Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas to Remember

There are many reasons I will remember this blessed Christmas of 2008. But a sampling follows, and I have only to say aside from these: how thankful I am for my family and dear friends, a warm house and bountiful food, and a God who gifts me with the coming of the close of the year that has changed my life more than perhaps any other.

Reasons to remember this Christmas:
10) My dad four-wheeling in my Ford Escape on our way to the Christmas Eve service, claiming that (and I quote): "This car can do anything!"

9) Reading myself to sleep while watching my breath puff out in warm puffs of air against the bitter cold caused by our power going out for 50+ hours (Until about 4 pm Christmas Eve). This resulted also in our family huddling by the fire every night to read and talk, and while it sounds more romantic than it was, the time was no less quite precious.

8) Taking our annual family shopping trip (usually downtown) to Washington Square mall and then Fred Meyer's where we bought one another the bulk of their presents and went to great lengths to keep them hidden from one another in the not-so-roomy Escape. This included some near-sprints to the car, half-truths, and excessive packaging.

7) Cutting down, carting home, erecting and lighting a Christmas tree without the aid of my capable Father for the first time, to decorate Susan's & my house with her and my sister.

6) Listening to Amy Grant's (2nd & best) Christmas Album on loop at least 20 times throughout the first two weeks of December during our Seattle evenings of card writing & decorating. Without getting sick of it at all. Amazing.

5) Receiving approximately 20 pairs of socks on Christmas morning from my mother, who apparently found great deals!

4) Spending Christmas morning brunch with some very gracious neighbors (and also some interesting ones), most of whom we met upon arrival. Delicious egg-bake & cinnamon twists!

3) Taking a walk to Starbucks on Christmas Eve and the 1.25 mile round-trip walk taking over 2 hours because of all the people we know stopping us to complain about the power outage. The last count we heard: 119 houses were out of power in our neighborhood and Portland General Electric received 359 calls from our power grid in the span of less than 48 hours. Apparently, Lake Oswegoans do NOT handle camping-like conditions very gracefully.

2) Its our last Christmas in my Lake Oswego childhood home, as my parents have sold the house and will move to Vancouver in the early Spring. The many memories we have in this house and neighborhood may never be forgotten, but I will dearly miss the place, the familiarity, the homeyness. It is hard to picture returning home anywhere else, much less spending a beloved holiday in a new home. But this Christmas is special in knowing that we will never again experience Christmas within the same space.

1) IT WAS A WHITE CHRISTMAS! For the first time in my memory, there was a thick blanket of snow on the ground on Christmas day. Lake Oswego got no less than 16-17 inches of snow (and a good half-inch of ice) leading up to Christmas. This caused horrific traffic conditions (chains were required on all Portland-metro roads & highways for over 2 days), a scare that Maryann and I might not make it home for Christmas, thousands of people stranded in the Northwest for the holiday due to flight cancellations, and a slew of other closures and problems (including many services which were canceled Christmas Eve). All this, and I still felt like a giddy school child who just got her wish a few years too late for a blanket of snow. (Quick note: the last time it snowed like this in Portland was 1968 - 14 years before I was even born.) Even though tomorrow it will start to disappear slowly, I will never forget this Christmas for this reason alone. Oh, and my dad barbecuing in the snow for our Christmas Dinner is also a unique experience! :)

God bless you all and a very, very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Turkey, Football, and its December!

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I am thankful for the time with family. My immediate family spent a wonderful (and FULL) holiday weekend entertaining other family members, eating LOTS of delicious food (personal favs: stuffing, rolls, and pie - carbs, anyone?), Christmas tree hunting (and we found the perfect one, by the way, as per usual), wine-tasting (because you can't Christmas tree hunt in Oregon without finding a Pinot Noir maker right next door), watching WONDERFUL old black and white Christmas movies like (The Bishop's Wife), and, of course, watching football.

This last one is very bittersweet for me. More than any other year of my life, I have wrapped my schedule around the Oregon State Beavers who have had a heck of a season. I've really gotten into cheering for these college players who have a ton of heart and a lot of cool stories amongst them. After their win over #1 USC, I was hooked, and attended 5 of the ensuing games, flying to California, grabbing tickets for UW/OSU off Craigslist, and making 3 separate treks to Corvallis from Seattle to see them play at Reser. When I couldn't fly to Arizona, I drug my sister and my friend Kate (visiting from Iowa) to Fox Sports Grill just to be able to watch them slug out a win.

My father shares my passion (ok, he was the one who instigated it in the first place - he actually WENT there) and together we would cheer and yell and party in honor of this team. When we realized they would go to the Rose Bowl (a very prestigious game) if they won out their last 3 games, we agreed to fly our whole family to Pasadena to watch them play in this once in a lifetime game (the last time they were there was 1964, so we're talking for real, once in a lifetime).

Well, this last weekend, they only had one more game to win - vs. University of Oregon. And I was there with my dad, more nervous than I ever was for a high school voice recital! And I had to watch as these young, exhausted, beat-up players I've been cheering for got routed by their arch rival. It was such a sad day, and it tainted my Thanksgiving just a bit. I now spend New Year's in Portland instead of sunny Pasadena, and endure the taunts from the Duck fans who will talk about the game for years to come.

Boo hoo for me, right? Most of you probably want to say "Jenny, ummm....there are real problems out in the world, and you're wasting emotional energy on a college football team?" I know, I know. Today is World Aids Day, and believe me, I was reminded. The thing is, I've been mulling over this. I was only one of thousands and thousands of people who felt a let-down stronger than I did. Why do we attach ourselves so strongly to something so, relatively, unimportant and impersonal? I think it stems partly from a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to join a community who is for the same thing.

The thing is, it is only a shadow of what we truly long for. I had to remind myself that I am part of something much bigger than this football team. I am part of a Body that is headed by Someone who never disappoints, never fails, never loses. Granted, I may not always understand how He gets to the win, or why He makes some play calls, but I know the end result, and I know we will get there. A little perspective was therefore served up with my stuffing, and I hope I can keep it next year, when the OSU Beavers make another run for the Rose Bowl.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

World Hunger Week

I came across this article thanks to CNN's website today, and thought I would post the main text of it because it is so important. It also references Haiti, a country my childhood church has significant ties to, and that I someday very much would like to visit.

By John Blake

(CNN) -- Some mothers choose what their children will eat. Others choose which children will eat and which will die.

A Haitian boy begs for food. One child dies from hunger every six seconds, an aid agency says.

Those mothers forced to make the grim life-or-death choices are the impoverished women Patricia Wolff, executive director of Meds & Food for Kids, encounters during her frequent trips to Haiti.

Wolff says Haitians are so desperate for food that many mothers wait to name their newborns because so many infants die of malnourishment. Other Haitian mothers keep their children alive by parceling out food to them, but some make an excruciating choice when their food rationing fails, she says.

"It's horrible. They have to choose among their children," says Wolff, whose nonprofit group was formed to fight childhood malnutrition. "They try to keep them alive by feeding them, but sometimes they make the decision that this one has to go."

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies." Four decades later, King's wish remains unfulfilled. The global food market's shelves are getting bare, hunger activists say -- and it will get worse.

Food riots erupted across the globe this year in countries such as Egypt and India. Food pantries in the United States also warned that they were running out of food because of unprecedented demand. The news from the World Food Programme is even grimmer: A child dies of hunger every six seconds, and hunger now kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The end of food?

Wolff thinks hunger can be conquered. Her group produces "Medika Mamba," energy dense, peanut butter food that's designed to ensure Haitian children survive childhood. Medika Mamba is easy to make, store, preserve and distribute, she says.

"It just takes the will to do it," she says of eliminating hunger. "Look at what we did for Wall Street. We didn't have enough money for infrastructure, schools, but all of a sudden, we had all of this money for Wall Street."

Raj Patel, author of "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System," says the right to food should be seen as a human right. But, he says, powerful corporate food distributors control too much of the world's food supply to ensure a robust global food supply.

Patel says "2008 was a record year in terms of harvest. There's more food per person in 2008 than there's ever been in history. The problem is not food, but how we distribute it."

Other causes for the rise in global hunger have been documented. They include:

• Surging oil costs have made it more expensive to harvest, fertilize, store and deliver food.

• The rise in droughts and hurricanes worldwide has wiped out crops and made farming more difficult.

• The world is running out of the raw materials -- water, oil, good farmland -- needed to keep the food system intact.

"A lot of people have begun to understand at various levels that the food system, as it is, can't go on," says Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Food."

Every time an American bites down on a steak or hamburger, they're contributing to global hunger, Roberts says. As other countries become more affluent, they're copying our meat-heavy diet. The problem: It takes so much grain and other resources to produce meat, he says.

"If the rest of the world were to eat like we do, the planet would collapse," Roberts says. "There's been this unspoken assumption that the rest of the world won't eat meat like we do. That doesn't go over well in countries like China."

Fixing our food system would be similar to weaning ourselves of our addiction to oil, Roberts says. It's going to require innovation, heavy business involvement and changes in public policy.

People are going to have to find ways to grow food with less fertilizer and water, and use less energy to store and transport food, he says.

Much of this innovation will have to be driven not just by activist and aid workers, but by savvy business people, he says.

"It's going to have to be profitable or the market won't be interested in it," Roberts says. "And if the market isn't interested in it, it's not going to happen."

In the meantime, Wolff offers some of her own solutions. She says the practice of big foreign aid agencies shipping in food to poor countries like Haiti needs to be modified. Food has become too expensive to produce, ship and store, she says.

"You can't count on big aid agencies showing up to save everybody," she says. "Not everybody can do it, and when they do it, it's not soon enough and not long enough."

She suggests that more groups teach local farmers in poor places how to produce their own crops. In Haiti, for example, her group employs 22 Haitians who make Medika Mamba and teaches other farmers how to grow crops for the mixture.

"Instead of throwing fish in the crowd, we should be teaching people how to fish," she says.

Until that day takes place, Wolff, who is a pediatrician in St. Louis, Missouri, will continue to make her trips to Haiti, where mothers are forced to make their grim choices.

"It's the most difficult thing I've ever done," she says. "You realize how absolutely blessed you are by the fate of your soul coming down the chute in the United States of America," she says. "You wonder: Why did this happen to me and not to them?' ''

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Seattle buses

So, today marked my 13th straight working day taking the bus to and from my job at a downtown accounting firm in Seattle. My bus ride is easy (20 minutes, no transfers), and the buses come pretty promptly and often. Its actually been one of the more enjoyable parts of my day, as I get 40 minutes each day to people watch, observe, sit quietly, eavesdrop, etc.

That said, today it finally dawned on me that the bus is awkward. Kind of like elevator awkward, except much longer lasting. I climbed on the 4:02 pm bus from downtown, and it was one of those really long 3 sets of wheels ones. I sat in the center (where the middle turns - i am not so seasoned a rider that I don't still think this is pretty cool!), and 3 people sat down soon afterward in the cool turning-center-thingy with me. We were facing each other, and about close enough that if you put a card table down between us we easily could have played hearts (or Cribbominoes).

Well, none of them made eye contact! They pretended each of the rest of us wasn't there! Then I began to look around, and listen, and notice that the bus was silent, and most people had a blank stare on their face, or else were sleeping or reading, or what have you. We are all crammed into a small space, many of us touching, and no contact. Is this how we were designed? I don't think so! I think we are supposed to be relational, and interact as human beings. THe people on the bus today looked dead. I seriously only caught one person's eye on a bus with probably 100 people (and I was trying HARD!).

I will say that a man named Jose (the one who did make eye contact) defied the mold. He was intrigued by my curiosity and open staring (or something), and he crossed the imaginary card table space to sit next to me when my seat partner (who absolutely refused to look my way) got up and left. He sat down and introduced himself in broken English. He's from El Salvador, and could only speak a few sentences to me (unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish though I'm becoming more interested each day.) How is it that this man, for whom communication is so difficult in our country, had the energy and interest in speaking with a fellow rider what little he could, when so many of my compatriots who were born speaking my language did not even care to smile?

How does this happen? What in our society causes that many people, on a day in and day out basis, to try their hardest to pretend they are alone on a bus so clearly filled with people? Are we so maxed out by our jobs, our families, our busy lives, that to strike up a conversation with someone else, or even to offer a friendly smile as they sit down next to you closer than you'd ever sit next to a relative in the comfort of your own living room, requires too much effort?

Anyway, those were my musings today. The rest of this month (which marks a job switch, so I'm not sure how much bus riding I'll be doing after it), I may just make it my goal to talk to one person (or at least catch their eye long enough to smile!) each ride. That would be a potential 20 people I could encourage, smile at, or get to know a little who likely live and/or work in my neighborhood. I'll keep you posted, and try to stay out of trouble! :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A day for the history books...

Well, probably every one who blogs is blogging about this topic, so I certainly don't feel original or creative in writing about the election, but it is so stinkin' blog worthy!

I voted a week and a half ago (kind of anti-climactic in hindsight) and was glad for the opportunity, but didn't think a whole lot of it. Today, as I heard people on the bus claim they wouldn't go to work tomorrow if Obama did not win they'd be so depressed, I secretly scoffed at their fervor. I mean, come on: really, what is going to be so different tomorrow than today? Nothing. Even one year from now, will those people's lives be radically different? Even a little different because of who our president will be? Not likely...

So, I got home, and (still eager to see that Obama won) checked it out online to find that in fact he had! I was excited, but come on: moderately so, right? And who doesn't feel just the slightest bit bad for McCain, who poured his heart and soul into his campaign and who really did have a lot of good qualities, and who honestly believes he could bring important change and good things to the office just like Obama does?

Well, I couldn't bring myself to watch McCain's concession speech, its too sad, but I could watch Obama's. And I cried! For real! Who cries at these things, when they feel the way I did on the bus? I realized that the emotion gripping me as they played the big music and panned the crowd of 10s of thousands, was not for the change to come, but for the change that is. Look at us! We were still passing civil rights laws while the generations voting were alive and well. We have come so far in so little time, to be able to elect a non-white, non-full-European-background person to the presidency. And its not even a close race!!

As Obama said, all around the world people are watching. My friend Brienne in the Peace Corp in Tanzania said that the Tanzanians are partying because Obama won! What!? How crazy! But the world can see in our president a more accurate depiction of our country. We are not all white, or black, or hispanic, or any other race, but a true melting pot. We are learning how to meld all that together to be one unified country, and we made a statement today. Yes, Obama will bring change, I believe good change, but he represents to me that we are already changed, and indeed are willing to change as a country. That is what is so hopeful. That IS worth crying over.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Sweet Sunday...

Today, Susan and I decided we would try out a new church in our very diverse and vibrant neighborhood of Seattle. We headed out to the local Lutheran church, only to find a wonderful congregation of roughly 70 people who meet together every week. The gospel choir made me cry, as I saw the face of Unity staring back at me. These people just got it. Their choir was made up of about 8-9 people of several cultural backgrounds: African American, Filipino, Caucasian, etc. They sang "Just as I am" with such raw belief and the knowledge that all of them, just as they are, are loved by God radically, no matter race, culture, language, etc. After working so hard to promote the message of unity and peace in the world-wide church over the past year on New Dawn, this was like a sweet gift of a morning to see it personified by a small church body in a very diverse neighborhood.

After church got out (2 hours later - they didn't exactly follow the 1 hour rule most Lutheran churches abide by so strictly), and we'd participated in social hour at the specific request of the pastor, we went for a run through the neighborhood. The leaves are SO pretty, and we took a new route that looped us through some beautiful park before depositing us at the bottom of a classic HUGE Seattle hill (which we conquered, thank you very much!)

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the Fremont market (I bought some recycled yarn to knit with once I finish the scarf I'm currently working on. Projected completion date: October 2011. Clearly I have a lot of vision without a lot of skills in this new hobby), and then we shopped at the Asian market in our neighborhood to pick up a few key things. I found Jackfruit and SkyFlakes - two favorites from the Philippines and was in heaven! Susan indulged my excitement and even purchased my SkyFlakes for me as my treat. :)

We made dinner and listened to music, I got to catch up on the phone with an old friend, and I realized I can get used to this "living in the moment" thing. Today was pretty amazing if I think over all the cool moments we had.

Friday, October 17, 2008


So, I've been reading Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust and very much experiencing growing pains while I do. He writes such using simple concepts my mind can easily wrap itself around, yet my actions and my heart are not too good at following his oh so amazing logic. I am currently attempting more avidly than I may ever have before to be present in the moment I am in, and not look ahead at what is to come or back at what was. This is especially difficult coming off a year that was more amazing than any before it. How can I trust that things will get even better? I simply must. And part of that is living today, not yesterday. So, here is one of my favorite quotes from the book...

"There is only now. Thus Jesus counsels, 'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear.' Instead, Jesus says, 'Look at the birds'. After instructing us not to have a hissy fit about what may or may not happen tomorrow, he adds a bit of dark humor: 'Today's trouble is enough for today.'

"One of the fringe benefits of being Now/here is freedom from concern about our spiritual condition. Being in the now removes us from endless and fruitless self-analysis. Moreover, in the absence of self-observation, guilt and shame mysteriously disappear. Removed from the sphere of our feelings, thoughts, and analyses, we are free to hear the music of what is happening. Lost in Now/here, we are found in the infinity of the eternal Now."

I love this thought, and have discovered how important it is. He goes on to say that this does not preclude ever planning or reflecting on life, which is responsible behavior, but never at the expense of escaping from Now/here. Whenever I catch myself gripped with fear of what the future may or may not hold, or with regret of what I wish had happened in the past, I have begun to focus on whatever is in front of me. Maybe it is the beautiful fall leaves, maybe it is a delicious bite of food I'm blessed to have, maybe it is a very dear friend who will cry my tears with me, maybe it is the symphony of rain and wind playing through the trees on Seattle's streets, and maybe it is simply my Father trying to tell me again and again that no matter what I might be going through, I am loved. I AM loved. Now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oregon Coast Weekend

So, I spent the weekend at the Oregon coast with 17 high school kids and a few great friends on retreat! We tootled around Seaside, played with the sand, sang and played guitar under the stars with the moonlit waves before us, and spent lots of small group time talking through the hurt and pain each of us carries hidden beneath the surface. It was a great weekend, some great ministry happened, and by the end I was wondering why our theme had to be "Life hurts, God heals" and not something lighter, because the burdens these teenagers face are much heavier than anything I've ever personally experienced. But, in all honesty, I was so glad God had me there this weekend.

Here are some fun pix. Seven or so of us did our best to disguise ourselves Sunday afternoon and hid around downtown Seaside while the rest of the group scavenged for us! It was pretty hilarious!

In other news, your friend Jenny now has a job! I'm employed, even if its only an internship and currently only a one month commitment on the company's part - I did say I wanted temporary, so there's no complaining, especially given the state of the economy today. Also, I'm starting to fill our seminary applications. Whoa. That's intense. My dear friend Chris Lyons was a great mentor to me yesterday, though, and really gave me some good things to think about regarding seminaries and denominations. I am so thankful to have such dear people in my life helping me find the right direction, when I feel there are so many possible directions to take.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Moving slowly

So, life is moving along rather slowly as I still don't have a job, and spend most of my days in an easy but not-too-difficult routine of waking up and reading the news online in front of a bowl of Special K, and then usually play (and win) a few rounds of Word Twist before bringing up the Colbert Report from the previous night to watch online while cleaning up the kitchen.

I often go for a walk, find a coffee shop, or make a cup of Americano and then read the Bible, some books on pastoring and seminary, or continue my knitting until Sus gets home and we go for a run around our neighborhood. The evenings are more fun and we either meet up with people, have people over, or spend them cooking and talking and drinking wine. While I am more than ready to be employed and not have to fill my days so lazily, this time of rest has been incredibly blessed. God is teaching me and moving me to dream big about the future, not to hold back by what seems like a safe or secure idea, but to trust Him no matter what and think about what He might desire for me.

Don't worry, a job IS in the works, I've been also researching seminaries, catching up with old friends, and doing various other important things with my time, but learning how to rest, not to find worth in doing but in simply loving, being loved and living, how to trust... that is a valuable and priceless lesson I have the great opportunity to learn during these weeks. I'm reading Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust right now, and his first chapter on how to trust says we need to live gratefully. Being thankful for anything and everything we have, knowing there is a loving God watching over us, who has numbered the hairs on our head and who knows what we need before we ask - this is part of trusting Him to provide good things, even if they don't seem good at the time.

So I am intent on being grateful, even when the unemployed single life seems burdensome, because I know God is good and I trust Him even today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Its Fall!

I love this time of year. The wind is up today and the leaves are beginning to turn, its chilly and I'm wearing a coat that is probably a little overly warm for the weather just because I'm excited to need one at all. After spending much of the last year in summery weather, I am so excited to get to spend the fall in Seattle. This is bad, but I'm already looking forward to holiday drinks at Starbucks and wearing scarfs.

In honor of the change in weather, I even picked up a new habit: knitting! Ok, I'm SUPER slow, and concentrating so hard on such small things as needles kind of makes me nauseous, so don't be too impressed yet. I think I've knitted about 9 rows of a scarf that is all fall colors, though, and feeling pretty smug about my new "skill".

These are a few pics of the beauty of the season (from Camp Timberlee in Michigan when we were there last fall). Make sure you breathe it in and enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2008


The following are some slightly modified lyrics (to flow a little better for the reader) to a song by Casting Crowns called "Somewhere in the Middle". As many sleepless nights have found me asking the big questions about life and fighting between what is easy and what is right, this song sort of pegs me exactly. I'm not who I used to be or who i want to be and should there even be a middle ground? Anyway, I wanted to post the lyrics here. They are pretty thoughtful, and full of the dichotomies I seem to be currently struggling against.

Somewhere between the hot and the cold, between the new and the old, between who I am and who I used to be...

Somewhere between the wrong and the right, between the darkness and the light, between who I was and who You're making me, somewhere in the middle you'll find me.

Just how close can I get, Lord, to surrendering, without losing all control?

Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense, deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle.
With eyes wide open to the differences between the God we want and the God who is: will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle?

Somewhere between my heart and my hands, between my faith and my plans, between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves...

Somewhere between a whisper and a roar, between the altar and the door, between contented peace and always wanting more, somewhere in the middle You'll find me.

Just how close can I get, Lord, to surrendering, without losing all control?

Lord, I feel You in this place and I know You're by my side, loving me even on these nights when I'm caught in the middle.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A long hiatus...

I have no idea who still will even read this, after such a long break from posting, but as I think and pray about the next steps in my life, I decided blogging might be a fun way to keep people updated and simultaneously think "aloud" and process.

So, a little catch up. A month ago (tomorrow) I officially ended all commitments with Youth Encounter, after a year of traveling. After we left the Philippines, we went onto Taiwan and spent three very involved weeks working with schools and churches in and around the city of Chiayi. I will include some of the most meaningful pix at the end of this post so that you can see a little taste of where we were. After our 3 weeks in Taiwan, we were on a plane back to the States. The time went so fast, yet I was somewhat surprisingly ready to be home and excited to see family. Saying goodbye to the Philippines was harder than saying goodbye to Southeast Asia in general.

Our summer was spent working at a camp called "Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp, Inc." in Amery, Wisconsin (a small farming community). It was stretching and difficult and amazing all at the same time to be at camp. I missed my New Dawn teammates and the closeness we'd shared over the previous 8 months as we were thrust into a much larger community. On the other hand, I embraced the new friends and immensely enjoyed my role as a "team leader" of college-aged counselors at the camp. Investing in people was my main focus, and I found my niche. I loved it, as hard as the transition was being back in the States and trying to re-adjust to life here.

We had a brief final visit to Hong Kong in the middle of July to put on an English Bible Camp for 70 youth in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong (ELCHK). It was a wonderful experience to travel back to Asia and meet up with friends, as well as to be have concentrated time with New Dawn for those precious days. What a cool opportunity to be a counselor in a cabin with high-school aged youth from Hong Kong - I learned so much from them about their culture, and what its like to grow up in a predominantly non-Christian environment. I appreciated their perspective, and wished we could have stayed longer.

So, that pretty much brings me to the end of the summer. My family came out for the homecoming concert, and I bawled as my team and I sang together for the last time, realizing that making music together was one of the most precious and unique opportunities we'd had, that I so often took for granted. I will never forget the joy of getting to sing and play with Luke, Carly, Dave and Joshua.

Now, I'm back on the West Coast, and trying to tread carefully, intentionally. I don't want to do anything because its easy or safe anymore. I want to live with integrity as the person I have become through all my experiences, especially those the last year brought to me. While accounting is something I can easily and successfully do, I have little assurance that that is the vocation God is calling me to in order to best love His world with my gifts. This blog, from here on out, will be even more appropriately about my "new dawn" as I start from ground zero once again, trying to discern where I am called, and what I want my life to be about.

Here are some pix from my remaining time overseas. They are some of my favorites, and only a very, very small sampling of the thousands I have filed away to remind me of this fascinating dream year.

Me trying to be cool with some friends in Batangas.

Mt. Pulag congregation group photo!

Living statues in Taiwan outside a Masul temple we visited.

My cabin in Hong Kong this summer - what amazing girls!

Chatting with the Chiayi girls

Spending a day holding babies in a Manila orphanage. Close to heaven.

One of our young Filipino friends trying his hand at the djembe.

Two darling girls in San Roque, Mindanao

Singing our hearts out in a Chiayi classroom.

We hiked to the top of the Philippines' 2nd tallest mountain: Mt. Pulag. That's a new dawn behind us, which we awoke at 2:30 in the morning to catch. Incredible.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The North Country

Well, after leaving Mindanao and spending some time in Metro-Manila, we have made the long trek through the north to the tip of the north-most island of Luzon (still in the Philippines). Its been pretty incredible to have the opportunity to see so much of this country.

While there is still much the same here in this part of the country, we've definitely noticed some key differences: the people here seem even more intent upon feeding us vast amounts of food! We eat 6, 7 sometimes 8 times a day, and it almost always includes some form of rice (which does grow everywhere here - there are rice patties all over the place and they are SO green and beautiful!) While we sometimes end up eating when we are already full, the hospitality and generosity that is evident in these crazy amounts of food more than makes up for our discomfort. I continue to be amazed by the way people who don't know us wish to make us feel at home, and give up their beds, their food, their time and energy, etc. to us strangers. Do you know that when our hosts serve us, they almost never actually eat with us? They set the table just for our team and then eat our leftovers when we have finished. This has definitely taken some getting used to, as we would rather spend the meal with our hosts, but its their way of serving us, and denying them that would be insulting in most circumstances.

Another thing about the north: its cold here! We are dressed in fleeces and jackets to brace the 75 degree days (apparently our bodies were more used to 90 degrees and humid than we thought!) There is still a bountiful amount of fruit and vegetables, and yesterday we got to eat "buko" (coconut) from the tree for the 2nd or 3rd time, drinking the juice and then scraping the meat from the coconuts. They seem to taste even better here than in the south, so sweet and filling.

Finally, we have noticed that here in the North, our schedule has been much busier. We have been waking up most days between 5 and 6 am, (sometimes earlier), and we seem to average 1-3 programs each day. There are lots of small churches to visit, and the people speak different languages here than they did in the south (Ilokano mainly). We've translated our closing song "Unify Us" into six different dialects now, and it is incredibly fun to sing with the people. Its been fun to try to figure out how to fit the many many syllables into the tune of the song (Unify Us, for example, translates into "Pag-ma-y-ma-y-sa-em" in Ilokano, crazy!)

So, life on team is still wonderful. I miss my family and friends, and definitely miss the familiarity of the place called home, but I also find I'm increasingly feeling at home in this country. It helps a lot to feel like my team is a second family, and I no longer cringe at the thought of using the "CR" (comfort room/bathrooM) here as my leg muscles are much stronger. We only have about six weeks or less left here in the Philippines, and I find that I am already dreading having to leave.

Friday, January 25, 2008

We have finally arrived...

It is hard to believe we are finally in the Philippines! Currently, I am writing from Davao, a city near the southern end of the island of Mindanao (about 7 degrees above the equator - VERY WARM weather!) We have experienced nothing but the most gracious hospitality since we arrived here in the Philippine islands, and I find myself adjusting to life here rather easily after 10 days in this country. We say "Salamat" more than any other Tagalog word (meaning Thank you), and the people here are definitely my favorite part of our overseas tour so far.

Yesterday, we got back from a 3 day trip south to Banga and Malungon, the second destination being a small village in the mountains, where we road a bus and then piled 4 or 5 of us onto a motorcycle (along with our bags, guitars, drum, etc) and rode another 25 minutes up into the hills over the roads made out of dirt & rock. The trip was an adventure, but definitely a worthwhile one. Our program that night drew close to 200 people from the village (most of which were kids!) even at last minute notice, and the next day, one pastor walked 30 miles to hear us give a program for the church. Pretty incredible!

So far, just being here, so far from home (back in Portland, you are all 16 hours behind me!), continues to amaze me. I am learning lots about this culture, family values, and what it means to sacrifice and serve others. The language barrier can be hard (be praying that it will not be an obstacle), and the heat can become exhausting, but every day I wake up thankful to be here, and hoping that the time does not run too quickly.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hong Kong!

Whoa - I cannot believe it, but I am writing this from Hong Kong. I've been here just over 48 hours now, and I have learned and experienced SO much! This city is incredible, and in the last 7 meals I've eaten more "unusual" foods than I've eaten in my entire lifetime (from Pig's skin, Octopus, Chinese mushrooms that look like Octopus, chicken feet, Pig's tongue, fried whole baby fish - eyes and all, and several other things I can't remember.)

We've also taken in the last 48 hours a great many modes of transportation to traverse this very large city: double decker buses, light-rails, subways, trains, taxis, ferries, more double decker buses, and of course lots of walking. I think the only one we have not used is the ever popular bicycle. I have learned that here, all dining tables are round, and family style food is the only way to eat. The culture here could teach us much about sharing and serving others before ourselves - tea (of course) is very prevalent at each meal, and one always pours tea for their neighbors before themselves, even if their glass is only 1/2 empty. All food is shared, and no one orders for themselves alone.

I have loved these differences, and even though the food is quite different (noodles & soup for breakfast!?), I find I enjoy the variety of flavors and the rich traditions that accompany each meal. It is very overwhelming (and yet strangely calming at times) to be surrounded by a language for which I have no understanding, and for which I cannot even begin to pronounce the characters. We will soon be moving on to another culture and different customs as we travel to the Philippines on Monday, but our time here has been so full. We have been surrounded by wonderful people willing to teach us about the language and culture and city, and our instant bond in Christ has been a pretty incredible bridge across the barriers of our many differences.

To bed with me - the 16 hour time difference is still catching up with me!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

We live in a Beautiful Country...

In 3 months, my team and I traveled through 19 states during one of the most beautiful times of the year. We saw pretty amazing places, from the hills of Pennsylvania to the warm, green streets of Savannah, from the bustling Central Park to the rural Smoky Mountains of Kentucky, it was quite an adventure to get to see so many places, and the scenery was truly stunning. I wanted to share some of the more beautiful pictures we took just to give you a flavor of our journey and the beauty that lies all over this country.

God's creation never ceases to amaze me. I will say that returning home to the Northwest after being all over the East Coast & Midwest made me remember how much I love my little part of the country. Yesterday, Melissa and Andrew and I went up to Mt. Hood to ski, and it was a crystal clear day - you could see the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson from the top of the mountain - in fact, it seemed as if you could see the entire state. While I found beauty in nearly every place we traveled this fall, and I no doubt will continue to do so as we head further west this winter, I have yet to find a place I find more beautiful than home.