Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Season of Waiting

Tis the be overloaded, overwhelmed, and stressed out. Don't get me wrong I do get a subtle thrill from Tacky Christmas Sweater parties, corny yet comforting Christmas music blaring from speakers all around me, and all the holiday glitz and glamor that floods our lives this time of year. However, this year, as I begin to feel that familiar tug into a frazzled, frantic holiday state of mind I am stopping to remind myself of something. While thousands of us struggle to  prepare for the holidays amidst a grim economy and political turmoil, something is happening in the church. It's the Season of Advent, the Season of Waiting.

I was lucky enough to make it home for a few days this past Thanksgiving and even got to go to my lovely home church of Edgewood. Sid, my super awesome pastor, preached an inspiring sermon on waiting that really got me thinking. My thoughts continued when I saw the cover of the Presbyterian Outlook magazine: An hour glass with the title: Learning to Wait. Our brains, our bodies have been programmed not to wait. Whenever we find ourselves in line at a store we immediately pull out our phones or grab a magazine, desperate for something to occupy us so we won't be stuck with ourselves. Just like Sid said in his sermon, we flock to those flashing NO WAITING signs in restaurants, malls, and coffee shops. Anything, anything, to keep us from stopping, from standing still, from taking a break and just being alone with ourselves and God.

This may sound rather silly, but I was waiting for something to download on the computer the other day and decided to challenge myself to simply...wait for it. Sitting there staring at the screen I felt my heart begin to pound, my knees begin to shake, and my mind beginning to go into to overdrive. I couldn't believe how hard my body was fighting what seemed like such a simple task!  Could it be that I have submerged myself so deep in sensory overload that my brian literally does not know what to do when I make it just sit there? Thoughts bubbled to the top of the ocean in my head, conflicts that I am avoiding, things on my never ending mental to do list that have been pushed aside, and all sorts of negative feelings  that I just don't want to deal with. My life has become a defense mechanism, a series of constant distractions so I don't have to deal with the stuff buried deep. So I don't have to deal with myself or talking to God about the truth behind my feelings.

Perhaps, it is in being with ourselves that God's voice finally rises above the rest. As we wait, we realize what is really eating away at us, what is really down there inside of us. It's surprising, uncomfortable, and difficult and that is why our brains are wired to avoid such stillness. However, we confuse the practice of being still with doing nothing. And who wants to waste their time doing nothing when there is so much to do do do? But by  being with God and our thoughts we are doing far more for ourselves then the mindless actions that make up a great deal of our lives. We are finding that inner voice, realigning that inner compass, and ultimately saving ourselves from a spiritual death.

So this Season of Advent, I encourage everyone to take a break from the madness and  think about what it means to wait and actually give it a try. Your brain and your body will put up heavy resistance at first but continue through that feeling. On the other side, you will find something. Yourself.

Christ is coming. Let us not be anxious but thankful, joyful. And most importantly, let us wait.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In this IPhone generation, where does that leave the steady, thoughtfulness of prayer?

I had a fabulous YAV weekend retreat in San Antonio, Texas. We got to meet up with some other volunteers from San Antonio and Tucson. It was so great to chill out with such incredible people. I loved looking around seeing all these other eager young faces. We've all dedicated a year of our lives to service for various reasons but one thing we have in common is that we care. Listening to everyone talk about their passions, their frustrations, their concerns,etc. was so refreshing. It gives me such great hope for the future of this planet that there are young people out there who each have a social conscious and a willingness to doubt, to question,  to take action, to love, and to believe. I am blessed to know a good number of these people, and they will probably never know the far reaching impact they are having on my life.

I got to eat some delicious tex mex, go see a hilarious play written by a former YAV that shed humorous light on community living, and got to cheer on other runners at the San Antonio Rock N Roll marathon. We also got to go on a strenuous, but reflective hike. All in all an incredible weekend get away.

Now that I am back in New Orleans I've been feeling a little stuck. My days are starting to slip into a numbing routine, and I just feel restless, and unsure of what I am doing and what I should do next. There are several projects that I've talked about starting but I just can't seem to get my feet on the ground about any of them, and I am feeling rather unproductive.

Don't get me wrong, I love the people here. And they have all been unbelievably welcoming to me. Last night was great, because we had a Young Adult Gathering where a bunch of young adults of different faiths and backgrounds who are serving in the city got together and discussed ways we could network and connect with each other throughout our time here. It is exciting for me to have new friends to look forward to.

But somehow, I've still been feeling lost and confused, an outsider in my own life who is desperate to break the walls of my boxed in world. I struggle to make a difference while feeling I am only going backwards and not doing enough or the right thing. I feel shy and afraid. I see so much complication and pain and doubt around me, it just makes me want to shrink away.

It is in these confusing times, that I turn to prayer. Prayer has always been difficult for me because it often feels strange and forced, like I am not really getting anywhere. We are submerged in a society that thrives on instant gratification, immediate results. With technology and social media advancing and exploding left and right, it is hard to remember what it's like to slowly, steadily work for something. We are the generation of microwaveable meals and internet phones. If we want something we mash a button, and it's there for us. Meaningful conversations and intimate moments with each other are hard to come by because we are all huddled against our tiny glowing screens, obsessed and addicted to information that floods from our fingertips to our brains. How do we lift up our heads back to the world around us, back to God?

Prayer, I've discovered,  encourages a different way of living, goes against the direction our modern world is headed. Prayer is sincerely asking God not for some immediate physical thing you want, but strength to help discern what it is you really need amidst all the chaos and rubble that consume our lives. Prayer is not about producing instant downloadable results, but living a life by faith instead of by sight. Prayer is not a sign of weakness but a sign of willingness. A willingness to ask the big questions and trust that God is good. 
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6.

Every day is up and down, up and down. But that is how God intended it to be. For without this steady pattern, our lives would flatten out, with no space to grow, to thrive. I feel useless, scared, and overwhelmingly unsure of myself and others. But at the end of the day God has a mysterious, magnificent plan.  I don't have to know it, I just need to have faith in it.

"We can reach our world, if we will. The greatest lack today is not people or funds. The greatest need is prayer."
-Wesley Duewel

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life is in the traffic.

Traffic. A terrifying word that has begun to take over my day to day life in New Orleans where any slight wrong doing is cause for laying on the horn and driving like you are in the Grand Theft Auto video game is completely normal. Getting from point A to point B is not a simple task, but a challenging test of patience and will that eats up the hours of your day like pacman and sucks your gas tank like soda through a straw. New Orleans highways are clogged vessels that criss cross in confusing manners, overstuffed with people like a Moe's Burrito.

Today was particularly horrific. I took the interstate across the Westbank to Faith Church this morning, took it back to First Church around lunchtime, and then attempted to get home around 5:30. I probably spent the majority of my day stuck in traffic. When I got home I was shaking with frustration. But as I settled down into the evening hours, I started to put my life in perspective.

We spend our lives trying to "do what is expected of us." We bounce from point A to point B to point C and so forth. If we are privileged and lucky enough to chase it, the American Dream is ours : we go to school, we get a job, we get married, we raise a family, we retire.  Sometime the points are rearranged, sometimes they are skipped, and sometimes the unexpected happens, and we don't reach them at all. We become spokes in society's wheel that churn in circles to survive. We get so caught up in reaching each stage on time that we become overly frustrated when something diverts us from our path and causes our progress to slow. Today, after spending multiple hours stuck on the road, I realized that perhaps Life is in the traffic. It is in those in-between moments where you find yourself happiest and angriest, where the little things can make the biggest difference. Whatever the emotion, it is here you are most yourself, most alive.  In the car, I listened to all my favorite songs in a row, belting them out so loud I am sure the entire state of Louisiana was covering their ears in extreme pain. I started to mull over everything I had experienced, seen, and lived in New Orleans so for the first time since I have been here, and tears strained my eyelids while I felt a powerful sensation deep in my chest.  I discovered that these long, "miserable" car rides to work were the places where my mind got the most exercise, where I got a chance to be with just myself, God,my fears, and my dreams.

Tomorrow, I will attempt to wake up early, get dressed, grab a to go breakfast, head out the door, get in my car and start the long drive to work. I will most likely be met with a horrific stand still on I-10 that will last all the way across the Westbank bridge and it will probably take me close to an hour go only a few miles. I will be surrounded by other frustrated cranky people who are worried about being late for work and other engagements. I am not saying I won't get frustrated ever again while spending half my days on the crowded, congested highways of New Orleans. However, I hope to progressively learn to use this time to  appreciate the "in betweens" of life where love seeps in and things get messy, unpredictable, awful, and wonderful. The roadways that lead us to each success and failure keep us connected to the roots of living. Our lives are a gift from God. Once we try to reduce them to mere rungs on ladder, we lose that gift.

Life is in the traffic.

And that is why my novel in progress (tentatively titled Newton's Laws for Living) involves an epic road trip. Maybe I'll post an excerpt if people are lucky ;)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Unexpected and Wonderful Inspiration.

Today, I received some particularly inspiring words of wisdom from a woman named Maria who attends one of the churches where I volunteer here in New Orleans. Maria is someone who has God’s love shining through every crack and crevice. Despite all the struggles she has experienced (and there have been many), her faith in God remains the driving force in her life. Whenever I see her and ask how she is doing, each time, without fail, she simply smiles and says, “God is good. God is good.”
Maria sat down across from me while I was in the church office, and I assumed we were going to go through the normal, polite “get to know you” small talk. However, she began by saying that she admired me for being so willing to listen for God’s voice. She said that since Katrina, she hadn’t seen many young women like me devote their lives to service and God’s call. These words meant so much to me. Lately, I have been feeling frustratingly small in a big, big world. The little mundane tasks I do every day have made me restless and worry whether I am actually making a difference or doing anything right at all. But Maria’s words comforted me and made me remember why I came to New Orleans in the first place—to do God’s work, to share God’s love. And as long as this love remains the core of each task I perform, then that is all that matters.

She also looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t let anyone else get in the way of you. Put God first but don't forget about yourself. Dream. Travel. I know you are taking some time to find yourself and that is confusing, but you will find who you are. If you remember anything, remember to choose a profession that you love, that makes you happy. Life is more than just about making a dollar. So many people out there think that life isn’t worth living, and that is a sad thing because God is good.”

That advice is priceless. And to think that she said it to me so frankly and unexpectedly, not knowing the profound impact this she has on me. It was a breath of fresh air, a reassurance that God works in mysterious ways, and I am here for a reason. I told her about my passion for writing, and I have always been scared of following it for fear it will produce no money or that I will never be good enough. However, I am starting to see the  truth of this fear is only as true as I let it be. Being here in New Orleans and talking to such a beautiful person like Maria is making me realize how you have to stay connected to that place burrowed deep inside your heart that makes you truly happy. No matter what external forces are raging their wars against you. That's where God is. That's where the love is kept. That's where you are.

I've got about 6,000 words of my novel down. Not bad for 3 days. Trying to shut down the pestering internal editor and to just write freely, letting those words come no matter how insane they look on the page. As crazy as this whole novel in a month thing is I am loving it already. The characters are having strange impulses; thus creating subplots I didn't know imaginable. Awesome! Thank you NaNoWriMo, for opening up a door inside I have been unable to unhinge for most of my life. It's about to get tough in the next couple weeks as I crank out words left and right, but I am hanging in there!

My parents are coming to visit this weekend. So excited to see them! I need a taste from home. Overall, things are well. Laughing a TON, which is great. Getting busy yes. Starting a youth group from scratch for both of my churches is going to be hard, along with stepping outside of my comfort zone and juggling various other tasks, but Maria's presence and her words continually echo in my mind, tiny lanterns lighting my path. "God is good. God is good..."

"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. "
-Denis Waitley

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Discovered Passions batter baked with Lessons for Living icing=A Blog Cupcake

"Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives."
This is a quote from the National Novel Writing month website, which you should totes check out (  Yes, I am participating in this exhilarating stupidity. Starting November 1, I along with other absolutely crazy, yet passionately devoted writers across the country will embark on a month long writing marathon. 50,000 words in 30 days. Can I do it? I have always wanted to write a book, so why not let this be my first shot at it? I know there are tons of people who toss the idea of writing a published novel out into the air every day. OK and less than 1% actually do it. However, I have come to realize that writing is a part of me, just like a toe or a kneecap or a nose hair. My drawers at my room at home are filled with so many journals I have kept growing up.  Little bits and pieces of stories and poems and lyrics are like dust bunnies cluttering the cracks of corners of anywhere I have ever lived.  I am constantly conjuring up characters, plots, phrases mentally describing my surroundings. Words just fascinate me. I love writing. There. I said it. And now it is time to do something about this passion, despite every insane obstacle that will stand in my way. And what better place to do it then in the wonderfully upside down, unique city of New Orleans!! So please support me in this lofty endeavor!

Lately I have been drawn to the joy children bring into my life. I got to babysit three adorable children last weekend, am continuing to teach children's Sunday School each week at both my respective churches, am tutoring a wonderful little girl named Leslie twice a week, and continually play with the children that come to the homeless ministry. As taxing as the little ones can be on our nerves and patience, I find that we can learn so much from children if we simply watch and listen. They look at the world with such fresh intensity, such untouched awe. They are frighteningly honest (sometimes make you rethink your fashion choices.) with their questions. I think as we grow older we tend to stop our questioning, simply accept things, and just throw in the towel as cynical pessimists. We become tortoises slugging through life, weighted down by our constraining beliefs we have grown too accustomed to. But, I think it is worthwhile to learn from all the curious young ones out there that we should never stop questioning, never stop doubting, and never fully give up searching. Because it is only through this ongoing, often times frustrating process that we allow ourselves to be renewed again and again. Each baby step, each slight inch forward, brings us closer to truth after truth. These truths will transform the world that we are a part of into something chaotic at times but beautiful always.

Children have pure joy in their hearts that infectiously radiates to their surroundings. Being around little kids pries open this closed valve in my heart, perhaps a part of me that I hold back in many "normal" situations. I love pushing my imagination to the farthest edge of possibility, inventing whole other worlds to scamper around inside, doing things that are silly and ridiculous but just FUN. Kids put their whole heart into everything they do, and we could benefit from doing the same. I feel like our daily routines have become spiders that catch us like flies, tangling us in their stifling web of structure and rules and limitations. We are buried under deadlines and to-do lists, putting on this stoic front to the world so no one knows we are stretched like rubber bands ready to snap. We forget that our hearts desperately need to let loose, to stretch their cramped legs once a while. To pretend to be an evil vampire or a princess fairy, to make cupcakes with ingredients that don't follow a recipe, to dance to a song about dinosaurs with complete abandon, to be enamored and completely happy by one simple toy. To run around, to get dirty, messy, tainted without worry of what consequences will happen or what judgments will be made as a result of our actions. To just be alive. We survive, "make it through" every day, but we forget to live.

And just one smile, one laugh from a child, and my heart melts a little around the edges, like a piece of paper touching a flame.  Sure they drive you crazy...when then they howl and scream or say something rude or stubbornly refuse to listen to you. But at the end of the day, I am thankful for every moment, good or bad, I get to spend playing with or talking to kids. Because I am reminded about what life can be like if you let yourself not only push through it, but taste it, reach out at it, experience it fully.

After all these life lessons have been shot out at you readers from my mind cannon, I would like you to remember the most important one that glows among the coals. Sometimes, it is enough just to be. The power of presence is underestimated in a society that begs and pleads and stresses us to do do do day in and day out. At the end of the day, when our actions seem fruitless, we are called by simply be. Our presence is a mere miracle in itself, and there are moments we must let this understanding speak for itself.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Food For Thought...Munch. Munch.

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon here at the Blue House. Football is on the TV as usual! My roommates and I are watching the Saints. I hope they play better than Bama did yesterday because I can't handle both my football teams losing in one weekend! But I suppose the cookie will crumble the way it will crumble.

One highlight of this past week is that I am starting to be an after-school tutor for underprivileged children twice a week with the STAIR program. The kids are all in second grade and absolutely adorable. We basically help them with their writing and reading comprehension skills. These kids do me a much greater service than I do them. Kids have such wild imaginations, and I love watching and listening to their profound insight into the world around them. I also am happy to be a positive influence in their weekly lives. It is definitely a treasured component of my weekly routine.

This past week I got the pleasure of meeting and hearing from Joel Tendero. He is an international peacemaker from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. His speech to the church was quite moving. It saddens me just how much violence and corruption is occurring in their government. It is also disheartening to hear that 15 million people in his country are living on just one dollar a day! These kinds of statistics really put things into perspective for me and allow me to step outside of my comfortable, middle class upbringing. The minimum wage  in the U.S is around 7 dollars per HOUR. These people are barely surviving in a world where money goes through a clogged drain and becomes stuck in a small handful of people's pockets.  I really want to help, but it is hard to even think about where to start. Joel says sending money does not help because it can often end up in the wrong hands inside the corrupted government. However, I see such remarkable faith and optimism in Joel, and he gives me hope that these people's voices are going to be heard. A new government is coming in. I am glad the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is working in partnership across the seas to help this struggling country. It is important because we often get very caught up in our problems that we fail to step outside of ourselves see the lack of the distribution of wealth in this world. There is enough for everyone to get by, but people hold their wealth in such tight fists that making them unclench is a task that is better left unattended to most of us. I know I fall guiltily in this trap.

All this is not to say that we should overlook the many problems we are facing within our own country. One of the reasons I chose to be a national volunteer instead of international is that I feel it is important to remember that there are many settings within this country that are unlikely, overlooked mission fields. Five years after the storm, New Orleans becomes a faded news story as the media has moved on to more current issues, but we cannot forget those still struggling to rebuild their lives. I don't mean to say that one disaster deserves more attention than another, but we can't forget these people.  On a side note, I admire other YAVS that were willing to serve internationally in a completely different culture, and I know they are having a powerful impact on their respective countries. It is wonderful to think of how all of us that gathered at the Stony Point orientation this past August are now scattered around the world making small but steady changes that are sure to have a profound impact on a world that seems to be desperately falling apart at the seams. It gives me such great hope to know that this group of young people I am a part of can help the world move in its entirety towards some sort of realistic peace, one daily interaction at a time. Things fall apart, but the fact that they fall together in the first place supplies me with enough optimism to make it through each day.

This weekend: some of my roommates went to the Voice of the Wetlands festival in Houma. We also were commissioned by the Presbytery of South Lousiana. Emma and I participated in the Light the Night work supporting the treatment of blood cancer. Never a dull moment in beautiful,colorful, southern Louisiana!

Things are about to be very busy I think. I plan to try and start up a "Thirst for the Word" young adult program where people in their 20s and 30's can gather in a contemporary venue to discuss Theological issues. I am also going to try to start a youth group if I can find some kids. In addition it is October, which means Fall Fest and pumpkin patches galore! ( The Blue House plans to go as Mario Kart 
characters for Halloween FYI)

My life here in New Orleans is not always as happy and simple as I would like to be. I see injustice, often feel frustrated, and can feel very uncertain and out of place. Intentional community is a bigger challenge than I expected, but it is also a rewarding challenge. At the end of the day, I try to remember the people that support me and love me and am very thankful for their presence in my life.  I am lucky enough to have had a wonderful life thus far, and am humbled by this experience in New Orleans which allows me to change and transform as a person. I grow so much each day. I look forward to sharing my experience with congregations back in my hometown. 

Comment and spark thoughtful discussion if you so desire!

 “Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow.” Marry Anne Radcmacher

My fellow YAVs and I working for Bayou Rebirth propagating some plants to help coastal restoration!
Intense gardeners!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Soul Medicine

Current Music: Iron & Wine
Current Mood: Hopeful :)

The people I have met in New Orleans continue to inspire me. Statistics may tell you this city has a high crime rate, crumbling political and education systems, etc.  but I can tell you the hospitality rate soars higher and speaks louder than those numbers ever could.  I am overwhelmed by the love the people at both First and Faith Presbyterian Church have shown me in my time here. I came to these two churches as a mere stranger just hoping to help in anyway I could. I was nervous of how I would be accepted and scared that I would be too shy and under-qualified for the tasks ahead of me. But as soon as I arrived my fears were squashed.  These congregations immediately welcomed me with open arms and have treated me like close family since I have been here.  I think it's great so many people here are all about hugs! During Pass the Peace, it is not simply a quick handshake and a muffled acknowledgment. People greet you with smiles that burst at the edges and give you giant hugs that feel like they genuinely mean something. No one sits down until every single person has greeted each other. I just love the openness here, the focus on meals and being together as a family (even if not biologically related), and how every one seems so relaxed and laid back. Everything does move slower here. It is not a lazy, careless kind of slowness though but a deliberate thoughtfulness that allows one to soak up the parts of life that others are missing. New Orleans people seem to know what living means at its most rawness, and I find that incredibly refreshing.

 I am enjoying participating in the homeless ministry each week at First Presbyterian. What I am doing seems so simple: sorting, labeling, and laying out shoes and clothes for the women and men to come collect. But it truly is a rewarding experience.  I enjoy talking with these people and trying to help them get what they need. It is frustrating when I have to tell them we don't have something. But the experience is humbling, as I realize how basic the things these people need are and how easy it would be for all of us to give them if we would allow ourselves.

For the most part, I have spent the past weeks observing how the people around me do things. I remember the first week I was here a New Orleans resident told me to just observe for awhile. I think there is a great value in that. Stepping back, taking away any judgments I might have, and just seeing how God's love pours out of these people. I often find myself inside these small moments like sitting on the floor with my roommates just laughing and passing the time. It is then I step back and simply think "Wow."

One of my favorite things about this city continues to be the endless supply of live music. My roommates and I are becoming regulars at the Maple Leaf where Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday. There is just nothing like letting those cathartic, ear-shatteringly loud brass sounds wash over you in waves. I also went to see Jon Cleary, the most amazing piano player EVER. Standing in the crowd with people of all ages, moving our bodies to that same spiritual rhythm of New Orleans hit me somewhere deep. We met an older couple who was so happy to find out we are here volunteering. It is interesting to see people's reactions. They are just so grateful for our mere presence. It's an exciting thing.

In about two weeks on October 9, I will be participating in a Light the Night walk here in New Orleans which supports the treatment and cure of blood cancer. I am fund raising for it, and if you would like to help me you can donate any amount at the following link. I would greatly appreciate it!!

So no big things yet, just doing a lot of small things. It can be frustrating at times, but every little piece of this complicated puzzle counts. Even if I don't get to see the final picture, I know I am part of it. In a world that at times seems broken beyond repair, I am learning that there is a goodness deep within each of us that has the power to change aspects of it. If only people could realize it just takes filling in the gaps with little things to achieve wide-spread, positive change. I continue to hold on to my faith and try each day to retain this sense of optimism despite the suffering I have witnessed. New Orleans is absolutely soul-medicine.  I am almost done with Irresistible Revolution and hopefully can write my next blog post about the important insights into Christianity I have found in this book. In the mean time, thank you to all my wonderful followers out there! I am so blessed to have such beautiful, loving family and friends. May the love of God touch each of your lives daily in the most surprising ways.  

Feel free to comment! I would love to hear your thoughts :)


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
-Martin Luther King Jr. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

When the Saints Come Marching In

I am starting to get the ball rolling. 24 hours a week at Faith Pres across the Westbank and 10 hours a week at First Pres here in town.  As far as Sundays go, I will rotate off each week and teach children's Sunday school at both churches. .I have spent most of this past week at Faith. Thy are a little church made up of about 46 members and I have received an extremely warm friendly welcoming from them. Yesterday I taught the children's school which was made up of three adorable girls and attended my first of many Session Meetings. I love working with children so I am glad to have this opportunity. I also have and will be working with the church secretary at Faith writing up the bulletin and managing the website. I am excited to tackle more projects. This week I will be going to First Pres to help out with Project Hope, the homeless ministry. Monday and Tuesday I will help organize all the items and help prepare lunches . Then Wednesday morning the people actually come to First where they are provided with clothing, food, bus tokens, etc. About 9 other churches participate in this program and I am excited to be a part of this ministry.

This past Thursday was the first Saints game of the season which served as the NFL kickoff. Wow. It is like nothing I have ever witnessed before. The whole city shuts down for the day. Kids get out of school early, meetings scheduled churches are canceled. Everywhere you go whether to a restaurant or Wal-Mart or the Post Office people were all decked out in Saints attire. I went to the parade in the French Quarter and it was crazy fun!! Dave Matthews Band and Taylor Swift performed live and I got to watch them on the big screen monitor. So glad the Saints won the game! WHO DAT.

Did several cathartic things for the soul this week. Am trying to continually run in City Park early some mornings. (Absolutely Beautiful) On Friday night, some of us went to see a brass band, The Soul Rebels. It was awesome! Love live music. Yesterday I spent the entire day scraping paint of a house that Project Homecoming is fixing up to sell. Hard labor felt good and I hope it will be something I can continue.

Got a Public Library card!! Am currently reading two books: Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution and Barbara J. King's Evolving God. I love Shane's take on Christianity, which is that it should not be contained and suffocated within a church's walls but should be something we seek on the streets and in the lives of other ordinary people. King's book takes a look at the origins of religion, which is a topic that has begun to fascinate me lately. How does religion, God, spirituality tie into the way we have evolved? What has cauesed us to turn to the sacred and supernatural as groups of human beings?

One last important thought. My roommates and I have been watching Spike Lee's 4 part documentary: When The Levees Broke.  I would highly recommend this emotional, heart-breaking, and eye opening film about Katrina and the aftermath to everyone. It is extremely painful to watch but I think it is something that we as Americans need to see. The slow disorganized response of our government shocks and disturbs me. People left out on the highways for days without the most basic of needs while government officials got lost in petty political disagreements.The President flew over the city in his spacious, comfortable airplane and said he saw the damage and knew the pain of the people. Did he put his feet on the ground and walk the streets full of bleeding, dying people with nowhere to go? Did he smell the horrible stench of dead bodies a or peel off rooftops to find people drowning, suffocating in their attics? No. These people went days with nothing. I struggle with seeing and hearing these people's stories on the screen and know that they are not unique. What makes it twice is hard is  walking outside my house and living in the midst of it years later. I know that me being here counts for something. Maybe my presence can help us not forget New Orleans, although the news and media may have died down.  I hope that I can go forth from this place and help show America the truth about this disaster. 

"Great opportunities to help seldom come, but small ones surround us every day."
-Sally Koch

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Living With Intention in The Blue House and beyond...

Hello friends! On Monday I returned from a week long YAV orientation in beautiful Stony Point, New York. It was a powerful and energizing experience full of worship, singing,laughter, and deep discussion. Being surrounded by 60 something other young adults all with the same drive to live in an intentional faith community while doing service both nationally and internationally was an incredible experience. We had very enlightening discussions on race and power in mission, self-care, culture shock, and globalization.

One cool thing we did was that we got to be commissioned at different congregations in the presbytery up there in New York. Two of my housemates Evan, Lauren and I all went to First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown. We each got preach our story of how we felt called to mission. Then they all put their hands on us and prayed for our coming year and made a promise to support and pray for us. It was great to have an entire congregation that I had just met be so welcoming and supportive of us and what we are about to do.

There was also a seminary fair with all the different representatives from Presbyterian seminaries around the country. Definitely something to think about!

On the second day we took a whole afternoon on self-care. Ellie, the girl doing the workshop, mentioned that you have to have a self to give. This statement struck a chord within me because Ive struggled with the idea that part of the reason I'm doing this YAV year is selfish, internal motivation. However, after the self-care workshop, I decided it's not selfish at all to want something out of this experience besides service because that is what it is for. I don't want to come in as someone with the upper hand willing to help people because I think they desperately need it. I prefer the idea we discussed of Mission being Partnership. Not just one individual overpowering another because they need them to but serving one another in christ with the common goal of living out God's love.

I felt God's presence throughout orientation. I felt him in the songs we sang, in the quiet meditative moments, in the provocative discussions about faith in a broken world, and in the laughter and dancing among new people. The past few weeks of this experience have made me realize how intentional I want my spirituality to be. I no longer want God to be something that is selective or compartmental or even going through the motions. I want God to fill all aspects of my life, and I want it to be an offering I hand up to him at the end of each day.

This week in New Orleans we've been having more orientation type stuff. Today we did a fun scavenger hung around the city which involved various things like gettting our picture with an alligator, a saxophone player, a person drinking a hand grenade, an NOPD officer, and mardi gras beads hanging in trees. We also discussed goals for the year and what an intentional community and what simple living really means. I am learning simple living is not just being frugal . It means to live your life with less stress, with less unhealthy habits. To think about living a life focused on God despite all of the distractions our society throws at us. To appreciate what you have instead of constantly searching for more "stuff" to clutter your world. To replace the phrase "I need" with "I want" because many of us have more than enough. To realize what is really unhealthy and what is really healthy.

I am really liking this word "intentional." I feel like a lot of times we go through life and let it just happen to us and we don't realize what we're doing and how that affects others in the bigger picture. By being intentional with what I do and the way I do it I can turn my whole life around and in turn affect others hopefully in a good way. It's hard to think that one person can change the world in one year or even their lifetime. But I think awareness and evaluation of how one's own life is being directed is a good place to start.

Last night we went to see the Rebirth Brass Band at The Maple Leaf in Uptown. It was a cathartic, loud, joyful experience. I can't wait for more live music adventures in the city. These guys were so talented and really embodied the hope and passion this city offers. Tomorrow I will visit Faith Presbyterian for the first time and hopefully begin talking to them about what I will be doing for their church in the next year. I am nervous and excited but feel very ready. I have gained a lot of new insight and knowledge over the past few weeks, so I am still processing it all. After it all gets shifted inside my brain I will share more of my thoughts with all of you, my dear followers! But for  right now things are going pretty well. I've started getting up early and running with some of my my housemates in City Park which is nice. I'm a a little overwhelmed with this new phase in life, but know I am in the right place and am growing in leaps and bounds. Talk to you wonderful people again soon and feel free to comment!

"If you have come to help you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together"


A few pictures of my adventures so far!  Enjoy!
My housemates and I on the wall in the Ninth Ward

Live Music on Bourbon Street!
Some other YAVers on the Hudson River in New York!
Stony Point Presbyterian Church
YAV Orientation at Stony Point Retreat Center
Emma, my rommie, and I  at The Maple Leaf in Uptown NO.
Rebirth Brass Band at The Maple Leaf! AMAZING!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I made it!

I have finally made it to New Orleans!!! I cannot believe I am here, it seems so surreal. The entire car ride down here with Mom through the winding, endless highway of Mississippi, my stomach was a bundle of nerves. But as soon as I stepped out the car in front of "The Blue House" and saw the smiling faces of my new roommates I felt like I could really make this place my home. There are 6 of us total, 5 girls, 1 brave guy, living in a cute little blue duplex on Franklin Avenue. We are all recent college graduates from small liberal arts schools and are from pretty much all over the country (Oregon, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, and Alabama) Although we all come from different places and different backgrounds we have all really bonded over the past few days. I feel God has placed each one of these people in my life for a reason. We have been laughing and crying and just exploring this truly unique and amazing city together. I cannot wait to spend a year growing in community with these super cool people.

The second day we were here we toured the Ninth Ward. It is shocking to see how much devastation remains 5 years after Katrina. There are so many empty plots where houses once were and the few houses that survived are in terrible shape. All the empty plots of land represent a family that was killed in the hurricane or fled and never came back. I cannot imagine what I would have done in the situation. Would I leave and start a new life with nothing or would I go back and sort through the scraps of a life that is now destroyed?

Coming here to this city has really hit home more for me, and I've realized that actually standing in the midst of it all is so much more real than just watching the news or hearing stories. Almost the entire city was completely underwater and thousands of people lost their lives, many of them still unknown. Yet despite this horrible distaster, I have never been in a city full of such hope and amazing strength. Almost every person I have met has expressed how thankful they are that I am here and how they hope I am happy and can make New Orleans my home. God is truly at work here. This city moves and breathes with his presence.

After only being here a few days, I am already a changed person. God is becoming such a strong prominent force in my life and being here is helping me realize what direction I want my life to take. I feel myself coming alive, creeping out of my shell.  This city has so much to offer on the surface:great history, art, music, FOOD, etc. But I am only starting to peel back the layers and see the spirit that makes this place so special and cherished.

Tomorrow I leave for YAV Orientation in New York. I am excited to kick off this adventure with many other young people who are devoting their lives to service for their next year like me. I am thankful that I am going with my fellow New Orleans YAVS and am thankful we are already a tight knit, fun group. I am so ready to make a great leap of faith into the unknown and dive into this adventure, with all its ups and downs. My life starts now.

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential" (Barack Obama)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Update! And an exciting one at that.

 Hello everyone! I am happy to report that I have officially met my fund raising goal of $6500! I am so thankful to all who have supported me and given from their hearts to my year of service. It is a great relief to have this task accomplished before I head down to NOLA on August 17. Any other donations received in my name will go to benefit the YAV program or possibly a small fund designated to my transition to the real world following my one year term.

I just found out that in addition to me there will be 5 other YAVs living in the house together in New Orleans! Like me, most of them are recent college grads and they are from all over the country. I am looking forward to meeting these sure to be amazing people and living and growing in a community with them throughout the next year. I am so glad I will be surrounded by people going through the same process as me.

I also found out my official job placement. I will be splitting my time each week between Faith Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church. Both are small churches that suffered from Katrina and parts of the their buildings were destroyed and they lost many members. I will play a part in helping these churches get back on their feet. Some tasks I will be doing are:
  • Being in charge of leading young adult gatherings as part of "Thirst for the World" campaign 
  • Working with the youth groups
  • Working preschool children during Vacation Bible School
  • Working with a campaign called "Project Welcome Home" which supports soldiers returning from duty
  • Helping out the church secretary with newsletter, website, etc. (Putting that English degree to use no doubt!

So that is just a little taste of the plan right now. I leave two weeks from Tuesday. I am incredibly excited but equally nervous. Cooking for myself will prove to be a challenge in itself. :)  But I fully trust God and what he has planned for me during this next year. The more I hear about the resilience and love and strength of New Orleans, the more I feel confident in my decision to go some place I have never been. I am ready to be soaked in a completely new culture, to be thrown out of my comfort zone, to see God's love working in ways I never thought possible. But most importantly, I want to reach out and touch lives and help people. I want to do all I can to make a difference.  I am very eager to watch my gifts unfold and see where these gifts meet the world's needs or specifically the needs of this city.

Tomorrow I am off to Key West for a week with the family. Then the following week I am going to Austin,TX for the first time with some of my high school buds to visit our friend who is currently in Grad school there. Then on August 17 it's off to NOLA and then to New York where all YAVS will spend a week at orientation. It's going to be a crazy month of traveling for sure!  Even though it will be hectic and chaotic and overwhelming and scary and thrilling I know that God will be stable for me through the beginning of this journey. He will be the solid ground I stand on as my world shakes, stirs and bends to this new chapter.

I am trying to free my mind of all worries and expectations and just be open to an incredible new experience and opportunity I have found. So glad all my supporters can share in this experience with me. Again, I am forever grateful for everyone's love and kindness. Thank you for being a part of this very very special time in my life. Talk to you soon!!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Welcome everyone!

Welcome to my blog! For the next year I will be sharing here my experience as a YAV in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am expecting a very challenging and exciting year, and am happy to share it with all of you, my family and friends.

I am not sure of my exact volunteer placement but plan on working specifically within a church in the field of youth ministry and whatever other needs the church may have.

I am only just beginning my fundraising efforts needed in order to support my year of ministry. I need a total of $6500 with half of that being due in July. If you would like to make a donation of support, checks can be made out to the Presbytery of South Louisiana with my name in the memo line and sent to the following address:

Kathy Lee
YAV Coordinator
Presbytery of South Louisiana
3700 Gentilly Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70122

I would like to sincerely thank everyone for their support in my life-changing year of giving back through service. I looked forward to sharing my thoughts with you and hearing your comments. God bless!