Wednesday, April 29, 2009

i'm in a new york state of mind...

I'm on holiday in New Jersey this week visiting some great friends and catching up, enjoying the sights of New York and relaxing.  I'll post again once I'm back next week (and there will be LOTS of great pictures)!  


Saturday, April 25, 2009

if these walls could talk

While walking back from my Saturday ritual visit to St. George's Market, I passed by a large metal "peace" wall that had been adorned with puzzle-piece-shaped art with pictures of children on it, making the huge metal fence look like there was a playground inside it. I got to thinking about these "peace" walls (I use "" because I find peace and walls held together a possible contradiction in terms). I thought about an article I read in the local community paper the other day that described an exciting art project to give the Shankill "peace" walls a new design, with images of history and unity. There are over 40 barriers in Northern Ireland, and many have been decorated with images of peace and unity, but they are still walls intended to seperate different cultural groups, not matter how pretty they are. The question begs to be asked: Why disguise these walls as peaceful instead of just take them down?

I asked my friend Chris about this and he said that there was talk of taking down the walls, but it's believed that the communities behind them are not ready for this yet, and so it would be a very slow process. He says that new murals pave the way for gradual change, and that people have even talked about putting windows in them! He concluded by noting the financial benefit of the peace walls: thousands of people visit these walls every year and they serve as big tourist attractions here. I should also note that the "peace" walls were intended to be temporary--and some have been up for more than 30 years.

Initially I felt really frustrated with the continued presence of "peace" walls and no apparent push to remove them, but just efforts to beautify these barriers or even worse, accept them as a permanent fixture of the Northern Irish landscape. I felt frustrated that there was a profit being made by dividing people from one another and that money often speaks louder than Truth.

Just when I was getting all riled up into a place of judgment and anger, I took a step back. These walls aren't only here. We're constantly maintaining our walls of division in other ways. Outwardly, it's so easy to beautify racism and sexism with flowery politically correct language, but inside, the walls of inferiority and predjudice remain. We can beautify conflict in our relationships with glossing-over and "moving on", but inside, the walls of hurt or anger remain. We can beautify how we spend our money with puffed-up arrogance about fair trade or sale shopping, but inside we are driven by the lust for money, making our walls as profitable as walls in Belfast. We can beautify our relationship with those who are poor with one-off mission trips or occasional donations, but inside we cower away from homeless people on the street and deeply fear "lower-class" neighborhoods. We can talk big about peace and justice, but inside we complicitly profit from war in ways we would like to ignore.

So, when I see these walls in Belfast, I am convicted. What walls do I maintain, undergoing any amount of dressing-up just to avoid taking them down? Where am I called to holy deconstruction, holy demolition of the walls that divide? I long for the One who is our peace: "He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Ephesians 2:14)

Friday, April 24, 2009

howdy & gig'em

-Being told by a woman on the bus that she really liked my haircut, right after I had it cut this morning. We ended up chatting the whole way into the city centre and then, upon leaving the bus, both said how nice it was to meet each other and actually speak to someone on the bus.

-The feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a big grant application and sending it on its way.

-One man honking his horn to give a thumbs up to another man walking by the road. This is a common greeting here, mostly between men, where one says "Alright?" and they exchange thumbs up signs. Not quite how we Aggies use a thumbs up (Gig'Em, we call it), but interesting all the same.

Monday, April 20, 2009


-Coming downstairs to my housemate saying in a cartoony, high-pitched voice "gooood mooorning!" I replied in my best half-awake version and decided it was going to be a fun day.

-Cooking zucchini (aka courgettes) stuffed with pancetta, parmesan, tomatoes and basil from a Tuscan cookbook. It took me twice as long as it probably should, and just when I though all that effort didn't really pay off, I took one bite and said "Yes." Absolutely delicious and worth every minute.

-Sitting outside the city hall on a sunny (yes, sunny) Belfast day that hovered around 60 degrees, reading a magazine and every now and then just looking up at the big blue sky, feeling the sun warm my face and smiling.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

sit and listen a while

-Cleansing tears. I think I've been in a bit of shock over the death of Erin, a wonderful child from my home church, who lost her battle to cancer a little over a week ago. Looking at the blog her Mom has had on Erin for years, I saw this video that one of Erin's classmates made about her, using words from her classmates and teacher. As I watched this heartfelt testimony to Erin's remarkable life, the tears began to flow. I grieve with and for her family. We will all miss her.

- Going with Lori on a bus tour to see musical sights in Belfast and seeing Van Morrison's house, while listening to a song about growing up there.

-The lovely St. George's Saturday: I especially loved sitting on a bench, people watching and recognizing faces in the crowd, eating my blueberry scone and sipping my hazelnut latte as Irish music wafted over me.

-Going for a pint with Lori and being reminded of the great generosity of people here. We ended up talking to some politicians who were next to us (of the Sinn Fein/Republican persuasion) and though they had very dark not-so-distant-pasts, they ended up buying this Presbyterian minister a pint (and a hot whiskey--oh my!), inviting me to their exclusive Sinn Fein Christmas party next year and giving me their cards in case I "need anything at all." This is a place of contradictions, deep loyalties and opinions and overriding hospitality. It also says a lot that Bittles Bar, where we went, used to be known as a police bar--mostly for Protestant police. Sitting and chatting to these die-hard Republicans, I looked over my shoulder to see a painting of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sitting having a pint. Times are changing, hopefully for good.

-Chatting with Lori about the transition of living here and finding my way and having her give some really wonderful advice and applaud what I'm already doing to make friends, saying "I don't worry about you for a minute!" Yeah for dance classes and being a coffee shop and cinema, cooking classes, perhaps?

-A warm Sunday afternoon where I dragged my wicker chair outside, dusted off the sunglasses, grabbed a coke and read half a book in the lazy, wind-chilled sunshine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

beautiful surprises

-A couple of tributes to my glimpses of grace from Erin here, and Jessi here.

-Susan Boyle, on Britain's Got Talent, who showed the capacity we humans have to judge, yes, but also to create beauty and express great generosity.

-Chatting to my Grandmother on Facebook chat! Times are a-changing!

(Oh, and this song: "Love You" by The Free Design. Have a listen.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

it all adds up

This is my 500th blog post! So, in honor of 1,500+ glimpses of grace, I wanted to re-publish 10 of my favorite posts (in chronological order). It was extremely difficult to narrow them down, but what a wonderful problem to have! Thanks for being a part of it all.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
serendipitous spontaneities

-Going to St. George's Market in the morning and enjoying two hazelnut lattes, perusing the varieties of breads, cheeses, crafts and antiques and talking to people.

(after this post, my co-worker Chris always refers to this building as "your blog place")

-Getting hopelessly lost on my walk back from St. George's and wandering through an area I don't think I've walked through before. It was cold, but (finally) sunny, and I discovered new charity shops, lovely peeling walls and old doorways as I munched on the fresh loaf of Irish wheaten bread I'd bought at the market.
-Veronika coming over for a spontaneous visit which included catching up, nibbling on wheaten bread with raspberry jam and brie and watching Sex & the City.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
talkin' bout a REVolution

-A yummy dinner of steak, potatoes and grilled zucchini with tomatoes. Can you tell I'm trying to fill up on traditional Texas fare before going to Belfast?

-Being ordained as a PCUSA Minister of Word and Sacrament. The service was perfect, from Kyle's Lord of the Rings themed sermon, to Bob Leslie (the pastor who baptized me in that very church) holding my hand to pronounce that I was ordained and having to stop because he was overwhelmed with emotion, and then choking out "I used to hold her" before continuing, to hands layed upon me in blessing, including my parents and Grandmother, to Marie charging me to be guided by my inner joy and the constant presence of God to so many more things. It's difficult to convey in words the peace and tangible hand of God felt in this day.

-Being with so many wonderful friends and family. It was so great and suprising to see friends like Heather, Stuart and Allison who I haven't seen in years. In one room, I had pastors who have guided and supported me, a great deal of caring family, old college friends, a friend from elementary school and dozens of people who took very seriously their promise made to me and God at my baptism there.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
mamma mia it's raining

-The swoosh and plunk of raw sugar being dropped into my tea. Yum.

-Dancing around to Abba on my iPod. I'm a bit obsessed with the music from Mamma Mia at the minute.

-Sudden heavy rain followed by brilliant sunshine. Texas seems to have no patience at all for rain, geting it over with as quickly as possible, and immediately bringing the sun back out again. Half of the time, the sun doesn't even have a chance to go away at all.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
the end of an era

-Enjoying my last Sex & the City gathering. I've had friends come over for wine, cheese, laughter and tv every Tuesday for three years. Twelve came last night, and we stayed extra long, enjoying the last bit of time together. Over the year, we randomly watched episodes (on dvd) sometimes watching 2 a night and sometimes 3 (and even skipping season 3). On our last night we ended up having the last 2 episodes of the series left--a fitting ending.

-Maggie coming before everyone got here and catching me in a packing-cleaning fluster. She immediately pitched in and helped by washing my dishes. It was so selfless and thoughful.
-The detail and beauty of a sunflower. (You know how much I love photographing flowers!)
Thursday, April 03, 2008
happy birth day!

I'm an Aunt! Natalie Sofia Patranella was born today, and I can't wait to meet her very soon. I am so thankful to God for such a gift of grace. This day will always be a reminder of God's grace in her.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
sittin' on the dock of the [lake]...

-A beautiful sunset reflected off of Lake Sinclair at Jessi's lakehouse. The color and symmetry was breathtaking.

-Playing games all day with good friends.

-Food. LOTS of really, really good food. We always all take turns cooking at the lakehouse, resulting in a variety and abundance of deliciousness.

-Listening to birds sing and the water lap as I sat on the porch reading a great book.

-Reaching extra far down off the dock to dip my toe in the cool water. It was a miracle that I didn't fall in.

-Riding in Jessi's convertible with the top down, letting the wind blow through my hair. I loved staring up at the bright blue sky as we cruised down the highway.
Friday, May 11, 2007
kind notes and words

-Diane leaving pictures and a dvd of Project Dance NY in my mailbox, with a lovely little note about hope.

-While Claudia and I were baking cookies for the women's shelter in my tiny kitchen, she insisted on washing all of my dishes. While I mixed and baked, she washed up everything. It was beyond kind.

-Having Kathleen O'Connor (our Catholic, feminist, Hebrew Bible and language expert professor) tell me I was smart. Wow! I seriously idolize the woman, and had exegesis with her last fall. Coming from her, it was a huge compliment I won't soon forget.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
there and back again
-Singing Paul Simon songs at the top of my lungs with Rob and Karen on our 14-hour drive across four states to get to Texas. It was actually a really fun drive, made better with great music, snacks galore, knitting and conversation.
-Relaxing with my sister after finally getting here by having a glass of wine, watching t.v. and chatting.
-Drinking coffee in bed this morning after sleeping in. My great book and my sister's great dog, Hayden, kept me company.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
surface observation

-The way raindrops fell into puddles, forming circles and bubbles on the surface. I'm amazed at how perfectly round they are.

-Treating myself to a hot, chocolatey mocha because I had to be out and about in the cold rain.

-The mother who waited at the bus stop with her baby son. She was holding him, and they were both looking at each other and smiling. Now that I think about it, I should have given them a lift.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
wine, coffee and other transcendent things...

After reading, I've decided to record "glimpses of grace" I encounter, hopefully daily. They may seem random, but they are the little moments that add up to life for me.

-The way the light danced in my glass of red wine at Eddie's last night to the beautiful voice of Matthew Perryman Jones.
-The fuzzy whiteness of my room when I first opened my eyes this morning.
-The cinnamon smell of my coffee.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

heart burn

Last night, I went to bed rather late and looked at my clock and realized it was midnight. Easter. So, I lit my little wall sconce and opened my Bible to read the resurrection account from Luke. I read about Jesus walking to Emmaus with two disciples,

"As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?' That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!' Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

I was especially struck by the disciples recognizing Jesus when he broke bread with them, and then him vanishing. Once he was gone, they said "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us...?" What a testimony this is. I think we have moments in our lives when God breaks bread with us and we recognize God in our presence. My glimpses of grace are meant to chronicle moments like this. These are the moments that sustain us in our lives, because often, after a recognition moment, God seems to vanish. And when we find God seems a bit farther away, these are the times we are meant to reflect and on those "heart-burning" moments in our walk with God.

As I read about Jesus being made known in the breaking of bread, I was moved emotionally at how poignant God's presence had been for me when I recently broke bread. And I was reminded that such a moment isn't just to make me feel good or validated--it's to sustain me on this road. It's to sustain me in those moments where God seems to vanish, and remind me that God will always be made known to me in the breaking of bread, whatever side of the table I happen to be on.

I wish you all "heart-burn" this Easter! May God walk with you, teach you, feed you and the Spirit burn within you, so that it's all you can do to cry "The Lord has risen indeed!"

a little bit of what i'm doing...

(Click on each page to get a bigger version--that's the only way I can get it to work!)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

friends new and old

-A very thoughtful and encouraging email from my Grandmother's friends the Bassetts, reminding me of strong family & Presbyterian connections. It's not often you hear from people who knew your Grandmother in high school and your Granddaddy in college. What an amazing history of friendship...that still continues.

-Waves here and there: first, one received from across the street as I walked home and second, one given at St. George's Market to the girl who makes the quirky t-shirts.

-The little girl who was proudly walking her baby doll in a pram down the street yesterday has become more Easter festive: today, her pram was filled to capacity by a huge bunny.

Friday, April 10, 2009

remember me

-Presiding over the Table at communion for the first time. There was something so surreal about saying, "Take, eat, remember, celebrate." As the elements were passed out to the congregation I stood there in my robe and stole, hands rested on the Table, and thought, "Wow. I'm a minister." It was certainly a holy moment--and a funny one. People do communion a bit differently here, and so after serving the congregation, the elders sat in the first pews and waited for me to come to them and serve them. After a split-second hesitation on my part, the clerk of session (a warm and welcoming man) gave me the slightest "come here" motion of his finger where no one else could see. I really appreciated it.

-A life lived to the absolute fullest: Erin, an eleven-year-old girl from my home church who battled cancer since she was five, gently died yesterday morning. Erin was one of those remarkable people who fill you with wonder when you're around them. I ran into Erin at Mo Ranch this summer and she was healthy then, with a tan on her face, making a mosaic with other campers. I had gone up to say hello because I used to be a counselor there, and then I recognized Erin. She looked up and said, "Hey! Don't you go to my church?" I said that I did and that I was so happy to see her again. I visited Erin right before flying to Belfast in September (the same day, I think) when she was in the hospital for chemo again. Her room was decorated with pictures, paintings and cards and she just sat propped up in her bed coloring away, as content as a child drawing outside on a sunny day, and yet she was in the hospital. What a joyful, radiant life she lived. I won't forget her.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

remember when...

-Discovering the gem that is the Linen Hall Library. Its grand wooden staircases, tables with wee lamps and regal chairs, huge old glass windows with views of the city hall, Titanic exhibit and great collection of books made it such a fun way to spend a morning. I sat reading C.S. Lewis' diary from when he was a student in his twenties and imagined that this was the sort of place he might study in.

-Watching a guy take a cheesy picture of his friend in front of the city hall, where he was making a triumphant pose in the middle of the lawn.

-Having my interest in creation theology sparked and spending the evening going through my Old Testament final notes from seminary (I know, I'm a nerd) and suddenly remembering all I had been taught, and feeling energized by it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

moments of real

-A young person getting up in front of the whole church to share a presentation she made about how God is in this city (Belfast). She took most of the pictures herself, and it was personal, convicting and hopeful all at the same time.

-A moment of deep connection with God and clarity in prayer.

-The joy of sipping a delicious cup of coffee, curled up in a chair in my big bathrobe, while the sun shines on my face.

Friday, April 03, 2009


-It's my niece's FIRST birthday! Happy birthday, sweet Natalie! What a huge glimpse of grace you are. I love you so much and wish I was there! :) Aunt Weeza
and now!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

hey, i got nothing to do today but smile

-Hearing that a very dear seminary friend has received a call!

-Swapping light-hearted insults and banter back and forth with my co-worker, happy that my office is full of humor and laughter.

-I went to hear a local MLA (government official in charge of education) speak at the primary school where I teach Religious Education and, while the speech was less than thrilling, I was thrilled to see that the Romanian children instantly gravitated towards Chris and me.

-Dusting off old records, opening the window, lying on the couch and letting Simon and Garfunkel's "Only Living Boy in New York" wash over me.