Friday, July 24, 2009

My Last Day in England - a letter to community

Hello there all you wonderful people!

I'm currently sitting in a hotel lobby. My parents flew back to America about a half hour ago, and I have one more day to hang out with Anthony in London before heading back myself. My feelings are odd. I'm trying to somehow transition from here to there, which carries with it a whole ton of ramifications - that I'm not sure I can begin to dictate quite yet, but hopefully I will at some point near in the future.

But I want to make a clear end to this year, and I'd like to share with you a letter that I wrote to my community this year. I'm not sure if they have all read it yet, but I know that it carries a message that has deeply affected me. I would be honoured if you could share in even just this small part of my thanks to this community.

Hi Beautiful people.

I didn’t really like Damian’s letter
assignment earlier this week. I’m not sure why, but I’m sure it had something to
do with being hard. Not knowing what to say. Not wanting to say farewell while I
would still see you every day. But you’re on to something Damian J So here you
guys go. I love you all.

Well, I’m sitting in Stanstead airport –
just left SPEC.

I have learned so much from this year – more than
learned, experienced, absorbed, lived. Thank you, community, for showing me a
new way to love, a new way to give, a new way to live. You have each been an
incredible friend and are so precious in such different ways. You have taught me
how to receive love, how to be humble, how to love in that sacrificial

I sat in my room this morning, and saw how empty it was of
everything that had been added all year. But I did not experience a sense of
emptiness, but that of total fullness. The memories had not gone. The
relationship I have with my room is and will always been that of sharing the
hardest and most amazing times… we have journeyed together, just as we have,
community. But right now, in the airport – even on the drive away from the
house, I look around and do not see you. My head starts to worry that you are
not there. The feelings I have right now in an airport – those of aloneness,
sorrow, and pain of losing you… my instinct is to run straight to you – the ones
that have been such a support and that have lived through all these things to
me. You have ever-open arms and hearts. I don’t have to try and be anyone but
myself with you, and we have a bond of complete support. But I look around and
do not see you. I know I will not see you for quite some time. Our relationship
is changing (as it has all year, but this time there is a definite physical,
geographical change). But it’s like my room. My surroundings seem empty, but the
love, the memories, the hurt, the growth… is all still living and thriving in
ways that I could not previously even imagine. I am sure and I pray that those
things will continue to grow throughout life. Even though we are not physically
together, you will always be precious to my heart and life.

that you are a blessing. To me and to all that I meet in the future. For the
Allison they meet will not just be Allison, but a living memory and
personification of all that SPEC community has been. All the love, struggle,
growth, generosity, honesty that comes seemingly from me will in fact be God,
me, and you living in that very experience.

Thank you for making
this commitment. This choice of community – this choice of love. It has not been
easy and we have been a blessing to each other in making that choice every day.
To go beyond warm fuzzies and truly show each other the greatest love that we
can posses – God within each of us. Thank you for trusting him, for drawing on
him, and for choosing love.

Thank you. I love you all so much.

Know also, that if we have ever crossed paths, you and me, that you are part of my community - the one that continues to inform and shape my every move and choice. Thank YOU.

And another big thank you to all those of you who have supported me, prayed for me, journeyed with me throughout this experience. There aren't really words to express my gratitude.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So what in the world has this year been about?

Tonight I get to sleep with an Aurora Borealis machine! Crazy huh? I just had a quick chat with a person in my living area, and 'how was your day' turned into 'check out this space-toy I have!' Amazing what things turn into.
I returned to my room to continue working on my scrapbook - which is turning into quite a big project. I don't even know where to begin - how to organize - what audience to tell the story to... There are so many parts to the story. Young people and retreats, community, travel, personal growth, English culture, Catholicism, fun times... It's really making me wonder what this year has really been about, though I have somewhat come to the decision that it was about living with people and sharing all that comes with that in a Jesus kind of way. It's so different from my expectations.. affecting big change, having the time of my life, working really hard... I'm still having a tough time navigating a mental change. I am trying to convince myself that, though my expectations were different than the reality, that it's still OK- Good - Worthwhile...
I guess I just feel guilty about all the personal growth... but I suppose that sharing growing pains was just as much a part of this year as the young people that came to the centre. Hard to believe sometimes... was it that easy? Just... simply... live? Was that the task of this year? I suppose it was. "Accompany people on their journey". When a pianist is accompanying a soloist, both are playing music. Both are feeling and interacting with one another.
I suppose that's God's message though... we don't have to try. He's created us to function just right, and he's guiding us just where we need to be. There's nothing we can do to deserve this, we just gotta go with the flow... Sweet! Cheers God!
Well, it's nearly midnight, and the Aurora Borealis machine is waiting patiently by my bed - an experience has cropped up by doing exactly what this year is about - appreciating other's lives, going with the flow, and simply... living.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tube time...

There was a man preaching on the tube last night. This happens from time to time - people preaching or making music... The general feel is usually quite uncomfortable. Tube riders keep their heads in their papers and don't acknowledge that anything is even happening. This time was no different. I initially felt a little nervous - not knowing what he would say. I tend to feel extra responsibility whenever a person is preaching about Jesus because I am a Christian myself. Would he be extreme? Would he say the things that sometimes make me embarrassed to associate myself with others that share my general faith category? I hate that I think these things, but experience has led me to be cautious.
As soon as he started speaking, though, it became clear that it was simply his testimony. He told about his younger years when he was really quiet and shy and how that all changed when he decided to be a Christian. That God helped him to come out of his shell and speak. His story was short and his message simple. He did not condom, patronize, or judge.
His humility and honesty were beautiful - he was not aggressive - his eyes skimmed above anyone's head. He just kept talking about how loved we all are - that God loves us all no matter what. He then passed out some little pamphlets with bible verses after he prayed with/for everyone. Not a prayer of conversion, just of blessing - for daily bread - not too much that we forget God - just as much as we need.
Anyway - no one on the tube would look at this guy. Newcomers to the train rolled their eyes and considered getting right back off. I nearly continued reading my paper until I saw my friend giving this man her full attention. It put me in check a little bit. Challenged me. So I was attentive as well. He didn't return our eyes. The train was silent - though whether that was due to his presence or normal tube culture I do not know.
Now, as a Christian, this is a typical message- one I hear most Sundays and certainly every day working in a Christian centre. So, though I felt uncomfortable in the circumstances, the message was not intrusive, offensive, or out of line at all. I don't know what it would be like if I were a person of a different faith or of no faith at all. My general feel about this guy was that he brought a sense of peace with him. He was really speaking from his heart and nowhere else. But I really cannot say what it would feel like to have someone telling me that a God loves me that I do not believe in. I don't know and I'd be curious to find out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My road...

Today is June 1st. I finish service on July 13th and fly back to the US on July 25th. It's weird to think that last summer was an entire YEAR ago. I really don't think my brain has caught up with life. So much has changed, I have learned so much - but somehow time seems stagnant, like I've been living with the 'pause' button on.
I'm not sure how this year translates into the rest of my life - was it just 'a step away' from normal life, and come July 25th I'll be going back to my 'real world'? That doesn't seem quite right. I think the connection that isn't quite real in my mind yet is that SPEC and England are a big part of my life - my whole road of life - not just this bit like a pit stop on the way.

This is getting a bit complicated in words - let's try some pictures...

So I'm not the best artist :)

Is SPEC something that will always be a memory - like some random tumbleweed town I've driven through sometime in my past? Or is it a definite event in the road that will affect my course for years to come?
I'm sure it's the latter, but the real understanding of that will probably not show itself until much further down the line - now I'm just trying to live for the present - for what is happening right now and attempting to not think too much about how it will affect me in the future. It's going to weather I like it or not, so for now I think it's about letting it happen and enjoying every minute of the precious time we have left here together.

Friday, May 29, 2009

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela

The Clean Picture
All eight of us at the airport before starting the trek.

A little over a week ago, I knew that eight of us were going on a trek across Northern Spain. I knew it was called El Camino de Sanitago de Compostela, and that we’d be walking – a lot. But that’s about it. What I have come to learn is that this pilgrimage is a journey that people have made for nearly 2000 years. It was an alternative destination when the Holy Land was too dangerous to seek. Instead, people opted to go to the resting place of St. James, who was thought to be a relative of Jesus Christ. At one point in time, pilgrimage was a religious requirement once in every Catholics life, and was often used as a penance.

These days, there are as many reasons for walking the Camino as there are people walking it. Some go for religious reasons, some for historical stimulation, and others just like walking. A common theme, though, is the feeling of closeness each pilgrim feels to another- each walking the same road – coming from different places, and heading to different places afterword. But at the present, all taking the same steps toward a common place. What a way to accompany one another. One woman offered her blister kit to us at a little cafĂ© along the way. We at dinner with people from around the world – sharing stories, suggestions, and a very real support of one another. Many walked physically alone, but no matter where you were on the trail, there was a very real presence of the others walking and of all those who had walked before.

I spoke more Spanish than I ever thought I would (in a different dialect and accent).
We survived on very little -though when it rained ALL day, it seemed like a lot when we spread it out all over our room to dry... It smelled a little :)

We ate heartily to keep our bodies healthy and working throughout the long walks. Pilgrim meals were offered at nearly every restaurant we passed – 8 or 9 euros for bread, wine, water, starter, main, and dessert! Not bad :)

There were km markers along the way to state how much longer until Santiago. Only 100km left in this picture! For us this was in the first days, but for those who have done the whole thing, this is marking the last 8th of their trip. There were also little yellow arrows pointing the way every 15 minutes or so. Amazing how much trust we could put in some bright paint!

We didn’t pack much, since we would be carrying it on our backs the whole way – but after an entire day of rain, it seemed like we packed a lot more! This is our little room with our wet gear hung all over in an attempt to dry it!

We made it! This is Annika and me in front of the Santiago Cathedral – I thought it was much prettier at night! A wonderful end to a beautiful journey.
The full facebook photo album here!
Other fun spring pics here!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

a little of this, a little of that

I feel awful for not blogging in such a while, but things have really been crazy. It's funny to see the other YAGM blogs beginning with the same sentence :) I suppose that it's that time of year though. Things are on the home stretch and everything that hasn't been done yet needs to be done now - in my case that involves a lot of exploring outside now that the sun is shining, spending time with a community that will only be around for another few months and is just now really forming into a family, and working quite a lot.

I have been quite blessed with exciting work lately! Today I got the chance to begin working on a year 8 program! Now, SPEC usually only works with year 10 and up (for a states translation, think one grade younger i.e. year 8 means 7th grade), so having a year 8 group is quite unique. This year has been a new challenge for me - working with older ones. I am much more gifted in the middle/elementary school area, and I have been itching to get back to the younger ones all year. I am pumped! We don't have a lot of materials for these guys because we don't usually work with their age, so Brandon asked me to brainstorm a few ideas, and I have gone a little crazy - but it's a crazy that is really re-energizing me for these last couple of months!

The other re-energizer for me has been working on developing a new play for our year 10 materials. We got a grant to work with the Ten-Ten Theatre company to develop, write, produce, and perform a play that discusses issues that meet the needs of year 10 students. Part of the development process was thinking about what we would say if we could give a young person one message when they came to SPEC. The overwhelming theme was that of affirmation. So the play we have developed surrounds four main themes of: Family, success, forgiveness, and gifts. But it all reality it covers a lot more and is a fabulous discussion starter for the young people as well as the team. Today it sparked a discussion regarding dreams. Are dreams different from goals, aspirations.... and how does that tie in with success? As most of us are working out what our next steps in life are going to be, this is definitely getting our gears turning!

Another part of work that I may not have mentioned here is the final Mass we do with the young people before they leave their residential experience (an overnight retreat). About an hour before Mass, we have the young people choose in which way they would like to participate. They get options of music, art, drama, readings and chapel space. Sometimes we throw in dance as well. While I grew up being quite used to the idea of young people getting involved in church, it is a rare occurance over here, so the experience of acting out the gospel or choosing how the chapel will look is quite a profound opportunity for these young people. The dramas are always quite fun. The young people often choose to take the message and bring it into a modern situation. We end up with quite a few... questionable behaviours demonstrated to get across the idea of forgiveness ;)

But what this leads me to think about is how we can bring our own culture into worship. The latest Global Mission newsletter had an interesting article about contextualizing the Gospel which really hit home. Without connecting God's message to our own situation, it's just amazing stories - bringing it to our every day life is when it can come alive. How often do we sit in church and zone out? How many things about the service do we not really understand? How often do we ask about those things? I guess my encouragement is not to forget that we all - not just children and teenagers - need the opportunity to bring God's message alive in our own lives. But we must be active about seeking those opportunities and creating the place where we can gain a fuller, closer knowledge of God's love.

I had a fabulous experience a couple weeks ago. I had my first Sunday off in AGES (we usually have a retreat), and Erik and I decided to go to the local Anglican church in London Colney. The service was wonderful - reminded me of home (shout out to CTS!). It was great to be able to share Holy Communion for the 2nd time this year. But what I really loved was this old man we met after worship. I'm not sure what his actual title was at the church, but he was certainly heavily involved in the activities, the building, the history... he cared SO much about this parish and really had made it his life - his purpose. It was beautiful to see someone so content and happy his commitment. I think it is wonderful that as humans we have a need to be commited to something. To have something to live for. Some have families, some have churches, or communities, or activities... But we love to be connected -we love to be needed and a part of something bigger than ourselves. Isn't it fabulous that we have these yearnings? Without them, nothing could really happen - the love that makes the world turn would sit stagnant :). I am so happy that those things that we love are the things that we are meant to do!

On a personal note, my spiritual life has been feeling quite stable lately. God is really teaching me the art of blind faith - of following his calling without knowing what all it holds. It is really exciting, though, to come to the realization that my life will be full of surprises - one new thing after the next, which is an amazing gift from God - I definitely could not do better. My challenge, though, is learning to accept -and more so embrace - change. I am so blessed to finally feel home here. The people have truly become family and I have become a part of the place as well. It's a feeling I have missed all year, and it has finally realized itself. It does put a new spin on relationships with those in US home. I haven't quite realized that I'm leaving here, or that I'm going to be establishing yet a new home in August. There is a strange sense of calm about the whole thing though. I may be learning and adopting this idea of a global home. It's a comforting concept - knowing that I have multiple homes, but it does question the definition and uniqueness of each, which will be important to explore in the coming months.

I must close for now, but I do have a couple quick prayer requests. There are 8 of us headed out on pilgramage next week. We are walking the last leg of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a pilgramage towards the Cathedral of St. James. Individual reasons for pilgramage vary greatly, and I'm not sure what mine is yet. Some go for reconciliation, some for peace of mind... I have a feeling my reason will find me on the way. I'm not quite sure what to expect other than the walking, but it is certainly a journey that involves physical, emotional, and spiritual elements. Please pray for this exciting journey!!
I also ask for prayers for SPEC as we head into this last stretch together - both for our work and for community. It's a weird place to be in that we have come so close together only to leave. We are all in the process of staying in the present even though the future is flying towards us.
And I'm saying a prayer for you. Thank you for all of your support. I appreciate it so much.
Cheers and God Bless!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Easter Break - Hungary and Sweden

A view of Budapest with Rebekah, Anthony, Alpar, and Me

There is SO much to tell, and many stories. I'll keep the best here and try to be brief :)

This Easter break Anthony, Rebekah, and I were blessed to be able to visit 2 other team members in their homes. First stop was in Hungary to visit Alpar in his hometown of Gyor. We were welcomed very warmly in his home with a homegrown, home cooked meal. Alpar's family is incredible that way! They have a cottage house out in the country where they grow fruits and vegetables. They make their own jam, juice, wine, and just about everything else. I loved that they still have their milk delivered by a milk man as well!

Beka and me with home made egg/potato salad

Alpar was an amazing tour guide for us the whole week. He has a real passion for history and architecture, so we could look at any building and say 'what's that?' and hear an incredible story. We were really lucky that way! We went to Gyor, Budapest, and Fertod. The best thing about Gyor was this amazing park by the river. We were able to sit and people watch. I don't know if it's the heat (pushing 30 Celsius) or the culture or what, but people were so relaxed - and I definitely caught a few couples... :) The best thing about Budapest was this really neat market where we got to experience Hungarian food and desserts - I had Langos (a potato pancake with garlic butter, sour cream, and cheese. mmm! And for dessert we had this long bread tube thing with cinnamon on it - delicious! And my favourite about Fertod was walking quite a ways to a castle where Haydn lived and composed! We took a tour and saw where he would have written and performed - pretty sweet if you ask me! Then we had a great lunch sitting in the GIANT lawn before running back to the train :)

Haydn probably roamed this garden humming his compositions... wow!

The most interesting cultural experience, though, was Easter monday. Easter Sunday was celebrated with church and a nice lunch along with a bike ride down to the Danube with Alpar's Dad. Quite pleasant. But Easter Monday was an event! The tradition is that the boys 'water' the girls for new growth - very Eastery. But do the girls run away or try and get them back? No. They give them cookies and cakes. So Beka and I awoke to buckets of water being poured on our heads. This is the first of 3 times that day that we were saturated by some male! But that's much less than the 20 times that some girls end up changing their clothes! We got to accompany Alpar around to his friends houses to continue watering :)

Beka and I. Saturation #2

Cycling to the Danube with Alpar's Dad

Our final night in Hungary was spent at the family Cottage house where we cooked dinner on a fire and had a chance to get to know some of his Brother's friends from Uni. There was music blasting from a car, and a good time was had by all, even if our communication was 95% non-verbal. We felt very blessed to be able to experience that world wide community first hand. We were dancing, laughing, and sometimes just sitting in silence as the fire crackled. Wow.

Then we headed off to Sweden! Alpar and I stayed with Sara Karls. When we arrived, she said "You want to see Sweden? Well, to me, Sweden is nature." So we spent most of our trip outside! We were in Hedemora, and very close to Dalarna, where the big red horse is. We had great fun exploring the huge amount of land, forest, and lake that the Karls own. Something that fascinated me was that in Sweden, you can go on anyone's land and camp anywhere for 2 days at a time as long as you don't completely trash the place. What a welcoming atmosphere! We got to ride Icelandic horses and go cross country skiing! (My first time! I fell a lot, but I was getting quite good at the end, until I fell in a bathtub size puddle!) We cooked Swedish desserts and saw beautiful Stockholm. What a treat! Oh! You know those candies we call 'Swedish Fish' back in the states? They don't call them that there ;)
Our last day in Sweden we got to hike up to the family cabin on the hills across the lake from their house. The land has been in the family for generations - it was cool to hear stories from way back when! We cooked over a fire and made sausages, corn, and my personal favourite - BREAD! (this is the perfect combo for my parents - Dad loves grilling, and Mom makes a mean loaf of bread!) It was a beautiful hike and a wonderful family tradition to be a part of.

Riding Icelandic Horses

The whole gang with a Swedish Gnome in Stockholm

Getting ready to hike at Sara's house

Me climbing out of a bathtub of a puddle!

For more stories and pictures of Hungary, click here, or here, or for even more, here

For more stories and pictures of Sweden, click here, and for more, here.

As always, know that you are all in my prayers. I love and miss you, and hope that your life is just as crazy as mine in your own special way :)

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

When I'm Lost on the Road

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please
you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all
that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you
will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death, I will
not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton


This is a poem that was used in our training and we also used in the retreat last week. I feel it is very fitting for this adventure.

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

Crisp Flavours.

England has an amazing amount and variety of Crisp (chip) Flavours! Here are a few of my favourites (like the English spelling :) )

Ready Salted
Cheese and Onion
Roast Chicken
Prawn Cocktail
Steak and Onion
Worcester Sauce

These are the normal ones that you'd find in a gas station. Crazy, isn't it?!

English Lingo

  • Lorry (Semi-Truck)
  • Rubber (eraser)
  • Ta (Thank You)
  • Cheers (Thank you)
  • Skip (dumpster)
  • Bin (trash can)
  • Drink (Tea)
  • Brew (Tea)
  • Cupper (Tea)
  • Chips (Fries)
  • Crisps (Chips)
  • Biscuit (cookie)
  • Chuft (Proud)
  • Lie in (sleep in)
  • Rubbish (trash)