2 Updates: A Modified Goal and a Goal at the Starting Line

Update 1: A Modified Goal

So, for my few astute observers and friends out there, you may have noticed that I posted about my goal to find 13 supporters to correlate with the 13 miles I would run at the Illinois Half-Marathon on April 26. I then introduced who I was running for, Team Taller de Jose. And then I dropped off the face of the planet. Or at least the face of the interwebz.

After having a headache for ten days straight, I finally got some other symptoms that helped me determine I had mononucleosis (yep, “mono”). It’s a virus and there’s nothing you can do for it but wait it out…. for two to six weeks :/ This was just under two weeks before the race, so I knew that the race was no longer going to happen, but then I got sicker and sicker so I did absolutely nothing productive for two weeks, including updating to say I had to pause my fundraising at the 5 /13 point. THANK YOU to my five supporters- MaMa Ash, Nicole, John, Jessie, and Hillary. I’m so sorry I had to pause my fundraising before I could find the other 8 to join you and to reach my goal.

Thankfully, by race day, I was capable enough to accompany Team Taller in a different manner than anticipated….as a FAN EXTRAORDINAIRE!  I waited at Mile 2.5 with Running Buddy’s parents (aka “MaMa and PaPa Mayer”) and we watched all of Team Taller go by and I gave out high fives and collected the long-sleeve shirts they no longer needed. I then was able to bike over to the stadium where the finish line was and wait for all of Team Taller to cross that finish line at the 50-yard line hands up!

High-fiving the Taller de Jose Executive Director, Sr. Kathy Brazda, during her first half marathon!
High-fiving the Taller de Jose Executive Director, Sr. Kathy Brazda, during her first half marathon!

I may look pretty alive in that pic, but don’t be fooled, that was the most energy I had expended in 10 days! Then it felt like I ran the Half! But it was worth it. I saw almost every member of the team cross the finish line during an almost two hour time span (though two of the guys slipped by me because I didn’t know what their timing was). It was a small comfort to at least be able to watch the race, instead of being stuck on the couch like the previous weekend!

Running Buddy (r) and with her childhood friend, Deborah (l), enjoying the race course
Running Buddy (r) with her childhood friend and fellow Team Taller runner, Deborah (l), enjoying the race course
One of my roommates, Amici, after completing her first half marathon!!
One of my roommates, Amici, after completing her first half marathon!!

 

One of my college roommates and dear friends, Marissa aka "MoMo." after finishing her first Half!
One of my college roommates and dear friends, Marissa aka “MoMo.” after finishing her first Half!
All of Team Taller post-half, including the unexpectedly sidelined teammate, yours truly
All of Team Taller post-half, including the unexpectedly sidelined teammate, yours truly

But my goal is just modified, not entirely eliminated, thanks to update numero dos…

Update 2: A Goal at the Starting Line

So, back at the beginning of February, MoMo, Running Buddy, and I went to this running/friend/women/encouragement event in Madison, WI, where MoMo lives. It was called “Declare it Day” with Fellow Flowers so we all “declared” a running goal for the year (or longer).

Excitingly declaring our goals :)
Excitingly declaring our goals 🙂

MoMo has already completed hers! See above pic of us after she completed her first half marathon! She rocks, and I am so proud of her.

Running Buddy’s goal will take more than this year to complete, but let’s just say she’s well on her way. I leave that to her to share (or I’ll at least leave it for later to share 😉 )

My goal was this:

declare goal

 

You may notice that it says I want to complete that goal by November 30, 2014. Well, that date was sort of a back-up date in case I didn’t get into the Chicago Marathon via the lottery system and had to find a different Fall marathon to run and to conquer my goal. But that doesn’t matter, because The day before I had my mono diagnosis confirmed, I found out I won the lottery! Unfortunately, this type of lottery requires me to pay $185 to run 26.2 miles. Kind of a downer when you look at it that way, I guess…. but that doesn’t matter, because

I GOT INTO THE CHICAGO MARATHON!!

I will be finishing my 2nd marathon STRONG on October 12, 2014.

I may not have been able to complete my goal above of finding 13 supporters for the half marathon thanks to mono, but I will continue the spirit of that goal by running for Team Taller in the full marathon. I will accompany them through my running as they accompany others in their ministry.

We will be a tiny 4-person team probably. Tiny, but mighty! And unofficial! Team Taller is not an official charity registered through the race, so that’s why I had to get in through the lottery, instead of receiving a guaranteed entry by signing up through an official charity.

And don’t worry, friends, I will delay the start of my marathon training until I’m fully recovered from mono! Thanks for looking out for me 🙂

And thanks for journeying with me. Stay tuned for all the twists and turns that will for sure be a part of this road I’m running!

Let’s do this.

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Who is Taller de Jose?

As I shared in my last post, I’m running the Half Marathon in Champaign-Urbana on April 26th for Team Taller de José. Instead of a monetary goal,  I have the goal of finding 13 people to contribute to my fundraising efforts for Team Taller.  So far, I have 4 of my 13! THANK YOU to my first four contributors- Jessie, John, Beth aka MaMa Ash, and Nicole!!!! Would you consider being number 5 or 6? 

But who and what is Taller de José, aside from where Running Buddy works?

Well, I went to their 5th annual Builder’s Day celebration on Sunday, so I’ve been especially reminded of all the needed and beautiful work that they do.

Joaquin receiving the Companion Award at the 5th Annual Builder's Day Celebration
Joaquin receiving the Companion Award at the 5th Annual Builder’s Day Celebration

Who is Taller?

Taller was founded by Sr. Kathy Brazda, a Sister of St. Joseph who is still the Executive Director, along with Fr. Bob Casey, the Board President, and another sister, Sr. Carol Crepeau.  Since the founding, the full-time staff has been very small, including Sr. Kathy, one Amate volunteer a year, and the Amate House volunteers that then got hired as staff in addition to a office manager. The way they are able to do so much work is that they have several committed volunteers that in “retirement” serve as compañeras for several days a week, in addition to social work and seminary interns that also are compañeras.

What does Taller do?

The founders wished to establish a ministry which would meet the most pressing needs of the residents of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago,  (that’s where Fr. Bob was serving at the time). So they actually asked the community what those needs were. They embodied the Buechner definition of vocation:

Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world deep need.

They melded the deep gladness of the sisters, that is, their congregation’s charism of witnessing to the unifying love of God, and the community’s deep need of connecting to the available services. Their mission was formed: to connect services to people and people to services in a ministry of  accompaniment.

Taller’s compañeras accompany clients to court, to the doctor’s office, to government agencies. They help with paperwork and with translation, both oral and written.

Where does Taller serve?

Taller is in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. It is a predominantly Mexican(-American) neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population.  Thus, a large part of Taller’s client base is grateful for not only the accompaniment of the compañeras, but also the interpretation they can provide when a fluent grasp of the language is often a barrier to appropriate access not only to resources, but to justice in court or medical advice from a doctor.

But Taller’s impact extends beyond Little Village as well. Clients come from over 41 different zip codes in Chicago and over 36 suburbs, and Taller de José partners with over 140 partner agencies to provide resources for its clients.

When…?

Ok, this question is kind of unnecessary. But, in fitting with the theme…. NOW? of course! They opened their doors in 2008 after 2-3 years of dreaming and planning. This year has included a series of events to celebrate their 5 years of service to the city of Chicago.

Why does Taller do what they do?

Because they heard of a need and have sought to fill it. Because we all need someone to accompany us through our challenges, through our fear, through our barriers to health and success. Because language should not be a reason to be denied services and justice. Because the love of God compels them. Because they work so that all may be one.

Fun Fact

Taller de José (Pronounced, “Thai- yair,” remember, no gringo “Tall-er”) is Spanish for Joseph’s Workshop. Their annual dinner and fundraiser is called Builder’s Day. It took me three years to figure out it’s called Builder’s Day in honor of the Joseph theme (St. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly adopted dad so to speak, was a carpenter). I’m a little slow on the uptake!

Thank you

Thanks for reading about this great organization that I’m running for! I’m looking for 13 people to financially support them through my running of this Half Marathon, one donation in honor of each mile.  I’ve had four people join me on this journey already. Will you be the next one?

13 People for 13 Miles

Running the Illinois Half last year with Running Buddy. (She was ready to hand off her gloves to our fans, while I was hamming it up for the camera. Oops).

One month from today, I will run the Illinois Half-Marathon in Champaign-Urbana, IL. No big deal, right? I ran the same race last year, I ran a marathon the year before that. I’ve run other halfs. No biggie.

On one hand, yes, no big deal.*

On the other hand… false.

This year, I’m running the race for Team Taller (pronounced “Thai-yair”, none of this Gringo “Tall-er” crap), the fundraising team of Taller de Jose, a social service agency in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago where the Running Buddy works. They do great work, connecting resources to people, and people to resources. So this Half is different than other Halfs (Halves? Does it plural in the same way when you’re referring to a type of race, not necessary a typical “half”??) because I’m running for the people whom Taller serves!

I’m actually hoping to run a marathon in the Fall (cross your fingers I get into the Chicago Marathon through the lottery), so this is actually the start of my friendraising and fundraising that will accompany my journey to Marathon v. 2.0. I like for my running to have purpose to it. If I’m going to run 26.2 miles, let alone the 600 miles of training that will lead up to those 26, I want to have a damn, err darn, good reason to run them, several damn darn good reasons in fact.

I’ve known of Taller de Jose for three years, ever since I did Amate House and Taller was Running Buddy’s service site for the year.  I’ve watched their running team for as long as that and have journeyed with them while Running Buddy was running for them these past two years. They do good work and they’re good people.

I will be sharing more about them and their work in the weeks and months to come, but today, I just want to share my goal for this Half:

13 People for 13 Miles.

Will you be one of the 13 people to donate?? One donation sought for each mile of the race!

The Team goal for the Half Marathon is $3000 and there are 11 runners, but just like in any team, sometimes the roles aren’t identical, so I wouldn’t mind raising more than my $272.72 share! So for the Half, I don’t have a monetary goal, just a people goal! 13 people for 13 miles.

I only have a month to find all 13 of you. Will you help me today??

Click here, to donate now! 

Thanks for considering, friends. More posts on both Taller de Jose and on my running journey in general await in the future! For now though, maybe just click on over to their site to learn more, or dive right in to donate?

Peace and gratitude,
Melissa

*Important point of clarification: Running a Half in general is definitely a big deal and so many people on Team Taller will be running their FIRST HALF MARATHONS. This is a very big deal in and of itself. I’m just trying to make the point that since I’ve run a few half marathons (slowly), the blog post announcement might seem unnecessary, that’s all! I am not trying to diminish it’s significance because running 13 miles should not be considered small potatoes, especially for all those who will be doing it for the first time on April 26th with us!!

Another Medium

Melted Crayon Rainbow-JKCreate
This is a poem I wrote originally for my internship as a hospital chaplain in place of a “verbatim” with my supervisor last week. Two things to note before reading that will help the references in it make sense:
– I had a minor health scare recently that turned out to be anemia. Easily remedied! 
– I had another type of scare a few weeks ago in an incident with a patient on a behavioral floor where I was concerned for my safety and felt trapped in the room. Thankfully, nothing “actually happened.” 
 
Last thing to note, this is a poem in the “Spoken Word” genre I suppose, so maybe consider reading it aloud for its full effect?
 
 

Another Medium.

I got a B- in art in the 4th grade.
I didn’t get another B for 10 years
And I gave up any hope of being an artist for more years than that.
I had tried and been found wanting,
So I would leave the art to the artists
And I would stick with numbers and then eventually with words.
Words could be my medium.
They can be inserted passionately into space
And their absence can adopt as much meaning as their presence
They can speak life or indict injustice
They can explain, and qualify, and be understood.
Unlike my 4th grade art that couldn’t explain itself.
That couldn’t cry out in self defense–
I was trying.
Words. Words. Words could be my medium of choice
While I pondered the possibility of me
An artist.

An artist
I pondered another medium too.
Alongside my precious words, I found another art form that awakened my soul.
That worked with words but also with silence
And that used the 64 colors of the Crayola box
With the 65th color of the breaking of a heart
And the 66th color of the vulnerability of a hospital bed
I feel my words get jealous as I get acquainted with this new medium
But don’t you see, words?
I still love you.
I’m using you right now.
Together we’ll create our art, with this medium of words and silence
And color and breath and heartache and joy.
Our medium is life itself.

I tried out this medium recently.
Furtively, like an imposter, I painted and composed and mixed words.
I stood silently at hospital beds in utter confusion
And in awe of the vulnerability of our human condition
Masked more easily for some.
I entered into the pain of rejection with our sisters and brothers with mental illness.
I crossed myself with fellow Catholics
And waxed rather nonpoeticly when asked deep theological questions.
And I fumbled words of español and uttered honest prayers for our searching.
My heart swelled in the swirling of the graced mystery
I thrived on the poetry of it all.
Or so I thought.

Then I couldn’t leave the room
I felt trapped by his presence
And then trapped by my mistake.
And my iron ran low
And my frustration ran high
And suddenly, my new medium appeared as a fraud.
I was kidding myself.
There’s nothing poetic about ministry, about life.
He was tired of life
And I was just tired.
And my iron ran low
And my frustration ran high.
And my new medium appeared as a fraud.

I wasn’t an artist
And life wasn’t a poem.
I was bumbling and tired and life was a mess.
But outside my own willing
I’ve felt the beauty amidst the mess
The graced mystery swirls and I’m not strong enough to resist
Love has captured me.
So sooner rather than later
The romantic in me can’t deny the canvas being painted
And I want to be a brush.
Coaxed back to art with empathy and concern,
Iron and friends, the trust of my patients and the brushstroke of the Artist.

Maybe I am an artist after all.
In my art with a patient
I thank God aloud that God has created her in God’s image.
So she can consider her dignity and worth.
And since art is meant to stir in us
Is it lacking in humility to say
It stirs me to consider that I am created in the that image
Of our artist-God too?
I am a brush and a pencil, a painting and a poem.
Art and artist.
Words and image and life and pain and beauty.
Our medium is life.
Maybe I am an artist after all.

Transfiguration Moments

 
I was privileged to write a reflection for this Sunday’s readings for Charis ministries. I’m happy to share it here: 

This gospel passage about the Transfiguration has always seemed confusing to me, or maybe, just a bit out of place. It feels too removed from Jesus’ day-to-day life with his disciples. Right before this passage, we hear that Jesus will suffer greatly (Mt16:21) and that the conditions for discipleship are not easy. They require us to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses (Mt 16:24). Immediately after this passage, we hear of healings, more passion predictions, and questions about… taxes (Mt 17:14-27). These are all stories and challenges relating to the physical world. The Transfiguration, on the other hand, is a quintessential transcendent experience. Despite my initial feeling that this is otherworldly and thus unable to speak to our lives today, the Transfiguration nonetheless can be seen as a needed revealing of Jesus’ glorious nature, and a needed revealing of strength for our own lives.

Yes, our world is a mess and our lives are often burdensome. We may feel this especially in this Lenten season when we are trying to clean our own houses and become more free to love others. We feel burdened by recurring sin, chronic illness, or broken relationships. But the Transfiguration can show us the glory of God amidst the mess. The Transfiguration is a revealing of Jesus’ true nature, a sign that he came not only to be in the mess, but to redeem it. The significance of the moment is evident as the words of Jesus’ baptism are echoed: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 17:5b/Mt 3:17b).

If we pay attention, the glorious moments amidst the mess of our own lives can be a bit more evident. We might hear those same words echoed in our hearts and in the hearts of others. We are reminded in Whom we trust and of the beauty that is actually all around us. These are our Transfiguration moments.

When life seems too difficult, maybe our Transfiguration moments can be “the strength that comes from God” that we hear of in today’s 2nd reading (2Tim 1:8b). They are reminders to trust in God’s beloved Son and to remember how God is at work all around us, even when we cannot see it. These moments can be footholds to steady ourselves when it seems too hard to carry our crosses. They are the events, people, and ideas that let us choose hope one more time, that give us strength to see the this-worldly burdens and challenges through from the pain of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday.

Mass, Parking Tickets, and the Lie of Worry

I wrote this Scripture reflection for this Sunday’s readings for Catholics on Call. It first appeared on their site, here. 
 
You can find this Sunday’s readings, for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary time, here. 
 

I’m driving to Mass after having just skimmed these readings to prepare for this reflection, and I can’t find parking in the free lot, so I park on the street, in an area where the signage is unclear about whether the parking was free or not. Seeing as this parking stress is causing me to be/feel late, I decide to risk it and go into church without feeding the meter. The whole first ten minutes of Mass, I squirm in my seat, worrying that I am going to get a ticket (on my roommate’s car at that!). I justify my worrying with a running inner monologue, “I can’t afford a ticket… I’m in grad school for goodness’ sake! And my roommate will be nice about it but would of course not be happy that I got a ticket in her car. And did I already say I didn’t want to waste that money?! Groceries. Running shoes. Plane tickets to visit my niece and nephew. Spiritual Direction. The homeless man on the corner.  All more important uses of that money.”

My worrying is of control. But aside from leaving Mass, there is nothing I can do to fix the situation. This Sunday’s gospel reading comes into my mind, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat….If God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more provide for you?” The reading assures me that God will provide, but my usual response kicks in—that not everyone has their basic human needs provided for—and the inner monologue seems to be winning the worry war. But I try again, because it seems a waste to sit in Mass while my mind is outside trying to protect the car from being ticketed.

I preach gospel to myself: No, not everyone has their basic needs provided for, but that is not a lack of God’s provision; it is our lack of stewardship and sharing of the earth’s resources that interrupt that provision. But what is not interrupted, is God’s care, concern, and presence among us. We can trust that we are remembered, known, and not alone: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” (Isaiah 49 in this Sunday’s first reading). And this Sunday’s psalm (Psalm 62) reminds me, “Rest in God alone, my soul.” Worrying just makes me feel like I’m doing something, but I’m not. Take a deep breath, and rest in God’s presence, here, in the present. Choose God, not mammon (Mt 6:24). That obviously doesn’t mean I shouldn’t steward my resources wisely, but in this case, in this moment, to keep worrying about the ticket would be to serve mammon instead of God.

The wind changes. My inner monologue reluctantly gives up on the worry and chooses Presence instead. Worrying about the future, worrying so that it feels like I’m doing something, is ultimately the belief that God will not be there whenever the next bad thing happens. It’s a lack of trust in God’s faithfulness and a false substitute for real action. Good and bad, abundance and lack, joy and tragedy, will continue to happen regardless of the amount that I worry. But when I worry, I rob myself of receiving the comfort of a God, who loves me like a mother, and I’m unable to offer my best self to the world, “as [a] servant of Christ and [a] steward of the mysteries of God” as I’m called to be (in this Sunday’s 2nd reading).

A potential parking ticket is a small example, of course, but if I can’t practice this gospel-living in the small stuff, how can I be expected to live it in the big stuff, when worrying feels even more “justified?”

May we forego the lie of worry today and instead choose to trust the loving provision of our God.
May we be moved to action when we are called and needed, and may we “Rest in God, alone” when we must accept the limitations of our circumstances.
Amen.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I didn’t get a ticket. 🙂

Waiting in Joyful Hope: An Advent Re-post

Choose Hope
In honor of the last two days of Advent, my favorite season of the year, I wanted to share one more Advent-y post. I probably don’t blog frequently enough to warrant a re-post, but oh well, I’m going to do it anyway 🙂 
 
This was a reflection I wrote two years ago during my volunteer year with Amate House. Our house was in charge of writing and sharing an evening of Advent reflections (the other two houses had Lent and Pentecost, later during our year). I was serving in the Parish Transformation department of the Archdiocese of Chicago at the time. As a house, we had just moved houses about a week prior to hosting this evening, and we’d been without heat for almost a week. What a busy and adventurous time! 
 
This is what I shared that night, sans a few lines that I only shared in person. It was first posted back in 2011 on my blog. I would change some things of it now, but it still held a lot of helpful reminders for me this season again. 

Advent Reflection: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Sometimes it makes no sense. Amidst the consumeristic busyness and stressful preparations of what most call the Christmas season, Advent beckons us to wait, and not only wait, but wait in joyful hope. Like most things Christian, this is countercultural.

Waiting? No thanks, there’s too much to be done.

Joy?! That’s not cool either; joy is naïveté, maybe for those who’ve been spared the pain of suffering til now.

Hope?! Heck no. Cynicism is the accepted, adult perspective. Quiet despair and snarky negativity are also standard methods of relating to the world. They’re reasonable. Based in reality right?!

Thank the Lord—literally—for Advent! Advent is my favorite season of the Liturgical year! It doesn’t let me remain in my mess. It calls me out of myself and into the life and hope of Jesus. Jesus, who like waiting in joyful hope, is the epitome of the unexpected, the countercultural and the radical. Who could fathom the Christmas story? We’re talking about the God of the Universe here. We don’t expect a God who is born in a stable in the backwaters of Galilee.  We don’t expect a God who takes on all humility and vulnerability as an infant, lying in a manger.

This unexpectedness teaches me something about God and about hope. Maybe what I define as “reality,” the picture of life that would lend me to despair, is not the end of the story, and even moreso, it’s not the entirety of the present story. Sometimes we miss the “God’s with us in this moment” side of the story. The hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. God is the God of the unexpected.  And so, I dare to listen to the Advent call and wait in joyful hope.

And that dare is a choice, a fight, to wait in joyful hope. We all have the things in our lives that try to steal our hope. Despite my love for Amate and Chicago, these last few months are no exception for me.

My hope is on the line at work one day at the Archdiocese, I had a man walking past me turn and say, “sorry for my cynicism. We just paid $3.2 million for Fr. So-and-so,” referencing a priest sexual-abuse scandal. He used to work with this priest personally. The pain in his voice was tangible.

My hope is on the line when I’m in meetings where we’re talking about different Catholic schools and what’s limiting their potential right now. I’m constantly surprised at how often I hear, “the pastor and principal can’t work together.” I’ve even heard, “they only communicate through email.” Really?! Adult Christian leaders?! If they can’t communicate civilly and constructively, how can they teach the next generation to do so?! Those dear kids hearts are at stake And so is mine.

My hope is on the line when several days a week I see a homeless woman outside the archdiocese silently standing with her hand out, too afraid to tell me her name, while right across the street, cars are sold for $300,000. It makes me sick.

My hope is on the line in day to day community life, when I hear others assume ill-intention of others, speak harsh words with no search for understanding the other, when I myself don’t show the love and patience I desire others to show me. The seeming hopelessness of it all threatens to let me remain in my mess, instead of trusting in the hope of Jesus, God become man, who takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful.

But that’s part of our collective problem I think. We forget God’s goodness and prior faithfulness. We don’t notice the gifts God gives us in every moment. We don’t tell our stories, let alone our stories of hope, of God working in our mess. I could tell many more like the ones I just alluded too, as we all can, but I can also tell you infinite stories of hope.

If I only told you stories like the ones above,  or more importantly, told myself stories like those, joyful hope would not be possible.

I.choose.hope. because my boss sees her work as a consultant for the Archdiocese as avocation not just a job and because she has the courage to serve the church as a businesswoman, butting heads with the male-only hierarchy (slight smile) when-needed  on occasion.

I.choose.hope. because of the lay people at the churches participating in the process of Parish Transformation, a renewal of mission, vision, and finances. They are so excited about strengthening the Body of Christ at their church community, not just filling the pews with people, but with the love of Christ.

I.choose.hope. because of my homeless friend Mike who passes on muffins and gift cards like he has an endless supply and asks me, “Why keep more than I can use?” to which I say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”

I.choose.hope. because of my Little Village community. Despite 9 very distinct perspectives and personalities, we’ve weathered months of the unknown about when we were moving to the new house, the actual move less than about week ago, and an accidental 5 days with no heat, hot water, or stove or oven. And no one has killed each other yet. Now that’s reason to hope, yeah? :-)

And I.choose.hope. because of the little things in my everyday life. As we were reminded at one community night, “Behold, the color purple.” Everyday has thousands of mini miracles that beckon me to “be watchful and alert,” as Jesus said to his disciples. Keeping a journal of gratitude shows me how joy is a function of gratitude and that gratitude is about remembering and noticing the imminence of God’s love. My list has everything from the small things like the color purple and hot coffee and sunset views from the L, to the confusing things like, “I’m not yet able to thank you for this situation, but thank you for being with me in it.” It’s the antidote to my own forgetfulness and cynicism. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.

It’s a paradigm shift that Advent calls me to. To a perspective that doesn’t ignore that life is unfair, unjust, painful, challenging and sometimes plain ugly. But to a perspective that says yes, life is a mess, but God’s in the middle of it. It’s okay to wait in the question. To live in the pain. But to not let it lead to despair and cynicism. Let’s take the time and be watchful and alert for God at work in our lives. To speak words of hope to one another.  To celebrate the crazy, unexpected, radical divine love of Emmanuel.

Will you dare to wait in joyful hope with me?

I like Advent because it feels more honest

waiting

I like Advent because it feels more honest.
We are already and not-yet
God-with-us and Thy-kingdom-come
Christ has come and Christ will come again.
Questioning the lie of instant gratification,
we wait.
Counting the days in anticipation
We admit the longing of our hearts
The desire unfulfilled
The ache of what is to come.
It feels more honest to say
That the stretching of a womb hurts
And takes time.
To question the truth of buying more equals more Christmas
While frantically falling victim to it.
We are already and not yet
So we prepare our hearts and our homes,
For the ultimate guest.
Not in the woe-is-me way of Lent,
But in the quiet, humble way of preparing for a little baby
Who enters the world naked and vulnerable
Without fanfare
Through the pain of childbirth
Like everyone else.
God-with-us
In our nakedness, vulnerability, and pain.
And so we wait
And so we hope
It feels more honest this way.
In our nakedness, vulnerability, and pain
Waiting. Hoping. Rejoicing. Tempering. Preparing. Celebrating.
Both/And
God-with-us in our joy
God-with-us in our pain
Thy Kingdom Come where the wolf will be the guest of the lamb.
It feels more honest this way.
Advent.
O Come
O Come
Emmanuel!

advent

Indeed a gift

This is Post #7 about my trip to Korea for the WCC. Please click on these links for Post #1Post # 2,Post #3Post #4Post #5 or Post #6.

I have not blogged since the official first day of the WCC and now it is the night before the last day. But that is because I’ve continued to drink from a fire hose. I’m practicing self compassion concerning my lack of blogging and not being too hard on myself 😉

We have been going going going for 2 weeks straight. In that light, I have made decisions that tended toward time with new friends and not depriving myself excessively of sleep, so the processing of this intense experience has been largely put on hold. Thankfully though, my notebook has captured 92% of what I have heard and experienced, even if I have not been able to digest it all yet.

But I think I will start my processing with this: This time here has been a gift.  It may take me days and weeks and months and years to unpack all that I have learned, experienced, and discussed, to see and know the fruit of this time, to realize the immensity of this opportunity and see its effects on me and the world. But nonetheless, it has indeed been a gift.  A gift that I will steward.

That does not mean my time in South Korea as part of GETI alongside the WCC has been all rosy. It has been exhausting, challenging, frustrating, disheartening, and difficult at various times. We have experienced difficult large group dynamics, small group frustrations, and intercultural challenges.  We have heard about more church politics than my poor heart can handle, listened in solidarity with all those who shared about injustices in their home contexts, battled the exhaustion fueled by an ambitious schedule, and caught various  colds and other sicknesses because our bodies are run down.

But we have also had experiences of pure gift.  We’ve shared and appreciated each others’ various cultural contexts and Christian traditions. We heard enlightening speakers both as GETI students and in the larger WCC assembly. We have discussed various ecumenical issues with our small groups and wrestled over hot theological topics over dinner and drinks at night. We’ve walked to and from the convention center a few times to soak in some needed fresh air and we’ve bonded over shared bus-weariness after many hours cooped up together on various occasions. We know we have beds we could sleep on in all corners of the world now and we know we have fellow travelers on the journey in our common goal of Christ and the Kingdom of God, despite our theological variations and our real differences.

I’m grateful for it all. The tough parts and the more frequent, “wow, is-this-real-life?” parts. I’m thankful for this challenge and this gift. I’m in awe at my new friendships, my mind is exploding with all it has learned and will learn in continued study of these topics, and my heart has been expanded 1000 times over in love with God, with God’s people, and with the whole world.

I’m grateful for renewed hope. Confronting the despair of politics in the church, the despair of human suffering and injustice, and the despair of disunity in the Body of Christ, my hope is surprisingly rejuvenated and enlarged. It is more real and more fervent in light of it all.

I’m thankful for the role this experience has played in helping me become the person I’m meant to be.

And despite so much gratitude, I’m ready to come home. I’m ready not to eat out for two meals per day plus a hotel buffet for breakfast (though don’t get me wrong, that was an incredibly generous provision and I’m grateful). I’m ready to see my Chicago peeps and receive oodles of pics in real time of my new niece (born today!). I’m ready to face real life and catch up on my homework (because I’m in the right field and love my classes and miss my school). I’m ready to sleep in my bed, go running regularly, and eat lots of vegetables (not at breakfast though, which is when they’re most available here).

Tomorrow is our last day! Time to catch a few Zzzz’s so I can soak it up 🙂 

With a grateful heart,
Melissa

P.S. Speaking of Zzzz’s… I’m finishing this really late after a spontaneous round of late night (one) beer and theology session so I hope it has a semblance of coherence despite the late hour.

My seminar group sans one. I clearly did the common Korean picture sign too soon.
My seminar group sans one. I clearly did the common Korean picture sign too soon.
An Orthodox, a Catholic, and a Protestant, walk into a coffee shop...oh wait, that happened today
An Orthodox, a Catholic, and a Protestant, walk into a coffee shop…oh wait, that happened today.
Victor was passing time while holding my camera.
Victor was passing time while holding my camera.
At our host church in Gwanju with one of our hostesses and Noria, my seminar group friend from Malaysia
At our host church in Gwanju with one of our hostesses and Noria, my seminar group friend from Malaysia
In Gwanju over the weekend
In Gwanju over the weekend

The First Day.

This is Post #6 about my trip to Korea for the WCC. Please click on these links for Post #1Post # 2,Post #3Post #4, or Post #5.

Today was the official start of the World Council of Churches. It was quite exciting! So much to take in and experience.

Adam, Sarah, and me outside the BEXCO, a conference center even bigger than McCormick in Chicago!
Adam (USA), Johanna (Germany), and me outside the BEXCO, a conference center even bigger than McCormick in Chicago!

As GETI participants, our day started with two lectures, one from Michael Kinnamon of Seattle University, and former General Secretary of the United States’ National Council of Churches and one from Henriette Hutarabat-Lebang, General Secretary of the Christian Churches in Asia. I was blown away at their clear explications of the future of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century.

Dr. Kinnamon asked three tough but essential questions of the ecumenical movement:

  1. Are the churches involved in the ecumenical movement still committed to the goal of visible unity?
  2. Is the ecumenical movement in danger of becoming too ideological?
  3. Is this a movement that truly trusts in God’s leading?
One of our morning speakers, Michael Kinnamon
One of our morning speakers, Michael Kinnamon of Seattle University

After a vigorous but short Q&A session, we hurried over to the main worship hall for the opening prayer of the WCC.

Oh.My.Goodness. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and inspiring.

The prayer service began with lamentations from all regions of the earth.  What a humbling way to begin this gathering of Christians, who are complicit in so much hurt and pain, and who have been hurt and pained by a world that still yearns for the justice and peace of God’s Reign. A sampling:

Your beautiful image in Africa has been deformed as the greedy have raped its resources… the powerful have raped the less powerful…Your people’s lament is echoed in your deep groans that drain rivers dry… (Cries and Hopes from Africa)

Empowering God, we see you in the resilience, resistance and creativity of the weary and heavy laden, the crushed lives and broken relationships. Transform our greed to consume into a thirst to share…(Cries and Hopes from Asia)

Comfort us so that our souls are healed from the wounds of wars and conflicts. Gives us your light that we may walk out of the shadows of death… (Cries and Hopes from the Middle East)

Lord, have mercy on us, for we mine the resources of our own lands and those of the south, leaving in our wake environmental devastation… (Cries and Hopes from North America)

(c) Peter Williams/WCC
The lamentations were accompanied by artistic interpretations of the laments. (c) Peter Williams/WCC

There was a Gospel reading (Emmaus!), sermon, song, and common recitation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, gave the sermon at the Opening Prayer (please ignore the speaker that was blocking my view)

We sang a challenging, moving song at the end based off a Bonhoeffer quote called,

“Peace must be dared.”

After the opening prayer, we broke for lunch. We saw some protesters of the WCC on our way back in. We actually had seen hundreds of them when we arrived in Busan on Tuesday, but they were much fewer in number today. These protesters were Christians who think the Christians who support the WCC are being misled and are in fact, going against the will of God. More on them later, probably 😉

"Oppose the WCC" sums it up pretty well I suppose
“Oppose the WCC” sums it up pretty well I suppose

Then we headed back to the convention center for the official opening of the assembly complete with a welcome from the General Secretary, the WCC Central Committee moderator, 4 young people sharing their expectations, various welcome greetings, and an artistic presentation on the assembly theme (“God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace”) and the experience of the Korean churches. That was such an unexpected treat!  I didn’t know to expect something like that.

Cardinal Kurt Koch reading the greetings of Pope Francis!!!!
Cardinal Kurt Koch reading the greetings of Pope Francis!!!!
From the artistic presentation on the theme and Korean history
From the artistic presentation on the theme and Korean history

We then moved to the General Secretary’s report on the WCC and all that has been happening since the last assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006.  So much. More on that later.

Then, as GETI, we headed back to the hotel for our seminar group discussions where my group actually got into some pretty interesting (read, occasionally tense) discussions. No one said unity was easy.  But it is worth it. It is our beautiful, daring calling to work that all may be one (John 17:21). Then, after a brief evening prayer, our day was finally over at around 830pm. Woah.

I doubt I’ll be able to keep these (lengthy) updates up as they take too much time, but I felt the first day was totally worth the effort because it was so powerful and it set the tone and mood for the rest of the conference.

Thanks be to God for the opportunity to be here and to be transformed by this experience.

God of Life, Lead us to justice and peace.

Melissa