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.