shopping in Bengali

Riding a caffeine high and feeling particularly bold, I suggested to “Julia,” my lovely Bengali language teacher that we go out exploring on the street outside of my office so I could practice some of my Bangla and meet some new people in the surrounding South Asian community.

She stared at me quizzically. “Where do you want to go?”

I slurped my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and talked a mile a minute. “Oh, I dunno…like maybe to a clothing store to get that petticoat I need for the sari you brought for me from Bangladesh? Maybe to a grocery store? A bakery? I just wanna practice some of the phrases I’ve learned and meet some other people community, you know?”

She snickered. “Okay, Ginny. If you want to go, I will take you.”

“YAY!! Thank you!” I beamed like she had promised to personally take me Bangladesh.

On Friday, we met for an hour of Bengali lessons. Her current project was drilling various Bangla numbers into my head, writing different numbers on the whiteboard and jabbing her finger at them until I coughed up some word similar to the correct one, or sheepishly denied knowing it at all (ami jani na). The more I forgot, the more brazen I became with my declarations of forgetfulness and the less reserved Julia became with the (well-deserved) exasperated glares she shot at me.

Finally she erased the final number from the board (50 – pownchash) and faced me. “Ready to go shopping?”

“YES!” I leapt from my chair and began feverishly gathering up all of the vocabulary cards strewn across the table.

“First we will go to the dress store,” Julia stated, calmly packing away the dry-erase markers. “You will practice asking the shop employee if they have any red petticoats. Say, ‘Lal petticoat achte?‘ Go.”

I attempted to repeat her sentence, stumbling over the unwieldy words that clambered in my mouth. “Lal petticoat acheten?”

Nah,” Julia swung her backpack over her shoulders. “Lal petticoat AH-chte?

Lal petticoat achte?” I mimicked. “And then what do I say?”

Amake dao, please.”

I parroted the phrase, requesting to be given said red petticoat, and swung our office door open for Julia.

She shrugged and nodded, walking down the steps to the sidewalk. “Heh, ku bhalo. Yes, very good.”

“I’m nervous,” I admitted as I locked the door behind us. “What if I say something dumb and they laugh at me?”

She chuckled. “Don’t be scared. They will be happy you are trying to speak our language.”

We walked along the busy street, venturing deeper into the American-Bengali community of Jamaica, Queens. Hijab-clad women corralled their small children around us, toting grocery bags and drops of sweat on their brows. The tinier children darted around our ankles, screaming with glee and brandishing small red pinwheels with which they assaulted each other. Middle-aged South Asian men stood outside of their shops, their hands clasped behind their backs, faces impassive as they observed the chaos on the sidewalk before them.

Julia halted in front of a dress shop, opening the door for me and letting me pass through. The store’s blinding fluorescent light and vibrant, sparkling clothes accosted my eyes as I stepped into the room. Racks and racks of beautiful South Asian garments lined the room and crowded the floor, sequins and tiny plastic gems sewed onto the fabric glinting in the lighting. The left wall sported shelves of small mannequin busts laden with extravagant jewelry and a table solely dedicated to glittering metal bangles rested in the middle of the room.

To our right, shop workers walked back and forth on a narrow runway-like stage, chattering with customers and pulling down different brightly colored folded fabrics from the shelves that lined the wall. They handed the folded fabrics to the customers, who hurriedly unfurled and inspected them, commenting on the length and color shades before either deciding to purchase it or requesting a different one.

Julia stepped into line behind five other Bengali women and faced me. “You will ask this woman if she has any red petticoats. Ready?”

I hesitated and watched wide-eyed as the customers and employees talked simultaneously. Truthfully, I wanted to avoid saying anything in the current audience. I was clearly the odd woman out and instantly the center of attention. I felt ginormous, towering a good foot taller than all the women in the shop, and blindingly white. But I had asked Julia specifically to put me in this situation so that I could try out my Bangla and meet more people in the community, so I stepped up to the stage, literally and figuratively.

Apu,” I called out, catching the shorter young woman’s attention. “Lal petticoat achte?

She turned and gawked at me, probably astounded by my appalling pronunciation of her home language. Thankfully, Julia stepped in and quickly explained that I was her Bangla student and needed to purchase a red petticoat for my shari.

“Oh,” the woman said, surveying me less warily. “Abar? Again?”

I inhaled and spoke slowly. “Lal petticoat achte?

“Please! Say ‘please’!” Julia hissed in my ear.

The room constricted around me, tunnel-like, and for a seemingly eternal three seconds, I mentally scrambled Rolodex-style for the Bangla word for “please.” Meanwhile, my generally underachieving high-school French decided to randomly help me out, causing me to blurt, “S’il vous plaît?”

Both women furrowed confused eyebrows and I inwardly berated my overworked language brain. When faced with an opportunity to process foreign language, I instinctively utilize my childhood second language, French. This is clearly most helpful for everyone involved.

“Oh, wrong language,” I said stupidly, jamming my hands into my pockets and shrugging. “Du kito, apu. Sorry. Lal petticoat achte, please.”

The shop employee shrugged vaguely, but her brown eyes softened and she turned back to the shelves of folded fabric. She selected a folded square of red cotton and handed it to Julia.

“Dhonnobad,” I said, grinning broadly, American-ly, at the young woman.

She smiled faintly at me, clearly entertained by my determination to try her beautiful yet unwieldy language in the midst of horrible pronunciation and with limited knowledge of her South Asian culture. Julia unfolded the red petticoat and held it up to my waist, surveying the potential fit and length. Too short and too wide, I noted internally. She spoke some quick Bengali phrases to the shop worker as I tried my best to translate in my head. I caught about three words out of the twenty five she spoke – petticoat (petticoat), small (choto), and red (lal).

“It seems too wide,” I said to Julia, glancing worriedly from the petticoat to her and back. “Does she have another size?”

“No,” she replied, surveying me once more. “We can just pin it.”

“And I guess it gives me space to eat all of the fried Iftari food, right?” I commented with a smirk.

Julia told the woman that the petticoat was fine and that we would purchase it. “Ask her how much it is,” she instructed me.

Thankfully my brain chose the correct language this time. “Etar dam koto?” I inquired, speaking clearly and slowly.

Eta bish dollar.” Ten dollars. Not bad.

Julia disagreed. “Eta onnke dam!” she exclaimed – too expensive. “I will ask if she will take eight.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” I cut in, wanting to swiftly end this interesting yet stressful cultural experience and language practice.

“No!” her lovely face scowled at me. “It is too expensive. Trust me.”

I tried to keep my face unapologetic as we faced the store employee again. Julia and she began bantering back and forth about prices and the quality of the petticoat and my tired brain decided to stop trying to decipher their words. I stood there dumbly, slowly surveying the store and the people within. Women dug through the racks of beautiful Eid outfits, discussing colors and sizes as the shop employees scrambled to accommodate their requests. The energy in the store was electric and excited.

Finally, Julia flashed a victorious smile at me. “She agreed to eight.”

Ku bhalo!” Great.

We paid for the petticoat and as we left the store, I called a goodbye over my shoulder – “Allah hafez!”

 Amid giggles, a couple of women answered back to me and Julia laughed, steering my elbow back onto the sidewalk. “Good job, Ginny! You did it!”

I did do it. I shopped in a Bengali store, practiced some Bangla and managed to not offend everybody and their sister there in the store. Success.

Time for a nap.

walls

Unlike how my physical body responds to running, with lungs that gasp dramatically for air, a heart that pounds so hard that it threatens to leap out of my throat, and joints in my legs that complain with every thud onto the pavement, I love the idea of “running with endurance” (Heb. 12:1) when it comes to tasks set before me. *pats self on back*

Granted, I imagine this kind of running with a wide-open path leading straight to a goal that I feel passionately about and am dedicated to accomplishing. (This running doesn’t look so fun when the path is rocky and straight up-hill, controlled by higher-ups that set boundaries I don’t agree with, or a directed towards a goal that I don’t perceive as worthwhile or achievable.)

Since I started working in New York, my life feels a lot like a video game.

In this video game, the character starts running on the animated brick road, dashing forward with the finish line in sight, but she runs right up into brick wall. The brick wall is relatively thin and inconsequential, and from the controller’s point of view, you may wonder why she can’t just go around the wall or why she doesn’t go in a different direction.

But she doesn’t – like a dog on a mission, she keeps running straight at the wall, slamming into it and bouncing centimeters back, over and over again. Eventually, she may figure out how to jump over the wall or how the wall may just fade away, and she leaps forward again. In a few short paces, however, a wall of a different height or width appears and she has to determinedly kick at that one too until it disappears.

If this video game person were like a real human, her energy would start slacking off after a couple of walls. She may get tired and her lunges at the wall may slow down. She may start crawling over the walls instead of leaping, and she may begin staggering forward on the road instead of sprinting. She’s still moving forward, but it’s nothing inspirational.

She may even drop to the ground and curl into a fetal position at a wall, crying little animated tears, wondering why she is stuck running this road full of roadblocks and why she can’t just finish the damn race set before her.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

I love the course set before me in Queens. I love dreaming big and envisioning what we could accomplish. My heart races as we take giant steps forward our goals – and we have already achieved a ton. The encouragement and the joy has flooded my heart freely over the past six months. However, roadblocks keep rearing up, making me take a moment to holler at God.

Why would You bring me to New York and clearly open all the doors for me to work here, just to put this obstacle in front of me? Are we not chasing after what You want us to chase after? I thought You were “for” what we are working to accomplish here – to bring glory to Your name and to tell others about You in all that we do. Are we going about it the wrong way? Are You trying to teach me something?

Despite my frustration and my spiritual whining, the Holy Spirit makes my heart crave to see the fruition of Ephesians 1:7-10 in whatever way God sees fit:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Yes, I hunger to see God unite all things in Him, and I know that His plan is so much greater than my minuscule human plans. And I know on a soul level that Isaiah 55:8-9 is holy and good:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I’m so thankful that God’s ways and thoughts aren’t like mine, but the fact that He is holy, good, Almighty God and that He knows things that I don’t is a boundary for me. And boundaries are hard sometimes.

My heart overflows with gratitude and joy in whatever my Heavenly Father is orchestrating in Queens, New York, and I’m thrilled to be used in that plan. But I don’t see the awesome, cosmic picture of God’s plan – I just see what is right before me. We run forward, we accomplish things, and then we’re stopped mid-stride.

And I stand at the walls, kicking and kicking and kicking.

My thoughts aren’t Your thoughts, God. So show me where You want me to run. Show me how You want me to work. Tell me what You want me to do. Give me wisdom.

As a response to the stubborn kicking and impatience, I decided that we would discuss “gratitude” yesterday in the Women’s Conversation Group that I facilitate. We created tiny gratitude lists while I made my frustrated, discouraged heart sit down and be thankful.

Here is my tiny list of things I am thankful for:

  1. Hot, fresh coffee
  2. This beautiful spring day
  3. A place to call home
  4. Clever students that make me laugh
  5. A Heavenly Father that uses walls to make me more like Jesus

So if you’re standing at your own walls, yelling and kicking, you are welcomed here. We can kick together.

faith and finals: trusting Jesus during senior year

Two years have passed since my last college final, but there are still few things that make my heart rate escalate like the two words “Finals Week.” I feel like I need to start pounding chocolate covered espresso beans, biking miles upon miles at the gym to de-stress, and weeping for no apparent reason at 3 AM on a Thursday evening.

So to my lovely senior-year friends, whether in high school or college, who are still in the thick of Finals Week and are trying to make massive life decisions, I get it. Senior year is hard, scary and ridiculously stressful.

On top of working hard to pass your classes and maintain some sort of reasonable GPA, people constantly ask you what your next plans are. Maybe you don’t actually know what the next life step is for you and maybe that scares the living daylights out of you.

So I wanted to take a moment to remind you of a couple of things that remain true whether you pass your classes and graduate or not. (These maybe “like duh” reminders for you, but look – I know what it feels like to lose your freaking mind during Finals Week. Let’s just take a stroll through some familiar Bible verses, okay?)

First of all, are you aware of how much Jesus loves you?

My favorite verse ever, Zephaniah 3:17 states that the Creator of the Universe rejoices over us and comforts us with His love:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

And, just FYI – He feels this way about you on your best days AND on your worst days. There’s nothing you could ever do to make God love you any more or anything you could do to cause Him to love you any less. Please inhale the freedom that this brings.

Secondly, are you aware of how deeply He knows you?

Psalm 139:14 and 16 declares:

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works and my soul knows it very well. (…) Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

The psalm states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord, who knew us when we were still just blobs of matter. He already knows the course that our lives will take.

Another fantastic aspect of this psalm is that since God created us and knows our inmost beings, He intimately knows how we are wired to respond to chaos in life. So when you start flipping because WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK ARE YOU GOING TO DO AFTER GRADUATION ANYWAYS??? God doesn’t respond by tapping out from your emotional swirliness and waiting to come back until after you’ve calmed down and can rationally talk it out with Him. He’s faithful and near on the good days AND the bad days.

Ultimately, He completely understands how and why you emotionally and mentally process stress and hard decisions because He made you that way. 

Thirdly, do you trust that the Lord will faithfully provide for you?

In Luke 12, Jesus reminds us to not be anxious:

“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more are you than the birds!” (12:24)

But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there – after reminding us of God’s provision and care for our daily needs, Jesus tells us in verse 32,

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

God doesn’t just provide daily food for us and help us get through stressful seasons of life, He delights in giving us eternal life and all the blessings of His kingdom through Jesus.

This also means that God is working to orchestrate our lives to fulfill His redemptive plan, not to fulfill our tiny human plans and sign off on all our hopes and dreams like some sort of genie.

Paul David Tripp wrote in his book New Morning Mercies, “No matter how counterintuitive it is, it really is true that real life is found only when [God’s] kingdom comes and His will is done, and that is exactly what grace welcomes you to.”

Reality is, whatever God has in store for us in His incredibly perfect plan for salvation and redemption is massively better than anything we could possibly come up for ourselves.


So here’s the deal: even if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the huge life decisions you have to make, please remember that the Lord will lead you in the way you should go. He has created you to impact His kingdom in a specific way, using your unique God-given talents and gifts, even if you don’t know what that will look like right at this moment.

As you strive to finish up this semester, continue to seek the Lord’s face through reading the Bible and through sitting at His feet in prayer. Pray for wisdom, pray for strength, and then listen.

Continue to talk to wise people in your life who love the Lord and who love you.

Continue to be kind to yourself and to others when you don’t have all the answers and people keep freaking asking what you’re doing after graduation.

And please keep breathing – the world is NOT ending, even in the midst of all-nighters, weird friendship transitions, big decisions, financial stressers, and difficult goodbyes. This is just a season. It’ll pass.

Meanwhile, if you need to tap out and take a breather, I have tea and a comfy couch – you’re always welcome.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

hosanna!

This is my first Holy Week in New York and I can’t contain my excitement.

Unlike in my small Southern hometown, millions of people from varied religious and ethnical backgrounds worship here, each moving through their own traditions with intentionality and awe. Despite how unique my neighbor’s Holy Week religious rituals and theology may be from mine, we both walk through this week with anticipation, reverence, and celebration.

I have enjoyed seeing my diverse New York neighborhood prepare fobutcherr this week. The butcher shop across the street proudly displayed this sign in the window, advertising their “Baby Lambs & Baby Goats And All your Holiday Needs,” complete with cute cartoon Easter illustrations. (Poor cute baby animals.)

Before the start of my morning yoga class yesterday, my Jewish classmate discussed the upcoming Seder meal at his synagogue with our instructor. The orthodox churches have propped up A-frames on the sidewalk announcing their hefty Paschal Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday schedules.

Meanwhile, we just observed Palm Sunday at my church (accompanied by small children whacking each other with strips of palm leaves) and we now await Maundy Thursday and then – finally – Easter Sunday. We are also in the process of stuffing approximately 3,000,000 plastic eggs with assorted candy, which we’ll “hide” around a local park for a community Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday.

Of course, I would really prefer just participating in this event as an Easter egg hunter, please and thank you, because the thrill of the hunt is magical and Reese’s peanut butter eggs make my heart happy. (Don’t be surprised if you hear of a young woman in Queens swiping Reese’s eggs from small children and making them cry.)

But on this day, two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, everybody was just focusing on preparing for the Passover, just like normal. They certainly didn’t have Maundy Thursday on their radars, much less Easter Sunday. And then Jesus decided to use this day to assert His sovereign authority over Jerusalem through his triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11). The Messiah was HERE. It was happening, just as the prophet had promised.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

The energy is palpable around me as we mentally and spiritually prepare for the emotional roller coaster that is Holy Week. Even one of my students asked me to explain Easter to her the other day, which allowed me to share the Gospel and the excitement surrounding this Christian celebration.

Last night, I attended a local Bengali church with a friend to celebrate Palm Sunday. I understood exactly one out of every forty words they said in the service and spent most of my time squinting determinedly at the pastor or worship leader, as if that would help my brain process the Bangla language. It didn’t. But I could pick out “hosanna” in the chorus of the opening song and that was enough to get me through the worship time.

Worshipping Jesus in a different language always reminds me of Philippians 2:9-11, which proclaims:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Hosanna in the highest!

50 thoughts from Trader Joe’s the day before a snowpocalypse

*Earlier this week, everyone thought that New York was going to get blasted by a blizzard. So I hit the store and immediately regretted everything. Here’s what it’s like being in the Union Square Trader Joe’s store right before a snow day…

TJ 12

  1. YIPES. That’s a lot of people.
  2. This is going to be fine. I only need milk and bread. I’ll be out in like fifteen minutes tops.
  3. Who am I kidding? I’m buying wine and chips and salsa.
  4. Okay. Here we go.

TJ 1

  1. So we’re going to be healthy today. HEALTHY.
  2. I definitely need some apples.
  3. And probably some stuff to make that yummy vegetable curry I saw on Pinterest.
  4. AHHHH why are there so many people here? Don’t you people have jobs??
  5. Excuse me.
  6. Excuuuse meeee.
  7. EXCUSE ME SIR I’M TRYING TO GET TO THE BROCCOLI RIGHT NOW SO GET OUT OF MY WAY PLEASE AND THANK YOU

TJ 5

  1. Hey, you were going to be healthy today! Remember that motivational CrossFit book you’re reading right now?

TJ 6

  1. RYERSON!! PUT DOWN THOSE BROWNIE BITES RIGHT NOW!
  2. Who are we kidding? It’s a snow day tomorrow. You buy those brownie bites, girlfriend. #snowdayrules
  3. Dude, Trader Joe’s rocks. This place is my fave.
  4. Anyways. Where were we?
  5. Chickpeas for this Pinterest soup. Right.

TJ 7

  1. HOLD UPPP – it’s the Grand Sample Station. Bless you, Trader Joe’s.
  2. Yes, I would like three samples. For me and my two friends, Sarah and Virginia. They’re around the corner there getting kale and almond milk. Definitely not buying brownie bites. Thank you.
  3. AHHH – there are so many people here.
  4. Keep breathing. You’re almost done.

TJ 9

  1. Is that my favorite Belgian beer over there??
  2. AHHHH YESSSS – 100% BUYING THAT DUVEL. Forget the wine.
  3. Trader Joe’s, you’re the freaking best.
  4. All I need now is salsa.
  5. Where’s the salsa aisle?
  6. Excuse me.
  7. Excuse me.
  8. EXCUSE MEEEEE.
  9. Where’s the salsa?
  10. Are they freaking out of salsa right now??
  11. Y’all are supposed to be buying bread and milk right now! Back off of my Cowboy Salsa!!

TJ 2

  1. Yikes. That’s where the line begins? BOO.
  2. Oh well. Time to kick this ridiculously heavy basket forward a few inches every couple of minutes.

TJ 3

  1. So much for only buying milk and bread. LOLOLOL.
  2. But look at all those veggies! Good job at adulting, homegirl. You rock.
  3. Eucalyptus!! This will make my apartment smell cleaner than it actually is.

TJ 4

  1. And it’ll be aromatherapy for this long line. YAY.
  2. Now you have time to laugh at the awesome Trader Joe’s packaging while you wait in line.

TJ 8

  1. I love these people. They make funny toilet paper packaging. Bless.
  2. Hey, I’m almost there!
  3. Wait – are you actually cutting in line right now, ma’am?
  4. Oh, you’re 76 and say you don’t have time to stand in line anymore?
  5. Point taken. Come on in.

TJ 10

  1. Ah, the gatekeeper to the next open register and my current favorite person. You’re the best.
  2. HECK YES REGISTER 10 IS OPEN!!! I’M COMING AT YA, REGISTER 10!! TIME TO GET OUT OF HERE!
  3. Aww, my cashier is the literal cutest. Just keep smiling, love, you’ve got a long day ahead of you with all those crazy snowpocalypse people.

TJ 11

  1. You have a good day, too, Angela!!
  2. Now it’s time to haul all this stuff home on the subway. Gracious.

TJ 13

  1. But now I’m all kinds of ready for this snowpocalypse. Thanks, TJ’s.

in defense of the Subway Rats

A few months ago, my best friend from high school came to visit me with the goal of soaking in as much of the “New York Experience” as possible in her three-day visit.

And by the end, she didn’t get run down by a taxi, betrayed by terrible pizza, or scammed by an angry Elmo. She even loved my city. SUCCESS.

She was also my first official guest, so I knew it would be an adventure to see my new home through her eyes while figuring out how be a welcoming host in the bustling city.  (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know how. “You’re lost? Um, go find a Subway station? Check Google Maps? You’ll figure it out – at least it’s all in English, amirite??”)

Now, I’m not knocking the tourist experience – it’s great fun to be surrounded by the excitement and unique beauty of a new place. Meanwhile, I need to get over my newfound New Yorker snobbery (nothing makes me more indignant than a selfie stick these days) and take some time to enjoy the sights and experiences.

But obviously, there’s more here than initially meets the eye. I’ve already fallen in love with the fascinatingly diverse culture and authentic humanity that abides here, but sometimes it can be missed if you don’t dive beneath the surface of the tourist experience.

So there we were, standing in the subway station, waiting for our Greenwich village-bound E train, when I noticed the rats running along the tracks below our feet.

I stepped forward to count them and invited her to do the same – “Hey, look!! Authentic New York Experience right here!” – but she wrinkled her nose and refused, which is a completely normal, respectable response.

That’s when I realized why I appreciate the Subway Rats.

Yes, they’re gross and New Yorkers love to hate them, but then things like Pizza Rat happen and we all smile, tilt our heads and say, “Ah, New York.” Subway Rats are a representation of normal life in NYC, the down-to-earth, typically dingy perspective that can be found in every Subway station, from the fancy stops to the grungy ones.

Regardless of whether you’re the fanciest New Yorker or the most starry-eyed tourist, as you bop from one exciting city spot to the next, you have to encounter the Subway Rats while you wait for your next train.

They run along the tracks, bobbing over and under the rails, their tails lashing about, going as quickly as they can before the next train arrives. They determinedly forage for food amongst the discarded trash, working to keep themselves alive and feed their rat families.

Sure, they may be bit grody and I would 100% lose my flipping mind if they ventured up to my feet, but from a distance, I’m grateful for the Subway Rats.

They’re #keepingitreal in the midst of the flashy Times Square lights, Yelp-reviewed “20 Must-Visit Restaurants in Manhattan!”, and the ridiculously expensive Broadway shows.

Thanks for keeping us grounded, little buddies. 🐭

*Photo credit to Carin Fredere

He exults over us

I recently stumbled across a friend’s video post featuring his baby daughter talking. She is quite literally one of the cutest toddlers I know and the fact that she is now talking gives me major heart eyes.

My friend coached the little cutie through identifying herself (as she pointed to her belly with a tiny squishy finger and gleefully proclaimed her name), and then mentioned her “mama,” “dada,” and her brother.

In the midst of encouraging her to use all her words, her dad marveled aloud, as if to himself, “Oh, you’re so beautiful!”

STAAAHHHP. So freaking cute.

And then the Holy Spirit decided to use this to remind me of how our Heavenly Father marvels over us.

Often when I think about God, I have a horrible tendency to shrink my perception of His incredible, glorious character down to something human that I can understand.

So I often perceive God as a grumpy father-figure who keeps a tally of my rebellious heart and hourly screw-ups with increasing annoyance. As He eyes me disapprovingly from above, I imagine Him saying, “Like sure, I love you, but I don’t LIKE you right now.”

Can you relate?

Let’s ditch our ridiculous caricatures of our Heavenly Father and reacquaint ourselves with Him by reading His Word. The Bible shows us again and again who God really is, glimpses of His mind-blowing, cosmic, multi-faceted glory woven throughout all of Scripture.

Zephaniah 3:17 declares:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

The phrases picked to describe God’s attitude towards us are not grumpy, judgmental, or distant – instead, they say that God is in our midst, quieting our hearts while rejoicing and exulting over us with His love.

It says that God sings over us. SINGS.

Jeremiah 31:3 proclaims:

“When Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Again, not annoyed and fed-up. Everlastingly loving and faithful.

The Lord isn’t disillusioned about who He’s loving, either, since He created us and knows our hearts completely. Isaiah 43:1 states:

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'”

If you’re a Christian, God loves you like crazy because you’re His child and made righteous through Jesus’s sacrifice. If you’re not a Christian, I pray that the Lord draw you to Himself and show you your need for Jesus’s forgiveness and how loved, redeemed, and “marveled over” you are by your Creator.

Ephesians 2:4-7 emphasizes the security we can find in this truth:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Chris Jesus.”

Now, I’ve been blessed with a fantastic father who cherishes me and continues to lead me to Christ, but he’s not a perfect dad, since he’s still a sinner like me.

So how much MORE must our Heavenly Father love us!

Because we are completely forgiven and made righteous in Jesus, the Lord truly looks at us and marvels, proclaiming over us, “Oh, you’re so beautiful!”

a typical Monday afternoon

A mariachi band appeared on my Subway train car the other day.

They seemed to materialize out of the blue, as if deposited there by those impish Shakespearean faerie beings that decided we could all benefit from a mariachi band performance in the middle of a Monday afternoon.

I was in the midst of reading a really wonderful book and enjoying some really wonderful music on my phone when they sauntered onto the train – an eclectic collection of accordion, guitar, and tiny string bass toted by three men clad in vests and hats.

And my immediate response to their band’s sudden and inexpungable sound that blared into my Subway car, much to the contrary of my family-instilled appreciation of musical and cultural experiences (thanks, Mom and Dad) was “CRAP. A mariachi band.”

When before in my life have I EVER had that thought before? Who have I become?? And how is that these occurrences are now everyday in my world?

As they played on, their raucous music blaring through the subway car and blasting through my earphones’ feeble attempts to block it out, I noticed the man across from me.

With sleepy eyes half-squinted shut, clearly roused from his nap by the music, he sat with a deadpan expression on his face, seemingly resigned to the craziness surrounding us. Apparently he too knew that a mariachi band concert is just part of an afternoon commute home on the F train.

And that’s when I started audibly snickering at the ridiculousness of it all.

This is my life now. Welcome to New York.

boldness in the Gospel

There I sat in a room full of impressive adults, listening to adulty things, trying to take adulty notes, and being increasingly distracted by the drops of sweat that were slipping down my back as a result of my mad dash across Manhattan to this seminar on non-profit campaigns.

And then it came – that old feeling of inadequacy.

I could imagine the impressive adults, all affiliated with impressive city-based non-profits, changing the world one email at a time, staring at ratchet little me and thinking, “Who invited that giant sweaty child to our impressive non-profit campaign seminar?”

Despite the fact that my name tag stated my title as the Director of Community Outreach with Global Empowerment Services, NY (hold your applause), I did feel like the toddler that sidles up to “Big Kid Table” like she belongs there, snotty nose dripping and Goldfish in hand. (The snotty nose part was true. #thankswinter)

But I, along with other representatives from non-profits across the city, had been invited to Redeemer’s Hope for New York seminar on “How to Execute a Campaign” as part of their partnership training. So I sipped my coffee, cocked my head intelligently to the side, and nodded along to the speaker’s points while trying to ignore my sweaty armpits.

You gotta fake it till you make it.

This same feeling of insufficiency rose up in my throat in the middle of a GED tutoring session with an older South Asian woman.

“Are you really trained for this?” she asked me, her forehead furrowing. “Did you graduate from university?”

“SHE KNOWS! SHE KNOWS!” my brain started immediately to screech. “SHE KNOWS THAT YOU’RE ONLY 21 AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING! HA-HA!!”

But, with a deep breath and a wave of Sovereign grace and confidence, I straightened in my chair and met her gaze steadily. “Yes, I’m qualified. I am a certified English teacher and I graduated from the University of South Carolina a year and a half ago, so I’m perfectly capable of helping you study for and pass your GED with flying colors. Are you ready to do this exercise now?”

The Lord keeps reminding me of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”

So my internal monologue is correct – in and of myself, I am insufficient and and small, BUT because I’m a daughter of God and His power is in me, I can stand tall and equipped to face any task.

YOU can stand tall and equipped to face any task. Praise the Lord.

Paul David Tripp commented in his book, New Morning Mercies, “If you fail to remember who God is in his power, glory, and grace, and you forget who you are as a child in his family, you will always mismeasure your potential to do what God has called you to do.” (#preachtripppreach)

New York can feel completely energizing one moment and wholly overwhelming the next, but I’m trusting that the Lord will give me boldness in the Gospel and the ability to handle anything that gets thrown my way.