like snow in october

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It has been a beautiful fall in Grantham this year—filled with rich hues of burnt orange and deep reds and mustard yellow strung across tree branches in the sky or gathered in colorful piles in the green grass. Last weekend was expected to be the peak of the season: the perfect time to take an apple picking trip at a local orchard or to plan fall festivities on campus.

The Admissions team at Messiah prepped hundreds of folders for prospective students who would come to campus for Messiah’s fall open house. Dining Services workers unloaded boxes of miniature pumpkins and gourds to decorate Lottie in honor of the season’s splendor. The Student Activities Board prepared to host its annual Fall Fest outside of the Union featuring pumpkin carving, cookie decorating and potato sack races complete with warm apple cider and crunchy caramel apples.

And then the news report came in: 6-10 inches of heavy snow to hit the Harrisburg area throughout the mid afternoon. I, for one, shook my head at the absurd prediction. Even if we saw flurries, there’s no way that the snow would stick to the ground, still warm from autumn’s sunshine. But it did, and I was wrong.

Snow fell from the sky in wet, heavy clumps, and by 10 a.m. the ground was covered. Whispers erupted and students ran from room to room in their PJ’s, staring out each other’s windows at the snow covered campus. Facebook lit up with pictures and surprised statuses. The weighty snow toppled down leafy trees, and echoing cracks could be heard in the quiet snowfall as branches snapped and whole trees fell. My roommates and I dug through our closets to find what we had of our winter clothing, and after we were wrapped up in toasty sweaters and fuzzy socks, we sipped hot chocolate over card games on the carpet.

 Just when we think we’ve got God figured out, he throws us a curve ball. After all, there are some things that we won’t ever understand… like snow in October.

baby fingers

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Over fall break, my sister Holly welcomed a new baby into her family. We had all been waiting, in nine months of anticipation, for “baby number two”—excitedly guessing on boy or girl and trying to avoid using the word “it” to describe the surprise little one that Holly carried with her. Finally, after a week of extra waiting, a new baby boy was born on Saturday night. Welcome to the big world, Nathan Chase.

Early Sunday afternoon, my little sister Liz and I packed up our things to head back to Messiah. Half way through our trip we stopped at Lehigh Valley Hospital to congratulate Holly, my brother-in-law Steve and little Davey (the one and a half year old baby number one), and, of course, to see little Nathan still bundled in his hospital baby blanket and blue knit hat.

One of my favorite things about newborn babies is their grasping reflex. As I held Nathan on Sunday afternoon, I wiggled my finger into his blanket in search of his small hand, and when I found it, he immediately wrapped his five tiny baby fingers around one of my big grown-up fingers and clung to me.

When my first nephew was born seven years ago, I was only thirteen and entering my eighth grade year. My family and I flew to Maui, Hawaii, where my brother Danny was living at the time, to see his son: our new nephew and my parents’ first grandchild. Alex was just a little baby in a blanket back then, before he grew up to be arguably the cutest toddler and unarguably Maui’s cutest toddler, winning a Hawaiian Tropic’s baby contest that gave me serious bragging rights as an aunt. Now, he’s a wild energetic seven-year old who doesn’t stop to catch his breath, let alone for a nap in a baby blanket. But back then, during those days in Maui, he was a tiny, sleepy, finger-gripping newborn.

I remember the first time I felt Alex’s finger-clenching grip. Wow, he must really like me, my thirteen-year old self thought. He’s gripping so tight, he doesn’t want me to leave him! What I didn’t know at the time was that all babies have this latch-on tendency. Not only do they all do it, but they all do it to everyone or everything that touches their soft baby palms. What I mistook for favoritism was, in fact, a natural newborn reflex. Depressing? Tell me about it.

Or at least just initially. But the more I think about it, the less depressing it is. In fact, it’s nothing shy of amazing to think that God designed every little baby to hang on to anyone blessed enough to reach for his or her hand. For the first six months of its life, a baby will grasp onto anything so tightly and strongly, sometimes strong enough to support his or her own weight.

It’s in that moment, when I feel a teeny little newborn wrap his fingers around mine, that I feel his authentic need to be held—to be loved and guided by some big, more weathered hands. There, in that moment, I understand the beautiful vulnerability of the baby fingers. And there, in that moment, I marvel at God’s design to help the grown-up fingers: to open their eyes to the need and power in family and guidance, in responsibility and in love.

ripples

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As a junior in the education program at Messiah, I spend two mornings a week at Mechanicsburg Middle School for my pre-student teaching experience. I get to dress up all teacher-like—dress pants and button-up blouses with cardigans and pearl earrings—completing my outfit with a pair of classic black or nude colored heels to keep me from looking like a student next to my teaching partner Kira, an outgoing athletic English major (a rare find, indeed) with California-blonde hair and the height to match her bold personality. Kira and I both hope to teach high school English one day, so dressing up and playing teacher side by side with Mrs. Curry and her sixth grade English class is like giving a wannabe movie star her first minor role in a film.

We’re at the middle school for the first three periods of the day, but Mrs. Curry only teaches periods one and two. That means that period three is always a distinctively original adventure for Kira and I. We’ve spent some days in Mrs. Curry’s classroom discussing lesson plans or individualized student needs or the importance of organization. Yesterday we ventured to the library to laminate vocab words written in pretty green marker on dozens of index cards. One day we traveled next door for third period to watch Mr. Chubb teach his science class how the body gets energy through food: a lovely process that ends with excretion. Apparently, excretion is quite a comical lesson if you’re a sixth grade boy or quite a confusing one if you’re a middle school student who has never heard the word “stool” before.

Last Thursday, however, was by far my most favorite period three adventure yet. Kira and I visited the TESL, or Teaching English as a Second Language, classroom. For all of you non-education majors, a TESL class is designed to give students who are learning English as a second language individualized instruction apart from the general education classroom. There were four English Language Learners in the class that we observed on Thursday. Each one stood in front of the class and introduced themselves to us—telling us their name and pointing to their home country on a colorful classroom map—some of them in broken English. We finished our mini presentations by introducing ourselves as Messiah students Miss MacNeil and Miss Maier, both pointing to New Jersey as our hometown state on the class map.

As I resumed my seat next to two boys from Somalia, Africa, one of them turned to me excitedly and asked, “do you play soccer?!” If any of my friends overheard this question, I’m sure a slight outbreak of laughter would have occurred. Regardless, I chose to take the question as a complement despite its laughable imprecision.

“No, I don’t, but I like to watch!” I said trying to save the boy from disappointment and salvage an opportunity for common interest.  “Have you ever been to a Messiah soccer game?”

“YEAH!” they both exclaimed, nearly jumping out of their seats. “We went to the soccer camp in the summer!” Just like that, the boys were glowing, and I beamed with excitement because I knew exactly what they were talking about. Last spring, my friend Josh told me about a passion that God placed on his heart to start a summer camp run by the Messiah soccer players for a group of local African boys.

“Oh, you did?! Do you know Josh?” I asked.

“Yes, yes!” they answered. “And uhh… J.P! Do you know J.P.?” “Or… or Jack!” said one boy. “And Danny? Do you know Danny? He’s my favorite!” chimed the second. They continued to name Messiah soccer players as if they were celebrities, and they grew in excitement as I affirmed their names. They told me that, in fact, they would be playing a mini scrimmage at Saturday’s home game, and I promised to look for them from my seat in the stands.

Last Thursday in that period three class, I saw the ripple effects of passionate Christians doing God’s work. I had heard Josh and J.P. talk to me last spring about what they felt God was calling them to do: how he wanted to use the soccer players to impact the lives of a group of young boys from Somalia. Now, I was seeing the effects of the soccer players’ obedience and passion in the shining faces of middle school boys. I could see the difference that they made in the lives of youth using little other than God’s love and a soccer ball.

On Saturday, I saw the two boys from that period three TESL class with a whole cluster  of friends, and each of them was wearing the love and acceptance that they received from the soccer players on their sleeves like a captain letter sewn onto a soccer jersey: proud and deserving. The Messiah team beat Arcadia on Shoemaker Field that night, and the players celebrated with their summer soccer camp boys, eating pizza and hanging out together.

Sometimes when we follow God and act on love, we don’t realize God’s whole plan. Not everyone around us will see what we are doing, but we have to remember to do it.  You never know who might see the ripples and be drawn to the water.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” –William James

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” -Mother Theresa

nyc: inspiration in chaos

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This past week has been defined by fast-paced, exhilarating moments, and the quickest long days that I’ve had in awhile. A group of about twenty students, the amazing Career Center staff and I traveled to New York City, the heartland of the hectic on-the-go lifestyle, for a jam-packed two day immersion trip to see what city living and working is all about.

 I spent the beginning of the week running from store to store searching for professional suits on a college student’s budget and staring puzzlingly at rows of department store pantyhose shades, pathetically trying to assess whether I am an “oatmeal” or a “sand.” Quite frankly, I’m not sure why the pantyhose-makers ever thought that “oatmeal” would be a marketable shade. As if articulating educational questions and remarks isn’t nerve-wracking enough, there is now a group of pre-professional females who will walk into meetings or interviews with the insecurity that their legs have been likened to flaky, bland breakfast mush. Of course, I happen to fall into this group of oatmeal women.

 Shopping was only the start of my frenzied preparation for a trip into the Big Apple. I frantically re-organized my five day week into three days, preparing to miss class, work, pre-student teaching experience and on-campus meetings. I ran out to purchase Wednesday’s edition of The New York Times and Elle magazine’s October issue. I stuffed my purse with Tide to Go pens and flat walking shoes, a pad-folio full of note paper and resumes and, of course, an emergency pair of oatmeal pantyhose. My ETOB, the clever term that my roommates coined to discuss our “estimated time of bed,” crept later and later into the night with each hectic hour.

 Before I knew it, it was 4:15 on Thursday morning and my alarm was blaringly reminding me that it was only the start of activity-filled, sleep-deprived days. Our schedule in New York was filled with early mornings, hours of traveling and a continuous stream of places to be. We visited the New York Times headquarters and Google NYC for presentations and tours. We met alumni and received first-hand stories and advice about what it’s like to live and work in the city. Our heels clicked down busy sidewalks and crowded subway systems on our way to networking events or alumni panel luncheons or small group interviews. But somehow, those two long and crazy days in New York seemed to fly by, and here I am: replaying each amazing memory or inspiring quote between endless attempts to catch up on lost sleep.

In the midst of all of the chaos of New York, there is something so  inspirational in seeing the creative workspace layouts of the largest companies or meeting motivated Messiah alumni that have succeced after coming from one of the smallest colleges. “Because Messiah is such a small school, it may be harder to get your foot in the door,” Brian Thomas told us at an alumni panel luncheon. “But once you do, you’ll find that you will be so much more prepared.”

 Another awesome alum that I interviewed about city working and living encouraged us to just get up and do it. “The world’s big, but it’s not scary,” she said with a soft smile, reflecting back on the day she packed everything she owned into her car and drove to New York City without even a place a stay.

 Part of me is itching to get out into the world of big city living, especially after hearing the encouraging stories of alums like Anne or speaking to Krista Soriano (the assosciate editor for Elle.com and 2008 Messiah grad) about what it’s like to make a difference in the fashion industry as a Christian. This ravenous part of me is ready for the challenge–convincing myself that I could make it in this crazy world writing for a big time paper or magazine.

 However, I am humbled my another part of me: the part that reminds me how much I have to learn and how days come only one at a time. Brian Thomas encouraged us to think of each day as a page in our autobiographies. “Are you going to look back on this page–on today–and be proud of what you did?” he challenged us. His words have reverberated throughout my head these past few days, and my friends and I have bounced them off each other as inspiration to work hard in our tired, restless state coming home from the New York city trip. 

 Today might only be the beginning, but it is a vital part of my story. Novels with fascinating characters who do fascinating things with their lives don’t begin with a climax. They start slowly, developing the characters and background history. I have a problem with getting beyond the beginnings of books, because most of the time it’s the most boring part. But patience pays off, and by the time the climax rolls around, I am so glad that I invested my time into the nitty-gritty details of pages one through one hundred. So for now, I’ll focus on my page for today, knowing that it is just as much a part of my story.

waiting for the rain

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I hate humidity. I hate the way it makes everything around me feel sticky or the way it makes my hair turn into a fluffy, completely untamable frizz ball. I particularly hate humidity on cloudy, dull days. I don’t appreciate that sort of mixed message. The dreariness of those days lures me to the futon: to curl up under a blanket in a pair of fuzzy socks and a cup of coffee (maybe even some homework if I’m feeling motivated). Just when I think I’m positively approaching a miserable day, humidity has to come in and ruin it. Humidity keeps me as far away from blankets and futons as possible. It has me hot and uncomfortable and feeling claustrophobic. It has me begging for the rain to come and cool the air so I can breathe again.

 If you’ve been anywhere near Grantham, Pennsylvania lately, I’m sure you have already arrived at the conclusion that this was not my week. In fact, this week has felt suppressing for reasons beyond the muggy atmosphere or my consecutively bad hair days. It was my fourth week of classes, which means that almost every one of my professors just so happened to feel that it was the perfect time for whopping exams and extensive projects that would account for twenty percent of my final grade. So I spent the week smothered—by deadlines and rubrics and looming tests and, of course, the stifling, thick air outside.

 I love Friday afternoons. I love the feeling they bring: that feeling of relief—of being able to breathe in deeply because I’ve made it through. I love their message of hope: that a weekend awaits me and promises me rest and rejuvenation.

 On my way to class today, sheets of rain poured down on Messiah’s hot, humid campus. In only minutes, the sidewalks flooded and water seeped up through my shoes, soaking my socks to assure a comfortable completion of my second exam of the day. Students were scrambling from building to building—some in full sprint, others barefoot with flip flops in hand desperate to reach refuge from the rain. By the time I made it to Boyer Hall, I realized that my umbrella did little to keep me dry. I was all ready to throw in the towel and name this the worst week ever, but then I noticed that the air was breathable. Even if it was only for those few minutes of pounding rain, I could feel the air cooling down. I took a deep breath and thanked God it was Friday. The rain always comes.

 “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind.  Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him bathing the depths of the sea.” –Job 26: 27-30

fellowship, family and fabric

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On Monday night, six of my closest girlfriends, Sue (our amazing mentor) and I met in our perfectly cozy-sized Mountain View triple for our first small group meeting of the semester. We picked up right where we left off: with beaming smiles and bear hugs and rumbles of laughter breaking out as we each found a seat on the futon or grabbed a pillow and plopped down on the shag carpet. Every time I can remember, I thank God for this amazingly beautiful group of women that he led me to here. We met freshman year, as friends, and we began a student-led small group, as sisters. We signed up our group through an on-campus ministry called Koinonia, a Greek word which means fellowship or family. Personally, I couldn’t think of a more perfect word to describe our relationship with each other. These girls have me through thick and thin. When my walk with God feels easy, they help me realize that I’m doing it wrong; and when my walk with God feels difficult, they remind me why it’s worth it.

One of these amazing girls, Jordan, and I traveled to Greece last spring to spend a semester studying in Athens. Throughout our trip, we brainstormed gift ideas to bring back to the rest of our friends. We contemplated bracelets or purses or key chains as we passed through the buzzing streets of downtown Monastiraki, a swarming touristic area located at the foot of the Acropolis. Well into our trip, we had yet to commit to any of the typical souvenirs when a friend asked if we would join her on a trip to a less-flashy fabric shop that she stumbled into the day earlier. I’m not much of a sewer, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been into a fabric store before (let alone shopped for fabric), but the invite was a good enough excuse to abandon my Greek homework in my apartment and stop for some lemon-peppered chicken slouvaki on the way home.

Much to our surprise, we were immediately awed by the shop: the sea of colors lining the walls, the soft glisten of beading catching the corner of our eyes, the intricate designs on each piece of artwork delicately colliding into one another. There were dozens of pieces of hand-sewn fabrics—from pillow cases to table runners to tapestries. The shop owner shared with us that each piece was made of random scraps of fabric found lying here or there and stitched together into a collage of many bits and pieces.  As we slowly worked our way through piles of pillow cases, admiring each piece for its individuality, Jordan came up with the idea to pick out one square for each of the girls in our small group. We must have spent over an hour  in that little shop bouncing ooo’s and aaahhh’s off of each other until we were determined that we found the piece that was just right for each of us.

I was convinced that they were the perfect gift. Not only were they beautiful and uniquely different from any usual souvenir, but they were each uniquely different from each other. As Jordan and I handed out the pillow cases to each of our friends after we returned to campus this fall, a new thought popped into my head. I looked at my own piece of fabric—green, with delicate pearl beading and swirls of maroon and cream fabric—and I thought how each of our lives was a lot like our pillow cases.  We are made up by snippets of memories woven together, and we glisten in ways that reflect where we come from and who we are.

If there was a piece of fabric created to represent my life, I know it wouldn’t consist of all shining, glowing snippets. There would be a place for my rough patches and sadness and mistakes; but still, those pieces would be necessary for the whole collage. They would only contribute to who I am as a whole: a beautiful creation of God. On Monday night, I looked around the room to realize how each of these girls had a part in the stitch-work of my life in the past two years, and I could only smile. I knew they contributed to the radiance and depth in my life-fabric. It also made me think of all the other people in my life that contributed: my family, youth pastors, coaches or friends from home—and how I need to thank and remember them as well.

I am so excited for more memory making with these amazing young women, and this year we are blessed with another beautiful girl joining our Monday night family.  I know I’m not a finished product yet, so I need to be mindful of who and what I am letting sew pieces onto my life-fabric. As for the girls that God led me to at Messiah College, bring out your needles and thread and let the Junior-year sewing begin.