A Visit to Milwaukee and Chicago

Oh how I love thee, America!  Last week I was back in the US for a couple of conferences in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I presented a paper, met up with tons of old friends and mentors, had a few interviews, made some new friends, and ate copious amounts of unhealthy but delicious American fast food! (I forgot how much I love Panda Express!)

Among the highlights of the trip:  (1) The weather was way better than I had anticipated.  You grow up hearing horror stories about how bad the weather is in Chicago, but for the time I was there it was warmer than it has been in Cambridge this Fall.

(2) My first forays into Wisconsin were a smashing success.  My friend Chris and I took a bus from the Chicago airport to Milwaukee, and it’s hard to explain how great it is to listen to a friendly bus driver with a deep Wisconsin accent shoot the breeze about cheese crackers, beer, and the Christmas lights in Milwaukee.  On my second night in Milwaukee, I went with a couple friends to a great German restaurant and ate a Pork Shank.  That’s right, a pork shank.  If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan – and the menu assured me that it was – then it’s good enough for me!

(3) Of course, food and weather are not as important as people, and I was truly blessed by many great interactions with dear friends over the course of the week.  It was so nice to catch up about life, talk theology, and laugh about shared experiences with friends I miss here in England.

(4) My paper went well.  It was on discipleship and the death of Jesus in Luke’s gospel, and I was very happy with the interaction and input that followed the paper.  I feel like I was able to take some good ideas from the discussion and will be able to develop the essay a bit more and submit it for publication.

(5) I didn’t get lost while travelling around Chicago on the subway.  I took a little trip out to Oak Park, and since I had no phone, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out where I was and I would be stranded.  Thankfully it was very easy to navigate the subway system.

Downsides were:  (1) Rachael was not there.  (2) The conference in Chicago was inconveniently located, so I didn’t really get to see as much of the city as I had hoped.  (3) No good sleep the whole time.  The latest I was able to sleep without waking up was 5:30am one morning.  (4) I foolishly went on a pizza-making binge in the weeks leading up to the trip, so when I was in Chicago I didn’t really have much of an appetite for the amazing pizza.  I guess there’s always next time.


Just as I am – Billy Graham Autobiography

I recently finished reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just as I am.  He has a fascinating story, and it’s incredible to think of all of the ways he has influenced 20th century evangelical Christianity.  From publications like Christianity Today, to outreach and discipleship movements like Campus Crusade and The Navigators, Graham had a major hand in so many of the institutions and movements that have come to characterize mainstream evangelicalism in the last 65 years.

As I read the biography, I felt a genuine appreciation for all that Graham has accomplished.  At the same time, I was also surprised by how often I found myself disagreeing with decisions that he made, particularly when it came to spending time away from family.

Graham’s heyday was before my own, but his story and ministry remind me in many ways of Rick Warren and his ministry.  They share a similar focus on evangelism, a similar pragmatic approach to outreach, a similar reticence to voice criticisms or make what they perceive to be unnecessary theological distinctions among believers.

It was interesting reading the Graham biography in between biographies about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jonathan Edwards.  Of the three figures, I definitely identify on a personal level with Bonhoeffer the most and Graham the least.  Graham’s energy, charisma, and salesmanship are both an inspiration and something totally foreign to me, and his story makes me grateful for how God uses people with all kinds of gifts in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Late Night Escapades

I am a late night person.  I don’t feel truly awake until about 7pm and then I am full on energy.  Early on in our marriage this was the cause of most of me and Ben’s arguments.  I wanted to stay up late doing well, anything, and Ben wanted to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  Ben has always catered a bit to me on this, but eventually as I have gotten older (sad but true) and had to wake up for work every day, I see the need for sleep.  I no longer can run on 4 hours of sleep, or at least not well.  I have finally become a real adult and enjoy going to bed before the wee hours of the morning.

I hate forcing myself to go to bed but it must be done.  I had done just this last Tuesday and after my mind raced for a long while, I eventually drifted off to sleep.  I was then abruptly woken up around midnight when shouts and peels of laughter came seeping through our walls.  Our neighbors were apparently having a mid-week party outside in the back garden next door.  I could hear every word they said, hear every shout of exclamation, hear every out-of-pitch tune they sung, and every bottle of beer that was opened. It was like they were sitting on the edge of our bed.

I grumbled to Ben about how ridiculous this was as it was Tuesday evening, but there wasn’t much we could do.  I assumed they would only be our there while they smoked cigarettes as it was raining, but that wasn’t the case.  They stood out there a good 20-30 minutes.  Finally after flipping to and fro angrily in my bed I got up and went to the bathroom where I could spy on them without them seeing me (as our bedroom looks directly over the garden).  I could hear them even louder in the bathroom.  I decided I was going to send a message.  I sneakily lifted our blinds and opened the window.  I then slammed it as hard as I possibly could.  There was a hush of voices as the sound echoed through the air.  I nearly broke the glass panes, but it was quiet.  I smirked to myself as I walked back to our bedroom but I had no sooner sat on the bed, when all the voices started back up.  I was beyond irritated.

I got back into bed and tried to calm myself down.  I closed my eyes and tried to think of anything other than the ruckus outside.  After some period of time, I turned to Ben and pleaded  with him to call the porters.  I couldn’t handle this.  He sleepily got out of bed and dialed the number only to find there was no porter about.  Naturally.  I shoved my pillow and blankets about like the noise intruders could see what they were doing to me.  Of course, this only irritated Ben I am sure.  I flipped on my stomach and pulled my pillow tightly over my head.  The noise was barely subdued.  I tried to fall asleep, but it was to no avail.  Ten minutes later I had had it.  I could think of nothing else but how every minute of sleep was slipping away.  I was not having that.

I threw back the covers, tossed my pillow on the floor (a tantrum which only Ben could see of course) and stormed across our bedroom.  I crossed our living room to the front door and jerked it open as fast as I could.  All the lights in the hallway flicked on as I marched down stairs in my pajamas.  I didn’t care how I looked or the fact that it was raining outside.  I quickly made it to the bottom of the stairs where I threw the door open to the back garden and let the door slam against the wall.  That got their attention.  I then yelled into the night, “I AM SORRY, BUT DO YOU THINK YOU COULD PLEASE KEEP IT DOWN AS THERE ARE PEOPLE TRYING TO SLEEP?!!!  YOU HAVE NOW WOKEN MY ENTIRE FAMILY UP TWICE (they don’t need to know that only includes me and Ben) AND I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE IT IF YOU BE QUIET!!!!”  It is amazing how easy it is to yell at people on the other side of a wall!  As soon as I had finished my rant, the apologies were lobbed over the wall and I felt empowered.  I had put an end to it.  I forcefully shut the door and went back up to my flat.

The group quietly headed indoors and I felt quite content as I snuggled into bed beside Ben.  He was elated that I had acted so drastically and couldn’t stop laughing at me standing in the rain in my pjs yelling over the wall.  I had acted completely crazy, but it felt good!  I don’t plan to have any repeats, but it was nice to know I could get a little worked up if I need to.  The lesson here, don’t go messing with my sleep.  If I can’t be up late, nobody can.  At least not on weekdays.

Last Minute Dinner Plans

Last night we had dinner at our friends Candice and Collin’s house.  It was a simple night, but I loved it nonetheless.  On Friday a couple of us realized that we didn’t have plans for Saturday night, so we decided to hang out and do nothing together.  That is just the kind of thing that I love.  We didn’t have to get dressed up or cook anything fancy, it was just a night sitting around a table enjoying salad, chicken skewers, sweet tea, and good conversation.  These nights are what I will miss most once we go back to the states.

It isn’t that we won’t have simple dinners with friends, but there is a sense of unity here that is very unique.  We are all here because one person in each couple is studying for a PhD.  A good chunk of us are finishing up in the next 3-12 months and we are all starting to think about the next phase…going home.  We talk a lot about what we love here in Cambridge and England in general.  We love the fact that we don’t have Texas heat in the summertime, we love the community, and we all love online grocery shopping!  Most of us have been here for several years and we talk about how difficult it will be to leave our tight-knit group of friends.  We are all excited for the next stage of our lives (when our husbands actually get real jobs!), but we don’t want to rush out of this stage of life either.  We want to enjoy this time for all its worth.

Mostly the night involved laughing about the fact that there are very few job prospects and we may very well have to beg our families for jobs!  We will all be going home to different situations, some of us boxed up all our belongings and shoved them in our parents basements, others sold everything they had, and others brought all they owned with them.  We will go home and have to buy cars, renew driving licences, buy bottle openers and the everyday necessities.  We will be starting from scratch in a lot of ways, but it is exciting.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we will all look back fondly on these years.  The friendships we have made here will last a lifetime.  We have all shared something very special and unique here in Cambridge.  We are all so much a part of each others lives that it will be extremely sad when we all go our separate ways.  I don’t want to think about that yet though.  So today I am going to be thankful for last-minute dinner plans, laughter over a great meal, sharing clothes, and just sharing life.

Attention Lover

I am going to be really honest here, I love being the center of attention.  I have to work really hard to be a good listener, not interrupt others, and be intentional about asking questions of those I am talking to.  I try not to seek out attention, but in my heart of hearts, I love it when it happens.  That isn’t easy to admit, but it’s true.  With that being said, anyone who loves attention has to love being a foreigner.

Everybody knows that most Americans absolutely love a British accent.  If you have an accent, the world is your oyster.  The doors of friendship, jobs, and smiles open wide and you are welcomed with open arms.  Growing up, I was no different.  I loved the British the accent.  When I found out we were moving to England I started talking to myself in the car with a British accent (mind you, not a good one) and Ben had to ask me numerous times to stop talking like that.  I wanted to be British.  I wanted to have that lovely accent.  What never occurred to me was that the English would love our accent just as much as we love theirs.

The kids at our church love our accent and pretty much every Sunday I get asked how I say certain things, and can I just talk for a while.  At work I often have people say they love the American accent and today I had at least four different people comment on my voice.  One woman said she would stop calling everyone else in HR because she wanted to listen to my voice all day from now on.  One man exclaimed in surprise, “Oh! Why that is the loveliest voice I have heard pick up the phone!”  Others just say they like my accent and ask questions about where I am from.  I don’t normally have it happen that many times in a day, but at least once a day I get some sort of compliment.

I would have never guessed that I would feel so exotic in England, but on days like today when it seems like just about every other phone call is telling me I have the loveliest voice, I can’t help but smile.  I am going to soak this up because I know when I go home next year, no one is going to stop me in the middle of a sentence and say, “my what a lovely voice you have!”

Sunday Night Sermon – The Resurrection

Yesterday I got the chance to preach again at our church’s Sunday night service.  I enjoy teaching at our Sunday evening services, though I probably prefer the mornings to the nights.  The evening setting is more intimate than Sunday mornings, but you either have to hold a microphone in your hand or else stand in one place the whole time.  On Sunday mornings I conceive of the message more in terms of a proclamation for both guests and regulars, whereas on Sunday evenings I view the service more as a time of instruction for the committed core of the church.

I was asked to answer the question, ‘What excites you the most about Jesus?’  My response was simple:  the resurrection, the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead.

I divided my message into two parts:  the question of history and the question of relevance.  What happened, and why does it matter?

When it comes to the question of history, I think a very strong argument can be made for the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  There’s the fact of the empty tomb.  There are the numerous accounts of post-mortem appearances of Jesus to his disciples.  Then there is the growth and proclamation of the early church.  When you add all of these factors together, only the reality of the resurrection can account for the available evidence.  No alternative explanation really measures up.

But the resurrection isn’t just about one man rising from the dead a really long time ago in a far away place.  The resurrection has global, cosmic implications.  If Jesus really rose from the dead, then this world is a fundamentally different place than it was before he came out of the tomb.

The resurrection is the decisive reversal of sin and death in this world, God’s pledge that all of the brokenness and pain and disorder and death in this world will eventually be wiped out.  It’s the promise of total restoration to the harmony that this world had before sin ever came into the picture.  Through the victory of this one man over death, all the world will be made new.  That’s why to me the resurrection is the most exciting thing about Jesus.

Unfortunately we don’t record the evening services, so there’s no link to the message.  Maybe next time!

Fire Safety…Arrgh!?!

England has never gotten over the great fire of London in 1666.  Nearly 450 years later, the Brits still obsess over fire safety.  You might remember that one of our first experiences in this country involved a communal humiliation over a fire alarm.

Well, now I’m getting drafted into the battle against fire’s destruction.  I’ve been appointed as the Fire Warden for my building, and on Monday I have to attend a two hour fire safety course.

I’m flattered that I have been counted worthy of this important role, but I feel like they must not have looked too closely into my track record with these things.  Rachael and I have an unfortunate history of setting of smoke alarms with our cooking.  I accidentally set a dumpster on fire with charcoal when we lived in California, and I had to frantically put it out with buckets of water.  I’m just not too confident in my fire wardening abilities.