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Interests: Running, going to cross country and track meets, reading, learning German, listening to music, hanging out with friends, watching movies, church growth, staring at the wall,
Expertise: Christian music, running strategy, checking my email just one more time, weirding people out, inadvertently scaring people
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When I was in eighth grade a student teacher administered a vocab quiz in which two of the words were scrambled. I was not amused, as one of the words I had barely studied because I knew it, and for the life of me I couldn't unscramble it. I don't remember what the word was, but I do remember crying a little (I was kind of an overachiever).
I've eased up a lot since then, but there are still times when I find myself playing games when I would prefer to be serious. Life in a foreign country is, in many ways, a game. It's Mad Gab as I try to decipher what the person who thinks he is speaking English is saying. It's charades as I pretend I know Japanese and make wild guesses based on gestures. It is hangman as I piece through handouts at my school.
In the game actually called, "Life" a person drives around picking a career, getting married, having kids, playing the stock market, and planning for retirement. Some days I wish life was that simple. But the reality is I didn't choose that. As hectic and crazy as my life here is, as I daily fry my brain with studying, I know that I will be bored once I go back to the States. Living cross-culturally is a roller coaster, and while after awhile one wants to get off, pretty soon, the same person wants to get back on.
|Yesterday the seventh graders at my school were reviewing numbers. To aid in this, the head teacher taught them the song "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe." After she reviewed the words and pronunciation with the students, she began to ask me about the meaning.|
"Buckle my shoe. What does that mean?"
"You know buckles on belts? They used to be on shoes too. So the person is saying, 'Mommy! Buckle my shoe!'"
"Pick up sticks?"
"Sticks are the wood at the top of trees. They fall down and people would pick them up to make fires out of them and keep warm."
"Lay them straight?"
I pantomimed arranging sticks in a straight line.
"A big fat hen." She knew what this meant, but was puzzled with the twist in the plot. A kid puts on his shoes, walks outside, closes the door behind him, gathers wood for the fire, arranges it nicely and encounters, a chicken?
"It rhymes. The words sound similar: two/shoe; four/door; six/sticks; eight/straight; ten/hen." Japanese doesn't do rhyme scheme. The teacher nodded in agreement, and one kid in the classroom called out, "I get it!"
I have to admit. It is a pretty meaningless song.
Though I am an assistant English teacher for a junior high, a kindergarten bus provides my transportation to school. This morning a little girl on my bus was crying. She is only three, and she is still getting used to being picked up by the bus instead of dropped off by her daddy. She has been upset almost every day since the school year began two weeks ago, but today was one of the harder cries. After squirming around, she wedged herself under a seat and wept. I've talked to her a lot these mornings and tried to console her despite the language difference. This morning, though, I just prayed and sang her a lullaby. It wasn't a magic charm, and it didn't work right away, but either time or reassurance from Jesus calmed her, and she allowed the kindergarten teacher to extricate her from her position and place her in a seat.
The little girl was riding behind me, and so I faced backwards for a portion of the ride. Now, I feel the consequences. Two hours and a dose of medication later, I still feel woozy and unsettled. Focusing my eyes is difficult and my stomach is queasy.
Exactly once in my life I have felt the effects of alcohol. Yet when it came, the feeling was familiar. I wasn't happy or cheerful or boisterous. No, I was tired and moody and nauseated. It was exactly the way I feel when I get motion sick. "This?" I marveled, "This is what everyone is so anxious to engage in? The exact feeling I have spent my entire life running from? The symptoms I have asked God to allieviate and for which I have so anxiously sought an antidote, this is what people spend exorbitant amounts of money to experience?"
There is a scene in the book, "Catching Fire" from the Hunger Games series in which Katniss and Pieta are at a fancy party hosted by rich people in the capital. When they are stuffed beyond stuffed the other partygoers urge them to take a substance that causes them to throw up, thereby allowing them to eat more of the the delicacies. Katniss and Pieta are both horrified. They have known starvation, yet in the Capital the food is so abundant that it is treated as a commodity to be disposed of. That is a little of how I feel, that the symptoms of which I have so consistently fought to be free are flung back in my face as a question: what is the matter with you that you don't enjoy alcohol? I didn't realize something had to be wrong with me if I choose to avoid the practice. I only engaged in it to begin with because I wanted to learn to consume alcohol without making a face. I've succeeded. I don't enjoy the game, but I can play the game.
This morning's discomfort was worth it. Had I to live it over again, I still would have turned around and sang over that little girl that Jesus loves her. And I believe in some capacity that all of this will be worth it. I will somehow be a better follower of Christ because I have experienced motion sickness and learned to function through the symptoms. Perhaps someday I will need to reach out to someone by consuming alcohol, yet despite my queasiness I will still be able to love them. I have learned to be cordial despite nauseation and affectionate despite headaches. And someday, I believe, someday it will all pay off.
|Empathy, or sympathy for that matter, isn't a trait that comes easily to me. I don't say this with pride. It is a fact, not an attribute to adorn my resume. My inability to walk in the shoes of others has made me far too inclined to shrug off the pain I watch people exude. However, that is not a place I can stay. I can't live there, not as a Christian, not as a human. I am called to love, and therefore I have to show compassion and mercy.|
God knew this, far better than I, and he did something about it. Sometimes I feel like I've gone through so much junk in my life. I don't know the entirety of why that has been, but I know one of the side effects is that I am a much more empathetic person because of it.
I'm not a perfect person, and if it weren't for the friends I've had I'd probably be a lot worse. Muslims? Definitely don't hate them. Not after Tasneem was my closest friend the first part of high school. She moved away sophomore year. Who replaced her? Matt, who senior year decided that he was a homosexual. It's kinda hard to be bigoted after that.
As a whole the football players at my high school didn't treat me well. So where was my first job? At my college post office, where I spent 4.5 years working under the football team's defensive coach and with a chunk of his players as coworkers.
My family traveled to Israel when I was 14. One evening at a hotel on the Sea of Galilee my mom chatted with a Palestinian waiter. He told us he was a Christian. Near the town of Bethany our tour bus stopped, and we handed candy and pens to the Bedouin children who crowded around and held out their palms. That trip changed everything about how I view Israeli/Palestinian dynamics.
I wasn't very empathetic to sports injuries until I got a ton of them. Stress factors, patellar tendinitis, plantar fascitis, IT band issues, I've had it all. I can now diagnose injuries by asking people to describe the pain.
Every year I was at college some member of the student body died. Sometimes I knew the person, sometimes I didn't, but it was a small college, and there was never more than two degrees of separation. There were suicides, car crashes, and a drowning. A close high school and church friend passed away when I was 20. I've lost a grandfather whom I loved very much, in addition to numerous other elderly church members who at the least showed great kindness to my family and at the most were like a third grandfather.
On 9/11 I had an aunt who worked in the world trade center, a cousin who worked for the government (I hadn't a clue as to which building), and I was from western Pennsylvania. Somerset? I've been there. Not only did it put me in shock that day, but I can recall the pain and the uncertainty that day brought, and that gives me a grid for other disasters that happen. I don't cast them off because I can remember.
Two years of basement living and three floods later, I know what it is like to be displaced. I've been on government assistance. I've been ridiculed on national television. I've slept a night in my car and I've walked under dressed over snowy roads. I've had great roommates, and awful roommates. I've had bosses who teach me what a boss should be, and bosses who never should have been in management. I've had culture shock, reverse culture shock, depression, bronchitis, allergies, motion sickness, a foot infection, raging fever, and my wisdom teeth out. I haven't had perfect vision since I was six and I spent a month partially deaf. I've never dated, but I have had my heart broken.
It isn't a perfect system: after twice spraining an ankle mid-run and in both cases finishing my workout before treating it, I haven't any empathy for Nancy Drew's friends who always seemed incapacitated by the injury. And having scraped knees, elbows, and what not countless times, I've become used to the pain and have to concentrate to show compassion when kids I nanny skin their knees. But it is a start. It is something. It has given me the ability to shed tears for others. I don't cheer for people at track meets because I care who wins. I cheer because I know the pain of running. Mercy still isn't my spiritual gift. But I am growing. And with each passing day I become more empathetic.
Two days ago a friend of mine was watching a movie, and since I was bored, I decided to join him. Adam is a big Star Trek fan, and most of what he brought with him is of that genre. I haven't seen much of this series, but thanks to the show The Big Bang Theory and the movie Galaxy Quest, I understand a decent amount of the premise. Over Christmas I also watched a two hour documentary on Star Trek that was released in honor of its 25th anniversary back in , but that is another story.
The movie Adam chose to watch that night was "Star Trek: First Contact" and features The Borg as its villain. Thanks to references in various conversations, as well as a couple jokes made during the birthing class I attended, I had an idea of what The Borg was. I was a little thrown off, however, when I realized just how scary this film was to me.
In part it was the screwdriver going through the eye. In part it was the shrieks of horror. But the biggest scare to me was the very idea of the Borg, that these beings could touch a person and immediately recruit them to their team.
I've had nightmares like that.
As I processed this the next day I realized that this movie and its premise address my deepest fears. When it comes right down to it what I fear far more than death is turning into someone I don't want to be. I don't want to be an instrument of evil. I don't want to lose who I am. I don't want to stop fighting for justice and mercy and peace and goodness to prevail on this earth. Granted, this and other movies fail to address the element of the human soul. Can a soul be stolen, whether by zombies, vampires, or the Borg? I don't believe it can. While my mind and flesh may be destroyed by war or time or illness, my soul belongs to God. No, it is a different element. There is much in this life I won't have control over. But as far as it is left to me, I want to continue being used by God and for God until the day I die. I don't want to lose sight of the end purpose. I want to remain focused on my savior and passionately pursue him, even if it means abandoning that which the world tells me I want. There is a lot the world says is scary, but nothing is truly as scary to me as losing sight of who I am and who I am called to be.