Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lessons in Hospitality

Wow. I find myself thinking that the time is going a reasonable pace, that maybe the semester won't fly by, and then I wake up and realize that we are past the two month mark already.

How can I begin to touch upon all I have learned in these two months? From learning some of the Maori culture and language, the indigenous tribe in New Zealand, to in depth spiritual discussion of nature and our role in the world, to feeding baby lambs and cows get milked on a dairy farm-- there are too many stories.

It's strange, because I am getting so used to the little cultural differences of New Zealand that I hardly notice them anymore. I separate my food in the compost bins without thinking, hop on a bike into town, and have even begun practicing asking the important questions concerning where my food, clothing, and souvenirs are coming from.

But it is still remarkable the amount of hospitality that is continually shown to me and other Americans. On the last day of my weeklong trip my friends and I realized that we didn't have a place to sleep that last night, because due to unseen circumstances all the hostels in Christchurch were booked. We all began to panic, but the lovely lady we were staying with simply mentioned, "My cousin might be able to host you girls for the night."Five minutes later after a quick phone call she told us that we had the okay to stay, but that this was the family who had recently lost a young mother, the woman's daughter, a few weeks ago. My friends and I were shocked that this family had agreed to us staying there so last minute, and a little worried.
Yet from the moment we walked into the house we were shown such grandmotherly affection: homemade food and warm drinks, a shower, a room complete with mattress and blankets and pillows, a washing machine and drying machine, and even plans for our Saturday night! She drove us into the city to enjoy FESTA, a celebration of creative architectural art pieces, with lots of lights, music, and good food. And when we returned we were able to just sit and talk, about life, the world, even church. And even though we stayed up talking till midnight, she was still willing to drive us to our bus stop at 6:30am the next morning.

It is convicting to me, because I was so blessed by this woman that not only is not a professed Christian, but also has just suffered a tragic loss. Yet she still was able to extend hospitality and more towards us, three strangers who she may never see again, except perhaps to enjoy some more hospitality on future adventures. She blessed me beyond what I could have imagined, and even when I didn't think to ask for it.

If anything, I want to bring back such hospitality to the States, to my future homes and communities. It won't be easy; I can't imagine it was easy for her to host us. But the sacrifice was such a blessing, more than she could ever know.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kia Ora

New Zealand is not what I could have anticipated. Honestly, I half expected to find myself in the midst of Middle Earth, with scenic Lord of the Rings views every where I went. But the reality is so much richer than that.

In Kaikoura (pronounced Kai-coda) it is rather difficult to get lost. To the west looms the mountain range, Mt. Fyffe dominating the other peaks, and to the east lies the Pacific Ocean and peninsula. When I bike to town, I pass farm upon farm of cows, sheep, alpacas and the like, with the occasional pick-up truck passing me on the road. Here you can embrace the rural life—re-wearing clothes, sporting “gum boots” or any assortment of flannel and wool, and overall not really worrying too much about what you look like as long as you are warm. I find it so refreshing. Especially being able to live in a community where people not only get to see you at your best but also at your worst.

For example, before coming to New Zealand, it had been a long, long time since I had ridden a bike. My neighborhood growing up wasn’t well suited for bike riding, so I haven’t owned a bike since I was eight years old. However, I’m a pretty independent person, so I get really embarrassed when I can’t do something or need help, especially if it is something simple most people can do. They say you never forget, right? So day three of being in New Zealand, I had to swallow my pride and ask for the help of a few friends to help me relearn to bike, most of whom I had just met a few days before, and wobbly started off down the farm roads. And everyone was so encouraging; encouraging me still, even when I have to make a few attempts to get on, or signaling for me when we are about to turn because I can’t let go of the handlebars yet. I wish I could say “but that’s all in the past now,” but it definitely is still a work in progress. It is those kind of humbling, vulnerable experiences within a community that are so necessary. Everyone has a less-than pretty side, including shoddy but improving biking skills. The incredible part is when the community knows and sees those weaknesses and still comes about you and supports you.

Which is why New Zealand is so astounding. It is not merely the views, or the culture, but the people I am living with in community and sharing incredible experiences with—the good and the bad. That is something I could not have anticipated before travelling to New Zealand, but now is something I can’t imagine New Zealand without.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An (Un)Expected Journey

Kaikoura, New Zealand
New Zealand. It must be a dream. There is no way I am boarding a plane to go to that magical distant land in, what is it? Four days. Everyone else is gearing up to face the grind of school and I feel like I'm about to embark on an extended vacation.

"You must be so excited," is the general comment I hear in regards to it. Word for word, actually. Honestly, that's not quite what I am feeling. I'm really kind of nervous. I'm in a strange in between phase; I want to enjoy these last few days, and the people I still have around me, but I'm also sort of avoiding thinking about this grand adventure because it holds so many unknowns. Who will my roommate(s) be? How will my group of 16 get along? Will I feel homesick? No matter how long I spend thinking about it, any expectations I build about New Zealand will likely be shattered as soon as I arrive. But I also can't just assume that the entire experience is going to be perfect. I trust God has good in store for me there, but trusting God is more than expecting a utopian, flawless experience. Rather, trust is knowing that even when I stumble - or start to worry or feel inadequate - He is there supporting and encouraging me.

But I still am a bit nervous as I prepare to embark on a semester long adventure through a program called Creation Care, based out of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Based on the packing list and some of the itinerary, it almost looks like it's going to be a semester-long hiking trip centered around discussion-based classes. Which has brought me to the scary conclusion that this experience is meant to push me out of my comfort zone, to make me a little nervous. But if my hiking trips with La Vida have taught me anything, it is that growth and learning can only occur when you push yourself to do things you aren't necessarily comfortable with.

So here's to saying "Yes" to any and every experience I come across, to long conversations, to new community and new friendships, to growth, and to making a wrong turn every once in awhile.

The road goes ever on and on...I'll let you know where it leads me :)

*To be continued...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Resting While Moving Forward

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

Everyone who has done a La Vida expedition should be familiar with this Bible passage; it's written on the plaque they received at the very end of their hiking/canoeing/kayaking trip. And it is this passage that my co-leader and I based this past May trip's theme: "Soar- Resting While Moving Forward."

At the time, I was extremely busy. I had just completed what was likely my most difficult semester in college, finished a year-long program involving intentional community living (#EPIX), was faced with the reality of saying goodbye to many of my graduating senior friends, and had to jump from all of that straight into leading a two week backpacking trip. I chose this for myself...and honestly I loved it. Which is kind of scary. I know it has been a temptation for my friends and I to find value in a busy schedule, and even brag about it, or compete with others to be the most busy. But I was sacrificing much needed opportunities for rest.

While it was difficult to find moments of rest the past nine months, now that I am into my summer schedule I've found the pendulum has swung the opposite way. With so much free time on my hands, I have sunk into a state of resting that is, I'm ashamed to admit, mostly an indulgence of laziness. I'm not using the time I have to my full advantage; I'm not moving forward with my resting. I could do so many things with my free time: write creatively, spend time in God's word, play my violin, read books, etc, etc. But when I'm not at my internship or hanging out with friends I find myself mostly lounging in the sun, eating, and watching movies or shows on Netflix. Even just forcing myself to read the Bible for 15 minutes is suddenly a big accomplishment.

If God wasn't my priority in the busy times, then how could I expect that would automatically change now that I have entered a period of rest? Yet I need Him; He is the one who gives purpose to my life, and He is the one encouraging me to rest when life is hectic, and pushes me to form and pursue goals when life is quiet. If I were perfect, maybe I could try harder or be a better person and thus find this ideal balance through my own strength. But the passage in Isaiah states that it is those who put their hope in the Lord who will find their strength renewed. This is a strength that through rest continues on when life gets tough, and moves forward when resting turns to laziness and gluttony.

So I press on into Jesus, searching for the mysterious truth that is soaring- resting while moving forward.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Humbled by His Goodness

Once again, I've finished another semester, and year, at Gordon. I've packed up my room, taken down the years' worth of letters and notes from my walls, turned in my keys and let out a satisfied sigh at having made it through finals.
Giant- This past May
Giant- One year ago
But I also just finished leading another La Vida college expedition. Twelve days of hiking, little opportunity for hygiene, and feet calloused so much that I can't feel the ground on parts of my toes as I walk barefoot through my house. Last year I thought that was due to frostbite, which would make sense considering the weather during that trip (snow).

It's been tempting to want to compare this most recent La Vida trip to last year's, especially since I did the same hiking itinerary. The weather this year was immensely better, confidence wise I felt much more of an able leader, I had such a great relationship with my co-leader (co-Sherpa), and we were able to complete our entire itinerary with very little disruptions. And, to top it all off, I had an amazing group of students. I always thought there had to be at least something that was not as good; either the community would be great but the weather awful, or vice versa. But over all this May I had an amazing trip.

Yet I noticed that even with everything going so well, I felt more distant from God this year, maybe even because everything was so perfect. It was much easier to forget to pray in the morning, or before meals, or just in general. There weren't stoves breaking and awful weather conditions that forced me to remember to rely on God. And I've come to realize that when I have more and more to be thankful for it becomes more and more difficult to remember to give thanks. Last year I was forced to rely on God  for my strength, forced to put all my hope in Him because there was no way I could have led that trip through my own strength and wisdom. But this year...it was tempting to forget that I still needed Him, and that the fact that everything was going so smoothly was not because of me but still because of Him. As I came to realize that spiritually I wasn't as much the leader as I wanted to be, I became discouraged and worried that perhaps my participants weren't growing as much or taking advantage of the full potential for spiritual maturity that La Vida offers, because I wasn't the example I hoped to be.

That is where God has humbled me. Despite my feeling distant from Him, despite the countless times I've forgotten to seek his help and guidance, or give thanks, He still used me. Because of my obvious flaws and shortcomings in my faith, I finally realized that the growth my students were experiencing was not due to me. Yes, God may have used my devotions or my words to prompt that growth, but He is the only One who can initiate that change. I am just a simple clay pot, a tool for His will, and that is all I could ever desire. While I strive for deeper intimacy in Christ and development of my personal faith, God is not dependent on me. And I am so, so grateful for that.
My La Vida kids...I guess

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pine Trees, Poetry and Faith

   It has been very busy these past couple of months! Which doesn't mean I have not been writing, or thinking about writing, but I have definitely channeled all my energies towards academic pursuits.
But, while having all those (often) pesky assignments can be frustrating, they have their perks. And while this is not how I have conventionally used this blog, I'm hoping to attach an audio podcast I recorded and edited for a literature class, reflecting on the connections between Romanticism and environmental literature, and on the greater tension between science and art, in a NPR-esque fashion.
**Warning, it is 12 minutes long, so listen at your leisure. But I promise, it won't feel that long (or, at least not in a bad way.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Self in Community

According to Strengths Quest, a popular personality test for college students, one of my top strengths is Adaptability. And it shows. Not only can I be strangely calm in the midst of uncontrollable chaos (a helpful trait as a college student), but I have also found that I will take on the traits of those around me. Suddenly I find myself stealing my roommates’ phrases, or mimicking the gestures and expressions of my friends and family. The more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly every little mannerism I do or say I have borrowed from someone at one point or another.

The more I’ve considered this topic of “self,” the more I have been overwhelmed by the questions that arise from such self-analysis. What aspect of myself is integral to my being, rather than being merely an adaptation to a particular situation? Most importantly, how do I remain true to my self while living and interacting within a community?

I keep thinking about the summer I went to South Africa. Amidst the hut-to-hut evangelism and missionary work, there was a day in which I found myself rolling around in the dirt with all of the refugee children. This was the same dirt I saw the kids peeing and bleeding in— a composite of questionable trash and unpleasant smells. But we were singing their favorite bible school song, and that meant dropping down and rolling on that ground. Somehow, by being a part of that community, I became more of myself. Overcoming my initial hesitations and misgivings, I embraced a shared joy and gladness that was more integral to my being than my learned etiquette on cleanliness. I was more than just a wealthy outsider infiltrating their village; I was, and am, a person who desired to share in the joy of others.

It was only through that shared experience as a community that I came to realize that I don’t care if I get dirty or act undignified. Through further reflection and experience I have concluded that personal comfort and preference are less integral to my being than is my desire to serve others. How could’ve I known that about myself except through community?

But that’s the paradox. It is through community that I am learning to find my true self, the self that looks ever more like Christ. The old self, the one that is self-absorbed, shallow, and manipulative, while easy to slip into, does not make me feel whole like when I am serving others— making dinner for my housemates or praying with my friends.

However, the people in our communities are not always so easy to love. Sometimes I need the encouragement and model of others to know how to reach those who seem unreachable.

Like the family of the young man who was killed by the cops in my hometown. There was uproar from the city upon his death, and a rehashing of the hatred between the poor neighborhoods and the local police. My brother took me to the grocery store where I picked out a single flower, clutching it in my hand as we drove into the inner city and parked across from the small house. I couldn’t help but stare at the bullet holes in the walls, at the expressionless faces, at the shrine of candles. I wanted to be anywhere but there. But my brother walked up to the young man’s mother and talked to her, so I did my part, giving her the flower and whispering the only words I could think to say: “I’m sorry.”

I would have preferred to ignore the fact that I was a member of this same city that is full of injustice, of murders and bribery and violence. Who wouldn’t want to escape back into the safe little communities of family or church or school, ignoring the other ones closer in proximity but more difficult and uncomfortable? But God did not call us to live in safe communities. In fact, it was only in those more “unsafe” ones that I grew, and came to understand the real Lauren Berg, the one that is less of me and more of Christ.

It is only with the presence of others that my adaptability becomes a strength. The qualities I strive to adopt, the ones that reflect Christ and his love, are the ones I am modeling off the people and communities in which I find myself.