up in the air

I'm currently in LaGuardia airport in New York Citaaaaay waiting for my flight to Indianapolis to be called so I can head off to the Au Sable institute (driving to Michigan) to study field biology for a month. I've been chatting to the people around me--a dance company off to St. Paul for a week. They're connecting in Indy to a Chicago flight to do street performances for a few weeks. Airports are strange. At once you are nowhere, with a group of fellow (albeit anonymous) travelers, and yet you could be anywhere--prepared to travel to wherever you want "There" to be. There is a remarkable sense of freedom written into a terminal--the promise of "everywhere."

Yesterday was graduation. For upwards of 300 seniors, it marked entry into that oft-spoken of "real world." Because I was around for Residence Life duties (check-outs, cleaning the residence hall, etc.) I was asked by visitors and other campus drifters my plans for next year. "I don't have to know yet," I say. Because even next year, I don't have to know. As in the airport, I could be nowhere. Or I could be everywhere. Now, or when I graduate, or twenty years in the future.

It's been a good, hard, trying, challenging and amazing year, as most are bound to be if you were to make a list of their landmarks. And it would be easy to see getting on an airplane as an escape, to force myself into something New. But there's been an equipping this year, so that I am prepared to embark on my first-ever domestic flight and my first-ever time flying on my own. I imagine that's the gist of any commencement address and the goal of any speaker--to let graduates know that they have been PREPARED. It's the goal of any beginning, too--so that freshman and senior alike can feel safe up in the turbulent air that is any new experience.

As a variation on Southwest airline's slogan goes-you are now free to move...everywhere.

Peace this season, and godspeed.
Phototaxis is the biological term used to describe the movement of an entire organism to move toward the stimulus of light. I saw evidence of this on Saturday when I went for a hike with my family and dear roommate at nearby World's End, a beautiful set of islands connected by a natural bridge. Trees all over the area had branches pointed upwards, toward the sun and whatever nutrients could be gained from being those few inches closer to the center of our solar system. From a distance we watched the sun set over Boston, only to find out later that a water main had broken and made all the water undrinkable. That didn't matter to us, though, and the sunlight glimmered on the water despite whatever toxins might have been coursing through the city. People seem to function by phototaxis as well--my brother's college was nearby at an ultimate frisbee competition on Saturday. Strange cheers and tie-dyed shirts were all part of the team persona, and though they didn't win there was a charging positivity--the good weather was welcome.

This weekend had more than its share of reunions, which also serve as sources of joy. Those who spent the last year in Oxford came back after being delayed a week by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, and my best friend Hannah arrived after a year spent in San Francisco and Costa Rica. It's always a bit frightening to reconnect with people after such transformative and definitive experiences, but I've been blessed to have friends who are intentional about deepening relationships, even when a year abroad has separated us.

Finals begin this Friday--wish me luck!


"You must be an empty form."

So says Bruce Herman, an art professor at Gordon and one of the keynote speakers at a conference I attended this past weekend. Geared toward students taking titled leadership positions across campus for the upcoming year, Bruce gave his attentive audience a number of other points of advice, but I stopped listening and started thinking after that one. It's not just being EMPTY, as in nothing, useless, space. It's being an empty FORM, having something of substance that is at once moldable, bendable, usable, formable and even breakable. When put in positions of service, as I will be this upcoming year as a Gordon in Lynn intern working with adults with disabilities (newly dubbed by my friend Ellen as "Linterns"), we can't assume we are the all-powerful and all-knowing descending upon the inner-city needy and poor. We are going in to the city and actually into our LIVES with the hope of being a usable and empty and unbiased form.

Is that easy? No. Not at all. Because we know so much about God already, right? We know which jobs he'd put us in. We know what assignments he'd give out. We know those tasks at which we'd succeed. And yet we are often surprised. Even when we feel called, we are surprised. And if we're doing a good work, should we even know? If we are still looking for those "success stories," no matter how few or how small or how humble, are we truly submitting ourselves as empty forms before our God? I think these are hard questions, but good ones as I approach my senior year (I just got my application for graduation--CRAZY!!) and the thought of career and calling. To be doing God's work is a tremendous and frightening task; to be his puppet even more so. But He who holds the strings sees the whole play, and if the grand climax is transcendence and truly knowing God, then maybe the best thing I can do is be an empty form.

*Note to self: take a class with Bruce*

on home and art

I wish I could offer photos of this past weekend, because it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the nature of needingthistobedocumented moments detracts greatly from their significance and removes the viewer a bit from the experience. And there was much to experience this weekend. Friday night just about all of campus crammed into the chapel to watch class representatives dance, sing and act their ways into our laughter, vying for the coveted "Golden Goose." It's a campus quirk, but we've even made MTV news with our acts. The junior class was declared victorious by neutral faculty judges, so there was plenty of reason to celebrate with my peers.

Speaking of celebrating, 21st birthdays, it was my roommate Anna's 21st on Saturday, so we spent midnight at a nearby restaurant with a group of friends (ten loud girls arriving at a restaurant ten minutes before the kitchen closes=priceless. Be nice to your waitresses.). the next day I took Anna into Gloucester, a nearby fishing town (actually the location of the movie "The Perfect Storm") for lunch. We found a Portuguese restaurant and settled in for Bifana and another thing I can't quite remember the name of. DELICIOUS. I think I'd do quite well in Portugal. An art major, I thought she'd love to go to the art studio my floor frequented so often in the Fall, and my friend Dave was more than excited to show us around and update even me on the goings on. He's waiting to hear back from a $28,000 grant, and if he gets it is planning to expand the facilities! There are murals all around, too, testifying to the community's shared sense of struggle and identity that is valued highly enough to be displayed on alleyways and store walls.

We spent the evening at Anna's aunt's house. As much as I love Gordon, I love feeling at home in new places. I've had this conversation with a few people recently. Having moved often and spending the majority of the year in a dorm room that isn't really home makes me wonder what it is that I value and find important. And if I could define the word home it would probably be this: wherever the body of Christ is gathered. To be challenged by those who love the Lord and serve and offer hospitality in His name. We are called to be exiles, but also to find encouragement in our fellow exile. Quite heavy thoughts for a birthday weekend, but let's just say that Anna and I have made our own little dorm room into a home--it is possible:-).

It's a nice day, when you wake up in Disneyland...

Place that song lyric for ten bonus points.

Apologies for the delay between posts; exams got the better of me (although I am now quite the expert on plant survival strategies in harsh environments--ask me something!). But now I am home, at rest and in the middle of Holy Week services. I just finished watching Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, one of the best movies I've seen in years, and am trying to piece it together with my reactions to this Lenten season. Maybe there are no obvious connections. Watch the movie anyway. It has some wonderful thoughts on how to live a good life, and also has a carefully thoughtful approach to dying, with Mr. Magorium having worn out "his last pair of shoes." And the soundtrack? STUNNING.
A friend told me once that it always rains on Good Friday. Well, not this year. This year Good Friday brought with it (at least in Connecticut) a peepshow of sorts with baby leaves poking their little heads out from their respective branches. By the time school lets out in May there should be thick curtains between me and the rest of the forest--I can't wait. It's a beautiful time of year in New England--a redeeming kind of weather. The other day in New Haven (a mere 20 minutes from my home) the temperature--at somewhere around 93--was highest in the nation. Still, what to make of the rainy Good Friday comment? I wonder if we want it to rain, like the Hollywood movie scenes you KNOW are meant to manipulate tears. Does it lessen the weight of such a dark day to have sunlight streaming into our churches while we sing "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?" I don't think so, if our hearts are right, and I hope this season is meaningful in and of itself.
I just know that world, and our God, is not beautiful because we see it in its best light. What a horrid world that would be! As C.S. Lewis writes in That Hideous Strength:

"That's why Camilla and I got married, " said Denniston as they drove off. "We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It's a useful taste if one lives in England."
"How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?" said Jane. "I don't think I should ever learn to like rain and snow."
"It's the other way around," said Denniston. "Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it is you grown up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children - and the dogs?
They know what snow's made for."
"I'm sure I hated wet days as a child," said Jane.
"That's because the grown-ups kept you in," said Camilla. "Any child loves rain if allowed to go out and paddle about in it."
May you love this day's weather--wherever you are, whatever it is. :-)

I believe in miracles

We've been talking about miracles in my philosophy class--those events which so violently oppose the laws of nature we've formulated that they require some sort of supernatural explanation. Some suggest that certain laws can be violated, but only by other laws. For example, the law of gravity be superseded by aerodynamics. A more Christian question might ask whether God's grace supersedes the laws of sin and death, a deeply serious question centered around Christ's death and resurrection. I had lunch with a professor I trust deeply and asked him point blank whether he believes in miracles. "My daughter giving birth was a miracle," he responded after a moment, suggesting that perhaps miracles have been "prepared for," a thoughtful God writing their possibilities into the fabric of time and space, even if we don't understand how they fit into our physics. While that didn't entirely answer my question the way I'd posed it (as a scientific one--the framing of religious questions in scientific language is another conversation), but it did cause me more than a moment's humble pause. I struggle with the typical scientist's ego: I have studied this world enough that I can make assumptions about its behavior, and I know enough of the world's details to understand its grandeur.

*cue smack on the head*

While the definition of "miracle" is necessary (as is any definition when you want to have a thoughtful conversation about its implications), it is debated. Perhaps it requires supernatural explanation. Perhaps they don't happen (indeed, some thoughtful and God-fearing churches have the official stance that miracles were limited to the apostolic age). The mere fact that there are saliences in our world, the mere fact that sometimes things don't happen as we-in-our-wisdom would predict should be so incredibly humbling, and smacks, perhaps, of a God who still smiles when we try to amass all our knowledge and turn it into official canon of biblical proportions.

I was particularly struck by this in a sermon and a small experience I had on Sunday. Again I ventured into Boston to go to Park Street Church, this time with a group of girls from my floor. We were speaking in the car of disabilities, as one of my girls' sisters has severe dyslexia and has struggled for years with learning how to read, something I so flippantly regard as simple. Park Street Church was celebrating Enable Boston Sunday this particular day, a day to remember those in the congregation and greater Boston area who struggle with all sorts of disabilities. One woman gave a testimony, speaking of her son's head injury that has since left him with severe short-term memory loss, an inability to speak, and myriad other supposed "disabilities." Mrs. McLeod, however, spoke to her son's strange interactions with God, telling us stories of finding her son awake at 3 in the morning, praying at the side of his bed. Pastor Gordon Hugenberger then got up and spoke on Ehud, a man disabled in his right hand yet who used his right hand to slay the evil Moabite king (Judges 3 v 12-30). He then pointed out that we all suffer from a certain disability--the disability of sleep. We are all limited by this crazy one third of our lives that we spend asleep. Depriving ourselves of sleep is psychologically damaging at best, fatal at worst. He pointed out the Scripture that says:

Brothers, think of what you were wh
en you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

left the church in a weird mood. Moving forward with my group's lunch plans--a visit to an improvisational restaurant called "Fire and Ice," which lets you watch your (unlimited) choice of raw vegetables, meats, pastas, etc. and sauce be cooked by master chefs on a giant center flat grill. I was waiting for a brunch omelette to be prepared when there was a little commotion beside me. A group of disabled adults from a home in Boston had come to Fire and Ice on a field trip, and the man next to me didn't realize that you're not supposed to mix your sauce with your food before giving it to the chef. It makes the food more flavourful and easier to cook if the sauce is added to the mix toward the end, and so while the chef gently suggested that Tom (the man next to me) hold onto his sauce the next time so he could enjoy an even yummier plate, Tom just couldn't process what was being said to him, and he looked at me with the most sorrowful expression of guilt--what had he done wrong?? And so I gently and more slowly explained what I thought the chef was trying to say. Perhaps he was grateful for my kind voice, or perhaps he was just excited to talk to someone (and show off his nifty ID card:-)), but his genuine appreciation--difficult as it was for him to express in more than a huge smile--was so overwhelming that I had to go to the bathroom to cry for a few minutes.

I think humility is a miracle. I think I tend SO MUCH toward pride and arrogance that any small act of gratefulness toward me that drives me to my modest knees can't be part of the way I naturally function. In all my egoism and smugness as to how much knowledge I've accrued in my short time here, I'm still at the mercy of God, and how much he knows about what I truly care about. That he knows me so well to bless me as he wills and to show me the depths of my sin--I can think of no other word than miracle, natural or otherwise.

Another miracle: the gloriously sunny day we had on Saturday--a trip to nearby West Beach was in order. :-)

rain rain, stay a day

DAY ONE back at Gordon after a marvelous Spring Break involved rain, rain, rain, rain and rain. Trudging around a wet and wild campus could easily plant the idea in my mind to pack up my things and head to sunny California forever, but I think there's something entirely wonderful about a campus full of people all frustrated by the same thing. In a weird way, we're drawn closer together in our apparent discomfort--all umbrellas open, all rainboots on, all puddles avoided and all hairstyles ruined within five minutes of leaving our dorms.

I had to meet with a philosophy professor on one similarly rainy day last semester, and as I am not easily bothered by this sort of weather, we had a wonderful conversation about what he ended up referring to as "insideness," a made-up word (because we're allowed to do that in philosophy) that sees being forced into more intimate spaces as good opportunities to be still on purpose. I think we take stillness and quietness for granted a lot of the time, something I was made quite aware of over break. I decided to forego offers to travel to Florida and other warm places to just be still at home with my family, and it was a wonderful time of relaxation that wouldn't have come with the busyness of travels or crowds; while I'm not averse to those things, and while I do gain most of my energy from interactions with people, it doesn't allow much space for reflection and stillness.

Today in chapel Greg Carmer, our chapel dean, spoke on friendship and the often disinterested approach we take to friendships, seeing sunny weather and easy sailing as vital when it is the things like poignant and intentional questions that offer our friendships the same sort of "insideness" that today's weather does. We were challenged to think about our friendships and the thoughtfulness (or lack thereof) that we grant them, and I personally was grateful to have found some of my best friends here at Gordon. I've gathered around me a group of wonderfully giving and thoughtful seekers, who want to know and be known, and even though there is little sun today, there is joy in the comfort and peace of kindred spirits who seek truth, and God, and love, and even better when we all have to find our comfort in the community of earnest souls.

And so I am grateful for the rain.


I'm soldiering through a horrid sinus infection right now (and in the midst of studying for two mid-terms this week), so this isn't a real post because (1) I sneeze every ten seconds and (2) my eyes are too runny to see the screen (Yes, this is a pity plea. I'm not ashamed:-).), but rather a place holder so I can be held accountable to write about some wonderful things that have been a part of my life recently:

Francis Collins speaking on faith and science at Park Street Church
the Great Power Outage of 2010 and why it was the best thing to happen to Gordon
Ferrin lady RAs sleepover and how awesome I've become at painting nails
Olympic Curling and the Norwegian team's awesome pants
the next place you should go to eat ribs (hint: saddles and PEANUTS)

Grace and peace.
This is just a quick note to let you know that today in lab I had my finger pricked and the blood coated in gold ions (to increase conductivity) and scanned in Gordon's Scanning Electron Microscope (wikipedia has a great little intro to this--don't be ashamed!), and this is the image that came out at 3000 times magnification. You can see red blood cells, the plasma in between, a monocyte and even a couple of white blood cells (the hairy looking one on the right).

Cool, huh? :-)

all the bells and whistles

I had a lovely weekend, full of friends and coffee dates (Panera’s greek salads and ciabatta bread—that I made into Garlic bread—are AMAZING) and movies (The Two Towers) and piano concerts (sigh), and could easily post more fully on any one of those, but instead I want to write about a dream I had last night. I dream often, and most of them are very very strange. One, for example, involved a professor waking me up to give me the answer to one of my deepest questions, one involved a physical plant worker trying to “talk to his daughter” after visiting hours, and another one has involved my chiropractor coming to the Gordon library to talk about the results of X-Rays I had taken on my neck (ok, so a lot of my dreams have been related to Gordon—typical, I suppose:-)). Last night’s was unusual by qualification of something other than simply being bizarre.

The dream took place at my graduation from Gordon (which is called commencement, and which isn’t for another year for me) and involved many people I’ve come to consider intrinsic to my Gordon experience, including classmates, friends that have since graduated, my parents, and Naomi, the wife of my priest. Naomi is particularly important to this dream, as she was the commencement speaker. Sitting in fold-down chairs on the campus quad (where graduations in nice weather take place), those in attendance faced towards the Jenks library and listened to Naomi give a message of encouragement to the graduating seniors. It was a wonderfully sunny day, and Naomi walked in front of us, doling out the typical words of congratulations, and then she stopped talking. Very slowly she bent down by one of the flowerbeds that beautifully decorate the sidewalk in front of the library, and picked a lavender flower which looked something like a cross between a bluebell and a daffodil. Turning back to us she said (and I will try to recall this as verbatim as I can, so please bear with me):

“I’ve often wondered at why God chose to create me as a human. In those moments when I feel acutely aware of Him, by whatever divine gift he deigns appropriate, I long to be an angel, privileged enough to spend day in and day out in God’s presence, and not on this fallen and suffering earth. Instead of seeing God face to face as I’ve longed for my whole life, I’m here, in this world of sin and pain and broken things, and I wish I could see and be seen by God.

“Then I am made to remember that this particular flower exists. It’s called a lute, and when the wind blows through a patch of them they make a musical sound much like bells, and it is beautiful music. I listen, and I know a bit of why I am here and not with the Lord. I am too enthralled by the lutes of this world. I am stunned and awakened by the alarms of this broken earth, and until I can learn to listen to those from the next I am not ready for that place. So God has kept me here to learn to listen, and when I am ready he will draw me near, but until then, the lutes of this world are holding me back from hearing his voice, and his alone. I am not yet ready.”

I looked it up as soon as I woke up: lutes, at least as flowers, don’t exist, I’m afraid. I don’t know why I had this particular dream, or what I’m to do with it (or what you, dear readers, are supposed to do with it), but in talking with soon-to-be-graduates who are struggling with the “five year plan” and the strange tension that is surrendering plans to God while remaining actively involved in the expression of academic ability and passion, I’ve been incredibly aware of the promise of God’s peace, and the great joy that is listening for his voice, and listening hard, and searching for echoes of Heaven even here, even now. I’ll stop soon to avoid preaching, but as we search beyond the shadows and haze of this world, I pray that the hope of knowing God may one day be realized fully, and that we all may be woken by the lutes and alarms of Heaven, and open ourselves up to being made ready by him.

On Being Dust (this one is different)

(Having given up YouTube and Hulu for Lent, I find myself with more time and thoughts than usual, so while I acknowledge the rambling nature of this post, I make no apologies. Perhaps someone will find it challenging and encouraging.)

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a day that (amidst an already poignant Lenten season), inevitably brings with it self-reflection and a challenge to the narcissism and egoism to which I let myself fall subject most, if not all, of the time. When approached thoughtfully, receiving ashes and being told to remember that “you are dust, and to dust you will return” does little for one’s self-confidence, as I already suffer from my fair share of self-inflicted insignificance. Case in point: there's not much interesting literature or art that includes the name "Nicole," and I admit that I'm petty and shallow enough to resent that. There are the classic names, enduring and prominently featured in all the great works and stories of recent Western history, but "Nicole" has somewhat less of an interesting repertoire. Don’t we all cry out for a place in life's grand context? My plain name seems to serve as a crutch for such thinking.

How does this piece of dust respond? My dear friend Madeleine L’Engle would say it has something to do with being named, that I never was meant to be significant in and of myself, that it is only in the eyes of God that I was ever supposed to mean something. Intrinsic to my place within Creation is a unique name, and though I question and fight, it is this simple fact that informs my being. She describes the power of naming so perfectly in “A Wind in the Door” when she says “I name you. I fill you with Naming. Be! Be, butterfly and behemoth, be galaxy and grasshopper, star and sparrow. You matter, you are. Be! Sing with us, dance with us, rejoice with us, for the glory of creation, seagulls and seraphim, angle worms and angel host, chrysanthemum and cherubim. Be! Sing for the glory of the living and the loving the flaming of creation. Sing with us. Dance with us. Be with us. Be!”

C.S. Lewis closes “The Last Battle,” the final chronicle of Narnia, with a journey into a new and restored Narnia, and once again we hear of a voice, a voice more powerful, frightening and exciting than any other: a Namer. Blown in the winds of sin to a new world without such failings, the story’s travelers find themselves in a place eerily similar to the Narnia they’ve just left, the Narnia to which they were told they could never return. Uncle Digory, witness to Narnia’s birth, reflects that “…when Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here…and of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

And so the practice of receiving ashes becomes a reminder that this world is but a shadow, a promise of that to which I will return to what is real and what is holy. Called but for a moment out of sinful winds, God has given me a name, a gift of grace even on the long road to the Crucifixion, and if I've been named, then the appropriate response is one of joy, of love, of being, of great expectation and great anticipation. So I take cues from the stars, and rejoice in being named by my great God: I, Nicole, named and grateful, sing for the glory of the living and the loving, the flaming of creation. Though I am but a shadow and dust at best, glorious Easter is ever in view, and my head is caught between hanging low in deserved shame and glancing upwards in joyful hope. So further up and further in I journey, invited and called, this named piece of dust ever moving toward something real. Peace this Lenten season.

peace-and love-be the journey

On Friday night all of Gordon campus got dressed up and hunkered down in the chapel to watch our classmates' video sub-missions to the snazziest event of the year: Gordon Globes. A highlight of the year, we all look forward to donning our fanciest and walking up the red carpet-draped steps, to take our seats as we are treated to the amalgams of creative talent of our peers. This year was no exception, and my favorite--and the winner!--was "Ring By Spring," a parody of the movie "The Ring" chronicling eighth semester seniors and the stigma of engagements-by-necessity. Others included covers of a Lady Gaga song and a freshman's handbook to first-year acclimation at Gordon--aka, living at Gordon "Like a Scot."

Sunday my roommate Anna, our friend Anya and I drove into Boston (oh, I LOVE that city!!) to attend Park Street Church and just enjoy the sidewalks and bustling city feel. (A word to the hopeful city driver: the parallel-parking skill must be refined before driving through Boston is attempted. Fortunately that was a talent I acquired early in my driving career:-).) Boston, with its beautiful brownstone buildings and ornate lamposts makes for the perfect artists' destination, and though I am not particularly gifted in the visual arts, there is so much to take in, and walking through its streets is invigorating, especially when flanked by joyful friends all eager to engage in the city's subtleties. After a wonderful time of worship we found our way to a burrito place called “Boloco” which was AMAZING and has 100% corn-product soda cups. Seriously, the cups are entirely compostable. It’s a wonderful testament to stewardship. Sunday also happened to be Valentine’s Day, and regardless of one's view of the holiday, be it overly-commercialized or a symbolic celebration of everlasting love, it colors the way we look at those around us, at least for the day, and for me life never fails to seem more joyful when everything around shouts of love, one way or another. Elderly couples holding hands while skating on Frog Pond, younger couples pushing strollers through the park and children and tourists eagerly taking pictures of themselves at every supposed "landmark" all stood testament to the opportunity to remind each other of their love and hope for more years of the same.

Returning to Gordon happy and full of my delicious Caesar chicken burrito, I was greeted by around 200 post-its decorating my bedroom walls, some with Bible verses on them, otherw with inspiring or just plain silly quotes. Not all are related to love, but all were posted in love by the girls on my floor, and I’ve decided to keep them up for as long as the sticky tack allows. Perhaps no flowers awaited me, but there is love all around—in a conversation with my parents, in a day spent with dear friends, and in a floor that left me a lifetime of encouraging notes. As with many things these days, my opinions on Valentine's Day are not yet fully fleshed out, but I do know what I wrote on the valentines I gave out this year: I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself. (Psalm 89:2)

And yes-that is a leopard-print Snuggie on my bed. :-)

parsley, sage, rosemary (and time)

Back in Connecticut it's about a twenty minute drive from my house to Stew Leonard's, touted as the world's largest dairy store. It's quite an experience, with animatronic cows greeting shoppers in the bakery and dancing bananas singing the praises of a fruit-filled diet, all while the masses make their way through the maze of aisles--my personal favorite attraction is the huge wall of pistachios. Just down the road from Stew's, however, a small and markedly more quiet store attracts its own fair share of visitors. Penzey's Spices is set up like a smaller and specialized Stew's, with little showcases of baking and cooking spices and flavors decorating the wood-paneled visage of a small country store, with samples available for scent-tests. One of my favorite stores, I was delighted to find another location in nearby Arlington, MA, and on Saturday my friend Kim and I drove down to visit the storehouse of goodness. We encountered vanilla sugar (and a recipe to make cocoa pancakes), Chili3000:the chili of today!, Chili9000:the chili of tomorrow!, and saffron, which as the most expensive (and hard to harvest) spice available goes for $114.89/quarter of an ounce. After we were satisfied with our purchases (I got "pasta sprinkles" and "hint of mint hot chocolate") we journeyed into Cambridge, settling on a smoothie place to quench our thoughts. Much as I love Gordon, it is nice to be reminded that the world is a very big place, and so very accessible. This was again affirmed on Sunday morning when I went into Boston again with some of the girls on my floor to visit an Orthodox church that one of my girls attends every Sunday. What I've been learning about my relationship with the church is that I do actually love tradition and history, and this church, with icons of saints of the faith decorating the walls and a service based so closely on the eucharist, was a beautiful witness to the enduring faith of the servants of God. I also love cities, and to worship with such a diverse group of people all incredibly accommodating of the strangers who didn't know any of the melodies to the prayers made me so happy to live within such easy access of a close-knit community of people who love God.
Not that I'm unable to find that here at school; my roommate and I just got back from a Ben & Jerry's run, and now we sit content and full of good conversation.

This world is a sweet one.

how do you feel about traveling?

I spent four hours on Skype on Saturday, catching up with friends in places as far away as England and Illinois. It is a strange balance, learning how to be present where life has planted you and take full advantage of new opportunities while paying heed to past relationships and humbly recognizing that the past and future are inextricably linked. Apart from waxing emotional, it was truly good time learning what the lives of Gordon friends abroad entail. Speaking of which, I had lunch today with my friends Peter, Jenna and Austin who have all spent time abroad recently as part of Gordon programs. Jenna and Austin studied in Costa Rica while Peter spent time in Uganda. All had stories of how their lives had been enriched and how their senses of academic endeavor had spread so much further than mere major. It got me excited for my own adventure, which, while not as international, still promises to be an amazing experience. The Gordon Biology department as well as other Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) schools sends students to the Au Sable Institute's Great Lakes campus in Mancelona, Michigan. I'll be flying out the last day of school and spending the month of May and the first part of June in Michigan taking a class called "Field Natural History," which will be an awesome study in reading fields and forests as well as general knowledge regarding reptiles, birds and other animals. My best friend Kaitlin is taking the class, too, and we're both chomping at the bit to get our galoshes on and explore the woodlands of upper Michigan. I've never been further west than Pennsylvania, so I'm really looking forward to traveling a bit more toward the middle of country. I bought my ticket this past week and am already itching to put my environmentalist skills to the test. There was plenty else to keep me busy this past week; a lecture on Tuesday on "the Philosophy of Rock and Roll" complemented a discussion in my Fine Arts class on what makes things beautiful, and discussions with friends about the image of God paired up perfectly with a discussion in Bible Study at my church on what the movie "Avatar" says about the presence of God. It's been so mindblowing to see how supposedly distinct areas of my life have found such tangible and clear intersections. I love when the things I study in one class become fodder for another; it gives my schooling such a large feel, and a good one, because I never want to stop learning, and here (and this past week) I've been especially excited by that. Keep growing wiser, friends, wherever you are...

On an unrelated note, I'm waiting until it gets a little warmer so I can go running in my favorite purchase of the fall semester:

flakes ahoy!

I'm not sure what exactly counts as an irresponsible start to a semester, but the first few days back at school always involve wanting to spend more time with friends than books. On the first day of classes my roommate Anna and I went out to breakfast at Stephy's, a local and DELICIOUS little diner, which was a wonderful way to kickstart the semester. Yes, classes began on Wednesday, and so did Nerts Nights. A variation on Dutch Blitz that is played with normal 52-card decks, my floor took to competitive matches with unparalleled enthusiasm. Mixing seven or eight decks and bringing our most intimidating game faces to the ring, we don't keep score, but we still throw our cards into the middle of our energetic circles as if our very lives depend on our wins. My floor acquired three new members for the Spring, as we had some dearly loved residents leave for study abroad experiences. Anna, Christine and Angela are all art majors, and a study trip to Panera on Saturday found us splitting a loaf of ciabatta bread and discussing the role of Christianity in art and culture (I'm reading a book called "But Is It Art?" for a class and was eager to dissect its theories with experts in the field), and whether we excuse some things "for the sake of art" or whether everything is truly permissible. I love good conversation and try to stir it up whenever I can, and to find such ready conversant spirits was a wonderful surprise. I've also caved into a coffee-drinking habit, and the gift of a French Press for Christmas ensures that I have plenty of wonderfully-flavored
drinks to offer visitors, of which I've had many these past few days. Last night, Sunday, a huge snowstorm started to lend its cold flakes to the campus, and some friends and I ran around the quad, lobbing snowballs at each other and eating as much as we could. School is out on
Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so my floor is spending part of the night at a nearby furniture store, Jordan's, which also houses an ice cream place and a water lights show. Massage chairs and ice cream--a perfect start to the week.

Night at the Wills': Attempt at Mad Gab

It's become an annual event--the sleepover at Kaitlin Wills' house. Even though we're growing older and supposedly more mature, we take joy in our ritual, grateful for the guaranteed "get together," which is actually how we phrase it when explaining to curious onlookers at the grocery store. Once every winter break, as we've done for the past three years, my friends Meagan, Christina and I lug too much over to Kaitlin's house and blow up air mattresses and take over her family's TV room. Armed with bags of Smartfood, Ruffles and bottles of Diet Coke, we sat under fleece blankets and hooked Kaitlin's laptop up to a projector and huge speakers and watched "Up," "The Proposal" and "Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian"--all on the makeshift silver screen of her family room wall. "Up" was the best movie I'd seen over the summer, so I was glad to revisit the commentary on growing older with some kindred spirits. "The Proposal" was actually filmed around Gordon, so my friends (who had visited me at Gordon over the summer) and I squealed in excitement as we pointed out places in Rockport and nearby Singing Beach where we had walked just months after the camera crews had left. In between movies we battled it out over MadGab, saying phrases faster and faster and in higher and higher pitches until answers came to us out of nowhere--for some reason not keeping score makes us more competitive... In the morning a snowstorm hit our area, and Kaitlin, whose dad partly runs a plowing company, took us all out on a blustery adventure, clearing parking lots and driveways before heading home. That night I decided to walk around my neighborhood, and was amazed at how clear the night sky was so soon after it had dumped its every ounce on us. The stars were out in full force, and I started thinking about this coming semester. It will most likely be my last as an RA; as a senior I am hoping to move into a wonderful apartment and have a kitchen with which to welcome people, so it will be bittersweet. But my personality remains excited
to invest in whatever comes my way regardless--be it museum exhibits that come alive, or simply growing up.

The picture to the right is of one of my cats, Brutus, quite incorrectly using his playhouse. He is a very strange cat.

vonderful goot friends

I realized this past week that I've been incredibly blessed in my friendships, this break proving one full of love and laughter, two of the most important things in my little world. Some snippets of how I spend my time:
I was sitting at home on Wednesday night when my best friend Kaitlin called with an invitation to use a gift card to go go-karting. Bored, I eagerly accepted the invitation, and joined her family and some friends in an impromptu drag-racing challenge. We drove to a race course a little ways away and found ourselves shaking in our kart seats as we prepared to race on a very slippery indoor track, and ten minutes after the green flag let us begin we stumbled back out of our tanks with shaky legs, all of our party having spun out multiple times--each spin-out warranting the fabled "black flag" that noted our sins--and grateful to have survived. Drag racing on the Utah salt flats has now been inked onto my bucket list.Thursday night some of my best friends and I co-hosted a New Year's Eve party. We cooked spaghetti and meatballs, blew up balloons (I made mine too large, and so every so often one would unexpectedly pop, scaring us out of our minds), and chatted until 1:00 am when we decided to take a walk in the freshly fallen snow. I've never been much into New Year's celebrations, but I never find time moving too slowly when enjoying good food and good company.
Friday evening I went to coffee with a friend at a local Starbucks. I had never been to this particular one before, but it is now my favorite, with a second floor full of comfy couches facing a humongous window that gave us a front-row seat to a gorgeous sunset. As we talked about God and life--she gave birth to a beautiful girl in March--we found great joy in caramel mochas and good friendship.
Saturday afternoon my mom decided to recreate The Olive Garden, a local Italian restaurant specializing in soup/salad/breadstick combos. She invited over some of my favorite people--the Garretts, a wonderful family we've known for years--and we eagerly dug into carrot and clam chowder soups, catching up on the year that had passed since our last joint shindig. While the adults (I still absent myself and claim "child" status at times) chatted, my brother, sister and I engaged Stephen and Bryan, the two Garrett kiddos, in a heated game of Dutch Blitz, and while Stephen beat us soundly in both of the rounds we played, the competitive nature we share made for a gloriously fun experience.

May your breaks bring similar joy, and may you find love in similarly simple places.