Frustrations

“I’m not touching you,” says the mischievous little brother, pointing his finger as his older sister. “I’m not touching you,” he mocks. “I’m not touching you.”

I remember that commercial well. You empathize with the sister, wishing that the teasing would just stop already.

Well, recently, I’ve felt much like the older sister. In the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with quite a few minor annoyances — exhaustion and frustration over my health, confusion over not knowing what more I can do to get better, chaos over the month-long period it has taken to simply order supplements, figuring out how to get blood tests, lack of motivation, confusion over my future after this year, and a random assortment of things popping up on my never-ending to-do list. But one thing I’ve noticed in all of these oh-so-enjoyable occurrences is my immediate reaction. It’s like clockwork. First comes annoyance, then comes discouragement. Then come the tears and the pity party I throw for myself.

For example, one night a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse about not feeling well. It felt like my physical health was reverting to its previous state before treatment, and that did not feel good at all. She asked about my diet and if I was eating too much sulfur. That question triggered discouragement and tears. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve been doing everything I was told. I’ve been faithful, what more can I do? I thought. As I battled my cracking voice, I managed to tell her that I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Within the minute, she concluded it wasn’t my diet, but that I’ve been taking too much medicine. This turned out to be excellent news! I can now lower my dose of medication because I don’t need as much.

Not even 15 minutes later, I was on the phone with FedEx trying to arrange a pick-up for my supplements from the doctor to be shipped to Slovenia. And then FedEx broke the news that I need an import license from the Slovene government to be able to receive medication via FedEx. And what was my response? Discouragement and more tears.

This week, I called my mom crying because I thought the US Postal Service stole my Friends DVDs out of the package they shipped to me. (They actually didn’t steal anything, the outside box was just damaged.) In a fit of over-dramatization, I sobbed into the phone, “Why did I ever think STINT was a good idea? Everything just feels so difficult. I’m just so frustrated with the world.” Then I proceeded to laugh at my dramatic, woe-is-me attitude. “I take that back, I know STINT was a good idea.”

In this constant roller coaster of emotion, I’m thankful that God is constant. I’m thankful that He’s in control and that none of these occurrences is a surprise to Him. And I’m thankful that in the midst of this, He’s showed me my sinful heart that idolizes a comfortable and easy life. God has even revealed a truly ugly part of my heart that is bitter toward Him because I’ve felt like He constantly calls me to do difficult things.

Remember how 10 months ago I told you about my fight to find joy in Jesus despite my circumstances? Let’s just say I haven’t mastered that area yet. I think that’s obvious. I regularly have to fight resentment over not getting my way and the attitude of entitlement. My heart still needs the Gospel and God’s grace, and will until I die. But I’m thankful that His grace stretches farther than my sin.

And I’m thankful that God has used these frustrations to cause me to seek Him so He can encourage me again. And I’ve found peace in His words in the New Testament book of Philippians and also encouragement through music.

In Philippians, it is amazing to see Paul’s attitude and faith in the midst of imprisonment. He says that now counts any earthly gain as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He says, “For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul rejoices in suffering because through it, He is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul longs to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and we share in this power when we die to ourselves for the sake Jesus.

(If I could, I would just type out the entire book of Philippians and give you that as a post. Since I’m not going to do that, I encourage you to do that for yourself. God’s words don’t disappoint.)

The Lord has been showing me that though things won’t always go my way (and they normally don’t), I can rejoice — rejoice in knowing that Jesus is shaping my heart to be like His, that He is removing idols from my heart, and that I get to share in the resurrection and power of Jesus because it is causing me to die to myself constantly. I can rejoice because although it feels like chaos and confusion are persistently surrounding me, Jesus is my rock and refuge. I’m not doing this alone. He is stable, and He is peace. When life pokes at me like the little brother, I know that Jesus leads my soul to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. His peace that transcends all understanding is guarding my heart and mind in Him. My future and eternity is secure in Him, because He alone is my living hope and He works all things for my good and His glory. And ultimately, He is sovereign, and He is good. This brings me joy.

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Because God has showed me all this about my heart and about who He is, I’ve been praying that instead of responding with discouragement when things come my way, that I would respond with joy in knowing that Jesus has it under control.

So, I’ll leave you with one final story from today, a story of how God has been transforming this area of my heart. This morning, I went to get bloodwork for my doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. My bloodwork is complicated for labs in the US, so I had no idea what to expect trying to figure out how to do all these tests in Slovenia. I went in for an appointment with a clinic here at 9. I was tired and hungry. (It was a fasting blood test.) After waiting, some discussion with the nurses, and more waiting, I was nearly in tears because I didn’t know if I would actually be able to do the tests. But in those moments, and this time before tears fell, the Lord prompted me to pray and to renew my mind with His words in Philippians. His peace calmed my heart, and my attitude shifted.

Eventually, they sent me to another clinic on the other side of town to get the blood tests. But all went smoothly from there. Praise God that everything worked out. Every little detail. Amazing.

How has God been working in your heart lately? Where have you found encouragement in Him and His words recently?

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Food for Thought

After undergoing treatment for heavy metals these past 10.5 months, my way of thinking about food has drastically changed. I never realized how much diet plays into your overall health, especially foods with sugar, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and preservatives. After all, food was probably the major cause of my metal toxicity. As a result of nearly a year on a sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, low-sulfur, mostly organic and antibiotic/hormone-free diet, I can honestly say that I don’t want to go back to a “normal” diet, especially now that I’m feeling so much better! (You’re probably wondering what on earth I have been eating for the past year. You can view the original diet plan here. Some other foods have been added back in because my food allergies went away!!) And all those who were around me at any point in this process know that I still have a weakness of Kettle Brand potato chips. I don’t think that will ever go away.

But, despite all that God taught (and has been teaching) me spiritually, I’ve also learned how to make wiser decisions in food choices. I’ve learned that fruit and honey are naturally sweet as they are, and I’ve learned that food in the simplest of forms actually tastes best. Who would’ve thought that minimally processing foods would actually bring out more of the simple, natural flavors? And even more, who would’ve thought that this once sugar-and-chocolate-addict would actually prefer homemade desserts without added sugar? Amazing, isn’t it? And I bet some of you are cringing at the idea of not having sugar in desserts, but trust me, with the right ingredients, you can totally do it!

Though I could talk for days about food and what I’ve learned through this process, I decided to spare you all the scientific and technical jargon, get off my soapbox, and actually post my recipes. These recipes are pretty easy, and most of the ingredients can be found at a normal grocery store. (If I’m able to do these recipes in Slovenia, I’m sure you can do this elsewhere!)

Without further ado, here’s my version of Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo, inspired by one of my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Eden.

Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo Sauce
(Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)IMG_3233

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 medium red peppers
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1/8 cup water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil (I used dried, but fresh works, too.)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (fresh ground pepper works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.

2. Cut red peppers in half. Clean out seeds. Place face-down on baking sheet. (I put parchment paper on the baking sheet first.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the peppers begin to turn dark brown on the outside.

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3. Purée cashews, coconut milk, and water in a good blender. (The blender worked better than a food processor for this dish.) Blend until smooth.

4. Add garlic powder, basil, red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Blend thoroughly.

5. Add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth.

6. In medium skillet, pour olive oil and sauté zucchini until golden brown. Pour Alfredo over zucchini and simmer until hot.

Serve with grilled chicken over your favorite pasta! (My favorite is brown rice pasta.)

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Here’s to clean eating! Dober tek!

Farmers Market Juha

I’ve always had a hard time resting well. Until last year, I thought rest meant being a vegetable, relaxing on the couch and watching movies, hanging out with friends, or reading. And I really didn’t understand the concept of spiritual rest or resting in the Lord. At the beginning of last year, during my first year of full-time ministry, I spent the first few Saturdays doing movie marathons. But then, when it came to Sunday, I was still tired, stressed, and worried about the week to come. I didn’t feel mentally, physically, or spiritually rested; I just felt dread over my lack of preparedness for the next week. Thankfully, my good friend and ministry coach pointed that out to me right away. “I don’t think you’re resting well,” she said, concerned about my well-being. When I asked what that really meant, she replied with a question, “What brings you life?” She said that I can glorify God by doing activities that bring me joy and refreshment. So, I asked God to reveal the activities that give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him.

Flash forward to the present. Though I feel like I’ve adjusted to a new city and back into ministry pretty well, especially after a summer of ministry partner development, I’ve realized in the last few days that I haven’t exactly been resting well. And this made me think, What can I do that will give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him? I’ve decided that the things that currently bring rest are having “me” time, taking walks, exploring new places (at my own pace), shopping at outdoor markets (or just grocery shopping in general), budgeting (It’s like a game for me.), exercising, reading books that capture my affection for God, cooking and baking, writing, and spending time with friends in small group settings or one-on-one.

So today, I decided to do a good majority of these things. But rather than giving you a play-by-play of my day so far, I wanted to share a few snippets.

First, I explored a new part of the city, the Saturday Farmers Market. (It really made me miss the Athens farmers market, especially because I just love fall in Athens. And it’s such a happy place.) The Ljubljana Farmers Market is probably about 5x bigger, though. And although it’s a dreary, rainy October day here in Ljubljana, the market was alive with color, live traditional Slovene music (complete with accordions!), and the joyful chatter of fellow food-lovers. In fact, Melissa, one of my friends/teammates who met me there, said, “It’s just so happy here.”

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To get to the market, I had to walk through souvenir vendors with their Ljubljana snow globes, jewelry boxes, hand-painted pottery, clocks, and wooden toys. I was surprised by the number of tourists still in town at this time of year! I then emerged into another part of the market, the “Bio” section. Everything in this area is certified organic and fresh. There were rows of seasonal produce — apples, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini — rows of cheeses, grains, dried meats and salamis. I even found a raw, organic, and vegan stall that sold pumpkin and sunflower seed crackers. (I splurged and bought some, of course!)

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On the other side of “Bio,” my nose led me through what I call the “Alley of Flowers.” The fresh scents, as well as the pinks, purples, and reds, brought a smile to my face. They illuminated the gray day. Not to mention, those who were selling the flowers constantly greeted me with a friendly “Dober dan” or “Dan,” which means “good day” or “hello” in Slovene.

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At the opposite end of the Alley of Flowers, I came upon the conventionally grown produce, the biggest part of the market. It takes up the entire square. There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of apples, apple cider, pumpkins, peppers, lettuces, grapes, pears, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and much more. Best purchase of the day: a kilo of green beans for €1 from a sweet, elderly female farmer with a warm smile.

I finished my time by swinging through the grains and baked goods, and then through the fish and meat markets. (For you Pittsburghers, the fish market is a lot like Wholey’s in the Strip, especially the smell! Mmm mmm.)

After two hours of meandering through the markets, I lugged my multiple kilos of goodies back to my flat, in the rain. I was cold and my feet were soaked. I decided the best remedy was to make potato soup. But potato soup quickly turned into, “let’s throw all my veggies in and see what it tastes like” soup. (The recipe is below.) And let me tell you, that soup was good for my soul. So delicious!

I’m so thankful for a day to rest and be refreshed. (It’s not even over yet!) And I’m thankful that I serve a God who wants me to rest from my work and also provides rest in Him.

So let me ask you, what brings you rest, joy and refreshment? Have you taken time to do that lately?

Recipe: Farmers Market Juha (Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: About 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes about 5 servings.

Ingredients:

7 small potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (halved)
2 medium green peppers (diced)
1/2 small cabbage (chopped)
1 large carrot (peeled and shredded)
1 medium zucchini (shredded)
1 cup of fresh green beans (chopped)
1/2 cup millet (or rice)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, curry, garlic powder, coriander

1. In a large pot, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat on medium. Sauté the potatoes for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the potatoes start browning, add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and stir.

2. Add the cabbage, beans, carrot, zucchini, green peppers, and tomatoes. Stir. Turn heat down to medium-low. (You want the veggies to cook down but not get too soft.)

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3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. (Fresh cracked pepper tastes better, in my opinion.) Add 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of coriander. Stir thoroughly. (For a very low-sulfur diet, omit the curry, garlic, and coriander. Rosemary is a great alternative.)

4. Allow mixture to cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (Add salt and pepper to taste.)

5. Add 1/2 cup of millet or rice. (Brown rice will take longer to cook.) Adding millet or rice will thicken the soup because it absorbs a lot of moisture. If you like your soup thinner, you may need to add a little water.

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Serve hot. And enjoy!

Homecoming to Ljubljana

It’s hard to believe that I first arrived in my beautiful new home of Ljubljana, Slovenia already 15 days ago. It’s also hard for me to articulate all the emotions I experienced or even to capture all the things I’ve already seen or done. But I’ll at least try to give you an idea. Let’s flash back a few weeks to the day I was supposed to leave.

Thursday, September 12 was an odd day emotionally. That morning, I finished packing last-minute items in my two, 50-pound suitcases, loaded up the car, said “bye” to my Aunt Michelle, and made the drive with my parents to the airport. I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, anxiety. The day for which I had been preparing for the past four months (or four years if you want to get technical) had finally arrived.

At the airport, I met one of my teammates Hilary (pictured below). After checking in our bags, we said our tearful goodbyes to our parents, which I must say was hard, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hug them until April of next year. (I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. *Wipes away tears*). And as usual, Mom and Dad waited to leave until I waved once through security.

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

But at this point, Hilary and I were ready for the long day of travel to finally get to a place we’d only heard about for years. The outpour of prayers, love, encouragement, and support on Facebook, Instagram, and through text messages was incredible.

We found our gate, and shortly after heard the news that our flight to Newark was delayed. First for an hour. Then for two hours. There was a groundstop in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Washington Dulles because of an approaching storm. We were back and forth on the phone with our teammates, who were waiting for us in Newark, and our location director, trying to figure out what to do.

Eventually, we boarded the plane (three hours after we were supposed to have taken off). But we didn’t go anywhere. We taxied on the runway for more than an hour waiting for the OK to take off. That OK never came. Eventually, we went back to the terminal. At this point, our other teammates were boarded on our flight to Munich.

I was confused. Frustrated. I was upset with God. So many people are praying for us, why won’t You let us go? But God reminded me that this wasn’t a surprise to Him. It’s obvious He didn’t want us on that plane, just based on the fact that so many people were praying, and it still didn’t happen.

We scrambled to find other flights out that night. But nothing happened. Lloyd, an airport employee, was working with us to try and book flights for us. When he went into the computer, flight itineraries were booked for us for the next day. We got the last seats on the flight to Dulles, then to Munich. I still don’t know who booked the tickets, or how we got the last seats. But I do know the Lord provided in this way for us. And in the midst of everything, I still had deep-seated peace knowing that God always does what is best for me and what brings Him the most glory. Though I didn’t understand, I knew Hilary and I would be OK.

After 9 hours in the airport, my mom picked Hilary and me up from the airport and took us to a hotel, where Hilary and I spent the night. I was so nice getting to spend another few hours with my mom and getting to hug her again, especially after the day we had. I’m so thankful for that.

The next day, we gave it another go. This time went a little more smoothly. When we finally made it to Munich on Saturday morning, the rest of the team greeted us with smiles and hugs, which were very much needed on our end. There was overall a sense of relief when we got there. And the drive from Munich to Ljubljana was breathtaking, which helped a lot, too. What an awesome reminder of God and His creation!

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life in the city, learning how the buses work and our way around the grocery stores, preparing as team for our start on campus, catching on to some Slovene words, and figuring out how to work the washing machine and dishwasher in our apartment, just to name a few things.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana!

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the fun has been exploring Ljubljana and some nearby villages. Last weekend, as a team we hiked through one of Slovenia’s national parks and spent the night at the weekend home of Uroš (oo-rōsh), one of the student volunteers in our campus ministry Vsak Študent.

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John. Photo by Uroš

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Did I mention how beautiful this country is? Because it is.

I’m just constantly amazed at how the Lord has provided in the last few weeks, and throughout the last year to bring me here. It’s incredible to think of all the little ways He has made this year possible — physical healing, prayer and financial partners to send me, food that I can eat here (including rice milk gelato!!), and encouraging teammates, who are also a lot of fun!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

I’ve also been blessed to see some of fruit that God is producing in the ministry in Ljubljana. (In my next post later this week, I’ll share more about the spiritual climate in Ljubljana and share stories about some of the students I’ve met.)

P.S. To follow our ministry in Ljubljana and what our team is doing, check out our blog, Sent To Slovenia.

Transitions and an Unchanging God

Transition and change are in my job description, at least as a follower of Christ. At any moment, He could call me elsewhere, and when He does I need to be ready for that.

It seems like I’ve been through a lot of transitions in the past year and a half — with writing a thesis, graduating, watching my friends get married, raising funds for my intern and now STINT years in fulltime ministry, walking through physical and spiritual healing. And now, my latest transitions, leaving my home of the last 13 years (My parents are downsizing, and I’m so thrilled for them!!) and moving overseas to Ljubljana, Slovenia, a country I’ve only seen in pictures. It’s hard to think I won’t be coming back to my old room, but I know for sure that this is best.

The Lord started giving me the desire as a freshman to spend a year on STINT sharing the Gospel abroad to those who have never heard. And the day has finally arrived. What seems like years of preparation and prayer are finally happening… TODAY!

My Room at HomeMy Life is in 3 bags!

A few weeks ago, I began to dread today — dread in leaving my family, friends, home, my familiarity. It was a bitter feeling, and I was actually mad at God for calling me to do something hard. Wow, what a bad attitude in my heart. Those attitudes of entitlement that I’ve been dealing with the past year, came flooding right back. In that moment, though, God reminded me that He has called me to this, not for me, but for His glory. It’s because He’s gracious to me that this will be hard. I know that He is present and working in my life because He’s led me to something that will cause me to trust in and solely rely on Him. That’s how much He’s cares about me. He cares about us so much to leave us unchanged. Sanctification is a privilege and it’s by His grace that He doesn’t leave us where we are. This year will be hard, but this year will be so so good for me.

Since then, God has replaced those feelings of dread with feelings of excitement and His peace. I’m so confident that the Lord is going to do an amazing work in Slovenia, in the lives of my team, and in my own heart.

One song that has been really relevant lately is All Sons & Daughters’ “Called Me Higher.” You can listen to it here. But one line sticks out in particular, “I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home, Never let these walls down.” When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He says we will have trouble, but He promises it will be worth it because we get to experience Him and He transforms us to be like Him.

A dear friend reminded me of this truth last week, that though the nature of our jobs is constantly changing, our God is constant and unchanging. She said, “I’m so thankful that God is unchanging and constant… and no matter where He takes you and who you’re working alongside, He is the same and is faithful.” What a comfort to know, that because of Jesus, God’s love for those who are in Him is unconditional, constant, and unchanging.

So as I get ready for this new transition, I leave you with James 1:17-18 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

Michael and Me, Our last family dinner before they visit in Slovenia!

Hilary and Me flying out of the Burgh