Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Light Pigeons

"The pigeons were the most attentive listeners that day," he said to me as we marched down the sidewalk. My gaze shifted upwards and landed on said pigeons lined up like Christmas lights on the building's edge, so still they could have been statues. From up above we must have looked tiny, our bobbing handmade signs and small voices:




...and then that one in Spanish, the one that we chanted along with though we were unsure as to what we were saying. (It's been a few years since I've been in a Spanish class.)

We were first-time protestors, wanting desperately to better understand the act of demonstrating - struggling to grasp the meaning and value of raising awareness with shouts and signs and feeble feet marching. My voice felt small in the crowd of people, not being much of a shouter I am certain my contribution made little difference. I did not even make a sign.

We were out of place, and yet right at home. Home among the homeless. Solidarity reaps hospitality it seems.

After a bit of protesting "the raging grannies" sang a song into the bullhorns about the new homeless shelter regulations. We clapped and cheered at the appropriate times.

Around us the city bustled with holiday life. The musicians we first marched past yelling were still singing as we walked back in silence the second time. Our protest voices were gone, and again I found myself in the tension of enjoying the city and harboring guilt at the very notion of enjoying what others cannot hope to experience...

We wondered into Starbucks and I considered how lovely the city of Boston is. It is such a treat being in a town brimming with people to watch and meet and encounter. So many things are happening all at once: dog walkers walking, street lights changing, squirrels scurrying, children walking to recess, coffee brewing, money exchanging... it is a nice change of pace. It is good to scoot off this picturesque campus and remember that the world is big - that people elsewhere are doing important things, hard things: struggling to pay bills, making espresso drinks, sitting in offices, playing at recess, protesting...and all the while I'm walking across the grassy quad, sitting in the library daydreaming, and easily convinced that exams and friday nights are the biggest headlines on the life's newspaper.

Before driving back we stopped to watch the squirrels digging their noses in the dirt - they all seemed to have forgotten where they buried their food. We noted their plump bellies and I wondered what human hibernation would be like. They looked frazzled and concerned - stressed out over an unforeseen circumstance. Darting to and fro they looked at us quizzically, they could not sit still.

This semester I have been a scurrying squirrel when I so desperately long to be a pigeon: listening intently, practicing stillness, truly knowing the world around me.

For new semesters, I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

confetti buckets

About two years ago I decided to start signing letters, emails, (blogs), other random forms of communication, "with a heart so full." It seemed fitting; I still think it is. 


I only use it if it is true.

I can not always pen it, type it - with honesty. My heart is not always overflowing with joy and gratitude - I do not walk around feeling like I am going to burst with praise every moment of every day... In those cases I think of something else. "with a heart so stumble-y" "with a soul uncertain" "with hope for (insert anything here)" ..."with whatever the honest closing gesture is," you get the idea. 

I begin by saying that, so that I can honestly and sincerely say that these days my heart has been SO FULL. This blog may not represent it, my empty journal pages sure do not and certainly the *busyness of each day does not seem to scream "HOORAY!" But if it could, it would. 

*A sidenote: I always think that busyness should be spelled business, which I find highly ironic.*


These days my heart is bursting. Today I passed a friend on my way to the library and told him to be sure to enjoy the beautiful day. He looked skeptically at the very grey, very overcast sky, and then back at me with a smirk. I laughed and assured him that beauty exists even in the grey - especially in the grey! I am overwhelmed with gratitude: for timely conversations, for picture texts of new born babes!, for the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds... for snow and sunshine, a car that drives, a cozy nest to sleep in, a tree outside my window, an avocado seed sprouting!, the season of advent and glorious expectation, and good golly so many things in between. 

This state of mind seems to be rare on a college campus at this time of year. It's the season of all-nighters. The season of burdens and stress and "dear GOD please don't let me fail this exam that I'm not prepared for." The stress is thick; irritated people are everywhere. 

But last night sitting in an art gallery, I had a realization. I felt so full of joy - so full of joy in a room of people so worn out. So I stood up and shared with them my epiphany.

This time of year it is as though everyone is walking around campus with huge buckets of confetti on their heads. They take careful and cautious steps, flitting to and fro SO WORRIED that their bucket is going to fall off. They keep their eyes glued to the ground (because we all know that gluing our eyes to one spot helps balance...) but in doing so miss so much around them. The thing is, no one knows that their buckets are holding confetti! They think their buckets are filled with lava, or acid, or something dreadful and terrifying. The very act of balancing keeps each of us from living fully in this moment - the very thing that we are tied to is the very thing we must stop doing! We need to take our buckets off of our heads and look inside, and then promptly throw the confetti into the air! In celebration! Celebration of the gift it is to learn! The gift it is to be alive! The gift it is to study under professors who care about us! The gift is is to change! and grow! and question! and seek! and know! Throwing the confetti sets us free. It helps us to remember that these exams and papers and projects do not define us. There is much more to life and SO MUCH to celebrate. This balancing act need not be burdensome; our lives are full of so many reasons to be glad. 

In these last few weeks of the semester I want to strive to get people to realize that (contrary to popular belief..) their buckets are full of joy! It might take some tripping, but I think I'm willing to trip people into joy. : ) 

Go throw your confetti, my friends. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

chiseling away


     On Friday, after a week of very grey days, a friend and I took advantage of the sunshine and scooted over to Appleton Farms. Not only a beautiful farm covered in fields bubbling over with fresh produce and flowers, the property also has many trails to explore by foot, bike, or horse! In this perfect autumn season the trails were nothing short of magical. The leaves were freshly dipped in the richest reds, oranges, and yellows imaginable and the soft crunch beneath my feet combined with the fresh autumnal scent was more than enough to lift a week of grey and (slightly) glum spirits. Many times throughout our running we had to stop and stare at our little map of colorful lines, trying desperately to locate where we were and where we were trying to go. Twice we stumbled upon tall and elegant statues, whispers of the lives that used to trod those overgrown paths. As we carefully stepped around the towering subject, squinting our eyes to read the words engraved on the worn surface, a little snake slithered just beyond our feet - the first of three we would run into that afternoon.

    Running around colorful trees and old statues brings to mind a lot more than an appreciation for life, autumn, and friends. These days my mind has been consumed with different seasons of life and how they contrast one another so drastically. Some seasons of life I feel like a little tree that can barely keep up with the leaves and buds sprouting all around me. Constantly my limbs feel stretched and the growth is evident. Other seasons however, I feel more like those statues - somewhat stagnant, not very interesting, and at times quite uncertain as to what I am contributing to anything.

    So far this year, I am a statue. This semester seems to be one of discipline and chiseling... and so far I am not doing a very good job. Instead of sprouting lots of new buds, I feel like each day God is taking out his little chisel and chipping off teeny tiny parts of me, lovingly forming me into who he wants me to be. It is definitely not easy, nor enjoyable. It's a whole lot easier to be selfish, impatient, rash, bitter, and childish...but the chiseling goes on regardless. I cannot always see why that one little chip matters, or why he must continue to chip away in the same spot day after day- and though I sometimes squirm like a little defiant child, God is patient. He is not putting the tools away and giving up. He is not walking away from this work that he began; he will continue it until it is complete. It is difficult to be faithful. It is hard to continue to be obedient in tasks that you do not necessarily love. It is a challenge to work with people you do not always agree with, to love people in the midst of adversity...

    but this summer God taught me that if we put our hands diligently to the work that he has set before us, he will be faithful in carrying out his will. If we continue to walk faithfully and obediently even when we don't feel like it, or want to, or even want to want to...he will bless even our feeblest effort as he did with the loaves and the fish. If we are willing to offer what we have even when it seems like nothing, if we are able to trust that he is here and chipping away at us however slowly, he will be glorified. What more can I ask for?

   It definitely is not very fun to be a statue, I'd rather be a tree any day... but with hope, all of this chiseling will help me to be more courageous, more honest, steadfast, loving, gentle...

"Lord, make me an instrument of your pace
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
And where this is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And in dying that we are born to eternal life." 

-St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday, June 24, 2012

surprise, I'm still alive.

Dear friends who stumble upon this blog,

Hello! The days are quickly slipping by and being on the computer has fallen quite low on my "list of things I enjoy doing." Even now, the sunshine is knocking on the windows and I can barely stand to sit here for very long - but for those faithful few who still check this and wonder, I thought I would give you a really quick update.

Since I last wrote, spring semester came to a rapid close and I quickly found myself in the Adirondacks.  If I'm honest, I was a little worried that after living in the Sierra Nevadas in September I would be too spoiled to enjoy the hidden beauty of the Adirondacks. But behold! I was wrong! This place is magnificent and magical in its own way and I am rapidly falling in love with it. It is growing on me, if you will.

I am working at La Vida, a program run by Gordon that focuses on wilderness discipleship. Over the course of the next month-ish I will lead three different wilderness expeditions. I led my first one in May and it was a wonderful, yet somewhat chaotic and crazy, learning experience. The trips consist of rock climbing, high and low ropes course activities, backpacking or canoeing, an 8.6 mile run, and lots of other little surprises along the way. To put it simply, this job is a dream. It is a lot of work, really exhausting and demanding - but simultaneously fulfilling and life-giving. Hurray!

In between trips the staff lives at base camp, a charming plot of land adorned with little red cabins, swings, picnic tables, a garden! a lake, etc. The cell reception is awful and the internet is isolated in one place - glorious. We take weekly trips into town to do laundry; laundromats continue to be places of wonder to me. I am working here with about 25 others depending on the week (many people come up and help out just for a few weeks or days at a time.) and they are gems. It is a little overwhelming diving into a whole new community again but it is also good. I have so much to learn from the world and those who I share it with.

Speaking of learning, I am doing a lot of that - yet struggling to come up with words to describe the lessons that season each day. The people I am living with are teaching me much about savoring the world and each moment that makes up a day. I may have thought I was good at this before, but I am surrounded by people who are observant professionals- they appreciate the world with such gusto and I am trying to learn from them. They notice things like snails along the trail and inch worms that look like sticks. They appreciate weather and refuse to call any kind of weather "bad." (Rather, it is seen as an experience, a gift to be a part of. I realized the other day how silly it is to complain about the rain... how horribly selfish it is of me to complain that the world is working as it should! My goodness. Ruth told me that simply changing your posture helps your mood when it's raining, and I'm determined to try it.) I'm learning, still learning about community and what it means to be a part of it- what a gift it is to be a part of it...both my mind and heart are so full.

I love the sky here - I am surprised I have not tripped more seeing how much of my time I spend looking up. I love the birds, and I am trying to learn their songs so that I can identify them. I love the stars. I love the swings, the hammock, the chilly evenings and sunny afternoons...I love running on roads that are empty. I love not having a television. I love letter writing.

But. I do not love being on this computer and I have lots of other things to fill these free hours with so that is all I have for now. On Thursday I begin leading another backpacking trip on one of my favorite itineraries. Hurray!

Here's to the wonder that is today.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

my heart is so full

Sometimes finals week feels like a dream.
Sometimes being friends with people feels too good to be true.

Nina came home from Belize and we ended our year together with the warmest welcome we could think of. It makes me want to walk around in a parade like fashion everywhere.

Watch and be glad!

Friday, March 23, 2012

wishing stars.

"Ashley?" Her voice fell softly on the mysteriously breath-taking black glass, rising just above the melodies of the spring peepers and nameless frogs. .."Do you think that world is becoming a more beautiful place?"

Her question landed on my ears with a thud, uneasy and yet equally firm - much like the canoe paddle seated precariously on my bare knees. From the middle of the pond, my mind reeled. The air smelled like summer; the canoe ride proved to be spontaneous. Eating lukewarm chili (because I was too lazy to heat it again) after a long day, she asked if I would be up for a canoeing study break. The question she barely spoke, knowing I might be too tired, but her eyes sparkled with anticipation in a way that I could not ignore. At first I hesitated - and then made the best decision all day...YES.

As we pushed the canoe into the water an eery yet equally enchanting sound danced across the water: a flute! Fully enamored by the scene: a flautist accompanying our night time canoe ride...with our tender winter toes dipped carefully in the cool water, we pushed off into the smooth black glass pond. A little out of practice, my first few strokes sent water droplets onto my shorts. We paddled first towards the wandering flautist, then on towards the geese. (Unfortunately our attempt to say hello just startled them away.) From the center of the pond I wondered what the animals must think of our shimmering buildings on the hill...A symphony of night time creatures filled the air and one by one the stars came out to listen.

Overwhelmed by the weather pretending to be summer, the creatures performing their night-time symphony, my mind's ability to think, the stillness of the water - the vastness of the sky, the beauty of friendship and this world teeming with life ...

"I hope so." 
I replied.

Or conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly - in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral as my grandfather used to do.

Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rinds, but as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap. 

That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God's chandelier. 

Robert Capon 
The Supper of the Lamb

Saturday, March 10, 2012

out of the mouths of babes

This semester I took on a new job, a job I was hesitant to accept - nervous to begin. I agreed to serve as a companion for two young girls with autism. Although the high hourly rate may have been one of the first things to catch my attention, I also knew that this kind of work would teach me much and probably serve as good experience for an aspiring social worker. Beyond that, I wanted to learn, to expand my knowledge of disabilities and how they affect people. I wanted to practice loving people very different from me in some ways. (and in other ways, just the same as me.) 

So last Saturday morning I found myself driving to work in the rain. I did not feel like working, it was Saturday after all - normally I spend Saturdays in the library. I did not feel prepared for the mental and emotional toll of working with the girls. As I opened the door I was told that J had gotten sick and only L and I would be spending time together that morning. The three hours ahead of us seemed like an eternity until their mom informed me that she wanted me to take L to the library. With an uneven mix of anxiety and gratitude, I accepted the challenge. Prior to that morning the only time I had gone out with L in "public" was to stroll to the beach and dig in the sand. Thinking of going somewhere like the library with her stressed me out - I worried about how L would act, I worried about being able to make decisions, and shamefully, I worried about how others would react to us. Nonetheless, we drove to the library. 

A space opened up directly in front of the library and I was glad that we would not have to walk far at all across one way streets in the rain. As we approached the door to the children's room I quickly noticed signs advertising a special event celebrating Dr. Seuss for that very Saturday. My heart sank, I had no idea how L would respond to a crowd full of people, as loud noises and chaotic spaces can stress her out. Walking into the main section of the library however, it was apparent that for the time being the celebration was taking place in another room. Filled again with gratitude, L and I sat down at a table to color. (one of her favorite activities.) 

We colored for a short time and then a little girl and her father wandered over to join us. Again, my heart turned in my chest. My mind anticipated questions that I would not know how to answer. What if she asks why L does not speak? Or what if she asks why she is not coloring inside the lines? Or why her hand occasionally shakes? How do I explain a condition that I really know little about, let alone how to articulate it in language that a child would understand?

Just as quickly, my fears disappeared. "What's your name?" asked the little girl in the blue hello kitty shirt. I told her our names and from there the conversation soared, "What's your favorite color, L? I like purple and white. Do you like blue, L? What about red? My dad likes grey..." On and on she chatted with us and not once did she ask why I responded for L, or why L did not make eye contact or seem engaged. She did not question anything. When L grew tired of coloring we got up to walk around the library and not soon after we left we heard a little voice behind us, "L! You forgot your picture!" The blue-shirted girl held out the picture with great concern, not wanting L to leave without it. Later, she ran around to find us again saying, "WAIT! I have to show L my picture!"

This interaction with the little blue shirted girl fills me with such hope. She did not see L as someone to be treated differently, instead she saw her as someone valuable with thoughts, ideas, and favorites. She did not approach the conversation hesitantly or with uncertainty, she approached L as a human being - as a friend. This whole experience has had my mind reeling - I am thinking about humanity and beauty, value and worth. 

It occurred to me that so often we attach value to people based on how well they speak, or what they accomplish... we define ourselves by our actions, or how well we dress, what grades we get, or how many places we have traveled to.

But we are not our actions, our words, or our attitudes. We are not the clothes we wear or the thoughts we think. We are not our to-do lists or our hobbies. 

We are not valuable because of the labels people tack onto us. 

(and we tack onto ourselves.) 


We are valuable because we are made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully - and the very fact that our heart is still beating, means that God is preserving our bodies another day and that is worth celebrating. Celebrating with gusto. Fully and lavishly. We are valuable because we are alive.

These are words I do not claim to understand completely, but I am trying to let them turn over in my mind until they are engraved upon my soul, written on my hands, seasoned in every conversation. I want to learn to see people, all people, as treasures. I want to enter conversations knowing that people are fragile and delicate and full of beauty untold - that they have favorites, (favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite moments...) they have ideas and thoughts that could change the world if I let them. I want to live a life that welcomes other people to be who they are created to be  - and not who I want them to be or think they ought to be. 

So little blue shirted girl, thank you. Thank you for re-teaching me a lesson I needed to hear. Thank you for filling me with hope, and for helping in the transformational process of my heart from stone to flesh.