This is very good. 

He gave the world a once over and nodded approvingly.  “This is good,” he said to himself as he stepped lightly through a field of grass, looking around at all he had made.  He approached a barren piece of earth and when he saw the rich orange clay on the ground, his eyes lit up with an idea.  Lowering himself to the ground, he thought of how he was going to create something so beautiful that even his own breath would be taken away.  He beckoned the rain with a whisper and watched as droplets pooled and clay swirled into streams of oranges and reds.  As the heavens opened and water saturated the land, his knees sunk into the muddled mix.

When he hushed the rain, he reached his hands into the orange earth, feeling the clay fill the spaces between his fingers.  He grabbed handfuls of the mixture and began shaping, patting, smoothing edges and curves.  Every so often he would rock back on his heels, wipe his sweating brow with the back of his hand, and observe.  Not yet satisfied, his orange stained hands would dig in deeper, taking care to get every line, every angle just right.

At long last he stood, wiped off his knees and hands, and gazed down at his masterpiece.  He spoke softly, quiet yet assured, “This is very good.”  

Once more he crouched, leaning in closely.  Taking his creation into his arms, he exhaled a breath so gentle and so full that it awakened the heart of man.  Molded clay slowly turned to joint and marrow, flesh stretched over muscles, new lungs inhaled deeply.  Eyes blinked open, the face of the Father coming into focus.  Beaming with pride and delight, the Father’s eyes welled with tears that fell silently down his face. 

After timeless, endless moments of gazing at his creation, the Father spoke.  “You are so beautiful, my son.  I have never loved anything as much as I love you.”  Taking the son by the hand, the Father showed him all that was his inheritance, and in that single act of love all of creation shifted. 

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memories.

I am driving down PA 28, barreling toward the city with the windows rolled down so that the wind can slip through the car cabin and whip my hair all about. The music is turned up loud, but the howls of the wind are louder still. I am there in the driver’s seat one second, and the next I am small again, sitting in the passenger seat, my little arm stretched out to the sky with my hand cupped to catch the air. I look at my dad and he smiles, tells me that if I angle my hand up, my arm will move up with the wind. If I angle it down, my arm will be pushed by the air. I do these things and marvel at my arm moving up and down, up and down, up and down with each twist of my wrist. That’s kind of how airplanes work, Dad says over the wind. I am a little girl again, my hair stinging my cheeks as wild strands slap against my face, the sun hitting my outstretched arm. I am back in my own car, passing busses and racing a train and staring out at the clouds in the sky, smiling goofy to myself.

I am standing in Target, perusing the game aisles and considering my options. I want to buy Qwirkle but I keep scanning the shelves for a deck of Set that I know will drive me crazy. I don’t see either, and as I look down the aisle one direction and the next, I get this sense that I am no longer in Pittsburgh. I am transported, along with this aisle in Target, back to my home in Oviedo. For a moment, I am not in Pennsylvania, but I am smack in the middle of Florida and I get this feeling like someone I know will round the corner at any moment. I wait on bated breath to see who will come and say hello. But no one comes. No one rounds the corner, not even a stranger. And at this point, a stranger’s hello would be more welcome than the emptiness. “No man is an island unto himself,” but I sure feel deserted right about now. 

I am walking up the stairs at 1149 when I reach the landing and catch a glimpse of her bedroom. For a second I see her, sitting there in the white satiny upholstered swivel chair that claims the corner by the fireplace. I see her sitting, looking down and reading the book on her lap. I pause, watching as she brings a hand to her nose, moves away the tube that breathes oxygen into her, and dabs a tissue at the condensation and snot that sits on the cusps of her nostrils. She crumples the tissue in her hand and goes back to reading, her air back in place above her lip. I shake my head and the picture fades. She is not there. The chair has sat unoccupied since her departure months ago. I keep walking up the stairs, past her room, on up to my own and shut the door behind me.

Memories are funny that way. They grab you when you least expect them to, suck you in, show you what was and what no longer is. Memories can be sweet and soft, kissing you gently as they pull you down. Memories can be hopeful and leave you wanting more, leave you stewing in your loneliness. Memories can leave you bitter and angry at the unfairness of it all. They grab you and pull you and hold on tight for those fleeting moments of joy, pain, and grief. They leave you differently than when they found you, leave you breathing in fresh air or choking you with poison. 

One Month

A month ago I kissed my Grandmother’s forehead for the last time.

If I’m honest, it was probably the tenth “last time” for me. Every time I left her to take a break from the hospital, I kissed her head and told her I loved her and walked away like it would be the last time I saw her. And every time I walked away, a little piece of me broke and I would cry in the elevator on the way to the main floor. I would cry in the hallway to pay for parking. I would cry as I opened my car door and sat, hands on the wheel, staring at the concrete wall in front of me. I would cry on the way home. I would cry in the shower. I would cry driving all the way back to the hospital. Every moment I wasn’t with her, it felt like she had already died. I thought I would be prepared, but I was only fooling myself.

If I’m honest, I feel a little bit guilty for feeling relieved since she’s passed. Not in a, “oh, good, I’m glad she’s dead” way. No. I mean in the way that you can only feel relief when you know someone is in a better place, breathing easily, not constrained by the pains and burdens of this world any longer. It’s the relief that comes after the constant worry, the constant fear. I’ve lived with that fear of her death for years, but it was only so palpable in her final weeks. I hadn’t realized how tired, how scared, how anxiety-stricken and fearful I was until a few days into her hospital stay. Since she’s passed, my fear has shifted from her life to my Grandfather’s. Sometimes I catch myself watching his chest rise and fall as he sleeps, just like I watched Grandma.

It’s been the longest month, but also the slowest. It feels like forever ago that I said goodbye to her, said I loved her one last time. It also feels like it was yesterday, and like any time I round the landing to go upstairs, there she’ll be, sitting in the chair in the corner of her room. But she’s never there. And she’s never in her bed. And she’s never in her recliner. Or at the dining table. And her oxygen tank no longer hums or takes up space in the living room. I don’t trip over her breathing tubes that run up and down the stairs haphazardly. I can’t hear her coughing. I’ll never hear the way she says “cookies” again.

“Ralph, get my cook-kees. I want my cook-kees and milk so I can go to bed.”

Her final days didn’t include cookies or milk and barely any water. It all happened so quickly, and so agonizingly slow, too.

Now I cry because I can’t believe she’s gone. I cry because I hardly knew her. I cry because sometimes the silence is just too quiet. I don’t cry often – only late at night when I can’t sleep because it’s too quiet, too cold without her.

So tonight, a month since I’ve seen her and kissed her and held her hand and told her I loved her and cried on the way home, I eat two cookies and drink some milk and cry a little bit at the bitterness of losing her and the sweetness of knowing she is with Jesus.

And when I wake in the morning, my first thought will be the memory of how I woke a month ago. The phone ringing at 5:43am and my mom sobbing on the other end of the line. Me walking down stairs with the phone to my ear, nudging Grandpa from his sleep, kneeling beside him in his recliner and holding his arm and telling him that his wife of 62 years had died.

What a cruel, hard new year it’s been.

2014 in a nutshell

A year ago today I hugged my friends goodbye and wove through hordes of people at the Phnom Penh International Airport with three bags of luggage and two carry-ons. I took about eleven steps towards the front door and began crying. Thick, hot tears streamed down my face, splashing onto my glasses and it took everything in me to keep walking and not look back. When I got to the ticket counter, the woman behind the computer looked up and her face was concerned and confused, and through my crying I told her that, yes, I know I’m only allowed two checked bags unless I pay for the third, and no, I don’t mind paying the third bag and an overweight baggage fee. Just give me my freaking ticket and point me to my gate, please.

I sat in that terminal for what felt like hours, crying and sniffling and second guessing my decisions and going over the last nine months in my head, every bit that I could remember. What could have been better? What should I have done differently? Would it have mattered? Do I really have to get on this plane? I should text Lily and Hannah and tell them that I miss them already. What if I had done that instead? What if I had chosen my words better? What if, what if, what if.

My mind reeled, and my eyes were red and puffy, and my face was blotchy and I was just one big hot mess.

Boarding the plane and taking off wasn’t any easier. If you can imagine, it was the perfect movie scene: I sat in the window seat and stared out through the window, my hands on the glass as I cried and watched Cambodia get smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and eventually disappear beneath the clouds. I think the person five rows back could hear me sobbing uncontrollably.

If all this is news to you, you probably missed my blog on surrendering.

Go ahead. Read it. I’ll wait.

….

Now that you’re caught up, let me back track a little bit.

The last year of my life has been the most difficult, beautiful, revealing, formative, and frustrating year of my life.

I slept on a mattress in the living room of my parents’ house.

I was jobless for 75% of the year.

I was friendless, or seemingly so, for half of it.

I was depressed, and bitter, and sad, and angry for most of it.

I “surrendered” emotion after emotion, memory after memory, desire after desire. It felt like I was giving up everything, being emptied of all of what had made me me over the last 23 years. Still, there was more to surrender.

But, God.

God opened my eyes. Instead of thinking about how wronged I felt, God showed me how wrong I had been.

And He healed my heart, because instead of being bitter and angry about my time in Cambodia and how my expectations hadn’t been met, He showed me how I wasn’t always living up to my part of the deal and ways that I could have been better.

It was like the more I surrendered Cambodia to Him, the more healing I was able to receive, the more intimacy I was able to experience, and the more knowledge and wisdom I gained.

I spent a lot of time sitting on the edge of my bed staring at my feet last year. I didn’t have a job to go to in an effort to stuff all my feelings and issues away. I didn’t have many friends, for the first half of the year, so I didn’t really hang out with anyone.

My time was spent with me. Alone. In the quiet.

It was really sad, you guys.

But then somewhere around August or September, Jesus got a hold of my heart in a way that… I didn’t even know was possible.

I experienced Him in a way that was so completely foreign, that all I could do was surrender myself to Him. Surrender my Greek mindset of logic, surrender my heart to let Him work in it how He needed to, surrender my time so that He would have more of it.

The more I sought Jesus, the more I had a hunger for His Word, for His presence. He walked me into this intimate place and I finally realized what it meant to “come back to your First Love,” because I had come back to mine.

Since then, things have been on the up and up. I have a vision for my life, a dream that was planted and watered by the Lord. A little seed that I didn’t even know was there has started to bloom inside of me, and now I finally feel like I have a direction and a goal to work towards.

Jesus wouldn’t let me get through the rest of 2014 without one more major surrendering moment, and that’s when I felt prompted to move to Pittsburgh. In an effort of obedience that scared me, annoyed me a little bit, and excited me all at the same time, I started the process of getting rid of my stuff and packing up my car and saying goodbyes. I let go of the comforts of my home of 22 years, the relative closeness of all of the friends I’ve accumulated over the years, and the warmth of the sun for a house that wasn’t mine, a caretaker role (though I think I will always be unsure of what that actually looks like), a strange new city, and cold, wet snow (the absolute worst part of the whole thing).

Now I’m here. Sitting at the dining room table in my grandparent’s house. My grandmother is upstairs and has been all day. She is tired, and not feeling well, sleeping, and mourning the loss of my uncle as today would be his birthday.. My grandfather is sitting on the couch watching a football game, beer in hand. My uncle is cooking dinner. There are familiar noises and smells and people, but I am still out of my comfort zone.

This year, my word from the Lord as the theme for my year is “endurance.” I’ve seen the theme began to manifest in my life in a few different ways, but none that I am fully prepared to expound upon yet. The biggest one, which needs to be unfolded more and will always need to be constantly bathed in prayer, is my decision to return to school and work towards two master’s degrees. It will be an exciting year, because it started off exciting. Every bit of my 2015 so far has been exciting in some way or another. It’s also been a little bit sad in some ways. Bittersweet in others.

But this is a turnaround year, the year of the whirlwind. As long as I keep my focus on Jesus and remain in the eye of the storm, I know I will be well. Because God is good, and faithful, and kind, and loving, and generous, and He does more than I am able to ask or imagine, and I am thankful.

So that has been the last year of my life. One year after I left Cambodia, I left Florida and begin a new season in the coldest place I hope to never live in again. Seriously. Grandma said it gets in the negatives. My Florida blood cannot handle it.

Happy 2015, friends.

You know what I mean?

My move to Pittsburgh has been quite eventful since I left Orlando last Thursday. I spent time in Georgia with some friends for a couple of hours, then headed further north of them to Gainesville to visit and spend the night with one of my dearest friends. From there, I headed out for a nine hour drive to Centreville, VA to hang out with my cousins for a few days.

Spending time with my friends and family this weekend has been really wonderful, but there has been a looming cloud of sadness that has crept its way into everyone’s hearts. Late Friday night, when I arrived in Centreville, I got a phone call from my older sister saying that my Uncle Scott was in the hospital in critical condition. Scott had been battling lung cancer for a few months, but when we saw him about two weeks ago he seemed to be doing well. His time in the ICU was a whirlwind up until this afternoon when the decision was made to remove him from life support. He died sometime afterward.

In all this, my heart and my spirit have been heavy and burdened, some reasons being obvious. I saw my uncle at Christmas, and while even then I was wary that his treatments may not be going as well as we hoped, I never imagined that I wouldn’t see him again when I finally reached the Burgh and moved in with my grandparents. We had plans to hang out around his birthday, and I was going to ask him to help me build a bed frame, teach me how to drive in snow and ice, and look at my car and advise me on whether or not I should invest in some good snow tires. It’s this quick snuffing out of a life that really has shocked me and caught me off guard. I have thought many times over this weekend, “Did God move me to Pittsburgh to minister to my family because my uncle died?”

And that is a difficult question to ask, and even more painful for me to answer.

One friend answered that she can’t imagine that God didn’t move me to Pittsburgh for that purpose, that she doesn’t believe in coincidences. And you guys, I’m almost ashamed to admit that my response was “Noooo. You’re supposed to say it’s a fluke and that it wasn’t supposed to happen.”

I don’t want my uncle to be dead, you guys.

And I don’t want my move to Pittsburgh to be because of him being dead.

And I don’t want to have the responsibility of ministering to broken hearts during this season.

And that is selfish of me, you guys. Because if I have this hope for life and eternity, I should be sharing it and ministering to the brokenhearted. Because the brokenhearted are everywhere, and the wounds are not only in my family. The wounded and broken are all throughout the world, but how can I go love and minister out in the world if I cannot even love and minister to my family?

I am so very sad about my Uncle Scott passing away, and in such the manner that he did. I wish his last few days were more enjoyable for him and not so filled with pain and confusion. But I am thankful that I am able to be in Pittsburgh and live amongst the people closest to him, not that I would be able to comfort them, but that Jesus might be given space to comfort them through my being there.

Please, please, please. Please pray for my Aunt Nancy. I don’t imagine burying a husband is easy.

Please, please, please. Please pray for my grandparents. This is their second child to bury in 10 months.

Please, please, please. Please pray for my other two uncles, and for my mom. Losing two siblings in a 10-month span is remarkably difficult. Losing a sibling, period, is devastating.

________________________

*Sorry if this blog is here and there. My cousin and I took a break to go get Chipotle. 😉

A Big Move!

Hi friends!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I guess I should fill you in, if you haven’t heard already: In January (read: three weeks) I’ll be packing all of my belongings and moving! It’s been a year since I moved back to the States, and while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the warmth of Florida, I am both anxious for change and eager to follow the Lord’s guiding. This time, though, instead of heading across the globe, I’ll be heading up north to the great state of Pennsylvania. Or, “Pee-ay” as I’m told people call it.

I’m really, super, stinking excited about moving. I get to live with my precious grandparents, explore a new and exciting city, and take a shot at establishing myself in a place where I know less than ten people (outside of family members). It is both exhilarating and frightening and I love every bit of it. I keep going back to the conversation that Lorelai and Luke had in the diner when Lorelai decided she wanted to open her own B&B.

LUKE: You’re just scared. Just like everybody else when they’re taking on something big.

LORELAI: Well, then what does everybody else do to get through this feeling?

LUKE: They run in the back, throw up, pass out and then smack their head on the floor.

LORELAI: What?

LUKE: That’s what I did on the first morning I opened the diner. Look, there is no button to push to get you through this. You just gotta jump in and be scared and stick with it until it gets fun.

LORELAI: How long ’til the diner got fun?

LUKE: About a year.

LORELAI: Wow. And there’s no button?

LUKE: Nope.

LORELAI: How about a lever, can I pull a lever?

LUKE: Nope.

LORELAI: Turn a knob?

LUKE: Nope.

LORELAI: You just jump?

LUKE: You just jump.

LORELAI: I wanna do it.

LUKE: You should do it.

On top of moving to a big city (with it’s own football team, baseball team, and ice hockey team!!!!!), I’m also in the process of applying for two graduate programs at the University of Pittsburgh. Both the School of Law and the School of Public and International Affairs have caught my eye, and it just so happens that Pitt has a joint degree program for the Juris Doctor and Master’s of Public and International Affairs.

It’s a big goal.

huge goal.

But – and if you’re a Jesus loving person I hope you can identify with me on this and be supportive and encouraging – I have been praying a great deal about a very many things, and school is one of them. So far, Jesus has opened up every door to get me to Pittsburgh that could have possibly been shut in my face (and that I thought would be shut in my face). I’m believing that He is already opening doors for me to attend grad school here, that He will bless me abundantly with financial aid for said grad school, and that He has gone before me and prepared the way.

Things are just working out up there already. He isn’t moving me there for nothing, and I get giddy like a child when I think about the surprises that are waiting for me in Pittsburgh.

So while I’m scared like Lorelai, I also think that I can do it. And I want to do it. And I have other people believing in me that I can do it.

I just need the endurance to push through it, and the humility to remember that every good and perfect gift comes from above.

I’m moving to Pittsburgh in the dead of winter to establish myself and attend grad school because Jesus has led me there, has prepared the way, and has something there for me.

And that is incredible.

So, if you wouldn’t mind praying for me, I would be very appreciative.

Please pray for:

  • A safe journey on my drive to Pitt
  • A job that will, at the very least, allow me to pay all my bills and help my grandparents out with groceries and/or a tank of gas for their car
  • Financial provision for both the registration to cover the LSAT (that I need to register for by January 7th and take in February) & study materials, and the finances to apply for the two grad schools
  • A miracle from Jesus wherein I am accepted to both programs(!!)
  • Financial provision in the form of scholarships and grants and extra money from that job mentioned above so that I can afford school without burying myself in further student loan debt
  • More friends to be made in Pittsburgh
  • and most importantly, a deeper, stronger desire to see Jesus, and hunger for the Word

Thanks friends!

So things got a little busy.

In my last post, I talked on and on and on about how I wanted to know all about mentorship and what the heck it means and what it looks like. I even went so far as to pose a million questions regarding mentorship and was so bold as to say “I’M GOING TO DO HARDCORE RESEARCH AND TELL YOU STUFF ABOUT IT!”

That, my friends, was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever written (on this blog).

Because, of course, when I actually get serious about something and want to learn and research and be serious about my blog writing, my life would get hectic. Not even so much was it my life that was crazy, it was more like other peoples’ lives got crazy and I kind of helped to smooth out things and make the crazy less crazy. Does that make sense?

Anyway — over the last couple of months I have spent an incredibly obnoxious amount of time at my home church doing things. Like painting, and scrubbing the floor, and vacuuming up dust, and painting some more, and caulking things, and spackling holes in walls, and wet sanding steel, and also manning the front desk in the office, and you know – the usual things that I’ve always had experience doing. [sarcasm, you guys.]

So, I’m kind of writing to apologize for never updating and doing research and keeping you all in the loop, but at the same time I’m kind of whatever about that post/series-that-didn’t-happen because I learned way more about mentoring by working at the church for 600 hours than I ever would have by reading books and blogs and talking to folks about it as if it was just a concept to be grasped.

What I guess I’m really trying to say is “you’re welcome” for not boring you with facts and figures. Truly. You’re welcome. You can donate monetary “thank you’s” directly into my bank account.

What I did learn about mentoring is this:

  • sometimes it just happens and it’s unofficial and organic and that’s the coolest thing ever
  • sometimes there is no label on it, but it happens spur of the moment in little tid-bits here and there and you take it with a grain of salt and let it pepper your life in the ways that people shell it out to you
  • sometimes you become a mentor in the process, even if it is just for like a minute or two
  • because really, everyone has mentoring moments when they can pour some wisdom and love and knowledge into the people around them
  • and there doesn’t have to be a specific age thing that goes on — I’ve had younger women share things with me that make me go “dang.” I’ve also had older women tell me things that make me go “dang.”
  • and that’s that