Friday, January 29, 2016

Three Reasons You Should Absolutely Not Go on a Mission Trip

You will become too tolerant 
I used to be annoyed when I heard people speaking languages other than English in public. I was a bandwagon member of the "This is America, speak English!" club. Everyone else was mad about pressing one for English, so I figured I should be too. Then I traveled to a country where I was the one who didn't speak the language, and no one was mad at me about it. It was confusing and frustrating, but everyone was patient with me as I tried to learn as much of the language as I could (which turned out to be about three words!). Now when I hear people speaking other languages, I think it's actually kind of fascinating. I have to admire people who are living in a country that is foreign to them, and respect them for their efforts to adjust to a language and culture they don't understand yet. What kind of American have I become, spewing all of this tolerance all over the place? Spanish, in my America? Si!

 You will make too many friends
There's something about travel that can really bond people. If you can survive airports, language barriers and lack of sleep with anyone for ten days and not be completely fed up with them, then there's a good chance you've got the potential for a lasting friendship. If you travel with a group, you run the risk of forming multiple friendships. Each of these friendships comes with various inside jokes about funny things that will inevitably happen on your trip, and you'll still be laughing about them years later (I would give you specific examples but then I might get in trouble with some of my mission trip friends!). Having all of those friends is going to be so time consuming, they're always going to want to talk to you and ask how you're doing, and maybe even reminisce on the trip you shared. You're a busy person, do you really have time for that? Then, there's all of the super emotional things you will experience together, like having to take very sick babies to a not so great hospital, and having to say goodbye to all the people you met on the last day of your trip. Are you really ready for all of those emotions, and all of that genuine friendship? Sometimes, these emotions will hit you at really inconvenient times, like when you're about to get out of the car and go into a public place, and suddenly your mission team "theme song" comes on the radio. You probably didn't allow time in your schedule for 10 to 15 minutes of crying, but that's what's about to happen. Do you really want to deal with that?

You will want to do it again.
I Google mission trip opportunities the way some people Google exotic island getaways. I've unsuccessfully attempted two more mission trips since 2013, and although I'm trying to accept that it's not up to my timing, the thought of going on another is never far from my mind. I learned so much about myself in Honduras, but more importantly than that, I was humbled by the realization that orphans in an impoverished community are in no way inferior to me.  They are people with hopes, fears, ideas, and dreams. Many of them are extremely intelligent and articulate, and I have no doubt that they will one day overcome their circumstances and change the world. The one thing that truly separates me from the beautiful children I met in Honduras, and all of the other people living in poverty and turmoil around the world is not distance, but privilege. I was born in a first world country to stable and functional  parents who have always been able and willing to provide for me. I've always had a home, a family, and an education. I've never gone hungry, and when my parents leave the house to go somewhere, I never worry that they will choose not to come home. So many people all over the world are not fortunate enough to have these things, and it saddens me that I cannot change that completely. But the one universal truth that defies circumstance and privilege is faith, and that is something I can share without limit. Because I have a certain amount of privilege, there are many opportunities to share my faith with those who do not have it, and I feel like that is what I need to do, with as many people as possible in as many places as possible. Indeed, I am sometimes even bold enough to say it is what I am called to do.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Hard Thing to Write About

I have struggled with periods of loneliness since (I think) around the seventh grade. I did part of seventh grade at home because I had just had a pretty major surgery, and then returned to school with a clunky black "air boot" cast on each leg. In my absence, my peers had changed. Apparently, boys were no longer gross, and that turned many girls against each other. Everyone else was focused on boyfriends, dances, and gossiping, while I was simply trying not to fall down or leave too many scuff marks in the hallway as I clobbered along in those unsightly boots. Shockingly, boys weren't into that look. I can't imagine why. Looking back on that time in my life, the best conversations I can remember having were with my science teacher, so that's a pretty clear picture of where my social life was at. That loneliness was not permanent, but it has returned off and on over the years.
Loneliness is a hard thing to write about, because it makes me sound like an accuser. I have great parents who are very interested in my life, and a handful of caring friends. My loneliness is not their fault. It's also a hard to talk about as a Christian, because if God is all you have, you have all you need, right? 
I know that being popular is not important, and it's not what I want. I just want to feel like I'm not bothering people every time I want to start a conversation, and I wish I wasn't always the one who has to reach out, instead of the one being reached out too. Honestly, I could probably have a million friends and still feel lonely. It's a very internalized thing that feels like it's just a part of who I am. And as an introvert, I think having a million friends would be exhausting.
I don't know exactly why I am prone to this feeling of loneliness, perhaps it's some weakness in my DNA. It's one of my least favorite things about myself, something I try not to talk about much. But I decided to mention it just this once, In case this feeling is someone else can relate to. Perhaps there is someone who just needs to know that I understand the feeling, and that they are not alone in it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

It's Behind You!

     For as long as I can remember, I've always tried to be good. I can honestly say that's true with few exceptions, even if my motives for being good and my interpretation of what good actually is have faltered at times. I was the kind of child who always wanted teachers and every other authority figure to like me. The only time I was ever sent to the principal's office in elementary school I was terrified, but soon relieved to discover that I was only being notified that I would be having lunch with the principal because of my good behavior. The first time I was ever called disrespectful by a teacher I was a senior in high school, and to this day I can barely talk about it without presenting a lengthy defense about how I was unjustly accused. I don't know exactly what caused my desire to be good, but it unfortunately coexists with the idea that good things should happen to me because of my own goodness.
     Less than 6 months from reaching my 21st birthday,I am starting to wonder if I benefited at all from my efforts to be good. When I distanced myself from people who were making bad decisions, I only became lonely. It is starting to feel like the only recognition I will ever receive for all my "good girl" efforts is a standardized letter from our insurance company, noting my safe driving habits and reminding me to continue to be responsible even after I reach the supposedly reckless age of 21. I must admit that sometimes I feel like the only thing I did by trying to be good was become lonely.
      Today I came to church with these thoughts on my mind. As I have at times before, I was getting tired of being what I consider good, because I don't feel like I'm benefiting from it. As I sat and tried to listen to the sermon, I was unaware of what was happening outside. I was focused on what was in front of me, not around or behind. The only person who could see the beauty that was unfolding was the one facing our direction as he spoke to us. As we were about to leave, he told us about the snow we couldn't see, but it wasn't until I got outside that I witnessed it's beauty with my own eyes.
     Maybe, like the snow that fell this morning, the rewards of my efforts are something I can't see yet. But God can see what's around and behind me, because He can see everything. So, I know that as long as I stay focused on Him, the good things will come. They may take far longer than I would prefer, but they will come.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Rock

     It was a Sunday afternoon at youth group and I was a junior in high school. I don't recall exactly what the lesson was about that day, but at one point we were told to go out in the church parking lot and find something that reminded us of God. He promptly walked about 5 feet outside the door, picked up a rock, and then walked back inside and continued talking about football. I was ready to tease him about being lazy and taking the easy way out, until I heard his explanation. He said the rock was strong and solid, like God's promises. It took him about thirty seconds to produce that wisdom, while I probably spent 10 minutes trying to come up with some in depth leaf analogy that didn't entirely make sense. That day, I learned that things don't have to be complicated to be profound. I began to consider that maybe faith only seems perplexing because I make it that way by overthinking.
     This is not a story about birthdays that can no longer be celebrated joyfully because the guest of honor isn't here anymore. I started to write that, but it was just too devastating to sufficiently put into words, and I don't think writing that would have done anything positive for anyone. This is not a rant about how a chemical imbalance in the brain, or anything else that can go wrong in the human mind, is not inherently sinful. (I'd like to write about that someday, but I don't have enough knowledge yet.) This is not another one of my wrestling matches with God about a loss I still do not understand, because I've learned that sometimes, understanding is not the goal. This is simply a story about a lesson my friend taught me when we were both seventeen, a lesson I hope I never forget.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Three Things I Learned in 2015

As a new year begins, many people are making resolutions and thinking about what they want to accomplish in 2016. I decided to join in that tradition in my own way, by reflecting on the lessons I learned last year and how I want to put them to good use this year. There is a common theme in the headings that some of you may recognize, thanks to my habit of listening to music while I write.

1. Shake it Off
One of my worst moments of 2015 was losing a job that I worked very hard to do my best at. When I lost that job back in September, some things were said to me that made me question everything I thought I knew about the career I might want, and I'm guilty of replaying those things in my mind almost every day. Yes, it was unfair, not to mention totally bizarre. I wish I could tell you in detail just how bizarre it was, but I'd probably regret putting that on the internet. But I left that job knowing I had tried my absolute best, and although I miss the children I left behind, I have a much better work environment now. As hard as it is for me to admit it, I think losing that job was a blessing. People are so nice to me at work, and I never get blamed for things that aren't under my control. I don't have a glamorous job, but it's exactly what I need right now. This year, I will stop mentally replaying every decision I made at my last job, and all of the negative things that were said when I lost it, and I'll stop doubting everything I do at my current and future jobs. This year, I'll shake that off.

2. Begin Again
I've discovered recently that I don't know as much about friendship as I thought I did. I got so used to the catty, passive-aggressive drama of the teenage years that I really thought that's just how friendship was supposed to be. But thankfully, I have friends now that have shown me that I was wrong about that. I have discovered that there are people who really value my friendship, appreciate spending time with me, and most importantly make me a better person. I really believe now that it's better to have a few really true friends than a lot of fake ones. I know that it's important to love everyone, but I am learning to have higher standards when it comes to who I devote my time to. I've learned that true friends communicate. They laugh and cry together, and pray for each other. I've learned that if you find you are not surrounded by people who encourage you to be the best version of yourself, it's perfectly fine to turn around and begin again.

3. Breathe
I've done a good job tricking myself into thinking my faith is strong. I can write convincing blog posts about what I say I believe in all day long. But a common theme in the two points above proves otherwise. I've tried to be in control of everything because I think I know what's best for me. But if everything had gone the way I thought it should, I would have missed out on so many good things. I'm not in control, and that's a good thing. This year, I want to really believe that.