Saturday, January 4, 2014

Elisey Reads ~ The list

So, I settled on a list of 24 books! I got a lot of suggestions and they were all great! I ruled out any that I have read since high school and if I book was suggested more than twice it made the cut!

So far I have finished The Color Purple by Alice Walker and it was not at all what I expected it to be. But I really enjoyed reading it! Once you get used to the style of writing it is a quick read. It was incredibly powerful and you end it with a sense of sad hopefulness, if that makes any sense.

I'm now reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Folett and I'm really enjoying it!!!

So, here is the list....

The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut
1984, George Orwell
Animal Farm, George Orwell
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
I Know This Much is True, Wally Lamb
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Red Tent, Anita Diamant
The Cider House Rules, John Irving
Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dune, Frank Herbert
Beloved, Tony Morrison
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

Friday, December 6, 2013

~ EliseyReads ~ A year of classics

At the end of the school day I usually go through my classroom and collect all of the forgotten textbook, binders, and random school supplies that are left behind by my students. Well today I picked up one of my students' copies of The Color Purple... "I can't believe I've never read this" I thought to myself, and then all of the books that could be considered "classics" or "must reads" that I have either never gotten to or should really read again started to go through my mind. I got an idea that I should put a list of these books together and finally read them. I asked my classroom neighbor Mrs. Hernandez for help, given she's the AP Language history teacher I figured she was the right person to ask. She and I decided that I should put a list of 20 books together and try to complete the list in a year. Sounded like a fun project to me!!! So... I'm collecting suggestions and ideas from whoever has them :)

I'm hoping to have a finalized list by Monday/ Tuesday and to start reading! The first book will be The Color Purple and I'll go from there. I'll write a blog per post book, maybe more... so if you're remotely interested in what I'm reading (I'm talking to you Mom and Dad, haha) keep your eyes peeled for posts that are titled "EliseyReads"!

Happy Reading!!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Benign Life

I was told recently by someone very close to me that they felt I had lived a "benign life". Quite a lot of emotions went through me in a matter of seconds. But, I settled on offended. I took that statement as an insult, as this person somehow telling me my life hasn't been difficult, that I haven't faced adversity, that things have been easy for me. I've never taken well to those types of "accusations", I like to be thought of as a person who has worked hard through thick and thin to get where I am. But, more than that I felt guilty because I knew she was right. In the grand scheme of things, in the larger view of pain and suffering, my life has been benign. If you look at the definition of the word it makes sense: gentle; kindly, not harmful in affect. It would be silly of me to say I regret the fact that I have had a gentle life (overall), I don’t want this to come off as me wishing for more struggles. But, what I struggle with is all of the “why me’s?” Why do I deserve the gentle life, the lucky breaks? What have I done that others haven’t? People, no matter the circumstance, don’t deserve bad things to happen to them, so who’s to say who deserves good things to happen to them?
Now, this isn't to say I haven't struggled in my own way. I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood being called a "fatass" by a multitude of individuals; this being just the tip of the iceberg of my struggle with my weight/ health/ relationship with food. These issues have led me to a lifetime struggle with self-doubt, low self-esteem and depression, and not to mention a horrible relationship with food. I've lost a good amount of family members as well as family friends. I’ve seen loss and I’ve walked along with those struggling to get through life. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the best and worst of the world and shared in the joys and sorrows of many. But, when I look at some of my friends and family, people who mean the world to me who have beaten cancer, people who have lost friends far too young, people who have lost their parents, people who have gone through abusive relationships and come out stronger than they were before, people who have seen the worst in life and been through the worst in life and have made it, people who have struggled with addiction, people who have lost everything they own in natural disasters. I truly know some of the strongest people on the planet.
When I look at the struggles of my life and what some of my loved ones have been through I realize I’ve had it easy. When my aunt was my age she had already watched her older sister lose her battle with cancer and was in the process of watching her oldest brother lose his battle with AIDS, and all this while raising a young family. Again, strongest people on the planet.
I don’t want to seem like I am wishing for bad things to happen to me so I feel worthy of this life, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty for being on the outside looking in on so many people’s pain. I want to be able to take away some of this pain and put it on me, to know that I’ve somehow spared people from harm, knowing that I can help carry their burdens with them. The bottom line is that I carry guilt knowing that I couldn’t save them, that I couldn’t prevent these things from happening or protect the people I love. I have guilt, I carry the guilt of a benign life.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When you loose faith, listen for the bells

Being the daughter of two Lutheran pastors does not leave you much of a choice in how you grow up. Like most PKs and other "church kids" (kids of council presidents, choir members, alter guild members and general awesome church people) my childhood was spent playing hide and go seek in the church basement, taking naps in the pews, and spending more time with your church family than your actual extended family. I was surrounded by theology all the time, but never felt smoothered by it, my parents created a good balance and were generally great in that way. Where you were going to be on Sunday morning as well as your faith was never questioned. The people of the church weren't just your faith community they were your faith family. It was an environment that I thrived in and that I loved, I knew my place, I was the "Pastor's kid", I was the constant acolyte, I was the Sunday School stand out, and I loved it. All the way through high school I didn't waver, I never questioned my place. But, as us PKs and church kids also know, this doesn't last. Once the time comes to go off to college and leave home, you also leave the rock that you rest your faith on, you leave your church. Suddenly you're thrown the overwhelming task of finding a new church. This is seemingly impossible, you walk into a new church on Sunday and no one knows who you are and you selfishly think that they should. You have a Reese Witherspoon moment of "dont you know who I am?!? I'm the Pastor's kid!"... but then you realize, of course, that the robed wonder in the pulpit is not, in fact, your mother or father, you will not be taking a nap in these pews, or be obligated to stay for 4 hours after everyone else has gone home and flip through the childrens bible to kill time while your parents are in council meetings. You can leave, like every other person there, because you, like everyone else are just another sheep in the flock. It is both liberating and terrifying... and lets not forget that in your mind, no pastor will ever live up to your pastor mom or pastor dad... so good luck with that.
Some will turn to college ministry and spend their college years bonding with a super cool pastor who wears birkenstocks and doesn't "robe up" for service and who is always around for those soul searching moments most of us have in college. Those years in university ministry feed a lot of young people's faith and do a lot of good, but for some they don't quite fit with the pastor's style or the group of people that are the most active Lutheran students, this my friends, happened to me. I spent four years of college and two years of grad school absolutely avoiding the church. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had my faith in God, so why did it matter where I prayed or spent my Sunday mornings... why were my pastor parents freaking out about the fact that I had no church community??
So, feeling lost in almost every aspect of life I turned to change. I turned to YAGM. I'll never forget my phone interview with Heidi and feeling absolutely terrified when she asked the question "so, can you tell me about your faith journey?!" How was I supposed to answer this?? I was the daughter of TWO pastors and I was basically a church dropout! No WAY was I getting into this program, I thought, I am a failure and a fake and they'll see it. So I was honest... I told Heidi that I was currently uninvolved in the church and was struggling to find my place. Well, what I had clearly forgotten was that that was totally ok, that the church has room for the lost and the found. And for reasons unknown to me Heidi and her crew thought I deserved a place among the YAGMs.
Going to the DIP event was terrifying. There were people in our group who did daily devotions, volunteered to give the sermon on Sunday, to organize our church service, who taught Sunday school through college!! Who are these people?? Thats all I could think, the whole weekend was consumed by my inner struggle that I didn't belong, that I wasn't good enough, that these other people were just on another level, a level that I was only on in my dreams. These are the people who my parents want me to be, I thought, and I'm not even close.
The faith journey continued through my year in South Africa and has only picked up steam  since I got back. Instead of being intimidated by the faithful awesomeness that was my fellow YAGM I became inspired by it. I'm going to find a church! I'm ready! I can do this! And I did.... I've found my way to an awesome church community and for the first time in YEARS I feel like I'm back where I belong. I even go to Sunday School! yeah, thats right people.... gone are the days of sneaking in during the sermon and sneaking out during the last hymn. Those days are in the past.
During my inquirers class today, which was taught by the head pastor, I was blown away. This pastor, Pastor Tim, knows his stuff and I probably could have continued our conversation all day. But, what stuck with me the most was when he talked about the church being a faith family. And that when one person looses their faith they shouldn't run from the church they should run towards it, because as a faith family we pick up the slack for each other, we believe for each other. I thought that was so beautiful and a concept I've never given much thought to. He talked about how a student of Martin Luther once asked him, "Luther, if I loose faith what should I do?" and Luther's repsonse was "if you should ever loose faith all you need to do is listen for the bells, and when you hear them run towards them, because there you will find the faithful"
And then it hit me, like a ton of bricks, when I went towards YAGM I went towards the bells. It was the community I needed to remind me of not just the awesomeness of the church but the awesomeness of my church, the ELCA. And with the echoes of the YAGM bells in my heart and mind I am walking towards a different faith community, one that I think, will keep me around for quite a while.

Monday, June 24, 2013

what Mandela means to me

I spent about half of my day today searching different news sites and facebook and any outlet where I might be able to get news on Nelson Mandela. As many people may know the 94 year old former South African president is not doing well at all. In fact, he’s fighting for his life. While I spent my breaks at work searching any outlet I could find I started to wonder why I was so emotional at the news of Mandela’s turn for the worse, I was stressing about his health and dreading the eventual word that he had passed, as if he was my own grandfather. I reached out to friends who had also lived in South Africa, asked them if they were just as upset, luckily for my view of my sanity, they were. It is my humble opinion that everyone should be somewhat upset about the possibility that we may lose one of the greatest human beings in history any day now. It would be selfish of us really to refuse to believe the reality of Mandela’s passing. We all must eventually accept the morality of even our greatest heroes. And Mandela is and always will be one of our greatest heroes. He wasn’t perfect, no one is, but he achieved what most thought to be impossible. He united a broken nation, not only that but he did it using the power of speech and the wisdom that comes with the ability to forgive. He did not demand people to pick up their weapons and fight, only to raise their voices in unity. The South Africa of today is a beautiful place, like most countries there are flaws, but when you think about where they started such a short time ago, it is miraculous to see where they are and we can thank Nelson Mandela for that.

While thinking about all of this today I couldn’t help but be flooded by my memories of South Africa. All day I could hear my kids from the crèche signing the national anthem, I could smell corn being roasted on the sidewalk, and I could feel the hugs of my friends and family who still live there. South Africa and the people I love there have become such a huge part of me but today, while sending prayers to all of them, it took me over. That South Africa, the country and culture and way of life that I feel so strongly connected to can be directly linked to the work of Nelson Mandela. And I think that that is why I feel so affected by his eventual passing. He was instrumental in creating something that I will love and respect forever. So, despite the fact that I am not South African and that I was only able to spend a very short year there, I will still be greatly hurt when the eventual news comes through that we have lost one of our heroes. Not just because I have a connection to his country, but because I have a great and deep respect for his accomplishments, and a gratitude for the way in which he acted in the face of such hateful circumstances. He was the man who after 27 years of imprisonment walked away free and shook the hands of his previous captors and said “I forgive you”. That, above everything is his most powerful legacy. His ability to forgive when he had no reason to.

So, thank you Madiba… thank you for teaching the world how to forgive, thank you for being the architect behind one of the greatest places I’ve ever been to, thank you for the joy you brought to this world. I can honestly say, I don’t know where we as a human race would be without you. I wish you a restful recovery, but if that is not what is to be then I hope for a peaceful passing. After the life you have lived and the things you have done you deserve happiness and peace at this time, because it is the same happiness and peace that you wished for all of your people both in South Africa and around the world. Hamba khale Madiba…

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lesson 1: Expect nothing, hope for everything

The original purpose of this blog was to document my year of service with the Young Adults in Global Mission in South Africa, the tag line was "a year in South Africa and the attempt to become an adult" I think I grew up a lot in South Africa but I am far from grown up. Now I'm back state-side and learning more about life everyday. They say the day you stop learning is the day you die and I completely agree, so I'm going to use this blog to document all these little life lessons I'll be learning along the way...

LIFE LESSON 1: Expect nothing, hope for everything

I've written before about the joys and disappointments surrounding expectations. Honestly though in the last year or so I have decided that having expectations is the absolute perfect way to set yourself up for heartbreak and disappointment. There are, of course, some things in life that you should expect, you should expect to be treated with respect, you should expect the sun to rise, you should expect that Ben and Jerry's to ALWAYS be delicious... but let me get to the point.

Some people may say that hope and expectation are essentially the same thing, but to me they couldn't be more different. If you have expectations you could possibly be setting yourself up for disappointment. When you expect something, you have already made it happen in your mind, the scenario has played out and you just know that that is how it will happen because YOU expect it to. But then, it doesn't quite happen the way you want, you don't get the salary offer you thought or he doesn't call when you thought he would. The sense of disappointment can be much stronger when there is expectation versus just hope. When you hope for something there is room for change, possibility of a different scenario. Hope allows you to be happy with whatever the world throws your way.

I hope this hasn't come off negative or pessimistic in any way cause that wasn't my intention. And you could think that I am utterly full of it. But I'll tell you that this is a huge lesson that I have learned and learned the hard way these last few years; expectation primarily leads to disappointment, but hope, hope is where its at. Always have faith that things will work out, hope that people will come through, and only expect the unexpected.

Life lesson #1.

Monday, October 22, 2012

~ All it took was a weekend by a lake ~

I haven’t written a blog since April of this year. I have not truly reflected on any part of my year in South Africa since then. I sat down to write something many times, starting with a few sentences and stopping. But, I never felt like anything I was thinking or feeling was worth the process to think it out and write it. I was never excited to share anything I was feeling or experiencing. As far as my life in South Africa nothing was feeling new or exciting, it was just my life. Then came the time for the big trip home. To be honest I was ready to go home. My year in South Africa was incredible in many ways, but it was also one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had. There were people that were hard to leave and things that I knew I would miss, but I felt I was ready to be back home and start being the person I had developed into over the 11 months in SA, I was ready to start working in the vocation that I felt called to. I had moved on… I thought.

After the excitement of being back home and seeing friends and family again began to fade I felt lost. More lost than I’ve ever felt before. I spent most of my days sitting alone in my parent’s house watching TV, filling out job applications, and yearning for something that I couldn’t get a hold of. I had no job, no purpose, no income, either emotionally or financially. I was bored. I told people stories about South Africa, when they asked but for the most part I avoided talking about it, I rarely got past what we called the “elevator conversation”. Basically a 2-3 minute conversation covering the basics of my year: placement, jobs, food, and one word to sum it up, or one phrase like “yeah, it was great… really great”. Then whoever had asked the question would usually respond with “wow, it’s so amazing you went, we’re glad you’re home”…  I was grateful for the compliment and the welcome home but what I was more grateful for was the short conversation. I felt as if my time in South Africa was this weird dream that I was waking up from. It was a dream I was trying to tuck away, appreciate, but move on from. I thought that because I didn’t have this typical, amazing experience, or that in my eyes my experience didn’t stack up to other peoples that it wasn’t worth talking about. I told the basic stories, showed the pictures to those who would look and listen but I never shared the things that were scratching away at me, I never shared the true joys and the true tragedies that I saw and experienced. And no one asked to hear it. I think it came down to the fact that because I had shared that I had struggled and that I was happy to  behome people (myself included) decided I had nothing to process, and that I was “over it”.        

When it came time to decide on whether or not to go to the re-entry event (a YAGM wide event, where all of us from the 2011-2012 year come together to process our years and have amazing dance parties) I had pretty much decided not to go. I told myself it was because I didn’t want to leave my new job for a day because it was new and that I shouldn’t ask for that time off. Truth is I was terrified to go to re-entry. Terrified that I would be the “Debbie downer” of the group. The girl who didn’t have a "good" year, the girl who struggled. After some serious thinking and a push from fellow YAGMs I decided to go. I was excited to see the other YAGMs that even though I had only spent minimum amounts of time with them, meant so much to me, but as far as talking about my year I felt like running in the other direction. But I must say that from the first joyous hug in the airport in Chicago to last tear- filled hug two days later I felt no desire to run, in fact I felt like I was finally ready to share.

Words can’t describe the feeling of seeing all of those people again. There is something insanely special about the YAGM community. We are all so massively different in many ways, but when it comes to the core of who we all are, when it comes to our souls, we are all very much the same. And when you find that bond in a group of people there is no escaping it. There is a feeling of complete comfort. Hugs are longer, holding hands isn’t weird, and randomly crying on someone’s shoulder or laughing until you can’t breathe is total common place. It’s truly beautiful. Our group of 2011-2012 YAGMs are a special breed, haha; we have an uncanny way of going from total goof-balls to very silent and introspective people at the drop of a hat. We know when to let each other cry and we know when to make each other laugh. There’s nothing like it.

I found great comfort in my small group. It was a random mixture of volunteers with a small group leader (usually an alum from a previous year). I can’t say anything but amazing things about my group. It was a totally random group, most of us from different country experiences, but from the minute we all came together we were a family. It provided me with a space to truly open up about my year. To share every high and every low. But, more importantly it allowed me to hear about other people’s experiences to hear their highs and their lows. There were times where as I sat there listening to people talk that it was like I was telling the story, our thoughts, our struggles and our joys were all so similar. I realized I wasn’t alone. And I think that was the biggest and best gift I could have ever received from my YAGM community.        

A major moment for me at re-entry was a reflective prayer service on the second night. It is very quiet, very soulful, very intimate. In true YAGM form there are plenty of candles and singing and prayer. It was after the first full day of discussion and reflection for our small groups and I knew it would all spill over soon. As we all gathered we eventually took each other’s hands, and as we sat there in holding onto each other, the dam broke. After praying alone, praying with a few others and eventually praying with my MUD (South Africa) family tears just began to flow… I cried alone, I cried while being comforted, I cried while comforting others… I cried for South Africa, I cried for all the times I let my struggles get the best of me, I cried for all the people that I would miss, I cried for Lucky, I cried for my fellow YAGM, I cried out of regret, I cried out of loneliness, I cried out of fear, I just cried…

I would be lying if I told you that once I dried my eyes and left the room of candles that I got my act together, the complete opposite in fact. I continued to have random bouts of tears for a solid hour or so after leaving the room where we held our reflective prayer service. People would come up with comforting hugs and words and they would ask “what’s wrong?” but I had no idea… all I could come up with was “I’m just so tired”. And I was, I was exhausted…. I had held so much in for so long and I had finally felt comfortable enough to let it all go, and that process was utterly exhausting.

After a pretty rockin dance party and some sleep I actually woke up refreshed. I felt like I had been washed clean. As if I could compare my rush of tears to the rains that come after the dry season. I was ready to tell the stories I wasn’t ready to tell before. I was beginning to see my year in South Africa completely differently than I had before. I looked at my pictures with new eyes. There was more light in the joys and more meaning in the tragedies. Where at one point there was a feeling of spite, there was now a feeling of appreciation. This feeling didn’t take away the struggles that I faced, didn’t erase all the hurt… but it brought a new power to the positive, and if there is one thing we all know it’s that light can always shine through the dark.

I realized that I shouldn’t hide any part of my story, but rather balance my story. Not just make it about the hard things or just the good things, but share all of it. And that’s what I started doing, and people listened. And I learned that just as I will never forget their stories, they weren’t forgetting mine. And we began praying for the same people and rejoicing in the same joys. I mean, it doesn’t get much more amazing than that. I discovered a new found desire to know as many stories as I could. I had realized that I had been avoiding reading other volunteers blogs, looking at their pictures, or asking them questions because I was scared that I would be jealous of their experience, because for some crazy reason I wasn’t finding the “amazing” in my own experience.

Leaving that group of people was gut-wrenching. I feel like I could have stayed at that retreat center for another week and still not feel like I had had enough. I am finally processing things the way I should have all along. I am acknowledging every part of my experience and I am owning up to it all. And it feels amazing. It is hard and it will be hard to do alone at first, but it’s a journey that was fueled by community and friendship but needs to be continued alone for a while, and then when I come through I will be all that more prepared to share what I truly learned.

I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have spent the time I did in South Africa, to have learned the lessons that I learned, and I am thankful for every joy, but even more-so I am thankful for every struggle. So thank you South Africa, you changed myself and I will carry you with me forever.

To my YAGM community, to each of you who actually read all 2,000 words of this rambling, thank you… thank you for listening, thank you for sharing, that you for holding my hand, and thank you for the hugs. I will be bursting with love for each of you forever.