Aware

Toms and hearts

Sometimes my days are lived with very little intention. I go through the day focused on myself and forgetting to live life with my heart and eyes aware of what is going on around me. I neglect being aware of people in general, my students, and even the Lord. It’s a shame and that is why I want to live being aware. Why waste days on frivolous things when you can be fostering a heart of gratitude and awareness of just how great this gift of life is.

Cheers to the leftovers in my fridge that morphed themselves into a delicious fall soup that makes you want to go create a leaf pile and jump in it. Cheers to the sweet message my student-friend left saying she misses me. I get warm fuzzies because I miss her too. Cheers to the friend whose internet doesn’t exist, creating reasons for her to basically live at my house for part of the week so that she can get lesson planning done (aaaaand check her facebook). Cheers to the neighbors who create reasons for me to craft and create and use the stash of craft supplies my home hoards. Cheers to you, coconut oil. You know who you are and you know that you make my life just a little more beautiful every.single.day. Not only do you make my food taste like island magic, but you keep my skin nourished and soft in this dry climate. How do you do it? Cheers to JJ Heller for creating sweet music to dance to in my little house.

This is how life can be lived being aware, lest I get lost in the mundane.
What are you aware of lately that makes you happy?

 

J.

Dreamers

Remember that time I started a blog and only made a few posts. Yeah, well I can explain part of the reason: the internet. The internet here at my home sometimes chooses to work, and other times it simply won’t connect to much of the cyber world. In the words of this land.. Dui Bu Qi… (sorry). Yet I’m not really sorry. The past few months were marked with marvelous adventures that maybe I’ll take time to tell in the coming days. Malfunctioning internet also has its way of forcing my life to connect with others that I live near. This takes me to last Thursday morning, I almost wrote Friday, because it totally felt like a Friday (yay for random holidays).

SunniesandNeibsLet me first say– I love living in a community. Sometimes when the selfish self is wanting to have control, I don’t love it. But when I’m thinking about truth… I love living in close proximity to my neighbors. It’s these people that are there for me when I want to share my joys, troubles, cookies, recent craft project with, or even a roll of toilet paper when the need arises. Actually the last one never happened, but we would totally provide if one was in need. These are the people that message me when they’re going to the import store to ask if I need anything, because we all know that traveling 1 hour each way to get a stick of butter is kind of troublesome. These are the people who come and plop themselves on my floor at the end of the day when we’re trying to load an episode of something on the internet and it takes 20 minutes to load 5 minutes. We sit and talk about life and share what’s going on. It’s kind of one of my favorite parts of life here.

So Thursday morning started with my mother dearest texting me. I decided to get out of bed and skype with her before my next meeting. Fast forward to the next meeting. With coffee in hand and house shoes on, I knocked at her door. Went in and sat on the most comfortable couch this building has. I ate cake– which was close to angel-food cake. Any cake like angel-food cake is good in my book. Yay for finding it at walmart (just took 3 years to find…). We sat and chatted. That was the point. Drink coffee and talk. We did just that. We talked about life and the future and this girl has her way with me. She encourages me when I become fearful and sends me back to truth. She shares blog posts that she’s read lately and saves quotes to share with me. Yet its when I express my fears and my desire to throw in the towel, she cheers me in the other direction. She wants me to not worry, but find peace for today. We shared ideas. We want to be used and poured out in what ever way our heavenly Father sees fit. But sometimes those ideas have to be held with open hands. No, not sometimes. Always. Though we dream, we have to keep surrendering those dreams into His hands. Dreaming with open hands is hard, but it’s also exciting because it’s not so much about me and my dream but about me trusting my God to be the one who places opportunities and glimpses of glory into my life every.single.day.

So cheers to neighbors.

 

That Man

When my family moved to the South a number of years ago, my father was no longer in the role of leading a congregation, at least for the following season of life. This meant our family needed to find a congregation to be part of. After a time, we found one. Then I met him, he was the Sunday school teacher. He was always exploring deep truths and usually used lofty vocabulary that my young teen-age self could hardly understand. When meeting him I had no idea how much my life would be affected by him.

Aside from weekly seeing him, I didn’t get to know him too well. Then in 2009 I embarked on a journey to Israel with people from my school and he joined our group along with his brother. We had an unexpected layover in Rome and had to carry our carry-on luggage around the city for the few hours we visited. If anyone knows about Rome, they will automatically add in the ‘hill factor’ to the on-foot exploration. I grabbed his bags as we climbed up the first hill, more out of fear that he’d have a heart attack or some health-related problem. Yet during that trip we became buddies and had a lot of fun reminiscing after getting back.

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Then 2010 came along, it was January and I was riding in a large van, heading home from a conference in Michigan. My mom called to tell me that this man’s wife unexpectedly passed away. We were in shock; she was healthy and active—now gone. My heart ached, more for him than anything. I told my mom that to move on meant to be there to spend time with ‘Uncle’ Ed.

Thus began a new chapter of life. I’d sit with him on Sundays. We’d sing, doodle on our bulletins, and chat about the weeks happenings. Friday nights became a new favorite time of the week. After long days of studying and working—my sisters and I would go over to watch movies from yester-year. His brother would come over and we’d munch on snacks that Uncle Ed wasn’t supposed to eat. This weekly fun lasted for only a few months because the time came for me to pack up my life in two suitcases and move across the world.

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Leaving Uncle Ed was one of the more challenging parts of moving. I didn’t want him to be lonely. I was happy that he had planned excursions around the country and filled his time staying busy. He also kept busy learning and reading to know more about his Creator and Savior.

Then when I heard the news that there was a lovely lady in his life, I couldn’t be happier. It was the kind of love story that melts your heart.  He was her college professor back in the day, at a reunion for that school they were in a grieving seminar that was being led by her because she also lost her husband. They fell in love; they understood each other and enjoyed shared interests. Most of all they loved Jesus and that is the deepest soul bond anyone can have. I got to meet her on my first visit back to the states and was so thrilled. They were married in the summer of 2012, looking forward to several years together, at least.

In January my dad let me know that Uncle Ed was in the hospital. We thought it was his heart, but then it became apparent that it was his lungs. I texted him, as I would do once in a while, to let him know that I was coming ‘home’ and he needed to get better so that we could go have fun. My first night back my dad asked where I wanted to go, I told him to see Uncle Ed. Dad let me drive (brave man) and we went to the ICU to watch some super bowl together and catch up. He apologized for his appearance and wished he didn’t have tubes coming out of him. I was thankful, grateful he was alive. He told me he saw me daily. I smiled. That picture I took on his iPhone last year stayed there as his lock-screen background.

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He headed to a rehabilitation center to regain strength. I visited him with my dad several times. We’d pray and ask that Father would heal him. My dad reminded him that the previous year Uncle Ed told dad to fight for life (and dad is still here!), and now it was his turn to fight for life. I cried on my plane ride as I read a sweet email from his wife. I knew what was coming.

Not long after arriving back to my home on the other side of the world, my parents let me know that he was going home and was to be cared for by hospice. My little sister spent as much time with him as she could. My heart ached that I couldn’t be there at that time. Then he graduated to glory. He was at peace. His life made complete with Jesus himself. I can’t wait to join him.

Really, really

It’s everywhere; inundating our lives whether we realize it or not: love. Yet, do we really know what real love is? I’m learning that my idea of love wasn’t always really love at all. It was something manmade, something that I tried to muster up. Most times it failed, and failure is opposite of love because love is supposed to never give up. I give up, far more than I’d like to admit. I give up on so many different things that it would take hours to explain. Growing up I’d give up if I thought something was too hard, or simply out of my reach. Those bad habits that I fostered and held onto so closely have followed me in life and have been a difficult thing to change; especially when it comes to love.

I’ve been confronted with this aspect of my life so much recently. Realizing that love is the essence of everything I should be, and be doing. Love has to be my motivation or else what I do is a failure. Love also is not something that I can create in and of myself. My attempts are flawed, self-centered, and quite contrary to what I’ve been called to as a person and as a redeemed woman. I’ve been reading about unity in my study of Ephesians lately and have seen that we are called to be a loving, unified body. I fail because I’m looking to myself to create that love. I was never designed to create that love, but to have Christ’s love flowing through me. When I stopped to think about that some things started to click, again.

In one of my recent favorite albums (that I’ve been playing over and over since last summer and still love it every time) there are several parts that talk about love. One part compares a person flying a kite and the kites’ attitude towards the string holding it; thinking that it’s limited by the string.  But we all know that kites without strings are failures. Kites without someone or something holding them would either crash or just fly away with no purpose, only to eventually crash. Isn’t that how we act sometimes? We think that some things limit us in life and we don’t like the feeling of constraint, do we? I don’t. But the song goes on to say that Father’s love is like the kite string—everything we do matters and if love isn’t the string holding us when we “do” good things—those things are insignificant in the realm of eternity. It’s easier to read that or hear that and think wow, yeah—but then reality hits and our actions determine if we’re doing life with or without love.
[The song is The String that Ties Us Beautiful Eulogy]

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For each of our lives we’re doing different things. I teach—so my classes can be an avenue of watching my Father work. I can let go of the control I desire to have over that 90 minute period of time that I am with my students and ask Father to work through me and to love through me. Am I just going to go through motions? See this as just another mundane day of teaching? Or really grapple with life and think about the beauty of it and the utter inability I have to control any of it. I want to let the creator of love be seen by my students and the people who I interact with. I want even my ukulele playing to be done in love. Don’t forget the many meals cooked in my kitchen. I desire to love my Father first and foremost in each thing I do, because that will determine so, so much.

So after thinking about this a student arrives in class with some things that another student brought back to our school that I had loaned out during the winter. He also pulled out a box. I opened the box to find a bracelet [glow in the dark none the less!] that describes what Father has been teaching me. He’s the one that equips us and transforms us into the image of Christ. It’s not me. It’s not my strength. It’s His.

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I want to love, really. These people around me need to know what real love is. I want them to know the patience that has been shown to me. They can’t survive on the cultural lies about love, or the media lies about love. They were made for so much more. Their hearts can only be filled by this kind of love. I have that love, and I must not be a hoarder of it.

Touch

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I spent the morning working in my office. While in the office I was trying to find my water bottle that vanished last week. I was so sad that it wasn’t anywhere to be found because that was a gift I received at Christmas and I happened to like it a lot. I sat there and racked my brain to think of any possible place that I could have been between my home and office where I might have set it down. It suddenly dawned on me– maybe it was at the copy center? 

I left my office after the bell rang and was surrounded by a throng of students trying to get from one building to the next. It’s something like trying to fit tapioca pearls through a funnel.. they get stuck and squished in the process. But that’s okay. I got to see some of my students I taught 3 years ago. I love seeing those students and getting//giving hugs galore. I went to the copy center — (getting copies made here is not as easy as 123.. or maybe it is– we have to take our copies and have other people make the copies for us. We order what we need and come back in a few days to fetch the papers. This requires advanced planning which isn’t exactly easy sometimes.) I told my friends hello and tried to communicate to them that I was looking for a yellow bottle that I lost last week. I can never remember how to say “last week” correctly. Someday I’ll learn. The man was adamant that there was nothing there. The lady knew it was somewhere around. They looked around, grabbed a key and unlocked a cupboard and behold there was the cup that I had given up hope in finding. Bam. It was back in my hands. Off to class I went. 

After class I headed to the gate to catch the bus. You see, I live on the outskirts of city that is spread out. It could take 2 hours just to get through the city. I’ve never been to the far north. Anyhow, with other workers from my school we got on the bus. I like this bus because my school provides it making it free– and you get a seat! For this long-trek it’s not fun to have to stand the whole way which is usually what happens if I take public transit. I was planning to sit by myself and read a book that my mom sent over. Other plans were in the making as I was nudged in the leg. Whaa? Oh! It was the lady from the copy center. She scooted over and I sat with her. She speaks no English. We conversed about life, about the holiday tomorrow and our plans for our short vacation. It’s relationships that we’re made for. This is apparent. The ride takes awhile, I took a short nap and then we arrived downtown. We got off the bus and she grabbed my hand to go walking into town with me. This is normal for friends, this is a sign that you’re accepted by that person. Touch.

She went her way towards her home telling me to go safely and I crossed the major road. I jumped onto another bus, heading to my next destination. I got off a stop early but not far from my destination. Walking along I feel a tap on my shoulder. Touch. 

In a city of 7 million what is the likelihood that I would know someone in an area and hour away from where I live? It was my student. We were headed for the same mall. We walked along and talked about life and the day. We tried not to get killed crossing yet another big road and headed to our destination. For him it was to work, for me it was to meet friends to enjoy lunch together. 

People need other people in their lives. We’re not made to do life independently. I continue to learn that relationships are necessary. Relationships are messy, but we need each other. I’m so thankful that I haven’t been left to do life alone. In some ways life does get lonely here. I live on my own. I cook for myself and often eat my meals by myself. But even then I’m not alone. I’ve got the greatest companion with me at all times. That makes my heart sing just thinking about it! 

Well, I got some apples on the way home and need to go put em in the crock to make apple sauce. You mean apple sauce doesn’t come from the jar? Nope, not in these parts it doesn’t. — I peel and roughly cut them up, I don’t add water, just cinnamon and what ever spices I feel like adding then turn it on low. After a few hours I mash them with a potato masher. Bam. Applesauce not from the jar. And total cost for me? 65 cents. 

All is grace. 

Home sweet home

Since I was little I was always trying to decorate. Trying as in not quite succeeding. I grew up in a room with my 3 sisters. We had bunk beds  lots of dressers, too many clothes and well, not much room for decorating. My decorating was something like — put all trophies from softball and baseball on dresser, accompanied with those crafts made once upon a time at camp. On the other side I displayed my dollar-store lotions and body sprays. Hey, that was high qual for me in those days. Anyhow, it looked pretty rockin’.

When I was in high school and college I got more serious about art and crafting. I fell deeply in love with re-purposing clothing and almost anything. I would spend hours at thrift stores and choose items that weren’t super desirable with images in my head of what they could become. I made lots of things. I wore some of them when I was home over the winter. I still like them and still keep my “get-rid-of” items to re-purpose.

However, there were also other things I dreamed about as a child and teen. I had every car   make memorized. I could watch the road and name every car. I also LOVED looking at house designs. I would look in my mothers home-living magazines and find the house plans. I would have houses for all my friends planned out. I had our house picked out where I would get my own room and everyone else would too. I also imagined that I would be a rich person.

Times change and life changes. I packed up two black trunks and a backpack with everything I could fit in and boarded a sequence of planes as I headed to my new home. I was not going to have my own car, live in a little vintage house, or be that rich person I once imagined I’d be. Grace. Takes you from finding satisfaction in this life to realizing that this life is such a vapor and there are more eternal things to grasp onto.

After a month of couch surfing and traveling, I got the keys to my first place that I could call “mine”. It was a hotel room of sorts with a “kitchen” in the balcony. Complete with two twin beds, two desks, a large old-school tv on a stand, two night stands, a storage cupboard, gaudy flower wall-hangings and a broom. Someone also gave me a futon. All of that furniture was in a 13×13 space. Home.

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In the weeks leading up to my arrival I did a lot of internet searching to find ideas for how to use a small space efficiently. No home-depot  drill, table saw, or all of those conveniences I had access to in my fathers garage would be available to me. I had to find a way to not just live here, I wanted my home to be a special haven for people, a place where people felt welcomed and where hope was shared.

I stacked the twin beds on top of each other, putting the one base on its side and used it as a book shelf. However, last spring I got a call that my house was getting an overhaul. I was not very thrilled about this because it basically meant I had to take my whole house apart cause they were taking my desks and twin beds and giving me one large desk and a double bed. Whatevs. I liked my room the way it was but I quickly adjusted to the changes and learned another lesson in contentment that in this land– nothing belongs to you.

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This is now what people see when they walk in. I bought a dining table — reupholstered the sofa and the chairs and covered my walls with colorful things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy mother is kind of the best shopper for me. She knows I adore all things vintage and pretty. She got me a large piece of fabric with birds (no I wasn’t intending on my room being bird-themed but it just kind of happened…) and I bought a frame downtown and stretched it over making it into a wall-hanging. My student gave me the lantern, and mom gave me the tea pot//cup (salt and pepper) set. I thrifted the table runner at a vintage store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the double bed that I now have. I thrifted the afghan last winter and yes, carried it all the way back here from America. Because I loved the colors and the beauty of it. Plus… it was $2.25. Hello! Also the duvet is double-sided — I thrifted two vintage sheets and made the cover while in the states last winter. And of course, thrifted pillow cases that perfectly fit my style. The headboard…….. is still in the winter-era. But it’s still winter here so i’ve got some time to figure out what I wanna do there.

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I want a bookshelf but haven’t gotten one. So I use all sorts of things to house books on. On my desk I repurposed a shoe-shelf to turn it into a bookshelf (ish). And yep, I store my stools (a household necessity) under my desk.

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This is the doorway to my kitchen. It’s not in a picture mode now, so I’ll show you the kitchen some other time. I made the pennant banner before I moved here 3 years ago– and I hand-cut the words above from black contact paper making vinyl decor that gets people talking. Students will ask me.. what does that mean? I tell them what blessings are and we sit around counting them. I have a notebook filled with note cards that have their expressions of thanksgiving.

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This is leading to my front door (oh wait.. my only door leading out..) and my cupboard that I recently quilted a photo display for. It used to have decrepit photos curling up from years of sitting there. I finally gave it an overhaul and am SO glad I did.  The other closet doors have four seasons needle-art made by a woman from my home church. She was moving and thought they best go to the thrift store. I wasn’t about to let that happen. These things are BEAUTIFUL. I love staring at them. Does that make me weird. It’s supposed to be spring now, but pretty sure there are piles of dirty snow and ice outside. So I look at the spring (green) one and dream of the days when this land will have flowers blooming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd across from this is the door to the bathroom and this little bit of happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust an eclectic assortment of things. From a hoop my mom made for me (she’s an amazing artist!!) to the wooden hanging that one of my best friends over here made for me– a quote I wrote down from an incredibly inspiring book I read last week… and so on.

This is home for me. This is where I spend my days, share my meals, and live. I had the biggest party to date here last night… there were 11 people. Yes, 11 in that space. I actually measured with my tape measure this morning, and the entire place is 13ftx25ft (because of the WC on one end and the kitchen on the other– but the main living area is about 13ft x 13ft. Oh yeah, and I think in total for decorating I spent about $40.

I count it a privilege to call this place as my home. This is what my Abba Father chose for me to dwell in. Grace.

So next time you think you can’t have company over because you don’t feel your home is adequate, think again. Hospitality doesn’t have to wait til you’re in a larger home or a better-looking home. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Count your blessings and go bless others.

Stories

Aside

We all have stories. You have some, I have some. Our stories are part of the greater story of our life. Whether we realize it or not, there is a much grander story being woven together as I type. Yes! That excites me and scares me at the same time. Sometimes I think that I’ve got that moment under control. Truth is nothing is under my control. I read in a book yesterday that gravity is pushing me to earth at 9.81 meters per second squared. I don’t even know what that means, so thankfully the author explained that means I’m falling into the earth at 22 miles per hour. Okay does that mean anything to you? That is one way that God is showing me that I am not in control of this thing called my story.

So I thought I’d share a few stories from travels I’ve taken. I don’t really have extravagant amounts of time to go around this frozen city to take dreamy pictures to tell blog land how magical my life is. It kind of is just life. Just like you live your life, fulfilling your purpose– that’s what I’m doing. Just in a different part of the globe.

Okay so I traveled back here after just over a month traveling all over America. I was worn out. Seriously I was not ready to come back. I was fearful of it all. I was overly emotional and tired and just a mess. I think a HUGE reason was that for  three years I haven’t really made rest a priority. I lived a super busy life in college– and that rolled over into life abroad. Not to mention the energy life here consumes to teach and live in a cross-cultural environment. I took none of that into account and thought that I was young and could go at the speed of… well.. what ever I thought I could go at. That speed was sending me straight to burnout.

Before I had embarked on my America journey I had made plans to visit my student in her hometown while I had a week of downtime after getting back. I struggle with pleasing people and not knowing how to say no. Especially when the student already got my bus ticket to return from her city. Well, after several days of resting per my neighbors command I felt like I was ready to embark on a small adventure.

So there I was, in line at the bus station, when I noticed people had their ID cards and I remembered that I totally forgot my passport. Yo. Bad idea! Oh but when I bought my ticket it was no problem. Whew. Got on the bus (no passport needed). Listened to something and read a book and got a little nervous when the bus would kind of hit the rumble strips. Apparently that’s how they do on the highways here?

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Arrived at my students town. There she was with her parents smiling as big as ever that her teacher would COME to her town. She’s such a blessing to me! We ate noodles– apparently that’s the traditional food people eat after a journey to show that the journey was successful. Her mom made the noodles by hand. She’s kind of a cooking pro and her kitchen was spotless (mine isn’t).

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Then it started to snow, like a lot. These towns don’t have lots of snow removal equipment even though it is the frozen land of snow and ice. They made comments of concern that we wouldn’t get out of the town when planned (I had lesson planning and teaching to do! I needed to go home when we planned…). Sure enough, the next day it kept snowing and the buses weren’t going. We considered other options but held our breaths hoping that we could get out the following day when we planned to.

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When it snows, there isn’t a whole lot to do– except visit grandparents, eat food, and watch TV. I love meeting elderly people. I want to hear their stories. I want to understand them, but it’s a little difficult (or a lot). I loved her grandfather. He was precious, precious! His eyes smiled. He told me that they live a simple life but are happy. My heart ached as their house was covered with idolatry and fear, no true sense of lasting peace. Oh that God would Shine on this land and redeem those walking in darkness!

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Eating in one of these homes goes something like this… “come eat!” — go to the table that is overflowing with food that is way more than any of us can possibly consume. You eat until you cannot eat anymore– and the mother commands that you keep eating– it’s their happy-o-meter. If you eat more that means you like it and that makes them happy. Whew. I love eating Chinese food but sometimes I can’t.take.anymore.

Okay well fast forwarding to the following morning– the morning we had our bus tickets.  We could go! Per Chinese tradition you eat dumplings (or Jiaozi) when you depart on a journey, it’s their way of sending well wishes. So we ate dumplings for breakfast. As I said her mom is a pro. Then my student got notifications from others who had    left on earlier buses saying that they’re stopping by the police station to do ID checks. Oh remember who left their passport at home? This one. I sent an SOS to the parents and a close friend asking that they uphold this situation and that I could pass through the police check safely.

We drove across town and stopped. I held my breath. The policeman came on and walked past me and my student, he didn’t even collect her ID. He was looking for people who weren’t students. Oh how my heavenly Father was orchestrating this event that was entirely out of my control. I made it home without any problems.

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The trip was a graced trip. It was a short trip, but there were so many things that HE was teaching me. He was teaching me to trust Him and that sometimes I need to relax. I want to be the one serving. I want to be the one giving that cup of tea and that piece of cake to a guest. He was teaching me how to be a guest and accept their gift of hospitality, just as I wish people to accept when they’re in my home. He was also teaching me how He wants me to be receptive of what He’s doing around me. Slow down. Enjoy. Savor. BE.

Done

I’ve thought about starting a blog for awhile. I debated with myself reasons to do it, and reasons to not do it. I finally decided that it can be an outlet for creativity, to connect with others, to share the ups and downs of life as my Savior relentlessly pursues me. 

As a twenty-something who has chosen to move beyond the boarders of comfort, I can say that it’s not always an easy journey. Someone shared with me last weekend about an elderly lady who faced many obstacles in life sharing that those obstacles were beneficial. I’ve lived so few years compared to that woman but I can say that living abroad has led me to do things I never imagined I would do and to let go of things that needed to go.

You see, this whole journey is not about me– my needs– my wants– my desires. It’s about my redeemer and realizing that my rights in this life don’t really exist. I’m waiting for the eternal reward. Why let the here and now be the end-all when there are far greater things awaiting me in eternity?

I live on a shoe-string budget, as some would say. But really, I have everything I could ever need and FAR more than what I need. I am passionate about managing what’s been entrusted to me in a wise way. Sometimes I don’t make the most wise decisions but I try. I also cannot always control what I eat, as this culture I live in revolves around food. Yet, I try to do what is most responsible with the truth I know about food. I love beauty and creating, yet I don’t want to find my joy in the creations of my hands or peoples hands. I want to find  my joy in my King who crafted the world and holds me with his powerful hand. Life is a gift and I don’t want to wait til I’m in another country to fully live. I want to be
here, all here– fully alive.