Thursday, June 23, 2011

of rocks and trees, of skies and seas (i rest me in the thought.)

One week ago from yesterday I said goodbye to the lovely work group from 1st Pres. of CO Springs. They blessed me SO so greatly in their time here. I felt a strong sense of community and belonging with them. We “got” each other… cultural references, music, hipster jokes, etc. :) And moreover, they had positive attitudes, open minds, and warm hearts. Basically they are amazing, and we here at Pico all miss them so much!

The last three days with 1st Pres consisted of an amazing homestay (which I will blog about later – it deserves its own post!) and a day at the beach on the northern Dominican coast (this was when I was sick, so it was kind of anticlimactic, but nonetheless beautiful). Then I had the joy of returning home for one night at camp just to pack up again for the next trip: we got to go on a 3-day adventure trip as a summer staff! This was right up my alley.

We went to a beach called frontón, which is on the penísula samaná. (I sought a pleasant peninsula, so I looked about me, and found samaná, not Michigan. Oh well.) It is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Frontón is a fairly small beach that is nestled between a coral reef and a 300-foot rock face that juts out straight above it. It’s famous for climbing (which unfortunately we did not get to do) but I could see the bolts, and the routes looked amazing. (Next time, I guess!)

We hiked 2 hours in with our supplies on our back (with a burro carrying our water, which was luxurious for a backpacking trip!) and set up camp right there on the beach, under the palm trees, taking mind not to set our tents under the coconuts, so as to save our heads from any falling cocos. :)

Our time there was refreshing, relaxing, delightful, community-building, beautiful, healing, challenging, hilarious, unexpected, and restorative.

We of course delighted in the unbelievable natural beauty of the place, in the joys of splashing in the warm salty sea, and in waking up early to see the sunrise. We also learned to laugh at our circumstances, and when torrential rains fell for most of our first morning, we just kept swimming since it was warmer in the water, anyways. (Later on we did have our time to lay like bums in the sun, too.) These things brought us together as a team, which is something I really needed to experience. God is good.

And for me it was also a beautiful time of spiritual refreshment. Being out in nature is what I love most – there were multiple moments where I just felt this whooshing feeling of deep breaths, of the spirit moving through me – I just felt so alive! Moments of “this is what I’m made for” – not so much in the sense that my vocation is to be a beach bum, but more to say that this feeling of living life to the full, of experiencing deep joy and communion with the Creator and his creation – this is what we’re made for. The barrier between heaven and this broken world is very thin in Frontón.

The last night, the sky cleared and I slept out on the beach, under the stars. Before I slept I spent a couple hours just staring at the stars, the full moon, and the heaving sea, breathing in the salt air and contemplating the creator. Such delight, worship, and rest.

Frontón is covered in God’s fingerprints. We can find them everywhere, not just in places of such obvious beauty… and my time there served as a reminder to look for them all about the paths I walk.

May you, too, search and find God’s fingerprints everywhere.

be well,


Sunday, June 12, 2011

this world is enchanted, lean in closer to see it.

One of my favorite songs from the worship CD recorded at Mars Hill in 2006 says “this world is enchanted, lean in closer to see it // this world is enchanted, dare to breathe it in.” I really resonate with this praise. I’ve long been wonder-filled and captivated by the resplendence of God’s creation. And this time in the Dominican has been filled with frolicking delights in God’s beautiful world.

As I write this post now I am on the back porch of our lodge, which looks out over this green explosion of a valley where camp is nestled in nicely between a few hills and a couple mountains. This is one of the places that feels much like home – I spend a lot of time here reading, hanging out with my summer staff and work groups, and at night the last thing I do before hopping into bed is come out in the dark just to listen to the oratorio being composed by myriad chirping and cheeping and trilling creatures.

Atypically, the mountain at this moment is not covered in fog, but very often, wisps of silvery mist swirl their way about the mountain peaks, enveloping the highest trees in their shimmery fog. It is so incredibly beautiful. Nothing ever dries here because it is so humid, and the rain is near constant, which is bad news for my wool socks’ ability to dry and for my formerly-anticipated summer tan, but it is great news for the vegetation, which is dense and lush and amazingly diverse. There are so many cool plants here, and I would love to tromp through the forest with my botanist Dad to try to identify them! I’m not familiar with the tropical flora, though, so compared to hikes in the states, when we’re hiking here, I seem way less nerdy to my cohorts (or at least less nerdy in the botanical sense. I can’t hide my real nerd self though! Ha. I compensate when we get talking about theology or Spanish grammar. :))

(On the fauna side, fortunately there are no poisonous spiders or snakes here. Phew! Mostly just tons of lizards and lots and lots of mosquitoes with ferocious biting powers.)

A couple times now, we’ve hiked out to the waterfall, which is just up the road and a little bit behind camp. The first waterfall is lovely and you can arrive in about 15-20 minutes. But the second waterfall is massive and glorious, and to get there, you have to wind your way through this tropical rainforest (not sure if that’s what it technically is but it seems like one), crawling your way through dense leaves and vines, scrambling up rocks and roots, and wading across the river something like 8 times back and forth. But when you get there it is so worth it. Besides, in my opinion as a lover of hiking, that adventure to arrive is most of the fun! Standing at the bottom, the pleasantly tepid mist covers you in water droplets whether or not you get in the water, but you can go swimming in the natural pool there. It is amazing. We’ll be leading the work teams on this hike a few times and thus far, it’s one of those things that doesn’t get old.

With the work group at the 1st waterfall.

With my dear fellow summer staffer Ella

The work group enjoys the second waterfall
Along the way to the waterfall... glory

In the words of that song ‘enchanted,’ may God give you “new eyes to see, give you new skin to feel, new lungs to breathe the wonder underneath.”

This world is enchanted. Lean in closer to see it.

peace and blessings,


Wednesday, June 8, 2011


It’s my 5th day in the DR, and contrary to what the title of this post may connote, in my time here thus far I have not baked any betty crocker chocolate chip cookies, re-arranged any furniture, or made the kids’ lunches, or sewed any quilts. Nah, not that kind of home-making.

Rather, this almost-a-week (can’t believe it’s only been that long!) has been a time of finding my place here, of making it home. (of God making a home for me.)

When I first arrived, I was excited to be in the DR because, well, I love to travel, and as I’ve previously written, I knew that this was going to be a great opportunity to learn and serve.  And I was not tremendously unnerved, because I am used to traveling and I tend to adjust quickly to new environments. But I was a bit unsettled. Inquieta is probably the best word I can think of for this situation. I did not feel HOME as quickly as I expected. In those first few days I was good, not great. I was pleased, not glowing.

This seems all fine and normal for the first few days in a new place, right? Well, yes and no, but a couple things kept me from more realistic expectations: 1) I had built this up a lot in my head; and 2) I have been spoiled by several of these sorts of quick adjustments that went off without a hitch, where we just clicked instantly, such as when I moved into Calvin for the first time and almost instantly found my friends who are now, 3 years later, going to be my housemates; or when I moved in to Harambee and we were all “camping” out on the porch the first night and laughing to the point of tears within a day.

So when I arrived and found out more about my summer and met these good and kind people that are my summer staff and the full-time staff at Pico, and things were just ok, I felt a little off. I was missing my friends and fam from home more than I usually do on trips. Now, as time has gone on, we have come to know each other and love each other better, and each day, I feel more and more fed by these relationships. But we are rather different people, and it was different for me to be in an environment where we did not have much common ground to begin with. (I think we take for granted the cultures of our own social circles and our places – our hometowns, colleges, states, etc – and those differences are maybe bigger than one might think!) So we’ve been building friendships from the ground up, and it’s been great. I really value the people around me. They have such beautiful kind hearts.

Perhaps what has been the greatest (or at least equally great) has been the arrival of the first work team. When they got in Monday night, oh man – things really took a turn for the awesome. They are a delightful group of 20 from the youth group of 1st Presbyterian in Colorado Springs (from Colorado AND reformed folks – well THAT feels like home haha). One of their leaders is even a Calvin grad! They’re fun and energetic and interesting and just so quick to open up and form relationships. I really value each of them and I’m so happy that I get almost another week yet to spend with them! God has blessed me immensely in giving me the chance to host them this week. My job consists of leading them (particularly in terms of guiding them through their schedule and activities and meals in town and stuff like that), encouraging them, planning details of their visit, processing their experience with them, and just building relationships and loving on them. God’s filled me with so much life and light in this. I forgot how life-giving for me that leadership and encouragement are and I’m so glad that I’ve been given me the opportunity to do this full-time. I love the chance to get to know these high schoolers and show them through my time and care and interest in them that they have value as children of God! It’s so great.

God has spoken a fresh word to me in this time of his love and of his light (we are people of the light!) and for this I am so grateful.

I could write much more and this is already getting to be bookish, so I ought quit now. (But an almost-week is a lot of life to communicate in one blog post!)

I’ll write more about the place itself and of the adventures we’re having soon. I can’t wait to share about the immense natural beauty of this place, the crazy awesome hikes to go swim in waterfalls, the fantastic Dominican staff and other new friends, the merengue lessons (!), and the local food.

Thank you for all of your prayers and support. They are certainly felt and very much appreciated. God is good, and I am so blessed to know that I have such wonderful people back home that love me and that I love so very much, too!

¡Hasta luego! ¡Cuídense!

un abrazo,


Thursday, June 2, 2011

adios! and time for a new hoja.

Well, tomorrow is the big day: at 10:40am, i'll be boarding a plane in Grand Rapids, and a couple flights and layovers later, I'll land in Santiago at 8:15pm!! (Like Michigan, the Dominican Republic is on Eastern Time, fyi.)

I am so so excited. (Today a dear friend asked me to rate what percent I am excited and what percent I am terrified: I gave the ratio of 99 /1 %.) The nerves and stress were really only from all of the things I have needed to get done in these past weeks, and unfortunately, some of those didn't get done. But this, too, shall pass, and I am only learning more about grace through the process.

Some of my friends have asked me what I'm most excited about... I struggled to contain it to a few things, but I think two aspects stick out to me the most.

One thing I am so excited about is being a part of the amazing ministry of Dominican Young Life. I am deeply passionate about it, and I have been waiting three years to join back into the work that they are doing. I can't wait to meet the work teams, invest in their lives, share with them what I'm passionate about, and come alongside them in their journey. And also to learn from and serve the amazing Dominican people, too!

But really right now what I think excites me most is the change of pace (and place). Instead of balancing 18 bajillion different things at once, I'll be there. At Pico Escondido. Present. Investing my love (and therefore my life) into the people around me and into better knowing my creator and his creation. And this will all be taking place in the gorgeous mountains of the DR's top coffee-growing region (yum!). Nothing like getting to a mountaintop to slow down.

I have a tendency to over-commit and overwork myself, and 2010-2011 has been the apex of this destructive life pattern. I should clarify -- certainly, there are benefits to the busy life -- such as learning tons in and out of classes, trying to give of myself to the causes i'm passionate about, getting published, having adventures, "getting things done." But the schedule I run is also incredibly taxing, physically and mentally. This has been a season of growth in my life, but of great challenge, too: the lessons have been tough to learn. I've learned (better said.... I am learning) that by trying to do too much at once, I am actually able to give less of myself to those things, and I am less able to be fully present in the places of my life. I am hoping to take this time as a turning point on the path, a step into the type life that a mentor of mine of mine encouraged me to live into: to "live the spanish life," -- and now it can be said, the dominican life.

Its significance is two-fold: firstly, spaniards are generally more relaxed than americans and they sure know how to enjoy life (¡disfruta! - enjoy! - was the constant urging from my mamá) -- it's hard not to do so when you live on the mediterranean and take siestas every day, I suppose. (And have the best football team in the world! Yeah!) In this way, dominicans have much to teach me, too -- their open, slow-down-and-enjoy-life culture will be a breath of fresh air for this typical always-on-the-go americana. Furthermore, on my semester abroad, I did not have a job. I led no social justice student organization. I was doing no on-the-side research. I was a student, a host daughter, and a friend. Y ya está. I took walks along the mediterranean daily and spent time watching TV (especially Barça games!) with my host family. I slept a reasonable amount and used my free hours to peruse hostels in Morocco for my next trip or take dance classes at the local studio. And, surprise of surprises, I was still worth something! I tend to forget that even in my times of rest and in my failures I am loved and valuable.

And this summer, without stretching myself out over an amalgamation of every activity under the sun, I will be worth something, then, too. I will be a member of the summer staff at Pico Escondido: a sister to my fellow summer staffers, an eager learner, a servant to those around me, and (as always) a builder for God's kingdom. And hopefully, I will be very present, and very at peace.

So I'm hoping that this summer God grants me the strength and the grace to start moving my way into this new way of life... It's not that I'll never be busy again -- by no means! But rather, I want my life to revolve around people. Around worship, rest, and delight. Rhythms of sabbath that nourish and feed my body and soul so that I may better pour out my love to those around me, rather than turning my focus inward into my own preoccupations and my face down into my planner.

The last thing: the title of this post is "time for a new hoja." In spanish, hoja means both 'leaf' and 'page.' I'm turning over a new leaf... and stepping into treading about another page in my story that God is writing and unfolding before me.

I ask for and sincerely appreciate your prayers in my journey: both my flights tomorrow, and for this part of the journey in the story of my life. That God may be able to use this time in my life as a time to break me and restore me, constantly moving towards the best kind of life I can live, one lived in communion with my creator and all of my neighbors in his precious creation.

May God make you, too, attune to feel the beautiful rhythm that He is composing for you.

Next time I write... I"ll be there in the DR! Adios for now :)

gracia y paz,


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

my summer bookshelf.

"Oh Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught." - R. W. Emerson

I love books. This summer I look forward to / hope for a chance to read more: to slow down a bit from my normal routines of rapid school reading and instead to have time to soak in ideas and truly wrestle with them; to get caught up and swept away in a thrilling story.

I am bringing a plethora of books and I know I won't get to all of them in their entirety in my 9 weeks in the dominican (though a couple are re-reads), but I wanted to share them with you and ask:

Have you read any of these? Which ones? What did you think? (but don't give it all away just yet :))  Leave me a comment and let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts and/or recommendations, (and maybe later we can discuss!) Let's make this a conversation.

Without further ado:

In case that the image does not come through clearly (/ and to see the full titles), the books are:
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself, Corbett and Flikkert
  • Moon guide to the DR
  • Love Wins, Rob Bell
  • Loves Me, Loves Me Not: the Ethics of Unrequited Love, Laura Smit
  • Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities, Miroslav Volf
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
  • Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel
  • The Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, Richard Foster
  • The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians, Frederica Mathewes-Greene