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-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-Six. Surrender and trust.

Remember when I wrote about how God is Awesome, and I started out with “coincidences” which are obviously God’s orchestration and not mere coincidences…

I’m always amazed by the little ways in which God confirms that He’s with us, that He’s listening.

For example, one day I was listening to “Whom Shall I Fear [God of Angel Armies]” by Chris Tomlin, over and over again. Then I went to a new church for the first time and A, saw that I actually knew many, MANY people who went there, and B, the first song they sung for worship was “Whom Shall I Fear!”

That might not seem like a big deal, but for me, it was a reminder that God is ever-present in our lives and takes care to speak to us in ways we understand.

Similarly, in other aspects of my life, I just see God’s Hand so clearly. When my grandmother in Israel, my friends in Canada, my random thoughts that seemingly come from nowhere, and my devotions all line up to speak something to me, I know that’s a message from God.

So often in my prayers I tell God that I must be blind, deaf and dumb or else incredibly unobservant because I miss His instructions. I’ve often asked for “neon, flashing signs, that only I can see but that I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt are for me.” [Yes, I have quite literally used those exact words more than once!]

But as I’ve been reading His Word every day and growing in my faith and strengthening my relationship with Him, maybe it’s getting easier for me to understand how He’s working in my life, how He’s instructing me.

See, each of us is unique, but God can keep track of exactly who sees what, who needs what, who understands certain things, etc. He created us! He knows us intimately! In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves!

And for me, He often uses “coincidences” because I guess I pick up on their pattern in my life… or else my brain is just wired to make strange connections that aren’t actually coincidences at all, who knows…

Anyway, for those who’ve ever met me, there are a few things you find out incredibly quickly. Some are silly, such as my love for earrings, some are personal history, which is interesting, because I’m often asked about my family name or where we’re from, etc… so I readily tell my parents’ amazing story of immigration.

But one of the more important things people usually find out fairly quickly is what I would like to see happen in my future. Mainly the fact that I love children and have worked with kids for 12 years, so I’m looking forward to having my own one day. I also add that I’d like to have six kids, if that’s possible and I would like to start sooner rather than later.

This also leads into me talking about my strong desire to be married because I like to do things in order. To have kids “soon,” I’d need to get married “soon,” and that means I’d have to meet someone “soon” too.

This is somewhat trickier because I’ve been single for 21 years. I’ve never even had a first kiss.

This used to be a problem for me, I thought I was missing out on something, I thought something was wrong with me.

I’ve changed a lot in that regard, especially in the last three years. I have some friends who’ve been with me through that journey and I’m sure they’d agree.

Love is a particularly serious topic for me.

Since I’ve chosen to place God firmly at the forefront of my life, I’ve made Him number one before all else, I’ve had to make the commitment that boys, or I supposed “men” is a more appropriate word, would always have to come after God’s will in my life and I shouldn’t be distracted by random males who pique my interest.

One book I read awhile ago suggested that when we feel an attraction for a man because he is physically beautiful, we can acknowledge the fact that he is good-looking, but remember to praise God for His handiwork and then move on. I always thought that was cute, and quite funny.

Anyway, along with my desire to not be overly distracted, I don’t like making mistakes or wasting my time.

I don’t believe in “casual dating” or “dating for fun” because you invest so much of yourself into relationships and if the next “Joe-Shmo” who walks by and asks you out is not a believer, for example, and you know you could never marry him, I’m of the belief that it’s not worth it. You risk so much by allowing transient loves in and out of your life. If I know I could never marry a person because they don’t share my faith, I wouldn’t date them either. So I have guarded my heart. Or at least, I’ve tried.

Many of my friends have told me I’m wrong and I need to do things their way. I’ve been told making mistakes is ok, and even good because you learn from them.

My mistakes happen when I don’t trust God, and I’ve done that enough times to know that in this serious area of my life, I truly need to trust Him 100%. I screw things up when I try to do them on my own, but He never does. So I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for the man to whom God whispers my name.

This is not to say that I’m perfect and never look at men and fantasize or whatever, in fact, quite the opposite. I’m very guilty of looking lustfully at men. But now, through God’s grace, I’ve been able to look at the other aspects of my life and worry about becoming more like Yeshua instead of worrying about my singleness.

But the point I was getting to (and this blog went way over what I was expecting when I sat down to write) is that my grandma and my friends and my thoughts and my devotions reminded me today of my commitment to the Lord.

I’ve felt so much pressure to “be in a relationship” or to do something to change my singleness but in my heart I know that I need to surrender to God and let Him handle this for me. Some people act as if it’s my fault that I’m single, and perhaps to some degree it is. Maybe because I don’t “put out” or give off vibes of being desperate “boys” aren’t interested in me, or maybe there are a million reasons and I am actually doing something to put them off…

But I’m not worried about it. I used to be.

Now I’m free from worry because God is worth so much more! He will bless those who “give something up” to Him. Matthew 19:29 says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (NKJV)

If we love God above all else, above our families, our parents, our children, our spouses, above our possessions, above our desires, He will bless us. I’m holding onto that promise because I don’t want anything to get in between me and God. I’m waiting for His perfect gifts.

I’ve heard this story so many times, about a little girl whose dad gives her a necklaces made of plastic beads. She loves that necklace and wears it all the time, she takes good care of it, she treasures it above all her other things. One day, her dad asks her to give him the necklace. She hesitates, because she loves her necklace, she doesn’t want to give it up. Her dad asks her if she trusts him, she says yes, and eventually she does give up her prized possession.

Then her dad gives her a pearl necklace.

When we surrender the things we hold most dear, like for me, my desire for a husband and children, when we trust our Heavenly Father, we can know that He will bless us far beyond what we could imagine.

So today, I want to encourage you to surrender. Give up to God your possessions, your desires, your life, and let Him bless you! It’s ok to wait sometimes, as long as you trust in Him.

I love you, and God loves you more!

-Rita

PS, when I started this post it was A, going to be about “waiting” and “how long is too long?” or “how do you know you’re waiting for the right thing?” because those are all questions that have gone through my mind very recently, and I don’t have those answers… and B, it was supposed to be short because initially I thought I would just post those questions and start a discussion.

But I hope these unplanned words are God’s words to someone who needed to read them.

PPS, when I discussed my thoughts on love with my grandmother, she told me I’m old and don’t believe in love.

Forty-One. August!

In my last blog, I left you with the promise of my last Belgian adventure!

I’ll keep it short because this keyboard is really annoying me and I do have some other important things to write about.

Basically, the guy who was helping me with my cellphone was really cute and we’d exchanged some flirtations throughout the year but as soon as I cancelled my service (which we both said was sad) I added five euros to my account (they moved me from a monthly service to a pay-as-you-go type service) and I sent him a little text complimenting him on his smile and thanking him for his friendliness. So uncharacteristic of me.

He replied.

We continued to flirt via text a little more but that was the end of that, I’ll likely never see him again.

But it was fun, and makes a cute story (especially if you know me at all, know any French [I still have our text messages saved on my phone] or like almost-love stories).

Moving on, my parents picked me up from Waterloo and we spent two days in Paris. Our first order of business when we got there though, was to throw out some of my stuff and sort out our bags! Let me tell you, moving somewhere and living there for ten months definitely means you’ll accumulate new things and wear out some other things!

And now I’m finally back in Canada – whether home or not – and the first thing I did, take driving lessons! That’s right, my G1 license will expire soon but we’d already paid for the exit test. But being a chicken, I never wanted to learn to drive (I just liked having an incredibly convenient piece of I.D.) and when I got back at the end of June, it was crunch time! I was so nervous, I didn’t even want to look at a car. I had zero experience (well, I tried to drive in a parking lot three times maybe, but I was awful at it) and my first time driving, on Thursday, June 2nd, actually wasn’t too bad.

Anyway, I have one lesson left and my driving test is on Friday, August 8th – ONE WEEK!

I have to say, I’m proud of myself. I didn’t think I could do it, I never thought I’d get to the point of being able to admit I could drive and I feel pretty confident for next week. I have to admit though, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without God who protected me and my friends and family who encouraged me. Every time, before I got into the car I would pray and pray and pray some more and every night and every morning as part of my prayer routine, I would pray for my driving too.

I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

So why is this post called August when today is only the first of the month?

Because I have lots going on and I’m excited about it!

Now usually, I would be excited about working during the summer, but my timing didn’t work out this year, so I didn’t work and won’t get a chance to either. I arrived back in Canada at the end of June, after Canada Day I called work and they were excited to hear from me again, but I got no calls, so I actually walked in to work and I was greeted with hugs and questions and promises of shifts, but nada. It’s ok though, as boring as July might have been for me, August will be great!

As mentioned, I will have my driving test next week, and I will be devastated if I fail, but everyone, including me, is pretty confident I can do it 😀 That’s on the 8th.

On the 11th, we’re going to a cottage on Round Lake for a week (we get back on the 15th). This year, we’ll be spending my birthday there and it’s shaping up to be a bigger event than ever before!

On the 13th I turn 21!!! Obviously in the US this is a bigger deal, but it stills feels special and exciting to me.

On the 16th, we’re off again, this time driving to Cape Cod, MA. We’re meeting some old friends there and looking forward to enjoying a week exploring Massachusetts! [As a bonus, I’ll already be 21!]

On top of my own birthday, the OMF was born in August two  years before I was, so we’ll be celebrating as a congregation and this year, we have a special event planned that’s open for anyone to come and join!

Whew, ok, so that’s the stuff that you all might be interested in because they are events, with dates and there will be pictures and stories and they could somehow affect you…

But what else is going on in August? Well, I’ve decided I want to be more productive this month. Why this month? Because It’s a new month, it’s no longer July, I will turn 21 this month, and it was about time! [Also, August has 31 days, so it’s perfect for starting new things…]

I’ve been meaning to start reading my Bible more often. I mean daily. I wasn’t doing it often enough before and I really wanted to get into it. So today I started with Proverbs 1. [I’m doing that month-long reading plan where you read one chapter of Proverbs every day because 31.] I’m starting small to form a habit. I forget how long experts quote it takes to develop a habit, but hopefully 31 days will be a good start 🙂 [Just looked it up. Google says 21 days. Thanks internet!]

I won’t be writing about my readings every day because they are for me. Getting into God’s Word daily is personal, between me and my Father, but I can share that today I was reading about wisdom and knowledge. I opened my time with God in prayer and I asked that my spirit would be open to hearing something new from the Lord this morning.

I did.

It was simple, it was personal, but it related to the things that have been going on in my life recently and it was an amazing confirmation of God’s love and the fact that He does answer us! He is listening and He responds!

I want to encourage you to get into God’s Word more often too, and approach it, not as a chore, but as a blessing. Even if it starts out feeling like a chore, push through the laziness, push through the boredom and keep at it. If what the internet says is true, in three weeks it will be a habit and you will be blessed by what God has for you! I only just started today but I already feel better than I did yesterday.

God is good!

Anyway, I’m sure I have more I could tell you about, but I think I’ll stop there for now. As always, please feel free to ask me things, you can submit prayer requests if you want (there’s a special page for that), and I love reading comments too!

I hope each and every one of you is blessed today and everyday!

I love you! God loves you more!

– Rita

PS, I also love writing, so I’m definitely going to try to do that more often, I know I say that a lot, but now I have a goal to post two blogs per month and this doesn’t count as my second post for August. I don’t know if I’ll be able to post while we’re away, but I might write the blogs and just post them when we get back. Also, I hope you guys like my new picture. I worked on it for awhile until I was satisfied with it. That’s my own photo, the first time I was ever asked for my name in a Starbucks (in Paris!) and, more impressively, they actually got it right 🙂 Thank you, French language for making the t in Rita actually sound like a t and not a d.

PPS, I went to Belgium to “improve my French” but when I got there, people told me my French was perfect anyway, no one had any trouble understanding me at all (unless I used the wrong word and accidentally talked about condoms in food) and in fact, as with the other English-speakers I met while abroad, my command of spoken English has deteriorated. Hopefully I’ll make a full recovery soon!

OK, now bye for real!! ❤

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-Eight. Crushed: or, The Story of How I’m Completely Useless at Catching Oranges.

“Catching oranges” might not seem like a marketable skill to you, but after last Tuesday, I know it’s a good thing to be good at if you’re in Belgium.

…Also, I’m on a bus in Ireland.

Let’s start from before Tuesday though, because, chronology!

Since my last post I have come to the conclusion that my life is somewhat “back to normal,” however, it’s a new normal. I have my classes settled though, so at least that’s done. And the best thing about my schedule this semester is that I have no classes on Monday at all! This means I can go somewhere after class ends on Friday, so after 2pm (or 14h as they say here) and come back Tuesday morning because my class starts at 2pm 🙂 Hurray for more travelling!

So school has a way of surprising me. I’m taking three master’s level courses and two second year courses, but it seems like the second year courses are harder for me. Also, the class I thought I’d hate the most, is actually my favorite class right now.

So anyway, school is school… it’s going. And that’s enough about that.

Travelling is way more exciting than school right?!?!

I do have some exciting plans. I’m currently in Ireland until the 11th, and I have at least two set plans for April. From the 8th to the 15th, I’ll be in Israel and from the 18th to the 22nd I’ll be in London!

…So where do the oranges come in? I’m getting there!

March 2nd, 3rd, and 4th I went to three different carnivals around Belgium. On Sunday, we went to Villers-la-Ville. There’s a really cute abbey in ruins there, but the day’s attraction was the carnival/festival/fair/parade… thing they had going on. It was very small, with only about five floats, but it was still really nice. It felt very “small-town” and intimate.

They had games and rides and fair fare which were actually fun, and the people in the parade were incredibly friendly. They included the random tourists and onlookers in their dances and showered people in confetti. Other people who presumably live in Villers-la-Ville, also had a lot of confetti, and silly string, and were not shy about throwing handfuls of the colorful bits of paper at strangers. It was a lot of fun though – even when I got confetti-bombed.

Everyone, or almost everyone, was dressed-up in fun costumes too, and it was really cute to see the little kids running around as pirates, football players or animals.

Then on Monday we went to another city called Alost. We knew it would be a bigger affair, but we still weren’t sure what to expect. As it turned out, there was a huge parade, and when I say huge, I mean literally over 100 floats/costumed groups proceeding through the city, blasting music, dancing, handing out candy, etc! It was so different from the first day and it was also a ton of fun. It was the kind of thing we wouldn’t see in Canada. Many of the floats were racist or risqué. They made fun of politicians, royalty, religion, some racial groups, things in popular culture, you name it! In around three hours, I took nearly 800 photos!

They had people walking around who could “take your place” who actually came around and tried to pull onlookers into the parade while standing next to their friends for pictures. They had people handing out candy, others were throwing it, they had people handing out champagne (unfortunately they ran out before they got to me), they had people coming around with stickers, …it was a really big deal! People were still dressed in costumes, and while the confetti and silly string were available, nothing was thrown at me this time. There was also a lot of cross-dressing, not as a means of self-expression or identity as it would be in Canada, but more so, just for the sake of dressing up, being silly and having fun… because why not?!?! More than anything though, I think there was a lot of drinking. Every float had cases and cases of beer hidden – usually not very well – behind curtains so that the paraders walking around with the float would always have a supply… A very different, but still excellent day!

Finally, Tuesday. Mardi Gras.

Well, you might have heard of the “Carnaval de Binche” and if not, that’s ok, I hadn’t either, but ten years ago it was recognized by the UNESCO group as a cultural event. Many people in Brussels, and perhaps other cities in Belgium as well, had the day off and some chose to go to Binche to experience the orange chucking festival. Other then that one thing (the throwing of oranges) I had no idea what to expect.

Honestly, it’s nothing more than that! There are people dressed in traditional “gilles” costumes and various groups of people in other costumes as well walking/dancing through the streets of Binche with oranges (often blood oranges) in baskets, throwing them into gigantic crowds of people. Many oranges reach their targets but many others splatter against wall, get squished on the ground, shatter windows, or hit innocent bystanders and sometimes even leave bruises.

It might not sound that cool, but you really can’t imagine how much fun the whole event is without being there! It’s actually very worth it 🙂

It was very different from the two previous days I’d experienced, but it was just as excellent. And I got a bunch of oranges out of it.

I also left with many fun memories. First, my friends and I went to a restaurant for lunch. it was absolutely delicious! The place was also packed, and we were sitting at a table with another couple. We were mostly speaking English between the three of us, but we did say some things in French and this piqued other patrons’ interest. By the end of our meal, the whole restaurant knew we were Canadians.

Anyway, back to the couple at our table. They were actually very friendly and helpful towards us. They helped us with the menu, with the ordering and with communicating to the busy staff in general. Then we got to talking about our lives and we all shared a bit about who we were. It was so casual and comfortable we felt like we’d made new friends. They even said they’d be interested in coming to Canada! By the end of our time there, we had their contact information and they wished us a good carnival.

Then we made our way into the crowds lining the streets in anticipation of the orange throwing. We eventually settled into a spot with a family of four to our left, a family of three to our right and a tall man in front of me. The tall man was actually quite in the way, blocking my direct view ahead, so I had to lean left and right a lot to see anything. When the paraders finally did start throwing oranges into the crowds, they could barely see me! Some handed the daughter of left-side family oranges, so the mom handed me a few out of pity.

I couldn’t catch anything!

Between families with kids and friends taking part in the orange chucking who came up to them to say hi and conveniently pass them extra oranges, and Mr. Too-Tall blocking me in front, plus my general non-sportiness and short stature (although I’m of average height for a Canadian woman), I literally caught no oranges all day. Eventually my friend gave me his cowboy hat to try to help me… We definitely attracted more orange tosses, but I still caught nothing. The family to our left actually felt bad for me.

It was super fun though nonetheless, and my friends agreed to share our orange haul between the three of us (I did help by picking up a few oranges and being pathetic enough to have some given to me) and my friend even gave me his awesome cowboy hat!

The crushing comes in because on our way back to the train station we passed by a few potholes on the roads, as well as the general road surfaces, that were filled with crushed costume parts, crushed cans, crushed oranges and soggy confetti – I would describe it as crushed confetti, but it’s kind of hard to crush a small piece of flat paper… so they were more, “just stepped on.” It looked like a battleground. A rather happy-looking battleground though, due to all the colors.

So, all-in-all, I really enjoyed the festivities! ***PICTURES TO COME LATER, SORRY***

Thirty-Six. Preparation.

Sometimes when life happens, you end up writing about unexpected things.

That’s what I’m doing now, because as I mentioned in my last blog, I had an idea for this post. I’m not writing that idea now though, because I need to write about my last trip to remind myself not to do what I did – or rather didn’t do – next time.

This will probably be a shorter post than usual, but hopefully you’ll enjoy my story of silliness.

…and, contrary to the title, non-preparation.

I went on a day trip with my friend to another city in Belgium, Ghent. Our plans had changed a couple of times in the few days leading up to our outing, but it still wasn’t a surprise that we would be going to a beautiful, new place with nothing but time and a desire for adventure.

Whenever you go somewhere, there are certain things you make sure you have. I mentioned this when I wrote about packing to move for ten months, but sometimes you can be super organized and seem well-prepared but there might still be something you forget. Sometimes it’s not something very important, like when I forgot my microfiber cloth to clean my computer screen, but sometimes it just might be the most important thing… or things.

I was picked up on Monday evening so we could leave together early Tuesday morning. I packed some clothes, my toiletries, and grabbed my purse.

I hadn’t checked the updated weather report, and I didn’t double-check my purse to make sure I had the things I really needed with me, so when we got to Ghent, my friend and I realized we didn’t have cameras. In this day and age, most phones have a camera function, so we thought, even if they won’t be good quality, at least we’ll capture some memories from our trip…

Well, within minutes of stepping off the train, we both checked out phones and found out they were holding on to dear life by their very last battery juices. Both our phones were about to die and we needed to save at least one to make a phone call to get picked up.

So, we had no cameras, no phones for communication, no way to tell time (because we depend on our phones for that), no maps, no solid plans and we can’t read Dutch so the signs were rather unhelpful to us. It was also very, very cold and we didn’t have enough to wear.

Ghent is beautiful, but you’ll have to take my word for it because I can’t share an album with you. Sorry. We’ll have to go back one day and when that happens, we’ll be better prepared and there will be a lovely album to go along with it 🙂

As for us, I think we’re going to remember to prepare better for next time.

Preparation is a wonderful thing that I used to be good at. In fact, I was over-prepared and had what many called a “mommy purse” because I packed for all kinds of different possible situations that can come up unexpectedly.

We had a wonderful time anyway, but it could have been better.

Anyway, please forgive my lack of pictures (I did buy postcards) and learn from my mistakes – make sure you check the weather, charge your phone and PACK YOUR CAMERA!!! I feel silly.

God Bless you all, have wonderful moments, days, weeks, months and years 🙂 Love you!

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-Two. Quick Update.

Hey, sorry I’m not writing more often…
Life, you know.
Sometimes it gets in the way of doing things…

Anyway, October has gone by incredibly quickly. Just in case anyone doesn’t know yet, I have my ID card, I have a working cell phone now, I know all my classes and I even have friends (though not many in my classes).

I’ve been having a lot of fun here, I really like it. I’ve met such nice people and I’ve really enjoyed the atmosphere and general attitudes I’ve seen. I still miss home, but I am happy and enjoying my time.

That said, it’s not all perfect, there’s still a lot of hard work involved, but nothing I can’t handle 🙂

Anyway, today I just thought I’d share my answer for one of my bursary applications because maybe some of you would like to know too.

The question was: Please explain in 250-300 words why you will benefit from your International Exchange and how the DCIE Bursary will make a difference.

I hate word limits and I’m over by one but this is what I wrote:

~

I love traveling and experiencing new things, so for me, going on exchange seemed very natural. I love learning, I love people, I love languages and cultures so I was very interested in going abroad to live somewhere different from what I’ve been used to. I’ve also been in the French Immersion program in school since the first grade, but I’m not confident or even comfortable speaking French outside of classes. I wanted to challenge myself to improve my communication skills. Communication is very important to me, not only as someone who speaks three languages fluently, but also as someone studying journalism. While the journalism program itself is not designed to accommodate exchanges, my advisor was very supportive because of the other skills I would learn. Since coming here I’ve had to learn a new kind of independence, I’ve had to learn to analyze new situations, I’ve had to speak to different kinds of people and I’ve developed a new love for adventures and challenges. It was very scary moving so far away all by myself but I’ve been able to adapt and even thrive here so far. It’s also been incredible meeting new people, making new friends and learning the same subjects as I studied back home but from a new perspective.

While I knew all the incredible benefits of this experience, the process was very difficult. I had a lot of moments of doubt and panic and there were a lot of sacrifices to be made as well. A bursary would really help to cover a lot of the expenses my family and I had to spend to make this phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime exchange possible. All the little things add up, from medical expenses, to legal issues, to airfare, to daily life while I’m away.

Thank you for your consideration.

~

So there you go, just a quick explanation of what I’m doing here/why I wanted to come in the first place. Please pray that I get this bursary, it would really help a lot!

Thanks, love ya! God Bless 🙂