Sunday, November 27, 2011

Depth is Not Just for Deep-Sea Divers: Part 1

Life has its way with me, a way of stunning me with questions.


Today in church we talked about Jacob being "stunned" to once again be united with his boy Joseph because Jacob had been under the impression that over a decade or so earlier his boy had been killed by his brothers. My pastor described the Hebrew word translated "stunned" to be more akin to "experiencing a brief cardiac event" and that the word "stunned" did not give us a sufficient understanding of what Jacob was legitimately experiencing. Now, I won't be so naive or haughty as to claim that my life is a series of literal brief cardiac events per se, but sometimes I literally believe my brain stops firing neurons because its system is simply overloaded and cannot compute the breadth of thoughts passing through its circuits.

Ask anyone who has ever been remotely close to me and they will testify that I am always thinking and questioning and wondering why (and that it drives them crazy!). Some see it as a waste of energy, and I have been told many times to "lighten up." There is probably some merit to that advice, but in moderation, I don't think I will die as a result of being intensely interested in life and wanting to explore the depths of thought and existence. After all, it is highly accepted and encouraged in most academic settings (shout out to all my peeps with philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and theology degrees), so why can't I, an everyday teacher-woman, don these same processes in search of something more fulfilling or at least a little bit more sensical than what I make of the world currently? I can and I will, thanks :)

Seeking depth does not have to be as challenging as diving to the bottom of the deep blue sea. Obviously, that act takes loads of expensive equipment and training. True depth, in its existential meaning, comes from building trusting relationships and opening oneself a little bit at a time to come to understand the world better. The beauty of this process is that once I become a bit more fulfilled or feel like things make a bit more sense, another "existential crisis" (a term applied by my boyfriend when referring to my own "brief cardiac events") manifests in order to encourage me to begin questioning again, and the whole process begins again instantly.

It is natural for humans to want more out of life. We see it play out in a perverted way within our consumerist culture as the dissatisfied grow weary of their quantities and acquire more quanitities as they seek greater fulfillment. In a more metaphorical way, as we grow older we may grow less fulfilled with our knowledge and experience, but naturally we develop an evolved understanding  of the world as we gain more knowledge and a broader spectrum of experiences. We may not realize it is happening, and when we fail to acknowledge and reflect upon our gained knowledge and experience, we may not find fulfillment.

I find that living intentionally in community with others is one of the most forward propelling acts of exploring fulfillment of coming to a better understanding of life's questions though the intellect and emotion. One person is incredibly individual, and yet a group of people is colossally congenial. As a direct result of living within an intentional definition of community, we can simultaneously gaze upon reflections of ourselves while attempting to stand at a variety of distinctive vantage points that may not be natural to us. Our primary lens as humans coming to understand the world better is undoubtedly through one another's experiences and knowledge, allowing us to develop highly informed and evolved worldviews/perspectives.

This brings me to my personal community: the Christian community. Because so many spend their time and energy bashing the church and not doing anything to act out the change for which they are yearning, I want to simply explore and not bash the issues within the community. I am currently in a leadership position within my local church community and feel that I am wrestling with questions and disconnections that could use some communal thoughts. I want to see possibilities of change and specific solutions or at least questions asked in order to come to specific solutions. For each smaller community, depending on specific theology, demographics, cultures, etc, the answers to the questions look different, but I think the questions make sense and some of the answers will translate because after all, we are one unified body, the Body of Christ.

(see part 2)

Depth is Not Just for Deep-Sea Divers: Part 2

As I have stepped into the role of "Worship Coordinator" within my current church community, I have gained a responsibility to be intentional about the way that I interact with my church community. This is something that has always been very natural for me, so "making it official" seemed like a natural step for me. For some reason, though, the weight of this new responsibility is great. No longer am I held accountable for my own spiritual health and maybe the spiritual health of those around me in proximity. No, I am now held accountable for the spiritual health for anyone interacting with our community, especially during the communal worship service.

I am not in this alone, which is such a relief to me, but even at our staff meetings this search for community can be lost because we are under an unwritten time constraint because people naturally have other things going on in their lives. You may be inclined to believe that after attending a church for 5 years, serving in ministries within the church community, moving to the town in which the church is located, living within three blocks of at least 10 people who I would call my brothers and sisters of my church community, and serving as a leader on staff that I would feel I am reaching some point of depth with the community, but I can tell you that it is not so.

I believe that somehow, as invisible and far-away as he sometimes seems, God has called me, led me, and allowed me to take those steps for some greater purpose that will be unknown wholly to me until I die. I trust that this is true because I see needs and I see my abilities line up with the potential to help meet those needs. It is very beautiful, but within the context of depth, it is also very difficult. Hope is hard to sustain within myself. I am left alone (too much! haha) with my crazy questioning brain with little or no outlet for exploring those ideas and desires and dreams.

It is no one person's fault, but I am just trying to figure out what to do with it. There is little time or space for long, deep discussions to take place because people are busy with their lives, working ridiculous amounts of tiring hours, watching their favorite TV shows, reading their favorite websites, keeping track of their favorite sports teams, researching the newest technology, and just generally being caught up in the small world that they have control over and with which they can keep up in a sense. I am equally guilty. I will confess and say that my world is made up of (in order from greatest to least) my job, my sleep, my boyfriend, my roommates/house, my facebook/internet, my church business, my music, my reading, etc.

It's funny because I don't think this is unique to my local church community. I am often involved in reading online blogs and articles written by other Christians across the nations who want to explore meaningful topics and discussions with other Christians. I am blessed by these opportunities for interaction, but I am also left disappointed when I see that people are offering the same old, cheap, pre-packaged, non-Biblical, culturally steeped answers to the deep and messy questions I am asking. Take a look at THIS DISCUSSION and see my point. If you list the comments from newest to oldest, you may see my post and some of the questions I am asking to which no one responds. The responses above me mirror the responses below me, and none of them get to the deeper issue at hand, in my opinion. My reasonable understanding of this is that since we all come from a very similar context (age, probably race and socio-economic status, religious affiliation, etc), we all come up with very similar answers. I simply wish that there were other people involved in the discussion who could be courageous enough (or maybe experienced enough?) to look deeper, ask deeper questions, and seek deeper solutions than the insufficient, inadequate, surface-level answers they have been told at church all of their young lives.

It is so frustrating. I am craving this depth, but cannot find it in close proximity or far. I must say that I am thankful for my boyfriend who is currently studying at a school of theology because he lets me bombard him with questions and thoughts, but I would like to give the poor guy a break every once in a while. So you, reader, can help me. Here are some questions:

What kind of answers does Christianity. the Bible, God himself have to offer concerning issues of sexuality? Homosexuality? Gender roles? Worship? Environmental issues? Capitalism?

I realize there are multiple books written about each of these topics, so I would love recommendations if you have any. I would also love to just hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment here or facebook message me. The purpose of this blog is some attempt at communal living and learning from one another, so let's do this thing!

PS- a blogger who wrote something stimulating! Yay!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Need to Do

Herringbone Boots (Source)
Confession: I am a do-it-yourself, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, miss independent fixer. I see the need for change, and I want to do something about it. I hear the toilet running incessantly, I figure out what is loose and I tighten it. I feel like my space is empty and bland, I add some artwork or colorful pillows and blankets. I feel stressed by the uncleanliness of my bedroom, I clean it up and organize.

This can be a great trait to possess, until I try working with others. Throughout my schooling, I have always struggled with knowing how to work on group projects and the like. I like things to be done the way I do them, which is usually thoroughly, efficiently, and effectively. I have a hard time leaving space for others to offer their ideas because it is easy to do it myself and get it done as quickly as possible. I like to have control and know that things will be the best they can be according to me. Try applying this trait now not just to working with others in the short-term but also the long-term, like long-term friends, roommates, or boyfriends...yeah, it gets messy.

I find myself wanting to fix all of those people, too. I see their stress, I hear about their pain, I sense their frustration or unhappiness, and I want everything in the world to make it right. I am still trying to decide if my motivation is driven by my care for them or by my desire to ease the discomfort of being around people who are upset. Hopefully it is at least a mixture of the two. The important thing to note, though, is that either way there is just not that much I can do to make those situations better or to fix them. I cannot keep a person from feeling or thinking what they think or feel. I cannot offer an attempt to understand unless they are willing to help me understand. I cannot force conversation or laughs. I cannot help people sleep or heal their illnesses. I struggle so much with knowing what to do, and that's because those situations cannot be solved by the rules of a doer.

Relationships often offer me an opportunity to learn to be. Instead of doing, being requires listening, sitting, hugging, words of empathy, moments of silent affirmation, stepping back when I just want to step further in... it's a seemingly passive role that is hard for a doer like myself to adopt. I think I have the ability to sense when someone is off, when someone is having a bad day or a bad moment, and whether that is a blessing or a curse, not being able to do something to fix that off moment is maddening for me. It's best that a doer, however, learn to adopt the role of the be-er (not of the alcoholic persuasion, of course). Sometimes the best thing I can do is simply be present for someone and support them in that way.

You know, now that I think about it and apply the doer attitude to other things in the world, I do kind of grow weary of people exhibiting the extreme, revolutionary sort of attitude. It takes a lot of energy to be a doer and sustain that go-and-do attitude all the time. Trying to actively change the world for the better is often exhausting and sometimes blinding. It's important, too, to note that people's struggles need not always be fixed or eased despite the natural inclination for things to be as such. There is something to be said for being uncomfortable or struggling (although I certainly do not write off reconciliation, redemption, and the like). Often those situations are the ones where we learn the most, and denying someone that learning experience for my own comfort's sake is clearly not fair. I hope that I can continue to understand what kind of posture I can assume as a be-er in order to learn to be the most caring, selfless, and supportive friend to those I love. That is my desire, and I hope that I can be shown some of the same compassion and grace in my attempt to form that identity of understanding. I think my counselor would cite my need to practice "radical acceptance," and I think that hits the proverbial nail on the proverbial head.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To Live

a poem (aka an excuse to post beautiful pictures from my past experiences while reflecting on images evoked by words)

I want to live a life that pops and bursts with life and color, boldness and passion.

I want to live in peace and comfort, knowing that I am safe.

I want to live a life that's complex but complete, beautiful but not necessarily tidy.

I want to live as one who steps slowly, feeding my senses, taking all things in and moving in ways of harmony with my world.

I want to live with relinquished control but power to choose and change.

I want to live with laughter, tears, and blood-- the ability to feel and simply know.

I want to live within myself while caring for those outside.

I want to live like my desires are a part of something bigger and better than myself.

I want to live so that I can die and leave behind all the things that hold me back.

To live is to die, and to die is gain.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Same Dark Street

I am sitting in my loft bedroom in our creaky old big red house. My window, stuffed with an AC unit no longer in use thanks to the chilly night air, has two slots on the side that let in the breeze and sounds of the night as it falls upon the dark streets and the alley outside my window. I sit in my wooden desk chair, lightly strumming my guitar, as I hear the faint voice of a boy maybe ten or twelve years old crying out for his mom. I hear the voice come closer and become louder as I visualize the boy walking down the alley searching and confused. The boy's voice crescendos and then decrescendos as he passes our house. I think little of it because often our neighbor kids will wander the streets nearby, and I assume it must be one of them. I resume my work, playing and singing and searching online for song lyrics. A few minutes later I hear a man's voicing crying out into the darkness for a boy-- "Levi?... Levi!......Levi!" No answer. It must have been only a short time after that I hear a woman's voice, "Levi? Levi?? Levi!"

I can't help but know in my heart the panic that, just minutes before, filled their boy as he had been walking the same dark street searching for them as well. My mind races with thoughts and guilt. What is happening that the boy would be separated from his parents? What if I had been on my porch instead in my third floor bedroom? Would I have offered him to come sit with me until his parents came looking? I would like to think so, but my thoughts offer me no comfort anyway. The boy is lost and his parents cannot find where he has gone to. About an hour passes, and I hear nothing more. My thoughts of the situation fade as I continue working. Another half hour or so later, I again hear the mother's voice in the distance from another direction still calling out the boy's name... I pray to God that their paths cross. Thanks to the dark alleyway outside my window, I have been a strange observer of this situation, and I will never know of it's conclusion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Day In The Life


I was planning on meeting up with a friend after work to chat. I just had to hop on the highway and go up a few miles to meet with her. No big deal. So I thought. She got off work around the same time I did, but she was much closer to the destination than I was. I told her it would take me a while to get there, but she was willing to wait (such a lovely friend!).

I got into my car after work and tried to decide the fastest way to get to the interstate when I noticed I was nearly out of gas. I decided to drive a different way in order to check the price of the lowest-priced gas station on my side of town. When I got there I did not have my wallet. I needed to go get my wallet from my apartment. Awesome-- add a few more minutes to the trip. I get to my apartment and grab my wallet, head out to the fastest route to the interstate from my apartment. I did not head back to the cheap gas station because it was out of the way, but I knew there were a few gas stations near the interstate exit, and honestly, I could probably make the drive up without getting gas. I headed that way, only to find that the interstate was severely backed up (probably an accident because traffic wasn't that bad anywhere else that early in the evening). I decided to turn around, and on the road that I turned onto, there was a Shell station. Perfect, I'll hop out and get some gas (add a few more minutes onto the trip).

I head back toward my apartment to take a different route north, thinking that I would be alright finding my way. There was a bit of traffic up that road, but I finally reach the street I think I am supposed to be on, but I am second-guessing myself. I try reaching under my seat for my GPS, but I cannot reach it. I figured I would just trust myself and go the way I thought was correct, all the time building up my anxiety (unfortunate natural response to situations like this, especially when someone is waiting on me). I drive for a while on this road and feel like it could be the wrong way, but I drive a bit further until I reach another familiar road. Do I turn there? So I did. Nope, it didn't feel right and the scenery seemed off. I got back on the original road I had turned on, but pulled off to find my GPS just to make sure that I was finally going the right way.

I sat in the parking lot of Burger King waiting for my GPS to load and I started searching for the mall at which we had decided to meet. I search for the restaurant first. No luck. I search for a restaurant that is near the one we are meeting at. No luck. I search for the mall in which they are both located. You guessed luck. The mall is pretty new, so my GPS must not be up-to-date on that stuff. It also showed that I was driving through cornfields. So yah. Add some more minutes to the trip... I decided to just keep driving in the direction that my intuition was telling me was the right way. Finally, after a search for the interstate I was heading toward, I see the mall in the distance. Again, GPS was not helping, but I had finally reached my hour after I got off work. It should have been 20 minutes max. I am thankful to have wonderful understanding friends, but man I was so stressed because I left her waiting. And I hate that.

My life is characterized by these moments. Unfortunately, I can't always plan for moments like these. The only solution is to learn to stay calm and try to keep from letting my anxiety control me. Unlearning this habit is hard, but I'm getting better.

In other news, I had a great time with my friend. :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Music Marathon Continues!

5. Bon Iver at the Murat Theatre, Indianapolis
As many musicians morph from freshman to sophomore album releases, Justin Vernon, the lead of Bon Iver, has taken a bit of a musical journey over the stretch of his first two albums and EP in between. His first album is a folky exposee of life and relationships while his second full-length is an electronic-folk rock exploration piece. His EP is a mixture of the two, a perfect bridge built to help us understand how he got from point A to point B.

I was introduced to Bon Iver's music when I was in college and it had been announced that our Integration of Faith and Culture club was sponsoring a concert in which he was performing. I listened to a song or two on myspace before the night of the concert to get myself acquainted with what I heard was brilliant music. I really fell in love with Vernon's simplistic yet profound musicality at the concert, and I bought his album For Emma Forever Ago there. I listened to that album probably for months on end-- in my car, in my dorm room, etc. Vernon's lyricism, although at times nonsensical, was poetic and enchanting along with his bluesy falsetto.


When Bon Iver's EP Blood Bank  was announced, I was very excited and ready for some fresh music from Vernon's genuis. But when I listened, some songs struck the right chords for me, and others, specifically songs with more electronic elements, did not. Generally, I am a sucker for a more organic sound, so I had a hard time engaging fully with the EP.


I stumbled across an announcement of Bon Iver's second album leaking over the internet, and a friend of mine provided without my prompting. I may not have chosen to invest in Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but since I received it as a gift of sorts, I loaded it into my library and gave it a few spins. I felt similarly about Vernon's sophomore album as I did about the EP.


The album collected virtual dust as it sat in my iTunes library for a month or so. I received notification of Bon Iver's scheduled performance in Indy, and marked it on my calendar as a possibility. Having seen Bon Iver at Taylor for ten bucks and being blown away, I knew that I had no need to top that experience, but what's one more concert tacked on the list for my Summer Music Marathon? One of my friends contacted me with a special proposition-- the possibility of a free ticket to the show. If that worked out, I was in for sure, but if not, I wouldn't morn the loss of a mediocre electronic folk rock show. Meanwhile, I brushed up on the new album just in case.

You may have gleaned the outcome of this proposition-- the tickets worked out and I headed downtown for the show! The opening act was The Rosebuds, whose music was good but did not stir anything deep in me. I honestly was just pretty anxious to see if my expectations of Bon Iver would be true or proven false. I expected it to be similar to the three-part band set that I saw in college, but with Justin Vernon playing synth instead of his rusty resonator. After the opener, there was a bit of an intermission so the stage could be stripped and set for the main act. I didn't take much notice of the instruments and the set up until Bon Iver took the stage and everyone stood up from their seats (to absorb the sound waves I imagine).

Vernon stood in the center of the stage-- to his left were two men playing trumpet/synth and trombone/auxiliary percussion. To his right were two guitarist/violin/vocalists. Directly behind him were two saxophone players, one of which played the bass as well. On either side of those men was a drummer, one who was also a vocalist (aka S. Carey). Vernon had brought his eight-piece band along-- far from the "guy and his two friends" context I had seen him in at Taylor for ten bucks. Their opening two songs blew me away, so much so that I can't even remember what they were. I had to process a ton during the show since I was not the most familiar with their latest stuff and since the arrangement of even familiar songs was unfamiliar (and just plain beautiful). I love music that has layers and interesting elements-- it engages my musical mind, makes me think and process. Sgt. Justin's Bon Iver Band did just that for me. There was enough going on to keep me captivated without being overwhelmed. The band rocked, and they rocked hard and loud, but they did so with intricate sensitivity, a good amount of precision, and lots of heart and soul.

Since the show, I have actually enjoyed listening to the new album and the EP. It is amazing to me how much of an effect a live performance can have on one's perception of an album. An album is such a static thing-- it is recorded one way and heard that way forever. Being able to see/hear a live performance of music that is largely known through a certain recording can be enlightening, offering a new perspective. I found this to be true for me. My experience with seeing Bon Iver perform live transformed my view of their recorded pieces. I am glad that I have a deeper appreciation of Bon Iver's latest works because I really did want to be able to give them that chance.

Highlights of the show include the surprisingly high average age of the audience (majority ranging from 27-33 I would say), the auxiliary percussion/trombone-player breaking out in some sick beats with his mouth (that man can apparently do anything), and the man down the row doing jazz hands at random moments during the show. Funny story here. And by funny, I mean I was a total jerk. I saw this guy and was very confused, even amused, by his outward expression of joy at unique moments. I poked fun to my friend who laughed along with me. A few minutes later, my friend looks at me with the horror of embarassment... "He's deaf!" "What?!" "He's deaf! I have like 4 cousins who are deaf and that is the sign for applause!" "......Oh my gosh.......I am a horrible person! Also, that makes no sense!" After feeling really terrible myself, I also mustered up some anger toward the people in front of us who also had noticed our jazzy friend and proceeded to poke fun as well. That is until I saw our jazzy deaf friend talking to his concert buddy...wait, deaf people don't generally talk, right? And if they do, they are usually signing while they speak... Alright, I didn't feel so bad anymore. The guy really was just doing some jazz hands out of pure excitement. He was expressing what we were all feeling, though, to be completely honest.

Overall concert experience= 4 out of notch for sure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taking Some Time to Catch Up

Besides my last post about life's sometimes crazy pace, it's been a while since I have written on here. I have a lot to write about because of that very fact! In the past month, I have attended three concerts, celebrated a birthday (23), got a sweet hairdo, traveled to a few different states, and landed a job, among other events!

But let's back track about a month from today...(cue Wayne's World dream sequence...)

4. Florence and the Machine, The Lawn at White River State Park (Independence Day!)

I have to admit, the reason I bought tickets to this concert is because I thought it would be fun to get a group of people together and go downtown for the night. The plan seemed great-- good friends, go out for dinner, watch the concert, watch the fireworks on the canal. Things were a bit off-kilter-- traffic was killer, parking was crazy, and we got down there too late to get food. I was cranky, and standing in line for the concert was too hot, but we got good seats and ate food in the venue. Paying concert venue prices for food is better than starving, but still not fun. Our seats were in a great position on the right side of the stage. That is until the sun started setting and shining straight in our faces. Other than the heat and the sunshine (which I will hardly complain about, really), the venue was great.

The opening act for the show shall remain nameless, mostly because I don't remember his name, but also because we spent most of the set condemning his boring hard rock strumming and unnecessarily dirty distortion. At one point, too, he stopped to tune his guitar and actually made it more out of tune. We tried to find good things...really we did. There were some melodies that were actually quite interesting, and some of his chords progressions were fresh, but generally his music sounded pretty generic (i.e. Nickelback). His style of music was just nothing that any of us were interested in. There were quite a few fans, though, that cheered for him, so I was glad that he got some lovin' from the crowd. His drummer was really awesome, and the drums also sounded crisp and full (which would unfortunately change when the mainstage act came out).

Florence and the Machine came out after a quick stage change-- a beautiful tapestry of a bird was dropped and the smoke machine turned on while the majority of the musicians (minus Flo herself) came out to start playing. I loved seeing a harp player and was looking forward to hearing some of those Florence and the Machine rhythms played on properly-microphoned drums. The concert began as most do-- with a building intro to a familiar song. Then, Florence makes her way to the front of the stage, flitting around in a...yellow sheer dress with wings?
Florence Welch performs with her indie pop band Florence and the Machine at the Lawn at White River State Park on Monday, July 4, 2011. Since she was discovered singing in a pub in London, Welch has earned worldwide mainstream recognition. Olivia Corya/ The Star

She looked a bit like a lost canary, but her singing voice was one of a sorrowful warbler, lilting but strongly confident. After her first song, Florence offered a welcome in her delicate London-accented speaking voice, in contrast to her singing voice. Although the power of the drums was lost and you couldn't even really hear the keys, the music was fun. Some musical highlights of the night included familiar songs like "Cosmic Love," "Dog Days Are Over," and "Between Two Lungs." Between songs, Florence gently and politely called for a drink and explained that her mother is American, which means she would be proud that Florence was spending July 4th in the US. After that chat, the drummer started a marching beat, and I thought for sure she was going to sing "America the Beautiful" or some patriotic hymn, but instead she broke out in "Amazing Grace." Wait, isn't that song written by a British guy...?

Other highlights for our group in particular that night were finally eating food, singing a refrain of what sounded like "Praise the Lord," (actually singing "Raise it up"), watching and imitating the girls in front of us as they danced to the beat of their own drum all night long, switching seats to relieve one another from the sun's rays, and finally sitting on the cool canal to watch the fireworks. We weren't all super familiar with the music of Florence and the Machine coming into the show, but we enjoyed the choruses we could sing and dance with. There were plenty of people there who knew every word and danced like they were getting paid to inspire. We had a blast even though most of our laughs came from the ridiculousness of the whole night, but having fun was the goal, so I call the night a success. Concert itself gets 2.75 out of 5.

The day after the concert, I left to hang out with my family for vacation in Georgia. On said trip, I drank some good beer with my dad, got stung by a jellyfish, had the freshest shrimp I have ever tasted, laid in the sun too long, played a reggae version of a Blink 182 song with my brother, and dined and danced a jig in the streets of Savannah to celebrate my birthday. All in all, it was a great trip, despite having to get up at 3am to head back to Indy. See my past post about my airport experiences on that trip.

Tune in later this week for my experiences with the Fleet Foxes at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis, Bon Iver at the Murat Theatre in Indy, and maybe a few more special shows after that! :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Address the Mess

So, my life is a mess.

It seems like these moments culminate unexpectedly even though I can often feel them building. I slowly realize that I am spreading myself too thin and just barely making it on my own while seemingly pleasing those around me without being completely open and honest (because I don't seem to have the time or energy to do so). Then it all backfires, and I am stuck wanting to just sleep all day because I don't know what else to do to make it right. Or I know what to do but I am overwhelmed by the simple thought of it.

It's funny that during these times, my surroundings sort of mirror my internal state. My room has been in shambles for weeks, every week getting a bit worse. I like having space and being clean, but it's usually the last thing on my list of priorities. Daily life often catches up to me and cleaning doesn't always fit in the day-to-day.

So here I am, lying on he carpeted floor of my room between piles upon piles of books, receipts, bags, teaching supplies, and half-packed boxes while writing this post. I have about three concert updates I want to write for you guys, but those will have to be put on hold at least until I can clean up some of the mess. I think I will have to start with my heart, though, instead of my room, which means its time for some journaling. Not for you to see, though. Sorry :)

Wishing for this escape right about now. Greystones Harbour, Ireland

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Peculiar Needs of People

Fun illunstration of the US by falldowntree
There are a few places in the world where you can spend most of your time running casual sociological and anthropological studies. Those places are where the worlds of diverse races, cultures, classes, and ages are forced to temporarily merge. In my recent travels to and from a pretty great vacation with my family on Tybee Island, GA, I passed through airports in Indianapolis, Charlotte NC, and Savannah GA. Every time I find myself in an airport, I remember how huge the world is and how different people are. Millions of a people a day go through airports all heading different directions with different purposes, carrying a variety of baggage (literally and figuratively). I overhear conversations that exhibit a variety of emotions and expectations. I see how people react to stress (airports experiences hardly ever go as planned).

The attendants working at airports especially interest me because they are often very professional, almost impersonal, despite the fact that they primarily work with people. On my trip back from GA, I had to get to the airport around 4:30 to check-in for my 5:30 flight. (Note to self, airports don't really open until about 5am.) While waiting for the desk to open, I realized that not only was I tired and completely inconvenienced by the time of day but the other people waiting with me were feeling the same way. As the desk clerk came out of a mysterious door in the wall behind the desk, he yawned at every computer he had to turn on while he prepared the desk for customers. I realized that the desk clerk, too, probably was not excited to be at the airport at 4:30 to serve tired and grumpy customers waiting for a plane that had just been delayed 45 more minutes. I wanted to ask him if he ever gets used to getting up that early for work each day, because I know that I never would. His yawns lead me to believe he would agree with me. He politely printed off my boarding tickets without making any conversation, and I was on my way! wait some more for the security gates to open...haha

But after I survived the Savannah airport and arrived in Charlotte, I realized I had been moved to a flight that was leaving two hours later than my original flight, so I went to Starbucks, got some coffee, ate a granola bar, and sat in the food court area of my gate to read. I watched many people around me, listened to some couples freak out about possibly missing their flight if they moved to an earlier one, and saw an eccentric family gobble down Burger King breakfast food while they joked and the teenagers listened to their iPods to tune them out. I also saw some airport workers interacting with one another and with the people working the food counters.

I had never thought about it before, but people who work at airports (even the ones who direct the planes to their "parking spots," as my pilot would say) interact with one another in the same way I would interact with my co-workers. They are friends with people in other departments of the airport. They joke around with one another and have fun relating to one another because even though their jobs are different, they all work in the same environment of people coming and going, and I'm sure they desire some permanent relationships and personal interactions.

Flight attendants and pilots seem to be a bit of a community in and of themselves as well. Usually they are working with people who are based in the same city or region as they are, so they get to know one another a bit. They seem to have lots of inside jokes, which is fun to think about. I bet they see a lot of interesting things in their day to day flights. It seems like they have fewer personal interactions with people, and I imagine that sometimes the days are lonely, but they do have one another. I sat in the back of the plane for my last flight from Charlotte to Indy, and the flight attendant's seat was right next to our seats. I was sitting by the window (being the akward girl who says two words to the nice woman sitting next to her), and the woman next to me was inquiring about applying to be a flight attendant. I got to hear a bit more about the life of a flight attendant, and the man was actually very passionate about the job as he had been doing it for 17 years. One can only wonder about his life outside of flying, though. Does he have a spouse or kids or family that he sees when he goes home? Is it possible to maintain those relationships in a job like that?

When I am traveling through airports, I try to remind myself often that airport employees are people with these relational needs and that they are people who often get mistreated by travelers like me who want things to go their way and go as smoothly as possible. My flight from Charlotte to Indy got moved from gate to gate, and the new gate was a double gate (didn't know that existed until then). The woman who was working the gate seemed pretty stressed as she organized passengers for two flights, one of which had been transferred to her gate last minute, scheduled to leave 5 minutes apart from the other at the same gate. I saw some passengers get frustrated, and I saw her react in frustration to some innocent passengers as well. I felt bad for her, and I made sure I thanked her for all her hard work as she scanned my boarding pass right before I walked to our plane. She looked me in the eye and thanked me as well. Although a smile never flashed across her face, I could tell that she greatly appreciated that someone noticed her and affirmed her when most of what she was receiving were furrowed brows and confused glances.

Although airport employees have many frustrating interactions with passengers, they seem to have a great time with one another because they have some basis of relationship: consistent personal interactions. It's a community. Personal interactions are the main things that are lacking when you travel alone. I felt that as a traveler myself. Passengers are in an awkward situation because they are uncomfortably closely surrounded by people they potentially have nothing in common with outside of the fact that they are traveling.

I'm sure many of you have had the experience of sitting next to someone you don't know on a plane. Sometimes you get the ridiculously chatty lady who talks about all her kids as if you wanted to know their purposes in life having never met them. Other times you get that cordial "hello" from that polite but reserved business man who fiddles with his iPhone in his attempt to avoid conversation. Other times you get the woman who says nothing to you and doesn't make eye contact with you because she is sitting across the aisle from someone she does know and has no need to reach further than that. The rarest times are when you end up next to an empty seat. My first flight from Indy to Charlotte was this way, and I was relieved to stretch out and make myself as comfortable as possible.

I learned so much about people, myself included, in the few hours time that I spent traveling through airports. People do not like being uncomfortable. Depending on the circumstances, they employ professionalism, cordial conversation, and simple isolation to handle the discomfort. I think discomfort is something our society has learned to avoid in general, so these interactions in airports are even more interesting because of that. People are peculiar, especially when they rub elbows with people who are different and unfamiliar. For myself, I aspire to be one who embraces discomfort for the sake of building relationships, even if those relationships last for only one moment or one flight. People are beautiful and messy, and ignoring that is plain dishonesty. Coming to terms and interacting with that fact can be an opportunity to give and receive a bit of interpersonal love. I like the idea of that.
Mandatory Vacation Pic

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Music Marathon: Concert #3

3. The Civil Wars at The Earth House

Coming into this show I had pretty high expectations for a number of reasons. In listening to The Civil Wars' first live album Live at Eddie's Attic before they were really known and publicized in media, I had come to love their humor, their lyrical commentaries on relationship, and their vocal precision. I never fell completely in love with their sound as many have, but they captured my attention and have been garnering quite a bit of attention from some respected music forums and media such as iTunes, Paste Magazine, NPR, and even the Christian cultural commentator, Relevant Magazine. I watched The Civil Wars perform on NPR's YouTube channel a few days ago to prepare myself for their show, and was blown away by their dynamics and energy. As a friend and I discussed, it's hard to believe that their relationship is solely professional because they exhibit such a high amount of chemistry during their performances. Here's that video for your viewing pleasure:

Joy Williams is definitely the performer personality of the duo. I'm guessing this is largely due to her past career performing as a dynamic CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) musician. It felt to me like she was putting on an act that was a little hard to break through and relate to.

On the other hand, I gather that John Paul White is by nature a bit more laid-back and introverted, as is expected from most good song-writers--it seems as though a certain type of personality expresses him or herself better through a musical means than simple person-to-person interaction...maybe I am drawing false conclusions here, but that's my perception. I wish he would step out more and share the spotlight equally with Joy, but there's so much more about Joy on the surface that captures people's attention. John Paul deserves more credit! This is true also for the interviews with The Civil Wars that I have read as well. In the Christian media realm, people are often very interested in Joy's "switch" from CCM to "secular" music, while John Paul White just gets a few blurbs about his musical influences and such. I'm interested in getting to know his background more than media people are allowing me.

But I have digressed, as I often do. I'm off my soapbox.

Some observations from the concert:
A. Their dynamics (as seen in the NPR video) were lacking a bit during this show. It felt almost a bit awkward, like Joy was trying to interact with John Paul White, but he wasn't responding as much or interacting with the audience as much. Maybe he wasn't feeling well. One can only speculate.

B. Joy smiles so much. Like she knows something that you don't know. Like there's something that lies farther beneath the melancholy melodies, bringing everything to light. It made me feel weird. Like she almost was being untrue to the nature of the songs, but it was enchanting. Her ballerina-like hand gestures attract and allure along with her voice, sometimes serving as a distraction.

It was interesting to me that Joy's vocal expression still seems very much rooted in her experience singing pop music, even in the context of John Paul White's country guitar riffs. Don't get me wrong, her voice is her gift. She slides up and down her wide range with ease, has amazingly compelling tone-quality to her voice, and she can belt out very powerfully, but it's just something about the breathy whispers or the way her syllables are shaped/exaggerated that bothers me a little. That's me being really picky though. Vocals are often the main thing I listen to when I hear music, especially music like this where vocals are the main focus of their song-writing.

C. John Paul White's song-writing skills are very compelling, and his variety of guitars on stage made up for the variety of timbres that a band backing would offer them. He had a hollow-bodied electric, acoustic-electric, resonator, nylon-stringed acoustic, and one other. Joy also played a bit of piano and accordion, which was exciting for me. I like a bit of variety, especially when their two opening acts were also melancholic acoustic guitar sing-songwriter types.

D. My favorite songs of the night were both Michael Jackson covers-- I Want You Back and Billie Jean-- and Barton Hollow and Poison and Wine. The second opener, Ryland Baxter, also played some pretty poignant and witty songs that I enjoyed.

E. The Earth House is a cool smaller venue in Indianapolis housed in an old church building. They have a sizeable coffee shop (with a sizeable line of people in front of the counter) downstairs, and the old sanctuary (I'm guessing) has been completely cleared of pews and hymnals in order for people to stand and enjoy whatever musical act might grace the altar/stage. The pace of this show was definitely conducive to chairs, especially having two acoustic opener acts, but standing didn't kill us. I'll tell you what almost did kill us though-- the people who we squeezed around to get closer to the stage. They weren't very nice. The crowd was pretty different than I expected-- a lot of yuppies, college students, and a good amount of middle-agers.

Although I left with a back-ache, numb feet, and a sweat-soaked shirt, the concert was still really fun. Seeing quality music live is hardly ever a disappointment. Overall, I give this concert experience a 3.75 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"You are the music while the music lasts." -T.S. Eliot

I've dubbed this summer the "Summer Concert Marathon" summer. Never in my life have I devoted so much consecutive time and money to such a cause, but I feel good about the commitment to a concert marathon for this particular summer. My soul is in need for "the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life," as Beethoven so eloquently mused. I think his description is spot on. The spiritual life is one that often seems abstract and distant for me, but music is that one bridge between things that are concretely available to my very active senses and things that occupy my mind and heart but are less available in that concrete way. Music is concrete, but it is also abstract. That dichotomy serves the human soul well, I think.

I want to share with you about my first two concerts of the summer concert marathon.

1. Fitz and the Tantrums at the Vogue Theater
The first thing I want to say is that if you have not heard this band's stuff and you like Motown or Raphael Saadiq, please check them out. I heard their music thanks to one of those weird facebook sidebar adds (also how I found out about one of my other favorite bands, Company of Thieves), but I was attracted to the add because of the look of the band. The frontman and founding father of the band, Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz), has this strange rock look-- a full vintage solid-colored suit, white shoes, long in the front side-parted hair with a large white streak, an oval middle-aged face with piercing blue eyes. In all honesty he looks a bit scary, but in real life he's actually not scary at all. The other face of the band is a voluptuous beautiful black woman, named Noelle Scaggs, who wears these show-stopper sequin dresses that you would find on the Supremes in the 1970s. Fitz and his lady are quite the pair, but their dynamics on stage are surprisingly electric.

I have been listening to their album Picking Up the Pieces consistently from the time it was released up until the concert. Their tunes are very catchy, especially their radio hit Moneygrabber. I could sing and dance to that song for hours straight and be really happy...what I'm trying to say is that the band has this amazing energy and style to their sound, and I hoped that the concert would be that energy and style incarnate. I was not let down!  Despite the surprising age of the band members (on average maybe 35?), every person added their own high energy and distinct personality into the mix. Their performance is proof not only of their delight in performing music, but also their musical abilities and talent. These are some seasoned musicians. My favorite part of the show was that the band was not afraid to interact with the audience members. Fitz and Noelle demanded audience participation and made us all feel comfortable dancing in the square foot of room we had to dance. This is in part due to the intimacy of the venue, too. I have never been close enough to a band to see how much they sweat...well, that could have been due to the fact that most of them were wearing three-piece suits... but the Vogue is such a great venue for that intimacy.

All-in-all, it was one of my favorite concerts, and I felt totally engaged and excited for the majority of songs. They threw in a few covers that were fun to sing along with, and they ended on my favorite tune of theirs, Moneygrabber. Fitz also gave a sincere thanks to the audience members and acknowledged our role in making them able to pursue their dream of performing their music, which I thought was really unique and wonderful of him to do. The chemistry between the band and the audience was just unlike any other. A true connection. I left the Vogue that night with a smile and a bounce that lasted for a few days, I think.

2. Josh Garrels at Muncie Alliance Church
I came into this concert a bit less familiar with the artist and his music than compared to most other concerts I attend, but a lot of my friends are big fans of Garrels's music, and I knew I would enjoy it from the bits and pieces of his stuff that I have heard. This man has the voice of a siren and the lyrics of a wise poet. He breathes life and voice into words taken straight from the texts studied in churches for centuries. His melodies are unique, and his beats stop you in your tracks long enough to convict your heart.

This concert was very much a homecoming concert for Josh. He spent a lot of his spiritually formative years in Indiana (especially Muncie and Indianapolis) interning and pastoring at churches in the Alliance movement. My pastor is really good friends with Josh, so it has been cool to get some inside scoop on his music and life journey backing his music. 

But I didn't know much about Garrels coming into the concert and wasn't sure what to expect musically. His new album has a full band sound, but when the concert started, the stage consisted of Garrels sitting in a stool with his guitar and his friend alternating between bass guitar, accordion, melodica, and sometimes a combination of more than one of those . I found out as the show went on that Josh also had a device with tracks recorded so that he could play along to his beats and string parts, which was awesome. At one point he put aside all live instrumentation in order to stand and passionately MC along with one of his tracks for his song called Resistance (one of my favorite moments of the show).

The thing I love most about Josh's music is his personal heart in each song. You can tell that his songs derive from a deep, deep place, whether from his own life experiences or from the truths that have been enlightened and revealed to him through his strong faith in God. They are songs of a man hurting, seeking, and trusting. I honestly don't remember much else from the concert simply because it was so overstimulating. I found myself sitting still and staring blankly at the end of his show because I was trying to digest everything I had just heard. My mind was completely engaged and I related a lot to the struggles and grace of which he sang. It was most certainly a compelling spiritual and intellectual exercise for me, and I look forward to spending more time with Garrels's music.

    Watch this and be compelled:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scaredy Cat

I'm not afraid of spiders, and I'm not afraid of snakes.
I'm not afraid to let you know that my heart breaks.
I'm not wishy-washy--I'm passionate and free.
I just have problems knowing when to let you in to see.

I don't know how I end up in unnecessarily vulnerable situations. It seems to happen, especially during the months where I am living alone.

When I first moved to Indy-- car got broken into.
Winter time-- a person who I thought I could trust persistently invited himself to my home.
Today-- door-to-door solicitors sneakily made themselves comfortable with me and my furniture, asking for food, something cold to drink, and to use my bathroom.

I get really shaken up by this stuff, even if not on the outside. My heart starts racing, and I feel my face turn red from the embarrassment of not knowing how to get out of the situation. I become fearful-- fearful that I said too much, fearful that I put myself too far out there, fearful that I will be taken advantage of... Maybe I expect too much from people. Maybe I have too high of ideals for the world around me. I carry the innocence of a child a lot of times, and that innocence begets a pestilent ignorance, whose pestilence begets a sharp and nasty sting.

My parents always taught me to be overly cautious, to the point where I have develop a severe struggle with a lot of anxiety and self-deprecation. Since the start of college, though, I have been working to overcome paranoia, anxiety, and unnecessary fear in order to live a life full of trust. Unfortunately, when trying to overcome something so extremely ingrained, one may tend to fall extremely into the opposite way of life.

In my case, when I went to college, I saw people who were capable of and willing to loving me, and I embraced vulnerability a bit too much, only to be hurt and confused. I am still learning to balance vulnerability with discernment in my interactions with all people, whether intimate friends or acquaintances. I am learning about maintaining boundaries. I am learning that no one and nothing can separate me from the love and mercy that God has shown me, and that even though I may make mistakes and trust people too much or not enough, I do not have to fear those mistakes. I should not fear the strange men who waltzed into my apartment today. I should not fear saying the wrong thing at my interview tomorrow morning. I should not fear what my neighbors think of me when I sing worship songs with my windows open.

Though the world around me may crumble, my God still shelters me in his hand. Though I may die, emotionally or physically, my God remains faithful. Though I fear and struggle, he does not leave me to struggle on my own. Though our struggles are abundant, we grow in character, learn to trust in the unseen, and learn to help others trust as well. I hope and pray that my struggles bring others to understand the God I am learning to trust more and more. Our God is the most faithful and caring friend. He always holds us, loves us, refines us, and saves us from ourselves. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snapshot of My First Day!

Today was altogether chaotic, energy-draining, and exhilarating. Today was my first day working as a camp counselor for the Y here in Indy. So far, my impression of this camp program has been that it is highly organized, high quality, and high standards. I loved that impression, especially coming from my past experiences working with the Y and being able to see the potential there for all those things to be true of our program, too, but not getting to stay in Belleville to see it happen. My impression of the Y here in Indy, though, was just that-- an impression. Today I got a better understanding of what my summer will look like. While a director of a camp can hire competent staff, organize them as much as possible, train them in all the rules and regulations, and plan exciting themes and games, we still come to realize that we are working for children instead of what we would like to believe is a well-oiled machine.

Let me give you the context before going more into my day-- it's my very first day. Already some of the camps have been in session for a week, some for two. Originally, I was assigned to work at an offsite camp with ages 6-12, but was informed this weekend that I would be switched this week to the on-site camp, working with the Pre-School and KG camp. Total switch. Since I had been scheduled to work at an off-site camp, I never received a full tour of the on-site facility during our training. I literally walked into work today knowing nothing about what I would be doing, and surprisingly, I wasn't the only one. Communication breakdown has occurred already in the Discovery Camp's third week of camp.

There are site directors in the mix, too. While the director oversees, the site directors run the show. Sometimes the site directors are overwhelmed, and the show, therefore, stops for an intermission. This happened today. There was a moment where our site director simply sat down, spouted off in frustration, and huffed a breath of steaming air, imitating many of the 4 and 5 year olds we were working with. It is hard as an experienced staff member to see that happen, but I knew I just needed to be independent at that moment and come up with something on the fly. Honestly, that's what camp is all about. Nothing really ever goes according to plan, and you have to be prepared for that. If I had been a first-year counselor today, I would have been so clueless about how to handle that situation, though. Hopefully I was able to set an example to those counselors in what they are capable of bringing to the kids in unexpected moments like that.

Actually a snapshot from 3 yrs ago...
The kids! I almost forgot! I would love to tell you about every child I held, hugged, rocked, high-fived, bandaged, grabbed, chased, played with, smiled at, frowned at, but that would lead to at least 1 paragraph on each one, and I just don't have the energy to write 70 paragraphs! It was seriously overwhelming the amount of children and disorganization that went into this day. That combination is a bit of a disaster, but we made it through.

I had one child whose favorite word of the day was "NO!" and whose favorite activity of the day consisted of hitting, spitting, kicking, yelling, stomping, and running away from counselors who were trying to discipline him. He was my buddy for the day, even though he wasn't in my group. It's cool to realize that all the experience I have had with disciplining children in the classroom and during past summers has truly helped me grow in my confidence in working with kids and standing my ground.

We had another child who spent most of his day crying-- he's a sensitive one, and one of the younger ones (maybe 3 yrs?). He even cried after being asleep for about 15 minutes during naptime. He woke up disoriented, and I happened to be rubbing the back of the girl laying next to him. He started crying and seeming like he didn't want me to hold him. I picked him up anyway, after some encouragement from my site director, and rocked him back to sleep. I think he just got cold and needed to be warmed up again. It was such a tender moment. I can't remember the last time I had the privilege of rocking a child in my arms. It felt so good to be needed and to be able to give love.

Towards the end of the day, a girl from my group was crying as she approached me accompanied by another counselor. The counselor told me to to hold the little girl so she could go grab something from the other side of the room. When I picked her up, I let her cry on my shoulder, and I tried to talk to her and see what was wrong. Then I noticed that my arm was wet. She explained to me that she didn't want to change her pants because her mom was going to be really mad at her for having an accident. She continued to cry as the other counselor came back with dry clothes, took her into the bathroom to try again, and changed her. I told her that I was proud of her for being so brave and changing into her dry pants even though she didn't want to. She came back and sat in my lap, and I gave her a sticker and said that I knew she wouldn't have an accident tomorrow. She said, "But I always have accidents!" I said, "Not tomorrow. Do you believe that?" She was hesitant, but I finally convinced her that if she did not have an accident tomorrow I would give her another sticker. She got up from my lap with dry pants, dry eyes, and a big smile. Her self-concept seemed to have shifted.

These were only a few of the many personalities present in my day. It was so interesting to jump right into this  unfamiliar position and have to step up as a leader while learning about all the different personalities of the children and adults I am working with. While I am exhausted, a little disillusioned, and needing to do some preparation for down times, I still feel so fulfilled. This may sound weird, but I know that I have been given a gift of deep love for children. When I am not working with children, I feel like I have so much love stored up in me that I might burst. Sometimes the relationships in my life receive the explosion of that need to love, and it hurts those relationships. Someday I will be able to spread all my love around to the children I serve everyday, whether that be my students, my campers, my neighbors, or my own children. I thank God for each day that I get to exercise this vast love for children that he has given me. When I get to work with kids, I don't feel the need to be loved by anyone else. The exchange of love that occurs in these times is more than satisfying for my soul.

Now I just need to figure out how that will play out for the rest of my life. Will I open an orphanage somewhere across the ocean? Open up my home to adopted and/or foster children here in the US? Teach music in the same school for thirty years straight? Lord knows. I just hope I always have kids to get to know and to love. They are the most valuable gift to this earth.
Also from 3 yrs ago-- the girl with the beads was one of the worst (and one of my favorite) campers I have ever had.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sharing a Little Bit

Wow. I am exhausted.  The past two weeks have not been the worst weeks of my life, but they sure have been tiring, especially for an introvert who spends all her waking hours with people she doesn't know very well.

I am also pretty happy. This post consists of negatives and positives to off-set the negatives.

Here's where we start. Honestly, I am feeling extremely lonely. I have been working 8am to 9pm days (not as bad as it seems), the latter half spent with 90 strangers in a strange facility singing silly songs and doing crazy team building activities. Even though I am "getting to know them," I am not really getting to know them and they are not really getting to know me. They don't have any history of my life, they don't know my passions, and even if I were to tell them about my passions, they wouldn't get it unless they got to know me a bit better. I am alone and unknown there.

Fun little thing #1 to celebrate about training tonight, though: Since this was our last night of training, my boss offered a whole ice cream cake to anyone who could name every person in the room. I was the only volunteer, and I got about 80 out of 90 names. Some of these people I hadn't ever even talked to. It's scary how much of a gift being able to remember names is for me. It felt a little weird to get up in front of all those people and display my "talent," but I felt I should own up to it and not feel like I needed to hide it and feel weird about it. Plus, I love ice cream cake, if he was serious about that, of course.

School is a bit better of an environment for me, but still, I've only been with these people since March. I am just now starting to participate in lunch conversations. When I come home, I find myself alone with no one to talk to. Last night I talked my Mom's ear off about a few big things and many many little things and stories. I just need people. I am coming to realize this. I need people who love me to be around me and to support me and listen to me. Whoever I end up marrying will have to have patience and a knack for affirming and active listening.

Fun little thing #2 to smile about from school today: I am in the process of preparing my first and second graders for their Spring Program, and I wanted to share with them a video of all the Ethiopian Project Mercy kiddos singing from my time there two Januarys ago. They loved it. I got to teach one of the first grade classes a few Amharic phrases, and we greeted their teacher in Amharic as well when she came to pick them up. Today, though, two sweet girls were walking by my room in the morning to take down the lunch count, and on their way back they waved and said "Salaam!" to me ("Hello!" in Amharic). I did not expect them to remember that at all, and it was so sweet that they cared enough about something I was passionate about. They wanted to please me, and they surely did. I had a huge smile on my face.

I seriously love kids. If I could just raise a ton of kids for the rest of my life, I would be so fulfilled. I guess that's what teachers do, eh? Teachers and Mommies.

Speaking of Mommies, I would like to be one some day. To have those you love always around you and sharing life with you would be pure joy. To be able to have a huge responsibility of shaping minds and hearts would be such a privilege and a blessing. It's like we get to be Jesus a little bit in their lives, molding them and providing wisdom. It would be exhausting, but in the most rewarding way...kinda like the exhaustion I'm experiencing right now.

Another source of exhaustion in my life right now is finding a job (especially while having no free time to apply) and being able to pay the bills. I am nearing the end of my lease in my apartment, and after July 31st, I have no idea where I am going to be, who will be around me, and what job I will be working. It's really stressful to not know the plan. I have about a month to figure it out/just make a decision. There are so many possibilities, and I wish I could determine what is the wisest or most right thing to choose. There are some things I am passionate about that I could pursue and not make money, but there are some ways I could pursue money or a career that I don't feel would be the most fulfilling. I could live with lots of different people in lots of different places, but where and who should I choose? It's too much to think about, really, especially during this crazy part of my life.

Fun little thing #3 to celebrate about being an adult: Eating whatever I want whenever I want. Chips and salsa, butter pecan and cookie dough milkshakes, dijon apple munster grilled cheese, homemade hummus, etc. I love food.

I wish more people throughout my life would have taught me how to embrace discomfort. As I child, I hated being uncomfortable. I hated taking risks, looking like a fool, or just feeling like a fool. I always was very aware of myself and others. I have a great imagination that stirs up thoughts of what other people MUST be thinking of me, and no one ever taught me how to combat that. I am learning, though, and I am happy despite being uncomfortable. I see the benefits of stepping out, benefits not only for myself but benefits for other people, too.

That's really all. I just needed to process all these things. I appreciate you reading this. It's really hard for me not to have a lot of intimate friendships and relationships in my life, and it is such a relief to get this all out there. I just have this need to share my delight and my experiences, so really, thanks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Transforming Identity: A Brief History

Let me start out with a generalization and specify from there:
We are always trying to figure out who we are.

Photo Source:

The past chunk of my life (8 years or so) has been this journey of coming to understand who I am. I think that is generally true for most people going through their teens and twenties. Part of that time for me was spent swimming within the current of my own life and mind and experiences, isolating myself from risks and vulnerability. The latter part of that chunk of time, though, was spent learning about a new way of life and learning about other people's minds and experiences. I've been  both learning and unlearning a lot of things.

The beginning of high school was really rough for me. I had left middle school being friends with everyone in my eighth grade class of 32 people, and when I got to high school I realized maybe I wasn't such good friends with any of them. They all found their niches, and I attempted to find mine. I had "friends" who were in my honors classes, "friends" who played softball with me, and "friends" who would invite me to go to punk rock shows with them. I never felt understood or fully accepted by the majority of my high school friends, and I learned to guard myself against being open with most people. I would attempt to trust someone, and often that trust would be broken.

Things changed for me when I started attending church in high school and found some truly loving and nurturing people there. Pretty soon after I started attending, I decided that I wanted to commit myself to being a part of that community and the Christian community as a whole. Anything with love smack-dab in the center has an element of allure to any human, I think, but it especially drew me in. It's what I was longing for. At that point, I had spent my life living in the identity my parents established for me, feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I felt genuine oppression of who I was at home. Similar to how I felt at school, I couldn't be myself at home or even begin to understand what that meant. My family had no desire to discover or help me discover who I was at the core of my being, and that had a huge effect on me as a whole person-- issues I am still dealing with today. Everyone's family has problems, and mine is no exception despite the fact that I love them dearly. It's funny how you can still love something that makes you hurt so much.

I digress.

It was at church that I began to discover nourishment and true care. It was in that community where I saw people who maintained this unexplained/unexplainable supernatural connection to a powerful being who showed them the same love they had shown me. The moment I decided to follow the prompting in my heart to join this body of people, I saw myself beginning to change, to truly transform into someone new.

Then I went to college. So began a new process-- new people sharing their new ideas and experiences, new community and experiences for myself.

Along with a new school/community experience came a new church experience. I had a really great community of friends at my church back home, but my church as an organization prompted quite a few frustrations in me. I was sad to leave the people I loved, but I knew that my search for a new church would broaden my understanding of what a church could (and should?) look like. After attending a couple different churches in my college town, I started attending a really unique church in another college town about 40 minutes away form my own. This church is nearly the antithesis of my church back home, and that is not necessarily why I chose it, although some of those elements played a factor. This church was a church full of those who didn't seem to fit the popular mold of "church-goers," especially in their town, which is the headquarters for one of the most "American" "Conservative" churches in the US. My identity began to form more strongly as I found a body of people who believed strongly in the elements of ministry and Christianity that I had always believed to be important. Finally, a church with it's priorities straight!

Something I am questioning a bit lately, though, is how much we cling to those identities that we strive so hard to discover. Take my church, for example: some people in our church seem to embrace and promote the "misfit" identity that our church has developed naturally. I would agree that the people in our church do not fit the American Christian mold for certain reasons, I don't think that "misfit" identity is necessarily more Christ-like. I agree with and promote wholeheartedly the redemptive and reconciliatory theology of the church, but I wonder if people in our church are desiring to jump out of their misfit visages into a reconciled and redeemed life. Or maybe it's just not easy to see on the surface. I would love it though if I church got past the "misfit" rhetoric and decided instead to be an all-inclusive church-- a place where everyone fits, not just the place for people who don't normally fit. I don't think that is an accurate portrayal of reconciliation and redemption. We are just as accidentally exclusive as the "Conservative American" churches down the street until we seek to be the place where everyone fits, even the people who might fit more snugly and comfortably somewhere else.

Ultimately, this comes down, again, to our individual identities. Some people relate better to others, which is why we often have homogeneous groups of people in our society. Churches made up of all middle class white midwesterners, bingo nights made up of all 65+ year olds, bars filled with people who want to get wasted, Sufjan Stevens concert filled with every indie-hip fashion to date. Despite the individualism, we are still similar to other people and we gravitate toward those people. There is something bigger about our identities to realize here.

Only one thing about our individual identities is determined-- we are determined to be like Christ because we were made in His image. I am but a partial expression of who God is because if I encompassed all of who he was, I would be Him and that just wouldn't make sense because there is only one of him! God has placed certain people in my life and certain genes in my body to determine the parts of him that I will reveal to those around me. Some people will share similar traits to me because we are all parts of God. That's why a church should not look like a homogeneous group of people. It should instead look like a mosaic of parts that make up one beautiful, holistic picture of God himself. We were meant to be his revelation on this earth-- when we hold onto who we think we are, at any given point in time, we are missing out on who he is constantly making us to be. He is making us new. He is transforming us if we let him. The body is a growing and changing one, but are we open to that change? If it means better understanding God and our purpose on earth, I think we should be.