Friday, November 20, 2015

That moment when you have 2 free hours and 45 things to do

Last night I had two free hours, and I said to myself, "What shall I do with this rare and massive treat? How shall I use this enormous gift of time?"

And my mind started flooding with all the things I could do, and I started writing them down.

Things I want to do - November 18 2015

  1. Email E with my ideas on a topic that was discussed
  2. Finish a 30 x 40" painting for above my piano
  3. Paint 5 more canvases that I bought to make and hang on my living room walls
  4. Watch my most recent video course on marketing from Shaw Academy
  5. Reply to S's email
  6. Create a course for my jail team on how to teach effectively
  7. Record another chapter of the audiobook I'm working on
  8. Contact K, who I haven't heard from in a couple of months
  9. Do my dishes
  10. Worship the Lord in song
  11. Dedicate a couple of hours to prayer
  12. Make 24 quotes on Photoshop for decorations for E's wedding 
  13. Make, print, and mail Christmas cards to my friends & family
  14. Plan a girls' tea party for December
  15. Mail my rent payment 
  16. Write a blog post
  17. Develop a vision & framework for a business idea I have
  18. Develop a vision and purpose statement for my jail ministry
  19. Wrap Christmas presents for J, M, and M
  20. Run errands: Pick up hand soap, oatmeal, wrapping paper, etc.
  21. Sweep leaves off back porch
  22. Upgrade Finale
  23. Make a budget
  24. Make 2 apple pies
  25. Cook pumpkin
  26. Make carrot juice
  27. RSVP to the wedding invitation I got last week
  28. Sing through & record Psalm 119 in Song
  29. Write the account of the beginnings of our jail ministry
  30. Write a chapter in my book on suffering
  31. Write a chapter in my book on singleness
  32. Write a chapter in my book on education
  33. Revise and prepare my draft on witnessing
  34. Prepare a meal for the G's
  35. Pay car insurance
  36. Pay toll bill
  37. Pay trash bill
  38. Spend 30 minutes at the gym
  39. Read my most recent issue of World Magazine
  40. Read Writer to Writer, the book on writing advice that just came in from Amazon
  41. Read Crucial Conversations
  42. Spend 2 hours learning HTML
  43. Study one chapter in my Greek New Testament
  44. Clean garage cabinets with TSP
  45. Brainstorm time management

By taking care of the smallest and easiest things first, I was able to tick 7 of these items off in two hours (#8, 9, 15, 27, 35, 36, & 37).

That still leaves 38 items, some of which will take extravagant amounts of time (#3, 6, 12, 30, 31, 32). I have approximately 3 days a week where I can squeeze in 2 "free" hours to work on this stuff. If I can tick 2 items off the list each time (which is SUPREMELY optimistic), it will still take me 6 weeks to get through this list, which means it will take me until New Year's. And that's assuming that all these are one-off projects. A lot of the things on this list are recurring (#4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 20, 26, 30, 31, 32, 37, 38, 42, 43).

Is it just me, or is this a lot?

Does everyone have this many things going on in their head at once?

How do other people get everything DONE? I mean, I don't even have kids! If I do something like forget to eat, it's not that big of a deal. How do people do it when they have kids who won't let you forget to eat?

And this list is just the projects I have actually taken on.

There's a whole other list in my head of things that I would do if I only had time.

  • Offer piano lessons to kids at church
  • Study engineering or law
  • Study graphic design and animation
  • Learn programming and create apps
  • Create a children's storybook app with a fun idea I have
  • Create a video series to post on YouTube with instruction on hymn improvisation
  • Categorize the whole book of Proverbs with all the verses on each theme
  • Do hand embroidery on some fabric to make some fabulous artistic curtains for 7 windows in my house
  • Make and bottle my own homemade chai tea recipe for mass production
  • Compose and record (more of) my own music
  • Learn to (actually) play the guitar (well)
  • Learn French and Arabic and Mandarin. And German. And Russian. LOL.
  • Create a series of fun 5-minute videos on Biblical discipleship in Spanish
  • Campaign to end homelessness in Denver
  • Learn enough about woodworking to make a homemade shelf for my plants out of a pallet I have in my garage
  • Dig up a new 2'x10' section in my side yard for a garden that has better light next summer 

And this list is just the projects that I have in my head for "outside of work, in my free time." There's a whole other list of things in my head that I'm doing at work (as well as back burner projects that I want to do that my boss estimated would take me 2 years to complete if I did them all).

And then there's a whole other list of routine things that I'm already doing that take time that haven't been written down yet.

  • Working 8 hours a day
  • Sleeping 8-9 hours a night
  • Keeping my house clean 
  • Personal hygiene
  • Cooking & eating meals
  • Doing laundry
  • Weekly Bible Study in the jail (plus preparation and team meetings)
  • Church 2x a week
  • Frequent (1-2x/week) meetings with friends for coffee or dinner or just a chat
  • Phone calls, emails & texts

I really am curious: Do other people have this many things going on in their head at one time?

If so, how do you balance it all?
If not, how do you keep all these ideas out? Do you just kill them dead on the spot, or do they not even approach and knock for admittance in the first place?

I think I would feel bored and restless and sort of dead if I didn't have this much going on at one time. Juggling this many things makes me feel alive and purposeful and energized and happy. I take on all these things (and hold the other list of highly interesting things in the "pending" category) because it pleases me to do so. Of course, I also admit I'm riding on the fine line of keeping just under taking on too much, and sometimes I inadvertently take on one too many things and then it becomes stressful and I have to drop something. I had to drop guitar lessons last year about this time. It has been months since I have really had a chance to sit down and write. A bagful of my garden tomatoes rotted in my fridge before I got around to making them into tomato sauce. And I hope my apples and pumpkin don't rot before I make them into pies. So there is a limit. My precariously balanced pile of tasks can topple and crash if I'm not careful.

What I would prefer to do, if I could, would be to expand time to accommodate all the things I want to do, rather than having to compress or eliminate the things on my list.

It seems I'm not given the luxury of having my preference on that one.

However, there are always little advances that one can find to redeem every moment of time. Lately I've been operating in a sort of hyper-aware, extra-fast mode that is new to me. Rather than allowing myself to get lost or daydream or wander about aimlessly through tasks, I've been experiencing a sense of urgency and a level of energy that allows me to whisk through the mundane parts of my day and approach all these 45 fun and compelling and exciting things on my list with a focused intensity and an optimism that keeps it from becoming overwhelming. (I think the carrot juicing is at least partly responsible for this new speed and energy. Yay for carrot-beet-spinach-endive-tumeric-cucumber juice!)

But--the question remains:

What do YOU do when you have 2 free hours and 45 things to do?

  • How do you handle it? 
  • How do you prioritize wisely? 
  • How do you juggle the multiple demands of life? 
  • How do you defend the most important things from the louder "tyranny of the urgent"?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Taming the Paper Monster

I woke up this morning to this disorder and chaos in my dining room, and yet, strangely enough, I rejoiced and exulted over it with an immense satisfaction.

This situation caused me to see an analogy to how God can still rejoice over us even in the midst of our mess.

Usually my dining room looks perfectly tidy, and since the day I moved, I think this is the first time I have had any clutter or mess on my table overnight. So how could I have such a rush of pleasure upon having my first waking thought be the state of my dining room? Why would it give me such genuine thrills from the very depths of my being to see it in such a state?

Because of what I did in my dining room last night that caused it to be left in such a state.

Last night I finally worked up the courage to go through a certain blue rubbermaid bin. This bin has been weighing on my mind ever since I moved into this house, and I have been telling myself for 3 months that I needed to do it and trying to work up the courage to tackle it.

This rubbermaid bin was full of papers.

Papers have always been my worst enemy. Clutter from papers has always been my nemesis. Piles of papers, to me, have never been anything but a paralyzingly confusing puzzle to solve. I would stand there in the midst of my paper mess, looking dazedly at the problem, and finding it utterly daunting. I would wander aimlessly from one paper to another, pick it up, look at it, try to drag out of my brain a good idea for what to do with it, and put it back down only to repeat the process with a different paper.

For the last two years, I have had no system of organization, and in that time my papers grew to fill this Rubbermaid bin. I labeled this bin "the bin of death," and I regarded it with dread. Its existence grew to be a weight always present at the back of my mind. It was a giant, utterly disordered mixture of important and unimportant stuff, from still-unopened junk mail two years old to birthday cards to bank statements to things like my vehicle title and my passport. It was all such a jumble I would never have been able to actually FIND any of these documents if I had needed them.

Since June, the bin had sat in my garage. In July, I bought a filing cabinet at a yard sale. In August, I bought file folders and hanging folders. Still, I kept procrastinating on actually hauling it forth into the light to tackle it, mainly because of how impossible it seemed. All of my life, I had had problems with paper clutter, but never this bad.

But wonder of wonders! Last night I got the courage to pull it out.

And then the real miracle began.

One by one I looked at the papers, created a file folder for them, wrote the name neatly in calligraphy on the tab, and tucked the paper into its folder. (I know, amazing, right? Who would have thought to use folders to file papers?)

I had gone through the whole top layer of the bin when I realized that for the first time ever, this was easy. Nowhere to be found was the overwhelmed paralysis, the wandering aimlessly in circles, picking up a paper only to put it down somewhere else and pick up another one. Gone was the distress of losing massive amounts of time without actually getting anywhere. Strangely missing was the cluelessness of how to proceed that had hitherto always been with me when I worked myself up to tackle my papers.

And when it dawned on me that it was easy, I realized I was also enjoying myself immensely. With a surge of new energy, I knew that I would be able to tackle every paper down to very the bottom of the bin in this same way. With a feeling akin to euphoria, I whipped out my iPhone to document this incredible marvel.

For the first time in my life, I tamed the paper monster. I got through the whole box without ever being paralyzed once, and I completely organized the whole mess in one evening. I am the master of my papers rather than them being the master of me.

It was midnight, and I went to bed, leaving a couple of random, easy-to-do things on the table, knowing that the source of stress and procrastination was over. The bin is only half-full now (the rest got thrown away), and even what is still in the bin is just there to be carried back out to the garage to be placed neatly into the filing cabinet drawers, where it will rest in tranquility and order. And then the bin will actually be empty, and it will be freed up for storage of stuff more appropriate to its design.

It brought the most immense sense of relief and peace to have this weight off my mind, and I slept like a baby.

Praise and glory and thanksgiving be to the name of Jesus for enabling me to do this!!

It's no wonder, then, that I woke up this morning with that sense of relief and thankfulness and empowerment still fresh upon me. Walking into the dining room and laying my eyes on THIS was such a privilege and a joy.

Therefore, the fact that the dining room has a few things still to be attended to (which will be easy and quick) does not diminish my rejoicing in the least.

All of this caused me to think of the fact that God, in His infinite mercy and wisdom, sees our inner lives and notes the places where there is chaos and disorder (even when we've tucked it into an inconspicuous bin on the bottom shelf of the garage). In the fullness of time, He brings the bin out and starts to deal with it. One by one, piece by piece, He infallibly puts it in order. He rejoices over this work, because He loves us and desires us to see us walk in the light and conform to His image.

When we respond to His cleansing work and allow Him to bring up all these things that have long lain buried under a facade of apparent order, things surface that we haven't seen for a while. And if we don't have the perspective on the greater work God is doing, we could wake up in the morning and say, "Oh no! What happened to my dining room? It was always clean before!"

Trust me: I would much rather have a small quantity of papers on my dining room table overnight than to keep my dining room clean and have that bin of papers continually festering in the back of my mind for months on end. The difficult work is done, but the outward results don't necessarily show the whole story.

There's the bin in my garage. Pretty innocuous, wouldn't you agree? Who would ever guess that its contents would be such a big deal? An outsider just looking at this garage would just shrug and not see anything remarkable. You wouldn't guess that this bin was the source of so much distress and mental anguish over a prolonged period of time.

And that's like our lives. We have this one little section, this one little hidden area of sin, this thing that has been allowed to fester, where it's really not super urgent or a big deal if we take care of it or not. The world is not going to end if we procrastinate on it just a little longer. We know it's going to be daunting if we drag it out into the open where it needs to be if it gets taken care of. But as long as it is left unattended, our nemesis will continue to get the better of us.

As soon as I brought the bin into the house, the dining room got quite messy very quickly. At one point, the row of folders on the table got so long that I had to watch out that the front ones didn't slide onto the floor. And my garage wasn't that much better for the temporary absence of one bin. In fact, even after I have emptied out all the papers, the bin is still going to take up the same footprint in the garage that it always did. So for all outward appearances, things had progressed backward rather than forward.

Don't we usually stop right there when God begins to work in our lives? We freak out over the fact that things are looking worse rather than better, and we say, "You know what? No, I'm just going to shove that bin right back into the spot in the garage where it was when my dining room was always clean."

But then the problem will just have to be dragged out at some other time. The mail is going to continue to build up. The lack of a system for papers is going to cause me to begin to fill a second bin if I don't deal with the first one, and down the road it will be twice as much work to solve the problem. The chaos will contribute to extra loss of time and unneeded stress when I do something like decide to sell my vehicle and suddenly I realize I don't know where the title is, and I begin frantically digging through the bin and scattering all these same papers that I was unwilling to deal with when God pointed them out.

God does the heavy lifting in our lives, pulling out the bin and sitting down and sorting out the issues, and then He invites us to rejoice with Him. Let us rejoice, even if we see a couple more things that He is going to get to in the morning. Do not discount the quality and truth of rejoicing merely due to unworthiness on your part. Will I rejoice a little more when I pick up the last few things from my dining room and move all the folders to the filing cabinet? Absolutely. But my rejoicing over the fact that the paper bin was tamed was so sweet that for the moment no other issues were able to eclipse it.

What a Jesus we serve!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Garden: Before & after

The first weekend after I moved, I planted a garden in a lovely little 5' x 8' garden plot that a previous tenant must have created. It was grown over with grass and I had to dig it up by hand. I was pleased to find that I actually had rather nice soil, very loose and dark, with very few stones and a ton of earthworms. I added a bag of compost, a bag of "sheep & peat," and two bags of topsoil.

Then I planted some plants that I had bought from a local man and his wife who raised them in their greenhouse. They were the most beautiful little seedlings you could find.

I planted...

  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Amish Slicer (large tomatoes)
  • Sweet Million (cherry tomatoes)
  • Zucchini
  • Lemon cucumber
  • Burpee cucumber

I also bought a couple of herbs from Home Depot and put them in their own individual little pots: Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, and Peppermint.


Grass-grown plot

Digging up the grass was rather backbreaking. I was sore afterward!

Nice smooth level dirt, ready for plants.
I prepared it before I went to bed and then a heavy rain came overnight and drenched it. Brilliant!

My cute little seedlings

Seedlings successfully placed into the ground


I added a border of some landscaping stone I got at a yard sale, and planted some herb seeds in the section near the fence. 


All the work I did at the beginning has paid off. About a month later, my tomatoes are already higher than their cages and I haven't had to pull a single weed. 
Everything is flourishing except the basil and the zucchini, which the slugs keep eating

Cherry tomatoes will be ripe soon
A story about the zucchini: My poor little zucchini got eaten immediately by slugs. They ate all the leaves except for half of one leaf, and I thought it was surely going to die. I went to a local nursery and bought another zucchini plant and planted it next to the one that had received such a setback in its tender young life, and I expected it would die right away.

Except - the one from the nursery is now the one that looks like it is going to die, and the original one has sprouted a whole new set of leaves! I don't know how this happened, but it certainly makes me want to get my plants from the same people next year who grew such a robust zucchini plant.

1. Zucchini plant that got almost completely eaten and is coming back.
2. Zucchini plant that came from the nursery

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I moved!

The Lord is so good to me.

I rented a house! For the first time in my life, I have space to call my own. Objectively, it's just a 500-square-foot house, but to me, it is a palace, with gold floors and sapphire trim and diamond windows.

Here are a couple of pictures of my darling sweet little home.


Dining Room

Living Room


(and a glimpse of the tiny little bathroom & hallway between the dining room & bedroom)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The surprising story of my rejection at the Canada border (part 5)

The final saga of the events that unfolded last year around this time

Part 5: A door definitively closed, and restoration of what I had lost

It was so unexpected to have this intended plan completely not work out, but it felt to me like life from the dead. In a manner as definitive and unarguable as the Canadian Border Authorities, God closed the door.

I felt like Abraham, sacrificing his son on the altar. They were at the top of Mount Moriah. Isaac was on the altar. The knife was raised. And suddenly, God called to Abraham and said “Stop.” He let him get all the way to that point before he detained the final move. He didn’t let Abraham see that he was going to be stopped until the last minute. And God said, “Now I know that you will not withhold even your only son from me.” In Hebrews, it said that Abraham was “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure.” 

In just the same way, I felt like I had been detained at the last minute. “Stop,” God declared. “Now I know that you are willing. You have not withheld your dreams, your future, your house from me. You have declared yourself to be totally available to me, and I have accepted it. Now go back to Colorado and do the work I have for you to do.”

An overwhelming sense of relief flooded over me. Life from the dead was better than life that had never died. I was not only getting my life back, I was now freed from all the thorns of merimnao that had been choking me. 

I was not misguided after all in feeling like it was the Lord who had led me to put down roots and settle in Colorado. I had given up my dreams, and they had died, and I had mourned, but what I was getting back was like a fresh new slate, a life that God could guide, a walk of newfound dependence on the Lord. It would be daily, it would be dependent, it would not count on tomorrow, but it was rooted so much more firmly in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

I made the comment to my mom on the phone, “I thought I couldn’t see beyond the next 3 months, but I found out I actually couldn’t see beyond the end of the day.” The Lord re-fixed my focus on Him, and not on the length of time that I could discern the future.

I got back to Colorado on Thursday evening, April 25, and wonder of wonders, in a series of events that I didn't even ask for, I got my books back, I got my kitchen stuff back, and I got my stuff back out of the yard sale pile where I had put it. It had been sacrificed, and I didn't expect to see it again, and here it was, still mine, but the tentacles of possessiveness and materialism and merimnao (the cares of this life) had been severed. Now it was just stuff. I was beyond grateful to get it back, but I was also free from the clutches that these things had over me.

On Monday (April 28), I got a call from the father of the family in Canada, saying he had talked to a member of Parliament from his district, and she had expressed surprise that I had gotten turned away at the border. “That shouldn’t have happened to her,” she said, and committed to look into it.

She later called them back after looking into my case, and they updated me on Tuesday (April 29). He said that the Parliament member had spoken to the immigration authorities at the border where I had tried to cross and had found out that I have been labeled forever as a “nanny attempter” and that there was no way to override that decision. Therefore, whenever I ever try to enter Canada for any reason in the future, I will be detained and questioned and suspected. There was nothing more that the Parliament member could do.

On Wednesday (April 30), I received a final email that said, “I also thought of more questions for our Member of Parliament, regarding...whether there was any appeal system in place for you to get your "criminal record of stealing nanny jobs from Canadians" pardoned. What my MP office said is that as far as trying to get you off the "most wanted list" there is no appeal system in place to plead your innocence. So I asked the lady if you wanted to fly from Denver, CO to Calgary, AB for a vacation you wouldn't be allowed in and she said that is right, you would not be allowed in. The lady in the office did have some suggestions for you if you wanted to still get into Canada in the near future.(wouldn't blame you if you didn't) but none the less she suggested contacting Canadian Immigration, to apply for a visitor visa, this would cost you $200.00 and some time spent dealing with gov't officials. She also suggested you could go to the Canadian Consulate in Denver (1625 Broadway street) and work through them. The lady at the office was very helpful and knowledgeable about immigration and was willing to talk to you if you had any questions about the situation you find yourself in. This is for your info only and if you wanted to know more about your situation. Like I said before, I wouldn't blame you if you wouldn't want to talk to another Canadian official ever again.”

I wrote back and replied, “I really appreciate your words of thanks and affirmation in this whole process. I also thank you for taking the time to do this research and find out these things for me. Right now I do not have any foreseeable need to visit Canada, but it is good to know the procedures and contact information should I need to go the route of getting a visa. And I am not one to hold a grudge, so it hadn't even crossed my mind to be like "I don't want to talk to another Canadian official ever again." Do you know what I feel like? I feel like I am reading a book, and the author throws in a little twist to the story in one of the characters lives that seems insignificant at the time but that will become significant later on. Right now, I'm like, "Oh my, I'm a nanny attempter. Big deal." But I have this feeling that later on down the road, there might be some reason that I urgently need to go back to Canada, and I won't be able to because of this little incident. However, this is not a cause for foreboding; this is a cause for excitedly anticipating the way the Author will work things out.”

So that closed the door definitively on all my potential for appeal, leaving me free to pursue the call of God on my life in the present moment, in the present place, and trust Him for the coming steps. I am rooted in Him, hidden in Him, and delighted to have Him back in the driver’s seat. 

To God be all the glory.

The End.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The surprising story of my rejection at the Canada border (part 4)

The events of one year ago, continued...

Part 4: The Canadian Border Authorities' gracious boon

The next day I got on the road at 5:00 am. I drove up through the wild, vast, uninhabited stretches of North Dakota and got up to the Canada border about 4:00. The drive was a pleasant and delightful time spent with the Lord, in which I composed a song called "Wake Up the Mighty Men" as a call to the mighties of this generation to come and die (to self and the flesh) and rise up and do exploits for the kingdom of God. The refrain echoes the cry of the Moravian missionaries who called from the ship as it was pulling away from the shore, "Is not the Lamb who was slain worthy to receive the reward of his suffering?" I was very excited about the song and in a pleasant and happy frame of mind due to the joy of having spent almost two whole days alone in the car with Jesus.

Approaching the border, I had not the least nervousness. In my mind, there was no way anything could go wrong. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so why should anything go wrong? I would just be upfront with them and explain the situation and they would understand and let me through. I drove up to the stop sign and stopped. A guard came over to my car.

“Purpose of your trip?” she said.

“Well, I guess you could call it a mission trip,” I said. “There’s a family, and the mom just died, and I’m going to stay with them for a few weeks and homeschool the girls and take care of the house for them.”

The guard asked me to go over to the side area and park. “Uh oh… this is not a good sign,” I thought.

She came over to my car and asked me a series of other questions: How long was I staying and did I have a job at home and how was I being supported and what was the name of my church and had we contacted immigration previously and what was this family’s address. I answered her questions. She left briefly and made a call. Then she asked me to step into the office. “Uh oh… this is really not a good sign,” I thought.

I stood and waited in the office for several minutes, still not really believing that anything could happen. Of course I would get through the border.

The guard came and summoned me to a back room. I followed her, thinking, “Oh, boy, we are going to the back room. This is really not good. Are they going to arrest me or something?” Another male guard accompanied us. We entered a small, bare room with a table and three plastic chairs that were bolted in place. It looked like the classic interrogation room you see in the movies. No artwork, no wallpaper, no beautifying touches. It was simple, stark, hard. The female guard motioned to me to have a seat.

“You are going to be allowed to leave Canada,” she said, as if she were granting me a gracious boon. “We cannot allow you to come into the country, because your entry would deny a potential job to a Canadian citizen. You should have contacted Immigration for a visa to do this kind of work. In order for you to come back, the family will have to get a Labor Market Opinion from Immigration, and that is practically impossible to obtain. It’s not a thing you can get in a day or a week; it’s something that takes months if you get it at all. If you should attempt to come back into Canada at another crossing, you will be banned from Canada for a year. You can make a U-turn and enter back into the American side. I will tell them that you’re coming.”

She also asked me to bring her a copy of my driver’s license and vehicle registration, so I went back out to the car to get it and brought it back to her in the main reception area of the office. She spent quite a long time entering all the details of all of my documents into the system. (I later found out, when a member of Canadian Parliament looked into my case, that she had labeled me irrevocably as a "nanny attempter" and that I will have difficulty getting into Canada for the rest of my life because of that.) As I was standing there, bewildered, surprised at the way things were progressing, the primary thought in my mind was, “Don’t be upset. This is of the Lord.”

I did, however, gently try to press for more details. “Is there anything I can do to change this?”

“No, there’s nothing you can do. The family will have to get a Labor Market Opinion. That is all.”

“So just to verity, without that document, there would be no way for me to enter the country?” I asked.

“That is correct.”

“What if the length of the trip were shorter?” I asked. “I'm going to North Carolina on May 9” (which was only two and a half weeks away).

The smallest flicker of hesitation crossed the guard’s face before she hid it behind a steely official demeanor. “Your denial is related to the purpose of your trip, not to the length of your trip,” she stated. Her posture and attitude were adamant.

Last look through my back window at the border crossing station

She gave me back my documents and made a phone call to the US side of the border crossing, letting them know I would be coming over. I drove around the building and crossed back into the US side. The guard asked me the reason for my denial. “I was going to stay with a family for a few weeks and I guess they think that is going to deny a Canadian a job,” I said with a shrug. The guard asked me to pull forward and pop my trunk. He opened it and looked in for about one second before closing it. “You’re good to go.” I drove off.

In the middle of all that, I got a text from the father of the family I was due to have visited, asking if I was close. I texted back and told him they just denied me at the border. I also tried to make a call to Ellerslie, but I didn’t have any signal. I finally made it back to the nearest town in North Dakota, where I had signal again. I called the father of the girls. “They just denied me at the border. I’m so sad,” I said. While I had remained calm at the immigration office, my voice now threatened to break. But I took a deep breath. This man didn’t need a breakdown over the telephone. We talked about the Labor Market Opinion that they had asked for, and I gave him a telephone number that they had given me to call.

Then I called Ellerslie and told them what had happened and asked them to pray. They expressed their condolences and asked what our plan was. I said I was headed for a nearby town (looking for one a bit larger than where I was), where I would have cell service and just hang out and wait to see if anything changed.

I talked to my Canadian host again after he had put in a call to the phone number I had given him. He said that the person he spoke with on the phone there was very much more sympathetic and that she had invited me to call her to see if we could get anywhere.

I called that number and spoke with the same person the man had spoken with. I started saying, “…and he said you had suggested that I call you—“ when she interrupted me with a very curt manner, saying, “No, that is not what I said to him. What I did say was that I would have no ability to override the decision that was made at the border. If they said he will have to get a Labor Market Opinion, then he will have to get a Labor Market Opinion.”

I called and told him what she had said. By then I was back in the closest town that was large enough to have a hotel, and we decided that I should get a hotel for the night and try again to cross the border in the morning. The girls' grandfather very kindly paid for the hotel. As we continued to communicate, we decided to write two letters, one from the father explaining the situation, and one from me asking that the border officials re-define the way they were labeling my proposed trip from some kind of work to a personal visit. We planned to print the letters out and bring them to the border officials the next day to see if that would change anything.

I stayed the night in the hotel, got up in the morning, checked out, and drove back up to the tiny little town that was close to the border. In the meantime, the father and his girls drove down from their home in Canada and crossed the border into the United States (which they were readily able to do). 

We met and had lunch. It was great to meet them, and we spent a couple of hours visiting. They told me that when they crossed the border, they stopped over on the Canadian side and talked with the people there. The father said they knew exactly who I was, and he said they were absolutely unwilling to work with him. They wouldn’t take the the letters or even read them. So he did not suggest that I try again.

After our lunch, the family drove back up to Canada and I drove back to Colorado.


Monday, April 20, 2015

The surprising story of my rejection at the Canada border (part 3)

[A continuation of the story of Canada, with the events that happened on this day last year]

Part 3: Final preparations and setting off

The next day was Easter Sunday. Pastor Eric called me up to the front before the message and announced that I would be going to work with the family he had mentioned who needed help with their homeschooling for a few months. 

Someone in the back said, “Yaaay!” and everyone burst into applause. I felt so valued, so supported, so validated by the church. I knew they wanted me to go, not because they wanted to get rid of me, but because they felt like I would be a valuable addition the household of this family, and they believed in my capacity to do the work. 

Eric prayed for my time in Canada and I went back to my seat. After church, lots of people came up and congratulated me and expressed excitement for what I was doing. They asked when I was leaving, and I said, “Tomorrow.” I said this by faith, because I had so many things still to do, but I thought I might still be able to get it all done.
Story of my life: Sorting through the tornado

Bethany and I went home and ate Easter dinner and then went to my room and talked while I sorted through the tornado that was my room. It was a daunting, overwhelming level of disaster, but I slowly worked through it. It was still not done when I went to bed, so I let the father of the family know that I was slightly delayed and would not be able to leave early in the morning.

Monday morning, April 21, Bethany had the day off work, so she helped me again to get finished sorting through all the stuff. She packed boxes that I couldn’t bring myself to figure out what to do with, labeled things, and stacked everything that was done outside my door. Finally, I was all done. The last bit of luggage was stuffed into the trunk of my car, I had a lunch packed, and I had my directions all written out. 

I left at about 1:30 pm, drove to Mount Rushmore, snapped a couple of quick pictures of the iconic figures carved in stone (somewhat disappointed to note that they seemed much smaller than I had always expected them to be), and stayed the night at a cheap hotel I had reserved in Rapid City, SD.

Funny story about that hotel: it had to have been the worst experience I have ever had at any hotel anywhere (even worse than the cheap hostel I stayed at in Gibraltar--and that was a bad enough story already!). 

I knew it was going to be bad when I walked into the hotel and and the lobby smelled like cigarette smoke and cat pee. I would have walked right back out if it weren't for the fact that my reservation was non-refundable. The front desk clerk informed me that the continental breakfast was canceled and showed me to my "non-smoking" room, which smelled so strongly of smoke that my throat started swelling up. "Oh, well," I thought, "For one night I can stand it."

I got ready for bed early and lay down on the bed. The mattress was lumpy and sagging and sloped towards the floor, so no matter which way I lay, I felt like I would fall off. Therefore, I pulled the sheets and blanket off the bed and slept on the floor, which was infinitely more comfortable due to its consistent firmness. 

As I prepared to grin and bear it for the night, I was contemplating the bad review I was going to write about this hotel, but I said to myself, "I should look for SOMETHING positive to say. At least it's quiet." 

I was just dropping off to sleep when somebody pounded loudly on my door. So much for it being quiet. "Who's there?" I said, jumping up. No answer. I looked out the peephole. No one in sight. I lay back down on the floor. Five minutes later, BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. They were at it again, pounding as if with the flat of their hand with great force on my door. What in the world was this? I was annoyed. "Who is there?" I yelled indignantly. Again, no answer. I looked out the peephole. Again, no one in sight, but it sounded like a faint moaning sound was coming from near the floor. Now I was really awake. I called the front desk. "Someone is pounding on my door," I said. "Can you please take a look in the hallway and see what is going on?" I heard a man come up to the hallway and talk with the person on the floor. "Oh, it's you." They had a conversation that sounded like they were on a first-name basis with each other and the guy left the person there. Bizarre. 

It took me a long time to fall asleep after that. Around 4:15 in the morning, the guest in the room next to mine woke me up with incessant coughing (no doubt due to the wretched air quality) with a loud, throaty, guttural cough that literally sounded as if they must be dying. The smell in the air made it unbearable to stay in the room any longer, so I hurried to get my stuff and leave. 

And then, if it wasn't already bad enough, I found I had received one additional gift in the night: bedbug bites. Fortunately I had taken the precautions of setting my luggage up on the luggage rack, so I successfully got away without any little hidden hitchhikers, but I was never so happy to be rid of a place in my life. 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The surprising story of my rejection at the Canada border (Part 2)

Part 2: Practical steps toward leaving

On Saturday, April 19, 2014, one year ago today, I was in the process of transferring up to Canada, and my friend Bethany offered to help me to figure out what to do with the rest of my stuff. We went up to the attic together and started making three piles: Yard sale, Keep in the Attic, and Bring to my Room.

Little by little, we sorted all the stuff into the three piles, and the yard sale pile was the biggest. Reluctantly, I put perfectly good items that I would have liked to use in the future into the yard sale pile, because I didn’t think I would ever have a life that would accommodate the use of those items. My antique chair, my mop bucket, my artist’s easel, more books, more odds and ends. Then with the help of Andrew (the son of the family I live with), we started an assembly line-style brigade to bring all the boxes down from the attic. I took everything down the first flight of stairs, Bethany took it down the second, and Andrew put it into the gym where the family was collecting stuff for a yard sale they were about to have.

We were on the first or second box when John (the father of the family I live with) looked up from working on his car and asked me a question in a mystified tone of voice. “Rebekah, do you have ANY long-term goals for your life?”

That hit me deep. I couldn’t answer, for I was instantly in tears. So far, I had successfully pushed away the hurt of getting rid of all this stuff, but now it descended onto me in an unstoppable flood. To John, whose logical mind processed the facts of what I was doing, but who could not see the spiritual significance of it, my actions would have been incomprehensible. Me getting rid of all this stuff didn’t make any sense. It seemed arbitrary, random. I had been talking about my goal of buying a house, and now I was getting rid of all the stuff I could put in that house. Quitting my job and going up to Canada for a 3-month stint would have seemed like insanity, especially when I had no idea what I would do after that.

I thought back over the large collection of 3-month stints I had spent my life on, and the enemy doubled up his attack in my thoughts, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as an attack. "Long-term goals? You’re not allowed to have any. You tried that. You tried settling down and putting down roots and setting long-term goals, and what good was it? They were there only to get stripped away from you. There is no long-term goal setting for you. You will never have stuff, and you will never have anything nice. Here you are, giving it all away."

I tried to give John an answer, but I didn’t want him to see me crying, and I couldn’t speak without it coming out in sobs, so I just carried the boxes down the stairs with the tears silently coursing down my cheeks. Bethany, who took the boxes from me, was the only one who noticed, and she stood up for me. “Live for Jesus!” she said. “Spend your life for eternal things! Don’t listen to the world’s version of success!” Little by little, the whole big yard sale pile made its way out to the gym, and I went back to my room, still ragged with emotion. I sat down in the corner of my closet and just dissolved into a self-pitying lump of tears. For a while I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, but Bethany came and found me and got me working again, and I made it through some of my stuff, but not all by the end of the day. (Thank the Lord for Bethany! She was a true friend in that whole process.)

To everyone else, it was just stuff, but to me, it was my stuff, and not only that, it was the only stuff I had. So to get rid of it meant stripping myself down to nothing, and that was scary. But I chose to continue walking forward in that direction anyway, trusting that it was the way God was leading me to go, and walking in the light that I had.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The surprising story of my rejection at the Canada border (Part 1)

Today is the one-year anniversary of quitting my job at the bank in order to go up to Canada, and the unexpected results that followed that decision have left me in the place I am in today. I have not told the full story to very many people, but I offer it for your enjoyment here on the one-year anniversary. I have withheld names to protect the privacy of the family concerned in this story.

Part 1: Background and Preparations

On Sunday, March 30, 2014, I was at church. Pastor Eric got up before the morning message to make an announcement. He put up a woman's picture on the screen and told us that she had passed away due to lung cancer. She and her whole family (husband and four daughters, age 9-15) had attended Ellerslie previously. Ellerslie had sent a delegation, including Eric, to the funeral, and they had just gotten back from that. Eric described how he expected to go up there and find them weak, broken, and needing support and comfort, but what they found was smiling faces, strength, and the family looking for what they could do to support everyone else. He said it was an amazing picture of grace. Ellerslie had raised some money to bring up to the family, but instead, the father was handing Eric money for Ellerslie, something that had been raised at a men’s conference. All in all, the family demonstrated amazing resilience in the face of their loss. Eric asked the father if there was anything Ellerslie could do to be the body and provide help and support, and he said, “Well, our girls have been homeschooled, and it would be a big help if we could get someone to come up and homeschool them through the rest of the school year.” Eric announced this need to the body.

I was listening to this story, and immediately, as he mentioned the need for a teacher, I felt a leaping up of response in my soul. “Maybe that could be me,” I thought. At the same time, my friend Bethany, who was sitting next to me, elbowed me in the ribs. So someone else thought it could be me, too. It was food for thought, at any rate.

Over the next couple of days, I thought very hard and prayed about whether I would make any initial move towards offering my services to this family. There were a lot of factors that I had to consider in order to count the cost. I was working at a job with a regular salary and benefits. I would have to quit my job. I had a certain amount of stuff. I would have to get rid of stuff or find a place to put it. Picking up and leaving was easier when my home base was my parents’ house, because I could just leave everything the way it was in my room, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone here in Colorado, people who weren’t my family. I couldn’t just expect other people to store my stuff. There was also the factor of my goals. Over the past year, I had been working determinedly to save up the money to buy a house. I was tired of living a nomadic, unstable life. I had decided I wasn’t going to do that any more. In fact, I had turned down a very amazing-sounding trip to Vietnam for this very reason. I was going to settle in Colorado, buy a house, and live in it. I was going to live a normal life. I had gotten some kitchen and household items at yard sales, and I was looking forward to putting these things in my house and using them. I had gotten some cookware for Christmas, and I was excitedly anticipating getting my own place and using these items to cook delicious meals and show hospitality.

During those time, I listened to two different versions of Eric’s message, “Hero Training.” In this message, he teaches the meaning of the Greek word merimnao, which means worry, cares, or anxiety. The Bible teaches to take no thought for your life. Spend yourself for the weak, the vulnerable, the orphan, but do not spend an ounce of merimnao on yourself for your own issues (what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear). I realized that in a large measure, I had traded in the “no merimnao” life for the worldly life full of cares and worries. I had somehow allowed myself to enter into the rat race after successfully evading it for so long. I had fixed my eyes on house, food, and possessions, and little by little, this was choking me like the thorns choked the seed in the parable of the sower, causing it to become unfruitful. I wrote a blog post where I detailed the things that I was processing regarding rejecting merimnao, and I determined to reject the life of merimnao.

Two or three days after I heard Eric’s announcement, I made a call to give a simple expression of interest in the position. I also made initial inquiries to a number of different sources in order to determine whether there would be any obvious closed doors or insuperable obstacles. I talked to my parents. I talked to people around me. I had some volunteer commitments that I wanted to make sure I was not going to drop. I got an initial favorable reaction from all these sources.

The ball got rolling, slowly. I was in communication with Ellerslie, and Ellerslie was in communication with the family in Canada. 

On Saturday, April 5, Ellerslie forwarded me an email from the father, explaining his vision for the position. From that email, I gathered that the dates they wanted someone to come were April 19 through June 28, I got a brief introduction to the girls, and I heard the heart of what they was looking for (someone to manage the house as well as handle the homeschooling). I emailed Ellerslie back that same day and told them I was getting an initial yes to all of it. In the email, I mentioned that the only thing that might be a slight glitch was that I was going on vacation from May 9-19, and I wondered if the family would be okay with me leaving for that.

On Thursday, April 10, I talked to Ellerslie and asked, “Is it for sure? Should I put in my notice?” They indicated that it was not nailed down yet, but I had the gut feeling that it was going to work out, so I started taking action and doing preparations to free myself up.

In taking action, I was deliberately giving up my dream of having a house. I was stepping over a line. I was dying to my love of stuff and purposely turning away from the pursuit of my own comfort, my own provision, my own future. I was placing myself back into the sphere of depending fully and exclusively on God for my future. I was following through with the logical consequences of my belief. If I was going to live for myself, then I was going to keep my stuff, make as much money as I could, and fight to defend my own interests. On the other hand, if the Lord was showing me that I was not to have a house and just continue to be a mobile agent in His kingdom, then the most logical thing to do would be to make myself as mobile as possible, letting go of the weight of possessions that tied me down.

This was the logic of my decision, and I acted on it, but the actual outworking of it was excruciating. 

First I got rid of my books. That day (Thursday), I asked if Ellerslie would accept some books in the Ellerslie library, and they said they would. I immediately went home, loaded up my car with five boxes of my beloved Christian books, drove back to Ellerslie, and dropped them off. I loved my books. They were close to my heart. But I ruthlessly cut them off, didn’t allow myself to really look at them, shut my mind from thinking about whether or not I wanted them, gave them away, and didn’t look back. One thing that helped was that I said to myself, “I haven’t had access to my books for years anyway. They were at home in my bookshelves in Tennessee while I was overseas, and then they have been sitting in boxes ever since I have been here. They might as well be used and enjoyed by somebody. And anyway, I have already read almost all of them, and if I need to refer to them again, I can just go get them at Ellerslie.” Thus I was resigned to the departure of the books.

On Friday, April 11, I received an email from Ellerslie, stating that they had passed on my contact information to the family in Canada and that I would be hearing from them soon. I wanted to make initial contact with them right away to introduce myself and nail down a few of the details, but I felt I was supposed to wait on them to contact me first. So I waited.

On Saturday, April 12, I still had not heard from anyone. I got up and went to work, and I knew it was time to put in my notice, even though I had not heard from them. In order to make it up to Canada by the start date he was asking for, this was my last opportunity to put in my notice, and even still, it was only going to be a one-week notice. I couldn’t make it any shorter than that, knowing that we were already short-staffed at work. I went through the first hour of the morning with a pounding heart and a sense of tense anticipation, knowing I was going to have to talk to the manager to give her my notice, but not being able to work up the courage to do it. Finally I went to her office when she was not in there, took a piece of paper, and wrote down what I wanted to say. I explained that I was giving my 1-week notice and that my last day would be Friday, April 18. I left the paper on her desk. Then I watched to see when she would go in and find it. I knew it would be a devastating blow to her, because we had experienced so much turnover, and I really didn’t want to ruin her day. However, she took it pretty well and expressed positive affirmation for what I was going to do in Canada.

Now that I had put in my notice, I knew I needed to start taking drastic action if I was going to be able to get organized before my departure. I had a lot of stuff, both in my room and up in storage in the attic above the shop at the house where I was living.

On Sunday, April 13, I was talking with a friend in the evening, and I asked her about her upcoming wedding and if she was registered anywhere. I then asked if she might be able to use some kitchen stuff that I had. She said that might definitely be a blessing. I then asked her about my bedroom set, and she said she probably wouldn’t have room for that. Then it dawned on me that I had just been at the home of a family from church, and I had gone down to the basement for a tour, and I had noticed that there was no furniture in the basement bedroom, so I thought I might contact them regarding my bedroom set. I emailed them and that ended up working out perfectly.

On Monday, April 14, two guys from church came over to get my bedroom set. I was just leaving for work, so I just had to show them where it was and leave them to it, but off it went. Again, this bedroom set was something I was attached to. It had belonged to my great grandmother. I had used it ever since I was a little girl. Every time I went overseas, I told my family, “You’d better not get rid of that bedroom set.” Even though it wasn’t very pretty, it was made of solid wood and the drawers were spacious and worked well and the dresser had a large mirror. Ultimately, it was better quality than anything I could afford to buy. And now I was just sending it away on a truck.

On Tuesday, April 15, I had the day off work. I went up to the attic and started going through my stuff. Here was all my kitchen stuff. It was lovely stuff, and it was almost a comprehensive enough amount to completely cover any need I could have in the kitchen. I started initially trying to sort through it, but it was impossible. I would have to simply give the boxes away, sight unseen, or I would never get through it. They were all nicely packed and neatly labeled, so I knew what was in them. A sort of mixed joy and sorrow fought within me, joy that I was giving my friend stuff that was really nice, good quality, and useful--and sorrow that I was going to part with it. There was a Kitchenaid mixer, lovely glassware, lots of casserole dishes, my beautiful silver-plated flatware that I loved, and much, much more.

As I walked down from the attic with box after box of my kitchen stuff, I couldn’t help experiencing a flood of thoughts. An attack and counterattack raged, as doubts assailed my mind and faith replied to the challenge.

“This is all your kitchen stuff!”

“Yes, I know.”

“You have spent your lifetime collecting this stuff. You can never get it back.”

“Maybe I don’t need it back.”

“You are giving away the entire contents of your hope chest.”

“My hope is in the Lord, not in my stuff.”

“Think of the cost of replacing all this.”

“That’s ok. It will be a blessing to the person I give it to.”

Despite my persistent rebuff of the doubts, I could feel my spirits sinking, and I sensed that I was close to tears. I fought it off. “No, I will not be sad. I will rejoice. I choose to rejoice.” I loaded up the final box into my car. Fourteen boxes. My car was full: trunk, back seat, front passenger seat. I drove off.

Not two minutes down the road, the tears came. I made a verbal proclamation of my joy and rejoicing while the tears coursed down my cheeks and the sobs came in little gasps. The flesh would mourn, in spite of my best intentions, but I paid it no heed and reaffirmed my verbal declarations of joy. I would not take the flesh’s road, even if I could not override its tears.

By the time I got to Ellerslie, I was composed enough to walk in and cheerfully greet my friend. “I have some kitchen stuff in my car for you to look at.” She came out and was amazed at the amount of stuff I had brought. We ended up getting some guys to help us put it into one of the bedrooms in the dorms so that she could look at it later. Genuine rejoicing got the upper hand while I was talking to her, and I was able to say things like, “Oh, you will love this! Look at this one! Here is some silverware! AND—you have a Kitchenaid!” My friend was excited. “Oh, wow, this is like Christmas!” she said. So I left my kitchen stuff behind. I was leaving for another country, and I didn’t know if I would ever be coming back, so it just made sense.

I drove away, spent, exhausted, and still raw from the ripping away of stuff that I was attached to. I cried off and on later throughout the day. I remember driving to a local coffee shop to do some computer work, and before I went in, I got a phone call from a person I was doing some volunteer work for, and I sat in my car talking to him. I had spoken to him briefly on the phone right at the outset of my drive over to Ellerslie, and I had made a comment about how I had my car full of boxes. He asked me about what I was doing. I told him I had donated some books to Ellerslie and some kitchen stuff to my friend. He said, “I would not have gotten rid of your books if I was you.” I tried to assume an air of nonchalance in replying, “Oh, yes, I really liked my books. They were great. It was hard to get rid of them.” My books, though, were not the raw, painful sore in my soul. They were the part I could flippantly and cheerfully discuss. The caller pointed out that I could have put them in storage. He gave me the idea of having every box of my stuff labeled with a number in storage, and having an Excel document with all the contents of the boxes, and then I could go anywhere in the world and ask for box 1 and somebody could ship it to me. “That’s a brilliant idea!” I exclaimed. Somehow it had not occurred to me that I could store my stuff, or reclaim it by shipping. Ultimately, I believe it was because the cost would have been so prohibitive that it never even entered my head as an option. He offered me space in his storage unit, and I gratefully realized that God was providing everything I needed in order to sort out my stuff.

Wednesday through Friday (April 16-18), I pretty much worked full time and didn’t make any additional progress towards settling my affairs. I left my job on the 18th with not many regrets. Everything had changed over the last two months and it was not a fun place to work anymore. Nevertheless, it was a job, and now I was striking out into the unknown, with no guarantee of the future.

Part 1 of 5. Read part 2