Love does not stay idle

discernment, faith

Love does not stay idle.” -St. Catherine of Siena (from Letter T82)

This is my 100th post on this blog, and to celebrate I thought I’d write a brief manifesto of sorts–a window into who I am and why I do what I do.

As I wrote earlier in my story about staying in the Abbey of St. Hildegard of Bingen, I am aligned to be out in the world, in relationship and direct service with people.

Translating that into religious language, my calling is to Love God and Love Neighbor.

Out of God’s great love, grace, and redemption, I find a love that cannot be kept inside. I am compelled to love my neighbor. I am compelled to love and serve people throughout this country and world.

This means I will seek work that is fulfilling and servant-oriented. So far, for me this has been manifest in pastoral care, spiritual direction, direct service with the poor and homeless, dismantling racism, intentional community, and global service.

The work need not be overtly religious, because I know that loving one’s neighbor transcends religion and theology. One need not be religious to know the longing to love and be loved. One need not be religious to serve and have relationship to our neighbors.

What I write here comes from moments of grace I believe are worth sharing, the stories of life and relationship.

Grace is in the brief time I spent with Suon in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Grace is in the relationship to my Indonesian brother. Grace is in participating in weddings and funerals, hearing people’s hope for their country, and meeting a fellow pilgrim. And so much more.

This means that in my work and in my travel, I am motivated out of grace and love, and a desire to enjoy this amazing earth. It is my privilege to be able to share some those experiences on this blog.

Love does not stay idle.

Visiting the hospital in Balige, North Sumatra, Indonesia with the students.

Visiting the hospital in Balige, North Sumatra, Indonesia with the students. April 2012.

Sunday devotion with elderly group, village of Marihat Tiga, North Sumatra, Indonesia. May 2012.

Sunday devotion with elderly group, village of Marihat Tiga, North Sumatra, Indonesia. May 2012.

Meeting Krishna (far right) and his companions. Kumily, Kerala, India. January 2009.

Meeting Krishna (far right) and his companions. Kumily, Kerala, India. January 2009.

One Year

discernment, faith, mission, teaching
Cascade mountains in Washington state, USA

Cascade mountains in Washington state, USA

Just like hiking the rugged terrain of the Cascade mountains of Washington state and the mountainous rainforest of Sumatra, I experience the joy of summiting peaks and the pain of dark valleys in my current life. This description is not anything extraordinary, as I know these kind of ups and downs in life are a common experience across oceans.

It’s been an amazing, lonely, beautiful and difficult journey (and so much more that I am unable to sufficiently articulate). One thing is for sure: looking upon the smiling faces of my students awakens my soul. They are the reason I am here.

Scene near the village of Siboruon, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Scene near the village of Siboruon, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

On March 30th, 2012 I quietly departed American soil, bound for a life unknown. I put to death a way of life that I knew and the habits of my culture and adapted to my new surroundings. A new life sprang up as quickly as plants grow in the rainforest of northern Sumatra.

Many things about this past year have surprised me—blessings and challenges—and I feel that I have not been very good about writing more often. Some days feel normal and I don’t know what to write; some days I’m angry when my students don’t try to speak English (but not for long). Some days I’m just lazy to write. Nevertheless, I’m very grateful for this journey and glad I have a place to share some of the stories.

Even though there are difficulties, there are days I’m so very proud for all their effort. Like just yesterday, when in my English Theology class, we spontaneously created an English translation to a song in Indonesian about the Prodigal Son after reading that Bible story.

Here’s our English translation of this song (Anak bungsu pergi ke negri orang):

Prodigal son went to another country
left his father alone
finally the money and things are spent
his life is very troubled
Come back my son
Your father misses you much
Come back my son
Always forgiveness for you

Always forgiveness for you. That’s a good message, indeed.

Some things you cannot plan for; I love those moments of spontaneity that tap into their creativity. And that pretty much sums up my year: living and creatively responding to the unexpected.

Night Rain

discernment, faith

The rain falls nightly now, brining with it a chill to the air. This is deceptive. It’s not really cold to my body and it isn’t Autumn at the equator. When I listen to the sound of the rain—which is at times a roaring noise—on these October nights, some memory inside me expects to arise in the morning to see orange, yellow, and red leaves falling from the trees. But, no. When I peer out my window in the morning light, it is Summer for another day, and I return from my early morning jog to be drenched in sweat, even though my Indonesian friends still wear long-sleeves.

I miss the misty cool mornings of the Pacific Northwest, undoubtably colder than any temperature experienced here in Indonesia. But two months from now, when I greet the Sumatran sunshine, I won’t be missing the Seattle rain.

I’m improving on my Bahasa Indonesia skills. Not always quick to speak, I can understand some, and have brief exchanges. I’m better at writing: Aku senang disini di Indonesia, dan aku juga rindu temanku dan keluargaku di America. Yang tidak ada masalah. Terima kasih Tuhan atas hidup ini. Content here and missing home. It’s no problem to be in between. Yes, thank you God for this life.

I stare at photos of changing Autumn leaves and remember all that goes along with the transition of seasons. Most importantly for now, I’ll take this blessing of the rain-soaked Sumatran earth. This is my season now.

Delicious Ambiguity

discernment, faith

Morning Light
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

(Psalm 130:5,6)

Waiting. Each morning I arise and wonder, is this the day all loose ends will finally fall into place? And when, oh when will I have that visa?

Today, while out running under the gorgeous afternoon sunshine, I was reminded of Psalm 130. Over the years, I have often returned to this Psalm in times of waiting. For the time being, I’m occupying an in-between space with a pile of clothes and medicines stacked in a suitcase in one room and my 9-month old niece playing and learning to crawl in the next.

Xmas Day runThroughout my life, running has been a stress release and spiritual practice. Today was no different. With each stride next to the dry sagebrush of southeastern Washington state, I pounded anxiety away and praying, hoping in God.

These thoughts have come to me because this date is about the time of my original anticipated departure for Indonesia. Or so says my letter of agreement, drafted and signed back in the fall. Though still young in years, I have lived enough life to know things don’t always go as planned. Waiting, I know, is hard; but God is still here. God is here in this ambiguous space, and though I am impatient, I have peace.

Back in late July, in those few days of waiting after my interview at ELCA headquarters in Chicago and before I knew I had this position, I came across a quote. At my church (Church of the Apostles), we always have “Open Space” in the middle of worship. It is a time for prayer, reflection, and interaction. With an unknown future on my heart and mind, I walked a labyrinth during the open space. In the center was this quote:

“…some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.” — Gilda Radner

It is nighttime now, and like in the Psalm, my soul waits more than those who watch for the morning. Tomorrow, I will arise again, and wonder, is this the day I will know when I’ll depart for Indonesia? Is this the end or the beginning? But, sometimes in the end is the beginning, and they are indistinguishable.

I take this time of waiting and delight in life’s many blessings, hoping for the many blessings soon to come. Delicious ambiguity, indeed.

Twenty-Two

discernment, travel

For a little bit of insight into the past year of my life, I share this number. Twenty-two is the number of US states I have been to since September 2010. Well, the number is actually 23 counting the District of Columbia, which isn’t a state (but should be).

Here they are, in no particular order: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The final four being states I hadn’t been to before.

How is it that I managed to visit nearly half the 50 US states within 12 months? Mostly because I had a temporary job as a traveling recruiter for the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), something similar to AmeriCorps. For six months, between September ’10 and February ’11, I was paid to travel, back and forth from DC (where LVC’s main office is located), to universities across the country, seeking young people interested in committing a year of their lives to intentional community, sustainability, and social justice.

For the job, I traveled via planes, trains, and automobiles; I attended career fairs, some specifically for non-profits/service work; held a few information sessions; sat at tables during lunch time; met with campus ministries; contacted career centers at universities LVC had never been to before; and, of course, spent many hours planning travel arrangements, and contacting various people.

10-28-10_IMG_3571It was seriously an amazing (and at times, stressful) series of trips: places in WI, IL, IN, OH in early October; southern CA in late October; MN, IA, and NE in Nov; San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Fargo, ND in early February; TN and GA in late Feb; and many more in between. In the months since returning to Seattle in March, I have traveled quite a bit too, though not nearly as often.

Why does this matter now? In many ways, I have not had the typical year: I left my home in Seattle, packed most of my belongings into storage, and spend half of the six month job living in DC and the other half on the road. Travel has, of course, always been a passion of mine, and I already was well-traveled. This position offered me the unique opportunity to combine work with travel—to talk about an organization I care about, while seeing friends and family along the way.

As I reflect on what it will mean to leave the country for 2 years, I am grateful for all the time to see cities, family, and friends across the country I would otherwise have not been able to see in a year’s time, and could not afford to see now.

The travel in twenty-two states (plus DC) stirred discernment within me, and the decision to apply for global mission became clear just days after returning to Seattle in March. Global mission had been on my mind for a number of years, and I realized this was the time to go for it.

So tonight I give thank to a stressful, yet amazing year of opportunity, blessing, and travel, and look forward to the years to come.

Wise Words From the Past

discernment

journalTen years ago I was preparing to study abroad for a year in Tübingen, Germany. After a tumultuous sophomore year at Valparaiso University, I was both excited and a bit fearful of such a commitment to spend my junior year in Germany. My life was changing. I had changed majors from Meteorology to German, and a new adventure was ahead. No longer weighed down by high level calculus and advanced physics, I used the energy toward spiritual discernment, with some surprising results.

Today, while browsing through an old journal, as I am prone to do from time to time, I noticed the entry for this day, August 1st, 2001, ten years ago. Here’s a portion that the 21-year old me wrote:

My time in the US is growing smaller. Yesterday I was deep in thought about leaving. There are so many things I will not see for so long. There is joy in my heart, but I also carry around fear…I could doubt my talents all day, but there is no going back now. I just have to do it. I am going to live in Germany, speak German every day…there are so many things I will miss, but so much to discover…so many possibilities to learn, and so many ways for failure. Please Lord guide me and give me strength so I may learn, explore, create, challenge, and succeed.

They were profound thoughts, I think. I acknowledged fear and doubt, but did not let them get in the way of what I imagined could be an amazing experience; and cultivated the audacity to be challenged through learning and exploring. These thoughts were foundational to the life I would live in Germany, and an important step toward a life of ministry.

Ten years later, I am going through a similar process, as I prepare to spend 2 years teaching English in Indonesia through Global Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. However, this time around the process is going to be more intense, and the life and work will be very different. Instead of a student, I will be a teacher (yet I will be learning so much). Instead of going for myself, I am being called and sent by the Church. Instead of the familiar Western Europe, I will be in SE Asia. And so on.

There will, of course, be many details forthcoming about Indonesia—what I will be doing, the thrills of getting a visa, information on the country itself, and more as the months go on.