Sunday, May 9, 2010

Packing Up Again

So it's the week before I head overseas again, this summer to East Asia, with about 30ish students and 7 staff. This week is always a crazy one, where I get into extreme mode and decide I need to do everything I've ever dreamt of putting on a 'to do' list before I head overseas. Usually I come to my senses and realize it all won't and probably shouldn't happen.

However, something that DOES need to happen is packing. And I'm bound and determined to pack better than I did last year. Last May, I packed in a record of 2 hours for my entire 6 weeks overseas. I was so thrilled with myself...until I got to Sweden and promptly forgot: long sleeved shirts/sweaters for the cold days, a converter, hair dryer (for the cold days) and more things. Whoops! So, this year, I'm ahead of the game and have already started a LONG list. Plus, medicine and some things aren't easily found in EA so I need to make sure I have enough. Sigh. This is going to be one big trip to Target...(more to come)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Black Bears and Background Noise

You know when you see those Bear Alert signs? Do you ever wonder if someone actually saw a bear? Well, I did last week. Twice. And one of those times was looking out the window while eating at Outback Steakhouse. Guess that bear wanted some free meat! I just got back from our directors' conference in Black Mountain, NC. This sleepy little town is a common destination
for many of our CCC conferences, mainly because there are several conference centers that can hold all the staff in the Midsouth region. I joke that if I had the money, I'd buy a house in Black Mt. and rent it out several times a year to different staff families! Wow, I could make some cash...

Other than viewing the wildlife, some of my friends and I took a 5 mile hike that turned out to be straight up the mountain. Now let me tell you, after a morning of straight meetings, getting some exercise seemed like a good idea...until I had to stop every 15 minutes or so to catch my breath and stretch when we were on the trail! But being outdoors in the beautiful October weather reminded me that although I'm a beach girl at heart, the mountains are pretty incredible in the fall. The leaves were just about at peak season and when the sun was setting it bathed everything in this gorgeous golden light. Augh! I wish I were back there now!
It was refreshing to be away from my responsibilities on campus and to be able to reconnect with God. I do some of my best thinking and even get some great ideas when I'm hiking or spending time in nature. Cole, a friend of mine and the director at Duke, gave a devotion on Psalm 131 our last day at the conference. Do I think I have a lot of responsibilities as a director of a large ministry? Yes, but David was King of a powerful nation! There's so much to learn from David in these three verses! As I've reflected on this Psalm, I've thought about how many times I'm like a nursing baby, frantically trying to find provision and even trying to do so by my own means. The times I'm anxious and frantic (like just this morning!) are most often characterized by me trying to control something or someone. I forget I'm just a human and I can't control everything, like David acknowledges when he says, I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. Where does peace come from for David and you and me? O Israel, put your hope in the Lord (not yourself, not your mom, dad, spouse, friend) both now and forevermore. In order to not just glaze over this final verse and lump it into a section of sunday school answers, I began thinking what it looks like in my life when I don't put my hope in the Lord. My life would be great if only...I was married, had lots of money, my staff liked me, was rested, had a house out of Southern Living...and the "if only's" continue. What about you? Is there background noise in your heart that is distracting you, causing you to feel frantic? Why not go take a walk in the woods and hash out Psalm 131 with the Lord. :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Faces of Uppsala, Sweden

     A city or country rarely becomes dear to me without meeting the people who live there and call it home.  It is the same with Sweden.  As we’ve spent five weeks in country, the people we’ve met have become dear to us and we desperately want them to know Christ some day.  I thought I’d tell you a couple of their stories. 

     "I want to believe in something...but I just can't," said Emil.   Josh (a Duke student) and Reece (on staff at UNC-W) met Emil, Jonatan, and Eric at one of the nation houses during lunch. When the conversation turned to spiritual things, they learned that Emil is an atheist, "but not a belligerent atheist like Dawkins," and Jonatan and Eric are agnostics, meaning they have belief in some sort of higher power, mainly just to "cover their bases." The law students are great fun and Josh and Reece enjoyed hanging out and cutting up with them. When it was time for them to go study, they expressed a lot of interest in hanging out again.

     Since then, Reece and Josh have been able to hang out with Jonatan. They were able to talk with him about his spiritual beliefs. Near the end of their conversation, Jonatan said that no one is asking these types of questions, but they need to be asked. It’s clear he is thinking about spiritual issues for one of the first times in his life.

     Our first week, we walked around Uppsala University and prayed God would allow us to meet the Swede who would eventually lead the student ministry on campus.  I think if there were ever a student who could be a vibrant leader for Christ on campus, it could be Sophie. 

       Stephanie (on staff at UNC-W) and Emma (a Vanderbilt grad) met Sophie, a self proclaimed agnostic, the first day they stepped foot on Uppsala University's campus. Through various conversations and getting to know Sophie, she has expressed that she believes something is "out there" but she doesn't think it's necessarily God. One night at dinner, Stephanie was able to share how she had experienced the reality of God in her life, which launched into a long conversation about how Jesus impacted her life. Sophie initiated asking her questions like "Why did Jesus have to die?" and "How is God's love shown in Jesus' death." It was so obvious that God had been at work in Sophie's life even though she didn't even acknowledge Him as God. It's been so exciting to watch Him work in her life this summer! Stephanie and Emma spent countless hours with her this summer, partying with her friends, eating dinner with her, hanging out at the lake, etc.  All of us have met Sophie.  You can’t help but be drawn to her bubbly personality.  One day, Stephanie was doing a picture survey we use to get into spiritual conversations with students, and her friend stopped by.  Sophie quickly asked Stephanie, “Can you do the picture survey with her, too?”  I keep thinking how powerful of a witness for Christ she could be on campus if she became a Believer.   She is really considering this faith in Jesus that we profess...please pray for her...that God will help her see the reality of His love for her in Jesus!!


I finally found the recipe (after converting from metric measurements) for the Swedish chocolate cake I ate everywhere in Uppsala. It's really yummy, like a gooey brownie of sorts. Hope you try and make it and feel cultured while doing so!

Kladdkaka Recipe:
1 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4-1/2 cup chocolate (choc chips or baking choc.)

Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Stir or whisk in sugar and then eggs and mix well. Add the flour, cocoa and vanilla and mix well. Break the chocolate into small bits and mix in, pour batter into a round 10 inch spring form pan. Cook at 350 for about 25 min. Keep checking it because ovens vary. (It should be slightly gooey in the center). Let cool and store in the refrigerator if not serving immediately. Garnish with powdered sugar or chocolate syrup (like the one pictured above).


Following Rome, we travelled to Florence, about a 2 hr. train ride.  That was the day I felt like I'd lost one of my six senses....
We arrived at the Rome train station to discover there was a "soppresso" beside our train information.  I asked a policeman what that meant and was informed it meant, 
"no train."  Our train was cancelled.  I saw a huge line forming in front of the Eurostar information desk and ran to get in it and figure out what to do.  It was crazy chaos!  A Eurostar employee would come out for a few minutes, people would crowd around him with all sorts of questions in all sorts of languages.  He would get frustrated and announce something in Italian.  I felt like I was battling against something (the crowd and getting another seat on another train) with my hearing gone or something!  I'd have to ask people around me if they spoke English and they'd translate for me.  Here's what I discovered:  a train derailed on the track from Bologna to Florence and that was preventing any trains from going or coming.  No one was sure if we'd even catch a train north at all that day.  Once I found that out, I decided we should at least try and take the one train that was in the station, headed to Florence.  I had no idea if our tickets would be valid or if we'd get thrown off.  Oh well!  So I finally found one last conductor, showed him our tickets, pointed to the train and said, "ok?"  (I'm definitely becoming fluent!)  He let us get on and we were able to make it to Florence finally! 

On the way back, the same thing happened to us and our train was cancelled (yes, we never did get to actually take the trains we had actual tickets for).  This time I was prepared and knew we could jump on another train headed to Rome.  We hopped on, only to discover, mid route, we'd gotten on the train headed the opposite way, to Venice!  While I've always wanted to go to Venice, I really wanted to make my flight back the the U.S. the next day.  So, we got off at the next stop in Bolgona and ended up catching a train back to Rome.  So, we got to add Bologna (or at least the train depot) to our list of places visited!

Enjoy some of the sights of Florence!  It's definitely one of my favorite places I'd choose to live overseas...

View of Florence after climbing 400ish steps to the top of the Duomo

Ponte Vecchio Bridge (this is where all the gorgeous jewelry is sold!)

 View from our hotel room

I saved the best for last: Gelatto!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rome if you want to!

I was so glad to get to hotter weather when I landed in Italy.  Sweden and even Germany were cooler than usual this summer, but Rome was HOT!  I hadn't really thought about the fact that Rome was a famous city with lots of tourists...until we set out our first day for Vatican City.  There were tons of people from all over the world everywhere and lines for everything!  It kind of reminded me of touring D.C. in the blazing heat.  I think I'll have to tour other major cities in the cooler months!  It was strange, sometimes, touring a famous city because most of the foreign cities I travel to with students tend to be university cities that aren't quite as famous.  So this was a whole new experience!  Here are just a few of the sights of Rome!
Trevi fountain at night (we threw coins in to insure we'd come back one day!)

Vatican City (it was hugh and I decided being the Pope must be a lonely job)

Allie & I on the Spanish Steps

Of course, I'd pick the Carolina blue moped to drive if I lived in Rome...

Ludvic's neighborhood-Trastevere


My new artistic inspiration: window box art!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bonjourno, Roma!

Allison & I at dinner in Rome 

I said goodbye to our staff and students in Munich and boarded a plane for Rome, where I met my sister Karen and roommate Allison for some vacation time in Italy! I was a bit nervous about flying by myself to a country I've never been to. After our team accidentally flew to Siberia a year and a half ago, I'm always a bit weary of flying to a new place, half expecting to land in the wrong place! Karen and Allison's plane arrived early that morning, so I had to ride by myself to the hotel. I wasn't too excited about that, especially since Taken was a popular movie this summer!

As I'm coming out of baggage claim, I see a short Italian man carrying a sign with "Mr. Howell" on it and my hotel. :) I make my way over to him and in broken English he askes me if I'm the only one he's picking up. He then takes my bag and we head out to the car. All my fears melted away on the ride into the city, as Ludvic begins to ask me if I speak Italian. I tell him only English and French, and he tells me I've entered Italian school (his car) and he'll be teaching me Italian on the ride in if I teach him English! So there we are, driving around Rome with him speaking fluent Italian, mixed with French, and me replying in English and French. It was one of the funniest encounters with someone I've ever had and quite possibly my favorite memory of Italy. As we drive into Rome, he drives me all around the sites and explains (in Italian of course) the history behind each site. So, for the rest of my trip, I was constantly realizing, "Oh, that's what he meant" when we toured the famous sites and I read the history in English! But, as always, it's great to meet the locals because he pointed me to some great areas of Rome where he loves to eat (Trastevere). Overall, meeting Ludvic was one of those times God reminded me how worried I was about something and showed me how His provision was so much better than I could have even asked for!

On our last day in Rome, we ran into him again as he was dropping off some guests at the hotel. I said hello to him and he jumped out of his van with a "Bonjourno, signora!". Actually, he jumped out so fast he forgot to put the car in park, and as he was greeting me with a kiss on each cheek, his car began to inch backwards towards the hotel wall! He jumped back in in time to avert any damage to his car, don't worry!