Monday, July 28, 2008

An update from Chris

Hey Everyone,
I am writing to update on how my summer has gone. This letter will take you the next three weeks to read so I have tried to put thematic headings so you can skip to parts you are interested in :) .

Summer Math Program:
The first bit of news is that I have finished my summer math program, which was a terrific way to spend a summer.
As a refresher, I spent 9-4 each day of this summer learning a type of math called algebraic geometry. It is an advanced math that is frequently taught to graduate students because it requires a lot of prerequisite machinery. The first 4 weeks or so we worked with a young female professor who was a very cool person and a good teacher. Those first few weeks we learned most of the objects that we were going to deal with and did a lot of problems to work on understanding them. That was fun and I really liked her. Then, she went to a conference and our second professor came back from one to finish up the summer. He is a pretty intimidating guy (algebraic geometry is his research field and he knows way too much about it and is a very quick thinker), but he also is great to learn from. For the three weeks he led us, we dealt with more sophisticated material (bigger results) which we understood a little bit worse, and also focused on answering some research questions.
I was happy with how things turned out because in the last week I figured out how to answer a sort of non-trivial question, and I worked from 8 in the morning to midnight all that week typing up my results into a little paper. It was satisfying because every single step in the logic in the paper was my own. No one else in my group came up with anything.
I have attached a draft of the paper, which you could sort of skim just to see what sort of paper it was if you're interested (although you won't be able to understand a single word in the paper). And that was my summer job. It was a good learning opportunity and a great amount of fun. I also got along really well with my research group (we all shared an office and if you recall they all lived in the Northwest and talked about the wonders of Fred Meyer and the Tillamook Cheese Factory) and that was fun too.

A Week in Dallas:
And that was my summer job. This week, I went up to Dallas to stay with Allison's family. As a reminder, Allison is my roommate Patrick's girlfriend and my friend. But I love pretty much every member of their family, so I have plenty to keep me busy when Patrick and Allison are busy doing boyfriend-girlfriend type things.

I love being there because they have a very zany family life. Here are a few anecdotes:
-On holidays, the family always gets together and writes a puppet show or musical that kind-heartedly makes fun of people in the family or at their church. For example, one of the aunts in the family is divorced and had been approached a few years ago by a priest of some sort, whom she rejected. The priest got married last month to a very Nigerian lady, and the wedding was done in very exotic Nigerian style. Allison's family attended the wedding. So the play for 4th of July was an exaggerated reenactment of the Nigerian wedding. I opened up the play by playing the guitar and singing a song called "I have been replaced by a Nigerian Bride" which was dedicated to the aunt and was written by me and a bunch of family members. The play closed with all a rousing rendition of "In the Jungle" and everybody dancing in tribal wear that was really bathrobes. The whole thing is very crazy.
-One day this week, when we were out at dinner, the family realized they had their church roster in their car with them. For some reason, one of the family's favorite pastimes is making fun of people at their church (they have a lot of crazies at their church). So they decided they would spend the rest of the night driving around their suburb and looking at these crazy people's homes based on their addresses on the church roster.
-This Sunday, they had a big family party which they call "Corn Fest."
The origin of the third-year-running fest is that one of the aunts got in an argument with someone else about which brand of canned corn tasted best. They decided the way to settle it would be to invite a bunch of people over, buy several brands of corn, and see if the aunt could pick out which was the best (it turns out she could). That inspired an annual party, at which all of the food items are corn: roasted corn salsa, cornbread, corn dogs, corn on the cob, etc.
-Every Sunday night in the summer, the whole family gets together and watches a "summer musical". They have watched Godspell, Tommy and Chorus Line this summer.

So that's the idea; the family is very closely-knit and is very willing to have fun.

I have previously mentioned that basically their whole extended family live in a section of Dallas (six nuclear families total). They own various furniture stores, taquerias, etc. in the area. I spent the weekdays this week going to the furniture store the family runs and got to see quite a bit of the "behind-the-scenes" of the glamorous retail business. The store is right down the street from Lee Harvey Oswald's house (the one he went to after assassinating JFK). Another thing that makes their store interesting (besides the fact that basically all of the employees are related) is that they market towards hispanic-speaking or poor-credit customers. What this means is that they have to make a lot of tough decisions about whom to give credit to, and also have to spend a lot of time tracking down negligent payers via the phone. They said 22% of their sales don't make their payments, and they also have to deal with repossessing some amount of their sales. It was fun to see how they made these decisions and the dynamic of a family business is interesting.

While I was at work, I would accompany whomever was running errands, which allowed me to see quite a bit of Dallas and meet a ton of their family members. A lot of Allison's relatives have "tough" lives, or at least it seemed to me. The kids have to spend the summers sitting in the back room of the taquerias which made me feel sorry for them (there is no air conditioning which is killer in Dallas in the summer). It was pretty eye-opening seeing some of these things and made me feel thankful for what I have, and more committed to try to help people like these if I ever get money of my own.

The last really notable thing I did was go to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, which is the museum dedicated to the JFK assassination. The building is on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where it is believed Lee Harvey Oswald was sitting when he fired the three shots. It is very cool because you can totally recognize the street and the grassy knoll from the films that you see of the assassination. It was very cool to be at a part of history that has such a strong visual image linked with it (as opposed to say, Gettysburg or something, for which we don't really have the same sort of mental images). And the museum was /very /well done and had lots of interesting historical objects--like the telegram wire at the time when JFK was shot which shows all of the telegram announcers frantically telling the others to get off in order to clear the lines for getting the news out about the president, etc. I really recommend it if anyone is ever in Dallas.

And that was my week in Dallas. For the rest of the summer, I will be driving up to Georgia with my roommate Patrick for about 3 weeks before school starts. You might be wondering why I am not coming home during the 4 week overlap, there are basically two reasons. First, I get along with Patrick very well and will probably visit his house at some point.
It is convenient to do it this summer because I will not have to pay for airfare (we are driving) and it's not easy getting a job for a 3 week period. Second, Patrick was kind beyond limits to me this year by paying for my groceries almost all year when I didn't have money. He took me to an eye doctor for my birthday and bought me a new pair of eyeglasses, which I sorely needed because I couldn't read the chalkboard in the tiniest classrooms on campus. I am doing him a small favor by driving to Georgia with him. He doesn't want to do the 15 hour, one day drive alone, and this way his parents don't have to fly to Houston to accompany him on the drive. So I feel bad about not coming to Oregon, but hopefully I made the right decision.

With that said, I am going to love seeing Georgia. It will be a great new experience. I have only been to the East Coast once (Boston for a few days, and I didn't see much else besides Harvard when I was there).
And also, Texas isn't the real south. So I will be getting both the South and the East by visitng Georgia.
From what Patrick tells me, here is what I should expect to see in
some cool hikes up mountains, the World of Coke Museum (Coke is from Atlanta), the first Chick Fil A Restaraunt (also from Atlanta), the Olympic Village (the olympics were held in Atlanta 8 years ago I think), and an ok zoo. I am not sure what else but it should be a good time regardless.

Love you all a ton and miss you,

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ministered and Ministered To

Today at church we came out of the message with a moment where people were invited to come forward for a time of prayer with someone who has been through what they're going through.

In "The Nine" I went forward to pray with someone holding a card that said "Lost my father to cancer" A group of four of us prayed and cried and prayed some more as Margaret comforted us. It was really good medicine for my heart. I was joined by two people I know, neither of whom I knew were affected by this same hurt. I was comforted. It really made our big church feel smaller, and I love those moments.

In the "Eleventh Hour" I said yes to God and held this sign.

I say, "said yes to God" because I wasn't really wanting to hold up a sign. But felt literally prompted by God that this was an area of my life where he and I had walked many times before and it was time for me to offer some hope and encouragement to others. I had the chance to pray with 5 women, 1 is having to find a job after a divorce, one is trying to figure out how to walk the road with a friend who has announced she is lesbian, one is still navigating her own divorce and in the middle of real upheaval at her workplace, and two are taking breaks from serious relationships seeking God's direction. Talk about unwanted change. I am so grateful that I had the chance to share a brief moment with these women today. I love God's design for the local church.

I am walking a season of "unwanted change" in my own life right now. Our church announced serious budget cuts last week. This affected our staff significantly. My boss and one of my closest partners in ministry resigned her position at the church in order to keep our team as in tact as possible and two other staff positions were eliminated. These are highly capable, key people who have become ministry family.
I was able to pray today prayers of comfort through "unwanted change" because I have walked this road before. In nearly 9 years of ministry at Sunset I have said more than once... " I will build NO more meaningful relationships with people at work." I will come to work, do my job and go home.
But, this is not how things really work. I have come to understand ministry relationships in light of God's design. The Creator created things which change. We are born, we grow, we reproduce, they leave and start the cycle over. Plants grow, turn to seed, grow again. The ocean... condensation... I"m not a scientist, but you get what I'm saying... life gives life to other things, it is God's design.
It doesn't mean I like it... but I get it.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I haven't volunteered at Film Action/Hollywood Theatre for... well... ever due to everything else going on. When I connected with Justen yesterday he suggested I take part in the Project Youth Doc. from Noon - 5 rather than my regular gig at the front desk of the office.

I had no idea what to expect and had the most wonderful afternoon! The big idea is that high school students spend a week with real filmmakers learning how to produce, direct, shoot and tech their own documentaries. The students are a hybrid of kids who pay for the opportunity and Boys/Girls Club students.

It started by me spending a little bit of time with a student from Boys/Girls Club who was working to edit his own video documentary on bonding with adults through cooking. As near as I could tell, the person with real influence in his life, who he also cooks with, is his youth pastor. Pretty sweet.

Then I got to sit in on a screening of the documentary Bloodlines and the Portland filmmaker, Rebecca Guberman, who was featured as an HIV positive teen, was there. Following the film (which has won big awards and been featured on MTV's True Stories) we sat with Rebecca while she talked to the students about creating something. She was delightful and challenging. She is a capital A artist, breathes in life and exhales beauty. I dont know that I have ever had the opportunity to sit with an artist, in this informal environment who spoke so passionately about the creative process and the value of art and following your heart, challenging the status quo in our expression, not settling. I think God must be delighted in her, while she is exploring life and the creation of the Creator who inspires her. It was invaluable and inspiring.

Then, I was placed with a team of 3 students who were given the following project. Shoot a short film on this block. Theme : compassion. In camera edit, tripod and handheld shots, wide, medium and close angle shots, creativity and 20 minutes. It was so cool to see this team of kids who come from different worlds come together to create something I was really proud of at the end of our 20 whole minutes. And again, training for me, while also putting to use what I have learned at Sunset. For the next week they and several other teams will be creating documentaries which will be shown at the Theatre on August 22nd.

I loved this whole experience.

I'm not sure what is going on... but the past few weeks I have been given amazing opportunities to serve, been challenged, yet loved every minute of it. I used to feel this way at work... but lately this muscle is being stretched outside of work... and I'm not going to think too hard about it, because I am totally loving it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The View from Here

At Houseboat camp with our High School ministry.
Mike drummed, Abby and I worked Program staff, now she's a camper and Molly camped Session One.

Floating (quite literally) thoughts...

Life is a blur.. in the past month or so I have only been away alot... 22/41 days...
Houston, Chicago, Dad's services, camp. I must be tired.

Fishing is not just about catching fish. One morning at camp, on the edge of a houseboat, with Colbie Callait playing off the walls of the cove, the water calm, the sun shining down, I finally said goodbye to my Dad. At the same time, I sensed such a peace and presence, that it was ok.

(lighting by God, photo by Tres- taken while the camp was singing Indescribable) I love Houseboat camp. The combination of service, community, water, worship outside in God's creation, immersion to another world. I was made for this. There is honestly no place on earth I would rather be right now than there. So many prayers were answered this week I cannot even begin to list them. It was one of the best weeks of my entire life.

Leading well is hard. I saw lots of it this week and lots of natural mistakes too. Good people going at it. It's sad when people fill in the blanks/unknowns with thinking the worst rather than a spirit of good will. So normal, and yet, so hurtful.

Not a big fan of tubing... don't really understand hanging on for dear life while being drug behind something which is trying to make you fall... but did it anyway because I could go out with Abby and the scenery is gorgeous!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

going home

We visited the gravesite today. This photo is my Mom standing where her parents and my father are buried. As I stood there with my own flood of emotions I was overwhelmed by how this moment and place must affect her. It was a very sad moment.

I am leaving today to return to Portland. The rush of emotion is tossing me around. I am so thankful I was able to extend my stay a few days, the quieter time with Mom has been so good. I am anxious to return home to my family and friends, but feel as though I have left part of me here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

toe in the water

It's been 1 week and 1 day since my dad died.
I thought it was time to try to listen to music again.
So far, Van Morrison, quietly in the background, is my way of putting my toe back in the water. There's such a melancholy sound to his music and somehow knowing he's probably drunk helps. :-) (I rarely drink)

Hey Baby, What's Your Sign?

visited my high school boyfriend's dad briefly while dropping something off. I have great memories of my time with him and his family. Wish we could have caught up more.

Ran errands with Mom. She wanted to get a gift for someone and since I was driving we ended up at the beach and had Taco Bell for lunch. This is unheard of, out of the question immpulsivity for my parents and classic me. We had a great talk on the drive and it was time well spent.

Fixed dinner for my Mom's birthday... chicken scallopine, potatoes, tomato/mozz/basil slice salad and strawberry shortcake. Jeff, Lynn and the Charles' were here with us.

A friend at home lost their mother yesterday. It's amazing how being on this side of that sort of loss changes how I view it for others. I've learned alot this week about caring and mostly about how important connection is for people who are grieving.

Ran to the grocery store and got caught up in a 6 car, 1 helicopter swarming drug bust. A little too much excitement for Paso, so now here we sit in a hot locked up house safe and swealtering.

Did a personality test... how does this sound? I am a ESFJ.
ESFJs are helpful people who place a high value on harmony. Paying close attention to people's needs and wants, they work well with others to complete tasks in a timely and accurate way. ESFJs follow through on their commitments. They like closure and prefer structured, organized situations in which warmth and compassion are shown. They contribute to others by anticipating their day-to-day concerns and handling them with warmth and efficiency. ESFJs are at their best in organizing people to get a job done.
What's your sign?