Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Farewell to the people I have come to love

Goodbyes were difficult, undoubtedly. Due to the fact words seem far from sufficient to express the present, I won't ramble in an attempt to offer some sort of conclusion.

I anticipate seeing ALL of your faces!! So much more than you know. Perhaps this is an encouragement to you as it was to me:
I would like to beg you dear sir, as well as I can to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps, then someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer (Rainer Maria Wilke (1903), Letters to a Young Poet).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The best use of $250 in quite some time

Some things in life are over-romanticized, leaving people disappointed when long awaited anticipation becomes reality. Safaris certainly do not fall into that category. After much confliction as to whether $250 and the final weekend away from my family here was justifiable, we headed for Merchison Falls.

Upon entrance into the Wildlife reserve, the first sight of a baboon began to chip away at my formerly held presuppositions as to what this weekend would entail. Though initially I felt like we were imposing on the animals' environment by traipsing about in our safari vehicles and making spectacles out of them, further exposure and discussion with those in the vehicle sparked a shift in mindset.

Who knows if the area would be preserved at all without tourist dollars sustaining its existence? At the rate Uganda is developing, it may inevitably be renovated if not serving some sort of purpose. In the world today, a price tag can't be put on preservation of the natural world. Though in words I would have made this statement before, the visual sight of what it implies is profound.

To speak of the visual sight in terms of beauty seems an understatement in some ways and in others, not fitting at all. Let's just be honest; not ALL animals are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. But in the midst of the awkwardness of warthogs, the authority of lions, the grace of giraffes, and the divine interaction between tick-infested water buffalo and birds eating the ticks off of their backs, the beautiful sight of interdependence inevitably moves something deep within.

And I am left to wonder how we can doubt that there is something beyond ourselves.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Loving being here while missing there

Though in Africa, schoolwork does not cease to exist. In our final week of classes before finals with five papers due on Friday, I am enjoying the last 30 minutes of "breathe time" I've allowed myself.

With the slight exception of Thanksgiving break, I find myself in a very similar position I would be if I were in America right now; procrastination followed by scrambling to finish everything while enjoying the last few moments with everyone before we leave again. The stark contrast (aside from surroundings etc) is that I won't inevitably be meeting with these people again.

That reality hit hard last night as Dani and I were hanging out with a few of our brothers. Now that they are out of school with time on their hands we have been laughing and enjoying each others' company more than in the past several weeks. I'm going to miss it here; far more than I realize. But I am thankful for that awareness, at the very least, prior to my departure.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, we had a fantastic fiasco here in Mukono--the Americans, Canadians, Europeans and African internationals all got together at the Bartels' house for a cookout. With the expectation of a "make-shift" celebration, I was blown away to find grilled turkey, mashed potatoes and ROLLS; things which have been a foreign concept for quite some time now. Following dinner with a SMORGASBORD of desserts and a showing of Charlie Brown's Christmas, we all went to bed with smiles on our faces and stomachs that had far surpassed the point of satisfaction.

In spite of the genuine good times, it did not cease to be a time which reminded me of "home." Regardless of how fun it is, celebrating Thanksgiving is simply not the same without those who have been closest to you throughout life. I am increasingly confronted with the intentionality that is required to maintain relationships over time; especially from a distance. But in the midst of that realization and in light of the holiday, I am thankful beyond expression for the genuine relationships in my life. It is impossible for you to know the number of times that you all have been the hands and feet of Christ in my life; I only hope that the same is true on the other end of the spectrum. We need each other, undoubtedly.

Here are a few pictures for your own enjoyment, even though the boys were a little camera shy. With a BEAUTIFUL sky, who would have thought that Dani and I would have to teach Africans what it means to star-gaze?

One of my endless siblings Peter. Oh, how he makes me laugh...

Friday, November 20, 2009

People come and people go.

It's funny how we never realize the significance of our time with people until time somehow manages to escape us. I have failed to mention that Mia and Pernille have been staying with us for the past seven weeks. From Denmark, they are in their interim between High School and University seeing the world in an attempt to decide what they want to do with their lives.

Though in Africa, it has been interesting to have such a global home: Africans from various tribes, Europeans and Americans all living under the same roof. Obviously this implies varying world views which is grounds for intriguing conversation. Unshakable faith, a faith that questions and atheism/agnosticism have occupied the same space. In addition, a people that are aware of global issues, a people that try but are somewhat ignorant by means of society and a people who are concerned with solely what is before them is also represented. My point is not to say one world view is better than another but simply highlight some of the most obvious generalizations. To reinact conversations would be both difficult and unnecessary, but it has been challenging (in a positive way), to say the least.

And I am convinced that conversation and communication between extreme views, when done in a healthy way, is always positive. The world is a large place and to assume for a moment we can begin to solve its issues alone is both prideful and ignorant. May we be humbled and continually reminded we are part of a people group beyond ourselves.

And so as I say goodbye to Mia and Pernille, not knowing if or when I will see them again, I am thankful for the time we've had and encouraged by their eagerness to seek genuine meaning in life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A word of Wisdom from my Mama

"Wisdom is crucial but wisdom is not enough. Wisdom is essential...and insufficient."

That's all I have today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Home can only be one place? Impossible.

Excerpts from my journal...

...It is undeniably true that my eyes are taking in the most beautiful vision they have ever seen as I sit on the slopes of Elgon in the backyard of my home this week. Never before have I been to the mountains (aside from flying or driving through) and I now understand why my mom misses them so much...

...I have felt at home this week--SO at home. And while my humanness questions why I am only here such a short time when I would love to see Peace, Joanna and Esther grow up, I am learning that questioning why I have the opportunity to encounter so many incredible people is somewhat ignorant...

...For the first time, I know I will miss Africa when I leave. And it will always be a piece of home for me. I don't know if I ever will be here long-term, but I am open again...

...My feet are cracked, my nose is blistered from the sun, my hands are growing calloused, my clothes are torn and I have scars on my legs. Oh, and I can't forget about the recurring stomach issues that are inevitable...but none of it bothers me. Last night Joanna touched my feet and was struck by the fact they are the same as hers, hard and cracked. It was a beautiful moment...

...Life is hard here. In the words of my brother Henry, "It is much like survival. While initially I negated this statement, it soon becomes reality when you really put yourself in their shoes (or lack thereof). But in the midst of that "survival" there is great depth; depth that even they don't see…, home is right here in Kapchorwa...

...I pray this vision will forever be imprinted upon my mind. And yet I wonder as I look down the slope and see people endlessly working to simply live if they even know just how beautiful their home is. Dominated by nature, they are forced to comply...from an objective view, God is impossible to miss...

...Until a moment ago, I genuinely thought I could survive the African life. “Juliet!” called Lilian. Upon coming to the kitchen from which I heard her voice I was caught off-guard to see something green and sloshy all over the ground.
“Ah, Lilian! You spilled the spinach!” I said to which she responded, “Yea!”
The next moment revealed she clearly hadn’t understood me when she pointed to the ground with a bright smile saying, “Cow!”
My disgusted face and “ah, Ah, AH!” simply made her laugh beyond control.
I finally managed to say “Keiitabon!” (well done) and was thankful she didn’t make me join her. Perhaps one day I will be brave enough to immerse both hands and feet in cow dung for a greater cause, but today I will admit my defeat in not being an African woman...

…I slaughtered a chicken and I don’t know if I can ever eat meat again…I was literally praying the entire time…sounds ridiculous, but I’m the girl that cried when I hit a raccoon on the highway!!...

It is a remarkable thing to know you genuinely have family all over the globe. The number of people I address as Mama and Papa now surpass the numbers on my hands and I know at any given moment, home would be with any one of them. I’m continually learning what it means to be fully present in every moment; something so simple, but so so difficult.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We do not make the world go round.

Recently I've found myself tired of processing, tired of entering into deep relationships only to be pulled away again, tired of having to have an opinion, and craving consistency.

So I am writing this blog not to cast off the illusion there are not many positive things taking place or connections being made--for that is far from the truth. I am writing simply to vent and ask for support in prayer and love.

I am acutely aware of the necessity I have to stop, and just be.

Tomorrow morning we leave to go to Kaptura for ten days to simply live among a family and experience rural life without electricity or running water; to "just be" a part of the family for a week.

And it couldn't have come at a better time. I'm sure those who designed this program know all too well the state of students at this point in the semester, and for that I am thankful.

Believe me when I say I love you all far more than you know.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm still Alive!

The fact that bungee jumping is all that you've heard from me in the past while does a great injustice what my life actually consists of while here.

I will write more in depth soon but just know I still love you all!!

Just to leave you with one thought--This is the "Mato Oput" being put into action in the communities formerly thought of as most violent here in Uganda:

1. Do not commit the first offence to anybody in the world.
2. Have respect for all the world.
3. Speak the truth at all times.
4. Never, ever tell lies under all circumstances, even if your neck is being cut off. It is better for you to die for the truth than to tell lies.
5. Do not steal.

It is impossible in such a short and brief explanation to describe the depth of the significance of this in the midst of such a tribal culture.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I am more thankful for my life today than I was yesterday.

This past weekend was a get-away to Jinja; an illusion that we were not in Africa for a few moments in time.

Though not necessarily restful, it was EXHILERATING--to say the least.

With solely an oar in hand, we embarked upon our days' journey down the rapids of the Nile River. The greatness of Nature became all too clear as we attempted with all of our might to conquer the great current of water which lay ahead. Failing miserably, we were forced to rely on the kayaker to save us time and time again as we were thrown in every direction off of our "reliable" raft.

And as I say it was an illusion we were not in Africa, it seems all too fitting that we were; having no option but to come face to face with nature.

Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but for that moment in time, I can absolutely say it was reality.

Standing on the edge of the platform, it was all Rachel and I could do not to look down into the River which had shown us grace just the day before. Clinging tighter to her than ever before to anyone in my life, we prepared for the plunge...


It is impossible for me to describe the feeling to you. All I can say is that Rachel and I screamed the loudest out of all who jumped, tears were running down my face, and I continually held on to Rachel's head to ensure she was still there.
Just do it. And you'll understand.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

High school dances all over again and...I'm being courted by a 38-year-old??

It is impossible for me to describe the extent of what it means to be a mzungu (white person) here in Uganda. So I leave you with a couple of stories...

The first question that ever came out of his mouth to me was this: "Do you know Brooke?" Upon my head nod he proceeded to ask, "Have you seen her baby?"

Now Brooke is one of our professors while here who married a Ugandan and has a mixed baby. Beautiful, no doubt. But a hysterical conversation starter.

The conversation ended fairly quickly as I briskly walked away. This was the beginning of several encounters all of which I discounted readily. Until one day, I began my 1.5K trek home and heard my name being yelled from behind. I turned around to discover he who we shall call "Victor" running up behind me and asking if I had time to get some tea and chat. Luckily, it was nearly 7, the time I am required to be home. Sigh; I had a legitemate excuse.

"May I buy you a boda-boda then?" (a ride home on a motorcycle). "No thank you, I enjoy walking;" simple response. But one thing you must know is that African men are persistent. "Well, then I shall walk you." "Really, I'm fine," I pleaded. But like I said, African men are persistent. So he proceeded to walk me all the way home, questioning about my major, education, etc and telling me all of the ways in which that would fit perfectly here in Uganda.

As if that's not enough, he stopped by the side of the road and bought corn and asked me to wait. Little did I know it was for my family! He proceeded to talk himself up and say he had to be honest and let me know where he stands; he wants to get to know me. And to all of this I clearly responded I was interested only in friendship, would be returning to America in December, and certainly would not date him. And was I ever relieved as I finally arrived my house and came up with an excuse not to give him my number.

So, the next afternoon, he came to my house! Luckily, I was not there. And now I know not what to do. Would he have ever initiated a conversation were I not a mzungu? Arguable, but I say "no" pretty confidently.
And for a second story:
Dani and I were standing outside of our brother's school dance party which we had promised to come to when we exchanged looks of anticipation as we had no IDEA what to expect. Upon enterring the room, the music stopped, all the guys gathered around us wanting to dance, and all we could say was "Where's Peter?"

For one of the longest minutes of my life I stood and semi-danced, overwhelmed by the focus of attention until FINALLY--Peter's hand reached through and grabbed us out of the crowd.

Would this happen if I were not white? I dare to say no.
In addition, on any given day at any given moment you hear "Mzungu! Mzungu!" as you walk down the streets of Mukono and the boda-boda men inevitably make some smart comment: "Mzungu, I love you!," "Obama!," or Yes, please!" Honestly, what does that even mean? When kids see you they A) scream B) yell "Mzungu!" C) jump up and down D) cling to their parents, or E) a combination of the above.

Ask any given person on the street in Mukono where they would go if the sky was the limit and 99.9% of the time the resounding answer would be, "America!" Here in Uganda there is an idealization about America--they LOVE Obama. Seriously; there are t-shirts with Obama on the streets. And because we have a black president they assume that America is a utopia. It's funny; everyone over here claims him as their own and love African Americans, but how many African Americans even have a passing thought involving Africans?

It is inarguable that America influences the rest of the world, or at least Uganda. Did I think I would hear Backstreet Boys blaring from the sports bar as I walked down the street? Not quite. And while it's really humorous, it's kind of heart-breaking.

The things which have in the past defined their African culture are quickly disappearing and I am left to wonder what it will be like 50 years from now...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today I will not lie to you.

I have now been in uganda for a month; the precise amount of time experts say you will inevitably wrestle with the culture you happen to be in and miss deep friendships. While I would love to tell you that I do not fit the cookie-cutter mold, I cannot.

Though I have traveled before and wrestled with things, it does not fail to be true the third/fourth time around. You'll often hear the saying that "'there' soon becomes 'here' regardless of where you go," and it is undeniably true.

There is nothing I want more than to get away for a few days/weeks/months/YEARS (ok, a little extreme) and just acknowledge the fact that life goes on without me. Is it possible that I need a sabbatical just shy of 20 years old? Haha, I laugh. But today i am entirely genuine.

And I don't doubt this will change again; that the things I am finding negative in Ugandan society will soon prove to be signs of hope for me. But there's no way to know when or how or whatever. So you can just smile when you read the positive update and remember I told you the encouragement would come :)

On the bright side, the people here are no less wonderful than they were the first day--on campus, at my home stay, and in the community. We went to Jinja this past weekend and I could talk for hours of the positive and negatives of it, but time does not lend itself to that. I worked in the garden with Mama the other day and anticipate the days that are to come tilling the African soil. It is a mind-boggling thing to consider the process of life; growing and maturing seeds/humans/animals.

I am continually striving to see the connection the underlies all of mankind and life in general; our necessity for each other in order for life to exist at all.

Know that I love and appreciate your presence in my life far more than you know.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'I am because we are' and 'We are because He is'

Classes officially started a week ago yesterday and time is anything but endless.

Coming in to the program we knew some, but not all, of what this semester would entail. And I am relieved to know, at least in part (ha), what it is and will be like. I can say in absolute certainty that I am reading more than I ever have before and my mind is stretched CONTINUALLY. The things I have come to accept are once again challenged as I see faith lived out in yet another culture.

I have to admit though, I love the fact that we do not fully know all of what the semester ahead holds. It seems to be the way with African life in general; live for the relationships, the conversations, the present. On the journey of living life as a collective community, I am discovering the depth of the truth in the philosophy that 'I am because we are' and 'We are because He is.' Though in my mind this has always been resoundingly true and i have seen it before, this is perhaps the first time I have actually been a participant in acknowledging it by action.

Some of you may have heard that there were riots in Kampala and Mukono this past weekend. And yes, I certainly was affected by them. Thursday night the seven of us that live 20+ minutes away from campus by foot had to stay with the leaders of the program on campus. We were pampered with some All American goodies (brownies, cookies, muffins...) and under the circumstances were pretty much oblivious to all that was taking place.

It was not until the next day returning to our homes in Mukono that the issue in its depth became real to us. Tribalism runs deep in Africa and there are somewhere around 52 tribes in Uganda alone. In a nutshell, the Boganda king was trying to get to a neighboring village but the President of Uganda would not allow him to pass. This, in turn, caused upheaval and rioting among the Buganda (people of the kingdom) which was demonstrated through stonings and fires in the streets. In order to tame the situation, the police fired gunshots in the air and in extreme cases, used some tear gas in order to keep the people from continuing to cause trouble.

We were absolutely safe, but not unaffected by fires and gunshots both seen and heard right over the fence of the back of our house. At least where we are, people are fine and the issue is resolved; the King agreed not to pass. Through it all I've learned much about Tribalism, though it would be impossible for me to fully grasp it after three weeks' time.

My family here is wonderful; it, in and of itself, is an example of community as none of the people that live with us are Mama Robina's children anymore. But it doesn't matter; all are family. Ah, Mama Robina. I hope I have time someday to elaborate on that incredible woman of faith...

For those of you I've talked to, it's been wonderful to hear your voices!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I can learn from those who've killed.

Wasuzotia? (Good morning and how did you sleep? in Luganda, the local language).
The proper response here would be 'Bulungi!' literally translating 'good,' provided all is well. So I'll pretend I heard your response :)

Beginning this post is certainly difficult as we just spent an intensive week walking through the streets where the Rwandan Genocide took place as well as hearing the firsthand perspectives of some of those who experienced it. And I am reminded yet again of the brokenness that exists within every man. People justified killing in the name of the Christian faith and many of the genocides took place between people who knew each other well, often within the churches themselves. I am left with the realization that love and hate are far closer than we like to admit; where there is love, hate seems to follow closely. Perhaps it is just circumstance which prevents us from killing just as they did...

And where I struggle most is that in the time Rwandans were utterly helpless, the world at large remained entirely at a distance. And I don't even mean in the midst of the war, for that they did to themselves. But what about the follow-up?

I could go on for hours of the many gory details and injustices of the occurence, but I have not the time nor the energy to walk through it all again.

However, I can tell you that today, Rwanda is surprisingly one of the safest places in the world. They are a tangible example of a country which views reconciliation as ESSENTIAL and forgiveness is taking place. Slowly, but surely. The church as an institution is a place which is slowly healing as well. But faith in the midst of it all is dumbfounding as you see women forgiving men who slaughtered their babies in their own two hands. So the church as a people group is stronger than it has been in a long time as faith in God is strong. But not void of questions.

While not every story is a story of faith, it is remarkable to see the bridges being gapped. And I am realizing that pain, regardless to what degree it is, cannot be disregarded. And it cannot be ignored. Though this sounds basic, it's incredible how brilliant that people, including myself, become at hiding it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I made it!

For the next 4 months, Mukono, Uganda is the place I call home. It's surreal as I walk down the streets of Mukono that this is Africa; the world seems to grow smaller and smaller as the days go by.

In a nutshell, my family is wonderful and the members of it are far too numerous to count with people in and out all the time. We have laughed until our stomachs hurt and had intensive conversations about Ugandan life, history, and stereotypes they have about Americans. The stereotypes in and of themselves make for lots of laughter; though on some level, they are always true.

Here's a glimpse of what I mean when I say we're laughing until our stomachs hurt:

This is one of my many brothers, William. Ha.

Here is my mailing adress for all those to whom I've promised it:
Julie Bird, Uganda Studies Program
Uganda Christian University
P.O. Box 4
Mukono, Uganda
I love mail! And if you send me something, be assured you will receive something back :)

I also have an international cell phone which receives calls from Skype for free, but... I don't know the number yet.

We'll be in Rwanda for the next week and a half and will have no communication so I will update after that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Africa...Here I come!!

Though it has been awhile since I last wrote, life has certainly not been on hold. Feel free to skip over the next paragraph if you'd like :)

In this time I have finished up my time with CSM, said my "see ya laters," hung out with the MKs at MK retreat, road-tripped with good friends to Alabama (shout out to Kayla, Kylie, Kayley, Breanna, Becky, and--of course--Mama West), spent some quality time with Daniel and his fam, gone camping (shout out to Daniel, Hillary, Brittany, Tanner, and Preston), seen my fav and only room-mate ever (Ah, Mary Cat), caught up with the parents, saw everyone at church (I always forget just how much people there have invested into my life), had a reunion with the senior road-trippers plus and minus a few (Catherine, Hannah, Kyle, Kevin, Patrick, Lauren and ANNIE WHO CAME HOME FROM BELGIUM!), gotten coffee with Cait and surprised Alyson with her and Les, saw Chicago at Starlight with some of the girls (Ann, Shan, Maggie, Alyssa, and Maddie), went hiking with Mags and got poison ivy :), made breakfast with lots of people from high school (too many to list!), celebrated Lesli's bday (Annie, LESLI, Ann, and Karmen), saw KADILYN!!!!!! (my cousin who's been in Thailand forever and I haven't seen for 2 1/2 years), caught up with lots of fam (saw my sis from Cali, bros, Lisa, and MATTY! He grows up too fast), worked lots at Friday's (nickel and diming it for Africa), hung out with the JONES's!!!!! (Whitney and Aubry, you have no idea how much you mean to me), baked cookies with Mel and Tiff, went to a housewarming party in Lawrence (Kaitlin, Katie, Kendall, and Clara--and so many others), and had a going away party as well as a grad party for Jess (this is way too many people to count). And there were still people I didn't get to see.

And I say all of this to say I am acutely aware in this moment of how much that each one of these individuals mean to me. The more I go away and come back, the more I realize just how significant a short amount of time is. In just a few brief moments, it is possible to reignite memories and acknowledge deep friendships which far surpass the mundaneness of life.

What a beautiful thing.

Tomorrow I leave for Kampala, Uganda in Africa to meet those who will be my family for the next several months.
And I am ecstatic.

I'll let you know I'm alive and well just as soon as I have access to internet; love you all!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Faces imprinted only in my mind

As I look over pictures both on facebook and in my camera tonight, I realize how much of an injustice that generic pictures do to life as a whole. While they certainly portray the exciting and fun-filled times full of laughter and sillines, they seem to negate the pain and struggles which exist simply as a result of being a living, breathing human.

That has certainly proven to be the case this summer. As I look at the great many faces of those in pictures from the past couple months, alot of the faces which have impacted me most deeply are missing. And it's an interesting thing. Even when looking through the pages of my journal there are an endless amount of names which are never even mentioned yet have left a lasting imprint.

And I wonder why it is that humans so readily bury the reality of what lies beneath the surface.

There is beauty in homelessness and physical illness and all that cannot be hidden; at least their struggles are obvious.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Captured Expression

One can see much about the character of a person by looking intently into the eyes and facial expression of another.

This has been demonstrated today by Joe, a man here with a group from Little Rock, Arkansas. A gifted artist, he has been drawing portraits of a plethora of people. Shortly after arriving at the Boys and Girls Club this morning, he had an endless amount of kids anticipating the opportunity to be drawn.

It was obvious that some were slightly uncomfortable with the intensive attention to each and every detail of their faces. And I found myself wondering if ANYONE had ever looked that closely at some of them. Perhaps for the first time, these kids were given complete and undivided attention.

As they sat discussions were sparked and the kids began to speak of aspirations for the future. I saw glistens of hope in the midst of a community that destines them to an endless cycle of poverty.

But it doesn't end there. Later on in the day, the group went downtown to hand out care bags in addition to engaging in conversation. Yet again, Joe began to draw those he encountered. One man, in specific, stood out to the group. And there he sat in a wheelchair lacking one leg. After approaching the man, they all quickly found there was much to talk about.

With a blend of laughter and melancholy, their vulnerablility with each other spurred the conversation on to a deeper level. Thoughts of suicide ran rampant in Glen's mind as he felt there was nothing worth living for. The immense amount of suffering he had faced became more and more obvious as conversation continued. But in the midst of it all, Glen acknowledged God at work in his life. And that's when you know that faith is genuine.

Though they could not change the past, at least they provided laughter and a listening ear for today. His friend later came over with a guitar and taught the group some basic chords. Genuine community took place right there on the street corner as they bore the burdens of one another.

A picture is undoubtedly worth a thousand words.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Joyful Giggles

It is intriguing to me that laughter can be both beautiful and tragic; yet another paradox of life.

On the one hand it can be a very cruel and pointed thing ending only in a false sense of happiness by those laughing and a sense of inadequacy in the life of the one being laughed at. But on the contrasting side, it has been scientifically proven to improve health in many regards: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally; the benefits are endless.

As for myself, I have experienced firsthand the healing power of laughter over the past couple of days. The group that's here from Charlotte, NC this week has shown me what it really looks like to have a good time.

It is easy to get discouraged by the endless amount of suffering in the world. And while assessing situations and promoting change are beautiful and very necessary things, the action which accomplishes those tasks may be much simpler than we realize. Laughter bridges gaps and brings people together in ways words cannot.

...Sometimes, all you need to do is laugh.

"He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy" (Job 8:21).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Tears began to stream down my face as Jody and Austin's group shared of how they ran into Tom on Tuesday morning at the Salvation Army bus.

He's doing well. With a smile, he shared his story with some of the students and every last one of them were affected by it. I found out that one of the guys from my church talked to him on the street corner the other day as well and the fact they saw him in the place he swore he wouldn't return says a lot.

Though not fully well, he's out and about. And I am encouraged once again.

I doubt that Tom knows the extent of how many young people he has influenced. But still, he never fails to tell of the ways in which God is at work in his life.

I SAW JESUS TODAY. He walked into the Co-op Misison on the east side of Nashville. The moment I saw Him, I knew it was He. As He left the building with hands full of clothes and lunch for the day His smile said, "For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me." I will never forget His face and the amazing smile that spoke to my heart.

I wish I could say I wrote that. But I can't. However, it is testimony to the fact that people are catching glimpses of God in the city.

Monday, June 22, 2009


This next post was much sooner than I had anticipated, but tonight my heart is broken.

Tom is a man I have gotten to know well over the course of the past year. After having met him at a dinner called Soul Feast, I quickly learned he was an entertainer. He never fails to have a joke on hand and is unafraid to burst out in song at any given moment.

He has been an encouragement in times when the smile upon my own face was forced. I could go on for hours explaining the ways in which this is true, but unfortunately I don't have time for that and must continue on to my point.

I have only seen him once since returning to Nashville and that was about four weeks ago on the steps of the place I first met him. Downcast and void of any sort of expression, he was admittedly depressed; said he hadn't been to church in a month, couldn't pay his electric bill, and was apathetic toward life. This is not the man I remembered; there was some sort of switch that had taken place but due to the fact I wasn't alone, I had to leave before finding out the extent of the present situation.

For the duration of the past weeks this has been heavy on my heart and I have often wondered what I could do. Since he didn't have a phone, I couldn't call. But I remembered a note he had written me awhile back with his email and proceeded to email him.

Today I received a reply. And my heart breaks even more. He said he had been shot and robbed, but that's not what upsets me. What upsets me is that no one came through for him. No one checked on him. And no one gave him a ride to church when he couldn't use his leg very well to walk even though several knew full well where he lived.

Though misunderstandings may be present, that doesn't change the fact that he feels betrayed by those he calls his friends. His direct quote was this:
...No one came by my house to check on me or pick me up from church. I don't need so called fake friends. I don't plan to go to that church anymore. I don't harbor hard feelings toward the kid that shot was just about the money...but the people of the church, they know where I live, so I do take that personal...You don't preach one thing and do another...
And so my heart breaks for him with the reminder that all people are flawed; even those within the church. And I remember the extent to which we all need grace.

Friday, June 19, 2009

For several weeks now I have intended to begin this blog and I'm finally going to make it happen. So welcome to my life :).

Where am I? you ask.

Nashville, TN is where I currently call home; Music City USA; the buckle of the Bible belt; home of the Tennessee Titans. From a tourist's perspective, this city is filled with glamour and cowboy boots. But after having spent a year here in Nashville, I find it is a great mistruth to assume that is the extent of Nashville.

Venturing here last fall to attend Trevecca Nazarene University, my heart has been broken time and time again by the endless amount of stories told by people who have come to be some of my best friends. It is after joining the CSM staff that I am encouraged by what is being done on a larger scale in regards to solving the ever-pressing issue of poverty. And while I am encouraged by what is being done, I am also more aware of where the systems are flawed. But in the midst of this "brokenness," God is and has undoubtedly been at work.

Long conversations and late schedules are worth every minute as youth groups that come in from around the states begin to delve into various issues and brainstorm the possibilities of what it would look like to live radically in the world today. But perhaps the most beautiful evidence that God is alive and well can be found in human interaction: laughter, tears, hugs, playing tag, finding out how people got where they are, smiles, and conversation both meaningful and mundane. Through friendship and genuine love, dignity is being restored. And if only for a moment, dreams are dreamt again.

And so I/we are discovering what it is to genuinely love; what it really means to live out the greatest commandments of all: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37, Deut 6.4-5) and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39, Lev 19:18).

There's no place in the world I'd rather be right now than serving here with CSM; watching the lives and mindsets of many, including myself, transform as they are continually challenged to see the world through God's eyes.

Oh, and this is my family for the summer....

This pic pretty well exemplifies all of our personalities...yep.
(Austin, Bethany, Heather, Jody, Me, and Jarred) Love them.