A lot of people have been asking me recently if I am ready to leave for Basic Training and all of the other active duty time that will follow. Almost consistently, my response has been, “I’m ready to go so it can be over and I can come back.” I realized today just how wrong that is.
I’ve been reading a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. In it, she discusses the challenge of living life fully right where we are. One of the biggest challenges I’ve taken on in response to this book is creating a list of 1,000 things for which I am thankful. I am trying to teach myself to be fluent in the language of gratitude – giving thanks always. Today, I read a section of her book that felt like a giant slap across the head, and I realized how often I fail to be thankful for time. Time is one of the few things over which we have absolutely no control. It continues to move on no matter what we do. We cannot buy more of it, or trade other things to receive extra time. We do not get to say when our time on earth begins or ends. We only have 24 hours in each day and when they are gone, they are gone. We cannot redo any of the time that has passed, or jump forward to preview the time that is to come. All we can do is choose how we use each second we are given. Even now, the clock continues to tick as I write this. I am choosing to use time right now for this instead of something else. However, we tend to live as if we are in a race against time. Our lives are incredibly busy. Our society praises packed schedules and punctuality. We find ourselves rushing through every single day. But to what end? What is the price we pay for our hurried lives? I’ve come to realize that it is a high one…
In the book, Ann quotes Mark Buchanan saying, “Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me… I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” The truth of the matter is that we do not gain any great thing by rushing from one thing to the next. Instead, we miss so much. Thousands of opportunities left untaken. Millions of words spoken hastily, leaving regrets. Hundreds of broken people, broken moments, left in our wake. Infinite tiny blessings left unnoticed because we were too busy to see them, to name them for what they are.
This is what was wrong with my response to all those questions. I have been so ready to leave so I can come back that I have not been fully present in the now. If I had continued in this mindset of rushing to what’s next, who knows how many things I would have missed over the next year?
Let me say it yet another way. I hear so many people say that the years just go by faster as you get older. So we continue rushing through time that already flies by because…? We want to be first in the race ending at our grave? Of course, this life will end no matter what. But are we making the most of it while it’s here? I’m not saying we have to do fewer things. (In some cases, that may be needed.) I am saying that we need to slow ourselves down in the things we are doing. Let’s stop allowing our minds to focus on the second event when our bodies are present in the first. Let’s stop driving like lunatics trying to get through traffic faster than everyone else and take the time to notice the beauty outside our windshield. Let’s stop sitting with our families in the evenings thinking about tomorrow and start enjoying the time with them today. Dare to be two minutes late to that next thing because you literally stopped to smell the roses or to honestly care about hearing the response when you ask the person you pass, “How are you?” Let’s change our society by being thankful for the time we have right now.
And I promise to take in every single moment of precious, present time from now until I leave, and from the moment I leave until I return, and from the moment I return until my time runs out. I don’t want to miss any more. I don’t want to break anything or anyone else with my rushing. I don’t want to reach the end and regret what could have been… or have anyone standing around thinking, “But she wasn’t really here when it mattered, anyway.”
Give them some love.
To start, I just want to give a HUGE shoutout to anyone and everyone in the nursing field. Whether it be a nursing assistant, a patient care tech, or a registered nurse, it’s a hard, hard job. On top of all the responsibilities, the patient load, the busy schedule and working holidays, there is so much more. I think most nurses are saints in scrubs. They are the people that roll their sleeves up every day and deal with the nitty, gritty, nasty (literally and figuratively) of patient care. It may be a mess of bodily fluids, or a mess of emotions - nurses don’t shy away.
I have many friends who are RNs. I have also worked alongside some phenomenal RNs during my time as a nursing assistant. And, I know many devoted patient care techs and nursing assistants - whom I consider to be nurses, as well. And I don’t think any of them get the recognition and respect they deserve. None of them expect anything from anyone, but they deserve some love. Unfortunately, they often receive very little love… from patients and family members who fail to appreciate their work and commitment, to coworkers who degrade them as if they are inferior or stupid because they don’t have a particular degree. I have now witnessed this first-hand. Sure, not every nurse out there puts his/her best foot forward, but so many of them do. I have witnessed patients being angry and/or rude to nurses because their lunch tray was left in their room until 12:30, they want to get out of bed but are on bedrest to avoid blowing an incision, the ambulance driver arrived 10 minutes too early to transport them to the nursing home, and so many other reasons. Don’t get me wrong: I completely understand that being in the hospital is not a fun time, and some patients may be experiencing the worst day of their lives. However, I know that I never want to forget what this is like. I never want to take healthcare providers for granted. Everything they do is for the best interest and outcomes of their patients. See, when that bedrest patient yells at his nurse because “being in the hospital is the closest thing to being in jail”, even though she has explained the critical importance of remaining in bed to his recovery, his words and tone sting. And though it hurts her, and she may need to go cry in a back room for 2 minutes, she will return to his room over and over to deliver the best care. And when that patient complains about how “ridiculous it is that the lunch tray is still here” even though she finished eating 10 minutes ago, the patient care tech will be frustrated. He will probably even think to himself, “Yes, but I have 11 other patients besides you. So I couldn’t be here the moment you finished eating to remove your tray.” But he won’t say it. He will bite his tongue, smile, and ask if there is anything else that she needs at the moment. Because these are the things that nurses do.
I’ve also seen nurses offer a giant hug to a patient who is grieving over the fact that he must choose a nursing home over his own home; nurses who secretly order snacks as a surprise for the adult children of a dying patient; nurses who weep in the corner for a patient they have been fighting to keep alive; nurses who spent “an absurd amount of time” with a single patient, making sure he is clean and comfortable when he isn’t able to do this for himself. Even when they are under-appreciated, over-worked, and sleep-deprived, I have seen nurses be heroes.
So, for every painful experience each nurse out there has endured, I want to say, “Thank you.” And, I want to remind myself, and everyone else reading, to never forget how incredible nurses are. Because even though it’s hard, they dig in. And even though it hurts, their hearts remain big, and their smiles remain bright.
These are my reflections as I come to the end of my time working at UPMC. Yes, it has only been a couple months, but I know I have been called elsewhere. And though I have loved taking care of my patients - even the rude ones - my season of being a nurse assistant is ending. Even still, I just couldn’t leave without writing about my observations and experiences.
A nurse no longer.
So here’s the update on me: As difficult as it is for me to leave, I have discovered that healthcare is not my place. I’ve thought for several years now that I was meant to be in direct patient care within the healthcare setting - I have a mind for it, and I absolutely love learning about and understanding the workings of the human body. I also find so much joy in helping family and friends learn to take better care of themselves - understanding medical tests, creating and keeping a healthy lifestyle, and solving everyday minor medical issues. However, as I have been working in the hospital these past couple months, I have realized that, though healthcare might be something I enjoy, it is not meant to be my career. What I love most is simply being with people: listening, loving, and being present. I have also missed the psychological emphasis. I know now that I want to help people with behavior, emotions, mindfullness, coping, relationships, and cognition. While there is certainly a place for these things in the hospital, it’s not the main purpose. I hate running in and out of patient rooms… feeling like I don’t have time to stop and listen because I have five other things to do in the next 15 minutes. I also struggle with the schedule. I desire to be a fully-present wife. This is very difficult to do when Timothy and I both have inconsistent schedules. On top of that, I’ve learned that I am a lot more squeamish than I thought I was. These seem like issues that could be worked through… so I started praying…
For several weeks, I have been praying that God would give me discernment for His calling on my life. I asked Him specifically to show me things I have a natural liking for, and things for which I have a natural distaste. I also asked Him to show me specifically if my heart was leaning toward healthcare or toward a counseling/psychology emphasis. Not even a full day after I began praying this prayer, He started delivering… and I could not have asked for anything to be any more clear. Day after day, He showed me a picture of where I should be… and a picture of where I should not. When I was offered a position as a Behavioral Therapist at The Hope Learning Center in Wexford, I knew I needed to accept. It was so difficult for me to give my notice at UPMC, simply because many of the nurses there are so wonderful… I did not want to leave them. At the same time, it was freeing. For the first time since I started college in 2011, I have conviction for where I belong. I now have confidence in the career path I am pursing. I no longer feel a sense of failure for not continuing in healthcare.
So, I begin yet another new journey. Timothy and I have been in a constant state of change since the day we got married, but we praise God for His direction. I have been meaning to start writing again ever since we moved to Pennsylvania… but the time keeps getting away from me. So, my goal now is to keep it up. I want to continue recording and sharing all the things God is doing… and all the things we are learning along the way.
The irony of life is that, so often, we spend so much time and energy running from our fears that we end up inflicting them upon ourselves anyway. I could go all nerd on you right now and explain the psychological principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy, but I’ll spare you the technical language and just write about my own experience…
So, as anyone who normally reads my writing knows, it’s been a really long time since I’ve written. That has been somewhat of a theme this year, but this time it’s for different reasons. I haven’t been overwhelmingly busy in recent months. Actually, I’ve had more free time on my hands than I’ve had since I was in 4th grade. But that’s because I’ve lost a lot. In all honesty, I have written a ton these last few months… I just haven’t had the heart or motivation to share it with anyone. But I have finally reached the point that I can see at least some of what I’m learning from all the loss. The challenge now is how to sum it all up in a short story instead of a twelve-book series…
I have lived most of my life so afraid of loss and so afraid of pain that I have brought both loss and pain upon myself. I feared that if I let myself love, or dream, or try to fly I would only end up with heartache, a shattered future, and broken wings. However, just as darkness is merely the lack of light, where there is a lack of love, there is only hate. Where there is a lack of life, there is only death. And when you never take a leap and try, failing is all you can do.
Really, I could sum up the first part of this year in one sentence: my fears became real. But let me make it a bit more personal.
The first two weeks of my second semester in grad school, I felt confident, capable, happy, and empowered. I believed I was going to conquer this second semester. Also, during these first two weeks I entered my first official dating relationship – I was ecstatic! Things were going so well for me, I thought 2016 was going to be the best year! Then, February 2nd, everything started going downhill. In the middle of the morning, I started hemorrhaging. For some unknown reason, my body had just started bleeding uncontrollably. I missed the rest of my classes that day as I sat in the health center on campus waiting for various medical personal to see me. They ran some tests but hesitated to do anything until they had the results of my blood work. Twenty-four hours later, I returned to the health center and they started me on an intense medication routine in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Exactly 12 hours after my first dose, I woke up vomiting… which continued for hours. And the medication failed to stop the bleeding. I missed most of my classes that week and went home for the weekend, hoping an end was in sight. But this was only the beginning…
One week into my medical disaster, God called my grandpa home – rather suddenly. My heart broke. I will never forget that morning… rushing around to go see him in Hicksville because my dad had received a call that they thought he was going. Then, as I opened the back door to walk out to the car, my dad got another call… this time, telling us we were too late. He was gone. I felt like it was my fault. I was the last one ready that morning – the reason we didn’t get there on time. My dad didn’t get to say goodbye to his dad because of me. If this wasn’t enough, there was the simple fact that I lost one of the most important people in my life. My grandpa was my friend, my encourager, my role model, my example, my bright shining smile and cheerful greeting whenever I needed it most. He always reminded me how special I was. Even though I know I will see my grandpa when it’s my turn to enter eternity, I wasn’t ready to let him go from this side of heaven.
Right after the services for my grandpa, I returned to grad school. I had missed a week and a half of classes and was returning anemic, exhausted, overwhelmed, and packed full of emotions that I didn’t take the time to let out. I struggled to catch up with my academics. February was the busiest month of the semester and I had projects, papers, and exams to make up in every class. I also had multiple doctors appointments to attend. They still couldn’t figure out what was causing my condition and my body was wearing down. I was in constant pain, there was no color in my skin, and I was 20 pounds lighter. Some days, I still couldn’t go to class because I would nearly fall over whenever I tried to stand due to constant dizziness and low blood-oxygen levels. Even when I did make it to class, I would become nauseas from the intensity of my pain. But I was so determined. I fought incredibly hard to succeed in my first semester – I was not going to let this defeat me. So I worked my tail off to catch up in each class. I was doing well on assignments, but my test scores were not as satisfactory as I would have liked.
My fear and anxiety began to grow. I was afraid of what was wrong with my body – and what consequences would result. I was afraid my grades would fall too low – would I be removed from my cohort? I was afraid of what my classmates and professors thought of me – do they think I am weak, high-maintenance, or not good enough? I was afraid of how all of the drama of my life would affect my relationship with my boyfriend – would I lose him because I was too much work?
The day after my 23rd birthday – three and a half weeks after the hemorrhage began – it stopped. [Current update: two months, four doctors, and five diagnostic tests later, I finally got an answer and a treatment. But the process, and the physical consequences, had already done their damage in my life.]
Two weeks later, my boyfriend broke up with me – completely to my surprise. To some people, this might sound silly… I mean, sure, we didn’t date that long and it was my first relationship anyway, so how bad could it have been? But he was someone that I believed to be an incredible person… a man that I wanted to love for the rest of my life. Not to mention, my grandpa had called it “love” before he died… and I couldn’t bear the thought that Grandpa was wrong. Or the fact that he died without knowing the person I would someday marry. He approved of this boyfriend, and I wanted him to be right. Also, I questioned my value… had my fears been realized? Was I not good enough? Was my life too complicated and flawed for someone to love me and want to spend life with me? Was I even loveable? Again, my heart broke. Not just because I had been dumped by my first real boyfriend, but because I had built this up to be more than it ever was or could have been.
And so, I returned to school at the end of spring break even more heartbroken and seemingly alone than I was before. No longer did I believe that I was good enough… to get through school, to have friends, to someday be a wife or mom, to amount to much of anything. I had allowed Satan’s lies to pound inside me and send me on a plummeting downward spiral into despair… and I blamed God for it.
One week before the end of the semester, another fear became real. It was mathematically impossible for me to pass my neuroscience class… even if I scored perfectly on the final exam and lab practical. Never in my life had academic failure been a reality. I was always so far from it! My education was my identity. School was my talent. I had always been “the smart girl”. Now, I felt more stupid than I ever dreamed I could. So, as the semester came to an end, I endured all of the awkward meetings, tear-soaked cry-myself-to-sleep nights, and puffy-eyed walks of shame that came with being told I could not continue with the rest of my cohort. And with one bad class grade, the entire course of my future was changed. And the person I always knew myself to be was changed, as well. I was more angry, more bitter, more discouraged, and more fearful than I had ever been before. I didn’t even want to pray.
So, I returned to my little hometown – the little town that was just as full of pain as the town I just left. And another reality hit me… for the past three and a half months, my best friend – the one I talked to about everything and spent every ounce of free time with – had not been speaking to me. I did not understand exactly why. I thought that coming home would allow the opportunity for us to discuss whatever had come between us… but he denied every phone call and failed to return every text. I could not bring myself to believe that this incredible friendship could possibly have come to an end…
About a month after I got home, just as I thought my heart could be healing, my brother-in-law left my sister… without any warning. Though this wasn’t a direct hit to me, it broke me one more time. And that was it. I was at the bottom. I no longer believed anything. I didn’t believe love was even real… you can’t love people, or dreams, or abilities, or even yourself. For the first time in my 23 years of life, I even doubted that God was real. After all, doesn’t He claim to BE love??
Fast forward… How can I sit here, just two months later, and write about all of this as an even stronger version of the girl I was before it all happened? The easiest explanation is this: God NEVER stopped pursuing me. Despite what I thought, He NEVER left me alone or gave up on getting me through the battle. There were several times that I turned my back on Him, but He didn’t even once turn His back on me. Now, I truly believe He provided the right people and right opportunities to lift me up and remind me of all the truth I’ve always known. He also took it a step farther. He taught me a few incredible lessons that I could only learn through adversity. He reminded me that I need to keep living the life He gave me… and I cannot do that if I am living in fear.
I go to counseling once a week now. GASP! I know… it’s such a shame to be in counseling. WRONG! Being in counseling doesn’t mean someone is ill. My counselor doesn’t sit there and ask me how I feel about things. He actually helps me clarify the thoughts that are already in my head and the words that come out of my mouth. He also helps me see the thoughts that are not true or valid. Last week, as I spoke with him, we came to a realization… the one I wrote about in the first paragraph of this entry: I have lived with so much fear that I have allowed my fears to become real. I am afraid of loosing what I love, so I keep new people at an arm’s length. This way, I can’t possibly become close enough for it to hurt when they leave. I don’t like being alone, but I don’t like making new friends because no one is permanent. I am afraid of failing, so I don’t want to go back to school because neuroscience still stands in my way. So I choose to give up my dreams of getting married, being a mom, becoming an OT, conducting orphanage research, and living an adventurous life for the sake of avoiding my fears. Except there is more to it than that. With those decisions comes a lonely life, low self-esteem, wondering what could have been, fake happiness, silent tears, and so much pain. I lose the very things that I am afraid of losing. It’s crazy! But I never saw it for what it really is… until now.
So now is when I stop the cycle… when I choose to LIVE. I’m going to make friends, even when I KNOW they will leave. I’m going to take chances, even when I KNOW I could fail. I’m going to let my heart love, even when I know I might get hurt. I am going to live, because I DO KNOW that I WILL die. There is so much beauty in life. I refuse to let my fears blind me from seeing it anymore. And I challenge every person reading this to search inside yourself and do the same. Be fearless. Live freely. Because you are free indeed.
*I have been told that I should write a book about my life… the more I write in this journal, and the longer each entry gets, the more I think I should… ;) Thanks for reading!
I know that I have a diverse audience, and that (at least I think) the majority of my audience is actually composed of middle-aged and older adults, most of whom are also married. I still welcome all of you to read this – perhaps you even have wisdom on this topic (which I would love to hear) – but I am really directing this entry to any single young person who has ever felt the way I do.
Have you ever told yourself or someone else that you are just waiting for “the one”? You know, the ONE person God has planned for you to marry? Perhaps you have even read those books that talk about how if you just guard your heart and make yourself content with being single and “dating” God then He will reward you with that meant-to-be relationship? But you are still single. And now you find yourself wondering why. Wondering what’s wrong with you. Wondering what you did wrong that made it so God cannot “reward” you. Maybe you have even found yourself feeling a bit bitter toward God for not keeping up His end of the deal. Let me tell you, I’ve been there. And I want to share with you the things I have learned…
I’m that girl. I have read the Christian dating books. I have my penny prayer jar (every time you find a penny, say a prayer for your future spouse and put it in the jar). I even have the journal to my future husband. Sure, I still find value in these things – after all, I still find it very important to pray for my future husband – and I will continue doing them (so if my future husband is reading this, oops… the cat’s out of the bag. Ha!) But now I am doing them for the right reasons. See, I started doing them because I felt like they were items on the checklist titled “Have You Earned Your Way to Marriage?” Like I had to do them to be good enough for God to reveal His perfect person for me. Now, I realize that I want to do these things because I already love and care about the person I will someday marry, no matter who he is.
Now, before I go any farther, let me clarify another point to this. I DO NOT believe there is one perfect person for every other person out there. I also do not believe everyone is called to marriage. No, I’m no theology expert, and there is no passage in the Bible that spells this out for us, but let me just explain the way I see it. First, God is way too creative to have made us in pairs… as if He sits up there on His throne and plays wedding Go Fish. “Hmm… do you have a Ken of hearts? Perfect! I have a Barbie and Ken match!” Yeah, no. Also, we are not puppets or robots. We have freewill. This is what gives us the choice to love. And the choice to live inside or outside of God’s will for us. As a mentor of mine explained it once, think of it as concentric circles. Take a sheet of paper and use this to represent the pile of all the people in the world that you could marry. Then, draw a big circle on this paper. This represents God’s will. All of the people in the circle would fall within God’s will of who you could marry. Now, there is a smaller circle inside that one. This is the circle of God’s perfect will. In it is a smaller amount of people that would be the best ones for you to marry. See, you can marry any of those people in the big circle and still be within God’s will, but He also knows which people are better fits for you… you know, the specific things like common interests and compatible personalities. Finally, whether or not you agree with me on the analogy for God’s will, take this into consideration: if there was only one perfect person for every other person to marry, if one person married someone who wasn’t their “one”, it would mess up everyone else… like a huge domino effect of mismatched marriages. That would be a catastrophe. Then there are people who are called to live a life of singleness. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about singleness as an amazing position to be in, but it is a gift given to some people and not others.
Now that I’ve explained my personal beliefs, let me get to the point of why I decided to write and share my thoughts on this topic. I have come in contact with a lot of young people who feel discouraged about not being in a relationship. Many of these same people feel like time is running out. Some of them feel like there is something wrong with them, they are being too picky, or they aren’t doing all the right things. I have felt all of these things. Please read and take to heart what I have to say…
Tenacity: the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly, being very determined, or continuing to exist; persistence
*Flashback* … I started this journal in the middle of the summer, but never finished or posted it. I have decided that now is the time to post it… read all the way through and you’ll understand why.
This summer has been a tough one so far… much more difficult than I ever imagined it was going to be. No one told me that the summer after you graduate from college could be so full of questioning, doubts, and struggles. But then again, I suppose no one knows the future, and why scare a new graduate with warnings of the tough things that could be in front of them?
My plan is to attend graduate school in the fall. While this is very exciting, and definitely a positive thing, it has created this awkward transitional period in my life. It has left me in, what feels like, a holding cell of young adulthood. My friends are all off getting married and landing jobs while I’m here in the middle, feeling like I have to be everywhere yet belong nowhere. I am taking a few classes that are prerequisites for graduate school, but were not covered in my undergraduate degrees. So I have already graduated, have not officially begun grad school, and am taking undergraduate classes. If that’s not strange enough, one of these classes has made me feel more stupid and unsuccessful than any educational endeavor I have ever pursued. I have completed two undergraduate degrees, yet I am facing a basic college class that could threaten my ability to begin grad school with the rest of my cohort. It’s a confusing situation and it feels backwards. I have never been that girl that desires to pursue education and a career above other areas of life. Sure, my education is important to me, and I want to hold a job that I enjoy, but I have always wanted, more than anything, to be a wife and mom. Therefore, it was hard enough to accept and be excited about the nudging I felt from God to follow a path that included further education, but it became even more challenging when that path led me to feel so incapable of continuing. I have struggled with feelings of jealousy, frustration, sadness, and anger as I have wondered why God brought me to this particular place instead of the place that I imagined I would be in at 22.
Meanwhile, the summer job struggle also pushed its way onto center stage in the post-college drama of Katie’s life. I spent the first five weeks of the summer filling out application after application, making many phone calls, and driving around to potential employers with no avail. Again, I felt like a failure. Here I am, a college graduate who has been accepted into a doctoral program for the fall, but no one wants to hire me for a summer job. I started to think God just wanted me to wait to live life in general. I was beginning to accept that grad school meant having a family would be even further down the road than I hoped, but now I started thinking He was making me wait for any type of career success as well. Sure, a summer job is only a summer job…not a long-term career. But, it is still an opportunity to gain incredibly valuable experience and build a resume that will help with future positions. Not to mention, I needed an income for the summer!
Then it happened: in the second week of June, a friend of mine found a job posting on Craig’s List to be a transporter for a foster care agency. I called the number, set up an interview for the following Monday, and prayed that something would finally come through. Monday morning came, and so did an awful lot of rain. I drove to Bowling Green, had a wonderful interview experience, got lost on my way to get a background check, and finally got a job! I was going to spend my summer driving kids around the state to visits with their biological parents. I was so excited, I squealed to myself, “I got the job!” and pumped my fist in the air when I sat in my car to drive back to Toledo. A few minutes later, I found myself facing a guardrail head-on as my car spun out of control and I said to my passengerless car, “This is not ending well…” The crunching, smashing, rocking, shaking, squealing, and stopping followed. There I sat, stunned, in the very center of the road, in my dear PT Cruiser that I intuitively knew had no chance of surviving. See, there had been so much rain, that a major accident occurred on the highway, so I was rerouted onto an unfamiliar road on my way north. When I came upon a curve, I slowed, but my tires lost traction with the road and I, instinctively, slammed the break pedal to the floor, giving myself no hope of recovery. To make a long story short, a State Highway Trooper gave me a ticket for failure to control and the insurance company decided a week later that my car was totaled. So, I coughed up the money to pay the citation, began the search for a new vehicle, and began my career of driving other people’s children around while feeling completely insecure and unsteady behind the wheel.
*Fast forward to the current day*
This summer was crazy challenging, but, in case you didn’t already know, I made it through! Truly by the grace of God, I squeezed by with a B- in physics and anatomy. Now, I am five weeks into my first trimester of my Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. And…. I don’t think anything has gotten easier! The challenges are not the same as they were in the summer, but I am certainly not walking in the park right now. However, I’m learning that a trek through the mountains is much more beautiful and rewarding than a simple stroll in the park.
Here’s the thing: all of these exhaustingly difficult days have taught me so many incredible lessons, but for the sake of keeping this journal a reasonable length, I’m going to stick to the most important. Insert one of my new favorite concepts à tenacity! I gave the definition at the beginning of this article (thank you, New Oxford American Dictionary), but I would like to take some liberty here and link tenacity with faith. I think that (according to several sections of Scripture) we are meant to live in joy. This doesn’t mean we are happy all the time, but we choose to take hold, and never let go, of the joy found in God. Joy gives us strength to do more than we could ever do otherwise. Joy is what allows us to see the opportunities that come from failures, keep swimming when we are drowning, jump hurtles that are higher than us, feel pain as growth, and live so fully that we go to bed completely drained each night and wake ready to do it all over again each morning. It’s not always easy to keep this joy at the center of our being, but that is because our human nature makes us try to do it on our own. In reality, all we need to do is seek God’s face. He is overjoyed to have his children say, “Daddy, I know this mountain ahead is crazy tall, and I’m scared. But I also know I’m not in this alone. Hold me in Your presence and fill me with Your joy.”
See, tenacity is really that little fire deep down inside you that says, “No! I am not giving up! No matter what lies Satan tries to tell, I am NOT defeated because I refuse to let go of that Mighty Joy-Giving Hand.”
This summer was full of difficulties. Those difficulties led the way to new difficulties that came when I officially began graduate school. With all of these challenges were many, many moments of feeling like I had failed or was currently failing. Even now, as I write this, I can’t say that I truly feel like I’m succeeding. However, all of these struggles have taught me to choose the right perspective. This is what has made all the difference.
People will not remember you for the trials you experienced. They will remember you for your character. And character is determined by how you choose to respond to the trials you experience. My challenge to myself and everyone reading this is that we would all choose to have tenacious characters of joy.
When the going gets tough, instead of giving up and lying down, I choose to dig my heals in and run straight into the challenges. Care to run with me?
Many Christians have been branded “close-minded”, “hateful”, “phobic”, “intolerant”, etc., and some do come off that way when they voice their opinions. My goal here is simply to lay out some of my thoughts and explain that I am not any of these. I am not perfect at wording what I think and feel, so keep that in mind if you choose to read the following entry. Also, please know that I am extending grace and love as I write all of this. If you choose to respond in any way, please do so with the same measures.
This constant rain and all of the flood warnings are reminding me of the fact that God displayed a rainbow as His promise to never flood the whole earth again.... yet our society has turned this into a symbol of pride. In fact, a symbol of pride for something that is not Biblical. And it makes me think of how often we, God’s created beings, take what He has given us and twist it into what it was never meant to be. For me, this isn't about actively opposing the recent change in legislation to legalize gay marriage - and I have no interest in all the arguments - it's simply about what I hold as truth…
1. I believe the Bible is 100% true and without error. And it is still applicable to our lives.
2. I believe that God is Love. That we are called to love as Christ loves the Church.
3. I believe that we live in an imperfect world, and all people live sinful lifestyles, in some way or another.
4. I believe that all people are beautiful. All people are children of God, created in God’s image.
5. I believe that I can love all people without approving of the ways in which they live… Just as God can love all of us without approving of our sin.
6. I believe that, though God is incapable of creating anything imperfect, we are imperfect people because of freewill. God gave us freewill in order for us to make the choice to love Him. As a result, we were given the choice to sin. Our sin is what separates us from Him and His perfect love.
7. I believe that God is enough. That in God, there is freedom.
8. I believe that I am a fallen person. That I am no better and no worse than anyone else. However, I know that Christ paid the price that I owe, and I have seen the work of redemption in tangible ways in my own sin-laden life.
9. I believe that the availability of forgiveness does not make it acceptable for us to continue living in sin. Our acceptance of redemption means we must make a real effort to reform our lives and live in holiness.
10. I believe that I am called to live in this world but not of it. I am to set an example of love and purity… to influence the world, not to let the world (and what it says is popular) influence me.
So, based on these statements, everyone reading this should be able to conclude that I do not hate, nor have a phobia, of anyone in support of gay marriage. I do, however, believe that God created marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and homosexuality is a sinful choice, as it is clearly stated in the Bible. I know that many people will find this offensive, but I am simply stating my beliefs just as everyone else is stating their beliefs. Even if you are offended by this, know that I still love you for who you are. I may not agree with your way of life, but I recognize that we are in the same boat. We both have lives of sin, but are both worthy of Love that can save. In conjunction with this, I want to make it clear that I am not writing all this for the purpose of shoving my beliefs down anyone’s throat. You can disagree with everything I say and I will still love you, still hang out with you, still be downright solid friends with you. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. But, I will still believe what I believe.
Also, when I see that rainbow, I do think #lovewins… but not based on the Supreme Court’s decision. I know that Love won thousands of years ago, when He died on a cross, rose from the dead, and defeated sin, Satan, and death to show me how much He loves me despite my dirty, nasty, sin. That rainbow will ALWAYS be my God’s creation, reminding me to fall to my knees in humble dependence on Him, not rise up in pride against Him.
All of this being said, there are choices that I must make. I am not here to argue about our history and the principles on which our country was founded. Our country has taken a million turns away from what our Founding Fathers probably wanted. But our world in general has changed a hundred fold since then. Therefore, this is not the point. The point is that I believe God’s Kingdom is above all. I do not bow to any earthly government because I know that all of them fall in the end. But, in this time that I am here, I am called to live without “fear and timidity” (2 Timothy 1:7). Therefore, I will stand for my faith. I will serve my government where service is due, just as Jesus commanded (Romans 13:7), but if that ever reaches the point that following the law goes against God, than my faith comes first. Church and government are separate entities. The government can give rights to people who believe differently than I do, but they cannot take my rights away at the same time. This is a double standard. If this ever happens, you can bet I will stand firmly on my faith, no matter the result. Because I fear God, and God alone.
This afternoon, as I walked back to my townhouse after class, I noticed that I had something in my mailbox – not a common occurrence. Excitedly, I opened it to find this simple note written on a folded piece of lined paper, “But the Greatest of these is LOVE.” It was anonymous. I stood there for a minute, smiling in appreciation as well as curiosity. But I was caught up in trying to figure out whom it came from and why they sent it. I spent a lot of time trying to find the answers to these questions… Now, I would just say that I might be more willing to believe that God does send us letters, just written in someone else’s writing. But instead of jumping ahead, let me share the details of my newest lesson with you…
I don’t have the slightest idea who put this note in my mailbox. I don’t even know if it was someone who knows me, or simply a random act of encouragement to a random mailbox number. Nor do I know why they chose to write these words. And to be honest, it’s been driving me nuts all evening! I’ve examined the handwriting to see if I can recognize it as belonging to one of my friends. I have considered the paper it’s written on and the type of notebook it must have come from, as well as the fact that it belonged to a person who didn’t mind leaving the fray on the edge. I have taken into account the choice of a purple marker as the writing utensil, and that the stroke marks indicate that this marker had a damaged tip (hey, I learned something in my forensics class!). I noticed that the author took care to color in the heart with parallel shading. I observed that my box number was written with a blue, ballpoint pen… deducing that the sender had to look up my number in the directory at the post office window. I had even started to believe that I had a couple suspects in mind, if it did in fact come from someone I know.
Then, I left my room for a while, with this little note lying open on top of my desk. When I returned a few hours later, I glanced down at it and pondered the words. Again, I wondered who had sent this and why. I know the truth within this Scriptural quote, and it is always a great reminded, but why today? Then, as I looked up from the note, my eyes landed immediately on the picture frame setting on the back corner of my desk. This picture has been there all year, and I suppose, in psychological terms, you could say I have become desensitized to its presence. But tonight, it seemed to have a spotlight igniting the words in the top right, “The greatest of these is Love”. The three pictures it holds include my family, and two sweet little ones from the other side of the world… six people that will forever hold a very important place in my heart. I was reminded of how much I am loved, by my earthly family and our Heavenly Father, and how blessed I have been to be able to love in return. It was like I needed this note to draw my attention to the truth and affirmation that has been literally in front of my face every day.
The sender of this note, whoever he or she may be, probably did not have the slightest inkling that this was the impact it would have. I suppose that to anyone besides me, it may not even hold much weight. But to me, it was the very reminder of truth that I needed today.
See, for the past couple days, I have noticed myself feeling insignificant, unimportant, inadequate, and insecure. The lies of Satan were sneaking into my head and stealing, piece by piece, my true identity in Christ. But far greater than these lies and negative feelings is the love of God and its manifestations in our lives. We are so deeply and perfectly loved… and we have the pleasure of loving Him and others in return. To whoever sent that note (even though you will likely never stumble upon this journal), thank you for following God’s nudge and placing these words at my fingertips today. And to whoever may be reading this truth right now, I hope it uplifts you like it has uplifted me.
After being encouraged by a few different people to continue writing and sharing the things God teaches me, I have decided to revive this journal. I remember thinking, toward the end of my semester abroad, “Why should I keep writing on my blog? My life won’t be interesting anymore when I go back home. Who wants to read about my boring life in Indiana/Ohio?” To that, one of my study abroad coordinators said, “Why can’t you write about what God teaches you at home? He doesn’t stop teaching you when you go back to what’s familiar.” Let me tell you, she hit it on the nose! Since coming home, nearly a year ago now, the lessons have not stopped coming! So, today I’m going to share a couple of the most recent things I’ve learned…
Retirement Doesn’t Exist
Let me introduce you to my new friend: Paul. Paul is an elderly man that I noticed on Sunday evening as I sat in McConn – the coffee shop in our Student Center – doing homework with my housemate. He was walking around by himself and looked somewhat lonely. I thought to myself, “I wonder what he is thinking about as he walks around and looks at all of us. Does he think, ‘If only you knew how fast life flies by…’ or ‘I would love it if one of you would ask me how my day is going’? Or does he just walk around here to be with people?” I wanted to go talk to him, but I was too shy to do it. When he walked away, I instantly felt regret for not approaching him. I made a little pact with God: “If I see him again, I will go talk to him. Promise.”
My Monday morning routine almost always consists of spending the first few hours of the day studying in McConn before chapel. So, on Monday, that’s what I did. As I sat at my table studying for my Anatomy exam later that day, the same elderly gentleman that I had seen the evening before, in the exact same place, walked by my table and took a seat at one of the couches by the fireplace behind me. There was another girl sitting on the other couch, to whom he cheerfully said, “I see you already made a fire for me!” She laughed and acknowledged that she “did it just for him” and put her headphones back on her ears. In the reflection of my laptop screen, I could see that he sat there for some time, simply sitting in silence… maybe in thought. Then, he pulled out his iPhone and seemed to be reading something on it. I was so distracted and so anxious. No longer could I sit and study. I knew that I had told God I would talk to this man. But how do I just randomly start a conversation with him? And the other girl is there doing her homework. After several minutes of debating what to do, and making excuses for why I couldn’t talk to him, I thought, “That girl needs to leave. If she leaves, I can move my studying to her spot and use the ‘I’m going to share the fireplace’ line as an icebreaker!” Sure enough, not long after thinking that, the girl started packing up her stuff! As soon as she left, I took a deep breath and relocated to her seat. I said, “Good morning, sir! I’m going to share the fireplace with you, if that’s okay.” He replied, “Well, sure.” I said, “I’m Katie.” He introduced himself as Paul, and we spent the next 45 minutes getting acquainted. I never did finish my anatomy studying, but I didn’t even care. I learned all about Paul… He grew up as a missionary kid. Then, he went to school for ministry. He didn’t want to become a missionary himself, but he said he quickly realized that God was calling him to mission work in the Philippines. He and his wife spent their entire marriage in ministry. Now, she has passed away and he is retired from the mission field. Three months ago, he was living in Florida with his sister, where they have been for the past few years. They had planned to move back to Marion together, and share a 2-bedroom apartment in the senior community near IWU. The plans were set, everything was packed, and their moving day was scheduled for a Friday. The Monday before, she suddenly passed away as the result of a severe stroke. So, Paul had to move to Marion by himself. Also, he could not afford the apartment in the senior community on his own. So, he is living in a normal apartment complex that abuts IWU’s athletic fields. Since he lives on his own, and as he says, “is not a cook,” he comes to IWU’s cafeteria for every meal. He was sitting in McConn that morning after coming to campus for breakfast. When I asked him at the beginning of the conversation what brought him to campus, his response was, “Oh, I’m just hangin’ out.” Well, after he told me more of his story, he explained that he did a lot of work with teenagers during his years as a missionary and pastor. So, it feels normal to him to spend time with young people. He hangs out on campus each day because he misses being around young people. He also stated quite frankly, “I was supposed to live here with my sister. But now I’m alone and I sit in my apartment and pass the time hour by hour. Honestly, I’m lonely. So I hang out here because of people like you. I’m a people person. And I can see that you are, too! I like talking to you.”
Before I left for chapel, he pulled out a navy blue, pocket-sized day planner, and asked me to write my name and future plans on the current day. He said he wanted to remember when he met me. Also, he was going to add me to his prayer list and he wanted to be educated about praying for me. Then, he said, “Now, wait. I told you my first name, but I never said my last. I always like to tell people my last name because of the Bible verse that says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’” And with a big grin he added, “See, my last name is Meeks. So, I say we are blessed, but we are plural.”
Paul and I talked about a lot of things that morning. I was so thankful I followed that nudge to introduce myself to him, and I was reluctant to leave when it was time to go to chapel. However, I was blessed to spend more time with him the following morning, again, sitting around the fireplace. I see him nearly every day now, and am so happy to be a friend. But, one of the most important things that has come from this friendship is a new lesson that I learned from Paul… as Christians, we never retire. Paul has been living in Marion for 3 months now, and has already found multiple ways to serve God and serve people. He always has his eyes open for opportunities the Lord provides. And he continues to look upon these opportunities in amazement at the way God is still working in his life. Paul retired from the ministry many years ago, but he has not retired from missions.
James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” A year ago, I was taking care of an orphan when he had no one else to sit in his hospital room with him. Now, I am sitting in a college coffee shop with a widower who has years of mission experience and wisdom to share. No… I’m no extraordinary person for doing either of these things. Yes, I want to take seriously what James 1:27 says, but that’s not actually why I share this. I am writing about it to explain why I believe “taking care of” widows (widowers) and orphans is not just important because we are meeting the needs of others. I think, maybe, God calls us to do these things because He knows how much He can teach us through such people. I have not done anything outstanding. God has.
This is only lesson #1…. But it turned out to be rather long. (I even wrote the short version!) So, I’m leaving it at this for tonight, and I will write about the rest in the next few days.
Even after coming home, time continues to fly by. It has already been a week since I excitedly greeted my parents in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. A lot has happened in that week, and I have many thoughts on how the process of reentry is going for me. It has been hard in many ways. But there are also some things that I have enjoyed coming back to.
Languages – I really miss the Lithuanian language. I may not have been able to speak it fluently, but I enjoyed hearing it and learning new words every day. By the time I left, I could understand quite a bit, and it was fun to practice using it as much as I could. I also enjoyed hearing many other languages all around me every day. It has been hard readjusting to hearing and using only English. Also, this has been somewhat overwhelming…I can actually understand every conversation going on around me in public settings. This has led to feelings of sensory overload. I became so used to not understanding background conversations that now I find myself struggling to focus on one conversation at a time.
Greetings – One thing I love about being home is how nearly everyone greets me in public. I love going on my morning runs and bicycle workouts and having everyone give me a big smile, wave, and “Good morning!” as I pass. I got adjusted to the shy public atmosphere in Lithuania, but I did miss the outgoingness of home.
Church – It is so good to be back in my home churches, but I miss my Lithuanian church families as well. I miss singing praises in the beautiful Lithuanian language and listening to the sermon in two languages at the same time. It was a bit weird for me this Sunday when I only knew two of the songs we sang at church.
The Location Lesson – I believe that God teaches us lessons in one place, then takes us to a new place or puts us under new circumstances so we can build on those same lessons. Now that I am home, I feel a bit out of place. I learned so much in Lithuania and my life took on a whole new look. I matured and became confident in the purpose God gave me there. Now, I have to apply the things I learned there to my life here. Before leaving Europe, I had a fear that I would get home and go right back to the same routine I always had, but I am so happy to say this has not been the case. I am working to maintain all the improvements I made and continue building on everything I learned. However, I notice that I occasionally feel out of place. There are some social settings that make me uncomfortable now, and I no longer instinctively know how to act in the American cultural context. It’s actually a very strange feeling.
New Goals – For anyone who is on Facebook or has spoken with me recently, some of this will be a repeat of what you already know. I am having a bit of trouble knowing what to do with my time now. Next week, I will be starting my summer job at the hospital again, but I still wasn’t sure what else I should do this summer to make good use of my time. So, I came up with a few new goals. First, I am starting to train for a sprint triathlon. I am going to choose a race in the end of August or beginning of September and register for it to give me more motivation to stick to my training. But, so far, I am loving it anyway! Second, I have begun working on two books that I hope to have written by the end of the summer. I am writing one children’s book and one short novel. I will probably only have the rough drafts finished by the fall, but I hope to send them to a publisher at some point. My third goal is to make five new friends this summer (and visit many old ones). I want to continue practicing the lessons of choosing people and being intentional within relationships that I learned during my semester abroad. Finally, I want to accomplish all these goals while still living one day at a time.
These are the main things so far. But, I think I should also take this opportunity to answer the most frequently asked question. A lot of people have been asking if I am jet lagged at all… For anyone who hasn’t already asked this in person, I will answer it for you now. Honestly, no. The only aspect of jet lag that I have noticed is my appetite. I still am not very hungry most of the time and fill up very quickly when I do eat. Other than this, I haven’t had many problems. My sleep schedule adjusted to the time zone immediately. So, this has helped my transition go a bit smoother.
*I actually wrote this in the Warsaw airport, but couldn’t get an internet connection to post it… And still haven’t had internet until today. So, it was written before I landed in the US.
I was hoping to get this posted before now, but Wi-Fi in Paris turned out to be rather difficult to find. So, here I sit, enjoying my layover in the Warsaw airport, looking back on what has been an incredible four months. My brain still has trouble believing that it is already May and I will be seeing my parents in less than 13 hours. While this becomes reality, I have an even harder time believing that I may never again see all the beautiful people in Lithuania who became like family to me. But, this sad ending is just proof that the semester has been more than I could ever have expected. Also, every ending serves as a new beginning, so I am excited to see what other adventures await me.
Here is an update on my most recent adventures, as well as a few lessons from Paris:
Airports…I can’t wait to be done with them for a while! As many of you know from reading my Facebook post, I had some trouble in the Vilnius airport on Sunday. It actually started a month or two ago when AirBaltic canceled my flight that I originally booked back in November. I had a bit of a hassle trying to call them from Lithuania to choose a new flight. But, I thought it was all well and done after that phone call. When I got to the airport, I discovered that they changed the class on my ticket as well as their policy on luggage. No one had informed me of any of this before hand (or the fact that I was supposed to check in for my flight online and print my boarding pass). So, I had no boarding passes, no free checked bags, no carry-on allowed, and only 1.5 hours until my flight was set to depart. At this point, I had no idea how I was going to get my bags and myself through security and on the plane before takeoff. So, I sat down, pulled out my laptop, which was almost dead (and I couldn’t find an outlet anywhere), and began fixing this airport disaster. I was able to check in online and have my boarding passes emailed to my phone. Then, I bought two checked bags on the AirBaltic website, to the pain of my bank account. Finally, I repacked my bags in hopes that nothing fragile would be broken, and went back to the check in counter. Even though my boarding passes and baggage receipt were supposed to be printed, they let me by with showing them on my phone. After getting through security, I had to hide my purse under my sweater and backpack since I was only supposed to have one personal item onboard the plane. But, I successfully smuggled my own belongings onboard and made it with just a few minutes to spare. Looking back, I realize that this was not the worst thing that could have happened, and I did make it to Paris safely. Also, I probably should have stood up for myself and the fact that when I first booked a flight with AirBaltic, I was supposed to get a checked bag, a carry on bag, and a personal item (purse) for free because I booked an economy class ticket, not basic class. Needless to say, I survived, the lesson has been learned, and I will not be flying with AirBaltic ever again.
Paris! First, let me give an over-simplified description: Paris is beautiful! I had been warned about how many people expect so much from Paris and then are disappointed when they get there, but I did not have this experience. Sure, it probably helped that it is springtime and the entire city is in bloom, but I think I would have loved it even if it were covered in snow and ice. Also, let me say that I have no idea where the whole “Parisians are rude” stereotype comes from. I found almost every person I encountered to be pleasant and helpful. At one point, we were a bit lost and a random French woman walked up and asked if she could help us find our way. This is just one example of the warm welcome we received.
Expect the unexpected. Yes, this is true. Thankfully, I planned extra time for getting to the airport this morning. I got ready and was all packed early this morning so I could eat breakfast at the hotel and be on the way to the train station by 8:00am in order to get to the airport plenty early. At 7:55, Audrey (who also studied at LCC) and I finished our breakfast and went up to the room to get our luggage. I slipped the key card in the door, saw the green light, and pushed…but the door would not budge. We tried several more times to no avail. Then, we went down to reception and got the hotel manager to come help. He could not get our door open with either the master key card or the actual metal key. After politely asking us to wait, he and another man on staff climbed through the third-story window to unjam our door. Who would have ever thought that our door would become jammed on the morning we need to leave? Even though it set us back about 25 minutes, I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was so thankful I planned to leave extra early!
A farewell from Europe. Well, I almost made it out of Europe without being kissed by any random men on the street…almost. I spent these last four days in Paris with three other American girls who were at LCC: Audrey, Emma A., and Emma C. Yesterday, Emma A. and I went to one of the bridges on the Seine, just in front of Notre Dame, to watch the sunset over Paris. The other two girls were supposed to meet us there. While we were waiting, a random guy (who was actually completely sober) pushed his way in between us, put an arm around each of us, and proceeded to comment on how beautiful the view was. Emma and I were totally caught off guard and less than impressed. He continued to talk to us for a few minutes as we did our best to stop the one-sided conversation and set ourselves free. Finally, Emma said, “Well, we really need to go find our friends.” I agreed and we started to walk away. However, we didn’t walk quite fast enough because he still managed to snag us both and deliver a kiss to each cheek. It was everything we could do to not run down that bridge in shock and embarrassment. A few minutes later, I told Emma (who is also majoring in psychology and criminal justice), “Those are the moments when we need to say, ‘Yeah, we are studying criminal justice and could take you down in a flash, so leave us alone.’” I don’t know why I didn’t think of saying this sooner!
Alright, my boarding time is coming up. In a little more than ten hours, I will be back on US soil. So, I want to use this last journal from Europe to express my thankfulness to everyone who has kept up with my journey. One thing I learned this semester is the most important phrase to know when visiting countries with foreign languages: Thank you. So, here are all the “thank you”s I have learned…
Ačiū – Lithuanian (pronounced “ah-choo”)
Спасибо – Russian (pronounced “spa-see-bah”)
Merci – French
Paldies – Latvian
Grazie – Italian
Go raibh maith agat – Irish
Aitäh – Estonian
It will take me a little while to get caught up on pictures and videos, but I will continue to post them on here in the coming days and weeks. Also, I will continue to journal about what I am learning in the process of reentry, should I have anything interesting to write. Thank you all for your prayers, support, interest, and love as I have been abroad!
It took me a lot longer than I expected to get this posted, but here is the update on the donation to the Baby House! The conversion from US dollars to Litai ended up equaling 1,460 litų. In Lithuania, this is A LOT of money! When Viktoria and I talked with the orphanage to ask them what was the best use for these funds, the director asked if we would be willing it put it in their beneficiary account instead of buying things with it. She said they have been needing to update all of their educational material and this money would be an incredible help in accomplishing that. Also, she thinks they will even be able to buy some educational toys for my Little Snails. This is great because they currently do not have any. She was so grateful for this donation and couldn’t say “thank you” enough.
When I took it to the bank yesterday (with the help of Viktoria), the woman who assisted us was intrigued about why an American girl would want to donate 1,460 litų to a Lithuanian orphanage. When Viktoria explained why we were doing it and that a whole group of people from my home were behind it, the woman thought it was really cool. The service charge was 8.00 Litai, so the amount donated was 1,452 litai. Also, we were able to specify that it was for educational material. When we left the bank, Viktoria put her arm around me and said, “Well, that’s a great way to end a semester.”
I also made a card that I sent to the director of the orphanage. On the outside, I wrote, “May God bless the children of Klaipėda Baby House” in Lithuanian. On the inside, I wrote, “With love for Christ and His children around the world, the following people contributed to a donation of 1,452 litai. With love from Ohio and Illinois.” (Also in Lithuanian) At the end, I signed the names of everyone who contributed. Thank you all for your help! Not only is this donation going to help around 90 orphans get an education, but it impacted multiple people along the way. I think that the most important thing is that this donation made people ask, “Why?” By asking why we would want to love these children by giving our resources, they are able to see Christ through us…to see that we do “different” things out of love for Him and His children. Even though I was hoping to be able to give tons of diapers and vitamins, and I promised everyone pictures of all of them, I believe this donation process may have impacted more people along the way, and may have a longer-lasting impact.
This is my last post from Lithuania. In less than six hours, I will be getting on a bus to make the four-hour trip to the Vilnius airport. And just like that, my time in Lithuania will be over. In some ways, it still doesn’t feel real. But, at the same time, I am excited to go home and test the lessons I’ve learned here, as well as see what new things God has for me. While this adventure may be coming to an end, I know there are many more right around the corner. For now, it is off to Paris for a few days, then homeward bound. Stay tuned for a few more updates in the coming days/weeks.
*Warning: this is a LONG entry…
I am in the middle of studying for my Lithuanian Language final and decided to take a small break and write this entry. With four days left in Lithuania, I look back in amazement at how many things have happened over the course of the last four months. A couple days ago, I went back and read through my first couple blog posts. I almost had to snicker to myself as I read those words…I have come so far since then! Some of this might be a repeat of what I have written in other entries, but in this post, I want to detail some of the most significant lessons I have learned during my time here.
Let us take one day at a time. This is the first, and probably hardest, thing I learned. What exactly does it mean to live in the moment? How do we live in the present without becoming irresponsible by not preparing for the future? These were some of the questions I wrestled with before this semester. As I dealt with my homesickness, overwhelmed feelings, weakness, and culture shock, I learned the answer to these questions: have faith. My whole life I have desired clarity and understanding. I like to have a plan and know which step comes next. When I left home in January, I was forced to live in the present, never knowing what the next day would hold. If I even tried to think about the future, those awful homesick feelings came rushing in like a tidal wave. The future was too vast for me to handle. Also, I had to trust God for the strength and grace necessary to make it through each day as they came. I did not know anything about the place I was in or the people I was with, so I had no choice but to trust God to provide the tools He knew I needed. As the semester moved on, the homesickness went away, I learned how to live in Lithuania, I made new friends, and I figured out a routine for the semester. But, new challenges always came up. As a result, I have had four months of practice in trusting God, one day at a time – living in the moment and making the most of it. Now, it feels natural to live this way. I am at peace with not knowing everything or having the next three weeks planned out. I have faith in the fact that God knows what He is doing and He will provide what I need when I need it.
People are people everywhere you go, and this is a beautiful thing. We all come from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, families, and experiences, but when it comes down to it, we are all the same. We are all children, made in the image of God, imperfect in our human nature, looking for our place in this world. Even when we do not speak the same language, we can smile, laugh, and cry together. There are certain things that transcend cultural boundaries. My roommates hate Monday mornings just like I do. Russian guys confuse Russian girls just like American guys confuse American girls. Chocolate is international. We can all use a hug, back scratch, shoulder massage, vent session, or tissue every now and then. No one’s life is perfect. No one is perfect. Even skinny European girls struggle with body image. It has been so cool to realize that this big world is still small in some ways. Every place and every person has unique qualities, but every place and every person also has the signature of God inscribed within. There is a certain beauty in the realization that we can all relate on some level or another while still maintaining our diversity.
Learn and grow through experience. With so many new things to adjust to, I discovered that the best way to learn and grow is to simply try…and not be afraid of failure. For example, the best way to learn how to use the public transportation system was to go out with a destination in mind and see if I could get there. The best way to learn Lithuanian was to try using it. The best way to make friends was to get involved in different activities. And the best way to learn how to navigate Old Town was to go on an adventure and see if I could get lost. I learned that there are certain Lithuanian foods that I do not like, but there are a whole lot more that I do like. I learned that I love the Lithuanian language and want to keep learning it so I can, someday, become fluent.
There is always something more to be learned. Whether it is cultural, personal, spiritual, relational, or any other category, there are new things to be learned every day. And so much of these things can be learned from the people around us. However, we have to take the initiative to be interested and choose to be a learner. In life, we all have our times to be teachers, and our times to be learners. Life is made richer by this give and take of experiences. However, we have to choose to participate. It is easy to go through life in a contented, stationary way. But what is the point of that kind of living? We come out better people when we accept the challenge of being stretched by new opportunities of learning and teaching. In these moments, we are blessed by being able to connect with other people and invest in their lives, as well as by having others invest in us. This semester has provided countless opportunities for me to be a student and a teacher, inside and outside of my LCC classrooms. I have learned lessons in every category – academic to relational, spiritual to cultural, personal to daily living, and everything in between. I learned that spanking your children in illegal in Norway, Lithuanians wear wedding rings on their right hands, the Baltic countries have White Nights in the summer, спасибо is how you say “thank you” in Russian, singing can unite a country in efforts to win their freedom, I am family to orphans and widows, buckwheat is delicious, and being a criminal justice major in Easter Europe is super weird. I have also learned that God will take us wherever He needs to in order to teach us the lessons He wants us to learn. In these places, we find ourselves teaching things that we did not even know we knew, like how I know God is real, why I eat cookies in a circle, how to navigate the London Underground, why a sock monkey represents a piece of home traveling with me everywhere I go, and which form of an English word is the correct one for a specific sentence.
People are the most important. Of all the major lessons I have learned this semester, I think this is my favorite. #choosepeople became very real for me…much more than just a hash tag to use with my Instagram pictures. I am sad to admit that, before this semester, people were not at the top of my priority list. I wanted them to be, but could not let go of my perfectionistic desires enough to allow people to surpass schoolwork in the lineup of things to do on any given day. Before even arriving here, I knew that this was something I wanted to learn while here. It was one of the lessons that I felt like God wanted to teach me. Performing in classes on a less-than-perfect level was a challenge, but having extra time to spend with people was well worth the struggle.
The greatest thing about all the lessons I have learned is that they do not take up any room in my suitcase. They can go home with me, without adding extra weight, as the best souvenirs I could ever hope to have. I can continue to use them as I apply them to my life in Bryan, Ohio; Marion, Indiana; or anywhere else I go. Thanks to this semester, I know how to live one day at a time. When I land in Chicago on May 8th, I can start over as a new Katie who is not worried about the future or how everything will happen just right. I can enjoy life from a new perspective: one of peace, grace, faith, and intentionality. Now I have more appreciation for all the people I interact with at home and the beauty they each hold. I know a little more about how to love these people, despite the differences we might have. As I learned here in Lithuania, people at home are not perfect either. I am not alone in my insecurities and shortcomings, no matter where I am on this globe we call Earth. I know now that it is entirely worth it to jump in, take risks, and go on adventures. If I do not try, I will never know what I could have experienced. Failures are inevitable, but it is what I do with them that matters. If I keep pressing on, without fear of failing again, I will find things and grow in ways that I never could have without those experiences. And, now I know that I can teach and learn wherever I go. By engaging with those around me, I gain the opportunity to learn from their lives and share my own. In this way, I can be connected in the type of community God created us to have. Whether I am in the Midwest United States or on the opposite side of the globe, I can engage with others in this way. And all of this can only happen if I use that last lesson: choose people. Now I know how to reorder my to do list and use my time more effectively so that I always have time for people. Life is a million times better when it is shared with great people.
The impact that this semester has had on me is so great; it is hard to accurately put it all into words. I am not a different person in the aspect that my family will not know me when I come home, but I have become a better version of myself. I have learned to love a new corner of the world, complete with its culture, language, geological environment, architecture, and people. I will miss the unavoidable challenges that come with living in a different country and have forced me to grow and learn. Most of all, I will always feel like I am part Lithuanian. I do not think I will ever stop looking at the time and thinking, “It is 3:00pm. That means it is 10:00pm in Lithuania… I wonder how their day was today…”
Whew! Sorry that was so long! If you made it to this point, congratulations on finishing! ;) And thank you…I appreciate every person who has been following my adventure so faithfully. When my last four days here are over, I will have four days in Paris. Then, I’ll be crossing back over the pond to the great United States of America. I will post a few more times before landing at home. I will probably also continue to post on occasion about how I am handling re-entry shock and any new lessons I learn when back in the US. So, please continue reading…my adventure is still far from over… J
PS: Be looking tomorrow or Thursday for the entry that includes an update about the donation many of you made to the Baby House orphanage!
This video was our final Cross-Cultural project. It's another flip book video, but the editing credit goes to my roommate Pearl on this one. It was a fun project because I had the pleasure of completing it with four girls that have become such great friends this semester. Emma and I did most of the "acting", Julia did the animations/artwork, and Pearl, Danielle, and I did photography. This is a good video to watch if you are wondering about what it looked like to actually live here, as well as to show you
Devyni is the Lithuanian word for “nine”. That’s how many days I have left in Lithuania. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. In some ways, it feels like I have been here for years. But in others, it feels like just yesterday, I was introduced to this incredible country for the first time. I remember laying in bed those first few nights thinking that I would never survive four months here…wondering how I could get myself sent home. Now, this really has become my home away from home. Now, I am wondering how I will handle the transition process of returning home and working through re-entry shock. It still doesn’t feel real that I will actually be leaving in nine days, but as the number gets smaller, the fact sinks in a little more.
However, there are still nine days…nine days to make the most of. Nine days to continue learning. Nine days to keep growing. Nine days to spend with amazing people. Nine days to enjoy the Baltic. Nine days to speak in Lithuanian. Nine days to live one at a time.
This afternoon, I went to the children’s hospital again to visit Domantas. I checked in at the reception desk and went upstairs to his unit. When I stopped at the desk to tell his nurse that I was there, she paused for a moment and searched for the right words. After a couple minutes of nervous waiting, I was relieved to here her say, “He go home.” As I went past reception again on my way out, the receptionist (who, by now, knows who I am and who I come to visit) asked me why I was leaving so soon. I couldn’t think of a full sentence to explain it, so I said, “Sveikas.” This means, “He’s healthy.” She responded by asking me if he had gone home (which was a phrase I understood), and I replied, “Taip.” (Yes.) She smiled, I thanked her for her help, and continued on my way. I was excited to know that he was well enough to be released this morning but I couldn’t stop pondering the nurse’s words… “He go home.” My first thought was, “Home. Hmm…that’s not his home.” I can’t even explain exactly why, but the wording just made me sad. To me, home means so much more than the place one dwells. I understand that I am a native English speaker with context for all of my words and the nurse’s English was very limited. But these were the thoughts on my heart. On the positive side, Domantas is no longer alone in the hospital room. He at least has the companionship of the other children in the orphanage. Also, I will get to see him one more time when I go for my last day at the orphanage on Wednesday. I just keep praying that God blesses him with a loving, Christian family and home.
I am going to be incredibly transparent in this post. Today is Easter Sunday, and I sit here in Lithuania reflecting back on the work God has done in my life over the past twelve months. Last Easter, I was the picture of a broken little girl. I remember sitting on the steps of my Aunt’s house with my mom, sobbing. Life had gotten the best of me and Easter brought about my breakdown. I was struggling with low self-esteem, frustration, disordered eating, illness and pain, loneliness, depression, and feeling like I had no purpose. I wanted to give up. The worst part is that I was so good at hiding all of it…I put on my happy face and did all the things people expected me to do, but was breaking apart inside. I didn’t see how God could possibly use me for anything good.
Today, I find joy in my identity as a child of God, made complete in His death and resurrection. I am set free from my earthly burdens by His grace and love. This is a hard feeling to explain, but I feel like my heart is literally overflowing today…like it could just burst out of my chest. This has been a very different Easter Sunday, compared to all those of my past, but it might be the most significant so far. Here are the main points…
Intentional Community: For Easter lunch, I joined in a “family” meal with several other study abroad girls. We all helped prepare the food, then sat down together to break bread in community. It was a beautiful way to celebrate this day and its significance while away from our homes and families.
The Least of These: This afternoon, I went to the children’s hospital to visit Domantas again. I went yesterday, but was unable to get in, so I wasn’t sure that I would have success today. Thankfully, the door was unlocked. I made my way up to his room and was pleased to see he was awake when I got there, sitting in his crib making random sounds to himself. We enjoyed some time together playing, singing, smiling, and laughing. He seemed more energetic and was very vocal today…signs that, I hope, mean he is getting better. He does not actually speak real words yet, but he likes to “talk” to me with very serious and dramatic baby talk. The look on his face always conveys that he has some very important things to tell me. I was pleased to see today that he remembered some of the things I taught him on Friday, such as the rhythm of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and our little game with his rattles. It was such a blessing to me to be able to share some love with him on this Easter Sunday.
Purposeful Accidents: On my way to visit Dom this afternoon, I decided to take the bus instead of walking. My goal was to get there faster so I could spend more time with him before going to church. I knew that the #5 and #14 busses would take me in the right direction for the children’s hospital, but they were not going to come to my stop for over 25 minutes…which would not save me any time. The #9 bus was scheduled to come much sooner and, judging by the street names on it’s route, I thought it went into town. However, when I got on, I realized that I had misunderstood and it went toward town, but then turned to take the route over by the seaport – the opposite direction from the hospital. While I sat there, trying to figure out when I should get off so I could go where I need to go, an elderly women sitting across the aisle in the row behind me started talking to me. I didn’t realize at first that she was trying to get my attention, but when I heard “mergaitė” (young girl) for the second time, I knew she was talking to me. I turned around but couldn’t understand what she said. I sadly responded with, “Nesuprantu Lietuviškai. Aš kalbu angliškai...” She looked at me with understanding and kindness in her eyes, pointed at my wrist, gesturing that she wanted to see my bracelet. This is the MudLove bracelet that says “set free” on it. I lifted my hand so she could see, she read it, nodded and smiled as if she understood, and said a phrase that I did not know. I smiled in response but wished so much that I knew the right words to explain the meaning behind those two words. Given that she is of the older generation, I can say with near certainty that she probably only speaks Lithuanian and Russian, so I doubt she knew what “set free” meant. But, looking back on it, I wish I had thought fast enough to use an alternative form of communication. I could have drawn a cross on a piece of paper and written “Jesus Christ”, then a person with the word “aš” (me), and a heart to signify love. This wouldn’t have been perfect, but I think she would have understood what it meant. However, after thinking through all of this and being disappointed that I failed to communicate effectively with her when given the chance, I realized that maybe God had a different purpose for this interaction. I don’t think He had me get on the wrong bus and interact with this woman for no reason…God always has a reason. Not to mention that, in this culture, the fact that she approached me – a complete stranger – is unusual in itself. I wear this bracelet every day, but I think God used this woman to get my attention and remind me of the milestone that is today. He used this moment to bring back memories from last Easter and say to me, “My dear daughter…I AM faithful. You are mine and you are beautiful. You are free, and I am using you.” Some may say I am silly or I over-spiritualize things, but I believe there are angels among us. As I remember this woman and the kindness I saw in her eyes, I wonder if she was one of them.
This Easter, I know who I am, but more importantly, I know Whose I am. No, life is not perfect or easy. In fact, it is far from either of those things. In some ways, it feels like the more I pursue God, the more difficult like becomes. But, while there is a negative correlation between pursuit of God and ease of life, there is a positive correlation between pursuit of God and joy. Sometimes it makes me giggle when I think about how much joy I have when I see the beauty of my Lord all around me, even when life is less than kind. So, my prayer today is that, in some way, my testimony can encourage you. May you also find joy and hope on this Easter Sunday, as well as every day to come. Christ is alive and working!
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!