Fifty-Three. Reality.

Time to get back in the game.

I haven’t written in far too long. At first, I was super busy, but then “not writing” became a habit. A bad habit.

Now I feel like it’s time to get back to my own reality – one which includes more writing.

Since I’ve graduated university, I’ve been thinking about the future, and what I’d like to do for work, or even just in general with my life.

I keep coming back to the same conclusions, I want a family, and I want to write.

Neither of those come easily though, so in the meantime, I have to find another job.

But I also have to write!

I have so many ideas for books (I even have an idea to open a publishing company!) but the reason so many people say “author is just another word for unemployed” is because writing with a purpose actually does take a lot of time, effort and dedication, and often there really isn’t room for much else.

People who live full lives tend to have a lot of responsibilities and therefore not a whole lot of time, but if you’re using your time well and enjoying the moments you can, at the end of the day, when you’re winding down, you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished – even if it wasn’t 100% of your to-do list.

There are also different seasons in life when your load will likely change.

The important thing is to take stock of the things you have to do, want to do, and can actually do. And if there’s something you want to do but it doesn’t necessarily fit into your current available time, you might have to make some decisions about what to cut out. If I want to write, I might have to pencil in an hour block of time where I can concentrate on that.

None of that was news.

It was just something on my heart as I’m in this season of transition.

The most important thing I’m working on right now is trust.

Trusting God to provide everything I need in this uncertain time of my life. I may not have an actual job right now, but I need to actively look for work, and I need to devote time and effort to the projects I’ve accepted to take on. I also have to maintain good habits of reading the Bible and praying daily.

I need to trust in God’s timing, provision and direction. I’m thankful to know that He is faithful.

Honestly, He does listen to prayer and He does answer, and it’s been wonderful to see it happen again and again in my own life. In particular, three days ago, I had a rough day, I was feeling very discouraged but I kept praying about it, and the very next day felt so much better. All of a sudden, I was seeing things more positively, I had a lighter heart, I was more focused and I just felt an inexplicable peace.

Anyway, this was just a short note to update my friends and family, to help ease me back into writing and to see if anyone’s still reading my thoughts.

I hope God blesses each and every one of you, and I want to encourage you to pray through whatever issues you’re facing.

No matter what season you’re in, no matter what responsibilities you bear, the King of the Universe, the Creator, our Lord and Savior, desperately wants you to run into His arms to seek comfort and peace and strength in Him. He is listening, He does care.

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Fifty. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

Today is my last day of freedom (for a while anyway) and this one is hitting harder than all the ones before because I’m coming out of a fantastic summer. That’s why I was thinking about Ecclesiastes today.

I’m passing from one season to another (both literally and figuratively) and it’s scary.

But I want to take some time to praise God for the amazing experiences I had this summer.

First, anyone who knows me knows I love the summer because I’m out of school so I’m less stressed, I get to work and I love my job, and I get to travel and see my family. This summer delivered on all counts!

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, cousin Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

In June, my parents and I went to Pennsylvania. We were staying around the Pocono Mountains and Shawnee Valley area. My aunt, uncle and two cousins from New Jersey came to see us (and we went on a hiking trail), and we took a few side trips too. We went to Philadelphia (we’ve been before, but it was still cool) and an awesome sculpture park.

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders :)

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders 🙂

At the end of our trip we went to see their new house in New Jersey and my brother even joined us 🙂

At the end of June and into the beginning of July, we had our annual cottage week with our family friends. This year we were at Charleston lake.  Two of my best friends joined us for a few days, and my brother came by too.

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals - all relaxing by the lake

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals – all relaxing by the lake

I actually stayed in Ottawa for pretty much all of July but I got to spend lots of time with the best people. Two of my best friends were in Ottawa, and one of my other best friends came to spend a weekend with us. We shared a lot of laughs and became inseparable!

In August we went to Las Vegas and I got to celebrate my 22nd birthday there. People are often shocked to hear about my family going to Vegas so often because it’s known as Sin City but there’s plenty you can do there without getting into any trouble too. Like meeting up with family friends, seeing fantastic shows, eating amazing food and marvelling at the gorgeous (and extravagant) hotels!

This is indoors!

This is indoors!

Also indoors

An indoor waterfall

An indoor waterfall

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Seeing Terry Fator (AGT)!

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

I’m really grateful my parents value travelling. We’re able to see the world, experience culture and adventure, create memories and spend quality time together. Life won’t always be like this, so I’m happy for the time we have.

As soon as we got back from Las Vegas, Lindsey and I joined Justine at her family’s cottage on Belmont Lake, in Havelock, ON. The girls surprised me for my birthday with delicious cupcakes by the fire.

11866385_995967960455017_345829462079769578_nWe slept under the stars (literally took our sleeping bags and slept outside on the deck), went to Toronto to see a Blue Jay’s game (Lindsey’s and my first baseball game ever!) and laughed way too much. I always have such a good time with these women. 11850618_10155996787990714_37859395553056815_o
3296Romans

Our next trip was a combination trip, but my brother came with us for the whole thing! We drove to Washington, D.C. at night-time (easier for my dad, who’s used to working at night) but stopped in New Jersey to leave my dog with our family. My grandparents from Israel came to visit for a few weeks and were staying with my aunt and uncle. After a quick rest there, we drove on to the capital of the U.S.

My brother and I took a few tours together and went to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum (that has been on my bucket list for a very long time!) before joining my parents for the rest of our touring time. We went to an incredible spy museum, saw and heard so much, walked way too much and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

After three and a half days in D.C. (we were actually staying in Alexandria, VA though) we joined the rest of our family for a reunion in Naples, NY. We had a great time relaxing at the cottage there, swimming in the pool, hiking along a river (and trying not to die as we jumped from slippery rock to slippery rock across fast-moving water!) and just generally enjoying some time to catch up with relatives from around the world.

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I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend with family and friends, the new places I got to see, the experiences I was able to have, and all the laughs and fun memories that will last forever. I’m so thankful for such a full and wonderful summer, for health and joy and peace, for the beauty of life.

And I need to hold onto these happy times as I’m heading into a scary time.

I’ve been taking swimming lessons this summer and tonight is my last one – so I’ll be tested to see if I’ve learned enough. I guess that’s not particularly scary. It’s actually been fun, even if a little embarrassing. But any kind of test is stressful.

Tomorrow though, I have my first day of classes in my last year of school. I’m looking at my schedule and some of my classes fill me with fear and dread. I feel like I’m doing this alone because my best friends aren’t at school with me.

I have to focus on the blessings in my life though, and praise God through all the storms I’ll face over the next eight months. I’m going in as a different person than I was last time around and I know I’ll come out changed again.

Whatever is coming, I’m glad I have the Lord guiding me through and the support of family and friends around me (even if they’re not going through it with me right now).

I hope that whatever kind of summer you’ve had, whatever is about to come around for you, any new jobs, locations, or a new stage in life, or maybe you feel stuck, remember that there is a time for everything.

I’ve just come out of a season of fun and freedom, of friends and family and I’m heading into a season of hard work and stress but through it all, I will praise the Lord! I hope.

God Bless!

(PS, check back, album links will be coming… hopefully. And yes, Ireland is still in the works.)

Forty-Nine. I’m not dead!

As I often must, I’ll start with an apology. It has been over two months since my last post. I knew November would be hectic and I knew I’d likely not post anything, but I had so many ideas for December…

Anyway, that’s in the past, I got busy, I’m sorry.

So what have I been up to? Well school mostly.

I had a tough semester, and I felt very busy throughout the entire 3 1/2 months.

But I finished surprisingly well.

I know it was God blessing me far beyond what I deserve because I know what I was like on those final assignments and my exam… I was there, but only as a shell. I did work hard, but I was so tired, conventional thinking would suggest that I shouldn’t have been able to perform.

I also know I wasn’t alone in that boat though. Many, if not all, students feel completely exhausted by the end of a semester. They’ve come to the end of their abilities. I’m so thankful I didn’t have to rely solely on my own abilities.

When I’m in a tough spot with school work, I always pray that God would give me peace. I ask that He would help me remember the things I already know. I ask for favor with whoever will be marking my work as well. But mostly I thank Him that no matter the outcome, I am loved, I am valued and that I’m not defined by academic success – it doesn’t change who I am.

But not all students turn to God in those times.

I would encourage everyone to do that, not just students but anyone going through any kind of trial.

Anyway.

Back in August I decided to pay more attention to my daily walk with God. I realized that at 21 I’m responsible for my own choices, my own actions and I would be held accountable for my own relationship with my Creator. I couldn’t ignore Him but expect to grow and learn and change…

As often happens with resolutions, I was strong for awhile, but eventually I stopped being so intentional.

For two months I read and wrote nearly every day but I don’t have many reflections in my notebook from October. I still read, but not as often and not carefully.

Then I decided to follow along with Calvary – the new church I started attending in September – reading one chapter of the Bible every day, starting in Genesis and going right through. I started in Joshua.

I have definitely noticed an incredible increase in the ways in which God blesses every area of my life.

I can only attribute this to intentionally pursuing a deeper relationship with Him.

Since then, I’ve also added another part to my daily devotions. “Coffee with God,” a daily devotional by Sarah Arthur, has been a great way to start my time with the Lord by giving me something to think about. She writes her thoughts on something and I can respond in my own journal.

I’ve really loved spending more intentional time with God.

In other news, Church on Wednesday, a new initiative that started in September at the University of Ottawa was hugely successful, and this semester they’ve started Church on Thursday as well, at Algonquin College. I’m very excited about both of these chances to meet with other believers and to worship the Lord in public ways on post-secondary campuses where perhaps God hasn’t been welcome.

Basically, my life looks like classes Mon-Wed, and going to church four evenings a week, Wed-Sat.

I love it!

One time, back in either first or second year, I was challenged to think about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in a week (168, thanks Google!) and some things are unavoidable. People need to sleep (I’m told there’s a hoped-for six hour minimum) people need to eat… and people need to be people (ie, bathroom times and other hygienic things, time to just be, time to move (and other transportation/commuting), time to think, etc). For students there’s also a minimum of in-class hours and of course time for homework, studying, or in the case of journalism students, running around the city interviewing people! (The alternative would be people who work instead of go to school.) Then there are also other commitments or volunteering things people might be involved in and of course hobbies… etc.

With so many demands on our time, it can be hard to see how God fits in. That’s why many people are content with going to church once a week and they feel good about their block of time so that God makes an appearance for like three hours during their week.

The challenge to me was, if we say we love God so much, if we say we shouldn’t compartmentalized Him and put Him in a “church-only” box, but that He should be present in every part of our lives, if we say we owe Him everything… then why does He only get three of our 168 per week? Now some people do a little better and will hopefully find one hour each day to spend time alone with God (although that was sorely lacking in our little experimental survey of the students at the table).

I realized that I didn’t want that life.

Knowing that God desires to spend time with me, I really wanted to get to know Him more, to let Him into more of my life.

That’s why I’m trying to get involved. That’s why I’m trying to be intentional.

It’s not easy.

It’s not something I can do on my own.

And I’m not perfect, so it’s not something I can promise to achieve 100% all the time.

But thankfully there is grace in Him.

There is forgiveness in Him.

There is LOVE.

All I can say is that I’ve been so blessed. I’m discovering things in the Bible I thought I knew but hadn’t read in so long, or, in some cases, hadn’t read at all myself. I certainly feel like I’ve grown and leaned and changed for the better.

I often talk about part of my transformation occurring in throughout first and second year of university, but does God ever stop working on us? Has He ever completed His work on someone and left them to wander the earth as seemingly perfect creatures? I don’t think so! When He’s done working in us, He calls us home!

So while I’m still here, every day of my life is a living testimony of His goodness, of His love, of His healing, of His transformation, of His restoration… He is constantly at work.

But He can’t work if you won’t let Him in.

He can’t work if you reject Him and push Him away or enclose Him in a box.

You need to open yourself up to Him in all areas. You need to let Him have your time and your heart. He needs you to want Him, so that He can meet you and begin to better you.

I don’t know if that can help anyone… I mean, who am I to share this kind of stuff?

All I can do is share my story, my experience… All I can do is encourage each person to make good choices. God is always the right choice, the best choice.

That’s all for now friends. Hopefully it won’t be another two months before my next post.

God bless!

Forty-Eight. Recovery

I had a goal to write two posts per month. I like fulfilling my promises.

Well, October has been intense.

I’ve had so many assignments, and an increase in my own activities that it’s been hard to keep up. I slept a lot less, I was home a lot less, I lost track of time, but I had a lot of fun too!

I started going to a new church about two months ago and I decided quite quickly that I like it. The people are great, it’s nice to be with more young adults and there are lots of kids!!

That’s probably my favorite thing about this new church, that I’m able to serve God by doing what I love and what I was called to do.

Last week was my first time helping out. It was hectic because it was an”extended service” so we had more kids than usual, for longer than anyone’s used to. There were a lot of new faces, including me as a new teacher/helper. It wasn’t perfectly smooth, but everyone survived and we all had a good time.

My TV class has also been keeping me very busy. My partner and I have to co-ordinate with each other and whoever we’re filming to get enough material for our pieces. It’s been fun, but also stressful.

My other classes are labor intensive too. I’m in a fascinating literature course, but I have to read tough books in French pretty quickly. And do the essays. My political science course is really reading-focused, as well as having essays to write and a group presentation to plan. And my other journalism course started out as one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had to deal with.

It might not sound so bad – we all had to write a 500-600 word story every two weeks for a community newspaper – but with the number of people working within our particular constraints, it was a lot harder than anyone expected! There was a collective sigh of relief when that weight came off our shoulders. [The semester was split into two parts, and for us, the practical aspect came first, so we’re now in the ethical part of the course.]

I’ve tried to spend some quality time with friends too, and of course some down time to remember to relax every once in awhile. I went to a butterfly exhibit on campus with two girlfriends and I have been spending an awful lot of time at Shawarma Palace with all the new friends I’ve made in the last two months (at least 50 new people) as well as a few house parties.

Between life, those classes, the new church, Church on Wednesday (a new gathering that started in September to have a church service and fellowship time mid-week) and social stuff, I’ve also gotten more involved in some activism for causes I believe in.

I care a lot about life.

Everyone knows I love children, but I’m also passionate about saving the unborn. So this month I participated in a beautiful display on Parliament Hill to plant 100,000 pink and blue flags. The lawns looked gorgeous, but it was also a very sad display because each flag represented and aborted child. It gave me a lot of hope too though because there were so many young people there!

Flag Display, Parliament Hill. Photo from ARPACanada, via Facebook

Flag Display, Parliament Hill.
Photo from ARPACanada, via Facebook

 

Tomorrow I’ll be participating in a campaign called “40 Days for Life” by praying silently outside an abortion clinic.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading on pornography, another cause I care about.

I’ve started a special initiative, for myself but anyone can join me, about bus prayer. I waste a lot of time riding the bus everywhere (I’ve been finding myself downtown way more than I’d like to) and some people talk kind of loudly about various things in their lives. Whether they’re chatting to neighbors or on the phone, you don’t have to be listening intently to hear about their struggles.

I don’t know anyone names and I don’t bother them but I make a mental note to pray for them when God opens my eyes, ears and heart to understand their brokenness and pain. One woman, I call her the purple-haired girl, was telling her friend about a trusted friend who raped her at a party and how seeing him still made her uncomfortable and brought back painful memories. Other girls were talking about a secret abortion clinic operating in what looks like a Curves gym/store.

So I pray for these people.

In all of that busyness I do get tired but I try to focus on bringing glory to God in all that I do.

Sometimes though, it can be hard to recover. Either by going from an extremely relaxed atmosphere to a fully packed one, or vice versa.

I feel that that has happened to me.

Last year, while I was in Belgium, the school system was very different and I didn’t have assignments or readings throughout the year. So it was very relaxed. I also didn’t volunteer and had far fewer responsibilities.

This year, starting in September, I was thrown into a very stressful and busy school year as well as getting myself involved in all kinds of things.

Neither extreme is really good, and both have positives and negatives to them.

But the recovery is tough.

there are all kinds of recoveries we might have to go through in life. After a surgery or illness there’s a recovery period. After travelling there’s a different kind of recovery period. Sometimes it’s easy, like switching time zones, for me. But sometimes it can be incredibly difficult, and even disheartening.

After medical issues, the best tool for recovery is usually time. [I hear laughter helps too.]

But sometimes you don’t have time to make an adjustment when your life takes a dramatic turn and changes quickly from one pace to another.

You hit the ground running and you have to catch up with yourself but you can feel your feet flying out from under you!

Throughout any period though, one thing remains constant.

God.

He loves you.

No matter what you’re going through, whether you’re busy or completely relaxed, whether you’re feeling 100% healthy or even if you know you’re dying, He is there, He loves you and He is the only One you can count on.

I needed to call on Him for strength and stamina, for focus, for time-management, for confidence, and for grace if/when I might fail.

You can too.

Whatever you  might be recovering from, whatever you might be going through, don’t do it alone.

I hope this can be as encouraging to someone as it was and is for me.

God bless!

Forty-Seven. Simplicity and Steadfastness.

Recently, life has been very busy. A lot of assignments have been due, a lot of events have been going on and I don’t feel like my life is simple anymore.

I’m always juggling things, I’m sacrificing one thing (like sleep) for other things (like writing essays), and all the different choices are tough too.

Life is complicated.

But I suppose that’s how it should be.

When life is complicated, we appreciate the simple things so much more.

Recently I’ve been having a few conversations with different people about writing. Not only do I write essays for school – I am studying journalism and literature after all – but I also love to write, as evidenced by this blog, and I appreciate language, I love sophisticated vocabulary and complex (but properly used!) grammar is exciting.

But not every sentence has to have 53 ideas crammed into and not every word needs to be the most obscure thesaurus entry for what you’re actually trying to say.

In fact, when you’re writing for others especially, your sentences should only have one idea in them and you need to use the best word to accurately describe what you’re trying to explain.

Make sure you understand your own thought.

Make sure you’re being clear and straightforward.

“Simple” is not a bad word.

There seems to be a stigma against using simple words and writing simple sentences. I don’t know why people think that as university students they have to prove how much better they are than high school students, for example. You should always be getting smarter, yes, and you should be growing your vocabulary and your techniques as you learn. But if you can’t fit all 87 words into a sentence that makes sense, don’t!

Just break it up.

If people can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they won’t be seeing your fancy words, they will think you’re trying to cover something up. Either you don’t really know what you’re talking about, and you’re just as confused as they are, or else you think you’re too good to explain things to the likes of them.

I had a teacher once who knew their subject. They REALLY knew it. But they forgot that the students they were teaching weren’t at the same level. They went too quickly, used unfamiliar words and concepts and seemed unsympathetic to people who couldn’t keep up. It’s hard to understand new things sometimes. Experts need to remember that they didn’t always know everything.

I had another teacher who also knew their subject better than anyone would ever need to know anything. But they were so good building up the students. they gave the basics first and made sure everyone got those concepts before moving on and building in the next part. They did what teachers are supposed to do, teach.

I think we need to do that same when we’re writing or speaking. The point of communication is to communicate, but that’s a two-way street. Someone puts out an idea and someone takes in that idea. If person A meant to say “apple” but person B understood “orange,” there was a breakdown in communication. It could be person B’s fault, but if you are person A, make sure you tried to convey your idea is the best way possible.

One of my journalism professors this semester has two rules for us in our writing.

1. NEVER use the word “very.” He wasn’t very tired, he was exhausted.

2. Don’t use the word “and” to make your sentence longer and more complex. (I’m kind of bad at this one.)

I wish we could all remember that.

I wish “simple” didn’t have the negative connotation is being “stupid.” Simple is not stupid. Simple is effective. Simple is kind. Simple is beautiful.

When I started writing this post, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to talk about, but something else came up too.

Going back to “when life is complicated, we appreciate simple things,” we also appreciate steadfast things. (In case “steadfast” is a new word for you, it means, “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering” but I do touch on what I mean in the next sentence.)

 

We appreciate the things that don’t change, we appreciate the things we can trust, we appreciate the things that shine like bursts of light when we feel depressed, powerless, lost, alone, or in the dark.

When life is complicated, we can always lean on God, and while He’s not simple, He has taught us to accept a few simple truths.

1. He loves us. We don’t have to understand why, but we do have to understand that it’s unconditional.

2. He is always there for us. This one is hard for our minds to understand sometimes, but when we pray, we’re not talking to a wall or the ceiling, God is listening and He does answer. Believe that He hears you, don’t be afraid to cry out to Him.

3. He is unchanging. His love for us does not change, He does not abandon or forsake us, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

All of those concepts can be complicated when you try to unpack and understand how and why they are, but the truths there are gifts to us, and we can simply believe. There’s no test for us that asks, “Why does God love you?” or “When does God change?”

I’ve been really stressed out recently because I’ve had a lot of schoolwork to do. On Wednesdays, when my classes are over, my work isn’t, but I enjoy going to “Church on Wednesday” to meet with friends, to worship God and to get into His Word.

A few weeks ago one friend asked how my week went, and I said I was stressed and tired. He asked me two things, “Did anyone die?”

“No.”

“Is Jesus still on the throne?”

“Yes.”

“Then everything’s fine.”

He was right. In the midst of my stress, I could still look to God for strength, for peace, for comfort. He is everything.

Whatever you’re going through, remember that He is King of all.

Remember that He loves you.

Remember that He is unchanging.

Go to Him, cry to Him, lean on Him.

Anyway, that’s what has been on my heart and I wanted to share that with you, to hopefully encourage you to look at your life.

Where are you trying to complicate things?

Have you been forgetting that God loves you?

Well He does, more than I do.

God Bless,

-Rita

Forty-Five. Full Circle.

As promised, continuing my last post.

So God continued to prove that He takes care of things best!

Later the same week as that third-year/fourth-year mess, I was waiting for a response from a professor to approve my story plan. Our deadline for plan submission was at 5:00 pm. I had sent it in at 2:45. I expected a quick answer, or at least something by 5 o’clock, but the time came and went and I had to leave for our Friday evening service. I had expected to see something by the time we came home, but around 9:30 or 10:00 when I checked, there was still nothing from my professor.

So I sent another email, double checking which email account I was sending from, who I was sending the message to and how I had formatted my subject line.

Everything on my end was fine.

I went to sleep expecting to see a response in the morning.

Around 7:30 the next day I checked and I still had not received a reply so I was getting nervous and I started to worry about the plans I had for that evening.

I told my friend that I hoped to see her but I was dealing with a stressful situation so she agreed to pray for me.

Then I decided that since this was another situation I could do nothing to change, I gave it up to God and asked Him to deal with it.

Then I posted lyrics from “Whom Shall I Fear [The God of Angel Armies]” (by Chris Tomlin) as my Facebook status:

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands
I’m holding onto Your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

That was just after 10 am.

I went to check my inbox and wouldn’t you know it, there was the approval I had been waiting for!

And then I had one of the best Saturdays of my life.

I met so many new people and truly had a good time, and I can only thank God for that.

God’s timing is actually just so mind-blowingly perfect. He does exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.

It makes me wonder why it’s so hard for us to trust Him sometimes.

To bring this all full circle, or back to my decision about baptism anyway, I’ve started on a new and exciting journey of actively growing in my faith. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. Or rather, I’m just being blessed more and more.

God is really faithful, and He really cares! This is not an earth-shattering revelation or anything, but He has shown me that I can come to Him with any request, big or small, and He is listening! It’s something we often say, but I wonder how many of us have experienced this, and truly believe in His power, in our prayers and most of all, in His unfailing love.

That’s why I want to be baptized, as a marker for my decision to give everything up to God. I want to experience His love more deeply, and more frequently than I was before. I want to let Him into every part of my life. I want to die to my old self, even though my old self was a Christian.

It’s time to grow up and take responsibility for my faith. It’s time to mature as a woman and realize that I need to come to God as a child, completely dependent on Him, and trusting Him fully to take care of me.

I hope this can be encouraging to someone.

I truly believe that as easy as it is to say, praying fervently is really the best response to all our situations, good or bad.

Worried? Stressed? Stop that! Give it all up to God, your Father’s got your back!
Lonely? Cry out to Him and claim His love and comfort.
Feeling weak? Or helpless? Let Him be your strength!
Succeeding at work or in school? Praise Him for His favor!
New romantic relationship? Don’t shut Him out, praise Him as a couple and continue to ask Him for guidance!

When everything feels like it’s going well for you, remember to rejoice in Him! Sing, Dance, Laugh and Pray!

But when things get hard, know that He’s there for you. He loves you and wants you to come to Him.

It has been amazing reading the Word every day for the past month and a half. I wish everyone could do this. I wish I had started ages ago!

Anyway, I feel like I’ve calmed down a bit now, I’ve said what I had to say. I want to finish with one more thought that I’ve confessed to many of my friends already, but I have to keep reminding myself of. (Bonus point: When you’re convicted of something (as in, not a felony but when God has laid something on your heart) or when you’ve identified something you’re weak in, tell people so they can encourage you and keep you accountable!)

“If it’s God’s will, it’ll happen, despite my best efforts to ruin it. If it’s not God’s will, it’ll never happen, even if I do everything “perfectly.” Just trust in His plans, His timing, His direction, and everything that needs to be, will be.”

So friends, remember how much God loves you. Don’t shut Him out. In darkness, He is your Light! In the light, rejoice in Him!

“God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!”

Love you,
-Rita

*tl;dr: I’m getting baptized not because I just came to faith, but because God is good and I want to mark the next leg of my journey with Him!

And no, I don’t know when or where the baptism will be yet.

Thirty-Nine. Love.

First of all, I’m so sorry I haven’t been writing lately. It’s like I’ve been entirely too busy, without having a lot of something specific to do.  I’ve really missed it, but I’m finding I don’t have as much time to sit down and write when I’m inspired as I did before. I’ve talked about this before, how it’s both a good thing and a bad thing that I have less time to “waste” – or rather, to use for personal interests.

Second, I’m sorry I haven’t posted all my newest photos yet… I have five more albums to put up: the Carnavale in Alost, my trip to Ireland, my trip to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, my time in Israel and my trip to the UK. BUT, in my defense, four of those albums have over 600 photos! I have nearly 3000 photos to go through (2914 if someone needs the exact number). So, I’m sorry they’re taking so long, I will work on it… I’m sure I’ll get around to sorting through photos when I’m procrastinating on studying for exams 😛

Also, I had another blog post going up in mid-March, I wrote the draft for it and everything, but I wasn’t happy with it, so I didn’t post it.

I’ve found I have my best blog post ideas when I’m walking, but it’s weird for me to whip out my recorder and talk into it in public and I can’t always walk and write safely, so often, my best ideas get lost, or partially lost. I need a “notebook” that’s attached to my thoughts o I can think of what I want to write and have my exact thoughts available for later. Or else I need to get over my awkwardness in talking into a recorder in public…

But I digress, onto what I really wanted to talk about today (and I’ll add a little update on my life at the end).

Is it the month of love? No, I guess that’s February.  Well, at my house (back in Canada) May is pretty sweet too because it’s my parents’ anniversary! (29 years this year! – Congratulations!! I LOVE YOU!!!)

But that’s not even the kind of love I want to talk about right now… that was just my attempt at an awkward transition or introduction or something… Sorry.

I actually wanted to talk about love languages because I’ve had a few interesting conversations about the topic recently.

If anyone hasn’t heard of Love Languages, they are the five ways in which people understand and communicate love.  Usually, perhaps because we’re selfish, we think of how we prefer to receive love. But we also need to think about how we communicate love to others. [If you want to know more, you can Google “Love Languages” or go to 5lovelanguage.com]. One of the best things about love languages is that they’re for more than just romantic expression, they’re applicable to every relationship we have 🙂

When I first moved to Belgium, I asked my roommates to do the test “for fun” – well, I was also curious and wanted to know how I could best communicate love to them. Only one actually did it, and it was so long ago, I can’t be 100% sure, but I believe his results showed words of affirmation and acts of service as his top two.

My top two were, very obviously, physical touch and quality time. No one needed a test to confirm that though 😛

Anyway, I’m not in love with my roommates, but I do love them and knowing that I’m probably the only believer they’ll interact with, I was really encouraged to show God’s love to them – I know that’s part of why I was sent to Belgium in the first place. So it wasn’t as important to find out how I understand love as finding out how to adjust my communication of it towards them.

So I had to make a conscious effort to hug a little less, leave them alone a little more, say thank you often and do kind little things without being asked or expecting anything in return.

I learned that you can actually train yourself to accept and communicate love in a way that wasn’t entirely natural before.

While I’m still working on it, I’ve been trying to accept compliments more and I’ve been learning to let others do little things for me too. I’d like to think that, just as I had to learn to accept compliments, my roommates had to learn to accept hugs – at least a little bit more.

In every relationship love is a two-way street and it’s important to accept and understand each other’s differences.

I think it’s also important to recognize areas you might be lacking in and work on them if a particular relationship could use a bit of strengthening.

One of my friends recently started a new relationship and one person loves physical touch, but the other, not so much. I would hope, that for the sake of their relationship, they’d both be willing to work a little bit to learn to like other love languages. It’ll be a slow process and it won’t be easy, they might not even ever get to the same comfort level, but I think love is worth working on.

I guess I had just accepted that there are different love languages and that different people appreciate some more than others… but it struck me to realize, as I looked back at myself when I first came to Belgium, to see the differences in my own life with regards to how I communicate love.

Well, I hope you can take some encouragement from that and perhaps a little advice (in case you’re in a relationship that’s struggling to effectively communicate love) and I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about love languages too. Or love in general, love is a pretty awesome thing to think about 🙂

God Bless! LOVE YOU!!

P.S. for those interested, I’m hoping to go on a few more trips in the next two months (like to Rome and maybe Marseille and/or Barcelona) but I have to finish up school first. I have one paper, two oral exams and two written exams to get through; everything will be done for me on June 5th. I leave Belgium on June 26th… I’m pretty sad to be leaving so soon, but it will be nice to see some old, friendly faces again, back in Canada. Also, I will try to write again soon…

Thirty-Seven. Challenges.

Recently, a friend emailed me and asked what God’s been teaching me while I’m in Belgium. I was a little worried because I thought I would have to write “nothing” but I didn’t want to give that as an answer.

Before I could even consider responding to him, I had about fifty other emails to send out because I’ve entered a time of sheer lunacy at school.

As an exchange student, the first 2-4 weeks of the new semester are very crazy. They say there’s lots of help available, but in reality, no one really wants to help you.

You’re left floundering in a sea of confusion, trying desperately to choose courses that satisfy the host school’s rules and also satisfy your home school’s program requirements. You also have to consider the amount of credits, the level of study, the language barrier, the pre-reqs, etc… It’s all such a headache.

On top of that there are other things going on in life too and it can quickly feel overwhelming.

If you’re someone like me, you’re used to having it all together, having all the answers and people relying on you for information and support.

You can’t really support others when you feel like you’re lost and drowning yourself.

But in the midst of all that, God is good! He is always good!

That’s what God’s been teaching me – “Rely on me; Trust in me; Lay your burdens down at my feet; Take rest in me, take courage, take heart. I AM your peace. I AM in control.”

It’s an incredible reminder that the Creator loves me despite or in spite of my failings, short-comings and imperfections.

I don’t always have to have it all together because He does. And sometimes us perfectionists really need a good kick in the bum to remind us that we’re human and imperfect.

No matter what happens with school, or work, or our social lives, God is sovereign, He is love and we don’t need to worry.

I want to encourage you that no matter what ridiculousness you find yourself stranded in, God knows exactly where you are, what you need and He knows the outcome too. He loves you and He wants you to lean on Him.

In other news,  this is one of my shortest posts ever I think. But more importantly, I spent two days in England last weekend. It was my very first time in the UK and it was very exciting!

And recently I’ve come to realize how common it is to have to dodge dog poo on the streets. It’s a daily struggle really… but it’s even worse when you’re trying to get home but have to consciously avoid large piles of dog poo, trees, construction and traffic… It’s actually quite terrifying. And very dangerous.

I also almost stepped in vomit on my way to school… But thank you, drunk person for, at the very least, taking a bus…

Thirty-Four. Updates.

Well that plan failed. I had every intention of writing another blog post last month, I had an idea and everything, but life sometimes has a way of getting out of hand. I feel like I’m busy without being particularly busy… That didn’t make any sense.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the lack of posts, I’m sure you would love to read about my adventures here in Brussels.

For the most part, I find life is similar to life back home… on a general level. You know, you wake up (often before the sun comes up) and get ready for work or school, do what you do there and come home. There’s eating in between, wasting some time on the internet maybe and you have your hobbies. Or you have homework. Or maybe a report for work or something.

Some people have sports or special lessons a few nights per week.

Some people have date nights.

I didn’t have any of that back home, and I still don’t here. But I also don’t have as many demands on my time. So on a personal level, I’m much more relaxed here.

Back in Canada I had a lot of work to do for school and, being in Journalism, a lot of running around chasing stories. Here, I’m not studying Journalism so there’s none of that. They also evaluate very differently here, so the workload is different. Instead of tests and assignments throughout the year, most of my grades will be based 100% on the final exam. That’s very scary and I’m not a fan of this system.

For one course, we had a small bibliography assignment, a slightly larger but still small writing assignment based on the bibliography (due next week) and a final, oral exam. For my MA level course we have two written assignments (30% and 60%) as well as 10% participation.

But my other three classes all have one final exam. My grammar course exam will only have one question on it. (And two hours to answer that question.)

So in terms of homework throughout the year, I haven’t had any except reading.

I don’t have any job(s) while I’m here which is a nice break from the three jobs I had last year. Between supplying, tutoring and caring for kids on Wednesday mornings, I was busy. I also had a volunteer commitment every week having to prepare the slide show for church, and once a month preparing the bulletins.

It might not look like all that much really, but it certainly felt like it and, to be honest, I was kind of happy to have the opportunity to drop everything and get away. I felt really worn out.

Now I feel like I’m having fun because I get to spend time with friends (usually the guys I live with) and I get to relax and enjoy my time doing things that I like doing, like reading or writing or watching shows/movies.

And somehow, despite all this free time I supposedly have, I haven’t been travelling as much as I’d like (admittedly, I travel way more than the average person, but it’s less than I had envisioned for myself before I actually got here), and I definitely haven’t been writing as I thought I would.

In my mind, I’d have crazy stories to share on this blog, and I so wanted to write for the French department at Carleton, but for some reason, things didn’t go quite as I had planned. Sometimes it’s because I like the guys too much and spend a lot of time with them, sometimes it’s because I made other friends and want to go out with them and often I’ve found that I just can’t sit still long enough to write out coherent thoughts worth writing and sharing.

So I’m sorry.

But, now that I’m procrastinating from those writing assignments, I feel like putting out a little update on my life.

November 29th – December 1st/2nd, I was in Stockholm, Sweden for a friend’s birthday. What an amazing experience! Seriously, go up North sometime; visit a Scandinavian country! It was so beautiful. It was cold, yes, but so worth it!

My fingers were cold and it got too dark too quickly, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I normally would (only about 315 for three days) but here’s a small album with pictures of me and my friends: Tony’s Birthday in Stockholm; and here’s a much bigger album with pictures of the city, the harbor, the Christmas decorations, the buildings, the scenery: Stockholm.

It was really an incredible experience and there were so many memorable moments for us. The most important thing about travelling is who you’re with. That way, if something bad happens, there’s someone else there to make it easier to deal with, and if something good happens, there’s someone there to share it with. There were so many laughs throughout the weekend and no picture will ever be able to capture how much fun we had together.

Last week, I also had the chance to go with some students for a small unofficial tour of Brussels, but not just Grand Place where everyone seems to go. (For the record, we walked through it, but we didn’t really stop there at all except to gether the group together again.) We saw some beautiful places on our route, the Grand Sablon, the Petit Sablon, a big Synagogue, a beautiful church, and lots of lovely Christmas lights. It wasn’t quite as decorated as Stockholm was, but it was nice. We ended up in the Christmas market at Sainte-Catherine.

Here’s a small album from our walk: Christmastime in Brussels. It’s not very good because my camera really doesn’t like taking pictures in the evening, but there it is.

Now, we have one week left of classes for the semester so everyone’s working on final projects/assignments and preparing for exams in January. People are also really excited to go home for the holidays.

Originally, because of strange and complicated flights/connections/plans, I was supposed to leave Brussels on Dec. 26th to fly back to Canada via Paris and Philadelphia. Instead, now, I’ve booked myself a train ticket to go to Paris a couple of days early. I’ll be there for Dec. 24th and 25th and I’ll still be going home on the 26th.

It’ll be a challenge for me to travel alone because as much as I love travelling, and as much as I love Paris, I love people more. I like doing things with friends, I like talking and laughing and sharing moments with others. Alone, you can’t really do that so much… All my pictures will be selfies and those are never as good as pictures with friends and I won’t have any input as to what others want to do. I’ll be wandering the streets and getting lost all on my own.

As nervous as I am, I’m also kind of excited for what possibilities there will be for me. Sure, there’s potential for loneliness, but maybe I’ll feel more confident and independent and I’ll end up meeting some wonderful people! Who knows?

Anyway, I think that’s about it for now. I do have a new project I’m working on, but it’s a secret. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because it might take away from writing here. But considering I haven’t been writing regularly anyway, maybe you guys wouldn’t even have noticed.

We’ll just have to see where life takes me.

God Bless you all!

See you soon, Canada!

Thirty-Three. Travels.

I haven’t written an actual post in a long time… Hope you’ve been enjoying my pictures though 🙂

Well, obviously I’ve been doing a little travelling. Trips to Brussels might not seem that interesting since I do technically live here, but the center is very different from the commune where I live. Plus it’s always nice to get out with a new friend.

Getting out with old friends is wonderful too. Even if it doesn’t seem like the best idea (going into a haunted house) or it means you have to sacrifice something (it was expensive), making memories and enjoying life are really great activities and always worth it. Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but I do love spending time with friends 🙂

Getting out of the country is my favorite kind of travelling here though, that’s for sure! One thing I was incredibly excited for was the closeness of everything in Europe. Coming here, I knew I would want to take advantage of travel opportunities to go to places many people don’t really think of going. I’ve never heard of someone planning a week-long vacation to Luxembourg, or even mentioning it when they list European countries. We always hear about France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England… and they’re awesome, but when someone can say, “I’ve been to Liechtenstein,” that seems much cooler. *I do hope to get there this trip because of the movie A Knight’s Tale*

I’m also incredibly blessed to have friends here who also love travelling and have a car. It’s really nice to explore together.

This weekend I had a really big, awesome opportunity to go somewhere I’ve never been before and have wanted to visit for a long time; Berlin, Germany.

There’s an organization for exchange students like me, (we’re called Erasmus students) and they frequently organize big trips, pub nights, parties, get-togethers, activities, etc. I hadn’t been able to participate before this trip for various reasons, but when I heard about the trip to Berlin, I got really excited because the price was good, the timing worked and it would be my best chance to get there.

The problem: I hate travelling alone and it’s hard to make friends in university.

I  do have a friend here from Canada, but she’s currently stuck in Italy because she got really sick and had to have surgery so she wouldn’t be able to come with me. She’s also here with her boyfriend who’s not an Erasmus student and therefore wouldn’t be able to go on Erasmus student trips. So the one person I’d have wanted to go with, couldn’t come… I hesitated so much about this trip because of that.

I realized there would be other Erasmus students on the trip (there were over 60 of us) but most of them have their own groups of friends and wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with me for the whole weekend.

Luckily another girl was in the same situation as me and we just happen to both be Canadian (she’s from Quebec) and we hit it off! So I wasn’t alone and it was a wonderful trip because of that 🙂 I really thank God for her actually because it would have been a lonely weekend without her.

Other than making a new friend, seeing Berlin was amazing. It might not be the most beautiful European city (I have to be honest here) but it is so steeped in history that I still enjoyed every moment. It was cold and windy, but seeing the Berlin Wall, seeing Checkpoint Charlie, seeing a Stasi prison (Hohenschönhausen), exploring “bunkers” and hearing about the things that went on in the city was so awesome.

There are really incredible tours to take in Berlin and if we’d had more time, we absolutely could have gone on more of them and learned so much!

If you ever have the chance to go to Berlin, DO IT! I really can’t get over the amazing things we saw and learned there.

This is kind of a funny story… The other reason I wanted to go to Berlin is actually because of the show The Amazing Race. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a reality show where couples start from the US and go to various countries all over the world completing tasks and challenges along the way. A few seasons ago they went to Berlin and one task they had was to find a particular nightclub and find their next clue in the labyrinth inside.

I wanted to find that labyrinth too!

From what we saw in the episode, it’s a very psychedelic experience. One of the racers described it as a sort of pseudo drug experience. There are crazy flickering, flashing lights all over, the rooms are not uniform at all, you don’t only choose between left, right or straight, but also up or down and the whole thing just seemed like a very cool, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

I was so excited to do it.

So I asked my friend if she wanted to go too, she agreed and we went off on our first evening to try and find this place. I remembered that in the episode the racers had a hard time finding it, but I had the name, I had the address and I even had exact instructions on how to get there, so I didn’t think it would be hard for us.

I was wrong.

It was hard to find.

No one seems to know where anything else is in Berlin because more than once we asked for directions and usually people had no idea. I even asked in German, and I was understood but they just had no idea… “Entschuldigen Sie bitte, wo ist Kynaststrasse?”

The other problem is construction. There was way too much construction all over the place and the maps we had were not matching up with the reality of the roads.

Eventually we made it.

But, even after all the trouble we went through to get there, they have a limited number of spots for people to get into the maze so we weren’t able to go in. The bar itself is weird inside too but they have a big sign on the door that says we’re not allowed to take any pictures. I only got one dark picture of the sign outside.

Anyway, it was an incredible weekend, but I was very excited to get home to see the boys again. [I really do love these guys.]

Originally, the plan was that driving (in a coach bus) from Brussels to Berlin would take about 8 hours. According to Google Maps, that’s reasonable since just driving is 7 hours and we’d probably need to stop at least once. (It was a night drive, so we were expected to sleep most of the way.)

We realized the trip took closer to 10 hours so the people in charge adjusted our departure time to reflect that. We wanted to get home on Monday night at a reasonable hour to ensure everyone could still take public transportation home and sleep enough before class the next day. The ETA was 11 pm.

Since I’m talking about this, I’m sure you’ve all realized that didn’t happen…

We were stuck in traffic. Where traffic in Germany comes from, I have no idea… You’d never expect to stop on the autobahn. But we sat still for probably 5 hours. We got back to ULB after 3 in the morning (on Tuesday) so public transportation was done.

I live close to the school, but I was tired, and cold, and hungry and I had heavy bags with me… I was not looking forward to that 20-minute walk.

It also didn’t help that I had back to back classes in the morning from 8-12 and another class from 2-4 afterwards. It didn’t make sense to try to sleep for real Monday night so I napped for about an hour. I was so tired.

After my classes were done, the smart thing to do would have been to have an early night but the guys and I had been preparing for a raclette dinner for a long time and we finally had it. Plus, I brought back some German wine as a gift for the house and since I’d been away for a long time, we thought it would be wonderful to celebrate and have a fun evening together.

Dinner was amazing and my first raclette experience was a wonderful success (I say wonderful a lot… we need more words in English). We also decided to watch a movie (The Book of Eli) and finally, after over 40 hours of not sleeping, I fell asleep in my own bed and had one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had in my life. I woke up feeling full of life and happiness. I felt good, I looked good (at least I felt like I looked good – my hair was cooperating) and it was finally warm and sunny!

Then I got to class 😦

Anyway, all this to tell you that everything’s going really well over here. I love my life through ups and downs. I feel so incredibly blessed to be here, to experience everything I’ve been experiencing and just to know that I have this awesome opportunity to travel and meet people and live! I’m so thankful to be here and I do miss the people back home but I know I’m loved so thank you for all the prayers and support 🙂

God Bless you all!

I will write again pretty soon… or at least, I’ll try.