September 26, 2004

Rollercoaster of Love

Agin! Agin!
Two-ri! Twoooo-ri!

Well, I tried my best to brainwash my 2 year old nephew this weekend with the idea that I am the best aunt in the entire world. We played, we laughed, we ran through the sprinkler, we learned how to sneak up on people and say boo! (my sister was just THRILLED about that one). We even played on the jungle gym in McDonalds...which I didn't know wasn't allowed by momma. Score one for Aunt Tori. I just had to get in one last big plug before I left the country. Not that he's going to remember this weekend when he's 16 and rebelling from his parents, but maybe he'll just remember the impression that I am cool and that he can always come and talk to me.
It's asking a lot from a couple of hours of hide-n-seek, but you just never know.
The past couple of days have been exhausting. Not only have I been playing super aunt and trying to keep up with a 30 lb ball of energy and fun, but I've been riding this crazy emotional rollercoaster. You see, this week I got this amazingly heartbreaking news right on the heels of one of my biggest dreams becoming a reality. Talk about mixed emotions. One minute I was laughing at the antics of my nephew, and the next I'd be so overwhelmed that I'd go hide in my closet and cry.
This week, one of my best friends--a person who has changed my life from the moment I met her; a person who has stretched me, challenged me, helped me grow up, and kept me laughing all the while--has had this unbelievably sad thing happen to her little family. Her newborn was diagnosed with very severe heart problems. It's much more complicated than that, but it is her story and I'm not going to tell it to the whole world. But suffice to say, she and her husband are dealing a level of pain I can't even begin to understand.
On the same day that I learned just how serious the situation was with my friend and her baby, I got the news that I have raised more than enough money to make my budget. I got the green light. It really happened. I can finally move to Guatemala. I don't have to sit around this house anymore! I raised more than I ever expected to make, and I am overwhelmed by the generosity and love that was shown to me by people.
But in the jumble of all these things, I don't know what to feel anymore. There have been times this weekend that I just (literally) jumped with joy, and there have been times I just had to leave the house so that I could grieve in peace. Having this fun weekend with my healthy, active little nephew has put into sharp relief the pain that my friend is going through. Every game we played, every funny moment we had, every "biggest, tight hugs" and goodnight kisses I got, were just that much more poignant because I knew my friend might not ever get to have those things with her son.
A couple of weeks ago, I had this semi-meltdown. While at that point, I didn't know when exactly I was leaving for Guate, I knew it was eventually going to happen and I was worried about some of my friends. The transition from college to real life was making things a little tricky. I just felt this desparate need for things to be ok. I needed them to be stable. I needed to know that they were going to be ok and that I didn't have to worry about the security of our relationship while I was gone. Even though this meltdown was mostly centered around one relationship, the mindset was affecting most of the relationships of my life, including my family.
It's taken me a while to figure why I had such an intense desire to have this security, and I'm not entirely proud of the motive now that I've pinned it down. It was completely selfish.
You see, I want to not worry about other people. In theory, I shouldn't be worrying in the first place and I'm working on that...but I'm not there yet. But my real problem goes beyond the worry. I want people to put their lives on hold while I go off and live mine. See? Totally selfish. I've had this struggle before on a smaller scale during the summers. It's not that I don't want to be involved in their lives or that I don't think about them while I am gone, it's just that I have this part of me that wants to be Super Tori. I want to be the hero. I want to be the amazing friend that is always there when you need her. And I don't want anything too big to happen while I'm gone, because then I can't be there for the celebration or the tears, depending on the outcome.
When I went to college, I learned a lot more than what was taught in my classes. I learned what it was like to have real friendships. God put these amazing people in my life. People who, surprisingly enough, loved me and thought I was funny and wanted to hang out with me. People who ate dinner with me every night, or watched Sweet Home Alabama with me 10 zillion times. People who were my family away from home.
And the friends that came along during the summer about how cool God is and how intricate our paths are in this world. To run across those incredible friends--some who were only a part of my life for a couple of months, but who made their impact nonetheless; and the ones who got so caught up in my soul that they will always be a part of can't tell me there isn't a God. I won't believe you. There is no way that these friendships are just some cosmic coincidence.
But the thing is--I have been so incredibly blessed by these relationships that it's hard to let them go. I'm not talking about ending them. I'm talking about letting them evolve. The honest reality of it all is that my life, and their's for that matter, are changing. I've finally had the courage to take a step I've been talking about for years, and while I am so excited about it becoming a reality, I am so reluctant to let go of my control.
It always comes back to a control issue with me, doesn't it? *sigh*
While I am coming to terms with the fact that uncertainity is the key word in reference to my future right now, I just wasn't ready to let go of my old friendships. I want to be able to take care of these people and I don't know how to do that thousands of miles away.
Take, for instance, my friend with the sick baby. I have been miserable this weekend because I couldn't go to her. I knew in my brain that I didn't need to be there right now, that I would only be in the way at this stage, that I couldn't make anything better by being there. The only thing I could do was pray. And, boy, am I praying. But still, my heart isn't listening to my head and it keeps trying to come up with ways to fix things. It keeps telling me that I need to get in my car, now, and go to her. I told her she just has to say the word and I'm out the door, and I need to trust that she'll tell me if she needs me. But, man alive, it is so hard to sit on the sidelines.
I've struggled all weekend with the timing on this. When I've finally set a date to leave the country, this thing happens that makes me want to not leave. I know I have to go and that I need to trust that God can take care of my friend in the future like He has the past, but it's so hard to not put on my superhero cape and rush to the rescue.
I can't fix this. I know that. But I would trade in my entire year in Guatemala if it meant I could help just a little bit.
It seems that that repeating refrain in my life has come around again...Trust God, Tori. Trust. Lean not on your own understanding, but see God's hand in your life and let him be in control.

September 20, 2004

Put The Lime In The Coconut

I was sitting on the last row of the bus, staring out the window as the Texas pine tree forests flashed by. I was exhausted. For the first time all week, I was tired of talking to teenagers. I just wanted to be alone. My back was killing me due to a week on a leaky air mattress and over 24 hrs clocked sitting on this bus. My head was pounding from the lack of caffeine and the low grade motion sickness I had been enduring for the past 6 or so hours.

It was there, in that back row of that filthy bus, that I finally began to unravel the confusion in my brain.

As each night of the previous week had come to a conclusion, instead of reviewing the day's activities and lessons, I was unable to decipher what I was experiencing. I had spent the week in Mexico, re-building a stucco wall and trying to teach my kids about compassion. As I sat in the circle each night, I knew that God was teaching all of us so many things...but the whole time, I felt detached from the whole thing. It was like my brain and my heart were disconnected.

In the beginning, someone asked us to tell why we thought God had brought us on this trip. The answered varied from teenager to adult... but most were satisfied in saying that they came to serve God. But I had to tell them that I wasn't sure why I was there. I had planned this trip, organized it; worked long, exhausting hours on it. But in all honesty, I didn't understand why God had brought me there.

The first day on our work site found me hunched over on a busy, Mexican street corner with the most unbearable stomach cramps I have ever experienced in my life. I knew I was sick, but I was clueless about how to fix it. I'd never gone through anything like that before. I couldn't breath without fighting waves of nausea. I couldn't even stand up straight. I was so frustrated that I just wanted to cry. I wanted to work, I wanted to help, I wanted to do anything besides think about how bad my stomach hurt and how badly I just wanted to throw up and pass out. The sun was scorchingly dry. I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck as I sat there praying for God to just make the pain go away. I had been across the border for less than 3 hrs, so whatever it was that made me so ill, I had brought with me from home.

I finally told one of the adult women about it (we had mostly guys on our site and they had been clueless to my misery, go figure) and they sent me with our host guide to find a bathroom that I could handle being in. When I described my symptoms to her, she took me to a fruit market and bought 6 small, round limes. She also bought a lemon soda that tasted kind of like Sprite. She poured about half a cup of soda into a glass and then proceeded to scoop out the limes and squeeze the juice into the cup. She handed me the cup and told me to down it. "Drink it all in one gulp" she said. So I did. It burned my throat like crazy and made my lips pucker worse than any crybaby candy ever has. I handed her the cup back and she just stared at me for a minute or so, and then said, "well, I guess you are ok since you didn't throw up." Apparently, this lime concoction was supposed to make me throw up...immediately. When I didn't, she took me back to the work site and told me to tough it out and gave me many other helpful hints as to how to combat the nausea.

Roughly two hours later, when everyone was taking a lunch break, I was still sitting in my hunched over position praying my heart out for God to just let me die. For Jesus to come back. For the world to end. For anything that would make it stop. And then, with a sudden leap of my stomach, it became very clear to me that the limes had come to call finally. I got up and ran as far away as I could from the lunching crowd (which, I am told, was not far enough for their taste) and proceeded to toss my proverbial cookies.

Maybe it was because there weren't any women around, or maybe it was because everyone was just in shock that I was so sick...but it seemed to me that everyone was completely ignoring the fact that I couldn't even stand up. Eventually, in what now is a hilarious scene, a very scared looking dad gingerly handed me a bottle of water and then kinda took 3 giant steps back and just looked at me. Those poor men. It was very obvious who had taken care of their kids when they had gotten sick in the middle of the night.

Anyway, to get on with the story, I got sick a couple of more times that day and was pretty much useless for the first 2 days of our trip. It totally bummed me out. For someone who bases their worth on how much they can accomplish and for someone who has a servant's heart, having the ability to work taken from you is a very uncomfortable and vulnerable experience.

As the week went on and I gained my strength back, I still struggled with not feeling connected. I knew that going across the border was going to be an emotional experience. I expected to be profoundly sad and full of compassion for those people that I saw. And while I was touched by the people, I never really felt as sad as I was expecting. I just took it all in stride. The one, truly emotional moment I had happened when we were in the cardboard city and this very sick, starved, mangy dog hid in the shade under our bus. That dog broke my heart.

There I was, surrounded by babies, children, and adults who had nothing--they really lived in cardboard houses--and I wanted to cry over a dog. That's when I knew something was very, very wrong with me. This feeling stayed with me for the entirety of the trip.

It was still with me as I stared out the window. After driving for 11 hours, we were almost home and I was still unable to make sense of myself and the emotions I wasn't feeling. It really disturbed me that I had been so shut off to experiencing this trip. I have tried unbelievably hard in the past year or so to change that particular character flaw. I have had the ability to just shut down when the emotional tough got going for many years, and have been aware of this pattern for at least 2 or 3 years now. It was how I dealt with Jon. It was how I dealt with moving away from home. It was how I dealt with not getting homesick when I went to camps, and it was how I dealt with the heartache of leaving Dawn and Lorelle at the end of the summer. It was my defense mechanism tool #1. I could shut down weeks in advance if I knew something hard was coming up. That is why I was so proud of myself for how I handled graduation and leaving Georgetown, and my amazing college friends and roommates. I grieved. I cried. I dealt with it. While it was happening. It was such a huge step for me. I had made the conscious decision to not shut down, and it had actually worked.

I guess I just thought that I was passed doing that now. Mexico blew that theory out of the water. I was shut down the entire time.

I was beginning to realize this fact as we neared home. I was so angry and disappointed in myself. I was afraid I wasn't going to have learned any lessons at all even though I had been through this potentially life-changing experience...and I'm not talking about the limes.

Just as I was about to start banging my head against the window in frustration, we passed a church. The church had one of those small signs out front that had the weekly aphorism on it. And as we zoomed passed, what I saw was this:

To Thy Cross
I Come
I don't know if that is what the sign really said. I'll never know. But that doesn't matter. Those six words began to clear away the fog that was in my brain. It took me the rest of the weekend to make heads or tails of that sign and the thoughts it had spawned. Eventually, though, I ended up getting an amazing lesson out of it. One that I told my kids that Sunday night. One that I will write in here another time. For my attention span is wanning, and so, I bet, is yours. And this is a good lesson, and you and I both need to be able to give it the time it deserves.
But those, didn't that little tidbit give this post meaning and purpose?
I know I will never forget them

September 13, 2004

The smell and the epiphany

It would seem that my dogs decided to rumble with a skunk tonight. I'm not sure who the loser was, but I think I am being made to suffer for their sins. The stench. Beyond words. Way beyond.

I have been home for one month now. 31 days. I am glad to be out of Texas. Not sure I will ever go back. Nice people and all, but never have I felt less at home in a state. Even Colorado, with the emotionally overwhelming mountains, struck more kindredly than Texas did with my heart.

Have I mentioned the smell in here? Yuck.

Anyway, so I've been home for a while now. Way back when I first came back, well, a month ago...I said I'd be here 6 weeks max. And believe it or not, I might have guessed right. I think things are coming together money-wise, and I am going to be able to leave in a couple of weeks. It's amazing. But it's God, and I will never cease to be amazed by God.

And speaking of God (which I was...), I've been reading this book lately that has made me rethink my faith. Not rethink God so much as rethink myself. And really, I've already read the book, cover to cover. So I guess I'm just still thinking about what this guy Don Miller has to say. The book is called Blue like Jazz. And it's beautiful. It's not without errors (including a typo...I love finding typos in books. It makes me feel smart and it makes me think I could be an editor if this whole youth minister/missionary thing falls through), and it's definitely written by a man. But, despite the sometimes odd style of writing, the guy is honest. I mean, real, smack-you-between-the-eyes-with-a-2x4, honest. And I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Amidst all this rethinking I was doing, I realized something. While I've been moaning and groaning and bemoaning, and generally lamenting these "wasted weeks" at home, I've been missing the whole point. (This is the 2x4 between the eyes part.) I've had a month long vacation...For my body, for my mind, and for my heart. I think it was a vacation I will have desperately needed.

I've been so wrapped up in money problems and all the difficulties that have come as part of the Guatemala package, that I am forgetting one very important detail: This trip, this job, this opportunity...It's going to be rough.

God has specifically chosen me for this job, He is equipping me with money and connections, He is making this silly dream of mine a reality because He loves me. But this is not about me really. This is not another camp adventure I am running off too. This isn't a new state in some part of America that I've never been to. This is a foreign country. And it's real. Dirty. Poor. Full of things that are light years away from my comfort zone. And it's all in Spanish!

This year of my life has the possibility to be the biggest thing that ever happens to me. But like I said, this really isn't about me. It's not, or at least, it shouldn't be, about me learning a new language, or me stretching myself, or me accomplishing all these great things. It's about those people God is going to put in my path. It's about me being Jesus to these people. These teenagers. It doesn't matter if they are originally from Ohio or if they are from the city dump...These people I'm going to be working with and working for are the reason.

I joke that I told God to never make me a missionary. And really, it's not a joke. I really told God to not do it. When I was about 10 years old. I had just learned about Lottie Moon and all the terrible things missionaries have to eat and how they had to talk to complete strangers, and I just knew I couldn't cut it as a missionary. So sitting in the back seat of my parents '93 Lincoln Towncar, on hot, blue leather seats, I told God to please never ask me to be a missionary.

I'm not quite sure why I thought God would ask me to do that at that point, but I was just going to make sure He knew I didn't want it.

About two months ago, in this crazy whirlwind that was my summer, I got a certificate in the mail. It was in a blue cover and had a seal and 4 signatures and goldleaf lettering on it. It said something to the effect of: Congratulations on becoming a missionary!

Guess I learned my lesson about telling God what He could and couldn't ask me to do. I'm sorry I've whined so much about this forced vacation. Sometimes God speaks in gentle nudges and whispers...But I definitely think I understand 2x4's much better.


September 8, 2004


I am drift in this sea of emotions. All weekend, I felt detached and removed. I often have to take days or even weeks to really understand why my internal drama queen is all in a snitch. It has only begun to be realized. For the past 3 weeks, or maybe even the last 4 months, I have been in a funk. I haven't totally felt secure and grounded in myself in what feels like forever.

Today, I returned home from a 3 day trip to Kentucky, where I went to get together with all my college friends. They mostly live within an hour or two of each other, so we picked a city and we all met there. I knew I only had a few more weeks until I was leaving for Guatemala, so the 3 day weekend was going to be the best chance to see them all one more time before I left. It was really good to see them all.

But, at the same time, it was really depressing for me to be there. They are all dealing with the same things as me, for the most part. The growing pains have hit most of them just as hard as they hit me. They are still adjusting to having jobs and going to bed early. They are dealing with new roommates and having live-in boyfriends and parents who still think they are teenagers. They are still struggling with going for a job that pays the bills or finding a job that will make it a career. They are adjusting to life away from the group. Some are even back in school or headed that way within in months.

But, they are mostly a grounded group of girls. They have made decisions and settled down, at least for now. They have year-long leases on apartments and houses, and relationships that keep them tethered to the earth. And me...I just feel so unsettled. My emotions, my job, my living arrangments...even my address for next month is a mystery.

It's stupid to feel like I am the victim and that I need to be feeling sorry for myself. I am getting this AMAZING opportunity to go and do something I really, really want to do. But I think I have figured out that there is a part of me that mourns my wanderlust. There is a part of me that I like to repress right now, a part that says, "man, I sure wish I was back in school." Or "Wow, other people are getting their masters while you are off wandering around. Don't you feel like a loser or that you are getting behind?" Or "Man, I sure am lonely. I wish I had a friend who'd wander with me." I feel like I am being immature because I have given in to this desire.

But it is absolutely ridiculous to feel these things. I really do believe that God has given me this open window to fly through...there is no way this could have come together without it coming from God's hand. I trust that I am making the right decision and that it will be a life changing year for me. I want to go.

And I want to stay. I want a cute apartment and I want friends from work. I want to be home for Thanksgiving and live close to my adorable nephew. I want my best friend to not freak out because I'm leaving the country, and I want to not be scared she won't still be my best friend when I get back. I want to feel sucessful and accomplished. I want to be independent from my parents and their money. I want to grow up and not be so damn selfish/stupid/whiney/ungrateful.

This is my life. I make my choices and I get to decide if I want to acknowledge God and follow his will. I am responsible for my decisions. And I am grateful and overwhelmed by God's love and grace.



September 3, 2004

The leaf: Revisited it irony or call it reality.

Either way, this morning, I woke up before 10 and the leaf was gone.

And I'd already seen the episode of Dawson. Maybe this is God's way of telling me to get over myself.

Who knows?


The leaf

Sitting on the couch at my parent's house, I can see a leaf hovering outside the high windows that line the top of the 2-story room. I watched it for a minute in wonder last week before I realized that it isn't a magical leaf with strange hovering powers that other leaves envy; it's just stuck in a spider web.

I've seen that same leaf every morning while I am watching the last half of Dawson's Creek and the entirety of Judging Amy-my new morning ritual. I don't wake up early enough to catch the first hour and a half of Dawson, but it really doesn't matter. My last year of college, one of my roommates and I would watch both hours of reruns in between classes and while we ate our Caf food out of styrofoam containers. I think I've caught up on every episode now.

When Dawson's Creek was all the rage, my parents decided to move us out to the country, where we did not get the hormonely-charged programming that is the WB. So, I'm half a decade behind on having a crush on Joshua Jackson...but that's ok. Now that I'm almost 23, it's much more feasible to think that some day we will meet and fall in love. That could have never been reasonable when I was 16. But I digress...

So, this leaf has been stuck in what I assume is an abadoned web for at least a week...maybe longer. I had a stretch last week when I slept past 11 every day and felt guilty, so I skipped Amy and window-watching in order to spend my pre-lunchtime time unloading the dishwasher or vaccumming...or some other easily-noticed chore to prove to my mother that I had NOT slept the entire morning away. Not that she's insinuated that at all. She just gets up at 4:45 every morning and heads off to graduate school, while her recently diploma'd daughter sleeps through it all.

Ahem. The leaf. Yes, the leaf. So, this leaf has become my post modernist status symbol...with all the dark, emotional ANGST symbolism I thought I was finished with once I got out of college. Surprise, surprise. Massive instrospection and crippling self-esteem issues do not magically disappear when the flash goes off when they take your fuzzy, bad smile, half-closed eye, picture shaking hands with the president of the college, who had to practice saying your last name the day before so you wouldn't have to correct him in front of all those parents and family friends who paid a whopping $70,000 so that their son/daughter could go to his college, have this picture, and that piece of paper. At least, my parents didn't have to pay. Thank God for scholarships and high school English teachers who proof read your college application essays over and over again.

Did I mention I've managed to "misplace" my diploma? Yeah, I did. Brilliant, I know. Also, the aforementioned English teacher would have an absolute FIT over that last paragraph. Sorry, Mrs. S!

So anyway...the leaf. It's caught by a thread. It can still dangle and dance in the wind and hang high above the ground...but it can only go so far. That sticky tether keeps it suspended from it's natural destiny. It is different from the other's not on the tree anymore, but it can't join it's peers lying on the ground either. It's in this indeterminable limbo.

Deep, huh? I know, I'm amazed by me, too. I know it's stupid to feel such failure at being back home. I know I should be relishing the fact that I can sleep all damn day long if I want to...or if such a thing was actually possible outside of college. I have almost no responsibilities and I have free reign over a stocked kitchen, a high techy satellite dish, and fast internet.

And to top it off...I actually have some place to go. I have a goal. I have a JOB waiting for me. I have an Adventure. And one that is totally deserving of a capitol A.

And yet...I don't like being here. I don't like waiting. I don't like what I feel like sitting in this house, day after day.

I do like good books on the discount rack at Hastings, though. And since I can't really do much about that other stuff, I might as well head back to the book. Especially since I'm probably going to be up another 4 hours. I may be back with more thoughts. For now, good night.