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