Thursday, December 16, 2010

Something Special

Today is my sister's birthday. While she can be irritatingly opinionated sometimes, she is kind-hearted, loving and giving. She is one of the hardest working out of all the people I know, but she will always make time to listen. Throughout my childhood, and into my adult years she has been like a second mother to me. She is my confidant, my sister and my friend.

Here's to you, Jen. Happy Birthday. I hope it brings you everything good that you deserve.

Love,
Me

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Facebook Stinks: The LONG AWAITED Conclusion....

The strangest thing happened to me today. I logged into a long unused email account and saw a Facebook invite from a friend to join a group. I clicked the link, and suddenly, without warning, I was in my OLD FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!! If you don't know the story, click here.

I clicked on the deactivate button, only to find that my friends could still invite me to things...seeing how I had over 200 friends, 300 unread emails, and countless app invites, I took the time to delete those, along with the game requests. I then changed my privacy settings and deactivated the account. Mission accomplished. 18 months later. It was epic (but only to me).

Goodbye to the old Gillian. One by one, the ties are being severed. It's strange how much lighter I feel.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Yeah, I missed me too...

Depression absolutely stinks. I hate it. I hate the way I don't make the bed, the way I curl up on the sofa and lose myself in mindless tv programming. The commercial for depression pretty much sums it up. Watching that over and over drove me deeper into the abyss. When I am in depression, I hate the way I don't make an effort to call my friends, or reach out to people in my family. I hate the way I let simple household chores like laundry and dishes pile up, the way I can't get out of bed until the last minute, skating into work just before it was time to sign into my phone. I can fake a good mood during depression. Mask the bad with a fake smile that never reaches my eyes while all the time that black cloud is hovering just over my head. There is usually some relief when I am in a crowd and my focus is on other people. However, the moment I am alone, it comes back full force.

Maybe I didn't really fool my friends. A friend texted me and wanted to know if I was ok. I wound up on the phone with her, bawling. Then there were people who basically told me they were coming over. It forced me up and forced me to clean up a little before they got here. I have experienced this crippling cloud before. There was a time just before my marriage ended, and another time after our separation. This time, I figured it was pretty much the fact that my job was shipped overseas. Intellectually I knew that everything is going to work out. But even with that knowing, came all the emotions that accompany job loss.

I'm lucky. Last Monday, for no apparent reason, something in me snapped. I woke up Tuesday morning early enough to read, pray, and get to work 10 minutes early -- it was the first time since I got back from South Africa. Tonight, a dear, sweet woman told me she had "missed my smile". Well, quite frankly, I did too. I'm back to normal, and normal feels good. I can go shopping, make plans, and be present for the people I love. My future is in God's hands, and I am content with whatever that brings.

As for you, if you are under the cloud, know that you are not alone. Don't hide what you are going through from the people who care about you. Just admitting that you are depressed is a huge step towards healing. Then, be patient with yourself. Know that there is help, there is hope, and there is healing. I choose not to seek professional help, knowing that what I was experiencing was temporary. Whatever your circumstances, there is no shame in admitting that you need help. If you remember nothing else, remember that it is walking through these kinds of issues that gives you the courage to help others.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This blog has no title

So people keep telling me how much they enjoy reading my South Africa blogs and noticed I haven't posted anything lately. The truth is, the longer I am back from Africa, the harder it is to write about it. The emotions swirling through me have somewhat settled and I am focused on wrapping up my current job before moving onto bigger and better things. Wrapping up the job has been stressful. It is among the top five most stressful situations a human can go through, along with death of a loved one, divorce, buying a house, and moving. I didn't want this blog to become G's random thoughts on depression, so I refrained from writing anything.

This morning I woke up with something on my mind. One of the reasons it has become difficult to write about Africa is because the stories I want to tell the most feel so personal. How do you write about a teenage boy who speaks English so clearly, is a top academic achiever in his school, but is struggling with the dreaded virus? He misses a lot of school because of hospital stays. Truth be told, if it were up to me, I go pick him up and fly him here to the U.S. to one of the top hospitals. "Surely," I think to myself, "we have the world's best medicine here." And then a stab goes through me, because I realize that as much as I love Africa, I don't trust that they have decent hospitals with enough trained physicians. Then I feel bad because I don't want my friends in SA to think I am criticizing their beloved home. So I take the only action I can take when I hear my little teenage friend is back in hospital: I fall on my face and cry out to God for mercy. I continue crying out until I know he is through the worst and is back home again. How do I express the light that seems to surround him? The lessons he taught me in just a few short days? This child has nothing but forgiveness for an alcoholic father who was drinking away his stipend. He has no proper birth record, so he chooses his age and his birthday. He does this with joy -- not bitterness or anger. God has huge purposes for this child, and I have to trust that God can keep him alive to fulfill those purposes.

Then there is "Band-aid". This slight little girl is about eight years old. We were playing games with her and the other children when Jeanette (our nurse) noticed she was hurt. Jeanette pulled a splinter out of the little girl's hand, put antibiotic on it, and wrapped a band-aid around it. Band-aid was soooo grateful! She threw her arms around Jeanette's neck and kept saying "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!" She was full of bubbly joy. Effervescent. When we saw her a few days later, we barely recognized her. She had strapped her baby sister to her back and carried her to the drop in center. She fed the child off her own plate, unselfishly giving up her own meal. The responsibility of caring for her helpless one and a half year old sister weighed on her heavily, and the bubbly child we had met a few days before was buried.

There are hundreds of these stories -- sad stories that turn to stories of hope brought to a hopeless generation, and stories of success. There is the very enterprising young man who took what Swa Vana taught him and started a home decorating business in the bush. Yes, folks, he uses his sewing machine to make curtains and sells them. His sewing machine was broken beyond repair when we were there, but he was pressing forward with the business.

Across the street from one of the drop-in centers was a man who played very very LOUD music. He harbored bitterness and resentment, and would crank up the volume whenever the children were gathered in the center. Instead of going over and asking him to lower the music, he was invited over for a meal. He was very sick, very fragile, and had to be carried. While in the center, he heard the Gospel message and accepted Christ as his personal Savior. He then began blasting Christian music. Two weeks after his conversion, he died; however, we know he is in a better place, and he died in peace and joy instead of bitterness and anger.

Back in the States, it is easy to tune out what one does not want to face. It is easy to get caught up in the minutia of daily life and forget the suffering one has witnessed. God has a way, however, of bringing these forcefully to the front of one's mind again. Last week I logged onto www.philly.com and read an article about a section of Philadelphia where people are far below the poverty line with no jobs, no job prospects and no way of putting food on the table for their children. They are mostly ignorant of the types of assistance available to them from the government. Largely African-American, they do not trust white people. It sounds sort of familiar. If I really want to be like Mama Charmaine when I grow up, I will find a way of helping them. Now I am praying for vision and purpose for my future. As much as I want to go back to Africa, doesn't charity begin at home?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Huntington Hospice Care

I'm standing at my sink getting ready to do dishes. I turn on the hot water tap and within 30 seconds the hot water is scalding my hands. I jump, yell, and turn on the cold water full blast. I get the temperature regulated and tackle the dishes. I am not happy. I have hot running water. Too hot. And I'm complaining about it. Dang. I need to go back to Africa. I need to remember what it was like to do dishes in unheated water. But when I was there, I wasn't doing dishes alone. I wasn't eating alone. It was a community effort. I miss the community.

"It doesn't pay," says Gladys, "but it's important work...It's my people…It's my community!" We are walking dirt roads visiting bed-ridden patients in Huntington. Hospice work is one of the services coordinated by Swa Vana. Sixteen hospice workers spread out over the village every day to take care of people too sick or weak to care for themselves.

We enter the first house. Its small and the thin mattress in the middle of the floor dominates the room. Gladys moves around opening the two windows, sweeping the floor, and piling up the scant laundry. The patient sits up. She is one of the lucky ones I'm told. She can scoot around on her hands, so she can move herself out to the doorstep for fresh air. I look around at the bare cinderblock walls, the small wooden bench along the back wall with a few belongings stacked on it.

Gladys talks to her patient, learning that she did eat that morning. She is gentle and kind, tying a fresh hankerchief around her head. It’s a chilly day, grey and overcast. None of the patients we visit want baths that day. It's too cold. We visited three patients total. Watching the hospice workers in action was amazing. Their empathy for their patients is real. Their commitment to their community is evident. They do not earn money doing this work. Swa Vana does not have funding in place to pay them. They are paid in food parcels.

Swa Vana was asked by the village elders to take on this project over a year ago. They have had some donations, but not nearly enough to meet the needs in the village. When we were there in September, they only had enough knappies (adult diapers) to last the month. We took some supplies over, and it was nice to know that instead of two thermometers for 16 workers, they now have one apiece. It's not nearly enough. Not that any of these people complain. They are so very grateful for everything that they do have. It is me, the missionary, looking at the situation with fresh, wide-eyed culture shock, who wants to wave the magic money wand and make it all better. It's a sobering reality: I can't just fix it. I can help alleviate the need by collecting and delivering supplies. I can care enough to pray. I show that I care by going back whenever I can, and doing whatever I can to help.

Huntington is where Swa Vana started six years ago, after bringing in supplies and establishing relationships in the village. As a result, the tribal leaders offered Swa Vana the Huntington village community center to establish a place where children in dire circumstances could be fed. The bats in the roof were evicted, the buildings were cleaned up and kitted out with kitchen supplies. There are hundreds of stories of ways that Swa Vana has effected change in this area -- stories of initial resistance, which turned into cooperation. Stories of salvation that occurred simply because Jesus showed up in the form of a white woman and her family and fed the hungry -- with no expectations of anything in return. Five years later, the tribal leaders again ask Charmaine to take on a project: Hospice care. Again, Swa Vana steps up, doing what they can do with limited resources.

A new Swa Vana bulding is going up in Huntington. The land was donated, the bricks are made, and the bulding can move forward as soon as the municipality provides the grader needed to level the ground. We walk over to the property and Charmaine describes what it will look like. She points out where the kitchen will be, how the building will be set up. She wants to build hospice rooms for the terminally ill patients, and establish a computer training center for the villagers. This is an ambitious vision. The effort truly does take a community. I see this project growing as more and more of the community gets on board. I see change coming, slowly but surely. Children who have grown up being fed by Swa Vana are graduating school and either obtaining work or establishing their own enterprises. I see a people working together to overcome some pretty overwhelming odds. I want to be a part of it. How 'bout you?

Gladys and I. She has healing hands.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Swa Vana

Have you ever stumbled on something accidently and just known that it was something worth investing your time, energy, and resources? Six years ago one family heard about a need, started a church project to deliver Christmas packages to a truly desolate family, and wound up starting a community program to bring support to a poverty stricken region. Swa Vana is not your normal charity. It is a program that provides compassionate care for orphaned children as well as the sick, disabled, and elderly.

If you ask Mama Charmaine how many children she has, she will quip "I have 413 mouths to feed!" Most people do a double take at that, but that is Charmaine's sense of humor. Children and adults light up when she is around. She just has that affect on people. Charmaine is passionate about this project, its short and long-term goals, and the people it serves. She steps in where angels fear to tread, and is not afraid to call out injustice, greed and manipulation. (I want to be just like her when I grow up.) When she walks or drives along the village roads, people wave and call out to Mama Charmaine. The term "Mama" is a sign of respect, and everyone calls her by that name.

Swa Vana, a project started by Charmaine and her family, has "drop in centers" in four tribal villages: Huntington, Lilydale, Justicia, and Mabarhule Bushbuckridge. They are called drop in centers because they are exactly that: the children "drop in" before and after school for daily meals, sports, arts and crafts, etc. This is a safe, supervised environment both before and after school -- something the majority of these children do not experience in their own homes.

Children in the Swa Vana program are fed twice a day. Each drop in center has four caregivers. The caregivers feed the children, supervise them, help them with homework and teach them crafts. It is interesting to watch (and participate) in meal preparation. Having eaten it, I can tell you the food is pretty awesome. It is like a finely tuned machine at work. Remember, this is not your stainless-steel, state of the art, no-holds-barred kitchen. The stove defies description, but it does have four burners. The knives are constantly going dull and wearing out from use. There are none of the fancy gadgets American infomercials like to convince us we can't live without.

All food prep and service begins and ends with washing dishes. Everything being used for cooking and serving is washed in a large basin of soapy water, transferred to a second basin of clean water, then transferred to a third container for drying. In Justicia, this is done outside. Once the dishes are cleaned and returned to the kitchen, the water is dumped (in the vegetable garden) and the container is rinsed, clean water is added, which is then used to clean vegetables.

The caregivers gather around a large table to cut and chop vegetables. (I had to go to South Africa to learn how to cut cabbage…) Once the vegetables are cleaned and chopped, they are placed in the most enormous pots I have ever laid eyes on. It has to be stirred fairly constantly so that it cooks evenly and does not burn. I'm sure they talk a lot more to each other when company isn't around, but from our point of view it was all very seamless and very coordinated without much conversation.

When the food is cooked, and the children are back from school, they line up and the food is dished out. A lot of the children do not have forks or spoons, so they eat with their hands. (Yes, they DO wash with soap and water first.) This is the main meal for these kids, so they have a very balanced plate: Meat, starch, and vegetable. Meat varies, and the starch rotates between pap (pronounced "pop") and rice. While we were there, the vegetables were different combinations of beets, beans, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, onions, and tomato. When finished eating, the kids line up and wash the dishes. It is the same setup: one basin of soapy water, one of clean, one for drying. They all pitch in and cooperate, and not one word of complaint is ever uttered. They are grateful for everything they have.

Food is followed by games and homework. One of their favourite games is called "Follow the Leader". They stand in a huge circle, with one child in the middle acting as the "leader". The chant starts: "Follow, Follow, Follow the leader!" The leader then says (and does) an action. The children then do exactly the same thing. This is generally repeated twice, before the leader picks a replacement from the circle.


Swa Vana is a refuge -- a respite from a harsh reality where children are forced to make adult decisions at too young an age. This is a place where children get to be just children for a little while, a place where adults care about them, about their school reports, and about their emotional well-being. This is home away from home.

For more information, visit their website at: www.swavana.co.za

Up Next: Huntington Hospice and Swa Vana's long term goals

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You are not in control...

Missions Trips are an interesting lesson on giving up control. From the time we met at church before leaving for the airport, to the time I was dropped off at my apartment after returning to the United States, I had very little control over what was happening. My life was not my own, it belonged to the greater purpose for which we were traveling. Departure from the States went like this: we met at the church at 12:30pm Sunday afternoon. There was luggage to load, and the last minute repacking and shifting of suitcases, prayer for our safety and then we were off. There were six of us: Lou and Marilyn (our leaders), Robert, Jeanette, Ida and myself.

Each of us were allowed two checked suitcases (not to exceed 50 lbs) and two carry-on items. Each of us gave up the first suitcase to the team for packing supplies. I packed as little as possible into my second case so there would be room for any leftover supplies. When we were repacking the luggage, I ended up shifting my personal stuff into a huge duffel already full of supplies, which then became my second "checked luggage". Once we got to the airport, we weighed everything again, and there was some more shifting and repacking that took place to make sure each case (12 total) did not exceed the weight limit. There was a canvas store bag full of crayons leftover at the end. It was just too heavy for the checked luggage. Since I had only one carryon item, I volunteered to make that my second. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving any of the supplies behind.

We flew to Atlanta, and switched planes to catch a direct flight from there to Johannesburg. It was in Atlanta that my passport received its first stamp. It was epic (but only for me). The flight to Jo-burg was rather turbulent since we flew over two hurricanes. Dinner, breakfast, and lunch were included on the plane (average airplane food), my only sticking point being that I don't normally eat breakfast at 3am. I had trouble sleeping, and towards the end of the flight I told Robert that I wished I had one of those u shaped pillows they sell in the airport -- something to lean my head against. He reached up and showed me how to bend my headrest out. No kidding, y'all: The headrests bend out, creating a U with your head in the middle. Information I could have used ten hours earlier…just sayin….

We were met in Jo-burg by Marianne, Charmaine, and Wally. Marianne was our in-country missionary. She is hard to describe, except to say that she is a wonderful encourager, endlessly patient, and the kindest person I have ever met. Charmaine (aka "Mama C") is the Chairperson of Swa Vana, the charity we were going out there to support. Wally was our bus driver.

From the time we arrived in South Africa, until the time we left, Marianne was there to direct money exchanges, order breakfast and dinner, buy groceries, and be our tour guide. It was Marianne who gathered us at dinner that first night and advised us to eat yogurt. As someone who has traveled to many countries, she always eats the local yogurt when she gets there, and never has a problem with digestion. Now, I hate yogurt, but I followed her advice -- and no, I never did have even one issue with digestion the entire time I was in South Africa. (On an aside note -- I found that I don't like artificially sweetened fat-free yogurt…the regular stuff is nice.)

Now, the food in South Africa was wonderful. Everything is very fresh, and I don't believe that GMOs have made it over to Africa yet, so the meat actually tasted different, but in a good way. I will say though, that by the time we left I was longing for a burger that tasted like a burger. Their burgers and beef-based sausages are really delicious, but they don't taste anything like what I (as an American) was anticipating. Breakfast and dinner were provided everyday at the bed and breakfast where we were staying. Breakfast was a buffet which usually included eggs (either scrambled or sunny side up -- it rotated) sausage or bacon, toast, fruit, and cereal. I was introduced to pap, which is sort of like grits, but thicker with no flavor. Pap and rice are the staple grains of the children's diet out in the villages we visited. Pap is never served alone, it is always comes with a sauce of some type to spice it up. Dinner was always balanced with a meat, starch, vegetables, and a salad. Ida was our vegetarian, so she always had a separately prepared dish (which all of us would at least taste). I'm giving serious consideration to claiming vegetarianism on the next trip out. (JUST KIDDING…sorta…That food was really awesome). The first three days we ate lunch in the villages, but after that we packed fruit and yogurt to eat while we were out doing ministry.

A typical day's agenda went something like this:

7am: Breakfast
8am: devotions
8:30: Into the van and out to the villages.
4:00pm: Leave the villages :( and head back to the B&B
5-7pm: Shower and unwind
7pm: Dinner, followed by a group meeting where we reflected on our day, and set the next day's agenda.

Here's a high-level overview on the trip's schedule:

Sunday - Tuesday: Travel from the US to South Africa, visit the Apartheid Museum, and drive out to Hazyview.
Wednesday: Orientation. Visit each village and meet the caregivers.
Thursday - Saturday: Children's ministry.
Sunday: Church
Monday - Wednesday: Minister to the caregivers and teens.
Thursday: Drive through Kruger, move to Hippo Pools Lodge.
Friday: Moholoholo Wildlife Sanctuary
Saturday: Scenic route back to Jo-burg
Sunday: Church, visit the Baby Moses orphanage, lunch with our SA Family, and off to the airport.

While South Africa is one of the safer African countries, there are still certain precautions to take. The two inflexible rules were: don't go anywhere without clearing it with the trip leaders, and don't go alone. This was especially true when using ATM machines. Evidently a very helpful native who is teaching you how to use the ATM is actually taking your information, which he will then use to drain your bank account. Also, it was a little disconcerting the first time we stopped at the Spar for groceries to see an armored vehicle delivering cash to the bank guarded by men with machine guns. These people don't play. There is a boundary of orange cones set around the vehicle, clearing a path to the bank. Don't cross the cones. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. And no, I didn't risk taking pictures of them.

The weirdest thing about being back in the States was being back on my own agenda. I woke up Tuesday morning and couldn't figure out what to eat since someone was not presenting me with a breakfast buffet. I had a hard time accomplishing anything that day, since I had spent two weeks in a very structured environment. Do not think for one moment I am complaining. Being in South Africa was a privilege and I enjoyed every moment -- even the moments when I was in complete culture shock. I loved the team I was with, and I discovered family over there ( I already miss them like crazy). I'm just back to my original point: If you are an inflexible control freak, missions work might not be for you. Of course, God has a terrific sense of humor, and He just might send you on one to teach you a lesson.

Up next: Swa Vana

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Introduction to South Africa

WARNING: This is NOT a warm, fuzzy post. Hang with me folks, I have a LOT to share over the next few weeks, but this files under "background".

Do you know all that "stuff" you think you need? You know, the iPod, the new laptop, the latest TV...Well, think again. You r
eally don't "need" any of it. Let me tell you a little bit about "need". I just visited an area of Africa where people live in one room cinder block "houses" the size of my bedroom. Most homes have electricity, but none have running water. There is barely room for a bed, let alone a refrigerator, stove, or any other comforts that we take for granted. Cooking is mostly done outside over an open fire, and bathrooms are non-existent. The more affluent people have the means to dig their own latrines, otherwise the only choice is the community "longdrop". No, these people did not make "poor choices" and end up this way as a result. Let's backtrack just a little.

In 1948 a government was elected in South Africa whose sole platform was Apartheid, which they promptly enacted. This enactment systematically separated three groups of people by skin color: White, colored, and black. Laws were passed implementing curfews, and if you were perceived as "bothering" a white person by merely walking with them, you could be arrested and thrown in jail. Black (tribal) Africans were "relocated" from prime grazing and farming land and forced into the bush. This is a mountainous area with little rainfall. Today, water is piped into the bush through community wells, which are controlled by the government. Apartheid is long over, and blacks are free to move about as they please, but they have little income, little education, and little means of achieving those moves. Those that do make it out of the rural villages often never look back. Meantime, those that remain would love to grow their own food to sell or feed their community, but that is tremendously hindered by the fact that their water is tightly controlled for "conservation" purposes. On any given day, when they visit the well, the water might not be flowing. Are you getting the picture?

yes this is a community well.

Only the very lucky have cars in the villages. Those who do, travel over extremely rough, rutted, poorly maintained dirt roads to get to the more affluent areas. The cars driving in and out kick up a tremendous amount of dust as they bounce up and down the primitive roads. There is a bus. I think it runs once a day, and if you want to get into the nearest city, you have to walk miles to the main road to catch it. There are also taxis that cruise up and down the main roads picking up as many people as they possibly can. It’s a great way to earn a living. Of course, if you can't afford the taxi or the bus, you are stuck walking. There just aren't many jobs out in the villages.

Add to all of this the issue of HIV/Aids. This is an extremely taboo subject. There is still a lot of superstition around the disease, and there are many people (understandably) distrustful of white men and their medicine. At one point rape was at an all time high (estimated 100%) because there was a belief circulating that if you had sex with a virgin, you would be cured. Those who have it guard their secret closely for fear of ostracism. Untreated HIV is leaving thousands of children without parents in a area where most of us could not survive. Look around your bedroom. Could YOU live in it with 12 other people? The lucky children might have a grandmother or an aunt to supervise them. The unlucky ones are scratching out an existence in child-led homes. With such hopeless conditions come hopeless addictions. There is no lack of bars in the communities. Children lucky enough to receive government stipends or food packages still may not have enough to eat if the stipends are used to fund their caregiver's needs or addictions.

At one point, orphanages began springing up all over South Africa to take care of these children. The government put a stop to it, decreeing that the communities must care for their own orphans. With very little resources available, the community does the best it can, but falls very short. Add to that a corrupt local government who literally steals food from the mouths of orphans. A shipment of 12 food packages will most likely be reduced to two as the food makes its way through the different levels of government on its way to be delivered to the children who need it.

Do you still think that you need that "stuff"?

Religion has taken root in a big way out in the bush. Of course, there are many different churches, with every one competing for the attention of the individuals. Several different denominations of Christianity exist (including Jehovah's Witness), along with Islam, traditional ancestral worship (witchcraft) and Zionists (a combination of Christianity and ancestral worship). Christianity has been undermined by several different philosophies that insist the people do as the government tells them and not fight back. One of the most fascinating exhibits in the Apartheid Museum goes into a great deal of detail about this issue. I'll sum it up this way: twisted Christianity is a tool used by whites to keep blacks under subjection.

There are beacons of hope. Over the next few weeks I will be focusing on the myriad of awesome stuff that happened on the trip, the wonderful people I met, and the many beautiful and gut-wrenching stories from South Africa. This trip was very intense, which makes it hard to write about. But it was completely worth it. And yes, I DO want to go back next year.

G

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

it's coming....and some random stuff

it's coming...
I leave for South Africa in 5 days. I can't wait, but I guess I must. Life has been interesting to say the least, and it's going to get more so when I come home.

and other stuff....
  • So recently on Facebook one of my coworkers said he wanted scientific proof that God exists. I suggested he watch The Privileged Planet. So do you have any favorite comebacks for the skeptics?
  • I'm watching tv tonight and I'm wondering what is the point of a sandwich called the "double down" and if the king of fast food is trying to single-handedly kill Americans with fat. Thoughts? Has anyone tried it?
  • Finally...do you have a favorite scripture? If so, what is it?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Options

It's been a while since I posted last. I've been really busy. Sometimes. The other times my keister has been parked in front of the TV, losing myself in an alternate reality. There was a whole week where I never cracked my Bible or journal. For me, turning on the television and losing myself in the shows is a way of checking out and avoiding reality. It's a way of avoiding truth I don't want to face. When I wasn't in front of the TV, I had a book in my hands. Not the Bible, not the book we're covering in Bible study, nothing God centered.

God is so amazing. no matter how I treat Him, He is always there, always loving me unconditionally. He was trying to pull me towards Him, and I was resisting. So He disciplined me. He still is. Quite frankly I'm struggling with the form this on-going discipline is taking. I didn't mind so much when I pulled out my back. I did it because I was ignoring my father's request to stop everything and sit and talk to Him. Instead I was stubbornly trying to accomplish something I wanted DONE. Lesson learned. Sort of. I've still been putting reading the Word on the back burner. I can't fall asleep at night, which means I can't wake up in the morning. I barely make it out the door and to work on time, let alone stop in the morning and spend time with the One who has the power to get me through these difficult days. Evenings have been difficult times to concentrate. The other form of discipline will remain between me and God. Let's just say it's been painful and very ugly. I am being forced to face faults I've completely ignored in the past.

This is by no means a "woe is me" rant. Turn off the sympathetic, problem-solving part of your brain here. Ready? OK. For the first time in YEARS I am feeling aimless. For the first time in years, I have to imagine a future that looks different from what I had planned. When I started this job 6.5 years ago, I thought I was going to have a wonderful technology career. That I would do all sorts of interesting things. Then my goals changed as I recognized what I didn't want to do, and I imagined a different future. I am fairly articulate, and I have a knack for breaking down what is difficult and explaining it so others can understand clearly. Therefore, I began gravitating towards a career in technical writing.

After hitting a wall over and over at my company, I decided to finish my Bachelor's degree. I was tired of hearing the excuse that I didn't have a degree, so I couldn't have such and such a writing job. In my opinion, I was good enough, and I should have been given the opportunity. Ironically, even though I have never held the official title of "writer", it became a huge part of my job two years ago. When I look back at what I used to write, I see huge improvement over the last 3 years. School has matured me in a way I did not know I needed until after it happened.

I am nine classes away from graduating now. I am also in a not-so-unique position of having my job being off-shored. So now there is this huge blank canvas. I can do anything. What is God calling me to? Where does He want me to be? I definitely want His will for my life. So far, the options are:
  1. Find another position within my current company.
  2. Find a position with a new company.
  3. Go back to school full time in January. I could be done in June. I am tossing around the option of joining a program like Teach for America and teaching high school English.
  4. My other option for teaching is to get a TESL certification and take six - 12 month contracts teaching English as a second language in foreign countries all over the world.
I really like the idea of teaching. It feels more like a vocation -- a calling -- rather than a "career". I also like the idea of immersing myself in other cultures for extended periods of time. Right now, I am allowing myself to "dream big" and imagine a new "normal". It feels right, and I trust my heavenly Daddy to close the doors that should be closed, and open the doors that should be opened. He knows me inside out, upside down, backwards and forwards -- and He has my best interest at heart. So, for now, I am going to listen carefully. I am drawing ever closer to the One who gives me balance, purpose, and reason. When I know what the answer is, you will too.

(((HUGS)))

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If....

this is a placeholder...

I'm not posting much because right now I am working tons of OT. My position at work is being eliminated. Basically me and 500 coworkers are under the pressure of having our jobs outsourced to a company based out of India. My department is buzzing with all the changes -- there is a feeling of camaraderie as everyone is sharing job hunting and resume tips, as well as which companies are hiring and what positions are available elsewhere. In spite of the fact that many people are vying for a few positions, there is the feeling that we are all in this together.

My mind is full of "ifs"...If I don't find another position at my present company...if I can go back to school next term and obtain my degree rapidly....if I gamble that another position will be waiting for me in January... BUT I have faith that God will take care of me. I have faith that everything will work together according to His plan. No matter what happens, I believe that God has my back. He has a plan for me. All I have to do is believe and obey.

I don't know how often I'll get to post here. I'm still going to South Africa (six weeks!), so be prepared for a gut wrenching post some time around October 4th.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gift Envy....

Do you know what your "spiritual gift" is? Teaching, preaching, healing, encouragement, knowledge, discernment, administrative...Churches have a long list of these, and there is a whole slew of studies, questionnaires and the like to help you discover your gift, and how to put it to use. I've taken the questionnaire twice now. The top gift was the same both times. Some days I really like my gift, and some days I want to ask God is He sure that I'm supposed to have that one...

I have gift envy. I wish I was more organized. I want to be administratively gifted. I want to be able to hold an event that people respond to, attend, and enjoy. I wish I could plan a successful party. I want to be able to just start AND finish a project. I used to think I was good at this type of stuff. I used to think I was gifted at service. Truth be told, I scored high on service the first time I took the test. It was the second highest gift. I loved that. I liked being behind the scenes, setting up the food for potlucks, and cleaning up after. I was Ms. Dependable. "They" always knew they could count on me. Here's the truth and it isn't pretty: I thought it was the only way to get people to like me. Doing things for others was the only way to get them to like me. There, now you know. I was full of massive insecurity. And then I got divorced.

When my ex and I separated, I began shedding a lot of weight. The excess weight was a result of years of emotional stress eating. As the weight came off, the emotions buried under layers and layers of fat rose to the surface. I was in a season of aloneness (thank you, God!). I spent a lot of that time dealing prayfully with the issues that put the weight on in the first place. Now, as my new body emerges, so is the spirit I had buried there. Now I realize that I actually like attention. I feel no hesitation in getting up in front of people and talking. I am a social, extroverted person, and I won't be hiding in the kitchen anymore. (So that's more gift envy, actually: when others get asked to deliver talks, I hear little whispers in my ear...why not you...how come you weren't asked to speak? All I can say is: go away Satan, I need to HEAR what God is saying through that person to me!)

The second time I took the test, service did not even make the top three gifts. My gifts are encouragement, faith, and evangelism. I don't always like the encouragement part because it often attracts people to me who are horribly hurt and in a great deal of pain. I am empathetic, and often have the best of intentions for following up with them. But that's the downside of my gift. I spread myself thin, and forget to follow up with people. Since I'm not administratively gifted, follow-up doesn't come naturally to me. Hence the gift envy. There are times when my gift makes me feel downright lazy. I see others accomplishing things, and all I'm doing is standing there talking. (Never mind that the person in front of me is pouring out their hurt and pain...) God is good, because He sends the encourager encouragement too. Today I was paid a very high complement by the leader of my South African missions team. Let's just say, I've felt like I've been in the background for a lot of things involving this trip, and that I wasn't pulling my weight. After what she said to me, I no longer feel that way. I've decided to look at it differently: I'm allowing others to exercise THEIR gift. This one can arrange for us all to have t-shirts, that one is booking the flights and organizing teams to do various tasks when we get there, the third is pulling together fund-raising plans...the list goes on. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing: pitching in where ever I can, and encouraging them when the going gets tough. The envy is gone.

Take THAT satan!

Galations 6:9
Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap a great harvest if we do not faint.


(((HUGS)))
G

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Positive Post Tuesday

Time to revive...Positive Post Tuesday has been silent toooo long....

I fixed someone's garbage disposer on Sunday. A click of the reset button, a turn of the allen wrench and we were on our way. I looked good and handy. (Mostly handy though, since I had a on a really baggy t-shirt.) It inspired me to (at some point on Monday) hang pictures and a shelf over my desk. Pictures went up no problem. Shelf not so much.

In spite of my handy-dandy, lovely lime green drill, the shelving screws did NOT want to go into the wall. I was hanging the shelf way too high, something that occurred to me after I was finished, tyvm, and when I finally got it up, I knew it would have to be lowered. I threw some stuff -- reference books, etc., just to see what it would be like.

I sat in the recliner to unwind. Not so much. The screws that took an hour to get into place pulled out of the wall dumping the entire contents of the shelf all over my glass desk and the floor. Yeah, you can laugh. It was pretty funny. I picked it all up, pulled the desk out from the wall, finished taking the leaning shelf down, and lowered it.

Another hour of wielding my drill and now its crooked. Unless you look at it from the recliner angle. But hey, its attached and stable. For now.

Have an awesomely positive Tuesday.

(((HUGS)))
The girl with the very sore arms.
aka G

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Perfection...

I wish I was perfect. I'm not. That's not a news flash to anyone who reads this blog, I'm sure. I do not listen to Christian music exclusively. I do read Jenny the Bloggess with all her irreverence and thoroughly enjoy the sarcastic humor she and her audience display. I use the phrase LMAO, and I do say the word ASS (Sorry if that offends you). In traffic I have been known to call people donkeys because they do something I think is stupid. O, and yeah, while my potty mouth has cleaned up drastically in the last two years, every once in a while the f-bomb drops when I least expect it. Sometimes I do or say or write things that cause other people unnecessary pain. I just wish that God would put a gag over my mouth and only let me say or do the things that He wants me to say or do. Nothing more, nothing less. But then, there would be no need for His grace, would there?

If we were all perfect, we wouldn't need grace. We wouldn't need Jesus. We wouldn't need the incredible sacrifice He made on the cross. If we were all perfect, we wouldn't have free will. Since He would be making all the choices for us, we wouldn't get a say. I wouldn't get to choose where I live. I wouldn't get to choose whether to sit at home and be alone, or to go out with my friends and enjoy a movie. I have heard over and over that we are supposed to consult Him on every decision we make, down to the smallest detail. Am I alone in struggling with this?? Surely God doesn't care if I purchase pure white sugar or stevia. How 'bout Diet Coke with Cherry vs Diet Coke with Lime?

Free will is awesome, but it can lead to us making choices that hurt other people. It can lead to public failures, and equally public apologies. It can lead to self-indulgent, selfish choices that benefit no one (including the choice maker). But it can also lead to incredibly beautiful things. The choice to step up and be a hero in the face of great disasters. The choice to serve a greater good by joining the armed forces and fighting for an ideal that is hard to express, but defines a way of life. The choice to love even when your rights are being violated. The choice to pray for people who have used or manipulated you. The choice to believe God is real and loves you even when you feel overwhelming evidence that He is not, and does not.

When it's all said and done, I'll take imperfection and free will over perfection and no choice. I will continue to make mistakes, and the people affected by those mistakes will either choose to forgive or not, based on their own free will. I learn from my mistakes -- sometimes in very hard and bitter ways -- but I would rather make a right or wrong choice, and endure either the good or the bad that emerges from that choice, then to have no choice to make. I am flawed. I am imperfect. I own that imperfection and strive to be better. I strive to overcome and be more like Christ. None of my imperfections are enough to separate me from the love of Christ Jesus. Nothing I can do or say will make Him turn away and say "I disown you". Instead, He is gentle and kind. He disciplines me when I need it, and He loves on me always. I am His beloved daughter. Someday I will be perfect, just not today.

(((HUGS)))
G

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Question...

A few years ago I was in a Sunday School group studying the book of Revelation. There was a question in one of the studies asking "What is the one question you will ask God when you meet Him?" Mostly people said they will ask the questions relating to why bad things happen to good people. They would ask the question why so and so had to go through such and such. Eventually the study leader turned to me (I was uncharacteristically quiet) and said "What about you?" Truthfully, I have no questions for God. I believe that when we stand in front of Him, we will understand without asking. We will see the "bigger picture" so to speak, and our individual problems won't really matter to us anymore. The mountain I had to climb last month will be nothing in comparison to His Holiness in front of me. I would climb a thousand if it means that I can be that much closer to Him. I truly believe that when I do meet my Maker, I am going to fall flat on my face in awe. Meantime, I have faith that God holds my past, present and future in His hands. No matter how much pain I experience here, He holds me fast, and He has a reason for it all. That's enough for me.

Thoughts?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Excitement is Building....

I'm going to South Africa. I can't really describe the anticipation that is starting to build. The nervous jitters and the complete absence of expectations. I don't really know what is going to happen over there. And I'm ok with that. I'm ok with not having control, not knowing what is coming, not having expectations. I'm actually trying NOT to set any. I don't want to set myself up for disappointment. I don't want to put God in a box by telling Him how it's going to be when I get there. I'm just going where He tells me to go, and doing what He tells me to do. Right now, it feels like everything I am learning is preparing me for this experience that will pretty much eclipse every expectation I could even dream about.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Positive Post Tuesday

A few very random shout-outs and a really important message from me to you at the bottom, so keep reading even if your bored.

Happy Anniversary to:
1. My mom and dad celebrating 52 years yesterday.
2. My sister and her husband celebrating 24 years yesterday.

Happy 2nd Birthday to my niece, Sophia. I love you, miss you and wish I was there.

Happy Graduation to my niece, Kayla. I'm proud of you!!

Positive Post Tuesday is pretty self explanatory. If you had asked me a few days ago what was brewing in my writer's brain I would have looked at you blankly and said "I'm never posting again." However, I do find myself with something to say, and if you think it's targeted at you, you MIGHT be right, but that's between you and God. Recently I have observed multiple friends going through excruciating life changes. My heart breaks for their heartbreak, and I want to tell them:

The pain that you are up against right now is temporary. It is transient. I promise that God is big enough that He can hold you through anything and everything. I know you feel alone. I know that you are lonely. I know that you are grieving. I know that you never wanted to face what you are facing by yourself. Here's the good news: You are NOT alone. He is wrapping His arms of love around you and whispering "Let go and let me have it." God wants you to offer up your pain. He wants you to trust Him that the plan and the purpose He is working out in your life is so much bigger and better than you could think or imagine. My best friend has a saying: "Run to the Throne, not to the phone!" It's the best advice I can give you right now.

Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself permission to be angry. Give yourself permission to take time to be alone and to become fully reliant on God. It is only by walking through this fire that you will come out on the other end, refined like gold, shining and beautiful and strong. Then you will clearly see other people in pain, walking through the fire, and offer them the same words of encouragement and advice. You will know because you have been there. Meantime, be patient with yourself. Healing does not happen overnight, even though we wish it would.

Always remember: you are beautiful, you are worthy, and you are loved. God thinks you're worth His life, and He is always right.

From Amy Grant to you via my blog:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nMvvoXa9Yk

God loves a lullaby
In a mothers tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
God loves the drunkards cry,
The soldiers plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what's been done,
The silence when the words won't come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
Better than a church bell ringing,
Better than a choir singing out,singing out.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah


Repeat Chorus

(((HUGS)))
G