A Weird Fall

This has been a weird fall, if I’m being honest. It has been a weird fall in so many ways, for so many people, that to even begin to try to explain the intricacies of the pain and joy interwoven in this tapestry called “life” would take pages and hours. My heart, the hearts of my friends and family, ripped and torn and bruised and beaten and healed and helped and dropped and kicked and restored – sometimes switching from ripped, beaten, bruised; to healed, helped, restored; and back again; within the span of a day or two. Faith, relationships, friendships, boys, girls, dogs, Alzheimers, school, pride, homesickness, in-laws, abuse, inadequacy – it seems everyone close to me is dealing with one of those in some big way, whether positively or negatively.

It’s been a fall of learning. Learning to love, learning to let go of love. Learning to embrace doubt without a ceiling, knowing that God is bigger than any doubt. Learning to step out and initiate new friendships, to invite the new girl to dinner or coffee, to stop being judgmental. Learning how to put up the necessary walls to get through a day of work or class. Learning when and with whom to take down those walls.

It’s been a fall of 8 page text messages, fingers tapping the screens of cell phones rapidly, urgently, as if typing fast enough can make the pain go away. It’s been a fall of honesty and confrontation, of putting the cell phone down and meeting in the plaza or at the beach or at Union Station to discuss in person. It’s been a fall of learning to admit feelings, to admit wrong, to admit to being hurt. Learning to stop sweeping everything under the rug. Learning to stop BEING the rug, letting everyone walk all over me.

It’s been a fall of ups and downs, rapidly, sometimes three or four in a day. Rejoicing with one friend then sobbing with another, in the same hour. Calling in to work because I just can’t get out of bed this morning, I’ll be in this afternoonThe kind of hysterical laughter that only comes when it’s been way too long since happiness from deep in the gut. Like a roller coaster, climbing and climbing then plummeting with no warning whatsoever.

Up, up, up, cornfields and new church and family reunions and journaling and long walks in the city lights and making up and new friends and late night nachos and perspective and surprise visits from Jocie. Down, down, down, endless headaches and misguided conversations and trying to make my own plans and crying in the car again and maybe not going back to Peru and things changing and Lady dying and nursing home conversation and doubt. Up, down, up, up, up, down, down, down, down, down, up, up, up, up, up.

{Have there been more ups than downs? Of course. Is God still faithful and in control? He is, has been, and forever will be.}

It’s been a fall of long-sleeve-covered hands wrapped around mugs of Peruvian mate de coca. It’s been a fall of new coffee shops, popcorn every night, How I Met Your Mother, apples, considering tattoos, and appreciating my roommate more than ever before. It’s been a fall of trips back to the Mitten almost every weekend, of avoiding journaling because I just can’t right now, of new musical tastes, boots and scarves, of solving other people’s problems alongside my own.

It’s been a fall of realizing how stinking blessed I am. A fall filled with moments where all I can do is whisper, “thank You,” because I don’t come anywhere near deserving the abundance of blessings God has heaped on my head. It’s been a fall of being selfish, forgetting how blessed I am just moments after my awe-filled “thank You,” demanding, “more, Daddy, more,” like a child. It’s been a fall of grace, of Him giving me more and more and more even though I ask for it selfishly. A fall of Him prying open my tightly closed fists, then wrapping His hands firmly around my now empty palms, showing me I’m not alone.

It’s been a weird and difficult fall, yes. But when I look back on my life, the seasons that were the “weirdest,” or “hardest,” are the seasons where God has taught me the most. The seasons where I’ve cried the most have been the seasons where I’ve also grown the most. It’s been a fall of leaves changing colors, falling to the ground, and being trampled on. The trees will freeze soon, but that won’t be the end. Soon enough it will be spring.

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Born Blessed

With the elections coming up, Puente (the student group I’m in) has been focusing our discussions on the issue of immigration. Specifically, we’ve been talking about how to respond biblically to this issue and how to minister to immigrants.

I’ve grown up aware of the issue of immigration, but only in terms of numbers, bills, laws, etc. On Monday night at Puente, we played a board game about the immigration process (it’s more fun than it sounds, trust me). Each person was assigned a character, and we moved through a series of real-life situations that immigrants face. As my character got deported a second time, forced to leave her American husband for 10 years while jumping through paperwork hoops, I started thinking.

I joined Puente because I wanted to make a difference in the Latino community. I wanted to connect, to serve, to help make a change. Have I had opportunities to do that? Of course. But being in Puente has changed me as well. For the first time, those immigration numbers are connected to real, human faces. I’m not even talking about the people Puente serves – I’m talking about fellow students and Puente exec members. Some of the dearest friends I have ever known. My peers and equals in every way.

I look at the faces of these dear friends. I hear them talk about struggling through high school, teaching their parents English and US history for the citizenship exam. They tell stories of how their parents came to the US, of not being able to see relatives back home for fear they couldn’t return to the States. They talk of friends who have tried time and time again to come to the US, only to be sent back. Of teenagers who haven’t seen their parents in years.

I hear all these stories, and all I can do is praise God for what I don’t deserve. I am a US citizen by default. I was born in the US, the child of two American parents. Done. Nothing more to worry about. I was born blessed. There are people who spend their entire lives fighting, who give everything they have so their family can have a fraction of what I was born into without asking for. My citizenship is something I take for granted every day of my life.

This post is not meant to push any sort of political opinion on immigration. After all, I can hardly articulate my own. My hope is simply to remind you, as I have been reminded, how blessed we are to live in the United States; to help you realize, as I have realized, how much has been handed to us without our having to work for it at all. US Citizenship is an enormous blessing some people would die for (and many have). Don’t take it for granted.

Proof

“I need You to prove Your faithfulness,” I screamed toward the sky as I drove through the darkness by myself, the stress of the last two months finally collapsing in on me.

So I got out of the car to see a sky full of stars for the first time in months.
A sweet four-month old smiled and giggled in my arms.
I finally got to hug my mom.

“I just need to see someone who actually believes this, who isn’t acting,” I thought as I received the 15th cliche response of Oh, you know God is sovereign, His plan is best in one day.

So a professor shared her personal story of depression and how God brought her back from the pit.
My uncle talked with me for hours and hours and hours.
I sat on the concrete beach with my roommate and saw the tears in her eyes and could FEEL how hard she actually believes this radiating from her conversation.

“I need to know I’m not the only one feeling this way,” I scribbled in between church notes.

So Jocie showed up on the train with just a few hours’ notice.
Work slowed down for a couple hours and I sat with my boss and coworkers talking about pain and doubt and lamenting and sovereignty.
Open mic night brought honest and raw confessions that, in fact, I am not the only one feeling this way.

“I’m not sure You’re in this,” I finally admitted, tired of pretending and at the end of myself.

So He began to show me where He was.
And He was everywhere.

I questioned.

He answered.

I doubted.

He affirmed.

I cried.

He comforted.

I fell.

He picked me up.

I asked for proof.

He proved Himself.

Too Young

It’s Missions Conference week here at Moody, and this piece was born out of the four pages I scribbled in my journal after attending a seminar on sexually exploited children. We were shown a video of children in a brothel in Thailand that was shot undercover. The English language does not contain words to explain the mixture of sorrow, anger, and disgust I felt after watching that video – I literally could not speak without crying for the next hour. It’s time for the church to open her eyes. It’s time for His justice to flow like rolling waters.

Sweet little faces, seven and nine
Their eyes blurred out for privacy.
Privacy
What a sick joke.
Protecting their identities, their “privacy”
From the eyes of American documentary viewers
Sitting comfortably in a classroom or on a couch
As these girls are “visited” by tourists night after night,
who treat their bodies like some sort of gift shop
Taking
Stealing
Snatching
Their very innocence
Their right to a childhood
The light in their eyes
Sometimes 15, 20 times in a night.
Privacy? Please.
At seven and nine, they should be having a tea party
Playing with dolls
Not being treated like dolls
Worse, even, because at least little girls care about their dolls.
They should be in school
Not learning English terms that most self-respecting adults wouldn’t use in public.
With their eyes blurred out to protect their “privacy.”
(Please.)
We watch them explain their services to the men.
Describing in the most basic English the things they can do to them.
Words like “yum-yum” and “boom-boom.”
Coming from the mouths of these sweet seven and nine year old girls.
Sometimes, an older boy steps in to facilitate.
At maybe eleven years old, he seems to be the manager of this operation.
“No,” he says, “she no do boom-boom. She yum-yum only. She too young.”

Too young.

You don’t say.
She’s too young for all of this.
Too young to live in this place
Too young to know what those words mean.
Too young to have her body, her innocence, her childhood, the life in her eyes
Stolen from her by men 3, 4, or 5 times her senior
Too young to be beaten if she doesn’t “perform.”
Too young to be raped over and over
Night after night
Day after day.
Definitely far, far too young to be so used
So devoid of hope
Too young, you say?

Damn right she’s too young.

There’s no possible way to pretend she’s more than just a child.
And where, exactly, are You in all of this?
God?
Where is the justice?
It’s supposed to be rolling like waters.
Where is the freedom for the oppressed?
You’re supposed to be a Father to the fatherless,
But I’m not seeing it.
A hundred thousand girls go through this each night
In the United States alone.
Why aren’t You moving?
Why won’t You bring them home?
It’s not like I have answers
I can’t even articulate the problem without crying
But why do You let them keep living this life worse than dying?
Where is the rescue?
Where is their hope?
I know You’re the answer
So why won’t You show?

Sweeping Pavement

I was awakened by a familiar sound yesterday, a swish-swish-swish that instantly transported me far, far away.

Someone was sweeping the pavement outside my window, and as I laid in my dorm room bed, my heart moved south about 3000 miles. Back to Pucallpa, to the house on Avenida Jose Galvez, where the neighbor swept his small patch of pavement every. single. morning. around 6:30 am – despite the fact that it would be covered in dust again within a matter of hours. I squinched my eyes shut tight, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would open them and find out I had been transported magically back to Peru.

Maybe I would wake up and find myself in a bed of the same size, but with a sheet kicked to the side instead of nestled under a down comforter. Maybe I would open my eyes and instead of seeing Molly standing at the sink getting ready for classes, I’ll see Mama Rosy’s head poked through the door, telling me it’s time to get up so we can go to the market. Perhaps if I squeezed my eyes shut hard enough, I would magically teleport to Pucallpa and could call Monica when I woke up, so that we could plan a night out in Pucallpa to eat papas rellenas and picarones and talk about life on the corner by the shoe store.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight, childishly hoping for magic… but also to keep the tears from pouring out. Those heartstrings that are tied to Pucallpa haven’t come untied, but they’ve been neglected. Chicago is so far from Pucallpa in every possible way. I’m so busy with school and homework that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve closed the chat window or said “lo siento, no puedo hablar, estoy muy ocupada ahorita” (sorry, can’t talk, I’m so busy right now) to one of my Peruvian friends. Mama Rosy has messaged me three or four times asking for an update on my life, but the excuses come so easily: I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m forgetting my Spanish.

I try to sweep the memories from my mind like the neighbor swept his pavement every morning. It’s easier that way. If I stop and think about how much I miss my South American home, I’ll be unable to think of anything else. I’ll lose an entire day poring over pictures and sending messages and crying into the one remaining package of Doña Pepa I have stashed under my bed.

It’s easier to try to sweep away the memories, but the wind always blows the dust back onto the pavement of my mind. You’d be surprised how many things in Chicago immediately transport me back to Pucallpa. There’s that corner on the way to the beach that always smells like the parque central. The SDR serves white rice every day, and if I get anywhere near it, I miss Mama Rosy. Tears prick my eyes whenever I hear people speaking Spanish – and I hear people speaking Spanish nearly every day. Facilities sweeps the pavement outside my window a few times a month (that’s not metaphorical. There is a broom involved).

There isn’t a good conclusion. I don’t have a logical answer or practical steps. My life has had to keep moving, and I have had to keep moving with it. But I haven’t moved on, not really. I’ve swept aside the memory dust, but it always comes blowing back. It coats the pavement of my mind a few times a week, or even daily… and there’s nothing I can do about it. I miss Pucallpa so bad that it physically hurts, but I can’t exactly drop everything and go back tomorrow. I just keep living life as the heartstrings tied to Pucallpa pull harder and harder. And that’s where it stays right now. Not the end, because there’s no good way to end it.

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I Ran Away to the Cornfields this Weekend

Sometimes, I just need to escape the city

Visit my Papa Baker, drive into the driveway on Cole Rd.

Let Eugene the Cow lick my arm a couple of times,

crunch the leaves under my feet as I walk back in from the pasture.

Sometimes, I need to look at my childhood memories through fresh eyes

Remember how much I appreciate the open, quiet, rolling cornfields

Eat toast with fresh freezer jam, followed by a glass of fresh cow’s milk

Let the country air soothe my soul and calm my nerves.

Sometimes, it takes a three or four hour drive

The smell of the house on Cole Rd

A good cry with my grandpa by the grave of his loyal dog

A late night trip back from town, under the blazing country stars

A hug from Nana even though she’s not sure who I am

To remind me to relax, to breathe, to remember how great I’ve got it.

Sometimes, I just need to scream-laugh for hours at Jocie’s house

While ingesting half a can of spray whip cream

And watching people wrestle over cell phones

Before falling asleep whispering secrets with Maggie.

Sometimes, it’s just time to go

To drive back down M-49 just because I want to see the Student Center

To point out every significant place to the friends that came with me

Every family member’s house, every church and field and restaurant that bear some meaning

To watch my worlds collide in the most bizarre, beautiful manner

And remember that everything is gonna be okay

That God is sovereign

and good

No matter what.

Sometimes, I just need to go to the cornfields.

And so I do.

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Grace Upon Grace

When I was 9 or 10, my family went on our annual vacation to visit my grandparents in Florida. Nana called me up to her sewing loft one afternoon, saying she had a surprise. When I got upstairs, she pulled out an American Girl doll – every 10-year-old girl’s DREAM gift. As my eyes grew big, she pulled out another. And then another. And then a bed. And then a dress. And then some clothes. Turns out, Nana had discovered eBay and used it to grant her “Little Lady’s” dream.

If you manage to gain access to the home video I’ve so carefully hidden from everyone (Ten was my awkward age, y’all), you’ll see me sitting on the floor of that loft, literally surrounded by heaps and heaps of dolls (5 in all!), clothes, beds, desks, and every imaginable accessory. There’s an enormous goofy grin on my face, and I’m nearly speechless as Nana continues to pull out more and more things from behind her sewing table. By the end, my only reactions were awkward giggles and shouts of, “Oh my goodness, what?” and “Are you sure? More?”

She was sure.

There was more.

Yesterday while working on a design, I did a topical search on Bible Gateway for “grace.” The number of verses that came up was astounding, but one in particular stood out to me.

John 1:16 ESV: For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

I stared in awe at my computer, and immediately started clicking through other translations. Though some say it differently, the idea is the same:
“grace for grace,” “one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift,” “grace in place of grace already given.”

Like Nana Hobson piling dolls and clothes and accessories on top of 10-year-old Alyssa, God piles grace on top of us every single day.

Sometimes, it’s something we really want, maybe even something we’ve spent a lot of time begging for. Other times, we think “you know what, I have enough, I don’t need any right now.” Sometimes, we have so much we’re basking in it, and he throws more on top of the pile. Occasionally, we don’t even want it, we think we’re fine on our own… and He gives it to us anyway.

Grace upon grace.

Grace in place of grace already given.

Enough grace to roll around in.

Until all we can do is smile so big it nearly breaks our face.

Until we giggle awkwardly and say, “are You sure? More?”

He is sure.

There is always more.

Doors

Sometimes while I’m meandering down this road called life,

I think I know precisely where it’s leading.

I have everything all worked out in my mind

And it’s pretty perfect, if I do say so myself.

So I decide to just go ahead and run through that door

After all, I’m so sure.

I know how it will end, I’ve planned this out in my mind a million times.

I take a deep breath, pray for clarity

And sprint headlong toward the door

Full speed ahead

No holds barred

Pulling out all the stops

*and all other applicable cliches*

Only to find

The door is firmly closed.

I run into it, so sure of myself, only to be stunned by the impact

And I fall backwards onto the ground

And it hurts

A lot.

And I’m a little confused

“But God, I was so sure.”

“But God, I had it all planned out.”

Then I remember that prayer for clarity

And He picks me up and brushes me off

Wraps me in His arms

Tends to the bruises

Wipes away my tears

And I realize

This is not the way I’m supposed to go

It doesn’t get much clearer than a head on sprint directly into a closed door.

This is the clarity I prayed for

It’s not my idea of perfect, but it’s His.

And there is a peace that comes from knowing there will be door

after door

after door

as life goes on

A peace that comes from realizing that the path in front of me stretches on for the rest of my life

That one closed door isn’t the end,

because the path keeps stretching further than I can see.

And in that peace, there is comfort

And in that comfort, there is peace

And in the distance, there is another door.

And another.

And another.

Sitting Here Astounded

A quote from my Bible Introduction textbook, From God to Us: How we Got our Bible by Norman Geisler (with whom I have eaten chicken) and William Nix

Despite its importance (or maybe because of it), the Bible has suffered more vicious attacks than would be expected to be made on such a book. But the Bible has withstood all its attackers. Diocletian attempted to exterminate it (c. AD 303), and yet it is the most widely published book in the world today. Biblical critics once regarded much of it as mythological, but archaeology has established it as historical. Antagonists have attacked its teaching as primitive, but moralists urge that its teaching on love be applied to modern society. Skeptics have cast doubt on its authenticity, and yet more men are convinced of its truth today than ever. Attacks continue to arrise from science, psychology, and political movements, but the Bible remains undaunted. Like the wall four-feet high and four-feet wide, blowing at it seems to accomplish nothing. The Bible remains just as strong after the attack. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk 13:31).

WOW.

Fall Semester Update

With the semester three weeks underway, I’m starting to get into the swing of my new routine. Due to some surprise credits transferring, I’m only taking 12 credits (4 classes) this semester. I’m also working 19 hours a week at Moody Distance Learning, serving as Events Coordinator for Puente, and staying active in a Gospel Community (small group) through my church. This semester has been wonderful so far, but I’ll show you pictures rather than making you read about it!

Puente Exec 2012: Rachel, Liset, Charissa, Alyssa, and Victor

Puente (meaning bridge) is a student group at Moody which seeks to bridge the gap between Moody students and Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, while also raising awareness and education about the city’s Hispanic population. We have some great events planned for this semester, as well as regular weekly meetings. This is my first year on the executive committee, and though I’m the only newbie to Exec, I’ve been welcomed with open arms and couldn’t ask for a better group to work with. As Events Coordinator, I am responsible for filling out event proposals, coordinating details for events, and making posters to promote the events.

My room!

Molly and I are sharing Houghton 501 again this year. I have my side of the room set up almost exactly the same way it was first semester of last year, so it hardly feels like any time has gone by since I left! Molly and I are in the process of fixing our lighting in some way – we’re thinking string lights across the ceiling, to make our little space feel more like home.

Labor Day Weekend

Last weekend was Labor Day weekend, so I pulled a classic Blythe Collins move and threw some friends in my car for a good-old-fashioned-10-hour-each-way road trip to Piatt Lake. Despite the never-ending drive, we had an amaaaaaazing weekend away soaking up the last bits of summer. We went tubing, did homework on the beach, explored the campgrounds, ate good food, watched the sunset, laughed more than is probably healthy, and enjoyed a bonfire on Lake Superior. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to summer and prepare for the upcoming school year, as well as getting to know some new friends.

This year has started out wonderfully, and I can’t wait to see how it continues.