A long and sappy post in which I gush over my people

Image may contain: foodMajor life milestones are a cause for celebration, reflection, and, at least for me, getting a little sappy. The past four years have been a wild ride – it’s been messy and beautiful and confusing and fun and anxiety-producing and life-giving and both really, really weird and really, really lovely. It wasn’t perfect, but I think it was everything it needed to be and more. Celebrations this weekend have been both beautiful and bittersweet.

More than anything I’m grateful. For all of the hard work and learning, certainly, but even more so for the people who have held me up, cheered me on, held space for my tears and questions and ranting, and helped me remember to be a whole person in the midst of all the wildness that is grad school.

So, humor me as I publicly and obnoxiously brag about some of my people for a second. These are (many of) the folks who carried me through seminary, and they are seriously the best.

Matthew, thank you for not letting me ghost you on Bumble way back when and for becoming the sweetest, goofiest, most loving adventure partner I could ever ask for, for not batting an eye at the weirdness of what it means to date someone in the church world, for being a loyal encourager and reminding me that I am strong and capable even when I don’t feel like it.

Jess, thanks for agreeing to be my roommate and for being my first Twin Cities exploring buddy (for discovering with me that Hamline Ave will actually not take us straight back to our apartment like we thought, for faithfully reporting back on your best coffee shop/brewery finds, and, most importantly, for discovering that glorious used book section at the Roseville Barnes and Noble),  for our rants and life chats on the denim couch (may it rest in peace), for having the courage and self-control to say “no” when someone literally turned up at our door with a box of free kittens, for being unapologetically and wonderfully you and helping me do the same in return.

Erica, my deepest gratitude for also putting up with me as a roommate, for knowing more than anyone what it means to fight to hold onto true and meaningful friendship because of how desperately we need each other in the midst of the hot mess that can be one’s twenties, for never saying no to Dairy Queen, for investing as much of your life as I have into watching Jane the Virgin, for letting me nerd out about theology and church and for teaching me almost everything I know about social work and hospice care and for making me a much more thoughtful person because of it, for your spunk and sass and fierce friendship and the fact that you seem to have enough faith in me to think that I could somehow ever run a marathon (heck, even a 5k) with you.

Caitlin, thank you for the countless adventures, brewery and coffee shop dates, and pizza and wine nights, even when they have to be over FaceTime. Thank you for your incredible hospitality (for even labeling all of your cupboards whenever I stayed at your house!), for sharing your pets with me and for letting me be your and David’s third wheel for most of our friendship, for complaining with me about Midwestern winters and wondering why we ever left sunny Colorado, for being “kind, caring, and considerate” (in that order!), for being truly and deeply loyal, for understanding that sometimes we introverts just need to sit in each other’s presence and not say anything at all, for making me laugh harder than anyone else with your dry humor and ability to just tell it like it is.

Elly, I am beyond grateful for the love and light you poured into me when I was a student at Concordia and for your faithful, thoughtful, compassionate friendship ever since. Thank you for asking pesky questions about life and vocation that only you can get away with, for instilling in me a curiosity about Israel/Palestine that encouraged me to go experience it for myself, for the phone calls and texts and all of the ways you’ve graciously accompanied me in the past seven years. I am honored to be your friend and colleague.

Adam, thank you for being the greatest mentor and supervisor, for your gracious nodding and listening every time I plopped myself down in your office and launched into a spiel about how complicated my life is (#firstworldproblems), for embodying a kind of leadership, innovation, and thoughtfulness that I hope to emulate.

Renee, thank you so very much for being the best internship supervisor I could ask for, for your leadership, hospitality, and encouragement. You and the Heart River crew have restored in me hope for the church, for our world, and for the future of Word & Service ministry. I was skeptical, but landing in Bismarck/Mandan for internship was truly the best thing that could have happened. 😊 And a huge shout-out to Sylvia for welcoming me so graciously into your home, for showing me the finest of Bismarck, for not making fun of me for how much of a mess I create in the kitchen every time I bake.

Kristen, Luther was never the same after you left! Thanks for all the life chats (both in person and over the phone), for reminding me again and again that I’m not crazy, for text conversations about Christology and soteriology and church leadership, for being way better at sending letters and cards than I will ever be, for always being available for ice cream runs – and for faithfully saving those DQ and Culver’s coupons.

Caroline, thank you for the study dates and introducing me to K-dramas, for chats about everything from vocation and global ministry and online dating, for making the best homemade ramen and always having such a fabulous tea selection and a place for me on your couch. Thanks for being in my circle of badass clergy women.

Jenna, I am so grateful for the “study dates” that turned into long life chats over coffee and ice cream, for the Harry Potter nerding and the Denver reminiscing. Thanks for humoring me as I probably talked your ear off about psychology even though you know way more about it than I do these days.

Molly, I would have been lost without our often bleak-sounding phone calls that actually always filled me with life and joy and gratitude. Thank you for your words of wisdom that I literally wrote on sitcky notes (i.e. “If I could tell past self one thing, it would be ‘Calm the f*** down. It’s going to be fine.’”) Thank you for patiently listening to my struggles as I stumbled around trying to figure out life, for helping me find the humor in every situation, for your blatant honesty in all things. 😊

Jenne, have I mentioned lately how glad I am that we became friends? Thanks for agreeing to meet me for that first friend date at a Minneapolis coffee shop, for always being available for walks and coffee ever since. For the conversations about church, social justice, dating prospects, vocation, and community. For helping me process the craziness of that volunteer year in Denver. For being such a quality human with a compassionate listening ear and truly wise insight.

Amy, I miss our long walks around the lake! Thanks for sharing your kayaks with me, for the authentic, soul-searching, life-giving conversations, for inspiring me with your genuineness and joy and sense of adventure.

Tammy, we didn’t hang out enough, but every time we did, I left feeling renewed and usually a whole lot calmer. Thanks for your wisdom, your humor, your thoughtful questions, your presence over these years. Truly.

Amanda, the other half of AB squared. ❤ Your phone calls from Wisconsin and Oklahoma, your thoughtful cards, your animated stories about your latest awkward encounters, your listening ear, your empowering Bitmojis, and your willingness to ask hard questions with me about life and faith have meant more to me than I can express. Thank you.

Maureen, my travel and research buddy, thanks a million for your “let’s just rant about grad school for a bit” phone calls and for sharing your spunk, your thirst for travel and adventure, your energy, and passion and joy for all that you do. Thank you for being my friend through all of the transitions of the past few years. And thank you for staying true to the rules about finishing your drink if you’re ever in a bar “Wake Me Up” by Avicii comes on.

Macy, so, we were maybe better at saying things like “We need to get together!” than actually getting together, but the times we did sustained me in only the way times with your soul sisters can. Thanks for being your beautiful, faithful, compassionate self.  And also for introducing me to Ruby. 😉

Nicole, thank you for your joy, humor, and friendship. For always being willing to jump right in where we left off whenever we both fell off the face of the earth for a bit, for inspiring me with your adventurous spirit and obvious dedication to living life to the fullest.

Tyler and Andrea, I’m glad I so deeply inspired you to follow in my footsteps. 😉 Just kidding. Thanks for the laughs, the heart-to-hearts, the phone calls, for checking in on Chaco, and for traveling all the way down to visit me that one weekend when I was kind of a wreck and needed to be in the company of old friends.

To my crew of incredible deacons and soon-to-be deacons, both those I have met in person and those who just patiently took my curious phone calls, for long walks and coffee dates, for your solidarity in the classroom #deaconpower, for encouraging me both in person and from afar, for dreaming with me about the future of our church and all of its potential.  Lydia, Brian, Abby, Mackee, Shera (maybe one day we’ll actually meet in person?!), so many others, thank you.

It’s amazing how your oldest friends can manage to carry you through new phases of life. Thank you to the friends who live far away from me now, but whose very presence grounds me, centers me, gives me so much joy. Allison, Ariel, Jennifer, Jill, looking at you.

To my beautiful, dysfunctional, utterly delightful camp community. You all taught me what it means to be a thoughtful and faithful leader, what it means to stop taking myself so seriously, what it means to love deeply and fully and joyfully, even when it is hard. You taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, to allow myself to cry even when I don’t know why I’m crying, and to be my full, authentic, messy, created-in-the-image of the Creator self.  Thank you. ❤

To my campus ministry community. You challenged me, shaped me, encouraged me, loved me, and (not-so-gently) nudged me to consider seminary in the first place. I may have resisted it at the time, but I’m grateful.

To the Bethany Lutheran crew, thank you for your nurturing presence, your continued accompaniment, and your affirmation of the leadership potential you saw in my ever curious, occasionally awkward, sometimes over-eager middle school-and-beyond self.

To the incredible Luther Seminary faculty and staff and to my classmates and colleagues. I am so grateful to have gotten to listen, to learn, to read, to wonder, to question, to write, and to wrestle with this big and spacious and mysterious and beautiful faith with you as my guides and companions. Thank you.

To my incredible family for literally everything. Thank you will never be enough. ❤

 

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A Nurturing Day Sermon: Rachel Held Evans, Tabitha, and that Great Cloud of Witnesses

12004692_10152983122672191_6993991532165851134_nMay 12, 2019
Text: Acts 8:36-43, John 10:22-30

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the one who knows us, who loves us, and who nurtures us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This morning, I’d like to share the stories of two women. Two nurturers, mentors, courageous boundary pushers, two disciples who’s witness shared the persistent love of God with people who felt like they just didn’t fit in. Two followers of Jesus, whose lives were changed by the unstoppable love they experienced in God’s spirit, who overflowed with grace and compassion for those who the rest of the world had forgotten or pushed aside. Two women who heard Jesus’ voice call out to them loudly and clearly, who knew who their shepherd was, who knew their call was to care and shepherd others in return.

The first story feels incredibly personal and is also entirely public. Writer and theologian Rachel Held Evans died unexpectedly this week at the young age of 37. I did not know Rachel personally, but I did get to meet her once at a conference. After I anxiously awaited in a long line of conference goers, she signed my well-worn copy of her book Searching for Sunday. When I finally got up to the table where she was sitting and introduced myself, she said to me “Alexandra. That’s such a lovely name” as she scribbled a note inside the book’s front over. Fan girl that I am, I almost melted into a puddle right there. Another time, back when I was really into blogging, she actually read one of my posts and tweeted at me, encouraging me to keep writing, assuring me that my voice in this world was valuable. In that moment I was almost certain that my life was complete because I had officially made it.

Even though I did not know her personally, I have found myself taking the news of her death pretty hard because Rachel Held Evans’ writing and very presence influenced me deeply. I discovered her blog in college in a time when I was really confused about God, faith, and my place in the world. Her words, through the miracles of the Internet reached from her home in Tennessee to my dorm room in Minnesota, and reminded me that it was okay to ask hard questions, to sit in mystery, and to rest in God’s love even when things just didn’t quite make sense. Her words continued to surround, challenge, and encourage me in seminary, as I struggled with call and wondered if there was really a place for me as a leader in the church. In her, I saw someone I wanted to be, maybe even could be: a young woman who loved to write, who loved her church and her God and wasn’t afraid to ask hard questions about both. Her writing was spacious and loving but also courageously pushed the bounds on who was in and who was out, challenging any notion that some are more worthy than others in the Kingdom of God. She was a bold advocate for the LGBTQ community, for people of color, for women whose traditions had taught them that they weren’t qualified to teach or preach or write. Her life and work show me the power of writing and finding your voice and of using it to build others up in a world that is often cruel and self-centered. She fostered a community of tens of thousands of readers who were asking questions about faith, wondering if there was a place for them in this messy family we call the church. She wanted everyone to know that there was space for them at God’s table.

Death can be confusing, and it can be really weird to grieve someone you didn’t really even know in person. But social media this week has made it clear that I’m not alone in feeling a great sense of loss in the wake of her unexpected death. The hashtag #becauseofRHE filled Twitter with testimony after testimony of people who, because of Rachel’s work, embraced their calling to write and to preach. Tweets shared the stories of a community of misfits and outcasts and people who didn’t feel like they belong in church who found the courage to claim their space in the midst of God’s beloved people. Facebook posts shared quote after quote of Rachel’s life’s work, her artistry and acts of discipleship that impacted so many of us. Rachel nurtured me and many others. I am forever grateful for her. And now, I am being held in the love of others, strangers on the Internet, who know that the only way to get through the loss of a leader, friend, mentor, and sister in Christ is to hold each other, love each other, cry together, and encourage each other. I’m experiencing firsthand the power of the “great cloud of witnesses.”

Story #2. Roughly two thousand years ago in the city of Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha. Tabitha must have also been a remarkable woman, because not only is she the only woman explicitly given the title of “disciple” in the entire New Testament but we are given personal details about her that are often left out of other stories of miracles in the book of Acts. We are told that Tabitha was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Tabitha was a leader of a community of widows, a community of women who knew the sting of death and the pain of loss, who were essentially powerless in their society, who had been cast aside, labeled worthless, insignificant, a burden. But Tabitha saw these women. She cared for them. Nurtured them. Tabitha, a woman who scholars think likely had relative wealth and privilege, used her platform to create space for others. We don’t know exactly what her “good works and acts of charity” entailed, but I like to imagine that they pushed the bounds on who was in and who was out. I bet she made sure hungry people were fed and people whose clothes were wearing thin had new ones to wear. I bet she had a way of looking at people that let them know that they were actually seen – as a whole person with feelings and strengths and struggles and unique insight. I bet she had the kind of presence about her that helped you relax, that made you feel welcome, that helped you know that there was always space at the table for you.

And then, she died. In the wake of her death, her community gathered. I’m sure they felt a sudden hole in their hearts, in the community, in their very beings. So, they did what many of us do when we are grieving the loss of someone we love. They came together, shared stories with each other, cried together, held each other. They gathered around the things she left behind, celebrating her life’s work, herartistry. Tabitha was a maker of clothing, a rare gift in the ancient world. I can just picture the people who loved her gently picking up the tunics she had made, holding them close to their bodies, marveling at the way she shared her gifts with joy and generosity, reflecting on how her dedication to kindness and love and service had impacted them too. Death reminds us how deeply interwoven our lives are. It reminds us how much we need each other, how incomplete we feel without each other. And in death, we find that those of us who are left behind are given to each other anew.

Tabitha’s story is one of a life well lived, one dedicated to love and service, of giving generously, of serving God by sharing one’s gifts with the world. Her story is the story of a whole community, of lives touched by her compassion and care. It is one of grief, of sadness, of death. But her story doesn’t end there. And after a crazy twist of events in which Peter raises her from the dead, her story becomes God’s story of new life that is persistent and miraculous and that busts into our lives here and now even in the most impossible circumstances.

Two stories. Two women. Two disciples. Two nurturers. Two beloved children of God, claimed and called by Jesus, their shepherd. Two women who responded to this call by caring for others with everything they had.

Today we celebrate Nurturing Day. We recognize people who nurture us, who love us, believe in us, show us our own potential even when we can’t see it for ourselves. Our nurturers sometimes come from all sorts of places. They might be family, friends, teachers, authors like Rachel, disciples like Tabitha, regular ordinary people we meet in church or at work or in school. When we find these people, it is a reason to celebrate – they are a gift.

And sometimes we lose those who have nurtured us and loved us. And that is hard. And it is scary. And it’s confusing. And yet, we believe in the power of resurrection, of a hope that lasts beyond what we can see, of life that is made new even beyond the grave. We trust that in Christ, all will be made new. But in the meantime, we have each other to hold on to. We have each other to nurture, to encourage. Not to replace those who have once held this role in our lives, but to continue to live out their witness of love and grace and mercy. And when we forget, we remind each other that God’s love, in all its mystery and persistence and glory, will not be stopped by even death itself.

Because there is yet another story of another nurturer, one that gives meaning to the other two. It’s the story of a first century Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus who hung out with the outcasts and the misfits and the widows. Who saw people for who they really were: beloved children of God. Who showed us all how to live, how to love, how to courageously serve our neighbors and trust in the promises of God. Who showed us that this call to love and care for each other doesn’t stop at death, but continues for all of eternity. Who promises us that there is room for you and for me and for all of creation. Who knows us and loves us and calls us by name, and sends us out to love wildly, abundantly, spaciously, and boldly because that is how he first loved us.

So, people of God, in some of my favorite words left behind by Rachel Held Evans, “You have the sacraments. You have the call. You have the Holy Spirit. You have one another. You have a God who knows the way out of the grave. You have everything you need. You just need to show up and be faithful.” (ELCA Rostered Leaders Gathering 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Curiosity

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“Explosion of Paint” by Mark Chadwick. CC via Flickr.

I know next to nothing about art history (or visual art in general), but I love art museums. Maybe it’s because it is a social-ish activity that requires little to no talking (an introvert’s dream) but after spending a few hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Art this weekend, I’m left wondering just what it is that captivates me so profoundly.

I think for one thing, art helps me notice details I generally overlook. A series of landscapes caught my attention this weekend. I was drawn especially to the clouds in several of them: the play of light and darkness, the gentle shadows that set the tone for the entire rest of the painting. Are they heavy and ominous, signaling an impending storm? Fluffy and light, floating above a carefree summer afternoon? I considered the brush strokes that brought the rest of the image into life: the perfect angles and shadows and spots of bright color that turned a canvas into a window looking over the foamy ocean or a distant mountain range or a magically green, sun-spotted forest. Studying these paintings helps me look at the world around me through a different lens, one focused on the brilliant diversity of colors, shapes, lines, and textures that define our existence, even when we are completely unaware of them.

Perhaps another part of my fascination is that art transports us across time and space, offering glimpses of different landscapes, ways of life, and history from a variety of perspectives. Paintings that are hundreds of years old, ancient pottery, and religious relics remind me of my smallness in the great sweeping narrative of humanity. People have been seeking meaning and transcendence for thousands of years. Love, loss, joy, anxiety, and hurt are nothing new. Art serves evidence that we dwell in the great mystery of what it is to be alive together, with those who have gone before us, those who create among us now, and those who have yet to add their art to the world.

I am also often struck by the lack of resolve and definitiveness in many pieces. The wonderful and frustrating thing about art is that it doesn’t tell me (at least with words) how to feel or how to interpret it. I’m forced to let go of my default dualistic framework of right/wrong, correct/incorrect, perfect/imperfect and instead sit with the possibility of multiple interpretations. Art also invites me to experience emotion that completely surpasses my logical, word loving, theory constructing brain and instead begins in a different, perhaps deeper, place. It hints at a different way of being, a way that is much more like poetry and less like a textbook and a way of living that is more open and spacious, leaving room for mystery and wonder. It helps me see life from a different angle without jumping to defensiveness. And it causes me to consider a world that lets me be okay with not having it all figured out – and gives me permission to be present and curious in the midst of the unknowing.

I wonder if some of artists’ greatest gifts to the world are the ways in which they invite us to live counterculturally. Art has the power to inspire reverence, attentiveness to detail, and a slower way of moving through the world. When you enter an art museum or gallery, the goal isn’t to “do” or accomplish anything but to simply take in, to ponder, to slow down, to notice, to wonder.

In a culture of short attention spans, workaholism, overstimulation, and constant information consumption via digital media, to simply stand and notice the details of a painted canvas seems irrational, wasteful, or even boring. But I wonder how much our world would change if we approached all of creation first and foremost with a posture of curiosity and reverence, with the underlying assumption that whatever and whoever we see possesses inherent worth and a perspective worth pondering. Might art invite us into a communal practice of holy curiosity?

“Live the questions now.”

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“Nature” by ChrisA1995.

I recently came across Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, a 19th and 20th century Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. Rilke’s work is introspective, existential, and mystical, revealing a deep reverence for nature, the self, and the great mystery of the divine. His language is masterful, and yet he openly acknowledges the limits of words to capture the complexity and and simply unknowable dimensions of lived experience. The collection of ten letters that make up Letters to a Young Poet are written to a young man about to enter the German military and are filled with gorgeous prose about the art of writing as well as the art of living. The following passage from Rilke’s fourth letter has especially captivated me this week. What speaks to you?

“I am touched by your beautiful anxiety about life, even more than when I was in Paris, where everything echoes and fades away differently because of the excessive noise that makes Things tremble. Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

Tokens of Tangible Grace: Sweatshirt Blankets, Ceramic Bowls, and Coffee Stains

IMG_5713 (1)The warm sun, the fresh air, the singing birds, and the hints of budding trees have pretty much transformed my entire outlook on life within the course of 48 hours. Spring is here, and the world suddenly feels lighter in a million different ways.

The contrast from merely a week ago is incredible. In the midst of what seemed like the world’s longest winter, I found myself digging deep for a glimpse of the joy that suddenly seems so much more accessible under the springtime sun. Throughout winter’s long, cold nights and often gloomy days, I was desperately seeking evidence that there was still reason for delight. When I got stuck in my own head in my world of reading and writing and research, I needed a reminder that my life had purpose beyond myself. I needed tangible evidence of a life of adventure and passion and laughter when the girl who readily embraced those things somehow seemed so far out of reach.

Thankfully, I found those reminders in abundance. They bubbled up in relationships, in conversations, in worship, in unexpected adventures. But sometimes these moments of grace also found me in the most ordinary of objects: items made of paper and wood and polyester, decorated with Sharpies and screen print and handwritten letters. Objects that somehow transcend their physicality, crossing boundaries of time and space with their memories and warm reminders of people and communities whose lives have intersected with my own, bringing the purpose and joy that felt so elusive as blizzard after blizzard raged outside my window.

I felt showered in love in the home I’ve shared with two of my very best friends: the once floral/now gray couch where visitors have crashed, that has held us in lazy afternoon naps, and that has offered its magical comforting powers in our tears and its cozy hospitality in movie nights. The dishes on which we have shared meals. The table around which we’ve gathered in conversation and laughter and comfortable silence. The carpet that now sports its share of coffee, wine, and mud stains, evidence of coming and going, of activity and rest.

Peace wraps me in the quilts pieced together by kind church ladies, a reminder of the blessing that continues to offer warmth and protection wherever I go. In the intricately stitched quilt carefully designed by my grandma with themed fabric picked out just for me. In the slightly faded sweatshirt blankets from the Bible camp I love so dearly, memories of songs and skits and silliness and tears and messy, messy love woven in to the cotton polyester blend, the imagined smell of campfire and musty cabins still wrapping me in nostalgia and comfort.

Family surrounds me in the photos hanging on my bedroom walls: My childhood best friends and me on the first day of Kindergarten, gripping each others’ hands in the parking lot and sporting poofy bangs, Disney princess t-shirts, and our shiny Lisa Frank plastic backpacks. The Benson family portrait of my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents all lined up near old John Deere tractors on my family’s farm. My siblings and me on a northern Minnesota dock, proudly showing off a heavy stringer of fish.

Gratitude overwhelms me as I survey the gold beanie from college freshman orientation and the diploma propped up right beside it, bookends of a four-year journey of glorious learning and too much coffee and long afternoons analyzing psychology research and late nights in the campus ministry office and Thursday evenings spent singing camp songs and then shortly after trekking off to the local dive bar.

Humility confronts me in the clumsy blue nesting bowls I made in my introductory ceramics course I picked up “just for fun” my senior year of college. Hidden under the polished glaze are the memories of the early morning trips my roommate and I would make to the ceramics studio: the ring in which my perfectionism, my sense of humor, and my simple desire to create had it out at the potters wheel.

The joy of learning bursts from my bookshelf, stacks of books containing the wisdom of teachers and mentors who continue to guide and inspire: the theologians, the psychologists, the poets, the social critics, the storytellers who take me to another world, only to reveal profound truths about this one. The writers who have given me courage to write. The authors who make me uncomfortable. The well-worn pages that have carried me in faith or pointed me to purpose beyond myself when I feel stuck, lost, or alone, each one a marker on the journey of learning and dismantling and reconstructing and sometimes blindly falling back into a faith story I pray is big enough to hold my questions and doubts and voices that seem so wise but irreconcilable.

Adventure stirs in the tokens of travels: The colorful pottery from Jerusalem, the olive wood nativity scene from Bethlehem. The mini Eiffel Tower purchased from a street vendor in Paris, the scarves from Florence, the wooden necklace from a market in Banos, Ecuador. The seashells from a beach in California, the Mardis Gras beads from New Orleans, the painting of Denver’s golden aspen trees.

Connection finds me in the birthday cards still lined up on my desk. In the yoga mat rolled up in the corner, that when unfolded becomes a sanctuary of sorts for discovering my own strength and for learning to trust myself. In the crisp Palm Sunday palm branch still propped up on my dresser, a reminder that I am part of a profound story that spans across space and time and calls me out of myself and into the world.

At the end of the day, this stuff is exactly that, just stuff. Sometimes it clutters. Sometimes it distracts. But this stuff also offers the tangible evidence of relationships and learning and self-discovery. They are objects that have become symbols of where I’ve been and glimpses of hope for where I have yet to go, simple reminders of the joy that it is just to be alive. 

Baking Show Binges & Dessert Factory Wisdom

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Gingerbread by Mark Manguerra

I was down for the count with a sinus infection last week (my roommate can attest to the fact that it was a pretty pathetic sight), and I passed a whole lot of time curled up on the couch watching my new obsession: Zumbo’s Just Desserts. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a Netflix Original series featuring Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo. Twelve Australian contestants don their aprons and gather in a Willy Wonka style “dessert factory” to face off in a series of baking, piping, glazing, garnishing, and gravity-defying dessert designing challenges. One by one the judges taste and critique the contestants’ sweet creations, and in each episode the two lowest scorers go head to head in a “Zumbo Challenge”: baking one of Chef Zumbo’s seemingly impossible recipes. I don’t know if it was the impeccable background music, the fabulous dessert factory decorations, the ridiculous tasks, the mix of personalities in the kitchen, or watching aspiring chef’s dreams come true or come crashing down in front of my eyes, but after one episode, I was totally sucked in.

I quickly gave up on the idea of ever being able to replicate the desserts the contestants concocted, but it turns out there’s a whole lot one can learn from a baking show binge. So, below are ten nuggets of culinary-turned-life-wisdom from Zumbo’s Just Desserts! (Who said Netflix watching wasn’t a worthwhile pastime? 😉)

  1. Details are important, but you also need to prioritize. Sometimes you just have to call it “good enough” and move on to other elements.
  2. A little trash talk is okay.
  3. Believe in yourself. If you don’t have confidence in your own creative abilities, no one else will.
  4. Balancing your flavors is key. Not all flavors pair well together and some simply overpower the others. Knowing what compliments and what overwhelms is crucial.
  5. Style is great if you can pull it off. But sometimes it’s okay to just get something on the plate.
  6. Take risks…responsibly.
  7. Everyone has a bad day in the kitchen once in the while. The good news is a single failure doesn’t have to define you forever.
  8. Don’t let your fear paralyze you. Perfectionism, lack of experience, seemingly impossible recipes, cakes that literally defy gravity… Take a deep breath, keep pressing on, and enjoy the adventure with a healthy dose of humor.
  9. Sometimes you have to improvise. The mousse doesn’t set. The chocolate mold cracks. Your cheesecake is overbaked. Whatever the setback, trust that all is not necessarily lost! After all, creative last-minute solutions might lead to tasty new discoveries.
  10. Have fun. Seriously. Otherwise just get out of the kitchen.

Story Water (Rumi)

Hey friends,

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Today I want to share another poem that I have been carrying with me the past couple of weeks, this time by Rumi, the great 13th century Persian mystic and Muslim scholar. His words have been calling me into the elusive in-between space of hiddeness and revelation, of mystery and knowing. Today, I’m wonder what it would mean to bathe in each others’ stories, especially in this cultural moment of fear, polarization, and snap judgments. Where do we encounter mystery, beauty, and fullness of each other? Where might we catch a glimpse of, taste, or touch the Divine in our fast-paced, technological world? How might story water clean and quench us even now?

Story Water
By: Rumi

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.