The Embodiment of Grace

November 14, 2009

Any of you who have seen me ski, ice skate, or even at times walk, know that either this blog title is not at all referring to me, or is itself actually sarcastic.  In any case, you may want to read on…

So, as mentioned, I have never been one thought of as coordinated.  Simple things, like running, shooting a basketball, or throwing a frisbee, did not come naturally to me.  And quite frankly, still do not.

Let me provide some more concrete examples for you.

During the winters in high school (cold, icy and wonderful Wisconsin winters), my friends would strategically walk behind me on the sidewalk.  To block the wind, you might assume.  Well, maybe, but in addition to providing that important service, I also had a knack for finding the ice spots–quite dramatically.  Complete with arm flails, full spins, and at times, complete wipe-outs.  I went to a Christian high school, which, as any good Christian school should do, mentioned, on multiple occasions, the story of the good samaritan.  This apparently was lost on my friends.  Rather than attempt to help me prevent numerous injuries (even during basketball season), they used my clutsiness to their advantage.  Yes, I was their sacrifical lamb.  Too dramatic?  Maybe… maybe not.

Another example can be found on the ski slope–specifically, the bunny hill.  My first day skiing, the concept of edging or weaving didn’t stick.  I think the technical term is “bombing?”  Yes, I was quite the bunny hill bomber, each time punctuating my high speed dive with a full body crash at the end.  My sister, Andrea, on the other hand (markedly more coordinated than myself), skied gracefully down immediately and did not fall.  Finally, on attempt number 10 (or was it 15) for me, my goal was no longer to maintain control of my speed by weaving down the hill.  I had accepted my bombing tendency, and focused my efforts to staying upright at the bottom of the hill.  I followed my sister up the lift and watched as she carefully began to ski down the hill.  Without even attempting to pass her, I began (as usual) gaining an uncomfortably high amount of speed.  As I felt myself approaching her, unsure whether or not I could stop myself from hitting her, I thought it best to casually and calmly inform her of my presence.  “Andrea!…. look out! I… can’t… stop!!!!”  She did what any other person who had just watched me attempt to ski for 60 minutes would do.  She immediately collapsed in a heap.  I, on the other hand, skied down full blast and miraculously, possibly accidentally, spun around, maintaining my balance, and remained upright.  Out of shear joy, and possibly intense shock, I began to pump my ski poles in the air.  (You might agree with everyone else watching that my enthusiasm did not quite match my accomplishment.  However, you try crashing the bunny hill 10-15 times unsuccessfully while 70 year olds and 4 year olds alike ski down gracefully.)  As my fists hit the air for the 3rd time, I noticed my sister in a clump on the hill glaring at me.  Yes, at this time, we both wish I was more coordinated.

So, why, you might ask, and I too, did I just spend all this time talking about skiing.  Not sure.  I think I want it to snow.  The main point of this story was to provide the context (for those of you unfamiliar with my natural athletic skill) for the story tonight.

My friend and I had just spent the night out on the town, mainly wandering around, but also telling stories and laughing.  She told me this amazing story (she’s a writer, I’ll have her tell you) about the two times she fell over on her bike.  Recently.  As I listened to her stories, I felt secure in my biking abilities, as if nothing like that would happen to me.

One hour later…

We are biking back along the trail.  Thankfully, my friend led the way, as I would have preferred biking on the street.  As I was biking, I noticed my right foot start to feel tense, as if a shoelace was wrapping around it and sticking to the pedal.  Well, it was.  The next part of the story gets hazy–it happened oh so fast–so, I’ll give you Lauren’s version.  Apparently, I yelled, “Lauren, hold on!”, threw both of my arms into the air, and completely tipped over to the ground.  I do not remember being quite so dramatic, but I guess it doesn’t surprise me.  Not only am I a clutz.  I’m a total drama queen.

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My favorite word?

October 23, 2009

I’m currently in the middle of registering for something online.  I know, this post probably should be about the dangers of identity theft, but it’s not.  So, I get to the password section and type in my usual, and then scroll down to the security question.  I was expecting “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” or “What’s your father’s middle name?”  or even “What’s the name of your first pet or significant other (apparently the same for some people…)?”  Nope.  None of the usual.  The security question is, you guessed it, “What’s your favorite word?”

My favorite word?

This security question is guaranteed to even keep me out of my own account.

First of all, at least for me, my favorites change semi-rapidly.  Two weeks ago, my favorite ice cream was chocolate peanut butter, but then I was introduced to Ben and Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey.”  And as I ate that, I was remembering other Ben and Jerry’s flavors, and then Blue Bunny flavors (Twins Graham Slam), and Cold Stone’s cheesecake ice cream and DQ’s oreo cheesecake blizzard.. and oh, I digress.  But choosing favorites is already complicated with ice cream.   Plus, I am 25 and still don’t really know what my favorite color is, much less if I prefer rain to sun to snow…

Secondly, there are so many dimensions to that question.  I mean, what criteria would you use to choose a favorite word?  How it sounds when you say it?  Like the word “lollapalooza,” for example.  That sounds like so much fun to say.  But I couldn’t use it cause I don’t think I’ve ever used it before now and would therefore NEVER remember it.  Then there are words that produce certain memories, like names of people and places and such.  And then there are words that when you hear them, make you feel happy.  Like “sunshine” or “sparklers.”  (See, didn’t you at least feel happy just thinking of sparklers?  Unless, you’re one of those who had a far-too sparkling experience… in your case, maybe change the word to sprinklers…?)  And finally, there are those serious words with meaning, such as “love” and “forgiveness.”  And then, if you choose one of these, which form of the word do you use?  The noun?  the verb?  the adjective?  And which tense?

So, if I were you, I’d begin pondering this now.  Have it ready.  Cause it’s definitely gonna take me the rest of the afternoon…

My Favorite Day

October 12, 2009

When I was a little kid, I did what all little kids do–you know, complained about not being able to fall asleep when in reality all I really wanted was just to be told Icould stay up late.  My mom never fell for it.  Instead, she told me to imagine my favorite day.  Being slightly belligerent, I said, “But I don’t have any favorite days.”  To which my mom told me the most wonderful thing ever.  She said it didn’t have to be real.  Some may claim that I have been living in an imaginary world from that point on.

But at the age of 10, here’s what my imagination came up with:

1.  The day would be extendable–not limited to 24 hours, but if, by some terrible mistake,  something went horribly wrong, I could end the day at any time.

2. I would be pretty without trying or caring.

3.  I’d play in a Hallie league softball game where I would get a hit nearly every at bat–showing up all my coaches who thought less of me.  Now, you may be wondering if I could choose, why I wouldn’t hit a home run every at bat.  You see, that’s TOO perfect.  Too perfect that it’s in fact, quite boring.  So, I would get an infield single (yes, I know, quite the stretch of the imagination.),  a nice liner somewhere–maybe a single or double, a walk, a painless HBP (that of course appeared painful, so I would limp to first, the applause following every heroic step). Anyway, you get the idea.  In addition to a stellar performance at the plate, I would also throw out someone trying to steal and perfectly field a bunt.  Ahhh… it was a great game.

2.  Depending upon my awake status, the day would continue with Chuck Knoblauch (yes, I had an 10-year old crush on a Twin…hmmm… sensing some themes in my life.  Anyway, I wrote him a letter.  It was serious.) watching the game and realizing my amazing skills.  He would tell the coach–Tom Kelly–and before I knew it, I was signed by the Twins.

3.  There would be absolutely no fights with friends, and the friends that were mean to me in 5th grade–you know who you are–were entirely jealous of my “Little Big League”/”Rookie of the Year” life.

4.  I would eat ice cream and pizza for every meal and not feel sick.

5.  It would be sunny, but then a little rainy so I could tap dance with Gene Kelly… but then sunny again.

6. I could go swimming and turn 12 somersaults to finally beat Erin’s record of 11.

7.  And the characters in the “Indian in the Cupboard” books would be real.

Recently, in stark contrast to my 10-year-old imagination,  I realized that for the first time in my life, I kind of want a normal life.  I want an actual job in my profession.  I want to settle down. Maybe not for life, or for more than 2 years, but for more than 3-6 months–the maximum amount of time I’ve been anywhere in the past few years.  I know this is crazy talk, but I’m feeling worn out.  But, here is God setting up another short-term volunteer trip to Cambodia.  And I believe with all my heart he’s behind this, and I know that once I get there it will be great, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m entirely gung-ho about it.

So, I started remembering my favorite imaginary days, and I realized that everything in my those days had something in common.  Everything in it seemed to immediately benefit me, and just me.  I thought about my life–and how what I want is to have everyone validate me and to have things work out for me.  And then I realized what a different thing Jesus calls us to.  To live beyond ourselves, which if we actually believe all of what He says, should be less of a struggle.  I long for this to be much more natural than in me–to wake up in the morning and be automatically concerned with others’ happiness before my own. To jump excitedly on a plane to Cambodia or wherever and not worry about the life–of which I am entirely too possessive–that I’m leaving behind.

And maybe even someday, to imagine my favorite day and think of others doing wonderful things and not just me.

What They DON’T tell you…

September 29, 2009

Before I begin, I must clearly state that I do not regret any time volunteering, especially overseas.  Giving of one’s time for free always has the potential to be an extremely valuable experience, probably filled with warm fuzzies.

Now that that’s been said…

If I were one of those forward thinkers, you know, the planners, or any human of somewhat reasonable intelligence, I would have asked this question precisely one year ago as I was packing my bags for Southeast Asia.

What happens when you’re done?

Oh sure, they psychologically and emotionally prepare you well.  “There will be transitions.  You will feel lost.  Things that once were normal will now feel strange.  You will feel distant from your family and loved ones.  You might get depressed.  You will feel and think A, B, and C.”

The thinker would say at that point, “Oh, that’s nice.  I’ll feel that way.  But what about the practical things.  You know, jobs, living arrangements, de-worming treatments, HEALTH INSURANCE…?”

I, clearly, am not a thinker.

So, here I sit, 5 months after returning home, with my apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water treatment for my sinus infection.  Not sure if it’s clearing out my sinuses, but it’s clearly clearing out the rest of me.  Come to find out after-the-fact, this solution is the same as the home-remedy  for constipation.

Oh, just three more ounces…

Word to the wiser:   If you have health insurance, please use it.  Use it for me.  Make something up so that you can go visit your friendly family physician for free.  And if he just so happens to prescribe you anti-biotics…  well, you know.

Take them all, you thinker, you.

Bite Me!

July 7, 2009

No, actually, please don’t.

I don’t know who originally thought this would be a tough and cool thing to say, but whoever it was has not been bitten.  I, thankfully, have only been bitten twice in my life.  Both times by humans,  both times by children, and actually both times at the same place. 

Today was the second of its kind.

As some of you know, I am currently working at a summer program for kids with autism and other disabilities.  It’s kind of, or completely (actually) amazing, and one of my favorite places in the entire world.  I have yet to experience the camp (which I will lead the music for Tues-Fri), but today I subbed as a TA at the school site.  The site containing my extensive bite history.

The day started out lovely (actually, it started out with a bite.  One of our guys bit another little guy in the first 5 minutes, but we’ll pretend that didn’t happen to make my bite more dramatic… thanks.)  But my little friend, we’ll call him Blake (Hippa, his name isn’t Blake), came in uncontrollably giggling.  Now he’s normally a pretty positive guy, but not this giggly.  He was giggling and laughing and looking at the ceiling, which got me looking at the ceiling half expecting to see Steve Carell up there in his Michael Scott glory (which I know totally would have amused “Blake.” That or a bubble… either one).  Anyway, there was no Steve Carell, or bubble for that matter, and he continued giggling for most of the morning.  It was a happy morning.

Lunch went well.  Playtime went well. He raced me all over the school (intentially taking advantage of my bum knee which any non-verbal child with autism would do–please, please sense the sarcasm) and we swung on the swing (which any person with autism or myself, would truly do).  So after our swings and running, we were tired. The whole class went in to rest.

Blake laid on his back with his foot up on his knee, looking angelic, so I joined him.  Pretty soon, another friend, we’ll call him “Scooter” (Hippa, his name is not Scooter), joined us, and snuggled up with me on the other side.  It was all too cute.  And everyone (but me) knew it wouldn’t last.

As I remember it (the details are a bit hazy and it happened so fast), Blake instantly changed into a werewolf, complete with fangs and fur, and bit me right in the arm.  I thought he was gonna pull the arm right off, so I very calmly said, “Dear Blake.  Please stop.  I thought we were friends.  You wouldn’t want to eat your friend, would you?” translation: “There is no biting.”  But there was biting, and he didn’t really let go, so my calmness turned a little panicky, and maybe a not-so-pleasant word came out of my mouth as I called for help from staff. 

After which, Super Katie (Hippa, that is her name, but she’s my co-worker, so it’s okay, right?), came to the rescue and removed the Blake-turned-werewolf, or “Blake-wolf” from my arm.  My super-elasticky skin survived.  No blood.  No puncture.  Just an amazing bruise, that I’m actually really excited about.. Don’t tell Blake.  I really don’t want another one…

Anyway, the next time someone says “bite me,”  do it.  Bite the person who so carelessly used that phrase.  They will never say it again.

So, there are a few habits I may have developed in Cambodia that are apparently unacceptable by my home culture.  Of course, I didn’t realize I had possibly (I’m sure everyone’s exaggerating) picked them up until I got home.

The first one is smacking my food.  I do vaguely remember one, or both, of my parents telling me at a young age “Now, Elizabeth, chew with your mouth closed.  Not everyone wants to see what your food looks like all mushed up.”  In my 4 year old wisdom, I decided not to take them too seriously at first, cause afterall, they mushed up Andrea’s  (my younger sister’s) food and put it on a plate for all to see.  So, you tell me, who’s the gross one? 

But anyway, when I first came to Cambodia, I do remember being surprised by the volume of noise produced by eating–not talking and eating–just eating!  One Cambodian friend in particular, who shall remain nameless, chewed his food so loudly that I had a hard time making it through a meal without choke-laughing on my food.  But, enough repetition turned something amusing into something ordinary.  And, I learned in a college class once, that repetition is vital for special learners to acquire skills.  Yes, I am putting myself in that category… because while learning the Cambodian way of life and culture, I was a kid on the “short bus” or bike or moto…

But yeah, since years of politeness training apparently was lost on me, my mom has tried a more subtle approach than when I was 4.  “Elizabeth, do people eat really obnoxiously, distgustingly loudly in Cambodia?”  Me: “Well, yes mom. Why?”  Mom:  “Oh, no reason…” (definitely thinking ‘if Elizabeth can’t figure out why, we have bigger problems on our hands than smacking food.’)

Another bad habit is picking my nose.  I hope my unashamed confession is enough to get you to think twice about our cultural perceptions (possible misperceptions) of this healthy practice.  Cambodians will pick their noses mid conversation.  Which was startling at first.  I almost turned my face as if to save them from embarrassment, but I realized if they are popping their fingers in their noses while making eye contact with me, there’s little shame on their end! 

So, I confess, I might not be quite as bold, but as I bike or drive, I definitely get the hard boogers out of my nose the easy way.  (No tissues if you get my drift… and NO I don’t EAT them!) Combination thumb and first finger is my usual tactic.  I tell ya.  Try it!  Pick your nose!  It may change your life and the way you are perceived!  But really, all who gawk are just jealous.  And deep down inside, you know EVERYONE wants to do it.

So, I have to say I made out OK when I think of all the habits I could  have picked up from Cambodia.  I mean, I don’t eat infestacious insects, spray my food with insecticide, or pee on the street.  Not yet…

So, as most of you know, I am no longer in Cambodia.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I am no longer seeing unusual things!  So, I figured I’d keep blogging until you Americans understand how crazy you really are!  Starting…. NOW!

Well, before I actually start that (sorry for the hesitation), I would like to get a little semantic and explain the title of my blog.  I mean, a few of you might be thinking that I made an improper word choice and should have actually used the word “displaced” instead of “misplaced.”  I have to say, that was my first thought too.  But don’t you think “Indefinitely Displaced” sounds a little dramatic?  I mean, I am only one person afterall…not a displaced people group.  And my situation should in no way, shape, or form be compared to that of a refugee…right?

I did stick with indefinite though cause unlike my Cambodian friend Boremey who has the next 15 years of his life planned out, I have no idea what is going to happen after this summer.  My plans to stay, my plans to leave, my plans for anything are all indefinite.

So, what to put with indefinite?  As we’ve already discussed, displaced is out of the question.  My next thought was misplaced because it was only one letter different.  I know the meaning is very different, but here’s what I thought of when I put those two words together.  Thanks so much for bearing with me!

You know how sometimes you misplace things, like car keys, remote controls,and hopefully not children.  Well sometimes, I feel like God has misplaced me.  I know that sounds strange and borderline blasphemous, but sometimes it feels like God picked me up in his right hand, grabbed his coffee with his left, placed me down where his coffee was supposed to go, and 6 months later asked Himself, “Now where did I leave that Elizabeth creature I made?….Oh, there she is!  In Cambodia!” Then He picks me up and randomly places me in WI and the whole thing starts all over again.

Now,  let me explain before you all revolt.  (Hey, can you even stage a blogging revolt?  Hmmm….)

I do believe that God is  sovereign over all creation.  And for this I am very thankful.  As a child, the idea of being ruled by random chance terrified me–especially when I thought of near misses and “what ifs” and things.  And despite my valiant and desperate efforts to be god over my own life, I am also thankful that is not my responsibility.  Most of you right now are nodding in agreement, thinking of times I’ve lost car keys, softball gloves, money, etc.  I mean, at this point, it’s a good thing I’m not responsible for any other living thing, much less all things–living or inanimate.  If I was, I can guarantee you, I would have already lost each of you at least once, and maybe, God forbid, accidentally dropped you off in North Dakota or worse yet, Ohio (please Ohioans don’t be upset.  I just really hated driving 4-5 hours through your long, boring, and unnecessary state to get to New York).  And yet, though I know God is in control, there are moments of opposition, frustration, or confusion in my life that leave me feeling like God lost me.  So, I  stand on my feet, turn my head toward the heavens, and ask God, “Are you serious?”

Are you serious?

A combination of wonder and frustration and desperation all rolled into three simple words.  My brother was the first to ask me this question, at his young age of 8 or 9.  See, I was given the task to bring him and Rachel (the younger of my two younger sisters) to school that morning (again, we can all agree it’s good that I’m not in any position of real responsibility…).

I jump in the car, my siblings right behind me, slam the door, turn the key, and pull away from the curb.  No sooner did the car begin to move, that my little brother asks me, “Are you serious?” (and again) “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”  Not quite understanding his question, I ask, “Serious about what?”  Rachel, aware of what was going on, interprets for me, very calmly might I add.  “Elizabeth.  Kevin is hanging halfway out of the car.”  (Yes, they did make it safely to school that day.)

“Are you serious?” in Cambodia when I’m biking down street 163, hit a large pothole, get a flat tire, and a monsoon ensues.  “Are you serious?” in New York when I find out that Wildwood Prom (school for kids with special needs has a prom every year.  It’s the only prom I’ve ever been to and the only one I’d care to visit again!) is on the same night as the forum I’ve already committed to attending.  “Are you serious?” when driving for 20 hours in the last 40 hours, get lost outside of Maryland, ask my hostess for directions and she says, “If you see the Effing Pond, you’ve gone too far.” (Yes, you need to read that last sentence out loud.  And no, she actually said “Epping,” but that’s definitely not what I heard…)

So, as I sit here, misplaced currently in WI, surrounded by Norwegians, cheese, beer, and “Dontchya knows?” I am currently asking my amazing Creator, “Are you serious?”

I think He is.