Living in expectation(s)

Having two weeks off from work has been an incredible blessing. Considering the fact that it is the holidays, I have also gotten to spend an unusual amount of time with my family. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a HUGE family with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins spread all over the state and country– people who typically don’t spend holidays together, but this holiday season has been different. Because I finally walked in my teaching license commencement a few weeks ago, I have been blessed to have the majority of my family in town at some point over my winter break, which has meant a ton of coffee dates and late night chats in our pajamas.

I love spending quality time with my peeps, but this time around I noticed that something is different in my life– something noticeable and big and sort of scary… kinda like the proverbial elephant in the room that was repeatedly unleashed when a family member would pepper me with the questions that every single 20-something year old woman dreads: “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” “Now that you’re finally done with school, have you started looking into buying a small house?” “Are you thinking of moving home to Pueblo or staying in Denver?”

You see, I come from a rather traditional Hispanic family– one where the expectation is that once you are done with your schooling (I have learned that “done” is an incredibly relative word, typically meaning once you have finished your Bachelor’s) you pack your bags and move home to be near your family in the small town where they are rooted. And for years and years, I wanted to follow that expectation; I wanted to move home and help start a Street School in Pueblo. I wanted to find a little house in my family’s neighborhood where I could watch my cousins grow up, where I could be near the side of my family that I see so infrequently, where I could learn to cook from my aging grandmother… I don’t exactly consider myself a “people-pleaser” but after being asked these same questions over and over again, I realized that part of me wanted to live up to these expectations and please my family.

But then there is the other part of me, the part that is independent and ready to go where ever God is calling me to go. The part that typically takes control of me and leads me about my daily life. After a few seconds of sadness that I wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations for my life, this part of me would regroup and I would respond to the boyfriend inquiry with a cheerful, “Nope” and the moving questions with, “I’m actually thinking of moving to Dallas and then maybe to a jungle or desert on another continent after I’m done with my Master’s Degree to work with refugees and assist with Bible Translation instead of coming home.” After that last sentence I could feel the room turn uncomfortably silent for what felt like a few decades, but what I’m sure was only a few seconds at most.

After the pause and some awkward squirming, my family’s overwhelming response was something to the tune of, “Oh, well maybe you’ll meet a nice boy before then and settle down.”

This is where my teaching training came in handy because as my mouth smiled and said, “Yeah. Maybe,” my brain was screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

Maybe I’m just crazy and stubborn, (Okay, I’m definitely crazy and stubborn.) but I don’t want to “settle down” right now. And I am tired of my culture telling me that there is something missing in my life. I am sick of being told that as a young, single, Christian woman, I am incomplete until I have a boyfriend that I can marry, buy a cute little house with, and then fill said cute house with cute little children.

I am sick of it.

Last time I checked, I have a brain, a heart, two eyes, two ears, a mouth, and four functional appendages; I’m not incomplete. I am a whole freaking human being! And finding a boyfriend or moving back to the little town I came from won’t make me any more or less of a human being.

Okay, let me hop off my soapbox and get to the point here…

Last week, I met up and had coffee with a dear friend who is not only in the same(ish) stage of life as me, but whom God is also calling to move outside of her comfort zone and into nations on the other side of the world. As Kathryn and I were chatting, she expressed many of the same frustrations that I have been feeling and how she, upon being called to Rwanda for the next several months to do ministry through her photography, felt guilty for not fulfilling her own family’s expectations of her.

She explained that she had Skyped with her home church’s pastor months ago, and had expressed these feelings of guilt with him. After listening to her mixed feelings of wanting to go where God was calling her, but not wanting to disappoint her equally traditional family, he said some of the most simple, but sage words of wisdom that I have heard in a long time.

“You’re forgetting that God created everyone differently. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.”

As she repeated this story to me, all I could think was, Duh! How had I missed this? How had I forgotten that I am not my cousins or aunts? And that because I am different, I am not called to the same things.

For some reason, there was something so freeing about those nine words. For days I repeated them in my mind. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.

These words have reminded me that no, I’m not defective for being a content single woman who doesn’t currently want to be tied to a house with a white picket fence. Nor am I strange for wanting to move out of my comfort zone here in America to the other side of the world some day instead of “settling down” and buying a tiny house here in the States.

I am called, as is Kathryn, as are you. Maybe we’re not called to the same things, but we’re all called to something, be that singleness, married life, to live in the U.S., Rwanda, Germany, or Lebanon… We are different and therefore differently called; what a novel concept!

And who knows, maybe God will drop an adventurous man into my life sometime between now and then, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to partially fulfill my family’s expectations for my life and have a cute little family overseas someday, but maybe not. Slowly, I have begun to realize that at the end of the day, none of these things matter. The only thing that genuinely matters is God and that I follow Him and His expectations for me.

So for now I am learning to be genuinely content with where God is placing me instead of living under the thumb of the burdensome expectations of my culture or well-meaning loved ones. It might not make me popular with my family come the next holiday, but I have no doubt that God will work that out when the time comes. He always does…

What has God called you to? Will you follow Him or will you let the expectations placed on you hold you back?

“Are you bound in marriage? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from marriage? Do not seek to marry. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried [wo]man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:27,32)

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Thankful [2]

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I began a list of things that I am thankful for a few weeks ago (Thankful [1]). Considering the fact that it is in fact Thanksgiving Day, I figured that today would be a reasonable time to finish and post this bad boy. So, here we go again…

16. My “Other Moms”: I’ll admit it– sometimes when I listen to my friends talk to their moms about their days or recent happenings, I get jealous that I don’t have that type of relationship with my own mother… Then that feeling of jealousy usually turns to a feeling of sadness. But recently I realized that I am incredibly blessed in the “mom department”, just in a way that is different than most. Instead of having one, solid mom who I can talk to about things, I have been blessed with four amazing mothers. While only one of them is actually my biological mother, the others have taken on the roles of guiding, supporting, loving, and essentially raising me. So, I just needed to publicly say, Laura, Allison, & Rezel I am so thankful for you and everything that you have done for me. I love you all so much.

17. Travel: I’ve always been a bit adventure hungry and up until recently, dreams of big adventures were well… just dreams. But over the course of the last two years alone I have been able to travel to San Francisco (on four occasions), Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Utah, Nebraska, Iowa, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. I am thankful for my job at the StreetSchool Network that has allowed me to travel and see the country, and for friends who have moved and graciously invited me into their new homes to stay for a while.

Post Secret 31

18. Extra-extra-extra-extra-long pants: It may seem a bit petty, but when you’re a 6’2″ athletically built woman, finding pants that are both long enough and don’t fit you incredibly weird is nearly an impossible venture. So today, I am thankful for 39″ inseam pants (and my wonderful principal who invested in me by buying me several pairs from Alloy so I don’t have to freeze my tukus off this winter)!

19. Little financial surprises & answered prayers: When you raise your own support, finances are often kinda tight and so I have been looking for a part-time tutoring job so that I can start saving up for my graduate school textbooks and the big move. But God has shown up in crazy ways these last few weeks, even in the midst of my mini-finacial-crises. Without much effort or thought at all I was able to land an adjunct teaching position at my alma mater. Then, within the same week, I was randomly given an entire box of groceries and a gift card to my local grocery for fresh produce. It has been really neat to see God provide for my needs, no matter how big or small. As my boss always says, “God loves His kids and loves to provide for us when we ask.”

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20. My “boring” life: “Miss, you don’t own a tv, you don’t have a boyfriend, and you allegedly don’t go out… What exactly do you do with your life?” “Well, I hang out with Miss S and Miss Miller a lot to lesson plan and get coffee. I go to potluck on Mondays, and Bible study three nights a week… and other than that I just walk my dog and sleep. AND I LOVE IT!” This conversation literally happens at least once a week, and I’m not sure that my students honestly believe me that I love my life the way that it is, but I do. After living through a few years that were only rivaled by the drama and insanity of reality television, I am thankful that I get to be a bit of an introverted homebody these days. It might not be the most exciting existence, but I’m pretty content.

21. The psuedo-tradition of music: I love coming from a big family, but because there are so many of us that have started with one family and then been smushed into my current HUGE family, we don’t have many solid traditions anymore. Yet even in the midst of the smush-ed-ness, we all share the commonality of music. I am thankful that I have always grown up with music playing in my house and I am even more thankful for that awesome feeling of being in the car with my parents or siblings, cranking up the volume to a ridiculous 80’s hair band, and singing at the top of our lungs– together.

22. Ice cream: Obviously.

23. My wonderful “fake roommates”: Amy, Amy, Mallory, and Julie- I don’t think that you four know how much I really love you guys. The fact that I have a toothbrush and pajamas in your house for our weekly sleepovers simply makes my heart so happy. Our late night chats, morning coffee, and 24 marathons have made such a difference in the way that I view my life, as well as in my walk with Jesus. You four are beautiful, strong women of Christ and I cherish our friendship. Thank you for being awesome.

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24. The fact that I was born in America: I am incredibly thankful that I was born in a country where my freedom of religion (and most other freedoms) are protected by law. I am also thankful for the people who have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice to secure those freedoms everyday.

25. Charlie Ray: Yes, I am one of those “crazy dog ladies” who loves her pet far too much. But I just can’t help it! There is just something so comforting about opening my front door after a long day and having a tiny white furball pounce on me. In weird ways, this pup has taught me so much about God’s unconditional love and for that, I am thankful.

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27. Health insurance: This is one of those “you know you’re a ‘grown-up’ when” things… Up until recently, I have almost always had health insurance; and up until a few months ago, when my insurance expired and I wasn’t sure that anyone would re-insure me because of my pre-exisiting conditions, I didn’t realize how much I had taken my insurance for granted. I am thankful that my clumsy self is now insured again.

28. Friendsgiving: In the 90’s I was semi-addicted to the tv show Friends. (Let’s be honest, who wasn’t?) I always wanted a group of friends who I could celebrate holidays with and just do everyday life with. And as I sit here typing this at my “fake roommates” dining room table, the house is a buzz with my version of the Friends cast preparing pies, brining the turkey, and of course, making coffee– a staple in this household. I’m incredibly thankful for the people that I will be eating with today, both my roommates and our friends that will be joining us later, and for the blessing of absurd amounts of tasty foods. We are truly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope your days are blessed with family, food, and fellowship.

Blessings, Lou

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 4:2)

Thankful [1]

Every year, I see people do the daily “social media / thankfulness” thing where you post one thing that they are thankful for per day. I love this idea, but due to my inconsistent & crazy schedule, I’m not great at doing daily tasks like that (Honestly, I’m so busy that I’m lucky if I remember to get dressed every morning). So, instead, here is the first part of my list. These people, these things, these are what my hearts beats for and because of (in no particular order). Thank you.

1. Camille: I am thankful for you my beautiful sister. Thank you for walking beside me all these years. Thank you for loving me when I am bright and shiny, and dark and twisty. Thank you for putting up with my temper tantrums and crying voicemails. Thank you for being a strong, upstanding woman of God who I can look to for advice and strength. You are a brilliant inspiration to those around you and I know that God is going to take you places in this world. Thank you for loving me.

2. The gift of being single: In a culture that is consumed with hooking up and jumping from relationship to relationship, I am thankful that I have this season to find out not only who I am “alone”, but who I am in God. I hope that some day my future will include dating, getting married, and having a family, but for now, I am thankful that God has taught me to be content with being single.

3. My brothers: I am beyond indebted to the wonderful men in my life for their love and protection. From giving me their “okay” on difficult life decisions to helping me figure out how to change a tire, they are always there when I need a helping hand or a smack in the head. Matthew, Christopher, Kenny, Anthony, & Josh I hope you know how much I love you all.

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4. I’m thankful for the days when I am at my weakest. Those days when I know that I am unworthy of grace and broken… those are the days when I need God the most. And for days like that, I am incredibly thankful.

5. Danielle Gail Johnson: It’s been wierd learning how to live life without this girl by my side. The holidays are especially difficult because I know that your heart was breaking three years ago, so broken in fact that you took your own life. And knowing that you were broken and that we didn’t do enough to support you stings. Yet I am so thankful that you were put in my life, if only for a few seasons. Thank you for teaching me the value of life and the importance of loving the people that God has placed in my life, unconditionally.

6. The Denver Street School: No, not everyday is full of rainbows, puppies, and happiness. Yes, some days I leave work and cry in my car on the way home. But the fact that I get to work in a school where I can openly talk about God and His love for all of creation has been such a blessing in my life. Watching Him draw my students to Himself has been sublime. Plus, knowing that I get to work in the same ministry that God originally used to draw me to  Himself blows my mind everyday. I love praying with my co-teachers every morning and serving the community with my students every month. I am truly blessed to work where I do.

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7. My support team: I literally wouldn’t be able to do what I do if I didn’t have a great team of financial supporters and prayer warriors backing me this year. Thank you to those who help me to keep a roof over my head and pay my electric bills. I literally owe you my life right now, and cannot thank you enough!

8. The blessing of being a long-distance “momma”: I’m not going to lie; Saying goodbye to my babies sucked. I miss them everyday and would give just about anything to be able to get them ready for school every morning and tuck them into bed every night. But being a long-distance momma has taught me a lot about giving control of my life over to God. I have had to learn to trust Him in ways that I never would be able to if I had my kiddos living with me. I am reminded daily that my babies are God’s babies too and that He has a plan for them, for all of us really, that blows my nearsighted plan out of the water.

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9. Scum of the Earth: Moving back into the city & sliding into such a wonderful church body has been a blessing that I simply cannot explain. I am thankful for my Scum-bags (and baguettes), and all of the joy and wisdom that this church has blessed me with.

10. The imminent move: Knowing that this will be my last Autumn and Winter in Colorado for a while has made me appreciate all of the small things: the cool evenings, the slushy roads that I can puddle jump in after a snow, the BEAUTIFUL mountains, and the way the sunsets behind them… I know that I’m going to miss my home, but I’m so thankful that I’ll be leaving for a while, as it has taught me not to sweat the small stuff and to live in the moment.

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11. The International Phonetic Alphabet: Yes, this is incredibly nerdy, I understand that. But very few things make my heart leap like transcribing things into the International Phonetic Alphabet, and knowing that I get to do nerdy things like this for the next few years in grad school makes me so happy that I could squeal with joy. I can’t wait to see where God takes me with this.

lid mi tu ðə ɛndz əv ðə ərθ

12. Aurora, Colorado:  It’s weird to think that I am so in love with the city that I once itched to leave, but I am. I am thankful for the memories built there and the friends that I made as I moved through different stages of life there. I’m thankful for every weird experience and wrong turn that I made while living there because they all lead me to the place where I am today.

13. Broken relationships & reconciliation: There is no simple way to explain this one, but I’m thankful that God has given me an opportunity to fix the relationships that I have royally screwed up over the last five years or so. I serve a God of redemption and He has shown this in BIG ways in my life this year.

14. My mother: No, we don’t see eye-to-eye on most things… and no, our relationship is no where near where I would like it to be right now, but after all that we’ve been through over the last five years, I am simply thankful that she is alive. She’s tough as nails, and I am thankful for her strong, unconventional, fighting spirit.

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15. Relaxation: Tonight I am simply thankful for calm weeknights when I can light all of the candles in my studio, slip into sweats and fuzzy socks, make a pot of tea, and simply write for the pleasure of writing. It is a blessing to be able to relax in the midst of a crazy schedule.

[Part 2 of this list to come eventually… For now, I am going to finish this pot of tea and the book sitting by my feet. May your November be blessed and may you have the time to slow down and thank God for the blessings that surround us all. Love, Lou]

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)