Friday, February 29, 2008

A Garrett-style "Retreat"

We were required to go to a retreat today as a part of our Field Education program. I must admit, I went in with sour feelings about it because the last one was a workshop- there was nothing about it that felt like a retreat! Further, I don't feel its appropriate for them to require us to go to day-long activities on what is for many of us the only day that we can have as Sabbath. As seminarians, we are often very protective of our time, and especially on a week like this one, I was far from willing to give up my much-needed Sabbath day if I could get out of it in any way.

Of course, I couldn't. Not if I want to pass the course. So we went, grudges and all. I brought my computer hoping I could at least get some work done, which might allow me to have some rest later. But of course they expected that so welcomed us with a no-computer policy. Awesome.

The first 3/4 of the retreat was not terrible, but it was far from ideal. They gave us some worksheets and asked us to reflect and write on some personal thoughts about where the questions left us. About the fruits and growing pains and failings of our personal lives, ministries, academic settings, etc. In asking us to do so, we were encouraged to be honest, as no one was going to see what we wrote... and no one would be asked to share. Then after we wrote, we were asked to get into pairs with someone we didn't know and share. All a bit confusing and backwards...

After finishing a series of these questions, we were asked to make a visual aid of our calling (and/or ministry). We knew this was coming- we had been asked to bring magazines to cut up, etc. Typically, I'm not an artsy person, but this kept me busy as I flipped through some old magazines I hadn't had a chance to look at in a while. It was surprisingly fun. Who knew- making collages is an appropriate (required) project for graduate students? I certainly could have found better use for our 2 hours of time spent making and explaining them, but overall, it was kind of fun. It was great to see how others chose to design theirs, and to see how so very many of the collages were fitting to who I know my classmates to be.

Since it'll probably sit on my table (maybe I'll put it on my fridge...) for a few days before it gets thrown out, I thought it would be appropriate to post this for others to see. Mine is mostly words that caught my attention, with only a few pictures. Even though there was no rhyme or reason or thought process as I cut out random words, I think they all seem to go together quite nicely.Note: Comments and Inquiries welcome. Such as why specific words, pictures, etc? I'm too tired to type out a full explanation of all of it tonight, but if you have any Q's, I'm happy to later!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Hope in Kenya

There is good news from Kenya today, where after months of violence and upset in Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga have made a progressive step towards peace. It brings hope to their broken nation, and I can only hope for more good news...
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have signed an agreement to end the country's post-election crisis.

At a ceremony in Nairobi, the two men put their signatures to a power-sharing deal brokered by ex-UN head Kofi Annan.

A coalition government comprising members of the current ruling party and opposition will now be formed.

Some 1,500 people died in political violence after Mr Odinga said he was robbed of victory in December's polls.

To read the full article, click here. Here's to more hoping there is more good news to come! May there be peace among Kenyans in the very near future...

Finding Peace in a Blind Hope

Today, I am filled with hope.

Last fall, a prospective student named Mary Ann came to visit. With a pairing of my experiences working in the Admissions office last year and my recent return from South Africa, I was asked to serve as her hostess during her stay on campus. So I obliged, and invited her to join me for the evening at a friend's house.

Long story short- she's amazing. We had some great conversations about the process of choosing a seminary, of course... but we also had the chance to talk about things that go much deeper than that. About our shared passions for Africa and the important work needing done there. We share similar insights not only theologically but practically in how we as "Westerners" should go about playing the roles we are called to in some of these ministries.

At the time, she was working to fundraise and prepare herself for a year of living and working in Kenya. As a result of the political messiness going on over there, she has now been asked by the church she was to be working with not to come. As can be imagined, this is incredibly disappointing, and has since led to frustration as she waits with great anticipation for what may be next.

There are hopeful potentials that have come up for her in the past couple of days, and she could use prayer in the next weeks (months!) as she, along with her contacts and UMVIM, work out where she will be placed. It is an exciting time, and I am pleased that God allowed for our lives to collide in the way they have that I might be able to hear her story. To, in some ways, live vicariously through it, and be able to support her. I know my short time in South Africa was one that changed and molded me into who I am, and I desire for her to answer the call of Africa that has similarly been placed on her heart. Who knows... maybe someday we'll even be able to serve together? God works in mysterious ways, and the fact that we've been in contact this long reminds me that stranger things have happened.

Please pray for Mary Ann through her discernment and for her anxiety as she searches for answers in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An Illness befalls me Again.

Today, I am frustrated.

In the six weeks since my return from England, I have been sick three times. Three. The first, I was convinced was a bad cold that wiped me for just over a week. Then the second, I thought was a flu, and I was out for about 5 days. Now, just a week after deciding I was over, I am sick again.

After waking up yesterday not feeling well, and it only getting worse today, I decided this is unnatural and it has probably been the same strain that my body can't fight off. So I broke down and went to a doctor. Anyone who knows me, knows that takes a bit for me- especially since I don't even have a doctor here! So I called around to see where I could get in as a new patient, and finally made it to see one today.

I went. I even left class early to get there. Then he talked to me for about 5 minutes, decided I have a virus (for 6 weeks?), gave me a decongestant and bid me farewell. But not before asking me to schedule another appointment to come in for a full physical and get some blood work done, etc. Umm.... I'm pretty sure 1- a full physical isn't necessary and 2- if the blood work is necessary and related to this, shouldn't we do it now, while I'm here, rather than make multiple trips out in this freezing weather? I have no doubt the significant amount of time I spend in the cold (because I walk everywhere) plays a role in my weakening immune system... fewer trips to the doctor means fewer times I have to walk the mile (one way) in the cold... For all I know I have mono... it would explain why I'm so tired all the time, even when I sleep enough...

argh. Modern Medicine. This is why I don't often go to see doctors. If I'm not better in a couple of days, I may try to see someone else and get a "second opinion." Not because I think I'm dying or anything... but because I just don't think it possible that I would have a virus for 6 weeks that doesn't also have (at least) bacteria on top of it that needs treated (an antibiotic or something). That, and he seemed pretty distraught when he found out what my "profession" was. "Women can be priests? I don't understand" No- I explained I'm United Methodist, women can be clergy, our roles are similar, etc. He thought that was pretty suspicious, and was CLEARLY not excited about the idea. So maybe I'm biased of his opinion as a result of his biases against me... either way, I'm heading off to bed so I can get better soon.

Here's to waking up feeling 100% tomorrow. And NOT spreading whatever I have to the world I will encounter. [thanks for reading my rant. I'm done now.]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Moving from "Thorns to Thanks"

After a scary moment yesterday morning in which my computer had an “attitude problem” and shut down unexpectedly, I was glad it was short-lived and got over it a couple hours later. Clearly it is never good to lose work or have a computer crash, but as I was to preach this morning and my sermon was saved on it, it seemed only all the more important. Fortunately, I lost minimal work and was able to finish my work on the plane/train back to Chicago.

This sermon was one of “those” sermons that I struggled with. Perhaps because it is such a “touchy” topic that I think has to be approached with a gentle yet persistent spirit. “Thorns to Thanks” was the title I was given from our sermon series… so I was preaching on Paul’s thorn and his ability to not just be thankful- but to BOAST of the thorns of his life.

After being unsettled with this sermon and continuing to make changes to it into the night (and even a few this morning), I was a bit uneasy with it until I was standing to preach it. Thankfully, as I stood and prayed to share the message I had prepared, I finally found peace with it, and felt it went okay. Thanks be to God!

As a student, it is days like this that I am thankful for affirmations of my own uncertainties. As there were a lot of guests in the early service this week, I made my way around to greet a few of them, and was surprised to discover that a great deal of our visitors were clergy from out of town! None of them were even together; it just happened to be coincidental that they came on the same morning. I sure am glad I did not know this before I stood up to preach- I’m sure knowing that would only have made me more nervous in my inexperience!

The good news of this is that I had a chance to speak with a few of them and hear their stories and share a bit about what seminary looks like here in Chicago. One man in particular was really surprised to learn that I was an intern/seminarian, that he wouldn’t have guessed it since I seemed so natural and comfortable giving the sermon. While I wouldn’t agree with that, I am honored to receive such a compliment from a retired clergyperson who has been in ministry for 50 years!

I know that I have a lot of things to continue working on, and am a long way from where I want to be as a preacher, teacher, pastor or student, among other things. But today, it is good to hear positive affirmations from people like him, who went on to (unknowingly) talk positively about me behind my back to my site committee chair, of all people. As I am often guilty of being my own worst critic, it is good to be reminded that it isn’t always necessary, because I’m not the one in charge. God has taken over and as I make room for movement of the Spirit, things beyond my own control are said and done for the glory of the Kingdom.

As I remember this and move into writing a short homily for a child’s funeral (a mock-assignment for a class), I am thankful. I am thankful that just as I preached about today, my weakness and vulnerability make me stronger in Christ. Today, that struggle or weakness was in choosing words and ways of relating God’s important message to God’s people who come to hear it. After re-working this sermon several times only to preach something different when I stood up anyway, I am thankful that my own hesitation was able to serve as a vessel of invitation for God to come and take over. I pray this kind of weakness is one that will never move away from me.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blood:Water Banquet

A good day.

I would love to write more, but as you can see, its late. The Blood:Water banquet was tonight, and it was a nice event with a great mix of music and story-telling and meeting lots of folks. Hannah seems fantastic, I wish I could have spoken with and gotten to know her a bit better! I suppose that's actually true for a lot of people... I saw and met and talked to a ton of folks, but little more than small talk. It was nice to be properly introduced to some familiar folks at an event like this one... that is, outside of the usual occasion of a concert or something at which I am attending to be the volunteer.

Lots of notable folks were in the crowd tonight... Jars of Clay played, of course (Light Gives Heat and a new song, from the documentary they did the soundtrack for). We had lovely "digestion music" over dinner to start off our night. (insert joke with Jeremy Lutito of Disappointed by Candy that you won't understand here, lol). Donald Miller was our MC, they interviewed 3 great volunteers, including David Van Buskirk, who I met on the road working for B:W last year. He's gearing up for a summer fundraising project for Blood:Water- a bike tour across the country! We talked a bit about their potential need for another person to drive a support vehicle... maybe I could do that for 2 months? How AWESOME would that be? We'll see what happens with GBGM...

Other things to note from the night: There was an extensive, powerful interview/storytelling of Fred and Milton Ochieng- the two young men from Lwala, Kenya about whom the "Hope for Lwala" documentary has been made. Its big premier is coming up in March, so after that I'll be sure to let everyone know where to find it... you NEED to hear this story and the great work they're doing!
As promised, Hanson was also there. They talked about their time in Africa and the importance of Tom's Shoes. They also played 2 songs for us... but (much to Lynn's disappointment, haha) they didn't play "mmmbop." I do have to admit- I was impressed.

I think thats it for tonight. Its really late- and I need to be rested tomorrow so I can finish up my sermon! I'm a bit sad to go... I hear wonderful things- including a baptism! - are happening at Lynn's church Sunday, and I would love to check it out! But alas, I love my church too... and I kinda have to preach... so its probably good I'll be there ;).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Andy and the Andys

I'm in Nashville, and all is great. Really. Its been great getting to chat with Lynn a bit more- and finally for the first time in person!

We went to a show at the Rutledge tonight- and it was fantastic. It seemed like Lynn knew everyone there. Seriously. Leslie Dudney opened... I guess Lynn didn't know her, haha. But she did know the rest of the performers, and I met most of them. Then Christopher Williams played, followed by "Andy and the Andys." GREAT show. The Andys were hilarious, mostly because they kept cracking themselves up with jokes about Andy, lol.

Stage intro of the Andys was great: they all came on wearing zip-up sweatshirts. Facing away from crowd, sweatshirts came off. All in white T's, they turned around together for us to see that together, their 4 shirts wrote A-N-D-Y. Priceless. Only regret- the Andys didn't play many songs, and I would have loved to have heard more of their solo stuff. mmm and meet Andy Gullahorn too. That would have been fantastic. But Andrew Peterson was FANTASTIC, both in person (before) and performing (to close night) and I can't wait to check out some of his CDs. VERY good stuff!

One final random tidbit of info: I know that a lot of "important" folks will be at this event tomorrow night- the purpose of me coming to this wonderful city. Among others, I discovered tonight that the guest list includes Hanson. No joke. Try not to be too jealous, though ;).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I love winter. Really, I do.

I love the cold, crisp air that hits you as you walk outside. Freezing winter weather is the only time of year you can get that kind of fresh air even in the midst of a city with millions of people and too much pollution. Its beautiful and refreshing.

I love the beautiful white wintery snow that surrounds us... I love walking in it as it falls even more. Its a beautiful mystery of nature, a blessing God has given us to appreciate, marvel in, play in, take time to reflect and be peaceful in. It is glorious.

I could go on, but I think you get the point (since those are the two things people usually hate most about winter!). This year has actually felt like winter with lots of cold temperatures and snow, which is quite different from last year, in which this weather only lasted a couple of weeks.

As much as I love winter, I also sympathize with those who hate it... it definitely does seem to go on forever at times. That, and it does prohibit life from moving on- whether because the roads are too bad to be driving on or because it is too cold for anyone to safely be outside. This was the case this morning when a car wouldn't start so we did not go to the gym... it is only 3/4 of a mile, but that is a LONG walk when it is several degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) (this morning, I think it was -12 with the wind). Putting life at a standstill for more than a day or two at a time can be frustrating, to say the least.

That is why I am glad to be escaping to a different kind of winter. I'll be heading to Nashville tomorrow for a couple of days (I'll be back Saturday!) to attend an event for Blood:Water. I'm REALLY looking forward to it... and while there, I am also looking forward to the "break" in weather- where it will still be cold and rainy (maybe even some snow), but for the most part should be above freezing. Even if above freezing is only by one or two degrees... its a nearly 40 degree difference from here! I can't wait. :)

Now... back to reading... and writing my sermon for Sunday. I was hoping to finish these things before I leave in the morning, but for some reason God seems to think I should write a more intense message this week, and I'm not quite sure what to do with it. So it might take me a bit longer to figure out than originally anticipated. But hopefully it will be good for all- for me in the learning/writing process, and for the congregation that will hear the message this week.

I hope you are staying warm in this frigid weather! For those of you in warmer climates, in the midst of your summers, enjoy some extra sun rays for us! We could use them!

Monday, February 18, 2008


I went to see RENT! last night with a friend from church. For many years, this has been my favorite musical, so when I found out it was coming to Chicago, I couldn't wait!

Unfortunately, it was a HUGE disappointment. While I will admit I had incredibly high expectations (its my favorite and I've waited years to see it!), the buzz of others around me after the show confirms that my disappointment was not just my own. The talent was less than amazing. We had a couple good singers... but only a couple. And the acting wasn't fantastic, either. I think if I had paid a normal price to see it- such as in a community theater or something - I would have been satisfied. But when I paid Broadway in Chicago prices (which I can't actually afford to do), it was completely different. My favorite songs were even butchered when they're beautiful because of great harmonies... and the vocalists were all flat. All night.

HUGE disappointment. If the same tour comes to your city, save your money.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Day To Care for Me- and nothing else matters

Today has been the most lovely of days I have had in a long time. These are the best kinds of days, when we are able to just "let go." Had I planned out today, it would have gone very differently, for I certainly do not have the free time to spare as such that I can take a day off.

Today, however, nothing about time or my workload seemed to matter. It didn't matter that forgot in my exhausted stumble into bed last night to turn my alarm on. So when I instead slept in, I decided it was a sign of the day, and started the day with a smile.

It didn't matter that I wanted to check my email and make breakfast before beginning my daily routine. So instead in my PJs and watched the news; I didn't even shower and dress for the day until nearly 11.

It didn't matter that my cupboards were bare, meaning on most days I would run across the street for only the basics, that way I would not waste time on this full day finding someone to run me to the grocery store. So instead, I grabbed a friend's keys... the keys that I have only because she is not in town and wanted someone to start her car every week or so to make sure the engine still runs despite the sub-zero temperatures (giving me permission to use it if needed, of course).

Today, it didn't matter that I prefer not to drive other peoples' cars, for while I don't worry about my own driving, I can never know what to expect from other people. In turn, it didn't matter that it took me nearly 30 minutes to clear off and shovel out the car before it could be driven anywhere, for time did not really seem to register in the same way it often does.

It didn't matter that it had been over a month since I had been to a grocery store, so my list was ridiculously long. That made it okay that I strolled up and down the isle checking off my list, making multiple trips to some isles as I realized I missed items for new recipes I am excited to try.

It didn't matter that since it may be another month until I make it back, and my cupboards are even running out of essentials such as condiments and spices, my grocery bill was considerably higher than it may ever have been before (except move-in day, of course). This is the price I must be willing to pay if I am going to move from cheap, student-budget unhealthy food into real-world, Jen-needs-to-care-for-her-body food that will actually be nutritious.

It didn't matter that even though I had just purchased a great deal of food, I did not have anything readily available to eat when I got home... so I still got to eat a sandwich. It didn't matter because I was thankful that I have a warm home to come to, with food to feed and nourish me.

It didn't matter that my advisor emailed me, confirming paperwork has been completed so that I have now officially dropped my theology course this semester. I have decided this choice was best for now, and it will keep me from continuous frustration of not getting what I need from the course. I see it as a sign of hope that I will be able to focus more fully on my other classes AND spend more time at church this semester, my last semester in a church field ed.

It did not matter that when I started looking over the food I purchased, I bought mixed quantities, as if when in one isle I thought I would make a double batch, while in another decided against it. I guess that means if the new recipes are any good, I will only have to buy half of the ingredients next time.

It did not matter that I should write my paper. Or go to the gym. Or do something that would make this "day off" feel like a sabbath. The reality is, sometimes things like picking up the house, grocery shopping, and baking are needed for the soul... needed because they are things I have needed to do for far too long, but it took until today to make time for them. It felt good to accomplish these things in my time.

It did not matter that I did not feel like cooking supper. Kim called and invited me to a movie, and the popcorn we shared during the flick seemed to mysteriously be sufficient.

It did not matter that I couldn't afford to go out, because sometimes the world around you cares for you, and a gift to her turned into a gift for me, and I didn't have to worry about it. (In turn, this meant it didn't matter that the film - Jumper- was not as good as anticipated).

It didn't matter that I got home at 10 and still did not want to do work. At this point, why bother? Just take the whole day! So what sounds better to do? Laundry. And guess what? It doesn't matter that I'm not going to get it all done. Doing it a load or two at a time makes it feel considerably less like a chore, and more like something I can check off my list of accomplishments for the day while not feeling like I spent the day doing "stuff."

The most writing I have done all day is for this post- and it does not matter. My sermon, my testimony for church on Sunday, my final paper from my January class to England- it will all get done.

As I wrap up and wait for my clothes to dry so that I can fold them before heading to bed, I realize there is one more thing that doesn't matter. That tomorrow will hopefully be a similar kind of day- at least the beginning of it. I am getting up early tomorrow to go shopping. To spend the day with a friend I don't see often enough. We're starting early with Ikea's finest cinnamon rolls, followed by a hunt for a new suit for me. We'll probably have too many calories, spend too much money, take too much time, and laugh a bit too much for the liking of those around us- but it doesn't matter. It is good for the soul, and both of our souls need it more than we know.

None of these things matter... or rather, maybe they do. Maybe they matter because if there is one consistency here, it is that while each of these small things may matter in some situations, places, and times, there is one thing that we must always remember: small doses. The little things in life aren't worth the (negative) energy we give them. Lets focus on putting that energy in positive ways to things that- in the long run- will matter. [Things like getting A's in classes... will not matter...]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tragedy Strikes NIU

My heart aches on this Valentines Day, finding it hard to imagine how one could be happy on this cold, frigid, bloody day.

There was another shooting at another American University today. Today's shooting took place only about 70 miles away from here, on the campus of Northern Illinois University. 21 people were shot in a classroom, where a former Graduate student opened fire in a lecture hall full of geology students with a shotgun and two handguns. After injuring 16 of those victims and killing 5, he then shot himself.

I'm speechless and heartbroken and frustrated with the media. People need time to mourn and try to make sense of this senseless situation. Yet the media is plastered with photos and video feed of events immediately following the shooting, including pictures of victims before they received care (one of a stuent shot in the leg, surrounded by students who had carried him to safety in another building) or on stretchers, covered in blood, as they're put into an ambulance- with a clear site of the person's face. Is this really "just a news story" to them?

Today's shooter was a Sociology Grad student NIU last spring. Sociology. Whenever a tragedy like this one strikes, I always wonder what kind of pain they must have first experienced. What would drive them to that point? Today, I feel like this is an even deeper question, as he was s Sociology student. Sociology. The study of people and groups. The study of human interactions with one another... What might his educated mind- that probably understood what this would do to people before, after and during the event- have been thinking?

Its been a long couple of weeks. I've had a long week. Blessed, but long. But nothing compared to these poor folks who are hurting so much tonight. So I do the only thing I know how to do. Pray. Then listen. Then Pray. and Pray some more. I hope you will join me. As we pray together, let us remember one thing that is hard to remember in these moments: God Loves That Guy. I hope we can too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

God Loves That Guy

In the past couple of weeks, I've really enjoyed listening to some new artists I've recently discovered. One song I've come across that has really impacted me has been "That Guy" by Andy Gullahorn. We're doing a sermon series on "Changes" at church right now, and having the kind of love that song talks about is a change I would love to see for my life- for all of our lives. What a different place our world would be... Next week we'll be singing this song in church, and I can only hope the words stick with the congregation as much as they have stuck with me.

Since I first suggested this song, I've been asked several times where I found it. Long story short, I found it through The Square Peg Alliance (I wrote more on that here), though I knew I'd heard it somewhere else before, and just wasn't sure where. Then tonight I did a YouTube search to see if there were any videos out there with this song, only to discover that my friend Karl made a video to it (explaining why the song was familiar- I'd seen it on his website before). This is a great video with an incredible display of the sad reality of our world... and our great need to reach beyond the sins and short-fallings of ourselves and those around us and into the world God has called us to: a world of love.

Teach me to love like that.

Under the Weather

It is a special kind of frustration that I feel when I am sick. Helpless, even to myself, I drag when I am ill. Fortunately for modern medications, my new-found virus (flu, I think) is being held off for now. But it sure made for a couple of long, unproductive days this weekend.

I wonder what it is that has made my immune system so weak as to get sick after only two weeks from the last time I caught something? Last time it was combined with jet-lag, and as such knocked me out for an entire week. I was thankful for it, though, for since I had time off from classes, I was able to take the time I needed to rest- physically, emotionally, spiritually. It was great.

This time, I don't feel so fortunate. Not only do I not have time to rest, I'm in crunch mode as a result of taking an entire week off before. Of course, it isn't just the cold I had last time, but more like a flu, bringing with it all kinds of aches and pains, a fever, severe congestion and a deep, painful cough, which in turn is giving me the wonderful "joy" of a sore throat. If I'm not better in a couple of days, I suppose I should find a doctor, for it has crossed my mind that it might be something more like Bronchitis- in which case an antibiotic might do me some good.

Its really too bad to be sick, on many levels. Not just in that whinny "I don't want to be sick again" kind of way, but in light of time and my ability to actually care for myself right now. I was perhaps even thankful for the opportunity to be under the weather last time, for it provided the opportunity I needed to rest and the excuse I was looking for not to go out into the cold, wet weather. But to do it twice would put me pretty far behind... and its too early in the semester for that!

Thats why today is different. Not only do I desperately need higher energy levels to get a ridiculous amount of work done this week (my J-term paper is due Friday!!), but I also LOVE this FREEZING cold weather we're having right now, and I would love to be out appreciating it! I almost feel guilty to say that I am enjoying this weather- a dry, windy cold with highs in negative digits (well, it did get to 0F today), with the wind chill making it "feel like" anywhere from -20 to -30F... but while it is cold and windy, it is also dry with snow on the ground and the sun shinning! Of course I wouldn't want such weather day in and out, but since I am one of very few people who does appreciate the beauty of days like this (air doesn't get any more fresh or crisp than in this kind of cold!), I would like to appreciate them when the come. On the other side, it also scares me when its this cold, and I hold up in prayer those who are homeless or without heat... it is far too cold for anyone to spend significant amounts of time outside and be able to survive in it. (Free time or not, since I'm sick I will NOT be going out in it and risking making whatever I have worse...)

Funny to think of how I'm struggling with being sick now after talking about how I was thankful for it last time, as I'm also beginning to "brew" ideas for a sermon I'm preaching in a couple of weeks on changes in our personal lives: "From Thorns to Thanks." Hmmm. Perhaps for today, I should focus more on the sermon I need to have completed by this coming weekend- a sermon based on John Wesley's "The More Excellent Way" - surely there is a more excellent way to live than allowing the flu to overcome me... right? (Perhaps I should tell my professor that... and in turn I should spend my time in a more excellent way than in writing a 30-page paper for him!!!)

Cold weather. Lots of floating viruses. Papers to be writing. Yes... the semester has officially begun!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Our Broken, Hurting World

Tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. That is all I hear on the news.

What is going on? Watching the news this evening, they moved from one thing to another, as if it were no big deal. No progress on the shooter at a Lane Bryant store, where five people were killed "execution style" and the shooter is still unidentified. Then to the shooting at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri in which five people were killed before the shooter was gunned down (and killed) by police. Then to Louisiana, where it again wasn't even the headline that someone shot and killed two people before killing themself at a Technical college in Louisiana. Then to Georgia, where there was an explosion that killed 4 people, with 4 others still missing.

Is it always like this? Is this what our world- the very communities we live in- have become? Maybe it is. But does it have to be? What can we be doing- what have we been doing- that has made it become this way, most people don't even bat an eye. There was a shooting at a college today!!!! and no one even noticed or flinched!!! I can't even find the story on some of the main news websites! (It was here on CNN... but should I have to LOOK for such stories?!?)

Perhaps I am feeling a bit over-emotional about such things in light of more tragedies striking at home. There was ANOTHER fatal car accident. That's so many in the past 6 months I've seriously lost track! I still think about JJ and the Nelson family almost daily, knowing (via FB status updates and lots of pictures) that JJ is struggling so much with Alex's death. :(. That one hit close to home... this time, I don't think I know the boys involved, but there were three, all pronounced "dead on arrival." 18, 19, 20 years old. It was late, only the driver was wearing a seatbelt... of course everyone's first question is "were they drinking?" but no one knows yet... they went of the road and hit a tree, but the roads were icy so it is quite possible they (or at least the driver) were not. Regardless, 3 more lives were tragically lost early this morning, and again my very small town is mourning the lost lives of young people who still had so much to offer. Even from afar, even not knowing the boys, its hard. Its hard because in the days to come, I know I will feel I "need" to be home, to support those in the community I do love. Because even if I wasn't close to the boys, I know people I am close to and love were. As I wrote before in my post "Life and Death in a Small Town", thats whats great- and terrible- about living in a small town.

I'm thinking and praying and seeking a deeper kind of rest on this cold winter evening. May everyone be safe and warm and find time to be thankful for the blessed lives we lead, and for the blessing of the lives who share our lives with us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Coming Into the Change of Seasons

Today is the first day of the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday.

Its a snowy, dreary day that has been filled with a blizzard of mixing ice and snow, filling the streets and sidewalks with inches of slush to make your way through if you're brave enough to be out in it.

Because of this snow, many churches in the area canceled their evening Ash Wednesday service. At Holy Covenant, we did not, as it didn't make sense to when the pastor lives only upstairs and the interns didn't have to drive in (thankful for public transport- trains- on days like this!). So we continued with our service, singing a capella because our musician couldn't make it in the snow. It was peaceful, reflective, beautiful, and just what I needed.

Until this evening, I struggled with the fact that its already Lent. It seems so early, I feel so distant from it. I'm not ready for the struggle and reflection and all that comes with this season. I hadn't even decided "where I am" in terms of what may be best for me to "give up" or "take on" as my own sacrifice this season.

Tonight, that changed. I was blessed by the music, message, readings and prayers that were offered. I was blessed by the full community of people who knew that church is where they needed to be on this holy night... one of the only Christian holidays, Trey pointed out, that isn't made into a big affair by Hallmark. I think we often forget- because Hallmark isn't there to remind us, what an important holy day it is, though. There is no commercialism to help us "prepare" for the season. There is no preparation, it just arrives. At least thats how it felt for me this year. Especially after a big "Mardi Gras" celebration at church Sunday, on campus last night... celebrating with festivities just before entering this season of reflection has proven itself a challenging transition for me this year. And I sense that many others share that with me.

This service helped me to transition into a different place, and for that I am thankful. I have some things to pray about yet tonight before any decisions are made, but I am looking forward to beginning a new season tomorrow. Praying and repenting for the reality of not being ready on time- not anything unusual from where I (we?) often find myself/ourselves.

The past 2 years I have given up "inessential beverages" - everything but water- for Lent. I have done so with purpose, as a kind of extended "Two Week Sacrifice" to raise funds for water wells in communities that don't even have the most basic essential of life: clean water. A week ago, I was convinced I wasn't called to do that this year. I didn't follow it today. But now, I'm not so sure. After thinking about during the service, reflecting on how I learn and grow from that experience, I came home to check my email and find this article in my email. A blog written to challenge us to do that very same thing this year that I have done the past two years. A challenge I believe I needed to see tonight, in that very moment it came to me.

I have determined it is best not to make any decisions on where this season is leading me until morning, after I can pray and reflect on it further. After all, that is what this season is about. But whatever I decide, I am thankful tonight for the transition that I finally feel, that I have finally been offered, that I am finally a part of where Christ (or at least the Church) is calling us to be at this time of year. There is a time and a season for everything... and this season is one to repent, reflect, and to seek new ways of living. As I struggle through this season of transition and sacrifice, I hope you will struggle with me, and in the end, we will come away from this season changed, renewed, refreshed and alive, celebrating the new life and hope that only Christ can offer us.

A Great Musical Discovery

I just discovered something that has made my day- maybe even my month!

As you probably know, I *LOVE* music, and my life wouldn't be complete without it. Especially when the lyrics (I love those that make me think, are intense and/or in-your-face) match up all too perfectly with the music. It isn't about one or the other (lyrics or music), its about balance of the two.

One of my favorite artists is Derek Webb. From him, I've found a few Andrew Osnega songs I love, and from there, I've branched out to yet a few more. Its been a wonderful process of discovery of amazing artists. Yesterday, I was browsing Andrew Osnega's website and for the first time clicked on a peculiar link that read "The Square Peg Alliance."

The Square Peg Alliance may be my best musical discovery of the year! I know its early, but this is great! I followed the link to find that other amazing (many independent) artists have formed an "alliance" to support one another. In the description, the website reads:
That is why we are the Square Peg Alliance. Thirteen artists who might not fit perfectly into the traditional mold of the music business, but have found a home with each other.
About 2 weeks ago, I discovered a couple new acoustic artists- I don't remember how, but I have been VERY pleased with this new music and the incredible depth to it. One of those artists- Andy Gullahorn- is a part of this alliance. If that is any kind of tell, I think I may have just discovered an amazing "alliance" of artists I'm about to fall in love with. I can't wait!!! I'm going to check them out- you should too!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday

Today is Super Tuesday. An important day, and I am anxious to see the results.

Today, 24 states will be taking part in primaries and caucuses to help determine who will be the next US presidential candidates.

I've been anxiously checking polls to see how its going, but really, there is no way to tell this early. The only thing we do know is that Huckabee won the caucus in West Virginia. That is good news for McCain supporters, who were hoping to do anything they can to prevent Romney from winning. So far, its working. Only time will tell how this works out in the end.

I have to work tonight (read: GET to go to Dignity Diner!). So while I'm chatting away on this SUPER Fat Tuesday, I hope everyone in those 24 states (Illinois included!) is out voting! Its time for CHANGE- let's do it!

A Surprise Frustration from an Easy Class

Today is the second day of the new semester, and I can already feel the pressures of too many things I've go going on piling up. But no worries- most of these things are good, exciting things, and I have taken them on willingly. The stress I expect to endure over the next couple of weeks in order for all said things to happen, will be worth it.

After a fantastic first class last night, my morning started today quite routinely, meeting my friend Beth as the sun rose to head to the gym, after which I headed straight to my second class: Pneumatology, Ecclessiology, and Eschatology. Yep. All 3 in one. Good times...

My problem is this: I have loved my time at Garrett, and value the classes and experiences I've had. However, in light of some of the changes that are occurring with administration and faculty, things are a bit sticky. They're getting better, and things are really looking up- enough that I would definitely encourage anyone applying to look into Garrett. However, that doesn't take from the fact that I feel like my class kind of got "gypped." This is my third theology class I've taken at Garrett, and while none of them have been terrible, I don't feel like any of them have really pushed me, either. After only one day of class, I am absolutely sure this class will be the same.

There are many reasons for thinking this, the most obvious one is something I did not run into in the other 2 courses I took (which I loved! but could have been pushed more). We have 3 major texts we'll be focusing on- one for each topic. All 3 of them are Moltmann's texts. NO diversity in texts there... I feel like- and the lecture today solidified it- I'm studying what Moltmann thinks more than I'm focusing on how we as theologians can/should form our own theologies around these three very important pieces of theology... Not to mention that our only "research" (he REALLY emphasized how important it is to do good research!) paper of the semester has limitations like not using more than 5 resources. 5!?! I think the last time I used so few was in high school! Ok, maybe freshman year of college... but still! I guess quality over quantity? But I like being able to have more diversity of resources than that...

Maybe it will be fine. I've thought a lot about dropping the class with hopes that I can take one of the other 2 faculty next year... but I have to take 2 theology electives left to take, and I don't want to have to double-up and take 2 together next year (as that would leave 3 theology classes in 2 semesters)- if I did that, i know they wouldn't get what they deserve anyway. The only other theology classes this semester don't work with my schedule.

I've looked at the syllabus and evaluated the work load, and while I initially thought about dropping one class just because I'll be so busy at church, etc this semester, this one wouldn't make sense, as it doesn't seem like its going to be that hard. So I guess my question is- do I "suck it up" and take it now, even if it means I'm getting gypped on what my education could/should/would be if I waited? I could always read more later, or even sit in on classes next year (though I know better than to think I will have time to actually do that). Hmm. I guess I've already decided, and I'll stick with the class. It might pleasantly surprise me. But I'm also a bit sad about it, knowing that I'm not getting what I should out of it. Fearing that my theology is going to suffer more long-term as a result of it.

Or maybe it will be fine... and I'm concerned over this needlessly...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Journey of Life

A friend challenged me today to think about what kind of person I am in terms of settling, and what that may look like/mean for my life. Specifically, the questions she posed (perhaps about herself, but asking us to consider and journey with her) were specific...and after sharing thoughts on what journeys have been, it came down to these questions, which she posed to us in her own blog:
Do I want to be the 100 mile type who is going to chose a community and settle in? Do I wish to invest in building a community over 40 or 50 years?
Or Do I wish to continue my vocational wanderings, offering to the local communities powerful and intense gifts, but spreading seeds rather than tending the soil over a countless cycle of seasons? Do I wish to continue sharing the beauty of something people had not previously imagined before I came into their limited perspectives?
Are you a 100 mile type? or a Nomad? How do you reconcile any tension you feel about your decision? How do you feel about your friends who are the other-type (than you are)? Is there a third way of being which I have not considered?
Great questions to ask, and many good solutions to give. I know the pain and struggles that come with moving in and out of communities. The community I work in now at Holy Covenant knows the pain of nomads all too well also, as we wished well 2 persons even today as they moved on to new communities. A lot of people would call it a generational gap, but many of my colleagues would disagree; I know many who may have moved away for school for now, but would think of nothing but moving back "home" when it is all done. It seems thats how most of my small town I grew up in is. That's how my family is- and that's part of why they don't understand why I had to "just go."

Just as I have shared her questions and ask you to think of where your life has led you and how/why you are journeying on the path you are, I also want to share my response. The words and reasons I would choose to describe why I am a nomad would perhaps change from season to season, but regardless of words I use, one truth remains:

I am definitely a Nomad. Sure, as a nomad I also do my best to live into the "third way" of making community and living fully into the community in which I currently reside. But even as I do so here, I know Chicago is not home. Sure, its the place I currently live and the place I call "home" at the end of long days/journeys, but I'm not in this for the long haul. But that doesn't mean I am not doing my best to fully live into the community at hand, to make it "homey" for the time being.

As a nomad, its both freeing and difficult to know that I don't have a place I can call home in the sense others talk about it. My family - my "home" where I grew up - would always welcome me back, and I will always make it to visit, but as many know from tales of my visits there, this place is not now (nor do I ever see it being in the future) a place I could call "home."

I'm at peace being a nomad. I'm okay with being a part of communities for limited times, whether it be months or even years at a time. Its refreshing, insightful, and hopeful. Every new place, culture, community I encounter or become a part of teaches me something and plays a role in shaping me to become a better person for tomorrow.

Perhaps being a nomad for me is about knowing that in all I've done and all that I've seen and in all of the people I've met, one thing is continually reinforced: no one ever has- or perhaps ever will- truly know me. [Part of this relates to my blog yesterday about being a traveler and having different parts of me scattered throughout the world.] I am yet to know a person who will not let me down from time to time. No one, that is, except God. God who is constant, loving, and empowering no matter where I am or what the situation. It is upon that refreshing realization in each new community that I realize the one person I look up to most- Jesus- was also a nomad. No really ever knew him well either. And that's okay.

In these realizations, I am comforted that while it would be nice to have a "home" to go to, it is okay that I don't.

John Wesley said "the world is my parish" - and I truly believe that some people are called to be nomads and minister to the world in such ways. He was. I believe I am. I am thankful there are different types of people called to different places, and I am thankful that one thing I don't have to worry about in ministry is fear of the itinerant system, for I would have it be no other way.

Mardi Gras Sunday

Mardi Gras Sunday today went GREAT! It was MUCH better than I felt like last year went, and I had a great time singing, dancing, blowing a whistle and even recruiting people for a conga line during the closing song of worship. It was a fantastic way to celebrate just before we get serious in the beginning of Lent!

After a rough morning of not waking up until it was ten minutes past time for me to be out the door for church (literally... the phone call wondering where I was woke me up), I am pleased everything ran so smoothly today. That it didn't have to be "one of those days." I'm also glad that this week of all weeks, we had been planning to go extra early b/c Kim needed to be there an hour before I did! Which meant I had time (though not much!) to get ready and run out the door (quite literally) to catch a train. And of all days, the train was ahead of schedule today and running smoothly, so it got me there in 45 minutes rather than the minimum 60 it usually takes!
As worship was followed by a productive meeting, I feel like today has great potential for productivity yet. Superbowl? Not today. I have lots of work to get to... and am not even a small fan of either team. I think thats a first in a long time, so I guess I'll take advantage of it as a work day and watch the commercials I missed online tomorrow. (that's the most important part anyway, right?) :)

oh... and one more thing that makes today great- I got tickets to go see RENT!!! Its coming to Chicago for only 6 days... and I've ALWAYS wanted to see it! Thankfully I found someone at church today (kind of on accident) who wants to see it!!!! Its only 2 weeks from today!!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Life Is Now.

I am in a very reflective mood today. A lot of things have played a role in bringing me to where I am: the weather, recent conversations, hearing from long-lost friends unexpectedly (and joyfully!).

There are a lot of things running through my mind. Things that are a part of me that I'm not sure any one person could ever fully understand. It reminds me of the pros and cons of being a traveler. That with every new place I visit, every new person I meet, they get to know a new part of me. Then as the day comes and I have to leave, a part of me is left behind. Only to be reclaimed in part if and when I return there. It is a wonderful gift to have been able to share so much of myself with the world as it also shares itself with me. Yet it is also hard.

Its hard because it also means that as I have experienced so much in so many different places with so many different people, I have also left pieces of myself that are not meant to be reclaimed. Pieces that I really miss. Pieces that even those I have shared my entire life with cannot understand. It means that no one knows me inside and out like my own family used to, like I thought my friends did in high school....

Some of- no- THE best times of my life have been spent abroad. Today, I am thinking of my time in Australia. This week marks three years since we first left. Since I first met that random group of girls in the airport in LA and discovered we were all going to the same study abroad program. Since I made some of the best friends a girl could ever hope for, had some of the most exciting and life-giving experiences I could ever ask for, was given insight to my future in ways I never anticipated. It was in Australia that began the journey of more fully realizing the vocational importance of international missions and community development. While there I developed the practice of keeping Sabbath for the first time, and from that discovered my own call to go to seminary and spend my life in ministry. I studied, I traveled, I volunteered... I loved, I hurt, I played... I cried and laughed and loved and... more than I ever had before or ever have since (with the exception of maybe South Africa) ... I LIVED.

I am reminded of my blessed life I lived there today. For today, I was able to finally catch up with one of those friends who helped me to live so fully while we journeyed to the other side of the world. No doubt, it was just as intense and life-changing for her, and as such, we were able to live, grow, laugh and cry together. And today, we have our friendship, and even though we live over a thousand miles apart, the simple sound of her voice or a thoughtful 2-line email puts this part of me at ease.

Today, we shared in memories lost and gone and distant, yet vivid and real with intense feelings still attached. And today, she reminds me of the power of words. That we should tell one another how and when we are encouraged by one another. That we care. That we are thankful for our friendship. Why wait until tragedy strikes, until someone leaves or is lost? We must live now. "Life is now." We must live today, not waiting for a, b, c to happen so we can do x, y, z. You're right, Rosie. Life is now. It begins today. Even through our frustration, confusion or anxiety of what the future holds, the reality is, what happens today could change that. So live for it. Don't forget to live today fully- don't forget that if you don't, tomorrow may never happen.

Life is now. That first day we met in LA, we had no idea what we were in store for, how life changing the next 5 months would be. The same could be true of today- of this semester. Maybe the next 5 months will be the best of my life- we'll never know unless we live them. So while I am heart-broken with missing friends, places, and opportunities of far-off places, I am also thankful for them. I look forward to what this new year will bring.

Thank you, Rosie, for being such an inspiration and a great reminder of all that life is- and can be.

A Season of Change

Today is February 2, and I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed this year!

Not only is it already February, but Ash Wednesday is only 4 days away!!! Granted, Lent begins very early this year, but I am still in disbelief that we are already there. As my site supervisor Trey said last week, "I feel like baby Jesus should still be in diapers!"

Fortunately, the peacefulness and reflective mood that the snow storm brought with it this week has helped me to move on from that, but I'm still not quite there. Maybe the Mardi Gras celebration at church tomorrow, the beginning of classes on Monday, and the Ash Wednesday service on Wednesday evening will help me to move the rest of the way- help me to transition into this new season of reflection. Maybe by Wednesday I'll be there. Ready or not, it will be ready for me.

In my misplacement this season of sensing the changing seasons, I am not yet sure what Lent will mean for me this year. In the past, it has been very important, transforming and life-giving to me in new ways. I was always more sure going into it what I was going to "sacrifice" or add to my devotional life as a step toward drawing closer to God. As of today, I do not feel as connected to such changes as I have in the past, and it is a bit disappointing. Partly this is because I'm not ready for it, but I am also aware that it has to do with the great changes I have undergone in the past year. I am in a very different place- and a very different person- than I was one year ago. For that I am thankful. Yet I am still struggling to discover more fully what exactly that means for me.

As we journey into this new season, I look forward to it with hope. I see it as a time not to be depressed and hard on ourselves, focusing only on sacrifices, but as an opportunity to seek change. All the talk we have heard recently is how the world is ready for a change. Perhaps that change needs to start with individuals. Perhaps that change needs to start with me. Here. Now. How? Only God knows, but this is as good of a time as any to explore...

Groundhog Day

Today, the silly 120-year old tradition of Groundhog Day continued.

This morning at approximately 7:30am, the Groundhog ("Phil") emerged, saw his shadow, and ran away, determining that we will have another 6 weeks of winter.

Of course, had he not seen his shadow, we would know Spring to be right around the corner... in 6 weeks. (haha)

Alas, winter continues. If we continue to have wonderful snow storms like the one we had this week, I'll take it! I look forward to more opportunities to enjoy and reflect upon life in the midst of the pure white beauty that is snow.

Friday, February 1, 2008

New Mammal Discovered in Tanzania

The BBC reports today that this creature is the most recent discovery by a team of Scientists studying wildlife in Tanzania.
The bizarre-looking creature, dubbed Rhynochocyon udzungwensis, is a type of giant elephant shrew, or sengi.

The cat-sized animal, which is reported in the Journal of Zoology, looks like a cross between a miniature antelope and a small anteater.

It has a grey face, a long, flexible snout, a bulky, amber body, a jet-black rump and it stands on spindly legs.
Discoveries like this always amaze me. No matter how much we think we know about this amazing world in which we live, there is always more to learn, more to discover, more to see and experience. It amazes me. God amazes me. How creative, how imaginative, how seemingly impossible to continue to add to the diverse, amazing, awe-filled world in which we live!

You can read more on the grey-faced elephant shrew here.

The latest Extreme Trend

I've heard of some pretty unusual extreme sports, but this is a new one: Extreme Knitting.

No joke. People are even "tagging" (graffiti with yarn) places all over the world. More is described in this slide show:Evidently January was National Hobby Month. Who knew? We could have celebrated by helping Knit Knit take the most random of places!