That Question…

“So where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is actually one of my least favourite first date questions ever. I can see why a person would ask that and props to him for wanting to know about what is going on in my head in regards to my future but I always find myself squirming and trying to decide how honestly I should answer such a question. I have a bit of a reckless impulse to say “married to you, carrying our third child, living in a giant house on a large body of water, and finally being able to pursue a full time writing career.” But that kind of answer would pretty much erase any hope of a second date and would probably end the date right then and there. So I tend to hold my cards close and yammer out some words about not knowing the future and hopefully being married and published and …. vague stuff.

I feel like as a single woman in my mid thirties, I am at a standstill when it comes to a 5 year plan. There is something I very much hope and pray happens in the next 5 years but I am also quite aware that my search for a “lifetime emergency contact” might not come to anything and I could very much be in the same position then as I am now. And so I’m left trying to figure out what kind of a 5 year plan do I need to have. I don’t want to be paralyzed in waiting for something that might not happen and I also don’t want to be so busy that I don’t recognize it if it does but it’s important for me to set some goals and have some sort of plan, whether that involves another person or not.

And so I think about my 5 year plan, I think about my goals and what the picture perfect ideal scenario would look like and I think about what the opposite of that might be and I grapple with setting a plan that works regardless of my relationship status. And then it gets quite simple. Of course there are some financial goals, fitness goals, writing goals, etc but at the end of the day I want to be serving God in the right place and the right way. I want to be part of a caring community and I want to be growing in my faith and love for his people. It’s not about the checklist or stocks portfolio, it’s about being willing and available to be used by God this year, next year, 5 years, 10 years from now and so on.

So next time I get asked about my 5 year plan, I won’t shirk away from the question but boldly give a new answer that really does embody my goals and desires for the next 5 years…

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Bratty Behaviour

Oh, how fleeting our happiness can be! It seems as though lately I have been bombarded by the idea that nothing in this life can truly satisfy us. No person, job, condo, vacation, clothing item, accessory, toy, can ever cause us to be completely happy. For a little over a year I’ve been praying for a job and simultaneously living in a state of minor terror. When September rolled around and I wasn’t working, I was shocked and fearful. As the year went on, I went through varying degrees of fear but deep down I told myself that once I had landed a job– all of my problems would be solved. I believed that true happiness would be found in gainful employment.

And so, one day in early March, I received word that I had indeed gotten myself a job! I was ecstatic! I was thankful! I could see God working in the details that made this happen for me! I was finally able to sleep at night and wake up in the early morning hours without worrying myself into a dark hole.

BUT – that happiness rather quickly disappeared and my worry for a job was way-too-quickly replaced with my desire for a really great boyfriend. It had only been a couple of days! My employment dream had come true. The key to my supposed happiness had been given to me and I so quickly forgot. I figured I had at least a couple of weeks before I was yearning for something else to make me more satisfied but no.. we are strange creatures that way.

I know that should I ever meet a tall, bold.. wait that’s my coffee order.. but should I ever meet the right man, I will be happy but then inevitably I will be wanting for something else. We are never satisfied. I feel like such a brat but I also recognize that this is what C.S. Lewis was talking about.. this is the very “desire that nothing in this world can satisfy” and the indication that “we were made for another world“. Or as Paul David Tripp wrote in his book New Morning Mercies: “Of course you haven’t been fulfilled in this world. It’s a sign that you have been designed for a world to come.

So I will continue to be thankful that God has blessed me with a job and when I feel that annoying longing for something new, I will tell myself that this is just a symptom of the human condition. Sure, those things may bring some happiness but they will not stop me from wanting more. Only God can satisfy our hearts and only He can bring us to a place where all of our yearnings and desires will be completely met.

 

Two Become One.. but not like that.

I have kept a journal for ages, since I was about 9 years old I think. While during some stages of life I was more diligent about writing in it, I’ve always had one on the go. I remember in high school someone introduced me to the idea of a Prayer Journal and I thought that sounded appealing too. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want to give up my personal journal and combine it with the prayer one so I have had two on the go for many, many years.

If I examine my reasons for this.. well back in the day I wanted to write in my personal one about .. well “personal” things. It was mostly about boys and friendships and the daily dramas I was going through. I didn’t want to mix that up with God stuff because, sometimes I liked boys that I didn’t want to pray about and sometimes I had very ungodly and mean feelings about people in my life. So I felt like I had this double life of journals going on. I also had the far-fetched idea that I was going to be a famous writer and when I died and my journals were published, I preferred that the public read about my ever-so-exciting life of being unable to decide between two boys and musings about my humdrum life instead of see my inconsistent prayer life. Ridiculous.. on so many levels!

So this kept up for a very long time. I would write prayers to God in my devotional journal and then I would pick up my other one and scribble out anxious thoughts about men, jobs, friendships, etc. Recently, I have been writing way more in my prayer journal and it’s started to turn into a personal journal too.

One of my consistent spiritual struggles has been trying not to balance on the fence.. keeping one foot on either side and I think the separate journals is a very tangible depiction of that. I am now “all in” but my journals were not.

SO… today I started a new journal. Just one. A journal where I can record my life and talk to God about it at the same time. Imagine. I’m pretty excited because not only is it quite pretty, but I finally am at the point where I can see how I need to be transparent and open with God about all the areas of my life. I am hoping that this will be a good thing and I can’t wait to see what ends up being written on the pages.  It’s one life… so one journal.

 

 

Goodbye September

September was not my finest month. My circumstances were not ideal and neither was my attitude. You see, for the past 11 years I have always had a full-time teaching job in September. I am used to being slightly stressed and overwhelmed while scrambling to learn my new student’s names and organize myself and my courses for the year. I am used to long, tiring days and trying very hard not to start any sort of countdown. For the first time, in 11 years, I did not have a job on the First Day of School. And that rocked me.

 

I had been praying for a job for September since pretty much the previous September and spent time believing that God was going to provide just that for me. As I approached the summer, I was slightly nervous but still pretty confident that I would be working on the first day of school. As August started to show itself, I was growing a little more tense, but then a job opprotunity presented itself and I was SURE that it was what God has in mind for me. I interviewed and then spent the week panicking until I heard that.. Nope, it was not to be. Devastating. Yet I consoled myself with the fact that it would be okay.. I’d be working by September. And then it was the last week of August, the first week of September, Labour Day and then the first day of school. The only thing on my calendar was a hair appointment mid afternoon. For the first time in 11 years… I was unemployed.

 

I was upset. I was stressed out. I was panicky. I worried about my future, my rent payments, my RRSPs, my long term savings that were dwindling… I was a mess. I felt like a loser, a failure, way too similar to people I had previously judged. I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t wake up well. It took me a long time every morning to get to a place where I felt something that resembled peace. Maybe it wasn’t quite peace but it was something that resembled being okay enough to face the day.

 

I kept praying the same thing: “God, please give me a full time job and please help me to trust you.” The prayers didn’t really seem to be working.

 

A side note is that I am not entirely unemployed. I am on a supply teacher list at my previous school and happily, I was being called in quite a lot. I also had some friends in town and I enjoyed being free to spend time with them during the day. And, I have a good friend in a similar situation to me and we did meet up occasionally and discuss how this was only temporary.

 

One day I noticed the fact that September was nearing its completion, fall had started, the weather was changing, and I just wanted time to stop. I was dreading October because that means that a whole month has now gone by where I’m not teaching. What a depressing thought! But this is the thing! I basically spent the summer not being able to enjoy myself because I was so stressed out about a job and I spent September the same way. I know, deep down, that this is all temporary and that the supply teaching gig is actually pretty sweet. I know that I may never have time like this again and I suddenly realized, I can’t keep dreading the future and spending day after day miserable and stressed out. I can’t let one thing that isn’t going the way I want it to go to dictate my thoughts and mood on my entire life.

 

Also, I started to think about how there are so many things I’ve wanted to do that I was unable to do because I was teaching or too tired from teaching. But now– I have time. I actually have time AND energy. I don’t want to waste that. I want to be able to take advantage of the fact that I am in a unique situation, one where I actually have time to write the things I want to write and to read the books I want to read, and to cook the recipes I’ve been eyeing and to get back into running and yoga and all of the other things that I never used to have time to do.

 

I want to actually enjoy the fall. I want to spend time happily working away at projects that I’ve ignored for far too long. I want to enjoy being able to meet up with a friend in the afternoon for coffee. I want to remember that God has me in this moment in time, in these particular circumstances, for a reason and I want to be able to calm down and relax in that. He’s got me.

 

So now I’m looking at October, 31 whole days, and maybe I’ll get a job and maybe I won’t. I am determined to make use of this month either way, and to live each day purposefully and well.

 

I haven’t had my “doom and gloom” early morning freakouts for a while now and my prayers are no longer me begging God to help me trust Him. I realized the other day that finally… finally after ages and ages, I actually DO trust Him. I’ll keep praying for wisdom and guidance and direction and a job but while I pray, I hold onto the fact that I serve a good God, with a perfect plan and I can trust in Him for all things.

 

Last Minute Notes from Japan

Tomorrow I will be getting on a plane and flying back to Canada. I’m coming home! It’s been a whirlwind last few months here and yet, the day before departure has finally arrived. I am feeling more excited than anything, although as the days wind down I’m am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there are people, places, and aspects to life here that I will indeed miss terribly.

It has been a good 4 years. I have learned a lot about myself, people, and most importantly, God. I have had a lot of exciting opportunities through work and been given the chance to really get involved in life here. I have joined a hardcore bible study and gotten to know some incredible women outside of work. I learned to run. I learned to coach. I learned to be a Head of Department (let’s never let that happen again!), and I learned what it means to trust God with every detail of my life.

With this as my third “international post”, I feel that I have some experience with goodbyes. This one feels a little bit different because this goodbye involves me handing in my Foreigner Card. I’ve been holding onto that baby for 10 years and now, it’s time to hand it in.  I feel like I’m not only saying goodbye to Japan, but also in a sense to the expat life. There is some sadness there but at the same time, I am really looking forward to being done with emotional airport goodbyes, massive Wal-Mart shops for 6 months worth of tampons, toothpaste and deodorant, and long long flights. I’m looking forward to understanding what’s going on around me, being able to easily make dinner reservations, and being able to buy shoes any time of year! So true, I am saying a major sort of goodbye, but I’m also saying a really happy hello!

I feel very blessed for the way the past 10 years of my life have played out and I am really excited about relocating and living the next 10 in my home and native land!

Home.

“You can never go home again”

They say that once you have left a place, you can never return. Once you’ve left home, nothing will be the same… that includes you. Social media is littered with posts about the things you learn living abroad, why you’ve changed once you’ve been overseas, how your life is so different, your perspectives so altered, how you will NEVER fit back into your pre-experience life. I am guilty of posting such articles too and I have found comfort in knowing that I’m not alone on this expat adventure. It’s fun to be part of a semi-if-not-entirely-self-proclaimed special group of people but… I’m tired now.

Because in all of my travels, all of my overseas experiences, all of my attempts to make and create a “sense” of home miles and oceans away from my original one, I have come to see that for me, my first home is where I want to be.

I have been blessed to meet people who were my temporary “family”. I have lived in nice places that I have called “home”. I have worked on blending into a new country that I can call my “land” but… I miss the original.

Because you see– through all my travels I think I’ve realized the other cliche truth that you can go around the world and realize that the thing you want most was there all along.

Because I want to feel like I belong somewhere. Being a foreigner is fun and exciting and makes you automatically quite interesting. You can get away with things by playing the “Dumb foreigner card” and you can get extra perks because “you’re new here”. But I’m tired of standing out, I’m tired of not being entirely sure what is going on around me and I’m tired of feeling like I don’t belong. I’m looking forward to being in a place where I do belong and am accepted.

Because I want to be close to MY people. There is something thrilling about meeting people and realizing that they only know the you that you have been since you moved to that country. You can reinvent yourself, you can change as much about yourself as you want, you can choose to leave out huge chunks of your life when you’re telling stories BUT there is something so wonderful to be around people who have always known you. People who know your family and where you came from. People who “get” you and love you no matter what. People who remember your mid-nineties obsession with all things denim and still talk to you. I have been fortunate enough to find myself in some wonderful communities and I have made some incredible friends but it’s time to go back to my roots because I really miss the people who really know me.

Because I want to be part of “every day” life with my family. I am really close with my family and I have enjoyed our intense bursts of time together during the summers and Christmas time but I want to be able to spend random Thursday nights with them or Sunday lunches. I want to be able to just go for coffee with my sister or walks with my parents during crazy times like… October or April. I’m tired of missing out on the every day stuff. I think I’m kind of homesick for the mundane.

I feel truly blessed for the last 10 years, for the amazing relationships/friendships I’ve had, for the experiences I’ve been part of, for the things I’ve seen and the places I’ve been. I am quite aware that most of the memories I take with me will be rose-coloured and I know that once I’m settled into life back home, I’ll miss these places like crazy. But I also have an ache for all things Canada and for now, that’s where I want to be.

I know I have changed a lot during the past 10 years. I know that people and circumstances at home have changed too. That’s life. I know that things will not be exactly the same as when I lived there 10 years ago but that’s okay.. and actually for the better. I’m excited to “start over again” in a familiar place.

So maybe it’s true that you can never go home again– but I’m going to try.

A Note to the Single Ladies

December 2014

Dear Fellow Single Sisters,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…! While we are heading into a time of picture perfect moments, coziness galore, good lighting (who doesn’t look good by the light of a fireplace or Christmas candles?), Christmas sweaters, warm socks, hot cider, and every other “Christmassy” moment, it’s hard not to get totally swept up in all of the hoopla. Yes, I just used the word hoopla.

This isn’t about the materialism that occurs at Christmas, but it’s about what happens when a single girl starts to notice that there aren’t any special presents under her tree.
Wait! I’m not going to moan, I’m just explaining. The fact is, I get totally swept up in the romanticism of the holiday. I’m sure you do too. I love the Christmas chick flick movies and the ideas of cuddling by the fire or walking in the snow with a well-built, chiseled-featured, strong man who looks wonderful in cream-coloured, cable-knit sweaters, red scarves and jeans. A man who can have meaningful conversations but also knows exactly the perfect moment to crack a joke, a perfect combination of mature yet playful. A man whose very presence is a gift but who also knows how to give the most thoughtful and meaningful presents all while still being able to chop firewood, shovel the driveway, and bring me a mug of hot chocolate. But I digress… a lot.
So what do we do about the fact that he hasn’t shown up? How do we deal with watching people celebrate the holidays who do have good men and maybe a few cute little munchkins? It can really get a girl down. One thing we know is that no one wants to hang out with Debbie Downer during the holidays, so what do we do?
Well.. to be blunt, I think part of the “whoa is me I’m alone for the holidays” comes from a rather selfish place. It happens when our eyes are on ourselves and what we need to be happy. We obsessively start focusing on all of the things we want, instead of all of the things we do have. This is not the key to any sort of happiness. It’s hard not to be selfish when you’re single. We spend a lot of time tending to our needs and emotions and it’s okay to be aware of our wants and needs, but also I think that in order to be happy, we need to get our eyes off ourselves and onto others. Focusing too much on ourselves, especially this time of year, can be dangerous.
I think the only way to really combat these feelings of loneliness or sadness over the holidays is to simply be thankful. Get out that “attitude of gratitude”.. sorry I said that but I’ve been thinking about it and really, that’s the only way. Because the thing is, I do have some pretty amazing things in my life and my life is filled with all sorts of love… maybe not of the axe-swinging, cable-knit sweater wearing variety but still– there is a lot of love in my life. Start looking at your own life and I’m sure you’ll see some pretty amazing things to be thankful for. Wishing for something or someone we don’t have, isn’t the key to having a happy time this holiday, being thankful for what we do have automatically guarantees a certain level of happiness.
And so while we go about the very important business of practicing gratitude during the holiday season, we must not let ourselves get sidetracked or derailed. I think the biggest culprit is social media and I think it’s particularly dangerous during this time of year. Being constantly bombarded by filtered photos of Christmas trees, lovers, children dressed up like elves, big parties, presents, family, etc… it’s very hard to maintain a feeling of contentment. It’s very easy to feel like you are the only one in the world who is single for the holidays. It’s very easy to feel lonely. And so– I know that we need to really limit the amount of time we spend checking these sites. Maybe you don’t have issues with social media but I certainly do. Yes, I’m an instagram addict, and sometimes it’s okay but when I feel myself getting jealous or resentful, it’s time to put the phone down and focus on what I do have in front of me.
It’s not only about being happy about what I have in front of me but being happy for those who do seem to be having a picture perfect Christmas. When I was little and would go to friend’s birthday parties, I would come home feeling jealous about how Jenna was so lucky cause she got a Barbie camper van AND the My Little Pony Castle. My parent’s taught me to say: “Oh wow, I’m so happy for you.” I think we need to bring that phrase back out again. No matter how we are feeling, we should be happy that our friends (and all of those complete strangers on instagram), have the great things in their lives that they do. I’m so happy for them! Say it a few times and you’ll eventually start to believe it.
If that doesn’t work.. the whole: ‘it could be worse’ game works. I don’t suggest you play this out loud as people will worry about you. But seriously, life could be a lot worse. You could be stuck in a bad marriage, you could be terminally ill, you could be homeless, you could be locked up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, you could be stuck in an airport, you could be stranded on a desert island, you could have a flesh eating disease.. you get the idea? Not having a boyfriend at Christmas is hardly the worst thing in the world.
And then– really. Who are we to mope and complain anyway? If we believe what we say we really believe then we believe that God is working out His perfect plan. Maybe that includes us meeting someone amazing, maybe it doesn’t and if it doesn’t, we can trust that His plan is still the best one. (I am still working on happily believing this.. it’s a process) I do know that we can relax and be content in this particular set of circumstances because they aren’t for no reason. Whoa double negative. Reword: This set of circumstances is important to your story and who you are now. We must believe that these experiences are also important in making and shaping us into the people we are meant to be.
So this Christmas, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let’s practice being thankful and grateful and loving the people God has placed in our lives…
Simple.
Do enjoy this holiday season.
With lots of love from me to you!