Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some things I need to say.

It's been a while since I've shared anything.  I'm here now to talk a little bit about why I've been absent and about what you can expect to see here from now on. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about how difficult my summer has been.  The trials have not yet ended; in fact, we are still standing in the middle of many.  For those of you who have expressed concern and offered prayer, thank you.  Your prayers have been such an encouragement.

Time is a scarce resource for me right now.  I'm currently working forty hours a week, leading a Bible study, and attempting to also make time for my friends and family.  You adults who read my blog are probably chuckling and thinking, "You are finally catching a glimpse of real life, Emily."  Yes, I am.  I'm still learning how to divide my time wisely.

The "real life" experience of interning full time has been a blessing to me.  I am spending my days writing about children in Africa.  My two loves, meshed into one.  I am beginning to see a little bit what my career may look like in the next ten years and I am excited by how I see God moving. 

Blogging is something I love, but other things have topped my list of priorities.  Ali is going to China in a week from now.  After she leaves, I probably won't see her again until Christmas.  Time with her is a big deal right now.  And when I've been gone all day, I must then choose between blogging or having dinner with my family.  Family time takes priority over blogging.

I haven't been sleeping much lately.  Sometimes rest even takes priority over blogging.

And finally, I need to take a step back and look again at why I blog.  I've lost that a little bit.

If you go back to November and December of 2009, when I first truly began to blog (the trip to Africa doesn't really count), I had absolutely no viewers.  I didn't expect that anyone would ever want to read about the life of a sheltered, silly girl who was still only a junior in high school.  The things I shared were pretty corny and unplanned.  I wrote what I felt like writing at that very moment.  Sometimes I wrote about what broke my heart.  Sometimes I wrote about things that the Lord had taught me.  Some blog posts panned out like journal entries, describing insignificant (but amusing to me) details of my day.

A year passed and I began to receive some comments and emails from people who said they were touched by some of the things I shared.  This was stunning to me.  I hadn't realized people other than my mother (and not even she read my blog every day!) even bothered to read the things I had to say.  About a year or so after I began to blog, I discovered that I had a view count... and I was blown away.  Many thousands more views than I ever expected to have.  And honestly, that began to change how I viewed my blog.  It wasn't just for me anymore.  It was a ministry. 

It was great.  I love using my talent to glorify the Lord.  However, at times, I would hesitate to write things I wanted to write... or to post things I'd written that I felt weren't up to par with the quality of some other posts.  What if what I wanted to write didn't measure up to the new standard of writing I had set up for myself?  What if it fell short of the expectations people had of me?  What if it just wasn't good enough?

Instead of allowing myself to spend ten minutes on one blog post and a longer amount of time on another, I'd spend a couple of hours on every single one.  I made a calendar, a detailed schedule.  I made long lists of blog topics and devotionals.  I carefully read comments and emails and checked my views.  If the view count went down, I wanted to know why.  And I don't even earn a dime from this blog.  I just like doing my absolute best, which isn't always necessary.

During seasons like the one I'm experiencing now, I don't need the burden that this other kind of blogging has placed upon me.  It's too tough to handle at this moment.  I don't have the time.  I don't have the energy.  I don't have the motivation.

I just want to be me.

Next month, I will focus on turning my blog back into a channel for my thoughts.  And if people stop reading, they stop reading.  If some are encouraged, then wonderful!  But during this time in my life, I need to focus on writing only for the love of writing and the love of Jesus.  Nothing else.

June: There are only a few days left.  Don't expect anything other than this.

July: I will try to post something each day: journal entries, venting, quotes, and heartbreak.  Some days may be nothing.  I won't pressure myself.  The every day thing may be a huge flop.  If it is, I don't care.  July will be a month of me, a month of recovery, and a month of learning.

The reason I want to write more than usual in July is because I feel like I'm losing practice.  Writing may be a skill I've always had, but I need practice in order to keep my voice.  Although I adore writing promos every day about kids in Haiti and Kenya, I also want to write things in my own voice and style that express who I am.  So in July, instead of focusing on high-quality writing, I am going to write my heart and regain my voice.

August: Nothing.  I'll try not to post a single thing for the entire month of August.  I'll be taking a hiatus.  I'll still write on my own to maintain practice and I'll probably schedule several of those things for later on in the year.  The reason for the break is to completely erase the importance in my stubborn brain of how many views I get and that intense need for a blogging schedule.  I want to write for the love of writing and the love of Jesus.  That's it.  August will help me to do that.

September: We'll see. 

I hope this long, rambling monster of a post explains a little bit where I'm coming from right now and why I've been so absent.  Things have been difficult lately.  My mind is conflicted.  I'm seeking the Lord and He is teaching me daily.  Without Him, my life would be such a frightening mess.

Thanks for your patience.  Thanks for your friendship, those of you who have followed my blog for any period of time over the last few years.  If you stay with me through this time, thank you.  If you're bored and tired of waiting, that's okay too.  Go ahead and find a different blog to follow.  I understand completely.

And now I will be going to sleep.  I need some of that.

See you in July, maybe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cat in the Hat... Cat FOR a Hat.

New York: Day 3

On this particular morning, we woke up a little bit later than the days before, which was a nice break from the constant rush.  We ate breakfast together and then began the long walk down to the ferry so we could see the Statue of Liberty.  It wasn't raining on this day, but a light fog weighted the sky.  The air was cool and a little misty.

While we were walking, we passed the famous Wall Street, where stern men in suits hurried past us and many, many tourists (including us) snapped photographs. 

New York City is filled with so many people.  We spotted the strangest individuals.  The variety of people there was fascinating, exciting, and a little intimidating at times.  At one point, for some reason, Ali jokingly told me, "You should get a tattoo, Emily."

I was about to laugh when a man standing within hearing range shouted, "Do it!  Be different!"  When I looked at him questioningly, he nodded and repeated, "Yes, do it.  Be different."  His arms each held a sleeve of tattoos.  I smiled at him, bobbed my head, and kept walking.  Ali and I managed to immerse ourselves into another large wave of people before we burst into hysterical laughter.

One man walked with confidence and utter oblivion of the world around him.  Perched upon the top of his head was a calm black cat.  The picture I have is blurry, but you get the idea. 

The ferry was crowded and warm, but the water was beautiful all around us.  Despite the cloudiness earlier in the morning, we found ourselves squinting in the sunlight.  The day had become lovely... at least compared to the days before.

It didn't take long for the Statue of Liberty to loom clearly above us, standing firmly against the horizon, regal and strong.  The shortest of us stood on the metal benches of the ferry, peering up at the monument.

We didn't get off to see the Statue of Liberty up close; we figured she would look just as beautiful far away, so we stayed on the ferry.  During our trip, we paused for a moment at the lovely Ellis Island, which was green and warm and welcoming.

The ride lasted an hour or so.  By the time we were finished, it was nearly two in the afternoon and we were all hungry and ready to have lunch.

After lunch, we visited Ground Zero and those memorials.

We also visited a giant Toys R Us.  It was filled with toys and gadgets of all sorts.  If I had been a decade or so younger, I would have been in heaven.  A ferris wheel greeted us as soon as we stepped through the front doors.  Ali and I loved the rows of stuffed animals and sweet teddy bears, all waiting to be cuddled.

On the second floor were hundreds of Lego sets.  A few Lego statues of popular characters decorated the room.  I even found an Avenger friend.

We managed to make it back to the hotel in time to rest for a little while.  We had walked many miles on this day and we were all utterly exhausted.  After dinner, the family minus my dad went to go visit the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Tower).  The lines were long, but Ali and I entertained ourselves by people-watching... or at least boy-watching.

They had us pose for a picture.

The hour was quite late and the view from the Top of the Rock was absolutely flooring.  The city lights lit up the night sky.  We could see the hustle and bustle of New York City all around us: the pinpricks of lights coming from the windows of the skyscrapers, the constant glow of Times Square, the distant honks and flashes of headlights from the busy city streets beneath us.

New York City is a town that never sleeps; that much was clear.

The Empire State Building was the only one that seemed to truly loom above us.  Amidst the millions of lights of the city, a steady darkness filled one piece of the horizon.  I was confused about what it possibly could be until someone explained that I was seeing Central Park; it's closed at night to keep things safe.

After we left the Top of the Rock, we stopped to get ice cream from a vendor.  It was delicious.

Times Square at night seemed more flashy than Las Vegas.  We walked in awe with our mouths hanging open at the lights and the sounds and the people that constantly bustled from here to there without ceasing, despite the late hour.

We felt almost too tired to move, but we couldn't help but admire the city lights.  

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were ready to crash.  I fell asleep within moments of my head touching the pillow. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

There is peace.

This summer is not what I expected.

My family has been spiritually attacked within the last month.  I feel as if we are attempting to swim through rough waters.  Each time one of us manages to lift our head to take a breath, an even taller wave comes to smash us back down against the rocky bottom.

Some trials are easy to explain, like my grandmother breaking her hip and the decisions we must now make about her living arrangements.  Or like a terribly difficult situation we've had with my younger sister.  Or like the suicide of my sister's young friend and the resurfacing of emotions and memories that have come from that. Or like the painful injury my mom had this very night that may end up changing the course of the summer; we'll have to see about that.  Other trials are nearly impossible to put into words.  

I believe my family is being tested, each of us individually as well as a unit.  And we can either shatter against the pavement or we can find our wholeness in the Lord.

The depth of our valleys indicate the height of our mountains.  We are being refined.  Isaiah 48:10 says, "I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering." I love Romans 8:28, which says, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God."  He is working.  His glory is shining through, even in the darkest of moments.

I don't know if this summer will become any easier.  When it rains, it pours.  More trials may come.  Perhaps I am being prepared for a mountain greater than I could ever imagine on my own.

All that is left to do is crumble to my knees and say, "God, show me Your heart in this.  Bring glory to Your Name from this.  Let me find joy in this place."  Psalm 91:4, one of my favorite verses, says, "He will cover you with His feathers.  He will shelter you with His wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

God, I want to find the wholeness of my beingmy joy, my identity, my peace, my hope, my transformation—in You alone.

Although I am not under attack by a human enemy, this next verse has brought me great comfort.
1 Samuel 25:29 
Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling!
I am resting secure in the Lord's treasure pouch.  He cherishes me; I am valued as a treasure to Him. And even when I feel like I am broken or drowning, He has already won.  As Christ brings comfort and strength through these days of refinement, glory is the Lord's.  2 Corinthians 1:4 says, "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."

There is stillness in these rough waters.  Satan will not win.  Each time I break down in tears and ask the Lord to take it away, He whispers, "Have peace."  John 16:33 says, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

There is peace.

And if it means bringing glory to God's Name, if it means growing in Him, I'll accept it with joy.  Without Christ, I am shattered.  In Him, there is strength, wholeness, joy, and such peace.
Matthew 11:28
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I almost forgot what rain was.

New York: Day 2

When I woke up on this particular morning, I expected sunlight to stream in through my hotel room window.  Instead, the sky was overcast and shadowed.  Rain pounded against the concrete rooftop of the shorter building next door to us.

"Be sure to bring your umbrella with you outside," I reminded myself aloud and then went upstairs to have breakfast with my family.

Sure enough, a steady rain followed us for the entire first part of the day.

We walked to Times Square.  I'm sure I looked very much like a tourist, holding my black and white umbrella and gaping in awe at the tall buildings and brightly-lit signs all around me.  I sure wasn't in Texas anymore.

A dense fog covered the top of the tallest skyscrapers.  Rain poured down all around us.  Amy and I were the only ones who remembered to bring our umbrellas.  Since I love rain and don't see much of it at home, I actually didn't mind the rainfall, as long as I could stay sheltered.  I'm sure my family thought otherwise.

We took the New York subway for the first time.  Everything was filthy.  A rancid smell lingered in the depths of the subway.  Ali noticed that part the most; she has a sensitive sense of smell.  Within the first five minutes of waiting for the subway to arrive, we saw a giant black rat scurry beneath the tracks.  There were a few horrified shrieks from the ladies in our party... and a few hysterical laughs from the men.

Where we're from, the worst occasional smell is "the smell of money."  But pollution and body odor from over-crowding rarely occur in our small Texas town.

We saw subway performers as well.  Some had great talent; I don't know how they haven't been discovered.  Others were terrible and I don't know how they weren't arrested for causing a public disturbance.  Some blended in to the overall atmosphere of the subway and became background noise.  People hurried by without even noticing the performers.

Escaping from the subway was a relief.  We visited Central Park soon after this and were able to see the green beauty of the trees and rolling hills.  Central Park was much, much bigger than what I ever imagined.  And although we saw many people jogging and walking around, there was still plenty of space.

Central Park was a sanctuary in a concrete jungle like New York City.

My biggest wish for the New York vacation was to take a carriage ride through Central Park, so that's what we did.  It was perfect timing, since right as we climbed into the cushioned carriage, rain began to pour harder than ever before.  We smiled apologetically at soaked and miserable passersby.  The park was beautiful and peaceful, despite the heavy rain.

Amy, Ali, my mom, and I all rode in one carriage.  My dad, Luke, and Grandma Rhonda rode in another.  Our tour around Central Park took a little less than an hour.  It was so relaxing and lovely.  This was probably one of my most favorite parts of the entire trip.

I love peaceful moments like these. 

I love the scent of rain and earth and grass.

Unfortunately, the lovely carriage ride came to an end.  By then, the rain had come to a lull.  We stopped by a little store and grabbed a few umbrellas for the rest of the family and we walked to a restaurant so we could have lunch.

The restaurant was called Ellen's Stardust.  It's a pretty popular attraction... and for good reason.  This was one of Ali's very favorite parts of our trip.  Talented actors and singers who dream of making it to broadway take jobs waiting tables at Stardust.  In between serving meals, they perform broadway songs.  They're so talented and the environment of the restaurant is so much fun.  The food is pretty delicious too.

We also went to visit the M&M and Hershey stores.  The M&M store was several stories tall and filled with everything M&M you could possibly imagine.  It was so much fun.  Hundreds and hundreds of styles and colors and sizes and shapes of M&MS lined the walls of the store.  I even found my favorite color.

The Hershey store was smaller and a little less impressive, but it was still amusing.  And we were each given a free Kiss.

After taking a long walk back to our hotel and then resting for a few hours, we all dressed up to see our first broadway show.  You've probably heard of it.  The show was called Wicked.  It was very popular, very packed, and very well-made.  I'm not much of a theatre person.  Shows like that don't usually hold my interest, but there is no denying the talent and effort put into Wicked.

Overall, it was a fun experience.

Ali, Amy, and I sat on the second row... unfortunately, we were so far on one side, it actually made it difficult for us to see everything!  But I don't think we missed out on too much.  Amy had actually seen Wicked two times before, so she made sure to fill us in if we ever got too confused.

By the time we returned to the hotel for the final time that day, we were all exhausted, but happy.  The day was a success.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sanitation Grade Pending

New York: Day 1

Early Wednesday morning, my family woke up and began to frantically pack four suitcases, three dogs, and six people into my mom's five-seater vehicle.

Our youngest and most eager little dog, Jack, desperately wanted to come along, but he wasn't as welcome as he thought he was.  Traveling six hours by plane, sharing a hotel room, and walking all around New York with an excitable Yorkie in tow didn't seem like the best idea.

We actually ended up boarding all three of our dogs for the first time ever.  They were able to stay together, which was nice, but we were all a bit nervous about leaving our babies behind.

On our way to the boarders, we tried to reassure our dogs so they wouldn't be nervous.  Jack's favorite place in the car (or really, anywhere) is perched right on someone's shoulder... so he quickly fell asleep on mine.  It was so cute.

I'd never been to New York City before, unless you count a few hours of layover time in the airport on the way to Paris, France, so I was pretty pumped.

The plane rides were long and a little dull at times, but Ali and I amused ourselves by playing several games of Go Fish with the deck of cards I brought along, reading books, and sleeping.  (Mostly sleeping.)

Before we left, our mom told us to pack everything in as small of a bag that we possibly could because of the cramped size of our hotel rooms (that we were sharing with several others).  I did as she said and chose the smallest suitcase I owned to pack in a week's worth of clothes and toiletries.  When Ali and I compared the size of our suitcases, we couldn't help but laugh.

When we arrived in New York, we were immediately confronted by crowds of people... in our own gate!  There aren't many crowds in the Texas town where we're from, so it was a bit of a culture shock right away.  People, people everywhere, speaking all kinds of languages and wearing all shades and styles of clothing.  By the time we gathered our luggage and maneuvered our way through the masses of people, we were so very glad to leave the airport.

A sleek, white limousine was waiting for us.  I had never been in a limousine before, so the experience was so much fun.

There weren't rows of seats inside the limo; instead, they lined one side.  There was a little bar on the other side, along with a radio and a trim of glowing blue light.  The ceiling of the limo was a mirror, just like the movies. 

For a little while, I spent my time staring out the windows and watching Newark fly by.  Soon my exhaustion took over and I began to doze off.  The ride was so comfortable.  Our trip to NYC had already begun with smiles and excitement.

For dinner, we were pretty eager to explore, so we went walking outside of our hotel and stumbled across a Chinese/Japanese food restaurant that had two taped signs on the front window.  One said, "We do not sell liquor, so bring your own."  The other said, "Sanitation Grade Pending."  Yet somehow my family chose this restaurant for our first taste of authentic New York City cuisine.

And considering everything, it wasn't that bad.

We retired to bed soon after dinner.  It wasn't difficult to fall asleep after such a long day.

Our adventure had finally begun.