Wednesday, November 17, 2010

emily's creed

while i was in slovakia, i did quite a bit of thinking about and reflecting on my beliefs and my faith.  then, the other day, a friend asked me in an email what i believe and the following is what i came up with.

i question my faith and my beliefs all the time.  it's not a bad thing.  for example, the only time i really ever feel any kind of certainty about jesus' resurrection is on easter.  if you ask me on easter, i'm confident that jesus rose from the grave.  if you ask me at another time, then i'm not as sure.

doubt is a normal and natural part of your faith.  a lot of people pin doubt against faith, but someone once told me that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it's apathy.  struggling with what we believe and how we believe is how we grow in our faith.  questions our beliefs, the things we've been taught since forever, is how we mature.  it is necessary for us to grow.

anyway, you actually asked me about my beliefs so here goes:
i believe in a triune god, three persons in one essence in a way that i can't fully understand and can't even come close to fully explaining.
i believe in the person of god who created me and the world and everything in it and everything to come.
i believe in the god incarnate, jesus christ, who came to bring us back into right relationship with god.  i believe that jesus loved fiercely and radically each person he met, but especially those who were oppressed.  i believe that jesus' love is not the easiest thing to accept or to live into, but it is always there for everyone.  i believe that jesus was tortured and killed on the cross and i believe that he rose again.
i believe in the person of god who works in and through us each day as the creative and holy spirit.  i believe in the creativity and reconciliation that comes to each of us because of the holy spirit.
i also believe in people, that we are created good and that we are created in god's image, each and everyone of us just as we are.

so, that's my own "emily's creed," and it comes out far more confident than i necessarily feel most of the time, but my beliefs are not about being 100% on any of these.  if i knew any of these things, it would cease to be faith, it would lose its meaning.  faith is about not being certain, but believing anyway.  people can say that believing unknowable things is stupid or silly, but we all do it, we believe in love, a concept that none of us can fully grasp.  for me, my faith is about this inability to give up on hope, hope that there is something bigger, something beyond me, which is the source of all of our love and that something (god) is constantly working in and through us, so that everyone and everything on earth might know love and justice and peace.

if you're interested in more of my musings, wonderings, and wanderings in seminary, let me know and i'll connect you with other ways to keep in touch with me :)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

remain true to the mystery

remain true to the mystery.
pass on the whole story.
do not go back.
i am with you now and i am waiting for you.

remain true to the mystery.

god works in ways i've never understood and probably never will. i don't always know when god is at work, and i don't always appreciate the work god does, but i have found a new reverence for that mystery. god worked on days that i didn't want to speak english, but was supposed to and then had immensely meaningful conversations because of it.

as i get ready to start seminary, my goal is, indeed, to remain true to the mystery. to stay true to this year i have lived in slovakia. to remain true to the changes that have happened inside me. to remain true to the new way i have found to be in this world. as i received communion this morning, i was in awe of the mystery that is holy communion. it is not something that i can describe or articulate in words, but something that i feel to the depths of my being. there are many things in this world (and not in this world) that i doubt, but the power and holiness of sharing holy communion is not one of them. a broken people around a broken body all over the world, finding welcome, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. that is my mystery, and to it i will remain true.

pass on the whole story.

in my effort to remain true to the mystery of this year, i tried to pass on the whole story (in 12-15 minutes, which were a bit longer than 12-15 minutes) at church today. i was the preacher. i won't go into what i said, but as i spoke, i found closure to the year i have lived. i will not forget the people i was with or the stories i have or the love that i found, and i definitely want to go back as soon as i can save up enough money for a plane ticket.

i did find closure, however, to the good and the bad that i lived through. i was able to share part of the whole story in a way that gave new life. god worked in big ways through the sermon, in me and in others. my story is not done, and there are many more parts to the whole story of my year, but i have now begun, and i am now ready to continue. last week, during communion, i came home. this week, i found closure. next week, i will be beginning the adventure anew at seminary in chicago.

do not go back.

though i have come back to vail, i did not go back. i did not give up. i did not quit. more importantly, i did not let my coming back, be going back. i came back, but i came back differently. i am a new person. i have not changed, but in so many ways i have changed profoundly. god has worked in me. my call has been strengthened to a ministry at the margins. i cannot go back to life as it was. even if i tried, i would be unable to get the people, places, happenings, and stories out of my head. and i don't want to. i am not going back to the united states, but i continue to move forward. i come to a new country, which has survived terrorist threats, environmental disasters (though that's still ongoing) and many other things. i come back someone who has learned a new language, found a new way of being in this world, loved, lost, cried, rejoiced, and found god.

i am with you now and i am waiting for you.

god was with me in slovakia. the holy spirit worked profoundly in me and through all of us there in slovakia. god was there before i came and remained as i left. god was at work here in vail this whole time and was here to bring me home and help me find closure. there is no doubt in my mind that god is in chicago, waiting for me. waiting for the next step on this journey of life. waiting to embrace me in the energy and spirit of the place. god is waiting with those in chicago who wait for me and god is with me as i begin this new journey. as i begin to try to figure out what it means to be a grown-up who still colors, sings poorly, and loves a god she doesn't understand.

remain true to the mystery.
pass on the whole story.
do not go back.
i am with you now and i am waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

coming home

although i'm sure my friends (and especially family) wish it weren't so, when i returned on saturday night, i did not come home. yes, i was in the house i grew up in. yes, i had dinner with my mom, brother, aunt, and grandmother. but, no. i was not home. for the past year (and stale teraz - still now) my home has been a small village in eastern slovakia. in that place i found community, love, and home. always and forever i will think of that place as home.

so, coming back to vail was hard. really hard. on sunday morning i went to church. i received many hugs (which were wonderful and more appreciated than the givers probably knew), but before the service started, i didn't quite get to my pastor to say hello. that meant that during announcements, when he mentioned that i'd be back next week and be giving the sermon, he didn't realize i was there.

when i went up for communion, i knelt at the altar and put out my hands to receive the bread. pastor scott gave me the bread, saying, "the body of christ, given for you, emily." then he covered my hands with his and said, "welcome home." with tears in my eyes, i received communion.

then i was home.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

make maps as you go

make maps as you go,
remembering the way back from before you were born.
so you will be only the first of many waves
of deliverance on the desert seas.
it is the first of many beginnings -
your paschaltide.

make maps as you go,

so...i was supposed to write up all sorts of info about my site for the next volunteer while i was still in rankovce. i did...kind of. i wrote up the important things (my contact info and all the stuff that i didn't know at all), but there are some maps that just shouldn't be made. at least not for other people. each new volunteer must navigate the new relationships and new cultural practices for herself.

i did make maps, though. as anyone who has been with me for at least a day this past year can attest to, i have faithfully kept a journal (actually, it ended up being two journals) throughout the year. each day, i've written what happened and, more importantly, how i felt, what i thought about, what i did. this is my map. if the next volunteer has questions about some cultural thing or anything like that, then i have an additional resource to help her. i have a map for myself, so i don't forget what it was like living in rankovce, slovensko for a year. i have a map, so i remember the people who changed me for the better. i have a map, so i remember what this year continues to mean to me.

remembering the way back from before you were born.

the other thing the journals will do for me, is to help me remember the change in me. more than anything else, my relationship with my god has changed this year. i am beginning to remember that way back from before i was born, that way back to god. i have figured out what i need to be in relationship with god. i have learned what i believe about this merciful and grace-filled god in whom i believe. i have learned of the complications in life and that when we recognize that not everything is black and white, the next step is recognizing that it's not just shades of gray either, but instead that life is a rainbow of shades, highlights, colors, and tones.

life is meant to be lived and lived to the fullest. the only way to live life to the fullest is if we are all living life to the fullest. it is that connection between each of us, as beloved children of a god, who takes delight in us, that keeps me from living life fully when another is in pain. that connection and that hope for a full life for us all is the way back from before i was born.

so you will be only the first of many waves

well, i was the first. the first yagm in rankovce, at least. it had its ups and downs, but was filled with far more ups than downs. my life has been one filled with firsts (as, i suppose, all of ours are), at least for me. the thing about waves is that they never really disappear, they build up, they crash, and they are incorporated in new ways into the ocean or sea from which they came.

so to is it with yagm year. we come from our communities, build up our relationships in a new community, crash down as we leave, and are incorporated in new ways both in our "home" communities and in these communities that have become our home. we are changed forever. they are changed forever. and maybe, just maybe, we together have more fully experienced god's love and sa staneme (we end up/become) better for the journey, for the build up, the crash, and the new incorporation.

of deliverance on the desert seas.

the first of many, but how many waves of deliverance did i experience this year? it was in the smaller, more "mundane" things that i was delivered from getting too down, too frustrated, to upset. it was in birthday corn at kfc, ball pit ball fights on the new year's eve retreat, priklady and light bulb moments that assured me that something had been learned, passover, shared with others, singing in so many different languages, not always knowing what i was singing, but always knowing why, building bridges, making connections and loving.

it is in each of these, and in so many other ways, that i was delivered. i found my deliverance in this community and in the support i received from others "back home." my deliverance continues each day and as i go on to a new community, my deliverance and my salvation will continue to roll over me, building up, crashing down, and incorporating anew inside me.

it is the first of many beginnings -

we all know the saying, each ending is just a new beginning. as much as i try to avoid those all-too-common sayings, it's true. a year ago, i had a new beginning. school had ended, i graduated, and i was going somewhere new. one of my first beginnings in what was for me a new world. now, as i head back to the states, and begin to prepare for another new beginning, i look forward once again with hope for what chicago and seminary will bring.

it is not quite the same hope with which i looked a year ago. a year ago, most people i knew were all getting ready to move apart, we were all graduating. now, i am the one who has left. i am going to a new beginning. as i look forward in hope for what god has in store for me, i also look back on what god has given me this year. as i prepare for a new step on this journey, the steps i have taken on my own and with others this year are still so close to me.

there are footprints on my heart that are so fresh, i still feel the full weight of the person on my heart. yes, the weight will lighten some, especially as we find ways to continue to be together, to be in relationship with each other, but that weight will always be there. my life and my future has been shaped by this year and my being is beginning anew from this year. i am no longer just my parents' daughter, i am also my own person, a young woman, beginning in this world.

your paschaltide.

paschaltide is the word for the easter season (or the passover time in the jewish tradition). my paschaltide is my journey with christ. it is singing hosannas for a humble entry into jerusalem, into my world. it is having my feet washed by a god who loves me more than i can imagine. it is abandonment and fear of what is happening and what is to come. it is deep sorrow and despair at the loss of light. it is eyes opening onto a new morning where all is filled with uncontainable and unexplainable joy. that is my paschaltide. that is my life. that is my story. in different times and places throughout our lives, this becomes each of our stories. it is a part of who we are. as we live our paschaltide, we live into the call of christ in our lives.

make maps as you go,
remembering the way back from before you were born.
so you will be only the first of many waves
of deliverance on the desert seas.
it is the first of many beginnings -
your paschaltide.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

continue to call each other by the names i've given you

continue to call each other by the names i've given you
to help remember who you are.
touch each other,
and keep telling the stories.

continue to call each other by the names i've given you

emily elizabeth ewing, child of god, sealed by the holy spirit and marked with the cross of christ forever. i was named long before i was born. from the start, i was claimed as god's beloved child. each of us can claim that name. each of us was given that identity. as i lived and loved in slovakia, i had a variety of possibilities for my name. if i really wanted to be slovak, my full name would have been milka alžbeta ewingová, i ended up going by emi/emy:) no matter what my name or nickname ended up being, i was always me, child of god, sealed by the holy spirit and marked with the cross of christ forever. my baptismal promise, affirmed in my confirmation, remains with me. each of the people i met, though called by their own names, were also children of god.

to help remember who you are.

it is in keeping the identity of child of god, that i would remember who i am. at my deepest sadness and my highest joy, i remained, emily elizabeth ewing, child of god, sealed by the holy spirit and marked with the cross of christ forever. and each person i met there, reminded me not only of my identity as a child of god, but reminded me of their identity as a child of god as well. i was constantly reminded that god was at work in slovakia long before i came and will continue to be there long after i left. i experienced god among god's children and even when i wasn't sure about anything else, i remembered who i am and whose i am as a child of god.

touch each other,

to touch someone, it means there must be a physical connection. yes, i can be "touched by" something, but when it comes down to it, touch requires physical presence. so, touch each other. be with each other. be in the presence of others. when doing things, it's not so easy to touch someone. not intentionally, anyway. to touch someone, there both must be physically present, but there must also be intention. i touched people this year and they touched me. we sat together and laughed. we hugged. we watched lord of the rings. we did things together, but we also just sat together. we practiced being together. that is what kept me going. the touch of others in my life. that small touch worked as the still, small voice, saying "i love you, child of god. you are mine and you are special." touch sustained me this year.

and keep telling the stories.

i don't need to be told that twice. i came here to learn stories. to learn from people here. and i have. i have learned stories and i have learned what it means to love and be loved - by others and by god. i take stories with me as i go. good stories and bad stories. happy stories and sad stories. in each of the stories, i see god. the stories, though currently bottled up inside me will no doubt spill out in a flood. i don't know how to start telling the stories. how do you start in on stories? where do you begin? how do you boil a year's worth of stories and experiences into a few hours, or even a few minutes? once started, i can keep telling the stories, but i might need some help getting started. can you ask me? please, ask me for stories. ask for a type of story. ask for a story that stands out most distinctly in my mind. ask me for the most recent thing i was thinking about. ask me what story i need to tell somebody. i'll keep telling, but please help me get started.

continue to call each other by the names i've given you
to help remember who you are.
touch each other,
and keep telling the stories.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

sing songs as you go

sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
you may at times grow confused
and lose your way.

sing songs as you go

music. there was a time in my life when i thought that people put too much emphasis on music, especially at church (it didn't help that i was never all that talented at singing). i wanted to try a church service without singing, to see what it would be like to worship god without music. this year has changed that. at the beginning of the year, i couldn't relate very well to the communal experience of a worship service because i didn't know the language well enough to sing along, and in slovakia there is a TON of music. pretty much everything is sung (at least, that's what it feels like).

by october, i missed my "home music" - mainly the hymns we always used to sing at luther during chapel or worship - so much that i asked a friend if she could email me some hymns if she had any. in early november, a package arrived with a cd of what i labeled on my computer as "home music."

though the label has stuck, i have found myself in the opposite position as i prepared to leave home to return to the usa. during the last official mládež, som dostala (i received) a cd of christian songs in slovak that we have sung in mládež and dorast throughout the year. though several of these songs are the slovak version of english songs i know, and though i sing along in english much of the time, it is precisely these songs in slovak that provide me with comfort. they remind me who i am (kto som ja) and they are what ensure that i remember the journey that i've been on this year.

it has been in slovakia (and in slovak) that i have learned not only to talk about god, but i have learned how i need to organize my life so that i can continue to grow in my relationship with god. i really, really like theological inquiry, but that is not what i need in order to relate to god. i need prayer (and prayer shawls), bibles in many languages, and i need songs - songs in community.

whether i sing "ty mi davaš toto zeleny" (what i thought were the lyrics for the first 8 or so months) or "ty mi dávaš nohy jelenic" (the actual lyrics), when i sing it with others, i know the meaning of it. singing "do tmy na svet" (here i am to worship) surrounded by roma and non-roma dorast and our camp leaders in a community room transformed into a place of worship has far more meaning than that song ever had when i sang it in the usa. now, when i listen to that song, i cannot help but remember that time, the people around me singing. being able to close my eyes and connect, with those around me, to my god.

as i leave, this rings, perhaps, truer than ever:
sing songs as you go.

and hold close together

in the beginning, we were yagms. we were called together on august 19th and sent out on august 26th. then we were just us slovak yagms. me. lisa. sepp. in bratislava during orientation, we managed to hold close together. we were the only ones from the states in our program, because the rest were germans. we held close. as we then went to our placements, we were just us. individuals. individuals called by god to be in this world. we separated a bit. we didn't hold quite as closely together. slowly we came back around, however, and found each other again. lisa and i especially found ways to hold close to each other, whether through skype, phone calls or visits. not only did she become a big part of my life and my year, but her host family also became an integral experience for me.

now as i go back to the usa, i feel desperate, even, to hold close together to others as well. the number of meaningful conversations (in slovak, english, and many times both) that i have had here and the moments i have shared have comforted me and given me joy. the looks i've shared with more meaning than words could hold, the face making, the hugs (oh, the hugs), the "ako sa máš?" that wants a real answer, the blessings after burps :) there are things i have shared with people that i have no adequate words for. as i have gone from slovakia, i began to (somewhat desperately) hold close together. i didn't want to let go.

this is presné where someone else's wisdom came in. in our material to help us get ready to leave, one of the key pieces of advice was "saying 'good-bye' is never easy, but once you are back home, you will be glad you did." that stuck with me and so, as much as i despise rozlúčky, i did my best to say good-byes to everyone. i tried to find closure, clear the air, get in one last hug, make sure they knew (at least a fraction of) how much they meant to me. though i may never be able to fully understand, let alone fully explain how much each individual in my life this past year has meant to me. i wish i could find a way to convey it, but, sadly, i don't know if i ever will. all i can do is pray that they know their worth, if not their worth to me, than their worth to god.

so, as i go, i do my best to hold close together with everyone.

you may at times grow confused and lose your way.

this has happened more times than i can count for sure. whether it was miscommunication, lack of communication, or just not having the vocabulary. there were many times we would be in the middle of something and i would get the light bulb moment of, "aha! that's what we're doing/what they mean/where we're going." even through to the end i had those moments and i continue to have those moments as i look toward being in a new culture. as i pass through the culture here in germany, i can't help but be confused by cultural norms here that quite fully clash with my slovak culture and my usa culture. that is part of life. confusion comes with the desire to know and learn.

i have lost my way, but have been found by others. i have lost my heart, but been shown where it is. i have lost my meaning, and god has given me even greater and deeper meaning in my life. whether through people, things, or random moments, each time that i have lost my way, god has provided what i needed to find it again, to get back on the path with god. there have even been times when god has picked me up and carried me back. losing my way has taught me life lessons about honesty, laughters and smiles, joy and sorrow, but each time i come back to myself and, more importantly, i come back to god.

sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
you may at times grow confused
and lose your way.

Monday, July 26, 2010

some will find new friendships in unlikely faces

some will find new friendships in unlikely faces,
and old true friends as faithful and true
as the pillar of god's flame.

some will find new friendships in unlikely faces

done. maybe it's not as unlikely from my perspective, but from the perspective of an outsider, a 23 year-old, american, lutheran (who's not always all that polite) has found new friendships with roma kids, youth, and adults of multiple faiths as well as non-Roma youth and adults. not only that, but i've found friendships with people who find themselves in places where they are unable to find friendships with each other.

let's face it. life has been complicated here in eastern slovakia, but i wouldn't have it any other way. the friendships i have found here will be with me all my life, even if we don't manage to keep up communication. as we came back from our dorast tabor (middle age youth group camp), which was mixed roma and non-roma (enriching the experience for all of us involved), my eyes teared up multiple times, thinking about this coming saturday and the sad fact that i'll be leaving this place and these people for a very undetermined amount of time.

my friendships have come with such clear memories as well as many feelings of warmth.
  • my rodina, of course. the numerous nights sitting and talking in english about so many things that matter, and just being with monika
  • gabika's presence as a little sister, who i love
  • walking back from the kupelisko with tomáš
  • random, unexpected insights in the numerous bible studies with ľubo
  • andrea and our time sitting on the back swing talking in whispers
  • igor and lydia playing games, reading and doing priklady with the kids
  • maroš's hard work and huge progress in math
  • lydka's smile, our afternoon hiding in the corner, and then our afternoon remembering it and talking together, making bracelets
  • bobrik odvahu (courage) planning and executing - everything from exchanging random looks with maťo to painting faces, listening to matuš and marian scaring the kids, hanging myself for the kids, and getting dumped on, putting an early end to the fun.
  • my fellow central european yagms, lisa, sepp, matt, kristy, and emilie (and jeff) planning and executing our very own seminar
  • the innumerable nights of great hospitality at trazy's
  • movie nights with katka
  • conversations with havri
  • scrabble and loopin' louie with milka, mišo, and havri
  • detský tabor with saša
  • moments with milka
  • fraňa and martin - their great love, unimaginable generosity, and their passion for work with roma
  • skupinka
  • rodinky
  • d-rom, romsky dorast
  • mládež
and that's just to name a few. the mix of people i have here warms my heart and fills my eyes with tears.

and old true friends as faithful and true

  • stef has stood by me through it all. she has listened to me cry, refilled my supply of "guilt-free tears," listened to my joys, read through various things i wrote before i sent them, been my sounding board, helped me work through stuff.
  • alma and i have kept our cerp going (though, admittedly, it is less frequent than it once was) through all of our separate adventuring
  • erin and i have quite consistently exchanged letters throughout the year.
  • mak is ever consistent with her letters (in a way that i can only ever hope to be).

though life has come and gone for people back home, people have stood by me, made a point of letting me know they care. people have graduated, died, been born, and life goes on here as well. those who stick with it are those for whom i am more grateful than i can express.

as the pillar of god's flame.

as we all know, i love fire. this poem always goes back to the exodus. the pillar of god's flame that lit the way. just as the isrealites only knew just a bit of what was ahead, only seeing a bit of what's to come, the flame or the cloud were always there. so it has been this year. i have vaguely known the plans for the year and what would come next, but it was never fully clear. each time, things would come to light, just in time. i would get the information i needed in time to get whatever it was done or to get ready to go.

so, this year, i have come to trust god in a way i haven't before. i have come to trust god not only with the big things (life, eternity, heaven, my call to be a pastor), but also with the littler things, the more immediate things. i have gone to god in prayer for healing, for peace, for discernment. i have found the value in prayers and prayer lists. trusting god with money, food, logistics, trusting god with all my life, not just the stuff i couldn't control if i tried. god's pillar of flame has proved stronger and truer than i could ever really explain.

some will find new friendships in unlikely faces,
and old true friends as faithful and true
as the pillar of god's flame.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

some of you will not change at all

some of you will not change at all.
some will be abandoned by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth
who feel abandoned by you.

some of you will not change at all.

in many ways i read this sentence and think, "there's no way this is true," and yet in other ways i find a lot of truth in the statement. there are tangible ways that i have changed and can tell that i am different, but there are also many ways that i am clearly the same (besides my burping, my laugh, my love of chacos, and my love of hugs). i am still planning to attend seminary in chicago in the fall. i still feel god calling me to be a pastor. i still care deeply about relationships that i have. i still don't handle conflict very well and i still want to know the real answer (or at least an explanations for the answer) to the question "how are you?" in many ways i am unrecognizable, yet in so many important ways, i have not changed or passions, feelings, calls have just strengthened.

some will be abandoned by your dearest loves

this past week i received an email from one of my close friends from college. in the email she mentioned that she just caught up on my blog and apologized for not keeping in touch. though my contact with many people has dropped significantly, and though i may occassionally feel abandoned, it is a wonder and a gift when these people drop back into my life. the email i received brightened my day. it helped me to look forward to being back and being able to catch up with people. so, yes. i have felt abandoned, but many of those people have come back into my life and i have kept in contact with enough people close to me, that my wall is not a blank, white wall, but also has cards, letters, and pictures from people i care about on it.

and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth
who feel abandoned by you.

there have been many a misunderstanding since being here, most often with family. a lot of the time the confusion involves me speaking slovak and them not understanding it (can't imagine why that would be ;-) ), but even in direct communication, i communicate differently than i used to. i have found new ways of being here in slovakia, and in those new ways of being, my language and communication have also changed. this is something that will change once again when i return.

though i am returning, i am not returning the same (as much as some things will probably be exactly the same), and i am not returning to the same place. when i return, i will be in colorado for a bit, but then i will head to chicago. i am starting to make a new home for myself and that home is no longer where or what it once was. though this can feel like abandonment, it is a necessary next step in my life, and i'm actually really excited for it :)

some of you will not change at all.
some will be abandoned by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth
who feel abandoned by you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

some of you will be so changed

some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings

more true than i could ever put into words. just ask my mom or stef about when they came to visit. really though, ask them...give yourself at least a bit of a heads up on what to expect from me. there are ways that i have changed that i am only beginning to understand or haven't even realized yet.

there are ways i have changed, for better and for worse. i won't go into all of them here, but my understanding of love and hospitality has become a lot more generous. after living with a host mom whose question is "when is lisa coming to visit?" without concern that it is another mouth to feed. her issue with a house full of 11 people is not how to feed everyone, but how to make sure that everyone has a place to lay their head at night.

i also know that i think and understand things differently. there are questions that i no longer know how to answer. i can tell you who i came to know and love here, but i have no idea how to tell you "how it was." i don't think i'll be able to be concise and to the point in answering questions for a very long time (if ever).

that even your closest friends will have to learn your features as though for the first time.

well, physical features include hair, which is considerably longer than last time you saw me (seeing as it's close to the length it was when i shaved my head). so, yes, physically my features will be new and different, but even those with whom i have kept in touch quite well have had limited contact with me. nobody knows everything and without being able to talk in person and spend time around each other. without those things, how can we really know and recognize each other?

these days facebook has become a great means for communication and keeping in touch (especially as i've now graduated from college and everybody's going off in different directions); however, it has also begun to replace face to face contact. i am immensely grateful for facebook, because it has allowed me to keep in touch with people, but as i go back to the states, i know i'll need to see faces, to give hugs, to sip warm beverages with those i love, and no longer communicate only through facebook and email. facebook, email, and even skype can only ever be temporary means of communication in relationships, but i will be glad when i can see those i love in the states and we can both learn each others features as though for the first time.

some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

i am sending you into the wilderness

i am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way
and to learn my ways more deeply.

i am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way

in many ways at the start of my year, slovakia was very much a wilderness. i, along with lisa and sepp, the other two slovak yagms, was thrust into a country where i didn't know the language and didn't know the people. the funny thing about the wilderness is that lots of people think of the desert, but wilderness doesn't have to mean desert. for me, it was more an intimidating and unknown place. the more time i spent here in this wilderness, however, the more i came to see it not as a scary wilderness, but as a loving part of god's creation. don't get me wrong, i knew it was part of god's creation (at least theoretically) before i came, but it was still unkown.

now, slovakia, especially eastern slovakia, and especially especially the area covered by the evangelical church of the augsburg confession (ecav) rankovce, is no longer a scary wilderness. together with the people i have met, a new way has been made. we came together, from very different cultures, with very different ideas, and we managed to find a new way together. when we came together, there was no way for us to continue on our paths as before. once we interacted, we had to search for new ways of being. we opened each other's eyes and horizons. we helped envision new posibilities for life and for love.

it was never about teaching math or reading. it wasn't even about teaching religion class or sunday school. it was about coming to know each other. changing and being changed. witnessing the holy spirit at work in our lives throughout the world. allowing the holy spirit to work through us. which brings me to the second half.

and to learn my ways more deeply.

i learned what god's ways more deeply and more widely. i learned new ways of being with and interacting with god. i learned knew ways to let god love others through me.

i learned the value and importance of prayer. i was humbled when i was asked how someone could pray for me. i felt the power and support of the spirit when i told them how i hate good-byes; how i don't know how i'm going to leave this place. it was a simple question, but in that question and its answer, i learned god's ways of getting into us and knowing us way more deeply.

i learned how to not be busy. i grew up in a go-go-go world. college (though i loved most of my time at luther) only added to that mentality. if i was busy enough and did enough, then i would make it. i wouldn't have to rely on anyone else. i could still love god without relying quite so fully on god. here i learned to be. i learned that coffee and keksy is important. i learned that there is exactly enough time for the important things in life (storypeople).

i learned that saying i'm stressed and busy might just be code for saying how important i want to be/think i am. sitting on the swing holding a ten year old's hand is busy enough for me. trying to explain a math problem to a 12 year-old fourth grader is stress enough (though no stress at all). on the train this past weekend, lisa and i talked about this precise theme. i came away from that conversation with a desire and determination to not rely on myself being busy and my need to feel important, but instead, i have to know that i am important because god created me, but that so is every other human being and creature on earth.

i learned that god is all around. the holy spirit works in ways i will never be able to understand. whether i help with homework, put away clean dishes, give a hug or an "ahoj" to a neighbor or a child. those seem to be simple things, but they plant the seeds. all we are called to do is plant the seeds, then wait and wonder at the miracle that god works in each seed as it comes to fruition. most deeply i have felt god at work in conversations (in english and in slovak) that have taken place by chance (in a train station in poprad) and on purpose (sitting at the kitchen table asking questions). god's ways are deep and wide, just like god's love. all i can do is hope to get a bit of it, and that will be enough...for now.

i am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way
and to learn my ways more deeply.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

you have been preparing for this

you have been preparing for this
for hundreds of years.

you have been preparing for this

i have mentioned this many times, but the journey i have been on this year has not come about by accident. it really does feel like my entire life has been on a path towards this year. i have, for as long as i can remember (except for one sunday) loved going to church, being in communion with others - connecting to god and to each other. my faith has continuously informed my life and my journey.

through church i have also learned service. i have learned what it means that jesus, after washing his disciples' feet, said, "so if i, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." i have learned love, acted out in service. i have served others through habitat for humanity, trips to juárez, méxico, service opportunities at rainbow trail lutheran camp, through church, and through school. i have learned service. in these service experiences, i also learned what it means to have my feet washed. when i was in new york, i served, yes. but my feet were washed by others more times than i could recount.

these have prepared me for a year of footwashing. a year of serving others in love. loving others as god first loved me as understood through jesus. it has also been a year of having my feet washed. my feet have been washed through fires kept going to heat the house, food made and served, homes and hearts opened to me.

for hundreds of years.

as christians, and as "people of the book," people of an abrahamic religious tradition, our heritage goes back to (of course) the abraham and his travels, following god and listening to god's call, joseph's difficult journey to egypt, moses and the israelites fleeing egypt, the israelites and their many journeys in and out of exile, jesus and his travels to egypt and throughout samaria, the saints and missionaries (for better and worse) as they traveled the world, sharing the good news, through to today. our journey, through good and bad, has led us to intercultural experiences. we are called to share the good news of god's love for all of god's children. god has been at work in the past and continues to work now and in the future.

you have been preparing for this
for hundreds of years.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

and at times you will get weary

and at times you will get weary and turn on each other
from fear, fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

and at times you will get weary and turn on each other


ok, i don't know about you, but sometimes i know i'm tired, worn out (burned out), or even just hungry when i'm cranky. i don't have the same patience, things get to me more easily, i just don't last. that happens. it happens here. it happens in colorado. it happens all over in the bible (how many times did the isrealites want to turn back??).


more recently, however, i had an experience of being weary. our rodinky (family fellowship group) here (technically in bačkovík) went on a trip this weekend to the tatry. while we were there, we went hiking (of course). the weather actually ended up being pretty perfect, not too hot, not too cold, sprinkling, not sunny enough for me to have to worry about sunscreen, only raining when it didn't matter too much. it was quite the hike, though. imro, maťo, and i went up pretty high. though i go up quite well, thanks to some pretty strong legs, my knees don't hold up quite as well on the way down.

my knees started to complain after a bit of stepping down from rocks, but the amazing thing was that, though my body was getting tired, mentally that was not the case. the three of us stuck together (which really translated to them stopping and waiting for me every once in awhile). it was an amazing hike and what was, perhaps, more amazing was the support i felt as we came down. it wasn't about getting there first, it was making sure we stuck together and nobody fell too far behind.

from fear, fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

sometimes i do let my fear get the best of me. i get a bit defensive and i close in on myself. i have been lucky here, because even when that happens, i have had enough support from friends and family back home as well as from people here that i have been supported. it has been such that when i am afraid or tired or forget my purpose, others are strong. my weakness is covered by their strength and vice versa.

this happens a lot with lisa, where we will talk and i will be down or she will be down and we can pick each other up. we can reassure each other and remind each other of why we're here and what we're doing. so yes, fear happens, as do fatigue and forgetfulness. but that's what the letters from home, the calls, and the messages are for. they remind me. they bring me back to where i'm meant to be, which is here. right where i am.

and at times you will get weary and turn on each other
from fear, fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

outsiders will attack you

outsiders will attack you, and some follow you

outsiders will attack you

i would be lying if i said that this year was a walk in the park. i have definitely had my fair share of miscommunication, struggle, argument, disagreement, sadness, discouragement, and even feeling attacked. these things happen. not just in slovakia, but everywhere. it is finding the strength in the fire to keep going. to follow the heat through to the other side. knowing that god is with me here, before, behind, and within, the frustrations, though big at the time, melt away into other joys that i find. the strength that comes from conflicts helps me the next time there is a conflict and the wisdom that i get from difficult interactions influences how i act.

so, yes. outsiders attack. every day we are under attack. not simply by people, but also by a society that tells us we are not good enough. then we go back to the fire. we go to the cross. we go to our god, who tells us that we are not only enough, but that we are god's beloved children. how much better could it be than that?

and some follow you

kind of a give in. not everyone will always disagree with you. somebody's eventually bound to agree. people follow. more than people following me, the kids follow me. when travelling, i usually take a bus that the kids use to get to or from school. the kids not only follow my comings and goings, but also follow me when i walk home. asking me how it was, where i went, what i did. the kids follow me and in the same way, they follow my actions. they pick up so much about the way we act in this world. knowing i have kids around me, i try to be extra-intentional in my actions. everything from how we greet each other to what i tell them about god to how i speak. the kids follow it all.

i've also been joined on this journey by more people than i could number. people who i didn't know at all a year ago, have become close friends. exchanging hugs, "ahoj"s, and "how are you?"s (with the follow up question of why). people have joined me on a journey of love and discovery of myself, of slovakia, of slovak culture, and of stories. i have been invited into lives that have forever changed me. those who "follow" alter the course. they bring their stories to the table and together we find new paths, new ideas, new adventures, and we make new stories. life is good when i have people with me on this journey.

oustiders will attack you, and some follow you

Sunday, June 6, 2010

the stories you tell one another

the stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark
will make you strong and wise.

well, i've got a few stories by now, that's for sure. one of the most recent stories, is actually something that happens on a semi-regular basis here. one of my friends is my slovak tutor. she and i, in addition to having slovak lessons, also have movie night. last week was her birthday and after our slovak lesson, she had some snacks and champagne so we could watch a movie (we had been trying to watch this movie for a few months now, but our schedules didn't sync up).

she asked me in slovak if i had to get going (it was after 8pm on a week night). i (forgetting that most questions are asked in the negative here) thought she was asking if i could hang out, so i said yes. her face immediately fell. i realized that there had been a miscommunication and once we clarified what i meant, told her a story from a week or two ago. the stories goes like so:

i was playing solitaire in the kitchen, and someone staying with us was passing through and asked if i was doing "vykladanie kariet" (card reading/interpretation). i thought she was asking if i was playing cards, so i said yes. of course, the aghast look on her face quickly let me know that she had not been asking if i was playing cards. so i stopped and clarified. when i figured out what she was asking, i explained that i was playing cards - solitaire to be exact - and that alieviated the situation (though she isn't the card playing type, so it was still at least a little tense). anyway, that gave my friend and i something to laugh together about.

these and other stories that i have shared around champagne and keksy (snacks), kava, and obed (coffee and lunch), and other such things, have indeed made me stronger and wiser. being able to laugh at myself gives me strength of character and learning from these stories (and the stories that i hear) makes me wiser. i still guess at what people say occasionally, but i'm at least a bit more hesitant about it now, or i respond with a full sentence answer (especially about what i'm doing) instead of just a yes or no.

the stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark
will make you strong and wise.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

international children's day

today in slovakia is international children's day (medzinárodný deň detí), which is (ironically) celebrated on a different day of the year (not even always in the same month) depending on the country (and sometimes even the state or city). it's today in slovakia, and as i get ready for our party this afternoon, i decided to take some time to think about what this might mean. i looked it up on wikipedia and there wasn't a really clear explanation as to why or how the holiday started, but i did find that in the states i apparently was not the only one to get the "every day is children's day" response when i brought up the day as a child.

i was talking to fraňa about it and she mentioned that it's important to tell kids that you love them and it's important that they know how much you mean to them. as we talked i realized that it's true. a lot of kids don't hear that they are loved often enough. so then it got me thinking about all of the kids throughout the world and what kind of a world they might live in.

there are kids without running water, without shelter from the rain, kids who don't know where their next meal will come from. there are kids everywhere who will grow up in communities and countries where they will be told that they are less than others, that they are less than "human" by the simple fact of their birth, the language they speak, how their parents arrived in the town or country, the color of their skin.

there are kids who are so stuck in a culture of poverty that they can't see their way out. there are kids who are already being forced to grow up, to be the head of households. there are kids who are forced to join militias, kids who are abused, raped, assaulted over nothing, over everything, over religion, and over politics. there are kids who will grow up without parents because their parents died of aids. there are kids who die needlessly because the parents can't see any other option. there are children everywhere who need to know that you care about them.

so, what can we do?

do you have time? be a mentor, buddy, teacher, helper, foster parent, adoptive parent; be somebody that kids can trust and come to when they are in pain and need you. be reliable for them.

do you have money? donate it to boys and girls of america, to churches that are helping kids, to afterschool programs, to schools, to mentoring programs.

do you have connections? use them. connect people who can help with people who need help, connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities and programs.

no matter what there's something to do or give. connect those around you with this stuff. spread god's love to others. it doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be heartfelt. maybe next year, or ten or twenty or fifty years from now, we will be able to see a brighter future for children. one filled with love and laughter.

happy children's day. love the children in your life.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

i will give you dreams in the desert

i will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place you have not yet seen.

i will give you dreams in the desert

i haven't been remembering any of my dreams as of late, so i'm going to go in a bit of a different direction with this first part. dreams in the desert. when i think of desert i think of a lonely wasteland and when i think of dreams i think of either those things that come when you sleep or hopes and aspirations. so, i will give you dreams in the desert. hope in those lonely, faraway places.

slovakia is far from being a wasteland, but i would be lying if i said it was never lonely. the loneliest time for me so far has been right after a visit. right after i got back from hungary and time with stef (and with my fellow central european yagms), i was lonely. i missed her.

in the same way, saying good-bye to my mom at the train station in košice was hard. it was, perhaps, especially hard because i wasn't seeing her off at the airport - things were a little bit less secure. in those lonely times, i got the dreams i needed in the form of memories. going through the pictures that we took while we were together let me remember the good times and good moments that we shared and gave me strength to move from missing them to continuing here in slovakia.

other dreams have come in the form of encouragement, love, and listening ears when i have called in tears because of some insignificant (and, at times, not-so-insignificant) thing that happened. i have been given dreams as people remind me why i'm here, affirm god's call in my life, and continue to make me feel connected.

to guide you safely to that place you have not yet seen.

when i first began my yagm journey, i knew i was going to that place i had not yet seen; i had never been to continental europe, after all! i knew that god was leading me and that if i could truly follow my heart, follow god's spirit, then i would get there safely. as i now look towards heading home (nine months fully tucked away and barely more than two left at my placement), i have a whole new perspective.

there's an interesting poem about two gretels (hansel is in there briefly) that someone passed along to me (with reflections about returning home from global service, which can also be found here, for those of you interested - which should be everyone reading). in it, the two gretels have forgotten the breadcrumbs and when the suggestion comes to turn back, there is no way without the crumbs. that is a bit how i have felt. even if i were to try to turn back, there would be no way. i left no breadcrumbs, and even if i had, the birds would have eaten them long before now.

but the good news is i don't want to turn back. i want to keep going. geographically, yes, i will be "going back" or "going home," but that is not all. i will also be "going away" and "leaving home." home for me, for a long time, has been where my heart is. right now, my heart is in many different places, on at least a few different continents.

when i return to the united states, after all of the experiences i have had this year, i don't expect to be the same. i don't expect others to be the same as they were when i left. i don't expect anything to be the same (except that a cloudless sky will hopefully still be blue), which means that it won't be easy to return. but one thing i know, god will guide me safely to that place i have not yet seen. the holy spirit, full of hope and comfort, is with me now and will continue to lead me, guide me, and hold me tight in her arms.

i will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place you have not yet seen

Thursday, May 27, 2010

pens

ok, i just need to share this with someone, so what better place, than here on my blog?

ok, in my journals (i'm on my second, i started it may 4th), i alternate writing in blue and black ink (easier to tell the days apart). i am still on the same blue pen that i have had since we arrived to bratislava. i am now on my third black pen, and even it is not quite performing like it used to!! random, right? well, what about when you consider that all of the black pens i've been using are somehow connected to lutherans/lutheranism?? that's right, not so random anymore, is it?

ok, so the first one is technically a decorah chick hatchery pen, but everybody knows that's like going to jerusalem and saying that the israel museum isn't connected to jews/judaism!! for better or worse, everything in that country is connected to judaism!!! even the churches and mosques!!! so, the first pen is my decorah chick hatchery (i've now gone through two in my life...they're wonderful pens and i really like them...you just can't replace the inside part of them...so if any of you go to the hatchery, i'd be everso grateful if you could snag me a pen :-D), one of the top two attractions in the lutheran holy land...i mean decorah...

the second and third are both from elca global service...conspiracy? give your volunteer missionaries great pens that they really like, but that will run out so that they have to come back to the usa to get more from you? yup, that's right. it's a global lutheran conspiracy. giving out black pens that will run out so that people will always keep coming back...

here's hoping this pen lasts until i'm safely back in the usa, because if not, i'm not sure where i'm going to get another black pen in blue pen-filled slovakia :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

you will learn to eat new food

you will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.

you will learn to eat new food

all too true. though i finally figured out how to share some food from home (brownies and then sugar cookies now that monika has a cup measure), i have definitely learned to eat new food, and am still enjoying it :)

here in slovakia, one of the biggest changes (aside from lunch being a bigger meal than dinner) was that after soup (the typical first course for lunch) the second course can easily be something sweet! buchti na pare (a type of steamed bread, oftentimes with jelly in the middle, and melted butter and cocoa or poppyseed powder on top) was one of my first discoveries. there's also the many different versions of pancakes/crepes (which i've actually succeeded in making!!! ...under monika's supervision and with her guidance), and spaghetti with chocolate!! that was probably the most surprising.

bryndzové halušky, from a dinner with stef in the czech republic (they called it slovak halušky)

in addition to sweet foods, one of my new favorite foods is bryndzové halušky (apparently a national slovak dish). bryndza is a type of cheese made from sheep's milk and halušky are like noodles (can be made using potatoes or just flour, water, and an egg), but are more like gnocchi. there's a special strainer-type thing that you use to get from the halušky badder to halušky noodles. after making the noodles, you combine them with bryndza, sour cream, and if you want you can put some bacon (usually homemade and with way more fat than in the usa) with it, too. it is výborne!!! (slovak for basically incredible, amazing and fantastic all rolled into one word) there are also other kinds of halušky, but bryndzové halušky's my favorite :)

typical "rodinky" (family group) food, chlebíčky in the front, coffee, kecy (snacks), and koláč (cakes) in the back

the final food is chlebíčky
. chlieb is bread in slovak. whenever we go over to someone's house in the evening, or have our family groups, or celebrate a birthday, there are always chlebíčky. chlebíčky are made like so:

slice of bread + butter/spreadable cheese/some sort of spread + meat (usually ham or salami) + egg (a slice or wedge of a hard boiled egg) + some sort of veggies (slices or wedges of the following: cucumber, tomato, pepper, radish, pickle, etc) + cheese on the top (either a small slice or a bit of shredded cheese)

they are delicious and make up my dinner whenever i have them :)

and find refuge in new places.

i have also found refuge in new places. i have found refuge in holding hands and hugging andrea, conversations in englak/slovish with katka, d-rom (roma dorast-youth group), the girls' bible study group and mládež, rodinky (family group). i have found refuge in monika's hugs and card games with my family. i have found refuge in time spent singing songs with kids in náboženstvo and besiedka (religion class and "sunday" school).

i have found refuge in weekend skype calls home to friends and family. i have found a lot of refuge in writing each day in my journal (i'm now on journal number 2!!!) and on my blog. i have found refuge in drawing - whether it's drawing worksheets for
náboženstvo or drawing the view outside. i have found refuge in the books i read and the conversations that i have. i have found refuge in prayer; my time to talk with god.

now, as i look forward to the next 2-3 months, i wonder where i will find refuge when i get back. will it, too be in skype calls with friends and family, but now those in slovakia? will i find a new community within which i can find refuge? how will that refuge be different when i'm at seminary in chicago? will i still write in my journal each day? how will i bring the refuges i have found here in slovakia with me home?

you will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places

Saturday, May 22, 2010

wwjd?

no, not what would jesus do, but: where would joy develop?

i'm stealing this from a friend, but i feel like i need to reflect on this right now. so, as i think about my surroundings, the past almost nine months, and the months to come, here is where i think joy would develop.

joy has developed and continues to develop in the family i have found here in rankovce
joy has developed and continues to develop in the friendships that have formed with roma and gadje (non-roma)
joy has developed and continues to develop in the small communities of which i am now a part (rodinky, mládež, dorast, združenie pre lepší život, etc.)
joy has developed and continues to develop in breakthroughs with language and the miracles of communication
joy has developed in time spent sharing my joy here with those who bring me joy back home, especially my college roommate, stef, and my mom

joy is continually developing in the stories i get to hear from people here. stories of life, sickness, friendship, love, challenge, and joy
joy develops in gatherings filled with songs, conversations, prayers, and laughter.
joy develops in the quiet time of reflection each morning
joy develops in the mastering of double digit multiplication :)
joy develops in support from home (in the states), from here (also home), from god, and from within
joy develops in the midst of the darkness, when i'm not sure how to move forward, and then i remember that "i praise you, for i am fearfully and wonderfully made"

joy would develop anywhere, if we let it. in the darkness, in the light; in the midst of groups, on our own; in the face of adversity, surrounded by support. right now, i keep trying to remember that joy would develop wherever i would let it. the key is to let it develop :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

set out in the dark

set out in the dark.
i will send fire to warm and encourage you.
i will be with you in the fire, and i will be with you in the cloud.

set out in the dark

when i set out for my yagm year, i was in the dark on a lot of things. i didn't really know what i would be doing, what it would be like, or anything like that. i set out, knowing god was both going with me and already waiting for me, calling to me from rankovce, slovakia. there is very little in my life of faith that lets me see everything that is coming. in fact, there always seems to be some dark; some unknown to wrestle with, but if i were to try to wait until i could see in plain light all that is to come, more likely than not, i would spend my life waiting, never quite seeing everything that is to come.

the dark is filled with the unknown, one of the scariest things for many people. when it is dark, imaginations can take over filling your head with scary things, but we know that god is the light that will fill our darkness. when we set out in the dark, the light comes to us. the light meets us where we are and, though it can be hard to look directly at it, and though it may not show all the things before us, it helps us know the way we've come and where we're headed - at least for now.

i will send fire to warm and encourage you.

i love fire. i know, there's that whole "fire and brimstone" thing, and that's not so great for me (perhaps because i really don't know what a brimstone is), but your average, everyday type of fire: great! when i worked at camp, i would relish in the smell of my clothes and my hair after spending time around the campfire. roasting marshmallows for s'mores. singing songs. telling stories. listening to don simonton talk about the beginnings of rainbow trail. huevos in the morning. the smell of brisket cooking all day during family camp. shishkebabs for senior high. time spent snuggling together watching the flames and feeling the warmth. fire has always made me feel good. it has, indeed, warmed and encouraged me.

so, imagine my joy when in our backyard here in rankovce, i found: a fire pit! in the villages, it is common to have "opekačky" during big get togethers. klobasa (sausage) is provided, along with bread, ketchup, mustard, onions, and maybe a few other veggies. the sausages are put on sticks or skewers and each person heads to the fire to cook their own. the cooking time can be filled with anything from conversation to singing to quiet reflection. by the end, we are all warmed, encouraged, and satisfied from the fire and the food. god is in the fire that brings us together, that renews and warms us, and that gets us ready to be sent out into the world, to carry that small flame inside us.

i will be with you in the fire, and i will be with you in the cloud.

ok, i've already talked about my love of fire, so here's the flip side. first of all, in the exodus story (the reason why passover is celebrated), exodus 13:21-22 states,

"the lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."
in this case, the fire and cloud were in front of the israelites and provided safety and guidance. here in the world, fire and cloud can provide rejuvenation and nourishment for nature. as humans, many of us have also come to fear fire and clouds.

fire destroys our material possessions and clouds can cause rain, which also destroys our material possessions. though the two are found throughout nature, when they cross paths with humans, they are most likely going to be despised, or even feared. but, maybe that's the point. maybe the point is to take something that can cause destruction and fear and let it be the symbol for god, so we know that when things are hard and we're hurt or afraid, god is there. god is with us in the fire, in the pain and heat and persecution. and god is with us in the cloud, in the flood of information, accusations, and tears.

god is with us in our joy. in our dances and songs around campfires, in the nourishment from food cooked together, in the rain that waters the earth. god is with us in the fire, and god is with us in the cloud.

god is with us in our pain. in our burned houses full of memories, in the wartorn parts of our world, in the flooding throughout the world. god is with us in the fire, and god is with us in the cloud.

set out in the dark.
i will send fire to warm and encourage you.
i will be with you in the fire, and i will be with you in the cloud.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

do not take time to explain to the neighbors

do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
then begin quickly, before you have had time
to sink back into old slavery.

do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
tell only a few trusted friends and family members.

as much as i tried to explain where i was going and why, it was hard to articulate the true reason i was coming to slovakia. i understand the wisdom in these two lines. when trying to explain to everyone (a necessary part of getting the spiritual, emotional, and financial support i would rely on throughout the year), i found that what was extremely clear when it was originally decided (god was calling me to the yagm program in central europe to work with roma here), became a little foggier each time i had to articulate it.

sometimes i feel like an explanation involving god's will requires some other explanation as well. an explanation that is logical for people. this wasn't the case for everybody, yet i still felt like me saying "i feel god calling me to this place" was not enough. so, though i definitely didn't follow this advice and instead told as many people as possible, there is wisdom in not trying to justify everything to other people. some stuff is just between me and god and if others don't understand those things, i am not responsible for making them understand it all.

then begin quickly, before you have had time
to sink back into old slavery

that i did. i started off and when it came time for each decision, the answer was YES! when i was invited to the discernment retreat (dip), the immediate answer was yes! when i was told i had slovakia or hungary and given time to think, i made myself wait at 24 hours before responding with YES!! each thing that i did involved me making the decision, not consulting others, but feeling and knowing that it was the right decision and following my heart, following god.

once you set out, once you begin, there is no way to go back to where or how you were. once i began this journey and i left home, i knew i would not be the same, i cannot (no matter how hard i could try) go back to how i was before i left. i am different. i am a new creation, every day i have new experiences, every day is a new adventure filled with pain and joy and laughter and tears. each day i change even more. each day i am more sure that i cannot go back to before i came. this is where god has called and placed me and the only way to go is forward. there is no going back, there is no way back to egypt, back to slavery. the red sea has closed behind me and i cannot cross it again.

do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
then begin quickly, before you have had time
to sink back into old slavery.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

my big adventure

it all started when i heard fraňa say "pol piatej" (30 until five) and understood it to mean 5:30. my plan was to walk over to herľany to visit with fraňa and talk about a few things, so at about 5, i headed out. on my leisurely stroll, i took this pretty picture:

this is a picture of the rankovce skaly (rocks) lit up by the sun with everything else in the shade from clouds.

when i arrived, i realized the blunder (after being told that i was late). fraňa was still around, so we got to talk. i got to look at the rocks they have (opals and such), which they found around herľany. i got dinner, and we got to talk about what we needed to talk about. after that, instead of just sending me back home by the same road i took to get there, fraňa, martin, šimonka, and their dog, kahlo, decided to go for a walk with me along a trail going basically right from their house to the path to the rankovce skaly. as we walked, the sun was setting (which wouldn't have happened if i had been on time), and i got to see this:


two pictures from the sunset. on the right, you can see the sun setting behind the tatry (slovakia's most famous mountains), which are apparently visible from rankovce when it's clear out.

then, when we were walking, fraňa and martin wanted to show me where the old jewish cemetery is/was, so we took a detour...through the water and mud. needless to say, in my chacos, my feet got soaked. as we were coming away from the mud, kahlo, decided he wanted to get up close and personal, so he jumped up on me, leaving me looking like this:

note the dirty feet, pants, and you can't see the dirt on the fleece, but it's there, luckily monika was doing a load of laundry the next morning :)

then we ended up going around back, so that it would be easier for fraňa, martin, and šimonka to get home. the gate to the back, however, was locked, so i ended up jumping it...well, climbing awkwardly over it.

the gate hopped and my adventure family

overall, it was a good time had by all, i needed to take a shower anyway, and my chacos could probably always use a good washing :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

only surrender to the need of the time

only surrender to the need of the time -
love justice and walk humbly with your god.

only surrender to the need of the time

time. in each country i've lived in, time as worked a little bit differently. in argentina, when something started at 3pm, you were expected to show up at 3:45ish. slovakia is no exception. things don't really have to start on-time. it's not as vital as it has been (for me at least) in the states. not only that, a lot of my time has been spent just being. i've written about this before, but oftentimes, it is just "being" that is most meaningful.

today, i was invited over to fraňa and martin's
for sunday lunch. martin brought my friend and i over straight from church and we spent the afternoon with them. we started out with (a delicious) lunch and then had ice cream and coffee (from a coffeemaker!!) on the patio while we talked. then we headed inside where we had keksy (snack-ish things) and talked some more. before we knew it, it was after 4:30!

the need of the time here is to be with each other, to take time to talk (and, oftentimes, to eat). the concern is not about "getting down to business." i don't worry about what we need to talk about or figure out, it's about spending time together, trusting that we will get to what is important, and we will be better off for the winding road we took to get there than if we had taken the 8 lane highway straight there and back.

love justice and walk humbly with your god

micah 6:8. one of my favorite verses. love justice. what does that mean? for me to love justice involves ubuntu, the concept that my humanity is completely bound up in your humanity. if you suffer from injustice, then i, too, suffer from injustice. if you are discriminated against, i am discriminated against. if you are hated, i am hated.

justice also involves making things right. justice is not vengence. it is not a way to get back at the one who did you wrong. it is a way to recover from the wrong experienced. it's not always fair, but it is a way of understanding the world that brings humans from all ends of earth closer. it brings us towards a common understanding. justice is a way of increasing the love in this world.

walk humbly with your god. for me, humility can seem like a really easy thing, but in reality it can be really hard. i can be proud, occasionally arrogant (proud taken to the unhealthy extreme), but i can also take humility to the unhealthy extreme. i can take it to the point of shame. there are things in my life about which i have been made to feel ashamed. i have had to hide them from others out of fear or uncertainty.

walking humbly with god means not being ashamed. not being ashamed of who you are. not being ashamed of how god created you. not being ashamed of god. when much of the world tells you that you are worthless (whether it is because of the color of your skin, where you were born, which language you speak, how much money your parents make, who you love, etc.), it is easy to feel shame, and sometimes nearly impossible to feel proud or walk humbly with your god.

walking humbly with god means resting in the comfort of the one who made you, who formed you in your mother's womb, who has counted every hair on your head. it means knowing that god loves you more than you could ever comprehend. it means knowing that you are god's good creation.

it also means knowing that each and every person has been specially made by god. that each interaction you have is with one of god's beloved children. being in awe of that fact and being in awe of the god who made us while standing together with all of god's children to love and work for justice is walking humbly with your god. walking humbly with god means walking with the least of those our society rejects and dismisses.

only surrender to the need of time -
love justice and walk humbly with your god.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind

do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind -
fear, silence, submission

do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind

how many "ways" - traditions, customs, practices, relationships - did i leave behind for this journey? i definitely left my old ways behind when it came to traditions and celebrations. though i hung onto some (getting up before the sun on easter morning), regardless of if they are practiced here or not, i left many traditions behind.

my birthday was celebrated, not with a party, but with birthday corn :) at a kfc in budapest. christmas had more church services than ever before, and time with family, blessing each other and sharing bread (and later dinner). easter involved singing with the rodinky in front of the church and getting doused with water the next day. the traditions have been left behind, but more than that, i have done my best to leave behind:

fear, silence, submission

fear- fear has by and large not been a part of this journey. from the start, there was a peace to the decisions to do yagm and to come to slovakia. even traveling and arriving in vienna (not speaking any german and very little slovak), i was not afraid (granted, sepp and lisa both new a lot and some german and slovak). i knew this was where god wanted me. god was placing me here and god would be with me here. so fear was left behind all the way back in february/march (of 2009) when the journey really got going.

silence- silence is a powerful thing. i have been silenced in my life and i have chosen to silence myself in solidarity with those who are forced into silence (including standing in solidarity with myself). at first it's hard to leave silence behind. when you don't really know the language, what else can you do, except be silent and listen? luckily i had help communicating in both slovak and english. i learned a lot quietly (though not silently), and my voice has been growing in this time. as i come to know my voice, my self, my ideas, my faith more, my voice grows from silence, to barely a whisper, and eventually, i am confident that it will be a voice with which i can boldly speak. sometimes i still have times of silence, but i am working on not letting the silence win.

submission- submission is different from service. submission is being placed under someone more powerful. being forced to comply with the other's every wish or desire. service is placing oneself under someone else. coming to people from a point of learning. i did not come here to silently submit. i came here to serve. occasionally, i do end up in a state of submission, but for the most part, i am here in the spirit of god for service.

i have peace in my place here, as i continue to find my voice in service, but not submission. i am leaving my old ways behind and looking ahead to the new ways to come.

do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind -
fear, silence, submission

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

my weekend with mládež in veľky slavkov

this weekend our mládež (youth group) went to veľky slavkov for a service weekend. while we were there, we stayed at the church.

we spent saturday helping with spring cleaning and other work. it involved a lot of wood. we spread woodchips for new and growing trees, moved wood to be used to heat the place, cut wood (with axes and chainsaws), cleaned up the yard (including rusted pieces of machinery), built benches, spread dirt, mad a stone patio-type thing. basically we did a lot of manual labor for the church.

here you have some (emphasis on some, as in not nearly all) of the wood we cut and moved, and the clean yard :)

friday and saturday nights were spent relaxing and playing, having a good time together. saturday we had a tema (topic/bible study) about service. the pastor who was talking to us talked about how as christians we are called into relationship with god, so that we can then be sent into the world for service. i have been reading a variety of books this year, but some of them (the ones my fellow yagm, lisa, was sent from her pastor) have been talking about a new kind of church that is in the works. this idea that this pastor was talking about is just that kind of church! it is a church where people gather together in relationship with each other and with god so that we all might go out into the world as servants.

it is through our service that we can preach the good news of a god of love. afterall, james 2:17, 18b states "so faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. ... show me your faith apart from your works, and i by my works will show you my faith." this is not to say that works are necessary, but instead that because of my faith, because of the love i experience from god, i am compelled to spread that love, to do good works in the world. it is in our commitment to bringing god's reign on earth as it is in heaven (as we pray in the lord's prayer), that we truly experience god's love. if god's love comes to us and stops with us and we don't pass it on, then we do not get the full experience of god's love. god's love is made full in relationships of mutual service in the world.

so, we went to veľky slavkov and that is what i came away with. it was fun, it was physical, it was spiritual, and it was god-filled :) oh, and did i mention there was a pretty good view?

the sunset from our rooms

the view waiting for the električka to take us to the train station then home

Sunday, April 18, 2010

don't wait for the bread to rise

don't wait for the bread to rise.
take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing.
be ready to move at a moment's notice.

don't wait for the bread to rise.

the story goes that the israelites used unleavened bread on the first passover because they didn't have time to let the bread rise and to knead it and "properly" prepare it. since then, the time around passover is the "feast of unleavened bread." yeast is eradicated from the house, because if even one bit of yeast gets in the dough, it can infect the whole thing. my decision to come to slovakia was (for me) an easy one. before i even knew it was for sure slovakia, my answer was YES! i didn't wait to wonder or question myself. i felt the holy spirit calling in that still, small voice. i felt it, i listened and i responded with joy. i answered my call before any yeast - any doubt, any discouragement - could infect the dough. god called me to a journey that was unknown by paths i had not trodden, and i took a step forward in good faith.

take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing.

i remember throughout last summer trying to think of all the foods i would miss. both of my parents made a variety of their specialties throughout the summer, as i did my best to get all the foods in that i would miss for the next year. many of the meals i had were packed in to a full schedule of saying good-byes, running from meeting, to packing, to food, to packing, to meeting, to cleaning, to food, to packing, to sleeping. did i mention packing? it was a rush (and would have been no matter how much time i would've had), but i got the nourishment i needed to leave home.

in chicago, we got a whole different kind of nourishment for our journeys. we met, as all of the yagms together, in chicago for a week of orientation, a week of spiritual nourishment. we learned logistical stuff, of course, but we were nourished with practices that would keep us together and focused throughout our years. perhaps one of the best "nourishments" i got, was learning how to be. yes, that's right. be. i am a doer by nature, but throughout my life i have been learning as well how to be. being in slovakia involves doing (i read with the kids, i teach kids about jesus and the bible, i give kids math problems, etc.), but it involves a whole lot of being, too. being in the youth group, being with people, being in the family. it is a lot of spending time with people, and knowing that and how to be it, is the greatest spiritual nourishment i could have here.

be ready to move at a moment's notice.

throughout this year, i have had a variety of experiences traveling. many of the experiences have involved at least two weeks notice (such as the service trip i just got back from in velky slavkov with our youth group). some have been changes to an itinerary once the trip had begun (such as visiting a fellow yagm, kristy, in her village in hungary while we were already there for another seminar-just tacking on a couple of days). and some involved deciding the day of (such as stef's and my day trip to terezín while we were in prague). no matter the notice (and whether or not i actually was given notice earlier and just didn't understand what they were saying is beside the point), i have done my best to be ready. in my effort to experience and know as much of slovakia (and central europe) as possible, when an opportunity arrises, if possible, i grab it as it flies by and go for the ride. so far, my willingness and eagerness to go with others has led to many memorable and meaningful experiences.

don't wait for the bread to rise.
take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing.
be ready to move at a moment's notice.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

pack nothing.

pack nothing.
bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.

pack nothing.

i clearly failed in the physical meaning of that. i packed a lot, all things that i actually have used (except for a couple of emergency items, which i am glad to not have used). i was proud of my packing ability. keeping within the weight limit and not packing more than i could handle (albeit, slowly). but, upon further examination, maybe pack nothing doesn't have to do so much with the physical things i packed in my suitcase, but my expectations.

i did my best in preparing for slovakia to not have expectations. i tried not to get my hopes up, but to be realistic that 1-i didn't know what i'd be doing and 2-life (especially abroad) is not always positive. once i was at our orientation in bratislava, i did take a day to write down (after having met my host family briefly) some of my expectations. they were mainly general things: expecting to get along pretty well with my family, to experience love (not the romantic kind), to share, create, and learn stories; to have work connected to roma and not explicitly connected to roma, to feel lonely at some point, to learn, to find god and deepen my relationship with god, and, of course, to go through every emotion imaginable. so, while i packed some things, they were general and i was intentional about not packing a lot of expectations.

bring only your determination to serve

done. definitely got that one down. i brought that. why was i coming here if it was not to serve? i came to serve, not to be served. in being here, however, i have been served. i have come to know god more deeply through the service of others. by coming here to serve and to learn, i came here without assumptions of superiority. i did not come as "the american missionary," i came as emily, young adult in a global mission of service. it has taught me more than i ever could have learned if i had come here to teach. and it has brought me to a place of mutual service with those around me, those i work with. we all serve each other in a variety of ways. each different, but all meaningful.

and your willingness to be free

what could that mean? am i free? my willingness to be free to love? free from sin? free for service? i am willing and determined to be free to share in god's love with all of god's precious and beloved children. my freedom cannot happen alone. i cannot be free if others are not. perhaps that is the "free" of which we are speaking.

archbishop desmond tutu articulates (quite well) a concept called "ubuntu." he defines ubuntu as the understanding that "my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." if we take this understanding of ubuntu and apply it to freedom. then my freedom is caught up, is inseparably connected and dependent upon your freedom. and so, my willingness to be free, requires that all are free. we cannot free others, but we can, together, work for our freedom as children of a god who loves greater and more fully than any of us could ever imagine. my willingness to be free must also be my willingness for the world to be free. free to love, free to serve, free to live.

pack nothing.
bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.