Tag Archives: God

Spanish, Service & Switching Places

301645_10150425046621215_890517333_nA few years ago, when I lived in Spain, I went on a weekend trip to Extremadura, which is basically a lot of desert and a few Roman ruins.  It was a school-sponsored trip, so our accommodations were classed-up considerably from the cheapest (safe) hostel we could find online, which is what we usually went for, to a formal hotel.

I don’t remember the exact problem or what caused it, but I had some kind of trouble with my room key.  Because of it, I couldn’t get in my room.  Exhasperated, tired, and hungry, I complained to the guys from my school who were hanging out in the hallway.  One of them cut me off and impatiently told me to go down to the front desk, “You’re not shy, and you speak Spanish fine.  What’s the problem?”

could speak Spanish, but I only liked to use it around people I knew well.  I knew I didn’t speak it flawlessly, and I was afraid of sounding stupid–especially at the concierge’s desk in a fancy hotel.  I hated that I couldn’t get my thoughts and ideas out exactly right, so most of the time, I didn’t even try.

I’ve barely used the language at all since I returned to the US in the winter of 2011.

But Spanish has been on my mind lately.  I’ve taken to reading el mundo at lunch and started mentally walking through what a phone conversation would be like if a Spanish-speaking person called the church.

To that end, I’ve been waiting, hoping, thinking, planning, praying, but only sortof expecting to use it.

Today, I was talking to a woman at a big, annual church work day in apartment complex that needs some love.  I walked up to her because she was alone, and I like helping people feel part of the group.

We had a comfortable back-and-forth conversation, and eventually she told me about how she usually doesn’t like speaking in English.  She’s afraid she’ll mess up.  I thanked her for her willingness to converse with me, even though it was hard for her.

Then BOOM.  No fear.  No nerves.  No hesitancy.

I started talking to her in Spanish.

My new friend and I talked a little more about our families, and then we went our ways.  But while I was walking away, I realized that what had just happened was really, really good.  I’d voluntarily swapped places with someone who was uncomfortable by putting myself in the vulnerable position.

It was a discovery that became my MO for the rest of the day.  I asked a group of shy, little girls who would barely talk to me to help me with my Spanish, and by the end of the day, I had a long shadow that followed me everywhere.  All we talked about was Disney princesses and jump rope, but sometimes what you talk about matters a lot less than the time you spend together.

I grew-up doing the work day thing.  I know how to get work done, start a party with a bunch of kids, introduce myself to their parents, help make people feel comfortable, and seek Kingdom breakthrough with people who think that God would never do anything here.  It was awesome today, just like it always is.

But doing it in Spanish–woah, that’s new.

As an added appendice to this story–I so seriously should have gotten in an accident on the way home.  I didn’t see past Shirley’s head in the passenger seat and attempted turn directly into an oncoming car, but even though I was still pushing the gas pedal, the car didn’t get any faster.  In that split-second moment of “what just happened?,” I looked down at my dashboard.  The car had slipped into neutral (??!??); major, major accident averted.

Yeah, awesome day.



20130221_193011 Some things, being so much worth celebrating, so much more than what you had been hoping for, and yet, so much a part of a much larger story, are near impossible to communicate.

Should a casual onlooker have dropped by my apartment on a recent morning, he or she would have noticed a few things.  Among them–three sets of shoes thrown about and a disorderly pile of clothes and books.  If Waldo had been hiding in the corner, he’d of never been found.  Yet, I remain a perpetually organizing, color-coding, stressed-when-a-room-is-cluttered neat freak.

All that’s to say, there is an inverse relationship between time I have to breathe each day and the cleanliness of my room.  Less time begets a a bigger mess.

The routine of the semester has comfortably set in and the predictions I made about how I would spend my time are proving to be accurate.  I recently met a paper deadline for a seminar class with about six hours of work, including all reading time.  By contrast, I’ll usually spend about six hours just preparing to do thesis writing every Saturday.

So with a skilled mental division of labor, I chose not to think about how this week’s Veritas Forum would upset my schedule.  Veritas seeks to engage the larger campus community with “life’s hardest questions” and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of it.  Academics who lead the forums include pretty much all the vocal Christian intellectuals who you’d think would be into this kind of thing, the scholars who like to tell them that they are wrong, and the most popular professors on each campus that hosts an event.

I knew Veritas was going to be good.  The marketing team killed it, the topic was provoking (science and faith), the guest speaker a genius, and it all felt right.  Last year, 100 people turned out for the first-time event.  This year, I fully expected 120-150 students and  great discussion.

I showed up during the hour between final tech preparations and when people were expected to start arriving, just because I wanted some time to sit and pray in the room.

But it didn’t work.  People started coming—super early.  That never happens on a college campus.  By the time the forum was underweight, 225 students had piled into the largest lecture hall on campus.  It was standing room only.

veritasThey came from everywhere–grad students, humanities majors, science majors, social science majors, community members, and professors.  They came with questions and objections.  From my seat in the middle of the very back row of the stadium hall, I saw everything, and it was extraordinary.

During lecture, an open computer screen in front of me wasn’t on facebook.  The kid was googling something the speaker said.  He pulled out a notecard and wrote down his question for the Q & A.  Friends kept quiet, running commentaries with each other during the presentation.  A Buddhist student’s forum-related facebook status made me laugh out loud.  Afterward, the biggest complaint I heard was that people had a questions Prof. Hutchinson didn’t have time to answer.

Crowds discussed the lecture at a reception afterward, and for all I know the cupcakes multiplied, because, for the first time in my life, the good food at a campus event didn’t run out.

Toward the end of the night, Abraham ran up to me with a stack of survey cards.  It was so tall, I thought it included blank cards, but it didn’t.  The survey asked the faith you grew up with, the faith you have now, and the biggest question the forum made you think about.


Survey cards.

Despite having barely started a paper due the next morning, I poured through all 180 surveys, amazed at the responses.  People from all kinds of faith backgrounds showed up, and, based on the questions they wrote down, they were walking away wondering about the most basic questions.  What is truth?  Where does it come from?  How and why would Christianity fit into it?  For a lot of people, it was personal.

Needless to say, I’ve never been so excited about data entry.  Follow-up plans are already underweight and buzz from the event is still in conversation.

I wish I could say more.  I wish I could explain how much this meant to me and how long I had waited for it to come together.  I wish I could explain how that one single night fits into a hundred more and why it all matters.

Instead, I just have a messy bedroom.

Crowd Harmonies, Healing & Hope

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hate it when the perfect words come out at the wrong time.  I never seem to have anything to take my notes down when the words come.

I have no idea how many hands passed over the ticket I took to this evening’s Night of Hope and Healing concert for Newtown other than to say it had to have been a lot. I got a facebook message an hour and half before the concert asking me if I was free.  I thought I’d just been invited to a fundraiser at a coffee shop.

Of course the timing was uncanny since I’d spent the last six hours in the library and was yet to interact with another human today, in addition to the much more important fact that the cryptic and thoroughly nondescript message indicated that it was some kind of memorial event.

We arrived an hour late and spent almost as much time looking for a parking spot as we did driving to Bridgeport.  As we walked out of the parking garage, I heard the traffic director yell at a guy the floor below that the lot was full and to send everyone else home.  Probably less than a dozen cars made it in after us.

Turns out that I mistaked coffeeshop acoustic guitars with Chris Tomlin, Mandesa, Laura Story, TobyMac, Casting Crowns, Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, and Stephen Curtis Chapman.  The truth is, I care very little about seeing these people live.  As far as the music, I’d just have well preferred to sit on my bed and looked out my massive windows with my ipod up a little too loud and quiet prayers falling out my fingertips.

But it really isn’t about the music.

It’s about the people and the worship and the healing.  At one point, a very specific moment, as I don’t know how many people sang the line of some chorus acapella, I remember wishing that they’d have dimmed the spotlight like all the other lights that had just faded.  It didn’t matter who was on stage, backstage, or in the crowd; it was the single loudest, most melodious and pleasing sound of praise I’d ever heard.

I know the night was for healing and hope, but the whole evening left what felt like a shaving over the top layer of tissue on my heart.  I scraped my way through AP bio some years ago, and while that’s as impressive as my science background goes, when I say layer of tissue on my heart, I mean that I am literally thinking about the muscle tissue making up the organ.

To me, this is an odd image, especially given the context of the situation.  I had the perfect words to explain it on our way out the building and they are escaping me now, but I think it comes down to that moment of praise.

I heard harmonies that rarely appear in choirs so large.  In our words melted anger and desperation, and while there was not yet resolution, there was hope, but it was not offered to or received by any one individual.  In simultaneous praise, came simultaneous peace.

Stunning, SB: Day 15

On Mount Higby.

A homemade spring break for the best of them.

In perfect shorts and tank tops weather, I’ve sat outside on my newly-cleaned screened porch.  The same room that was so gross when I moved in that I decided to pretend it wasn’t attached to my house is now a beautiful, sunlit reading room (complete with an outdoor outlet).

Professor Elphick’s book recommendation arrived yesterday, and I’ve set at properly devouring it, my mind thoroughly jumbled at its crazy claims and what it means it the author is right.

When I realized 72 cookies was a lot.

My cooking disasters have continued, but with notable shining successes.

In between not paying attention to the fact that that cookie recipe yields 6 dozen cookies (2 1/2 cups doesn’t sound like much until you realize that it’s talking about butter), the panicked phone call to my mother because my drumsticks were bleeding in the oven (it was gross), and the icing that kept sliding off the cake, my cooking has been met with shining success.

I’ve actually made an array of full, edible meals, which really is quite a major feat for me.  I’ll analyze a boring book and write a great analysis, but ask me to cook a family sized meal and disaster is more likely than not.

My beautiful porch.

Over break, I’ve learned to make a biscuits and gravy that would knock you on your feet, and the beans and cornbread casserole I made for my friends might as well have been cooked by mother.

Besides the edible food part, my room with an oven and fridge finally has enough basic utensils and pantry items to earn its title as a kitchen.

The time apart from MS Word has been good for both of us, and I’ve watched the Dead Poets Society three times in the last week.

I’ve also discovered that 80s music does have a place in the world, even if it is restricted to morning kitchen music while making pancakes, and I finally explored that wooded path by 91, the one that leads to a mountain.

Chicken noodle soup, apples and peanut butter, and grapefruit soda on the porch.

Perhaps most notable has been the never-ending developments in my quest for a summer job, more appropriately referred to as Tori finally figured out what she wants to do with her life and, dare I say it, has a decent idea of what that means in terms of a career.

As frightening as each step in this process has been and undoubtedly still will be, it has been a lot of fun (…a word I never previously dared to associate with a job search)

Opposite of a cooking disaster.

I can’t even begin to explain all that’s happening other than to say its a lot, I never could have mapped a network this big, and it is so not over.  I still am not quite sure what’s going to happen this summer, but, bit by bit, it really is all coming together.

One of the first couple weeks of the semester, we started praying about jobs at Wellspring.  I was already well on my way down this crazy, exciting path with big dreams and a direction, but up to that point it wasn’t really going anywhere specific.

It’s been unbelievable watching opportunities that seemed so great completely fall apart (and my desire for them).

Reading on the hill.

Whereas, new opportunities, ones that wouldn’t have even caught my attention a year ago but are now all I want, are coming out of nowhere.

I know people that spent the break in Florida, Jamaica, Mexico, California, Hong Kong, Europe, and the Middle East.  Bet none of them have had a break as fulfilling as mine–right here in Middletown, Connecticut.

-best spring break ever-

Start it Right, SB: Day 1

I think it takes a lot to freak me out in church.

Now, don’t take me as cocky.  I believe in an all-powerful God that moves.  But somewhere between John Wimber’s Power Healing in the 10th grade, high church liturgies, charismatics services to Catholic mass, praying scripture, foot-washing services, and purple kool-aid (cause there was no grape juice or wine), it is not that often that I am made physically uncomfortable by instruction given in the church (note the important difference between this and movements of the Spirit).

But tonight was the night.

Not that I don’t have a ton to learn, but I usually bust down the door with a charge and a smile.  I’ve dealt with the awkward moments when you are suppose to pray with the people sitting around you… when it happens to be a big group of guys.

And yeah, I’ve learned how to explain what’s happening to people who know nothing about what it really means to be in a relationship with a living God when something unexpected starts happening.

I’ve navigated awkward group prayers when nobody knows when to end, and have tried to train younger friends how to respond to unanticipated circumstances that make you throw your plan out the window (cause there are times when the Spirit moves and that’s what you gotta do).

But a prayer fire tunnel?  (think that’s what it was called).  I’d never seen that before or read about it, much less participated.  I was a little nervous.

But it was so cool.  A big group of leaders formed two lines and reached out to lay hands on people as  they walked through the middle.  So it was personal prayer, but it really had a cooperate flow.

In the end, prayer is prayer, which is just talking to God, but there is something incredibly cool about praying in different ways.  I love how we always do something different for our prayer weeks at WesCF.  There are countless ways to come before the Father and exploring them as a group is always meaningful.

The way home was amazing too.  Abe and I were dreaming up stories and laughing most of the way back.

FYI: This is how you start spring break 🙂

A love letter to Papa

I don’t really remember when it was that you first told me that you read my blog, but it meant the world to me that it meant something to you.  Your comments are my favorite.

It was like when we first got you a facebook, and you went crazy.  You were connected to your kids and your grandkids in a way that you never had before, because even though we were spread all over the country (and at times, the world), you were in our lives.

I chuckled and told my mom about that one time when you emailed me because you saw a facebook photo of a guy with his arm around me.  You just wanted to know who he was.  I smiled because it was just an old friend on graduation day, but I loved how much you cared.  And trust me, when there finally is a guy who’s putting his arm around me, you’ll be one of the first to know.

Remember when we went to the Father/Daughter Ball together?  Dad took Mychelle, and I had the pleasure of being escorted by lovely grandfather.  I wore my red prom dress.  We danced, even though it made you really uncomfortable.  I always felt a little bad because I thought I pushed you too much to do it.  But you danced wonderfully, and I was proud to have you as my partner.

When I was a little kid, I always liked listening to you talk at holiday gatherings.  I actually preferred it to playing with the other kids, unless you were talking insurance.  That conversation always bored me, but other than that, I liked what you said.

I didn’t say much when I would listen, because I was mostly just learning and didn’t feel like I had much to contribute.  But as I got older, I started talking too.  I took so much pride in the fact that you actually listened to what I had to say and considered it valuable information.  You can always tell when people listen and don’t really care, but you did.  And even more than that, you listened like you thought what I had to say was intelligent.

I feel like that was a transitioning phase.  When I was really young, you always played board games with Andrew and me.  I schemed 4 way trades in Monopoly, inevitably taking advantage of Oma who always seemed willing to trade 2 railroads for something like Baltic Ave to please her placating granddaughter.  We played Flinch and Clue and Junior Bridge too.  You and Andrew always won the games, but they were fun.

So when I was little, we played games.  When I got older, I listened to you talk.  Then we talked together.

When I heard you were sick today, I was very scared.  But the truth is, almost more than any hurt you were going through at the time, I was thinking about the day (whenever that day is) that you will go and literally hang out with Jesus for the first time.  It didn’t mask any pain or concern about you at the hospital or how Oma was doing, but it was a transcending peace.

I’m by no means ready for you to leave me.  I don’t think I’ll ever will be either, but it was still a really cool and powerful thought.

I’ve had the great pleasure of being born into a family where I’ve had two relational grandfathers.  I remember talking to my mom about what kind of pastor you are.  She always emphasized how good you are with visitation and showing your love to people.

I see that in how you take care of Oma, always putting her first.  Whoever I marry is going to be a lot like you.

I love you Papa. Please get well soon.

God bless the librarian.

He completely changed my day.

Every Monday, I have a write up to do for introduction to law.  The first assignment was last week, and it wasn’t too hard.  However, I did spend a good portion of Thursday just reading the three pages of text, but come Sunday night when I went to write the answers, I had no problems.

With the disruption in my perfect study schedule (I was sick Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and the continued absence of a proper study corner, I did not have the opportunity to pour over my analysis of the text this week.  The assignment is technically optional, so I forced myself to let it go.

I knew it was the right decision, but I felt so out-of-place.  That pathetic fear of failure still hasn’t quite left me, so I spent a good portion of my one hour morning commute praying about it.

Class was hard.

After class, I took my  I’m-going-to-tackle-all-my-problems right now attitude and went to the library to try to renew my textbook, despite not knowing how to say “check-out” and assuming that the book was probably overdue.

It was, and standing there in all the morning discontent, my Spanish skills regressed about 4 weeks, and I understood next to nothing.

God bless the librarian.

It turns out that for each day the book is late, a hold is placed on your account for two days.  That means I would need to return my overdue textbook and not be able to take it out again for sixteen days.  I explained to him that I didn’t understand that books can only be checked out for a week (that nuts!) without renewing and he responded –via google translate, since I was a little too flustered to understand anything.

The librarian looked up at me, smiled, said “It’s your first time,” lifted my 16 day hold, and handed me by book back.

How’s that for an example of answered prayer?  All that morning fear and frustration that I was working so hard to get rid of melted away with his patient helpfulness.