Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Tis the Season

Christmas is one of my favorite seasons. I love the parties, the celebrations, the decorations, the desserts, the time spent with loved ones, the lights, etc. The list could go on and on. As cliche as it sometimes feels to admit to loving this time of year, there is a lot to celebrate. I have often felt that the holidays provide a good time for me to reflect on how much I have to be grateful for.
I feel very blessed this year to be spending this time of celebration and reflection in Elgin. A year ago I never could have imagined that I would be here for this Christmas season, but I am extremely thankful that I am. It has been a busy time for our house. We've attended a variety of holiday celebrations with church and work friends, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent at these parties, upon reflection I realized that some of the most memorable times these past few weeks have come from some of the seemingly mundane things that have happened.
It's a good reminder that sometimes it's the little things that mean the most. I'd like to share some of these moments that have stood out to me and helped me remember all that I am grateful for:

A few weeks ago, Kristen, Ben and I decorated our house for Christmas. Our house has collected an odd assortment of decorations and lights over the years, and we joyfully put them all up. My personal favorite are the LED lights, pictured around the frame of the doorway leading into the living room in the photo below. I appreciate how they brighten up the room and add color to the sometimes dreary and dark winter days. During decorating it was also fun to discover the various ornaments that have been collected over time. I am grateful to those who have left decorations behind that we have been able to use to make our tree much less bare!

Saturday night Ben and I made cheesecake and cookies. Baking is one of my favorite holiday hobbies and I usually make dessert for my family's Christmas celebrations. It was fun to be able to bake in Elgin and to learn new recipes! We also ate too much chocolate and both fell into a food coma.

Spending time together:
Our work schedules often send us out on the road, but, for the most part we have been lucky enough to all be around for the holiday season. It's been great having all of us at the house for an extended period of time, and it has allowed us the chance to better get to know each other and build deeper friendships. The other week Krsiten and Theresa taught us how to play the game Euchre. We have also had times of story- sharing, listening to music, and reading in the living room together. We've been blessed to share so much laughter and memories these past few weeks.

Laura and I depart tomorrow to go home for the holidays, Kristen and Theresa leave on Friday and Ben will be gone at the beginning of next week. As we head our separate ways, we are excited for time spent with family and for new stories that we will be able to share with each other when we return.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Greetings and Christmas wishes for you all from the BVS house!

We are certainly in the festive mood here, after having many Christmas gatherings to enjoy, spreading decorations all over the house, and listening to Christmas music at work, in the van, and even some piano now and then in the house. 

Last Saturday was the beginning of a festive series of events. Saturday morning Ben and I traversed to Tuba Christmas, Naperville-style. We have host families with the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and we happen to be in the same extended family. Ben, Nevin, and Duly brought tubas to join in the 75-person tuba ensemble. Tuba Christmas performances, for those who are interested, happen in various cities throughout the U.S. featuring tuba-lovers and players from all stages of life who come together for a rehearsal and performance. This particular ensemble played outdoors for their first set and in the lobby of the nearby mall for their other performance of the day. We made it a family affair, and it was fun to be with several family members who were able to come out and watch, then shop for the afternoon. Click here to catch a snippet of the music and TV feature with our Channel 17-famous Ben and Nevin.

Ben and I left shortly after the second performance so that we could make it to bell-practice rehearsal. Ben is tackling the responsibility of directing the church bell choir, and it is going very well. The congregation really has enjoyed our first performance and I think Ben is pleased as well. :) He does a super job in leading us all, especially as we are a group of mixed expertise.

To round out Saturday, the house met the rest of our Sunday School class in our instructor's home. Jim and Peg were wonderful hosts and we had a lovely potluck, with everyone providing their specialties. Jim, of course, made a crowd favorite of Apple Cider, and there was homemade bread, two casseroles, and many other tasty items. Good stories, laughter, and movie-watching were enjoyed by all who were present.   

Sunday was an eventful church time as our housemate, Laura, helped lead us in worship and we heard a powerful sermon of race and conversation, followed by an impromptu time with a couple of co-workers to check out some puppies. The fur therapy was perfect (ha, purrfect) and I just about came home with my new best friend, Olivia, the darndest gray-haired cat ever. She and I would have been inseparable, I just know it.

We returned home for a bit, then the women of the house made it out to our Spirited Sisters meeting for a fun caroling adventure with others from church. I was invited to help lead some carols by playing piano. Having this much spirit and love in one place really helped me to get in the mood of Christmas and start the Advent season for me. 

Monday we had the night in, which was certainly a blessing to enjoy and relax in each other's company. It felt like being back in Indiana for me: we taught, learned, and played Euchre for the first time as a house! On Tuesday we had a secret santa gift exchange and party at Kelley's, the Brethren Historical Library Association (BHLA) intern. 

Wednesday we watched White Christmas with Emily, who works in the BVS office. All of us enjoyed the cheese and fellowship with each other. Thursday, Laura and I went to a staff dinner, as this was the time of the year at work that we get together as a group for a couple of days for staff meetings.

Friday we had a night in.

Wow, it has been quite the week in the BVS house. I am continually learning new information at work, new things about housemates, and things even about myself. While I am looking forward to my time at home on vacation during Christmas, I can't help but think back to all of the fun things we've been able to experience and grow from.

We are have so much to be thankful for. Maybe it sounds weird to have that here, but I remind myself of this daily. I am thankful for experiences, even if they are not ideal and uncomfortable. It has been a busy week and I am learning to take time out to step away from people and the sense of hyper-responsibility I know I feel. Living in community can be tough for many reasons, and there are none that are the same for everyone. I found this week especially has been challenging in working and spending free time in celebration with company. Celebrating is awesome and I wish that I could be up for parties all the time. However, I am realizing that my capacity for spending time with those I see often stretches me even more. There are weeks when we find ourselves doing our own thing and weeks when getting a moment, 30 minutes here or there for rest, is a great feat and extremely satisfying.

Both of these scenarios are real... and hard to admit sometimes, even to myself. We all go through our own difficulties and frustrations. Some weeks go by easier than others, some difficulties are easier to move through than others seem to be.

It is good to remember that in this anticipation of Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, taking time out to reflect and focus on the good times we've shared with one another and all of the things we are grateful for could quite possibly be what we need in this time of busy-ness and preparation. It certainly is a journey and we all are figuring it out - together.

Thanks to all of you for joining us in the journey and we are grateful to be included in yours as well.

Peace and love to you and your loved ones as we are surrounded by the Spirit this Advent season.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Divisions of the Elgin House

I can remember being on Youth Peace Travel Team a few years back and needing to come up with an interesting way to introduce ourselves to a new camp each week. We came up with something we called "The Divisions of Peace Team." We would take turns announcing an identifier among us then stepping forward to reveal who fit that category. We would go with some basics such as the guys, the girls, the blondes, the brunettes, etc. Then we would move on to some of the trickier ones such as who shaved their legs (one guy and one girl), who could knit or crochet (three of us), or number of piercings (because we all had at least one by the end of the summer).

The Divisions of the Elgin House similarly run surface level and much deeper. As we've been adjusting to living with each other and going through some of the honeymoon phase these first few months, we've slowly moved beyond the obvious similarities and uniquities and are beginning to find unknown common ground where we may not have expected it. Just today, Theresa found out that I know how to spot when spinning across the kitchen. I don't actually know how or where I learned it, but it's something we have in common. Laura and I both had our tonsils out when we were 18 (note to readers: 18 is pretty late in the game - cut those puppies out sooner if at all possible!). Hannah and I were the chief Christmas-light-putter-uppers when we were growing up. It feels like I find out something new Kristen and I have in common every 24 hours.

One division of the house that has come to light (literally) lately has been Christmas decorations and music. How early in the fall can you begin with Christmas? The sooner the better? Not until after Thanksgiving? Sometime in early December? This guy would prefer to fall more into the final category there but has been working with handbell music for a few weeks now and had to subject myself to it sooner than I normally would. Christmas lights went up outside the house a few weeks ago because the weather was amicable. However, they didn't get switched on regularly until after Thanksgiving. This week saw the box of Decorations from the Decades unpacked and spread throughout the house. Whoever left us the LED multi-colored lights, we love you to the moon and back!

We will surely find more divisions among ourselves in the months to come - some to strengthen our bond as a house, others to drive us up-the-wall and into our rooms. Regardless, these are the divisions that teach us to appreciate that which makes us different, endowed with a wide array of gifts we may never fully see for ourselves. Hopefully we'll have the fortitude to call them out for each other as we see them.

Thanks to Big Daddy D for the Christmas music playlist while I wrote this.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hanging out with some cool Sr. High kids

Hi all,

The cold, wintery weather has officially set in. This is the first blog of many that I’ll be writing this year while there’s snow on the ground.
The past two weekends I had the opportunity to hang out with COB youth for weekend retreats and conferences. Last weekend Hannah and I served as female youth advisors for the district fall retreat at Highland Ave. It was nice to get to know some of the youth from our new church and the rest of the district, even if they thought we were also youth all weekend. :) We volunteered at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, played lots of games, ate pizza, and hung out together.

Group photo from our time at Northern Illinois Food Bank!
This weekend Ben, Kristen, Hannah, and I traveled to Camp Mack for Powerhouse/Regional Youth Conference. There were lots of shameless plugs for BVS, workcamps, and CCS.  I was the female advisor from Highland Ave. for the weekend and loved hanging out with the youth and other advisors- playing games and worshipping. I also learned how to play the card game Eucher, which I thoroughly enjoyed! It was wonderful to be able to visit a Brethren camp that I hadn’t been to yet.

One of the slides from the workcamp presentation Hannah and I made at Camp Mack! 

And now, I’m back home in Elgin. But, not for long!



Monday, November 10, 2014

My New Elgin Home

Hey everyone! 

This night I'm curled up in a blanket as I type, listening to the giggles of other housemates as they hang up (and get some shocks!) from Christmas lights, full from a wonderful dinner of gluten-free pasta, and legs slightly sore from a earlier 'Just Dance' workout that Kristen and I hilariously danced through. And I am content. I feel at home. 

I'm just about a month in to living at the BVS house. And I can't believe that is the case! Time just seems to be flying by. Even though some days, when I feel sad and miss my loved ones and my beautiful Pennsylvania, it seems like I'll never be there again. But, I know that isn't true. I know that this year is going to fly by so very fast. 

So, I'm trying to enjoy every single moment! 

The little things like decorating Kristen's office while she was out for a couple of days with discounted Halloween decorations, movie and junk food nights, laughing together at supper, and just all around general silliness. 

Hannah and Laura helping to decorate Kristen's office! 

Living in community isn't always easy - sometimes you can get frustrated. But, it is an amazing and wonderful learning process, as you work to grow, have fun, and live with such awesome people! 

I'm excited to see where the rest of this year takes me and this wonderful community!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fall at the BVS House!

Hello all! It's fall at the BVS House! 

As we've been back in Elgin, we are learning how to settle in and adjust to new living arrangements as a house again. Our first transition as a house was the welcoming of our newest house-member, Laura! Welcome! However, in that same space we also transitioned in saying farewell to Chelsea, who left to go home before a new journey awaits her halfway across the world! We remember her and wish her well on her next big adventure! 

A group of us last weekend decided to have a day out.  Can you guess where we went?!

A Day in the City: CHICAGO!

We met a couple of co-workers from the office at the train to go into the city. The Metra makes a nice and inexpensive way to travel for each of us, as a ticket costs $7 and is good for the entire weekend! 

It was a beautiful day, probably the nicest day all year... We walked downtown and saw the sights - including indulging in Chicago pizza, soaking in the sun, and visiting Millennium Park, of course making room to stop at the Bean. 

 The Bean!

Cat and Don, who are past members of the BVS house and are now co-workers at the offices with us, as well as another co-worker, Kelley, and her boyfriend Brandon, came out to hang out with us. We made it back late in the afternoon, just enough time to freshen up before we made a collaborative taco supper. Everyone was included in helping to prepare and enjoy the meal. 

To round out the day, we procured seven pumpkins and between the nine of us, we carved them all! There were quite the array of animals and designs... I believe a panda and squirrel appeared, as well as creepy pumpkin smiles, a tree of life, peace and love, and the stars and a moon.

Here is a glimpse into our joyful pumpkin-carving extravaganza:

Life is feeling and becoming more routine here. We all head into work and come home to make supper, take an evening run, work in the garden, practice piano and guitar, and generally just take it easy. Nights do seem to go awfully quickly! We enjoy hanging out in the evenings catching fun episodes of our favorite shows and occasionally baking. The past few weeks a couple of us have enjoyed getting out to a series of weekly pottery classes that are instructed by a fellow Highland Avenue church member. 

Sometimes we like to go out and shop at thrift stores. This week it was a house run to search for the perfect costumes... for Halloween! Each year, the BVS house has tradition of dressing up and hanging out for Halloween. Many years, they even coordinate in a matching theme. We were up for the challenge! 

We decided on the theme: Decades!

From left to right: the 20s, 50s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

We had a good time putting all the costumes together. Laura was our resident fashion-sense coordinator, Ben provided thriftiness, Hannah rocked the comfy pants, Theresa was hair stylist, and I was support staff.


Lastly, I added my first sunrise installment. This photo was taken from my bedroom window. Sunrises and sunsets are something that I always look forward to seeing, wherever I am. They remind me of home especially when I can share in the experience with others. Thanks for coming along!

As a bonus-- Don't forget Election Day is in just a few days: on November 4th!

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Where the road may take you

It’s not always easy to picture your future. It’s especially difficult in times of transition to imagine where you might end up a few weeks or months down the road. For me, graduating from Juniata College was one of the most daunting things I’ve had to face. In the months leading up to the big day, I could only envision an empty road stretching out before me, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. As a religious studies and anthropology major, I had no clear job path and the only thing I knew for sure was that I needed a break from school before continuing my education.

When I heard of the opportunity to join BVS as one of the assistant workcamp coordinators, I jumped on board quickly. I was excited about the prospect of spending a year in a new city, spending the summer months traveling around the country and getting the chance to connect with youth in the denomination. After arriving in Elgin just about two months ago, I can safely say that I made the right decision to come here.

Although I miss the mountains of Pennsylvania and I am absolutely dreading the cold of Chicago winters, I am excited to be living in the house with so many wonderful people. I have really enjoyed getting to know Theresa, Ben, Kristen and Chelsea and am so happy to announce that one of my best friends from college, Laura, arrived safely today and will be joining us for the rest of the year!

Kristen, Chelsea, Laura, Ben and myself recently returned to the mid-west from orientation where Chelsea and Ben served as orientated leaders for unit 307. The past few weeks were filled with lots of laughter, good conversations about sometimes difficult topics and beautiful scenery. It was refreshing to be around so many like-minded people who also find value in service. I made many new friendships with some truly genuine and wonderful people that I hope will last throughout the year.

At the time of this new beginning, I am excited to see what the futures holds. Maybe you can’t always picture the future, maybe it’s okay not to have a plan, maybe you just need to trust that you’ll end up where you belong and make the most of where the road ends up taking you.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Birthdays and Beginnings

Hello all,

It's only been a month that I've been living in the BVS house and I already feel like there are so many fun memories and stories that I could share. This month has been a very busy one for all in the house. There has been lots of traveling, lots of dinner-ing, lots of game playing, and lots of exercising together, among many other things. It obviously has been a time of transition for all of us, but we have been enjoying getting to know one another as well as the wonderful Brethren community in Elgin. One special thing about our first month together was that we celebrated two birthdays! Kristen's birthday was on September 5th. The big storm that came through Elgin hit on her birthday, leaving the offices and the house without electricity. So, dinner was a bit of an adventure, but we then all went to a play together and enjoyed some gluten-free cake afterwards. Hannah's birthday was on the 11th. We celebrated with a waffle and game night at Cat, Don, and Russ's (also known as CDR in our house). Here are some pictures:

Kristen and her cake :)

Chelsea and Cat with Hannah and her waffle cakes!

After recently going home because of my step-sister Samantha's unexpected passing, it has been a blessing to be able to come back to a home-away-from-home where I feel loved and comforted. I'm looking forward to the next eleven months in Elgin with new friends.

With love, 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Miles Accumulate

I've been back in BVS now for about eight months. In those 240-ish days I have done a lot of traveling. Yes, I was well aware that this was a large part of what I'd be doing in my position with recruitment and public relations. Still, to think that I've covered more than 30,000 miles between plane, train, car, and bus since then is pretty impressive, and that doesn't include the commute to the office, airport runs, and grocery trips!

Sometimes the travel can be very rewarding. Driving to the eastern shore of Maryland to work with an orientation unit may be a long haul, but being part of the beginning of a dozen different BVS stories makes it worth the miles. There have been three separate occasions where I've met up with a young adult to discuss ways to better connect with the youth they're involved with only to find out that the young adult is considering joining as a volunteer! The amount of scenery I've seen that tugs on your heartstrings for one reason or another is innumerable at this point.

Other times the distance, destinations, and discussions are disheartening at best. The intelligent college grad decides to pursue graduate studies rather than volunteering for a year. Individuals connected to the greater church make a dig at me because I'm connected to the national offices. A representative of a college or other organization stops e-mailing me just before a trip where I planned to see them without ever giving a reason. Ugh.

While I'm entirely aware that much of my work is planting the seeds of an idea that may come to fruition years from now, it's still frustrating to see the number of volunteers in our program declining this year. True, last year may have been a more plentiful time as far as our participant numbers are concerned, but we weren't bursting at the seams or anything like that. Considering how much of my time is devoted to connecting specifically to congregations and individuals within our denomination, it's hard to see a summer unit with less than 10% of the unit coming from within the church. Yeah, it's good outreach and I wouldn't dream of switching out any of the non-Brethren participants to increase our percentages. Still, numbers like that aren't easy to see and continue to believe that my work is fruitful and that the future of the organization is promising.

Maybe this is on my mind because of where I was most recently: California. Prior to my move out here I was living outside of a small mountain town in the southern mountains of The Golden State. This last trip was partly personal vacation days to attend my former-suitemate-turned-boss's wedding on the beach. I know I was getting burned out a bit from my work there, but there are a lot of good things, good people that I left behind when I chose to reenlist in BVS. How do you know that you made the correct decision to leave a paying job that suites you in a geographic region you love and amongst people that fulfill you to come to travel more non-commute miles in a year than many will travel in their lifetime with a home base that has yet to grab ahold of your heart?

You don't. There's no clear answer. And it sucks.

Instead of giving up and backpedaling my way outta town, it's time to dig in and try for a bit longer. Maybe I'm just starting to hit my stride and things will improve at work. Perhaps there will be a bumper crop of stellar volunteers coming in during 2015. There's a chance that Elgin will still find a way to grow on me more than it has at this point. And maybe nothing will change and I'll finish out my time here because I feel obligated to complete what I said I would do.

I'm a big fan of having this house blog because I believe it allows for a glimpse into our lives - professionally and personally as housemates. That said, it feels a bit odd to be getting ready to click "Publish" on something that isn't cheery or upbeat and may not even qualify as contemplatively pensive. However, it's good to outwardly state that there are going to be days where the work you do doesn't feel important or that there may not be much to be hopeful about as you look forward. At the end of the day, though, it's all part of what it takes to be a BVSer. The road that shapes you may not rise with you, but rather in spite of the load you carry. The wind will knock over your trees, the sun with burn your skin, and the rain will flood the streets.

And you'll continue on, adding up the miles, because that's what a BVSer does.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Out With The Old and In With The New!

      A week ago I returned to Elgin after being on the road all summer long. Being "on the road" is something that many of the housemates here do, whether it's leading Workcamps all summer, leading conferences or orientations, or recruiting for BVS - we all have our share of "oh the road" time. But, I say this in a more literal way lol. I just returned back from a cross country bike trip, starting May 1st at the coast of Virginia, and in a round about way, ending in Cannon Beach, Oregon. If you want to read more, check out! I left Elgin, in April, with a full home of housemates, only to return with almost a completely new set of housemates. A little weird to say the least, but I've been loving getting to know each of them, and it's been fun seeing the difference in house dynamics.
     Without further ado, I'd like to introduce to you our new housemates! Kristen Hoffman, Hannah Shultz, and Theresa Food! Kristen is working on Junior High Conference and Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), and Hannah and Theresa are planning and leading Workcamps! They'll each have times to blog, so I'm sure you'll meet them more later! Welcome to the  BVS House !! :)
As you can imagine, with a house that has had many different people living in it over the years, you collect a lot of random things. Since each person only is living here for a short amount of time it's hard to feel ownership over all the random things to sort through them and throw out the random junk. But! Today we did just that! With the help of many gracious people, we went through the garage, basement, linen closet, flower beds, and chainsawed the tree that had fallen in our yard yesterday, from a huge storm that passed through. (side note: we didn't attempt the scary attic) There's still lots to do, but it's a start.  

Glad to be cleaning up the house, getting rid of the old and welcoming the new!! 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

When you have zucchini, you eat zucchini.

Hey friends!

It has been an exhausting, exhilarating, extraordinary couple of weeks in Colorado for National Youth Conference. Sarah, Tim, Renee, Jenna, and I were all in Colorado for NYC and 4/5 of us are home! Jenna is still out on her workcamp adventures, but she has started her final workcamp and will come home Sunday. Ben is on the east coast—living the BVS orientation life as a BVS orientation assistant.

With all of our little family out and about for a couple weeks, we came home to an unruly garden! It was a joy to see our little baby plants full grown and producing peppers, okra, yellow beans, purple peas, corn, and ZUCCHINI. Oh my goodness-HUGE zucchinis!
When we came home we picked three HUGE zucchini’s from the garden and then found two more HUGE zukes in the fridge! I decided that we HAD to use up this zucchini in a meal this week. I decided to try making stuffed zucchini and instead of meat, we had some meatless protein donated from Renee’s family! That took 2 zukes. I also added in some zucchini yeast rolls-that are really just yummy yeast rolls…with little green specks of zucchini. They were delicious and took about one medium zuke to make.
The best part was that Tim decided to whip up his signature zucchini brownies! (Which took another half a HUGE zuke!) We have been blessed abundantly by our zucchini plants!

When I was looking for zucchini recipes, I was browsing Simply in Season. A cookbook created by the Mennonite Central Committee. They add little snippets from the contributors of the cookbook and beneath one of the zucchini recipes was a little story from a woman who had spent time in Guatemala. She was reflecting that her Guatemalan friends remarked that “When you have bananas, you eat bananas. When you have corn, you eat corn.” Their life was so dependent on their crops—if their gardens suffered their family directly suffered by not having enough to eat. So, having too much of one thing wasn’t something to roll their eyes about, instead they gave thanks for the abundance in their lives. The woman was reflecting on her abundance of zukes and having so many zukes left her feeling grumpy about having so many zukes she didn’t know what to do with them! Finally, she said she has learned to appreciate her abundances when they come and “when we have zucchini…we eat zucchini!” 

Not wanting to let our zucchini’s go to waste means we had a meal bursting with zucchini! I loved that! It’s a blessing to be away for two weeks and come home with a garden that is full to bursting with harvest to reap. It’s been a spiritual practice to spend time in the garden the past three months…planting, weeding, watering, transplanting. It’s a sacred thing to work in the garden and watch little plant babies pop up out of the ground. And now they’re producing fruit! I am one proud Garden Mama.

I don’t rely on our little BVS garden to survive from day to day for physical nourishment, like some communities around the world might. But it has helped to maintain my sanity and it’s so special to eat something that my little plant babies have grown. In small ways, our garden has kept me healthier and made me feel more alive these past three months.

So, when we have boocoos of zukes—you better believe we’re not letting one go to waste.

Peace & an abundance of zucchini to all, 

Do you have a garden? Do you have an abundance of anything? What’s your favorite zucchini recipe?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Kitchen

I wrote and shared this poem at a Forum for Theological Exploration retreat that Sarah, Jenna, and I attended in at the end of April. The retreat was in Auburn, WA--outside of Seattle! It was a gorgeous place to be! Many of the attendees were also members of intentional communities made up of volunteers! It was a refreshing, unique space to be in! I shared this poem during the "coffeehouse" that they had on our last night! It's been quite a while since that happened and I wanted to share it with all of you! Also, a gratuitous picture of our family right before Easter!
Tim, Sarah, Chelsea, Ben, Jenna, & Katie
The Kitchen
In my house
When I want to be with
I come
To the kitchen
And I sit
At the kitchen table.
Organically people may
Stretching on the floor after a run,
Shuffling pots and pans for dinner,
Reading a book in the glorious sun.
It is the heartbeat of our home,
Thumping to daily rhythms.

In the midst of cooking,
The kitchen becomes—
A stage
Our impromptu dance parties
Filling the spaces between
Linguine and cheddar cheese

With a warm cup of tea
And a listening ear—
I’ve stepped into
A therapy session
The linoleum floor bouncing back
The sacred words of our hearts.

With a hefty bag of thrifted finds—
The fluorescent lights reflect
The dazzling uniqueness of
A fashion show that only cost
Ten dollars.

In the heart of our home—
The kitchen

Our dancing stage
Can easily deteriorate to
An arena.
With a warrior on either side
For a death match.

The vibrations of the floor
Angry words and weighty sighs—
Slammed doors and broken conversations.

The fluorescents illuminate
The cracking pieces—
Shining lights into the deepest,
Most selfish parts of

And yet,
Those four walls
With open cabinets and an
Alphabetized spice rack—
Hold us—all.

As we come
To the kitchen table—
Angry with housemates.
Disappointed with work.
Fists clenched.
Jaw tightened.
Our hands open,
Reaching across the table
To hold another.
Fingers unfurl—
White knuckles regain their color.
Jaws relax,
Exhaling prayers
Inhaling the love inside
Homecooked food.
Eating brown rice or white,
Coconut curries and
We slowly find our way
To each other
To self.

The kitchen holds us—
Maybe better than we hold
Each other
The heartbeat of our home
The kitchen
Is that place that
Grace lives.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Texts From Your Average Work Week

Well, it certainly has been a while, but here I am again.  Since my last post I've traveled at least 6,000 miles - some by car, some by train, some by plane, and even a few on foot (carbon footprint, anyone?).  Rather than try to catch you up on all of the places I've been, I'll try to give you an idea of what the past week has been like.  To do that, I'm going to look through some of my texts from the past week and share them with you.

"Did your flight leave ok? There was a fire on a back runway when I drove back to work." - boss person

Actually, no, my flight didn't leave okay.  This was a week ago on Tuesday.  The entire plane boarded, taxied out on the tarmac, then proceeded to sit for more than two hours while we waited to see if we'd make it into the air.  When we started heading back to the gate to deplane, a few of the passengers found out the flight had been cancelled before the flight attendants.  Pleasant.

"The situation made the national news!" - director of camp (Mardela!) where I was heading

My flight wasn't the only one cancelled that day.  There were about 1,000 flights cancelled at O'Hare and another 125 at Midway (shared control tower).  You can imagine how much fun it was stepping back into the airport (with zero instructions for what to do next).  It looked like a cross between a refugee camp and an angry ants' nest.  I buddied up with a couple other people from the flight and we compared notes as we tried to find phone numbers for rebooking and where the next outgoing flight to Baltimore (or DCA) might be.

"No, I'll plan to stay here if the flight doesn't go. Still waiting..." - me

American Airlines automatically re-booked me for a flight the following morning at 9:20AM (thanks?).  Being that I was flying back Thursday morning, this would've cut my time at the camp pretty short so I tried my luck with stand-by - no luck on the 4:50PM flight.  Next up: 9:15PM.  They rolled over the stand-by list so I was #4 in line.  If I didn't make it on there, it would be late enough that I wasn't interested in getting picked up, driven home, sleeping a few hours, then waking up and having someone drive me back to the airport in rush hour traffic for the morning flight.  After all,

"I'm a BVSer, remember? ;-)" - me

This year of serving isn't going to be the cushiest experience of my life and I'm entirely fine with that.  It's good to be reminded of the luxuries we have in our lives such as constantly available food (albeit, over-priced at the airport), cell phones for instant communication gratification, and 21,794 back-up plans available.  It wasn't that long ago that this situation would've involved a call from a payphone saying, "Hey, the flight's been cancelled.  I'm on stand-by for the next flight but might not fly out until the morning.  I'll call you when I get to Baltimore."  Done.

"Just passed the Naval Academy exit. :-)" - me

One of my co-workers from back at the outdoor school in California where I used to work had texted me a couple of weeks ago to say she was heading past Nokesville (my hometown) and waved for me.  She used to work at a farm near Annapolis and had a few very good friends at the Naval Academy so she'd spent some time there.  It's always nice to have a reason to let someone know that you're thinking of them.

"It's snowing here. Ugh." - me

That one went to Mom.  Yes, it snowed on Friday.  We're not talking three or four flurries.  These were the big ol' fatty flakes that you can see from the other side of the warehouse.  Luckily, the temperatures stayed above freezing so nothing stuck, but it snowed for a good solid three or four hours before it tapered off.  Weather can be weird.

"Happy Birthday, Doc-a-saurus!" - me

This was to a couple of friends that I worked with back at the outdoor school who had gathered for a birthday celebration.  Doc got his name from having the initials PHD.  The dinosaur reference is because he's a Jurassic Park fan.  It's good to hear about friends' crazy weekends.

"We are going to do our best to make it in time to see y'all before you leave." - husband of one of my super cool Cincinnati housemates

This week we head out to Young Adult Conference in a big white van, collecting BVSers (including our cycling housemate) and a recent seminary grad along the way.  At about the time we leave, one of my housemates from Cincinnati will be arriving for a friend's wedding and staying in our house that night.  It'll be a tight squeeze, but we're hoping they get here before we need to leave so we can at least do a hug-n-run.

"Hey, a Ben Bear!!!!! Okay!!!" - my newest best friend I haven't met yet

She attends the Oak Grove Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, VA.  I'll be traveling in that neck of the woods after Young Adult Conference for about a week and she's been itching to meet me.  Admittedly, she makes me feel like a bit of a rock star.  I'm trying not to let it go to my head.

"Ha, you need more time to accomplish everything? And who doesn't dream of a longer work day. That just sounds fantastic, lol." - my friend who got to hear about my schedule

Yup, some of us have been going back to the offices after the evening slows down and on weekends so we can get a bit more work done.  We all love what we do here, but so often if seems that there are simply not enough hours in the day.  We've come to find that we're not the only ones who have this dilemma; it's not uncommon to find there are other staff here at midnight on a Monday.  Keeping that in mind, this blog is done - back to work!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kendra Johnson becomes Kendra Harbeck

The BVS house took a road trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa to support our previous housemate, Kendra Johnson in her wedding to Josh Harbeck! We look so fancy!
From left to right: Katie Cummings, Tim Heishman, Jenna Stacy, Ben Bear, and Sarah Neher
Enjoy! - Jenna Stacy

Sunday, April 6, 2014


One of the things I love about having a BVS placement at the General Offices is getting to worship with the staff every Wednesday at chapel. Someone new leads each week. A couple weeks ago I got the chance to lead chapel and I thought I would share the reflection I offered...

When I think about wood, many things come to mind. I think about trees. How majestic and deeply rooted they are. How wood is so critical to my daily life from the books I love to read to the BVS house where I live. I also think about how rare they are, well at least being from Kansas naturally that comes to mind. I think about how there are different colors, smells, and the purposes for wood. Like dark colored walnut that is strong and versatile to softer woods like pine that is quick growing and is often used in building things. I also think about my Grandpa Lyle.

My grandmother can often be found saying, “Your Grandfather is the best kind of man to marry. He can fix anything, create, and make whatever you would need around the house, as long as it is made out of wood.” As I have grown up I have witnessed how true this is. Whenever grandpa came to visit or I went to visit him, he was always working on some kind of project. And I was always welcomed to watch and even sometimes was able to help. I have memories of grandpa sitting all us grandchildren at the kitchen table and teaching us how to carve using ivory soup and butter knives, I made a penguin. I also think about him every time I walk into my office and see the Church of the Brethren Cross he made me as a graduation present.

This Christmas I found myself reflecting on my Grandpa’s craftiness while he helped me build the loom we are using to count NYC registrations.

My Grandpa working on the loom.

The loom in action.

 While we were in his workshop he showed me a dresser, which is this winter’s restoration project. It was a dresser that was my great grandmothers. It had been sitting in their garage for decades through harsh winters and hot summers. It was clear it need a lot of work. What really struck me was my Grandpa’s incredible knack for looking at the dresser and seeing what potential the piece had. He had already begun the slow process of transforming the furniture to reveal its true glory and restore the piece to its original purpose. I believe that God is like this as well.

So often people are battered, defaced, and neglected by life. Think layers of judgment and injustice are painted on.  The beautiful thing is how God can restore us. In Psalm 51 you hear David begging to be restored. “Create in me a clean heart, o god, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” But the restoration process isn’t always a painless process. A person may long for it to happen but often shy away from the process. There is a song by Joy Miller, called “Refined” has great imagery for what it is like to be restored by God.

The phrase that I often find floating in my head after I listen to this song is, “Stripped me down to truth and bone till I’m beautiful and bare and refined.” It isn’t until we allow God to make changes within us are we stripped of all the bad things and able to begin the process of being restored to our original intention. This is similar to my grandpa stripping old paint and varnish off a piece he his refinishing before he makes the repairs. After we allow ourselves to be stripped of what blemishes us we can begin the process of putting our life back together. It is like adding a new coat of varnish or carving a new leg or foot. Once we are put back together we then become a useable dresser again rather than just a forgotten piece of furniture. I challenge you the next time you are feeling worn down to not shy away from the carpenter’s hands and allow God to strip you down to truth and bone and create in you a clean heart.