Eco-Stewards Conference Reflection

17 Jul

(short reflection written for Presbyterians for Earth Care Newsletter)

When I showed up in Boston for the Eco-Stewards conference, I really didn’t know what to expect. Up until this year, I had naively floated through life loving nature, but not really knowing why. I loved nature, but I had never connected it to my faith. I never felt the responsibility to actually care for the environment.

Why is that? I feel there must be something broken in the church.

I’m reminded of a speaker during the conference who told us about protesting the Keystone Pipeline in front of the White House. As the protestors were getting riled up, they formed a circle and started proclaiming their purpose for protesting. They verbally took ownership of why they were so boldly objecting and willing to go to prison. One shouted that their protest was in honor of another imprisoned environmentalist. Another yelled that they were doing it for future generations. Each expression was recognized by cheers and applause. The speaker stepped up and cried that he was protesting because as a Christian he felt called to protect the environment. The crowd responded in wide-eyed silence. He said that you could’ve heard a pin drop.

My hope in being involved in Eco-stewards is to be a part of a movement for change within the church for Eco-justice in the name of Christ. I hope that one day I can proclaim Christ as my reason for caring for the environment, and that I’m supported with resounding cheers, applause, and Amens.


YAV Life

28 Jun

There are some things… well let me rephrase that… there are many things that happen during a YAV year that most would say don’t happen in the real world. But I would like to believe that a lot of the things that have happened during my year are possible, and could even improve the real world. I hope the concepts I’m wrestling with, books I’m reading, conversations I’m having will continue to be commonplace after I finish my year.

One such instance happened to me just a few weeks ago . I was sitting at the laundromat waiting for my clothes to dry, and was reading our required reading, The New Jim Crow. This book briefly chronicles the history of the formation and death of slavery, the formation and death of Jim Crow, and then dives into the issue of mass incarceration of black men in prison systems, and how their inability to reenter society is a new form of Jim Crow. Needless to say, this is not a light book, and not a book that most anyone would read in a laundromat to pass time.. but then again I am a YAV. This is what we do.

Imagine this: a young white girl sitting in a laundromat with mostly black people reading a book with a picture of a black man behind bars on the cover with the words “The New Jim Crow” in bold white letters…

Did I even think twice about it? No… I am a YAV.. and this is what we do.

I got up to fold my clothes, and left my book on the table next to my chair. While I was up, the black man who was sitting next to me studied the cover… When I came back to grab my stuff to leave, the man said to me,

“Jim Crow, huh?”

My heart jumped into my throat…

I should be ready for this conversation, right?? If I was going to be reading this in public I certainly should’ve been ready for this kind of conversation.

I shyly said, “Yeah…”

He continued,

“Is Jim Crow a form of slavery?”

…. “in a way,” I continued. I said that it was the nickname given to a set of laws that made segregation and other forms of inequality legal. I also said that my book addresses how this kind of system still exists today in a new disguise, hence the title, The New Jim Crow.

The man kinda wrinkled his face inquisitively, and thought on what I had nervously said for a second, and then he said,

“What’s with the picture of the black man behind bars?”

I stared at the picture for a moment and then responded, “This book deals with the mass incarceration of black men…” but before I could finish my thought, he defensively responded saying,

“The issue isn’t that we are just a bunch of black criminals running in the streets.”

Of course this man was defensive. He represented the victims of the sickening system that so many of us are oblivious to. So many of us blissfully walk through life blind to these issues of racism, prejudice, and oppression, and in our blindness, we feed into these issues. He had more than likely been judged by the color of his skin his whole life, and here I was, a white girl born with the privilege to simply read about it.

After I swallowed the lump in my throat, I responded saying that I knew the truth was not that they were a bunch of criminals, and that there was an issue much deeper than that. The book is a study of how poverty, and failing justice and prison systems perpetuate crime, and namely oppress an entire people group.

His face lightened, and I knew the tension between us was fading. I asked him what his name was, and he held out his hand and said,

“Hello, I’m Clarence.”

and we shook hands.

In that moment the many walls between us came crashing down. We were no longer the sum of our physical differences. We were just two human beings discussing some intense issues.

Clarence and I shared some of our lives together that day, and I’ll never forget it.

Like I said earlier, a lot of things happen in a YAV year that don’t happen in the real world, but with all of me I sure hope that changes.

Finding hope in love.

14 Feb

Ohhhh Valentine’s Day.. I have to admit I am one of those people who really doesn’t appreciate Valentine’s Day. I feel like it can exploit those who are lonely, those who have loved and lost, and also is a ploy for Hallmark and candy companies to make money. So for me, Valentine’s Day usually becomes a day where I am extremely sarcastic and cynical about love, and I focus on the negative aspects of such a day… I shoot cupid with his own arrow.. and not to make him fall in love… I shoot to kill.

Today on this lovely Valentines Day, I sat down to do my devotion. My devotion is not one that goes by date, it just is a 365 day devotion that you do as you can. But I’ve found that God works in amazing ways through this book. He usually speaks to me very clearly, and his messages are very relevant to the time I’m going through it.

I sat down and opened my devotional to day 121, and the lesson was from Song of Solomon… OF COURSE!! I have to say I approached this with a poor attitude.. GREAT.. I’m gonna read about this sickening love story.. on Valentine’s Day… PERFECT! but as I read, I felt a change in my heart, the words slowly filled my soul.

Song of Songs 4:9-15 (Message)

You’ve captured my heart, dear friend. You looked at me, and I fell in love. One look my way and I was hopelessly in love! How beautiful your love, dear, dear friend– far more pleasing than a fine, rare wine, your fragrance more exotic than select spices. The kisses of your lips are honey, my love, every syllable you speak a delicacy to savor. Your clothes smell like the wild outdoors, the ozone scent of high mountains. Dear lover and friend, you’re a secret garden, a private and pure fountain. Body and soul, you are a paradise, a whole orchard of succulent fruits — Ripe apricots and peaches, oranges and pears; Nut trees and cinnamon, and all scented woods; Mint and lavender, and all herbs aromatic; A garden fountain, sparkling and splashing, fed by spring waters from the Lebanon mountains.

I read these words, and my heart turned from this sarcastic negative place, to this place of awe. This place of awe at the beauty of love, the possibilities of love. A love that describes another’s body and soul as a paradise.

It’s been hard, as of late, to think positively of the state of the world we live in. I’ve lost considerable amounts of faith in people.. I’ve been jaded a bit. But when I read this, I saw the potential for something amazing. For people to look beyond themselves and be just absolutely enthralled and overcome by love for another person. I saw the potential for me to break through my jadedness and see others in such a light.

There’s so much hope in this kind of love.

Even as my girlish heart swoons at these verses, I don’t just see it as the possibility for romantic love here on Earth.. I see it as a glimpse of what the Creator of the universe feels for me. The Creator feels it for you. The Creator feels for every person you come into contact with. What he feels is way beyond the words of this verse.. and it’s hard to believe.. He feels that for little ole me? His love transcends condition.

I found myself exchanging my poor attitude, for a heart filled with hope, and filled with this sense of incredible peace. The fairy tales we see in movies, in books, in other aspects of our culture seem so far fetched. But it’s right here in the bible. And it’s not shallow like romantic comedies. It’s a love that is solid, durable.. time tested. This potential lies in each and everyone of us. This love has the possibilty to overcome all the bad in the world.. all of the terrible things that don’t make sense.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7, 11-12

Hang a locket around your neck, wear my ring on your finger. Love is invincible facing danger and death. Passion laughs at the terrors of hell. The fire of love stops at nothing — it sweeps everything before it. Flood waters can’t drown love, torrents of rain can’t put it out. Love can’t be bought, love can’t be sold– it’s not to be found in the marketplace.

So my hope is.. that as you go through this Valentine’s Day, that you don’t look to the cards, candy, chocolates, candlelight dinners, sappy love songs, the things of the marketplace for some feeling of love. I hope that are filled with hope and captivated by the potential in each of us to love. Whether or not you have a significant other, I hope you are overtaken by the magnitude of love God has for you. A love that stops at nothing, that can’t be drowned or bought or sold. I also hope that you realize the potential in yourself to have this kind of passionate love for others. I hope in some way you live that out today. Whether for a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger… because after all, God is love. Let’s share the Creator.

Everything’s Connected.

9 Feb

There is a common theme that keeps coming up in my every day, and that theme is: everything is connected. Everything can be traced back to anything. We live in a world that is completely interrelated.

As much as our culture would have us believe that the best way to live is to be independent and completely self sustained.. that is in fact impossible. No matter what we do, we depend on others, and no matter what we do we affect others.

Why is it that there is this every man for himself mentality? Is it because we truly believe we can live our lives independently from one another? Why do we believe that our actions do not affect anyone but ourselves?

I am reading a book called The Tarball Chronicles: A Journey Beyond the Oiled Pelican and Into the Heart of the Gulf Oil Spill. by David Gessner. It’s really putting the whole BP oil spill into perspective, and a lot of other things for that matter. It’s proving once again to me that everything’s connected. Reading this book has been a very profound experience. I definitely wasn’t expecting this kind of incite in reading this book.

The following are some excerpts from The Tarball Chronicles talking about the interrelatedness each of us has with the oil spill, with the fragile coastline, with nature, and with one another. There is so much good stuff in this book, so I want to share with you some of the profound, brilliant ideas that this environmentalist, bird watcher, and lover of the heart of nature has recorded in his book.

“The people who made and sprayed DDT were not evil. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of mosquitoes? They weren’t evil, but they just believed that they could control things. They believed they could make things better than they are; that they could always fix what got broken; never considering that some of the things they were breaking had taken a million years or so to make.”

I think the same is true if we look at our own lives. We have this desire to control things, to have things our way. This need to harness the wildness of this world that we’ve been given, a gift from God that we need to fix. It’s a trend that’s been going on since the beginning of man. We take matters into our own hands and end up screwing up a lot of things, and starting a chain of events that ends in so much destruction. So much so that we can no longer trace it back to the cause.

In talking about the issues facing the Gulf and seeing the need for change, Gessner has some interesting points… he indicates that there’s a deeper problem that we are facing…

“The thing we really need to fix is ourselves. It’s not about the fish, it’s not about the pollution, it’s not about the climate change. It’s about us, and our greed, and our need for growth…”

“Maybe, as we do this, we can be guided, not just by the desire for ease, but also by older ideals of sacrifice; of good work and growth and wildness beyond an engineer’s dream of straight lines.”

All of this is coming from a scientifically minded man who explains that he does not believe in God. Gessner sees that the basis of a lot of issues begins with our human nature. He repeats the theme of the loss of sacrifice throughout the book, and points out that our inability to give of ourselves to help others and to sacrifice things that comfort us is destroying the Earth. This idea of sacrifice transcends religion.

“Nature was our first home, our old home, and to paraphrase Emerson, we miss it dearly. I am not saying that we should all run off and find cabins in the woods. There are no more cabins anyway. No places apart. Think of this place, this fish camp, seemingly remote, but vulnerable to the tendrils of oil. I’m not talking about “getting away from it all,” but its opposite: acknowledging where we came from. How to really understand that this thing we seem so dead set on destroying is our home and that we are — still — a part of the world we grew out of? I’m not suggesting we need to have a perfect relationship with so-called nature; that we need to grow zucchinis and wear flowers in our hair. But if we don’t need a pure relationship we do need some relationship.”

When we divorce nature from our lives we suffer in ways our brains don’t understand.

Ahhhh, relationship : ) When we cut ourselves off from relationships, something ugly happens. The same is true when we refer to our relationship with others as with our relationship with nature. Gessner points out that without some sort of relationship with nature we suffer. We suffer in ways our brains don’t understand. Why is that?

I believe God has provided us with this idea of relationship, this idea of interrelatedness and community to experience the love of God. It is a gift to experience a taste of the love and communion among the Trinity. Everything springs from our relationship with others, and our relationship with the Earth. I believe that when our relationship with the Earth is cut off we suffer and therefore the Earth suffers. As the Earth suffers, we suffer even more physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s a vicious cycle. You can see the proof of the health of our relationship with nature all around us as oil swirls in the Gulf. The health of our relationships and their effects on our existence transcends religion.

“To walk by the shore, to swim in the sea, to fish, and feel the sun. Could it be that we are willing to give this up for the comfort of forms and straight lines? It’s as if our new credo were, “This thing, this business model, developed over the last hundred years or so, this system that gives great rewards to few Homo sapiens, is superior to the vast and complex machine of life of all beings that has evolved over billions of years.”

Do we really believe this? Could we?
Maybe the answer is “yes.” Maybe we hate uncertainty so much, and are so intent on stamping it out, that we don’t mind also crushing the living world in the process. Maybe our twin gods of ease and speed have ascended above all else.

I feel uncertainty is a driving force of our need and desire to control. We feel we can’t control anything in our own personal lives, so we have to control this creative force of nature.. build levees and dams to stop the flooding, to stop the messy madness…

“One thing I like about a shack like this is that it’s honest. It admits that the world is uncertain and impermanent and that the ground is never firm, that sands shift and islands migrate. For most of us the fact that this same world is wild, joyous, dramatic, and enlivening somehow does not make up for its messiness. We are quick to sell our birthright if things are convenient and quick and straight. Sacrifice is an outdated virtue. Better a controlled castle than a shack that can be wiped out at any moment.”

Gessner brings up sacrifice once again. I have to be honest, this is not a theme I was expecting to be reminded of constantly in a book about the BP oil spill. The idea of sacrifice is connected to a spiritual life just as much as it is with a healthy relationship with nature.

“What if instead of sacrificing other places — Sydney Mines and the Gulf and Alaska — and other species — killer whales and gannets and dolphins — we chose to sacrifice a little of ourselves? Is that so ludicrous? Unfortunately the word sacrifice has… been hollowed out. It has become rote. Something politicians say. It has lost its heroic connotations and isn’t a word people really use that much, which is understandable. our culture has emphatically chosen the opposite route of Thoreau, focusing on getting more to the extent that the idea of consciously doing with less seems laughable. But what if someone came to you and whispered..

‘Do with a little less and two things will happen. The world will be better and you will be happier.’

Sounds pretty simple, right? But I get discouraged thinking about the improbability of huge corporations being convinced with these words.. of our culture and even myself being convinced to be changed with these words… This book has been overwhelming to say the least. There is a pressure that comes along with this slow realization that everything is connected, that the way I decide to live my life has a direct effect on others and on the environment.

I came across a chapter in this book called Faith. I have to say I was very intrigued. This author had made it very clear that he did not believe in God, and had no qualms about sticking strong to that. Here’s some things he had to say in reference to White Pelicans:

“What I experience when I see the birds, these great white radiant birds, is more akin to what Jim Duffy described when he said he could believe in both a certain book and the rocks, God and science, even though they tell different stories. Like Jim, I can believe in two stories: the pessimistic Eco-story of my tribe, and, at the same time, a greater, wilder story. That story has nothing to do with words or the future or how we will or won’t act. It is happening right now. It is an irrational story, an ineffable one. It is about the birds themselves. It is the birds themselves. White. Radiant. Flying.

I am not a religious man. But as I watch one white pelican veer away from the rest, my body fills with something that I have no words for. I don’t have an organized system of belief. But I do have faith in that single white bird.

What is faith if not belief without, or beyond reason? That is what I have in nature, even at this late date in its destruction and demise. I understand that we are at the end of nature, that it is dead and outdated, and that I’m kind of old-fashioned for believing. But still. To say it is as close as one can get to going to church has become cliche, but being out here with these birds does offer me at least some of the pleasures and consolations of religion. It offers me a place outside of myself, a place to consider things beyond me, a place of wonder and awe. It is where religions were born.

Because along with wetlands we are losing this: a place other than human, a place not smeared with our clumsy thumbprints, and a place, since we are being practical here, with the distinctly human use of seeing beyond ourselves. It seems reasonable to point out that for some of us BP has soiled not just our beaches but our church.”

Why have we tried to separate the church and the environment? Why is there this movement or tendency for Christians to see environmentalist as a dirty word? And in the same vain, why are there scientifically minded people who discredit faith as something delusional people buy into? Why do so many discredit the church? I believe these things are interwoven and it can be a beautiful thing when seen that way. The church and nature are connected. The way we treat the environment should be a major component of how we live our faith out. Gessner continues…

“It is a truly miraculous world we are destroying. A world where shrews can somehow become dolphins. Think of that. Think of the delightful fluidity, the sheer thrill of adaptation. Could straight lines lead to this, could engineers plan out how to get from the A of a shrew to the B of dolphin? “Miraculous” may have strictly religious connotations for some, but I’ll stick with it in this instance. You can believe that this is God’s creation or you can believe we evolved. You can even believe in both. That is not my fight at the moment. But whatever your beliefs, and whatever your origin story of favor, how can you not believe in dolphins and white pelicans?”

Some of you may have checked out of this paragraph at the phrase “shrews can somehow become dolphins”, or “adaptation”. Others may have checked out at the words “religious” or “God’s creation”. Regardless of where you come from, or what your background is… I feel we can meet at the word “miraculous”. It is undeniable that this Earth, this creation is awe inspiring. I feel that you can believe this is God’s creation, or that we evolved, but it’s hard to escape that there is something greater and mysterious about how everything fits together.

“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” -Rob Bell

“I have always thought that nature was the source of my creativity, and the source of creativity for most artists, even those who never set foot on a beach or in the woods. But my thinking is evolving and I am moving beyond those inchoate ideas. I am coming to believe that nature is creativity. Not just a wellspring for humans but the thing itself.”

At this point of the book, I see a change in Gessner. He is no longer able to talk about nature without this awe.. without connecting it to other areas of life. As he does this his language gets more and more beautiful, and he makes more and more sense.

“When we kill the woods or beach we are killing possibilities. Our options, biologically as well as artistically, become limited. After all, you can’t simply re-create dolphin or pelican or kangaroo. I could go on but I will stop my preaching now. I am tired, weary. One of the things that straight-line thinkers like to do is segregate, keeping everyone and everything in their separate cells. In this way, we can focus on the narcotics of our specialties: macrame or biochemistry or golf. In my field this means keeping art separate from politics, which is one of the rules of literature in the past century. It is a rule that I would, quite honestly like to follow and one that I did follow for the first twenty years of my career. But it just doesn’t seem possible anymore.”

And so everything starts to blend together….

The final connection I want to point out is one that means a lot to me specifically. As you probably can tell, I have been enthralled by this new passion of Creation Care,  the connection of nature and theology. I feel like this last connection kind of ties it all up in a neat bow.

Gessner decided to explore the idea that the BP oil spill is connected to all of us, and did so by emailing a bunch of professors that were at the top of their respective fields, and asking each of them to connect a pelican to their area of study….

“A philosophy professor recalled that the pelican was a religious symbol and sent along this Wikipedia entry: ‘In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist.’ And, along the same lines, another professor offered up Psalm 102 which ends: “I am like a pelican of the wilderness.”

Wow. I had no idea that the pelican would have such a direct link to my faith in Christ. Even though this idea of the pelican feeding its young with blood is a myth, if you do some research you will see the countless images of pelicans used as an icon to symbolize Christ, the Eucharist, and charity among other things. Gessner continues…

“All of it went in my file, though I made special note of the idea of the birds feeding their blood to their young. As natural history it’s hogwash, but symbolically I can see the pelican as the offering we have sacrificed at the altar of oil, down in this body of water that is our national sacrifice zone.

There’s another way to look at it, though. Maybe the true offering has to come from us, in response to what has occurred. At the very least, the idea of sacrifice, which seems so outdated and quaint, has to be revived. In an age of instant gratification, why ever give anything up?

Perhaps because by giving up we gain something greater.”

Does this sound familiar?

“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me[Jesus] will find it.” Matthew 16:25

And now we are back to the idea of sacrifice. If we are able to live independently from one another, if there is nothing greater, if nothing is actually connected, if my actions do not affect you and vice versa … if our every man for himself culture is right, then what on earth would be the point of sacrifice? Where does sacrifice fit in to this puzzle?

I believe if each of us practiced some sacrificial giving in our lives, even in small ways, it would heal the earth, heal our relationships, and heal ourselves. We are connected, and instead of our actions having a negative chain reaction through all interconnections, our sacrifices could radiate out and positively affect all we are connected to.

I can think of nothing more beautiful than this life and the complexity of how interwoven it all is. It is all connected, and it is all beautiful.

It’s a Beautiful Life.

9 Feb

God has been really challenging me to look at my life as a story.

It all started this summer when I read A Million Miles in  Thousand Years by Donald Miller. If you want to have a renewed passion for life, and feel the power you have in living an exciting, beautiful, and meaningful life, I highly suggest this book.

From there, I had a friend lend me a series of Donald Miller’s lectures on life as a story where Miller unpacked lessons he learned and things he discovered while examining the plot of his own life.

Now, the YAV program has been using Donald Miller and curriculum from Volunteers Exploring Vocation for me and my community to examine all the elements of our lives through the lens of setting, character, conflict, climax, and resolution.

So naturally with this repetitive thumping over the head with the idea of life as a story, I felt like God was trying to tell me something..

Alright God… I get it. There’s obviously something here that I need to explore…

This led me to think about how I got in New Orleans… in other words.. the plot and storyline that brought me here…

Back in 2005 hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I remember I was driving home from Knoxville after seeing Jack Johnson during my senior year of high school, when I pulled into a gas station to get a snack. As I wandered the isles, I was sucked into a tv that depicted images of people standing on their roofs waving for some kind of help… some kind of salvation. I thought to myself:

This couldn’t be the United States… this couldn’t be New Orleans….. 

It’s sad for me to think about now, but I honestly hadn’t really thought about New Orleans until that point. These images scarred me. They left a mark on my heart that I would revisit later. This tragedy got my attention, and planted a seed that I would sow later. If this hurricane had not occurred, there probably wouldn’t be a Young Adult Volunteer site in New Orleans. One of the organizations I work with, Project Homecoming, would definitely not exist without hurricane Katrina.

A hurricane led me to New Orleans.

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time at my campus ministry, Presbyterian Student Fellowship, or PSF. One particular night of worship at PSF, I believe during my sophomore year of college, some Young Adult Volunteers visited and told their stories. I talked to one YAV in particular who had spent a year in Northern Ireland. I don’t know what it is.. but I have a love and attraction to Ireland that I cannot explain. I had been to Dublin and Killarney in my Junior year of high school, and had fallen in love. The thought of spending a year in mission… especially in Ireland sounded like a dream to me. From that point on, the option of YAV was in the back of my mind.

My love for green, clovers, and Irish accents led me to the YAV program.

When I was applying to the YAV program some of the main components I wanted out of my year were a strong community life and the ability to use graphic design in my service. I had narrowed my site choices down to Hollywood and New Orleans. I interviewed with the two sites and left it up to fate (I would be lying if I said I gave it up to God). I figured that the program would get back to me, offering me a placement at one of the sites. They would make the decision for me. I got an email from New Orleans, read it and accepted their offer. I was so pumped that the YAV office had decided to place me in New Orleans.

I later talked to the site coordinator in Hollywood, and found out his disappointment that I had decided to not come to Hollywood… what? Apparently he was about to send me an offer via email, but realized I had already accepted the position in New Orleans. The decision was really in my hands all along. It was my misunderstanding of the YAV acceptance process that sent me on this path to New Orleans.

A misunderstanding led me to New Orleans.

It’s so true that these little, seemingly insignificant situations can really change the course of our lives. If I had waited a few days to accept a position, I could be living in Hollywood right now, with a completely different group of people.. and a different job. This is such a crazy thing to realize.

I’m sure if you really take a minute to look back on your life you’ll see these little instances, little turns in the road you’ve made that seemed like little decisions.. or not even decisions at all.. but they’ve all led you to exactly where you are today.

Donald Miller makes sure to point out the power we have in our own lives, in our own stories. We have the freedom of choice, the freedom to make these small or huge decisions in our day to day that can send us on crazy awesome adventures.

This realization is exciting and terrifying.

As I begin to discern what my next step is.. I am reminded of how much God has blessed me. I’m realizing how faithful he’s been in my decisions.. and my mistakes. Honestly, I could’ve never seen that news broadcast of Hurricane Katrina… I could’ve decided to miss PSF that night and never spoken to the Northern Ireland YAV. I also could’ve decided to be a little more responsible and cognizant of the YAV application process. The truth is, in changing any one of those events, I could be in a very different place than I am today.

Instead of sitting at a coffee shop in New Orleans blogging about my story..

I could be sitting in a coffee shop in Hollywood blogging about seeing some celebrity walking down the street. I could be sitting at JoZoara in Murfreesboro doing some freelance design work. I could be abroad serving two years in the Peace Corp. I could’ve never met my amazing, awesome, awe inspiring life long friends that I’ve made here in New Orleans.

It’s scary to think about, yeah? But what is proportionately as comforting is the fact that God would’ve been there with me on any one of those paths. He was there all along in all my decisions and my prayers for what to do with this year I find myself in.

What a beautiful, exciting, adventure of a life this is!

Where will your next step take you? Where will my next step/mistake/decision take me?

I have no idea. I guess we’ll see : )

The Posture of Gratitude.

13 Dec

Each morning I do a devotion from my book called Solo: An Uncommon Devotional. This morning was a particularly helpful exercise and I wanted to share it with you.

The book invites you to:  Take out a clean sheet of paper and fill the page with all the things you are thankful for, big and small. Include items like names of people, elements of creation, God-orchestrated events and timing, and small things you often overlook. When you’re finished, thank God for those blessings he is giving you today as well as those blessings he gave you months or even years ago.

A little section of my "Thankful page"

The book then invites you to read Psalm 75:1-4:

(Message Version)

We thank you, God, we thank you — your Name is our favorite word; your mighty works are all we talk about.

You say, “I’m calling this meeting to order, I’m ready to set things right. When the earth goes topsy-turvy and nobody knows which end is up, I nail it all down, I put everything in place again.

I say to the smart alecks, ‘That’s enough,’ to the bullies, ‘Not so fast.'”

For those who still love a more traditional version of scripture, like me, here’s Psalm 75:1-4 in ESV:

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity. When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah

I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.’

The book invites you: Based on a general outline of the expanded passage, take the list you made and prayerfully write your own psalm (poem) to God. Be creative and personal. (Nobody has to read what you write.) When you are finished, use your psalm to worship God. Read it aloud at least once.

This exercise was very helpful to me considering the stress I’ve been under because of recent events. An ugliness has clouded my vision, and I’ve struggled seeing the good around me. God cracked the hard shell I had placed around my heart to remind me that I have a billion things to be thankful for. I am thankful to be reminded to have a posture of gratitude.

I want to leave you with the psalm I wrote this morning during this activity. I invite you to do the same, and maybe this exercise will help remind you of the beauty that is life, and all the amazing things God has blessed you with.

I thank you God, I thank you. You are Love, you are Life. You are the very essence of the air I breathe, you are the creator who’s handprints cover all of creation.

I thank you God, I thank you for family. You brought us together, you designed this tight-knit web that holds us together.

I thank you God, I thank you for change. I thank you for the challenges and struggles that are continually molding me into who you intended me to be.

I thank you God, I thank you for New Orleans. I thank you for the oak trees, the streetcars, and the music pouring out into the streets. I thank you for cobble stone, and poboys, and the beautiful people who call this city home.

When nothing seems right, when the world seems to be crumbling around me, you steady the trembling.

You arrange everything according to your design, and you remind me who is in control. Selah


6 Dec

I’ve fallen in love with New Orleans, it’s true. It’s seeping into the very core of me, but I think I’ve been blinded a bit by this initial love at first sight. Up until this point, my knowledge of this city has in a way been very on the surface, and I quickly fell for its beauty, quirkiness, and spirit. But, as a lot of us know, with love often comes pain.

As the holidays are drawing near, things have gotten a little crazy around here. Crime seems to have increased, and maybe its been this way all along… but it’s been brought to my attention recently because it has been closer in proximity to me and my community.

In the past week and a half there has been a mugging, an armed robbery, a car jacking, and a drive by shooting that have either affected someone in my community or occurred near my house. I’m not saying this to alarm anyone. I have not felt unsafe in the least sense I’ve been here, but it’s hard not to let the fear and anxiety set in after these events.

I’m struggling. A darkness has set in, and a fog has settled in my mind.

This place I love is so broken.

It’s always hard when you begin to realize things aren’t as you wish they were, and you get awakened to how the world really is…

One my roommates is the garden coordinator for a school here in New Orleans. It really is incredible what she’s done in just a few short months. On Saturday I went and helped her with a community garden day she had organized. I was in charge of helping kids paint signs to label all the vegetables and flowers they have planted.

I was a little apprehensive in going because something very tragic had happened in this area just a few days before. Despite what had happened, the community rallied together and helped in the painting of signs, planting of trees, watering of plants, and spreading of mulch. It really was a beautiful day. It was so good to see something so beautiful in a place where so much ugliness had occurred just a few days before.

I felt like my faith in this city was being restored as I experienced this community coming together to restore this garden.

Everything went well with the kids. They loved painting the signs and were so enthusiastic about helping bring more color to the garden. For some reason, there was one girl in particular that grabbed my attention. She was around 11 years old… older than the rest of the kids, and had kind of an attitude about her. She wanted to take the orange tree sign home with her to hang on her wall. She also wanted to paint over the other kids work so the signs would look the way she wanted them to look. I let her know that she would not be taking the sign home, and that she was contributing to something bigger than her room, in a joking way of course. We went back and forth, I reflected her joking attitude back, and we got along alright.

During the community day, the kids were painting on a new bench with a tarp over it, and I had done my best to make sure we didn’t get any paint on the bench. While cleaning up, I was pretty impressed at how little of a mess was made. I left the bench for a few minutes to grab something to drink, and when I returned, a bunch of the younger kids were drawing on the bench in chalk. I joined in with them, and studied the drawings they were making, but then I realized that the one girl who had gotten my attention was writing in pen on the bench.

I got pretty frustrated, and told her to stop and also asked her if she realized that what she had written was in permanent ink. With her little attitude she acted as if she didn’t realize it was permanent and walked away. Disappointed, I grabbed the pen and began to walk away when her friend said to me,

Did you read the permanent thing she wrote?

I hadn’t read what she had written. I had just assumed she had written her name, or some kind of doodle like the Garfields I used to draw when I was little. I walked back to the bench and searched through all the little chalk drawings until I came to the words in pen that said:

I let hatred be my motivator.

Man. I was knocked backwards. I can’t believe this 11 year old girl wrote these words. This was her doodle. Her first thing to come to mind to write on this bench. How could so much darkness and depth of sadness come out of an 11 year old girl? All of a sudden this little oasis of a garden in the middle of this shady part of town had been infiltrated by this ugliness.

The part of New Orleans that I had been blind to had shown it’s terrible face again, in the words of an 11 year old girl.

This situation painted a pretty clear picture of what had occurred in my heart in the past week and a half. The little beautiful garden of New Orleans that I had created in my mind has been infiltrated by this ugliness, this corruption, this brokenness….

and it has changed how I see everything.

I’ve taken off my rose-colored glasses and now see the world how it actually is. I hadn’t really heard the sirens before, but now I hear them constantly. The daiquiri place my roommates and I always joke about going to is actually a place where two people have been shot and killed in the past year. The people walking by as I fill up my gas tank have the potential to hurt me and take my things.

I find myself putting my keys in between my knuckles as I walk to my car, ready to defend myself from those who are ready to attack. As I get up to get more coffee in a coffee shop, I wonder to myself if my computer and other belongings will be there when I return.

I hate this new change in me.

I’m sick of learning more about people, places, and systems that we are under and realizing that they are utterly broken and messed up to the core. I’m sick of being disappointed.

I want to have faith in this city I love, and the people in it. Even those who use hatred as their motivator are human beings with needs and beating hearts who are fiercely loved by God. I should love them too despite this feeling of fear, despite this feeling of betrayal.

God calls us to hope for something better, to hope for heaven here on earth. It is so hard to live in the reality of this messed up world, caused by our own brokenness, when the core of you longs with every fiber of your being for something greater, something that seems impossible, something that is not of this world.

I have hope that this little girl will let Love be her motivator, and see the potential that lies within herself. But the sad truth is, she believes she will only live to be about 23 because of gang violence. Her life is half over. Why wouldn’t she live by what she has seen, this hatred that she has been taught is the driving force and power in life?

I feel like I’m hurting all the time, I feel like my heart is breaking.

I hurt for her. I hurt for those who resort to violence to meet their needs. I hurt for my community and the specific members who have experienced things that will forever change them. Things that no one should ever have to go through. I hurt because of this jadedness that is hardening my heart to others, to this city, to this country, and to this world.

Despite it all, God has continued to be faithful as I have wrestled to process these emotions and fears. He has met me during my devotion time and is clearly trying to tell me something. I feel as though my heart is hardened and I’m not yet ready to completely receive what He is saying, but I want to share these scriptures with you that he’s placed on my heart.

On Sunday morning, my devotion was called A Safe Place to Hide and focused on Psalm 46. Here He is reminding me He is my fortress.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

This morning God met me once again with another passage from Psalms 53. This Psalm gives a voice to the passionate plea for justice. I feel as though God was letting me know he feels my pain. That he is right there with me.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.

God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?

There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame for God has rejected them.

Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Honestly, the most I can muster is to read these passages, and know that they will bring me comfort eventually. All I can do is hold on to these truths, even though my grip is so weak:

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. 1 Peter 3:13-14
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
I have no resolution to this blog post, I usually do. All I know is that I’ve chosen Love, and therefore I have no room for fear in my life. Please pray for me as I get rid of this fear and sadness that is plaguing my heart.