Friday, January 12, 2018

Enough is Enough

In such a politically charged year, it has been really hard to bite my tongue.  I have not always been successful, sometimes giving my opinion when it was unnecessary.  I sit here today, still baffled, angry, and confused that our so-called president is still in office, and more than that, that people are still supporting and defending such an evil person.  To call him a man would give him too much credit.  No man I know would be ignorant enough to do or say 99% of the stuff he does.  America, he is setting us up for failure.  His presence in office threatens our safety and and pushes us further away from peace than we have been in a long time.  He is hate-filled and ignorant, viewing the world from the back seat of a limousine or Air Force One as opposed to coming down to the level of those he claims to support and stand behind.

 We have put up with this abomination long enough.  His disgusting words yesterday are further proof of his ignorance and the hate that fills his very soul... they are evil words that evidence his grossly hardened heart.  There is no proof of love or grace in him.  To use the undignified language he does is immature, unintelligent, and serves only to weaken this country.  He is a racist bully that believes he needs to say such things in order to show his power and make this country great again.  I've got news for you, so-called president, you are an embarrassment who has done nothing but breed further division.  There is no greatness in that.  It's hard to hear such horror day after day.  It's hard to believe that this is what America is reduced to now.

After having lived in one of those "shithole" countries for a number of years, I can tell you first hand that though infrastructures are not perfect and corruption is the norm, so many of those beautiful countries are doing more for their people than the commander in chief would ever dream of doing.  Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, is the approximately the size of Oregon.  Relatively small, right?  It has taken in over a million refugees in the last year alone.  Along with the help of many NGOs, it provides food, shelter, clothing, and education for its victimized and traumatized neighbors.  To me, that looks a lot like something Jesus would be involved in... a lot like something I so long to be involved in again.

I have sat and listened to the stories of trauma first hand.  I have held their hands, wiped their tears, laughed and rejoiced with them.  I have been a part of educating and mentoring these dear people.  I have seen lives completely transformed... I've seen healing take place.  This is not about what I've done in the least, though.  It's about the work that's being done all over the world, every single day, that betters the lives of so many.  Christ came and died for all, or have we forgotten that each soul matters?  I could go on and and about the many ways that I've seen good come from a "shithole" country; much more than I've seen from anyone in our current administration, but I digress. 

I would be willing to wager that the president has never in his life been willing to get down off of his pedestal and to support and encourage people from such plights. Why would he, after all? He may get sweaty or dirty if he did that.  He may miss a round of golf, or worse, a meal.  It wouldn't serve him and his nationalist way of life.   Someone else would have to be the center of attention and we've all seen what happens when that's the case... like a toddler in his terrible-twos, he throws a fit and tweets how great he is, greater than whoever is his current target.  Again, it's astonishing and incredibly disappointing.

I'm so proud of all of the "shithole" countries that are working hard to improve day after day, instead of going backwards by decades as we are in America.  I will continue to support and stand behind all of the amazing work that is being done in so many African nations, in Haiti, and all around the world.  With MLK day coming up, I'm encouraged to be reminded of what real leadership does and and what real leadership looks like.  I'll end my anger-filled, heartbroken rant with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Stand up.  Resist.  Call your reps.  Enough is enough.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Celebrating Life

New years are always exciting to me and I happen to celebrate a new year of life within a day of the rest of the world celebrating a new calendar year.  It's no secret that I love my birthday.  I love the idea of new beginnings and a fresh start.  I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than by heading up to the Grand Canyon for the day with my brother.  I really enjoy hiking and exploring... and standing on the edge of exciting things, both literally and figuratively.

Like a child awaiting Christmas morning, I awoke early on my birthday (Dec 30th).  I was ready for the day and my phone was buzzing with lovely greetings from friends all over the world, across many time zones.  I tried to force myself to sleep longer, knowing that it would be a long day of driving and hiking, but at 5:40am, I gave up and looked at my phone.  The first story on my Facebook newsfeed was that a dear friend of mine had passed away.  I stared at my phone, unbelieving.  I knew she had been very sick over Christmas... and that she had been fighting a battle for a long time, but I had no idea that her recent stay in the hospital would end that way.  I couldn't keep the tears from overflowing at the shock and sadness of it all.

In the last 5+ years of my life, I've experienced the death of a few (more distant) family members and so many people from my congregation.  Death is not unfamiliar, but it's always heartbreaking.  This particular death was like a blow to the chest.  Truth be told, I didn't interact with Bonnie much since moving to New Jersey.  And even before then, I had been back and forth between Illinois and Uganda, so our time together was short.  

I met Bonnie Kiefer back in 2007 or so when a friend of mine started as the new youth director at a church in Fishers, Indiana.  At that time, I was spending many of my weekends in Indiana with said friend, thus getting to know both the youth, and the youth leadership.  Bonnie was an adult leader and had two boys in the program at the time.  Bonnie came with us on our first mission trip to Chattanooga, TN and our friendship was immediately solidified in my heart.  Bonnie was fun, adventurous, brave, brilliant, honest, hard-working, and compassionate.  She was a straight-shooter and not someone you went to if you wanted something sugar-coated.  With lots of love for me, Bonnie provided guidance and wisdom during relationship woes, career decisions, and just life in general.  She was a supporter like none other... if anyone ever needed someone in their corner, Bonnie was the person to go to.  She was someone who got stuff done.  She was an advocate, a voice for so many with the gift of empowering everyone with whom she came in contact.  

Bonnie checked in with me regularly... even when I lived Uganda, we chatted a number of times.  Our phone conversations were never super lengthy, but they were always very meaningful.  When I lived in New Jersey, Bonnie came to town one time on business.  In fact, it was her birthday.  I went and picked her up at her hotel, and being unfamiliar with the area as I was back then, we googled the closest restaurant and went to dinner to celebrate.  For hours we laughed, chatted, and caught up on just about anything and everything.  Pure joy.  That's how I remember that evening.  I, of course, had no clue that that was the last time I would see Bonnie face to face.  Of course, we kept up via social media, messaging one another from time to time and chatting on the phone a couple of times.  Sadly, I haven't made it to Indiana in so many years because when I'm in the midwest now, it's so brief.  

It's in these times of grief that it's so easy to speak only the goodness that a person exemplified, but truthfully, that's all I knew of Bonnie, and for that I will always be grateful.

So as I laid in bed this past Saturday, mourning the loss of my dear friend, I was tempted to just go back to sleep; tempted to say, "forget it" in regards to going to the Grand Canyon because I didn't feel much like doing something awesome anymore.  I felt like staying in my pjs and crying.  After some time, I fell back to sleep, but only briefly.  As I woke up a few minutes later than I had planned to for the hiking trip, I thought sadly about Bonnie.  And then something clicked.  I decided that there would be no better way to celebrate the life of Bonnie than by moving forward with my plans.  She would have gone.  With her adventurous spirit on my mind, I got ready for the day, feeling really excited to stand on the edge os something so huge, excited to think of her amazing life in such a beautiful place.   

So we went.  I woke up my brother, and we headed out for the day.  As he slept on the way up, I thought about Bonnie's life and shed some tears.  Then I talked to a friend who knew Bonnie much better than I did.  It was relieving to talk about my sadness and feel validated by someone who was feeling the same pain I was.  By the time we got up to the Grand Canyon, I was ready.  We hiked the quarter mile up to the rim of the canyon from where we parked.  That first glimpse of such beauty is always breath-taking, but being a Saturday AND a holiday weekend, it was packed by the railings.  So I wanted to get to a place where there were fewer people, where I could enjoy the quiet and vastness of it all.  I hiked down this little area where few others seemed brave enough to venture.  It was well worth it.  Those few moments of solitude were refreshing and comforting as I thought of Bonnie. 

The rest of the day was spent hiking about 5 miles.  At times, I felt the need to break off the beaten (paved) path to climb down the side of the cliff, to admire the beauty around me.  My Fitbit told me that I climbed something like 50 flights of stairs just from all of the side trips I took.  My brother wasn't always willing to follow me, but I loved it.  We had a great time and I really want to go back when I have more time off of work and when I can bring Piper with me, too.  

I'm so thankful for Bonnie's life... and I'm so thankful our paths crossed, even briefly.  I'm so thankful for my family and friends and all those who took the time to bless me on my birthday.  What a sweet reminder of the fullness of my life.  Over the rest of the weekend and into today, I learned of 3 other deaths, 2 from my church in New Jersey, and 1 an acquaintance that I only had the pleasure of meeting once thanks to our mutual love of Uganda.  These lives are all worth celebrating and I'm certain I'll be reflecting on each one in the coming days, weeks, and beyond.  Being so far away means that I'm unable to join friends and family for those funerals, which is really difficult, but I am taking solace in the fact that so many will be celebrating their lives together.  Eternity with Jesus is worth celebrating, that's for sure.  

Bonnie feeling nervous on the swinging bridge.  Chattanooga Mission trip, 2008

Chattanooga, TN
Me, Adam, Trent, Bonnie, Taylor, Dean

So much laughter

Mission trippers reunited in Logan, West Virginia, 2013
Dean, Adam, Me, Bonnie, Trent

Bonnie's birthday dinner, 2013

Grand Canyon

Me and Vinny

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!
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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

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“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 💛