Fifty-Three. Reality.

Time to get back in the game.

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

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

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

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

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

But I also have to write!

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

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

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

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

None of that was news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forty-Seven. Simplicity and Steadfastness.

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

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

Life is complicated.

But I suppose that’s how it should be.

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

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

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

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

Make sure you understand your own thought.

Make sure you’re being clear and straightforward.

“Simple” is not a bad word.

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

Just break it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish we could all remember that.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Is Jesus still on the throne?”

“Yes.”

“Then everything’s fine.”

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

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

Remember that He loves you.

Remember that He is unchanging.

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

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

Where are you trying to complicate things?

Have you been forgetting that God loves you?

Well He does, more than I do.

God Bless,

-Rita

Forty-Six. Surrender and trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is a particularly serious topic for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then her dad gives her a pearl necklace.

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

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

I love you, and God loves you more!

-Rita

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

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

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

Forty-Five. Full Circle.

As promised, continuing my last post.

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

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

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

Everything on my end was fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was just after 10 am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this can be encouraging to someone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you,
-Rita

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

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

Forty-Two. Driving.

Contrary to its title, this post is not about driving.

This time, driving, specifically my journey with driving this past month, is an example, a testimony.

And just in case you didn’t notice, I didn’t have to start out by apologizing for not writing 😛

Anyway, what do I mean by my journey with driving being a testimony?

 

I’ve touched on this before, and many people have heard my story but I really want to post this so I can come back to it anytime, and maybe I’ll be able to encourage someone else with it too because I think the principle is applicable in other things in life.

As most 16-year-olds do, I went to get my G1 pretty much as soon as possible. Many people go the day of their 16th birthday, I waited four days.

[For anyone who doesn’t know how Ontario Licensing works, we have a graduated system. At 16 you are allowed to take a written theory test and provided you don’t make too many mistakes you earn your G1. (There is a handbook you can study too if you want, but most things are pretty common sense.) With a G1, you can start learning to drive. You can take Driver’s Ed if you want, you can take lessons and you can actually get behind the wheel of a car provided you follow some general restrictions. The thing is, your license will expire in five years and it is generally accepted that you get your full G license within that time. With Driver’s Ed, you can take your road test after eight months, if not, one year. Then you get a G2. In another year you take another road test and you get your G. Each level has fewer restrictions than the one previous. For more information visit: Ontario Ministry of Transportation or “Get a G Driver’s License” (or else use Google).]

I did think about actually driving a few times but “practicing” with my dad in a parking lot confirmed that I was not ready to be in control of something expensive that could cause damage to people or property or else be damaged itself. A nervous driver is the worst driver. Instead I just kept my Driver’s license so I could easily prove my identity.

So here I am, soon turning 21 [for those not following, 16 + 5 = 21] and I’ve been enjoying my ID [Driver’s Licenses seem to be the most widely accepted pieces of ID for everything] but it’s about to expire! It was expensive and I hate wasting money [even though I didn’t pay for it, thanks Dad!] so it was time to learn to drive and get my next license so I don’t have to start all over again.

The problem was, I had been too scared to drive for the first four years and in my last one, where I no longer had a choice, I lived in Belgium.

Coming back to Canada, at the end of June, I only had July and half of August before my license would expire. I had to learn to drive well enough to pass the road test in a month! [We already knew we’d be going away for two weeks in the middle of August and my license would actually expire while we’re in the States.]

I procrastinated on calling an instructor, I tried desperately to avoid driving with my dad, I didn’t even want to talk about cars.

And in all this, I haven’t mentioned God yet…

See, that was my problem.

I was thinking about myself and my fears and I was crippled because I told myself I couldn’t do it. I filled my head with negativity. I stopped myself from the possibility of success.

But when I was “at the end of my rope” – in this case meaning, I had no more time to fail at driving – I turned to God and I prayed more than I can remember praying for a long time. I was practically in tears confessing my fears.

It worked.

I pray a general prayer every night anyway, so I included pleas to the Lord to help me with my driving and every time before I sat behind the wheel I prayed an extra, special prayer for protection, for peace, for communication, for perfect conditions and anything else I could think of.

Eventually I got more comfortable, I practiced more and I as I calmed down, my driving got better. Coming back from a drive, I would thank God for being there.

Yesterday, Friday August 8th, I passed my G1 exit test!

I’ll be honest, in the days leading up to the test I felt fine. I felt confident enough and I figured there would be no reason for me to fail. But seconds before my tester came out to talk to me, I sat in the car and I started crying. I hadn’t realized I was that nervous.

I had to pray.

Throughout the month I had to be reminded through God’s Word that He has not given my a spirit of fear, that I don’t need to be anxious for anything, that He is my loving Father, my Provider, my Protector, my Peace, my All.

Listen, God is so faithful and so completely awesome! We can and should go to Him with all of our requests, big or small, serious or silly. He already knows what we’re thinking, but laying down our burdens, our fears, our needs before Him and asking Him to fill us with His spirit and His blessings makes such a huge difference!

I’m different now than I was a month ago not because I have a G2 driver’s license, but because I traded my fear for God’s peace [that surpasses understanding], I traded my negativity and worries for God’s loving promises.

And I want to encourage you to do that too.

No matter what’s going on in your life, bring that to God! He listens, He loves and He blesses you so much more when you press into Him.

God Bless!!

PS, That ended up being a lot longer than I expected, but the idea of being able to come to God with any and all of our problems, while it isn’t novel, is so important and through this challenge [well, challenge for me anyway] was really impressed on me.

PPS, On Monday, we’re going to a cottage, so no Wifi. I can promise I won’t post anything 😛 But I do have a post planned, so I will hopefully find time to write it and maybe it’ll be up on Friday? Aren’t you all just super lucky this month 😛

PPPS, Coffee with Rita has a Facebook page! One of the things on my “bucket list” is to have a following of strangers for this blog, because right now it’s mostly family and friends who read my posts, and while I appreciate every single one of them for their support, I would love it if this blog could spread out beyond people who do actually know me. So following, liking, sharing, commenting, recommending, etc., are all really helpful 🙂 Thanks!

Twenty-Eight. Leaving (Exchange Prep five)

It’s hard to believe I’m leaving Canada tomorrow. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet…

But perhaps since my “prep time” has come to an end, I should take some time to go over the things I remember most vividly about this experience.

YOU

It’s your job to have a desire, to have a passion and it’s entirely up to you to pursue it. No one is going to do it for you. You have to know what you like, what you want and what you’re willing to get it. You have to know your own priorities, your own capabilities and all your opportunities. Start planning early, be proactive and really go for whatever you want! I desperately wanted to go on exchange, so I started thinking about it in 1st year, I started asking questions and planning way ahead (because I could only apply in 2nd year) and I really think it helped. I have a friend who also wanted to go on exchange but she started thinking about it a little too late and it didn’t work out the way she’d wanted it to. You also have to be prepared to work hard. You have to do some research.

It takes work, but if you really want to do it, you can and most likely, you will!

APPLICATION

You really have to be patient and careful with this part. There are a lot of forms, application papers, online stuff, people to track down… And humans make mistakes. You have to be pretty thorough too – I found two online mistakes made by other people in the school so I went to talk to them about it (face-to-face) and the mistake was fixed or cleared up. If you don’t understand something, go ask about it! And no matter how many forms you have to fill out, just keep going. Most of them ask for the same information over and over again and it can get very tiring and really annoying, but keep going anyway because when you get there, you’ll stop thinking about all the things you’d had to sign!

(It also helps if you have a signature… which I don’t really :-S)

Patience also really comes in handy with all the waiting you have to do. Thinking back on my whole exchange prep experience, I really had to do a lot of waiting. I had to wait for teachers to respond back to me, I had to wait to find out other people’s decisions, I had to wait for medical results, I had to wait for house hunting responses, etc. Be patient, all this waiting is worth it!

I know that wouldn’t make it any easier though.

MONEY

As with many of the best things in life, exchanges require a lot of investment. There are application fees, medical fees, mailing fees and potentially phone fees as well, or gas fees maybe. Then of course you have to pay for plane tickets, for visas, for accommodations, etc. You have to think ahead about paying for rent each month, for food, for entertainment, for transportation. It can be a real headache and a lot of stress.

I am extremely lucky that my parents support this exchange and truly see this as an investment. I also worked really hard and saved my money as much as I could. I don’t really have too much advice I can offer about this, but it is possible even though it’s hard. It’ll probably take some sacrifices, but I still think it’s worth it. The life experience is worth it – well hopefully, I haven’t actually gone away yet but I’m sure it will be.

Having a birthday right before leaving is also really awesome 🙂

SCHOOL

You need to work hard! You will be rewarded for working hard! You also need to plan ahead and find out how different aspects of your education career will be affected by your exchange. Some programs are designed to accommodate exchanges, others are not. Mine isn’t, but I talked about it with an undergraduate supervisor and she encouraged me to go anyway. I just have to come back for a 5th year to get the last few credits for my degree. It’s a small sacrifice to make for such an amazing opportunity!

RESEARCH

It’s important to do your homework. Learn about the different schools/countries where you can go, think about the advantages and disadvantages of each one and make informed decisions. Once you find out where you are actually going, research more about the school, the country, etc. Find out about academic year, the classes, find out about the weather, the language, the history. Pay attention to your school/country in the news – you might hear something interesting. Look into neighborhoods, look into transportation (both within the city and outside the city/country), read up on some cultural traditions or food. Get to know the place you’re going to at least a little bit before you get there.

ACCOMMODATION

This was a big hassle for me. We’re all planners in this family. Usually we have our vacations thought-out really well way ahead of time – like months in advance. As soon as I found out I was heading to Belgium, I started looking for rooms to rent. It didn’t go well at all. I was consistently getting nothing!  The price was beyond my means, the timing wouldn’t work for me, the people I’d be living with and/or renting from were sometimes inflexible. There are a lot of things to consider, a lot of things to look into and a lot of inquiries which sometimes came back negatively.

Before you start looking it’s important to think about where you want to be – consider proximity to your school, nearby public transportation, type of neighborhood (city, suburb, etc.), know your financial limitations. Think about what kind of setting you want to live in too. Do you want to live alone? What rooms are you willing or interested in sharing? How many people do you want to live with? What gender? What stage in life (working adults, students, families)?

Most of all, I have to say, be patient. I really can’t stress this enough. It was simply impossible to have everything planned out ahead of time, so I just kept going. I sent out inquiries to every ad I saw that fit my “musts” – even to some that didn’t and when I got a “no” back, I would have to keep trying and send out the next one. I had a number of really strong potentials, but they didn’t work out anyway.

But now, finally, I have an amazing place to stay! I’m really excited about it.

Yesterday, (on my 20th birthday!) I talked with a landlord and we came to an agreement! She seems incredibly nice too, she added me on Facebook right away and wished me a happy birthday and safe travels, she asked a little bit about my family, about Ottawa, about our travel plans.

The room is affordable (€350/month), it’s in a great location (across the street from campus) and it’s a perfect mix of male/female students for me. It’s a three story house, with a common kitchen and living area on the first floor and two female students on one floor with two male students either on the floor above, or the floor below. Four people, two male, two female – it’s perfect, what more could I want?!?!?

Anyway, I really encourage anyone planning for an exchange to keep at it – even until the last moment. I secured a room two days before we have to leave the country.

The other option is to wait until you get there (plan to arrive before you really NEED to be there) and choose a place you can visit, but to me, this is risky because you’ll be in a place you don’t know, there will be a lot of change all at once and it just seems harder in my mind.

OTHER THINGS

You have to prepare yourself emotionally. I don’t know if I’m there yet or not, so maybe I can’t comment much on this point but I have been reminded my friends and family that keeping in touch is totally possible! The internet exists and it connects people all over the world – even in Belgium 😛

I have Facebook, I have this blog, I have Skype. I’m going to miss home too, so it’ll be in my interest to keep updating people and to find time to chat.

Finding some interesting things to see/do/visit while you’re away is good too, but don’t go overboard on the touristy stuff. You’ll have time to explore cool things since you’re going to be living there.

Plan on using the opportunity to travel. I’m so happy I’ll be in Europe because I’ll be able to visit other countries 🙂

Finally, and this is the biggest piece of advice I have, PRAY! Rely on God. He is our provider and He has the best plans for us. I know a lot of you won’t identify with this sentiment, but I cannot have done any of this exchange preparation without trusting the Lord. I knew He sent me on this trip, so I knew He knew what was going on, especially when I didn’t. Every night I prayed about different aspects of the trip, different people involved and I know if I didn’t have God to lean on, I would have had a hard time getting through the difficult times.

It’s not easy to leave everything you know, it’s not easy to have your plans change at the last moment, surprises aren’t always good, and challenges most definitely arise at the worst possible moments. You’ll get tired, you’ll get frustrated, you’ll get angry, you’ll probably cry and people around you will have different responses too. It was so important for me to have God to talk to about what I was feeling.

Well, now that the prep stuff is done (well mostly) I have to plan for actually living.

Just so you all know, I fly out in the morning to Paris, via Philadelphia. My parents fly out in the evening to Brussels via Montreal and Paris, so we’re meeting up in Paris to get to Brussels in the afternoon on Friday. Saturday morning, we’re flying to Belarus to spend some time with my family, and we’re meeting Alex there too. (I’ll meet with the landlady during our half-day).

So it’s a kind of complicated itinerary, and I’m far from getting settled into my new life, but the next time I write, I’ll be somewhere in Europe!

Remember, I’m not leaving Canada, I’m just going on an adventure. I’ll be back 🙂

The next coffee date will be international 😛

Love, hugs, and smiles.

God Bless!

PS, my mom will be using my cellphone number for the next ten months, so don’t try to text me at my old number. We’ll figure out if I’ll get a cellphone over there, I also have an address and would love to get snail-mail but if you really want to chat, Skype is the best option 🙂

Twenty-Four. Trust.

This might end up sounding kind of silly but I was reading a Christian romantic suspense story last week (Broken Crowns by Tamara Shoemaker) and one of the main themes was trust. Obviously they were in a very difficult and dangerous situation, different from any situation I’ve ever been in, but the point remains, how much do I/we trust God?

In the story Jeff and Jill were brought together under terrible circumstances. Jill’s boss was murdered and Jeff’s sons and sister were kidnapped after his brother was shot. The two were targeted by a witch coven from Jeff’s past so they have to work together to get Jeff’s family back, etc., etc. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who might want to read it but I wanted to establish the kind of situation they were in.

They both had to trust God for a lot of things.

Since my grandpa died almost two weeks ago, I haven’t had much appetite and my head has been hurting much more than usual. Normally, I try not to complain about my headaches because it would get kind of annoying and depressing to hear about someone’s pain every single day. If I ever do say something, it’s because my head is really bothering me. Usually the pain is at a manageable level that I’m used to.

Since my grandpa’s passing though, I guess my body is reacting in a sort of negative way, but I didn’t really know what to do. Well, I guess I always knew what to do, I just never did it.

I’m really blessed with a spiritual family who loves the Lord and who loves me too and truly believe in prayer and God’s power. They have a prayer meeting every Monday night and I know many people pray for me daily too.

I didn’t really want to “bother” them with my head though because I figured, I’m just stressed out right now because of two deaths so close together and the visa application, so it’ll pass on its own.

I don’t think it was necessarily a lack of trust, but I wasn’t willing to ask for help. That’s something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past as well, but that’ll be a post for another time. I was definitely feeling that I should trust more though. God is the ultimate healer but when my pills weren’t working, I still didn’t turn to Him for some reason.

Finally, my pain got to a point where I felt like I couldn’t handle it at all anymore so I made a quick phone call to ask for some prayer.

God works fast.

Just a few minutes after I hung up I felt lighter and my pain decreased significantly.

I might not have been in a life or death situation like Jeff and Jill but trusting God is applicable at all times, in any situation, for any reason.

Anyway, I want to encourage everyone that God is worth trusting. He does listen and He does respond. He doesn’t get annoyed with our prayers and there’s nothing too insignificant for Him. It seems self-evident, but I think it’s worth remembering or being reminded of every once in a while.

So pray friends, about any and all things. Pray all the time.

God Bless!

Oh, one more thing I realized I had planned to talk about, but forgot (I was wondering why this post was so much shorter than my other ones).

I was scheduled to work everyday last week (I’m a supply teacher, so I work on-call and I appreciate every single shift I get) but on the Friday before the ladies in the office realized they had hired two new teachers who would be starting on the Monday. They said they didn’t need me so they took all my shifts away.

I was really bummed.

As it turned out, I went to the doctor, got my tests done and I got one step closer to finishing my visa application, so the week off was actually very useful. I was also able to sell an old textbook and meet some new friends who are also going to Belgium.

This small example of God’s perfect timing was an amazing reminder to trust in Him always. He knows exactly what we need and exactly when.

He is also amazing at providing whatever money we need so I know I don’t have to worry about what I lost from the week off (over $550) because if I really needed it, He would give it to me!

So anyway, in all things rejoice in Him. Give thanks. And pray!

God Bless!

PS. I’ve been working on my visa application and Carleton paperwork, everything seems to be moving along. I’ve gone to the doctor and done some tests for the medical requirement and I’ve gone to Carleton to give in my course list and to get my bursary from the French department. More on that in my next exchange prep post 🙂

Nineteen. Stress

I think I like to post blogs at the most stressful times. The times when I definitely should be focusing on getting other things done…

I just can’t focus when I’m too busy over-thinking and writing helps me process whatever I’m going through.

I also don’t like the sound of my own voice so I’m sure people get tired of hearing me talk, but this way they can read at their own leisure and imagine whatever voice they’d like.

So today’s thoughts are on stress. Specifically the crazy, messy situation I’m in now. I’m also feeling lonely tonight.

Sometimes, even surrounded by people you can feel lonely. And in those times, I start singing worship songs in my head. Eventually I get to a computer and play worship songs on YouTube. It’s really amazing how turning your focus to God can brighten your mood and/or bring comfort in difficult times.

Anyway, it is often in times of solitude you realize certain realities of your life, and sometimes they’re not so great, but there’s not always anything you can do. So sometimes you have to eliminate that particular stress in your life by accepting you can’t change or control everything. Right now, I really need to trust God and seek fulfillment in Him.

So why am I so stressed out right now? Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, I have three essays left to write. They’re due in four days. Granted, they are short, and yes, it’s my own fault I left them so long, but none of that helps me write them.

On top of that, exams are  coming up and while my schedule is really nice (one exam on Saturday the 13th and one each on Fridays the 19th and the 26th), my hardest exam is the very first one.

My schedule for the next week is kind of tough for studying. Today is Friday, it’s the Sabbath and typically I don’t do any homework on Fridays… this week I might have to because I have a mini assignment due for my discussion group by midnight tonight.

Tuesday I have class from 8:30 to 1 pm, I will get home between 2 and 2:30, then I tutor at 4:30. Kind of busy.

Wednesdays I don’t usually have class, but I do work in the nursery during W2W at the Met. This is my favorite day of the week… usually. For some reason Carleton screwed up everyone’s schedules and decided to make up Good Friday’s missed classes by giving us a Friday schedule this Wednesday. so instead of my usual relaxing day with one year olds, I have class.

Thursday, I have to come back to school for a mandatory exchange prep meeting. Then I have some time planned with my friends because with exams and travel plans and moving, we won’t spend much more time together after this… I’m leaving for a year and Esther is moving away forever, well at least for the foreseeable future. Ruth also doesn’t live in Ottawa, so we won’t have much of a chance to hang out.

So next Thursday evening, I will go to youth group, go to Esther’s house and come home sometimes on Friday, but I don’t know when or how. But then, just like this week, when I get home on Friday, I have to make the powerpoint for the evening’s service.

Then I have an exam on Saturday.

Basically, I have this weekend to write three essays and study for my hardest exam. I’m stressed out and worried. And I’m still very sick… I’ve been coughing for over six months now.

I also have a lot to think about with my exchange, but I think I’ll elaborate on that later.

For now, I think I need to take things one day at a time. Now, I’m working on the assignment I have due by the end of the day. Hopefully it’ll go more quickly than I expect, but in all likelihood I’ll fall asleep before it’s done and I’ll have to work quickly when I get home after class.

Then I’ll have to write my French essays and I just won’t stop until I finish. If all goes well, I can have those done on Saturday, realistically however, I’ll probably have to stop in between each page or something because I’ll get bored with writing… In those breaks I’ll try to read for my exam and soon enough I’ll give up on studying and make myself get back to writing.

Hopefully, by Sunday I’ll be done the essays so I can use Monday to do the bulk of my studying (I’ll have to write a blog about my “studying” at some point) and really, I’ll just take each day as it come next week, using chunks of time here and there to read a little more for Political Science.

Thankfully, I have gone to every class and every discussion group, so I will pray that I don’t get worked up and psyche myself out during the exam. That’s always my prayer during exams actually, not that God would give me good grades, but that He would help me to stay calm and focused and especially for Him to help me remember everything I know from being in class. Really, if I’ve been in every lecture, I should know everything I need to know for the exam so I just need to unlock it when it counts.

Then I will breathe a huge sigh of relief, watch a few movies and prepare for my next exam.

Or go to work.

For now, lovely readers, I will get to that mini assignment. I’ll get through this trying time. And you will get through any of your difficult times too.

I find God is especially loving during times of high-stress. Focusing on Him helps me put my life and problems into perspective and suddenly, grades don’t seem as important as bringing glory to the King. I would encourage you to keep your eyes on Him and I know He’ll bless you. He’s blessed me far more than I deserve.

If you’re stressed out, eat something. Drink some tea. Have a nap. Sing/listen to worship songs. Repeat any steps as necessary.

Seventeen. Disappointment.

You get TWO posts tonight!

I’m in a writing kind of mood and something else significant happened this week. Yesterday in fact.

I’ve written before about my exchange and I was nothing short of excited and enthusiastic. In fact, I was ecstatic, and there was nothing I was looking forward to more.

So why is this post about disappointment?

Because yesterday I got the confirmation email telling me where I’m going.

This August I will move to * drum roll* Brussels, Belgium.

I realize how silly this would sound:
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m upset.”
“Why?”
“I’m going on exchange next year.”

“I’m going to Brussels…”

Yeah, I get it, that’s not a good reason to be upset.

But those who know me know how set I was on Lyon. While my heart is in Paris, I really got into the idea of living in Lyon and all my plans and preparations where for Lyon.

I was envisioning what my life might be like… living in France.

The email telling me I would be going to ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) was one of the most soul-crushing emails I’ve ever had to read. I wasn’t even expecting my emotional reaction.

I brought this upon myself though. I challenged God.

When I submitted my application, Lyon was my first choice, Paris my second, and Brussels was a reluctant third because I really didn’t think I’d ever get bumped down to a third choice, but the rules said I needed one. When I handed in the papers I told God, “These are my choices, but please, take care of it, send me where I need to go according to your plan.”

So He did. “Are you sure you wanted me to send you, Rita? Did you really trust in my plan?”

So basically, I’ve been crying for two days because I’ll be telling people, “I live in Brussels,” and they’ll think of brussels sprouts (because even I think of brussels sprouts) and their noses will crinkle because no one like brussels sprouts.

It’s not a city that excites me.

But I know it’ll be a great experience and I really do see that this is God’s plan. I’ve been learning and growing a lot this year, it’s been challenging to me. And now it’s time to put what I’ve learned and experienced into practice. It’s time to listen to God, go where He’s sent me and follow what His plan is for me.

But I do want to explain why I’m upset. It’s not really enough to say, “I really wanted to go to Lyon!”

I was excited about the atmosphere and culture I’d be in. I would have been surrounded by the French, the language, the people and the community. It would have been a much more mono-cultural and I was excited for that. I love French culture (and wine) and even though Lyon is the second biggest city in France, it has a small city feel to it (or so I’ve read) and that’s what I really wanted to experience.

Sure, Brussels/Belgium has waffles and chocolate (which I’m sure I will appreciate at least once a month) but it’s a bigger city, with a much more international, multicultural kind of atmosphere and while I would have loved to visit, it’s not where I wanted to live.

But, that’s enough being disappointed and upset. If I go into this angry and negative, I won’t have a good experience, but I’m making a conscious decision to be positive right now. I know I will enjoy this experience, I know it will be amazing and because I’m trusting God, I know it’ll be right.

He has a purpose and plan for me, and it’ll be awesome!

This certainly wasn’t my plan – in fact, this was the furthest thought in my mind, Brussels was really unexpected – but it’s His and that makes it infinitely better… It’s actually perfect.

As a side note, I’m trying to comfort myself with the thought that perhaps my future husband is waiting in Brussels… Everyone said I was going to meet and marry a French guy, but maybe there’s someone better in Belgium (not necessarily a Belgian guy).

Anyway, we never know where life will take us, but the ride is so much better, so much more fulfilling and exciting when we accept the adventures God puts before us.

Also, when I came home from school today, my dad told me he’d already bought a tour in Belgium for us!