Tag Archives: learning

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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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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Surprise!

Over the last few years of my life, I’ve learned that God enjoys working in the background in my life, through the little things I tend not to notice. This way, rather than logically connecting A to B to C to D, I look back and say, “WOW. God was working that whole time, through all those confusing/inconvenient/illogical things.”

The end result – due mostly to my general state of oblivion – is a little like the surprise party we threw my mom recently. I know He’s up to SOMETHING, but I could never dream it would be this. Looking back, I realize there were moments when I wondered what was going on. There were moments where I thought, “that’s weird, God doesn’t usually speak to me in this way,” or “Huh. That was an incredibly confusing answer to my prayer,” or “Why didn’t ____ happen the way I wanted it to? It’s not like it would have hurt anything!”

In these moments, sometimes I briefly wonder what God is up to, back there behind the scenes. When I look back in my journal, there are a lot of entries that say things like, “God, I really don’t understand what You’re doing here.” Those moments tend to pass quickly; a fleeting thought or scribbled sentence, soon replaced by the next thing demanding my attention.

I’ve got that feeling again. The feeling that maybe God is planning a surprise party for me. My course load is light this semester, I’ve made contacts and networked in ways I never dreamed of, and there are loads of new freshmen for me to meet. My best friend is here now, at my college, in my city. The student group I’m in is going in new directions. I’ve read three or four books about radical living and sacrificial giving in the past year, I changed my major, and I finally have a home church.

Basically, I’m starting to get suspicious. Starting to wonder why (to stretch the metaphor probably too far) God keeps whispering when I leave the room. I’m beginning to see things that can’t be called coincidences. Little details have shifted and changed and fallen into place just enough to make me question.

My heart is tight in anticipation. I know He’s up to SOMETHING, I’m just not sure what. Every time He drops another little clue, my heart pounds with excitement. Each time I open a new door, I brace myself, wondering if this is it… or if it’s just another step in the process.

Someday, I know, I’ll open that final door, and be completely blown away by what I find. And God will be there, smiling, and gently say,

“Surprised?”

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Faithfulness in a Motocar

Today I went downtown with Mami Rosy and Papa Jacinto to go grocery shopping. Now, unlike at home when Mom and I hop in the car, drive to WalMart, throw our stuff in a cart, and drive home… grocery shopping here is a bit of an excursion. We had to hail a motocar, drive 20 minutes to downtown Pucallpa, then go to each store separately – the baking goods store, the meat store, the sugar store (which differs somehow from the baking goods store), etc.

It was on this 20 minute motocar drive that I, sandwiched between Mami and Papa, spent some time talking to Jesus. Those closest to me already know that this first week in Pucallpa has been a difficult one. I’ve been battling fatigue, culture shock, homesickness, and the language barrier – all while sweating profusely. My mind and heart have been in a bizarre battle of nostalgia and sheer happiness, and it has all been very taxing.

As we’re riding, I’m thinking about Hiawatha. Today is the day that the staff heads north to begin training and meetings, and I find myself missing the place where I spent every summer until last year. As my mind drifts, I remember the post I wrote a few weeks ago about Christ being my only constant.

And then He bops me gently upside the head and says, “Helloooo? Has that suddenly changed just because you’re on a different continent? Do you think I don’t see you? Do you think I’m someone different here than in the US?”

As I gaze at the wooden buildings with their hand-painted signs, a peace begins to wash over me. Of course nothing has changed. Of COURSE Christ is still faithful and constant and unchanging and true and all of those things. Of course He knows where I am, what I’m going through, and what I will become. He sees my weaknesses, rejoices with me in my joys, and chuckles when I make humorous grammar mistakes. He is the same God in Pucallpa that He is in Chicago that He is in Millington that He is in Eckerman that He is everywhere.  His promises have not changed just because they’re in Spanish here.

As I mull this over with growing peace in my heart, we pass the sign that says, “Jesucristo is el Senor de Pucallpa” (Jesus Christ is Lord of Pucallpa). In a throwback to my years at Lutheran school, my heart cries out, “This is most certainly true.”

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Home to Pucallpa

At this time tomorrow, Lord willing, I’ll be in Pucallpa. In fact, by this time, I’ll probably be in Mama Rosy and Papa Jacinto’s house, having eaten my first Peruvian meal of 2012. The air around me will smell like dust, smoke, and chicken, and – if I have my way – I’ll be laying in the hammock.

As I got ready to fall asleep in Aunt Lora’s squishy pink bed (the same place I’ve slept the night before every Peru trip) last night, I commented to Mom that this year’s trip felt different. Of course there are the few major differences – going alone, length of trip, purpose of the trip, etc – but there has just been a different feeling hovering over the whole idea of the trip itself.

Between the flight from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale and the 8-hour layover in Ft. Boringdale that Spirit Air has blessed me with, I’ve had a lot of time to think about that feeling. I think I’ve figured it out.

You see, up until this year, Pucallpa was the only place where I had ever gone maskless. Something about the combination of serving, pure love despite the language barrier, and the sweltering heat, caused my mask to fall off when I first stepped out of the plane in 2008.  It was one of the things I loved most about Peru – how free I was always able to be when I was there. How I was able to laugh and cry from the deepest place inside of me, to sing and dance without feeling embarrassed, and to love from the deepest place in my soul.

Towards the beginning of my time at Moody, however, something changed. I was assigned to read the book “True Faced,” and it convicted me in the deepest way. God gently reached down, tipped my chin upward, pulled off my mask, and threw it on the ground. It shattered into a million tiny pieces, never able to be worn again.

As a result, I lived out this past year with the vulnerable confidence that I had previously only felt in Pucallpa. I learned to laugh, cry, dance (this is a relative term. I still can’t dance.), and be a friend. I learned the true, radical, life-altering meanings of church words like “grace,” “trust,” and “faith.” And I was content on a much deeper level.

That’s why this year feels different. Rather than longing to go to a place where I can truly be myself, I’m returning to the place that first taught me who “myself” was. I’m going home, but I’ve really been home all year long.

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Come Over?

I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my house in Millington. I’m not entirely sure how I got here; it still feels so surreal. My mind hasn’t wrapped around the fact that I’m away from my other home, my Chicago home, for three full months. I’ll see something in my closet and think, “I should take that back to school on Monday.”

Then I realize I’m not going back to school on Monday. I’m not going back to school for three more months.  The shortest nine months of my life have come to an end, I’m no longer a college freshman.

I’m sitting here sipping my iced coffee, with six or seven tabs open in Chrome, a to-do list at my side, and The Classic Crime playing.  I’m trying to figure out how to sum it all up.  I’ve spoken of the things I’ve learned, the friends I’ve gained, the friends I’ve lost, and the latest city to tightly tie itself around my heart.  From coffee shops, train rides, classrooms, and my dorm room, I’ve told you stories of this past year of my life.  Yet, now that it’s time to wrap it up, the words fail me.

There’s just too much to say, too many topics to cover and emotions to convey. Do I come at it from a humorous angle, telling tales of the time I knocked over a marathon runner, the late nights spent wandering around Millennium Park doing bird calls, and all the times in 501 when we laughed until we cried? Or should I go the sentimental/literary route, making up allegories of running and birdcages and freedom to describe the intense sea of grace I have recently found myself drowning in? Maybe I could make a list, attack the last nine months from a logical perspective. I could just state everything I’ve done and learned and tried, without adding any embellishments.

It’s a lot easier to talk about things one at a time. I had no problem posting about my changed major, my new church, or my friends. But when I try to sum it all up, it’s like yet another assignment for class. I find myself trying too hard to cram everything into a post of manageable length. It’s impossible. I’d much rather have you come over for an afternoon and sit at the table with me.  We could share the homemade iced coffee I just learned how to make, and then you could see.

You could see the smile that spreads across my face when I talk about my summer plans and my new major. You could hear me laugh and see the joy in my eyes when I tell stories of my friends and I. You could see the tears pool in my eyes when I talk about my girls at PCM, who I’ll likely never see again. We’d talk for hours, you and I.

Come over?

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Major Changes

They say the average undergrad student changes their major about five times.  I’ve always regarded this statistic slightly pridefully, with the air of smugness that comes from “having it all planned out.”  I’ll graduate from Moody in 3.5 years with a degree in TESOL (and Bible, of course), and move to Central/South America. (Hopefully getting married somewhere in there.) There, I’ll teach English fulltime as a missionary and, on the side, work with teenage/young adult girls who have been abused or involved in the sex trade.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

Let me back up about four years.  I was reading the book “Zealous Love” by Mike and Danae Yankoski, and came to the chapter on human trafficking.  Tears poured down my cheeks and my stomach turned as I read the accounts of girls, often as young as 5 or 6 years old, who were sold into the sex trade.  An overwhelming feeling came over me as my heart broke for these women.  As a 14 or 15 year old, I didn’t really know what to do with that feeling, but I bookmarked a few blogs and vowed to pray for the women and children caught up in that sickening industry.

Last year, on a whim, I picked up a $5 CD at Family Christian Bookstore.  It was called “Freedom: Artists United for the International Justice Mission,” and it featured several bands I like.  As I looked over the packaging, I realized it was a fundraiser for IJM and included a DVD.  I watched the DVD one night and cried again as the stories of women who had been rescued from prostitution and slavery… but all I did was cry.  After all, I already had my plan (see above).

My plan started out really well.  I came to Moody.  I declared TESOL as my major.  I started Intro to TESOL.  I observed some classes, wrote some lesson plans… and… little by little, realized I don’t really want to spend every day of the rest of my life in a classroom/writing lesson plans.  Rather than being super excited for my upcoming classes, teaching for PCM, and my internship, I would kind of slump my shoulders and resign myself to the coming realities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about feeling convicted and not knowing what to do about it.  After I wrote that, I started to pray a lot about where I was going with my life.  The books I’ve been reading, things I’ve been studying, and discussions we’ve been having at Gospel Community have made me realize I need to do something different.  I’ve been slapped in the face a lot lately with the reality that, while it is an incredible door into lives, English is not a basic need.  Those who are starving, being sold, without homes, or in desperate need of true love do not need to learn English.  They need food, freedom, shelter, or love.

As I prayed, I began to realize something.  When I think about my true dream – the thing I’m the most excited about when I tell people “my plan,” – it’s not standing in front of a class or writing lesson plans.  It’s the part I always refer to as “on the side.”  It’s the reason I attempted to interdisciplinary (basically a minor, for those of you who don’t go to Moody) in pre-counseling.  I want to work with girls who have been wounded, sold, and stolen.  Girls who had their innocence ripped away from them, who were so desperate for money that they sold their right to themselves.  I want to teach them that they have worth, that they are beautiful.  To LOVE them.  To show them the One who will never, ever abuse them.  From the first time I read about the issue of sexual exploitation, I have had a burden in my heart for those girls.

Yesterday, in chapel, one of our professors stood at the podium and said she had a “very exciting announcement.”  She announced that Moody was beginning a new major: Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation.  As she explained the details, tears pooled in my eyes and my mind began scrambling.  The first conscious thought I had was, “I have to do this,” followed shortly by about six reasons why there was no possible way I could do this.

One at a time, throughout the day yesterday, God countered each of those points.  In fact, He didn’t just counter them, He gave me even more reasons why I needed to lace up my shoes and run.  I called my mom, who had been sitting in a chapel at Bo’s school while I was in chapel.  Their speaker was a missionary from Peru (of all places!) who runs a shelter for battered women… many of whom have been rescued from sexual exploitation.  The first class for this major fit PERFECTLY into an hour and fifteen minute hole that just happened to be in my fall schedule. 9-12 more credits from Mott would transfer in with the switch.

I got my change of major form this afternoon and filled it out.  When I went to the Missions Department to have it signed, the hallway seemed deserted.  “Okay, God,” I whispered.  “I’m 99% sure this is what I’m supposed to do… but if it REALLY is… just give me one more sign?” (Oh, me of little faith…)  I walked to the end of the hall, towards what I was certain would be a deserted office, and there was Dr. Sisk.  He signed off on my major change as chair of the Missions Department, and I was gone in about 30 seconds.

I could easily write another 900+ words about all of the tiny details, “coincidences,” and neon signs shouting that I should go ahead with this that have happened in the last 48 hours… but I’ll spare you the extra reading.  As of next week, everything should be approved, and my major will be officially changed from TESOL to Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation.  Do I have a 5 or 10 year plan?  Nope.  But He does, and I know that there’s nothing better for me than His plan.

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Things I’ve Learned

Things I’ve Learned Since Coming to Moody that are Neither Academic nor Spiritual:

  • Big Burger Thursday = Pizza Day
  • The Red Line always, always, always smells bad.
  • Taco Tuesday is only worth it if you get there before the second section of NT or OT gets out
  • The bakery on the way home from church has no entrance.
  • If I fail a quiz because I was on the phone with a crying friend, I’ll actually remember it.  If I pass the quiz, I’ll forget.
  • I’ve been missing out on a lot of good movies.
  • There’s no substitute for a sky full of real stars.
  • I really, really, really love my family.
  • The pace I need to walk to ensure that I never have to open my own door when there are guys in the group 😉
  • The exact number of minutes it takes to get from my room to Sweeting 3 (seven), Alumni Auditorium (two if I take the stairs, five for elevators), or Torrey-Gray (five) for class or chapel.
  • How many times I can hit the snooze button and still have time to make coffee, brush my teeth, and put my hair in a ponytail (up to three).
  • The subtle differences in accents between Michiganders, Minnesotans, Missourians, and Pennsylvanians.
  • CPO is generally a disappointing place.
  • The amount of pride I have for my state is ridiculously large, even given the number of Michiganders who attend Moody.
  • I’ll never be able to refer to us as “Moodies” without feeling like a ridiculous poser.
  • Don’t walk to Ghetto-Donald’s in the dark without boys.
  • I don’t care if bro-sis is an elaborate matchmaking scheme, I love those guys like we were actually brothers and sisters.
  • Whistling is maybe more obnoxious than any other noise (except gum chewing/snapping)
  • Road trips with college friends are infinitely greater than road trips with high school friends (except the road trip where Jocie and I went to GR with a trunk full of Value-Zone food. That has yet to be topped).
  • Every band I want to see comes to Chicago. This is one reason I am very, very thankful for my job.
  • It’s hard to find concert buddies when you like obscure bands that most Christian homeschoolers have never heard of (ie, NOT Chris Tomlin or Hillsong…)
  • Dude. Immune systems are incredible.
  • Commons meal replacements are the way to go.
  • Being sick at college sucks, but it’s better when you have friends to make you macaroni and cheese.
  • It’s almost as easy to pick out Moody students wandering the city as it is to pick out tourists.
  • Tourists, in general, are really naive.
  • Food is expensive.
  • I’m a really slow laundry-folder.
  • I’m not as good at photography/school/graphic design as I once thought I was.
  • I love the view of the skyline from Oak Street Beach.
  • I know what Oak Street Beach is and how to get there.
  • I like coffee and spinach.
  • I just might enjoy city life as much as I enjoy country life.
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