Monday, September 26, 2011

Almost Homeless... living life in Limbo

My lease is up in four days. Four. And you know where I am moving? Yeah, neither do I. So until we know, we will be paying a ridiculously inflated price for the privilege of living somewhere without a lease. As in, I-should-be-living-in-a-luxury-townhome price. The timing is impeccable, really (please hear my sarcasm here). My husband quit one of his part-time jobs a month ago, a faith-move that we both happily agreed on. But honestly, we had expectations. Expectations of God rushing right in and providing something else. And here we are over a month later (which feels longer when you are right in the middle of it) and He hasn't. He has provided financially, in crazy ways really. Unexpected ways. Ways we could have never planned or plotted on our own. But we are definitely missing the element of consistency, of knowing that a certain amount is coming on on a certain day. And while some people like the thrill of uncertainty, I can tell you that I don't. I prefer knowing how to plan.

There is opportunity on the horizon for us. Opportunity to minister together. For those who do not know, Jake and I are on staff at separate churches. Sundays are not days of worship as much as they are days of work. We get up, get ready, and we wave goodbye as we head out the door to our different churches. And while we have learned to live with the current situation, we have always known that it wouldn't work forever. And we were right. It has gotten old. So we are praying and looking for what God has next. We both love our current churches and the people we minister with, but we know we need something new. Something together. And so we wait. We wait for God to move us or to give us a clear indication that we need to stay right where we are. We wait for direction. And in the midst, I struggle to find peace.

Surely you know this place. It should be familiar to us both. The place where you can remember just a few months before you were comfortable and content. And then God makes it less comfortable. He sends gentle nudges to move you out of the place of comfort. The change is hard, but the uncertainty about what comes next is harder. I have been here before, and I am here again. And it's a little scary and a little intimidating.

One of the interesting parts about being a children's minister and teaching the truth of God's Word to children each week is that I often get more out of the lessons I teach than the kids do. I can't tell you how many times I have been in the middle of a lesson, and the Holy Spirit sends the message Do you hear what you're saying? This is for you. And one of my commonly repeated phrases in kids' church is I can trust God no matter what. No matter what. And it's a good reminder. It's a simple concept, but it changes everything when I live like I believe it. I don't have to worry. I don't have to freak out (though I sometimes do). I don't have to sit and look at my watch and think about how long God is taking to work things out for me. And I don't have to develop a plan B in case my current plan A doesn't work. I can trust God no matter what. 

Today is Monday, and I hope to end this day with direction. I am expecting it, even. But if it doesn't come, I will be fine. I still won't know what comes next, I am coming back to this simple truth. I can trust God no matter what. And I will.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Happy Blogiversary to Me

I hate the word blog.  I always have.  I get where it came from and why it's easier to say than weblog.  It just sounds gross.  But after years of having stories to tell and no real discipline to sit down and write, I gave in and joined the world of blogging.  That was one year ago.  And so, as much as I despise all forms of the word blog, I have learned to love blogging.  And blog readers.  And blog comments.

It has been exactly one year and four days since The Potluck Diaries appeared on the internet.  I remember the day that I asked for blog name suggestions.  Jewels from Julie.  The Cat's Meow (I don't even like cats).  The list was long, and most of the options... well, they weren't really options.  My friends were throwing out suggestions left and right, and though their efforts were generous and appreciated, none of their names stuck.  Until "The Potluck Diaries".  If you read my one of my first blogs ever, I explained the name.  And it fit.  And so I began telling my stories, and you, all ten of you,  began reading.

And so this is my thank you to you.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit my tiny part of the internet and to share in my life, past and present.  Thanks for the reposts and the comments.  I love telling stories, and it makes it far more exciting when someone is there to read them.  I will post another real, actual blog later in the day, if time permits.  But for this morning, I just wanted to send out thanks and blessings to you and wishes for me to commit to another year of ridiculousness right here.  You know where to find me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicago, the Miami of Canada*

Chicago.  I hate the band.  Love the city.  My first trip to Chicago was in October of 2006.  The thing I remember most was that the weather was beautiful.  Simply beautiful.  Blue skies, temperatures that hovered around the high 60's.  Just perfect.  My next trip was in February of 2008.  What I remember most about this trip is the freezing cold.  So, so cold.  Apparently I didn't learn my lesson about Chicago winters, and I went back in December of 2008, right after Christmas.  It was beautiful and snowy, and though my teeth chattered everywhere we went, I got to experience the magic that is downtown Chicago at Christmas.

Fairy tale Christmas displays in department store windows.

Giant wreaths on storefronts.

Christmas lights glowing on the naked trees that line Michigan Avenue.

Creepy stuff elves dangling from the ceiling at Water Tower Place.

Twenty minutes of waiting in line outside Gino's East for a table for two.

Watching the ice skating in Millenium Park.

Rigatoni Ala Vodka from Barnelli's Pasta Bowl.

Wreath necklaces hung on the bronze lions that guard the doors of the Art Institute.

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo.

It didn't take long for Chicago to become one of my favorite cities.

Then came the summer of 2010.  I had reconnected via Facebook with a couple of girlfriends from college, one of whom lived in the Chicagoland area.  And so the WWF** Reunion Tour was planned.  I had no idea what our five days in Chicago would be like.  Caryn lived in the DFW area and we had met up a few times before the trip.  But we hadn't seen Dotti (aka Christina, Christi, Dooti, Dooters) in twelve years.  You know those people that stay the same?  The kind that you can skip more than a decade and pick up right back where you left off?  Turns out that Caryn and Dotti are those kind of people.  It proved out to be one of the funnest trips ever.  

Three trips into the city.  

Shopping at H&M.  Several times.  

Deep dish pizza from Giordano's.  

Chicago Mix popcorn from Garrett's.  

Playing in the water at the Faces display at the Crown Fountain.  

Train rides in and out of the city.  

Lunch at the Signature Room (with a view from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center)

And more than this, we had five days to catch up on the last twelve years of living.  And catch up we did.  We had dinners in the backyard in the cool weather, complete with flowers and our official WWF salad (spinach with feta cheese, craisins, and walnuts).  And we talked about kids and husbands and ex-husbands and how they came to be ex-husbands.  We talked time and change and struggles and mistakes.  We painted a bedroom, even though we were too weak to move the furniture completely out of the way (sorry, Dotti, for the weird painting mess you will have to remedy if ever you move out).  We bonded over Nutella and pretzel sticks and stories.  We laughed, we cried, and when it was time to go home, we agreed that the WWF Reunion Tour was going to need to be an annual event.  

This year, because of Caryn's being in the motherly way and my wedding, we settled on skipping the Chicago trip, and hanging out a day or two together before the wedding.  That would have to count for 2011.  It was a short reunion, and it was filled with busyness, but it worked.  And it was officially recognized as the the WWF Reunion II.  And while we had planned on making another trip to Chicago next year (and are still planning it, come hell or high water... or more babies), the goodness of God and allowed me to return just a few short weeks ago.  $50 tickets each way.  I paid less for me and Jake to fly to Chicago this summer than I did for a single ticket last summer.  We were so excited when we found the bargain flights.  I quickly messaged Dotti who said that we should definitely come.  So we bought our tickets.  And honestly, the main thing getting us through this miserable, dreadful, awful, triple digit heat Texas summer (where we hated everything and almost everyone because of the heat) was the thought of Chicago, the city and the weather.  We knew it wouldn't be a WWF Reunion because Caryn was missing, but it would be fun.

When we stepped out of the Chicago airport, we were greeted by sunny skies and a lovely breeze.  We had a little wait for our ride, but we were so happy to be escaping 107 degrees, we were delighted to have to wait.  And then came more train rides, more Giordano's pizza, more Garrett's popcorn, more shopping at H&M, and more stories.  A couple of days of hanging out with Dotti and her sweet kids, Maddie and James.  The day before our departing flight, Jake and I said our goodbyes to them, and we headed by train into the city for one last night on the town before heading back home.  Our hotel was right on the Chicago River, and we were given a beautiful room with a riverfront view.  We had our dinner riverside at Bridge House Tavern, spent too much and probably ate too much.  Two yachts pulled up beside us while we were eating, and the passengers casually climbed over the wall and sat at tables near us.  I wanted to ask for a ride, but for safety's sake (and for the sake of my worrying mother), I decided against it.  

The next morning we got a little exercise down on Lake Shore Drive, admiring the sailboats and the people who were out running when we only had the energy to walk.  We followed it up with breakfast at Intelligentsia, makers of the the best coffee that I have had outside of Ethiopia.  Then a day of walking and shopping and photographs and more walking.  We lunched at Rosebud on Rush ("lunch" is a verb when you are on vacation... or if you are rich, which we are not), where we shared a sandwich and fries.  We later completely spent our remaining week's worth of Weight Watchers' points on a Cookie Bottom Sundae from Ghirardelli, which was delicious and well worth the splurge.  In our final hours in the city, we took a taxi down to Navy Pier and were sad to find that the windiness of the Windy City had closed down the ferris wheel for the day.  Still we walked around and saw stained glass exhibits and watched the city from the pier.  But our time in Chicago was coming to a close.  We took another taxi to our hotel to pick up our luggage, and we were dropped off at a train stop.  After a confusing walk through the underground maze that is the Chicago Transit System, we finally made it onto the correct train and to the airport.  And then home to Dallas.  

For two days we experienced a temporary but very real depression.  The swing from the highs of our trip to the lows of regular, everyday life was just too much, too quick.  But after a few days and a significant change in Texas weather, we are all better.  So now we can think about the trip and not want to break down and drive back to the airport and get on the next plane back to Chicago (partly because we are over it, but mainly because it's expensive).  

I am excited for next summer.  We have plans for the third installment of our WWF Reunion.  Maybe we will plan the first part of the trip without husbands and let them come fly out for the last few days.  Or maybe we will keep this a girls only trip.  Either way, I am looking forward to it.  We will have more stories to tell.  We will eat more popcorn and pizza.  We will shop at H&M (even though Dallas has finally opened their own), and we will hopefully get to ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier.  So until then, Chicago, just know that you are on my list of favorites.  We miss you, but don't worry, we will be back.  Please have favorable weather waiting for us, and please let the Cubs be in town when we visit.  

*This nickname is brought to you courtesy of The Simpsons.  And it made me laugh.

** WWF is the nickname give to the girls of my fourth floor dormitory in college, Woodworth Fourth.  Technically, it should be WFF (Woodworth Fourth Floor), but we thought WWF was way funnier.  And it is.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Girl in the White Scarf

In August of 1998, I was barely a college graduate.  I had spent the summer wavering between two boyfriends, one that was incredibly fun and the other that was responsible and stable, and in my 22 year old mind, those things couldn't be found in the same person.  It was one or the other.  In the end, I chose neither.  I chose to move overseas to complete a year long missions internship.  As the summer drew to a close, I packed up my clothes, a used portable Discman, and 12 cd's (that I had gotten for the price of one, thanks to BMG music club) and I moved to New Zealand.

My flight path was strange.  Corpus Christi to Houston to Chicago to Los Angeles to Auckland. I was exhausted by the time I arrived some 24 hours later, and because of time zones, I had missed an entire day on the calendar.  I arrived on a Friday morning, bright and early.  I remember the flight attendant came over the speakers and said that the temperature in Auckland was 15 degrees Celsius.  Strange the things that stick with me.  The day was spent taking a brief tour of the city.  Denny's for breakfast, I remember.  I was tired and nervous and thrilled all at once.  I spent the day touring Auckland with missionaries Zane and Cindy Edwards, parents of my college friend Jonathan Edwards.  That night, they took me to the weekly church event they referred to simply as "Club", and there I met Michelle.

I have to admit, when you are in a new place with new faces, people tend to look the same.  Everyone had brown skin, dark brown hair, dark eyes.  It was difficult for me to tell people apart at first.  But on this first night of Club, Michelle was wearing a gray sweater, jeans, and a white scarf.  She was the only girl wearing a scarf.  So she stood out.  Michelle, white scarf.  Easy enough.  She had the secondary distinction of being one of the only girls whose name I could pronounce.  Sefulu, Fia Fia, Azariah, Lika.  Michelle was a dream to say.  And our friendship started there.

Over the year I spent in New Zealand, I grew to appreciate Michelle.  She married young, and had a toddler aged son at the time.  I was impressed by how competent she seemed as a parent at such a young age.  She and her husband Asaua had been saved under the Edwards' ministry, and they were faithful to attend church, special events, and extra Bible classes the church offered.  Because she was a stay-at-home mom (or mum) and my church work didn't usually start until the evenings, Michelle and I spent time together at Maraetai beach, at the local pools, and going to the gym.  When I left New Zealand in the summer of 1999, I wasn't sure when I would see her again.  But 2004 and 2007 brought us back together, first with my trip back to New Zealand, and second with Michelle and Asaua coming to the U.S. to visit me in Tennessee.

And then came 2009.  I knew Michelle had a love for Ethiopia.  Back in the 1980's she had been moved by television coverage of the famine taking place in Ethiopia, and she longed to go even then.  Talk of Ethiopia continued, but by 2009, Michelle and Asaua had five kids.  It kind of seemed like a big move for such a big family.  In April, Michelle sent me a message that she was interested in going to Ethiopia with a group called Mocha Club.  She learned of Mocha Club through a link I had posted on Facebook, and because I love missions, Michelle wanted to know if I wanted to go with her.  Because of the timing, there was no way I could go, but she pressed on and within ten weeks, God had provided more than $5000 it cost for her to go to Ethiopia.  She went and fell in love.  She wanted to go back.  So in October of 2009, she and I planned to go to Ethiopia on another trip the day after Christmas, this time her husband Asaua would go, too.  Their money didn't come through in time, and at the end of the year, I traveled to Ethiopia with a group of strangers, sad that my New Zealand friends were not able to join me.  But through a series of God ordered events, Asaua traveled to Ethiopia alone in 2010.  He saw firsthand the need of the Ethiopian people.  He saw the hunger and the poverty.  And like his wife, he wanted to do something about it.

Michelle and Asaua have sold everything, including their home in New Zealand.  Right now they are somewhere between Malaysia and Ethiopia with their five children.  They will be arriving in Ethiopia on September 3 and will be working with an American organization called Blessing the Children.  They will be volunteering their time and energy to meet the needs of orphans in their community, Debre Zeyit.  I am still amazed that they are finally on this journey.  Each time I hear from Michelle, she has a new story of God's provision for her family.  I can't wait to see what happens next for them.

And this is how missions works.  It starts with one person.  One person reaching another person who is called to go and reach another person.  Churches invested in the ministry of Zane and Cindy Edwards, who invested in the lives of Michelle and Asaua Tiatia.  Other teachers and preachers and mentors came along and picked up where the Edwards left off.  And now Michelle and Asaua are equipped to go and invest in the lives of others.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of my friends.  There is so much more to their story.  So many more details of trials and hardship and mistakes and grace.  There is so much that can be said about God's ability to hold together families through the darkest of times.  But tonight, as I sit here at my kitchen table, I am thinking of my friends and their new adventure, and I am a tiny bit envious of all that they will see and do.  I am praying for their safety, for God's provision, for comfort during the difficult times, for an easy adjustment for their children.  I am praying that lives will be saved, both physically and spiritually, because of their sacrifice.  Michelle and Asaua, I love you guys and I am incredibly proud of you.  Kia kaha and Mā te Atua e manaaki.* 

*Yes, I know you guys are Samoan and those are Maori phrases, but apparently the internet knows more Maori than Samoan (Be strong and God bless).

If you would like to donate to the Tiatia family, they are about $700 short of their initial deposit for their internship fees.  A lot of people doing a little can really add up!  You can donate by clicking here and under One Time Gift, click on Other and write "Tiatia Family" in the box below.  Your donation is tax deductible.  



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