Preparing for Advent

25 11 2011

Advent has become my favorite season of the church calendar. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, so November 27, 2011. I have found that participating in this season’s activities helps keep me focused on the meaning of Christmas amidst all of the commercialism and stress of the public holiday season. I am also particularly fond of the symbolism of the wreath, candles, and colors. The wreath symbolizes eternal life, as it is a circle of evergreen. The nuts and seedpods used to decorate it represent resurrection, and the fruits used are symbolic of the fruitfulness of Christian life.

The candles represent the coming of light into the world. The first week, one candle is lit, and each week after one additional is lit until all the candles are lit. The first 3 candles lit are purple, the color used during Lent and Advent to represent penitence. The fourth candle is pink, a liturgical color only used on the 4th Sunday of Advent and on Laetare Sunday during Lent. On Christmas day, the greens are replaced with fresh greens and the four candles are replaced with white candles that are burned throughout the Christmas season (or until Epiphany on January 6). The white candles symbolize Christ.

It is important to remember that the color purple, used during the season, is the color of penitence. This season is about anticipating the advent (both Christmas and the 2nd Coming) of Christ, but it is also about repentance. It is a time to reflect on our sinful condition as we await the only one who can redeem us. Fasting is appropriate but not required during this season (it should be noted that one cannot fast on Sundays or on holy days).

So as I prepare myself for this season, I generally read The Prayer of Manasseh. It’s an apocryphal book, but it is entirely appropriate. At least I think so.

Thou who hast made heaven and earth with all their order; who hast shackled the sea by thy word of command, who hast confined the deep and sealed it with thy terrible and glorious name; at whom all things shudder, and tremble before thy power, for thy glorious splendor cannot be borne, and the wrath of thy threat to sinners is irresistible; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is thy promised mercy, for thou art the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and repentest over the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against thee; and in the multitude of thy mercies thou hast appointed repentance for sinners, that they may be saved. Therefore thou, O Lord, God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against thee, but thou hast appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner. For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked thy wrath and have done what is evil in thy sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses. And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching thee for thy kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my transgressions. I earnestly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me for ever or lay up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For thou, O Lord, art the God of those who repent, and in me thou wilt manifest thy goodness; for, unworthy as I am, thou wilt save me in thy great mercy, and I will praise thee continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings thy praise, and thine is the glory for ever. Amen.

How do you prepare yourself for advent? Are there particular scriptures you read this time of year?





Gratitude

14 11 2011

A bunch of my friends on facebook are daily making their statuses something they are grateful for. For whatever reason, I did not join that bandwagon. Probably because I’m typically ungrateful. So here is my attempt at getting up to speed with them. A list of 14 things I’m thankful for and why (in no particular order):

1. I’m thankful that I get to experience life in Barranquilla. It has been challenging and difficult at times, but I know I am the better for it.

2. I’m thankful for my mom and Billy. Without them. I definitely would not have survived my transition into life as a grown-up. They have been there for me emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I owe them an unpayable debt.

3. I’m thankful for my awesome sisters. All four of you mean more to me than I can express. I love that we can laugh together and that we can celebrate each others’ successes and support each other through the “failures.” I love you all!

4. I’m thankful for my mutt Abelard. He has been my little shadow for three years. It’s been a difficult few months without him and I’m sure he’ll have some trouble transitioning back into my care. But I love that crazy dog even when he poops in the house and eats things he shouldn’t and gnaws on my dresser. He makes everyday a little more interesting.

5. I’m thankful for my nieces and nephews. These kids light up my life. I’ve watched some of them grow from adorable little babies who just wanted to curl up on my chest and go to sleep to amazing young adults. And for the younger ones, I’m enjoying watching you grow and learn. All of you make life worth living. I’m so blessed to be your aunt.

6. I’m thankful for my brothers. Ryan, I have some great memories of when we were kids. I hope that we can make more now that we are adults. Jason, I’m so thankful that we were finally able to meet! It’s been a great two years getting to know you and your family. I love you!!

7. I’m thankful for Monica and Alvaro, my Colombian parents. I’m constantly amazed by their generosity and hospitality – not just to me, but to everyone that they encounter. May I learn to be that gracious.

8. I’m thankful for Divine Life. I’ve been a member of this particular community since the summer of 2004. This community has been there to support me during some of the darkest moments of my life. They have also been there to celebrate with me through my successes. I’ve learned more about grace and forgiveness and hope and love from you all than you will ever know. I miss you all and cannot wait to be back amongst you. (fingers crossed that you are missing me, too!)

9. I’m thankful for my dad. He and I are a lot alike in that we are both very hardheaded and stubborn. It is this that makes us argue so much. But I’m grateful that I get to hear his stories a hundred times and that we have a good relationship. It has taken many years on my part to get to this point, but I’m thankful that I won’t have any regrets about our relationship when all is said and done.

10. I’m thankful for Colombian style hotdogs. Seriously, they are delicious. I’m going to learn how to make them before I come home.

11. I’m thankful that I can at least understand some Spanish, even if I can’t speak it yet. It definitely helps that I can figure some things out on my own.

12. I’m thankful for the way God has provided for me to get to Colombia and while I’ve been here. I still need a few hundred dollars to get me home, thanks to a passport issue, but I’m confident that God will handle that.

13. I’m thankful for good friends. I’m thankful that I can laugh until I cry with you. I’m thankful that you forgive my stupidity and let me be myself. I’m thankful that you stuck with me when I was difficult to tolerate. I miss you all!!!!!!!

14. I’m thankful for Skype. Without it, I would be very limited with my contact home. I’m so grateful that anytime I’m homesick, I can call my family or friends and speak in English really fast!

So there you have it, up to date gratitude 🙂





It Hurts Like a Billy-Oh

30 08 2011

This post is very personal.  It’s a bit more personal than I’m comfortable with, but I think that I should share it anyway because people want to know what this whole experience is like, not just the good parts.  Right?

This week was rough.  We’re talkin’ curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-cry-myself-to-sleep rough.

I was lonely.  Not the kind of lonely that made me want to go home.  Not the kind of lonely borne out of self-pity.  It was an entirely new kind of lonely.  It was isolation.  Yes, I have friends here.  Yes, I live with people who speak English.  Yes, I can call home whenever I want.

But I was still lonely.

Have you ever had an experience of loss (a break-up, death, end of a friendship, etc.) ?  Do you remember how it felt like something was literally ripping open your chest?  That’s what this felt like, except without the loss.

I emailed by pastor back home asking him to pray with me and for me.  I told him that I needed an English-speaking friend that was fully, 100% fluent that I could have an easy conversation with (perhaps even a thoughtful, deep conversation) or I was going to have a meltdown.  In typical Chris Green fashion, he encouraged me to embrace the isolation, to lean into God, and to not resent the process.

I’m trying. It’s not easy.  And I’m fairly certain I have some more time in this lonliness before I get the friend I so desperately want…if I get the friend.

Upon reflecting on this time, I was reminded of the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (part of The Chronicles of Narnia).  In the story, there is a character named Eustace.  Lewis writes, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

He is not very likeable and he doesn’t try to be.  He resents the fact that he is in Narnia and that he is stuck on the ship, “The Dawn Treader,” against his will.  The crew lands on an island where a dragon lives. Eustace, in attempt to avoid work,  stumbles upon the dragon only to discover that it is dying.  He decides to tell everyone that he killed the dragon.

Now, as we all know, dragons are hoarders of treasure.

With the dragon dead, Eustace finds that he is surrounded by all sorts of gold and diamonds and jewels.  He finds a golden bracelet and puts it as high on his arm as he can so that it won’t come off.  Then he falls asleep.  When he wakes, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon overnight.  This discovery of his dragoned self humbles Eustace and he seeks to make amends with the crew for his behaviour, but that’s difficult since he’s a dragon that can’t talk. It seems that he is set to be a dragon forever now.

But then comes this beautiful scene. Aslan comes to Eustace and tells him to unrobe.  Eustace tries to remove the dragon skin several times, but each time he finds that he is just as much a dragon as he was before.  Finally, Aslan helps him.  The way to remove the dragon skin is deep, painful clawing into the flesh.

This is how Eustace describes it:

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

All that to say: If I need to be undragoned, so be it.  It hurts like a billy-oh, but it is necessary.  I cannot undragon myself.  If this is part of the process, I welcome it.  I don’t want to be a dragon anymore.





The Sacraments

7 08 2011

I’ve been going to church here now for basically a month. Sometimes I have a translator, but mostly I do not. I know some of the praise and worship songs in English. I try to sing along to those, but it is difficult singing in English when they are singing in Spanish. And everyone greets everyone with a kiss on the cheek. I forget sometimes and there’s an awkward half hand-shake half kiss between me and some poor Colombian citizen who was unfortunate enough to try to greet me.

Most of the time I feel very out-of-place and totally confused.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy it. I try really hard to listen to the words of the songs and sermon. I pray that I will pick up on the gist of what is going on. So far, I am failing. But I have ample opportunity to try again and again.

But today, for the first time, I understood what was happening.  We took communion together.  It was a very powerful moment for me.  Yes, I’ve taken communion in other churches and in another country before, but it was not this meaningful for me.  I noticed my excitement for understanding something in the service.  Then I realized it was an excitement for the Meal.  I remembered something my pastor Chris back home said once: Any Christian at any time should be able to go to a service and know it is Christian by this meal.  Or something like that.

This meal transcends the awkwardness of being a gringa in a Latin church.  It made me a part of this community in ways that I will never understand.  It was the first time that I wasn’t just following someone else’s lead (sit down, stand up, pray, sing, etc.).  I was following the same lead as everyone else. I was responding to the invitation, “Come and eat.”

Then, there were three baptisms.  It was very moving to watch these three officially enter into the family, especially considering my revelation during communion.

These Sacraments are what make me a part of this body, not my ability to speak Spanish or play guitar or any of that.  It was good to remember that.





Thoughts From the Miami Airport

9 07 2011

I am FINALLY en route. It has been a whirlwind month that I thought would never end, but, at last, I am on my way! Let me tell you about my little adventure so far.

I was supposed to have left on Wednesday the 6th. Obviously, that did not happen. Monica, who I will be living with, was very ill on Tuesday and we postponed the trip. So here we are on Saturday, just chilling for the next two hours in the Miami airport. I was planning on routing through Panama and staying over night, but that didn’t pan out. Thank God! Going through customs twice does not sound fun. Once is bad enough. So now I’m trying to get through Bogota. The flights are really full, so I will likely end up staying overnight in Miami. We’ll know for sure around 8pm eastern time. What a day.

So here are some random thoughts coming to you straight from Miami International Airport:

1. Everyone here is bilingual. I will be soon.
2. I’m so tired I can’t even see straight! 3 am was too early today.
3. Flying standby has landed me two first class flights. Not bad. I particularly enjoyed the leg room.
4. I called my mom from a pay phone using my debit card to pay…it cost $40. That is so stupid.
5. Living without a cell phone is both harder and easier than I expected.
6. Did I mention I’m tired?
7. Airport food, for the most part, is overpriced and not very good.
8. I have made a point to get up and walk around the cabin of my flights to avoid developing deep vein thrombosis. No blood clots for this girl.
9. I’m really doing this. I’m really moving to Colombia. This is unbelievable.
10. I have a really difficult time spelling “believe” correctly. 9 times out of 10, I misspell it.
11. When I get to Barranquilla, I’m going to sleep for three whole days. And eat a hot dog.
12. Flying stand-by, though stressful, is very exciting. It’s an adventure all in itself. I’ve been all over this airport looking for a helpful American Airlines rep. They are few and far between.
13. This is the dream.
14. I want to take a nap.
15. I really wish my 20 pound back pack had wheels.

So, there you have it! Comment with your email if you want to make it on my “newsletter” list. Thanks friends! I miss your faces 🙂





Oh, how things change.

9 06 2011

It’s weird to think about how things have changed in my life in the last year. And how happy I am that they have, even though I fought the process every step of the way.  Let’s go back to 2010.

January 2010 was the first time I ever met my brother, sister (in-law), nieces, and nephew.  It seems strange that it hasn’t even been 2 years since we made contact.  It is like we didn’t miss out on anything.  They are my family and I’m constantly amazed at how unforced the developing of our relationships have been.  God really did know the timing for us to meet. 

Then in February I started dating this guy (for the sake of this blog, let’s call him Monty).  Monty and I had a long distance relationship and it had its ups and downs, but, overall, it was a great experience for me.  I don’t regret dating him and I look back on our time together with fondness.  Monty is a good man.  But our lives were going in different directions.  He has a daughter and what’s best for her trumped what’s best for “us” any day of the week – and rightfully so.  I could never ask him to choose between us.  Finishing my education is non-negotiable.  And that could take me anywhere.  One of us would have had to give up on something  that is very important to us – and we both felt like that was only going to breed resentment if we tried to continue our relationship.  So we ended it, on good terms.   I don’t talk to Monty much anymore.  He’s seeing someone else now and they seem very happy together.  And I’m moving to South America – something that couldn’t have happened if we had stayed together.

In August, my youngest nephew was born.  Landon Rhone 🙂  Oh, how I love that baby.  I was totally shocked when my sister said she was pregnant, but this precious little boy has definitely brought us closer as sisters.  I do hope I get to see him before I move since I’ll be in South America on his first birthday.  I guess I’ll just have to get him something awesome from Colombia as a gift.

In October, I was unemployed for a month.  That was actually not that scary.  My bills were all paid and I saw people being generous with me all the time.  Unemployment, though seemingly scary, ended up being a time of prosperity and encouragement for me.  I’m so glad I went through that.

Last November, I had to move. I was living in a townhouse owned by some friends of mine.  I had told them when I moved in that if they ever found a buyer to just sell the place.  The sold it in November.  So, I moved to the highlands – where I currently reside. 

Since my unemployment and my move, my budget has been getting steadily more restrictive.  I have felt like every time I pay a bill, I was using borrowed money.  I have felt trapped by my financial obligations and I have been praying for months for a way out of them.  I didn’t expect it to be Colombia as the answer, but I’ll take it 🙂

Then, sometime in the fall, we found out my oldest neice was pregnant.  She was very young – very.  It was world shattering at the time.  I had no idea how to respond.  I remember adamantly refusing to call it a “mistake.”  I never want to think of my precious little Addilynn coming into this world as a mistake.  She was a surprise, for sure, but no mistake.  Our family had a hard time adjusting to this new development, and an even harder time learning how to respond to it.  But, despite Kendra’s age, she’s handled this parenting thing like a pro.  Addilynn is the best thing to happen to our family in a long time.  If she’s not one way that God intends to restore and heal my family from the things that try to destroy us, then I don’t know what is.  She is redemption. Period.

she is fat, also.

And through all of that, there was the thesis.  That nagging little assignment that was the difference between a degree or wasted energy.  I was convinced that God had good things in store for me when I finished.  Not because he was holding out on me, but because the thesis writing process was making me who I needed to be to receive the good things.  I was right.

A lot of other stuff took place last year, a lot of really painful things, a lot of really great things, a lot of really personal things that are just none of your business. 

When 2010 was over, I was ready for 2011.  I ended 2010 exhausted, broke, and very unhappy.  After the break up with Monty, the moving out, and the budget crisis, I felt hopeless and faithless.  Good thing my faithfulness has nothing to do with God’s faithfulness to me.  I remember talking to my pastor Chris and telling him I thought that my faith in breaking it off with Monty, quitting my job, and moving to a new place was going to be rewarded with a season of good things.  I was so mad at God for me being in a worse financial situation than before, by being alone, and by not giving me a job in a school like I had prayed for.  I was so sick of 2010 by the end of it! 

The first couple of months of 2011 didn’t really start out much better.  My budget didn’t change, my anxiety of doing it “alone” only increased, and I was still working insurance – not teaching, which is the dream. Where were my good things?  I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now. 

I had to learn to trust others with my money.  I had to learn that living alone and being single does not mean I’m living this life “alone.”  I had to finish my thesis.  I had to learn the value of my family.  I had to recognize the things God has called me to and be willing to pursue them no matter the cost (i.e. ending things with Monty).  I had to learn to live on very little, trusting that God will provide for my needs – and trusting that if it’s not provided, it’s not a need. 

In short, I had to grow up.  Yes, there is a lot more growing to do.  But I am convinced that those lessons must be learned the hard way – only this time in Colombia.  Hopefully, I won’t fight them as much this time.  Hopefully, I will trust that God is in control even when I don’t understand the way it’s happening.

So, I’m moving to Colombia.  I’m excited, terrified, nervous, exhausted, happy, sad, and invigorated all at once.  It’s a weird place to be in.

Until next time…





on yummy breakfasts, the Thesis Chronicles, and the joys of puppy parenting

24 03 2011
Yummy breakfasts:
 
This morning I went to my very first “professional breakfast.”  It was for the Edmond Chamber of commerce and it was delicious!  I’m pretty sure I can’t eat anything else today if I’m going to stay within my calories.  Eh, who am I kidding?  I’m still going to eat!

The guest speaker was one miss Jennifer James.  She spoke on social networking and blogging.  She is a public relations consultant and she talked about some of the ways that social networking has driven her business and made her name known.  She talked about how she is unafraid of posting her opinions on her blog  and the risk she runs of losing business because of it.  I appreciate that honesty.  I’d much rather read the blog of an honest, heart-felt person than a dried-up, tired old business agenda written by an overworked, underpaid, burned-out administrative assistant.   So, I suggest you follow miss James’ blog.  It’s www.jenX67.com and her twitter is @_jenniferjames.  She’s saavy, engaged, and honest….sounds a lot like me, actually 🙂

Thesis Chronicles:

T minus 38 days until it’s due.  I spent last night game-planning how I can realistically acheive this goal even when I can’t put in more than 30 minutes on some nights without losing too much sleep.  It’s going to require extra work on the weekends and some get-the-heck-off-facebook-no-one-thinks-you’re-that-interesting-anyway discipline.  Ah, discipline.  I’m learning a lot of it lately. 

So, keep me in your prayers.  I know how stress can tear up my body, so I’m trying hard to stay calm and focused and rested.  It will be worth all of it when my degree is complete and I have something to show for all my loans and suffering!

The joys of puppy parenting:

Oh, Abelard.  You are insane.  I haven’t talked much about him lately, so I shall get you up to speed.  Abelard is my insane rat terrier/shih tzu mix.  He’s black with a white soul patch and a white man patch on his chest.  He recently got a hair cut and his ears look HUGE right now.  I mean, yoda-style.  It doesn’t help that he keeps them sticking straight up most of the time.

I recently learned that he has pancreatitis (spelling????).  Basically, he’s on a special dog food diet (special = expensive) and can not have any people food.  It’s linked to high fat foods, so he’s on a low fat diet.  I never gave him people food to begin with, but at least now I don’t feel guilty when he begs.

We have a stand-off in my living room almost daily. It usually starts with him trying to get in the trash or nose through my purse or chew on something he’s not supposed to.  When I tell him to stop, he’ll growl (aka: talk back).  Then I really get onto him for sassing me.  At which point, the lines are drawn and who is top dog in the house is, again, up for debate.  It usually ends with me, spray bottle drawn and ready to shoot, threatening his life and him, butt in the air, staring me down like I’m the cat he hates at my mom’s.  One squirt with the spray bottle, and he’s finished!!  I’m top dog.  Usually.

Lately, he has been going through my purse to find new things to chew up.  He likes pens and pencils, thermometers, etc.  If it is shaped like a stick, he thinks he can drag it under my couch and demolish it.  Fortunately, he hasn’t busted open the actual ink portion of the pen. Trust me, if I end up with an ink stain on my carpet, Abelard is getting dropkicked.  PETA can just deal with it.

In all seriousness, I love my dog.  I would be terribly lonely in that medium-sized apartment all by myself.  He’s extra sweet in the mornings when he’s sleepy.

sweet puppy, sleepy Jill

The mornings definitely make the rest of his insanity bearable.  Maybe someday he’ll get trained.  And maybe someday I’ll wake up with my eyebrows on fire.  Neither one is very likely.