Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this 2 weeks ago and just remembered to finish it up today, 12/23. Whoops.

It was on my list today to write a postcard or letter to some friends, and as I pulled out my stack of postcards (my preferred method of communication) I thought about how close we are to Christmas and how really, I should send some sort of Christmas communication instead. How about a Christmas letter? You’re 27 for God’s sake. You don’t have to piggyback on your parent’s letter forever (although, to be fair, they always write about your accomplishments and all the good you’re doing in the world, so it’s a really great ego boost to read about yourself). All told, it seems it is time for the inaugural Christmas letter of Luke. Probably past time, really, but it seems like something those real adults are supposed to do--people that talk about things like buying a house and kids being born. Mularkey, I say! Christmas letters for all!

Dear Loved Ones,

2014 dawned like a winter morning--sneaky. It kind of just happened really. Darkness, then BOOM. It's a new year! I don’t think I even was able to stay up till midnight on New Year’s Eve. Lord, that tells you something about how old I’m getting. Yikes.

To start, I’ll review the fact that I have pretty much the coolest job around at the First Presbyterian Church in Baker City, OR as the youth director. This means I get to hang out with an absolutely incredible group of youth, plan youth group activities, and attend more middle and high school sporting and music events than you thought possible. It’s a blast, and I really mean that.
These are a few of my youth groupers. They're pretty awesome.

I think the theme for my year might be travel. My fellow youth pastors here in town, whom I consider good friends, consistently give me grief over how often I’m gone on various trips. I think of much of this as a perk of being tied in with a denomination that is so interconnected, and I’ve taken advantage of those connections to work with many groups doing good work. To be fair, I’ve also taken some trips of my own for pleasure and vacation, but you’ll hear about those in various detail shortly.

January gave me the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with a delegation from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, working in tandem with Interfaith Peace Builders. Here, I’ll gladly promote both organizations: http://presbypeacefellowship.org/, and http://www.ifpb.org/.

Happily, I was joined on this trip by a few longtime friends, and made plenty of new ones during the adventures we shared. I can’t share such a transformative trip easily, but suffice to say it was difficult, it was beautiful, it brought grief and despair and hope and love. Literally every day was a battle with my emotions and prejudices. So much of what you hear about the Holy Land is bad news. I'm here to say there is such good work taking place there, dedicated people across the spectrum giving their lives for peace, justice, and reconciliation. I was so lucky to go and see it, for all its flaws and beauty.
Looking out over Jerusalem.

One of my favorite shots from the trip. This is from the Aida Refugee Camp outside Bethlehem.

Spring saw me helping with the local high school tennis team, which was such a fun and rewarding experience. More great kids, willing to have fun and work hard. Plus, for the first time in probably 2 years, I was working out regularly. Shocker. I was in really great shape from like March to late May. Maybe even a little bit into June. Then I got lazy again. Dangit.

My girlfriend Kady left for Peace Corps Indonesia mid-March, so I consoled myself by spending my spring break week with Jacko on a road trip from Denver to the Grand Canyon. We froze our butts off at the South Rim, but witnessed such overwhelming beauty it was all so worth it.

In June I was able to attend the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit, MI. I was there in a couple roles. I’d helped organize a Young Adult Volunteer Alumni gathering prior to the assembly itself, so I was helping with that, and then I was there to advocate for and testify on what I’d seen in Israel and Palestine that January. General Assembly was a rollercoaster of emotions, but in the end, a lot of great things came out of it that made me proud to be Presbyterian, and proud of our representative government and how it makes decisions. It was quite an experience.

The morning I helped lead worship  at breakfast (and all those tables and chairs were filled!)

July was maybe the most rewarding time of my work thus far at the church. I was able to take 10 youth and 4 other adults from our congregation down to Hollywood for a week, working with the DOOR program (http://www.doornetwork.org/) and staying at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. It was incredible to watch our youth (and adults) learn and struggle with issues of homelessness, race, and stereotyping. I discovered I really love the questions that come in those bouts of vulnerability, when we are outside our comfort zone and confronting things like privilege and race. It was a truly transformative experience for many of our youth and adults, and I’m so grateful to the DOOR staffers that made that trip possible for us, as well as our church congregation that gladly gave to support the youth.

The Hollywood Crew outside First Pres Hollywood!
This October I was able to fly across the Pacific and visit Kady in Indonesia. Kady is teaching English at her school in a small village near the southwest coast of Java and is doing some really great work. I'm so proud of her. Indonesia is a beautiful, vibrant, and green country. There are also some real difficulties, including severe inequality and a frustrating school system. Kady’s village was an incredible group of supportive people, excited to meet and get to know me despite a pretty glaring language barrier. I was even able to attend school with Kady for a day and help middle school students with their English. It was an incredible opportunity to see my wonderful girlfriend, and BONUS, I got to see a part of the world I’d never seen before.

On top of a mountain near Malang (right before I para-glided off the mountain!)

Kady and her trusty bike

In Kady's words, "the stereotypical Peace Corps picture"

Other than that, life just keeps moving. I’m so grateful for the family, friends, and loved ones that I’ve been able to see over the course of this year, and I hope next year brings more of the same. My work with youth is teaching me many things, but chief among them is that you can program all you want, you can do every activity out there, but the things you really hold onto are the relationships you have with the people you love. If you’re reading this, consider yourself one of those people. May you be surrounded with loved ones and filled with hope this Advent and Christmas as we remember and wait for the Prince of Peace.



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