27 January 2013

A challenge from Kid President

I imagine at this point, most of you have seen the Pep Talk from Kid President that's been circulating around the Internet... if not, go ahead, I'll wait here.

Anyway, Kid President has challenged the world (yep, he's an ambitious 8-year old) to make 2013 Awesome... for someone else. A noble goal indeed. Don't know where to start? Don't worry, KP's gotcha covered:

 (and FYI, I'm allergic to cats)

23 January 2013

Celebrating the small victories

You may have noticed that I occasionally talk about "small victories" here, and I've always meant to say a bit more about why. So when I found an article a few months ago about The Secret to Happiness and Productivity at Work (spoiler alert: it's keeping track of small victories), I copied the link and put it aside into my "this-would-be-good-to-blog-about" file. With the realization that identifying small victories isn't just helpful for YAVs, I thought I'd finally get around to sharing it.

As I mentioned in August, I attended a week-long YAV orientation before I came to Belfast. Every Young Adult Volunteer for the 2012-13 year went to New York to get to know one another, but also to prepare ourselves for a year of mission service, whether it be in Nashville or Kenya. We were joined by former YAVs who told us their stories in preparation for the challenges we might face - learning about culture shock, self-care and community living.

One of the people we met was Ellie Roscher, who wrote the book How Coffee Saved My Life: And Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace, based on her year in Uruguay. She was cheerful and funny and dynamic, and told horror stories about dietary challenges and personality conflicts. Based on her experiences, some of the advice she gave was to shift what a "victory" means. She talked about changing her definition of success and motivating herself by celebrating the small victories each day. I will include some of my favorites from her list here:
I laughed more than I cried. 
I won the affection of preschoolers. 
I did things that scared me every day. 
I wore only two pairs of pants all year. 
I came to believe that my worth does not, indeed, depend on my productivity.
I taught Ignacio how to tie his shoes and blow bubbles with gum.
 Ellie Roscher, How Coffee Saved My Life

Sometimes, I am good at this. Like this post, or this one. Most of the time, I'm not. I get caught up in busy schedules or rainy days, and I get grumpy. I add up the grievances as the day goes on: "...I lost my keys, so I missed my bus. I had to walk in the rain and my iPod died. Now I'm late, wet and annoyed." This leaves me with a negative view of the entire day, and by letting these thoughts consume me I push out all opportunities to see the good. What if instead of adding up the negatives each day, I tallied the best parts?

I've learned that if you think negative thoughts long enough they will consume your reality, and that's not the kind of person I want to be. So I have decided that when presented with a choice, I will choose to be positive. Enjoy the walk, the fresh air and exercise, the chance to clear my head. To see the rainbow instead of the rain.

No. It is not easy. I've been working on this for weeks and I've failed miserably at just about every opportunity. I've justified it to myself as "being honest about my true feelings", but the truth is that a good attitude can become a good habit with practice, even if that means faking it until you make it.

So in that spirit, some of my more recent accomplishments:
  • Remembered to take the recycling to the kerb (curb) this morning
  • Was greeted with a huge grin by a wee boy from mums and tots
  • Finished a very detailed report at work - it was so great to cross that off the list!
  • Completed my first solo overnight travel to Dublin 
What about you? What are your victories (large or small) this week?

13 January 2013

No silence for peace

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about this until this evening - but earlier today, there was a peace rally at City Hall - representing the "silent majority" of those who are opposed to the violent outbursts that I assume must have hit the news back home again last night (due to another influx of concerned texts and emails).

I couldn't imbed the BBC link here (in the article above), but found this on YouTube...

(Apparently there was another I missed last month as well...)

So yes, I'm still safe. And there is hope here in Northern Ireland.

09 January 2013


(I've been working on a post for a while that I was going to put up before this, but I think I need to address this first: )

Image: BBC
There are certainly exceptions, but Northern Ireland and its politics don't generally appear on the radars of most people I know back home. When there is unrest in the city, it barely makes news in the UK, much less abroad.

So when tensions began to arise a few weeks ago, I decided it would be better to just wait for things to settle down a bit before addressing them with people back home. If we're being completely honest, I hoped that it would all blow over before anyone heard - it's a lot easier to say, "Oh yeah, there was some disagreement. Doesn't that suck?" in retrospect than to have to answer specific questions about the incidents and my safety here in Belfast.

But then I was in Paris for New Years, and stories about Belfast were on the news. Then it must have made its way to the States, because I started getting concerned emails. So I thought I'd just address it all here now. It is an incredibly complex issue that I know I can't do justice (which is why I usually refer you, my faithful reader, to people that are more knowledgeable than I about political matters), but I will do my best to summarize:

In early December, Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days that the Union flag was flown above City Hall. This made several people upset, and groups began to form to protest this decision. Some of the protests were more peaceful than others - which have turned violent on occasion. Protesters have used social media to organize events, often with the addition of "#flegs" (hence the post title).

Image: Belfast Telegraph
Now, opinions differ as to whether the protests are purely about the flag or a symbol of greater unrest: I visited a facebook page managed by a local group for up-to-date information this afternoon. This is notable because today (9 January) is the first time that the flag has been flown at City Hall since the initial decision - in honor of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's birthday. Most in the group were of the consensus that there would be no protesting today, because the flag is flying... and making a commotion would create an argument for those who say protesters are just "recreational rioters". Others in the forum replied that they feel the issue has moved deeper than just the flag. It is not my place to determine whether or when the flag should fly over City Hall. I can't say whether the flag is even the issue anymore. But it seems that the occasions of violence represent real anger and frustration in these communities which cannot be brushed aside.

With that being said: First and foremost, I am safe. I have not felt unsafe since the trouble has begun. Yes, I see more police land rovers than before and it's really annoying when you're waiting for a bus that isn't actually coming because the road is blocked elsewhere.  But this is a situation where even just a few blocks distance makes a difference. There are not wild bands roaming my neighborhood with torches or anything. I reiterate, we feel totally safe here. Our friends and coworkers look out for us, and let us know if we should avoid certain situations or areas at certain times. This is also where the social media aspect helps us - we know when there will be a gathering, so we don't go there!

The people acting in violence are the vast minority of the population. The majority of people I meet hate to think that this is what the rest of the world associates with Belfast. We have SO much more to offer than the images of violence that make media headlines. The upcoming 4 Corners Festival is just one of many examples - notable here because it ends with a prayer and worship service at my church!

So please, family and friends back home - don't worry about me. Or if you do, make it because I'm a klutz and not because you think I'll be water cannon-ed on my way home from work!


Update: find an article from another perspective here

08 January 2013

Bonus Roomie Post!

So, I wasn't kidding when I said I really enjoyed the Christmas Eve service at Anna's church. For those who don't know my roomie, she is incredibly talented at just about everything she attempts, and I was in awe of her Christmas message at the service. It nearly brought me to tears (shutupIhavesomethinginmyeye), and I (gently) demanded that she post it so I could share it with you.

You can read her whole post here.

If you don’t normally attend church at Whitehouse (welcome!) or you don’t know who I am, my name is Anna and I’m not from here.

I’m over from the States to spend a year here, living in Belfast and working at Whitehouse.
This is my first-ever Christmas away from home. While I certainly miss being at home with friends and family, what I miss most these days is the familiarity of Christmas. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I would hazard a guess that Christmas has more traditions surrounding it than any other time of the year. We sing the same songs, eat the same food, and visit the same family at the same time.

One thing you may not know about me is that I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I like to know as much as possible before I….No. I like to know as much as possible. Full stop.

I tell you that because while I could describe to you, at length, the Christmas traditions of the state of South Carolina, in Belfast I am humbled on a daily basis, because so much of what is tradition here is brand new to me. I’m a trained singer, and I don’t know half of the beloved carols. I never know exactly what’s going on, and I often feel as if I’m working with as little information as possible.

Spending Christmas away from the familiar has allowed me to relate to the nativity story in a completely new way. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually related to it much in the first place. I’ve never had an angel visit me in a dream and tell me that I was going to give birth to the Son of God, for instance. But Mary and Joseph were very much away from the familiar. In fact, nothing about that first Christmas would have been familiar to anyone in the story we know so well.

In the States, we have a term for that, and it comes from the great American pastime – baseball. What happens to Mary and Joseph, as we’ve seen tonight, is known as a curveball. You see, when you throw a baseball, it normally just goes in a relatively straight line, until the batter hits it, the catcher catches it, or it hits the ground because gravity has taken its course. But there’s a technique to throwing a baseball in which the ball will curve in its trajectory, and you usually can’t see that it’s curved until it’s right in front of you. Curveballs allow almost no time for the batter to adjust his stance, and are therefore notoriously difficult to hit. 

When Mary receives the news from the angel Gabriel that she’s going to be pregnant with the Son of God – that’s a curve ball.

When Joseph realizes that his fiancĂ© is pregnant and he isn’t the father – that’s a curve ball.

When they can’t find a place to stay on their journey and the baby is born amongst dirty, stinky animals – that’s a curve ball.

Life is constantly throwing us curve balls. We lose our jobs. Our relationships end. Our loved ones die suddenly. It’s chaos. It’s messy. It’s scary.

You know, the Son of God had been predicted and prophesied for hundreds of years. Religious leaders of the time believed that God would come down in a blaze of glory – a man who would be larger than life, atop a flaming chariot with a horse made of gold or something. But this God, our God, chose to enter our world as an infant; born to two people who just went with the curve balls they’d been thrown.

I’d like to see the real nativity portrayed. A terrified, teenage girl with no midwife; a young man who would have never been present at a birth, pacing backwards and forwards, mopping the sweat off of his brow and muttering to himself; animals and all of the sounds and smells that come with them. This is the scene where God puts skin on. This chaos. This mess.

The nativity story isn’t one that was only relevant two thousand years ago. In the same way that the Christ-child was physically born, he is born in us again – into the chaos and the mess and the fear of our lives.

We don’t have to give much. We don’t have to have much. We don’t have to be perfect or have it all together or even know what’s going on most of the time. We just have to be willing.

I hope that your celebrations tomorrow are filled with the joy and hope and love of Christ. I also hope you’ll take the time to reflect on the staggering reality and significance of the birth of the Son of God into the unfamiliar, and into the reality of our own lives. 

Over the past four weeks, we’ve lit four candles: one for hope, one for joy, one for peace and one for love. And tonight we light the one that signifies the manifestation of all of those things in the world: the Christ candle.

I hope you’ll notice, as the light from this candle moves around the room, that even though some of us are close to Christ candle and some are far away, the candles at the farthest corners will shine with the same intensity as those closest to the source.

04 January 2013

Happy Holidays!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Well, I survived the holidays away from home thanks to a festive roomie, adopted family and lots of Skype.
Opening gifts via Skype

Anna and I decorated the tree together (shown in the last post), then I left her to her own creativity to decorate the rest of the house. As promised, a taste of the holidays in our home: 

Handmade decorations and lots of cards from friends!

The YAV bunch celebrated Christmas together with a sleepover in East Belfast. As always, it was nice to have the opportunity to all get together for some fun. 

...because we are so normal.
I actually did something this holiday season I haven't done in over a decade: sing in front of other people. It was fun to learn the traditional songs that are so different from what we would learn at home as I sang at both the Carol services at the Vine and Fortwilliam and Macrory. 

On Christmas Eve, we went to the midnight service led by the youth at Anna's church. It was fun to meet the people she's talked so much about, and to see all the progress they made on the play they wrote themselves. I came home and skyped with the whole McClan for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner at Grandmother's house... what was 1 am for me was just after dinner for them so I got to participate in (/ take) the annual family photo from 3750 miles away! 

Anna and I woke up and did Christmas together before heading to our respective churches for the Christmas morning services. I skyped with my mom as she prepared for her Christmas feast (it was still too early back home for anyone else to be awake), and then made my way over to the home of the family that hosted me for dinner. 


They made me feel right at home as we hung out, exchanged gifts and ate WAY too much food together just like I would have been doing at home. It made being away from my family a whole lot easier.

My friend Steph and I rang in the new year in Paris, standing in the rain at the Arc de Triomphe as the Eiffel Tower sparkled behind us!


Now I'm resting up, working on getting over the cold that inevitably follows a NYE spent standing in the rain... and getting ready for whatever 2013 sends my way!

Lots of love,