Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Pastor Who Weeps

I got on the train last Friday, destination in mind. I stayed on until the L slide softly back into place at the very stop where I had boarded over an hour before.

I live near the last stop of the Brown line in Chicago. That day I had little homework and no appointments, so I climbed the steps of the Kimball station intending to go out and explore. I curled up in my plastic seat, backpack resting against my feet, staring as the houses out my window slowly grew larger and more industrious, as the buildings changed from family dwellings to places of business. The stops I had so carefully planned to get off at came and went, and still I sat there, just observing.

My life the past few years has been punctuated by the act of moving. In undergrad it was the constant changing of dorm rooms, the packing up of all possessions for the summer as I galavanted off to be warm again --finally -- in Wenatchee. The level of packing changed over the years, from the simple suitcases I dragged with me to Maine and to Galway, to the careful (or careless) boxing of each and every item to take with me to Chicago. I've said it often: I have officially lived in five time zones in the last twelve months. If there's one thing I should be really, really good at, it's transition.

And yet, that's not my reality. Even when change has been happily anticipated, I often kick and drag my feet, reminiscing about times gone past or complaining about how the "new" is not everything I've wanted. It takes me a long, long time to adjust -- which is why I have been so completely shocked at how smoothly this transition to Chi-Town has been. God has grown my heart for this city far faster than I could have ever imagined, and I am grateful for that.

The problem with loving something is that, as those dear wedding vows state, you love it for better or for worse. Loving the people of this city means loving when they are broken and beaten and hurting. It means loving this city where its blatant racism was carved into my seat on the L, where its discrimination is more obvious than in other places, where hurtful words and hurting people can be seen on the corners and at my bus stop. When I boarded the train last Friday I was overcome with love for Chicago's people and my desperate desire to fix all that's wrong. Sadly for me, I can't actually do that. Luckily for Chicago, Jesus can.

When I was in Wenatchee earlier this summer, one of the only sermons I made it home for was one where the congregation was challenged to pray God would "break us." I stayed after church to talk with the pastor, and in our conversation he reminded -- perhaps warned? -- me that seminary would likely break me.

I walked into this experience fully expecting to be broken -- broken of my selfishness, my pride, my fear of vulnerability. All that is happening and more, yes, but what I'm really finding is that God is breaking my heart for the people around me. He's breaking my heart for what breaks his, and my, what heartache that brings. Perhaps he's breaking me of my apathy. If that's the case, it's come not a moment too soon.

The more I engage in ministry, the more I realize that we all come to the Table with hurts only Christ can heal. The more I am gifted with someone else's story, the more I realize what a privilege it is to be invited into someone's pain. But I don't want to just hear this pain, this gift, this burden -- I want to respond well.

In John 11, Jesus' friend Lazarus is sick. Jesus finds out and decides to camp out for two days before beginning to make his way back to Judea. As he tells the disciples that it's time to head out, he mentions in verse 11 that "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up." The disciples are like me and struggle with picking up on sarcasm or metaphor, so they think he's really asleep. The text reads, though, that Christ was talking about death.

They show up at the house and, what do you know, Lazarus has died -- just like Jesus said. Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, are mourning, as are many of their Jewish friends. Jesus sees Mary, Martha, and the Jewish people weeping, and the text reads that "He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled." He asks where Lazarus has been laid, and they tell Jesus to come, see. And with that, we come to the shortest verse in all of the Bible:

Jesus wept.

It wasn't as if Jesus was surprised that Lazarus was dead -- he already told his disciples that the man would be "sleeping" when the arrived! But here was this Christ who looked at the grief, the sadness, the despair of those around him, and his spirit was moved. He wept with those who wept. Though their pain was not his own -- after all, he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead -- he still took it on, engaged with it. He didn't tell them to just "get over it," but joined in their brokenness, snotty noses and all.

I want to be a pastor who weeps. As I think about my own pastoral identity, this is the phrase that keeps coming back to me. I cry very easily, I know, for many things that are worth it and some that are purely trivial. On one of the last days of camp, I realized I had already cried ten times -- and we hadn't even eaten lunch yet. So often I feel like I need to shut this side of my personality off, so that I can be seen as a more competent leader, so I can be someone with "thicker skin" that people can take seriously. Maybe this is indeed the case. Despite all of that, I want to be someone whose heart is broken by that which breaks God's. I want to cry with those who cry. I never want to be desensitized to the pain of this world, because I'm afraid that if I am, I won't passionately try to advance God's kingdom.

The other evening I was reading Christ's call in the book of Luke to have disciples "take up their cross daily and follow me." I firmly believe that. I do. I'm starting to wonder, though, if the call is not only to take up my cross, but to sometimes be Simon of Cyrene as well. On the days when my cross is not so heavy and my pain is not so deep, I want to help shoulder the load for my sisters and brothers. I want to advocate for them when the weight just seems too much to bear.

I want to be the pastor who knows there is hope, that death is not the end, that Christ bears our burdens and can heal all wounds -- and who, in the midst of all that reality, will still take the time to sit and weep.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Community Looks Like...

Google defines the word community as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” 

On television, community is often seen as a group of friends who can simple stroll through one another’s doors at just the right moment to provide comedic relief.

In Acts 2, community is described as being a group of people who “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” 

At Moose River Outpost, community looks like throwing on life jackets and piling into a speed boat to watch the sunset. 

It looks like music blasting in the coffee shop while you run frantically around a ping pong table, enthusiastically attempting to win a game of Polish. 

Community looks like the small children who make birthday cards and baskets for those celebrating.

It looks like co-workers who support one another when people are sick and hurting, stepping up to fill in holes even when the tasks are way outside of their job description. 

Community looks like the quote book in the Pamola cabin: completely out of context, full of inside jokes, and hilariously beautiful all the same. 

It looks like singing at the top of your lungs while digging in a mud pit.

Community looks like a co-leader who can assuage your nerves and fears in one minute and have you laughing so hard that you cry the next. 

It looks like conversations on a deck, sweetened by sparkling water and the sounds of two-year-old babble.

Community looks like a kitchen staff that notices when you’re less enthusiastic than normal, and stops you to ask if you’re okay. 

It looks like a group of campers decked out in face paint and wearing all green, prepared to fight to the death in “Color Wars.” 

Community looks like laughter late at night over bowls of ice cream.

It looks like a chef who orders you plain Cheerios and Irish breakfast tea and makes your favorite calzones. 

Community looks like a boss who reads the shift schedule in a Scottish accent one morning, and then stops everyone dead in their tracks the next night to make sure they stare at the blood red moon.

It looks like people who will wrap their arms around you when you are feeling tired or scared or overwhelmed or sad, and who will sit and listen and pray for you.
Community looks like conversations about life that are punctuated by discussion of how God affects all the elements happening around us.

Community looks like love.

Community looks like Jesus.

I’m not the best at friendships. I’m not the best at building community. I wrestle constantly with feeling engaged one moment and incomprehensibly lonely the next. Relationships are hard. People are messy, and boy, can we hurt one another. Despite this, I’ve decided it’s a battle worth fighting, for those times when the light peaks through and the kingdom of heaven becomes tangible are oh so unbelievably valuable. I will fight for this. I will fight for moments like this one right now, this moment where I sit on the floor of the office listening to the sounds of coworkers typing and scrolling and remembering that even in the midst of silence, I am not alone. I will fight for that fellowship of believers, right here in this place and wherever God leads me in the future. I need it. I want it.

And it’s worth any struggle. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Under-qualified and Over-appreciated

As of today, I’ve been at Moose River Outpost for a month. Like most of the times I’ve moved in my life, it simultaneously feels like I’ve been here far longer than four simple weeks and as if I pulled in only yesterday. It’s my day off today, which naturally makes me more contemplative (partially because I actually have time and space to think), but the completion of a month here dramatically increases my nostalgia levels. We’re one month in, one month to go, and I already don’t want to leave. 

This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I knew it would be tough when I took it, thought it a bit ironic even that they would put the introvert who always finagled her way out of camp games in charge of the camp program. In many ways, my fears have been confirmed. I am often tired and struggle to find time alone. I feel out of my element trying to explain to campers the rules of a game that I have never played myself. Most of the campers have already outdone my meager skills in any of the activity areas, be it archery or mountain biking or waterskiing (though, to be fair, anyone who has even put the skis on before is miles ahead of my current skill level). Any time I check something off my to do list, four more items get added on, and nothing ever goes as smoothly as I wish. 

Despite all that, this is still the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. There have been so many moments in the past month where I’ve had to stop and take stock for a moment, realizing that I actually get paid to do this job. Some of those moments have been less than serious, like while I was biking around camp property in a rainbow onesie and matching wig, facilitating a game; or the following day when I spent hours singing at the top of my lungs with my coworkers while we dug out a mud pit for campers to wrestle in. 

Others, however, have been precious and holy and so overwhelmingly good. I’ve sat in cabins with campers who vulnerably asked the hard questions of life, the ones that no seminary degree will ever enable us to answer fully, like why, if God is all powerful, doesn’t He take the time to make the world better? I’ve watched as the girls follow paths of luminaries to different prayer stations, sincerely engaging with Christ and each other. I’ve observed as campers who stood alone on opening day now confidently roam about with friends during free time, making their sassy comments and feeling accepted and valued for who they are. I’ve stood in the back of Moose Hall, getting ready to speak and feeling overwhelmed and lonely, only to watch as all my friends slipped in the door while singing about how “Never once did we ever walk alone // Never once did you leave us on our own.” I’ve been able to laugh harder than I ever have before. I’ve had conversations with dear coworkers lit only by the faint orange glow of dying coals. I’ve been shown sincere grace after experiences of failure. I’ve cried a lot, yes, but many of those tears have been the healthy kinds - the ones tinged with joy and healing. 

My coworker summarized her experience with staff training by saying that she felt “Under-qualified but over-appreciated.” I’ve since stolen her phrase, as I feel it embodies my life at MRO to a tee. So many of the things we do here are ones that I have absolutely no idea how to do, whether that be some type of outdoor survival skill or a simple task required of my job. Despite all this, I work with a staff who love each other so well and spur one another on towards growth. It is a rare treat to get to be among these people, and my heart aches at the thought of leaving them in August. Most places in the world never take the time to appreciate you, let alone appreciate you when you’re doing badly. 

I’ve repeated that phrase to myself often over the past few weeks, but last night I was caught by how accurately it also describes my experience with faith. I was standing in the main meeting room, aptly dubbed Moose Hall, listening to music and waiting for the female campers to wrap up a prayer walk. Suddenly, life just seemed a little bit overwhelming. I didn’t and don’t know why I was privileged enough to grow up the way I did. I don’t know why God would deign to humble Himself, end up on earth, and die for the sake of me. I don’t know why He would trouble Himself to capture my heart, but He did. I don’t know why I was deemed worthy to come to this place and help lead and teach and love these young men and women, but somehow I’m here and it’s happening and I’m actually getting paid to do this. I am continuously in awe of a Father who, in His sovereignty, could ordain any outcome for the world that He wanted, and yet He allows us to participate in His mission. I was overwhelmed last night by the question of “Why me?” and I’m not yet convinced that I have an answer. 

We are, as humans, a group of under-qualified people. We are broken and out of our brokenness hurt the people around us. We show up to help in situations of pain and sorrow and hunger, and it can often feel like we’re trying to dig to China with a plastic spoon. God calls us to act and live as people of salt and light, and instead we leave the world in its bland darkness. Even in the situations when we act out of obedience to God, it often doesn’t go as smoothly as we want. It’s like when I set up the slip ’n’ slide last weekend and forgot all the padding on the road— I did my job, but it was literally not as smooth sailing as it could have been. 

Yet when God looks at me, He sees Jesus. When He looks at those of us who consider ourselves Christians and attempt to follow what He says, He overlooks all those ways we are under-qualified for love or grace or salvation or leadership and sees Christ instead. If that’s not the epitome of over-appreciation, I don’t know what is. I so often feel like I need to work for appreciation, for love, for recognition, and yet no matter how many qualifications I may earn, I’m still going to be vastly over-appreciated by God. It’s a hard fact for me, with my desire for justice and truth, to stomach, and yet its an outstandingly beautiful fact all the same. 

I’ll never know for certain all of why God called me to MRO for the summer. I’ve been discovering bits and pieces along the way, but to understand it would require an eternal perspective that my often-overwhelmed mind would simply be unable to contemplate. I’ll probably never feel completely qualified for my job. Tonight, though— tonight I’ll rest in the over-appreciation, in this overwhelming support that I receive from my brothers and sisters who also call this place home, and in the overwhelming love from the Father that makes us all family. 

And let me tell you, friends: There’s no place I’d rather be. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Home: Part Three

I first wrote blog posts about the sense of "home" in November and December of 2012. Nearly four years later, I still haven't figured it out.

A little less than two weeks ago, I took a right turn off highway 201 onto Moose River Outpost’s three-mile long dirt driveway, and I came home.

It was 12:30am and so dark that the high beams from the fifteen passenger van I was driving barely cut through the blackness of the forest. In the first row of passenger seats, one of my dearest friends, Joanie, sat, excitedly talking with me about our hopes for the summer and how good it was to be back at camp. She had picked me up at the Boston Logan airport at 8am, and we had spoken of little else in the hours since. My co-leader for the summer, Sam, had landed at the airport at 2pm and dozed at that moment in the passenger seat of the van. Though he had insisted he could co-pilot just fine, he had only returned from his study abroad trip to Scotland four days before and was delirious from jet-lag, wavering between slight snoring and moments jerked awake to add non-sensical comments to our conversation. The back three rows of seats were folded down to make room for the absolutely enormous moose head and antlers we had picked up with the van from our brother and sister camp in New Hampshire. 

All in all, it was a pretty typical MRO transportation experience. 

I twisted and turned the van—lovingly referred to as “Secret Service” — down the same dirt road I had driven on my way back from countless town runs, contemplating how strange it was to be back in a place that part of me had thought I would never see again. And yet, as Joanie and I dropped Sam off at his cabin (barely making sure that he actually managed to wake up enough to make it to the cabin) and pulled the van in front of ours, it simultaneously seemed as if I had never left. When we stumbled, bleary eyed and travel weary, into the dining hall the next morning to greet the rest of the staff, we were met not with the awkward hellos of acquaintances who hadn’t seen one another in a long time, and instead with the casual yet excited embrace of good friends who had been only separated for mere hours or days. The ten months apart seemed to slip away, leaving only the fact that my boss’s son can now actually talk as evidence of the time apart.  

In short, it felt like home. 

I’m starting to lose track of what “home” even means. Is it where you receive mail? If that’s the case, I’ve had four different homes in four different time zones over the last year. Is it where you’ve spent the most time? If we average my lifetime, that’s Wenatchee, but if we average the past twelve months, then Ireland is my home. Is it where you feel the most comfortable? In many ways, that’s quickly becoming a small little camp nestled just outside Jackman, Maine. Is the age old cliché true — is home “where your heart is?” Mine’s a fragmented home, then, with pieces scattered across the planet in the people and places that captured small chunks of my soul. 

I was talking with my coworkers last night about this idea of “home,” and how terribly awful the transience of your early twenties can be. Most of us aren’t married or dating. Many of us go to school a good distance away from our families. All of us desert our everyday lives for two months of the year to let poor fashion run rampant and bond together around the tables in a dining hall, the canoes on a lake, the bunks in Pamola cabin. We live a nomadic existence, where many of our belongings fit in just a few suitcases and we never stay in one place longer than four months. It’s hard to know where home is. 

It seems so much harder to answer the question of “where is home” than it ever was before. Bozeman’s not home and hasn’t been for a long while. Ireland, though I logged more months there than I will have acquired during both summers in Maine, never felt like home. Wenatchee isn’t even my home anymore, but rather this pit stop I love dearly where I can refuel, switch out the clothing in my suitcase, and see some beloved faces. Chicago will be home, but it’s not yet. I feel a little like the Israelites, wandering around the desert, waiting for the Promised Land where I can plant my feet and stay awhile. I simply want a place to dwell.

So for this summer, this one right here? I claim Jackman, Maine as home. I will soak in the summer sun from the middle of Heald Pond while doing yoga on a paddle board. I will climb to the top of the rock wall, aided by the excited voices of my fellow staff cheering me on. I will sit on wood lawn chairs in the quiet of the night and watch the lightening bugs twinkle. I will laugh hard with my co-leader, whether we’re planning skits or mounting that giant moose head on the wall or just shooting the breeze. I will speak openly and boldly and honestly and passionately and lovingly to the people around me. I will ask good questions, listen intently, and care about the answers. I will pray bold prayers that I know only God can answer. I will take moments of silence to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the wind. I will throw on giant bubble balls and purposefully crash myself into my peers. I will sing loudly without caring who hears it or how good it sounds. I will live fully here. I will dive deeply here. I will engage wholeheartedly in community, because maybe, just maybe, “home” is more about being connected to the body of Christ and less about the who, what, where, or when. 

I will make this place home, even if it’s only for seven more weeks. 

I’m confident I can make them count. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Reset Button (Or: Why Camp Can't Get Rid of Me)

When I was a junior in undergrad, I took an information technology course and subsequently went through a phase where I was obsessed with the British television program The IT Crowd. The show, which follows two traditional IT professionals and their accidental, completely-technologically-incompetent supervisor, is most known for the bored way all three employees would answer the phone:

"Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

Ever since I was twelve years old, my chance to turn my soul "off and on again", my opportunity to hit my internal "reset button", so to speak, has happened at summer camp. Whether in Canada or the States; whether I was a camper, counselor, worship leader, retreat attendee, chapel speaker, office manager, or had some other hat on; whether I was thriving in my faith or crippled with overwhelming doubt, camp has always been a place where God could slow down my anxious mind and capture my heart again. Over the years, He has met me time and time again on the banks of lakes and the bunks of cabins, in the midst of fields and in tiny chapel buildings, in conversation and in silence. Camp is where I restart, reset, and walk away rested and reaffirmed in my relationship with Christ.

In 36 hours, I get to press that button again. 

To be perfectly honest, six months ago I did not think I'd be going back to camp. I start grad school in the fall, so this felt like my last summer where I could reasonably get away with bumming around Wenatchee without people starting to get suspicious. God's plans are better than mine, though, so I find myself starting to pack my bags to once again spend the summer at Moose River Outpost in Jackman, Maine. It's a truly special place, full of absolutely wonderful people-- but that's not why I'm going back. 

The sunset over the lake at Moose River Outpost.

I'll be at camp because I firmly believe in the powerful way that camping programs can create space for people to meet with Christ. All across the nation this summer, children, tweens and teens will be packing up bags, kissing their parents goodbye and choosing to share a bedroom with fifteen strangers. They'll learn new skills in craft rooms and canoes. They'll test their limits as they hike up mountains and zoom down them on bikes. They'll learn healthy competition as they take on other cabins in evening games. They'll laugh themselves silly as they throw on last minute costumes pieced together from random clothing items in their suitcases. 

And as they do all these things, they'll be building friendships and community that bond you together in a way much stronger than you could imagine possible in such a short amount of time. They'll be having conversations about life and faith and Christ in chapel and Bible studies, around the dinner table and the campfire, while kayaking or rock climbing. They'll get to encounter the gospel stripped of its frills and powerful in its vulnerability. They'll be doing life with staff who work countless hours not for personal gain, but so they can love like Jesus in tangible ways.

As these students go to camp, they'll meet Jesus. For some, it may be their first glimpse of faith that lays groundwork for later fruit. For others, like myself, camp creates the environment where they'll first declare Christ as king, receiving His gift of grace and sacrificial love. For others still, camp will be the place where they answer God's call in their lives, calls to participate in His kingdom and love the world around them in bold and risky ways. 

For all of us at camp, staff and student, friend and supporter, camp is the place where you can see the Holy Spirit alive and active, if we only open up our eyes to His presence. 

That is why I'll be at camp this summer: Not just because I love the people and want to add to the collection of mountain biking scars on my legs, though trust me, I'm definitely looking forward to both those realities. No, I'll be at camp for one simple reason: God will be there. And where God is, I want to be courageous enough to go. 

If you're the praying type, I'd supremely appreciate your prayers this summer. The list I'm leaving below is specific for myself and MRO, but there are hundreds of camps that will be helping thousands upon thousands of campers engage with Jesus this summer. Pray for me, pray for whatever camp or camper is nearest and dearest to your heart, but remember that we are all part of a broader movement with Christ to further God's kingdom. 

1. Pray for boldness and confidence as I step into a new job. I'm the female program director this year, which is a different role than anything I've done in the past. Among other duties, this means I'm responsible for caring and ministering to the female counseling staff, as well as running camp evening programs and making sure the experience is fun and rewarding for counselor and camper alike. It's a big extroverted role for my little introverted heart, so I would appreciate prayer for energy and excitement, as well as renewing moments of time alone with the Lord. It's also stretching me way outside my comfort zone (I am terrible at basically alllllll the activities the campers are going to do), so prayer for confidence and boldness is appreciated. Please pray that I would listen to and learn from my staff, and that I would be able to support them well. Finally, I'm astoundingly grateful that I don't have to do this job alone: I have a fantastic male counterpart who I'm excited to work with this summer. Please pray that my co-leader, Sam, and I would be able to work together well, respect one another, and spur each other on to bigger and better leadership and bigger and goofier skits. 

My co-leader, Sam, was studying abroad in Scotland last semester and I got to visit him at his university. We had already planned the trip and found out only days before I arrived that we were going to be leading together this summer.
2. Pray for a cohesive staff team. I will admit I'm biased, but I think the MRO staff are some of the best people you'll ever meet. Even so, after you've been living in tight quarters with someone for weeks on end with no access to Netflix or ability to control your own schedule, it's easy to decrease the amount of grace you'll show to the people around you (or, at least, I'm hoping that's true for people other than me). Please pray that as a staff team, we would be able to model for our campers what unity in the body of Christ looks like. Please pray that we would be safe places for dialogue and vulnerability, both with our campers and amongst ourselves. Please pray that we would serve one another like Jesus served us. Please pray that in the moments when we are exhausted and broken and at the end of our rope, we would turn to Christ for His grace, love, and energy, and that He would give us the power to shower those gifts on the people around us. 

3. Pray for safety. At MRO especially, these campers are participating in activities that range everywhere from learning how to roll a kayak to how to shoot skeet. Our staff are well trained and impressively diligent-- but even so, accidents happen. Safety for campers and staff are prayers that we will always, always appreciate. 

4. Pray for rest. I'm entering into this summer weary. While I am so thankful for the opportunities for adventure that have presented themselves to me lately, I also haven't been in the same time zone for longer than three months for over a year now. Right now, I'm longing for a sense of permanence and a chance to be genuinely embedded in community. I would greatly appreciate prayer that God would use this summer to prepare my heart for my first semester of seminary in the fall, and that I would get sweet moments of genuine rest with and in Him. 

5. Pray for fun. How boring would it be if you went to camp and never laughed or cheered so loud you lost your voice? Please pray that all those who find their way onto MRO property this summer would be overwhelmed at the sense of joy present, and that they would experience it for themselves. Pray that this laughter and goodness and light would point people towards Jesus.

6. Pray that we'll all meet Jesus. Whether its for the first time or the thousandth time, please pray that everyone at camp would encounter Jesus in fresh, eye-opening, life changing ways this summer. Camp isn't about the program. It's not about the games. It's not about the worship team or the chapel speakers. Camp is about Christ, and I know He has amazing things in store for us all. Pray that we keep our focus on the one who deserves it.

The MRO mission statement reminds us to "seek Christ, build community, and embrace adventure." Wherever we find ourselves today or this summer, I pray that we would all live out those callings to the fullest. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like...

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went out and sold all he had and bought that field." 

The kingdom of heaven is like a church fundraiser, where a cake was auctioned off for €135 and then left by the winner for the whole congregation to enjoy.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." 

The kingdom of heaven is like a missions concert in Galway, where "How Great Thou Art" was sung in Zulu to the sound of Irish congregation members clapping and swaying.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you so good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? 'An enemy did this,' he replied. The servant asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let us both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" 

The kingdom of heaven is like a group of teenagers and their staff, faces lit by the soft glow of candlelight as they stand on docks and sing to each other across a lake: "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true..."

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."

The kingdom of heaven is like a friendship where theology doesn't align, but they support each other's callings anyways.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come... Then the king said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'" 

The kingdom of heaven is like an offering box in Brussels, where people were invited to leave a prayer and lift up someone else's, and they did even when they could not understand the language in which the prayer was written. It didn't matter: God knew.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard... The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them, 'I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last." 

The kingdom of heaven is like a prayer room in Amsterdam's Red Light District, where people gathered to worship the one true Light that can outshine the darkness around them.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away."

The kingdom of heaven is like a dance party in Montana, where students spent the day encountering God in a manuscript and the night finding Him while laughing over Just Dance.

"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." 

The kingdom of heaven is like a group of friends who will take you home in moments of tragedy and sit with you as you sob into their mattress.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'" 

The kingdom of heaven is like a child who wants to love Jesus, who is so eager for baptism that he jumps into a hot tub with his scuba mask and snorkel, ready to go.

"The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out and meet him!'... But while the foolish ones were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut." 

The kingdom of heaven is like a little farm in Tacoma, Washington, where everyone has a vital and important role, regardless of what society thinks of their physical or mental ability.

"[The kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and another one bag, each according to his ability... After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'You entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.' His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! ..."

The kingdom of heaven is like a congregation in Wenatchee that let a young woman learn how to lead without worrying about her age or gender.

The kingdom of heaven is like a postcard in the mail, bringing sweet words from sweeter friends and proving that distance is not insurmountable.

The kingdom of heaven is like a family on the Aran Islands, who didn't let a path of gravel and steep stairway of slippery stones prevent their wheelchair-bound mother from seeing the cliffs.

The kingdom of heaven is like a group of women in Costa Rica, who laughingly taught some gringas how to make proper tortillas.

The kingdom of heaven is like the hugs received after a long absence, bridging the time spent apart and reminding those involved that no matter how long you've been away or how far you've gone, you can always return home.

The kingdom of heaven is like all these moments and many more, seemingly insignificant yet overflowing with consequence. The kingdom of heaven is the glimpse of God in the everyday, the reminder that the Extraordinary dwells among the ordinary. The kingdom of heaven is tangible; it's present; it's real.

Do I see it? Do you?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mackenzie's List of All Things Irish

In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I thought I would tell you all a little bit about the reality of living in Ireland. Most of this is tongue-in-cheek, but it's also a fairly realistic depiction of my day to day life. And so, without further ado, I present you with Mackenzie's List of All Things Irish.

1. I greatly despise having to say my name here. 
Generally speaking, I love my name. I love that the "K" is lowercase and that it can create a plethora of nicknames. I love that my middle name is after my grandmother, and that it rhymes with my last. I love all the jokes that can stem from the pronunciation of my last name, whether it be silly future first names for my brothers' children (Anita, anyone?) or clever hashtags (my favorite: #mahoncrushmonday). Despite the fact that I'm no where near marriage, I've already started planning out how to keep my full name while adopting my future husband's as well. I don't think I'll ever be quite ready to part with it.

Here, though, I have to force my name out of my lips. First of all, Mahon is an Irish name, but since I don't say it with the Irish lilt they always tell me I pronounce it incorrectly. I've started using their pronunciation when on the phone, because at least they will then know how to spell it.

My last name is the least of my worries, though. Generally speaking, people will introduce themselves and I'll respond with, "Hi! I'm Mackenzie." These people, still pumping my hand up and down, will then frown at me. "Mackenzie?" they ask. "Is that your real name?"

Yes, I will sigh in response. Yes, I know that it's a surname here, but in the States, it's a perfectly common first name. They'll still frown, shake their head to themselves, and say, "Okay." Then they proceed to call me by some other name, since obviously Mackenzie must be my last name.

I'm fairly certain this conversation happens at least once a week, and it's not regulated to Ireland. Someone said this to me, basically word for word, in Copenhagen last weekend.

The cemetery director and I talked for half an hour one day-- I'm pretty sure I was the first person he'd seen in a long time that was actually happy to be there. After I determined that he was, in fact, an employee and not a serial killer, I introduced myself. He then proceeded to show me all the tombstones with my last name on it.
2. If it's sunny, the windows are open. If it's slightly dreary, they're probably open then, too. 
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I tend to run about 10 degrees colder than everyone else in the room. I spent all of last summer in Maine rocking a knitted cap /sweatshirt/long johns/North Face layered style, while my coworkers galavanted around the archery range in shorts. Normally I can deal with it, but Ireland is been a test of my capacity to concentrate while cold. Heating systems and insulation aren't as extensive here as they are in the States, and the cost of heating means that many places (like my house!) only turn on the heat for a couple hours a day. Again, I got used to that: I just stick on more layers, wear the same hat day in and out, and stay under blankets when possible.

In class, though, I can't escape. Several of my professors have this belief that if there are more than three people in a room with a window, it becomes too stuffy to have said window shut--even if it's raining. I can't tell you how many times I've sat shivering through an Irish language class, hope leaping into my chest as my professor walks towards one of the open windows.... Only to unlatch the one next to it.

I'm wearing this exact same outfit in almost all of my photographs, regardless of the day or location. Moral of the story: Pack more hats. 
3. 'Cheers!' is my new favorite phrase. 
Like any place around the world, Ireland has its own sayings and phrases. The most distinct one is "craic", pronounced "crack." Don't worry, Mom, nothing illegal is happening if you're "having the craic," it just means you had a ton of fun. Everyone uses it, from professors to students to my friend's lovely house mom, who often recommends we do things by telling us that it's "loads of craic." They'll say that things are "gas" when they're funny and that people are "sound" when--well--they're not crazy.

My favorite phrase, though, as the above point delineates, is "cheers." It often gets used here instead of thanks. Waiters will set your plates down with a smile and a "cheers"; professors will sign their emails with it. I've started to say it to bus drivers as I hop off, and I hope that I can bring that home with me.

I don't have a photo illustrating the sentiment behind "Cheers!", but I do walk by this café with clever signs often.
4. Rain gear doesn't exist. 
Strangely and miraculously enough, it hasn't rained in Galway for a whole week. I don't know how that happened, but I am not complaining and not taking it for granted. As I've oft mentioned before, though, for the first two months that I was here it rained every. single. day. for at least an hour. This was no PNW drizzle, either; it would often dump buckets for hours with thirty mile-per-hour winds, meaning that no matter how nice your clothing is, you're probably still wet.

Ironically enough, though, I feel like rain gear isn't a common purchase. Many Irish people simply don't wear it -- they perhaps have a semi-waterproof jacket, but galoshes or rain pants are not in their (impeccable) daily wardrobe. Living in Wentachee and Bozeman meant that I didn't own rainboots; plus, having read on the Internet that no Irish person would be caught dead in Wellies and wanting to blend in, I figured I didn't need them. Wrong assumption. My first weekend in Galway I trekked all over attempting to find decent boots. It was practically impossible. If I didn't want hiking boots, there were none. I eventually stumbled across some semi-waterproof dress boots that I've lived in since then. The vinyl has already worn off and I had to superglue part of them back together, so let's pray that the era of awful storms has passed.

My trusty shoes, one week after their purchase, before they got scuffed and torn apart. This attempt at a hipster photo was taken on the cobblestones outside the Guinness Storehouse.
5. The Irish live up to their friendly stereotypes.
On one of the first weekends here, my friend Sarah and I went to Dublin. We were holding a map in the middle of the Trinity College campus planning out the best route of attack when a middle-aged man stopped and asked if we needed directions. We didn't, but he exemplified the type of kindness often found in this country.

It's something I didn't quite appreciate until I left Ireland. I took a trip to Brussels early in March, where water at a restaurant cost €3 and the waiter served us rudely though I thought we had been respectful. After a weekend of trying to navigate train systems with only my rusty French skills to help, it was a treat to return to Ireland. The customs official chitchatted about my studies. I showed up at the bus stop at the Dublin airport, hoping to get on the bus departing in ten minutes even though my PDF ticket wouldn't open and the ticket itself was for a bus one hour later. Rather than ask me questions, the bus driver just smiled, took down my initials, gave me a free water bottle and waved me back to the plush seats in the land of free WiFi. Ah, Ireland, I sighed. It was good to be home.

I can't even describe how much I appreciated this free water. Thanks, Citylink bus service.
6. Biscuits are the best.
I haven't been to London yet, but I'm assuming the habit of tea and biscuits that exists here is similar to that in the UK. Friends. Biscuits are the best. I can get sleeves of any kind of cookie imaginable (and a few beyond imagination) at my favorite grocery store, Aldi, for €0.45. It's a bargain deal to which I often succumb. The strangest one, in my opinion? Jaffa Cakes. The closest thing I can compare them to are Fig Newtons, but that doesn't do them justice. I still can't tell if I actually like them or not. When I went to visit a Wenatchee friend in Copenhagen, I brought Jaffa Cakes for his host family; watching the teenage Danish kids try them was the funniest thing ever.

I once described my love of biscuits to an elderly woman I was sitting next to in a pub, telling her that I wasn't leaving for months but I already missed the biscuits. "Oh, but you can't eat those," she told me. I didn't understand why and told her such. "You'll get fat," she said. When I stared at her with wide eyes, she held her hand out in front of her and slowly moved them apart, mimicking how wide I'll apparently be getting from all these biscuits.

Whatever, lady. I'm still going to pack 15 sleeves of them in my suitcase when I go home.

Are they delicious? Are they inedible? I still can't decide. Image taken from Google. 

7. Sizes are different. 
I'm standing straight up against our fridge for size.
Please remember that I am 5'2" and note how wide
the refrigerator is. 
One of my Irish friends was saying last night that he wanted to visit America again, but that he's honestly afraid of Texas because "Things were already so big in California, and if everything is bigger in Texas I just don't know how I'll handle it." Another friend was telling me about how she went to the States and couldn't believe how unbelievably huge the malls are. Lo and behold, as she started to describe her experience I realized that she had, in fact, stumbled in to the Mall of America.

Some things are bigger in the US, it's true. The only one I really notice, though, is the refrigerators. I'm daydreaming about being a grown-up and getting to actually put more than one item in the freezer at a time, because when you share with four other people and your freezer is this small, that's about as much space as we can all have.
How do you fit 5 people's food into a European
refrigerator? With care. 

8. Pubs are great. 
Let's get this straight: I'm not a proponent for getting drunk, by any means. I've seen too many people make poor decisions when under the influence of alcohol and I've watched too many people struggle with alcoholism for me to ever want to get drunk.

I do quite enjoy, however, nursing my one drink of the night in the all too common Irish pubs. People linger and chat and listen to music and compliment my accent. It's still a tradition here to buy a round, and it's definitely nice to be sit around the table (preferably an old Singer sewing machine) with an Irish couple, listening to their stories and drinking the Guinness that they so kindly purchased, while the group of elderly men across the room wrap their arms around each others' shoulders and loudly sing along to the best band in all of Galway. It's moments like those that I realize I truly do live in Ireland.
Dublin's Temple Bar area.

My favorite musicians at my favorite local pub: O'Connor's.
9. Ireland's expression of its culture is very different than American expectation of Irish culture. 
I'm taking a course called "Ireland in a Global Context," which looks at the way that the nation of Ireland transformed between the years 1922 and 2002. Because of this, I ended up writing a paper about how Irish culture globalised in the '80s and '90s (answer: U2. Without U2 there is basically no paper) the same week that I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. The result? I realized how much stock America places in our "Irish roots" and how very false many of those traditions are. Many Irish people don't like the Riverdance show and think leprechauns are offensive. Corned beef and cabbage isn't an actual thing: most Irish people, according to my friend's house mother, eat bacon and cabbage if they eat it at all. Many of my Irish friends skipped the St. Patrick's parade yesterday and didn't wear green, though they got mighty upset if you referred to the festivities as St. Patty's Day (while they don't particularly like the abbreviation to begin with, if it is done it needs to be St. Paddy's Day, as it's based on the Ghaeilge spelling of Patrick, Padraig). 

And no, we didn't dye the beer or river green. Honestly? We went to the only café open after 6pm and ate Nutella crepes and banana splits. And you know what? It was perfect.

I didn't try to look like a local on St. Patrick's Day.
Lots of little kids had beards on yesterday and it was so. cute.

How many people can you fit on Shop Street? Answer: Too many.
Well, folks, that's it for the first round of "what's everyday life like in Ireland?" Mackenzie Standing will return to its normally broadcasted posts of thoughtfulness and moments full of God soon, but a little bit of levity never hurt anyone. Slán go fóill!

For your weekend viewing pleasure: Two cultures collide. I often walk by kids dancing at the stage in the mall, but the combination of dance and this song made me stop a couple weeks ago.