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. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Life in a Foreign Context

It has been a gift to spend a week with my cousin and her family in Kathmandu. We have explored all the tourist attractions as well as strolling around back alleys that open to beautiful views of open valleys and towering mountain tops. (Sadly it was too cloudy to see the Himalayas.) They new all the hole in the wall places that were safe to eat as well as the western style restaurants that rivaled Chipotle. I was able to meet some of the expat community and hear the wide variety of things they are involved in throughout the country. I found it interesting that at some point during conversations someone would bring up the gas shortage. The would ask how many tanks of cooking gas we had or what the going black market price was for taxis or where they were getting black market gasoline. I realized this part of the world creates extreme hoarders out of even the most normal people. (I learned to hoard small bills in India.) I realized a good school is important for every family living abroad and kids are kids no matter where they live. People who call a foreign city home learn to negotiate everything and will walk away if they can not get a local price for something. Americans abroad wrestle with the reality of having the means to pay for things that make life sustainable while still wanting to engage local culture and community. (I have argued to the death over 10 rupees which is $0.15.) All expats are always looking for a good deal on flights to their home country and usually know the best routes and have flown enough airlines to know which ones to never fly no matter how cheap it is. (I will never, ever fly Biman Bangladesh again.)

I am forever grateful for each and every expat who has welcomed me into their homes and community. I have learned invaluable lessons on what is truly important when living abroad and how the little things become precious gifts throughout a hard day, week, month, year. I am blown away by the amazingly strong men and women doing life outside their home country/culture. They are a beautiful community that has learned to welcome people well and say hard goodbyes. I cherish the opportunity to meet so many expats around the world and am so incredibly thankful for their hospitality and generosity extended to me. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nepal: The Struggle is Real

Life is rough in Nepal. I knew it would be when arrived but seeing the day to day struggle for Nepali and Bideshi alike after the earthquake destroyed so many structures and the current rioting taking place at the border which means limited supplies are coming through the border. These two situations combined have increased the cost of living and stunted the tourism industry which is the top grossing industry in this small, land-locked country. Gasoline and cooking gas are hard to come by so there is a lucrative black market charging exuberant prices for these daily necessities. Businesses who depend on tourism are struggling to stay afloat as tourist are few and far between since the earthquake. Nepal is thought to have have lost 50 billion rupees last year from the earthquake and the last of tourism.

Today, we took the opportunity to help stimulate the tourism industry and explored the 3 original kingdoms which make up the Kathmandu Valley. Each kingdom sustained a great deal of damage from the powerful earthquake which hit last April. There are temples that toppled and buildings that buckled. Piles of rubble are a sobering reminder of the devastation sustained last April. The once packed tourist attractions are now sparsely spotted with a group here and there. We hired a tour guide to show us around Bhaktapur. He works for a trekking company which normally has thousands of inquires each year from around the world. This year, they have only had four inquires for all of 2016. Taxi drivers are forced to charge quadruple the normal fare to afford gasoline on the black market. The streets are lined with buses, trucks and cars waiting for days to fill up their tanks if gasoline becomes available. There are fewer buses and those running are dangerously overcrowded to the point which they are teetering to one side as they drive. Restaurants have had to limit their menus to account for limited cooking gas. Many small roadside eateries are cooking over wood fires because cooking gas is too costly or completely unavailable.

Today I am thankful for the opportunity to explore this city with my cousin and her family. I am thankful I live in a country which has electricity, natural gas and gasoline are available 24 hours a day. I am thankful for the blessing to be able to travel and explore the world. More importantly, I am grateful for the ways God is present amidst the brokenness in this city and the ways He is bring restoration.