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.

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.