Monday, February 1, 2010


I often find myself baffled by the concept of time. It's incredible-- the fact that days are designated and mechanic and yet, they never quite feel the same. As little sense as this may make, I realize that it is not uncharacteristic of me to say something to the effect of, 'it seems like we just got here, and yet I feel like we have been here forever.' Some days feel like minutes and others drag for months.

But some days, on a very rare and sacred occasion, we get a day that feels as if we have never really lived a day of our life until that moment. Perhaps that is what it feels like when you're head over heels in love. I sure hope so.

imagine with me now.

it is a tiny colorful coastal town-- a colonial relic with cobblestone alleys that weave uphill and down in mindless, near chaotic ways. The stone-faced skeletons of buildings and tropic colored houses peeling to reveal the palette of paintings past-- a monument to time in itself.
oceans and mountains cross paths this day. your wheels kick up the dust and you discover your joyous self in passing reflective ponds. pedaling to catch the sunset.

Atop the hill overlooking the town below, sunshine fingers and van Gogh clouds stretching to the seas, the facade of a 14th century stone church building bursting in sunset flames. the people gathered on the steps, eyes wide and hearts anticipant. Conversations with strangers about the dreams that constitute our lives-- some so simple seeming, others one step from fiction. The crispness of dusk gives way to steps downward into the town, passing horse carts and pausing on someone's doorstep to lean back, watch the passerby and listen to the lonely love ballads of a man seated on his own front stoop. and there is nothing more pressing to do than to sit there and join in the dreaming.

And, it's like you've never. lived. until. this. very. day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


It is the first day of Advent and I am not sure if I have ever longed for Christmas in the way that I am hoping for it in this very moment. Not because I am homesick or am craving something familiar. I don’t have a long Christmas list, nor do I need a vacation. It is none of these. My wandering heart and tumultuous mind are simultaneously stilled and stirred by what approaches. Advent. A season set aside for expectant waiting and preparations for the celebration. Advent. The mere thought of the hope that it promises—the comfort in what is to come and the utter relief in the chance of a new beginning and a changed heart—makes my being ache for the Christmas arrival.

I discovered an email of my last year’s musings at this time of year; it’s a strange gift to be able to see where you’ve been and what you were thinking in that place in life. Here’s where my heart was a year ago (truth be told, I am writing this more as a vigilant reminder for myself more than anything):

The way my life is looking right now I feel pretty far removed from that stable in Bethlehem. It's hard to wrap my privileged mind around the context of Jesus' birth. But, as I grapple with the narrative and sift through the implications of it all, I find myself ever searching for a meaningful moment in my own past Christmas' that can mirror that context.

Hovering in my mind, like the ghost of Christmas past, is the memory of my last year's Christmas in India. It was then that I recognized that this charade of christmas characters that we have idealized, far removed from our own selves, is quite real in many places around the world. still, there are child brides and unwed mothers, there are pilgrims and there are outcasted shepherds, there are refugees who find no room offered in the inn, it is all real.

And in our own lives? The past couple of days I have had my eyes opened
to broken relationships in my own family, that are mirrored in my church family, and ultimately reflect the brokeness in our global family. No wonder Mary trembled. No wonder she pondered it all in her heart. She knew the world. She knew what it was like to be a 13 year old girl soon to be married by the will of her family who was suddenly with child-- a child who would be the restoration that this broken world ached for. Imagine her great desire in wanting to protect that precious child form it all. Similarly, we are constrained by our own fear in reconciliation, in change, in asking questions, in being challenged, in dismantling our idealogy of the world as we know it. The shepherds trembled too. The most powerful king in the land was shaking in his boots. a revolution lurked.

and yet. there was only a poor couple. a stable. a donkey. some lowly shepherds.

All praise be for the grace in that the nativity story is one composed of meager elements. This tiny child, destined to lead a revolution of social justice, was born to a poor, young woman in a lowly location on the fringes ofsociety. Incredible, that God would use such an earthly vehicle to deliver a being that would turn the world on its head. oh, what hope.

i think that is the christmas that i'd like to pursue

Back to Christmas present. As I mull this all over, I am surprisingly shocked to realize how broken I feel from a year of being too wrapped up in it all to even realize it was happening—a year, while neither being limited to nor necessarily defined by, including instances of a broken heart, a broken spirit, broken relationships, and what felt at times felt like a broken body. I have wandered with a bit of a nomadic spirit of the feet, heart and mind…anxious for a place to land but frightened by who I am and by who may know me. I find myself lacking the courage to just stay still and expectantly wait and in so doing, I neglect the celebration and expectations to which the Season points. So, what Christmas is it I am pursuing now? Perhaps this year has provided me with the opportunity to examine my own brokenness-- the contradictions in my own life in a context of the contradictions in the world.

So in the spirit of Advent, I will wait. I am waiting. For restoration. For peace. For a great birth that brought this All.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

oh the people you'll meet (the london edition)

Perhaps you know that Dr. Seuss poem, the one (all too) frequently used in graduation speeches.
"oh the places you'll go "

"You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know."

It was just about a year ago that I left India, home bound and forever changed.
Since then, I have called four different cities home, welcomed to each place by new friends and old.

I may not have his doctorate, but I think I'd want to re-write Seuss' poem to say 'Oh the people you'll meet'
to convey my gratefulness that I am not 'on my own.' Because when the brains in my head are spinning, my feet weary,
my direction unclear, and when it is hard to convince myself that I know anything at all, it is the people along the journey who
make it worth the while.

I don't always remember the place. I rarely explore it to its potential. i forget the historical details-- the sights and sounds.
but, oh, the people. they ARE the experience. they are the teachers, the guides, the memories.

the piece of india that i will always carry with me is that of community. the people who were gracious enough to allow me into their community, to make me a part of their very family and lives are the essence of what shaped my journey and what continues to shape my life. It is likely that I will never see them again, but I have learned how people can touch your lives if only for a brief period in life.
We have to weigh the costs. I am a girl who feels life very intensely and the thought of engaging someone, sharing myself with someone at the risk of 'losing them' as life moves forward, frightens me. But to allow this fear to prevent me from embracing life head on would be a tragedy.

This i have learned in this transient life: sometimes you physically lose people and wonder why your time was so short. sometimes circumstances in life keep you from crossing paths again. and, sometimes your dearest friendships are built on letters and emails and the hopes of saving enough money to fly cross country.
however it may be, there is no doubt that these people touched your life and shaped who you have become.

before the summer gets away from me I want to share how my time in London allowed for community to come full circle
in more occasion than one.

The first story is about the gift I received in living with my childhood neighbor and babysitter from before the age of two who has remained my mentor and big sister. To get the opportunity to really know her husband and be there for their one-year old daughter was a dream. Long after the mental images of big ben or london bridge fade from my memory, I will still be able to close my eyes and see allison and I twirling sweet Rae around the kitchen singing coldplay songs at the top of our lungs.

community continues and changes and reforms in a new place.

The second story is that of an unlikely sequence of events. When I was unable to go home from DC over Thanksgiving, one of my best friends in DC, andrew, was gracious enough to welcome me into his family celebrations. It was on this trip that I realized that his older brother would very soon deploy to Iraq. At a loss of the best way to support this dear friend, I did the only thing i could think of-- I began writing letters...with cookies, of course.. to his brother, brian, surprised (and humbled) by the correspondence I received in return. after departing iraq in april, brian returned to cambridge where months later he kindly welcomed me into his community and provided a unique reunion of sorts for two pen pals.

sometimes community just happens and widens in ways we would have never expected.

and it is these people who can make a place HOME.

as I continue to go the places I go, my hope is that I will never cease to appreciate the people i will meet.
and may i lovingly invite people into my own community.


Today I had the opportunity to speak along with my dad at Central Presbyterian in downtown Atlanta on the topic of education as a Human Right and our commitment as both a Church and a Culture to learning and service. Essentially, I consider education a human rights issue when someone is denied the access to (an equal) education based on any discriminatory factor. While education may not be an essential life component like air, water, or food, I have witnessed people whose ability to obtain such fundamentals is compromised because of their lack of access to education.** This morning was a time for me to continue sharing my experiences of my year in India. After an engaging conversation, I wanted to continue these reflections. (Coincidentally, I have spent the past week thinking a lot about my own educational experience and its purposes):

Among my peers, I have discovered a common experience of what I have deemed a ‘mid-graduate school crisis.’ It is the moment when, engrossed in a field that has significantly narrowed since college and has certainly become a more noticeable investment of time and money, this student simply throws her hands in the air to proclaim, ‘What am I doing and why I am here?’ Followed by a string of musings about her purpose in this attainment of a higher degree and where it will take her, she ultimately lands at the challenge in discerning the very point of education. As an invaluable part of young adulthood, this time of discernment allows us the opportunity to extract meaning from both the life we live and also the way in which we engage the world around us.

For me, education is not a means to an end. It is not a degree that will offer me a more secure career or placement in a lucrative field. It is neither a stepping-stone nor a conclusion. Instead, I believe the purpose of education is simply service. Education is a lifelong act of service and in return service a lifelong act of education. I will continue to be educated, guided by others and by my own experiences, until it no longer lends itself to the service of others. Thus, my hope for myself (and for others) is that this process of education is one that will expand across a lifetime.

The protestant faith, born as a 'protest' to the Religious establishment, was a movement deeply rooted in the ideals of reformation and transformation-- begging for change. Ever reforming. Ever reforming. We are changed and refined by our educational experiences. As the hands of God, we serve creation best when we engage in the continual process of our own edification. We are called to a life of learning. Likewise, education, as a process of reformation, prepares us for a life of service. And, in turn, it is by serving others that we receive the greatest educational experience and, truly enjoy the fullness of life.

**It is through these lens that I engage such issues as healthcare, also noted for its controversial classification as a universal right. certainly a hopeful idea. but, rights must be married to an equivalent dose of responsibility. Not only are we responsible for our own health, but also, as a nation (or a globe), we are responsible to eachother to create a culture that addresses individual livelihood issues as a prerequisite for building a healthy nation. It is necessary to ameliorate these challenges at the root-- reforming our agricultural policy and school nutrition, families, fitness, and finally, transforming our entire food culture and system.
It is only after we address these fundamental issues that we will see change.
Then, we will have to examine our culture. I think the bottom line is that we can be a very selfish nation. Is it possible to look beyond ourselves? Can we care enough about our neighbor to even want them to have access to even the most basic of healthcare services?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

to be a bird

Ben Folds has a song called 'Birds.' Its relatively short and contains no lyrics. While it is generally the lines and rhymes in a song that capture my attention and captivate my heart-- I find few things more refreshing than challenging lyrics and provoking imagery-- there is just something about this song. It lifts my feet from the pavement, sends my mind flying and never ceases to produce a smile.
After a couple of years I find it to be perhaps (past) time to describe the origins of the name of my little blogging endeavor, particularly as I find myself at yet another junction in the journey.
You could probably gain a more precise explanation of the name bird that was bestowed upon me long before I can remember from the members of my family, but here goes. Almost 25 years after my birth, I can't even think of the last time I heard my brother (who was pushing for the name Lester at the time of my arrival) call me Katherine to my face. All these years it has simply been, 'bird.' I think it comes from this little free spirit (we'll call it that for lack of a better term) that I possessed as a child. I could never just sit. I was always just perched on furniture (or whatever I found within reach to climb), i sung or hummed all the time, and ate like a little bird too. So it stuck.
Fitting for someone who still can't seem to settle down or 'sit' in one place, I suppose. I find my heart and mind, in a similar perched position, still not exactly sure where I belong, challenged by commitment and decision-making.
Interestingly, as of late, I have found myself in a paradoxical moment. Longing for roots while desiring to fly.
Oh to be a bird! Ever soaring, but coming back to that finely woven home, that perch. I am restless to see the world, but my feet grow weary and my heart heavy.
So as I spent the day feeling quite lonely roaming around this new place where I know few people, I began to start feeling a tad sorry for myself. You know the, 'i have no friends and if I have to spend one more day cooking for one I will burst into tears,' kind of moments. This sorrowful self was thankfully an ephemeral state as I was quickly called to the realities of the world of which I am a part. I began to think particularly about refugees seeking asylum, sanctuary, a mere piece of the home from which they find them self fleeing. How strange to be this bird. No guarantee of return. No one waiting. Rarely a home woven lovingly or even a perch to rest upon. Perhaps persecuted, judged, forsaken, forgotten. Most probably the very things from which one was escaping. Truly these are the elements of weary feet and heavy hearts.
Nearing the end of my hours of wandering I ran across a festival (I can get lost in a place a trillion times over and I always seem to run into a festival). It was to promote awareness for and celebrate the lives of refugees. My goodness. They are so near to us but we rarely notice. Caught up in our lives, our people, our selves that we forget to welcome in those seeking sanctuary. As I say we, I mean I. I forget them. I overlook them. I turn my eye from the policy and harsh criticisms made against them. I buy into the stereotypes. I grow too comfortable in my life and fearful of change to see them as my neighbor. Oh that I may see them as myself. That I may remember their wandering feet and struggle for roots.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I was taken aback today when the pastor at the church I was attending described the idea of service like this: 'you and your partner should be in competition with each other to see who will serve the other better.' I felt a deep pit in my stomach as I imagined a world in which we were literally competing with others (especially the one that we love the most) as a motivation to serve. to me, the thought exploits the very essence of service. the joy would be drained. the motives skewed. As he continued to speak of Jesus' feet washings the image of competitive service was far from my mind.

I would like to share a little something about serving that I encountered in my first week in Costa Rica that I simply cannot shake from my mind. I sat down on the last row of the bus heading down the mountain from school.i sat next to a young man with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. It's not just beautiful. It's that he uses it so freely but, still, so sincerely.
Like nothing in life has ever phased him.

His name is Mohamad. Most words, funny or not, tumble from his mouth in a sort of laugh.
He shared that he is studying International Peace Studies.
As we talked about his experience at U Paz, I asked him what he desired to do with that degree.
what was his dream for the next stage in life? With that same smile he replied:

"I want to go home and use it. to teach others.

I am from Darfur, you know."

I don't have the language to describe how these words have touched me time and time again since I first heard them. I am not sure if I even need to try to convey the loaded emotions, thoughts, history, passion, love and selfless service that these simple words conveyed from a humble young man with the most beautiful smile.

this is what peace must look like. this is what it means to serve.
and i hope that i can learn what it means to serve like this with the same joy that i see in that smile.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

salsa (letting go part two)

I consider myself a feminist for more reasons than wanting to occasionally prove myself capable of opening a door. But, I'll admit that at times this can do spirit of equity has rewarded me with more than I bargained for! Oh, how many times did I stand up for equality when working on Habitat houses, only to find myself upside down with hammer in hand underneath an unfinished house with half the football team? Well, I suppose I asked for it.

Picture it. Here I am learning salsa in Central America randomly partnered with your quintessential Finnish lad trying my best not to burst as I consider the humor in this setup. It's true that I mentioned earlier how much I love to dance. However, that does not include partner dancing. Oh yes, I can twirl and jig with the best of them, but put me opposite someone else and I am clueless and hopelessly awkward. Quick! Will someone please get me to the punch table? So maybe the following analogy doesn't quite work for the Fin opposite me who is completely absorbed in counting out loud, but we'll pretend that I enjoyed a bit more time in the arms of the ridiculously good dance instructor than was truly the case. He guides-- the definitive moves allowing me to fall into my own. The simple yet intentional nudges indicating the path ahead. Feet counter feet.

It is here that I have a confession to make. Plug your ears ladies. It took me a while to even admit this discovery to myself!
I revel in the fact that the art of salsa insists, even requires, that i follow. He will help to guide me in the steps, grounding the dance in the rhythm and music of the surroundings . Finally, I don't have to concentrate on the minute details or fret over getting it all wrong. He guides the motions and pursues me in the dance. But it is not about the control or power that he possesses. Instead, he is entrusted with another, realizing that the dance is created together.

Sometimes, it just feels good to let go and let someone else help guide you along. I don't mean disregarding who you are or where you've been, but coming together to share the path ahead. No one says you will step perfectly in sync. In fact, you'll most likely still fumble with the moves or trip over your own feet once in a while. But, oh! the comfort in knowing that you are safe in the arms of another. You're in this together. You still have choices and, of course, affect the dance, but you also have the opportunity to trust your guide and give way to the dance.

Funny how life works. Our faith, along with our ability to love, may have a lot more in common with salsa than I once realized.