Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Robert Frost's House and the Bennington Battle Monument

 I get hungry for little adventures. I have been a long time Robert Frost fan, and have been wanting to see his house and museum since I discovered it existed a year ago. So my friend and I took the day to explore Shaftsbury and Bennington Vermont. 

 The weather was freezing and rainy, but I was so excited to see my favorite poet's dwelling and spend the day with my friend. Frost's farm is in the beautiful Southern Vermont countryside. Though all of Vermont is beautiful, I can see he didn't have to go far to find inspiration for many of his poems. 

 I seriously contemplated moving there. It was that pretty. And I may have contemplated using "Frost" as a middle name for my future son. We'll see about that one.

We weren't allowed to take any photos inside his house where they had set up a small museum-like display. The inside of the house was disappointing. There were only two rooms and a hallway that we could see. They didn't have much in them except interesting information about Robert Frost all along the walls. Though I learned a lot about him and was nerding out as they analyzed his poetry, I probably could have found almost all of that information online or in a library. 
 But just being there and seeing Robert Frost's house was worth it for me. He writes with such simplistic power that I wish I had in my words, a simplicity that does is not "dumbed down" but everyone can understand without spending half an hour with one poem. But you could spend half an hour analyzing and find such meaning and talent and beauty. He has such a technical command of his poems, the meter, style, and rhyme. He knows when to follow the rules and when to break them, and he breaks them well. 
 There was a path you could walk on through the woods on Frost's farm, a path that Robert Frost himself walked along, but we didn't venture very far. Not only was it cold, but they had several warnings of the many ticks carrying Lyme disease found here, so we decided not to risk it, despite how much we wanted to see everything. 
  Since we were right next to Bennington, I had to see the Bennington Battle Monument. My friend was sweet to let me drag her to all of these places as I satisfied my need for an adventure. The photos are of poor quality mostly due to rain and an overcast sky.

 The monument was built to remember a battle fought during the Revolutionary War in 1777. A man whose job was to tell us all about the monument and take people up and down the elevator all day said it is the tallest structure in Vermont and the 6th tallest in the U.S. We hated to disappoint him when we told him we were just from New England as the highlight of what can be a monotonous day for him is meeting people from all over the U.S, and often the world. 

 Though we couldn't get the full panoramic view, in each direction we had beautiful views of Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. 

 At the end of the day on our way back to my car, God surprised us with one more special thing. My friend took a wrong turn, and it took us to a covered bridge. 

 I am thankful for the reminder that unexpected turns can become better than what I had planned. Not unexpected for God, but me. I don't know what will happen, but God does, and it will be better than my plan simply because it is the Lord's will. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How He Destroys the Darkness

The sun has been leaving earlier, lately. Every day the darkness pushes back a few minutes of sunlit evenings.

 It will creep up on us, slowly stealing more time from the sun until one day I will leave work in darkness, headlights on, the eight hours of daylight spent inside working, eyes on my work but my heart and skin and fingers being pulled to the little sunshine visible in our one window. 

 Darkness creeps near me, tonight, an unwanted companion. 

 I feel him hiding in a corner under my bed.

 I only have one weapon against the darkness, when even the light in my room can't possibly be bright enough.

I reach for my Bible, covered in gray fabric with a flowered pattern in white. The bookmark is in Exodus 39 and 40, and I force myself to read this holy book.

 "From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses (Exodus 39:1) ...They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates- a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses" (Exodus 39:25-26). 

But what do the priest's garments have to do with me? The bells and pomegranates on the hem? The colors of the clothes? What do they have to do with the darkness that is slowly consuming me, this pain I feel over life's circumstances, this feeling of hopelessness?

 This book is hope and life itself. He died for me. He gives me hope. He gives me life. But instructions for making the priest's clothes? 

Exodus chapter forty. "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil" (1-3).

What on earth do these words have to with my pain?

And the darkness doesn't go away, but it stays, abated by my question being voiced. 

I keep reading, keep searching, one eye on the words on the page, the other on the shadow the darkness makes as it moves closer to me.

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exodus 40: 34-38). 

 The tent of meeting was where God met with His people. This took place after they made a golden calf and worshiped it. After God had saved them from their slavery to the Egyptians. After God had parted the Red Sea. After God plagued the Egyptians with afflictions. 

 "...and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle...in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys..."

Oh darkness, it is me.     

Darkness, do you see God's holy light next to the blackness of us? 

 He loved us enough to send his son to die. He loved us enough to be particular about clothes. He loved us enough to be creative and demand bells and pomegranates of gold on the hems. He loved us enough to not abandon us even though He was and is the Almighty God who is so holy the priest's robes must be made a certain way, with gold bells and pomegranates dangling from Aaron's hems.

And the darkness recoils by my bed. In my soul. 

Darkness has no place in the tent of meeting.

This is how He destroys the darkness, a little corner each day. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Why I'm Not Doing the Non-White Authors Challenge

I have always considered myself to be a diverse reader. 

 I don't read just one kind of book. I read contemporary novels, historical fiction, biographies, non fiction, old books, new books, classics, fantasy, fairy tales, graphic novels, children's books, young adult books, adult books, mysteries, romance, Christian and non Christian. I love to read books that take place in different countries and different time periods. I love to learn new things. I love books that have a lot of depth and meaning, but I'll read lighter books, too. I am not afraid to read things out of my comfort zone. I have read quite a few Sci Fi books, a genre I personally don't like, and have even discovered a few I like. 

 But lately, I've been wondering how "diverse" my reading list really is. So I did some research. Of the twenty-three books I have read so far this year, I have read very different books- fiction and non fiction, men authors and women authors, JF to YA to Adult Fiction, and things in-between. But I also noticed that of those twenty-three books, only two were by non-white authors. 

 I looked at my shelf of favorite books, hoping I would see something different. Twenty-nine beloved books of mine: two novels by a Jewish man and a book of Japanese poetry. Many countries represented, like Germany, France, Persia, and India. But all by white authors except three. 

 I really had no idea.

 And I started to feel guilty. Guilty about the white authors I was reading, guilty for not being as "diverse" as I thought I was, guilty for not reading more books by people from different cultures and skin colors. 

 But it was an easy fix. I got onto Goodreads and did Google searches to find books by non white authors that looked interesting and I added them to my reading list. I promised myself that I would be better at reading a wider group of authors that were not so pale skinned. 

 And then on Google I found several links for something called the "Non-White Authors Reading Challenge". It looked interesting, fun, different, and dare I say it, politically correct. And for a few seconds I considered doing the challenge in 2018 and only reading non white authors. 

 But this is why I'm not.

  1. I should never be ashamed of reading books by white authors.

   First of all, because I am white. Second, since when is it a crime to read books by white people? It's not. It should never be a crime to read books by people of your own race just like it should never be a crime to read books by people of other races.

 2. I learned that China publishes the most books in the world, followed by the USA and the UK (Which Country Publishes the Most Books). 

 If you combine the USA and the UK, that means most of the books in the world are written in English by white people. That's just the way it is. I believe that we need to get better at translating these books so people in other countries are able to read more books and have more resources. I know that is a bigger problem than us English speakers realize. I also encourage other countries to crank out the books. I want to read them!  But the facts are that most books are by white people. 

 3. I've always focused on the book itself and not necessarily the author. 

 If someone picked up my future book in the library and decided to read it based purely on my ethnicity, I wouldn't be thrilled. I would prefer that they read my book because it looks interesting, well written, or they read another book of mine and loved it. And I assume other people feel the same way about their books.

 Of course, I get excited when I find a good book by a Japanese author for example because that is what I love to read. But I never want anyone to feel obligated to read a book just because someone is white or non-white. 

 I am not saying that white people are the best authors. I don't think that. I am not prejudiced against non white people; some of my favorite people are not white. I love other cultures, countries, different races and skin tones. I have been obsessed with Japan for quite a while, and since I visited Colombia, I'm in love with that country, too. Honestly, if I could choose what I looked like, I would rather be Asian or Latin American. Just saying. I think they are beautiful people. So there is no prejudice or hate here.

 I just don't want to apologize for being white and reading white authors. 

 However, I am glad I realized that I have been reading mostly white authors. I have already added more non-white authors to my reading list, and I'm already excited about some of the new books I have found to read. I just don't plan on completely taking out white authors, either. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Caught In-Between the Yes and the No

The dirt road underneath my shoes feels better than pavement. The birds singing and squirrels chattering sounds better than car horns.  

 How many walks will I take before I have the answers I want?

 A brook bubbles, and the water looks cool and the sun on my back is hot. I could take off my socks and shoes and dip my toes in, make them shiver in the water the sun has yet to warm. I could sit on a rock and wade my feet and no one would care if I did. Or I could keep walking.

 I could pause my walk and get my feet wet- something that requires no permission and has no consequences and would require no thought. I could just go wading or not go wading as I pleased. 

 But most decisions are not as simple as stopping by a peaceful stream.

 A familiar dirt road, a familiar brook, a familiar longing to test the temperature of the water, and familiar questions I want answered. Still. 

I never realized before how much I crave simple yes or no answers to the many decisions I have to make in life. 

 But like this road, I have been here before. Caught in-between the yes and the no, what I want and don't want, what God may do but has not promised me. 

 The waiting when you just want to know whether you should take a step forward or backward.

 In my Bible reading, I have reached Exodus again, a time where Israel was waiting for God to act. And in God's perfect timing, my church is now going through Exodus as well. 

 In the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites are all enslaved by Egypt. They fear God has forgotten them. But God calls a man named Moses to deliver his people from slavery and lead them to the land He has promised them. They have been given hope and they are beyond excited and ready to leave their oppression. So in Exodus chapter five, Moses goes to Egypt and confronts Pharaoh, telling him that God has commanded him to let His people go. 

 And instead of agreeing, instead of being scared of the signs Moses does with God's power, Pharaoh laughs, saying he does not know God. Then he makes life even harder for the people of Israel, and they grumble against Moses and this God of theirs who will not save them.

 I know what comes next. I know the plagues God will send to the Egyptians, all examples of His power. Though tragic, I know that God will show His authority to all of Egypt by causing all of their firstborn to die. I know that God will save the firstborns of His people Israel because of the blood of a lamb painted on their doors. I know that is a beautiful picture of Jesus' sacrificial death for us on the cross, something far beyond what the Israelites could have imagined or hoped. I know that God will humiliate Pharaoh and the Egyptians. I know God will part the Red Sea and lead His people to safety and eventually to the land He promised them. 

 I know all of these things. But the people of Israel did not. They were caught in-between the yes and the no, in-between what God had promised to do and what He hadn't done yet. 

 I think they were tired. I think they wanted to know whether they could hope, if God was going to deliver them from their enemies, if they could start packing, or if they should curl up and die in Egypt as slaves. 

 I think they felt like how I feel now walking this dirt road. 

 I am not enslaved. I am happy and free. But this dirt road has seen my confusion, my desire for a yes or no, how badly I handle being caught in-between the yes and the no.

 If I could go back into the time of Exodus, I would tell the Israelites, "Be patient. I know this is hard right now, but it is part of God's huge, amazing plan. Just wait until you see what He does."

 And the trees above me shake from the wind, like they are lovingly laughing and scolding me. So I tell myself, "Be patient. This is hard right now, but it is part of God's huge, amazing plan for my life. Just wait and see what He does, for He has never been unfaithful."

 It may take a long time or a short time, but eventually I will get a yes or a no. And either way, God will be good and faithful to me, the one who put my Jesus on a tree. 

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for possession. I am the LORD.'"
~ Exodus 6:6-8, ESV

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

To the Night Writers

 I want to pause time, hide in a log cabin in the mountains, and write my novel. I want to spend three months there and write my novel in one intense swoop with only a mountain breeze and wild flowers for distractions. 

 I think that is what it will take to finish this novel of mine.

 I am about halfway done with my novel, and I have been floating in this halfway point for a while. 

 Forty hours a week at the chocolate factory. Summer in full swing with trails that beg to be walked and mountains I long to climb. Friends to connect with. Books to read. Church activities. A room that looks like a fourteen year old lives there. A car to find and buy.

 I hear stories of writers typing late into the night. And I would. I like writing at night. I am more creative at night. But I would fall asleep at work. And I can never be the person constantly doing and going; it is not me.

 And this novel of mine stays only half done.

 But you make time for what you love.

 So to the night writers, please share your drive. Share your motivation, your energy, the speed in which you write. Share the secrets the night whispers to you that somehow feeds you and lets you still wake up in the morning and go to work at the job that pays the bills.

 God, let me start writing again. Let me make writing into a habit. Let me not give in to my tiredness. Force me to make writing dates at the library. Let my book be written in spite of me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When My Weakness is My Strength

 ~First written while in Medellin, 
Colombia as a dispatch to our church back home~

One thought that has continually come to my mind this week in Colombia has been my weakness.

 I feel weak walking around a foreign city with traffic and busyness. I feel weak when our leaders rightly demand that women stay in the middle of the group when on the streets so the men can surround us for protection. I feel weak watching the men skillfully build things out of wood then hoist sheets of flooring up to the mezzanine. I feel weak having to ask people what a specific tool looks like. I feel weak not being able to communicate with my brothers and sisters in Christ at the seminary and the church, staring at them blankly, not sure what they are trying to tell me. I feel weak as I try to cross the street without being run over by motorcycles in a city that doesn't seem to have or obey traffic lights.

 So this morning, when I was asked to help some of our Colombian brothers and sisters to prepare our mid-morning snack, I was excited. Finally there was something I could do that I would be good at, and I could feel strong again! They put me to work squeezing tangerines as big as our oranges back home to make the most amazing juice I have ever tasted. But even in that task I didn't know what I was doing. One man, probably after watching me struggle, showed me where to properly cut the fruit, the motions my hands should make, and even how to tell if the fruit was bad (all impressively without words). He put his hands over mine, twisting the fruit to squeeze out the juice, and in that moment I realized something very simple: from construction work, to the language barrier, and even squeezing tangerines, I am clueless and weak.

 There are many things I cannot do here because I am physically weak and unskilled, and that is exactly how I am before God. I am nothing compared to Him. But 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."  God uses our weaknesses, my weaknesses, for His glory.

 So yes, I will sweep. Yes, I will collect bottles. Yes, I will hammer this nail thirty times into the wood despite the fact that any guy here could do it with two strikes. Maybe simply because God is seen in my weakness, and in my weakness I am forced to rely on Him.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Uncertainty Can Be Poetry

 In order of importance, I have found these three things to be of most help when I find my circumstances too much for me to handle: My relationship with Jesus and His Word, my family and friends, poetry. 

 I have been writing a lot of poems, lately.

I wrote a lot of poetry my senior year of high school, too. I wrote more poems than I knew were in me. It was a hard year full of loneliness and uncertainty as I waited longer than most students do to find out if I could go to the one school that held all of my hopes and dreams for the future. 

 I wrote about the waiting, the fears, the desires. I wrote about how much I wanted to go to this school, but how I feared the one thousand miles that would separate me from my family. I wrote about being excited for my future and at the same time mourning the childhood that I knew was about to end. I scribbled on notebook paper many poems about the uncertainty of our finances, how to live in-between hope and reality. How to survive a year of not knowing if I would get my dream come true or if I would have to make a Plan B. 

 My poems were an outlet for my thoughts, a way to remember the end of my childhood, and mostly, each poem was a prayer of surrender to God. 

 I had forgotten about that year of uncertainty and those poems.

 Until recently when I have felt like I am again re-living that year, just in new ways.


They said
in March
I would know. 

In March
I would know
how to cry.

These tears 
are not from joy or sorrow
but from the strange winds March blows.

One day
the breeze blowing on my neck is warm,
and my faith in going to Cornerstone is strong.

The next day,
I can feel the wind relentlessly tugging me, taunting me,
"You will never have enough money."

They said 
in March
I would know.

All I know
is my confusion
with March winds.

My poetry hasn't improved much since I was eighteen, and I suddenly find myself in a similar situation. 

 So I am reading my poems I wrote during my senior year of high school. And I am learning. 

 I am learning that as hard as it was to be so uncertain about college that year, I had forgotten. Each situation will pass with time, which will then bring new challenges. The world keeps spinning. 

 I am learning that God was faithful five years ago, and he will be faithful now. 

 I am learning over and over again about how weak I am and strong my Savior is. 

 I am learning how uncertainty is a struggle that I can choose to dwell in or I can offer to God, and He turns my uncertainty into poetry. 

 I do not know yet how I will cry, if I will cry from happiness or sorrow. I know I will cry either way. But I know that this too shall pass and that I follow Jesus who has already given me far more abundantly than I could ever ask. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Questions Not For Today

 What am I doing?

 The question comes suddenly as I think of a specific situation in my life that I would describe as crazy, scary, and wonderful all with the same breath. It is a situation that like many others has the potential for something indescribably wonderful or painful. 

 And I go back and forth between thinking it will be all wonderful or all painful. 

 So what am I doing? 

 For this new year I chose Surrender as my word. Last year it was Joy. Joy in all circumstances. Joy because God has blessed me richly and far more abundantly than I could have imagined simply because Jesus died for me. This year I want to focus on surrendering my life to God. Surrendering all of my hopes and desires and fears to Him. Surrendering what I thought my life should look like. 

 So surrender has been my theme, and going into this year I knew exactly what I would be surrendering to Him. I wasn't happy about it, but at least it was familiar, like the same chore you hate doing but at least you know what has to be done. 

 But this strange situation I find myself in has taken me by surprise, something I wasn't prepared to deal with, let alone surrender. I don't know how to do this. 

 So I take a walk down a dirt road and hide myself as far away from people as I can. And I pace up and down that dirt road asking God so many questions:

 What if...?
 What happens when...?
 How can I...?
 Should I...?

 But as I am praying and voicing my fears to God, I have this thought: these are not questions for today. Tomorrow, maybe. Definitely for the future. But not today. They are questions and fears I must surrender. Both the "what if it works?" and the "what if it doesn't?" Only God knows the answers, and right now they are not answers He is giving. So right now they are not questions I should be asking. 

 I don't want to live my life in fear. I want to live my life in the present, while sometimes looking back at the faithfulness of God and sometimes looking forward to how God will be faithful in the future. Because sometimes I get so caught up in the questions that can't be answered today that I forget these things:

1. He will hold me fast. 

 I will make mistakes. But I am God's child and no one will be able to snatch me out of my Father's hands. 

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
John 10:27-30, ESV

2. I can't know everything right now.

 I like plans. I like knowing what is going to happen in the end, whether it is the book I am currently reading or my life. But my life is not a book where I can skip pages. So I must take everything one day at a time and not fear the future. 

3. God knows everything right now. 

 When I pray and ask God my hard and painful questions, I like to imagine them floating up into His hands. God is holding my questions, so to speak. I can trust God with my fears and questions. My fears He will dissolve and my questions He will hold until the right time when He will give me the answers. 

 So my fears about my unanswered questions and situation are useless. I must surrender them to Him, because they are not questions for today. And I will wait to see what happens. Even if it just a painful lesson or experience, He is using my strange situation, many fears, and unanswered questions to draw me closer to Him. 

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 is 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.