Bruised Knees and Joy

Last week, while running with one of my students, we decided to try out sprinting. We’re “training” for a race which means we’re trying to get my short little legs to run faster. After a seven month hiatus from running at all, asking these stubby appendages to do anything quickly is quite an endeavor. But it was cold and grey, the ground still frozen from the latest snow, so we marked the start and with the end in sight we began to sprint.

Three steps. I made it three steps before I yelped and cursed like a sailor and stopped. My knee had torqued to the side and I was bent double. But the pain faded, and the poor, tough kid mentality of my college years took over and I went back to jogging. Three miles later we’d done some decent sprints and I went off to meet with my own mentor.

Today, a week later, I’m wearing a brace and I had to gimp my way down the stairs to the car this morning. I’m just thankful I didn’t volunteer to walk to seminary today.*

This morning a dear friend hugged me and it felt like I might burst into tears when I stood up to return her embrace — the pain is worse when I go from sitting to standing, from bent to straight. She listened to what had happened and then said with her sweet smile:

This is all in his plan, it doesn’t surprise Him. Now, your work is to learn to see the plan, and even when you don’t you’re to trust.

Trust. Work to trust.

I’m to work out salvation in this day, this pain, the grinding anxiety that there’s something seriously wrong with my knee — something bound to cost money that I don’t have and time I’m unwilling to give up. But this is it, this is the work of the believer:

to look down at my knee, hidden in black elastic band and say, this is good. This the opportunity to trust, to wait more and hurry less, to be thankful for bodies that do work and pray for those that don’t.

It isn’t bruised, it isn’t swollen and it’s probably only a muscle sprain because it feels better when I’m moving. But I can’t run, I can’t train for the race, I can’t go up and downstairs with ease, I can’t bend at the oven or crouch with children. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

But I can choose to see God’s goodness in making bodies that work, in sustaining my knee from sliding all the way out of joint in the frozen cold. I can choose to trust that even if I have to see a doctor, God will provide a way because he knows my needs.

And you see — there it is — learning to trust in God’s character (provision, care, knowledge, sovereignty) rather than the situation in which I’ve found myself. This is the work of a believer: to trust God (and how do you trust if you don’t know Him?) and then to go out and live a life that speaks of such deep trust.

_______________________
*on a sidenote, please don’t worry about my knee! We’re pretty sure it’s only a minor muscle issue that just needs rest and some extra support when I do take up running again (and no, that won’t be this week, but hopefully soon).

Day One

It’s freezing in this room. I sit under a blanket and the space heater’s light blinks merrily as if to say he’s still pushing out warmth from between his panels of radiator style heating but I’m doubtful. E has gone of to a local pub with a dear friend, a man of fly fishing, wild mushrooms and family. He’s a man that E has learned a lot from, a man with a good strong wife whom I simply can’t get enough of. But I’m at E’s, finishing the last of six laundry loads, reading homework for class which hasn’t even started and freezing beneath the blanket I knit many years ago.

The New Year dawned bright this morning, despite stubborn clouds that failed to bring us snow as we rang in midnight and said goodbye to 2012. Today, Ethan sat at home and did paperwork, receipting, cataloguing business expenses and other end of year tasks. We made soup, did laundry, sorted, read, talked and cried.

2013.

What’s the year to be?

2012, someday I’ll write about it, I know my absence from the blog was long and abrupt. It was a hard finish to the year, missing family, crying for lost children, fighting the continuous battle for hope and joy amid a world that sometimes seems bent on pain and sorrow.

I don’t have new years resolutions–I’ve learned better than to do that at this point. But with the year ending on such a note of anxiety in my personal life and indeed in the world at large, I texted one goal to a friend: the same one I’ve pursued through months of prayer, counsel and late nights with E.

On this first day of 2013 I have decided to go forward in confidence and hope: God has given me so much and I am choosing to hold onto the peace of Christ that is sometimes harder to grasp than the fear I’m so well acquainted with.

Ethan’s laptop has played Celtic tunes all afternoon while I’ve read, cleaned and fought the battle for hope in my mind and heart.There’s a fiddle playing alongside a pipe and an instrument I can’t quite pick out. It’s full of cheer and hope. It encourages my soul even as I’ve told E that sometimes I don’t believe He has a plan to give us a future without harm but rather one with hope and prosperity. He hugged me at the door tonight, kissed my forehead and smiled with confidence. “He loves you,” were his words as he squeezed my arm.

The sweet simple words, the soft reminder.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [wildly out of context, but ever still the truth]

 

Big Brother

I love telling people what you do for a living, I get this surge of pride when I see their eyes widen and their mouths open a little in surprise. F-16, they always repeat the phrase, as if hearing it in their own voice will make it more real. If E is with me, he laughs and says, “yeah, he’s a real badass.” People chuckle, church folks and friends outside the faith, they smile and nod and say it’s true, you must be pretty awesome to do something like that.

We’ve been praying for you at church, each week after the homily we call out prayer requests and then our pastor prays through each one, by name and situation. People ask after you, after A and the boys, and they pray for you throughout the week.

I talk to your wife. I’m trying to be a better sister-in-law. It might be simply because she’s fabulous and I love talking to her (despite disliking phone conversations). But it’s also that I miss you and because I want to make sure she’s alright with you gone until April (which of course she is, she’s a tough one, that wife of yours).

I think that most of all, you should know that I love you. That I’m praying for you. That I’m confident you’ll come home safe and sound. I want you to know that I think about you–every day, and more than once. Whenever a jet flies overhead, I remember what your wife once told your son when I was visiting, and to the pilot I’ll never meet, I whisper outloud: be safe. come home. Every time I see a jet: weekend warriors, cadets at the academy, and all the rest.

Be safe.

Come home.

Thank you.

High School

On Wednesday night I went back to high school. I’ve done that a few times since graduating. I once went and visited an old teacher, actually lectured in her classroom about Sudan and Darfur. I’ve been to a couple choir concerts at my old school and I think I walked the halls once just to reminisce. That was a bizarre experience I don’t care to repeat–mostly  because high school itself was a bizarre experience. It was full of laughter and chaos. There were mission trips, retreats and friendships that I thought would last forever. But there were some rough low times of displacement, misunderstanding and serious pain. It was a confusing adventure. When I graduated, I swore I was never coming back. Not to high school, not to Littleton, not even to Colorado. I applied only to out of state universities and I had a plan for leaving the country.

Ironically, I’m back in Colorado, attending the only grad school program I applied to when I put my sights on those three little letters: P.h.D.

And, on Wednesday, I went back to high school.

Youth Group.

I was terrified. I had two presentations at school that day, in front of peers and many lettered professors. But nothing prepared me for the moment I entered the parking lot of my old church and realized what I had committed to. There were girls in denim shorts putting face paint on to match their tyedye shirts.* The boys were taller than me and everyone had more make up on than I’ve owned in my entire life. I was wearing chacos and a sweater; I’m very Coloradoan in that I wear chacos with everything, regardless of matching.

I could tell you about the entire night: the amazing scavenger hunt, the fact that I indirectly encouraged cheating,** or that I had two girls hug me before the night was over. But what I really want to tell you isn’t that my team won or that I somehow ended up on leadership for the “cool group,” with the one person that I worried about being on staff with.*** What I want to tell you is that as I watched those kids running around like madmen scavenging pop tart flavors for their lives, and as I watched some of them hang back for a wide variety of all too obvious reasons, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be. I never dreamed of serving at youth group. But not only did I come out of Wednesday night alive, I came out filled with energy and thrilled at the prospect of this school year.

I’m terrified still. But I’m also really excited to love some girls, give them big hugs every week and tell them that Abba loves them more than we could ever imagine. I’m excited for their stories, their redemption, their dreams and their futures. And I’m really excited that for a short time, I get to be a part of their lives.

hopefully, I don’t encourage too much cheating…

_____________________________________________________

*the first night is a kick-off with colour coded teams and an immense scavenger hunt through the city
**of course I encouraged cheating! when one student looked wary of how they were getting through the obstacle course I pointed out that the judge hadn’t specifically said they couldn’t do what they were doing, so it couldn’t really be wrong. I just wanted us to win!! (and the youth group pastor’s wife smiled teasingly as she said “I like the way you think!”)
***it will be a good lesson in patience and growth to work with said individual. I’m actually excited about the chance to serve with them and eventually even grow to love them. apparently, I’m not just at youth group to work with kids. I’m also there to get some work done myself.

Jam Packed Weekends

Last weekend I camped with E and friends from church and then I moved from one side of town to the other. Let’s just say, I didn’t get much homework done and I’m pretty exhausted.

But it was all very worthwhile.

The camping trip was absolutely perfect. E and I arrived early since my classes ended in the morning and he can take off work. We set up a massive tent (the Grand Lodge by Jeep), took logs from nearby campsite, chopped wood and settled in with books around the fire. When the family joining us finally arrived E was taking a nap and I had only struggled through 50 pages of my philosophy homework.

Their dog, Jeremiah, shot out of the car and into the trees, thrilled by the crisp air and the whistling winds above us. Every stump help a new smell, each little path a new adventure. The children followed suit as soon as they were released from their carseats. T and little A stumbled around, weary from the drive and overwhelmed at the sights. O had to be held, cranky and teething but full of wide eyed wonder.

That night, after the children had been put down, E and I enjoyed some time with our friends. We savoured s’mores made with nutella instead of chocolate and talked about culture, religion and the mess in between.

This couple is about ten years older than us and they are full of wisdom and grace. The weekend, especially the evening without kids, was so encouraging for E and I. That isn’t, of course, why we invited them. We actually wanted to get J to try camping since she hasn’t gone in years and was a little worried the entire time. We don’t go camping by ourselves anymore, and we thought that J and her husband would be great fun to have along.

But in our conversations it was a real privilege to hear J’s heart while E talked with A about work, fishing and church. I love having more insight to someone who I look up to and who has so many qualities that I hope to one day exhibit. She was sweet and honest and I appreciated hearing more of her story. I was surprised at how similar we are in several areas and God used her to remind me that I’m not the only one who struggles in walking the faith or living the life we’re given this side of Heaven.

It might have been easier to move on Saturday and had the weekend to unpack, finish homework and find time to breath in the midst of the city’s chaos.

But it was better to find that chance of rest in the mountains with wise friends who could encourage and challenge us by just being themselves.

Berthoud on a Cloudy Day

Last weekend I drove to Berthoud Pass. Did you know there’s a trail there? I was unaware, so I went in jeans and a cutesy shirt—definitely not hiking attire. But I’ll go back soon enough and hike at the top of the mountain.

The clouds had started to roll in earlier in the day. It was my last full day of freedom before my life began again  on Monday with a new job and new classes. I had nothing to do after finishing my homework from the summer. My apartment was almost entirely packed and several friends were out of town. So I resorted to an old technique of wasting time: I got in the car and headed west.

The ascent to the Pass is not long, not in my little stick shift. It is long if you get stuck behind a transplant who doesn’t know how to drive on mountain roads; or truck who is struggling to manage the long haul to higher elevations. But on Friday afternoon I did not have either of those problems as I raced to the heights of the pass.

I stood on the edge of the pulloff while a tour bus unloaded for stiff legs, restrooms and pictures. The sky was drenched with heavy grey clouds, twisted and curled above the peaks. The sky was like fabric, tossed into the air, that falls to the ground in a crumpled heap. The layers, dimensions, the shadows and edges–both sharp and smooth–hung patiently over the Rockies, waiting for the wind that would push them away to the East where they might bring the dry land to life. There was grey like slate and blue like the distant sea after a long fought storm. There was curling silver around the tips where sunlight longed to break through.

The peaks were turned a blue brown, those still covered in trees looked black in the faded light. They were shadows, ghosts of ancient worlds that have long since passed. But the mountains remain, striving against the gravity that will eventually be their undoing. They look like waves on seashore, crashing into one another, peak on peak, endless jagged lines thrust against the thick clouds above.

No picture would do them justice. To be honest, no picture ever perfectly presents any sight in creation. Words, I thought as I shivered in my coat amid the thin cold air, words can never explain the beauty that God has given us. Not here in Colorado, nor anywhere else in all the world.

Creation, a professor recently quoted, is a silent orator, shouting the existence and majesty of our God. She cries out that there is more, that she is held together by another, and that this other, this Beyond, is God.

WHY: the move

I’m moving some time in the next two weeks. I don’t know where yet, or how, but I do know why.

It was about a two month process in deciding to move. I didn’t want to leave my apartment, with the refugees, the heat, the highway, construction and the noise. But there were so many things that I needed to finish. I drive about 40 minutes on a good day to get to school and work, I run through a tank of gas in six days which is over 400 miles. I needed a place to study so I could come home at night instead of living in the library throughout the week. I wanted to be closer to friends, to church, to community, to my boyfriend.

In the end, I chose to move, to be closer to my life on the opposite side of Denver. It was a hard couple of months. I felt selfish and self absorbed as I considered my needs for the first time in ages. I didn’t want to leave my roommate and the ministry that she had worked so hard to create in our neighborhood; and the painful joy of joining her in occasional attempts at ministry that I could fit in to my obscenely busy schedule. I didn’t want to leave the girls that I was getting to know, and I didn’t want to just “give up” when things got hard.

But I also learned in those two months that it was okay to consider my nerves, my needs, my hopes and desires. I was affirmed by several people that God wouldn’t mind if I considered myself and not just the desires and hopes of others. I had so much encouragement spoken over me about this chance to care for myself as I’ve never done in the past–and I was assured that it was not narcissistic. In fact, it was healthy and it was a way of honoring the way God has gifted me and the way he is directing my life: seminary, theology, education and ministry within the church.

So I’m moving at the end of this month. I don’t know where I’m living, only that it will be with my friend S. In many ways, I don’t know how it will work with school starting a new job finally taking off. But it will work. God always makes things work out in my life–and usually at the last minute.

this adventure is no different.

Friends

I should have blogged on the Fourth of July. I tried. I thought and thought about what I could write. I considered writing about fireworks, the perfect blooms of light that are one of my favourite events each summer. But, thanks to the fires, there were no fireworks this summer and felt bizarre to write about them. I considered patriotism, but that is something I have long struggled to understand. I feel a surge of pride when I see my brother in uniform, watch him tip his wings as he comes in for a landing in his jet. But there is an unease in my spirit regarding our politics, our culture, our “american dream.”

So, in the end, I didn’t write on Wednesday though it is my usual day for a post and it was a national holiday. Instead, I spent the day packing my boss’s kitchen as he and his wife are currently out of town and are moving this weekend.

I did, however, have a few friends over on the Fourth and that is worth talking about.

E and I had a BBQ, which we hosted at my boss’s house in the big backyard full of dead grass because it’s been a brutal summer and the sprinkler system on the rental has ceased functioning (if it ever did). We were slobbered on by their Newfoundland–Sydney–who is one of the happiest but laid back dogs I’ve ever known. She’ll be great when the new baby comes home to their new house, they’ll just have to be even more vigilent about wiping her face and loose jowels that leak a thick dribble when she pants in the summer heat.

We had our friends J and K over, they’re married and both at seminary with me. I went to high school with J and had a huge crush on one of his best friends. It’s funny now, to laugh about all that, to know his wife K and realize that we often don’t marry the people we planned and that life never turns out as we imagined (K told him no three times before she consented to a first date).  They brought their dog Abby who explored the backyard with ceaseless sniffing and hope for great adventure. Sydney watched the process from her perch on the patio at our feet, her chin resting between spread out paws.

We ate, we drank, we laughed and over three hours passed before we realized the time. We had to catch up on a good deal of life that we’ve missed in the past two months and then we talked about current plans, some hopes and dreams, confusions and concerns in the church…etc. It was a grand evening of absolutely no plans, no contrived conversations or ice breaker games.

It was just good.

It’s been a long time since either E or I had friends like that. We talked about it the next day, how thankful we are that God has provided us with good friends to share life with, to pray with and for, to simply enjoy. It’s been a long week. I’ve packed my boss’s house (mostly) and I helped E pack and move his own apartment last night. The girls I nanny bickered off and on all day yesterday, and if it wasn’t for a neighbour girl to break the tension, I think they’d do the same today. My digestive system is on the fritz again and I seem to be forgetting almost everything on my to-do list.

But Wednesday was a good night because I was allowed the chance to remember that life isn’t to-do lists, it isn’t assignments at school or long days at work. Life is friends and beauty and joy (just as much as it is sorrow and pain in the darker days). Life is about enjoying each other and enjoying what God has blessed us with, even when those blessings are the smallest things.

Like a week of housesitting.
A dog to walk.
A cool evening rain, observed from the covered patio.
A national holiday to enjoy a day off.
Money to buy meat for burgers.
And good friends to share a meal with.

Because friends remind me of God and how he loves us, how he stands by us no matter what and how he just wants to be with us–not because he is lonely but because he delights in us, in his creation.

Wednesday night was a great evening to celebrate shared life, a shared journey and a shared quest for the glory of God and the hope of the coming promise.

Garden Building

{EDIT: I apologize that this post went out early to some of you. It was meant for Monday morning, not Sunday! I planned to have some time picking out the pictures I wanted to share with you…. Sorry about that mixup! Enjoy the real post!}

I’ve wanted a garden for ages. Two years ago I grew tomatoes in a pot on my parent’s back porch. The taste was better than anything else, sweet and tangy, rich with earth and sun. It made the desire for a garden even greater. Last year I tried to figure out how I might scrape one out of the dusty backyard at G and J’s house. I thought the fringes of the yard, near the leaning fence might be the best hope for a place the kids wouldn’t trample in their afternoon adventures between lunch, naps and chores. But G and J were stationed to Colorado Springs and I realized that the garden would just be sprouting in time for them to move. This year I thought about trying to plant one in the courtyard of our building. There are these areas near the bottom of our staircases, empty plots of dusty earth that get tracked into our apartment by barefooted children, screaming and laughing and wanting to learn. But it couldn’t be protected from neighbors or the cats that keep multiplying and prowling the parking lot.

And then E moved into an apartment with free rent in exchange for property management. He gained a back patio with plenty of sunshine and just enough room. The roommates abandoned their one bedroom house and they tore down the loft that allowed four grown men to share that one room and there was all that wood…with bolts and screws and absolutely everything you might need to build a little enclosed garden.

So we did. (or, he did.)

Which goes with the next point: I decided my blog could use some more pictures. Since it’s summer time and I’ll be going on lots of adventures (see WHY: I love the Summer) there will be plenty to share with you! So here are the first ones from that garden. E building the garden boxes (and building me a loft for my bed–now I can fit more bookcases in my room) and some pictures of us filling up those boxes. We used a mixture of dirt from a property he’s working on (they had to dig out the driveway) and potting soil bought at Lowe’s, on top we finished off with a bag of compost (we’re both sort of green). It took 12 18gallon buckets of the free dirt, three bags of soil and 1 bag of compost to fill these beauties and make them a welcome home for the plants we chose.

The pictures are your chance to journey with our little plant heaven on the back patio at E’s new place. So, welcome to the week of planning and set up. The hardest part–digging up dirt, building the boxes, lining with trash bags, and filling with aforementioned dug up dirt and finally, a watering can to get this garden off on the right foot. No thirsty plants on my watch! It’s a good thing we did much of this in the evening and on some cooler, rainier days! I love the sunshine but not always the heat that goes along with it! (I’m a pansy!) You can click for a larger image and slide-show your way through the magnificence.

Welcome to Ithir.

WHY: Summer Days

Last week was the end of school. I wrote about 120 pages. Essentially,  I wrote a thesis. Or I wrote as much material as a thesis would be, but on more topics. Still, can we marvel over that number? I don’t mean it in a pretentious way. I mean it in a oh-my-word-how-could-anyone-write-that-much-and-still-be-sane kind of way. Maybe I’ve lost my sanity without even realizing it….

I’m very glad that I’m done. I don’t love change, I don’t love things ending (like classes, semesters and assignments) but I’m quite glad that the semester and her massive amount of writing is all done. I’m also glad to be done for the year because it means something more than just the end of assignments and schoolwork.

It means that summer has begun.

I love the summertime. It means, later nights with brilliant, burning sunsets. Bike rides become leisurely without looming assignments that snag the wheels and threaten your perseverance up that hill of wasting time (which should, obviously, be spent on said looming assignments). It also means that the mountains will have shed their thick white blankets and dried out in the afternoons of late spring. And that means two very glorious and spiritual things can happen:

hiking.

camping.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I love summer time in Colorado. I love hiking. I love camping. I’m a journey hiker (which will be a later post) and I’m both a backpacking and car camper. Just give me those Rocky Mountains and I’m happy as a clam in the deep blue. Except there’s not much blue here. It’s more brown with runs of green and forests that look black as smoky ebony when the setting sun hits just right. There are great things to learn of God that come through intellectual discussion in classroom settings. But most of those great experiences with God recorded in the Bible take place outside. If you come to Colorado, you will discover why he speaks in the wilderness–or perhaps, he always speaks, but you will discover why we hear in the wilderness. There is a majesty there, a magnitude that cannot be described or uttered, it can only be seen and experienced and it leads to worship in a way that nothing else can. I can’t put the picture into words. So here are the reasons I love Colorado summers told by photos, here is a sample of the beauty in which God has manifested himself to me in the wilderness that I am privileged to call home:

(Mountains, with snow, in August; Hiking trail; Under the waterfall at Hanging Lake; Standing above Hanging Lake; Looking down onto Hanging Lake; Dusky sunset at a park overlooking the foothills; Before a concert at Red Rocks; Backpacking up to Mt Evans; Giants must live here–Narnia!; Backpacking with a friend from college; Feeling small amidst the Rockies; Clouds on one of my favourite trails; A recent sunset caught in my side view mirror by my cellphone camera)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.