Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Sweet

"Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.  Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, and earthy."
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Yesterday I talked about the bitter side of losing our jobs and our home.  Today, I want to talk about the sweet.  Because it's not all bitter.  The bitter actually gives way to the sweet.  But if that post had gotten much longer, you might not have lasted long enough to reach the sweet!

It took me a long time to start realizing the blessings that came about from our new life away from camp.  I didn't want to see them.  I wasn't ready to see them.  My heart hurt too much.

But slowly and ever so surely, God opened my eyes and my heart to the blessings that surround us.  Yes, we were so incredibly blessed at camp.  We were blessed to be a part of that ministry and that community even if it didn't end the way we would have liked for it to.  But we are not any less blessed because we are not there.

We are blessed to live close to my family and to get to see them often.  Matt is blessed by my mom's fantastic homemade margaritas ;)

We are blessed to live right across the street from and be members of a church that is involved in the community and in missions around the world.

We are blessed to live so close to grocery stores and farmers markets, especially as we try to figure out my dietary needs.

Matt is blessed to be involved in a strong men's ministry at our church.

I am blessed to be involved in the Zumba ministry at our church.

Earlier this summer, our pastor preached on "reassignments".  I don't fully remember the overall point to the message, but I remember with perfect clarity the part that resonated with me.  He was talking about Elisha and Elijah.  Elisha was just minding his own business, plowing his dad's fields like he did every day.  And then Elijah walks up one day, takes off his coat and puts it on Elisha's shoulders (choosing Elisha as his successor), and walks off.  In that moment, Elisha's world was changed forever.  He didn't expect a new calling in life or a new job.  He was just doing his thing.  But the Lord clearly reassigned him.  And so he threw a big BBQ party for everyone around and then went in the new direction, excited for what was to come.

It is exceedingly clear that God reassigned Matt and I.  Matt now builds things, and he has a real knack for it.  He is so smart and so talented!  I get to teach middle schoolers science, and I get to speak truth to them day in and day out.  We talk about how there is absolutely NO WAY that all the perfect intricacies of science could just come from chaos.  The only logical explanation is an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator.  I get to help shape these kids into responsible adults, able to think for themselves and make good choices.  I get to encourage them and praise them daily.  I get to laugh with them, and I get to learn from them.

I get to lead massive dance fitness parties for ladies multiple times a week.  Not only do I get to help them reach their fitness and wellness goals, but I get to make them smile, laugh, and help them feel more confident.  I get to pray for them and to share in their joys and triumphs.  I LOVE that.  And I didn't even know I could dance until God reassigned us.

We are blessed with the knowledge and the testimony that proves God is faithful and He provides!  He answers prayer, He heals the brokenhearted - He is the champion of the weak, the poor, the destitute, and the undeserving.  He makes all things new, and not only does He know what is best for us, but He wants what is best for us!  Our lives are proof of it.

Yes, we miss camp.  I miss my job - it was fun.  We miss the community, the fellowship, and the constant presence of people pushing us closer to the Lord.  We miss the raw, ragged beauty of the Texas Hill Country.  There is a lot we miss.  And sometimes I do wish we were still there.  But we really are happy.  And we really can't argue with the fact that God reassigned us.  Even if we tried, we wouldn't get very far.  Kinda pointless to argue with God (I mean, I've done it anyway...).  We like our home, we like our jobs, and we know that God has our best interests in mind.

So after a year and a half, I think my heart has finally reached a place where it is willing to just be at peace.  It has allowed God to work and to heal.  It might have taken me a while, but I think I'm there.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Bitter

"Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands."
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet 

One thing that I have tried to make a habit of is identifying a problem and then digging even deeper until I find the root cause of the problem.  Sometimes what you initially identified as the problem was really just a symptom; a byproduct of the actual issue festering deep under the surface.

This isn't always an easy task, especially when it comes to evaluating yourself.  Because what I usually find to be the biggest issue of all is a selfish, rotten, sinful heart.  That is not pretty, and it's definitely not something you want to look at, or think about, or spend time with...even if it is for a good reason.

As I have struggled to heal from what happened on December 1, 2010, I've found that, though it is unpleasant, I really have no choice but to approach the whole thing like I described before.  I needed to really break things down.  I was hurting.  Why was I hurting?  Because xyz.  Why did xyz make me hurt so badly?  Because I believed abc.  Does this make sense?

Here's what I discovered.  I was hurting in a deep, profound way.  Why would I hurt so badly?  It was just a job, right?  And just a house.  Houses and jobs are everywhere.  Common.  It shouldn't be so difficult to find new ones.  But to me, it wasn't just a job.  And it really wasn't so much about the job as it was what came with the job.  The community.  The friendships.  The fellowship.  The knowledge that someone was always there when I needed them.  Someone with similar goals and ideals and ideas of fun.  Kindred spirits.  We were surrounded by a loving community.  Never in my life had I felt more like I truly belonged somewhere.  And that is not as common as a house.  Or a job.  That kind of community, that fellowship are hard to come by.  It is something to cherish and to treasure.  And I really did.  I relished it.

When we lost our jobs and our home, that was scary.  But I also saw a new horizon of possibilities.  Losing our community was the devastating part.  We were no longer a part of that family.  We were outcasts, unable to connect; unable to explain - we didn't even understand what was going on ourselves.  We were so hurt and so embarrassed that we lost our jobs at a Christian camp that never fires anyone that we were unable to face our friends and give them the goodbye they deserved.  I was terrified of what they thought of me.  What had they been told?  Matt and I hadn't even been told much, other than there was just..."something".  If that was the explanation we got, what was the rest of the staff told?  How would that change how they viewed me?  I felt like I had a big red letter slammed on my forehead.

As we drove down that dirt road one last time, I felt like I was leaving my hopes, dreams, and big chunks of my heart behind me, still in our little house on a hill and with the friends we were driving away from.  Matt and I had planned on staying there for a long time.  Years.  Our dream was shattered and flushed down the toilet.

So that explains why I was hurting.  But why did it hurt so badly?  Because it was home to me.  Because I believed I was safe at home.  And I was loved at home.  I belonged at home.  And when I got kicked out of my home, I didn't feel safe or loved anymore.  I didn't belong.  It felt as if the very people and place that I trusted and cherished so dearly had betrayed me in the most vicious and horrendous way.  It shook me to my core.

It hurt me because the people who had been so welcoming, so loving - who had become family...all of a sudden they were distant.  Silent. 

And it hurt because I had made my plans.  I had hoped and dreamed about our future at camp.  I believed that was where God had us, but I don't remember ever really, truly seeking out His will about it.  And I was holding tight to those plans with clenched fists.  I didn't want God's will if it meant being somewhere else.  I didn't want things to change.  I wanted what I wanted, and I just wouldn't let go.  Do you see what I mean about this being unpleasant?  At the heart of this issue was my selfishness, my pride...me, me, me.  It's just not nice.  Because I held so tightly to what I wanted, God had to break a few fingers and rip it away from me in order to give me what I needed.  His will.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Revisiting Bittersweet

Ahh summertime.  Lazy days spent reading by the pool, whipping up the latest recipe I've found on Pinterest, preparing for the upcoming school year, and perfecting Zumba routines.  That is this summer in a nutshell.

Last summer, Matt and I had passes to Six Flags, and it became our second home for the summer.  Our third home was the neighborhood pool.  I didn't have a job, and I was still on the lookout for something to pay the bills.

There are a lot of similarities between last summer and this summer.  Downtime.  Heat.  Pools.  Reading.  And a lot of time for reflection.

Last spring I was deeply hurt and desperately searching for answers after the loss of our jobs and home in December.  I read a book called "Bittersweet" and it really spoke to the broken pieces of my heart (you can find the review I posted here).  This summer, with so much time on my hands, I find myself thinking a lot about what was.  What has been.  What will never be, and what might be.  And I decided it was a good time to revisit that book.

"The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life.  Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.

Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul.  Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands.  Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.  Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, and earthy.

...The central image of the Christian faith is death and rebirth; the core of it all, over and over again, is death and rebirth...When you haven't yet had your heart really broken, the gospel isn't about death and rebirth.  It's about life and more life.  It's about hope and possibility and a brighter future.  And it is, certainly, about those things.

But when you've faced some kind of death - the loss of someone you loved dearly, the failure of a dream, the fracture of a relationship - that's when you start understanding that central metaphor.  When your life is easy, a lot of the really crucial parts of Christian doctrine and life are nice theories, but you don't really need them.  When, however, death of any kind is staring you in the face, all of a sudden rebirth and new life are very, very important to you.

...I've begun to train my eyes for rebirth, like looking for buds on branches after an endlessly long winter.  I know that death is real, and I trust that rebirth is real, too."
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Something I have learned about myself is that I am a slow healer.  I thought I was stronger.  I thought I healed quickly.  I thought I could just bounce back from anything - nothing could keep me down for long!  But I was deceiving myself.  And I think my reluctance to admit that I needed more time to heal, that everything was okay probably slowed me down a bit more.  I don't want to downplay the whole experience.  After all, it was a big hurt.  But I think my heart is finally ready.  I've made so much progress, and I think it's time for the final push.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

On Being a Productive Pinner

So.  Pinterest.  It's pretty much all the rage and then some.  I've been on Pinterest for about a year, and I've really enjoyed it.  I don't really get sucked into it for hours on end, but let's be honest - there is a lot of great stuff out there.

Recently, one of my Facebook friends mentioned that she decided Pinterest was dumb because it sets an unrealistic standard for women and they have unrealistic expectations of their homes, their families, and of themselves.  She also mentioned that she often found the links on Pinterest were bad once she went back to really look at them.  I've heard similar things from other fellow Facebookers, bloggers, tweeters, and pinners.

I can see why they would feel that way.  I think their thoughts and opinions are completely valid.  After all, most of the homes we see on Pinterest are probably interior designer decorated and are photos from a magazine shoot.  Not realistic for the average American.  And from many of the pins floating around, you get the impression that women are expected to look good, make fantastic foods, keep their children stimulated and entertained every second of every day, throw awesome parties, keep fabulous gardens and immaculate homes, and craft in their spare time.  Maybe it's not so much that we are expected to do those things as it is that we wish we could do all those things.  I think we all get the Super Woman complex from time to time, don't you?

For me personally, though?  I love Pinterest.  There are so many great recipes and ideas floating around.  I usually check pins before I repin them, making sure it isn't a shady link to begin with.  And I really do go back quite often and use ideas from my pins.  I am especially excited about the pins regarding teaching ideas, because there are plenty of things that I already know I will be using this coming school year.

I also find Pinterest helpful in communicating to Matt my personal taste in things.  Before we got married we talked about color schemes for our future home.  Without the visual, I think my descriptions of my dream home totally missed the mark.  I was describing robin's egg blues, mint greens, and creams; he was seeing dark blues, dark greens, and browns.  So guess what colors are in our living room?  Here's a hint: not the colors I was describing.  As a result, I often feel like our living room is too dark.  And it really is not me.  The other day, I was able to show him the things I had pinned on my "Home Style" board, and I think he finally understood what I had been trying to tell him the past 2.5 years.  What can I say?  We both like visual aides.

I also use a lot of recipes from Pinterest.  I've made these fantastic flourless banana muffins twice already since I first pinned the recipe last week.  I eat at least one every day, and Matt loves them, too!  We are having these chicken fajitas tonight (they are in the crock pot right now, and let me say they smell awesome!).  And later this week, we will be making this quinoa mac and cheese and this cauliflower crust pizza.  I also make these homemade "Cheez Its" for Matt every week - we prefer not to eat very many processed foods, and he loves them!  Pinterest makes finding recipes that are healthy and FructMal friendly a lot easier for me.  And I love that.

I could go on and on about the other great things I have learned from Pinterest and have incorporated into our daily lives.  But really, that can be another post for another day.  I think Pinterest really is just what you make it.  I make it a practical place to keep track of recipes, ideas, tips, and tutorials.  I use it often, without allowing myself to spend ridiculous amounts of time on the website.  And I really like it that way.
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