Sunday, January 7, 2018

Unwritten Moments

     There was a lot to write about in 2017. I started the year off applying to be a Global Mission Fellow, spent a good part of my summer at training meeting new friends that have similar passions, and spent the last few months of the year acclimating to life in Nome, Alaska.
    I wrote about a lot of that, but the start of the new year has inspired me to think about all of the things I haven't written about yet.
      I haven't written about all the time I spend washing dishes. It's not glamorous, but when you're cooking for a large group of people, it's something that needs to be done and as part of the staff, sometimes it's my turn to do it. And then there are my own dishes at home, which never seem to be clean even though sometimes I feel like I spend half of my life standing in front of a sink. People love to hear about the moments in the life of a missionary when there are inspiring breakthroughs, but in between those moments there are many more moments spent doing mundane tasks like washing dishes.
     I haven't written about the days when everything seems to go wrong and I become frustrated and act in ways that I regret, or the days when bad experiences from past jobs haunt me and I start to doubt myself.
     I haven't written about my internal struggle with a large part of my job as part of a faith-based program being at a place that is not faith-based. I've come a long way with my thoughts on that as I've struggled with it privately, and maybe some time in the future I'll be ready to write about it.
     This year, I want to get back to writing authentically. Not that I have been lying in my writing, but sometimes I have elaborated on the happy moments and swept aside the difficult moments. I've put the pressure on myself of satisfying everyone back home with stories of a grand adventure, and forgotten that by definition, adventures are unusual and even hazardous.
     I've been told a lot lately that I seem very happy, and thankfully I can report that I truly am. But as a person who also knows what it feels like to be very unhappy, and felt that way in the not so distant past, sometimes my desire to convince myself and everyone around me that I really am happy now has made me afraid to acknowledge anything unhappy in my life.
     In 2018, I will strive to write a more authentic story. I will attempt to share more of the challenging stories, but also the moments of success and joy. I hope you will come along with me for this year of authentic stories.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Carols Explained

As I was listening to Christmas music yesterday, I started thinking about the unique ways some of them apply to things in my life. So, in lieu of a sappy "I'm not home for Christmas" post, here are some Christmas carols, explained from the perspective some someone who works with children.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

     A question I ask my co-workers at least once a day, usually when I am in front of a hot oven that I can't leave unattended at the moment, but I think I hear a child crying across the room, or a teen listening to a song that I suspect has lyrics not fit for young ears to hear. Another verse of this song, "Do you see what I see?" also applies because sometimes when you spend a lot of time with children, there will be moments when you just need to check with another adult to make sure you're actually seeing what you think you're seeing.

 What Child is This?

     Have we met this child before? Do they have a membership form turned in? Are they even old enough to be here? This could also be slightly modified to "What Child Has Done This", when someone has taken something out and not put it back in it's place after using it and I make it my personal mission to track them down and make them clean up after themselves.

Silent Night

This is a song about a mythical concept known as "Silence" which does not seem to exist to children. I did see it once, for a brief moment when they were in line to talk to Santa. Maybe I should start wearing a fake beard and red suit to work.

Joy to the World
     As much as it might sound like I'm complaining, and as much as some moments that happen where I work can drive me crazy, I am so happy to be here doing what I'm doing, and the Christmas season has reminded me of the reason why I am here, and that is definitely something to be joyful about.

Monday, December 18, 2017

An Uncomfortable Christmas

     With Christmas just  a week away, I'm feeling disoriented by the lack of familiar things that usually accompany this time of year. Obviously I can look at the calendar and know that the day is fast approaching, and there are signs of the holiday happening all around me, but still I can't help but feel that I am on the outside looking in.
     This will be the first time in my life that I will wake up on Christmas morning somewhere other than the house I grew up in. Even as I say that, I realize how much privilege the statement holds. I am fully aware that there are many people who would love to have a home to wake up in, and that that many people have jobs that require them to work on Christmas. But no matter how many stern reminders I give myself about these things, there is a stubborn streak of sentimentality that I just can't seem to shake. Selfishly, I long for a Christmas that feels familiar to me.
     I know what my family's Christmas tree looks like through our front door, I know what our stockings look like hanging from our mantle. I know what Christmas morning feels like with my family, and although it may not be perfect, it is familiar and comfortable, and I think I will miss it even more than I expected too. I love the job I get to do, and I have known for months that I would not be spending Christmas at home with my family, and yet still I can't help but feel a bit melancholy now that the day is almost here.
     As I sat in church yesterday, I was reminded that some things about Christmas will never change, no matter where I am or who I am with. Although my personal experience of Christmas will be different this year, what Christmas is really all about has not changed, and never will. No matter where my life takes me, every December will bring back the same story of a baby born in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and wise men. I found it very comforting to here the familiar verses that I am used to, even though I am on the opposite side of the country this year.
     This year, as I spend the Christmas season in a different place, away from the people I am used to celebrating with, I hope it allows me to see the Christmas story that has become familiar to me in a new and different way.  And maybe it will serve as a reminder that being comfortable was never the point of Christmas anyway.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Few Good Men

     One December morning not many years ago, A girl excitedly stands in the crowd at a popular morning show, her father by her side. She shakes the hand of a famous newscaster, who at that time is quite beloved by many people. It is her first celebrity encounter, and in her young mind it is a very big deal. That newscaster will later lose his credibility when he is accused of unspeakable things, at a time when it is becoming very common for men in the public eye to be accused of unspeakable things.
     When she hears of why this celebrity is under fire, it will at first send shivers down her spine to know that his hand briefly touched hers. But her mind will soon turn to other memories of that New York trip at Christmas time with her father. She was at an age when many girls would rather do almost anything than go on a trip with their father, but she still wanted to. Because there is something inherently similar about the two of them that she can't quite name, and they make great travel companions.
     That women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home. The men in her home were not perfect, but they were almost always kind, and she never had reason to fear them. Often when she is sitting in training sessions and the topic of what women should watch out for in the workplace and how they should protect themselves comes up, she will think of the men in her home, and how they allowed her so many years of ignorant bliss. Yes, the idea that women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home, and the more people she meets, and the more she learns about the world, the more she realizes how fortunate she is.
     She can no longer live in a state of ignorance, because she is a woman living in a world where the hard truth means that there are certain things women need to be aware of. But when the harsh realizes of the world start to be overwhelming, and being a grown woman starts to sound like an intimidating task in this broken world, her mind will turn to the good men she knows and she will be comforted. Because even though the guys who do bad things are the ones who make the news, her world is filled with a few good men, and that is enough to keep her hope alive.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why Me?

     When I started this blog, I was in my first year of college and experiencing independence for the first time. I was under the naive impression that it would get discovered by internet strangers, and that I would be able to speak in an uninhibited way about every feeling I experienced without worrying about who would read it. This theory was soon blown out of the water when I told my parents I had started a blog, and despite the fact that I was not connected to either of them on any social media at the time, they already knew. Although I'm not ignorant enough to put things on the internet that I don't want my family and friends to know about, My young mind was a bit surprised by how quickly they did.
     Nowadays, I actually like that people I know enjoy reading what I write. It's flattering that so many people care, and it's also a great way to stay in touch now that I've moved across the country. But I've also noticed that it causes me to be very careful about what I say and how I say it, in a way that I'm not sure I like. I guess what I'm saying is, if you see my parents in the grocery store, you don't need to tell them that I sound sad on the internet. Besides the fact that I'm an adult living on the opposite side of the country than them, and besides the fact that you can't gauge a person's inner thoughts solely by what they post on the internet, I am actually quite happy. Now, with that incredibly long disclaimer out of the way, I can get to what's actually on my mind today.
     As much as I love what I'm doing and where I'm living, I sometimes hide any negative aspects of my life because I don't want anyone to think I have doubts that this is where I'm supposed to be. But that's become way too much pressure to put on myself. When the demands start to outweigh the thank-you's, and I start to feel like I'm just free labor in the eyes of some people, sometimes I just need to vent. Normally I do that with trusted friends or my parents and keep it off the blog. But today I chose to do some public venting, because I think it brings up an important point. I've heard it said that if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. I don't think that's true. This is the best job I have ever had, but it's still a job. And just like any other job, it has it's benefits and it's drawbacks.
      Why do I have to be the one that has to send children home when we close, and tell them there's nothing I can do about the fact that they have to walk home when its thirteen degrees and pitch black dark because their parents can't or won't pick them up?
     Why do I have to be the one who hears the difficult and unpleasant things I know I am mandated to report, with enough frequency that I sometimes doubt my instincts and think I am being too judgmental? And in my worst moments, I have wondered why I am the one God chose for this job that seems like ten jobs rolled into one, that I could never completely finish even if I worked 24/7.
      But even as I'm asking these questions, I'm already thinking of all of the benefits that outweigh the drawbacks. For instance, I also get to be the one who sometimes spends an entire hour of my workday playing board games with children. I get to be the one they talk to about their day, and the one that makes sure they have a proper meal to eat. Most of all, I get to be doing what I feel called to do at a very young age, something that many people have to sacrifice because the need for a job and provide for yourself outweighs the desire to be content.
     I'm still figuring out how to be honest and transparent without crossing a line into oversharing. I haven't figured it out yet, but right now I have friends to hang out with, so my journey to self awareness via blogging will have to be paused until next week. If this long diatribe has any solid point, maybe it's this; be kind to your pastor and everyone who works at your church, whether they are on a payroll or not. As a matter of fact, maybe just be kind to as many people as you can throughout the day, whether they are a cashier or a CEO. We're all trying to make it through this thing called life, and I have a feeling it would be a lot easier if we were all a little less concerned with our own motives, and a little more sensitive to the needs of the people around us.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Different Kind of Strong

    There was a conversation that happened before I moved to Alaska that up until now, I believe only my parents were aware of. Since I obviously couldn't have an in-person interview with my future supervisor in Alaska while I was still in Virginia, it had to be done over the phone. Since the people who were interviewing me couldn't see me or observe me walking into a room, there was something I had to reveal to them. I am not required to disclose that I have a disability in a job interview, but since this job involved moving across the country to a place where mobility could potentially be more difficult for because of snow and ice, it would have been pretty irresponsible to omit that detail. I've had my share of discouraging experiences as a person with a disability when it comes to being employed, so I was really dreading this part of the conversation. Thankfully, that conversation went very well, and now here I am in Nome. I was worried that my disability would be a roadblock in many ways when moving to a new place and meeting new people, but I'm happy to say that hasn't been the case. The topic has rarely even come up, which is exactly the way I like it.
It wasn't until yesterday, when I was helping organize things over at the food bank, that I finally experienced that moment I dread, the moment of facing a task that I am not able to do. Because of who I am, I did briefly attempt to lift things that I really shouldn't have. Then I remembered that there is some very expensive hardware in my back from a scoliosis surgery that was quite an ordeal. Since I don't want to risk having to put my life on hold to get that hardware repaired just because I was doing something I shouldn't have in order to look tough, some responsible adult part of my brain kicked in and I stepped back and let other people take over.
      This is something that I've had to do many times, and it never gets easier. It's awkward standing around while everyone else does the heavy lifting. It's awkward listening to the "But you're still helpful!" coddling that often follows.  It's awkward and I dislike it more than I can even explain and I've been upset about it more times than I care to admit.
     What I often fail to realize when I am mourning my lack of physical strength is that I posses another kind of strength. It is not the kind of strength that often attracts worldly praise, but it is important nonetheless. I have the strength to be empathetic towards others, and to notice those who are easily forgotten. I also have the strength to allow myself to enjoy life, even when my first instinct is to never get too excited, because experience tells me that something could always go wrong at any time. Just like physical strength, I had to build it up. Instead of exercise, this strength is built up from constantly reminding myself to focus not on the things I can't do, but the things I can. It is built up from years of experiences like the one I had yesterday, and the ways I have chosen to react to those situations. I haven't always reacted by choosing to focus on the strengths I do have, but each time I do they get exercised just a little more.
     While I know that physical strength is something that I will never have, I am learning to focus on those other ways of being strong. And most importantly of all, I have to remember that any kind of strength, be it physical, mental or otherwise, is not something I accomplish on my own. Strength, like all things, comes from God.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Thief of Joy

     Everyone has things about themselves that they are not proud of. Most people would not write about these things and share them online for the world to see, but I am not most people. I am also living across the country from many of the people who will read this, which is giving me more courage to be vulnerable. So, I'll share with you a quality about myself that I'm not proud of, which is that I have a bad habit of comparing myself to other people.
     Maybe there are people that see what I post on social media and envy my life. While I would agree that living in Alaska has been a lot of fun so far, there are some things about my life I don't share that I doubt anyone would be envious of. I don't post about watching children throw away food I spent an hour preparing, or the child that told me my shirt looked like wet paper towels. I haven't yet shared the  reason for the behavioral issues of many of the children I work with, because I want to do it in the most respectful way and I'm still figuring out what that is. I love working at the food bank, but I haven't shared many stories about it because I don't want people who are already vulnerable to be judged. For these reasons, most of what the general public can see about my life is positive.
     But even though it may look like I'm having an adventurous life, and most of the time I am, I wouldn't want anyone to compare themselves to me and feel insufficent, so why do I do it?
      For example, when I happen to like an outfit I'm wearing to a meeting, until I get there and start looking at what all of the other women in the room are wearing. Suddenly, I start thinking about what I should have done differently. Sure, my outfit is nice, but I should have worn more makeup, and spent more time on my hair. And then I notice that I'm the youngest person in the room yet again, and then I start thinking that probably no one is even listening to what I'm saying because they're too busy wondering why I walk funny. With this kind of thinking, I can go from confident to defeated in a matter of seconds.
     Or when every time I'm scrolling through social media, I see that yet another person I went to high school or college with has gotten engaged. I fully believe that I am where I am supposed to be right now, but whenever I see those pictures, a part of me worries that some of the things I want in life, I will simply never have.
     Comparison leads to jealousy, and jealousy is not a pretty thing. It is not a trait I admire, and I feel ashamed when I start to feel it happen to me. So, I do my best to avoid it. When I find that social media is causing me to become jealous of others, I take a break from it. But I can't take a break from all human interactions, even if I wanted to. Since I can't avoid all of the things that tempt me to compare myself to others, I have to mentally redirect myself every time I do it. I know that my worth is not defined by what I look like or what I have or haven't accomplished, but knowing it and truly feeling it are not the same thing.
     I know what kind of woman I aspire to be, Godly and confident because my worth is not defined by any of the things the world tries to measure and compare. My prayer is that one day I will be that kind of woman, and I hope that day comes soon.