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.
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.