Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hope

…so that by two unchangeable things (his oath and his promise), in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.

Hebrews 6:18-20

These have always been some of my favorite verses in the Bible, but for the last few years they’ve been a lifeline. Whenever I read these verses I picture an anchor holding a great ship in harbor, preventing it from sailing away to sea. In the same way, hope has been my anchor through many dark times when I could feel myself drifting away towards depression and fear, hope in God’s goodness was the anchor that kept me from going over the edge.

You see, I have to have hope. If God is not good, then all is lost. People fail, disease disables, loved ones die, dreams are broken, injustice is rampant… Sometimes it feels like goodness is gone from the world, it would be so easy to just ride the current of despair and be consumed, swallowed whole by the sweet waters of grief.  So far, God won’t let me drown.

I’ve been to that edge a few times.

Cancer. Injustice. Incompetence. Lies.

These things have all stolen something from me and made me question God’s character. There was a night a while back that was so dark I just laid down on my living room floor, curled into the fetal position and waited for the whirlpool of hopelessness to suck me under.

But I didn’t go under, my anchor held secure. There was still hope.

Just the tiniest glimmer of light, but I focused on it and watched as it grew, slowly enveloping me in it’s warmth.

I have friends in other parts of the world who’ve lived in war zones and gone through hell, but when I think of their faces I see joy. There’s hope.

My own beautiful girls’ start to life was bleak to say the least, yet when I hear their laughter, I know there’s hope.

I have to hold on to belief in something good. So I hold on for dear life to Jesus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Some Thoughts On Art

I’m about two weeks into my personal challenge of writing daily for a year and I’ve already failed. This challenge is so much more difficult than not buying clothes for a year. 

This challenge is about battling some inner demons, those lifelong companions, Doubt, Fear, Rejection and Procrastination.

This is about me creating something and putting it out for anyone to see. And that’s scary.

It’s about self discipline and making time to get better at something, just sitting down and doing it.

So, I failed to write anything for a couple days, but I’m not giving up. My sister-in-law gave me a book last weekend called, Art & Fear  by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’ve only read the first chapter and I’m already inspired. The book is about why we create art and the fears that accompany most artists.

Here are some personal revelations made while reading Art & Fear and thinking about why I need to create:

Imperfect people create art.  We have a driving desire to take the broken bits of life and pour them into our work, turning them into something beautiful. Our art will suggest our flaws and weaknesses, but overcoming the obstacles inhibiting us from creating will be a source of strength.

Failure is inevitable.  It’s okay to fail, it’s how we learn and it’s a risk that must be taken in order to succeed.

What matters most is the process of creating.  For me the experience of writing is what shapes my art as I process through my emotions and find my voice, I’m learning about myself.

 “To be an artist is to believe in life.” ~ Henry Moore

—————————————————————————————————

Originally written on 9/10/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Final 30th Year Challenge Update

Today is my 31st birthday. I’ve completed my 30th year challenge of not buying clothes for one year. It was difficult sometimes, but to be honest, it was a lot easier than I anticipated. Here are a few lessons learned:

Intentionality.  I know I mentioned this before, but it’s the number one lesson I’ve learned this past year. I’ve become much more intentional with how I live. Not that I don’t still enjoy being spontaneous once in a while, I do, but I mean intentional in a broad sense of living with a purpose. I base my consumption more on need, than on want. I make sure it will serve a purpose, sometimes that purpose is simply spending a fun day with my family (we all need to have fun now and then), other times it’s strictly necessity.

Simplicity. I admit that in the past when I had spare time I would sometimes fill it by going shopping. It was a waste of time, truly. This last year, whenever I had spare time it was spent, writing, reading a good book, working in the garden, hiking, exercising or going to the beach with my family etc. All of these simple things brought me much more satisfaction than a new outfit ever did.

Embracing Imperfection.  Since I couldn’t replace damaged clothing, I learned to be okay with a little stain or hole in a few articles of clothing. I learned to not care so much. This attitude overflowed to other aspects of my life as well, like standing up for what I believe in, whether or not it’s popular within my circle of community. We are all imperfect people with different life experiences and opinions and in the end I don’t care how I look, as long as I can extend God’s love to the people around me.  Embracing imperfection has helped me stop comparing myself to others and accept myself  the way I am. It’s incredible the amount of freedom that comes when you don’t care about trends or about making everyone and their mom like you.

Here’s a few of the things I did buy this last year:

  • New sock and undies.
  • I bought myself a red beaded necklace for Easter, because I wanted a pop of color to celebrate the day.
  •  A couple weeks ago I bought a new skirt in preparation for a wedding reception I’ll be attending the day after my birthday. I won’t wear it until then.
  •  A new pair of sandals ($3 on sale!) because our kitten decided my old ones were a good chew toy.
  •  Yesterday, I bought a new pair of shoes because all of my old pairs (except for my boots) are falling apart, literally.

So, that’s it. In the last year I managed to only buy a few pieces of clothing and mainly out of necessity.

Now, it’s another year and I’ve decided to give myself a new challenge. I think it’s important to continue to learn as we age, I never want to become stagnant in life, so this year my challenge is to write everyday. I thought of the things I’m passionate about and where I want to improve and landed on writing. I enjoy it and hate it at the same time. I enjoy the result of writing, i.e. processing my emotions and having a record of things I’ve learned and experienced, but I sometimes hate the actual sitting and writing part. This challenge is about self-discipline and trying to be better at something.  I’m sure there will be days when I only pen a couple lines in my journal, but nonetheless, I’ll be saving a thought or idea for when my creative juices are flowing.

————————————————————-

Originally written on 8/30/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Do You Think You Are?

The last few weeks have been stressful. I keep finding myself in situations I can’t control and it makes me crazy. (I might be a tiny bit of a control freak.) It’s not even big things, just a culmination of many little things.

Whenever life gets stressful, Doubt arrives, as if on cue, to remind me of all the times I’ve failed. It’s the voice of Doubt that keeps asking, “Who do you think you are?”

Who do you think you are to be a mom? You don’t have the patience.

Who do you think you are to be a wife? You’re not enough for him.

Who do you think you are to be a youth leader at church? The kids won’t even like you.

Who do you think you are to write about your life? Nobody cares what you have to say.

These thoughts followed me for days, hanging around in the corners of my mind like a cobweb just out of reach, growing and collecting dust. Doubt continued to whisper into each new frustrating situation, “You can’t do this. Why are you even trying?”

Yesterday morning, Rosie and I decided to go to the river near our house to swim. Magda is away at camp, so I let Rosie pick the morning activity. She wanted a picnic at the river. We spent the morning swimming, snacking, picking blackberries, skipping rocks and laying on our towels reading. It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing mornings I’ve had in a long time. At one point, Rosie was in the water with her goggles trying to catch minnows and I was just sitting, taking in the sun and the beautiful landscape when I felt a different whisper, deep in my soul, “This is who you are. A mom who teaches her child to love nature.”

Those words were a fresh wind, blowing through my heart and mind, clearing away the cobwebs. They poured over my soul like a wave, filling up the cracked and broken places. Over and over I felt God’s soft voice.

Who do you think you are? You are my creation.

Who do you think you are? With me, you are enough.

Who do you think you are? You are mine.

Last night before bed, Josh was reading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. He handed me the book and said, “You should read page 113”.  This is what it said:

             You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own self-doubting self. You know what the right choice is, but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.

The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, “It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fallback into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.” And on an on.

It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, “I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.”

This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while, but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do….Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.

I hadn’t told Josh about my experience at the river. I don’t know why he thought I should read that page. But, God knew my heart. He is faithful to meet us where we are.

————————————————————–

Originally written on 8/16/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Strange and Beautiful People

 

The other day while my husband drove through town, I sat in the passenger seat and just looked out the window. I really looked though, like at people. It’s easy for me to space out and not see people, they just blend into the background noise of my day. As Josh drove through town I saw a man helping another man jump start  his car, a man comforting a crying woman, friends greeting each other with a handshake, a woman speaking to a homeless man with a cardboard sign. I saw people making connections. Touching and smiling and speaking.

I decided to keep doing it. People watching that is. The last time I went for a run through my neighborhood I went past a man on horseback who nodded his cowboy hat to me. A little, pigtail haired girl ran out of her house, screen door slamming behind her, with a squirt gun in hand to spray and chase a squirrel up a tree. An older woman on a bike, wearing a football helmet and basketball shorts over her sweat pants, while riding without using the handlebars and swinging her arms as though she were sprinting. Several people were talking and laughing together while working in a community garden.

Other interesting sightings around town include: a man on a bike wearing only a speedo, a gentleman in a coffee shop with a long braided beard who’s intently reading Byron’s poem’s and occasionally lets out a loud sigh or “Wow, beautiful.”  A woman belly dancing on the sidewalk while she waits for traffic at the crosswalk and a very large man wearing a tutu and riding a tricycle. The lovely woman at the farmer’s market with the most amazingly, long dreadlocks I’ve ever seen. The waiter at our favorite restaurant who speaks with a Australian accent one minute, German the next and is fully Irish by the time we leave.

All this people watching has made me realize that people are strange and beautiful at the same time.

People make life interesting and I enjoy the company of others, but often I tend to be solitary and prefer silence over constant chatter. I have two girls who love to talk. All the time. Sometimes, when they’re talking, I just look at them and wonder if they ever get tired of moving their lips. They don’t.

Being a mom has forced me into situations where I have to meet new people. My girls are so different from me, they’re social and thrive in big groups of people. They have all these friends who have parents that I’m supposed to meet and hang out with during play dates. It’s not that I’m socially inept (not completely anyway), it’s just that I don’t do fake and I’m not good at small talk. Most people are fine with that, but others get nervous when the conversation starts to ebb. Truly though, most people I meet are kind and funny.

Still, there are times when it’s so hard for me to like people. Can I just be brutally honest for a minute? Usually the people I struggle the most to connect with, are other Christians.

I’m sorry if that’s offensive, I’m just trying to write how I feel. I’m not talking about all Christians, I’m talking about a few. You know who I mean, they keep everything surface level and think they can wipe away a painful situation with a verse or a phrase, “If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end!” They’re convinced that their way of loving and worshiping God is the best and only way. I visited a church once where someone said from the stage that “if you’re not jumping and dancing in your worship, you might as well go home because God doesn’t want your half-hearted worship”.  Really?  Someone who worships quietly could very well be worshiping just as much as the person dancing and doing back flips for God.

I try not to be judgmental and mostly I’m fine with weird people, ( you pretty much have to be okay with weird in order to live in Oregon ) but some days I’d rather not be around people. Maybe I’m easily discouraged, but when people who claim to love God act as though they don’t love anyone except others just like them, it makes me want to move to a cabin in the woods. I’d isolate myself and pretend nothing is wrong with the world.

I recently read the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, about discovering the way you best relate to God, your “spiritual temperament”.  In the book he describes nine different temperaments, some people are Caretakers, Contemplatives, Ascetics, Activists….but I’m almost entirely a Naturalist, meaning I experience God the most while alone in the woods or at a river or the ocean. Learning this about myself is good and gives me permission to take a break once and a while and be alone in creation, but it also becomes a temptation to want to be alone a lot. In some ways Jesus was a Naturalist, he would often go to a garden to pray and once spent forty days alone in the wilderness praying and fasting, but he also spent most of his life with people, caring for, teaching and loving people.

In order to love people you have to spend time with them. In some ways I’m good at caring for people, I can get behind a cause, be an activist and bring attention to a problem and help be part of the solution. I care about injustice, what’s hard is caring about the ones who are the problem. When people choose not to care about others or are downright mean, all I want is to move to that cabin and hide. Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry the other day:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

Ephesians 5:1-2

I’m learning more and more that in order to reflect Christ, I must love people. I’m not always good at that. I can love the down and out, the oppressed, but what about the oppressor? What about the people I find myself at odds with? Jesus loves all people. He died for us all. His salvation is available to all.

Jesus loves everyone. That means I should love everyone.

Jesus loves rude Christians.

He loves the guy who ran a red light and flipped me off when I honked.

He loves politicians.  

 He even loves me.

  Jesus loved the man on the cross next to him who had presumably committed a violent crime. He promised him salvation. 

 Unfortunately, I can fall into my own category of “rude Christian”.  It’s a constant internal struggle to be Christ-like towards people who claim to love God, but are apathetic to the plight of others. And yet, I can be just as oblivious. I’m ashamed to admit all the times I ignored an opportunity to help someone out because I was in a hurry.

Here’s a thought: let’s love each other. Let’s reach out and be open minded about each other’s point of view and realize we all come from different backgrounds and that in the end I don’t think it’s going to matter how we look or dress or how we worship. In the end all that matters is if we loved. If we claim to love God then lets agree to love people. All people. I think we’ll be surprised at how beautiful people truly are.

—————————————

Originally written on 7/25/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Lie Called “Perfection”.

The topic of self image and our society’s objectification of women is something I’m passionate about. Even more now that I’m raising two girls. I might eventually write more on the topic, but direct it towards men.  For now, this post is mainly directed at women.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

As a teenager, I was a crazy perfectionist. Okay, sometimes I still am, but I’m working on it. I used to care way too much about what others thought of me.

I’d worry that I’d say the wrong thing, so I wouldn’t say anything.

I had been convinced I was “uncool”, so I became obsessed with trying to become cool.

I was scared to death that people would discover how weird I truly was, so I tried to be someone else.

I hated telling people I was home schooled  because they automatically expected me to be, smart, nerdy and socially inept. I never believed the part about being smart.

All this accomplished was people thinking I was stuck-up because I wouldn’t talk to them, wasted hours trying to look a certain way,  the pain of not being myself around my peers and a messed up sense of self worth.

I wish I could tell my teenage self how trivial perfection is in the long run. I wish I would have known then what I know now. Perfection is not real. It’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. Our society would have us think perfection can be bought in a bottle or in the department store. Countless lives are being wasted trying to achieve the perfect image. I heard a statistic the other day (I can’t remember the source, I heard it on the radio.) that said a third of women would trade their IQ for larger breasts. Seriously? That’s deplorable. Heartbreaking. Is that what we’ve come to? Wanting to be defined by our looks? Wake up women! We are worth a hell of a lot more than that.

A couple years ago, I worked in the beauty industry doing hair and I can’t tell you how often I heard women complaining about their looks. They’d pick themselves apart saying, “I don’t like my nose”, “I don’t like my hair”, “If I could just lose a few pounds…”. Not only is this attitude sad, it’s unattractive.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to look nice, I wear makeup and style my hair (most days anyway) and I exercise to maintain a healthy body. I just don’t think a woman’s image is what should define her worth. The most beautiful women I know are not models. They’re real people with hard jobs, they’re mom’s, wives, students. They’re not perfect and that imperfection is what makes them most beautiful. They’ve lived through incredible experiences, good and bad. They’re strong.

The most beautiful women I know are confident women.

They’re confident that they are enough. They’re comfortable in their own skin, they wear what they like and don’t chase trends or spend all their time and money trying to conform to the world’s standard of beauty. Their beauty radiates from the inside. I truly believe that confidence affects your outward appearance.

Learning to like and even love myself was a hard lesson for me to learn.  I used to be so insecure, I remember several times as a teenager, hiding in the bathroom at church because one of the boys in youth group made fun of my hair or my clothes. I took everything so personally, I hadn’t figured out that teenage boys can be jerks and not to take what they say to heart. One particularly bad Sunday of hiding and self-loathing, my dad took me aside and gently reminded me of one of the older ladies in our church who was currently being treating for cancer, “She’s here today even through she’s sick and losing her hair and possibly doesn’t feel very pretty.” He went on to tell me he thought I was beautiful and that if God loves us like it says so many times in the Bible, then we must learn to like ourselves and be grateful for the way he made us. I’m quite certain he also had a stern talk with the boys and/or their parents. My dad can be scary when he needs to be.

That talk with my dad was the first time I thought about the fact that not liking myself was sort of disrespectful to God. Like telling an artist that their creation is ugly.

Of course, I’m not perfect, I’m a flawed human just like everyone else, I’ve just learned (and am still learning) to like my physical attributes, talents, interests and life experiences. Even the weird ones.

When Josh first asked me to be his girlfriend, he told me that in order for us to be together I had to believe him when he told me I was beautiful.

I think we often fall into a habit of being self depreciating and rejecting or minimizing compliments. Learning to believe others when they tell us we’re good at something or that we’re beautiful takes a change of mindset. Society feeds the mindset that image is everything and women are objects. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard.  For me that change was a long process, but thankfully I have an amazing husband who doesn’t need or expect perfection, he just wants me to be true to myself and be confident in who I am and what he believes me to be.

Women, let this be a lesson. Any man who says you aren’t good enough or doesn’t like you, unless you look and dress a certain way, is not worth your time and effort. If only my teenage self had believed this simple truth.

A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me the boy she shares a desk with had called her fat. Turns out it was not the first time he’d been mean to her.  I saw the pain in her eyes and felt the unspoken questions, “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Is something wrong with me?” Two things happened at that moment. First, the mother bear in me reared up, I wanted to protect her. (Later, I called the school and made them aware of the bullying and made sure the boy would no longer share a desk with her.) Second, I made a decision to never complain about my own appearance or degrade my abilities in front of my girls. I can tell them they’re beautiful, talented and smart a hundred times a day, but they’ll never believe me unless they know I believe the same about myself.

Ladies, lets start being the women we want our daughter’s to be. I pray that my girls will be strong and self assured, I want them to believe they are beautiful even if someone tells them otherwise, but that will never happen unless I’m their example of a strong and confident woman.

Every time you call yourself fat, your daughter becomes more aware of her own weight.

When you say you hate your hair, she wonders if her own is pretty or not.

When you call yourself dumb, she second guesses her own mind and abilities.

I don’t want my daughter’s role models to be actresses or women on magazine covers, I want their role model to be me. I hope they look up to real women, like their Nana and Grandma, their Aunties and my friends who are all beautiful in the true sense of the word.

Women, lets stop being our own worst critics and start demanding the same respect of ourselves as we do from others.

And trust me, life is so much better when you stop trying to be perfect. As I get older I’ve learned to embrace my inner nerd, to just laugh when I’m clumsy, accept the fact that I’m weird and just have fun.

The first time I visited Uganda, one of my friends there, Simon, greeted me once by saying, “Bre, you are looking so fat today!” When he saw the look on my face he rushed to explain, “I’m sorry, I think in your country that is an insult. In Uganda, when we say you look fat, it means you look healthy and strong. It’s a compliment”.  Another common Ugandan compliment is to tell someone they look “smart”.  I think in western culture if you told someone they looked smart, they might think it was code for, “you’re a super nerd”.

I have to admit, there is something refreshing about a culture where the kindest praise a woman can receive is to be told she’s smart, healthy and strong.

——————————————–

Originally written on 6/15/2012

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Things you should NEVER say to foster or adoptive parents.

This is a bit of a rant, but please bear with me. Lately I’ve picked up the mantra “Some people just shouldn’t talk” and repeated it to myself and my girls whenever we encounter insensitive people. Which is decently often.

I’m a foster mom. My girls have been placed with my husband and I permanently, we hope the court will eventually allow us to adopt them. Whatever the legal system says, we are a family. The girls call us Mom and Dad, we refer to them as our daughters. We live together, we have arguments and issues, we love each other. We’re a family.

Technically, if Magda and Rosie were our biological children, Josh and I would have been 18 years old when Magda was born. Also, they are partially Hispanic. The girls’ little brother, Isaiah, lived with us for 1 1/2 years before he returned home to his biological dad and he’s especially Hispanic looking. This is where a lot of people get hung up. We look young to have a 12 year old and the kids don’t look like us.

And people say things. Out loud. Stupid things.

One conversation I had while at the bookstore with Isaiah went like this:

Man hears Isaiah call me “Mom”, does a double take and says, “You’re his mom?”

Me: “Yes.”  You just heard him call me “Mom”, congratulations on being a genius.

Man: “But he’s Hispanic.”

Me: “Yep.”  What? Holy crap, how did that happen?!

Man:”Is his father Hispanic?”

Me: “Yes.”  You’re not my best friend, I’m not going to share all the details of my life. Have you never seen an interracial family before?

Usually, I try to be optimistic about the human race and see beauty in people, but when you say rude things in front of my kids, I’m not on your side anymore.

People need to realize that the things they say about kids and to kids have a profound affect on them. Please, think before you speak. Is it necessary to point out differences in our skin tone or our ages? The kids already feel different, must you speak the obvious? What is the point?  Why can’t you just look at us and see a happy family?

So, here’s a little guide based on personal experience of what not to say to foster or adoptive parents and kids:

Don’t ask me how old I am. It doesn’t matter. My kids are well taken care of and well behaved, it shouldn’t matter if I was a teen mom or not. I know many people who’re teen parents and they are lovely and have wonderful kids. Besides, what are you hoping to accomplish with your condescending, judgmental looks and tone of voice?  I can’t and wouldn’t send them back. How about a little support.

Don’t say things like, “I could never be a foster parent.” Either you’re saying that you couldn’t handle becoming attached to a child and having to let him go, or you’re saying you couldn’t handle dealing with children that are not yours biologically. Either way you’re going to hurt my feelings or my kids’ feelings. The thing is, being a foster parent is hard and I’m not some calloused robot that doesn’t feel pain when a child I love leaves my home. And yes, foster kids come with issues from their past, but lets not talk about that right in front of them please. They’re just people who deserve love.

Never say, “It’s like you’re a real family”.  We are a real family.

Don’t gush about how wonderful we are for taking in older kids. Maybe we became parents non traditionally, but we’re just parents like anyone else who chooses to have kids.

I don’t want to hear all your horror stories about foster care. Everybody has a, “My friend’s friend had a sister who was a foster mom and those kids burnt her house down”, story.  Save it. Especially if my girls are with me.

Don’t ask where their “real” parents are. First of all, the term you’re looking for is “birth parent”. My husband and I are the ones living with them and caring for them. At this point we’re their real parents. Secondly, why would you ask this question in front of the kids? Obviously, if they’re in foster care there’s a reason and it’s not a nice story. If you’re looking for a sad story to gossip about, look elsewhere.

Don’t ask how much money we make being foster parents.  This one really shouldn’t require an explanation. When you ask me that in front of my girls, you’re reducing their value to a number. We recently told the court that we would be their guardians and not receive monetary reimbursement if it meant less DHS involvement in our lives. It still might happen that way eventually.

Don’t tell me I got kids the easy way.  Just because I didn’t give birth, doesn’t mean its been easy. Raising kids is hard work no matter what. I promise I would trade the years of emotional pain of infertility, for a few hours of labor pains any day. However unconventional it may look, we’re a family. You probably don’t know the whole story of how we came to be, so don’t make assumptions.

The truth is, I really appreciate my friends and family and how supportive they are of us. They’ve accepted our kids with open arms and never once questioned our motives. Hopefully, someday the rest of the world will catch up. I remind my girls once in a while that Josh and I chose to make them part of our family. I hope it makes them feel special. Even though its been a long, hard road for all of us, I don’t have regrets. I wouldn’t change my experiences, even the hard ones, because they led us here.

 ——————————————————

Originally written on 5/23/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Rants

Thoughts on Becoming an Activist.

  

I’ve been observing a curious trend lately. It seems we’ve all become expert critics. I tend to be an opinionated person and have to be especially careful not to be overly critical. I think the danger in being a critic is that it’s easier to critique than to support. I’m a supporter of many causes. I have a hard time choosing who and what to support, there are simply too many causes in the world that I feel strongly about, but the fact is I have to do something. I feel it’s my responsibility as a human.  The truth is I could always do more, we all could.  We live in a culture where it’s so easy to be immobilized by meaningless distraction. We get wrapped up in our own little worlds and it can be so hard to break out. I think each of us has a lot to give if we’d just try. I certainly know I’m guilty of having good intentions, but no follow through.

Why is it that people can be so quick to criticize and reluctant to care about the hard issues? Why do we vilify people who are trying to bring awareness to the most difficult situations in the world. I’m not saying you have to subscribe to every cause you come across, but I am suspicious of people who don’t subscribe to anything, or to very little, and spend the rest of their time discrediting the various causes they encounter. I think it’s a red flag if we are against more things than we are for. Of course, there are causes people won’t support due to moral conflicts and that’s fine, but when it comes to justice and basic human rights, why are we so divided? Why do we make everything political? Maybe it’s a diversion so we can remain comfortable and inactive, an excuse to turn a blind eye to the atrocities happening around us.

Here’s a few things I’ve done on my journey to becoming less of a critic and more of an activist:

Serve: Doing something besides just trying to meet my own needs each day is so important. I could easily spend a day working, shopping, cooking and cleaning without ever really noticing those around me. I’ve been challenging myself lately to be more outgoing, little things like complimenting someone everyday and smiling at the people I come in contact with or starting a conversation with the person I’m standing in line with at the store. (I think the last one really annoys some people, so I don’t push it.) This is an effort to truly see the people around me. Connecting with and serving people is a way to open my mind to the circumstances of others. It takes intentionality to see the plight of other people, whether it’s the homeless man on the corner or the woman struggling to carry her groceries and lead her children at the same time, most of us are capable of lending a helping hand. I’m proud to be a part of a church family that regularly serves our community. What better way to connect with and learn about others?

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  Galatians 5:13

  Travel: Getting out of my own culture and learning how people live in other places has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Being immersed in another way of life has forced me to rethink my preconceived notions about other people groups and situations in the world. I know it sounds cliché, but the truth is, all the times I’ve gone to another country to serve, I’m the one who is blessed and returns a better person.

I understand not everyone has the means or the opportunity to travel to another country, but learning about another culture could simply mean befriending someone with different political and/or religious ideals than yourself. You may be surprised what you can learn from each other and how much you may actually have in common.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  -Mark Twain

Read: Yesterday I read a survey done by The Jenkins Group, an independent publishing services firm, that shows millions of Americans never read another book after leaving school. It also said 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. I find this tragic. I believe reading makes for well rounded people, who are less egocentric and able to empathize with the plight of others. They read stories about other people, become educated about situations in their community and around the world, get out of their own heads and into the head of a character in a story. Reading broadens worldviews, allows opinions to grow and evolve and inspires action and creativity. Plus, it’s fun.

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” 

Take Risks: Obviously one of the best ways to get out of your comfort zone it to do something drastic. The most difficult and scary things I’ve done have always been the most rewarding, i.e. quitting my job and moving overseas, becoming a foster parent. These experiences shape who I am, make me more socially aware and force me into relationships with new people. I’m more open minded and willing to get behind a cause and support others because of the people who believed in and supported me when I was the one with the cause.

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.”  – Goethe

Now it’s time for me to get off the couch and do some good.

———————————————————–

Originally written on 4/4/2012

 



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Memories Of My Time In The Philippines.

I’ve been wanting/needing to record some old memories here for a while. Sometimes I fear when I’m old, I’ll forget the important events and places I’ve experienced. I want to write down the things that stand out from important trips I’ve taken. The only record I have of most of my travels are some journal entries and e-mails I sent to friends and family. So, I decided to highlight some of my favorite memories, mainly for myself and maybe my kids, to enjoy later. Here’s one about the six months I spent in the Philippine Islands with Youth With A Mission when I was nineteen. I attended a Discipleship Training School on board the M/V Island Mercy, a ship equipped to provide medical assistance, mainly eye surgery for cataracts.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

  I once had a dream about a clock. It was set inside a large ship’s wheel or helm. It wasn’t a very interesting dream, just the clock, but for some reason it stuck with me and I would sometimes picture the clock in my mind.

Several months after the clock dream I arrived on board the M/V Island Mercy docked in Manila Bay. It was late, but I was given a quick tour of the ship and there, in the main gathering area or lounge, was the clock from my dream. I stopped and stood there staring at the clock on the wall for a few moments before hurrying after my guide who had continued walking down the hall and was rattling off ship terminology, explaining which side was port, starboard etc.

Later, as I was lying in my bunk being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship, I thought about the clock and my dream and felt such a sense of peace, feeling I was about to embark on an amazing adventure and that I was exactly where I should be.

Manila is a sea of sixteen million people and the most densely populated city in the world. A chaotic combination of cars, jeepney taxis, motorcycle taxis, shanty towns, skyscrapers, market places made from colorful awnings and full of delicious, tropical fruit, handmade crafts, chickens, pigs and children selling eggs and jewelry and fishermen displaying their daily catch.

The months we spent in Manila consisted of daily work duties, preparing breakfast in the galley at 6:00am or working in the 110 degree engine room. Five days a week we had morning worship and lectures on the aft deck, our music and voices joining with the hum and clatter of  the busy pier.  Many weekends we spent in the city with the street children of Manila. Playing games with them, passing out snacks or just being a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. I always left the children feeling as though we could never do enough for them.

The students and ship’s crew represented several different countries and cultures, but we became a family, learning to live and work together in close quarters, teaching each other our traditions and languages.

The night we sailed from Manila there was bio-luminescent algae glowing electric blue in the black waters of Manila Bay.  Next morning I woke early to work in the galley, but first I slipped outside to the bow of the ship to watch the sunrise. As the sun rose over the sea I saw that we had exchanged the polluted waters of Manila for the clear, blue waters of the rural islands. Flying fish soared in and out of the waves around the bow and islands of palm trees and bamboo forests slid silently by.

Our destination was the island of Mindoro where the ship was part of a medical outreach providing dentistry and cataract surgery for people who’d otherwise be unable to afford it. Once, I had the opportunity to watch the surgeon perform the eye operation, skillfully and quickly removing the cataracts and inserting new lenses into the eyes of a woman who had been mostly blind for twenty years. As her eyes healed, she began to regain her sight over the next couple days.

Mindoro is where I had my first glimpse of  how beautiful the Philippines truly are. We spent our free time exploring the island, swimming in the ocean, and marveling at the pristine, white sand beaches. One night a group of us were laying on the beach after dark watching the stars and my friend was pointing out the constellations he recognized,  Orion, Sagittarius the archer, and I realized the stars seemed brighter and closer then I’d ever seen before. Suddenly I felt incredibly small and insignificant, a speck of dust in the cosmos. I voiced my thought to the group and one of the girls said, “Yes, we are small, maybe no more than a speck of dust or a grain of sand, but God sees us”.  God sees us. He sees me. In the midst of all the chaos, the creator of the universe sees me. At the time, this thought was as profound as is was simple.

Next we sailed to the remote island of Palawan. This time a pod of dolphins joined us for a while during our sail. They played in the wake, coming close with an inquisitive eye and diving away again, like children unsure of a new playmate.

In Palawan we moved off the ship and into a YWAM base in Puerto Princessa.  Emotions ran high as we said goodbye to the ship and crew, our home and family of the last four months.

Palawan proved to be one of the most exquisitely, beautiful places I’ve ever been.  I loved hiking through the rich rainforests where the thick, humid air resonates with the songs of hundreds of tropical birds and the sunlight is filtered through the canopy of palms, banana trees, mango trees and bamboo. One forest we visited had families of monkeys and monitor lizards.  The beaches are a mix of white sand and breath taking mountain cliffs and the bluest water. On a free afternoon, I went island hopping with a group of friends in a little outrigger boat. As we were skimming across the water, I looked down and realized the water was so clear I could see purple starfish on the sandy bottom 15-20 feet down. The water looked so perfect and inviting, it took some self restraint to not dive straight off the back of the boat. We snorkeled through coral reefs with shoals of neon colored fish, I tried my hand at surfing and mostly spent as much time in the sea as possible. My days on the island flowed together in waves of green and blue.

My team spent most of our outreach phase in Palawan. We spent a few days at an orphanage clearing brush and planting a garden. Next, we held a vacation bible school for children of prisoners, living in a prison village and held a youth camp for teenagers.

Then we moved for a time to the Ransang YWAM base across the island. This is where we were truly roughing it. The base was a handful of bamboo and palm leaf woven houses with no running water or electricity. From there we trekked through dense rainforest to visit a remote tribe of people.

This was the most trying part of the trip for me. The place its self is amazing and the people we met were beautiful and generous, but I’d been away from home for five months and I was beginning to feel homesick. Homesickness combined with the fact that we only had bucket showers or a stream to bath in and I never quite felt clean and the slow pace of life in this remote place was starting to affect my morale. If it hadn’t been for my team of friends, I probably would’ve lost my mind in the jungle.

The last couple weeks of outreach were spent back in Manila at a home for troubled youth called Alay Pag-asa.  It was a shock to my system going from the rural and slow paced village of Ransang to the chaotic concrete jungle of  Manila. In spite of the shock, I fell in love with the kids we met there. Many of them had been street kids, but were now in school and learning vocational skills. To hear their stories of transformation from homelessness and desperation to currently striving at school and learning a trade was a wonderful example of empowerment.

It’s strange writing about something that happened a decade ago, because I’m not the person I was then. I suppose none of us are the same as we were ten years ago. This trip was a turning point for me. It was in the Philippines that I began to come out of my shell and leave the young timid girl behind. There’s so many more stories I could tell about the people I met and the adventures we had, learning to live with giant insects and spiritual warfare, but one of the most important things that happened was I learned how to be myself. I’m still learning really, but that’s where it started. One of our speakers during the school told me I was like a bird in a cage, but the door to the cage was open and it was up to me to step out and fly away. Since that time I’ve had so many other major life experiences that have been beautiful and extremely difficult in turn, the cage is far away.

———————————————————-

Originally written on 2/24/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

30th Year Challenge Update

This August on my 30th birthday I made a decision to invoke on a one year challenge. I wanted to do something that would be difficult (for me) and would help me gain a better understanding of my own identity. I decided to go on a consumption protest and not buy clothes for one year. I’d been in a cyclical habit of just buying new clothes with each season and spending money and time I didn’t need to spend, chasing ever changing trends. I wanted to step back and examine our society and culture of consumerism and how it had affected my life. I’ve completed four months of my challenge and thought it was time for an update. Here are some things I’ve learned:

Embrace imperfection. When I gave up chasing trends I had to accept that my wardrobe might start to feel boring, but I decided not to care. The not caring is such a freeing experience. I’ve spent too much of my life caring what others think and worrying about how they perceive me. The fact is, imperfection builds character and uniqueness and allows for more creativity. I tend to be a bit clumsy and so far I’ve ripped and stained several shirts (working with kids doesn’t help). At first I’d get really upset about the fact that I couldn’t replace the ruined item, but I’ve learned to let it go and make do with what I have. I’m getting creative with how I wear my wardrobe and pulling out old, long forgotten pieces I haven’t worn in ages. It’s funny how many compliments I’ve received about an old dress I probably wouldn’t have worn again if it wasn’t for this challenge.

Intentionality. I’ve become much more intentional about how I spend my time and money. Even though my challenge applies specifically to clothes, it’s spilled over to other aspects of my life as well. I find myself thinking more about the purchases I make and making sure they’re truly necessary. I still go out with friends and on dates with my husband because it’s a great way to connect, but I’m less of a compulsive shopper. I’ve also been more intentional spiritually, spending more time reading and studying the Bible these last few months.

Better habits. Instead of shopping when I have free time, I’ve been working out. I bought a couple workout videos (Jillian Michels kicks my ass) and have been going on runs more frequently. As a result I’m in better shape and have more money in the bank.

These are a few things I’ve learned in the last four months of my challenge, I’m sure there will be more revelations to come in the next eight months. I’ve begun to reprogram the way I think about consumption and I hope the lessons will last a lifetime.

—————————————–

Originally written on 1/9/2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized