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.

Worship with Oppung

Batak culture, faith, Indonesia, mission

After returning from Penang, Malaysia with my visa earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit a village with one of the students. As I mentioned previously, they go out each week to serve in the communities—they visit the sick, visit the prison, minister to sellers at the market, and more. This visit, I accompanied Arlisna as she went to a village to lead a worship for elderly women.

First we walked up the road calling to each home where one of the Oppung (grandparent) resides. When it was time for the worship, we gathered on the floor in one of the homes, sitting on top of mats laid out on the floor. This is common here in Indonesia. I greeted the Oppung-Oppung in the Batak language (“Horas”). The words and prhases of Bahasa Indonesia I have learned were of no use, as these elderly women only know Batak. For some of them, I was the first American they had met and who sat in their midst. I was welcomed and greeted with smiles and laughter; Arlisna, being our translator between English and Batak.

About a dozen women were there. Most did not have hymnals, but could sing along from memory. There were hymns, Scripture, and a brief devotion. Through the time, I sat silently, yet with reverence and attention to the Spirit’s presence among us. An offering was taken, to be given to the local church.

After the worship, we ate bread and drank tea. I prayed a prayer of blessing and thanks for them in English, my words, again being translated. I was invited back to worship with them again. If I have the opportunity, I would like to return and pray with them. It was a blessed time.

Ompung-Ompung

A Blessed Sending

faith

Last night I was blessed to be in the company of my church community for the last time (for at least 2 years). As with the blessing of the waiting time earlier this month, and as we have done for many Apostles on their own journeys, my community laid hands upon me and prayed for this new venture and calling.
Sending Megan
For more than seven years I have called Church of the Apostles home. What an amazing time—the Living Room storefront, starting the Fremont Abbey, intentional community houses, retreats, discernment groups, and partying in the Resurrection; we created liturgy, had faith, shared doubt, lived uncertain futures, had some miscommunications, celebrated, felt our brokenness, lived new life—so much life together. Though I am leaving the physical connection to friends and worship space, I am still an Apostle. This parting is both ending and beginning.

Click the link below to see below for a few more pictures from the sending:

On Disfigurement and Grace

faith, story

I stepped off the light rail into the damp afternoon air. I craned my neck, looking for a friend, when a man who had been in the same train car from downtown Portland approached me. We hadn’t spoken on the ride. In fact, I had been listening to my “Lent” playlist on my iPod, lost in my own world of thought.

He first remarked about the drizzle that fell lightly on us. What happened to the sun? Of course it rains when we’re off the train. I smiled.

Then he said this: “I like your smile. Hey, you know, I’m an honest person, so I hope you don’t mind me saying, when I first saw you, I wanted to feel sorry for you.” He motioned to his face, a reference to the disfiguring tumors on mine. “But I see life in you. It’s in your eyes.”

“Thanks, sir. I don’t mind at all.”

In fact, I was glad he noticed; I hadn’t that day. We bid each other bye, and walked our separate ways. This wasn’t the first time for such an encounter. However, it was a fleeting moment of grace, which I savored and filed in the back of my mind.

Two days later another knotty tumor appeared on the right side of my face; one more to add to the collection, an even more disfigured face to get used to.

DISFIGUREMENT
Now awaiting the word on what series of flights have been booked to Indonesia, I share this piece of me with you, dear readers, as it is a part of me wherever on this earth I go, whatever that calling may be—and it is very visible.

I have a genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis (NF). A more detailed explanation of NF can be found at the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Brief facts: NF type 1 affects 1 in every 3,000 births; NF2, 1 in every 25,000. Although it is genetic, and parents with NF (types 1 and 2) have a 50% chance of passing it on to each child, half of all cases are a result of a spontaneous mutation. NF1 can cause birthmarks, tumors, freckling, and learning disabilities among other manifestations. There is no cure, no drug yet to slow or prevent tumor growth. Neither is there any prediction of severity or when or where a tumor might grow; they can grow anywhere there are nerves.

I have NF1 with dozens of tumors all over my body, all of which are benign, and most of which are small and underneath the skin. The largest and most visible is the grouping of tumors on the right side of my face.

GRACE
I come from a culture where inner beauty is a nice idea, but that’s not necessarily the signals most often sent to me: I should have more stuff, acquire more wealth, and be thin and beautifully blemish-free; money can buy you all this happiness. Me, well, I’m full of outer blemishes, so I’ve learned to cling to grace daily.

I have difficulty accepting a theology that says God made me right down to my DNA. Who, then, slipped in that faulty gene? Who turns the switch to allow a new tumor? I’ll spend my lifetime supporting research to eradicate this disease—then probably some other gene will mutate to form a new disorder for the world.

Anne Lamott writes about David Roche, a inspiration speaker and man with a disfigured face, in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith. Unable to reproduce the whole story, here’s a snippet (p. 111):

There he is, standing in front of a crowd, and everyone can see that just about the worst thing that could happen to a person physically has happened to him. Yet he’s enjoying himself immensely, talking about ten seconds of grace he felt here, ten seconds he felt there, how those moments filled him and how he makes them last a little longer. Everyone watching gets happy because he’s giving instruction on how this could happen for them, too, this militant self-acceptance.

No, I wasn’t given this disease as a test, but I can live to the fullest and notice those raw moments of grace, just like David. I wish I didn’t have the tumors, or that I didn’t have to face a lifetime of wonder when and where the next one will appear. But I will, and I am compelled to share those grace-filled meetings, my love of life and God, and the courage in spite of disfigurement.

I share this as who I bring as a missionary. I may not write of this again, as I will soon be sharing other stories. As I have most of my life, I will be noticing (and writing) moments of grace while I’m teaching English in Indonesia. But most importantly, I mean to share this today: out of brokenness, beauty and wholeness; out of death, life. Is that not part of our faith as Christians? You, too, have brokenness in need of healing.

And now you know what it is on my face when you see photos of me.

L I M I N A L__S P A C E

faith, travel

Puget Sound Morning
LIMINAL SPACE

clickety-clack, clickety-clack
this train ride at the threshold
has no time of arrival
and no certainty of where it will stop.

clickety-clack, clickety-clack
let the rhythm of the rails take hold.
stare out the window
hour after hour
and think: oh, the places you’ll go!
welcome to the liminal space,
an expansive neither here nor there.

clickety-clack, clickety-clack
what more to do
but let go and sit back.
come, make yourself at home.
let the rhythm of the rails take hold
here in the liminal space.

I wrote the above as a result of my train ride from Seattle to Portland yesterday. It’s not even what I’d consider a finished poem (and I don’t write poetry often), but I share as part of my process. I’ve taken that route many times before, and I know: whether rain, shine, fog, or in that case, snow, there is never a shortage of beautiful views from the tracks. The above photo is of the south end of the Puget Sound. From the train I watched the snow fall into the Sound. It struck me odd that it is mid-March, and snowing in a region where little snow falls, and yet I’m told on that very day it was above 70 degrees in South Dakota.

Sometimes, things don’t turn out as we expect. It’s mid-March and the mild winter has some things topsy-turvy. It is mid-March and I am not in Indonesia as I once expected. I use the words “liminal space” to describe where I am. It is a place at the threshold, between two worlds. Soon, I hope I will cross over the threshold (via the Pacific Ocean and the International Date Line) into a new life.

Lent and Blessing the Waiting

faith

sagebrushSince my return from the orientation in Toronto in January, I have been staying with my parents in southeastern Washington state. Recently on a trail, I ran among the dry sagebrush steppe and contemplated the desert and my lenten journey.

How do I form and hold onto a spiritual practice for lent as I continue to wait in this liminal space? I haven’t answered that yet.

All of my belongings not going with me are packed away, leaving me to that which I can carry. I don’t have to take time out of my busy day to think about lent—I have time, lots of time. Well, the newness of waiting has worn off, and as the weeks pass by, it has become increasingly difficult to retain my earlier reflection on the deliciousness of ambiguity. So, it seems, as the liturgical season turns, so has a season in my spirituality. But this desert isn’t desolate.

Over the weekend, I returned to Seattle and said goodbye to my parents. And yesterday evening my church community, Church of the Apostles, blessed my waiting. In our nearly 10 years of existence (I’ve been around for 7 of that), we have laid hands upon many to bless their various journeys near and far. As it is not yet time for me to leave the country, I asked for prayer in my waiting. Standing in this liminal space, and surrounded by my community, hands were laid upon me to bless my waiting.

Today I wonder: what will this week of waiting and wandering bring?

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.

Advent

faith

I am in the waiting time. And as it is the season of Advent, I am also waiting for the birth of Christ, God with us. As I anticipate serving in Indonesia (in 2 months!), and meeting the beautiful community there, I also hold dear my community in Seattle. This photo is from my home, my community of Church of the Apostles. During every worship, we have a time called “open space” when we are free to move about, pray, sit—whatever. There are always places for us to reflect.

Blessed 3rd week of Advent.

Goodbye, Autumn

faith

As the days draw nearer to the Winter Solstice, the trees have become increasingly bare. Their leaves fall from branches, showering the earth with a cascade of color. Wet and clumped together, the leaves cover sidewalks and dot the still green grass. This being the Pacific Northwest, there is still plenty of green and growth that will last even through winter. Here, the Autumn is a mystical time of changing colors, foggy mornings, and rain. When clouds part, the distant mountain ranges reveal freshly snow-covered jagged peaks, a grand contrast against a deep blue sky.

And I am in the process of saying goodbye to it all, wondering how the change of country, culture, and climate will change my faith.

I am reminded of something I wrote 10 years ago, when I was studying abroad in Tuebingen, Germany. I wrote this after taking a meditative walk, holding a leaf:

My leaf was wet with dew. I noticed the leaves as they fell, how some fell straight down to the ground, others fell on top of branches and bushes, and yet still more floated gracefully and gently to the earth. Each leaf has a different shape, size and color. The leaves that became dry were easily crunched. Every leaf that fell to the ground covered the ground and would someday become a part of the earth. This is a cycle, this is a season. The leaves that were on the trees have served their purpose and it is time to move on. In the spring, new leaves will take their places and it will happen again. My life has changed seasons…

I may not know completely, how the season of my life will change, but I trust God for the guidance, and wait with joy and expectation for what is to come in my new home and community in Indonesia.

Below are photos from walking in Seattle this year:

Autumn leaf with water droplets
Foggy Morning

Click the link to expand the post and see a few more photos I have taken this autumn in Seattle.