Sunday, August 29, 2010

"We're human beings, not human doings" -Michael Homan

"And he comes to the disciples, and finds them asleep, and said to Peter, What, could you not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40, American King James Version)

A part of our experience at orientation is Small Group Reflection time. My group has really developed a strong bond, communicates well, and has served as excellent witnesses for each other during this time. One of the girls in my small group is struggling with the very recent death of her mother. I kept wondering how can I "be" there for her. In other situations, other times my friends or family have been bereaving, I said something along these lines: "I'm here for you. I'm praying for you. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
After having listened to Lauren talk about the death of her mother, and her method of handling it, I realized something. I was doing it all wrong. It isn't about doing at all- that was my first mistake. I really just need to remind myself of when Christ was suffering, and after he finished praying the night before is death, he found his disciples asleep next to him. He was frustrated that they could not bear witness for just one night. They were not available in his moment of need. The disciples should have stayed awake, and been together with Christ moments before his resurrection.
It wasn't a matter about having the wrong things to say, it was that I wasn't a presence when I should have been. Instead of wondering what I could and can do, I need to be a presence, offer companionship.
When there is a breaking moment, a moment of struggles, sometimes just a shoulder to cry on, or a simple hug is the best medicine. Just to be together. Someone to sit and pray with.

I remember a few years ago, when I was working as youth director at First Presbyterian Church of McKinney (FPC). It was January, and I had just returned from a January term abroad. I was getting back in the swing of school and work. A friend had passed away while I was abroad, and I had felt so helpless to all of those affected because I wasn't there. At FPC, a part of the Sunday service is dedicated to prayers of the people. The blessing of the intimate congregation is that prayers were lifted verbally during the service. I lifted prayers for my friend, and for those affected by his death. I broke down. In front of my entire congregation.

Reverend Blacklock walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. He joined the congregation together for an impromptu moment of praye. In that moment, with FPC as my witness in my faith journey, I felt so incredibly supported. The congregation, and in particular, John, had been there for me.

As I begin to begin this journey, I keep wondering what I'll be doing. As I just recently received my official title and work description- An Outreach & Communications Delegate for BorderLinks. I'm pretty excited about the work, the action, and the excitement concerning the situation. But this relationship with Lauren, and bearing witness to her own struggle, and wondering what I can do, remind me that that shouldn't be my primary approach to the experience. I need to remember her struggle and suffering, and Jesus' struggle and suffering, and remember to be a witness to the situation first. The relationships are primary and the rest will come. Without honest interpersonal interaction, the rest doesn't matter anyways.

In reference to the quote in the title- Michael Homan is the pastor at Lauren's church at school.

It's all about me.

The six volunteers from Grace Presbytery. From left to right- Adrienne (N Ireland), Tad (Chicago), Laura (Guatemala), Edward (N Ireland), Lauren (New Orleans), and me

Before boarding planes and heading off to the 16 different sites around the world, all of the 2010-2011 Young Adult Volunteers meet in Stony Point, NY for orientation. Being an obnoxiously proud Texan, I wondered what a retreat center in Noo Yo-ahk could be like. What could be inspiring about a place just an hour outside of the Big Apple.

In short: everything

In long:

Stony Point is, from what I can tell, a small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Even though Manhattan is less than an hour away from here, it seems like the lifestyles are worlds apart. I'm sitting under the shade of just one of the many green, beautiful and big trees around the campus. There's a small cemetery toward the back of the property, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. What really floors me about this retreat center, and how it stands out to me against others, is its honest commitment to its mission. There are gardens throughout the property, with plots of squash, tomatoes, and more. Much of the food is cooked with the locally produced food. The center does a good job, no, an excellent job of using fresh, local, healthy ingredients and preparing the delicious and creative dishes from scratch. There is a family staying here that was homeless prior to being at Stony Point. Just another example of how Stony Point extends its mission beyond being a retreat center.

I began this post during orientation, but am finishing it now after a week in Tucson-

This is only the second time that all of the Young Adult Volunteers, both national and international, have had a joint orientation. As I'm about to embark on a year in Tucson, AZ, but regularly heading south to Mexico, I feel like the joint orientation was very successful. There were moments, even, where I really felt like the orientation could've been all about me. Rick Ufford-Chase, one of the founders of BorderLinks, is the director of Stony Point. There's a YAVA (Young Adult Volunteer Alumnus) here who served at BorderLinks in her year in Tucson. Throughout the week I was able to converse with those two and learn more about what is going on in Tucson, and the different obstacles and experiences each faced along the way. The orientation, altogether, was very well organized to get just the right amount of information in a good amount of time. By the time Monday the thirtieth got here, I was ready to get on that plane and head to whatever adventures await in Tucson.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No day but today...

A reflection of part of the experience in Stony Point, NY, for orientation.

Isaiah 44:19- "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" (or maybe that was better said by Fleetwood Mac)

The first day of orientation, as outlined on our ever so thorough schedule, was discernment 101. I spent an entire 4 days discerning in Louisville, KY back in March. How on earth was there more to be done.

Hah. Little did I know...

Discernment 101 talked, again, about the notion of "being, not doing," and what that means as a part of being a Young Adult Volunteer. As Janet continued discussing aspects of our upcoming experience, and frames of mind by which to understand them, all I could think about was the song from the musical RENT- "No Day but Today." As she continued talking, and as we followed in discussion with our small groups, I could not escape the constant hum of that song in the background of my mind. The experience of being a YAV, as I'm told, largely releys on "being" and not "doing." I was told this 2,000+ times, or so it felt, during discernment weekend at Louisville Seminary. I heard it said so much that I never thought about what it meant. But, this Discernment 101 served to speak to me. I understand that a good portion of my upcoming year will not entirely be clear to me until I am stepping off of the bus in Nogales, Mexico, or leading a group for the first time, or really until I get comfortable in the placement in the first place. The experience will develop day to day.
As we split into our small groups and continued talking about different ways to be and not do, I continued hearing the words, notes, and verses of the song from RENT, as if it were on repeat.

"There is no future, there is no past, we live each moment like our last.

"Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.

"There's only us. There's only this. No day but today."

This is now the theme song for my upcoming year.

Choo Choo

One thing that is spectacular about this experience is the immediate sense of community it creates. Since arriving at Stony Point, I've felt comfortable, cared for, and at peace. I think of thin places- places where God's presence seems so near and touchable. Stony Point, like Montreat, Mo Ranch, and Lake Titicaca, is now a thin place for me. I really felt God touching me personally last night, sitting in my room with house mate and friend Jacob, and friend Laura. Yesterday, my Great Aunt passed away from a battle with pneumonia. She was 84 years old and died in peace. My cousin had let me know, and just after I found out I started telling stories about how my Great Aunt, about how at times she served like the perfect spice that made the family soup go from mild to delicious. About how she was a very strong and charismatic woman. I told stories like: when my cousins and I were little, we remembered our parents telling us about how she had been hit by a train. Well, when I was 4 years old hearing this, I didn't understand how she could survive an encounter like that with a train. But, she did.
Now, in the 20 years I'd known about my Great Aunt's accident, I'd never known if it was true, or what really happened. It had become a family Tall Tale.
Fast forward 20 years from the 4 year old me listening to the tall tale. I'm talking to my cousin Cindy about her mom, and that story comes up. I'm sure I'm missing some details here, but what I remember is that Aunt Betty was driving along in her 1969 car. This car had been her dream car, and sometime in the 70s or 80s she'd finally bought it. There was no stop light, no stop sign, no signal of an oncoming train. They collided on the tracks. She was saved by the sturdy, 1969 frame of her car. Instead of her car crushing around the train, like most of the modern cars at that time would have, it hit just in the right spot of the sturdy car, and the car spun off of the tracks, saving her life.

Just as I finished telling this story to Laura and Jacob, a train passed nearby and whistled.

Now everytime I hear a choo choo, I'll think of my Great Aunt Betty, and all the character that she brought to our family.

Thanks, God, for the thin places and choo choo trains.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Site Placement


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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Check your worries at the door, please

A big part of being a Young Adult Volunteer, is being rather than doing. The phrase was used so much at Discernment week in March, that it became like a hum in the background. It stopped affecting me. But, as the moment approaches rapidly where I bid adieu to the 24 years calling Dallas home, I've began to ponder the what I've come to understand as the motto of YAV- "being not doing"

There have been moments since accepting my call to serve where I have worried about the upcoming year-
What will I be doing?
Will I like Tucson?
Can I get accustomed to riding a bike everywhere?
How will my five roomies and I get along?
What if I can't find good mexican food?
Who will I call when I get lost, since my two go-to people, Greer and Emily, won't know my city?
How do I make my mom's green beans without a pressure cooker?
Will I get arrested?
And more seriously and more importantly- will I get comfortable in the new experience?
Again, Matthew 6:34 rings in my head: "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own." It was sitting at dinner the other day with a good friend when I felt a sense of calm overwhelm me. All of the sudden "being, not doing," began to make sense. I'd gotten back in town that day from two weeks in Montreat, and to say I was a bit tired would be quite an understatement. While I was excited to spend an evening with Greer and Brandon, I was worried I'd be too tired to be very lively at dinner. However, As soon as I saw them, it was as though I'd hit a second wind. We almost immediately fell into pace catching up on everything, chatting, and choosing the perfect pizza toppings. It was sitting across the table from them, just focusing on the conversation rather than all of my mental to-do lists, that I felt like things were falling into place as they should. I felt like the Big Guy Upstairs had worked through my friends to remind me of Matthew 6:34. To me, enjoying the moment and cultivating relationships is what I anticipate will be the cornerstone of this upcoming year. A year of "being rather than doing." I'll try to check my worries at the door, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to the Beginning

And no, I don't mean Genesis or dinosaurs.

A few weeks ago I set off with the wonderful youth of PHPC as a sponsor for their annual trip to Montreat, North Carolina, for the senior high youth conference. We all piled into the charter bus to begin the two day trek east. Some may think a two day bus trip with 30 other people is not the best way to spend a Saturday evening, but I found it very much fun. There's really nothing else you can do when on a bus for so long but hang out, relax, put your feet up and literally enjoy the ride. We stopped overnight in Memphis, Tennesee (Now's the perfect place to insert my favorite pick-up line ever--> "are you from Memphis, because you're the only ten-I-see!"), enjoyed some DELICIOUS Corkey's barbeque to the near point of food coma, had some devotionals, and napped on the gym floor before taking off for another day of enjoying the ride. After a much anticipated journey, and a few stops and hang-ups along the way, we arrived safely to one of the most beautiful places in the world- Montreat, NC.

So here's where the title, "Back to the Beginning" comes into play. Throughout highschool and college, I toyed with the idea of longer term mission work, but pretty much just left it as a thought in the back of my mind. Maybe later, I'd tell myself. I'd develop some reason why right now didn't work. My favorite- "Let Oprah do it." (Check out the Maybe Later Campaign at for other awesome reasons to wait 'til later.) But last year, while sponsoring those wonderful youth I mentioned earlier at Montreat, I heard John Fife preach about his work in border ministry. It was sitting in Anderson Auditorium, surrounded by 1200 lost and found youth, that I felt like this preacher was speaking just to me. My trip this year to Montreat really re-grounded me in the push I felt to be a part of something bigger than me. A year has passed since I heard John speak about his work, and time has faded my memories of his specific stories and encounters. The one thing I do remember is his passion about his work. To me, he served as a model of how to love unconditionally, and to really love one's neighbor as oneself.
This year the theme of the conference was "In These Waters." Like the year prior, it was a fantastic conference. The keynoters, worship leaders, and leadership team all were amazing, and I felt like they really had a nack for connecting with their audience. There were metaphors for each day- flowing waters, troubled waters, water of life, calm waters; but for me in my too many years of attending, sponsoring, and small group leading at conferences, it has never been so much about the words said, but the actions they promote, the relationships that are formed, and the overall sense of purpose that is reconfirmed in all of the people attending the conference. That is why I continue to return as an adult sponsor, even if the conference isn't for me.