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.