Tuesday, July 1, 2014

These are my people

We came as individuals, a merry fellowship of misfits with only one thing in common: the uncertainty of our year ahead.  With 10 one-way tickets to the United Kingdom, we held hands and walked forward, becoming a union of disciples that would become a family through Christ.  Now our years are ending, and while we still face the uncertainty of our lives ahead, we will leave holding hearts and a bond only created through the deepest vulnerabilities. 

To Kari, the lover of life and life to the full:  I am forever thankful for our Tuesday dinner dates of burgers and sweet potato fries while debriefing our London weeks of children, poverty, and ethnicity.  You have a beautiful way of listening and reflecting the positive gifts you see in all our lives.  Thank you for giving me the courage to continue forward so many times while showing me your confidence in the Big Man upstairs.  I’m so glad we finally realized our placement sites were so close so we could use public transportation for what its best used for: bringing two great friends together.  


To Emily, the free-spirited Minnesotan who has a heart for education and creativity:  We experienced some of our most vulnerable moments and hilarious mistakes together when first moving to London.  From learning the importance of signaling for the bus driver to stop to discovering the best food shops together I’m thankful for our shared space of living in Peckham together.   

To Vickey, the storyteller who’s blood runs British:  I’m so glad you were given the chance to interview with Paul and Victoria Sunday morning at DIP!  Our group just wouldn’t be the same without you.  Way back in the beginning when we were roommates in Chicago, I was so grateful for your confidence of living in England.  Even though trains sense your presence and are always delayed, you’ve had quite the impressive year with your successful placement.  You’ve got some mad writing skills and BMS World Mission is blessed to have you sharing their stories.   

To Abby, the girl who needs a nicer word than nice to describe your compassionate personality:  I feel like we are the long lost friends that had to find each other across the world.  Of course we both did marching band, were drum majors, applied to LVC, and ended up serving together in the United Kingdom.  I think my favorite memory of us this year was our simple meal together at Pizza Express while we talked and ate and talked some more.  Thank for you always giving us the gift of your genuine friendship and leading by love. 

To Elie, the one who’s never ceasing to laugh in the beauty of blessings:  Newcastle is so lucky to have you for another year!  You’re the person that lights up a room whenever you walk in, smiling, laughing, and forever telling stories of your endlessly wacky adventures.  You are always seeking out the one, the one who may feel left out, misunderstood, or upset, and comfort them with kindness.  Jean jackets and sorority Jesus fish for life. 

To Scarlet, the North Carolinian artist who’s not afraid of a little challenge: I’ve admired the way you’ve patiently stayed strong while the winds of hardship have been relentless.  You've taught me so much about the importance of taking the scary leap of faith… and having a great 90s ballad on hand for guitar jam sessions.  I hope you always continue to share your gift of music; I know it has been such a blessing to so many people.    

To Mike, the radical Jesus lover carrying a guitar and an apple: It’s been a blessing to watch you grow as a worship leader and youth director this year.  You definitely have a gift of leading through faith.  I’ve admired watching the way you are never afraid to speak out in a group (#extrovertproblems) and share your experiences of how the Holy Spirit is alive.  I could always count on you for a prayer, a hug, a good apple, and a medley of camp songs.       

To Nick, our loyal Chandler Bing, food photographer, and man with a heart of gold: INFJs for life.  You were the first person I sat next to at DIP, before this adventure had officially started and we had no clue what lay ahead along the yellow brick road.  I am so thankful for your friendship and the way we have processed this journey together.  You always seemed to know before I did when I was struggling with a part of this year and appreciate all the times you just sat and listened.  I am forever amazed at the words you find to describe this thing we call life and cannot wait to see where your next step will take you. 

To Erin, the organized organizer who has been my friend through it all:  We sync so well together whether it’s traveling through England, visiting markets, eating excessive amounts of food, or watching excessive amounts of Harry Potter.  I am so grateful we both served in educational settings, discussing our students contrasting lives of posh wealth and poverty – and the neglect they both receive.  You've been such a great role model this year for both your girls at school and us as volunteers.  You’re already a great teacher and I cannot wait for you to have a classroom of your own someday. 

How lucky am I to have a family that makes saying goodbye so hard?  These are my people.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Notice the Small and Give Thanks for it All

On January 29, 2006, Bob Woodruff should have died.   As the newly appointed co-anchor for ABC world news tonight, Bill was left in critical condition -and not expected to survive- when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq as he was reporting back to America. 

On Friday June 13, 2014, I sat in Westminster Hall to celebrate the commencement ceremony of my host brother graduating high school, listening to Lee Woodruff tell the story of their family and her husband’s miraculous recovery.  As the chosen commencement speaker, her words of injury, recovery, strength, and family revolved around one main theme: Gratitude. 

I listened to her speak of the rock that rolled across her husband’s neck and landed on his carotid artery.   I heard her speak of how the army doctors that saved her husband’s life were actually ordered to take safety away from the bombsite, but only stayed by Bob’s side.   I paid attention as she spoke of the way Bob’s skull was removed to allow his brain to swell, and the way she stayed by his side as he lay in a coma for a month.    

Bob wasn’t supposed to live, but he and his family survived with the gratitude that can only be explained with a thank you that is too big to find words for.  Lee talked about the major events that filled her life with gratitude, but she also focused on the little, small events that stich our days together in blessings of happiness.  “When I was grateful for all the little things in my life, I became a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter.” 

As she made her closing remarks and the ceremony continued on, I felt I’d come full circle this year in lessons of gratitude.  It feels like just yesterday (while simultaneously years ago) that I was sitting in my new room in London in September, reading a book on gratitude while buckets collected dripping water from my ceiling.  It was a time of extreme vulnerability, but it was also a time of deep reflection.  I looked for the daily blessings.  I kept a list of the small stuff I was grateful for.  I was deeply challenged by the daily living and consumed by the Holy Spirit.    

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything on this blog.  A long time since I’ve sat down at my computer and allowed time to form words of reflection on my daily life here.  It could be because I’ve found my new normal; I finally am understanding how to live in the culture of London and don’t need to think or plan as intently as I did in the beginning.  It could be because I only have one month left (yes, that’s right – one month!!!) and I am super busy trying to experience as much as possible.  Really, I think when everything is “going right” it’s too easy to forget to reflect on those small miracles that form our lives.  I stop noticing the way God is in the boiling water dancing on the stovetop, or the way a small child’s fingers grip a pencil as they write

But life is good and so is God.  And I am grateful that I was sitting in Westminster Hall on the 13th of June, celebrating my host brother’s graduation and listening to Lee Woodruff’s words on noticing the everyday blessings.  I may only have 5 weeks left in London, but that’s five more weeks to notice how God is alive.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year – it’s to notice the small and give thanks for it all.      

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fellowship and Food

Forks in our left hand, knives in our right.  The occasional scrape of metal to the plate is overridden by the chatter and chewing.  Diminishing food parallels the filling stomachs.  Hearts are happy.  Bellies full. 

I recently heard a sermon on fellowship, and the distinction behind the meaning.  It was compared to the relationship families have when getting together after a long period of time.  Stories are shared, there may be laughter or tears – sometimes both - and food is often a main component.  It is a time of listening and a time for showing love to the ones we care about most.  As brothers and sisters of Christ, our time of fellowship is a time of family members coming together, to share, to listen, and to break bread. 

Staying in a hostel in the middle of nowhere Wales, I don’t know the name of the person sitting to my right, but by the end of dinner I will know that he lives in London, tutors adult students in English, used to live in Bermuda running a luxury resort, and has a sister that graduated from Wittenberg University.  The woman diagonal to me lives in Slovakia, has a daughter that waitressed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, visits Canada regularly, and thoroughly enjoys British custard.  We’ve all traveled from different places, carry different stories and experiences, and we will part again soon. 

But for tonight, our paths have crossed.  And as storytellers, aren’t we all just looking for someone to listen?  Sitting around a full table where each individual does not know the other creates a unique and vulnerable situation.  But I can only smile as my heart now understands the beauty of fellowship and the creation of old family members reuniting, if only for a meal.  

Making Mistakes

They’ve only made their first step out from the giant doors marked *Exit Only* at the Heathrow airport, and I want to cover them in bubble wrap and create a giant force field bubble surrounding their entire being.  

Yes, I am the worrier in the family, but it has taken me 3 arrivals now to figure out why I am so nervous waiting at the international arrival gate for a loved one to arrive. 

No, I don’t think for a second they are stepping into peril danger.  It’s just that almost everything I have learned about living in British culture, I have learned from making a mistake, and some part inside of me wants to shield them from this process of learning.      

A Few Points in Case:

I learned to not buy food in bulk after my bread started to mold after 3 days.

I learned to only stand on the right side of the escalator after being almost plowed down by a hurried Londoner.

I learned about the importance of setting a specific time into google maps when planning a journey, after I left out this step and was stuck on a bus an hour longer than expected during peak travel time.

I learned to call pants “trousers” after I told a child I liked his pants and was told I just said I liked his underwear.

All of these little mistakes were my daily routine back in August and September (and October and November…); my days would be filled with the attempt to live the “normal” lifestyle while correcting and learning from the countless mistakes I made from a different cultural perspective.  So maybe part of me wanted my loved ones to not have to make these mistakes while I guided them through London, and another part wanted them to see me as the “expert”.

Both are pretty selfish I would say. 

These mistakes gave me the opportunity to learn about the differences in culture.  I was allowed the opportunity to grow in understanding and be able to reflect upon the importance of the cultures deeply rooted into our unconscious minds.  To try and protect anyone from learning about culture would be denying them an invaluable experience of infinite learning. 

As a perfectionist, I never thought I would be giving thanks for the mistakes I’ve made thus far, but I am learning this year about the beauty of accepting ourselves as broken, messy, wonderful creations of God.

Cheers to the mistakes we’ve made, and hope of many more to come.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Good Friday Scramble

With my feet and arms spread out from under me and feeling a bit like an awkward starfish clinging for dear life, I am paralyzed.  One more move and I’m pretty sure the only directions I’ll be going is backwards.  The summit is just within reach, but my muscles are strained from the athleticism I have suddenly required of them and I am so unbelievably tired.  The loose rock under me starts to shift and I am taken over by gravity as I slowly slide down the steep incline. 


Tying our shoelaces for the morning, my brother and I were getting ready to hike up one of the easiest trails to reach the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.  As official N.A.R.P.s (non-athletic retired persons) we are the first to admit how out of shape our bodies have become since our college days of swimming 20+ hours a week.  This backpacking trip through Wales was a holiday for both of us, and while we wanted the views of the majestic mountain peaks, we were going to take the easiest way to get up there.  No shame. 

All set and ready to go, we met a fellow traveler who was staying in the same hostel as us.  We mentioned the trail we were going to take, and he looked back at us with surprise.  “Don’t you want a challenge? I like to feel accomplished when looking back on the journey I’ve climbed.”  Well, what were we supposed to say to that?  Our competitive spirits taking over, suddenly we found ourselves starting our hike on a much different trail than originally planned.   One of the hardest paths offered, based on the extreme elevation change and loose scree (broken rock fragments) towards the summit.

As the morning sunlight blanketed the mountains of Snowdonia, we set off.  We basked in the rich vitamin D soaking into our pours as we crossed through the farmlands and ascended up to the slate quarry.  We paused at the beauty of the gushing waterfalls and gave our heartbeats a chance to slow down with the rapid incline.  Our thighs burned, our backs were sore, and our cheeks were sunburnt.  And we were loving every bit of it. 

Right before leaving, that fellow traveler had asked me how experienced I was with “scrambling.”  My brother responded to my confused and blank stare, saying I have never done it before, but I would be fine.  It wasn’t until we were halfway up the mountain that it dawned on me to ask what scrambling meant.  Not a big deal, he replied, you’ll just have to use your hands and feet to support your weight because there will be a bunch of loose rock under you. 

Right, no big deal.     

I am apparently not the best with this scrambling business and suddenly I am wishing for some solid ground under my hands and feet.  The loose rock under me starts to shift and I am taken over by gravity as I slowly slide down the steep incline…but as I start to slide down, I am desperate to go forwards.  So like a dog on a frozen pond with ice skates attached to her paws, I literally scramble to the summit.

Hiking has always seemed to carry significant parallel journeys of the happenings in my life: a descent down the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho birthing a beautiful friendship, a calm stroll through John Bryant days before graduation.  It all holds special meaning and allows the opportunity for reflection on how Christ is alive. 

On this particular Good Friday, I am able to lie down and close my eyes on the top of the mountain.  I reflect the struggle, the weight, and the paralyzed fear this day holds for Jesus.  I think of the struggle, the weight, and the paralyzed fear this year has held for me.  I think of the new trail I will take to descend, my hike not yet finished, and the unknown trials and gifts it will bring.  I think of the new journey I will take when this year is finished, and the unknown trails and gifts it will also bring.  My brain is spinning, but eventually the stillness of my body with the calm presence of mountain air takes over, and for a moment, I am just present.      

Looking back on our journey climbed, it was definitely a challenge, but I wouldn't use the word accomplished to describe my feelings. 

Grateful.  Awe-filled.  Loved.     

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Kids Are Alright

Sounds of boiling water pop in a rhythmic pattern to my left, but my eyes are drawn forward to follow the joyous sounds of laughter coming from outside.  Peering out the window and four stories below, I see a tiger madly twirling a hula hoop around her flailing body in every attempt to keep it above her knees.  Batman is running in circles, his head thrown back as he screams in harmony with the wind.  Cinderella and Snow White are jumping rope with Spiderman, while Dorothy is playing hopscotch; a long way from the home of Kansas. 

It’s world book day, and the school is alive in imagination. 

Somewhere in the directions of dressing up as your favorite story book character, the translation was lost to the sheer opportunity to play dress up.  But in the masses of princesses and superheroes (with some book heroines in-between) a message of hope in the season of ashes radiates brighter than the sky on this rare sunny day.  Unaware to the vulnerability that sews their soul together, the children play on.  

The kettle starts to whistle, signaling the tea is ready to make, lessons need to be planned, and resources need to be copied.  But right now in this moment, faith grows in the laughter of the young.  

Some say faith is a childish game.  Play on children, like its Christmas day.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Welcome Home

A guilty conscious is my shadow that never alters or diminishes in accordance to the ever rotating earth around the sun.  Like a looming darkness ever present, my thoughts are always one step ahead to judge my actions, forming questions in a never ending battle over what is right or wrong.  In a year of intentional living within another culture, this shadow has only grown in size as my body never wants to dip a toe into the waters of ignorance or shame. 

Recently I was posed with a terrifying statement: “You can make your own decision.”  With repairs to the in the original house I am supposed to be living in still underway, the family I have been living and growing with offered me an invitation to stay with them for the rest of the year.  Bringing the invitation to my supervisor, she gave me the choice to make my own decision. 

My housing situation this year has been one of the most challenging experiences that I have had, and an invitation to know where I was going to live for the rest of the year brought waves of tears in thanks and comfort.  Every gut reaction I could possibly have inside of me rose to scream yes and unpack my suitcase for the first time in 6 months. 

But of course, that guilty conscious was ever-present and within seconds I doubted if this was the right decision to make.  I’ve currently been commuting an hour each way to work every morning, creating a division of separation between the community my students live in versus the community I live in.  This is quite a contrast to the intention of walking in solitude and mutuality.    

But it was recently said to me that sometimes the boldest decision you can ever make is to take care of yourself.   I’ve learned in every psychology class in college that shelter is a basic fundamental need.  Those words in a book became my reality this year as I’ve physically been in need of shelter while also emotionally wrestling with the uncertainty of where I could call home.  The invitation came by the protection from God, in the form of the most giving family I have ever met.  The invitation came, and I realized that I needed to accept it. 

With a gift so selfless I know I’ll never be able to repay, I can only carry this experience forward in understanding and appreciating the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in having a place to call home.   When the shadows of guilt start to loom, I can now feel the sun telling me I am supposed to be exactly where I am. 

Welcome Home

p.s. If you’d like to join me in giving thanks to the Tuckers who has extended their home to me, simply let me know and I’ll send you our address