Changes and chances

I spent Christmas Eve in Stamford, CT--that's right, the city Jim transferred to after Pam left him hanging in "The Office." When my family moved from South Africa in 1997 we settled there, spending the first two weeks of our new lives in a Holiday Inn before finding an affordable condo--one large enough for a family of five--a little way from downtown, where we lived until moving to our current location in 2000. With New York City just ten minutes down the highway, most of Stamford is made up of the commuter lifestyle, and as jobs in the city are not always so long-lived, there is a transcience and intractibility to life in Stamford that makes connections and a sense of "home" a bit nebulous and, to be honest, a bit futile. We found our way to a lovely little church, and found it to be a home in the busy-ness of city life. Even then, making friends always seemed a little pointless, as the length of any relationship was always in question, and for an eight-year-old who'd just done the Atlantic Hop--leaving all that was familiar and settled--maintaining a sense of detachment was the wisest approach. Best not get too close, right?
Returning to that church with my family for a Christmas Eve service was thus a strange feeling of belonging. Russell, a friend one year my senior, was pleasantly surprised to revisit old ties, "a blast from the past" the best caption we could offer for what seemed an out-of-body experience. An hour and fond memories later, we left the church with hearts full of love. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I asked if we could go back to some of the landmarks in our family history. So we drove past the Holiday Inn, the Ferguson Library, the hospital, the Holiday Inn, our condo at 56 Coldspring Road--all places of importance and memory, and as we journeyed through the bustling city (I love that city), we all pointed out things that we remembered ("that's the McDonald's where..."; "that's the place we always got our bagels..."; "that's where I got my first eyeglasses..."; "that's where Dad used to work...") and noticed things that had changed ("didn't that used to be an IHOP?"; "I can't believe that record store closed!"). The memories we retain are remarkable.
All things change, and no better place to learn than a city. I'm grateful for the history that I've gleaned from the hubbub of Stamford, but it's always nice to be remdinded of the people that are constants. And like Nichole Nordeman sings, we wander and waver until we "find a foothold that's familiar," and for me this season, that's family and friends--while I remember old ones, I invest even more in the present ones. As we anticipate the festivities of the New Year's season, it's good to keep in mind the footholds that are points of departure--memories to hold dear and people to love--but it's also good to live now. We celebrate He who calls us to remember, but also He who has come to make all things new.

Home is...

Finals are done!! After one too many pro-crastinated papers and one too few hours in which to study for exams, I am quite able to say that the fall 2009 semester has finished! (See the bottom of this post for some good studying/pump-up music.) The picture to the right is of my floor; we blew up a balloon for each of the finals we had to take/final papers we had to write and upon completion of each task popped the balloon. Needless to say, we were quite motivated to finish our academic responsibilities and come back to the floor to celebrate. :-) My roommate Carrie and I bid a bittersweet farewell this past Friday; we went to lunch at one of our favorite local places (The Atomic Cafe in Beverly--the BEST sandwiches and frozen lemonade!) before heading home--I the three hours to Connecticut and she the sixteen to Michigan.
Well, it should have taken me three hours; with all the traffic and accidents--I was right behind a collision--it took just under five, but a classic rock radio station kept me wonderful company, and I arrived home safely and unscathed. The Christmas tree that I wasn't home to cut down has already been decorated, and it's weird to feel like I've missed out a little bit on my family's celebrations. But I DID arrive home at the same time as a fruit basket that my floor sent me for Christmas. Grapes, strawberries, melons and pineapple were arranged in somewhat of a fruit bouquet, and didn't last too long with this hungry traveler...:-) This break will be a good one, and this is well-deserved. Apart from shenanigans with friends and festivities with family, I plan on getting some good reading in--East of Eden (John Steinbeck), The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac) and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines (Janna Levin) have all been in progress for some time now, but it's always nice to have time set apart to engage in some literary indulgences.
My best this Christmas, as we all celebrate with great joy the incarnation of our savior who, as C. S. Lewis says, leaves all other renderings of the Messiah in ruins--this, THIS is Christ the King! Joyeux Noel, friends.

And now, my finals-success playlist--with links!:

1901 (Phoenix)
Suffragette City (David Bowie)
Idiot Wind (Bob Dylan)
Jet Airliner (Steve Miller Band)
Looking For Shelter (Good Old War)
Living in America (Aztec Two-Step)
Play With Fire (The Rolling Stones)
Laundry Room (The Avett Brothers)
This Baby (Steven Curtis Chapman)
Just Breathe (Pearl Jam)

It's Christmastime in the city!

Ah, friends, it's been a full week; please forgive the potentially long and rambling post--I just want to fit in a lot of goodness. Last Saturday I journeyed into Boston with my roommate and a dear friend for a concert by a group called "Good Old War." (Check them out here if you're interested in acoustic, folky music.) I found a song by them somewhat by accident back in September, loved what I heard, found out they were stopping by Boston and convinced my friends to adventure with me. It was incredibly worth it. The venue (The Middle East in Cambridge) was small and intimate--the audience was capped at around 15o and standing-room only--and so we were treated to an incredibly open and lively performance, with the crowd familiar with all the songs, often singing them louder than the band. It was amazing.
Last night I went to dinner at a professor's house with a few other students who are also teaching assistants for "The Great Conversation," and we had a wonderful time talking about our different lives and different interests, but were all gathered around a table enjoying the nourishment of good food (if you ever want to have a conversation about how much I believe in hospitality ministry, feel absolutely free to email me :-)). We waxed philosophical and silly on everything from the church in Europe to our gripes with the American educational system to whether we prefer cranberry jelly homemade or from the can at Thanksgiving. Good conversation is such a rarity, and it's always nice to find similarly curious and earnest souls.
Today my floor had an "in-retreat," which consisted of five hours of NOT DOING WORK, no cell phones, making baked ziti, cakes, garlic bread, and a journey into Gloucester to watch the lobster trap tree lighting-that's right: a lobster trap tree. Don't believe me? That's a picture of the whole thing up at the top, and a close up to the left, decorated with painted buoys and covered in lights.
While my girls and I froze our toes off, I remembered that amazing scene from Elf, and so I urged my friends to join me in a rousing rendition of a Christmas carol. And although we were drowned out by the crowd of rambunctious eight-year-olds chanting "Light it up! Light it up!," we huddled together for warmth and just enjoyed the small-town pride and joy of a town that once a year delights in gathering 'round a bunch of old traps...and got our token picture taken with Santa.

ransom captive Israel

With the first snow of the season well underway (we've a food four inches covering the campus in its brilliant whites), it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, complete with the rumblings of Christmas carols, the taste of cider and the donning of obnoxious Christmas clothing. Per that last point, my roommate and I have taken to dressing in our Christmas worst and sending seasonal facebook videos to our loved ones. This is perfectly permissible given the season's penchant for transforming even the most cantankerous scrooges into festive celebrants of the joys of Advent. My floor fellowship on Thursday consisted of decorating the floor with garlands, wreaths, stockings and ornaments, a hot chocolate indulgence and a discussion of our favorite Christmas traditions and songs. Many of my girls recalled cutting down the family's tree while others recounted Christmas eve candlelight services and culturally unique practices like finding a pickle hidden on a tree. My favorite tradition has always been driving around to look at Christmas lights. Back in South Africa we would drive into Johannesburg, where giant scenes played out in lights across the streets and between buildings, all pointing to the center of the city, where a giant and elaborately decorated tree awaited us.
The wonder of this season is never lost on me. With the myriad ways we celebrate Christ's birth, the joy and love of the season always translates into peace and hope. Hope that we will celebrate Christ's second coming soon, and peace that we can rest in the knowledge that he has already walked this earth. Today in church my priest (I attend an Episcopal church) was talking about the great seriousness of this season, and I agree with him. It's easy to get caught up in the romance and wonder of the season, but I'm of the opinion that this season has an inherent gravity, in that the celebration of Christ's birth is the response to our great sins; we mustn't forget that Christ had to come because we had turned so far from him.

With that in mind, here's a link to my favorite Christmas song--O Come, O Come Emmanuel--one that painfully and perfectly casts this season in its proper light. The death and shadows, captivity and mourning, exile and misery which we sinners deserve is replaced only by the Lord of Might, whose great power we celebrate this season in the form of a little baby. Rejoice, Rejoice!

live long and prosper

I like watching things begin. For example, that means that watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (my father's favorite TV show and one of the few series to make it across the Atlantic to South Africa's discriminating broadcast networks) is accompanied by the spoiled ability to watch the latest Star Trek movie and watch things, in a way, begin: Spock, Captain Kirk, Leonard "Bones" McCoy and dear Scotty all begin--are formed, shaped and molded--and I can see how. It's a privilege, and wonderfully exciting to return to the beginnings of things, to see where people come from, to watch progress and change and development, or at least be privy to some of its disclosure. My floor has been doing "life stories" in our floor fellowships over the course of the semester, and this past week we heard from Hannah, whose parents lived in a commune before her father became an Eastern Orthodox priest and they moved to Washington to head up a church. As she passed around pictures of her life and told side-splitting story after side-splitting story, those of us who were blessed enough to listen basked in the warmth of her history, taking in the bigness of her beginnings. I love being given glimpses into personal history, because there is so much depth and richness and meaning there, and while I'll never know every detail about a person, just taking the crumbs people offer is a great honor and show of trust, and I've been blessed with some amazingly trusting souls.
In somewhat of a similar vein, some of us woke up at 3 am on Monday morning (night?) to watch the Leonid meteor showers, and as we lay in a deserted field and tried to impress each other with how many constellations we could name I was once again in awe of beginnings, and the fact that stars exist--that some of the stars I was naming were dying, and that some of them were just being born. Every shooting star was a stroke of God's paintbrush across the eager sky, and I was awed by the bigness of the God who began this universe. He is not so small; after all, He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 174:4, NIV)

on the good life

In the freshman seminar for which I am a teaching assistant, we've been discussing Peter Kreeft's book "Back to Virtue," a book in which Kreeft argues our postmodern society's need to return to lives of courage, purity, mercy, and other characteristics in accord with the Beatitudes. Our lives that seem so far removed from the old-fashioned values have instead, Kreeft suggests, been replaced with complacency and apathy, and the students in my class and I wrestled through that seemingly great divide. Some of our hypotheses stemmed from the idea that life has gotten complicated due to such things as social awareness (and thus political correctness) and technology (and thus increased independence and lack of identity). Moving away from the simple life has created all sorts of desires to return, to cultivate truth, beauty and goodness, to quote the old philosophers, and I discovered some of those on Friday night.
Wanting to do something a little out of the ordinary, I took some of the girls on my floor to a nearby McDonald's for dinner on Friday, where we enjoyed feasting off the dollar menu and eavesdropping on a family celebrating a surprise birthday nearby. Hearing the delighted squeals of children as they opened their toys (Nerf-like foam guns and Strawberry Shortcake dolls--fun!) and enjoying the company of good friends and the taste of those good and greasy french fries, something made sense; the good life, endeavored, is just that: enjoying the simplicity of good food and the great gift of good friends and wonderful conversation, laughing about nothing and soaking in the love that God has been gracious enough to offer children that want to love and serve Him. And that is just so good.

Grace and peace this week as the good life is sought and, as God grants, found--even in the small and unexpected ways.

of farms and friends

Saturday morning Ferrin Hall woke up earlyish, piled in cars and headed to Fellows Farm for a service project. Fellows Farm is a small, community-sustained project run by two Gordon grads who saw a need for local and sustainable crops in the community. Investors pay a certain amount for a share of the land, and in return receive a portion of the crops at the end of the growing season. We pulled into the driveway and were welcomed with smiles and joy, as our group of 15 could do much more in one day than Amy and Erika, the owners of the farm, could do in many. We were soon set to work clearing an overgrown bed, which consisted of pulling out basil plants (ah, what a glorious smell!) and other weeds and tilling it. We were then taught to plant garlic, which stays in the ground over the winter. I volunteered with a couple of other brave souls to shovel manure onto a compost pile, ensuring a good supply of nutrient-rich soil for spring farming needs. I love the smells of farms, and that there is an echo of ages past, of simpler lives, just down the road is a wonderful reminder that the good life is not all that far away. Blessings as this November begins!

Pumpkin lovin'

I absolutely love Fall! The reds, oranges and yellows are out in full force, and even though we had a freak snowstorm last week, I’m still glad that winter is a ways off; I’m not ready to pull out my warm jacket yet. Celebration of Fall involves pumpkins, right? My friend David recently opened an art studio in the small coastal lobstering town of Gloucester, and one of his main efforts is to reach the community with affordable and accessible art projects and classes. This past Saturday he hosted a pumpkin carving contest, and so my floor went in and spent the day scooping out pumpkin guts and throwing the seeds and strings at each other. After we finished carving our pumpkin, we wandered around Gloucester as we had some time to wait before the pumpkins were to be judged for prizes. The small stores and festive decorations of the quiet streets give the town a quaint feel, as though this is a place that doesn't want to be reproduced, that it wants to exist outside of time, and for all sorts of people. Hungry, we found our way to a wonderful little Italian restaurant and stuffed ourselves full of the most delicious pizza and bread and salad I’ve ever tasted. One of my girls brought warheads along, so we dared each other to eat as many of the sour candies as we could before resorting to ridiculous facial expressions. Many laughs later, we left quite contented, and returned to the pumpkin contest just in time to hear the announcement of the winners. To our great delight, my floor’s pumpkin (photo of the group above) won second place, which had an attached price tag of an impressive $75! We’re excited to use it towards a fun floor activity, and our pumpkin as a token fall floor decoration. I love the surprises this season brings. Blessings!

welcome home!

While I’m still two years shy of graduating, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I won’t always live in the amazing area that is Boston’s North Shore, so I’m trying to soak up all this area has to offer, and those wells are proving deep and full. On Thursday my roommate and I found our way to a Salvation Army thrift store and browsed to our hearts’ content. My findings? Comfy jackets, colorful sweaters and a pair of boots with fuzz on the outside. I love thrift stores and the leftovers of other lives, and the low price tags certainly help me survive on a budget. Last Sunday I went to the Topsfield Fair with some friends, the oldest in America at 191 years. I was able to go last year and see the world’s largest pumpkin and eat some of the world’s best fries—soaked in vinegar. Quite the treat!
Life on campus is just as exciting, though. Some of my girls hosted a movie night on Friday, and so we crammed into a room and laughed and sang our way through Aladdin, coloring books in lap and colored pencils in eager hand. This past weekend was homecoming, and it was wonderful to meet alums and hear their stories, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We were treated on Saturday night to “255 Grapevine,” a variety show featuring faculty, staff and students singing country songs, dueling on pianos, acting in skits and telling stories. My personal favorite was a STOMP-inspired choreographed piece using brooms, volleyballs, whistles and cans to create sound and rhythm. The audience even got to use pencils found in our welcome bags to create the sound of rain! It was a wonderful night, and I hope it happens again next year. Welcome home to Gordon!

On the road

My RA staff and I went on our fall semester staff retreat two weekends ago. One of my RD’s friends owns a farmhouse in rural New Hampshire, so for two glorious days we relaxed, shared parts of our testimonies, played all sorts of games (“Pit,” with its fast-paced Wall Street-trading finesse, is a new favorite) and simply enjoyed each other’s company in front of a real fireplace. And there were s’mores. Lots and lots of s’mores. Plenty of laughs and stomachs full of home-cooked food later, we returned to Gordon rested and happy. It’s good to be back after time away, the people and memories of this place becoming more and more like a second home with each passing day spent here. Today particularly felt like Fall, the crisp, cool air matching the leaves that are beginning to show their true colors in the woods surrounding the campus. Back home in Connecticut this time of the year is marked by the arrival of “leaf peepers,” which are not actually frogs but rather tourists from the lesser-foliaged regions of New York driving up the highway to take in the glorious reds, oranges and yellows to which we in New England have become accustomed. I’m enjoying a piece of homemade zucchini bread as I type this, eagerly welcoming the autumn and hope which always culminates in CHRISTMAS (!!!!) and the excitement that is promised as all creation seems to wait in eager anticipation of new life. Ah, this truly is a wonderful journey. Grace and peace this day.

On making a home

With a rather intense week of Resident Advisor training squarely under my belt and the 2009-2010 school year already well underway, I can proudly say I've been prepped and readied to return to service in Ferrin Hall, my wonderful home for the past two years. Ferrin has served me well, and will serve me well for a third year, I’m sure; the community bathrooms, straight hallways and communal lounges all lend something special to the residence life experience. I'm blessed to be serving with and on a superb staff; the training process has molded us into a close group of friends, and the enthusiasm that flows from their hearts and minds is invigorating.
The resident advisor role is at times a bit nebulous: I am equal parts events coordinator, spiritual mentor, academic advisor, mom, sister, friend...the hats are many, and they change often. But I've been called first and foremost to be faithful to the Lord, to serve Him, and have every other action and word be of the overflow of that love, and I’ve only seen that produce good fruit so far; we’re currently in the throes of an “open door war,” where the RA on charge for the night tallies up the number of open doors on each floor; at the end of the quad the floor with the highest percentage will have earned a tidy sum of money, which my floor hopes to win and put towards floor shirts. My residents have appointed “door police” to patrol the floor to such an end, and so far, I’m excited to report, we’re in the lead. Feeding off such energy is exhilarating, and I’m only more encouraged to love and serve these amazing women. To life!

By way of introduction

My name is Nicole Naude, and I’m excited to serve as an admissions blogger for the 2009-2010 school year! A current resident of Trumbull, CT, this is my third year at Gordon, and so I’m eager to explore this medium of communication from the perspective of one in the middle of my experience here. As my roles on Gordon’s campus are varied, the shape and voice of this blog will likely change from entry to entry. As a Resident Advisor, I serve a wonderful group of 28 students ranging from freshman to senior. My floor is as wonderful as they come, and the girls I serve will undoubtedly become a huge inspiration for my posts. As a Teaching Assistant for a freshman seminar course called “The Great Conversation,” I aim to spark thoughtful conversation and deliberation and questioning about the relationship between Christianity and the world at large. As a junior student of Biology and Philosophy, I seek to engage the world critically and thoughtfully, from the earnest perspective of a follower of Christ eager to understand and learn about His grand creation.
To distinguish me from my fellow bloggers, you might be interested to know that I am an avid Sherlock Holmes fan and have read all of his adventures; he’s proved a worthy companion on many a car ride.
I’ve been asked to provide a sort of thesis or title for this blog, and while I’m apt to want to change this as often as the sun rises (in my typical indecisive fashion), I’ve settled on a verse from Galatians that, hopefully, will be a telling theme for my life this year: “…for in Christ, the only that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Faith expressing itself through love…a good endeavor AND a good title, in my opinion.