Tuesday, August 2, 2011
So how do you sum up an entire year of your life abroad? Numerous times I've tried, but whenever someone asks me that question words escape me and I usually only utter a description that is lacking to say the least. England has gone from being a place that never even crossed my mind to visit, to a place that has now become my home. Names have become faces, faces acquaintances, acquaintances have transformed into friends, and these friends I now call my family, a fact that I am ever so blessed for. I have experienced more acceptance and love here than I ever anticipated, and I can truthfully say that I have never possessed this many copies of people's house keys, automatically being accepted into their lives and families when most of them barely knew me.
As I leave England, I'm filled with excitement about returning to my friends and family, yet I am also saddened to be saying good-bye to a place and people that I have fallen in love with. To briefly sum up this year I would say I've listened, observed, learned, grown, embraced a new culture, loved, served, laughed, cried, been blessed, experienced incredible things as well as some things I wish had never occurred, and been challenged in every aspect of my life. I only hope that I am challenged further when I return to the States, and that I carry a part of England with me wherever I go.
A couple weeks ago I read a prayer by Sir Francis Drake, and I believe it is applicable for everyone, especially since it is so easy to become comfortable in our own lives. I spent this year abroad being uncomfortable in a foreign environment, and it has been one of the greatest things that has happened to me, being able to serve people here and learn from them and their way of life. So, as I return to the comfort of a culture and country that has always been familiar to me, I echo this prayer for my life:
"Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves.
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storm will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push us in the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.
Through coming to England, I have been "disturbed". I hope my life continues to be so, so that I may be able to serve people to a greater degree and continue to grow in my relationship with Christ. Thank you all so much for your prayers, encouragement, and support. I wouldn't have made it through this year without you.
On a different note, here are a few of my favorite things about England:
1) Tea breaks. Literally every time you go to someones house, every hour, before you eat, immediately after you eat, right when you wake up to start the day, and even when you're crawling into bed at night a cup of tea should be in your hand.
2) Standing in line at a coffee shop waiting to be served for at least 10minutes when there is only one person in front of me...it turns out baristas are very friendly here and regardless of how long the line they care about how everyone they serve is doing.
3) Custard creams and digestives....two of England's best biscuits....or should I say "cookies".
4) Roundabouts---truly one of the greatest inventions ever.
5) Public transportation is INCREDIBLE!!! Traveling across the country is so simple here with the access to trains!
6) If you go for a hike you plan the route based on where the pubs and tea rooms are located...it doesn't matter if the hike itself is gorgeous or boring as long as there's pubs and tea rooms along the way!
7) In North England where I'm based life is a lot slower, more relaxed, and people take time to stop, rest, and simply be.
8) Mail is delivered by people on bicycles....how cool is that?
9) The hats women wear to events, such as weddings and horse races, are absolutely phenomenal in their own way, and it's so much fun to see who is wearing the best one.
10) Open-air markets held throughout the week where you can buy almost anything you could possibly think of or want.
11) Cows roam freely in open-pastures on the outskirts of town...and occasionally they actually pay us a visit in the town itself.
12) Serving is important here, with many people doing a full-time volunteer year between high school and college.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Tuesdays I lead support groups with a friend for girls in the local high school. And, as all schools in Beverley, this fine institution requires uniforms and has a strict dress code that even has rules to inform the girls how high up pony tails can be on their head. Thus, there I am, every Tuesday, dressed up and rocking my TOMS.
This past Tuesday when we had finished working at the high school my dear friend and I decided to go out for coffee, as one must do if you live in England. On our walk to the coffee shop she mentioned that her son had just boughten her a pair of TOMS, and she has completely fallen in love with them. This gift is precious since she has had a horrendous year with tragedies one wouldn't wish upon one's greatest enemy, she doesn't currently have very much money, and her son rarely buys her gifts.
Thrilled to have a fellow-TOMS lover finally with me in Beverley I began to gush like a giddy school girl about the shoes, how I feel instantly connected to people that I see wearing TOMS because they have to care about people and the world seeing as how they purchased a pair of TOMS, and for every pair that is boughten a pair of shoes is sent to someone who doesn't have any. How could someone that buys these shoes not be an incredible person that I should be friends with? I continued to discuss the incredible aspects of these shoes with my friend, and even went as far to inform her that someone once told me that "TOMS aren't just a shoe...they're a lifestyle." All my frivolous chatter continued, and we finally reached the coffee shop, yet my friend kept walking, insisting that I go with her as she wanted to show me something.
Shortly, we arrived at a shop full of TOMS! My excitement was evident as I ran around examining the various shoes, all the while my friend stood silently watching.
"Pick one," she said.
"Heidi, I want to buy you a pair of TOMS. Don't look at the prices. Just pick one."
If I was an emotional person I would have started crying in the middle of the shop, but that's not exactly my style. Instead, I stood speechless. Here was my friend who has so little willing to give so much of it to me. Me. The one that has come here to serve, ending up being served. What my friend did for me, although to many may not seem like a great gesture, means more to me than I can adequately express.
As I stood dumbfounded, groping for words that seemly had escaped me, attempting to piece together how I could verbalize my gratitude to sufficiently reveal to her the extent to which she had moved me, she just smiled and said:
Blessed. This past year I have been blessed by the individuals I have encountered in more ways than I have probably blessed anyone. Ironic how that is. Yet isn't blessing others what Christianity is all about?
2 Corinthians 8:1-2 says, "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity."
Here the churches in Macedonia were going through a difficult time and they didn't have much, yet they never ceased to give. They continued to bless people, to look after one another, to share God's love. And because of this they were blessed even more.
Too often, especially in the States where we have so much, we become incredibly materialistic, focusing predominantly on our wants and needs and having the best of everything, placing ourselves before others. But that's not what it's about. What's better, to have all the material possessions that you want/"need", or to show others love by giving them something, blessing them, serving them?
2 Corinthians 9:6 says, "...and whoever sows generously will also reap generously," and 2 Corinthians 6:10 says, "...having nothing, and yet possessing everything." They had few material goods, yet they had everything because they had numerous other blessings from God. They had love, joy, and the support from each another. That is the essence of Christianity: Support each other through both good and bad times, whether this means giving material goods or providing emotional support or doing a random act of kindness/service. That is what we are called to do on a daily basis. And truthfully, most of the time it doesn't even actually take that much effort to bless someone else. So now please stop reading my blog already and go out there and do something nice for someone to brighten their day! :)
And remember.....be blessed!
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Maunday Thursday began with a Blessing of the Oils service at York Minster, in which we gathered oils for baptisms, healings, and confirmations. That service in itself was a lengthy ordeal, where people congregated from all over Yorkshire to pick up the blessed oils for those in their church whom requested them, listen to the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Whitby speak, receive Holy Communion to commence the beginning of Easter weekend, and of course, to enjoy a nice hot cross bun after the service had finished (which fyi was the first time I've ever had a hot cross bun, and it was delicious!).
While at this service I got to talking with the Archbishop of York, who is one of the most jovial people I've ever met. A constant smile on his face, I learned that he had endured many hardships while he lived in Uganda, and that he had to eventually flea the country because his life was in danger. Yet in spite of the difficulties he has encountered, he's incredibly positive and willing to do anything to serve God, even give up his own life. As I was talking with him he mentioned that he was the one who came up with the idea of serving teas, coffees, and hot cross buns after the service, which has now become a yearly tradition. After all, Easter, although a time for reflection on the greatest sacrifice ever given, should be a celebration complete with a party more than a time of somber remembrance, because of the incredible thing that Jesus did for us.
And what a celebration Easter turned out to be. Beginning my day at 4:30am (which is ridiculously early even if you are a morning person!), I helped my supervisor and his family prepare for the breakfast we were serving after the sunrise service on the Westwood pastures, one of my favorite places in Beverley where cows roam freely to graze, people play golf or take their dogs for walks, and families bring their children to play in the wide open fields. I've never been to a sunrise service before for Easter, and this one was incredible. People from multiple congregations came together, singing praises to God as the sun began to peak over the hills waking up the new day, celebrating the fact that Christ conquered sin and death, and we are now free. At the conclusion of the service we had tea, coffee, and an amazing breakfast for everyone to partake in. I honestly haven't seen that many happy people so early in the morning! And what a better way to start Easter, than to begin it with fellowship, breakfast, singing, the glorious sunrise, and excitement over what Jesus has done?
The rest of Easter consisted of more celebrating by helping out at 3 more church services, having a meal with some friends, and then reflecting on the incredible life that Jesus led, as well as all the work related events that I had been involved with throughout Holy Week. A few of these events during the week included a Friday morning service, 24-hour prayer at a fellow church in Beverley, a silent walk throughout the town to reflect on the events of Good Friday, Saturday morning prayer meetings, and various other happenings, but the thing that stood out to me the most wasn't the celebrating or the other ceremonies like the Archbishop talked about. It was our service on Maunday Thursday.
We had a "sample" of a Seder Meal, which is the traditional feast that Jews have to mark the beginning of the Passover. I'd never been to a meal like this before, where each item represents something meaningful and different. To name a few, there was maror (bitter herbs) which represent the bitterness and hardships of slavery, charoset (fruit and nut paste) which represent the material used by the Jews to build storehouses during their time of slavery in Egypt, and 4 cups of wine to symbolize various promises. What an incredible tradition and celebration to have. I was thrilled to be a part of it and to learn a little bit more about the Jewish culture and rituals.
However, the meal wasn't what had the most impact on me. My supervisor was in charge of planning and organizing this service, and he had the brilliant idea to incorporate a foot washing ceremony during the service for the entire congregation, which I certainly thought sounded like a great idea since it could be a very powerful and meaningful event...that is until I learned that I, along with one other woman, were going to be the people washing every one's feet. Now that was something that certainly hadn't made my "must do/experience while in England" list. Yet as I was kneeling at people's tired and worn feet, doing my best to wash them carefully, I couldn't help but think that honestly, I wouldn't just randomly up and decide to wash some one's feet. It's fairly gross, especially when you know that you're going to eat food immediately afterwards and might not have time to wash your hands, and you get an up close and very personal experience with different ideas and levels of the importance of hygiene. But Jesus didn't think like that. He washed people's dirty, disgusting, smelly, and probably pretty messed up feet because they wore sandals all the time, and he did it on his own accord. During a meal. Willingly. Humbly. Full of unconditional love for those he was with, and this was one way he revealed part of how great his love is. He loves us enough to do the ultimate acts of service for us that most people would cringe at doing. Many people in the congregation probably weren't deeply affected by having their feet washed. But what about if Jesus had been there? What would it be like to have your feet washed by Jesus?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
When I first came to Beverley I thought I had entered a utopia, a "Pleasantville" in most respects. Here lies a quiet quaint village where, after living and working in one of "the worst neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado" even the poor seemed to have enough here due to the UK's incredible welfare system. Yet the more time I spend here, the clearer my vision becomes. The ideal of pure contentment here has vanished, people seek more things materially and still are overwhelmed with dissatisfaction per say.
A lady I know here told me that her job bores her. It no longer challenges her, and she's alone for the majority of her time at work. She dreads retirement, as the primary thing awaiting her is tea and cake at parlors, cleaning the house, and, most daunting for her, becoming a full-time carer, leaving this incredibly driven, goal oriented woman feeling like she has little purpose as a housewife. Yet in spite of her lack of enthusiasm for her job, she refuses to search for another, for, in her own words, she's done her work too long, is too comfortable, and change seems to be too much. Comfortable, yet broken. Hurting. Someone I have seen as the "perfect" woman, as she always has her life held together and in the perfect order regardless of what transpires, suddenly became not so "perfect".
The chorus of one of my favorite songs by Brandon Heath says:"Give me your eyes for just one second,
Give me your eyes so I can see.
Everything that we keep missing,
Give me your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the brokenhearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see."
For just one second, because our weak human nature could endure little more. But in that brief second, what would we see? The brokenness buried behind a smile, the perfection that is really unbearable torture, the emptiness, loneliness, dissatisfaction with life, fear, envy, hate, dishonesty, suffering, the needs. In a flash, our perception of every person we saw in that moment would be radically transformed, and we would know them for what they are: Human. Broken. It's everywhere. Lurking around each bend in the road. We can see it if we take the time to search someones eyes, their disposition, their nonverbal communication. It says it all if we only take the time to question and pay attention.
Yet there is beauty in the brokenness. A hand reaches out to help, someone does something kind, love is revealed through a friend, an acquaintance, a complete stranger. Healing amidst the anguish. How many people are hurting that we don't know about? It could be anyone, even our closest friend. What kind of an impact can I have by setting aside my selfishness and my busy life and actually pay attention, reading between the lines, watching actions and body language? How different could I make the world?
Ghandi said to be the change you wish to see in the world. Now, when first read that sounds like a phrase someone could quickly breeze over and say, oh, well that's a nice idea. But when dwelt on, allowing the concept to sink in, there is so much power in those few words. With that sentence comes great responsibility that can have a huge impact if we all partake in our share. Be the change.
At St. Nicholas Church we had a Lent service tonight that focused on working out the kinks you have in your life, purifying yourself, being transformed by Christ, starting over, and yes, it was even about brokenness. One of the Bible verses we read came from Isaiah 58:6-7, which says, "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" We often ask why there is so much suffering in the world, why there is starvation, why there are so many needs. A great amount of the answer to those questions lies primarily in our own hands and in these Bible verses. Be the change. Out of all the verses I read tonight these from Isaiah stood out to me in particular. We should walk with these people, not in front of them, not behind them, but aside them, accompanying them in their journey. We should help those who are broken, those who are struggling, whether they are rich or poor, for as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we are called to do.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
But Christmas is just around the corner now and don't worry. I have plans. But before Christmas comes, there is much to do. In England people have been preparing for Christmas for months! Other than shopping for presents, attending "turning on the lights" ceremonies throughout town, and decorating the house and Christmas tree, people have been baking for months in anticipation of Christmas dinner. In fact, some people even started immediately after Christmas last year.
So then, what does Christmas in England look like? This Christmas, as most of you may know from the news, we have snow! Apparently it's the most snow people have had in England for the past 20 years, and it's by far one of the coldest winters. In spite of this, people are still in high spirits and Christmas traditions are still carried out, and here's a few that I've participated in:
Christmas pudding, also known as figgy pudding to us in the States, is typically made months in advance, sometimes even made a year in advance. Rumor has it that the longer it sits, the better it tastes, and the amount of brandy that is added to it ensures that this tasty treat doesn't go bad after sitting for a long period of time. And yes, this pudding (which is more like a fruit cake) is actually lit on fire just before it is consumed! I still haven't quite figured out why...and no one that I've asked seems to know.
More Christmas traditions include making and eating Christmas cake and mince pies, drinking mulled wine, having numerous Christmas dinners with friends well before Christmas actually arrives, making Christingles, going to see pantomimes, and breaking open Christmas crackers (which to my shock and bewilderment actually isn't something you eat, but instead is a cardboard tube wrapped in brightly colored paper. Why they call it a cracker is beyond me.).
Although I've thoroughly enjoyed partaking in these various activities to become "as British as possible" this Christmas season, I'm can't stop thinking about the amount of time and preparation that goes in to this one event, this single day that is over and gone so quickly. So much time, so much money, so much effort for just one day. I keep thinking about all the people that anticipate the fuzzy feelings, the warmth, the excitement of Christmas. And I also think about those who are alone, those who have no friends or family to be with, those who don't have food to eat, and those who will be excited if they get to sleep in a bed for the night.
I'm sure you've discussed this at least once already this season with someone (I know I have), but Christmas is not about the food, it's not about the amount or what kind of presents you get, or the disappointment you face when you open something you really don't like that your great-aunt's second cousin twice removed who can't even remember your name bought for you. So what is it really about? There's a tradition in Poland where on Christmas day everyone sets out an extra place at their dinner table just in case they see someone on the streets, someone who is alone, someone who is in need, they will be prepared and have room to invite them in for feasting and fellowship.
Now I've been invited to go to various houses, and for this I am truly blessed and eternally grateful. So then, where am I spending Christmas? With my new family, here in England. Yet there are so many people in this world who are less fortunate than I am and aren't adopted into families as quickly as I have been. What would it take to embrace the Polish tradition and invite someone to my Christmas dinner? I live just outside of a city that is full of poverty and despair. Even in this quaint town of Beverley there are homeless people, lonely people, people who are suffering, and people who do not have enough. It wouldn't be that difficult for me to find someone to invite to my house for fellowship and a warm meal. And let's face it, all I would really be sacrificing would most likely be that extra serving of stuffing that I probably don't need anyways.
So instead of focusing on what Christmas isn't, why not focus on what it is about, and then do something about it? To me, Christmas is about love. It's about sharing and being with other people regardless of who they are. It's about showing others how important they are. And above all, it's about Jesus and who He was as a person. A leader. A servant. Someone who cared about those who are less fortunate and often forgotten. The Messiah.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Rest for your souls. What exactly does that mean? So many people spend their lives searching for rest and peace in this messy world that we live in, and I'll admit that I've been one of them. My entire life I have loved these verses, probably because for as long as I can remember I've lived a chaotic lifestyle, rarely taking time to actually slow down and just be. This being the case I often asked God to give me rest, even though it was completely my fault that I didn't rest since it was my choice of how I was living my life. I believe that true rest would never happen. No way. Not for me. I like being busy way too much for that. However, things are different in England. Since coming here rest has been one of the greatest things that I have learned.
I don't know how many of you have been to England when it snows, but with it's narrow, cobbled streets the whole country transforms into a magical place where entire cities shut down and become silent. Rest. This past week it has been snowing like crazy all over the UK. Airports closed, roads shut down, people abandoned their cars on the sides of highways because it was too treacherous for them to drive, others were stuck in their homes not leaving for days. So why do I find this simply chaotic and dreadful image so splendid? Because it's in times like these where people are forced to stop. To step back from their crazy lifestyles, and to breathe.
Last week I found rest for my soul. With all of Beverley basically closed, I spent quality time hanging out with friends, sledding with my supervisor's son and dog on the Westwood, and enjoying a few days where I had absolutely nothing to do but be still.
One particular afternoon we were invited to the neighbor's house for tea and scones. Roisin and Lola, two of their children, were absolutely ecstatic that we were visiting, and kept asking me to come and see their room. After being led up two winding flights of stairs we finally made it, and I entered a little girl's paradise. Bursting with light and vibrant colors I stepped into a dreamworld, a place that was safe and full of love. I spent my time with the girls getting glittered poured over my head and spread through my hair in attempt to help me fly to Never Never Land. It was in that moment that I was doused in glitter, shouting out happy thoughts, flapping my arms in preparation to take off to Never Never Land, and running around the room with the girls that I was overcome with sheer joy and peace. Rest for your soul doesn't occur when we become so busy we forget to actually breathe, it comes when we take time to enjoy the small things of life like we did when we were children and embrace the gifts that God has given us, letting His grace shower down on us. So now, as we enter the Christmas season, take a step back with me, enjoy the moments that you've been given, take time to fly to Never Never Land, and take time to rest.