Questions to Ask Yourself Before you Travel

In many places around North America, it’s getting cold. It’s natural to dream about warm places as you bundle up in your winter clothes. So is planning a dream vacation to a tropical location, where you can lay on the beach and relax, escaping from the cold and stress of day-to-day life. Sounds pretty nice, right?

To read more about holistic traveling, read the rest of my post here on Circles of Faith!

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On Silence

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. Here is the beginning of a recent post I wrote for Circles of Faith:

In a culture that likes to fill silences with noise – meaningful or not – we don’t think a lot about the concept of silence. One of the first times I remember using silence in prayer was when I was discerning which college to attend. My aunt suggested we (she, my mom, and I) try a “listening prayer.” The three of us gathered in our living room, and sat in silence, just listening to God. I am not sure how long we sat, but to my 17-year-old untrained and anxious mind, it felt like quite a while.

Continue reading this post here! More to come soon 🙂

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Taking Steps to Protect Our Earth

I grew up in New Jersey, in a suburb of New York City, my house overlooking the Manhattan skyline. I have always considered myself a “city girl,” and I’m proud of it. At the same time, my parents did a good job of instilling a love of nature in us “city kids.” We had a relatively spacious yard considering we were in the suburbs, and my dad had a small garden with tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini. He planted raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry bushes. We also had an apple tree, pear tree, plum tree, and a cherry tree, all in our backyard.

My dad, who grew up with the Passaic River in his backyard, would point out the river every time we went past, “That’s the river that runs through my blood,” he’d say. My parents took us camping and fishing, and my dad often escaped on adventures with us kids to explore rural places. My dad has a collection of good ol’ dad sayings, like, “Find the bluest part of the sky,” and we would each pick which section we found the brightest on a blue-sky day. Or he would say, “This is the day of the year,” each day the sun was shining. And of course, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses,” which reminded us to pause in our busyness to recognize the simple things in nature around us.

I’m posting on Circles of Faith today, click here to continue reading!

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Observations upon returning to the U.S. of A.

After being in Belize for a year, my husband and I recently returned to the U.S. for a trip back “home.” Here are some of my observations:

1. Everything is air-conditioned and freezing. 

I have always had a low tolerance for cold, but the AC found in almost every car, restaurant and home seem over the top to one who has been living in a place that is tropical, and therefore hot all the time. People get by without the electricity-gobbling AC by having more outdoor space, and honestly, by being okay with a little (or a lot of) sweat. Granted, many structures are built to allow more air flow, and people rely more on fans to keep the air moving. But their is a lot more tolerance for the natural course of hot weather. It’s just a part of life.

The first time we went to a restaurant to watch one of the World Cup games (the heartbreaking Germany vs. Brazil), I forgot to bring a sweater. I also forgot my snow suit, winter hat, and gloves, all of which could have proved useful. I ended up close to tears, and so angry at the U.S. and everyone around me who seemed to be doing just fine in their summer clothes in the frigid room (reverse culture shock, anyone?).

2. The roads are very smooth, and there are lines dividing directions of traffic. And so many traffic lights!

I know, I know, we complain about potholes in Pennsylvania, but Belize is a whole ‘nother story when it comes to the roads. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten quite used to driving on dirt roads or swerving to miss potholes. I’ve even learned to drive standard shift, and after getting used to that, I found my left foot and my right hand got very bored while driving automatic. I also realized that I was a little rusty on the whole “following traffic laws” thing (I think I’ve only seen one traffic light in Belize, so I was a little unsure what to do when the light turned yellow).

3. My, how quickly I succumb to American consumerism.

When I first arrived in Belize, a fellow expat said to me, “You can’t find everything in Belize, but you find out that you don’t really need anything you can’t find.” I have found that to be true- you adapt and realize you don’t need all the stuff that you thought you did. They don’t have huge malls or shopping centers in Belize, and that is okay with me. I don’t miss them. But coming back to the States, I was both apprehensive and intrigued to see all the stuff they had to offer in a Target or a supermarket. It proved to be overwhelming, and kinda like driving past a car accident that you can’t help staring at. You know it’s not healthy, but something inside you still wants to look. So many things that you never even knew you needed- and it’s all new! I still walked away with a few items, feeling a little guilty in the process, and knowing it will probably all just get moldy in the rainy season anyway.

A side note: Now, I do admit that there are a few things I cannot get in Belize that I really do miss, and I have been (thankfully!) spoiled by friends and family who sent me quality, sustainable/fair-trade whole bean coffee and loose tea. Thanks to all those who have contributed 🙂

4. We feel loved.

It’s not that we don’t feel loved in Belize, it’s just that we’ve spent lots more time being present in relationships in PA, NJ and DC. But we have been showered with love, support, and generosity. People have made time for us in the midst of busy schedules, paid for meal, lent us their cars, given us the keys to their house, let us take over their living room for a week, and thrown parties for us. While we love Belize, we are reminded of the roots we have in the U.S., and are so thankful!

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Darkness, Part 2

I usually write my posts for Circles of Faith a month or so earlier than they come out online. I realized, when re-reading my post, that I had some updates, some learnings, insight from others in a similar experience, some new thoughts on the subject. And so, I call this:

What to Do When Sitting in Darkness, Part 2

So you are sitting there, in the dark, trying to make yourself a little comfortable, as you could be there for a while. You might as well find a comfy couch at least. For a while, it seems really dark, and the darkness might make you feel like you can’t find loved ones, God, or even yourself at times.

But then, you start to make out almost imperceptible shapes- maybe just the outline of that couch you are sitting on. You are reminded that you are supported by that couch,and you become more aware, even thankful for it. Soon, you can see other objects around you- a door, a cabinet, a table, a window even. You thought you were in complete, utter darkness, but you realize there is a bit of light. There is some contrast to the darkness.

Your eyes are adjusting to the darkness.

Slowly, little by little, you begin to see more: people, more defined objects, even color. The darkness seems less dark. You remember a line from a Psalm buried deep within you,“Even the darkness will not be dark to You. The night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You” (Psalm 139). And you realize that God is there too, and has not left at all. Neither have those people who love you; they have been there too.

Before you know it, you are seeing more than just dark and light contrasts. You are noticing the emerald green leaves and bright pink ornamental ginger, the blue sky, the shining sun. Life feels more vibrant again, you have a deeper capacity to recognize its beauty. Night still comes, but there is the promise of morning. And you are wiser for it.

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Choosing to Sit in the Darkness…

Sometimes we as Christians don’t allow ourselves to ask the questions.

Or we move too quickly to give answers – for ourselves or others – offering automatic responses, like, “It’ll all work out in the end,” or “Just trust God,” or a dozen other similar phrases.

I myself am guilty of this.

I want a quick resolution; I want the uncomfortable feelings to end right now.

I’m posting on Circles of Faith today, click here to read the rest 🙂

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Why I (am trying to occasionally) wake early

A view from the top of a bird tower, taken by my husband.

A view from the top of a bird tower, taken by my husband.

In this rare season when my days are more flexible, and I can set my own schedule, I find myself sleeping in more than I’d like. I think my ideal sleep pattern would be bed at 11pm, waking up at 8am- a good 9 hours of sleep. I was recently discussing this with a man at church, who agreed that different people have varied natural rhythms that their bodies prefer. His preferred to rise early, sleep in the afternoon, and stay up late into the night.

Sometimes I indulge myself in my own preferred sleep schedule. It is honestly a struggle for me to wake up before 8am- it always has been. My dear husband has the opposite schedule, and loves to get up early. I am jealous of his zeal at greeting the morning, his ability to hop out of bed cheerily before 6am. Meanwhile, I groan, roll over, and cover my head with my pillow, thinking, “Just 15 more minutes of sleep, please!”

But when I can make it up earlier, with some time to sit on my porch with a cup of tea and a book, I feel more in balance. Recently, one of the said books that have accompanied me and my cup of tea has been, ironically, “Why I Wake Early,” a book of poetry by Mary Oliver. I have this feeling that you shouldn’t read a book by that title at night, or even at 10am. It should be read early in the morning with a cup of tea in the jungle (okay, the last criteria may not be necessary, though it does describe my current situation).

When I do rise early and read this book, or the Bible, or one of the other many books on my “currently reading” shelf, I am aware of the sacredness of morning. There is often a cool breeze and a chill in the air that feels wonderful. There is also a mist that indicates a very hot day to follow, but at that moment, before the heat melts  the mist away, it lovingly blankets the trees and mountains for a few hours. The birds are more active, and just sitting on my porch, I see Social Flycatchers, Great Kiskadees, Sulfur-bellied Flycatchers, Masked Tatyras, Toucans, Blue-crowned Mot mots, and Aracaris. It is a unique and beautiful time of day in the jungle.

And so, I will keep trying to rise early, maybe not every morning, but routinely. As Mary Oliver says in the poem with the same title as her book:

“Watch, now, how I start the day, in happiness, in kindness.” 

 

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