Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Happy Soul

    I am at the end of my third day of three weeks of Global Mission Fellows training, and as I begin to write this  I've just gotten back from dinner. I've never doubted my decision to apply for this program, at least not so significantly that I can remember it right now.
     But as I sat at dinner tonight, having a conversation with a few women around my age, this decision was affirmed in a big way. During my conversation with them, I shared some thoughts with these like-minded people, and listened to them share theirs. Even though the conversation wandered to some controversial topics, it remained respectful. I did a lot of listening, and I felt heard. 
     If you know me well, you probably know that I am very much an introvert. I'm usually more of a listener than a talker, so I was surprised at how much I was contributing to the conversation tonight. We've talked at this training about stepping forward and stepping back in conversation. I was comfortable enough tonight to step forward at times, and they were gracious enough to step back and listen. I didn't realize until it was over how much I had been longing for more of this kind of interaction in my life.
     I've been through some personal struggles these past few months which don't need to be named individually right now. But I know my soul has been discontent. Here today at training, my soul is happy. Even though I was busy for many hours today, and spent two of those hours learning about and discussing Methodist theology, which by itself is enough to make anybody mentally exhausted, my soul is happy. I am going to do what I love, I am going to be a missionary.
     Maybe you're going through a hard time, like I have been for these past few months. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, I pray you will soon reach a happier time, and come to a place where your soul is happy and content. Even though I feel happy right now, I know very well how hard it is to be in a time when you are struggling to find happiness and contentment, for reasons that you might not even be able to put into words.As I come to the end of this long day, my brain and my body are tired, but my soul is content. I'm not sure if I'll ever become an expert of Methodist theology, but I'm not really worried about it right now. As one of my new friends told me today, we'll figure it out together. 



Monday, June 26, 2017

Great Expectations

     I remember last summer after a youth retreat, we were asked to say some things about it in church, including what our favorite part of the retreat was. I asked if I could say my favorite part was the car rides to and from the trip. I played it off as a joke, but there was a lot of truth in it.
     Don't get me wrong, that whole trip was full of great moments. But I was expecting great moments during the worship services, and at the cross on top of the mountain. I had expectations for those moments, but I never thought about the car rides. Ironically, the part of that trip that had the biggest impact on my life, and the part I will remember the most, is the part I had no expectations for.
     I think we've all got these pictures in our heads of what our lives are supposed to look like, just like I had a mental picture of what that retreat was supposed to look like. Milestones are supposed to be met at a certain time, friends and families are supposed to always be close. When these expectations don't match up with reality, it can feel deeply disappointing, even devastating. I know this from experience.
     I've had to learn that some things in life just aren't the way I wish they could be, and I think it is okay to feel saddened and disappointed by that realization. I've also discovered that while I'm busy having expectations, often the most memorable parts of life are the parts I never expected at all. Sometimes the closest friendships and strongest relationships bloom from regular moments, and sometimes the moments we remember most don't happen when we reach our expected destination, but rather when we're on the way there. 
      I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with having expectations. But I am slowly learning that my happiness should not depend on my expectations being met. Let yourself spend some time mourning the loss of the things that aren't meant to be, but not so much time that you miss out on the things, the relationships, and the moments that are. I guess what I'm saying is, don't get so caught up in waiting for those mountaintop views that you miss what is happening on the car ride to the mountains. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Togo, the Sled Dog Who Saved Nome.

     When I was really little, I remember watching a movie that I really liked called Balto. It was an animated movie based on the real sled dog who was famous for his role in transporting medicine to remote parts of Alaska during a diphtheria epidemic in the early 1900's. There is an annual sled dog race in honor of those dogs each year, and the finish line for that race is in Nome, Alaska, where I will be moving in August. I also learned recently that there was another important dog on Balto's team, and his name was Togo. As you probably already know, I spent three weeks in Togo, Africa on my last mission trip, and that is where I decided that I wanted to pursue mission work full time.
     So why am I telling you all of this? It's not just to give you a history lesson, but you're welcome for that added bonus. It's because  I don't think of all of these things as random coincidences. In my mind, finding out about that dog who shared a name with the last place I went on a mission trip was an affirmation that Nome, where he delivered life saving medicine, truly is my next mission field. It's also a reminder of how God uses a bunch of seemingly little things working together to carry out His plans.
      I don't like to talk about growing up with a disability very often, because that's not how I want to be defined. And compared to many children, I had it pretty good, so I don't want to over-dramatize the truth and make it seem like I had some awful, traumatic childhood. Overall, it didn't bother me or even slow me down that much.  But there were a few times when things got pretty rough for a little while, and as I look forward to this exciting move to Alaska, I can't help but remember those times. These times revolved around hospital stays and long recoveries, with a fair share of setbacks and a few brushes with some pretty scary stuff, like Staph infection and one particularly scary allergic reaction to anesthesia. It was in those times that, though I was completely unaware of it, I was developing skills that I will need as a missionary.
        I was learning to trust God when things like recovering from surgery weren't happening on the timeline I would have preferred. Admittedly, I am still working on this one. I was also learning what it is like to feel isolated and alone, which is why I think I am quick to notice other people who may be feeling the same way. Most of all, I was starting to understand how vital my faith is to me, which led me to wanting to share that faith to others.
      One unfortunate side effect of going through some hard times is that I seem to have an odd habit of not processing good things very well. It's hard not to constantly be wondering when some unexpected hard time is going to derail my plans. But I'm slowly learning to let myself fully enjoy good things. I know that inevitably there will be more hard times, as there are for everyone, but if there's anything my life has taught me so far, it's that, with faith, I can make it through hard times.
     I'm so excited about the direction my life is moving in right now. And though it has taken me a long time to get to this point, I'm beginning to be thankful for hard times in my life, because now I know how important they were.

(Left) A scene from a hospital stay. There were plenty of less idyllic pictures of this time, but I decided to go with this one, where I was almost smiling, thanks to my cool new Kindle and some pretty strong painkillers. (Right) I had no idea watching this movie as a child that I would live in Nome one day.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Turning Back

     I have a very vivid memory of standing in a brightly painted courtyard at an orphanage in what the internet claimed was "the most dangerous city in the world.", surrounded by excited children competing for hugs. It was hot, and loud, and overwhelming in the best way. I remember my friend asking me if I was okay, bringing me out of the daze I must have been in. I was okay, more okay than I had been in a long time. I felt like I had just found something I had always been looking for.
     I have another, more recent memory of sitting in the dirt surrounded by chickens in a remote village in Africa, miles from anywhere recognizable. A baby was being passed around, and after a while he was placed in my arms, naked with only a blanket to cover him. As I held him I made eye contact with his mother, or rather she made eye contact with me. We didn't speak the same language, but the look in her eyes didn't need translation. She was a mother who loved her son very much, and like all good mothers she did her best with what she had, the only problem being that she had next to nothing. She was allowing a stranger from a foreign country to hold her baby for a moment, and it was a great honor.
    There was no turning back after that moment. I returned home, returned back to my family and friends and to the motions of every day life, But something had changed inside me, something I couldn't ignore for long. So, I began what I referred to as "looking into longer term mission opportunities." And I am so excited about what I eventually found.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Second Family

     The first time I ever attended Salem Church was on Mother's Day, seven years ago tomorrow if my memory is correct.  In those years, I've grown from a teenager into a young adult, and I've grown in other ways too. I've grown from someone who simply showed up on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights, into a member of the church who is more aware of and sometimes involved in the details of what keeps a church going.
     I have my spot in the parking lot, and my pew where I like to sit.  I have even slept (or tried to sleep) there during a youth group lock in. I have been there through three pastors and various youth leaders, through births and losses, one of those losses being especially personal to me. I have laughed there, cried there, eaten there, and learned there. My church has become a part of my life, and a place that feels as familiar as my own home. My church family has become almost as familiar to me as my own family, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I love them.
     But like all families, church families are not perfect. They are made up of people with unique personalities and perspectives, people with different life experiences that allow them to see things in very different ways sometimes. When I'm 45 minutes into a meeting that is getting too intense, and considering converting to the Episcopalian church, or when I'm sitting in the pew one Sunday morning and can feel a tension in the air that sometimes hangs around for a few weeks. those are the moments when I start to understand friends I've met who have left the church because the people who are supposed to be known by their love all to often become known by their conflict.
     Perhaps I'm just too much of an optimist who is seeing my church through rose colored glasses, but at the end of the day, I love that place. It has stood in it's place through countless historical events both good and terrible, and and has never crumbled because of an unstable economic or political climate. It is not perfect, but I choose to embrace the imperfections so that I can also embrace the love, the friendship, and the feeling of home that I get from my church. For better or for worse, I am a proud member of Salem United Methodist Church. To borrow some words from the tried and true Sunday morning order of service, Thanks be to God.




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Even If

    I still remember the humiliation I felt when someone called me a show-off because of the way I answered a question in English class when I was in eleventh grade. I remember the book we were discussing, and I remember the answer I gave, which I was very proud of until I was quickly shot down by this comment from a classmate. Most of all, I remember what it felt like step out and share my thoughts with other people, only to be met with hostility and criticism. It is experiences like that one, combined my sensitive nature that I can't seem to shake, that make it hard for me to share certain things sometimes.
     I've had a feeling for a few weeks now that there's something I should write about. I've tried to shake the feeling by telling myself that hearing the same song over and over again is not necessarily a message from God, it's just something that's bound to happen when you listen to the same radio station for all forty days of Lent. But Lent has been over for a week now, and the beginning of the infamous pledge drive has prompted me to change the radio station, but the feeling still remains. There's something I feel like I need to say, and I'm probably not going to be able to write about anything else very well until I say it.
     Right now, I am waiting to hear if I have been accepted to be a part of something that is very exciting to me. It's become so important to me that I haven't wanted to talk about it with many people. First, because I don't really want to talk about the very real possibility that it might not work out. I have no idea how good my chances are, and for all I know they could have thrown my application in the trash as soon as the interview ended. The second reason I don't want to talk about is it is that it's just too sacred to me. I care about it a lot, and the outcome, good or bad, is going to affect me.
      But I feel that I need to acknowledge, to myself as much as everyone else, that even if this doesn't work out for me, I will be okay. It's difficult for me to even say that because I desperately hope that this opportunity does work out in my favor. It is difficult to say, but I do believe it. There have been many times in my life that I have not gotten the outcome I wanted, and it's always painful in the moment. But looking back, I can say that I have always been okay. I have been sad, even heartbroken. I have struggled more times than I can count with not understanding the way situations have worked out in my life. But I have never been completely hopeless, and I can't shake the feeling that I need to acknowledge that feeling during this time of waiting, when I don't know the outcome yet.
     When you get down to the root of it, I think that's what makes me a person who has faith in God. Being involved in mission work is very important to me, and I love my church family dearly. But at the end of the day, those things are not the reason for my hope. Those things are not the reason that I can hand a malnourished baby back to his mother in a third world country and not come home hopeless. Those things are not the reason that I can hear of the death of two precious children I met in Honduras, and still have hope that I will see them again one day. My hope comes from my relationship with God, my faith in Him. If this opportunity works out for me, I will be overjoyed. But even if it does not, I will still have hope.















Monday, April 10, 2017

Stop Rubbernecking!

     It was a foggy morning, there was a steady drizzle falling from the sky. I was behind the wheel of the drivers-ed car, carefully navigating down the road while my teacher entertained me with funny stories from the passenger seat, interjecting every once in a while with minor corrections and reminders. "Remember to check your rear-view before you merge...watch your speed, it's not a race." Everything was going smoothly, until we came upon an the aftermath of an accident in the ditch. It wasn't even a major accident, but the flashing lights of the police cars caught my eye.
     Without thinking, I instinctively took my eyes off the road and turned to look at the commotion happening off to the side. It was then that I got an important driving lesson that doubled as a life lesson. "Stop rubbernecking, keep your eyes on the road. I can't tell you how many accidents are caused by drivers who take their eyes off the road to look at an accident that's already happened."
     To rubberneck, according to Google, is to "turn one's head to stare at something in a foolish manner." That day years ago, I had literally taken my eyes off the road, which is something I like to think I don't do often now that I am a more experienced driver. But in areas of my life that have nothing to do with driving, I am a rubbernecking repeat offender. Most of the time, I have good intentions. I believe that God has a plan for me and I start off focused on following that plan, but it doesn't take long before my I get distracted from the road in front of me by the flashing lights on the side. Flashing lights that come in may forms; the "what-if" scenarios about every possible thing that could go wrong, the little things other people unknowingly do that damage my fragile feelings, my bad habit of comparing my life to the lives of my peers. If I keep giving in to all of these distractions that compete for my attention, I am eventually going to end up in a ditch.
      If I had been scolded and criticized when I made that beginners' mistake back when I was a new driver, I think I would have had a much different reaction. But the firm yet gentle reminder that I got was exactly what I needed, and it has stuck with me for all of these years. Perhaps when we become distracted by the flashing lights along the roadway of life, we just need that gentle reminder to keep our eyes focused on the road ahead, no matter how tempted we are by the drama and distractions happening off to the side.