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

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.