Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Passover Musings

There is a mountain that is my life. It twists and turns, goes up and down. Sometimes I reach a flat area and can see the path far ahead of me. Usually I can only see the next rock where my foot must go, each step God telling me to just trust Him.

 As I've been pondering the first Passover these last two weeks, I think the Israelites felt the same way.

 They had just watched God hurl down on Egypt many plagues of gnats, frogs, boils, and darkness. They must have been in awe of what God was doing to their enemies and maybe the deliverance they felt was coming. 

 But Pharaoh still wouldn't let them go. And there was this last terrible plague that they would not necessarily escape from. The eldest son of each house was going to die. Unless. Unless for four days each house brought a spotless male lamb into their house, then killed it, ate it, and painted its blood across their doorways. 

 Why would God kill innocent children? Why was their only hope an innocent lamb?

 They didn't know. They couldn't know. They only had their instructions. So they took the lambs into their homes. Precious, sweet lambs that they fed and cared for and the children carried in their arms. The same lamb their father slaughtered and the children were required to eat. 

 Those children could not see the good in the death of that lamb.

 I cannot see the good in many things in my life- hills that turn into mountains, bends that turn into long detours with no sunshine.

 I feel their pain. I feel the knife of God bringing people into my life who I love to just take them away from me. What good is there in that? What good is there in a slaughtered lamb that was brought into their house as a pet to be killed a few days later?

 But the oldest son did not die. Suddenly the slaughtering of the lamb was necessary and good. Their son, their brother, lived. They understood the reason for their previous pain.

 And unlike those children, unlike the Israelites, I can see God's overarching plan. I can see how the innocent lamb who died in the place of the oldest son was a picture of Jesus who would many years later die an innocent death for our sins. For my sins. 

 I do not know what God is doing with my pain and my life right now. I wonder how it can be good. But I am faithful that He is working for my good. I know that someday in heaven I will see everything as good and necessary. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

7 Things People with Food Allergies and Intolerances Want You to Know

 I was five and my sister was two. We were in the car eating snacks. I had a bag of trail mix and I was feeding my sister Cheerios. At some point my sister started coughing and rubbing her face and eyes. From her mirror, my mom could see hives on her face, and knowing my family's history with allergies, quickly pulled into our doctor's office that happened to be nearby. 

 I don't remember that day, but I remember the days after. 

We discovered my sister had an anaphylactic peanut allergy, meaning she could die if she ate peanuts. She was also at the time severely allergic to eggs and dairy. I remember not being able to put my sister in the church nursery because they refused to change the snack they provided. I remember the time she accidentally drank from my cup of milk instead of her cup of rice milk, and we all watched her. I remember people teasing my sister and telling her she should eat peanuts to see what would happen. I remember how sad she was for several years when as a teenager she couldn't go to camp with her friends just because they would insist on eating peanut butter and not making meals safe for her.

 Growing up, my mom has also been lactose intolerant for a long time. In recent years, she has had to limit almost all fat and sugar from her diet for reasons no one understands.

 Almost my whole life I have watched my mom and my sister, and some friends struggle through their food allergies, and this is what they wish you knew:

1. They aren't making it up.

  Many people brush off those who claim they can't eat certain foods, saying they're lying. This is common sense, but if someone says they have a food allergy or intolerance, believe them. If they carry EpiPens, doctors have confirmed the allergy.
  Yes, we have all heard of that random person making up an intolerance to food so they can feel special or important. I recently heard of a woman who made up her child's life threatening allergy. Sadly it happens. But those people are exceptions. What happened to people being assumed innocent until they are proven guilty? Please just assume these people are telling the truth, unless you want to find that out the hard way.

 2. Some people do not understand the meaning of a life threatening allergy, and that makes life difficult for the ones that live with the allergy.

 My sister and parents have been the brunt of rude comments from people who think we are taking my sister's allergy too seriously. We have heard many things from, "You can't live in fear", to "Her allergy can't be that serious." 

 Well, it is that serious. If my sister eats peanuts (including peanut butter or peanut oil) she could die. Though doctors are unsure, it is possible she could also react to the smell of peanuts in the air. 

  And we do not live afraid. We serve a great God who created my sister and gave her this allergy. We trust Him to keep her alive or take her away as He sees fit, as we do with each of our own lives every day.    
 So we do not live in fear; we live with our brains turned on. If a package of cookies says, "May contain traces of peanuts" she does not eat them. That is common sense, not fear. That is looking both ways before crossing the busy intersection.

 But people often still do not seem to grasp the concept that if my sister eats peanuts she could DIE. 

3. They often feel left out because of their food allergy.

  How would you feel if you went to a birthday party as a child and you couldn't eat the cake? My sister did that many times. How would you feel if at a bridal shower you couldn't eat anything but the veggies? My mom and my sister still do that.

 They often can't eat. Can't taste. Can't do what everyone else is doing. They just watch others eat the good food. Or they eat their own snack they brought, sometimes getting awkward stares. You don't realize how important it is to be included at meal time or dessert until you are not. Often, the hard part for them isn't not being able to eat certain foods, but not being able to eat along with everyone else.

4. One of the greatest kindnesses you can do is let a food allergy person read a label. 

  Some food allergies and intolerances are harder to deal with than others, but by just reading labels, they can know if they can eat something or not. So save the packaging and offer to let people read the labels. 

5. Don't be offended if they won't just take your word for it that your food is safe.

  People who have Celiac will get very sick if they eat gluten. People with anaphylactic food allergies could die. They are not going to take a chance and eat the food unless they trust you and your knowledge of their food issues. It is nothing personal. 

6. Just try.

   Food allergies can be tricky. There are things no one thinks about like cross contamination (using the same utensils for different foods, possible contaminating all of the food where before only one food was unsafe). It can be scary to assume the responsibility of cooking for someone with food allergies or intolerances. What if you are wrong? What if you don't fully understand?

 Mostly, people with food issues just want you to try. Listen to their struggles with food. Ask them to teach you how to read labels. Ask them to show you what they do, what they can and can't eat. Learn how to properly use an EpiPen. Cook with them. Ultimately, just love them, especially in trying to understand where they are coming from and making things they can eat. 

7. The greatest kindness you can give someone with a food allergy, intolerance, or dietary issues and preferences is the gift of food they know is safe for them to eat and also delicious. 

   I once sat next to two college girls at a wedding who had Celiac. There was a special cake for those with a gluten intolerance, and they were so excited they could eat cake with everyone else. It was the same excitement I have seen on my mom and sister's faces when there is food they can eat at an event where they often have to  avoid the snack table. 

 Consider this a challenge: How can you bless someone with a food allergy or a food intolerance today? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Will Love

I'm thinking about many things. Things difficult to name and describe.

 I'm thinking of love as I read Ann Voskamp's The Broken Way. How it is when we are broken that we can fully experience God's love for us and also fully loves others.

 Dirty trays pile up at work when I've already done more than my fair share. How much do I give? Do I wash their trays to love my co-workers, or do I love them by not letting them get away with laziness? What if washing their trays is the only act of kindness they will receive, today? 

 I am more aware of my brokenness these days than I have been in a while. I can feel my dreams fleeing, desires dying. There are things that I wanted but now only half want. There are things I desire that I can't have. What do you do when your life suddenly feels drained of purpose?

 I guess that's when God begins to pour His purpose in your soul.

 Ann Voskamp says we don't truly love something until we give it up. The Bible says that. It is in that most famous and cliche verse John 3:16: "For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

 It is the good kind of cliche. The cliche that says we must never forget. 

 I'm still thinking of love. Thinking of the love I have for all of my friends miles away. Thinking of a love I hope to have for a special man someday. Thinking of the love I have for all of the children I have looked after. Thinking of the love I have for my family near and far. But mostly I'm thinking of Jesus' love for His people- a love so strong, so pure, that He was willing to die. God made flesh, made to struggle with us on earth, and then made to die a horrible death. For unrequited, undeserved love. 

 So I've decided to keep washing trays, and not just my own.

 I've decided to sing along even to country music, even if my heart does not feel like singing.

 I've decided to love others even when I feel unloved. 

 I've decided to love my uncertain future full of dead dreams.

 I've decided to love because He loves me. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nothing Gold Can Stay: The Joy After Sorrow

Sometimes life hits you, without warning, like a blizzard in March.

 There is grass. There is mild, winter weather, and the birds singing of spring. 

 And then there is cold, below zero temperatures, snow piling faster than you can shovel, and winds blowing snow and making it impossible to see in any direction around you.

 Sometimes, life is like that. 

 Sometimes things come so suddenly, so fiercely, so strongly, that you wonder how they could possibly stay. Like beautiful, spring weather during a New England March. 

 So I pray every morning and every night, "God, thank you for this gift you have given me today. And if I must, I pray You will give me the strength to let go and give it back to You."

 How did I know to pray that? Was it the speed in which "the gift" was given, the fear of it being taken away, or the Holy Spirit gently preparing me?

 Reader, He took the gift away as quickly as He gave it to me. 

 As my favorite poet says, "Nothing gold can stay."

 But there is something they don't tell you about blizzards- when the sun comes out again, it reflects off of all the fresh snow, and the sun, if possible, is even more glorious. 

 Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs' a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 

 They tell you life is hard, but you always hope you will be the exception, that you will miss the blizzard. 

 I didn't know the strange joy that comes after sorrow, the brighter sun after a blizzard that only Jesus can bring. 

Nothing gold can stay. 

At least nothing except Jesus' promises.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Taming Colombia // Colombia 2017


 I'm not sure how to describe my Colombia trip to you. Our week in Medellin is a blur of images and feelings. My heart and mind are full of many stories from Medellin, but when I skyped with my friend it was hard to find words to begin to describe all of the things I saw. So here is a start to everything in my heart from our Colombia trip. 

 1. I found the sun. 

   The mornings and evenings were cool. The rest of the day was usually between 70 and 80 degrees. Though we got hot from working, we never got too hot. And every day there was the sun sitting glorious in the sky.

   I have S.A.D., which basically means that during the winter when the sun goes away and it is too cold to be outside I get depressed. While in Colombia, it was amazing how much the sunshine lifted my mood.

 2. I tasted fresh mango and pineapple for the first time. 

    There is a reason people rave about the fresh fruit in warmer and tropical areas- because it is AMAZING! Huge, juicy, sweet, golden fruit. Though I am sure it has been said before, it reminded me of heaven. In Vermont I can buy pineapple and mango and tangerines and lots of different fruit at my local grocery store and it tastes wonderful. In Colombia, it was the same taste that I loved, but fuller, or like it became real. What I have grown up with is not false, but just not the most it could be. And that is what heaven will be like. We get many glimpses on earth, but in heaven everything will be in its' true form.

 3. I worked hard.

    The church we served asked us to build a mezzanine to more people. They were filling their church to full capacity at four hundred and were telling their members to go to other churches so that unbelievers and non-church members could hear the gospel. It was a big job, but thanks to long hours and many skilled men on our team, we did it! Now the church can seat six hundred people! The photo below was taken from the mezzanine we built when it was almost finished.

 4. I realized again and more fully how weak I am and how strong my God is. 

  There were many things I couldn't help with as we were building the mezzanine. I am not strong and I am unskilled. I swept and picked up the work area a lot. Anything that I did do other than that I had to be taught and people had to be patient with them as I asked many questions and did things slowly.

  I was also a foreign woman in a city that spoke no Spanish- a triple whammy. For safety, women had to stay in the middle of the group as we walked the streets every day. I couldn't leave buildings on my own. I couldn't even take many pictures of the city since it would draw attention to me and distract me from being fully aware of my surroundings. I couldn't hold basic conversations with people I met.

 Then there was the contaminated water we couldn't drink and constantly wondering if they had prepared our meals and drinks without using that water. Did they use bottled water to make our coffee? Did they use bottled water in the juice? How much of their tap water were we consuming after they washed the fruit?

 The entire trip was a reminder of my weakness in all of those different ways. But it brought me to 2 Corinthians 12:9 that says, "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly therefore I would rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me." I am weak, but my Savior is strong, and my weakness points to His strength. 

 5. I worshiped with Colombian brothers and sisters in Spanish. 

  Before this trip I had never experienced worshiping with fellow believers in a different language, country, and culture, and like the fruit, it was a glimpse of heaven.  There were several melodies I recognized (like O Come O Come Emmanuel in February) despite the Spanish words.  But their smiles and their obvious joy for Christ and His gospel required no translator. 

 6. I cried when we left. 

  I always cry when I leave a place I love. And within the six days we were in Medellin I fell in love with the city and the country and the people. In The Little Prince, a favorite children's book of mine, it is explained as "taming". 

  "'I am looking for friends. What does that mean- tame?'
    'It is an act too often neglected,' said the fox. 'It means to establish ties.'
  'To establish ties?'
  'Just that,' said the fox. 'To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world...'" (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince). 

 For better of for worse, I have tamed Medellin, Colombia. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Is New and What Is the Same // Colombia 2017

 The sun is brighter here.

 There are flowers and green grass in the middle of February.

 And the air is thick with pollution. It smells like cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, and other smells all foreign and unfamiliar.

 But especially in the mornings, the smell of fruit just sliced will break through the smog. 

 I touch each palm tree as we walk through the busy city, and it feels smooth and fake, so unlike the rough bark of the trees at home. 

 I touch the flowers, these magical winter flowers, and they are the same softness of petals I recognize. 

 Things that are new and things that are the same.

 At times, I forget what is new and what is the same. 

 The pineapple is the same, but so new, so juicy, so unbelievably fresh and sweet. 

 A city is not new, and lying in my bed, I almost forget this foreign city is new between the horns and the gunned motors and the city that is incapable of sleep- until an unfamiliar Colombian melody blares. 

 Streets that are clean, streets full of garbage. 

 Then a man walks up-hill, a full garbage bag larger than his body strung across his shoulders and almost trailing the ground. 

 Then another man opens his door and water floods onto the narrow side walk as he mops his entryway. 

 And I am wearing shorts in February. 

 "We're right above the equator in Medellin," people say. "That is why it is warm in February." But it is still magic, just like it would be magic for them to visit us and see the white snow and frost and feel the cold and see their breath. You can see your breath. But not here. 

 It's magic. 

 New magic is palm trees.

 Old magic is seeing my breath and the clear point of icicles. 

 Spanish words dance around me and I touch another palm tree.

 Each finger on a palm tree is a kiss for the Colombia that I may never see again. 

 Almost three thousand miles away, and there is the same moon and there is the same sun. 

 Almost three thousand miles away and they sing Amazing Grace and Holy, Holy, Holy, and request songs from Sovereign Grace. 

 We rotate from singing in Spanish then English- new then the same, but really all the same worshiping the same God. 

 This same sun, new but the same but new, is so bright I can feel it warm my icy being. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Birthday Prayer // Colombia 2017

 How do I pack for a week in a foreign country where I won't know what work I'll be doing or what I will need? 

 I'm not sure.

 How do I prepare for the rest of my life where I don't know what work I'll be doing or what I will need?

 I'm not sure I can.

 Cause I'm trying to do both.

 I'm packing nice clothes for church and being tourists, work clothes I can get paint on, work clothes I don't want paint on, t-shirts and sweaters, shorts and pants, flip-flops and sneakers. I hope it's enough.

 I got a bachelor's degree so I can have a well paying job and an internship to gain experience for a well paying job. Since the age of fifteen I've been babysitting to practice taking care of children, cooking to learn how to feed my family, blogging to practice writing and building an audience, writing short stories to prepare for a novel. I know it wasn't enough since I now wrap chocolate for a living.

 The leaders of the Colombia trip have all been saying one thing: be flexible. 

  Flexibility, both in my body and in life have never been my strong points. But I can be flexible for one week. I can be flexible serving my Colombian brothers and sisters. Just call me Elastigirl, because I will do whatever is needed and be wherever they want me. 

 But what about in life? Can I be flexible and just go with whatever God plans for me?

 Confession: Saturday mornings when my mom asks me to go to the store with her, I freak out. I don't mind going to the store with her. I want to go to the store with her. But I had planned to shower, clean the bathroom, do other cleaning stuff, and then write. Or do something else that needed to be done. But going to the grocery store was not part of the plan. It messes up the plan.

  That is how inflexible I am. Going to the grocery store can ruin my day.

 Confession: Today I turn 23, and by now I had planned to be married and to have written and published a novel.

 Confession: I am not Elastigirl, as much as I want to be perceived as a girl with a free spirit. The free spirit part of me is internal, not external and certainly not ready to go to the grocery store or be single for only God knows how many years.

 I mentioned in a previous post that in 2017 I want God's agenda to be my agenda. I need to be flexible. I need to let Him take me to places I did not plan.

 Colombia itself has already been a lesson in flexibility. There were rumors in my church of a trip to India, and that is where I wanted to go. But it's not India. It's Colombia. And I'm already falling in love with this place I've never seen.

 So can I fall in love with all the other unexpected things in my life?  A job wrapping chocolate? 23 years of singleness? A future that seems very foggy and dark to me? Being unclear about what state to live in and what job to pursue?

 It won't be as easy as falling in love with Colombia, but it will be my birthday wish, my birthday prayer, today, to fully believe that the life I wanted, the 23 I imagined, is not, could not have been as good as the 23 I have now, simply because it is what God wanted for me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How to Share Good News // Colombia 2017

 I am going on a trip and this is all I have packed so far. Typical. A journal and my passport. But the words and adventures that will fill that journal and that stamp they will put in my passport are what I'm looking forward to most, I think.

It is rare for me to have exciting news to share, so lately I have been wondering how to tell people my news.

 Do I let it come up naturally in the conversation?

 Is it the first thing I say because I cannot contain my inward excitement though on the outside I am calm?

 Is there a bad way and a good way to tell people? 

 What if I am sharing good news and my friend has only bad news? Do I have a right to share my happiness?

 Is there an art to sharing "biggish" news?

 Is this just another thing I am overthinking?

 Yes, I am overthinking it. While overthinking is great for writing it is not usually good for life.

 So I decided to do what I wanted.

 I kept the news to myself for a while, a special secret only I knew. Then I told a few close friends, one with a sudden burst of excitement, another in an email with other things.

 Then I slowly expanded and told people as I so wished.

 And now I am telling you; In about three weeks I am going on a missions trip to Medellin, Colombia!

 I am very excited about this trip for many reasons:

 1. I have always longed to explore new places, especially different countries. In high school, though I wanted to travel and had an opportunity to travel internationally, I wasn't ready. In college, I was ready, but I didn't feel like I could ask people for money to go on a trip that was purely educational. Plus it always interfered with my friends' weddings and would have been a logistical puzzle as far as getting me out to Michigan during May or early January when I wouldn't normally be there for school. So I never traveled.

 2. I feel like a mission's trip is a good "use" of my singleness. Not that it is my only purpose as a single woman or that married women can't pursue short or long term missions, but it does make temporary overseas missions so much easier. I have no husband to think about or children who need me. I asked my boss if I could have the time off, he agreed, and that was all. So simple.

 3. This is the first time in my life that I remember being truly grateful for my singleness and lack of my own family. A woman in my church with a lot of kids told me how excited she was that I was able to go on the trip. She also admitted that she was jealous. There was no way this woman could have gone on this trip, or even thought of it for a moment. Her husband would have had to take a week off of work to stay with the kids. He would have had to take over everything, from homeschooling to running the household. Though I am sure he would have been willing and also perfectly capable, she really couldn't go.

  Though I pray for it not always to be so, right now I am thankful to be so unattached. 

 4. Most importantly, we are going to be helping a seminary and pastors in the area. We are going to bless them with our service and help the gospel go forth in Colombia, and I am beyond excited!

 5. Through this trip, even though I haven't left yet, God has been showing me more of His faithfulness. Family and friends have been generous in supporting me financially. People have told me they will cover the rest of the money I need and saying to tell them if I don't have enough.  My boss is giving me the week off during a busy season when he has every right not to let me go.  I have faced my fear of needles this month more times than I think I have in my entire life, and God did not leave me.  He is teaching me to trust Him more as I travel to a country with many mosquito born illnesses despite the fact that I'm a mosquito magnet. 

 Right now my life feels exciting, and God has been faithful during this time. When I return from my trip and I settle back into the mundane, He will also be faithful. 

 He is always faithful. And even though I know many people who are hurting right now, this is news I shouldn't wonder when or how to share.