2016 – a year

What a year it has been.  There is much to be said…and maybe much that shouldn’t be said. But this post shares some of the ups, downs, in betweens and lessons of my year.

January – A lot was packed into one day that stands out for this month.  It was Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, which meant I wasn’t at school. It also happened to be my birthday. It also was the day I cried in front of my housemates – and realized (for many reasons) that love isn’t easy, but it is good.

February – The month that brought closure to Youth Encounter and me. They announced their closing and I went to one of my last events to lead breakout sessions in San Antonio. Family and friends visited during the first Come and See weekend. With a couple of my housemates, I enjoyed my first Shabbat service and meal.

March – Mission Year ran a 5K in Houston to raise funds…and actually had fun! Spent my spring break with friends in the Northwest and back in the Twin Cities. Spent a late evening with Tommy, Josh and McKenzie that made us feel like real friends, outside the Mission Year world.

April –  Our neighborhood mourned the loss of Ms. Helen – a grandmother of sorts to all.  We experienced our first “flood” which kept some of us home from work for two days.  I was introduced to the Your Other Brothers blog.  The Mission Year Houston teams took a day trip out to Galveston – and we had cupcakes by the ocean.

May – We participated in Green My Hood and got to care for one of our most dear neighbors. At school, the students (and staff) turned into robots for state testing. And in Mission Year world, Caz came for a training that shook me and made me question… lots.

June – Our family and friends joined us in Houston for another weekend. Also, we helped our neighborhood put on an art exhibit on what emancipation looked like/meant to them. Their were several shootings around the country… which meant more after living in Houston. And one of our neighbors had us all over for dinner to express his gratitude for our presence.

July – Independence Day was spent with Tommy and the Holy Family church plant, which was a nice break from 3rd Ward living. We had the Luu’s over to our house and then they treated us to a creative, community evening at their place later in the month. My school offered me a job at their primary academy?!?  Also, we finished our Mission Year with a retreat in New Braunfels – full of food, tears and laughter.

August – Lived with the Carpenters for a month while Tommy and I tried to figure out our own living situation. Spent time relaxing and then getting to know the staff during RYSS training weeks before school started.

September – My older brother got married! Which meant I got to see family that I hadn’t seen in awhile as well. Tommy. Moe and I took a spontaneous day-trip to Galveston. And the new Mission Year Houston volunteers arrived.

October -Decided to go to Life Group with a friend made through Mission year.  Although it was primarily college students, I got good vibes from them.  Talked about connecting with another group and then met Chad & Maddy, who have helped the transition to “real” life after Mission Year.  Also, the presidential debates happened…. Tommy and watched these together…. emotionally.

November – In order to get some real fall weather, I visited a friend in Delaware – which was a great escape for many reasons. I visited & volunteered at a couple art and cultural festivals. And my Life group took care of my Thanksgiving plans!

December – At school we had at least one full week of Christmas related activities – pictures with Santa, Jingle Jam dance, class parties, staff secret santa. Advent party with Tommy and the Holy Family group. And then a Dallas-delayed flight back home to spend almost two weeks with family in Kansas.

Some of the top books I read this year – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, and  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

A few lessons that I think I’ve been learning:

  • Practice gratitude – So many times this year, when I found myself frustrated or confused or apathetic, something or somebody would remind me about the importance of thankfulness. And, when I’m attentively do daily gratitude, it’s easier to keep perspective.
  • Being present – This was literally the story of ALL of third trimester of Mission Year for me.  And most of second trimester.  It’s very easy for me to start thinking about the future and wanting to make plans on my own time.  But God is faithful. And there have been so many good moments that happened in the “here and now” that I may have missed out on if I had let myself get stuck in planning and worrying.
  • Messy is okay – So much of me wants organization. My education taught me to strive for the best and only show my good side – even weaknesses can be turned around in a “good” interview. But through the 7 people I lived with for most of the year, and some long distance friends, I am continually reminded that life is messy, I am messy… and it’s okay to not have everything make sense.
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Conjunctions 12/21

Earlier this semester, one of the fourth grade teachers at my school was explaining conjunctions to her class. When talking about “but,” she shared that it was a twist in the sentence. If the sentence starts positive, it ends negative. If the sentence starts with a sad face, it ends with a happy face.  This may be simplistic, but it works for getting the concept.

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After some conversations, I’m brought to the conjunctions that are going on in my life.  Or have been going on this semester.

My church is spirit-filled and engaged with the community and takes time to celebrate and pray on Sunday mornings, BUT I still don’t feel connected or known.

The last two weeks of school was spent primarily on testing, yes the fill-in-the-correct-bubble testing, BUT I still want kids to learn and enjoy learning…not just become robots who can take a test.

Houston has amazing cultural, food, art, music diversity, BUT it’s also super huge and easy for me to feel lost or insignificant, BUT there are tons of festivals and the arts are celebrated all the time in this city.

I know the importance of community, but I’m struggling to reach out, but people both in Houston and further away have reached out to me, but sometimes I respond with half-truths because I don’t feel like being vulnerable in the moment, but I know the vulnerability is a good thing…..

The idea of a hometown sounds great, BUT so does continuing to wander and explore.

 

And as I’ve been reading in Genesis, I’m reminded of my place as a wanderer. A sojourner. A person from the wilderness, called to a life of following. (more on that some other time).

 

For now, I’m trying to understand conjunctions. Understand that dualities may, probably ARE, a reality to life.  There may not be many times that I can feel 100% sure.  At least my own tendency is to see possibilities in people, places – to assume the best and expect an adventure with any forward motion – which is both terrifying and exciting.

November 26

Earlier today I was telling my friend about a process I call “angry journaling.”  The premise is simple.  When I get overly frustrated with a person, situation or life in general, I give myself permission to write freely. This means using large, bold fonts, scribbles, cursing.

I understand that for some people, this may be normal journaling.  And I understand that journaling should always feel/be free – no permission is necessary.

So, why do I feel the need to give myself permission to be angry?  Why do I edit myself….especially when I may be the only person to read any of my writing?

At least in part, this is what my culture has taught me.  Or how I have interpreted events and conversations in my life.

Speak [politically] correct.

Keep your temper.

Be polite.

Put others before yourself

 

None of this is bad… but I take it too far and tend to repress anything that seems negative. And sometimes, that negativity needs an outlet.

Art Festival – Nov 20

This weekend was Via Colori – a street art festival in downtown Houston.  Lots of chalk, good people, good, food, good, music and chalk. Saturday I volunteered – doing a very small part in helping this huge production  happen. For a small taste of what I enjoyed on the second day of the festival…..

Also there was music..

The Gents and Kronika.

And all of it was good, fall, creative fun. PLUS it was all to benefit The Center for Hearing and Speech.  That’s right – awesome art for a cause!!

Also, for the four people who read this blog, be looking forward to some more thoughts on art and creativity in the near future.

 

November 17 (yet)

Music by Sia or Shawn McDonald

The blog posts by Your Other Brothers

The BlackLivesMatter movement

X-Men First Class

At first (or even fifth) glance, these things have nothing in common.  And maybe that’s true for most people.  But for me, they have something deeply in common.

In each of these, I see meaningful, authentic dreams being lived out.  Creatively, actively sharing stories, songs, lives that need to be shared.  Not caring about the political correctness, the “right” way to share these stories – just knowing, caring, believing that they are worth sharing, worth dreaming, worth fighting for.

Recently I’ve been realizing that while I can notice this around me, I still haven’t figured it out (or even a starting point) within me.  I don’t know what story needs to be told. Or how I would go about telling it.  Or what dreams are stirring in my head and heart.

There is more to say – I can feel it. But I cannot put words to it.

yet.

November 3

A fellow blogger is blogging EVERY day for the month of November. I am NOT going to try this.  But it has got my mind thinking.

  • Why do I take time to blog? (on the rare instances I do…..)
  • What stops me from blogging more often?
  • Do I have anything worth saying, writing?
  • Does that matter if it is good for me??

In a recent post, he wrote:

“Without connection, addiction wins. Without confession, secrets fester.

Without love, indifference wins the day.”

Bah. So much I could say about this. So, I’ll try.

Connection – this is what I’ve been seeking over the last month(s).  I spent the last year living in 900 sq ft with 7  other people – CLOSE QUARTERS. But we learned to love each other and share space and enjoy life. Since that community has disbanded, I find myself seeking ways to connect with people.  Whether this is church or Skype or on the internet or via Skype/phone calls – I need people.  And it’s true, without these people, it is easy for addiction to win – addiction to food, sloth, negative thoughts…..

Love – one of my least favorite topics… but it comes up all the time (we can unpack that in another post).  But how true?  The days and moments that I didn’t love, didn’t feel loved – are those that seem the most MEH. Apathy is easy… and disappointing.  Love is tough…but rewarding, even if it’s small.

Is writing a way for me to connect? Maybe. Maybe not. I will continue to seek.

And with God’s help, I will continue to try and love and be loved.

 

practices

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One of my friends is currently doing his yearly campaign leading up to Thanksgiving – #warongrumbling.  For forty days he (and others who choose to join him & his family) posts something specific he is thankful for that day.

I am trying to join this year – but don’t always get onto social media – or remember some days.  But there is something about this practice. Verbalizing our thankfulness or writing our gratitude down can solidify it – making more of a practice of finding the good in each day, in each moment.

This is a practice that was suggested to me during Mission Year by my city director.  And I would do it for awhile, notice my attitude shift, and slowly stop doing it. As I lost my perspective, eventually I would find myself frustrated, more likely to grumble, until I remembered (or somebody reminded me) the practice of daily thankfulness.

[Just last week my roommate noted that during the year he could tell if I had been writing my thankfulness list or not]

How easy it is to lose focus.  To get so distracted by some person or situation that is drawing energy that we miss out on the good.  There are moments of growth and beauty happening every day.  I know that when I slow down and focus and listen, it isn’t that difficult to see God. But taking the step to stop, to slow down, to be mindful is not always easy.

What would my life look like if I consistently practiced gratitude? How would it impact my attitude?  How might it impact the people around me?

 

[photo credit – Kelly Hudgins]

little Moments.

How easily I forget my place.

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Earlier this morning I read a blog post about finding beauty in the mundane. So when this photo came up in my list for Five Minute Fridays (or Saturdays), I was drawn back to this idea.

It is very easy for me to get stuck in my routines.  Wake up, eat breakfast, drive the same route to work, follow my schedule at school, tell kids not to run/yell in the hallways, take the metro buses home, make some dinner, check social media/news (if I’m lucky, journal) and get ready for bed.  There’s not anything wrong with the routine, in fact it can be helpful/healthy.

The issue is getting stuck in this routine.

There are little moments that I miss if I’m not paying attention. In the midst of my routine, do I notice (and appreciate, give thanks for):

  • the sunrise as I wait for school to start
  • the downtown skyline on my drive to work
  • the students who give me a high five
  • teachers and students who need some encouragement
  • teachers who give me encouragement
  • an honest question about my day
  • the perfect song playing

Moments happen all the time.  They are waiting if we notice and join them.  May I (we?) be ever more aware and willing to be part of the moments.

Photo courtesy of Becca Grenell

The Stars

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Darkness.  Night. All-enveloping in a way that produces both fear… and peace.

Some of my most peaceful, happy moments have occurred while looking at stars.  I think back to college and the trip to middle-of-nowhere Missouri and being shocked at how many stars you could see when there was little to no light pollution.  Or of my two summers on staff at Youthfront Camp West – the occasional night watch, or evenings on the weekends talking to other staff and just enjoying the view from the field or the waterslide tower.  I think of Youth Encounter trainings at Luther Dell – middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, and again being surprised and awed by the stars. And again, staying up late, under the stars talking about life.  I remember moments in my overseas travels and being comforted that the friends and family that I was missing were still present as I looked at the stars, knowing that they would be seeing the same stars.

Most recently, the stars were brought to my attention at the reception of my brother’s wedding.  Outdoors, beautiful weather, wonderful time with friends and family.  While everybody was chatting and dancing after dinner, I went out to the porch.  I looked up at the stars… and breathed. So much happening that weekend, and in my life, it was nice to see the stars and breathe and rest – even for a moment.  Seeing the stars reminded me that as much as I enjoy parts of Houston, it cannot be my forever home because I miss the stars, the open spaces too much.

I’m unsure what draws me into deep, reflective spaces when I’m under a sky full of stars, but it seems to be.

Ready, Set, Go!

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Ready. Set. Go!

This is coming to you a day late, but, in my defense there was a dinner that I needed to go to on Friday and I ended up taking some people home from it so I didn’t get to my computer until almost 10pm – and that’s too late for me to consider (remember) a blog post.

And ready, set, go may be accurate for this photo as well.  It’s from the end of a weekend conference that I was facilitating.  One of my co-workers had done the planning, but there were too many events that weekend and they needed me to be the face/voice of our organization for the weekend.  Ah!!!

So, I felt thrown into the weekend. And there were hiccups, for sure – like a kid drawing on  the carpet of one room… or the elevators being down for most of the weekend…… But it was still such a great time.  Parents were gracious with me and the hotel, the bands, speaker and volunteers were wonderful, the youth all seemed to have a good time and not be too loud.

At the end of the weekend, the volunteers were cleaning out our hospitality room…and for some reason there were hot dog buns leftover…but no hot-dogs.  They graciously gave me the buns as my “trophy” for a successful weekend.

But honestly, the weekend filled me more than I felt like I did anything for anybody that weekend.

#fiveminutefriday

 

Photo sent in by – Sarah Kearney   (feel free to comment, email a photo for a future post)

P.S.

Writing the title of this made me think of the following song…. if you care to listen: