James, a Slave

People keep asking me what I’ve done through the week, and my response is always an embarrassed, “nothing much,” but, honestly, I’m in the rest phase of my sabbatical, and I’m sleeping in as often as possible, going to bed early, and not feeling guilty about catching up on my reading list.

I’m still doing other things too – like tons of squats as assigned by my physio. My butt is sore all the time now which is largely celebrated because that means I can feel anything at all in muscles that spent time disconnected from my brain for a couple months post injury. I didn’t have any extraordinary advances through this week, but I was faithful in getting out of the house to walk each day and have been doing the electro-stimulation every night since I got here. I’ve also had some great interactions with new people who kindly want to get to know me. There are a lot of little things that add up to “full” days as I spend time resting and reflecting on what’s gone down in my life the last five years.

While I can’t give an exciting update on the physical side, I can say that the reflection time has given me a lot of opportunity to celebrate what God has used me to do. I very much want my life to be a testimony of God’s good works done through me. A couple of my former students even offered me some kind words about the impact I had as their teacher, and I treasure their words. To be completely honest, I’m often insecure about the impact I’m having because it’s “part time” hours compared to many of my energetic coworkers, so the reminders I have actually been used effectively in ministry is incredibly meaningful.

If you’re inclined to pray along with me this week, I’m still asking God to work new growth in my endurance and to reduce my soreness. I’m also looking to see God open my eyes more to the ways I’ve been effective in ministry so that I can capitalize on my strengths both here in my service at RCC and when I return to BFA.

This week was full of new adventures and new people yet again. I’m so blown away by how incredible my life is sometimes, and occasionally other people are shocked by it too.

Wednesday afternoon was a total delight for me as I was planning out with Matt how I can use my resources from teaching Christian Essentials at BFA to benefit the students in his youth group. Our planning session was supplemented with an impromptu history of the church given by one of the former pastors who is still involved with the church. I listened eagerly as he also explained lessons learned from decades in ministry how the church can support and grow people through all stages of life. I love the lessons of longevity as I’m still on the front end of a career focused on starting youth out on a lifelong path of pursuing Jesus. 

Thursday was just as exciting for me as I spent time one on one with a woman from RCC who drove me out to see the beautiful beach on the east coast of the island. I was so blessed to share time with her and was encouraged by her reaching out to me. Saturday night also had a beautiful bonding moment in the body of Christ as a Chinese couple who attend a different church in the city invited me over to their house for dinner. I was connected to these new friends through a family currently living in Kandern who have done ministry in China for years and spent a portion of time at Multnomah. The Lee family made sure to pass on my contact information to their friends, and I was so warmly treated by them based only on our connection in Jesus. I love the body of Christ.

Now onto what you’re all most interested in – me impressing other people rather than the people who impress me. (I mean, why else does anyone read this blog?) Friday afternoon I had a new independent adventure on the bus to the local physiotherapy practice. I’d done a google search to make sure I found a place that understood the nuances of a neurological problem, and after chatting with Mike on the phone Tuesday, we’d scheduled an initial assessment. Unfortunately the practice has two steps up into the building, but that only gave me a chance to impress him right away as he hoisted my wheelchair up after I managed the steps alone using the railing.

We spent the next hour talking about what I’ve accomplished over the past five years and testing out the limits of what my ankles were up to that day. Frequently throughout the appointment I’d offer a response to his inquiry completely opposite of what he expected. “So you said you can move your big toe?” “No, it’s actually just the second toe sometimes.” “That’s so weird – if it’s only one toe, it should be the big toe because the rest are the same muscle group – you should be able to move them all.” Hey, I’m taking that as good news that it’s only a matter of time before the other three toes on my right foot catch up – and you know I’m not going to stop hoping for the rest after that. 

Mike was excited about the prospects of me defying more predictions, and I’m excited to try out new things and impress everyone with all my improvements when I get back to Germany. I’ve got eight months to see incredible new recovery, and this week has been a great opportunity to reflect on the nearly five years of incredible work I’ve already done. God isn’t finished with my body yet, and I’d love for you to join with me in prayer this week that the routine I implement with Mike’s help is something that surges me forward yet again in this journey of recovery. He told me I’m going to be his crazy patient because I break all the rules, and I’m so excited for the testimony I have that breaks all of the world’s rules because I’m operating by God’s.

When I made the decision to move to Germany, I sold nearly all of my 250+ books in my personal library. This past week, I discovered one of them made its way all the way to Texas. A local pastor with a habit of buying copies of Fee and Stuart’s text to give to students interested in reading the Bible purchased a copy on Amazon and noticed my name in the front of the text. He messaged me on Wednesday to ask if it was mine, curious about the insightful marginalia. (Full disclosure, my friend Margaux was the one who wrote smart comments before I inherited the text from her library downsizing.) The guy even offered to mail it back to me for free – before I told him I lived overseas.

We ended up having a lovely discussion about books and theologians and encouraging young people to get excited about knowing God through books and theologians. I shamelessly recommended all my MU favorites – Lubeck’s Read the Bible for a Change, everything The Bible Project ever produces, and even Harper’s Space at the Table. Guys, the body of Christ is so cool. I got a list of recommendations from him that I’m going to add as resources to my controversy project when I get back to BFA next year.

One of the most incredible things to me about the body of Christ is that I’ve got this brother in Texas who was encouraging me randomly while I also am meeting new people in this new country who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. This morning was so fun for me as I sat next to my new friend originally from England who lives in New Zealand who I can call a sister in Christ. After church, I went to a newcomers lunch at the pastor’s house and met a family from Malaysia and a woman from Switzerland who were brought to RCC by the same Jesus that brought me here.

My story still confuses a lot of people who don’t know Jesus – because why on earth would an American girl move to Germany and then spend a year in New Zealand where she’s never met anyone? I’m getting more opportunities to share my story with others here, and I’m learning more about living out that walk with Christ literally and figuratively. 

I shared last week my hope to increase my walking distance, and I’ve made progress in that. I did adjust my goal because I realized instead of the rewardless bus stop and back, I could actually aim for the nearby grocery store with a cafe. I’m at about 3/4 of the distance there and back now, and I hope that by the end of next week I’ll be able to say I managed to make it to the cafe for a treat before heading back. My second goal is for the mental rest as I spend a lot more time reading. Honestly, these past few weeks have been so great to sleep and read more in addition to these walking goals. I read another Terry Pratchett novel and have two more lined up for this week plus two memoirs and an incredible book on discipling people. 

In a lot of ways, it’s been a weird week, but I read two whole books which is just delightful to me. My goal is four this coming week. 

One of the books was titled Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader. Great title, right? Well, it was super helpful in preparing for my sabbatical time because since I don’t have a regular full time ministry role, I’ve had a weird sensation of not doing enough. I get to spend all this wonderful time being with Jesus though. The book was an encouragement to embrace that.

Most people know my sabbatical assignment includes improving my holistic health, so this week had some good walks in the sunshine trying to figure out how far I can venture on my own before I need to turn around and still be able to make it home on my own. At this point, I’ve got like “around the corner, half way down the block and back” sorted out. I still don’t know the limits, but I know I’m going to spend this bonus summer improving.

I like the alone time I get with God going on these walks and thinking about what my body is capable of that I was told I’d never be able to do. It’s a really beautiful opportunity to celebrate God’s goodness.

I also like it when people reach out and remind me I’m not forgotten despite being in an “isolated” place away from my support team and my ministry location. I’ve met some really wonderful people here who’ve heard just a snippet of my story and have been so kind and encouraging of the time I’m taking on sabbatical. This past week, I managed several independent trips various places, and I remembered that it is okay to still ask for help. For example, I navigated to and from places on the bus several times, but I need the bus drivers to give me a little push onto the bus when the ramp is too steep to get up on my own. 

While I was reading the book Isolation, one of my former students sent me a really sweet message to encourage me that I was an encouragement in her walk with God. She went on to tell me that I’m not alone and that she’s praying for me. Naturally, I laughed out loud and sent her a picture of the book I’d put down to read her message. God has a lot in store for me holistically during this season, and I’m excited to grow in it. I’d really love your prayers that I stay focused on my given tasks, and particularly that I’d hit my first bus stop walking goal this week. My hope is that I can eventually increase my endurance enough that I know I can do all the walking required to and from the bus stops on a round trip to the church from my house. 

Side note, I’m planning to read some Terry Pratchett this week, so please feel free to send some encouragements while I’m reading titles like Monstrous Regiment and Going Postal. I’d love to laugh at the same kinds of connections between books and messages again that I had yesterday.

This past week I read John Mark Comer’s book Garden City as a launch into my sabbatical. (Then I started A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbatical because Portland theologians writing on sabbath rest is the greatest thing.) Just a couple chapters in, I was being toured around Christchurch and learned that the nickname of this city is the Garden City. For completely different reasons than the New Jerusalem, but what a great discovery.

As a native of the Rose City, I’ve taken this sabbatical in a foreign country that I’ve now discovered has a lot of cultural similarities to the Pacific Northwest. They all speak English which is a bonus to adjusting to other new things, but they also all have an appreciation for sorting trash. Guys, I’m going to fit in great here. 

But before you all think there’s not going to be any struggles, let me tell you about my first independent adventure from the church office to my new home. I had navigated the route home with one of the pastors on Tuesday afternoon, and I felt confident in my skills as I headed out to the bus stop alone on Wednesday afternoon. I had a helpful bus driver help me on and off the bus, and I navigated the streets in the neighborhood to my steep driveway. Having done it with my sticks once before, I heaved myself up the steep start, but my calculations were off with the addition of my laptop to the bag on the back of my chair. Unfortunately, I tipped over backwards, and while I didn’t see my life flash before me, I did watch my legs go over my head and heard a tiny crack-like sound when the back of my skull hit the cement. For a millisecond I wondered if I’d broken my neck, but I managed to sit up with no problem.

I was – understandably – a little shaken up, but I was getting myself sorted and preparing to pull myself into the chair when a neighbor saw me in the street and helped me back into the chair and up the driveway to the door with all my stuff. I managed to get myself safely into the house and texted Kara to make sure it was okay that I felt okay. Honestly, I felt okay. I mean, sure, a little bruised, and I’m still a little sore, but apart from the goose egg that showed up in minutes, there were no immediate problems – no blurry vision, no headache, nothing. 

I’m a champion. 

Okay, so realistically, God has made my body to be incredibly resilient, and I’m continuing to grow in how I can be independent with these limitations. I’ve managed the driveway with no problem as long as I don’t have my sticks or anything heavy on the back of my chair, so I’ll be learning to navigate the city with less weighing me down – literally. If you’ve been following my story for long or have met me for more than an hour, you’re probably aware it takes a lot to slow me down. I mean, I broke my back and returned to work the next school year. 

I am so fortunate that I have the opportunity to be challenged to grow physically while I spend time in this Garden City because I’m ready for the next growth spurt. I’m honestly not discouraged by the topple into the street – it’s an obstacle to overcome, not a permanent roadblock to my thriving.

The day I left Germany, I shared a post from the RCC Facebook on my wall that had a picture of the city and Jeremiah 29:7 as the caption: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” On Tuesday, I got to meet the woman who runs the RCC Facebook page, and it was such a treat to put a face to the person behind that bit of encouragement. Christchurch is where God has planted me for this season; this is in some ways an exile from Kandern, but I’m praying to be used in this city to contribute to his thriving because I know God wants me to thrive in this Garden City. 

This week’s specific requests are first that I’ll continue to settle in and learn to navigate the city with increasing confidence. Additionally, I’ve been asked to share my testimony in a Bible class at a local school as well as to do a short recorded version for the church. Please pray that I’ll be a responsible witness to the beautiful work God has done in my life. While anyone might be talking to God on my behalf, I’d also like to ask that you praise our awesome Healer for the preparation he’s done to make a beautiful community for me to be a part of while I’m here. I’ve already met so many amazing people, and I’m so excited to learn more about them and grow in community as the body of Christ while we are all together here in this Garden City.

I feel like in nearly five years, I’ve likely referenced this Hillsong song I used for today’s post title before, but it’s got more relevant lyrics than the single Reliant K line running through my head as I watched the non-proverbial sunrise come up over the Pacific end Friday morning. I did include a picture of my several thousand foot high view of the sunrise, and you might think I’m losing my mind, but I’m about to delve into the specifics (and switch song references). 

When I was a worship leader in high school, I remember loving to sing “To the Ends of the Earth” because of the powerful verse that begins the song: “Love unfailing / overtaking my heart / You take me in / finding peace again / fear is lost in all you are.” When I sang out the chorus, I never though my world would be bigger than the greater Portland metro area, but as I flew from Germany to New Zealand this week, I was struck by how the Lord has called me to the ends of the earth – literally.

This past Tuesday I said some hard goodbyes to students and a few see-you-laters in some cases which were still difficult. I only had a handful of students who I thought would be tough to leave, but it turned out seeing dozens more this past couple of weeks made it all the harder to leave them on Wednesday. Brandi let me sit on her balcony and process a lot of my emotions the night before I left, and I got in the car with my friend Chrissy to make the drive to Zürich excited despite the sadness of leaving so many precious children. Chris and his dad drove Chrissy and I to the airport and sent us off with happy wishes for our long journey.

I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion as Chrissy is a champion at overseas travel and is calm and confident in airports in a way I can barely dream of. All my anxieties and insecurities were completely taken care of with Chrissy’s help. We made both our connections with no problems, and after a couple questions about my plans in New Zealand, my passport got a new stamp, and we collected all our luggage (which I forgot to mention had made it to Germany just three days after I did).

One of the RCC pastors, Mark, was waiting for us when we got through the border control, and he drove us to my new home in a quiet neighborhood near the university. We landed in the morning, so Chrissy and I tried our best to stay awake through the day and managed to adventure down the street to the grocery store to buy a few essentials and some coffee to keep us going. I even had enough energy to try walking down the street with no braces. We also had the blessing of meeting my housemate’s dad who lives down the street and offered to drive me to the mall to buy a new SIM card for my phone. I’m all set up with a new phone number and a working mobile plan for the next year. It was an exciting and productive first day. I woke up Saturday to say goodbye to Chrissy as she was off to see her sister who lives on the north island. After a relaxing morning, I met another RCC member, Jasmine, who kindly took me out for a short list of things I’d found I hadn’t packed and would need in order to settle in.

This morning I went to RCC for the first time, and it was such a blessing to worship with this new gathering and discover it was like coming home because of the beauty of the body of Christ. I met a few more of the staff members I’ll be spending a lot of time with, and I even was introduced to a couple of the students that I’ll work with. I’m so excited for this sabbatical opportunity, and I’m grateful for all the prayers for my travel to get here. As I’m adjusting and settling in, I’ll still post quick updates, but they’ll likely be much shorter than this though I hope you’ll all still pray for me that I’d learn to take care of my body well in this new space as I get used to the new place tucked away in an opposite end of the earth from where I’m used to.

For those who might have missed the plan, I took the long route from America to New Zealand for a specific medical appointment. Sure I was happy to draw the lines around the trip to include the opening ceremonies last week, but the priority stop was to get this appointment with specialists at the facility that has done all my other major medical work. Yesterday I had a urologist stick a big long needle in my bladder which I thought would be routine since it was my third go at the procedure. However, when the kind nurses were trying to hook up the IV to put me to sleep, my first vein exploded, and it took another three tries before they could get me properly hooked up. That was where things began to change. I also met the second in charge urologist who was new to me – all my previous work has been done with the head of the department. She seemed nice, and she had a kind med school student who was observing as well. I slept through the rest of the actual procedure, and was my expected groggy self when I wheeled out, but when I cathed before bed, I found mostly blood rather than urine. 

Welcome to my life.

I vaguely remember that being a possible side effect listed the first time I had the procedure, but I’ve never had a single complication doing this. The first round, it took effect within three hours, and the second time I slept like a dream within minutes and felt groggy but glorious after. Today has been general discomfort in the affected area and needing to pee about every two hours which is the exact opposite effect that the botox treatment is supposed to have. 

It’s barely 24 hours out, and they say to be cautious those first 24 hours, so I’m not worried about it at all, and I honestly don’t have time for this physical discomfort to hijack any of my fleeting moments with my friends and students who I have to leave behind next week when I fly to New Zealand. I was sharing with my friend Brandi that I wasn’t going to waste my life being bothered by these kinds of inconveniences because there is so much more important stuff going on. I have my priorities straight. Sure it is annoying to have the physical complications, but I also got to have an impromptu hour long chat with a coworker who is a seasoned teacher with loads of encouragement for me to grow as an educator. Yeah I’d rather not have the distraction of mild pain the whole day long, but I also got to have lunch with a precious child who I won’t get to teach this year but asked to have some time with me before I left.

In the grand scheme of things, the burning sensation and the blood are minor. The kingdom conversations are eternal. 

I’d still prefer not to deal with this for long, so I’ll happily encourage prayers that my body sorts itself out sooner rather than later. I’d especially like those prayers as I begin my long, long journey across continents and oceans in just six days. It’d be great if my body weren’t in the more than normal levels of pain.

I spent a final week in America soaking up all my favorite coffee shops – the photos above represent just four of the seven mandatory locations. Part of my cultural heritage as a PNW hipster is that I love good coffee, and I love spending time with people in coffee shops. It was my norm living in Portland, but I adjusted quickly when I moved to a tiny German town with no Longbottom, Insomnia, Bipartisan, Case Study, Black Rock, Ava’s, or Dutch Bros. 

I’m really grateful for the time I spent with people in each of those coffee shops or various other places because I’ve been deeply shaped by some wonderful people who still call the Pacific Northwest home. Yet those people all sent me out as a missionary, so I headed across an ocean last Sunday to make my way back to Kandern for two weeks. 

Unfortunately, this trip was solo, and after my friends helped me get to the airport and check in, I was on my own with my mobility aids and medications until Carol picked me up in Frankfurt Monday afternoon. I managed alright, and this round my wheelchair was undamaged and my $400 replacement cushion never left my sight so I wouldn’t have a repeat trauma of my arrival in Minneapolis. However, I can’t account for everything, and both my checked bags were left behind in Minneapolis this direction. I got a text message yesterday that they should arrive today – hopefully at the correct address in Kandern rather than the Frankfurt or Portland addresses they had to have on record…

Arriving back in Germany was a breath of fresh air as I was back in my host country that I’ve called home for five years. This past visit to America was refreshing in so many ways to understand the language everywhere I went, but it was overwhelming in others to not know how to navigate that country as easily in a wheelchair.

Back in Germany for these two weeks, I’m staying with friends who’ve graciously allowed me to crash on their couch and repack all my goods to take the necessary stuff to New Zealand. Yesterday, I had the joy of seeing my previous students process into the auditorium with their flags which was a wonderful treat. I confused a lot of staff and students though who briefly thought I might be here for the whole year. I’ve got two weeks in my little Kandern before heading off to my new adventure to Middle Earth and beyond, but I hope that I’ll be able to use this pause in Germany to help my body recover a little and get some good walks in. 

The internet is a wonderful thing in so many ways. I’m so grateful for this platform to keep people updated on my recovery and my ministry, and I’m really fortunate to have the technology that allows me to see my family members’ faces regularly when I live overseas. There are still limitations, however, and the past two months of visits have been precious opportunities of “IRL” interactions off the internet. When I can hug my nephews in real life, it’s a whole lot different than the flippant FaceTime goodbyes of a four year old. Sitting down on someone’s couch to explain with all the nuance how proud I am of my student who’s pursuing a degree in journalism with a detailed vision for how he wants to use his voice to use his privilege to advocate for others is so much more fulfilling that writing this sentence. 

I’m wrapping up my stateside visit, and I’ve got a week left to enjoy these “in real life” interactions before I go back to online updates. In just one more week, I’ll be telling everyone how much I miss McMenamins cajun tots and Terminator milkshakes, but I want to transition well between America and Germany (and then on to New Zealand). I’ll be cherishing these special moments in real life, so I’ll ask your forgiveness for the short update online. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve remembered that I actually have connections to a few relatively famous people, but it’s made me rethink my assignment of fame. For example, I had the most amazing Sparky teachers ever – Keith and Gloria – and although Keith’s dad is world famous, I’m way more excited about the dude who told me about Jesus every Thursday night. 

The treasure of this week was looking from afar at people on a big screen that I’ve met personally or the crowd with the backstage passes at a major stadium event who I know while I was hanging out in the crowd with the coolest person of my childhood. No joke, last night I got to rock out to Lecrae sitting next to THE Karin Stephens who was for sure the person I wanted most to be when I was growing up. 

I started this week in Colorado wrapping up my time with my biological family members and a few other close friends. I was especially blessed to spend a couple hours with Deedra, a woman who knew my dad and grandparents when she was growing up who has been a personal encouragement in my walk with Jesus since I was in college. Then I spent an evening with my precious nephews getting a couple last snuggles before leaving. Friday morning I packed up my belongings and drove up to see Jordyne and Rachel. After some quality time together, Rachel dropped Jordy and I off at the airport to fly to PDX. We took our mandatory carpet photo before being welcomed home by half of my precious Stephens family. 

Saturday morning, Jordy and I spent the day with the other member of our best friend crew, and we hit up Powells, Saturday Market, and McMenamins. After hugging Sarah and Jordyne goodbye, I just hung out with six of my favorite people on the planet. Sunday morning, they loaded me into their car, and I got to see a couple of the old friends who still attend my childhood church. After an emotional viewing of Moana, I got back in the car with the family to attend an outreach concert at the Hillsboro Stadium.

That was where I was reflecting on how I’m so grateful for all the famous people in my life – anyone who’s known me for long knows the Stephens family is a big part of my life. Their kids are among a select few featured in photos in my house. Spending the day at the Oregon Zoo with them today was a total blast, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The people I spent time with this week are the people who are famous to me – the ones I want to be with. I got to be with people like Deedra and Karin who’ve been consistent examples of following Christ wholeheartedly, and people like my precious nephews and (almost grown) children I used to babysit who I hope that I model Jesus for.

This was another full week for me which included some wonderful moments like mother-daughter bonding time downtown Colorado Springs at a place called Tattoo Demon, meeting some of my dad’s coworkers, and my sister finding time in her super organized, busy life for coffee with me in my super disorganized, busy life. My life is anything but monotonous, and among the many cups of coffee and conversations through the past week, I’ve been challenged and encouraged. I’ve also had my usual insomnia flare up, and the chronic fatigue is wearing on me again after five weeks of shifting cities and beds.

I had one last weekend in Denver, and while I was with Joan Saturday night, she took me to be a tourist downtown. I live a crazy life, and I sometimes the breaks I get take some hard work to get to though the payoff is worth it. Joan suggested a pedicab ride downtown Saturday night, and while it might be a breeze for most people to hop into a pedicab, hopping isn’t really one of my strengths. The super nice driver helped me up, and I enjoyed myself so much hanging out with Joan and seeing a side of Denver that was all new to me. She celebrated with me the fact that I had to be brave to try something new and found a great reward in it. It’s a theme in my life, and I’m going into this coming sabbatical in a brand new place looking to see amazing new things that the Lord will do.

Sunday morning I had the joy of sharing with my church family about my ministry and preparation for my sabbatical. I was able to see some of the people who I first met six years ago as well as meet lots of new people who’ve joined the Embassy since I’ve been in Germany. I also had my pastor directly tell me that I need to be sure to rest well during my time in New Zealand. I won’t arrive there for another five weeks, so I need to be responsible with my mind, soul, and body during the next few weeks of transition. My prayer is that I’ll get some good sleep to give me the stamina to make it to the period of good rest. 

In case you didn’t catch it the first five hundred times I’ve mentioned it, I love my job. I’m only leaving Germany because I have to, but I’m going to be intentional with how I use the year away to rest well and prepare for more years of what I love. In order to maximize the pause from teaching, I planned out my summer to allow me to attend a Sabbatical Orientation Workshop (SOW) at the Navigators during this past week. One of the recommendations the workshop website had was to bring along my sabbatical advisor. Fortunately, my amazing friend Shannon was able to come along with me to this workshop to learn with me about how I can best rest during my break from BFA. 

In so many ways, though, I’ll never have a break from BFA. This past week was not only filled with new learning about sabbatical rest with Shannon, but I also got to spend time with two of my former BFA students who graduated a year ago. I’ve kept in touch with these two vastly different kids through their vastly different first years of college, and I loved every moment of listening to where they are at now and catching up in person. Strangely enough, reading the Bible came up at one point in a conversation with my former students. The new curriculum I teach emphasizes the “So What?” question that comes after reading a passage. These guys missed out on that phrase in my class, but part of our conversation hit on the motivation people have to read the Bible. 

I’m still convinced the purpose of reading the Bible is to foster loving relationships with God and other people (credit Ray Lubeck). I’m hopeful that my students see that developed in me as I continue to read the Bible. I hope that they might learn something about how to read the Bible from me. I won’t be a Bible teacher at BFA this coming year, but so what? I still have loads of opportunities to love God and love others better. 

After the SOW and time with Shannon and my students, I drove up to Denver with my parents to spend time with some more family and friends. I was so blessed to connect with one of my Embassy friends, Joan, who housed me for the night and then I was able to spend a chunk of my Sunday morning participating in the Sacred Space service my church does every fifth Sunday of the month. This particular sacred space service project was various assignments blessing the teachers at the school where the church meets, so I was able to write short encouragements for teachers returning to work next week. I shared with Joan that one of the things I loved most about the Embassy when I first connected with them years ago was their intentional avoidance of “hit and run ministry.”

I’ve tried to live my life in consideration of the Gospel that lasts, and this week was an encouragement of that on several levels. The sabbatical preparation is to prevent full ministry burn out so that I can return to love and teach well; two alumni chose to spend time with me because, according to them, I’m someone they feel safe being honest with; and my church operates in a way that naturally builds service projects into worship services. This is a holistic Gospel that permeates my life, and I hope that it can inspire others to engage with this Good News in a life changing way. So what about you? 

Ten years ago there was a writers’ strike in Hollywood, and some talented people got bored and created the masterpiece released on YouTube known as “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.” It’s fabulous and worth the forty-five minutes in fifteen minute increments (or all at once). I belted out the soundtrack with my best friend for a couple hundred miles of Idaho highway this week, and there’s some great wisdom hidden in the snarky lyrics. The antagonist, Captain Hammer, sings to a captive audience that maybe “you wonder what your part is ’cause you’re homeless and depressed, but home is where your heart is, so you’re real home’s in your chest.”

I have a legal residence in Oregon for voting and tax purposes, but by all other measures, I’m homeless for the next year. I spent the last week as a guest at my friend Desiree’s home, and she really is one of my best friends, and her whole family welcomed me as an extra member for the time I spent with them living in their home. Her kids even invited me along to the grocery store. They laughed with me, fed me, and included me in the mundane bits of their daily life. It was beautiful. I also was invited (or invited myself) to a few other homes or coffee dates to connect with close friends who sent me out on this adventure five years ago. I was so encouraged to have those moments with my friends – most of whom are like family to me – updating me on their lives and letting me tell stories about my precious students.

Friday morning was an especially fun when the update on life came from one of my former youth group students. Tori picked me up bright and early from Kyle and Desiree’s house so we could book it across the Oregon desert and make it to Boise, Idaho by early afternoon. We talked for like six hours solid. I loved every minute. Then I hopped in the car with another one of my best friends, Jordyne, and crossed most of the rest of her home state catching up, laughing hard, and singing along to some of the greatest musicals on the planet. 

After a good night’s sleep, my parents picked me up at Jordyne’s house, and we crossed into two more states before pulling into a hotel in downtown Denver for the night. I woke up this morning excited to listen to one of my favorite living theologians preach, and let me tell you, Brandon Washington does not disappoint. I wheeled into the school where The Embassy Church meets for the first time in three years, and the greeter was the woman who’s been sending me care packages since my last visit; I was home.

I’ve never lived in the city where this church meets, but it has been my home church since I was sent out five years ago. These people love me like family, and when I see them, I’m home. The three pastors who know me saw me at different points in the service, and all three reacted with big smiles and warm hugs. Another woman came up to me to let me know she’d been praying for me through my service and recovery. I’m loved in this place, and I’m encouraged to grow. If home is where the heart is, my home is scattered across the globe with these people who have my heart. 

If you thought my last post was a lot of craziness in my first two days Stateside, buckle up.

After I posted on the Fourth, I woke up bright and early on the fifth to projectile vomit on the King’s guest room floor. I’m a fabulous houseguest. My body was overloaded with all the rich American treats, so I’ve been super careful not to indulge in too much each day since then. It wasn’t how I wanted to start my day, but my amazing friend Jen got out of bed and cleaned up around me so I could go back to sleep for a few more hours and prepare for the rest of Anja’s nonstop American west coast tour. 

Sadly, we missed out on the PDX exploration morning, but we made it onto the Amtrak in the afternoon for an overnight trip to Sacramento. We had a nice sleeper car on the way down and woke up to get off and be greeted by my granny and her husband Jim for a full day of California adventure. After caffeinating at Starbucks, we kicked around a bit before the Sutter Fort opened. When we made it in, Anja and I took a picture in front of the tree planted in the Fort that was brought over from Kandern in 1939. Next I took a nap before my granny’s friends came over for an open house where I was able to share with them in person some of my ministry. I was so encouraged by all of the people who came through to meet me and share how much they were touched by my story. Many of them even generously donated to my ministry, and I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to talk with all of them. Since one of my former coworkers lives not too far away from my granny, I also got to have a bit of time catching up with Jayma and was able to deliver her yearbook from Kandern.

The most special part to me of my 18 hours in Sacramento was that my granny made sure my Tiffiny was invited to the open house. Tiffiny is hands down one of the most influential people in my formative years. She and her husband live outside of Sacramento with their precious little kids, and they drove in to see me. Hugging Tiff after so many years was so wonderful. When I think of my ministry in my head, I still describe it as “being Tiffiny” to all my kids. I used to tell people Tiff raised me with the help of my parents; she was always there to love on me through my elementary and middle school years and kept in touch through my high school time whenever I needed her. 

Our time in Sacramento was super short, and to make sure Anja got enough exposure to the west coast, we got back on a train just past midnight. It showed up an hour late, which wasn’t a good start to the journey, and we kept hitting more and more delays. I’d planned the whole trip around Anja getting to see Saturday Market, but thanks to Amtrak’s nightmarish trip north, we arrived five hours late and missed the whole Portland experience I’d planned. Fortunately Renae and Macie were waiting for us at the train station and took us to Burgerville so Anja could try the amazing Walla Walla Sweet onion rings.

Sunday morning we went to Colossae Church with Dave and Jen where I got to see a handful of my old Westport peeps. Not too long after the service, we hopped in the car with my friend Heather who’d taken a couple days off of work to road trip north with us. We made it to Tacoma by the evening (after an important outlet mall experience for Anja) and had dinner with my Aunt Janice. After fabulous food and fellowship, we stopped by my old roommate Cat’s new place to get her mom’s house key and let ourselves in for the night – shout out to Addie for being an amazing hostess who never saw her houseguests. We went out to breakfast with Cat and her family before hitting the road again and driving to Seattle for lunch. Heather expertly navigated the crazy Seattle streets, and we showed Anja the troll, the Space Needle, and the first Starbucks on our drive by tour before we parked for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Once we’d enjoyed the view from their rooftop patio, we headed up to Bellingham for the night. I’d asked my friend Bekah to help us find beds for the night, and we ended up with this wonderful couple hosting us whose granddaughter went to Multnomah for some of the same time I did. After sharing stories with Dean and Bonita, we all slept great before hopping in the car with Bekah on Tuesday morning to meet up with one of my coworker’s parents for a Tim Horton’s breakfast just over the border. After getting Anja’s extra passport stamps, we dropped Bekah back in Bellingham and knocked on my sister’s in-law’s door so I could get a quick hug before we hit 1-5 south. Heather dropped Anja and I at a Starbucks in Sylvan so she could get to her shift in Clackamas on time, and one of my old youth group kiddos picked us up to deliver us back to Jen and Dave’s house. 

Wednesday we slept in a little bit before Givorgy picked Anja and I up to go to Multnomah Falls and Powells – two key Portland stops. Unfortunately, on the bumpy paths at the Falls, my wheelchair that had been damaged by the airline reached a breaking point – as in the brake broke off. Skilled ninja that I am, I managed the rest of the day with one brake, but I called around a bunch of places to get it fixed on Thursday morning. That ended up being much more complicated that anticipated. Anja and I just hung out while I was calling places until we needed to get her to the airport. Heather graciously drove out to Hillsboro to take us, and she dropped me on a MAX to make it to her work shift. Miraculously, it ended up being the exact train Desiree was getting on to commute home from work. She just helped me off the train, jogged home to get the car, and drove me to gather my belongings from Jen’s to transport to her house where I’m staying this week. 

Are you exhausted yet? I think Anja was by the time she got on the plane. I still had to get my reliable Professor X fixed for the remainder of my summer in America though. Fun fact, American wheelchair repair places are the worst. Except one. Shout out to the amazing people at DME Hub in Clackamas who understood the danger of not having a brake and were willing to make a fix for me to safely use Professor X the rest of my trip. I was able to get my friend George to drive me out there Friday morning. Friday evening, Kara picked me up from Desiree’s and we met up with a BFA family at the Lone Fir Cemetery for a uniquely Portland rendition of Romeo and Juliet. We ended the night with Rimsky’s – another super Portland experience that I’d never actually had. I slept over at Kara’s and went out to Pine Street Biscuits for the good hipster morning meal with Kara and Eric. Then we made it to Saturday Market where I was overjoyed to find the artist who makes my favorite bags. The big tote I’d been using for groceries that fit perfectly across the back of my wheelchair just ripped the week before I left Germany, and I was delighted to buy an expertly made replacement. I also found the next artist bridge rendition to add to my collection – I’m pretty sure I now possess a print of the only pretty picture of the Marquam Bridge. 

With loads of time left in the day, Kara and I headed to the west side for the most critical of my missed foods – a Terminator Milkshake from the McMenamin’s Grand Lodge. They don’t have them at every location, so we had to drive all the way out to Forest Grove to get it. By crazy random happenstance, my childhood friend Jessica (of the Jesus Hotel awesomeness from two years ago) was visiting the area and met up with us for dinner. After we finished eating, Kara drove me up to her parents house so I could catch up with my extra parents. She let me shout, “Mommy, I’m home!” when she opened the door. 

I slept great when I finally got back to Kyle and Desiree’s, and I was super excited to get up for church in the morning. They go to the same church as my favorite professor from Multnomah, and I was so blessed by the chance to worship together with their congregation. I’ve also had loads of fun with their kids in the snippets I’ve seen them. Sunday evening I got to catch up with my friend Chantelle with dinner and a movie. Last visit to America, we went and saw Ant Man, so we decided it’d be a nice compliment to see Ant Man and the Wasp last night. I had another great night’s sleep after, and gave myself the grace to take it easy today before the rest of the week of coffee, lunch, and dinner dates with people I haven’t seen yet.

My life always seems full of extremes – extreme exhaustion being rather consistent on the list. But I’m extremely blessed by the people I have in my life who help me out through the extreme ridiculousness and love me unconditionally. While I don’t want a life in the wheelchair forever, going to get the repairs was a gift from George and a great chance to catch up with him on the drive. Were it not for blogging about my accident, most of my granny’s friends wouldn’t care to meet me, and I’d likely not have encountered opportunity to receive their generosity – some with words of affirmation, some with financial gifts, some with fancy steakhouse dinners. I can’t have a lot of the awesomeness in my life without the deep wound of my paralysis. Yesterday’s message was about how we learn through wounds. I’ve learned so much of my precious Savior through the difficult experience of paralysis, and this experiential learning couldn’t have happened through any other means. I’m gifted with this story that helps me know Jesus better. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, given the opportunity, I wouldn’t give up this wound because of the learning I’ve gone through. I want it all; the scars on my back and hip are precious to me because they tell the story of the start of my healing. 

My passport is from America, and that will always be part of my identity. Saturday felt strange this week as Korean and Swiss alumni helped me pack up the last of my belongings before I headed out Sunday morning for the long, long journey to my birth country. I said goodbye for now to my little apartment around 9am Sunday and got into the car with an excited German going on her first trip to America.

I’ve kept a small surprise for some of the people who will see me at the start of my trip, and the foot photo above is Anja participating in the traditional PDX carpet right of passage. My fabulous physio who’s helped me with so much of my recovery took ten days of vacation to see America with a real American. Naturally her first full day here included Dutch Bros and Tillamook Cheese Factory – I’ve got priorities. I also was really excited for her to be here on the 4th of July. We went to the Hillsboro parade this morning, and we’ll introduce her to more traditional American foods – s’mores and apple pie – later today with decent fireworks. 

I’m so excited for the time I’ll get to spend with people here in America, and there’s already been tons of great reunions and delicious food (see Dutch Bros pictured above). My friend Melody picked us up from the airport and drove us to Red Robin after dropping our bags at Jen’s house. I found there were already a few people waiting to greet me and was happy for the chance to be welcomed here so warmly.

I kept Anja going nonstop yesterday as my friend Michelle drove us out to the beach for the day so Anja could experience the Pacific Ocean, Camp 18 cinnamon rolls, and Tillamook squeaky cheese. Side note, the upstairs factory tour is just as exciting as I remember it being as a kid; honestly, I’m so delighted by the simplest things. I’m delighted by the chance to show Anja America, I’m delighted by the sleeve of Oreos Jen left sitting next to me while I write this, and I’m delighted by the people who’ve given so much to me to make my past five years of ministry possible.

I’m humbled by so much of it too: by a dozen people showing up at Red Robin last minute to hug me and encourage me in the progress I’ve made in my recovery, by Michelle taking her day off to spend it with me and Anja, by Jen never judging me for the broken person that I am but encouraging me to be more like Jesus just by sharing life with me. (That woman seriously is amazing.)

The next two weeks with Anja here are sure to be a blur, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to show off my new skills and maybe even see some summer improvements. 

After I posted last week’s list, Caylie and I were lamenting all the great musicals I left off – like Dear Evan Hansen, Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, and, most importantly, the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Caylie was staying with me for a few days and helping me pack up a lot of stuff before leaving at the end of this week. We’d also planned to spend a good chunk of time while she was here with Buffy running in the background. She’d never seen it all the way through, and I felt strongly about fixing this. We made it through two and a half seasons, and she had the joy of listening to me sing along with “Once More with Feeling” – one of the greatest episodes of television ever made. Since I missed including it in last week’s playlist, I decided a whole post on a song from that episode was in order. 

The opening song is “Going through the Motions” where Buffy wanders the graveyard lamenting, “Nothing here is real / nothing here is right” while hoping no one notices her hiding her melancholy. I’m pretty good at hiding my emotions from people, but I’ve worked really hard this week to be honest that I’m on the verge of overwhelmed with two international moves in three months. The major stuff is sorted, but there are still loads of details, and I want to make sure I leave well. I’ve only got six days left before switching continents for a while. The world is going on without me, and I’m the one who’s off, I know that, but I’m trying to take care of things responsibly.

Buffy’s first verse talks about how she used to be so brave but is now wavering, and I’ve been thinking back to how much simpler it was to move to Germany able bodied with two suitcases, and now I’m not sure how to pack my life into the appropriate weighted suitcases with all the necessary medications. I’m ready to shout that it’s not fair, but life’s not fair. It’s also frustrating to have go through some of these important steps in moving that end up taking time away from my walking practice. 

I agree with Buffy’s last plea that she doesn’t want to be going through the motions, but I diverge in the confidence that I’m really not that bad off. Before drowning in the crazy stuff, I can list a dozen beautiful gifts of my unique situation. I’ve got this amazing life that allows me to spend an afternoon with my friends driving me to Lörrach to get my wheelchair brake replaced before traveling only to discover that the helpful repairman doesn’t have the exact right part, so he replaced it with a substitute for free. I also get to visit with my German neighbors who after feeding me my final good German meal yesterday drove me around the nearby villages just to enjoy the countryside one last time. I get to have my home be the landing place for alumni before summer ministry – and spend hours having intellectual conversations about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which is one of my favorite things). 

Honestly, there’s been so much laughter and joy over the past two weeks of students and alumni streaming in and out of my window and saying goodbye and packing up that it’s still the life I would choose despite the stresses that come along with it. That said, I have a week where I need to do a lot of important final details, and I would crave your prayers that I would finish well not just going through the motions.

Here we go for round four (playlist 2015, playlist 2016, playlist 2017) of my Myspace style summer tradition. Here’s a link to this year’s playlist.

1. “Stressed Out” by twenty one pilotsGraduation was yesterday, and one of the responses to shared truths I came up with (explained in my James post last week) was to not stress about packing, but to let students come over during finals. Well, a steady stream of young people came through my window Thursday morning through Saturday evening, and I’m so delighted they chose my house as a hang out place. It does, however, leave me with a lot of packing and three days less to get it done in. I have no regrets, but I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little stressed out about two international moves in the next three months.

2. “Santa Fe” from RENTOkay, so I considered making this year the year of the musicals and having all the songs be from Broadway shows, but I resisted the impulse (it’s only half songs musicals). I’m not shy about my love for the musical RENT and how it inspires me to love more unconditionally. I figured I’d already used “Will I?” but discovered it actually is that I’ve used that song for multiple individual posts over the last four years. I still wanted something else, and Santa Fe stuck out when I was watching the movie last week because it’s the idealization of where everyone isn’t. I’m forced to leave Germany, but I don’t want to idealize the next place that I’m going. It’s not a place to run away from any problems; life is life, and problems will follow you anywhere.

3. “Beauty Through the Eyes of a Predator” by Demon HunterEvery annual list has a Demon Hunter song, and this is one of my absolute favorite songs by my absolute favorite band. Honestly, I can’t express how this perfectly fits this year, but I’ve dealt with a lot of emotional growth similar to the year this song came out and I was dealing with a lot of emotional growth. It’s also just a freaking incredible song.

4. “I See Stars” from Mean GirlsThe Mean Girls Broadway musical came out this year. Have you heard it yet? It’s fabulous. There wasn’t really a great song to fit my year from it, but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack so much the past month I felt like I needed to include one. This one is the finale, and I’m finishing five beautiful years in Germany celebrating my amazing stars. That’s the stretch I’m going to stick with for this post.

5. “This Is Gospel” by Panic at the DiscoAlright, so the beat of my heart also has the fear of falling apart, but really, the line that made me think this was worth including (beyond the catchy Panic emo tune) was “Don’t try to sleep through the end of the world / Bury me alive / ’cause I won’t give up without a fight / If you love me let me go.” It’s a loaded bunch of lyrics – I’m on my way out, but I’m making sure it’s not a running away (see next song). 

6. “Run” by KutlessGoing old school two in a row here – this is a great breakout album that I’ll forever love. I’m headed to New Zealand for that actual sabbatical rest, and I’m so excited to rest in the presence of a Savior who just wants to be with me.

7. “Resurrection Day” by Rend CollectiveGuys, have I mentioned how much I love this album? Yes, yes I have. It’s fabulous. And this song is an anthem for this year because I’m not the one raising me up. It’s all because Jesus. That’s the title of my future memoir: Because Jesus. You see, I know full well there’s not a stinking thing I can do on my own strength – I’m still disabled. But my Resurrected Savior has brought me to new life in him.

8. “My Shot” from HamiltonI told you I was using a lot of musicals this year. So, resurrected human that I am, I’m not throwing away my shot. 

9. “Defying Gravity” from WickedLast musical, I swear. So, resurrected, not throwing away my shot, watch me defying gravity. This year, “I’m through accepting limits / ’cause someone says they’re so / Some things I cannot change / but ’til I try, I’ll never know.” 

10. Home by Phillip PhillipsSappy expat song time. This was on my playlist when I moved overseas five years ago. I had no idea I was leaving a home for so long. I also had no idea how Germany would grow to have such a strong sense of home for me. I have no idea what’s in store in New Zealand. “If you get lost, you can always be found.”

Bonus Track: “Alright” by SuperchickYup. Every year has a Demon Hunter song and a Superchick song – those are mandatory. This year it’s the bonus track because it’s the song that encapsulates the entirety of my year and my month and my moment. Each verse is a different moment of my transition, and I’m sometimes all at once. So, “I’ll hope for you, you hope for me / and together we can say, “It’ll be okay.”

I’ve got the word “doulos” tattooed on my foot – it’s not seen by many people these days because of my paralysis required footwear, but I chose to put that word permanently on my body after my high school Bible teacher made us each write a commentary on the book. We had to study the use of several Greek words, and I discovered James chose this term, along with several other disciples, to describe his relationship with Christ. He begins his epistle, “James, a doulos of Christ.” It means slave. It means a bond slave who knew life with their master was better than on their own. 

I’m going to get a little personal this week, so if you’re not interested in how this Master has made my life better and what that has to do with the musical Rent, you can skip ahead to the last paragraph. 

I had an independent study senior this semester who for his final had to choose a book of the Bible to give me assignments in studying. He asked one of his best friends, and she suggested James. He didn’t know I’d spent a whole semester on that book when I was in high school; he didn’t know that’s where my tattoo came from. He also doesn’t know my obsession with the musical Rent, but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

So my student made me break James into sections, come up with shared truths for each, and then craft a specific response for each one that I could apply in the next ten days and then one that would apply when I arrive in New Zealand. The shared truth I came up with for James 1: 9-12 is, “The world is temporary, but we can put our hope in eternal rewards.” I teach my students there’s a difference between teaching and urging statements, and this one is a teaching that adjusts my attitude more than my actions. As I thought of how I would respond in the next ten days, I reflected on my frustration and sadness over not reaching the physical goals I sent at my previous Jahreskontrolle. My necessary response to this shared truth for the present time is therefore to adjust my attitude about my physical goals. I have a future hope of walking and dancing again; I’m not giving up on that during my earthly lifetime.

However, where I’m at right now is mostly using a wheelchair. I’m excitedly still taking steps – without braces more and more – and I’m seeing progress beyond what I was ever told to expect.

Each summer I write a blog post with my life playlist, and I was watching Rent today thinking about which songs I haven’t yet used in the past four years. Turns out, I only actually used “Seasons of Love” last year. I’ve just written entire posts about “Will I” and other songs. I’m not intentionally provocative (usually), so I won’t end up including “Another Day” in the playlist, but I will talk about it a bit here because of my idea that the world is temporary, but I have an eternal hope.

The song “Another Day” is the introduction of the musical motif “There is not future / There is no past / I live this moment / as my last.” The theme plays out through the musical as characters embrace loving each other fully and unconditionally in the midst of their struggles and mess. I’m in the midst of mess, and I’m so grateful for the friends who have encouraged me to bring it all to Jesus and not need to clean myself up first. Another one of my James shared truths was “True wisdom is displayed in acts of peace not selfishness,” and I’ve been really convicted about how I’m living that one out this week. It’s stretching and painful and uncomfortable, but it’s making me more like Jesus in the end, and that’s what I want more than anything. I know it’s worth it.

Sometimes the paralysis stuff is stretching and painful and uncomfortable – more in the literal sense than the spiritual growth described above – but I know it’s worth it. Even in this physical recovery, I’m learning to be more like Jesus. I don’t have any stories of physical victory to share because I’m in the midst of finals and packing and planning my global travels and I’m barely maintaining my walking. I could share a story of physical messiness thanks to nerve damage, but I’ll just let you know that I’m a pro at learning the warning signs and the clean up gets easier every time. It still sucks to wake up in my own filth, but I also have the joy of alumni turning up on my doorstep to tell me I was a positive influence in my life. I’ll make an executive decision to consider my trials a joy (based on Mr. Weber’s senior Bible lectures on the appropriate Greek translation of James 1:2) because somehow I have this amazing life where I’ve served in Germany five years and now have the opportunity to visit my passport culture before taking a sabbatical in a new culture beginning in September despite the pesky nerve damage that lingers. I’d really appreciate any of your prayers for all the details regarding my physical care in the next three weeks as I wrap up school and five years of life in Germany before this grand totalization adventure. I’ll keep you posted each week on the coming excitement, but I crave the prayers for peace in the chaos.

Leave a Reply