Hey there 2014….A brief post welcoming the new year

This week I made a crazy realization… I did not write a single blog-post during 2013.  Is it just me or was last year a super-short year????

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was celebrating New Year’s Eve 2012-13 with one of my closest childhood friends who had just shared the news of her engagement.

When she told us that her plans were to get married beginning of 2014,  I remember thinking it would take forever for that day to come…and now the day came and went.  I just returned to from her AMAZING wedding.

The happy couple at the amazing wedding 🙂

Personally, I found 2013 to be underwhelming, and perhaps therein lies the reason for its perceived brevity. When I look back, I will think of 2013 as a “gap year”…

2013 in Retrospect

Just like almost every year in my adulthood, I began 2013 with a bunch of goals, well-crafted, SMART goals…however, this year was exceptional; I did not realize most my goals, and the ones I realized -albeit major (finally got my PhD)- turned out to be underwhelming.

Since 2013 went by so fast, I did not have time to prepare any goals for 2014, but to my surprise the year has been unexpectedly great…and to my dismay neither my planning nor goal-setting skills (or lack thereof) have played a role in it.

2014, what next?

So far, 2014 has been great mainly because of 3 things;
1. I welcomed the year in El Salvador, my home country, spending time with my sister, childhood friends and family (whom I hadn’t seen in over 10 years).
2. I saw my friend get married to the love of her life.
3. I spent the first Sunday of the year listening to an encouraging sermon at the largest church in Latin America.

Normal people would be thrilled about this, right?  They would think of it as “starting the year on a good note”… But it turns out, I’m not the most normal case (no surprise here), and instead of feeling hopeful about all the excitement ushered in by 2014, I get this sense of dread…”What if this is the highlight of my year? What if I do not experience anything better for the rest of the year?”

The combined experiences of 2013 and 2014 (so far) left me with some valuable realizations:  

1. Most of the plans we make (including new years’ resolutions) will take longer than expected…regardless of how S.M.A.R.T. our goals and resolutions are. 
 2.. It is not just bad things,  good things also happen unexpectedly and all we can do is be mentally prepared to make the best of any situation.
3. New years resolutions and goal setting at the beginning of a year will NOT ALWAYS bring us closer to our life-goals, but surrounding ourselves with the right people might WILL ALWAYS make the process a lot smoother (shout-out to my friends).
4. A sense of humor makes good situations better and bad situations less painful.

In the end, I can say that the fact that 2014 has taught me such valuable lessons in such a short time is a good sign…regardless of what the rest of the year may bring…no need to dread.

May both the goal-setters, and the laissez -faire inclined among us have a great 2014.

God bless.

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.”  

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NIV)

Normal Activity…

“Lord I wish I had a normal life…” 

That has been my prayer on more than one occasion at different points in my life.

I am sure I am not alone in my prayer…a lot of people have made similar prayers, maybe not in those exact words, but still in the same line of thinking.
“Lord, I would like to be able to have a job, like normal people do” 
“God, I would like to be married, like most people my age” 
“Lord, I wish I was more like everyone else…”
In short, when we pray for normalcy we do not necessarily explicitly ask God for a normal life, but we ask God for to bring about in our lives the situations that we consider “normal” for a given circumstance/outcome in our life.
Big Bang Wisdom: A Jungian Crisis & Weltschmerz 
My sister recently introduced me to a new TV show…the Big Bang theory.  One of the episodes had a really interesting scenario in which one of the main characters, the over-analytical theoretical physicist named Sheldon, tries to comfort his friend Leonard, who is sad due to the distant relationship he maintains with his mother.  Sheldon walks into Leonard’s room to talk to him, and the conversation unfolds like this;

Leonard: …Why are you here?

Sheldon: To comfort you, of course… Leonard, what you’re experiencing is a classic Jungian crisis in which the aging individual mourns the loss of the never-to-be realized ideal family unit.

Leonard: Thank you, that’s very comforting.

Sheldon: That’s not the comforting part.

Leonard: It’s not?

Sheldon: No, no. The comforting part is that the Germans have a term for what you’re feeling. Weltschmerz. It means the depression that arises from comparing the world as it is to a hypothetical, idealized world.

Leonard: You’re right, I do feel better.

Sheldon: Well, the Germans have always been a comforting people.

This episode made me laugh-out-loud, especially in this part because my GERMAN HUSBAND was sitting next to me…however, when I thought about this idealized vs. reality Weltschmerz notion, I had to wonder if my prayer for a normal life, was an expression of a Jungian crisis of some sort…was my prayer for ‘a normal life’  a prayer for an idealized form of reality?
What is Normal? From “Norm” to “Normal” to “Ideal”
The term “normal” is related to the word “norm”… a term utilized in sociology to describe a pattern of behavior that has been adopted by a group, and is now akin to a law -governing social interactions within that group.  In short, a norm is what everybody does, or at least, what everybody is expected to do.
The word normal thus refers to something that is manifested and expected by most people in a group…

The term “normal” can be used to qualify a broader range of phenomena, from behaviors (i.e. act normal), to personality traits (he’s pretty normal), events (it was a normal day)…in short, we use the word ‘normal’ when things fall within a range of expected outcomes.

However, it is in those instances “when things fall within a range of expected outcomes” where that which is considered ‘normal’ becomes idealized; because that which is expected is normal and is ideal…anything falling outside of that range can be grounds for a Jungian crisis, expressed in many ways; in my case it was a prayer for ‘a normal life’.
As I was praying for a normal life, God answered my prayer in an unexpected way;  I had to think of an account from the life of King David. 
David’s transition from shepherd to King
As a young boy, David was a shepherd in his father’s household who became the hero in Israel for defeating Goliath, saving the whole nation from destruction, and later become the king of Israel.  
It sounds like pretty normal progression; a shepherd who defends sheep from predators, a warrior who defends Israel from his enemies, a rising hero who becomes the king.  
Most of us have read/heard David’s story so many times, that the particularities of David’s rise to power elude us… the reality is, that the circumstances that led David to the throne are far from normal.
Unlike most kings, who are the first male child born into a royal family, David was not born into a royal family, he was not even the first born in his family…he was the youngest.
Once David was anointed, he did not get to rule over Israel, he did not get to sit on the throne, he went to serve under Saul, who constantly attacked him and sought to take his life.
David’s transition to kingship is the least normal in the history of Israel…
One particular account, encapsulates the far-from-normal circumstances that characterized David’s life;
David Destroys the Amalekites
(1st Samuel 30 verses 1-7) 
1. Three days later, when David and his men arrived home at their town of Ziklag, they found that the Amalekites had made a raid into the Negev and Ziklag; they had crushed Ziklag and burned it to the ground. 2 They had carried off the women and children and everyone else but without killing anyone.
3 When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, 4 they wept until they could weep no more.5 David’s two wives, Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel, were among those captured.
6 David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him.
But David found strength in the Lord his God.
7 Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. 8 Then David asked the Lord, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?”
And the Lord told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”
Background of the story… 
This story plays out right after David has fled Israel with a group of loyal followers to evade Saul, who is trying to kill him. 
He ends up among the philistines and becomes their ally in battle (talk about less than normal situations)
…however while he was in battle, some philistine leaders became afraid that David would turn against them in the middle of battle, and again, he is forced out. 
David’s rise to the throne is most definitely not a normal progression of events;
1. Saul opposes his claim to the throne of Israel, he ends up joining his enemies the philistines, 
2.  Among the Philistines, David is treated with suspicion and ousted due to doubts regarding his allegiance in the battlefield. 
3. And to make matters worse, when he goes back to his camp, he finds that everything has been plundered and taken away from him and his friends. The bible says that he wept until he could no longer weep.
Maybe at that point he prayed “God why can’t my way to Kingship be more normal, why so much suffering, why so much pain?” 
I am sure many of us that can identify with David’s feelings at this point…we have come to a low point in our lives, and just when we think things couldn’t get any worse…they do…things are so bad, we long for normal.
In light of the loss of everything, David’s men became embittered…however the bible says David found strength in the LORD.  Not only did he find strength, but also guidance and the ability to go back and recover everything he had lost…
Normal vs. Divine
David’s initiative in light of the circumstances, was to ask for divine guidance in his life.  The Lord told David he could go and chase after the Amalekites, and he found them and recovered everything…
When things were all kinds of not normal…and much less than ideal, David looked for the divine…and everything fell into place.
This made me think about a bible verse in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 that says;
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, 
no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

When we find ourselves far from the normal range of expected outcomes in our lives, the tendency is to go looking for normalcy…but what we need to do, is to look for God’s divine guidance…which means that even when things don’t fall within a range of expected outcomes, they will fall in the right place.  



Coming to America, in Hong Kong

A Pleasant Surprise

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading a NY Times article written by someone I know.  In the article, prof. Gordon Matthews of Chinese University of Hong Kong writes about his experiences leading a class with asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/opinion/asylum-seekers-wait-and-learn-in-hong-kong.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

I have attended that class on frequent ocasions since last year.  It is always a learning experience, as the class discussions are filled with vivid exchanges and fun anecdotes.  Prof. Matthews leads the class with enthusiasm and wit, and is always careful to include everyone in the conversation.

In the NY Times article, Prof. Gordon talks about the struggles faced by the asylum seekers in Hong Kong; the uncertainty they face, the financial struggles they encounter upon their arrival, and the lack of adequate infrastructures available to support them.

Mourning the Death of Self

In my opinion, one of the greatest disadvantages faced by asylum seekers is the sense of isolation that these men experience.  From our conversations in class, and sometimes outside of class, I have come to realize how educated, dignified, and respectable these men are; teachers, politicians, leaders, officials, heirs to family businesses, fathers, sons…people, who had a life somewhere else, and whose circumstances changed drastically to the point of forcing them to leave a comfortable existence back home and face a future in a land where they are not recognized for what they really are.  This creates a sense of isolation, aggravating the sense of loss.  These men are not only separated from family, country and folk, these men are mourning the loss of the person they used to be.

Coming to America 

In the late 80s, Eddie Murphy portrayed a prince who left his home in Africa to find himself in America.  Murphy’s character finds himself working for an overbearing employer in a minimum wage job.  One of my favorite characters in the movie, is the one portrayed by Arsenio Hall -who plays the prince’s companion- and has to endure all the hardships of menial labor alongside the prince.

At one point in time, Hall’s character can no longer endure the deprivations of his new position, and outfits the modest apartment he shared with the prince with all the luxury amenities imaginable. Not even the staff of the prince’s palace could endure the indignities of the new status in a new country!


The movie is a comedy, however it portrays the paradoxical experience faced by many asylum seekers who travel into a new context and leave behind a more dignified identity.  In embracing the possibility of a more stable future, they forfeit their comfortable past and the predictability of the present.

The quest for home, freedom and a better future is part of the universality of human experience, however it is not always sacrificial, as it is the case with asylum seekers. As a Christian, I learn much from these men’s experiences.  

The Bible says,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(I)”>
Who, being in very nature God,     did not consider equality with God <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(K)”>something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature of a servant,
<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(M)”>
    being made in human likeness. <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(N)”> And being found in appearance as a man,    he humbled himself    by becoming obedient to death <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(O)”>—

        even death on a cross!

The passage in Philippians 2 explains how Jesus himself left heaven to become a servant, he did all of this for the future of mankind…a better future, for those who believe.  

There is so much to learn from the experiences of asylum seekers, who exemplify humility and determination.  I pray for them, and I pray for Hong Kong too…in hopes for a better future.

Lent and Leap Day


Has this ever happened to you; you put on a pair of jeans you hadn’t worn in a while and unexpectedly, you find money in the pockets???  



This has happened to me a couple of times…

Sometimes when I get change from a quick purchase, instead of putting the money in my wallet, I put it in my pocket, and forget about it…days later I find the money and it makes me happy; it is an unexpected bonus.

It seems to me that there are similarities between leap day and the money you find unexpectedly in your pockets.  Leap day -much like the money we find unexpectedly in our pockets- is not something that “magically appears”…it is time that has been stored up and emerges at one point in time. 

Leap Year Explained

In the gregorian calendar, the years are mostly 365 days long.  This period of 365 days should coincide with the time that it takes for the earth to circle once around the sun.  However, in practice it takes the earth 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds to complete its trajectory around the sun.  So for three years, the extra hours are stored up and put away. On the fourth year, this extra-time -which now adds up to one whole day- appears in the calendar on February 29, which is leap day…a bonus day in the year.  

It is funny how much people enjoy leap year…it is the perception of an “extra day” that makes it special…much like the perception of the “extra money” makes me happy when I find unexpectedly some change in my pockets.

Perceptions and Values

Leap day illustrates how our perception affects the value we ascribe to things, and in turn affects the way we experience events in our lives.  February 29 is considered a “special day” in the calendar, even though it is nothing more than the extra six hours leftover in the past four years.  

This phenomenon was discussed by Dan Ariely in his book “Predictably Irrational”.  Through his experiments on behavioral economics, Ariely found that what we perceive to have value can affect our lives in concrete and significant ways.  In chapter 11 of the book, Ariely describes one particular experiment, where  students were given the same medication at different prices; one group was given the medication at 2.50 dollars a pill, and the next group was given the EXACT SAME medication at .10 cents a pill.  

Even though the medication was the exact same chemical composition, the reported relief resulting from this medication among the two groups was drastically different; ALL of the students who paid the “expensive” price for the pill reported pain relief, while only half of the students who took the “cheap” medication reported pain relief.  The experiment -according to Ariely – demonstrates how our perceptions, and the value we ascribe to things can drastically affect our concrete experiences.

It is a pity, that people who took good quality medication were prevented from experiencing the fullness of its benefits because of their perceptions of this medication as “cheap”.  The truth is, that sometimes we may perceive that are affordable and available as “cheap” but in reality…they might be very valuable.

That Which is Truly Valuable

Recently, a similar story about a study on perception, taste and priorities was circulating the web. According to this story, the Washington Post arranged for Joshua Bell, a world renowned Violinist, to play his 3.5 Million Dollar violin at the metro-station in Washington D.C.  Just a few days before, Bell had sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.  However that day in the subway, barely anyone stopped to listen…

The report on the experiment describes how this famous violinist played for 45 minutes, and during this time, it was mostly the children who wanted to stop and enjoy the performance…but the parents rushed them along.  Out of the approximately 1000 people who walked by during this time, nobody recognized Bell, or even worse, none of the adults appreciated the value of his music.  Why?  Probably because their perception of what should be valuable prevented them from appreciating the real value of the performance.  

This experiment brings to my mind the passage in Luke 10:17 where Jesus said to his disciples; I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Perhaps what Jesus was referring to in this verse, is the quality of children that was displayed in the example of Joshua Bell…Children were the ones who took the time to appreciate that which is truly valuable, and made room to allow the transcendent into their lives.    


Lent and Leap Year

In a similar fashion to Joshua Bell’s music in the D.C. metro,  the book of Proverbs, chapter 8 describes how God’s wisdom is readily available for all of us…calling to us like a street performer.

1 Does not wisdom call out?   Does not understanding raise her voice? 

2 On the heights along the way,   where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 

3 beside the gates leading into the city,   at the entrances, she cries aloud: 

4 “To you, O men, I call out;   I raise my voice to all mankind…. 

6 Listen, for I have worthy things to say;   I open my lips to speak what is right…. 

10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,   knowledge rather than choice gold,11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,   and nothing you desire can compare with her.


Lent this year began exactly one week before leap day…on ash Wednesday.  May this time be a time where we stop to appreciate that which is truly valuable and readily available for us…God’s grace, his love, and his wisdom in our lives given freely through Jesus Christ. 

USING WORDS WISELY


A story that been navigating the web this week; it is the story of a fifteen year old girl named Hannah Jordan, from North Carolina in the U.S.
 
Like many other girls her age, Hanna is a high-schooler who has a Facebook account.  One day, Hannah got really upset with her parents…and she decided to vent her frustrations by writing a letter about it and posting it on Facebook.  

She made sure however that she blocked her parents on Facebook so that they could not read what she said about them.
 
Hannah’s father however, is very tech-savvy…and he was upgrading her daughter’s computer software when he saw the letter she had written, which he was not supposed to see…

The Letter 

To my parents,


I’m not your “lowly” slave. It’s not my responsibility to clean up your “stuff”.   We have a cleaning lady for a reason. Her name is Linda, not Hannah.

If you want coffee, get off your “butt” and get it yourself. If you want a garden, shovel the fertilizer yourself, don’t sit back on your “butt” and watch me do it. If you walk in the house and get mud all over the floor that I just cleaned, be my guest, but clean it up after you are done getting “dirt” everywhere.

I’m tired of picking up after you. You tell me at least once a day that I need to get a job.You could just pay me for all the “stuff” that I do around the house. Every day when I get home from school, I have to do dishes, clean the counter tops, all the floors, make all the beds, do the laundry and get the trash. I’m not even going to mention all the work I do around your clinic.And if I don’t do all that every day, I get grounded. Do you know how hard it is to keep up with chores and schoolwork? It’s freaking crazy.

I go to sleep at 10 o’clock every night because I am too tired to stay up any longer and do anything else. I have to get up at five in the morning, to get ready for school. On the weekends, I have to sleep with my door locked so my little brother won’t come get me up at six. This is all true.And I’m tired – I’m tired of this “nonsense” Next time I have to pour a cup of coffee, I’m going to flip “…” I have no idea how I have a life. I’m going to hate to see the day when you get too old to “care for yourselves” and you call me, asking for help. I won’t be there.

Signed,

Your “angry” Kid,

Hannah


(OBVIOUSLY I HAVE CENSORED SOME OF THE EXPRESSIONS IN THIS LETTER)

The Video


After Hannah’s father read this letter, he was really angry – to say the least – and he decided to respond to this letter in a youtube video, and to post the video on his daughters wall on Facebook.
 
In this video, he reads the letter that Hannah wrote, and tells his side of the story (basically Hannah had exaggerated a lot about her housework duties)…and then after he sets the record straight, he informs his daughter hannah, that she is GROUNDED 
until COLLEGE, and proceeds to SHOOT her computer 10 times!!!



The Fallout

This video has been the source of much debate and discussion…also it has been the source of a lot of funny spoofs on youtube (which I have personally enjoyed).

People criticize the father –whose name is Tommy – for being too drastic, other people commend him on his resolve not to put up with her daughter’s rebellious behavior.  

I personally was sad to see the computer get shot, what a waste!!!! But one thing that I think everyone would agree with, is that it would have been better if Hannah would have not written the letter…some things should not be said…and Hannah crossed the line.

Words for Christian Living

As Christians, everything we say comes before God, and like Hannah –who was unable to hide her letter from her father – we are unable to say things without God hearing/knowing about them. God wishes us to be careful with our speech; he encourages to use our words wisely…the bible says:

Ephesians 4:29
NIV: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Easy to Read When you talk, don’t say anything bad. But say the good things that people need—whatever will help them grow stronger. Then what you say will be a blessing to those who hear you.
New Living Translation: Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
From this passage, we can see that GOD cares about what we say, and he has specific expectations regarding our speech; he says that we need to ABSTAIN from unwholesome talk, from saying bad things, or using abusive language.  Also, God encourages us to say things that are uplifting to people around us.  This is a very clear directive of what we ought to do…and what we shouldn’t do.

The Reason 

Why do you think god cares so much about what we say? Simply because words are powerful.  They can destroy/hurt people, or they can heal…

Proverbs 12:18
 NIV: The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Easy to Read: Speak without thinking, and your words can cut like a knife. Be wise, and your words can heal.
New Living Translation: Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.
Think about the last time you were really, really sick…mine was Beijing 2009.
Sick in Beijing

Two years ago, Tim and I went to Beijing.  It was December, and we were really excited to go see the great wall.  We were staying in a really nice hotel, that had a huge bed with an amazing T.V. in front of it…we were in HEAVEN. 

So the first night when we arrived we watched tv, ordered room service and went to bed.  I was asleep, and then suddenly I woke up, I felt sick…really sick.  I got up and had to throw up…and I never stopped throwing up.

At seven in the morning, we decided it was time to go to the hospital…and I couldn’t get there fast enough!  Once we arrived at the hospital, the doctor gave me an i.v. to get me re-hydrated, and also he gave me medication to stop the vomiting.  He recommended that I should try to rest and to stay for half a day in the hospital. 

Half an hour after I got the medication, I was able to fall asleep…it was the best sleep ever!!! The hospital bed felt like a cloud…even better than the hotel bed!!!  What was the difference???  That I had received MEDICATION…and the medications had changed my circumstances drastically, I was getting healthy.

Similarly, God wants that the words we say work like that medicine in the lives of those who hear them; that those words help change people’s circumstances for the better in a tangible way.

What are some obstacles to us speaking the right words?
1   1. The wrong thoughts 
     2. The wrong motives
     3. Lack of confidence
Matthew 12:35-37 outlines how that which comes out of our mouth, basically reflects the thoughts, motives, and self-image that we have inside us.
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

This passage says, that we need to give account for every word that we say…so we should weigh our words.  

David prayed;


Who can discern his errors? 
   Forgive my hidden faults. 
Keep your servant also from willful sins; 
may they not rule over me. 
Then will I be blameless, 
innocent of great transgression.
  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
   be pleasing in your sight, 
   O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” –Psalm 19:12-14


David understood the importance of words. Do we?   

– May this Psalm, also be our prayer, and may our words be like medicine for those who hear them.

How to deal? Sadness, Regret, and the Myth of the Happy-go-Lucky Christian…

Most fairy tales have a common beginning and a common ending.

The beginning of a fairy tale goes like this: “Once upon a time, in a land far away….” (you know the rest).     The story goes on to narrate the adventures and misadventures of some heroic character, that suffers unjust treatment and somehow manages to overcome every adverse situation, ultimately achieving some sort of retribution that rights all wrongs…and in the end, the main character “lived happily ever after”.  
As a child, I enjoyed the simplicity of this statement…because it allowed me to let my imagination take over, and envision different happy scenarios.  Even if the fairy tale was the same, in my mind, I could insert a different kind of happy-ending every time.  Nowadays, I still love happy endings, I love them in fairy tales, books, movies, and also, in real life.  
Unexpectedly however, it is my love for happy endings that led me the to gain insight about the topic of sadness and regret during perhaps one of the most crucial times of my life.
My fairy tale: Meeting my husband
If you talk to my husband, he will testify to the fact that I am not the most romantic woman in the world, quite the contrary, I tend to be more practical than anything else.  This has been the case for most of my life; when I was in my teens, and early twenties, I never believed in love at first sight, and, as a matter of fact, I understood love at first sight to be some form of youthful infatuation that was unworthy of my time and energy… (yeah, I know).
Anyhow, it was a December evening, and I had been invited to a friend’s birthday dinner. I wasn’t expecting anything uber-exciting; I envisioned a good Italian meal, hanging out with my friend, and nothing more…However, when I arrived at Olive Garden’s, I noticed among the guests a handsome, tall, blond man with a gorgeous smile.  Somehow, we had the chance to converse a bit, and it turned out, we had a ridiculous amount of stuff in common.  I was so excited to meet him, and I remember thinking  at that moment, that perhaps there COULD be such a thing as love at first sight…(NOTICE: I still was a bit skeptical).  

Almost exactly a year later, I found myself celebrating my birthday with this handsome, tall, blond man, who was now my boyfriend.  We had started dating earlier in that year…and we were crazy about each other.  I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him, and I could sense the feeling was mutual.  So that day, on my birthday, I remember feeling like everything was falling into place; I had found “the one”, I was about to start my last semester of college, and my life was starting to converge into the point where I could be “happily ever after”.  

The weird part of “happily ever after”

Tim (the tall, handsome, blond guy) and I got engaged during a wonderful trip together. It was precisely at this point in my life, that instead of being happily ever after, I found myself struggling with feelings of sadness and regret.  I did not understand why I was feeling sad.  I felt that I should be happy about my circumstances, and since my circumstances did not match my emotional state, I decided to seek advice from a counselor.  
I remember the first appointment with the counselor, I felt really self-conscious, like I was the oddest person in the planet, I was wondering; “why am I sad, when I have the greatest fiancé, and I am about to graduate college”?  As I sat with the counselor and talked to her, the reason for my sadness became crystal clear.  It was like I was looking into the magic mirror, which allowed me to see beyond my present reflection, and to understand everything in a better way. I realized that the source of my sadness was not my present circumstances, or the wonderful journey that I was about to begin by Tim’s side.  The source of my sadness was the loss of something that I thought I would always have….
Four years before I met Tim, my family and I had relocated to the United States.  This move was unexpected, and it meant we had to leave important aspects of our lives back in El Salvador, and start our lives over in the U.S.  The transition was not hard, however leaving El Salvador was very painful; I gave up the comfort of home, and the plans that I had for my future. Up to the point when we left El Salvador, I had never-ever envisioned myself living abroad, much less settling abroad; I loved El Salvador.  However, since life doesn’t always go according to planned, we had to relocate and settle in Texas.  This meant that my future would be completely different that what I had envisioned…and it was this loss, that was causing all the sadness and regret that I was feeling.  Most importantly, through my conversation with the counselor, I figured out the reason why I was not able to deal properly with the sadness and regret that followed my departure from El Salvador; it was because I felt guilty about being sad…I felt like I should be happy, and I never allowed myself to deal with the sad feelings.  
From that experience, I learnt valuable lessons about sadness and regret:
1.  Sadness & Regret do not always come as a direct result of something we did or did not do…it is the result of living in a world, where circumstances and people change (which can result in hurt)
2. Sadness & Regret can take place at different points in time in our lives, without circumstances and feelings corresponding one-to-one
3. Sadness & Regret weigh our heart down, and can keep us from experiencing our life to the fullest
4. Sadness & Regret in our lives isn’t always our fault, but we can feel guilty about it, and it is important to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way.



How to deal?  
So the question is, how can we then deal with sadness and regret in a healthy way?  
2 Corinthians 7:10 says: “Godly sadness causes us to turn away from our sins and be saved. And we are certainly not sorry about that! But worldly sadness brings death.”  
Through this verse, we cans see that according to the bible, there are two kinds of sadness; Godly sadness, and worldly sadness.  Godly sadness is the one that brings us closer to God, it reconciles us with God and other people, it heals us and it leaves no regret.  Worldly sadness on the other hand, isolates us, it is hurtful and fills us with regret, this is the unhealthy sadness that keeps us from living our life to the fullest.
In christian circles -and even in non-christian circles- it is very common for people to feel guilty about being sad, and this creates a cycle of sadness, guilt, and regret that paralyzes people and causes them to isolate themselves from God and others. This is not a healthy way to deal with sadness.  

Turning Worldly Sadness into Godly Sadness

It is important that we realize that it is normal to be
sad sometimes.  We do not always have to be
 happy-go-lucky.  Nevertheless, we need to be able
to discern the nature of our sadness; whether it is worldly
sadness or Godly sadness.  The good news about
being sad is that, God welcomes us just as we are.
He is not going to turn us away because we have
tears in our eyes…The Bible says:
 “a broken and contrite heart, 
O God, You will not despise” -Psalm 51:17
King David -who wrote this Psalm – was an expert in sadness and regret.  He had a lot of reasons to be sad and regretful in his lifetime…however he always found his way back to God…even in his lowest points, because he knew that in God he could always find comfort.  To me, this is a happy ending.

I still love happy endings, and now I can say I believe in love at first sight (thank you Tim)…however, I am a bit more careful when it comes to happily ever after.  

Goodbye New Year Tree….

Today, I went to Starbucks for my customary Iced-Chai.  I know it’s banal, but going to Starbucks is one of the highlights of my week…it makes me feel special. I know it sounds weird…but before you judge me, let me explain;


I am a creature of habit…and as such, I usually shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, and go to the same coffee shops every time.  When I visit my regular spots, I tend to follow a routine, I order the same things over and over again…I never get tired of them (my husband will probably attribute this to my stubborn nature, but I would like a second oppinion).


Starbucks is a prime example of my routine-following ways; I order the same drink every time, Iced-Chai…always.  No exception – not ever.  I have been going to the same Starbucks for two years now.  Nowadays, the baristas know me by name, and they don’t even ask me for my order anymore, they know what I am going to drink…and when they see me walking towards the counter, they start preparing my drink, they greet me with a smile, take the money, and hand me my Iced-Venti Tazo Chai Tea Latte.


I particularly enjoy this routine, it makes my life easier, comfortable and as we all know: “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they are always glad you came”…sorry, I couldn’t help the Cheers reference.  (For all my friends who are either too young, or who weren’t raised by the T.V; Cheers is an 80s SITCOM … and the quote is from the theme song of the show).


My problem with Change (I don’t mean coins)
Anyway, as a routine-loving person, I tend to dislike change; once I get used to something, I never want to get un-used to it. At this point I would like to clarify something; I am not a hoarder, or a person who prefers stagnation over progress…I am all for changing things for the better, this is not the change I dislike.  The change I dislike is the one that involves replacing that which is predictable, with the unpredictable.  I think I am not alone in this, a lot of people -whether it is consciously or unconsciously- dislike and even avoid this kind of change.


When Change leaves a Void
Why do so many people -myself included- find this kind of change intimidating?  Based on experience and observations, it seems to me that the reason why this change is especially intimidating is because it leaves a void behind.  When we are used to something/or even someone (the way I am used to my routine, or some people are used to a person or a habit in their lives) it means that we like the place that it /(s)he holds in our lives…it/(s)he fills a need, it/(s)he fills a space, that otherwise would be empty…void.


I think this is true even for people who claim to love change…in a way, their love for change is a constant in their lives…this constant change means that they are always facing the thrill of the unknown…and this fills their life with anticipation and excitement…in absence of this constant change, there would be a void, there would be emptiness…and most of us tend to avoid that facing that void (no pun intended).


Why we need to rethink our void-avoidance
According to the online dictionary, the word “void” can be defined in various ways, for example; “containing no matter”, “empty”, “completely lacking”, “useless”, “unfilled”, and “not occupied”.  I have more or less kept the order of appearance of all the definitions in order to make a point.  When we think of void, we first tend to think of words such as emptiness, uselessness, and lacking…and those words carry negative connotations for us…they evoke a sense of loss and helplessness.


However, a void is not always negative; if we look at it as the state of being “not-occupied”, the notion of void suddenly seems to have the potential of something positive…and indeed it does.



The potential of a void
I remember a conversation at a dinner party with some friends a while ago, we were asking each other “hard questions”…and one of my friends was asked the following question: “If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?”  My friend answered the following:  “If I could change something about myself, I would have stopped pursuing some things in my life sooner rather than later”.   

This answer steered the conversation in a very interesting direction, we talked about how sometimes we fail to let go of something in our lives…and in the process of holding on, we probably miss out on other opportunities, wasting time, energy, and resources.  We avoid necessary changes, just because we do not want to face “not having something”to fill the space.  Basically, the fear of letting go, the fear of change, is the fear of having a void in our life.  We think that having a void in our life equals that we will be “lacking” something…This understanding prevents us from creating a place (un-occuping the space) for something that might ultimately be better for us.  Had we  embraced the void, had we un-occupied the space, we would’ve created a place for that which was better for us sooner, rather than later. 

Buds’n’Roses
Another example of how voids are viewed from a negative perspective is the notion of “ending”.  An ending is a change that leaves a void, or emptiness.  Nothing comes after the end, right?  

Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book titled “Necessary Endings“, in it he talks about the notion of pruning…of how roses need to be pruned, because they produce more buds that they can sustain…thus, if a gardener wants his roses to blossom, some buds need to be pruned in order for other buds to blossom.  In our lives, we face similar decisions, we need to face some changes that leave voids…however those voids are not negative, they are necessary because those voids create the conditions for other aspects of our life to blossom. 


Facing Christian faith seems sometimes like facing a Void
In many ways, faith is like a void. Not the negative, one-sided notion of void…but the real notion of void.  

From what I have come to understand, a void has two aspects; 
1) The absence of that which should ordinarily fill a space, and 
2) the potential for what could take its place. 

In Hebrews 11:1, the bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  

Faith calls us to create a place for something that is not there yet…it calls us to hope, to embrace the potential of what is to come through Jesus.  If we have a wrong understanding of what faith is, we will avoid it…like we try to avoid the voids in life…however, if we could re-examine our notion of faith, taking a closer look, and seeking a better understanding, perhaps we wouldn’t avoid it, and we could even embrace it.

Today I went to Starbucks for my customary Iced-Chai.  For the last month, there has been a little tree with pink flowers to celebrate Chinese New Year…today they took it down, this reminded me of the changes we face, the voids we fear, the endings we avoid, pruning and faith. 

A bit random, I know…

Trees, Decisions and Rationality

One of my dear friends recently shared with me about one of her many trips around the world, where she visited Lebanon. One of the highlights of her trip was to go and see the cedars of Lebanon.


Cedars of Lebanon are evergreen trees…they are from the coniferous family (like pines) and they have been used since ancient times for building.


Rulers in the ancient times would order the wood for religious and civil constructs. In the bible, the most famous example is King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and David’s and Solomon’s Palaces. Because of its significance the word Cedar is mentioned 76 times in the Bible, and played a pivotal role in the cementing of the Phoenician-Hebrew relationship.


Beyond that, it was also used by Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians.


Trees are pretty cool…they bring a lot to our lives…they give wood for furniture, houses, fuel (for heat and cooking), they give fruits for eating, they give shade and some trees are the oldest living things in this planet being thousands and thousands of years old.


Trees also appear as important elements in bible narrative. They feature as literal elements and as symbolic elements.


Trees in the Bible as literal figures:
1.Trees in the Garden of Eden for fruit (Genesis 3:8)
2. Trees as boundary markers (Genesis 13:18, 12:33, 1 Sam 14:2, 1 Chr 10:12)
3. Many Cedar’s of Lebanon were used in the construction of the temple of Solomon (1 King 5:6-10, 6:15-20).


Trees in the Bible as symbolic figures:
1. Trees symbolize powerful Kings (Dan 4:10)
2. They symbolize a fulfilled wish (Prov 13:12)
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, 
 but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
3. Trees symbolize righteous people (Ps 92:12-13, Ps 1:3)
There is a tree in the bible that has both symbolic and literal meaning. Is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.





The bible talks about it in Genesis 2:


Adam and Eve


“15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”


This tree plays a crucial role in the history of mankind; it serves both a literal and a symbolic element in bible narrative.


1. Literal because it is an actual tree, with branches and leaves and all of the normal tree characteristics.
2. Symbolic because it has the role of a decision point in bible narrative; God said to Adam and Eve that they should abstain from eating its fruit, that if they did eat of the fruit of the tree, the outcome would be death…


There was a certain criterion of expected behavior that was attached to it, it is perhaps the first symbol in the history of mankind. Anytime there is a message and an expected behavior attached to an object, this object becomes a symbol. The tree in the garden became a symbolic element for a moment of choice with two clear outcomes; life or death.


In Western Christian art, the fruit of the decision tree in the garden of Eden is commonly depicted as the apple, however some scientists argue that this is not possible, as the apple tree rarely grows in Mesopotamia, which is the area where the garden of Eden is believed to have been located.


Even though it is not clear which kind of fruit-tree the tree of good and evil was (in a literal sense), it is possible to say without a doubt, that in a symbolic sense, the tree of good and evil is a DECISION TREE.
What is a decision tree? A decision tree is a schematic representation of a set of choices used in economics, management and the business world in order to anticipate possible outcomes for a decision…thereby enabling people to make better decisions.


If you want to learn more about decision trees go to:
http://www.time-management-guide.com/decision-tree.html


Seeds of a decision tree
The underlying assumption upon which a decision tree rests is that of rational choice. Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize winning economist, postulated that people make decisions based on rational choice, which means that given a set of options, people will choose the course of action that renders the most advantageous outcome for their own purposes.
Lately, however, psychologists, and other behavioral scientists have challenged the assumption of rationality.


In 2010 an MIT behavioral economist called DAN ARIELLY did some studies on why people act in ways that do not always reflect RCT…and he found out three things:
1. People act irrationally because THEY DO NOT HAVE ALL THE INFORMATION…
2. People act irrationally, because THEY ARE OVERWHELMED BY THE CHOICES
3. People act irrationally, because THEY ARE STIRRED UP EMOTIONALLY OR BY EXTERNAL FACTORS


If you want to learn more about Dan Ariely’s books go to his blog at http://danariely.com/


IRRATIONAL US


In his books, Dan Ariely describes several experiments in which he demonstrated that people did not always act in accordance to their own criterion of what is beneficial for them, or even worse, people did not act accordance with their own values.  One of my favorite examples has to do with Coca-Cola and money.


Like many other college dorms, the MIT dormitories have refrigerators in every floor for the use of all residents. In one of the buildings, Ariely went to every floor and put inside each fridge, a six-pack of coke, and also, he put on top of the fridge the equivalent value of the six-pack in US dollars (approx. six dollars).  After doing this, he checked periodically to see whether the coke cans, and the money were still there.  To his surprise, the cokes didn’t last longer than 72 hours the entire building, and even more surprisingly, he found out that no-one had touched the money that he left in every floor.




Dan Ariely found out that people will “fool themselves” to betraying their own values by stating for example, “stealing a coke is not stealing”, however they wouldn’t dare to steal the equivalent in money value of that coke.  The bible says it in this way:


The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
-Jeremiah 17:9


We can see examples in daily life and also in the bible, which show that people do indeed make irrational choices; one such biblical example is the case of Jacob and Esau.


Jacob and Esau were twin brothers who were born to Rebeccah and Isaac. In Genesis 25, the bible narrates how Esau was born first, and Jacob was born second. During bible times, being a firstborn meant carrying the family name and inheriting double portion of the family’s estate. Thus, it was a great privilege.


Any person acting rationally would’ve considered the first-born right as something of great value both financially and emotionally. However, the bible narrates that Esau traded his first-born right for a plate of lentil stew.


 Genesis 25:29-34
One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stew—I’m starved!” That’s how he came to be called Edom (Red).
Jacob said, “Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn.”
Esau said, “I’m starving! What good is a birthright if I’m dead?” Jacob said, “First, swear to me.” And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn. Jacob gave him bread and the stew of lentils. He ate and drank, got up and left. That’s how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.”



It is clear that Esau was stirred up emotionally and was overwhelmed by hunger and tiredness when he came to the decision point where he traded his first-born right. 


This passage of the bible illustrates how people fail to act rationally, and the most dangerous part of our failure to act rationally is that there are certain decisions that can’t be taken back, the bible calls it the “Esau Syndrome”.




“Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.”

– Hebrews 12:15-17


Esau traded something of greater value, for something of lesser value because he was stirred up by external factors…he traded a better future for immediate gratification, and the bible cautions us against doing the same thing.




So how can we avoid ending up like Esau? The answer is in the chapter 12 of Hebrews and it can be subsumed in one word; DISCIPLINE.


Hebrews 12:11 says the following:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”



Discipline in the bible is closely related to trust and submission to God, even beyond our own understanding.  This in my opinion, should be more evident in light of the fact that we are not always able to do what is best for ourselves.


Thus, according to the bible it is necessary to take time evaluate our decisions, not in the light of our immediate gratification, or our own interpretation of ‘what is desirable in our own understanding’ but put our trust in God…in his discipline.