what is right by any means, but rather, it reminds us that Jesus himself spent time with thieves and prostitutes and treated them as human beings and showed them love. He didn't act out in hatred and anger, although he had more of a right to than any of us. So many times we forget the faces behind issues that we have opinions on. And I am as guilty of this as anyone. But we should never forget that of all the commands given to us in Scripture, the most important is to love God and love our neighbor. This doesn't mean we should change or apologize for our beliefs, just as Dan didn't in his interactions with Shane. But it does mean that we should treat people with opposing views with love and respect. If we forget this, we have truly forgotten the heart of Christianity. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How to Save an Arm Chair

We've all had those old pieces of furniture that are handed down to us. You want to get rid of it, but it's "so sturdy" or "such a good piece of furniture" and definitely "built to last." The only problem? They are always covered in fabric so hideous that it cancels out all those good qualities that you just cant find in furniture these days.

This is the tale of one such piece of furniture and its transformation from an old, unattractive garage sale piece to a modern chair that I actually love.

So here is exhibit A. The chair in all its glory, pre-reupholstery. 

Not the ugliest thing you've ever seen, but the skirt and thick, denim, cord-like material definitely give away that its prime was many decades ago. So I decided to save this chair from its inevitable end at next year's garage sale.

Before I started, I read a ton of re-upholstery tutorials and blog posts. And basically, I gathered two pieces of wisdom:

1. Take off the upholstery in order of what piece is "on top" of the others and remember the order you took them off in. (more on this later)

2. Keep all the pieces you take off so that you can cut the new ones the exact same size and not waste fabric.

Here is a little more explanation of rule #1. You need to look at your chair and determine which piece of fabric was put on last. It's important to keep this order because this is how you hide the staples that you use to attach the new fabric. Complicated, I know. But this process turns out to be more of a science than an art. 

On my chair, the back piece was put on last. So that's where I started. 

There was a strip of metal with spikes on it in each side of the back panel. The fabric is folded over this strip and then the strip is hammered to the wood of the chair. Clever little trick to hide the fabric edges. You can see some of the metal spikes in the picture sticking out of the cloth that is pulled back. 

Goodbye back panel! 

A pair of pliers and a flat-head screw driver were the tools that worked best for me in getting out the fabric staples. But be warned, there are about ten thousand, so unless you want your hands bearing the scars of your project, I advise wearing work gloves. 

On to the sides, which also used these handy metal strips. 

Some of the pieces also had cardboard strips under the staples to prevent pull on the fabric. I didn't save these to put back on, but if you are using a thin fabric, you may want to get some so that your fabric doesn't have so much strain on it from the staples. 

Next, the wings. These were tricky because they had double-cording to hide the staples that held the wing pieces on. I kept the cording to make my own with when I got to the recovering part of the project. 

This is what the wing piece looks like without the cording to hide all the staples attaching it. 

Once I took the wing pieces off, there was a foam layer that had been attached over the edges of the wing tops. I decided to leave this on the chair and simply put my fabric over the fabric that the foam covered instead of ripping up the foam and risking tearing it. 

 On to the arms. These were interesting because the once white batting underneath them was so old that it came apart easily and stuck to the fabric I was pulling off. I saved it as much as I could to avoid buying all new batting and really, you can't tell at all on the finished product. 

This next part was probably the most complicated of the entire thing. The arms of the chair has these fancy little pieces with cording around the outside. I pried them off with the screw driver and found that they were actually attached with nails on the backside. If your chair has anything like this, be sure to keep these and simply recover them instead of trying to come up with something to use in their place. 

Then just keep on ripping off that fabric. 

Soon, your ugly chair will look something like this. Not necessarily a step in the pretty direction, but I promise, its all part of the process. After taking off the second arm piece that is still on in this picture, I decided that the very front bottom piece, the inside wing pieces and the backrest piece were better left in place and simply covered over with new fabric. This would allow more strength with two layers of fabric and save me the trouble of having to redo the foam on the outside of the wings to get the inside pieces off. 

This is where the new fabric comes in. I chose a blue chevron (although it will look grey in the upcoming pictures) from Hobby Lobby. Gotta love those 40% off coupons. I bought 7 yards, although I definitely only used about 5. As an amateur, I figured better too much than not enough.

And I began the recovering process. Honestly, this was the easy part. When I was dismantling the old fabric pieces, I made a pile of them (in order) so that I could simply work backwards through the pile when attaching the new pieces. I cut the fabric exactly the size of the old pieces, which eliminated a ton of measuring and mess-ups. For my weapon of choice in this stage, I borrowed a staple gun from my parents that held small upholstery staples (from Lowe's or Home Depot). 

For the cording, I simply sewed new fabric over the old instead of taking the cording completely apart. This proved easier than expected and I definitely recommend minimizing your deconstruction.
For the double cording on the wings, I just wrapped the new fabric around the old and sewed it tight first, then sewed a line down the middle. The crease in the middle provides a place for staples that is almost unnoticeable. 

One by one, I stapled the new pieces back on in the opposite order I took them off to hide the edges. I reused the metal strips, although some of them had to be re-bent and reshaped a bit. 

Eventually, I got here! Visible progress at last! 

The cushion was the part that required the most actual sewing knowledge (of which I am extremely lacking). So this chair went cushion-less for several days while I struggled through making a new cover. 

But eventually, I finished it. And now we have a fun addition to our living room that doesn't look like something out of my great grandparents house. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Where the Heart Is

Everyone has something that they love—a cause that really pulls at their heart strings. Companies sponsor the charity whose cause their CEO loves, churches start charities for causes that their members love, and people invest their lives in causes that they love.

This post is to share with you about a cause that I love.

If you are connected with me on any form of social media, you probably already know from the multiple posts about my niece and nephews that I love kids. But what you may not know is that kids are also part of the cause that has captured my heart.

Six years ago, I was introduced to a non-profit that seeks to confront child abuse and bring hope into the lives of children who are victims of it. The organization partners with churches across the country and around the world to host week-long summer camps for children who are in the foster care system because they have suffered from some type of abuse. These kids come from home lives that I couldn't imagine in my worst nightmares and they have been exposed to more trauma than most of us will probably experience in a lifetime. What's even more heartbreaking is that their past makes them likely to fall into the same patterns of life as the homes they came from.

For six summers, I have worked at one of these camps and seen the difference that one week can make in the lives of children. As kids aged out of camp each year and new kids came in, I began wondering how many of them there were. So like any good American, I asked Google. In just a few short minutes I was able to find a report from the Department of Human Services detailing all of the child welfare statistics for the state. Although I can't find the specific year that I looked at back then, the current report brings the same heartache when I read the numbers. On average, the camp I attended reached approximately 55 kids every summer. While this number is on the high end in comparison to other camps across the country, it did nothing to prepare me for the numbers I saw on the 2012 Oklahoma DHS report.

I almost couldn't believe my eyes. Suddenly the immense need that Oklahoma has for programs to reach out to these children hit me like a ton of bricks. One camp wasn't enough. There had to be more that could be done to help the other 9,787 kids that we couldn't reach. It was at this moment that God and His immaculate timing stepped in.

Ever since I could drive, I have been babysitting for a family in Norman that have practically like family to me. Little did I know that they too shared the same desire to do more for these kids. During the years that they were involved with camp, they had a vision for a campground that was build solely to accommodate camps for at-risk kids so that more organizations across the state would have a place to host camps and programs. In a leap of faith, they took out a loan and purchased 60 acres of land in the metro area in hopes of one day making this vision a reality. This was the birth of Avalon Campground. Within a week, there was a donation made that paid off the loan completely. God's timing is perfect. For several years following the purchase, God closed the door on efforts to move forward with the campground. As discouraging as it was, they kept the faith that His timing was still best.

And of course, it was.

In a conversation between our families last year, the topic turned to what could be done to reach more at-risk children. As we shared or hearts, it became apparent that we all had the same passion for this cause. Prayer and faith soon opened the door for my family to get involved with the campground. Although there have been many bumps in the road along the way, we found the doors that God has opened for us and been able to move forward in the process of getting Avalon started. From the business plan to the website, God has given us exactly the tools we need at the moment that we need them and we are slowly, but surely, getting closer and closer to breaking ground.

So what's my part in all this?

Well, simply put, (or maybe not so simply) I am the social media manager/graphic designer/marketing coordinator/this-and-that organizer/fundraising idea generator. In short, I do whatever I can within my abilities to help with the process of moving Avalon closer to being able to build the campground.

The current goal (from my side of things, at least) is to raise awareness for Avalon so that people know the name, know our cause and know where we are in the process of making the campground a reality. This week, we launched our Facebook page, Twitter account  and our newest addition, a Pinterest page. If you are on any (or all) of these social media sites, please follow and like us and share our vision with your friends. God is faithful in providing everything we need in each step we take and we can't wait to see how He works in the coming months!

"I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful." -Mother Teresa