Fifty-Four. Blessed

I have my share of complaints about the world. I think we all do, and I think that’s ok.

But I also think it’s worth acknowledging problems and moving on from there instead of dwelling on negative thoughts.

Easier said than done.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. – Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

What an important reminder, but it can be a major challenge some days.

Many people know I started a new job recently. I have a lot of complaints now–about my schedule (I’m out of the house for 10 hours!), about people who can be difficult to work with, about not getting paid enough, about being tired all the time–and sometimes it might seem that I don’t like my job or that I’m not happy with where I am in life.

That’s simply not true.

It’s not the ideal job, I’ll admit. I’m not doing what I love. But there are so many wonderful things to be thankful for.

The very fact of being employed is something worth celebrating. My coworkers are lovely people who laugh and share and make my day brighter. I even have the opportunity to be creative and play with graphics for social media! (I’ll be posting my creations on a separate page.)

I complained that the cost of my bus pass went up but thank God I’m employed and can still afford it, and it has allowed me to ride previously express routes so it can sometimes be a little easier to get to work. (*It still takes a long time and I was perfectly satisfied with paying less than express pass people and only using the 95… but that sentiment didn’t fit the tone of this post.)

I complain ceaselessly about winter, and while I still can’t find anything good to focus on about this awful season (the snow stops being pretty when it’s on the ground), I can be extremely thankful that my parents are as wonderful and generous as they are. I’m so blessed by them, especially this season because I hate spending money on myself, even for things that are necessary, but they love me and want to make sure I’m dressed appropriately for the harsh weather we experience daily. My coat was old and ugly, didn’t fit my arms, the hood didn’t cover my head properly and the pocket was ripping, so my mom bought me a gorgeous new coat for an obscene price (although apparently good coats can actually cost more than $200 so maybe I should be thankful mine was less!). My winter boots are falling apart so I’ve been wearing fall boots and while I can layer socks to keep my feet warm, I can’t keep them from getting soaked. So my dad took me to buy new winter boots, again pricey, but now I’m comfortable, warm, dry and I can be thankful for all of that.

Constantly reminding ourselves of all the bad things we experience might feel therapeutic in the moment, we might feel a righteous anger and therefore justified in our complaints – and likely, they are completely valid issues that should be addressed – but I’d like to challenge myself to spend more time and energy being thankful for the good things.

Complaining usually won’t solve the problem anyway (although sometimes if you talk to the right person, they might be able to change something for you), but it will bring your mood down and it can rob you of joy.

At least it has for me before.

Listen, winter is terrible, but it does end eventually. And perhaps all it’s good for is helping us appreciate the other seasons more. But can you imagine spending 6 months making yourself miserable by thinking only about how awful this season is? Is that going to make it any less disgusting? Is that going to speed up time so it passes more quickly? (*Winter is officially only three months long according to the calendar, but it definitely lasts longer in practice… but not always 6 months… sometimes it’s even more!)

I’m thankful we have the freedom to complain, but I’m even more thankful for the endless blessings I experience daily and for the opportunities God gives us to rejoice and praise Him.

Be blessed and know you are loved.

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Fifty-Three. Reality.

Time to get back in the game.

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

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

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

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

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

But I also have to write!

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

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

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

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

None of that was news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders :)

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is indoors!

This is indoors!

Also indoors

An indoor waterfall

An indoor waterfall

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Seeing Terry Fator (AGT)!

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless!

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

Forty-Nine. I’m not dead!

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

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

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

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

But I finished surprisingly well.

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

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

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

But not all students turn to God in those times.

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love it!

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

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

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

I realized that I didn’t want that life.

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

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

It’s not easy.

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

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

But thankfully there is grace in Him.

There is forgiveness in Him.

There is LOVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless!

Thirty-Three. Travels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to find that labyrinth too!

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

I was so excited to do it.

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

I was wrong.

It was hard to find.

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

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

Eventually we made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I got to class 😦

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

God Bless you all!

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

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Had a wonderful [Canadian] Thanksgiving celebration here in Brussels.
I’m so thankful for family… not just biological family who I know love me even from far away; not even just my family in Christ from all around the world who provide so much support. I’m also thinking of friends who’ve ‘adopted’ me into their family and even the complete strangers I find myself sharing a house with.
I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my life and this one in particular has allowed me to experience something completely new… and incredibly amazing!
I love all the people in my life!
God Bless you all. Hope you take some time to reflect on the many things you have to be thankful for!