Saturday, June 27, 2009

Being

And so we rest with paper and pen and stories, learning and growing. It is hard to be here sometimes, knowing how much need there is in the world. Knowing how many other places have "need". And still there are Sundays where we rest and are reminded to peace. Though today was a Saturday, today was a day of rest. And I look forward to tomorrow and worshiping with the church.

Some conversations over the past few days have included:

What is worldview? How do we teach it? When are students ready to learn it?
What is reformed theology? Why does Dana believe it?
Why does it always rain here?
Who is getting the mail today?
Where did the dog in my room come from?
Who is cooking dinner?
Where did the Alexs go?!
What is true ministry? How do we live in it? How do we evangelize?
What is it for Dana to chill out and stop worrying?
Who is Wendell Berry and why should I read his writing?
So... Alex really got caught in the bathroom?

This is just a small sampling. It is a summer of questions and wondering. A summer of searching. Joyful play and learning. It is good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reliance (A Prayer)

My Father,

When thou art angry towards me for my wrongs, I try to pacify thee by abstaining from future sin. But teach me that I cannot satisfy thy law, that this effort is a resting in my righteousness, that only Christ's righteousness, ready made, already finished, is fit for that purpose; that thy chastening me for my sin is not that I should try to reform, but only that I may be more humbled, afflicted, and separated from sin, by being reconciled, and made righteous in Christ by faith; that a sense of my sufficiency and ability in him is one means of my being immovable; that I can never be so by resting on my own faith but by trusting in thee as my only support, by faith...

Lord, forgive me for this.


A Prayer from "The Valley of Vision."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Elmo

Life continues here in Ocean City in its odd, distance from reality. This week we have had the unmistakable privilege of having Byron Borger (owner of Hearts and Minds Bookstore) among our ranks. His presence and conversation has instructed and challenged us all in very individual ways. He is up at all hours spending time with us and talking. He milling around the kitchen when I get up for work and it still going strong when I head to bed at midnight. It has been an astonishing reminder of how vast and glorious the gospel really is. The entire world is broken and instranged from itself in our fall, all institutions, all policies, all organizations, all relationships. And the gospel of Christ in us will bring life and healing to those places as well. I forget that the story of the church didn't end at the end of Acts. It is still a story being told, one that has yet to end, one of God's glory continuing to play out and command the course of our lives. It has also been a gift to hear the stories of God's redemption in the lives of my house-mates. We are learning to love each other even more and have much to learn from each other.

This post is specifically to tell some stories about where I am working. I am working for a woman named Lisa at Kidz Creations. I have had several different roles in the course of a week and am learning how to contribute. Arts and crafts aren't my thing but I now know the difference between acrylic and water based paints! More than that, I am getting a chance to do ministry in the oddest ways imaginable. The past two days I have drawn people into the store while wearing a large, awkward, smelly, red, furry suit. Who was I? Elmo. That's is right. You can read it again but the letters won't have changed. I was Elmo to entertain kids and get people to visit the store and notice where it is. This was done successfully. I could hear "my name" being shouted in little kids voices blocks away. I posed for pictures with strangers I couldn't really see from beneath my head. I have been hugged and kissed by many little children that didn't even reach the height of my knees. I have laughed silently with parents. I have pantomimed answers and danced at honking cars. It is the most absurd job I have ever had. No one sees my face. No one knows my real name. It is an odd disconnect. That disconnect triggers an overflow of affection and laughter in the people that see me. It is strange that a costume can give that joy. I'm not an Elmo fan. I haven't watched Seseame Street (did I even spell it correctly?). But it is a kind of ministry to be this character for them and delight them so. I smile too when the kids get all excited about seeing me. It isn't me which can be unnerving sometimes. At the same time, it is like a continual play. Hopefully, I have glorified God in my antics!

Ministry has also been happening in the form of stories. I was left in charge of the store last week and looked after Lisa's daughter, Abby. She did a painting project that involved painted feet and while I washed her feet, I told her the story of a great king who was about to die who washed the feet of his best friends to show them how much he loved them and how they should love each other; that it was one of the bravest things he had ever done. Today, I ended up at the entertainer in a cooking lull at the day camp. I got them in a circle and told them stories about fairies, dragons, and a soldier named Gideon who led a small group to defeat the evil king. The details were modified (mostly because I couldn't remember numbers and it sounded great to have Gideon go up against 1 million soldiers with 100); magic is used instead of miracles. But it is the same. The story captivates. I got them to listen and be interested and asked questions and confirm at the end that Gideon did in fact win against the evil king. I love how stories can attract and maintain attention- not merely attention but investment! How easily I forget such things! That what has changed me is, in fact, a story; the greatest one that was ever told; the greatest because it really happened. And the story gives it strength and life. It is not a "how to assemble" manual handed to me. It is real and is shared as we tell it again and again. It is the story that never grows old or weary or impractical.

So. Elmo. Stories. Cooking. Rainy clouds. Book talk. I'll have more stories to tell later.

-dana

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Placement

Oh dear blog readers, you are now reading a long overdue update on the life and adventures of Dana Ray. You deserve better. Oh wait... it hasn't been that long. It has merely been exactly one week since I moved to Ocean City, NJ for the summer to attend the Ocean City Beach Project with CCO! This has been a week of extraordinary changes and learning. But there I go telling you instead of showing you. Hopefully, I will post a few more times this weekend so you can get a sense of the place God has put me for the next seven weeks (one down, seven to go!).

I am living in a house that can hold up to forty people. There are 19 of us. 15 students and 4 directors. Our house has been called "The Ark" for time out of mind and is rented from the same man who owned it twenty five years ago when the Beach Project was started by the youth director at the 1st Presbyterian Church of Ocean City. This summer, our group will be attending said church who is still really involved in our lives every summer. I have already been blessed by several conversations that took place last Sunday inbetween services. I got the chance to talk to an elder about the church and their teaching and beliefs (they are part of the Presbyterian USA church. Yes, my eyebrows were raised and I went in skeptical). It was a great conversation and I look forward to learning more from this church community. It has been a challenge to our group already, most of whom have not encountered the Presbyterian world in any form. Pastor Sheldon has been a gift and I have very much enjoyed my brief encounters with his kids and with his wife. They all have the most glorious red hair and the youngest, Joanna, is a dear who doodles her sermon notes.

Our other days were spent searching for jobs. True to all the serious doubts expressed by parents all over the board... jobs were hard to find. Please pray for this for all of us. I am currently working at a kid's arts and crafts center for a very broken woman in a very broken town. I almost quit because the first few days were very overwhelming but I'm still there and will be for the near future. Other teammates are still without work and desperately need jobs to remain here this summer. No one is being kicked out or anything, but the pressure is on.

More joyfully, The Ark is a place where the community is centered. It has a spacious main floor that connects by a small hallway to the large kitchen area in the back. We have a small basement area with deep couches but the living room is where we congregate. The couches are many and we shape them in a circle so we can gather for meetings. Dinner takes place in the living room too. We move the pingpong table and set up chairs and tables every night, adding one extra place for the unexpected stranger or guest, who we can serve as Christ. When it is empty, it serves as a reminder that Christ is present in our conversations and community. Upstairs is reached by old, twisty, and creaky stairs. It is like climbing a tower. My room is the last on the left down a long hallway. A cheerful yellow with two windows that catch wind and light, I feel like I am resting like a bird in the tops of buildings. I enjoy resting there and waking up with sea breezes playing in my covers and through my hair.

While this past week was one where we attempted to get into a routine (meaning we had lots of meetings), I think a schedule is soon to be found. It may look like this:

Sunday: Church from 8:45-12, Rest in the afternoon, Breakfast for dinner, Bible study on Exodus (with Lindsey Smyth!)
Monday: My day off which I will spend writing, reading, catching up on sleep, and discipleship with Katie Black. Bible Study on "The Gospel Centered Life", House worship, and House meeting.
Tuesday: Work for the day and then class time at night.
Wednesday: Work for the day and then an evening off or an optional activity. Evening off means hanging out with the House! This is also the day that my group (under the stellar director, Pete Ware) cooks dinner!
Thursday: Same as Tuesday
Friday: A free evening after dinner.
Saturday: My day off. Repeat Monday.

So far, my reading has consisted of some Flannery OConnor and Engaging God's World by Plantinga. Both have been amazing. OConnor... I don't know what to do with her and could use some help. I have so much to learn this summer and the reading list is challenging. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to write some fiction and poetry this summer as well. I am too ambitious as always, but rather that than not planning.

Well, it is time for dinner now. And I must continue a discussion about WVA with Byron Borger (!). The man, as I said at Jubilee, is a rock star. And he knows tons of folks from camp and I get to have a great time trying to get ideas for my Honors Thesis from him. I am so blessed to learn from these people this summer!

In Christ,
Dana

Monday, June 08, 2009

Graduation and Cold Water

And now I will give an update on my hard work since coming home:



(chuckles) Those hours of sleep have been amazing. Hurrah for the chance to do it what school doesn't allow!


My incomparably beautiful and independent sister graduated from high school. We are all so very proud of her. The graduation itself was lovely. Friends and family shared memories, pictures were laughed at, chocolate was consumed in pounds, and much fun was (hopefully) had by all.


The past day was spent at my grandmother's in Deposit, NY. I have so many childhood memories of playing at these very waterfalls with my cousins. I hadn't done so since Grammy's funeral four years ago and was very lucky to enjoy a summer day like this with my sisters!

(we got into an fun water fight)

I also got the chance to employ my favorite pair of shoes. These chacos have been my grounding to the earth since I got them as a birthday present last month. They have served me well in woodland trecks, camping, mall wandering, road trips, and more. I have never owned such comfortable and versatile shoes. I think I might start joining my friend Jamie Zachavitch in wearing them to church. Hmm...



Next: OCEAN CITY BEACH PROJECT SUMMER 09! WOOT!

I have also been blessed to keep in contact with many friends who are starting to see God work in amazing ways this summer. Their stories have blown me away and I cannot wait to hear more as the summer continues. Please keep these folks in prayer and rejoice too in how crazy perfect our God's work is! I have been so encouraged by them!

-Steve, working at Eagle Lake Camp in Colorado. He told his boys the first week that they needed to share their testimony with at least two folks before the week was out. They went and told four people each.
- Sarah, working at an internship with engineers who are taking their time to teach her all they know. Was in a car wreck and a week later was practically given a car and more hours to help pay for insurance.
- Christy, back from Scotland with a passion for knowledge of Scripture and the pursuit of Godliness in the American church.
- Daniel, serving as the youth intern at Carthage Presbyterian Church in Mississippi. Turn out for youth events went from 7 to 17 in a week at VBS, and many doors have been opened for ministry and relationships.
- Worldview Academy camps started this past Sunday. The staff had a fantastic week at training. Having been with these people before, I can only imagine how God is going to work in high school students lives.

What are your stories of the summer?

Need, Money, and Re-Discovered Community

I have been home for two weeks now and will be leaving for Ocean City, NJ this coming Saturday. There is much to do. One part of my preparations for this summer of training and learning has been to distribute letters to everyone I know, giving them an update on my life and what God has been doing and (grits teeth and writes it) asking for money. How much easier and less awkward I feel when I say "financial support". That is the term I use in my letter and when I see my friends face to face. But in my heart, the word "money" is screaming. I've been trying to ignore it but writing now has brought it to the surface. I told Mom yesterday after church (and giving out several letters), that this entire process has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I get awkward, sheepish, stumble over words, and constantly feel like I must justify myself when the paper is handed over. I have never had to do this before; all through high school, I competently covered all financial needs myself with minimal assistance even from my parents. While I know this (in my mind) was God's provision (in a job, in hours, in planning), my heart rested quite comfortably in the fact that I was providing this need for myself. I have no way to do that this year. For the first time in my life, I am leaning heavily, wearily, awkwardly, miserably, angrily, on the provision of God. He has chosen to give it in ways that I dislike very much. I HATE asking. This is probably because I know that I am the last person on earth to deserve such support, such provision. I am going this summer to learn... because I know so very little.

That last paragraph is a set up for the core of what I have discovered: in the writing and handing out of these letters, I have discovered a group of people who love me and care for me. They have been found in many places and in many settings. They are the Homeschool Moms who helped raise me; they are extended family, aunts, uncles, grandparents; they are campus ministers who have seen me grow in the past two years; they are old sunday school teachers (or my little sister's!); they are friends from high school and friends from college and friends from WVA. No one has responded with disinterest and more than anything, more than needing money and being unable to get it, THIS has humbled me. I know I am the last person who should interest these people. I know I am the last person who should warrant this care and the last person who deserves their prayer. I have talked before (and many others have as well) critiquing the dissolution of strong community in today's world. But I had forgotten that I could feel so passionately about this subject BECAUSE I had one. I have not valued it or appreciated it enough.

I'm really feeling a struggle to find words for this. I know that many of you who are reading this post now may be doing so because you were handed a letter detailing my Summer Plans for 09. It has only been a week... and the mere fact that I have seen you open the letter and read it and say that you will pray for me grants you more of my gratitude and thankfulness than I have words for. I am at the point where I almost do not care one atom for whether money comes in or not. What each of you has taught me in these past two weeks has been a gift.

God grant that this ridiculously broken and miserable vessel will somehow bring Him glory through all that has been given to her in love...