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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Search Begins...

Today Ken and I began our search for a new apartment. Since his university acceptance notice arrived in our mailbox a few weeks ago, Ken has been busy finalizing paperwork, registering for classes and verifying immunization records. With most of that time-sensitive information in place, we are now able to concentrate on finding a new apartment closer to the school. And with only two weeks left at our current apartment, it was an appropriate time to start the search.

We started our day with a hearty breakfast--Ken enjoyed "Egg in Toast" while I built an egg sandwich out of a cinnamon raisin English muffin, an over-easy egg and two thin slices of honey ham. I savored every bite. After breakfast, Ken worked on his Physics assignment while I spent time preparing physically and mentally for the day ahead. Searching for a new place to live could be draining and I needed to be in the best frame of mind. So I did what seemed most appropriate at the time--I primped, I straightened and I painted three coats of long-last polish in my favorite shade. As I reclined on the couch, painting my nails with such focused attention, I realized that we had about five minutes before we needed to leave. Blast. At that point, it was a free-for-all. I wanted the perfect outfit. I needed to look great as we presented ourselves to the housing managers. Clothes started to fly. Nine minutes later, I was ready. We headed out the door and started with our first prospect, Apt. #1. Located on a side street off a busier intersection, it was close to the school and within walking distance to a shopping district. The man who greeted us as the building manager had a European accent, similar to my friend from the Ukraine. He explained to us that he had just received a deposit on the apartment we had come to see. First strike. There was a second apartment, but it was about $100 more. Since we were there, we decided to see the apartment that was no longer for sale because another one similar to it was soon becoming available. An adorable little boy greeted us at the door, but as we entered, I started to feel a little nauseous. The apartment smelled strongly of urine mixed with rotten food. Strike two. My gag reflexes kicked in and I anxiously shifted from room to room while Ken discussed prices with the manager. We moved on to another unit. It was OK but I couldn't get that smell out of my head. It was following me. Third strike.

Our next apartment was a nicer experience. The building manager was a sweet woman probably in her late 20s and she greeted us promptly as we pulled up to the apartment. It was a ground floor unit with windows looking out onto the street. The light was incredible. Yet, the view was less than desirable. Passersby could see straight into the unit and that made me feel uneasy. Since the unit was located a few blocks from the University, it felt awkward with so much foot traffic and plus, we'd need to keep the blinds closed anytime we wanted privacy. It also lacked sufficient storage space. While the living room and kitchen were a great size, the kitchen fridge was teeny and the bathroom tiny. Strike one and two, but still a potential. We liked this place the most (not hard to beat that first one I suppose) but after discussing the pro's and con's, Ken and I decided to keep looking before making a hasty decision.

We were 15 minutes late to our third prospect. I initially looked up the wrong address on our GPS, so it was a relief when we found the right street. Ken commented on how stunning the view was from the neighborhood. You could see Lake Washington and the bridge connecting downtown Seattle to Bellevue. All the properties around us looked well-maintained, with perfectly landscaped yards. There were no apartment buildings in sight. Hmm, we thought to ourselves. "Let me see that address," Ken said to me, as I pulled up his notepad. Lost--we were lost again. How unfortunate. For some reason, the GPS guided us to the correct street but miles away from our intended destination. When we reached the actual apartment complex, it was easy to be disappointed. The holes in the window screens and the half-built wooden space divider between the bedroom and the living room, paled in comparison to the condition of the cabinets. I opened them up and instantly felt like I was going to find crawling creatures. The apartment did have a certain rustic charm to it but we could get that same feel if we lived on my grandmother's dilapidated farm house on Maui--it'd be safer, cheaper and in a tropical paradise. That apartment was obviously not an option.

After viewing Prospect #4, we decided to get more strategic in our search. We developed a system. Ken drove through various neighborhoods near the school and then I'd call the apartment manager's phone number whenever we saw the words "Vacancy." I probably got 4-5 answering machines. At that point, we were both exhausted from not finding the place we had in mind when we had started out the day. We wanted a safe, comfortable, reasonable apartment in a nice neighborhood--close to the school, but also far enough away to feel like we're not in the middle of the busy college district. Was this an unreasonable request? Right around this time in our search, I fell asleep and awoke to Ken asking me if I wanted "frozen custard." What a treat, I thought to myself as we shared a cup of fresh churned frozen custard. It tasted like frozen yogurt but creamier, just like how Gelato tastes like ice cream but richer. That sugar perk woke me up enough for the drive home. When we arrived at our doorstep, I was beat. I felt like I had applied for several jobs back-to-back and found out (through the interview process) that even if I qualified, the job wasn't right for me. It didn't have what I needed or all the things I had hoped for initially. How disappointing. Once we were home, I curled up under the covers in bed while Ken continued the search for housing online. I prayed quietly for all the things that were most important to me in a new apartment. In Matthew 7, Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find." I realized today that Ken and I are being obedient to God when we trust in Him--not forsaking the active role we can take in looking for places but understanding that God is the One who knows what is best for us and He will provide according to His goodness. I needed to verbally affirm that God was in control of the situation. In bed, I shared with God my desires for this next place we live. I felt at peace and fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke, Ken asked me to come and see two places he found for us to try next. I'm excited to explore those options with him.

I'll let you all know how it goes. I know that God is at work in our situation. It's this trust that allows us to freely explore the possibilities--"the good, the bad and the smelly."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm a nail-biter.

[ thoughts from last Friday ]

It's 4:13 p.m. this Friday afternoon. I just spent a few minutes biting my nails (mainly on my left hand) and I feel guilty and frustrated about that. I have been trying to grow them out but these last few weeks have been really busy and filled with anxious moments. I hate how connected my emotions are to my nails. Sometimes I wonder if people can "read my nails" and see the hidden tension and anxiety I feel deep inside. It's not always like this, though. At times, I can sense God's peace as it sweeps across my heart and taste His goodness, when I stop to breathe deeply and relax throughout my day. But usually those times of deep breathing are sandwiched between bouts of nail-biting and hand-fidgeting. I'm such a fidgeter.

In reviewing this past week, a few tough moments stand out. On Monday night, I broke down and cried hysterically after reading my study module on "Caring for the Dying and Their Families" in my Stephen Ministry Manual. Reading through those pages reminded me of my own grandmother's death and the process she went through physically while my mom, sisters and I were affected mentally and emotionally. When I finished reading, I couldn't help but relive some of those tense, painful memories. I recalled the late nights spent by my grandmother's bed, singing to her, praying with her and recapping work events--just to feel connected, hoping that she could hear me in the midst of her coma. Deep, dark sadness coupled with moments of uncontrollable laughing came to mind, as I remembered how my older sister and I would get up in the middle of the night to eat crackers and cheese and talk about our fears. My mom's declining health and stages of denial and bargaining were topics discussed in my reading. I could the taste warm, liquid drops starting to fall down my cheeks and onto my lips, as if the bitterness of unwanted change and transition still sting all these years later. Three years, to be exact. Recounting the pain, loss, anger and confusion of the dying process is very real to me. The stories in my training module hit home, hard.

On Wednesday, I met a very sweet, 85-year-old French lady. She had come to my office to meet with one of my colleagues who was busy. Since my coworker wasn't free to help her, she and I ended up spending an hour together over coffee, as she shared with me the bitter loss she recently experienced in her daughter's death. This lady is currently looking for a community where she can be around others. The pain is too hard for her to bear alone. During those 60 minutes, I don't think I ever looked at the clock. It was like time and space stood motionless and all I could hear was the cry of this woman's heart for her child. Her pain consumed her. I practiced listening like I never had before--true, uninterrupted, attentive listening. My eyes watered; her eyes poured. Through tears and multiple hugs, she was eventually able to gather her things and head back home--but I refused to let her go without a prayer. It was easy, she wanted God's help so badly.

These moments, coupled with others, bring me to this afternoon. A little after 12:30 p.m., I went to lunch with a friend. The two of us have become friends over the past year. We share a similar sense of humor. I heard a couple weeks ago that my friend's Mom had passed away. My friend had just returned to Seattle after three weeks visiting family. I treated her to Taco Time and we spent the first 45 minutes catching up on trivial matters--how our weeks have been, funny jokes about work, the weather, etc. I felt uncomfortable asking about her Mom. I should say, though, that I felt like God hadn't given me the strength or the grace to ask her right away about how things were going. After we finished eating, we both just sat at our booth for a few moments, gathering our thoughts. I asked her how her Dad was doing. With that small question, she began to express her pain. "I haven't been able to deal with this," she said. "I don't think it's hit me that my Mom is gone yet." As she shared with me about her Dad's situation, in now living life without his wife of 48 years, she started to tear up. My friend then expressed to me how initially she didn't mind almost missing her Mom's death. She was planning on going home later than planned but then her Dad requested that she change her ticket. She did. As I listened, quietly, she opened up about the last moments of her mother's life. My friend's family, her friends, pastor and church had gathered around her Mom all day to sing, pray and spend time with her in the presence of the Lord. Her Mom could've lasted another week or so according to the attending nurse, but that night, after most everyone had left, my friend and her Dad sat with her Mom. My friend shared with me how she saw her Dad walk over to her Mom and whispered a prayer that God would take her home. He then kissed her. At that moment, she passed beyond the edge of this life into Heaven. My friend said that she felt so blessed to be able to experience that moment with her Mom, as God ushered her into eternity. As she shared these experiences, I couldn't help but cry. First two tears, then three. All of a sudden, a sea of unspeakable pain, joy and beauty rushed over me. My friend allowed me to enter into her pain and loss. As we cried together, she brought me into her stories of love for her Mom. I couldn't bear the weight of it all. But then I realized that I'm not meant to--this is where God lives, moves and acts. He was with my friend through these painful years of her Mother's decline. God was next to her Mom and Dad and her in those final moments. He will comfort my friend as she moves through this season of intense grief and unbearable loss. And I will be here with her, too.

As I type these stories, I can see the jagged edges of my nails taunting me--the consequences of coping with increased anxiety. It's a habit I'd like to break. At the same time, I guess I realize the profound impact of these experiences amidst their stress. The "effects" are not all bad--some are good, enriching and life-giving. I feel stronger in my ability to love deeply and carry another's burdens. I'm impressed at how applicable my Stephen Ministry modules are to real life. Then again, the power in truly listening to another person as they share their life with you should come as no surprise. We were created for this. This is true fellowship.