Saturday, December 13, 2014

The tinest light

I often think of families I've worked with, past and present, around the holidays, because I know as much as it's a time of joy and celebration, it's also a time of longing and struggle and heartache for many. Preparing, hoping, yearning. Sometimes I hear that and all I hear is "I'm just hanging on."

I believe this hope that we have is real. Christmas and Christ come is such good news. And yet, all that the season entails does not equal merry moments for everyone.

Which brings me to Advent.

People seem to like Advent. You know, preparation, hoping, yearning.

I'm not always so good at these things. My friend asked us at Bible Study if we were taking part in Advent this year. I told her I was 'engaging with Advent,' which kind of sounded like Advent and I were acquaintances but not really friends. I don't like the word acquaintances, so much so that I just had to look up the spelling of the word acquaintances.  

I like friends.
I've made friends with Christmas. My family makes me laugh and I love to see them. I remember God's goodness a little more around this time of year, even though it's evident all year round. Not because of gifts of course. I told someone today you could get me no gifts whatsoever and I'd be fine. I am the girl who wants to go ice skating or make Christmas cookies. I made the dough for buckeyes tonight with my neighbor, who is also from Ohio, so I'm a step closer to my goal of eating Christmas cookies.

And, call me Elf but I like seasons in life dedicated to merriment and celebrating because I like celebrating, celebrating's my favorite. And of course this celebration is for the birth of our Savior, so that's even better. People who aren't normally kind or generous or warm seem to break out of their shells a bit more at Christmas, which is also nice.

Except when it's hard for people at Christmas.

Which is often.

And I get that. I like Christmas. I understand Advent.

Everyday, behind the scenes of the joy which take center stage, there exists the not so popular longing, the ever unwelcome grief and the not talked about conflict. I see it everyday as a counselor.

Most of us would rather skip over this. Some of you stopped reading this already.

Good news, I'm not saying we have to choose one or the other.

I'm just guessing that if you're part of humanity, you've experienced this, even if you pretend to jingle all the way, all the way.

I can't pretend to pretend, mostly because my job isn't about that and mostly because it makes me want to be sick. There are times I am like an elf-creature and there are times I'm not. I know longing, too. I identify with both.

I've said it before on here, but every Christmas I think of a family I worked with long ago, and the fact that they had barely anything that winter. They were in between housing situations and would likely be going into a shelter soon.

It was a cold day at the park. They brought their baby.

Don't worry, that baby was loved and cared for. There was a Christmas happy you could see, but it was evident the parents were longing, with a longing that made sense and only hoped things would change.

I know grace stretches beyond things we can't see in the moment, but it feels like a lot sometimes.

Who hasn't held tight to December prayers in the dark, looking for the light?

But the magic of Christmas isn't found in the most showy moments or the lights that twinkle the most bright. Sometimes, it's found in that one candle in the window, catching you by surprise, in the midst of an otherwise dark night.

linking with five minute Friday for the prompt prepare

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear Teenager

Dear teenager at Teen Night Lock-in,

I apologize that I didn't interact with you very much there. It's no excuse that I spend most of my days with your age group. It's also no excuse that I got LOCKED OUT of the lock-in at one point and had to bang on every door and window until someone finally saw me and let me back in.

OH and one more thing. I'm also sorry I didn't stay to find out how it played out when you guys had breakout sessions about all things sexual health and testing for STD's. At an overnight. I try not to ask too many questions. 

(Check back for more on these stories later)
One thing is for sure. Where you people are is always eventful.

Dear teenager who knows more than me about social media (= all of you),

Please help --

Thank you.

I still (now affectionately but previously for real) call Snapchat Snapfish. I downloaded this app this week. In an effort to better understand your life, of course. I subsequently deleted it. There are a few things that are better left a mystery.

Dear teenager neighbor friend who just got your driving permit,

I think you (along with every other teen) are helping me prepare for my future life as a teen mom. Correction, not a TEEN mom (thankfully, that can't happen, and let's not go there for you either..) but a mom of teens. You make me nervous that my kids are going to pop out as 15 year olds. I think that might happen.

Even though you are some of my most favorites, I still need you not to grow up too fast.

Dear teenager who has to live among drama in school and life I can't imagine,

Remember number two? I wish we could get rid of social media some days. Everyone wants to know why things are so hard for you all. Lots of reasons I'm sure. But yours is the first generation where nothing is secret anymore. Everything is documented before it barely leaves your mouth. Videos. Pictures. Texting. Tweets. It all sounds fun, but I know what's said can also hurt.

I would love to be a bug on a wall and see what goes on in high schools now. To most of us adults, especially those who prefer Snapfish over Snapchat, I'm sure we wouldn't last a day.

I know it's hard. Keep going.
I'm proud of you that you don't give up.

linking with five minute Friday on the prompt DEAR to get me back to writing again! 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The internet doesn't know

I laughed until I cried tonight with my friend whose birthday is today. We laughed when we shared stories about silly things we do. Which is a lot.

I told her I'm a bit of a library delinquent at the moment and I've had some books out for far, far too long. I love to write, maybe even more than talk (and I like to talk), but stories do better in real time.

I'm not sure if it's funny to you that I lost one of my books in my car. But we laughed for five minutes about it. "Your car is smaller than your apartment!" Truth.

So here's the thing. I took a stream of nonsense internet quizzes the other day and one of them was 'what is your special gift' or something and it completely proved how false those tests are (as if we didn't know) because it said I was good at retrieving lost items. It said my gift is never, ever losing anything. What?!

I told my friend that I keep going to the internet to answer questions and that is the current foolish game I am playing with myself. Foolish for all the reasons not to mention the internet is the worst. I know I'm an oxymoron because eventually this will be out there, too.

But really, I have been thinking the internet can somehow help me and if I can just find a search for that exact thing that keeps plaguing me, I can learn by reading. Because that's what I do. I read, I learn, I try not to keep making the same mistakes.

But for the love, there's nothing to find in those buzz word quizzes. I told my friend I need to just stop right there and go talk to God and ask Him the questions I keep having.

Yep. That's it. That's the one. The churchy, let's just answer Jesus for every answer but in this case it's actually true because I have searched the buzz word quizzes and the internet and there's nothing there, people. Nothing.

Because I value words and thoughts and meaning, even more so do I have to be careful about where I go for that meaning.

And when I find that I'm feeling less secure and trusting in Christ and His promises, the more I have to go back to every answer is yes in Jesus and let him fill up all my false places that I go to again and again.

Sounds easy enough...

I wander and He brings me back. I wander still and He brings me back again.

Again, sounds easy. But that process takes time. And it hurts because it's a process where I have to re-learn what I think I should know. But that's His mercy that we get to learn it again, and then my question changes because I see that and I just want to ask why are you so good to me still? 

And that's how He changes me. He pours out love even when I fall, he presses in when I press out. When I hurt, He stays. I am reminded how I run and that He gently calls me back. He knows how the story goes, that all those other things won't satisfy and his love is where I want to be after all.

linking with five minute friday

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Julie not Jacquay

"Umm..but my name isn't Jacquay," I told the flight attendant when I was leaving for my trip back to Raleigh from Chicago after attending the Storyline Conference. Apparently, after a weekend of learnings I had switched personas. No more Julie, now Jacquay?

That's what the ticket said. They printed the wrong one and I didn't notice it until I got inside the plane.

"You're fine," they told me. "Just use that ticket. Sit where you think you're supposed to sit."

Where is Jacquay then?

Apparently, they're not too concerned about true identities on airplanes.

I almost wanted to keep the whole Jacquay thing going for the rest of the trip but I didn't have a talkative person next to me and she didn't seem very false-identify/true-identity interested. I haven't thought much about it until...

I reopened my Storyline material today, I know lots of people have been writing about it all for some weeks now but I am a slacker. Out falls the airplane ticket and it makes it all worth it because I had forgotten about Jacquay. I think she ought to make a comeback.

What do you think?

I know false identities might not be in right now (or are they? I'm not actually hip). But, I think generally speaking, we'd all agree, being you is typically a good choice.

Still, it's a little more fun sometimes, right?

Pardon me for getting all deep (not sure if this is Julie or Jacquay talking here), but isn't that like us, as people, to consider it more fun to be someone we're not?

I mean, it doesn't always start out that way. Overtime we bend a little bit and a little bit more and before we know it we're 60 degrees in another direction and calling ourselves by another name.

Just in the process of writing this post I looked up the origin of the name Jacquay and had to look in three different locations and have to share with you my concern.

So. It looks to be a boy's name.

Maybe you already knew that but I didn't. I once knew a girl named Raquel and that seemed close.

See what happens when we veer off in a much different direction. It gets a little strange.

There's a lesson to be learned here, friends.

It's okay if you're not like everyone else. It's okay to be just you.

You don't have to be someone you're not.

That's not just a line.

There will always be an airline who will try and tell you you're someone you're not.

Take that United Airlines. You can give me a different name but I'll turn it back around. And now I'm curious if Jacquay had the same issue and was contemplating being Julie...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Someday is a joke {Storyline Conference + book writings along the way}

This past weekend a lot of things happened.

I went to #StorylineConf which to the rest of the world is just Storyline Conference in Chicago but those of us who were there and on twitter it was basically Christmas as one of my new friends put it. That hashtag brought people together and it got a little nutty. I don't think I've been on twitter that much and for an actual useful event...ever. At one point I actually hunted down a guy (I didn't know) from International Justice Mission on twitter and told him to meet me by the balloons in the lobby, all creepy-like. I wasn't trying to be weird and I think he was used to it being tied to D.C. and cool but he informed me I have trouble with landmarks. I guess the balloons where near impossible to find. Lesson: I should not be a spy with secret meets after all.

In no particular order, here were some other highlights:

-meeting new friends including friends in real life a.k.a. Beth from Simply Beth. This was one of my most faves. She picked me up at the airport when I got to town, y'all. She'd never met me, only through blogging. Still, there she was to as the first face I saw when I got to Chicago. This older gentleman I sat next to on the airplane going up there -- who I kept referencing a lot over the weekend -- said that must say something about my life if I'm having an electronic, e-friend (what does that even mean?!) come pick me up, but actually I think it says more about her.

-oh, and no big deal, I didn't have to get one cab ride while I was in the city. Seems like a small thing but I was trusting God with this whole trip from the start. I didn't think I'd have finances or time off to go, but God kept providing. The weekend was so relaxing and I know that played a part.

-I got to ride a train for the first time in years! I like trains more than I do cars and I've missed them. 

I also get a thrill out of jumping on the train at the last possible second. I was in the hotel shuttle and the gps told me we would arrive the exact minute the train left and I think the words "can we try and hustle, we have one minute?!" came out of my mouth. No shame.

(this proves I got on the train)
-I got to see Chicago with my cousin. We had fun. She noticed I was all kinds of sentimental after that conference. She took me on a walk before we high tailed it back to the airport, this time by car. At one point, she was going to throw me on another train but that didn't work either. Are we seeing a theme?

I only wonder what my daily life would be like if I lived in a bigger city.

I didn't even tell you anything about the actual conference yet.

This is why I am writing a book about my everyday encounters with interesting people. It lights me up and gives me energy and I forget to tell you where the momentum behind it came from.

All the stories, all the wisdom. Donald Miller. Shauna Niequist. Scott Hamilton. Bob Goff. They left me on an inspiration high.

I've been writing my 'book' about people and encounters and experiences with strangers, the unplanned kind, for awhile now. It seems to happen daily, but I've just started incorporating it into story.

Problem is, I can write a book in my head for years. Eight years even. That's how long Don Miller says he might need to process something while someone like Bob Goff is out doing it after the first second. He doesn't wait.

I am not a waiter on everything, but I do let ideas sit and go stagnate. For what?

I may need more time to discover all that the conference was teaching me and that's okay. I know I need time to sit with ideas that are meaningful to me.

BUT, it's not okay that life keeps happening and I am letting moments pass by that I know I'm supposed to write down.

As I was leaving on the train, two guys from behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was going. The luggage was a dead giveaway. One of them was obviously drinking and me from a few years ago would have just moved along. Who has time for a conversation that could just get weird? By the end of it, though, like every other time I've decided to engage with someone who is willing to talk, I'm happy I did. Turns out they sell insurance to mega churches and we got on the topic of spirituality and Jesus. Jesus and beer and a train makes for deep conversation somehow. And they asked about my writing because they wondered why I was in Chicago and nonchalantly I let them know they might be included in a book someday.

Someday is a joke. I repeat. Someday is a joke!

They tell me they are going to look for it in a year and set some kind of alarm or scheduled appointment on their phones.

I get nervous. I know I can't wait eight years now but a year is a very short time.

I need a little wiggle room, I plead with these strangers.
"What if I'm not done by then?"

What if you really look me up and I'm an epic fail is what I really mean.

It's in their phone. I gave them the predicted name of the book. If I keep this up I am going to have 87 disgruntled new friends, I think to myself.

"It's okay," Paul tells me (always learn their names, I realize after I talked with direction-guy tonight, or you will give them nicknames). "I'll just push it back a year. We'll look again."

Something changed in me at that moment. I told my friend later that all of a sudden it became 'our book'

Umm...that's too deep, she said. These are strangers...

I laughed. Yep. There I go again.

All kinds of sentimental.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Humor for the days we need it (and get on our own nerves) and this might be the end {finishing something}

So, I wrote a nice long post attempting to tie up this month and say a bunch of 'finishing' things and how it makes sense that I only wrote for maybe ten out of the 31 days because of all sorts of things going on, but really, my excuses are lame.

Instead of writing I do things like prepare for trips and go to my neighbor's house and I can't even think what I did the past couple days that kept me from writing.

Sometimes if you focus on a thing long enough you psych yourself out. I think some little kids do this with school and tests. I think that may have been why I stopped being a teacher, I couldn't take the pressure they put on themselves. Just kidding, but really, I can't stand all the testing.

All right, back to the point. Psyching yourself out. Telling yourself you've got to do this thing like writing for 31 days on finishing something and then you barely write anything and spread it out over the month so it looks like you wrote a lot (fooled you).

I am wearing a shirt right now in my house that says "don't hate cuz you aint." What does that tell you about how serious I am about finishing this series?!

I don't even take myself seriously when I wear this shirt.

I found it after it had been buried in the laundry for several months. But it's one of my favorite t-shirts. I think it would be a good conversation starter. Maybe something to spur a Halloween costume if I cared about Halloween costumes. I can never think of anything interesting -- it's a thing. My friend and I usually go in on a theme together, just because it's fun that way. One year we played each other as character's, I wore her clothes, she wore mine (no we are not in middle school). Apparently, I have no distinct dress because no one thought she was even dressing up. I on the other hand looked all Bohemian and such with my look.

Friends, it's really easy for me to sit here and talk about things like Halloween costumes and what else is going on in my head, but who knows if that is at all interesting to you. I had a lot of serious things I wanted to write about but I decided to skip it for the moment (I'll send you the cliff notes).

So much of my life is serious. Job is often serious. Relationships can make me serious. I realize that writing is a space I find where the first 30 minutes of what I write -- and maybe don't feel like publishing -- is oober serious. Then, once I scratch the surface, beyond that point lies some humor or fun I've been missing. I wonder if that's backwards from how it is for other people. Maybe because I'm used to the seriousness of life from work or whatever, it comes out more easily, and I have to wait a little, wait a little more, and yes. There it is. The humor. That's what I've been looking to find.

I like to see where there's possibility and I'm more prone to seeing the good because I've understood the hurt and the pain. Maybe that's backwards. But I am SURE there must be good just around the bend. There has to be. It's not Pollyanna living, but I want to see the hopeful elements of life. The fact that if things are hard or things are bright, there is hope.

Humor helps me do that. It helps me look at the realities of life which are pushing their way to the surface, and say, despite the fact that you didn't write much this month and life is hectic and you're leaving tomorrow and yep, this series is STILL unfinished, like most everything else, it's okay. That probably drives your readers nuts and also you sometimes, but that's what's real. There's just no way to make it sound better.

I get tired of trying to make things that just aren't sound better.

I visited with one of my close friends in North Carolina today who has had an illness this year and it's not through yet even though we believe it will be soon. We can't make it sound better than it is.

There are things that are unfinished that do sound better.

I get to go to a conference tomorrow in the Windy City and instead of sleeping or finishing packing now I am writing this to at least somewhat finish this series.

Things are always unfinished with my plans and what I 'think' is going to happen but this conference, a little bitty dream I had a few years ago that is coming true is a reminder that things have their own timetable and God always knows.

When life moves quickly, and I think 31 days will help me finish something once and for all, I'm probably kidding myself. The best I can do is lay out what I have to give and receive what others have to offer. To remember this journey is a good one and perhaps the gifts God gave us, the ones I so often take for granted are the best things going right now. My friends who never give up on me, somehow. Family who does the same. Great coworkers and a job full of kids to care about. Laughter and funny shirts and skits about Halloween (this is too wonderful; you are welcome).

I might get on my own nerves just a little but perhaps God writes my story in an unfinished way because He knows if things were entirely neat and finished and sorted, I wouldn't have reason to trust Him.

I DO need to keep writing and this month has gotten me more in gear for that, praise the Lord.

But these other things, they take time. See you next year? :)

Check out all -- I know there's so many -- posts from this year over here.
Thanks for the love, friends. You're the best.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sweet October {finishing something}

My favorite October was the one when I lived in Switzerland student teaching in the months before I graduated college with some girls who would become treasured friends and a Peruvian apartment that made us feel grown up and partially confused about Swiss life. We were Americans in a Swiss German village in an apartment with South American d├ęcor.

It was no surprise we messed up the serious order imposed by our Swiss neighbors on laundry schedules and lost a few Tupperware items during our stay, which did not make us good tenants, although we cleaned that place better than any place I've lived in since.

Switzerland is no joke when it comes to the word clean. The streets are clean. The trains are clean. I bet even the dogs who ate at the restaurants were clean.

I miss that October. I think about it every now and again, for a lot of reasons. I wonder if I would have the closeness with friends from that trip if not for, well, the closeness you have when you live with a friend overseas. Three months even in the most beautiful country in the world can seem like an eternity if you don't get along with the people you're with, because they are're.with.ever. It's probably the closest thing to being married. I wouldn't know because I'm not married, but when we came away from the trip we laughed about the closeness of it all. That's really the only right word for it. 

one of my swiss friends, mandy, when our other friend abby got married

If this has ever happened to you, you know that in the moment-by-moments, the people you are with are the only people you can rely on, when say you get locked IN a school at nighttime (that happened to me, yes) or you get lost, or take turns keeping your eyes open so you don't miss your stop and end up in another town -- or worse -- country. Or when you miss a flight and do end up in another country. And of course there's that thing about not knowing any of the languages. Maybe when you went overseas you were smart and learned a language. 

I blame the fact that we went to a country with four languages.

Then there's different food and different everything even if it is only Europe. Because you're 21 or 22 years old and you've never been anywhere.

All of us and all of life is a blend of this unique diversity.

That trip was the beginning of the end for me because from then on I've always been pulled toward different cultures and people. Maybe not only because of that trip, but it started the fire.

In my little third grade class, there was something like 18 different cultures and peoples represented.

It's funny, because almost all my jobs since have given me an up-close glimpse into different cultures, where I almost feel a part, and where I am the minority.

It's hard for me to move on from an intense time with people I've come to love. We are each a blend of the collection of people who have shown us what it is to live a full life, to remember our way is not the only way. It's helpful every once in awhile to pay tribute to them.

When I get to the end of a season, when another 'October' gets ready to make its passage, I wonder if there's a way to avoid putting a period there. I hate moving on from things I fear I will soon forget.

There are so many details I can't recall from Octobers long ago. But they are still there.

Just like that Peruvian apartment, there are things we own for awhile, but they are not ours to keep for good.

October always helps me remember there are seasons to hold on and times to let go, that we don't have to fear the dreaded period and it's okay to say something is finished 'for now' and maybe that's good enough for today.

What's been one of your most favorite adventures? Why was it so special?