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 ūüôā

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

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.)

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Forty-Nine. I’m not dead!

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

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

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

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

But I finished surprisingly well.

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

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

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

But not all students turn to God in those times.

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love it!

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

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

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

I realized that I didn’t want that life.

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

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

It’s not easy.

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

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

But thankfully there is grace in Him.

There is forgiveness in Him.

There is LOVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless!

Forty-Eight. Recovery

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

Well, October has been intense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I care a lot about life.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

So I pray for these people.

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

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

I feel that that has happened to me.

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

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

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

But the recovery is tough.

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

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

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

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

Throughout any period though, one thing remains constant.

God.

He loves you.

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

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

You can too.

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

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

God bless!

Forty-Seven. Simplicity and Steadfastness.

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

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

Life is complicated.

But I suppose that’s how it should be.

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

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

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

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

Make sure you understand your own thought.

Make sure you’re being clear and straightforward.

“Simple” is not a bad word.

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

Just break it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish we could all remember that.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Is Jesus still on the throne?”

“Yes.”

“Then everything’s fine.”

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

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

Remember that He loves you.

Remember that He is unchanging.

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

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

Where are you trying to complicate things?

Have you been forgetting that God loves you?

Well He does, more than I do.

God Bless,

-Rita

Forty-Four. God is Awesome!

I almost named this blog¬†“Rough Start.” or else, “Baptism.” because so much has happened, but no matter what, God is Awesome!

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title not only because it‚Äôs true, but because He proves this over and over again, even in the smallest of ways.

Last month I started my devotions by going through the book of Proverbs. We read more than once that it’s about Wisdom. As I finished reading the book of Wisdom, I moved into my new devotional plan, The 30-Day Praise Challenge, and the first item of praise was for God’s Wisdom.

God’s timing is just amazing. It was a great flow from one devotional to the next and

I also came to a new conclusion that as I embark on a new journey of actively growing closer to God, as I seek after wisdom, that I truly am re-dedicating my life to the Lord. That’s why I decided to get baptized.

I was asked if I was interested in being baptized but I didn’t think I was. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing you do closer to the beginning of your walk with God but I’ve been a believer for a long time so I felt like if I did it now it would just be because someone happened to be offering to do a baptism…

Anyway, as I was going through my devotional one night,¬†I was praising God for His wisdom and thanking Him for allowing us to access that wisdom… and also repenting for waiting so long to take advantage of that gift.

See, I’ve been a believer for a very long time (my parents came to faith when I was a year old so I was raised in the Ottawa Messianic Fellowship, and then I really dedicated myself to the Lord at my bat-mitzvah) but I hadn’t been actively strengthening or deepening my relationship with Him, or trying to grow in my knowledge of Him.

I was content in being stagnant. I felt like I could just go along and keep doing that.

For many people, or I guess I should say for many American young adults, their 21st birthday is a mark of “being allowed to drink, legally” but for me, it was more like, “I’m actually an adult. I need to take responsibility for my own faith.”

So, I am interested in being baptised to mark a new chapter in my journey.

It’s really been amazing to look back and see where I was and where I am now. As a child, I went to church because I had a few really good friends there. I’ve had a hard time with friendships in the past so I really clung to people when I could, when I felt we had a connection… but I wasn’t clinging to God as tightly, and I certainly wasn’t going to church with the right mindset, or the right heart. Then I decided, at my bat-mitzvah, that as a “woman of God” I needed to step up my game. I needed to do it right.

It was born out of a sense of “I have to do this now” rather than “I want to do this” but it did start to change my heart and I was more interested in going to church to learn. I still clung to my friends but I would be ok if they didn’t show up one week too.

That continued throughout high school and it was slow but there was a bit of growth there because as I grew up, I was given more responsibility and I became more active in certain ministries.

Then I got to university and it was a whole new environment. I was an adult, I was so much more responsible for myself, I had to make new friends and new habits and I had to decide what would be important in my life. I knew God had to be front and center, so I sought out solid Christian friends. And I found some.

And they pushed me hard!

I changed a lot in that first year, and then continued to grow through my second year as well.

Last year, as you all know, I spent ten months in Brussels, Belgium. I was far from “home” (the meaning of which has since come into question), but more importantly I was far from my parents and spiritual family.

I learned a lot, about myself, about life, about school and about my Heavenly Father.

Now I’m back in Canada, and I know I want to keep growing!

Back to God being awesome and having the best timing for things, (as well as an explanation for the alternate title, “Rough Start”) I’m actually a fourth-year student. But having gone away, I was set back a year in the Journalism program. So I’m taking third-year courses right now. But I’m still a fourth-year student in the systems at school.

So I missed an important email sent out to third-year students.

And therefore missed a mandatory equipment training workshop.

This launched two days of hell for me.

I was beyond stressed out, I felt guilty for something completely beyond my control and I was scrambling to find a solution but I felt helpless. I was so discouraged. I reached out for help but was met with weak excuses or complete silence for a long time. Finally, a friend agreed to help me out, and then one other person dared to be kind and offered to help, though she felt unqualified.

And eventually everything worked out.

Genesis 50:20 tells us: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good […]” (NKJV)

That was so true in this case. I felt overwhelmed and attacked and useless against forces working against me, but God turned it around, used it to teach me, and really made everything better than I even could have hoped!

*To be continued in the next post (kind of like last month, it’ll be up very quickly after this one)

Forty-Three. September.

Well, now August is quickly coming to an end and I want to share just a quick update on some things that have happened this month and some of the things that’ll happen next month.

As mentioned before, we went on two trips this summer; we spent one week on Round Lake with friends (and that’s where we celebrated my birthday) and then we spent a week in Cape Cod, Massachusetts with family and some other friends.

The first week was, unfortunately, kind of miserable. On Monday the weather was alright for swimming, so we did have a chance to enjoy the lake somewhat, but after that it was cold, and windy and rainy… We did have good company though so it was still nice to be out there, away from all the technology and noise.

And my birthday was nice because we had lots of people come to join us. It was the biggest party I’ve ever had for my birthday!

Then we drove down to Cape Cod. It was a long drive, and no, I didn’t help my dad… My mom is still uncomfortable with me driving so my dad had to drive all the way there! The weather was mostly nice almost all week so we got to enjoy a few beaches. We also had a bunch of fun activities planned.

Cousin, Uncle, Cousin, Me, Dad, Mom, Aunt *Photo credit to Leonid Gilman

Cousin, Uncle, Cousin, Me, Dad, Mom, Aunt
*Photo credit to Leonid Gilman

On Saturday and Sunday we were with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, as well as a friend of theirs and while we were mostly eating during those times when we could be together, it was very nice to see them again and catch up with each others’ lives. We had planned to go to an aquarium all together but one of them was closed for the day and the other one had gone out of business recently… so instead we watched some seals play around the men unloading their fish.

On Monday we went whale watching! That was an amazing experience. We’ve been to many aquariums and while it’s definitely nice to see the whole animal swimming under water through the glass, it’s different to get on a boat and go out into the wild to see whales swimming wherever they want! There’ll be an album for that posted later.

On Tuesday we went to Boston/Cambridge and we enjoyed our day so much, we want to go back to spend a few days concentrated there. 100_2821While in Boston we saw the New England Holocaust Memorial, which was beautiful, and I’ve posted a separate album for that. [*That’s one of the new things this trip inspired, instead of one huge album with over 1000 pictures to go through, I will try to break them down into themed albums as much as possible so that I go through my photos faster… I haven’t forgotten about my European pictures that I’ve yet to post.]

Another highlight from our trip was the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich. Such a beautiful place there! They also have what I believe is a permanent feature there; a collection of classic cars. I don’t enjoy talking about “cars” much but these oldies were really amazing!! So much so, that I posted an album with 120 photos in it! [Yes, I did cut that down from the total.] So here you go, I’m pretty proud of this one: Classic Cars¬†[There will be another album for the rest of the gardens]

One new thing our time in Cape Cod inspired was for me to post some random reviews. They would just be quick blurbs of my thoughts on restaurants, activities, books, movies, etc… whatever I can think of. There will be a separate page for these.

Anyway, it was an excellent trip!

In other August news, MY KEYBOARD IS FIXED! I had ordered a new keyboard online before we left, and it came sometime last week to my brother’s house, so yesterday we went to the shop and they installed it for me pretty quickly! They were so friendly and helpful – they’ll be getting a positive review [eventually] ! But more importantly, now I can type normally without hitting backspace every few seconds… but now I do need to break¬†that habit too.

On to September news!

Well, as I talked about for August, I challenged myself to read one chapter of Proverbs every day, and I’ve been doing that, but I was also thinking about what I would do for the next month because I didn’t want my spiritual growth to stop after one month of daily devotional time. Today I got a link in my email for an ebook called¬†The 30-Day Praise Challenge because it’s free on Amazon at the moment. I’m going to follow that for September I think, and we’ll see how that goes.

Obviously school is starting up again in September. It’ll be very strange for me because I’ve just spent a year in a totally different environment. It’ll be hard to get back into Journalism mode… I only have classes Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Wednesday being my busiest day. In fact, I have pretty much all of Tuesday off, just one class in the evening.

With that schedule in mind, I applied to work at the daycare center on campus!

I’m very excited about the opportunity to supply there because that has been a dream of mine since I started at Carleton.

Anyway, I think that’s all I wanted to share with you guys right now.

I hope you all have some exciting changes coming up!

As always, know that I love you, but God loves you more!!

Be Blessed!

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 ūüėõ

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!

Eighteen. Updates

I haven’t written in a while. Sorry about that.

March was exceptionally busy between school – the year is almost over – and my exchange many things have happened and I haven’t had much down time to write. I also haven’t been able to stay up until 2 in the morning procrastinating on my homework.

Anyway, I feel bad about not sharing anything, then I read another friend’s blog and another one and basically I feel like I’m failing at this blog thing. It would be easier to actually meet up with someone who’s interested in my life and to chat with them over coffee. Or something like that.

Well, I did share that my parents were away. They’re back now.

They had a good time and brought me back a bunch of earrings, which is awesome because I love earrings. They said I lost weight while they were gone… I think it’s safe to say I’ve gained it all back now that they cook for me.

School’s wrapping up now. I’m actually really happy summer is coming, but not because I hate school. It’s more about loving my job. In the meantime, I have three more essays to write. Between now (I should be working right now anyway) and next Tuesday I need to finish at least two because my teacher said we could ¬†hand in the last one on the day of the exam. I don’t want to do that. He also changed his mind about how many essays (or essay preps) we had to do. My french class is pretty confusing.

But the main thing is, I’ve known about these essays all year and yet, I find myself in a crunch now trying to write about books I don’t remember anymore. Why? Because of priorities and self-discipline – or lack thereof.

My teacher doesn’t believe in due dates, dead lines or penalizing someone for handing in their work late.¬†This might sound wonderful at first, but trust me, it’s actually harder. When the time came to do homework, the things with due dates took¬†precedence over these French essays. We were warned not to leave them until the end of the year, but many of us did not heed those warnings.

So until two days ago in the early hours of the morning I had finished none of the four essays. At least I got one done, but I still have three more… but now I have even less motivation than I did all year. Knowing it’s my fault doesn’t make it any easier to write.

Having homework to do DOES make it easier for me to write about my life though, as shown by this post right now.

I’ll probably write something about proper time management in the near future.

What else has been going on…? I guess I can update you about my exchange process.

So the application I was doing at the end of 2012 was to Carleton’s exchange program. Then I heard I’d been accepted and tentatively placed at ULB but I still had another application to do for them. I’ve finished that now, it was stressful and I made a little mistake along the way, but it’s done and now I have to wait for confirmation from Brussels. Even though I’ve haven’t officially been accepted, we’ve started planning the trip.

Also, I’ve been getting to know the two other girls from Carleton who are going to ULB. It’s much more exciting knowing I won’t be going alone.

Two days after my birthday we’ll fly to Belgium. We’ll spend one day there before flying off to Minsk, Belarus for a week. Since my grandma died in December we didn’t have a chance to go – specifically my mom didn’t get a chance to go be with her family, so we’re going now. Then we’ll get back to Brussels but the hotel we’re staying in is actually in Germany. But my parents will stick around for a week, we’ll do some touring around northwest Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (Holland is not a country).

They will fly back to Canada on August 31st and leave me to fend for myself. Hopefully I’ll have somewhere to live for ten months by then.

So that’s the stage I’m at now, planning flights/activities, looking into rental places, thinking about work, thinking about school, all while not doing my last assignments from my second year of University.

Anyway, for the next few posts, or maybe they won’t be the next ones in a row, I don’t know, I’m planning on writing a series on my exchange plans and preparations. Obviously, when things come up in life, I’ll write about that too, but I kind of want to share all the stuff I went through, or will go through as I prepare for a year abroad before getting into posts about actually living abroad. Which I will do. I will also, probably, be writing some blogs in French for Carleton’s French department – more details to come as I find things out.

Finally, one more update. I really like supporting my friends and a lot of people have blogs of their own. Some are Christian, some are not, but have a look.

Alyssa Bethke, I don’t know her personally, but she has a great Christian blog: http://blog.alyssajoy.me/
My friend Hope, she’s Christian: http://unveilinghope.com/
My friend Sarah, she’s also Christian: http://acupeoftea.blogspot.ca/
My friend Anna, she’s in Journalism and she’s also a Christian: http://notwithink1.wordpress.com/
Emily is also in Journalism, and also a Christian: http://livetotelltheworld.wordpress.com/
Cassie is not Christian but she’s in Journalism and she’s a really good friend of mine. I even made it into one of her blogs:) http://cassieontheedge.wordpress.com/
Nip is Australian, I met her at school while she did an exchange here. She’s studying Journalism too: http://nipwijewickrema.wordpress.com/
My [Christian] friend Keenan is writing a book chapter by chapter: http://godthrowscrazyparties.wordpress.com/

So, go ahead, read some or all of their stuff or just know that I’m supporting people I love ‚̧

Love you too, reader, whoever you are. But remember that God loves you more ‚̧