Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent

I am having serious writers block this week! The issues running through my head lately just seem to huge to tackle in few paragraphs. So, while I sort out my mind you should watch this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Healing Presence


This morning I held a woman's hand as she cried. As she spoke of her troubles, losses, pains, and fears I held her hand.


To be a healing presence is humbling, transforming, and awe inspiring. To be a healing presence is a privilege, a blessing from God. For in these moments--in these opportunities for healing--we can know and feel God working through us.


Vocational discernment is an important element of my YAV year. The process is just beginning and I do not know what is next. I do know that I long to serve God by be a healing presence--in the lives of children and adults, in the life of the church, and the community.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

day to day

When creating a blog post I feel a certain pressure to write something profound--to take a part of my day and turn it into a great story and life lesson. Today I thought it would be useful to simply make a list of what I have been doing the past few months. You all back home might enjoy knowing a little bit about what I am doing down here! But also, it is good for me to reflect on the sometimes hidden progress being made. So here it is!

Things I do at Metairie Ridge:
-teach Sunday school
-serve as liturgist on occasion
-sing in the choir
-work with the youth (we are getting ready for youth Sunday)
-a chapel service for the 3 and 4 year olds attending the preschool
-prepared an advent devotional book
-go to meetings
-go to more meetings
-plan family events like the corn maze and maybe some Christmas carolling
-slowly but surely clean out the youth room

In addition to these things (and probably some more I am not thinking of at the moment) I have started a new part time position at Ochsner's main campus (the hospital). I have the very official title of "Chaplain Assistant" and get to wear a badge and carry a pager. My role is to make an initial visit to all newly admitted patients (except for the Catholics--they have their own Chaplain). I have been doing a lot of shadowing and learning over the past few weeks. Today was my first day on my own. I think it will take a little time before I am comfortable but I think I did pretty well for my first day out.

In addition to work, I continue to train for the Mardi Gras marathon. I also spend time doing YAV things--we have a weekly meeting, family dinners on Sundays, meetings with mentors, and an upcoming retreat. In the midst of all this I also found time to go on vacation with my family--some pics are posted below.











Monday, November 16, 2009

Perspective

Before I leave the house for my long runs I let my roommates know where I am going to run and a timeline for when I will be home. This isn't because I am worried about my safety (although I probably should be) Rather, I am never confident that I will be able to finish the mileage. It gives me comfort to know that I can stop anywhere along the route and in a few hours my roommates will come find me, peel me off sidewalk, and carry me home =)

Last week I had an 8 mile run to complete--it was very difficult and the first time I had to walk some in order to finish. This Saturday I ran 10 miles without needing to walk. The difference was that this time I had already run the route (it was the same as the 8 but with an extra loop at the end) so I had some perspective of where I was in my mileage, I knew where the water stops were, and I knew where I would need some fuel.

I wish life was as clear and as easy as my 10 mile run! I long to be in familiar territory--to know where I was going, to know when I would get a break, and to know when I would need and get some help along the way. At the end of acts Paul tells the people in Rome that they are "Ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving, and developing calloused hearts." Often times I am like the people of Rome. In theory I understand what Paul is saying and the warning he heeds. But right now it is hard for me to understand and know how God is at work in my life and even harder for me be open to His calling. I am thankful today for a patient God who is with me even when I am like the Romans, for a community of friends who understand what I am feeling, and for all the people willing to be there along our journey.

PS I have posted a new photo album on facebook. Here are a few highlights:




Community Day: working at Second Harvest Food Bank

Our first New Orleans parade


Dinner at the Dolfsma's house. My friend Paulus took this picture (he is 5)

Our second community day at the New Orleans Mission--learning about homelessness
At the Hornets game

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stewardship Season

This Sunday the pastor preached about stewardship. I have heard the message before and I am sure to hear it again--several more times this year and then several more times every stewardship season for the rest of my life! Eachtime I hear the message it is a little different--each year it has a new spin to it. As I listened to the sermon I couldn't help but wonder how much time pastors and commitment committees spend trying to invent new and convincing ways to ask church members to tithe. How much time is spent looking over the budget--making sure everything is distributed well and cost-efficient? More than anything I wondered why we don't take this sort of approach to all aspects of our Christian lives?

Imagine a church that consistently re-examined all aspects of their faith and community. We could have a "worship season" in which we asked ourselves if our worship is meaningful to the members, attractive to visitors, and centered on God. We could recruit teachers and train them and call it "nurture and growth season." The possibilites are endless! Imagine a church that never settled into a comfortable routine but instead was open to change as it's members change and the needs of the world change. What if the church regularly asked, "are we doing the best we can--for each other, for the community, for God?" What if we habitually examined and renewed our faith? I am not saying there is a constant need to reinvent the wheel.

I am not saying that change is always the answer. I am simply suggesting that individuals and the church could benefit from reflection, examination and creativity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

God's Call

I have felt challenged in many ways since moving to New Orleans. The past few weeks have been particularly difficult. I could tell you all about the things that are not going as planned--but it would be misleading because those things would give the impression that things aren't going well. Rather, things are just not going how I planned! Apparently my plan is not what God intended--maybe one day we will get on the same page. I still feel at peace with my decision to serve in New Orleans. I feel like God has called me to this place. So I thought I would share with you what I love about New Orleans and being a YAV.

Things that have kept me going this month:

-Until this weekend it was still 90 degrees outside. It cooled down some but I still don't need a coat
-Running for a cause. You should donate! http://pages.teamintraining.org/la/mardigra10/autley
-Free concerts at the park
-A friend at church who is also trying to figure out the path God is calling her to follow
-The idea that maybe God is calling me to Metairie Ridge simply to be an example of how young adults can work and dedicate themselves to the church (thanks Kathy!)
-Being able to play the piano whenever I want and exploring new worship music
-Learning to play the ukulele
-Talking about what it means to be a Presbyterian with an elderly woman as we waited in line for a flu shot
-Looking at Casey's church website and blog and seeing her dedication and passion for music ministries
-Pecan Praline Coffee
-Exploring my bible and learning how to back up my faith with scripture
-Starring at a candle in silence with my roommates--taking time to reflect, process, and pray

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2 posts in 2 days!

Before moving to New Orleans, I invested in some new running shoes. A new pair of shoes is not cheap so I am now obligated to run! I have decided to train for the Mardi Gras Marathon as a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Team In Training.

As a member of the program, I have pledged to train on the behalf of Faron Benoit. Faron is 14 years old and loves sports and video games. Faron is also a survivor of Hodgkin's Lymphoma.



In addition to running, I have also pledged to raise money for leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma research and patient services programs. My goal is to run 26.2 miles and raise $2500. If you would like to donate, please go to my website: http://pages.teamintraining.org/la/mardigra10/autley

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Stony Point, small groups and some training sessions were divided based on the location of our service (international or national). After being in New Orleans for a couple of months I think they might have made a mistake with the New Orleans YAV placements! New Orleans definitely feels more like like a foreign country!

This weekend has been one of the most eventful in my life, and without a doubt the most eventful of my time in Nola. Thursday night our house was broken into. The man wanted money and was surely disappointed that we had none! You can say a prayer of thanks because we are all okay and the man is in jail. Friday we helped at the food bank, and went to a home dedication ceremony. Saturday I had my first marathon training (ps. I am training for a marathon--more on that another time) and presbytery meeting at which we were commissioned for service. Sunday was a typical day. I drove through the rivers in New Orleans (previously known as streets) to go to bible study. I came home to find my roommates pouring buckets of rain water from their cars. Oh...we also had three visitors from out of town this weekend!

In the midst of all the emotion, tension, and stress I also experienced the best moment (so far!) of my time here in New Orleans. On Friday we attended a home dedication ceremony in the lower ninth ward. For those of you who haven't seen New Orleans since Katrina here are some pictures of the area...




The first picture is taken from on top the levee that broke. This area used to be filled with houses. This picture (which I stole from google) is musicians village in the upper ninth ward. This is just to give you an idea of the architecture and layout of the neighborhood pre-Katrina.


Back to the story...The house dedication ceremony was for a women who remodeled her house just before Katrina hit and then suffered many set backs on the road to recovery, including being hit by a car. In the beginning of the ceremony, Christina (the house's construction assistant) sang the song At Last by Etta James. I have heard this song a hundred times at karaoke but I will never hear it the same again after listening to it the context of the home dedication ceremony. At the end of the ceremony the home owner had the opportunity to speak. Through her tears, all she could say was "I Give Thanks to God." It was an incredibly touching moment that I will not soon forget. In the midst of a crazy weekend it was also a great and much needed reminder of why I am in New Orleans.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Simple Living

Every time I was interviewed for the YAV program I was asked what I worried about or what I thought would be the biggest challenge of my YAV year. Without hesitation I would answer, "simple living." I really like to buy things (especially cloths), I love to go out and do things, I like to eat good (expensive) food, I hate to cook, and I like to have my own space. I was not sure about having a roommate and living on a small stipend.

Parts of living on a small stipend have been difficult for me. And really, "difficult" is an overstatement. Shopping and eating out were such a part of my routine in Columbus--you might even call them a bit of an addiction. However, the recovery process is going well and I am learning how to cope with my addictions =)

Other parts of simple living have been great. Since college, I have spent most weekends going out to eat, going to a movie, going to a bar, etc. These things are fun but cost a lot of money. We know we can't afford to go out all the time in New Orleans so we are forced to be creative with out outings. This past weekend we all donated blood so we could get into a haunted house for free (saved $20). Other Saturday activities (we call them funtivities) include going to the SPCA to play with puppies and to an art market. It takes some time finding these funtivities but it is worth it. We are living simply and exploring so many of the things this city has to offer.

Living in intentional Christian community has also been a good experience. I love always having people to talk to and people to go places with. I like the idea of being dependant on people. I am in a Bible study on Monday nights and we have been studying the life of Paul. This week we talked about Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus. One of the lessons in this scripture is that we should be dependant on Jesus but I think God wants us to be dependant on each other as well. Jesus could have opened the eyes of Paul but he choose to work through Ananias. There are also a few chapters in Acts which describe how the believers lived in community and shared everything they owned. The believers always had enough, not only because God provides, but because they shared! I think American society values independence too much. It is refreshing to live in intentional community--to share and be dependant on each other.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

busy weekend

It has been a busy few days in the Big Easy!


Thursday night we went to usher university. It was super boring but I am now an official volunteer for the Mahalia Jackson theater (only recently reopened). My roommates and I signed up to usher several shows including Cats, Tosca, and Yo-Yo Ma! This means we get to see all these shows for free--although I will probably be standing in the rafters at Yo-Yo Ma.

Friday night Dan and I went to the Seafood Festival. We split a shrimp po-boy (the best I have had so far) and an order or fried alligator. I don't think I will eat any more alligator. There was also live entertainment (because there is always live entertainment in New Orleans) and lots of dancing. Afterward we had some coffee and good conversation. These moments, sitting around talking about faith and theology, are what I love about living in intentional Christian community.



Saturday I managed to talk everyone into going to the beach even though it was supposed to rain all day long. It was very cold and rainy when we got there but after only ten minutes it cleared up. We saw a water spout out over the ocean--very cool--and by the end of the day the sun even came out.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It has been a difficult week for me at work. This will probably be reflected in the scatteredness (that isn't even a word) of this posting. Things are very quiet and not too busy. Being an extrovert, it is draining for me to be in an office all day with only one other person and sometimes by myself. I am tired, but not discouraged. I have always been a very busy person, often putting in 14-16 hour days. I like this lifestyle and it allows me to push aside things that are difficult or not much fun. It probably isn't' the healthiest lifestyle. It is my tendency to want to do things. Part of being in mission is not always doing but sometimes just being. The idea of accompaniment was introduced to me in orientation and is still a concept I think about a lot. I am still trying to decide what it means, especially in the context of my year in New Orleans.

I have spent a lot of time this week playing through music that might be appropriate for a casual/contemporary worship. I came across this song in Faith We Sing. It was exactly what I needed to sing and hear this week. God challenges us because it provides us opportunities for growth.

"Come and Find the Quiet Center"

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see
all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, touches base,
making space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we're shrinking, finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel, open to each other's pain,
let our loves and fears unravel, celebrate the space we gain:
There's a place for deepest dreaming, there's a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit's lively scheming there is always room to spare.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shrimp: From boat to moat.

Every week the YAVS in New Orleans have a family dinner. The girls and boys alternate cooking and cleaning duties. Last week the boys cooked catfish tacos. It was delicious but we had a huge mess to clean up and our house smelled like fried catfish for a few days. Not wanting to be out done, the girls went out on a shrimp boat (actually, Gloria was the only one that went) and brought back fresh shrimp to cook for our Sunday dinner. It was equally as messy as the fried fish. Here is a photo journey through our shrimp adventure.

Notice that I am not in this picture. I went to a movie instead of help clean shrimp...but I did come home halfway through the process, threw on my grubby cloths (the LSU shirt!) and safety goggles and tried to help. It was gross. I think my effort was appreciated but I probably cleaned about one shrimp in the time it took everyone else to do three.

We were all a little grouchy and hungry. There is nothing like cleaning shrimp to divide a household =).

Lisa, like myself, does not clean shrimp. We let her off the hook because she prepared the rest of the meal (and because she is a vegetarian).



We made some delicious shrimp and grits!


The whole process was very exhausting. Shortly after this picture was taken we were all asleep on the living room couches/chairs/floor.

While some people like to save left overs for lunch or dinner the next day, we like to make castles out of ours.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Friday!

Perhaps the best part of my experience so far has been all the free meals. The food here is great and life revolves around it. Last night the 20/30's group from St Charles Avenue hosted a bbq with live blue grass and music. It was nice to meet a lot of new people and make connections in the city. Tonight we are going back to the same venue for a dinner with the YAV board.


In other news, all the spiritual discernment we have been doing has really paid off. I have found my calling...I am going to be a calliope player on a river boat in New Orleans. Note: the last pic is actually a video so hit play =)




video

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Worship and Community

I am about to break all the blogging rules--this will probably be long and won't have any pictures (sorry Mom). So grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable before venturing into this blog post =)

I met with Katie for coffee yesterday afternoon. Katie is the new DCE at a Presbyterian church down the road and came to New Orleans around the same time that I did. We were chatting about the involvement of children and young adults in church and she mentioned that a lot of friends had been unable to find a "meaningful worship" experience since being in New Orleans. I think this is something a lot of young adults can relate to and an issue that needs to be addressed in our churches. So, I have been sitting at the coffee shop this morning thinking about "meaningful worship." What is it and how do we find it?

When talking about conflict in the church (especially in regards to worship) I have said and heard it said we should simply remember worship is not for us, it is for God! Problem solved, right? Well, not really--so I tried to break it down a little. What is it that young adults really want? I want a meaningful community. In my experience, when a strong community of faith comes together in fellowship we all desire to worship! To me this is meaningful worship--to be a part of a healthy community of like minded people that are so grateful for the gifts of God and so longing for the support and healing of Jesus that they want to be together in worship and prayer.

Ultimately, I think most people want to be a part of this kind of church. So where is the break down? Why do young adults have a hard time feeling welcomed and comfortable in the life of the Presbyterian church? How do we connect the generations? How do we facilitate these types of conversations in our own congregations?

There is a huge need in the New Orleans community for young adult ministries. As part of the outreach ministry at Metairie Ridge I am going to start a young adult group. Primarily we will come together to worship. I don't want this service to be a replacement for Sunday morning church. I want a place for young adults to be in community and be a support system for each other so we have the strength and tools we need to go back into our intergenerational church communities and make a difference. It seems crazy to be starting a new service from the ground up but the need is there and I certainly have the time.

So, if you made it this far in the blog, thanks for reading! I would love to hear your ideas on what makes worship/community meaningful to you...

Monday, September 14, 2009

We went on a photo scavenger hunt (created by our site coordinator, Kathy) as a way to learn how to navigate the city a little better. Unfortunatly, it didn't work...I am lost everytime we go out! But, we had lots of fun. Here are a few pics from the afternoon.




In New Orleans, you can drink in the streets and everyone loves to dance. Here is Ben, Gloria, and Lisa having a dance party with some random guy holding a drink.




New Orleans is full of fountains and statues...




and gators...




and cockroaches. Our team won the competition due to the 50 pt picture of us holding a giant New Orleans cockroach. This picture is actually a grasshopper but I like it better than the one of us holding the cockroach =)




A game of leap frog in front of a river boat.




All over downtown there are pictures and statues of this blue dog. I don't actually know what it is for...I think some fundraising thing.

Women's Retreat

One of the first things I was invited to attend at Metairie was the women's retreat. I thought it would be a great way to meet people, a place to share my story and a time to hear stories of others. Then I found out it was a silent retreat...

I was not excited when my alarm went off on Saturday morning, mainly because I didn't get much sleep (we went to hear an amazing trumpet player at the Blue Nile the night before). I also dreaded the retreat because I am not very good at being quiet. To make matters worse, the first thing I recieved at the door was a journal. I am already blogging and now I have to write in a journal too? It was asking a lot.

The retreat was not so bad. In fact, it was truly a blessing to be there. Being still and quiet in the presence of God and a community of strong Christian women was a powerful experience. My journal ended up being a long list of questions. So many times in my life I have been filled with questions and doubts but Saturday my questions were different. Rather than leave me feeling frustrated and lost, they gave me a sense of energy and inspiration. I can not wait to explore all these questions--to grow in my faith! And what better time or place to do this? I am surrounded by people of faith who are ready and willing to walk this journey alongside me. Thanks be to God! Stay tuned for blogs exploring the many questions written in my retreat journal....

video

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Meet the Crew


This is a picture of all the New Orleans YAVS during orientation. There are seven of us and we are all living together in intentional community. Dan, Austin, Ben and Lisa (the bottom row and top left) work as construction assistants for Project Homecoming. Part of their job is to lead groups of volunteers who have come to New Orleans to help rebuild. Gloria (middle right) works at the University of New Orleans with a program called CHART. She will be doing research and developing curriculum on the destruction of the wetlands. Jenna (middle left) and myself are both working a local churches helping them to grow and transform youth and young adult ministries.

First Few Days of Work




I have been in New Orleans for a little over a week now. Last week was orientation to the city. It was a lot of fun and included many free meals. Our site coordinator, Kathy, informed us that most of life in New Orleans is centered around food. The few days of orientation was followed by a four day weekend in which we were able to clean, settle in, sleep, and explore the city. There is so much to see and do around here! So far my YAV experience has been a really nice vacation--orientation at a retreat center in New York, lots of delicious food, plenty of opportunity to rest and reflect. =)


Yesterday the vacation ended and I started work. I am working at a church called Metairie Ridge Presbyterian Church. The church has been through some turmoil due to several things including, of course, Katrina. The church is now on the rebound and there is definitely an energy running through the congregation. I am excited to be a part of the rebuilding process in this community. Primarily I am responsible for the children and youth ministries. Goals for the year include starting a confirmation class, having lots of youth activities, and getting the youth more involved in the church community.


On my first day of work I spent the morning adding all the church youth as facebook friends and spent the afternoon looking at other church websites to get an idea of what sort of youth fellowship is happening in the community. It is now day 2 and I have no idea what I should be doing! This is no doubt going to be a year of flexibility and self-directed work. I pray that I can figure things out sooner rather than later and God will use my gifts and talents in effective ways here at Metairie Ridge. I do find comfort in knowing there are 66 other YAVS, all around the world, feeling the exact same way!


Where can I go from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go to the heavens you are there
If I make my bed in the depths you are there;
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
-Psalm 139 vs. 7-10