Friday, July 1, 2011

Thanks, Heidi!

I can't wait to leave on my mission adventure. But I can because I love my family and friends that I will be parting from for a while. In regards to blogging, however, I'm hoping it will get me on some sort of schedule where my posts won't be so random. At least that's the goal for the next blog.

Today's goal is to give a huge shoutout to my friend Heidi. She is a much more motivated blogger than myself as you can see here. I've been so inspired by her blog that I've been a little crafty myself lately.

First, I took her advice and bought some cardstock and made these cards:

I also pre-decorated the envelopes with stickers and stamps, but they're kind of boring so no picture. I've also made envelopes out of magazine pages before, and really need to start getting back into the habit of that, because they're awesome.

Last night I went out with my two BFFs from high school and one of their guy friends to celebrate Mary passing her defense and getting her Master's degree. I thought this was an occasion for flowers, but because I am trying to save money for my upcoming world travels I was thinking of something creative and thoughtful that I could put together at home.

This was the result:

Folded Origami Lilies!

I even glued them into green straws as stems:

This was the finished bouquet:

I think they were a success for a first time Origami flower folder. So in conclusion, Thanks, Heidi for inspiring me. You're awesome :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Evil makes my tummy hurt.

I re-watched The Diary of Anne Frank over the past couple of days. The one done by ABC several years ago. From the moment they were taken from the Annex, and even more so from the moment Anne and Mr. Frank were separated upon stepping off the train my tummy hurt. Literally.

Although I was feeling completely outraged at what was happening on the screen I was even more upset knowing that there is still evil going on right now. I was only watching one depiction of it.

It made me start to really think about what I've signed up for for the next 3 years. (If you haven't heard I've been accepted as a Mission Intern through GBGM. You can find more information about the program here.) Since it is a social-justice ministry program I know I'll be working in some way with people who are working toward social justice. Which means I will be working on the opposite side of some kind of evil. Why shouldn't unfair housing issues be any less angering to us than genocide? Evil is evil is evil, is it not?

Some of the questions that came up were things like "What kind of program might I be working with?" "What if I have to face an oppressor and completely lose it?" "Will I even be able to relate to the people I'm supposed to be helping (I've never felt all that oppressed...)?" "What if there are children involved, will I just want to cry all the time?"

It's a big deal. But then I remember I'm going to be trained. And I remember that the world isn't overtaken by evil, that there is a good side. I remember that the reason I wanted to watch Anne Frank in the first place is because I just finished reading The Freedom Writers Diary There are people making a difference. I hope I'm about to become one of them.

On a more fun and exciting note, I also realized this week that I have brothers and sisters all over the globe. I sat at a table last Thursday or so with Franzi from Germany on my left and Kate from Thailand on my right. Franzi was here as an exchange student my junior year of high school and is visiting for a few weeks during one of her school breaks. Kate is a current exchange student finishing up her year here and is living with the same wonderful woman who hosted Franzi.

As I sat there the three of us talked about cultural differences and similarities. I watched as Kate asked Franzi if it was ok for her to eat with her fingers and Franzi as Kate if it was ok for her to use her knife. We talked about the silly things Americans do, how Kate's year here has been, what Franzi remembers most about her year here. It was so enjoyable that I actually lost track of the conversation at one point because I was thinking abou thow international my afternoon seemed to become.

So inconclusion I guess that I would have to say that although I am saddened by the injustices that I know have gone on and will continue to go on in the world they move me to action. That I am very blessed to have so many friends around the globe and that I am anxious yet very much excited about what the next 3 years will bring.

Franzi and I after WWHS Graduation.

P.S. Once I find out where I'm going with GBGM I will be starting a new blog and/or website. Check back for details.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

4 Months Later...

So about 4 months ago I promised 3 posts on the recurring themes popping up in my life. I only wrote about one. Unfortunately I don't have any intention of actually writing three seperate posts, mostly because I know I'll never get around to the third, so I guess two will have to suffice. But on the bright side it means those of you reading will get LOTS of information on what's been going on in my life lately.

First things first:

The next two things I planned to write on were 1) Matthew 25, the sheeps and the goats passage and how "Christians"* need to be able to live with other "Christians" as well as those who are not. And 2) the quote that goes something like "Your are ment to live where your greatest passion meets the world's greatest need."

As for #1
The Matthew 25 passage just keeps coming up. Well at least it came up a lot in Nov/Dec and now that the 30 Hour Famine for my youth group is this weekend it's come up again. The passage is all about the sheep and the goats and how God will seperate them. It's also the passage about when I was hungry you gave me something to eat, I was thristy and you gave me something to drink, etc. And how if you did any of these things for "the least of these" you actually did them for God Himself.

I don't remember the exact quote from the book I'm reading through, but the author said some very profound things about how although we will be seperated in the end, while we are here we must live together (the sheep and the goats that is). I really liked that because I had also just watched Amish Grace which is a beautiful story of forgiveness but did not like the idea that the Amish were living completely seperated from the rest of their surrounding community. (I really don't have a huge issue with Amish people, please don't read to much into this. The movie really just got me thinking about how I should live in this world.) It made me reflect on myself and my values and how I want to live. I came to the conclusion that I don't want to be sectioned off from other people. I want to get to know people, I want to help them, I want to be able to be there for all people. I believe that that is what I and all people who believe are called to do.

In December I also went on a few dates with a guy who was a self proclaimed atheist. We had fun, it didn't go anywhere, but we enjoyed each others company and had some good discussions. If I were still in high school I would have NEVER gone on a date with someone who didn't have the same faith values I do. However I learned I could have fun and although in the long run and in my heart of hearts wish to finally end up with someone with the same faith values as me I didn't need to completely shut out the option of those who don't. It was a good growth experience for me.

The moral of this tale, in short, is that the idea of being able to live with all people whether they believe the same things I do or not has finally settled into not only my head but my heart as well. God can do the dividing when it needs to be done, but until then I am meant to live with all people and strive to live my life and serve God to the best of my ability no matter what.

Now, thought #2 (which I guess is technically thought 3)
The idea that "you are meant to live where your greatest passion meets the worlds greatest need."

I love this idea. Too many people I think believe that to truly be serving God you have to be completely out of your comfort zone, be willing to do things that you don't necessarily think you are good at and work where God tells you to no matter what. However this idea is that, yes, God WILL call you. And He may call you out of your comfort zone. You may be equipped by him to do things you never thought you could. But at the end of the day you are called to serve where your greatest passion lies.

For someone who loves camp and the outdoors this is a wonderful thought. For years I thought summer camp was just something fun to look forward to when school was out. Then I decided to major in recreation in college and was bombarded with people telling me there was no livlihood to me had from such a career path. Well I am here to tell you that I truly believe that people need to get outside more. I wish church people would read the creation story again and realize that God is not only a Father but a CREATOR and that He created nature and wants us to enjoy it. I want to help people learn how to take care of our world. I think the world needs to learn to be more responsible with what we've been given and thus my greatest passion meets with what I see to be one of the world's greatest needs. Voila!

*I put "Christian" in quotation marks because I am really trying to not refer to myself as a Christian anymore. Not because I have stopped believing in God and Jesus or gone off and started my own thing, but becuase I've found that that term holds a lot of negative feelings for a lot of people. I don't want to immediately have people write me off or be concerned that I'm going to judge them when they find out my religious affiliation. At points I have started saying I'm a follower of The Way, in reference to the story of Paul when he was still Saul and how he said that he would kill anyone who was a follower of The Way. There are a few other prospective terms, but I haven't really found one that I really like yet.

What does all of this mean for me?

Well it means that I started thinking really hard back in the fall about what I really wanted to be doing with my life. Was I truly happy where I was? Did I think I was following God fully? Was I on the right path to getting to where I ultimately want to be someday?

The answer was a little bit of yes and no all mixed together.

I know that the past 2 years I have been where God wanted me to be. The children and the youth I serve in Eaton are great. I would have never put myself there. We've come along way together to build a great program, and they even took their first mission trip last summer. However I felt that perhaps God was now calling me to a different place.

After much prayer and introspection and conversations with amazing friends and family I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was time to start looking for something else.

So I started applying to many camp jobs and then found a 3 year mission program through the United Methodist Church.

Right now I am finishing up at the church who has recieved my notice and will be there through the end of April. Then I will go back to camp for the summer and be the Program Director, a position I have wanted for a while.

I also just recieved word that I've been invited to New York to interview for said Mission Program. (VERY EXCITED I AM.) If I get into the program I will be placed abroad for 18 months with a faith-based social justice organization and then placed for 18 months with a faith-based social justice organization here in the U.S.

My long, long term goal is to eventually find a way to merge my passion for recreation/nature with my passion for serving others. I think that a long-term mission experience will be invaluable on my way to doing that. Mission trips that incoporate camping/adventure elements is just one possibility. We shall see what we shall see I suppose.

The exciting part of all of this is that I finally just let go. I took some giant leaps of faith in applying for various positions and am very excited/anxious to see where the next adventure is going to be.

I'm also greatful that I am getting both of my feet operated on and healed NOW so that when I do find this next great adventure I will be ready to run, jump, play, hike, climb, walk and dance relatively PAIN FREE.

It almost feels symbolic to me to have my feet corrected right before this next adventure, it's like they are being prepared to "be the feet of Jesus." Not that they couldn't be before (or haven't been), but this way they won't hurt as much. Maybe it's just me being silly, but the timing seems just about perfect.

Hope you made it all the way through. Even if you didn't I feel better that I've gooten that all out. Whew.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, November 26, 2010

On Earth.

Alright, here it is - the first of my three promised posts. I hope you who read this did not expect these to come in any kind of timely manner. Because of course this one has not, and neither will the other two if I'm any guesser. And, knowing myself pretty well, it's safe to say they won't. I would apologize, but I just don't feel that bad. haha. Anyway, here it goes.

My mom has a friend who is ordained in the Methodist church, not the United Methodist church. She chose the Methodist church because she knew that she probably wouldn't get ordianed by the UMC. Or at least that's how I understand it. She figured she wouldn't get ordained because she has an interesting theology. She doesn't believe in heaven and hell. She believes these two places are what we make of our lives here on earth. I'm not going to say I necessarily agree, but it is quite an interesting concept to me.

I've said before that I think that heaven is "just like earth, but without the stupid." I say this because, really, I like life quite a lot. I realize that I have been blessed beyond measure, and that others are not so fortunate. However there are many who, even in the worst circumstances, seem to enjoy life a lot as well. For years I've had this idea that heaven won't be all that much different than here, but it'll be a whole heck of a lot more safe and less stressful. Of course I've never been to heaven, so I can't say for sure.

Recently the phrase "on earth as it is in heaven" has been popping up in my life. In the high school Bible Study I lead, in my thoughts when I'm driving, in the book I'm currently reading (The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns), just to name a few. With this thougth stuck in my head it's taken me back to thinking about my mom's friend and her idea that heaven may be on earth, it just depends on what you make of it. In looking at that idea in light of the Lord's Prayer I have to say I think she may not be too far off. We really are supposed to strive to make earth "like it is in heaven."

I'm now going to share the section of the book The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns that is found on pages 54-57. You really all should go and find this book and read it. I'm not even a third of the way through and I love it. Of course I can only read a chapter at a time because I have to spend 3 to 4 days digesting everything, but that's the mark of a truly great book in my opinion. Anyway, here it is:

Isaiah 58

The following passage from Isaiah is almost breathtaking in its splendor, its vision of God's kingdom, and what that vision might look like manifested in the lives and communities of His people. Written in the seventh century BC, Isaiah's book was addressed to a people in captivity, a chastened people who had been brutally conquered by Assyria as God's punishment for centuries of unfaithfulness and idolatry under a succession of corrupt kings. They were a nation at the end of their rope, desperately trying to "get right with God." Yet God juded their attempts at holiness to be shallow and insincere. They were just going through the motions of faithfulness - by praying, fasting, holding religious observances and cerermonies, and so on. God first derided their hypocrisy and then cast a soaring vision of what true faithfulness would look like:

Shout it aloud, do not hod back.
Raide your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
"Why have we fasted," they say,
"and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?" (vv. 1-3)

God here acknowledged that the people appeared to be seeking His will and His presence. Their self-image was that of a nation "that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God." They even "seem[ed] eager for God to come near them." In fact, they were actually a bit angry with God, who appeared to be ignoring their fasting, worship, and prayers. But God saw through their veneer of religiosity.

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD? (vv. 3-5)

Yes, God was wise to Israel's superficiality. On the surface, they may have looked godly. But they hadn't changed their underlying behavior. God is never satisfied with rituals and liturgies when the hearts of His people remain corrupt. So He suggested in this passage something that ought to stun our own beliefs about prayer - that because of their hypocrisy, He would not even listen to their prayers! We take it as foundational that God will always listen to our prayers, but this passage suggests that we should not expect God to listen to prayers offered by insincere hearts. So, if God is not pleased with man's prayers and veneration, what does please Him?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to lose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (vv. 6-7)

These words describe a people and a society characterized by justice, fairness, and a concern for the poor. They portray not just a personal ethic but also a community ethic. The reference to "break[ing] every yoke" suggests that any system, law, or practice that is unjust must be broken - whether personal, social, political, or economic. This sounds a lot like what I described earlier as the "whole gospel," the good news inherent in a kingdom based on the character of God rather than of men. And for this kind of kingdom community, a people whose actions demonstrate this level of authentic personal and social change, God offers this amaazing promise:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say; Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. (vv. 8-11)

What a promise! These words requre a little explanation. God will delight in His people when they obey Him. When the hungry are fed, the poor are cared for, and justice is established, He will hear and answer His servants' prayers; He will guide them and protect them, and they will be a light to the world. This is a vision of God's people transforming God's world in God's way. There is no hole in this gospel. This is what Jesus ment when He prayed, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Charity, equity, and mercy are the marks of the kingdom of the Messiah, and Christ wanted it to begin on earth.
Later in Jesus' public ministry, even John the Baptist began to doubt that Jesus was actually the Messiah, so he sent some of his own followers to Jesus for reassurance. they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" (Luke 7:20).
Jesus answered by listing the signs that heralded the coming of the good news (the Messiah): "go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (v. 22). Jesus encouraged John by pointing to the tangible evidence of the coming of God's kingdom through Himself-the Messiah.
If we are to be part of this coming kingdom, God expects our lives - our churches and faith communities too - to be characterized by these authentic signs of our own transformation: compassion, mercy, justice, and love - demonstrated tangibly. Only then will our light break forth like the dawn, our healing quickly appear, and our cries for help be answered with a devine Here am I.

Wow. How great would it be if everyone did just that - showed their faith in tangible ways? Don't get me wrong, I think most people do in small ways, but what if we all did it just a little bit bigger? I really want to spend some time thinking about how I should change my life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to strive toward a life more like the one described above.

I also find the thought that if God finds you insincere He won't listen to your prayers. Something else I've thought about a lot about since reading this passage. I'm always afraid that even if I think I'm sincere I'm not. What is the defining difference?

What if earth really was like heaven? Certainly sounds like a good way to try and live to me. This is something I will continue to think about and chew on. And I'll definitely be looking into careers where I can implement this. Richard Stearns is definitely making me want to work for World Vision. Of course there's still Play for Peace and other organizations of the like. So many options!

Monday, November 15, 2010

You know God's trying to teach you something when...

Ideas, thoughts, and other things start showing up in your life in multiple places.

Sometime when I'm more awake I hope to write 3 entries on the three things that seem to be coming up in multiple places. They are:

- The phrase "on earth as it is in heaven" from the Lord's prayer
- Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats passage
- This quote "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." -Fred Buechner

Hopefully they will be entries worth your time to read. They've certainly be ideas worth taking over all of my thoughts for the last few weeks of my life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mission Trip Report.

I wrote this letter last week to the members of the committee that gave my youth group a grant for our mission trip. Rewriting details of the trip reminded me what an awesome week that was.

To whom it may concern:

Words cannot possibly describe how thankful I am that the First Presbyterian youth group was a recipient of one of the Northminster Mission Grants this past summer. I am a first time Christian Education Director and although I knew that taking the youth on a mission trip was something I desperately wanted to do, I had next to no clue how to go about it.
I began planning the trip early in the year but seemed to hit a lot of speed bumps along the way, organizations that were too expensive, trip logistics being changed without notice, parents who were unsure about the trip, and a lack of chaperones just to name a few. Another large hindrance was the fact that this trip was planned after the church budget had been set for the year, so students would have to pay out-of-pocket for the trip and fundraise most of the funds.
In the spring we held several fundraisers, but none of them seemed to bring in more than 200 dollars at a time, and many students and parents were expressing concern that they would not be able to afford the trip, no matter how much they wanted to go. Fortunately another Christian Ed. Director within the presbytery informed me about this grant and gave me the information to apply. On a whim, without knowing what to expect, I applied.
As I'm sure you can guess I was ECSTATIC when I received a phone call telling me that we had been approved for a $1,500 grant. I've never won the lottery, but that day it sure felt like I had. We used that money to assist all of the youth going on that trip, making the total cost of our weeklong trip $70 a person.
On June 20, 2010 I loaded 7 youth, 2 other chaperones, myself, and all of our luggage into a 15-passenger rental van and we headed off to Ronceverte, West Virginia for First Presbyterian's FIRST ANNUAL Youth Mission Trip. We arrived at Ronceverte Presbyterian Church at about 3pm. We had about 2 hours to get settled in before jumping feet first into the week. Their Vacation Bible School - our main project - began at 5 that evening.
Each evening Sunday-Thursday we assisted with their Vacation Bible School. Our students did everything from helping with crews of children to taking main roles in the Bible Story presentation every night. Since Ronceverte is located in a very impoverished area of West Virginia Ronceverte Presbyterian's VBS was a way for them to reach out into the community to minister to many children who were not members of their congregation. They served a full dinner as a part of their program, not only to help our group, but to make sure each of the children who came would get at least one warm meal each day they participated in the program. Having to interact with the children of Ronceverte definitely opened up the eyes of our students and put the luxuries they enjoy every day into perspective.
On Monday morning our group was taken on a hike by a Ronceverte native who taught us about the area and history of the town. Tuesday through Thursday mornings were spent at a variety of locations. The morning projects we worked on consisted of: Helping Linda, a member of Ronceverte Presbyterian with some home repairs and yard work (Linda has some developmental disabilities), volunteering at the local Women's Domestic Violence Shelter and cleaning at the local food bank.
Each of these projects provided our students with more eye-opening experiences. Every day they had something new they wanted to discuss or an epiphany about how different life was for most of the people of Ronceverte than it is for their families in Eaton, OH. They also made fast friends with everyone they met throughout the week, especially the children at Vacation Bible School.
On our last full day in West Virginia we went to ACE Adventure Resort and had a full day of whitewater rafting down the New River. Even on our "fun day" I saw growth in our students. Our group was asked to split between two rafts in a group of 3 and a group of 7. The youth decided to pile all into one raft, leaving us adults to fend for ourselves. They worked together as a team, listened to their raft guide and supported each other throughout the day. A few of our students jumped off of "jump rock," a rock about 30 feet tall, even those who are afraid of heights. A week or so after our trip I even received a Thank-You card from the raft guides on that trip thanking us for such an awesome day on the river. I've rafted with that company numerous times before and have NEVER had that happen.
By the end of the week my group was already discussing the possibility of returning to Ronceverte next summer. Many have stayed in touch with the pastor of Ronceverte and other members of the church through the social networking site, Facebook. Just moments before we rolled out of town they asked if they could deliver all of our left over breakfast and lunch food to one of the groups of children they had met earlier in the week.
When we returned to Eaton all 7 youth piled out of the van all smiles and laughter, bubbling to their families about the week they had just had. We returned Saturday evening and on Sunday morning the youth took over the morning worship service in order to witness to the congregation about the mission trip. 4 or 5 of the students spoke during 3 different "reflection" times which took the place of a normal sermon. A few talked about what they felt like before the trip, being nervous and not knowing what to expect. A couple described to the congregation what we did on the trip, detailing all of our work projects and what it felt like to be in such an impoverished area. Finally 2 of the youth stood up and told the congregation what they planned to do with the experience now that they were back home, they blew me away by saying that they were planning to start a service organization right in Eaton. The 2 of them said that they realized on the trip that everything they had done there (cleaning, working with kids, volunteering at the food bank) they could do right in their own town.
Since we returned home our youth volunteered to help with our own Vacation Bible School, which happened to be the same program, the 2 who wanted to start a service organization have done so, and the 7 youth who went on the trip have become some of the closest friends you'll ever see. Happily, their excitement to hang out with their church friends has spread to many of our other youth. Some of them have even begun planning youth events by themselves and then ask for them to be placed on the calendar. We've also begun a Sunday Night Youth Program which is steadily growing in number and our mission projects have doubled since last year.
The momentum that this youth program has gained from one week in West Virginia is incredible. I definitely credit much of that to the grant we received, which made the trip possible in the first place. A million and one THANK YOUs to those of you who made it possible.

In HIS service,
Katie Steele

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joining Journeys

Last Wednesday was the 2nd gathering of "Faith Cafe," the Bible Study that my high school students and I are working through this semester. The course comes with a DVD with different clips on it. Last week's clip was an interview with Dr. Larry Crabb.

During the course of his interview he said something that really hit me. He was talking about how most of us don't go to a professional counselor when we need to talk to someone, we go to a friend. He talked about how there's usually some desire on the part of the listener to fix the problem of the speaker.

He then made the point that "we don't need to be in the business of fixing problems, we need to be in the business of joining journeys."


I really like that. He also talked a lot about his desire to see the church - i.e. REGULAR PEOPLE step up to the plate and join the journeys of other REGULAR PEOPLE. That's not exactly super hard homework.

It's made me think this week about how many people have joined my journey and how many journey's I've joined. Lots, in other words. I only hope that I've been a good addition to most people's journeys, I for one feel incredibly blessed by all the people who have been placed into mine.