Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Carols Explained

As I was listening to Christmas music yesterday, I started thinking about the unique ways some of them apply to things in my life. So, in lieu of a sappy "I'm not home for Christmas" post, here are some Christmas carols, explained from the perspective some someone who works with children.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

     A question I ask my co-workers at least once a day, usually when I am in front of a hot oven that I can't leave unattended at the moment, but I think I hear a child crying across the room, or a teen listening to a song that I suspect has lyrics not fit for young ears to hear. Another verse of this song, "Do you see what I see?" also applies because sometimes when you spend a lot of time with children, there will be moments when you just need to check with another adult to make sure you're actually seeing what you think you're seeing.

 What Child is This?

     Have we met this child before? Do they have a membership form turned in? Are they even old enough to be here? This could also be slightly modified to "What Child Has Done This", when someone has taken something out and not put it back in it's place after using it and I make it my personal mission to track them down and make them clean up after themselves.

Silent Night

This is a song about a mythical concept known as "Silence" which does not seem to exist to children. I did see it once, for a brief moment when they were in line to talk to Santa. Maybe I should start wearing a fake beard and red suit to work.

Joy to the World
     As much as it might sound like I'm complaining, and as much as some moments that happen where I work can drive me crazy, I am so happy to be here doing what I'm doing, and the Christmas season has reminded me of the reason why I am here, and that is definitely something to be joyful about.

Monday, December 18, 2017

An Uncomfortable Christmas

     With Christmas just  a week away, I'm feeling disoriented by the lack of familiar things that usually accompany this time of year. Obviously I can look at the calendar and know that the day is fast approaching, and there are signs of the holiday happening all around me, but still I can't help but feel that I am on the outside looking in.
     This will be the first time in my life that I will wake up on Christmas morning somewhere other than the house I grew up in. Even as I say that, I realize how much privilege the statement holds. I am fully aware that there are many people who would love to have a home to wake up in, and that that many people have jobs that require them to work on Christmas. But no matter how many stern reminders I give myself about these things, there is a stubborn streak of sentimentality that I just can't seem to shake. Selfishly, I long for a Christmas that feels familiar to me.
     I know what my family's Christmas tree looks like through our front door, I know what our stockings look like hanging from our mantle. I know what Christmas morning feels like with my family, and although it may not be perfect, it is familiar and comfortable, and I think I will miss it even more than I expected too. I love the job I get to do, and I have known for months that I would not be spending Christmas at home with my family, and yet still I can't help but feel a bit melancholy now that the day is almost here.
     As I sat in church yesterday, I was reminded that some things about Christmas will never change, no matter where I am or who I am with. Although my personal experience of Christmas will be different this year, what Christmas is really all about has not changed, and never will. No matter where my life takes me, every December will bring back the same story of a baby born in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and wise men. I found it very comforting to here the familiar verses that I am used to, even though I am on the opposite side of the country this year.
     This year, as I spend the Christmas season in a different place, away from the people I am used to celebrating with, I hope it allows me to see the Christmas story that has become familiar to me in a new and different way.  And maybe it will serve as a reminder that being comfortable was never the point of Christmas anyway.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Few Good Men

     One December morning not many years ago, A girl excitedly stands in the crowd at a popular morning show, her father by her side. She shakes the hand of a famous newscaster, who at that time is quite beloved by many people. It is her first celebrity encounter, and in her young mind it is a very big deal. That newscaster will later lose his credibility when he is accused of unspeakable things, at a time when it is becoming very common for men in the public eye to be accused of unspeakable things.
     When she hears of why this celebrity is under fire, it will at first send shivers down her spine to know that his hand briefly touched hers. But her mind will soon turn to other memories of that New York trip at Christmas time with her father. She was at an age when many girls would rather do almost anything than go on a trip with their father, but she still wanted to. Because there is something inherently similar about the two of them that she can't quite name, and they make great travel companions.
     That women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home. The men in her home were not perfect, but they were almost always kind, and she never had reason to fear them. Often when she is sitting in training sessions and the topic of what women should watch out for in the workplace and how they should protect themselves comes up, she will think of the men in her home, and how they allowed her so many years of ignorant bliss. Yes, the idea that women would ever need to protect themselves from men is not something she had to learn at home, and the more people she meets, and the more she learns about the world, the more she realizes how fortunate she is.
     She can no longer live in a state of ignorance, because she is a woman living in a world where the hard truth means that there are certain things women need to be aware of. But when the harsh realizes of the world start to be overwhelming, and being a grown woman starts to sound like an intimidating task in this broken world, her mind will turn to the good men she knows and she will be comforted. Because even though the guys who do bad things are the ones who make the news, her world is filled with a few good men, and that is enough to keep her hope alive.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why Me?

     When I started this blog, I was in my first year of college and experiencing independence for the first time. I was under the naive impression that it would get discovered by internet strangers, and that I would be able to speak in an uninhibited way about every feeling I experienced without worrying about who would read it. This theory was soon blown out of the water when I told my parents I had started a blog, and despite the fact that I was not connected to either of them on any social media at the time, they already knew. Although I'm not ignorant enough to put things on the internet that I don't want my family and friends to know about, My young mind was a bit surprised by how quickly they did.
     Nowadays, I actually like that people I know enjoy reading what I write. It's flattering that so many people care, and it's also a great way to stay in touch now that I've moved across the country. But I've also noticed that it causes me to be very careful about what I say and how I say it, in a way that I'm not sure I like. I guess what I'm saying is, if you see my parents in the grocery store, you don't need to tell them that I sound sad on the internet. Besides the fact that I'm an adult living on the opposite side of the country than them, and besides the fact that you can't gauge a person's inner thoughts solely by what they post on the internet, I am actually quite happy. Now, with that incredibly long disclaimer out of the way, I can get to what's actually on my mind today.
     As much as I love what I'm doing and where I'm living, I sometimes hide any negative aspects of my life because I don't want anyone to think I have doubts that this is where I'm supposed to be. But that's become way too much pressure to put on myself. When the demands start to outweigh the thank-you's, and I start to feel like I'm just free labor in the eyes of some people, sometimes I just need to vent. Normally I do that with trusted friends or my parents and keep it off the blog. But today I chose to do some public venting, because I think it brings up an important point. I've heard it said that if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. I don't think that's true. This is the best job I have ever had, but it's still a job. And just like any other job, it has it's benefits and it's drawbacks.
      Why do I have to be the one that has to send children home when we close, and tell them there's nothing I can do about the fact that they have to walk home when its thirteen degrees and pitch black dark because their parents can't or won't pick them up?
     Why do I have to be the one who hears the difficult and unpleasant things I know I am mandated to report, with enough frequency that I sometimes doubt my instincts and think I am being too judgmental? And in my worst moments, I have wondered why I am the one God chose for this job that seems like ten jobs rolled into one, that I could never completely finish even if I worked 24/7.
      But even as I'm asking these questions, I'm already thinking of all of the benefits that outweigh the drawbacks. For instance, I also get to be the one who sometimes spends an entire hour of my workday playing board games with children. I get to be the one they talk to about their day, and the one that makes sure they have a proper meal to eat. Most of all, I get to be doing what I feel called to do at a very young age, something that many people have to sacrifice because the need for a job and provide for yourself outweighs the desire to be content.
     I'm still figuring out how to be honest and transparent without crossing a line into oversharing. I haven't figured it out yet, but right now I have friends to hang out with, so my journey to self awareness via blogging will have to be paused until next week. If this long diatribe has any solid point, maybe it's this; be kind to your pastor and everyone who works at your church, whether they are on a payroll or not. As a matter of fact, maybe just be kind to as many people as you can throughout the day, whether they are a cashier or a CEO. We're all trying to make it through this thing called life, and I have a feeling it would be a lot easier if we were all a little less concerned with our own motives, and a little more sensitive to the needs of the people around us.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Different Kind of Strong

    There was a conversation that happened before I moved to Alaska that up until now, I believe only my parents were aware of. Since I obviously couldn't have an in-person interview with my future supervisor in Alaska while I was still in Virginia, it had to be done over the phone. Since the people who were interviewing me couldn't see me or observe me walking into a room, there was something I had to reveal to them. I am not required to disclose that I have a disability in a job interview, but since this job involved moving across the country to a place where mobility could potentially be more difficult for because of snow and ice, it would have been pretty irresponsible to omit that detail. I've had my share of discouraging experiences as a person with a disability when it comes to being employed, so I was really dreading this part of the conversation. Thankfully, that conversation went very well, and now here I am in Nome. I was worried that my disability would be a roadblock in many ways when moving to a new place and meeting new people, but I'm happy to say that hasn't been the case. The topic has rarely even come up, which is exactly the way I like it.
It wasn't until yesterday, when I was helping organize things over at the food bank, that I finally experienced that moment I dread, the moment of facing a task that I am not able to do. Because of who I am, I did briefly attempt to lift things that I really shouldn't have. Then I remembered that there is some very expensive hardware in my back from a scoliosis surgery that was quite an ordeal. Since I don't want to risk having to put my life on hold to get that hardware repaired just because I was doing something I shouldn't have in order to look tough, some responsible adult part of my brain kicked in and I stepped back and let other people take over.
      This is something that I've had to do many times, and it never gets easier. It's awkward standing around while everyone else does the heavy lifting. It's awkward listening to the "But you're still helpful!" coddling that often follows.  It's awkward and I dislike it more than I can even explain and I've been upset about it more times than I care to admit.
     What I often fail to realize when I am mourning my lack of physical strength is that I posses another kind of strength. It is not the kind of strength that often attracts worldly praise, but it is important nonetheless. I have the strength to be empathetic towards others, and to notice those who are easily forgotten. I also have the strength to allow myself to enjoy life, even when my first instinct is to never get too excited, because experience tells me that something could always go wrong at any time. Just like physical strength, I had to build it up. Instead of exercise, this strength is built up from constantly reminding myself to focus not on the things I can't do, but the things I can. It is built up from years of experiences like the one I had yesterday, and the ways I have chosen to react to those situations. I haven't always reacted by choosing to focus on the strengths I do have, but each time I do they get exercised just a little more.
     While I know that physical strength is something that I will never have, I am learning to focus on those other ways of being strong. And most importantly of all, I have to remember that any kind of strength, be it physical, mental or otherwise, is not something I accomplish on my own. Strength, like all things, comes from God.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Thief of Joy

     Everyone has things about themselves that they are not proud of. Most people would not write about these things and share them online for the world to see, but I am not most people. I am also living across the country from many of the people who will read this, which is giving me more courage to be vulnerable. So, I'll share with you a quality about myself that I'm not proud of, which is that I have a bad habit of comparing myself to other people.
     Maybe there are people that see what I post on social media and envy my life. While I would agree that living in Alaska has been a lot of fun so far, there are some things about my life I don't share that I doubt anyone would be envious of. I don't post about watching children throw away food I spent an hour preparing, or the child that told me my shirt looked like wet paper towels. I haven't yet shared the  reason for the behavioral issues of many of the children I work with, because I want to do it in the most respectful way and I'm still figuring out what that is. I love working at the food bank, but I haven't shared many stories about it because I don't want people who are already vulnerable to be judged. For these reasons, most of what the general public can see about my life is positive.
     But even though it may look like I'm having an adventurous life, and most of the time I am, I wouldn't want anyone to compare themselves to me and feel insufficent, so why do I do it?
      For example, when I happen to like an outfit I'm wearing to a meeting, until I get there and start looking at what all of the other women in the room are wearing. Suddenly, I start thinking about what I should have done differently. Sure, my outfit is nice, but I should have worn more makeup, and spent more time on my hair. And then I notice that I'm the youngest person in the room yet again, and then I start thinking that probably no one is even listening to what I'm saying because they're too busy wondering why I walk funny. With this kind of thinking, I can go from confident to defeated in a matter of seconds.
     Or when every time I'm scrolling through social media, I see that yet another person I went to high school or college with has gotten engaged. I fully believe that I am where I am supposed to be right now, but whenever I see those pictures, a part of me worries that some of the things I want in life, I will simply never have.
     Comparison leads to jealousy, and jealousy is not a pretty thing. It is not a trait I admire, and I feel ashamed when I start to feel it happen to me. So, I do my best to avoid it. When I find that social media is causing me to become jealous of others, I take a break from it. But I can't take a break from all human interactions, even if I wanted to. Since I can't avoid all of the things that tempt me to compare myself to others, I have to mentally redirect myself every time I do it. I know that my worth is not defined by what I look like or what I have or haven't accomplished, but knowing it and truly feeling it are not the same thing.
     I know what kind of woman I aspire to be, Godly and confident because my worth is not defined by any of the things the world tries to measure and compare. My prayer is that one day I will be that kind of woman, and I hope that day comes soon.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Missionaries, Social Justice Warriors, and the Power of Words

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Little Pilgrim Who Learned

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

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trusting in the Transition.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Great Commission is for Everyone

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How to be a Missionary: A Step by Step Guide

     Arrive at your placement site armed with three weeks of training and a level of confidence that you will soon realize is almost entirely unjustified. Sure, you're ready to fight injustice and spread the love of God and be a generally amazing missionary, but first you have to figure out how to seemingly simple tasks like locking and unlocking doors and adjusting seats in unfamiliar vehicles. Those simple tasks will end up occupying a disturbingly large amount of your time, which really gets in the way of all of those love spreading moments you planned out.
    Spend hours creating detailed plans that will satisfy the powers-that-be and get you through the day in an organized, efficient manner. Plan Food Network worthy meals that will satisfy every imaginable nutritional requirement and crafts that should be featured on Pinterest. Take five to ten seconds to reflect on how well everything seems to be going. Great, now that you paused for those few seconds, you are now somehow approximately twenty-five hours behind schedule. You will probably remain that far behind for the next two years.
     Gather up all of those beautifully detailed plans, fold them neatly, and throw them directly into the garbage. You won't be needing them because the one variable you failed to predict has now changed. Turns out wheat flour doesn't work in the recipe you planned, so the children will have to eat dinner that was made with regular old white flour, which will most definitely be frowned upon by the mighty powers that decide what foods children absolutely must eat ever single day without fail in order to survive.
    Throw together a new plan with your coworkers while simultaneously yelling "Don't climb on that!" across the room for the five hundredth time. Realize that you have abandoned your Mary Poppins tone and worry that you are actually more like the Wicked Witch and none of the children really like you. Begin to have a small existential crisis, then quickly realize there is no time in your schedule for a crisis because there are too many other things you still need to do.
     One day at a completely unexpected moment, catch yourself in a feeling of immense happiness and realize that you actually really do enjoy this life. Sure, it's complete chaos the majority of the time, but it's the chaos that God let you to. Realize that even though you feel lost in a new place sometimes, you still believe you are exactly where you need to be.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Good and the Bad

     There's a quote making it's way around social media recently, that most of you have probably seen at least once. A well meaning sentiment regarding recent events, it reads "America is not what happened in Charlottesville, America is what Happened in Houston." It was referring to the recent clash of protesters and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville that became violent, and rescue efforts in Houston after the recent hurricane. While this sounds like a nice thought at first glance and I have no doubt it was written with good intentions, I disagree with it. In my opinion, that is not how history works. We don't get to pick out the parts that make us feel good and forget the rest. United States history is full of heroic moments that should make us proud, but it is also full of darker things that many people do not have the privilege of simply forgetting.
     In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the United States government attempted to "Americanize"many Native American youth, including Native Alaskans, by sending them to boarding schools. At these schools, many of them were stripped of their names and forbidden to speak their native language. If they did, they were often abused. The internet is strangely quiet about these events. When I searched for sources to help me explain this history, I found only a handful of academic articles that revealed the truth.
      The reason I have become aware of this history is because it is still alive. There are people here in Nome who were students in those boarding schools, so they know what really happened. They are honest about the fact that often, the people who were behind sending them to these schools and sometimes the people who taught there, were missionaries.
     Christians forced people against there will into a place that abused them for being who they were. People claiming to be missionaries were part of an attempt to forcibly strip Native Americans of their culture, because it was believed to be "savage". I don't like this fact at all, but it is still a fact. I do not get to ignore it, because it is all around me.
     This is not a fun "Jennie goes to Alaska" blog post. There will be plenty of those, but not today. As a writer, I cannot leave out the difficult parts of the story. I cannot skip to the end, where a missionary and the daughter of a man who was abused by missionaries served side by side at a food bank. First, I have to be honest about history. Because we must learn about history in order to make sure that we do not repeat it.
Students at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania

Sunday, August 27, 2017

When God Closes a Door

     Yesterday marked a week since my arrival in Nome, and it has been a wonderful experience so far. I am learning the ropes of my job duties, meeting lots of nice people, and getting to explore Nome during uncharacteristically beautiful weather for this time of year. If you were to ask me what the hardest part of my first week here has been, you'd get a very strange answer.
     Every weeknight when we leave the Boys and Girls Club where we work, my fellow missionary Alisha and I are in charge of locking the front door behind us. No big deal, right? Unlocking the door is no trouble at all, we both have done that multiple times without any trouble. But every night, we've had a frustrating struggle with locking that door. We've both tried, and the key just doesn't want to turn that way. Someone told us that cold weather affects locks, which at first I thought was just a white lie to make us feel better about our struggle to complete such a simple task. But I Googled it, and there might be some truth to it. Whatever the reason, locking that door has become the most dreaded part of our day.
     Here we are, two grown women who have been sent here as missionaries because we have supposedly proven that we are up to the task, and we can't even lock a door. Sure, there are people we could call for help, and we have come close to doing that, but my stubbornness gets in the way of that plan. I don't want to be the damsel in distress, I want to be the strong, independent woman who doesn't call someone from their warm home across town to lock a door for me.
     I'm not sure if it was the second or third day of us spending over ten minutes trying to lock that dreaded door, but there was one night when we had just about had enough. We had finished our night of working at the Boys and Girls club, which includes helping with homework and just being there to interact with children, as well as preparing USDA approved, cooked from scratch meals which is a job in itself, even though these children are sweet and appreciative and wash their own dishes. We were both getting frustrated, and entering that grey area that can lead to either hysterical laughing or hysterical crying, and I was leaning more towards crying. Alisha stopped wrestling with the key to reach into her purse for another copy of it, and I decided to give in another try just to pass the time. Without much hope, I gave the key a lazy twist.
     What happened next could have been a scene straight out of a comedy movie. With that one half-hearted twist, the key that we had wrestled with for almost twenty minutes without success, clicked into place. After an enthusiastic celebration that was probably very confusing to all of the people driving by, Alisha asked me what I did to make the key work. The problem was that I have no idea what the secret to locking that door is. It just happened because God made it happen, and I didn't really have anything to do with it.
    I knew this door locking scenario would make good writing material, so when I was trying to figure out the moral of this story I came up with two things. The first moral is that we need to find a solution to this problem before winter starts, The second is this; sometimes, when God closes a door, it is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Journey of 3,900 Miles Begins with a Single Down Coat

     At Global Mission Fellows training a few weeks ago, I remember we were talking about what to do when we arrived at our placement sites and someone said "Tell everyone you got there safely so they know you're still alive". We all laughed at the joke, but I think we understood there was a lot of truth to it.
     When I told people I was moving to Alaska, there was definitely a standard reaction of shock that I came to expect. I know it's partially because Alaska is so far from Virginia, but I also blame it on the amount of popular reality shows that take place here. So, I would like to take this opportunity to assure everyone one time and one time only that I am not an ice road trucker or a "bush person". I am a missionary, and I am safely in my apartment with a comfortable bed, food to eat, and a great roommate. Over the past few months, I had discussions with people who live here and they told me what I would need for the climate. I made sure to get those items I would need.
     When I was going through a time in my life when I was having a lot of tough feelings that I decided to talk to a professional about, I remember at one point saying something about how there have been some brief times in my life where I have been in scary medical situations where I was "not okay", and I think it might have been a part of why I sometimes feel the need to constantly reassure anyone who has the slightest worry about me that I am okay.
     Psychological self-analysis aside, I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the prayers, support, and even the concern. I know it comes from a place of love, and deep down I really do appreciate it. I can't wait to discover the adventures that Nome has for me, and to share them with all of you.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Can I Do?

     Eleven days ago, I arrived home from training to be a missionary, empowered by being around so many people who are passionate about the same things I am. After having so many discussions with these people and learning so much about the values of the program I am a part of, I felt ready to make some real positive change in the world. Then I left the sheltered environment of the training program, and encountered the world in all it's chaos.
     In those eleven days I've been home, a lot has happened in this country. In just eleven days we've heard confusing but troubling threats of nuclear warfare and been smacked in the face with the acknowledgement that in the United States in 2017, racism and white supremacy are alive and well, thriving even. There's probably more that I'm not remembering, and I'm just talking about eleven short days, not even two weeks. I've wanted to do something, but it feels like I'm not in a position to do anything helpful.
     Multiple times I've begun composing passionate Facebook statuses in an effort to make my voice heard, only to change my mind and delete them. The truth is, a Facebook status would do very little to initiate actual change. No matter how well worded my Facebook status is, it will soon be lost in the void of countless other statuses. This blog post might gain some traction for a few days, but it will inevitably be lost in the endless void of the internet. So what can I do?
     As I was thinking about this dilemma, my mind drifted to the dear woman who was our Chaplin at training. Kathryn Mitchem is a former missionary and deaconess, and as far as I'm concerned, a living saint. She told us at the beginning of our training that she would be sitting in on most of our sessions. Not to observe or test us, but to pray for us. Day after day, as we endured long sessions tackling tough issues that sometimes became controversial, she sat quietly in the back and did what she promised us she was there to do. She was a quiet yet powerful presence during our training, and she was well loved.
     I know that I am not alone in my adoration of this woman. Every night at dinner I witnessed people seeking her out and asking her to sit with them. Whenever I saw her in the hallway, she was surrounded by a small crowd. You basically had to stand in line to have a conversation with her. There is just something about this quiet, peaceful woman that draws people in.
     The most profound evidence of Kathryn's impact came during what was called our send-off ritual the night before commissioning. We sat in a circle and passed around a candle, and as each person held the candle for one minute, we were supposed to say positive and affirming things about them. When the candle was handed to Kathryn, the quiet was broken. All forty-five Global Mission Fellows, without previously planning this, stood and applauded our prayer warrior. We got so caught up in our applause that we used up thirty seconds of her minute just standing and clapping.
     So why does Kathryn come to my mind as I try to figure out what I, as just one person, can do in the face of all this evil? Maybe because I know that she has seen decades of evil things, before I was even born. She has seen over and over again how dark the world can be, and she still chooses to shine her light. She gives me hope.
     Advocacy is important and imperative. There's a quote that's been floating around Facebook, and though it's source has been questioned, I think it's a good thought. "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil."In Isaiah Chapter 58, a passage that we studied during one of our training sessions,are these words “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,  and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Verses 6-8)
     As advocates march with their message of justice, and eager new missionaries embark on our missions, Kathryn continues to pray for us. Knowing this, I feel comforted, and I feel empowered. She and others like her are essential to our mission.I do not know what the future holds for me, or this country, or the world. Even after three weeks of missionary training, I often don't know what I can do to create justice in an enormously unjust world. But I do have hope, because I have the examples of people like Kathryn who have been doing the work of justice for decades. If they have not lost hope, then I will not lose hope. I will keep moving forward even when I am not quite sure of the best way to go. I will follow in the footsteps of those who have been where I am right now, and I will continue the work that they started. It is what I am called to do.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has" (Photo by Lily Sloan)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mixed Feelings

     When I graduated from high school, I remember experiencing a strange sense of guilt because I was not at all sad about it. While most of my classmates were lamenting the end of the "good times", and talking about how sad they were to leave the supposedly idyllic small town we grew up in, I was counting down the days until I could stop pretending to even know what "good times' they were talking about.
     While I want to believe I'm not as cynical as I was back then, that strange sense of guilt is trying to come back again. As I prepare to move to a new state very soon, I find myself answering a lot of questions about how I feel about this move, and many times those questions feel like they are asked with the expectation of a certain answer. If I say I'm excited to go, I worry that it will sound like I have a terrible life here that I can't wait to get away from. If I say there are people and things I am sad to leave, I worry that it will sound like I'm not excited to go. Basically the moral of this story is that I really need to chill out and stop worrying about the implications of my answers.
     Jokes aside, there is no single answer that fully describes how I feel about the next stage of my life, and I think that is why the question causes me so much anxiety. Yes, I'm happy to go, and yes sometimes I'm a little sad as well. Yes I'm excited to experience new things, and yes there are things I am sad to leave behind. It's a complicated way to feel, and I find it very difficult to explain fully within the context of casual small talk.
    Moving to Nome is in no way an impulsive decision. It is the result of a process that has taken many months, and that process was the result of events throughout my life that have made me the person I am right now. It is also the result of a ten page application, two stages of interviews, and three weeks of training. Over the past few months, I have had a lot of discussions with God, many of them full of questions and maybe a bit of complaining when the answers did not come right away. But when they finally did come, I trusted them, because I had been searching for them with my whole heart. That's how I feel about moving. Even though my human emotions will cause some homesickness and nostalgia, I can say with certainty that I am doing what I need to be doing right now.
     The next time someone asks me how I feel about moving to Nome, I'll probably just say I'm excited, and that will be very true. But maybe this would be a more complete answer; My brain is excited and sometimes overwhelmed, my heart is eager but nostalgic, but the most important thing is that my soul is at peace. And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

More to the Story


     I love watching TED talks. Well, I guess maybe I love watching them if they're about a topic that interests me. There's something about listening to people speak intelligently about subjects they know a lot about that I find fascinating. A few days ago in a session here at training we watched a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist. She talked about how whenever she is introduced, there is a single story that accompanies the introduction of where she is from.
     A single story happens when a person or group of people becomes known for a single trait or action, usually because that is how they repeatedly get talked about. It is what happens when we let ourselves generalize and talk about "those people", as if every individual in a group is a clone of the other people in the group. It is what happens when we get a bad first impression of someone, and become convinced that the negative things we saw in that person are the only parts of them. It happens when every time we see an African child on T.V., they are emaciated and crying. After that being the picture I saw for most of my childhood, you can imagine what it was like to arrive in Togo to find many children laughing, playing, and singing.
     As a person who was born with something called a neural tube defect, in my case Spina Bifida, and as a person who is noticeably different than most people simply because of the way I walk, Adichie's talk resonated with me because I also do not want to be known for one part of my life that I have no control over.
     In a few days, I hope to become a commissioned missionary. I know that to some people, I will be the girl who listened to God's call, even though she was born with this pitiful affliction. Bless her heart. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but it is a story I have been told about myself throughout my life on many occasions, whether it was intentional or not. I know that it comes from a good place, most of the time, so I try to appreciate it. But I also don't want to be known only as the girl with the disability who did things despite her pitiful affliction, bless her heart.
     Yes, I was born with a "thing" that sets me apart in some ways from the general population, and yes I will become a missionary. But that is far from the only part of my story, and I do not want it to become my single story. Yes, the fact that a disability is part of my life did help me learn to notice people who aren't being included, and it helped me relate to people who feel different or left out, which is an asset for someone in the mission field. But other than that, I really don't feel those two parts of my life are dependent on each other. I fully believe God has a plan for each of our lives and I don't want to speculate too much about what my life would be like if certain things were different. I just think that these are important parts of me who make me who I am, but they are not always directly related, nor are they anywhere close to being the whole story of who I am.
     Please know that I try to gracefully accept every compliment that is given to me, and I know that people who see me as an over-comer of my disability are just as full of love and good intentions as those who feel no need to mention it. There are plenty of things in my life that would have been much easier if I was an "able bodied" person, and perhaps I should acknowledge that more often. It's just never been what I want to be known for.
     I know that I cannot control what story gets told about me, perhaps that is why I find it so important to tell my own story as much as possible. And yes, I need to learn to be graceful no matter someone else interprets my life. But as I set out on the next chapter of my life, serving as a Global Mission Fellow in Nome, Alaska, it is my goal to remember that each person I meet does not have just one single story, but many stories that intertwine together to make them who they are. That's the way God made us, complex and diverse, and I think that is something worth honoring.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unlikely Friendships

     This morning as I was riding to church with some new friends from training, I was thinking that Atlanta looks familiar in a way, like something I've seen in a movie. Eventually, I remembered that this is where one of my favorite movies, Driving Ms. Daisy, was filmed. If you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it, but basically it is the story of an older southern, white, Jewish woman who is reluctantly driven around by an African American chauffeur that her son hires for her after it becomes clear that she can no longer drive herself. Although she is extremely resistant to accepting his help at first, the two eventually form a bond, leading up to one of the films most touching moments when Ms. Daisy tells the chauffeur she once despised, "Hoke, you're my best friend."
     Although the movie takes place during the civil rights movement, some of the social tensions it explores are still present today. I'm sure you know that, because those tensions are talked about it all the time. We hear about them on the news, we read about them on social media, we listen to sermons about them in church. I personally have sat in some really challenging discussions about them during these first two weeks of training. So, since the problem clearly isn't that we aren't aware or don't care about the tensions that separate us as human beings, why are they still so prevalent in our society?
     That's to big of a question for someone like me to answer in one blog post, but I might have a small part of the much larger answer. We can talk forever about how we all need to accept and love each other, and it's definitely an important thing to discuss, but nothing changes until we actually do it.
     Because of the mission trips I've been on, I already have some friends from other countries and cultures, and through Global Mission Fellows I am now gaining many more. I'm ashamed to admit this, but today I posted a picture of me with some of those friends, and then wondered what people from my hometown will think of the fact that I am the only white person in that picture. Will they think it's strange that I would befriend people who look different than me, will they think I've got a point to prove? But after thinking about it, I realized that me worrying about these things does absolutely nothing except waste time I could be using to think about more productive things. So, I'll continue to get to know my new friends, and I'll be proud of the pictures I take with them. Like Ms. Daisy and Hoke, we can be friends no matter how different our backgrounds are. And with those friendships, we'll begin to change the injustices of our world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Happy Soul

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Great Expectations

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Togo, the Sled Dog Who Saved Nome.

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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Turning Back

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Second Family

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Even If

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stop Rubbernecking!

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Holding on to Ashes

     If you've read the past two or three posts I've written, you may have noticed a theme, one that's not particularly cheerful. If you're wondering what is going on to cause all of these pensive thoughts I've been expressing, there's really not much to tell. It's just the season that I have been in, but I'm at the place now where I think I can spot the end of this season on the horizon. I believe all seasons of life have a purpose, and maybe the difficult ones are meant to teach us something. In finding my way back to a more cheerful side of myself, I have learned some important lessons. A verse that has been particularly comforting to me over the past few weeks is Isaiah 61:3 ...and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
     As I say frequently in my writing, I'm not a theologian. You know by now that I write from my own perspective, which is one of a person who has had no formal training in the area of theology and is just sharing her thoughts the best she can For the sake of clarity, here's how I'm defining ashes in this context of this blog post. In the literal sense, as I'm sure you already know, ashes are the remnants left over after everything else has been burned up in a fire. Figuratively, in this verse, ashes are the things we wrestle with internally when we go through hard times in our lives. 
     Why would I hold on to ashes? Shouldn't getting rid of the negative junk on my mind be something that I look forward to? In some ways it is, but I have found that the process of trading in my ashes has not been without it's difficulties. I've learned that the first and most difficult step to trading ashes is the act of acknowledging that I have them, which can be a problem for a person like me who has a tendency to shove negative things to the back of my mind instead of confronting them head on. I also know that there is someone, devotional writers like to call him "the enemy" but his street name is Satan, who knows that this process is bringing me closer to God, which is the last thing he wants. The more I try to trade in those ashes, the more he tries to make me believe that it would be easier to just keep holding on to them. He even tricks me into having a twisted sense of pride about my ashes, tempting me to believe that I can use them as proof of some sort of personal strength I have as a result of going through hard times. In reality, the only thing holding on to these ashes is doing is preventing me from seeing the beauty that comes from trading them in. And so, I have decided that I no longer wish to keep them. I am making a trade for something better.   
     Sometimes, getting rid of your ashes is a very personal and private process, and there's nothing wrong with that. I happen to be someone who processes things by writing about them, and the results are blog posts like this.
      I'm trying to get rid of all of the ashes, and I have found that it's not as quick or easy as I would like for it to be. But I feel like it's something that needs to happen, and if I can get some good writing material out of the process, I just consider that a bonus.