Friday, November 25, 2016

Why I Got Inked

For those who haven't seen me in the last five months, and have not yet passed out from reading the title of this blog post, let me share a bit with you about why I decided to get a tattoo.

I was NEVER a tattoo person. Ever. I was the girl who hid under the table (probably until junior high....maybe after) when I had to get a shot. I was never against tattoos per se (now, I personally don't think sleeves or head or full body tattoos are particularly attractive), but I was most definitely against needles. I could never imagine myself EVER getting a tattoo.

Hatred of needles + not imaging anything I'd want on my body forever (especially as a saggy grandma) = Amy never getting a tattoo.


....about a year and a half ago.

I was in Romania, and I saw a good friend of mine, who had spent a lot of time in Romania, with a small "RO" tattoo on his ankle. I loved it. I immediately thought, "Now, that's something I would want on my person for the rest of my life."

The wheels started turning. I started thinking about it quite a bit. I knew I couldn't get a tattoo on my ankle as it was way too close to my CRPSy feet. I knew I didn't want it to be hidden. If I was going to get a tattoo, it was going to be where I could always see it. So, a wrist was the only option left. I continued to ponder...

Romania is obviously insanely important to me, so I wanted to do it there. I knew my next trip (this last summer) would be my tenth journey over to my second home, so it seemed like an appropriate time.   

So, the only question left was what to get--on my person. Forever. And ever. Amen.

Through a lot of thought, and a lot of church bulletin doodling and drawing on my skin, I came to the conclusion that I wanted "mercy" in Romanian on my left wrist. Why "mercy," you ask? Well...

1 Peter 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I could go on and on about the mercies of our Lord, but I think those verses suffice for now.

I knew my wrist would be one of the last things I’d see before turning off the light at night and one of the first things I’d see when I woke up in the morning. In addition to always being reminded of God’s great mercy, I’d be reminded of my sweet friends and kiddos in Romania every single time I saw my wrist.

As I was piecing all of this together, and doodling out the perfect font for my tattoo, another one of my favorite verses continued to stick out to me:

Matthew 10:31:
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Thus, I added a couple little birds to my design.

As you can see, I did not come to this decision lightly. I knew as I headed over to Romania this past June that I’d come back with a permanent reminder of the mercies of my amazing God and the place He has imprinted so deeply on my heart.

With all the decisions made and the appointment at Roxy Tattoo studio set, the only decision left was where on my wrist to get the tattoo. As I worked with the artist on finalizing the design, I asked him if I should get the tattoo on the side of my wrist or underneath my wrist. His response, in his awesome Romanian accent, was, “On the side. Too many people get it underneath.” Done.

All of that conversation took more time than the actual tattoo itself. It was quick and relatively painless, and I loved it right away.

I didn’t tell anyone. I just let people notice, and  I’ve gotten quite a few entertaining reactions, but I figured it was about time to share why I decided to get inked.

I know not everyone agrees with tattoos. I know not everyone likes my tattoo. But, it’s mine, and it’s not going anywhere, so…. There’s not much more to say. :)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why ME?

One of the people I admire most in this world is Valorie Kondos Field, or Miss Val as she's most commonly known. She is the head coach of the UCLA women's gymnastics team, but that's not the only reason I love her. She puts education and character and life skills ahead of athletics. She loves well. She's compassionate. She's entertaining. She challenges others. She's a risk taker. She's selfless. She loves God. She's fun to be around. She takes the best selfies! I could go on and on.

When Miss Val had breast cancer, she asked perhaps the most common question, "Why me?" But, she asked it with a completely different perspective than most. Instead of asking "Why did I have to get cancer?" she asked, "Why ME? Why do I GET to get chemo? Why do I GET to have great doctors? Why do I GET to live?" Wow. That'll challenge your perspective on life! Watch her share her story below:

In addition, Miss Val has her own website where she posts the occasional "musing." Seems innocent enough, right? Be warned: if you start reading her musings, you'll be challenged--challenged to change your thinking, your attitude, your every day living. She posted one such musing today entitled ACT AS IF. Click here to read it! After reading this latest musing, I was challenged to consider my own "Act As If." I commented with it on Miss Val's post, but I'll also add it below:

As I was pondering my own “Act As If,” a few ‘buttons’ rolled around in my mind—encompassing everything from exercise to my career—but I kept coming back to one particular “Act As If” button: Act As If I’ve Been Chosen. And, wouldn’t you know, Miss Val, you had something to do with this as well. Let me explain. 

My plan after college was to get a job, get married, have kids, and “live happily ever after.” Well, I graduated from college more than seven years ago, and I’m still living at home with my mama with no prospect of things changing anytime soon. Although I know I’ve gotten to do some incredible things in these last seven years, that longing never went away, and I’d often find myself asking God, “Why me? Why haven’t you allowed me to be married with a family? Why haven’t you chosen me for that life when (seemingly) ALL of my friends are married with babies? What’s wrong with me?” Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crying myself to sleep every night, but there were days when I struggled to be content where God had me. 

Enter: Miss Val. After watching your interview with Danusia about your breast cancer story and learning about your positive twist on the “Why me?” question, I began to pause and reflect on my own “Why me?” question. For the first time, I changed my question from “Why, God, haven’t you chosen me for that life when (seemingly) ALL of my friends are married with babies?” to “Why have you chosen ME to be single for this time when everyone else around me is married?” For the first time, I was able to look at my life quite differently. 

God has CHOSEN me for this time for HIS purposes—teaching and loving my students, traveling to serve in Romania, spoiling my friends’ babies—I may not know exactly why, but He does, and I can rest in that. Whatever He has planned for me right now can only be accomplished as a single woman. He CHOSE me for this. How can I not delight in that? 

That doesn’t mean I don’t still long for a family—I definitely do—but, I can continue to “ACT AS IF I’M CHOSEN” so that I may be content where God has me right now—ready to fulfill His purposes for me each day. 

So, in the spirit of Miss Val, what's YOUR "Act As If" OR how can you change your "Why Me?" Comment below or go to Miss Val's page and leave her some love.

Thanks, Miss Val, for having such a positive impact on my life and therefore impacting those around me. Love you!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

In Memory of Suzy Friesen, I Want to Say "Thank You"

Last week, without warning, we lost a beautiful woman of God, Suzy Friesen. I went to youth group with Suzy's girls, Lindsay and Whitney, and was often the recipient of her incredible joy and love. I can still hear her sweet laugh and see her goofy faces. To learn more about Suzy, read her obituary here. 

This morning, as I sat back in the pew at LBC, listening to Suzy's family and friends share about her life of love and service, with tears streaming down my face, I was hit (overcome really) with the reality of her loss. Although I wasn't really as close to Suzy over the last few years, she was one of the women who made a huge impact on my life during such a formative time. Because of that, I want to say "thank you." Unfortunately, I can't thank Suzy in person anymore (until we meet again in Heaven), but I can take an opportunity to thank the other leaders and parents who made an impact on my life.

During the service, the faces of these servants and leaders scrolled through my mind, and I couldn't even believe that the first of them had gone to be with our Lord and Savior. It's difficult to imagine facing this again... and again... and again. Yet, because of our sweet Savior and His work on the cross, we can grieve with hope. We WILL all be together again one day in Heaven.

In no particular order:

* My Impact (small group) leaders Cathy Birkhauser, Amy Ruff, Cheryl Saiki, and Nicole Parker: 

Cathy was there as I really began to grasp who I was in Christ. She led Mexico trips, shared Jesus with us, and engaged in many laughs and inside jokes.

Amy was not only my impact leader, but my math teacher. She led well at church, in our small group, and in the classroom. She showed integrity, passion, and love. She was there on my good days and bad, and she put up with me EVERY day for a year--an awkward year at that! Oh, and did I mention that she DUCT TAPED my mouth shut one day in class? ;)

Cheryl was the epitome of a humble, gentle leader. She opened her home and heart to us. She cried and prayed with us as well as laughed and danced with us. She was always ready with an encouraging word and a warm hug. I am beyond blessed that I go to church with Cheryl once again and get to receive her amazing hugs and sweet words on the regular once again.

Nicole was my small group leader my senior year, but has since become a dear friend. She has been there with me through some of my darkest days. She has laughed with me through some of life's greatest joys. I've been able to witness her incredible love story and the two amazing boys she has brought into this world. I have learned so much from her about being a Godly friend, wife, mother, and teacher. I am looking forward to many more years of friendship and life lessons and love.

* Youth Leaders from LBC:

Kerri Hodgson was not only someone who offered a listening ear and an encouraging word during youth group, she was also there for me before my senior formal. She came over to do my hair for the big dance, and I will never forget how comfortable and at ease she made me feel. I remember always looking up to her and thinking she was so great. I wanted to be as bubbly and joyful as Kerri. I now have the incredible joy of having her daughter, Reese, in my class.

Angela Diffee always brightened the room with a smile. She was our youth secretary, but she was far more involved than just that. She was a part of our lives, invested, and interested in making sure that we were seeking and following Christ. She was also there for a good laugh and a good time.

Jana Hillen was our cheerleader, always encouraging and kind. Perhaps the thing that stands out about Jana is that she is still involved in our lives, even though she lives FAR too far away from CA and all of us. Thank goodness for Social Media!

Alan and Sherie Thomas, Doug and Holly Culhane, Scott and Carolyn Pearsey, Ken and Peggy Cross, Ken and Vickie Beggs, and Steve and Grace Cabalka are not only the parents of my friends, but were all sacrificial leaders during my high school years. They not only opened up their hearts and homes, but they demonstrated Godly marriages and parenting. They took us on mission trips and church camps, and played in the mud with us during Mud Bowls. I remember all of them loving me like I was their own, offering a listening ear when I needed one, and offering guidance and encouragement when I needed it (and even when I thought I didn't!). Even all these years later (yes, more than ten now), I hold such fond memories of our times together. But, more than that, I still hold onto (and remember! I have a terrible memory!) some of the precious lessons these amazing leaders taught me about my Jesus. And, I still consider it a HUGE blessing when I am able to see and receive sweet hugs from any of these amazing folks.

So, if I haven't said it yet, THANK YOU! THANK YOU to all of you for loving me, serving me, leading me, and teaching me. Thank you for giving your hearts and minds and time to serve a bunch of crazy high school kids (especially those who weren't your own!). Even though time and distance has separated many of us, you will always be close to my heart. I have been beyond blessed by all of you. I love you!

(...and if I've missed anyone, I'm SO sorry. It has been a long, emotional day...and I do have a terrible memory. True story.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

And Just Like That.... It Was Over.

And Just Like That... was over. The end. La revedere. Even with my extended trip, it went by far too quickly. I don't know exactly at this moment why God had me stay in Romania for eight more days than originally planned, but He has shown me glimpses here and there, and I am beyond grateful for them.

We began Tuesday at the office with the usual morning meeting, except that Bogdan brought pastries so that I "wouldn't be so sad." Opposite effect, Bogdan! Way to make me cry! As we began worship and went on through devotion and prayer, I couldn't hold back the tears. They silently poured out of my eyes as I sat there and tried to focus.

It didn't help any that I went with Bogdan right after that to exchange money and get my passport. As we quickly debriefed a bit of my trip, I had to do so through the cloud of tears. It was just too much.

After I got myself together, the girls and I headed to Home of Hope to spend the morning with the little ones. I was looking forward to their giggles and smiles as I needed a bit of lightheartedness in my morning. They didn't disappoint. We played for a bit at the apartment before heading to the park. Their hugs and laughter and smiles were certainly good for the soul. I'm really going to miss those little ones.

The goodbyes had to continue at lunch as I said "see you later" to Gianni, Ioana, and Simona--my heart growing increasingly heavy with each one.

After lunch we headed over to Chitila. Nelu had Carmen and the girl interns in the car, so we used the opportunity to jam to some T-Swift. Carmen may or may not have gotten some of it on video. All I have to say is that it was quite refreshing to forget about leaving for a few minutes and just sing and dance and laugh.

We had planned on taking some of the girls from Chitila to McDonalds as a change of pace, but there were, of course, a few hiccups in the way as we arrived and tried to gather the girls we planned on taking. After some time, we each grabbed a hand or an arm and headed out on the tram.

It was so nice to be able to sit at McDonalds with the girls and just visit and be. Although my beloved Flori was there (and was the one I was "assigned to" on the way over), I sat with Ioana at lunch and spoke to her in English (with a bit of translation help from Florina). I got to hear more of her heart and learn about some of her future dreams, and I felt immediately drawn to her. She has so much potential, and my heart is so burdened for her. Please join me in praying for her along with the other girls.

As we returned to the center with the girls, little Ana squealed and ran up to me. The little ones had been out somewhere, so they were unable to come with us, but I was so grateful that she was outside at that moment. She hugged and kissed me and told me how much she loved me, and my heart (albeit full) absolutely ripped apart. Here is this young, impressionable, seemingly innocent girl amidst the chaos of the situation and saturated with the influence of the older girls, who themselves have dealt with an abundance of abuse in their lives. I look at Ana right now and think ahead five years. What will her life look like? Will that precious smile still be evident? Will the joy in her heart remain? Or will she become hard and jaded with years of abuse and/or possible trafficking?

God, please protect this precious one! I pray that with the continued support and love of CTL, and the love of Jesus that the staff brings to these kids, that there will be a future for them--a future of hope and potential and success, a future of trusting Jesus, not one of despair and brokenness and whatever else you can imagine.

I can try in words and utterings here, but the story of Chitila, of so many orphanages around Romania is one that is so difficult to tell, so hard to truly convey... But God knows. He knows every inch of every one of those girls, every hair on their heads, every tear they've cried, every desperate plea they've uttered. And, I know that He loves His precious daughters far more than the CTL staff or I ever could. I have to entrust them to Him as I leave and remain faithful in prayer.

After leaving Chitila, Nelu and Florina went with the interns to grab some dinner--my last Shoarma. We enjoyed some good conversation and laughter before I had to say goodbye to Florina (as Nelu would be the one taking me to the airport). As our time together drew to a close, I honestly sat at the table, laughing at something she said, and tears starting pouring down my cheeks. I've never experienced anything quite like it. I've never experienced anyone like Florina before. I love her dearly, and I'm going to miss her like crazy until I see her again.

The interns then headed back to the apartment to hang out for a while as it was our last opportunity to be together. We again put the phones down and enjoyed a few hours of good conversation. I'm really going to miss that. I thank God for those sweet opportunities.

It was late already when we said goodnight, and then our power kept switching off and on (which meant no fan when it was off, and super loud beeping when it would come back on). Because of that, Bailey and I didn't get much sleep. Fortunately for Leanne, I think she slept through all of it.

Nelu picked me up around 4:30 this morning, and we enjoyed a nice ride to the airport. I held it together really well until he hugged me for the last time and I had to walk through security. Again, tears literally  poured out of the eyes. Guys, this is so foreign to me. I don't understand how this water keeps appearing so easily. I guess it just means these people are extra special or that they've touched my heart even more than I can consciously imagine. The last wave goodbye was the worst before I rounded the corner and headed toward my gate.

Now I'm sitting in Amsterdam, ready to board my flight my LAX. Please pray that it all goes smoothly, that I sleep if I need to, and that God would prepare my heart for the transition back. Thanks so much for all your love and support throughout this journey. Love to you all!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Wake Me Up When it's All Over

When I'm wiser and I'm older... Or when this goodbye stuff is finished. I'm over it. It makes my stomach hurt.

Anyway, this morning we headed over to the Home of Hope to spend time with the little girls (since we're at Chitila every afternoon this week, we don't have the normal schedule in the mornings either). We went with the girlies to the park and they certainly wore us out, although we had an absolute blast. There is really nothing sweeter than their giggles or anything more dear than their hugs. And, how sweet was the sound of their little Romanian voices asking if we were going to stay with them as we left the park. Yes, darlings, we have one more hour to play.

Tea parties, handstands, pictures, and puppet shows all made the hour pass by far too quickly. I'm so grateful to be able to spend tomorrow morning with our precious little girls as well, but I'm really going to hate saying goodbye to them.

Nelu picked us up midday, and we headed over to Chitila. The song mentioned in the title of the post was on in the car during our drive, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

It was so wonderful to be able to drive up to Chitila today and see the faces that I've grown to absolutely adore--faces that will forever be burned into my memory. After hanging out and singing a bit (and a added bit of chaos as is common these days), Leanne shared her story. The girls were attentive and truly listening. Afterward, one of the girls said she wanted to share about what was going on--miracle of miracles (they don't share in groups, unless you're Michelle Combs). 😊

Through tears she shared what was happening at the center and her fears and frustrations surrounding that. A few other girls piped in after that and also shared through tears, while one girl completely lost it. We paused and prayed at that point--for God's peace, comfort, and direction, that the girls would look to Him in their hurt and loneliness, and that they would make wise decisions amidst the chaos surrounding them. Will you please join us in praying for these things?

We played a few low key games after that and made a popsicle stick frame with Ephesians 4:13 written inside of it. I'm praying that the girls will look to that and remember who they are in Christ. Although I always hate to leave Chitila, I was glad to be able to tell the girls I'd see them tomorrow.

After Chitila, Nelu dropped us off at the mall, and Florina and I finally got to spend a good chunk of time together visiting and talking about life--more than we're able to on a normal day. I love that lady more than I can say, and I'm going to miss her more than I can stand.

Lili also joined us after a while, and it was SO good to finally see her and spend some time catching up.

This evening I tried to pack so that I won't have to worry about it tomorrow, but I pretty much hated it. Every minute of it. I hate packing in the first place, but having to pack to leave is even worse. I just pray my suitcase makes weight!

Alright, it's already super late, and I must be up and ready for my last day tomorrow. Thanks for your continued prayers. Noapte Buna!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Adventures in Paulis with my Chickens

European night train: check. It was actually much more comfortable than I imagined, and I was able to sleep quite well, considering I was on a super slim mattress in a compartment with three other people on a train. The rocking and continual noise helped out quite a bit.

I can't even put into words how good it was to see and spend time with the Coman family after TEN years. It was like no time had passed at all. Our hearts were still connected, and we laughed--boy how we laughed.

On Friday we went on a journey with  Yannis to a castle like building that I'd seen before (many, many years ago), and it was so great to just be outside in the county with the beautiful green everything. Since it was a bit warm (read: HOT) outside, a massive water fight ensued afterward, and I loved every minute of it.

Friday evening when the family came home and Yannis went to play soccer, we enjoyed some amazing sarmale for dinner and then went to visit some old fortress ruins and a monastery. This country never ceases to amaze me with its beauty. I could have stood there for hours in complete awe.

On Saturday we enjoyed a leisurely day around the house reading, playing, attempting Kendama (sp?), laughing, and visiting. The boys went swimming at the lake for a bit while we girls had some girl talk and watched a few good YouTube videos (and laughed our heads off). In the evening we headed into Arad for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and then we enjoyed a nice stroll in the park (complete with selfies and laughter and good conversation). We got gelato for dessert, and again enjoyed a nice slow walk around town--such a change from the fast pace of Bucharest that we've been experiencing lately.

When we returned home, a bit of hilarity ensued. I'm sworn to secrecy on this one, but I will say that it had to do with Frozen and a music video of some sort. At that point, the Disney bug had bitten us, so Tania and I spent who knows how long watching YouTube videos and singing Disney songs at the top of our lungs (while the boys tried to watch soccer). There may have even been a DubSmash or two in there, but I'll leave that to your imagination for now. I will say we laughed and laughed and laughed. We also convinced Tania to play for us at this point, so she (a bit reluctantly) got her violin while Stelu got the guitar, and they played while we sang familiar songs. That's a moment I don't ever want to forget. It was absolutely beautiful. It was so good for the soul and heart and everything else.

As the evening too rapidly came to a close, it was so hard to believe that our time together was just about over. It always goes by far too quickly, but especially so when we only have a weekend to spare. I hated to go to bed because I knew that signaled the end of our time together.

This morning we had to say our goodbyes, and I had to hold back my tears. I'm going to miss my chickens (that's what Stelu calls all of us and so we call the family that as well) more than I can say. I just pray that ten years won't pass before I see them again. They are and forever will be a huge part of my heart.

I love you, Chickens!!! Missing you so much already!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Little Rabbit = #ripmyheartout

This morning began at the office with worship and devotion as usual, except it was the team's last morning with us. They'll fly back home early tomorrow morning, so be praying for them if you think about it.

We headed to Rehab after our morning meeting. I was quite anxious to see my Little Rabbit again (Marius) and a few of the other kiddos I've come to truly adore (like Stefi). Speaking of Stefi, who was there to greet us with a bright smile and an adorable giggle when we arrived? You guessed it. I'll never get enough of that precious face. We were all outside to begin with, so after playing on the swing a bit, Stefi grabbed my hand and dragged me in circles all over the yard. We really had no purpose in where we were going, but it didn't matter a bit. The cutie patootie sat on my lap while the team did their skit and sang, and then I helped her make her whale craft. It was all quite adorable. I'm certainly going to miss that one!

But, after spending quite a bit of time with Stefi, I was ready to head inside to see my little dude. The workers told us not to pick the kids up today (there were men all around the center replacing windows, so it was a bit chaotic), so I lowered the side of Little Rabbit's crib and sat with him while Micah played the guitar and we all sang. It's not an easy feat to get any sort of reaction out of that little man, but I did manage to make him smile a time or two. Of course, I was not ready to leave when our time was up, but I knew I had to, so I kissed Little Rabbit, hugged him, told him I loved him, and that I would miss him. As I put the side of his crib back into place, he started shaking so violently that it looked like he was having a seizure. I immediately went right back to him and realized it wasn't a seizure (thank you, Jesus), he was just that upset that we were leaving. Talk about rip my heart out. I pray that I'll be able to see my dear Little Rabbit this side of Heaven, but if not, I'm confident we'll be singing and dancing one day in the presence of our Savior.

After an amazing lunch (as usual!) at the office, the kids from Pinnochio came over for the afternoon. Since they had already seen the Jonah skit, AJ reviewed the story with them and shared his testimony--relating it back to Jonah. The kids also did a different craft, and we sang and played games. I think this was the last time I'll see those kiddos, so it was a bit different saying goodbye to them this time. Lord willing, I'll see them again next year.

Since the team is leaving in the morning, we had to say farewell to them next. I'm really not a fan of goodbyes (who is?!), and I didn't like having to start them already. There will be far too many in my near future.

When we got home, I gathered things and packed for the weekend--I'm heading to Arad tonight to see Stelu and Florentina, who I haven't seen in 10 years, and I'm SO EXCITED! I probably won't update much over the weekend, but stay tuned for the last few updates early next week.

Thanks again for all your prayers and encouragement. A huge answer to prayer is that we'll get to spend Monday and Tuesday afternoons at Chitila (well, the staff will be there each afternoon tomorrow and next week, but I'll only be around for those two days). I'm beyond relieved to be able to see the girls again. Please continue praying for them as well! La revedere for now!