Hello. Welcome.

I'm a very determined kind of individual. Sometimes my determination is misplaced and things get very ugly. But, sometimes my determination leads to laughter, deep thoughts, and words on paper.

I write everything. I'm not very good at filtering ... so you will see it all. Maybe there will be a little inspiration for someone else along the way. I hope so. My sister also likes to guest blog and I'm sure you will appreciate her wit and wisdom.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

one week complete

It's been exactly one week since I last wrote. Gosh, I guess a lot has changed in 7 short days. I no longer live in the Windy City. I no longer work at Sullivan's, or Opportunity. I no longer live in a "vintage" style building on State and Division (I can say that now). I no longer wake up in the morning to the busy, bustling sounds of people moving about.

It's quite bizarre, actually - moving through life. I don't think there's been one time these past four years that I haven't looked back and said, "I never could've guessed that would happen." I think that's beautiful... that God holds back the things about our future that we just couldn't handle knowing. And, then, we travel on, endure through trials and blessings to look back and see the providence in His sole knowledge of what was to come. Hopefully we can look back and see that we've been obedient.

We have some family friends that have lived obedience. They have struggled and persevered in the most formidable circumstances... with eyes fixed on the Author and Perfector. I have had conversations with the mom, especially, about how obedience has not led directly to bliss. In fact - bliss is farthest from their pilgrim journey... but they press on in praise because they know that God glories in the obedience of His people. And, I look at that example and know that God searches for hearts like those - that are completely His - and pleasures in their journeys (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Well, I better recap last week a bit before I move on philosophizing... The rest of the week went well - busy as ever - and steeped in Chicago "lasts." I was more than ready for my sister to come on Friday to show off the things I love and experience a bit of Midwest city charm. We hit up the Christkindlmarket, the fabulous German extravaganza at the Daley Plaza. Warm crepes, pretzels, hot chocolate, and vendors with products from all over the world. It was delightful!

Then, we headed to ComedySportz to watch an hilarious display of clean improv and finally ended up at my apartment - by then quite lonely with its bare walls. Saturday brought more exploring and breakfast with one of my closest Chicago friends - Jenna. From there I went to my last day at Sullivan's - a day that lasted from 3-1030... a long day that ended with huge sighs. I marvel at how much drama is made of such small things. I thought I could make it the whole semester without taking part in the game, but I tripped up on Saturday.

I was able to play the middleman - the advocate for the underdog and staple sensitive girl up until then. But, when one of the girls was talking about her favorite subject - tacky people, I jumped in and we created the token tacky dressed girl who obviously had no clue about clothes, fashion, or how to act. At the end she looked at me kind of funny and said, "Good. You do have a (!?#*!y) side!" I just kind of stared. There's way no way to take it back, but I wish I could. After 4 months of trying to be that light in the darkness and one slip of the tongue turns the rudder of that ship so darn fast! I tried to smooth over what I could, but I don't know if it made a difference. Once again, I realize how important words are... the mouth speaks the overflow of the heart... and I certainly hope my heart doesn't settle for such petty things!

Anyway... the rest of the night went fine - we've had unusually warm December weather, so coat checking wasn't even all that bad. Sunday - glorious Sunday - we went to church in the morning and I said goodbye to dear, dear friends at Park Community Church. My heart will always be grateful for the gift of community and friendship I so relied on this semester.

We came back for a marathon cleaning/packing adventure (my sister would hardly agree that it was an adventure, but would most likely call it a disaster:) ... and then we were off for a wonderful lunch buffet at Gaylord India - maybe some of the best food I've had in awhile! We both love indian style food - and everything was savory and delicious... from the curry to the nan to the amazing tea.

I think I mentioned before that my mom bought us tickets to WICKED. I can't explain how badly I wanted to see that show while I was in Chicago. I started listening to the soundtrack last year and have been obsessed ever since because the music is just that good! We sat center (not front, but still great view!) and I could only eek out, "I can't believe...wow...this is so exciting..."

The show was phenomenal. Beginning to end - loved the story, characters, music, stage, and costumes. I'll be singing those songs for a long time! Right now I'm at this wonderful (and wireless) small town coffee loft with my sister. She's working on finding a job and I'm thinking.

Well, Christina thinks I do enough thinking - probably too much. Especially when I started talking about energies and passions on the way home from Chicago... maybe she would agree with the Emperor in Amadeus when he was criticizing Mozart's first opera. Maybe I just use too many words. Mozart's music was too much of something, the Emperor said, "Well, there are only so many notes that a person can hear in one evening... and there were simply too many notes." Mozart was appalled, because every single note was exactly how it should be and taking any one note away would subtract from the complete masterpiece he believed it was.

I know enough now to not think the pride of Mozart will produce any good thing, and I am hardly at the point where I think my words well up into such a glorious climax as his work, but I do on some level aspire for the exact perfection which Mozart possessed.

Well, this is certainly long enough to last awhile. This is very different from the city - very different. I'm not sure about my whole Chicago experience, but I do know that I loved living in a city... and I know I could live in one again, someday down the road. We'll see. God only knows, right?
I am finishing up my Christmas shopping and giving hugs and love to my beautiful family and friends here at my roots. But it is Christmas and I am bursting with what our souls are made of...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

goodness me

Well, what I projected as a slower, peaceful week has turned into something quite different. But, considering the amount of Christmas shopping I've done, my schedule needs to be this full!:) Today I am meeting my beautiful friend Lis, then heading to work at Opportunity, then coming back to work at Sullivan's. I work every day this week, but I've got something to look forward to - Friday my sister comes into town and I'm so excited to show her around!

I've realized a bundle in the short two days that my friends have been gone (the rest of my program moved out on Sunday) ... I like spending time in solitude when it is my choice, not necessarily when it is the only choice. While my friends were here, I found myself often choosing work, writing, and other relationships over spending time with them. Yet, I always found comfort knowing that they were here, in my building, a phone call away. I've still got the girls from church, who are amazing and I'm so thankful for them... but I guess more of my selfishness is coming through in my reaction to forced alone time.

It's amazing that, given time and open eyes, we continue to see the layers peeled back and more of our nature comes through. I guess this is good because then we can know how to fight back. It certainly keeps a person humble - not only am I trying to keep all the past things I've discovered about myself under control, but I'm always finding new vices vying for my time and treasure.

Whew. I'm ready to wrap up this week, load up the car, and head westbound. Hallelujah for Jesus - what a miracle! The best and biggest reason to fight for joy!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sully's, Endings, and Discoveries

I feel almost as dead as the minks and rabbits coming in to Sullivan's, only I don't have near as snobby of an owner. Last night, a woman insisted we had her Crystal Fox (they kept saying this over and over like I knew what it was and should be amazed) fur somewhere, but we could NOT find it ... later I saw them leaving with their coats - apparently they left them upstairs in the lounge.

Let's just say last night I had to fight for joy. I literally felt in a struggle for what I was going to let take my evening. I rushed out of my last day of internship like a wild banshee and ran from train to train to bus to my apartment, switched out my clothes and ran to work (all this running is literal - I was out of breath!) Then, I got to work and found out, unbeknownst to me, they had changed my start time to 1/2 an hour later! It was one of those ... you've GOT to be kidding me. But, at the same time, that means I wasn't late. Anyway... I would have given anything to be Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia and, instead of retrieving coats for the social elite, retreating into a mystical, wonderful world beyond that cramped closet.

Yet, while I was there, I got a text from a friend. His day had been amazing and full of grace, and hadn't mine? (he said)
And I thought, "self. that's about enough. you are not going to be content with the simple pleasures of being angry, frustrated, and anxious. No, no! You are going to reach for the vacation on the sea - joy!!

So, when one guy asked me, "Tell me, do you like this job?" I simply said, "Well, that's relative. But do I have joy? Yes."
Then he said something like, well of course that's because you just saw me come down the stairs.

Oh man. But, can I just go back to remind myself that GOD is providing through this job. He is providing my rent and opening doors to relationships.

Enough about Sullivan's - yesterday was my last official day as Opportunity intern. From this point on, my relationship will be of the true, working world employee nature. I am going to continue doing temp work for the conference in May.

My boss took me out for Mediterranean food - definitely one of my favorite ethnic varieties. MMmm was it good! I wish I could explain the impact that this relationship has had on my semester and my life as a whole... But for now those words will have to do. I just hope all this "processing" I keep putting off will happen sometime, otherwise I could see a 100 car pileup on my brain highway - not good, considering I don't really trust the drivers up there in the first place!

Okay, I should finish this up. I'm going to do my morning bible study and then hang out with my roomie and do some hard core cleaning - yay! One last thing - I finished up my papers for class - 3 in all at 4:30 Wednesday morning. I know - that is definitely the first time I've done that since freshmen year when I thought it was cool and "college."

Even if it's not what the profs. want, I am happy with how they turned out... and it was truly a discovery process. I'll have to write more (later) about some of the startling things I learned about myself. I realized how much pressure I'd been feeling to 'keep up appearances,' meanwhile my true energies and gifts weren't being fully utilized.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

two friends on a flight

On my flight home from Virginia, I sat between two men from Detroit to Chicago. On my left, John and I got off to a great start. We started talking and I found out about his family and a daughter who might be looking at attending Hope College. We ended up really encouraging one another. I enjoyed his stories of his church, travels, and family.

I turned to my right about halfway through the flight and (I forget his name) was equally friendly, but of a quite different sort. He lives not far from where I work at Sullivan’s and so we talked about the bars in the area and where he goes each day of the week. He manages the Marriott hotel, and because he’s a bachelor, he makes the rounds as far as restaurants go. After two gin and tonics, he was sure talkative and anxious to tell me about his exciting life, moving from Hawaii to Detroit to Oklahoma to Chicago and soon to California.

It surprised me how easy it was to transition from the two gentlemen. It reminded me of my father, actually. I think some have said he could make conversation with a deaf mute. It really just takes a measure of perception and a genuine interest. .. Paul said he chose Timothy because he, “took a genuine interest in the affairs of others.” I was almost worried that John would think me a hypocrite because I could talk about bars and cigars (nevermind that my first-hand experience belies my vocabulary).

Well, my friend on the right started talking about the war after I asked him if he voted in the election. Like I said, his tongue was pretty loose, so he was talking about how foolish it was that America had to solve everyone’s problems. John overheard and became very much involved and before long, I was hearing two very sad stories.

John quickly defended the integrity of the armed forces and shared a story of a best friend’s son, a Marine, who was killed in Afghanistan after being there for only a month. He described the honorable funeral and how it’d made an impact on him. I could have imagined it, but I think he was near tears.

My friend on the right was not to be outdone in story telling. He spoke of the craziness of some soldiers after they return from the war. Then he started telling the story of Oklahoma City…where Timothy McVeigh, a well-trained and well-mannered soldier, committed such a heinous crime. "My friend’s father was in the building that day," he told me. His father was killed that day in the hands of Mr. McVeigh and I can’t imagine the roller coaster it’s been for him to understand why.

I was caught in the middle of this conversation and interjected only that my faith is what truly sustains – amidst the wars, chaos, and uncertainties. But, I almost felt the words fall to the ground as I said them. How should I speak to this man who has experienced such loss?

Amadeus captures death through the life of Salieri. At one point he was so angry because God had allowed Mozart first divine inspiration in the form of music and second death, whereas Salieri, suffering from his self-proclaimed mediocrity, was forced to live a long life without divine inspiration whatsoever.

They say, "food for thought." I think this could be a steak. But I must move on to new things!!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Santo Domingo - the first city of the New World

Now I know why Columbus sailed the ocean blue... The Dominican Republic is a beautiful place with beautiful people!

Sadly, I haven't been able to experience as much of their culture as I have their style of business meeting, conversation, and travel from hotel to office. It's been the definition of a "business trip" ... although in the past I'm sure I have always assumed that people who take business trips are nearly always fooling you. I had it in my mind that business trips were almost created for the joy of travel, because it's always been so exotic for me. Ay! This is not the case - as Rody would say, "work is work."

I have learned too much to fit in my suitcase for the trip home. I am tired, overwhelmed, excited, and anxious.... this planning for such a thing as a global conference has to be done by those with supernatural powers - I really can't believe all that goes into it! As in all my (limited) travels, I have found the people to be lovely and most wonderful! Again, even if only on the business side, I am seeing the Lord's creativity alive in the work of His hands.

I haven't been able to process everything, nor do I expect myself to before I get back to Chicago this weekend. It's amazing to think that after May I could actually get a job that would make this my life - traveling, meetings, planes, taxis. And all this makes me think. ... Just think and consider just how it is God made me - for what purpose. I know that He is preparing my spirit for the work to come, but I also need to think about how He made me to be in community. What does community look like for those that traipse about the global countryside, stopping here and there?

How perfect to be right now reading in my devotions about the "first" missionary journey in Acts when Paul was sent out after prayer, fasting, and laying on of hands. I say "first" because I fully believe in God's missional heart from the very beginning....

But, truly the community and power of being sent is beautiful and unmistakable throughout the Scriptures. .. Oh! This is a topic for another day - I do feel a bit scattered!

It's been so exciting to be here - just minor near death experiences in taxis and a somewhat questionable "tropical show" last night prove to spice things up. Let's just say taxis aren't shy about crossing four lanes of oncoming traffic and an ambulance in a tiny four-door... and when people here say "tropical show" I guess that could mean anything, the least of which is taste and of a conservative mind. We're pretty sure this tropical show isn't quite the thing to suggest for our 300 delegates from around the world.

Oh, there'll be many more stories, I'm sure, but MY OH MY has time flown. I simply haven't been out exploring and probably won't get a chance to, but hopefully when I come back in May there might be some spare hours to look about...it is quite stunning the view into the sea.

PS I also quickly toured the Colonial Zone where Columbus first landed - the first street, cathedral and university in the New World. Completely opposing the historical and toursit significance, we spoke with a local pastor who had a refreshing and bold passion for the colonial influence here and in Latin/South America... also a story for another time.

Praise God for the work here, for productivity, for His beauty, and his grace in allowing us a part!

Monday, November 20, 2006

No such thing as coincidences

I did watch Amadeus. I think I will probably watch it again soon. It's a thinker, that one is.

Before I get too far and this gets depressing I have to say: I'M HEADED to the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC!! This isn't a far off dream and most certainly not a coincidence. This is the very blessed hand of God at work and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I get to be a small part of His big process.

After Thanksgiving, I will fly with my boss and another colleague to meet with our Partner in the DR to continue planning for the Global Conference coming up in May 2007. I am beside myself with excitement, and, were it not for the e-itinerary I have in my inbox, I would complete deny that it would ever happen.

Yet, there the email sits! I don't know how, but I'm on a flight Sunday, Nov. 26 to Santo Domingo.

Shoot, I definitely thought I had more time.... but I'll have to finish my thoughts on Amadeus later.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where I've been for the past weeks...

I just realized how absent it might seem I've been. Mostly due to busyness, I suppose.

But, some exciting things have happened, including my family visiting last weekend! After a most crazy and stressful week, my family road-tripped to the city for a short weekend. We navigated public transit, went to an eclectic (and colorful) place for breakfast, ate Chicago style pizza, and did just the right amount of walking to enjoy the city.

We even spent some time in my apartment just enjoying company - exchanging pictures and watching the Music Man in slide show form (that man seriously needs to think about buying a video camera!)

I'm not sure, but I think mom got enough standard "pretend like this is natural" shots on her camera, so I'm anxious to see those. My brothers - I'm not sure, but I don't think I could be family with boys that are much cooler. Will and I stayed up late talking on Friday and I can NOT wait for him to come back through town with his two friends and Christina in tow this Tuesday!

James... I guess that thing called growing up (he's already accomplished it in the vertical sense) is happening to him... I'm waiting to see when he realizes it's not just a phase. :)

My parents are great - they brought some true, Iowa love to my streets. To all of you nay-sayers of city-friendliness: I get it from my parents!! It was truly lovely!

All that said... I have to return to what was stressing me out the week prior. At one point I called my grandparents in exasperation. Seasoned with (now veteran) understanding that God would provide and perseverance would produce beautiful blessings, I told them about my impossible task and project.

Only because I thought it so dear that my grandpa remembered this will I share the story:
"I remember seeing a little girl with two five-gallon buckets, near full, hobbling along. I looked down at her and said, 'Don't you think you should try taking one at a time?' She looked back up at me and said, 'Well, then I wouldn't get any stronger, would I?'"

Yep, that was stubborn little me. I'm sure my unruly blonde hair and petite frame betrayed my confidence, but I'm sure in my mind I was completely serious. Now, I'm convinced all that determination only produced back problems... but my grandparents' encouragement was sweet honey to days of seemingly vain toil.

UNTIL... on Tuesday I received an email from my boss while I was in Virginia. Her boss had just finished the presentation (that I'd been working on) to rave reviews! It did, indeed, turn out to be beautifully blessed and I am so thankful.

I must get back to my work or I'll be backed up when I arrive tomorrow!!

Salieri and Studentdom

If I had a to-do list that held any kind of real weight in my life, I would write in bold, capitals WATCH AMADEUS. I’ve just returned from a design workshop in Charlottesville, Virginia. The trip was yet another journey into self-discovery and a brilliant respite from life in Chicago. Unfortunately, I have no eloquent reason to offer for not writing sooner. In fact, I was thoroughly disappointed in my less-than-ambitious use of free time in the well-preserved town where Jefferson is the claim to fame.
True to my “name,” I did wander about and enjoyed the downtown mall, brick streets, and used book shops. The price of food and entertainment has quite certainly kept up with the times and I daresay they are actually ahead of the ‘downtowns’ I’m used to.

But, that aside, I am such a jumble of jacks! Back to Salieri…
The workshop was hosted by a design company that works primarily with Christian non-profit clients (of which we are one). I hardly believed I was going until I rushed the Blue Line on Sunday to get to O’Hare.

I immediately felt comfortable and welcome in the house-converted-to-office just blocks from the adorable colonial inn where I was staying.

As I sat in the workshops, I found myself returning to my thoughts on the theology of work. The wonderful people at Journey very much incorporated these ideas into their interaction with the editing/designing world. One of the presenters used several references to the movie Amadeus, which follows the story of Salieri and Mozart. Salieri was a well-known composer of his time, but lacked the genius of Mozart to create new, inspired music. He tells the story of his failures as Mozart’s music eventually crowded out Salieri and his mediocrity brought depression and jealousy.

The journey presenter said at one time, “Basically Salieri could recognize genius but couldn’t create it.” I’ve always known the story of Mozart, but never in this context (I know – where’s my mother’s influence on this one, right?). I was at once captured by the philosophy and theology behind this rivalry.

Though we can never truly be creators, God’s creativity can flow through us into astounding portraits, prose, and pieces of music.

What will we settle for? God desires nothing less than excellence.
Again I go back to C.S. Lewis’ frustrated assertion that we are content to play in mud puddles when we could be vacationing on the shores.

I felt so blessed to also have had the chance to talk to several experienced and wise professionals. I sorted through options and explained my odd peace about graduating without a five-year plan. They were all very encouraging and their own stories evidenced once again the blessings that come through obedient steps of faith.

I thought this little anecdote pushed perpetual studentdom past a graduation date:

Once, while giving a lecture at a seminary, Billy Graham was asked a pointed question by a student. “Why,” he began, “with the horrible state of the world, should we stay in school instead of jumping into the field?” Dr. Graham told the class about the wisdom of the woodsman who took the time each morning to sharpen his ax before he went into the forest to cut down trees. He then turned to the student and said, “Sharpen your ax.”

Can you imagine cutting a tree with a dull ax? I think I’ve tried it before and the tree still stands, stubborn thing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

transportation and winter

After coming back from Iowa’s open spaces, a study on transportation is more than appropriate. Moments after I touched down, I was in a car – a vehicle completely controlled by the driver, who could direct it at whatever speed and in whatever course she so desired. The context was familiar, but I had never wondered at the concept until I was dependent on public transportation for two months. The philosophy of jumping behind the wheel has all sorts of implied power wound up in its gears.

My experiences with transportation in the city have been mostly good. I say ‘mostly’ because I did write not too long ago about the almost-pick pocket at an el station.

The entire system of public transportation forces a kind of community you may not find passing people on the yellow dotted line, each in their own steel cages along a highway. Two things are especially interesting to me about this community 1. It is forced and 2. people appear to grasp for invisible cages to separate certain circles from other certain circles.

Actually, if I was interested in a third thing, it would be the fluidity with which it moves – all parts acting in a sort of disjointed, symbolic symphony of how life is lived together. You have the homeless woman in the back corner of the bus, clutching three bags and looking out the window every three seconds. You’ve also got the young businessman, checking his watch after adjusting the black leather briefcase slung around his back. You’ve got women professionals who sit or stand, sporting tennis shoes at the feet of tailored J. Crew pants or TJ Maxx bargains. You’ve also got the tourist, carrying at least three shopping bags, smiling to take in the newness of riding a Chicago city bus and occasionally checking the map tucked into their purse. You’ve got other regulars – students, workers, and roamers.

But, since I’m interested in the first two, I guess I’ll say something about that. There’s no way around public transportation. Everyone simply can’t own a car because it’s expensive and impractical. So, a mix of people find themselves in community for a period of time. There is sort of a public transportation face one puts on and it’s especially helpful with a personal music player. Once your personal world is established, not many people dare to knock on your door or open theirs. While many commonalities can be found and friendships forged if one is uber-persistent, the community that meets every morning, noon, and evening struggles against what the environment encourages: relationships.

That said, there are many exceptions. There is Chris… and George… and the Italian lady… and the 747 bus driver who takes the 3:17 route to Forest Park CTA (we’re good friends, but you know when it becomes awkward to ask someone’s name because you know each other?) Yep… there’s more, too. These people are open to the natural community these moving machines create.

I have only taken a taxi once. My grandpa was pretty concerned about me schlepping my baggage from Midway airport to the Orange Line, transferring to the Red Line, and walking about 4 blocks home. He said it would make him feel better if I took a cab. So, I did. It was pretty nice to watch everything at street level inside the safety and quiet. I had big ideas about making friends, which quickly vanished when my driver put in one of those cell phones you stick in your ear. The language (Arabic maybe?) was beautiful, but no friendship formed (it can’t happen all the time, right?). I actually did try to take a cab last night again. I was super, super, super tired after closing at Sullivan’s and I waited and waited for the Red Line and finally lost patience. I flagged a cab and told him where I needed to go. He thought for a moment and started driving. Passing the street we should have turned on, he said, “I’m going to go ahead because I don’t want to cross traffic to turn.” Thinking back, his concern was valid, but for the first time I assumed the negative – he wanted to drive around and bring up the bill.

So, I walked and I’m glad I did.

This is a lot on transportation. Too much? I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s Saturday and I’m taking deep breaths.

I remember winter. I guess I usually forget around fall. So wrapped up in the warm drinks, football games, and warmer clothes that I forget that winter wears an icy grin and blows a frigid breeze. I forget that leaving means putting on layers and always carrying chapstick. I forget that I have to put Kleenex in every bag and make sure I switch my gloves when I switch coats. I forget that having my ears covered is more than a fashion statement, but an effort to fend off frostbite.

I remember winter. Once I get past the shock, the season is alive with good, good things.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A weekend with Thoreau...and the psychology of bad days

No, I didn't spend my weekend reading At Walden Pond, but I do feel like I escaped to a kind of heart place.

Here's a bit of Thoreau, beautifully slicing through muddled messages to strike a chord and beat a rhythm my soul loves!

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

I guess in some ways this explains why going back to Iowa is so wonderful. It was between rows of beans and corn that my passion for life and hunger for adventure was sown years ago. From my front porch, my dreams soared over the subtle, rolling hills and stretched out to the horizon. In the hours of farm chores, under layers of coveralls, I learned to sweat and work with my hands.

I guess my trip back to Iowa was something like this. Breathing in air that seeps up from the ground and down from the sky, unadulterated by city in between.

As much as I would like and need to elaborate on the weekend, it's already Wednesday and I have to get my thoughts out before the grinding gears rust my brain.

I just now added the second part of this blog title (psychology of bad days) because, well that was today for me. The amazing, smile-worthy part is that it's only 2:30 and I figured this out now... so now the second half can be grand!

I rolled out of bed with problems from yesterday still clinging to me like the insistent cigar smell on my black wardrobe. Computer failures, "technical difficulties," article deadlines, group projects, working late... I'm sure you could add a few things and safely say they reared their heads this morning as I sat working on an unresponsive computer at 6:45.

By the time I got to class, I gave honest answers to the "How are you" question. But, for some reason, it didn't make me feel better that my friends knew I was frustrated. I wore out the 'just-having-a-bad-day-and-let-me-have-one' sigh by the time I went back to the apartment for lunch. Just before I left, though, I returned to my center after reading an email from my sweet sister in Indy. Not only did it put in perspective my mood and attitude, it gave me some good meat to chew on as I trudged home.

So, I heated up some of my favorite Progressive vegetable soup and sat down with John Piper. At one point I just rested my head on the table...it felt like someone was in my head cranking an ice cream maker. It was silent in the apartment but I couldn't concentrate because I was thinking about so many things. Just to clarify 1. I wasn't over-caffeinated and 2. I'm not one of those highly intelligent people who actually have weighty things their brains need to be stressing over.

I wish I could dive into some of the discussions John Piper tackles, but that will have to be left for those who want to sift through it themselves.

I did some cleaning - always therapeutic - but by the time I left my apartment, I still couldn't muster a smile.

I realized as I began my trek back to the program office, that the whole morning I chose not joy.
If I truly want to seek my ultimate joy, then I won't give in to the bad day. If I seek my own joy, then I seek God's pleasure, His creation, people, service, and truly admire the gifts poured out as blessings in front of me.

I walked down to the el in the 10 minute trip to class again. I felt a smile fill up my chest. I'm sure the man sitting across from me wondered how my joy increased so dramatically for no apparent reason. I walked up from the el and realized I hadn't admired the sun yet today. I pulled out my smile like it'd been tucked away beneath the world in my bag and it still worked.

The more I pursued joy, the more joy there was to be found!

In my last entry I wrote about my new friend in Indy, and today (of course just when I needed it) she blessed me with encouragement and delight. I had written that I hoped our friendship would smell sweet. And, I realized that might need some explanation. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing."
Paul writes that we are the sweet smell of Christ... I love this picture that makes awake our senses to the knowledge of who God is and others can't help but notice.
I could go on, of course.

It's evening now and our classes are about to give presentations on neighborhoods in Chicago. There is so much more to write about these past few days, but it will have to wait. Apologies for all that doesn't make sense... I just had to write out something before the man in my head cranked my thoughts into lumps of melting ice cream.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

for those interested

so...I've been posting some of the short papers I'm writing for Values and Vocations class, along with some other thoughts for the school part of this semester. They are on a different blog - www.discerninginchicago.blogspot.com
if anyone is interested.

I'm off to bed... sleeping early and rising before the sun. The world really smells better before it wakes up. I think I might walk on the lake before I have to go to class. But, then again, who knows where the Lord will direct my steps? Last week I met Sisco. This week? I don't know. But I do know that my grandma is praying for me... and I think that's why I feel so safe. God is using the powerful prayers of His people - so many blessings!

Oh, and today I am now friends with a beautiful sister from Indianapolis. Her spirit is refreshing and full of energy. I only just met her, but I know she has much to teach me ... I am hoping ours is a friendship of the sweet-smelling kind.

scattered thoughts

I met my friend Lis last night at Panera. We meet on Mondays at 5:15 and I look forward to it all week. This past Sunday, the message was about discipleship and I instantly thought of Lis. We learned about the importance in investing in someone else's life not for your benefit or for theirs, but for God's glory. No, God can't benefit from a beautiful relationship, but His glory is revealed in our pursuit of holiness. I went up to Scott Clifton, an amazing man who serves as the missions pastor at Park, and asked for prayer after the service. I told him about the girls I'd met and about how I want to pour into their lives in a deep way. I want to be the iron that sharpens and the friend that loves like Jonathan. I really want to be that for these girls. I also told him about my heart being pulled a few ways for 'after-college' things. He said it sounded like I needed to think about Chicago. Hmm. Anyway, I was blessed by his conversation and prayer and went on.

I found out yesterday that Lis thought of me when she heard the message, too. We had such an amazing time of sharing. I wish I could explain the glint of her eyes when she gets excited. ..I think it might be something like the candy pop rocks. I don't know if you've ever tried them, but the minute you put the little crystallized candies in your mouth they start mini explosions. I love it. That's the look I got when we started talking about our being clay in the Potter's hand. Her joy exploded and it was contagious. Love her!

Today at work I got all the information I needed to contact our Partners in India, Philippines, and Zambia. They won Gender Awards and I'm writing features on what they did with the award money. It still seems a little surreal.

I can hardly believe it - home on friday! I'm trying really hard not to think about how I'm going to spend every hour of my time. My mom is uber-stressed about musical (of course she's doing a musical directly after all-state tryouts), but I will love watching their practice on friday. I also get to catch my brother's last football game and would love nothing more than to join the fam in the stands and cheer on my studly brother as he claims his own ground (beyond the youngest status).

I'll hopefully make the rounds... but the reason I'm flying home is for my friend Anna's wedding. I love her and I love weddings - so the day should be joyful! It will be a time to reconnect with people whose lives have taken them miles from where we first met and made memories.

Today such amazing news - one of my wonderful cousins is going to have a BABY. I couldn't believe it when I read the email, but it is such a joyful thing!

One last random tidbit - Old Testament study and Jen Cousino
Last night was the Old Testament Bible study and I really feel I have so much to learn! I had a dull headache the whole time just for the sheer weight of the words. We just studied the New Covenant, in both the Old and New Testament and the blood of Christ is so so so so deep. I can' t understand it. I really want to learn, though.

Well, this is the shortest and most scattered thing I've written. I guess that's it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

green beans and working hands

I know before I write these thoughts that there is so much more to say. But, I'm only taking a short lunch break and have time to write my thoughts as they are.

On Saturday, my roommate headed home to do some laundry while I was still out doing my Saturday morning things. I stopped at the Farmer's Market on the way home and picked up some red/green peppers and fresh green beans. I headed back up to the 16th floor with my home-grown, farmer-friendly groceries and decided I needed to prepare the green beans for my coming week's lunches.

Memories came like a downpour: mom with a bag and a bowl on the side of Aunt Jane's swimming pool, talking, watching, and snapping peas from our garden... Or, mom bent over between the lush green rows as one brother zipped by on the lawn mower and another clanked and banged on metal in the nearby machine shed... Or my sister and I propped on the kitchen counter, yapping away as mom washed some of the green produce in the sink, preparing for an after-chore feast at 8:00.

I sat on my little sofa in my empty apartment with the soft sounds of some earthy Appalachian gals singing on my CD player. Beside me, a plastic bag full of the green, lanky beans still smelled of farm and garden and in front of me a large, silver bowl awaited the delicious bounty. I snapped and thought, discarding the bad and saving the good. Even the sound of the snap and the rhythm of my movements caused the corners of my mouth to stretch wide.

I loved it.

I know - how much can you get out of snapping some green beans? Well, a lot. There's something about using your hands... something about making good use of what you've got that just sends shouts of exhilaration through my fingertips.

The connection to my work today didn't escape me. I am currently writing about the Global Conference coming up in May that will be in the Dominican Republic. Our theme is Envisioning our Future: A World Transformed and we are using imagery and Scripture of the potter/clay.

How beautiful that God, too, delighted in the work of His hands! He so carefully and masterfully molds, shapes, and forms His creation for divine purposes. There are so many references to our being clay in God's hands, completely at the mercy of what He would create. In Romans 9:21, we read that God shapes us all for purposes, but who are we to say for what?

I could reflect on the beauty of these thoughts far longer than I have right now. I hope this brings someone a smile, though, just in contemplating how our working hands bring the Lord glory.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

pictures from the birthday:)

These are a LOT of pictures, I know. But, after all those words I knew I'd lose the small following I had if there wasn't something to break up the space and add some color:)

I'm showing off the gifts that came in loving packages from Iowa.. no mistake those are sugar free candies of my favorite variety and a FOOT MASSSAGER for those long, hard days:)

This is the before/after picture of a wonderfully simple birthday cheesecake I enjoyed in the company of Chicago Semester friends!

Chelsea and Ann think it's fun to get stuck in those revolving doors... :)

Meg was as wonderful as ever - surprising me on my b-day with her sweetness!

The night of my birthday I hooked up with Jenna and Lis and we cooked fajitas like it was our job! We do make pretty sweet-lookin' cooks ... but can you believe they tasted DELICIOUS, too!
Lis is working the frying pan like an Iron Chef master!

Okay, Jenna's deck is the cutest little 1 by 2 thing I've ever seen, complete with a pondering stool that should belong to a small child!

Jenna made this cake! We celebrated with chocolate and amazing conversation - definitely a night to be remembered!

Yep, that's right, I'm the ghost in the middle... How did winter sneak up so fast? And how did those girls keep their summer colors? No matter - I love 'em!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

they miss you

I like to consider myself a critical consumer. This could be credited to my mom (still won't allow the internet in the house - gotta love her!), my upbringing, or my own inquisitive nature. Regardless, I struggle against the culture encouraging our mindless consumption of new trends in TV, clothes, music, and food.

Don't misunderstand - I give in all too easily, but I try to at least be aware. I've been wondering about an ad I've seen lately. Even without TV, internet, or magazines in my apartment I can't escape the onslaught I see on my way to and from work everyday. I've seen this particular ad numerous times, always wondering at its purpose. The ads are real odd, involving myth-like characters or obscure situations or settings and accompanied by the words, "They miss you."

I didn't know if I was simply not the target audience or if the unfortunate public relations firm completely missed the mark. I finally realized this past week the point: dreams.

I was looking at an elfin man sitting in too-small a chair inside a cozy, dimly lit grandmotheresque attic. Beside him sat YODA and they were both looking at the empty seat (mine, of course) over the chess game that was spread out on the small table. Odd, for sure, but I realized that Rozerem (pharmaceutical of some sort) is advertising to the sleep deprived.

Then I saw a man wearing purple jeans on the subway and thought, "I wonder who targets his audience?"

Media is really very fickle.

I was talking to my new friend who runs the book table at church, Bob, last Sunday. He was telling me about this spiritual housecleaning book he'd read. The idea was that, without intending to, we physically bring in objects to our homes that Satan uses to distract us from our purpose. This really struck me. I'm sure I just stared for a good 10 seconds because I was thinking about it.

I thought about what I had chosen to bring into my apartment in the near 2 months I've been here. Everything from pictures to books to decorations to food - all conscious decisions to be a part of our lives. It's easier to analyze the apartment because I haven't had as much time to accumulate, but a short survey revealed exactly what my friend Bob was getting at.

My roommate works with other girls our age and someone had given her a copy of Chicago Social, a modern fashion magazine. She brought it back and shrugged it off. Neither of us were particularly interested in it or its content, but it seemed like one of those things that girls just have in apartments. I had actually picked up a free H&M magazine when I was in the store awhile back for the same reason. It was free and I thought it could add something to our extremely modest decor. But, I realized that I had spent time flipping through each of those magazines.

I know it seems petty and possibly over-analyzing (like always), but I really asked "what good came from that time?" My mom always says if it is not of God it's of Satan. There isn't an in between, tepid compromise on things we say are "really not that bad." Well, if they're really not that bad, are they really that good?

I feel so, so blessed to be without TV. Sure, I sorta glaze over when conversations turn to the latest Bachelor episode or the near-death of the hero on 24.

But, I experience so much more of reality by being in it - living it.
Like this morning. I have class on Wednesdays, so I don't have to wake up quite as early, but my body's on a schedule so it does anyway. You probably know how that goes... Once you get in a groove you'd better just give in to it, because if you don't you run the risk of confusing the system. So, I woke up early and decided to get out walking.

I knew before I left that I would be tempted to buy a coffee or tea (still doing pretty well on the whole becoming independent of coffee), so I brought 5 singles that I picked up from coat tips last night. I started walking and before I'd gone far I met Sisco. He looked downcast and I actually met him as he was searching trash cans. He asked for something to eat in a way that didn't expect any sort of response. I stopped and asked if I could buy him breakfast. He was very grateful and we started walking toward a food store. We ended up walking in an enormous circle, completely opposite the orginal direction I was heading.

In that long walk, I found out that Sisco, after getting out of prison, tried to get his life back in order. He tried to get a job, but that extremely difficult with a record and without the proper papers. Then, he filled out all the paperwork to take classes. Being homeless has left him pretty jaded, but as I shared with him my heart he shared a depressing perspective on my 'fellow believers.'

He showed understanding of Scripture and professed belief, but he couldn't understand why he would show up to churches and hear "sorry, some other time. .. we'll pray for you... the pastor's out... no room here..."

This is the body? This is the Church I call home and family? I was ashamed. I offered to buy him breakfast at several places, but he insisted on going to a very cheap food mart so that he could get more food. I told him I had $5 and he spent $3.04. I also told him about Park (my church) and he was really interested, asking about a bible study. So hopefully he will follow through and I will see him this Sunday.

So, I had $1.96 left, right? Well, I continued on praising God for His sovereignty and hurting for the image the Church left on Sisco. Then I came upon another man. He just wanted coffee and wasn't as interested in conversation. But, I understand the need for coffee :) so we stopped at Corner Bakery for a cup that pretty near finished off my 5 bones. I left him with a "have a good day" and continued on.

Wow. This is the honest playing out of the Proverb, " Many are the plans of a man's heart, but the Lord's purpose prevails." How true and how blessed. Sometimes we are called to conversations and other times we are just called to love through things like coffee.

Okay, this is entirely too long and I'm going to be late for my next class.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Humble juice and Pears

Well, just when I think I get the hang of it - just when I start to know which sport, team, and hoop I'm aiming for - and just when I figure out how to lob the ball over the defenders twice my size... that's when that little, forgotten thing called humility reminds me that I've forgotten my sneakers.

Dramatics aside, I took a hit today. The funny thing about humility is that its best embraced. I could deny or defend, but I'll always end up at the same place.

In the Old Testament study last night, we were taking apart the Mosaic covenant. One of the things the leader said was, "Now, on what basis did God have to ask the people to obey and come into this agreement?" His point was (and Exodus shows) that God repeatedly reminds them of His delivering them from Egypt. He miraculously saved them from their hardened oppressors. My BS leader did say that God could demand this agreement solely on the basis of Who He is. I stopped there and marveled.

Even as early as Exodus, we see what Jesus' character revealed on earth: humility. God was under no obligation to explain His sovereign plan. Yet, He humbled Himself to make an agreement - a covenant, which is something that humans understand and far below what God is capable of doing. He saw fit to include man in this redemptive narrative, even to help them understand it. This amazes me.

It seems like we always put our Triune God in a dichotomy, but Scripture refuses this simple categorization. The same Jesus we see, humbled and suffering for us, was ever present when God made covenants through Abraham and Moses. In Philippians, Paul writes that Jesus, being in very nature God... was the very nature of a servant.

Because God (Jesus) could never cease being God, we can see that being a humble servant is a very essential part of His nature. Wow.

My being humbled, then (however uncomfortable), is always a window to see a bit more of God's character. Even knowing that, I've got to have something to wash it down. So, I am thankful for my CEO who decided that we always need to have fresh fruit in the office. Right now I have two pears sitting on my desk, waiting to ripen for a wonderfully fresh reminder that good things grow, produce, and are delicious.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

two wonderful days

I really shouldn't limit wonderful days to two, but space and time can only contain so many thoughts.

Yesterday was amazing. The day was pretty normal as far as days go, except that I decided to do without coffee - don't ask me why. My sister was like, "Of all days to give up your caffeine routine you chose your birthday?" I don't really know why, I just went for the tea bag instead of the coffee pot when I got to work and I never switched over. Needless to say, my energy level was quite a bit lower than normal:) ... But I accomplished a lot at work and had a chance to get to know another intern (who took me out to LUNCH at a great Thai place!)

As I was waiting for the bus, I fleshed out an analogy I'd been thinking on for awhile about our lives and how we plan. I've had the darndest time figuring out how to plan around public transportation. The thing is: I'm going to get there, wherever it is. I leave at the same time every morning and I go to the Red Line el(subway). It usually comes at the same time, but I never know. Then I rendezvous to the Blue Line, where I may have to wait 5 or 15 minutes, then I finally get to the transit center where I hope to catch the 7:40 bus. Even if I don't make all my connections (like the day we had to evacuate the el and take shuttles because a car had landed on the tracks) I still get there. Is it just me or is that divinely applicable?

I have always liked to know... micromanaging seems like the best way to make sure I get things done and the way they should be. But, I canNOT control the public transportation system - I'm merely one person in its wider maze. I can plan to catch the 3:47 bus, but leave at 4:15. My plans don't carry any weight... and I've come to see the beauty in that. It's not about me, it's not up to me, and it doesn't depend on me. Isn't this like my life?

(on to more blessed stories)
I met one of my bus friends both in the morning and afternoon and he was so kind and genuine. He sang me the "shorty it's your birthday song," which brought a smile. He also said something that will stick for a long time. It was after I had told him what book I was reading (Desiring God by John Piper) and where I went to church that he said, "Well, I knew you had faith the first time I saw you. Riding the bus... you just get observant about people and you got this thing about you." Wow. Glory to God for His light - He is recognized by His creation!

I also was delightfully surprised by a couple of friends who left gifts on my bed before they left for the weekend. People are so thoughtful and it makes life beautiful!

So... then I met my friends Jenna and Lis at Jenna's apartment downtown. How beautiful and blessed I am to know these girls. I seriously can not explain God's power in bringing us together and allowing us to be so close in such a short time. We made fajitas (which turned out amazing, I might add) and had the most memorable celebration! We had a chance to bond and share about our lives, struggles, and dreams. They both have such special gifts... they are people the Lord will use! I could go on and on about them, but I have to hurry or I'll lose steam!

Okay, so then today I got to spend with a family from my hometown. It felt so great to be around people who know me and my roots!! This refreshing day came just at the right time - I had so much fun talking, laughing, and fellowshipping. We did a lot of things I still hadn't done since I came - Navy Pier, Sears Tower, Hershey's store, lunch at Buca di Beppo's, pictures at the bean. We sure walked a lot, but any of my friends would tell you that's how I like it! :)

I'm reading in Acts right now for college group about the first church and I am feeling the blessed community even now. Breaking bread, sharing, and living with grateful hearts was huge today - I had to much to give praise for! It was so neat to talk to each of them and hear/give updates. People are beautiful! I hate to think that I'm using that word too often, but God's beauty is evident in His children!
The long story (short version) is: we started at 10 and went til 7. We really saw Chicago and I was blessed til my calves ached and toes hurt and I loved every single moment.

one last thing I have to add: I felt love from home like a giant wave!! On Thursday I got packages from my parents and grandparents - so happy! And my mom somehow found exactly the right hostess outfit - cute, funky, and classy all rolled into one! But - no there was more - a FOOT MASSAGER! I know - I'm about to go hook it up right now! And my grandparents are just as thoughtful - sugar free candies (my favorite - in moderation... that's a whole other story!), wonderful coffee drink mixes, and some super khakis. I feel so blessed! Along with calls from loved ones, I don't know how my days could have been sweeter.

getting ahead of myself

Okay, I know I will have to go back and re-tell, but I can't pass this story up. After a long day walking the Windy City with the Groves family (more later), I switched out my black flats for tennies and headed for some laptop/chai time.

In our wanderings today, I explained my perspective on homeless people, which is: I stop when I know I can really invest by asking "What is it that you really need right now?" and then I try to ignore what is convenient for me and focus on what is most beneficial for them. It's funny how God calls us to act so quickly. On my way here, I came upon a homeless man and immediately felt the Lord saying: Child, I want to see your words and faith in action: feed Me. I asked him what he needed and he "just wanted something to eat, ma'am." He didn't seem picky, so I looked around for the closest fast food joint when I spotted another man who asked me directions to Johnny Rockets.

I pointed North and then said I was just about to go there myself. So, I found out this second man's name was Andre and he was in town from the Bay area for a grant-writing conference. The more we talked the more we had in common - we shared a passion for coming alongside the 'least of these.' I was so full of joy to have met him! He works mainly with people coming out of the prison system and trying to reacclimate into society. He finally came around and said he was a pastor at a church out there - 80% of his congregation are from the prison system. WOW. what a bold, hard road! We waited for our food and kept sharing the heart the Lord has given us to serve the downtrodden... how encouraging that he would be in town, at that intersection, at that time when I met the other man. Who can say the Lord is not sovereign?

We walked back and I was so full. I gave the food to the other man - double cheeseburger and warm applie pie. I guessed that would be something different and filling - something my brother James would order. Andre and I talked about how church is the time to be renewed to go back out and live during the week. YES... I resonated! I see myself returning to the Spring only to have it overflow the whole week. I felt overflowing today! How blessed we are. I will pray for Andre and his church - Born Again Christian Church (I believe).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lonny and Cheesecake and snow

the windy city has turned white today. I looked out my boss' window and it took me awhile to realize that the fat, white puffs I was seeing were actually winter's first appearance. I am certainly not ready - this is surely a false alarm!

Last night we endured the wind and made it to the famous Cheesecake Factory for dessert to celebrate (early) my birthday with friends. We all (12) squeezed into a booth for 7 and had a quite a time choosing from the overwhelming and delicious menu. I ended up going plain jane - original with strawberries. My plate came complete with Happy Birthday lettering and a candle - how special! It rivals my own family tradition of the special plate (it's really just a maroon plate, but only the birthday child got to use it, so it had much significance!), but doesn't quite make the cut. My birthday plate always had lima beans, which is an ingredient I am quick to suggest for an innovative new cheesecake recipe. My friends are great - I love each and every one. Even though I see them less and less, I love who they are and their joy for life and fun.

Now to my story about Lonny... I know this is going to sound sketchy regardless of how I write it, so I must preface it by saying that I do sincerely believe the Lord directed our conversations, meetings, and I felt truly blessed to have met him.

On Saturday, as part of my weekend ritual, I woke up extra early and set out for my day. I had already been in and out of the apartment several times, but as I headed off to find a place to read, I ran into this man on the corner who was asking for 30 cents (I later found out that he had calculated that if he asked 15 people for 30 cents he could get a bus pass).

Well, it’s getting a lot easier for me to stop and talk and I had time. So, I found out his name was Lonny, and he was trying to get up North to see his daughter. After we had talked for awhile I had determined he wasn’t drunk and I didn’t think he was trying to play me… so we kept talking. I told him I’d buy him a bus pass and we started walking there and he mentioned he was hungry. Dunkin’ Donuts was conveniently across the street and I said “order anything you want.” See, I had learned from another homeless friend Vera about this. Why shouldn’t they have the same privilege of a full menu that I do? Why should they have to eat my scraps and be thankful? (Another soap box another time)

Anyway, in this whole process we starting talking about the Lord and I gave him a tract with John 14:6. He’d just gotten out of the drink (jail), but he appeared to be very familiar with God’s promises. We talked some more and I sent him on his way, saying we’d meet again if God intended and I would pray for him. Well, we did meet again that same day. Things didn’t turn out so well at his ex-girlfriends and he needed some more bus money to see his brother to get some clothes.

We had a long conversation and we were able to speak specifically about Christ being my Savior and Treasure. I could tell his heart was soft for the message – others had gone before me planting and watering and I was watering again. I bought him another bus pass and sent him to his brother’s, but not before I told him about a Christian men’s shelter where he should go. We decided that I’d meet him there last Tuesday after work.

I did pray for him and still do, but I didn’t see him on Tuesday. I told him he’d know where to find me – we met on the same street corner both times. I feel so blessed to have met him and do pray that he is finding his way – The Way. This was a precious thing and one of the best last weekend.

I have been reading John Piper and, without getting out of control, I am starting to understand why talking to people gives so much energy – it’s our food. When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well and the disciples came back he wasn’t hungry because He had been eating the food of the Father – speaking and sharing about His glory. That may not make sense because it’s so abbreviated, but it’s making sense to me.

Okay, I will write more later – because today is my b-day, but I wanted to finish up these thoughts before I move on.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

20 things I like to 'do'

We had to write these for class and I thought it was interesting:) These are in no particular order... I just wrote as they came to mind.
  1. smile
  2. talk to strangers
  3. finish things
  4. paint/art/colors
  5. run
  6. kayak (and anything water or beach-related)
  7. sing and dance
  8. give presentations
  9. organize things
  10. tell stories/write stories
  11. READ deep ideas/thoughts/philosophies and the Bible
  12. coffee and a book
  13. deep discussions with all kinds of people, especially about the Lord
  14. travel
  15. talk about my faith
  16. be outdoors in sunshine, rain, and snow (in that order)
  17. listening to music
  18. love on friends and family
  19. be. In the presence of my Creator
  20. learning – about creation and how it brings God glory

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Farmer's-Market-fresh mutsu apple

Yesterday, I woke up bright an early and perused the bustling Farmer's Market on the edge of my block. I love to walk through and smell the herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits that have that special farm flair. I bought raspberries, apples, and some Nicaraguan coffee from Coalition for Homeless Women.

Before I savored the first Mutsu apple, I studied its smell and feel. There is something so distinct about an apple that comes directly from the tree. It reminded me of walking behind my house, about the time school usually started, and looking for the first ripe apples. They still carry the smell of outdoors - maybe the recipe is green, open air wind, fresh rain, and country sun. Whatever it is, it's quite a bit different than buying a Granny Smith from my neighborhood Jewel.

Anyway, as I was eating the apple I realized something missing in my fall. I wanted to be sitting in a crowded football stadium on Friday night, with blankets covering the bleachers and school spirit colors overwhelmingly represented in sweatshirts and caps. I wanted to watch the kickoff as the sun blazed across the field and warmed my face. I wanted to feel the slight chill in the breeze as I pulled my fleece a little closer to my chin. I wanted to cheer on #10 or coach, pacing on the sideline.

I can safely say I'm not obsessed with football as a sport, but I do sincerely miss being around the atmosphere it creates. I have grown up cheering for family and family teams and it's a tradition that is more than the hot chocolate and popcorn I would eat with my grandparents. My brother Sam would love to launch into the deep reasons football is so important - he's found such a neat way to love, teach, and learn through the whole process.

Anyway, that was random, but a thought (to me) that was worthy of writing.

I'll hopefully write more soon -- because SO much has happened here. The Lord is good! I guess I find it easier to write these sorts of stories than to actually unpack just what it is the Lord is doing and how intricately He's caring about my life.

grace and peace.

Friday, October 06, 2006

humiliation: lessons learned

Well, for starters let’s just say that this happened to be the theme of my Thursday. Not in a ‘clear the area here comes a breakdown’ kind of way, but more in a ‘I’m new here and still don’t know very much about work, city, and cigars’ kind of way.

Details aren’t important, but I just learned about the refining process of having many eyes and perspectives examine one’s work before it gets to the place its going.

For the enjoyment of whoever reads this, I will expand on my experience with cigars:).

So it’s only my second night on my own as hostess. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in the powerful pilot seat at Sullivan’s, where my strong influence spans about 10 feet on all sides. I love chatting with customers and playing the part of the refined, well-to-do. It’s really kind of like make-believe when I was a kid. I put on dress-up clothes, polish my manners, stand up straight, and flash a most genuine smile.

Well, last night I was on the closing shift, so my co-pilot left me flying solo at about 8:30. No problem, I’m a clever girl, right? Well, it just so happens that my little station became the social hub (mostly due to the fact that I hold the keys to the cigar cabinet) and all of a sudden many different people were making many different demands.

Cool and collected, I did my best, which I thought turned out pretty well – smoothing over awkward situations that revealed my ignorance by joking or humoring our guests. This worked – until I found out from the girls upstairs that I had sold cigars to some gentlemen who also asked me to cut them… and I cut the wrong end. Yes, that’s right. There are two ends to a cigar, and it’s pretty obvious which end one would smoke out of, but apparently with my focus on smoothing-over my lack of cigarspeak, I completely cut off the wrong end. So, when they went to smoke they were dreadfully confused.
The funny part was that within minutes everyone in the restaurant knew. I am not really one to hide my blunders, so I would start to share and then they’d say, “Oh, you’re the one?”

Hmm. Oh well, I’m back at it again tonight, but hopefully I will get off early. I have a much delayed date with my Bible, Acts, journal, and that beautiful thing called slumber.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Can this be my life?

Okay, so the past few days have been interesting, to be sure. It’s not that I’ve lost my faith in people, but you can be sure that my welcoming Chicago smile is accompanied by a wary eye. I have to preface this by saying I have never felt unsafe or in danger here – Chicago is a great, safe city. But there are things about cities that are just quite a bit different than the wide open spaces of my childhood.

One of my biggest passions (and don’t be confused – it does get me into trouble sometimes, but it is not a major downfall) is people. I love people – their stories, history, and dreams. I like to come alongside a person and understand how they would feel loved, whether that’s remembering a name or making a point to cross paths routinely. It’s not a big surprise that people like to be appreciated, recognized, and valued. I love to see the light in their eyes when they are.

Well, this passion has brought me into some unique encounters… I just wish they were with women and not older men. When I say older I mean the magazine man at the end of the street who is probably 75… and the man I met under an awning in the rain who was probably in his late sixties. He was a nice sort – business man who was living large on Lakeshore Drive.
I am always very upfront with who (and whose) I am. This guy was a native Chicagoan, so we chatted about the city and I talked about how grateful I was that I had found a faith community. It’s absurd to me that these gentlemen wouldn’t pick up these OBVIOUS clues I lay down. But, Lakeshore man was asking for my number and a pizza/beer get together by the end of 3 minute conversation. WHAT? I just don’t get it. I mean he was nice, but without exchanging numbers I told him we’re sure to run into each other, being from the same neighborhood. The funny thing is – for all of you who say “Of course they talk to you – you’re a sweet, Midwestern blonde with a happy face on!” Well, to you I say that on this particular meeting I was wearing a blue poncho that covered every bit except my face, with my backpack protruding like a hunchback behind me.

I love a delightful conversation… I truly do. I would rather eat soap than pass up someone who wants to tell me about their life. It’s one of those thing that give me energy – after listening and making connections, I feel like my day has purpose. The next time I see George, Chris, or the nameless Italian lady on the bus on the way to work we’ll smile. We recognize each other and I’m instantly encouraged in those little connections. I’ve said this before about Poland, but I sincerely am starting to see Christ’s creative work in the lives of these strangers. In church this past Sunday I learned about the long conversation that the Lord has with His creation. I have no idea what the Lord is doing, how He is pulling or prodding, and how He may be softening a heart. Yet, regardless of where they are, God calls me to the same service: love. Conversation is a way to show and spread love, because people understand the interest and investment it is to let a stranger in.

Now, the slightly scary addition to this story is what happened this morning. I was getting on the subway a little later than usual, because I was going to a program trip instead of work. Everything was normal going through the turnstile and down the stairs. I scanned the crowd gathered to wait for trains and scoped out a spot and waited only a few moments for the train. As I stepped on, I felt pressure behind me (not uncommon when crowding on to the el), but I thought I felt someone inside my purse. I turned around just in time to see the edge of my wallet going under this large man’s coat. Ah! I can’t tell you what went through my mind but all that came out was, “Uh, excuse me?” in a really weak whisper. I’m not even sure that he heard me, but just as the subway doors were about to close, he gave it back. Yeah! First of all, with all my faith in people, I never expected this movie-scene to play out on this Monday morning. Second, I was so disoriented that my reaction wasn’t in the slightest how one would act when your identity is about to be stolen. Third, he gave it back. This is the part that is so confusing to me… he could have easily left and I would’ve done nothing more than stand stunned as the subway pulled away from my little life in the white wallet.

God had already softened that man’s heart before he even took my wallet. That’s the only thing I can figure – God had control over the situation and his unlikely response. Well, I have to process a lot more from everything I'm learning about the Old Testament, relationships, and life. I'll have to pick up on that later.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

last pics for awhile

Some pics from lovely chicago times

Sorry they are so small - they upload a zillion times faster this way.

working at the opportunity intern desk

yep... this is where it all happens. Okay, so the intern desk isn't the hub of action around the office, but it's where I get things done. You can be sure there is always a piece of fruit and a cup o' joe to decorate the desk, but other than that it's pretty sparse. I think I'm afraid if I get too comfortable I'll be very disoriented when I realize that it's not really "my" desk, but actually the "intern" desk and it'll see many more faces. Oh well, I love what I do.

pictures of my dear, dear friend Ania.

Here are just a few of the images that remind me of a friendship that struck so deep and true in such a very short time. I miss her tremendously and wish that it wasn't so hard to communicate across languages and things like oceans.

As you can see, we bonded... God's love is so strong that it can break anything we know - He can transcend what I accept as real and bless beyond imagination.
The rings are especially important, because Ania gave me this ring and bought one for herself to match. The instructions were to never take it off and it has been such a joy to look down and remember her sweet, smiling face! She is in my prayers and always in my heart... her dreams are higher than the sky and being with her made me want to soar.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

funny stories

OK, I thought I should devote at least one entry to some of the funnier things that have happened since my move to the Windy City. To be sure, there are more than I can write, but just to show the not-so-glamorous or professional (and sadly typical) Caroline moments, I thought a few were appropriate.

necklace strangle
Well, anyone who moves to an urban area will tell you that you are slightly more aware of fashion. Sure, I was always interested, but it's harder to branch out into what some may call "your own style" when you feel a bit stifled by trends. I was never a trend-setter or a trend-follower, but moving to the city I think I got excited about being a little more creative.
With that said, I've been utilizing accessories. For 1, they can be worn a lot and with many different outfits, which makes the cost-per-wear so wonderfully low! And for 2, it's a good way to test out your creative boundaries without walking the fashion plank in the first weeks of arrival. One of said accessories is a necklace with all sorts of colors that I picked up at H&M last Spring Break. (this is the good part)
I wore it out with a stellar outfit one Sunday night to enjoy the sweet sounds of Jazz playing from Grant Park. At the request of my friends, I was made to show my one and only hardly qualifying "break dance move" (which is just a creative way to put my feet up in the air). I wrapped my necklace around one more time to keep it out of my face and all was well.... Until I got home and wanted to take it off. I could NOT untangle the necklace and after struggling for a good 20 minutes, relented and slept with the darn thing on. .. THEN, the next morning I still could not remove it and decided if it wasn't coming off it wasn't keeping me in, so I dressed for the day and came back late morning, when I pleaded with my roomie to help me. She couldn't get it... and I thought I would be stuck forever. Completely unsatisfied with my claustrophobia-inducing fate, I was determined to get it off. Now is when the light bulbs start flashing... I simply undid one of the connecting chains. Yep, that's all she took.

(Wow. that was way too dramatic, I'll have to tone it down!)
clothing malfunction
Continuing with the clothes theme, this story is quite a bit more embarassing, but I can venture to say it was part of God's plan. So, maybe some know of my duress in finding employment when I arrived here weeks ago. This was not due to my lack of persistence, though. One day after I realized that Starbucks just really didn't want me, I ventured out to pick up applications at Chipotle, Barnes and Noble, and Corner Bakery. I had showered and I was ready to impress from the start... who knew, maybe they would offer me the job on the spot. Anything is possible and I was in good spirits. So, I went to the first two places and thought their faces seemed a little blank, but so goes the life of the working, right? Nothing too odd, so I kept my spirits up and ventured to the last place, where I decided the job search needed a coffee. I asked for an application and ordered a plain, old coffee. I went over to sit down and felt a sudden urge to look down. Sure enough, my fly was wide open. You've got it folks, my zipper had never been at the top of my pants that day - of all days. But, that's not all - no that would be too simple and lacking the horror I felt when, as I left, my hand went to my right ear. I felt for my earring, which should have been there, but found nothing. Hmm... Darn earrings, I thought I'd lost one and looked like a fool at this place. No, actually I felt the other ear and found that I had put both earrings in the same hole!! The very same! Oh, this was quite a day. I laughed and hoped that those people laughed, too. Because that was sure funny. .. Oh and the God's will part came when I realized I wasn't SUPPOSED to have any of those jobs. I was supposed to meet a friend named Jenna who would encourage me to apply at Sullivan's where I got a JOB and love!

Because for some reason I decided to make these cute little novellas, I'll stick to just one more:)
coffee with women and bathroom blackout
So, in order to tell this one I've got to give some bonus background. First - to God be the glory for how He works, reveals, and blesses. What a mighty, mighty God!! So, last Sunday I decided that I wanted to start serving at church. I know it was only my 3rd time there, but I can't waste any time -I've only got 3 months! So, I went at about 8:30 and the service started at 9. My rationale was - I'll just look around and hope that someone will need some help. Well, when I got there I froze. Everyone was running around, but they all had purpose. I escaped to the bathroom to regroup and give a mini pep-talk. Fresh from my little girls' room prayer, I set out to find a place for my hands and heart. I quickly spotted a woman and man unloading some boxes at the book table. Books are always attractive to me, and these people looked like they could use some help. So, I walked up to the woman and said, "Hi. I'm new here - can I help you? I'm looking to serve in some way..." Her face lit up like I was about to give her a Chrstmas present. She went on to say oh how much that would be wonderful and they would love for me to help... Her name is Jenny and she is marvelous - reminds me of my grandma Phyllis. She figured out my story and started introducing me to everyone that walked by. .. in minutes I had about 20 new friends. I ended up sitting with some of her lady friends (they were all older women) and had a blessed, blessed time. After the service I sold my first book ... John Piper's Pleasures of God. THAT was a good feeling! Then the ladies asked me to join them for coffee at the little cafe down the street. Why NOT? I thought. So, I walked there to meet them - JoAnn, Kathy, and Ann (transit Annie they call her because she knows the system so well). I felt like I was back at club with my gram. So... now to the funny part. It was getting towards the end of my second cup of joe and I surely had to go to the bathroom. I found out where it was and had to wait a while for the right time. Then I had to wait for the person inside... so I finally get in and I have to go really bad. It's tight quarters, but at least I was in... and then there was total darkness. Absolutely pitch black - the lights had gone out! I could not see anything at all and I was stuck. There was no way I was opening the door into the crowded restaurant so I could see. I didn't know what to do, because the ladies were probably waiting now to leave and I was captive of this dark, small space! I don't know how, but I somehow managed to get out alive, but man that has NEVER happened to me before!

OKay, enough stories for now!

Monday, September 18, 2006


I have so many I don't know where to start, so I'll begin where part of my heart still is: Poland.

These pictures (left to right) are: the place where the camp was held, my friend Ula, my first castle, Piwnicna, and some of the team.

These next pictures are of my English students and then a lake at the base of a beautiful castle.

Apparently this is all my computer can handle right now...so I will add more as soon as I can

Hosting friends in Chicago

I can finally understand my sister's distress and joy in having visitors to the city! This past weekend, two friends came to stay and hang out in Chi-town. It was wonderful to just spend time with people outside this experience and share some of the few things I've come to enjoy about this city.

It was quite interesting, however, to do "host" things without a host budget. We found ways to get around it, though, which made things pretty crazy! I slept on the floor, we scrounged for cheap breakfast foods, did a LOT of walking and window shopping, and went to the restaurant on top of the John Hancock building (instead of going all the way up for $25) and paid the $6 minimum tab in order to enjoy the view and some dessert.

All in all it was a great weekend. Shyle and Lydia were wonderful guests - the easy going kind you wish everyone was - and we made many memories!

I'm back at work right now and about to head out for a conference with my practicum supervisor. My boss is out of the office this week, but I'm working on two different projects that consume all my time and energy... My healthy stock of organizational skills ran dry when I saw the mounds of information I was supposed to compile into an Orientation Package CD. I worked through lunch, so I think this break and reflection is warranted:).

(entirely unrelated... but my thoughts on home)
Sometimes I surprise myself with my ability to adapt to new locations. It seems like nothing phases me - distance, relationships, routine. But, this past weekend I realized how much I missed my friends.
The friends I really miss are the ones that understand silence and smelling the rain. They talk until 3 in the morning because it's more important than sleeping.
I miss being around someone who knows me and calls me out on my bluffs.

I've been thinking a lot about what I call "home." Of course, my beautiful farm in Iowa will always that place, in a way. But, getting closer to graduation, I am thinking about what home might look like after that. Honestly, my mind is completely open as to where God might send me. It seems like my idea of home is oddly fluid - not rooted by location. But one thing I really hope is that wherever my home ends up I will have those kinds of people who understand silence and rain and honesty.

I think God will honor that - He knows me and created me to desire those kinds of relationships. He is the master of orchestrating all those things that I sometimes doubt about life.

And I think that is amazing.

Friday, September 15, 2006

a little plug for Opportunity

As I am reading, I thought others might be interested. Here is a link to a website completely about microfinancing.


It has mounds of information and has been super helpful. Also make sure to check out Opportunity's website!


I promise pictures are forthcoming - still of Poland, Chicago, and me at my desk!


I got into the office a little early - wearing the comfortable Friday jeans - and my boss hasn't given me a direction for the day, so I thought I'd use a little time to jot some much needed reflection.

I wrote on Monday that the blessings of the weekend were a whole different story, so here it is:

My friend and I wanted to visit Moody church the first Sunday we were here, but we underestimated how far it was and how long it was taking to get there. So, when we spotted a church sign, we ducked into a building, up an elevator and into a room of around 12 people for a small service. It was a great experience and the people were wonderful, but we were still in search of Moody... I was talking to my boss about it and she suggested Park Community, which is an offshoot of Moody, but less traditional. She said she finally found her church home there and she really liked it..... So, I suggested it to my friend and we got a group together for the 11:30 service. The message was dynamite.

I could tell that at the heart of this church was God's heart for reaching people with the gospel. Last Sunday, Jackson (pastor) started a new series called "The Great Investment." Prejudiced as I am against topical sermons, I ate it up! He used scripture from Jeremiah 29:4-7 (I could say so much here but you'll have to read, digest, and think about it if you want)

They have been praying about how God wants this city to be His and what part they have in His work - and they've set a goal to reach 1%. I know, to my small-town mind, I was like "that's all?" But they aren't just fooling around - 1% of Chicago is around 29,000 people. And they don't just want to hand out tracts, they want to witness the transformation through salvation and discipleship (by partnering and beginning with many other churches). This is something I can get excited about! The church has committed 25% of its budget to the cause of local ministry and I saw evidence of that right away when they handed out envelopes at the end of the service. We opened them to find different amounts of money. Jackson told us that we have been blessed with gifts from the Father in so many ways, but that we have to decide how to best be stewards of those gifts. I opened up to find $10 and I've been stewing all week about how to use it best... and today I realized that if I'm not careful I could bury it like the man with the talents.

Wow. So, I walked out of there and immediately found out about small groups I could plug into. I'm not wasting time, here:). But, God's blessings continued. We were waiting for the bus and it started to sprinkle. I offered to share my umbrella with a girl who was waiting beside me. We started talking and she had just been to the service, too. We quickly became friends. I found out she's studying at Columbia, but is from Kansas and spent last summer doing missions in Mexico. After that experience, coming back to Chicago and a dry community was super hard... She'd only been back for about a week, but that Sunday morning she went up and asked for prayer for fellowship. That was MINUTES before meeting us at the bus stop! God is good! We made plans to meet up again for the 20somethings small group that night.

The night was amazing - fellowship with sweet people, great leadership, and challenging discussion. My new friend and I talked afterwards about how amazing everything was and I ended up telling her about my job search dead ends. .. She told me to apply at the restaurant she'd worked at, Sullivan's. Super nice and super upscale (same owner as Del Frisco's, for any of you family who have heard the Nichols' rave about the steaks in NY). Well, I applied the next day, had an interview yesterday and GOT HIRED. It is a huge blessing to have work AND I talked to her last night and she's going back too, so we'll be working together!

Wow. I guess that takes me to right now, but I left a lot of blanks. I'm a jumble right now, but I am going to start in on some research. This microfinancing industry is quite complex! I think my brain is going to have to grow in order to store all these words!

Blessings today and always - REMEMBER who you are and WHOM you represent.
Keep the main thing the main thing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

a case of the Mahndays?

Well, my first Monday went by without too much of a glitch, except that it seems so weird to just work all day. I mean, I honestly came to work, sat down, and only left for the bathroom and to grab my sack lunch. My legs started to cramp up and I had to do a round around the office just to stretch out a bit. I'll get used to it - I just have to change positions often.

On the upside of my hour commute - I finished a book this morning, "The Alchemist." It's pretty interesting, also pretty polytheistic, but I found some gleaming nuggets of goodness hidden in the pages. I've been thinking about this concept a lot and I guess it could go here:
In Philippians 3 Paul writes,

"7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

I recently listened to a Nooma from Rob Bell that considered our blessings - just what it is to truly contemplate the gifts we've received from God. Everything that we possess, attain, and experience is a gift - graciously given without cost. To relate back to what Paul was saying in Philippians, I think it is so essential to see that Paul didn't say everything was worthless and rubbish. He said that everything is loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Everything has its place in creation and reflects the beautiful, perfect image of God Himself. When these gifts become idols is when they are rubbish. I think some things that tend to be categorized as "secular" can be the same way, whether its philosophy or art. Like the book "The Alchemist." Taken at face value, it may seem like an artistic way to convince vulnerable minds of a religious agenda.

Yet, I did find some insight that forced me to think about who God is and how I might better reflect His glory. I do understand how difficult it becomes to discern between truth and untruth, but if we keep Paul's view in mind, we will always be content in every situation, yet straining to see wait awaits in heavenly splendor.

I have again began to tackle Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. It was almost a shock to read such bluntness after floating over the pages of the Alchemist, which seemed to move in a vague, aesthetic deepness. I finished up the chapters on pacifism and started on transposition - his argument about glossolalia (speaking in tongues). I will write more later about his comparison between emotion and sensation...

My head hurts from thinking, traveling, and typing. I turned in two more applications for jobs today. My hope is in the Lord!