Monday, July 28, 2014

Trust in the Lord of the Journey

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally, impatient in
everything to reach the end
without delay.

We should like to skip 
the intermediate stages;
we are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually -- 
let them grow.
Let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that His hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete. 

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ma Vie d'Amour

I was dating this one guy and it didn’t work out. . . and then I got a crush on this other guy but that didn’t work out, either . . . but man oh man, would you look at me now!


Summer 2013, ESL Registration night, 6:30 p.m.: A group of five swaggering, laughing Iraqi 20somethings takes the English placement test. Three go to higher-level classes; two are put in Level 1, the class I teach. My co-teacher and I spend the semester alternately admiring our two students’ incredibly stylish, not-bought-in-America wardrobe and lamenting their lack of consistent attendance and concentration the days they are there. Three weeks into the semester, they both drop out, presumably to do better things with their time. Their Level 4-5-6 friends stay on throughout most of the semester, and we exchange pleasantries in the hallway for the rest of the term. That fall, none of them return to class.

Fast-forward to a Saturday night a year later. I’m at a Middle Eastern cafĂ© in Raleigh with some friends, sitting at an outdoor table on the crowded patio, sipping cardamom tea and savoring a piece of delicious knafeh. I keep thinking the guy’s face at the table next to mine looks awfully familiar, but it takes another hour before I can place him: the Level 4 student from last year whose friends were in my class. Before I leave, I go over to say hello and ask about my old students (apparently they got married). We talk for a few minutes (a bit stilted: Level 4 is conversational but not natural), exchange telephone numbers (ostensibly so he could find out about the next ESL registration dates) and say good night.

Monday night my phone rings:

“Hello! This is L. How are you?”
“Oh, hi. I’m ok. How are you?”
“Good, good. What are you doing?”
“I’m about to go to bed. What are you doing?”
“Going to work.”
“I’m sorry. Are you celebrating Ramadan this year?”
“Oh! You know Ramadan?!”
“Yes, I know many people who keep it.”
“Oh! Excellent. Jaimie, I have question for you. But I am shy.”


“Do you have boyfriend?”

(Silence. Thought composition.)

“Well, I don’t have a boyfriend, but there is this guy I’ve gone on some dates with . . . ”
“No boyfriend?”
“Not . . . really . . . ”
“I am looking for serious. I want marry. I like you. I want wife.” (Well, at least he doesn't beat around the bush.) 
“But you don’t know me. I don’t know you."
“But I saw you last year in school. You are good. I am good.”
“Oh. Well . . . um . . . I don’t think I want to get married this year. Also, I’m not Muslim.”
“No Muslim, no problem! Last week I talked to my mother. She said, I want American wife, no problem. Christian OK.”
“Um . . . ”

Luckily, he had to go to work then, so our conversation was cut short. Perhaps it will be postponed indefinitely.


All of my students have my phone number so they can call if they’re going to be late or absent. Last Thursday I talk with Jose, a 26-year old from Honduras.

“Teacher, I sorry, I working a lot. No class tonight.”
“That’s OK. I’ll see you Monday. Good night!”
“Wait, teacher!” (switch to Spanish) “What are you doing on Friday night?”


“I have plans.”
“And Saturday?”
“I'm sorry, Jose, we are not going to go on a date. I’ll see you on Monday." 

He calls again on Saturday.

“What are you doing?”
“About to go out with some friends.”
“Oh, OK. You like dancing?”
“I haven’t gone out dancing in four or five years . . . ”
“Let's go!”
“Sorry. . . ”

Next time he calls, I guess I just shouldn’t pick up the phone.


Would I really write something serious?!

Friday, June 6, 2014

How I'm Not Going to Go Crazy This Summer

1. Uber-organization
2. Amazing friends.

One of my students—a 25-year old from Jordan—works from 8:00-5:00, comes to my ESL class from 6:30-9:30, then goes to a different job from 10:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m. Not every day, but enough days during the week that he's half-exhausted while he's in class. He says he gets by by drinking lots of coffee. Thank God, my life is nowhere near that hectic. I'm still sleeping eight hours a night.

This summer, though, I do have a lot going on. Since my usual teaching partner at Wake Tech got married and moved away, I've been asked to take her place for the summer. This means that instead of teaching two nights a week I’m up to four, in addition to my regular 9:00-5:00, where I'm teaching a few classes, too.

Needless to say, this is great for my bank account, but not so much for my social life. All of my students are easy-going and eager to learn, characteristics that make going to class fun, but I'm still not a big fan of leaving my house at 8:30 in the morning and not returning until 10:00 at night four days a week. I'm missing out on Monday night Mystagogy class, Wednesday night meditation, and Thursday night live music in the park all summer, not to mention adequate time hanging out with my friends or opportunities to go on romantic dates with the hoards of men who are after me (ha very ha). I'm reminded of the years going through grad school while working full-time: what seemed an endless cycle of work-class-homework-study-sleep.

But I made it then and I'll make it now. I've got a good rhythm going on: yoga in the morning, yoga at night, running or walking in the afternoon, a ton of work in between--and friends who give me all their love and support.  

I've been blessed beyond measure to have understanding friends who work around my awkward schedule just so we can spend some time together. Whether it's meeting at lunchtime or after work to have a picnic in the park, bringing dinner to my office at 5:00 (leaving their own job early just so they can get here on time!), or getting together to catch up in my brief hour between jobs, my friends have shown me that they are some amazing people. For this and so much more I am grateful. 

On top of this, I've got one big(gish) vacation planned every month of the summer to balance out my work load: a weekend in the mountains, another weekend in Beaufort, and a third at the Outer Banks. There's a lot to look forward to.

So, to what shall I credit my lack of insanity this summer? Good friends, a good schedule, and a lot of yoga. Oh yeah, and sometimes a glass of wine. 

Until next time . . . 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mix Tape for Joanna: August 2000

My freshman roommate in college was this girl named Joanna, a very normal girl who wasn't exactly sure what to do with me, the one who dyed her short hair blue and wore Chuck Taylors. Before we met face-to-face, I made her a mix tape so she'd know what kind of music I liked; soon after we started rooming together, she returned it to me with pursed lips and a terse, "Thanks, but it's not my style."


1. Heather Nova: London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)
2. Remy Zero: Gramarye
3. Screeching Weasel: Cool Kids
4. Paula Cole: Saturn Girl
5. Dave McCants: Psalm 27
6. Linda Ronstadt: Adonde Voy
7. Jewel: Life Uncommon
8. Mike Scott: Bring 'em All In
9. All Star United: Thank You, Goodnight
10. Smashing Pumpkins: To Sheila
11. Tabitha Fair: Psalm 24
12. Frifot: Stars/The Glutton

1. O.C. Supertones: Supertones
2. Insyderz: Awesome God
3. Belly: Judas My Heart
4. Supercalifragilisticexpialidotious
5. MXPX: Do Your Feet Hurt?
6. Des'ree: Kissing You
7. Ani DiFranco: 32 Flavors
8. Jewel: Gloria
9. Waterdeep: Holy
10. Five Iron Frenzy: Handbook for the Sellout
11. 7 Seconds: 99 Red Balloons
12. Tori Amos: Pretty Good Year
13. Nada Surf: Popular

What I want to know is, how could she not appreciate all that sweet Christian ska mixed in with punk rock and 90s alternative music? I mean, what is there possibly not to like?

Last week I borrowed a tape player from work so I could go through this tape and a stack of others to decide if any of them are worth salvaging (i.e. buying digital copies of).

Man, I sure hope I get a lot of iTunes gift cards for my birthday . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Of Love, Ice Cream, and Dim Sum: Notes from New York

I had originally planned to visit my friends in New York back in February, but after six hours of waiting in the airport, on and off the airplane twice, my flight was canceled and my money returned. I was so afraid of being massively disappointed again that I didn't let myself get too excited about planning the next trip. I half-expected that flight to get canceled as well; happily, it didn't.

During my first New York trip in 2010, I was able to check a lot of tourist attractions off my list: seeing the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial, museums, museums, museums. I had a fantastic time, but I was intimidated by the big city and never quite felt like I got out of the tourist bubble. I still don't think I could live there, but I know I am much more confident about visiting the big city now than I used to be (what with having navigated Tokyo and all). The only things I really wanted to do this go-round was eat, shop, and walk around. And that's what we did.  

I arrived at LaGuardia Airport at 8:30 on Thursday morning, took a taxi to Casey's apartment in Harlem, and we immediately began our day. By 2:00, when I went to visit another friend in Midtown Manhattan, I had already savored the cream cheese and lox bagel I had long been anticipating, taken a stroll through Central Park in the gray mist, wandered happily through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and walked 33 blocks down 5th Avenue.

(View from Central Park)

I've been watching a lot of 30 Rock on Netflix recently and wanted to see where the opening sequence was filmed. Michael took me to Rockefeller Plaza (just a few blocks from his office) and waited patiently for me to take pictures of the flags, the statue, the buildings, and anything else I deemed photo-worthy. Later, we ate burgers (go figure) at Bill's Bar and Burger, had high-class coffee at a high-class coffee shop, and nibbled on champagne truffles from a fancy chocolatier. 

New York reminds me of Japan, or maybe it's just that I can go to places in New York that I have never visited outside of Japan, like Uniqlo or Muji  I felt so excited to visit these stores again after almost two years without them. Thanks to Michael and Casey for their patience as I exclaimed over each individual item and took pictures of racks of white dishes with the same gusto I had when taking pictures of Chagall paintings. (I'm pretty confident that I took more pictures in Muji than I did at the MOMA.) It just thrills me to be able to experience those Japan-moments this side of the Pacific.

Continuing with the Japanese, Casey took me to a ramen shop for lunch on Friday, where the owners shouted a firm "arigatou gozaimashita!" after we ate, and to Chinatown for dinner on Saturday, where I ate more plates of dim sum than was healthy. But I definitely got my fill of the food I was looking for. I had also been hankering for a hot deli sandwich (there's something about having delis on every corner that I find endearing) and was able to get one for lunch.

The rest of my time in New York was spent wandering around Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn (eating ice cream and helping Argentinean tourists understand the menu), shopping at Goodwill, drinking whiskey at a pretentious whiskey bar, and hanging out with some of Casey's beautiful friends at Eataly on 5th Avenue.

The one downside to my trip was deciding to reconnect with an old acquaintance for the first time in four years: he kept me out bar-hopping with his friends until 4:00 a.m. Drunk folk trying to dance in a loud bar with bad music aren't all that fun to be around even when I've been drinking, too; I hardly drank at all that night and was ready to go home by twelve. I was struck by the loneliness that I saw: one guy (who introduced himself to me twice in his drunken stupor) told me he had just moved to Brooklyn from California and went out by himself at night trying to meet people. He made me sad.

I appreciate having awesome friends who live in awesome places, who can show me around the city from an insider's point of view. I enjoyed this trip a lot because even though I was carrying around a mental to-do list of places to go and things to see, it still felt relaxed. Maybe that's because I put more emphasis on hanging out with my friends than actually doing stuff. Like they say, it's not where you are but who you're with. Lots of love. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Last Day of Lent. Confirmation Tomorrow.

There has never been a time in my history when Easter has meant so much to me. I've usually greeted Lent (the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday) in years past with either apathy ("I'm not Catholic so I don't care about it") or half-heartedness ("I'll try to give up X and we'll see if I can actually do it or not . . . "). But this year, knowing that Confirmation, Eucharist, and new life await me on Easter Sunday, I jumped into Lent with both feet: Mass every Sunday, RCIA class every Monday, daily readings, morning prayer, evening prayer, etc. etc. etc. And here it is, six and a half weeks later . . . . and Lent is over. Tomorrow is Easter Day.

I asked myself in early March how I was going to be different after celebrating Lent. Spending so much time in silence, meditating, reading, or simply feeling stuck in my head, have definitely helped me come nearer to God. I even had a few epiphanies along the way--most of them along the lines of, "You are not the only person who ever suffers, you know. Try listening to other people more."

The one thing that I didn't really expect to feel--but that may not be all that surprising--was something akin to exhaustion. Towards the end of Lent, I started feeling so sick of being contemplative, sick of thinking about penitential things, sick almost to the point of resentment. I'd look at the stack of things I was "supposed" to read for the day (self-assigned, of course; no one told me to read them), and feel like giving up.

I don't think it's just me who felt this way, though. A few weeks ago, I was having a similar conversation with one of my friends from RCIA. She, too, gives herself a checklist of things to do to be more spiritual: "Before you go to work today, go take a walk in the woods, meditate, come back, do some yoga, and read the Bible." Those are healthy things. But she--like me--tends to view them at times as things to get through instead of things to enjoy, and that's when they lose their meaning.

I don't want to feel obligated to seek God; I want to seek God because my heart compels me to. Sometimes I set the bar so high for myself that I can't do it all. But that way leads to despair. I have come to the conclusion that it is just as authentic and valid--and maybe even more so?--to approach God with empty hands and an open heart. Like our Psalmist friend wrote, "You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it . . . " (Psalm 51:17) God would rather see our authentic selves. So I think my struggle to do the right thing should involve more sitting in silence and less frenzied labor.

This is not to say I feel my time spent in prayer, fasting, and charity was spent in vain. Far from it. I have been blessed beyond imagining. Lent is a glorious time for self-analysis, -reflection, -discipline, and -denial. And honestly, I've been too excited thinking about Easter Sunday to really be properly sad during Holy Week. I am immensely grateful for the experience of Lent and for this time of preparation leading up to Easter Day.

Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. I'll be officially accepted into the Catholic Church. I'll be confirmed and take my first Holy Communion (time to edit this one, huh). I am also thrilled beyond belief that even though none of my family lives nearby, six--count 'em, SIX--of my good friends in Raleigh are coming to the service to cheer me on! It makes me so happy to feel such tangible support from them. (I appreciate everyone else's love from afar, too!) It's been an exciting journey, and tomorrow is just the beginning. Feliz Pascua!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I'm Becoming a Catholic

(without any theology)

Nope, not because of my previous post. I said Catholic, not a nun. And not because Jenny is, because even though my sis has been after me to convert for the past umpteen years -- well, nine -- I've never given it a serious thought until recently. These kinds of decisions you have to make on your own.

It's been a long, arduous struggle for me these past few years. Spiritually-religiously, I mean. Back in 2009, I kind of lost everything I'd grown up with and it took until late 2012 to even think about wanting to find it again.

But once I got started, it came in earnest. I finally understood what the Psalmist meant when he wrote as the deer thirsts for water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God. I was thirsty like I'd never been before. Like I never knew I could be. Like I never knew anyone could be, for real. But I was.

It was a search for Something Real. Neither the superficial God loves you nor the intense God hates you theologies resonated with me. I wanted the Real Deal. I wanted Experience and Assurance.

This is the time when I was devouring all kinds of religious texts, discussing matters of life/death/salvation with anyone who would listen, meeting with my pastor outside of church, reading encyclopedia articles of World Religions, and anything else I could do to soak up answers to all the questions I had. And of course, meditating and praying, even though for a while there my prayers started off something like, "God, I don't know Who You are or What You are, or even if You're there and listening to me . . ." But I still prayed, and got closer and closer to what I was searching for.

Funny, though, how even though I was becoming more Connected to Divine Love (to use Doug Hammack's terminology), I still felt like something was missing. I wanted a meal that would satisfy my insatiable spiritual hunger, but I was only being offered snacks (do you like this church-as-restaurant analogy? Yeah.). I was out of the Pit I had been in for years, but I was just standing there on the edge of it, unmoving. I wasn't going anywhere. I had faith, I had light. But I lacked something deeper. I lacked substance.

You know who has a monopoly on substantial Christian theology?


So, finally, this past December, I decided that I'd do it. To give Jenny the credit due her, she was the one who nudged me to take the first step of emailing the person I'd have to talk to in order to enroll in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes at the Franciscan church near my house. Who knows how long I would have sat around complaining if she hadn't looked it up for me.

As soon as the priest opened my first class sitting in a chair in front of our group, closing his eyes and telling us to "breathe deeply and get in touch with your soul," before launching into an explanation of the changes of Vatican II, I knew I was in the right place. Here, the contemplative meets the common. Every class is full not of abstract, dull teaching, but practical, spirit-filled wisdom. I can't get enough.

So now I'm an official candidate for full communion in the Catholic church. Last Saturday was the official Rite of Presentation -- a beautiful experience where I received the sign of the Cross over all of me ("your eyes, that you would see goodness....your ears, that you would receive truth....your hands, that you would do good works...") and stated my intention in front of everyone. I'm planning on joining officially at Easter.

I don't think the Catholic church has all the answers. And I still have unanswered questions about Christianity in general. But I am satisfied that I am doing the right thing. It has been a long, hard journey to make this decision, but now that it's mine, I own it completely and feel very peaceful about it. I wonder where else it will take me . . .

[God said]: I will lead the blind on their journey; 
by paths unknown I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight.
These things I do for them,
and I will not forsake them.

-Isaiah 42:16