Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christmas Competition

     When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about a mission trip I went on the summer I graduated from high school. Eventually, I started to feel like I was writing about it too much and not really getting my point across, and probably being just a little bit annoying. I started to write about it less, but I still think about the friends I met there every day. I'm hoping that I've waited long enough, and acquired enough new readers that I can talk about it again without driving everybody crazy.
     There is something about the Christmas season that makes me miss Honduras more intensely than I usually do. I can't help but think of all of the children there and so many other places around the world who "Santa" will not visit. For these children, there will be no wishlist written, no Christmas party planned by a caring teacher, no presents to open. December 25th will not bring an end to poverty, suffering, or injustice. For so many people, it will be just another day, and that is really making me sad this year. I feel like I did in Honduras, like I want to fix it but don't know how.
     Here in the U.S., Christmas has become so festive that it's almost overwhelming. We are so blessed that  many of us are able to celebrate so extravagantly, but I can't help but wonder if maybe, in some ways, we are the ones at a disadvantage. We are bombarded from every direction with information about all of the things we supposedly need to have the perfect Christmas, and even the most grounded people must feel inferior at some point. I remember being so excited one Christmas morning when I was a child to receive my second American Girl Doll, the pinnacle of girlhood toys in those days, only to have the wind knocked out of my sails by a friend who had received her second and third doll that same day. Those dolls are not cheap, and I was more than lucky to get even one, but part of me still felt a little jealous.
     Here's where I think the disadvantage comes in. The children at the orphanage we went to in Honduras were poor, but they didn't have much access to things that told them so. They couldn't watch T.V. and see commercials for toys they weren't getting, they couldn't text friends to hear about the latest trend they were missing out on. I am in no way trying to say that they are lucky for the circumstances they live in, I am only suggesting that perhaps they were spared the unnecessary stress that we can't help but put ourselves through when we are able to see what everyone else has.
     I'm still sad that so many children around the world will never get to experience the kind of Christmas that I did as a child, and I wish there was something I could do about it. But for now, it is what it is, and although that makes me sad, at least I can take comfort in the fact that it has made me stop and realize how lucky I am to have experienced so many December 25th's that were so much more than just an ordinary day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Open Letter to the Stranger Who Saved Christmas

   I saw your friend tap you on the shoulder, and I saw you turn around with a surprised look on your face and hug her. At first I thought I was just seeing two old friends having a surprise reunion, and that made me smile. But then I heard you tell your friend that you just got news that you are cancer free, for the sixth year in a row. You and your friend hugged again, and I heard you say how thankful you are to God for this news. You created a Hallmark movie moment right there in that crowded store, except it was even better because it was real life. You taught me a lesson today, and I wanted to thank you. 
Thank you for reminding me that the things making me unhappy are temporary. Thank you for taking my focus away from the shoppers near me who were blocking the aisle to have a lively political debate, and the other shoppers I had already lost patience with, who were holding up the line buying $300 worth of towels and attempting to use multiple coupons, creating the slowest checkout process possible.

    Most of all, thank you for reminding me that being a friend isn't the complicated task I make it in my mind. Thank you for showing me that even when I can't fix a problem that a friend has, when I can't even think of the right thing to say, I can still be there, and let God do the rest. That's the piece I've been missing, and you helped me find it. You showed me that it's not my job to always be the problem solver, because that's what God does. I can help by being the prayer partner, the listening ear, the giver of hugs. And, when a friend has a reason to celebrate, I can celebrate with them, as you did today.
In the midst of this season that seems to demand that we be be jolly and merry on the outside no matter what, thank you for acknowledging, even in the midst of your celebration, that your Christmas six years ago wasn't a happy one. I saw only the triumphant conclusion to your struggle, but it was obvious that this friend was someone who had been with you in your storm, which is why she understood the deep significance of your moment in the sun.
In a short interaction that I saw probably thirty seconds of, you showed me that I need to stop searching for the perfect thing to say, and the perfect Christmas gift, and let God to use the imperfections that are already present in my life. You reminded me that, like friendship, Christmas is not about perfection at all. After all, there seems to nothing perfect about a baby born in a barn, to an unwed teenage mother, but those are exactly the circumstances God used to introduce the One that saved the world, and the whole reason we get to celebrate Christmas in the first place. You taught me to not overlook crying babies in barns in my search for regal kings on thrones, so Thank You for that.

Monday, December 7, 2015

You Walk Funny

     I have started this post so many times, edited and deleted so many paragraphs. I've thought about just saving it, never showing it to anyone and writing about something else. But I know that, somehow, I'll probably feel better after I address the elephant in the room, so here we go.
     I was in 11th grade the first time I talked about having a disability in writing. It was an essay for English, and I think I got an A. I don't like to write about it much, or even talk about it, because I don't want it to be the first thing people think of when I come to mind. I've worked very hard to be known as something other than "the girl who walks funny", and I'll keep doing that forever. But, even after twenty years of being me, I still go through phases where I just get tired of it and don't want to deal with it. There are so many bigger problems in the world that are much more important, but even so,it is hard to have a disability, because it's not something you get to choose.It's just always there, and no amount of hard work will make it go away.
     I was thinking today, if I could have somehow chosen to not have Spina Bifida (that's the name of my disability if you want to Google it, but I promise it's very boring), would I have chosen that route? In many ways, my life might be easier. I could wear cute shoes and dresses without having to consider what they look like with braces and long socks, which are never cute no matter how hard I try. Maybe if I didn't walk funny, a few boys might take some interest in me. I know that's trivial, but when you're a young woman who's almost twenty one, it feels like a legitimate concern. I would get to know what it's like to go to shopping without getting stared out or invited to some well meaning person's church to be "healed". I wouldn't have to wonder if it was a factor every time I get hired or fired.
     There would be many advantages to getting rid of this trial, but without it in my life, I would have missed out on some really great things. For example, If I had not been emotionally worn out one fateful Thursday by peers at school who excluded me and "accidentally" bumped into me multiple times in the hallway, I might not have come to youth group looking for guidance the night of the fateful suggestion "You should come to Honduras with us!", which turned into me seriously considering going, then actually going, and having my perspective on my faith completely turned around.
     If I didn't have a physical problem that makes it impossible to hide that I'm different, I'm not sure I would have the compassion I do for children that feel different or left out, and I wouldn't be able to connect with them as well because I wouldn't be able to say "I know how you feel."
I haven't quite gotten to the point where I can consider my trails pure joy, but I can see that they have been the source of some amazing things, and maybe that's a step in the right direction. Now, that's enough of that subject, we can now return to your regularly scheduled program.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Best Friends For...?

     I don't know if this is still the case, but when I was in middle school and early high school, there was a big market for "BFF" products. Necklaces, key-chains, basically any practical object that preteen girls could imagine to let the world know that someone was claimed as their best friend, forever. But when you're that young, you don't really understand how long forever is, and the people you once honored with those sacred tokens eventually grow up and travel different paths. Sadly, the person or people you were closest too at one point can turn into distant acquaintances you rarely even talk to. At this point in my life, I'm not sure I believe that one person can be your best friend forever, because everybody changes as they grow, and no two people can grow in exactly the same direction at exactly the same pace. Even so, it's hard not to hope that maybe they can.
     For the first time since my early childhood, there is no person that I truly consider my best friend. It's very difficult for me to give voice to that statement, because it makes me feel like I'm giving up on someone. But I'm trying to learn the difference between giving up and letting go, and to remember that no friendship is going to be healthy and productive if one person is putting in the majority of the effort all the time. I used to think that I was really good at being a friend, but now I'm starting to think I'm just good at listening to people's problems while hiding my own, and especially good at giving people another chance when they repeatedly let me down. Now that I stop and think about it, that sounds more like a good pushover than a good friend. Loneliness is something I have struggled with on and off for a long time, and I will hold on to mediocre friendships for far too long because I'm afraid of having no friends at all. Right now, I'm at the place in my life where I feel like I'm ready to put the drama and uncertainty behind me and develop grown up friendships, and I'm trying to learn exactly what that means.
     I know I want to be friends with people who are just as invested in me as I am in them, people who don't make me feel like I have to jump through hoops to earn their friendship. As an introvert, I would rather have a few friends that I can have deep, honest connections with, than have a bunch of friends just to occasionally socialize and make small talk with. I know that these people exist, because as I write out these words, people who I already have in my life are already coming to mind.
    This is a subject that I've just started to think about, so it's hard to come up with a concrete conclusion. So, since this isn't graded and no one can punish me for breaking the rules, I'll end with a question. Think of a person or a few people who you consider your closest friends. What is your favorite thing about them, the reason they have been given the privilege of being your friend?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Now?

     Most of the time, each thing I write is an independent beast, my posts can be read individually without the reader missing anything. I don't usually have a reason to talk about my previous posts, but my last post felt a little different than what I usually write, and I don't want to move on without acknowledging that. People thanked me for writing it, which is excessively kind, and extremely undeserved. I wish I did not know how it feels like to lose a friend, but I do, and so I tried to use that knowledge in a helpful way. Since I wrote about such a serious subject that so many people seemed to relate to, it's intimidating to continue writing, knowing that not everything I write is going to impact as many people as that post. But I'm going to keep going, and ironically, talk about how to keep going.
     I noticed something Sunday in the choir room at church, a note about how they should sing a song "softly, and a little slow". Those words struck me as not only a way to sing a song, but a way to conduct life after a loss. I remember the days after Scott's funeral, when the official mourning was over but my personal mourning had just begun. I wondered how I would continue going to youth group and English class knowing that he would never be there again. I honestly don't know how I did, other than just getting up every morning and getting through the day, until eventually my grief became an intermittent sting instead of a constant ache. I learned to be soft with myself and others (which I am still working on), and to be patient with myself when I feel like I am moving through the various struggles of life too slowly.
     As our community continues with life after loss, many of us trying to understand why we outlived such a young person whose life was just getting started, I hope we remember to be soft always, not just in the few short days immediately following a tragedy. May we heal, but not forget the lessons we learned in our pain. In a few days, many of us will spend time with our families and focus on being thankful for all that we have. May we remember to pray for those who are missing someone in this season that is all about being with the ones we love, and always be thankful for the people in our lives, never forgetting that our days our numbered and there's no time to be unkind.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On Losing a Friend: What I Wish I Had Known

     When I was seventeen, I lost a dear friend that went to Sunday school and youth group with me, and who I sat by in English class. He was one of the kindest people I've ever met, and one of the most genuine friends I've ever had, even though our friendship was short. On a normal Wednesday, he said "See you later" after class and went to gym as I went to French. That was the last time I ever saw him.
   When my friend died, I wanted an adult to explain it to me. I wanted my pastor or my parents or teachers to give me a reason why my friend had died, I wanted an answer. The thing about loss is, no one has an answer. Even though I can't give you an answer, I can tell you what I learned through losing my friend. If nothing else, I want you to know that you're not alone.
     A few months after Scott died, someone asked me when I was going to "get over it". That question made me feel awful. I felt like I was being over dramatic and annoying, when what I was really doing was grieving. I have since learned that the death of a friend is not something you get over. You learn how to live with it, but it is always there. Sometimes in the middle of youth group, usually right after I laugh about something, I suddenly feel devastated that he is not there laughing with me, even though he has been gone for three years and probably would not still be going to youth group if he were still alive. Youth group is something that I always associated with him, and I have learned to allow myself to sometimes still feel sad that he isn't there. Don't ever criticize yourself for missing your friend, because missing them means you loved them.
One day, maybe months from now, maybe sooner, you will catch yourself laughing at something, and you shouldn't feel guilty about that. A moment of happiness does not mean that you have forgotten about your friend, or that you have stopped grieving. I have learned that grief is a process that can coexist with happiness. I no longer actively feel sad about my friend's death throughout my daily life, but sometimes when I drive by the football field on Friday night, or something funny or exciting happens that I wish I could tell him about, I feel just as sad as I did the day he died.
     I have learned that you can never love your friends too much. When I was in the early stages of being a teenager, I thought that it was weird to tell my friends, especially girls, that I loved them. A few weeks ago, I automatically told my friend I loved her before I hung up the phone, and I realized how much I have changed, mostly due to losing a close friend. You never know how much time you or anyone else has left, so it's important to love everyone as much as you can right now, and there's nothing weird about making sure they know you do. Life is shorter than you think, so take time to have fun. Laugh a lot, hug people, and stop worrying so much about things you can't change. Try not to hold grudges or have petty arguments.
     The greatest way to love someone is to make sure they know Jesus. When you're young, it's easy to think that death is something that only affects the elderly. My friend was young and strong, very athletic, and always smiled. I guess I thought he was invincible, but no human is. Because I know what he believed, and what I believe, I know that I will get to see him one day. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose someone if you aren't sure about that.
     I'm sorry you have to go through this, losing a friend is one of the worst feelings in the world, no matter how old you are. Let yourself feel sadness, allow people you trust to be your support system. You will get through this, and you will smile again. You are loved.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Greatest Is Love

     As I begin to write this, it is Sunday night, and I have just come home from being out of town all weekend. It was a refreshing time, a nice change of pace. But even on vacation, the real world was not completely shut out. During my group's breakfast at the hotel, even though we were in good spirits, we were not unaware of the T.V.s that were tuned to news channels that spoke of violence, or the Charlotte skyline that was lit up in specific colors in support of victims of that violence as we drove by at night. As a blogger, it would probably be a smart "business" move to take a political stand on a world event that has gained attention in the media because it shows violence happening where we don't want it to happen. I could write an edgy piece about how it seems that France is for our fancy vacation photos, and we as a society are particularly shocked by this tragedy because we associate acts of terror with far off, third world countries, not glamorous travel destinations. We forget that acts of evil do not conform to our social ideas, evil is everywhere and will be until the world ends. Yes, I could jump on the bandwagon and continue this rant, it would be a good flashback to my high school journalism days. This is what I would be tempted to do, had I not discovered a new role model this weekend, who taught me the importance of a more quiet response to the world and it's trouble.
  To my own surprise, visiting the Billy Graham Library was one of my favorite parts of the trip I was on. I became fascinated with his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, when I picked up one of her books in the bookstore and felt like I was meeting a kindred spirit. She wrote in such a conversational way, as I aspire to do, that as I read her words, I almost feel like I am sitting down with her and having a discussion over lunch.  She often wrote about staying home while her husband was away preaching all over the world, and how she felt it was her job to support him by keeping things running smoothly at home. She revealed that "Divine service will be conducted here three times daily" is a quote that hung above her kitchen sink. At first, I was disgruntled over the fact that this poor woman had to stay home and wash dishes while her husband traveled the world. She wrote that she had always dreamed of being a missionary, and my first reaction was to be sad that she never got to answer that call because she was making it possible for her husband to answer his. But as I read about her, and read some of the things she had written, I realized that she was a missionary all along. She wrote about her faith with a deep wisdom that inspires me and many other people. She never got to share her faith verbally in foreign lands, but her voice has traveled the world through her writing. Her husband spoke in a loud voice in packed arenas, as some are called to do. He stood toe to toe with doubters, with a response always ready. She stayed home, raised children, wrote poetry, and washed the dishes. It would seem at first glance that she got the short end of the stick in her marriage, and in her life.
     But as I return from my weekend adventure, and come in from the cold and often cruel world that we are inhabiting, and I see my mother standing at the kitchen sink, I feel at peace because I have discovered a new truth. The world has always been a turbulent place, and always will be. But in this damaged world, there are people who quietly carry out their divine service, not by standing in a pulpit shouting King James Version scriptures, or using political platforms to cast blame on someone else, but by steadfastly continuing those mundane acts of love, no matter what. They wash their dishes as they watch the evening news, on the victorious days and the tragic ones. From their example, I have learned that it is not our job as Christians to explain away every evil thing that happens using complicated theology. We do not have to have all the answers, there is not going to be a final exam we have to pass. It is simply our job to love everyone, period, end of sentence.
     God never told us to help him fix the world, but he did tell us to love everyone, even our enemies. This blog post will probably not become a viral piece of current events commentary that everyone shares all over the internet, and maybe that is a missed opportunity on my part. Maybe I am naive to provide such a simple response to the many violent things that happen in our world, but right now, I don't feel called to debate. I feel called to love.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Heavy Package, Lift With Care

"One of the main themes of To Kill a Mockingbird is Scout's loss of innocence when she becomes aware of prejudice." This is the answer I gave to a question in eleventh grade English, which caused the girl next to me to turn to me and say "Why do you have to be so arrogant about everything? You think you're so much smarter than everyone else, and you're not." Those were her exact words, I remember them vividly because they were the beginning of a turning point in my life, a turn that led me down a lonely road that it took me years to reach the end of. This was the moment when I perfected a defense mechanism that I had already been practicing since the beginning of the bumpy road that was my high school experience. I stopped talking in that class, and many others, because I figured out that people can't make fun of what I say if I don't say anything. This strategy served it's purpose, and I didn't get made fun of in English class anymore. I also kept a lot of good answers inside my head, and didn't learn how to stand up for myself.
     But that was four years ago, and I've changed a lot since then. I've learned that it is not arrogant to be intelligent, and that it's actually not the end of the world if some people don't like me. I'm still working on accepting that, but I really do believe it. Now that I'm a little more confident than I used to be, and I'm finding that there are people who genuinely want to hear what I have to say and don't think I'm arrogant, I've realized that things I don't need anymore are still taking up space in my mind. I am still carrying around a defense mechanism I no longer need, and a lot of other bad memories that don't serve a purpose to me anymore. That mean comment from a math teacher in middle school? That's not getting me anywhere as I try to pass the necessary math classes to get the degree I want. And remembering that comment from someone who said I just wasn't applying myself when I tried to ask for help isn't doing me any good when I know I am applying myself in my classes now. Remembering rumors about myself from years ago is silly when there was never any truth to them in the first place, and the people who started them probably forgot about them a long time ago. There are things I've been carrying around for far too long that I'm finally ready to let go of, and I'm so glad I don't have to lift them anymore, because that was making me tired. What heavy things have you been carrying around with you that are only slowing your journey down?

     To high school junior me, you were right about the theme of that book. That book has a lot of themes, as you already know, and you will have a great time talking about them with your English professor your first semester of college. She doesn't think you're arrogant, she thinks you're bright. You won't want to stay quiet forever, because there will be people who will actually want to hear what you have to say. They'll care about what's important to you, and you'll do the same for them, because you're not arrogant and you know how to be a good friend. They will remember days that are important to you and ask you how those days went. They will want to spend time with you, and you won't have to remind them of the plans you've made, because they'll value you enough to remember them. They're called friends, and you will have them. As for everyone else, don't waste your time lowering your own standards to meet theirs. You need to love everyone, but you do not need to convince everyone to love you back. You're going to be just fine, I know because I'm you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

You're Not Alone

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
     Recently I've been working on writing something, not for this blog (although maybe I'll post it here after it's done), that involves talking about my experiences as a patient at CHKD. I'm excited to be doing it, but it is at times difficult to relive memories that I've intentionally showed to the back of my mind because they are so painful to remember. The hard part about those times in my life, and the process of reliving some of them as I write about them, is that there's no one I know who has had those exact experiences. Even if I felt like I had a best friend to talk about it with, they wouldn't be able to relate directly to my situation. But even as I type those words, I remember the many people who were there for me during those times, and who gave me so much encouragement even though they had never been through what I was going through. They helped me know that I wasn't alone.
    Sometimes, when people tell me that I need to use my experiences to help others, I brush it off because I'd rather forget about the past, and I don't always see how hearing about my bad moments could help anyone who's not living through those exact moments. But today, I realized that you don't need to have the same experience as someone else to recognize their pain. We've all had seasons of deep fear, loneliness, and loss. Those are universal feelings that we all have experienced at some point in our lives, even if it's for different reasons. Maybe, like I once did, people just need to hear that they're not alone, and that someone else has felt the way they feel. So, instead of worrying that I will seem like I don't know what I'm talking about because I haven't lived through the same things as everyone else, I can identify with those who are going through painful times of their own, simply because I know what pain feels like. I have felt pain, and survived it, and I remember it. I am qualified to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, because I have learned how from others who have been those things for me. I can't yet confidently say that I am thankful for all of the bad times I have been through, but I am thankful that they have taught me compassion for others, and that because of them, I can understand the struggles of other people.
Friends, you're not alone. I have felt pain too.

The picture on the left was taken after I had an allergic reaction during a surgery I had several years ago. I asked my parents to take pictures of the whole experience, not knowing that I would have such a traumatic reaction, so that's why this picture was taken. The second picture was taken a few weeks ago, on a random Sunday when everything was fine and I was happy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lessons From a Sunday Drive

     The beauty of being a writer is that it provides a sense of control. I can choose what you want to say, and how I want to say it, and in most cases take my time making sure I say it the right way. In my last post, I was very honest about certain feelings I've been dealing with. The feelings I talked about haven't gone away, and my first instinct is to just choose another subject to talk about, and let the admission of those feelings be a single incident that is soon forgotten. But lately I've been hearing a lot about the value of being vulnerable, and I've decided to choose to do that instead of repressing my feelings and hoping they fix themselves.
     Yes, many aspects of my life aren't turning out how I wish they would right now. Yes, it's hard to be a slow learner and feel like I'll be in college for the rest of my life. It's even harder to be living in a place where people still remember who I was in high school, or even earlier, and assume that's still who I am now.
But even in a time where I will admit to being unsure of my purpose, and when I have to try very hard not to be permanently melancholy, I am still able to recognize many moments of happiness. My problem is that I don't know how to turn those moments into a constant attitude, and I'm trying to work on that. But yesterday, I got to spend the afternoon with someone who can always make me laugh just as easily as he can get on my nerves, and there was a moment where I became aware of my own pure joy, as I was laughing at his unconventional "dancing while driving" moves, and I was able truly believe in that moment that everything will be okay.
    I have lived for almost twenty one years, some happy and some sad, and even though I haven't always believed this would be true, the sad times have never been permanent. Knowing this, I have to choose to believe that my present circumstances are only temporary, and they will eventually lead me to times when it does not require so much effort to be happy.  Maybe, in a simplified way, that's what faith really is. It's believing that even though everything seems to be going wrong right now, everything on earth is temporary, including seasons of sadness. It's being able to mentally step outside of the present moment, and realize that just as there has been laughter in the past, there will be laughter in the future, even though we don't know when exactly we will discover it again. And even a person who has lost two jobs before the age of twenty one and who has barely managed to match the mathematical skills of the average third grader, yes even this immeasurably flawed individual, is able to laugh about something silly, driving at sunset on a Sunday afternoon.


Monday, October 19, 2015

A Different Kind Of Important.

A few months ago, I made a post called "This is Important", about how I felt a sense of purpose working as a camp counselor. I don't have that job anymore, and when it was over, a big chunk of my sense of purpose went with it. Really, I tried to find purpose in many things before that job even started, it just happened to be one of my more successful attempts because I was actually doing something that had true value. I know that my ultimate purpose should be found in serving God, and I'm working on that. But working with children made me feel needed, like I was essential to something bigger than myself. In a way, I think it was my method of serving God, and I miss it very much.
     Right now, there are no children for me to help with homework every afternoon, no orphans I'm called to travel hundreds of miles to hug. Friends I assumed I would be close to forever moved away and lost touch, or stopped needing my listening ear when their own circumstances improved. I had to learn the hard way that sometimes when people don't need you anymore, they overlook the fact that you might need them.
     I am not essential to anything that is happening around me. Being around children so much, I got used to being needed. As exhausting as it was, I didn't realize how much satisfaction I got from that experience until it was over. I knew that a summer job was not going to lead to a permanent sense of purpose in my life, and I have to accept that my time at that job was just a season that has passed. Another season has begun, and I'm not sure yet exactly what kind of weather this season will bring.
     I can only guess that maybe this season of my life is not about being needed, but about admitting my own needs. Maybe while I'm trying to figure out my place in the world, I'm being given a chance to lean on the wisdom and friendship of others and learn how to be the one who needs, instead of the one who is needed. It's impossible to know when this season will end, or in what way. However lengthy or brief it turns out to be, I hope I can learn to appreciate every season of life, because like the seasons of the year, each one is beautiful in it's own way.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Flimsy First Impressions

     When I was living away from home, I made a friend who was blind, and it was one of my favorite moments ever. Becoming her friend allowed me to experience something I had always longed for, because she could not see the way I walked, and the only things she could base her opinion of me on were the things I said during our conversation.
     I thought of her this week when I was reminded by an awkward experience that meeting new people is something I'm not good at. I never seem to know the right thing to say, and I either ramble out of nervousness or just don't say much at all. Maybe this innate sense of awkwardness is a result of being so introverted, but it would be naive to not acknowledge that there is a noticeable difference between me and most of the world, and people will naturally include that difference in their first impression of me. If I happen to be sitting down when I'm introduced to someone, I always think about how I have a limited amount of time to show them my personality before they see me walking and wonder what exactly it is that makes me different. It's always been frustrating to me that something I have no control over is such a big part of how people perceive me, but it does cause me to think about the way I perceive others
     It's frustrating to me that in most cases, we choose to define each other by our differences instead of our similarities. I know from working with children that we don't start out that way, because I know that although children do ask questions about my differences, as soon as they hear the answer they move on to the next thing, which is often trying to discover things we have in common. It is usually adults who pick apart and debate differences like disabilities, race, and who's great grandfather did what, and I've never seen anything positive come out of this nitpicking.
     Since I don't like to be judged for things I can't control, I need to intentionally notice how I am judging others. I probably have a lot in common with people I have overlooked for petty reasons, and I need to remember that first impressions don't have to be permanent. It's never too late to change your mind, and you might find that you can make all kinds of new friends, if you look for the quality that can be found in all sorts of people, a good heart.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Does This Count as Annoying?

     As a young Christian living in America during the 21st century, I have a shameful confession. I think K-Love pledge drives are annoying. Now that I've gotten your attention with that rude admission, let me defend myself. I understand that they are a non-profit radio station and they get lots of their funding through donations, and I'm fine with that. The truth is, I'm spoiled and I just want to hear music instead of someone giving the same speech over and over again every three minutes. But as much as I get annoyed by them, I know they must be working, because the radio station is still running and they keep having them. They have to self-promote in order to exist, and I think there's a lesson I can learn from that.
     I really enjoy writing, and I truthfully think I know how to do it well.. If I didn't, I don't think I would put it on the internet for anyone to read. There are many areas of my life that I'm not confident in, but my writing has never been one of them. Among so many other things that I have to work really hard at, writing has consistently been something that comes naturally to me. My problem is, I have a hard time expressing that I
would like for my writing to be read, maybe on a larger scale than it currently is. I don't want to be annoying, but as I've learned from those pledge drives, and from growing up with a big brother who used to shoot me with his Nerf guns and who once put a snowball down the back of my neck, (and who I love very much), is that being annoying gets people's attention.
     I do want you to read my blog. You, your co-workers, your out of town cousins, your dog, the Pope...

I think writing is the talent God has given me, and after months of people telling me so, I think it's time for me to be more intentional and assertive about using it. So, in an effort to act on that, I'm going to try to start promoting a little bit more so that more people can at least know that this blog exists. The first thing I'm going to do is make a separate Facebook page for the blog. I'm still going to put the links on my profile, but this should give people who aren't my Facebook friends a better chance of seeing the blog. The thing is, this only works if those of you who already know about it share it with your other friends. So, I'm fighting against my own shyness and fear of being annoying to ask you to please do that. Thank you for allowing me to feel comfortable enough to be a little louder about what I'm good at, and I hope you'll be the first to let me know if I ever forget to stay humble.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who are You Trying to Impress?

     When I was in school, I figured out pretty early that the area I could excel in was being the “good one”. I might not have been the smartest one in the class,or the most popular, but I could impress teachers by always doing what they asked and never causing problems. I never had one teacher call me disrespectful until I was a senior in high school, and it bothered me for months. I guess it’s just in my nature to be a people pleaser, because I've carried those habits with me into adulthood.
Last week, I had a painful experience that hurt my feelings in a lot of ways, and also really hurt my "good kid" pride. To put it concisely, I was told that mostly because of one person’s negative perception of me, I would no longer get to do something I really enjoyed, and connections I spent almost four months making would be taken away from me. This news took came as a complete surprise to me, and hasn't been easy for me to process. It would be easy and temporarily satisfying to reveal all of the details and call people out, but I know that would be wrong of me and definitely backfire at some point, and I'm trying very hard not to become bitter, so I won't do that.
Even though several people that I have a lot of respect for reassured me that I had done everything I could and was not at fault in this situation, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could have done differently to make this person happy. After about a week of coming up with no answer to that question, and through a lot of agonizing and talking it over with friends, I finally came to the conclusion that making any person happy shouldn't even be my goal.
I'm starting to realize that even if I do my absolute best to get everything right, there are just some people who won't be satisfied. As frustrating as that is to me, it serves as a reminder that pleasing God needs to be my focus. Sure, I need to be respectful to people who are in positions above me and try my best to do what I'm expected too, but I shouldn't be so upset when people aren't satisfied, because at the end of the day, and at the end of my life, God is the one who has the final word, and what He thinks about me is really all that matters. I'm sure it's going to be a long process, but I'm ready to start becoming a God pleaser instead of a people pleaser.

Monday, September 21, 2015

To the Worried Mother in the Hospital Waiting Room : I'll See You on the Outside.

I noticed you sitting quietly by yourself, holding your son's hand in the corner of this noisy waiting room. I see the worry on your face, and even though we are total strangers, I feel like I can relate in some small way to what you are feeling. I was the patient, not the parent, but I am familiar with the look of pain on your face, because I have seen that look on the faces of my own parents at certain times in my past, and I wanted to let you know that you're not alone.
Right now, I am a twenty year old student, working part time at a job that challenges and fulfills me, and I am very happy. But that's not my whole story, and I want you to know how much struggling it took for me to reach this point. Words like "infectious disease" and "Anaphylactic shock", were at one time a very vivid part of my reality. I am familiar with pick-lines, home health, and medical equipment like wound- vacs and fixators that seem like they belong in a low budget horror movie instead of real life.  Sometimes I'll hear a sound that resembles the beeping of an IV pump, or catch a whiff of something that "smells like a hospital", and it can throw off my whole mood for a few minutes or a week. Right now I am fortunate enough to be in a period of life where hospital visits are only for occasional checkups, but I am painfully aware of the fact that this could change at a moments notice. I am twenty now, and since the 7th grade I have been trying to learn how to let myself be happy without constantly keeping that happiness in check so that it I don't have too far to fall the next time I am yanked away from the happiness of ordinary life because an x-ray or CT scan shows that something has gone wrong. I have come a long way, but I will always struggle with that. Yes, I am happy right now, but I just wanted you to know that there is a long story behind that happiness.
Right now you're sitting in a hospital waiting room holding your son's hand, and I just wanted to tell you that you're doing a good job. You might feel helpless, and devastated because your child has problems that you don't have the ability to fix, but I wanted to somehow tell you that I have been that child, and my parents have been the worried ones holding my hand, and it is exactly the right thing to do. Having a familiar hand to hold in an unfamiliar, scary hospital is essential, especially for a child. You might feel powerless, but you are a hero because you are giving that child something that no one else can, because parents have the rare ability to feel a child's pain with them and understand their needs in a way that no doctor can.
Today was my last visit with my jovial neurosurgeon, because I am at the age where I have to start transitioning out of the children's hospital, and his parting words to me were "See you on the outside." It was a funny thing for a doctor to say, but also somehow profoundly fitting, because sometimes the horrors we face within the walls of a hospital make it seem like a different world. So to you, worried mother, I just wanted to say "I'll see you on the outside." I don't necessarily know if our paths will cross again, but I do know that one day, even if it is only for a brief moment, you will catch yourself doing something shockingly ordinary with your sweet son, like shopping at the grocery store or spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at home, and it will strike you that against all odds, you have made it back to that beloved place that everyone takes for granted, ordinary life in the outside world. I don't know how long it will take, or how long you will get to stay before the cruel realities of having a sick child come knocking at your door again, but I do know that one day, no matter how impossible it seems right now, you will get there. I know because I did.
It is not often you meet a neurosurgeon with a great sense of humor who sings when you come into his office and nicknames you "boss lady" when it feels like everything is out of your control. See you on the outside, Dr. B.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sunset Photography and Acceptance: Part 1

When I was much younger and my family was attending a different church, I remember one summer at Bible school when there was a discussion about baptism that eventually resulted in several of my friends getting baptized, and at first I thought maybe I would be too.  I even went so far as to have the pastor come to my house and talk to me about it, but I never followed through with it. I don't regret that, because I know that it wasn't the right time for me to make that decision.
For a long time, I had a hard time understanding why getting dunked under water, or getting water sprinkled on your head (if you're a Methodist and get to do it the easy way!), was so important. It seemed more symbolic than anything, and I didn't understand what it really accomplished. But as I grew older and Salem started to really feel like "my church", my perspective on the subject began to change. My faith has grown and changed so much through what I've learned and how I've been welcomed there, and I began to consider the thought of baptism in a new light, because I liked the thought of being an official member of this church that embraced me so readily, and I've started to understand the importance of publicly demonstrating my faith even though I'm not always a fan of being the center of attention. Around the time that I began having these thoughts, an adult confirmation class was beginning, and I started attending with a vague thought of possibly getting baptized sometime soon.
One Tuesday evening, a pretty bad storm started just before I was about to leave for class. So bad, in fact, that I was wondering if anyone would even show up that night because of the crazy downpour and lightning that made driving conditions less than ideal. But people did show up, and we had class as usual, with occasional thunder as our background music. As class was ending, our pastor, who was teaching the class, went to look out the door and see if the rain had calmed down any. A few seconds passed, and suddenly he was calling us all to "Come look at this!", his trademark enthusiasm at full force. We did come look, and what we saw was a vivid sunset peeking out from behind the storm clouds, and being illuminated every few seconds by lightning that still remained even though the rain had stopped. I had never seen sunshine and lightning coexist like that before, it seemed to me to be a weather occurrence worthy of National Geographic. Pastor Brian's enthusiasm was contagious, not to mention the fact that I already have a habit of taking too many sunset pictures, and pretty soon our whole class was standing on the doorstep, phones pointed towards the sky. The unplanned excitement of that moment, and the natural sense of happiness it brought to me, make it one that I will remember for a very long time.
In that moment and the ones that followed, I never thought about how ridiculous I probably looked walking through wet grass to get closer and have a chance at a clearer picture, setting my Bible and papers down, and conducting an overzealous sunset photography shoot right there in the church parking lot. It doesn't sound like a big deal to say it, but I know myself, and I know that it took a lot of time and personal growth for me to have that genuine moment of giving in to my own enthusiasm without worrying about how I looked to other people. It was in that moment that I got what I wished for when I was younger and passed up a chance to get baptized. I felt God telling me that I was in the right place,a place where I found the acceptance and security that I had been craving for most of my life, and it was finally the right time for me to make that decision and take the step of publicly acknowledging my faith.
When my family first started coming to Salem, I was a very insecure teenager, and the social pressure of high school affected me even more than I probably realized at the time. Youth group became a comfort zone, and on days when I was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch alone (that did happen a few days a week, I'm not trying to be dramatic), or sitting in class trying to ignore rude comments when I happened to know the right answer more than once in the same day, making me a "snob" or "nerd", the thought of Thursday's kitchen and the acceptance of my youth group that I knew came with it, became a sort of survival tactic. If I could just get through the week at school, I could go to church and know that I could let my guard down and be accepted and treated kindly without having to censor what I said or how I acted. And When I went off to college, cards from my youth group and church family and many long phone calls with my youth leader, who is now a close friend, helped me hold on to my faith during a time when it would have been easy to get caught up in so many other things.
For a long time, I have had the feeling that I probably should get baptized, but it was not until that moment when I was twenty years old and looking up at the sky with my pastor and some of my church family, that I finally had an encounter with God that made me experience a genuine desire to get baptized. I go to a church that truly feels like my church. It's members feel like family, and inside it's walls I feel at home. I will be baptized this Sunday, September 6, which is also sadly our pastor's last day, but I'm glad this is going to happen before he goes. Baptism, confirmation, and church membership are all complex subjects with too many variables to cover in a single blog post, (which is one reason why there will be a Part 2!), but I believe that the feeling of acceptance is a good starting point for me.

Monday, August 3, 2015

This is Important

People sometimes tell me that I'm wise, which is a compliment that makes me feel very good , but sometimes I have a hard time believing it. Sometimes I spend too much mental energy comparing myself to other people, and sometimes I have negative emotions I can find no solid explanation for. During those times, I do not feel wise at all. I think everyone feels this way sometimes, it just might be harder for people like me to get over. I have learned that even in these times, if I can find something that gives me a feeling a purpose, then I can find my happiness. Right now, I have a very strong sense of purpose thanks to my job.
The thing about working with children, I've learned, is that although they can be extremely stubborn, they are also extremely resilient. Just when I'm ready to lose my temper and start complaining, something always happens that pulls me right back in. A few weeks ago, it was an unexpected question from a camper who wasn't having the best day.
"Jennie, am I a good person or a bad person?" Where did that come from, I thought to myself, you were just playing baseball with your friends, and now you're suddenly pondering moral philosophy? Whatever the source of this question may have been, I was able to answer it and then talk to this camper for a few minutes, and by the time he high fived me and went back to his game, I think we were both in a better mood.
This low paying, temporary job is important. Because children, frustrating as they can be at times, are very valuable people who happen to be extremely impressionable. And three days a week, a group of children whose backgrounds I don't always know, are watching me. They are watching the way I carry myself, and the way I treat them, and that, in some small way, is impacting  how they think about themselves and their place in the world.
Sometimes I don't feel great about myself, but then again, sometimes I do. Because I am doing something that matters, something that I really enjoy getting up in the morning to go do. It helps make me feel like I have a purpose, and that is important.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Young Adults Aren't Ruining Your Church

     I recently had a birthday, and now I'm officially no longer a teenager, which is something I'm pretty happy about, because I was really starting to outgrow that phase of life. Now, I guess I am what society calls a "young adult", a label that often comes with negative connotation when spoken by "older adults", and unfortunately, sometimes within the church. 
     For example, I googled the phrase "young adults in church", and the results I got were even more harsh than I expected. Of the top 6 results, 4 were about young adults leaving the church, one was about how to increase young adult participation, and the sixth was a particularly spiteful piece entitled "Reaching out to young adults will screw up your church" (The author didn't capitalize the whole title so I left it that way). I skimmed this article to get an idea of what this author was talking about, and although I think they were just attempting to ruffle some feathers and start a conversation, I was not impressed. The following is my response to all of these negative words about a group that I consider myself part of.
     I consider myself a young adult, and I don't believe I am ruining, or even hurting, my church. I am in an awkward phase of being to old for youth group but still trying to be a role model and being present when I think it will be helpful, and also being the youngest person present when I participate in non youth group activities. There isn't really anyone my age who actively attends my church, but I still feel very comfortable there because I've learned how to interact with people who are both younger and older than me. I have been taught to respect my elders, and I enjoy learning from people who have more experience and wisdom than I do. I also am particularly proud of our youth, and even though they are younger than me, I learn so much from them and I'm so proud of the way they share their faith at an age when it is extremely difficult and scary to do so.
It is easy to get caught up in the trend our society has created and say the phrase "young adult", with contempt, shaking your head and picturing all of the chaos we might create, but I urge you to consider a different perspective. Now, I try not to be to obvious talking about specific people on my blog, but I think in this case it would be helpful to have real examples of young adults in the church who have made a positive impact on my life. I know many of you who read this will know exactly who I'm talking about even though I tried my best to be vague, and I considered leaving this part out for that very reason, but I decided it was important, so I hope you will not lose sight of the point of this whole article because it contains some obvious specific references to real people who you may know.
When I was still an awkward high school student, someone who would fit the young adult description became one of my youth leaders, and it was one of the best things that happened for me and my personal faith during that phase of my life. At that age, it was so inspiring to see someone not too much older than me make an intentional effort to be an active part of our church. It taught me that my twenties don't have to be a time where I go wild and depart from the church, creating memories that I will discuss as examples of what not to do when I'm ready to leave those wild times behind and rejoin the congregation. I can think of several other people in our congregation who have disproved society's harsh theory, and shown me that outgrowing youth group does not have to result in a temporary end to my participation in our church family. 
Young adults aren't ruining your church. If your church is like mine, they aren't your biggest demographic, but they are powerful. They are an inspiration to youth, who otherwise might think that young adulthood and church are not compatible. When I was an impressionable youth, I had young adults in my church to look up to, and now that I myself have entered this new phase of life, I will try my best to follow the strong example of leadership and participation in the church that they set for me. I am a young adult, and I will not ruin the church. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Good Day

Today, I stood in front of about 40 children and talked to them about something I've spent my life trying to avoid talking about. I did it because my boss wanted me to, and you don't say no to your boss four days into a job. But I also did it for myself. There aren't many times in life where I get to explain my disability from my own perspective without being interrupted, and if I can explain it to children while they're young so they don't become the adults who gawk at me in Wal-mart, I'm all for that.
    Even though I could see the advantages of talking about this subject when I was asked to do it, I was very nervous about going against my natural instinct of shifting the focus away from my differences. I've gotten pretty good at staying within my comfort zones and deflecting away from what I don't want to acknowledge, but that was not the plan for today
The thing that was most meaningful to me about the whole experience was that they genuinely listened. All of them listened, for the whole time. Anyone who has any experience working with children would probably agree that was nothing short of miraculous. And when I gave them a chance to ask questions, they did, and I answered them.
A whole group of children listened to me and respected me, and for the first time in a while I made an effort to respect myself. I stopped telling myself that people who drop out of mission trips for reasons they can't even fully explain have no business blogging about their faith. I had something to write, and so I wrote it, because that is what I would encourage a child to do. I began to try to treat myself how I try to treat children, being patient and forgiving.
I've come to believe that working with children is 90 percent feeling like they're not listening to you and you're getting nowhere, and 10 percent touching, Hallmark movie style breakthrough moments that suck you right back in and make you think that working with children is the greatest job in the world. Today, I got every bit of that 10 percent.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Right Thing.

     There are some things that are difficult to write about, even for someone like me who likes writing and maybe could be considered good at it. Things like disappointment, confusion, and failure. I have been learning recently that sometimes the right thing and the easy thing aren't the same thing, and it's a hard lesson. Unless you're in elementary school or living an outlandishly spoiled lifestyle somehow, you're not always going to get rewarded for doing the right thing, and you may even feel hurt and sad. You may lose opportunities that look good on the surface, and friendships that are comfortable even if they are not entirely functional. So what's the point? Why keep doing what you know is right if it's making you unhappy, and why say no to things that aren't right for you if you could probably get by doing them and be just fine, and maybe even happier? I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and this verse came to my mind. 
If I just do what will make me happy now, even if I feel that it's not what God is calling me to do, I ignore His plan and probably miss out on something better He has planned for the future. But if I endure this sadness now, there could be greater things in the future that I don't know about yet. I know that I will sometimes fail at this because I am young, human and flawed. I know that I still feel sad sometimes even though I am doing the right thing. But in the end, when God's plan is finally revealed more fully and I can look back on this time with a different perspective, maybe then, in the end, the right thing will be the easy thing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It Was Good

     Sometimes life doesn't happen the way you plan for it to. Sometimes, despite what you're told when you're little, you try your best and it still isn't enough. And sometimes, when you're trying to write a blog post whining about how hard life is, your WiFi stops working.
     So let's regroup. College is hard. Mission trips, and lots of other things, are expensive. People change and so do friendships. Doing what you know is right doesn't always feel rewarding immediately, maybe never. Life is just tough sometimes, and I've really been feeling that lately. But there are so many good things happening at the same time, and in the 30 seconds the WiFi stopped working, I thought about them.
     I have lots of good friends, some exciting plans for the summer, and confidence that most of the decisions I have made for myself are steering me in the right direction, even if I am travelling at a painfully slow pace. Everything is okay, and I think sometimes we just need to pause and remember that. Lately whenever I feel really stressed, a Bible verse has been coming to my mind that reminds me that everything will be just fine. When God created the world, he saw that it was good. He knew what he was doing, and he still does. We can only see our lives from the place where we are at the moment, but God can see what's ahead of us, because it's what he created for us. And he saw that it was good.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Big Things

     Last weekend, I came home and brought my roommate from school with me, and her head must have been spinning trying to keep track of all of the family and friends I introduced her too. We eventually ended up at my Grandma's house, where we began looking at photo albums. It seemed like nothing out of the ordinary at first, but it soon became one of those moments where suddenly, in the middle of an ordinary day, you have a realization about life that just leaves you speechless for a little while
     For just a few minutes, sitting beside Grandma and laughing about pictures from the past, I forgot about all of the little things that were worrying me, and just felt genuinely happy. I know this sounds cheesy, but I thought about all that Grandma has been through in more than eighty years of living to reach that one happy moment sitting there looking at pictures. I realized that when I worry about things on a day to day basis, they seem like a big deal, but when I look back on things that worried me in the past, I can hardly remember all of the details that once seemed so big and important.
      Looking back on years of memories captured in photograph form, many before I was even born, I gained a new perspective. Right now, there are many things that worry me, and problems that I just can't see a solution to, but they are all temporary. One day, many years from now, I hope I will be the one reminiscing with my grandchildren, and in that moment, summer jobs and math classes will be the furthest thing from my mind. I will be looking back on all of the good things that happened in the midst of all the worrying I do, and I will be truly happy.
Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Rarity of Rainbows

       The story of Noah's Ark was always one of my favorite Bible stories as a child, and I guess it honestly still is. I love that it features so many animals, and I love that they all had to get on a boat. Can you imagine trying to get an elephant or a lion on a boat? But despite my fascination with the animals, I shouldn't forget what else was going on, and the enormous stress Noah was under as the whole world around him was washed away. When it was all over, God sent a rainbow as a reminder that this would never happen again.
Just as I love this story, I love when rainbows show up, as I think many people do.
     Friday, I decided to drive to the store when I noticed that it looked like a storm was on the way, in an attempt to beat the storm and get back soon enough to not get rained on. Smart, right? My timing was not successful, and a complete downpour began just as I arrived at the store. I waited for it to calm down a little before going in, and by the time I came back out it, the rain had stopped completely. The sky that had been absolutely pouring down rain just a few minutes ago was now decorated with the biggest, brightest rainbow I have ever seen.  By the time I took a picture of the rainbow and sent it off into the world of social media, it was already beginning to fade, and within a few minutes it was completely gone. This made me wonder why God didn't decide to make this symbol of his promise a permanent feature in the sky, instead of a rare and quick thing. Maybe there's a theologically correct reason for this that has already been explained, but i don't know about it, so I'll just share my thoughts.
     Maybe God knows that people like me sometimes need a little encouragement to renew our faith when we start to worry about things. So sometimes, he'll let us have a phone call from a friend at just the right time, an unexpected kind word from a stranger, and every once in a while, he'll time a rainstorm right in the middle of a sunny day, and afterwords put a huge rainbow in the sky for us to see as if to say, "What are you worrying for? I'm right here!" If there was constantly a rainbow in the sky, we would probably forget it's significance and barely notice it. Instead of a rare reminder, it would just be another everyday thing taken for granted
Noah kept his faith when the whole world around him was being destroyed, and I need to learn a lesson from him. Instead of panicking and expecting the worst when things don't immediately happen the way they want to, I need to rely on my faith and trust that the storms of my life will end with a rainbow. I'm working on having a faith strong enough to stand without needing reminders, but until I accomplish that, I'm glad there are rainbows.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Come to Salem Church and Sit For Me

     Sometimes it amazes me that people read what I write and take it seriously. I'm so happy about that, but it's also kind of scary, I'm no expert on anything I write about, so please just remember that as you read on.            Something has been happening this week, and anyone who spends any time on the internet, especially social media, has probably noticed it. It's Holy Week, and everyone and their mother seems to be feeling very, well, holy. Everyone is talking about Jesus, and it's great, because this week is all about Him. But what happens when, during this special week, something happens that knocks the Holy right out of your attitude, and you suddenly just feel...ordinary?
     Earlier this week I was with a group of girls I get together with every week for campus ministry, and one of them mentioned the new dress they had bought for Easter. This led to a group discussion of the new clothes everyone was buying for the occasion, and I found myself explaining that I still don't have a job and I'm trying to save money for Madagascar, not to mention I wasn't even sure if I had plans for Easter that would require a nice outfit. In that moment, I didn't feel holy. I felt jealous, and unreasonably embarrassed. There I was, almost 20 years old, thinking like a child and placing so much importance on such a trivial thing.
     I've been raised well enough to understand that Easter is not about a new dress, Sure, they're fun, and there's certainly nothing wrong with being excited about your Easter dress, like I always was when I was little. But this year, I will try to remember that Easter is so much more than what you're wearing, where you are, and how holy or not holy you have acted this week in comparison to everyone else. Easter is about what Jesus did for everybody, and it's essentially the most significant day of the year.
     Maybe I'm biased, but I personally think that Easter at Salem United Methodist Church is something everyone should experience. It's always such a happy day, and everyone seems so excited. This year, we were all encouraged to invite someone to "Come to Salem and Sit With Me". However, since I won't be sitting in Salem this Easter, I would like to say to whoever may read this, "Come to Salem Church and Sit For Me". I love that church, and it's members have shown nothing but love for me. It's a place that I always feel comfortable, no matter what else is changing in my life. It's congregation is made up of the special kind of people who have a holy attitude no matter what week it is, and they don't care if you have a new dress or not. They have shown me the unconditional love that Easter is really all about, and I love them all so much. In honor of them, here is a song that they usually sing on Easter, and I always notice that it seems to be sung with a little more excitement than any other song. I hope they sing it this year, but whatever they sing, I know that if you are looking for somewhere to go this Easter, they will welcome you just as warmly as they welcomed me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Hope There Are Lemurs

Adventures don't always start out glamorous and exiting. They start out confusing, and mysterious, and most of the time, expensive. Sometimes adventures are so intimidating that we let them pass us by, because we are sure that they are unattainable.
Maybe, like me, you have had adventures in the past that did not work out the way you wanted them to, so you decided, like me, to become more realistic. You decided that adventures are for children and fictional characters. You thought you had learned your lesson, and that you were ready to move on. But then, another adventure came along, and you just couldn't convince yourself to pass it up, and here's why.
Because hearing languages you don't speak and seeing cultures different from your own is something that you crave. You've experienced it once before, and now you might be addicted to it. Because the world is so big,
and you want to see as much of it as possible. Because you know that sometimes, you need to see the world to be reminded that you are not the center of it. And after you have decided to be brave and take this adventure, the child in you realizes that this particular adventure is to a place that, according to Google, has lemurs, and you've never seen one of those before. Sure, you're a little sad that Giraffes only live on mainland Africa, but Lemurs are cool too. And so you go, because you feel it is what God wants you to do, and honestly, it would be pretty cool to see a lemur.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Strawberry Stains and Other Imperfections

Thanks to a combination of being home over spring break with my parents who are really good at living a healthy lifestyle, and also realizing that my metabolism won't keep up with my lazy eating forever, I have been inspired lately to work harder at being healthy. That is why one day last week I decided to try and convince myself that strawberries are a snack that I enjoy. On that particular day, I was in a good mood because I was wearing my brand new monogrammed sweatshirt that I was able to buy thanks to staying under budget when I was buying textbooks at the beginning of the semester. There I was, feeling like I was really doing this college girl thing right, with my cute clothes and healthy snacking. The thing I failed to realize is that strawberries are juicy, and also very red. They are not a good choice for casual snacking while wearing new clothes, and as I looked down at the little drops of strawberry juice on my new sweatshirt, I felt a little bit like Cinderella at midnight, turned back into my less glamorous self and Googling how to get strawberry stains out of clothes.
It's so easy to get caught up in things that seem like they will make me look perfect. I wish I could look pretty every day and be really excited about healthy eating, but that's just not who I am. After I worked on getting those strawberry stains out of my sweatshirt, I thought about the other "stains" that ruin my attempts to have a life that looks perfect, and then I realized something.  If everything was perfect, I would have nothing to work towards, and my faith wouldn't be as strong, because I wouldn't have to lean on it as much. The most imperfect moments in life are the ones I have learned the most from, and I think that must be the way God planned it. It's good to try hard to be the best version of yourself, and so I will continue working on healthy habits and  keep on wearing my new sweatshirt that I think looks good. But when things end up being less than perfect and new stains appear on my life, I will try to remember all of the imperfect things in my past that I have learned from and not get discouraged. After all, If everything was perfect, what would I write about?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Be Brave

I really like this, because sometimes the things that make
me the most afraid tun out to be the best things.
     I like to think that there aren't many things that I'm afraid of. I used to think I was afraid of flying, until I did fly and discovered that I actually really like it. I still  get nervous in hospitals because many of the memories I have about them are unpleasant, but I've gotten to the point where even surgery is more of an annoyance than anything. True, there are many fears that I have gotten over, but there is one that still stubbornly remains no matter what, and that is the fear of disappointment.
     I have been thinking about this ever since a few days ago when I was considering looking into something that I knew could easily end in disappointment, and someone told me to be brave. It's ironic how someone like me who now has an irrational lack of hesitation at the thought of travelling to all kinds of places and refuses to go higher than 6 on that ridiculous hospital pain scale, needs to be reassured about trying to do something that should actually be fun.
     It has taken me a long time to learn that I am not actually doing a good thing by questioning myself every time I start to get excited about something. Sure, I may be preventing myself from being disappointed, but I may also be preventing myself from doing lots of good things. That attitude sounds a lot like living in fear, which is not how I am called to live.
I really don't like disappointment, I'm pretty sure no one does. But I am starting to realize that I also don't like living in fear, because honestly it's exhausting trying to keep my guard up all the time. I think it's time to start getting rid of that spirit of fear, because it's really not doing much for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Big Questions

Sometimes in higher education, if a two year college is worthy of being called that, questions are asked that have no clear yes or no answer, and are meant to be debated and discussed rather than answered. Since I do not like conflict or confrontation, these questions tend to make me flustered and I often avoid joining the discussions that surround them. However since they are now being asked in class and I don’t want my participation grades to suffer, I have lately been attempting to begin joining these discussions. A few days ago in one of my classes, we were asked if we believed that racial profiling will ever go away. (We had been assigned an article that argued that it is real ,and a problem, so we were being asked the question with that perspective already established.) My first reaction was to be personally offended by this topic that never seems to go away and dissociate from the conversation, but that must not have been God’s plan for that moment, because a Bible verse immediately came to mind, and in that verse I found the answer to this question and several others I have been faced with lately. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33”. And suddenly, instead of staying quiet, I could volunteer my answer. No, other imperfect and unfair human tendencies like the one we were discussing will not go away as my generation gets older. The world has always been, and always will be an imperfect place.
 That, I realized, is how I can answer the big questions, and handle situations like sitting through a three hour class discussion of “white privilege” without walking  away bitter and offended (I did at the time, but now I realize that was the wrong way to react). It is how I answered that question about social profiling, stating that it will exist as long as this world does, and how I plan to handle all of those “big question” moments from now on. With the knowledge that the world is not perfect and I do not have the ability to change that, I am free to let God handle the big issues. I don’t have to know all the answers, in fact I’m not supposed to. It is the nature of college courses to discuss complex and controversial issues, and it is my nature to want to avoid controversy. I need to keep that verse in the back of my head and remember that while discussing complicated things is necessary for the purpose of getting the grade I need, having all of the answers and getting everyone else to agree with me is not. As a student, it will sometimes be my job to discuss the big questions, but in the end I think it might be a good thing that there are some questions that only God has the answers for.