I had one of those fun moments the other day, when I was completely out of sync with the world around me. An innocent conversation among friends took the dreaded turn to topics I am either completely unprepared for or blissfully uninterested in delving in to. This time it led to wrinkles. And try as I may to simple smile and nod while others contributed, inevitably one caring friend sought to include me by turning and asking, “What do you use on your face?” 

Now, there are times I’m anxious to step up as the odd man out, and then there are other times I wish to simply blend in to the crowd. I blame that instinct on moving often and adapting to new cultures. Blending in leads to people feeling like you belong. Well, with this one simple question I was trapped. No matter how talented I am at avoiding these inquiries, smiling, nodding, and muttering “yeah” wasn’t going to pass as an answer. So after one big sigh for extra courage, it was time to face the music.

“Well, sometimes I wash my face with baking soda, and I’ll do a rinse with apple cider vinegar every once in a while if I think of it.” In some crowds this wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. But not with this Southern California group. Staying young is an art form in this region. And to be honest, I’m often very impressed by how people take care of themselves here. But right away I recognized that face. It’s the face with a delicate mix of confusion, amusement, suspicion and pity. I’ve seen it often. 

“Oh. Well, what does your family use?” I’m not fully sure how this is the follow up question, but perhaps it’s their way of figuring out if I’m a weird offshoot branch or if I come from an odd tree. Well, the answer is pretty simple: we’re all a bit different, and that’s what I love about us. My mom has used a bar of soap for 30+ years and has never regretted it. Granted, she was blessed with good skin. My dad, not so much. Guess which one I take after. Yeah… dad won out. 

But to be honest, I don’t come from a family who fears aging. I never saw either of my parents worry about new signs showing their increasing years of experience. If anything, dad would jokingly brag about the new grey hairs he earned. I blame my siblings for those. The only talk of wrinkles that I remember centered around the importance of living a life that left you with laugh lines. I often heard my mom proclaim that she had earned every wrinkle she ever developed. 

Now, I love the way I was raised, and wouldn’t change it, no matter how long it kept me tapped in to the fountain of youth. But I am anxious to understand the other side of this issue. Remember this is a no judgement zone here, and there are many, many ways to be human and we all have the chance to learn from each other. So I’d love to hear your feedback. What do you find most valuable about fighting off the wrinkles and covering up the grey hairs? Is it a way to reflect your inner vibrancy on the outside? Does it help build confidence with those around you? Do you find it fun to keep people guessing about your age? I’d love to learn from you about your reasons to fight back against the aging process! So share in the comments below.

The Lesson of the Brown Bag: Part 1

So I’m circling back and refocusing myself in regards to this site. You’ll see more of that later. But for now, I’ve started ruminating on the very basics: the title. While sometimes (ok, often) I choose titles, handles, emails addresses, etc based on what’s still available, this title was chosen rather specifically. To fully understand what it means to me, let’s start at the beginning and go back… *cue fast wind chime music* to my childhood.

Lunch time at School

Growing up we weren’t rich. We never classified ourselves as poor, but we were always what I’ve come to call “thrifty.” Money didn’t get thrown at things that weren’t needed, because apparently money doesn’t grow on trees (unless you own an orchard, I guess). I went to school with a plain brown paper bag filled with random foods found in the cupboard to feed me during the day. Interesting side note, I was homeschooled. Laugh all you want, but I went to the local school sometimes for fun, so don’t start assuming I was just walking around my living room with my school lunch. 
Now, this was the era of the incredibly cool lunch boxes and bags. All my friends and mortal enemies had them. It was a majestic display of colors and characters when lunches were pulled out and placed on the table. My brown paper bag and I were often put to shame in comparison, and wished we could just be back home eating out of the fridge. But my few seconds of hesitation were outweighed by the hunger growling in my stomach, and my lunch was pulled out for inspection. Then after some minutes of excited comparison of food products among friends, we feasted. 

And as painfully cliche as this sounds, I quickly learned that my lunch was just as good as everyone else’s, regardless of what was used to bring it there. This may seem like the simpliest of lessons, but to a 10-year-old girl it felt pretty huge at the time. My simple, crinkly, brown paper bag got the job done. And as soon as we were done eating and ran off to play, we no longer cared about what transportation device was used for our daily nutrition. 

It felt like a floodgates had opened, and this new lesson changed the way I saw everything. Our car was a little rusted and often dusty, but it got us to school and back. It did the same job as the shiny, maroon suburban that my classmate’s family drove. I may not have the most expensive brand of coat in the winter, but my Goodwill coat kept me just as warm as my delicately wrapped friends. And surprisingly enough, I was just as happy as the rest of them. I didn’t lose sleep worrying about whether Nikes or Adidas was the brand of the year, or when I would be allowed to start wearing makeup. I discovered this amazing freedom that I never wanted to lose. Granted, the shackles of those fancy lunch boxes still sneak up on my sometimes (usually instigated by a quick click over to, but a quick peek inside the bag reminds me that the goodies inside remain the same. 

So that’s one reason I’m here, to keep myself (and you, if you’re coming along for the adventure!) focused on what’s inside by simplifying the packaging. 

The value of a co-worker

Let’s be honest, every single job has its moments of frustration. Some have them much more often than others. Let me stop there before I start complaining. The world is negative enough without having to putting more of that out there.

All smiles before we collapse
But recently we’ve been working on a preparing a series of meetings here at our headquarters. And by “we” I very much mean other people on my team, and I just took notes for the meetings. However, there comes a moment when something like this takes over all of our lives. We reached that point last week and the beginning of the conference. After having gone through a few of these events, it’s interesting how the 3rd day seems to be the point when all of us melt down just a little at one point or another. 
The one thing I’ve realized is that the key to keeping sane in these high-pressure moments is to watch out for each other. Messages went back and forth asking who had been able to eat and who needed food delivered to them personally. The 10-second pauses as we passed each other to ask the loaded question of  “how are you doing” with all the weight and depth possible behind those words. 
Sure, we’re not perfect and not everyone was quite so considerate. But it just takes a few people looking out for each other to create a safe space from the madness going on around them. 

But the few people who looked out for me also gave me a chance to think about someone outside of myself. This shift toward selfless thinking is vital to my own mental strength. I think it’s extremely important to take care of yourself during stress, but selfish thoughts just make me more selfish. It becomes a vicious cycle. I would much rather have someone helping take care of me, allowing me to step up and take care of them.

And when it comes down to it, when you’re with the same people 40 hours a week (at least), isn’t it better to get along? I’m so glad for the team I have.

Panama here I come

Tomorrow I’m off on another adventure. But this time I’m leading others through an adventure that helps expand their world. I get to chaperone high schoolers as we all go build a church for our church family in anther part of the world. 

I put on my fake wedding ring. It was a familiar feeling when I’m going to travel. I’ve slipped a ring on my own finger many times to keep from receiving the advances of men on a trip. Though now I wear it because it’s simpler and much cheaper than my real one. Steal it if you wish, but it’s only worth $20. But this time, even this cheap ring really means something. It means there’s a wonderful man waiting at home for my return. It means there’s someone who I’ll be thinking about, who’s keeping my heart in my home country. That’s new for me. 
And that’s when it hit me. This isn’t a new adventure. Well, it is, but it’s not that I’ve been sitting home waiting for a chance to escape the country (this time), but every day of my life is an adventure. I have a awesome family in a fabulous part of the world, and every day is new and special. 
So the special part of this trip isn’t that I am leaving the country or going to a land where English isn’t spoken. It isn’t even that I get to drink chicheme again (I hope). The real adventure is that I get to share what my adventures have taught me with a group of selfless young people. I get to be there as they experience new things, learn a bit more about the world and ultimately change a bit of who they are by opening themselves up to the possibility that there are problems out there bigger than their own. 
Que Dios nos guíe. 

Days 44-50: Vacation catch-up

I’ve been in this magical, black hole of magical time known as Christmas break. We get a wonderful rest between Christmas and New Year, from work. So in some sense, I’ve taken a personal break as well. There’s something incredibly restorative about rest. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned during my slight sabbatical. 

Day 44: The spirit of Christmas is often found in traditions that transcend the present moment. 

Day 45: Blessings are often given in order to share. 
Day 46: There are simple, unexciting moments that out “special” a trip taken simply to brag. 
Day 47: Mom’s bedside chats are the best. 
Day 48: There’s always going to be work left to do, choose to put it in its proper place. 
Day 49: When you reach the end, it’s worth taking time for reevaluation. Last day of 2014!
Day 50: Learning doesn’t just come from books. Sometimes it comes from Pinterest 🙂

Day 43: Deserve more

Today we celebrated my husband’s birthday. I try to make the day as special as possible for him, but at the end of every birthday I wish I could have done so much more. He deserves the biggest party, the most presents, the tastiest cake, and thousands of well wishes from friends. But unfortunately there’s just so much I can give. I baked, I hugged, I gifted, and I tried to make a relaxed home. Honestly he was satisfied with the little I did. But he deserves so very much more! But honestly I’ll never get through a birthday and think, “Yes, that was exactly as much as he deserved.” He deserves more than I could ever give. So I’ll try to fit it all in one year since I can’t in a day. 

Be the person who always deserves so much more. 

Day 42: Secrets

This morning as I was driving to work, NPR was playing an interview with an author and poet, though I don’t remember his name. He was discussing his work and views on many subjects. He kept referring to two upcoming “secret” projects, books he wanted to write. A few minutes later he mentioned a booklet he had written which would be published soon. The interviewer asked if that one was of the secret projects, and his answer got me thinking. He replied along the lines of, “That’s not a secret. It’s already been done. It doesn’t matter if people find out about it. The only secrets I ever have are ideas that I have because I’m not sure how they will turn out.”

Though some people need to vocalize plans in order to build up enough accountability to move forward, it’s ok to keep plans to yourself, because until you do something about them, you’re still dealing with an nonexistent action. However… Things that you have done already are public, discoverable, existent. I live in a world of public relations, and in theory should have this engrained in me. However, in the non-profit sector, and specifically in a religious context, people are very hesitant to “boast” of their own works. No one wants to be the person who builds him/herself up. So often we think that plans are ok to talk about, because they’re just ideas, and we want people to get excited about them. But when it’s actually done, we should keep that a secret because we wouldn’t want to brag. Logically we may understand the importance of sharing the great work that is being done, but practically, we have a lot more to grow.