Friday, November 17, 2017

Visitors Welcome

I've thought of about 80 different things to write about in the last 6 weeks or so, but until today, I've not been disciplined enough to actually make myself sit.  Blogging is such a weird thing.  I mean, I could have written about all of those things, revealing more than necessary, and maybe even regretting or deleting.  I could make everything seem perfect and like all of my choices have resulted in pure success.  There's a fine line between passive-agressively giving too much, crying for attention, and holding back so much that reality is hidden.  I don't think I've ever been great striking a perfect balance and our whole social-media-get-as-many-likes-as-you-can world really perpetuates that.  I never want to be anything but authentic so here's hoping that I can avoid that trap.

First of all, moving to Arizona was a calculated decision.  It's no lie that I have never loved calling Arizona home because Chicagoland will always be my number one and when my parents initially moved here, I had some resentment.  (In all fairness, I was 16 at the time.)  With finishing my degree, finding a "good" time to gracefully leave EUM with as little impact as possible, thinking of paying off the students loans, and getting my new career started, Arizona seemed like the best option.  My parents are selfless and gracious and offered to help me get back on my feet by providing housing (and other support) for me.  How could I not jump at that opportunity?  After attending private college for my bachelors, emptying much of my savings to move to Africa, working in ministry, and taking out even more loans for the M.S., the choice seemed obvious.

As I've mentioned before, being transient has never been much of a problem for me... meaning that I tend to adjust quickly and easily to new environments.  As you know, the result of this is that I have "family" all over the place and on a number of continents.   I figured a move to AZ would be much of the same.  I was stunned to find out that this was not to be the case.

You guys, I struggled (and still struggle) to be here.  This is new for me and it's been somewhat disorienting.  How could I not just transition easily and be good to go?  Why am I so sad and so angry all of the time?  It's interesting to try to find someone or something to blame and to not be able to, thus being unable to focus those emotions.  It's just not me.  I don't like to be angry or sad, yet I find myself on the extreme end of those at times lately.  I've been thinking and trying to process these emotions and thoughts for 6 weeks now and I've come to a few realizations.

When I moved to Uganda, I was thrust into a community of faith and quickly bonded with my peers over our situations.  When I moved to New Jersey, again, I was thrust into a community of faith and family.  While I was an outsider, I was made to feel a part of things rather quickly.  I was alone and enjoying the freedom of that in both instances, but I had a strong community around me.  When I got here... I was with family, but I felt alone.  The reality of my choices over the past decade and a half hit me like a ton of bricks.  I love my family, but I don't know my family and they don't know me.  Family is always family, right?  I'm lucky enough to be able to say that family will always be there no matter what.  I know that's not the case for so many people, which is so sad to me.  I've never had to question that and I have certainly taken advantage of that.  Over and over again, I've chosen to go.  I've chosen to be away from my God-given family and the results are before me now.  

Now, I don't want assumptions to be made.  I don't have an issue with my dad or my brother.  For the most part, we get along just fine and there's so much room for growth.  (My mom is still in Chicago, but will be here soon, I hope.)  The problem is me.  I have been doing my own thing for so long that they just don't know me.  That's such a lonely feeling.  I can't describe it well, so I won't try, but I have rarely felt so alone.  So much so that the first time I Skyped with "family" back in New Jersey, I couldn't hang up fast enough for the tears to remain hidden.  Everything was so fresh then and I was still struggling to process the intensity of the emotions.  Even then, I wanted to appear ok, but I failed.

And, not only am I not known, but I feel trapped at times.  It is no easy feat going from super-independent-living-across-the-country-or-on-another-continent to living at home with your parents.  It's a hard adjustment for my dad and brother too... being that we all haven't lived together since I was 16 and my brother was 13.  I can do things on my own.  I live on my own, weird, flexible schedule.  Some times I miss lunch so I eat dinner at like 4, and sometimes I don't feel like eating a real dinner, so I eat a bowl of cereal.  I'm used to making those decisions on my own, without consulting anyone else.  Doing my laundry on any day at any time is my normal.  I'll feed my dog on my schedule and she will survive just fine (I mean, I've kept her alive and thriving for over 5 years now, haven't I?).  If I run out to the store for one thing (not a list of 30 things), I don't want to shop for an hour.  I realize how selfish this may sound, but in my world, I've been responsible for me (and Piper).  Of course, this is an adjustment that will have to be made once I get married and live with my husband, but for now it's just me... well it's just been me. 

And while all of this was going on, my bank account continued to dwindle, but the bills kept rolling in, so I still somehow needed to find a job.  I gotta say, when you're in the mindset I was in, looking for a way out of the decision to move here instead of Chicagoland (and a way to justify another cross-country move), job hunting is not easy.  Not only that, but starting a new career, puts me at the bottom of every food chain, especially since it will still be years before I'm fully licensed.  I wasn't naive enough to be unaware of these things, I just jumped the gun.  (More on this later.)  And not only all of those familial and other things, but I've felt so disconnected from people already.  Texts go unanswered.  Skype times are rescheduled or ignored.  Of course, I recognize that most everyone else is super busy and working and moving on, but sometimes the loneliness of separation causes me to feel like I'm the one left behind.

So, in between spending hours a day sending out resumes and cover letters, trying to deal with the grief of leaving a place and moving to a place I don't really want to be and I'm unknown, I needed to find something to keep me sane.  So a few times I just drove around... I went out into the desert (and saw a real roadrunner!!!) and up into the mountains.  I took Piper hiking.  I explored the beauty surrounding me.  But there's only so much you can do with a gas tank on E.  I joined a gym, thinking that my spirits would be raised in no time once I was in the habit of working out again daily.  (Guess how many times I've made it to the gym so far... although, now that my schedule is regulating, I'm making it a priority.)  I binge-watched shows on Netflix (sidebar: Stranger Things is my new jam).  I read books.

I tried out a number of different churches.  I knew what I was looking for and that this season was to be a season of renewal for me.  I've felt so on-edge spiritually lately... some of which I can attribute to the current climate in our country.  In all honesty, it's been tough.  But, I think I've settled into a church and I'm looking to join a life-group (small group Bible study) within the next couple of weeks.  Again, maybe this is going to come across as self-centered, but it's also been a weird adjustment to just sit and worship during church.  To not be known and be up front; to not have any responsibilities on a Sunday morning is just so strange. 

This church has been walking through the book of Acts since January.  I, of course, came in towards the end, but I love the book of Acts.  I don't always see eye-to-eye with people's interpretation of Paul's words, but Luke gives us a different insight into the life of the apostle Paul.  Something that struck me through a sermon I heard the other week was that in his life, Paul had never planned on landing in Malta (at least not that we're aware of), but he did.  And when he landed on this island because of a shipwreck, Paul and the others were welcomed and cared for.  Within just a few verses, the islanders went from thinking Paul was a murderer because a snake bit him, to thinking he was a god because he didn't react to or get ill from the snake bite.

Then Paul, Luke, and the crew were invited in to the chief's home where they were shown great hospitality.  Paul prayed for and healed the man's father which caused the rest of the sick people around the island to come and be cured.  (Notice the difference here... Paul healed the man, but the rest came and were cured... the difference in language suggests that perhaps Dr. Luke assisted in curing people, offering some kind of therapy or medicine, as opposed to divine healing).  They were on the island for a total of 3 months.  Imagine all that was done and all that was shared in that amount of time.  Healing, teaching, worshiping, praying.  Today, Malta is known for being 98% Roman Catholic, following the teaching of Jesus, much attributed to Saint Paul.

Paul didn't plan on landing in Malta.  He wasn't known there.  Yet, his ministry was fierce.  It was very impactful and obviously long lasting.  As I have reflected on this portion of Paul's life, I've thought about my own.  I'm in a place that wasn't included in my plans.  I'm not known.  Will my ministry be fierce, or will I continue to withdraw, being content with where my heart is these days?  I pray for the former... and I invite you to join me in that prayer.

So, here I am.  I've been here for 6 weeks.  It's November 17th.  I'm finally starting to feel ready.  I've been on a number of interviews and have been offered a couple different jobs.  The job that is ideal for my experiences and talents is only being offered at part time right now as it's a small non-profit ministry.  So, for now I have accepted an offer at a different, much larger non-profit.  I'm starting at the bottom of the totem pole, like I mentioned above, but I need full time work, and there's room for growth here.  Monday is my first day and I'm really excited.  I'm excited to be out of the house, doing my own thing.  I'm excited to see where this can go.  I'm excited to get a paycheck again.  I'm trying to anticipate some of the difficulties that may be ahead of me and I'm trusting God... which I'm not always so good at doing.

I miss my friends and I miss my family.  That's not going to change.  Let's be real, Arizona is far.  And hot.  It's hot here.  Duh!  I miss fall.  I want it to be cold enough to wear a sweater.  Soon, I'm told.  The good news is that it's finally cool enough to ride the Harley without suffocating in my helmet.  Speaking of helmets... it's not the law here and SO many people don't wear them which is so scary to me!  Also, because there are so many bikes on the road, people seem to be much more aware of them.  Anyway, this is where I've been these days.  It's been so hard.  It will continue to be hard, but I'll keep moving forward.  Visitors welcome!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Grace is for Me, Too

Emotional, processing post ahead.  You've been warned.

It's 11:30pm and I should be heading to bed considering the fact that I'll be driving 2,400 miles starting tomorrow.  I'm completely exhausted, as is to be expected when packing up a home and saying "see ya later" to so many loved ones.  It's so strange to feel so ill with grief and yet long for nothing more than these hours and days to fly by.  Honestly... if I could just sleep for the next week or two, that would be great.  

When friends become family, like mine have, it feels like I'm leaving a part of myself behind.  While this season has not been without its challenges, these deep connections are clear evidence of hard work, love, and the presence of God.  I've been reading a lot of Paul's writings lately... sitting with him in his grief as he moves from one place of ministry to the next... trying to gain some peace from his experiences, some wisdom.  This is not at all to suggest the work I've been a part of is comparable to Paul's, but I imagine many of the things I'm feeling now were felt by him, felt by Jesus.  Paul often reflects on his work and expresses how he's been impacted in his writings... and that is where I'm at tonight.

In the past few weeks, many people have reflected with me on our time together.  They have shared how they've been so impacted by me and how deeply I'll be missed, which totally blows my mind.  In all reality, I don't feel as though I've done anything special here.  This is not me trying to be humble, this is just the way I tend to view myself, for better or for worse.  I never feel like I've done anything extraordinary or anything that anyone else would not have done.  I feel extremely blessed by these sweet relationships and I don't feel as though I've done anything at all to earn them.  Again, much of this stems from my skewed view of myself, but it has been hard to stomach other people's experiences of me.  I get embarrassed when people thank me because as they're speaking these things that are so true to them, I've got this little voice telling me, "yeah, you did that, but remember how you messed that other thing up?  Remember how you said the wrong thing to that one person?  Remember how you're a sinner and not as good as they think you are?"

As a perfectionist, I tend to think in terms of how I can improve upon myself.  On the surface, that's not a bad thing, of course.  Everyone can probably think of plenty of healthy ways to improve themselves.  But the problem lies in the unrealistic expectations I carry... in those things that are paralyzing me tonight and preventing me from being comfortable with letting go and moving forward.  These tears that won't seem to stop falling are reflections of feelings of guilt, regret, and imperfection.

And yet, even in this moment... even as I write this out right now, Jesus whispers to my heart, "grace."  Tonight as I prayed with some friends, I prayed for them to fully know God's grace.  It's so easy to pray this for those I love, but I don't always have the mind to pray the same for myself.  Something I've been challenged to do over and over again, especially in the past couple of years is to learn to really allow myself the grace I believe is offered to everyone else.  To let go of perfectionism and to accept God's gift of grace... for it is definitely by the grace of God that I am able to do anything.  Tonight this means allowing myself to weep without feeling silly... because I love people deeply.  It means releasing myself of guilt and regrets, knowing and trusting that God works even in spite of my imperfections... even though I didn't always handle things well, people still know and have experienced God because I said "yes" when God said, "therefore, go."  

And just like, most of the weight lifts off my chest (some of it is going to stick around as I continue my "see ya later" meetings tomorrow).  Freedom in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  Thanks Jesus.

I have much more to share about my final weeks here in Jersey and lots to process through about the exciting things that lie ahead, but those things will have to wait.  I'll leave you with some Scripture and a picture.

“As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.  Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”  Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.  Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”” Matthew 12:46-50

“And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.”  Acts 20:32

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

So much love 💛