Saturday, June 16, 2012

Shiny Rocks and Stable Rafts

     A good friend of mine and I recently decided that someday we want to build a raft and float away on an adventure, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn style.  Turns out building a raft is relatively simple.  If you tie the logs and poles together right, it seems as though a raft can be a pretty stable flotation device.  They can carry you, an adventure buddy, food, elements of shelter, or anything else you might need, like a big trophy that looks like a shiny rock.  We haven’t tried building a raft yet, but when we do I’ll let you know how many NITOC trophy rocks will fit.
     Tuesday night I was trying to muster the willpower to finish St. Augustine’s City of God which is the most difficult tome I have ever read, because of the sheer enormity and depth.  The second to last book, XXI, talks about the eternal punishment prepared for those who belong to the City of Men, rather than the City of God.  Towards the end of the book, Augustine explores the difference between the two.  He says that those who belong to the earthly city do not have Christ as their foundation, but those who belong to the Godly city do.  Having Christ as your foundation means that all of your works are based on Him, and He is preferred to anything else in the world.  Augustine quotes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: “Each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  
     For some reason, the image of a raft as a kind of foundation came to my mind and wouldn’t leave.  It’s a surface on which to put everything you might need for the journey of life, but in order to even get started you first have to build your raft.
     Today I graduate high school.  I love looking forward to what is ahead, but I never want to lose sight of what is behind.  ‘Part the first’ of my life is over, and that’s where the basis of the story is begun and the foundation is laid.  I’m so glad my parents used my education at home to help me build a raft based on God’s Word and my Savior.  Now as I and my fellow graduates move on through life, we’ll be adding onto that foundation.  We have to make a definite choice to build with gold, silver, precious stones, things that will survive the testing of the fire on judgement day.  If we fail to make a conscious effort, I have no doubt that soon we will end up with piles of wood, hay, and straw.  Those things will quickly ignite and be gone, leaving nothing but a blackened stain on our raft.
     My family knows that I love to make beautiful things.  Crafting has always been one of my special niches.  I want to continue adventuring on my raft, my foundation, my Jesus, and I want to add as many beautiful, eternal things as I can, by His Grace, so that by the end of my life I look back and see that it was not wasted.  With high school behind me I want every year to be even more productive.  It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
     Last week I competed in my very last speech and debate tournament, the 2012 National Invitational Tournament of Champions.  Speech and debate has been the best experience of my life, and it was an amazingly wonderful end to my career.  I finished with a pretty satisfactory level of success and have two more small trophies to add to the others on my shelf.  All my trophies from past years and tournaments have been made of shiny plastic.  NITOC 2012 gave out trophies made of crystal, sparkly rocks, and shimmery geodes, as an ebenezer to the speakers’ theme: Jesus as the Rock, and a nod to the location of Colorado, land of the Rocky Mountains.  I’ll add these new rocks onto my raft.  They won’t outlast the fire, but they’ll remind me until then of the lessons I’ve learned and the skills I’ve acquired in the first seventeen years of my life, and those are things I don’t ever want to forget.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I Can't Wait to Kiss the Ground

     Lately I’ve been out of my mind, and out of ideas, trying madly to get all my school done before the National Invitational Tournament of Champions, which is known to speech and debate kids as NITOC and yes, is just as awesome as it sounds.  But pretty soon, as in two weeks from tomorrow, I will graduate and this craziness will be over.  I’ve never been so utterly swallowed up in school in my life, and I can’t wait to kiss the ground whenever I touch back down, as Adam Young’s delightful song says.
     Yes, I missed writing last week, and this hardly counts, and next week I’ll be at NITOC, so unless I happen to have a lot of free time and WiFi I will miss next week’s, too.  Actually, not having WiFi would be more helpful to writing a post, now that I think about it.  But anyway, thank you for being patient as I finish all my school and prepare for said debate tournament.  It will be my last one ever.  I will miss competing but I’m moving on to some wonderful things!  
     This summer, I get to start coaching speech and debate at the Fifth Annual National Institute for Homeschool Debate at Concordia, hosted by Concordia University of Irvine, California.  It’s going to be an amazing week and if you’re interested in joining debate you should sign up with no hesitation.  Please check out the website or comment here if you’re interested.  I promise, you won’t be sorry!  It’s focused on Christ as the reason why we hone our debate skills, you will learn more than you could believe possible, it is the most fun week of your summer, and the faculty there is fantastic.  Trust my personal experience, I’ve been going for the past two years and am unbelievably thrilled to get to be on staff this year!
     The other reason I can’t wait for summer is that I’ve been accepted to go to Mongolia on a missions trip with Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child to pass out shoeboxes.  Look for more posts coming up!  I’ll definitely be writing about preparing to go, and especially about what it was like when I get back.  I already used so many adjectives about debate camp I’m not sure what to say here for fear of being repetitive or watering down the meanings of all those great words.  Hopefully it will suffice to say that there aren’t enough words to express how I feel about the trip, no, not if I used a whole dictionary (Anne Shirley again).  
     Finally, I have a mini-series that I’m thinking about writing up for the summer and I’m kind of excited about it’s potential.  Also, if you have any ideas for posts you’d like to see, please let me know.
     So, because I will likely be looking up quotes about economic security or applications of personal freedom if there is internet in Colorado (no of course I won’t be on Pinterest or Facebook or Polyvore, why do you ask?), expect the next post to be June 15th, the day before I graduate.  We’ll ramble about how life is short and my purpose and ultimate endings and unknown beginnings or something like that then.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Friendship

"The friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others." -C.S. Lewis
God and my parents have taught me a lot about friendship. I certainly have made, am making, and will make my share of mistakes, but through all those problems and embarrassing situations, I have learned so much.
When I saw this quote on a blog my mom was reading one morning at breakfast, it immediately seemed so true, so poignant. You know those moments when you are tuning/playing your guitar and you hit that low 'E' and BAM you know it is spot on, perfect, at last? It was kind of like that.  For you non-musical speech and debate type people, think of it as finally finding the perfect solvency advocate, except instead of explaining succinctly why we should adopt your carefully prepared, precious case, it clearly states a philosophy that your life experience has been developing inside your mind that previously you couldn’t articulate.
I love quotes.  They’re like evidence about how life works, from people who have been there.  This one is important to me because I think a lot of the time, we look for friends in the 'cool' people, the beautiful, the cute, the popular. Once we push, shove, and trample our way into their elite circle, we think we have it made. But we realize something pretty quickly.
It's not real.
That group of people, who seemed to have the 'good taste', the best friends, the most fun, the twitter-pating conversations, aren't really 'friends' at all. They are merely an intrigue of disguises, trying desperately to hide their own insecurity and faults by trampling on those of others. You and your friendship don’t matter to them, except when they can be used as a tool for their own gain. You try and get their attention, only to be shoved back onto the sidelines, blushing, knowing that you aren't truly accepted.
Trust me. I've been there. It leaves you feeling worthless, and upset.
But that's where true friendship comes in. More often than not, your best friends aren't the ones you chose because of looks, possessions, or that cute older brother/sister you want to get to know. 
True friends are the ones who you know love you for who you are, for the beauty God has placed in each and every one of us, and that those who really love you, your 'kindred spirits' as Anne Shirley would say, can see.
True friends are the people you can be yourself around. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." Isn't it great have people who fully accept you with all your foibles, and like you anyway? People who don't mind if you do something, well, stupid? Because they know what you are really like, and won't reject you just because you aren’t considered cool, aren’t willing to act the way they want you to, or do something embarrassing like totally trip on the edge of the basketball court (not like I have personal experience with this or anything...). True friends won’t forsake you even when you say something they don’t like to hear.
Always remember that no matter who rejects you, to God, you are beautifully, wonderfully, perfectly made. Those who really love you can see it.
And that will never change.
I thank God for all the amazing, true friends He has given me.  To those of you reading this who stand by me and love me even when I don’t deserve it, a thousand thanks.  I love you guys so much.
You are all so wonderful! And so is C.S. Lewis.

Friday, May 11, 2012

But Dismiss Your Fears

What are you most afraid of?
How you answer that question reveals an awful lot about your character.  Sometimes I can tell easily how a person would answer by just watching and listening.  For a couple of my good friends, I’ve even asked them.  I like to know.  It helps me understand them better, and I hope that maybe sometimes, because I know, I’ll be able to help them avoid or relieve their fears.
A while ago I decided to try and think carefully about what I feared most.  The list I came up with is 5) spiders; 4) being misunderstood; 3) losing someone I love/heartbreak; 2) wasting my life/messing up; and 1) torture.
That last one must be some kind of irrational fear, because no one else I know seems to have the same cold dread of seeing someone tortured that I do.  My only experience with this is in movies and TV shows, but I simply can’t stand it.  I used to make my family forward through the scenes in the Pit of Despair in the Princess Bride long after my younger siblings could handle it.  I still can’t really handle it, and I’ve had several people tell me they just don’t understand.  I don’t understand how they can watch that stuff without flinching, but I guess that’s how irrational fears work.
Something that’s not on the list has been bothering me for a long time: the fear of God.  The Bible states very clearly that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” in Proverbs 1:7.  I want to find this knowledge, but I can’t seem to be ‘scared’ of God.  Instead, I find myself marveling at His indescribable grace.  I cling to Him because life and my inability to cope scare me, and I know His love is all I need.  If anything, I’m scared of myself, but definitely not of mercy.  Ashamed, maybe, but not fearful.  
Too often I worry about what other people will think, and if they’ll misconstrue my words or my actions.  Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10 that we shouldn’t fear those who can only kill the body.  Rather, we should fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  I get the concept--don’t worry about what people think or what they’ll do to you.  Instead, fear what God thinks of you and His judgement.  In the end, that matters so much more than being misunderstood by people here on earth.  God will never misunderstand or mistake His judgement.  Knowing myself, if standing judgement were up to my own deeds that would not be a fact in my favor.  I want to be free from all fears except the fear of God, but as Adam Young put it, “I’m scared to death that I’ll never be afraid”. 
I asked a friend what they thought about this the other day.  They answered that the Bible seems to be talking about a very different kind of fear.  Sort of like how fearing the discipline of your parents is different from fearing spiders or things that go bump in the dark.
But the Bible also says “Don’t be afraid” over and over and over and over.  365 times, I’ve heard.  And we’re told why in 1 John 4:16-18: “We know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like Him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Life can be a scary sort of adventure sometimes.  As I approach graduation from high school, more and more uncertainties about the future pop up and clamor to be worried about.  But I know and rely on the love God has for me.  I am by no definition perfect in love myself, but I’m committed to living my life in His love as much as I can, because perfect love drives out all fear.  Looking ahead, I know that as Mumford and Sons beautifully phrased it, “There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.  And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.”
God is Love.  He will not break my heart, but dismiss all my earthly fears, leaving only the concern that I please and glorify Him.
I don’t need to fear being misunderstood.  I don’t need to fear losing loved ones or heartbreak.  I don’t need to fear wasting my life or messing up.  God understands me completely.  His love is perfect.  And He has a plan.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

In Loving Memory ["You just hide and watch me!"]

     A very special man was born seventy three years ago last Monday.  He worked as an aerospace engineer for Douglas Aircraft, Fairchild, and Parker Hannafin.  I could point to the exact parts on the rocket Saturn V and the space shuttle Columbia that he worked on designing.  I am so proud of him.
     He married the queen of her high school senior prom, Gretchen Kintz, where they lived in South Bend, Indiana.  The young couple packed up their belongings, down to classy ties and spiffy wrist length gloves, and moved to California.  Soon they had a family: Bob, Jim, Steve, Jere, and Eileen.  Their fourth and youngest son, Jere, is my dad.
     My Papa, also named Jere, led a wonderful life of resplendent integrity.  On a driving trip I recently took with his wife, my Nana, I asked her to tell me more about him.  She described how brilliant and funny he was, and yet he never put anyone down.  He and his best friend were political opposites--a Republican and a Democrat--and yet they they had hours of conversation and never once argued or had hard words.  That’s a rare  and priceless quality.
     When he wanted to celebrate something, he didn’t splurge.  Instead, his favorite treat was to buy himself a Payday bar.  Even though I adore chocolate, I also love Paydays, for Papa’s sake.  
     His humor came from an amazing spectrum of knowledge, referencing books, movies, newspapers, history, music, and more.  A conversation with him must have been a like a collage of all the above, held together by delightful wit.  I wish I could have talked to him.
     Papa valued family and relations so highly that my dad didn’t realize until he grew up himself that any of their relatives had any problems.  His dad always spoke highly of every single one of them, and hardly said anything less than complimentary about anyone else.  He loved people, and loved making them happy.
     A few years ago, my family and I took a road trip to Washington, D.C.  We saw plenty of  things along the way, but the best treat of all came from a little town in Virginia.  Nana and Papa had been dear friends with a couple named Don and Sue.  Don had since passed on, but we got to have dinner with Sue, her grown children, and their children.  Before we ate, Sue beckoned my dad and I over to a little table by a window.  She handed us a blue paper bag full of paper.  “These are all the letters your father wrote to Don,” she said.  “I thought you’d like to read them.”  We hadn’t expected anything of the kind, but she couldn’t have given us a better gift.  There were so many letters, we spent hours in the car on the way home and around our dinner table while my dad read them aloud.  Some made us laugh.  Others solved long standing family mysteries.  Sue had given us a treasure.
     Running through each letter was a theme of constant optimism.  Papa seemed to have made it his life goal to cheer Don and Sue, and give them something to laugh about.  He told them about special concerts he and Nana had gone to see together, the hijinks of his kids, and sent newspaper clippings or comics he thought Don would enjoy.  He was very newsy, and through page after page of beautifully handwritten words, I finally got to know a man I have long admired and missed.
     When he was only fifty eight, Papa passed away from a horrendous tumor that gave him brain cancer.  I was two years old.  Before the tumor took him away from us entirely, it first stole parts of his brain.  He could no longer come up with the words he needed to convey what he meant.  Papa couldn’t remember how to talk, but we’ll never forget what he used to say.  We still quote him all the time.
     When someone asked him for something’s price, he’d answer:
     “Oh, about a buck three eighty.”
     When one of his kids complained that they wanted something, he’d remind them:
     “Yup! And people in hell want ice water.”
     When there was an unpleasant job to be done, he’d roll up his sleeves and say cheerily:
     “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick!”
     If you asked him what was for dinner, you wouldn’t get a more satisfactory answer than:
     “Fried jambo leaves and hominy grits!”
     He liked to remind himself that hard work and determination made everything easier:
     “It’s no hill for a climber.”
     My all time favorite was saved for occasions when someone told him that what he was attempting was impossible.
     “You just hide and watch me.”
     Although I remember plenty of stories about Papa, I don’t know if I remember knowing him.  The closest is remembering the time, not long before he passed away, that he pulled me in a wagon from his house to the corner, one house down.  That memory might just be because I’ve seen a picture.  If I had a time machine, the first thing I’d do is go back and meet my Papa and talk to him.  I miss knowing him.  I miss him so much.
     But even if I never meet him in this life, I will see him again.
     I remember the night he died.  My cousin Mckenna, who was three, and I were playing dress up. One hat, and one of Nana’s shoes each.  We also sat together at the piano and pretended to play a duet.  But I don’t remember Papa.
     He passed away in what is now my room.  All of his family was gathered around, except my dad, who had gone to the kitchen.  A few months earlier, Papa had been asked to play one of the three wise men in a Christmas play.  He couldn’t speak by that point, so he had no lines, but he had a kingly costume.  Nana asked my dad if he’d seen pictures from the performance, and he hadn’t, so he left his dad briefly to see them.  He found the pictures in the kitchen and looked at the smile on his dad’s face.  Papa was wearing crown as part of his costume.  At the moment my dad saw the crown, Papa passed away.  My dad knew this was God’s way of telling him that his dad was now in heaven with him and had received the Crown of Life.
     Papa, I love you and I miss you.  If not for that tumor, you would still be here with us, alive and well.  Thinking about you makes me sad, but writing about you is my way of remembering you and reminding myself that one day I’ll get to meet you.  Right now, you’re living in eternal perfection with your Savior.  And that makes me so glad.
     Love, Carey. <3
     “There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.  And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.  Get over your hill and see what you’ll find there, with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

So Beautiful

“You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they’re dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, when you meet them you think, “Not bad. They’re okay.” And then you get to know them and their face just sort of becomes them. Like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something
                                                                                                                   so beautiful.”
I couldn’t have said it better.  This is exactly how I feel about some of the people who have become my best friends.  For me, outward beauty as the world sees it is just plain confusing.  Our culture has set standards of what is ‘beautiful’ and supposedly the closer you are to reaching those standards, the happier you’ll be.  If you’re beautiful, you’ll marry someone dashing and handsome and live happily ever after.  
But wait.  
Wouldn’t that mean that the more beautiful your husband/wife is, the happier you’ll be?  And therefore, the most beautiful couple will be the happiest?  And as you go down the line, getting further and further from the standard of beauty, you’ll be less and less happy because you didn’t find perfection in your spouse.  That sounds horrible!  All those of us who aren’t on the Most Beautiful People list are doomed to never marry happily.
That’s rubbish.
I know dozens of perfectly happy couples who are delightfully contented with the person they’ve chosen to spend their lives with.  The world might compare them to others and find them un-beautiful, but to each other they’re more beautiful than all the rest of the world.  I think they’re beautiful, too.
So beauty isn’t something that can be defined with one ideal.  Thank goodness!  
Maybe, because every person is different, every person has a different kind of beauty and sets their own standard.  That means that every single person is the most beautiful person in the world.
When you first meet someone, because you don’t know them, you don’t always know how to see their kind of beauty.  But as you get to know them, it emerges and they suddenly turn into something so beautiful.
It would make sense then that you see the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with as the most beautiful person.  You know them the best and can see their beauty like no one else.
This is all just speculation.  I don’t know if it’s true.  But it seems to fit well with how I see people, and I rather like the idea.  
So, to my wonderful friends reading this, I’d like to say something that you may or may not believe.  You might pass over this as just gushy sentiment that definitely wasn’t meant for you.  But even if you’re skeptical or even cynical, please give me a chance and trust that this is all true.  I’ve thought carefully about what I’m going to say and none of it is superfluous blather to make me sound loving and sweet.
I know what it is to see people I love deeply say they hate what they see when they look in a mirror.  It hurts, especially because I wish I could tell them how beautiful/good looking they are to me, but I know they won’t believe me.  When I look at them, I don’t see hair that’s boringly straight or hopelessly curly.  I don’t see acne, ever, no matter how much there is.  I really don’t.  I don’t see eyes that are too small or noses that are too big.  I see a person that I’ve come to love because I’ve had the privilege to get to know them, and to me, they are beautiful beyond compare.
This is me telling you that I promise, I swear, that when I look at you, I see a person who is beautiful.  Not just inner beauty.  I mean really and truly, good-looking, handsome, pretty, gorgeous, whatever you’d like to call it.
You are so beautiful.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hero of My Story

[This is another one of those posts from at least a year ago, because I've been too busy at work to write a new one.  Some of you will probably recognize it, but for others at least it'll be new. Hope you enjoy!]

When I was younger, I liked to write stories.
Not that I ever finished them. But once I got an idea I would think of little else, spending hours trying to write neatly (not one of my gifts) on countless spiral-bound notebooks, creating characters, places, and drama. Every couple of minutes, I would stop, stare off into space, and dream for a minute before busily putting my imaginings on paper again.
Actually, most of you have probably seen that look on my face...when I'm obviously oblivious to everything around me, lost in thought. It annoys my sister to no end, when she is trying to talk to me. It also frustrated my old debater partner.  A friend of mine calls it my 'perplexed look' because I can look confused, sad, or even angry, when I'm really just thinking. But I digress.
None of my stories were alike. Each one was different, with a new setting, plot, or time period. One may be about an actress; the next, pioneers captured by Indians; and the next, an ancient Greek hero. But there was one thing in common with all my stories.
I was the heroine.
In my stories, I always put myself as the main character. She was even named after me sometimes. My heroines always had brown, straight hair, blue/grey eyes, and an overly developed sense of romance. They shared my interests, dreams, and abilities. Usually they enjoyed less faults and more virtues than I do, as well as far more adventure, but I always pictured myself in their place, no matter the period, place, or plot. 
But there is one story I can never be the heroine of.
My own.
A few years ago, I studied Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He tells the story of a man, Jekyll, who discovers a potion that allows him to change form, into a concentration of his evil character: Mr. Hyde. As Hyde, the man is a hardened killer, murdering innocent men, trampling children in the streets, without a thought. Hyde is despicable, hateful...evil. Beyond redemption.
In the beginning, Jekyll is able to escape from the form of Hyde. But soon, Hyde's nature overtakes him and he can no longer hide it, can no longer escape. 
Hyde commits suicide, ending Jekyll's life. Jekyll was not a 'bad' man. It was his own sinful nature that killed him.
And it is just the same with us.
I attended Worldview Academy for the last two summers. I can't tell you enough about how good, how valuable it is.
One of the best things they taught us there is this:
I am worthless. You are worthless. We are all a bunch of dirty, rotten sinners.
Like Jekyll, we can never, never save ourselves from our sinful nature. It will always consume us, overwhelm us, burden us down 'til we fall, screaming, into the grave. No one can lift themselves out. No can can be the hero of their own story.
But although that was the end of the story for Jekyll, it's different for us.
There is a Hero, strong enough, good enough, wonderful enough, to save us.
He sees us, wallowing in our sin, and still thinks we are worth loving. To Him, no price is too great to redeem us, to reach down, lift us up, wash us in His very blood, so we can spend eternity with Him. 
Not even His own life.
And He is the Hero of My Story. 
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9

Friday, April 13, 2012

Finding Neverland

[I'm not sure what I think of this post.  It seems to be lots of scattered ideas, and despite a few months of re-reading and refining, I can't seem to quite grasp what I'm trying to say.  But it explains in part why I love Peter Pan!  If you have any comments or suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.]

‘When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all  “Grow up.  Get a job.  Get married.  Get a house.  Have a kid.  And that’s it.”  But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that.  
It’s so much darker.
And so much madder.
And so much better.’
      Pick a destination, any destination.  Preferably that one place you’ve always dreamed of going, but never actually thought you’d see.  You know that place?  Or places?  I wish I could tell you that I’m here to take you there, but sadly, that’s not true.  What I am going to tell you is that no matter where it is, if it’s on earth, it’s been explored.  You can find pictures and stories and guidebooks about it.  You can learn anything you want to know about it.
     It’s not like that with growing up.  Growing up is much scarier.  And more exciting.   And there’s no one to tell you what it will be like to be you in two, five, or ten years.  We’re left to speculate, with no guide but what people let us see about themselves.  Which is not always very pleasant.
     When I was little, I thought it must be awful to be a teenager.  They had to wear such depressing clothes!  And they didn’t smile.  They just acted ‘cool.’  I decided that whatever it took, I was not going to be a teenager.  At least, not that kind.  I envied Wendy Darling more than I can really explain.  She got to go straight from being a kid to having a huge family of devoted sons with none other than the incorrigible and fascinatingly courageous Peter Pan as their father.  The boy who never grew up.  For that one adventure, she never had to grow up, either.  Wendy went straight to mother hood and skipped teenager-hood.  She got to fly to that one place she’d always dreamed of.  Yes, if there had been any possible way, I would have become Wendy Darling faster than you can say “second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning!”  After, all it takes is faith and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust, right?
     My sister will tell you that I kept the window of our room open in all weather, even the chilly winter.  Never mind the fact that there was a screen that I couldn’t remove.  If there was any chance at all that Peter was a real boy, there was no way in the world that I would make the same mistake his mother made and shut him out when he came for me.
     Now, at seventeen, I’m still waiting for him.  I’m also on the other side of a good deal of growing up.  Of course, I still have most of it to go, I’m sure.  Claiming that I was completely mature would be ridiculous, as any of you who know me should say. :)
     However, at fifteen I had changed a lot from when I was thirteen.  And at seventeen I’ve changed a lot from when I was sixteen.  
     Books that refer to people ‘learning more about themselves’ used to irritate me to no end.  I thought, gosh, this is yourself we’re talking about here.  There’s nothing to learn!  You already know everything!  But I always had a sneaking suspicion that there was something to what they said.  In that case, there must be stuff about myself that I don’t know!  The thought frustrated and frightened me. 
     But when I finally figured out how to learn about myself I learned lessons from life that I know I’ll never forget.
     I learned that being a teenager is actually really, really cool.  I love my life.
     I learned that I love to think, and write.  Those passions will stay with me forever.
     I learned what kind of people I like best.
     I learned that I needed to love all people, not just the ones I like.
     I learned that I’m a hopeless, dirty, rotten sinner.  I can’t do anything on my own.  I need my Jesus more than anything else in the world. 
     And after I dragged myself away from learning about me (as fascinating as that is to you, I’m sure :P) I started learning about how the world works.
     Growing up is anything but getting bigger, wearing different clothes, driving a car, knowing more people, and having more responsibilities.  Thinking about it like that is like thinking of Neverland as nothing more than an Indian camp where people like to sneak up on other people while hidden inside Christmas trees.
     I think growing up is seeing the world in a different way.  Sure, people talk about how seeing the world through the eyes of a child is special and magical and covered with fairy dust and little pink flowers, and that is pretty cool, but there’s something different about people who have a little bit of life under their belt.  They don’t just see a pretty sunset.  They see years of memories of sunsets, and the people they shared them with.  They’ve seen loved ones in pain, and they’ve had their own pain, but that only gives them new eyes for what makes life beautiful.  They’ve learned how to treat people, and that they aren’t the reason the earth keeps turning.  They’ve learned who they are, and who they should stop trying to be.  
     Maybe I’m being too optimistic, seeing people through rose-colored glasses.  But if this is being naive, then I don’t want to ‘grow up’.  The people who have missed all this, like Mr. Darling, aren’t what I mean when I say ‘grown up’.  The people that tell you Neverland isn’t real haven’t learned anything worth knowing about life.  Don’t let them tell you you’re too old for Neverland.  That is a horrible thought.
You know where my one place is?  
J. M. Barrie, an expert in this field, said that everyone has their own Neverland.  Growing up is finding your own Neverland, here on earth.  It’s that place you’ve always dreamed of.  We’re just growing into it.  And it’s so much stranger.
It’s so much darker.
And so much madder.
And so much better and more beautiful than you ever imagined.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Whole New World

“A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view”
These lyrics from a Disney song basically sum up my spring break.  I traveled to another country for the first time and it changed the way I see life.  Well, technically the second time, but that doesn’t count because I was a baby and don’t remember anything.
Three seniors, two moms, and another friend traveled with me down to Mexico.  We visited an orphanage that’s about an hour south of the border.  It was a short term mission trip, so we didn’t make any major additions to the orphanage, but we got to work hard and learn more about ourselves and each other, and live for a few days in a whole new world.

From left to right: Mrs. J, Turner Joy, Kendall, Lemuel, yours truly, Ryan, and Mrs. L.  The orphanage dress code requires the girls to wear long skirts.  Also the rocky, dirty terrain requires everyone to wear tennis shoes.  Personally, I kind of enjoyed the Norman Rockwell-esque effect, but I don’t think anyone else appreciated it.

My already paint-splattered converse, my homeschooler skirt, my sweatshirt/footstool, and my licorice-that’s-not-really-licorice.  I think licorice might be my favorite travel/movie candy.  
Our job was to paint and prime a building. It was a very big building, with lots and lots of windows that needed to be covered with plastic and taped over.  And then covered and taped over again because the plastic was defective and didn’t stick.  And then covered and taped over again because the wind blew off the covers in the night.  And then covered and taped all over because the same thing happened again.  Our senior group is very good at doing things lots of times, over and over and over.  Especially digging holes, but that’s an entirely different story. 

This is the building. 40x60 feet.  And those staircases (there’s one on the other side, too) were quite a challenge to paint.  So many cracks and corner and surfaces to cover.  You can see some of our handiwork on the windows already.

Ryan had a fascinated audience of children gathering around him as they got out of school.  We girls preferred to not work nearby him because of an unfortunate tendency to drip paint from the long roller into our hair. ;)
Turner and I enjoyed telling many amusing stories, some made up and some real, whilst we labored away on the stairs.  

Lemuel and Ryan, our greatest tormentor and our beastly baby boy.  Of course we tormented Lemuel right back, with much encouragement and enjoyment from Mrs. J, his mom.  Ryan’s nickname comes from his status as the youngest in the senior group, but he’s only the second shortest.  Much to his pride and my chagrin. >_>  On the way home from Mexico, Ryan put a gigantic (dead) potato bug on my shoulder and Kendall got me to turn around and see it.  I screamed and jumped higher than when I watched Blink.  It was awful and disgusting and traumatizing.  But I survived.
Kendall, Turner, and I.  Delightfully daubed with paint, we make an enviably fashionable statement.  We three are quite a trio, and boy do we enjoy it.  Turner: “This picture makes me look like a boy!” Me: “A very lucky one.”
Ta-da! Four days, many sore backs and untold gallons of paint and primer later, we’re done.  As a non-member of the senior group, Lemuel didn’t make it into the picture.
You know, last year the senior group came and helped build the foundation for this building.  Other work groups came and helped put it up.  We painted it.  Maybe in a few years, other senior groups will be helping teach school or lead worship here.  I think that’s pretty cool.  It’s a tangible picture of life.  Others have laid the foundation; our job may be to protect and defend from the elements, and later more will come and contribute their blood, sweat, and tears to the great purpose.  We felt like our contribution didn’t amount to much, especially because the pastor who runs the orphanage finished all the work by spraying the building instead of having us paint it by hand, but I refuse to be pessimistic.  Even if we didn’t do much for the building, the trip was definitely worth it.
Here are some more highlights from the trip: 

This bus is fantastic.  It was donated to the orphanage by someone with an obviously great sense of humor.  Here you can see Turner, Lemmy, and Limey, with an appropriate headline.

This is Mrs. L. and I in our room.  We shared a dorm with up to ten little girls from the orphanage.  Every morning, we woke up to them chattering gaily away in Spanish, making the same facial expressions, expressing the same annoyances, helping each other, and generally being just like any other group of little girls.  

With some very silly friends.  I don’t remember the name of the girl next to me, but Stephania, also known as Pocahontas because of her long hair is to the left of Kendall, and between her and Turner is a very special little friend, Angelica.  She was the most outgoing of all the little girls, and was soon up to her own private brand of shenanigans.  If you weren’t careful, she’d sneak up behind you and tickle you!  Or take your camera, figure out how to use it, and be off snapping and showing off pictures before you had time to wonder if it was a good idea.

Here we look like the properly adorable angels that we all are. ahem.

This little guy hung above the bed that I slept in.  I <3 anything Winnie the Pooh!

I brought a lot of markers with me, and some of the little girls had coloring books, so here we are piled on my bed coloring in pictures of Miss Piggie and Strawberry Shortcake.  While we worked, we pointed out the names of the colors in Spanish (“Rosa” “Morado” “Verde”) and the girls counted to ten in English for us: “onetwothreeforfivesixseveneightnineten!”  I counted to ten in Spanish, much to Angelica’s amusement.  These little people are so amazing.  They live in an orphanage where they have to share a room with more than a dozen other people, they share a small bathroom with two stalls and three showers, they keep all their toothbrushes in the same cup, all their clothes in the same closet, and all their shoes jumbled together in the same cupboard.  More than that, they have all been abandoned in some way or another.  That sounds unpleasant to those of us used to first world luxuries, but these little girls seem like the happiest people on earth.  Sometimes you see one that looks quiet and sad, and I wish that I could talk to her and find out what has darkened her smile, but on the whole you couldn’t find a more joyful group of people working and laughing and living together.  That was inspiring to me.  People are so amazing.

This is Christine and her charming preschool.   She used to go to the J’s church, but she felt a very strong calling to go to Mexico and teach preschool.  Now she lives at the orphanage and teaches English preschool in a small trailer every morning from nine to twelve.  We visited her tiny little classroom a couple times, and every time we stepped inside I felt like a giant invading a sacred Babyland of sorts.  Everything in there is little, and the four young students would stare up at us shyly with big eyes and refuse to say anything.  One of them did like to hum to herself as she did her schoolwork, though (“Circle all the ‘L’s,” Christine would say, “Now color the circles in purple”).  I love that she’s found her calling, and it’s so perfect for her.  She’s not just sitting around in California enjoying being grown up.  She’s down in a whole new world, making a difference, because that’s where God wants her to be.

We were hosted by Pastor Walker, who runs the orphanage, and his family.  We’re waiting here in their living room for dinner.  Mrs. Walker served us the most delicious meals, and waited on us like we were honored guests rather than kids who came to work.  Lemuel is holding their dog, Milo.

Okay, guys, I have a new all-time favorite food.  It’s called Ojos de Pancha, if my memory serves me, and you can see it here on this plate of goodies.  The Walker’s youngest son runs a bakery business and makes all kinds of treats, but we got to eat these for free at their table for almost every meal.  Mrs. J. and I could not get enough of the Ojos de Pancha.  It’s the one you see on the left side, cut in half.  Think of a very sweet muffin, almost like a very very good donut, that’s ringed around with puff pastry that has been generously sprinkled with sugar.  Another half of one is perched on top of the pile, but I’m pretty sure that I ate that one very soon after taking this picture.  Seriously, those things are really, really delicious.  Sadly, we were often fed so very well from the preceding meal that we barely had room to taste these sweet breads, but we enjoyed them immensely nonetheless.

After dinner every night, we gathered in the nursery trailer where our boys slept to study 1 Timothy 4:12.  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Each night we chose a different word or two to focus on and read Scripture together about.  Ryan was a very devoted competitor in the “Please turn to” Bible race.
I suppose this picture requires some explanation.  This appears to be a sort of ‘baby-cupboard’ where you can keep babies.  Above my head you can see a side railing that can be slid down and prevent anyone from tumbling out.  It was not exclusive to babies, however, because all of us found that we could fit quite comfortably.  I especially enjoyed curling up in there to watch the proceedings unfolding below.  And what proceedings they were.  When we finished the Bible study, we would play a game or two such as Quelf or mafia.  If you’ve never played Quelf, all you need to know is that it is the best game in the world...for making yourself look ridiculous.  Like, try to imagine me acting out “A one-eyed mime trapped in an invisible box with four rabid ferrets”.  Yep.  Good times.  Mafia is more sinister.  It involved selected citizens of an imaginary town choosing who to kill off, and if you get accused of belonging to the mafia and don’t defend yourself well, then you can be executed and sent out of the game.  Fortunately, someone is also selected to be the Doctor and they can save people’s lives.  Unfortunately, Ryan felt the need to exterminate me, the Doctor, and I was executed early on in the game.  He seemed deaf to my eloquent arguments in my own defense, despite my years of training in persuasion and argumentation, and my long history of saving people’s lives.  Oh well.  I retreated to my little baby cupboard for the rest of the game and watched everyone else die off since they no longer had me, the Doctor.

When the building was painted, we drove into town and visited a marketplace.  This is a fairly accurate representation of what the entire thing looked like, although it had well over a hundred booths and this is only two.  Prices aren’t set there, so I had to haggle for the first time in order to make my souvenir money stretch for myself and five siblings.  The sellers are very good at emotion manipulation.  One of them told me that he definitely remembered me, and asked me to step inside his booth and see what I’d like.  He must have an incredible memory, because the last time I was in Mexico I wasn’t even two years old.  Others look hurt or even sad when you offer a lower price.  You just have to stay strong!  Turner was especially good at this.  See all the big woven sweatshirts hanging up?  Most of us chose one.  Mine is blue and grey and black and white and it’s pretty gigantic on me.  At times it was unnerving, because of just how pushy the sellers were.  We quickly learned to never express interest in an object, even if it’s to ridicule something, because they automatically assume that you want to buy it.  Ryan joked about wanting a pipe, and soon the word had spread everywhere and he was offered pipes left and right.  Definitely a unique experience, on the whole.  When all our money was gone, we walked down to the beach.  It was very different from our sunny SoCal beaches.  Very, very cold.
I was glad to get back to the familiar old orphanage.  Being in Mexico felt really funny.  I had to keep reminding myself that we weren’t in the United States, because parts of it felt a lot like home.

These mountains look a lot like something you’d see in California.  Then suddenly I’d see something didn’t seem right at all, like that giant complex of little buildings in the background, or an entire hillside covered in ramshackle huts fabricated of corrugated plastic, sheets of metal, cardboard, and plywood.  It felt like the movie Inception where everything seems like reality except for a small detail that’s just not quite right.

The countryside was just gorgeous.  We climbed up on a hill behind the orphanage.  This is looking down on the campus.  In the middle you can see the big chapel, and in front of it, the building we painted.  It’s the orange building closest to the foreground.  The farthest left building is the dorm we stayed in, and on the right you can see the dirt road headed toward the highway.  The trailer the boys slept in is the white one right behind the other white one in the bottom right corner.  The fun part about that hike was that there weren’t many trails, so we had to blaze our own.  Quite an adventure.  Also, the ground was covered with tiny flowers that made me think of Tangled.
That concludes the highlights of the trip.  We had so much fun together, and as a group we really bonded.  Because not everyone in our senior group could come, those of us who were there felt like we really got to know each other even better.  I had time away from my normal life to think about what I want to be doing next year and what my priorities are.
I have one more thing to tell you about.  This was the most heartbreaking part of the trip, and at the same time it was my favorite part and what I’ll remember most.

This is Gracie (not her real name).  I noticed her right away as one of the happiest, most smiley and friendly of the girls at the orphanage.  I thought she was young, maybe eight or ten.  One morning she came into our room holding a big teddy bear, and handed it to me.   Later she told Mrs. L, who speaks Spanish, that she felt a special connection to me, like we were kindred spirits.  Immediately I became even more interested in her and started spending as much time with her as I could.  With Mrs. L’s help, Gracie told us her story.  
Her mother had abandoned her and sent her to live with a couple who beat her and abused her.  They took her to LA where they wanted her to to “bad things”.  Finally she made it to the orphanage about five months ago.  Her cheerful smile faded and her eyes got sadder and sadder as she spoke.  We gave her hugs and told her that everything was okay, she’s safe and happy now.  I had tears in my eyes.  I’ve heard plenty of stories like Gracie’s, but it’s totally different when you just hear about someone, and when you can see the pain in their eyes as they talk to you.  It’s amazing that she felt a connection to me, who’s always lived in safety and comfort and never known what it was like to be abandoned.  I’m really blessed that she did, though.
Gracie asked that we take this picture while we were watching a basketball game outside together.  She wanted me to take it to town and print it out for her right away, but I told her that once I got back to the States I would print it and send it back.  I took it for granted that she’d be there.
Later I asked Pastor Walker more about her.  He told us that she’d come to them with emotional and psychological problems.  One time, she ate eight hot dogs because she still had the mindset of eating as much as possible whenever there’s food to be had.  Then he said something that shocked me.  Gracie was almost eighteen.  In fact, last Sunday was her birthday.  That meant she had to make a choice.  He hoped she would choose to stay and work at the orphanage where she would be loved and safe, and learn more about Jesus.  But just a couple weeks ago her mother had visited the orphanage, out of the blue, and demanded to know if Gracie turning eighteen meant that she could take her away.  Pastor Walker tried to explain that no, it meant Gracie got to decide, but I have no idea if her mother could pressure her into saying she wanted to leave only to be forced to work for her.  I’ve been praying for her.  I don’t know what her decision was.  I might never see her again.  But I’ll never forget her.  I’m so grateful that I got to meet her and hug her and show her how much I cared.

Out of this adventure, I got a new fantastic point of view.  There are people out there who are hurting.  They can smile and laugh and be perfectly content, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need love just as desperately as any one of us.  You never know what tiny action might cause someone to feel connected to and loved by you.  I want that to be my life story.  My dream is to be someone who makes others feel loved by showing them the love of Christ through me.
Thank you for reading. <3