Thursday, December 24, 2015

Unplugged for the holidays

I feel like I arrived to this Christmas season on fumes. So many distractions and noises were fighting for my mind and attention. Careless words and posts -- and the fickleness -- all over social media haven't helped matters, either, and have grieved me so.

I also noticed something curious: what was being posted on social media wasn't matching the reality of what was happening in the lives of friends, or mine for that matter. Friends and relatives experiencing the most difficult circumstances sometimes put up the most cheerful posts. Granted, many are finding joy in the midst of a hard place. And social media just provides a view into a slice of someone's life. But for some (maybe for all of us, really?), social media seems to mask what is really going on in life. I dunno. Maybe I'm misreading it all.

I decided to unplug from all my social media pages this Christmas season until new year so I can be more intentional about living and also be truly present (with my attention, not just my body) as I do life with family and friends. No quick checks to see the popular story of the day, cute animal video or the best holiday cookie recipe a friend just made. I deleted my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone.

I'm six days in and so far, it's been...weird. And revealing. The first few days offline, I found myself several times an hour unconsciously sliding to the screen on my phone where those apps used to be. This showed me just how reliant (and addicted?) I was to checking what was going on in the social media world. Like every five minutes. Yeesh.

The world suddenly feels quieter. Initially, that was a tad scary. Honestly, it still is a bit. Not sure why. But I'm learning to be comfortable with my own thoughts. I can think now. I mean, really think and process what's going on inside my own head -- not just consider someone else's thoughts or posts.

This experiment has been good. I'm not as disconnected from people as I thought I would be, thanks to email, phone calls/texts, and wonder of wonders, real, sit-across-from-someone, look-in-their-eyes face time. I'm finding that I don't miss posting about the trivialities of my life (or reading about them in the lives of others). It's beautiful.

I'm not poo-pooing social media as it allows me to stay connected with people whom I otherwise wouldn't be in touch. I also learn and share important news via that medium.

But I'm seriously rethinking the way I do Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I plan on maintaining a social media presence but I'm considering downsizing and simplifying. And maybe not. We'll see what 2016 brings.

Monday, December 21, 2015

On Suffering and Hope

In this season of Advent, waiting and expectation, I'm doing a lot of resting, reflecting and reading. I think of family members and friends who are facing this Christmas season with wounded and grieving hearts. Here are some life-giving words that sang to me today. They were recently penned by Ann Voskamp:

We may not know why God doesn’t stop all the different kinds of suffering — but we definitely know it’s not because He’s indifferent.
God is so moved by our being entangled in suffering — that He moved Himself into our world and entangled Himself in the suffering with us. God with us.
God knows suffering.
He chose to be born in the middle of a genocide.
God knows suffering. He chose to be born as a refugee.
God knows suffering. He chose to come from a place where people said no good thing could come from.
God knows suffering. He chose to be poor. He chose to absorb pain. He chose to be powerless. 
God penetrates the ache of our world through the willing yes of a poor, unwed teen. In both the Incarnation and the Resurrection, God reveals Himself first to the dismissed and disregarded and dissed.
Because the point is: Christmas is the end of division. Christmas is the beginning of the end of all suffering.
Continue reading at A Holy Experience.

Disturb us

Tempest, by Ivan Aivazovsky. Source: Joseph Donaghy ~ Art

Every so often, I read something that makes me go, "ouch!"
Such is this poem/prayer attributed to Sir Frances Drake, a British sea captain who lived in the 1500s. He was a guy with a checkered history -- which in and of itself is rather disturbing. I wonder how he reconciled the tension between his desire reflected in the poem and how he lived. It begs the question: what change took place in his life that compelled this piece?

When disturbing people write disturbing things, it's worth a second look:

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
and to push back the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 4, 2015

So many ugly things in the world and yet, beauty

So many ugly, difficult things in the world this week have made me sad:

The teenage acquaintance of a friend ended his life. Politicians using a dire humanitarian situation as an opportunity to spew hatred and sow discord. Another act of domestic terrorism, this time a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Careless damaging words strewn across social media, particularly on friends' pages. Rapidly growing cancer in the body of a friend.

It's weeks like this that tempt me to despair and wallow there. There is SO MUCH bad in this world.

And yet, it's times like these that I hear a constant Whisper in my spirit reminding me that hope and beauty abound even more...if only I have eyes and a heart to see them: This week, I've seen beauty in:

A tree refusing to surrender its leaves while laying down a welcome carpet of gold.

A magnificent rose-colored sunset following days of torrential rain and dreariness.

Where are YOU seeing beauty this week?

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." -- Romans 15:13

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent: Making Room in the Heart

Anticipation. Waiting. Longing.

My heart is heavy with these as we enter this Advent season -- a time of preparation, watching and waiting for Jesus, the One whose coming brings healing, hope, redemption to broken places. So we celebrate the One who makes all things new.

So we wait.

We wait with great expectation of what is to come.

Standing on tippy toes.

Craning the neck.

Straining to see.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Descent from Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains

Descent from Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains

Jim Branch, in his book Becoming, said this:

"Recognizing is such an important part of the spiritual life; recognizing what is going on within or beneath or beyond what we are able to see, and beginning to pay attention in such a way that we are actually able to really see both where God is present and what he is up to in the comings and the goings of our lives. But recognizing does not come automatically, it requires something of us. It requires us to stop living on the surface of things, to slow down enough to pay attention, to make space in our lives to reflect and to pray, and to train our souls - and thus our eyes - to look deeper into things."

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Approach to Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ramsey Cascades

In keeping with my theme of hiking new trails this summer, my pal Seth and I made a jaunt over to Ramsey Cascades this past Saturday. I hear tell it's the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains so I had to see for myself.

We entered through the Greenbrier area of the Smokies and made the four-mile trip to the falls. It was strenuous at times but worth it. The water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and sprays as it splashes. Good thing I brought a long-sleeved shirt as we sat on a rock to eat our lunch because it got a bit chilly.

This shot doesn't do the falls justice.
Craziness! Sign as we approached the falls.

The eight-mile round trip hike was pretty fun and we saw some cool things along the way. Most of the hike going and coming follows rushing streams and rivers.

I can listen to this sound all day!
This section of the park is perhaps the largest old-growth forest remaining in the Smokies. It's one of the few sections of the park unaffected by the logging industry many moons ago. As such, it contains some of the tallest and largest trees in the Smokies, like this big guy:

Don't judge me. You know you would, too!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Peru preparations, Paddington Bear style

I'm just weeks away from the Inca trek! Last night, I received a special gift from a young friend -- a Peru travel kit, if you will.

The tag reads in English and Spanish: "Wanted on Voyage"
"Please look after this lady. Thank you."

My young friend Peter recently read about Paddington, a young Peruvian bear who immigrates to London after his Aunt Lucy goes into a home for retired bears. He stows away on a lifeboat with nothing more than a small suitcase and a jar of marmalade so he isn't hungry. Around his neck is a label that reads, "Please look after this bear. Thank you."

In my special Peru travel kit, Peter gave me a copy of the book and my very own jar of marmalade. I'm ready to go!

Peter's serious face. Look after this lady...or else.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Overnight Mt. LeConte fun

I'm spending the summer hiking my way through East Tennessee. My mission this season: tackle all new trails. It's been a sweet blessing as I'm discovering more and more of my beloved adopted state on foot.

I deviated from my mission last weekend when I hiked up to Mt. LeConte with two friends. I've done LeConte before via the Alum Cave trail. But there was a new experience to this hike: I spent the night at the lodge on top of the mountain for the first time ever. Pretty awesome!

My friend Megan did a great job capturing our pilgrimage in this hilarious piece.
Check it out.

In the meantime, some of my favorite photos from the hike:

Megan, Sharon and moi in front of the dining room

At Cliff Tops. What can you do if you can't goof off, eh? :)

A beautiful view on the descent

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- rainy day edition

Black Belt Conference, May 2013, Ft. Lauderdale
James Rich, third from right
I'm missing a certain Taekwondo instructor today.
Thankful for the gift of life and friends.
Today, let's choose to model courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit.
Live well.
Practice forgiveness.
Eat chocolate.
Make it count.

Friday, June 5, 2015

New beginnings

Tonight was wonderful as it was bittersweet.
I tested for my second degree senior black belt in Taekwondo. (The short sausage-making explanation: it's the last level of second degree and the final phase before I can test for third degree black belt.)

I passed, which was great. I also cried many tears. It was a hard test in several ways: it was my first one in six years without my master instructor James Rich. I miss him sorely and I felt his absence so much tonight. This test also is my last one locally at my school. From here on, all my tests will be before a national board of examiners.

Change is hard. But it is good. Tonight, I had a taste of my new normal. I had the privilege of testing before David Church -- the new master instructor at my school and one of James Rich's former students. I'm excited that I'll be training under him, Shea Church, his wife and another Taekwondo instructor, and Julius Agh, one of my favorite instructors, as I prepare for the journey to third degree black belt.

James Rich, tonight was for you, sir. It was far from perfect but I got it done. Thank you for all you poured into me these last six years. I'm grateful for new beginnings and the road ahead with Mr and Mrs. Church and Mr. Agh.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight...and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1

Onward. Warrior mode, always.

My new A-Team: Mrs. Church, Mr. Church and Mr. Agh :)
I wouldn't have made it through tonight without the encouragement, support and prayers of precious friends. You know who you are. Thank you. You mean so much to me.

It was so awesome having a handful of friends come watch my test tonight and cheer me on. Megan, Julie, David, Elizabeth, Michael, Juhee and Patrick: You rock my world!!!

Julie and a very sweaty Lola
With the awesome Juhee.
David, Elizabeth and Michael -- some of my surrogate
siblings. Love you guys SO MUCH!!!
When it was all said and done, I went to have ice cream and cake with some of the coolest people on earth.
Sam and Mary Ann. Oh, we also showed off our muscles.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A kiss from heaven

I saw this magnificent full rainbow over my Taekwondo school after class this evening.
Right before this moment, my friend Chandra texted me a photo of a double rainbow she had seen in another corner of Knoxville with these sweet words: "Just saw God's majesty in a double rainbow and prayed His amazing and abundant grace over you."

God's majesty, indeed. What a (double) kiss from heaven!

Chandra's double rainbow
God, thank you for this beautiful reminder that your promises are true: you are trustworthy; you are with us in the hard places of life; you will not forsake us or abandon us; you are good; you smile upon us. Help us to believe who you say you are in spite of the doubts and pressures that are pressing in. Help us to believe who you say we are: beloved; held; yours.

"The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."
--Numbers 6:24-26

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tippy Top of Tennessee

I stood on top of Tennessee today!
My friend Seth and I took a trip up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the state.
We then followed it with a 10-mile round trip hike to Silers Bald along the Appalachian Trail. Great preparation for my Peru adventure.

View from Clingmans Dome

With Seth
The last of the wild flowers in the Smoky Mountains were still in bloom and we met some animal friends along the way.

We walked through pine groves, mossy forests and across ridges. Here's a view from a ridge on the Appalachian Trail. I'm standing between Tennessee and North Carolina. I've always wanted to be in two places at once. I finally got my chance. :)

We stopped for lunch at a shelter for thru hikers of the Appalachian Trail. Our exploration of the shelter revealed a hiker registry. We found this inside:

I couldn't get enough of the views!

Check out the river in the distance
We arrived at Silers Bald after a steep climb the last quarter mile. There was not much to see but the rock marker was nice. The white arrows indicate the directions of the Appalachian Trail.

US Geologic Survey marker at Siler's Bald
On way back, Seth decided to check out the climbing potential of this rock. Brave soul!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Warrior Mode. Always.

One of the greatest men I've ever known slipped into eternity this afternoon at 1:17 p.m.
Gosh, my heart is breaking.

James Rich was my master instructor in Taekwondo, my encourager and most importantly, my friend.

I'm so grateful for the six years I trained under him, the gift of his wisdom, his fierce protective love of me and other students and his sweet care.

Mr. Rich fought to the end. Warrior mode. Always. What an incredible role model. Cancer, you did not get the last word.

I am going to miss this man terribly. I miss him now. He taught me so many life lessons on and off the mat. Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self Control. Indomitable Spirit.

I have so much to say but this writer is having a difficult time putting all of it into words at the moment. This is one of those times when life is hard. And when God is still good.

I love you, Mr. Rich. I'll miss you. Thank you for the way you blessed my life and helped make me the woman I am today.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Inaugural hike of the season

View from Lookout Tower, Frozen Head State Park
East Tennessee is pretty glorious in the spring.
I kicked off my hiking season today in Frozen Head State Park in the southern Cumberland Mountains. There were so many gorgeous wildflowers everywhere and the woods were so lush.

My friend Brandy and I had planned on a 6.9-mile hike. But through a series of (mis)adventures, we covered 12.8 miles and several trails including the interpretive loop judge branch trail, south old mac trail, lookout tower trail and north old mac trail.

Lessons learned today? All of them. :)

Some highlights:

My friend Brandy and me
For more photos from the hike, visit my Flickr account.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy wordy Tuesday!

Can I just say that I (mostly) love my job at the University of Tennessee! I learn something new everyday.

Some favorite words I've picked up since I started working here: jute, tartan, quartrefoil, callithump, and now, lamb lollipops. :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's coming!

Courtesy of my friend Julia Frances
Spring! New life! Resurrection! It's coming!
I love the pop of color against the backdrop of gray. A nice reminder of what God is doing inside me. :)

Normal Hair

This poem cracked me up and warmed my soul!
Reminds me of this post from some time back.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I Know. {Repost}

*A repost of a beautiful poignant piece written by my friend Amanda in Arctic Alaska.*

I know.

I know what you've tried to keep a secret from me. I guess I'd already read between the lines.

I know you were scared to tell me, but I don't understand why. It hurts so much to realize that you were afraid to be honest with me. Now I wonder what I don't know... and I'm worried about the bond of trust that has been shattered.

I know that this life isn't easy and it is filled with temptations. I know that I am far from perfect; I also think I might understand more than you would imagine.

I know you know what the Word says...

I know I cannot change your heart, I cannot make you stick to the straight and narrow. If I could, God knows I would. All I can really do is pray, and ask, "Do you want to change?"

I know where the Spirit of the Lord is there is victory! So, if the sorrow you feel is godly and not just worldly, change can and will take place.

I know I cannot leave the path to come and find you. I don't really believe that Jesus is going to chase after you either. Rather, it has to be your choice.

I know that He is waiting, and as soon as you turn towards home, He'll come running out to greet you and welcome you back. Please hear me when I say that is true of me as well... after all, I love you!

I know a deep sorrow, but should you choose to return, it will be worth it all. I will help you in whatever way I can. All you have to do is ask. I am here.

I know what you don't want me to know, but the first step towards healing will be telling me yourself.

I know and yet I love.

I know.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A little hero among us.

"And though she be but little, she is fierce."
-- William Shakespeare

See this little girl? She's my hero.
Her name is Patricia (or Patrycja in Polish) and she is a brave warrior princess.

This week, Patricia completed her last round of chemo. Can I get a "YES!" "Hallelujah!" and a happy dance? :)

Patricia -- aka my Little Person -- is the 3-year-old daughter of my best friend Joanna. In May 2014, doctors discovered a tumor in her right lung, which turned out to be a rare form of childhood cancer. Through surgery and nine months of chemo, my Little Person has persevered. But no surprise there. She's been a fighter since birth.

So thrilled to be celebrating my strong, brave little one today.