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!

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!

Twenty-One. Be active (Exchange prep two)

So now you know what you love, or at least like or are interested in… And you’ve decided to pursue it.

Obviously, my exchange is a university exchange, so I had to wait until university (I knew I wanted to go on exchange back in high school). Basically, starting with this post, my exchange prep will probably be pretty specific to applying for the university exchange program at Carleton University and then later on, more specifically for Belgium.

So anyway, since I knew I wanted to go on exchange before even getting to university, I decided to get informed early on. I highly recommend this because it might be too late to start in second year after they’ve invited everyone to begin applying (if you intend to go in third year).

First, I looked around on the school website. I found a list of partner universities and immediately picked the ones I’d be interested in… in France. I saw that  two universities offered Journalism, but neither one was in a country I wanted to go to, so I filed them away for future consideration if necessary.

Some programs have travel opportunities built into the program itself already, some programs have co-op options, so it’s important to know how an exchange will affect your program. For me, journalism doesn’t have anything extra outside the standard four-year program.

So I went to talk to an undergraduate adviser for journalism and she told me the program doesn’t really support exchange but she encouraged me to do it anyway. She said the journalism program at Carleton couldn’t really take transfer credits from other universities so no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to get my third year Journalism credits until I came back. She said I’d have to do a fifth year at Carleton as a part-time student.

That sounded fine to me and we continued chatting about travel experiences and the benefits of going on exchange. We also discussed and agreed that third year was the best time to go on exchange.

I also made sure I talked to at least one teacher. This is important, and seriously, start as soon as you know you want to go on exchange (but also just in general). You will need letters of recommendation from your teachers for stuff, so you should get to know them. Go to their office hours, say hello, speak up in class (if it’s a class where you can do that, like a language course), don’t be rude (like using your phone), and make sure your teacher knows who you are for good reasons.

Seriously, I even went to my French teacher and said, “I’m planning on applying for an exchange next year, can I count on you to write a letter of recommendation for me?” (Except in French.)

So fast-forward to second year, I’m still checking things on the website about exchanges, and I’m slowly looking at what courses the universities I wanted to go to offered. Nothing concrete was happening yet.

Then when the International Student Services Office told everyone to start applying for their exchange for the 2013-2014 school year, I was ready. I’d researched some universities, I’d talked to my program advisers, I’d talked to my teachers so I got started right away. I also had a good CGPA – which is also very important guys, try your best in school, don’t procrastinate (although I really can’t talk about that one… we’ll cover my student habits some time), get help and take your education seriously… Obviously you should do that regardless of any other plans you have. If you have no other good reasons, think about this: you can get money (scholarships), other awards, and/or you’ll be ahead of other people in a very important consideration. This can help in contests, or in being chosen to represent something… or when applying for the exchange program.

I had to go to an information session. For me, it wasn’t particularly informative since I’d done so much research on my own beforehand, but you have to go anyway and it helps you get comfortable in the ISSO and with Chau (the program director) and you have a chance to ask questions right there, or hear other people’s questions that maybe you hadn’t considered.

Anyway…

So I got my stuff together, I think it was pretty basic information. There was a general application form which wanted a profile about me, like my program, CGPA, that sort of thing. I also had to write two 300(ish)-word answers basically about why I wanted to go, how the exchange would benefit me, etc.

Interesting story about gathering documents for this application. I downloaded the general form quite early, I think the day of my exchange information session and I read through it. It gave a checklist of all the information I needed to include and one of the check boxes said something about a consent to publish form which I had to obtain from the ISSO. So I got everything together, went to the office and the guy at the desk tells me I have to download and print the sheet from the website.

I told him there was no link for it and the instructions said to ask for it at the ISSO. turned out they had only recently put the link online and I pointed out the flaw in their system. Just goes to show you, pay attention to details and don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask questions, get help, make sure you understand everything and it’s all clear… and follow instructions.

Back to the application, I also had to choose my top three university choices.

This is something I struggled with a lot because my heart was 100% in love with Paris (still is) but I had to consider things like cost-of-living, living situation, travel possibilities, weather, etc., as well as personal preference about where I would be and which school I would go to. My heart wanted to be in Paris, but soon my head started saying, “Let’s look elsewhere… somewhere close enough to travel to Paris easily, but somewhere cheaper than Paris to live in… Maybe somewhere less touristy.”

So after consulting with my dad, I had my choices narrowed down to Paris, Lyon and Brussels (I don’t actually remember how this came into the equation, I’m pretty sure I wanted to go to Rennes). You all probably know this part, I eventually submitted the application with my choices listed as: Lyon, Paris, Brussels.

Everyone I’ve talked to about this knows my frustration with the eventual outcome but at the time, I was incredibly unsure of where I wanted to be because my heart was still fighting with my head so my most active response was to pray. I started to feel really good about Lyon so I made my choices and somehow got it into my head that I would actually go to Lyon. It got to the point where, if I had been given 100 choices, the first 98 would be Lyon, the 99th would be Paris and reluctantly I would put Brussels as the 100th choice… just because they said I had to.

But then I kept praying.

And waiting.

So that’s where I’ll leave this post for now. Just a quick recap (because that may not have been clear for you) you start with a desire. Then, when you decide to pursue whatever you actually want, you have to be active. Get informed, ask questions, do preliminary research. Make sure you pay attention to details, dates and deadlines too. Be active in your preparation, no one else is going to do it for you. Be patient.

And of course I’m going to recommend you pray about it too, it’s incredibly important. None of this would be happening if I hadn’t been praying about.

Well, this post went on way longer than I thought it would… I guess that’s appropriate though, since if we were having coffee or tea together, I could easily go on talking more than I should 😛

Sorry I ramble guys, I just want to tell you things and be friends.

Anyway, as always, God bless you lovely readers, few as you may be.

Quick update: I have one exam left this Friday and then I’ll be done with my second year of university!

Thirteen. Life and Death.

What can I say, I have failed miserably in both my blog and my YouTube vlogging. I definitely meant to post things about myself more often but I get so busy sometimes. Those are the most interesting times, so that’s when people might want to hear about some of the crazy things that go on around me but those are the times I can’t seem to find time to actually write a blog post or make a video. I make plans to do them though.

Well, since the end of last October lots of things have been happening. Obviously. But I don’t know that listing them now would do any good whatsoever.

My dad and brother have their birthdays in November, that’s pretty nice. But December is always a more interesting month.

As a Messianic Jew, I attend a Messianic congregation which meets on Friday evenings. I’m the only member under 40 but it’s my home. I’ve literally grown up in front of those people’s eyes. I think I was about a year old when my parents started attending. There used to be more young people but due to life moving on, so too have they.

This has left me as the only person to take care of children. We’ve gone up and down with kids coming on  Friday nights but I’ve always been there at a moment’s notice to help out or teach or whatever was needed. We once had a family with 5 kids from 1-11 who didn’t speak much English that I had to try to teach. That was a challenge but it was nice to have consistent numbers and we managed to get some lessons planned and input some routines.

Then they left.

For some time there were no children or if any would come it would be very sporadic – usually for holidays. Why am I even talking about this? I’m clearly talking about something from way before December. But it prefaces what I’ve been doing recently.

We have a new family attending our congregation now, and they have two daughters. They’re from South Africa but they lived most recently in Australia. They’re very sweet.

I’ve been left completely alone to prepare lessons for them or teach them something off the cuff. I’m not saying that so anyone feels sorry for me though, I actually don’t mind teaching on my own… it’s the planning and stuff that can get pretty demanding.

I’m a full-time student in journalism at Carleton – and if you ask anyone, that’s an incredibly tough major. I’ll add to the assurances that it is a hard major to pursue. On top of that, I’m actually in a double major with a minor as well. But that would have been ok if I took on less responsibility outside of school… Unfortunately, I have a hard time saying no.

So, on top of being a full-time student and teaching kids on Friday nights, last semester I accepted a paid volunteering job on Wednesday mornings. I’ve also recently accepted becoming someone’s tutor on Tuesday evenings. I also have a job – though thankfully I’m on-call so it’s not a weekly task. I’m the tech-person at church. I’m involved in an Evangelical Christian group on campus and we have a meeting every Monday. And I belong to another youth group which meets on Thursday nights. I also come out to morning prayer at 7 in residence.

How can I make time for all of this? Where do I find it?

Rest assured I operate on the same 24-h cycle you all do and I’m 100% human meaning I need to eat and breathe and sleep just like you.

But I have something extra to be thankful for. I have a higher calling, a different purpose in life… Something to look forward to. My reward isn’t here on earth, it’s in Heaven, The things I do, I do to being glory to my Father. And He sustains me. He gives a supernatural rest and supernatural strength so I have only Him to thank.

I guess That wasn’t necessarily about December but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed a lot more recently and December just seemed to make a good place to talk about all of this. I definitely wish I did more for the girls though – but it’s really tough to get all my homework done on top of planning weekly things to talk about so mostly I just try to encourage them as we talk about our lives.

Other stuff happened in December but I’m not talking about Christmas as many people would. Not even Hanukkah.

Classes ended really early in December, officially Monday the 3rd, but my one Monday class didn’t meet anyway. On the 2nd, my parents went on a cruise, leaving me seemingly alone – which I hate. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I detest being alone. I get bored and lonely when there are no other humans around and my house is too big to be empty (even though it’s really small).

It just so happened that on that particular Sunday I was invited to a Christmas party which was very nice. Sunday night was awful because I came home and there was no one there but Monday, instead of going to class, our professor invited us to her house for dinner. After a fun night out, I met with a couple other friends and we went back to my house where they stayed for the week. Then on Thursday they left, I went to another Christmas party and when I came home in the evening, my parents were back! The timing just happened to work out pretty well.

Then came exam time. I dropped one class and one of my other classes doesn’t have any exams so thankfully, I only had three to worry about.

They were pretty spaced out with one on the 13th and two on the 18th (but one of those was an online test). Let’s fast forward to Monday the 17th, the day before I had TWO exams, the day I should have been studying the hardest (not that I do that too often). I woke up to one of the most awful sounds you can possibly imagine.

My mom was sobbing hysterically just down the hall from my bedroom.

That’s the sound I woke up to.

My grandmother in Belarus had had a stroke and when she fell, she hit her head.

Now, my grandpa had been sick for a long time so mentally everyone was preparing for his imminent passing. About a week before this happened he became paralyzed in his legs due to diabetes complications. My grandma was his primary caregiver.

He was fully aware of what happened; his wife of fifty years had fallen and she wasn’t responding to him. But there was nothing he could do to help. He had a cellphone with him so he called my aunt.

She came to the house but the door was locked, she didn’t have a key and neither of my grandparents could let her in so she had to break a window. If you know anything about Canada, you know our winters can be brutal. Well it’s worse in Belarus. Breaking the window was not ideal but at least my aunt made it inside and could figure out what to do.

So my grandma was in the hospital and they didn’t know if she would survive the night.

That’s why my mom was sobbing.

Obviously I got upset and all studying stopped before it began that day. My mom was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to write my exams but I told her I didn’t want to ask for a deferral. Come Tuesday I thought I could keep it together, and I managed to sit two hours to write my French literature exam but I started crying so I knew I had to leave. Thankfully, I’d written something, and all I could do was hope it was enough.

My online test went quite quickly so soon it was time to relax and enjoy my break.

I had intended to spend my day reading but when I woke up, my mom called home from work to ask if there’d been any news about grandma. I told her there was nothing. She called back again, but there was still nothing new to tell her.

Around 11 am, my aunt skype-called us and told me my grandma had died.

That was the first familial loss I ever experienced. At first I was so shocked, I didn’t know how to react but it soon hit me how heart-broken I was. As soon as I got my dad downstairs the tears started flowing and it was pretty hard for me to stop them.

You might remember the first post I wrote for this blog. My dog Benji died. As sad as I was then, this was something entirely worse. Growing up it had been my wish that my grandparents would be at my wedding, all of a sudden, I knew that could never happen. Worse than that even, the next time I went to visit my family, she wouldn’t be there. I would never see her again.

I didn’t know how to deal with that. My mom rushed home from work and we tried desperately to find a flight for her, but because it was right before Christmas, there was no way she could make it in time for the funeral. Life stopped for a while. I was thankful not to be called in to work. Except once, but I told them I was grieving. The atmosphere in my house was definitely not what you would expect for the holiday season.

It’s now been almost a month, but it seems like yesterday.

I’m incredibly sad but life has to go on and we had to get back into a routine, back into a mode of interaction with others. It was hard, it still is, but I’m thankful for comfort and peace from Above as well as my brothers and sisters in Christ who supported my family with incessant prayers. I’ve never known what to say to people when they tell me of a tragedy such as a death in their family, and to be honest, I still don’t know what I would say to anyone else. I just know that I couldn’t have recovered if I didn’t know people who loved us were praying for us.

My only encouragement to anyone else in this situation is that when someone offers to do anything to help you, ask for prayer. God can heal the hurt in your heart and though nothing will take away the loss, He can restore joy.

My grandpa has since been fighting to regain control of his legs, so we’re thankful he hasn’t given up. The situation is still difficult, but we’re getting through.

This was a really long post, sorry guys. That’s what happens when you’re away for so long.

Just to wrap up here, school has started again in full swing, but this semester is looking to be a pretty good one – though it will be busy and tough. I also finished my application for the exchange (way back in the beginning of December) and I finally decided that Lyon would be my first choice, Paris my second and Brussels my third, so keep coming back to read about my exciting new life living abroad.

I love you and I want to encourage you to seek God because He is the only source of power we can trust. He sustains and restores. He reveals Himself in the most amazing ways.

Image