26 January 2015

long overdue

(I know.)

I've been trying to write for months. Really, since I left Louisiana. Really.

Writers blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh block.

But other things too. Moving from Louisiana, starting a new job, planning and having a wedding. I was really busy. Not to mention the many adventures I've had since then: I spent a week at the beach in New Jersey before I started working; I went to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for the YAV transition retreat (I'll get back to that) (assuming I actually finish writing this); back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to Toms River for aforementioned wedding (which was awesome); the wedding itself (I may have mentioned, it was really awesome); a trip to Kansas City a week later for a work-related conference (which was chilly but very good); extra visits to NJ before, during, and after Thanksgiving to be with our beloved Bill; oh, the holidays and all of the busy-ness that accompanies; and I went to Peru, and I got some sleep once in a while, and we unpacked our apartment and learned how to care for goats and chickens and bought plane tickets for a honeymoon that isn't for seven more months and I'm going to Haiti in a week and a half...


These things have all been beautiful, and I owe everyone a lot of stories, but the truth is I had a very difficult time transitioning from life in Louisiana to life in Virginia. Mike has been a great, no, phenomenal companion and support. I think he would agree, it was not easy to figure out how to coexist in the same state again, much less the same household, but we're finding a lot of success because living across the country for the better part of two years made us really, really, really strong communicators, and also Mike is just awesome. But settling into our new lives was not really so much the challenge.


The challenge was hard for me to put my finger on. Why on earth was I so sad about all of the amazing and beautiful things happening in my life? A job that I love in a place that I adore, surrounded by friends and not too far from family, so many great travels and opportunities... and yet, I was trapped in some kind of foggy dimension in which fake-it-till-you-make-it wasn't really making it.


I was spending all, and I mean ALL of my energy in September getting out of bed in the morning and doing my job as best I could. That was about it. I wasn't settling into my apartment, I wasn't exploring my neighborhood, I wasn't planning my wedding, I wasn't sharing my stories of the success and joy I'd had as the wetlands YAV despite the many bumps and challenges along the way. I wasn't cleaning either, which was probably a healthy change of pace from the crippling concern over germs and clutter I'd developed over the course of my year in service. But I wasn't doing anything, and I wasn't really interested in thinking about considering doing anything any time soon, either. Outside of work, I was mostly interested in staring into space and going back to bed.

So I got out of the habit of writing, even though writing has always been a way for me to reflect and process what's going on in the world around me. Well, that, and I wasn't really going on any adventures except for my job, and I was trying to protect that from the rest of the whirlwind I was feeling at the time (and not a good whirlwind, either).

But a lot of things helped shift the tide. The Young Adult Volunteer program has a great retreat at Ghost Ranch (see, I just had to keep writing, I knew it'd come up again) to help process the transition. I spent some time with a counselor there, and just her acknowledgement that the struggle was real was helpful. I had a wedding that we still needed to do most of the planning for, and thankfully I had an amazing support system to help pull it off (not to mention a band that didn't really require any preparation to make that party infreakincredible)-- but that was a happy project to be distracted by.

When I started to truly acknowledge how blue I was really feeling, it was easier for me to notice the many little things that helped carry me through, little things people said or did, little snippets of beauty in each day, how powerfully zen watching my chickens makes me feel, how much I missed writing but didn't know what to say or if I should say or who cares if I say, some really lovely lattes as a reward for walking a few blocks to pick up our glorious CSA, and slowly giving far less a care about run on sentences and oversleeping and forgetting appointments and worrying that I'd find the write words again or that I actually needed to explain this, and it's ok to miss Louisiana every day, and I'm settling settling in...

and here we are. Here I am. And I have a lot of really incredibly beautiful stories to catch you up on. Really.

05 September 2014

Nana korobi ya oki

Nana korobi ya oki (down seven times, up eight) - Yamamoto Tsunetomo

I graduated from college over six years ago. Since then, I have applied to over 250 jobs (really, I have a database you can look at, and many of them were single announcements for multiple openings). I have over 100 rejection notices in my email, and those are just the ones I heard back from. Needless to say, it's been a discouraging few years, and I've fallen down a few times.

I've also gotten back up a few times. I've been able to do some really cool things since college. I did research in Mexico and got a Masters degree. I taught as an adjunct professor. I have volunteered with the USDA. I went to Arizona and a zillion national parks. I moved to Louisiana for an incredible year.

And now, I'm the Director of Youth, Environmental, and Service Ministries at Camp Hanover! I started my new job this past week, mostly sorting through old notes on these things and getting to know the livestock--

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(I have four goats and fourteen chickens under my care!)

but there are many exciting things I'm getting started with. I'll be the coordinator for a Presbytery-wide youth council that will have high school students learning leadership skills and helping plan programming for the Presbytery; I'm establishing an outdoor education and land stewardship program, which includes the aforementioned critters as well as a big garden and a lot of other big dreams; I'll be working to establish some long term volunteer mission arrangements for the camp, too.

AND Mike and I are living in a really cool place in Richmond. We live in a renovated tobacco warehouse on the border of two pretty sweet neighborhoods. We can walk to the grocery store, to restaurants and coffee shops, and tons of historical sites. We even have some parks nearby, along the old industrial canal and the James River. I think we both like it here.

So, it seems I'm settling down in one place for a while, which is new and exciting unto itself. I've had this quote on my blog for several years now, from my wonderful friend Becky, "There is something therapeutic about putting your toothbrush in the same place every night, right? Earp, I know you're not familiar with that experience." Mike and I signed a 15 month lease, so I have a place for at least that long to put my toothbrush! Except I'll be bringing it with me on my next trip, which is in two weeks, and again on a trip the weekend after that...

01 September 2014

Pro tips: 9 ways to stay awake behind the wheel

I don't know if you know this about me, but I travel a lot.

I spent the past week in New Jersey on "vacation", alternating cleaning and packing up the last of my things at my parents' with wedding errands and going to the beach. I drove back to Richmond early this morning, just the most recent of my marathon drives. Thankfully, it wasn't too much of a marathon-- I think everyone is still enjoying the rest of the long holiday weekend. But I have many strategies to keep myself alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic as I drive everywhere:

1. Nerd stuff. I learned to listen to public radio when I lived in a rural part of New Jersey, when my job involved driving all over the place and that was the only station that really came in there. I have taken to saving up my favorite NPR podcasts for long drives, and in listening to WNYC on this last trip home, I learned about smartbinge.org. Game changer.

2. Mike's deer game. This is a good one at dusk and nighttime on rural roads, as one should be keeping an eye out for deer anyway. When you spot a deer or many deer, count them out loud. Next time you spot more deer, you have to start counting from where you left off. This is a good game to play with a passenger if you're competitive, or to get them to help you remain vigilant for our white-tailed friends.

3. The song game. This is another one Mike taught me, and requires a friend if you're driving (we use this one on long flights, too). Let shuffle choose a song on your mp3 machine. Then, before the song is over, you have to pick out a word or theme or phrase that is in another song, and switch to that song, and repeat. Surprisingly kills a lot of time.

4. Accents. An anonymous man I am related to once told me that while he was waiting in his car one day, he sang Jerry Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire" with the most fake English butler sort of accent he could muster. I usually just stick to reading signs in funny made up voices. Today's drive south featured me repeating "Thornburg" in various iterations of southern drawl.

5. Back stories. Mike is good at this one. It usually happens because someone around us is driving poorly, and then we pass them and learn that it's a really sweet old couple. Mike will make up voices and stories about where they're from and what they're up to. Spoiler alert: most of Mike's characters' voices are some kind of Jewish New York, nasally old lady, or nasally teeny bopper.

6. Scan the radio. One time, Mike and I drove the church's luggage van to a retreat, and couldn't agree on a radio station, and just let the scan button run the. entire. time. Actually, that's a lie. We stopped every time Cee Lo Green's "F You" came on, which was 15 times during the course of a 2.5+ hour trip.

7. Alphabet game. Yes, this old standby. Search for each letter of the alphabet on signs and license plates, in order. One round of this game featured my friends' sweet daughter on the way home from dropping her grandparents off at the Allentown Airport in PA. She thought XXX was a very strange name for a store. Yes, sweet child, yes it is. But we did find the whole alphabet.

8. Mental math. This is a good one. When I was a kid, my dad took my brothers and me to visit his grandmother in the hospital. We asked him how much longer, because the drive from Toms River to Montclair seemed forever long. He said we'd arrive at 1:13. We arrived at 1:13. He later taught me that going 60mph means a mile per minute. I read the mile markers and try to math how long it will take me to get to my destination, or to other places along the way. It has greatly improved my basic math skills as well as my travel superpowers.

9. Lip sync contest, inspired by Jimmy Fallon. This is one I play by myself, because Jimmy Fallon does not tend to take roadtrips with me, nor do John Krasinski or Paul Rudd. But I play my music and do my most enthusiastic lip sync, leaving all of the drivers around me impressed with my zeal. I specialize in Motown (The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Jackson 5) and rapping (G. Love and The Roots), although today I think I offered a very convincing rendition of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego", which yes, is obviously on my ipod. Other highlights: Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom", Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", and I almost have Johnny Cash singing "I've Been Everywhere" down.

So I'm back in Richmond now, and starting another adventure tomorrow: my new job...

14 August 2014

Life since Louisiana

One word: whirlwind.

More words:

Leaving Louisiana, a place I came very quickly to love almost a year before, was very, very hard, so I made an adventure of it. I decided to visit a few of the towns mentioned in O Brother Where Art Thou, one of my favorite movies. I visited Yazoo City and Itta Bena on my way to staying with a friend in Nashville for my first night.

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Self explanatory, Itta Bena, MS

Before I got to Yazoo City, I passed a sign for the Mississippi Petrified Forest, which I'd been meaning to get to. I think petrified wood is cool, and it was also about time to stretch my legs.

The private park is small, and the only trail was about a half mile loop. As I walked it and stared at the different pieces of petrified wood, I contemplated the cosmos, as one does. (Warning, geography vocabulary blitz ahead--)

I noticed right away that the petrified wood in Mississippi looks very different from that in Arizona, like my ring. In Arizona, it's very colorful, and in Mississippi, it's very plain. I thought about the environmental differences that caused these appearances.

The petrified wood in Mississippi is believed to be driftwood from further north in North America. I thought about how the trees, probably spruce and maple, grew in the local soils, fell for whatever reason, and traveled down prehistoric ephemeral streams to central-ish Mississippi, where water high in mineral content passed them over and replaced biological matter with stone, slowly but surely. I thought about the loess bluffs, created by wind blown sediments. I thought about the erosion process that revealed the petrified wood. I thought about the process by which stone breaks down into soil over many, many years, first as saprolite and later as the fine grains that form different kinds of soils. I wondered about the different between a rock eroding into soil and petrified wood eroding back into the earth. Are they different processes? I thought about the movement of minerals from up north to this region, how the original trees in question carried all of these things and changed the environment, and were changed by the environment...

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petrified wood in Mississippi

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eroded sandy bluff in Mississippi Petrified Forest

and I felt very small, but in a cozy sort of way. Like, ultimately, we're all part of this earth, and we move and change things around, but we're still part of it, and maybe that's part of the reason that I feel so connected to the environment and want to work to care for it.


I drove from Mississippi to Tennessee through Alabama via the Natchez Trace Parkway. I stayed with a friend in Nasvhille. The second day, I drove to Kentucky and stayed with my cousin and her wonderful family, who served as bookends to my mission year by hosting me both going to and coming from Louisiana.

I drove through southern West Virginia, passing over the New River Gorge. I spent a few days in Virginia, where Mike met me. We found an apartment and set up all of the electric, gas, cable, internet, etc. and drove back to New Jersey.

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It's been a little crazy since I got back. Day one: soil survey up north. Day two: made 15 lbs of potato salad. Day three: went to the beach, and hosted a big family party (hence the potato salad).

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Pequest Wildlife Management Area

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the consonants in the ocean, South Seaside Park

Did I mention crazy? Grandma has been in the hospital all week (is doing much better now). I had a meltdown over a bit of a dental crisis (threatened a root canal, but so far seem to be surviving with just having a tooth ground down to alleviate some nerve inflammation and sensitivity issues). Mike is getting a new transmission in his car (thankfully THANKFULLY thankfully just barely under warranty). 

And now, in a few hours, I drive to Richmond, my new home.

New Jersey will always be home, but I'm excited about the adventures ahead in Virginia. Things are a little crazy (I may have mentioned)-- Mike and I will both have two moves under our belts this summer, plus new jobs, plus oh, getting married soon.

I vacuumed out my car today and thought, now I just need to get to the beach and get some sand in here. But I buckled in the Lorax, as ever, knowing I'd be back soon enough to accomplish that. Next weekend, actually, for a good friend's wedding.

We have a long enough lease that the dust might actually settle.

I'm ready, dust settling or not.

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The Lorax, buckled into my backseat as ever, ready to go, too.

01 August 2014

love is going to lead you by the hand

Yesterday was my last day in New Orleans.

Lindsey wandered around the city with me all morning. As we walked through the Vieux Carre, we had buttermilk drops and coffee at Wink's, the bakery owned and operated by Dwight Henry, who played Wink in Beasts of the Southern Wild (and was also in 12 Years a Slave); we sat on Jackson Square and watched the birds and tourists; we visited the Presbytere, which houses a Louisiana State Museum with an incredible exhibits on Katrina and Mardi Gras; we had mimosas as we walked through the French Market, where I bought a little fleur-de-lis charm; we eventually drove around town and sat along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain for a while, enjoying the waves lapping along the cement steps over by UNO.

After she went into work, I went to Audubon Park and enjoyed some quiet time with the Tree of Life, a gorgeous nearly 300 year old unencumbered live oak. I was grateful that no one else was there to ruin my peace. I walked the labyrinth one last time. My heart skipped a beat as I rounded the final curve toward the center, so I decided to walk it backwards to exit it. My heart skipped a beat again as I neared the end.

I really love Louisiana.

I packed my car yesterday afternoon and spent the evening with my amazing host family, laughing and joking as always. Lindsey and I enjoyed some final brews (for now) at the Avenue Pub, and I enjoyed a final, dark drive down the live oak lined St. Charles Ave.

I never had a snow ball. There is no way in a lifetime of living here that I would be able to see, smell, taste, and hear it all, much less in a single year. As much as I'm mourning my imminent departure, I suppose I kind of like a few things left undone, because it means I can always look forward to coming back and visiting.

I'm really excited about moving to Virginia.

Some moments last forever, but some flare out with love, love, love.

I'm really, really grateful that such great love leads me to all of these wonderful places.

31 July 2014

the WHOLE POINT of my YAV year

Since my last post, I have continued the trend of communion twice a week, except this week, I've helped serve it. That's right-- I'm now an ordained Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is my first step in figuring out how I'm going to follow this call to serve the church as an environmentalist. I had to make a lot of promises about my commitment to the church and to furthering the church. It was a very sweet and meaningful parting gift from my beloved friends at First Presbyterian Church of Bayou Blue.

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My last official day of work was July 23. On Wednesdays I give wetlands presentations to Project Homecoming volunteers, either as a walking tour of Bayou Sauvage if weather permits, or as a lecture at the Volunteer Village. It's been a really cool way to spread the story of South Louisiana and give a little geographic context to the people rebuilding New Orleans.

On Wednesday, July 23, the skies weren't looking promising, and the forecast showed scattered thunderstorms. I was very disappointed to spend my last evening of work, my last presentation, indoors. I was still very excited to talk about the wetlands and environmental conservation.

My talks last about 45 minutes, going over how the landscape of South Louisiana was formed, what has gone wrong with that environment, and what is being done to make it better. I get really, really excited. Sometimes I jump up and down a little. Sometimes I yell a little. But sometimes people find my enthusiasm inviting and come to ask me questions afterwards.

This is how I met Adam. He's from Georgia, and he's really excited about the church. He's really excited to stay with the church and do things in the church. We talked for at least half an hour about all of the different things we've been working on-- energy conservation in his case, natural resource conservation in mine, and what kind of ways we can connect to further this work in the church and beyond.

That is the whole point of this stuff.

The saving the wetlands stuff is important. The ministering to the sweet people of Bayou Blue is important. The intentional community is important. The exploring the incredible city of New Orleans and so much of South Louisiana and learning as much as I could and doing as much as I could is important.

But furthering the church-- I think that's the whole point of this year of service. I'm so glad I could take part in it.

18 July 2014

YAV year/life lesson 1 of ∞

I have averaged communion 2-3 times per week for the past month and a half or so, between Sunday mornings, various church meetings, and leading worship for a local summer mission program. This week, for example: Bayou Blue on Sunday morning, YAV closing worship last night, Project Homecoming closing worship tonight.

One of my favorite parts of communion in the Presbyterian Church is when the person serving it announces that "This is not a Presbyterian table. All are welcome." Actually, on Sunday morning, that was said both during announcements and during communion, which is what got me thinking about it.

I really like that.

I only have about a dozen days left of being a YAV in South Louisiana. This year has been a great opportunity for really getting involved with local churches, with a Presbytery, and with PC(USA). I am going to take about a thousand million billion infinity lessons from this year, but in the midst of this very difficult week I am very focused on this not-Presbyterian-table.

All are welcome at my table. Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopals, Mennonites, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, athiests, Hindus, those who practice traditional religions, those who believe in everything, those who believe in nothing, and everyone in between. Everyone is welcome at my table. Palestinians and Israelis. Russians and Ukrainians. Children who arrive to the US border unaccompanied, and their parents and guardians.

Peacemaking has become an important theme in my work, brought out especially by working with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship at General Assembly. As an environmentalist, I know that if we don't take care of our natural resources, there's going to be a lot less peace in the future. So far beyond that very basic premise though, I've been reading and learning and thinking about issues of peace around the world. All of these people who are so different from me, not just in appearance and location but circumstances and background and foreground.

It is fitting that such a difficult week end with the birthday of the late Nelson Mandela, who inspires so many people to work for peace. "Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement." he said. "Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace." he said. "It always seems impossible until it is done." he said.

I am not always a perfect peacemaker. (Neither was Nelson Mandela, truthfully.) I'm sure my brothers would agree with that. I'm sure my partner would agree with that. I'm sure my seven housemates in New Orleans would agree with that. This is one of the important lessons I am taking from this year though, this idea to constantly and intentionally work for peace. I won't always get it right, but to start, I will focus on this idea that everyone is welcome at my table.

Peace, salaam, shalom.

06 July 2014

adventures in and around and around and around Terrebonne Parish

I found a little dog today.

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After church, I went to Morgan City and then took the scenic route back to Houma to visit a friend in a nursing home there. He was wandering along the side of a busy road in downtown Houma and I couldn't just keep driving. His fur was a mess and full of sticks and leaves and he seemed so confused. He was nervous when I approached him but sniffed my hand and let me scoop him up. In fact, after I scooped him up he decided we were best friends, and sat happily in my arms as we wandered around the neighborhood to see if anyone recognized him. First I tried to call the vet listed on his tag. They're closed on weekends.

No answer at the first few houses. A man on a bike passed by and thought it might belong to a couple in a blue house down the street. So little dog and I went there.

They had a few little dogs, and this one was not one of theirs, but they thought his name was Poofy and he belonged to a girl who lived around the corner. She drives a silver Nissan Versa with lots of bumper stickers.

There was no such car to be found on that street, but one of the women sitting outside on her porch was pretty sure he belonged to the house across the street.

No one was at the house across the street, so I left one of my cards with a note on the back.

Little dog (who I decided was more of a Doofy than a Poofy) was very tired and panting, so I decided to take him to a friend's house in Bayou Blue 20 minutes away to hang out and get him some water while we came up with a plan. I tried to get most of the sticks and leaves out of his hair.

The people weren't home but I have a key, so I got a bowl of water and we played in the back yard as not to disturb the cats in the house. Doofy wandered around a sniffed some things, and finally made noise for the first time when he noticed the neighbor's rooster, who was about twice his size.

I called the vet's emergency line, which said to call animal control, which said to call the police station, which said to call the vet's emergency line, which said to call animal control... animal control wouldn't pick up the dog unless it was hurt or aggressive. Doofy was healthy and sweet. I asked if I should break his leg, because I needed to get back to New Orleans and shouldn't bring Doofy back with me. They didn't think it was very funny, but didn't really offer any help either.

I called the police again. They had zero suggestions. Doofy smelled some flowers and drank some water.

I got a call! From the house where I left my card! Her dog was home with her, but thanks for leaving my information. She suggested I look up a local lost pets page on Facebook that tends to be pretty responsive.

I do not have a phone that is capable of doing such things. This was the first time I felt bad about that. (I still don't want one though.)

My parents kindly did some internet research for me. I sent my dad a picture using my phone (see, I'm at least a little high tech), and he managed to get that information to the page's administrator. Eventually, she called me and offered to take the dog until the vet was open tomorrow. She lived in Houma and took her own dogs to Doofy's vet, and often fostered dogs who turned up like this.

So I went to meet her in a shopping center parking lot back down in Houma. Doofy fell asleep sitting up.

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The woman met me, and was really kind. Turns out her father sat behind me in church this morning, and his mother-in-law is the friend who I was trying to get to visit in Houma in the first place when I found Doofy.

I love that everyone down the bayou is related. I love nice people who do nice things like take care of nice little lost dogs. I love that my parents were totally on board with helping me instead of criticizing me for having an old timey cell phone. I love the conversation that my parents were having--

"She's a piece of work." -Dad
"It's all MY fault." -Mom (meaning, she taught me the whole stop- and- help- the- poor- sad- animal- thing)
"I know." -Dad

I love that my dad would stop and do the same thing anyway.

I also love that I now have proof that I was not trying to avoid a date with Mike early in our more- than- friends- relationship, when I made him pull over to pick up a sad, wet beagle on a rainy morning by the side of a busy highway when he was trying to take me out for brunch for a second date so I would stop saying "You have to go on more than one date for it to be considered dating". This is just who I am.

This is what my day ended up looking like:

tl;dr: another typical story about how I put over 200 miles on my car today (broke 62,000 miles, in fact).

01 July 2014

Five Things I learned at GA/as a YAV

I preached at Bayou Blue again this past Sunday. I tried to record it for my parents, but the camera and microphone refuse to work properly at the same time. Sigh. I re-recorded it while sitting in the Tree of Life in Audubon Park yesterday evening (so you can hear the cicadas and crickets!).

Micah 6:6-8
Psalm 148
Romans 15:13
Matthew 5:13-16
Children's sermon: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss


The week before last, I was present at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit as one of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s interns, and I was exhausted. I’m going to tell you more generally about my experience at General Assembly, and how nicely it ties into my year in service here in the Presbytery of South Louisiana.
I received an incredible education from countless organizations, commissioners, advisory delegates and observers in topics concerning environmental justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, and marriage equality issues, among many, many other topics. I learned about church polity, about exceedingly specific grammar, and about how every vote counts.
I felt the heavy sadness of the commissioners rejecting things I poured my energy and heart into, and the intense joy as other acts of just peace and equality were passed.
Of course, there were also the long waking hours and short nights of sleep on the floor of a nearby church, the rushing from plenary to strategy session to commission meeting to briefing dinner and back again, and the endless organization of emails, twitter feeds, mass texts, testimonies, and reflections.
I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but it might be the most beautiful kind of exhausted I’ve ever been. My cup is running over and spilling everywhere. The theme of the assembly was “abound in hope” from the Romans passage I just read, and I left feeling more hopeful about and connected to the church than ever before.
 I was very excited when Rev. Dick and Rev. Kris asked me preach about my time at GA. I decided immediately I would share what I learned about the church there. But the more I thought about what I learned that week, the more I realized that I was learning these things throughout the year through Bayou Blue and the Presbytery of South Louisiana. With just a few weeks left to my term of service, I thought I’d reflect on the entire year, which manifested itself very clearly at General Assembly. So without further ado, the five things I’ve learned this year as a Young Adult Volunteer in this specific church, this regional church, and this national church—
Number 5: Yes, I’m counting down backwards. It’s far more dramatic that way. Number 5: Education is important. Hence why I am preaching on “what have I learned from General Assembly and my YAV year”. Being in the reformed tradition, the Presbyterian Church holds the conviction that what is reformed must always be reforming, hence the need to learn and reassess constantly. The focus on education in our church is a longstanding tradition, dating to the earliest days of Presbyterianism during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. John Calvin and John Knox, two influential theologians of the time, were both very vocal advocates for free public education. Presbyterians often established local schools in their communities in the colonial days of this country, and later founded 65 colleges and universities as well as ten theological seminaries.
Education has been an important theme for my service in South Louisiana this year. I came to you with both an undergraduate and graduate degree in environmental geography. I love and value these studies very, very much, but could only be so prepared for what I would see and experience here, having never been to Louisiana before. Thankfully, you all and many other stepped in with a phenomenal field education. You had suggestions of which organizations I should connect with. You taught me about the trees that grow here. You taught me about the agriculture, the fishing, and the changing landscape. I am so grateful to this room full of experts, because it was a steep learning curve for me.
Education was also critical at our General Assembly. There were countless opportunities for briefings on all of the issues, from the Presbyteries that sponsored or concurred with the overtures presented, from the many observers from different organizations with different interpretations of the subjects at hand, as well as the option for independent reading and self-teaching as we went along. Different reports were made available to all in the assembly hall, updated as they changed. The leadership of the assembly strived to make sure everyone was informed of what we were discussing.
For me, it was an opportunity to learn a great deal from many perspectives about the issues in Israel and Palestine, a situation that I have never been too well-informed about because of how completely and unimaginably large and long-standing the problems are. I was too intimidated to even ponder where to start. I was finally given a starting point by a group of people who have spent years studying the issues and visiting the region, which encouraged me to read further and ask questions and eventually learn enough to form my own opinions. The little informal education I received was incredibly empowering. Just imagine the impact this church has in so many formal education settings!

Number 4: PC(USA) is a church full of connections and relationships. When I worked for New Jersey’s only Presbyterian camp, I would visit churches and presbytery meetings for all seven of the state’s presbyteries. Not only that, but I worked with people from all over New Jersey for the summer camp program. I met a lot of pastors, church leaders, and young adults in those years. It felt like everywhere I went in NJ, I could find the nearest Presbyterian church and know or at least know of someone in that congregation or Presbytery. It constantly felt like six degrees of separation, or even less most of the time.
That continued as I came to Louisiana. Three of my housemates grew up in New Jersey, and we all crossed paths many times, through that camp, through our churches, and in the case of one, even by going to the same college. We never met before we lived together, but we have many shared people, places, and experiences. Even more small worldly, one of last year’s New Orleans YAV’s was my camper at that summer camp in New Jersey about ten years ago.
Of course, I found a connection in this sweet little congregation here at Bayou Blue. You have treated me like family from the start, always telling me I’m related to you all “by affinity”, but affinity wasn’t enough. About halfway through the year, I found out Miss Billie Robertson’s maiden name was Earp, just like my own name. And let me tell you all—there aren’t too many Earps in this world. So while we haven’t figured out exactly how we’re related, I am absolutely positive that we share a family tree. And since many of you are related to her in one way or another, it seems like you’re stuck with me actually being part of your family.
This incredible network within the church extended easily to Detroit. Aside from running into plenty of people I know from Presbytery of South Louisiana and various presbyteries in New Jersey, I met and served alongside many other people who are familiar with this church. I met Ms. Andree Tarrant, who spent time with you while serving with the Coast Guard in the area after Hurricane Katrina. I saw many of the Presbyterian Hunger Program people who came to visit us and hear your stories just a few months ago. I worked with the director of Stony Point Conference Center, where my YAV orientation took place, and with one of the pastors who I met on the Eco-Stewards trip a few weeks ago—you know, the one where I swam with the manatees, which I like to shamelessly remind everyone about every chance I get.
In the Presbyterian Church, we work to build a great network, a great cloud of witnesses, a great family. It is an incredible group to be connected with.

Number 3: This church includes all of us as ministers, ordained or not. To be a minister means to give service, care, or aid, or act as the agent or instrument of another—in this case, God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Seminary degrees and ordination help our pastors to do this in a more official manner, but as members of this church, we all get to be instruments of the Lord.       

This kept surfacing throughout my week in Detroit. Sure, many of the people ministering to me are ordained, as one might expect of a gathering of hundreds of church members and workers. There was the pastor from my home Presbytery who recognized me early in the week and excitedly shared updates from New Jersey. There was the pastor involved with Presbyterians for Earth Care who I met in the fall, who encouraged me and included me in her work throughout the week. There were the elders from this Presbytery attending the assembly who brought a bag full of snacks for me, just to cheer me on for being there. There was the college chaplain who offered a hug following a difficult decision on the assembly floor that I was struggling with, and the pastor I met at the Eco-Stewards conference a few weeks ago who sent support via text message, as his flight left before the vote.
But there were so many others ministering to me, acting on behalf of the Holy Spirit and caring for me, without any sort of ordination. There were several former YAV’s working with the Peace Fellowship who provided meals, listening ears, and guidance throughout the week. When I fell ill with a fever on Tuesday morning, they made sure the things I was working on were covered so I could get myself to a doctor. There was the friend with the Peace Fellowship who always seemed to show up with the car keys in his hand when I desperately needed a change of scenery. There was the former camp director who now works in the national church offices who cheered me on for my involvement in the church. Some of the Presbyterian Hunger Program people who visited us a few months ago asked how you all were doing, asked how my work on the coast was, asked how things are in Louisiana. There was a fun group of Peace Fellowship people who ventured to a grocery store ten miles outside of Detroit late at night because they decided we could all use some ice cream. All of these small interactions, all of these bits of encouragement and love—all of these things were forms of ministry, unordained.
This is just like this very congregation. Some of you are ordained as elders, but all of you, yes, all of you, have ministered to me in different ways this year. You have asked about my work, encouraging me as I faced many challenges during the year. You have invited me into your homes for a meal or just to catch up. You have asked how I was doing, settling into Louisiana, so far from my family. You have shown me around your community, teaching me what I needed to know in order to best serve here (see, there’s that education stuff again). You have supported the YAV program since long before I came here, and have been enthusiastic about the program since my arrival. In all of these ways and many more, you have acted as instruments of God, partnering with me in a ministry that is so much bigger than any of us as individuals.
Number 2: This church takes discernment very seriously. This is a word that Presbyterians love. The interview process for becoming a Young Adult Volunteer is one of mutual discernment, that is, I figure out what feels best for me as an individual while the program figures out what is best for it overall, and then we sit and ponder what the best possible outcome of those ideas might be. In my case, it was fairly straightforward: Louisiana was clearly the best option for me. At General Assembly, it was far more drawn out, weighing every possible angle of every possible decision to be made.
Nothing was taken lightly. Every overture was considered by an individual committee with about fifty voting commissioners, plus a dozen or so resource people and advisory delegates. Dozens of people would observe each committee and testify, each with another perspective. Conversations would become tediously long at times, but it would follow rules of order to make sure as many voices were heard and considered as possible.
This year, the GA tried something new and hosted two discussion periods on the floor of the assembly, to make sure that the commissioners had adequate time to learn from each other and consider as many options as possible on some of the more intense overtures, since everyone sat on different committees. Even aside from that time, many of the overtures brought lengthy conversation. No decisions were made without first hearing at least a few carefully selected testimonies for and against the topic. The assembly deliberated for hours over marriage and Middle East issues. It may sound like a special kind of torture, but I was very excited that environmental issues brought an hour and a half of conversation to the floor. There were no snap decisions made. Everything took a great deal of time and energy to make sure that we were doing the work of the church as best we could.
I think this is true here for Bayou Blue as well. It may be a smaller body, so conversations hopefully don’t take as long. I have heard many session meetings called, sometimes last minute, to consider things that need considering. Discernment is important.

And the Number 1 thing I learned at General Assembly and as a YAV this year: I am called to do this work. When I applied to the YAV program, my interviewers noticed I was a few years older than the average Young Adult Volunteer. One of the interview questions was of course something straightforward like, why do you want to be a YAV? It had been five years since I had graduated from college at the time, and I was frustrated that I had not been able to find a full time job despite my best efforts. I wanted to serve as a YAV because I wanted to listen a little more intentionally for that still, small voice guiding me toward the right thing.
It’s hard to hear that still, small voice over ALL OF THE YELLING. Holy Spirit has not been shy with me at all. I absolutely love serving Bayou Blue and the Presbytery of South Louisiana as an environmental conservationist, planting trees and grasses and teaching others why that’s important. But it all came together for me last week in Detroit. Late Friday night, I found myself beyond tired. I was quite miserable for a little while, time I spent alone in the church where the Peace Fellowship was staying. I could not comprehend this exhaustion. It was far more than just being sleepy after a long week of work. It took me a while to realize that I was completely exhausted because I had poured out everything I had, my energy, my heart, and my spirit, over dealing with environmental issues at the General Assembly. I had used every gift God gave to me to do this work for the church. This is not about me liking this environmental work and just wanting to do it because I want to, but because God has given me the right gifts for this work and has guided me to the point that I know I need to use them in this way.
 I focused on education. I spent months learning about the issues in preparation, and many hours present in Detroit to fine tune that knowledge and clarify my questions. I spent time in conversation with individuals and groups, making sure I was as educated as possible as I testified and took part in bigger discussions concerning the church’s relationship with creation.
I built relationships. I spent a lot of time connecting with new people and groups, to make sure that I was reaching everyone I needed to and everyone I possibly could. There was so much encouragement and support.
 I was ministered to by many people. I like to think that I offered some ministry to others as well, not to bring my will about, but to serve God’s will.
 I did not arrive at this lightly, but spent every waking moment possible since then trying to figure out whether this sense of call is completely crazy or not, although some very kind ministers have told me that’s what discernment really is. I’m not entirely sure how this sense of call will play out, but here I am, discerning.
I did each of these things in my role here as your YAV, too, and I was so blessed to have Bayou Blue with me every step of the way, teaching me, befriending me, ministering to me, and entertaining big questions with me. My entire year of service in the wetlands and this church has built up to this.
So here I am, with this sense of call that I need to continue to be a voice for the environment, much like The Lorax I introduced you to earlier, but I need to continue doing this for the church. It’s not that I need to exhaust myself beyond recognition, it’s that as soon as I realized why I was so tired, I felt fulfilled.
When I was commissioned during my orientation in New York before I arrived to Louisiana, the verses from Matthew were used, about being salt of the earth and light of the world. I have tried hard to live that out this year. Salt of the earth: good, humble people just like salt is a good, humble seasoning. Light of the world: we are calling to let our God-given gifts shine and light the way for those around us. I have been shining as brightly as I can all year, but especially in Detroit.
I applied for the internship with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship because I wanted to go to General Assembly to see the bigger picture of the church I grew up in, and am serving this year as a Young Adult Volunteer. It has been a great opportunity not just to see that bigger picture, but also to connect with it, and it has left me full of hope. I am part of a church that is happening, and I want to continue to be part of that church. In fact, not only do I want to continue to be part of that church, but I am feeling called to be part of that church, to continue to be a loud voice for the environment for that church. That week in Detroit has been full of discussion and discernment as well as opportunities to learn and to love. As a church, we have taken risks to include others and encourage peace, not because they were the easy answers, but because according to Holy Spirit, they were right answers. That exhaustion passed, but I believe this church will continue on. And here I am, part of that picture! Amen.

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23 June 2014

General Assembly

Last week, I was present at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit as one of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s interns, and I was exhausted.

I received an incredible education from countless organizations, commissioners, advisory delegates and observers in topics concerning environmental justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, and marriage equality issues, among many, many other topics. I learned about church polity, about exceedingly specific grammar, and about how every vote counts.

I felt the heavy sadness of the commissioners rejecting things I poured my energy and heart into, and the intense joy as other acts of just peace and equality were passed.

Of course, there were also the long waking hours and short nights of sleep on the floor of a nearby church, the rushing from plenary to strategy session to commission meeting to briefing dinner and back again, and the endless organization of emails, twitter feeds, mass texts, testimonies, and reflections.

I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but it might be the most beautiful kind of exhausted I’ve ever been. My cup is running over and spilling everywhere. 

I applied for the internship because I wanted to go to General Assembly to see the bigger picture of the church I grew up in, and am serving this year as a Young Adult Volunteer. It has been a great opportunity not just to see that bigger picture, but also to connect with it, and it has left me full of hope. I am part of a church that is happening. This week has been full of discussion and discernment as well as opportunities to learn and to love. As a church, we have taken risks to include others and encourage peace, not because they were the easy answers, but because according to Holy Spirit, they were right answers. The exhaustion will pass, but I believe this church will continue on. And here I am, part of that picture!

18 June 2014

how far I've come

Greetings from the whirlwind we call General Assembly! I'd hoped to update more during the week, but I have kept incredibly busy as a Presbyterian Peace Fellowship intern. Also I fell ill with a viral throat infection, so the vast majority of my free time is spent unconscious, drinking tea, or... no. I haven't had free time yet. But I have been loving this (minus the abscesses on my throat).

First, let me say, I adore PPF and feel so honored and excited to be one of their interns. This is a group of wonderful people who are open minded and ready to be challenged, responding with grace (no seriously, read that link, that letter and the press conference we put together in under 3 hours to support it were really amazing). An organization started to support conscientious objectors in WWII, PPF is celebrating 70 years of peacemaking through justice of all kinds-- social, food, environmental... we have talked about drones, about BDS (boycotting, divestment and sanctions), about gender and marriage equality, about fossil fuels...

I am loving this.

I have probably a hundred thousand million billion more things to say, but I wanted to talk about two horrible ironies in my life this week: the oil slick experience I had a few weeks ago, and the laptop on which I am writing this.

I testified before Committee 15 regarding fossil fuel divestment, in partnership with PPF as well as Fossil Free PC(USA), Presbyterians for Earth Care, the Covenant Network, and other great people and groups. We heard many, many testimonies in favor of divestment, mostly focused on climate change. I talked about the irony of swimming through oil while planting bullrushes to restore the banks of a river badly eroded by the oil industry. Investing in fossil fuels undermines this work I've been doing, that the church has told me is important. Supporting environmental damages is inconsistent with preaching that the earth is precious and worth caring for.
Another big topic PPF is focusing on this General Assembly, is that of divesting from three companies that have supported Israeli occupation of Palestinian places, bulldozing homes and trees. Those companies are Caterpiller, Motorola, and... HP. Hewlitt Packard.

I am writing this from an HP laptop.

I bought it six years ago when I started teaching at Rutgers, because moving a desktop around might have become a bit tedious. It was a good price, had a reputation for being a good machine, and plus I really liked the commercials that were on at the time:

I am learning a great deal about Middle East issues this week, not just through the eyes of the Peace Fellowship, but many other organizations and individuals weighing in.We're mostly discussing Israel/Palestine, an issue that the great Desmond Tutu has spoken about. Wearing a PPF shirt and carrying an HP computer felt a little ironic and inconsistent.

I'm human. I'm not perfect, even at the stuff I believe in. I am passionate about conservation, but I still drive a car all over the place. I lose my patience and speak violently even though I believe in peace. I'm not perfect, because I'm human, but I'm trying. I'm learning. I'm doing my best to share what I learn in productive, peaceful ways.

So, is it a little strange to serve PPF and use an HP? Yes. But I can't know everything. So maybe the HP isn't so awful, but is a sign of how far I've come. When I do learn things, I will do my best to live it out-- I'm learning a lot this year about voting with my dollars (and/or future computer choices). In the meantime, the environmentalist in me will use this laptop until it is dead, and as an associate of the Peace Fellowship I will keep my mind and heart open. I think that's ok.