Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sri Lanka: Cool Breezes and Gentle Whispers

Freshly showered, mentally foggy, and sipping coffee, I wrestle with all the ways Sri Lanka was nothing like I expected. I have learned from various trips to and through the majority world to hold expectations loosely because the only guarantee is plans will change. All plans changed a few days before arrival.

After 36 hours of travel, we arrived to the heat and humidity of a tiny fishing village no one has heard of in the corner of a country most people can not locate on a map. Our first day included attending a funeral for a teenage boy who had been killed by a drunk driver. Walking into a grieving, questioning village is anything but a light, airy welcome you expect after 3 days of travel. As I stood at the opening in the fence, I saw the heaviness of loss and grief of a family who lost their only means of income in a senseless accident. I spent this time in prayer as the Buddhist monks officiated the ceremony, and then the body was carried through the village on the way to its final resting place. The village followed silently as a mother stumbled in shock as she buried her oldest son. I was utterly at a loss for words. I felt so small, insignificant, and useless in those moments, but a breeze kicked up just as I was lamenting the amount of sweat dripping down my back and the feeling of hopelessness for this family. The breeze was a beautiful reminder of the opportunity to be hands and feet by simply choosing to be present at a funeral, in a village of hurting people. 

All previous plans changed to accommodate the seven days of mourning which accompany a death in this village. Instead of hosting a weekly tea for the women in the village, we spent our second day visiting an injured teenager from the same accident in the hospital. If you have ever ventured into a government hospital in the majority world, you know the assault of sights and smells upon entry. Seeing this boy's face light up as his mom, brother and a gang of foreigners crowded around his bed was a beautiful reminder of the joy found in the midst of sorrow. Each change in plans proved to be a new, unexpected way to love this village.

Our days were filled with wandering through the village to sit with women as they talked about the reality of loosing this boy, and the hard realities of making ends meet when fishing season is coming to an end. We drank endless amounts of tea with way too much sugar, and one particular cup winning the worst cup of tea award. Our friends in the village taught us new card games which meant a streak of losses which bruised my competitive ego along with lots of laughter. We sat with a mom who had prayed for years for a baby as she gentle rocked her sweet baby boy to sleep. We got a workout as we played in the waves with children clinging to arms as the waves continued to crash. Laughter rang out from the shore and the waves as we collectively released the weight of a week of sadness.

Sri Lanka allowed me the time and space to sit back and be an observer. I watched the beauty of community grow as I sat and chose to listen to new friends. I was overwhelmed by the gentle whispers and cool breezes providing comfort as we wandered through the village. Anne Lamott sums it up beautifully in the title of her book Help Thanks Wow. Those words were often on my heart as I sat with a grieving family, shared a meal with new friends, and watched beauty appear all around me. This little corner of the world is now stitched into my story and my heart. 




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Release

Release. It's the act of letting go. Moving on. A deep exhale. Release is the best word to describe this season of transition as I say goodbye to camp.

Forest Home has been a huge part of my journey over the last 6 summers. I have learned the beauty of community and the messiness of choosing to walk with people as they process their journey. I have seen Jesus radically transform lives in the span of a few days. I have sat with youth pastors as they lament in the midst of a hard season. My summers were reserved for serving hundreds of churches and thousands of campers. I loved the chaos of late night stage building and preparing worship experience. I looked forward to sipping coffee with staff as they processed through what God was teaching them at camp. I sat in awe of voices crying out to the Creator of the universe in worship. I witnessed transformation through high fives, prayers and bear hugs. These are the things that made it easy to say yes year after year.

As a I process stepping away from Forest Home, I am learning what it means to release things that were never mine to carry. 

Over the last 5 years, I have felt the weight of camp on my shoulders in one way or another. My first summer as a dean, I was playing the comparison game (which we all know is a losing game) based on deans I had when I was a counselor or other deans on staff that year. The next summer, I felt the weight of being a returner under a new director and continuing to build relationships from the previous summer. As the years passed and relationships grew deeper, the weight of Lakeview was heavy on my shoulders as an interim director. My heart was to create spaces for students to encounter the real Jesus. Not some two-dimensional, flannel graph, "Jesus is my homeboy" pop culture icon. I felt the weight of making sure everything was perfect because it was my opportunity to invite God into spaces and expectantly wait for Him to change lives. I slowly began to realize my unrealistic expectations had a vice grip on my openhandedness. My margins were thin from long hours and late nights making sure I was meeting deadlines. My heart was empty after pouring so much of myself into my work. My time was spent trying to be the perfect boss and the perfect friend and anything else people needed me to be. I was trying to pour out from an empty container.

Releasing the weight of years of unrealistic expectations is freeing and terrifying. I am free to go on summer vacations with my family or sit by the pool each afternoon or plan barbecues for my friends. I am free to sit with Jesus without the expectation of needing a new theme or direction for the next season. Freedom is beautiful but terrifying when the next steps are anything but clear. It is daunting to sit in a season of unknowns. Where am I going to work? Where do I want to live? How will I make ends meet in the meantime? Deadlines will be self-imposed. Motivations begins and ends with me. That is slightly terrifying and beautifully freeing.

I get to dream of ways to pour into my community from a place of health not stress. I get to explore new career paths and find ways my heart for people plays into my vocation. I get to host meals around a table where it is a safe space to talk about anything. I get to set aside space to write and process the journey of saying yes to Jesus along the way. I get to start parties.

I recently read Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield which captures her journey of releasing expectations of being a missionary who has to witness to save people and instead she finds showing up is sometimes the biggest way we point others to Jesus. In the closing chapter, she talks about the ways the kingdom of heaven is being ushered in all around us and sometimes we just need to choose to join the party. Mayfield writes, "We aren't being asked to assimilate, but we are called to make our home here more like the kingdom we have always dreamed about but were too scared to believe was possible. Because God's dream for the world is coming, looming brighter and brighter on the horizon. It's time to enter the party."

Here is to a season of baking, hosting, listening and releasing. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

At The Table

I have had the privilege and opportunity to share meals with amazing people around the world. I have eaten brunch in London with at least 6 nationalities represented. I have been force fed mountains of rice by my friends at Sari Bari. I have eaten many a Thanksgiving meal with chosen family in a variety of different countries. Tonight, I was given the gift of sharing a meal with a refugee family.

I was invited into a birthday celebration for a Christian with a Jewish name born in a Muslim country as he entered into his 16th year of life. His parents were so gracious in welcoming 6 americans into their home and preparing a feast from their native country. We took our places on the mats laid out on the floor as we were given orange juice to enjoy as the food was placed at the center of the plastic table cloth on the floor. The son was so excited to tell us stories of their time in South Korea and the friends he made with officers in the military while they were living as refugees there. The wife named each dish as she set it in front of us with great pride in her eyes. The husband was telling of the ways God had provided for them as they have been bouncing around trying to find a place to call home after being forced from their home a few years ago. We ate heaping amounts of rice, lentils, vegetables, roti and chicken. They laughed at me as I accidentally ate the chili hidden in the veggies and offered me yogurt to help cool the fire happening on my tongue. We sang "Happy Birthday" as he blew out 16 candles and ate the best chocolate cake I have had on this side of the world. He shared his hopes and dreams of becoming a US Marine so he can protect his family. We took pictures and said our goodbyes. I hoped on the back of a scooter and rode through the bumpy streets of Kathmandu.

As I was riding home, I realized the rare, beautiful gift I had been given by sharing a meal with this family. It would have been easier to say no to the dinner invitation because we were tired from trekking the day before or we needed to rest before starting another chaotic week in this crazy city. Once we learned we were the only people who were coming to the birthday dinner, we realized the importance of showing up. It meant the world to this family who was struggling to start over again in a new country. They were forced to move to Nepal in February after spending two years in South Korea setting up a life which they thought would last indefinitely. It allowed us to experience and taste their home culture while bonding over being outsiders in a foreign land. I was able to see the love radiating from this family as they shared what they had to host new friends. Meals bring even the most unlikely people around a common table.

I want to create a table where everyone is invited to share their story and be heard. What does it look like if we all invited someone new to the table?


Monday, August 14, 2017

It Wasn't What I Expected

Summer is anything but normal for me. As a camp director, summer is the busiest season of the year with a million different moving parts and no such thing as a normal day. I came into this summer with plans and people in place to make this summer better than the last. I was excited to have returning staff who bought into the vision of this place and new faces who were ready to serve thousands of campers. Along the ways, I learned even the best laid plans are no match for camp.

Orientation is always a whirlwind of building, playing, learning and sharing. We do our best to establish a firm foundation as a staff before any campers arrive so we can love each other through the hard times while serving churches well. I sit back at the end of this season and see how clearly God's hand was in each staff member being at Lakeview this summer. When I had nothing to offer, they would lean on each other and support each other when life down the mountain got hard. There were moments when tears were the only thing that would come or laughter at another crazy request or songs of praise when the enemy struck. This staff grew stronger as the summer got harder.

A friend was counseling with her church early in the summer and I was able to share the heartache and heaviness of life down the hill with her. She was willing to sit with me and speak truth over the situation. She said a simple prayer that God would bring people up each week who would sit with me and love me through this season. In the moment, I did not believe God would answer that prayer. Reflecting back on the summer, God beautifully orchestrated people who would listen, cheer me on and speak truth as I navigated a difficult summer. The power of someone saying "me too" was a reminder of the ways I am not alone.

This summer wasn't what I expected in so many ways but it was a beautiful reminder that God takes our expectations and blows them out of the water. I was able to lean on others who pushed me towards Jesus. I created a space of vulnerability for my staff so they could be fully known. God showed me I am not an island and I need community even when surrounded my hundreds of people. God moved in crazy incredible ways that can only point to a beautiful, powerful, awesome, loving God. The hard memories will fade but the moments that made it all worth it will burn bright.

It was not what I expected but it was absolutely worth it. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Walking Slowly in Wonder

As I struggle to find the words to write to adequately convey my new found sense of wonder, I hear the leaves rustling in wind as I sit on a wrap-around porch in the suburbs of Washington D.C. I hear wind chimes playing a familiar tune as they dance in the wind. I see branches swaying as if welcoming the coming of fall. I am surrounded by trees which are just beginning to turn beautiful shades of orange, yellow and red as sign of Fall's arrival. It is in this moment I sit in wonder. I am amazed at the beauty surrounding me even on a Monday morning.

I recently arrived back from a trip to the U.K. where I was blessed to be hosted by an amazing family in Shrewsbury and a good friend in London. (For those of you who have traveled internationally, you understand the struggle of not having data for your smart phone.) Shrewsbury is a small town out in the English country side complete with cobblestone streets and a castle. Our first day in Shrewsbury involved getting lost through small passageways and wandering down dead end river walks. I quickly realized I was walking with my head up instead of down engrossed in all the latest happenings on social media. I noticed the beauty of storefronts beckoning us in to peruse their treasures. I stopped to look at bright, white clouds against a pure, blue sky with a blanket of green hills as far as the eye could see. I was slowly learning to see my surroundings through the lens of wonder. I watched the clouds move and transform as they danced with the wind. I admired the sheep perched up on the hills as I struggled to take each step up the slippery path. As I sat down with our host, I heart her heart to love those in ministry and create a safe space to allow wounds to heal within community. I was filled with wonder as I left this small town which taught me to sit in awe and wonder of the beauty surrounding us every day. 

London is a vibrant city filled with people from around the globe. There are so many different neighborhoods each with a different vibe which could be felt as we wandered through breathtaking parks and crowded sidewalks in search of the best latte. I marveled at the array of languages spoken as we jumped on and off the metro. I slowly sipped tea out of delicate china and savored tea sandwiches as sunlight flooded in through towering windows. I ate brunch surrounded by delicious Spanish food and lively Spanish people. I was sat in wonder of the paths all of us had taken to get to the brunch table. I meandered through the modern art museum without the familiar sense of urgency which has been my constant companion over the last few months. I was able to sit and be present in those moments. I sipped good coffee while we dreamed about the future and all the unknowns.

I am slowly understanding and accepting a posture of wonder as I explore nooks and crannies along the way. I am rediscovering the beauty of walking slowly and marveling at the small things. I invite you to walk slowly this week.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Summer as Interim

I stepped into the role of Interim Director of High Ministry not fully understanding the journey it would become. I had two months to plan and create a program for high school students to encounter Jesus during their week at camp. I was excited to watch dreams and ideas come to fruition. I was looking forward to spending weeks with youth pastors and counselors who had become friends over the last four summers. I hired a staff who desired to love counselors and campers in very real ways. I was expectantly waiting for God to move in major ways.

I was completely unprepared for the ways I would be stretched and challenged. I had a staff of 16 who all had different stories and expectations for the summer. There were a wide variety of youth pastors who all had different expectations of what they wanted out of their week at camp. On occasion, they had harsh critiques for me or simply said they could tell I was a gap filler. I had to quickly find the balance between friend and leader. I was forced into tough conversations with staff about expectations and fighting for each other. I sat with youth pastors as they struggled with campers and shared their heartbreaks as students got sent home. My heart and mind were exhausted and raw at the end of every week.

In the midst of all the chaos, I was reminded every week of my role as a gap filler. The seemingly innocent questions from youth pastors or counselors about my journey to the interim position and why I was not a fit for the full time position. It felt like daggers being thrust into open wounds every week. I was open to the questions and explained my posture of open handedness as I continued to seek God in a season of being told no.

I was surprised by the beautiful ways God showed up. I was surrounded by a staff who loved each other well through the long nights and hard conversations. My staff pushed and challenged me to rest amidst the chaos. They learned quickly that I would not settle for easy, one-word answers. Youth pastors gave words of encouragement as they loaded on buses and packed up vans at the end of the week. They allowed me to see the their hearts for ministry, and the fight they engaged in for their students on a daily basis. Speakers pushed me to lean into the gifts I was given to run a programed camp as they spoke truth from the stage that I needed to hear.

Beautifully chaotic. Those two words perfectly describe this summer. It was a gift to walk alongside staff and counselors as we pointed students to Jesus. I walk away from this summer with empty hands knowing I left it all on the table. I sit with open hands as I allow God to lead me in this next season. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kolkata. Cancer. Camp

Kolkata. Cancer. Camp.

Kolkata. Cancer Camp.

Most of the time I feel like a broken record.

Those 3 little words have defined the last month. I am going to do my best to briefly explain each.

Kolkata lodged itself deep, deep in my heart when I first spent time there in 2011. The only word to sufficiently describe the city is HARD. The streets are filled with hard-faced people. You pass people working hard to get out of poverty. Many times people succumb to the hard reality of poverty. Being a white female is hard as I walked the streets and people stared or touched me. Among this hardness are the beautiful women of Sari Bari. They welcomed me back with such love and joy. It is always a gift to see their smiling faces each morning as I ascend the stairs to start the day. I love getting to share the story with visitors as they seek to understand the hope which permeates Sari Bari. I am forever greatly to be just a small part of the Sari Bari community.

Cancer. It was always something that plagued other families. The day I arrived home from Kolkata, I was confronted with the harsh reality that my family was not invincible. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in Kolkata. My parents decided to wait to tell me until I got back so I found myself exhausted from traveling hearing my mom has a cancer. She explained they found it in the early stages. She was in surgery to remove the tumor 2 weeks after the diagnosis. She is doing well and recovering. We are forever grateful for the army of people praying as family journeys down the road of cancer treatment and recovery.

Winter Camp is in full swing. I love getting to work with amazing people that strive to create experiences for campers to see Jesus in new ways when they come up to the mountains for a few days. I love seeing the ways God has already worked in the lives of hundreds of Jr High students over the last 5 weeks. I am expectantly waiting to see how God will continue to work in the lives of hundreds of High School students over the next 4 weekends. It has been an exhausting few weeks as I ensure all the pieces are in place and people are prepared. The chaos is where I thrive.

It has been a rough few weeks as I adjusted to life back in the States. I am confident God is still good.