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.