Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Five Love Languages

(From the February edition of my church's newsletter.)

During his 30 years as a marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman noticed that many problems between couples stemmed from different ideas of how to love and be loved. He theorized that people speak in five different love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Chapman believes that each person has a preference for one or two of the five languages, and that he or she feels the most loved when it is expressed in this language. When couples speak different love languages, it can lead to misunderstandings, even feelings of neglect or being unloved.

In his the book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate Chapman provides two short questionnaires to help you and your spouse determine your primary love language. He then goes on to describe the five languages. Words of Affirmation refers to kind and uplifting words, such as an unsolicited compliment or a verbally expressed, “I love you.” Quality Time means time with your spouse when you have his or her undivided attention – no TV, cell phones, or other distractions. If your primary love language is Receiving Gifts, it does not mean that you are a materialist! The importance in this language is the thought and effort behind the gift. Acts of Service refers to “anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on your spouse” like washing dishes or going to the grocery store. If Physical Touch is your primary love language, then for you there is great meaning in hugs, holding hands, and pats on the back.

Though Chapman believes that every person has a preferred language or two, we can all relate to the other languages. The book explores how we can learn to express love in our spouse’s primary love language.

I think this is light, easy read could be helpful for couples young and not so young. I first read this book several years before Jason and I got married, and it has been helpful for us. We do have different preferred love languages, and identifying that has helped us to care for each other better.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

To Do

I like to make lists. I make grocery lists, lists of school assignment due dates, lists of what to pack on a trip. I write lists on paper and now have free apps on my phone that let me make lists digitally. Lists keep me organized and help me to ensure that I don't forget anything important. Lists can be a wonderful thing.

But sometimes I feel as though I'm living my life like it's a list. I start to view everything in my day as just another item to be accomplished and checked off so that I can move on to the next. Things I love to do start to be framed in my mind as just another item on the day's list. I have woken up on a day off thinking, "Ok, first I need to take a walk. Next I need to play with the dogs before I bake chocolate chip cookies. Then I want to read at least three chapters of this novel that I am reading purely for pleasure." This frame of mind can really suck the joy out of life.

Yesterday I woke up to one of these days. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a slight breeze so it wasn't too hot. I dutifully got dressed and went outside to take a walk, not because I was excited to move around in the lovely weather, but because it was the first thing on my mental list for the day. I don't remember much about the first half mile or so of the walk. My mind was absorbed in all of the other things I *had* to do that day, which led to the list for the next day, which led to the next...

A turkey brought me back to noticing what is important.

Turkeys are big, funny-looking birds. I think they are one of the animals that can be pointed to when people want to show God's sense of humor. And there, in my neighborhood, just wandering along, was a turkey. I stopped walking and watched it as it meandered across the road, through someone's yard, and out of sight. As I resumed my walk I started to notice other creatures - several types of birds, a few squirrels. I saw the trees and flowers in all of the yards along the street. I felt the warm sun on my face and cool breeze on my skin. I noticed the houses and thought about how blessed we are to have safe homes with running water, electricity, and climate control. One positive thought lead to another just as my stressful thoughts had just moments before.

Joy, hope, beauty, peace - they're all around us. My prayer is that I slow down enough and look outside myself enough to see, and truly embrace them.

P.S. Brought to you by Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants.

When God Winks at You

(From the January edition of my church's newsletter.)

Author Squire Rushnell coined the term Godwink and describes it as “what some people would call a coincidence, an answered prayer, or simply an experience where you'd say, ‘Wow, what are the odds of that!’” A godwink is “a message of reassurance from above, directly to you, out of six [now seven] billion people on the planet, saying ‘Hey kid...I'm thinking of you! Keep the faith! You're never alone.’"

For many years I have be amazed by coincidences. Certainly there are some things that are simply flukes, but there are others, those with deeper meaning, that make you pause and realize that God must have arranged it. Tammy Yeager shared an amazing story of coincidences, or Godwinks, in her sermon on August 21, 2011, “The Pursuit of God.” In it she mentioned one of Squire Rushnell’s books about Godwinks, so I went to the church library after the service and checked out When God Winks at You: How God Speaks Directly to You through the Power of Coincidence.

The book is comprised of short, true stories about times in peoples’ lives when God intervened through coincidences. Some are simple, and others are more powerful, but they are all uplifting and hope-filled. They remind you that God is constantly interacting with us, though sometimes we are too busy to notice. This book inspires you to actively look for God at work in your life. When you start looking, I think you will be amazed at the many Godwinks, large and small, that you see. I know I have.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflections on Haiti

I am home from Haiti. It was a good trip, though in many ways it was a hard trip for me. This was my first experience with overseas mission work, and though I saw a lot of hardship, I also saw a lot of hope. Buckle up, this will be a long one.

La Croix is a south-east of Gonaieves.

We flew into Port-au-Prince and then drove 90 miles to the La Croix Haiti New Testament Mission. I was awestruck while riding through Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capitol. There were people everywhere selling all kinds of things. Many of the stores had brightly painted pictures in addition to words because about half of Haiti's population is illiterate. There were makeshift tents that have served as people's homes since the earthquake two years ago. There were open sewers on either side of the road, and there were areas covered in garbage, sometimes with people and animals living on top of it. We left the city and could see the mountains, still covered with tents, though I was told that many people had been able to leave the tent cities and build permanent houses. It was a long drive to the mission and the extreme poverty was intermixed with a beautiful coastline. The mountains had a stark loveliness too, though it broke my heart because I knew that Haiti suffers from extreme deforestation.

We were treated to incredible hospitality at the mission. There were several bedrooms, split by men and woman, and as a married couple Jason and I were spoiled with our own room with a brand new mattress and pillows (and even a window air conditioner and ceiling fan). Our group shared several bathrooms with flush toilets, and we had running water every night. Pastor Vaugelas Pierre was a wonderful host, as was his wife who with the help of several women cooked delicious meals for us every night. In addition to our rooms, the mission has rooms for people who work there, a church, and school buildings, all surrounded by a wall. There is also a medical clinic down recently paved road. From the roof of the building where we stayed you could see the mission's banana plants, a field where animals (goats, donkeys, horses, and once I saw a bull) grazed, and then many mountains. Many of us spent our evenings on the roof looking at the stars. They were incredible! Never in my life have I seen so many stars. We could see the milky way and Jupiter, and every night we saw shooting stars.

We went to church on Sunday morning and though I didn't understand the prayers or words to the songs, I was still overwhelmed by the joy of the Haitian people worshiping. After the service they swarmed us with hugs, kisses, and handshakes, thanking us for coming and telling us that they and God loves us. It was a beautiful moment.

Jason playing for the kids after church.

There were many projects that members of our group worked on throughout the week. Painting, electrical work, music classes for the children at the school, teaching Excel to the gentlemen who work in the child sponsorship office, and the three nurses in our group helped at the clinic in La Croix and also in the town of Paul. One morning I assisted a professor from our group as she taught a chemistry class, and I helped another group member with her English class. It was wonderful to see how excited the kids are to learn! There was a boy who sat next to me in English class and kept repeating the new English words to me wanting me to help him to improve his pronunciation. Throughout the week kids would come up to us and proudly say one of the sentences they had learned in English, excited that they found the context where they could use it (You are painting a wall! I am sitting on a bench!).

Jason held youth group of the children of La Croix on Wednesday night. It started with a game of chubba-chubba-can-can. He gave a brief message, which was translated by a Haitian man who works at the mission. He then pulled out a guitar and played some English worship songs that he had heard some of kids singing, and then they also sang songs in Creole. At one point I was singing a song in English and the boy beside me was singing in Creole. It was a great moment of unity. The night ended with a Skype call to Veritas, the youth group at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In Pittsburgh or in Haiti, my husband is quite the youth pastor!

Jason gave his hat to the winner of the game.
Jason leading worship for the kids.

The mission has several schools in surrounding villages, and our group took trips to provide anti-parasitic medication to the children in three of them. One dose of the medication lasts for six months, and we took heights and weights for all of the children, which will be done again when another group gives their medication in six months. I went on two of the trips, to La Coupe and to Paul. The mission is located on the recently paved Highway 1, whereas Paul and La Coupe are decidedly not. I rode to La Coupe in a 4 wheel drive SUV of sorts driven by Pastor Pierre. We drove over dirt and rocky paths trough local villages. Then we drove up and down mountains and through streams. This was off-roading to the extreme. I'm surprised that I wasn't scared, but I was blessed with a sense of peace and security throughout the trip, which kept away my worries. I did suffer from heartbreak. The children in La Croix are thin but seem to be generally healthy and always seemed to be clean and well dressed. The children in La Coupe were covered in dust (which is easy to have happen as there is dust everywhere) and many seemed to be malnourished. Many had holes in the school uniforms and they were all packed into two school buildings. They came out one by one for us to weigh and measure them, then give them a bad tasting anti-parasitic pill (I took one and it wasn't tasty) and then a piece of candy. I asked Pastor Pierre how to say eat and swallow in Creole, and I threw in a bit of high school French (Creole is a French Pigeon), but it still must have been scary, especially for the little kids to have a random white woman telling them to eat a bad tasting pill. I felt bad because I could not communicate better, but I was happy to know that I had helped several hundred children to be free from parasites.

The journey to Paul wasn't as arduous, though we did drive up some very steep mountains. The views were amazing, and I was lucky enough to sit in the front seat with my new friends Margaret (on the way there), Shelly (on the way back), and Pastor Pierre. We spent the entire trip asking Pastor Pierre questions about Haiti and himself and he graciously answered all of them. He is a humble man with a wonderful sense of humor and he is doing many great things for Haiti. 

The most meaningful project that I worked on was helping to establish a library for the school in La Croix. When they were in Haiti in June, Jenny and Darby Gallo noticed that there were no picture books for the children, so this fall Darby collected books and donations (thanks to all who contributed!). They brought 250 picture books in English, and 50 children's picture Bibles (25 in English and 25 in Creole). Jenny, Reeny Davison, and I worked to sort them into appropriate categories and label them with a simple color coded system. Reeny is a educator who specializes in languages, and it was good to learn from her. I have a good sense of how to sort picture books for children in Pittsburgh for whom English is their first language, but it is different for children in Haiti who speak Creole. I typed up a simple catalog of all of the books and hope that more books will be added when future groups visit. The school's superintendent was very grateful for the beginnings of the library. The books are in a small room now, but the superintendent has plans for a larger reading room where the kids can come and read and study (it won't be a lending library due to the small number of books). 

Sorting books with Reeny

White people were a curiosity to the children in La Croix, La Coupe, and Paul. The children would run up to us and yell Blanc! Blanc! which means White! White! in Creole. They loved any attention that we gave them.

With the children of La Croix
It was a good trip, and I am glad I went. It was very hard for me at times, though, and I'm still processing my experience. I'd like to thank my friends for taking these photos. I took the short videos on the way to La Croix, but once we got there I felt that I couldn't do anything but live in the moment, so I didn't take photos or write. I struggled with feeling like an arrogant white American. What could I do to help? I struggled with seeing extreme poverty. But, I also saw hope. Pastor Pierre is doing amazing things - providing school, medical clinics, and wells for clean water. As for me, I did a few small things. Jason said that we were planting seeds that can grow into something bigger. That reminded me of this quote, which sums up my time in Haiti quite well:

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love." ~ Mother Teresa

Friday, January 20, 2012

Traveling to Haiti

It is likely that all of my updates about this trip will be written on my phone, so I apologize now for typos, lack of editing, and poor formatting.

I am currently on a plane headed to Miami from Pittsburgh. We will spend the night at a hotel then fly out tomorrow morning for Haiti.

People have asked me why I want to go to Haiti. If I'm honest, a big part of me doesn't want to go. I've never seen poverty like what I will see in Haiti, and it scares me. Many of my friends have done international mission work, so part of me feels like this is just something that I should do. Part of me feels that because I have so many blessings in my life I want to try to give back if I can. The main reason I'm going is to form relationships with the people in La Croix. If I can do something to help them while I'm there, that would be wonderful, though part of me feels arrogant saying, "let me and my white American self come down and help you for a week, you poor Haitians." What I really look forward to is meeting the people, getting to know them and their culture. We will be different, but we will be the same. We are all children of God.


We are now safely in Miami.Most of our group will fly out of Miami to Port-au-Prince, Haiti at 7:30am tomorrow, which means we are meeting at 5:15am. One of my favorite picture books as a child is called The Good Morning Grump, which says a lot about me, so I will have to try to be cheerful.

A nice little God moment tonight: the Holiday Inn lost our reservation, which could have been problematic, but we were able to get a room in the hotel inside of the airport! It made things much easier than our original plan.

And now, to bed!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Peace Be With You

I came across this quote the other day and really latched on to it. I've been thinking about peace, this kind of peace, for the last few weeks. Life has been busy lately. It's been busy with good things, but busy nonetheless. It's been wearing on me and making me feel stressed out. It is important to take time to rest and unwind, but I also think it is important to find inner peace while living in the busy times.

At first I was praying for God to give me peace, but then I realized that in John 14:27 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid," and Colossians 3:15 says to "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." The peace has already been given to me. The ability to be truly calm even during busy or stressful times has been offered to me. So now my prayer is asking God to help me to open myself up to the peace of Christ, for me to let go of my need to be in charge, in control of everything, and to give my worries to God, opening myself to be filled with Christ's peace.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rest In Peace, My Little Friend

My dog Shooter died today. My dad's and my dog, I should say. Our family got our first dog, Sophie, through a Bichon Frise rescue agency in 1999. Not only was she my first dog, but she was my dad's first dog. So, she really became my dad's dog. The next year, I wanted to get a Yorkie, so we rescued Shooter. He was such a good little friend. He was fun and playful, and he always sensed when I was upset and would come sit in my lap and lick my nose. Like many small dogs, he thought he was actually large and ferocious. He once barked at a big dog at the vet's, and the big dog actually shied away!

I commuted for most of college, but when I finally moved out Shooter stayed at home because I couldn't stand to separate him from Sophie. He also was not fond of Marley, the labradoodle that my husband and I adopted. So, over the last few years, Shooter also became my dad's dog, along with Sophie. Two years ago at the age of 13 Sophie died peacefully at home after my dad ran a doggie hospice for her for a week.

My dad and I have known that Shooter's time was coming. He was 14 and though he was doing well for his age, he was quite frail, and probably deaf, but he didn't always listen to us anyway, so we couldn't be sure. My dad said that Shooter seemed fine all day yesterday, but then one moment last night he wasn't. Daddy now thinks Shoot had a heart attack. My dad called me this morning, but then had to go to work. I was home sick with a sinus infection and decided to just stay home until my dad got back from work and called me. Then we would see if Shooter was better, gone, or needed to be taken to the emergency vet center.

I feel a bit terrible saying this, but I prayed that Shooter would die peacefully before my dad got home. Being euthanized doesn't seem like a very dignified way to die, and if I'm honest, I didn't want the emotional pain of going through the process. I prayed all day for peace for the three of us. Then around 1:30, I just felt like I should go to my dad's. I have a key, so I went over and found Shooter laying on the floor right next to his bed. He'd been gone for awhile. I started to shake and cry, so I went outside.

I didn't want to interrupt my dad at work to tell him on the phone, so I called my husband and my mom to talk. I prayed for strength and peace for the rest of the day. When my dad came home, I cried some more, he wrapped Shooter in his doggie blanket, and called the vet to find a place to have him cremated. We were referred to Deb at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville. We drove him over, and Deb was wonderful. She was very kind, took care of the details efficiently, and listened to the little stories we shared. My dad will get the cremains back in a custom made bag. I picked red fabric with little white hearts on it because his collars had always been red. She will also take a snipping of his fur and wrap it around a silk rose, also red. I'm going to assemble these with Shooter's collar and a photo in a shadow box as a nice remembrance.

My dad asked me if it was silly that he was so upset over a dog. I'm sure some people would say so, but I don't think so at all. As much as the last few chapters of Marley & Me by John Grogan made me cry my eyes out, he made a good point in that we spend more time with our dogs than most people in our lives. Our dogs see us at our best and our worst, and they always love us. They provide companionship, protection (ok, well maybe 6 pound Shooter didn't), and laughter. Shooter was part of our family for 11 years. Of course we are sad, of course we have to mourn. I am just so thankful that he died peacefully without suffering for long and that he left us with so many happy memories. Rest in peace, my little friend.