Check out my other blog: Arugula Addict! I'll be writing about my journey to becoming a healthier person.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

He Thunders

A controversial topic. Why haven't I learned not to post these things on Facebook? Inevitably one person will comment and then a whole avalanche of comments will appear, advocating each side of some issue that they feel strongly about. Tonight it was a petition to have a book removed from Amazon's listing. The book, written by conservative fundamentalists, advocates disciplining children to the point of child abuse. This is something that I have zero tolerance for, hence why I signed the petition and posted the link.

Then the comments came. Someone said that if we asked Amazon to remove this book, it would lead to other books similar to it being petitioned, and then we wouldn't be able to discipline our children in the Biblical way. Someone else said it wasn't such a bad book, it was the people who used it. I replied, then I went off, emotionally too fragile to process it logically.

Why is this such a hot button for me? Perhaps because children have no one to speak up for them, therefore we are tasked with that responsibility. Perhaps because I also have zero tolerance for those who are afraid of "upsetting the fruit basket" in fear that if we do so, we will have our rights taken away from us. I realized, though, that the core reason is deeper than that. It is because the spiritual values are being distorted.

God's kingdom is a kingdom of love, grace, mercy, peace, kindness, and gentleness. Ah, you say, but you forgot one key aspect: self-control. True, I did not include it in the list, but I did not for a specific reason. To contrast the first six with self-control is not accurate, it must be included with the first six to make sense. I have heard pastors say that the fruits are progressive, with self-control being the ultimate goal. I have heard pastors say that it is a singular fruit, therefore self-control would be part of the package. I have heard countless sermons on the value of self-control, stating that the possession thereof will ultimately lead to perfection Regardless of the semantics, however, one thing is clear. God's kingdom also includes self-control. However, is self-control akin to other-control?

The topic of child discipline is one that has been hotly debated for years. The liberal camp suggests guidance while allowing the child to determine their own pathway; the conservatives firmly believe that corporal punishment is the only way. There are those who live inbetween. I am not a parent, but I was raised by a mother who did not hesitate to spank me if I needed it, and I admit there were times I did. My parents had a variety of ways to discipline, with spanking being only one of them, and as I grew older and they were able to reason with me, they took away privileges that I dearly loved. It was a far greater punishment to sit home and watch my sister enjoying Thursday night social with all my friends than it was to have a spanking. As I began to associate choices with consequences, I quickly learned to make better ones.

God has the task of parenting an entire world and He does so in love. We do suffer consequences to our ill choices; if you smoke regularly you will likely die from lung cancer, and other such similar things. However, God also gives us the freedom to determine our own destiny by making those choices. He does not require us to follow a strict pathway led out in precise measurements in order to reach heaven; He gives us guidelines and then we are free to choose whether or not we will follow those guidelines, interpreting them as we understand them through prayer, Bible study, logic, and counsel. This is a frightening thought to the conservative because they far prefer to refer to the little red books as an exact set of rules to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is also unsettling to the liberals who would rather believe there are no guidelines and they can happily sail through life as they wish, just as long as they proclaim their love for God. Balance is often far from either camp and they struggle to understand the concept of self-control within the context of freedom.

Self-control is a learned and God-given habit. We acquire it by consistent positive choices, repeating them over and over until they become automatic. We are given the strength to make those choices, however, by the Holy Spirit. Whether we acknowledge it as Christians or not, lasting self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We are given the freedom to choose self-control. This is not to be confused with other-control, however. The book in question advocates parents controlling their children to the point that the child no longer has a will of their own. According to a review by the BBC, "Parents must assume that part of the child's moral duty which is not fully developed" disciplining them to the point of subjection. It is self-evident that the authors believe parents are commanded to assume the role of the Holy Spirit in their child's life. This is not the role that God has given parents, however. To guide them to make wise choices, yes. To determine every choice for them, claiming infallible authority, and disciplining them into unquestioning absolute obedience, no.

My biggest struggle is learning God is love. When I react emotionally to people's comments, it is because I do not see His love but rather a fearsome being who will not protect. This is not a god I can serve or even associate with. I must believe that God is angered when a child is abused, that He sets out to rescue, and that He who said it would be better for a millstone to be put around the neck of someone who causes a child to sin and that that person be thrown into the depth of the sea meant every word He said. God is love, but His love is not silent. This is why I too, must speak out.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Marbles of Glass

She stumbled out her bedroom door, blearily blinking the heavy sleep out of her eyes. It was difficult to wake up that morning, though it had been like that for most mornings the past week. Her mother and brother sat at the kitchen nook, eating their breakfast and chattering away. They had likely been up for an hour already and were ready to face the day. She, on the other hand, was not.

After she fumbled for a glass of water, she headed back to her room to find something appropriate to wear for church. Her mother's voice called her back. "Did you want to take a look at the Bibles on the table? They're ready to give to Elsie if you are okay with that." Elsie, a 90+ year-old lady was very active in ministry and her project of the month was collecting Bibles to send to people in prison. She'd put a little notice in the bulletin so people could gather up their unused, gathering dust, Bibles lying around the house, bring them to church, and give them to her so she could pass them on to the organization that coordinated it all.

She stepped back into the kitchen and headed for the lace covered table in the family room where a stack of 4 Bibles lay. She picked up the first one, then the second, and the third. "You can't give this away, it's my Bible from Egypt!" she exclaimed. "And this one used to be Mr. Stevens'." Her mother jokingly replied, "You can make a photo copy of the inside cover," as her brother said, "But you're trying to get rid of things." She gathered up the Bibles as she managed to say, "Yes, but not these," and hurried to her room before the tears came. She wasn't fast enough; the emotion had caught her before she could put up her requisite guard, and the words choked in her throat.

She turned to face them and said, "Yes, I am trying to get rid of things, but not things that are important to me." Her mother reassured that it was okay to keep things, that they were not trying to guilt her into giving away her stuff, as she replied, "but you were! by telling me I could make a photocopy or was trying to get rid of stuff." Her brother later apologized, saying he didn't mean to make her upset. She tried to explain why she felt the way she did, but wasn't sure even she understood.

That evening she stood in the room carefully turning the pages in the Bibles. She remembered now that the one she'd used in Egypt was a Bible she'd given to her mother because it was a New King James and had formatted highlighting inside that annoyed her. In reality she'd given the Bible up long ago but in that moment she'd forgotten. It symbolized a happy time, a time when she'd gently carry her Bible with her to church, feeling proud that she owned her very own Bible and could look things up when she needed to.

She reached for the children's Bible, another one she didn't even read, but her name was signed in large pink cursive letters on the front page. It had beautiful pictures inside and she vaguely remembered looking at it when she was younger. She wasn't even sure when she received it, or why it was so important to keep it, but she wasn't ready to let go.

Finally she picked up the last Bible. This was a New Living Translation, one that was severely frowned upon by the conservative organization she worked for. She slowly turned the page and stared at the words written inside in red pen. Dave Stevens. There was an addendum in black, "and his daughter, Maria Lombart." She thought about how there were many blended families where the daughter did not carry her father's last name. The irony of the inscription, however, was that she was not his daughter. Not by blood, at least. She was in his heart, though. His heart that had stopped beating so many years ago.

She reverently stacked the Bibles on top of her dresser and pondered whether or not she would give them away to someone who needed them. Perhaps she might be able to give up the highlighted one and the children's one. She wouldn't be able to relinquish the New Living Translation, however. There were far too many memories attached to those words, words that he had never seen but he had always known. She found the Bible among other books for sale in the library and had snatched it up before anyone else could claim it. Now it was hers, one of the few links she had to someone who had cared so much and loved so deeply.

Perhaps that was why she couldn't give up the bobbing green turtle with the missing leg, the little figurine of the girl and boy sitting on a log and he was missing an ear, the tall green candle that had lost its scent and most of its wick, or the ragged t-shirt with Egyptian hieroglyphics. Each precious piece had a lifetime of memories wrapped around it, almost palpable, almost visible, yet not quite. She held tightly to them for fear that if she let go, she would lose herself as well.

She slept well that night. She dreamed of cream covered cakes, guitars and family singing, riding a train through the countryside, late night football games, learning to ski, and running through the African rain. And softly, quietly, each memory wrapped itself around her and held her close.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To Fill the Fall Air

My room is filled with books. I've spent my life writing. And yet, when I find myself facing a simple requirement of a 300-word post, my mind freezes. I'm terrified I won't be able to create in academic terminology what they are looking for. If you ask me to describe, to feel, to experience, to express in words the blink of a moment, that I can do.

I hurried into the building, blowdryer in one hand, phone & keys in the other. I'd parked in the disabled parking space temporarily, even though I knew I shouldn't, but it was private property so I figured 3 minutes wouldn't make a difference. I found her room on the ground floor, knocked loud enough so she could hear, then handed her the appliance through the cracked door.

Deciding to take the back door out since it was closer to where I'd parked, I found myself stopping my rapid pace to descend the steps slowly. It was dark and I didn't want to twist an ankle or stumble. The door had thrown me out into the fall air, though, and I inhaled as deeply as I could. I was searching for something. A scent of yesterday, perhaps. Smoke from burned cookies in a microwave, a man's cologne, Soft Scrub from when the ants invaded my old studio apartment, the heater's coils. There was nothing.

Only the feel of hard packed dirt beneath my sandals as I fought gravity to make it up the little hill to the right. I knew that dark hill; I had rushed up it many a night from my front porch to reach the safety of the streetlights. I instinctively ducked to miss the low-hanging branches of the tall shrub, though those branches were now well-trimmed. My sandals slipped, but I had moved rapidly enough to make it to the top before I slid.

As the keys turned and I opened my car door, mourning the scents of forgotten memories, I brightened at the thought that came to comfort. It was fall. I would create new memories. This was how life went.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Sip of Life

She stood on the corner, a familiar sight, holding a cardboard sign. I couldn't read the words scrawled in thick black pen, my car was too far back in the line of many waiting impatiently for the obnoxious light to turn green. I didn't need to know, though, what it said. I already knew.

It was a rushed afternoon, that day. I'd left my GPS at home, couldn't find the charger in my muddle of belongings, so I'd looked up the general vicinity of it all and taken off. I had to do two pickups before 5 pm, then shuttle the materials back to their destination by 6. I was hoping the hour commute wouldn't be extended too much with the jam of weekend traffic.

As I swerved into a parking spot directly in front of the last business, picked up the two heavy boxes, and retraced my tire tracks back to their return route, I thought about how hungry I was. I wanted a snack, something sweet, and I remembered a great little cupcake store just three blocks down. If I popped in I could pick up something for the drive home. . .

It was then that I saw her. She was dressed in shorts and a blue shirt, sweater tied around her waist. It was too hot for September, yet she stood unfaltering in the sun's heavy rays, holding up her sign and facing traffic. I breathed an inward sigh of relief that when the light changed I would be able to speed right by her, rather than waiting, parked a foot away while she stared at me, waiting for humanity to register.

I thought about my cupcake. I thought about the hundreds of cars, thousands perhaps, that had passed by this woman today. She stood there, unashamed, brave, strong, a piece of cardboard conveying her only thoughts. We closeted ourselves in metal containers, hid behind dark glasses, and kept our faces turned so we wouldn't see. We sped past to Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wendy's to spend more on a cup of coffee than we were willing to squeeze out a 3-inch-rolled-down-window. We would repeat the process daily, whether we saw a cardboard sign or not.

Celine Dion sings a heart-wrenching song, Love is all We Need, and one line in there haunts me.  "Why don't people seem to care at all, as long as it's not about them?" That woman who was standing there needed help. Sure I don't know whether she was looking for money for drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, or whether she was hoping for a few dollars so she could have a simple meal. Yet in that moment that each of us was faced with the opportunity to surround her with love and compassion, we pretended we couldn't see her need. It was easier that way.

I don't know how I can change the way I react to the needy, whether deserving or not. As a single woman I often find myself fearful to help, afraid that if I do I will become the next statistic on the ten o'clock news. Yet it seems we should be taking some form of responsibility and turning that into concrete actions. Why is our cup of coffee more important than a life?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Speck in the Universe

It's late, I've running on a rather minimal amount of sleep, and I must be up with the sun to trot around the loop with our new class. Yet, as is often the case when it really isn't the time to be writing, I feel the need to do so. People asked me today what my hobbies are. I quickly threw out the usual, reading & writing & eating out. I added, "and ethnic foods" just to make me sound a little more interesting. Reality is, though, that writing is what drives my soul.

So tonight I look at my blank screen, watching the words form as my fingers reach for the necessary keys to create the meaning, and I wonder why I feel the need to write. I know, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to say so.

I read an article today that someone else posted a link to on FB. It was a controversial article on a site known for its controversial stance. The author seemed to be struggling between asking to be understood and an ego trip in their new-found freedom to leave organized religion. Or so it seemed. People's comments were flying back and forth on my friend's posted link, discussing the author's intent and purpose in writing such an article.

I said a few words, still carefully edited as I have not yet found that I can share freely on spiritual matters without fearing that there will be repercussions. Perhaps the environment I grew up in, that I still exist in at times, created the barrier and forced me to limit my searching to a small circle of trusted friends who are on a similar journey. I understood, though. Oh how I understood.

The author was blunt, too blunt at times perhaps. They were trying to reconcile the sanitized, part of the 144,000, following the blueprint, converting the world in the end-times picture of the perfect Adventist with the reality of life. The examples they gave made me cry. They wanted to know why the foster mom with the $500 diamond ring was kept out of church office while the pompous lawyer who drove a $50,000 BMW chaired the nominating committee.

I sat on the nominating committee at my home church once. They were asking for names for elders. I carefully read the description of elders in my little red NIV Bible, then asked, what about Bob? (not his real name) Everyone sort of bemusedly pushed my suggestion aside and went on to nominate the CEOs, the lawyers, and other acceptable people. Bob had the biggest heart of anyone I'd ever known, he loved his kids, he was genuine in his love for God. But he never went past grade school and he was divorced. I sat there, watching as the nominating committee played the politics game, placing the chess pieces strategically on the board, protecting the queen, while leaving the pawns defenseless. And I cried inside.

My heart breaks for the searching. It breaks for the earnest who sincerely want to do the right thing in the best way they know how. I know we are each on our individual journey and we cannot prescribe to one what they must do, but I long to see more of a seeking to understand each other's experiences in ways that we can encourage rather than destroy fragile hearts.

I too have been where I desperately wanted to fit in and be accepted, but no matter how hard I tried I never felt like I quite measured up. There seemed to be something wrong, and it always seemed to be me. I tried to account it to my sinfulness, as I heard many times that there was nothing good in me. It took me years to re-translate that thought into: God has created me and I am a beautiful creation. It took me years to realize that the wrongs were with the system and faulty reasoning.

I still haven't arrived at a perfect understanding of Who God is and how I fit into this world. Some days though, it is enough just to accept that God is God. And Love.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stepping Forward

I hate change. To the point that I will postpone it as long as possible. For example, I bought a new toothbrush. I actually purchased it about two months ago, but it took me a month to take it out of the box. I really wasn't convinced that I needed it, even though my current one loses its charge after 3 brushes and is cracking down the side. Plus I got the new one for a really good price.

I've finally managed to plug it in but now it sits, waiting for me to use it. You're probably laughing at me, wondering why it's so difficult to switch toothbrushes. Such a simple thing! My life would be easier; the new one even comes with a 2-minute timer! Yet I find myself hesitant to move forward.

It's kind of interesting that the change symbolized in my toothbrush is also reflected in my life. I find myself facing a major change and I'm rather hesitant about taking that first uncertain step into it. Starting master's studies is serious. I know this time I have to commit and finish it, regardless of how difficult it makes my life. I sort of feel like I'm facing a rather scary dragon and it's not backing down. One of us has to move forward and the first one to do so wins the challenge. It has to be me.

Change also comes in relationships. That perhaps is the hardest of all to realize. It is easy to stay in status quo, whether life is more painful or not. Yet sometimes you have to take a moment, reevaluate, and realize that it's time to take that step forward. In doing so you may lose what you thought you had but perhaps you'll find an understanding that was missing. You won't know, though, until you embrace the uncertainty, relinquish the hopefulness, and reach for change. This time maybe it will be beautiful.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Schizo Stalker

I have a stalker. It's nothing to worry about, the guy sent me a rather friendly hello on FB, called me gorgeous, said he wanted to get to know me more if I didn't mind. It wasn't creepy or anything. I wouldn't have even noticed it if I hadn't seen a message in a filter in my inbox. After reading the message I decided to turn the tables on the guy. I stalked him.

Did you know that there is a handy way to search for a person using a picture? If you go to Google Images, instead of the regular Google Search, there is an icon of a camera in the search bar where you can click and upload the picture you want to search for. Google will then match it to any identical pictures on the web and you can quickly and easily get information on the person you're tracking.

I was lucky, there was only one link that popped up, but it was for a guy with a completely different name. I clicked on the link which took me to a social networking site similar to LinkedIn. Here my friendly stalker had all his bio information, so I searched for the university where he teaches at. Found his bio, read his CV, then looked for him on FB using his real name. Sure enough, up he popped. Along with photos of his wife and 4 kids. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, as he is likely divorced, from the trend of the photos.

It was rather an amusing afternoon, using technology to avoid and avert what could have easily been a case of mistaken identity, or rather cloaked identity. I felt quite proud of myself for sleuthing it out!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Heading for Higher Things

Sitting in orientation class and thinking about how this is costing me over $1,800 and we're playing word association games. I know it will be worth it, after all this is what I've been saving up for over the past 7.5 years. I'm excited to realize there is an end in sight. So many times I would count up my pennies and think about how I would probably be 40 before I even started at the rate I was going. I was careful with my money as my education was a priority for me. I didn't have an iPhone or cable TV, I lived at home and I drove a 15-year old car. I did spend money on eating out with friends and buying fun clothes, though!

Then one day the doors began to open. Some I had to nudge, others I had to push rather hard, but each one opened clearly and remained open. As it happened, I began to realize that this was really happening. I was no longer dreaming; I was living the dream. It wasn't going to be easy, I knew that, but it was now possible.

It doesn't end there, though. I learned that graduate credits on a master's level can apply towards the doctoral degree as well. I have now set my sights past the master's degree to about 10 years down the road: to a PhD. I know it sounds rather presumptuous and wanting to only follow God's plan for my life means He could lead me down another road which may not include that. However I am learning that while God directs, He does want us to have goals to work towards. After all, He has instructed us to set our sights on the prize before us.

It's pretty amazing to see how God places longings in our hearts, equips us in those areas, and then fulfills those longings while giving us new dreams to dream so we are always living and growing. God only wants good things for us. This is one of those good things.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Take a Look at Me Now

Okay, I'll admit it, I love Phil Collins' music. I found a 45-minute clip of his ballads on YouTube and I'm in seventh heaven! I have a Pandora station and anytime I feel like being melancholy (which ironically can be quite often for a sanguine) I switch from my Disney station to Phil Collins and lose myself in soul music. I just Googled online to see if he still tours but it appears he doesn't. How sad!

I've gone through quite a number of phases with my music. Growing up, my parents wouldn't let us have walkmans with radios so they could monitor to a degree what we listened to. A good friend of ours lent us a contraband tape (yes, the kind with ribbon!) and we kept it well hidden in a drawer of clothes. Or so we thought, until our mother discovered it and made us return it. We were allowed to listen only to Heritage Singers, Maranatha Singers, Carpenters, Nana Mouskouri, and classical music.

Once we reached our teen years we were allowed to get radios on our walkmans. By then, though, I was already quite familiar with secular music, having listened to it on the tape player I took to my dad's office to practice typing lessons or on my friend's tapes they'd recorded from the radio. Our cousin had sent us a tape of country songs, "Don't it make my brown eyes blue" and "Talking in your sleep" by Crystal Gayle. I loved Ace of Base, All 4 One, Boyz II Men, and other R&B groups.

It was around this time that I started listening to Radio Delilah. Delilah was a Christian DJ and her radio station was dedicated to soft rock and songs that spoke to the heart. People would call in to dedicate a song to someone close to them and I marveled at how she was able to always pick the perfect song. I thought about calling in one night, but never got the courage to.

My boyfriend at the time was really into Babyface, I discovered Trey Lorenz, and continued listening to the soul music I had grown up with. Then I went through another phase. This one involved gaining acceptance by my peers, so out went all the music that had comforted my soul through the years to be replaced by Dollar Store "Best of Vivaldi" CDs and such. I couldn't bring myself to throw out my Steve Green tapes that I'd carefully hoarded my piasters to buy at the Christian bookstore, unaware they were pirated copies (though that was all that was available anyhow). So those stayed.

Music has always been an important part of my life, perhaps because I feel things deeply and sometimes I am unable to express how I'm feeling, so I turn to music that can better convey my emotion at the time. Music expresses the melancholy moment, frees me to sing with joy, brings a toe-tapping beat, or simply keeps me company on long road trips.

After I went through my "sacred" phase, I returned once again to the familiar. This time I added country, ballads, kept the R&B and soul music, the soft rock. I was happy. I loved driving down the road singing along with Shania Twain at the top of my lungs, dancing about in my seat. I was learning to let go of the thought that any music other than religious was of the devil. When I thought about the music I was listening to, I realized it was just like poetry, or conversation. People sharing their hearts, their struggles, their joys, in words set to music.

Now when I listen to music I listen for the experience, the moment, the emotion. I immerse myself in the sound and absorb the words, allowing the music to speak for me when I cannot. Music is a language of the heart and though we may speak it inadequately, we can still thrill in the connection it provides. I no longer attempt to adapt to a culture, a peer group, or my parents' expectations for me. Instead I simply listen and as I listen I search for me in the song. I always find a snapshot.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sing of the Lord's Great Love

I was reading Psalm 88 today. It's a rather discouraging psalm, actually. Heman the Ezrahite wrote it, I think, and the whole psalm talks about how he feels abandoned by God. Some of the descriptive words he uses:
  • Cry out
  • Soul is full of trouble
  • Like a man without strength
  • Set apart with the dead
  • Put in the lowest pit
  • In the darkest depth
  • Overwhelmed
  • Repulsive to his closest friends
  • Confined
  • Eyes dim with grief
  • Rejected
  • Afflicted
  • Suffered God's terrors
  • Darkness is his closest friend
Have you ever felt like Heman described above? Perhaps in times of deep despair, when you lost someone close to you, when life suddenly became overwhelming? I know I have. As I read, I wondered if the psalm would resolve itself at the end, as some of the others so nicely do. It didn't, though. Then I carried on reading into Psalm 89.

Psalm 88 describes a person in despondency, someone who feels rejected by God and his closest friends and family. This person doesn't see why he should keep living and when he cries out to God for help it seems like God is hiding His face from him. Psalm 89, however, paints a completely different picture.
  • Great love
  • Faithfulness
  • Establish his line forever
  • Make his throne firm
  • Mighty
  • Rule over the surging sea
  • Strong arm
  • Founded the world
  • Strong exalted right hand
  • Righteous and just
  • Love
  • Glory and strength
  • Crush his foes
  • Appoint him as firstborn
In the times when we feel most alone, we can choose to sing about God's love, to speak about His faithfulness, to remember how He has created good in our lives in the past, and to claim His promises of love and strength.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in Your name all day long; they exult in Your righteousness. For You are their glory and strength, and by Your favor You exalt our horn. ~Psalm 89:15-17

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Experience of Pain

I am learning that sometimes God allows us to go through painful experiences not because He finds pleasure in our suffering but because there are lessons He can only teach us in the center of the flames.

I find I am closer to my Father when I am hurting. I know instinctively that even though I cannot run to Him and feel His arms around me, I can pour out my heart to Him through tears, unheard words, even angry questionings, and He is a safe place for me. Psalm 62:8. To be closer to my Father is something I constantly search for, and while I do not relish the experiences of sorrow and pain and grief, I recognize that He uses those to turn them into the beauty of a closer companionship than before.

I know that God doesn't promise He will grant our wishes once we've endured through the hardship. It's at times a difficult lesson to learn. I tend to be someone who is looking for the reward after the testing. I can wait, I can manage to make it through, as long as I know I'll receive what I wanted after it's all over. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Or perhaps, fortunately. God knows our hearts and there are times when our desires are lined up with His plans for us, but then there are times when it is better for us to learn to live in a place of emptiness for a time until we are ready to accept the far more beautiful gift God has waiting for us. It can be just about impossible for us to walk by faith, believing that God wants the very best for us, and not to run ahead and try to create our own destiny based on our feeble attempts to understand ourselves.

When I find myself facing pain, my instinctive reaction is to push it away until it has subsided. I am learning that we should push through the pain, accepting it, holding it close instead of hiding from it. As we experience pain to its deepest, it softens our hearts to the pain of others. A mother who has lost her child, a young woman who has lost her husband, a grandmother who has lost her spouse of 50 years. Or perhaps it isn't death of a family member. Perhaps the pain comes from loss of a beloved pet, a culture, an identity, a significant job, a dream, a home, a love. Each of these losses create pain that is unique in its experience, and while we can empathize with someone who has felt loss, we cannot truly walk with them emotionally unless we too have received the pain to the degree that they have.

A mother lost her daughter not so long ago. I put my arms around her, said I was sorry, expressed words of regret and comfort. I have suffered my own losses to death, some of people very dear to me. Yet I knew I could not feel one iota of the anguish this mother felt every time she imagined living without her daughter, every time she tried to understand how she could have prevented it from happening, every time she reached out to connect and realized her daughter was no longer there. The pain she felt, only another mother who had lost their child could identify with.

I do not believe that pain is a gift in itself. I do believe that God turns the pain into a gift when we can use our understanding born through suffering to comfort another person in their despair. I am learning that my own experiences, while I as yet have not had the need to empathize with another person in a similar situation, are preparing me for something I do not yet know. I am learning that pain turns my quick ability to judge into sympathy and concern. For everyone carries sorrow in their lives and they are searching for understanding and comfort in the midst of pain.

I am learning that on the other side of pain there is joy, peace, strength, and healing. As I look back over my life and the different times I found myself struggling with pain, fighting with it, or living fully in it, I see that each time I found myself a stronger person after the experience. It may not have been perceptible but each time my heart was glued back together with time, understanding, and comfort, it was just a little bit stronger. It was not easy, and I'm not saying we should seek out pain so we can find ourselves stronger afterwards. What I am saying is that we can either fall apart completely or we can determine to start again.

Jesus experienced the worst kind of pain imaginable when He went to the cross. The physical pain was immense, but humans had already been exposed to that kind of torture before so He would have been able to endure it. The pain that tore at His heart was the pain of complete separation from the One He loved the most. His Father had to remove His presence, His beams of light one by one, in order to fulfill the demands of the law that He had instated at the beginning of the world. Jesus was the victor over sin, and He now identifies with us in our sorrows in a way that we can understand because He has experienced our pain to an even greater degree than we ever will.

Pain is an experience foreign to our original natures. We were created for joy, peace, and wholeness. We were created to be in close communion with God and with each other. Pain steals those beautiful experiences and replaces them with brokenness. Yet what amazing grace of a Father Who foresaw the hurt we would have to go through and offered us His dearest One so that we could have the hope of one day seeing pain be forever eradicated. God has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes. I believe that as He wipes away each tear, He will wipe away the memories of the pain, replacing them with unutterable love. For we will no longer need the experience of pain.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Place To Be

Learning about moral psychology and all the intricacies of the mind it covers. It's a rather fascinating field of study and for a fleeting moment I thought I would pursue doctoral studies in that area. I'm far from doctoral studies, of course, as I have yet to start graduate studies this summer. I'm excited, though, because a dream of mine is finally being realized. It has slightly changed, I planned to go to a different university, to study psychology and become a marriage and family therapist. Now I find myself about to enter a realm that I have dipped my inquisitive mind into just slightly and I am somewhat apprehensive. Will I manage to make it through? There are some pretty high expectations being placed on me already just based on where I did my undergraduate studies and my personal statement (that I can't for the life of me remember what I wrote!). I'm not a very motivated person when it comes to studies and this particular program requires a lot more independent self-accountability than a campus-based one would. Will I be able to keep myself on task and get things done in a timely manner? How much will I have to invest in the program? Will I still have time for the things that really matter to me: eating supper at the kitchen table & chatting with family, meals out with friends, hikes, adventures, traveling, experiencing life? I don't want to be sub-par in my studies but relationships take priority for me.

As I talked with a friend the other day, we talked about how we're looking for a purpose, a meaning in life. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what mine is. At times I feel frustrated that I'm not more actively involved in ministry. I mean, I do work for a ministry, but my work consists of answering phone calls, filing papers, creating schedules, and other seemingly mundane tasks. I'm not giving hydrotherapy treatments to cancer patients, teaching searching minds to think, building industries in third-world countries to provide people with a livelihood, taking care of orphans in Africa, or running a homeless shelter in San Francisco. When I compare myself with others, I worry that I will never find a true purpose in life. And yet, when I am at work I feel fulfilled and content that I am doing what God has prepared me to do.

I like to think God has created us with desires to do what He has blessed us with talents to be able to do. I'm still thinking about exactly how to bring practical ministry into my career, but perhaps undertaking the tasks He gives me can be one way of finding purpose in life. Perhaps life is not about measuring up to the Joneses even in mission work, but in listening and following God's direction for my own life. After all, He created me and He knows best where I will be happiest.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

God Has Been This Way Already

Heard a really encouraging sermon today. The pastor talked about taking his young son fishing and they had to cross the stream to get to a good fishing hole. The water was deep in one spot, it came up to his waist, but it came up to just below the boy's waders. His eyes got real big, he was holding tight to his dad's hand, and at that deep spot the dad took a huge step and pulled his son along with him right through that deep part.

It was so encouraging because the pastor said he knew that spot was deep but he'd been through it many times before so he knew he could make it through safely. And that made me think of God, and how we often come to scary places in our lives that we're pretty sure we can't make it through because the water is too deep and we feel overwhelmed. But if we hold on tight to His hand, He will take that big step and pull us right along with Him and take us safely through those scary spots to the other side. And we don't have to be afraid because He has been this way before, He knows He can get us safely home.

When I tend to get all caught up in emotional drama and stressed, I stop and think about what really matters. And for me, what really matters is going Home. Being in Heaven where there's no more of this miserable stuff we have to endure, no more people dying, no more loneliness, no more worry or fear. So anytime I hear an encouraging thought like today, or read something or hear it in a song, then my heart is comforted because I know that God is there.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Walking or Sitting, It's All the Same

Reading My Utmost for His Highest, my favourite devotional book of all time, I came across this:

"we do not believe God, we enthrone common sense and tack the name of God on to it. We do lean unto our own understanding, instead of trusting God with all our hearts."

I tend to struggle the most with trusting God. It is so easy for me to make logical decisions based on facts, though often those facts are obscured by my interpretations set in previous experiences. Once I've made my decision, I go forward and ask God to bless. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what the balance should be. God doesn't use skywriting to tell me what I should do next, He has blessed me with a brain that I believe I should be using, and yet there is also that privilege we have of learning to trust and wait and see.

I do believe that God makes our pathways clear. Sometimes it happens in the moment we least expect it; sometimes we see things carefully unfolding and we just know that God is guiding each event. Sometimes we have to step into the river Jordan, sit down on the hillside and prepare for the meal, pick up the stones and start whirling the sling. Other times we have to wait, like the disciples on the day of Pentecost, Mary and Martha when their brother died, Sarah as she laughed behind the tent door, Jeremiah in the muddy cistern.

Yet whether we are moving forward or simply waiting, we can still choose to trust God with our entire beings. Trust that He is orchestrating every moment in a miraculous way to demonstrate clearly that He is in control. His promises will always hold true and if we choose to trust Him with all our hearts, He will direct our path.

this world

My heart is sad tonight. Heavy with sorrow for those who must hurt because this world is cruel and there often is a dire lack of justice. Christianity is not practiced as it should; instead it is wielded as a weapon to cause guilt and shame. Those who open their hearts to love find pain and fear instead. How long, oh God, before the cup is full and You say "enough"?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little Snippets

Handwritten notes on lined paper, written in a hurried scrawl or carefully printed with pen or pencil. Tucked into a secret hiding place or slipped into your hand. Little pieces of someone's heart that I treasure. Why did we stop writing notes?

Last night in the midst of that state of being awake and drifting off to sleep, a vivid memory came to mind. Musty cigarette butts, the snap of cold air, greasy thick-cut chips just frying, and the new smell of Argos catalogs.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Time Travel

Time. I heard in a song on the Christian radio station that God is already in my future. I know, you've heard that before. But take a moment and really think about it. God isn't limited to time. He is standing in my present and He is also standing in my future. He knows exactly what is going to happen and He is just waiting to help me make the decisions that will keep me safe for eternity, brighten my life, and strengthen my character. I can say with conviction that I don't have any fears for my future because God bridges time and He is going to take care of me. What an amazing thought!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

From the Heart

I should be tidying my room right now. Cleaning the bathroom sink. Reading one of the 3 books I have to finish reading in less than three weeks. Exercising. Cooking. Writing. Doing my accounts. Instead I find myself clicking on "new post" and heading to my blog. For when I feel overwhelmed, I find solace in writing.

Today I am contemplating experiences. Memories. Friendship. Time invested in building our futures. As a third-culture missionary's kid, I've had my share of building relationships over the years, then watching as I lost those closest to me through distance and time. We moved, they moved. And while I've now been blessed to live in a country where I can more easily visit dear friends, I still find myself often missing the experiences we shared and holding tightly to the ones I create now.

Is it worth it? To get to know a person to the point that you know what they will order when you go out to eat, you hear their footsteps or their laughter and recognize them immediately, when you laugh together you laugh from the heart, and you complete each other's sentences? Is it worth the time and emotional energy you pour into your friendship to then watch them leave, because they had to or they chose to?

When I ask this question, then I think about who I was before each person reached out and cared enough to become a part of my life. Each of my best friends have helped to create the person I am today. They've loved me, listened to me, laughed and cried with me. They've taught me how to see the world from a different perspective, to realize that beauty is seen in unexpected places. We've shared spontaneous adventures, serious conversations, and soul-warming moments.

I feel it deeply, every time I have to say goodbye. Sometimes I fear my heart has given away so many little pieces that there isn't very much left. I find myself wondering if I am too weary to start the getting-to-know-you process all over again. Then I imagine my world without friends and I know it would be too dark to live in. Each friend has brought their tiny flicker of light into my life and together have lit it brighter than noonday sun. I am blessed more than I deserve to have been given so many people to love.

So is it worth it? My heart tells me yes. For as I give each piece away, I receive a piece, until my heart is no longer one single colour, one single person's creation. It is a beautiful mosaic of stunning colours, each one representing a person who has been vulnerable enough to love me as I love them.

Monday, June 17, 2013

This Day I Choose

Well, it's that time of year again. The one where if you're 1 you have no idea what is going on, but you know that bright shiny paper on top of the huge box is real fun to play with. Everyone around you seems to be quite excited about what's inside the box, but it makes too much noise, and all you want to do is sit quietly and chew on a sock. If you're 13 you're excited because it's your very first girl & boy party and you feel so very grownup now that you're an official teenager. There are more milestone birthdays, such as 16, 18, 21, each of them looked forward to with great anticipation.

Then there are the decade-birthdays. The 30, the 40, the 50. Thankfully I've only seen one of those so far! Last night I logged on to Facebook and took my birth year off my timeline. I decided I didn't want people knowing how old I really was, even though I've been told I look about 8 years younger. My dear little brother, during prayer at breakfast this morning, happily told God, "and thank you for Maria's ____ years!" I groaned inwardly. "Thanks for the reminder!"

What are birthdays, anyway? A celebration of life, a chance to eat cake and open up presents, time to spend with family and friends, a marker of another year gone by. I woke up this morning and felt like I did on my 30th birthday, not too thrilled about it all, concerned that time had switched from robin wings to eagle wings and was taking me far too fast into my future.

As I took some time to contemplate what my goals and aspirations are for this year, I also thought about the gift of life. Of safety, of family, of love, of joy, of peace, and of friends. I thought about God's gifts of mercy, patience, compassion, grace, longsuffering, forgiveness, and kindness. I realized that I was being ungrateful as I lamented my state of years.

A birthday signals so much more than a year gone by. It means I have been blessed with amazing gifts that cannot be wrapped up or quantified. 
  • Experience
  • Memories
  • Life
  • Wisdom (more, not all!)
As I enter this new year of life, I shall resolve to choose joy and happiness every moment I consciously am able to. To learn to lean on God for guidance in the challenges I face. To always see the best in others and seek to affirm their strengths. To set my aims high and then work towards meeting them. To embrace change even when it causes uncertainty. To live every experience to its fullest, storing up memories of life

". . .blessed are all those who wait for Him." ~Isaiah 30:18b

Friday, June 14, 2013

Can You Run Faster if You Have More Legs?

Earlier this evening I had a rather amusing encounter that I decided I simply must share with you.

I'm sitting on my bed trying to decide whether or not it's worth the effort to move every single box and object from the left side of my room by the window in order to unearth a rather large rather fat spider that scuttled its way in a few minutes earlier. It stopped, we had a stare-off, I grabbed the closest thing that could capture it, a mini Chinese tea cup, from my dresser, and the race was on. 

I jumped off my bed, lunging for the ominous monster, but he saw me coming. I desperately threw the cup in its general direction, but it simply bounced off the carpet as the furry alien shot around the corner of my bed, safe for a moment. I followed in hot pursuit, attempting one more time to capture it. This time the cup stayed firmly put, and I emptied out a large canning jar as backup (something I should have done much earlier!). For some stupid reason I decided to lift up the cup to see if my nemesis was underneath. If he had been, he would have flipped that cup up and over like a weightlifter in a category below its weight limit and I would have had to figure out some other clever way to capture it. 

Alas, like the magic game where you have to guess which cup the egg is under and you never get it right, the spider was nowhere to be found. I stared sadly at the empty patch of carpet. Then revenge took hold and I grabbed a super bright flashlight, started pulling things away as fast as I could, shining the light into every dark corner I could find, hoping to see evidence of scuttling legs and black beady eyes. To no avail. 

A while later, I heard my mom stumbling about out in the kitchen and decided to find out why she was still up. I found out my dear fat furry friend either has an identical twin (which I hope not!) or decided it was too bright in here and so he rushed out as fast as his 8 legs would carry him and skedaddled right into my mom's room!!! She was not amused, she also couldn't get something to smack him with fast enough, so she grabbed the vacuum cleaner. She thinks she got him, there's less stuff under her bed to hide behind. I hope so! At least now I can sleep in peace.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

I watched them sitting there, side by side, quiet on the garden swing. Perhaps she saw a squirrel run up the tree and pointed it out to him. He couldn't quite hear what she said, so she repeated herself louder and close to his good ear. They swung some more. Then she said it was time to go and they got up. His legs were a bit wobbly; she was hunched over from an old muscle injury. They clung to each other and managed to stand in an upright position to begin the slow walk back home. It was less than a hundred steps to their little place but each of those steps took an eternity to traverse with their aging bodies. An eternity.

I thought about what it must have been like when they first met. Was she as loud then as she was now? Did she have that same fire inside of her and was it even more pronounced? Or was she a quiet demure young woman and only now did she feel comfortable to let her true spirit be shown? Did he gently care for her as he did today? Was he interesting to listen to, a learned man who was always ready to share so others could grow?

They lived in a completely different world back then. People met and then they got married. Oh I'm sure love was involved, to a degree. But they were much more practical. Could she cook and clean? Would he provide and was he a hard worker? Were their life goals compatible? They took a simple approach to life, they were choosing to marry because they were looking for a companion, someone to make the load easier to carry, and someone to share in the duties of life. Now, over 50 years later, they were still married.

The world we live in today has gone completely topsy-turvy. Marriage in its traditional sense is mocked. People marry then divorce days or even hours later only to marry again multiple times. We become so particular about the person meeting certain specifications that we end up single because we're unable to be content with quality spouses. Women have babies first, then get married, often not to the father of their child. Cohabitation is the norm.

As I watched the couple slowly tottering home, I thought about what it meant to be selflessly dedicated to someone else, committed for a lifetime, as one learned to love the person they said Yes to. They came from a generation who chose to value the blessings God had placed in their lives, grateful that they had each other, determined to be faithful to their companion. And as I watched them I realized, they had chosen for eternity.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Little Girl Dancing

I paint my toenails. Purple, blue, tonight they are bright cotton candy pink. When I look down at my toes, they make me smile! You know how you have those days when things just aren't going the way you'd planned, you feel lonely, or sad, or frustrated? Where are you looking? That's right, you're looking down. You feel discouraged and don't have the desire to face people as you pass them so you study your feet. When I look down, I see my happy pink toenails and I don't feel quite as downhearted anymore. I'll admit, sometimes I even choose open-toed shoes just so I can look at my toes and be cheered up.

Now you can look at me solemnly, declaring my desire to paint my toes a sinful one, that only clear toenail polish is appropriate, blah blah blah. The other day a pint-sized little thing informed me in a very sure voice that God didn't want me to have pink toenails. I would have to disagree, though. See I've spent almost half my life trying to be sure I wasn't doing the wrong thing. I also spent that time feeling angry with myself because I knew I could never be perfect. I just knew I wasn't going to make it to heaven because I was still eating cheese on my burrito, listening to Steve Green and Boyz II Men, wearing jeans and tank tops, putting on eyeliner and mascara, and watching 7th Heaven.

The journey has been a rather rough one, which you may have picked up on some through various blog posts here and there. I shall not spend much time working through it tonight, however. One thing I have learned from my years of struggle is that I can never be perfect. That I need to stop trying and start surrendering to God Who covers me in Jesus' perfection. I've also learned that God wants me to be happy. And so I step out, hesitantly, trying to figure out how to be happy in this sad world. Sometimes I don't get it right and I have to backtrack. But when I study my friends who have chosen to embrace life and seek out joy along the way, I realize that is what I am looking for. So I paint my toenails cotton candy pink.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Another Late Night Post

I really should be sleeping, it's almost midnight and I seem to have made a habit of staying up rather too late this past week. Perhaps it's the heat, even with an a/c going almost non-stop it still takes a long time to cool down at night. Perhaps I'm seeking to avoid responsibility and the doing of tasks that are not interesting in the slightest to me, such as cleaning and tidying and studying. Perhaps my circadian rhythm is completely off and so even if I were to try to turn the lights off and enter dreamland closer to 10 pm, I would be unsuccessful. Or perhaps it's just because I can, therefore I do.

When I turned 16, my mom told me that I no longer had a set bedtime. I could now go to bed whenever I wanted and boy did I take advantage of that! I don't think I stayed up all night then, but I did decide that my new mission in life was to record Mission: Impossible (the old series) which came on around 11 pm or so at night, as my brother really enjoyed it. I would sit curled up in our family rocking chair, a blanket wrapped around me, tense with the suspense as they would attempt the impossible, succeeding every time. When it was over I couldn't go right to sleep so I would watch cheesy sitcoms like Golden Girls to try to laugh away the action-filled show I had just seen.

I grew up in countries where nightlife was where it all began, so it wasn't too much of a transition for me to stay up late at night watching, listening to Radio Delilah, or writing in my journal about the teenage angst that gripped my heart. However, a not-too-pleasant side effect of staying up so late meant that I wasn't up with the birds at 6 am, but rather grew accustomed to beginning my day closer to noon, or even afterwards if I was feeling particularly generous. It became an easy habit, one which I seem to fall into too often even today.

As I find myself facing a week that I know can be either productive or a completely waste of my time, I find myself wondering how to startle myself into a way of life that gives me a greater sense of achievement. I am a great list-maker and will often create lengthy scrolls that are about impossible to accomplish in a day. Then I'll feel discouraged and won't even try for the next week or two. I enjoy looking back at my day and realizing I did more than I had planned, but it's not so easy to do so when I find myself stumbling out of bed with just enough time to dress, grab a sandwich, and rush out the door to work.

Just because I can do something doesn't necessarily mean I should. Paul writes about it, in 1 Corinthians 10:23, where he says that just because something is lawful, or not going against the law, doesn't meant that it is helpful to do it. As the NIV says, not everything is beneficial or constructive. There is a lot in the Bible about self-control and self-discipline and fighting a good fight to earn an eternal reward. I think perhaps I will spend some time figuring out how to reset my priorities from "I can do this, therefore I shall," to "How can I please God in what I'm doing?" It requires purposeful effort but somehow I think it will be worth it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Finished taking the GRE today. Been studying for it for ages, since July of last year, actually, on and off. Now that it's finally over, I can't believe I can move on to the next project and don't have to worry about x and y and z (pronounced "zee", how sad I have become). I got a good score, enough to make the 25% scholarship level where I plan on studying, but 4 points away from the 50% scholarship level. So me being me, instead of being excited that I can now save almost $4,000 I get upset that I couldn't save $8,000. I know I couldn't have done any better, though.

So this is it. Time to step out into the unknown of graduate school. I've already dipped my foot into the waters, but this time I have to jump in completely. This time I have to commit to completion. Envision my end goal: a piece of paper, no debt, a gown and hat. That's what I am looking forward to the most, actually. The graduation gown. I never got to wear one, thanks to homeschooling and conservative ridiculousness. In three years, though, that will change. Hopefully.

Now to go and place myself in this new reality.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Please Don't Go

So here I am, trying to deal with loss again. It's not as significant this time, as in, someone hasn't died so I still have the ability to connect. Yet in some ways it is more significant because these people are very close to me. I went through this a couple of years ago, and back then I don't think I felt as sad as I do this time. Perhaps it was because I was only processing one loss, instead of multiple losses. Or perhaps this time I have words to put to my emotions.

The one word that I realized with certainty I was feeling was "Grief." As I went about my day, seeing and remembering things that brought back a flood of good memories with the people who were no longer in my life, I realized I was grieving. I tried to understand why it was affecting me to such a strong extent, and while I cannot say exactly why, I think perhaps it ties back to the TCK (third-culture kid) experience.

TCKs grow up living in loss. They lose their culture, their country, their extended family, their immediate family, their favourite foods, their role models, their friends, their favourite places to go, their schools and their churches. A majority of their losses are set in the context of connection which defines their loss as emotional and social. It also means they must either learn to process those losses or live among them in a way that they can cope.

I'm not sure I learned to deal with loss appropriately. Every time I experienced a significant loss, I would go through a period of time when I was sure my world had ended. I felt like I had no anchors, I became angry with God for allowing me to be hurt, and then I learned to seal off my emotions and pretend I wasn't affected by it all.

This time around, though, I'm trying to figure out how to grieve the loss in a healthy way. They say the 5 stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I have the first four down pretty well; it's the acceptance that I struggle the most with. Perhaps because I struggle to understand why loss is a part of life and why God allows us to love so deeply and then we have to figure out how to handle the pain that mirrors its depth.

I am learning that emotions may reflect pieces of God's character. My one goal in life is to seek to understand Who God is and when little glimpses come through this haze of a world of sin between us, I stop in awe and amazement. I think God places love and laughter and joy and happiness in our hearts; I don't think He has anything to do with pain and sorrow and grief and fear. I am still trying to figure out anger because there are several passages in the Bible that talk about His wrath.

"Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones." I'm still working through the stages and it may take me a while to reach the point of acceptance of reality. Right now I just want to hold on to memories, because those were good days and I didn't realize they were about to end so abruptly. I wasn't ready, but then again, a TCK is never ready to face loss. Even as it defines their existence, they must learn to shape their reality around connecting and rebuilding through the grief. It is not an easy task.

Tonight I will claim the promise that God has given in Psalm 16:6. "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, I have a goodly heritage." I will choose to believe that if I cannot see the places of peace here on this earth, that there is a place filled with goodness waiting for me in heaven. There are two reasons why I am determined to stay faithful. So I can see God and know that He is proud of me for never letting go of Him, and so that I can always be close to the ones who are so dear to me. That will be a day of no more loss, no more sorrow, no more grief. Only Joy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Missing You

It's late, I'm tired, and I will have an early morning Sunday so I really shouldn't be writing. But it's been too long since I wrote, which is why I am writing! And I'm too lazy to get out my notebook and hunt out my favourite uniball pen which is the only one I like writing with when I journal. After all, when one is an English major, one has to insist on certain standards when it comes to crafting words on a page!

Got a chance to catch up with an old friend this evening which was really special. She popped up on Facebook, got my number, and gave me a call. When she said goodbye 40 minutes later, as she still had a load of laundry to do before sunset which happens to be 11 pm in Alaska, I hung up and returned to surfing Facebook, my favourite pastime to pass the time. One of the students from the program I work with had just posted some pictures from the last four months so I spent some time looking and commenting. And remembering.

Seems sanguines are rather emotional melancholy people as well, which is kind of strange. You'd think a sanguine choleric would just be a pushy happy person, but either we're masking or we can't sustain the high for so long because while we have our highs, we have our lows as well. Being emotional is part of the whole mix. I cry at the drop of a hat, literally, not because I want to but because it just happens.

So here I was, looking at pictures, chatting with old friends, and starting to feel melancholy. I am so grateful for the friends that God has gifted me with, but I am so sad that none of them seem to stick around for more than a few years, if I'm lucky. I'm blessed to be able to travel to visit them when I can, or to have them return for homecomings and things, but I miss having them in my life!

Perhaps I feel stronger about it because I am far from cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. We grew up seeing them once every 2 years on average, though that average dropped drastically once we arrived in the US. Kind of ironic, really. So as we migrated as missionary nomads from country to continent, I learned to create family with the people around us. I had more aunts and uncles than anyone else back home, and to this day I still refer to them as Aunty or Uncle so-and-so.

Coming to the US I was once again blessed with so many international friends who easily fit into my heart. Yet as with my adopted family, their stay was not long. I learned at an early age to say goodbye without crying, as the tears slid down on the inside, but even today, at age 32 it is not easy to carry through. Perhaps, though, one day we will all be together again. Till then, I must learn how to keep loving without breaking.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Enough for Me

Why do we have to grow up? A friend asked me tonight if I wanted to be a kid all my life. I laughed and said yes, I did. He said wouldn't it be boring then, but I thought it would so much easier not to have responsibility. He thought it was me just being lazy, when in reality, I think I just wanted to go back and be a kid again because life was a lot less worrisome then.

Today we spent the afternoon shooting hoops. It had been years since I'd even touched a basketball and as the guys took turns aiming for the shot from different spots in the driveway, I watched and waited til the ball came my direction. Each time I felt the basketball bounce beneath my fingertips, each time I lined up my goal, jumped, and felt the ball lift and fly through the air, sometimes hitting the board hard and dropping straight in, other times jamming the side and falling away, my heart started pounding fast. It began remembering the days past, the game, the guys, the memories.

I wasn't a pro basketball player or anything. I never even learned the rules, hardly watched it on TV, and couldn't bounce the ball from one spot to another behind my back. What I knew could be classified as street basketball, the basic how-tos from several guys who either taught me well or eased up a lot when they let me in the game. They were good guys though, because they made me feel good about myself, like I was an amazing player, just because I was there in the game. I learned how to intercept and how to score, and that was good enough for me.

A couple of girls joined the game. They were good, real good, and I quietly dropped to the sidelines, only taking the ball when it came my way, feeling a bit embarrassed when I couldn't make a basket, shuffling my feet and remaining in one spot instead of running down the center and making a flying leap to the hoop. But then I made a basket and in my head I could almost hear them cheering, see them grinning, and feel them patting my back. And I knew that I was good enough for them, and that was good enough for me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Late Night Reminiscings

I was out on the court the other day. I can't even remember why I walked over to the sorry looking half-court with three basketballs hanging around on the side, waiting for someone to come along and put them to work. Something inside just drew me, perhaps a whisper of yesteryears and reminiscings, and this time I listened and I went.

I picked up a ball and began bouncing it down the side. It moved almost magically, lightly touching the balls of my fingers, awkwardly making contact with the palm of my hand, as muscles worked hard to bring back the memory of what to do next. I made a quick turn and the ball followed, then in a flash I rolled it into my hand, drew my arm back, and my feet left the ground as simultaneously the ball left my fingers, gliding off the tips and flying through the air until it made contact with the rim, swished around a couple of loops, and then slipped smoothly through the net. I'd made a basket.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Frustrated Disorder

I'm a Type A personality. And a perfectionist (though not to the extent that other people I know are). And to add to my list of quirks, I like order.

Unfortunately, it seems that my personality traits are more hindrances than help to me in the environment I find myself in. You would think that with the line of work I've chosen, office administration, that these would complement perfectly with the tasks required. However, it seems to be that what is more important than being organized and detailed and getting things done in an orderly manner is the ability to do a 360-turn and go in a completely opposite direction than you had originally planned.

And yet when I think about it, I want to know why I feel so disconnected and unraveled when my world is constantly scooped out and peeled open so I feel like a piece of discarded avocado skin. Why is it that the ones who rush and change and seem so disorganized are unaffected by their manner of accomplishing things? Why do I struggle so much with allowing everything around me to exist in a state of confusion?

I grew up in the mission field, so apparently I have learned the skills of flexibility and adaptability. I can easily slip into new countries, cultures, and experiences as if I had existed in them for years before. I am most comfortable when around diversity, as monocultural interactions frustrate me with their lack of depth and direction. Somehow, though, perhaps because I have been through so much change, I find myself unwilling to continue the trend of bending.

I refuse to believe that God works best in confusion. I think perhaps God prepares us for change. The familiar verse quoted often, 1 Corinthians 14:33, says that God is not a God of disorder or tumult, but a God of peace. In other words, He is a God of order and a God of peace. 

God created the world in an orderly fashion. He directed Noah and the events leading up to the flood in an orderly fashion. His blueprints for the sanctuary were orderly. His battle with Gideon against the Midianites was orderly. Over and over in the Bible you see examples of how God carefully orchestrated matters such that while confusion reigned in Satan's camp, God's people were prepared as long as they were in His will.

Perhaps that is where it is safest to be then. Psalm 131: 2 says, "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul." To hope in God gives me peace. To trust in His plan gives me a quiet place in the midst of the world's crazy madness and confusion. To be in His will is to know that He is in control and He will direct my path and bring a calm purpose with a clear destination.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Where My Heart Belongs

It was strange, really, how she'd never thought she could go back. She'd wanted to, those first days, those first years. She'd wanted to return so desperately, but there was no money. She was on a visa and she couldn't leave the country. She couldn't go home.

She dreamed about it, told all her friends she would be coming back to visit. But in the beginning she had just a few dollars to spend, so she bought a yellow-lined notepad to keep as her journal, and on that notepad she wrote about how she wanted to go home. She planned to save up her dollars until she had enough to buy an airline ticket. They weren't cheap, even 14 years ago.

The years slipped by. After six of them, she was able to see her grandparents again. They too, lived across unfriendly oceans, and had aged so suddenly. Another two years and she started to work, carefully putting away a little savings to buy car insurance, and then another ticket to see her grandparents. Each visit to them was combined with a renewal of a visa so she could return to where her family lived and continue studying, then later, working.

Finally her sister moved to yet another continent, and she went to visit. She splurged on a discount ticket and enjoyed a blissful five days walking the streets, eating the Pakistani curry wraps, and feeling the salt spray as they took a ferry ride. She flew to her best friend's graduation and then later to see her when she moved for her job. Each trip was anticipated with much excitement and enjoyed thoroughly.

Then her brother said, "I'm going home." His school was planning a trip, they were raising the funds, and in a few weeks they would be stepping onto a huge jet ready to fly them to that country. They were excited because it was a new adventure for them. She stood to the side and watched. She knew she couldn't go, as yet again life intervened and dictated what she should be doing next. She decided that she would plan her own trip and go on her own timetable sometime in the future.

She was afraid, though. Scared that she wouldn't go, even if she wanted to. There was the all-too-cruel reality that regardless of how bad she wanted something, fate seemed to delight in ensuring that she would not find happiness in fulfilling her dreams. Being responsible meant putting her heart in a dark box and burying it in a wooded forest, perhaps to be retrieved when she turned 70 or so.

So she stood to the side and watched, as she had done with so many other dreams it seemed. They would be leaving soon, and already she dreaded the day they would return. They would have stories of amazing miracles, be excited to share what they had learned, laugh and sing and be overnight experts on the cuisine and customs. She wouldn't listen, she couldn't, because all she would know was that they got to go and she didn't. She couldn't go home.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Strange Sense-sation

I know exactly what it smells like. I can't describe it, but when I smell it, I know it's real. Strange, isn't it, that for me, the strongest sense is the sense of smell? That is how I remember places, countries, homes, moments in time. I smell curry and turmeric and cumin and I'm back in my Granny's kitchen watching her stir the bryani. I smell rotting leaves and damp earth and I'm walking in the forest with my Oma and Opa. I smell freshly cut grass and wet soil and I'm playing on the lawn in Lebanon with my friends. I smell kebabs and roasted corn on the cob and I'm on the street in Egypt.

These smells, and so many more, are stored deep down inside my memory bank. Unlike other memories that may be tied to specific triggers, I don't remember these memories often. They only surface when the specific scent accompanies them.

There will be moments when I'll be in the midst of conversation and I will suddenly stop and stare off into the distance. I'll be trying to remember, to place a connection between the senses and reality. All too often the memories will be too hazy to create a complete picture. I know I was someone else before this life of the past 14 years happened, but I seem unable to brush away enough of those years to see who I was then. I keep trying, though.

. . .I went through the buffet line holding my dinner plate, carefully placing well-loved favourites on my plate. There was the tabbouleh, the fatoosh salad, the hummous and the baba ganough, the potatoes, the moussaka, and the basbousa. It had been 13 years since I had tasted these foods, and as I sat down at the table and lifted my fork to take the first bite, I breathed deep and the aromas brought back a thousand memories to mind. And for a moment, as the tears came to my eyes, I remembered who I was. I was loved.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another Moment of Surrender

I love my job!!! (all-knowing friends nod wisely in background)

Okay, so it took me a while to reach the point that I was ready to do this full-time, but as things progressed and my friend took another job that she felt called to where she is now loving what she is doing, I very calmly went in to my boss's office and said, "I'd like to apply for the job." It was kind of ironic, because I knew I was on the short list. I'd actually helped put the program together and had thoroughly enjoyed myself doing that. Then I'd spent the next several months typing out tedious powerpoint slides. The information I was putting on each slide was interesting, but the footnoting wasn't fun. Every single footnote had to be looked up in the back of a rather large blue tome and it took forever just to complete one slide.

My friend kept trying to convince me that this was the job for me, doing what she was doing as registrar, but I wasn't interested. I'd just finished working in a high-stress environment and needed some time to reevaluate where I was going with my life. I was asking God where He wanted me, but He remained strangely silent. All I knew was that I was supposed to wait.

Then my friend was leaving and the job was opening up and all of a sudden I had to think seriously about whether this was something I wanted to pursue or not. See, I'm a logical sort of person. I can't live my life based on feelings, though I often do, because being an emotional sort of person I can easily get swayed in one direction or the other just based on whether someone said Hi to me that day or not. So when I'm trying to plan my future, I tend to make lists, talk to people, evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

As I evaluated, I began to realize several things.

1. My skills and abilities lie in administrative work, particularly organization. I strongly believe that God gifts us with abilities so we can use those in a powerful way for His work, and while we do need to continually stretch and grow, perhaps we can stretch and grow in areas related to the ones we already enjoy, rather than being forced to do things so far out of our comfort zone that we get discouraged and give up.

2. God has always given me jobs in the past where I was waiting patiently in the right place at the right time. When I worked as registrar the first time, I was finishing up my college education and was ready for a job, just as the current registrar was stepping down to have a baby. When I went to overseas to teach English, I had just graduated with a degree that would allow the government to accept me. When I worked as a receptionist at a clinic, I was not qualified but I was available and they needed someone right away.

3. God has used the skills I already have to match me perfectly to my job. For my first official registrar position, I had over five years of experience right in that very office as registrar's assistant, so I was comfortable taking over. In the mission field I could use my love of cultures and people. In the clinic I came with strong organizational skills and a calm caring manner that helped people feel at ease. And now I come to work in a job that requires knowledge of academics, different cultures, health, and of course being organized is a great bonus.

4. When I am doing what God wants me to do, I am happiest. I still haven't resolved the whole, "stuck in one place" issue I'm working through, but that aside, I love my job! I have the privilege of interacting with really interesting people every day. I speak to people on the phone who want to improve their health, and I am excited to share how we can help them. I coordinate students and staff, try to keep up with my boss, and do a million and one different things. I get to be creative and get paid for it!

After I told my boss I was interested in the job, I waited patiently for him to let me know I had it. I made a decision that if I received the job, I would wholeheartedly enter into the program I would be working with, making it my own, determined to have a good experience instead of a difficult one as I'd had in years past in other jobs. After all, life was going to happen anyhow, so it was up to me to choose how I related to it.

Life as a Christian can be quite uncertain at times. While we may make our plans, we know full well that if we want to follow God's will, we may suddenly find ourselves in a completely different place in our lives. Regardless of the uncertainty, though, one thing is sure. I know that God has my best interests at heart and I am learning to trust Him to reveal His plans in His time. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

There For You

After a while we begin to tire of trying to be what we think people like, and we start to look for those who think we're amazing because of who we are. Those are the true friends. The ones with whom you can laugh for no reason, talk for hours on end about nothing, and be quiet and know that they understand. No need to impress, no need to feel insecure, no need to question.

Real friends can see you on a got-the-flu-and-my-hair-needs-to-be-washed sort of day and they'll know what to say to cheer you up. They'll sit and listen to you talk about the oddest things, like wallets with snap closures, and smile and you'll realize that even though what you just said wasn't earth-shattering in any way, they cared enough to listen. They're always there, even when you're not so sure they will be, because they said they would be.

Actually, true friends never need to say they'll be there for you. They just are.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Not Quite a Tweeter Yet!

So I'm back in the world of social media and I guess I forgot how much fun it was. Oh yes, and how much time it takes. And how much emotional energy it requires. I remember now the very strong reasons why I left in the first place, and while those reasons still hold true, I have different reasons for staying, hence why I'm back on Facebook.

Facebook. The disconnected way of staying connected. Don't laugh, you know it's true. It's time for me to recognize that we live in an instant world, where not only must we have our food at the sit-down restaurant delivered to our table simultaneously with the 5 other special orders with no cheese, hold the onions on this, no tomatoes on that, etc., we must have our magazines delivered digitally (Newsweek just printed their last paper edition), we tap our foot impatiently at the copy machine that spits out only 12 pages per second, and yes, we must be able to connect with other people immediately. Right now. With not a second to lose.

With text messaging, smart phones, and Facebook, it's kind of difficult not to get ahold of someone when you need them. If you actually have the time to call them, and they don't answer, you can text them. If they still don't answer, and you've checked Facebook and they're not online, you can always call/text/Facebook one of your 150 mutual friends to see why the person you are trying to get ahold of won't answer.

Why do we have this urgent need to connect, albeit through technology? What happened to the days of snail mail, or even dial-up internet? Why is our world so rushed, and in the midst of it, why are we not content to connect with the people we can see face-to-face, but rather hurry to gather 2,050 friends on Facebook? Why is it imperative that in the very moment that we think we should contact someone, we have to get ahold of them at all costs? Why do we have no regard anymore for people's personal lives, when perhaps they are eating or playing a game with their children or taking a relaxing walk? Why are we so impatient?

We all know someone, at least one person, who when they are invited to join a group of friends to go out to eat or hang out, they spend the entire time staring at their smart phone as they furiously text, update their status, tweet, and see whether it's raining in Matchika (actual country in Central African Republic). I think that is my biggest pet peeve, to be around someone who is so focused on their smart phone that they are unable to connect with any person in real time.

The last time I was on Facebook I, the enthusiastic sanguine, was super excited to suddenly expand my network of friends. I soon realized, though, that the extent of my interaction would be limited to typing on a keyboard, staring at a computer monitor, clicking with my mouse, and waiting for someone somewhere out there in cyber space to do the same. I quickly grew frustrated, especially as there was no longer nonverbal cues (how can you communicate emotion through a smiley face?), no sounds of familar laughter, no exchanging of knowing glances with years of memories behind them. Now my best friend was a piece of plastic.

So yeah, I'm back in the virtual world again. This time, though, I'm being more realistic about it all. I know now that people will insist on clicking "Like" when they see something that interests them, that everyone will be excited for about 2 days after I add them that we are "friends again" and then never "speak" to me again, that among the pictures and interesting bits of news will be updates and posts that I have absolutely no interest in reading. But instead of relying on Facebook and other social media sites to connect, I'm going to try to put half as much effort into connecting in the real world. The one with people in it.

It's Okay To Be Me

I've had a few encounters in the past couple of weeks that made me stop and think, left me feeling slightly insecure, and bothered me. So, as I tend to do when something hits me across the face enough times, I write. Three separate incidents, seemingly unrelated, and yet they were. Each time something happened, I felt like a huge elephant had come along and sat right on top of me, squashing me down to the size of those flat pancake-like people you see on cartoons.

Somehow I don't think I'm the only person in the world who has felt like other people don't see them for who they are. It can be all too easy to feel invisible, inadequate, inferior, and like you're not measuring up to standards, whether they be others or your own. As Christians we are taught to seek our identity in Christ, and there is little room left to recognize the beauty of personality that He has gifted us with. We're supposed to be humble and self-deprecating, not confident in the skills we have been blessed with and worked hard to develop. Have we not learned from the story of the man with the one talent?

Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I head to my Bible to search for something that will help make sense out of things. Moses felt rather inadequate when God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Five times he came up with reasons why he wouldn't be successful to accomplish this great task. Each time God countered his arguments, basically telling Moses that He would be with him and then he would be succesful. I imagine Esther felt inadequate to change the king's decree to destroy all the Jews, as she tried to reason with Mordecai, but he insisted that God had given her a special purpose to fulfill for this particular time. Gideon felt inadequate and unable to lead his 300 men to victory, but God gave him a sign and promised victory and the army fled. There are many more examples of ordinary everyday people, both in the Bible and in history, who have felt inadequate and inferior to the task they have been called to do. Yet each time God has gently led them forward, promising to give them success.

When I think about these people, I wonder if they recognized that they had skills to accomplish the task they had been given? Moses had a wealth of military knowledge from his palace upbringing, and a lot of patience from herding sheep in the desert. Esther was a beautiful woman who had gained the king's respect and devotion, along with all those who knew her in the royal court. Gideon was able to commandeer an army of 32,000 men to go to battle against the Midianites. Each of them was able to combine the gifts they had with God's direct guidance to achieve success in their tasks.

This is not a piece about God qualifying the called, an all-too-familiar theme and one which could easily be used to wrap up and summarize all I've been processing so far. Instead, I'm wrestling with the thought that we are gifted with abilities that God delights to see us using. I hope He smiles when He sees His children discovering those abilities and being amazed at how much we enjoy blessing others through them. I like to think that God focuses on the good in us, growing it, shining it, sometimes digging for it, but always believing in it, because that good is a little reflection of Him.

I smiled as I read an email from someone who I had yet to meet in person. "I'm so excited to get to thank you personally when we meet next week, thank you so much for all your help!" they said. I laughed with friends as we spent an hour remiscing and catching up on old times and realized that they loved me for who I was. I pulled a batch of perfectly baked mini muffins out of oven, frosted them, then shared them with neighbors who exclaimed over how delicious they tasted. And each time I smiled. . .I like to think that God smiled too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Extreme Couponing. . .Not for the Faint of Heart

So I watched a whole season of Extreme Couponing in the last week or two and being the highly suggestible person that I was, I began to wonder why I was spending money in the grocery store, and why I wasn't leaving instead with cart-loads of free products with cash back to boot. I decided to try a little experiment and see if I could coupon as well. I wanted to see how much time it would take and how much I could save. Here are just a few ideas of what I learned.

To coupon successfully, you need to be realistic. It takes time, effort, commitment, attention to detail, and a love for what you are doing. It is not something you can take up easily, like learning to jump rope, but more like learning Italian.

To save the greatest amount of money, you need to be on the lookout for several things.
  • Sunday paper inserts
  • Manufacturer coupons
  • Store coupons
  • Sale prices
  • Loyalty cards
Once you have all these things sorted out, you need to match them. The ideal product is on sale, has a store coupon, and has a manufacturer coupon applicable to that item. It seems easy enough, but I spent a whole day searching online to match the coupons to the products to the stores.

Realistically speaking, you can't expect to spend 5 hours a week on something and get a great dividend. Those who participate in extreme couponing devote anywhere from 20-60 hours a week to their task, they dumpster dive for coupons, they ask friends for coupons, they buy coupons online. They may go to town up to 4 times a week to scout out the sales and buy the items they are looking for. They devote entire basements to their stockpile or store personal belongings with family members so they can fill their drawers & closets with products. They carry around 30 pound binders filled with coupons and some have rooms filled with inserts. Products must be rotated, coupons must be clipped, cashiers must be watched so they don't miss a coupon, multiple coupons must be printed on multiple computers, and the list goes on.

So I went out to town this afternoon, armed with two or three dozen coupons, and attempted my own extreme couponing trip. Upon my return I had some pretty good deals, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Extreme couponers average a 90% savings on their products; I only managed a 65% savings. Here's a look at what I brought home:
  • 8 boxes of cereal
  • 4 reams of paper
  • 6 cleaning products
  • 9 personal care products
  • 2 boxes of cashew nuts
  • 1 10-pack of juice 
I paid out of pocket $46.43 for products retailing at $132.40 which is a decent haul. My best deals were the 4 reams of paper, which came out to 18 cents each after a super easy mail-in rebate, dishwashing soap for 38 cents, a box of cereal for $1, and floss for 2 cents.

My conclusion is that I shan't devote my spare time to couponing; I have other things I'd rather be doing! I may still watch a website or two (Target has both web & manufacturer coupons right on their website) and snag a deal here or there if there is a good one, but that will be the extent of it.