Preparing for Advent

25 11 2011

Advent has become my favorite season of the church calendar. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, so November 27, 2011. I have found that participating in this season’s activities helps keep me focused on the meaning of Christmas amidst all of the commercialism and stress of the public holiday season. I am also particularly fond of the symbolism of the wreath, candles, and colors. The wreath symbolizes eternal life, as it is a circle of evergreen. The nuts and seedpods used to decorate it represent resurrection, and the fruits used are symbolic of the fruitfulness of Christian life.

The candles represent the coming of light into the world. The first week, one candle is lit, and each week after one additional is lit until all the candles are lit. The first 3 candles lit are purple, the color used during Lent and Advent to represent penitence. The fourth candle is pink, a liturgical color only used on the 4th Sunday of Advent and on Laetare Sunday during Lent. On Christmas day, the greens are replaced with fresh greens and the four candles are replaced with white candles that are burned throughout the Christmas season (or until Epiphany on January 6). The white candles symbolize Christ.

It is important to remember that the color purple, used during the season, is the color of penitence. This season is about anticipating the advent (both Christmas and the 2nd Coming) of Christ, but it is also about repentance. It is a time to reflect on our sinful condition as we await the only one who can redeem us. Fasting is appropriate but not required during this season (it should be noted that one cannot fast on Sundays or on holy days).

So as I prepare myself for this season, I generally read The Prayer of Manasseh. It’s an apocryphal book, but it is entirely appropriate. At least I think so.

Thou who hast made heaven and earth with all their order; who hast shackled the sea by thy word of command, who hast confined the deep and sealed it with thy terrible and glorious name; at whom all things shudder, and tremble before thy power, for thy glorious splendor cannot be borne, and the wrath of thy threat to sinners is irresistible; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is thy promised mercy, for thou art the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and repentest over the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against thee; and in the multitude of thy mercies thou hast appointed repentance for sinners, that they may be saved. Therefore thou, O Lord, God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against thee, but thou hast appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner. For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked thy wrath and have done what is evil in thy sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses. And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching thee for thy kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my transgressions. I earnestly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me for ever or lay up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For thou, O Lord, art the God of those who repent, and in me thou wilt manifest thy goodness; for, unworthy as I am, thou wilt save me in thy great mercy, and I will praise thee continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings thy praise, and thine is the glory for ever. Amen.

How do you prepare yourself for advent? Are there particular scriptures you read this time of year?

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Gratitude

14 11 2011

A bunch of my friends on facebook are daily making their statuses something they are grateful for. For whatever reason, I did not join that bandwagon. Probably because I’m typically ungrateful. So here is my attempt at getting up to speed with them. A list of 14 things I’m thankful for and why (in no particular order):

1. I’m thankful that I get to experience life in Barranquilla. It has been challenging and difficult at times, but I know I am the better for it.

2. I’m thankful for my mom and Billy. Without them. I definitely would not have survived my transition into life as a grown-up. They have been there for me emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I owe them an unpayable debt.

3. I’m thankful for my awesome sisters. All four of you mean more to me than I can express. I love that we can laugh together and that we can celebrate each others’ successes and support each other through the “failures.” I love you all!

4. I’m thankful for my mutt Abelard. He has been my little shadow for three years. It’s been a difficult few months without him and I’m sure he’ll have some trouble transitioning back into my care. But I love that crazy dog even when he poops in the house and eats things he shouldn’t and gnaws on my dresser. He makes everyday a little more interesting.

5. I’m thankful for my nieces and nephews. These kids light up my life. I’ve watched some of them grow from adorable little babies who just wanted to curl up on my chest and go to sleep to amazing young adults. And for the younger ones, I’m enjoying watching you grow and learn. All of you make life worth living. I’m so blessed to be your aunt.

6. I’m thankful for my brothers. Ryan, I have some great memories of when we were kids. I hope that we can make more now that we are adults. Jason, I’m so thankful that we were finally able to meet! It’s been a great two years getting to know you and your family. I love you!!

7. I’m thankful for Monica and Alvaro, my Colombian parents. I’m constantly amazed by their generosity and hospitality – not just to me, but to everyone that they encounter. May I learn to be that gracious.

8. I’m thankful for Divine Life. I’ve been a member of this particular community since the summer of 2004. This community has been there to support me during some of the darkest moments of my life. They have also been there to celebrate with me through my successes. I’ve learned more about grace and forgiveness and hope and love from you all than you will ever know. I miss you all and cannot wait to be back amongst you. (fingers crossed that you are missing me, too!)

9. I’m thankful for my dad. He and I are a lot alike in that we are both very hardheaded and stubborn. It is this that makes us argue so much. But I’m grateful that I get to hear his stories a hundred times and that we have a good relationship. It has taken many years on my part to get to this point, but I’m thankful that I won’t have any regrets about our relationship when all is said and done.

10. I’m thankful for Colombian style hotdogs. Seriously, they are delicious. I’m going to learn how to make them before I come home.

11. I’m thankful that I can at least understand some Spanish, even if I can’t speak it yet. It definitely helps that I can figure some things out on my own.

12. I’m thankful for the way God has provided for me to get to Colombia and while I’ve been here. I still need a few hundred dollars to get me home, thanks to a passport issue, but I’m confident that God will handle that.

13. I’m thankful for good friends. I’m thankful that I can laugh until I cry with you. I’m thankful that you forgive my stupidity and let me be myself. I’m thankful that you stuck with me when I was difficult to tolerate. I miss you all!!!!!!!

14. I’m thankful for Skype. Without it, I would be very limited with my contact home. I’m so grateful that anytime I’m homesick, I can call my family or friends and speak in English really fast!

So there you have it, up to date gratitude 🙂





It has been a while

13 11 2011

Hello, oh you myriads of Jill Nelson blog followers.  I hope you are all doing well.  I sure am.  It’s been far too long since I’ve blogged and my only excuse is that I’m lazy.  Super lazy.

This week is the last week of official class.  For the two weeks after that the teachers will do their wrap-up stuff and work specifically with any students that may need it.  I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, whether or not I’ll need to be there for any of that.  I guess I’ll just go with whatever happens.

I’m really going to miss my students.  I adore them.  Even the ones that don’t want to pay attention and interrupt me every three seconds by saying “I don’t understand.”  They are, by far, the best Spanish teachers.  They make me laugh all the time. Here are some of my favorites:

In transitions (like pre-first), there is a boy named Samuel who cannot sing a song without serenading me.  It’s funniest when he sings the ABCs on his knees with one hand on his heart, the other outstretched before him, and his eyes tightly closed to express his passion.  I laugh every time.  He’s the one in my facebook video that slaps his butt during Silent Night.

In pre-k, there is a girl Lina who cracks up every time we get to the part in Rudolph about Santa.  They put their hands in front of them like they have a big belly and sing like men, “Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say.” She thinks it is so funny.  And I think she is so funny.

In 6th grade, seldom a day goes by without one of the boys doing a ridiculous freestyle dance in the middle of the lesson.

In 8th grade, there is an ongoing debate on the number of continents. Apparently Colombia teaches that there are 6, not 7.  They think I’m wrong.  I think they’re wrong.  Fortunately, even scientists can’t really agree.

In 9th grade, they are the most committed to teaching me Spanish, but I think it’s because they are the most committed to NOT learning English.  They are always up to some crazy antic.  I don’t even know where to begin.  Just know that these kids will be missed extra.

In 10th grade, I can’t walk into the room without them all yelling “Jill!”  I’m like Norm from Cheers.  Everybody knows my name, they just can’t pronounce it 🙂

In 11th grade, they have senioritis.  Bad.  The other day they asked me if I ever had to take Spanish classes.  I told them I took two years in high school but I didn’t pay much attention.  They laughed and said, “like us.” I said, “Yup.  But now I’m living in South America. I’m wishing I would have paid attention now.”

I know I didn’t hit all the grades, but that gives you an idea of what my school day is like.

some of 11th grade

a few of my pre-k babies. yes, there is one blonde kid - Carlos Andrés

 

After school lets out, it’s two and a half weeks full of social events: birthdays, celebrations, and graduations.  I’ll be dressed up a lot.  I’m really wishing I would have brought my black heels with me now.  I just didn’t think I’d be getting all gussied up for anything.

THEN, after all that social mingling, I’m going home.  Home.  Somewhere around the 14th of December I’ll be heading back to Stilwell.  After Christmas, I start life over in Oklahoma City.  It’s crazy to think that I’ve only got a month to go.  I’m certain it’s going to fly by.  I’m really going to miss Barranquilla.





What a week

18 09 2011

So, this has been one strange week.

Sunday I stayed home from church because my cough had just worn me out. Did the same on Monday and Tuesday. So, I didn’t go outside for like 3 whole days.

Then, Tuesday night I went to stay with some friends until today because Monica and Alvaro were out of the country on a pastor’s trip. Fortunately, I really like the family I stayed with so it wasn’t unpleasant at all.

Wednesday I finally went back to school but was ridiculously ill-prepared. I even forgot my class schedule so I just tried to wing it. I will never do that again! Ever!!

Thursday I went to visit another school and I loved it there too. One of the students there was so impressed by me that she sent a gift for me with her teacher today. Toblerone chocolate 🙂

Also, on Thursday, when I got back to where I was staying, I learned the my Grandpa had died that morning. It is very difficult not getting to be there with my family during this time. It makes you re-evaluate things. And my family has been so understanding of why I can’t be there for the funeral. Their support has made it easier to be so far away. I need to see them more, and before the next funeral.

Friday was the school’s celebration of Love and Friendship Day (Colombian Valentine’s, basically), so the kids were distracted by their excitement and the classes were having parties so it was another weird day.

Today (Saturday), Monica and Alvaro got back. I really missed them. I was glad to have my Colombian mom and dad back.

But then Monica asked for my passport. We were planning on going to the immigration people this week to extend my stay. Well we discovered that I was only given 30 days….I’m on day 66. We may have some issues with that extension. I’m praying everything works out because I’m just not ready to come home, despite the homesickness. If it doesn’t, it looks like I may be deported, or worse: fined.





It Hurts Like a Billy-Oh

30 08 2011

This post is very personal.  It’s a bit more personal than I’m comfortable with, but I think that I should share it anyway because people want to know what this whole experience is like, not just the good parts.  Right?

This week was rough.  We’re talkin’ curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-cry-myself-to-sleep rough.

I was lonely.  Not the kind of lonely that made me want to go home.  Not the kind of lonely borne out of self-pity.  It was an entirely new kind of lonely.  It was isolation.  Yes, I have friends here.  Yes, I live with people who speak English.  Yes, I can call home whenever I want.

But I was still lonely.

Have you ever had an experience of loss (a break-up, death, end of a friendship, etc.) ?  Do you remember how it felt like something was literally ripping open your chest?  That’s what this felt like, except without the loss.

I emailed by pastor back home asking him to pray with me and for me.  I told him that I needed an English-speaking friend that was fully, 100% fluent that I could have an easy conversation with (perhaps even a thoughtful, deep conversation) or I was going to have a meltdown.  In typical Chris Green fashion, he encouraged me to embrace the isolation, to lean into God, and to not resent the process.

I’m trying. It’s not easy.  And I’m fairly certain I have some more time in this lonliness before I get the friend I so desperately want…if I get the friend.

Upon reflecting on this time, I was reminded of the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (part of The Chronicles of Narnia).  In the story, there is a character named Eustace.  Lewis writes, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

He is not very likeable and he doesn’t try to be.  He resents the fact that he is in Narnia and that he is stuck on the ship, “The Dawn Treader,” against his will.  The crew lands on an island where a dragon lives. Eustace, in attempt to avoid work,  stumbles upon the dragon only to discover that it is dying.  He decides to tell everyone that he killed the dragon.

Now, as we all know, dragons are hoarders of treasure.

With the dragon dead, Eustace finds that he is surrounded by all sorts of gold and diamonds and jewels.  He finds a golden bracelet and puts it as high on his arm as he can so that it won’t come off.  Then he falls asleep.  When he wakes, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon overnight.  This discovery of his dragoned self humbles Eustace and he seeks to make amends with the crew for his behaviour, but that’s difficult since he’s a dragon that can’t talk. It seems that he is set to be a dragon forever now.

But then comes this beautiful scene. Aslan comes to Eustace and tells him to unrobe.  Eustace tries to remove the dragon skin several times, but each time he finds that he is just as much a dragon as he was before.  Finally, Aslan helps him.  The way to remove the dragon skin is deep, painful clawing into the flesh.

This is how Eustace describes it:

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

All that to say: If I need to be undragoned, so be it.  It hurts like a billy-oh, but it is necessary.  I cannot undragon myself.  If this is part of the process, I welcome it.  I don’t want to be a dragon anymore.





#RealTalk

15 08 2011

Today has been a crappy day. I woke up with a pounding headache that made the sun unbearable. Then my stomach started hurting. Then it started hurting when I would take too deep of a breath. Then I tried to drink some water thinking maybe I was dehydrated. It made the stomach ache worse. Then a friend really hurt my feelings. Which made the stomach ache worse. Then the internet connection isn’t that great so I’m having issues watching my guilty pleasure show The Vampire Diaries.

All this makes me homesick. I just want to curl up with my mutt and sleep.

Tomorrow will be a better day. I’m going to the beach!





The Sacraments

7 08 2011

I’ve been going to church here now for basically a month. Sometimes I have a translator, but mostly I do not. I know some of the praise and worship songs in English. I try to sing along to those, but it is difficult singing in English when they are singing in Spanish. And everyone greets everyone with a kiss on the cheek. I forget sometimes and there’s an awkward half hand-shake half kiss between me and some poor Colombian citizen who was unfortunate enough to try to greet me.

Most of the time I feel very out-of-place and totally confused.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy it. I try really hard to listen to the words of the songs and sermon. I pray that I will pick up on the gist of what is going on. So far, I am failing. But I have ample opportunity to try again and again.

But today, for the first time, I understood what was happening.  We took communion together.  It was a very powerful moment for me.  Yes, I’ve taken communion in other churches and in another country before, but it was not this meaningful for me.  I noticed my excitement for understanding something in the service.  Then I realized it was an excitement for the Meal.  I remembered something my pastor Chris back home said once: Any Christian at any time should be able to go to a service and know it is Christian by this meal.  Or something like that.

This meal transcends the awkwardness of being a gringa in a Latin church.  It made me a part of this community in ways that I will never understand.  It was the first time that I wasn’t just following someone else’s lead (sit down, stand up, pray, sing, etc.).  I was following the same lead as everyone else. I was responding to the invitation, “Come and eat.”

Then, there were three baptisms.  It was very moving to watch these three officially enter into the family, especially considering my revelation during communion.

These Sacraments are what make me a part of this body, not my ability to speak Spanish or play guitar or any of that.  It was good to remember that.