Thursday, February 25, 2010

.remembering community.

I went through the drive-thru for my coffee this morning. Hit up the drive-thru at the bank. Ran through the drive-thru pharmacy. Went to Wal-Mart and did self check out. Came home to find some warm boots for Berlin and bought them on the internet.

I was basically "out and about" all day and never had to speak to another person.

Now granted, in the mood I've been in since I got back in the States, I've been grateful to dodge 90% of the American population. Then I remember that I'm an extrovert and that people ENERGIZE me. I can be in the worst mood, and a pleasant conversation can lift my spirits. So, how did I feel heading back to my house this afternoon after technology and laziness had successfully isolated me from everyone? *About as cheery as I had when I left... *Insert sarcasm here

It makes me reflect on the last year, and I come up with a few conclusions. Isolation is definitely not what Christ had in mind. That's one area where anywhere outside the Western world seems to have a few more of their ducks in a row. In Selaphum, Thailand there was no front door. Seriously. Neighbors, friends, family, church members...they all came and went as they pleased. They helped cook dinner when they weren't eating. They moved clothes to the clothesline, even if the clothes weren't theirs. It was beautiful. Everyone was there to serve and love. Now granted, there were disagreements here and there, but there was no where to go pout afterward. Instead, you sucked it up, got over yourself, forgave, and moved on with your life.

I think about how we'd react here if those things started happening. Think about it...Mom is stressed and the neighbor has a spare afternoon, so she comes over and helps fold the laundry. Well, not only would we be irritated that the neighbor bust in, unannounced, while the house was dirty, but she also invaded personal space by folding my clean clothes. Unacceptable.

In Africa as we distributed corn to needy families, I watched as one family would walk away with a bucket of corn and pour half of their portion into a needy neighbor's bucket. These
people receiving the corn from the ministry had next to nothing. The corn provided was some of the only food they would be given for months. Despite their struggle though, I'll bet the option of not helping to feed their neighbor never crossed their mind. It would appear that they practice the idea that if your neighbor is in need, you share a chunk of what is fully available, not just enough to feel charitable.

I know this is very general statement, but it seems that whether we're struggling in the States or not, we tend to hoard everything that we own for ourselves. It's an "every man for himself" kind of mentality. How disappointing.

Now, I understand this is a result of how our culture has developed. It just seems as if we've done ourself a disservice in isolating ourselves from the world around us. It seems that the majority of us have forgotten what community is, the blessings it provides, and how it operates.

So, what is the Lord challenging me with this afternoon? Utilizing community, loving my neighbor, and offering a smile and a kind word to the lady behind the Dunkin Donuts counter.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciplines, if you have love for one another." -John 13:35

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

.twas the season.

This is a journal entry I wrote from Christmas, but I thought I'd share....

Today, in light of the Christmas season, I thought I'd attempt to tackle some Christmas shopping, my first post-race attempt. I convinced myself I wouldn’t cry, dared to put on regular mascara and headed towards the mall. Pulling into one of the more affluent shopping centers near my house, I battled my way to a parking space and took a minute to prepare for the holiday madness that I was sure to encounter.

In a desperate attempt to avoid the energized soccer moms around me, I was focused in on the sound of my heels on the concrete. But, before I got safely inside the front doors my sense memory took off running. There was something oddly familiar here. That smell. What was it? Something international. I began looking around and had a flashback to the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa when I would sit between the hair salon and Shell Station with my 67 year old, homeless friend, Walter. I flash back to reality to see a man outside the clothing boutique I'm about to enter.
His tattered, mismatched clothing hangs loosely on his skinny frame as he sifts through the garbage in search of food. His hair is pulled back by a camouflage beanie while the ends matte together in greasy clumps at each shoulder, and his dress pants are smudged with what I'm praying is dirt. Empty fast food bags overflow from each pocket of his fishing vest, and a nervous twitch seems to have him gnawing on his bottom lip. The look on his face as he digs through that garbage tears at my heart. I watch him as he lifts out a Steak ‘n Shake cup, rips off the lid, and licks the shake residue lining the cup.
Without a word, I head for Panera. I buy a pastry, a drink, a cup of soup, and a sandwich, and start looking for my hungry friend. No where to be found! I scan each trash-bin around the parking lot and start to panic. An entire year of tears start to heat behind my eyes, and for the next 45 minutes I drive around the adjacent shopping centers pleading with the Lord to let me find him.
Finally, I find him cradled up on a bench outside Walgreen's.
"I've got some extra grub," I said. "You interested?"
He warily excepts the gift, seeming a bit skeptical, and clutchs it to his chest, never letting his eyes leave my face. I could tell by his gaze that he was delayed to follow me and might not be comprehending exactly what it was I was trying to do. So, I launch into chatty-Kristen mode and hope for the best. I yapped for a few minutes about the soup, Christmas chaos, and what a beautiful day it was turning out to be....I watched him relax and ease the death-grip on the paper bag.
"Oh, and there is a pastry in there that you're NOT ALLOWED to touch until the soup is gone. Do you understand?!? Protein first."
He takes a minute to process what I've said. I watch it register and a smile spread across his face.
I wish him a Merry Christmas and head off to my car. Shifting into drive though, I watch as he hops off the bench, waves enthusiastically, and screams "Merry Christmas" at the top of his lungs with a huge smile.
I suppressed all the enthusiasm I really felt, gave him a wave, and smiled. "Merry Christmas, friend."
My heart was full.
I was almost giddy as I drove out of the parking lot. Watching that man smile and wave was all the gift that I needed that holiday season. I was overwhelmed. At the same time though, my heart was shattered into a million tiny pieces as I thought of the dozens of families that had scurried past him in that shopping center, dodging eye contact, and pretending as if they hadn't seen him at all. It would have taken 15 minutes and a few dollars to fill that man's hungry belly.
How often have I overlooked the prayers of brothers and sisters because I was too busy? How often do I intentionally close my eyes to the needs of others because I'm too worried about meeting my own needs and following my own agenda? How often do we have the desire to help but justify not acting because we assume someone else will take over? If I learned anything this year, I've learned that when the Lord speaks to my heart, that He does so with intention and purpose. Perhaps the hungry man didn't break others the way it broke me that afternoon. So, I'm to take what He speaks to me and prayerfully consider what He'll have me do with it. Sometimes that soft voice means I need to spend some serious time in prayer. Other times it means offering a kind word to someone who has hurt me. And sometimes, it means that I give up my daily Starbucks for an extra sandwich.
How can I better listen? Lord, help attune our ears to Your voice.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

.the next step.

the blinking cursor taunts me. it mocks me. daring me to write.

I've tried for 6 weeks and come up empty every time, knowing that im due for an update.

But how do you summarize adjustment into a life that should be easy? I know this world. I know these people. It's familiar, and it's - comfortable. so, what's the problem?

Well, if I truly explored that question, we'd be here a while. We don't have time for that. So, summarized version? This readjustment has been way more difficult than I anticipated. I've lost my community and immediate access to the only 5 women who walked every inch of this journey with me. I don't really know how to do life outside of community anymore, and that's overwhelming. I'm in the process of trying to merge very different parts of my life, and I don't know how. I'm trying to process and organize what the next step will look like in pursuing the enormous dreams the Lord has laid on my heart to make reality. Dreams that He has blessed me with on how I can better love His people, in His name, around the world, and if I opt to ignore those dreams, I'll never be content. Basically, I'm irrevocably screwed up. Discontent with the ordinary. Forever a gypsy. However you want to phrase it...

Tonight, a friend was gracious enough to lend their ear while this verbal processor talked herself into a more concise explanation of her current situation and plans for the future.

Basically? I'm at a fork where I must make a choice that will launch me in one of two different directions. Do I follow the familiar path of stability that I've loved before the World Race? Or do I risk following a new, often misunderstood, and unknown path? Regardless, I can't stay still. I don't do stagnant, but I know I can't make everyone happy in the pursuit of the next step. So, I'm just sticking with where i feel Him leading. It will be uncomfortable. It might ruffle feathers, but - hey, ive always been good at that.

Right now? Well, I'm finally back in Birmingham and working to make it home again. I'm subbing and preparing to spend my summer back in the jungle at Puerto Alegria. 2 full of months of Peru. I'm might be excited about that...

March? I'm really excited to be heading back to Berlin for a BURN March 8th-17th. I'll be joining Hollis and the Magnet family for a week of worship, good coffee, and electronic monopoly! :)

AUGUST?? The Lord has opened up an amazing opportunity for me this August. Not Forgotten is a nonprofit organization in Birmingham that raises funds for Puerto Alegria, the children's home in Iquitos, Peru where I've served for the last 5 years. Not Forgotten is continuing to grow and has offered me a position on staff with them starting in August. I'll be working alongside some of the greatest people i know to promote awareness of Not Forgotten and needs within the children's home. My JOB will be talking to everyone I know about Peru and helping lead people to the jungle. SERIOUSLY?!? Anyone who knows me might find that amusing. :) If you're interested in serving with me or supporting my future within Peru, PLEASE check out the website @ thenotforgotten.org.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

.jungle bunny visits home.

After 18 months of absence, this "jungle bunny" returns to the land of tree frogs, fish, and Peruvians. Home has changed though. The ministry has shifted, boys have left, and the ones who remain have grown up. I'm anticipating the change but unaware of how it will affect me. Oh Lord, calm this anxiety cause I don't know whether to scream, laugh, cry, or pull a 180 back to Lima. I'm seriously on the verge of losing my mind.

The jungle humidity offers no apologies, the vultures hover, and the heat wraps around me like a warm blanket. I step off the air-conditioned plane and into my first dose of familiarity all year. Am I excited? That would be an understatement. Am I horrified? Absolutely.

The familiar charges me forward. I’ve been anxious all year to reach that rickety staircase where 40 children await our arrival, but I'm nearly paralyzed by fear. I'm scared they've forgotten, hopeful that they haven't, and anxious for the result either way.

Despite my anxiety, it's time for hammocks, soccer, and cement. I say, "Bring it on."

My reunion wasn't one of screams and leaping children. My children have grown. It wasn't full of tears. Except for my tears of relief in private. It was calm. And had I not been paying attention, I would have missed the mumbled promises throughout the week that I was missed.

I had water fights with Luis Enrique, jumped on the trampoline with Hox, and fished with my beloved twins. It was amazing. Construction was the same. The sun still scorched me and my heart was overwhelmed each time I held one of those children. I still love them as much as I did a year ago, and much to my relief, they still love me too.

So, at this point, I know a lot of you are probably shaking your heads saying, “Kristen, it isn’t about you. It doesn’t matter if they missed you.” My response? Yeah, I know, but I love those children fiercely and can’t help but wonder if they noticed my absence while I prayed for them everyday. I know it's not about being remembered. But to return to a land that looks so much like the others where I’ve been this year, but see recognition and comfort in the smiles of the children, reminds me that such consistency can exist for those I invested in for such a short time this year. To know that the relationships that I have in Peru can exist for the children I played with in Botswana too. Even if it isn't me....God will provide.

My return from the race has been far more difficult than I ever anticipated. I've felt more distant from the Lord and questioned more about my life in the last 5 weeks than i did the entire year overseas. This made me a little nervous heading down to Iquitos. But all of the doubt, frustration, anxiety and loneliness that I've felt since I got home vanished as I played with my friends in Peru. The love of Christ wells up within me each time I'm down there and it allows me to recall His greatness. I feel Him every time that I invest in those children. It's beautiful and overwhelming.

Returning from Peru was almost impossible. I thought my two best friends would have to carry me back onto the boat. The reunion I had waited for was too quick to end with no promise of a next time. But while the first few days were terrible, I’ve found myself on a steady foundation again. If anything, this year showed me that I can be joyful anywhere as my Heavenly Father goes before, with, and after me. I’m not keen on thinking that I might not be called to the jungle full time, but I know without a doubt that I would make it. I’ll truly go wherever He calls, trusting that His ways are better than my own.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

.freedom festival.

FREEDOM FESTIVAL: 20 years of freedom
My new coat is soaked through. My hair mattes in a wet clump at my shoulders, and I'm really wishing I'd made a better shoe selection. Why did socks not seem like a wise decision in 35-degree weather? But as the crowds start to scatter and I exit the Berlin Subway, my eyes soak in the celebration and the focus on my own discomfort dissolves. I'm standing directly in front of the Brandenburg gate. It's illuminated beautifully and the square is so full of excitement that I know looking back on photos will never fully capture the experience. The smell of spiced wine and sausage overwhelms your senses, and as the primary-colored umbrellas trot along, they temporarily block your view from the various ages and nationalities flooding the square. It's the 20-year celebration of the Berlin wall coming down, and the enthusiasm is contagious.
One woman in particular catches my eye. She's hunched over and shuffles through the crowds clutching an umbrella in one hand and her cane in the other. Periodically glancing at her son, she mumbles something in German and let's out a hearty laugh before wiping her brow with her sleeve and continuing on. Soon she'll find herself as wet as I am, but she doesn't seem to mind. I suspect this celebration represents something more personal and wonderful to her than I could ever imagine, and it doesn't appear as if she'll let a little cold and inconvenient rain get in her way. After all, she's walked through worse.
Men and women of all ages fill Pariser Platz and cause my mind to race in 100 different directions. My team of 10 has been in Berlin for 3 weeks now, trembling our way through holocaust museums, concentration camps, and paths where the Berlin Wall once stood, overwhelmed by the struggles that have plagued this country for so long. As we toured Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, I couldn't help but wonder if I would have had the strength to endure such hardship. Regardless, I currently find myself surrounded by thousands of people who had family willing to endure and those who were willing to endure themselves.
It makes me want to be a fighter. It makes me want to push through hardship with a smile on my face and a song in my heart just because I know that I serve the Most High God, The King of Kings, and the Alpha and Omega. It reminds me that sacrifice occurs with nothing in return. So, I sacrificed nothing to come on this journey. I just obeyed. It makes me see how hard certain people fought for freedom, and how much harder I should be pulling and praying for it considering this freedom is eternal.
So, as my mind shifts back to the festival, I watch the giant dominos begin to topple over. Cheers rise up from the crowd and I watch a country unified. I'm inspired by their willingness to laugh again. I'm challenged by their perseverance, and I'm grateful the young people recognize how blessed they are to have this day to celebrate. I pray I remember this moment and let it challenge me in the future. May it remind me of the beauty of freedom and how Christ alone releases the captives.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

.haunting history.

I board the metro and shuffle my way to the back row. I'm nestled between a tiny babushka holding a bouquet of flowers, and a teenage boy who would never make it through a metal detector with the 53 spikes jetting through his face. How I love Ukrainian diversity...

It was a cold and rainy walk to the metro this morning. The stale alcohol and smoke-soaked clothing meet the damp air and could choke you if you inhale too deeply. I quickly find myself breathing through my mouth. I never knew the smell of liquor could turn my stomach so much, but 3 weeks have about done me in.

It's every man for himself as you shove your way through the crowds, praying you'll file off of the metro before the doors squish you. Before I hit the door though, a man three times my size stumbles into me, grins a golden smile, and the odor sweeping off of him is so pungent that I turn my head for fresh air. He mumbles something in Russian, uses me as a stabilizer, and trips off the train, slamming into one of the station's pillars. He leaves me there staring, battling between annoyance and compassion. Compassion wins out though and I can't help but wonder what has caused such hopelessness in him. What has become so difficult that he's decided life isn't worth walking through sober? I just can't imagine ever thinking things were so bad that I had to dissolve reality. Thank goodness...

At first, I thought men like my incoherent drunken friend were a rarity who only frequented the metro platforms and small train cabins. ((You know who I'm talking about...the sloppy drunkards that justify rubbing against every woman they pass. Their stench sticking to your clothing.)) But then I noticed men and woman a like boarding public transportation with liters of beer in hand, downing swigs like it's coca-cola. No one seems to stare but my American teammates and myself. It's one of those culture shock moments that rattle me pretty regularly these days on the Race. Some more disturbing than others...but all upsetting.

Watching these men stumble around the metro triggered another thought this month. Where did this all start? This addiction and abuse. A desire to wipe out truth. Then recalling the history I've learn throughout the walking tours of each city we visit, I'm clued into a possible explanation. I'm amazed to see how the haunting history of the countries we've been in, continue to permeate the nations current people and culture. The shame, control, and fear that have directed so much of Ukraine's past is evident in its people. No one smiles. Few are patient. It's cold. So, perhaps the drinking started to loosen them up? Or maybe it's just there to help them forget. Ukrainians will admit their country is learning to be happy, learning to dream, and learning to hope. Maybe the alcohol was a stumbling block placed to distract them from such phenomenal discoveries.

I've spent a lot of time praying for freedom from history's chains over the country of Ukraine. I can't help but pray similar prayers over my own country and its people. It makes me reflect on how American history haunts us. I mean we've been through a journey. We've battled for religious independence. We've battled for gender and racial equality. We were all under-estimated, robbed of freedom, and clawed our way to independence. I watch as Americans today still struggle daily for independence. They struggle to prove who they are and what they're capable of because they're so concerned with what other people think of them. But has our fight for independence warped into an inability to be submissive? Have we become too prideful in the fights others have won? Do we hate what is different in color, religion, or gender, even though America was suppose to be a melting pot of freedom? Hmm...Lord, we can't seem to ever get it right. Teach us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

.when i don't speak romanian.

Living in a small gypsy village settled amidst the rolling hills of Romania, I've had a job picking apples, charaded my way through conversation, and spent hours picking grapes off the vines that fill the village. Walking to my ministry location for the day, horse buggies clack down the street next to me as scarved gypsy women nod and blow kisses from their frequented benches. It's one of those moments where you shake your head, close your eyes, and are almost surprised to open them again and find that this small village is your present reality.

Welcome to Ville Tecii, Romania.

My team of 5 readjusts to our ninth month overseas, as we familiarize ourselves with gypsy lingo, the long drop and mixing cement. It's no longer a surprise that plumbing and warm showers are a luxury 2 months from our grasp, as we've grown accustomed to the "norm" everywhere else in the world.

Wading through the scent of honeysuckle and horse manure, I jump across an open sewage line, hold my breath, and grab a hold of the rusty fence outside the house I've frequented all week. Before my feet hit the dirt on the front walkway however, a 4 year old little boy graces the front steps. He screams my name and bolts towards me as fast as his little legs will carry him, leaping fearlessly into my arms.

I've grown accustomed to this warm greeting with my new Romanian friend. His name is Feli and he's a 4-year-old gypsy who loves soccer, riding his bike, and playing with his 2 cousins. His 16-year-old brother and his brother's girlfriend seem to care for him while his mother works in the orchard all day. Food is scarce and the house is falling apart. I practically have to play hopscotch across their living room floor when I visit or I'll slide right through the gaping holes in the floorboards.

Feli and I spend hours together working on his bike, flipping through picture books, and playing soccer with all of his friends. We pick apples when its time for a snack and sit on the lumber in the soccer field when it's time for a break. Our time together is simple. We don't have detailed discussions about life, avoid each other because we can't communicate, or watch television to pass the time. We just play together. That's enough.

Traveling the world can be frustrating sometimes as you surround yourself with people of different nations, languages, and backgrounds. You want to know the people you're with, you want to know their story and details about their lives. When that communication barrier exists, its easy to just opt for a day with the Americans. It's easier, but choosing the easy road this year would have robbed me of so many precious relationships. I've loved so many people all around the world because I've trusted in the Lord to offer different venues of communication. He certainly has provided too. In Asia, it was hand signals. In Africa, I had smiles, and in Eastern Europe, laughter was all the conversation we needed.

My communication with Feli might have been limited, but pushing through the barrier was well worth the relationship. No words were necessary, but laughter, hugs, and the Lord allowed an American woman to let a Romanian gypsy child know how special he was.