Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I've been trying a lot harder to get out of my comfort zone lately. Because, quite frankly, it's become a death trap.
I have been locked away in a beautiful easy cage of comfort for so long that it's begun to feel like a cushy coffin. True there's no struggle, heart ache, or discomfort but there is an empty eerily familiar omen in its six padded walls.
So I've stretched out, pursued new groups of friends, started applying for jobs, began exercising and making steps towards moving. All these things still ruffle my feathers and remind me daily of how uncomfortable I am, how much I'd rather just eat ice cream and divorce myself from society.  Once started, each endeavor doesn't really get any easier; it just shines another spotlight on a part of my character that needs stretching. But the change in scenery is so nice. And there is much more room outside of that comfort coffin.

Perhaps one of the most telling questions to ask a person is to ask what motivates them. If God left them alone to their own inclinations, what would be their goal of life's pursuit. Security? Success? Mere survival?
For me it is these 2 warring desires that drive my life; comfort and challenge. I love my hobbit hole, but I love adventure. I wonder how many people relate with the two incompatible goals that take turns liberating and confining. Maybe everyone relates but, according to social media, I am apparently the only on that hasn't mastered their balance.

But then there's this guy...

This guy whose limbs are growing so fast on him that he barely has time to stretch them out.

Getting this dog was the only decision I have made that went against both my comfort zone and my future ability to adventure wherever, whenever and for however long I want. By all human logic it's a stupid decision. In your last semester of nursing school you should not bring home a puppy. When you don't have a steady job, you should not make a big financial commitment. When you don't have your own home, and you want to travel, and your future job will be 12+ hr shifts... don't make this kind of decision.
Buuut I did. And I am so, so, so very glad I did. It's one of the best I have ever made.
Every time I start to really settle down in my zone of undisturbed comfort he comes in and ruffles my feathers, taunts me with his stubbornness and holds me accountable to go out into the world and take him along. He's basically the company of 13 dwarves rolled into one, eating all my food and messing up my home. And becoming my best friend for it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

School has an uncomfortable way of proving to yourself that you can do more than you thought yourself capable of. It can disillusion your idea of what "time" is, how fast a deadline can come, and how in a week you will lose your spot on any invite list because of your repetitious "I can't. I have to study," rsvp's.
But, as people had been telling me these many numerous years, "It is only for a season." 
I had grown leaps and bounds, up at 4am, in bed by 9, studying diligently for hours, being social with strangers, gaining confidence... essentially, I had become courageous. 
So I graduated, took my diploma, waved goodbye to the shackles of college and found... that I am very much afraid.

School gave me back my time and in my paranoia I let it go to waste, hoping it would just pass on without me. But at least one lesson learned had remained. The lesson that even when your heart and subsequent habits are in regression, you still take those steps forward, even if you're dragging your own feet to do it. 
It may be that the technique is faulty but when your psyche is telling you, "The sky is falling!" then don't bother arguing with it, just go outside and let reality prove whether it is or isn't. And if it is falling? well then at least you didn't waste energy debating it.
And even then, even if failure and fears are winning, still life is desperately, and somehow victoriously, depending on God's grace and faithfulness. His mercy and good plans defy the crumbling sky.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Heart

I was 11 years old when we brought her home.
Somehow we had managed to convince our parents that we needed a puppy and that evening, on a Mother's Day, we adopted one of the best members of our family and brought her home. A lab to the core that puppy loved to be loved. First time we saw her she was on a human lap and it remained her favorite place despite her added years and added pounds. More than once you'd find she'd managed to get on the lap of a pool side lounge chair victim and marvel at her skill and tenacity, always more impressed than upset.

She was smart enough to play dumb, lazy enough to play deaf, sneaky enough to undo the lock on the gate and let herself out.
For a dog loving kid she was a dream come true and the CUTEST puppy you could imagine with her over-sized ears and big feet. Being a shy kid who didn't talk much she certainly heard more than most. Even to the point where if she was in my presence I couldn't shut up for how in habit I was of vocalizing my thought process in front of her.
On summer nights with a clear starry sky, I'd sneak out of my bedroom window and meet her in the yard under the blue light of a full moon, dream of fairies, let my imagination run wild and see her, resting comfortably next to me, leaving me content to have just her. Meeting with Jesus began to carry a third person party as she began to be my gateway into His presence. I had always felt it was repetitive to talk at God, only hearing my voice and no face to react to my confessions or pleadings. Since I felt it was pointless to voice what He knew my thoughts already were then I used her audience to say them out loud since she didn't. The first sentences were addressed to her and by the heart of the issue it was God I was comfortably talking to, no longer feeling ridiculous. She was a vessel for Him and an example of unconditional love and it's impossible now to separate her from my growing attachment to God for how much she was apart of it.

She was always there. Through my awkward years, through the hell of high school, through my first time away from home, and the uncomfortable years of change and becoming an adult. Every birthday eve at home was spent by her side. Every hardship and threat of loss sent my weeping fears to the comfort of her constant, fearless peace. Every big decision was processed with her patient long ears.
It was painful to leave her when I left home for months and when I got home I made good on all my promises of making up for it. I took her on car rides and we hiked mountains and played in creeks away from the hot stifling city.
By the time she entered geriatric years my number one fear and dread would be the day that I would lose her. Her mortality was off limits. Simply because I could not imagine life on earth without her. Instead I imagined her with me on every adventure, every change and found myself feeling less lonely. Even in my dreams of Jesus coming back on a white horse and seeing Him for the first time, she's right there with me.
But she was getting old. She was slowing down. She looked so tired.
Someone once asked me, "What will you do if Toby dies?" I said, "Then my heart will die with her."

And it has. 14 years she has been with me. 14 years of habits built with her as my best friend. But now my best friend is gone, and so naturally my heart has followed after her.
I had spoken to her many times about Heaven and all that I was planning and dreaming of and scheming with her. But on a Sunday I gave her a valid message of instruction to go on ahead and see rest before I could.

It's a peculiar pain of love to make a decision against the cry of every fiber of your being for the good of something else. If it were up to me she would have lived for forever. But the decision that came to me that Sunday was how I had to send her away and decide that that day would be our last here on earth and decide to be separated... for her sake.
She no longer had to be a vessel of God's love. She fulfilled her purpose above and beyond and I knew it would be selfish to keep her here and in pain purely for my sake.

Each family member, including pets, were able to say their goodbyes and by the time we got to the vet the second wave of pain was coming over her again. My dad, brother and I never left her side and spent our precious time praying over her, thanking her, thanking God for her, loving her and praising her all through her final seconds on this earth. I got down on my knees, took one last look at her brown eyes and she looked into mine as sleep overcame her, listening to her breathe one last time I gave the okay, much to my horror, to send her on her new adventure. I have never squeezed her so hard than I did after that awful moment. Hugging her that tight used to make me fear I'd hurt her, but I didn't need to hold back anymore. Even in her death she was comforting me. Her soft coat and warm body were still with me. I wept bitterly. I wailed as I have never thought possible. You learn all kinds of things about yourself that you didn't know were lying in wait for such a day.

It's now been over a year since her passing and the process of grief, you learn, is on going, never reserved for just one finite season. But it's taught me to hope, to let go, to believe and to love. It's remarkable that God still uses her as a vessel, even in her absence and memory.

Now I look to embark on the treacherous road of giving my heart away once more. The time has come to hold another canine in my arms and relish the feeling that a living creature belongs to me. I can't wait. I can't wait to have that unconditional love again... the companionship... the adventures... the constant. The friend.

Guilt tries to creep in, wonders if I'm replacing Toby, but I know it's impossible. If I had got my way and she would have been able to live for forever than I would still be bringing this puppy home to meet her. I only regret that he won't be able to meet her. But I'll tell him about her and let him be the confidante I need to listen to me miss her. And I'll let God use him as a new vessel, a vessel that proves there is a season for everything and that moving forward is a brave and adventurous task. And that, as G.K. Chesterton once said, "Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as on a root."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I have been doing some serious daydreaming about two things lately. Two things that keep me from sleep due to the sheer excitement of desire and the ache of needed patience and trust.

Now if I could just merge these two daydreams into one reality.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Celebrity Ego

If you fancy fame and crave die hard fans but find you come up short on the talent and/or celebrity status totem pole, then, my dear friend, I would recommend you go to India. Granted, in order for this formula to work you have to be an obvious foreigner. I think. I can't find any other explanation for why we were so sought after on eastern shores and so mournfully neglected at home. It spoiled us. Truly. Having a fan base for no reason is incredibly addicting.

Mary did forewarn us but we, the nobody Americans that we were, dismissed it with disbelief.  
Very soon we were happily proven wrong.

Here are some creepers sporting a move that I came up with in junior high. Charlotte managed to catch them here and... Don't worry about the guy in the white shirt. That's David. We know him. Those behind him are another matter.

But they got this picture of Charlotte capturing the above photo and me giving a thumbs up to being popular.

It started this way of people passing by and sneaking pictures but as we progressed towards the mausoleum our new found fan gathering made progress in approaching us and asking to take a picture with us... which made my naturally cautious self incredibly suspicious.

But that's why you travel with a person named Charlotte who LOVES being famous. She began accepting these proposals with belief that people were finally realizing her picture value. She was also suspicious that maybe they were mistaking us for someone famous. So she told some people she was. Because who would doubt her claim to being a winter Olympian.

Pretty soon we didn't need a fake claim to fame, we simply were famous. And pretty soon Charlotte began charging people to take pictures with her as an opportunity for bartering leverage. "I'll give you 100 rupees... and a chance to take a picture with me."

This was a group of boys I sent after her and here she is asking for money for her picture.
Pretty soon you come to find you'd be surprised if any of these picture seekers want anything other than an autograph. And then you'll find how unbelievably quick you adopt a personality of polite entitlement.

Towards the end of the day you can hear my politeness begin to fade away. In my defense I had like 10 minutes to get through the Agra Fort before closing.

Then we got caught in a photo progression with our Pizza Hut waiter who not only got some photos with us...

 ...but also managed to give us his facebook information.

And finally, below, we have a sweet woman who worked at the airport, saw my camera around my neck and asked if she could take a picture with us. Despite the fact that it was my camera and she'd never see a copy of the picture she was still pleased.

Then.... well then you go home. And you wonder with shock and awe why people here aren't asking for your picture. Why? What is wrong with them?
And you begin to miss the people who treated you so well like the Bollywood actress that you see yourself as. Leave your house on a windy day in India and you will, I guarantee, be in your own Bollywood film. They're ridiculous but they aren't lying.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


School is going to be the death and making of me.
It's been leaving me with an anxiety over the next time I'm asked about what I've been up to, what's new, or how I've been. Inside the response lies a cyclical life crisis in danger of emerging in the middle of a social gathering when all you wanted was to pass the time politely with me who is so out of social practice that I'm loitering at the food table.
Bless your heart. I'll be optimistic. Truly I will! Julie Andrew's kind of optimistic. 

In the back of my mind is the guilt that I don't deserve to go out and see the sunlight unless it's to and from my classroom for all the reading and studying I put off thanks to my addiction to Asian dramas and Bollywood. More like my addiction to escaping stress. Because every time I come back to the reality of careplans and diseases I end up suspicious my community college diploma will actually state AAS Degree in Human Misery (with no clue how to alleviate it).
You search for inspiration. You try to remember why you chose this in the beginning. Then you hit a surge of motivation in the morning and the remembrance of what it feels like to have a purpose in your sacrifice brings you to joyful tears of relief...
"I...I think I get it. I think I actually retained that information. The life crisis cycle is over! Aha! I DO have a purpose!" 
Until the inspiration dissipates like a fart and you realize the zeal was just motivational gas because no matter what your brilliant rationale of nursing care was that day there is always another intervention that should have been priority and now you don't even trust yourself with your own toothbrush for fear you don't know how to hold it.

This is every day.
(pardon the french)

My coping mechanism is to foster life-plan B of living as a hermit in the Grand Canyon if I can't ever succeed as a nurse (which makes me secretly hope I'll fail). But too late to quit now. Not even the imagined dark void of any and every disaster happening on the first day of being a graduate nurse can make me leave the one year I have left. Right? If not then at least it's only one year till I can adopt that hermit position. Hazzah?!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dear Taj

Every dream has its beginning. Mine had an icon. One that kick started the timeline of nearly every major life decision. It may be the only time in my life that I can say I remember the starting point of anything. 
But there you have it. 
The Taj Mahal.

Leave it to the travel channel to showcase one of the world's seven wonders and gift the wanderlust of "impossible" to me for good.
I was 14. I was mesmerized. It was the most beautiful time machine that could ever be dreamed of. A mathematical piece of genius that just so happened to possess a tragically romantic story (the best kind) and took up its residency where its surroundings had little changed in comparison to my western world.
Oh yes. 
I could literally time travel there.
And I wanted to, badly.
And as it was the most unrealistic on my bucket list it quickly and progressively became the most dear.

Dear Taj Mahal, I've waited my whole little life for you. And I had expected to wait so much longer.

The Taj Mahal. She isn't a European fairy tale. She's a beautiful harsh reality. Tangible, aged and reflective. So unlike anything I have yet encountered. In her loud tourist midst of ignored "Be Quiet" signs she still had the ability to leave me with a hushed time still memory.
Quiet, cold, jeweled marble, traceable with the eyes of your fingertips. The tactile details of the wall flowers seemed to unlock the code to this time machine and transport you to ancient centuries where your character seemed destined. You can't tell if it is your story this mausoleum was waiting for or the Taj's story that you've been placed into like a fated ghost. Either way it's a collision of tales that mesh together so well. Either way it's a chapter I love to read over and over.

The very existence of this chapter was enough to satisfy my life. Its only sentence could have been, "In 2012 Arica finally went to India and saw the Taj Mahal," and I'd be happy. But God's authorship is quite different than mine. He doesn't just write a timeline or give an answer, He tells a story.

A week in Manipur, a week in Thailand, and then less than one day to get to the Taj Mahal before flying home out of Delhi.
Everything was booked and planned ahead of time. Everything except the Taj Mahal. It was our only wrinkled plan that we'd have to iron out on foreign soil. I had tried my very best to attempt some control of an itinerary that would ensure smooth sailing, but truth be told we just didn't know enough to even come up with one plan.
With no idea on how the two of us were going to make it in such a narrow amount of time I began to feel like I was asking for trouble. Like my being unprepared was going to invite God's judgement of a terrible experience and I'd have to be satisfied in viewing my dream icon through binoculars.
That was my authorship.

But a dear friend once told me that to recognize the voice of God you have to know that He is the Good Shepherd and not a harsh cattle driver. I had been so accustomed to the latter. But here, on rough Indian soil, I came to know and took my first steps with the gentle voice that gives peace in the midst of chaotic uncontrolled circumstances.

God not only took care of everything but He spoiled us. He introduced us to people I never would have known it possible to exist in my life. In one instant, under a dinner tent in the Manipur jungle, it was arranged that while Charlotte and I were going to be traipsing around Thailand for a week, our new friend Mary would be arranging everything, as if we were her own family, and it would all be set up by the time we would get back to Delhi.
We didn't have to plan a thing.
Transportation, lodging, food and a guide. Our luggage would be kept safe back in Delhi for the day that we would drive to Agra with her nephew who was to be our personal translator, souvenir bargainer and tour/city guide for wherever we wished to go. Agra was ours and we were in want for nothing. 

There is no formula. None whatsoever. I cannot tell you, "If you want Him to show up like this then this is what you do." If I could then my life would look very different from what it is now. It would be very frail.
What I can tell you is that when He says, "Don't be afraid, don't give up, and invest your hope in Me," it always, always means that there is good reason you should obey Him. 
It had nothing to do with the actual trip but had everything to do with my perception of Him. I believed, and still struggle with believing, that though I knew He loved me, that He provided, that He cared and that He would be faithful, that He simply didn't know me, that we were simply not on the same page, and feared we never would be. It felt as though He was working my heart's desires out of me because they were of no use to Him. What a bald faced lie.
Standing there, I wondered if I was getting a taste of what Job must have felt when God finally responded to his prayers by simply humbling him, challenging him, and reminding him of how great and good He is. More than a year later I wonder now if my handicapped plans were just proof that He didn't need me or my efforts to give me a blessing and subsequently proved that I could never know or care for my own heart as much as He does. 

He really didn't have to give it. It would have been an amazing trip even if our last day was simply spent in a hotel room in Delhi. But for some reason He did. And Mary and her family will never know how much their friendship gave my life something empowering. 
You never know how quickly your discouraging circumstances will change. You never know what beauty God can raise from your ashes. You have no idea how many hidden treasures are buried in the cave you're in because no one was brave enough to look for them in the dark. More importantly, you don't realize how little credit you give your redemption. I used to think that life's challenges were God's way of forcing me out the door to grow. But now I believe it is God opening the confining cage I put myself in, carrying me out, spreading my little wings and saying, "You can fly, you know how, I taught you. You just need to do it."

I will forever be learning how to fly, but the memory of this day and how God wrote its chapter challenges me to never go back into that cage. 

I'm tempted to say that God working in this manner is the exception to the rule of our relationship. Tempted because it's safer to expect disappointment. I know differently now. After seeing His provision, after seeing my number one on my bucket list, He didn't just give me a satisfying answer, He changed my life.
I felt like I had made a new friend. Like the Taj Mahal and I were age long pen pals that were finally able to meet in person. That seeing it in person seemed to validate all those major life decisions, all those desires, all those friends, all those seasons, all that curry.
If I could do this then I could finish nursing school. If I could do this then I could go anywhere God sent me. With our friendship sealed it wasn't a surprise that I planned to return some day. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Because the dream still has its icon, and the desire to be there still exists. And when I think back on that experience I feel, even more potently, the wonder of a personal treasure becoming mine, with God taking my hand and practically handing me the moon.
In the end it still is just a place, just a tomb...

My own time traveling tomb. I may never wake up. And that's alright. Because it means I'll just have to keep visiting till I do and realize that I'm standing on real soil and I'm loving real people.