…No Edits!.&

Morning chaos.

I think I handled it all gracefully. I’ve been trying to handle situations with more peace and calm. People think I’m even-keeled. HA. My husband probably thought this before we married. I’m pretty sure his opinion has changed, though he is more than patient and forgiving of my sometimes erratic self.

This morning’s first half hour was smooth. I was up just a bit before Alisan, so I was able to get some coffee and feed the dog and pull the sheets up over the bed. All amazing feats.

The first few minutes with her were swell, too. She was a talkative, happy girl this AM. I slipped her into her high chair and began to pull her hair back to prevent it from making contact with her applesauce spoon. I saw little white things in her brown mop. OH NO. Panic. We were actually Skyping “Mom-mom” and little cousin Caleb. My mom (having gone through the louse bout with my sister) was asking me questions about the infrastructure of these white fragments. I tried to remain calm, examine, describe… In my mind I’m thinking, “We leave for vacation this afternoon. Alisan is supposed to go to daycare today. I can’t deal with this.” Breathe. After forking (literally, with a fork) and sticking a few of these “seeds” on a piece of tape, I came to the conclusion it was SAND. The beach trip yesterday helped me to verify. Face palm.

I then booked it out the front door with the babe and pup for a quick walk. Twenty minutes remained before we were due to pull out, which was just enough time for Romero to run around by the river to do his business and get out some energy. He got his energy out, alright. I was texting my friend Amy about vacation plans when Rom-dog leapt off into the dense brush. I heard hissing. Poor kitty. Don’t hurt it, silly pup.

Rustling. Chasing. There was no telling what was going on in that jungle greenery.

Waiting. Lots of waiting. I don’t think he knew how to get out of the thick, for there was no opening. His nose eventually helped him out.

Walking briskly back to the house, I was thinking I knew we would be late. And we were. Alisan screamed to her full potential when I dropped her. My heart ached as I handed her over to her care giver.

Kids and dogs… A whole lotta work, but I wouldn’t want life without them.
I have so much to do for our long weekend away. How funny of me to choose THIS morning to write. I never write when I actually have the time. It’s not even 9:00 and so much has happened.

What else will life throw my way before we take flight over the East China Sea in a few hours?¬†Probably some things. ūüôā

And what else will take place before the baby comes and then while we’re moving back to the States? Probably some more things!

In fact, it’s been a really rough couple of months. Between some pregnancy symptoms (I’m fine now) and other family affairs, we seem to have been through the ringer. Even still, there are many others who are going through much more than I. The flooding in Houston has helped to put this into perspective. And even if I was going through losing all my earthly possessions such as a house and car, I would be ok. Life would move on. It would be as hard as heck, but thankfully, I have my faith and Rock to lean into, who is Jesus Christ.

I’ve been learning more than ever before and am continuing to learn THIS day that this world shifts and sways and disappoints and is a bit crazy! But there is One thing that will never change and His promises are true. I can trust He’s HERE. I can know He loves me. I can believe He has ALREADY overcome the world. He is bigger than pseudo nits and detrimental flooding.

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He knows the outcome of the rest of this day and the rest of my life. In this moment, I choose to embark on the rest of today’s adventures, knowing He can be my guide if I allow.

No edits, here. I haven’t looked over what I just wrote, for I need to get packing and cleaning.

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A Letter to my Brother

I think about you a whole heck of a lot. I’m reminded of you daily because ever since I moved to this place, it has occurred to me how much you would love it here. You and the west side would get along great. Surfing, skate boarding, fishing, unique food, all forms of art,¬†people of different cultures to your fill. Your vibe and personality is written all over this place and you haven’t even been here. I could see you¬†thriving here, Jeff.

I’m glad you got to meet my daughter last fall. I wish she could have known my cousin, but your story will have to live on through my stories, of which I will certainly tell time and again.

Most of my memories with you derive from my childhood. You were a critical part of it. If we were eating popsicles in the backyard while running through the sprinklers with all the neighborhood kids, you were most likely there. You were there shopping with us at Kmart. You were there at Grandmom and Grandpop’s. I loved catching toads with you for hours in Caravel Woods. Adventurous kids all us cousins were…especially you. No doubt, you got into a bit of trouble. Remember the time you ran into the rose bush?! How about that time in McDonald’s when you sprayed water ALL OVER THE BATHROOM? Ha, my childhood certainly wouldn’t have been the same without you. You were, you¬†are¬†another brother.
The summer of 2005 was the sweetest. I was about to be a senior in high school and ate up the opportunity to live at Grandmom and Grandpop’s, making “bank” at Bethany Beach. You were there practically the whole summer and my only friend in Sussex. Thanks for waiting up for me when I got off my night shifts with mini crab feasts and hours of tv-watching. Riding around in the Dodge pickup with you through cornfields in the heat of summer, running errands to Bodie’s or Hocker’s made us feel grown up. Thanks for¬†trailing¬†me on the bike during my painful runs,¬†while I attempted my last shot at making the varsity cross country team. I made it and now that I think about it, I probably owe it to you.

I haven’t been able to truly grieve. It has been difficult being thousands of miles away from our family, being so removed from it all. In a sense, I wish I could have somehow felt it all more. I wish I could have hugged all our blondie cousins and wept with your parents and our grandparents. It didn’t and still doesn’t seem real.

As I was talking to your mom on the phone right after your passing, she told me something right off the bat that I still struggle with. I know she was trying to reassure me, and I constantly need to remember her words, deal with them. ¬†She said to not have regret, to not think about what I could have done to help you. Jeff, I have regret and I absolutely HATE it. Why did I not keep in better touch with you after we all grew up and left our parents? How did weddings and Christmases and Easters become enough time with you? Why did I not pray for you more? Why did I not visit you on my own? But ¬†Aunt Jeanette is right. I am not a savior. None of our family could have been no matter how hard we tried. I know many tried very hard to bring you home. But the truth is, Jesus is the only One who could have helped you fully.¬†And so, there is only one thing I can do now and whenever tragedy may strike again. Through all the questions and unknowns, my heart sings…

“Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise you
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise you
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing your praise”

Jeff, I believe you are in the arms of the Savior, worshipping Him like none of us can fathom. You see more clearly than ever and the thought of it makes me eager to join you. I remember the moment you gave your life to Jesus. The recollection of yourself as a little boy on that day gives me the greatest joy.

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You have been a brother to me and so many others. Conversations were deep with you and it was obvious you cared more than most. The kindness you have given to those you love (and those you don’t even know) will always have a profound impact on my life. I’m torn that¬†you could never visit me in Oki or give me my first tattoo. But don’t worry, I still plan on getting that¬†ink one day in the near future (after I’m done having these babies). I love you forever.

Anticipation

Not in the 26 years leading up to marriage did I ever think I would get hitched to a U.S. Marine and find myself living in Japan. I also never thought I would adopt a dog named Romero and have a daughter named Alisan. A Hispanic dog and an Asian child. But you see, Romero is actually Japanese and Alisan is an American citizen.

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Life is funny and wonderful. It’s painful and whimsical. It has so many characteristics, yet the FACT that it is temporary has been hanging in the forefront of my being. It’s flying by like the gargantuan Okinawan bats in front of our riverside house. Yes, I’m excited for what is to come in the near future. I am profoundly looking forward to the possibility of spending Thanksgiving in Korea. The day Alisan takes her first steps will bring Dave and I immense joy (we are DYING to take her hiking). I anticipate the next place we will call home. I dream of a front porch and a fire pit round back. I dream of so many things, but there is still one dream which surpasses the rest.

As I hear Alisan’s¬†subtle breathing and peer overtop this Ergo¬†carrier at the laptop screen, I pause. I’ve written. It’s been over a year and I’m certainly¬†rusty.I know this because I’ve switched pronoun usage more than a few times. But anyway, I do hope you can pause today. I pray many of you can stop and reflect on where your life has and is taking you. God’s grace be with you and may you look forward to the place He has prepared. Until then, may we be overflowing with thanksgiving, exuding the joy of the Truth to this fleeting world. This is my best dream…my best dream until He takes me home.

“How much large…

“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theater in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

From Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Thank You, Ruben.

“I’m a grown woman, I do whatever I want.”¬†

Apparently, Beyonce sings this line. I learned this today. Picture a large, black man repeatedly belting this out in the middle of a morning rush at a crowded Starbucks. I witnessed the occurrance ¬†early this morning. It was quite the site! He was standing, eating at the counter…you know, the one where your drink is handed to you after you’ve ordered. He occasionally would break from his singing (and dancing) to slurp his pink-colored iced tea and bite into his breakfast sandwich. This guy had talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s previously met up with Simon, Randy, or whoever judges American Idol these days. Actually, he did look a bit like Ruben. I haven’t watched the show since the season he competed. I think I was in high school.

He didn’t care that all eyes were on him. He continued belting…and I mean, belting. Maybe he fancied the attention. Probably. It was hard to truly decipher, but either way, his exuberance was completely infectious. There was a little boy of about four or five sitting next to me at the bar by the window eating his yogurt and cracking up, giggling and squealing uncontrollably. I wondered if someone would make a complaint about this boisterous man. I glanced around and saw that pretty much every person was smiling a wide smile. Staring at their laptop, ingrained in the Alexandria Times, or watching the free performance, it didn’t matter. Everyone was loving it.

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I don’t have any tremendously deep thoughts. I just want more joy. I want joy that explodes…not to exhibit any sort of display of myself. I don’t want to be fake. I don’t want to alter my introverted personality. I don’t care to be happy for the sake of avoiding the problems in the world. I just don’t want to be more carefree, you know? I simply long to live in the way one should live when they’ve had Love taken over them.

He is my joy.

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Get Your Blood Pumping

Every morning, I curl op on the couch and read with two-year-old Amelia before her morning nap. I treasure these few moments. Not only do I get to memorize large segments of renowned classics such as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” but I am able to try out all of my “best” voices. Sometimes I even contribute additional sound effects. This usually depends on my morning coffee intake. My audience likes these complimentary add-ins, I think.

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This little girl is simply too adorably charming. She is captured by stories, the twists and turns. She always comprehends more than I think her young mind can handle. Her facial expressions when the wolf chomps up the Gingerbread Man or Cinderella marries Prince Charming are endearing. An aside: For the past few weeks, she’s been walking around saying, “I marry you, Rissa.” She scours for beaded necklaces in her toy bin (I’m not sure when they replaced rings) and requests that we dance. Then, we’re deemed “married.”

Before I tell a thousand more stories about this darling girl, I will write about one particular thing she has been doing. This one thing has got me thinking.

Yes, we still read “The Grinch” in the summertime. I would vouch to say it’s her favorite book. Recently, she’s also been pulling “Jack and the Beanstalk” off the shelf. Some of the current library books include “Edward in the Jungle” and “999 Tadpoles.” They’re all cute reads. Ah, ok‚Ķ they “were” cute first few times we read them. Now, I have developed an aversion. Like I said, I’ve memorized much of Dr. Suess’ Christmas story. Too much is too much, but I continue to fake enthusiasm. We read these books time and again. And at the close of every story, Amelia does something peculiar. Thumbing backwards through the book with her little fingers, she asserts, “I want this page again.” These are the precise pages she chooses‚Ķ

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-His little reindeer dog, Max, and the Grinch are on the verge of slipping off the snowy cliff in their ramshackle sleigh.

-The giant is chasing Jack down the beanstalk after Jack has obsconded the harp.

-Edward is about to be gobbled up by a crocodile in the make-believe jungle behind his family’s farm.

-A slew of the baby frogs have innocently hopped onto a sleeping snake. Father frog is wide-eyed in the distance, about to lose his marbles.

Are you sensing the theme? She chooses that particular point in the story where the conflict has hit its height. I suppose these are the conflicts. Maybe they are the climaxes. I used to have to make those story line plots in English classes. It’s been years and I probably need a refresher. Either way, Mia always wants to go to the page that makes her put her hands over her eyes. She peers through her fingers as I re-read.

Conflict. Conflict breeds excitement. Whether that excitement is pleasurable or detestable, it is sure to make life intriguing and the blood pumping.

We see it in movies and read about it in books. We observe it in our communities. We, ourselves live through it.

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Without conflict, our world would be dull. Our lives would now breed great boredom.

Much conflict is wished and prayed away, rightfully so. Most of it is harder than hard. Sickness, financial instability, and relationship dilemmas are never sought after.

I wish conflict away. I avoid it at all costs. In the second grade, my teacher named me the peace maker of the class. This is a seemingly honorable quality. In the same respect, it’s gotten me into a bit of trouble. Throughout my life, I’ve seen a pattern. Since my note-passing days in elementary school, keeping peace has still been high on my daily agenda. And it’s more than keeping peace with my girlfriends. I admit that I do my best to avoid conflict. When it somehow finds its way into my life‚Ķin whatever fashion, I dismiss it. I pretend it’s not there. I walk out the door, purchase a cup of coffee, and force myself to be side-tracked by indulging in a new book. I wish it away‚Ķ

Problems come and go. The good Lord gives and takes away. And He urges us to remain thankful through it all. Even so, my thankful state has become a guise for avoidance.

The devil sneaks in, but we ought to remain strong in faith. Even if we must put our hands over our faces, we need to turn to that page, reading through the scary predicaments. He has things to teach us. What if we “truly lived” through conflict? What if we truly dealt with it in the way He would have us? What if we sucked every morsel of knowledge and truth, unafraid of disturbing the littlest remaining peace?

I am going to out out on a limb and a branch and say that it could bring immeasurably more peace. In sweeping the problems in my life under the rug, I miss out on a lot.

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I want to face them and live a meaningful, rich story‚Ķeven better than those in the story books. I’m not saying I want to particularly love hard times. I just want to tackle them well. Conflict produces refinement.

And we know the truth. In all things, we take heart. He has indeed overcome the world. We can do all things THROUGH HIM who strengthens us, who never leaves or forsakes us.

One Year Past: Uganda.

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This morning, I was thinking that one year ago I was there. This is not too far-fetched, but definitely strange when I consider my current life in comparison to those frightening, miraculous, unordinary, and simply stunning days last March.

Here is a video by Stephanie May.

And here are a few snippets…

His name was Wilfred, I think. Team, please correct me if I’m wrong. This young man was “scrawny.” He was supposed to protect the six of us white girls during the wee hours of the night, utilizing his gargantuan bow and arrow if he deemed necessary. Pastor Moses hired him after a local seized my teammate, Katie’s eye glasses and other critical items. The one minor problem with Wilfred was that half of the time I saw him at his post out front, he was sound asleep in the plastic chair. I didn’t spot a single energy drink during that month in Wobulenzi, so I let the poor guy off the hook.

There was this chicken. It had a combination of black, brown, and reddish feathers. Oh, that chicken. Its preferred nest just so happened to be another teammate, Shay’s bed. More than once, she found an egg nestled in her sheets.

Pastor Moses began a school for orphans and at-risk children. Hope Infant Primary in Wobulenzi. Within the first few moments of being there, I was in shambles on the inside, attempting to keep decent composure on the out. The teachers lacked knowledge on even the most basic subjects. Shoes were a rarity for these precious kiddos. Even more scarce was food. The school provided them with a cup of porridge (basically watery cream of wheat that isn’t as flavorful) during the day. Thinking about this again makes me want to take every Lunch-able I ever ate and….I don’t know, send them to Africa. Anyway, the students brought their own cups from home. Since every kid didn’t have one, those without would wait for the more privileged children to finish. By that time, we were about to scrape bottom. Though the portions were a bit smaller toward the end, somehow there was just enough.

Most days, I would wake up early and run along the main dusty road. The sunrises were so utterly magnificent that I tear up even now, thinking on His splendor. There were scores of children making their lengthy journeys to school, many with Muslim hats and head coverings. It wasn’t a rarity to have some run with me for a few moments until they got tired. The road was so dusty that by the time I got home, my sweaty wet skin had a nice red film. It was super uncomfortable then, but I’d do almost anything to be there, experience it all over. Funny how that works.
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After breakfast, we would usually meet up with our translators: David, Eve, and Eve.

There was this place. It was called the “boozing place.” Yes, the folks drank quite a bit of alcohol here. Ok, they drank more than that. I should clarify that this booze wasn’t a Tusker or Singha. Instead, they would sit around large buckets of a murky sludge, each with some sort of long reed acting as a makeshift straw. Drinking is always an elevated, touchy subject on the mission field. While I believe in good beer and wine, believers over there flee from even a drop of alcohol. I found it difficult to go into ministry with locals who preached that the “boozers” were going to Hell because they drank. There is more to say of course…in their defense and mine. During one of our door-to-door (or bar-to-bar) times, I talked to a man in about his forties who had gone to seminary in NW Africa and used to be a pastor. His English was quite good and we could get by without a translator. Here he was drinking the sludge in a shack in a village, talking to me about his frustrations with the church and its people. I got to share mine. It was a brutally honest conversation. He told me that I gave him hope. I told Him that it was the Father who had orchestrated our meeting. He couldn’t deny and we both basked in that moment.

In Uganda, I was served the best food out of all 11 countries. Undoubtedly, there were beans and there was rice. Chapati, eggplant, bananas, ground nuts, chicken, plantains, and spinach were a few of the other staples. They don’t sound spectacular, but Mama and her assistant, Eve (different from the other two Eve’s) knew how to cook and spice to perfection. Our poor contacts in Tanzania and Rwanda could have taken a lesson, for Uganda had some delectable eats.
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On one of my days off, I was walking into town to get some dial-up internet. All of a sudden, a woman sprints after me. I scream. She chases my teammate and I for a good while, talking to herself and every once in a while, yelling at us. I suppose this could happen in DC as well.

I hope that I never discount the privilege it was to speak to high school students about sex, AIDS prevention, and purity.
I blogged about it.

The most thrilling event of my life thus far occurred in this country. Rafting the Nile and many of its class V rapids produced a few frightening spills, but is something I recommend to the highest degree of recommendation. My body almost exploded because of all the adrenaline.
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There is so much more. There are more stories of miracles, terror, faithfulness, and revelation. This land stirred and destroyed my life for the good…for the pursuit of Love and spreading that Love.

I’m in Washinton, D.C. (or in the vicinity thereof) trying my best to maintain this spirit of adventure, expectancy, Kingdom-mindedness. And while I’m trying so incredibly hard, I’m learning that I simply need to rest and be, for though the culture is drastically different, these experiences are all around.

*Photo Credits to Stephanie May