25 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Participating in family holidays via Skype!
I had such a busy week, I've had to extend the holiday a bit longer to accommodate this post. I hope none of you will mind!

As I've mentioned in the past, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I always think it's important to take the time to be mindful of the many blessings in my life, and Thursday was no exception. In fact, I made a list before I even got out of bed. A few highlights:

Thankfulness list 2012
My family - always at the top of my list, because I love my family. Like an insane amount. Some might say this is because I live 4000+ miles away, but whatever. They have been so supportive of me on this journey, and I appreciate everything they've done - both to make it possible, and to shape me into the kind of person who would want to help people for a living. I've also learned that whether you're born, married or adopted (literally or figuratively), family is what (and who) you make it.

My other famil(ies) - my Second Pres family who show me such love and believe in me so much. My friends who rock my face off and I miss every day, my fellow YAVs both here and around the world who make me laugh when I'm having a hard day and get what it means to be spending Thanksgiving away from home. I wouldn't be here doing this work without your encouragement and support.

The opportunities I've been given to do God's work and explore His community - I love my job. My time as a YAV, and at the PC(USA) before that, has been really fulfilling. I'm not going to lie, I have days that are really challenging. But the people I've met along the way have made it worth it. The opportunities I get on a daily basis to make someone feel special or cared for - and having someone take a day out of their life to drive me up the coast, make a special Thanksgiving card because they know I'll miss my family, or even just remember my name make me feel accepted and appreciated. Even when they're mocking my accent.
Thanksgiving Tree at the Vine

For warm clothes, good food and clean water - I know I am really lucky. I have everything I need to live a happy, healthy life. I'm thankful for this.

For hot water - I have no idea why my just-awoken brain put this on the list, but I'll roll with it. Perhaps I was anticipating a shower, or appreciating my radiator and the hot-water bottle I sleep with. Maybe I just wanted a cuppa. I'm glad for it all the same.

For the beauty of God's earth - seriously, have you seen any of the photos I've posted in the last 3 months? This place is crazy-beautiful. It's not hard to be mindful of God's creation when you're surrounded by it!

There's more on my list, but I'll leave it at this. What are you thankful for this year?

19 November 2012

Northern Irish Hospitality

This weekend, I experienced the best of Northern Irish hospitality.

On Saturday I was treated to my first trip to the Giant's Causeway. Ann approached me at church last week and offered to take me out for the day with her husband, Roy. I gladly accepted!

My gracious hosts

That's Scotland in the distance!

Not only was the weather GORGEOUS (it only started raining when we were on our way home), but they then treated me to lunch at the Bushmills Inn, which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the North Coast. Overall, the perfect day!

The next day I got a little more hospitality as I was invited to lunch by Sylvia and her husband, another Roy. We spent the afternoon together, talking and enjoying each other's company. This weekend made me glad for the opportunity to spend more time with people one-on-one. 

Oh yeah, and my schedule changed! I will now work on Tuesdays, freeing up my Saturday mornings for exciting day trips like this, and YAV-accompanied things like St. George's Market! I'm pretty psyched. It was starting to get a little lonely with no common free time.

Looking forward to:
  • Celebrating Thanksgiving with my Senior's Lunch group
  • ... and with the YAVs, at the Bakers' house (aka, Elaine cooks yummy food)!
  • My first Ulster Fry (again, to celebrate Thanksgiving)
  • Can you tell Thanksgiving is my favorite?
  • First BIG trip of the year: PARIS for New Years!

17 November 2012

Thank You Fund - Results!

Remember that Coca-Cola contest I asked you to vote for back in September?

We won €10,000 for our bike projects!

Thanks to Coke for believing in our vision, thanks to the staff members for making it happen, and thanks to all of you who voted for Fortwilliam and Macrory!

11 November 2012

A Lifetime of Change

I will interrupt this week's planned rehash of Belfast-ness for a moment to talk about the Young Adult Volunteer program. It's coming up on application season for 2013-14, which means it's been a year since I walked into the YAV office to let E. know my decision to apply for "a year of service for a lifetime of change".

What a whirlwind these past 365 days have been!

The decision to take a completely different path in my status quo was difficult for me, but definitely the best choice I've ever made. The PC(USA) has recently renewed its dedication to Young Adults by challenging the YAV program to triple its size and scope in the next five years. This means it's easier than ever to join this wacky YAV family, and to find a program that suits your passions. To do this, they have made a few changes to the program that I'm really excited to share:
  • Additional site placements in Boston, Peru, Philippines and South Korea. Work in each site generally focuses on the major issues in that city or country - like Northern Ireland's dedication to peacemaking and reconciliation, Boston's food justice program, root causes of poverty in Peru, education in South Korea, border policies in Tucson, urban ministry in Miami, Chicago, Hollywood and others.... a complete list of sites and their work can be found here
  • Lower funding requirements! This year I was blessed to have amazing support from family, friends and members of my congregation to raise the $8000 required for International service. Next year, funding requirements will be cut in HALF - meaning $4000 for an International site and just $3000 for a National site placement.
Becoming a part of this YAV family (which, if you'll notice, is the only way I refer to this group) has been incredible. When I walked into the placement event back in March, I felt for the first time that I had found "my people" - goofy and fun with a heart for the Lord.

This program has been in place for almost 20 years, which means they KNOW what they're doing. Discernment and placement events ensure that the best fit is attained for both the candidate and site, and I was completely prepared at orientation for the upcoming challenges of mission service. 

International Placement Event at LPTS - March 2012
Orientation at Stony Point - August 2012
Things you should know if you're considering the program:
  • Young Adult Volunteers are between the ages of 19-30. Sometimes you need to be 21 for specific / international sites, but they even accept second-career old fogeys like me.
  • The Louisville office is there to help you make the best decision for you, and to ensure you're in the right place. I had the benefit of proximity, but they were SO helpful when I started the discernment process.
  • You don't actually have to be a Presbyterian. You will be doing the work of the church, but the PC(USA) partners with other denominations to do their work around the world. Members of this year's YAV group alone come from the PC(USA), Methodist, Mennonite and Catholic churches. 
  • I'm sure it's obvious, but: I am always happy to answer questions about my journey. Feel free to email me any time!
Courtesy Jeff Moles (@jeffmoles)

10 November 2012

Foreign Politics

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I have never liked to discuss politics. I have dear friends on both sides of the aisle, I know how I feel about key issues and I'm always willing to hear about others' opinions, but please just don't ask me about mine thankyouverymuch.

So then try to spend an important election cycle in a foreign country. Every week since I've arrived in Belfast, someone has asked me how I feel about the election, whether I'd voted or who I voted for. They all had an opinion, and they just didn't understand that I didn't want to talk about my choice. In the process, I learned so much about foreign perceptions of America and its politics. It encouraged me to stay involved in the election after my ballot was cast, mostly because these people don't even live in the US and they were completely absorbed in the process and its outcomes.

Election night in our living room:
well-stocked on caffeine and snacks!
On election night, Anna and the guys stayed up for the duration... well, at least until the election was pretty securely decided - which was almost 5 am our time. I woke up occasionally and hobbled* downstairs for updates, but was fine with sleeping rather than watching reporters speculate wildly about election results.

I don't know why I was surprised to go into work the next day and hear that many people I know in Belfast did the same thing: while people in America may be disenfranchised with voting, it's incredible to realize how important the US elections are to others. Everyone from young mothers in Mums and Tots to pensioners from my weekly lunch group were staying up all night to hear the results of a foreign election.

Living abroad definitely opens your eyes as you see your culture through a different lens. I think explaining the system to others has helped me to appreciate the democratic process more fully. Who knows? I might even have a political discussion with you someday....

*I have now had my first real experience with the NHS (National Health Service). Long story short: I am a klutz. I sliced my toe, and it was gross. A quick trip to the clinic and a round of antibiotics later, and I am limping along the road to recovery. But still a klutz.

08 November 2012

Peace and quiet (retreat days 3 and 4)

After the first two crazy-long posts about our retreat, I thought I'd give you a break and do a quick roundup of the rest of the retreat...

The 3rd day of the retreat was just a chill day at home. I napped while the others went into the city, but otherwise it was more of the glorious same: sit by fire, play cards, cook food, read and repeat. It was Halloween, though - and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I bummed around the house in the festive socks and earrings sent to me by my darling nieces. The boys conned us in to watching Cabin in the Woods that night by saying it was not really a scary movie. I beg to differ. Joss Whedon was the only reason I watched it at all, and the concept was interesting... but I maintain that with that much blood and jumpy-outy things, that's a scary movie.

Our last day of retreat began by packing up our little (big!) house and heading back to Murlough National Nature Reserve for the Bathgate group's Bible Study (we visited it for the first time during orientation), so it was nice to have a place feel familiar.

This time, the tide was high, and the sound of the waves beating the rocky shore made for a peaceful time of personal reflection. A nice end to our first retreat. 

And end it did. We arrived home to the realization that by turning off our boiler while we were gone, the gauge went crazy and we were now without hot water. Which heats our showers AND our radiators. So that was a fun re-entry to reality. Thank goodness for a quickly-responsive landlord!

07 November 2012

I lift my eyes up to the mountains (retreat day 2)

Oh look at that, brave souls! Checking out day 2 of our retreat after such a long post about day 1!

Our second day in Co. Down began at a monastery. Yes, cathedrals and monks aside: I promise we're still a part of the PC(USA)! Doug is good to remind us that sometimes, while working day-to-day in a congregation, it is helpful to experience other traditions to remind ourselves to take a break and experience the Divine amid our daily struggles.

So yeah, back to the monks. They welcomed us for a question-and-answer session before their daily Eucharist service. This was definitely my first conversation with a monk, and Brother Thierry was very kind and patient with all of my questions. We learned about their daily life, the Call that brought them from France to Northern Ireland, and the long journey from arriving in the country in 1998 to opening their monastery in 2004.

That square of buildings in the middle is the monastery
And then there was the service. Oh my goodness, the chanting. It was phenomenal. I just closed my eyes and soaked it all in.

BONUS! in searching their website for photos (since I didn't take any), I just found a webcam. These are some awesome monks. Check back at one of their times of prayer!

That afternoon was slated for the infamous YAV hike. Apparently some of the others had heard stories of grueling treks and lost volunteers in prior years, so I went into this experience with a full water bottle, lots of layers and my brand-new hiking shoes (I learned after our Cave Hill excursion that I liked hiking, but my existing shoes were not appropriate for the task).

We climbed to the famous Mourne Wall, and the view on the other side was beautiful. It is no surprise that this view inspired C.S. Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia!

After all the hype, no one was lost and the trail wasn't that steep... but OH, WAS IT MUDDY. After the initial shock of dirtying my pretty new shoes wore off, I marched into puddles with abandon. Which came back to bite me when I accidentally stepped into a "puddle" that swallowed me up to my hip - oops! It was pretty hilarious, and I thank God for waterproof trousers and Gore-Tex boots!

For the Love of Saint Patrick (retreat day 1)

So, I'm a little behind on posting ... it's been a busy 10-ish days!

When I left you last, I was preparing to spend 4 days on retreat with my fellow YAVs. We had a great time! We began by heading from Belfast to Armagh, which is the seat for both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. Both denominations have Cathedrals, both named St. Patrick's, in the city. Fun fact: this gives Armagh the honor of being the only city in the world with two cathedrals of the same name!

St. Patrick's Cathedral
(Church of Ireland)
Our first stop was St. Patrick's (Church of Ireland). We were welcomed by Rev. Grace Clunie from the Centre for Celtic Spirituality (an ecumenical mission project of the church), who gave us a tour of the Cathedral. We learned about the history of Armagh, as well as the church site - the hill where this church is located has been a holy site for over 1500 years. Originally a site for pre-christian tribal worship, St. Patrick founded his first stone church in Ireland here in 445.

Grace also taught us about Celtic spirituality, which draws its inspiration from the early prayers of the Celtic world. I could paraphrase the brochure, but since this is already looking like a post of epic length (even after breaking the retreat into several posts), I will direct those interested in learning more directly to the site for the Centre for Celtic Spirituality.

Stained glass featuring
Ferdomnach of Armagh
with Sts Brendan, Brigid,
Patrick and Columba 
After the tour, we spent some time in the practice of Celtic prayer, which focused on awareness of the sacred presence in this place. It was a great way to begin a retreat, especially one that would take place in such beautiful surroundings as the Mourne Mountains. We were even able to share the YAV tradition of Psalm 139.

I will include a few excerpts of our worship below:

Affirmation of Faith
I believe, O God, that you are the eternal Creator of life.
I believe, O Christ, that you are the eternal source of love.
I believe, O Holy Spirit, that your presence fills the universe.
I believe, O Holy Trinity, that you created my soul and formed all my days. Amen.
St. Patrick's (Catholic)

Final Prayers

Circle us Lord, keep light and love within, keep danger without. 
Circle us Lord, keep childlike trust within, keep fear without. 
Circle us Lord, keep health and peace within, keep dis-ease without. 
Deep peace of the quiet earth. Deep peace of the flowing air. 
Deep peace of the ocean's depth, deep peace of the God of peace. Amen.

After sharing a meal (and some great discussion) with Grace, we headed to ... St. Patrick's (Catholic).

We didn't get a formal tour here, so it was more of a self-guided affair. We spent our time here just soaking in the intricate mosaic work and gorgeous stained glass. There is something about a Catholic church that hits all your senses, and just walking through in silence was a profound experience.

This building was not as old as the Anglican cathedral, but also claims a link to Saint Patrick. The story of St. Patrick and the fawn ends at this spot, known as Tealach na Licci (Sandy Hill), which is considered a prophetic reference by the Saint to the second cathedral built in his name. I was glad for the opportunity to explore both of these historic cathedrals during our visit.

We left Armagh and headed to our rented house in Mayobridge, Co. Down. We took a moment for excitement over the presence of the elusive BATHTUB, and rooms were quickly assigned. We went for a walk before dinner, where a few of us realized our true potential as sheep-whisperers. I know you were worried that I might not get this on film, but never fear:

I know, you're impressed. 

We spent the rest of the evening in front of the fire, reading and playing card games. It was pretty much how we spent all free moments of the week (that we weren't sleeping), and pretty much exactly what I needed.

Anna and I were in charge of that night's Bible Study, so I leave you with this:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work, Yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world, Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth on a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
-Teresa of Avila