Updates and whatnot

It’s been just over 4 years since I’ve left Brazil.  A few weeks ago I was talking with friends about how I miss the monthly (more-or-less) prayer letters I would write – updates and reflections and communication with acquaintances, friends, family, and loved ones near and far.  I find that with the pace of life over these last two years (as well as a growing rootedness here in Chicago) it’s made it more challenging to be as invested in lives of people who are far away.

So, in the spirit of that, (and in celebration of the extra time that I have on my hands due to having survived year two of my master’s program!!!), here’s a little update on some of the highlights from the past year or so, as well as a little window on what is next…

– school – I’ve just finished (as of last week) my second year at TEDS in their Mental Health Counseling MA.  I’m so thankful for the space to learn and be challenged personally and professionally.  I’m done with coursework (except of one class I’ll be taking in the fall), so much of the next year will be taken up with my internship.  Assuming all goes well, I’ll be graduating this coming May…  and then, who knows…  =)  I do love Chicago, and would be open to staying – but it might be the perfect time to make another move…

– internship – As of next week, I’ll be starting my year-long, 1000+ hour internship at a private practice out in West Chicago called Lifetime Behavioral Health. LBH has a partnership with the local school district, which means that I’ll be working with kids (K-8) and their families who are referred by the school social workers.  70% or so of the population in that school district is bilingual, so I’ll get to use my Spanish in a counseling setting, which I’m looking forward to.  It should be a great learning experience, although it’s already a little humbling.  During my first meeting with a client, they asked about the possibility of coming in with their spouse for marriage counseling – definitely a humbling experience, but then again it’s what I’ve been studying for the last two years, so it’ll be fun to see how I am stretched and challenged in the next year putting it all into practice.

– work – I’ve been working at an organization that provides short-term residential care for undocumented, unaccompanied minors (12 and under, mostly from Central America) while we work at getting them reunited with their family members in the US.  I just celebrated my one year anniversary with them, and it’s been a stretching, busy, joyful, heart wrenching experience.  I’ve learned much, and it’s been a delight to be working in such a multicultural environment with people who are passionate about what they do and the kids they serve.  I have MANY stories… =)

– community – So thankful for the community that has sprung up around me here in this city – friends from school who live in the city, friends who share musical tastes and will accompany me to concerts, friends from church and small group that make me laugh, aren’t afraid to look foolish in the pursuit of celebrating life, and generally help me live a more grounded, sustainable, joy-filled life.  Chicago’s been a great city to call home.

– family – In the past year, my parents have continued to be invested in Bible translation, spending time in Nepal, India, Guatemala, and Peru, as well as lots of time spent Skyping with folk from all over the world.  It’s fun having them fairly close by in Rockford (at least when they’re not half-way around the world) for special days and family connecting.  Kaitlyn was married last summer – and her husband Adam is great.  They’re prepping to make the move from the LA area to DC this summer, so they’ll be a little closer (at least in theoretical range of long-distance driving trips, or maybe even meeting up half way for some camping in the Smokies!)  =)  Jon and I were able to go visit Carly for a week in Korea towards the beginning of March, and it was wonderful seeing her city, her community, her school, her friends, and her world there before she left to return to the US at the end of March.  So now she’s back in the US from Korea for good (at least for a little while.)  She’s currently hoping to be here in the Chicago area, so I’m excited for the chance for her to be close by for the next bit.  And Jon is currently visiting from Florida for a week or so before his summer gets under way working, interning, and generally being a Florida beach bum until the school year starts up again for him, where he’ll be entering his sophomore year at Stetson University.  We’re all well, and blessed…

– balance – A professor shared that the pace of life that you have while in grad school is probably the pace of life you will maintain once you finish.  With that in mind, I’ve been trying to make more space for friends, for home-cooked meals and bottles of wine and conversation around the fire, for connecting, for volunteering and service, for exercise and self-care (with varying degrees of success…)  Slowly learning what to say yes to, and how to make space for the things that are life-giving (such as long runs by the lake, hammocks in the boulevard, writing, and connecting with friends over words or play…)  I’ll be setting aside time to write on here at a minimum weekly, so subscribe, or check in every now and then to see what’s new.  And if you’re close by, let’s hang out…  =)

All in all, I’m thankful.  Blessed.  Surrounded by beauty and meaning.  And trusting that, for the moment, I’m right where I’m supposed to be…

It's time…

tree

Like the evening summer sun,
my bronzed hands and forearms
gently fade and pale.

We both sense it, the sun and I.
It’s fine. It’s time.
We could rage against the dying,
as some are prone to do,
but why?

Old John Donne believed it’s always autumn in heaven,
no buds or flowers, only fruit fully ripe.
I believe that’s crazy.
A seasoned Elysium holds my hope,
not some never ending summer.

The Good Book speaks of all things new,
not all new things.
Donne’s mercy-filled Fall will be covered
by Winters whiter than snow.
Then Spring will thrust up blackred roses
e.e. cumming’s mother couldn’t dream of.
As for Summer, we’ll saunter along
streets of gold with bronzed hands and forearms
until we sense it’s time.
Then we’ll roll down our sleeves once more
to harvest the mercies of God.

~ John Blaze, via Burnside Writer’s Collective

Ryan

My friend Ryan is dying.

If you want to get technical about it, we’re all dying, slowly, one day at a time – moving closer towards the day we eventually, inevitably, some day die.

But he is much closer to death than I.

He has cancer, and it’s been aggressive, and virulent, and over the past year it has been slowly killing him.

He’s done chemo. He’s received treatments. He’s tried it all.

We’ve prayed. We’ve fasted. We’ve wept.

And the cancer is still winning.

We got an email from his mother a few nights ago, telling us that he’s not doing well – in pain, on hospice care, and fading fast.

And my heart breaks. It breaks for Ryan, who is dying so young. It breaks for his family – for his mother and father who are watching their son fade away, for his siblings who are losing their brother, for his “family” here in Chicago that has come to love him and walk alongside him and meld their lives with his, and will miss him more than we know.

I’m tired of death.

I’m just so tired of it.

A few of us are driving up to visit him tomorrow – to move some of his things home – to show him again that he is loved – to spend time praying and pleading once more for his life, for healing, for restoration and resurrection, knowing full well that it is possible, and hoping against hope that the answer is “YES!”

But, in case the answer is “no,” we go up to say good-bye.

Good-bye…

And we mourn. We weep.

…but not without hope…

 

Hope

 

Hope for the day when all things are made new.

 

“The City becomes the Bride adorned for her husband and comes in fine linen to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

…The Signs and the Promises detonate each other, and the freight of imagery, accumulated over a thousand years, bursts out in one blinding flash: For the Temple has become Jerusalem, and Jerusalem has become the Bride, and the Bride has become the Mystical Body, and the Lamb and his Wife are one. And everything is Christ, and everything is the Bride, and everything is the City where there is no temple, sun or moon, but only the Lamb who is its light. And the River flows back from the dawn of creation, and the Tree of Life returns from Eden, and the Gates of Jerusalem are not shut at all by day, and there is no night there. The tears, the sorrow, the crying and the pain are gone. It is all gardens, gallant walks and silver sounds:

There they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

By the drawing of the Mystery, the world has passed from its lostness and found him whom her soul loves. The Beloved comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. The time of the singing perpetually begins.”

~ Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

And so we will mourn, but believing, hoping, trusting that Ryan will know peace, rest, delight, embrace, and perpetual song.

This is not the end…

 

IMG_0243

 

For those of you who pray, pray with us…

Thank you.

Flashbacks


The neighborhood I work in is not the safest.  Neighbors warned us to be careful going to and from our cars – especially at night.  Crime happens in Chicago.  And yes, statistically speaking, it’s a rough neighborhood.  I just don’t think it really sunk home until today.

We often will take our kids to a nearby playground for a little exercise.  We were wandering over there on this crunchy sparkling fall morning, approaching the underpass before the playground when a firetruck pulled around the bend.  It slowed, the driver glanced at me, did a double-take, stopped the ladder truck in the middle of the street and hopped out.

“Whatcha doing here?”

“Just headed to the park for a little while.”

“Ya’ll live around here?”

“Just down the street…”

“Well, be careful out there.  It’s a rough neighborhood.”

“…thanks…”

And with that, he was back in the cab, and they were off.

I smiled, grateful for someone looking out for me, and realized the mix of emotions that hearkened back to my time in Rio.  It was practically the same reaction I’d get when I would tell someone I met where I lived.  “Manguinhos?  Jacare?  That’s up in the Gaza strip!”

Memories surface: walking down the street towards the Metro and noticing a police car driving down the road, shoulders tensing, forcing myself to walk casual, not speed up or look suspicious, knowing that just by being myself in this neighborhood I’ve already tripped their threshold for “not-rightness.”  Anticipating another conversation having to justify myself, explain that I’m not a drug dealer or a tourist looking for some adventures along with my chemically induced good times, respond kindly and compassionately and full of grace for the men who are supposed to protect this city, but may have been the ones who shot up my neighborhood the night before, and are now patting me down on the side of the road at gunpoint…  It didn’t happen every day – but it happened enough.

I thought I’d left that feeling behind when I moved – the mix of embarrassment at being picked out, understanding because on some level I don’t fit in where I’m at, compassion and frustration and rueful laughter and a hint of anger and recognition that thanks to my hair color and skin tone and gender I am distinctly privileged in the way that authority relates to me, and I didn’t ask for this…

But this is the way it is.  Which brings us to my question…  In light of this reality, how will I respond?  How will I live?  What will I do today, and tomorrow, and the day after that?  Because it’s little moments like today that remind me of the reality of the brokenness of this neighborhood, of this city, of this country, of this world…  And it’s moments like this that remind me how desperately we need hope – people who point towards hope, who live and breathe hope, who remind us that no matter the way things are, this is not the way things were meant to be.  Resurrection lies just over the hill.  So keep your head up

 


A prayer for the coming year

 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

 

~ Thomas Merton – Thoughts in Solitude

 

on stories

I’ve been wrestling lately with the idea of stories…  There is something about a story that resonates, that sweeps us up into it and captures our imagination – the narrative, the surprising twist, the moment of truth – and this is no less true in the fictional stories that we see on the screen or read off the page as it is in the stories that make up our daily lives – the beauty and joy, the tragedy and heartbreak, the ecstasy and pathos that fill each of our lives.  

I love stories – I love to hear them, to tell them, to read them, to dream them.  I see the power that stories have in changing our imagination, in planting seeds of newness in our thought, of opening up possibilities and flashes of hope.  I love to write stories as well: the crackles of joy, the shocks of unexpected grace, the elation that comes from seeing something old and tired in a new, fresh, resplendent light.  

There is power in stories.  And this is where I hesitate.  After all, the true stories of my life don’t happen in a vacuum.  I live in relationship with others – my friends, my family, those I love and have loved, those who love me and those who no longer love me – and the web of those relationships is inextricably intertwined.  My stories aren’t just my stories – they are OUR stories, for good or for ill.

Anne Lamott said “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better…”  I’m not sure how much I agree with that.  Parts of me want to – to be honest, to be truthful (as I see it), to tell my story in a way that sheds light and truth and gives hope and paints a picture of beauty and grace in the midst of scars and trouble.  And maybe that’s all I can do.  But part of me is hesitant – hesitant to share something that is not just MY story with whoever (all 7 people that read this…)  And that part is exacerbated by concerns for those whose stories intertwine with mine: from the street kids of Rio to the kids I work with every day here in Chicago, from my classmates in school to the foibles and failures of my relationships.  These are my stories, and I want to write them; share them; offer them up as an offering and a delight, as a way of remembering and being thankful, as a means of prayer and a means of grace…  

Maybe I can write those stories…  and maybe after writing them, I can then share them?  Not everything.  But some things…  Not perfection.  But simply grace, and beauty, and the delightful mess that is life…

Anticipation and celebration


On Sunday afternoon, my younger sister married a lucky, lucky man. Four months after their engagement, a year since they had started dating, almost two years after they first met, their friends and family gathered from all over the world. People came from Germany, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Washington, New York, Arizona, and all parts of California (among others) to celebrate their love – their commitment – their choosing of each other for the rest of their lives – and to do so in a way that pointed others to God, to life, and to deeper love.

The rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was a celebratory reunion, full of laughter and excitement as we practiced and watched the bride-to-be walk through the grassy field, surrounded by flowers and nature and green growing things. The rehearsal dinner that afternoon was again celebratory and full of anticipation – as we were served by Kait and Adam, were filled with good things, tables crowded with laughter and movement, with stories remembered and adventures relived, and people tried to capture the essence of the two who we’d gathered to celebrate. That night everyone – wedding party, family, friends, out of town guests – gathered at a nearby bowling alley for a night of play, laughter, music, dancing, a little friendly competition, visiting, and connecting, all covered in a deep blanket of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Sunday morning was full – family and friends running to the reception site to decorate, set tables, place the manzanita trees, hang candles, prepare the dance floor, arranging the room in a way that invited people to celebrate and rejoice while drawing their eyes to the joy Adam and Kait were feeling. So many people pitched in to help – so many gave of their time and energy out of love for the bride and groom.

At the gardens the chairs were arranged close together, inviting the guests to step in close and be a part of the ceremony. The wedding itself was gorgeous and simple – cello, oboe, and violin, communion on bended knee, worship, laughter, and the little touches that were so in keeping with who they are and what they want their shared life together to be about. And they said their vows, reaffirmed their choice, and stood joyful and radiant, together.

From a certain point of view, the reception was fairly normal.  It had all the right ingredients: food and wine, cake and champagne, toasts and speeches, pictures and well-wishing, dancing and laughter. But this was different – special – more – because it was THEIRS. The way the ingredients came together and the love and joy of the people who had gathered there to celebrate with the couple left me speechless at times – the only response was to move, to laugh, to dance. The love and joy were almost palpable. It was enchanting to watch people throw themselves into the celebration, to embrace looking ridiculous and throw propriety to the wind, faces glowing with laughter (or in some cases, the glow-sticks that had been liberally distributed to the dancers). People didn’t want to leave, but the night had to end as all things must.

As we gathered to send them off, bubbles filling the air, they high-fived their way down the receiving line, stopping for hugs and kisses and thanks and heartfelt congratulations and “one-more-things…” And then they were gone.

I think about this weekend, and I think about heaven – “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” I love the imagery associated with this – seeing heaven as a wedding and a feast, a beautiful meaningful ceremony followed by rich food and wine, deep connection, laughter ringing through the halls of heaven, dancing and music and stories flowing through eternity, the gathering of those we love and those we will come to love. I remember the anticipation Kait and Adam felt as they looked forward to the day they could be with each other, and could be united in a new and deeper way. And just as their anticipation melted into celebration, so our anticipation of eternity will flower into riotous, joyful, roof-shaking shouts of joy.

A number of friends who were at this wedding are feeling that anticipation deeply now, as they mourn the deaths of a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a grandma, a grandpa… At times, I’m sure they were acutely aware of all those who couldn’t be at THIS wedding celebrating… But I am so thankful, and hopeful, and anticipating with great joy the wedding celebration at which we will ALL be in attendance, from the greatest to the least, where every tear will be wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever. And even as we celebrate Kait and Adam, and their love for and committment to each other, we celebrate the God who gave them to each other, the God who is making all things new, the God who is constantly foreshadowing the good gifts that he has in store here and now, and the God who is preparing the party that will leave us breathless. We wait with hope, and as we wait, we celebrate.  We celebrate because we are all invited.  We celebrate because the table always has room for one more.  We celebrate because the arms of the Father are open wide.  Come on in. The music has started, and it’s time to start dancing…

just breathe…

I woke up yesterday morning to a gorgeous spring day – sunlight sloshing around the courtyard through dappled leaves, jasmine and lavender sneaking in through open windows on the playful breeze, and a few minutes of silence, stillness, and rest.  I don’t think I realized until yesterday how starved my soul was for just a few moments of quiet – this last month (all semester, if we’re being honest) have felt a little bit like this, running as fast as I can just to stay in place…  There has been little silence, and less space that is not spoken for, demanded, filled by distractions and clamorous voices calling for a moment of attention.  And ultimately, it leaves my mind rushing, fragmented, not present, grounded, or aware of what’s going on.  I miss out.  I don’t see.

So it seemed appropriate that I read this prayer in the morning, and it captured something in me:

Show to me this day
amidst life’s dark streaks of wrong and suffering
the light that endures in every person.

Dispel the confusions that cling close to my soul
that I may see with eyes washed by grace
that I may see myself and all people
with eyes cleansed by the freshness of the new day’s light.

…from Celtic Benedictions, ed. by Philip Newell

~ via Sarah Baldwin

It’s hard to hear the still small voice when there is no quiet.  It’s hard to see with grace washed eyes when my focus is the projects and plans that I have to accomplish.  It’s hard to notice the fresh new light when my gaze is focused inward.  And it’s surprisingly hard for me to step away from my to-do list and engage in purposeful, deliberate silence and rest.

But I took two hours – ran down to the lake, soaked up the sunshine, immersed myself in the blue of the sky and the waves, and gloried in movement.  I stopped at the point, climbed down on the rocks til my feet felt the chill of the water and the only sound I could hear was the lapping and splashing of the waves.  I felt the warmth of the noonday sun fill me, heard the laugh of a child chasing a puppy, and every breath was thanks, and every breath was grace.  In the midst of to-do lists, finals, work, packing, moving, saying good-byes, transitions galore, grace pours out, and every breath is a prayer of thanks to Abba Father, the author and source of all life and light.

And it was enough – enough to refill, refresh, and refocus…  enough grace for today…  enough.

Just to stop…  rest…  breathe…  be…

make it count…

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard

So how are you spending your days?


Make them count.

Do justice. Create beauty. Laugh. Forgive. Risk. Give thanks. Dance. Slow down. Pay attention. Smile. Pray. Work. Rest. Celebrate. Drink deeply of today…

(video via Josh Barkey)

Not the Kingdom of Death…

An Easter prayer:

Christ is risen!

We give thanks for the gift of Easter
that runs beyond our expectations,
beyond our categories of reason,
even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.

We know about the powers of death,
powers that persist among us,
powers that drive us from you, and
from our neighbour, and
from our best selves.

We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
and brutality and certitude.
powers before which we are helpless.

And then you – you at dawn, unquenched,
you in the darkness,
you on Saturday,
you who breaks the world to joy.

Yours is the kingdom…not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power…not the power of death,
Yours is the glory…not the glory of death.

Yours…You…and we give thanks
for the newness beyond our achieving.

Amen.

~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth

via Prayers and Creeds