Monday, June 5, 2017

Musing on D-Day and the June Rebellion

Today and tomorrow mark the anniversaries of the June Rebellion and D-Day. Perhaps to commemorate the occasions, I'll watch “Les Miserables,” or “Saving Private Ryan,” or “Band of Brothers.” Yesterday I went to the movie theater to celebrate the beginning of summer, and though I was there to see the new “Pirates” installment as an escapist romp, the preview for “Dunkirk” had me shaking, and I thought, I have to see that.

Why? Why am I drawn to these defining moments of history? Are they epic, or just tragic? Why do I do this to myself and relieve the anguish of the dead? It's not that I enjoy it. Is Susan Sontag right, that it's wrong for me to watch (a fictionalized reenactment of) their suffering when I can do nothing about it? Or is it fitting that I should try to make meaning out of their deaths?

I do not know whether they died face-down in the sand or the water or the mud for their beliefs, or for some insatiable grasping of governments. I don't know the father who left behind small children and a pregnant wife to lead boys into the fray. I don't know the chaplain whose clasped hands trembled as he led a group of shaking schoolboy soldiers to pray. I don't know the schoolboys, who for a share in the glory or a sense of moral courage, joined up and lied about their age. I don't know any of them who are now just seen as numbers, casualty statistics on a page.

I don't even know, really, why I watch movies or TV shows about them, why I read about them, the heroes or the faceless fallen of Lexington and Gettysburg and Verdun and Normandy, or even just the hundred ill-fated students facing down a line of soldiers with nothing but a barricade of broken furniture between them. I'm trying to puzzle out whether it is out of admiration, morbid curiosity, a desire for understanding, or something else. I'm trying to decide what motivated them, and maybe it's different for all of them. I'm trying to decide whether it was Winston Churchill or Wilfred Owen who was right about war; maybe it's neither, maybe it's both. Maybe wars and rebellions are too different from each other to even think about in the same context, or maybe they're more similar than they seem at first glance, with men and women standing up for something, when they've faced oppression or injustice, when it seems all other forms of voicing their demands have gone unheard. I don't know.

I only know that I can't believe they died for nothing.

Maybe it's stupid and self-centered of me to try to make sense of their deaths in the context of my life. Or, maybe that is my way to honor them.

My whole life I have been caught between a desire to be part of something great and meaningful, and a desire to be safe and comfortable. For the most part the latter has won out. I don't think I'll die for something glorious, on a battlefield or the mission field. It will probably be something mundane: a car accident, an illness, old age.

It would be senseless for me not to be thankful for the blessing of a peaceful life. Yet it would also be senseless for me to keep my head down and shuffle along, not thinking of the sacrifice it has taken to secure the blessings of liberty. I learned yesterday that William Pitt the younger became prime minister of England when he was twenty-four. Twenty-four! And boys the age of some of my students died in Dunkirk or at Antietam. What does it mean? What am I doing with my life, almost twenty-four? What does my life mean?

I do not think I wish for a heroic death. I do not know if I even wish for a heroic life. I just wish for my life to mean something.

Maybe at the heart, that is selfish too. But I do not know that it is about being glorified or being remembered myself. I want to be part of something bigger. And I do not mean having my students like me and remember me, though that is nice. I want to be part of something where the stakes are high and the rewards are great. But that means the risks are great, and that is frightening. So I live vicariously through others, and try to glean something from their lives, so that in my small life I might become just a little bit better – a little bit kinder, a little bit braver. A little bit more Christlike in my compassion and self-sacrifice.

It would be wrong and disrespectful to the memory of those freedom fighters, wouldn't it, to think of daily life as a battle? Not the kind they've seen. And yet... I know there is a kind of war being waged. I know there are people in need of saving.

John Piper speaks of living in a wartime mentality as Christians, of putting aside our own selfish desires and pleasure-seeking long and remembering an eternal perspective. Maybe I watch those movies to remind me that I should be in one, too – not because I am in a war like the soldiers of the past or today, but because we should fight each day: to prevent little evils from becoming big ones, to prevent injustices and oppressions from becoming systemic or even genocidal, problems so burgeoning that only war can seem able to stop them.

Maybe I watch “Saving Private Ryan” to remember that I must earn this – to remember that I have been saved not to struggle and suffer, though there will be that, but to remember that I have been saved, and that others are yet in need of saving.

I do not know that I will die for what I believe in. But I know that I must live for it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Futile the Winds

It was time for another blog post. As per usual, this one will have some brutally honest stuff. Also as per usual, this one is going to talk about God. Because, like most people, I tend to talk a lot about the things I love: my family, my friends, my students, my favorite books and my favorite foods.

There have been times in my life when I didn't feel like I loved God. A few months back, I went through I spell during which I believed He was angry with me. It was not a happy time. I let my circumstances overwhelm me and forgot all that He already done for me – and He has done a LOT. There wasn't really a logical reason, because my tiny complaints don't count, but I didn't believe God loved me. I felt like He was punishing me for something. Thank God (literally), that's not really the way Christianity works.

Unfortunately, God doesn't make everything easy for us when we do the right things, either. (Truth be told, we never do everything right.) It's normal to be upset, even to doubt, when tragedies and trials happen. Heck, even David did that in the Psalms, and he was called a man after God's own heart.

There is good news, though. God does love me and you, even though I do screw up. He died to save us from our sins, and He's not just a distant “watchmaker.” He's still active, and He's all-loving. I can't explain Him, can't see or touch Him. But He's done awesome things that nothing else can explain, in my life and around the world. Though He didn't promise to make things easy, even in the trials, He will be with us. I'm trusting that He's working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) according to His purposes. It might not be what I want or expect, but He knows what He's doing. We can have hope in Him: “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

I'm going with metaphors about the ocean right now. About two weeks ago, I fell in love with this Dickinson poem, and it's been comforting to me while a loved one is going through medical craziness. I'm willfully extracting and repurposing a stanza (I know, as an English teacher, I should be cringing at my hypocrisy):
Futile the winds
To a heart in port
Done with the compass
Done with the chart.

And, as Jo says in Little Women:

Actually, I'm still afraid of “storms,” but like Peter in Matthew 14:22-33, I'll try to keep my eyes on Jesus and not on the “waves.” I hope this post might help you do the same.  Love you guys!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Senior Spring!

About four years ago, I made my decision to attend Cornell University, where I would graduate as the class of 2015.  Now, 2015 is here.  Since I’ll be graduating in May, I’ve been asked a lot of questions by family and friends about my feelings and my future.  So, if anyone is interested who hasn’t asked me personally, here are my answers to those questions!

Q: Are you taking fun classes for your last semester?
A: Sure am!  American Musical is great fun for me. I’m also enrolled in a class about the Civil War, which I don’t know if I should call “fun” but it’s certainly fascinating for me.  (Sorry to all of you who have heard me talk about Lincoln and Seward for hours… I’m afraid that will keep going after this.)  I’m also taking Multicultural Education, which is something of a tough class, but an important one if I want to be a teacher.  Finally, I’m taking a “capstone seminar” for my education minor to reflect on what I have learned.

Q: That sounds like an easy schedule… What else are you doing?
A: I’m still working, still doing Sunday school, still very involved with Cru.  I’m meeting up with friends often.  I’m also getting some things into place for next year.

Q: Are you excited to graduate?
A: Yes!  I have love, love, loved my college experience.  I will miss seeing my Cornell friends every day, and I am spending as much time as possible with them while I am still here.  But I know we will keep in touch when I am no longer in Ithaca, and I am looking forward to what the future holds too.  Some people say that college is the greatest time of their lives, and it has been great, but I don’t want to assume that life is “all downhill from here!”

Q: Are you scared?
A: Maybe a little?  I’ll probably be more afraid when it actually hits me that I’m graduating.  It hasn’t yet, because I still have a semester to go.  (Though, I have already started tests and applications, etc., for grad programs.)

Q: Are you dating anyone?  Are you engaged yet?
A: Nope, and nope!

Q: What are your plans for next year/for The Future?
A: Right now, to get my teaching credential – possibly get my Master’s in Education as well.  I will be taking classes and student teaching for one year (possibly two).  Then, God willing, I’ll get a job and start life in the *real world!*  I’ve had to take a few tests and start applying to credential programs and that sort of thing, and it feels like a lot of hoops right now.  But whenever I think about what it will be like to have my own classroom and to have a group of students to teach and learn from, I get so excited!  There are definitely moments when I’m nervous about it too, and I know it will be very difficult, especially in my first few years of teaching.  

I know that my future is in God’s hands (which is good, because if it was in mine, I’d definitely screw it up).  Who knows – maybe something will happen completely outside of my plans!

I think that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading this update!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fall 2014 Update

Hullo, whoever is reading this!

I thought I'd post a little something, since I haven't for a while.  It's going to be rather slap-dash, but I might come back and make it nicer.

So, it's my senior year of undergrad - which is CRAZY, because that means I started this blog over three years ago, almost three and a half now.  Actually, senior year means a lot of things...

Someone asked me at a Halloween party last night, "How does it feel to be a senior?"  He didn't mean to sound snarky, but it is kind of a loaded question!  Fortunately, I'm not feeling too panicky, because I know what I'd like to do next year.  Plans can always change, but my current goal is to get my teaching certification and my Masters in Education back home in California.  And then, y'know, get a job.  And impact young people!  Yay!

I'm feeling excited right now for whatever the future holds.  I know as well that, as a senior, it's important to "enjoy the moment," because I only have a few months left here.  (Most of which will be spent in snow.)  I'm living in a house with TEN girls, which is sometimes about as insane as you'd imagine, but also as awesome as you'd imagine.  They're really great and we have a lot of deep life conversations.  I'm also loving my classes, which are challenging and interesting.  This semester: Sociopolitical Contexts of American Education, The History of the United Nations, The French Revolution, and Intermediate Narrative Writing.  Next semester (tentatively): Radicals and Reformers in Lincoln's America, Curriculum & Instruction, Multicultural Education, and American Musicals.  So I'm getting pumped!  I'm still working at a dining hall, I'm still leading a Bible study with Cru, and, once a week or so, I'm still running, though it's getting to be too cold here for sane people to do that outside.  (Thankfully, we have a really nice indoor track.)

That pretty much sums it up!  Happy November, and hope to see you soon,

<3 p="">Katie

Friday, July 4, 2014

The (Captain) American Way

Steve Rogers is too modest to be good on a stage, but the SSR project is shelved, so he is put there anyway. His plans to go on a tour of duty are slightly different than he anticipated.

In his head – the choreographed moves are familiar enough now for his mind to wander while he successfully performs them – the soldiers see him for what he really is: a costumed monkey. His slow swings at a mustachioed actor embarrass them. Here, no one is stirred to buy war bonds; the pep of the high-kicking girls barely stirs the crowd of the wounded and damned.

After the dancers sing, “Who's strong and brave, here to save the American waaaaaay?” a hush falls over the crowd; crickets whir in the tall grasses behind the makeshift stage.
Not him, he knows the men are thinking. His jaw tightens in resolve as he grimaces a practiced smile for the audience, and in his head he replies: not yet.


I've been thinking about what Independence Day means. You know, beyond the church picnics and ice cream and apple pie and barbecues and baseball, beyond the fireworks and flag-waving and “Captain America” showings... as much as I love all of those things.

On an obvious level, it means celebrating independence. Barbecues and fireworks are a great way to do that. Independence can mean different things to different people, as “freedom
from” something (negative liberties) and “freedom to” do something (positive liberties): freedom from chains and freedom to get a job that pays, freedom from religious persecution and freedom to worship however they want. Independence Day has become a celebration of much more than independence from English rule.

When the colonies' inhabitants decided to declare independence from Great Britain, they had to conceive of an idea of what they were afterward. A group of people, spread out over an area that (as Thomas Paine had pointed out) was larger than England, had to realize some kind of common identity. Not just a negative identity – they are no longer Englishmen – but a positive one: what is an American? This was especially difficult given the large amount of people residing from New York to Georgia who were still Loyalists.

This brings up the federalism vs. states' rights debate, but a country whose population had different political desires and different geographical locations with different needs came to be recognized by foreign entities more powerful and certainly older. Eventually, it was called a superpower.

What made it so super? Wealth? Military clout? Democracy?

Much ink has been spilled praising “the American way,” but it's hard to sum up what that is exactly. I think a few quotes encapsulate it pretty well though, and I don't think it's coincidental that most of these quotes reflect on war time: Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address made “with malice towards none,” George Washington's farewell address warning against disunity, Emma Lazarus' beautiful welcome for the “huddled masses” approaching the Statue of Liberty, the vision espoused in Martin Luther King, Jr's iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and a little editorial from the June 19, 1944 edition of “Life” magazine:

We Americans, heirs of the Roman law, have an additional great idea to bequeath to mankind... from medieval Catholic, seventeenth century English and eighteenth century French philosophers; we put it into great words and common practice and we have extended it under our flag. It is the idea of freedom as a natural right of all men. And no matter how great grow the power and glory of America, this simple idea of freedom is greater.

It will outlast our military victories past and to come; it is our reason for them.


The men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew when they did it that they were risking their lives. What was the cause that they thought was worth dying for? Perhaps it was the question, formulated more explicitly later in Romantic poetry, of whether a man is truly “the master of [his] fate.” Because men are equal, no man has the right to deny another man his freedom to do what he wants (presumably so long as one man's pursuit of happiness/wealth/etc. does not take away another man's life or liberty, though the money raked in by slavery and child labor are easy counterexamples that the “founding father's” descendants would have to address before the country could really say it stood by the beliefs formulated in its Declaration of Independence).

The American way was not established just by the American Revolution (which my papa would like to remind me was actually a civil war). Frankly, it did not reduce class inequality, or slavery, or even, truly, establish a real democracy (hello, old poll taxes, three-fifths compromise, and electoral college). The “American way” was formed and re-worked over our country's relatively short period of existence. 
My own view of it is still developing, grateful but complicated.

Is it America's wealth, after World War II had devastated Europe and much of the Pacific, what made it great? I think, rather, it is that that wealth was given (I know, I know, with some stipulations) to countries and peoples in need – including the countries and peoples they had just defeated in war, who had killed thousands of Americans abroad and a small number, too, at home. This quote from Jack Bernabucci was painted in the Palm Springs Air Museum: “The most notable result of WWII, and the very thing that has been ignored by historians and scholars, is that the victors, the nations forced into war by the aggressors Germany and Japan, in the most compassionate and humanitarian action in history, rebuilt the devastated economies and the political and social structures of their defeated economies, thus enabling them to become the powerful democracies they are today.”

He may be overzealous or incorrect on some process; you may think that it is all cultural imperialism. But it seems difficult to despise such results.

Is it military clout that made the USA great? Or has that made the US more infamous than praised? After the US entered World Wars I and II, they ended more quickly than they probably would have otherwise, and perhaps with different results – though extensive fighting by England, the USSR, and colonized peoples in India and Africa must all be given credit. This country was feared once for developing a war technology that is now being developed in many other places; guns that were dealt are being turned against our soldiers and our allies' soldiers. American intervention did not happen in many humanitarian crises to the degree that it could have, which perhaps you think is the right decision, perhaps not. But there are “boots on the ground” doing good things throughout the world now, too. It is still amazing to me the discipline and self-sacrificial nature that so many service-men and -women possess, so if you're reading this, thank you.

Did democracy make the USA great? Technically, we have a republic (rule by law, not necessarily by people's consent, though the laws that people obey are meant to be established by a rational majority). And boy, is it somethin'. Maybe some countries aren't ready for this kind of government, but it is my opinion that there are too few countries who
are ready for it and actually have it. Refugees struggling wearily and often tearfully away from Darfur expressed ideas of civil rights, and were outraged that they did not have them. The founding documents of the United States were supposed to espouse natural rights, not suggesting them for the very first time, but suggesting them most famously. The idea that all men are created equal, that the Creator has not meant for man to oppress each other, is now “a shot heard 'round the world.”


Benjamin Franklin, when asked what had been given to the people, famously answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Lincoln's greatest fear was that the Civil War (which, Papa reminds, was actually a revolution) would be the failing of the American experiment; that four score and seven years after its inception, government by the people, of the people, for the people, would perish from the earth. The United States of America is an entity, a geographical location on a map (well, Magritte would say a picture on a map is not actually a geographical location. Whatever) – but it is also a fluid idea.

Generations pass and things change as people change them. The American way was determined by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth, yes; but it is still being determined now, not just by senators and ambassadors, but by every voter, every person living in this country.

The American
way, I think, is diligent ingenuity and (perhaps, for the sake of) generosity.  The American ideal I've seen in movies and magazines and comic books works hard to provide for themselves and their families, with enough left over to care for others.  The ideal, I think, isn't so focused on the American dream or even on America that they won't sacrifice to help someone else in a scrape, whether that person is a neighbor or around the world.  An American is not just an American, but a human being, and that broad definition of the American way seems to include a high respect for humanity.  That's what I think.  But, of course, one of the great things about America is that different opinions can coexist peacefully.  Maybe each person in America has a different idea of what the American way is.

The question still remains, without its intended conclusion with a fictional character: “Who's strong and brave, here to save the American way?”

Me. You.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring 2014 recap in brief

This semester went by so fast that I'm still a little stunned that it's over.  ...well, pretty much over. I have to edit one last paper.

 A lot has happened since I last blogged.  Oops.  In any case, life, it seems, is not “a roller coaster that only goes up.”  There were a lot of highs and a few tough lows among my stereotypical college experiences.

I took classes that were as interesting and complicated as they sound: International Humanitarianism, Engaging Students in Learning, Blood Politics, and Real & Imaginary Women in British Romanticism.

I angsted over big questions: Should I graduate early? What should we do about violence against women? Should I really be pursuing this career? How can I balance doing what I love to do with what I should do? Is there even a difference? What does The Future hold?

I learned about the world: watched a presentation by the Peace Corps (Mom, don't freak out, it was for a class and I didn't sign anything), learned more about the “school-to-prison pipeline,” watched too many documentaries that made me cry but I'm glad, and read things and heard stories that made me gag a little.

I fell in love in a library, and had my heart broken too. (Namely by the beautiful and haunting Tears of the Desert and Half the Sky.)

I had to deal with one of the suckiest parts about growing up – losing a grandparent. I am so thankful for the wonderful woman Gramma Jordan was, and thankful that I got to celebrate her life with my family over Spring Break.

I was also so inspired it made me want to kick down brothel doors and build schools, to hug some people fiercely and shake others, to curl up in a ball and marvel at the universe in one moment and in another frolic in a field.  Maybe someday I'll do all of those things.  Pretty sure I've already done or helped do all but the first one.  I might want to leave that one to International Justice Mission.

I made new friends and hung out with the wonderful ones I already have. I wanted to stay up all hours of the night talking about instead of doing homework. (Sometimes I did. Sorry, friends who were attempting to be productive.)

I worked a lot. I wrote a lot. I agonized over assignments and reminded myself that in the grand scheme of things, they didn't matter enough to stress about.

I marveled at my professors. I stood slack-jawed as I listened to brilliant ideas pour forth from the mouths of middle-schoolers I was supposed to be “teaching.”

In spite of the fact that all of those statements above started with "I" (I liked the parallelism, I guess), I tried to think a little less about “I” and a little more about “we.” It's an ongoing process.

I am so excited to go home in a few weeks, after work and a wedding, but when I get there, my work won't be done! I need to look for opportunities to love and serve others wherever I go. I'm lucky that my family is easy to love.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ending in Wisdom

The approach of Thanksgiving heralds the end of a semester of varied and often painstaking writing, so please forgive me if I sound exultant (perhaps verging on manic; as I write this, I am also in the throes of writing four make that three papers). My main projects this semester were a 25 page pre-thesis comparing rhetorical strategies in two early modern plays for my honors seminar, and a somewhat-haphazard portfolio of different styles of poetry and fiction for my creative writing seminar. The latter was, as you can imagine, more enjoyable, but it was also, in a way, more difficult.

It's often said that there are no new ideas (I joke that it must suck to be the guy who first spoke of structuralism, because it's not like he can take credit). In spite of this, I've gotten some insight and encouragement about this from my creative writing professor and from a panel I attended yesterday. My professor said that it was not bad to be influenced by or admire other work, while one of the authors on the panel, J. Robert Lennon, said he avoided reading other fiction because he was too impressionable. Stephanie Vaughan chimed in that she found inspiration in other areas of life, and that writing is about being a good observer. The best thing I heard was that you shouldn't try to write something that will sell, because it probably won't sell and you'll only end up hating it. Instead you should write something that only you can do in a way that only you can do it. Even if it doesn't sell, you'll be proud of it.

It's been sung that the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation. You have full permission to judge me for quoting RENT, and for quoting a great deal of other sources when I'm trying to talk about individual creativity, but for one thing, it's impossible to separate oneself completely from the world and not be influenced by it. For another, one can respond to works and events in a way that is not fan-fiction or plagiarism, but very much a unique, generative process of interpretive meaning-making.  Is that not most thought?

Tonight at Cru/large group Bible study, our speaker was talking about gifts, and how if you are repeatedly told by people that you are good at something, then you probably are. Here are some things I've heard about good writing: it often starts as bad writing and you have to put aside your perfectionist tendencies, write, then edit and rewrite. Stephanie Vaughan also said beautifully that good writing starts with a sense of awe and the ability to be surprised and engage with the world. Robert Frost said that a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom; Seamus Heaney responded
that a poet's career begins in delight and ends in self-consciousness. (Some of you might disagree with them if you have had less pleasant experiences in English class.)

To return to a thinker becoming rather a staple of this blog, Victor Hugo spoke of another kind of lyricism when he wrote that “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” I tire of writing papers; I get frustrated with abstract theory. But I think literature, poetry, and music have so much to teach us, and teach us in a way in which we delight. 

You already know it, but I don't say it enough – I am profusely grateful to my family for their support. Not every parent would be proud of a student who wants to read and teach. I am very fortunate to have delight alongside wisdom, and hopefully someday I will inspire students the same way my teachers, family, and friends have inspired me.

I'll see you in less than a month to give you a big hug.  We have a lot of time to make up for.

Much love,

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"The Infinite Suffices Them"

Once again, I've been neglecting my blog, but I've been doing a lot of things so I will just report those now! Cru had its annual Fall Getaway to Seneca Lake last weekend, and it was just the break I needed. The first part of the semester flew by, and I realized I didn't even blog about anything from this summer. Over the past few months, I went on a lot of adventures with my family (including a cross country road trip); Jessie (a member of the “Sisterhood”) left for her mission; and a few of my friends got engaged!

As I suppose is typical of college life, things have changed a lot over the last year here at Cornell. I'm still working in the same place, a dining hall on campus, though I never actually mentioned that before (not super prestigious, but my coworkers are nice, and it's not stressful or inconvenient), and I'm still in Cru. I'm no longer in any politically-interested clubs, because I wanted to spend my free time investing in personal relationships, and writing about controversial issues was getting a little too stressful on top of my Christian fellowship(s), work, classes, etc.

Speaking of classes, this semester I'm taking Educational Psychology, Creative Writing, History of the British Empire, Earth and Atmospheric Science, and a Shakespeare & Marlowe Honors English seminar. They're all very interesting (being an English major is just grand sometimes), but a lot of work! I'm always working on a paper or two. The Honors seminar has been particularly rigorous because it is a very small class (5 people) and we read some pretty dense academic writing in addition to a play per week.

Sometimes I get frustrated with all the abstract ideological arguments in literary criticism. Hugo complains about philosophers who are content to look upon flowers and ignore their starving neighbor, and I can definitely feel like that in this iv(or)y tower. I wish, to quote Howard Gardner, that we would focus less on acquiring more knowledge and instead “mobilize the knowledge that we have” in service. I absolutely believe in the power of literature to do good, but that requires more than philosophical discussion. Thanks to lots of people, fictional, historical, and present, I've been really inspired to love my neighbors better, and have been frequently reminded in Cru that I'm here for a reason. I'm here to get a degree, but I'm also here to glorify God and encourage other people at Cornell.

This semester, for me that has meant leading a small group Bible study with one of my best friends as well as volunteering as a tutor at a local high school. I knew I was going to love the Bible study, because I love Jesus, I love God's word, and I love my best friend. I was a little more nervous about volunteering. I did student teaching once a week last semester in addition to my time with Urban Promise over Spring Break, so I sort of knew what I was getting into: that it would be rewarding, but tough.

And, a few weeks in, I never thought I'd say this, but I actually enjoy tutoring math. I know – of all possible subjects, that was my assignment. Life is funny.

Every time I have gone out of my comfort zone, though it sometimes hasn't gone according to plan, God has used it for my growth and His glory. I had no idea before I started with REACH that the high school graduation rates in some areas of New York State are so low, and my coordinators have said that the relationships I'm forming with my mentees could make the difference for them. Man, here's hoping! All I know is, I'm sure learning a lot too.

One thing that's kept me grounded is gratitude. I got a special journal to write down at night 3 things I'm thankful for. No matter how crazy school got, or how many things had gone wrong that day, it was never hard to think of good things. So with gratitude to you, family and friends,

Much love,


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Urban Promise Journal Day 7

We packed up lats night and got up at 7 this morning to eat, throw our stuff in cars, and get going. The elementary school kids had a long basketball tournament. I knew some of the kids from my short stint at UP Academy, but none of my camp kids were there; I had to say goodbye to them at the speech contest. We made signs and trophies for the winning team, and they looked pretty good. Saying goodbye to Joel, Deb, and the ORU team was a little sad, but hey, we'll see each other in Heaven someday, and I'm willing to bet that at least a few of us will be back at Urban Promise someday for an internship or another Spring Break trip.

Domi decided to stay an extra day, but the rest of us drove back stopping at Rachel's house. It wouldn't have been a road trip without Disney and Les Mis sing-alongs and some more good conversation. I have a lot of work to do before school, but it's so worth it. I've learned a lot that I'll never forget, but Domi wanted us to write a letter to ourselves about the experience, so I guess this is it.

Urban Promise Journal Day 6

We had a devo this morning with Ms. Lori about prayer and praise. She said trusting God comes down to knowing that He cares and He is powerful. He can change things, so even when circumstances are hard, we should focus on Him. We then went to prayer time with these things in mind. We prayed over the finances, the camps, the trips, etc. Then we re-read Luke 15, talking about the prodigal son and who we identified with in the story – the father, the son, or the brother. I feel like we demand a lot from God then stray to find satisfaction in other things, like the prodigal son. Or at least, I know I do. We hunger when we're not getting our “daily bread” from the Bible and from prayer. But he's been there all along to give us everything, as the father tells the other son. No matter what we do, His love is unfailing.

Then we went to the Academy. I did some more office stuff laminating cards for a teacher and calling some attendees from last week's silent auction to tank them. We got to hang out a little and Joel thanked me again personally. He said the speeches wouldn't have happened without me. There are times when I think that I can't really do anything to help anyone, but it's really just the little things that can make a difference. One of my favorite quotes (which I probably use too often) is from Edmund Burke and it says, “No man ever made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Any time I was feeling like I didn't belong on the trip, Domi would throw Ephesians 4:29 at me. The ORU team also has this thing where if you say anything negative about someone, you have to then say 3 nice things. I suppose that can also be directed at yourself. As Domi would say, God doesn't like you talking bad about His creation!

Lunch was back at the church and we had more fun discussion, including Bible trivia with Malcolm, Tommy, Domi, and Fernando, then track talk and reminiscing with Alex. He was an all-American before he got injured and God got his attention, so... yeah. Not too shabby. We then talked with Deborah about what we learned over the trip. I felt so grateful to the staff and so glad that both teams, from ORU and Cornell, had meshed well within themselves and with each other. I have a lot to think about and a lot to pray about after this trip.

Urban Promise Journal Day 5

Morning devo with Mr. Luke, brother of Mr. Joel and Mr. Aaron. He told a story about how a woman jumped in his car. Long story short, he was terrified, but things worked out alright. He said he had Psalm 27 in his head the whole time. We also rad over Psalm 33 multiple times, just meditating on scripture, and James 12:4, about how what we think is “right” in this world can sometimes lead down the wrong path, but we can always trust God. Then we went to UP Academy. I helped Miss C.'s class with math, then we played Uno. There were only 5 kids in class that day, and most of them were well-behaved and very intelligent. When they had to leave, the kids whined, which was... flattering, I think. Then I just worked on scanning some lessons and we drove around to find lunch.

The drive was worth it for Five Guys. From there, we had to hurry to pack dinner, shower at the Y, and go to rehearsal. The kids seemed somewhat nervous but ready. Maybe. We left for Resurrection church for the speech contest. Miss W. and Miss M. were both fidgety beforehand, but gave their speeches with no drama thankfully. They didn't win, but it was awesome just to have them up there after the struggle this week. Everyone got a certificate and gets to go to Dave and Buster's to celebrate.

Then Mr. Joel gave a speech of his own about Mr. John M. Perkins, who moved to California to escape racism in the south, only to become a Christian and return to the south to combat racism. His brother was shot by a policeman, upon returning from service in WWII, just for making too much noise in line at a movie theatre. That inspired him to leave the south and then to return. He was like Moses, forsaking the comforts and luxuries of life in order to combat prejudice.

Joel's speech, and Mr. James' talk about why it was important for kids to do the speech contest, inspired me and hopefully other people as well. The kids get more out of this than they let on. They act like they have tough exteriors, because how else will they survive here? But they do care, or their emotions about the contest wouldn't be so high, they wouldn't feel so scared or self-conscious. They just need someone to tell them, “You can do it, and I care about you, and I'm going to help you do it.” I can't change things alone, but I know God loves these kids and I pray that I can love them like Jesus does and plant seeds for change. God will do the rest.

When we got home, some of us went out to visit at the UP staff house, others went bowling, and some of us stayed in. Those of us at the church played a card game and then Sardines... in a totally dark, huge, old church. Needless to say, it was pretty crazy. Tommy had the best hiding spot ever on top of a half-wall thing by a window sill. I'm saying that so when I go back, I'll remember it... because I am going back. This trip has been tough in some ways, but it's also been really fun bonding with my “teammates.”

Urban Promise Journal Day 4


Devo this morning on Lazarus being raised from the dead. Jesus wept over him because He knew He could have stopped it, but wanted to glorify God with the miracle. God knows our suffering, and because He does have the power to stop it, He wouldn't let us go through it unless it was sanctifying us. This is hard to swallow for anyone. I don't suffer that much compared to a lot of people. But a lot of people trust God more than I do because they don't have anything in their life besides Him.

We had worship and Bible study at Immanuel. When people were standing up to give praises and prayer requests, Joel mentioned that I had been making progress with Miss W., which was nice of him. Man, do I need prayer on that, haha. Everyone thanked us for being there. We talked about Luke 15 when we split up into small groups, how God pursues the lost and celebrates their repentance. Sometimes I felt like my contributions to the conversation were not really necessary, but I know Joel and Domi would tell me that not saying anything unhelpful applies to how I think about myself, too. When I am actively trying to do the right things and say things that are edifying, God will help me.

We got free Rita's water ice (it's like a snow cone – “BUT BETTER!”, insisted everyone who would know) because it was the first day of spring, had lunch, got dinner ready in a crock pot, went to the YMCA, had a good talk with Deborah, and went to Camp Amen. Chloe, Samantha and I had fun with Miss W. and Miss B.; we started singing some worship songs during free play and the girls decided to join in. The speech, however, was a point of contention as usual. Joel had Miss W. talk to Miss Michelle after a while of trying to convince her, and while they were outside, we prayed over the situation. Miss W. came back in, and somewhere between God and Miss Michelle there must have been a miracle, because like yesterday, she was much better-behaved afterward. Miss Michelle and I listened to her speech a few times until we helped her put it on notecards.

We ate a quick dinner before we had the internship panel. We listened to he story of S., who is a “street leader,” (a high school student who helps at U.P. Instead of getting involved in activities that they shouldn't be doing), and she told us what it's like to live in Wilmington. Craaazy stuff goes down there. Thank God for Urban Promise.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Urban Promise Journal Day 3

Our devo this morning was on Isaiah 58 (“Is this not the fast I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out...”) I thought it was worth writing down what someone said: “This is not just a good idea in a book – it's people. God created us to be together.” We were blessed to be a blessing. It's not our capabilities, but the work of the God of the
universe that changes people and saves lives. We also talked about Matthew 5, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see the kingdom of God.” We are powerless on our own, and only through seeking Him can we have victory. (Apparently this is in AA, the 12 steps of which are based on the Beatitudes. Who knew?) The rules we place on ourselves aren't what free us, because no one can keep all the rules they set for themselves. Only Jesus can do that. Isaiah promises that while we continue the “fast” of doing good, “healing will quickly appear.” That healing might not manifest itself in the way we expect, but God's ways are higher than ours, and He keeps His word.

Boy, did I feel that today. Miss M. was late so I was working with Miss W. instead. It frustrated me that she gave me attitude and did not want to work on her speech. I told her that she didn't have to be there (and I didn't have to be there either!); if she didn't want to work on her speech, and she didn't want to work on homework, then she could just go home. Of course, she didn't want to do that either. Mr. Joel had noticed that I didn't connect as easily with the girls as Chloe did because I looked different from them. Joel told me that Miss W. was one of their toughest, and he didn't want me to feel like I was wasting my time. Working with her did feel like butting against a brick wall when I could see that Miss Chloe and Mr. Alex, my partners at Amen from ORU and Cornell, were having more success. But it wasn't a waste of time and I decided to keep working with her. It meant a lot to have that encouragement.

I told Miss W. that I wasn't there just to yell at her. I wasn't mad. I just loved her and I wanted her to take advantage of the opportunities that were in front of her because I cared about her. In response, she said thank you, which completely shocked me. After that, things weren't perfect, but they were definitely easier.

When Miss M. arrived, I helped her continue memorizing her speech. She was fighting me on it, which was silly, because she had memorized a paragraph so well the day before. We finally got through three paragraphs. She was rude to Miss Sam, which was a downer after feeling like we had made some progress, but I felt like it was a decent day of work. If I can work with these middle-schoolers, it's only by the grace of God, that's for sure.

At night, we had free time. I called Mom to tell her about the mulching in the community garden that we had done that morning and everything else. After spaghetti dinner, Cornell had a “debrief” and we stayed up way too late. Domi really encouraged me. She told me God is working and I don't need to try to do it all myself. We're not here to fix everything – we can't, especially not in just a week – but we can serve Jesus and show love to these kids.

We listened to Brandon Heath's song
Give Me Your Eyes and talked about how we wanted to serve other people and put them before ourselves for the rest of our lives, not just for this week. Naturally I hold up Jean Valjean as the fictional and less divine counterpart to Jesus. The inspiration is everywhere to do good, just as Hebrews 10:24 said. I'm sure when this week is over all of us in Cornell's FCA will continue to remind each other to serve. This journal will be a reminder too.