Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Moments that I hold dear

You never know what sort of difference you may make to someone if you just stop and ask. I was out on the homeless run last night and even though I know it's a common response, I was still shocked to see two men walk right past an older drunk man who was on the ground, clearly unable to get himself up. There were only three of us out last night, all women, and if we hadn't stopped to help him, who knows how long he would have sat there. He even had a previously injured hand that was all wrapped up and seemed very sore, making it even harder for him to try and get himself up.

A younger drunk man showed up soon after we got him on his feet and started hassling the poor guy for money. At one point the younger man started to act like he was going to start a fight, but with two women praying like mad behind me, and the obvious fact that both men were so drunk that I could have blown on them to knock them over, I got them apart and we moved the younger man on. Not wanting to leave our new friend on the street to stumble home and possibly get beat up if the younger guy came back, we asked if we could walk him home. He agreed and over the next 15 minutes or so, we travelled about a block while he called us angels, became emotional several times, and in one passionate speech, managed to shower my entire face with drunken saliva. Even his swimming eyesight saw what he did and he gently apologized to me as I turned my head and wiped my face with my hand, telling him "It's alright".

After discovering that he lived quite a ways out and didn't have sufficient taxi fare to get home, we got him on the main street through town, on a very visible bench (in hopes he wouldn't be hassled there), and prepared to let him sober up a bit before he headed home himself. We prayed with him before we left and he started to choke up as my friend prayed that he would be kept safe from any harm. Again he called us angels and he kissed our hands goodbye through his tear filled eyes. We left to find if there were others we could help, and even though we went into an alleyway and Purelled the heck out of our hands, and my face, I had to think about what would have happened to him if we hadn't stopped like the others had.

He could have easily been taken advantage of, beaten up, or even just left in the cold. The man could hardly stand, so even if he got to his feet he may have fallen again and done some serious damage. Even when we were with him he almost pitched himself head first into traffic on the main street but I managed to catch him by the arm and swing him back to his bench. There are so many people out there that are overlooked everyday. What kind of difference could be made if someone just stopped to ask them if they were ok?

I came home, took a shower, and just kept thinking about the man we left on the bench. Would he even remember us at all when he finally sobered up? It really didn't matter, what did matter was that he got to a safe place and for the short time we were with him he felt people care for him. So many people are aching to feel someone care for them and love them. Why is it such a precious commodity in the world today?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is love and intimacy?

A couple of months ago, Janie asked me:
What is love and what is intimacy? I mean between men and women, and I don't mean sexual intimacy. I mean emotional intimacy.
My answer would be posted on her site as this is a series she is running on her blog. (note: her blog is private but you can email her a request for permission to view her blog at dumpedfirstwife@gmail.com) She posted my answer about a month ago and I would like to share my answer with you. I actually wrestled with my answer for a while because I somehow knew it but couldn't describe it. Branden, knowing me as well as he does, told me to just sit down and start writing...it worked. So this is what I sent her:

This isn’t something I would typically write about because I realize that my view is not a typical one that the world holds and even just sharing my view could be judged as ‘preaching’ (and am not a fan of that word). I’m not trying to preach or push my views but you asked for my thoughts so I have to give you an honest answer.

I don’t like the term ‘religious’ and don’t consider myself to be ‘religious’. I am not affiliated with a specific Christian denomination but I love Jesus and am married to a Biblical Scholar. Having said that, I can’t give an answer about my thoughts on love and intimacy without talking about Jesus. This is because I think that pure love and intimacy is not possible between two people. We can come as close as we humanly can to it but it will never be pure or perfect. That is because none of us are pure or perfect.

I learned from an early age that everyone would somehow let me down at some point in my life. It’s not always that they intentionally do so or even want to but they are human and humans aren’t perfect. This did make love a bit more scary because it meant that my future spouse would eventually let me down and hurt me too so I had to look into how to handle it. This is where I have to look to Jesus. He is love and is the only one I can have pure love and intimacy with. He is perfect so I don’t have to fear him letting me down but it’s also deeper than that. His love is unconditional and that means that there is nothing I can do to make him stop loving me or love me less. This is a major difference in us humans as we all have a limit. There is usually only so much we can take before we throw in the towel.

Unconditional love also means forgiving...always. How can Jesus love me even if for example, I go out and slaughter tons of people? Well, he already forgave me for all of the things I have done wrong and will do wrong. My forgiveness is not conditional and it’s not earned. It’s freely given because of unconditional love. This is another difference in us humans. Forgiveness has become something that is earned. My mom taught me something important when I was younger. Just because you forgive someone, doesn’t mean you have to trust them. Trust is something that is earned but forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness frees you from holding onto bitterness and anger which isn’t healthy and doesn’t hurt the other party at all. You just hurt yourself.

When I knew that I was going to marry Branden, I told him, “I am forgiving you now for anything you might do to me in the future”, and I meant it. This has been a wonderful thing in our marriage because it means I don’t hold onto petty little frustrations and I free myself from any bitterness that could build up. If for some reason, he does something like have an affair, I will forgive him but I don’t have to trust him again. Jesus knows we are imperfect humans and that’s why there are allowances for divorce, so we don't get abused or taken advantage of.

Trust and intimacy go hand and hand. They are both earned and built up over time. Because my husband isn’t perfect, I can have reservations in going to him with certain things because I fear how he will react. I don’t have this fear with Jesus because that goes back to knowing that I’m already forgiven and unconditionally loved. I still think it’s very important to be open with my husband though because it develops an important bond that we don’t have with just anyone. One good thing about moving 4500 miles away from our friends and family just 2 months after getting married, was that we really had to work things out together. If we had a fight, we couldn’t just call our friends or family members for advice...or for ‘ammo’. Healthy intimacy is between two people and only those two people. It isn’t shared with your mom or your best friend. If there is an issue that the two of you can’t resolve, then take it to a professional that’s an uninvolved 3rd party. I don’t think it’s healthy to take your issues to other people who know you because it ends up in side taking and a sense of entitlement to your opinion. Intimacy can’t be built upon selfish needs or the desire to always be right.

This leads me to the most important thing about love: that it is self sacrificing. It is why forgiveness is possible. Jesus died so that I could be forgiven. He sacrificed himself so that I could understand pure unconditional love. Sure I believe that he could have just blown the world to bits and started again but it wasn’t about what he could do, it was about how much he loved us and wanted us to live and know that he loved us. This is something that is very foreign to the human mindset. Every day my husband and I try to live our lives for the other person. It’s not about what we get out of the marriage but about what we can give in the marriage. Love has to be unselfish to be pure.

So because of our imperfections, we can’t ever experience true love and intimacy with another human. Our flaws will find a way to get in the way but if we hold to the image of what perfect love is and try and put it into practice, we can come as close as humanly possible.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

So, what's the deal with me not working?

Joshua asked a great question:

"I'll admit that I know absolutely nothing about the labor laws of Ireland, so I'm still confused why you can't work. Especially because it sounds like Branden will be able to work once he's done with school. Can you talk about that sometime?" 

It is a bit confusing so let me try and break it down for you. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that we are not EU citizens. If I was an EU citizen, then I could work here and move here for whatever reason I wanted, with little issue. Since I am not an EU citizen, then I only have a few ways that I am allowed to live here. I could either move here with a work visa, put in by a company that is wanting to hire me (but is limited to only a handful of professions in the medical field, IT, and University positions, and the permit costs 1000 Euros per year), or I could be a student, or as in my case, the spouse of a student (but even that is limited to spouses of PhD students only). So if Branden had been a master's student, I would not be allowed to come with him. Since I am only allowed to live here based on my spouse being a PhD student, my visa lists me as a dependent, which gives me as many rights as if I were just his child. His student visa limits him to only be able to work part time during the school year and he can work full time during school breaks, which is a bit silly since PhD's are year round. 

Since I am basically considered by the government to be no more than a child, I have a big stamp in my passport that reads:
"Permitted to remain in Ireland on conditions that the holder does not enter employment, does not engage in any business or profession, and does not remain later than *date of visa renewal."

So I am not able to attain a work permit and get a different visa because non-EU people can't just get work permits for "any old" type of job. Everything I am qualified to do is not allowed because I would be limited to get a job only in the specified fields I mentioned above. This does works out for when Branden is no longer a student and wants to get a job because he wants to be a professor and that's a field that allows for non-EU work permits. PhD students are also allowed a year long visa to find employment after they graduate. This will be helpful.

The Irish government was in the process of amending their immigration laws right as we were trying to move. The international student office was certain that the laws would change in my favor since Ireland wants international PhD students, but when we got here, the law didn't change. We were told our only hope would be to write to the Department of Justice, plead our case, and hope for an exception. They wrote us back basically saying that they already recently went over their immigration laws and if they didn't amend it now, they weren't planning on amending it again anytime soon. So "too bad, so sad" basically.

We even aren't allowed to start our own businesses until we have EU citizenship, and getting EU citizenship will take us at least 8 years. Normally it's 5 years, but unfortunately they currently don't count the 3 years Branden's studying as time put into living in Ireland. We even looked into me becoming a student just so I could work part time too, but non-EU citizens pay double the University fees so the part time job allowance wouldn't cancel out the cost of paying to study. Luckily Branden has a scholarship that makes it so he only pays EU University fees, so we are saving half in tuition costs.

A lot of people here reassure me that I could get a job and that no one ever checks for work permits for visas. I have seen that this is true, but I can't do it with a clear conscious, knowing that I've got that big nasty stamp in my passport. Plus, since we are in a recession, it just takes someone to get a fire underneath them to decide to crackdown on illegals taking the jobs from Irish citizens, and I could, by random chance, get caught. Then what? I would be kicked out and probably not allowed to come back. That's not worth it to me since we are planning on living here permanently. Also, that could bust me with the US government as well, since even though we don't pay taxes on our money we make over here, we still have to report it to the IRS every year. So potentially, I could have 2 countries crack down on me and that's just not worth it. I don't want to go against the law just because that's just how people do it over here, and I want to ensure that I don't jeopardize my future of living here.

In so many ways, not being allowed to work has been a huge blessing. We have been able to see an incredible amount of love and support poured out over us from our friends and family back home. It's been very humbling and I have found how much more fulfilled I am by using my time in whatever way God leads me, instead of within the confines of an 8-5 job. The flexibility and the opportunities to volunteer have been priceless, so no matter how tough an tight things may be financially, there has been nothing to hold me back spiritually, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I took my anxiety to the park

I took my anxiety to the park today. Surprisingly it didn't put up that much of a fight, although I didn't fuss at all when we had gone to the store earlier. And even before that, it actually enjoyed the 10 minutes of sitting in the coffee shop by ourselves after Branden left to go back to work. The park was lovely though. We haven't had sun in a while, so with my hair billowing behind me in the wind, I told my anxiety how nice it would be to sit on a bench by the duck pond and soak in some of the rays. It was so relaxing, and I'm thinking that maybe my anxiety fell asleep. It didn't say a word and I had my thoughts to myself. It was nice to have my thoughts to myself as it never used to happen often. I thought about where I was:

Ireland. Am I really in Ireland? The lush green grass tells me so, and so does the old steeple on the hill across the river. 

The gulls swirled around my head as something caused them to leave the pond suddenly. Their shrill cries had no accent to tell me of the country I was in. People were too distant to catch their dialect through their far off murmurs.

I know I'm here. I've been here for almost a year, but it still seems like a dream. One of these days I will pinch myself and I will no longer be in Ireland, Branden will not be real, and my anxiety will be my close companion again. Has this really been my life? This is more of a gift than a life. Maybe that's how life is supposed to be, a gift. 

Dark clouds loomed over the hill across the river. The hill with the old steeple. The hill with the 19th century jail and roads so narrow, cars pull onto sidewalks to allow oncoming traffic to pass. The hill dotted with cottages gated by wrought iron fences, all painted black and views of a city surrounded by rolling green hills made up of patchwork fields and hedgerows.

I'm in Ireland and I'm married to a man that I couldn't even come close to dreaming up. Thank you Lord for this gift. There is nowhere else I would rather be and no one else I would rather be here with.

I walked home with God. The conversation was sweet and peaceful. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I may have left my anxiety asleep on the park bench. Oh well. It knows where to find me, but today I'm just enjoying the time apart.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Simply Me

There is a novelty in meeting the man of your dreams and being told that he is planning on living abroad for the rest of his life. Thoughts of experiencing a different way of life, seeing beautiful lands with deep historical roots, and knowing that you will raise your children around such rich culture are exactly what fairy tales are made of. Being whisked away with my knight in shining armor was all I could have dreamed of but of course I didn't think of everything. He had a plan, knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going to do it, but where did I fit in? What would my place in this new world be?

Ireland was always the goal. It is the place Branden has felt called to since he was a young teen. His drive and determination to be a University Professor could be a relatively fast reality if he finishes his PhD in two and half years when he's the ripe young age of 27...where I am now. 

I've had a slow story. When I was very young I used to tell my mom that I was going to go to Africa and feed all the starving babies. I couldn't stand to see suffering and such need. As I got older, I realized that I would have to have ridiculous amounts of money to feed all the starving babies, so then I thought maybe I could be an actress. They made lots of money so it seemed perfect. As I got even older, I acknowledged my stage fright and social anxiety, so an acting career was out of the question. I volunteered in the church my family attended. Typically I worked with children, anywhere from babies up to teens; despite that I was a teen myself. My place still didn't feel right. After working in the church from the age of 13 up until I was about 22, I burned out.

I wondered if I made a hint of difference in my small, barely there town, let alone my giant world that I longed to be in. When I finally met Branden when I was 24, I was ripe and ready to get out and take the world by storm. Getting married just over a year later and then moving to Edinburgh, Scotland 2 months after our wedding, we prepared for a different life but not one we could get settled into as home. It wasn't Ireland, so we couldn't get cozy so to speak.

My social anxiety took a turn for the worse when we moved. Moving to a country 4,500 miles away from the only home I had ever known, living in a city one hundred times the size of my tiny town, and having a completely different culture was the most shocking thing I probably could have done to my anxiety. My only plan for living in Scotland while Branden went to University was to work, but with days when I couldn't even get out of bed from depression, I didn't even apply for a job until we'd been in Edinburgh for 6 months. It was a dark time, but luckily I married a man who was determined to get me through it...even if he considered sending me back to the States a few times.

My first job in Scotland was through a temp agency. I received a call asking if I'd be interested in working at a medical office with 'sensitive clients'. My mind thought, "Mentally disabled? Physically disabled? Elderly?". I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I agreed and then felt excited over maybe getting to make a difference to someone. I arrived the next day to discover it was a clinic for drug users, prostitutes, HIV patients, and some homeless people. My job was to be the front receptionist, so I got to meet most all of the clients. "Protected" behind my plexiglas window, I heard stories, met family members, and got to see a group of people that were generally considered the scum of the city. A lot of them begged on the street, and I soon learned where their regular spots were and made sure they never saw me. We met as equals in the office, so I never wanted them to feel below me by having me see them as they begged.

There were hard days. Days when I cried over the situations I knew they were in and days when we had scares with particularly violent clients. For the most part though, I came home feeling refreshed. I told my friends and family back home that if Jesus would have been on the Earth today, these are the people he would be with. As he told the Pharisees in Mark 2:17,
"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
I'm not taking this to call anyone a sinner but I found reason in my excitement for working with those who are typically looked down on society. I became burned out working at my church because I think in my heart, I felt as if I was the doctor healing the healthy. It doesn't mean that churches don't need volunteers because they definitely do, but I now knew that my work was outside. It's not everyone's passion but it is my passion.

I worked at the drug clinic for 4 months and I was sad to go, but a fire had been lit within me and I wasn't sure what to do with it. Branden and I got new jobs that took away any available time I could have put into volunteering. Soon things changed again and we found ourselves moving to Ireland years before we ever thought possible. Moving to Cork was exciting but scary all at the same time. We didn't know if I was even going to be allowed to work but it was a risk we had to take for Branden's continuing education. When we discovered that I wouldn't be allowed to work, a small part inside of me smiled at the thought of finally being able to put time into volunteering. I had a couple of opportunities to volunteer but they were a bit far off and public transportation was too expensive for a couple with no income. So I waited. Finally after 7 months, I caught a break. I met a woman at church who plugged me into all sorts of avenues and my life has been changing and growing ever since. I'm so excited for all of the opportunities I have and for all of the people I have met.

This blog is my place to note my experiences, to share my growth, and to hopefully encourage others to see what they can do in their communities. I don't have money, I don't have a lot of stuff, but I do have time. Time is the most precious thing we have on this earth. Without it, we would be non existent. I spent too much of it focused on myself and what made me happy. Now that it's the only thing I can give, I am learning that it's much better spent on others because then I don't become happy, I receive joy.