discover the vulnerability

It's been a hectic past few months (as evident by my lack of blog posts) between starting up New Leaf and developing business plans for a talent agency I'm helping to create. And in the midst of all the formal and official business, I've also had the chance to get to know the dentist on a much deeper level recently, with visits at least once a week. They've taken my wisdom teeth, numbed my gums more times that I care to remember, and poked and prodded at my teeth with instruments that I would never wish to have in my mouth. But, it's been great to get to know all of them and we're now on a first name basis (unfortunately with the one lady, I also bit her finger accidentally, so we know each other even better than just first names). But, I've reached the end now and from here on out it's just checkups and the standard procedures - no more teeth removal and vicodin (fingers crossed).

With all the time at the dentist and sitting drugged up in the family room chair recovering, it's given me some time to think and reflect over the past few year. A lot of my sustainability ponderings and thoughts (I know, the really exciting stuff) have been moving over to New Leaf's blog to help that get going, so feel free to take a look and let me know what you think - all kinds of feedback is welcomed!

But I wanted to take the time before Christmas comes and go to share a video that really hit me on a more personal level and which sums up a lot of the thoughts spinning in my head. Take the time to listen through (it's 20 minutes but worth the time - and we could all use a break at this time of the year). A lot of my thoughts below are repeating the ideas of Brene Brown in the video, so I want to start by thanking her for making some of these thoughts a bit clearer.

Every now and then we bump into those rare individuals who seem to have discovered an incredible mystery that the rest of us are blind to. They posses a certain magic that we are drawn to and which captivates our attention. It creates an incredible connection that we don't want to let go of in fear that we might forget all of these wonderful things we discover about the world around us through them.

But perhaps we shouldn't be as concerned about the connection - and more focused on ourselves. Perhaps there is something blocking that mystery from being discovered within ourselves because we are afraid to fully uncover it. And instead of face the messiness of our inner self, we cling onto others who have managed to get through that pain and uncomfortableness already.

Perhaps that mystery we are afraid to uncover is vulnerability...

We all long for love and belonging, meaning and purpose. Some of us strive towards perfection to find it, others build a wall of disguise to pretend like we have found it. There are individuals who act as if the messiness within them is in fact ordered, confusing uncertainty for certainty. And there are some of us who belittle the accomplishments of others to make our own purpose feel greater.

Yet all along, no matter how hard we try, we manage to evade the simple truths of what actually lead to true happiness.

We refuse to deal with vulnerability.

The vulnerability of stepping out and saying "I love you" first. The vulnerability of switching career paths and starting all over again. The vulnerability of letting go of something that meant so much to you for so long.

The vulnerability of change, and exposing yourself for who you really are, both to the world around you, and to yourself.

Christmas unfortunately can be a time where people numb that vulnerability and set it aside while they focus on the 'real issues' at hand - like buying the right gift, or making the right meal, or wearing the right outfit to impress the right person. But perhaps during a season intended to focus on the pure source of happiness and goodness in the world - we've managed to confuse the real issues that are important.

There have been a few of those rare people in my life - the ones that remind me of the real issues in life. Those people that challenge me and confuse me. The ones that make me search deeper and uncover unsettling truths about myself. The ones that refuse to give up on me yet never force me. The ones that have lent a listening ear and reassuring smile. The ones that have helped me uncover my vulnerability and let me peel back layers one at a time. The ones that stood by me and rejoiced as I discovered who I truly was. And the ones who are aware of all the learning and growing still ahead.

I surely don't have things figured out, and god knows how many times I wish I could have done some things differently. But I am grateful that despite the hiccups and despite the curvy and indirect roads to get to my final destination, I have always been blessed with the best friends one could ask for.

There are the friends who have stuck beside me from elementary school onward to the friends I have bumped into for a few hours on a train, just long enough to share stories of our vulnerability. There have been the friends who ventured into new countries and new fields alongside me and the friends who refuse to let distance or timezones stop sharing our stories.

You all know who you are, and I wish I had a couple sets of hands and computers to simultaneously write letters to each of you. But alas, I procrastinated to the last minute and will have to settle with this for the time being. Thank you for everything each and every one of you has done over the last year - if only I could show the specific impact that each of you has made.

Jesus would often talk about seeds in his parables, and I've always found it a reassuring picture to sum up the impact you all have made. Some seeds germinate quickly, and others take awhile to fully flourish, but regardless, I am grateful for each impact you have made.  And some of those impacts have yet to fully develop, you'll have to keep waiting to see what they turn into.

May we remember the true reason for the season this Christmas and be open to the vulnerability within all of us. It's often the uncomfortable we avoid, yet the uncomfortableness which leads to beautiful discoveries. Continue to uncover those mysteries this upcoming year, and I pray that I might be apart of some of those discoveries alongside you!

Fear of Hell - Hope of Paradise

Back in December I was lucky enough to hang out in Copenhagen for the COP15 Climate Change Negotiations. While there, I had the chance to hear the band Outlandish perform after a speech by Desmund Tutu, and instantly became a fan of the Danish hip-hop band.

Recently I've been on an Outlandish kick, and came across their song "Beyond Words." There's a lot of lyrics (which is always a plus) but one line has really stood out to me:
If I worship You in fear of hell, burn me in it
And if I worship You in hope of paradise, exclude me from it
But if I worship You for Your own being
Don't withhold from me Your everlasting beauty  

I believe that spirituality and religion have a lot to offer the world, but often the organized part of religion gets in the way and causes more harm than good. Regardless, I still rely largely on my faith as a guiding light for the work I engage on and way in which I interact with those around me. But one of the frustrations I have is that with the rise of religion, people have slowly begun to divide the world around them into black and white. We seem to have lost the grey areas.

Homosexuality is either right or wrong. Christianity is the only way to God. Climate change is either a made-up science or the end of the world. The middle east is full of terrorists. Black or white. Right or wrong. Republican or democrat.

In a world full of complexity and constantly evolving systems and information, we have developed a tendency to simplify a message to break it down into bite-sized pieces. But we often simplify and reduce that message to either A or B, and this quickly overlooks the invaluable details of a situation.

Part of this tendency can be linked back to the rise of organized religion and the separation between heaven and hell. Although I don't believe this to be the intention of Jesus, the teachings about hell have been used to instill fear in society as a reason to follow their specific religious tradition. Unfortunately, I think that's the exact opposite of what Jesus came to preach - and Outlandish speaks to this in their song, though coming from a muslim perspective as well (one of the reasons I love the band, they consist of both muslim and christians creating some neat lyrics).

Jesus came to flip organized religion on its head, and to sweep away the rules, traditions, and stumbling blocks that we humans like to lay down behind and ahead of us. He wasn't concerned with forcing people to follow him, instead he had a tendency to cause people to turn away because his teachings hit at the heart of the matter and were often too difficult for people to follow with their actions. But for those that did choose to follow, they experienced a life change that transformed them from the inside out.

How many religious folk tend to worship god out of fear of hell or joy of heaven? The problem is that both of these forms of worship emerge entirely from a selfish nature, out of the good or bad that will happen to us in the future. We have a hard time stripping the black and white away from situations, especially when they regard ourselves. I think Jesus was more concerned about those who worshiped God simply for who God was. I am who I am. By focusing so much on ourselves and narrowing our thoughts to either heaven or hell, we forget to focus on the beauty of God's love for us. Perhaps that's why so many people today are turned away from religion, because the religious folks have done a really good job at stripping that beauty and appeal away from God. We've wrapped the beauty of God behind a boring cardboard box - sometimes I just want to rip that box apart.

Now although Jesus was most concerned with our relationship with God, I think his teachings have a significant ripple effect into the rest of our lives and the way we approach challenges each and every day.

Take climate change for example. For some crazy reason, we seem to have let the issue morph into a black or white situation, especially in the political realm. Democrats are concerned about man-made climate change and republicans seem to be able to discredit all scientific accounts and opinions, forming the other side of the coin - that man-made climate change is a myth and not a concern.

But why must we split an issue grounded in sound science as either black or white? Why can't we agree on the fact that climate change is a significant challenge for all of society, and rather than debate the science of the issue, focus on the strategies and methods for responding to it. A significant and sustainable solution must come from both the democrats and republicans, and relying on any one party to determine our path forward is a scary thought.

Yet we for some reason resort back to the tendency to reduce life to black and white, right and wrong. It's a dangerous habit that has permeated not only our personal and spiritual lives, but now into the life of our global society and will have lasting impact on generations to come through the decisions we make today.

Loving Our Neighbor

What is the role of sustainability, indigenous knowledge, and religion?
A Thousand Suns tells the story of the Gamo Highlands of the African Rift Valley and the unique worldview held by the people of the region. This isolated area has remained remarkably intact both biologically and culturally. It is one of the most densely populated rural regions of Africa yet its people have been farming sustainably for 10,000 years. Shot in Ethiopia, New York and Kenya, the film explores the modern world's untenable sense of separation from and superiority over nature and how the interconnected worldview of the Gamo people is fundamental in achieving long-term sustainability, both in the region and beyond.
One of the issues that the film raises (and it's not a long film, less than a half hour, so go check it out) is the importance of a holistic worldview. In most, if not all, indigenous cultures, a systemic understanding of the world around them and how they as a species fit into that larger picture is a critical component to their lifestyle. Through a deep connection with nature, these cultures have an ingrained understanding of sustainability - especially in relation to agriculture. One of the challenges is that with the rise of western religion, an emphasis (whether theologically correct or not) has been placed on the distinction between heaven and earth. One side effect from this distinction is that earth and its resources suddenly became viewed as things to be 'used' and set apart from holy - a realm that existed in heaven and the afterlife.

But is this consistent with a christian perspective? I guess it depends what kind of christian you talk to. Personally, I feel that it is largely written into the verses and books of the bible to be responsible stewards of the planet, but it really comes down to one key thing for me. As I wrote in the previous post, I believe there are two key lessons to take away from the bible: love god and love your neighbor.

Being wise stewards of the environment around us is a direct way of showing our love to both god and our neighbors - and this is where sustainability starts to come into the picture.

God is described as the creator of the universe and planet, and that all that we see around us was placed here as a gift to us. As with any gift we receive from a close friend, we tend to treasure it by taking care of it and perhaps displaying it prominently on a shelf in our bedroom. It doesn't matter if it's a standard off-the-shelf picture frame that you could easily replace, you tend to place higher importance on a gift from a loved one simply because of it's designation as a gift, and because you want to show love back to that person who gave it.

At the same time, all of god's creation, and all of our neighbors (both locally and globally) find themselves living on this great gift from God. And as we are all completely dependent on the land we live on, it's imperative that we seek sustainable solutions that responsibly care for our natural resources that so many around the world depend on. Loving our neighbors cannot stop at offering to babysit the neighbor's kids for an evening. It cannot stop at us taking time out of our busy schedules to share a meal with a community member going through a tough personal situation. And it can't even stop at donating money and resources towards humanitarian groups providing food to the hungry.

Loving our neighbors requires so much more - and it's not always the easy choice. Loving our neighbors requires us to deeply and sincerely look at our own lives and see how the actions we take and decisions we make impact those around the world. And it's sometimes difficult, uncomfortable, and messy to analyze those actions and decisions, but if we truly believe in loving our neighbors, then we would be willing to overcome any barrier, regardless how difficult.

Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision to simply start digging just a little bit deeper...

Building Bridges or Walls

Since returning back to the states, I've been greeted with numerous media clips, emails, and stories of people in the US afraid of islamic extremists and muslims slowly overtaking the rest of the country, I know, it's sad and I wish I could change it somehow. It's definitely not all, or even the majority, of the view in the US, but sadly there has been enough people to cause a stir and begin creating a panic in the rest of the country. Yet whether it be islamophobia, homophobia, or obama-phobia - the problem is still the same - our culture reacts and responds to fear. And unfortunately, there are certain people within our society that recognize that fact and use it to advance their personal agenda.

I have been extremely blessed and fortunate to have traveled around the world and meet people from every culture and walk of life, a gift that I cherish above anything else I own or have experienced. For every place I visit, I try to share with others - through my blog, pictures and stories - the way of life for the rest of the world - a group of people that the majority of us never get the chance to meet. But sadly, I find that it's never possible to fully pass on that message to others, it's simply impossible without meeting someone face-to-face, I don't see any alternative. I wish I could bring my friends around the globe home with me so that all of you could meet them (but I haven't found a financial solution to that yet). If there's one thing I could figure out in life, it would be to help others understand the beautiful interconnectedness of our global society and reveal the incredible similarities we share as a single, thriving, human family - regardless of country, culture, or religion.

Just two months ago, I found myself walking along the shores of the Bosphorous river and spending time praying in some of the most beautiful mosques I've ever visited. I shared the streets with kids and their ice cream cones and veiled women picking up groceries for that night's festivities and celebrations. We fasted together during Ramadan and talked about the way religion has caused so many ridiculous barriers between person to person and person to God. We ate wedding meals together and dreamed about ways to end extreme poverty. Turkey was more beautiful and hospitable than I could have ever imagined.

Since returning to the states, I try to keep in touch with that group as often as possible and share our life stories together. But then I quickly remember that it is so much harder to have those conversations with people when I return to the states - because we in the US live in a perpetual state of fear, a fear that silences so much meaningful conversation and discussion. When I travel away from home, it is so much easier to talk with people, it's as if an invisible fence is torn down around me.

When I hear stories of pastors who want to burn Korans, I get so upset because it feels as if everything I try to stand for and represent to others around the world is ripped to shreds. I try to convince others that the US isn't as bad as the media tends to illustrate it as, but I have to question if I'm really defending the right side?

When will we ever put our differences aside and grow out of our fright and distrust for those not exactly like ourselves? When will we learn that we are equally, if not more, responsible for the mess in the world, but are blind to that simple truth? When will we stop bickering and perpetuating the problems around us and actually start finding meaningful solutions - that benefit all of humankind? When will we learn to grow up?

I hesitate to share my thoughts at times because of my lack of experience - I realize I am only 23 and have an entire lifetime of learning ahead of me. But there are certain things that I will not remain mute on, and I will passionately defend any culture or religion who I feel is being victimized, especially when the victimizing is coming from my own culture.

The world is not a simple place. There is conflict and pain. There are those who look to use the system for their own gain. There are those who thrive on evil over truth. And I wish I could change a lot of that. But I would never change the complexity of the world around me, for it is what makes this life so worthwhile and fulfilling. God's beauty is etched into every church and mosque, carved into every riverbank and countryside, and placed within each of us his children, regardless of religion.

Who are we to steal that beauty from others...

I have tons of friends who are committed followers of Islam and true stewards of peace. They are saddened when they hear of bombings and wars happening around the world. They are like you and I and have dreams and fears and hopes and difficulties. Why are we so afraid of those we don't know - is it impossible to think that they may share the same feelings and thoughts as we do? For my muslim friends, it doesn't matter if we sit together in a mosque, a church, or a buddhist temple - we can always talk with God - and together! I believe the two most important messages in the bible are to love god and love your neighbors - it would be a sad and cruel world if we were to fear god and fear our neighbors (but unfortunately, I think that's how we prefer to live).

I sincerely pray and hope that we begin asking the question "Were we building bridges or walls in the world?" I hope that answer is bridges. All I can do is start reaching out to others to help build my small bridge - from Turkey to Jordan, and Tanzania to Australia. I just hope the rest of the US will follow...

Foundation of prayer

This past summer, by far one of the most important places I visited, and the one I miss most, is Taize in France. I made a bunch of posts about my experience in Taize (go check out July 2010) and since returning back to the states, I've been trying to figure out what it was that made Taize so special, why did it make such a difference on me?

Well this morning I was listening to a sermon and my pastor made the following point - Jesus didn't say my house will be called a house of music, or a house of worship. He didn't say that my house will be called a house of teaching or preaching. What Jesus did say, is that my house will be called a house of prayer.

It's not worship or preaching; prayer is what radically defines a place to be filled by a spiritual presence. It's not the walls of a beautiful church or the trickling water of a flowing stream - it's the prayer (our conversations with god) that fills those spaces which invites god into our presence.

While at Taize, I was struck by the simplicity and beauty of community in this small town hidden in the rolling french countryside. There was something that felt so 'magical' and 'holy' about this area, but what was it? I thought it was simplicity, but I think simplicity was simply a byproduct of the real reason - their focus on prayer.

Spending the majority of your day in prayer (we're talking multiple hours) inevitably creates a sense of simplicity. And I thought it was the simplicity that was missing from my home churches, but I don't think that that was the differentiating feature.

I've never really had a single church I call home - that's probably largely due to my tendency to travel the world and never be in one place for too long. So I tend to have different churches that have different strengths, and their combined efforts are what have a significant impact on me. I think the key aspects of church - prior to Taize - for me were teaching, worship, community, and service. And each church back home covered one of those areas quite well. But traveling to Taize - another church to add to my list (and I use the term church to refer to any community of believers together, whether it's in a traditional church building or not) - I realized that I was missing an important component - prayer. And it's funny that prayer is the one thing Jesus says will define his house - a house of prayer. I seemed to have missed that one in all my searching.

So it's not that the other components aren't still important, they are, it's just that prayer plays a significant difference in how I rely upon the other four areas. I'm slowly learning how to "raise the priority of prayer" in my own life, but I'm quickly realizing it's importance. I pray that I will never remain content or comfortable with my faith - that it will continue to expand and grow and uncover new truths - it's one of the most exciting journey's I've been on yet!

What's your motivating passion?

I should really track my frequency of blog post writing vs. time since my last international trip. It seems that every time I return back home after a trip abroad, I take at least a month break from writing. Maybe that's my way of dealing with culture shock back to the states, or perhaps I get swept so quickly back into this culture that I forget how much I enjoy writing. So, time to start this all back up again :)

First, for the personal side of things - since returning home I've been heavily involved with launching a nonprofit called New Leaf Initiative. It's an exciting platform for connecting individuals and organizations around the world to collaboratively tackle sustainability challenges together. Over the last few weeks, we've been building the community and reaching out to people who we know are committed to making the world a better place. It's been incredibly inspiring and encouraging to see the support of so many people who, when given the opportunity, jump at the chance to join others and make a difference. You can never have too many friends like that!! If you're interested in joining or working alongside New Leaf, check out our website and send us an email.

Now onto a few thoughts that have been tossing around in my head alongside New Leaf...

For those of you who know me, you probably realize that I like being busy. I like having my hands in a bunch of projects and helping impossible dreams turn into incredible realities. And as sincere as I can be, many of those projects come from a desire simply to make the world a better place - to do good.

But while I was up at State College this past week, my pastor posed a question that struck me and hasn't left my thoughts for quite some time. When it comes to leaving a mark in the world, what is your motivating passion?

And initially, my response was because I want to do good in the world. But then he went on, and began to tell this story.

In the days before his death, Jesus was hanging at home with all of his disciples and followers. While they were sitting around (presumably talking, maybe playing a bit of pool if they had it back then), Mary walks over to Jesus with a bottle of extremely expensive perfume, equivalent to about a year's wages. If that were nowadays, it would be equivalent to about $20,000 - clearly a very cherished possession of Mary's and something she had been saving for for quite awhile. As she neared Jesus, Mary opened the bottle of perfume and poured it over Jesus' body (maybe just his feet, perhaps his whole body, but the point being that she didn't just dab a bit on each wrist - she emptied the bottle). As she poured out her prized possession for Jesus, many of the disciples in the room became visibly upset and called Mary out, telling her that she was foolish in wasting the perfume. Rather, she should have sold the small jar of liquid and used the money to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, a direct response to Jesus' teachings over the past few days.

They were basically saying, "Mary, you could have done so much good in the world, why did you have to go and waste that opportunity?"

It's as if the disciples were responding to the question "When it comes to leaving a mark in the world, what is your motivating passion?" by saying - "to do good!"

I get it, I probably would have thought a very similar thing to those disciples.

But Jesus doesn't side with the disciples. He responds by telling them that the poor will always be with them, but he won't. What Mary had just done will be remembered throughout history when this story is told, and that she was doing what her heart led her to. What the disciples were overlooking was their motivating passion. Jesus wasn't looking for people simply to do good in the world; he was looking for people who love him. And out of those 'crazy love bursts,' people are led to extravagant generosity, and you find yourself pouring out $20,000 worth of liquid on someone's feet.

Sure, those love bursts will often lead to doing good in the world - because that seems to be one of the main purpose's of Jesus' time in this world - but it sometimes leads to more than that. It leads to irrational and seemingly absurd acts that aren't motivated by anything other than a crazy love for Christ, and subsequently, those around us. Sounds a bit radical, but I wouldn't expect much else.

So as those thoughts have been swirling around up in my head, I've been asking myself more frequently what is my motivating passion for doing good in the world? Is it for myself, is it for those around me, or is it out of a love for Christ.

I love the way that pastor dan explains how our hearts are transformed when we check our motivation - we find ourselves loving deeply, forgiving completely, serving sacrificially, and giving extravagantly. That's the kind of life I want to live. As I find myself caught up in the tornado of projects and exciting ventures over the next few months (which is inevitable), I hope that I can continue to remind myself of why I do the things I do, and who's behind it all.

If you're interested in listening more, check out Dan's sermon here, it's entitled 'Leave a Mark: Extravagant Generosity.' Thanks Dan for getting me thinking once again :)

Look for untraditional solutions

"Nobody says a piano has to be played with your hands"

Before doing anything else, go and watch this video, and you'll get the picture.

Think of the struggles that you and I face each and every day - how often do we use those struggles or setbacks as an excuse for not growing and moving forward. The human race excels at finding excuses, rather than creating solutions.

Each and every one of us possess beautiful and unimaginable talents, yet sadly, we tend to let those talents remain disguised behind false imperfections in the way we have been made. We fail to see that those imperfections are part of how we have been designed, and are the reasons we are so wonderfully unique and beautiful.

Whether it's a mental struggle, like the fear of public speaking, or a physical obstacle, like the pain caused from a back or knee problem - we all have our own challenges.

But the overarching challenge that all of us face, is learning to define ourselves not by our hindrances, but through our possibilities.

Struggle is nothing more than an opportunity for perseverance.
Obstacles are meant only to highlight creativity.
And pain is simply a chance to reveal love.

Perhaps we can use the example of Liu Wei to take a second and identify our own struggles, and rather than be frustrated with how they limit us, be encouraged with how they can free us.

For more about these thoughts, check out an older post from a few years ago, still one of my favorites from this blog and probably the one person who has taught me the most important lessons in life, and he had barely made it to 3rd grade...

Happy 100th!!

In honor of one of my heroes and her 100th birthday, here's a few quotes that continually inspire me, regardless of how many times I read them. Mother Theresa is one of those role models that I hope will impact generations to come.

If we only act how we think our lives should be,
Imagine the amazing possibilities that would be.

Quotes from Mother Theresa...
1) I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
2) It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
3) Intense love does not measure, it just gives.
4) If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
5) God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
6) Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
7) One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.
8) There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.
9) The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not mortification, a penance. It is joyful freedom.
10) The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.
11) My secret is a very simple one: I pray

the final day

Every book eventually turns its final page. Every sunset eventually releases its final ray on the spreading darkness. And every trip eventually leads to the final day with only an ocean to cross before returning back home.

I'm glad that day has come.

It has been one more incredible journey to add to the past few years of stories and as this one comes to an end, I am leaving having gained more friends then I ever thought possible to obtain in such a short amount of time. From the old spanish man I shared a sleeper car with on my first overnight train to our disney tour guides that lead us through Italy. From those that I shared a meal with during a Turkish circumcision festival to the incredible small group I found myself surrounded by in Taize. This summer has been full of people; incredible, beautiful and diverse people.

And in gaining this new set of individuals to lean on and trust in, I have deepened the most important relationship I have in my life, the one I share with Christ.

I have come to realize that true love is found in communion - communion with god and communion with friends. When we open ourselves up to expose those inner most frustrations, joys, pains, and dreams, we then begin to live life to its fullest. We begin to live the life that god intended for each of us. The challenge is to learn how to open ourselves up to not only our friends, but to god as well.

Standing raw in front of god is not the fluffy picture I sometimes imagine of Jesus sitting under a tree and welcoming all the children to him. Exposing ourselves entirely to god invokes a lot more emotion, such as when Lazarus died. In the story, Jesus goes to where Mary and the others are mourning the death of Lazarus. There, Mary exposes herself, hiding none of her frustrations or feelings, entirely to Jesus.
Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying "Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, "Where did you put him?"
"Master, come and see," they said. Now Jesus wept.
Just as with the kids under the tree, Mary finds herself running towards Jesus and falling in his lap. But not in happiness and joy as the children might be experiencing, but instead in complete frustration, exhaustion and sadness over the loss of her brother. Rather than leaping into Jesus' lap, Mary finds herself collapsing at his feet.

That's what communion requires, that's what a relationship with Christ looks like at times.

Each step along this summer journey has helped me uncover what that relationship looks like for me; each city and town teaching me something different.

As I pack my bags and jot down the final email for friends I plan on keeping in touch with, I have realized that sometimes the simplest of revelations take the longest to fully understand. But of everything that this summer has taught me, one of the most important lessons is this:

Count your days in neither minutes nor hours, but rather smiles and conversations.

It's amazing how quickly I lost track of my time while traveling this summer. In the beginning, I was concerned with how many days I had left on my train pass and when I needed to get from place to place to meet up with certain people. But as time passed, and those concerns disappeared, I began to forget about how much time it had been since leaving Sweden or before returning back home. Instead I found myself dwelling on conversations and smiles. Fortunately, I was able to record a few of those conversations, specifically about sustainability, here. The smiles I will have to work a little better on documenting, but trust me, there were plenty of them :)

'Pay It Forward' Cafe

An awesome example of how serving others completely in selfless love can truly change the world. I love finding examples like this and thinking of how we can take such a simple idea and expand it into other areas of our life - anybody have some ideas??

The idea of the cafe is that you come and have a meal and then at the end of the night, your bill comes and says that the person before you has paid for your meal, if you'd like, you can choose to pay it forward and pay for the next person's meal, however much you'd like to contribute, whether $0 or $40. It's amazing when people are given the opportunity to serve and help others, how willing we are. It's so important to be able to create those environments and opportunities were people feel comfortable to give themselves selflessly. For many of us, the simplest of barriers, such as feeling uncomfortable, stops us from serving others. But once the space is created which breaks down that barrier, then we become more willing to serve even in the uncomfortable parts of life.

For more info about the cafe, check out Karma Kitchen.

From around the world...

I've been at the World Youth Congress now for a few days and I can honestly say it is exceeding expectations. I need to find more of these opportunities in the future which bring together thousands of passionate youth who have gone beyond just hoping for a better world, and rather, have started and managed their own projects and organizations. Together, people from this congress are making a significant impact on the world around them, and it's a privilege to be among such a group.

But don't fret if you feel left out - the congress has made an attempt to put most of the material available here online in addition to filming a livestream of most of the congress throughout these few days. Check it out here and here.

I haven't had time to write nearly as much as I do (which I'm beginning to miss) so will hopefully take some time alone at some point soon to write a bit more. And since I haven't had time to upload any of my own photos, instead I've decided to steal some pics from the virtual congress and Re:present, an awesome group started in Sweden helping out and documenting the whole congress - check them out!

Off to the World Youth Congress

So quick update of what's on the schedule for my travels in the next two weeks. Today is my last day in London and then tomorrow morning I will be flying off to Istanbul, Turkey to participate in the 5th World Youth Congress. Turkey will be my last stop in Europe for this summer before flying back home to the good ole US - I can see the end in sight.

In Turkey, the Congress will bring together 1,400 individuals from around the world to focus on global development challenges and ways of properly addressing the UN Millennium Development Goals. It will be full of cultural performances, workshops, action projects and plenty of interesting people! Part of me is not entirely sure what to expect, well actually most of me :) I hope to be updating this blog a bit more frequently while I'm there, I'm hoping to do short posts each night with something new I've learned or experienced.

To start things off a bit, here's a few interesting links I stumbled on while I've spent the last two days catching back up on internet.
Also, if you haven't been following, check out my other blog at Curb to Curb for more conversations and opinions about sustainability as I travel around Europe talking to different people on the streets. Some interesting thoughts have been popping up over there...

simply discovering the beauty

The water crashes on the boulders beneath me in no particular order,
Each wave, colliding violently with the immovable force in front of it.
The water churns below and frequently demonstrates its all-encompassing power.

Yet in the crashing, colliding, and churning,
A glimmer of sunlight reflects off of each crest.
A shimmer of beauty in the middle of repetitive violence.

Off the coast of Cinque Terre, Italy
I wish we would learn how to see those shimmers of beauty more easily, but sometimes we get such a sensory overload from the violence in the world that the beauty seems to disappear. I think this is one of the keys that I have come to learn from Taize. By developing a lifestyle of simplicity and communion with god, I have come to see those moments of beauty so much more clearly.

After leaving Taize, I traveled south towards Italy once again. I stayed a night in Torino, then met up with a friend of mine in Genova and then spent the following day hiking Cinque Terre - five fisherman villages all within hiking distance along the cliffs on the ocean. I have really seen the beauty in simplicity here at Cinque Terre. As the sun was setting and the small towns were quieting down, I found a secluded area of rock along the cliffs and laid down to watch the sky paint itself over. As I laid there, a single fisherman paddled his small boat out into the open water and when he was far enough from the town, stopped and laid back to watch the setting sun. I don't think he even noticed me along the coast as I watched with him, but it felt like I was sharing that moment with a good friend, even though we didn't talk a word and knew nothing about one another.

My time traveling alone has been an incredible experience, and one that I will cherish for quite some time. But as I sat on the cliff, with the fisherman and his boat drifting out in front of me, I realized the importance of sharing these moments with close friends and family. Perhaps that is why I enjoy writing posts for this blog so much, so that you all can share in my experiences.

After my time in Cinque Terre, I traveled briefly to Pisa to see the tower and then flew off to London to help a friend with a workshop at an Arts and Music festival in England. I think this experience in itself needs its own dedicated post, but it has been filled with creative and whacky people. But in the middle of the hecticness, I also found myself in a tent where Ian Goldin, former VP of the World Bank, was giving a speech on humanity's future in 2050.

With any presentation on this subject, it had it's fair share of scary ideas and possibilities - from pandemics to conflicts, and climate change to population rises. Yet in all the violent images and scenarios presented, I managed to find peace in knowing that their will always be a simplistic beauty to be found in all of those situations. Beauty will continue to flourish, despite the number of weeds that may try to crowd it out.

I wish I knew the secret that would change our society from one which thrives off of negative ideas to positive ones, but it seems that news programs have done the research and found that we for some reason prefer negative and conflicting stories to those which are uplifting. Perhaps we like hearing about all the crap in the world because it makes our own personal crap seem not as bad. But in always presenting the crap, we forget to look for the beauty.

Maybe the secret is simpler than I thought, and is simplicity itself. If we learned to slow life down and focus on simplicity, then we may learn to trust more fully in God and see the world as he intended it to be created.

Maybe simplicity is the secret...

jumping into faith

Four centuries after Christ, Augustine wrote:
"If you desire to see God, you already have faith."
I think too many people are afraid to venture into that journey with god because they aren't entirely ready to swim in the gold-medal race. We like to have things figured out and practiced before signing up for something. But god doesn't seem to require any prerequisites or special training, he just encourages us to jump right in, regardless if we're in the shallow or deep section.

Brother Roger of Taize wrote:
"Faith is not the result of effort, but is a gift from god."
I have to remind myself of this sometimes, because I can get confused that the faith I have is created out of the experiences I've had and questions I've asked. But faith is nothing that I have made through my efforts over the year, but is rather freely given to me, and to all of us, by god. Now the experiences and questions along the way have significantly molded and shaped my faith, but faith in itself still remains a gift.

I was also struck while reading in Luke 17:6 when Jesus says:
"You don't need more faith. There is no 'more' or 'less' in faith."
Sometimes I feel like faith is a big measuring cup and as life progresses, I slowly fill it up. But there is no quantity on the amount of faith we have.

So how do you define faith?

Regardless if we consider ourselves religious or not, we all have faith in something. Whether that be our family, our friends, or our skills - faith is a critical component for all of us. But it can be hard to define.

As I was reading some thoughts from Mother Teresa, it became very clear how faith impacts so many other areas of my life. And at the same time, it pointed out some areas that could use a bit of work. When Mother Teresa would meet someone, she would hand them a business card with the following message on it:
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith  is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
silence --> prayer --> faith --> love --> service --> peace

The prayer and silence part of that list specifically stand out as areas I'd like to focus even more on. But I find it quite interesting that it is from silence in which prayer, and eventually faith, develops. Of the many things that I would have come up with to define faith and what molds it, I don't know if silence would have been on that list. Spending my time here at Taize, I have come to see the beauty and importance of silence and am slowly learning how to silence not only the eyes, mouth, and hands, but the mind as well.

holy hope

I like 'hope.' For most of us, hope is a term that brings encouragement, anticipation, and trust. When I think of the suffering in the world, I like to think that there is hope for a brighter and more beautiful future in those places. For the most part, I think it's fair to say that hope is a primarily positive idea.

But earlier this year, I was listening to someone talk about an old Buddhist saying, which talks about the danger of putting our trust in hope. I'm not sure of the exact phrasing, but the saying talks about the danger of hope because hope and fear serve as two sides to the same coin. If you rely on either one of them, sooner or later you will begin to see and feel the effects of the other side.

As an example, the speaker was talking about President Obama's election. Most of Obama's campaigning was built on the idea of hope, and he was very successful at rallying so many people behind him through this strategy. Hope was probably a large reason he got the presidency. But after a few months in office, the public opinion towards him and his administration started to decline because many of the things Obama had hoped he would accomplish, were not there yet. As the speaker explained, this was simply the other side of the coin, despair and fear, starting to show themselves. By placing too much trust entirely in hope, then we set ourselves up to becoming even more prone to feeling the effects of fear. The harder you rely on hope, the harder you may be hit by despair. It seems there's some truth in that.

But is this really the case with God?

Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community, wrote
"the Gospel offers such a shining hope that it can bring joy to our soul."
Does 'gospel hope' offer something different, is there a despair side to God and his gospel?

The more I've been reading through the gospel, most specifically John's account, the more I've been noticing the many times that hope is referred to. Jesus brings hope to the world. But could it be that we put so much trust and faith into the hope that is presented in the bible, that eventually we begin to feel the other side of the coin and experience despair? Does faith in god set us up to feel despair more easily?

I've been praying about this thought over the last week and I've come to see that gospel hope is in fact something different.

The despair side of the coin is always with us, it is found in the weak and sinful human condition that we can't escape, regardless of how hard we try. We were born sinners and as strong as we feel we are, we are truly weak (just think of how many times you have walked past a homeless person and not had the strength to stop and get to know them and their story). But the difference between gospel hope and good-ole human hope is that Jesus enters the picture through the gospel. The beauty of Jesus is he takes the despair within our lives and erases the sins we were once tied down to. That's the whole purpose of the cross - to wipe clean the despair side of the coin that has been present throughout all of history.

As I reflected on this, another quote came to mind.
"Do not depend on the hope of results...but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself." - Thomas Merton
With the work that we pursue in this life, this is truly the case. Hope in our work is a two-sided coin, and if we don't see the results that we expected we would, we can fall into the trap of despair. But the rightness and truth of the work - that is the part that concerns what is holy. Perhaps the quote could be rewritten.
"Do not depend on human hope, but on holy hope."
Holy hope finds its source in God, "a god who simply loves and can do nothing else, a god who never stops seeking us." (Brother Roger)

If you want to read more about hope and fear, check out this article which talks further about the idea.

humbly giving

Something I have been trying to remind myself recently is to focus on the true source of happiness and joy for our lives. Brother Roger was the founder of Taize nearly 70 years ago, and offered many words of hope and inspiration to those who have found themselves coming to Taize each and every year. One of the things Brother Roger said was:
"the source of happiness is not in prestigious talents or great expertise, but in the humble giving of oneself."
Especially within the rapidly growing field of sustainability, it's easy to get caught up trying to know the most about some area or desiring to gain a wealth of experience to be taken as credible, but we should remind ourselves that such pursuits only lead towards burnout or frustration. If we learn how to be selfless and put our lives on the line for others, then we will begin to find true joy in our lives.

Jesus says in John 15:12 "Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends."

Put your life on the line, be selfless and sacrificial to those around you. When I think of putting others ahead of me, the first image that comes to mind is when I'm standing in line. Whether it be a line to get food, enter a movie theatre, or get seats in the student section at a penn state football game (ok maybe that last one is too hard to put others ahead of ourselves), I try to practice being selfless and letting others go first. But perhaps there are deeper examples for how to be sacrificial for our friends, and even our enemies...

Would you lay your life down for your enemies, sacrificially and willingly? May we learn to humbly give ourselves to those around us, in both the mundane and difficult moments of life.

eyes of love

So one of my favorite verses has to be John 12:25
"...for anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."
I just love the term 'reckless' because there's so many times where I find myself too cautious in my love. I gravitate towards easy love. I've been reading some quotes from Mother Teresa and one of the things she says is:
"It is easy to love people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your own home for this is where our love for each other must start."
It can be hard, especially in areas with sufficient wealth and minimal material poverty, to be fully reckless in our love. We can write the check to send money to "people far away" and then spend the next minute driving towards a restaurant to buy triple the amount of food we just sponsored with our check and to throw half of it out. Perhaps we start at the wrong place, for their is nothing wrong with writing a check to help others far away, but is our love truly sincere if it is not shown at home?

During the last supper, one of Jesus' disciples asks him "Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not the world?" Jesus responds by saying: "Because a loveless world, is a sightless world."

How clearly do we see the poor around us? Not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty as well. WIth selfless and sacrificial love, it's as if we have a new set of eyes to see and act in the world around us.

Mother Teresa says:
"Looking at your eyes I can tell whether there is peace in your heart or not. We see people radiating joy and in their eyes you can see purity. If we want our minds to have silence, keep a silence of the eyes. Use your two eyes to help you to pray better."
What do our eyes tell us about ourselves and our hearts?

May we learn to pursue peace, for there is truly no limit to love.

this one sows, that one harvests

I've been reading through John this week and came across this verse which I hadn't entirely noticed before.
"This one sows, that one harvests. I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others."
I find myself too often feeling as if I'm meant to do both the sowing and the harvesting in life - for many things, but especially when it comes to relationships with people. But after reading Jesus' words, I'm reminded that we are not meant to solve everything on our own, perhaps our role is to only find the corner piece to a puzzle and then hand the rest over to someone else.

I've been close to a few people who have struggled with some really hard stuff in their life, and after a few years pass, I sometimes look back and question how important my role actually was to that person.

During those hard times, I try to make decisions that I won't regret later, always moving forward and keeping my gaze on Christ leading me ahead. But sometimes I confuse regret of 'I could have done more' with regret of 'I could have solved it.'

But reading John 4:37-38, I was reminded that we are not intended to fully and entirely solve problems. No single individual is capable of such a feat.

Sometimes our role is simply to sow the field and let it wait for someone else to come and harvest the crop. In other times of our life, it may look like we came into a situation, had a conversation with a person, and immediately made an impact to that individual. I've had a few moments like those and sometimes I wonder what I did differently for that person compared to others who may have responded differently.

But perhaps it's not what I did, but rather what role I was designed to play for that person. Was I sowing the ground through our conversation, or was I harvesting the work done by many others who had come before me?

It's hard to be the sowers in life, because you don't always see the fruits of your labor. You work long and hard, tending the soil and carefully nitpicking every detail of the field. But all that is left after that is a field ripe for growing something, and it is the harvesters who see the true beauty emerge from your hard work. But we are not to be discouraged for serving that kind of role in life, rather we need to trust in the rightness of the work we are doing.

I recently learned that I played a significant role as a sower to someone very close to me, and although I knew that the work that had been done there involved many hours of conversations and prayer, I wasn't entirely aware of the true beauty that emerged from that field. There were other people who played the role of harvester. But after hearing that person say how important I was to them as a sower, I was humbled by the true mystery of God's work in our lives.

We will never understand the intricateness and detail involved with God's work, rather we will only see that small part of the bigger picture which we are meant to fulfill. But without playing that part, the rest of the field could never be harvested.

We all have people in our lives who have been both sowers and harvesters to us - take the time to really think who those people are, and tell them thank you. It truly means the world.

simple words

So I've been learning to hear God's call through simplicity this week, and here's a few of the things that have stood out as I read more through John's gospel. It's amazing how much you can dwell on such simple teachings.

John 1:39
"Come and see for yourself."
John 9:25
"I was I see."
John 11:35
"Jesus wept."
John 14:27
"That's my parting gift to you. Peace."
John 19:28
"I'm thirsty."
John 19:30
"It's done...complete."
John 21:16
"Do you love me?"
1 John 4:17
"God is love."
1 John 4:18
"There is no room in love for fear."


Ok, so the last two weeks I have been out of touch with my beloved internet, so in celebration of our reunion, I am slowly sharing thoughts I've had stored up over the last few days. Here's the first of many to come...

One of my favorite quotes from this past year in Sweden was made by a classmate of mine: "How do we bring love into the boardroom?"

So often, terms like love, peace and beauty are kept distant from the business world,  a place where efficiency and success are declared trump over most other things. But is what the world defines as successful in fact the direction we really want to be moving?

This week, I have been living at Taize, France and absorbing myself in God's word and in prayerful conversation with him everyday. Taize is truly an incredible place. Every day, the entire community (around 3,000 people) comes together three times for group prayer. I have spent around 4-5 hours in prayer every day, most of which is either in silence or through the simple repetition of a single phrase, of which most is in another language. There is no lead pastor and no sermon. There are no seats to sit on, just the floor to kneel on. It is so simplistic, and so beautiful.

I've had a lot of time to reflect and pray during these few days, and many of the following posts will have thoughts developed from this time. But the first thing that struck me was the power of simplicity.

I often find myself in tune with the complicated and busyness of life. I like constant change (just ask anyone who has lived with me and noticed how many times my bed moves to a new position). I enjoy times of complexity and hecticness. Maybe it's my personality, maybe it's the culture that I grew up in.

But during my time here at Taize, I have found myself at a strange peace through simplicity and silence. Silence is something hard for me to deal with, I can't think of many times where music isn't being played from my computer. Even just this instance I had to hit the pause button on the computer, and suddenly I can hear the birds singing and crickets chirping in the tall grass beside me.

During the first night of prayer, these were the thoughts that first came to mind:
"I can feel when my heart beats in rhythm with God's. The chatter in the air around me turns to silence, and a calm pulse moves up and down my bones, like a gentle breeze sweeping through a wheat field. Closer than ever, I can see and feel love. God appears in a variety of ways, and I pray that I begin to hear God in the silence more clearly. My time with God is often supported by music or conversations with friends, but I am longing to know the God of silence more intimately. This pen, and the keys of my computer, have been a critical means for me to grow as a person and transcribe the thoughts in my head, but it's time to really dive into silent prayer, just Christ and I. It's too easy nowadays to push that time off, and as I sit here, those are the words I hear Christ telling me - that's what sends the pulse through my bones."
The simplicity of silence, repetition and community have really stood out to me recently, and now I find myself asking the question: "How do we bring simplicity into the boardroom?"

Taize was designed to be "a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything" (Brother Roger, founder) and as a result, has flourished and been a light to so many around the world. Where are we welcoming simplicity and silence into our lives? What clutter needs to be cleaned out? And how, if at all, does simplicity play a role in the work that we do?

Picture update

Ok, one last post before heading off, here's a bunch of pictures from the last little bit - plenty more to post at some point though :) And they're mostly in the correct order, except for the last one, ha.

Curb to Curb

After a few days in Paris, it's time to move on once again. I've spent the last two weeks traveling from Italy to France with the rest of my family and tomorrow they head back home. So as they head towards the airport, I'll be finding my way back to the train station where I'll be catching a train down to Taize, France for a week. I will be staying at the Taize community for a week long retreat and time of reflection. I'm not entirely sure what to expect but am really looking forward to meeting up with some new people and writing a bit more. I'm not sure what my internet status will be so I may be posting a lot of those thoughts later on, so stayed tuned. But in the meantime, you can check out the other blog that I've been working on this summer: Curb to Curb - City to City.

I've been working with some friends from Sweden to record conversations about sustainability with various people throughout the summer. As we travel from place to place, we will either be writing up blogs or posting videos about our conversations. Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think :)

What I say and what I do

Wow, talk about being super confronted about a passage in the bible. Do you ever get that gut-twisting feeling that as hard as you try to avoid, you just can't seem to run from it. So I've been traveling throughout Italy the past week with my family. We've been a part of a Disney-guided group and it really has been awesome, the Disney magic has been there the whole way through so far. Now there have been some changes to get used to, from traveling with a large group of people, to being able to eat ice cream every night, to actually sleeping in a nice bed. Sure those things have been fun, but there's also been this uneasy feeling in the back of my gut this whole time that I haven't fully been able to get rid of - and I think I just started to figure out what is causing it...

Over the past few days, we've done a ton of walking and have seen some incredible sights - from everything throughout Rome and the Vatican and now venturing into Florence. We've witnessed some of the incredible art and architecture, we've been able to taste the famous Italian cuisine, and along the way meet some wonderful people. But at the same time, I've found that it is much easier to ignore certain other people because of the whole experience. Now I didn't realize this at the time, and it took a song to really call me out on it.

Seventh Day Slumber has a song that is a lyrical form of the passage Matthew 25 and goes like this. Really take a few minutes to listen to the song.
I call myself a man of god, while laughing at my brother
I crossed the heart of a hungry man instead of giving him some bread
And what I say and what I do, they're not the same anymore
Who I slain, who I betray, lord have mercy on my soul
You were hungry, you were thirsty, you were lonely, you were cold
You were hurting, you were dying, and I just left you all alone

Watched a mother who had her children they're all three crying out for help
No one heard them, and I just passed them, and I screamed lady get a job
She took her own life, under the bridge that day, while her children sat and cried
I could have told her about my loving father, instead I spit in Jesus face, when I heard her voice

What you do unto the least of them, you do unto me
And when you see one of my hurting children, I want you to see me
Cause I was hungry, and I was thirsty, I was lonely, I was cold
That was me hurting, that was me dying, and you just left me all alone

I call myself a man of god, while laughing at my brother...
So as we've been passing through different areas of Italy, we've come across a lot of beggars on the streets, which is something I haven't crossed that much over the last year. Being a part of a tour group or with my entire family, I found it so much easier to walk by without stopping. When I'm traveling alone, it's not that I'm more aware of what's around me, but rather that I have no excuse to ignore what's around me. Being with a larger group (whether that's a family or tour group) I find myself justifying why I'm not able to stop and do something.
I crossed the heart of a hungry man instead of giving him some bread
And what I say and what I do, they're not the same anymore
And as fascinating as it was to think about the skill needed to build something like the Colosseum, the longer I walked around the Rome, the less I thought about the construction and the more I thought about how these same beggars have been here since the days when they were constructing the Colosseum. The song challenges us to see Jesus any time we see one of those among us hurting, suffering, or struggling. What do you see when you pass by those people on the street? Do you really see Jesus - I can't say I always do. I see them and start trying to figure out if it's a legitimate plea, what their back story is, and whether I can afford or have the right bills to donate. And typically all that thought process results in me already ten steps past and thinking it's too late to do anything about.

I guess I don't have as good of vision as I once thought.

But if we think about the fact that those beggars have been there throughout history, we can also see that Jesus and the work he desires to be done has been there all along as well. He's just waiting for the rest of us to open our eyes to him - Jesus is living in the poverty all around us, but what are we doing about it...

When I got back to the bus today and opened my computer to start writing, I flipped open the screen which has a huge sticker on it that says "Walk in Love." It was a Christmas gift and an awesome reminder in how to live our lives. But perhaps we need to stop walking and start sitting, eating, and dwelling in love - it's easy to focus on walking in love so much that we pass right by those who need it most. Maybe I should add some verbs to that sticker...

Take a second to really think about the hungry, thirsty, lonely, cold, hurting and dying around you - put a name to their face. Now go and read Matthew 25 and try and flip the page, I dare you. Are we really living like Jesus called us to live? What are we doing for them, and what if we can't even think of a name? I know my bookmark is stuck on Matthew 25, I'll let you know once I flip the page...

Learning to be amazed

Recently I've been struggling for words to describe certain feelings or experiences. Over the last three years, this blog has followed me to all corners of the earth - starting in the Serengetti, making it's way to Jamaica, Australia and Jordan, and most recently finding it's way to Europe and into the alps. I've grown more comfortable in translating certain thoughts to words, but there are still those experiences that seem impossible to verbalize. At times I've felt the urge to try and paint a picture or even make up new lyrics to a song - but it's still not always possible to capture the moment.

Sometimes I think I focus too much on trying to 'define' my experience with God. My relationship with Christ has changed my life like nothing else has, and I tend to have this feeling of needing to adequately express it publicly. It has made such a difference for me that it would be silly for me to keep that all to myself. But as I was listening to a song today, I was reminded that sometimes we don't need to constantly find new ways to praise God and share that experience with others. The lyrics go:
Can I accept that in a world of changes
You're not impressed with something new
If I don't understand the language of a heart that's after you

Can I put my pride aside and learn to sing in time with someone else's praises
I love you, I love you, I love you and nothing new
I love you, I love you, I love you and nothing new
As I catch this travel bug, I try to remind myself that with so many different cultures, views, people, places, foods, stories, and means of worship in the world - coming up with a new way of praising God does not impress God simply because it is new. Instead, he is impressed when we sincerely cry out from the language of our heart that we can do nothing more but love. Sure that will be different for each of us, but it is the sincerity that matters, not the fact that it is new. I have begun to find that language of my heart through this blog, and the more I write, the more sincere my posts have become.

As I've had the brief opportunity to do some hiking in the alps, I've had numerous moments where I've felt that there needs to be a way to capture the moment in it's entirety. Perhaps I've been searching too much for a new way of explaining that moment though. When I really sit and think about it - the message is so simple - it is God's way of saying "I love you" right back to me. It's amazing that I can focus so much attention on trying to re-word the feeling of love I have towards God, but in all that searching and writing and painting, I sometimes overlook the simple message that God is writing back, he loves me even more than I love him.

The song has another lyric in it:
Can I learn to be amazed by you
It's funny that we sometimes have to 'learn' to be amazed, you would think that that is something that just happens. But perhaps in this world of constant change, we complicate things too much and miss the simple moments of amazement and awe.

My pastor up at State College uses the term 'aweful' quite a lot - how can we learn to recognize those moments that fill us with awe?

It's always easy to find those moments of awe when you're traveling through the alps, and I am quite grateful for all the people and moments that have allowed me to travel to places like this, but I hope to learn to recognize the moments of amazement outside of these magnificent mountains. God is always finding innovative ways of telling each and every one of us that he loves us fully and unconditionally. Have we learned to open our hearts and ears enough to be able to hear that message though?

Quick stop in Austria

Well I've made it to the last city on my trek before meeting up with my family. I'm leaving Mayrhofen now after leaving Matt, McLean and Anna up in the Alps - I'm sure they'll manage to find a place to sleep for the night. On Tuesday morning I took a train from Fussen, Germany down to Innsbruck, Austria where I was meeting up with the gang. After arranging a hostel for the four of us, I then went to the train station a few times to pick everyone up and take them back to the hostel. Anna arrived first and then Matt and McLean showed up on a midnight train. Our hostel was an awesome find - it was in an old historic building in the middle of the old city in Innsbruck. We managed to get a private room for four which included a kitchen stocked with pasta and all kinds of cooking/eating items. So that took care of dinner for the night. The hostel was so old that they didn't even have machines for processing credit cards, so I am now officially out of all euros (although I'm still stocked on swedish kronas, swiss franks, and us dollars, none of which do me any good).

After everyone arrived into town, we hung out for a bit that night before getting some rest for the next day. The following morning we woke up and were treated to breakfast at the oldest cafe in the town (turns out we were not only in a hostel but a bed and breakfast, even better!). After some food, we packed up and headed for the train station where we caught a train to Mayrhofen, a small town about 1.5 hours outside of Innsbruck. Once we arrived, we glanced at a map, stashed some gear in lockers, grabbed a few key grocery items (bread, meat sticks and chocolate) and took off for the mountains. We spent the afternoon hiking up the mountain to Wasserfall, a one-building stop with a lake and lots of small waterfalls falling off the alps into the lake. It was a great hike and we managed to pass by numerous cows along the way (I'm not sure why, but there was kissing of the cows involved at one point...). Once we arrived at Mayrhofen, I found a bus that would take me back down the mountain towards the train station and the rest of the gang kept hiking off into the valley where they were hoping to stay at one of the hostel huts along the path. They will be hiking the alps for the next four days before McLean has to fly back to the US on Sunday. I'm now waiting in the train where I will eventually be arriving in Rome in the morning to meet the fam, where the real fun begins :) I'm fairly certain my mom will be bringing along a month's supply of underwear for me which will sufficiently overflow my backpack for the summer. So for now, my time in the alps is up and I'm off to see other parts of Europe, however I have a sneaky suspicion that I will find myself back here at some point in the near future, they're too addicting.

Picture update

Words can get pretty boring, so I apologize for the misproportion of text to images - so here's a few to hopefully make up - there's plenty more to come at some point though. The pictures below are from Amsterdam (and Oasis) and Interlaken. I still have some editing and uploading to do on the others.

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