A Culture of Caring

Growing up in the United States, my earliest encounter with another culture was the common rite of passage – the sleepover. Staying the night at the home of a friend opened my eyes to a whole new world. The meals and table etiquette were different. Bedtime routines were nothing like mine. Even the contents of a home provide a glimpse into the priorities of the occupants. These early intercultural experiences caused me to think about the world and the people in it a little differently.

Cultural differences exist all around us in our communities, friends, families, and occupations.  One particular community you may hear about from time to time on our blog is our church, Community of Christ. This small community of peace makers have deeply impacted our lives for the better through the relationships we’ve built. A few quick disclaimers for any of our blog clientele: Andrew and I are not the proselytizing kind. If you are not religious, or spiritual, or whatever, we are not offended or concerned about saving your soul. We actively choose to engage in a community that values the worth of all persons, unity in diversity, and the blessings of community and we are followers of the principles that Jesus stands for. But that is our story. That is where we have found healing, hope, and connection. This space is not to convince you that church is the best way or the only way to find meaning in life. Quite the contrary, as our blog itself is suggesting that you find and create meaning wherever you are in life.

Being a part of a church or not is another cultural aspect of our lives that helps make us who we are.

Culture and church are the focus of the post because of a wonderful opportunity Andrew and I had this past weekend thanks to our connections with Community of Christ. Our denomination has congregations all over the world, including our close international neighbor, Canada. Last weekend Andrew and I had the honor of being guest ministers at a retreat with the Meadowridge congregation in Pitt Meadows, B.C. It was also my first time to Canada, so I was excited to interact and experience a culture that is so similar, yet different from our own.

Canada culture

While we packed a lot of “Canadian” things into our short weekend – poutine, Tim Hortons, 5 pin bowling – observing the compassionate ethos of the congregation was our favorite cultural experience. The members of Meadowridge focused first and foremost on caring for each other. It’s one of those things that churches often talk about, that people often talk about, but rarely actually do. We want to be there for others, but when push comes to shove, we’re too busy, it’s out of the way, it inconveniences us to help out. This wasn’t the case at Meadowridge, though. Whenever a need arose in the life of a friend, the others were there. It didn’t matter how big or small the need was. From addictions to divorce, from children needing a home to broken and wounded hearts, needs were met and the details were figured out later.  People were welcomed into the fold, comforted, taken care of.

We were brought up to be ministers to this small community, but, as often happens, we were the ones that left inspired by the opportunity to witness a true culture of caring in action.

May I take this lesson forward in my life as I encounter needs that seem too big. When we work together with the well-being of each other in our hearts, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.



From May Day to May We

May Day was a fun, random holiday growing up.  Mamma would put together little baskets full of candies for us, and place them on our doorstep.  I remember being a bit baffled by the concept, but enjoying the candy and fun opportunity to celebrate. After researching more about this holiday as an adult, I was astounded to learn of the various meanings that have been associated with May Day in different countries throughout the ages.  From relgious/spiritual celebrations like Walpurgis Night in Germany & pagan fertility festivals, to the more political significance represented by International Workers Day & Occupy Wall Street, May 1st has taken on many meanings to many people.

Emily and I would like to humbly submit another tradition to this widely celebrated day.  We would like to take the beginning of May to reflect on our lives over the past year, and set our intentions for the following year.  Just as May Day has been a celebration of spring and new life growing, we want to plant the seeds of our intentions with the hope that they grow over the next year.  With that in mind, here are our intentions:

May we strive to be present in the midst of transitions.

May we set healthy expectations for ourselves.

May we not get bored of rice and beans for every single meal.

May our hearts remain open and our minds curious, even in the midst of confusion and struggle.

May we be receptive to new knowledge and understandings of how life can be lived.

Check back in 365 days to see how we feel we did!

Peace Corps Blogging Community

Update: As this post is from before we even started our service, it is now a bit out of date. If you’re looking for awesome Peace Corps and other cultural blogs, check out this more recent post.

I consider myself a decently computer savvy young adult.  I use multiple email accounts, track all events with our friend group through social media, and have run a classroom website for a couple years now as a teacher.  Even still, the shear size of the blogosphere is both intimidating and impressive.  As Andrew and I have begun the daunting task of preparing for our Peace Corps Service (more to come on this later) we’ve turned to this crazy collection of blogs and connections for advice and to being to wrap our minds around this huge life change that’s right around the corner.  In our searching, we’ve found a number of Peace Corps blogs that give us a glimpse into what service may look like for us:

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¡Salve a ti, Nicaragua! author Anna Louise spent two years in Nicaragua as a health volunteer and is currently there on an extended third year.  I love all the pictures in her posts!

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OK. I know this one says Jamaica.  BUT this couple have put together a fabulous blog!  They’re one of the blogs we’ve looked at in trying to get ours up and running.  AND they give a couple’s perspective, which we have already found helpful.  Their endeavor to embrace living life intentionally is beautiful as well as inspirational.

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Another health volunteer, Lauren is a recently RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).  I love how her passions seep into her posts.

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Ellen is a TEFL trainer in the Nicaraguan department of Boaco.  Her start date was in August 2013, so we may cross paths in the near future!

With so much to do and prepare for, I’m thankful for the countless volunteers who have already shared their stories, experiences, and energy in their communities in country and the global blogging community.  Those voices are already inspiring us as we take the first steps of our journey towards Nicaragua.

Jumping Together

big jump
Andrew – Pacific City, OR

I’ve always loved jumping pictures.

When I think back on good times with people I love, it amazes me how many jumping pictures I’ve taken. I think they show how much joy and excitement I truly get out of life. A good jumping picture, though, has to have some thought put into it. You have to make sure everyone is on the same page. Are we jumping on three or after three? Holding hands or striking a pose? Is the camera lady/gent ready? One…two…three…GO!

The past 5 years have been a series of jumping-picture-worth-events in my life.  I graduated university with my undergrad in Education.  I found and married an amazing, thoughtful, ridiculous partner.  After realizing I wanted to spend my life with said partner, I moved across the country away from my family and friends.  I completed my student teaching, taught for a session at an outdoor science school, and fell in love with a tiny charter school in rural Oregon.  I’ve  taught, laughed, grown, cried, struggled, and come so far.

Andrew has had his fair share of jumps, too.  While he moved home, he moved home with a fiancé and now spouse.  He’s shifted through changing friend dynamics, bringing a new person into his family, and entering the job world after college.  In a lot of ways, we have lived the emerging adulthood of the 20-somethings, even living our first year in Portland with Andrew’s parents as we yet couldn’t afford rent.

Transition.  Struggles.  Jumping.  Yes, jumps can be scary, but they can also be beautiful and freeing.


Andrew and friends – Columbia River gorge
Emily – moving to Oregon.
Nilsen Wedding Party
Mrs. Nilsen’s students – Outdoor School 2014

Like many other 20-somethings, we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with our lives.  While we’re no where close to figuring out all of those details, we recognized a few foundational truths: we love people and want to work on creating greater community and love in the world, we want to do some traveling before we settle down (house, family, etc.), and we want to embrace the adventures that life has to offer.  With all of these in mind, we applied to the Peace Corps last May.

After the long application, shifting and re-shifting our expectations, and the long hurry-up-and-wait-game (we’ll probably do a post on this whole process), we finally received our invitation!  We’ve been invited to serve in Nicargua as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher Trainers with a leave date in August.  So we’re jumping again.  It’s what we do in life, right? We’d only been dating a month and we knew. We jumped. Who knows where this adventure will take us and what hardships await, but that is what life is all about.

“Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there’s got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you’re at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together.” – Yo-Yo-Ma

Let’s do this.  Together.

jumping together
Andrew & Emily – Pacific City, OR

May We Suggest

Like many newly married couples in the 21st century we have an array of media from our wedding online. We have the professional photographers’ photos, digital albums from family and friends, and shakily shot smart phone videos.  In fact, we felt like celebrities on Facebook for a bit!  As would be expected, after a couple of weeks our Facebook notification barrage & social media fame tapered off.  Other than one video.

This particular video has over 6000 views on YouTube to date – and for people who don’t run their own channel and only dabble casually in the social media world, that’s a lot of views! The video is of our wedding party surprising Andrew with singing “May I Suggest” by Susan Werner. Emily arranged all of this in secret, and it was a powerful, beautiful moment.  Even strangers have connected to something deeply profound when they have watched it.  There’s something about this group of people gathered to support a bride and groom, singing to them about what life has to offer, that resonates with the hope we long to see in the world.

The lyrics begin:

May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life…

At a first glance, one might assume this statement is meant to describe our wedding.  That is only partly true.  If the wedding really was the “best part” of our lives, then what’s the point of getting married in the first place?  If the best part of our lives is over, what else do we have to live for? The song doesn’t stop there.

Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life…

You see, this song is an invitation to embrace all of life, the big and the little moments that only you see.  All of these have meaning.  By living presently we open ourselves to connect with what this unique piece of life has to offer.  We open ourselves to see the thousands of blessings that were just beyond our sight.

But sometimes life is hard.  There are ugly, tragic, devastating parts of life, too. To truly embrace all of life we have to be willing to live the good and the bad.  As a wise woman once said, we are meant to experience the full range of human emotions.

The words later continue:

This is a song
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run.
And when they’re gone,
When the dark descends
We’d give anything for one more hour of light.

Even in the dark and the doubt of our journeys, even in the last moments of life, we are invited to view it as a special moment, as the best moment.  Life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but when we choose to show up in our own lives, we find meaning.  We make meaning.

We know that life is short and precious. We aspire for this blog to help us document those precious moments, to call us to pay attention in our lives to times of blessing, and to create a space for us to reflect and process our experiences. We hope that sharing here will inspire & challenge you to pause and acknowledge the beauty in your presence. And we hope that you will feel led to share your life experiences with us, too.

May we suggest that life is beautiful. May we suggest that life is hard. May we suggest that life is worth living, that there is more to embrace, that love and light are actually all around.  May we suggest that this moment, whoever and wherever you are in life, is the best part of your life.

– Andrew & Emily

may I suggest
may I suggest to you
may I suggest this is the best part of your life
may I suggest this time is blessed for you
this time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
just turn your head and you’ll begin to see
the thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
the reasons why
why I suggest to you
why I suggest this is the best part of your life

there is a world that’s been addressed to you
addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
a secret world a treasure chest to you
of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
a tender lover’s smile
a tiny baby’s hands
the million stars that fill the turning sky at night
oh I suggest
yes I suggest to you
yes I suggest this is the best part of your life

there is a hope that’s been expressed in you
the hope of seven generations, maybe more
this is the fate that they invest in you
it’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
inside you know
inside you understand
inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
and i suggest
and i suggest to you
and i suggest this is the best part of your life

this is a song comes from the west to you
comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
this is a song with a request of you
to see how very short the endless days will run
and when they’re gone
and when the dark descends
we’d give anything for one more hour of light
may i suggest this is best part of your life

– Susan Werner

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