Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Next Right Step

This time last year, I was preparing for Ethiopia. I love Christmas, but I was happy to see it come and go.  On December 26, 2009, I boarded a place for Washington, D.C. and eventually one to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I was horribly sick.  I had woken up that morning with a stomach virus.  All of my family members had been sick prior to Christmas, and my mother promised me that I would only be sick about 10-12 hours.  So I got on the plane, praying that by the time I arrived in Ethiopia, I would be on the road to recovery.  The next 24 hours were shaky.  I threw up on the airplane.  God bless the poor girl who sat beside me.  The flight attendant was furious with me for traveling while sick.  I had to do it, though.  Ethiopia was expecting me.

I have always love missions and missionaries.  My parents were missionaries to New Zealand, and I got to see how it all worked firsthand.  As a pastor's kid in high school, I loved seeing the presentations as the missionaries came to our church.  When I started as a freshman at Baptist Bible College, I remember listening to a speaker in my Intro to Missions class, and I felt like boarding a plane and joining this man in his work.  Just seeing someone else's genuine burden for a specific people group has always spoken to me.  It still does, really.  I have seen seasoned missionaries cry through their video presentations that they have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  Those are the ones that get me.   And so, though my adult life has gone through a series of unexpected turns and changes, one thing has remained constant.  I have always wanted to go.  Even when I convinced myself that it was okay to stay, that I would marry and have a family and stay right here in the United States forever and ever, in the back of my mind, it was always there.

Ethiopia was a test of that desire.  I thought it would spark a new burden.  After all, the need is great, and I was sure that seeing it firsthand would give me the "This is it... this is where I am supposed to be" feeling.  And it didn't.  I spent almost two weeks in Ethiopia.  I saw so much poverty, so many beautiful people, and so much work to be done.  And I expected to feel the desire to stay.  But after two weeks of a beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes painful trip through the country, I didn't feel it.  This wasn't it.

The months following my trip to Ethiopia were confusing ones.  I expected to have more clarity about life and the world and my place in it, and I had so, so much less.  I had made wonderful friends on the trip, and then they were taken away from me and returned to their respective homes.  The sickness that I took with me to Ethiopia never quite left me, and I couldn't eat without feeling sick for about a month.  I was kind of a mess.  And I felt like I had been deprived of the one thing that I had really wanted... direction.

But when we don't have clarity about going, we stay.  When God doesn't say to move, we stand still.  And I hate standing still.  I hate not knowing.  I like planning.  I like knowing what comes next.  I like it when everything fits into my day planner and everything makes sense.  But God doesn't work like this.  Life is not a road map that we follow step by step to reach a destination.  Life is about doing the next right thing. Taking the next right step, even if we don't have the slightest idea where that next step will take us.

About a month ago, I met a woman at a craft show that was selling beads.  I recognized them as the same kind of paper beads I had purchased in Ethiopia.  I have seen them in coffee shops and little boutiques, and they are a popular way for African women to make money.  The woman selling the beads was part of an organization called Village of Hope Uganda.  Their goal is to provide homes and community for refugee children in Uganda.  I stood and listened to the woman tell about abducted children, child mothers, and children forced to kill family members.  She has seen these things firsthand and has decided to do something about it.  I also discovered that she is the founder of Village of Hope Uganda.  She has overseen the building of homes, a school, a church, and a clinic.  And so I became hopeful once again.  I wanted to do something to help.  I cried when I walked away from the booth.  I emailed the founder the same day, and my main question was "What can I do to help?".  We still to have to work out the details, but I am currently planning on traveling to Uganda with her at some point in 2011, if God allows.

Who knows what this means?  Well, God does, I guess.  But I am trying to let go of figuring it all out.  I still want to be married and have kids and do missions work and teach and play music.  There are lots of details, lots of possibilities, lots of tiny little things that would have to fall into place just right for me to be able to have it all.  And I serve a God that specializes in orchestrating all of those tiny little things.   Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorite verses, but I have to say that there isn't really a version that completely captures what it means.  I know the thoughts I think toward you.  I know that plans I have for you.  The word that is translated "think" or "have" actually means to weave or to braid or to fabricate.  To weave.  I almost shouted the day that I did a word study and discovered what it really meant, and I have to say that I am not much of a shouter.  But it confirmed what I already knew.  And it continues to remind me and encourage me when I have no idea what's going on in my life... like right now.  All of these little details of my life, every experience, every relationship, every encounter... those are all being woven together to create God's plan.  I know some people don't believe that.  They don't believe that God is so involved.  But I believe He is because He says He is.  And so I will take the next right step when the time comes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It Really is a Wonderful Life

I think it is the O'Dell Christmas tradition to not have too many Christmas traditions.  I recall very few things that we repeat every single year, things that are "ours".  Some people might hear that and shake their heads and say how sad it is.  How terrible our lives must be without having spent that past 30 years doing the same things or how the lack of tradition makes our family less special.  I say it makes us interesting.  

I know other kinds of people exist.  The ones who set a complete table with Christmasy centerpieces, tablecloths, candles, holiday stemware, and Tony Bennett playing in the background.  Maybe even little Christmas Villages, surround by cottony snow and twinkling lights.  The children in these families wake up with perfect Christmas hair and they wait patiently beside the tree and open their presents one at a time, thanking each and every giver for the new pajamas and toys.  They never complain.  They always share.  They pose perfectly for pictures with each gift.  The family sits around the tree every year and read the Christmas story, and even the babies are respectful enough to stay quiet.  The Christmas turkey is cooked to a golden brown.  It is never dry.  The dressing is perfectly seasoned and the pies are perfectly sweet.  All gifts are perfectly suited and sized.  I don't know how these families do it.  They probably have an incredibly controlling, stressed-out perfectionist mother.  That's all I can figure.

If you could follow me through my Christmases Past, you would not find this picture.

Christmas 1983.  My Mom came home from the hospital with Ashlae Paige, the newest O'Dell, born two days before.  Freezing temperatures meant no water in our house.  So for three days, no dishes or laundry had been done.  Also on Christmas morning, unexpected company dropped in for a visit.  New baby, messy house, visitors, and definitely no Tony Bennett.  My mother was not happy.  It was a Christmas to remember.

Christmas 1985. While on deputation, we rented a chalet at Cheaha State Park in Alabama.  Spent Christmas with our favorite North Carolina friends, the Hensley family.  We cut down our own Christmas tree, and we strung popcorn to use for decoration. If I recall correctly, the albums of choice were Lee Greenwood and Amy Grant.  I loved this weird Christmas.  

Christmas 1987. Christmas in New Zealand.  Summertime weather at Christmas just feels wrong.  The Hensley family joined us in New Zealand several months before Christmas.  Kids from both families secretly practiced for weeks (probably only days, really) for our very own nativity play.  I believe I was an angel.  The parents were surprised and delighted by our performance.

Christmas 1990.  We had just arrive back from New Zealand.  We were living in a tiny house that was way too small for a family with six kids, and we had borrowed furniture.  I was in the 8th grade, and I clearly remember receiving a pink gumball machine and a cassette single of the song "Crazy" by the Boyz.  I am sure I got other things, but those were the most memorable.  I made up a dance routine to that song, and I kept the gumball machine until I graduated from high school.

Christmas 1998.  I was in New Zealand, again.  This time I was without family.  I was living with missionaries Clint and Beverly Braly, and their son Gabe and his grandfather arrived on Christmas morning.  It was an interesting Christmas day that was spent missing my family but thankful was I wasn't completely alone. I think we followed it up the next day with a trip to Piha Beach and a hike.  Within three weeks, I was engaged to Gabe.  And then three months later, I was unengaged.  Easy come, easy go.  

Christmas 2001.  For whatever reason, my parents decided to move on Christmas Day.  So, after the Christmas festivities (that were only mildly festive), we helped pack up boxes and we hauled stuff from one side of Granbury, Texas to the other.  The most annoying part of this day is that I had a brand new pair of black, fuzzy slippers that I had received as a gift from my best bud Elisa.  They were one size too small, so I kept the tags on them and planned to take them back to exchange them for the correct size.  At some point in the day, I looked on my sister's feet to see my brand new slippers being worn in and out of the house.  Never mind that they didn't belong to her.  Or that there were tags still attached (before they were ripped off by the sister)  There is a tiny part of me that still gets mad about this.  This might go down in the books as the worst Christmas ever.  

Christmas 2002.  Christmas in Branson, Missouri.  My family rented two houses on the lake, and we planned to make up for the lameness of the previous year.  Craig, Adam, and I were driving from Tennessee.  As we drove into Missouri, a snowstorm developed and a 8 hour trip from Nashville to Branson turned into two days.  We stopped somewhere in Missouri and stayed the night, and set out the next morning (Christmas Eve) to try to make it.  The ground was white, the sky was white, and everything in front of us was white.  It took about 30 minutes to go four miles.  My brother Craig was driving and could not see.  So we exited the highway, ended up at Wal-Mart and were stranded  for about 5 hours.  The up side is that I had a little bit of shopping left to do, and I was able to get it done with no Christmas crowd.  In addition to the snowstorm and horribly long drive, this was the Christmas of rooming with the nieces and nephews.  If you like to sleep, it is never a good idea to room with the nieces and nephews.  Lesson learned.

Tonight I got together with my family.  Five of the six siblings attended, each bringing their significant other and/children.  There was no ceremony or order to the way the gifts were opened.  The children flung wrapping paper all over the living room, and they went home with little idea of which gifts were given by whom.  The adults did a little better and patiently waited and open presents in an adult-like fashion, acknowledging and thanking the giver after each one.  There was no Christmas music played as we ate our dinner.  Our Christmas Eve dinner definitely included pigs in a blanket and a snack mix called "puppy chow", which I am pretty sure means we are unrefined.  We didn't sing any Christmas carols, which is actually a change from the last few years where we have gone caroling, a tradition I don't mind skipping every now and then.  Several children cried, a few fits were thrown, wedgies were given.  But you know what?  I love my family.  I am so very blessed with such a beautiful, witty, talented, and fun family.  They are loud and opinionated and kind of sarcastic.  And we fight and argue on occasion.  But when it comes down to it, they are loving and forgiving and generous and fiercely protective.  They are not perfect, but they are mine.  And I think I will keep them.  Merry Christmas from my slightly unrefined family to yours.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Working Out is Hard to Do

In 1986, my dad got a Fred Flintstone bop bag as a gag gift for his birthday.  I was only nine, but my eyes lit up when I saw it.  My first thought was I can use that to work out!  I have no idea why my 9-year-old skinny self was thinking about working out, but I was.  Throughout the night, while the adults were talking and laughing and eating cake, I was thinking about the bop bag and all that I would accomplish with it.  Of course my 42 year old dad wasn't going to want this gift.  I was certain that it would be mine soon.  I was thrilled... right up to the point where my dad gave it away to another child.  She walked out the door with my Fred Flintstone bop bag, and with it, she took my dreams of being adding a punching bag to my workout routine.

My mother was not a worker outer.  (Sorry, Mom, to divulge your secret)  She was a dieter, but I don't remember her being into running or walking or sports.  So I don't really know where I got it, but by age 10, I had a mixtape labeled "workout", along with a specific exercise regimen that included sit-ups (back when sit-ups were cool and crunches were unheard of) and jumping jacks (or star jumps for my Commonwealth friends).  I eventually incorporated regular jump rope and then Chinese jump rope.  I was an exercise fanatic.  I don't remember being worried about my weight or my figure.  I just thought it was fun.

When I made it to high school, I was involved in volleyball, basketball, and cheerleading until our school got so small that those things were no longer really offered.  But I loved practice for all of the afore mentioned sports.  I thought it was fun.  Then, onto college.  I tried out for cheerleading, and much to my surprise, I made it.  For three years, I cheered my heart out for the Baptist Bible College Patriots.  I liked going to practice.  I loved the girls that I cheered with, and I didn't mind the work involved.  I worked extra hard over Christmas break each year to improve my jumps.  I was active and I was thin and I was happy.

I don't know when I started hating to exercise.  I can't remember one specific moment when everything changed.  But here I am, almost 34 years old, and I hate to exercise.  Whenever I get on a treadmill or an elliptical machine, I am never thinking about how much fun it is.  I still do yoga, walk, run, or ellipt (or whatever it is you do on the elliptical), but for the most part I don't like it.  So I distract myself.  I distract myself with the TV or my ipod (the 2010 version of the workout mixtape).  I listen to music that I never listen to in real life- Akon, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Shakira- and I watch things I never watch in real life, like Judge Judy and Oprah. But no matter how many distractions I have, or how many positive "I am an athlete" conversations I have with myself, I would rather stay home and watch five episodes of Cake Boss on Netflix than work out.

And so there are consequences.  I admit to occasionally lying on my bed to get my jeans zipped.  I admit that I have used a rubber band to expand the waistline of my pants.... a good trick I stole from the expectant mother crowd.  I frequently do "stretching squats" to stretch out freshly laundered jeans so that I can breathe.  I wear flowy tops.  I do not tuck in my shirts.  Shopping is no longer about buying what is fashionable but what doesn't make me look chubby.   My hand goes on my hip for picture taking so that my arm looks nice and slim.  I have learned all of the tricks.

One day the tricks won't work, and I will have to be really dedicated.  Stretching squats and flowy shirts won't help with high cholesterol and heart problems, so at some point I hope to become one of those 70-year-old women that walks three miles every morning.  My old, gray-haired husband and I will walk our dog after dinner, and we will go to the local senior center for water aerobics and the silver sneakers class.  But until then, I will halfheartedly fight through.  I will occasionally go to yoga class.  I will sometimes sprint.  I will count most sets and reps. I will sweat a little on the elliptical.  I will endure the endless chatter of the man that ellipts next to me, as he compliments my lovely perfume (that I am not even wearing).  But the second my gym starts offering boxing classes or anything involving a punching bag, I am totally in.

And if someone could please tell me the term for what you actually do on the elliptical, I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections of Ethiopia

Last December, I traveled to Ethiopia.  I wrote almost a whole blog about it this morning, and then I remembered this letter that I had written.  I was originally going to send this to Mocha Club, the organization that I traveled with, but honestly, though every word I wrote here was true, I was far too overwhelmed at what I saw to finish and send it.  And even still, it is unfinished.  And it will remain that way.  (I apologize in advance for the weird, abrupt ending... I will add some pictures to ease your discomfort)  I feel like God is not finished teaching me what he needed to teach me from that experience.  I am planning on returning to Africa at some point, and I will continue the journey that I started last year.  And the new blog that I wrote this morning will be finished and posted in a day or two.  But for this morning, you get my initial thoughts of Ethiopia:

Missionary kids know a thing or two about sacrifice.  I grew up in New Zealand in a missionary family, and as an adult, I served in New Zealand and China.  I am familiar with sacrifice. And before crossing over into another culture, I always expect to give up some things.  Comfort.  Convenience.  Digital communication.  Warm showers.  But almost always, I gain more than I lose.  I find things I didn't even know I was looking for.  I always walk away from the experience having gained more than I gave.  Here are some unexpected things I found in Africa:

Even in Ethiopia, babies still love to be held.  Kids love to play games.  Smiles can communicate what words often cannot.  Trying and failing is always more respectable than not trying at all.  Children's Christmas programs are almost always cheesy.  Coffee makes mornings better.  Boys love sports. Girls like rings and necklaces. The meeting of a brother in Christ brings an instant connection.  Prayers are answered.  God still offers forgiveness.  Hope runs rampant. 

Those who had little were willing to share it.  While standing outside homes of strangers, I was invited inside for coffee.  I was shown sleeping babies.  I was introduced to family through photographs hung on mud walls.  I was offered bread.  I was kissed on the cheek- right side, left side, and then the right again.  I was shown how to make injera in a kitchen constructed out of sticks.  I was hugged.  I was a stranger, and I was taken in and treated as family.

There are children that need teaching.  Patients that need tending.  Relationships that need growing.  Hunger that needs feeding.  Babies that need rocking.  Seekers that need guiding.  Brokenness that needs healing.  Projects that need funding.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.


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