Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Cat Lady

Sometimes I wish you all could meet the interesting characters we run into on this adventure around the world. I can confidently say that in this year alone I have seen, done and experienced some of the most random things ever possible. One thing is for sure, every day has the possibility of being highly entertaining. 

For instance, let me introduce you to one of my newest friends, Iing. I like to refer to her simply as the cat lady of Penang. Please, note that this is not just a cat lady... this is THE cat lady. You see, Iing loves the cats. All the cats. But, especially stray, street cats. Actually to say that she loves them might even be an understatement. Iing spends her days browsing the streets for cans and other recyclable items in which she can cash in to buy cat food. Then in the evening, she sets up camp on a local sidewalk, lays out food... and voile, instant cat lady. 

Last night, myself, my friend Jon Bunford, and a couple other volunteers made a visit to Iing's part of the neighborhood. As we approached her street, Iing was pacing up and down the sidewalk, bantering under her breath in rapid Mandarin. She was clearly worried about something. After some interpretation, we found out that the nervous pacing was due to the cats. This night in particular, there were about 5 or 6 cats in the area. Iing begins pointing at the cats one by one, still speaking rapidly in her local tongue. Worried about Iing, we inquire as to what we can do for her. After a couple of seconds, with a small grin on her face, our translator looks up at us shyly and says "she says she wants you to pray for the cats. All the cats need prayer, but especially the small black one over there. That one needs prayer the most." 

Pray for the cats, huh? That's definitely a new one. 

I quickly look over at my friend Jon trying desperately to figure out how we are going to go about doing this all while keeping a straight face. In being culturally appropriate to the gender rules in Malaysia, he simply smiles and says "so, should we check underneath and see which one of us has to do this?" 

 Just about this time, one of the cats lets out a deep hiss. "More importantly," he adds "have you had your rabies shot?" 

Trying to hold it together, I take one glance back at my friend Iing, give her a slight head nod and walk towards the cats. Then and there, myself, Jon, and another volunteer stretch out our arms and begin to pray.

"So, God, I never thought I would be standing on a street corner praying for cats. Especially ones that are hissing, possibly diseased, and that could attack me at any moment. But, here I am. Father, I know your probably more of a dog person, like me, but considering you made the cats you probably still love them too. So, bless the cats. Bless the yellow cat, and the gray cat, and the spotted cat, and the black cat. Especially the black cat.
Apparently he needs your help a little more than the others. Amen." 

And that was that. 

We then finished up our conversation with Iing, who had calmed down considerably since the cats had been prayed over, and I just stood there and grinned as I thought about all the ridiculous things I have experienced this past year. And yet, every bit of it has revealed small pieces of God's character. A bit of God's character exists within the crazy cat lady on that street corner. A bit of his character exists within the exuberant woman who sings at the top of her lungs from the alleyway. A bit of his character exists within the highly animated tricycle driver who claps along to a tune only he can hear. 

God is much more exciting than we sometimes give him credit for. And more importantly His sense of humor never ceases me make me laugh.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Follow Me

Follow Me.

Apparently God is trying to tell me something.  In the past week, I have seen those two words plastered literally everywhere I look.  In huge block letters on the front gate of a random business, across a blatantly large banner hanging at the bus station, on the label of a whole row of shampoo bottles.  All repeating the same phrase...

Follow Me.

Okay, God, I get it.  But, where is the rest of the sentence?  I feel like you have forgotten a couple of terribly important details.  Do you mind to expound on that just a little?

I can't help but feel a bit like I've been given a beautiful invitation to the event of a lifetime only to find that the host left the inside of the card completely blank.  

Follow me.  That's all I've got.

All this to say to myself, and to all of you... I don't know what's next.  I don't have any of the details.  There is no timeline.  There is no absolute direction.  

All I have is "follow me"... and for now, that's going to have to be enough.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beauty Defined

I'm trying out this new thing.  I know when I blog that I tend to write about what is going on around me as opposed to the journey and the struggles going on inside my own life.  In sharing with a friend the other day I was challenged to be real not only with the outside journey but also the things going on inside my head... so, here we go.  :)

A couple days back we arrived into Penang, Malaysia, which just so happens to be a pretty bustling city.  Malls, restaurants, movie theaters... you name it.  Being a girl, one of the first thing I explored was, of course, the shopping.  It's been a while since I've been in a big mall and this time as we walked through surrounded by stores and stores of ridiculousness, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed.  There was such an shocking array of sparkling, colorful merchandise, this overwhelming abundance of things that society defines as beauty.  Stores and stores of manmade things, claiming to add to your beauty, to speak into your identity.  

Don't get me wrong, I've been in malls time and time again.  But, this time, something about it all just didn't sit well with me.  It was if all I could see was a facade of what really existed.  Nothing about that spoke beauty to me, and yet I couldn't help but feel compelled to feel like it should.

As I tried different accessories on, I would take a glance into the mirror in front on me.  Mirror after mirror, I found myself looking at each one, trying to decide if I did in fact, actually like what I saw.  Each time, my thoughts soon turned from the merchandise to the image behind it.  "Maybe if I had put on make-up, maybe if I had fixed my hair, maybe if I wasn't wearing miss matched, worn out clothing... maybe then I would be more pleased with what I saw." 

It was funny to sit here and have all these thoughts.  You see, beauty and self-image are not things I have typically struggled with.  Sure, I have those moments, as every woman does, where I wish I was a few inches taller, a few pounds lighter, and a few shades darker.  But, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home with a mother and a father who spoke so graciously over my identity.  Parents who never asked me to be anything different than what I was.  Parents that never opposed my tomboy stage of wearing gym shorts and a pony tail.  Parents who loved without criticizing my identity.

Yet, here I was, letting the lies of Satan slowly creep in.  Lies of my self worth, of my beauty, of my importance.

It was in that moment that I also realized that in just a few short weeks, that beast is exactly what I am going back to.  It wasn't until walking back from that mall that I realized just how much freedom I have been walking in this year.  I had almost forgotten what that bondage felt like.   Bondage that exists so heavily back home.  The idea that self worth can be purchased.  That beauty is defined so strongly by materialistic things.  I have spent a year walking in a new freedom of beauty, so much that I almost forgot how heavy, how fierce it was.  And, here I was, four weeks away from returning... completely and utterly overwhelmed by it all.

As I stood on the street with my friend Stacey, praying, and just letting tears fall down my face, I realized that the struggle here was that my idea of beauty no longer coincides with the rest of the worlds.  I was finally realizing how much my perspective has changed; how much my definition of beauty has changed.  Back in the store, as my eyes tried to take in all of the glitz and glamour around me, I had realized that nothing in that store was beautiful.  Beauty is no longer an accessory, or a piece of jewelry, or an article of clothing.  Beauty is an African woman with her shaved head and handmade clothing; beauty is the smile on the face of a child running barefoot and filthy through the slums of a third world country; beauty is the prostitute wiping the makeup off her face, packing her bags, and reclaiming her self worth.  

Now, this is not to say that I won't ever again wear girly accessories (in fact I have some pretty great earrings on today!)  But, never again will those "things" define my identity, my beauty, my self worth.  This year, I've seen the beauty of God, the beauty of his rawest creation.  And I am part of that creation.  You are part of that creation.    We, in our simplest form, completely encompass the definition of true and absolute beauty, with or without any added glamour.  It's time, my loves, to reclaim that beauty!