Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Friend Peter

Friday was a good day. Scratch that. Friday was a great day! First off, it was Friday, thus making it automatically a good day. It never lets me down - it begins the weekend...every week. I began work at the bakery at 8:30, as usual. But this morning my coworker, Liz, and I decided to spice things up a bit - we played Christmas music!!! Now, hold on a second, I can just hear you arguing that Thanksgiving gets cruelly left out as we speed ahead full on toward the 25th of December. Well, for those who care to know, Thanksgiving is in fact one of my favorite holidays. Simply put, playing Christmas music beginning November 1st (now your eyes are really rolling!) in truth helps me get in the holiday spirit altogether. Come up with some Thanksgiving music and I'll play it. Until then, I'll revel in my holiday music collection as I enjoy Thanksgiving as much as Christmas. I don't discriminate.

Now that that's off my chest, I can adequately move on to what turned a good Friday into a great one. It involves Peter. I've mentioned him before. He's a mall walker. An elder British man who seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder while still having a soft side hidden somewhere in the crusty exterior. He came into the bakery the other day while I was in the back room. One of my coworkers said, "Hey Erin, your friend Peter is here." It struck me as funny to refer to him as my friend. He is, of course, but admittedly it's an unlikely friendship. Peter and I have never had more than a 15 minute conversation (although the one 15 minute conversation we did have provided a rather large window into his life story). I've never run into Peter anywhere but the bakery. We have no relatives or friends in common. He is 57 years older than me. Prior to yesterday I'm not even sure he knew my name. But we see each other five days a week...and he's my friend. I always inquire about his agenda for the day. Our exchanges often remind me he's quite the quipster. But he makes me laugh, and I feel like there's a part of him that enjoys my extra-cheery smile and "Have a great day, Peter!" as he walks away with his coffee in hand.

During our "life story" conversation, he shared with me that he would be 83 on November 19th. Apparently I misunderstood this, as it's actually his mother's birthday, but I swear to you he said it was his. We'll chalk it up to miscommunication due to either his old(er) age or my inability to sometimes understand his accent. Either way, I was under the impression that Friday was a day to celebrate Peter. So I did. Awhile back we made British flapjacks at the bakery. He loved them! His eyes lit up as he recounted memories of his mother making them. He's been on me to make them again - one day he said, "I'll see you later, now go make some damn flapjacks!" Well, I took him up on that. I made some Thursday night and boxed them up for him with a card tucked on top. I was so excited to see him at his usual time on Friday morning! When he told me it wasn't his birthday (but it was his mom's), I pressed to know the actual date of his birth. He wouldn't budge. So I told him I declared yesterday the day we would celebrate it since he wouldn't tell me the real day. I told him if his mom wasn't born, he wouldn't be born. Reason enough for me! He agreed and read the card. I busied myself as he read my attempt at dry cynical humor as well as honest kindness. The look on his face and the exclamation that came from his mouth as he opened the box of flapjacks was the moment my day became great. He looked so smitten. We got to talking about his weekend, his plans to go to the fresh market to stock up on British items as well as a stop at the British bakery for pastries. He commented on how it can be lonely at his age..."after living with someone for so long, it's quiet when they're not there..." He thanked me, picked up the box and his cup of coffee and said, "This is the nicest thing anyone could have done for me" and was out the door. I held back tears as I turned back to the tasks at hand. There were no other words that could have brought me more joy.

It was a great Friday, indeed. Next Friday has a lot to live up to...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cookie Cutters (as promised...) and Treading Water

I once told someone "Cookie cutter cookies are good. Cookie cutter friends are bad."

It sparked a conversation. And a promise. A promise to expound on the meaning of my words via blog. On the eve of this dear friend leaving the country to pursue God's calling on his heart, it seemed an appropriate time to do just that. I've thought a lot about friends lately. How you gain new ones from each life stage. I keep in touch with friends from high school, college, post-college, and world travels; now I'm developing relationships with people here in Georgia. But that doesn't mean I love those from cities past any less. To be honest, no two of my friends are alike. And I like it that way. They all bring something unique to the table, I connect with each of them on different areas. It's kind of like the Olympic rings. Yes, I just compared my friend network to the Olympic rings. They're all different colors, they all connect somehow, but they all stand alone in their own way. That's why a cookie cutter wouldn't work for friends. Aside from being too much of the same thing, there would be no challenge, no interest. It'd be just plain boring. Let's face it, none of us would be who we are if it weren't for our friends.

And so tonight, one of those uniquely shaped non-cookie-cutter friends is stepping on a plane to a distant land (although distant is now relative thanks to Skype). He is following God's call. Giving (up) everything to help bring the Kingdom to earth. Moving to Thailand for a year is no small thing. Neither is the work he will be doing there. Lyrics from Bebo Norman's "The Hammer Holds" comes to mind.

But my dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds
The task before me seems unclear, but it, my Maker holds

This move, this act of obedience, it's what life is all about. It's radical made normal. It's accomplishing something that a cookie cutter friend never could.

Ok, I've been wracking my brain for some great segue into the "treading water" part of this blog, but to no avail. So I'll just jump in. (Ha, no pun intended.)

I was worshipping at church a few weeks ago and assumed my usual worshipping position: both hands halfway raised or one halfway and one all the way. With eyes closed, I had an image. I saw a child reaching for his parent, obviously with both arms stretched high. I thought, why don't I do that? Why don't I sing to my Father with both hands stretched upwards, a gesture of surrender, of asking to be held? There's something humbling about doing this as an adult. Sure children do it all the time. They fall and cut their knee, they want something to eat, they long to see up on your level...they raise their arms up in the hopes of being picked up. Doesn't our Daddy want us to do the same thing? Raise our hands to Him in a gesture of surrender, longing to see up on His level? I hadn't thought of this again until Friday night when I was worshipping at a conference. One of the speakers used this illustration of both arms of a child reaching up to his parent. God's subtle reminder of something He revealed to me, His words echoed in the voice of another.

At this same night of worship, I was hearing God speak to me about faith. I'll admit not much scares me, but I am seriously afraid of swimming in the ocean. Like past the point where my feet will touch. I don't mind swimming pools. But you put me in the ocean without a life jacket and it's panic. Heart pounding fast, shortness of breath, the whole shebang. But I'll go as far as my feet will take me (with my height that isn't very far!). God was pressing in about trusting Him to take that bold step of faith into the water. I told him I was afraid of the ocean.

He immediately responded with It's ok. I'm not asking you to tread water. I'm asking you to walk on it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The War

The past week and a half hasn't exactly been the brightest and cheeriest of times. What happened, you ask? No specific event or circumstance. It's just that something seemed "off." I wasn't myself. Each waking second seemed to present a new set of challenges. And not big ones, ones that days earlier would have been no problem. But in that time, it took everything I had to do things right. And the thoughts in my head were pretty stinkin' horrible. I felt a warring between my "new creation" and my old fleshly self. Like serious warring. I didn't like me one bit.

Sleep seemed to be the only escape. So I slept a lot. For some reason, however, I'd wake up and nothing was different. As much as I wanted it to be, I just couldn't make it different. And everything was affected. Interactions with family. Conversations with coworkers. My relationship with God. And that was the worst. I'd pray, but I just didn't feel anything. I'd look at the Scripture hanging on my bathroom wall (telling me I'm redeemed, that the God of the Universe knows me by name...some big stuff!) but couldn't bring myself to read it. I didn't feel it. I was ashamed at my own selfishness, at my own lack of interest.

But I learned something this week. I learned that when you don't feel it, you DO IT ANYWAY. You read Scripture anyway. You pray anyway. You worship anyway. Through the course of these days, I found myself worshipping at church in two different services. If you've read just about any of my posts, you'd know music speaks to my soul. So you'd know then how difficult it was for me to be in the worship setting, feeling nothing. But I found myself singing anyway. Did it feel dishonest? No. Because I believed it. My mind knew the Truth. But my heart just didn't feel it. This is not to suggest that we shouldn't be honest in our worship, but sometimes speaking those words reminds us that we believe it. And this past Wednesday, in the midst of serving the middle schoolers in youth group at church, my heart was called back, awakened, reminded of how to feel for our God. My head knew all week what to THINK, but I just couldn't get past that...until I found myself amidst a sea of middle schoolers singing these words:

Change my heart and make it Yours, everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause

Talk about a humble statement. It took a whopping declaration of humility to burst my balloon of selfishness that had been throwing a pity party for days. This life is simply not about me! Yet there is a great God who loves me anyway. That is weighty stuff when you're in the midst of selfish self-loathing. I KNEW the love, but I just didn't feel like reciprocating it. And yet God loves me. Seriously? That is incredible! His love eventually broke through and awakened my heart again. In worship. In giving back. In serving.

I awoke on Thursday morning with a cloud lifted. I felt like a completely different person. Same circumstances, same routine, but an entirely different outlook. I took that experience with me yesterday to a leadership retreat (for the middle and high school youth group volunteer leaders). All the youth pastors, including Brett Moore, pastor of middle & high school at 12Stone's Flowery Branch and Hamilton Mill campuses, spoke some great words. But one sentence he said broke through on a very personal level: "It feels like we are warring with someone (pause for dramatic effect) because we are." We are warring with "...the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Phil. 6:12). Satan is out to cause fear and failure. He doesn't want us to succeed! And when we are on the verge of great things, he has to try harder. But God's love is stronger and unceasing. His peace eventually began rushing into my soul again. It pulled me out of my funk. It showed me two things: there is a very valid war being fought in our midst every day, and that when you just don't do it anyway. I have a sneaking suspicion this lesson may come in handy down the road with a marital relationship...or maybe married couples feel like loving all the time (aaah, if only!).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mall Walkers and Senile Old Men

If there's one thing I've learned from working at the bakery - located in a busy mall - it's that the mall is no longer just a place to shop. (You thought I was going to say something about baking, didn't you?) In the early morning hours, the mall is actually an indoor track for the 60+ population. Ask any one of them and they'll tell you that one loop around is a full mile, unless of course you don't go into all the inlets, then it's just half a mile. Oh yes, we've got the power walkers, those that mosey their way around, some clad in tennis shoes and baseball caps, some in khakis and polos. They are certainly of their own unique breed. Quite a few of these mall walkers - who rarely miss a day - make a stop off at some point for their morning cup of coffee, and sometimes a danish or two. I always get pleasure out of seeing them, asking about their morning walk as I ready their usual cup of joe. Sometimes they're late. Sometimes they seem pretty tuckered out from their laps past the risque storefronts (I often wonder if it's more from disheartened spirits than from physical exertion). Sometimes they miss a day. I like to think they enjoy being known and inquired after. So I inquire.

There's one gentleman in particular I enjoy seeing. I've taken him on as my project. Meet Peter. He's an elderly, widowed, hard-of-hearing, borderline senile British man. And he likes his coffee simple. None of that flavored "rubbish" - his face will contort into something dreadful if you even ask him if he wants something other than Columbian. Today he chastised me for opening the gate late. He was sitting at one of our umbrella tables in the hallway; it's his usual resting spot before he comes in for his caffeine fix. I always ask him how his morning is. He typically grunts some answer in response. I've gathered he has a rather despondent outlook on life. One morning his response was particularly cynical. 

Me: "How's your morning going?" 
Peter: (looks at his watch and responds in a defeated shrug) "Well, it's only 9:30, there's a lot of it left."

A few days ago I asked him his name. He seemed surprised and almost looked as if he didn't believe I'd just asked that as he gave his offhand answer. I've made a point to call him by name since. And yesterday he responded that he had a lot of errands to do upon my inquiry to the rest of his morning. Exciting errands? Not even close according to him. I tried to get him to see that it's all in the journey and anything can be made exciting. He didn't buy it. He quipped back something about "you young folks." 

But today I feel like I made a breakthrough. He wasn't gruff. He was almost pleasant. I thought I'd thrown his morning off-kilter when I opened the gate 7 minutes late (which, to be technical is still 23 minutes earlier than the mall actually opens). I noticed, however, that Peter was all dressed up. Far beyond the usual khaki shorts and polo, he was in dress pants, dress shoes, and a button up. I never really got down to why he was so dapper. I commented on him being "spiffy" - which he promptly denied. But when asked how his morning was, he actual responded with "not too bad" and proceeded to comment on my shirt. It's progress, folks! When you only get mere minutes to interact with someone, you've gotta take what you can get. I'm hoping these daily few minutes might just make an impact with Mr. Peter. Not only do I get to hear my beloved British accent, but I get to work towards my mission of being a bright spot in this man's life.

If you ever feel like getting a workout and not having to pay for it, come take a stroll around the mall. And be sure to stop in at the Kneaded Perk - I'll be glad to fix you a cup of coffee. And I'll even ask you how your morning is going.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Plagued By Lyrics.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time. And due to my love for music, I'm pretty sure it won't be the last. I wake up with a song in my head, perform daily duties with songs in my head, and lay down at night with a song in my head. It's like my own soundtrack to life. Sometimes they're lighthearted and fun, other times they pull my soul down a melancholy path. The latest lyrical prose to circle my mind? Phil Wickham's "Always Forever" - a beautiful beautiful love song to God. I listened to it the other morning on the way to work. Well, more accurately I sang my heart out to it. Until I got to this line:

"I would lay down my life / Just to be by your side"

My brain stopped dead in it's tracks. I asked myself the question, Would I? Would I reallly lay down my life if it meant being by His side?" I mean sure, if it came down to that. But doesn't it come down to that every day of our lives? Isn't that what we, as believers, are called to every day? We lay down our plans, our hopes, our dreams...every day...for Him. That's weighty stuff. But oh the return! The rest of the song describes what God is to us when we lay down our lives to Him:

"You are the hand that catches my fall
You are the friend that answers my call
You are my day, You are my night
You are my love and all of my life...
You are the grace that covers my sin
You're everything the beginning and end..."

Wow. That's the God we serve.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Think. Pray. Love.

I know, I know. You can't believe I swapped the "eat" part of that for "think." Seems all I write/talk about these days is baking. But, surprise! There's more going on in this little brain than you might think. I am an INTJ after all (a Thinker with a well-developed feeling side, but a strong thinker nonetheless). You know when you're around someone who can't stop talking and you find yourself annoyed to no end? You eventually stop listening and try to think of ways to expedite the end of the exhausting one-way conversation? We've all been there. Well, that was me and my brain on Saturday night.

It all started with a 2+ hour sit through the movie Eat. Pray. Love. I was eager to see this movie (even though I hadn't read the book...shame on me!) because it's one of my faves Julia Roberts (playing Liz) in the role of a woman who travels for a significant amount of time...something I rather connect with. As the movie played out I found myself wanting more - more of Liz' inner thoughts...her processing through the journey...her conclusions afterward...and how they would affect her from that point forward. I also found myself wanting the smells. Sounds funny, ay? Well, that was one thing that struck me in every country I was in. The aroma of different places. The underground tube station in London. The botanic gardens in various cities. The crowded streets of downtown Cebu. The crisp mountain air in New Zealand. It completes the experience. A movie can only portray sights, sounds, and often they can evoke an emotion. But they can't make you smell it. Nope. That's only something you get by being there.

I was also struck by brokenness in the movie. People's brokenness. It was the central theme to just about every character in the movie. It pervades every human heart on this earth, whether we realize it or not. It's a thought I've had several times in the past few weeks and months. I began to pay more attention to that on my journey as I walked the soul-filled streets. I guess being around strangers tunes you in to actions, movements, words, and facial expressions in ways you maybe overlook in people you know well. I recently had a rather significant breakdown moment in my car. I was driving past my old house in TN - a place and time where life and circumstances were vastly different. The weight of the changes came crashing down, resulting in a temporary emotional breakdown of sorts. I tried to pull myself together so I could safely drive away - then a thought hit me. How often do we pull up to someone at a stoplight or pass someone on the Interstate who's experiencing the sadness of brokenness? It's hard to do anything about it when we're all driving in our own little (or big) cars. But what about our coworkers? The cashier at Walmart? The guy who fixes your car? People we interact with daily. Are they carrying around the weight of brokenness? Tragedy, accidents, hurts, healing, fear, anxiety? Do we see it? What can we do about it?

I can't begin to say I've got all the answers to these questions. All I know is that I can't help but pray. I think of Kendall Payne's song "Paper Skin." What truth in those lyrics! How God's heart must break continually for His people. May our eyes be opened to what breaks His heart. May more of His Kingdom come down to earth as we live in Jesus' redemptive love. As we all walk around with paper skin.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The DTR.

It's dreaded in most relationships. Things are going smoothly...and then, bam!...the DTR hits (that's "define the relationship" for those of you long-married folk). But when it's a DTR with your employer, it is highly anticipated! Since my start at the bakery, I've been awaiting a DTR conversation with the owner. Last week it happened.

I'll spare you the play-by-play (but oh was it exciting), and tell you the gist. They like me. I like them. They want me to stay and learn more. I want stay and learn more. They want to give me more responsibilities (such as decorating basic cakes - not custom cake orders/wedding cakes yet). I want to get more responsibility. They want to pay me more. I want to earn more. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, ay?

I think so. I was so pumped after our talk. The owner communicated how significant it is in a mom and pop business to have employees that are trustworthy, in more ways than just with money. She explained that they could get any baker/cake decorator off the street but that it was much more beneficial to pour into an eager employee that needs a little growing and has great passion. It appears that for the time being I get to be that eager employee that they pour into. Rest assured I will soak up everything I can. Techniques get to be sharpened. Skills honed. Passion nurtured.

I am currently eating, sleeping, and breathing in a confectionary world...and I love it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Music To My Ears

So I was at work today (yes - I got a job at that bakery I mentioned in my post!), and the baker turns to me and says, "I'm not one to tell people what do to, but you should pursue a culinary career." I paused in my current task of quartering strawberries for fruit tarts and asked her why I would do such a thing. She said, "Because it's easy to see it's your passion. You love it. You should really do what you love."

In just over a month of working at the bakery/coffeeshop, at least one person has already seen my passion for baking. What a joy! Does this mean I'm doing all sorts of glamourous things at work? Nope. I'm starting from the bottom up - cashiering, cleaning tables, making sandwiches and coffee drinks. I've already learned to do some other fun stuff, however. I'm icing cookies, filling creme horns, dipping things in chocolate and drizzling them with goodness, packaging up goodies for sale, and loving every minute of it. I'm eager to learn. I'm keeping my eyes open always. As there are specialty cakes being made around me every day and wedding cakes being produced every weekend, there is so much to take in! The next step isn't clear at all. Home sales? Taking classes? Continuing what I'm doing and gaining responsibility as they see fit? Lots to figure out....but I'm settling into a work routine again (receiving my first paycheck since September was nothing short of a blessing) and am glad to be here. Georgia is feeling more and more like home. Come visit - I'll be the one covered in sugar and baking books.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Peace Like a River

I must start by saying it never ceases to amaze me how a song will "take you back." I am currently sitting in a coffee shop and "Desperado" came streaming over the speakers just as I began to think through this posting. It instantly broke through my thought process and took me back to another place and time. I always find it interesting to see how circumstances and thoughts have evolved since that "other place and time." Whew! Ok, back to my original thoughts...

I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend this past weekend celebrating my mom. It was a delightful time together, with the highlight being an 8-mile hike deep into the Smoky Mountains. And before any of you go thinking I drug my mom on this hike, you'd better think again! When presented with several (shorter) alternatives, she unwaveringly opted for this one, which claims to take you along a "narrow footpath" on a "moderately strenuous" climb through "virgin forest" to the spectacular 90-foot cascades. Let me reiterate: 8-miles on a narrow moderately strenuous path...and she made it every step of the way! It was indeed moderately strenuous, but also true to its description, we were rewarded with a glorious view of the waterfall while enjoying our much-deserved lunch before heading back down the mountain. It was my first time hiking since returning from NZ, so needless to say, every fiber of my being was singing as we set out on the path.

One thing I loved about this hike was that we were never very far away from water. A few times we weaved through rocks to cross creeks or balanced on bridges over the rushing water. Hearing the sound of it rushing and babbling while we climbed further and further up was splendid. It was the perfect backdrop to introspectively put one foot in front of the other. As I conversed with God, I was reminded of something I learned several weeks ago in my small group: peace is like a rushing river, not a stagnant pond. The weight of that thought hit me as I passed through the lush green forestry. Sure there is serenity in a pond, with its quiet waters providing a smooth top as one looks across it. But there's no change there. And life has certainly taught us all that the only thing that doesn't change is change itself. So change we must. And through it all, God is offering peace like a river. It'll twist and turn. It will wildly rush through banks, it'll gradually trickle over rocks. But all the while, it is peace. Yup. That is the kind of peace God offers. And it's sure as heck the kind of peace I want. I'll take the constant river peace over the unrealistic pond peace.

As I hiked this past Sunday, I found myself not wanting to be far from the water at any particular time. Its sounds were rejuvenating, filling, a constant reminder of the peace found in the Holy Spirit, present within all times...through all changes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

There Is No Coast

There is no coast.

It's my new motto for life. (I have several...I just keep adding them to the list, but that's another day, another blog.) 

I'm not referring to the East or West Coast. I'd be a fool to contend that they don't exist. A car or a boat can coast. Even on a bike when you're riding it and you pedal really hard and really fast so that you can sit back while all the scenery whizzes by you, legs throbbing. That's coasting. Coasting exists, for sure. But what about coasting in life? Like day in, day out coasting. I don't think it's good for us. When we coast we take our eyes off the prize. We allow ourselves to be too easily distracted by things that don't matter, things that actually take us further from our destination. 

When I think of coasting, I think of being passive. You can't be active and coasting. I get more careless when I'm coasting. Particularly on a bike. I can think of more than a few occasions where I pushed myself hard, gained some really great speed, then sat back to rest and soak it all in...only to be jolted back to the task at hand by a rock, twig, or curve in the road that tried to throw me from the two-wheeled fast-moving metal contraption. I quickly began pedaling again (or braking, depending on the situation) and chose to focus, lest I end up in a twisted mess of metal. 

So what about coasting in life then? Do we do the same things? We work super hard at something, make some progress, get some good speed going, then sit back and ride on that for awhile. And what happens? A crash? A setback? A curve that causes us to wonder how the heck we got to where we did?

Just a couple weeks ago, I was feeling really good about some progress on internal things. I'd been working hard, trying to utilize the time I have now to take in what I can until my time soon becomes taken up by a job. Then I went out of town for the weekend, started to coast, and (even worse) started to enjoy the coasting. I didn't want to start pedaling again. It was easier to sit and just let things go by. Easier to not engage. Until something went wrong. Until thoughts started going down an alley that was darker than expected. I recognized this particular alley and concluded, after a bit of wallowing in self-pity and frustration, I'd better turn myself around and pedal quickly out of it. Which meant I could no longer coast. I had to actively pedal. Diligently begin working on the things I left behind. Was it fun? Initially no. But then I got out of the tunnel. I began to see some new scenery. I began to feel the accomplishment of working for where I was going, and not just pedaling harder and harder barreling through it just so I could rest again. I can't just sit back and expect to go great places (and I'm not just referring to literal places, sometimes it's often thoughts, emotions, spiritual places I need to press into). Slow and steady wins the race. Sometimes it's flat ground. Sometimes God takes us up hills. Sometimes He goes down them with us. But I am challenging myself to keep from coasting. To keep from losing sight of the goal, the promises. Each day I must take what He is offering, because what He offers on a daily basis is better than what I can store up and coast on.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Letting Go

I won't say I've had an epiphany. And I'm far from having "things" figured out. But I do know I felt a level of excitement yesterday about a job that I haven't felt for a long time. Possibly ever. Job-hunting has been a large part of the past two months. To be honest, nothing in the nursing realm seemed the least bit enticing. I even turned down an offer for nursing in an office setting (which still feels like the right decision). Coming to realize my lack of desire for nursing has been a mental struggle. In the past I have felt so called to that. There was never any question as to what I would major in in college. Nursing. All the way. I got my "dream job" after graduating. I enjoyed it. On some level I felt that I was good at it. But there was something nagging in the back of my mind telling me this wasn't what I thought it would be. Sure, it brought joy, but the thought of doing it for the rest of my life made me cringe. So I worked for three years, saved up, quit my job and took a trip around the world. I felt no more ready to go back to nursing when I returned home than when I left. Crapit! That wasn't supposed to happen. So what do I do now? I have a degree in something I don't want to - a degree I'm still paying for.

I've run the gamut of things I could do...nannying, secretarial work, interior designing, floristry (grasping at straws here...I know nothing about flowers!), personal shopping, etc. etc. One thing that won't leave me alone is how much I love baking. All my friends and family know it. The other day I recalled the Christmas gifts I gave to my friends in high school - boxes filled with cookies, bars, caramels, and a loaf of bread. What 17-year-old does that?! Just about everyone I know is aware of my desire to someday run a bakery. But in the reality of now, what do I do with that? I know parts of the equation - the beginning and the desired end, but the pieces in the middle are a bit unknown. But I took a step yesterday. One that seems so obvious in some ways, but yet it was so hard. I began pursuing jobs in bakeries. Duh. Why was that hard? The thought of letting go of nursing. Not a fear of missing it, but feeling like I've let someone down. I went to school for four years, worked another three...and what do I have to show for it? Working at an entry-level job that has nothing to do with my degree? I've had to tell myself What does it matter?! Seriously, what does it matter? If there was anything I realized on my trip around the world it's that God doesn't work in expected ways. Yes it would makes sense to work as a nurse. It just does. But God's plan isn't always going to make sense in the world. My passion is baking. Every fiber of my being longs to be swallowed in a world of batter, dough, frosting, and sugar! It's where I come alive, where my heart gets creative and energized.

So back to the excitement of yesterday. I walked into a bakery, resume in hand, heart pounding out of my chest, and introduced myself to the owner. After a very positive interaction with her, I walked out and thought That is where I want to work! I didn't walk out with a job (yet!), but what I walked out with was almost more important than the job. I felt a part of me come to life. The sounds, sights, smells of the place filled me with excitement, and I knew I was in the right place. Right now, that's enough for me. I'm hopeful for things to come, excited to see what is in store, and still telling myself it's OK pursue this...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Kid In Me...

Ok. Kids are so much fun. I knew living with my niece and nephew would be great, but seriously, this is fun! I chuckle to myself daily as I witness their goofy antics and funny phrases. Here's a list of some of my favorite observations...

-I get a "Hey, Auntie Erin!" every time I leave my "studio" in the basement and come up the stairs...whether it's the first thing in the morning or the 10th time I make the climb for the day...always a wave and a greeting, without fail.
-Kids' treasures are unbeatable. Just yesterday my head was adorned with these purple wildflowers picked while playing hide-and-seek. I also awoke to a slithery black, yellow, and red snake sitting outside my door this morning! Don't worry, he was two-dimensional and harmless, but cute as a button considering he was the crafty creation of my 5-year-old nephew.
-Kids can use "just because" to explain just about anything. Tonight for example, they found it considerably more fun to pour their strawberry yogurt smoothies onto spoons and slurp it up like medicine rather than to drink it from the bottle. Did it result in a large amount of the pink sticky liquid dribbled on the table? Of course! But it also resulted in several laughs, and heck, it was probably good for their hand-eye coordination! There are certainly times of exasperation as their moments of "just because" generally produce more work and cleanup for Mommy, but who doesn't wish they themselves could be carefree and silly like that on a regular basis?
-I've come to appreciate movies for adults. Don't get me wrong, kid movies are fantastic (I've recently become a fan of Nim's Island and Imagine That), but there are definitely those that have no plots and, let's face it, no actors with any real ability to act. Does cause one to be thankful for a movie with a little depth.
-Since we're on the topic of media, let's transition into books. Children's books are incredible! And it's a good thing because you often find yourself reading the same ones for several consecutive nights. I don't know what it is that causes them to pick the same George and Martha book for the 10th time in a row, but it makes for a great opportunity to practice accents. Haven't mastered the kiwi accent yet, but I'm working on it.
-Listening to kids play together is often hysterical. The things their little brains come up with is so creative. It always begins with "And pretend that..." to be followed up with "and then you say..." both phrases being repeated about 50 times in the course of a 10-minute play session.
-Last, but certainly not least, I've learned that conversation (at the dinner table or otherwise) is primarily focused on bodily functions and noises...always involving lots of giggling. And when passing gas has been labeled as a "fierce weapon," it makes it all the funnier!

The job search still continues...I had an interview today that went well, but it just doesn't feel like the right fit. It's a lengthy commute - the job really isn't what I'm looking for and, because of that, I'm not the employee the physician is looking for. It wouldn't be fair to him to pursue this when the job would just be a stepping stone for me. Prayers continue! I'm still trying to think outside the box with writing and baking, while at the same time finding something to pay the bills...............

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time Traveling

I've now been back in the States for two and a half weeks, but let me go back in time to just after my last post. The last week of my trip is way too important to skip over. There are several people that helped make that time incredible, starting with the Wilkinsons. I met Jane and Digby and their family on the 4-day Abel Tasman hike I did in January. If you think spending four days with someone will give you an opportunity to get to know them, try four days in nature hiking and living in tents! They live on the North Island, so when I made the trip up there I knew I wanted to see them if I could. After a long day of traveling, walking into a warm home to a welcoming greeting and hug was more than I could have asked for. In addition to a great meal, I also received great conversation, encouragement, and of course a hot shower and a bed. I would have loved to have spent more time here, but unfortunately time didn't allow for that. I headed out the next morning to check out three cool volcanic mountains, Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Tongariro. As I drove to National Park (yes, that's the name of the town near the original!), I was struck by their beauty - much different than the mountains on the South Island. Clouds hung on their peaks as I drove up to them. I still can't correctly pronounce them, but enjoyed spending the day hiking in and around them, fully expecting Frodo or Sam to jump out from behind a tree. I then spent the evening with a close friends of the Wilkinsons, staying with this family at their "bach" (holiday home) on Lake Taupo. I was so grateful to have a safe place to rest my head again this night. They were a lovely family. They invited me out on the lake with them, giving me an opportunity to see the lake from a perspective I wouldn't have otherwise been able to see.

The next day I spent in the lakeside town of Taupo. Somehow I found myself on a 14 km (8 mile) hike in the middle of the afternoon which pretty much wiped me out for the day. Sleeping that night in my car didn't prove to be very difficult since I was so pooped! (I can only safely type this now, as my dad has seen me in person, verifying that I lived to tell about the experience and I promise it's not as sketch as it sounds...Dad, just so we're clear, I spent a total of three nights in my car, hitchhiked once and picked up a hitchhiker once...BUT know that I will not do this in the US...and please don't kill would be a shame to make it all the way around the world only to lose one's life upon returning home :).

I should have spent the next day working out my sore muscles, but I chose to spend a great deal of it inside watching football. I was in Rotorua, the SUPERBOWL was on, and MY team was playing! I wasn't going to miss this. The day proved to be really sad and really great all at the same time. The game itself was quite sad, but the venue was good, and the company was even better. I met a several Americans at the Irish pub, and I found it funny how much I enjoyed hearing other people who spoke like me. I guess it had just been so long. I also met someone who was spending two weeks biking around the North Island. Our conversation began with music (as most great ones do!) and continued into wonderful spiritual talk. We basically spent the rest of the day sharing ideas and challenges, as well as encouraging one another. We parted knowing the Lord had His hand in the day and were thankful for the inspiration.

The next day brought travels to Auckland - my final destination before boarding a plane home! This fact alone had me greatly anticipating my arrival, but so did the fact that I would be staying with friends of my cousins in the Philippines!! Grant and Kim have 6 children, one biological, two from Russia, and triplets from the orphanage my cousins, Paul and Marlys, run in Cebu. When Marlys knew I would be staying with them, she told me I would be greatly blessed. I had no idea how right she would be. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each of the children as well as Grant and Kim. It was exciting for me to see adoption on this end. I was honored to be a part of their lives for 3 days. Not only did they share with me their adoption stories, and include me in precious family time, they also took me on a day tour around Auckland, showing me all the great spots the beautiful coastal city has to offer. Each of them touched my heart in a dear way and sent me off with prayers and hugs and smiles and words of affirmation as I drew the 5-month journey to a close.

Needless to say, I am eternally grateful for the kindness showed me by people that hardly know me. It impacted the end of my trip in a way that made me feel very cared for and also was a reminder that the trip was really being planned by Someone much greater than me. After checking in my luggage and saying thankful prayer after thankful prayer that it wasn't overweight, I settled into my window seat on a plane home. I noticed the same feelings of excitement and eagerness that greeted me as I boarded a plane leaving the States. It was a welcome feeling, proving that the trip had been all it was intended to be, and I was ready to go home. After three lengthy flights (the last one with Paula Dean...unfortunately, she was in first class...I was, well, a great ways further back in the plane), I landed in a snowy Atlanta. Quickly realizing how lucky I was to actually BE in Atlanta as all flights after me were canceled from the snowstorm, I raced to the exit hoping my luggage would be there but really wanting to see my family! I was greeted by a smiling brother and brother-in-law, the two brave souls who ventured out onto the dangerous roads. I quickly broke into tears as the joy of seeing family after 5 months away hit me. We made it safely home and after my niece and nephew tackled me, I spent the next few days smiling and soaking up everyone's presence. It's good to be home. (Next blog I'll jump forward to current time...:)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"I'm Comin' Home...

To the place where I belong"

I've had that song stuck in my head for the past few days.  Just writing quickly as I'm in the airport in Auckland!  In just a bit I get on a plane headed for the US.  I'm so excited that my fingers are shaking.

The past few days have been absolutely incredible.  I am in disbelief at how God has provided such amazing people to bless the ending of this trip.  I will blog more when I have time to process and type.  I just couldn't have had a more perfect ending.

Thanks for journeying with me.  It's not over yet.... :)  More to come if you're interested...

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Beginning of the End...

I write to you from the waters between the North and South Islands of NZ. No, I'm not simultaneously typing and swimming. I am on the Interislander Ferry, watching the green rolling hilly islands slowly pass by.  To be honest, the day started off a bit sad. Saying goodbye to the McCormacks - Michael, Karen, Holly (13) and Theo (13) - wasn't easy. I have so enjoyed my time with them. My last week on the SI was spent well. Holly and I ventured out to the World Buskers Festival held annually in Christchurch. We saw one man get out of a straight-jacket in about two minutes, another lady sing and dance with a few men from the crowd (no doubt embarrassing their children!) bringing on more than a few laughs, and to top it all off, we saw a man juggle bowling pins on a tight rope...on a unicycle!!! The next day the whole family went on a day trip to one of their favorite exploring spots, taking a dip in the swimming hole and laying in the lovely sun. Theo also introduced me to the Lord of teh Rings movies this week. My very first viewing...fitting for my time in New Zealand as lots of it was filmed here! Ah, and how could I forget the outing to Willowbank Reserve.  We meandered through countless sections of wildlife, feeding and petting as we went. Among my favorites were hand feeding the wallabys, the ostrich (he was crazy!), horses, pigs, sheep, and lammas. We saw several birds, including the native (and very funny) kiwi bird - a rarity to spot since they don't come out in light, as well as dancing lemurs, chattering monkeys, and very hungry deer. To end the week, KAren cooked tow of my favorite dinners - a chorizo/twice-baked potato/egg combo, and baked chicken with roasted veggies - including pumpkin and kumara with a basil vinaigrette sauce. Yum! I baked cookies (balled biscuits here) for the family one last time, then said my goodbyes this morning as the kids went off to school. A lovely family and a blessing to me in my stay on the South Island.

Last week I went on a fun road trip to Queenstown - a town nestled on the edge of Lake Wakatipu in the middle of a stunnign mountain range. ON the way to QT I went for a day hike in Wanaka which rewarded me with some great views and a cool breeze at the top. I also stopped in Arrowtown for a walk through teh old Chinese Miner's village. After turning in my completely free rental car ( included!...yay for free relocation websites!) to Queenstown, I sat on the dock and gazed at the ridgeline of the Remarkables, browsed through the shops, rode the Gondola waaay up high and took a couple rides down the Luge (one of three in the world!), then enjoyed a gelato cone by the water. Of course, I moseyed through the Botanic Gardens and once again fell in love with the roses. Watched the sunset from here, then also returned in the morning so I could see the sun start peaking over the mountains before catching my bus back to Christchurch.

I feel like I have exhausted the South Island to my pleasing. I am ready to see what the North Island has to offer - volcanic mountains, for one. Once arriving on dry land again, I'll embark on a 4 day road trip weaving my way up to Auckland and most importantly to a plane that will be taking me home! It's the beginning of the end, and I welcome it with open arms and a brain chocked full of incredible memories.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Crackers and Wine

My mom once described this trip as a cracker. Sound strange? Let me explain: say life is like a wine-tasting, each new wine is a new chapter in life. What happens between the different kinds of wine? You need a cracker, a piece of bread, something in which to clear the slate - not erasing past wines, just making room for the next flavor. This trip, it is that cracker cleansing my palate in between wines, in between chapters. This trip was a chance to create distance between my life and me, and in that distance somewhere discover the things that were taking precedence in my life and the things that actually need to be taking precedence. It has been a struggle to pinpoint exactly why I felt a need to go on this trip. I had the perfect set-up: a good job, great friends, a lovely house - all in a city with so much to offer. I was tasting a great wine. But something was changing, something needed to change. And before I could realize how or why it would happen (I may never realize the why...), I needed a cracker. If there had been no cracker, no cleansing of my palate, no stepping away and creating distance, would I appreciate the new wine as much? Would its properties, its unique characteristics of vintage, color, and flavor, be lost on me?

I am leaning towards 'no' in answer to the first question, 'yes' for the second. It is the only way I can make sense of this 5-month hiatus. Yeah, it's the trip of a lifetime. Sure, it made sense to do before I was "settled" (whatever that means). Yup, it's pure and simple fun. But that's not enough for me; there's more to it. I believe it also had a purpose to bring me to a point where I was ready to see the next chapter, or at least see the first few words. (And thank goodness it's usually only a few words or sometimes a few letters...if God showed us whole paragraphs or chapters at a time I think we'd often revolt or want to call it quits - at least I know I would!) I don't think I was at a point in life where I was expecting more - of myself, of my circumstances. Things were good, why change? I was OK with the way things were, and noticing that in and of itself was enough reason to eat a cracker. Eventually the wine becomes tasteless or runs out. You'll have to move on, try a new one. But isn't it better to make the change whilst you still have a good taste in your mouth? Isn't it better to take the next step with the confidence of a good ending to the last chapter?

In eleven days my next chapter begins. In eleven days I will return from this journey, palate cleansed. I don't know much of what it will look like, but a few things have become clear to me. First off, I will be living in a new city...Atlanta, Georgia will be home (and only a shooort drive from the Charlotteans that hold a dear place in my heart). I will finally be in the same city as my sister! That to me equals infinite excitement, not just because of her, but her whole family. Life just seems to have deeper meaning with my niece and nephew around. There is only so much an auntie can do from a distance...but put her in the same city as the little munchkins and opportunities abound! Secondly, I will pursue baking. As a side job? As a small business? Not sure exactly, but excited about the options. Thirdly, I will be looking for a job...but this is a bit unclear. A job doing what, exactly? Oh to know what this looks like! Nursing? Something else? I find myself struggling to think outside the box and yet be logical and go with what is known. Prayers are most welcome.

So, this new chapter, this new wine. It's yet to have a name. I've yet to recognize and grasp all it's qualities. But I'm ready for it nonetheless. I'm eager to know it, to embrace it with the sweet aroma of the last one still going strong.

Eleven days and counting...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Short For A Change (The Post, Not Me...I'm Always Short)

It's Saturday afternoon. A gloomy, cold, rainy day, in stark contrast from yesterday's hot sunny display. I have just returned from a brisk walk to the library, attempted to chop some wood - that was comical, and am (quite willingly!) resigned to spending the night with my nose in a book in the company of Belize and Yoda, my furry friends. I'm hoping that tomorrow's weather cooperates with my desire to head to the Botanic Gardens.

In other news...I have an official date for my return home: February 12th (which is also, I was pleased to find out, when the Olympics begin). A mere four weeks from yesterday!! I have no doubt it will fly by, but I am also quite eager to squeeze the snot out of my family and friends. I am loving every minute of this journey, but I have sensed an increasing desire to head home and start the "next chapter" of my life. More on that next chapter soon...

Monday, January 11, 2010

As The Smoke Clears...

The other day I was riding the city bus, listening to my ipod, as usual. It was a sunny warm day; I was in a rather introspective mood. I scanned to Needtobreathe's music and clicked shuffle. One of my all-time favorite songs came on, "Through Smoke." I mentioned this song in my very first blog post, including the particular lyric lines that were significant to me. As I sat on the bus that day, soaking in the city, observing the other occupants around me, hearing those lyrics streaming in my ears, I realized something: the smoke had cleared. The thought hit me like a ton of bricks and tears burned my eyes. I bit my lip and smiled. There have been numerous times on this trip where I thought if it ended tomorrow it would be worth it and I would be content - I've seen and experienced so many things. But not until this day did I realize that my questions - questions that weren't even clear to me - were being answered. I no longer feel like I am searching through smoke.

Now that's not to say I've got my life all figured out...the opposite, if anything! And as some questions find answers, other questions arise. But I've figured a few things out. I've learned that, for me, life is taken day by day. Something that was easy yesterday might be hard today. Something that makes sense today might not tomorrow...and that's ok. With each new day comes new opportunities to make yourself a better person. I can be comfortable with who I am, but I don't ever want to be satisfied with who I am. Kendall Payne says in one of her songs, "I'm not afraid to be me...Every battle leads to another war/ Every day I'm reminded of what I'm fighting for/It's never easy and it's never the same/But it's worth all I've got and so I'll give it again." What I've also realized is that to be able to give it all you've got, you have to be getting nurtured. That can take many different forms, and will probably take several to be successful. For me, Scripture needs to be a vital part of every day. Not just reading, but memorizing (which I tell myself I'm not good at because of my horrible short-term memory), burning it in my heart. In this process I've discovered verses in my memory bank from when I was 10. I was surprised to find I could still quote every line (encouragement for all Sunday school teachers and parents...those verses you help kids memorize...they STICK!), so quickly dusted them off and put them to good use again.  Another important thing for me is journaling. I've always done this off and on, feeling guilty when I don't do it, as if the journal would be hurt or something - does anyone else have this phenomenon? I would just get too busy to sit and write, letting the thoughts collect and jam up inside creating as my friend lovingly calls it: analysis paralysis. Well, although it's slightly less personal (I don't think the journal will mind), I've started typing out thoughts each night - much quicker and so useful! Third self-nurturing thing for me is reading. It's one of the first things to go when I get busy, but I so enjoy it. In the grand scheme, these things don't take much time out of my day, but they make a huge difference! They keep my brain from freezing or becoming stagnant. And somehow they help make a connection between my brain and my heart, something that doesn't always come easy for me.

I had the opportunity to be nurtured in a big way this past week - 4 straight days of backpacking on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. I joined forces with 10 other people, 2 families and Mike - a guy who loves the AT so much he wrote a book on it (! We set out with our tents, food, sleeping bags, and sleep mats, ready to conquer the sand, the bush, and the water. It was a beautiful walk, much different to the Milford Track with is snowcapped mountains. The AT is speckled with magnificent golden beaches and clear blue/green water. It really felt like we were tramping through a tropical island. I concluded that the sound of rhythmic waves softly crashing on the shore is the perfect sound to drift off to sleep to. It was fun to get to know those in our group, conversing and laughing together, pushing each other on when we were tired. Hours of sunlight and 32 miles later, we finished the track all together. Now for a few days of resting up...