12 Lives and a Rainbow

12 people. 12 personalities. 12 sets of struggles. 12 hearts of passion, 12 stories of redemption. 12 living testimonies to transformation. 12 life stories all pointing to 1 God.

And a rainbow.

In Academy classes we’ve just finished two weeks of sharing life stories. When I was reading the Academy packing list in the summer, they mentioned bringing any materials that would be helpful for sharing your life story. That didn’t mean much to me at the time, since I thought life story was just a cooler word for tell-your-testimony-in-ten-minutes. But this was nothing like that. We each had 1 ½ hrs to share our lives. Like, our whole lives: our ancestry, our birth story, our family dynamics, our struggles when we were 5, 8, 12, and 19, our joys and most meaningful moments. We spoke of our relationships, the bedrocks and mistakes and emotional rollercoasters.  We shared pictures – the scanned black&white pictures of grandparents’ weddings, through our awkward braces phase and the regretful college party scenes.

I can’t even describe some of the hardships that people vividly shared about (and for their privacy, I won’t try). Over and over, I was just amazed at the diversity of our backgrounds – from the self-professed rebel who knew every philosophical argument against God, to the goody two shoes who has to succeed in everything (any guesses which one is me?) 🙂 Yet we all had testimonies of God’s faithfulness in drawing near to us in the hard times, sometimes banging us over the head to make us wake up to His presence, sometimes waiting patiently for us to look up and see Him standing there.

Anyway, I shared yesterday, and I really enjoyed it. I wrote a 12-page manuscript (yep, a manuscript sounds way cooler than a paper, or document) and read it out loud. Mine was not the most sensationalist one ever – my life basically goes along the lines of “I have a family and God who loves me and I’ve gotten to go a lot of cool places and meet a lot of cool people. And even when life is hard and I’m stupid, it’s still really good.” My life has been whole – really richly whole. No gaping wounds, no black holes of despair. And that is something I can REJOICE in, recognizing that God in his grace has spared me a lot of pain and sorrow while still reminding me constantly of my inability to live life without Him.

Yesterday evening, after another Fellow shared his story, I was just feeling really thankful for God’s work in all of our lives – the evidence of His hand molding and shaping us was undeniable. We were headed to the chapel outside, for Evensong, when I looked up and gasped – a stammering, jaw-dropping gasp. The sun was streaming across the bay, and against the murky grey backdrop of rain in the distance, there was a massive triple rainbow arching over the buildings and trees, one side touching down in the bay, one side touching on the far side of the barn – completely surrounding the Academy property, with a massive gnarled oak tree squarely in the center. The colors were more vibrant and rich than any other rainbow I’d seen before, with three district spectrums of color fully visible.  We just gaped for about 10 minutes (and all showed up for Evensong a bit late that night).

Biblically, the rainbow is a sign that God will never again flood the earth. It’s a sign of hope. And against the backdrop of 12 lives of struggles and sin, the vibrant rainbow of hope –  reminding us of God’s promise to continue transforming us into His likeness – was completely breath-taking. It might have been my favorite moment since arriving at the Academy.

I don’t have any pictures, but maybe that’s best. If you saw the rainbow, you’d probably be really jealous, and I don’t want to make anyone stumble. 🙂

But here’s a picture, just to make you happy: (from the Trinity Forum 20th anniversary Gala in DC a few weeks ago. Don’t we look so grown-up? I still feel like I am playing dress-up…)

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The heavens declare the glory of God…

… and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

(Pictures taken tonight at sunset. Still can’t believe I live here. Real post coming soon, I promise.) 🙂

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I can’t believe I live here…

Long story short:

I’ve been at Trinity Forum Academy (TFA) for the past two weeks, and will be here until May 2012. It’s a intentional 9-month long learning and living community of twelve 20-something Christians who are trying to figure who God is, who we are, and what that means for the world we live in.

That’s the generic spiel I give people. But almost invariably, they have more questions. Because frankly, what I described sounds a lot like a postmodern Jesus Movement commune.

And thus the tentative follow-up question always comes soon after: So, Krista… what exactly are you doing at Trinity Forum Academy?

You know, that’s a great question. 🙂 It’s one I’ve been trying to answer in my head for the last two weeks, actually. Let me split it up this way:

The Characters

Meet the Trinity Forum Academy Class of 2012. Aren’t we a fine-looking bunch?

(That’s us in our fancy outfits – we normally don’t dress up all the time.) 🙂 Anyway, we’re similiar in that we all love Jesus, all want to figure out how to make our personal and professional lives bring Him glory, and all have some credible background of academic/professional excellence. And we all thought that living for a year on a peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay with 11 other people trying to figure out the same stuff would be fun.

But we’re also very, very, different. I was raised Christian through and through, others are grappling with a new faith that their families don’t share. Some of us are academically oriented, others thrive in the business world. Some of us are die-hard political conservatives, some are passionate liberals, and some of us don’t barely care to think about politics at all. Some of us turned down top graduate programs in the country to come here, some of us (ahem, me) were simply thrilled to be accepted because the other alternative was, um, well…. yeah.

We’ve come from backgrounds in everything from accounting to fantasy novel writing to professional tennis, and are pursuing ideas ranging from developing incarnational models of hospitality, designing a flying motorcycle, and fighting food deserts in inner cities. We’re all figuring all ways to serve and love the world we’re in, thus ultimately serving and loving the One who made it.

I can’t tell you how blessed I’ve been to know these friends in just the two short weeks we’ve been here. We’ve been crab-feasting, kitchen-cleaning, volleyball-playing, hymn-singing, coffee-drinking to our hearts’ delight in between studying and working, which does take up a lot of time. We’ve started a blog of memorable quotes and events – click on over to TFA 2012 for a look into our quirky class.

The Plot

Like I mentioned before, we’re all here because we want to to figure out how to use our specific gifts and passions to pursue His calling on our life. As senior faculty member Os Guinness explains, there are two types of calling – corporate and individual. So while we’re spending time on individual projects related to our specific academic and professional interests, we’re also spending a significant amount of time working through what our corporate calling is as young Christians. So we spend 3 hours in class every day, studying things like apologetics, redemptive hermeneutics, servant leadership, globalization, and how we can incarnationally apply our faith to pressing social concerns of our day.

The Setting

When Trinity Forum Academy was first founded, the Board was well aware of the temptation to lock ourselves away in ivory towers while figuring out life. So, they stuck us all together in a rather small house (at least it’s small for 14 people) and started teaching us a lot about our sin nature and propensity to pride and selfishness. And then they built a Lodge next to the Academy where we work 16-20 hours a week, serving conference guests. At its most prestigious, this involves waiting tables, serving coffee, and preparing fancy desserts. At its most humble, this means scrubbing toilets, chopping endless amounts of potatoes, and cleaning bird poop off the 1/4-mile long pier.

There’s no better way to keep life in perspective than a few dirty toilets.

More stories to come soon, but for now, here’s a glimpse of what it looks like (our house on the left, Lodge on the right):

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Across the Border

I’ve been in America for two weeks now, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I escaped to Canada. Surprise!

Just kidding. I mean, I did go to Canada. But I wasn’t really sick of the US. I just visited one of my dearest friends from high school.

Beverley and I have been friends since we were 13 years old. We were trying to remember when exactly we hit it off. I remember I kept getting her confused with another girl, and she thought I was too cool for school (first impressions … I don’t recommend them). 😉  But we quickly found bits of kindred spirit in each other, and by the time 8th grade was over, after we survived clique drama and a terrifying algebra class, we were fast friends.

In high school, we both went to Cambodia and worked at an orphanage – a pivotal point in directing us both towards international affairs. University led her to study Heath Sciences in Ontario (and India, China,  and Rwanda), while I found myself doing International Studies in Indiana (and Ireland, England, and Egypt). Even with our globetrotting habits, we’ve managed to see each other about once a year.

This most recent rendezvous found us, out of all places, in Niagara Falls! When we drove across the bridge to the falls, she proudly announced “it’s one of Canada’s natural wonders!”  To which I blurted out: “Wait, Niagara Falls is a Canadian thing? I had no idea!” Whoops.

Our few short days were filled with adventure and conversation.  In what may be one of our most spontaneous decisions yet, we decided that there was no better way to spend a sunshine-y day than to rent a tandem bicycle and make a trip to a little town on the shore of Lake Ontario. Neither of us had been very frequent bike riders in the recent past, and neither of us had ever been on a tandem bike. After a few near-death encounters with unsuspecting Asian tourists along the Niagara parkway, we did quite well. 🙂

We stopped for peaches and reveled in the late summer harvest:

 

And wandered through wine country and old streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a route that Winston Churchhill famously called “the most beautiful Sunday afternoon drive in the whole world.”

The next morning we did the touristy thing and visited the Falls. I was more impressed than I planned to be. They were really quite beautiful and majestic, even with the chintzy tourist photo ops and souvenir stores dotting the shoreline.  I loved the horseshoe shape of the falls, and the turquoise color of the water.

All in all, it was a great weekend. We didn’t get much sleep, but got a whole lot of memories and finished a lot of conversations that should hopefully tide us over for another year or so. Having best friends spread out across the world isn’t always fun, but it does make for some handy excuses to travel. 🙂

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Is this real life?

A lot of people have been asking me if I miss Uganda, or if it was hard to say goodbye when I left. The answer to those questions is yes, and yes. But I don’t miss Uganda as much as I thought I would, nor did I cry when I left Uganda as much as I thought I would. And I just realized why….

This week back in the UK and in the US has by-and-large been really great. A lot of fun with family and friends. I’ve had apple pie, gone on walks through the pine forest, worn shorts with great freedom, and had some great conversations with friends and family both near and far. Culture shock, apart from a few funny incidents, has been pretty tame.

But it hit me today, as Sara Bareilles crooned a mournful ballad in my ear, that none of this feels real yet. Life in America still feels like a happy little holiday, which is great for a few days or weeks. But I am pretty sure that, subconsciously, I am not treating this like real life.

Real life is when I get up with the early morning tropical sun, get dressed in my business-casual wear, pour a cup of Ugandan coffee and hop sidesaddle on a boda to ride the 15-minute commute to work, chatting with my boda driver Stephen about the rising inflation, the importance of taking your daily vitamins, and how horrible every other driver in Kampala is. Real life is still buying super cheap vegetables at the market, drinking African milk tea most every day, going to Christ Community on Sundays, sending 40+ emails daily at work, praying together with the IJM Uganda team, while battling marabou storks, hectic taxi drivers, and malaria-infested mosquitos day and night.

Practically speaking, all that means is that I am not yet to the mourning stage of leaving Uganda, because my vivid memories of the year I spent there still seem more real to me than my current life in America. And I don’t really know what to tell my subconscious in order to change this mentality. I guess it just happens at some point? Maybe in a week, maybe two. Maybe months down the road?

So for now, all I can say is – yes, I miss Uganda. And yes, it was hard to leave.  But I don’t think I’ve gone through the worst of it yet. I’ll let you know when real life hits. There might be some crying involved at that point.

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An American Re-Entry

Coming back the States, I was dubious about how excited I’d feel to back in this country. By the end of my time in Uganda, I was feeling less American than ever (which was admittedly a source of pride for me). My times in the States generally feel like extended stops at a gas-station – I stay long enough for a good refuel, but it’s never my final destination. So I surprised myself (and my airplane seatmate) when I practically jumped out of my chair as we passed over New York City at 35,000 feet. I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, which brought forth all sorts of strangely patriotic sentiments about how glad I was to live in a country with such freedom, opportunity, equality, blah blah blah, etc.

Despite these surprising feelings of happiness to be back, there have definitely been some uncomfortable moments back on US soil, like when the Immigrations officer, looking at my US passport, asked me “Which country are you a citizen of?” After three terrifying seconds of my mind going blank, I feebly replied, “Umm. USA?” I don’t know if my passport looked suspicious, but at any rate, they let me back in the country.

Another awkward moment happened in the airport earlier this week. For the last few months in Uganda, I had been dreaming of what I wanted to get at Starbucks when I got back (I had pretty much settled on a tall extra-hot Cinnamon Dolce Latte made with whole milk and one shot of syrup instead of normal two – not that I really overthought that decision or anything). So while I was waiting for my flight from Maryland to Colorado,  I walked into the airport Starbucks with eager anticipation. Then I looked at the menu.

Options jumped out and swirled in my head, matched with prices that told me I would be spending $3.95 for a small drink. $3.95 is 11,000 Uganda shillings – enough for an entire meal out. Clamping my gaping jaw shut, I left as quickly as I entered, and walked down the whole terminal and back before I got up the gumption to order a small decaf coffee – which is  admittedly the most boring option on the menu. But it was cheap, and that’s all I cared about at that point.

It got worse. I waiting for my drink order to be called out, and when the barista brought it forward, looking for the correct customer, I met her gaze, and pointedly raised my eyebrows. In Uganda (and Papua New Guinea, and a lot of other cultures), this would be a way of identifying yourself, affirming your agreement, nodding yes, raising your hand, etc. It’s become one of my favorite  and most-used gestures, and I became quite adept at using it in Uganda to call a waiter at a restaurant, flag down a taxi or boda, or send a subtle message across the room during morning devotions.  In America, however, I don’t think it has this connotation. As I looked at her expectantly with eyebrows raised, she just stared back at me blankly. After a quick blush and “um, that’s mine, thanks”, I made it safely outside the Starbucks, with my small decaf coffee that I didn’t even really want to drink anyway.

And then there are the smart-phones, which in the year since I left the States, have replaced the normal cellphone for what seems to be 77% of the population. The amount of data, entertainment, and connectivity that people need to have at their fingertips is mind-boggling.

And last but not least, I have to mention the 487 times I have successfully refrained from happily throwing my arms around each black person I see, whether it’s the Baltimore airport security guard, the Coloradan guy in a cowboy hat on my Denver-Boise flight, or the British soldier in the Royal Air Force. And I’m always taken off guard when I hear them speak in a decidedly non-Ugandan accent. Thankfully, I haven’t spoken to anyone in Luganda yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens at some point soon.

So, yes. America is great. But it hasn’t been all easy, and I’ve been surprised at the moments that have thrown me for a loop.

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The Charm of West Sussex

I’m back in the States, and apart from a number of culture shock moments (which will be described in fuller detail later), I’m glad to be back. On the way back to this side of the world, I stopped in the UK for a few days to visit old friends, Paul and Rachel Donovan, and their four kids. (I say old, not because they are old, but because they were my hostel parents in PNG, which was definitely a few lifetimes ago in the world of Krista, hence the word “old”. Just to clear up any misunderstandings.) 🙂

Anyway, everyone was wondering if I was okay and alive and safe in Uganda, but I think I had more near-death moments in England.  Not only were the streets of half the cities up in rioting flames, I also got the worst skin lickin’ I’ve had in a while. It was my first morning there, and  I, being awake bright and early (thank you, jetlag!), decided to go on a run. The first twenty minutes were complete bliss, following the “public footpath” signs through blackberry bush patches and wide-open pastures, bunny rabbits bouncing around on the dewy grass. I kept on expecting Elizabeth Bennett to be around the next bend.

Feeling rather on top of the world, I was way out in the middle of nowhere when my foot hit a very large rock on a gravel path, and I came flying down with an alarming intensity. When I hit ground, I was convinced I had broken my knee.  Anyway, a bloodied elbow, lacerated leg, and bruised knee later, I’m still alive, but much more wary of the seemingly meek and unassuming English countryside.

My friends Paul and Rachel live in a beautiful little Victorian-era village (yeah, they really call it a village), in the manse (pastor’s house) on High Street (main street). It’s like a dream. While there, we got to visit another “old” friend from PNG, my high-school English and History teacher, and also went to the seaside where we saw white cliffs, red-and-white striped lighthouses, and ate fish and chips, of course.

My last morning there found me wandering through the village, listening to the Anglican church ring in the new day, buying a loaf of fresh grain bread at the village bakery to bring back home for breakfast. You know the little town where Belle lives in Beauty and the Beast? It was basically like that.

Everything was just perfect. I think it was good for me to spend a few days in the interim period – not in Uganda, and not back to the US, where I’ll have to consciously adjust to this culture and make an effort to connect with friends and family before starting my next adventure at Trinity Forum Academy. For those few days, I was just a young girl enjoying the romantic English countryside with a lovely family who treated me as their own daughter. And that suited me just fine.

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