Sunday, November 22, 2015

My India Bookshelf, Part 1

My high school friend Megan and I finally caught up with one another recently. At the end of the conversation, she said "Hey! I still want to hear about India!" I was shocked that I hadn't told her anything about it (it happened in July, after all!) and she had seen only a handful of pictures on Facebook. I thought to myself, "I should really do something about that" but quickly remembered how large and heavy a task it seemed and neglected it.

A couple days later, one of the students I traveled with to India posted pictures of our trip. I clicked through them, feeling reminiscent and happy and sad all mixed into one.  I was glad she had chosen to share her trip in some public way, but dismissed it as a way to share my trip. 

The idea of sharing my experience this summer in India has been something so large in my heart and my head that I've failed to share it at all. In the midst of work and personal commitments, I've felt I don't have the time to fully unpack everything I saw and did. To do so would be an emotional task that requires time and mental and emotional energy. 

But, I woke up from a dream this morning in which I was cruising down the Amazon River on a boat with a bunch of young adults and people who don't speak English. This dream closely resembled the events of my friends Suzy and Michael and their team who traveled to Manuas, Brazil with Project Timothy this summer. I could take this dream as confirmation that I should sell all my possessions and become a vagabond. Or I could take it as confirmation to stop privatizing my trip, which is never what a Project Timothy trip, or any life experience, I believe, is supposed to be. It was a deeply communal experience; the only way I can honor it is to invite others into that experience. 

Our group arriving in Bangalore.
JP, Ashley, me, Jerry, Garrett, Cy, Marissa, Kora, and Maggie.

The next couple of posts will serve as a feeble attempt to put into words something that has planted itself so firmly in my heart. 

I'll begin by explaining the name for these posts.

My friend JP, who we met in India, is an amazing individual with wealths of wisdom and experience leading trips like the one I took. He was great at helping our group process and ask questions and directing us to see things in a certain light.  And he tells the most engaging, humorous stories of anybody I've met. He and I got the chance to have some awesome conversations along the way--in the back of a van straight from the 70's, in a train station in what seemed the middle of the night.
My friend JP. He's as cool as he looks. 

In one of these conversations I told him about just how incomprehensible this trip seemed, and how I had no idea how I could do it justice when I returned home. He gave me the analogy of a book shelf and told me to imagine India as this whole big bookshelf in my room (my heart, really). Every experience, big or small, is a book on that bookshelf. This is the part I love: he told me that somedays, I'll pull down one of those books and go through it (metaphorically, of course).  They'll become old favorites. Some days I'll pull down new books, ones I never knew existed. And some of those books, I'll never get around to. Some of those experiences, I will never get around to processing. 

This is a hard concept for me. I'm fairly type-A. I like things to make sense, I like resolution, and I like things with a clear beginning and end. I only keep books on my bookshelf that I have read at least once. I finish nearly every book I begin.  To not have resolution of this trip is a bit too open-ended for my liking. BUT it has become one of the best analogies I have for life now, with all it's uncertainties and questions and experiences.  India is just one of many bookshelves in my heart; but it is a large, full one. Join me as I reflect on my trip? I'll try to use less words than this time. 

In the meantime, some photos, because that's what everybody likes:

Our group in the Doha airport. Who doesn't love a giant teddy bear sculpture?

Proof that I actually went. View from the (near the) top of a Jain temple.
The view was incredible and this picture doesn't do it justice.

Obligatory food pic. We ate dosas for breakfast. They were so, so good. If
you know somebody from southern India, ask them to make these for you.

Obligatory exotic animal pic. Although, this is pretty awesome.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Out with the Old, in with the New, and thoughts in between

New year traditions are some of my favorite traditions. I like the freshness, the newness, the sense of hopefulness that you can accomplish whatever you put your heart to, and the riddance of things that have no place in your life.

More than anything, I love the reflection piece of a new year as I am a person who loves to reflect about anything and everything. The past couple of years I've adopted my own new year traditions. I like to sleep in from the night before, wake up refreshed, read my goals from the year before, set some new goals, and spend some time journalling and just generally reflecting on the past year. 

It's the one time in the year I feel I gain perspective. I am able to step out of my life and see the whole year in a lump, with all it's ups and downs, questions and confusion, joys and tribulations. My feelings of inadequacy stand alongside God's adequacy when I look at the year as a whole.

As somebody who is still learning what it means to be an adult, I've figured out that almost every adult feels like they are faking it to some extent--that everybody has questions about what they're doing, where they're going, if they are doing enough, if they are doing things that truly align with their passions and goals. It is this profound wisdom that has followed me around this year as I go about faking my own adult-hood. Often I feel I just have no idea what I'm doing, what path I am on, or if I am even on a path at all. I try to make plans to control the things I feel I should have a hold on, but abandon those plans when I realize that the motivation of those plans is not a pure motivation.

With that thought in my mind, I followed through with my favorite new year traditions of reflecting and relaxing yesterday. Between coffee and cleaning my room I found my favorite box. It's a simple orange box that sits largely unopened, except to deposit scraps of paper that are meaningful to me: cards, wedding invites, programs, ticket stubs, and the like. This box has years of friendship contained within it, some friends with whom I keep in touch, some friends with whom I haven't talked to in years. 

Between unpacking from a 3 week trip this summer and desperately trying gain some semblance of organization in my small room, I deposited a handful of unread papers. These papers were from that trip, a 2 week mission trip with high schoolers to Kentucky. The paper themselves are in the shape of a kiss, and the instructions are to keep them unopened until you feel you need some encouragement. Yesterday, I didn't feel I needed the encouragement, but I opened them because I thought it would be a nice way to start the new year, feeling confident and sure. 

The anticipation of reminiscing, of remembering a time that was simply and uncomplicatedly good was in my heart. What I didn't anticipate was the need I actually had for encouragement and affirmation, and the sweet, beautiful truth that I would find in the words of 7 high schoolers. 

At many points during those two weeks, and the weeks leading up to it, and in the weeks following, I had thought to myself countless times--what am I doing here? How have I become entrusted with the care of these kids? What can I possibly teach them about following the Lord in faith and repentance? I felt the great plans and goals I had of being a great leader and inspiration to these kids prior to the trip were way-laid when I met them and things got busy. I felt so inadequate as a leader. I doubted that my time spent on that trip had any sort of impact. I feared I had followed my own plans in this trip and hadn't followed the Lord's leading. I compared myself to the leader I had, and I fell short. 

The words that found me on that "kiss" said things like inspiring, leader, amazing, encouraging and grateful. In the midst of my inadequacy, God had remained adequate. My own doubts and fears were way-laid by God's great power and grace. 

This isn't to pat myself on the back. My feeble attempts at being an inspirational leader were met by God's own faithfulness in this trip.  I am reminded, by reading these sweet, honest, encouraging words of some truths that I hope will guide me in the new year: 

1. I am deeply inadequate. But my inadequacy, my weakness, is where Christ shines. 

2. In the midst of my own questioning and wanderings, I am able to be something to others--whether that is hope, encouragement, a leader, an inspiration. I am always placed exactly where God would have me, and always for the purpose of sharing his love with others.  The fact that this is all about high school students' words speaks to that--they are so young, but their passion for the Lord and their pursuit of him was so evident in those two weeks. They were shining where they were placed. 

3. Others speak truth, and that truth is there for a reason. Who knew that the one liner sentences from 15 year olds could bring me to tears? But it wasn't flattery or false words. They were words I knew to be true and reflective and that is what caused me to tear up. I need to listen more often, and be okay accepting those words. 

4. Faithfulness is rewarded. Not in a jewels-in-your-crown sort of way. But in ways I could never anticipate, like my feeling fulfilled in this role, six months later, even though I felt like a huge failure at the time.  Keep the faith. 

All this to say: 2013, you blessed me with some incredible people, young and old alike. 2014: may you find me following God as passionately as these young people, taking the turns, curves, ups, and downs in the road called life as a lesson in faithfulness. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Those small moments

November 11, in my opinion is far too early for the first snowfall, and the freezing temperatures that come with it.

Despite my personal opinions, the snow decided to come on November 11 this year, bringing with it the reminder that we choose daily how to love others. What?! Snow and loving others?! That makes no sense...but it totally does.

Spending the day with 26 first graders has its many perks--like a steady stream of funny quotes, spending the day playing, a new day every day, and often the most humbling, the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child.

At some point in the morning it began to rain, so we had indoor recess at lunch time. Right before dismissal, the obnoxious, permeating rain turned into an even colder precipitation, snow. My immediate inclination was irritation. We skipped recess, meaning the little humans had an even higher amount of energy (and a much louder noise level). The classroom felt chaotic. I wanted nothing more than to put on my coat, bundle up, and drive home in silence.  After pack up, I walked with my kids down the center stairs, which has a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline. All eight or so of those kids ran down the stairs, shrieking with joy, "it's snowing! It's snowing!" They lingered over the beautiful picture of snow covering the skyline. The pure joy and excitement of those faces, the expectation and hope captured in their faces was more than enough to make me feel like the day was worth it, though I had nothing to do with that uncontainable joy.

I'm proud to say that in that moment, I chose to live into the moment, celebrating with my kids the gift (yes, I said gift!) of snow, and all the excitement that comes with the changing of seasons. I'm proud to say I fought the urge to use reminding language to tell them of all they should be doing-- walking, instead of running, using inside voices instead of yelling, leaving school for the day instead of lingering, thereby extending my work day. It wouldn't have worked, had I tried, as they were so wrapped up in that snowfall and picturesque scene.

While I am not always proud of those decisions I make--I often find myself choosing irritation over rejoicing-- choosing to celebrate with those kids in that moment allowed me to see the world through the lens of a child. Pure, unbridled joy over the first snowfall, unconcerned with the frigid temperature or the fact that a car windshield will need to be scraped. Those faces and exclamations spoke of hopeful anticipation of a snow day the following morning, for hot chocolate and Christmas trees.

That small, first snowfall of the season set a good tone for the season I hate most of all (just the weather part!). It reminded me of the great privilege I have of showing those 26 little humans love every day, if I just lean into it, and am blessed in doing so. It challenged me to rethink those hardest moments and to consider how they might look if I didn't immediately fall backwards into the trap of annoyance. In these moments I choose who I want to be, how I want to live like Christ, if even with overly-excited first graders.

 How are you choosing to show love in the little moments--in those moments that most need an infusion of love?