The Gift

He put you here.

You breathed in the sharpness of the air.  Tasted it on your tongue.  Here was purity.  Here was reinvigoration.

You stretched your fingers and kicked up your feet.  The intricacies, the tiny details of your own flesh made you stop in wonderment.  Here was craftmanship.  Here was care.

You felt the sunshine on your skin.  Its warmth found its way through your pores and into your heart.  Here was light.  Here was peace.

You felt the ground beneath your feet.  The grass tickled your toes and made you dance.  Here was steadiness.  Here was nourishment.

You slid your hand over the rough bark of a tree with limbs stretched to the sky.  You marvelled at the grasp of its roots and relished in its shade.  Here was comfort.  Here was opportunity.

You laid your hand upon another living being.  You felt its life breath create a steady ryhthm beneath its hide.  Here was simplicity.  Here was creation.

You looked up at the sky, open-mouthed.  Whether it was freckled with stars, clear and blue, floating with clouds or dripping wet, you looked upon it in awe.  Here was vastness.  Here was magnificence.

You looked upon your fellow man.  The ugliness of his scars made you recoil in terror – but a smile, a kind word and outstretched hands brought you back.  Here was brokeness.  Here was beauty.  Here was purpose.

You were meant to be here,

standing in the sunlight,

gazing at the sky,

with tear-filled eyes,

with a song in your heart,

and a smile on your lips.

He put you here,

and He did it out of Love.

Elizabeth is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, she does!

So, there are a few things that have happened over the past few weeks that are worthy of a mention on the old blog.  Unfortunately, they don’t really meld together very well, so I’ll have to revert to the old listing method.  However, because I think that lists are kind of a blah, lazy way of blogging, I’m going to make my list more interesting by making it Schoolhouse Rock themed!  Yeah!

1.  When you’re in the dark and you want to see, You need uh….Electricity, Electricity.

I traversed to the school at the beginning of last week only to discover as I walked in the door that things seemed rather, um, dark.  The electricity was out.  I asked them why (they had had a school delay before because of losing electricity) and they said they didn’t know, but they thought that they were going to be able to get it back up soon, so they weren’t sending the kids home.

So, I walked down the dim hallway to the window-lit classroom where the kids were wearing their coats (no heat) and trying to hold it in (everything in the bathroom is automatic – flush, faucet, soap – so they didn’t want the kids to use the bathroom unless it was an emergency).  It was an interesting morning.  There were a lot of hallway discussions between teachers and principal.  There were a lot of false hopes when lights flickered briefly on:

Teachers:  “Yay! The electriciy is on!  No!  It went out again!”

Kids:  “Noooo!  The electricity is on!  Yay!  It went out again!  Maybe we’ll get to go home!”

There was an early lunch brought in from another school because they couldn’t make anything in the cafeteria without electricity, and finally, the inevitable, some calls home to let the parents know that they were closing school early.

2. Though Geraldine played hard to get, uh-huh-huh, Geraldo knew he’d woo her ye-het.

There is a Men’s Group at the community center where I work.  They get together once a month to make food, eat food, and catch up on the latest man gossip.  For this month, they put together a Valentine’s Dinner for their wives, and, as my ringleader Mike is in charge of Men’s Group, I was enlisted to help.  So I decorated – Hearts!  You need to cut out more hearts! – and I helped in the kitchen – Food!  Give us more food!.  No, I didn’t cook anything.  One of the Men’s Group participants (and a familiar face around the community center) who goes by the nickname Hot Shot, did most of the cooking.  Julianna (Mike’s wife and one of my fellow McCreary volunteers) and I just dished out the food.  Tricia (new McCreary volunteer) and “Chris” (a pretty cool kid who goes to SPARK) were the waiters.  Mike was the maitre d.  It went really well.  I think the couples who came really enjoyed it and it was fun.

3. We hiked along without care.  Then we ran into a bear.

To help cure my I-need-more-land-on-which-to-roam I-need-to-be-outside-more-often homesickness, I made my way down to Cumberland Falls last weekend.  I wore my Michigan sweatshirt so that I would blend in beautifully with all of the tourists and I wandered wherever the spirit led me.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  I could walk around without a coat (in February!) and the weather was just perfect for hiking.  There are a lot of good hiking trails there and I explored a few and walked along the river as well.  It was a perfect trip!

(And no, I didn’t meet a bear.  But you could imagine that I met a bear…because that would be a much more exciting blog post.)

4. If you could skate, you would be great, if you could make a figure eight.

Speaking of walking around without a coat in February, the weather this past week was the weirdest that I’ve seen yet.  It snowed on Sunday.  It was a pretty warm, wet snow, but it was snow.  It stuck to all the trees and it was lovely.  It was the first real snow that I’ve seen the whole winter.  I loved it.  So I went out and built a snowman.  And I christened him Little David after my fellow McCreary volunteer because really, he looked just like David.  David is very round, with really skinny arms, and no legs.  (Or something like that.)  David.  Snowman.  David.  Snowman.  Who can tell the difference? As a result of this snow, I also had two snow days.

Fast forward to Thursday.  It feels like spring.  The birds are singing outside my window.  I’m suffering seasonal confusion.  It’s 70 degrees outside.

Um, I’m sorry, but what in the world kind of weather is this?

5. I put a dime in the drugstore record machine, Oldies Goldies started playing if you know what I mean.

Thursday was also Family Fun Night, which happened to be karaoke night.  There wasn’t a huge turnout.  I guess people are reluctant to participate in a family fun night that entails them standing up in the front of the Eagle Community Center cafegymatorium and singing at the top of their lungs.  Oh, well.  It was fun to watch the people who did want to participate.  There was one family in particular (a family of one of the people who work at the community center) that really got into it.  They sang several songs and even danced along.  They were awesome.

Well, that finishes my list.  For now.  In a piece of sad news, I have not seen the cat that has been wandering around here lately.  This makes me sad, because I like cats – but people around here seem to like dogs.  So all I ever see are dogs.  However if I ever do see that cat I know what I’m going to say to him:  “Hello cat, you look good.”

P.S.  Go ahead.  Do it.  You know you want to click on those links and listen to some educational tunes!

Land That I Love

People are like plants.  They both grow roots.

Some might say that people don’t grow roots.  That they are free from any appendages that attach them to the soil that they were grown in.  But I would say that they’re wrong.

People have roots.  They may not be visible.  But there are tiny tendrils that spread from our feet and connect us to the land where we were raised.

People are like plants.  They’re all different.  Their roots are different.

Some roots run deep.  It takes a lot of work to pull them up – and sometimes, even when you’ve pulled up the body of the plant, you find that it grows back again in the same place because you didn’t pull up all of the roots.  They are only happy on their home turf.  Transplant them and they wilt…and sometimes die.  Their loyalty to the soil that has sustained them for so long and their hunger for familiar rays of sunlight puts a longing in their hearts.

Some roots are shallow.  They spread out towards the top of the soil.  They are easily removed and easily transplanted to another piece of land.  They rejoice in a new piece of soil, a new patch of sunlight, because it’s something new.

But I think…

My roots are not the shallow kind.  My roots run deep.

I thought a lot about the land that I love this past week.  And the land that I love is not the land that I currently stand on.

Land that I love

You fed my roots.  You unfurled my leaves and pointed my petals up to the sunlight.  You allowed me to thrive and pointed me in the right direction.

Land that I love…

I roamed your fields and let the wind blow me whither it would.  I rolled your soil through my fingers and felt how good it was.

Land that I love…

I watched life spring from your hills.  I rolled in your grass, I picked your wildflowers, I rejoiced in the shade of your trees, I slid down your snow covered silence.

Land that I love…

My father coaxed our livelihood from you.  I saw you feed our cows, I saw you covered in fields of corn, of rye, of bales of hay.  And I thanked you for it.

Land that I love…

Perhaps it is wrong to love you so much.  But you’ve crept up through my roots and into my bloodstream.  You’re a part of the fiber of my being.  And I’m missing you now.

Land on which I stand…

It’s not your fault that you can’t make me love you.  But then, I’ve felt from the start that you don’t want me to.

Land on which I stand…

You loom over me and block out my sunlight with your shadows.  You make me work hard to find your secrets.

Land on which I stand…

You don’t love the tractor or the plow.  You love the rocks and the trees.  You cannot provide me with sustenance.

Land on which I stand…

You have your beauty and you share it with me sometimes.  Some deep roots have worked their way into your crevices.  But those roots are not mine.

I’m missing you, quiet Michigan farm.

Yay! It’s almost Lent!

The Lenten season is approaching.  And this is good.  Because I…like…Lent!

I love the challenge of giving something up or doing something that I don’t usually do, I love Stations of the Cross, I love the challenge of fasting, I love Holy Week, I just love Lent in general!

Yes, Lent is serious.  It’s about penitence.  It’s about self-denial.  It’s about giving alms.  It’s about thinking about our sins and the sacrifice that Christ made to save us from them.

Knowing this, perhaps it isn’t proper that I enjoy it.  But I have to say:  it’s way better than boring old Ordinary Time.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to give up/do for Lent yet.  There are just so many options…

Last year I went overboard.  I kept thinking of things that I could give up or do…and I decided to do them all.  This, of course, resulted in some of them not being done very well.  I don’t even remember everything that I was going to do.  But I do remember two things.

One:  I was going to try to be more thankful by spending some time every morning in thoughtful, thankful, prayerful meditation.  Didn’t do so well on that one.  Kept forgetting about it.  Sigh.

Two:  I gave up Sunkist (orange soda pop).  Now, I have a confession to make about Sunkist.   And this confession is…alas!…I think I’m addicted to it.  (On a sidenote, I love the word Alas!..and so should you). It’s not a problem where I’m constantly going out and buying it and sucking down ten cans a day or anything (I’m way too  much of a cheapskate to do that…and I’m a volunteer…so I’m not making any money for such things).  No, I’m just addicted to it whenever it’s around…i.e. when I’m at home.  If I know that there’s some Sunkist in the fridge, I’ll think about it.  A lot.

The following is a discussion between me and myself:

Me:  Hey, there’s some Sunkist in the fridge.

Myself:  Yeah?  So what?

Me:  We could have some.

Myself:  Why?  I’m not thirsty right now.

Me:  But it tastes really good.

Myself:  Yeah, but I really don’t need a pop right now.

Me:  But it tastes really good.  You can have a pop instead of a cookie.  Like, for a snack.

Myself:  Well…it does taste really good…okay.

END OF CONVERSATION.

So, as you can see, I clearly have an addiction.  That is why I gave Sunkist up for Lent last year.  And I did succeed.  But I kept thinking about those cans of Sunkist during the whole Lenten season.  Do you think that there’s a Sunkist Anonymous out there?  Because maybe I should join.

A pastor from one of my local churches at home has a very funny story about what his Dad gave up for Lent one year.  His Dad used to buy a pint of ice cream to have everyday after work.  For Lent, he gave up his pint of ice cream.  But he would still buy the pint of ice cream.  He would just melt the ice cream and drink it.  In which case, he did not consider it to be ice cream anymore because it was now a liquid.

I’ve never cheated to that extent.  But I have picked up some bad habits from my Lenten promises.  One Lent I gave up snacks in between meals.  And then I realized:  “Wait, if I give up snacks then I’ll never be able to have chips and cookies!  Those are usually eaten for a snack!  And I love them!”  So, I started including chips and cookies in all of my meals, including breakfast.  This started a bad habit.  It is now not an unusual thing for me to eat chips or a cookie after eating my breakfast of eggs or cereal or toast or hash browns.  (However, I must say, my Dad eats cookies with his breakfast all the time…so my bad habit might also be partially HIS fault.  In fact, I would like to scratch any personal responsibility I may have for this bad habit.  It’s all Dad’s fault!  Not mine.  Never mine.)

I’ve also picked up some good habits from my Lenten promises.  One year I decided that I was going to read the Bible every morning and night and pray more regularly.  And I have maintained that habit for the most part.

But anyway, we’re getting off track here.  The real question is, what am I going to do for Lent THIS year?  Hmmmmmmm….

I’ll have to think about it some more.

Letting Go

Hallelujah, I’m caving in

Hallelujah, I’m in love again

Hallelujah, I’m a wretched man

Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance

Over the past few months, my current musical obsession has been with the band Switchfoot.  I liked them before, but I had never actually downloaded any of their music.  I just listened to them on youtube.  Then I went to one of their concerts over the summer.  And then their album Vice Verses came out.  And I loved it.  So I listened to it repeatedly.  But, after awhile, you start to get hungry for some new material.  So I downloaded Hello Hurricane (which is technically old material, but I had only listened to some of the songs on the album so it was new for me!).  And I loved it too.  (I’m actually starting to think that I may need to download every single Switchfoot album out there because there are songs that I like on several albums that I do not have…and I need to feed my obsession.)

Switchfoot is not the typical music that I was raised on.  It is not the music that I typically listen to on the radio.  I’m kind of a country music girl.  But, while I love country music because it speaks to my roots, I think I love Switchfoot’s music because it speaks to my core.  Their songs are made up of verses that really make you think about life.  And their songs capture human feelings and struggles so well.  And, while they do not make overtly “Christian” music, you can feel that underlying current of faith within their songs.

The above verses are from the song “Always” on their Hello Hurricane album.  And I love these verses because they reflect the place that (I’m happy to say) I’m starting to reach in my life.  To take it apart piece by piece:

Hallelujah, I’m caving in

I’ve been struggling for a while now with accepting that God’s will for me may not be the same as my will for me.  I’ve had a really hard time in prayer over the past couple of years saying the words “Your will be done”.  For a while, I stopped believing that God had good plans for my future.  I almost thought (although I know it’s silly) that because I had been blessed with so many good things as a child, that I was in for something bad.  I didn’t feel like my life was going anywhere.  There’s a lot of uncertainties at this stage of life, and I don’t like uncertainties.  I’m a very routine person.  I do things a certian way.  I like to plan things out.  I like to be in control of my situation.  And it was scary to think that I really didn’t have any control.

But now, I’m caving in! It’s okay that I’m not in control.  In fact, I don’t want to be in control.  God’s plans may not be the same as mine, but I know that my life is in better hands with Him that it would be with me.  He’s never let me down before, so why should I doubt?  And even though I have no idea what’s next for me once I leave CAP and go back home, I know that whatever happens, it’s going to be okay.  Because God is in control.

Hallelujah, I’m in love again

Awhile ago, I lost faith in a lot of things.  I lost faith in humanity, I lost faith in myself, and (as was displayed above) I even lost a little bit of my faith in God.  I started to see life as a fearful, meaningless thing that I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of.  But, I’m happy to say, I’m starting to get my faith back.  And I’m starting to fall in love again.  In love with life, in love with God, in love with humanity.  The world is a beautiful place and I’m happy to be a part of it.  People are troubled creatures, but the good outweighs the evil.  And God is good!  He’s given me so many blessings in my life and I haven’t been thankful enough for them.

Hallelujah, I’m a wretched man

Well, I’m not Jon Foreman, so I’m not a wretched “man.”  But I am a wretched human.  And I’m okay with admitting that now.  When I took a year off from college, I told people that it was because I was burnt out – and that was true.  But the biggest reason was that I was depressed.  I didn’t feel like I could teach kids when I was feeling so lousy about myself and about life.  I spent a lot of time hating myself and picking at my perceived imperfections.  I tucked myself away from the world because I didn’t want anyone to know how miserable I was.

I’ve found that depression is a really hard thing to get over.  I still have bad days once in a while, but I feel sooo much better now. I’m a perfectionist.  I want to be practically perfect.  But I’m not.  And I’ve finally come to the realization that that’s okay.  Nobody is perfect.  And I don’t have to be either.

Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance

After I emerged from my depression, I was afraid.  I was afraid because I felt like it had changed me for the worse.  I felt like I didn’t know how to function properly in the real world because I had withdrawn myself so much.  I felt like my emotions had become numb in response to the sadness, and that I was almost like a little robot around people.  I felt like I had cut myself off, and it bothered me because I knew that it was wrong and it wasn’t the way that I wanted to be.

Maybe some of that isn’t true.  And maybe some of it is.  But every breath is a second chance.  There are so many good things that I can do in my life and I know that, no matter what, there are people who love me who are backing me up, including the Lord.

I’m starting fresh.  I’m letting go of all of those bad feelings that I’ve been holding onto and I’m letting go of my need for control.  I’m letting God take over and I’m going to be content with whatever He may have in store for me.  I’m going to trust Him.

        The bridge in the song is the acknowledgment of my own shortcomings. As a man born into beauty and pain, there is a moment of surrender where I lay down my life. This is a free volitional action, a gift, just as the father’s love was given to me- this became the response. A simple surrender to the Infinite Maker of The Finite acknowledging that I need his love. The meaning in my life is often found in surrender rather than mastery.   – Jon Foreman

Little Pink Frogs

On Mondays I get to have the pleasure of hanging out with two fourth graders who I’m going to call Mason and Cory. They are two of my favorite kids that I get to help with reading. I can’t say exactly why, but they really need my help and they’re a lot of fun.  Their reading skills are very low – in fact, they’re practically non-readers.  Their attention often wanders from the task at hand as well.

Whenever they see me, they always have something that they want to tell me.  They tell me about all of their scrapes and scratches.  “Did I show you my elbow?  I scraped it falling off my bike.” or “My cousin hit me in the face with a vacuum pipe yesterday.”

They show concern for my well being and make suggestions for things that I should do.  “You’re not married?  Are you lonely?” or “Have you ever ridden a dirt bike?  I have.  You should do it.”

They are sometimes humorous when I help them with their reading.  Sometimes they make completely random guesses about what certain words are or what the answer to a question is.  Cory will get this questioning “Huh, huh, how ’bout this one?” look on his face which is both funny and unfortunate.

They show me all of the new knick knacks that they have aquired.  One day Cory or Mason (I don’t remember who was the owner because they both fiddled with it) showed me his Chinese handcuffs.  Another day Mason showed me his eraser puzzle, which was pretty cool, I must say.

The other day Cory came over with a little hot pink frog with a tab at the back that makes it so that you can make the frog hop.  He showed it to me.

“You can have this. It jumps like this.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“I found it in my desk.  You can have it.”

I decided to accept his gift.  Because A:  I don’t like to refuse children’s gifts and B:  Lord knows, Cory does not need another distraction at his desk.

However, I have hit upon a problem.

When I got back to the community center, I pulled the little pink frog from my bag and put it on my desk.

And then, it started distracting me.  Apparently I’m not much better than Cory.  I’ll be sitting there, brainstorming lesson plan ideas, when WHOOSH! out my hand rushes.  And POP!  up the frog jumps.  And then I fiddle with it.  I make it hop from one side of the desk to the other.  I accidentally make it hop off of the desk.  I examine its pink plastic body.  I roll it around it in my fingers.

Maybe my partner in crime Mike (Well, he’s kind of the boss of me so maybe “partner” isn’t the correct term.  He is the ringleader – and I am his minion.) should confiscate the little pink frog from me.

Naw, never mind.

He doesn’t need any distractions either.

And the little pink frog is distracting.

Life. Love. Joy.

It’s the smell of the air in the early morning.  Fresh, clean, and free of worry.  Your shoes soak with dew and it doesn’t make you upset – it makes you glad.  Because now – oh, now! – you can kick up your feet and watch the water droplets fling sparkling in the sunlight.

It’s the rush of a herd of cats, running, trotting towards the house.  Fur blowing, paws working, mouths meowing. And all for you and that bowl of food in your hand.

It’s the eagerness of a new calf.  Skinny, black, white, and ready to slobber.  She strains against the bars of the gate as you walk past.  You give her a pat and she gives you a lick.

It’s the smell of a sun-baked hay bale waiting to be loaded.  Round, pudgy, dripping with strings.  You rush at it and make a flying leap…only to miss your mark and get rope burn from grasping the binder twine.  But you don’t care – you’ve just made a fool of yourself and it gives you something to laugh at.  The tractor rumbles and you head back to the truck.

It’s fall!  Glorious, beautiful, freeing fall!  You dance a crazy dance as you rake up the dry brittle leaves.  You sing out a war cry:  “Life is beautiful and I AM ALIVE!”

It’s watching a kid play Just Dance.  Flinging his arms like a crazy man trying to keep up.  You feel a smile working its way up the corners of your mouth – a smile that can’t be denied.

It’s a greeting from a group of kids who are happy to see you.  A smile, a wave, a “Thank God you’re here.”  You’re handed a valentine full of animal stickers.  On one side it says “This is all the aniamals every day.”  On the other, “I think you look like a tiger.  but I like you anyway.”  The smile pops out again.

It’s the realization that spring is coming as you step out the door.

It’s the vast, awe-inspiring beauty of a clear winter sky at night.

It’s a drive down a familiar dirt road to a yellow house surrounded by willow trees.

It’s a quiet walk in the woods.

It’s contentment.  It’s joy.  It’s love.

It’s life.  And I’m learning to appreciate it a little more everyday.

Learning to Smile Again

A smile is a sudden flash of kindness – a joyful spirit shining out.  It pours its well wishes on the heads of anyone, even complete strangers.  I used to know this, and take joy in it.

I met my “church friends” this way.  I discovered kindred spirits when I was younger this way.  I frightened a teenage boy this way – and was so amused at the look that he would get on his face (I think he thought that I was in the snares of a schoolgirl crush, when really I just felt like smiling at someone) that I would smile at him everytime he looked at me (perhaps this was an unkind use of a smile, but I do like a laugh).  I smiled at random people in the grocery aisle, and felt a small spurt of joy when they smiled back.  I gave out smiles freely.

But smiles require trust.  And I lost mine.

Now, when I smile at a stranger, if I smile, I immediately avert my eyes.  Sometimes I wonder why.

I think it’s because I’m afraid that they aren’t going to smile back.

When I lost my trust, I turned smiles into something different.  Smiles became things to be hidden away inside and released only for those that I loved;  those that I knew loved me in return.  Those that I knew would smile back.

But I don’t want my smiles to be hidden anymore.  Smiles aren’t meant to be tucked away or shown to only those that we care about.  Smiles are meant to be shared.

From now on,

I’m going to smile.

And I’m not going to avert my eyes.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

 – Roald Dahl

Results

Result: to proceed or arise as a consequence, effect, or conclusion.

A sour mood:

The result of focusing too much on the bad and not enough on the good.  The result of thinking more about what has gone wrong than what has gone right.

A lighter mood:

The result of deciding that being grumpy is no fun!  The result of living – it won’t let you be down for too long.

A decorated bulletin board:

The result of canceled SPARK and extra time on my hands.  The result of a creative urge, a liking for making things pretty, and a dislike of staring at a big brown square all day.

A sore throat and signs of a cold:

The result of working with sick people and more sick people.  The result of little microscopic organisms who get joy from making humans feel ill.

A sore back:

The result of sleeping in a inhospitable camp bed.  The result of a mattress that does not like people, especially people named Elizabeth.

A lazy day:

The result of being sick and having a sore back.  The result of a lethargic feeling brought on by germs, a poor night of sleep, and a rainy day caused by a ridiculously mild winter.

This blog post:

The result of a girl who wanted to write something but wasn’t feeling all that creative.  The result of conflicting desires: the desire to write and be lazy simultaneously.