14 November 2011

Why am I here?

a picture I took of an oud this summer
before I knew what an oud was
I think it was a little over a year ago that I first learned that Ethnomusicology was a real thing, and something that I could learn.  At that point, I was fairly convinced that I was not going to go to graduate school, and that I was going to stay in Birmingham and try to be a freelance musician.  I was writing my undergraduate thesis, so of course I was fed up with school.  But the idea of ethnomusicology, and the idea of using music for missions, stuck with me, and grew...and thus a year later I find myself working toward an MA in Ethnomusicology.

I feel compelled to mention here that spell check does not even recognize ethnomusicology as a word.  That is because it is a pretentious sounding and made-up word.

I don't really know the details of how I got here, silly as that sounds; when people ask me "What brought you to Cardiff University?  What do you plan to do with that degree?" I feel much the same as when people would ask me "What brought you to Samford University?  What do you plan to do with that [history] degree?"  I could trace the sequence of causation, from one decision to the next, or I could just shrug and say "God only knows," because that's really the best answer I can give.  I could list all the billion ideas I've had for what I want to actually do with my life, or I could say God knows, because I don't.

I had this idea in my head that studying ethnomusicology was going to involve a lot of chilling around playing cool instruments from around the world.  That's not the case (Well, it is at UCLA, but I don't really regret not going there).  There's a lot of reading.  And writing.  And discussion.  And while those are three things that spent 4 years of undergrad honing, I get disillusioned sometimes.  The more academic jargon I swallow, the more people ask me "what are you going to do when you graduate?", the more it seems like all roads lead to PhD (which is not a place I want to be spending the rest of my 20s), the more I wonder what I'm doing here.

I've been asking that question for a couple weeks now.  God, why am I here?  What's the point of this?  I don't feel like I've made a mistake, but I can't see the purpose of it.

After writing two embarrassingly bad papers, I was Googling around with "ethnomusicology" "careers" and "missions."  That's when I stumbled across another pretentiously long word, ethnodoxology, and this quip about it.  Basically, ethnodoxology is ethnomusicology, but for worship music.  That quip led me to the International Council for Ethnodoxologists and, maybe even better, Heart Sounds International, which is a branch of Operation Mobilization that focuses specifically on worship music in other cultures.  I also found the blogs of people using ethnomusicology for missions.

Regardless of what I end up doing when I graduate (if I graduate, sheesh), finding out that there actually is a use for ethnomusicology in missions, that people are actually DOING it, is a huge encouragement.  Heart Sounds has a YouTube channel, on which you can watch recordings they've made of worship songs around the world.  Clicking around on the "related videos," you can find even more.  These videos make me so happy - watch them and try not to smile.

I have no idea where I will be a year from now.  I look forward to the unknown with the excitement of knowing that God's plan will be the best.  I know that what I am learning now can be used for his purposes.  I know that my being here in Cardiff can and will be used for his purposes.  I know it might be a long time before I know what those purposes exactly are, if ever.  I'm okay with that.  I can learn to wait patiently for the sovereign God who loves me.

08 November 2011

Weekends and obligatory procrastination

Two of my special skills are:

1) Not taking pictures.

2) Blogging when I should be writing a paper.

Therefore, today I will share with you nearly all of the pictures I took this weekend in Copenhagen, and probably end up ruminating philosophically for a couple of paragraphs before I finally feel so guilty that I stop blogging and go make coffee so I can think about writing my papers.

I'm tempted to think I must be really cool for going to Copenhagen NOT to be a tourist, but to visit my sister - because, I thought, I've been there and done that.  Copenhagen is old news.  Of course, once I was there I realized how little of the city I've actually seen.  I can't totally be blamed for this - my last two visits, it was covered in snow and well below freezing.  This visit was purely a relaxing with family visit, though, and I'm so glad for that.
These pictures are of the botanical gardens, which we walked through on our way from drinking coffee at an American-style pancake house to drink coffee at someone's house.  There are two primary ways I've noticed of dealing with the darkness in Denmark: 1, Drink Coffee.  2, Drink Alcohol.

For some reason, Blogger won't let me put pictures side-by-side.

In the course of a few days, I drank more coffee and beer and ate more chocolate than I have since...well, since the last time I was in Copenhagen!  Although the city is still primarily unfamiliar to me, it was nice to recognize some places, stay with my sister, and feel a little bit like I was experiencing a home-away-from-home, in a weird, everybody's-speaking-Danish kind of way.

Of course, like I mentioned earlier, I am terrible at remembering to take pictures, so, this is it.  I have no pictures of my sister & I, no pictures of the endless cups of coffee and the Christmas beer.  But we did plan a little for a warm-weather trip, because everyone keeps telling me that Denmark is so beautiful in the spring and summer.  We'll see.  It's a short trip over there - the longest part is the coach ride to London.

One final and important thing I learned from my weekend in Denmark is - I'm pretty sure my house is making me sick.  I've had a persistent cough since my second week in Wales, and while I did still cough in Denmark (bringing about lots of big-sisterly worry and affection), I didn't nearly as much as I do here, and then after having been home only a few hours my cough got worse again.  I woke up this morning feeling stuffier & sicker.  I have many complaints about this house, but now I know, it's definitely time to move.  Here's hoping all the houses in Wales aren't dusty and moldy.


I have to make an addendum to this post.  I regret to admit that I've lived most of my life oblivious to the greatness of John Coltrane.  That has changed.  Here's a video to rock your world:

02 November 2011

26 October 2011

Impossible strength

I was on my way to a lecture, feeling overburdened by my thoughts - as I am apt to do - and listening to Gungor.  The song was "Please Be My Strength."  The chorus, in the first part of the song, is:

Please be my strength 
Please be my strength
'Cause I don't have anymore
I don't have anymore

Then, in the latter half, it changes:

I pray your glory shines
In this doubting heart of mine
And all would know that You

You are my strength
You are my strength
You and you alone
You keep bringing me back home

I've probably heard this song a hundred times (in truth - no exaggeration here) and loved it every time.  But for some reason, today, it stopped me - almost literally, on the sidewalk.

God is my strength.

The God who created the world in a breath, who redeemed it and defeated death, who is ultimately sovereign and victorious - HE is my strength.  In ME, small weak insignificant me, is that strength.

It's all over Scripture:

"The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" - Exodus 15:2

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." - Isaiah 41:10

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:14-19

(ESV, boldening mine)

These are just 3 places among many - and I couldn't help but include the surrounding verses in the Ephesians 3 passage, because it so wonderfully explains the nature and purpose and power of God's strength in us.

Today I was tired and frustrated; I didn't understand the readings for my lectures and I'm having trouble getting to sleep at night.  I'm still not used to being alone, living in a city, living in a foreign country, feeling stranded.  I've been dwelling on all these things, instead of bowing before the Father, like Paul says in the above passage.  Instead of being rooted and grounded in love.  Instead of being filled with the fullness of God.

 I can be filled with the fullness of God???

C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imaging what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

I will never in this life comprehend the grace he has given me - he's given me all things! - or be able to properly express the depth of my gratitude.

Long-lost love

Gosh I miss piano so much.

This is how much I miss it:

Photo: Allmusicmaster.com Video: YouTube

22 October 2011

Dietrich brings it every time

At about 3:30 PM, it looked like all I was going to do with my day was play guitar in my room and chat with people on the internet.  So, in order to feel like less of a loser, I thought this would be an excellent time to start attempt #3 to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.  I usually make it halfway through the book before I get too distracted or too overwhelmed by the book's intensity, but I really, really want to make it all the way through.
So, here's an excerpt from the second full page of the first chapter:

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."


Bonhoeffer brings the heat.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Simon and Shuster (1995), 45.

18 October 2011

The whole world is in Cardiff

One of the unexpected happy quirks of my new life in Cardiff has been an almost instantaneous deep saturation of International.
I imagined I'd be hobnobbing with the Brits here, and I've done a bit of that, but what I didn't expect is to be a part of a widespread and varied community of internationals.  Most of my human interaction, apart from cashiers and school administration, has been with other expats.  For instance:

My main professor/academic adviser is Australian
I have 4 Chinese housemates, 1 Hong Kongian (is that a word? I think she'd appreciate it), 1 Kenyan, and 1 Pakistani
One Saturday, I went to Ikea with 13 Hong Kongians
Another Saturday, I went to Llancaiach Fawr with about 20 Chinese, a Nigerian, a Bulgarian, a few Englishmen/women, and a Welshman
This week, I attended a Bible study with 2 Brits, a Slovakian, and a Chinese
On Fridays, I go to an "International Cafe" where I've met and hung out with people from France, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Britain

a typical Welsh field by Llancaiach Fawr
Parts of suddenly belonging to an international community were very accidental, such as with my housemates, or meeting so many postgraduate students from China and India (they're all getting MBAs).  But in general I've found myself gravitating to expats and expat-targeted activities.  I think this is because we're all in the same boat (something I wouldn't be able to say around them, because they might not get the idiom), or a similar one at least.  Perhaps also, when you've already been thrown upon a new culture - not that Britain is so different from America - you feel open and thirsty for more new culture.  Well heck, my traditions and cultural mores are already on their heads, so it's not too much of a stretch to delve deeper into the intricacies of human behavior and its variegation across the earth.  I love conversations that go, "We do it like this in my country; what do you do in yours?"  Somehow, being different brings you together.  You find yourself not only wondering why they do it That way in Their country, but why do we do This in Ours?  Suddenly, instead of just learning about someone else's world, you start to learn more about your own.
I often wonder what these expats I meet think of the USA and Americans.  People typically assume I'm British, because I look it, but it doesn't take long for the accent to kick in, and when they ask where I'm from the response usually goes one of two ways.  Either a slightly wide-eyed, ohh, the United States! or a knowing nod, yes of course, the United States.  Like it means something significant to be from the United States.  And then of course they ask me where in the States, but most people don't know where Georgia is.  So when they look confused I say, Do you know where Florida is?  "Oh yes, yes, Florida." "It's right north of there."  "Oh, okay!  So it is very warm and sunny there?"  ".....Sure."
Then, when I tell a Brit I'm from Atlanta, I might get - particularly from the older women - a little sigh, and then they'll say, "Oh, that's a lovely accent;" for any self-respecting Georgian pronounces Atlanta 'Adlanna,' while here they quite carefully say 'At-lahn-tah.'  It makes me wonder what an American accent sounds like.  To me, British accents sound proper, deliberate but in a hurry, and tall; rounded and tumbling if they're Welsh, angular if they're not.
I feel like I should not be considered an international or an expat, because the language here is my native language and I look the same and I come from a culture that functions basically the same.  But I am an expat, because I'm not from here (at least not in the last few hundred years, ancestry is a different story), and when I accidentally give the clerk the wrong coin or fumble with bagging my own groceries, I feel very obviously out of place.  And then, it is very nice to be able to have a cup of tea with a bunch of other expats and laugh about how idioms come out wrong in other languages.

30 September 2011

Books and Bays

I am incomprehensibly lazy.  It's fast approaching noon, and I am just finishing my first cup of coffee.  Well, that's what happens when you have a late night...reading.  It's as if I'm trying to make up for all those lost semesters where all I got to read was dissertations on the Puritans or Deconstruction.  First I tearfully finished The Far Pavilions, declaring it an epic to stand next to my top 5 books; then, The Ordinary Princess because I couldn't get enough M.M. Kaye; then, a book I bought on a whim because Amazonians (users of Amazon) reviewed it well - Kingkiller Chronicles is now my new favorite yet-unfinished series; and currently, I'm rereading one of my top 5, Jane Eyre.  I remember Jane Eyre keeping me up late at night last time I read it, but I'm marveling at the fact that I read it when I was 17 and thought I understood it.  Not just the intense vocabulary that makes me so grateful for Kindle's built-in dictionary feature, but the concepts, feelings, themes.  Even now I don't fully understand it, and I imagine it will take several rereads and many more years before I do.  I'm also surprised at the forwardness of Bronte's feminism - not the silly we-can-do-everything-men-can-and-better feminism, but her mental and emotional rebellion against the stifling social mores of an age that saw women as little more than parlor decor.  I think this is why I prefer Charlotte and Emily Bronte over Jane Austen, whose spirited heroines always achieve advantageous marital bliss after wittily navigating social machinations.  I do love Pride and Prejudice,  but in the end it's still 85% social machination.

As far as the move goes - I do a little bit of exploring every day.  Wales is experiencing a freak late summer (temps in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit) and I only packed fall and winter clothes, so it's been bordering on uncomfortably warm.  If I had shorts, more t-shirts, sandals - it would be divine.  I went on a university-organized trip down the River Taff to Cardiff Bay, which we learned was once a pivotal industrial port, fallen into disrepair, and revitalized in the 1990s and early 2000s by massive community effort.  The result is a spotless, modern water-side area of shopping and arts with a 6-mile trail around the bay.  Remnants of the Industrial Revolution lay in the crannies and off to the side, while the new buildings feel like experiments in modern architecture.  My internet connection is abominably slow, so I'll share pictures later.  Public transportation is a bit pricey, so I still plan on getting a bike.  Soon I hope to explore the wide expanses of Bute Park, which is just a few blocks away.

23 September 2011

First days

Queen St, home of street musicians
I don’t have much of a grasp on what Wales or even Cardiff is like yet – it’s only my second full day.  What I have gotten, though, is that the city feels a bit quaint, which makes it less overwhelming.  People are friendlier than I’d expected, and fairly patient when they realize I’m not British.  I feel safe walking around by myself, which I did today.  I wandered down past the castle, and stumbled across a music shop – I should have known it wouldn’t take me long to find one.  Of course I had to go in, to smell the wonderful woody, amber smell that all good music shops have, and gaze at the instruments hanging from the ceiling.  Then I discovered a little Christian bookstore nestled in the corner of an old church, where the shopkeeper kindly told me in a thick brogue that I should come back in two weeks for a 20% student discount.  I didn’t tell him I doubted they’d carry the course books I’ll need; I’ll probably come back anyway.  There’s a huge shopping area near the castle, mostly the kind of stores you’d find in any big European city, but they also have a central market.  Maybe a hundred or so “shops” – they’re stalls, really – line the aisles in a giant two-story atrium.  You can get almost anything imaginable there, from pastries and fresh meat to pets and books and fabric.  It’s like a throwback to the way we used to shop.  You tell the shopkeeper, I want a lightbulb, and he says, What kind? and gets it for you.  You can even haggle, if you’re good at that sort of thing.  The produce is fresh and cheap; in fact, most everything seems cheaper than store value. 
Cardiff Market
I live in a student house with other international postgraduate students, most of whom are from China.  The house is old (and not in the cozy way) and smells like dorm, but I have the biggest room, I think, and a huge window I can open to let the fresh air in – and hear the seagulls!  I’ve never lived by the sea before.  When I arrived, a Welcome box from the school was on my desk, containing junk food and none other than RC Cola from Columbus, Georgia.  I didn’t think anybody outside Columbus actually drank RC Cola anymore!

I’m looking forward to when I’m settled in enough to start setting out, instead of just trying to figure my way around.  I haven’t gotten lost yet, which I credit to a thorough examination of the area using Google Earth, and a natural sense of direction I seem to be blessed to have.  My feet are tired, though, and I want a bike.  Everywhere I need to go is close enough to walk to, but a bike would mean farther adventures.

19 September 2011

Last Day

Once again, I'm blogging from the porch, and an early fall hints at campfires, apples, and variegated mountainsides - things I'll miss about good Southern autumns that last through November.  The last two weeks have been lovely, spending sweet time friends & family.  For my birthday we had fresh tomatoes, roasted vegetables, local barbecue, and shrimp & grits, followed by dessert of local peaches and muscadine wine (Blogger doesn't even recognize muscadine as a word).  The perfect late summer Southern dinner, eaten on the screened porch of course.  I spent a weekend in the mountains with an old friend, as previously mentioned, and another weekend in my other home, Birmingham, where everything's changing but my friends are still my family, and we did all my favorite Birmingham things, like bouldering and eating sushi.  I got to play in the worship band one more time, in an amazing service.  All of this, wonderful and perfect, makes me sadder to leave.  But while so much of me wants to stay, I don't feel like I need to, or should.  I still can't believe I'm leaving, let alone leaving tomorrow, but my visa came today and I guess that makes it real?
I can't express how much I'll miss people.  It's time for an adventure, though.

05 September 2011

On This Mountain

It's a rainy Labor Day morning, and I'm having my coffee on the screen porch, listening to the water hit the leaves and the whistle of a train a couple miles away.  Does anywhere outside the South love the screen porch like we do, I wonder?  Other regions might use outdoor living spaces more, but I've always thought of the screen porch as a characteristically Southern thing, where you drink your tea or your coffee and socialize and laugh at the skeeters that cain't get atcha.  We love our screen porches so much that we put ceiling fans in them, so when the mercury spikes we can still sit outside with a nice cold glass of sweet tea; forget the fact that there's A/C inside the house.
My granddad used to tell a story about when his parents repainted their farmhouse; his dad was always looking for a good deal on such frivolous things as house color, so he hired industrial painters to spray paint the house for cheap.  Lo and behold, they painted the whole house a shimmering silver, screen porch included.  My grandma would then add a little visual detail to the story, like she was wont to do, recalling that one of the things her father-in-law liked to do while he and Grandma Lily sat on the screen porch was to dip snuff.  He'd spit it off the porch, through the screen, and before long the silver screen turned a rainbow of colors from his snuff.
Our screen porch isn't silver or rainbow; it's cedar and black, but its best feature is that when you're on it you feel like you're in a tree house, because the house is built on a hill and it drops off at such an angle that you're eye level with the squirrel's nests in the trees.

Remember my ramble Hobbits, Koreans, and Courage, about unfamiliar situations and leaving home and going on adventure?  Well, it's happening, although the significance of leaving home is just now starting to sink in.  I've been very nonchalantly telling people of my upcoming move to Wales like it's just across the street, no big deal, but as the distance to my departure shrinks (two weeks and one day), a silent panic grows.  Yes, I am excited. SO excited.  But twelve months is a long time - twelve months without my family, without my friends, without my church home, without screen porches, without barbecue - it began to set in yesterday when I said see you later (later being several months, possibly twelve) to a friend I haven't gone more than a couple months without seeing in about 21 years.  The drive home was a long one, across the upper part of the state, where there are apple farms every few miles, with the low, with the rambling foothills of the Appalachians in view.  Driving near/in/around the mountains is just about my favorite place to drive  - really, the only place where I don't mind driving for more than five minutes.  The drive home somehow morphed into a metaphor for my last American experiences and all the goodbyes I have to make in the next couple weeks, and all the nonchalance I had felt toward moving to another country melted away, leaving a mixture of sadness and nervous anticipation.
But while I am sad, I'm also happy - so don't misunderstand.  I'm moving to Wales!  

28 August 2011


I never intended to leave a discouraged note as my most recent blog entry for nearly two months.  I don't want to mislead you into thinking that I felt the trip was futile, or that I remain convinced there was no reason for me to be there.  Really, it's quite the OPPOSITE.  I started the trip focusing on my own weaknesses and inabilities, instead of realizing how powerful God is to work through my failings.  Sometimes (most times) it takes me a while to get what God is trying to say to me.

For the next four days of the trip, we had medical clinic every morning and afternoon, in a different location every time.  I want to warn you, dear hearts, that if you ask God to break your heart for what breaks his heart, he will answer that prayer.  My heart was ruined for the people we saw.  And the ruination of my heart only served to sharpen my feelings of helplessness.  We didn't have many translators, so the most conversation I could make while I took vitals was Hello, how are you, please sit, we're done.

I feel I need to pause here and explain that I don't effervesce with affection for others.  At the clinics, I found myself overwhelmed with love for several specific people we treated, and in general for almost everyone we met.  In light of my general disaffection, I know that love did not come from my own nature.  It was and is a painful and precious gift.

Not Mahmoud, but equally sweet
One older woman sticks particularly in my memory.  As I took her blood pressure, she was smiling so warmly that I introduced myself (in shamefully bad Arabic) and asked her name.  Mary, she told me, and thinking of the Marys of the Bible and struck with how lovely and matronly this Mary was, I told her her name was beautiful.  She laughed and, like an affectionate grandmother patted my cheek, saying "La, anti jameela!"  "No, you are beautiful!"  When she came back through to get her medicine from the pharmacists, she immediately stuck her arm in mine, bubbling and laughing and presumably telling me some funny story that I didn't understand in the least.  And I loved her terribly then, and still do, and I still dwell on my inability to tell her why I was there, because Christ loved her, and wonder if she reads the Bible we gave her.  And I think of Mahmoud, a boy of about ten who wandered shyly into the triage room and told us his friend in school was from America, whose eyes lit up in wonder when I let him listen to his own heart with the stethoscope.

This was all a marvelous plot set-up for how God was going to reveal himself.

Midway through the week, I cried out to God to show me that he was there, working, and victorious when I was unable to see the fruit of the seeds we sowed.  I've heard so many reports of mission trips where 30, 40, 100 or more come into the Kingdom.  I wanted to see that fruit, but without seeds there's no harvest.
On the last day, at the last clinic, God gave us a gift.  We were all tired, hot, and suddenly overwhelmed by at least 20 or 30 field laborers who came in at the last half-hour.  We needed to be somewhere, and we only had enough translators for one doctor, and frustrations were mounting.  Most of these men complained of backaches, tooth pain, etc.  One, though, had put on his registration as his symptom: "Unhappy."  In the midst of the chaos, Tommy, my co-triager, realized that here was an opportunity for something beyond physical healing.  He pulled aside the pastor we were working with, and together they took the man, whom we'll call Victor because that's what his name means, to a quiet place to talk.  This is what Tommy told us happened:
Tommy and the pastor asked Victor why he had put that he was unhappy.  Victor replied,
"Nobody loves me."
"Well, I love you!" said Tommy, with the pastor translating and adding,
"I love you, too!  And Jesus loves you."
He didn't divulge the details of the rest of the conversation, and there are some experiences too deep and vulnerable to tell of in print.  But when Victor, Tommy, and the pastor emerged, Victor's face, previously downtrodden, was new.  I don't know how to explain it, but you can see the change when a person chooses Christ.  Buoyant and awed describe it a little bit.  As word got around among the Christ-followers there, the mood turned.  A new brother!  The rest of the day passed in joy, as I remember.  I don't know if the pastor was able to keep in touch with Victor, he said he would try, but it will be hard for Victor, as his coworkers and almost everyone around him will likely disapprove of his faith.

I miss this coastline
Like I said, God ruined my heart.  He ruined it in the best possible way.  I believe that discipleship is a journey, and oftentimes spiritual growth happens in such small steps that we don't notice it until we look behind and see how far God has brought us.  However, I also believe that there are experiences which radically alter the course of your discipleship in a very short amount of time.  I learned so much about faith and trust and God's unstoppable GLORY in that short trip to the Middle East.  As I try to work out what it means to live here like we lived there, in those ten days, I dream of the day I'll be able to go back.  For the second time in the course of a year, God wrecked me for the Middle East.

Matthew 16:24-27
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will fined it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

12 July 2011


I have never thought to liken a city to a jewel before, though I've seen it done.  But there could be no other description for my impression of this city as we descended upon her in the dark of the morning.  She sparkled, she glowed, red and gold and green, while the waves lapped humbly at her feet.  I soon learned that she smelled, too, like fish.  Nobody's perfect.  We were greeted like family, piled in a rickety old van that was to become our constant companion for the week, and we bounced south for over an hour.  I stuck my face in the open window so that the wet sea air buffeted me as the jeweled city faded, replaced by more silent waves, fields, and darkness.
I still felt trepidation that I had come out of my own thirst for adventure, and not from divine appointment.  Was I following God's lead or orchestrating my own path?
My fear that I had made a mistake quickly got worse.  It may have had something to do with my being sick as a dog the first two nights.  They told us not to drink the water, but I ate the tabouleh - and regretted it.  I wanted to go home.  I REALLY wanted to go home.

As I was well enough during the day to manage okay, I was told that my job during the week would be triage.  Sure!  I said....What's a triage?
We bumped in the van back up to the city we'd flown into to do clinics at a blind and deaf school and an orphanage.  At the school, we watched some of the kids perform for us before we sang some worship songs for them.  When I walked into the small auditorium, the only air conditioned room we'd be in all week, a blind girl was sitting on the stage, singing.  Every so often I caught the word "habibi" (my love) - I was informed the song was about unrequited love.  Her voice softly rose and fell in those minor and fast-changing intervals that the best trained western singers seem unable to manage.  A teenage boy, also blind, was brought up on stage, where he played a small drum tucked under his arm; taps, bumps, hits and slaps at a dizzying speed and with such precision and patience.  The drum sang, I don't know how that's possible, but it did, and the boy's face shone like he was in his happiest element creating such a song.

The children at the blind and deaf school wore crisp uniforms with little red ties, but the children at the orphanage wore mismatched hand-me-downs.  Street kids, disenfranchised, illegitimate, untaught, unloved except for a handful of people who try to fight the corruption that funnels away the funds that should be put toward the orphanage.  These kids have no papers, so they can't be adopted.  The orphanage is supposed to work toward obtaining papers for them, but it doesn't get the money it's supposed to for this.
We gave them checkups and played with them.  We sang songs like "Peace Like a River," which they apparently know very well and sing it anything but peacefully.  They were certainly less than angelic; the group dynamics brought back frightening flashbacks of Lord of the Flies, but even the most conniving kid had the innocence that just comes with being a kid, not having control over your circumstances and not knowing any better than to fight tooth and nail for your own self.
This was the first instance on the trip of my feeling completely helpless.  What were we there for, other than to entertain them for an afternoon?  Weird laws, corruption, and a society that wants to forget it has orphans meant these kids have very little hope in this world.  They're stuck in limbo.
I don't mean to leave you with such a depressing thought, but it's where I was at the end of the first day - in between losing my lunch and dinner and everything else I'd ever eaten.  I thought, why am I here?  This is a mistake.  I can't do anything.

16 June 2011

How God uses Google

Tomorrow, I'll be plane-hopping my way to the Middle East.  Today, I have a million things to do.  Well, technically it's less than a million, but I've got that silent panic feeling in my stomach that always seems to drive me to denial and ultimately procrastination - as if that will get the (less than a) million things done.  And, like last time, like so many times in my life, there's that voice quietly telling me that I am going to fail, I'm not good enough, I'm going to screw everything up for my team, there's no point in even trying unless I masochistically want to fall flat on my face.  Those fears even materialize into deceptively realistic nightmares that hang in the back of my mind for weeks, extremely disconcerting for a person who never remembers their dreams at all.

Yesterday God provided in a small but important thing regarding my trip, and in gratitude I thought of the verse about how your Father in heaven cares even about sparrows, and how much more then he cares about you.  What is that reference again, I mused.  A magical thing about the internet is you can Google (or Bing, if you Bing) even the vaguest word of a verse and get a the exact verse you're looking for.  Sort of.  I was actually looking for Matthew 6: 25-34, but Googling "verse about sparrows" sent me instead to Matthew 10: 26-33, which was not what I had thought I wanted, but ended up being what I needed.  If I had a nickel for every time God gave me what I needed instead of what I wanted - I would have a lot of earthly treasure that would mean nothing compared to the treasure of his presence.

Here's what Matt 10: 26-33 says (Jesus is speaking):
"So have to fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."
(ESV, boldedness mine)

The greater danger than the person who attacks you head-on is the person sneaking up behind you.  A convincing lie will trap you where words of opposition will not.  As a favorite teacher of mine says, "Those who are deceived don't know that they are deceived, because they're deceived!"
The gripping anxieties are not gone, but they've been lessened by Google's non-coincidental diversion to a word I did not intend to find, but God meant for me in that moment.  He provided yet again.  He always does!

20 May 2011

an education in jazz

I am finally, only through the grace of God, done with college.  When I say it like that it sounds like it was miserable.  It wasn't; in fact, it was pretty fun.  But it wasn't always easy, and I wouldn't make it through a day without his grace anyway, college or not.  I am also now unemployed, teaching music not being a lucrative enough venture to pay the rent (with my skills and limited experience, at least), so I'm moving back in with my parents (it's ok, they're cool, and when I say they're cool I mean they're nerdy like me).  I'll stay with them until I either go to grad school in the fall or get rejected from grad school, in which case who knows!  I have full confidence in God's sovereignty, so maybe I'm less stressed about unemployment than I should be.  I have roughly two weeks left before moving back home, and I must admit I'm relishing the wide empty TIME that I finally have.  Apparently, I like reading and music!  I noticed that it said so on my Facebook profile, so I tried them and I DO like both!  My parents gave me a Kindle for graduation, and even though my first love will always be crispy, age-worn sweet smelling tomes, the (near) infinite capabilities of the tiny Kindle delight my fondness for always having multiple reading possibilities with me.  And I've been learning jazz, FINALLY.

Jazz has always been to me the elusive domain of musicians far better than me, surrounded by a smoke of nonchalant genius and pure creativity.  My (former) boss is giving me a crash course in jazz, from progressions to modes and ninths and improvisation.  I never really learned how to improv in a band setting, like I do in the worship band; I kind of just tried and it happened.  Jazz seems like "anything goes," but the theory is endlessly complicated.  For the first time, I'm having to actually think about what notes I should play next.  I've started listening to more jazz, having been directed to jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.  Jazz violin!  How cool is that!  Learning jazz has made me realize how much I love learning music, and how refreshingly challenging the puzzle of theory is.  It's been a bit of a reassurance for my decision to pursue a postgraduate music degree.  I'm glad I majored in history, but I miss music.

16 May 2011

Electric Tuareg

Tinariwen is a band of Tuareg musicians.  The founding member reportedly built his own guitar as a child; he used a tin can, bicycle brake wire, and a stick to make it after seeing a movie where a cowboy played a guitar.  The band was formed in the late 1970s, but when Muammar al-Gaddhafi (whom we all know from current news) gave illegal refugees in Libya the chance for military training, the members of Tinariwen joined the Libyan military.  In a backfire of Gaddhafi's plan for a larger Libyan military, Tinariwen joined with a Tuareg rebel group in Libya.  Later, they joined Tuareg rebellion in Mali that ended in the Tamanrasset Accords in 1991.  With their military endeavors over, they devoted themselves more fully to their music, and began traveling internationally in 2001.  
The band's distinct style mixes West African traditions with modern instruments, most specifically the electric guitar, giving rise to a new style often referred to as "Electric Tuareg."  Tinariwen means "The Desert People."

03 May 2011

Middle East, Episode II

I knew I'd go back - or, at least, I hoped that I'd go back, trusted that God wouldn't give me such a desire in vain.
In June I'm going back to the Middle East (though not Israel proper), if God wills.  We'll be doing a medical clinic and an eyeglass clinic, though I probably won't be much help in either of those.  We'll also be serving Palestinian refugees.
My heart has been breaking on a regular basis for Palestinians.
I wrote a (terrible excuse for a) paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week, and while the paper itself is just plain heinous, the research I did for it opened my eyes to a greater understanding of what exactly is going on over there.  Honestly, when I went to Israel I had next to no idea what all the conflict was about, or who did what, or why - I just thought, "So you guys don't like these guys, and those guys don't like you....right?"  Now that I at least have a basic sketch of its recent history (by no means do I fully understand it), I just itch to go back all the more.  I'm not sure why I care so much, but I do, and I think that since I don't know where this love for Palestine and the Middle East in general came from, it must not have come from me, but from God.

I'm exploring options for spending more time over there, but right now my official plans are for a 10-day trip in June.  I've never liked the idea of asking people to help out financially on mission trips, but a large part of that is my pride and my dislike of depending on anyone other than myself.  It's definitely more than I can afford, and asking for money has required me to swallow a lot of pride (I have a lot of it to swallow) and lean on God's greater understanding.  If you want to help me go, and part of the trip expenses will support the churches we will work with and pay for food distribution and other materials, let me know via comment or e-mail or any other way you have to get in touch with me.  Also, and probably more importantly, I fervently desire your prayers for this trip and the people we'll be going to serve.

02 May 2011

party time

This is the first day of my last week of undergraduate classes.

18 April 2011

I, Benedict Arnold

I have a confession.

I want a Kindle.

ESV study Bible 9.99

Complete works of George MacDonald 1.79

I'm betraying my stacks of sweet-smelling books.

But I don't care.

16 April 2011

What do you call the day after a rainy day?

Saturdays can go two ways: they can either be very productive or very lazy.  I intended today to be the former.  So far it's the latter.  But I suppose there's still hope, maybe with a second cup of coffee.  It's also a beautiful day today, a real spring day instead of a summer day like the ones we've had lately.  Yesterday we had a nasty storm, and in my dreaming last night my apartment was swept away.  When I woke up it was all still here, though.  The day after storms is usually especially lovely, skies clearer than usual and a sweet, new smell in the air, like it's trying to make up for being all furious and destructive the day before.  It would be a good day for a hike, a wet hike anyway, but hiking buddies have been hard to come by lately and I have that whole "be productive" thing to do anyway.
So I will just have to placate the desire to take to the woods by looking at my photos from my last few hikes.  Most college kids hit the beach for spring break, or go somewhere with friends; this year, for my last spring break ever, I decided what I wanted to do most was be with the people I don't get to see, i.e. my parents, and hike as much as possible with my first and favorite hiking buddy, my mom.
 We hit up a couple places out of state.  It's nice to be able to day trip over the border.  But it's also nice that our home state has so many great trails.

 Day 2 we managed to drag my dad along for some spectacular Appalachian Trail views.

 Day 3 we stumbled on an idyllic valley of rhododendron and waterfalls.  It was one of those ancient-feeling places.  We went on a weekday, in the morning, so we had it all to ourselves.

We had to examine the stratification of this boulder.  We hypothesized the other half of the rock was in the creek, near where we ate lunch.  They were separated a long time ago.
This is the creek we forded.   It looks harmless, and it is, but it's over a foot deep.  We felt very adventurous.  Like Daniel Boone, but with an SUV.

15 April 2011

Hobbits, Koreans, and Courage

A couple nights ago I started re-reading The Hobbit, one of my favorite books.  It's nice to read an old favorite before you go to bed.  New books embroil me too much in the plot and I'll lie awake wondering what happens next until I finally give up and turn the light back on.  For instance, last night I tried to read part of of Elie Wiesel's Dawn  and ended up reading the whole book (you should read it).
As I'm reading about my favorite hobbit (yes, Bilbo is my favorite.  Sam is #2, then Pippin, Merry, Frodo), I'm noticing we have a lot in common.  We both enjoy a good cup of tea and prefer going barefoot.  Ah, but there's more than that.  Bilbo loves being at home in the Shire, but also has a deep longing for adventure that sometimes breaks out and puts his ordinary self in very un-ordinary situations.  Every once in a while he feels like he's meant for something more than humdrum quietude and that he must do that something more.  He still loves humdrum quietude though, and that's the problem, and that's what makes him so endearing and hilarious.
I've always been a homebody, content to sit on the porch with tea and book, stay at home, be by myself, just contemplate and create in the comfort of my own environment.  But I've also always been restless, felt like there was something more to do, something more to be, somewhere to GO.  I feel like adventure lurks around the corner and I only occasionally get at it.  New and unfamiliar situations usually make me very uncomfortable, but they awaken and nurture something thirsty deep within me.
C.S. Lewis, another favorite, said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."  I do believe that this earth is not my home, but I also I believe I have a purpose on this earth, and that purpose is to serve God's purposes.
I have a sneaking suspicion that God wants me to be willing to go anywhere and do anything for him.  OK, I know that he wants that.  But I suspect that maybe going somewhere unfamiliar and doing something unfamiliar are in his plan for my near future.  I know that when I am in situations that terrify me - like approaching complete strangers who probably don't speak my language and asking if I can pray for them (I will elaborate on that story later) - I am forced to depend on God, and utterly depending on him is the most alive I have ever felt.  So I want to be in that unfamiliar situation, even if it means tea and books on the porch alone happens less.
A Korean man said to me in English, whilst with Arabs in a hospital in Israel, when I was at my most terrified, "Be brave.  Be brave and God will bless your obedience."
Those two words, "be brave," altered my life.  Like it was something simple.  But it is simple.  As simple as dying to self and living in Christ - paradoxically the most simple and most difficult thing to do.  When something must be done, it ceases to be difficult.
I guess if God sends me away from "home," away from my books and my instruments and everything familiar and comfortable, it will be easy, because I will abide in him.  He is my home.