The day after returning from an exhilaratingly exhausting week at Access Camp in Managua, I asked myself if setting out on an 11 hour, 50 kilometer trek from Estelí to El Sauce, Leon with the brothers of Emily’s counterpart was a good idea. Emily was exercising wisdom, and made the tough decision to stay at home and recuperate. She piled into the family’s pickup truck on Sunday morning to meet the walking crew in El Sauce for the first day of the town’s patron saint festival. I, however, with all the unbridled curiosity of a Nilsen, and perceived pseudo-invincibility of a 20-something, couldn’t say no to this integration opportunity. Sore feet and sleep deprivation be damned! Continue reading 30 Miles to Integration
The month of December here in Nicaragua sure has been an adventure! In addition to our TEFL Peace Corps trainings, the National Nica TESOL Conference, and visiting fellow PCVs in the Estelí/surrounding area, we’ve been celebrating away with the rest of our community. It’s been a great month to get a general feel of Estelíanos.
It is difficult to not compare our Christmas celebrations back home with the various celebrations here. In reality, Christmas means many different things to those in the states as well. Every family has their own traditions, their own ways of doing things. Therefore we tried two things to help our season be merry and bright: We tried to creatively create our own traditions, and we tried to just throw ourselves into as many community festivities during the month that we could!
We may not be able to attend our normal services and celebrate Christmas and the Advent season with our friends and family from home, but we still feel connected to our community through the wonders of a world church. A few months ago we got to attend two services at the San Marcos Community of Christ. It’s so wonderful to have church family down here in Nica. Just having it a few departments away helps us feel a bit closer to our roots and closer to home.
Aunque nosotros no podemos asistir nuestros cultos normales de navidad y adviento con nuestros amigos y familias en los estados, sentimos un parte de la comunidad de Cristo mundial. Hace un pocos meses asistimos dos cultos de la comunidad de Cristo en San Marcos, Nicaragua. Es incredible tener familia en cristo aqui en Nicaragua.
If you read Emily’s last post, Redefining Productivity, Emily and I had the privilege to be camp counselors at Spectacular, a sports/arts/church camp for high school kids at Graceland University (our alma mater). This camp is special to us for many reasons (one being it was where we first met in 2005 as campers), so we were grateful this was one of the stops on our road trip. In so many ways it was perfect for our journey towards Peace Corps. The theme for one of the days was “Beyond Tradition.” In our theme class we discussed different traditions in our lives, and were challenged to go beyond the surface to find the underlying meaning and reason for the tradition. Traditions and rituals are incredibly powerful and pervasive, and we were challenged to seek out meaningful traditions in our lives.
Tradition is something that I am keenly aware of at Spec. That setting epitomizes many of the most central traditions in my life. I am fourth generation Graceland University graduate, in large part due to Graceland’s connection with our church, Community of Christ, of which I am a seventh-generation member. Spec is also a church summer camp, another time-honored tradition my family. This July, in the heat of Lamoni, IA, I could feel that my life has been imbued with life-giving tradition.
Since camp Emily and I have been spending the last couple of weeks in the U.S. with her family. Coming home to southern Illinois is a wonderful reminder of the joy of sharing in the traditions of others. Over the last five years of our relationship, Emily has shared many of her own family traditions with me: Jeep rides to the river, swimming in the pond, music, playing basketball with her brothers, cookouts on the deck, Nutcracker collections for Christmas, eating whatever you want for breakfast on the morning of your birthday, corn casserole, summer sweet corn, corn nuggets, and pretty much anything corn (it’s the Midwest, after all). Our sharing of traditions has enriched both our lives and our relationship, and we look forward to crafting shared traditions in our family.
It is with this richness of tradition that has formed us that we venture into Nicaragua. Tradition, like culture, is sometimes invisible to us until we step outside of our social context. What seems normal and habitual to us may seem strange and foreign to another. I look forward to experiencing the traditions of people from another nation, and having a stronger sense of appreciation for the traditions that have shaped who I am. At first blush some of the traditions we encounter may be difficult to understand, and even offensive. However, we will work to go beyond ethnocentrism, and engage these traditions from a place of open-mindedness, respect, and, of course, curiosity. After all, isn’t that what serving as a Peace Corps volunteer is all about?
In the spirit of sharing traditions, please comment below about a tradition in your life/family that you hold dearly. Emily and I would love for our blog to be a forum for sharing and discussing life stories, so let’s start that tradition of commenting and sharing now 🙂
Productivity is my jam. I to-do list like a champ and love color-coding my life. It allowed me to survive my hectic first couple years of teaching, and enabled me to start thriving during my third year in the classroom. I set a goal to be planned out a week in advance this last year, and goodness checking off this goal on my to-do list every single week was nearly euphoric! That productivity high can become almost addictive, and I find that my self-worth can get dangerously tied to getting things done.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve filled my life to the brim. From joining every sports team, to joining (or leading) every club, combined with wanting to do it all perfectly, I’ve gotten used to equating productivity with success and self-worth.
I even have a tendency of turning relaxing experiences into unrealistic productivity loops. After a good morning of journaling, I feel the need to “journal every single morning for at least 15 minutes or else,” and before I know it my life-giving practice becomes an anxiety-producing obligation.
This trip, though, has challenged me to see productivity through a different lens. We planned this road trip to say farewell to the U.S., the beautiful landscape and people we love. I’ve been tempted to feel satisfied only if I’ve written multiple blog posts per week, read lots of TEFL books and articles, or completed all of our Peace Corps pre-training assignments. However, I’m trying to define a day’s worth by the quality of my interactions instead of checking items off a to-do list.
For a young, American girl the concept is a little foreign, but one I anticipate will serve me well as I prepare to leave the country and our driven, task-oriented, soul-sucking society.
Instead of writing a daily blog post this month, I spent time:
- Camping in Eastern OR with the siblings
- Late night chats with Joann and John Fisher outside of Boise, ID
- Crashing a family reunion in MT (those Montanans sure know how to blow things up, and helped us enjoy our last Fourth of July in style)
- Seeing Andrew’s good friend Allison and going with the flow of Steamboat Springs, CO in our 6 inner-tube floatlilla
- Reconnecting with Graceland (and high school) friends David, Will, and Brandon in Denver, CO. It’s amazing that even after years of living apart that we can pick up right where we left off.
- Late night snuggling with Jenny Jackson in Kansas City, MO
- The amazing opportunity to staff IYF and Spectactular (international youth summer camps sponsored by the Community of Christ) at our alma mater in Lamoni, IA. The chance to work with youth, coach, play, and connect with people from around the world that we know and love was the perfect way to spend those two weeks in the heart of America.
- Laying classes with Sophie, holding 1-week-old baby Lydia (congratulations Zach & Stephanie), and Oxley time in Independence, MO
- Prepping for my Evangelist Blessing with Bill Morris
- Hours of driving and conversation with my incredible partner
All of this brings us to Southern Illinois for quality family time. As we transition to living in Central America for the next 27 months, I hope I can remember back to this road trip lesson. May we strive to shift our mindsets from productivity and to-do listing, to allowing interactions and depth of connection to define self-worth.
Blessing. This word has meant different things to me over the course of my life thus far. It once brought to mind the image of an all-powerful God who was moving pieces of my life around like a life-sized game of muggle-chess (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference). I used to believe blessings came from God and you were lucky if He chose to bless you. I no longer see it that way.
As I got older, theological questions began to cloud my once clear picture and understanding of God. Why would God choose to bless me and NOT bless others? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all loving, how can extremely terrible things like natural disasters or genocide happen? Was God too busy “blessing” little ole me to do anything about those BIG issues. These questions and more plagued my heart and soul as I struggled to make sense of it all.
For a while, I wondered if I didn’t even believe in God, as least not in the same “God” I had before. I knew I believed in something; some collective, creative, connective power, but was that God if God meant all the images I had been taught for so long? I never felt comfortable saying I didn’t believe, because that wasn’t completely true, but I also couldn’t claim the concepts I once knew and stood by. I remember thinking that old saying “ignorance is bliss,” has so much truth in it. I wanted, on some level, to go back to my old ways of thinking. It was so much easier to just believe that God was in control, that God had a plan for my life. If only I could take away the questions I wrestled with, the doubts that drowned me in darkness.
But I couldn’t go back.
I had been changed – by untimely deaths of friends and loved ones, by injustice that existed and still exists, by pain, by the cruelty in the world. I’d been forced to think – by hard academics/religious classes at Graceland (my alma mater), by friends going through similar faith crisis, by the questions that wouldn’t go away and shattered my pretty-ordered-God-in-a-box-world.
Even today, I’m not sure where exactly things changed. There was never a moment of clarity or insight, just a slow steady crawl to new understanding. There are truths I feel and recognize in my deepest soul; there is something more, there is some connecting spirit, we are many but we are one. Slowly, I began to claim God again. Not the same God as before, but I choose to still use the word “God” because I have no other word for “it.”
I believe in hope. I believe in love. I believe in the power we have to love and affect those around us. I believe our thoughts and intentions are far more powerful than we have any idea about. I believe the universe is a connected web of intentions, and relationships, and feelings rather like the neurons in our brains. I believe that connective force that can transcend time and distance is what we have poorly understood as God, so we thought God should be more like us – human, white, male, and petty, choosing to bless some and not others.
The word blessing now means something very different to me as well. Blessing is an active tapping into that loving, wise energy. Blessing is about rooting oneself into that force and allowing one’s heart to expand. It can be felt by individuals or groups, in times of sorrow, in times of joy. Being blessed isn’t a passive state where God plays games with your life. Blessing is listening to the callings and promptings, listening to the wisdom that exists in the lives all around us. Blessings invoke ancient power within our own lives and souls, connecting us to each other and the Earth.
I now believe that blessings are far more about love.
This past Sunday was the last time Andrew and I would be with our local congregation for a few years. On that day, we gathered with our friends and family to receive a blessing for our Peace Corps service. It was an opportunity and invitation to accept love and support from our community. It was an invitation to go deeper and to prepare emotionally to embrace the challenges and blessings our Peace Corps service has to offer. It was incredible to feel such hope and such love. Not many young adults participate in organized religion in the Portland area, but we feel the intergenerational relationships we have made the past 4 years, sharing with that community, have changed our lives for the better. We have their stories, their lessons, their support.
Regardless if you are Christian or not, or participate in any religion at all, it is my sincere hope that at some point in your life you feel the level of support Andrew and I felt last Sunday for transitioning to this new stage of life. While it is difficult to say goodbye to people who have become our friends and extended family, we will carry their blessings forward. Thank you, Tuality Community of Christ for being companions on our journey.
May we be open to the blessings today that our loved ones helped us find and feel. May we listen with open hearts to the callings and promptings around us. May we feel the love and support from this past Sunday so strongly that it can help sustain us and support us through our Peace Corps service. May we be blessed.
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.
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.