Friday, July 20, 2012

Another Lesson from Winnie the Pooh

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” ~Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh is at it again!  Another nugget of wisdom from that "silly old bear".  But to be honest, I don't even know where to begin with this blog.  Over the past few days I've had to say goodbye to some people and I honestly don't like it.  I knew that eventually the time would have to come and I would leave this place, but I don't think I prepared myself well enough for this event.  I know that it is never easy to say goodbye to people, but these goodbyes feel even more bittersweet.  

While I said goodbye to some people earlier in the week, today is when it really sank in that I am leaving in just two days.  Tonight was my last youth club and when I first walked in it felt like any other youth club.  Kids were playing pool, others were on the computers, a few were just sitting around having a chat.  As the night rolled on though, it started to hit me that I was not going to be seeing these kids again next Wednesday.  Many of them had made some lovely cards to give all of us volunteers that were leaving and they were so sweet.  It was very thoughtful of them to take the time to make these adorable cards for us.  What really threw me for a loop came at the end of the night.  One of the boys who is about twelve years old began to cry.  Never in my wildest dreams did I expect him to start crying!  I almost lost it at that point.  He's such a sweet kid and it just broke my heart to see him in tears.  All of the kids I have had the honor of interacting with this year will forever hold a special place in my heart.  They truly have changed my life and I will never forget them.

I think that's why it's been so hard to say these goodbyes.  I have been on an incredible journey with all of these people.  Through the good, the bad and the ugly these people have walked along side me and have influenced me in so many ways.  I am not coming back to the United States the same girl I was a year ago.  I have learned so much about myself and have grown and moved a few steps closer to the person God created me to be.  

The bear is right though.  I do feel so lucky to have something, or in this case some people, that makes saying goodbye so incredibly hard.  I don't want to brag, but I would like to say that I am pretty good with putting words to paper, but in this case words seem to fail.  How in the world am I supposed to describe this last year?  How do I communicate to people how I've changed?  Will they be able to see the changes in me?  Will people be able to understand?  No matter what happens when I return home, I will carry all the people I've met this year in my heart.  The memories we've made together, the laughs we shared, even the tears that were shed have made this experience what it is.  I would give anything right now for these words to make sense and to be able to convey just how much this year has meant to me.  

While I am so excited to be returning home to all my family and friends, I am also very sad to leave this place that has truly become my home and the people that have become my "English" family.  I am forever grateful to them for putting up with me for a whole year.  As I move on into the next part of my life, I will always look back at this year and smile.  I am truly lucky to have these things and these people that make it so hard to say goodbye.  Thanks for one unforgettable year across the pond!     

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Future Not Our Own

I don't know about you, but sometimes I find myself getting frustrated about my job.  I suppose though not in the way most people get frustrated with their jobs.  Some people might get upset with their boss or their coworkers.  Others might not like the type of work they do at all.  I am fortunate enough to love my boss, coworkers and the work I do.  What I find difficult about my job is the fact that there are moments when I wonder if I'm making any difference at all in the lives of the kids I meet.  Some kids I only see for a few hours and then they're gone; out of my life probably forever.  I used to worry about whether or not I miraculously transformed their lives.  Then one day I was talking to my mom about these things and she said, "You may never know how much you affected the lives of those kids."  While this was kind of disheartening it also made me realize that I might not see the fruits of my labor, I know deep down that I have made an impact on some kids somewhere this year.  The following is a prayer that was written by Archbishop Oscar Romero.  I hope you enjoy it and find some comfort in its words.

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision. 

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us. 

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything. 

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. 

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest. 

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What in the world have I been up to?

So I know the original intention of this blog was to keep you all updated on what I'm doing over here in the UK and I feel like recently it has become more a place for me to share some random thoughts with you.  Granted these thoughts have come from experiences over here, but I haven't told you about what has been going on over here lately.  This post is just going to give a little more insight into how life has been lately.

First, let's start with my wonderful weekend I had.  Two other YAGMs (Bekah and Elizabeth) came to visit me up in good ol' Salford.  I don't know how it happened, but we ended up having a rather American weekend despite the obvious location of not being America.  It was such a great weekend and I'm so blessed to have such wonderful people in my life and the fact that I get to share this year with them is even more wonderful.

While the past few months around Just Youth have been more on the quiet side, we still have had a surprising amount of things to do.  After the first week of June it will be nonstop work in schools until I leave.  I feel as though it's going to be kind of stressful, but very rewarding and plenty of opportunities for me to be in primary (elementary) schools.  The time is going to go by very fast I feel like.

Another super exciting thing coming up is my impending trip to Ireland!  I think this is the one place I've been looking forward to visiting since I arrived here in August!  I'm glad I'm finally going to get to cross "visit Ireland" off my bucket list.

I don't know how much I've talked about the youth group that I also work at, but it's been something I have really loved this year.  We had a few volunteers leave that were originally there to be the youth group volunteers, but when they left the rest of us were asked if we would be willing to help.  While it created more work for us it has definitely been worth it.  Not every night in the youth club is the most wonderful, but there are some days that make my heart smile.  The kids in the area are a little rough around the edges, but once you are able to break down some of their barriers you get to see how truly amazing they are.  I've met and gotten to know some pretty great kids there that will forever be in my heart.  As I'm typing this I'm starting to get a little misty eyed.  They have made an impact on my life and I don't think it's going to be easy to leave them in just two short months.  I think those kids are the reason I am seriously contemplating teaching middle school.

Speaking of middle school, I have some exciting news.  Okay well, I think it's exciting.  I have a final interview tomorrow (Thursday May 24th) for a 7th grade special education position.  I've had a really good feeling about this job since the first interview a few weeks ago.  It's amazing to see how God has been moving and working in my life over these past few weeks.  Hopefully I will have more news about it soon.

I think it's funny how this will be my 4th post in one month and yet I think the most I've had in a month since I've been here is two!  I guess I'm finally getting into the blog mood.  Hopefully you can all keep up with it all!

P.S.  60 days from now I will be on a plane back to the U.S.A.  It's kind of surreal to think about so I'm going to try and avoid thinking about it a little longer!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Lesson from Winnie the Pooh

I don't know about you, but I did not know that Christopher Robin, from Winnie the Pooh, had such nuggets of wisdom.  I mean I knew that Christopher Robin was there to encourage that "silly old bear" we know and love, but I guess I never realized that those same words he said to that bear could be so encouraging to this "silly girl".  

I think there have been a few points during this year where I honestly believed that I was not strong enough to make it through the whole year.  There were moments where I wasn't sure I could fight anymore.  Sometimes I did things that made me feel incredibly stupid and that I'm sure people looked at me and thought "what in the world is this crazy American talking about.  She has no idea what she is doing."  I mean they probably didn't actually say that, but that's what I was saying to myself.  Needless to say, sometimes I felt like this year chewed me up and spit me out.  I'm not trying to make it seem as though this year was terrible, but there have been moments this year where things have been tough.  

Then, I found this quote from Christopher Robin.  "Promise me you'll always remember: you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."  Many times we forget how brave we can be, how strong we have become and how smart we have become.  Sometimes things just don't seem to go right and we can beat ourselves up about it and forget all the positive qualities we have. I know I am guilty of focusing solely on the stuff I do wrong or that I'm not good at instead of focusing on my strengths.  

Eventhough many of the things I have done this year have been out of my comfort zone and some I even failed at, I can not let that stop me from continuing to go new places and have more adventures. I've made it this far through the journey and I'm not going to stop now.  This year has taught me that I am braver than I believe, and stronger that I seem, and smarter than I think.  Christopher Robin, this is one promise I might be able to keep.   

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's becoming a double edge sword...

With each passing day I get a little closer to crossing the Atlantic Ocean once more and seeing all of my friends and family I left back in August.  At the same time as each day passes, I get closer to leaving my new friends and family I met back in August.

It really is becoming a double edge sword...

I don't know why I'm already thinking about this so much.  In all honesty, I still have PLENTY of time left here in England.  I'm still here for another 2 1/2 months, but when I look back and realize how fast the first 9 1/2 months have gone I discover that time really isn't on my side.  I feel like there is so much I still want to do and places I want to see.  Sometimes I wonder if I took full advantage of the situation.

But now I'm getting off topic.

I am really excited to go back to the good ol' USA, but I know that the second I get home is the very second I'm also going to want to jump back on that plane and return to the city of Salford.  The people I've met here will hold a special place in my heart.

Like I said, a double edge sword...

I'm not really sure where this blog post is going. I guess this is something that has been on my mind lately.  I know it's going to be difficult to leave and I know that when I get home things will be different from when I left.  I guess I'm just trying to prepare myself for the next part of this journey.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jeremiah 29:11 and Vocation

Just this last Sunday was vocation Sunday and I was asked to give a little testimony about my journey so far to find my vocation.  When I first thought about my "journey to vocation" my mind immediately went to Jeremiah 29:11.  For some reason that seems to be the verse I think of any time I'm talking about my future plans.  Which seems logical considering that's what the verse is all about.  Anyways, I just wanted to share with you my little testimony I gave at mass on Sunday.  I hope you all enjoy.

To me a person finds their true vocation when their talents and the things they are passionate about combine.  Each one of us has our own unique vocation or calling in life.  It’s not always easy to find our vocation.  Many times we might question it or doubt that this this is what we are meant to do.  I will be the first to admit that I have questioned and doubted many times throughout my journey.  Along with all the questions, I’ve gotten some answers that have helped me begin to piece together what my vocation is.  God has led me on a very interesting path in recent years that has helped me to discern my calling and it has also challenged me and made me want to explore what exactly my vocation is. 

            I feel as though God has called me to a vocation of service.  Ever since I was in high school I have been blessed with many opportunities to be of service to others.  During that time I was fortunate enough to go with my church youth group on three mission trips down to Mexico where we helped a community build a new church.  I remember coming back home after that first mission trip feeling absolutely overwhelmed.  I still have trouble expressing how unbelievable the experience was.  To work along side these people was truly a gift.  While it was only one week a year, the bonds and relationships I made will never be forgotten.  These experiences were the starting point of my journey that led me to this place I am today. 

            In college I continued to seek opportunities to volunteer and serve others.  At college, there was an emphasis on service and helping others, which gave me plenty of chances to live out my vocation.  I participated in two service trips and led one as well where I met some truly wonderful people and helped to fill a need in their community.  Every time I came back from one of these trips, I felt an even greater sense of calling to serve.
            During my third year at college I was able to spend a month in Tanzania.  The main point of the trip was to just immerse ourselves in the culture and learn as much as we could.  While we were there we also did some volunteer work.  We spent time at a local orphanage, helped build the roof on a church and put a fresh coat of paint on others.  It was in a lifetime experience and one I will never forget.  When I came back from this trip I began to think about going abroad and volunteering.  I’m not quite sure why I wanted to do this, but I knew this feeling had to do with God’s plan for me.  I started to look into teaching abroad as well, but nothing seemed to feel quite right.  Then one day at the beginning of my last year at college I was talking to my campus pastor about what was going to come next after college.  I told her that I had been looking into teaching abroad, but nothing was really coming of it.  Then she told me about this program called Young Adults in Global Mission.  The program takes about fifty young people and sends them out around the world to serve in local communities.  I was so excited about this idea that I immediately began to look into it.  After a rather long application process, I was accepted into the program.  In April of last year, I spent a weekend getting to know all the other YAGMs and learning more about what it means to serve.  It was a chance for all of us to discern whether or not this was what we were supposed to be doing.  By the end of the weekend I left with more questions than answers, but at the same time trust in God that he knew where I was headed. 

            About a month before I was supposed to come over here, that’s when reality set in.  The thing that God called me to do meant that I would be leaving behind everything and everyone I had known to start a new journey.  I didn’t think I was ready for this.  I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to do this.  I had major doubts if I could not see my family and friends for a year.  Could I actually leave life behind?  In the end though I just had to trust that God knew my life plan better than I did. 
It’s not always easy to follow your vocation.  To follow mine I had to leave behind my friends and family behind.  But through this experience I have gained new friends that will stay with me in my heart forever.  I feel I have grown both personally and I gained new skills that will help me to be a better teacher.   Right now, I’m not sure what comes after this year.  I don’t know if I’m meant to go back home and be a teacher or go somewhere completely different.  All I know is that I will continue to live out my vocation of service wherever I am.  I am full with questions about what comes next and to be honest I’m a little scared.  I just have to remind myself to trust that God knows where I’m headed and that I need to just listen and he will tell me where I need to go.  He might not give me a huge flashing sign that says go here, but if I listen closely enough I will be able to hear it.

            I encourage you all to just go out and find the things you are most passionate about and do them because that’s what vocation to me is all about.  Doing what you love and loving what you do.

After I wrote this I felt a sense of peace in my heart; a peace that I have not know for quite some time.  It was in that moment when I realized everything is going to be okay.  Even if all of the wrinkles for next year have not been ironed out, I know that things will happen for me.  I don't know what, I don't know where and I don't know when but the important thing is that God does and that's all I need to care about.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

As I'm writing this, I am sitting in my friend Ashely's kitchen in Edinburgh, Scotland. I look out the window and see not a cloudy sky (which is the case in Scotland most days) but the sun shining through and brightening the world below. Kind of appropriate considering today is Easter. I guess it just goes to show how wonderful God can truly be. As I was getting ready for the day, I found that I just kept staring out the window still in awe of the fact that the sun was shining. I wish I had words that could begin to describe how I am feeling. I feel beyond blessed that God did these things for me so that I could live forever with him. I'm trying really hard not to sound "preachy" but I'm not sure if I can help it right now. Yesterday Ashley took me to her church where they were having this Easter Labyrinth and I must say it was exactly the type of thing I needed. When she first said Labyrinth the first thing that came to my mind was Pan's Labyrinth. You know that creepy movie with all those mysterious creatures and I honestly don't have the slightest clue what that movie is even about. Anyways, I've gotten off topic enough. We entered the church and there was a path of rocks and tea lights showing us the way and subtle music playing in the background. The first thing we were asked to do was take off our shoes because the ground we were on was holy ground. Any opportunity for me to take off my shoes is most welcomed and I understood that it truly was holy ground we were treading on. As I wander through the labyrinth, I couldn't help but be overcome with this feeling of peace and joy and the sense of being loved. The whole experience was incredible, but I think the part that stands out the most, well the parts really was the recreation of the last supper and the garden of Gethsemane. There was a table set up on the alter where we were invited to sit and eat some bread, drink some wine and reflect on how Jesus might have felt at this point and just pray. You would think that me spending a year over here as a Young Adult in Global Mission that I would have sat and prayed a lot this year, but as I was sitting there I realized that this had not been the case. I don't know why, but I came to the conclusion while sitting there that I had begun to lose sight of God and my relationship with Him. I started to feel incredibly guilty and ashamed of myself a little bit. I didn't understand how it had happened and why I had let it, but I knew that I needed to regain my relationship with God. After I left the table and continued on, I came to the garden. The space literally looked like a garden. There were two grass paths leading up to these potted flowers. As I got closer I saw that there was a sign asking people to plant a flower and recommit their lives to Christ. The timing could not have been better. I stood there for a few minutes and wrestled with myself. I thought, who am I to deserve His love? What have I done with my life that would make me worthy of such a great love? The great thing is there is nothing I can ever do to warrant God's love. He loves me and each one of us as we are; there are no conditions to His love. This thought to me is both amazingly beautiful and incredibly terrifying. This time of Easter is a chance for us to remember, in a big way, the love that God has for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that all who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) And as I planted my flower, I told God that I'm sorry for turning away and that I need Him more than I will ever be able to express. I opened the door back to let Him back in to my life. I know it's not going to be easy to trust Him fully, but I know that I can't do it all on my own. I know this blog has just been a big ramble, but I feel like it needed to be said. Through out the labyrinth I had with me a red ribbon. We were told to carry the ribbon with us through out our experience. At the finish, there was a cross and we added our ribbons to the cross. Before we tied our ribbons, we could write a word or phrase that we thought about through out the journey. The words that came to my mind were unconditional love. I hope that during this Easter celebration we can all remember that God does indeed love us unconditionally. May you all have a blessed Easter.