Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?

Go to England, Go to Nashville, Attend General Conference, Get a 4.0 (spring semester) in school post-high school, hitch-hike, Road-trip across the US, ride (and purchase!) a road bike, dress in full spandex and think it was normal (for biking, of course!), Visit family (and meet some new!) in Arizona, see the Grand Canyon, Donate to a political campaign, step into the ecumenical movement of the NCCC, Travel to Israel.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't believe in "resolutions," but I always like to have a set of goal I am working towards. Last January, my goals were updated to continue living life as fully as possible, "making room for surprises and new possibilities to truly LIVE and explore the opportunities God places in front of me." I absolutely did that, and I hope that stays on my "to-do" list for years to come. Second, I wanted to keep focusing on my health in positive ways. I could have done better at this, but since all of the walking and hiking on our trip to Israel proved that I was among the most fit in the group, I must be doing ok. Always more to work on, though!

I haven't decided upon any new, specific "goals" for the new year, but I've been tossing them around and surely will post them at a later date.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes!! Laura (from seminary) gave birth to precious Lily in January, and Laura (from home in SD) gave birth to adorable Aeryn in July. (We'll soon know if the Bakers will give birth to little Stinker before the new year, of if it will be the first birth of the new year!!!)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not close to me, but close to people I am close to. Its not any easier, and I still think of them often (especially Scott Williams... and Aaron Beier).

5. What countries did you visit?

England (twice!) and Israel.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A Master of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. and my best friend living nearby (that can't happen, but you asked...).

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Election Day. November 4. (and with it November 5). The election. Life changing for millions, and the role I got to play in it. I will NEVER forget being in Grant Park that night.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I don't know? I believe each one leads into the next. Really. So - completing another year of school? Or perhaps the Ride:Well Tour and how much I grew from it as a result of risking so much personally to "put myself out there," be stretched, and to grow.

9. What was your biggest failure?

The word "failure" is such a harsh word, don't you think? I don't like it.
I certainly wish my communication were greater, my focus were better (especially for school), and I always always always need to work more on personal devotion time.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I was sick (cold/flu etc) for a couple months at the beginning of the year, that was a pain. Otherwise nothing seriously. (though I am thinking about having my knee looked at...)

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Plane tickets. Traveling is the best form of introspection.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Voters. With few exceptions, I was VERY impressed with how many elections turned out this year, big and small. (though few, the exceptions are important ones)

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Relating to previous questions, some voters. Such as those who voted against Proposition 8 in California. It is depressing to see such injustice and such blatant discrimination justified in our laws.

14. Where did most of your money go?

School and related bills (rent!). Outside of bills, to traveling.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The United Methodist Church, Blood:Water Mission, Cycling, Elections.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

so, so so many, especially from the Ride:Well Tour. If I had to pick only one, I suppose it would be Believe by The Bravery. But I could probably list 20.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? More serious, but I do not think that means either.
ii. thinner or heavier? Heavier.
iii. richer or poorer? Poorer financially, but richer in all other ways of the word.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Spend time with close friends, been more active with causes I believe in.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Less time being upset over trivial things, less time working.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

I spent Christmas Eve morning with friends in Bethlehem, then the evening at worship with some of the same friends in Jerusalem, then traveled on all of Christmas Day. I celebrated Christmas with family on the 27th in South Dakota.

21. How will you be spending New Year's Eve?

I have no idea. Maybe home writing and catching up on work? Exciting, I know.\

22. Did you fall in love in 2008?

With ideas and friends, but not with anyone "special."

23. How many one-night stands?

Seriously? Where did this question come from? The closest I've come to that is to stand for one night to keep me awake as I read a book or write a paper in the quiet of my apartment.

24. What was your favorite TV program of just 2008?

In the spring it was still Grey's Anatomy - the only show I watched each week. I haven't even seen that since September, if that tells you anything about how much TV I watch.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Hate is a powerful, dirty word. I would say NO.

26. What was the best book you read?

Unfortunately, I started several and finished few. Few that weren't for school, that is. Book I spent the most time with? The United Methodist Book of Discipline. A book I actually completed and loved? Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies"

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

2, I suppose: The Killers (thanks, Blocker!), and Matthew Perryman Jones

28. What did you want and got?

To continue traveling and embarking on new adventures, to complete another year of school, good heath and great friends. Oh, and new winter coat!!

29. What did you want but didn't get?

My student loans paid off. That would be nice.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

That's tough. There were some great ones this year. More than the movies, I have favorite memories attached to them, but I suppose that doesn't count much for this question...

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 24, and I was exhuasted from General Conference that ended the day before! I woke up to have breakfast with a friend in Dallas (always good to see Becca!), then flew home to Chicago, where I likely crashed upon arrival. Exciting day, huh?

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

More positive feedback and support from my Conference as I continue toward ordination to do that which I feel called to, not that which they want me to do so I can "fill an empty spot," which is how it sometimes feels.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

I wear what I can afford. Which means lots of jeans and lots of t-shirts (we got 9 free on the Ride:Well tour alone!). I also really like brown, and I wear a lot of scarves. Both for warmth, and for decoration.

34. What kept you sane?

Good friends.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Probably Obama. Not because I think he's perfect or that I will like everything he does, but because of the hope and change he represents. I am confident in his new administration that will be here very soon. But lets be honest, I also absolutely love Ellen.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Homosexuality. and the Death Penalty. and... well... you know- all of those "hot button" issues for which I am often accused of being "liberal."

37. Who did you miss?

My great-grandmother and Jenny, may they rest in peace. Some friends around the world I wish I could see more often. Also Eliot, Ruby, Megs, Allison and a few other friends that I actually still see once in a while but have drifted from.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

Ride:WellTeamLeanne. (that can count as one since there are no spaces, right?)

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008:

What it truly means/looks like to spend significant amounts of time out of my comfort zone... and how to find me in there.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

For some reason this is always difficult, so I leave you with an old song:

Confused enough to know direction,
sun eclipsed enough to shine
be still enough to finally tremble
see enough to know I'm blind
-Faith Enough, Jars of Clay

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A note from Israel

Today was an incredible day.

It started at 5am when I went with “the Trio” (Leanne, Emily and myself) down to the shoreline to watch the sunrise. So we sat, arm in arm in the dark by the waterside and listened to the waves crash into the shore from the Sea of Galilee. Every once in a while someone would whisper softly something like, “how many times do you think Jesus sat in this very spot and did this very thing?” As the sun slowly rose and night turned to day, we found ourselves shifting from the rocks on which we were perched and meddling in the cool water. I stood ankle deep and let the waves splash up as the sun came up. We saw an otter and lots of beautiful birds. We felt the cool wind. We shared knowing glances. As more friends from out trip joined us, we gathered around a small glass of wine and a pita, prayed the Great Thanksgiving together, and shared in a Holy meal of Communion. It was beautiful, and we could not have asked for a better start to our day.

Our morning was a busy one, complete with frustrations of timelines and busy schedules. We didn’t let it get to us for long, though, for we could not help but find great joy in all we were surrounded by. We made a stop at Enherod, the site where God separated Gideon’s army into 300. The water was far from what we wanted to drink from today, but the park in which it lay was absolutely gorgeous, and full of new forms of vegetation like a “spikey” tree.

After a brief stop at Bet Alfa, a synagogue with incredible ancient mosaics from some of the earliest Christians, we spent several hours at Bet She’an. Bet She’an was a city that has been dated back thousands of years, the final remains of which were finally a Roman city that had been destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century. This place was incredible as we seemed to almost casually walk through ruins of cities that were at least 1400 years old. It was beyond anything our minds could grasp. As we walked into a big, beautiful ampitheatre, our favorite professor, Dr. KK Yeo, asked us if we would sing for them on the stage. (We have been singing the whole trip, and were asked to sing the previous day at worship as well). We could not pass up the opportunity, so after our brief lecture, made our way down to the stage as our colleagues waited in the top row. We made our way onto the ancient stage and were told we “looked like ants” as everyone grew quiet. Leanne started us and together we sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” It was indeed another holy moment that sent chills up my spine as our voices carried throughout the outdoor amphitheatre just as they would have thousands of years before. Incredible… and this was only the first stop of many within this incredible ancient city. It was a worthwhile walk, included a nice hike to a chapel on a hill, and lots of time to walk, pray, sing, laugh, and take photos.

A Crusade fortress only slightly out of our way was a good visit to another part of our history. We have parts or our history that do not always feel so holy, but it was still incredible to visit and see what such a fortress Christian soldiers lived in was like. It was complete with a large moat, windows only large enough to shoot arrows through, and large courtyards where we could easily envision Crusaders mingling, sleeping, or sharing meals. It was a beautiful fortress with a dark history, and I am thankful we could include this piece of our history with the rest of our journey.

Our last stop of the day was perhaps the most anticipated visit of the entire trip for many: the Jordan River. I wish I could find words to begin to describe to you this experience. The stop started off quite differently from how we imagined, as it we went to a place on the river that was clearly designed for tourists. However, the holiness of this place easily prevailed over that frustration, and we were overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit among us. In fact, the reminder of what makes this river holy may even have made this more holy for us. Mark 1:9-11 was written on the walls around us in every language you could imagine; we could not come up with a language we knew that was not written somewhere around us. Nor could we count the languages being spoken around us. God is so good… and speaks to us in so many languages…

The Jordan River. What can one say? We shared in a service of prayer and thanksgiving as we renewed our baptisms. We watched in awe and wonder as many around us were being baptized in the very same waters Jesus was so very many years ago. We listened to the song of our Orthodox brothers singing just down the way. We prayerfully sang a few of our own songs as we held each other close. Some of the holiest moments we shared were caught on film by others as we were oblivious to the cameras around us. The video of our singing as we stood in the river swaying back and forth gives evidence to the radiating joy we were feeling in the moment. I was blessed to be anointed in the river by a dear friend, and even more blessed by the time of prayer we shared together in a holy huddle. It was indeed a very short hour of prayer, peace, as the love of God and the love of my dear sisters created for us a moment to never be forgotten. It was a holy moment that I may never be able to fully conceive, and I am all the better for that glorious holy mystery.

This was only one day of this incredible journey. I imagine it will go down as one of the most incredible days of my life... I have so many unforgettable memories from today that I imagine when I remember them, I will not believe they all happened on the same day.

(I tried to include pictures, but they wouldn't load. If we have better internet tomorrow, I'll update with them then)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hey Ya! Charlie Brown Style

Good for a smile. Watch to the end... it only gets better! :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Advent Poetry

My friend Charlie has decided to create a blog for the season of Advent. It is lovely. In an attempt to allow Advent to be a place and time to slow down, he will post a new piece of poetry every day through Christmas. So far, I am enjoying what he has written. I encourage you to check it out as well: adventpoetry.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Heart is at "Home"

Sometimes, it is very, very difficult to be away from that place that I will always call "home."

Sometimes, "only" a phone call away sounds like a terrible nightmare.

I got a dreaded phone call today that my grandmother is in ICU after a surgery on a blood clot. While I was VERY upset that this call came more than 15 hours after she entered the hospital, I am relieved to know that things are looking really good and she may even be sent home as early as tomorrow.

In the same conversation, I was filled in on the incredibly tragic stories of other things going on at home. Another suicide of a young man - only 24 years old, and graduated a year behind me in high school. Heartbreaking news. It gets worse: there was an accident in the middle of his procession from the funeral to the burial today.

To add to my frustration, I have spent the day reading and writing a paper on John Calvin's theology of predestination and how that applies to Christian life. The only thing good about writing this paper is that I am learning what I do not believe, hence I am more able to articulate what I do. Calvin's theology is, in many ways, so contrary to my own that I am incredibly frustrated to "listen" to someone talk about life, death, struggles, sin, faith, etc in such distant ways... as statistics or facts rather than as individuals, lives, beautiful and worthy creations of God that we are. It is difficult to read that God uses all things for good and that everything that happens has been pre-ordained by God. Really? My grandmother may be okay, and for that I am thankful. But what does this say about my friend's 16-year-old brother who died in a car accident just over 2 weeks ago? Or was the young man from my home town destined to be so miserable that he would want to take his own life?

I don't think so. We have more than that. We have hope. I think it appropriate to come back to what has been one of my favorite quotes since I first read his biography during college... from none other than Harvey Milk... now a familiar name to many as his story appropriately made it to the big screen. Mr. Milk leaves us with these words:

“You cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living."

World AIDS Day: Rhythm of Life

My friend Mike shared this with me with a simple, brief message for all of us:
"even in our silence....it stirs". You have one life...do something

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is World AIDS Day

We know the statistics. We've heard the stories. We're even hearing it from children now.

What are you going to do today to make a difference?

Will you stop caring tomorrow, when the global attention has ceased?

We really can be an HIV-free generation. The future is now, and we must act together.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Work is Yet to Come

I am as excited, have been as numb-struck with emotion, have celebrated and prayed with my fellow citizens of the world. I am proud to be an American. I am proud to be a part of the generation that has made it possible for us to now give the title President-Elect to Barack Obama.

I also know that while I never have been before and perhaps never will again be so supportive of a candidate, this candidate will also let me down from time to time. There are a lot of reasons I voted for Mr. Obama, a lot of reasons to support him. Yet there are also some policies I am sure he will implement that I do not like. I suppose the only way for that to cease to be true, is to run for office myself (and even then I am not sure).

One thing we MUST do is continue to be active. To call attention to things that are important to us, to continue letting him know what really matters to us. We did this by the millions during the election, and we need to continue this activism well into his term.

President-Elect Obama has spoken out against injustice. One of the greatest injustices of the world is to strip someone of their humanity. In the US, we are guilty of doing this. We implement the death penalty, we refuse to give persons a fair trial, we use torture tactics on our enemies. The list is endless.

One way to help assure President-Elect Obama will take proper steps in continuing our fight for justice is to support Amnesty International. Their website is full of rich resources and information if you are looking to learn more about a given topic or to find out the most recent proceedings in an area of interest. They are also a great organization that helps us to pool our resources and work together for a greater good. Right now, they are calling on Obama to make human rights central to his new administration's work. They are looking for your support in calling him to take action during his first 100 days in office.

To read more, visit Amnesty International USA's website. To read and sign the 100 Days Petition, you may follow this link.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Eric Volz :: on being re-tried in Nicaragua

You may remember this unjust 'trial' and imprisonment of Eric Volz not too long ago. I have a mutual friend with Eric, and he posted this on Facebook this afternoon. I hope you will watch, follow, act, and pray with him.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ecumenical Conferencing

I have not done much Ecumenical work in the past. Mostly, I think this is because it is something I have taken for granted and not thought of as something that was in great need of being a "movement."

When I was invited to attend the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church Word Service, I jumped. I have been here for two days now, and after spending that time with the (first ever) young adult conference "New Fire," I cannot believe how much I have learned. I have heard incredible testimonies and been moved by intentional holy conferencing. I have struggled to be patient and love brothers and sisters who seem to sometimes argue for the sake of arguing. I have learned about denominations I did not even know existed, and my eyes have been opened to the importance of seeking communion as one united body of Christ.

Our group of 12 young adult stewards spent today getting to know each other better, coming to understand our roles over the next few days better, and wrapping up logistics for the next few days. The conference begins in the morning, and I look forward to watching and being a part of this conference as it unfolds. It will be very different than the past few days, and if its anything like the past few, I know it will be demanding and difficult, engaging and empowering, challenging, and encouraging. I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Historic Victory

Tonight will go down as one of the most memorable nights of my life. One of the most memorable nights of my generation. It will go down as a historic day to be remembered and memorized for generations to come.

Barack Obama has been elected the President of The United States of America. Immediately following John McCain's concession, Obama gave a brilliant acceptance speech in Grant Park - in downtown Chicago. I was one of 70,000 granted a ticket to this event, and still cannot believe I was there and got to be there to see and hear (LIVE!) this historic event.

I have to say I was *really* impressed with the work of the Chicago Police and the CTA. Everything ran smoothly, and I don't think it could have been organized better. Well done. I wonder if this will help them with the bid for the Olympics, now that they've proven they can handle such a large-scale event?

Barack Obama will be sworn into office on January 20, 2009. I can't wait for the change that is yet to come. The long process of change ahead begins tomorrow, when two new people are granted full access to files in the White House so they may begin preparing for their terms and "hit the ground running."

A few other thoughts:
I am VERY pleased that this election went as I wish it always did: the winning ticket claims the majorit in BOTH the Electoral AND the Popular vote. Incredible.

John McCain gave a decent concession speech, but he was really hard on himself. He clearly took this loss very personally, and although I'm glad he didn't win, it was hard to listen to and my heart ached for him.

When I got home, I turned on the news, and they were just turning to show Obama's acceptance speech once again. I watched and listened, and must say it felt a LOT longer when we were watching it live/in person. Perhaps because I was so caught up in the moment, savoring the moment and trying to take it all in. I still can't believe it. Seriously - Barack Obama is going to be our President!!!

Obama's speech was INCREDIBLE. INCREDIBLE. please, Please, PLEASE go listen to it!

As excited as I am about the events, my heart goes out to McCain supporters. I hope my family handles it ok, and selfishly I hope they do so without attacking me/my sister for supporting Obama... I know they shed lots of tears tonight...

I am very tired. I got up at 4:30am to vote EARLY before work, and its getting really late (but I'm running on adrenaline and fortunately can sleep in tomorrow).

In other election news tonight, I havne't had a chance to look up much, but this is what I do know:
In California, Prop 8 passed. This was an ammendment to the state constitution, and it overturns the Supreme Court of California's decision to legalize gay marriage. :( I mourn this loss. (but remain hopeful for this change, too... as Obama even included equal rights for gay and lesbians in his acceptance speech!)

On a better note, South Dakota attempted to pass amendments tonight that would give them the most strict abortion laws in the country. While I wish abortion never had to happen, I am pro-choice, and I am thankful this did not pass.

Lots and lots and lots of other elections... but I need to sleep and leave some creative space for you to look them up. Maybe I'll post some pictures later (for sure look for them on facebook!).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Holidays!

It seems eerily appropriate that I am sitting in a weekend class on Calvin this weekend (meeting 8 hours today and 4 hours tomorrow).

While many are out celebrating "Halloween" today, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you a HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Light Even in the Darkness

It is good to be surrounded by great people.

I have wonderful, supportive friends and live in a community that is more encouraging and supportive than I could ever ask them to be.

After a long day of sitting and working at the front desk (though not getting as much done as I would have liked), I had a meeting with my candidacy mentor, Mark. To be honest, I was a bit worried about this meeting b/c of the emotional energy that I knew would be needed for it, and though he has always been supportive as he knows how to be in the past, it has been quite some time since someone of such "status" (stupid politics in the church... specifially in the UMC) was uber-supportive.

That changed today, and I am grateful for having a mentor who has taken enough time to listen to me over the past couple of years to be able to express what I'm thinking and feeling and experiencing so much better than I can. It was what I didn't know I needed tonight. An affirmation that what I think I should be doing does in fact fit perfectly into the box everyone is trying to keep me out of. They just might have to look a little closer to see it. But tonight, I have hope that it is possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Facing Challenges Together

Meeting with my District Committee on Ministry (seeking approval to continue moving forward toward ordination), visiting some crazy churches, throwing a baby shower, missing long-distance friends terribly, working 40+ hours per week, and working non-stop on upcoming projects and papers: these are some of the things that have made my life chaotic and stressful over the past few weeks.

It is in the midst of this kind of "busyness" that I struggle sometimes to remember that the very things that stress me out are the same things for which I should be most thankful. They are the things I can only have because of how privileged I am. That only upper-middle class educated folks seem to be privileged enough to stress over. That doesn't make me any less stressed, but it does help me to re-focus. To focus on why these very things are blessings that are helping me to grow into a stronger leader for Christ.

Even still, though, I cannot help but to sometimes wonder why we "do this to ourselves." Is education really so valuable that students should be required to live such a draining life to obtain it? It certainly doesn't make it easy for our lives to be "fruitful," or even for it to seem possible to learn 1/3 of what we are expected to... we are instead finding ourselves doing what we must "to get by," making the grade and moving on, checking things off our lists rather than engaging and digging deeper. This bothers me more than anything, because I am as guilty (if not more so) than most of my peers at doing just that... and yet I long to know the many things offered to me.

I know that a year from now, I will think all of the struggles I am battling today will have been worth it, and I will be faced with all sorts of new challenges. But one day at a time is all I can handle for now. I am anxiously working on plans for the future and I am excited to discover which path I will find myself on (as more and more seem to be opening themselves up).

Yet in the interim, I am also seeking space to focus on something new: allowing time and space for lament and sadness and struggle when things really aren't great, no matter how much we want them to be. I can no longer pretend that strangers on death row don't affect me. I can't pretend that friends I love and care about who are out of sight are also "out of mind," so I don't have to worry about them. I can't pretend like the economy or the state of the church or the election or the war don't affect my day-to-day life. Most of all, I have to stop acting as if my faith alone, independent of the faithful community that surrounds me, can hold me up in the midst of trials. Its okay not to be okay. In fact, it is critical to growth to allow for days like that. I know that a lot of what I am most struggling with now will not be resolved for several months. Yet I also know that allowing for this much-needed time, space, and prayer to guide me offers the possibility of burdens being lifted and become light as they are shared in community.

I know I am not alone in these sentiments these days... I pray that all of us facing such challenges would be able to find inner peace to make it through. (and that for those of us whose struggles are directly linked to lack of time - that we would make time for ourselves!). As always, I ask you to join me in such prayers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Difficult Battle Continues

... A Brief update for any who are following Troy Davis' case with me (see my post from earlier today).

Since I wrote the previous update requesting prayers for Troy, the federal Appeals Court in Atlanta has issues him a "conditional stay of execution" - meaning Troy and his legal team "must meet “stringent requirements” to pursue another round of appeals."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes,
"When the 11th Circuit issued its stay, Davis’ supporters were holding a mock funeral at the state Capitol. Demonstrators carried a coffin and a petition with 140,000 signatures to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. Davis’ supporters also delivered a letter signed by more than 100 members of Georgia’s clergy to the Governor’s offices."

You can read the full article here. Thanks for your prayers and support... they're being heard, and will continue to be needed in the coming weeks.

Prayers for Troy

Today at noon and 8pm (Eastern time) there are interfaith prayer vigils happening for Troy Davis, who I have talked about briefly before here and here.

If I were in Atlanta - or at least closer to Atlanta - I would love to be at both of these. I know my thoughts and prayers have been with Troy, his family, and his supporters all week, and that is certainly true today as well. I hope you will join us in a crusade for prayers that someone within the unjust system of power out there will take action for the justice - and dignity! - Troy deserves. His execution date is set for Monday... approaching all too quickly... but we have seen action in final days and minutes in the past, so we must not stop believing. It isn't over till its over... and even then, I'm not sure it will be...

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Day to Celebrate

Today is the birthday of a friend, colleague, and mentor who has greatly blessed my life. I would love nothing more than to give you a hug, sing a celebratory birthday song and celebrate with you in person, but since you're a few thousand miles away, I wanted to give this space to honor celebrate his life that has blessed so many others.

Happy Birthday, Pete. I pray for many great blessings and a renewed peace for you in the new year(s) to come.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Refreshing Ride

Today has been a considerably unproductive day. I spent much of it relaxing and listening to some Matthew Perryman Jones.


The weather is BEAUTIFUL, and I decided to go for an evening ride before the sun disappeared over what could be the last nice day we have (that I have off, anyway). So I biked to Best Buy, where I picked up a new battery for my bike computer.

The weather was perfect. The path was amazing. And YES - short ride or not, it was my first - so I wore my Ride:Well jersey in honor of the team and all we accomplished this summer.

The freedom and joy and life I feel after going on a short ride - in town and then around the lake (just under 15 miles) - is amazing. I know I made the right choice in going through with a bike purchase. Its a new lifeline to "escape" the feeling of the city, even from within it. And its more eco-friendly than when I used to do so by going for a drive.

Amazing. Wonderful. God-filled. Life is good today.

(I just wish my papers were done before I began this week of midterms and working 40 hours...)

PS - I also learned a valuable lesson about keeping ones mouth (literally) closed while on a bike ;)

Nathan Lee "Still" Music Video

Such a powerful song...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What a Week!

This week has been full of exciting news and events!

On Wednesday, I received an email from the 2008 General Assembly of the National Council of Churches/Church World Service. I have been invited to attend the assembly as one of ten Young Adult Stewards for the gathering. Full details of what this entails are yet to come, but it does mean I have been offered a position of leadership and an opportunity to learn more about the Council, and I am honored and excited for what it will bring. (and nervous... about missing an entire week of school/work in November! eek!!)

Later in the afternoon on Wednesday, I received a call from someone on Oprah's audience department asking me to attend a taping on Friday morning. Lets be honest... I can't remember the last time I even watched her show at this point... but I wasn't about to say no! It was fun the two times I'd done it before, so why not? Since I had to miss my spin class to go, it was an easy decision who to take with me: my go-everywhere, do-everything, never-go-a-day without seeing each other new "best" friend, Leanne. Unfortunately, it was pretty lame and didn't run as smoothly as it has in the past. In part, I am sure, because it was taped live this time, and it is usually recorded. Eh, well - a new experience, and even if he didn't get more than ten words in, it was cool to be there when Ben Stiller was on!! (I LOVE him!!) Chris Rock was there too, and pretty funny, as always. Good times... :)

Following Oprah and a quick lunch stop, Leanne and I went to pick up my bike... and get her fitted for one. Good news, bad news: Leanne is now fitted and looking and after a quick ride around the block, is pretty sure she's in this for the long haul (too bad its such an expensive sport). bad news: I picked mine up, and all was well, its in near PERFECT condition, but the guy at the shop thinks that while this one will work, its close enough in size that if at all possible, I should get the next frame size down. :(

So... I have the bike... but I put it back up on Craigslist and am hoping it will sell for not just what I've paid for it, but also for what I've already put into it. ugh.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My New Means of Transportation

I made a big, exciting purchase today!

I have been looking for a quality road bike for over 2 months, and though it isn't exactly what I wanted, it is very close. I purchased a Specialized Allez A1 Road Bike. It is lovely: mostly white with some gray and red accents.

I plan to take it in to get a good tune-up for it and get it adjusted properly, and then I'll be golden. Along the way I'll need to get some updates such as new pedals (I want/need clip-ins, but I also need the shoes, which may come first b/c I can use them at spin class too). It needs some minor stuff: like a battery for the speedometer and some new handlebar tape (so many choices- what color do I pick!?!?). Such costs add up quickly (and the bike wasn't cheap!), but I am confident it is more than worth it. I am VERY excited to own this beauty, and I can't wait to get her fixed up so I can take her on her first ride!!! (first few rides in nice weather would be preferable, and those days are running out!)

Once she's all fixed up (and I've named her... I think she needs a name... and yes, I think she's a she), I'll post pictures. Other than my computer, she's now the most expensive thing I own, so rest assured I'm proud and protective!!

(and in case any ride:well members read this (*cough* Mike) - I expect you to go on a ride with me - no matter the weather - when you visit!!!)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Next Year is the Year!

Well... the Cubbies didn't pull it off this year... they lost game 3 of Round 1. Which means 100 years has passed between winning the series... it also means I don't get to see them play (this year) in a playoff game. Which means my grandpa isn't going to fly (I still can't believe he was willing to get on a plane for this!) out to visit me, stay with me for a couple of days, and go to the game with me. I am VERY disappointed... but it was worth dreaming (and the bit of money lost on fees, etc for buying the tickets) just to hear the anticipation and excitement in my Grandpa's voice. I'm disappointed... I think he was truly heartbroken! But hopefully this will lead to a game at Wrigley in the spring... playoffs or not, I would LOVE to be the one to take him to his first game in the belovedy Wrigley Field, to see the old score board and ivy-covered walls for the first time. There is nothing like being at "home" in that wonderful ball park!!

And yes... like it or not... I have said it countless times already: Next year is our year!!! This year made it 100. We've been 100 without it (winning would have made 99... 100 makes it better ;) ). So we've gone without 100 years... and in year 101, its all CUBS!!! Woot!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


I'm holding my breathe... the Chicago Cubs are currently down 3-0 to the Dodgers in game three of the 5-game 1st round playoffs. Yes, my lungs are burning from holding so long... but I'm a Cubs fan through and through, and I'll hold it to the end!!!

That... and WHEN they win tonight, then again tomorrow, and AGAIN on Tuesday, they'll make it to the next round - the FINAL playoff set (of 7 games) to put them one step closer to the World Series!!! Its been 100 years... its time!!! That, and I HAVE TICKETS to Thursdays game!!! So I've invited my Grandfather - a lifelong Cubs fan who knows the pain of heartache all too well - and who has NEVER made it to Wrigley field. His 70th birthday is next weekend (Sunday!), so seeing them play 3 days before would be PERFECT!!! and I've always wanted to go to a game with him... but it would take playoffs to talk him into boarding an airplane to get here (he does NOT fly!)... he's pretty much decided on coming if they make it... so fingers crossed, folks... we still have 3 solid innings to pull it off... (its getting late, but there's no way I'll sleep till its over...)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Jumping from Planes

At 4:00 Wednesday afternoon, I got a call from my youngest brother.

Getting a call from Aaron is always an adventure in and of itself. He never calls without a reason to do so. Sometimes he need something, but more often than not he is calling to share a story. Its and adventure, though, because he never just tells it. He makes you figure it out (fortunately, I'm getting good at the game, so its less frustrating than it used to be, and almost fun). He's done this lots of times, with stories about everything from what concert he's going to, to what trip he's been on, even to having his truck stolen. This time, it went something like this...

Me: What's up?
Aaron: Nothing, just called to say hi.
Just to say hi, huh?
Yep. I'm in Des Moines with some friends.
What's in Des Moines? You visiting someone?
Nope. Just here with friends.
Ok, so why aren't you talking to them instead of calling me?
We haven't talked in a while, so I thought I'd call and let you know I'm alive and well.
Alive and well? Is there a reason you wouldn't be?
No, not really. I'm fine. I mean, I only (speeds up and talks fast): fell 10,000 feet today.
You did what?
Not a big deal. Just had a bit of a fall.
10,000 feet?!? What? Did you go skydiving?!
Yea. No big deal, though.
Was it AWESOME!? I've always wanted to go!!
Yea, pretty much. (Goes into detail...)
WAIT - Had you ever even been in a plane before today?
(excited I caught on) Nope!! The first time I got in a plane was today - and I jumped out of it!!!

How's that for a story? haha. He swears it was so great he wants to go again, so he'll look into where he can do it closer to Chicago... so that I can go with him (in the spring). How fun is that!? I've always wanted to go, so I guess we'll see :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Art*Music*Justice Tour

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend an event with my friend and neighbor (affectionately known as "neighbs"), Susie. We are both long-time fans of musician Sara Groves, so when we heard she was coming to town, we eagerly looked into getting tickets. Only to discover this was a large ticket of five artists, also including one of my favorite songwriters, Derek Webb.

When Susie and I arrived early to get the best possible seats for the price we paid (center seats of 4th row!), our biggest question was the order the artists would play in. However, as the show began with all artists on stage and they took turns playing one or two songs of their own at a time, we were moved from engaging with the individual artists into engaging with the Tour. We were shown videos and told stories in such a way that compelled us to engage with the cause, consider ways we can further the causes with our own action, and then consider ways we can financially help the cause. No buckets were passed, but they were readily available. The whole mood of the room shifted from beginning to end. We could sense the urgency in what they were saying without being burdened by it. They took time to pray in the middle of the show. They led the way by telling their own stories, by displaying in words and emotions on stage, by showing us - whether intentionally or not - how very much this campaign meant to them.

The Art *Music *Justice Tour is a music tour - a series of concerts -of five artists who are seeking to do something more with their stage. They are using the opportunity of these 22 shows (September 19- October 26) to raise money and awareness for worth causes: Food for the Hungry and International Justice Mission.

In a very small way, I felt a connect between Sara and this tour, and Sara and her role in the Ride:Well Tour. It reminded me of Tyler, Texas. It reminded me that even the smallest community can make unimaginable differences.

This tour is going to achieve great things and provide a great show to those present while at it. If at all possible, I highly recommend you go out for it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Action at the Eleventh Hour

Praise God!!

I spent most of today in my own world. Exhausted physically from a very busy and demanding week (already), and exhausted emotionally as I have spent much time thinking about and praying for Troy Davis and all that have had any role - on either side - of his "case" (in quotes because it isn't just another court case... it is his LIFE).

After being away from internet all day (I was at work for nearly 9 hours), I was anxious to arrive home and check the news. I do not know any details of how the march and witness went in the past 24 hours, but I understand there was a decent turn out, which makes my heart deeply glad.

After searching for more information tonight, I discovered this article. Troy has been granted a Supreme Court Reprive! This is going to be a very, very long road to go down, and prayer and support is still greatly needed. However, there is great joy and there are countless reasons to celebrate tonight: for though each step give only a little more time (in this case a week), we must take what we can get. As Rev. Sharpton said tonight, one week may not seem like a long time, but when you only had two hours to live, a week is a lifetime.

Only God could have brought this case along in such a short amount of time. Only 2 1/2 days ago I was pleaing desperately for prayer and support. I hope you will continue to join in this effort in the week to come. God is indeed hearing our prayers, friends. Let us rejoice, let us move forward and continue taking action, and in all things, let us continue to pray.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Last-Minute Plea for Help

There are few things worse than feeling helpless in situations that need - require- action.

I got a phone call tonight from a friend across the country who has been following and active with the case of a man by the name of Troy Davis, who is on death row. Back in 1991, he was convicted of murdering a police officer. After many appeals to have his case heard in a federal court, he has been denied one final time and his execution date is set for this Tuesday, September 23, 2008. That is only a few days away...

I will confess that no matter the case or the "evidence" of guilt, I do not believe the death penalty should EVER be the answer. That being said...

The facts about this case that I both heard from Karl tonight and read online (see this fact sheet for a quick timeline of the case) are so disturbing... To say the least, it seems he was convicted in such a way that would never stand in court today. No weapons, no physical evidence, etc. That, and there were 9 eyewitnesses then... and 7 of them have recanted, many of them now saying they testified because they were pressured or coerced - in some cases even paid - by police to offer the witness they did. Yet there has not been a chance for his case to even be re-heard with this new "evidence" pointing toward his innocence.

I am completely 100% against the death penalty, and in many ways it is because of cases like this one. It is such a terrible thing to hear about cases like this one, to see all that has been done before to try and change this, to try and do something to save a life, to bring justice to those to whom it is do.

I do not know what to do. I know we can pray for Troy and his family and friends. We can pray for Karl and his supporters who are actively seeking to bring attention to this case, actively seeking to save his life. We can pray for those in and working through the system that it change not only for this one case, but in the many cases that are yet to come.

It seems helpless. It seems like there are only 2 1/2 days to go until his execution so it might be too late... but the reality is, last time a date was set, it was changed within 24 hours of what could have otherwise been his final 24 hours of life. I'm clinging to hope and prayer tonight as folks continue to work for Troy in ways that will hopefully save his life, and undoubtedly change their own. I know learning of this case in the way I did tonight has already changed mine. My prayer is that a few people in the right positions of "power" will allow it to change theirs, as well. I hope you'll pray with us, and if you're in the area (Georgia), you will ACT. I'm not sure what that action needs to be... but as we pray about it, maybe we'll figure it out...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Update

I haven't updated in quite some time, so here's a quick recap of things I thought about writing about but never got to...

I had the opportunity to go to Arizona for the last week of August. I got to spend time with family I don't see often enough (even meet some I'd never met before- and meet their little boy that was born my last night there!!). I spent the weekend with some Ride:Well friends, including 4 teammates and many friends of Red Oak Fellowship Church (near Dallas, Texas). It was fantastic. We were able to hike a few miles in the canyon, got really wet in a cold, windy downpour, sat around a fire in an attempt to stay warm (and dry!), and laughed - a lot. Very refreshing, and a piece of closure I was in great need of after such an intense summer.

Classes started the day I returned, and I have been on the go ever since. They started slow, and I've since added a course and am now taking an overload. This does mean that I am now spending (nearly) all of my time reading... I guess that's what happens when good readings are actually assigned for courses. Awesome.

I also now have 2 jobs: one at school working at the front desk (being the "Face of Garrett" and answering the phones), and one at Starbucks. Believe it or not, a lot of thought went into selection of a job off campus this year, and I am more than pleased with my decision. It is a LOT to learn (not really what I expected), but I work with great staff, Starbucks treats its employees ("partners") VERY well, and it is the flexible schedule I need for my student life. Also, it is nice to have a job that doesn't add stress to my already-stressful semester: when I leave work, everything from work stays there. No baggage is a wonderful thing.

Starbucks has also had some other randomness to go with it. It turns out Evanston is full of "celebrities" - and they come into our store regularly. The first latte I ever made was on Saturday morning... for Jerry Springer. Funny stuff... and we've had other "Hollywood actors" in since then... and I've only been there a week.

Lots of crazy stuff going on at home. Everyone is okay, just crazy stuff that's been stressful. And my "sixth sense" kicked in in the midst of drama, giving me a near anxiety attack in the midst of the chaos, while I didn't know why. Long story short: I eventually made the connection and am grateful everything ended as it did.

On a lighter note: My friend Laura has the CUTEST little girl!!! I am privileged to be her first babysitter, and grateful that at 7 months old, she equally adores me, and doesn't hate that spending time with me means Mom is away. She's a bundle of joy, and always provides a welcome break from otherwise busy schedules.

Summer seems to have ended early (or at least abruptly), so I've given up on running outside, and it couldn't be better. Fortunately, a few more Garrett folks joined my gym, so though schedules have changed, etc, I have plenty of gym buddies. We've been going to classes, and while they kick my butt, I LOVE the spin classes. Good times. :)

Exciting, huh? Hopefully now that we're up-to-date and my semester is off to a busy (brutal!) start, I'll procrastinate more and keep this updated.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big Changes

I just got that phone call that I have both been dreading and hoping for all day.

My best friend from college, Eliot, is a US Marine. He has become that one person in life who knows me as well as (if not better than) I do, and I trust and love him more than I probably ever have anyone else in life (he is as close as any family member ever could be). I love this guy, and his friendship has been an amazing blessing to me.

Eliot leaves in the morning for Iraq. He will be stationed there for 7-9 months. He is infantry. Fortunately not army infantry, and he assures me that the group he is going to replace has not even had to fire rounds. Which is great on many levels - both because I worry for his safety and because I am such a pacifist! (we make a great pair, huh?)

Please pray for Eliot and his team. Also, extra prayers for his family - and for me - will be greatly appreciated and incredibly necessary. Its going to be rough on a lot of us. I'm not usually a worrier, but I have never been so afraid of anything as I am for his life.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The disastrous Chicago Blood:Water

Yesterday was one of the craziest days I have had in a very, very long time - and instead of stressing out about it, I am pleased to say we were able to laugh about our misfortunes and the fact that nearly everything went wrong all day.

I cannot even begin to describe the great number of little things that made this day go so terribly. I do know that by 1:30pm, when I saw and was greeted by some familiar friendly faces (Kellie and Jars guys), all I could respond with was, "I hate this day!!!" (or something like that) - and then laugh because I was in such disbelief that it had actually gone as it did. They offered supportive hugs and laughed with me, haha.

What went down, you ask? Here are some of the big things that made it rough:
I borrowed a car to run the many errands necessary for the event to function smoothly. As I pulled into the airport to pick up Kellie (first 'errand') - it died. Not to start again. Not being a mechanic, I would put all I know on it being the alternator (awesome!!!). The tow truck company said it would take an hour to get there; I'll let you imagine how excited airport personnel were about that. Then imagine how well it went over when I was there nearly 3 hours!!!

Poor Kellie had rented a car and got lost a couple times. I tried to get to the Blood:Water event from the train with an obscure address and no other directions, and ended up needing to walk through the projects to get there... so I had to take a cab. I was late. And "flustered." So I got drinks, etc ready for the guests and skipped the presentation. Did I mention that the first bag of popcorn I popped ended up on the floor? because it did. (I have to say here that I though I didn't see the presentation and there are certainly jokes to tell about it, I think it mostly went ok, and most of the guests probably did not know anything was wrong, which is good.)

Then Jeremy (Kellie's husband, also the drummer for Jars of Clay) left with the rest of the band before the movie started... and accidentally took the rental car keys with him. The runner took a couple of hours to bring us the keys, so we were late to the show (which we wanted to be on time to, as Jeremy designed the lights and Jars was playing first).

Our bad luck carried over to the guys... Jeremy cut open his knee on the "steel horse" metal risers when moving from one drum set to another during the set... and could hardly walk/finish the set. He even bled through his white pants (another story entirely). Then we tried to clean it up... and discovered the Jars tour bus does not have a first aid kit on it. AWESOME. (we did eventually find some band-aids elsewhere, for the record) In the interim, Jeremy is walking (limping) like a gangster and is in great need of an awesome cane.

Did I mention that throughout the day of mishaps and things going wrong (I'm not filling in all of the details and mishaps, but lets just say it seemed like NOTHING went right!!!!), we didn't have any opportunities to eat? So I had breakfast around 7am, and we FINALLY got dinner around 9:30pm. SWEET.

ahhhh - what a long day!!! Fortunately for me, it stopped there. I did have an interesting train ride home and a lovely chat with a man named Maurice... but that's a story for another day. It was a positive, lovely conversation. Not like Kellie and Jeremy's night... they returned to the venue only to discover the rental car could be parked no where on the premises overnight (not even next to the tour bus with the VIP pass in it) or it would be towed. So they got to return it in the middle of the night and take a cab back to the venue at 1am. LOVELY.

I'm glad its over, but laughing at it - it is seriously hilarious already. I guess above all, I'm glad I got to spend the day with Kellie (well, the 2nd half, anyway!), and I guess I had some new experiences that weren't all bad, too. Like discovering Rober Randolph is amazing (he played after Jars) and hearing a few of Switchfoot's songs live for the first time... and I'd never been on a tour bus (it isn't that special and it makes my bathroom seem like a master suite!).

I'm chalking this one up to more ridiculous memories that I can laugh at for some time to come.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Democratic Ticket Decided

The choice we've all been waiting for has finally been made: Barak Obama Chose Senator Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential running mate.

A few thoughts: 1- I am not surprised. 2- I think they'll make a good pair. 3- That solidifies (as if it wasn't before?) which ticket I'll be voting for.

Surely there will be more to come on politics in the future (for better or worse!).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Prayerful Journey Ahead

After flipping through Matthew's copy of The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (founder of the SimpleWay) this summer, I finally picked up my own copy yesterday. I'm only about 140 pages in, but I can tell you there were words in the first 100 that could have been my own, and I was so taken aback by it I that had to read them several times. It's interesting to read where his thoughts from then have taken him today. I imagine he finds himself in a very different place now than he ever envisioned, and that can be a result of only one thing: God is amazing. As I have been anxiously trying to make decisions about my own life this week, this story offers me a refreshing excitement to see how my own story will unravel.

That brings me to Discernment. I have a special place in my heart for this word. Since college and the days of small groups formed from the Lilly endowment's vocational formation program at my school, this word has brought with it a plethora of emotions. Anxiety, joy… excitement, even! But also humility, confusion, sometimes sorrow or fear. A healthy sort of fear. The kind of awareness (if not an actual form of the emotion) of apprehension that keeps me aware of the fact that I am not actually in control. A recognition that reminds me of my need to keep relying on God in all that I do. I guess “fear” may not be the right word to describe this emotion, but I am at a loss for how to describe the determination and hope and focus and intensity that come with the desire to always seek refuge in uncomfortable situations... to always seek a way to work for change when I become comfortable in a place that our broken society is also comfortable with. For what good and positive changes ever come from comfort and safety? I "fear" living in that place... and I refuse to let FEAR keep me from seeking change in these ways...

Some days, I am so uncertain of what my future holds I find myself in a place of real fear, in which I cannot so much as try to process where I will be 9 months from now (upon graduation)… so I find myself in the place I should have been all along: in prayer.

From that, I have concluded that there is only one thing I can know about how I am being called to live: I know I am being called to love people, and to love people well. We talked a lot this summer about the challenge of "loving people we have never met." We spent 2 months raising money and awareness to help our brothers and sisters in Africa reach access to clean water. The more we talked about it, the more I realized that for me, that isn't always that hard. They're far away. I am "safe" from their harsh reality. I'm not doing the walking every day to get dirty water - I'm helping them stop doing so by driving a van and giving people water I bought at a store that morning. I am Safe. I realize that I don't want to be - and do not feel called to be - so "safe". What we did this summer was an amazing, miraculous feat and I have absolutely no regrets about what we did, how we did it, or why we did it. God was a part of that team and of our mission. And it wasn't safe in many, many ways. But its not the end for me, either.

I want to use this experience as one more that will help me to love people, and love them well. I want to face the challenge of loving people not just from a safe distance, but up close and personal. To love them not just on the days we can celebrate together and share in fellowship, but to love them on the days when it is most difficult to do so, whether because of hardship or exhaustion or 'simple' things like a personality conflict (as was sometimes hard with the very people on our own team... here in the 'safe' land of our own 'real' lives). I want to love people and be fully engaged in a ministry of presence, seeking to do "what is good" as I learn to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).

Wherever I end up and whatever I end up doing, I want to learn to listen well so that my ministry is one that engages fully not with what an institution tells me needs to be done, but with what the people with whom I live in community with most need. Maybe those things will even be the same... but I pray for the opportunity to take time to be present and build relationships before taking action.

So in the end, it comes down to what sounds like a cheesy cliché, but is really where all of my heart and soul are invested. I want to love well. Nothing more, nothing less. A big task, I am sure, and one I will have to grow in to. But I trust that whatever path I am on a year from now, it will be doing just that.
(and I hope Mom is okay with that path, too!)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Growing Into Change

In light of reflecting on how the Ride:Well Tour has impacted me so much more than I anticipated, I have been thinking about how other trips have done the same... and how that has been different.

With the Ride:Well Tour, I had no idea why I was going. I didn't know the first thing about biking, I didn't know anyone going, and I wasn't entirely sure how I felt going on a cycling trip as the only non-cyclist. At the same time nothing in particular and yet everything I encountered took me away from nearly every comfort zone I knew.

Something about the Ride:Well Tour felt different, though. Maybe it was the cycling thing? Maybe it was that we were all new at the same time, as opposed to usually I'm the newbie and others are more stable? Maybe it was just me in a strange transitional phase of my life, or maybe that is how God wanted me - unprepared so that I wouldn't over-analyze everything and prevent the changes from happening (not that I've analyzed myself to have done that, of course). Whatever it was, this trip was different. And unsafe. And difficult. And wonderful. And exactly where I believe God wanted me to be.

I began to realize this week how much I have grown in significant, meaningful ways this summer, and I have struggled because I don't really know what to do with that. My perspective has shifted, my world view is changing (again), my vocational discernment is all a mess (again)... and yet, I'm content with these changes. (I just wish, as always, I knew where they were leading me! but I know that will come in time.)

This trip was different than any other because usually when I take "epic" trips, I anticipate a great change. Like the community of the R:W team, on these trips I always find amazing folks who from beginning to end are supportive and help me to reflect and meditate and process. People who do more than that... people who become my family and love me even from afar, offering words of kindness and love and affection (thank you, Pete!). China, Australia, South Africa... even England... each of these trips have affected me in ways I could not begin to anticipate, and I carry pieces of them with me in all that I do. Yet in the past this process has looked different than it did this time... perhaps because I had anticipated the growth? That would certainly make the changes a bit easier (at least theoretically) and more certainly more recognizable.

I'm still not sure what made me think the Ride:Well Tour was a good idea for me. I do know that it was right, though - and that I am thankful for it. Processing has indeed begun, and is now proceeding well. The Chicago community of which I am again a part is one that will likely help me to continue processing for days, weeks and months to come. Which seems fitting, in so many ways - that it was a strong community that has had such a strong impact on me, only to rely on another strong community to help me process it all. God intends for us to live in community with one another, and I have never felt that calling as strongly as I have over the past couple of weeks.

Safe Arrival In Chicago

I have safely landed back in Chicago.

It was a welcome hospitable greeting as a friend (thanks, Kate!) picked me up from the airport... and airport that is quite out of the way from where we live, and included a drive through the city in rush hour traffic to get me... but I have never been so happy - with all of my bags and my excitement to be home - to have a friend so generous as to pick me up, curbside.

Arrival to Evanston included a quick greet to Kim, who picked up the keys to my apartment this afternoon since the office was closed by the time I arrived. We dropped my bags on the floor and stood in my apartment a whole of 4 minutes before moving on to a place where food could be eaten... clearly my cupboards are a bit bare after being away for over 2 months.

Dinner was great. A welcome meal with friends (more joined us!) that it was GREAT to catch up with! It was also good to be back in time to see the "baby bump" forming on Amanda!!! Followed by the recognition what we were all tired but not ready to say goodbye, we landed in the home of friends that immediately felt like home again. I cannot express how GREAT it felt to be HOME! Greeted with a fresh pot of coffee and a new video camera, the laughs were without end. And as more friends came to visit (they just kept calling - "are you here yet!?!"), I could not have felt more welcome, or more loved.

A phone call from a friend I've been trying to get in touch with all week was welcome and encouraging... it is a strange thing to try to grieve with friends hundreds of miles away... and it is an encouraging thing when they seem to genuinely be handling things so incredibly well... and with grace, peace, and trust in God. I am thankful for friends like this I can learn from, grow with, and be "present" with (even from afar) if/when a deeper reality later sets in.

God has really blessed me with some amazing relationships, and tonight I am reminded of that. I am reminded as I think of how great it was to see Laura and her children this morning... to spend the morning with my mom on the way to the airport, to spend the evening with great friends in an amazing community this evening... to stay in touch via phone to hear the voice of a friend I love and miss dearly, and for the gift of technology that has allowed me to chat and send messages to so many friends tonight. I talked to 6 members of the Ride:Well Team tonight- some brief, some more extensive - but all enough to remind me of the blessings they have brought upon me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Time for the Ones I Love

It’s a crazy and confusing thing, time. It can fly past you without you even knowing it happened, or make each second feel like a minute or hour. In the midst of joy, it celebrates with you quickly and expediently, going by so quickly you are sometimes not sure it was there to begin with. Or in the midst of pain and sorrow, it drags by, weeping with you, intensifying each and every moment, each and every breath.

This week, every day has seemed to drag by. The days move in slow motion as I reflect on where my life has led me. As I dwell on decisions I am about to make over the next several months. As I recall memories of the Ride:Well team that bring me joy, while simultaneously feeling great pain and sorrow as a result of our separation from one another. The days are long, the breaths heavy, and the tears sometimes far many more than are welcome.

Yet this week has flown by. It seems like I should still have more than a single day left to see the rest of my family, to spend time with my dear friend Laura and her beautiful family. I should not be worried about scheduling in time for things like playing that over-due tennis match with my baby sister, having breakfast with my brothers, or having lunch with a long-lost colleague who I now share a passion for biking with. I shouldn’t be pressed for time when it seems like every day this week has gone so slowly I think the growing grass could have beat me at a race for the finish.

In my attempt to get some “summer reading” in this week, I’ve been working through Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies.” Something she said that has stuck with me is the importance of grief. When we allow ourselves to grieve, she says, the grief moves us away from the numb feelings that come with avoidance, and allow us to become who we truly are. Then, instead of feeling numb all the time, we move into places where we are able to have occasional moments of utter joy, “of feeling aware of each moment shining for its own momentous sake” (you should read this whole book… but this particular piece can be found on page 71).

I do not believe that my grief of the team is as severe as that which she is describing in this piece, but I do think there is validity in what she is saying. It also goes to say that we must allow ourselves to grieve – no matter how big or small – but that we must also be willing to find pockets of joy in the midst of that.

I for one am thankful for the pockets of sunshine in my life, for they have brought me great joy this week. It has been a treat to spend time with my biological family (which, for the record, has been a record-setting problem free this week!). I have also been blessed to find myself in the presence of many of the people I love most in the world outside of my family. My best friend Eliot was here on Friday afternoon, and my dear, dear, old roommate, friend, and companion Ruby just spent all day with me. Count in that I got to see my sister and Rosie both last week in DC, and I would say this has perhaps been one of the most blessed (two) weeks I have seen in quite some time! For Eliot, Ruby, Rosie and Alicia are four of the people dearest to my heart… and I have never in my life been able to see all of them in such a short span of time. Let me not forget that I technically saw the Ride:Well team in that same time AND will see my Garrett family when I arrive in Evanston on Thursday, and I am left speechless with the blessing of community – no matter how near or far – I have developed over time.

I guess that just goes to show – life is all about perspective. Today, I’m choosing to focus on the perspective that life is what you make it – and while I will continue to grieve the loss of the community of the Ride:Well Team, I am also seeking these moments of celebration as we begin to move away from it. As we continue to grow together in our new experiences as we begin to unravel what our experiences together can mean in our “real” lives now that we have made attempts at returning to them. I never have intentions of forgetting or letting go of the Tour. I can’t imagine that being possible. But I don’t want to hold on to it as something that grieves me as it already has… I want to hold onto it as something that brings me joy of great memories, the beginning of amazing friendships, and as a source of strength as I recall all that has already been endured and overcome for a greater purpose.

Coming full term with such goals will undoubtedly take time, but it sure feels good to have set a goal, to have begun to make sense of it all. To have taken the first steps toward making it a reality. The first step, of course, being to recognize and record that which I hope to gain. And second? To take action by moving from sending sappy “I miss you” Facebook notes or emails, into picking up the phone and seeing how they’re doing instead. It was good – and healing – to hear familiar voices over the lines tonight… and it made me wonder why we have ever allowed ourselves to become so lazy that technology was able to take that gift from us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Adapting to a “New” (old) Life

Its weird being thrown back into the “real” world. Expected to continue on as if life has continued with normalcy over the past two months. For nearly everyone I encounter, it has. But for me and 17 others, the past 2 months have been transformative, life-changing, EPIC. Beyond expectations and ideas I attempted to construct about how this summer would go, I now find myself bewildered at what I just experienced. It seems that as the trip has concluded, I am only now beginning to recognize the ways it has been, could have been, and will continue to be life-altering. It also leaves me with a plethora of thoughts that I am still trying to sort out.

**We rode all the way into the ocean, with me leading in the Mother Falcon, and it was every bit as glorious as we ever imagined it would be.

**The best memories are the ones you sometimes don’t realize you’re making until the it is long over. (a shared laugh or cry or story or event)

**I actually miss sitting in a van with the same folks for 12 hours a day. It becomes refreshing to have a routine, to love people well, to ask important questions, and also the ones that start with, “Would you rather…”

**A single smile can go a long way. Some of the smiles in photographs I’ve been looking through have certainly gone further than the photographed imagined they would.

**Facial hair isn’t so bad after all…

**I want a bike.

**I miss Chicago.

**All I have talked about for the past 48 hours is the team, our adventures, and how great it all was. Yet when asked best/worst moments, I have a hard time… because I can’t find one single “best” moment (there are so many!!!) and I can’t think of a time that was bad. This is a good reminder of how blessed we have been!!!

**I was actually sad to not be making deli sandwiches for 18 people today. If anyone wants one for lunch, let me know…

**It was strange to walk into a restaurant with my parents tonight and ask for a table of 3. I’d much rather wait and get a table of 18.

**The party is always better with “The Booze” J

**I dread going to sleep at night because I know it means I have to wake up without the team beside me in the morning.

**I am thankful for the way family continues to be defined and re-defined in my life. (And for the many reminders of those who have graciously included me in their “family,” no matter how near or far they are.)

**I love people. When I graduate, I want my work to revolve around how I can better love people. My prayers is that God will show me the doorway to how I can best do that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Preparing for the Final Ride

Tonight is the eve of our final ride together, and it seems incredibly surreal.

We have had a long, hard, joyful, trying and life-filled journey. In the moment, words cannot fully express all that I am thinking and feeling. Love and excitement are in the air as we spend an evening in Annapolis together, laughing, playing games, fellowshipping over pizza and as we check in with the “real world” via the internet. There is also a solemnity in the air as we are all beginning to realize what the exciting end of this journey (we made it!!!) might actually mean and look like (it is likely we won’t all be together again).

Today was a bit of a rat-race around DC, trying to coordinate between where the bikers were and how the support vehicle folks could get to them in order to enjoy the day together… DC is a pedestrian (and bike)-friendly city… but isn’t great for those of us trying to gather with them from the car. It was a bit of a run-around and frustrating, but it worked out in the end and we have safely arrived in Annapolis, Maryland. It was a reminder of at least one reason why I will be relieved when the journey continues, though.

More than not, I am confident that I will be increasingly sad and somber as the end draws near. I am surrounded by folks I would never have known or become friends with in my “normal” life. I have been challenged in ways I did not fully anticipate, in ways that I know have helped me to grow. I have been a part of a strong, supportive community that has introduced me to new people, places, ideas, activities, though processes and ways of life. Through the good and the bad, I have spent a significant amount of time trying to process all that we have experienced together, and as the summer draws near, I am increasingly aware of the new ways I have done this.

Community is a funny thing sometimes. In this case, it was a forced community that came together to support a common cause. We have remained so focused on this cause and on unity, that even in this “close” community I have realize I may have more “walls” here than I have in any other place in my life. Its interesting to think that we have spent nearly 7 weeks together, and I anticipate this group will see “a whole new side of Jen” when my sister arrives on Saturday… for it is when I am with her that all of my boundaries are collapsed, my life is laid out into a place of vulnerability, and I find one of the safest places I know. There are few people I find more safety in that in the (brief) presence of my sea-star.

Glad as I will be to be home, I am thankful for this journey. The weekend will be interesting… but awesome. I am actually really looking forward to tomorrow, when we will ride into the beach, arrive at the ocean (finally!!!), celebrate and camp on the beach, share in communion, perhaps sing a few songs and have a great time together. I hope the arrival and fellowship are as rich and powerful as we have dreamt them up to be.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Night to Laugh about and Remember

Most hilarious (and inappropriate?) presentation EVER in Princeton, West Virginia today.

It was a long, hard day anyway. Then for the presentation Criselda got up to talk about Blood:Water and couldn't stop laughing. She said, "we are trying to build 1,000 water wells in 1,000 different communities..." and started giggling so much that David had to take over. We laughed a lot with and at her... but some of the folks that came to hear us didn't. oops! (haha... they weren't upset, either, for the record).

Then some stories I can't take the time to tell here (haha!) but I will say that Don and Mike introduced themselves as each other... and good stories can come from that as well, lol. Oh, how I love this team!

We spent the evening talking about personality types. Specifically, Don is really into the Enneagram. I haven't really ever looked at it... so I started reading through the types and saw myself in a couple. I took the free 2-minute "test" and it was interesting... but I think I'm too tired to think about where I actually fit into it. Don pegged me straight away as a certain type... and I can see why, but I'm not sure I 100% agree with him. And b/c he already told me, I'm not sure if I'm just being biased!?!?! Anyone who reads this and knows me well familiar with it? I'd be interested in hearing what you think. (either here or send an email!) I plan to read through them tomorrow when I'm better rested (if that will actually be tomorrow?) and see how it goes. Things like this are so interesting... and yet it puts people in boxes sometimes too, so its hard to fully appreciate them. But who knows... I do love the Myers Briggs test!!!

1 week to DC. Crazy.

oh, and by the way... we're staying at First United Methodist Church of Princeton, West Virginia tonight. Awesome, generous, hospitable folks. LOVE them!
In UMC news, we have elected a new Bishop, Rev. Dr. Julius C. Trimble of East Ohio, at our North Central Jurisdictional Conference. He will be annointed on Sunday. Keeping that conference in thoughts and prayers, and wishing I could be there! (but I wouldn't miss this for anything!!!)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Day with the Mother Falcon

Today was a crazy day of one long roller-coaster!

It was filled with great beauty of the countyside. Including me driving all day. I have realized I haven't put up any photos of me with the Mother Falcon (our beloved name for the van), so here's one. You can't really see the big white 8-foot trailer we pull behind it, but I think you'll get the idea. It was Drew's birthday, so we had a good time trying to make his day as best as it could be. I think we'll try again tomorrow b/c of some stuff non-trip related that made that hard today.

I got to talk to my wonderful friend Rosie over lunch, and we're going to meet up in DC!!! This made my day. Then we went to a cute local festival tonight for dinner. It was great. I got to talk to Alicia (my sister!) over dinner... often during my "normal" life we have dinner dates, where she sits in her apartment alone (now in NYC) and I sit in mine in Chicago, and we chat and eat together. Cheesey, I know... but it was nice to do so again tonight even while I was surrounded by teammates. Even better? I may have talked her into coming for a brief visit while we're in DC!!!! So not only will I get to see her, but she'll get to meet the team... and they'll get to meet her!!! It will be great... and they'll get to see another side of me in which I have no walls and can trust in knowing and loving that she knows me so very well. I can't wait!!!

I also got a crazy email tonight from a long-lost friend that I just discovered is into biking. I couldn't be more excited to be in touch with her about everything!

Lots of crazy downs today too. A dear friend lost her grandmother yesterday... so I'm heavily praying for them. I hope you will too.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's adventure: Princeton, West Virginia. I've never been to West Virginia. Honestly, I never thought I wanted to go, haha. But alas, I am thankful we're going to new places on this trip... West Virginia no exception! I hope its as beautiful as the past few days have been!!

...also on my heart and mind is the ongoing North Central Jurisdiction meeting of The United Methodist Church. Anyone with updates is welcome to call/text me!!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Preparing for the Mountains

Once again, it is late and time is limited, but I do have a few quick things to say!

Nashville was amazing. It was SO great, I absolutely love this city, and every time I visit, it lives up to the expectations I made of it before my first visit. I think I still want to live there some day. I just need to find a reason to now.

That being said... my highlight of Nashville was Saturday: I got to ride!!!! :) (and for the record, a picture to prove I was in full spandex and completely unashamed!) I had never before been on a road bike, but borrowed Criselda's bike to take part in the city ride. Got to hang out with and ride with some cool folks (Jesse, Brianne & Charlie) during the ride - a welcome encounter away from the safety of the van. I rode for a humble near 20 miles- not bad for a first ride, I say! I couldn't have felt better afterwards, either... I only wish I knew how to get my hands on a nice bike so I could ride when I get home in the fall...

We camped last night and it was AMAZING. I've loved all the people we met in random small churches, but I do wish we'd been camping a bit more. Its so... refreshing to start afresh with the sun and chirping birds in the morning. Awesome.

We're now in Knoxville, TN. I'm starting to get scared of the realization that this trip is going to end some day. A day next week, actually. ugh. No good.

Lots going through my mind these days. Lots of decisions and things God has placed on my heart that is making my mind run constantly, my heart beat faster, and my love grow deeper. Its awesome, exciting, and terrifying. and I would have it no other way. In some ways, it feels appropriate that this is right now. It seems I'll be battling some mental battles, climbing some mountains of my own as we move East into the mountains... and I say, bring it on. There is no mountain we cannot climb, no struggle we cannot overcome.

I do not often have time to write while online (in fact, I am giving up essential sleep to do so now), but I do check in often enough to get the short notes and emails you send. Thank you. PLEASE keep them coming (or start sending them if you haven't yet!). Emails, text messages, facebook messages... I get them. I love them. They make me smile and bring me a new, bright, exciting kind of energy that can come only from the fresh air of the life that goes on around us while we're caught up in biking. I love the team, but there is no way I'd have survived this trip without your support. Thank you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quick, Brief, Over-due Update

It has been far too long since I've updated, and for that I apologize to any looking forward to thoughts from the road. I've had only minimal opportunities to get online, and am often so busy with life on the road that I find minimal time to catch up by taking time to write!

Today is no exception... I think we have most of the evening free, but I have some miscellaneous tasks I must get done, and it is my goal to ACTUALLY get some good rest tonight. I haven't done that in quite some time.

Since I last wrote, we exited Texas, and entered into Louisiana, where we stayed for only one night but had the chance to go and meet Matthew's dad in the hospital. We also got to eat dinner as a whole team with Matthew again, which was great. To top it off, my good friend Katie McKay was able to join us... and it was GREAT to see her!!! So refreshing...

We had a brief run in Arkansas, during which time Matthew joined up with the team to ride for the week (until we reach Nashville). Turns out after his dad met us and saw how wonderful the team is, he kicked him out and told him to join us ;). We are glad he did.

Upon leaving Arkansas, we had a day ride through Mississippi and landed in Tennessee. In Memphis we had a great place to stay - Habitat for Hope. Initially we were going to camp on their property, but it turned out they had no one staying that night, so we were blessed to be welcomed inside, free from mosquitoes and dreadful humidity.

Yesterday we were in Jackson, where we stayed in a place far more "LARGE" and eloquent than any place I imagined I'd find myself in!!! Our hostess could not have been more wonderful, though... and I had a GREAT conversation with another hostess, Leighann, that blessed me so much! I loved chatting with her, and this brief stay absolutely made me wish we could stay in some of these places longer!!! Check out the ride:well site for pictures of this palace... it was gorgeous and I'm sure others got pictures.

Jackson did bring with it some terrible circumstances that have been resolved to be okay by now. As the house was out in the country and kind of hard to find, one of the bikers put her bike (less one wheel) out by the front gate so others would see it and turn in. It worked! Don said he almost missed it, but because of the bike, didn't. When the last riders arrived, we went to get the bike... and it had been stolen. It was kind of like a bad dream and incredibly surreal... Our hosts could not have been more understanding, compassionate, and wonderful, and were on the phone with others in the community within minutes. By the end of the night, a bike shop had offered a great deal (half price!), someone had offered to donate the money, and she had the exact same bike (except colors) with all new equipment - including a pump and computer. AMAZING. God is so good... I'm not sure how that all happened, really.

We rode into Dickson today. Its a short ride tomorrow to Nashville, where we will spend the weekend with Blood:Water folks. There's even a city ride! Then Sunday night there's a concert (Matthew Perryman Jones, Sixpence None the Richer) to benefit Blood:Water. I'm really excited for it. I'm also really excited to have some down time. I think there are dinners with the team and Blood:Water folks, but that is SO different from a presentation or something... the Blood:Water folks are becoming increasingly like friends more than anything. So it will be good to see them. We have the ride Saturday morning, then are free until the show Sunday. AWESOME.

A bug has also been planted... and there is an extra bike... and someone offered to fit me for it tonight... so if we can work it out, I might ride a bit tomorrow. The team is, by now, a bunch of beasts!!! So I KNOW I'll have a hard time keeping up... and I'm not entirely convinced I can whip out 46 miles on my first ride on a road bike EVER (after doing minimal exercise over the past 6 weeks), but I'm excited to see how it goes. I am, after all, up for trying anything once. And who knows... I might surprise myself, haha