26 May 2006

The Train Ride to Nîmes

I left this morning from Bordeaux to make my way to Nîmes (pronounced something along the lines of neem--but then again, I'm certainly not French, and honestly have no freaking clue how to really say it...stupid Americans). The majority of the train ride went well. No problems, just 5 hours of the train, tracks, and my ipod which, amazingly, did last that long. Like I said, no real issues, excepting that slightly sketchy time when the police walked very authoritatively down the aisle. I'm not sure what they were after, but I suppose they found it because they didn't come back.

I had made it to within 40 minutes of my stop sitting alone when we had a temporary detour at a forgetable station at which hords of people stepped on the train, and my solitude was lost...to a french woman...who had (apparently) five new designer scents...which she was fairly intent on trying...on the train...beside me.

Forty long minutes later, I had made friends with my companion (who did smell nice--no denying that) and found myself at my train station in Nîmes. I found my way to the bus stop and some 30 minutes later at the base of a hill which I had to trek to find my hostel. Exhausted and sweaty, I entered a hostel paradise--newly renovated, clean, English spoken--well.

I dropped off my stuff and headed into town by foot (which I reached a mere 30 minutes later).

Great weather, good hostel, charming walk--finally what vacation is supposed to be!



24 May 2006

The Roses of Notre Dame.

Yesterday was amazing. Finally, the weather improved. It was much less tempramental than it was the day before. In the morning, I ventured out of Paris to see the Chartres Cathedral. I had heard of the Cathedral for two reasons. The first was because of its famed stained glass windows (so famous, in fact, that the color Chartres Blue references them). The second was because of an annual occurance at Elon--the arrival of the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth that Elon uses is actually the template of the one in this Cathedral. And with as many times as I had walked it at school, I hoped to be able to do the same on the orginal. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to.

I didn't even realize where it was until I was practically standing upon it. It is in the heart of the nave. Spanning the width of the church it winds and curves its way to its center--a metaphor for the soul's journey in this life towards a spirital City of God. I meandered around the rest of the church, taking in the detail, and soon, I was back on a train to Paris--suprised at how quickly the afternoon had passed.

When I returned to Paris I made my way to Notre Dame (which, call me stupid--because I sure felt like it, I realized maybe 3 days ago means Our Lady. Duh. Ok. Moving on.) I reached the Cathedral and entered along with throngs of other tourists. Even in the midst of hundreds of people, I felt at home. I think this is a true power of the church. Millions and Millions of people united in spite of language barriers and nationalities. There is a common experience which connects us, in the way that many faiths connect their faithful. I suppose I just didn't recognize it until I really had the chance to experience it.

I left the Cathedral and realized that I had another hour or so to kill before I met some friends studying in Paris, so I went exploring around the cathedral and through a charming park beside/behind it.

And that's when I saw the roses of Notre Dame. Peach colored, pink tinted--smelling as sweet and fragrant as they ever would. Complete with the towering catheral keeping watch over its most delicate additions of beauty.

It all made sense.


23 May 2006

Goodbye Copenhagen, Hello Paris!

I have officially made it to Paris. After a whirlwind last week at DIS and in Copenhagen, I have moved on to more relaxing (or maybe not so relaxing) adventures.

It was a bittersweet farewell to Copenhagen and many much loved friends. It was an amazing semester, full of fun, some bumps in the road, and amazing people. It's hard to leave that. But then again, Paris is tempting--not to mention the prospect of going home.

A friend of mine, named Gretchen, summed it up pretty well in a letter she wrote for me to read during my wait in the airport. Here is some of what she writes about meeting again, someday: "And it's hard to admit that someday is really some day, and it won't be many even then. Denial that goodbye is goodbye, that I won't be able to bike ride at top speed to the s-tog [s-train] to see you again."

Someday is just some day, but at least it's a possibility. Not just a necessary polite saying, but rather a genuine--"I will see you again" thought.

I realized today on the flight to Paris just how lucky I am. The quotation that I include on all my emails reads "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions for the journey."
I was blessed to have those companions on this journey--people who listened and laughed, who opened their arms and gave me rest. I can't even begin to tell you the connections we've made.

In anycase, the goodbyes are finished and I am in Paris. My experience so far has been the train from Charles de Gaulle and the Metro. I found a great trio of international roommates who (through friend connections) have agreed to keep much of my stuff for the next three weeks as I travel through the south of France. After spending a couple of nights here, in Paris, I head to Bordeaux, then to Nimes for 5 nights (it's serving as a base camp for several day trips). Next I head to Barcelona to meet some Elon kids, then up to Nice (with a trip, I hope, to Monaco), then a grand return to Paris!. A full three weeks. Kinda backward seeing as though I took 5 years of Spanish and 0 years of French. But I'm trying. I just keep joggin my memory to remember Beauty and the Beast to see if I can learn anything about the language. No luck yet.

Before I leave you, I wanted to include one more thing that my friend wrote in her letter.

"Sieze that moment, damnit, run out that door with a water bottle, a rain jacket, open eys and heart. Try the smoked herring, go to Sweden at 8 am, and remember that you never lose all by loving, but you always lose by holding back."

That's the goal. Minus the smoked herring.

Thanks for reading, I'll probably send two or so more--one during the trip and one once I make it home.

Congratulations to all the seniors. You are going to be amazing. I feel it. As Paul Monette says "Go without hate but not without rage. Heal the World." I know you can do just that--heal the world.

blessings and peace.

ps-I will be making my return to Elon on 1 July 2006. Be ready.
pss-the picture is of me grilling out on my last saturday with friends...we decided to show the Danes what American food was all about. all I can say is (in true Grady style) S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that is how we spell success.

20 May 2006

When I look back at my semester here in Copenhagen, I can't help but wonder--how did I get here? I did I end up typing on my laptop in my dads' office at 11pm on the night before I leave? How did four months simply disappear?

The answer is that they didn't disappear. They were lived.

When I first came to Denmark, I was constantly asked the same question--Why Denmark? My inital response was easy--English...it was my language and they spoke it too (for the most part at least). Not to mention it had an attractive program and a slight mystery surrounding it (I mean, really, who studies in Denmark?).

If you asked me that question now, I would have a very different answer. As a University Guide at Elon, I am often asked why I chose this school. I always make a point to tell the questioner that the reason I chose Elon and the reasons I stay at Elon are not always the same. The same idea proves true for my experience in Denmark.

I came to Denmark for a few reasons, but I stayed for a myriad (you like that vocab usage?) of other ones. I stayed for the two wonderful men that opened their arms to this stranger. I stayed for the people I met in airports, on buses, trains, and cafes. I stayed to reach out to people, and to be reached out to. I stayed to find rest for these pilgrim feet. I stayed to have a story. I stayed for the friends and the laughs and the memories. Memories that include:

-random airport meetings turned superclosefriends.
-night church and candles.
-nights of partying and nights of quiet
-Nyhavn afternoons
-Bike Rides around the Harbor
-Trips around Europe
-Platter Toilets

just to mention a few.

Now that I look back and wonder why I made it here, I have to wonder how it happened. I happened through endless readings, funny accents, and inside jokes. I happened through the people. I adore Copenhagen--the city, the charm. But what I really love (and will miss the most) are the people I met along the way. They made it fun when it was depressing. exciting when it was grey.

I think it' s easy, when adventuring on a journey like this one, to cut yourself off from other people. In doing so, you avoid the pain of having to say goodbye. I can't help but think, though, that living like that is limping through life. The Indigo Girls wrote a song called "All That We Let In." In it, they explain that "we are better off for all that we let in." They couldn't be more right.

So, here's to all those that some how made it in to my heart and, by some Grace, let me into theirs.

Take these memories with you, and remember who we were. These were some of the best days of our lives.

blessings and my love.

14 May 2006

Mother's Day

I find myself sitting on my sofa-couch, suddenly bombarded by the realization that it is, in fact, Mother's Day--the Hallmark holiday created to remember mothers and boost sales of flowers and gifts in the slow month of May. I can't be too cynical, however. Some of my best memories surround the holiday. I remember going up to Crawfordville (Pigeon Creek if you've ever seen the film Sweet Home Alabama) and waiting patiently as my Aunt Jane pinned a red rose bud on my lapel--the rose for my mother, red because she was still alive. I remember the first year my dad had to wear a white one because his mother had passed.

But more importantly, I remember the little memories that give reason for the holiday. I remember waiting for mama to pick me up from Ms. Carrie's after she left work. I remember trips to Fayetteville--from Dunkin' Donuts to MJDesigns and seemingly every place in between, we seemed to own that place. I remember sitting at the upright in our living room and singing hymns that she loved and played (quite beautifully I might add). And decorating the house for Christmas--white lights. I always wanted multicolored. Little did we know that 7 years later, I would be the one pushing for the classic white while she would be arguing for the colored ones. I seem to recall visiting shut-ins with homemade cookies on every holiday. My mother has a way with older folks--she just talks and talks and they listen and talk..and somehow, everyone ends up on the same plane--I'm here for you and thinking about you. I won't forget you.

I remember a terrifying car ride towards Conyers where somehow I had worked up the guts to tell my own mother that I was gay. And that the love she met me with was staggering, overwhelming and amazing.

More recently, I remember her driving to Crawfordville one morning just to hear me sing in a little Baptist church (the one she got married in). I never did, it was the day my Aunt Jane got really sick--she never was the same. But mama was there. I remember watching mama take care of my aunt as she entered her final year--like a sister, though there was no blood. It wasn't about that.

I recall awaking every morning since my first day in college to my daily email from my mother. When I wouldn't respond in a week or so, she'd kindly ask if I was still alive--translated in motherspeak-- "write me now." At first I found the emails a little overwhelming, but now, if I don't have one, I wonder what the matter is, why I don't have one, and even find myself growing a little disappointed not to hear the news from home.

I always look forward to seeing her, even though she thinks I don't want to ever come home. And when I need advice or sympathy or motivation or hope, she is always the first one I call.

Call me a mama's boy, or a sap, but the fact is she's my mama. I miss her like crazy and love her like whoa.

Thanks, mama, for everything. I wish I could be there to hug you and spend the day with you and eat some of your damn good fried chicken, but I suppose that will have to wait until June 9.

I'll be home soon.

To all those women who have so kindly subbed for mama when she was in Atlanta, and I wasn't: I can't help but remember the times when you hugged, supported, pushed and, yes, even nagged, me to do the right thing, move on with my life, or simply be happy. To you, I have to say thanks too. I love you all.

And to my two dads who have opened their home and hearts to me the past semester, and been both mother and father--you guys are awesome.

oh, and dad--don't worry, you'll get your time when June rolls around. If you're nice that is.

blessings and love to mama.


10 May 2006

The Perfect Day

It is 12:26 pm and I am beaming. It has been the perfect day in Copenhagen and probably one of the best days (if not the best day) I've had here.

Firstly, I should note that the icing on the cake is that I am currently chatting with my dear friend LB (from Elon) for the first time in nearly 2 months online.

The day started of with a late morning wake-up (which are the best kind) and an amazing shower that felt wonderfully clean. I ate left-over frikadeller (if you've been to Denmark, you know...if you haven't, request it...amazing) for breakfast then made my way to DIS to do work. Right, check. Work? On this day? Try again.

After lunch with two good DISers outside (yes, that's right, outside) I bought two oranges and sat on the steps of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Copenhagen eating them. The grooves in the columns there just happen to be the right size to cradle my back. It was wonderful. Sun, oranges and people watching.

I then attempted to do more work at DIS. Right, check. Work? On this day? Try again. I went to Nyhavn with my two dear friends Mike and Andrea. We sat by the canal and had a few drinks and simply enjoyed the weather. While we were there, I requested a jazz band to play "Georgia on My Mind," which they did. It was simply wonderful. Earlier in the semester, about two weeks in, some friends and I met at a jazz club. I was in the middle of my hostile stage of culture shock and just bitter. We were all talking when the band began to play "Georgia on My Mind" with the most lyrical musicality I think I've ever heard. I simply had to dance to it. Then, 3 months later, I find myself with a week and half to go and hearing the same song--no longer weeping, but lively and hopeful. Perfect.

Later, my friends Gretchen and Elizabeth would join us. Gretchen and I soon set out on bikes to ride around the harbor and soak up the sun. The water was the bluest it has ever been, all the flowers are blooming and the fountains running. We rode through an old fortress and sat outside on the grass in front of an amazing Anglican church for a while talking. Then we headed back to DIS where I ate Italian food and watched Harry Potter (the first one) with my Witchcraft class. No, really.

Next, I headed out for a glass of wine with two of my non-DIS friends at this great low-key place near my apartment. Granted on the way home, I lost my balance on my bike and fell--hard. But, considering that was my first fall in nearly 4 months, I'm saying I'm doing pretty well. (No, I wasn't intoxicated...athankyou).

I came home, and realized that I leave tomorrow for a conference in Spain.

Do I still have 2 papers to write, 3 exams to study for? Sure. But honestly, I couldn't think of a better way to spend the day.

Pictures to come.


07 May 2006

You Know You've Been in Denmark too Long when...

…you always prepare to catch the closing door if following too closely behind somebody
.…you think there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing
.… the first thing you do on entering a bank / post office / pharmacy / etc. is to look for the queue number machine
.… you accept that you will have to queue to take a queue number
.… your hallway is beginning to resemble a shoe shop
.… when a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume that: a. he is drunk b. he is insane c. he is American d. he is all of the above
… silence is fun
.… it no longer seems excessive to spend 800 kr. ($140, £110) on alcohol on a single night in town
.… you know that “religious holiday” means "let’s get pissed."
… you use “Mmmm” as conversation filler
.… the word “yes” is an intake of breath
.… you have only two facial expressions, smiling or blank
.… you buy your own drink at the bar even when you are with a group of people
.… traditional dinners may not necessarily mean a cooked meal
.… you forget how to open canned beer
.… can’t remember when to say "please"and "excuse me."
… you will leave a pub if you can’t find a seat
.… you don’t mind paying the same for a 200-metre bus ride as you do for going 10 kilometres in it
.… you know the rules of handball
.… you don’t look twice at businessmen in dark suits wearing white sport socks
.… you start to believe that if it weren’t for the efforts of Denmark, the world probably would collapse pretty soon
.… you find yourself speaking part Swedish with Swedes
.… you find yourself more interested in the alcohol content than the name of the wine
.… you know the meaning of life has something to do with the word "hyggelig."
… you are very surprised when you receive compliments about anything - including your appearance or clothing
.… you’ve completely forgotten what a “date” is - no one ever comes to pick you up and unexpected gifts are very unexpected
.… you don’t think it is strange that no one ever comes by to visit without being invited, and you never show up at anyone’s place unannounced either
.… you wouldn’t dream of coming even 10 minutes early to a party. (Once around the block is always an alternative)
.… you find yourself lighting candles when you have guests - even if it is brightly sunny outside and 20 degrees Celsius
.… you offer people strange-tasting brown alcoholic liquids with their coffee in the morning!

06 May 2006

It's Logic.

I was recently reading an article that my father wrote for a woodworking magazine. He writes about his career, explaining that engineers like to follow plans--they like to know how things fit together. Logic is logic for a reason--it makes sense that way. Later in the piece, he describes his fascination at watching a master woodworker building a chair by creating one part of the piece of furniture. Next, he built another part to fit the first. No plans, just creating. Logically, it shouldn't work. But somehow, it all fits together.

I had an experience a week or two ago that really left me wondering what I was doing thinking I would be heading into ministry. One of those classic "I-can't-believe-I-did-that" moments, where you look at yourself and think "I'm worthless." The actually happenings of the event are beside the point. What matters is that I was left with that question a lot of us ask ourselves at one point or another--what am I?

About two days after, I was (typically) avoiding work and checking away messages. One of my favorite screennames to check was online, so I dutifully rightclicked and scrolled and left clicked and read what he had to say that day. This person always has such beautiful insights into life, God and the Christian journey. I thought about how much I enjoyed his away message, so I decided to IM him to let him know. Later that night he sent me an email.

He asked me how things were going and I told him how great Copenhagen was in addition to how I was really questioning what I wanted (or needed) to do with my life. In that email, I wrote this:

How can I pull crap like this and still be a spiritual leader? Do I even deserve it?

A week or so later (it's exam time, you know how it goes), he replied with this:

How can you pull crap like that and still be a spiritual leader? Do you even deserve it? You do need leading most of all. You don't deserve it. And I guess that's what grace is - being called to this thing that we aren't deserving of or capable of. And with grace I guess comes discipleship and actually dying and letting Christ live, and living "a life worthy of the calling you have received."

But you see, it doesn't make sense. That's not logical. If you don't deserve it, then you don't deserve it. End of discussion.

I think that logic is a big issue at the heart of why many people reject God. They don't want to believe because it doesn't make sense. It's not logical. Here's the catch. It isn't about logic. In fact, it is the completely illogical that calls us to God.

God sent a man to the earth to die for us. Right, that makes sense. That man was born of a Virgin? Check. And He rose from the dead three days after he was definitely dead? Not possible, right? Not according to logic. But sometimes God calls us to replace logic with trust--trust in God.

In a world where it is terrifyingly hard to make sense of anything, maybe it's time that we redefine logic--or, if not redefine it, give it new parameters. Perhaps logic shouldn't be understood in human terms, in an earthly context. Maybe logic needs to be seen in Divine terms beyond the human.

Believing that I and you and everyone on this planet is a beloved child of God is extreme. God loves terrorists? God loves the unlovable. Because God is love, and we are all reciepients of that love, it's logic.


04 May 2006

The Top Ten.

A friend from Elon, who I really met in Copenhagen (go figured) asked me to compile a list of my ten favorite religious/spiritual books that have affected/influenced me the most. Before I list them, I should note that these are in no particular order and can easily change depending upon what new texts I pick up and where I am in my life on a personal level.

The Top Ten.

Reaching Out by Henri Nouwin.
I read this book the fall semester of my sophomore year. In it Nouwin, an amazing spiritual thinker and simply wonderful writer, encourages the reader to mold their life in God by transitioning in three key ways. My favorite quote (which, incidently is included in each of my emails) reads "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you Companions for the journey." Brace yourself for page after page of lyrical encouragement and solid hope.

The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks
My interest in Rumi was first sparked when Coleman Barks, who translated the poetry in this book, visited Elon and read some of Rumi's works. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet and founder of Sufi mysticism. This book is filled with insights that sneak up on you when you need them most. It is certainly a collection that you can open whenever you need rest, and you will undoubtedly find the peace you search for.

I'm not sure that I need to explain this.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
This book is amazing. Lamott takes you from laughing hysterics to tears in a matter of pages, all the while taking you a journey with her through struggling with Christianity and life. A breath of fresh air and supremely reassuring that wherever we are on our journey, we're OK.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Like Lamott, Miller offers a huge breath of fresh air as he takes the reader on an accessible journey through a series of short essays. This evangelical author easily whirls the reader into the challenges of being a Christian when everything else seems stack against that. Never thought the word liberal and evangelical could go together. Miller is proof that it can.

If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland
This is on of the most transformitive books that I have ever read. Based on a single, simple sentence "I believe God will save every person," the authors simply and elegantly explain their belief in universal salvation by focusing on a different word in that sentence for each chapter. With delightful stories and extremely relative tales, the authors will certain make you wonder about the temptation of exclusivity in Christianity.

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor is one of my all-time favorite authors. This Catholic, Southern writer makes adept observations in her gothic/grostesque stories that cut to the quick. I've oftentimes found myself shocked throughout reading her works, but I always finish them with a sense of having gained something. In a letter to a friend, O'Connor wrote "While the South is certainly not Christ-centered, it is definitely Christ-haunted." This assertion haunts her own works, making them seductively meaningful and transformative.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is amazing. Her poems are wonderfully descriptive. Read "The Summer Day" or "The Journey" and see what I'm talking about.

The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau
I was required to read this book before embarking on my time in Copenhagen. Cousineau takes the reader on a path to prepare them for a journey, not just a trip. In a word, wonderful.

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue
Meaning "Soul Friend," Anam Cara explores the ideas of Celtic spirituality in an way which not only makes it accesible to readers, but life-altering.

It's May. Whoa.

May has arrived in Denmark. And, I must say, The past couple days have been brilliant. Sun radiates everywhere, there is a palpable sense of contentment among people, and for once you can actually see what people really look like underneath their heavy wintercoats.

So, here's the challenge. I have just under 2 ½ weeks left in Copenhagen. As if this was not intimidating enough (it was once 4 months), I have realized I have so much left to do. From needing to visit Tivoli and Hamlet's Castle in Helsignor to the 4 papers and three finals I have coming up in addition to an international conference in
Spain, I have realized that this is it.

The end is near. Every morning, I get up and strike another day off my calendar. One step closer to home. One more step away from the experience that has been life-altering.

There is no use in pretending that this semester has been anything but a rollercoaster ride. From walking aimlessly around Købehavn just to walk and see and be--happy to be here--to sitting in on my bed right before I go to sleep thinking "what the hell am I doing here?" A couple years ago, I wrote this about college, and as I've been writing today, these lines have been constantly on my mind.

"College is a whirlwind rollercoaster ride—sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s fun, sometimes you just want to get out of the car. It is the incredible people at Elon that help you to realize that while you may not like rollercoasters, you are still at the fair."

I think that is quite applicable to my time here. Study abroad has been crazy. It's been one of the most influential experiences of my life. I've changed in so many ways--some I can realize, others I can't. I have dealt with the realities of being on your own an ocean away from the people who really know you. But one thing I have learned through it all (and perhaps this is the most affirming lesson one could gain from studying abroad) is that I can make it. Sure my bankcard number was stolen and I couldn't access money for two weeks. I took care of it. So what if they speak another language all around you. You can handle it.

I have also realized, however, that while I can make it, my success really lies in others. My ability to make it was not the triumph of a single individual, but the realiziation that other people are critical to that success. Perhaps being independent means you realize that it's alright to rely on others--rely on them to keep you company, for hugs, for life.

A couple days ago, one of those people who has become a sustainer through the semester wrote me this in an email: "In high school, you say goodbye, but you'll be back at Christmas. It's gradual, and the "we'll see each other again someday" sounds alittle more plausible. Sure I've said goodbye to people, but not a whole group of them, everybody at once, my Denmark family."

And so begins the end. I, like my friend, would love to say "Of course we'll see each other again--in fact, I'll make a flight reservation to Portland right now!" But realisitically that lies outside the realm of what is really an option for many of us.

We all came to Denmark as strangers--excited to be in a new place, scared for the change, ready for the challenge. We're leaving as more than friends. As corny as it sounds (excuse me for my
sappiness, but I'm sure my friends here will agree), we will leave this place as family. For the past four months these have been the kids that took care of me when I was sick, called me when I missed class to be sure I was OK, bummed around Europe with me, ate tacos with me on my birthday, supported random urges to go to Sweeden, and brought me back to reality when I had the tendency to get a little off topic.

It's a little scary to think that 4 months ago I had no clue who these kids were and that in four months, I probably won't remember most of their names. But what I will remember is the common experience and reality. We lived in Copenhagen. We worked our asses off for school (while our counterparts around the world--at least some of them--drank theirs off). We navigated the s-trains, dealt with the coldest and longest winter in a long, long time and together realized that there ain't nothing like the real thing.

So to those who I've met and grown with, Thanks. These were some of the best days of my life.