Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy Blogoversary to me!

One year ago today I made this blog public in honor of what would have been my grandmother's 85th birthday. 

It has been an incredible year of recording life, sharing thoughts, and growing in my relationship with God and others through writing for this blog. I'm not always the person I claim or hope to be in my writing, but I've found that committing my thoughts and hopes and dreams and doubts to words for all the world to see has challenged me to live more honestly, more authentically. I've always known I learn best through writing; this adventure in blogging has become something more of a lesson in community, in experiencing life together. 

When I post about missing my grandmother or struggling with body image or questioning my vocation, I have found over and over again that I am not alone. So today, on the one year anniversary of entering the blogosphere, I want to say thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. And thank you for sharing life and thoughts and words with me. 

Here are some of the most popular Algeisha posts over the last year: 

"Your weaving is your worship," my friend said.

Tying together the gifts into a wreath of remembrance. Forget-ME-nots.
So why do I find myself today elbows deep in dirt, preparing soil to nourish roots of anger and disillusionment? Why do I plant at all when the harvest is upon me?

Convicted, I unhunch my back. I pluck the seed of pain from its pre-formed hole. I smooth the space that would have sustained the bitter bulb. I wipe my hands on the leg of my dirt-flecked pants.

I lift my gaze to see the sun is out shining, ready for the basking. My eyes scan the landscape teeming with untamed flowers, ready for the weaving. Ready for the worship.

A smile sneaks across my teeth up into the crinkles of my eyes, and as my fingers reach for petaled stem, the words escape my lips, "I will forget You not." "
Hungry: Remembering God in the Fat Days
Most days, I care too much, too. I try too hard. I take too much pride in my skinny days, the days the mirror cooperates. And I freeze up in failure on the fat days. This is not a way to live.

On those fat days, like Laura, I need to be snapped out of my pity party and allow God to ask me the question: "How dare you call what I created not good enough?"
Sound Bites of Justice

"It’s tough to open our hearts to new issues and causes and plights. It’s tough to open our hearts to new and unfamiliar people. People who are different than us.
So we sound bite. We distance.
We talk like heroes, but we forget to listen.
I’m probably the guiltiest.
I talk like a hero, but I forget to listen.
So how do we become more than words? How do we not talk over the poor? How do we give voice to the voiceless?
The first step, I think, is listening.
Sound bites are ideas distilled. And ideas matter. The messaging matters.
But our listening should drive our messaging.
I am reminded that first and foremost, solidarity is a posture of ears wide open. Eyes wide open. Lives wide open to the suffering of others."

"If a friend told you she was sick, you’d respond with compassion, right?
I didn’t.

When my friend told me she was struggling with an eating disorder, I didn’t feel compassion or sympathy or concern. Instead, I was angry. Angry that she had cheated to get the body I had always envied. The sleek figure, the toned abs--it was all a lie.

Over the next few months, God transformed my heart. He began to reveal the lies I believed about myself--that I was only as valuable as I was sexy, that I was a fat ugly blob if I didn't work out, that my worth was based on my daily perception of body fat. He began to reveal the lies I believed about my friend--that she was the enemy, the competition, my rival in the contest to be the thinnest, look the hottest.

And He began to replace the lies with truth: I am not my body. Sexiness does not equate value. My friend is not the enemy. Eating disorders go beyond vanity; the disordered thoughts and behaviors are symptoms of a greater spiritual battle, a matter of identity, of worth.

So I began to fight--for both of us, my friend and I.

I still have a long way to go. But I've learned that we will never break free from these disordered thoughts if we don't have right relationships. If we aren't honest with ourselves."

What were your favorites? How have you been impacted by this blog? What would you like to see in the year ahead? 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Prayer for Moving Abroad

I sit at home, my parents’ home, at the kitchen table. The coffee pot clicks and gurgles, sputtering out liquid focus. The dryer tumbles clumps of damp clothes in a heartbeat melody—bum bump, bum bump, bum bump—then switches gears to a low, steady, wind tunnel rumble, the zippers and buttons clanging against the dryer wall.

I look out the kitchen window past the back porch to the needly pine branches and gnarled, mossy trunks.

My belongings are strewn about the house, awaiting the verdict: will they go with me on the plane to Guatemala or will they be bundled up and forgotten for a life-changing year?

How can I possibly know what I will want to wear for an entire year? Will my new favorite striped v-neck make me cringe just three months in to my adventure in downsizing?

Yesterday I read a raw, honest post by Ann Voskamp about her return from visiting Haiti with Compassion International. In her post, she is angry about poverty, mostly at herself. I remember my return from Central America six years ago. I remember that anger. I remember seething, lashing out. I remember vowing to never let the poor out of my thoughts, my life, my dreaming.

But I sit here six years later and the anger has subsided. The fight, while not totally gone, lies dormant within me.

I think of the plane that will take me to Guatemala in less than two weeks and I wonder if I have what it takes to go through it all again. To be angry again. To be passionate again. I wonder  if I have what it takes to feel with and suffer with not just my friends and family but with people who have endured genocide, lost brothers, fathers, uncles, who haven’t finished the third grade.

I believe I am called to be a voice for voiceless, to speak on behalf of the marginalized and forgotten. But that is only part of my calling. In order to speak kindly and wisely and compassionately, in order to do no harm with my words and my advocacy, I must first listen.

How can you love someone if you don’t know him?

And so I am moving away from the life I know toward the life God has called me to. Not so that I can speak on behalf of these new people I will meet, but so that I learn from them, share life with them in all its complexities.

I used to be scared that I would develop a white savior complex with the poor. If I had moved to Guatemala four years ago, bright eyed and seething with righteous indignation, I’m sure my God-complex would have reared its serpentine head.

But today as I pack my things-stuff underwear into my suitcase side pocket with no help from the cat, cull my clothing down to the must-haves, and agonize over which precious books to bring “in the flesh” and which to purchase on my Nook—I am painfully aware of my own brokenness. My own frailty. Today I’m under no illusions of poverty fighting grandeur.

I am going to Guatemala not to fix the broken systems and broken people, but to experience healing myself. If I do any good, offer any help, shape any lives, speak on behalf of the voiceless, it will not be of my own doing, but will be the work of God, of Love, in me.

And so, God, I say to you, I know you have good things planned for me. I ask for the courage to be open to your will. I ask for an open heart and open ears to hear the stories of those you will place in my life. I pray for the courage to be honest with myself about my feelings—whether I’m trapped in apathy, overcome with fear, or trembling in anger. I ask for the courage to be angry, to be passionate. I ask for eyes to see the hurting, and with the same eyes to see your transformative, your good and holy, work in me. I pray for empathy, for outward focus. To rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn—in San Diego, in Guatemala, and wherever my tush has happened to plant itself.

Father, you know what I need. Allow me to rest in that truth. To really rest and trust and release my anxieties to you. To trust that you will use me, that you will grow me, that you will never leave me. 

I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to go back to the country where I first learned to yearn for justice, where I first sought your compassionate face. I thank you for the opportunity you have given me, a broken person, to live with and learn from other broken people. I pray that we would see your justice, your mercy, and your compassion peak through the pain and that we may experience and share your love together.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Experiencing God Together

“What life have you, if you have not life together?”
T. S. Eliot (The Rock, 1934)

This weekend, Love drove out fear.

My fears. Of moving to another country. Of leaving everything I know behind.

Fear had begun to fester. Worry set in. Then disengagement, disconnection, isolation.

I don’t do well when I can’t name things, explain things, write it all out and flourish it with a pretty little bow.

I don’t do well with in-betweens. And right now I’m in between jobs, in between countries, in between lives.

To put it mildly, I’ve been shutting down. Not an earth shattering break down, just a slow dulling of emotions, tamping down of fear, tuning out of daily life to be lulled by the constant hum of doubt and second guessing.

My prayers of gratitude shifted to pleas for peace.

And on Saturday morning, God answered my plea.

My friends and roommates threw me an incredible “Brunch Voyage” going away party complete with every delicious brunch food imaginable and all of my favorite people in San Diego.

Not only did my gooey pancakes topped with Nutella, raspberries, and chocolate sprinkles fill my belly, the company was sustenance for my soul.

I don’t write about my friends very often because I haven’t really figured out a way to talk about them without sounding like every other social media user who writes “my hubbie is the BEST <3” or “FAB weekend with my girlz.”

Of course most people think their friends are the best ever. But I really do think I’ve got a unique thing going.

My friends from college have become my family. They have been the most shaping influence on my life. They daily challenge me and encourage me and draw out my hideous witch cackle laugh like nobody’s business.

And this weekend God used them. He used them to remind me of who I am.

A speaker at my church once said, “The people we love the most reveal our God-given identities,” and I’ve found that to be exactly right.

On Saturday my San Diego family joined together to remind me of who and whose I am.

When my own prayers had fallen flat, when I’d become caught in a cyclone of burnout and apathy, when I began to doubt my own ability to experience God, my friends showed up.

With their words and pancake toppings and hugs and prayers, they breathed life back into me.

They reminded me that I am not alone. That I don’t have to hear from God alone. That I was created for community. 

The most meaningful and humbling part for me was when they spoke words of affirmation. They affirmed my character and my dreams, reminding me of who I am and who I want to be. They recounted the promises God has spoken to me. They told stories of the shifts and triumphs I’ve already experienced.

More than just offering reassuring words (everyone likes to hear good things about themselves), my friends’ words revealed the thread of God’s presence and purpose and love in my life.

And it was this Love that drove out my fears. My friends’ love for me. Their love for God. Their reminders that Love is with me and goes before me, even all the way to Guatemala.

When everyone finally cleared out of our living room and the final plates were scrubbed of maple and boysenberry syrup, I found myself stunned.

Overwhelmed by their words and overwhelmed by God’s grace. And in awe of the transformation that had taken place in my heart in just a few hours’ time.

Numbness had given way to a full array of emotions. Weeping had turned to laughing. Sadness to joy.

And, like most meaningful times in my life, all I can say is Thank You.

To my friends I say thank you for your prayers for safety and purpose and community and vision.

Thank you for your cards and quotes and books and letters. They are more meaningful than you know.

Thank you for your time given up on a Saturday morning.

Thank you for your tears and emotion shed for me.

Thank you for speaking to my God-given identity.

The day was life giving.

The day was hope bringing.

The day was from God.

And to God I say Thank You as well.

Thank you for speaking through my community to remind me of your goodness, to remind me of who I am, to point me to who you are calling me to be by reminding me of your promises and your work in my life.

Thank you for loving me and shaping me and speaking to my heart. Thank you for this life we have together.


Monday, July 9, 2012

The Trouble With Dry Eyes

Late in the spring semester of my junior year of college, Tony Campolo spoke in chapel. I remember that day because it was the first time since I’d returned from studying abroad that I didn’t get angry with the speaker. I didn’t cringe at exhortations to personal holiness or grit my teeth against “Jesus wants to be your best friend” appeals because Tony didn’t talk like that.

Instead he told a heart-wrenching story about restoring the dignity and childhood of young prostitutes, little girls, in Haiti by buying them ice cream and watching Disney movies instead of buying their bodies.  If only for the night, he showed them love and compassion. 

As he told the story, I cried tears of empathy.  

This tear-stained service signaled the first sprinkles in a series of salty manifestations of the heart movements that ultimately pointed me to God.

From then on, I cried at every story of sacrificial love and restoration and reconciliation that came across my ears.

The first time a friend casually told me about the transformational work of Plant With Purpose, I blubbered like a mother at a wedding.

Eventually this stirring led me back to belief in God, the outrage I felt at injustice pointing to a God of justice and love. My own desire to see things be made new became a testament to the One who makes all things new.

I came to see this passion as the proof of God working in me.

I still see it that way. I still believe God allowed me to experience a bit of His love for the poor and forgotten. I still consider it the greatest gift ever given to me to use my skills and talents and time to support families as they break free from a vicious cycle of poverty.

I know that ending my time at Plant With Purpose does not mean I no longer care about the poor or that I’m selfish awful person (although sometimes I find myself fighting those lies).

But a week out of quitting my job at Plant With Purpose and a year out of feeling burned out by the work that I used to enjoy so passionately, I have found myself perplexed.

Where is God when I am no longer a part of this redemptive work?
Where is God when I’m no longer moved to tears, when passion gives way to apathy?
If my passion pointed to God, does my apathy point to an absence of God?
How do I know He is here when I don’t feel that passion? When my compassion meter feels broken?
Will I ever be passionate again?
Honestly, these last few weeks have been filled with doubt. Not necessarily in my belief in who God is, but in my own ability to hear from God, to decipher His voice. I don’t know how He speaks to me outside of my identity as Aly Lewis, Staff Writer and Grants Specialist. I don’t know how or when He will restore my passion. There are a lot of things I don’t know, and I don’t like it one bit.
I’ve been praying for confirmation and validation that I’m making the right move, that He has good things planned for me in Guatemala, that He will restore my joy. But all I’ve heard and felt has been silence.

And in silence, in isolation, fear festers.

But this weekend, this blessed weekend, I was reminded that I am not alone. That I am not on this journey alone and that I don’t have to hear from God alone.

It was pure gift and that’s all I’m going to say for now. You will have to check back tomorrow to read about the incredible send off my friends-who-are-like-family gave me this weekend, and how I was reminded that—thankfully—“hearing from God” has never been a solitary thing for me.  

See you tomorrow! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Video Viernes: What Makes Us Happy

Great news for fundraisers!

Apparently money can buy happiness, as long as you spend your money on someone other than yourself.

Give a listen to Michael Norton's fascinating Ted Talk on how spending money on other people actually increases happiness levels, and then go out and buy someone else a coffee.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: An End and A Beginning

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"
This week marks the beginning of new era for me. I wrapped up my job at Plant With Purpose last week and have about a month of bucket listing, bridesmaidsing, and packing before I move to Guatemala.

The last couple days, as I've stared at my screen, fingers perched, or opened my journal, pen clutched, I've found myself voiceless. Like Eliot writes, I'm caught between "last year's language" and not yet confident in my next year's voice.

Usually my words flow profusely, involuntarily. But this transition, from full time, productive member of the working world to, as ee cummings puts so eloquently, a "human merely being" has been tough to process.

I'm sure this voids any sympathy you were feeling for me
in my "tough transition," but this is how I spent my first
morning of "funemployment."
I don't know exactly how God is moving. I don't know if I'm supposed to be sad to say goodbye to my friends and coworkers or if I'm supposed to be excited for the new adventure that awaits. I've found myself torn between the bitter and the sweet, wondering what to make of it.

I'm scared that I've made a mistake. That I'll get to Guatemala and be lonely out of my mind. I'm scared that my writing will wither when I don't have to spill words onto a screen before work, when blog posts aren't squeezed into lunch breaks, and when I look at my schedule and see wide open spaces.

For the first time in 4.5 years, I don't know exactly where I'll be on Monday mornings or how much will be deposited into my bank account every 15th and 30th of the month.

It's a little disorienting to say the least. But also exciting, exhilarating. When I was in high school, one of the most meaningful things I heard from God was the promise,

"You will grow."

The one thing I am sure of as I look at this next month, this next year, of unknowns is that I will grow.

I am excited to learn more of my identity outside of Plant With Purpose. I am excited to make new friends in a new country. I am excited to see God move in new ways, to count new gifts and chart new graces. I am excited to await another voice of a new year.

And though I'm scared, I am excited to make an end and a beginning.