Thursday, February 28, 2013

Packing... again


Well, it's that time again. Packing. Ugg, I'm not thrilled about this! You can tell because I'm writing about it before doing it... a sure procrastination technique! The goal, though, is to do it today, which for me is pretty good. It's 5 days before I travel. If I can get it done today I'll be in good shape.

One of the benefits of an international life is that you learn that there are some things best purchased in certain locations. For example, it is best to buy tea, chocolate, cheese, and vegetables in England. For me, it is better to buy clothes, cake mix, electronics, and almost everything else in the States. Things are cheaper and I know how to work the sales better. This is not the kind of packing I mentioned in my Packing Light blog. This is the "get as much as you can to where it's useful" kind of packing. Totally different.

I'm going to be in the UK for about 4 months before returning for Jenni's wedding. Since Kagi and I are planning to be in the UK for at least another year and a half, I am working to get as much of what I already have over there. This summer we will take many of ourwedding gifts and household items which are now waiting in Maryland.

Now, I need to take things like sheets I bought with wedding money which we really need in England. At the moment, we're using a makeshift set of a fitted sheet from Ikea and and twin top sheet for our almost queen sized bed (it's an Ikea bed which is between sizes). I found two wonderful sets which I'm very excited about (wow, what does it mean when sheets excite you?). Kagi and I also received a sweet denim blanket from my mom for Christmas. I love it, but denim is heavy. I'm not sure how to fit it.

So, I'm going to get to work. I'll update you with progress throughout the day.

Laundry done, everything I want to take out of the closet and drawers. This is not a pretty sight but it's a necessary first step.
After lunch I carefully folded and organized everything in their categories. When I pack I like to see everything before putting it into bags
After dinner I got back to work and finished packing it all up. The pile on the left is the pile of things I realized weren't going to fit. I'm disappointed about my amazing denim quilt, but I'm hoping someone can bring it with them on a visit to England before too long:-). As you can see, the suitcase is pretty ridiculously full. It is 49 pounds, 1 under the limit. The carry-on is pretty light and has a little room in it, just in case there are any problems with the weight of my checked bag at the airport.
I admit that I really fought to get the big suitcase closed but here we have it! With room to spare in my carry-ons.
So here we go, I'm packed earlier than ever before. That's cool... but I have been realizing I have a big problem.

I don't know how to get ready for bed, because my toiletries are in that suitcase! Worse, I'm supposed to be somewhere in the morning, and my clothes, makeup, and etc are all packed! I really don't want to open that big bag. Seriously, it took me like 15 minutes of sitting on it, turning it upside down, and pulling with all of my strength to get it closed. There is a little fear that I won't be able to get it all back in there.

I am going to see what I can find around the house. Maybe I don't need to open it.

Nope, scratch that... my toothbrush is in there.

This is why this is probably why I never pack early, and why this is unlikely to ever become an advice blog. Haha!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Tonight, Pops and I watched Argo. I have been wanting to see it for a while, but didn't know much about the story prior to watching it. Here is the trailer in case you don't know the premise:

I can see why Argo won so many awards this year. It was so well done, with both humor and hardship which effectively made me feel like I was there, experiencing the trauma of being stuck in a country where you are considered the enemy.

It was real enough that I am actually still a little stressed!

I have had a few traumatic experiences at borders and it brought them to the front of my mind. I remember how every time I went out of Israel I was considered a security risk because I lived in Bethlehem. I was strip-searched a few times and regularly had my bags meticulously searched.

More recently, I was questioned and held in Glasgow for five hours before my request for a tourist visa was ultimately rejected. They were kind and courteous to me, but it was one of the most stressful situations I have ever been in. Leaving the country the airline staff considered me a "deportee," although that was not the case.  I couldn't decide if it was funny or embarrassing. I guess it was both.

In the two trips into the UK after that, I needed to wait while all of my documents were examined and am now all too aware that a sovereign state can accept or reject visitors at will. Thankfully those trips didn't involve too much questioning.

I know more about borders than I would like to. They are stressful for everyone, and even as a civilian sometimes you feel like you are supposed to be sneaky to get through. I have realized that honesty is the best policy and I no longer try to out-smart anyone. It's important to remember that there is not much need to get stressed when you're not hiding anything. Transparency is already a life policy of mine but it is helpful to remember its benefits of it when traveling. Thankfully I haven't had an Argo experience. Hopefully it'll stay that way!

I am so thankful that I have my visa sorted out before traveling this time.
Just six days until I leave for England:-). I took this pic in London about a year ago.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Today I was totally and marvelously surprised!

I told friends this past weekend that I was fairly confident that it would be three weeks minimum before I go back to England. I finally have been resigning myself to the circumstances I'm in, beginning to make some plans in the States.

While I was waking up I glanced through my email on my iPhone. I saw an email from the visa agency and opened it before even thinking about its potential significance. Maybe my visa was finally assigned to an officer, which would be great.

When I read the words, "Your visa has been issued," I was completely flabbergasted. I wish I could replay my facial expressions. Actually, I probably looked something like this girl... except in my case the confusion turned into delight instead of horror:

Much of today was spent looking at airline tickets and buying some for next week. I'll make sure that they are still the best deal tomorrow -- plane ticket prices change on a day by day (or sometimes hour by hour) basis.

I am thrilled that I get to go back to be with my husband. I'm also thrilled that I'll have a visa which will give official status in the UK -- I will be able to leave and return without concern about borders, can get a supplemental job, and etc.

I am thankful that God has sustained us these crazy six months. And I am really happy that from here on out, Kagi and I should be able to be physically together even as we make decisions on where to live and apply for visas together. God willing...

Thank you all for your prayers and for the myriad of ways you have helped and encouraged us through a difficult time. I honestly didn't know when it would end, and today seems to be that day. Praise God.

So excited to get back to this man!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Unnatural Grace

Today I was thinking about grace. Grace sounds so nice. It brings images to mind like a graceful flower or a swan. Beautiful, peaceful, gentle, natural.

In the dictionary, I found some interesting definitions here. Grace is a deep word. I've heard it defined as unmerited favor. The word can be what a king does when he visits a peasant. It can mean approval, favor, mercy, or pardon. It can mean "sense of propriety or right," which seems to contradict some of the other definitions. Our Sunday school teacher in Spokane keeps saying that grace is scandelous. It doesn't seem right. It's unnatural.

In my observation, grace is hard. It's costly and active. It demands tremendous self-sacrifice to bestow unmerited favor. It's unfair.

This got me thinking about my experience with grace, especially as it relates to conflict. When my siblings and I were kids, we were great at getting underneath one another's skin. Allison and I are the closest in age, and had the most run-ins. She was always a lot cooler than me and although 13 months younger she was always socially a step ahead. I remember several instances when it went like this:

She did something that hurt my feelings.

I could have chosen, at this point, to respond with grace.

However, I responded naturally, and got angry. Acting on that anger, my fists started flying. I was always a lot bigger and was also a good fighter, so the physical odds were decidedly in my favor.

The circumstances, however, were not. The one who gets in trouble when a fight starts is almost always the big one who is punching, no matter what the little one did to deserve it.

I have a vague memory of my mom making me apologize while I was still seeing red. Imagine her holding me back so I couldn't continue the physical onslaught.

Mom: "Laura, apologize to your sister."

Laura (spitting the words): "I'm sorry."

Allison: "Mom, she didn't mean it!"

Mom: "Laura, you know how we do this in our family. Look her in the EYES, say you're sorry, and ask her to forgive you."

OH the pain of that moment! Trying to make myself apologize was swimming against the current of every emotion in me. Sure, I knew I shouldn't have been beating my sister up. But from my perspective, she totally deserved it! I had reacted in the only way I knew I could win. In my eyes, I was justified.

If I apologize, doesn't she get off scot-free for what she did to me? Worse, to ask for forgiveness was to ask her to be gracious to me. Maybe she would see that as weakness and use it against me. Still, I knew I wasn't going to get out of the situation until I did an unnatural thing: apologize.

Breathe. Stop looking at your feet. Just get it over with.

Laura (pushing out the words while trying to make eye contact with her smug opponent): "I'm sorry. (Long pause, breathe, breathe, breathe.) Will you forgive me?"

Mom: "Allison, tell her you forgive her."

Allison (reluctantly, and looking a little less smug): "I forgive you."

Although somewhat forced, she did grant me favor with those words.

In that feeling of swimming upstream against my emotions, I was learning some big lessons. I felt I had the right to make her pay. She hurt me, and how else could I convey how hurt I was other than to show her what hurt feels like? Still, I wasn't right to make her pay. In hindsight  here is no way I could have punished her fairly. You may think that my reaction was disproportionate to her crime. But it certainly wasn't to me!

The Bible has a lot of unnatural commands regarding dealing with conflict. This one comes to mind today:

Romans 12:17-21
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
          “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
          if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
          In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Allison is far from evil and neither is she my enemy. But what if I had in mind that I would fight with kindness, giving her grace when she offended me? It would have been a lot less painful for me, for starters. I should have done that unnatural thing then, and I should do it more often now.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Although there are a few things I think I could write about today, I don't seem able to do any of them justice. So, I decided to share one of my favorite Bible verses which has come up in conversation a few times lately.  This verse is a beautiful reminder of some very deep truths.

Friday, February 22, 2013

International Cooking Disaster

Today I made chili for dinner. It is one of my favorites both to make and to eat, and Jesse and I enjoyed it.

Our dinner tonight.
When I make chili these days, however, I can't help but remember the biggest cooking catastrophe I have ever been responsible for. Actually, it was the biggest I have ever witnessed.

It was back in 2011 when I was visiting England from Palestine/Israel. Kagi and I were dating and I was staying with the Greens. I decided that it would be fun to make dinner for them and Kagi one night. The previous fall I had found cornmeal in England after a lot of searching, so chili and cornbread was my plan. I scoured for the best chili recipe and found and American one that looked great.

I decided to make a lot of chili, and spent a whole day walking to various shops to gather the necessary ingredients. I went to both English and Asian (Indian or Pakistani) shops to make sure I had all of the meat, beans, veggies, and spices. I remember carrying heavy bags for a mile or so, ready to make the meal.

Back at the house, I set to work. Onion, meat, garlic, tomatoes, beans, and spices in a very big pot. It looked and smelled great.

With everything in, I tasted it to make sure the flavors were right. Immediately my eyes and nose started running. My mouth was on fire, and I realized what had happened. Chili powder in the States is a mild spice mix for making chili and things like it. Chili powder in the UK is made from chilies. The recipe called for 1/4 cup of chili powder, and I had followed it exactly.

At that point, I knew I probably should scrap the whole thing. I am known for my love of spicy food and even I couldn't eat that.

But after all of the work to get the ingredients I couldn't bear to throw it away. Maybe I could fix it...

So I started by straining the whole thing. I may have even rinsed it. It was still really spicy. Next, I added quite a few more cans of tomatoes. I added a lot of sugar. I added beans. I added everything I could think of.

Finally, it got to a point that I could kind of eat. By this time, the family was home. Kagi was there, and I didn't know what to do.

So I served the chili and cornbread.

It was so hot. Honestly, I could barely eat it, and I know I have a very high spice tolerance. The worst part of the whole thing is that I served it to the best sports I know. I don't know how, but they managed to eat it. I still can't believe I did that to them.

To me, the funniest part of this situation was Kagi, who had a really awful cold the day this happened. He loved the chili and ate a lot of it. He says he doesn't remember it being spicy at all! :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Pops!

Sunday was my dad's birthday. It was very fun to celebrate with him, and especially because I got to take him on a hike. Actually, he took me, but it was my idea:-).

Here are some pictures of the beautiful afternoon:
I thought this mossy tree was really cool.
When we reached the high ground there were many signs of deer and elk having been there. We started looking for "sheds," meaning antlers shed by deer after the winter. The whole time I was looking I just kept remembering how bad I always was at "Where's Waldo" and "I Spy" books. Definitely not my gifting... and antlers are designed to blend in with sticks! Turns out, though, that they are probably still on the deer's heads. We'll have to check again in the next few months.
Happy Birthday to the best dad a girl could wish for! I love you!

Look at that view!
On the way back down the mountain my sister called to wish Pops a happy birthday as well.  Interesting how much more snow there is on the shady side of the mountain, isn't it?!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bald Eagle

Yesterday when my dad got home from his run he told me he wanted to show me something. So we jumped in the truck and drove to a nearby street. Thankfully, the bald eagle he had come upon while running was still there. It was beautiful and so much fun to watch it and take some pictures. They aren't very good, but I thought I'd share anyway!

And here is the video which shows it beautifully and gracefully flying away!

Thanks to my amazing father who knew I really wanted to see a bald eagle and took me to see it. Seriously, it was really cool and a fun outing together.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Six Months

Today marks six months since the most significant and best day of my life, when Kagi and I got married. It was a wonderful, wonderful, meaningful day of celebration with many of our best friends, full of excitement and anticipation. I married my best friend who I love and trust and enjoy. Not much gets better than that.

Photo credit:
This half-year has been something... certainly not been what we expected. It has contained some of the best and some of the hardest days in my memory.

On that day of our marriage, I so looked forward to being together, but I expected that, knowing myself, it would tough for me to make the transition from being single to married. In actuality, though, it was great fun. Kagi is my best friend and it is so fun to do life together. I love that in the times of both bliss and conflict we were building our life together. Work in marriage is purposeful and should pay dividends for decades to come. I really like that.

On the other hand, our circumstances have been very hard. Due to (mostly) unexpected visa issues we've physically been together for only about two of the six months. After being on the road for several years and being long-distance for much of our dating and engagement time, I was thrilled to live together and have our own home -- something I've really missed over the last few years. I couldn't have been more ready to really live somewhere -- to get my stuff in one place, to decorate, and take a break from living on the road. Sadly, the unpredictable nature of life on the road has only increased for me since being married.

With all of the turmoil, I have occasionally struggled deeply with disappointment, disillusionment, and even self-doubt. On that day of our marriage, I so looked forward to being together. I looked forward to getting some balance and steadiness back in life. I love Kagi and so want to live our life together, and even now I am here, on the other side of the world, having too much to do but feeling unable to do anything productive (probably a topic for another blog). At times, I fear that this time apart will damage our relationship. I fear that I am going to completely lose it.

In thinking about it today, however, I am thankful that even though I couldn't have imagined this kind of a start to marriage, God has graciously sustained us. I am so, so glad I married Kagi, and even knowing what has happened so far I would do it again even more confidently than I did six months ago. And I remember some key things I have been learning:
  •  I don't know how many days we will have together, so I will be thankful for every one we are given. If I can learn that lesson well and live it out for years to come, it also should pay dividends. That helps. 
  • Although we don't have much right now, we seem to have enough for today. That is a blessing and something I want to be truly thankful for. 
  • We are so blessed with friends and family on whom we really have needed to rely on to get through this. I don't take one of them (you) for granted and when I think about you I remember that no matter how difficult things become I am (we are) lavishly and extraordinarily blessed. 
  • The Lord who supplies all my needs is present and is good. When I am frustrated with people and institutions as I have regularly been of late, I am challenged to remember this: Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. In my mind it sounds a little more like: Some trust in governments and some trust in money, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Oh Lord, let it be that I respond in trust and rest in you no matter the circumstances. And please make a way for us to be back together soon.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Yesterday in the beautiful weather I went for a walk just before the sun set. I decided to take some pictures and then to have some fun editing them. Here are some pictures from the neighborhood my parents live in.

I do love all of the evergreens in Washington!

I loved this pink hydrant!

See how much I liked it? :-)

Fun wood sign.

The barn.

Just a cool piece of wood.

This just makes me so happy! Caution... kids on teeter totters:-).
I may post tomorrow, but I also might not (apparently Sundays in Lent are "mini Easters").

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blind Man Walking

Today is another beautiful one in Spokane. The sun is shining, it's about 50 degrees F and many many people are outside.

I was driving with Jen, my sister from Ghana, and we saw a man walking very deliberately on the crosswalk ahead of us. I realized that he was blind when he reached the opposing sidewalk.

I am writing about him because I was so incredibly impressed during the minute or so we sat at that corner waiting for the light to turn. He walked to the light post to push the crosswalk button and used his stick to feel out his surroundings. There was a couple already standing on the corner, and he had a difficult time working out what they were before they spoke to him. It seemed like he was a little thrown off, and had to go back to the post to figure out which way was which, where the ramp to the street was, and so on. He went back to what he could recognize, thinking hard. Light post, curb on this side, curb on that side. He was obviously taking every sound seriously. Cars this way, cars that way. Movement here and there. Back from the curb farther -- a safe perch for analysis. He was working hard, but he was figuring it out.

For some reason I can't quite identify, I was deeply moved. Maybe it's because I know the feeling of being a little thrown off, lacking critical information but needing to figure it out. I too know the feeling of needing to go back to the basics -- what do I know -- to figure it out. I hope in those situations I handle myself with some fraction of the poise I observed in that man today.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day

Although I am disappointed that I am still not back with Kagi this Valentine's Day it has been a very nice day.

First of all, I woke up earlier than usual. I like it when that happens these days when my schedule is pretty flexible. I like the morning a lot.

Second, the sun came up. I realize I get too excited when the sun comes out, but I am not the best at handling the grey Washington winters. Today it was special. It was bright and the sky was beautifully blue.  About a third of the way into my run this morning it occurred to me that I was running in a tank top! I started wondering if my skin could take all of the rays or my body the Vitamin D. It seemed like a valentine from God, who even in a dark season was letting me know that He remembers and loves me.

Third, I have praying that there would be a way for me to go back to Maryland if I am going to be in the States longer. I was planning to wait until today to see if I got my visa before really trying to book something.  The reality is that I'm not in a financial position to be spending money on unnecessary tickets. As I was getting cleaned up and ready for the rest of the day it occurred to me that I have some frequent flyer miles. I checked into it, and it looks like I have almost enough for a ticket next week. I think my mom is going to give me the remainder of miles I need. I have a ticket reserved and will make a final decision by Saturday.

Finally, I got a very sweet Valentine from my husband and had some really nice phone conversations with friends and family. Tonight I'm hanging out with my mom and brother which should be fun.

To close, I thought I'd show you the one who has been on my mind:-).

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I just got back from my first Ash Wednesday service. For someone who was raised in the church, it seems a little strange that this is the first time (at least that I can remember) having ashes on my head. As the pastor put the ashes on my forehead, he said the traditional line, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." To be honest, I was surprised. I didn't expect him to say that!

Leaving the service, I admitted to my parents that I really didn't understand it. Why Ash Wednesday? Why the message that I am dust? I know Genesis 3:19, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." But still, the message sounded strange by itself.

I just did a quick word search of dust in the Bible, and after finding loads of examples in just the first few books I realized that dust is everywhere! From Abraham's decedents being like the "dust of the earth," (Genesis 28:14) to the plague where the dust in Egypt became gnats throughout the land (Exodus 8:17). Those are probably irrelevant.

What I do think is relevant, however, are passages like Joshua 7:6 which say, "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads."

So the ashes are meant to be an outward sign of our repentance and acknowledgement of God's amazing glory.

Which is cool. It reminds me of the lyrics in this song, Facedown, by Matt Redman.

Welcomed in to the courts of the king,
I've been ushered into your presence.
Lord, I stand on youor merciful gound,
Yet with every step tread with reverence.

There is none in heavens like you,,
And upon the earth, who's your equal?
You are far above, You're the highest of hights,
And I'm bowing down to exalt you.

And I'll fall facedown, 
As Your glory shines around.
Yes i'll fall facedown,
As your glory shines around.

Let your glory shine around,
Let you glory shine around.
King of glory here be found, 
King of glory. 

It reminds me of the times in my life when I have experienced greatest peace, joy, and excitement, when I have been struck by reality -- how small I am and how big God is. At those times, in light of his mercy, the only appropriate response is to be to fall face down. Or maybe to put ashes on my head. Recognizing that I am dust is somehow liberating and delightful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lenten Commitment

This year, I am committing to writing daily for Lent. And I've decided I’m doing it publicly, on my blog. Writing is one of the best disciplines I have ever committed to. Throughout most of college and for a while afterward I journaled daily. Since then, I have journaled and blogged sporadically.

Writing is helpful for me in a few ways. First of all, it is a way to document my life. This probably sounds ridiculous to many of you, but I tend to think in themes and not specifics (according to the Meyers-Briggs this is common for people who are high on the intuitive scale). Generally this works well for me, but lately I've realized that with the many things I don’t remember, I might be missing significant things God is doing and forgetting what I am learning. Secondly, gives perspective. You'll hear more about why this is especially important and timely for me now as I write in the coming days.

There are a several ideas I have of kinds of things I will write about. Because of the first point above, I may occasionally document my day or tell a remembered story from a previous day. But I also might just make note of something that I have seen, heard, or read which has made me think. There are several books I have in mind and I presently have time for reading and thinking, so why not?

I don’t know if this will add value to anyone but me. I have been deciding whether to blog or journal, and blogging seemed like the right way to go. Even so, I’m admitting from the beginning that this commitment is for me. I really don’t know where it’ll go. If someone else gets something out of it, that’s great.

Oh, and I hope you enjoy your Pancake Day/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday!

Sorry about the low-quality pic, but here's how we celebrated the English Pancake Day in Washington State. Even though it was a very American-Style pancake meal I think we did well:-).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Body Shapes

One of the things I found most surprising and fascinating when I was in Bostwana is that the manikins at the malls we went to (there are many very nice malls in Gabarone) are quite different than the ones we have in the States or the UK. Instead of straight hips & flat butts they have the pleasantly curvy figure more celebrated in Africa. I thought it was awesome! Wish I had taken a picture...