Emergency Dance Party

As far as weeks go, I think it’s safe to say that I’m having a terrible one.  To begin with, my parents are currently away road tripping to Oregon, leaving me in a big empty house with no one but my brother (who isn’t exactly a chatterbox) and my cat to keep me company.  Then, I made the mistake of wading into the wrong patch of woods on our farm, resulting in poison ivy rashes and blisters all over my legs.  To cap it off, I got sick on Monday night and made a big mess of it, making cleanup gross and difficult.  (Sorry if that’s too much information…) Continue reading

Black, White, & the Perils of Indifference

A month ago, 49 members of the GLBT community were shot in a night club in Orlando, Florida.

Four days ago, a black man named Alton Sterling was shot by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Two days ago, Philando Castile, also black, was shot by the police in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Last night, five police officers were shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas.

Every time I see a headline declaring another shooting, another death, my first response is exhaustion. I’m just so tired, so frustrated. I’m tired of hate, but even more, I’m tired of turning a blind eye on injustice.

It’s so easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility by casting blame on others.  But the easy path is often not the right one. Continue reading

Slowing it Down and Learning to Live

Since arriving in England, not a day has passed that I haven’t examined my surroundings and asked: “Is this really my life?”  The days here feel rich in a way I’ve never before experienced.  It’s almost as if this place is saturated with the essence of what brings life meaning.

Living in a cross-cultural community certainly has its challenges.  We don’t always understand each other–language doesn’t always translate.  Personalities and lifestyle quirks sometimes come into conflict.  Each day, I interact with people from all over the globe: Holland, Australia, Hungary, Brazil, South Africa, Belarus, the list goes on.  Each night, though, I can’t help but give thanks for this colorful collection of people.  Despite all our differences, we share one beautiful thing in common: we are all human.

Daily life here is beautiful.  The majority of our hours are spent in one of two ways: work or study.

With work, there are all kinds of tasks.  Some days, I chop vegetables in the kitchen to help with dinner.  Others, I scrub toilets, pull weeds, or fold towels.  The best days are when I’m assigned to the library–hours are filled entering books into a digital catalog.  Most of the time, work doesn’t seem like work.  The tasks may be menial at times, but they are never difficult.  Plus, the company is always good.

During study time, we gather in the Bake House, curling up by the fire with our books.  I just finished studying direction and calling and am turning my attention to gender studies and women in church.  Mixed in is a healthy dose of Ann Lamott, Dorothy Sayers, Charlotte Bronte, and Shakespeare.  Some days, I sit at one of the desks by the windows.  I listen to recorded lectures, paint, and watch birds playing in the garden.

Life here is slow.  We keep ourselves busy, but also stop and rest.  During lunch, we ask questions and partake in intentional, meaningful conversation.  On our free nights, we enjoy pint (or two) at the local pub.  In the evenings, we often play games.  Once a week, we watch a film and discuss its relevance.  On Mondays, we meditate and pray during a silent lunch featuring beautiful classical music.  Sunday nights are my favorites: we have High Tea, which involves a casual meal followed by reading a novel or play together.

Each day holds at least one precious moment.  Most days have multiple: laughing as you make peanut butter balls in the kitchen, singing hymns together around a piano, soaking in the rare sunlight in the trees as you explore the countryside on one of the local footpaths , holding hands with one of the little girls who live here as you walk home from church.

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Church Lane, one of my favorite walks.

When you slow down and allow yourself to actually process the beauty of daily life, the riches you discover are breathtaking.  Being away from technology has its downs–I would love to better stay in touch with family and friends back home–but I also love it.  In a way, life here feels like it’s straight out of a Jane Austen novel (which is helped by the fact that I currently live ten minutes from where she wrote and published most of her works).  We delight in the beauty of everyday: going for walks, playing music, making art, reading books that make us think.  Interactions are intentional and meaningful–estranged from technology and the fast-paced normal life, our conversations have more depth.

I wish life here could go on forever.  I’m thankful that, in many ways, my stay is still just beginning: I’m here until the end of March.  But there will come a time when I will have to return to normalcy.  I will have to move away from home and actually get a job.  My time here, though, is in many ways preparing me for then.  Life at L’Abri is in no ways perfect, but it’s a wonderful place to learn how to live.

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?

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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.

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

Dear New Year

Dear New Year,

There are so many things I don’t know about you.  But, then again, there are so many things I don’t know about me either.

Up until this point, my life has been predictable.  Go to school, get good grades, go home for breaks, work in the summer, and so on.  I’ve always known what the next year will bring.

When I look at you, New Year, I see a vast unknown.  I see the path beneath my feet stretching into a fog.  All I really see is what is directly before me.  In a way, I see you, but I don’t know what you will bring.

Where will I go?  What will I do?  They seem like such simple questions, but the answers are blank.

I’m excited to see you, New Year.  I’m ready to take the leap into the unknown.  I’ve been waiting and wondering about where I fit into this big, beautiful world.  I’m ready to find out.

I have never been one for resolutions.  I don’t like empty promises.  I avoid concrete vows that never actually happen.  But I’m all for having hopes.

This year, I hope to grow in my relationship with God.

I hope to get closer to figuring out my place in the world.

I hope to know myself better.

I hope to be a good daughter, sister, and friend.

I hope to take care of my health–physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I hope that I will be better at giving of my money, time, and love.

I hope to better at empathizing and seeing things from the perspectives of others.

I hope that, wherever I go, I will make the world a little brighter.

New Year, even though I don’t know what you have in store, I welcome you with open arms.

All my love,

Amelia

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One Month

One month from now, I’ll be gone.  One month from now, I’ll be getting on an airplane bound for the UK, where I will be studying theology and living in a manor house in Southern England.  One month from now, I’ll be en route to Adventure.

What is coming is so enormous that it doesn’t even seem real.  There are days where I simply forget.  Going back to England is such a deep desire in my heart that I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that it’s actually happening.  I feel like my experiences over the next few months will be game-changers.  I have no idea what is coming, but I have this deep sense that my life is never going to be the same.

Meanwhile, time is going to fly.

There is still so much to do before I depart.  I need to tie up loose ends with my Chamber of Commerce job.  The Annual Meeting & Gala needs to be planned and the new director needs to be trained.  I need to schedule a dentist appointment, get a credit card, and buy Christmas presents for my family.  I need to write and assemble end-of-the-year posts, including those for my Tis the Season holiday series.  (If you’re interested in writing a holiday-themed guest post for me, let me know!  I’m still in need of participants!)  I need to purchase a ticket to see a production of As You Like It at the National Theatre while in London.  I need to treasure every night in my childhood bedroom, soak up the presence of my family, and delight in the home-ness of home.

Of course, adventure is coming before I even head to Europe.  After Christmas is over, I’m traveling from Minnesota to St. Louis for Urbana, the largest student missions conference in the world.  It only happens every three years.  I’ve been thinking and praying about going for years and am so excited to finally be going!

My life has been so still for so long.  It’s as if my life has been on hold.  I’ve stayed occupied, but it’s as if I’ve been biding my time, waiting for this moment.  After months and months of stillness and comfort, it’s strange to imagine how quickly things are changing.

But I’m ready.

Work, friends, Christmas, family, Urbana, England.

I’m in for one heck of a month.

 

Thoughts From a Cold Boulder

My coat wasn’t quite warm enough, but I hardly cared.  Perched on my rock, it was not the bite of the wind that took my breath, but the blue of the water stretching for miles before my feet.

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Panorama of my view from my iPhone.

Duluth, Minnesota is an old industrial town.  Perched on the Westernmost tip of Lake Superior, it’s an important harbor and port for ships bringing goods and services across the Great Lakes.  Before settling to soak in the view, I had the pleasure of watching one of the enormous freight ships slip into the harbor, skirting gracefully under the iconic lift bridge.  Strolling along the boardwalk, old manufacturing warehouses and mills (now hotels, shops, and restaurants) on one side and, on the other, the endless lake.  I’ve been coming to this city since I was a little girl.  The boardwalk, the worn brick buildings, the lake–they’re all part of me.

My nose was beginning to run, but I perched along the shore anyways.  In that moment, soaking in the beauty of the sunlight glistening on the waves, a deep peace settled over my spirit.

The past few weeks have been a torrent of upheaval–from persisting unhappiness to my job to arranging to leave the country in January to terrorist attacks and political strife.

It felt so good to get away, to sleep in a bed twice the size of my own, to eat pizza in front of a hotel TV as my brother gushed about Star Wars.  It felt good to look out my window and see city, not forest or fields.  It felt good o walk along the boardwalk, to sit on the rocks, to watch the ships come into harbor.

It blows me away how crazy this world is.  Things are always changing and I am no exception.  I don’t know what the adventures ahead have in store.  I don’t know how my experiences will shape me and who I will become.  This both terrifying and liberating.

I can’t help but think of the quote from which this blog is named:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Moments like these ones, silently dwelling in the places that have known me for so long, give me the courage to take that leap.  The peace that dwells in my innermost being gives me the strength to see what’s out in the world and discover who I’m going to be next.

Of Faith and Refugees

My Facebook newsfeed today was filled with opinions this morning.  This isn’t unusual, as I have friends on both sides of the political divide.  I usually don’t like to engage in such things on social media.  I don’t like to associate with a political party.  Such things breed division and strife–so I keep my opinions to myself.

But in lieu of current events and the hate that has risen in their wake, I’m finding it hard to remain silent.

As I’ve been following the debates regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I have been absolutely appalled by the response from Christians.  My Facebook feed is filled with messages along the lines of “Close the boarders because we don’t want terrorists to get in”.  I saw a comment that said, “I’m all for helping the refugees, I just don’t want to let them in.”

Or, in other words, “I’m all for helping people as long as it doesn’t impact my life.”  “I’m all for taking care of the poor and needy, as long as my comfort isn’t threatened.”

This makes my blood boil.

What, then, is more valuable?  Comfort or human life?  The ease of the rich or the despair of the poor?

To make things clear, I understand the fear.  The refugees are people who are very different from us.  They look different, sound different, and follow a different religion. Differences are unknowns and unknowns are scary.  And yes, there is a risk that the wrong people can get in.  Is this a risk we are willing to take?

A couple of my friends posted links to a short piece on Relevant Magazine titled “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees“.  I recommend giving it a read, for it is very good. It is a list of verses with little commentary, letting the Bible speak for itself.  These verses speak of loving the poor, caring for the needy, and putting the needs of others before your own.  They talk about setting aside what is comfortable in favor of preserving human life.

I’d like to add a verse to the list.  1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (ESV)

Is allowing refugees into America worth it, despite the risk of letting terrorists in?  Absolutely.  Because perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear.

We, as Christians, are called to love the needy and care for the broken.  It’s not an option.  Loving one’s neighbor as ones self is not only a command, it’s the GREATEST command.  So are we going to obey? Are we going to trust that, even though there are unknowns and even though we are afraid, God is in control?

I realize that I am addressing this from a Christian perspective and you may not share my worldview. This is okay. Biblical rhetoric aside, I think my questions are still valid because this is, ultimately, not only a Christian issue. It is a human issue. These refugees aren’t faceless, soulless drones. They may be different, but they are human beings with just as much right to life as I. They have the same capacity to love, to feel, to dream as you and I do.

Are we, Christians and non Christians alike, going to set aside our comfort, riches, and fears, and care for the refugees?

I honestly don’t know what this looks like in my life.  As an American, I live a life of incredible privilege. There aren’t poor and homeless people lining up at my door. The refugees are on the other side of the world. But with privilege comes responsibility. If and when the time comes to take action, I hope that I am able to do what is RIGHT and not settle for what is EASY.

It’s a complicated issue.  There are a thousand arguments and counterarguments that can be made.  It can be discussed for hours on end.  Your opinion and worldview may be different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Differences are not something to be afraid of. They are our greatest strength.

But I’m tired of remaining silent. I’ve been given a voice and am choosing to use it. So this is me, adding my thoughts to the universe.

Thanks for reading.

  

Twenty Three Years and Counting

Twenty three years ago, I entered the world.

I’m torn between feeling very old and very young.  On the one hand, I’m not a student anymore, which means adulthood is here to stay.  On the other, I frequently get mistaken for a high schooler when out in public.  Which is both annoying and flattering.

But hey, twenty three!  Two years past being able to legally drink, two years until I can rent a car.

My brothers were home the other night to celebrate.  We had family dinner, opened gifts, ate cake, and watched Inside Out.  I got a new sweater and scarf, two free passes to my local ski hill, and Howl’s Moving Castle on DVD.

As far as birthdays go, this year isn’t exactly dramatic or exciting.  I mean, last year there was a blizzard.  Two years ago, I was in England.  Today, I’ve got a board meeting and a long slog of office hours.  When work is done, Mom and I are heading to the cities to do something fun, which will keep me going through the bore of work .

I’m excited to not be twenty-two.  It was definitely a tough year, filled with rocky friendship moments, endings, and transitons.  I’m looking forward to a year that is bigger, brighter, and filled with possibilities.

Twenty three years and counting, here I come!