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Today is Good Friday, and my husband and I are taking this day to reflect on the life changing impact of what happened so many years ago at Calvary.  We’ve been humbled as we have both pondered the immensity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, namely that, because of that sacrifice, we can be reconciled to God.  What an undeserved, and certainly unearned, gift.  We will celebrate Resurrection Sunday–or Easter Sunday–in a couple of days and rejoice that Christ rose from the dead and completed the task of opening the path of salvation to anyone who would accept it.

This Easter season has also been a time in which Leon and I have experienced firsthand how the Lord sometimes moves in one’s life.  It has been a rollercoaster ride, to be sure.  After all, we humans tend to get comfortable in our little situations and have a hard time seeing anything other than what is in front of us.  In our case, we were pretty comfortable–until a few weeks ago.

Several weeks ago, things were moving along according to the routine that we had settled into for so long and to which we were adapted.  We woke up early, commuted into the city together, worked a long day at our respective offices, commuted home together, and usually threw something together for dinner by about 9 pm.  Then it was time to crash and get ready to do the same thing all over again the next day.  It was tiring, to be sure, and Leon and I both felt like the professional culture of the workplace in D.C. left much to be desired.  It also left us both emotionally and physically exhausted.  However, we were determined to serve where we were at the time and wanted to work hard.

I’ve often heard that sometimes the Lord has to do a complete life makeover, i.e. shake everything up in your life, in order to get you into the position He wants you in.  Leon and I can now say that we had that happen in our first year of marriage.

The first tremors happened when I started waking up in the mornings feeling nauseated and had to run to the bathroom.  Getting through the work day was more difficult than usual–I did not want to eat, the smells of my coworker’s Chinese food made my stomach turn, and by about 3 pm I just wanted to curl up in some comfortable pajamas and sleep.  A little test called First Response soon confirmed our suspicions; much to our delight two pink lines popped up on the stick, and I yelled out, “Honey!  We’re having a baby!”  We were ecstatic and felt truly blessed to begin the journey towards parenthood (Baby Gil is due in October 2013).

Then the figurative rug was pulled out from under us.  Shortly after we learned that we were expecting, Leon and I both lost our jobs.  It all happened quickly and we did not have much time to process what was happening.  Anyone who has gone through job loss knows the feeling–you feel shock, sadness, anger, disbelief, and a whole other range of emotions that hits either in waves or all at once throughout the day.  We knew that this was all a part of God’s plan, and that He was shaking things up for a purpose, but it stings like nothing else to lose your job.  Even if the company was restructuring, or it was a result of the economy being weak, nothing hurts like having to pack your things up and get into the office elevator knowing you won’t be back.

We didn’t have much time to feel sorry for ourselves, thankfully.  Leon and I quickly set up a meeting with our pastor to talk through everything that was happening, which was incredibly helpful.  We then had to get the house ready–Leon’s sister Julie was coming to spend her spring break with him in D.C., and I was scheduled to travel to France and Spain for a trip with my mother and other sister in law.  We knew that we needed to take a deep breath, enjoy our family commitments, and give ourselves some time to mentally absorb the shock of what had just transpired.

Looking back, it was by the grace of God that we had family commitments lined up right after receiving both joyful and hurtful news.  Leon had a wonderful week with his sister, and I was blessed to have the chance to do some traveling and exploring in Europe.  Traveling in your first trimester is not exactly the optimum time to travel, but besides some morning sickness it was wonderful to delve back into French and Spanish and enjoy the sights of Provence, Madrid, and Toledo.  Travel is incredibly therapeutic, and I was thankful to have that time to clear my head and enjoy some new scenery for awhile.

Back in D.C., thankful to be reunited with my husband, we tried to take some time to pray and really ask for wisdom in what the next step needed to be.  It was painful to be so unceremoniously dismissed from my job, like I was nothing more than a faceless laborer (which in D.C. is pretty much how it goes), but it was also a blessing to be able to be home while dealing with morning sickness.  I also saw more of my husband’s strong character as he worked so hard to find another job but was never too busy to fix me some soup or bring me crackers or take care of me when I wasn’t feeling well.  Amidst the sting of job loss, we knew that our marriage would only get stronger as we faced the situation together.

For awhile we have pretty much felt like we’ve been living on a rollercoaster.  I was reminded of one of the rides at Six Flags Over Texas, the main theme park where I grew up, that I rode as a kid.  The little coaster cars would chug their way up vertically on the tracks until you could feel your ears popping.  Then you could feel yourself tense up as the car slowly pushed up to the precipice from which it would dramatically fall and whirl you through the twists and turns of the coaster.  Leon and I have been through the anticipation of reaching the top point and then plunging downwards.  Now we’re being whisked through the twists and turns of job applications and praying for the right door to open.  This has been a test of our faith, but we know that God is in control.  In our case, the road to parenthood has so far been a bit rocky, but we are also excited to see what is in store.

Travelers often say that after a trip the good things are remembered, and the not so good things tend to fade into the mental background.  I like to call these travel bloopers.  In other words, no matter how well a trip is planned, or how prepared you are, things are bound to go wrong.

In my previous blog post about the incredible Christmas trip to Switzerland and Italy with my family, it was fun to reflect on the beauty of the Matterhorn, reminisce about the carb heaven that is Italian cuisine, and appreciate the bonding time with parents and siblings.  Overall the trip went smoothly, but like any travel experience, there were definitely bloopers.  

To start, when Leon and I met my family at Geneva Airport, we were very jetlagged and had already had a misunderstanding with our shuttle driver who was supposed to drive us to Zermatt. Monsieur Shuttle Driver did not speak any English, so I tried with my best French to explain that my family’s flight into Geneva had been badly delayed and unfortunately they would not arrive for another couple of hours.  I told him that we did not have the new flight number because they had been bumped to a different plane during the layover.  He understood that the new flight was reflected in the old flight number–which it was not–and proceeded to leave in a huff.  Thankfully he came back (after I called repeatedly), and my family arrived safely.

Then came the actual drive from Geneva to Zermatt.  There were a couple of evening trains from Geneva to Zermatt, which usually I would have preferred to take, but with the volatility of flight cancellations and delays I did not want to risk everyone missing the last train out of Geneva–thus the reason for hiring a shuttle service.  Our shuttle driver was an older gentleman, about four foot eleven, and liked to grunt in between bouts of French.  I sat in the front seat of the big shuttle to try to translate as we made our way from Geneva to the Swiss Alps.

Then the blizzard hit.  The drive went pretty well for the first couple of hours, until everything went completely white.  Monsieur grunted more frequently and actually sped up the more it snowed.  Everyone started to get really quiet in the backseat–I think they were all praying.  Monsieur also turned the heat up in the shuttle to the point where everyone was sweating.

We made it closer to Zermatt when the snow was so bad that we had to stop to put snow chains on the tires.  Then began the steady drive up the incline to reach the Swiss villages preceding Zermatt.  Snow trucks were out, diligently trying to clear the roads of the furiously falling snow, but Monsieur seemed annoyed that they were in his way and proceeded to zip past all of them.  This proved a problem when the slope of snow and ice proved too much for the shuttle and we fishtailed.

After my heart returned from my throat to my chest cavity, Monsieur explained to me in fast French that he had special permission to drive us up to Zermatt instead of us having to take the train from the village of Tasch.  It was still snowing heavily, he said, but it would be faster to drive up to Zermatt.

What Monsieur did not account for was avalanches.  When we were one kilometer outside of Zermatt, we came to a dead stop and Monsieur grunted words in French that I cannot repeat here.  An avalanche had filled the road with packed snow and ice and we were blocked from going any further.  This meant that we had to back up, turn around, and head back to the train station in the village of Tasch.  One problem–we had to back up and turn around while the shuttle was on a narrow path overlooking a cliff.  There was also the issue of, say, another avalanche hitting while we were trying to turn around.  Monsieur proceeded to make a phone call while backing the shuttle up, so he was on the phone while the shuttle tires were about six inches away from the edge of the cliff.  When we finally made it to the train station to take the train to Zermatt, my family wanted to both kiss the ground and, I’m sure, kill me.

After the “close encounter of the Swiss cliff kind,” the rest of the Zermatt visit went smoothly, minus it being difficult to sleep at night (thank you loud and drunken German tourists who tried to outsing each other in the middle of the night, in the middle of the street).  The trip to Venice went smoothly as well, and it wasn’t until we had been in Venice for a few days that the next blooper hit.

The next travel blooper involved a lovely thing called food poisoning.  To give some background, Romans make fun of Venetians for having what they consider to be inferior cuisine to theirs.  They say that you can’t get a bad meal in Rome, after all–they don’t say that you can’t get a bad meal in Italy.  Unfortunately Leon and I experienced this firsthand, after eating some insalata caprese at a Venetian restaurant (recommended by locals by the way) that we suspect had been handled with a contaminated knife or something.  We suspected this because the two of us had shared the offender, one caprese, and we both woke up in the middle of the night running to the bathroom.  I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say that having one spouse throw up in the toilet and the other in the trash can will bring any married couple closer together.  

Luckily for me, my husband is a trooper, and after he threw up for the last time we managed to grab our luggage and head to the train station.  Nothing was going to stop us from getting to Rome–even if we showed up green and dehydrated.  Which we did.

The rest of the trip, thankfully, was void of further avalanches or food poisoning.  There were minor bloopers, but those were mainly the result of what I call “the Italian way.”  The hotel helped us make reservations for Alfredo’s, where fettucini alfredo was invented, only to have us show up for our reservation and the restaurant was closed.  As well, Leon and I had to go back to St. Peter’s a second time to see the basilica because the church had been shut down the previous day for a European youth conference (unbeknownst to us).  In Italy you can plan, but you have to then be prepared to change the plan–or forget the plan–at the last minute.

The beauty of travel is that the good times definitely prevail in the mind over the rough times.  Traveling teaches you to be flexible, and one learns quickly that bloopers are just a part of exploring the world.  You also have to learn as you go, though–next time I’ll try to avoid avalanches.  And take more Pepto Bismol in my carry-on.

With the Thanksgiving holidays quickly approaching, our pastor recently preached a sermon about “eucharisteo,” or Greek for “thanksgiving,” and shared Scriptures about the biblical meaning of the term. It was fascinating to learn that “eucharisteo” has 3 tenses rolled into one. In other words, it encompasses thanksgiving in the past, present, and future.

Dr. Baucom also told the congregation about a book he had read recently called 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The author was apparently going through a tough time in life when a friend encouraged her to put pen to paper and write down everything she had to be thankful for. Skeptical that she could come up with much, Ann began to write things down, and before she knew it, her list had hit 1,000. Dr. Baucom reminded us that the Lord is at work in our lives, even when we struggle to see beyond the daily grind, and that we would indeed be shocked at how many blessings we have if we started to write them down. We were all challenged to write a list of 1,000 things to be thankful for by Thanksgiving. Needless to say, many in the congregation looked skeptical (including myself, I freely admit).

A couple of weeks later, all I can say is, “Eucharisteo.” I took some time, amidst my doubt, to write down blessings in the hopes of even getting close to 1,000 things on the list. The first things on the list, obviously, were things like Jesus, my husband, my parents, and my siblings. As I ran out of general things to be thankful for, however, like a warm place to live, a job, and food to eat, my mind started coming up with the most random things. I started writing down things like, “the dentist who takes care of my teeth,” “trees that provide fruit,” “adoptive families,” and “the sun rising this morning.” My once sluggish typing became faster and before I knew it my list had 700 items on it (and is still growing).

Doing the Eurcharisteo challenge really puts things into perspective and is a perfect way to enter into the Thanksgiving season. I’m so glad that Dr. Baucom challenged us to write down 1,000 things to be thankful for, and I would encourage you to try it as well.

The last few days, to say the least, were pretty intense here in Washington, D.C.  Everyone was glued to their television sets all week watching as Hurricane Sandy prepared to slam the East Coast and then collide with a cold front to create a “superstorm.”  Much like during Hurricane Irene last year, grocery store shelves were pretty bare within a couple of days.

The storm was set to hit on Sunday evening, October 28, 2012.  As we gathered with our Sunday School class and attended worship on Sunday morning, our pastor spoke about praying for those affected by the storm (including ourselves and our neighbors) and how the Lord can give peace and calm even when hurricanes approach.  Those were comforting words to remember as the storm crept closer.

After church we were scheduled to visit our friends Ana and Henry, whose new baby had been baptized that morning, and to celebrate the special occasion with them.  The conversation centered on the baby, of course, and how excited everyone was to meet him, and how everyone was feeling about the hurricane.  Then everyone left for their respective homes to hunker down and do another inventory of storm-related supplies.

Leon and I could not leave the house on Monday or Tuesday, as the winds were dangerously uprooting entire trees and throwing things around, not to mention the blinding rain that we could see outside of our window.  The lights flickered on and off throughout the days, but thankfully we did not lose power completely.  We were able to cook and keep the news on to stay apprised of new developments.  It was surreal to see pictures of areas just a couple of miles from our condo that were flooded.  Not to mention that we had just been to New York City the previous weekend, and streets on which we had strolled along enjoying beautiful fall weather were now totally submerged.

I was thankful to be safe and dry, but I felt heavy hearted for those who lost their homes or even loved ones during the hurricane.  Leon and I were also surprised to see an unexpected blessing come out of the hurricane for us.  It turned out that our plumbing had some issues which we did not know about until we had to fill the bathtub with water to prepare for the storm.  Apparently, there had been a slow leak into the downstairs condo which had gone undetected until the bathtub was filled and enough water leaked downstairs to make the problem apparent.  We had plumbers at our house all Tuesday afternoon and the problem is now hopefully fixed.  The plumbers estimated that if we had not filled the tub for the hurricane, it might have taken months for the problem to reveal itself.  It sounds corny, but that situation reminded me that sometimes difficulties (in this case a hurricane) can forge unanticipated blessings.

This morning, Halloween, traffic was as congested in D.C. as always, and Leon and I slowly made our way into the city to get back to work.  There was an eeriness to the air, however, and the sky was still a weird gray color.  Trees that had been uprooted were reclining in the medians, and the Potomac River looked swollen and murky.  The mood was certainly appropriate for Halloween (although it’s uncertain right now how much trick-or-treating D.C. children will be able to do this evening), but we are definitely thankful that the storm has passed.

This week it has been raining nonstop in D.C.  Literally.  The forecast at the beginning of the week indicated ceaseless rain, and this time the weathermen weren’t wrong.  Every night I’ve gone to sleep hearing the patter of raindrops on the windows and have woken up to the same.

A natural side effect of dreary, gray skies and wet weather that makes you want to stay home with a cup of hot tea is, at least for me, a tendency to contemplate.  There’s something about rainy weather that seems to steer my mind towards deep thought.

In the case of this week, I’ve been thinking about what kind of legacy I want to carry on and what kind of legacy I would like to pass down.  I can’t take credit for thinking up this topic by myself–my mother emailed my siblings and me to ask us that poignant question in preparation for her Sunday School lesson this week.  The question got me thinking, and instead of typing back a quick response I wanted to put some real thought into it.  After all, many travelers, after leaving their places of origin and touring the grand sights of the world, are drawn to these types of thoughts by all that they see and experience.  The world is complex, fascinating, heartbreaking, exciting, and puzzling, all at the same time, and a profound question to ask yourself is what kind of contribution you would like to make.  In other words, what kind of tradition do you want to pass along to the next generation, and what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind.

After some careful thought, here was my response to that million dollar question, “What kind of legacy do you want to carry on, and what kind of legacy do you want to leave?”

 

Legacy I want to carry on:

 

Mammaw Douthit’s legacy is the one I want to carry on.  She embodied humility, grace, strength, and love.  She was firm in the Lord but gentle to everyone, regardless of where they came from.  She was always loving, no matter what situation she faced.  I want to teach my children what she taught–to focus on Christ, work diligently, and let your actions speak for themselves.

 

Legacy I hope to leave behind:

 

Value Christ’s opinion above that of others.  Be willing to explore outside of the comfort zone, take chances, and understand that the Lord uses both successes and failures to mold you.  Do not let Satan tell you that mistakes mean you’re unable to be used by the Lord.  Be the kind of person that others can turn to for love, comfort, and the truth.  Do not give up on relationships or situations when things get tough.  Strive to love unconditionally like Christ did.  Do the right thing regardless if others are watching.  Aim to be multi-faceted, internationally aware, and well-balanced.  Work hard, always be willing to learn, rest well, and laugh often.


As a busy person trying to balance a full-time job, time with family and friends, laundry, exercise, cleaning the apartment, and so forth, it is hard to find extra time to keep up with the news, let alone continue to garner knowledge about international relations.  Who has time to read full reports from the United Nations when your brain barely functions at the end of the day?

With this in mind, my goal lately has been to find ways to pursue “continuing education” opportunities for foreign affairs.  Doctors and lawyers, for instance, are required to do so many hours per year of continuing education, so why not someone interested in the world, which changes constantly?

My search led me to the section of the State Department’s website that allows you to sign up for State press releases, official statements, and so forth.  I excitedly clicked on all of the options, and the next day alone I think my inbox received about half a million emails–our State Department is one busy entity (plus, true to bureaucracy, clicking all of the options meant that I often receive the same statement ten times, sent from different bureaus).

So far, my favorite part of my self-imposed continuing education has been the Country Profiles that the State Department sends out.  I try to skim through all of them, which has proven interesting as well as helpful.  I received one yesterday, for instance, on the United Kingdom, and even though I lived there for a year, it was educational to actually read about its latest statistics.  I didn’t know, for instance, that the population of London has grown to 8.615 million and it is still considered the largest city in Europe.  When I lived there in 2006 I think that the city had just hit 7 million.  That’s the beauty of continuing education–you have background knowledge coupled with current data.

Like riding a bike or speaking a foreign language, staying up to date on global developments is something that you have to practice.  You have to consistently exercise the mind, in other words.  I’m often so busy with the day to day happenings of life in D.C. that I feel disconnected from the rest of the world, so it’s nice to know that in the meantime it’s possible to learn new things so that I’m better prepared for future travels.

Those who continue to learn, continue to grow, so whether traveling or settled into one place for awhile, it’s important to strive for continuing education.  Just one word of caution–I would advise not to check all of the update options on the State Department’s website, unless you’re okay getting lots of emails!