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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spilled Milk

It's been over 110 degrees all week so we've had "rainy day" schedule, i.e. recess indoors every day. Yesterday, I was walking through campus and a class of 1st graders were heading from the cafeteria back to the classroom. Some of them, who didn't get to finish their lunch, had their leftover lunch trays in tow. I had barely come up behind them when a little boy accidentally stepped on the shoelace of a chubby little red-headed boy, which caused the said shoelace to untie, stop him in his tracks and made him fall to the ground. His tray went flying and he immediately began to wail. It started out as an accidental fall, but as he realized what had happened he began to protest getting up and seemed to want to stay on the ground in mourning over the fact that he had been unfairly tripped (although it really was an accident) and as a result, his carrots, pineapple and milk carton had spilled on the ground. I almost walked by, seeing as his aide would probably become aware of the situation or maybe he was old enough to handle it himself. He looked older than he was...a little heftier and taller than most 1st graders. But, I suddenly had compassion for the little guy and realized it was obviously my duty to stop and make sure he was okay.
When I got to him tears were streaming and he seemed to be in despair. I checked his knees for scrapes but he was fine. His tears seemed to be more out of emotional pain than anything physical. Through sobs he said, "But I really wanted to drink that!" I picked up his milk carton and found that it was still relatively full. I said, "I'm sorry, but there is still some left. Okay?" He knodded, calming down a little. His sobs slowed and as I picked up what was salvageable, he gathered the courage to stand back up.

"Did your shoe come untied?"
"Hm, you should probably tie it before you walk back to class, huh?"
Breaking into full out sobs again, "I don't know HOW to tie my shoes!!!"

Part of me wanted to laugh, but then I felt for the little guy. I knew that this wasn't the end of the world and not all was lost. Even if he did lose out on getting to drink his milk that day, the day would still go on and by the next morning he may have forgotten about the whole thing. But, even knowing that, my heart felt for his tears and the sadness that overwhelmed him over something so small yet important to him. Someday he would learn to tie his own shoe, learn to pick up his own spilled milk, and get up after being knocked down. But, today he needed a little assistance. I tied his shoe, put his tray back in his hands, wiped a tear from his cheek and said, "it's gonna be okay. Okay?" He knodded, took a deep breath to gather himself and walked back to class, a little more discheveled and behind the rest of the group, but still intact.

As I walked back to my classroom I thought, 'I wonder if this is how God reacts when my car breaks down on the freeway and I cry the whole way home or the boy I really wanted it to work out with doesn't choose me and I feel like wallowing?' He knows it's gonna be okay. But I'm sure He still feels for the way it hurts inside. Sometimes He ties our "spiritual shoes" and wipes away our tears and picks us up off the ground and tells us directly "it's gonna be okay." Other times He might be there cheering us on, but it might be our turn to prove to ourselves we can stand up on our own and learn how to tie our own shoes.

Just a thought. The next time I want to cry over spilled milk I'm going to remember the chubby little red-headed boy. It's gonna be okay.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Resistance Training

It has been a long time since I've posted, as Kim reminded me recently. Between my job at the elementary school starting back up and work at the taqueria--of which I was informed tonight by a customer was not a real taqueria as they are in Mexico (we're in America, oh and Baja Mexico isn't Mexico either by the way) and who barged in speaking spanish to me (though he was fully fluent in english) and then talking over my shoulder to the spanish-speaking cooks in the back calling me a gringa with a distasteful tone in his voice, also another reason it didn't qualify as a real taqueria, asking for menu items that were not on the menu, but would have been had it been a real taqueria, telling me that "they know" (my latino co-workers/cooks) what the food "should" be like (ignorant?? stereotyping??? anyone?), etc etc etc and getting frustrated with me because I didn't ring out in fluent spanish to answer his questions (once again, America....) Unfortunately for him, I understood his espanol...though I'm a bit rusty and unconfident in my speaking ability. But seeing as I was being judged right and left for what A) didn't have anything to do with me---I don't choose the menu items or how the food is prepared and B) his pre-conceived notion that I am a white, upper middle class, uncultured, ignorant girl from Mesa who when craving some "real mexican food", heads to Rubios, I pulled out my rusty spanish and did my best to answer his questions in a language that is not the primary language spoken in the country he and I both live in. Ironically, his company resembled me--blonde haired "gringas"..... and unbeknownst to him, I actually do know what real mexican food is and have been to, by his standards, a "real taqueria", in fact I used to drive 40 minutes south of Portland to Lucia's just to get a real carnitas burrito and horchata occasionally, which I would order in yes, espanol.

That was me venting.

Anyway. I haven't had much time to post.

Re-calling the last few months of my life (basically from my 26th birthday to now) to you I would probably use words like: lost, confused, abandoned, forsaken, lost (again), broken, directionless, struggling, tired, frustrated, sad, hurt, angry, tired (again), really tired, stagnated, at a loss for understanding, broken down, at the bottom, without hope, hanging by a thread, at the end of my rope, head under water, heart-broken, and once again, lost.

The fact that something in my life ends up breaking about every two weeks (car, external hard drive, car, computer, car, keyboard) and financial blunders like the cost to repair or replace such items, two speeding tickets (which imo were completely undeserved) and a credit card bill that was never received in the mail, or the actual card, which made an under $20 purchase end up costing $50 when all was said and done (no mercy for the first time offender apparently), when all I was TRYING to do was get out of debt and get a move on in my life (i.e. NEW YORK!!!), has only added additional insult to injury.

Needless to say, most days for the past 3 months have left me feeling and resembling something like this:

(Thank you to my adorable niece, Ella, for so perfectly describing my sentiment without words. I know how you feel, sista friend.)

Angels and Unseen Miracles
Despite the running theme of emotional turmoil and frustration in my life, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize the occasional swooping in of "angels" and "miracles" that have made their way along my path almost undetected until I took a step back to reflect---random visits, phone calls, beautiful sunrises and sunsets that remind me that there is joy and beauty in the world and extend my perspective even if just to get me from one day to the next (like this one)
conversations that I needed to have that shed a little light on my life, the friend who came by one morning: "hey I was thinking of you, I'm taking you to breakfast" and then proceeded to spend the entire day with me to keep me distracted and not without company on one of the most anxiety-filled days of my life. When I thanked this friend for her support that day she said, "Oh, of course. I love you. You just popped into my head and I knew what God was telling me; I headed straight over." I have thought back on that day and this friend of mine with tears in my eyes and am tearing up as I write this. This is partly because I love this friend and I miss her, but also because God knew exactly what I was going through in a very personal, specific way and what I might need to help me through it. Although I feel a little undeserving, I'm in awe that he would care and love me that much. I also find myself emotional because my friend's un-hesitated action in response to that prompting blessed my life tremendously and reminded me that God knew who I was and where I was and what I needed, which in itself was something I needed. Even despite how seemingly unpretentious and ordinary her actions may have looked to an outsider, in some small way she saved me that day. And then I think: how many times have I received a similar feeling or thought about someone in my life and pushed it aside or forgotten about it or been too busy and selfish to recognize it? What if my friend had reacted similarly that day? I am so grateful she hadn't and I am sad for the times someone may have needed me or I may have needed someone and God wasn't able to use us to help each other because of the busy signal we put on the call. She has taught me a valuable lesson. When I think about what it would have felt like to have spent that day alone, I am so grateful she responded to that call.
Then there was the person in the huge truck that came up behind my tiny Honda Civic in the army of cars that were heading in my direction from behind going twice as fast as I was as my car was breaking down and losing power on the freeway, and who somehow just knew what was going on with me and what to do, and sticking right behind me, made each lane change across the 6 lane freeway with me until I made it safely to the shoulder. And the other man who pulled over to assist me on the side of the road and make sure I wasn't stranded in that 110+ degree heat. And then there was the unseen force that compelled the 1,000 lb elk in the middle of the road to wait a second longer before charging at my car at 2:30 AM in the middle of nowhere, southern Oregon on my drive up I-5 and the force that kept the elk to the right from reacting at all, allowing me to slip through them almost unscathed, with only a cosmetic dent to my hood and a little bit of a scared adrenaline rush.
The reminder that God answers prayers, if not when and how we want. Almost a year ago I lost my car keys in Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (see this post, item #1 and item #6) I prayed with faith that we would find those keys and believed whole-heartedly that we would. And then we didn't. I didn't understand why but there was nothing I could do. When I got a call from my brother several weeks ago that my Honda car keys were found among his race equipment that had been sifted through several times over the past year during his Epic Relay events I didn't really know what to think. "Well, God answers prayers," Michael said. "Sure," I thought. But, it felt more like a slap in the face. That doesn't help me at all. I had to re-key my car. Those keys wouldn't work now. And I went through so much trouble and money those two days in WY, UT, WY, ID, UT (see the post) in dealing with the situation. "God answers prayers, but it doesn't help me," my limited understanding was beating back at me. At the time this experience almost fueled more anger at the pathetic life situation I was finding myself in. But now, somehow, as I've strived to understand and stop and listen and learn, I'm finding the true meaning of that experience: God answers prayers. Period. He knows what we need to experience. Period. He answered my prayer that we would find the keys. Maybe it felt like a cruel joke when I first found out. But now it feels like a blessed bit of information. God answers prayers.
Then there was the tear-ridden walk I set off on alone, in desperation for just "something", "anything" to rid me of the plague of pain spreading in my heart that found me atop a hill at the memorial cemetery overlooking Portland. The clouds parted and the sun was shining through. A brilliant beginning to a majestic sunset broke my anguished and tearful pleadings for even a semblance of an answer, which I felt I had too long been deprived of, with the words that were clearly spoken to my mind: "Be still. And know that I am God." Had I been truly listening I would have recognized that God prepared me with that information a few weeks prior because I had written those exact words in my journal--I don't remember why or what the circumstance was, but they were there as I discovered later, as sort of a prep to the phase of "running around like a chicken with my head cut off" attitude that I ended up finding myself in. It still took me a few weeks after this hilltop revelation to really take the advice to heart. But most poignant was that I knew and know who God is, with an awe-like reverence for his power, love and brilliant omniscience. I wanted more. I wanted clear directions. I wanted miraculous intervention. What He gave me was all I really needed to know: I am God. Stop freaking out.

Resistance Training

Another "angel" dropped by today in the form of a phone call from a very gifted person in the art of healing. I didn't even hear the phone ring but just looked over as the call was coming in. This visit resulted in a tutorial on the subject of spiritual resistance training. When we want to build muscle and "get buff", we put our body through necessary pain to strengthen it. We create tears in our muscles...we RIP up our muscles!!! and force them to repair themselves with more tissue so that the next time we use them they are ready for the weight we want them to carry. We get stronger. Our body/mind knows this will happen, but our muscles certainly don't like it. As I'm currently in week 3 of P90x I am reminded of this on a regular basis--Yoga Belly 7 has left my stomach muscles with acute pain from the stress put on them yesterday. But, as I know too well and am reminded by my fav trainers to love/hate Jillian Michaels and Tony Horton--when you're shaking, when you're on those last few reps, when you're fighting just to get through, THAT's when change happens. Good change (I hope.) The kind of change you look forward to, like flabby mid-section turning to 6-pack abs change. Yeah, my stomach muscles hurt today as I moved around at both of my jobs, but I know it'll be worth it. In a similar way, God sometimes forces us into a spiritual workout routine that leaves us tired and ripped up. He pushes us beyond the capacity of what we think we can do into the realm of magnificent change. But in the interim, our spiritual muscles are tearing and it HURTS! It hurts and we want it to stop and we don't see how it's helping and if we're not careful we may not see that He is still standing there beside us ready to spot us if the weight gets too heavy or if we feel like giving up.

"Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2.) If it were up to me, my race would have been over in December. But here it is August, and somehow, I'm still running. He knows how far we need to run to make it to the better finish. I recall the half marathon I ran in February. As a runner you may often come to understand the term "hitting a wall." I hit my wall around mile 10 of my 13.1 mile race. I had taken shot blocks to sustain my energy and hydrated every mile with my camelback but the last few miles of my race were still met with screaming calf muscles which were turning into cramps and a fading will. I had been running straight for about an hour and 50 minutes. As I rounded the bend into the last two miles of the race, a straight stretch at a steady uphill incline to the finish, I set out with determination. I thought of "The Old Man in the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway. The old man fought for days to bring down a mighty fish (bigger than his skiff) that would not easily surrender. In Hemingway's fictional story, an 80 year-old man toughed it out on the sea with no food or water and bloody and cramped hands from clinging onto and pulling back the rope that held his prize. He never complained, he never doubted, he just told his hand to stop cramping!!! As I ran up Thomas Rd with little energy and screaming calves I meditated on the old man in the sea and phrases like, "mind over matter", "calm within the storm", "relax", "no pain". I was in pain. And I was tired. But as I got to the end I exerted a surge of energy that propelled me forward through the last stretch to the finish. I was full out running! I don't know how. Though I was beaten and tired and seemingly worse and more hurt than before I set out on my race that morning---I somehow was stronger. My barriers of what I could and couldn't do had been stretched. I could have done anything that day. I ran a half marathon (UNDER my goal time!) Let's do it again! I thought. Nah. I'm saving the full marathon for next February :).

The point is, though I may be tired and weak and feel lost, I'm still running. God knows where we're headed and why, and we have to hold on to hope that we'll finish and feel stronger than before. I have to hope that the reward will be worth it.

Similar to my hilltop revelation, I recently received an answer to my tender pleadings, "Are you aware of me? Are you even there? How am I going accomplish what I need to?" The voice spoke clear again: "Fear not, I am with you."

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn, Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.