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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Life is Hard, But You Still Can't Stand on the Furniture

     Hello friends. It's me, that lady that showed up seemingly out of nowhere two months ago and was suddenly allowed to be in charge of you. You know, the one who makes your dinner and is constantly nagging you to stop standing on the tables and chairs?
     I really believe that children are far wiser than we adults give them credit for, which is why I'm sure that it is no secret to you that I'm not exactly an expert at this job yet. You might even call me unqualified, but let's keep that between us. For the most part, I really enjoy working with you. You are funny and clever, and I get to color at work. But sometimes, a worry enters my mind and I can't seem to shake it. Sometimes I feel like there's so much you need from me, and I don't always know how to give it to you. It feels like there are dozens of big problems I should be tackling, but I'm just showing up with coloring sheets because I've figured out that a lot of you like them.
     I know that many of you are facing challenges that are not your fault in any way, and that does break my heart sometimes. Sometimes it can be tempting to just let you break the rules, because I know many of you don't have the easiest circumstances in life. But I really do believe that if I did that, it would be a huge disservice to you in the long run. I had teachers that did that for me. They knew that some things were harder for me, so they set their expectations very low. So low that they didn't even expect me to do the things I could do. I really believe that there were things I could have accomplished at certain times that I never did, because the people in charge did not encourage me to reach my full potential. Luckily, I had parents that did that for me at home, otherwise I don't know how I would have turned out.
   I admit that sometimes, I might be a little to harsh with you, and I want to apologize, and tell you that I'm working on that. I suppose I am remembering the times in my past when people set their expectations of me too low, and the last thing I want is to do the same to you. So I'll keep showing up with coloring sheets and reminding you not to stand on the furniture, and you'll keep making me laugh and eating most of the meals I make, and we'll figure this out together. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life, even though you didn't really get to choose. It really is an honor to know you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Missionaries, Social Justice Warriors, and the Power of Words

     One of the reasons I love writing so much is that it gives me a way to think about the words I use very carefully before anyone else sees them. I can type them out, read over them, and change the things that don't sound exactly how I want them too. As a person who often feels very awkward when trying to communicate through talking, writing gives me a way to express myself more effectively. Words are very powerful, and once they've been said, they can never be unsaid. 
     A particularly powerful word that's been on my mind lately is the word missionary. Saying "I am a missionary" feels like such an honor and a privilege to me, and it is the best way I know to explain why I am here and what I am doing. However, I know that there are some people who want to do away with that word because of it's negative history. I completely understand why the word is not looked at in a positive light, but to me, it would be better to reclaim the definition of the word instead of abandoning it. 
    I'm different that a lot of other people in my cohort. I don't have a college degree, first off. I also have no experience doing any kind of social justice work. What lead me to this program were two mission trips and a feeling that that's what I needed to be doing full time. When I heard the phrase social justice being used frequently at training, I was confused and slightly uncomfortable.
     It took me a while to realize that my reservations about the phrase social justice were a result of my own internalized prejudice and insecurity. In our modern world where social media dominates the conversation, "social justice warrior" has somehow become synonymous with politically liberal, and I grew up in a place where quite frankly, to many people, liberal may as well be a four letter word. So when I heard this phrase at a training event for a missionary program, I had an internal struggle because I had only heard this phrase in a political context, and I wanted to be a missionary, not a political activist. I also must admit that I still struggle with a bit of insecurity, although not nearly as much as I used to. The insecure part of me worried that if I was associated with a program promoting social justice, my friends would turn on me and my entire hometown would shun me. I know that sounds dramatic, but that's what the insecure part of my brain was trying to tell me.
     As I was reflecting on my reservations about this phrase, I realized that I didn't actually know the true definition of it. My negative feelings towards it were based solely on what I heard from the people around me. So, I decided to look it up. Social Justice: Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. 
     Oh. Well that's not so bad. It actually sounds like a good thing, aligned with a lot of principles taught in the Bible. If I had actually taken the time to understand the true definition of the phrase instead of basing my opinions on what I heard from other people, I would have realized sooner that social justice is not just a political buzzword. It is a principle that is perfectly in line with what I believe to be important.
     One of the greatest pieces of advice I received at GMF training was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This has been running through my mind as I wrestle with understanding that missionaries in the past have negatively affected the title, but also feeling that I want a title that reflects the fact that I am on God's mission. I don't have it all figured out yet. I just know that the reason why I got here hasn't changed. I still feel like this is exactly where I am supposed to be, and this is what I'm supposed to be doing. 
     My preconceived notion of social justice changed when I took the time to understand it's true definition, and I learned a lesson from that. Wrestling with loaded words and phrases isn't always fun for me, but it is beneficial once it's done. It's all part of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is something I am still learning to do.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Little Pilgrim Who Learned

    Recently I came across a picture of me from a play in elementary school, probably around Thanksgiving. I don't remember much about this play, other than wanting to be a Native American because I thought they had better costumes than the pilgrims. I also vaguely remember that this play cast the Native Americans and pilgrims as great friends who learned to get along, share resources, and of course had that lovely Thanksgiving meal together.
     I have since discovered, first through a college history course and then through other life experiences that the history that I was taught in elementary school, and the history that was represented in this play, is quite simply false. Christopher Columbus did not "discover" America, and the vast majority of European settlers were not kind to Native Americans. I don't know exactly why I was taught such an inaccurate version of historical events, although I could offer up a few guesses if I really wanted to.
     I don't say all of this to criticize the teachers that taught me, or the education system during my childhood, although I do hope that things have changed and students are now being taught a more truthful history lesson. I could write all day about why it's an issue that inaccurate history was taught in a public school, but that's not my intention right now.
     I am thankful that I had opportunities to unlearn and relearn this part of history, and I also got an added lesson from that process. Sometimes we have a certain view of the world, and then we learn new things and our view needs to be altered. I used to think this was a negative thing, but I'm starting to realize that it can actually be a very good thing when my views are challenged and changed.
     Tomorrow, there will be events in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day here in Nome. I did not know this until today, but to my understanding, that is what the former Columbus Day is now called in Alaska. I know that there are those who will roll their eyes at this, but I look forward to seeing how this day is celebrated, and I also look forward to all of the opportunities life offers to challenge what I think I know, and discover how much I still have to learn.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trusting in the Transition.

     If you've ever worked with a group of young children in any capacity, you're probably familiar with the chaos that happens during the time of transitioning between activities. Let's say they're doing a craft, and it's time to go to music class. First you have to tell them that craft is over, which will cause at least one of them to cry. Then you will probably want them to stand in a line, which means you will need to settle a passionate argument about whose turn it is to be the line leader. While you are playing referee, any children not involved in the argument will probably become bored and find ways to entertain themselves, such as poking each other in the eye and quite literally attempting to climb the walls. And yet somehow, the children usually do arrive at the next activity at some point, and soon all of the crying and fighting is forgotten until it's time to do it all again.  
     I feel that in a way, we are all like children in times of transition. Just when we've become comfortable with the way things are, a change comes along that we weren't expecting and throws everything off balance. Even if it's an exciting change like moving to a new place for a job you're passionate about, it still comes with difficult factors like saying goodbye to friends. While we may not express our disapproval of change as outwardly as children do, we certainly feel it, and it's not fun.
     I am probably not the best person to give advice on how to transition well. I'm highly emotional, and this becomes quite obvious whenever a big change is happening in my life. As excited as I was to move to Alaska, the actual process of saying "see you later" to friends and family resulted in many tears, most of which happened at inconvenient times. But while I may not be a professional transitioner yet, my recent move did give me plenty of experience, and some advice to pass along.
   The first piece of advice I have for surviving transition is to trust God's plan. I know that is much easier said than done, but it is important to remember that we are not in control, and God will never abandon us. This can be scary, but if we wait until we know the whole plan to take the first step, we'll never get anywhere.
     My second piece of advice is to learn from the transition. Since times of change often bring up negative emotions, it is tempting to get through them as quickly as possible and never look back. But there is always something to be learned each time a transition comes along. So take the lessons you learned in whatever stage you are leaving, and carry them with you into the next stage.
     And lastly and most importantly, if we learn nothing else from unexpected change, let's learn to be kind to each other. You're probably rolling your eyes over how corny that sounds, but I really believe it's true.  We can never know when our paths will cross and when they will separate again, so there's no time like the present to start treating each other well.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Great Commission is for Everyone

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the passage in Matthew 28 that’s known to many of us as the Great Commission. It’s often used to talk about missionaries, it’s used almost every time someone starts a GoFundMe for their summer mission trip (guilty). It’s referenced in the majority of sermons I’ve heard around the topic of what it means to be in mission.
    The Great Commission to me, is deeply rooted in the memory of my mother kneeling by my bed each night for many years of my childhood and praying for me. It is rooted in the memory of delivering Meals on Wheels with one grandmother, and sitting beside my other grandmother as she taught Sunday school at our local nursing home.
    It was all those nights my father came home after a ten hour workday and asked me about my day as soon as he walked in the door, and his continued enthusiasm at the thought of me living in Alaska
    It was my brother checking on me after a long work day to make sure training is going well.
    And It was my church family, always asking me about my “next mission trip”, every single Sunday, repeatedly and without fail, because they believed I could be a missionary long before I believed it myself.
    The Great Commission in my life was not singular. I did not wake up one day and hear a sudden unexplained call from God to do mission work. Serving God was something that was exemplified by the people all around me, who followed the Great Commission right where they were.
    We may be the ones physically going somewhere, but we are not alone in the journey. I would not be standing here right now if not for all of those people who were part of the great commission in my life. I know that not everyone had an upbringing as easy as mine. I am extremely fortunate that I have always had Christian examples.   Even if your life story is not as smooth as mine has been, I’m sure you can think of at least one person who helped you on your journey to this program. Maybe it was a pastor, teacher or friend, or maybe it was the person who first told you about Global Mission Fellows. Maybe it was someone at Global Ministries, who helped you get through the application process or figure out the logistics of travelling to Atlanta. As we head out on our two years of service, let’s remember that we are not on this mission alone. Let’s notice and give thanks for the people around us, living out the Great Commission every day. Today, consider taking the time to text or Facebook message someone who exemplified the Great Commission in your life. Let them know you are thankful for how they helped you get right here today, on the brink of being commissioned as a Global Mission Fellow.