Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hind Sight: Make a Plan B

Today is December 29 and as I write this blog, I am sitting at my friend's house in Calgary.
The last few weeks have been busy, with packing, moving out and saying good bye to friends in Edmonton.
I had a great Christmas with my sister and her in-laws, getting in hugs and cuddles with my chubby nephew.

Today is December 29 and as I write this blog, I am surrounded by happy children and wonderful friends, discussing New Year's Eve celebrations.
Calgary weather is much better than Edmonton, sitting just around freezing, but definitely not in the negative numbers.

Today is December 29 and as I write this blog, almost everything I own is packed in a friend's car.
Which, a week ago, would be fine- even according to my plans.

However, today is December 29 and I was supposed to be on a plane to Mombasa Kenya.
Given that I am in Calgary, this did not happen.


About three weeks ago I ruptured or tore (ruptured is the medical term) my calf muscle. I was playing soccer, but at the time I injured myself I was not running, I was walking and I simply shifted my weight. I felt a pop and within a few seconds I couldn't walk. Given that it was in the middle of a soccer game (the end of a soccer game) and the guys on the other team were pretty competitive I had to crawl off the field. I quickly realized I had positioned myself beside the goal- not a safe place to relax for inaccurate, but still very hard shots on goal.

At first, I (and my friends who told me to suck it up and stretch it out) thought I had pulled a leg muscle. I tried stretching it, walking on it. And the next day realized my leg was still just as sore, and now incredibly swollen.
So I hit up the doctor, who immediately knew the problem - I ripped my leg muscle.
Healing time? 2-3 weeks.
Until two weeks past and there was zero improvement, and still just as swollen.
Two other doctors and a new healing estimation: 4- 5 weeks, 6 weeks until I could run again.
Hike Mt Kilimanjaro? I think not.
Go to Kenya when I am still on crutches? Not advised.

I prayed about it and I decided to cancel my trip. Maybe I should re-phrase that appropriately: I prayed about it and reluctantly felt that God had allowed my leg to be injured and heal slowly so that I could not follow my own plans. God has a plan for my life, I need to make sure my plans align with his.

The good news is that my trip tickets may be refunded.
The bad news is I had already quit my job and moved out of my apartment.

How's that for introducing yourself at holiday parties: "Yes, I am currently homeless and unemployed. Oh, and crippled."

I never had a back-up plan. I just wanted to leave Edmonton, start a new life and jump start that life with a trip to Kenya, then transition to a new city and new friends.

Thankfully, I have wonderful friends and complete strangers who have opened their home up to me and take care of me while my leg heals up.

My mission for the next month is to maintain a positive attitude. I want to remain optimistic for my future and the new year.

And, find a job and a place to live.
You know, those necessities.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sometimes it seems to me that the New Testament presents a different character of God than I see in the Old Testament. The God of the New Testament is the Father of Jesus, he is merciful, kind-hearted, forgives sinners of their sins and offers a personal relationship to humans. The Old Testament God gets angry, carries out punishments and demands obedience to the law.

But I know that God is consistent, so the character of God hasn't changed from the BC years to the AD years. Recently I was reading about the life of David and was floored by something I never recall reading before.
Absalom was David's third born son, I think- please correct me if you know this to be wrong (2 Samuel 3). Amnon was David's first born son (and therefore, next in line for the throne). So Amnon falls in love with Absalom's sister (they are half-siblings, so yes, it is weird and, just, eww!). Amnon comes up with a plan, gets the sister alone and rapes her. Sadly, while her brothers come to her aid, she is still a scorned woman. In the same chapter, two years later, Absalom has not forgotten or forgiven Amnon for this disgrace to his sister- he comes up with a plan and has Amnon killed.
But, the family destruction doesn't stop here- while Absalom got revenge, he must flee his family and his country- even though he is a prince.
2 Samuel 13 ends with Absalom fleeing (vs 34) and these sad words: "And King David longed to go to Absalom".
David missed his son.
Absalom's choices had banished him from the kingdom, but David still loved his son and wanted to see him. However, he was guilty of murder, which, according to Jewish laws meant that he was fair game for 'justice' (aka: death penalty) if he returned to his own country.
The king's right-hand man notices how David feels, so he comes up with a plan. (Lots of scheming in the Old Testament). Read about it in 2 Samuel 14, basically a third party opens David's eyes that there has already been so much loss in his family- through death and disgrace, there should not be more loss through separation.

All of us must die eventually.
Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground,
which cannot be gathered up again.
But God does not just sweep life away;
instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.

And there, clear as day, yes, in the Old Testament is the character of God. A loving God, a God that restores, reconciles.
Lots of scheming? Yep, even God 'devises ways'- to take what is wrecked and broken and bring it back to him.
It took a little while, even after this (about 2 years) before David and Absalom were really reconciled- and when they were, this is what the Bible says "...and the king kissed Absalom." (2 Samuel 14:13). It ends the chapter, not the story (too bad the story with Absalom and King David doesn't have such a beautiful ending. But no matter what, David loved his son- even when he son really messed things up.)
And I imagine, this is probably a lot like what God does for us - both the New Testament and Old Testament God - He not only allows us to return, but calls us individually into his presence. And when we come before him, he greets us with a kiss.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hagar



As if her given name wasn't bad enough, she was a slave, forced to have intercourse with her presumably much older master, have his child- be told that the child was actually going to be a bastard child and not the blessed child, abused by her mistress, to the point where she ran away, and then was sent away into the desert- which meant she was being left for dead.
I both hate and love this story.

Over the past year I don't know how many times I have returned to Genesis 16- but sometimes it was every day for multiple days. I read it and cried. I read it and got angry. It's so unfair; Hagar didn't do anything wrong, she was just abused and oppressed, with no one to protect her and speak for her. It's sad, and also infuriating.

This is before the entire people of Israel were oppressed, this is the beginning of it all, before Isaac was even born. One person was being mistreated, just one. And in this story God talks from heaven, steps out into the desert and tells this slave woman that he can see her. He knows her pain, he has heard her cries. Just this one woman, not thousands of his chosen people, not a person from his covenant with Abraham, but a random slave woman with no claim to fame or even having professed to serve this God of her master.
God can see.
God can see even one person.


Genesis 16:8 "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?"

My favorite line. Again and again I would answer this question for myself.
Where have I come from? Geographically, Metaphorically, Familialy, Spiritually. It's a good question.
Where am I going? Is that where I should be going? Have I even considered where, or am I just living from day to day?
And I love that God calls Hagar first by her name. No wonder Hagar calls him the God Who Sees me, "El-roi".
I'm not crazy about God calling her by her title of the servant of Sarai, but then again, that was her title. And God directed her to go back to her mistress.
However, Hagar doesn't exactly answer the question, not directly. She has no real destination, she is just running away- from her mistress, from her situation. Just away. She doesn't say where she was from, except sort of that she came from her mistress. She makes her identity tied to Sarai, just as God does.

The next time we read of God speaking to Hagar (Genesis 21), she again is in the wilderness. However this time she is not pregnant; Ishmael is born and is a young boy. When God speaks to Hagar this time he again calls her by name, and only her name. He does not direct her back (she had been sent away instead of running away), but promises that He will make a great nation from her son.
This time when he speaks with Hagar, the conversation is different:


"Hagar, what is the matter? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants." Then God opened Hagar's eyes, and she saw a well full of water.


God only commands Hagar three things- the first time, He says "Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority." during this same conversation Hagar is instructed to name her child Ishmael which means "God hears", because God wanted to make it clear that he could hear Hagar's distress. The third command is the second time Hagar is in the desert, "Do not be afraid" and "Go to your son and comfort him."
It's similar to the words God spoke to Abraham and to Joshua "Do not be afraid".
And, just as God promised to make a great nation from Abraham, God makes a similar promise to Hagar. "...I will make a great nation from his descendants." God told Abraham the same for both Isaac and Ishmael- both would become great nations.

I usually immediately see the story of Hagar as an abused slave who just gets the short end of the stick all around. BUT... there is this big but:
The first time in the desert: God hears Hagar. God sees Hagar.
The second time in the desert: God hears Hagar's son and God makes Hagar see.
Yes, she was mistreated- but God knew. And that has provided me with such comfort- El-Roi. God Who Sees. Ishmael. God Who Hears.

Hagar's struggles are only part of the story- the more obvious part of the story. But when we come to the end, God is with Hagar- he literally opens her eyes. They were provided for by God in the desert- he showed Hagar where there was water. She went from desperate to rich because God blessed her and revealed his provision to her. Her posture towards God changed- no longer was she asking God to see her distress, but God was showing her what He was going to do for her. God shifted it from salvation and survival to hope and opportunity. I just love how God does that!

The story doesn't end in distress. God promises Hagar that a great nation will come from her son. That's HUGE- it is part of the promise God made to Abraham; it's a major blessing. Genesis 21 tells us that God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. Now, maybe growing up in the desert isn't my dream, but it meant that Hagar had a home, and almost surely that she was no longer anyone's servant. Ishmael developed a skill, married an Egyptian woman, had twelve sons (Genesis 25). Not only was their life good- but God made a great nation from Ishmael.

Just a plug for single mothers and empowerment of women in the Bible- the Bible doesn't mention that Abraham was part of Ishmael's life as he grew up, but it says that God was with Ishmael in the wilderness. This blessing was not passed on to a man, it was passed on to a woman and then continued through her son. Yay for women in the Bible!

For a while, all I could get to was that Hagar was in the wilderness, and even in the wilderness God could see her and hear her. That was really powerful.
But the full picture is important- God blessed Hagar, made a nation out of her family. What a story!
I love it a little more and hate it a little less.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fire in a Concentration Camp

I have been slowly moving through Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" and "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning." at work while the kids watch TV; for a few minutes before I sleep at night; when I relax at a coffee shop or soak in the tub. It took me nearly two weeks (okay, possibly even more) to finish the first of his books, but that could be blamed on reading two other books at the same time.
Interestingly, the two other books also focused on the Holocaust, one of which was set in Auschwitz.
Frankl was a psychiatrist and Jewish man who survived the atrocious Auschwitz concentration camp. Prior to his imprisonment, he had begun a manuscript about a new type of therapy he wanted to pursue, which emphasized a person overcoming problems by finding meaning and hope. This was ultimately tested as he had to survive torture and starvation, and he still believed that therapy should focus on attaining meaning from life- even meaning from suffering.
While I don't agree with everything he believed about this new therapy, his writing is incredibly inspiring. I wanted especially to share part of the Forward of "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning." :

To all appearances, religion is not dying,
and insofar as this is true, God is not dead either,
not even "after Auschwitz" to quote the title of a book.
For either belief in God is unconditional or it is not belief at all.
If it is unconditional it will stand and face the fact
that six million died in the Nazi holocaust;
if it is not unconditional it will fall away
 if only a single innocent child has to die-
to resort to an argument once advanced by Dostoevski.
There is no point in bargaining with God,
say, by arguing
'Up to six thousand or even one million victims of the holocaust
 I maintain my belief in Thee,
but from one million upward nothing can be done any longer,
and I am sorry but I must renounce my belief in Thee.'
The truth is that among those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz,
the number of those whose religious life was deepened -
in spite of, not because of, this experience -
by far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief.
To paraphrase what La Rochefoucault once remarked with regard to love,
one might say that just as the small fire is extinguished by the storm
while a large fire is enhanced by it -
 likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and a catastrophes,
whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them."
-- Viktor E. Frankl


Isn't that powerful?

And true!
Either God is God in the good times as well as the bad times or he isn't God at all. You cannot proclaim a faith in him only if he blesses you and your life is good; that is not faith.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Ideals


I am not sure how many readers I have.
Or how many readers I have left, considering the lengthy silences I let pass on this blog.
I assume it is mostly close friends and family- people who already know the information that I am about to share.

Biruk and I are separated, and have been for closing on a year.

I do not want to go into deep details, but I do want to state a few things. I want to say this because part of me feels that people are judging me for being in a 'failed marriage'. This is not actually founded in anything, because people have been incredibly kind and non-judgemental towards me in all of this. However- I still expect to be judged, so I feel as though I want to immediately defend myself. Also, for those who do know, maybe they would like a little more details.
Here is what happened:

I actually don't know exactly what happened, or why.

While I don't hold out hope for answers or a conversation for 'closure', perhaps one day I can ask him why. Right now, I don't think he even knows, maybe one day he will discover the reasons, or take responsibility for the reasons and share it with me.
Until then, I just have theories:

1. Parallel Universes. All the possibilities that could ever happen have been split- each possibility carried out in one realm, another realm existing with a different outcome--- so on and so on. I am in one incredibly freak possibility that could only happen under lottery-like statistics.
(please recognize that I am joking.)

2. Biruk struggled a lot after his assault, so I asked around with Police victim's services, local counsellors and other professionals who all advised similarly: he was presenting typical traumatic stress symptoms which perhaps would diminish on their own, or he would need to seek help. In any event- it was something based around Biruk, and him desiring to get help, or at least admit he needed help and I could not do it for him.
Then, a man was murdered right beside Biruk- which affected him, again, in somewhat similar ways.

And for a long time, that was my thought process- that Biruk was really hurt, struggling a great deal and just needed help. Even after we were separated, and even now I keep this thought, in part.
However, I hit a point where I had to acknowledge, and I needed dear friends to remind me of this: Biruk has been really hurt, and he does need help- but that does not excuse the way he has treated me.

I do believe that marriage has been designed to last a lifetime, and that the vows made are made before God and should be held up as a covenant, not merely a contract. Spouses promise for both good times and bad- knowing that bad will at some point come. I do not think that one act of unfaithfulness or one instance of abuse is an absolute write-off for the promises that have been made. We should have an immense amount of grace for our spouse.

It took a great deal of time, events and outside influences for me to realize the decision that I had to make: I could not change the situation, I could not force what was happening to stop- all I could do was to remove myself from the situation. So I did.

I still, right now, wish that I could help him- knowing that I cannot. It was the hardest thing that I have ever had to do, the most difficult choice I have ever made. Sometimes I felt selfish, as though I had chosen myself over my husband. But then I realize that I was put in a place where I had to make a decision about my own well-being and safety, or my spouse- and it was unfair that I had to choose at all.

I don't say this to be crass, but I mean it in the real sense of the word, in the ugly horror of it and awfulness: Biruk is fucked up, and the worst part is, he doesn't even know it. I think, sometimes that I have moved to a place where it doesn't really bother me that much any more, or that I know he made his own decisions; but then something happens, and suddenly I realize that I still want to help him, still want to intervene. And I cannot. And that is so devastating.

Sometimes I feel angry at him, for what he did and how he treated me and then I feel sorry for myself. And sometimes, I just feel really, really sorry for him.


In all of this I have learned that God never, ever leaves you. Really.
He provided me a safe place to stay when I moved out, and a wonderful job, in perfect timing. He surrounded me with supportive friends and people who arrived at just the right time. He led me to a great church with a supportive women's minister who met and prayed with me. And, when I feel that my future has been flipped upside down, all my dreams and hopes for my life messed up, he reminds me that nothing messes up his plan for me, and that he still is in control of my future. That has reassured me again and again.

I have learned that forgiveness is a commandment- I can either obey or disobey. If I want to accept Christ's grace into my life, I need to recognize that Christ offers grace to ALL sinners and does not judge their sins as worse than my own. I read John 6, and think of how all the characters, even the ones who are implied relate to the amazing forgiveness of Christ.
Forgiveness is just the beginning, it is the first step.
The next is reconciliation; the two parties meeting together. The victim and the offender being face to face in a criminal justice sense. Learning the pain each caused the other, listening to what was broken and attempting to come together, to destroy the conflict.
And, the third I believe is shown in the story of the Prodigal Son and is God's ideal for how we would repair broken relationships; Restoration. The 'lost son' came back, prepared to beg his father to allow him to be a servant and eat whatever the pigs ate- he was aiming for forgiveness and maybe a corrupted sense of reconciliation. His father restored him back to son-ship- an honored position, in a right relationship with his father.
The first step is a command, and something I can do immediately, on my part. The next two stages require the participation of the other person and cannot be accomplished by any of my efforts, alone.


I have learned that time is more valuable than any amount of money or possessions. I could argue and squabble and go through a battle of distributing assets- but that would cost me time. And time is not replaceable, once those hours in court, those months preparing whatever have passed I can never get them back. I would much rather focus my TIME on something beautiful and good- that I can look back on and smile at how I spent my life.


I have learned that one's character is not defined in big decisions, but in the small choices. It is the little things, staying true to one's values and morals in the small things that add up to where you go in life, the path that crosses in front of you. You don't suddenly end up in a situation where you are about to become a smuggler or drug dealer- many small decisions led you to that crossroad. Will you follow God everyday, with everyday basic decisions? Or will you let it slide because this one time, it doesn't really matter?

And I have, once again, learned that God makes all things new. Again and again.
And perhaps, he will make Biruk new someday, too. I hope so. Not in the way I used to hope – for my sake. Now I hope it for the sake of God's kingdom and for the sake of Biruk's life and future- I hope he is made new again.

Maybe one day, Biruk will get to really understand and know that I have forgiven him. Maybe one day we can have a conversation for reconciliation and I can learn what really happened, why things happened the way that they did. And maybe, we will be restored to one another as friends and siblings in the Kingdom of God. That sounds nice, maybe far-fetched, but all the same, nice.
Who knows, with these lottery-like odds of my parallel universes, there is a possibility to have a good conversation and leave as friends in Christ!



As for my future- I still am not entirely sure what is next- will I go back to the USA? Will I stay in Canada (after all, I am a permanent resident now), or somewhere else? Will I ever move to East Africa, as I dreamed? Will I adopt a child or foster kids in need?
Sometimes it thrills me that I have so many amazing options open in front of me!
And other times I get a little scared of all the possibilities- how can I ever pick where to go and what to do?

So, I am taking some time to pray, relax, get away so that I can start anew. I am going to Kenya for approximately 5 months- maybe it will be longer, who knows? I am going to volunteer with youth while there, doing much the same as my position in Canada. And of course, I will lie on the beach, looking out on the Indian Ocean, ride a camel and hopefully, summit Mount Kilimanjaro for my birthday.
And maybe, I will update my blog more regularly!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Undesirables and flying kicks



I have a drawer full of letters, some are 'thank you notes', others are birthday cards, but the majority are 'jail letters'. This recent letter was 7 pages long! 'Bob' and I have been writing back and forth for around a year now, over that time I have read such a change of his heart through his letters. This long letter showed even more questioning of himself, his faith and his life and challenged me and my thinking, as well.

"...jail is not the right place for me to say I'm ready to follow (God) 100% and promise to him that I won't sin tomorrow. Of course I believe Jesus is my saviour and I ask for forgiveness almost every night. But check this- where does that leave me when I know in my heart that I won't be able to practice forgiveness myself tomorrow if I get a roommate that's from another gang? or if I get a roommate that's in for sexual assault or is a child molester? I know that I'm gonna judge them and I'm gonna have to punch them out and stomp on their head. Seriously, I think about this 24/7. 

"Aside from those people I mentioned, I do show love to EVERYBODY I meet. The ONLY reason I snap on some people every now and then is because of the 'undesirables' I mentioned. Every week the guards put a couple on the unit. Some leave quietly and some are tough, so they gotta leave the hard way. I volunteer most of the time just for the sport of it, cause I like to put on a show for the unit. I like watching the video later in "warden's court". I always plead 'not guilty' so they show the video to try to convict me. I wouldn't beat up any innocent people. I got a dangerous flying kick that just keeps getting better.


It forces me to look into my own life and ask: Who are the people who I think deserve to be beat up? Do I have a list or undesirables? Who would I justify practising a 'flying kick' on?

When I am honest with myself, I have a list. People I think deserve what punishments they face, people who I think deserve to suffer because of their actions, and not in a righteous, criminal justice sort of way.
I have my own list of undesirables.

I'm not in jail, but maybe one day I will have to face a video, evidence incriminating me of my guilt. I will have to answer to why I thought that I was better than that individual, I will  have to explain how I justified judging them.

Forgiveness is hard. I know that.
But we are called to forgive.
Not to judge.


Matthew 7 : 1-2 
"Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 
For you will be treated as you treat others.
 The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged."

My immediate reaction is to scream, "Ah! I don't want that! Forgive! Forgive! Forgive!"

I acknowledge that this isn't probably the proper attitude; to forgive merely because I want to be forgiven. I should be loving, honestly desiring the best (from God) for others'. But sometimes, that just is not naturally flowing.
When I compare people against a standard I create, of course they will fall. Even if I compare myself to my own standards, I've failed. I'm not the standard, and I do not create the standard.

It's not okay to beat up someone because they committed a crime you think is 'too terrible'. That's YOUR own standard, not God's.
And it's not okay for me to consciously, but silently wait for a terrible event to happen to someone because of their actions against me. It's not okay. That's me judging them, using my own standard against them.

It's called an up-side down kingdom for a reason- be loving when the normal reaction is to hate, to forgive when you want to be judgemental.
I want not only to be part of that kingdom, but actively in it. And for that, I have to not judge.

This last question wasn't the end of his long letter, but perhaps the middle. The obvious answer is a jubilant 'YES!', but I think a quick 'yes' overlooks the intensity of the real question.
Think about it for a minute.  Think about it for you. And, if it's true for you, then who else is it true for?


"Is there a place in his kingdom for me, for real?"



***Thank you, Bob, for your motivating and heart-felt letter. You inspired me to be honest with myself, too.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Permanent

Scars
Tattoos
Bleach stains
Honey
"Black Box"
Styrofoams and plastics

The list could go on, but it would still be very short.
There are few things that are irreversable and permanent. In most cases, although something cannot be reversed, it can still be changed. Scars can be altered with plastic surgery, tattoos are even 'reversable' to an extent- or at least a new tattoo put over the unwanted one. Bleach stains, while they cannot be washed out, might become fashionable in a few years. Honey is the only known food that will never go bad, not even after hundreds of years.

One of the permanent things in my life are tattoos. I have three- a tree on my ankle, a sun on my back, and a quote on my arm. The quote is in Amheric, and states "I belong to God."
It is from Isaiah 44, where God tells his servant that he has called him by name, that he will be with him from generation to generation and his descendants will change their name to Israel and some will even tattoo on their arms, "the Lord's".
I wanted it in another language besides English, for the artistry of it. I wanted it to look beautiful, and I have a prejudice against English; I don't think it looks beautifully written.
Then I considered getting it done in Biruk's language, Amheric. It had significant meaning, and I was learning the language anyway, so it was fitting. I had Biruk write it out for me, and then his father, a former teacher and school administrator looked it over to ensure everything was gramatically correct and spelled the right way.

Over the past three years, alot of things have changed. My address changed three times. I changed countries, became an official immigrant. I got married. I opened a business. I graduated college, I started a carreer.
My titles continue to change or get additions: student, wife, daughter, friend, sister-in-law, intern, employee, immigrant, etc.
A while ago, I faced a very difficult decision. Some of the titles define who I am, dictate my entire life, my future. To do - or not do - this or that could change ME. Was I willing for that change? Did I want to put one of those titles, one of those interactions at stake?
For a while, based on those descriptions, I avoided making a decision. I rested in "this is who I am and I cannot change it" and believed it was the right thing to do. Just give it time. Just wait a little longer. I reminded myself of my title, encouraged myself to fill the expected role as best I could.

But then, one day, as I prayed, I looked down at my arm.
"I am God's."
Who I am and all my changing titles have to come out of this first title. Not one that I gave myself, but one that God gave to me. It was not about putting myself first, but about remembering that I am first God's and second all the other titles. The priority is God and a commitment to him, above every other relationship and ever other commitment.

Although my life continues to change, my tattoos don't move. They are permanent. Just like my first title, "God's."

Interaction

I started reading CS Lewis's "Miracles" somewhat casually and the other night when I closed the book and settled into bed, I was left considering the dialogue between humans and God- that God himself would want to say something to humans, that he would chose to interact with us.
I was sixteen the first time God was real to me, not just a good idea or mystical being. It was during a youth worship service, with various prayer stations set up. I was praying about service to God, about volunteering; and suddenly, it was as if a flashing neon sign had appeared in my mind: "Nursing Home."
Now, it's humorous to imagine those words lit up in my mind- but at the time, it was terrifying. I remember being afraid of the scent of the community nursing home. At the time I associated it with 'old people', but now I realize it must be a cleaning chemical that was used.
I brushed it off as ridiculous- a nursing home?
Right away, all the youth were called back to the center to finish with a song. I felt as if I had been saved from something- from a call to a nursing home.
The service ended. Wew! I probably just imagined it. A nursing home? Ha!
As everything drew to a close a final announcement was made: volunteers were needed to help with a church service to the local nursing home.
I had not imagined it. And suddenly I felt (while still very nervous) exhilarated; I had heard from God!

Now, it was not life-changing for me to serve at the nursing home. It was inspiring, I learned patience. But the huge part for me what that God himself would speak to ME. Even for something minor, something tiny. He communicates with humanity, his perspective can encompass the whole world with its massive problems and heroes; and still see our individual lives.

I remember I was sixteen years old when this happened, because I was also working my first job, as a waitress. I ususally worked throughout the week, including the night when the nursing home service was.
There was no deal between me and God, no promises made about work and the nursing home. However, after I began volunteering at the nursing home, I never again was scheduled to work another Wed (or was it Thur?) evening, so that there was never a conflict of attending the service or working. A small coincidence? Maybe. But it also reinforced God's hand in my life, including in my work schedule.

As I said, this did not change my life. I have never volunteered or served with the elderly since. Instead I went the other direction and work with youth or children. However, having God single me out, to call me, to speak to me directly moved me.
As I've grown up, God has spoken to me in other ways, often less clearly than a neon sign and a clearly arranged opportunity. I wish that he always used that method! But now I have to listen harder, read more and wait. However, still, he speaks.
And, even if I am nervous about what he says or don't like whatever he tells me, I am in awe that God himself would ever speak to me, call me to do anything or use me in part of his gigantic plan.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Forever and Today

In Canada, Easter Monday is a holiday. Nothing religious, just a reason for the banks and government offices to close, and most people get to sleep-in.
I'm working all day at one of the half-way houses, wishing I was outside in the chilly sunlight. It's a beautiful day.
Easter was yesterday, wonderful and full of food (including meat and chocolates) and friends and considering eternal life in Christ.

And today, I was reminded of life on earth from someone with a unique perspective.
Completing a life sentence for murder, and living under another life sentence of a chronic disease, she just received full parole. Soon, she will be moving out, and living her life with much more freedom. She described it as 'having got half her life back'. The other half, she soberly said, will forever be held by her disease, keeping her weak, on medications and treatments and controlling, limiting her abilities. However, I also considered if, she might never get her life fully back because of the life she took, of the crime she committed.
Yesterday was so much about eternity, and the promise of forever and the hope and joy that we have no matter what.
It was a nice contrast, a more complete view, to talk with this woman about our life now. The precious life on earth that we have- that we can do whatever we want with- for good or evil, for ourselves, for others, or for God. And those choices, the small ones and the big ones, will define our lives and shape our life.

She has been given back half her life now that she has full parole. She considered how much of her life- the decades she spent in prison, completing her rightful sentence and the years she has spent at this house, under watchful eyes, following her every move, stating rules and curfews. She still will have rules- rules she will have for the rest of her life, conditions she will always have to follow, and the ever-hanging chance that she could return to prison if those rules are not followed.
Our conversation really made me think about my life- the short time I have and the possibility in those years, the power in all the options and opportunities I have. She has been given such an opportunity with her full parole- what is she going to do with it?
I've always had those opportunities- what have I done with it?
(Not that I think I've wasted anytime. I don't think I have, not at all).

Its a nice, more full picture, going hand-in-hand with eternal life in Christ.

Monday, April 02, 2012

One of the Best

There was a family I stayed with in Uganda for two weeks. Not a family of two parents and three children, but rather of one grandmother, one uncle, two aunts (one of those aunts had her daughter with her), the other four children were nieces and nephews, their parents having been killed somewhere along the journey from Congo to Rwanda, or Rwanda to Uganda. And I believe they also journeyed to Tanzania sometime in the middle.



And so, I ate, slept and played with this wonderful family that took me into their home- me, a complete stranger who played soccer with their cousin/uncle in Canada.
They escorted me throughout the city on buses, sandwiched between me and the driver on motorcycle taxis and pedal bikes and translated Swahili and Luganda for me.
They insisted on driving me to the airport, although it would mean an hour taxi ride back.
And they sincerely adored me, I'm not sure why.
More than that, even six years later, they remember me. Including the four-year-old and six-year-old in the above photo.
The girl with the beads is Nunu, who knew she was adorable and inched her way into every photo I took. She was the baby of the family, cuddled, handle fed and carried more than she was permitted to walk.

Ahmedi, the little boy was very forward- approached me immediately and asked for whatever he wanted. Once, I brought them cookies and every since he would run up to me, asking for 'bisqueets?'. Another time, I bought a bag of popcorn, peanut butter and honey and created some peanut butter popcorn for them. Ahmedi cried when it was finished, scraping the pot with his spoon. He wanted more.

Their uncle, Shaffi told me that I was the first 'white person' he had ever talked to. He had certainly seen many in his travels, but he admitted he was shy and had never spoken to a white person before me. He had so many questions and was surprised to learn that the pigment of our skin did not make us so very different after all.

Zwadi was around seven or eight years old, her name means 'gift' in Swahili. She was young enough to help with practical things, like cooking (and she was much better at cutting uniform slices of carrots and potatoes in the air and letting them fall into the pot below [there were few surfaces and no cutting boards] than I) and young enough to play silly games, like on the evenings when there was no power, dancing to the spinning light of my flashlight.

Hamuza was ten, shy, but strong and brave. He loved sports and played soccer with the boys in the area. He was often the only child given the responsibility to take me somewhere, to buy eggs or something at the local store. He would quietly take my hand and walk beside me, feeling proud that this woman who everyone was turning to stare at was staying at his home.

Miriam was 12, and in her situation and current country, that meant she was almost an adult. She had the responsibilities to help take care of her younger siblings, as well as her grandmother, who, with her diabetes was beginning to lose her eyesight. Miriam, along with her aunt cooked dinners, but it was always Miriam who I saw starting the small charcoal fire over which dinner would be cooked. She has beautiful, glossy dark skin, and she would take a similarly dark piece of coal and break it into the size needed to fit into the small stove, check the direction of the wind and light a single match. And, Miriam has crazy hair. Thick, too thick for her head, so it cannot lay down, no matter how it is relaxed or brushed. It it just BIG hair.

Two months ago, I received an absurd phone call- "Ree!" (their uncle/cousin called me Ree, short for Marie, and sometimes it came out as 'Lee', which always makes me laugh).
"Who is this?"
"Ree!"
"Who is this?"
"This is Nunu."
"Nunu?" That's the name of one of Biruk's aunts, but this was the voice of a young girl.
"Hello?"
"I know you. You stayed with us. You are a white girl."

They had come to Canada at last! And within the first week they arrived, they got their cousin/uncle who I used to play soccer with to track me down and get my phone number.
They wanted me to come and visit, considering they were now in Canada. It didn't seem to bother them that there was a 14 hour drive between us, they expected me to come.

And so, three months later, I did.
Their cousin/uncle told them I would definitely be arriving on Friday and passed their address off to me.
I arrived just after lunch, buzzing their apartment.
Before I could even knock on the door I was bombarded with hugs, from all of the children.

Nunu, now ten is tall, with the build of a dancer. Her smile is exactly the same. And I cannot believe she remembers me. She is the only child in the family enrolled in regular school, based on her higher level of English comprehension. I was very impressed how well she speaks English. She is already making new friends and says she likes all of her subjects in school.

The other children attend an English language program, soon they will enroll in a regular school.

Ahmedi looks exactly the same as before, only taller, without the missing teeth. And, his personality is still the same, when I took them shopping he ran down the isle asking "could I get a remote control car?" (I could not find one in the store) "could I have a watch?" He has his first watch now. Still, unafraid to ask for what he wants. He loves soccer and playing sports, and spent a great deal of time playing games on the computer. I was amazed- he didn't own a computer or know how to type before coming to Canada three months ago, now he knows how to access the Internet and play an array of games. How quickly children learn! I gave him some T-shirts, and after modeling them and having his picture taken he immediately ran back into his room and returned the shirts to their hangers and lovingly hung it up in his closet. He is 12. I have never seen a 12 year old show such care for an item of clothing as this boy did with those T-shirts.

Zwadi also looks the same, except stretched like a piece of elastic. Her face, even her hair are identical to six years ago, only she is now my height! Thirteen years old and learning English, excited to practice it at every chance she can. She loves bright colors and asked to get sunglasses and eye liner. I wanted to say no to the eyeliner, but when I considered she was probably 13 or 14 years old, I reminded myself that I couldn't treat her as if she were the little girl I remember. She loves music and throughout my visit she pointed out what her favorite songs were and sang along to the popular songs, even though she didn't always know what they were singing.



Hamuza (pictured above, today), almost sadly, is all grown up. He has the same dimples, the same shyness, hiding from photos. But he is taller than me, shooting straight up with the build of a basketball player. He hugged with with genuine affection and after I left, immediately emailed me how much they all missed me. He does not look like a recent immigrant, as some of his siblings do. He dresses like a respectable sixteen year old boy, jeans that actually fit him and not over-sized shirts. I think his aging was the most evident; he's completely gone through puberty in the six years since I saw him last. He's not a little boy anymore, he wants to be a dentist when he is finished school. When I went shopping I miscounted and only bought three blankets (I had noticed that the beds were outfitted with sheets, but no blankets). I was so upset with myself that Hamuza would not have a blanket. When he saw the presents, he nearly tackled me with a hug and thanked me profusely and would not even hear that I had not bought a blanket for him.
I felt so bad about it that today, back in Edmonton I bought him a blanket and will send it through the mail.

Miriam is 18 (pictured above, today, and 6 years ago in the first photo). She is a little taller, and grown-up, but with the same glowing skin and ridiculously big hair. She loves me enough that I could demand that she select some hair accessories to tame her unruly hair without being offended. She is mature and very capable, which is good, as she is the adult of her home, now that the aunts and uncles are in separate housing. She is responsible to take care of her siblings and her now older, and more seriously ill grandmother. At 18, I thought I was so independent and mature because I was living on my own in another country, she is living, taking care of her three younger siblings and grandmother in another country, while learning another language and culture! She is an amazing young woman, I am so proud of her.

I hated that I only had one day to spend with them. They were shocked that I would not be spending the night. Zwadi stated "No, you are sleeping here." and Hamuza argued "No, you are staying with us for one month." They did not like that I would only be visiting for the day and then returning to Edmonton.

I went to see the grandmother, who is referred to as 'Madame', the Congolese-French coming out. She had a stroke about a year ago, leaving the left side of her body paralyzed, she walks with a cane, is nearly blind and needs alot of assistance from her grandchildren. But she is cheerful and friendly. When their cousin (not mentioned so far, but another crazy story about how I know him!) explained in one of their many languages who I was and that I really had come to visit- Madame fell back against her bed and clutched her chest, tears forming in her eyes. Translated, she said "You kept your promise. You kept your promise." Because I had promised them that I would see them when they finally immigrated to Canada.

The aunts took me back to their apartment (I think they live separately from the children because the children receive government funding for their housing which does not permit anyone else to live there) and demanded that I select earrings as my gifts from them. Then we talked about memories from when I stayed with them. These women remembered EVERYTHING I said or did while in Uganda, minute details, my every sentence, what types of things I liked or did not like.

The whole day was like a chaotic, good dream- tugged this way, smiled at that way, treated like some sort of royalty. And just genuinely loved in such a deep way that spanned six years of no communication. It is easy to see why I would love such a kind family who taught me so much about family and hospitality, who cared for me and watched out for me. But why do they love me? I don't understand it.

I went home in a whirwind, feeling like I was floating. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, reuniting with this family. I hope that I see them again, that they visit me in Edmonton, or that we have a picnic in a park somewhere, or I attend their graduations. But no day will ever come close to that day, where the children/teens mobbed me with hugs, the grandmother cried that I had kept my promise, and they made me a special dinner and each repeated how much they loved me. When I have really done nothing at all to deserve their love or affection- they just, simply, love me.

The best way I could think to describe it was to consider my favorite celebrity, and imagine spending the whole day with them. The celebrity being infatuated with ME. This was better, because these are real, good people with amazing, miraculous stories- refugees and orphans and strong adults who have risked their lives. And they love ME.
I went to sleep totally exhausted in the best way, thinking that I had just had one of the best days of my life and lived an amazing experience.

I'm still awed, and completely thankful for one of the best days of my entire life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Birthday Post

As tradition, I'm sharing 24 things from last year and 25 hopes for the year to come.
It's a big year- 1/4 a century.
I am so excited to be 25; its perfectly young enough and just old enough. I can't wait for this year to begin.
For my birthday list I don't allow myself to take something off of the list until I complete it- I don't want to cop out. The only exception is this: I had a goal to personalize the answering machine in our phone. Instead, we decided that we never use our home phone, and disconnected it. So I am letting myself out of that goal. But did personalize my voice mail on my cellphone!

24 things from last year:
1. * Got a work visa/began working in Canada
2. Received my permanent residency in Canada.
3. * Joined a soccer team and played indoor soccer for the first time. We didn't have a great record, but I had so much fun and made new friends.

4. * Gained employment in criminal justice. I work at half-way houses for people on parole and young offenders who are finishing their open custody sentence. I couldn't have asked for a better job, and I couldn't decide if I wanted to work with adults or youth- God allowed me to work for both! I love my job so much.

5. I also work part-time with children and youth as a youth worker. It is the most fun job, sometimes I feel guilty about collecting a pay check because I have so much fun.

6. I began studying Amharic. I wanted to speak it fluently, and this is the first step.

7. Continued volunteering at the women's prison. Every week I do crafts with women in the maximum security unit. Some days its a little scattered, learning that no stickers are allowed and what to do about glue, but I really enjoy it and so do the women.

8. Surprised even myself by getting a pet cat. He's orange, old, with arthritis (the whole reason I agreed to adopt him) and has the oddest purr- sort of squeaky. I like him.

9. Visited Wyoming, a place I never imagined I would ever go. It was beautiful, really beautiful with green hills, orange and red canyons and white mountains.

10. Spent the night 'camping' off the side of the highway in the desert in Nevada. It was beautiful and serene.

11. * Had a wedding anniversary with my husband.
12. * Got another tattoo.


13. Became a certified lifeguard. I don't work as a lifeguard, but I am trained in it. Useful skill that might come in handy one day!

14. Touched a sting ray. It was so soft! That would be a pretty cool pet to have.

15. * Went to California/San Francisco. And it was awesome!!!

16. Finally found a church that I really, really like! Every Saturday evening I actually look forward to church, enjoy the fellowship and feel motivated and challenged. It's home.

17. * I did submit a story for publishing. It wasn't accepted- yet. But that's okay, I will keep trying.

18. Got a car. It's fancier than my style, and I feel a little out of place in it. But it works just fine and is good on gas, so I won't trade it for something 'less luxurious'.

19. Upgraded to a blackberry. I used to have the cheapest phone possible- free. And it looked like it. After two years, I decided I should get a REAL phone, and I really like it.

20. Touched a sea lion (last year I put that I wanted to touch a dolphin- I had no idea I would get to touch a wild California sea lion who would immediately roar at me and snap his teeth at my fingers!)
21. Joined a book club. It's with some girls at work and sounds much nerdier than it really is. I read books I never would have picked up, and some I would have stopped reading halfway through. I've learned a lot already, which is really helpful if I want to write a book in the future.

22. * Went white water rafting! It was really fun, but not as extreme as I wanted, because there were small children in the boat. I want to go again on 4 and 5 rapids.

23. Received a professional manicure. I'd never done that before, but took my sister-in-law for a girl's day out and we got our nails done. It was nice, but I can't keep nail polish looking nice for long.

24. Assisted leading groups of teens and young'uns on adventure trips. It's not quite 'leading', but I learned so much, and realized how well prepared I actually am for the challenge, it was a major confidence booster. I also learned that I really enjoy writing reports. I guess social work is a perfect field for me.

25 things for the future

1. Get regular massages ++

2. Surf + (or attempt to surf)

3. Meet my new niece + (I know, it's terrible that I haven't met her yet)

4. Meet my new brother-in-law + (I know, it's terrible that I haven't met him yet)

5. Meet my god-daughter (I should get to see her this week!!!)

6. Go sky diving! jump out of an airplane and speed towards the earth? YES! But only tandem with a certified instructor to pull the parachute for me.

7. Visit Jasper National park: go hiking and camping.

8. Move from Canada ++

9. Speak Amharic fluently ++

10.   Lead a program for groups of teens +

11. Touch a dolphin ++

12. Learn how to make yogurt ++

13. Go to Spain ++

14. Be more conversant in Spanish ++

15. Go hiking in Banff ++

16. Drive a standard/stick-shift vehicle ++ (I started to learn, but it just made me too nervous)

17. Return to Phi Phi Island ++
18. Have a wedding anniversary with my husband every year ++ (So, I did accomplish this, but it's an anniversary, so by the definition, it will be on this list every year)

19. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
20. See the Grand Canyon, and not just from some fenced-off viewing area, but get down in there and hike parts of it, stand in the canyons and look up.

21. Go to New Zealand.

22. See the northern lights. When I was younger, I dreamed of visiting Alaska some day because I thought the Northern Lights were only visible in Alaska and I really wanted to see them. Then I moved to Canada- but have always lived in a city and when I have gone camping, I don't remember seeing them. I feel like I just barely miss that opportunity all the time. When the weather man predicts that they will be visible, I need to drive to the edge of the city and look up!

23. Get laser eye surgery. I've wanted this for a while- no more glasses, no more contacts.

24. Try zumba. The girls on my soccer team go regularly, but I've been too busy to join them. Looks like so much fun.

25. Be happy!


* denotes on my list from last year that I completed
+ denotes on my list from last year that I still haven't completed
++ denotes on list for two years running


I think I took this list a little too seriously this year.

I looked through the repeating items, wondering if I should remove some of them, but then I decided against it. Except in the case of the voice mail, I'm keeping repeating items on there.

I was really inspired when I looked through this list- when I think about my life there are usually major events that jump out and I skim over the smaller adventures in life- I actually easily forget about them. This once-a-year list helps me commemorate how much I've accomplished in a year. And every year, it's alot. My life is wonderful, and sometimes so much happens that I don't even remember it all unless I sit down and consider it.

And then I think about my future. I purposely didn't want to put vague goals like "do ___ more." I wanted practical, concrete things. Well, sky diving is not practical. So I guess realistic is a better word. And there will be repeats, guaranteed, something as simple as 'learn how to make yogurt' that I could accomplish tomorrow if I printed a recipe, to something as difficult as becoming fluent in another language. It's okay to not accomplish it next year, I have time.
So here's to me, and how far I've come in a year, and in 25 years!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Without Booze or Animal Flesh

Lent seems to be popular this year.
All around I see people talking about what they are fasting from, or adding to their lives this year. I went to mass last week and noted the increase of attendance because of the time of year. Even McDonald's is getting on board with their McFish bites. It seems that everyone is partaking in Lent in some way.
And, everyone has an opinion about the right way to do Lent. Is there a 'right' way? Well, yes. God describes the kind of fast that he accepts as one that:
-is not oppressive
-actually works for justice and equality and mercy
-is humble
-acknowledges one's own (or the community, or the nation's) sins and is repentant

But other than that, I don't really feel like I need to judge someone giving up cable verses another going on a liquid diet, that's between them and God.
I think one of the beautiful things about Lent is that is it a community and individual discipline. Everyone has their own, unique thing that they fast from for their own, individual reasons, and it challenges their faith and their relationship with God. But, it is something that people participate in as a community, and, like when attending mass, I remember that this is a group of people, all different, with a common goal and support for one another.

I didn't participate in Lent last year, I think I remembered half-way through. I seem to always miss Ash Wednesday.




I'm abstaining from alcohol. Not that I've ever been much of a heavy drinker. A little wine with friends, maybe a mixed drink at a party or a celebratory night-out.
But, as I looked into fasting in the Bible, it was always a fast from alcohol.
I actually don't know why. I speculate that is has something to do with fasting resembling mourning and alcohol being a drink for celebrations, but I have no factual evidence for that.
I have put little thought or energy into fasting from alcohol- it's hardly fair to include it at all.



I'm abstaining from meat. That's been more of a challenge. Some mornings I wake up and I swear I smell bacon sizzling (it's not really). I thought about it, how the people of the Bible fasted from essential things, putting on sack cloth and ashes on their heads. What would they think about giving up Facebook or texting for 40 days. Would they laugh at us? But sometimes it seems to minor to give up meat for Lent, but then again, the purpose of Lent is not to be hard just for the sake of being difficult.
I went to visit one of my friends who just had a baby. Nine days old, already smiling. She let me hold him, and her father, who was graciously cooking dinner offered me some sweet potatoes and some 'half browned's. I said 'yes', while only looking at the baby.
I was handed some mashed sweet potatoes and small, brown, round things. Again, looking at the baby, I started to eat.
I took a bite and mentioned that there were a lot of potatoes in the meal; grilled potatoes and mushrooms, sweet potatoes and hash browns. And then I looked down at the item in my hand.
It was not a hash brown.
It was a half-browned, now half-eaten chicken nugget.
Ooopps!
But I think God will overlook it. I hope so.



I'm abstaining from desserts. I didn't really think this through when I decided this, considering my birthday is at the end of this month and this means no birthday cake! uh-oh! This one, I'm embarrassed to say, has been the biggest struggle. I love sweets. And I find myself justifying certain things: blueberry muffins are a breakfast food, right? and Fruit Loops are sweet, but again, a breakfast food. I also gave up coffee, because lattes are a big indulgence for me, and on my overnight shifts I really miss it.
I went out for tea with a friend the other day (well, she had coffee and I had tea) and I mentioned that I had given up sweets. She exclaimed, 'oh! That means you can't even have sugar in your tea!' and then looked over, as I dumped a sugar packet in my tea.
I supposed I justify what I believe to be 'A sweet' verses something that just tastes sweet. I wonder how often I do this in life, with justifying my actions. I might have a hard and fast line that a state, but bend it at my will to get what I want. No chocolate cupcakes, but blueberry muffins are okay?
Its made me look at my heart, motives and actions in a new way.

I will admit, when I see the list, I feel pretty petty. I gave up coffee, alcohol, meat, chocolate, desserts, coffee and sun tanning for Lent. Just things for my stomach or my skin- am I really that shallow. No, I'm really not.
But, because these are things I used to consume on a daily basis, or do on a weekly basis, I do readily notice the change in my life.
And when I do get a craving for one of the things I gave up, I think about something that is so much more important than those shallow items, and then I say a prayer for one of those things. And I find myself praying more and more throughout the day, and lifting up more important things and focusing on people I love and situations I want God to move in.

So, while on the outside, it's just booze and animal flesh, on the inside, its small things that make to think about more important things, and help me take more intentional steps in my faith.

Monday, March 05, 2012

I blame her.

Her, is my sister.
I have been trying to post a blog about Lent for the past week and a half. I wrote it during a night shift at work, with perfect images to go along with it- but then the images screwed up the post and wouldn't let it load properly, so I had to start again. In the mean time, she showed something about a Bonsai tree which reminded me of a Banyan tree.
And then the thought of a Banyan tree took me back 7 years in time.

To Koh Phi Phi (pee-pee) Don, Thailand. Situated in the Andaman Sea, one of the reportedly (and I would agree!) most beautiful places on planet Earth. It took me to one of the remaining buildings that had not been destroyed by the 2005 Tsunami that swept over the entire island- a wave that carried fishing boats and people from one side of the sea, over the dog-bone-shaped island and placed them in the water on the other side. It took me to the Banyan trees that were beautifully decorated with ribbons and garlands of flowers- memorials, and presumably religious altars. Some respect the trees because they were rooted firmly enough that the waves did not shake them- and therefore, those who could hold on tight enough to the trees were also saved.



It reminded me of standing knee-deep in the ocean, lifting a door, a chair, random household items out of the heavy wet sand.
It took me back to playing soccer with Thai men, some in their 60's who were still faster, more agile than I.
To watching fire-dancing at midnight.
To sitting around the pool at night, singing praises.

I've had many amazing life experiences that changed me, inspired me, challenged me. While they are in my memory, I don't actively think about how they influenced my life. And then, like today, I will get a reminder and it will stick with me the whole day, maybe the whole week.
This brought up to me two memories:

I worked with the Banyan Tree Kids Club (not affiliated with the club of the same name that is run out of a hotel in Phuket) run under Help International Phi Phi (Hi Phi Phi). Most adults were busy working to repair their homes or businesses that were destroyed by the tsunami. What was not a construction site was rubble. The school had been destroyed by the tsunami and the government had not, even after 4 months, done anything to attempt to repair it. There was no 'safe' place for children to play.
Many children were living with relatives, several families shared one house. Brother runners in the north took advantage of this, coming to devastated communities in the south and kidnap children, children who had no parents, and who could be gone for up to a day without being missed.

Her is Dih.
I remember holding a little girl named Dih on my lap, sitting on a swing strapped to a Banyan tree, watching the ocean. Her name means 'good' in Thai, and she always wore pink, and smiled sweetly. She was older than she looked, and so thin. Suddenly she jumped off my lap and ran into the ocean, splashing and laughing.
I followed her and picked her up just as the small waves capped. She loved the game.
And I wondered, how, this little girl, who was being cared for by her aunt because her mother (and maybe father, too) had died because of the water could so readily rush back into it? How could she not be afraid of the water? Fishermen had feared the water after what had happened. Many adults who had witnessed what happened refused to go near the ocean. And here, this little girl was playing in it, totally unafraid. Not angry at the waves, what it had done to her, her family, her future.
We can learn so much from children, resiliency, for one.
We learn to always run back into the ocean.

Her is Jackie.
Another memory that was sparked was sitting under the shade of trees- maybe Banyan trees, maybe palm trees. I was sitting beside a woman I worked with at the kid's club. All of the women I worked with were amazing- the leader was a woman who had started out doing art therapy with homeless children in New York City, another was a business woman from London who was using her month-long vacation to help, and this woman, Jackie, had worked with children and was studying to be a social worker. The last of the children had just been picked up by their parents and guardians and the doors of the kid's club locked.
We walked the 50 steps from the building to the beach and sat under the shade, relaxing after playing soccer in 110 degree weather, chasing small children this way and that, and water-gun fights that resulted in being soaked in water and sweat.
I don't remember exactly what we were talking about, but Jackie looked over at me and said, "We are amazing people."

I remember I laughed, awkwardly. It seemed egotistical to me to call myself amazing.
She insisted, "Sometimes you have to tell yourself that you are an amazing person."
And, I am. I'm not being vain.
I am proud of myself, I have tried to use my life, my years, my days, my education and my skills as best as I can. I've been blessed to do amazing things and to experience great things. I am proud of who I have helped, what I have done and what I have inspired to do so far. I know I'm not perfect, and I know I have a lot to learn, things to change, mistakes to make up for.
But, still, I am amazing.