Month: October 2015

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 11

“What’s the hardest part?”  I’ve often been asked this question throughout the past five years.

I have had other friends who have gone before me.  Some have lived or currently live in Dubai, New Zealand, Ireland or Turkey. It was always difficult to say goodbye.  Of course, I’m grateful for Skype, FaceTime, texting and email!  None compare to sitting down over coffee.  Though I didn’t fully understand the lives of these brave friends until I made the permanent international move myself.

Of course, each person’s experience is unique but I have found the most difficult thing to be loneliness.  The challenge has been to know what was the main source of it.

When I initially moved here in 2010, I had been married for one week.  It was a rude awakening after spending most of our dating/engaged relationship long-distance.  Not to mention, I married an entrepreneur who jumped into working long hours from day one.  Some days, especially during the busy holiday season, he would leave early in AM and return the following morning from the factory.

I left a wonderful community of friends and church to a city where I knew no one.  And I couldn’t communicate with them if I did meet someone new.

Previous to the move, I had left a job working for a close friend and before that, two part-time jobs: (1) on staff at a church I loved and (2) another on mission with an anti-human trafficking organization.  I was plugged in and was alive!  To then move to no job prospects, at home, with no internet.

I was in an unknown land.  The ways of life, language and culture were foreign.  I was on my own.

As you can imagine, all of these simultaneous transitions caused me to face loneliness in different stages.  Being the youngest of six kids, I’ve never been good with alone time or silence.

Though loneliness has been the hardest thing for me here, it’s also been helpful.  Loneliness forced me to be still and self-reflect more honestly.  Loneliness has called me to reach out to friends when I’m in need.  Loneliness has required me to lean on God as my true comfort–rather than things, people or tasks.  Loneliness has taught be not to be afraid of stillness or silence.  Loneliness has given me an understanding and compassion for others.

Loneliness calls me to authenticity.

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 10

My encounter with that truck driver was a reminder, early on, that I was truly starting over…as a child.

Having previously relied on my communication skills in the U.S., I was now stripped of what I knew.  It quickly dawned on me that the idea of being “in control” and living a predictable life here was laughable.  Perhaps that is why God has me here, in a new land, to teach me to let go.

This season was different than the previous adventures because I was now one-week married, without a job, family and friends, church or community, a language or knowledge of my new surroundings.  I was lost and overwhelmed.  Where do I begin?

Rather than Abraham’s faith and obedience to move, for me, it was much easier to look back.  I wanted to hold on to the friendships and life that I had known in LA.  I struggled to embrace this new, unknown world.  It was easier to shy away.

As I look at those early days now, I see that I was my own obstacle.  The mind can be a tricky thing.  I was convinced I was leaving a good thing and didn’t see that I was joining a better one, even if I couldn’t see it.

How often do we miss out on what is right in front of us because we are holding on to the past or what might have been?

What good are you missing in front of you today?

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 9

Sweaty palms gripped the wheel as I sat in traffic.  “Ugh!  This is worse than LA!  How is that possible?”  The semi-truck creeped closer in my rearview mirror.  I soon found myself sandwiched between this truck and a SUV.  I could hear the calculations in my mind, “Where do I go?”  “Be aggressive!”  I could hear my husband’s voice in my head.

Without thinking, I gunned the gas as the semi-truck came barreling down the center of the lane.  Scraping metal screeched as he “squeezed” past me.  I forgot here there are no lane lines.  How are there no road rules?  Immediately, I was begging my husband over the phone, “What do I do?”

“Go after him!”

He can’t be serious.  Surely, I can call 911 or something.  But I accelerated up the two-lane mountain road, more panicked than before.  I laid on the horn and tailed the oblivious truck driver.  This was apparently routine driving behavior and not enough to get his attention.  Instead I tried driving into head on traffic, flailing my arms, gesturing for him to pull over.

He looked at me bewilderingly and drove on.  Now I was on a mission.  I tried again.  I’m sure he eventually pulled over simply out of curiosity, what the crazy gringo lady might want.  “Qué pasó?”

With my heart pounding out of my chest and no Spanish, I gestured and repeated “Tu culpa!  Tu culpa!”  Graciously, he responded, “Policía?”  So we headed to the nearest police post.  The crowd of spectators quickly swarmed and I knew I was outnumbered.  I could sense their accusations rising.

“Tu culpa!  Tu culpa!” was all I could blurt out.  Blank eyes stared back.  The police circled like vultures.  Sheepishly, I pulled out my phone to call Chris for help.  “You need to come here, I need a translator.”  I kept muttering my refrain, “Tu culpa…”  I must have sounded like a toddler.

When Chris’ car arrived, the crowd turned in unison, ready to attack.  Within minutes, he turned and asked, “Are you sure this wasn’t your fault?”

No comment.

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day8

Genesis 12:4 continues, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”  I wish I had the same obedience as Abraham did.

Instead, I question.  I push back.  I make excuses.  It’s easy to default to blaming the world and people around me.  But let’s call it what it is–disobedience.

Chris and I have four dogs.  Each one is unique in their own personality.  Woolly is the newest addition to our house.  I can learn a lot from observing our furry family.

Woolly is misbehaved.  Disobedient.  He could easily blame it on his story.  When he was 8 weeks old, we sold him to a neighbor.  Almost daily, when we’d drive by, he would be bounding through the street.  We would walk him home and beg, “Please keep a close watch on him.  He will run away.”  Sure enough, one day, we came home from a trip and never saw Woolly again.

I prayed for 9 months that I would miraculously find him.  I even wandered into a stranger’s property, past their gate and all, late at night, convinced I was following Woolly.  Instead, I just looked like the awkward foreigner once again.

Almost a year after he’d gone missing, I was taking Sophie, his mom, to the vet to be spayed.  Her 9 puppy litter was enough for me.  We were outnumbered with our 3 dogs as it was.  As I walked out of the vet, Woolly was sitting by my car, as if it was just yesterday that he left.

Even now, two years later, I’m still breaking him of bad habits.  He still disobeys, looking at me as if he has a right.  I don’t know his experience on the street.

I act the same way.  I look at my past or share my woes, looking for sympathy.

When will I learn to “GO” (to move forward) as Abraham did, without making excuses or needing to know where I’m going?

Oh, that I would know the faith of Abraham!

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 7

I’d like to think of myself as older and wiser now, after my early adventure days, really I’m just more raw.  No more show, no more perfection.   Truth is, this recent season has been the hardest journey yet.  Yet as Anne Lamott says, “It gives me hope for things to be scary and to find a way for them to be funny.   I think that’s what my message usually is: If I can get through it, you can.”  

So why Shebraham?  Though I’ve traveled the world, even lived in Asia and Europe, my most recent international move has been different than all of the rest.  Along the way, I find myself identifying with the story of Abraham in the Bible.  In the first book, Genesis 12:1, we read, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  As I have jotted down my writing notes over the years, I kept coming back to name “Shebraham” as my own “Abrahamic” journey.

When I met Chris, he had recently quit his consulting job to start Tegu, a toy company in Honduras. His mission was to create jobs there, and he was preparing to move to Tegucigalpa.  I found myself drawn to his adventurous nature. I wanted more of that. Though I had recently started my own adventures, I was impressed by his initiative not only to move to a third-world country to fulfill a social mission, but also to create something out of nothing with Tegu. My logical self preferred to have a safe and predictable life. In contrast, his true spontaneity and calculated focus was refreshing.

Within a year, we were dating, and a year after that, we were married. So five years after I fudged my vow never to move for a man, I was packing for my honeymoon and future life in Honduras in two suitcases.  In all the excitement, I didn’t really know what it would mean to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 6

I was still a child, Target shoes and all.  Sure, I had heard of miracles.  Thought I believed in them too.  Throughout my early years of faith, I prayed for miracles.  Childlike prayers–“God, if you get me off this roller coaster alive, I swear I’ll never swear again.”  I didn’t know real sacrifice.

Yet, when I’m finally tested to give up something good, this love, I wrestled.  I fought.  I held on to my silly shoes (to this day) as some defiance towards God.  As if I showed Him, “I’ll obey…BUT.”  Even now, I hate surrender.  Therefore, I excuse myself, like many of us, to say “If you don’t feel like it, you don’t need to.”  Says who?  Me?  Who am I to tell God what He can do, how He can do it and when?  Have I learned nothing from those who have gone before me throughout Scripture?  Can I rebuke God?

In my childish way, I kicked, I pouted, I cried.  I wore myself out.  Slumping down in my corner with exhaustion, I gave in to my battle with God.  I look over those prayers, over seven years ago, and I see that my heart wanted God.  I wanted what was right.  But I fought it.  I didn’t want to give into what was right.  I wanted both–my way–and His.  Unfortunately, many days, my way is what comes first.

I remember challenging God, asking that if this relationship would end that He would bring this man love again.  I knew it would be only a miracle to open that door to what God had planned.

It was.  Almost four years later, he remarried his wife.  I look back now, not in pain, but in true joy.  Knowing that God showed me then, anything is possible.

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 5

After ten months of scrambling to find work, I was offered a job at the church where I had interned.  The position was tailor-made for me, more than I could have hoped for. As I finally settled into my new life, I knew it was worth the fight. It was the first time I thought, “This is where I’ll stay.”

LA was invigorating.  Every person, restaurant, new hotspot was a discovery.  And not just for me.  It was a new culture.  There was too much to see and the city sprawled so we meet friends out, not in.  And whether the local barista or your lunch friend, it seemed that people were looking through you.  Turns out many were looking to see if a celebrity or their next big break was behind you.  Be famous or stay interesting for fear you might lose your short-attentioned audience.

Then I met him.  He was different than the rest–a local who had a steady job, was older than 25, and was in the seemingly one percent not looking past you.  This was a rare find.  After a few dates, I knew.  Then, “We need to take a break.”  He was urged by church leadership to put things on hold because of his divorce.

A month went by without contact.  I journaled, prayed, scoured the Bible, cried and wrestled with God.  This made no sense.  That was years ago, surely God didn’t mean this!  But with everything disclosed, I knew in my gut that God was calling me to obey, even when I didn’t know the end.  I hated it.  So I laid him on the altar, similarly to Abraham with his son, Isaac.  My heart ached.  We both knew it was right.  For some reason, that made it hurt more.  It seemed unfair.

One Sunday, our church was partnering in an event with TOMS.  I stood in the back as our pastor called us to donate our own shoes in that moment.  My shiny, unsupportive $10 Target shoes glared at me.  Arms folded, I forced myself to fight off my swelling heart, moved by compassion.  “God, what more do you want from me?  I’ve given you the one I loved, I’m keeping the damn shoes.”

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 4

Within a week, I began a short-term internship at a church in Pasadena.  Older than all the other interns by a good five years or more, I was overqualified. But it was a way to get my foot in the door in the big-wide world of Los Angeles. And I wanted to learn from this community of believers and influential leaders.

It was a season for memory-making.  Everything was new.  I was eager to experience what I could.  I might have been the only person in LA willing to drive from the Inland Empire to Malibu just because I could.  I remember chatting excitedly with the Verizon employee getting my new LA number and he smirked, “You’re not from around here, are you?”  Was it that obvious?

My roommates and I just went to The Fray concert in Hollywood, still on a high that we just met Isaac Slade by chance after the show, we agreed to cruise The Boulevard.  At a stop light, I turned to the car next to me–politely smiling and nodding, as any courteous Midwesterner would do.  The driver smiled and rolled down his window, “Pull over.”  Yeah, right.  I drove on.  Simultaneously rolling to the next light, he waved us over again.  Always game for a good story, I was curious.

The stranger got out of his hair salon decal-covered car.   Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen with THIS guy?  He announced, “You have fabulous hair!” This was not the greeting I expected.  “I do hair for Bono,” he continued. Okay, now we’re talking.  That’s amazing!  He gave me his card and disappeared.

Pleased with yet another LA story under my belt, I drove away, my head haughtily held high.  A few moments of silence slipped by, then my roommates confessed, “Cindy, he didn’t say Bono.  He said porno.”

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 3

I may have started my adventure, at least geographically.  I was wide-eyed and had the whole world ahead of me.

As the end of my teaching experience drew near, I considered staying another year.  But with now with a taste of “something new,” I had to find my next fix.  This time with a bit more of my comfort zone.  Joining a friend in Ohio, I started working for a church while pursuing my seminary degree.

I was with friends.  I could speak the language.  I spent my days with college students, leading Bible studies, serving as the local women’s university basketball team chaplain and playing flag football.  I don’t think a job could get better than this!

I was still naïve yet thought I knew everything.  I didn’t know heartache.  This was the season for my first love and first break-up, with others to soon follow.  Each one more mind-boggling than the previous, assuming “It wasn’t me.  It’s their loss.”  As if I had nothing to learn.

“Guard my heart,” they told me.  It was more like a stone wall and moat.  No one could get too close.  If they did, I had my perfect image and my hidden controlling nature to ensure everything went according to plan.  This way, I wouldn’t get hurt.

As part of this, I vowed never to move for a man. Yet this one…I thought I would marry. It was his dream to move to LA and begin a brilliant career in film. So instead of following him, I left first. I’d start my life in California, then he would join me.

But as the moving date neared, I began to wonder if I was being foolish. I was leaving behind friends and a promising career. A few days before I hit the road, he and I had an in-depth conversation. I wanted some things to change before we took this next step. I wanted to be certain, once again.

The conversation revealed that we did not see eye to eye, and the day before my departure, we ended our relationship. My logical self kicked in, with a need to prove to others and to myself that there was no turning back. I could do this.  I headed west.

31 Days of My Life as Shebraham: Day 2

Though I often never veered too far from the “logical next step,” I always saw myself as someone who stood out from the crowd.  Maybe that was influenced by my towering height, starting in kindergarten!

In college, I majored in education because it would lead to a “good job.” I went the extra mile, adding another major, minor and certifications just to ensure that I would be particularly marketable. My priority has always been “the next accomplishment.”  Yet as graduation drew near, I knew I wanted more.  I was dying to have an adventure, my own adventure.  I decided to go to China for a year.

While my friends had stable jobs and solid incomes lined up, I packed my one suitcase and traveled across the world.  I didn’t know anyone.  It was my first year teaching which ended up being more like an annual-long game of charades.  I didn’t know the language.  My mom feared I might meet my future husband and never come home.

That year resulted in my craziest experiences to date.  Let’s take my diet that year which included: chicken feet, blood clot (apparently a “must-have” for teachers who might inhale chalk dust), monkey brain and rabbit head.  Yes, I remember that day vividly when I thought I was sitting down to a nice, end-of-the-year picnic which included a bag of fried chicken.  Yet to my dismay, I open the bag to find a bunch of rabbit heads.   It was the year I tried breaking and entering for the first time when we were locked out of the girls’ junior high dorm we were all living in.  Yes, for one year as a college grad, I lived on the same floor with a class of sixth grade girls.  And I also learned that year that karaoke is illegal within a certain vicinity of universities.  So I found myself hiding from the police while simply singing the Titanic theme song.

I had no idea what the future held but this was my first leap.  Yet this was my adventure.  I was a six foot blonde in China–my year as a celebrity.

Little did I realize, it was the beginning to my life as Shebraham…fifteen years ago.