Since I've last blogged, I've literally been to the other side of the world and back. Literally.

Our family traveled to Kenya to support the work I'm doing with Our Courageous Kids. I attended an orphan care conference in Nashville, Tennessee. And then last weekend, the book tour for Birthed took me to Birmingham, AL to talk about grief and its good news: we can rise from the worst things that happen to us! I was so thankful to Baptist Church of the Covenant for hosting me!

I loved all of it! Travel is so life-giving for our household. Not necessarily for the adventure of experiencing a new place or seeing something new (though these are wonderful side effects), but always for the people. We love maintaining relationships with friends and family all over the world. The people in our lives in all their diversity make us a better human beings.

So, when you've literally been to the other side of the world and back you don't know how to begin. You don't know exactly what to say. Or what to highlight. Or what details of what you've seen matters the most. So I've been quiet for a couple of days.

A wave of exhaustion (or maybe just jet lag?) hit me on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (and maybe even still today). You don't go to the other side of the world and back (with a 10 month old in tow I might add) and not feel tired. 8 hour plane rides repeated (times 4) with a baby are not for the faint at heart.

But here's some things I know for sure from all of the ways we've been on the move lately:

When it was time to leave for our Kenyan trip, I started to panic. I mean, packing enough formula, clothes and toys to meet baby girl's needs for 9 days felt overwhelming even for people like us who travel all the time. I told Kevin over and over again how naive we were for even attempting such a big adventure. I have to say the word crazy came out of my mouth more than a couple of times . . .

But, even though the travel was as hard (or harder) than I imagined the journey was worth it. It was worth it because showing up means so much. To the children we met with again. To the old friends we hugged. To the new friends we had a chance to spend more time with! It was a joy to introduce our daughter to her Kenyan brothers and sisters! Joy that overflowed from our hearts in being together. Presence means everything! 

Last weekend, I worked with a group of deacons in their pastoral care ministries with family groups in a Birmingham, AL church. During our last session together, I took a risk. I taught on something I'd never tried before. SHAME.

I brought up the topic of shame because I think it has everything to do with how we speak of grief. 

I did so knowing my audience, I thought, pretty well.  But what I found as we began our conversation with one another is that SHAME is so hard to talk about even among friends. It's so personal. It's like the garbage we want to take out and forget ever came in our home. Yet, like it or not, it's in all our stories. We all struggle with feeling unworthy, unlovable or an outsider in our own communities (even if we not ready yet to say it aloud). We all have our own version of "the worst mistake" stuck in our heads somewhere. But this I know: we help one another heal as we begin to talk about it!

One of my favorite parts of the Christian Alliance of Orphans (CAFO) conference in Nashville this year was a workshop led by Jedd Medefind, President of CAFO and Kathryn Joyce author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption. 

The session started with Kathryn introducing herself saying she was a liberal feminist atheist AND an award-winning journalist. What was so astounding about her introduction is that it came at a very conservative Christian conference. (As one of the only non-conservatives in the room, I wondered if someone in the audience would either try to shame her or convert her after the presentation). But she was there because Jedd had lovingly invited her, even though she wrote a book that was highly critical of many aspects of Christians in the adoption community. Over the next hours, together, the two of them dialogued respectfully and openly and no one got hurt.  Their talk was a great example of what beautiful moments look like when we talk honestly with one another about what we believe. I felt so encouraged that maybe CAFO has a place for me in all I'm trying to do with the orphan care organization I'm seeking to build.

What about you? What have you been learning lately?

P.S. I'm glad to be home for a while!

If you missed the first two installments of this series, start here with hospitality and continue with beauty

Americans can be so small-minded. We can be out of touch with what life is really like in other parts of our land and especially in other countries. We can so easily think that our community and its values are the center of the universe. Or that there aren’t equally good (if not better) ways of doing things in other regions of the world. Or believe that the same level of professionalism we live by is not practiced in other places (especially in Africa, gasp!).

For these reasons and so many more, I believe travel is good for the soul.

Not only is travel a reality check for our prejudge, but it can be one of the best spiritual disciplines we can build into our yearly schedule.

Getting out of town. Seeing something new. Saving our funds for an international trip (if possible).  Why? Because our eyes are widely opened. We can not return from travel being the same people when we left.

In our shock we are reminded:

Not everyone speaks English . . .

Electricity or hot water is not always a given . . .

There’s no such thing as fast food on every corner . . .

And in traveling, we see the world as it really is instead of just what we know (especially if we're operating from a place of privilege).

This week, I’m in East Africa in the process of starting something new connected to orphan care. Something new I can’t wait to tell you all about when the all plans come together.FullSizeRender

But for now, this is what I know: the opportunity to travel changes everything about your sight.

Even though Kevin and I spent 3 years on the road as nomads while he held a position at Feed the Children and were gifted to see so much in so many countries, I’ve realized once again that a culture is never something you “know” no matter how many times you visit a particular place.

This trip I’ve learned, as I do every time I visit.

Things like mice can be black (not just white or grey like they are in the children’s storybooks I grew up reading). The cat brought one to the doorstep of where I am staying!black-mouse

Things like flying ants are creatures that come up from the ground and swarm after a strong hot rain. But they’re harmless and often die by morning (and can be consumed as good protein).flyant9

And things like it’s best to be home before the rains come, always. Traffic can be at a complete standstill. Often a standstill that lasts 12 hours meaning you sleep in your cars on the side of the road!

Travel, you see, takes you from a posture of “I know” to “I must learn” (if it’s done right). Travel takes away the arrogance of always being in the right.

What a spiritual life lesson this is! For isn’t God ultimately the One we come to call Mystery? The One who is beyond us? The One we come to understand in the same vein of this Thomas Merton prayer:

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

I know that budgets in many households can be tight year after year, and it is often it is the weekend out-of-town or the vacation that is first to go. But, the next time you have some extra income and you’re faced with the choice of buying a thing and the experience of travel, choose travel, my friends.

Travel will be good for your soul.

For, as you go, you might just find yourself meeting a new friend, tasting a new dish, or learning a new song that will be God coming close.

I know God has been close to me all week. And I’m so grateful.

What does it mean to be in global community?

It's a question I've asked myself a lot lately.

In August, I made my third trip to Africa in the last two years. I will go again by the end of the year. The Addis Abba, Ethiopia airport feels as homey to me as the Chicago or Atlanta one does now.

Over the course of all of the traveling, the people I've met along the way have stayed close to my thoughts long pass my departure time. They've become friends.

I've become vested in their wellbeing and theirs in mine.

I've prayed for those with sick grandmothers. I've celebrated with dear ones over babies born. And I've taken joy in the life updates that come from all of the online programs that help us stay in touch these days. It's the beautiful part of what global community is about. (And I'm so thankful to Feed the Children for giving me this experience!)

And, so lately I've been wondering specifically about the Ebola outbreak. Though it has only affected those who live in the West African region and I frequently travel to the East-- still I've watched the coverage (and lack their of) with vested interest too. I want my friends and friends of friends to be ok too.

Last week, I wrote an op ed that was carried by the Associated Baptist Press. I thought readers here might be interested in it too. Ebola, if we say that we are part of the global family of faith-- we can't ignore it:

Early in August, I traveled with a Feed the Children delegation to Kenya to visit school feeding programs and a Nairobi orphanage, as I now do about twice a year. Part of my morning routine while there and for most Kenyans is reading a national newspaper. The headlines contained a single story: Ebola, the ruthless and deathly virus is infecting thousands in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I’m sure such a headline would have not made it into my newsfeed at the time if I had not been in Kenya. Though a contagious disease, it was still an African problem. Why would Americans be asked to care? Read the rest of the article here.

And join me in supporting organizations that are on the ground now doing something about it!

Check out Direct Relief, Doctors without Boarders, and IMA World Health.

IMG_0023My mind has been dragging and my heart has lingered in this week and half that I've been home from Kenya. Thus, the reason the part 2 of this series has taken me so long to write.

When the faces of such precious people are fixated in your mind, like these to the right, you just stay put for a while. The joy washes over you and you don't want to leave the moment. 

What can I say in response to a place that captures my heart so much? How can I adequately describe such an experience? Inadequately of course.

I left Kenya this time, the same way I leave Africa every time: full.

Full of new ways to articulate my own story.

Full of new discipline for my daily routines.

Full of new drive to do everything I can to support the mission of Feed the Children.

And most of all, full of love for the people for whom we serve and serve alongside. God gave so many saints to the ministry of Feed the Children and I couldn't be more grateful to know them.

So what can Americans learn from not being in America?

with member of parlimentHere are just some of my additional thoughts:

I've come home with these convictions on my mind asking might there be a better way to be a citizen of this world?
 
Might there be a way of living, even in the land of plenty, where I do not waste so much food and opportunities for life  enrichment?
 
Might there be a way of living that values relationships over that next overpriced vacation or that new light fixture for the dinning room or that new car that we really don't need?
greeting guestsMight there be a way of living that sees Africans (or insert a cultural group other than my own) as completely equal partners in this work of learning how to be a human being, even with the differences? 
 
I want to find more of this way of living-- the eyes wide open kind-- even as I am at home now. 
 
Knowing that there are prejudices in me still waiting to be uncovered, judgments of my eyes that need to be brought to light and misconceptions I have about other colors of skin that need to be called out. 
 
Being an American has given me (and maybe you too) so many gifts.  Freedom to be is a beautiful part of our citizenship.  
 
But, may we all not forget that we're not the only ones with blessings.We may be materially rich but we are oh so spiritually poor. 
 
Our African, Asian and European brothers and sisters have much to teach us out of their blessings too. 

This week, I'm on travel with Feed the Children. Kevin and I have come to Africa to support the launch of the new Feed the Children brand  and do some other important work as part of moving the mission of this organization forward.

It's been a joy for me to reconnect with the larger FEED family and put my feet on the soil of a nation that I adore! I've tasted again ugali and greens and some of the best tea you can find anywhere on earth. I've hugged some babies who were crawling the last time I saw them, but now are walking! And I've been given the given some amazing gifts of love and acceptance by co-laborers here in our great mission of no child going to bed hungry.  

And as I'm having this fabulous multicultural experience, I've thought much about "What Americans Can Learn About America From Not Being In America." So I want to begin to share this three-part blog series with you: 

Pride in one's country-- no matter where this is-- is something most of us share no matter where we live.

To be formed as a human being by a particular culture, language and cultural stories is simply part of what it means to be alive. We all love what we know.

However, what happens when your particular national story grows to be the ONE acceptable take on history?

What happens when your particular nation becomes the ONE acceptable point of view?

What happens when your traditions and practices become imposed on people of other nations as the ONE way?

While I am an American through and through, traveling always makes me quite aware of how Americans-- sometimes even unconsciously-- enter spaces.

We see the world from our distorted lens.

We think we know best-- in most things.

We are so good at giving advice to solve problems, but not staying around to see things through. (Read American foreign policy for the last 50 years if you don't believe me!)

We think the way we eat and bathe and dress is the only acceptable way to find happiness.

Coke and IHOP pancakes anymore? You, don't have a granite tub? How can you live like that? 

We think we can ignore the pain and suffering, the hardships, and the real stories of what it means to be a human being in a places without running water, refrigeration or two cars parked in a driveway.

Because why? We're American! Things are different in our context. Why must we adapt to anything else?

With living like this, we find ourselves with a spiritual problem: we see the world we want to see. We live in a world of blessings. Yet at the same time we are so poor.

In response, I found myself writing this litany of repentance for my fellow Americans (maybe even some other Westerners too). Maybe you might want to join in with in prayer as you read:

_____________________________________________

One: Lord, we confess to you that we've lost sight of how our world really is: a world where mothers must take 3 buses to find work. A world where children make their own toys with cardboard cut-outs in the street without supervision. A world where even the best education can't lift a man out from the slums.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess how quickly we are to judge-- to enter as know-ers, not listen-ers. We talk without taking breaths about our plans, our programs, our successes. We assume that hard work and determination is all that a child needs to rise above their parents without ever meeting a child turned away from learning because her school fees weren't paid.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we adore our ways of living. We like driving big cars. We like eating at restaurants where too much food is served on one plate. We like wasting toothpaste at the end of the tube. We like shopping in big bulk stores for what we already have.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we like obsessing about problems like colors of cake frosting, wrinkles on our foreheads and the right kind of beer at baseball games. We consider our appearance and our bodily pleasure above all else.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we money we spend on Starbucks, fast food and take-out dinners that could be better spent on putting a child with big dreams in Africa through college.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

ALL: We confess, O Lord, that as Americans we have fallen short of your best ways for us. Help us take "I" out of the subject lines of more of our sentences. Help us move our money into different kinds of purchases. Before we speak so much, remind us that we're a part of a global family, in which we are just one part. AMEN

On June 4th, Kevin celebrated his second anniversary as President and CEO of Feed the Children. It has been two years (gasp) since our lives as a family have been turned upside down by this opportunity to lead and serve. The people, the staff, the countries that have come into our hearts over the last two years have enriched our lives in ways more than one blog post can describe.

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I've met faces like this from Kenya. Christian and Elizabeth And these in the Philippines. 20121109-172058 And these African babies.

1425738_10152117196929809_1922494367_n And speak to groups of children like this in Hawaii. photo And this girl in Nicaragua. 10369733_10152436891899168_2655202626973822695_n

And been surrounded by children like these in Guatemala.

photo

The children of the world, are beautiful, you know. How can your heart not melt? And overflow with gratitude?

This call came to Kevin but I've gotten to tag along for the journey and do what I can to help.

I've gotten to volunteer my time alongside writers like these to help better tell the Feed the Children story. photo I've been able to host such saints of God-- who lead our international programs like these: image And I'm so thankful for these faces and the beautiful memories that have been a part of these two years.

photoMy travels on behalf of Feed The Children this week have taken Kevin and I back to the continent of Africa.

It's been over a year since we last stood on this land.

It has been a year when our hearts have grown in courage-- for all that a responsibility for such a time as this.

It has been a year when our minds have grown in compassion-- for our shared partnership with our friends and co-laborers in these countries.

It has been a year when our knees have more met the ground in prayer-- for all the injustices that seek to destroy the good that is possible.

As my jet legged feet took its first steps off the plane yesterday, I felt the enormity of all that this visit could mean wash over me.

We. Are. Here. Again.

My first words upon seeing the rolling hills and the sea of dark faces and the distinct smells were simply, "Wow. I'm glad to be home." Yes, home.

There's something about the continent of Africa that has always drawn me in, re-shaped my thinking and then set me on my way in new paths of service. I've always felt welcomed here in ways I haven't in other places. I've always welcomed any opportunity to visit.

As I pondered all of these things on the plane, I found myself making a list of the previous visits. And as I penned the dates and countries seen on the previous 3 trips, I couldn't help but notice that my life changed EVERY SINGLE TIME I set foot here.

After a 1998 visit, I came home disillusioned about the term "missionary" vowing I'd never be one. While an incredibly painful experience (because of Americans I met here, I must add), I ultimately believe it was the experience that set the direction of my path toward the pastorate-- that thing I thought at the time that women couldn't do.

After a 2003 visit, I came home inspired to not remember that my African brothers and sisters were a part of my larger human family. The atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda touched my heart in a profound way. How did this go on in my lifetime and I knew nothing about it?

After a 2012 visit, I came home with a changed heart about the possibilities and reality of who and what Feed The Children is and what it could be in the future. During our travels, I made what I feel is a life long friend-- a friend would become a sweet sister in all the waiting awaiting me.

So, I have to wonder on this 2013 visit, what will shift in me as a result in being here? How will my heart go home? What amazing person will I met? How will my soul leap in understanding of what was previously unseen?

Only God knows the answers to such questions.

I hold on this, though: my heart must be open. My heart must be wide open to this place-- its people, its smells, its food, its problems, its hopes, its worries, its gladness. And in doing so, this next chapter that I'm writing here will be another beautiful one. A beautiful one indeed!

As I continue to abide in my global nomad status of being defined by mission and not geography as Kevin recently wrote about, I am learning a lot about airports.

And along the way, I've seen the best. I've seen the ugly (like this travel story I just have to reference back to).

As advised by a friend the other day, I thought I might share with you all some of superlatives of the miles I've logged around the globe. I bet some of my recommendations might surprise you:

Friendliest TSA agents: Chattanooga, TN

Rudest TSA agents: Hilton Head, SC

Best place to go shopping while you wait: Minneapolis, MN

Airport with the Longest Walks Between Gates: Chicago (O'Hare), IL

Airport You Must Be At Least an Hour Before Take-Off (if not more): San Fransisco, CA

Longest Security Lines: Nashville, TN

Worst place to be stuck for long periods of time: Long Beach, CA

Nicest International Airport: Seoul, SOUTH KOREA

Least Secure International Airport: Addis Abba, ETHIOPIA

International Airport Most Like the USA: San Jose, COSTA RICA

Place You Don't Want to Have a Tight Connection: Atlanta, GA

Place You Can't Find Starbucks: Oklahoma City, OK

Worst Place to Change Terminals for a Connection: Newark, NJ

Easiest Airport to Navigate: Washington, DC (DCA)

Airline with Best Wifi: Delta

Airline with Best Luggage Policy: Southwest

Airline with Cheapest Flights from OKC to DC: Delta (if you are willing to go to BWI)

Airline Easiest Way to Redeem Frequent Flyer Miles: American

Airline with Best Social Media: United

Best Online Booking Service: Kayak.com

Hotel Chain with Best Reward Program: Starwood

Rental Car Chain You Want to Avoid: Dollar

What others would you add to my list?

Kenya mall bombing dead toll reaches 60

7.2 Earthquake hits in Cebu, Philippines

Malawi president sacks cabinet over corruption scandal

If you are like me, news headlines especially those from far away so easily go in one ear and out the other. We might have  a moment when our heart rises in compassion or pity or the feeling of "thank God that isn't me." But then we move on. We get back to life that is right in front of our faces. Even if we want to, it is hard to feel connection to events happening completely outside our realm of experience.

But since I began connecting my life and ministerial calling to the international work of Feed The Children, watching the news is an entirely new experience.

When I read news headlines like those written above, I pause (not because I'm suddenly holier) but because I've come to see these stories as gifts to keep up with my friends and the hardships of their lives.

Over the past couple of months I've thought a lot about these things:

I've worried about my friends in Kenya-- wondering if any of the FTC staff was near the mall where the shooting began. Last month, I looked at a lot of maps of Nairobi trying to figure out how close the Westgate Mall was to FTC headquarters there (and it was very close). I talked regularly by email with my friend Seintje about the three days of mourning in the country.

I've had a lot of questions about my friends in the Philippines-- wondering how many houses of our staff there were destroyed and what the rebuilding effort might need in the future. Just this week, I've waited for daily updates from my friend, Becbec who runs FTC operations there.

I've prayed for my friends in Malawi-- hoping that they are feeling hopeful about their leaders and future as a nation. I've thought a lot about my friends who told me last year when we visited how difficult the oil crisis was on their livelihood.

Feed The Children has given me so many gifts of connection with a global community. Most of all I am glad that it has helped me be more aware.

And though my US friends might tire of me texting them in crisis mode because of an earthquake a continent away, I am so thankful that the gifts of friendship and shared work has gotten me out of the closet of apathy-- a least in a couple more corners of the world.

I want to think as Henry Miller has said: "The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."

I also hope that by following this blog, I live out my responsiblity to help make you as readers just a little more aware too. We live in a vast world with brothers and sisters not only near but far away too.

Sometimes of late, I look around at my life and don't recognize myself.

Situations that used to make me anxious like ever-changing plans for where I'll be in a given week-- are par for the course.

Weeks of the year like this one, that used to be full of the busy cries around the church office of "Holy Week is coming, holy week is coming" are just another week in the year, actually quieter than normal.

Being able to answer someone when they ask what's going on next month with a definitive answer is simply a thing of the past.

Kevin and I now spend time between Oklahoma City, OK and the DC metro area and every other place in between as we balance this lifestyle of being where we need to be at the time. Kevin works in both places. I have things to do in both places and other places too. Defining where exactly is our "home" becomes murkier all the time. Since January, it is rare that I haven't been on an airplane at least once a week. We have been blessed to have the resources to do what is needed (and for this, I'm grateful everyday), but it's been a big change. And, I've looked for resources from any place I can to manage it all. And this is one I've thought a lot about lately:

One summer while I was in college, I worked for a youth camp organization-- an international and domestic traveling team for two months. Before the summer began, we were told to pack one suitcase that would contain everything we'd need for all sorts of climates and living conditions. I showed up on day one with the biggest bag of them all-- something about having my own stuff made me feel more secure. But, instead, I just felt awkward.

Soon I would be challenged at every possible level. I slept in a new bed every couple of days. After the first week of camp, we moved on to a new location. I knew this was what I should be doing for the summer . . . but there were so many moments when I wondered what I'd gotten into!

But, as the days went on, I learned the best thing I could do was travel lighter each week. Maybe I didn't need to get so attached people we met at the work sites? Maybe I could exchange my big mama bag for something smaller at a thrift store? Maybe as everything changed from week to week-- the scenery, the traveling companions beside me and even my moods-- I was being given tools to teach me? Simplicity of purpose became the gift which led to contentment.

And again, here in 2013, with Feed The Children so much a part of what drives the heart of our schedule, I'm having similar stirrings.

Can I live with what is right in front of me?

Can I be content anywhere? Can I find the good in situations or places that are not always ideal?

But, again there are challenges (or maybe just growing edges).

When your life is spread across several places, you often don't have your first choice of what to wear on a given day. When I get dressed in the morning I often get to pick out something from what is in a suitcase, even if it contains the same choices from what I picked last week.

When your life is spread across several places, you don't always get your life in your best case scenario. For example, I love sit-down dinners at home. But to expect a daily routine of always eating with Kevin on Mondays at 6 pm is out of the question. We must connect to each other in other ways.

When your life is spread across several places, you don't get the luxury of getting peace from your circumstances. If I only found peace from running in a particular park or reading in a particular chair or drinking tea from a particular mug, then simply peace wouldn't exist. I must find peace from the presence of the Holy, whom I know is with me wherever I go.

When your life is spread across several places, you don't "work" like normal people do. If I got my esteem from the praise of a boss or a work environment, I'd just be in complete misery right now. But, I can't let other's opinions of me be the words I listen to the most.

In these Lenten weeks, I'm growing to be ok with whatever each day holds, even if it doesn't look exactly like it did the day before. I'm learning to live with less stuff. I'm learning God's presence can be found on airplanes, in guest beds of friends homes', or back in my favorite writing chair in VA. And, if my heart settles a little, no matter what the circumstances, life can be good. Sometimes even very good indeed.

It's that time of year for college students-- what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It's hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I'm so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children's minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn't revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don't even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I'm a fan. You'll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn't exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called "Pastor Elizabeth" by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted-- prepare to do something amazing!

Often times in the church, we think of spiritual disciplines as a practice which we can qualify as holy action. Practices like praying, reading scripture, doing works of charity and the like are often the prescriptions for spiritual growth.

But Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Altar in the World (which we at Washington Plaza along with our friends at Martin Luther King Christian will be studying together this fall), speaks of how we find God in the most ordinary of circumstances. Altars she writes can be anywhere we encounter the holy. It's a discipline for all of us to simply pay attention.

This week, while on travel in Kenya and Malawi, I have a new altar to add to my list and that is international travel.

As many of you know who have traveled throughout the developing world, nothing ever moves as fast as it does in the United States or even Europe. Not that it is bad (I happen to like the change) but it is simply different.

Bags get lost easily on flights.

Traffic jams on narrow roads make getting from one place to another a chore.

You look for something you need and can't find it.

Water that was once warm becomes stone cold.

The electricity goes out for no apparent reason.

And it is just life.

In these circumstances as a non native you have a choice. You can get angry. You can grow in misery of why things aren't the way you wish they were.

Or you can go with the flow. You can embrace the moment. And you can accept the challenge as a spiritual discipline.

What might God be saying to me about who is ultimately in control?

What might be learned about enjoying the company for the journey instead of being so consumed in reaching the destination?

What might I really need instead of just want for my personal comfort?

I am having fun this week in these out of the norm circumstances, hoping that if I embrace them I might just learn more about myself and God's ways of being with us in the process.

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