Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deep and Deeply Loved

Backpack stuffed under the seat in front of me. Passport, books, backup hard drive. Sprite Zero sloshes with tray table turbulence. Mind buzzes back and forth between worlds, between lives.

Beyond the rim of window, the sun blazes across the water line, burns up the shore, la orilla, the edge between two worlds. One side smooth and calm, undisturbed, undeterred; one side dry and brittle. The waves lap so softly I can't even see the lapping. From 30,000 feet, the waves aren't waves at all, but a shimmering transition from land to sea, death to life, in harmony.

"It is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms." It is I who chooses not to plunge.

I thrash and grasp, though the water is still. Is stilled.

I thank the painter God for sun blazing across water and sky. For a sea of cloud puffs. For the dazzlement of my soul in this moment. For the stillness He stirs in me.

My soul is calm as water deep and deeply loved.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bathed in Embarrassment

Today you are in for a treat. I have prepared the next installment in my "Well, that's different" series. This story comes from my collection of the best and brightest and differentest moments Guatemala has offered me thus far.

Bathed in Embarrassment: "Well, that's different," Volunteer Edition

For the last two months, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons you could find me at the beck and call of Seño (how they address the teachers here) Juana* and her 6th grade class. As a teacher's assistant, I handed out vitamins, squeezed out dollops of toothpaste on the students' outstretched toothbrushes, collected supplies from the library, helped with English pronunciation during la clase de ingles, walked sick kids to the clinic, and supervised the washing of cups and utensils after a snack of bread smeared with beans (sadly, not Nutella) or glasses of cereal.

Even after a few weeks, I hadn't made much headway in befriending the 12- to 14-year-olds. They finally, finally, started to remember my name, or at least use the well-intentioned moniker Seño Juana had bestowed upon me: Elly.

I took the position as classroom assistant in hopes of improving my conversational Spanish. I hadn't really thought through how it would feel until I'd reached the level of improvement I so desired. Acclimating to the new nonprofit culture and Guatemalan classroom norms while simultaneously deciphering a hefty dose of Spanish slang and an entirely new pronoun (vos) to conjugate left me with the uncomfortable feeling of never knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Mostly, I just felt silly walking 14-year-olds down the hall to the bathroom or slightly superfluous when asked to help out on an art project when the students obviously possess greater artistic prowess than I do. (Seriously, these kids embroidered and stuffed their own pillows while I struggled to cut their fabric in a straight line.)

I had grown accustomed to living the volunteer life of dazed and confused, when one day I was given an order that I hoped to God I would not have to carry through.

After lunch and table clearing and teeth brushing, my teacher said to me, "We're going to have English class, then art and snack."

So far, so good.

Then she broke off on a tangent about one of the students--let's call him Luis.

"Luis comes here dirty sometimes. So he needs to bathe," Juana told me. I was vaguely aware that the downstairs bathrooms had showers, but I was unsure what Luis' poor hygiene had to do with me.

I would soon find out.

"Elly, can you watch him bathe? Don't bathe him; he'll bathe himself. Just watch to make sure he does a good job. Sometimes he doesn't do a good job."

Maybe it was one of those days when my Spanish brain malfunctions. Maybe I had misunderstood. She couldn't have really said that, could she?

Heart beating in my throat, I swallowed and nodded my assent like an idiot, too scared that I had heard correctly the first time to risk asking for clarification. Too scared that  she would explicitly tell me to go into the bathroom with him. At least this way I could pretend I hadn't understood what she meant.

The students sat down for English class and I prayed bath time would never come.

You see, Luis is 12 or 13. And of the male persuasion. I think it's fair to assume we would both be traumatized by my bath time supervision.

So I decided that, if bath time were indeed a real event that Juana was referring to, I would watch Luis go into the bathroom with his soap and towel and watch to see if he comes out clean. That must be what she meant, right?

The fateful moment arrived around 3:30 pm. My palms were sweating, I fiddled with my watch, my earrings, stared intently at the speckles on the floor. Luis grabbed the bath supplies--soap, towel, and, of course, hair gel--and scurried out the door. I followed him out like a prisoner forced to a cell. I'm not even sure he knew I was there. We rounded the stairs, him a few paces in front of me, and approached the boys bathroom--the multi-stalled, communal, boys bathroom. He opened the door, rushed in, and slammed the door shut behind him while I exhaled a sigh of relief.

I was left standing creepily outside the boys room replaying what I remembered of the teacher's bath buddy request for the better part of an hour. After which, Luis finally emerged, if not certifiably clean then at least sufficiently wet and his hair freshly gelled.

And that was proof enough for me.

***
*Names changed to protect their privacy

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Excitement Stirs

The last year or so has felt like dating a series of Mr. Not Rights. For the first time in my life, I found myself playing the part of cold-hearted breaker-upper. I also quit my first real job and moved away from the city where are all my dearest friends live and love.

I've had to say ‘no’ a lot in hopes that something better looms around the corner. I've had to learn to trust that God is leading me exactly where I should be going; that even now I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

In the midst of saying no to the old, I've been scared to be excited about the new in fear that I’ll just have to say no to this new love, too. I've been both scared to care and scared that I will never care again.

I've shared more than my fair share of questions and pain and doubt here on this blog. I am truly thankful for your listening ear.

Today, after months of feeling a numbness, a dullness, I can’t explain, I want to tell a new story, a different story. A story of budding joy.

Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered a really cool sounding organization called SERES here in Guatemala. They’re all about empowering local youth and leaders to care for their environment and inspire creative change within their communities. And they just so happened to be looking for someone with skills in non profit communications and a lot time on their hands.

I met the founder and one of the board members earlier this week when I applied for their Marketing and Communications Fellowship, and was thoroughly impressed. They were so welcoming, so passionate, so alive with joy in their work. The kind of joy that beckons you in. That beckoned me in.

I literally skipped back to my house after the interview.

I was offered the position of Fellow (fancy name for an internship) yesterday and all I know is that I haven’t been this excited or engaged in a really long time.

My heart soars at the idea of being a part of a team again and working for a cause I believe in. I’m excited to use my skills and talents and who I am at this exact moment in my life to serve others. I’m shocked to discover that I’m actually looking forward to working (in a real office, more than just a handful of hours a week) again. I’m excited to be a part of an organization here in Guatemala. I’m excited to learn and grow and invest in the work of SERES.

I’m excited to be excited again.

I won’t start until February. And of course I don’t really know what this commitment will entail or how it will all play out, but something feels different about this. I can’t explain why, but I believe I've been given the opportunity to engage in restorative work, work that may provide more healing than my restless resting.

For now, I’m excited to be excited.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God in the Not Yet

Four months ago I moved to Guatemala to intentionally slow down, rest, and recover from a life of busyness and burnout. If I've learned anything from my experience thus far, it's this:
1. Don't give your phone number to creepy guys in salsa clubs no matter how charming they are or how lonely you are.
2. Practicing Spanish is not a good enough reason to justify a telenovela addiction on Netflix.
3. I was made to engage in meaningful work.

I’m far worse at resting than I thought I would be. Even as I ache for rest, I squirm from it. The very thing that is supposed to heal me—to be unproductive, to not measure my worth in blog posts or word counts—is the thing that is driving me crazy. Leaving me bored and confused. Who am I without my words? How do I give myself the time to rest when not working makes me so unhappy? How do I heal when it kills me to sit still?

I know I’m supposed to be learning to lean on God. I’m supposed to be refined by the stripping away of the trappings that distract me from my true identity in Christ. The depth of my trust is supposed to be deepening. My joy should be growing despite my circumstances.

But mostly these last few months I haven’t felt growth or inner peace. Mostly, I've been bored. 

I wish I could say I've spent my abundant free time investing in deep, meaningful relationships, becoming fully fluent in Spanish, or spending hours in awe-filled prayer and adoration of the God who brought me here. I wish I could say I've written countless articles, finished my memoir, and blogged everyday, but I haven’t. The truth is far less glamorous.

I thought by now I’d know how to engage in restorative rest. I thought by now I’d be so good at cultivating peace that a mere glance at me would emanate tranquility like a serenity spa, eucalyptus incense, cucumber infused water, terry cloth robes and all.

But I’m a mess. A ball of anxiety and disappointment.

Instead of resting, I've been running. Running and numbing. Running from responsibility and numbing with distractions—with Netflix, with new love interests, with a never ending supply of excuses for not engaging in the world around me.

Instead of trust, I've cultivated bitterness. I've been angry at God that this adventure abroad hasn't given me all the desires of my heart. Angry at myself for failing to thrive here, for failing to seek Him first.

The almighty God of the universe asked me to give up burnout and for the most part I haven’t done it. I know He’s asking me to say no to the things that numb me. I know He’s asking me to stop running. I know He’s asking me to say no burnout and yes to Him.

But I've dragged my feet, indignant that He would want me to give up these comforts, too.

Just the other day, a light bulb went on: what if I've been looking at it all wrong? What if it’s a gift to say no? To say that this life, this running and numbing, is not what I want? What if saying no isn't just saying no, but a way of saying yes to hope, a way of choosing to believe that He has something better for me?

What if these last four months of floundering have pointed to the truth He wanted me to see all along: that He will restore my joy; He just hasn't done it yet.

I thought admitting that my joy has not yet returned would mean either one of two things:

1.    That God does not make good on His promises
or
2. That I've done something wrong that has caused me to miss out on Him fulfilling His promises

I left out the other option: That God hasn't made good on His promise to restore my joy, YET.

But He will. In His timing. In His way.

Just this last week I've been beginning to see the glimpses of a bigger plan, a better plan than I could have imagined. A plan filled with meaningful work and joy. A plan built in His timing and with His power, despite my heel dragging and unbelief. 

Check back tomorrow to find out why my hope is stirring and my feet are tapping in my seat. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Losing Words and Finding Friends

The pictures and brief bios of the moms I tutor
at Camino Seguro. 

For the last five-ish years I've written grant proposals and emails and newsletters and appeals and blog posts on behalf of people halfway around the world that I have never met on a weekly basis.

Last year at Plant With Purpose, in my office alcove, I longed to meet the people whose stories I told.  I longed to get a fuller glimpse into their life than a two sentence testimony or a Flickr photo description.

I moved to Guatemala with a heart open for stories. For people. Hungry for connection and confirmation that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

New people and new experiences offer themselves to me every day in this foreign country. I work with mothers who are learning to read for the first time and kids who live in squatter settlements near the Guatemala City garbage dump.

I get to see them, speak with them, laugh with them, and do long division with them three times a week. I've been given a much fuller glimpse into their lives than an emailed testimony, yet when it comes time to write about them, to share a bit of their lives so that you may be compelled to give to the life-changing work of Camino Seguro or to be encouraged by the dedicated people working in a marginalized corner of Guatemala, my words fall flat. Empty.

I can extrapolate a two page report or a $50,000 proposal from a two sentence testimony from “the field,” but when I’m actually living and working in “the field,” silence wins.

I only know that I don’t really know them.

I know facts, yes. Bits and pieces, but they seem insufficient, incomplete.

For example, I know that most of the moms I tutor at Camino Seguro work difficult jobs with long hours—like sorting through trash in the garbage dump or rising in the darkness of the early morning to make and sell tortillas on a street corner bus rides away from where they live, where the money is. I know they live in a dangerous area with an astronomical crime rate. I know most of them are single mothers, have likely suffered domestic abuse, and would do absolutely anything for their children. They've sacrificed to send their kids to Camino Seguro, to enroll themselves in primary school this late in life, and to make education a priority for themselves and their children.

Dona Paula and Camino Seguro board member
I know that Doña Paula’s hair usually hangs in a thick, black braid down her back. I know Doña Bonifacia wears pink reading glasses that are broken at the bridge of her nose and she refuses to switch to a new, unbroken pair. I know which moms struggle with multiplication and which moms need an extra push to get going on their work.

I've shared two months with them, and yet it feels like I don’t know them at all. I become reluctant to write anything about them.

And perhaps that’s a good thing.

When I write about a friend or family member on this blog, I exercise an exponentially greater amount of thought and care when writing the post than I do when sharing my own thoughts and stories. I read the draft over and over.  I imagine what it would feel like to read those words about myself.

When I fundraise and advocate for people I don’t know, it’s easy to orient my words in a compelling manner without giving it much thought. With words I can befriend them in my mind. I don’t have to fumble with Spanish conjugations or admit I don’t remember any short cuts for long division.

Three of the moms at the recent graduation
from 6th grade.
Making friends in real life takes a lot longer than rounding out a blog post or tacking on a Donate Now button to my sidebar.

The people I've met and have worked with in Guatemala are people, not a cause or an ideal or blog material. They’re potential new friends. And I have to admit I’m slow at making friends, at establishing trust, at sharing my own story with others, even when language and culture isn't a barrier. But as I build trust, build friendship, hope to find myself a home here, I also want to write. It’s what I do.

And so hope you’ll be patient with me as I learn to put the amount of care and thought and time into sharing about my new friends here as I would about my dear friends back home. And I hope I’ll learn to be patient with me, too.  

***
Just as I was beginning to articulate these thoughts for myself, I came across this excellent post by D.L. Mayfield on the role and responsibility of a writer or artist in sharing others' stories. I highly recommend taking a gander at her post, War Photographers, and getting cozy with her blog where she writes about living in the upside-down kingdom. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fear and Dust

Morning rolls in with the gray clouds that now perch at the apex of the volcano. I sip my coffee. Nibble my toast. Admire the bright yellow walls of my new room and say hello to the pictures of friends and family hanging from my walls, reminding me of who I am, of the me I want to be. 

I run my index finger across my great slab of desk, sweeping up a stream of dust, gray like the clouds.

A phrase flashes, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust." T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It’s not Tuesday, but Eliot still speaks, still echoes.

Fear and dust. Dust and fear sit heavy in my room, my mind.

Madeleine L’Engle comes in, pulls up a chair.

"Remember the root word of humble and human is the same: humus: earth. We are dust. We are created; it is God who made us and not we ourselves. But we were made to be co-creators with our maker." Walking on Water

We are dust. We are fear. But that is not all we are. We are also image bearers, light carriers, children of God. Co-creators.

Again the fear bubbles to the surface. I swallow it down with a swig of café negro.

It's scary to be a co-creator. It's scary to be responsible. To have the difficult conversations. To fight for truth and love.

Madeleine reminds, "The world tempts us to draw back, tempts us to believe we will not have to take this test. We are tempted to try to avoid not only our own suffering, but also that of our fellow human beings, the suffering of the world, which is part of our own suffering."

Lately I’ve drawn back. You can tell by the silence on the blog. I’ve drawn in. Drawn down.

Few things scare me more than meeting new people and speaking a foreign language. That’s pretty much all I do here, in Guatemala.

And it’s been hard. So I've gone all in and I've held back. I've tried to connect and I've thwarted connection. I've vacillated between fear and trust, bravery and dust.

Madeleine quotes Kafka, “It may be that this very holding back is the one evil you could have avoided."

Holding back my passion. Holding back my heart.

Scared to look like an idiot in a foreign culture. Scared to make a mistake. Scared to put myself out there and get nothing in return. Scared to say no to the men who pursue me for the wrong reasons because so few people are pursuing me at all.

Even scared to admit that I’m scared. That this is harder than I thought it would be.

That the daily throbbing of those I miss threatens to overtake me.

I've always wished I was one of those people who wasn't so scared. Who could glide into a room, any room, and make friends. But that’s not me.

I’m broken and scared. A handful of dust. A fistful of fear.

But that is not all I am. I turn my eyes to the One who drives out fear. Who has given me a name and a hope and an inheritance. Who has brought me here for a reason. Who has promised to restore joy.

God, I give you the broken pieces. I give you the fear I cling to like a handful of dust and watch it fall through the cracks. Watch it spill through my fingers, dissolve into thin air.

Remove the scales of dust from eyelids so that I may see myself as you see me, as your child, your beloved. That I may see beyond the gray clouds, the gray dust, to the fullness of your light and love and to the sun I know is shining behind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wash Over Me

Have I asked for healing or only asked why You haven't healed me yet?

Well, I'm asking now.

Please wash over me with your healing.

Wash over my hands that I may serve you in my work and words.
Wash over my lungs that I may breathe you in and out.
Wash over my feet that I may walk forward with you.
Wash over my eyes that I may weep tears of grief and tears of joy with equal freedom.
Wash over my lips that I may praise you.
Wash over my ears that I may hear your voice over the lies that tell me I'm not good enough or that I don't need you.
Wash over my heart that bitterness may melt, joy will grow.
Wash over my brain that I would be engaged with the world, surrendered to you.

Use my wounds.
Use my heartache.
Use my mistaken ways of coping with burnout to your glory.

Come thou fount. Come with your healing. Come with your blessing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Keeping it Tight with a Timely Tale


Excerpt taken from Madeleine L'Engle's delightful book, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art:

"There's a story of a small village (about the size of the village near Crosswicks) where lived an old clockmaker and repairer. When anything was wrong with any of the clocks or watches in the village, he was able to fix them, to get them working properly again. When he died, leaving no children and no apprentice, there was no one left in the village who could fix clocks. Soon various clocks and watches began to break down. Those which continued to run often lost or gained time, so they were of little use. A clock might strike midnight at three in the afternoon. So many of the villagers abandoned their timepieces.  
One day a renowned clockmaker and repairer came through the village, and the people crowded around him and begged him to fix their broken clocks and watches. He spent many hours looking at all the faulty timepieces, and at last he announced that he could repair only those whose owners had kept them wound, because they were the only ones which would be able to remember how to keep time.  
So we must daily keep things wound: that is, we pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain. 
We may not always be able to make our "clock" run correctly, but at least we can keep it wound so that it will not forget."

As Christian artists, Madeleine posits, we pray and we write. We write and we pray. And we're supposed to do it everyday.

I've been doing the writing part. If not everyday, then at least every other day.

The best lesson I learned as a creative writing student was to spend 20 minutes a day with my butt in a chair and a blank screen in front of my face. Even if I just stare at the screen. Even if all I write is "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write" for twenty whole minutes.

Because even on the days the "clock" isn't working properly, it's a way of keeping it wound for the days when inspiration strikes. For the days the clockmaker returns with his tools and his tinkering.

On the writing front, I understand this. It's been drilled into me since Freshman Comp. Even in the midst of burnout. In the midst of "hating" all work and all writing, I still couldn't help but write. Couldn't help but keep my own sort of time.

But on the praying front I've had a harder time with discipline. I've whined and I've cried, "God why haven't you healed me? Why haven't you shown up?" before taking the time to ask for healing or to invite His presence into my life.

I make time to write. Why shouldn't I make time to pray?

I believe that God speaks to me. That God can speak to all of us in different ways. This week he used a friend to remind me how desperately He wants to spend time with me, to pour out out his love on me.

What if I took time to just "sit with God?" In short, to pray?

20 minutes a day. My butt in a chair. My heart open to the One who loves me.
No notes, no writing--although writing is spiritual for me, this is different from my writing time--just chatting with God. Sitting with a friend. Even if I don't want to. Even if I don't feel his presence or can't hear him speak. I will sit there in anticipation. I will keep the clock wound.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Beers, or Not Two Beers

When I trained to be a short term missions trip leader to Guatemala last year, one of the key pearls of wisdom I gleaned and subsequently hammered into my college students' globetrotting little brains was that under no circumstances should an international guest openly pass judgement or disdain on the new culture--at least within earshot of the hosts. 


We were going to serve and love and be gracious guests, so cultural sensitivity was key. This meant that we would be expected to accept food, rides, and accommodations, that, perhaps, we weren't accustomed to without making any rude, ungrateful, or condescending comments, grimaces, or otherwise malicious facial expressions.

I taught my students a handy little phrase to employ when they were tempted to gasp, grimace, or gawk in Guatemala.

The phrase: "That's different." 

For example, a woman popping out her breast to nurse her bundled baby immediately after you ask if you can take her picture is not weird or strange or rude. It’s different.

A chunk of still hairy goat meat bathing in a bowl of unidentifiable slime is not disgusting. It’s different.

Showing up to Bible study an hour late or not at all is not an affront. It’s different.

Piling entire families onto one motorcycle may be a tad dangerous to the safety-obsessed American, but within earshot of our hosts, it's just different.  

Not better. Not worse. Just different.

I've been living in Guatemala for three months now, and, in an attempt to be a gracious guest, I have tried, at all costs, to appear unfazed by the foreign culture around me. I've done my best to employ the "smile and nod and remember it's just different" approach.

But let’s face it, sometimes situations aren't just different—they can be horrifying, delightful, even comical and beautiful. So I'm going to start a new blog category called, "Well, that's different" where I can recount my collection of the best and brightest and differentest moments Guatemala has offered me thus far, and, believe me, I've wracked up a pretty delectable number of cross cultural cuentos.

I share these stories with the full understanding that I am a guest in this country. I don't intend to pass judgment in any way. I'm just hoping for a little travelers empathy and to give you a glimpse into the life I lead here in this at times horrifying, delightful, comical, and beautiful country. 

Here's a lighthearted tale of a girl and her beer to get the series started:

Two Beers or Not Two Beers

On a recent trip to the Ixil triangle of Guatemala, my travel companions and I found ourselves eating dinner at a quaint Guatemalan restaurant. The place wasn't super fancy, but not shabby either. The tables were draped with only somewhat stained cloths and the chairs were adorned with shiny bows as if the decorator had spent time catering banquets or weddings in the States.

A young waitress appeared, poised to take our order.

My friend ordered a beer and was immediately told that the restaurant didn't carry her beer of choice. But, the waitress, hurriedly interjected, they did carry Gallo, a national Guatemalan beer that you can often find more easily than purified water.

When the waitress turned her eyes and her order pad to me, I ordered a Gallo as well. Por que no?

Finished with our orders, the waitress dipped back behind the partition which, presumably, led to the kitchen.

So we waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, my friend went back to ask the waitress to bring out the drinks before the food. The waitress, looking a bit sheepish, followed my friend back to our table.

"We only have one beer," the waitress apologized. 

"One kind?" my friend asked, confused.

"We only have one beer," the waitress repeated.
"Well, is it a big beer?" my friend asked the waitress.

"Small, " she replied. "We only have one beer."

Finally, understanding dawns across the table. We both ordered a beer. They only have one solitary bottle of cheap, Guatemalan beer. There's not enough for the both of us. 

"I'll have a strawberry smoothie," I ceded with a shrug of the shoulders, "and my friend will have the beer."

Finally satisfied, the waitress snuck back into the kitchen. Minutes later, she returned with the much-coveted and elusive Gallo and a delectable strawberry smoothie, which actually paired much better with my dinner omelette.

Cheers!

***
Stay tuned for more "Well, that's different" posts and please check out my friend's much more comprehensive and less beer-battered account of our trip, in her recent post here.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: What Trees and T.S. Eliot Have in Common

The seatbelt cut into my chin and my jellied feet dangled above the floor. If we were coming home from gymnastics practice, my hands and hair would be covered in white chalk and I’d still be sporting a velvet leotard that I would probably not even take off to sleep that night. If we were coming home from the neighborhood pool, we’d still be suited up, seated atop damp beach towels, our shoulders would be pink and the bridges of our noses would boast both a smattering of new freckles and a fresh goggles indentation. If it was any other occasion, I’d probably be wearing my favorite purple sweatshirt with a cat on the front paired with a matching purple sweatskirt—yes, they made sweatskirts in the 80s.

Even if we’d been driving just a few minutes, I’d already be able to hear my younger brother’s sleepy breathing and the punching of buttons as my older brother battled evil forces on the glow of his Gameboy.

As the car swayed back and forth through the winding roads, I wouldn’t be sleeping or playing, I’d be dutifully staring out the side window.

I was still so small, so low in the car seat that I had to crane my neck to see above the child lock and power window buttons to the outside world. And even then I could only see sky, the green-tinged points of pine trees, the triangle tops of shingled roofs on two-story homes, spiky tv antennas, sweeping power lines, and the concave dip of the few satellite dishes that speckled the neighborhood in the early 90s.

It would all pass by in a lightening fast (for a five-year-old) blur of 25mph. We could be anywhere: coming back from a friend’s house, carpooling from gymnastics, or with my dad making the long trek home from Circuit City (which I always thought was a city in Utah). From my vantage point, the scenery was indistinguishable, a blur of meaningless shapes and colors.

We could have been anywhere. Hours from home. Minutes from home. I never knew.

Until I spotted the gnarled branches of an old oak tree that stretched into my line of sight: the Remembering Tree.


The Remembering Tree stood out among the forest of pines that lined the winding roads of my small Northern California neighborhood. Even in the dark, I could make out its distinctive bough clumped with patches of moss and mistletoe, and I would know we were almost home. The Remembering Tree was three houses down from my own house, closer even than the bus stop.

As soon as I saw the tree, I’d breathe a sigh of relief and settle in to my seat. I’d lean my head against the passenger door and shut my eyes in feigned sleep with hopes that my dad would carry me in to my bed.

For years my entire family referred to the old oak tree as the Remembering Tree. It was always there to orient me. To help me remember that I was almost home.

We've long since moved away from the house beyond the Remembering Tree. But I haven’t forgotten the concept. I still seek out signs and symbols for security, safety, and a sense of home.

Now, instead of scanning for scarred branches, I memorize poetry. It sounds pretentious, but I assure you it stems not from a haughty, artistic elitism, but from the childlike need for familiarity in a rushing world.

I've developed the habit of repeating poetry at the end of every long run I take. As I round the corner or approach the front steps to my house, the same words release themselves from my lips, practically unbidden.

When I repeat the words of my favorite poets, like T.S. Eliot (And the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing) or ee cummings (i thank you god for most this amazing day), when I say the same words in the same order time after time, I dwell in the words like I used to dwell in the branches. And, even if I’m miles and countries away from where I started, I’m reminded that home, and the One who makes His home in me, is much closer than I think. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Surrender is not a to-do list


Surrender is not a to-do list. Not a tally of life-giving decisions to serve the God of Love. Yes, it can be a thoughtful planning, an attentive listening to what God has for me for the day, but it's not a list of checked off items, a stacking up of good deeds.

Surrender, instead, is...
  • a whispered prayer when I get too caught up in my own problems, responsibilities, or wellbeing
  • an unclenching of my fists when I grasp too tightly to my own agenda
  • a heart posture of humility, of seeking His presence
  • a willingness to follow His way even if it means giving up attention or recognition or rest or whatever else it is I crave
  • an acknowledgement that I want what He wants MORE than I want my own way 
Today, regardless of the tasks I find myself checking off or not checking off, I will surrender.

I want Your way.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Redeem the Dream


“But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken” 

T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Monday, October 29, 2012

What's Better Than Holding Foreign Babies?

Forget holding foreign babies, I have finally stumbled upon my most favorite volunteer activity. In fact, I enjoy it so much I almost wonder if I should be the one paying them to do it.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that my ideal service opportunity is what I do everyday here on this blog.

My happy helping? Blogging,what else?

I am proud to say I am officially a volunteer blogger for an organization based here in Guatemala called Roots and Wings International (RWI). RWI works in the very poor, very rural area of Nahuala, Solola, approximately 3.5 hours southwest of Guatemala City.

RWI creates educational opportunities to promote development as defined by the local communities themselves. RWI's work is rooted in recognizing the importance of culturally responsive education that empowers students to connect their cultural identity with sustainable social and economic development.

Winner.

I love the fact that they utilize all local staff from the communities where they work. Education is a major problem here in Guatemala and I am happy to use my words, my experiences in Central America, and my love of blogging to promote RWI’s programs and fundraising initiatives and raise awareness about development issues in Guatemala.

Learn how they're changing lives through education on their website and check out their blog and my first post, Seeking bright spots in Guatemala.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Daily Fruit

I recently read* C.S. Lewis' science fiction novel, Perelandra, for the first time. While I'm not usually a fan of sci-fi, tales of interplanetary travel, or, as my brothers remember all too well from our childhood days of "realistic make believe", anything that isn't probable or true to life, I really enjoyed many aspects of Lewis' work.

In particular, Lewis presents a fascinating discussion on the act of choosing gratitude, choosing joy, as a sign of walking in step with the Creator.


Ransom, one of Lewis' characters, reflects on human's desire to taste and taste again things that are good, that bring joy and pleasure. To not just enjoy the gift the first time, but to want it over and over. To want it in place of lesser gifts, lesser pleasures, that are offered. To scheme and cheat and kill to experience it again. And to sulk and stew when the desire is not satisfied.

Ransom reflects:
"This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards...was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself-perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defense against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of unresting the unrolling of the film." 
The "Green Woman," the innocent Eve of the pre-fall planet of Perelandra, doesn't understand this human feeling of discontent, disillusion, disappointment. Of wanting something that wasn't given.

She asks, "But how can one wish any of those waves not to reach us which Maleldil (God) is rolling toward us?"

How could we not accept His will and his offerings with joy and trust? It seems obvious in writing, when it's staring at you from the page, from the theology books, but we don't.

Ransom tries and tries to explain to her this sense of thwarted expectations, of wanting what we were not given, of mourning what we cannot have.

After awhile of back and forth discussion, the Green Woman, with the dawn of recognition, paints a simply profound metaphor for rejecting joy.
" 'What you have made me see,' answered the Lady, 'is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet is has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one's mind. Then, may it be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before--that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished--if it were possible to wish--you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.' "
Admittedly, it's easier to rejoice in fruit
when it's mango and covered in chocolate. 
So often we "send our souls" after what we had expected, even hoped and prayed for, while the real fruit, the real gift, rots before us.

The Green Woman had never known she was choosing this joy. In her Edenic world, she has taken each fruit as it came, each wave as it came, with gratitude and trust because she had known no sour fruit, no death, no pain.

She recounts, astonished,
"I thought I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when going swimming."
Even in our fallen world of sin and betrayal and despair, we can choose to dive in, with abandon. Taking, accepting, rejoicing in the wave. Or we can choose to watch it pass us by.

We can choose to set our soul on the fruit He has given THIS day. Or we can choose to yearn for the fruit we had wanted with bitter wishing as the fruit we were given sours in our mouths.

I've adapted from The Lord's Prayer a new phrase, my new morning prayer:

When I awake to the bright, solemn morning, when peanut butter melts into toast, crunchy along the edges and coffee steams from a white polished cup, when I see the clouds smudged across a volcano sky and my hands open in surrender, I will pray,
"Give us this day our daily fruit. And may we take and eat and rejoice in it."
***
*Be forewarned this blog may see a proliferation of book reflections because of my newly acquired, two hour/three day a week reading time slot, I mean bus ride, into Guatemala City.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blog Hopping

It seems I just can't stay away. Today I have the privilege of guest posting on the Plant With Purpose blog. I share my thoughts on life abroad, serving internationally, and, basically, how awesome Plant With Purpose is. 

Please hop on over and check out my post, Confessions of an International Nonprofit Hopper.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: A Whirl of Words

Today's T.S. Tuesday tongue twister is taken from the talented teller of tales' text titled Ash Wednesday:

“And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.” T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Typical Eliot,writing in circles around my brain. But I love the alliteration, the paradox, the wordplay (it's not really appropriate to write Wordplay, is it?) and the reminder that Love is the center of it all.

Also, I just learned that in Spanish The Word--as in Jesus--is translated as El Verbo.  Literally, The Verb. Turns out Spanish speakers knew a thing or two about "Love does" before Bob Goff came on the scene. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Echoes of Kindness

God has been speaking to me lately through what Margaret Feinberg calls "sacred echoes."

A sacred echo is a word, an idea, an image, or a message that God wants to get through to you, no matter how many subtle (and often not so subtle) reminders it takes. Margaret writes, “And like an echo, God often uses the repetitive events and themes in daily life to get my attention and draw me closer to himself." - The Sacred Echo

Last week after an emotional bus-missing incident, I heard God tell me to "relinquish burnout" and release my identity as a victim.

Then, during my church service here in Guatemala, God gave me the phrase,"Trust the spark," encouraging me to trust myself and His work within me. 

I later discovered my pastor in San Diego simultaneously gave a message on “releasing the identity of victim.” 

I also happened to be reading an excellent book on how to live wholeheartedly by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection (more on this later). The day after God whispered "Trust the spark" to me, I read in Brene's book that one of the key ingredients in a life of courage, compassion, and connection (things we all want) is cultivating a resilient spirit. Resilience. Trust in yourself. Believing in your own abilities. Releasing a sense of powerlessness. Letting go of your identity as a victim. A bit like trusting the spark?

Hmm. I'm sensing a common thread here. 

I guess God really wants me to get this, huh?

I had this post all planned out yesterday. I jotted down some (almost) illegible notes while riding the bus back from the City. 

I was going to title the piece "A Sacred Echo To Get Off My Butt (...butt) (...butt)." I was going to write about how I really just need to get my act together and trust myself more. How I need to dig down deep, get off my butt, and stop feeling sorry for myself. How I already know this stuff; what I really need is to put it in practice. 

But I realized that’s not God’s voice, or tone. That’s mine. After a moment of heat-flushed Holy Spirit gratitude, I immediately shifted into judgment gear. Yes, I was glad He spoke, but a part of my ego was wounded.

Shouldn't I already know how to be resilient? Shouldn't I remember that God is working in me? Yes, His words are nice and all, but shouldn't I have been able to heal myself already or trust God enough to be healed already or been able to just listen to what He says to get better already?

Even when God spoke, I defaulted to shame. Shame that I haven't really known how to navigate my life with grace and trust. Shame for blundering between hope and despair. Good days and bad days. For being discouraged with my progress. For not being able to "get it" already.

It comes back to the question I posed earlier: I guess God really wants me to get this, huh?

I first wrote this question flippantly, like I must be some kind of numbskull if it takes this many echoes to get my attention. I meant it half-jokingly and about a quarter just to move the narrative along, but I also wrote it in an attempt to cover up something deeper and scarier: shame. 

You see, I wanted this question to come across as "we can all be pretty dense sometimes, wink, wink" so everyone could relate. But the thing is, I'm scared I really am too dense, too slow, too stuck. 

Yes, He's calling me to trust myself now, to build my resilience, to move and grow and create, but I sit here embarrassed that I haven't been able to do this already. 

I'm scared it's all my fault that I'm not engaging in meaningful work. It's all my fault  that I don't feel fully recovered from burnout. It's all my fault that I get scared and sad and confused. 

And so I beat myself up with my words and my tone. I joke. I self-deprecate. I tell myself to just get off my butt already. 

I forget to listen to what He's really saying. When I reread the words God has spoken to me in my journal, they don't have a hint of exasperation or deprecation or condemnation. His words are kind. They’re grace-filled. They give life.

I'm the one filling the lines with judgement.

God echoes in my life with words and books and church sermons, and instead of standing in awe of the beauty of a God that pursues me and whispers to me and never gives up on me, I start beating myself up for not "getting it" already. 

Yes, I believe He wants me to "get this," but, more importantly, He wants me to experience Him. Now. His comfort. His love. His grace. His kindness. 

He's not sitting there waiting for me to fall in line so he can say "I told you so. See, if you just listen to me, you'd be healed." 

Instead, He cries with me. He says, I’m sad too. He says, I don’t want to fix you; I want to comfort you. I want you to turn to me. I am here even when you've been numbing. Even when you've been wallowing.  Even when you've been doing whatever it is you think makes you unworthy of my presence, of my comfort, of my healing.

As Margaret Feinberg says, sacred echoes are meant "to draw [us] closer to himself." 

So when He says, "Trust the spark," it's not meant as the secret answer to a test that I was heretofore failing to succeed at on my own. It's meant as an invitation to turn to Him. It's the whisper of words that are living water to my soul. It's the reminder that deep within my being, in the places I'm scared to show and the places I'm scared to hope, I am deeply loved. I am the spark of the divine.

In Love Wins, Rob Bell describes hell as "our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.” And before you get all worked up about what I think about Rob Bell and heaven and hell and atonement, I have to agree that this self-condemnation, this judgement I place on myself, my refusal to trust God's retelling of my story--that I am loved, that I am enough--feels a lot like hell.

God has been speaking to me a lot this week with echoes of kindness, not condemnation. I pray for the courage and the grace to trust His retelling of my story. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Stairway to Joy

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, he describes the climbing of a spiral staircase: climbing, spinning, revisiting the same space, the same struggles, over and over again on a never ending journey up and up.

The figure steps. Climbs. Rounds the corner.
“At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.”
Like Eliot’s figure, I've rounded a corner. I’m here in Guatemala. I've stepped out (or up?) in faith.



But I look back and see the same the shapes, the same hauntings, the same oscillation between hope and despair. I look forward and those stairs look so dang steep and my legs are so tired and I wonder “haven’t I arrived yet?”

I’m working to relinquish burnout. I’m learning to trust the spark. I believe that God will restore my JOY. Not just the joy of his presence, but the joy of participating in work that brings me LIFE. I've been itching, waiting, squirming for joy.

I wanted it the easy way.

I bought a gratitude journal over a month ago. The lines remain blank.

I’ll write them when something really big happens, I reasoned. When joy is restored. When the feelings come rushing back.

I wanted to get whacked with Joy. I wanted healing to be quick. I wanted a big Kaboom. I wanted it big and vivid and unmistakable. And I didn't want to work for it.

God’s big enough, isn't He?

Now, rounding the corner, I pause in the stairwell. I glance back at the familiar figures of discontent, unease, despair.

I've played the woe-is-me-game, and I've won. Which actually means I lose.

It’s a lesson I've learned a thousands times.

As Ann Voskamp writes, “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.” ― One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are

How do I not know this yet?

I blogged about it all last year. I reaped the fruit of faithful gift charting, joy stacking.

And yet I got here to Guatemala and thought the gifts would be as vivid as the woven scarves and blatant as the bold buildings all around me so I wouldn't need to write them or convince myself of their gift-worthiness.

How could I forget the stacking of gifts, the cataloging of daily delights, is what brings Joy in all its glory?

Not the other way around.

And so I recommit to stacking joy. To stepping forward in gratitude. To building my life on thanks. As I round the corner, pause for a moment on the stairwell, I take a deep breath, grab my journal and pen, and begin to climb again this spiraled stairway to joy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trust The Spark


“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.”
Psalm 18:28
I’m a woman of words. I obsess over them, mull over them, am transformed by them.

I've been relinquishing burnout this last week. Unclinging myself from an identity of defeat.

I know what I’m moving away from. I have a vocabulary for burnout that I've painstakingly compiled over the last year. But what am I moving toward?

In my life, I've shifted from cynicism to gratitude, from despair to hope. But what lies on the other side of the burnout pendulum?

Productivity? Usefulness? Even the joy that I have been promised doesn't quite seem to be the opposite of burnout.

So I've been hoping for a word. A hint of where to go. How to navigate this process of rebuilding. In a foreign country. Away from (most) friends and family.

But I've been scared to ask. Scared that I won’t get a response.

Yet yesterday, while the pastor spoke about the vision of the church and I easily tuned out his Spanish, I dared to close my eyes and ask.

“Please give me a word.”

I thought maybe “baby steps,” “open,” “willing.”

But those words were mine, not His.

And then out of the silence, out of nothing, out of I don’t know where. The phrase resonated, vibrated, crystallized within me.

Trust the Spark. 

Trust the spark? What does that mean?

And then I heard, remember the spark, Aly? The spark within you that loves and cares and wants more? The part of you that can’t help but fiddle with words and tinker with ideas and come up with goals? The part that feels and flies and aches to do something meaningful?

The part of you that is loving and creative and patient and beautiful?
The part that never gives up?
Remember that, Aly?

That spark is still there.

You have a spark that burnout did not snuff. A small flame that will never go out. That still burns within you.

That spark is Me within you.

Trust the spark.
Grow the spark.
I am in you.

I am here.
I have never left you.

I will turn 
your darkness into light. I will keep your lamp burning.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Unclinging

I feel a shift I can’t explain. Something has changed. Something, or Someone, has started moving. Perhaps He never stopped.

I've shared what burnout feels like. Here is what (I am learning) relinquishing burnout feels like:

A weight lifted. Or lifting.
A bitterness gone.
Palms opening, unclinging.

A release of the cringing, the gut reaction when I get an email, when I think of working, when I think of blogging, working out, writing, anything that I connect with “being productive,” anything that used to bring me joy but eventually became tangled in a mess of obligation.

In the past few weeks, I've used “recovery” as an excuse to do nothing instead of as a chance to rediscover my passions. Yes, I needed a time to let go, to release responsibility, to do nothing and be okay with doing nothing. But it’s time to move forward, to unchain myself from the shackles of burnout.

I crumple the list of words that have taken up occupancy in my mental lexicon:

Lazy
Useless
Selfish
Numb

I release the identity of victim. Of helpless inmate at the burnout, breakdown, palace.

I can be FREE to work.
OPEN to invest in the lives of others.
RELEASED from an identity of death, of grasping tightly to what I have in fear that I will be sucked dry if I give away one drop more.
I am FREE to be FILLED by LOVE. 

I “get to” work and give and try and invest.
Work is a gift. Life is a gift.
I can care.
I do care. 

Love, please show me where to spend my time and energy.
Teach me to sit still in your presence that I may give myself wholeheartedly to the work you have before me.
Teach me to uncling to this identity and cling instead to You. 

Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

i carry your hearts with me (i am carry them in

This post is for my friends, my family, my church family at Coast Vineyard, my former coworkers at Plant With Purpose, and my friends who have become my family. *Warning: this post contains major doses of sap. 

After an intense I-miss-my-old-life-in-San-Diego mope fest earlier this week, I realized something.

I am not alone. 

In one of my favorite poems, ee cummings writes,

"i carry your heart with me(i carry it in 
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)"

I am not alone because you are all with me. You are with me wherever I go. 

My room here is splattered with cards and notes and pictures you all gave to me before I left the States. So, literally, I carry your words--and the heart behind the words--with me wherever I go. 

But I also carry the moments. 
I carry the encouragement.
I carry the laughter.
I carry the hours spent tanning (and in my case, freckling)  on the cool San Diego sand.
I carry the barbecues and sushi nights and happy hours and fro yo and chips and guac and California burritos.
I carry the moments spent crying in the stairwell, hugging in the parking lot, jumping into the frigid ocean in a fit of "whimsy."
I carry the Sundays worshiping and taking communion together, holding hands at the end of the sermon as one Body. 
I carry the happy lunches and AGMs, scheming fundraising endeavors, battling cynicism, filling out ridiculous government grant forms til 2am. 
I carry the phone the calls and family vacations and Christmas mornings hiding from Dad's video camera. 
Today marks one month of being back in Guatemala, of eating tortillas and speaking Spanish, and trying to build a life for myself here. 

And though I'm here, what feels like so far away--miles and cultures and languages and paces of life apart--you are actually as close as my very heart. You are in my thoughts and words and conversations and prayers. You have made me who I am today. 

I carry your hearts; I carry them in my heart.
I carry it all with me. And no distance can take that away.

Thank you for your love and cards and skype dates and Heytells and Instagram convos and blog comments and prayers that have FILLED my heart this week. But most of all, thank you for who you have been in my life for so long, face to face and heart to heart. 

***
Here are some pics from my room: 







Monday, October 8, 2012

Relinquishing Burnout; also, Living Abroad Is Hard


The honeymoon is over. I missed the bus to my new volunteer job this morning. My computer screen is filled with squiggly, wiggly lines and I have to readjust the screen every five seconds just to see what I’ve typed. The internet is down at my house. 

Oh, and did I mention I’m lonely?

I have an overwhelming sense that all of my friends in San Diego have adjusted to life without me. I can picture them all having family dinners and frequenting hipster bars with microbrews and having beach days and laughing so hard they snort and cry while generally enjoying the richness of life together.

All while I stutter through superficial conversations in painstaking Spanish and get my hopes dashed yet again when I find out my new friend will only be in Antigua for two weeks for Spanish school and I will forced to start the befriending all over again.

Pity party of one, please. 

Yes, I’m still enamored with the salsa dancing and rolling r’s and Spanish archways and volcanoes. I still love walking through the park and living within walking distance of the world’s cutest restaurants. I still believe I'm here for a reason. 

But I’m lonely. I’m struggling here.


The last week I’ve been reluctant to blog. Yes, because of the frustration of a faulty computer screen, but also because I haven’t wanted to admit that things aren’t going as I planned.

I’m lonely. I feel purposeless. I feel distant from friends and family, from myself, from God. You would think I would use this free time I have to write, to pray, to be engaged in life, to do all the things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for in San Diego. But now I don’t want to do them anymore.

I’ve been avoiding my sadness. Numbing with salsa dancing and flirting and brushing up on Guatemalan slang and watching a lot of shows on Netflix.

I pictured Guatemala as a springboard for new life, renewed vision and purpose and energy after burnout. But I’m just as tired. Just as resistant to work. Just as lost as to what I should be doing with my life.

And I picture everyone else back in the States with their jobs, their friends, their passions, and their lives, and I start to feel sorry for myself. I know I shouldn’t compare. I know it doesn’t do any good. I know it just breeds more discontent. I know I should practice gratitude instead.  But loneliness and discontent creeps in and I just get caught in the cycle.

I recently committed to volunteering with an organization called Camino Seguro or Safe Passage (which I blogged about here). Camino Seguro is a beacon of hope in the middle of a super rough neighborhood in Guatemala City. For the next couple of months, I’ll be teaching mothers how to read and write and do basic math, so that they can get better jobs, help their kids with their homework, be less vulnerable to being cheated in the market, on the streets, by their neighbors.


In theory, I’m excited about this. Working in women’s literacy in a Spanish speaking country has been my dream for years. And yet, I don’t actually FEEL excited. In the same way that working at Plant With Purpose was meaningful in a way I couldn’t explain, I now feel a sense of meaninglessness that I can’t explain.

I’m still going. I’m still committed. I’m still going to show up (on days that I don't miss the bus).  But I deeply desire a sense of meaning and purpose. I ache for joy. I ache to know I’m doing something redemptive with my time. And yet it still feels empty.

Am I supposed to wait till those feelings stir or just dive in anyway? What if I never feel passionate again? 

These last couple days, I’ve been stuck feeling sorry for myself. But today, I chose to lean in. To look in. To ask myself what’s missing. Where am I clinging too tightly? Where DO I see God moving?

And today, this morning, after missing the bus and having a cry fest at the central park, I heard from God. I haven’t been hearing from him very much lately, mostly on account of not listening very well lately.

But today I heard:
 Aly, RELINQUISH BURNOUT
RELINQUISH EMPTINESS           
Allow ME to FILL you.

Do I even believe he can do this anymore?
Do I even think he’ll show up?

How quickly I forget. He’s asked me to relinquish things before. To let go of my false identity. And he showed up.

A few years back, God asked me to relinquish my anger, to shed my identification with the bitterness boiling inside of me. And he MOVED.  He filled me with a gratitude and joy beyond anything my angry heart could have hoped for.

Another time he told me to relinquish cynicism and he MOVED again. He brought peace and hope and understanding to a situation I had given up on.

How easily I forget.

I’ve come to see burnout as the progression from “I can/I get to” to “I have to” to, eventually after long hours and unrealistic expectations, to a surrender of “I can’t.” And on the heels of “I can’t,” rides “God can’t.” This hopelessness. This despair, has taken root in me, infected my hopes and dreams. My prayer life.

You would think getting me to Guatemala would be enough to renew my faith and hope. But I have a thick, obstinate skull and how quickly I forget. Repetition of “I can’t” drives the darkness down deep. It takes a conscious effort to give Him space, to allow myself to hope, to believe that he can fill me, renew me, heal me. Turn my identity of burnout, of “I can’t” to a testimony of what he CAN do.

I don’t quite know how, but today I will try to take the first baby steps of relinquishing burnout. I will give him space to move. I will say, even if I don’t yet believe it,

Aly, you are not your failure. You are not your loneliness. You are loved. You have gifts and talents that can serve the world. You are creative. You are compassionate. You are learning and growing and living.


And I am comforted because I know God is in those words. His spirit is recreating my heart, renewing purpose, rebuilding faith. He is moving in the very syllables and letters of the love notes I type. He is the Word and the words of love I whisper beneath my breath, write over and over in my journal, carry close to my heart.

Today I may not feel full or passionate, but I can choose to shape my thoughts with love, with grace, with compassion. And maybe that is the first step to relinquishing burnout and making life in another country a little less hard. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Shaping the still unshapen

From T.S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral:
"Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping the still unshapen:
I have seen these things in a shaft of sunlight."

In a shaft of sunlight I see the dust swirling, spinning, 
spiraling, mostly unseen, unnoticed, unwanted. 
The shaft of sunlight reflects the sparkle of water, glittering, glimmering, 
gleaming atop the surface of our lives. Reveals the specks of a world that reels 
from dust to dust. 
Flashes slivers of dreams still unshapen.  Proof of a potter's hand working,
whirling the unseen together for our good. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Waiting For My Parade

The preparations had been made. Face paint applied. Stilts mounted. Marching band in place. In just moments I would be leading the march for peace across downtown Guatemala City, the nation’s capital.

Only I didn’t know it yet.

This is a true story.

 On Friday morning, I took my place at the very front of a very long line of festively dressed purveyors of peace and began to march, smile, and wave like a reluctant beauty queen down the streets of Guatemala City.

Friday commemorated International Day of Peace worldwide, and my friends at AVP were participating in a rambunctious parade of peace.

I was just along for the ride.

That is, until the grand marshal, who was wearing a clown suit, discovered I was holding the biggest, most informative banner of all of the parade participants and pushed me to the front of the line to serve as the vanguard in the victory against violence march with my friend Luis.

At. The front. Of. The. ENTIRE. Parade.

Was I amused? Most definitely. But was this what I was expecting or wanting? Not at all.

You see, I love the work of AVP. I love the idea of peace building. But it’s not really my thing. Not really my passion.

I was there in the front of the line, heralding the peace, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was just a warm body. A filler.

It wasn’t my parade.

A few rows behind me, there was a young girl dressed as a jester shaking her hips to the hypnotic rhythm of the marching band. Every time I glanced back, she was engaging the crowd, shimmying this way and that, and laughing like crazy. Joy spilled out of her.

This was her parade.

And the parade of thousands of school age kids who met us in the park by forming a human chain, marching, clanging and combating violence with passion and creativity, communication and collaboration, dignity and dancing. (Bonus: check out this awesome video of the marching band and dancers!)

video

Don’t get me wrong; I love peace building and creativity and especially dancing, but that day’s parade, that day’s demonstration, was not my passion.

And that’s okay.

I remember when people used to call me the “recycle girl.” I would get so frustrated when people would boil down my passion to create change, to work for a better, more just world, into the tiny box of a word called a “hobby.”  Like some people like biking, running on the beach, or building model airplanes; I just happened to like social justice.

No, social justice, creation care, and empowering the poor are not my hobbies or Facebook interests. They are part of a calling that hasn’t changed with leaving my job at Plant With Purpose. The location has changed. The exact method has changed, but my heart hasn’t.

I still want to be an agent of love and transformation. I still want to be someone who fosters dignity for the defenseless. Who shines light on our true identities as children of Christ. Who empowers people to use their gifts and talents to create a more just, more joyous world.

Right now, I just don’t know exactly how to do this. Where to spend my time. What projects to join. Right now, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a good job at my calling.

It feels a lot like I’m carrying someone else’s sign in someone else’s parade. A worthwhile parade; just not mine.

I’m learning to smile. To find joy in their parade. In their marching and stilts and merengue music. In the peace that’s being fostered. In the light that shines.

I’m learning my “hobbies” and interests don’t define me. My job doesn’t define me. Even my values don’t define me. Only LOVE defines me. I am the riches. I am the treasure. I am the pearl of great price.

I remember this as I pray for patience and discernment as I wait for my own parade, my own next step in what God has called me to do. In the meantime, I pray for the humility to help others put on a good parade. For the faith and hope to not give up on my own calling that has brought me to Guatemala.  On a scene that I can’t yet see clearly, that lingers dark and formless before me.

I pray, I wait, and I grab the corner of the banner, smile, wave, and continue on.