Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Poem

Twas the night before Christmas
With no room at the inn
So a manger was taken
To give life from within

A baby was born
From a virgin most plain
For a lesson that taught us
God loves everyone the same

The wise men would follow
A star shining bright
To lead them to the king
Giving us all eternal life

So in the season of advent
We wait and prepare
For the birth of our Savior
In intentional prayer


Tis the night before Christmas
And my parents are here
To celebrate the season
With good ol’ British cheer

I waited at the airport
For them safely to arrive
Until at last, reunited
We hugged and we cried

The past few days
We have spent all together
Riding double decker buses
And battling stormy weather

Now Christmas Eve is upon us
And how we do glee
At the ordainments adorned
Amongst the great Jesse tree

During church today
Voices sang Silent Night
Reading the Gospel of Luke
By Warm candle light

So tonight we will rest
All snug in our beds
And give thanks to God
For a stable roof over our heads

But for now I must say,
With much awaited delight:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Counting Gifts through my Camera

Waking up exhausted on my last day of teaching for the term, I grabbed my camera in hopes of regaining some energy as I focused my lens into my heart to give thanks.  I pointed, I focused, I clicked and I prayed; always numbering the gifts God has created into this life of heaven.  With the added challenge of capturing my day without capturing the faces of any of my students, I hope you’ll enjoy some of the moments I caught in rectangular form.   

#587. The unsettled rareness of being the only fish in the belly of a whale

#589. The predictable wind hitting my skin from the roaring rush of a train

#590. The busyness of a waiting to-do list, keeping hands and hearts full of passion

#591. Preparing simple tools for infinite learning

#592. The power of a glue stick and some bits of paper

#593. Patience lining up paper corner to corner

#594. Allowed time for free imagination

#595. Tiny hands creating big works of art

#596.  Finished progress reports for every student, revealing growths, hidden strengths, and many focuses for next term

#601. Feeling the Holy Spirit alive in London

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Very Merry Unbirthday to You!

It was a normal Tuesday morning; waking up early and catching the tube, changing at Elephant and Castle to catch my train and journeying onward to school.  Overcast skies, children filling buses in their jumpers and beanies, Metro Times scattered across sidewalks and bins.  Typical Tuesday. 

Walking into school, I was greeted by my center manager, very cheerful for an early Tuesday morning.  “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATHARINE!” were her first words to greet me, along with a birthday card and various British mints and chocolates.  I was so surprised for various reasons…one of the main being that my birthday is not until December 31. 
“Thank you so much Ann! *awkward pause* But do you know today is not my birthday?” 
After spending the remainder of our morning administrative tasks laughing in the enjoyment of a mismarking on the staff calendar, I was left filled with the love only an act of random kindness can bring.  The tasks seemed lighter, the children seemed more willing to learn, their progress reports seemed more hopeful than anything. I realized by celebrating an unbirthday (as explained by the Mad Hatter, there are 364 unbirthdays in a year) I was allowing Christ to enter more fully into my heart.  I was noticing his gifts.  I was rejoicing in his presence.  Of course, nothing changed in my actions – it was all a change of mind.  A change of heart.  And suddenly all of my actions had meaning and purpose to carry and shine God’s love. 
In the waiting of advent, in the coming of the birth of Christ, I pray that I continue to celebrate each day as an unbirthday.  A chance to prepare my heart to receive the greatest gift of all on the birthday that saved us all.  A chance to unwrap the full love story of Christmas 

A very merry unbirthday to you! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Bakerloo Line

I now have the ability to morph into a fish.

It all starts with a blue plastic card. I tap it, the gates open, and I am lowered down into the deep waters.
At first I hold my breath, panicked that I might not be able to breathe.

But without fail, my gills open.  I not only can breathe, I can swim. 
As I plunge into the ocean of an underground, sights and sounds change.  There is a rumble in the distance and vibrations pick up through the waves.  Moving bodies together create friction and heat.   With time, the ocean had greyed.  The colors are dull and rubbish floats to the side.   

The current is swift with many different channels to choose from.  As one tiny fish, it is easy to get lost.  But I continue to move forward.
With the first dive, I must choose the school headed in the right direction and link in to the group. We swim and we swim and we hurry and swim.  And then we wait.  I wait for the whale to swallow me whole.

A deep rumble signifies a whale is close.  It quickly crescendos, and suddenly piercing eyes are lighting up the dark ocean as the body swimming past causes hearts to accelerate and lungs to gasp.
The jaws open wide, inviting fish inside.

Sometimes their belly is empty.  Sometimes their belly is full.  But as I wait in the pit of its stomach, I say a prayer.
And I listen. 

The fish sitting with me are vastly different.  And themes of their appearance match with the location of the whale.  Up north, most fish have pale scales with decorated black and white garments.  Wearing blazers, pantyhose, and ties, these business-fish are swimming for work and tote their briefcase under their fins.  As the whale moves south, the fish change.  Gone are the pale scales and a new pattern emerges.  The whale swallows fish that adorn many different tones; black, brown and tan shimmer through.  As a pale fish, I am in the minority.  But I still belong in this school.  And I continue to travel onward.

And I think.
While swimming through the fast paced underground, there are some fish who are not moving, who are overlooked again and again by the schools.  These fish are the ones to the side, sitting with close to nothing and asking for a little something.  But the schools continue to move past; never dropping their eyes in fear of making contact. As a school of many, we forget that we are just made up of lots of individual, free-thinking fish, the same as the one who isn't moving… 

The journey can feel like three days and three nights. 
But always, the jaws open again and I am dispensed once more into the ocean of an underground and must swim my way to the top.  This is the most dangerous part, moving against the current.  As hundreds of other fish swim quickly down, I have to pursue my way up, swimming upstream as I feel my gills morph back into lungs and I am gasping for air.  For sunlight.  For the shore. 

A touch of the card, a beep of a green light, and I am once again on solid ground. 

I used to be scared of fish.  Now I feel myself trying to become one.   

Sometimes accompaniment isn’t about walking.  It’s about swimming.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's About Time

At 2:15 today, I was headed down the hall to pick up my last student for the final lesson of the day.  I was tired, battling a cold, and feeling defeated from a day of little productivity.  When knocking on the classroom door and sticking my head in, the teacher informed me that they were in the middle of a test and my student couldn’t come to his lesson. 

My first reaction: Thanks be to God!  I sang His praise for this gift of time and started to mentally think of how I could convince my supervisor that I could now go home earlier than usual.  I was sure that God was telling me to take a much deserved break and that my work for the day was done.
Like a (loving) slap from God saying, “Pay Attention!” Leave it to my 8 year old, Nigerian boy, Ndulu, to teach me about the real meaning  and truth of discipleship and time.  

As I was walking down the hall back to our intervention room, Ndulu (who I wasn’t scheduled to teach today), was outside of his classroom reading quietly to himself.  Glancing up and seeing his tutor, he immediately sprang up and ran towards me, asking if he could come to Springboard today.  Hesitation took place in my mind as I thought of this precious extra time being taken away from me, but looking back down to his smiling face left me wondering how I could ever even think to deny this bright, optimistic boy the opportunity to learn.   

With the approval of this teacher, we headed off for his extra lesson; working on the sound ‘igh’ and reading a book about magic tricks.    I had nothing elaborate planned, but all we needed was some paper, a pencil, and the real meaning of the gift of time.
So now as I tiredly enjoy a bowl of warm chicken soup that was awaiting my arrival home from my new host mom, I pray.
Heavenly Father, Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.  Keep me rooted in your love.  Rest my soul not through extra time, but through real time; through service and opportunity and a child’s innocence and compassion.  Give me the strength to continue your work and little by little plant your seeds of faith and love into this world. 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

It has taken me awhile to write this entry.  About 3 weeks to be exact.  But to be able to express such a deep level of gratitude is challenging and I wanted to be able to find the right words. But eventually had to succumb to perfection and just do the best I could to messily write about grace in its deepest form.

I have been someone who has been blessed to always have a stable roof over my head.  My house has always had electricity, air conditioning, and heating.  I grew up with a dishwasher and internet and a fridge full of food.  But for the first time in my life, I found myself living in another country where the roof was literally caving in over my head.  And I didn’t know what to do. 

When I first told people I was placed in London, I was usually given a comment generally focused around a year of easy living.  To be fair, I probably would have thought the same thing, but I feel that part of my journey in accompaniment must include telling the story of London untold; the poverty and diversity that is segregated into communities far away from any line of focal view in a tourist’s camera. 

I was a part of that community, which included living in an old housing complex owned by council housing.  Because of this ownership, I was put on a long waiting list when the upstairs neighbor’s kitchen sink started leaking into my bedroom ceiling.  For eight weeks I lived without electricity and with buckets on my floor and towels on my bed, collecting the water falling from above.  When the ceiling started to crack, I was bumped up slightly on the repair list, but when water started to seep in from the walls and the leaking drips started to become a constant trickle, nervousness started to settle in my mind of health, safety, and the need of a stable home.

Shane Claiborne expresses in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, how “we have eliminated the need for miracles.  If we had enough faith to depend on God like the lilies and the sparrows do, we would see miracles.”  I think for much of my life I was so dependent and expectant of material structure that I had let these miracles go unnoticed.  But now this was stripped away and I was left with a raw and vulnerable need for my dependency on God. 

Meet Susan and Bill Tucker: a family who moved to London in 2001 from Atlanta, Georgia and have raised their three sons in British culture.  Susan’s mom works with my Aunt Patty at Our Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina.  My aunt told Susan’s mom of my situation, she told Susan, and suddenly I found myself with an invitation to come live in their home.  It was that simple.

So once again I found myself packing my belongings, now only needing one suitcase to fill what mattered most, to follow a call of a true miracle.  For the first time in two months, I was being offered a dry place to sleep…and from people who didn’t even know me.  They only knew I was in need and that they had an extra bed.  It was that simple.     

I have reflected deeply on this journey of accompaniment, and cannot hide the feeling of guilty abandonment as I left my community in Peckham.  I recognize that I am privileged to have had the offer to move, while other families are stuck in the cycle of poverty and will continue to live in council housing.  But I am also reflecting on the lessons I have learned from the Tuckers about the real meaning of servanthood. I think often of Matthew 25: 34-40 and if I would have enough faith to offer my place of refuge to someone I did not know.  A dear friend and fellow YAGM wrote recently about the grace that accompanies us through kindness from strangers.  I can only end this blog by posting the same quote she shared from Paul Loeb’s book, The Impossible Will Take A Little While:    

"To feel the intimacy of brothers is a
marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love
is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes
from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us,
who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers
and our weaknesses -- that is something still greater and more
beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being and
unites all living things."
            //Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1000 Gifts

This one is for you, Noelle
It seemed as though everything was going wrong. As the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” started to become all too real in my life, I was looking for heaviness in the drops instead of the rainbow shining through.  From dripping ceilings, to no electricity, to clogged sinks, to broken routers, to overcast skies, I was missing home and all of the people in it.                 

My placement work was slow to start, and with all my extra time I looked to take notice in all the little things I had not expected to happen.  I was using my time to question why I was on this journey, and how God could call me to such a place.  I was negative, I was desperate, and I was lonely. 

Before leaving for London, a family friend left me with a gift I managed to pack in with my luggage.  A book she cherished, hoping the words that touched her could find a way to guide me as well.  It was a simple gesture of kindness, and she couldn’t have known that a month later this book would be my saving grace in bringing light to my journey and filling me with the Holy Spirit.  One chapter in, I was hungry for more words, more God, and more challenges. 

Thanks to this book, I have started a list.  It’s simple really.  It’s a list of gifts I witness every day.  Gifts as small as dew on a vibrant pink flower petal, or the smile of the crossing guard stopping traffic on my way to school.  I'm also learning to see the "ugly beautiful"; when I might not understand why I am faced with a specific challenge, but can focus on the gift it holds.  We have a God of specifics, and as he is giving us 1000 gifts every moment.  It’s our privilege to be able to stop and notice them.  As we notice these gifts, we are noticing all the ways God loves us.  We are giving thanks to his glory and letting the Holy Spirit fill us with joy. 

Two months in… and as my list continues to grow longer, the rain seems to be letting up.  Sure, I’m still soaked when I step outside, but instead of focusing on the rain, I see, taste, hear, and enjoy all of the million sunbeams shining through. 

So for now…

252. Sharpened lead to paper

253. The smell of fresh pencil shavings

254. Legs carrying me on a walk to school

255. Wind carrying the sound of shrieking laughter

256. Missing my train to stop and share an apple

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The City is Calling

Standing at the top, I easily let the feeling of accomplishment wash over me as the wind dances wildly through my hair and my heartbeat pulsates from the steep elevation.  Standing at the top, it’s easy to look down at the journey I’ve just taken, up the long, rocky trails through pastures and acres of land.  And for a second, I can just take in this moment and be happy.

Of course, it’s only for a second.  Then my mind starts to wander about the journey I’ve just taken and how hypocritical I’ve been.

Spending a week in Derbyshire for a conference with my fellow YAGMs, we were given the opportunity to go on a hike led by one of the professors leading lectures.  We set off in the morning, and I loved falling behind at the back of the pack – camera in hand - as I looked through my lens attempting to capture the beauty the Artist created.  I focused and I gave thanks, over and over again zooming in clarity and clicking the shutter. 

Thinking from the top, not once on the journey up did I ever falter or doubt.  I trusted blindly in the professor and expected to complete the hike safe through his guidance.  I did not know where I was, what trail to take, or what would happen when I reached the top.  All I did was continue to move forward, one foot in front of the other, camera in hand, in perfect harmony with the movement of the wind and the people in front of me. 

The hypocrisy lies in the contrast in which I trust in God.  Here walking up this unknown mountain, I could trust in our guide and enjoy while giving thanks to God.  Yet every day in my unknown climb through this mountain called life, I doubt and I worry and I falter.  Every day I forget, and every day I must remind myself that it is not about a guide but The Guide leading me, as I put one foot in front of the other.
Mountain hikes have always held significant meaning in my heart, and I know I will always think of this particular journey as the important reminder of ultimate trust.  

This week was one of rejuvenation, of growing friendship and intellectual conversation.  It was also an easy week, living in the comfort of a college where my meals were prepared for me and the dishes were cleaned behind common eyesight view.  I was taken cared for by the staff, and only had to follow the schedule given to me (once again, just blindly trusting without given thought).  As I return to London, hesitation comes naturally to the known hardships corresponding with the true aspects of simple living, but I remind myself to trust in God as I put one foot in front of the other.  I must continue to move forward, on the narrow path leading me on.

The mountains speak their ever powerful voice in the structural awe in which they’ve been created.  But I cannot stay. My real mountain this year lies in the city; in my budgeted spending, classroom planning, ceiling leaking hike, in the true, hard beauty in the eyes of the Artist.   
So I pack my bags.  The city is calling, and I must go.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I’m Hungry.  It’s 11:00, I have two more lessons to teach, my lunch break isn’t until 12:30, and I’m so hungry. 
I really have no time to sneak in a biscuit or cup of tea.  It’s time to pick up my next student and I press onward as my stomach grumbles.  We go over the student’s sound pack and work on the short vowel sounds.  We spell tricky words like “could” and read a book about a dragon.  The student gets a sticker for their good work.  I take them back to their class and pick up my next student.  One down, one more to go.  Then I can eat.
By this point I have a hunger headache and am having a hard time concentrating on my once detailed lesson plan.  My student is a chatterbox today, finding every distraction possible in the room to look at and talk about, rather than read the book we must get through.  Eventually, we make it to the end, and chatter wins as we walk back to their classroom.  I drop them off with their teacher as their class queues at the door.  At this point, three flights of stairs separate me from my lunch. 
As I’m walking up, the hunger makes my mind wander and I think of my students I’ve seen today.  All second language students, their English vocabulary is limited and they work extra hard every day to try and learn in a classroom that doesn’t speak their first language.  Vowels are the trickiest to learn, and for every rule we learn about spelling I have to explain the many exceptions that follow.  Some students have lived in London their whole life, some have just moved here, but their ethnicities range from Turkish to Pakistani, to Colombian, to Hispanic, to Jamaican, to Nigerian.  One girl out of my 15 students is British.
I stop mid-step up the stairs and I think about how distracted I was during my lessons today.  As I taught one of my boys, his jumper was torn and his shirt carried the sticker he earned during yesterday’s lesson.  Another forgot their glasses at home for the second time in a row.  I had two bowls of cereal this morning and am wearing clean clothes, about to eat the abundant lunch I packed this morning from my cupboards stocked with groceries. 
Suddenly I don’t think I’m quite as hungry as I thought. 
I have 15 children this year, which I’ll see one-on-one twice a week for 40 minutes at a time.  I cannot control their past, I cannot control how clean their clothes are or if they have been coming to school for free breakfast.  What I can control are the 40 precious minutes I spend with them twice a week.  When they can come to Springboard and receive individualized attention, working through their weaknesses and highlighting their strengths.
40 minutes.  That’s all I have.  But I’ll take those 2,400 seconds and work slowly though the complicated English language.  At first I was nervous to work with Springboard, not having a degree in education or understanding the whole notion of teaching phonics.  But I am human, and that gives me the knowledge to understand the importance of a child’s right to succeed.  The right to play.  The right to be loved.   
"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Bread

After an hour journey spent traveling underground and walking on foot, we were finally greeted with familiarity: the Lutheran seal.  A fellow YAGM, Erin, and I were spending the weekend in central London.  Realizing the opportunity, we set off this morning to find the church we grew up in, hoping to feel closer to home. 

Walking into the sanctuary, I experienced a different kind of sensation, recognizing (without knowing before) I had missed the red hymnals and traditional services.  The simply beauty in the room left me craning my neck to look for every detailed arch and feeling humbly small next to the golden pipes of the organ.  We broke bread together, we sang together, and gave thanks.

At the end of the service, newcomers were asked to stand and tell our hometowns.  As Erin and I stood, we made eye contact thinking the similar thought, “Do we say that we are YAGMs?!”  We took the plunge, giving up our identity and admitting that we are missionaries within the Lutheran church.  It just so happened that this Sunday was the new Pastor’s first Sunday as well, starting God’s calling with the help of the same program (Time for God) Erin and I are affiliated with. Feeling an instant bond in the knowing of the complexity and hard beauty in the journey we are all sharing, we also realized we’ll be attending the same conferences throughout the year.

So here I found myself with two other Lutherans, from different parts of the United States but tangled together in the same journey, trying to figure out why God has called us to be here… surrounded in a body of Lutherans from all different parts of the world under the same roof. 

 Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.    

Friday, September 20, 2013

conducting across generations

I realize much of my writing has been circling around themes of navigation, yet as the words flow, formed letter by letter by the click of my fingers connected to my heart, I can’t help but think of my surrounding journeys taking place.  And the theme must surface once more.

As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, I am able to look left and right, following the tracks carrying trains which carry passengers swiftly in the direction of our choice.  The rain taps lightly down into a glistening mist, as humans are bundled tight while holding their newspapers and thermoses of hot tea close.  It’s quiet.  The next train isn’t due for another 3 minutes.  Without the hum of the tracks shaking against the mighty vibrations of the train, the stillness in the air creates a gentle environment.  Still not solid on which train I am supposed to get on, I look at the map to my side once more.   How do I know to go left or go right?  How do I know to stand on platform 3 instead of platform 1?  How do I know?  I wonder.

My grandfather worked as a conductor for the Pennsylvania train station, calling out the station stops across the North Philadelphia line.  Growing up with him, if he wasn’t singing his Central High School Alma Mater, he would call out the stops for his grandchildren; giving us a piece of history and chapter to his story.  As a brilliant man who helped build rockets and went on to be the Dean of Engineering at a major university, I knew him as my PopPop Tex, the man who sent me postcards wherever he traveled and kept a picture I drew of him in his wallet.  Before bedtime, my brother and I would read books about trains and have our PopPop call out the stations to us.   “Calling out, Trenton, Newark, New York, Willington, Baltimore, Delaware and Chestnut Hill Local”
As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, the speaker system announces in a voice ever British, “This is the southern service to Beckham Junction, calling out stops at Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, North Dulwich, Tulse Hill, Streatham.”
Tulse Hill.  That’s my stop.

This summer, I was able to spend cherished time with my grandpa.  The catch: he didn’t know he was spending time with me.  As Alzheimer’s destroys every synapse to his memory, I have become a fluent ever-passing moment in his mind, never to be remembered - but always to be loved.  I was able to watch with awe as he filled his days with blind trust to the kindness in humanity surrounding him.  He relied on questions, trusting the loving strangers sitting close could provide answers, and never held back to express his gratitude.  His thank you, “I’m going to tell you I love you every way I know how.”

As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, I smile.  I look left and right at the tracks leading the trains, and thank God for conducting me through this life.  For now, I can choose and know which train stop is mine to get to school, but as I think of my grandpa, I’d like to rely on the blind trust of knowing there is a much bigger track I am on, with the diesel’s hum of faith leading the way.  God knows. He knows.  You don’t need no ticket, just thank the Lord.    

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kao Fela Rea Tsoana

Sitting around the table, I feel a whole world encompassed around 10 chairs.  Two people from America, two people from Germany, two people from Spain, two people from Korea, and two people from England.  While money is tight and budgets need to be kept, tonight we cannot help but indulge.  There is food to be eaten, music to be sung, cards to be played, and company to be enjoyed.  We all speak different languages and carry different accidents, yet we share in the common language of human spirit and zest for life.  Tonight, we give thanks.

Being invited to my first BBQ was something to delight in.  As a newcomer in a foreign city, a simple invite in the giving meant so much to the receiver, and I had been looking forward to this night all week.  This may seem silly, but to be able to say I had plans made me feel less like an outsider and more like I belonged. 

In a city of diversity, this display of culture has become quite normal.  When I was invited to this event, I was told it was a BBQ and envisioned grilled hamburgers and corn on the cob.  Instead, I was greeted with traditional Korean food.  I savored beef and pork overflowing into lettuce wraps with radishes, spicy sauces, and rice.  And it was great!
While languages flowed in forms of many, we all knew a common game: Uno!   So we rejoiced and we played. 

Having experienced and fallen in love with the culture of Lesotho in 2011, I carry a saying close in my heart as I experience everyday living: Kao Fela Rea Tsoana.  We are all the same. 
We come from different backgrounds and we’ve lived many different lives, but we each have a heart that beats an average of 108,000 times a day and we cry tears and laugh and dream dreams when we lay our head to rest at night.  We are connected.  We are all the same.

So tonight, I thank God for the opportunity to learn in the abundance of human diversity and common uniformity.  I thank God for rich food and the warmth of laughter that can fill a room in thick happiness.  It’s moments like these that bring the importance of this YAGM year into perspective.  It’s about everyday living and the messages of worship I can learn from merely sitting around a table.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wandering and Wondering

I was the girl who got her license and then became lost driving in the town I had lived in my whole life.  It took me 3 years to figure out how to get home from college, even though it was a 30 min drive straight down 675.  To say I’m directionally challenged is a little bit of an understatement, and here I find myself in the middle of a city of roughly 8 million, expected to find my own way.

On Friday, I traveled for the first time to one of the two schools I’ll be working in.  For directions… I was relying on a hand-drawn map to show me the way.  Even though I knew this map was correct, I found myself extremely out of my comfort zone as I headed out into the drizzling rain. I couldn’t help but notice my state of vulnerability for the task ahead; walking to find a train station, finding the right platform, knowing when my stop was, and then finding the school.  My heart was beating quicker than normal as I clung to my bag and umbrella, my feet soaked after a few steps in my journey.  I kept one hand in the pocket of my rain jacket, clinging to the piece of paper with the map to provide a source of comfort.  But before I had even made it to my train station, many seeds of doubt had been planted in my mind that I was lost. 

As another YAGM recently wrote in his blog, “divinity comes in the most uncommon ways to us.” (shout out, Nick Tasker)  Mine came this particular Friday morning through a message painted on the side of a building.  As I turned a corner to continue my walk to the train station, I was greeted by graffiti that suddenly made my heart feel lighter and my feet more confident.  The message:
Those who wander aren’t lost.
Those who wonder aren’t lost.

This year is going to be a lesson in trust.  Trusting I am on the right path (no matter how twisted it may be!), trusting in the help of others, trusting myself, trusting God.  Not only will I be traveling to new places, but I’ll experience new sights, challenges, questions, and thoughts.  I won’t always know where I am, what I’m doing, or why I am here.  But if I should remember one thing, I’d like to have the image of that graffiti rooted in my mind. 

I am never lost in the eyes of God. 
p.s. I made it to my school!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Amazing Grace

Many hours after going to church together, my roommate from Germany, Mathea,  and I were sitting on the couch relaxing and doing a bit of reading.  She asked me a simple question, which turned into a wonderful conversation about culture and the language of faith. 

Her question: “Katharine, what does Grace mean?”
During the sermon this morning, God’s grace was probably mentioned about 40 times.  We are saved by Grace, Grace pours through us, Let God’s grace shine out through you… but what does Grace mean? 
My roommate and I would both label ourselves as Christians, yet we come from different cultures and in this relationship lies beauty in the differences our cultures bring, including the difference in language.  She teaches me every day, by helping me to look at the lessons that have been engrained in me through my cultural lens, and in turn, I am able to look into hers. 

May our relationship grow as we break down the tip of the iceberg and dive deeper into cultural conversations of identities, language, and religion.  May I continue to be questioned about the labels given in faith by our language, and may I struggle to find the answers in order to grow in my own understand of what it means to answer God’s call of unconditional love.

p.s.  If you would like to follow Mathea's blog and have some fun translating German, you can follow her experience with Springboard through this address: http://matheasmadmemories.jimdo.com/

Sunday, August 25, 2013

London Untold

I say London… what’s the first thing you think of?  Buckingham palace guarded with stoic and mighty sentries – crisp red coats with high, black bearskins? The architecture of Westminster Abbey with every crevasse and corner detailed with sculpture, scripture, and beauty beyond your eye?  The pure power of the height of Big Ben? 

I have to admit; I experienced all of these fascinations yesterday and fully enjoyed soaking in the royal, historical beauty central London holds.

But this is not the story I will be living this year.     

Instead, picture diversity. People living in close quarters... originally from all over world - but arriving here to live in a city scarce of trees, but abundant in concrete and culture.  Picture a street filled with noise in all forms: traffic, music, and different languages being spoken.  Street vendors offering food from all over the world, Africa, Asia, Central Europe… and bright artistic colors of scarves, jewelry, and advertisements.  Housing where clothing is hung to dry and dishes are washed by hand. 

This is the story of London that I will be living.  In a part of town that tourists never see.  But just because it has been hidden from the money’s eye doesn’t mean it isn’t worth telling.  It’s a different picture, but it’s beautiful.         

I invite you to look at your own town you live in.  I imagine there are the highlights of places you would recommend to a visitor – the best food, entertainment, and thrill.  But what about the areas where we are quick to turn our eyes blind?  Why don’t we speak of those areas as well?  What prohibits us from learning the stories from the people who weren’t given the privilege to have a voice?  My hope is to give this voice.  To never turn a blind eye but instead have the courage to look straight into the layers of injustice and poverty… and ask why.    

It’s about solidarity.  Interdependence.  Mutuality.   

Thursday, August 22, 2013


25 October, 2012: A YAGM alum comes to Wittenberg to talk about her experience in Uruguay.

1 February, 2013: My YAGM application is turned in

7 February, 2013: I have my first phone interview with a YAGM alum

28 February, 2013: I have my second phone interview with a YAGM staff member

Tuesday, 19 March, 2013 4:20 PM: I receive my invitation to the discernment interview process

18 April, 2013: DIP weekend arrives, travel plans are changed, and a small road trip commences

21 April, 2013: I receive my placement with the United Kingdom

Thursday, 25 April, 2013 12:46 PM:  I accept!

11 May, 2013: I walk across the stage at commencement to receive my diploma

4 August, 2013: Peace Lutheran’s arms outstretch as I receive a blessing to continue God’s mission

14 August, 2013: I say my final goodbyes as I head to Chicago for Orientation

21 August, 2013 4:05 PM: We say a prayer as our flight takes off for the UK

22 August, 2013: I look out my new bedroom window into the London landscape, thinking of the timeline that brought me here and the many people that carried me along the way.     

Romans 12: 2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Going on a Treasure Hunt

Saturday night we were greeted with a challenge:  “Get into your country groups and take these clues to find your dinner location. Your YAGM alum from your country will be waiting for you!”  We were given the clues along with a bus pass, and scrambled to collect ourselves to journey through the city – we were really hungry and determined to find this place fast!

About 40 minutes later we were famished, but greeted with a victory – a quaint British pub equipped with fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. 

 We realized each country group was able to dine at a restaurant that was unique to our country’s culture, but in order to get there we had to navigate the way.  This required a lot of walking, dependence on public transportation, and not being afraid to ask for help.  Reflecting back, it was a great way to glimpse into the coming year, when I’ll have to blindly trust I am going the right direction and depend on human kindness to offer me help along the way.

I think one of the important lessons I am learning this week is the use of public transportation.  Growing up in the suburbs, I never had to rely on a bus or train to travel.  I had the luxury of a car, with spacious room, and air conditioning or heat to control.  As one who becomes overwhelmed in crowds, I’m learning a fast lesson that this simply does not matter when riding the bus or train.  We all pack in together because we all have somewhere to go.   While thinking about navigating all of this by myself next year, instead of worrying about getting lost or claustrophobic., I anticipate a great feeling of accomplishment when I’ll be able to venture out on a destination by myself successfully (and safely, of course!). 

As for now, we travel in wonderful groups as we learn and experience Christ (and Chicago) together! 
God's peace, 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near and the world is about to turn

Orientation has begun! And with this week rolling conversation have started of deep faith and welcomed discomfort.  Connections are made fast here.  YAGMs do not waste time finding out a person’s favorite color or movie.  Instead, the conversation seems to immediately jump to expressing our hopes of what this year could possibly bring, our deepest fears of the unknown grace, and how we can shake the foundation of the church for a positive change.  Deep. Stuff. 

I have to admit, saying the final goodbyes were hard.  Something I had long been dreading and was maybe deliriously thinking would never actually have to happen.  There were tears before the airport.  Tears at the airport.  Tears through security.  At the gate.  However, I wish that those who were tearful along with me, but had to stay behind, could have been able to somehow experience and see the community I was immediately welcomed into the moment I arrived in Chicago.  It was very comforting to be surrounded by peers who also just had to make some hard goodbyes, but understood and deeply knew they were on the right journey as well. 

Vulnerability is a key theme this week, as we discuss and question the meaning of becoming a servant for Jesus.  This morning’s discussion focused around the idea of accompaniment, in which the values of solidarity, interdependence, and mutuality connect a community together.  As I try to grasp about the idea of being labeled as a missionary, I can really hold on to these key ingredients of building relationships wherever I may wonder.

As for now, I just want to keep listening.  Every YAGM has a story to tell, which to me means a new story to learn from.  May we always keep our eyes to serve… our hands to learn.  Come walk with us, the journey is long.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Let me be a neighbor to the world

I volunteered for vacation bible school for two main reasons 1) I love kids and 2) I thought this could be a small way of giving back to the church that has so deliberately and compassionately supported me into my journey with Young Adults in Global Mission. I didn’t know what I would be doing at vbs, or even what the theme of the week was. All of my intentions were focused on serving God and allowing children to shine.

When I stepped into Peace Lutheran on Monday morning, I was greeted with colorful and larger than life decorations, many of which included flags from different countries. My eyes immediately focused on the United Kingdom flag, and many of the London decorations surrounding me. Without knowing it, I had volunteered myself to lead children (with an outstanding and amazing team of other volunteers) through a week of games focused on the theme of neighbors around the world.

Talk about a shout from God saying “Your journey is unfolding as it should be!”

The main scripture of the week: Luke 10: 27-28 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself”

Each day we would “travel” to a new country and learn how while we might be in a different place, we are still all neighbors and should treat each other likewise. On Wednesday, we traveled to the United Kingdom and, through the story of the Good Samaritan, learned how neighbors should be bold; always looking to help and serve other people. It was quite a surprise to learn that while I was leaving for London in 2.5 weeks, I would first be teaching a lesson about being a neighbor wherever we might go.  My hope is that I can carry this lesson with me as I live a year in another place and remember this simple message of kindness.

As if that week already wasn’t the perfect reminder I needed about why I decided to embark on this journey, Sunday was greeted with a commissioning service from my congregation that included scripture, prayer, and the most spiritual support I’ve ever felt at one time from so many people.  A reading from Romans brought me close to tears, as I was reminded of the direction in which to view and experience life: how to live as a true Christian. 

Romans 12: 9-13 “Let love be genuine: hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.“

As I start to really prepare for this journey and get caught up in the stress of packing and planning, may I be reminded of children singing “let me be a neighbor to the world” and showing their innocent knowledge of how to love others.  Let me be friendly, let me be giving, let me be bold, let me be forgiving, and let me be welcoming.  Let me live out the lessons I taught at VBS and continue to spread the love of Christ that was instilled inside me.       

This day, I give thanks for my family.  For my friends.   For all of the many notes, cards, phone calls, texts, and e-mails of support.  For treasured time spent with loved ones.  For simplicity.  And for my mom’s homemade puppy chow.    

God’s Peace,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Life is Good and so is God

 My first blog entry can only be started by saying a simple, yet true message of thanks.  Jesus calls us to serve, but never to serve alone.  I know I could not be embarking on this journey, nor would have the strength to consider this dream from the beginning, if it weren’t for your support.  The beauty of human connection lies in the diversity of our gifts and talents.  Every person in my life has blessed me with their own form of support, whether spiritual, financial, or emotional.  So really and truly, thank you.  As a small way of saying thanks, it is my goal to capture this journey I am on in words through this blog.  We can walk together in God’s calling to grow in His vast kingdom of Love.

So this is it!  On August 14 I will officially begin my year with Young Adults in Global Mission.  What started as a simple whisper of an idea has turned into a journey far greater than I could have imagined.  For those who may not know, I will be living and serving in London, England.  While living right inside the city, I will be serving with Springboard for Children; a nonprofit organization dedicated in helping underprivileged children excel in reading and writing.

If you’re a visual person like I am, feel free to watch their YouTube clip below! 

I have to admit… when I first heard where I was being placed; I couldn’t help but think of Joey Tribbiani’s voice shouting, “LONDON, BABY!”  But apart from my slight obsession with Friends, this placement is nothing of what I expected and everything of what I needed.  I’ve never felt such a tug from God saying, “Come. Walk this way.  Follow me.  This is where you should be going.” 

It is quite the experience to give up the steering wheel.  Our culture is built upon power and material, but seemingly strips away faith and connection.  Becoming a YAGM has already taught me the importance of trusting the journey; of understanding the difference between service and servanthood; of letting God lead.   

As for now, the final three week countdown has commenced.  I am thankful for the time I’ve had this summer to spend with family and friends; to prepare (if you ever can) for the emotional component of saying so many goodbyes and unknown future hellos.  I pray for all of the 2012-13 YAGM’s returning safely from their year of service and for all of the 2013-14 YAGM’s preparing for their year ahead.     

Life is good and so is God!