Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Wrinkles are Roads

Here's a selfie taken just one day ago.  I snapped this pic in the midst of a mini crisis that I was having as I observed in the mirror the newly developing crows feet around my eyes as I prepared to go out for the evening.  One more year passing.  A few more wrinkles.  Sigh.  But in this moment, I opted not to let vanity get the best of me, but to turn it around...I realized in this moment (captured here by my iPhone) that the lines forming, ever so faintly, at the corners of my eyes and around the edges of my mouth are facial records of all of those unforgettable experiences that have found themselves lining up to be counted on my skin.  The deep belly laughs that have danced their way across my face over the years.  The countless times I've furrowed my brow to think deeply about an issue that I needed to wrap my mind around in new ways, the kisses of the sun on those warm and rare days when this landlocked, Midwestern girl gets lucky enough to be caught up in the beauty of a sandy beach.  These lines are my personal road map available for all to see.  These are the visible impact of the roads I've traveled.

And this year of journeying was no exception.  2013 brought with it a number of significant wrinkles that I have incurred through what can only be counted as an extremely strenuous but memorable year.  And so if we cross paths this year and you notice my newly acquired wrinkles, here is a little legend, a legend to the map of where I've come from this year, and where I am headed.

The Furrowed Brow:
This year, I kicked my dissertation's ass and came to the end of five long years of a doctoral program, which I am still seeking to understand.  Ultimately, I am grateful for the experience, I learned a lot, including the fact that I would like to stay as far away from the academic ivory tower as humanly possible.  I fought, tooth and nail, to survive the beatings I received by power and ego, and I struggled with everything in me to rise above the system of control.  Not because the work was difficult per se, although indeed it was a challenge, but the shock of how power is abused for personal gain left my soul reeling a bit.  I was scarred by what I can only call abuse upon reflection, and I lost a piece of myself back there.  But I also gained resolve that they cannot take away from me.  I learned about priorities.  I learned about right.  And I learned about wrong.  I learned that I like getting my hands dirty more than I like thinking about getting my hands dirty.  I learned that God is among the poor more than among the powerful.  I learned that every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low.  I learned that the length of your CV does not matter, but in fact, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.  And I survived.  And I am thankful.  And I know what is important, and what is not important but guises as such.

The Passion Pleats:
This year, with the help of my amazing producer, Tony Esterly, I recorded, mixed, mastered, and sent to press my very first solo album.  I poured my heart and soul into this project over the course of months and months and months.  This project was my creative energy, my outlet, my first masterpiece, and this year was made epic by the completion of this work.  The time and effort that I invested into this was huge, and the feeling of living into an artistic calling caused elation that I cannot even describe.  I have always know that music is ingrained in who I am called to be in the world, but I found a new part of this voice for the very first time through this album.  I came to know myself in new ways.  I was also lucky enough to have the album discovered by a small label out of Tokyo and the album, Both/And, was distributed across Japan.  This led to a music video and all kinds of fun adventures that involved toting a piano around the city of St. Louis. I'm not sure what else to say about this process other than it was worth every line of passion that it etched across my face.  This was an experience that I will never forget and only the beginning of the exploration of this piece of my heart.

The Sun Spots and Laugh Lines:
There are lots and lots and lots of these, but most of them this year come from my journey around the world this summer, where I spent time on the beaches of Pemba, Mozambique, the cobblestone streets of Seville, Spain, and the warm patios of Faro, Portugal.  And I was blessed to travel alongside some of the most amazing people in the world.  I had the amazing privilege of traveling for 40 days and 40 nights, and I reconnected with parts of me that had been lost.  I grinned from ear to ear as I realized that I have the best, most meaningful job in the entire world, I laughed deep belly laughs as I reconnected with my best friend from New York in a beautiful Spanish city, and I felt the elation of making music with new, lifelong soul mates.
And so as I watch another year fly past me and I think about the impact of these years on my body, I choose to not look down upon the wrinkles with vain judgement, but to thank God for each one.  To attribute each new line to a path that I have traversed, to trails that I have had the privilege of blazing.  The wrinkles are roads, and I am the humble traveler with a map.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chicken Bones and Sea Urchins

On this cold and snowy day, my mind wanders back to a warm, beach afternoon in Mozambique, where I sat content, eating a home-cooked, picnic lunch of chicken and rice and drinking 3/4 of a Coke before becoming too full to finish.  Only minutes after tossing my trash, I saw this little boy rooting through the garbage to salvage and eat the meat left on my chicken bones, and drink the swallow of cola that I had neglected to finish.  We locked eyes and we both felt embarrassed for being found out by one another.  Me being caught in my gluttony and waste, he being seen in his hunger and poverty.  I immediately felt like a selfish asshole for leaving this little boy to wallow in my waste as opposed to seeing him, being aware of his need, and being willing to share.

But more than this, what killed me, what absolutely slayed me dead, was that after "stealing" my garbage and being discovered, the little boy immediately felt the need to return the favor and repay his "debt".  He took off down the beach on a short jaunt, only to return with a small gift presented to me in exchange for what I had considered my garbage.  He extended his hand and bowed his head in a humble offering, the deep violet spines of a sea urchin in the palm of his hand, as a small token of his appreciation.  Glancing up, we grinned at each other, laughed a little, and shook our heads in recognition of how life is brutally unfair but unexpectedly beautiful, and how we can be gifts to one another if only we open our eyes and make ourselves available.  The spines of the sea urchin were a representation of his gratitude-laden heart, my chicken bones a symbol of indifferent excess.  His was, without question, the greater gift.  The two of us gestured and nodded our agreement to walk down the beach a bit together, him showing me all of the unseen beauties lying beneath the sand and hidden just under the rocks, gifts waiting to be given, reflections of his huge heart waiting to be revealed to others.

This Christmas, as I ponder the idea of giving, I am convinced that the gifts that really matter aren't those found in a mall or on a shelf.  They aren't things that can be bought or sold.  I want to give gifts like this little boy gave to me, wide-eyed, in gratitude, and in recognition of the beauty that is hiding just below the surface, peeping out between the nooks and crannies of God's great big world.  I want to stop giving the "chicken bones" of excess sold on commercial shelves that cost me nothing and are given as a last thought, but instead, give genuine reflections of my heart that portray openness and gratitude.  I learned what it is to give from this little hungry boy on a beach, and I will never give the same again.

Monday, September 16, 2013

40 Days, 40 Nights

"Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes..."        
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I've recently returned from a 40 day journey around the world.  A journey about intentionally taking time to stop, breathe, and reconnect with my heart.
I had intended to write a lot, everyday in fact, but I found myself so caught up in unwinding the cobwebs in my head that I was rendered almost completely unable to put words to the experience, which is not like me.  And I apologize to all those who were hoping to follow my blog during these travels.  #fail.  From meeting Mozambican mamas to taking long Spanish siestas to playing music on patios in Portugal, I was unable to write or say much of consequence in response to these experiences other than the occasional quiet mumbling of gratitude-laden mantras under my breath...simply thank you, thank you, thank you....

This year has indeed been an epic one.  I was looking back through my earlier blog posts and saw the January post entitled A Year to Harvest, which detailed all that was to be finished, completed, tied up this year.  After successfully defending my dissertation at the end of June, sending my debut album off to press in July, and completing the second of two epic trips to Mozambique in August, I can say with confidence that the harvesting happened.  And I was left standing speechless and in awe of the beauty that permeates my life.  At the dreams realized.  At love, and how it sparks, catches, and sets the world ablaze at every turn...and it's really an issue of opening our eyes to see the fire, and taking off our shoes in humble awe.

This was a summer of taking off my shoes.  You see, I'm a doer.  I get it done.  I accomplish.  I reach goals.  If it's hard, or if someone says that I can't, I'm all the more likely to try.  So when I couldn't write, at first I felt as if I was failing.  This was amplified by the fact that I had no deadlines to meet or goals to achieve for nearly six weeks.  It felt like detox in some ways and I wasn't quite sure how to handle myself.

But a wise guru reminded me that we are human BEINGS.  Not human DOINGS.  In the words of the brilliant (and somewhat hippie-ish) Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr:

"God is always choosing people.  First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way.  God is really choosing them to be God's self in this world, each in a unique situation.  If they allow themselves to experience being chosen, being a beloved, being somehow God's presence in the world, they invariably communicate that same chosenness to others."  

For 40 days and 40 nights, I practiced being.  Just being.  And to my astonishment, I met lots of other people who were just being and who wanted to just be, with me.  Just being jazz musicians in Portugal, just being soul mates in Spain, just being my extended family in Mozambique.  And of all of the beauty - the beaches in Pemba, the winding cobblestone streets in Seville, the picturesque patios full of jazz music in Faro - the most overwhelming beauty was seen in the eyes of those with whom I was able to journey.  It was the people who stole my heart.  The biggest blessing came in the people who were willing to tolerate my wanderings and muddle through my musings.  To just be.  And to just be together.  It was miraculous.  It was transformative.  It was gratitude inducing.  And I seem to have lost my shoes.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Good News

As one travels North in Mozambique, poverty increases exponentially. Cabo Delgado is the northern most province of Mozambique and is also a province full of extreme poverty, malnutrition, and lack of access to basic resources. This is exactly the reason that we were so thrilled to have had the opportunity to drill two wells in this district near the city of Pemba. The first leg of our journey involved dedicating these two wells and meeting the church communities who will be overseeing them. When we arrived in Nanjua (the first suburb outside of Pemba), women and children were lined up, eagerly awaiting the opening of the new well.

Along with throngs of villagers, the local media also showed up for the event. This was the news of the year! Both the radio and television stations were there and they each interviewed me, Ezequiel (the MI representative), and local leaders of the congregation about the happenings. This was a story that resonated with everyone in the community and it was news to tell. For three days, the radio station broadcasted the story of safe water and we even heard word from our friends down in Maputo (the capitol city in the south of the country) that the story was being aired there as well.

Friends, this is the Good News! The hungry are fed, the thirsty are given water. And we are lifting up our voices to proclaim this to all people from Cassville Missouri to Nanjua Mozambique, in order to demonstrate the love of God in tangible ways. Even the media in Mozambique are eager to tell.

Get yourself up on a high mountain.
O Zion, bearer of good news.
Lift up your voice mightily
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
-Isaiah 40:9


Tuesday, April 30, 2013


After three days of bouncing through jungles on motorbikes under the punishing African sun, we had definitely earned a day off. On my last day in Quelimane, we had planned a day at Zalala Beach where we hoped to swim, relax, and chat about church life in Zambezia before leaving tomorrow. But this is Africa. And nothing in Africa ever goes as planned.

First of all, after days and days of endless sun, we woke up to pouring rain and dark, ominous skies. Secondly, LAM Airlines called this morning to say that they had pushed back my flight time the following day (just because they felt like it), which means I would miss my international flight back to the US if I didn't board a plane this afternoon instead. Their solution was to put me on a 3:30pm flight today and overnight me in Maputo before connecting with my international flight tomorrow. All of the sudden, I was leaving Zambezia, no beach, no relaxation, and no certainty about exactly what LAM had in mind when they said "overnight".

We arrived in Maputo and I waited and waited for them to issue a voucher for some unknown hotel where I would wait it out until I left for home.

And then I broke down.

I was homesick, exhausted, my body couldn't take it anymore, and I just knew that I'd end up in a rat-infested, hole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere with only critters to keep me company at night. Poor Ezequiel didn't know how to handle my blubbering, but he was very gracious and worked furiously to ensure that LAM got their act together and stopped making the white girl cry in the middle of the airport.

I was utterly shocked and amazed when we pulled up to the VIP Maputo Grand Hotel, which is a five star hotel much nicer than most places I've stayed in the US. I sprawled out in my air-conditioned room, took a hot bath, and had a complimentary, gourmet dinner on LAM's tab, and I thought to myself that somehow, God knew exactly what I needed in exactly this moment. After my Indiana Jones meets United Methodism adventures in the bush, this white girl needed a bath and a quiet room to herself. The Lord is gracious and compassionate; and even though we try to be very brave, and we deny that we are feeling weak, and we go where we are called, and we rarely complain (except for occasional crying in airports), God is always quick to wrap us up and manifest love in ways that we don't even know that we need.

Tomorrow I fly back to the States and I will be rested, full of gratitude, and forever changed by these last 18 days.

Location:Avenida 25 de Setembro,Maputo,Mozambique

Monday, April 29, 2013

Anna from Antioch

Today we visited another local church outside of the city of Quelimane called Antioch UMC. It's a satellite church of Fitimela UMC, and it is waaaaaayyyy off the main road, accessible only by foot and, much to my delight, motorbike. Through fields of tall grass as high as we were, we tunneled through a narrow, winding path on our motorbikes hoping we would find the church before we found hungry wild animals.

Upon our arrival at Antioch, I learned about the daily lives of the people here and how they have to dig holes in the sand in order to access tiny, underground springs for water. These holes that they dig are basically open wells that are easily contaminated and cause all kinds of health problems, but this is their only option. This community is next in line for a safe water well, and they were eager to share their need for safe water while educating me about their struggles.

I also saw their church building, of which half was recently destroyed by the terrible rains and flooding that hit this area very hard. They are slowly rebuilding their chapel made of sticks and mud, but they must do it piece by piece, since resources are so limited. The women were able to make charcoal and sell it to bring in a little bit of money for the tin sheets that make the roof.

After learning about their need and hearing about their seemingly insurmountable difficulties, I was given a great gift. Although meat is terribly expensive and only consumed on very rare and special occasions, I was given a live chicken along with bananas, sugar cane, and corn, as a way of honoring me as their special guest.

We picked a brilliant name, Anna (short for Antioch), strapped this bird to our bike, and rode off into the wind. I was completely humbled by this extravagant gift from a community gripped by extreme poverty, but more importantly, compelled by extreme generosity.

In Mozambique, apparently it's totally acceptable to bring a live chicken into your hotel restaurant and ask them to fix it up nice for you. For 100 meticais (a little more than 3 US dollars), that's exactly what they did. The hotel restaurant served up a mean Zambezia Style Anna, and we feasted as we thanked God for a beautiful and full day.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Far-Flung Family

I have never, in all my life, been to a location as remote as where we were yesterday. In order to reach the small, satellite churches of Inhassunge UMC near Quelimane, our travel plan was downright insane. The Inhassunge area is completely isolated, blocked by an ocean and rivers on three sides. To reach these villages, we rented motorbikes, which were loaded onto a very full and precarious ferry boat. After crossing the river on the ferry among throngs of people, we arrived safely on the other side, unloaded our motorbikes, and headed into the jungle. We drove for a good hour, passing coconut groves, vast rice fields, and trees full of wild monkeys.

We have drilled 4 wells in these tiny communities, and it was my job to see to it that they were complete and water was flowing. I wanted to hear stories from the people who had received this water in order to learn more about their lives. My big plan was simply to listen and learn.

When I arrived, I was curious to see if this group of United Methodists had any context for a blond girl like me. As I polled the group, not one of them knew where the United States of America is located (let's not even bring up the state of Missouri), and only three had ever seen a white person in their lives. I was a spectacle to behold. Their kind-hearted and curious stares were evidence of our differences.

I say all of this not to point out how adventurous I am (although, truly, this work takes a "Dora the Explorer" kind of attitude), but to say that in this tiny village, so far from home, where I looked completely out of place, I was among family. I was welcomed into the lives of these beautiful people who share the faith that I call my own. We share the same gospel, we work for the same purposes, and our hope is in the same God.

On this epic day, we shared stories and laughed. They showed me their homes and how they cook their meals. They showed me how they collect water, and how the new safe water pump works. I learned how rice is harvested, dried, and shelled. I learned about my brothers and sisters, and I am a better person today for knowing them.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Missing the Boys

My team of travel buddies left for home this morning while I stayed behind in Maputo in order to continue up to Quelimane tomorrow. I was surprised when I got back to my room and found myself tearful and sullen. I'm sure it had to do with the fact that it was 6 in the morning, I was emotionally exhausted, and it has been a long journey thus far, but also, I was already missing my travel companions.

I must say that I was hesitant (to put it nicely) to lead a team of middle class, white men, and I thought for sure I'd find myself arm wrestling for power and listening to "mansplanations" of things that insulted my intelligence while demonstrating abnormally high levels of testosterone. Yvi and I, as both the youngest team members and the only two females, were nervous at best.

It didn't take long for me to discover that I was very wrong in these assumptions. Each one of these guys love God with all that they are and they love their neighbors as they love themselves. They give generously of their time, they overcome flying-induced panic attacks, they risk their comfort and health, they eat really weird things to make their hosts feel appreciated, they ride bikes with women in tiny villages to make them laugh, they engage in long conversations full of creativity, they take time to brainstorm and dream big, and they provide me both the guidance and freedom needed to spread my wings and fly. The individuals on this trip have been nothing short of amazing and inspiring. Each one sacrificed greatly to support me and more importantly, to support this ministry through this journey and beyond. I am grateful and missing them already. God speed, boys.

Location:Mateus Sansao Muthemba Road,Maputo,Mozambique

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Burning Hearts, Bobbing Heads

As we filed into the conference meeting room this morning and took our places around the long, boxed tables dimly lit by African fluorescents, I could visibly see the dread on everyone's faces. Here we were, Missourians and Mozambicans, all gearing up for that kind of tortuous meeting where you find yourself wanting to pull your fingernails out just to keep yourself from dying of boredom. We had all traveled great distances and were preparing to hunker down for a long and arduous day of business speak and professional talk. And indeed, we engaged in our fair share of business speak and professional talk.

But, in her hesitant and humble wisdom, rather than starting with business speak agenda item #1, our MI team chair, Yvi Martin, immediately derailed the boredom train by getting right to the heart of the matter. She started with reading the scripture about when Jesus revealed himself to his disciples right after his resurrection, "Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him...They said to one another, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road?'" She asked us to talk in small groups about a time that we had experienced this divine burning.

And then it happened. Our hearts, in that dank and stuffy conference room, began to be strangely warmed. We heard stories of miraculous survival from war and stories of calling into the ministry. We heard stories of extravagant worship under mango trees and stories about being light in the darkness. Stories of how our great God lights us on fire and sets us ablaze, from the remotest mountain tops in Mozambique to the coolest hipster bars in St. Louis City. And while the business speak and professional talk still caused the room to fade into hazy, head-bobbing, and slightly embarrassed afternoon napping, our hearts were awakened within us and lit with the fire of purpose and unity.

Location:Avenida Oliveira Salazar,Beira,Mozambique

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jerks, Screw Ups, and Defining Moments

In our church, we are in the midst of a sermon series about defining moments.  It's been really inspiring in lots of ways, but also kind of awkward for me because when I think about these examples of amazing people having defining moments in their lives that are given from the pulpit, I think about my fits and starts and how I love tripping all over myself.  I think about how I tend to stick my foot in my mouth and say inappropriate things much more often than I make inspiring speeches like MLK or Moses.  I have a dream...that some day I will have a filter between my head and my mouth...

So, as I sit here with 20 minutes to spare before departing for this super-duper important trip where I will be escorting our bishop around beautiful Mozambique, signing new documents to solidify our partnership with our Mozambican brothers and sisters, and essentially beginning a new chapter of ministry,  I think, "this is a defining moment, Sarah", followed quickly by, "don't blow this, Sarah."

But then I think about how I'm really lucky that God tends to choose a bunch of jerks and screw ups to do God's work on earth.  I mean let's be honest, MLK was no saint, right?  A rough personal life.  Moses?  A murderer.  In fact, it wouldn't really be God's work at all if we were already perfect; it would be OUR work.  I think God actually likes choosing jerks and screw ups because then it becomes incredibly obvious that God is truly an amazing God.  It's like God intentionally chooses those people who need the most work (read: prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners), and uses them just to prove a point:  I'm awesome. You're not always awesome.  I got this.

This is oddly soothing.

I say all of this to say that this is truly a defining moment in this ministry.  I'm so, so, so excited about what God is going to do in us, through this trip, for this partnership  And this jerk is incredibly grateful for being chosen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On the Fringe

I had the great privilege of sitting in a room with our bishop last weekend as he talked to conference leaders about the need for something new. He drew a picture of concentric circles, and talked about the center of these circles being the giant "hairball" of United Methodism. He talked about how we often put all of our energy into the "hairball" (the administration and hierarchy), while real ministry happens on the edges, the boundaries, the fringes. He talked about how Jesus happens on the outside, with those who are rejects and downcast and not in the loop.

For me, this is really good news because I back-assed my way into United Methodism and consider myself a "fringer" for all intents and purposes. I also really like hanging out with people who are typically on the margins. Artists, musicians, women in tiny villages in Mozambique. I'd much rather drink PBR in a skeezy bar or learn songs in Xitswa while visiting widows than attend annual conference sessions or sit in administrative meetings. I don't know anything about the Book of Discipline, I don't know how many people are required to sit on what committees, and (don't tell anyone) I have no idea what all those acronyms actually stand for (except, of course, for PBR - duh).

What I DO know is that I love God with all my heart.

I know that I want to love my neighbor like I love myself.

I know that when I engage in mission and service, I find Jesus.

I know that we're called to love kindness and do justice.

This is a generation of people who don't care about rules and regulations and procedures and hoop jumping and "hairballing",  but who are instead looking for genuine, authentic connections to a real God whose primary concern is the outsider. As we look forward to the future of United Methodism (or any denomination for that matter), let's stake our claim on the fringe.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it..."  Song of Solomon 8:7

It's been a long and frantic week. As the flood levels rise across Mozambique, the anxiety in my heart mirrors the motion of the water. My friends are stuck; quite literally, they are stranded on rooftops, and time is running short.  Meanwhile, relief workers organize food and water drops to the most dire areas. We do all that we can, and then we just do more.

And the bottom line is that I'm so tired. Between the closing of the year, and planning the ministry agenda for 2013, and organizing the Bishop's trip to Mozambique in April, and pulling together relief efforts, while simultaneously interviewing women who are only 23 and will quite possibly die of the most aggressive breast cancer known to woman-kind...  I'm just tired. Today I'm tired.  Today I'm road weary.  Today I've seen too much suffering. Today I know too much. Crying doesn't change anything, and at the end of the day, I come home to my comfortable bed that hasn't been washed away with the rest of my belongings, but I'm just putting it out there...today, I'm tired.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Living the Both/And

Yesterday I flew into San Diego for a big, fancy-schmacy social work research conference where I am giving lectures on the progress of my dissertation research thus far. As I slide into this new role of misfit missionary extraordinaire, I realize how much I stick out like a sore thumb at these researchy events now. I have steered from the tried and true path of academic success to pursue something very, very different, and almost everyone gives me distrusting looks as I gingerly step on their tenured toes. And yet, I also fit in perfectly. I know the lingo, I've conducted the studies, I've published the papers...basically, after 5 years of doing academic jumping jacks, I know my shit.

And so I straddle this very weird line. Science versus Religion. Academia versus Ministry.

When I took this job last year, I wrote a post about the importance of the Both/And as I was trying to wrap my head around this funny place in which I find myself.  As this idea gains traction and matures in my mind, I'm starting to ask two questions: 
  1. How best do these two worlds of mine collide? 
  2. To what end?  
I think the obvious answer to question two is: the glory of God. And this is always the answer to the question twos of our lives - the questions of why. The answer is so that we can be light. And shine, shine, shine.

The answer to the first question is sticky. The how. First things first, when two things are new to each other, there should be introductions.  ...social science, meet United Methodism.....rigorous research, meet unbridled worship.....informative lecture, meet passionate song.....head, meet heart......truth, meet spirit....  
I think this is a good place to start.  Let's first get familiar with one another, shall we?

I know there's a lot of ground to cover as these two worlds begin to melt together, but I can see the makings of a beautiful friendship.  May this place of fusion be the fertile ground out of which this ministry grows.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Year to Harvest

As I anticipate all that is to come in this new year, it seems that 2013 will be a year of harvesting.  After years of planting, sowing, watering, and tending to, if all goes as planned, this will be a year of reaping in some areas of my life. Three big items come to mind when I think about the anticipated harvest in the year ahead.  Here's the list: 

  1. Come hell or high water, I will finish this dissertation, defend it before a committee or professors with mile-long CVs, and graduate from this doctoral program this year. After 5 LONG YEARS, I'm ready to be finished.  I'm aiming for a late spring/early summer defense, and your prayers are appreciated. And your patience is also coveted as I somewhat humorously insist, for a good 6 months after completion at least, that everyone I come in contact with call me Dr. Bollinger. Ha! What a load off my back it will be to finish.  And what a humongous opportunity and accomplishment, for which I will be forever grateful!
  2. Since dreams become realities sometimes, I will also record a full length album of original music this year!!! Woot!  Yes, you read that right!!  I've been working with a wonderful producer at Shock City Studios here in St. Louis who is helping to make dreams come true.  His name is Tony Esterly, and he scooped me up and basically paved the way to make this happen.  After years of writing songs and singing with bands, I will finally have a professional recording of the music that makes my heart come alive. We are hoping for a summer 2013 release.  I'm so flipping excited!
  3. I will also travel back to Mozambique once for sure, and possibly twice.  During the first trip in April, I will have our Bishop and the rest of the Missouri Conference leadership in tow - and what a trip it will be!  We will be solidifying some plans as a leadership team and will be beginning a whole new chapter of ministry that has been in the making since I started this position. It will be a time of hard work and great celebration with our Mozambican brothers and sisters.  
So, the year ahead is a big one, and I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation and excitement, knowing too that it will be a year of hard work. Your prayers, support, and patience are all necessary as I keep my nose to the grindstone, but anticipate the celebration that is to come.