28 October, 2010

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby see only a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down – maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.”
– Vincent van Gogh

“It is in solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen

As of late, I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart, which explores the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century who sought the monastic life by retreating to the Egyptian desert. Nouwen focuses on three practices that are central to spiritual growth – solitude, silence, and prayer. As I have reflected on these things, the truth of his words resonates in my soul.

Solitude is something I’ve grown to value so much over the past few years. It provides a space for the noise of my heart – cries that I am unable to express in words. But more than that, it allows for me to set these captive cries free and to silence my soul. It is in that silence that I most clearly hear God speak into my life.

Reading about silence and solitude has made me homesick for Oregon. I truly appreciate that I have been educated and nurtured in the Quaker tradition, which values silence more than most other denominations. It’s really true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I am over two thousand miles away from George Fox, and it is only now that I am beginning to realize how fond I am of that spiritual environment. Here in Georgia, my life has been rich in other ways. Yet I have been so incredibly busy that I must intentionally seek of times of solitude each day.

This Friday, we will partake in a “solitude retreat” at a camp called Indian Springs. I’m not exactly sure what we will be doing, but I anticipate that we will be spending much of our time in solitude in the depth of the woods. I am oh-so-excited, as nowhere brings me as much restoration as the woods. While I spend an entire day in solitude, I encourage you to seek out solitude and silence, and to soak in the restoration that it may bring you.

From Atlanta, with Love

P.S. I spent a few hours of solitude in Piedmont Park last week. It’s a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. Let me share it’s beauty with you…

My beautiful roommate, Emily

An ode to solitude

Atlanta's beautiful skyline

22 October, 2010

Happy Autumn!! Atlanta has been kind of late on changing seasons… so I decided I’m going to celebrate Fall, even if it isn’t here yet! On Saturday, I went to a pumkin patch with two of my roommates (Jyssica and Kaitlin) and a bunch of neighbors including Angie, eight-year-old Jayanna, Kim and her thirteen-year-old daughter Alexa, and the Beard family (Beatrice, Brandon, their four-year-old daughter Blair, and their one-year-old son Blake)! We took a hayride, went through the “crazy maze” and took a stroll through the pumpkin patch. It was so much fun and a really good time of getting to know my neighbors better.

Work this week was average. Nothing exciting happened, but nothing horrible happened either. Maureen stayed home sick this week. She’s feeling well now, but please pray that she continues to get better! Also, please pray that the rest of our team won’t get sick!

Last night (Thursday) was an important night for us as a team. We have spent the past six weeks getting to know each other, talking about our expectations for this year, and realigning our expectations with reality. Over the past week, we wrote a covenant of things we promise to each other. This includes how we will treat each other, how we will approach conflict, how we will strive for justice, how we will seek relationships with our neighbors, and how we will work towards living simply. Last night, we had our commissioning service. We read our covenant together and signed it in front of witnesses. Our team captain Emily washed our feet as a sign of her attitude of servant-hood toward us. It was a very sacred time in which we prayed together and committed to each other. This was the official beginning of our Mission Year. Last night, all five of us started from the same place together, as a team.

I am now sitting next to a lake at Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s largest park that was designed by the same guy who designed New York’s Central Park. It’s a perfect day for sitting in the park. And although it’s warm and there’s not a cloud in the sky, a few of the leaves are starting to change colors. The beautiful golden leaves are reflected in the lake and it’s absolutely gorgeous! I hope things are equally gorgeous for your, wherever you happen to be!

From Atlanta, with Love

P.S. Here are some pictures from the pumpkin patch…

All of us!

The pumpkin patch!

Four-year-old Blair

One-year-old Blake

Blair and I in jail :(

Us with Mr. Donkey

15 October, 2010

This was a really good week, but it was super busy and went by so quickly! Now that I’ve gotten settled in and am more used to life here, I am able to think more about the issues that I’ve been faced with. But let me tell you a little but about this week…

I wasn’t looking forward to Saturday at all, but it turned out to be really good! We made cookies and brought them to one of our neighbors named Vicki who has a leg injury. She was in a really good mood and seemed really excited that we came by to see her! We met a few other neighbors including a woman named Yolanda who has five children. When we got home, there was a cat lying on our front steps, who we named Magellan. She is absolutely adorable!

On Tuesday night, GJP had a big fundraising event, at which I helped out with registration. There was great food and I tried grits for the first time ever. They were delicious, although a few people told me they don’t usually taste as good as they did on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, I went to court for the very first time! It was really interesting to see how everything works. I wish I had more to say, because this was definitely the highlight of my week, but I don’t really… It’s just been fascinating taking everything in and learning about the criminal justice system. I’m starting to meet more of GJP’s clients and have been realizing that they are all people just like us. Our society tends to dehumanize them as thieves and murderers and convicts, but they’re just people who have made some bad choices. I know this is so cliché, but everybody makes mistakes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying murder is just a little woopsie, because it’s definitely not. Some mistakes affect many more people and have much bigger consequences than others, but that doesn’t mean the people involved can become any less human. They have moms and siblings and families, likes and dislikes, favorite foods and colors. It’s so easy just to dismiss them because then we don’t have to exert any of our own time or energy. Additionally, we don’t have to let anyone into our perfect little worlds, because if we did, our worlds might get a little dirty. But in reality, people are people, no matter their past, present, or future. We’ve all been made in the image of God. I’ve been shocked at how normal our clients are, but feel ashamed (and a little angry at our society) for expecting anything different. So yeah, that’s just one of the things I’ve been dealing with lately – recognizing how normal everybody is, questioning why I used to have a different view of them, and trying to process through that.

Anyways, today has been restorative and relaxing. I have one more week of my “technology fast” so that is exciting! I’ll soon be able to talk to you any day of the week instead of just on Fridays. But until then, you should probably send me letters…

From Atlanta, with Love!

08 October, 2010

Well, this week was awfully stressful. But first, let me tell you about last weekend.

I attended an all-day conference at Emory University’s Law School on Saturday. It explored poverty in relation to a number of other topics. The sessions I attended were about poverty and healthcare, and poverty and the criminal justice system. Both were extremely interesting and informative, and have made me start re-thinking my plans for graduate school. My current plan is for a Master’s in International Development, but I’ve been thinking I should look into policy or law (although actually going to law school sounds atrocious). But who knows what my aspirations will be at the end of this year…

On Saturday night, our neighborhood coffee shop held a community movie night. We sat outside and they projected A Night at the Museum onto a large screen on the side of the building. There were lots of kids and a few other people from our neighborhood. We invited our neighbor Brandie to come with us, and I think she had a pretty good time.

We were invited to dinner at a neighbor’s house on Sunday after church. We ate fried chicken, collard greens, and corn bread. Have I mentioned yet that I love the South?! They have great hospitality and amazing food! And it was such a blessing to spend our evening with Gloria.

And then this week happened… It wasn’t terrible, it was just really busy and tiring! Our three Atlanta Mission Year teams volunteered this week at a big Christian Conference called Catalyst. So this is what each day looked like this week: I woke up at 6am, went to work for eight hours, got home and ate dinner as quickly as possible, got in the car and drove for an hour to get to Catalyst, worked at Catalyst for two hours, got in the car and drove back home, then went to bed around 11 (which is past my bedtime). I was extremely tired, to say the least, but it was also fun to help out at an awesome conference. We attended the conference last night, heard Francis Chan (author of Crazy Love) speak, and went to a bunch of booths about fighting against poverty, oppression, and injustice. (Also, I got a coupon for TOMS, so if anyone wants it, let me know and I will send it to you!)

My birthday was on Tuesday. I’ve been away from my family on my birthday before, but for some reason, this year was extra rough. My mom sent me birthday cake mix, frosting, and candles. My housemates made it for me and gave it to me right when I woke up (at 6:00 in the morning)! It was really nice of them and a good start to my birthday. Besides them, nobody really knew it was my birthday, as I’m not really the kind of person who goes around and tells everybody. I ate my birthday cake alone in the kitchen at work. I wasn’t upset that nobody celebrated with me; it wasn’t their fault because they didn’t know. Rather, I was homesick and sad that I wasn’t able to spend my birthday with people who know and love me and who want to celebrate with me (Thanks so much to all of you who sent me facebook birthday wishes!!!). Through all of this, God reminded me that my birthday shouldn’t be a day of people patting me on the back, but a day of praising God for the life He has given me, wether that celebration is with others or by myself! I was homesick, but God encouraged me and reminded me that He planned my life before I even had a birth day. Jeremiah 1:5-8 says,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child;’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

This helped me to remember that, although things might be rough sometimes, God has set me apart and has placed me here to do His work. I know that my relationships here will develop with time and that God is with me every step of the way.

From Atlanta, with Love

P.S. CNN is doing a story on my friend Harold, who is on the East Point Mission Year team here in Atlanta. They will be following him in his ministry about once a month. This video is the beginning of their story! Check it out cause it’s pretty awesome!

01 October, 2010

Saturday was our neighborhood outreach day again. I have a feeling this is going to be the most difficult day of the week for me. We are supposed to be out of our house from 1:00 to 6:00, hanging out with neighbors. Right now, we don’t really know too many people, so this means walking around the neighborhood for five hours! This was really frustrating this week because it was so so hot on Saturday! I could hardly bear it! The heat meant not too many people were out on their porches, so it was really hard to meet anyone. Thankfully, it started to cool down a little bit this week! Also, I think I might try to meet people at different community events, instead of just walking around.

Working at the Georgia Justice Project has been really great so far. On Tuesday, they had a big breakfast to welcome me and a few other newbies to the team! Everyone has been really friendly and welcoming! And I’ve been learning so much about so many new things!

One of my duties is to open and read letters that come in from people who are seeking legal help. I then either pass the letter on to an attorney to read over, or respond and say we’re sorry, but we can’t take your case. Reading these letters is one of my favorite, yet most distressing tasks. I love being able to hear directly from people and to learn what they need. But at the same time, most stories are heartbreaking. One man asked for help getting out of prison so he could take care of his three children, who he said need him just as much as he needs them. Most people claim they are innocent and wrongfully imprisoned. One woman is so desperate for help that she has written to us three separate times, and each time, we respond in our most caring voice that we are unable to help her.

I got a call this week from a woman whose husband had recently been arrested and put in jail. I could tell she was struggling to keep it together so she could tell me their story, and towards the end, she broke out in uncontrollable tears. My heart broke for her and for the many people that have contacted me through GJP. I am so blessed that God has chosen to use me to help them, even if I can’t help with much! This week was tiring, to say the least, and I’m glad to have a day off to relax! I’ll have my phone on Fridays, so if you wanna chat, give me a call!

From Atlanta, With Love!