Monday, December 3, 2012

Noveling Through November

Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone and to my complete astonishment, I don’t have a 50,000 word novel. For those of you who don’t have much of a sarcasm radar, that was it.

National Novel Writing Month is an event held every November by the Office of Letters and Light.  Their office “organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential.” It’s a great organization and a fun program. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. If you finish, you get the satisfaction of having 50,000 words of a novel, plus one copy of your novel provided by OLL.

I tried for the 3rd year in a row and was unsuccessful at reaching my goal. I had all the “tools for success” this year. I wasn’t going to stop in the middle and start over. I plotted out most of my story, I flushed out my characters, and I even had a “writing station.”

It was all for naught (must be read as dramatically as possible to get the full effect). Well, not completely. I did get quite a bit of work done on a new novel. 11,044 words of a novel to be precise. The story is called Longings of an Evil Character. Here’s an excerpt if you’re interested.

"I know it's you," Finn said.
"And I know it's you," Del said, smirking.
"Stop playing games," he growled.
"I love a good game, though," she said.
"Take off the mask," he said in a surprisingly even tone.
"If you already know who I am than why do I need to take off my mask?" the queen asked.
"Stop this," he said and reached for her mask. His hand went right through her face as they both knew it would. He growled and festooned heads turned towards them from all over the room. The music stopped and the king stood up.

"What's the meaning of this?" the monarch said from his place on the dais.
"Nothing, My Lord," Del yelled across the room. She put on her biggest smile. The disarming one that got him every time. It helped that she put some sorcery behind it.
"You're brother and I were just arguing over whether my dress was brown or cinnamon. My apologies for disrupting the party. Please, continue with the dancing!" she curtsied to the king who sat, appeased, and the music started up again.

"You can't do that in public!" she hissed at Finn when they began dancing again.
"Then don't taunt me in public," he snarled.
"It's not my fault I know how to push your buttons," she simpered.
"It is your fault, however, when you choose to push them," he said. He gripped her waist a little tighter.
"Finn," she said, "your brother is watching us."
"If I had such a conniving little wife, I'd keep a constant eye on her as well," he said. After all this time, he shouldn't be able to send a tingle all the way to her toes or make her heart flutter at the thought of the two of them married but he still did. He had left her, she reminded herself. He was the enemy.

"Del," he said and it brought her back to herself.
"Do not address me so informally, your grace," she said, back ramrod straight all of a sudden and he let go of her. He stepped back and looked at her.
"I thought I had you back for a moment," he said.
"It's not my fault you lost me in the first place," she shot back.
"I meant the real you," he said.  

I agree with my uncle, however, when he says what really matters is what happens after November. The goal is to get started in November, but keep writing. Not just write once a year and, win or lose, wait to write something else next November. I was better about that this year and I started several different stories before November even hit. I just need to make myself sit down and finish a few!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"How did this get in here!?"

Let me start this post by saying:

The BVS House is old 
and it's occupants filter through faster than 
shoppers in a revolving door on Black Friday.  
(minus the consumerism)

So fast that often we exclaim, "Why is this here!?" or "How long has that been around?!" Often the reply is, "As long as I can remember." For example, the violin in the downstairs piano room or the Halloween Attic or mysterious freezer food with names like "Emily" or "Beth" on them.

Basically, we have a lot of furniture that we've acquired over the years. It's really quite timely - we have a plethora of furniture (go figure in a Volunteers house!) and there is need out there (refugees and our Sunday school room). At our house meeting last night, we assessed our surplus situation and decided what pieces we were going to move. We decided on sending a couple beds to refugees and the 1/2 Broken Red Couch (in the living room) to our Sunday School room. The 1/2 Broken Red Couch has recliner seats on either end, but one of them is broken. Hence the name.

Then the question was...which couch do we replace the red one with in the living room? We went off to test ALL THE COUCHES in the house. It started off innocently enough...

This couch is too hard!

This couch is nice, but we'd have to get it upstairs.

This couch is juuuuuust right!

We had made our new living room couch selection. The next feat was to get the 1/2 Broken Red Couch from the living room to the van. [Insert quintessential easier-said-than-done phrase here.] 

One. This couch was massive and it had two recliners on either end. 
Two. Our doorways are Turn of the 19th Century small. TINY. We may have chipped a little bit of paint in trying to shove it through a doorway or two.  
Three. Pair those two things together and pushing this couch through a door way was like giving birth to a 9lb baby. (So much respect, Moms. So much respect.)

We tried going down one stairway and couldn't make it. So, we try the second one. To NO avail. It's still in our house and will probably remain there for awhile. Despite being unable to get the couch out of the house, our efforts resulted in a lot of laughs and will be a fond house memory circa 2012

However, we do beg the question, 


PS - Share your BVS house couch moving stories! Join the Facebook page where daily reminiscing of good times is occurring!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hello everyone,
This is the first blog post of my life. It seems fitting that I should do it about something that I have put a lot of time and love into. My Cloak!
                                 So this is my Journey to the Creation of a Masterpiece.

      It began when I decided to do BVS, and realized that the warm blooded Floridian that I am was not going to appreciate the super cold winter in Chicago. Also its hard to be motivated to knit in Florida. So for my birthday (May 25) I received some yarn. However, since Micheal's didn't carry enough skeins we did a special order, so I had to wait for it to be shipped to me.

      June 1st I was able to pick up 8 skins of Yarn.
Each skein is 255 yards of yarn. And they are a beautiful green!
      One problem I try not to have as a knitter is I try to finish projects before I start new ones. So I had to wait until I finished a sweater I was knitting for a ladies aid group at church to be able to start my cape. This took me a long time during the summer because well summers in Florida are HOT! But on July 16, 2012 I was able to begin my cloak!
      I spent time prior to choosing the yarn looking for cloak patterns. I am sorry to report that I don't remember where I got my free pattern from, but I rewrote it so I wouldn't have to do any sewing!
     (Leave a message in the comments w/ your email if you want the full pattern, i realized I can't/ don't know how to upload it. but there will be snippets of the pattern as we go along.)
     This is a picture after I cast on 240 stitches and knit 1 row. the markers are at 30+45+90+45+30 and the first 2 inches are in seed stitch (row 1 *k1,p1* rep, row 2 same but do not rib)

   After 2 inches, you seed the first and last 30 stitches, and knit the right side rows, and purl the wrong sides. As you go you decrease every few inches. I had to measure from my elbow to where I wanted the cloak to end. This was about 32 inches for me. So I choose to decrease every 5 inches (for a total of 6 decreases). The decrease rows were seed +k, k2tog +k2tog, k, k2tog+ k, k2tog+seed.
To the left you can see it on August 5th when I was about to do my second decrease at 7inches long.

     You can also see the end of my first skein of yarn. (thinking of all I had left I was mildly worried I had not gotten enough)

      Soooo.... The dates are coming to you via facebook timeline for this blog. and somebody forgot to post this picture. I am going to guess it happened around Aug 20th. This was taken shortly after my arrival to the BVS house in Elgin, IL. The cloak is at 12 inches and is around my third decrease.
      Here it is at 17" on September 3rd after I started my third skein of yarn. (That's about 600 yards of yarn.

     At this point in the cloak, because I'm still at around 220 stitches a row, I was taking half an hour per row, and 4 rows = 1 in. So while watching a movie, I would finish 1in.

This picture is also halfway to my elbows.

   September 14, it is now at 22 inches, at my 5th decrease row. This was taken not long before I left for my BVS Orientation.
      So we had some really nice speakers at orientation who didn't seem too upset that I was working diligently on my cape throughout their sessions. (Me answering questions and engaging in discussions probably helped) This picture was taken September 21 when the cape was at 27 inches. This is where I did my 6th decrease, And it looks like I am on skein #4.

     At this point I was counting down the inches until I would get to start the arm holes.
      October 2, during orientation we took a weekend trip to DC, where I took a break from knitting. The last few inches were going really slowly (like waiting for water to boil). So i decided not to measure it until I had finished off skein #4, and started #5. So here it is at 32in!
     I also had a problem trying to/not to stretch the cloak out. I thought the weight might add a few inches when it was done, and it was really stretchy, but i didn't want to stretch it tooo much... but it seems to have worked out.

     Time to start the arm holes. To do this I decided to do something super insane. I was going to knit 3 panels at the same time! (One option in the original patter was to knit 5 panels separately then sew them together, but I want to be done when I am done, so I decided not to do that.)
     Sew I did my usual seed 30 + then I knitted 26, bo2 and using a new skein of yarn, K8+k+k8 bo2, and picking up a third skein of yarn k26+seed.
     This happened also on October 2nd while watching the presidential debate. (I am glad I had a distraction for that.)

     After orientation was over I got to visit Bridgewater College for their Homecoming! I loved getting to see all my college friends! So during the drive to Bridgewater, and while I was there, I got to juggle 3 skeins of yarn. The result is that it continued to grow until it reached 36" which is halfway through the armholes.This photo was taked Oct 7th.

     In the pattern I have it detailed out where all the decreases happen, suffice it to say there are a lot happening around now.

       Here is a completed armhole. When the armholes reached 8" in length I took the first skein and cast on 2 stitches across the armholes kept going till all the stitches were on one skein again.

     The 12 hour drive we had from Virgina back to Elgin gave me lots of time to knit. So on October 10, I was able to post this picture.

      This is a photo after I did the last decrease of the torso area. It is 44" long, and has been 12" since I started the armholes. I originally cast on 240 stitches, a count after the last decrease told me that I was down to 156. That's 86 stitches fewer than when I started!! This photo was taken October 15.

October 17 I  finished the last 4 inches, bringing the total length to 48". This is right before I start the shoulder decreases.
Again I was creative with the original pattern so I wouldn't have to pick up stitches for the hood, I did a lot of knitting multiple stitches together.

     This is the narrowest my cloak ever got. It is right around my neck it is down to just 48 stitches. that is nearly 200 less than when I started! I finished the neck decreases on Oct 18th. Time flies when you are knitting fewer stitches.
       I took this picture earlier this afternoon (October 27) when I had a measly 3in left on my cloak. I was determined not to stop working until it was done. And by golly except for a quick bank run I finished it today!
The cloak is as long as my tape measure-60 in.

      The only thing left after I bound off my hood (using a cool no sew technique). Was to stabilize the armholes. I crocheted the near front side, and picked up stitches and knit 2in on the near back side. Then I sewed the arm flaps down.
I also wove in the ends.

   And Vola! Done!



     You can see the lovely broach I found at Goodwill. Still looking for the perfect one, but I really like the one I have now.

     And there you go! These past few months of work feel like they have flown by. I'm not sure what to do with my life now that this huge project is complete. On the plus side I got to wear my cloak out in public for the first time today! It was so exciting! and I am very glad that this was a successful project. I am very glad that it was a forgiving project, because I made some mistakes, but the beauty is no one but me knows where they are. Wearing it tonight made me feel Awesome! and I guess that's the point of creating fun things. So you can enjoy them.
     So I encourage all of you who have read all the way to the bottom of the blog, Get out there and get creative! and have fun documenting your success!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thank you for the night

Kendra here, once again. A few weeks back, I had the chance to lead chapel at the office. Upon request, I am sharing it here:

Matthew 26
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me."

Stay with me.
Remain here with me.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.

“Even if we have no hope, does that give us permission not to fight?”

After a day of rebuilding efforts on the Abu Omar family home, we sat in our circle of folding chairs, hearing yet another trend of oppression that characterizes the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Reflecting on all we had seen and heard so far, one camp participant pointed out the hopelessness of the situation, causing the challenging question posed by Michael, a young Israeli activist who may well speak of hopelessness, as his family has shunned him and his community has labeled him a traitor.

This acknowledgement of hopelessness was something of a new idea for me, however, having always clung by nature and by faith to the apostle Paul’s conviction that through hope we are saved, to the idea that joy comes with the morning and that morning is really out there. But by the end of my three weeks in Palestine, I too left with a sense of hopelessness, carrying with me the knowledge that though we had rebuilt one family’s home, this small act of resistance seemed insignificant amidst so much injustice and heartache. This feeling would only be magnified six months later, shortly after my arrival in Elgin, when I learned that this home had once again been demolished, together with the home that annually housed the rebuilding volunteers and the entire neighboring Bedouin village.

My education in hopelessness continued this past spring, when at a conference, I had the fortune to listen to the Reverend Dr. Miguel de la Torre, a minister and scholar-activist who works with migrants crossing the border into the United States and the inhumane treatment with which they are confronted. Treatment created and reinforced by institutional policies. De La Torre states that “hope has become a middle-class privilege that we impose upon a situation to feel better.”

I’m not sure about you, but I have found this statement to be troubling. As followers of Christ, we genuinely care about the suffering in this world, and furthermore, we commit ourselves to becoming informed and taking action for the advancement of peace and justice.

But at the same time, as followers of Christ, we
are an Easter people. We surround ourselves with the comfort of hope and faith in God, that persistent, lingering, if ever-so-slight belief that God will lead us through these trials, that God will carry us from suffering to joy. The horizon of Easter Sunday lies constantly before us.

The danger, however, of looking to Sunday is that we become inclined to look past the Saturday. Instead of giving the day of mourning its due, we try to hurry through it to the day of hope and newness.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have the best of intentions. It is not just for ourselves that we hope for Sunday, that we raise our eyes to the hills for deliverance. It is for those all around the world who we know are suffering - we maintain the hope that the God of the resurrected Christ will not let them suffer forever, the hope that wars will cease and justice will reign. And in full faith, we give our efforts and resources toward that end. But perhaps our hopes and efforts are also motivated by a fear and discomfort with the idea of mourning and suffering.

So what if, for a moment, we lay aside our hope that things will change and let ourselves become vulnerable to the way things are now. What if we remain in the Saturday? What if we lower our eyes from the hills and focus on the faces of those among us in the valley? What if we rest from our efforts of trying to fix things and quiet our inclinations to speak words of hope, and instead sit in silence, grasp hands, and let ourselves feel the pain and hopelessness.

This isn’t a call for despair or for giving up. There are people in marginalized communities the world over who continue day after day to fight for their rights, for justice and peace and equality, not because they have hope of seeing it achieved but because they have no other choice. And perhaps our call isn’t always to bring them hope and help them win that battle but rather sometimes, to stand with them when they lose.

 If I had known that the Palestinian home I had helped rebuild would be demolished again in a few months, I don’t honestly know if I could have put as much energy and effort into it, knowing it was a hopeless show of resistance. And maybe, if I had been with the family when they were once again surrounded by rubble, I would have immediately started to pick up the pieces, to try to make it better. But where I was, far away and helpless in Elgin, I couldn’t make anything better. All I could do was hurt and grieve, and all I needed were people to listen to me cry and share my grief with me.

We don’t have to go very far to find people in our own lives and communities who are experiencing times of grief and hopelessness. And very often, the urge is to console, to bring hope, to make better. And there is a time for that. We are held in the arms of a God of new life, and we should sing of our hope and joy from the mountaintops. But there is also a time to hold back our words and solutions, a time to accept the grief and pain for what it is, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

As poet Oriah Mountaindreamer states:” I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.”

Because, at the base of it all, the God of resurrection is also the God of crucifixion; the God of hope and joy is also the God of grief and mourning. And we limit God if we try to glaze over that which is difficult. Christ himself faced a situation of hopelessness, a time when his torture and death were inevitable and all he asked was for his friends to sit and share his grief with him.

There is much injustice and oppression in our world and much grief and hopelessness in our communities. So by all means, let us hope, pray, and work for Sunday to dawn upon us all. But let us not forget that sometimes what is most needed is for us is to remain present in the Saturday, for there too, maybe even more than anywhere else, God is with us.

Please pray with me:
God of hope, God of sorrow, we pray for those living in hopelessness, that they might feel the comfort of your love. Grant us the courage and the strength  to remain in the places of grief and pain, with the reassurance that no matter how deep the darkness, you are there. Amen.

Thank you for the night, a measure of your care.
In darkness, as in light, you, Lord are there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet Tricia!

Greetings Blog Readers!

Today, we’re featuring an interview I conducted with Tricia Ziegler, BVS Housemate, fellow Bridgewater College alum, and my other half (in the ways of workcamp coordinating). Tricia and I knew each other before living in the BVS as housemates. We became friends at Bridgewater College and have abounded on many Brethren adventures together! Roadtrips, dumpsters, conferences - Oh my! Needless to say - we're very well acquainted. 
Oh, you know - just showing off before Senior Ball. 

Why am I interviewing Tricia, you may wonder? Well, because she hasn't introduced herself (to y'all) and my "chore" this week is to blog. Picking two apples with one hand, you might say. That is hard...unless your hands are big and the apples are small. Anyway...

After spending a shorter than usual week at work (thanks to Labor Day), Tricia and I settle into a movie. The movie of choice is Driving Lessons, starring Rupert Grint and Julie Walters, a precious British treat. As the opening credits roll, the questions begin!

Katie: Where are you from?
Tricia: Sebring, FL

What are you going to miss most about Sebring?
Warm weather. Really my family – that’s the serious answer.

What is your favorite animal?
Komodo Dragon. I wrote a paper about Komodo Dragon saliva in my molecular biology class.

She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology, folks. You can’t make this stuff up.

Proof: Tricia spent her 21st Birthday at the Body Works Exhibit. Too cool! 
What is your favorite thing?
I have a stuffed animal that I’ve had since forever. His name is Cuddles and he’s a dog, but everyone thinks it’s a rabbit.  

What’s the most notable thing on your Brethren resume?
Being born about a week before my Dad’s graduation from Bethany Seminary, because that’s what started it all really.

Graduation day at Bridgewater College!
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened in the house since you’ve arrived?
Going biking in hail.

 To be fair...this didn't happen INside. However, Tricia did have some misadventures with a mirror while moving into her new room at the top of the stairs. It shattered. The mirror. Was it a sign that she shouldn't switch rooms? We hope not. 

What’s your second favorite color?

She's gifted in ASL. She often signs to songs in worship services or for fun.!
What are you knitting?
A cape! It’s gonna be so exciting! I’m a fourth of the way done with it!

When you’re not knitting what do you like to do for fun?
Read…or Pinterest…or those silly facebook games. I also like logic games that make you think, but not Sudoku. That one’s stupid.

She loves wheel thrown ceramics! 
If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Probably Australia or Kenya, because of the cool animals there.

What's the totally awesomest place you've been so far?

On an interterm trip through Bridgewater College! 

Walking where Jesus walked!
What are your hopes and dreams?
(Contemplative Sigh) To live the life God has called me to live. I’d love to finish my research on Spanish moss, do something with biology, do something for the church – I don’t know there are all sorts of paths I could take. It’d be cool to be a mother – but not before I’m ready.

Tricia working hard on her Spanish Moss project. 

On that note, our questions for this tangent about a dog. You're welcome. 

If the BVS house could have pets, what would you want?
Probably a dog. That’d be cool – a BVS dog.
What would you wanna call it?
I don’t know it would depend on the dog.
OK, then what kind of dog would you want?
I’m impartial to shelties because I have one. Something small to mid-size. A mutt would be cool – it would fit the BVS aura.
So, if we had a small to mid-size sheltie mutt…what would you want to call it?
I’d have to see the dog!
It’s brown.
Maybe we’d name it after one of the past house members, like the first one.

Tricia hanging out with some campers and a fish at Camp Ithiel in FL. 

Yes, so if you all have any information on the first house member. Ever. That would be appreciated as in the off-chance that we ever get a dog - Tricia would like to name it after aforementioned first ever housemate. 

Until next time! 

In Christ, 
Tricia and Katie 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Greetings from a Shenandoah Valley Girl.

Hey y’all!

My name is Katie Cummings and I’m (one of) the newest additions to the Elgin BVS home! I’m working in the Elgin offices as an Assistant Coordinator for the 2013 Workcamp Ministry. I’m so thrilled to begin work on the 2013 workcamps (and feeling super blessed to be here)!

Tricia and I on our second day at the offices!
I’m from Weyers Cave, VA of the Shenandoah District. I’ve grown up nestled between blue mountain ranges and I’m excited to check out some new scenery. I just graduated from Bridgewater College in May with a degree in Sociology. While at Bridgewater, I participated on BC’s track and field team as a thrower, tossing around a shotput, discus and hammer. I served on the Interdistrict Youth Cabinet and helped coordinate Roundtable and youth retreats. Super Fun. 

Shotputting at a college track meet!
Jumping for joy after I graduated from Bridgewater!
I dig worldly travel and in the fall of my senior year I traveled to Chennai, India for a year of study abroad. I’ve also traveled on a learning tour with David Radcliff to Burma. Good times. I love summer camp and have spent summers at Brethren Woods and Camp Bethel as a counselor.

Myself and Indian friends from my host college.

A few Bethel camp counselors enjoying some quality ice cream time
on the weekend after working together to clean a camp building. YUM!
Also, I love camping, hiking, and being outside! My favorite color is green, although most of my clothes are red. Sunflowers are beautiful. Legally Blonde is my favorite movie (musical).  “I’m a Gemini vegetarian.” I enjoy fun runs. Dumpster diving is fun and an act of faith. Not a fan of sprinkles. Ultimate Frisbee is the ultimate. I love snail mail. I’m a Gryffindor from District 12. I love to knit. 

That’s all for now. I’m still working on moving in. My empty suitcases are still just chilling in the middle of my room. What’s that all about?

Until next time!

In Christ,

PS – As an added intro bonus, one of my favorite small group get to know you games is Two Truths and a Lie. Let’s play! Two of the following things are true and one of them is false. GUESS.
  1. In college, I rode a red cruiser “boys” bike named Stella.  
  2. Halloween is my favorite because of the scary movies.
  3. I learned how to surf in Hawaii. Aloha!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hello everyone! It's been too long since I've written here. I just got back from my whirlwind summer of workcamps, which was awesome by the way, and it's good to be back in Elgin for a bit. I headed up chapel today and talked a bit about my summer. I thought, as I did last time, that I would post it here for anyone who might be interested in reading it who wasn't able to go to chapel. Take a gander and let me know what you think! :-D

 Lessons on Fear

The theme of the summer is based on this scripture from Samuel (for those who weren't at chapel, the scripture is 1 Samuel 3:2-10) and it’s taken me all summer to really delve into it and learn that I really do need to make myself ready to listen for God’s call. I still haven’t really processed my whole summer, but as I start to piece the little nuggets of it together, one of the themes that bursts to the surface is what I like to call lessons on fear. Little pieces of information that help me understand why I fear and what to do about it. If I’m stuck on worry or fear, I’ll never hear God’s call.

I used to take swimming lessons when I was little. One time, we were standing at the deep end and they wanted us to jump in and learn to float or something. We all jumped and I remember sinking straight to the bottom, still holding my nose, confused at why I wasn’t floating. But I don’t really remember any kind of fear. One of my instructors reached down, pulled me up, and I grabbed a hold of the side of the pool. But the thing that strikes me about the memory is, like I said, that I don’t remember ever being afraid. It’s actually a memory that makes me smile when I think of it.

It’s hard to recapture that innocence. How was I not afraid that I was sinking to the bottom of the pool? I get afraid over a lot less than that now. As Jeremy drove me to the airport for my first workcamp I told him how scared I was. He told me something that stuck with me the rest of the summer. My first nugget of help.

There was this movie that he had watched the week before at camp called Facing the Giants. It was done independently by a church so it wasn’t of the highest caliber but the message was good. It’s about a football team at a Christian academy that has a losing streak for years. In the clip he told me about, they’re doing this drill where the players have to carry another player on their back, upside down, and crawl across the field. They’re on their hands and feet but their knees can’t touch the ground. They’ve finished the first part of the drill and one of the top players makes a comment that it doesn’t matter what they do because they’ll never beat the team their up against the next night. The couch makes him do the drill again, blind folded this time, and says he has to go to the fifty. He makes the player promise to give his best. The kid starts moving and the couch is giving him encouragement. But as he goes you start to realize that he’s not stopping at the fifty. The couch pushes him and yells encouragement all the way to the endzone. He’s yelling, “give me your best! You promised your best! Don’t you quit on me!” Every time I started to sink into that mode of fear this summer, I thought of that. “Don’t you quit on me!”

As I moved through the summer, I was confident that I was prepared, with God on my side, to face anything that was thrown at me. But a small, niggling part of that confidence, was fear. Am I prepared enough, am I ready? What if this goes wrong, or that goes wrong. I don’t think Jeremy knew at the time that he would be my inspiration for the rest of the summer in one car ride, but he said something else that made me stop and think. I told him was still nervous and I said, “what if I forgot something.” Straight faced, he looks at me and he says, “you did.” Then he added, “but it’ll be okay.” That was kind of a relief, actually to be told straight out that I did, in fact, probably forget to do something but that it was going to be okay.

Throughout the summer, I had several chances to attend several Sunday church services around the country. I looked at these as check-in points to see what and where God was directing me. What piece of advice he had this week that would get me through the next week.

Every sermon I heard this summer seemed to be on the same thing: Fear. The first sermon was good and made me think. The second time I heard a sermon on fear, I thought, that’s strange, what a coincidence. The third time I thought, “Okay, I get it and now I’m listening.”

One of these messages was at NYAC. I think it was Greg D-L------- who quoted it. He said “worry is a misuse of imagination.” I’ve always thought of myself as a creative person so this really struck a chord. What else could I be doing, making, imagining if I wasn’t using up that brain power on worry?

Another nugget came from Pastor Joel’s sermon on the one Sunday I was able to attend Highland Ave this summer. He was talking about the story of Jesus calming the storm and one of the verses, that I’m sure I’ve heard a dozen times really struck me this time. Matthew 4:40, Jesus stands up and says to his disciples, “Why are you such cowards? Have you no faith?” I felt like he was talking to me.

Many of you know Pastor Gilbert R------. He was my on-site coordinator in LA last week and I had the great fortune to hear him speak twice in one week. If any of you have ever heard him speak, you know he has a talent for grabbing your attention and holding onto it through a message. I will just list a few nuggets I got from him.

“Do you know why a windshield is so big and a mirror is so small? The windshield is your future and the mirror is your past.”

“If you’re stuck on ugly, that’s your problem. God didn’t make ugly.”

“Don’t put a question mark where God put a period.”

Also, my last Sunday of workcamp, I got to hear Pastor Jody R------ preach as well, Gilbert’s son. These are the words I ended my summer on and that will stick with me as well. Jody said, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
All this is not to say that I was consumed by fear this summer, but worry comes along with any kind of job that involves event planning, I would say. The fear of the unknown. Always having a plan B, C, and D. So, I wasn’t constantly afraid all summer, this was just one of my big take-aways. I re-learned just how important prayer really is and, even more so, listening for God. How convenient. I spent the summer telling my youth to listen for God, teaching them how to hear his voice, and in the end, I helped myself also to be “Ready to Listen!”

Peace, Rachel

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Beginning of the End

I am not sure how many of you know the story that explains why I joined BVS. It wasn’t because I wanted to change the world and meet cool Brethren. It was mostly because I was in a place in my life where I didn’t know which way to go. I had been through the storm, and wanted anything that would get me out of this awful situation. I had been placed in a classroom, student teaching that was as far away from the one that I had always dreamed about. This particular storm had caused me to re-evaluate everything that I had known up to this point. I was no longer sure that I knew where my life was going and suddenly wanted to run away from teaching. BVS sounded like a good option, a fresh start, a new beginning that would let me travel, and well I couldn’t complain about that.   

Upon moving to Elgin, I found out what the job actually included: planning week long mission trips, doing a lot of leg work and sitting in an office, and for about four months traveling around recruiting, setting up, and executing these camps. I soon found myself begging for interactions with people, particularly children and youth. To help fill this void, I became a youth advisor at the local congregation and found myself enjoying being a part of something that was bigger than I was. While living in Elgin, I found myself living in a giant, old, Victorian house with two complete strangers. We quickly realized that each of us were looking at community living in very different ways, it also adds a very interesting dimension when you also work with the people that you are living with.

Community living took its toll on each of us, but we were always able to get together for a meal, devotions, and a good episode of Supernatural. Part way through this year, another person came and joined us in the house, and I know that I in particular was worried about adding another person into the house. It turns out that he was able to add a new dimension to the house and we quickly began spending more time together as a house, and now we were also able to hang out in pairs. Before long it was time for the summer, which meant we all went our separate ways. I remember feeling sad, knowing that it would be several months before we were all back together in our giant house.      

This would have also been the time that I was supposed to be looking for a job for next year, but what did I want for my life? Did I want to try teaching out again? Did I want to pave a new path? I had no idea what I wanted, and quickly got annoyed by the question what comes next. I sure as heck had no idea. I happened to be sharing in a bi-weekly treats at the office, when my boss asked me what my plan was for the next year. I told her I wasn’t sure and was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. She asked me how I liked Elgin, my housemates and if I would ever consider serving another year in Elgin.

I thought long and hard on this decision and was convinced that my work in Elgin was not done. What I really needed was to still be in the same place that had become a second home to me. I quickly agreed to stay, but this year would be different. I remember planning things out for me, to find myself while serving others. I instantly began making goals for myself and the things that I wanted to accomplish for me.

This list included things like:
·         Find my own inner beauty
·         Keep consistent with my re-found faith
·         Smile, Laugh, Love, Trust, Confidence
·         Keep a journal of the things that I am thankful for
·         Continue reading children’s books and coming up with creative activities
·         Cook and Bake
·         Run a 5K
·         Don’t worry
·         See my sister graduate from high school
·         Have fun
·         Accept my flaws
·         Be creative
·         Look for a job / apartment

During this year I spent a great deal of time planning two denominational conferences, one for youth and one for young adults. Now that I finished the second conference and wrapping things up, I find myself reflecting on just what the past year has been all about. It is always a little bittersweet to watch something pass you by that has been your baby for the last year.

As I look back to this list, this is exactly what I have done. I made time for me, watched my baby sister give a salutatorian speech, started applying for teaching jobs, made time to, “be still.” Now as I look back on the past two years, I have to say that I don’t regret one minute of it, along the way there were some bumps and bruises, but as someone famous once said, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”   
So what comes next? I am currently looking for jobs, and we will see what happens, but I am looking forward to a fresh start in a new location. Now is the time to start organizing, planning, and rejoicing for the friends that I have made, and looking forward to what comes next. Here are some of the goals that I have set for myself:
·         Look to every new situation as an opportunity for something great.
·         Enjoy decorating my classroom and home
·         “Dance in the Rain”
·         Love myself, and everyone around me
·         Reconnect with old friends, while making new ones

We will see what happens J
Love, Carol 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The New Guy

Hey Everyone!  I'm the new guy for a couple of weeks.  My name is Curtis Dehmey.  I am currently a student at Lancaster Theological Seminary, but until July 15 I am interning with Jonathan Shively and the rest of the Congregational Life Ministries office.  During this internship I am shadowing leaders within the Congregational Life Ministries office, taking part in various meetings, learning about church planting, learning about coaching/consultant work and in general, about life and leadership at the General Offices.  I am born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and no, I am not Amish.

I was quickly incorporated into the BVS house upon my arrival.  I learned right away how busy and active this house has become.  Everyone seems to have their own routine and schedule, but during most evenings, the activities are up in the air.  This makes for a nice flexible evening.  So if we want to watch a movie, take a walk down to Orange Julius for a smoothie, run some errands or spend a nice evening in the library, this is all up to us.  It has been both a loving and fun community.

An interesting challenge came upon my arrival because I do not eat too many vegetables.  I openly make fun of myself for my pickiness.  Mom and Dad and countless others have tried to be creative in enticing me to eat vegetables all of my life.  With two vegetarians living in the house this makes it challenging.  Gratefully, we have all been pretty flexible.  I try to be a good sport when they make something with vegetables in it.  If I make something with meat, I try to be considerate in what I make so that I can cook something that would also be agreeable to the vegetarian diet.

Another interesting delight and challenge this week has been that the Ministry Summer Service individuals and the Youth Peace Travel Team are temporarily staying at our house until Saturday.  At the moment we have 10 individuals living in the BVS house.  There is more activity than usual happening, but it makes it so that there is never a dull moment.  Two of these Ministry Summer Service individuals will be in and out of our house for the summer.  Sarah Neher and Jamie Frye will be out new housemates for the course of the summer!  Welcome!

As you can see new and exciting things are happening!  We are grateful to have you follow many of us on our journeys!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons from Children

Sorry faithful readers that it has been so long since someone wrote on our house blog, we have all been busy with babysitting, graduation, office meetings, parties, BBQs, visitors, saying goodbye to Denise and welcoming new housemates. So needless to say things have been crazy.  

Over the past couple of months, I have been thinking about children, and the lessons that we can learn from them. (If you don't know I have a degree in Education, so soon this will be my whole world - teaching). There are a number of lessons that we can learn from our young friends including:

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life -
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

We are never to old to stop learning, and remembering what is important in life. 

During our house BBQ I spent the majority of the time entertaining our house little friend. Her name is Sage and she is fireball of energy. The first time that I ever met her, Jeremy and I were babysitting her and she told me that she wanted to play football. This instantly warmed my heart because I also share a deep love of football. That evening we ended up playing football, which really was really her throwing the ball and Jeremy fetching it. We also watched movie clips from the Blind Side I fast-forwarded through all the talking scenes (we just watched the football). 

So back to the BBQ, I ended up playing once again with Sage. There were about four of us that had fun playing dress up in my room. It was really great to be reminded of taking time to have girl time :). I myself need to remember to take time, have fun, and laugh occasionally. Never take life to seriously.   

I am still looking for the pictures that were taken, if I find them I will add them later. 

Your Friend, Carol. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For the beauty of the Earth

Hello folks out there in the blogosphere!
Today's post is brought to you by Kendra, and I suppose I should start by introducing myself. I hail from the greatest state this nation has to offer - Iowa - and graduated from (the now-defunct) Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. I have spent the past three years volunteering in Germany: one year in a foster-care-type group home and two years, through Brethren Volunteer Service, with a peace and human rights organization called Peace Brigades International. Now, since January, I can be found here in Elgin, aiding and abetting the hi-jinx of the BVS office and joining in the fun of the BVS volunteer house. Clearly, God (with the help of Google) had a plan when I stumbled upon the COB world on the internet.

Several weeks ago, I had started a blog post discussing the differences between my previous volunteer life and my one here in Elgin. And someday, I might just finish and post it. But today I'm taking the easy route and sharing how our house celebrated Earth Day.

To start with, we celebrated in Word, song, and skit by leading worship at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren. In planning the service, some of us might have procrastinated more than we should have and it got a bit stressful at the end, but the service itself went pretty well and we all had a lot of fun. Our Scripture passages were taken from Psalm 24 and Psalm 8, and for hymns we picked 'Touch the Earth Lightly,' 'Morning has Broken,' and 'You Shall Go Out with Joy, the last of which contained a lot of energy thanks to our peppy pianist. For the children's message, Carol, Denise, and Rachel gave a stirring rendition of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

For an added technological touch (which almost went off without a hitch), we put together a powerpoint featuring members of our church family providing their answers to the question: What change do you want to see in the world?"
Because I, with my limited technological prowess, can't figure out how to post a powerpoint on here, I am adding a selection of some of the photos.  For a closer slideshow experience, I suggest listening to the Wailin' Jennys' "One Voice" while viewing the pictures:

At the bottom of this post (because it's kind of long for here), I'll include the meditation I shared.

To finish out the day of Earth, some of us decided it was time to practice what we preached and get our hands dirty in the garden. After all, these little guys need a home:
My, how they've grown!
Rachel, making the world a little better, one straightened garden edge at a time.

Denise, getting up close and personal with the earth.
It's a lot harder to make a caption about yourself!

Jeremy, giving the soil some air and some love.


Psalm 8: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign,  how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I’d like you to keep that psalm in your head for a moment as I read a sharp twist on those words from elsewhere in Scripture:
“What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?”
These are the cries of Job, a man who, according to Scripture, “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” However, he is also a man who finds himself victim of undeserved suffering and loss - loss of wealth, family, and health. To add insult to injury, the only ‘comfort’ his friends can provide is to maintain that Job must have sinned greatly and is now facing the just punishment.
Now, at first glance, Job’s story may seem an odd choice for what we are celebrating today, but I think it has much to teach us about the earth, about service, and about Easter.
The first lesson has to do with humility. After losing everything, Job is filled with mourning. He feels that his circumstances are so bad and his so suffering so great that life is not worth living, that it would have been better to have never been born at all, in the manner of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Yet, Job even does a one-up on old George: he wishes not to just erase his birth from history but to stop that day from ever dawning.  “Yes, let that night be barren,” he cries, “ let no  joyful cry be heard in it!”  He pleads for an undoing of God’s creation, saying “Let that day be darkness!” using the same Hebrew word that God speaks in “Let there be light.”
It must be remembered that Job is speaking out of the depths of unwarranted sorrow, loss, and suffering, and he will spend the next several chapters telling of his despair and anger and his wish to somehow have it out with God, to prove his innocence and demand an answer for his suffering. And this is understandable. But he starts his laments in this arrogant and self-absorbed manner, as if to say “If I’m going down, the whole earth is going down with me,” as if to say, “If this world hasn’t been good to me, then what is it good for?”
Now, I sincerely hope that none of us have been so desperate as to wish for an undoing of God’s creation, yet I think behind it lies a very natural human tendency to treat the world as if it were created for us. It is true, of course, that God blesses us with the gifts of creation, gifts that not only bring us joy but allow the basis of our very existence, but the earth’s value doesn’t like in what it can provide for us. The earth is valuable because it is God’s good work - work that God continues to maintain and value. Nature was not created to serve humanity; instead, humanity was created to care for nature as a way of serving God. While the creation narratives have often been misused to justify and encourage exploitation of the earth, touting the idea of dominion started in Genesis and continued in passages like the eighth Psalm, there is actually a very different message to be found there. Genesis 2:15 states that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  This isn’t a call to abuse but rather a call to care. Steven Bouma-Prediger states that ‘to till the earth means to serve it for its own sake. To keep the earth means to caringly guard it the way that God blesses and keeps his people.” Put another way, Cal DeWitt tells that “such keeping is not preservation as applied to pickles in a jar; it is the kind of keeping we ask God to give us.” An alternative translation of the original Hebrew makes this message even clearer: God placed adam (aka humanity) in the garden to serve and protect it. As stated in Psalm 24, the earth is the Lord’s - we are merely caretakers in it, hired hands, servants. Plain and simple: we are born to serve.
If we return to the story of Job, we see that when God finally provides a response to Job’s cries and accusations, it is a response  that matches the universal proportions set by Job and one that is meant to essentially put him in his place.  God doesn’t directly answer Job’s questions  and instead asks other questions, questions that show Job’s ignorance and powerlessness. God illustrates to Job the scope and magnificence of the earth in order to humble him, highlighting Job’s relative insignificance in light of such unfathomable creation. God talks of the wild ass and ox who serve no human and of the rain and life God brings to land that Job has never imagined and that no human will ever see.
And yet God is not cold and unfeeling to Job’s pain - God doesn’t give Job a reason for his suffering but does take him beyond it. Creation is as good as it is vast. God’s admonition is also an invitation. In creation is a source of comfort and joy deep and strong enough to reach Job even amidst his suffering.
This is another very important lesson for us. God’s creation is something beyond all comprehension, and we are each but a microscopic speck in light of the earth and all its glory. But this is not cause for discouragement but rather for joy. In creation, God offers us a goodness that is bigger than anything we are facing, a goodness that calls us to rejoice even in the darkest of times. Sometimes we may prefer to dwell in our despair, echoing Job when he says “Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul....Why is light given to one who cannot see the way?” Or sometimes we may be like the people author T.M. Moore describes who “trudge through their daily routines of trade and toil, unmindful of the glory shimmering and beckoning around them.”  Perhaps that is the lesson of Earth Day, the lesson of Easter: God continually fills the world with newness and life and light, even when we ignore it, even when we can’t accept it, even when we would rather that it wasn’t there. In every drop of rain or ray of sun, in every bird that sings or tulip that blooms before our eyes, God’s love and grace are present, calling and inviting us again and again to take notice and rejoice.
If we can take on this spirit of rejoicing, we find that not just we ourselves but all of creation
benefits. One of the major factors in the vast level of environmental destruction is our affliction of perpetual discontentment, our constant state of production and consumption to feed our belief that if we could just get more things, better things, life would be better. Conversely, if we could join with the apostle Paul in learning to be content with whatever we have, if we take up contentment and delight in God’s good creation as a choice and a practice, regardless of circumstance, we can do much in our individual battles against exploitation and destruction of that same good creation.
And indeed, in the realm of all creation, we as human beings have been richly blessed by God - we have been paid special attention, singled out for a special role. We too might join in the awe and wonder of the psalmist in asking “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Or, conversely, we might feel the burden and join with our buddy Job in asking “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while?” Job views God’s attention to humanity, and to himself personally, not as a loving parent but rather as a watchful overseer with an unswerving gaze, waiting for (perhaps even hoping for) the instant that Job messes up and sins so that God can swoop down like a hawk and punish him.
This special attention from God which both the psalmist and Job have hit upon is very important. And unavoidable. We can’t deny that we have dominion - the writer of Psalm 8 is right: we are created a little lower than the divine - crowned with glory and honor, we are the royalty of the earth. If we look past his despondent, self-pitying, tone, Job, too, has an important truth to teach us about what it really means to the be the royalty of creation: it’s hard work and there are high standards. With great privilege comes great responsibility - just a king has an immense responsibility to his people, so we have an immense responsibility to the creation with which we are entrusted. And of course there is accountability there. Elected leaders know that the eyes of their people are upon them, watching and judging their every move, checking to see if that leader holds up to their expectations. Likewise, God’s eyes are upon us - just as Job says, God’s mind is set upon us and God does visit us every morning. Partly, because God loves us, yes of course, but also because God has expectations for us and wants to ensure that we are living up to them (which, clearly, we usually don’t).  Yet it’s not in the manner of the harsh overseer, as Job imagines,  or even that of a jaded public, but rather more like a loving parent who wants to make sure that the gift she has given her child is taken care of because she knows it will hurt both her and her child if it is not.
Authors Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara point out that: “We act with such sovereignty over nature that the question is not whether or not we are royalty; the question is what sort of royalty we will be.”  So far, the answer has been the sort of royalty that would have been overthrown, the sort of elected leader who would have been impeached. Blessed with immense power and opportunity, we have abused it - we have not borne God’s image well.
This can well lead to despair, similar to that of Job’s. Everywhere we turn, we are slapped in the face with ways in which we have made a mess of this world, harming the earth and those on it. When reading the litany of human and environmental suffering, it’s hard not to wonder if we have even started to drive God out of this world. We have long asked where God is amidst hatred and violence, and now that our greed and sin has started to devour creation itself, we ask where God is amidst environmental destruction. Author Roger Gottlieb asks: ““How am I to feel joy in existence when existence is such a mess? And if I cannot feel that, all in all, this world - despite everything - is holy, then what kind of religious life will I be left with?”
What we are left with is hope and faith. The message of Earth Day, the message of Easter is that no place is forsaken by God. The message is that the times and places of deepest pain and sorrow are where God is most present. Barbara Rossing states that “Whatever future events await the earth, the biblical message is that God comes down to earth to live on it with us. Earthquakes, darkness, plagues? God comes. Are hearts breaking? Is all hope lost? God comes. At one of the bleakest moments in history, when people of Judea and Galilee groaned under Roman occupation some two thousand years ago, ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ John’s Gospel tells us.” In the end, what ties everything together is Christ. Through Christ, God once and for all affirmed the goodness of creation by choosing to live in it. In Christ we find light that darkness cannot overcome, light that teaches us how to find joy when we are sunk in despair as deep as Job’s. Christ teaches us to cherish and rejoice in, rather than oppress and exploit, the most vulnerable among us; Christ teaches us to value the seemingly mundane in creation, teaches us to bring sight and healing with just a bit of spit and mud. In Christ we find a model of what true royalty looks like, royalty in the form of humble servanthood, royalty in the form of self-sacrificial love.
And in Christ we find a call to action. True, as the apostle Paul writes, the whole of creation has been groaning in pain, but we are not called to simply wait for a new heaven and earth to descend upon us once we’ve finished off this one. We are called to transform this earth now

To close, let us consider this passage from German author Hermann Hesse: “Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.” 
God has invested a great deal in each one of us, invested God’s only Son, in fact. - we are all, so to speak, princes of the universe, freed by Christ’s sacrifice for the purpose and potential with which we were all created. The beauty of the earth lies in every single child and creature of God that it contains; the joy of creation is that every  morning that breaks calls and equips each of us to do our part in restoring the garden.
Sometimes we question with Job what this creation holds for us. But we need not because, really, all of creation is within us, and every moment it calls us forth to serve. And so, instead of mourning with Job, let us join with the psalmist in proclaiming ‘O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ And, led forth by the peace of Christ, let us go out with joy and do our part in God’s vision of redemption and new life. Creation is waiting.