Urbana 15: Telling My Story

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend InterVarsity’s trip annual Urbana Conference.  For five days, St. Louis, Missouri, was invaded by 16,000 college students and adults seeking to learn about world missions.  This year’s conference was themed around one very important question: What story will you tell?

IMG_6976
Taken right before one of the large group sessions.

As a writer and avid reader, stories fuel my everyday life.  I breathe them in, soaking in the perspectives of others.  I breathe them out, letting my own experiences take shape through words.  Throughout the week, we heard countless stories from around the world.  We heard from indigenous people in the Pacific Island, refugees in Jordan, college students in Mexico.  We heard from the persecuted church in the Middle East–the stories of men and women imprisoned for their faith.  We heard the stories of our black American brothers and sisters, whose voices have been long silenced by racism and inequality.

We didn’t just hear their stories.  We entered into them.  Multicultural worship is a challenging, humbling experience.  It was uncomfortable at times.  We fumbled our way through Arabic, Korean, Hawaiian, and Swahili, to name a few of the languages.  My mouth stumbled over the strange words and sounds.  Even though it was different and awkward at points, entering into the songs of brothers and sisters from around the world gave me a larger picture of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom is for everyone, for every tribe, tongue, and nation.  I got to experience what that looks like at Urbana.

As a writer attending a conference centered around stories, I can’t merely describe what went on.  I need to take up the pen and join in, adding my words.

I suppose my Urbana story starts with answering a question: Why missions?

My whole life, I’ve felt very drawn to Europe.  Growing up, I remember reading about far-away places and having this sense of urgency.  I couldn’t explain it, but I needed to go there.  I needed to see these places with my own eyes.  I needed to walk the streets and see the faces of the people who lived there.  In 2013, I spent a semester studying abroad in London, England.  During my three and a half months there, I traveled a great deal.  Finally, I could see and experience the places I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.  Along the way, I learned a great deal.  I learned that the world is a dark, empty place, and that even though Europe is largely comprised of first-world nations, there are people who desperately need the light and love of Jesus.

Upon returning to school in the United States, it was a matter of months before I felt the need rise up in me again.  I had been thinking and praying about going into ministry for a while, but my thoughts and prayers began to turn overseas.  “What if,” I asked myself, “feeling drawn to Europe isn’t just me wanting to travel?  What if God wired me with this desire, growing it with time, into a calling?”

Eager to dedicate my life to God, I embraced the calling.  He wants me to go to Europe?  I’m all in.  But so much remained uncertain.  Where would I go?  What would I do there?  Who would I serve?  How would I find the money?  What does the missions field even look like?

Attending the largest student missions conference in the world seemed like the logical place to answer these questions.  Last week, I arrived in St. Louis, willing to go, wanting to serve, ready for God to point the way.  What I didn’t realize was that, although I was intellectually ready to take the plunge, my heart had a long way to go.

Let me pause here for a moment.  You should know that, although I feel very deeply, I’m not what one would call an emotional person.  I rarely cry.  I’m not very touchy-feely.  Emotional things don’t seem to impact me like they do others.  It’s as if my heart is sealed behind a series of walls and gates.  Within these walls, I feel very deeply and these feelings guide the majority of the large decisions I make.  But my heart and mind don’t often connect.  It takes time for the right keys to get into the right doors.

When one enters into service for the Kingdom of God, it is important for their heart and mind to align.

Going into Urbana, mine did not.  My brain was ready.  But, frankly, my heart didn’t actually care about the people I was supposed to be going out into the world to serve.  Of course,I didn’t realize any of this until after the fact.  More on that later.

The first half of the conference was extremely affirming.  To share a bit of my testimony, I grew up in a highly politicized church where one was treated differently if they held a different perspective.  My experience with the American Evangelical church is that it places certain values over others.  College was a wonderful time of exploring other worldview and perspectives.  However, I’ve been living at home for the past nine months.  Being back in this highly Republican community has me wondering if my family is crazy for caring about things like racial equality, LGBTQ rights, showing kindness to refugees, affirming women as leaders in the church, etc.  Through speakers and seminars at Urbana, God affirmed that we are not crazy and that we are not the only ones thinking about these issues.  He cares about them too.

As awesome as this affirmation was, I felt like something was missing.  “I’m at the largest student missions conference in the world”, I thought.  “Surely God brought me here to do more than affirm my perspective.”

I was right.

On Tuesday night, the large group session was dedicated to the persecuted church.  Individuals, often unnamed and unseen, told their stories of being imprisoned and tortured for their faith.  They talked about God empowering them to love their captors even in the darkest hours of their lives.  We then were given time and space to pray for the church.  Banners with different countries were raised and we could gather beneath them, praying for each nation.

It was a powerful night–16,000 people lifting their voices in prayer.  As I knelt on the hard concrete praying for Kenya, I felt God’s Spirit rising in me.  As I prayed, my words intangible even to me, I felt the keys to my heart unlock–The layers pulled back.  Finally, the deep desires of my heart were accessible and in the open.

“Lord, I want to go,” I prayed.  “I want to go.  I want to go.  I want to go.”  It was a prayer of frustration.  I came to Urbana hoping to find direction from God that would empower me to take the next step.  Where was my direction?  Where were my answers?  As the dust from my prayer settled, I felt God’s voice: Not yet, Amelia.  Wait.

I was confused.  “What do you mean I have to wait?” I asked God.  “I’m ready!”   But, up until that point, I was ready with my mind.  But my heart was sorely lacking.  That night, God opened the floodgates to my heart and prepared me to not only hear His voice in my mind, but in my spirit.

If I had to describe Wednesday in one word, I would say it was humbling.  With my newly opened heart, I came repeatedly before the Lord and listened to the words He had for me… These words were not comforting.

That morning, our passage in Bible study was the end of Matthew 25, where Jesus divides the sheep from the goats and says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me”.  As a large group, we studied the intricacies and implications of the passage deeply.  I emerged with the sense that, despite my readiness to go abroad, I hadn’t given much thought to the people I’d actually be serving.  I realized that when it came to serving others, I didn’t know how.

One of Wednesday’s speakers was David Platt, pastor and author of the books Radical and Follow Me.  His books were the catalysts of my decision to go into ministry.  I read them during a very spiritually challenging season and they pushed my desire to serve God with my life.  It was incredible hearing Platt speak.  The power, authority, and incredible love of God is so present in his voice and words.  He talked about the woman in Matthew 26 who pours a very expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ head as an act of love and submission.

Platt’s words cut me like knives.  One statement hit my spirit like a ton of bricks: 1425524_1044940998901836_7089898850993416208_n

I see myself in that statement.  Here I was, trying to figure out how to get going when my heart and spirit had completely forgotten why I’m called to go in the first place.  In my ambitions to go abroad, I lost my heart for Christ.  Platt went on to say, “Missions is not meant to be your life.  Christ is your life.  Jesus is worth losing everything for.”

These words are so simple and straightforward, but my heart forgot.  I forgot what it feels like, what it means to love Jesus unconditionally.  My spirit churned and I felt God’s voice rising again, with words that were not comfortable:  Amelia, how can you go into the world and represent My Kingdom if you love yourself more than you love Me?  You want to serve me, but don’t know how.  The answer is simple: love My children.  Care for them.  Give yourself for them.  What you do for them, you do for Me.  Go, Amelia.  Feed My sheep.”

I left large group that day feeling burdened with God’s Spirit, wondering what living out this command looks like in a practical manner.  What does it look like?  How am I to care for others?  What skills and abilities do I have to contribute?  Where do I fit in the grand scheme of things?  How can I serve others with the gifts I have?  As I meditated on my questions, God slowly revealed answers.  I attended more seminars and large group sessions and began to receive smile answers.  I could go into what those answers were, but that would end in lots of tangents.  So I’ll start wrapping this up…

I went into Urbana feeling confident and ready.  I left feeling the opposite–small, weak, and inadequate.  There is so much to process.  There’s so much I don’t know.  Amid a big, dark world… I’m so small.  So unsure.  I’m leaving for England in less than a week and I don’t feel ready.  I’m stepping into the vast unknown with a one-way ticket and have no idea what is in store.

The most terrifying thing is that I honestly don’t know if I’m ever coming back.  At least, not permanently.

But maybe that’s the point.  God isn’t looking for people who are ready.  He’s not interested in how prepared I feel.  He cares about my heart.  He wants me in a position of weakness and humility, for it is then that I need Him most.  At Urbana, He showed me that my prayers need to shift from “Where will I go?” to “Show me how to love others the way You love me”.

I don’t need to have all the answers.  What I need is a heart for Christ.  Like the woman in Matthew with her alabaster jar, I need to place myself under God’s authority.  I need to relinquish control and let my story align with the beautiful story God is writing all across the globe, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that He will provide the next step.

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading.  Yes, this is the story of how my life was impacted by attending Urbana.  Additionally, it’s also the beginning of a new story–a story I don’t know the end to–a story in which I don’t hold the pen.  There is still so far to go in the journey of cultivating a heart for others.  But this is a start.

IMG_7063
Gateway Arch at sunrise.  Taken Friday, just before we headed for home.

Halloween in Scotland: A scary story from my time abroad

I kind of dropped the ball on Halloween this year.  After briefly considering slapping together a “Hipster Belle” outfit, I abandoned the idea after an unsuccessful thrift store run.  Then school took over my life, and holidays were out of the picture completely.  It’s been a blast, though, seeing my fellow students wandering out campus in various costumes.  I’ve passed Loki, demonic bunnies, Anna from Frozen, pirates, Homestuck characters, Mario and Luigi, Link, Catwoman, and many others.  I did a double take as I passed one of my former professors dressed in a gorilla suit.

In light of my lack of plans, how about I tell about what happened to me around Halloween last year?  It’s a pretty good story, and fits the holiday well.

A year ago, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland.  We took the morning train up from London and spent the afternoon wandering the streets, touring the castle, and dining at the Elephant House (the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books.)

IMG_2068
View from Edinburgh Castle.  Photo by me.

Once the sun had set, we did a ghost tour of the oldest parts of the city.

Guided by a charismatic young Scotsman named Hugh, we wandered around St. Giles Cathedral, down some of the closes, and learned about public hangings, beheadings, and the nightly gardyloo (where everyone dumped their chamber pots into the street).  We then went indoors and Hugh showed us a room filled with medieval torture devices.  He explained how all of them work.  Let me tell you… Edinburgh was a VIOLENT city.

Then, we went into the secret underground vaults.  These vaults had been used way back when for tons of different purposes, varying from illegal pubs, hiding spaces from fires, and a place for homeless people to escape from punishment (apparently, it wasn’t legal to be homeless in the medieval times).  Then, at some point, they had been locked up, forgotten, and left to fester for over a hundred years.  They were rediscovered by some students in the 1970’s.

When I hear ghost tours, I usually expect interesting historical stories mixed with the occasional story about a creepy incident that happened there.  There’s a hint of reality to the hauntings, but mainly shameless tourism and fun history.

Yeah… that’s not the case in Scotland.

The vaults we entered were home to all sorts of horrific events.  Murders, cholera, famine, plague, rape, violence, brawling, people locked in and left to go blind and die, and countless cases of violence followed by rape followed by gang rape followed by murder.

There was a Wiccan temple in one of the rooms, all lit up and decorated in colorful banners and trappings.  There was a room with a stone circle where the Wiccans had supposedly trapped a demon.  In one of the rooms, Hugh made the girls stand on one side of the room and boys on the other.  Apparently, people were frequently tossed about violently by unseen forces and separating the genders sedated the activity.  We were then told that the room we were in was the most haunted room in Scotland.  At this point, my friends Mackenzie, Anna, and Marisa and I huddled close together.

It was, without a doubt, the darkest place I had ever been.  The very air felt evil.  As Hugh guided us from room to room, telling us story after story of the ghosts that haunt the place, I could feel their dark presences.  Being a Christian, I knew that I was protected from all forces of darkness, but that night I learned all too well what it feels like to be in the presence of demons.  I could feel them reaching out at me, scraping at my spirit like fingernails on a blackboard.

When the tour finally ended and we stepped into the cool Scottish night, Anna turned to us and said, “That was the worst place I’ve ever been.  I need a drink.”  So we finished the evening at the hostel’s bar sipping cider and thinking about our tour of the Highlands the next day.

This all happened the night after Halloween.  It’s the scariest story I have to tell, and I hope it stays that way.  The thing about my encounter is that forces of darkness are real and coming face to face with them changes your perspective.  It’s not something you easily forget.

So there you have it, readers.  My scary Halloween story.

What’s the scariest thing to ever happen to you?

Or, here’s a lighter question: What did you dress up as for Halloween?

An afternoon in Austria

There are days that go by and, in three more, you can barely remember what happened.  Then there are days where, even years later, they remain permanently cemented in your brain.

A year ago, I was living in a tiny room at a university in London, England.  Many of my London days blur together, but last October 24 is one of those cemented-in-my-brain days.

It began at five o’clock in the morning.  My bag was mostly packed, but I threw in last minute essentials, took a quick shower, and was out of my flat by six.  Carrying nothing but a tiny duffel and a backpack, I took the 72 bus to Hammersmith, where I caught the Picadilly Line to Heathrow International Airport.  Several hours later, I was on an airplane bound for Germany.  After a couple hours, the rolling fields surrounding Frankfurt came into view as the airplane prepared to land.

That, friends, is when things got tense.  You see, the Frankfurt airport is enormous.  It takes hours to get from one end to the other.  And I had less than an hour to catch my next flight.  Stress was high as I pushed through passport check and security.  “What if I don’t make it?” I pushed the thought to the back of my mind where all the dark thoughts go.  People miss flights all the time, and they also get new ones all the time.  Thankfully, when I was spewed out of security, my gate just-so-happened to be the closest one.  I made it with fifteen minutes to spare!

The next flight was tiny–one of those little airplanes made to hold only twenty or so people.  I remember being crammed in next to a young man in a green athletic jacket.  It didn’t take long to realize I was the only non-German speaker on the flight, so I kept to myself.  Within an hour of takeoff, I could see the Alps coming into view.  Gorgeous mountains soon sprawled as far as my eye could see.  It was incredible.

The Austrian Alps sprawling beneath me.
The Austrian Alps sprawling beneath the airplane.  Photo taken by me.

We came into a large valley and began to descend.  The plane shook and banged about.  For a minute, I thought we were going down.  And then we landed in Innsbruck, Austria.

I exited the plane onto the runway and followed my fellow passengers into the terminal.  A few doors later, I exited the terminal completely.  There, sitting in a chair, was my friend Anna.  She took one look at me and, imedietly, we were hugging.  I looked over her shoulder and there was her mother, smiling kindly.  They were the first familiar faces I had seen in almost two months.

We then went to Anna’s house.  Exhausted after a full morning of travel, I sat on their patio basking in the warm sun.  All I remember is laughing so hard my stomach hurt.  And then, when we were done laughing, Anna’s mother came out of the house with a plate of homemade schnitzel.

IMG_1416
I had a GORGEOUS view of the mountains from Anna’s patio.

Later on, I got to see my other friends, Anna-Laura and Sebastian.  I also met Anna’s sister, Emma.  We wandered around Innsbruck the rest of the afternoon, through narrow streets, grand cathedrals, and along the winding river Inn.  Eventually, we found a bench to park at.  We sat there for what felt like hours, talking and sharing stories.

After two months living with strangers in London, it felt like coming home.

Anniversaries and adventures

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my departure for London, England.

1451589_10152392074583035_6551050223638973590_n

I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  It feels like yesterday that I stepped on that airplane.

The thing about adventures is that they change people.  It happens in books all the time.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo returned to the Shire a very different person who left.  No matter what he did, or how much time passed, he could not go back to the simple life he had before.

My adventure changed me.  I became aware of how much I can accomplish; confident in my ability to follow through; and incredibly independent.  I learned to see the world beyond my limited American perspective.  I learned to be globally minded, and gained a deep appreciation for people and cultures apart from my own.  I got to see amazing things–the Alps, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Cliffs of Moher, the Scottish Highlands, to name a few.  I met wonderful friends that are still dear to my heart, people who understand parts of me that no one else can.  I experienced how dark this world is, but also gained appreciation for the light that does exist.

Like Bilbo, I returned home a different person.  And adjusting back into normal life was a challenge.  People who had been dear friends no longer knew how to relate to me, and I to them.  I tried, for a while, to make up for ground that I had lost while away, but eventually gave up.  Connections were lost, and I decided to move on.

Being an English major, my three and a half months abroad changed the way I read.  In my Victorian Literature class, not a day passes when my experiences fail to enhance my experience.  Just today, someone put a map of the city up while discussing a historical detail and my heart gave a tinge because I know those streets.

The other thing about adventure is that once you have a taste, it never lets go.  You’re hooked for life.  Already, I feel the desire to see lands unknown rising up in me.  I long for city streets to explore, train rides through countries that are new, and conversations with people from far away places.

Thank goodness I’ve only got one year of school left.  Because adventure is out there, and I am going to chase it.  Who knows where I’ll be a year from now?

So there you go

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what God has done in my life over the past year.  It was an incredibly challenging time–I was pushed and stretched in just about every area of my life.

But not many people know about it.

You see, I tend to keep things pretty close to the chest.  I don’t tend to open up to people until they make an effort.  In a way, you have to work to get the Amelia beneath the surface.  It’s not that I’m not friendly–that’s definitely a word I’d use to describe myself.  I’m friendly, cheery, positive, optimistic, the list could go on.  But when people ask, “How was London?  How was your year at school?”  I tell them that it was fantastic.  It’s not a lie–while abroad, I went and did all the crazy things I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life.  But it was challenging.  It was dark.  It was lonely.  For weeks at a time, I’d feel depressed because of the spiritual weight associated with where I lived.  There were times when all I wanted to do was go home.  I missed my friends, I missed my campus ministry.  My friends at home were too busy to Skype me.  I felt like they didn’t care.  When I finally got home, I hoped things, after a brief transition, would fall back into place and return to normal.  And they didn’t.  Nothing was the same.  My friends moved on without me.  Relationships that had once been deep were suddenly shallow.  People I had leaned on were suddenly unavailable.  Almost all semester, I felt like I had no one I could talk to who both understood where I was at and cared enough to reach out.  I was constantly dissatisfied with almost everything around me.  I was unhappy.  I was so eager to get out that, the second my final papers were submitted, I packed up and bolted home.

The whole year, all I wanted to do was do something practical for God.  I wanted to use my hands, I wanted to get down to business, I wanted to plunge into ministry.  I wanted to pour into others.  God has given me some incredible gifts, and I wanted to use them to encourage my brothers and sisters.  I tried and tried and tried in London to get my foot in the door of some kind of ministry or church.  God shut all the doors in my face.  When I got home, again, I tried and tried to do something for the Kingdom.  I lead a Bible study.  I tried stepping back into prayer ministry.  I sought for people to pour into.  But, again, God had other plans.  He told me to be still.  He told me to wait.

So there I sat, exhausted and frustrated, waiting on God.

Sitting and waiting is hard.  But through it all, God showed me incredible things.  I learned about the depth of His faithfulness.  I was alone in Europe, disconnected from any kind of spiritual body, and every single day, when I opened my Bible, God was there.  It says in Lamentations that God’s faithfulness is new every morning–it’s so true.  No matter how dark it got, He continued to shine His light into my life.  He continued to wrap His arms around me, He continued to speak comfort and whisper beautiful promises into my ears.  He protected me from the darkness and gave me hope.  Over the past year, I have learned that God is enough.  Community is important, yes, but when it comes down to it, God is the ultimate sustainer.  His faithfulness is incredible.

After all this, God lead me back to Camp Shamineau, one of my favorite places in the world.  Today was the last day of staff training.  I’m on Program staff this year, and have had the honor of helping pour into the staff as we have trained them for a summer of ministry.  This morning, we had a chapel service where we worshipped and took communion.  While I partook of the elements, I reflected on all God has done.  I thought about the darkness, about the confusion, the loneliness, the frustration. We sang the song “Cornerstone” and in the line about Jesus being our anchor in times of darkness, I just about lost it.  Because, even though I had just gone through one of the toughest years I’ve ever had spiritually, God was still good.  He still loved me enough to use me.  As we sang, I looked around at all the exceptional people around me–my fellow Program staff, the counselors, SMT’s, and support staff.  I realized that, after such a trying year, God had finally brought me to a place where I could do everything I longed to do.  I could pour into others, pray for them, encourage them, step up in leadership, and help spread the Gospel.  Here I was, doing something practical for the Kingdom at last.   And I thanked God.  I praised Him.  For, even though I fail daily, He is so incredibly good.

So there you go.  For more on my spiritual journey during my time in London, stop by my old travel blog!

450 Years

On this day, four hundred and fifty years ago, one of the greatest writers to pen in the English language came into the world.  That’s right… I’m talking about Shakespeare.

There’s a lot I can say about my experience with Shakespeare.  I could tell you about reading Romeo & Juliet in ninth grade and the five quizzes per act my teacher forced upon us.  I could tell you about the first time I saw one of his plays live–a production of Macbeth at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis five years ago.  I could tell you about the time I lived in England and got to see a show at the Globe.  Or when I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, toured his birth home, and cried a river of nerdy English major tears over his grave.

But, instead, I’m going to let the man speak for himself.  Here’s a passage from Hamlet–my favorite Shakespeare play thus far.  It comes from Act 2. Scene II where the title character talks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  When I stood in the room the Bard was born in, there was an actor sitting in the rafter reciting these words.  It was so beautiful, so poignant, I was rendered motionless, standing stupidly, unknown emotions pouring through my poor English major heart.  These words, on the surface, don’t appear to be anything special.  They’re not “to be or not to be”, or Macbeth’s “Out, out brief candle”… but in that moment, they were special.  So here they are.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late–but
wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me…

IMG_2788
Here’s me standing in front of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon!

Friday Favorites II

It’s a bit late in the day for this, but how about another round of favorites to celebrate the weekend?

This book:

orlando 3

Yes, another Virginia Woolf novel.  Woolf isn’t nearly my favorite writer out there, but considering I’m in a class devoted to her books… they’re kind of all I’ve been reading these days.  Orlando is a mock biography.  In it, we meet Orlando in Renaissance England and follow his/her life until the time the book was published–1928.  He starts out a young boy in the court of Elizabeth I and ends as a wife and mother in 1920’s London.  I believe Woolf viewed this book as a joke and wrote it for fun.  It’s very different from her other novels, which are highly experimental.  After weeks of To the Lighthouse and such, it was a breath of fresh air.

This girl:

IMG_1473

I’m the one on the left, but the lovely girl on the right is my friend, Anna.  We met while working at the same Bible camp last summer.  She lives in Austria, which is kind of on the other side of the world from snowy Minnesota.  I miss her dearly, but made sure to visit during my stint abroad last semester.  This photo was taken at Schloss Ambras, a castle near where she lives.

We got to Skype today!  It’s amazing that technology enables us to stay in touch with those we love, no matter how far away they are.  We talked about camp memories, what God is doing in our lives, school, and cultural differences between our countries.  She taught me a bit of German, I helped her speak in an American accent.  Although I probably should have spent the time studying, it was an hour well spent.  I’m excited to see her again this summer!

This grocery store:

Willie's

 

It’s the only grocery store in town, which means they can charge as much as they want for fresh produce.  Weekly, this place sucks all my money away.  But it’s also endearing.  There’s something special about small town grocery stores.  And only in Morris will you go looking for grapes and cottage cheese and run into half your professors.

(Then, while waiting for your roommates to finish shopping, said professors gather around you to make awkward small talk.)

This speech:

JFK’s inauguration.  We analyzed the rhetoric in class today and my professor declared that it is one of, if not the, greatest speech ever given.  Apparently, Kennedy spent two weeks writing it himself.  It’s a rather fantastic bit of spoken word, even without the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line.

Happy Friday!

Jane

Her first home was a cottage by the sea that is no longer there.

The wafting of her afternoon tea rebuilds the grey stones.  Once again a knobby-kneed kid, her mam fussed fussed fussed  (How did you manage to get seaweed in yer hair?  Don’t drag yer dirt into the gaff.  I told ye not to get yer new boots wet, ye gimp!) when the light sunk beneath the silver horizon and she traipsed up the dirt path clutching treasures of wave-molded pebbles.

What makes home home?

In the narrow halls of the Dublin flat, Mam’s shrills bounded off cardboard walls and she dreamed of the grey stone cottage.  Boring her face into the too-flat pillow, she imagined the constant press of waves pounding.  pounding.  pounding.

Where did home go?

She likes to touch things that are old.  One time, she brought her antique copy of The Victorian Catelogue of Household Goods to lecture, in case her students were interested.  “Just look at all the pointless stuff they would buy just because they could!” Pages of perfume bottles, china, porcelain vases, foot scrapers, candlestick holders, chitzy busts of Prince Albert.  “Why did they need all this crap?!”

Why?  How does this make a home?

Her favourite part of day is right before curtains are drawn—when windows are lit, but not yet covered.  She paces past in the winter mist beneath a black umbrella, her red beret clinging to the coils of her springy hair for dear life, observing the houses of strangers.  Her round blue gaze is meticulous—noticing everything from the IKEA couches to the Turner prints on the walls to the stained doily on the end table.  She never needed to own a telly—not when the houses of London play the best program of all at five each and every night.  Behind those golden squares run the story of life—an endless stream of coming and going, sitting and standing, leaving and—

What makes a home homely?

The stone cottage was gone when she came back for it.

How heartbreaking it is for all those memories—warming wind-beaten hands over the fire. . . porridge over the old stove . . . that one spot that leaked after an evening storm, no matter how many times Da patched the roof . . . the plink! plink!  plink! of droplets filling the rusty kettle . . . to be gone.

~~~

I’m getting this piece workshopped in my writing class tomorrow, so I thought I’d share.  It’s actually a piece of non-fiction.  Who is Jane?  She was my literature professor when I studied in London and all these details are based on real information.

That’s right, I write imagined stories about real people.  Watch out… you could be next.

February 14

This morning as I entered the Student Center after class to check my mailbox, a guy opened the door for me.  He didn’t do the whole enter first, then prop-it-so-I-can-catch-it-thing.  No.  He pulled the door open, looked at me, and gestured for me to enter.  It was probably the most romantic thing to happen to me… well… in a very long while.  Maybe ever, actually.

It’s Valentines Day, which means love is in the air.  Campus is decked out in cutout hearts, friends are giving each other cards, and I’ve overheard multiple conversations between male classmates trying to one-up each other on their efforts to impress their vegan girlfriends.  (One guy acted all macho because he was going to make a salad with raspberry vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing… oh so classy.)

The funny thing about today is that for people without lovers, it inspires all sorts of angst.  “Single Awareness Day” they call it.  All the talk of romance brings out all sorts of insecurities.

As for myself, I find myself single for the 21st Valentines Day in a row.  Am I bitter?  Am I depressed?  Am I drowning myself in chocolate and romantic comedies?

Nope.

I mean… I’d like a romantic relationship any more than the next girl, but for the most part, I’m happy being single.  I always have been.  Why?  Well, when you plan on getting married someday (which I do), that means you only get to be single for a certain amount of time.  Going solo can be lonely at times, yes, but it also enables you to do all sorts of awesome things… like move to Europe!  Which I totally did!  Dating or Europe?  Dating or Europe?  Sorry, but Europe wins hands-down.  (Although if I happened to be dating someone and we happened to go to Europe together… I’d be cool with that.)

Anyways…

I’ve had some pretty odd Valentines Days.

When I was sixteen, I spent the day with my nose entrenched in Les Misérables (unabridged).  Now, this scenario has lots of potential.  I could have been at the part that describes Fantine’s lover who abandoned her.  Or, I could be experiencing Marius and Cosette’s beautifully written first encounter.  But… can you guess what part I was stuck on?  If you guessed the fifty page deviation Hugo takes where he describes all the details of convent life, you’d be right on the spot.  Let me tell you, nuns aren’t very romantic–especially when there’s fifty pages about them.

Then there’s last year, where I judged a high school speech meet on February 14th.  The categories I weighed in on were Prose and Drama.  Do you know what those speeches contain?  Death.  Rape.  Suicide.  Parental abuse.  Drug abuse.  Alcohol abuse.  More death.  More rape.  More abuse.  Talk about getting in the romantic mood, right?

As for this year…

I’ve got a date with Mrs. Dalloway, plans to watch a zombie movie with a friend, and (as you already know) a random guy opened a door for me.  So until I someday have a special someone to share this holiday with, I think this year sounds about perfect.

tumblr_mhgymvpYui1rlrua4o6_1280

Exiting the In-Between

Existing in transit is odd.

The past nine months of my life have been spent packing and unpacking, shuffling my belongings into boxes, judging which objects are necessary to bring with in bags.  I have constantly been coming and going, never in one place for too long.  Living out of a suitcase gives you a sense of how little you actually need to live on.

All day I have been sorting through the explosion that has been my room for the past three weeks, trying to identify what to bring back to school.  It’s been a long, arduous task and I have yet to try to fit everything into my car.

The thing about life is that it always seems to be hurtling forward and I’m constantly trying to keep up.  I haven’t been sleeping this past week despite my best efforts which include praying, reading, and listening to Shakespeare soliloquies via YouTube.  (The Shakespeare is actually counter-productive.  Instead of dozing off, I just get really excited.)  My mother insists that I haven’t been getting enough exercise, which is ridiculous because my gym attendance is at a record high.  This morning, though, my dad brought up how much my life has changed over the past month.

One month ago I was living in London.  I lived in alone in a little room in a dingy dorm with an odd assortment of eighteen year old British flatmates.  Weekends were spent traveling the country.  Long weekends were spent exploring greater Europe.  In the past month I moved out of the dingy dorm room, guided my mother around my city, said goodbye to all my new friends, toured Paris, said goodbye to beautiful London, and flew home.  Upon arriving at home, I was thrown into a whirl of jet lag, holiday plans, and large family gatherings.

Over the past month I have gone from living in one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in the world to a little town in rural Minnesota.  Talk about a culture shift!

Tomorrow I move back to Morris, the tiny little town on the prairie where I attend college.  I have half a day to unpack, settle in, and see friends before the onslaught of junior year hits in full force.  In just forty-eight hours, my life will be completely different from it is right now.  I’ll be in a different bed, living with different people, feeding myself.  I’ll go back to working two jobs, striving for good grades, and immersing myself in campus ministry.

As excited as I am about returning to all my friends, I’m also uneasy.  I know where my place used to be in Morris.  But life pushes on.  People come and go, places shift, and I have changed.  I’m not the same person I was when I left nine months ago.  In turn, Morris isn’t the same place either.

My apprehension comes mainly from not knowing where my place will be now.  It would be foolish to expect things to go back to how they used to be.  Life pushes forward, and so must I.  Adapting to the new-normal is essential.  But what is this new normal?  What role will I have?  I know that I have a place.  What will that be?  I have no idea.

I made a post similar to this one on my travel blog where I discussed the concept of nostalgia.

To conclude, I’ve been living in the in-between for a very long time.  Over the past month, my life has changed dramatically.  In a few days, it will change even more.  Change is a complicated thing.  On one hand, it’s incredibly exciting.  On the other, part of you longs for the familiar.  I’ve learned, though, that the weird in-between stages of life is part of growing up.  But there comes a time to leave the in-between behind.  Nine months are a long time to live out of a suitcase.  I think it’s time to pack up my car and settle back into a semblance of a normal life.

It’s time to exit the in-between and embrace the new.