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My brain needed exercise.

What animal would be cutest if it was scaled down to the size of a cat?
An elephant. I love elephants the most even when they’re big but if it was cat-sized, I could realistically have one of my own.

What movie can you watch over and over without getting tired of?
Ocean’s Eleven. Hoodwinked. Mean Girls.
(It should be noted that none of these are in my top ten favorites. There can be too much of a good thing; my favorites are deeper and heavier and need to be savored only once in a while. The above three are a few of many that I love but can watch every single day for a long time)

What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten?
A terrible frozen meal in Thailand; we obviously couldn’t read Thai and our host(who was Filipino) looked it over in the market and thought it said mild. It was not.

What are you interested in that most people are not?
Baseball.

What movie quotes do you use on a regular basis?
I sing “okay byyyyyye” from Frozen every time I leave my house, and whenever someone else leaves either “Bye Buddy, hope you find your dad!” or “Have fun storming the castle!” and if you ever happen to eat mashed potatoes with my family, someone will say “These mashed potatoes are so creamy” in a Chicago accent.
I’ll wait for people to identify those last three movies.

What’s the most ironic thing you’ve ever seen happen?
A biker who got hit by a Dodge

What movie, picture or video makes you smile or laugh every time you see it?
Oh gosh always this…

What artist or band do you always recommend when someone asks you to suggest new music?
The Oh Hellos, or depending how well I know you, Mike Mains and the Branches. Never any of my absolute favorite bands unless we’re very very very good friends and don’t live together.

What’s the most pleasant sounding accent?
Wherever Jack Davenport’s from

What’s the funniest word in the English language?
Farctate. It’s an adjective meaning “full,” but it sounds like a verb or an expletive, so we use it as both in my house.

What’s the weirdest food combination that you like?
At Moe’s whenever I get a kid’s meal, I dip my cookie in my queso. (I’ve been doing it for ten years and was so happy when I started working there and found that our catering manager does the same thing)

What did you last Google?
“How to embed Youtube video in WordPress”

What’s the most annoying noise?
Snoring, closely followed by people chewing with their mouth open.

What odd smell do you really enjoy?
My soccer jerseys after a game.
And I guess clothes that I’ve worn at a campfire, but I don’t think that one’s odd. If they made campfire scented perfume I’d buy it in bulk.

What always cheers you up when you think of it?
Hippos and yellow birds

What two things are terrible when separate but great when you put them together?
Chocolate and milk

What’s your favorite holiday movie?
Die Hard

Just kidding. It’s a Wonderful Life. But Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas movie, and it’s in my top five.

What seemingly innocent question makes you think “It’s a trap!”
“What are you doing this weekend?”

What have you eaten so much of that you now hate it?
Nutella, except I don’t hate it, I’d just only eat it anymore if I had nothing else to eat.

What’s your “and then it got worse” story?
The time in that public restroom on the way to Thailand. But I only tell that story in person.

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26 goals for 26

I’ve been dreading my birthday since January.
25 is the last time that getting older gets you a reward(the ability to rent a car, and a whopping $9 off my car insurance).
26 just sounds old. 25 sounded perfect. Just old enough to be absolutely not young, but just young enough to not FEEL old. But 26? No. That’s older than any Camp La Vida staffer I’ve ever worked with and that’s not okay.

And I just don’t like the number 26; it’s Wade Boggs’ number and it shouldn’t have been retired, because he finished his career with the evil empire and that negates every good thing he ever did for us.

26 is the 20-something equivalent of turning 19. But my 19th birthday was the best birthday I’ve ever had, so it makes sense that 26 topped it.
The other day it struck me that since there are 26 letters in the alphabet, this gives me SO much potential for list making.

So if you’re still reading and wanted to continue, here’s the most important of several lists(don’t worry, I’ll only publish this one, and one more later).

26 Goals for 26-year-old Linda
Because a couple years ago I started making New Years resolutions on my birthday instead of on January 1st. [like this one] This year I couldn’t think of one big goal to work on, so I’m making 26 small ones. And I’m lettering them instead of numbering them, because this is the only year that I can.
(Also some of these are things I’ve done before, and many are things I want/need to start doing and do multiple times. If you’re thinking of a bucket list, this isn’t one)

A. Leave the country
B. See the Red Sox in two new ballparks(Rogers Centre for sure, and then either Nats Park or Citi Field; we play the NL East in 2018 so there are plenty of easily doable ones)
C. Read 35 books(if I can read 54 on the World Race, I can do this)
D. Read a whole Harry Potter book in Spanish(a better test of fluency than Duolingo)
E. Run a race longer than a 5k
F. Write something important
G. Find an offseason hobby(I’m a really boring person from November to March)
H. Run 100 miles(I made a resolution to run 365 miles in 2017; I’ve run 12. I’m being more realistic now)
I. Watch The Bucket List
J. Memorize the first 4 chapters of Mark(because I want to learn the whole book by my 30th birthday and there are 16 chapters)
K. Eat at Flight Deck(because how have I lived here for ten years and never been there?)
L. Go to a Blowfish game(because again, ten years and not once)
M. Watch a whole season of Friday Night Lights(I want to like it, I’ve tried so hard to)
N. Complete half of this list(because Jon Acuff always says to cut your goal in half)
O. Sell that bridesmaid dress I’ve been meaning to get rid of for two years
P. Make more of an effort to like football(it’s lonely being a baseball fan in the south; football opens up more conversations)
Q. Write to my Compassion child at least four times
R. Learn to cook something new(alfredo sauce and Linda Brownies aren’t enough to live off of)
S. Visit at least one new state
T. Go on a date
U. Write at least one blog post a month…preferably two or three, but again we’re going for realistic over ambitious.
V. Stop letting anxiety keep me from going to things; unless I know for a fact that zero friends will be there, I have to go and I will be all right. (Maybe I’ll tackle wading into a hoard of strangers with no life boats when I’m 27. Or 30. Or maybe never…I’m not Wonder Woman and I need to accept this)
W. Save more money
X. Spend more time reading books than reading my Facebook feed
Y. Go to the beach(it’s been way too long)
Z. Work out at 5am ONE time(so that Abby and Brittany can stop asking me to ;) )

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My car is in park

This first small section was written on October 27th and it was originally called Standing Still Is Hard. Today when I started to write about super similar things, I remembered that I never finished it.
———-
Think of all the roads, think of all their crossings
Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard.
Remember all their faces, remember all their voices
Everything is different the second time around.
-Ever wise Regina Spektor.

I wonder if it’s a personality thing, because I know a few people who would much rather stand still than go places, but those words certainly tell a harsh truth to my ADD heart.

Today, I’ve been in the same place for a year. I have the exact same friends, I work the exact same job, and I live in the exact same house.

I don’t think I expected this. My brain isn’t trained for permanence. As an adult I’ve never stayed anywhere for this long. I never had the same roommate in college or lived on the same hall, so I’d spend nine months with one group of people, spend the summer with a new staff and each of those weeks with a new set of campers, then repeat. Then I graduated and went on the World Race, where I moved to a new country every month and lived with three different seven-person teams within my squad of forty-three.

Roots are a very foreign concept to me.
I thought about it all day at work and decided that I’d have an existential crisis if my parents ever sell our house. I can go anywhere I want as long as it’s possible to come back home.

Everything is different the second time around…
I think I like different. All I’ve ever wanted is for things to stay the same, but now that I got my wish, maybe I take it back. (As I have with almost everything I’ve ever gotten that I’ve ever claimed to want)
—————
Now it’s today. June 16th.
I tried to move after I wrote that. To Texas, Georgia, Greenville or Ecuador.
Yes. Actually filled out applications. Actually looked at plane tickets. Actually begged God to take me away to anywhere but here.

Going and doing are easy to say yes to. Staying and being are hard.

I’ve always liked for things to move fast. It’s all I’m used to. So it felt like something was wrong, for me to not be going anywhere new or meeting any new people after a year. It felt like I was finally putting down roots, and the deeper they grew, the more I knew it would hurt when they were pulled up, and I was doing everything I could to avoid that pain.

My life from the ages of 18-23 was nothing but God planting me, digging me up, and re-planting me, over and over and over.
Not long after my 24th birthday was when I ended up here, and I spent most of the first year bracing myself for the moment when God would dig me up again…but it hasn’t come yet.

The other day I was in the drive thru at McDonalds and it was taking forever. I kept wanting to put my car in park, but I knew as soon as I did, the cars in front of me would finally move.

That’s how 25 has felt; if I park my life here, how soon will God tell me to go somewhere new?

Not for a while this time. My hypothetical car isn’t just in park; I’ve cut the engine off and gotten out. I’m fully living my life with the people God’s given me, not just sitting in the car and talking through my safe windows, prepared to drive off at any second.
And I’m not even worried anymore about when he might tell me to get back in the car and drive again, because he’s never taken anything from me without giving me something better.

I’m at peace with the roots. Maybe when God’s the one who put them down, not me, it doesn’t hurt so much to have them pulled back up.
Or maybe(hopefully?), these are for real roots and I get to stay this time.

Now that I’ve actually typed that sentence I’m mildly terrified that God will send me across the world next week.
I think I need to stop writing and publish this quick before I stop trusting him.

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Blue and white ESV Bibles

Sometimes certain things immediately bring a memory so sharply into my mind it’s as if I’m holding a photo album in my hands.

Other times, I’m struck with the absolute certainty that something should spark my memory, but I have no idea what. Like a broken circuit.

The first day I went to a Sunday morning at Midtown, the first thing I noticed were the blue and white ESV Bibles. It was one of those times that I knew it reminded me of an important something.

That was about fifteen months ago, and it was just this past Sunday that the switch finally flipped. I’d forgotten my own Bible, so for the first time, I actually needed to open one of those Bibles from under the chairs. I saw the pages and remembered sitting by the pool in Botswana across from Casey Baxter, a pile of highlighters between us, and a few monkeys watching from the trees above us.

Buying that Bible was the second best thing we did that month. The first was meeting the woman we picked it out for.

That day wasn’t supposed to be anything extraordinary. Based on the emails we’d exchanged, we were 80% sure this organization was not what AIM was looking to partner with and the meeting would mostly just be us doing the polite thing and listening to their pitch.

It was the furthest thing from a waste of time. I can’t even remember what we asked that led her to say this, but whatever it was she answered, “Well, I want to be born again. I don’t know how, but I want to.”

The next twenty minutes are a blur; this happens to my memory when it’s totally Jesus speaking and not one of the words is mine. But we talked with her and showed her verses and she said the most enthusiastic prayer and then we were all three on our feet and hugging, and it felt like a dream. The happiest dream in all ten months I’d been gone.

So Casey and I bought that blue and white Bible for her, spent an afternoon highlighting our favorite verses and then when we went back to give it to her, she wasn’t working that day and we had to have her coworker drop it by her office. We were really sad to not get to see her again.
Thankfully though, she’d given us her email address, so we messaged her a few weeks later when we were in South Africa. She responded and said she was reading her Bible every day and that her whole family was going to church. She said “I am so happy. You saved my life by showing me the good way.”

God can work even through your bad attitudes and negativity. He’ll show up when you haven’t even thought to ask him to. Nothing you say or do can get in his way.

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Happy birthday dear Ava

Ava was awake when I first met her. She was 27 hours old, and babies that new are always asleep, but not Ava; her eyes were wide open for the full hour I spent with her, looking all around like the world was way too big and exciting to ever look away from.
Jill was pregnant when I met her, so I was completely used to the idea of Ava being this invisible tiny person who lived inside my friend, but now here she was, a real tiny person lying in my arms, looking up at me with two real eyes and wiggling ten real fingers like she was trying to figure out what they were for.

Then when she was six months old I got to start taking a day off from a job I didn’t like so I could come take care of her, and when she was nine months old I quit the job I hated so I could watch her all the time. So now I have a job that I love.

She is a whole year old today and I love her further to pieces the bigger she gets. She’s the best snuggler, especially when she wakes up from her nap and she’s still half asleep, she listens so carefully when you talk to her, she loves to click her tongue, and sometimes she growls for no apparent reason. Like she’ll just be crawling around looking for a toy and growling like a puppy all the while.
I’m convinced that no one has ever been this smart or this funny when they were this little.

One day I was rocking her to sleep and singing Jesus Loves Me to her, and I thought how she’s just so so loved by everyone who’s ever met her right now…and when she gets older and people tell her that Jesus loves her, she’ll never wonder what that means because she’s surrounded by people who love her and love Jesus. Then I started thinking how she’ll be bigger someday and might meet people who don’t like her, or have teachers who don’t get how brilliant she is, and I got so sad that I held her for her whole nap instead of making her sleep in her crib. I can’t make there not be mean people in the world, but I sure can fill up her unbroken little heart with all the love I’ve got while she’s still perfectly innocent, and I still can’t believe that that’s my job.

When I worked at camp, I’d always be sad to send a few of my favorite campers home because I didn’t know who would love them when I couldn’t(in some cases, I knew no one loved them at home). But as much as I love Ava and I miss her on the weekends, I’m thankful that I never worry about her when I walk out her door at the end of the day. Her parents love her more than I do and that’s how it should be, and she is just the most blessed baby.

Other things about her that may be boring to people who don’t know her(but which should be written down in case anyone forgets when she’s a teenager):

She LOVES her doggy(for the longest time she just called her “daw”)
ava 006
She loves to feed her food to the dog when she thinks I’m not looking, and she loves to toss her toys into places she isn’t allowed to be(just to see if the adult in the room will notice if she goes and gets them herself. It’s the cleverest little trick).
She loves books. When she was tiny I’d try to read to her, but she mostly just wanted to chew on the pages. Now her favorite part is pulling all of them off the shelf(never only one), but she does like to be snuggled and to turn the pages herself as fast as she can.
ava 003
(I can read Brown Bear over and over for 20 minutes before she finally gets bored. She points to every animal and calls it a dog, and thinks it’s so funny when I try to correct her)
She also loves Phineas and Ferb, and she loves any show that I laugh at because she thinks it’s funny when I laugh.
She can say Da-da and doggy, and I really think she could say Mama, but she just thinks it’s too funny to say Dada instead.(I won’t teach her to say Linda until she’s said Mama, so I’m getting impatient) Last week she learned to say “ball,” but for now she calls all of her toys a ball. Much like Boo from Monsters Inc, she talks all the time, just not in real words, and she’s a very good listener. Even though she can’t repeat most of the words I’m saying, you can tell she’s really trying hard to learn.

She does not like to sleep, but look how cute she is when she does.
ava 005
She does not like meat or bananas.
She does NOT like non-living things that can move by themselves. (She has a dancing Peppa Pig that she won’t even touch for fear it might move. She also has a cute little car with an alien face on it that rolls when you push its head down, and she screams if I send it across the room to her. But she does like to push it and let it roll away from her, as long as I’m holding her so she’s safe from it)
She loves to wave; especially at me, when Jill is leaving in the morning and she’d rather me be the one leaving.
She loves it when you share your food with her; anytime I’m eating anything, she’ll come over and open her mouth for me to give her a bite. (She still has no teeth, so I can’t share most things even if I wanted to)
She LOVES playing with boxes; one day I was eating Triscuits and she really wanted me to share, so I gave her the empty box instead. She spent the better part of the next half hour putting various objects in it and shaking them around to see how they sounded.
ava 004
She likes it when I build block towers for her, and she CAN stack two together herself, but she’d rather chew on one while I build the rest and let her watch. (Once I read a study about these two year olds who’d watched so much TV all their little lives, that the doctor gave them blocks and they had no idea what to do with them. So since the first day I ever babysat her, I’ve been showing her blocks, because she’s a smart kid, not a scary kid)

She can crawl as fast as other babies can walk(so even though she can take several steps when she feels like it, she usually chooses to crawl).
She loves music more than anything and she’s always been able to keep time; she’ll bounce or slap the floor or clap every time she hears the Miffy or Hey Duggee theme songs(and almost any other music, but those two she drops everything to listen to every. single. time. I’ve tried to get a video, but she gets distracted by the camera and stops).
She likes The Price Is Right, especially when they spin the wheel. We watch it every morning when she wakes up from her nap and is too tired to not be in my arms but too awake to be alone in her crib. I think she’s an extrovert.

She is kind, she is smart, and she is so so important.

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Married people are the best kind of people(and other things I realized this weekend)

-If you had told me that I’d be the only single person when I joined my Lifegroup, I probably would have laughed and gone to our downtown church instead of Lexington. But that turned out to be a gift.

Once I read an article by a single woman that was basically an open letter to churches saying how single people feel invisible there.
It made me sad because I never feel invisible at Midtown and I don’t feel like the few others do either.

While we were all in the mountains with most of the rest of our church family, I kept thinking how much I love all of these people and all of their kids so so much and it hit me that this is all that single people need.

You need to watch tons of good dads in one room so you can know that they exist. You need to occasionally steal people’s kids so they can have a break. You need to see what real marriages look like so you can erase everything Disney ever taught you about love(except the part about how true love puts someone else’s needs before your own; Frozen is great). You need to be surrounded by wiser people who can teach you things(I’d say older and wiser, but I know far too many wise people who are younger than me).

-Meeting new people and learning new games are the two things that feed my soul the most. It’s Monday and my soul is still full.

-People ask me all the time what I want to do if I don’t want to be a manager at Moe’s or go into full time ministry. I’ve always said that I wish I could have a job that I love and that gives me enough time to serve with a church that I love even more than my job.
Sunday morning, sitting with all these people that I love, I realized that’s exactly where my life has landed. It doesn’t look much like I expected, but like everything God has ever done for me, it’s perfect.

-Months ago when they first announced that family vacation was happening, I asked at Lifegroup that week “How does that work if I don’t have a family?” All I meant was that I didn’t want to sleep in a room by myself, but what I didn’t hear myself saying is that not having kids or a husband means I don’t have a family.
That’s a lie that makes me feel much more alone than I really am.
I’m not at all alone and I absolutely have a family.
——

Life with these people is my favorite thing.
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The first eleventh

Four years ago today I landed in Costa Rica. It’s still my favorite country.

I met a team of World Racers and the seven of them plus me shared a little bag of chocolate milk, the kind where you sip it out of a cut off corner. Their team leader joked that this proved I was obviously cut out to do the Race myself someday.
Out loud, I just laughed. Silently, I thought “No way. Never. That’s impossible. Awesome, but impossible.”

Now, saying the words “I went on the World Race” makes me laugh. I never feel like it really happened unless I’m with one of my squadmates. Normally it feels like a dream.

The thing is, I thought I was just going to Costa Rica to meet a graduation requirement. It wasn’t supposed to change my entire life.

But it did. And I’m glad. I can’t even remember what I was “supposed” to do after that trip; I probably didn’t even have a plan.

God did. That worked out.

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thankful in the awful

This week has been almost nothing but awful.
I say almost because there’s no such thing as a completely awful day when Jesus was in it. I refuse to even get into awful details; instead I’m going to list everything I’m currently thankful for because there’s absolutely nothing left for me to do.

I’m thankful that I have an unreal church family, among whom are mechanics and bankers who know how to help me.

I’m thankful that one of my favorite children in the world recently learned how to say my name because it’s the dang cutest thing. On Tuesday I got to Lifegroup and he saw me on the porch through the window and points and yells “NINDA! NINDA!!” and frantically tried to open the door to let me in with his teeny hands.

I’m thankful that every time I get a Snapchat I know it’s my best friend(because I have no one else’s username).

I’m thankful for my favorite customers, because one of them came in tonight with his son and after I finished their order he says to him “That’s Linda, and that’s great service.” It was possibly the best compliment I’ve ever gotten at work, and with how emotionally fragile I am right now I actually got tears in my eyes right there on the line.

I’m thankful that Wells Fargo gave me a free stuffed pony today.

I’m thankful for the precious lady at Geico who is so good at her job.

I’m thankful that I don’t drive a Hummer.

I’m thankful for this song which I’ve been listening to on repeat all day.

I’m thankful that I spent Christmas in Malaysia once.

I’m thankful for Reese’s Pieces cups. Yall have GOT to try these things.

I’m thankful for my friends. I know I already said that. I just really really mean it. The one thing I haven’t felt this week is alone.

And I’m thankful for football even though it made Jimmy Fallon come on extra late, who I’m also thankful for.

Thanks God.

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Sabbath-ing unconventionally

Growing up, going to church was a lot like working a fast food job, in that we were only allowed to skip if we were violently ill. We even went to church on vacation.

So as an adult, I feel equal parts guilty and joyously rebellious anytime I don’t go to church.

October has been nothing but crazy. Well, busy and wonderful and just very very full, which all adds up to pure crazy.
I’m hopelessly addicted to busy-ness. I love it as much as I hate it. Love it because there’s always something exciting to look forward to when one exciting thing ends, hate it because there’s always something distracting me from the exciting thing that I’m sitting in.
And every time I take on way too much and find myself drowned in commitments for three weeks straight, I promise it’s the last time. But it never is, because I love people and I love going places and doing things…and then all of the people and the going and the doing pile up again. They’re all good things, but there are just so many of them.

So I stayed home with Jesus this morning. I slept in and listened to a sermon in my pajamas while eating a toaster strudel, and then I watched a Love It or List It marathon and cleaned my room and it was a glorious Sunday.
Because sometimes, not often but sometimes, a day of rest means not going to church. I LOVE my church and I love my friends, but I love Jesus more, and now and then I’m just too tired to see him anywhere outside of my house. And me and Jesus have an unconventional Sunday together and it’s exactly what I need.

It’s also a nice reminder that I need to take better care of myself during the week, so I never have to miss another Sunday again.

God is good and so is life.

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11 Tiny Things

You can’t make up tiny things.
I could easily imagine postcard-worthy mountains, and hundreds of adorable kids speaking other languages, and warthogs digging into my tent.

But when I remember the little things, those are what make me feel again like it really happened.

1. Making a sauna in the kitchen in Bolivia by boiling three pots of water at a time on the stove because it was always between 40 and 50 degrees in our little house.
2. The smell of our gas stove in Peru.
3. The beanbag chair in Ecuador that made it snow every time you sat on it.
4. Getting up early enough in Colombia to shower, so I could have time to get back in bed and warm up before we really had to get up.
5. Eating Japanese frosted flakes for breakfast every morning. Although they may have just been corn flakes; that detail is fuzzy.
6. Rock hard carpet in Malaysia that reminded me of the floor in my grandparents’ bedroom when I was a kid.
7. Taking cold showers in Thailand even though we had hot water, because the air was hot enough. Also the orange kitten that lived on our back porch.
8. All the Sprite I drank in Cambodia. Anytime I was craving sugar(which was a lot, after being away from America for near eight months at this point) I’d go to the corner store and get a Sprite, because I was also hot and thirsty and it was cheap.
9. The frying pan in Swaziland that always had to soak overnight because eggs would stick to it that bad. And the other pan that we destroyed by attempting to make peanut butter popcorn in it and almost setting fire to our hut.
10. The hippos and yellow birds in Botswana. I have never thought about that without smiling. I wrote a whole blog post about it. My mansion in heaven will have a hippo in the backyard with a buddy bird on its back. I’ve already asked God.
11. All our cats in South Africa. One day me and Meagan opened our back door and all four of them were napping in the same patch of sun and it was almost as cute as the hippo story.

It happened. It was real and it was good and it mattered.
I miss it today.