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: