Saturday, December 25, 2010

up until a few hours ago i would have told you that learning how to drive stick shift has been the hardest thing i have had to learn how to do thus far in my short twenty years of life. but that was before i opened the most peculiar package from my dear brother.

(back story: this year as siblings we pulled names for christmas. instead of trying to buy presents for everyone, when all of us are either in college, soon in college, or post college (which means, we're all broke.) we decided to focus just on one person - and buy them a thoughtful present that was affordable and kind to our bank accounts. secretly i had hoped that zach had pulled my name because he always gives the most thoughtful and unique presents. i think his love language is gift-giving and i am glad to be on the receiving end of it. :) from a tandem bike to a vespa mug from italy, to the jumping antonio who hangs from my rearview mirror to the nicest running sneakers and a darling bracelet...i couldn't help but secretly hope that he pulled my name this year.)

so this morning when i awoke i saw a very, very large box sitting in front of the Christmas tree with  my very own name scrawled in sharpie on it. "To Ashley, From Zach - Merry Christmas!" A smile quickly spread across my face as i crept closer just to make sure i didn't read it wrong. it was indeed for me.

the gift giving began and soon it was my turn to open the huge present from zach. he carried it over carefully and placed it before my shining eyes. as i gently pulled back the wrapping paper and removed the tape from the cardboard box my eyes soon fell upon a bicycle tire wheel. just one bicycle tire wheel. a squeal of excitement jumped from my heart as i realized what zach had purchased for me... a unicycle!

zach makes all of my dreams come true. 
haha :) 

so this brings me back to the hardest thing i have ever attempted to learn in my life. it is no longer learning how to drive stick shift, although in some ways the two activities are quite similar. namely in that until you "get it" ---- you are the most dreadful and sorry sight. haha 

[also. i now have a new-found respect for people in the circus, particularly the ones who ride unicycles. if i were ever in the circus, i could not be the unicycle-r. i would probably be the bumbling clown who trips over things and gets water thrown in her face. i should think however, that people in the circus would be quite interesting people to spend time with. maybe someday i will find myself a circus family to follow around. :) ]

anyway, so about two hours of practicing later i only have two really sore legs, a few splinters, and a humbled heart to show for it. haha i am making progress however, i can now balance for approximately three seconds.

when i first stepped onto the unicycle i was in shock as to how hard it was going to be. somehow in my mind, i could pick it up like pogo sticking, or hula-hooping, or one of the other random hobbies i had as a child. no, no my friends. unicycling is hard. every muscle in your body counts. every movement matters and sends you soaring forward or backward or  directly into the pavement.

it takes patience. and practice. and more patience. and some more practice. and then some more patience.

so for christmas i received a unicycle. but i also received a harmonica. something else that i thought would be easy to pick up. (i am really naive and silly.)

but this semester i have been learning a lot about patience. and how beautiful it is to work with your hands at something for long periods of time until you get the end result that you intended. (but you don't always get the result you intended, and that's ok too.)  when i look back over this semester, it has been a lot of hands-on learning, a lot of patience learning, a lot of feeling...and i think i am learning that i am the kind of person who really enjoys things that require all of you. things that require you mind, body, and soul. things and activities that are hard and challenging and tedious and yet so incredibly fulfilling. now granted, sometimes these things are really frustrating and they make me want to throw my hands up in the air and never try again, but it's in the choice to try again (and again and again) that wonder and patience and grace can begin to grow inside of a person.

i think that's why i like knitting.
i think that's why i have a growing interest in gardening.
i think that's why i like the prospect of learning how to ride a unicycle.
i think that's why i want to learn to play the harmonica.
i think that's why i love meeting people and really getting to know them. really, with my whole heart.
and i think that's why i like following Jesus.

...because it's hard. and challenging. it requires every single inch of me. it requires every thought and emotion. it requires everything i can possibly offer, and even that isn't enough. but the good news is that God's grace is sufficient. and recently i have been learning that he redeems my mistakes. i keep living and trying and striving to bring a smile to his face and often times i end up stumbling - but his hands always reach out and meet me in my stumbles and he redeems my mistakes. somehow he reaches out and meets me just where i fall short, and every time he redeems what i am feebly trying to do and somehow brings good out of all of my failed attempts. i am learning that God can use us in mighty ways, broken and foolish as we are. and so i keep seeking, keep trying, keep learning...

and i'll continue to get up on that unicycle- i'll keep holding onto those wooden benches that keep sliding splinters into my fingers. i'll keep almost falling on my face. and i'll keep slobbering all over my new harmonica in attempts to play a song. i'll keep putting everything it takes into learning because if we're not learning we're not growing...and if we're not growing we're dying. (thank you, dan pfisner.)

so i encourage you to go embark on an adventure that seems far too big for you. start learning something that is going to require all of your attention in order to master it. pick up an instrument, buy a unicycle, knit a scarf. poor yourself completely into something and see what you come up with in the end. take a pottery class. better yet, poor hours into something and then give it away. watch how the works of your hands can bless others. (and not just bless them, but inspire them!) plant seeds, grow trees, take up running, train for a marathon, bake bread, do a puzzle. no more of this instant gratification stuff - be patient, enjoy the process, learn to make mistakes well, learn to try again. go learn something, you'll be glad you did. :) 

(and if you can't come up with anything to learn, come on over and we'll learn how to ride a unicycle together!)

and this my friends, is what i am so excited to learn for life, i am SO excited that this is a lesson i get to continue to examine and learn and poor myself into...

"Finally as soon as the community of the disciples is born, Jesus sends them: 'Go. Go and announce the good news to the poor, but go with nothing- not even two pairs of sandals. Don't take two tunics, don't take any money, don't take any food. Go with nothing. Go poorly and do the impossible.'
What is the 'impossible'? It is liberation. To liberate people from the demons of fear, of loneliness, of hatred and of egoism that shackle them. To liberate people so that they also can love, heal, and liberate others. But in order to do that, you must go in poverty and experience the life of God flowing within your flesh. You will give life but a life that flows from the heart of God. You will bring people to new life, a new hope..."
from, 'From Brokenness to Community' (a lecture given at Harvard by Jean Vanier)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

mom, these balloons are the best. they have been such a wonderful floor bonding stress relief  activity :) thanks a million for the best packages, ever.

In the midst of finals week, late nights studying, cold mornings that refuse to snow, and the longest presentations of my life... a few things have been making my heart really glad.
really completely happy to be here,
with these people,
in this place.

(if you haven't realized it yet, i'm completely a list person. i make lists all. the. time.)
and when i don't feel like i have time to sit down and write you a novel, i list. :)

things that make my heart glad:

1. Receiving an avocado for Christmas! (people know me so well, haha)
2. Printing pictures from the semester and then hanging said pictures on my closet, refrigerator, world map, etc.
4. Motivational text messages in all capital letters, haha
5. hip-hop music
6. being reminded that i am small.
7. HOME on friday! (for an entire month. hallelujah.)
8. Craft Sunday
9. singing the 12 days of Christmas with Monet
10. the chance to take a final that i missed yesterday. (that's right, i wrote down the wrong date of my final. i missed my final. my professor could be giving me a zero for 30% of my grade. but thank God he's being gracious and allowing me to take it tomorrow. should i bake him a cake or something? haha)

"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice (!) Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done..."
1 Chronicles 16:8-12

[hopefully a longer, more informative post will come soon soon soon. my heart is so full. this semester has left me with such gratitude and joy and gladness and (hopefully) new knowledge and love ...and right now i just don't have time to depict it accurately for you..i have my hardest and most important final to study for. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

it's the last week of classes, people.
the last freakin' four days.
and then finals.

(this is how i've been feeling.) 

[let's just get this out of the way. when i write things down they seem less overwhelming, less frightening.]

things ashley has to do before she comes home:

1. finish a 12 page paper on discrimination against refugees in the United States.
2. (start..) and finish a paper on adventure education programs in urban settings.
3. plan and give a 30 minute presentation on urban adventure programs.
4. study for, take, and pass three finals. (and by pass i mean get at least a B+ as the scholarship requires...)
5. apply to the Wilderness Immersion Leadership Development program (which might take place in British Columbia! Or California!) 
6. spread lots of Christmas cheer on this floor.
7. sing in a coffee house with hannah and other lovely friends. (play the finger cymbals!)
8. go ice skating at Frog Pond
9. take Alegra to the cliffs of Magnolia
10. go to the Wenham Tea House 
11. eat squash soup and celebrate the end of a semester at long hill farm
12. make a Christmas dinner with the wonderful RA staff
13. perfectly time Christmas surprises for the girls on this floor.
14. go sledding on cafeteria trays.
15. host a birthday chocolate fondu

Hm, looking at that list- there are lot more fun things to accomplish than serious, hurray! this makes me feel not so bad for spending the last few days knitting and listening to sufjan stevens Christmas album. it has been such a dilemma deciding how to use my time. just last night i was learning how to knit hats, which is GREAT! but also bad timing because now all i want to do is knit hats for everyone i know...and definitely not research and write eloquent and intelligent sounding papers... 

(oh, and if you happen to be wondering about those awesome red glasses. those are my study glasses. i put them on when i am having a hard time focusing. they are worn often during finals and midterms. they have little "blinders" on the side  which are supposed to help me not look at anything else. unfortunately i think they're so funny that i often  spend a lot of time looking around at people when i'm wearing them just to see what they do. (haha.) i do think however, that they help. i know it's all psychological, but seriously - how else is a girl supposed to focus when it's  CHRISTMAS TIME?!)

(i thought this post wasn't going to have anything really "thoughtful" in it, for i have been too busy to be thoughtful, (haha) buuuuut, maybe here's something. but don't get your hopes up. seriously, don't.) 

so i babysit these two children named maxwell and monet. approximately four mornings a week i get them dressed, feed them breakfast and drive them to school. sometimes monet teaches me how to dance, sometimes we spin around in circles on the kitchen floor until i feel like i'm going to throw up, sometimes we play monopoly but most days we do art projects. one day a week i pick them up after school too and on those days i really feel like a mom. anyway, so this week was monet's birthday (she turned 6). i gave her a birthday present on friday (a stamp pad and some animal rubber stamps- she loves all things art.) and we played with it for a bit before school. i soon realized however that time was passing quickly and it was approaching 8am - "brush teeth and comb your hair" for school time. so naturally i asked monet to go brush her teeth and comb her hair. she pranced off to the bathroom and came back with a headband in her hair (which seemed somewhat brushed, although every knot was carefully avoided...) but did not brush her teeth. i asked her again to brush her teeth after telling her that i didn't hear the water run... (not to mention that she wouldn't let me "smell her minty fresh breath" which is what almost always happens after they brush their teeth) and she refused. defiantly, she curled up in a ball on the little rug in front of the refrigerator and wailed. "i am NOT going to brush my teeth." (well, why monet?) "i just do NOT WANT TO!" and the tears flowed. (this girl is queen of all things drama, why do i always babysit really dramatic children? is this payback for something? or perhaps preparation? haha who knows.) so the crying continued, and continued, and continued. she remained curled up in that ball for a long time wailing and expressing what a tragedy it would be to brush her teeth when she just didn't want to. 

not knowing what to do, i tried to pull the "come on monet, you're 6 years old now" card and tell her that 6 year olds surely don't whine and complain about things so simple. i tried to tell her that 6 year olds don't throw fits. i tried, boy did i try to convince her that brushing her teeth wasn't going to kill her. (or even hurt her for that matter. haha) it took me threatening to take away her special privilege of choosing what song we get to listen to on the way to school to get her off of that rug and into the bathroom. . .  

but you know what? earlier this week i was just like monet. not in so many tears, but my heart was in that position - that fetal position curled up on a rug refusing to do the simple things that i just need to do. i was 5 years old again, being upset about all of the things i have to do. things that don't hurt or require so very much of me, but things i just don't want to do. like write papers, and study for tests and prepare presentations, like go to meetings and classes. i was overwhelmed and annoyed, frustrated at the workload that kept piling on. for one of the first times this semester i felt really stressed. every night that i planned on really getting work done turned into some kind of party or distraction. (haha) i was frustrated with the way i was spending my time and avoiding my studies. i was torn between doing the things that i need to get done, and the things that i want so very badly to do. (specifically the Christmas things...) 

but if 6 year olds don't throw fits anymore, then surely 20 year olds don't either. it's rather silly isn't it, to complain about the things that i must get done. these things that are helping me to learn and grow. these things that are helping me get a degree in something i really care about. it's silly to complain when so many people will never get to attend college, or even high school for that matter. it's really selfish of me. really terribly selfish. 

so i'm trying. i'm trying to buckle down, put on my study glasses, and get things done. (and not just get things done, but to get things done well. and with a smile, even.) at the same time however, i'm trying to slow down, to make time for the people around me and the little events along the way. i'm trying to appropriately plan study breaks and time to do things that don't involve work. i'm trying to make time to notice the sky, to run (in my new running sneakers!), and to sleep. i'm not very good at this yet, but i'm trying. 

[because as we were reminded in the most beautiful advent service this morning, when Jesus came to this world as a little baby, the busy and bustling people of the earth missed it. they were distracted and occupied with their own agendas. i don't want to miss hearing the baby cry this Christmas. i don't want to miss the angels shouting. i want to be as still and watchful as the shepherds. because the shepherds knew. and they rejoiced. oh, did they rejoice. ]

this whole Christmas thing is taking captive so many of my thoughts. 
Jesus, as a baby
The Word became flesh
God in-dwelling
Mary, giving birth to the Christ

it's the craziest, most beautiful story i've ever heard. 

(and to close,
a prayer for Christmas.)

From Guerrillas of Grace:
"Patient God,
this day teeters on the edge of waiting
     and things seem to slip away from me,
          as though everything was only memory
               and memory is capricious.
Help me not to let my life slip away from me.
O God, I hold up my life to you now,
     as much as I can,
          as high as I can,
               in this mysterious reach called prayer.
Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.
It is not days or years I seek from you,
     not infinity and enormity,
          but small things and moments and awareness,
              awareness that you are in what I am
                   and in what I have been indifferent to.

It is not new time,
     but new eyes
          new heart I seek,
               and you."

i will be seeing you soon dear lancaster family!