The Thing About Fear

God delivered me an “aha!” moment this week. I’m still wrestling with it, so excuse any incoherence as I write and process these thoughts.

I’ve been struggling with fear this past year more than usual. Maybe it’s because I now have a baby, a little piece of my heart wandering around that I can’t always vigilantly protect. I began reading Unafraid by Susan Davis, and last April I wrote the following in my journal in response to a question she posed in the book, “…if you could honestly answer Jesus’s questions — Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith in me? — what would you say?”

I would answer this: I have faith that you are my savior. I have faith that you are the Son of God, that you came to live and die on this earth. I have faith in the resurrection. I believe you are who you say you are. I believe in your word and your promises. But the thing is, you don’t promise me that there won’t be trouble in this life. In fact, you state the complete opposite. There will most definitely be trouble. I feel that I have been spared a lot of terrible things in my life. No one close to me has a terminal illness, and death isn’t a frequent visitor. I’m healthy, educated, and happily married. And yet, I see all the atrocities that believers suffer. And I know no one escapes trouble. My unborn son was taken from me. That was the most tragic thing I have suffered. And suffered, I did. I still do. That’s why I’m afraid. Because pain is painful. It hurts. And there is no escape, save dying and enjoying eternal life with Jesus. But if I’m not supposed to be afraid, then it would seem that I am missing the bigger picture. The knowledge of worldly pain doesn’t go away. There must be something that overshadows that pain and makes it seem trivial in the light of something bigger. That’s what I struggle with. I can’t come to grips with that bigger thing and let it properly overshadow my fears.

Then, the other day, I unexpectedly got my answer as to what that bigger thing is. (drumroll….)

Grace.

A Sunday School answer, right? Okay, but wait and hear me out. Maybe more to the point, God revealed something powerful about the nature of my fears.

This is the quote that got my gears turning: “There is no grace for your imagination.” Upon hearing that, my immediate response was to reject it. God’s grace is infinite and abundantly poured out, so how can we say it doesn’t touch one area of our lives, namely, our imaginations? In the minutes following as the speaker further clarified her meaning, I saw the truth of it. From the time I was little, I would imagine terrible things happening to me or to the people I loved. I would wonder if my mom would die, and if she did, how would I respond? How would my life be changed? How heavy would that grief feel? I can come up with wild scenarios for how tragedy could touch my life, and it doesn’t take too much creativity, given that I hear about people around the globe suffering in so many ways. There is no grace for these imagined scenarios because I don’t need grace for them. They’re not real! When trouble does come my way, God’s grace will be sufficient for whatever I may face. I believe that because He tells us it’s true (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’m still battling my fears, and I’d be naive to think that I no longer have to keep my guard up against letting them creep in and control my thoughts, but this idea gives me so much freedom and a wonderful lightness. I believe with every fiber of my being that God will always provide for me and give me the grace I need, moment to moment, therefore I can let go of my fear and worry for things that I’ve only imagined. Praise God!

Unexpected End

2016 ended with a bang. And a scream. I closed my baby girl’s pinky finger in our bathroom’s door jamb last night. It was horrifying. She cried and cried, of course, and I cried and cried, of course. I called the pediatrician on-call to find out if I should take her to the ER. They advised that there was no need.

I’m so thankful to God that her finger isn’t broken. I’m so thankful to God that it wasn’t all of her fingers stuck in that door like I originally thought. So in a very unexpected way, I’m entering 2017 with a very thankful heart. God protects us from woes and close calls every day. I belong to Him, and so does my baby girl. He watches over us and loves us in a very active, fatherly way.

A Mist

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

–James 4:14

 
This truth is either disconcerting or incredibly freeing. Consider that we’re only on earth for a short time. With that lens in mind, reconsider your fears and anxieties, place them in the care of Christ, and watch them fade.

The Story of My Life

A California Sunrise - The Story of My Life on http://sentimentandspice.com

California Sunrise

Now that I’ve written the title of today’s post, I have that song running through my head. You too? You’re welcome, or I’m sorry–however you want to look at it. Today I’m going to tell you about my life. I’m hopeful that it will give you a sense of the writer behind the writing.

I think my life is pretty great, and I have memories of a happy childhood. I experienced just enough bumps and bruises during my 27 years of existence to make things interesting. My roots are firmly planted in the South, but my branches reach far and wide. My mom is a dear friend, my father a dedicated and hard worker, and my brother a confidant. When I think of my life, I see pictures of light and laughter, and episodes of anything less were generally self-inflicted. I have a huge capacity for joy.

I lived out my first 22 years in Knoxville, Tennessee. Growing up, I was known as the teacher’s pet, and collecting A’s in school was my forte. My friends love to tease me about a video taken during my 3rd grade year in which I proudly stated that one of my favorite activities was “making stories on the computer.” I loved writing even then. My mother believed that I would grow up to become a novelist. At the age of five, I won a story contest for a tale about two elderly folks and their magic garden (are you impressed yet?). My five-year-old imagination knew no limit. I was also five when I met Jesus. He has been my Savior, King, and best friend ever since.

As a child, music moved me. My father owns an extensive record collection, and I danced around our tri-level’s basement to his Bob Seger and Beach Boys selections. My dancing style mostly consisted of twirling about in circles. Wanting to add to my small repertoire of dance moves, I declared that I needed to take dance classes. My parents acquiesced, but the monotonous “tap, ball-change” and “plié, straighten” instructions from my tap and ballet teacher were not quite what I had anticipated. I persisted and found my niche in jazz, so dance became part of my life. Years later I would find myself teaching preschool ballet classes to pay for my dance class addiction and accepting the position of captain on my high school’s dance team. I suffered through my fair share of sprained ankles and damaged knee cartilage, but the thrill of performing was well worth it.

I found another identity as a flute player. When I started middle school, I joined the band. It seemed only natural that I would do so since my mother had been a clarinet player, and my brother played saxophone. This decision impacted my life dramatically. Not only did it ingrain my love of all things musical, but it also put my life on course to intersect with people who would become my most cherished friends. Lindsey moved to Knoxville from Washington DC for the start of our 8th grade year. Like me, she was a flute player. Lindsey sat beside me in band class, and our clarinet counterparts, Leslie and Brittany, sat across the arc. In jest, Leslie and Brittany used to tease that as flute players, Lindsey and I thought of ourselves as “all that and a bag of chips.” For years, and even to this day, those girls were my sisters, my security, and my partners in crime. On my wedding day, Leslie handed me a bag of Lays with the famous chips quote scrawled in Sharpie on the front. We laughed just like always.

I wandered through college discontent because I couldn’t find a path to spark my passion. I pursued an engineering degree because, in all honesty, I found it to be easy. I graduated and moved to Alabama for a job with the Department of Defense. I decided that if a fulfilling engineering job existed, it must be this one because I do care deeply about my country and our military troops. My job did prove rewarding but not in the ways I expected. During my three years in that job, I travelled the country. I watched the sun rise from a mountain peak in California, clambered over lava rocks in Hawaii, gambled my first dollar in Colorado, toured Harvard’s scholarly yard in Massachusetts, cheered the Braves at a baseball game in Georgia, and met the love of my life in Washington D.C.

When I first laid eyes on Josh, I assumed he was too good to be true. He was a self-declared Jesus lover and artist, and he was more than just a little good-looking. I let myself dream before dismissing the hope. This first encounter with Josh was actually a review of his online profile. He lived in D.C. while I still called Alabama home. We e-mailed back and forth, and miraculously, my job sent me to D.C.–multiple times! During the fall of 2010, we went through a most non-traditional dating whirlwind that consisted of airports, Skype, and many phone calls. We were engaged before the new year started and married the following July. Josh is many things and fills multiple roles, but most importantly, he is my friend. I packed up my apartment in Alabama and moved to D.C. where we started our life together.

I finished my M.B.A. degree in 2012, thankful that I no longer needed to juggle work, school, and my social calendar. In 2013, we moved to Abu Dhabi where Josh now works as an elementary school teacher. I no longer call myself an engineer, and I’m okay with that. Instead, I employ more of my business skills by working for a non-profit in the U.S. My longing for adventure and a healthy dose of change has been sufficiently fulfilled as I find myself a world away from home and family. I’m still finding my place here, but I’ve learned a great deal about myself. This summer we will move back to U.S. to begin the next chapter in our lives. Although there are many chapters in the past, I still feel as though my story is just beginning.

What’s in a Name?

What's in a Name? {www.sentimentandspice.com}

When I started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. That’s mostly still true. At the time, I was packing boxes to move to a new country, and I wanted a way to document our travels. I’ve used this blog for that purpose, but I didn’t want to limit the scope of my writing with a country or travel specific blog title.

The name “Sentiment and Spice” came about after a week of thoughtful consideration. “Sentiment” is a sophisticated way of saying “the thoughts bouncing around in my head” while “spice” gives a gentle nod to food and cooking, but I also knew I could lean on a reference to “the spice of life” if my writing never took a culinary turn. How’s that for an ultra non-committal name?

There is a lot of discussion in the blogosphere on whether to niche or not to niche. I’m going with the latter, for now, because it gives me the room to work and create and make a mess of things (or even turn nouns into verbs if I please). I believe “Sentiment and Spice” grants me that breathing room.

What's in a Name? {www.sentimentandspice.com]

At the same time, I want to communicate some expectations for my writing. The “sentiment” piece is here to stay. You’ll be seeing my take on emotions, learning, Jesus, relationships, and daily living, but I also want to become more intentional about the “spice” part. I’m not planning to turn this into a food blog or create a repository of recipes. There are hundreds upon thousands of sites like that, and I’m not going to begin focusing my energies on recipe development or stellar food photography. Instead, I’d like to talk to you about food. I’d like to discuss nutrition, and kitchen skills, the craft of cooking, the messes, the mistakes, and only the occasional recipe.

As I write, I’m expecting to learn about my views, my weaknesses, my strengths, and I’m hoping to learn a thing or two about you, the readers. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Living in Abu Dhabi: The Good, The Bad, The Same, and The Beautiful

One of my very best friends moved to another country a month ago. I try to picture her in a new place surrounded by unfamiliar things and new people. When I think of her, I try to picture certain aspects of her life. I imagine what her living space looks like, and I wonder how she gets around her new city. I think about whether dining out resembles anything like restaurant experiences in the U.S. I wish I could hear what she hears and see what she sees when she steps out of her front door, and I’d like to know if she feels that things are all that different from the American life that she left behind.

Living in Abu Dhabi, I want to answer those questions for my future self as I look back to remember our time here and for my friends and family, most of who will never see the spot I called home for two years. It’s easy to write about our trips and weekend events, but really, daily life here (or anywhere, I would imagine) is a string of pretty ordinary moments. 

The Good: A sketch of home.

Our apartment is beautiful and luxurious, something we would have never selected on our own budget. Housing is included in Josh’s compensation package, so we spend lots of time being thankful for our home. The floors are marble, the modern cabinets are white and glossy, and windows stretch from floor to ceiling in the living area and bedroom. Our balcony, twenty floors above ground, is a nightmare to keep clean due to all the dust and sand carried in by the wind. (Every once and a while someone asks if they can jump off of it. Luckily, no one died, but I did have a mild panic attack; I’ll write all about that story soon.)

Despite these luxuries, we own no dishwasher or clothes dryer, so drying racks sit as semi-permanent fixtures. We do own a dehumidifier lovingly named R2 (short for R2-D2) who keeps us comfortable in the humid gulf weather. Our apartment isn’t equipped with a heater, only an air conditioner, since January temperatures don’t dip below 60 degrees. I brought over a few small pictures of my mom, my dad, my brother, and a picture from my wedding day which are displayed on our shelves. The apartment is furnished comfortably but a bit sparsely for my taste–we didn’t want to acquire too much stuff during our two year stint. Lamps, rugs and curtains would give it that homey quality, but nonetheless I enjoy being in our home.

The Bad: Taxi Stress

I travel the city by taxi. Taxis are everywhere, and it never takes long to find one. When I first moved here, I was nervous to ride in taxis by myself since I wasn’t at all familiar with the city. One taxi driver, also brand new to the city, drove me around aimlessly for five minutes calling his colleagues for the route to my destination. Unsuccessful, he abandoned me on the sidewalk to wait for the next taxi. GPS is never used by the drivers, despite the fact that there is one installed in every car. On top of the hit-or-miss knowledge of the city, the drivers’ english vocabulary is often limited (which I’m sure creates stress for the driver too). I learned the hard way that “light” may mean nothing, whereas “signal” is the understood word that means the thing with the red, yellow, and green lights.

After 18 months living here, I’m now confident in my ability to direct a taxi where I want to go, but I wouldn’t say trips are stress-free. The driving skills and tactics usually lead me to believe that at any instant we will ram the car in front of us or side-swipe one as the driver ignores his blind spot. The solution? If it’s too bad, ask the driver to back off, or take the more common approach of staring at your feet and praying. I’m actually looking forward to “normal” driving in the U.S. (who would’ve thought)!

The Same: Shopping and Dining

Dining experiences are almost identical to those in the U.S. Many American restaurants found their way here–Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, and Chili’s. As a young country, U.A.E.’s culinary identity isn’t strong, but similar to America, cuisines from all over the globe can be found. As you might expect, there is a wider variety of Lebanese, Egyptian, and other Middle Eastern foods available here. The typical greeting upon entering a restaurant is always “hi ma’amsir” that is, ma’am and sir squished into one word. There are bars displayed with mirrors, lights, and colored bottles of water since alcohol is only served in hotels. In restaurants and stores, I spot unique products and brands,  but it doesn’t feel like some oddly foreign place.

The Beautiful: Outside My Window

Living in Abu Dhabi: The Good, The Bad, The Same, and The Beautiful {www.sentimentandspice.com}I look out my window, and I see the other towers that comprise our apartment complex–5 buildings in all. I see two very large flag poles with the UAE flags flying high. I see water, an inlet of the Arabian Gulf. I hear traffic from the nearby highway, I hear birds singing, and I hear the wind.

A few weeks ago I was walking with a friend along a stone pathway dotted with fountains and overshadowed with palm trees. The path followed along a pristine beach and took us from a five star hotel to the neighboring souq. Josh and I leave U.A.E this summer, and while I’m looking forward to our homecoming, little moments like that walk in the warm January weather will make me miss aspects of life in Abu Dhabi.

Instagram for the Introvert

Instagram for the Introvert - Learn how to keep a collection of pictures and memories outside of social media! www.sentimentandspice.com

One time I made a twitter account. I promptly forgot the password and never logged in again. I don’t have an Instagram account. My Facebook page often goes months without a single status update. The existence of my blog proves that I’m not shunning all forms of social media, but I’m certainly hesitant when it comes to sharing my life on the internet. I view this blog as a writing and communication tool, and while I know that other social media outlets can be just as purposeful, they aren’t for me, at least for now. However, the concept of creating a record of little moments–a log of images and simple sentences–is completely appealing to me. So until I take the plunge and open an Instagram account, I’ve found another way to keep track of moments and images that remain for my eyes only. A lot of people already sing the praises of Day One, a journal app for mac, iPhone, and iPad, but I only discovered it last year. I can snap a picture with my phone, attach a few sentences, save it, share it (if I’m in the mood), or print it in a book. My private version of Instagram!

Instagram for the Introvert - Learn how to keep a collection of pictures and memories outside of social media! www.sentimentandspice.com

The Keys to Fixing a Broken Resolution: Reading the Bible in 2015

Bible

Last November I crossed an item off my spiritual bucket list. In January 2013 I set out with a goal to read the Bible in one year, and a measly 23 months later I finished the last chapter of Revelation. Okay, so I clearly didn’t meet the timeline, but I’m still considering this a goal achieved. Since November, I’ve considered what I learned about the discipline of Bible reading and identified the reasons that pushed me to finish and why I’ve failed in past attempts. Continue reading

Learning to Bake: Daily Bread

Daily Bread

There’s something special about a loaf of whole grain bread fresh from the oven. It’s inviting and warm and perfect for sharing. In my very first blog post, I wrote about bread and shared a recipe for a gouda cheese variety made with the help of a bread machine. Leaving my trusty bread machine behind when we moved overseas, and without even a mixer to do the kneading, I was determined to carry on baking bread without the convenience of a machine. On my first shopping trip to gather kitchen supplies for our new Abu Dhabi apartment, I picked up two loaf pans, brought them home, and stored them away along with all my good intentions. A year later and the pans sat barely touched. The multi-hour process required by traditional bread making was far too labor intensive to become part of my regular cooking routine, so I searched for an alternative method that would mesh with my approach to food: healthy, easy, and flavorful. Continue reading

Last Stop, Swtizerland

After disembarking from our river cruise ship in Basel, Switzerland we traveled by train to Interlaken, a city sandwiched between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. At this point in our trip, my husband and I were both suffering from mild colds. After checking into our hotel, we slept most of the day away with only a quick outing to pick up some spicy Mexican soup that did wonders for the sinuses. During the two days that followed, we traveled by cablecar up into the Swiss mountains, ice skated outside, and ate lots of chocolate and cheese.

On New Year’s Eve we packed up once again and took the train to Lucerne, the last city on our itinerary. This city stood out as a favorite among the rest—a picturesque setting with old world history. We walked the city to see top tourist attractions including the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, the dying lion monument crafted to honor the Swiss troops who died serving King Louis XVI in the French Revolution, and the wall and towers that fortified the city in the 13th century.