Monday, September 1, 2014

Lessons Learned in the Sandbox

*This post was originally written in early July 2014, when I was still serving in Piliscsaba, Hungary as a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM).  I have since returned to the USA and am beginning a new a journey in Texas*

Making sand creations in the back yard of the Kindergarten with
Panka, Virág, and Zsiga
Over the last ten months or so, I have logged a huge number of hours in the sandbox.  As part of my site placement in the Lutheran Kindergarten and Daycare Center in Piliscsaba, I have made many a sand castles, sand cakes, sand bread, and even sand soup with the kids.  Now while I know that these are all imaginary and creative concoctions, several times I have actually had to remind the children to NOT in fact eat the sand.  Still, I find the sandbox to be a great place to build, play, and imagine  because, I too have let my thoughts and imagination soar while playing in the sand. 

As trivial as playing in the sandbox may sound, in my opinion there actually IS an art to making sand creations.  Most importantly you need sand and some tools like buckets and shovels are great additions as well.  But these items alone do not guarantee a successful sand creation.  Imagine on a hot and dry day filling a bucket of sand for a castle.  Upon flipping the bucket over to tap the top to let the sand out, the sand comes flowing out loose and shapeless, resulting in a mound of nothing.

From sandbox to swing set, a day in the life of a kindergartner.
Maybe you have personally experienced this phenomenon at the beach, when you are building too far away from the tide.  Because, everyone knows that the key ingredient to making sand castles, is in fact water.

Without water, the sand can not properly stick together to hold it’s shape and form for it’s intended purpose, whether it be a castle, cake, etc.  Just like water helps sand creations hold their shape and form, the waters of baptism mold us to be individuals in fulfilling our intended purpose as God’s precious children.  It is through the waters of baptism that we are called, claimed, formed, and shaped to share the love and grace taught through the Gospel.

I am thankful for the lessons I have learned through my time with the Kindergarten this year, no matter how simple or complex.  And though it saddens me to say goodbye to my little ones, I leave this place confidently knowing that this community will continue to nourish and care for them, because this community has done the same for me.


A few of the most joyful and loving people I've ever had the pleasure to care for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kairos Moment: Getting Hugged Daily

At our end of the year backyard party some of the children lined up for a
photo.  All but one of these kiddos will be leaving our daycare, and on to the bigger school.
Reading in Hungarian has actually become one of my favorite
activities to do with the children.
Every hug and every laugh I received from these little ones was a true kairos moment, that fortunately I got to experience almost daily.  Every morning upon walking in the door I was greeted with a sea of, “Szia Mayyy’s!” followed by thundering footsteps of children racing to get picked up first.  To the children, it did not matter that I was a complete foreigner and barely familiar with their language.  Even through our inability to understand or speak to one another, they loved me whole heartedly.  Many a times a 
Becoming a real life jungle gym is basically a requirement
for YAGM volunteers.
simple hug was enough to comfort the tears away, or brighten a smile a hundred times.    To them I was a celebrity, deeply cherished and loved for being exactly who I was, and for that love I am extremely grateful.  They have helped me realize, more confidently, that working with children is one thing I’m gifted and good at, and something I thoroughly enjoy.  Though that statement may sound so simple, it’s been a profound thing for me to come to terms with, especially after a huge internal debate I had with myself in college between getting a business degree and an education degree.  I now know where my passions lie, and though the money in it may not overflow, the hugs and love sure do.

More later 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Living in Kairos Moments

It’s June 26, 2014 which officially means I only have one month left in Piliscsaba, Hungary, my placement site and home for the past 10 months during my year as a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM).  While the common phrase, “Wow, time flies” may come to some people’s mind, I’d like to argue that in actuality, time did some really crazy things this past year.  At times, especially during the cold winter months, time crept and the promise of sunshine and home seemed light years away.  But at other times, time went too fast, and weeks of friendship and fellowship flashed by at a pace I could barely comprehend.

It’s been 316 days since I’ve been with my family in New Orleans, and even longer that I’ve been away from close friends.  Every now and then someone would ask me if I was homesick, and though I usually answered, “no” - in truth I was probably missing home more than I let on.  But now that I have just a mere four and a half weeks left in this place, I realize that the next time I am homesick, it is going to be homesick for Piliscsaba and the incredible relationships that have grown this past year.  The people here have made Piliscsaba home to me, and the impending goodbyes are dreadful to think about.  So if you asked me now if I was homesick, or ready to go home, I think my response would be a confused blur of yes’s and no’s because of my perplexing understanding of what “home” really is.

At this point, I think a more appropriate diagnosis of my current state is that I am campsick.  This is the first summer in four years that I’m not working at summer camp, and my summers at Lutheridge and Lutherhill hold some of my best memories.  Camp and outdoor ministry provided a place for me to be who I truly wanted to be and live out my faith, all the while being surrounded by peers that pursued similar values in faith and children that daily displayed the joy in Christ.  This summer I’m definitely missing camp and all the special times like Sunday Night Vespers, Thursday Staff Worship, All-Camp games, and heck I’m even missing Outcamp.  Yet I still feel connected to camp as I follow from afar through social media and friends’ updates, and I’ve even been spiritually fed through their posts.

At Lutherhill last summer, we focused a lot on learning to be aware of “kairos moments”, a time when we feel God and the Holy Spirit directly at work and present in the moment.  It would feel as if the tiniest, thinnest of spaces separated our current situation and God’s presence.   And up in Arden, NC this summer, “ The ELCA summer camp program material, "Living in God's Time", explores the seasons of the church year. At Lutheridge, campers are learning the difference between "chronos" (clock time) and "kairos" (God's time).” 

This focus on time could not be more relevant to me as I live in limbo between my own “chronos” schedule and God’s “kairos” plan.  As my time in Piliscsaba comes to a close, I hope to focus more and seek out the kairos moments that highlight the Holy Spirit alive here, rather than count and schedule my own personal programs and plans.  Through the good days and the harder days, karios moments abound.  I look forward to sharing with you some of those moments in upcoming posts.

More later

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dancing at the Siló

In my last newsletter, I included a piece about a wonderful afternoon performance of Dance and Verse organized by members of the Siló community.  I received a number of responses to my newsletter, specifically about this day at the Siló, so I’d like to share a little more with you.  Here is an excerpt from my May newsletter:

As I’ve mentioned before, Piliscsaba is home to the Siló, a housing facility partnered with a non-profit organization in connection to the Lutheran Church in Hungary. Primarily residents with physical disabilities live at the Siló and receive therapy, care, and employment opportunities while living as independently as possible. On Saturdays I spend my afternoons at the Siló playing games and visiting with some of the residents who have become mentors and friends to me.

Zsotl weaves in and out of fellow dancers 
One Saturday in April we traveled just a half mile to the picnic area beside our church for an afternoon of Dance and Verse.  Several of the Siló residents organized this program with help from church and community leaders, and I found the performance to be spectacular and moving in so many ways.

 The dancers mobile ability varied from full range of motion to complete paralysis from the waist down.  For this reason, each dancer’s style was unique to their own person.  Zsolt, in the blue shirt used his wheelchair to weave in and out of other dancer’s movements while Emil, in the green shirt, used his upper body to interact with the other dancers, and later to invite me into the improvisation piece at the end.

Emil and another dancer interacting
I was suddenly startled to be in the dance, without any instruction of how to move or interact. And, though I consider myself a somewhat uncoordinated dancer, at that moment I became acutely aware of the exact control I have of my body’s motions, and I was overwhelmed in the realization of the mere gift movement is. I was amazed by the residents’ courage and grace to move in the ways that they can, and felt like I was physically witnessing the Holy Spirit dance through each individual using the various gifts and abilities they have. 

The pictures I took, and this short video, can’t quite convey the unique atmosphere under the picnic area that day.  However, I hope this video will give you just a glimpse of the art and emotion displayed.

When the performance started on this refreshing spring day in April, I began as a spectator—observing and watching an improvisational dance that starred many of the people I have come to know at the Siló.  One solo voice sang and chanted to the beat of a drum, and I watched in amazement with a sense of pride at the performance my dear friends were displaying.  However, towards the end of the performance my friend Emil caught me off guard and invited me on the performance floor, and in doing so he reminded me that this YAGM year is not about watching and observing.  This year is about being with and experiencing together the every day joys, challenges, and experiences of those in my host community.  

The YAGM program likes to recognize this as the "spirit of accompaniment: walking alongside global companions in a manner that practices mutuality, interdependence and solidarity." As many have said before, accompaniment is the "buzz word" of YAGM,  a word to live out each and every day. Though I love this definition of the spirit of accompaniment, I feel inclined to say that for me, the more important part of this phrase is not the word accompaniment, but rather the spirit.  Because, I can't help but think critically about the phrase "walking alongside" when I work in a place where folks primarily use wheelchairs.  How can you walk alongside those who can not walk?

 An answer to this question that brings peace and joy to my heart, is that it is the spirit that walks, dances, moves, run, and unites each of us to live out our unique gifts and abilities. And I have witnessed the spirit alive and well in the hearts in minds of the people in Piliscsaba, especially those at the Siló.  Some of the individuals I have met were born with their current physical capabilities, while others have lost significant movement over their lifetime for various reasons.  Though their journeys and stories differ, I have found a commonality in the character of each individual to make the best use of the tools God has provided.    

Living in the spirit of accompaniment has provided me opportunities to take notice of how God is intricately working not only in my life, but also in the lives of all those around me.  This is one of the many, many things that has transformed me positively as a YAGM, and one of the many things that will remain in my thoughts long after my YAGM year has concluded.

More later

Monday, May 5, 2014

WHAT: Video about Easter Monday

In addition to my May newsletter, I created this video to give a further glimpse into an Easter tradition I experienced in Hungary this year.  If you did not receive my newsletter and would like a copy, please comment and I'll send one your way!


Monday, April 14, 2014

WHAT: The "A" Word

In a small kitchen on the fourth floor of an apartment building situated in the High Tatras,  our country coordinator Miriam asked each of us what traditions and associations we had with Lent.  As I listened to my fellow YAGM Hungary volunteers explain their history with Lent and the behavioral, mental, or habitual changes associated with the church season following Epiphany- I couldn’t help but daydream about my own recollections of the forty days before Easter.

Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, my home congregation would join every Wednesday night for supper and worship during the season of Lent.  We enjoyed hearty spaghetti or chili dinners and afterwards harmonized and prayed to the melodies of Holden Evening Prayer.  I loved these Wednesday nights for the fellowship we shared and for the beauty of the service we sang.

Sunday services were different during Lent and had an unusual, almost lacking feel to them.  Several chunks of the Liturgy were omitted including anything that had the “A” word in it.  To be completely honest, as a young child I secretly liked that Sunday church did not take as long during Lent, and occasionally my sister and I would use Sundays as “cheat days” for whatever we had given up. 

Angela, Mom, and Me Easter Sunday 1997
Hi-C Boppin' Berry would probably have been in our
Easter baskets after 40 days without it
For me as well as many others, Lent meant giving up something for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Many argue on how this time is actually counted and which days are included or not, but many people recognize some sort of Lenten devotion by giving up something.  As a child this included me giving up Hi-C Boppin’ Berry Juice, chocolate chip cookies, soda, AIM…you know, everything a pre-teen old holds near and dear. 

But, Lent also meant giving up another thing, a particular word, this “A” word.  It literally means, “Praise the Lord” and is sung, said, spoken, and prayed almost every day of the year- especially on Easter when we recognize, rejoice, and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet, during Lent, the word was stripped from my vocabulary and literally buried below the cross at my home congregation.  I’m not quite sure if I ever fully understood the explanation of why we buried this “A” word.  And, I still don’t fully understand this time in the church year.

Lent usually felt somber for reasons of penance, fasting, reflection, self-control and preparation for the celebration of the resurrection.  Perhaps the lack of the A-word added to this somberness and helped us to stay focused on the season.  However, this year the season has felt strange and somber for other reasons.

Angela, Dad, and Me at the Blowing Rock Easter egg hunt.
Hungary will celebrate a special day involving Easter eggs
the Monday after Easter.
Lent has felt funny for me this year in Hungary.  To be honest I hardly even noticed it started when it did.  We did not recognize Ash Wednesday or hold services, which is common for the Lutheran Church in Hungary.  Additionally I was without this little thing called Mardi Gras, which has dominated my pre-Lenten time for the past 8 years in a way that quite publically displays the feast before the fast.  And believe you me, I didn’t give up anything this year…ask me how much peanut butter, nutella, and bread I’ve gone through the past few weeks.  It’s embarrassing. All three items are good candidates for next Lent, but this season I’ve fully needed them.

And you know what else I’ve needed?   I’ve needed to say the “A-word” Alleluia.  There.  I said it.  And it’s just the start of Holy Week, the time I remember being most solemn during Lent.  But I have desperately needed to say Alleluia this season to have a reminder of the already risen Jesus Christ who granted all of us eternal life through the waters of baptism and sacrifice.  I’ve had a tough few weeks of missing home, adjusting to a new host family, and struggling with what exactly I’m actually doing here.  I lost a sense of self, identify, confidence, and above all forgot my true identity as a child of God who was called and claimed through the waters of baptism.

Back in that same kitchen in the High Tatras just days after Lent began, Miriam focused much of our discussion not so much around Lent, but actually around the waters of baptism.  I was very interested to learn that some scholars believe the historical roots of Lent are actually seamlessly connected to baptism.  Earlier in time when it was not common to baptize infants, individuals seeking to be baptized would undergo a time of fasting and preparation before heading to the font.  Many people especially chose the time leading up to Easter Sunday, which was a common Sunday for many to be baptized.  However, overtime society shifted to baptizing infants, and this time of fasting and preparation was no longer needed or used to prepare individuals for baptism.  The fasting and preparation before Easter evolved for different purposes.

While scholars, theologians, and pastors may come to different meanings about the season of Lent and it's current purpose, it has been extremely worthwhile for me this year to completely focus on my baptism in preparation for Easter.  Because Christ has already died, risen, and promised to come again, I am blessed with the daily renewal of the gift of baptism and the reminder of my identity through Christ Jesus.  Though this message may be coming a week earlier than most would proclaim it, I think it is as ever important to remember and recognize every season and day of the year.

More later-


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Madness

My Mom Sara, Host Mom Zsuzsa and I enjoy the beautiful
night lights Budapest offers.  This particular day was Zsuzsa
and Lajos' wedding anniversary and we celebrated with a
delicious dinner in the city.
I am experiencing a different kind of March Madness in Hungary this year.  Though I didn’t actually fill out a bracket, I’m having my own crazy assortment of games and match-ups including some exciting experiences and also a few heartbreaking upsets. But, I am overwhelmingly thrilled with how this March is developing.

The beginning of March brought a homesickness I had not yet experienced thus far in the YAGM journey.  I was extremely lucky to have my Mom here for 10 days back in February to meet my community and do some travel on our own.  Perhaps her absence after such a unique experience together made me more aware of how much I miss my family in the States.  However, I am reminded constantly of the abundant family members I have in Hungary!

Host brother # 3 Bence, Host Dad #2 József, Host Mom #2 Edit, Host Mom #1 Zsuzsa,
Host Dad #2  Lajos. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such loving people!!

Áron catching dinner
In fact, I have a new family to call my own!  At the beginning of March I moved in with my second host-family: a move that has been planned all year. I am excited to experience life now with Edit and her husband József  and their sons Bence and Áron.  Edit and I work together at the Kindergarten and have developed a wonderful relationship- and I think she enjoys having a daughter!  Bence is 16 and an excellent English speaker and an absolutely incredible musician.  He plays the violin at many cultural events in Piliscsaba and truly is a joy to watch.  Áron has the energy of all the 8 year old boys in the world and loves doing anything active.  He’s at such a fun age that I enjoy being a part of.

Áron, Bence, and I hit the slopes in Austria for a weekend
of bonding and hanging out
After getting settled in with the new family for a week, I packed a bag and traveled to the High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia for the YAGM Hungary Lenten Retreat.   After a few days of skiing, hiking, worshiping, and eating delicious meals- I was rejuvenated with energy and excited to return to Piliscsaba to say goodbye to winter and welcome the Spring season.

Flowers are blooming and there are lots of babies being born, and for these reasons and many more I find myself constantly smiling.  As my time left in Piliscsaba approaches a mere 4 months, I recognize the need to enjoy and appreciate every day.

Miriam leads the YAGM volunteers in a worship on a
mountainside in the High Tatras of Slovakia.  Talk
about realizing the beauty of God's creation
If any of you win that March Madness Billion, consider sending some to the YAGM offices at the ELCA- this ministry is incredible and God has and continues to work amazingly through this program!

More later, and I promise sooner rather than later.