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…

Advertisements

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!

On Why I Need to Stop Being Silly…

I’m pretty stupid sometimes.

I worry and I fret myself about all kind of things. I view situations as impossible to solve. I dread the future based on my own paranoid induced predictions. Silly girl.

I have been dealing with a less than pleasant situation at work for about… well since the year started. It continues to escalate and grow seemingly worse and I spend way too much of my time thinking about it. I have been trying to come to grips with the fact that being in a leadership position means that sometimes people just aren’t going to like me. I’ve been trying to make peace with that and figure out a way to deal with it. I tell you, I may be an expert at pinning quotes on Pinterest about how it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, go your own way, don’t let others affect you, people can’t make you feel badly without your permission.. or something but I tell you— they don’t really seem to work!

And so I kept praying that God would help me. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me but I didn’t expect such an immediate and unexpected answer. Yesterday, I went into work bracing myself for more awkwardness and yes, that was there but also many opportunities to discuss things. The whole day seemed to involve conflict resolution and/or “difficult conversations” and you know what– I feel so much better about everything.

Honestly, it was a bit of a rush to see such a quick answer to prayer. It was such a clear example of God going before me and opening the doors and hearts of the people I needed to speak with. And I didn’t even cry.

So I must remember not to be foolish and to trust that He really will work out all of the details and be beside me when I face tricky things.. His way of working things out is so much better than mine!

On a Rainy Easter Monday

I have been thinking about relationships a lot lately. Relationships with family and friends and… boys. I have been thinking about how easy it is to wreck these relationships and how difficult it is sometimes to see past the humanity of our family, friends and… boys and be able to love and accept these people anyway.

I have been thinking about how we hurt each other by accident or on purpose and how deep down we are all very selfish. I have been thinking about how for me, it’s difficult to talk out or fight out certain difficult issues that arise. It’s hard for me to believe that if I fight with someone, they will come back. I’m not quite sure where this idea comes from but while I can talk a tough game, I hate conflict.

I know that God is our perfect Father, Jesus is our brother and our friend forever. I know that the Holy Spirit is always with me, urging me and prodding me and guiding me through my daily life. I know this but it tends to not sink in as much as it should.

What differs our relationship with God from our other relationships in life is that He is perfect, He can be completely trusted-all the time, He is not a sinful human being.

I have had times in my life where I neglect God, where I squeeze in time with Him to ease my conscience and not because I really want to. I can go for a while without consulting Him and often my prayers can become filled with asking Him for things instead of worshipping Him and enjoying Him. What friend would put up with that?

I continue to appreciate the fact that even when I drift away a little, He welcomes me back and helps me get back on track. I can’t think of a person I know who would be okay with me saying: “I’m sorry I have been neglecting you, help me to start loving you more because right now it’s really hard.” Yet God does. He forgives my humanity, my weakness, my selfishness and He helps me move past it.

I know that as Christians we often compare our relationship with God to relationships we have in the world but it is so much more than that. It is so much better than that. We can’t hide from Him, He sees our ugliness and loves us anyway. That’s a pretty incredible thing.

And so on this Easter Monday, I am thankful for many things particularly that God made it so that we can be in a relationship with Him through His son Jesus. Incredible!

 

 

Notes on my Saturday night

Last night was weird.

I went out with a few friends to a Christmas concert and then we all ended up going for food. That part was great. It is rare that I’m with a group of just Canadians and we took advantage of that and cracked each other up with memories from our childhoods… trying to cut the bag of milk properly (who tried to open this like this???), the angst of realizing you hadn’t pulled your socks up properly once your feet were crammed into your winter boots,  the horror of dreaming that you fell through the ice (seriously, I think only Canadians dream this) and other funny things from a Canadian childhood… Then we switched locations, lost some of our group and picked up two other people.

One  of the people we were with last night turned out to be an Atheist and so it came up that I am indeed a Christian. He was very proud of the fact that he went from being a Christian to years as an agnostic and now is extremely happy and enlightened as an atheist. He wanted to debate and talk and explain himself. I listened. I answered back politely. I held my own. I think the others were rather impressed that I didn’t crumble. Granted I was praying hard in my head the whole time. Anyway it was fine to speak about logic and reason and those sorts of things but then he said: “How can you believe in something you can’t actually see?”

I said, “Just look around…” And he went mental. He started accusing me of being awful for accusing him of having no ability to see things or understand science.. etc etc. Anyway eventually he calmed down and we continued but I was exhausted. I don’t like debates. I’m not turned on by battling my thoughts and ideas. I think because so much of my faith is so entirely personal. It is about relationship… which he obviously didn’t understand. It was interesting that reason and logic were the things he stood behind. Add emotion and the personal element and he couldn’t handle it. The conversation eventually came to a place where he claimed loudly that as an atheist he would have no problem dating me but obviously, I’m not that open minded. I smiled.

Later this guy’s friend started to question me about how come I couldn’t date someone who didn’t share my beliefs. I explained that I have tried it and it wasn’t all bad but when it comes down to the nitty gritty why wouldn’t I want to share the same beliefs with the love of my life? It’s hard having conversations about this with someone who doesn’t believe. It’s really hard to say to someone that no matter how great they are and how much we have in common, if we don’t share the same faith we will never be complete as a couple.

Anyway it was all good conversation, we are all still friends, I think I held my own and it was actually nice to see what I say when asked hard questions. It did however, make me appreciate the conversations that I have with fellow believers and inspired me to brush up on my apologetics.

And now I’m looking at less than a week until I’m back in Canada with my people!

 

On Being Confident … or something like that.

Working in an international school presents me with all sorts of opportunities to witness how different people from different countries do things. From what certain people eat to how they speak to how they … make merry.. it’s an interesting experience.

One thing I’ve noticed is that as a general rule, we Canadians tend to downplay our strengths. There is some self-deprecating insecurity that we all project when it comes to promoting our skills and abilities. In the name of being the least offensive person in the room, we often begin sentences with “I don’t know but…” or “I’m not really sure what I’m talking about but I kind of think…” or whatever beginning phrase is least abrasive… least American.. yes I said it.
Not so with some of my colleagues who are able to begin sentences with “I know that I’m right because..” or “First of all, you’re wrong…” or….
I’m amused by it and often wonder if my approach of trying to be something like “humble and loveable” is in fact the right one all the time. Probably not.
This year I have a new position at work and so I’m “in charge” of a few other teachers. We are currently in the process of self-evaluation which means that I am to sit these teachers down and have “conversations” with them about their strengths and weaknesses. Deep down I find that it’s all a bit awkward. Especially when you consider that most of them have more teaching experience than I do and all but one are older than me. I do believe that I am competent and actually quite good at my job but I have issues when it comes to trying to promote myself or speak with any authority on the matter. I suppose this is all part of the learning curve.
I probably do need to become a bit more confident in my use of language and the way I present myself to others. I just need to figure out how to do that without sounding like an <insert appropriate expletive here>.
And that’s where I’m at with that!

In which pain and joy co-exist.. because that’s the deal.

This post was supposed to be a more trivial one about running and relaxing. Originally I was going to write about the time I spent at a cottage and how each morning I liked to “torture” myself a bit (a hilly run followed by a dip in the lake) all in the name of taking the rest of the day off in the most delightful guilt-free kinda way. You see, I’m very good at relaxing but we can talk about that another time. Anyway I was going to write about the idea of needing to experience the pain in order to enjoy the pleasure later and how great pleasure feels when you went through a bit of pain prior. I had drafted out something about the idea of putting yourself through something bad to enjoy something good. It was pretty decent actually but as time went on and I didn’t press the Publish button, I started to think a little differently.

You see, in a few days I will be heading back to Japan after 9+ weeks in Canada. It hasn’t been an easy summer but it has been so good to be home. In taking things one-day-at-a-time, I have learned so much about valuing moments and really living in them. I have learned that pain is temporary, tears come and go as does laughter. I have learned that through tears there is joy. I have become increasingly aware of the link and co-existence of joy and pain.

I have learned that to experience pain or hurt or sadness does not mean that I’m doing something wrong or being punished or missing a part of life, it means that I’m living. It means that I’m loving. It means that I’m able to be joyful and I’m able to be sad and so I am able to experience what it really means to be alive. It’s not always great but it’s life.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis this summer and he so clearly understands the link between joy and pain and between bravery and fear and hope and despair and how all of these human emotions are coursing through our veins and making us alive. There is that great line from the film Shadowlands where, in discussing her upcoming death, Lewis’ wife says: “The pain then, is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” And not only was that a highly emotional cinematic moment but there is truth in seeing that pain and happiness and joy are so completely connected. We can be happy even when we know that sadness is coming. We can experience pain and yet search for joy and there always is some, even if it takes some searching to find it. That’s the deal.

Back in January I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and copied this quote in my journal:

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” She gets it. She knows the deal.

And so, as I think about a summer that was filled with laughter and tears, I think about the pain that most likely does lie ahead of us, I remember that it’s all part of being alive and living.

Sorrow and Joy.

Pain and Happiness.

To experience these things is to be truly awake.