A Weekend in New York

My family celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday this past weekend in New York City and I’m currently almost caught up on the show This is Us. I cannot say if those two things are related but it’s said that writing is therapeutic so I decided to write about this weekend.

Over thirty family and friends were invited to come together for dinner to quasi-surprise a woman who has gone by many different names in her life. My sisters, cousins, and I have always called her Nanny. She lives in Florida year-round now and regrettably I have not been able to see her as often as I would like in recent years. But 10 seconds with her this weekend and she was the Nanny I have always loved and had fun with. Her laugh, her quips, her personality. One needs not be old to have waves of nostalgia wash over them on occasion.

She technically is my step grandmother but I only mention that to recognize how nonsenical and unnecessary that extra word is to me. She has always been the one who bought giant packs of kids mini-cereal boxes she would never touch because she knew her grandkids would like them. She taught us how to eat a whole lobster properly in Maine. She took us to the beach and flea markets in Florida. She would always be kind and nice, hilarious and generous. She has always been Nanny.

Family is such a complex multilayered thing. It is so vital for folks and also so easy to screw up. Every family, even ones who are not particularly close, have the memories and shared experiences that come from the times when they had to be close because that’s what families do. You grow up together. You learn together. You share meals.

This weekend we shared an amazing meal in a stunning restaurant in a world class city. But as great as it was the setting was truly secondary to being able to spend time with family and Nanny. At a smaller gathering the night before the main meal, she noted herself that an occasion like this was “very special.” Simple words but, in an awareness I rarely show toward others, I could sense the affection she spoke them with.

It has never been easy or natural for me to really show my feelings or emotions outwardly. Safer to keep things hidden inside right? But this weekend I felt a great freedom to hug and talk with my grandmother openly. And it was great. Family can be messy and uncomfortable sometimes. But it also runs deep. This past weekend we celebrated my Nanny’s birthday. I cannot wait to do it again.

 

 

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Family Values?

The recent holiday season had me experiencing and thinking about family a lot.  I am finally at a point where I feel I need to speak up about something that I find to be tremendously troubling emanating from large sections of the Christian church. I have concluded that this is a blind spot that is harming our credibility and witness as followers of Jesus. I am talking about conservative Christians support for “family values.”

On the surface “family values” sounds perfectly innocuous. Kids deserve a married mother and father who provide stability, support and love throughout their lifetime. Promoting this standard is in societies and children’s interest. Unfortunately this laudable goal has become a phrase that demeans other family models, ignores their very existence and seeks to deny fellow Americans rights we all share.

It has come to this: when a conservative American Christian promotes “family values” they are directly and openly condemning the existence of LGBT families, regardless of their intention.

It does not have to be like this. Christians can follow their faith without directly infringing on the rights of LGBT families to exist. But we need to fix this blind spot that so many have when they say “family values.” What are some ways forward?

1) Recognize that LGBT families exist. Conservative Christians can promote “family values” all they want, but that is not going to break up happy, loving, committed LGBT families. These families love each other and their children just as much as any other family. There is common ground to be promoted here. Stability between two parents benefits children, regardless of their gender, and can be seen as a decidedly conservative value. We are dealing with real people who need God’s love. The sooner we recognize this fact the better. Wrestling with this recognition will be difficult for many Christians but ignoring this issue is hardly more feasible. I am still trying to figure out what this means for myself as well. I do not have all the answers but recognize that presently we are not loving people the way we should.

2) Recognize that LGBT families are helping. Regardless of how sinful you may think gay people are personally, they are becoming loving parents to children that need them. If every child in America had loving straight parents tonight that would be something worth considering but in reality there are hundreds of thousands of children in this country who are hoping to be adopted. To try and prevent capable gay couples from starting families of their own is not only incredibly hurtful to them but ignores the needs of children all over the country.

3) Recognize that”family” is a complex phenomena. People’s definitions of family are probably as diverse as the number of people on the planet. Are two parents ideal? Probably, but does that mean we should take children away from single parent homes? Of course not. A loving single parent can do exponentially more than two parents who are emotionally neglectful and/or abusive. Sometimes grandparents or other relatives or friends are left to raise the children and they do a tremendous job. The bottom line is that the American nuclear family is one model amongst many. We can promote this model while also supporting and strengthening all the models that actually exist and are benefiting children right now.

I realize I am raising difficult and complex issues with this entry. I also realize I have not reached a final conclusion on any of the things I address above. I really hope this entry is the start of a conversation between Christians and others about what it means to practice our faith today. This probably will not be my last entry on this topic. I hope you will engage and share your stories, thoughts and comments. I welcome them as openly as I can.

Sandy Cove Awesomeness

I returned home from just over a year abroad on July 18th. I was supremely blessed to find myself (again) at a place as awesome as Sandy Cove Ministries a mere week after my return.

Sandy Cove is a Christian Conference center in Maryland that at least one member of my family has been going to every summer since 1989. Over twenty years, crazy right? But it is just that super. Amongst many, many things it offers it specializes in week long family vacation packages during the summer. Adults and parents come for good speakers, worship and childcare. The kids (including me over 10 years ago) enjoy the massive amount of activities available including: swimming, boating, mini golf, softball, zip line, soccer, basketball, tennis and many more. We also get to hang out with other kids our age and learn a bit about the Bible as well. All around Sandy Cove offers an excellecent package deal for a fun and impactful break from life.

This year was a bit different. I haven’t been here as a “vacationer” in over 5 years. But amazingly the dates worked out so I could be here all week with my Mom, sister, brother-in-law and my beautiful 5-month old niece who I just got to meet this past Sunday. I wasn’t young enough for the kids programs and don’t have my own family just yet but it was still great. I played mini-golf and Disc-golf. I did some stand-up at the talent show. I parasailed. I got some great insights from the speaker I can use this fall as I begin coaching. It was a huge blessing to be back here.

I highly recommend looking up Sandy Cove if you get a chance. They are a great ministry offering rest and reflection for all.

Did that just happen?

I just had a great weekend. Let me explain.

I left home in Massachusetts last summer in early July. I have been in the Czech Republic since early August. Since before I left my mom has been discussing various possibilities of what a visit here would entail. In the last few months we finalized things. My mom would come to London for a week and stay with my sister and then come to Prague on Friday night. I would pick them up, show them Prague, my town and my schools and see them off Sunday back to Prague. As the days approached it was fairly exciting. I have never had family visit me overseas in the past few years. I would get to show them where I have been living and share my life with them a bit. It would be great.

And then the volcano that cannot be named struck. Days before my mom and sister’s flight. It was quickly surmised that the trip wasn’t going to happen. My sister would try to get a flight back to London ASAP but my mom was left to cancel her trip. I was disappointed to be sure but I felt worse for my mom. All the expectation was gone and she was left with a week of regret and sadness. Totally lame.

I went about my business last week and decided to plan a weekend in Prague anyway. See friends and the city. It would be nice. On Thursday I noted my sister was catching a flight back to London. I was happy for her. On Friday I woke up like normal and taught a couple classes. I then went online and was shocked to see a note from my sister saying my mom got a seat on her flight too via standby. More shocking: they would be in Prague that night as originally planned.

Just crazy right? This past weekend has been great. I spent time with my family in Prague, my town of Sokolov, and the capital city of my region. I took them to restaurants, showed them my flat and schools and really enjoyed myself. It was over far too quick. But it was just awesome.

I will end with two small insights. Meeting a lot of different people since graduation I have realized how important family is. When people have good family relationships things are pretty sweet. On the flip-side I have seen few things that can cause more heartache and emotional damage than a dysfunctional family dynamic. I am truly thankful for how my family supports me and loves me. But know that even if my family wasn’t what they should be, my relationship with my creator is an anchor that is something I can never get from something here on earth. Lastly, it was humbling to be reminded today that going overseas is not just about YOU making sacrifices. Your family, whether they support you or not, give something up too. Some handle it better than others but it is never easy. I have about two more months left in this year here but this weekend will be seared in my memory for a long time to come.

I’m Here. That’s All.

I talked with my mom and sister last week. They are coming to visit in less than two weeks. I haven’t seen a family member since early July so this is exciting. I’ll get to show them my town and a bit of my life that I have been living here this year. One question they asked stuck with me. “So have you thought much about coming home in a few months?”

To be honest I haven’t.

I miss home. I miss my family, friends, New England. I miss people speaking English. I miss sitting on the couch in my family’s home watching TV. I certainly miss Dunkin Donuts coffee fresh from the shop. But I haven’t thought much about it.

I live  in the Czech Republic. I eat pork and dumplings for lunch. I live on the 12th floor in a flat building. I drink Czech beer in local pubs. I sing worship songs in Czech at a little church on Sunday mornings. I teach English.

It’s my life at the moment. And I’m content.

Many of my students have little catchphrases in English that they use repeatedly because it’s one of the few words or phrases they know. One of them is “That’s all.” For example, “I like sports, nature, TV….that’s all.”

I’m here in the Czech Republic. I’m a teacher. It’s pretty neat. That’s all.

Some Thanksgiving thoughts…

As some of you might know I’m in the habit of rambling about something spiritual on major holidays. So I thought it would be nice to write a few words.

This is my first Thanksgiving where on the actual day of the holiday I have done nothing. Last year in South Africa, we had a big meal as a group of Americans (and South Africans), so even though I wasn’t with my family, I celebrated. This year I woke up at my normal hour of 6:30AM, taught 3 classes, ate lunch, took a nap, went running, had pancakes and leftover chili for dinner and went to a normal Thursday night church service in town. And so I sit, not an ounce of turkey in my stomach, thousands of miles from the nearest family member.

I’m really not playing the sympathy card here. I am profoundly blessed. When you live your life you often fail to see the things that others might find extraordinary. I lived for nearly a year in South Africa. It was awesome and cool and all of that but now it’s over and here I am in the Czech Republic. No big deal right? But then I tell someone what I have been up to since college and people generally freak out. “That’s awesome!” “That’s so cool!” “I wish I was doing something like that!”

And then I take a step back and think to myself “Oh crap. I think I need to have a bit more gratitude”

My life is not always easy but it is incredible and I have no one I can thank more than God. He has brought me places I never would have thought. He has worked on my mind and my heart with the precision of a fine craftsman and I am so much the better for it. There is still much I have to do and that I want to accomplish. But today on this national day of thanks (at least in America) it is probably best to pause and simply thank God for everything that he has done, been doing, and will do in my life. If I could be so bold to offer you, the reader, some advice it is this: Perhaps it would be good for you to do the same?

Full Disclosure: I have already enjoyed one giant Thanksgiving meal in Prague two weeks ago and will soon enjoy a second with other American teachers on Saturday. I’m hardly suffering.

Rocking it with some Folk Art

Note: I hope to add a couple pictures of the market to this entry and many pictures on facebook by next week, stay tuned.

My first weekend in Santa Fe has been awesome. The ultimate highlight was helping run a booth at the International Folk Art Market. This is the premier folk art market in the world with artisans from 45 different countries. My aunt’s mother is an importer and seller of Latin American art and she sponsors a booth every year at the market. This year she brought a Mexican artisan from Oaxaca named Victor Vasquez. He brought roughly 200 pieces of hand-carved, brightly-painted animals and other figurines to sell. 90% of the money he makes will go back to his family and community as many of the pieces were done by artists in villages near him.

The market ran only two days, Saturday and Sunday, but my job was to help wherever I was needed. I got there at 9AM Friday morning and started unpacking the merchandise. The next day my aunt and I arrived at 3PM and 88% of the animals were gone. It was incredible. We had to restock with more stuff from my aunt’s mom’s store for the next day. I took on the role of help wherever I was needed. I got people lemonade, I moved things that needed moving, I watched the booth and I helped with paperwork. Surprisingly the role that I became known for was brownie baker. My aunt made the lunches each day for everyone in our booth and I contributed by baking the brownies for the dessert. Everyone loved them. Now I’ve never been a great cook, and the brownies are the high-altitude version of a mix from a box so I’m not sure how it happened but brownies were requested all weekend.

It was fantastic to walk around and see the art, the artisans, and people from all around the world. It was also great to actually help out and make the event happen. My role was ultimately small but great things will come from it. Kinda similar to what God asks for us daily, I think. Do the small things right every time and God will use it for his glory in huge ways. It was a great weekend.