Cyprus, it’s been real.

My first season is officially over, I’m sitting in my bed at my sisters home in BC, and if you asked me at the beginning of the season how I thought I’d feel when it was all over, I never would have imagined I would feel like I do right now. We finished off the championship in 3rd place which was an accomplishment we all feel very proud of. Our team came such a long way in such a short time and it was such a great thing to be able to be a part of. We made it to the cup final after winning the semi by a hair in the fifth set; being up 14-9, then losing our lead making it 14-15, finally coming out victorious 17-15. As I look back on this season, there are a lot of things I am incredibly proud of. There are matches that I will never forget, there are ones I don’t even want to remember, but overall the thing that stands out most in my mind are the girls that I got to play with and the fun we got to have both on and off the court. Two of my teammates this year took on brand new roles as middles –  the most difficult position in my opinion. While the going was tough, by the end they both were comfortable and fast, challenging some of the most experienced players in the league to beat them through the net or stop them offensively. I saw one of my teammates go from being shy on the court and semi-confident in her abilities as a setter, to starting on her U19 team setting some of the most beautiful outside balls I’ve seen from a girl her age. Another one of our girls came out every day to fight and play her best, despite being ten years, or almost twenty years younger than some of the other players. Last week she started training with the national team for the summer along side two of my other teammates from this past season. That number of national team members could have easily been 5 or 6. So many things happened in Cyprus near the end that were separate from my duties as a professional athlete. I didn’t have much time to be at my computer writing, mostly because I was stressed out about leaving.

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While I was in Cyprus I was lucky enough to find a church to attend, a church with a community that shared my beliefs, and a church that was loving and kind. This church made it possible for me to get baptized in Cyprus, in the beautiful mediterranean sea. I have been thinking about getting baptized for a while, since before I left for my journey overseas. I wanted to get baptized here at home where I could be around my friends and family, but then it occurred to me that I probably won’t be home for a time long enough to organize a baptism, but in cyprus I had months to figure it out and work out all of the details. I had invited my team and the members of the board to come to the church service Sunday morning before the baptism. Jim (the man who baptized me along side my coach) was giving a sermon on baptism, and I was given the opportunity to share my testimony. When I gave out the invites, I got a lot of confused looks. In Cyprus, it is the custom to be baptized in the greek orthodox church. that usually means you are a naked baby, that gets baptized in the church in a basin full of water. So when I told them I was getting baptized at 24, on the beach in the middle of the city center, you can imagine some of the looks on peoples faces. I expected some of the girls to come to church, and they all had said they would be at the baptism on the beach afterwards. Much to my surprise, every single girl on my team showed up to church that morning, along with all 3 members of the board, and a club president who wished he could have been there but was out of town. I was amazed to feel the love and support that came from this team and everybody involved in it. I was so thankful that they were all willing to come and support me despite not even fully understanding what the day was going to be like. That day I knew that God wanted me in Cyprus, and that he had given me a family that I will never stop being a part of.

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Then there was easter. Easter in Cyprus is a big deal. The kids get two weeks off school, and EVERYBODY eats lamb and has a big family dinner. Just picture My big fat greek wedding with the lamb roasting in the the front yard, you understand what I’m talking about. We went to coach’s mom’s house for dinner and they told me, “Kelci you have to try this“. I asked them, “what is this?” I should have known better when coach told me it was lamb parts, and when Ev looked at me a shook her head with a fearful look in her eyes. But the rule came back into my head – while in Cyprus, try everything once. So, in my mouth and down the hatch, then the truth came out. Turns out this was all of the insides of the lamb. You know, everything it uses to digest it’s food. Vital organs and intestines included. Truth is it didn’t taste bad. But for some reason I just couldn’t stomach the stomach.

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Because the kids were off school, it gave us a chance to run a volleyball camp in the morning. I think that that week of volleyball camp may have the been the highlight of my time in Cyprus. We had three different groups, the youngest group first, then the middle then the oldest. We had four days to play and it was the best feeling to have kid show up every day eager to learn even though it was challenging and sometimes they left the gym exhausted. We touched on almost all of the skills. The younger girls were too small to jump and block, but we got them up on boxes anyways with their arms pressed over the net and their fingers spread wide. I will never forget the look of terror on some of their faces as they climbed up high to practice having strong hands. The middle group had about 25 kids. These girls loved to play games. They were all smiles and so much fun to be around. On the first day of camp, I had one boy show up to the grade 11/12 girls group. I didn’t do a camp for boys because I didn’t have enough gym time and I didn’t know the boys as well and I knew the girls. On the second day three more boys showed up, and then two more on the third. Because this group was older, I could push them a little harder. On day 2 we practiced defense. Socks on their arms and all (if you’ve ever had Lupo as a coach you know what I’m talking about). 2014-04-25 10.37.10

We did lots of diving which resulted in lots of bruised elbows and scraped knees. To finish it all off we had a round of touch 10. They were all exhausted. Some of them were bleeding. They all had huge smiles on their faces, and they all came back the next day asking to do it all again. Their is no better feeling than having an opportunity to facilitate learning for kids that are eager to do so.

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Then came time to get ready to say goodbye. The roommates left the day after we finished. Ev had to find a way to get Denzel’s crate in her car, while fitting all three of us in the car as well. I had the privilege of sharing the front seat with the oversized puppy while he tried to figure out which position was most comfortable. By the time we got to the airport, I had a mouth full of dog hair, my had magically changed from luon to fur-lined, and from black to white, and my stomach hurt from laughing so much at what we were trying to accomplish. I will never forget that car ride.

Leaving Cyprus was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I signed my contract to spend the next 7 months of my volleyball career in Cyprus, I honestly thought it would be sort of a come-and-go type of deal. I thought I’d be able to go there, play volleyball, and come home without having put down too many roots. I didn’t expect to be able to connect with the local players, I didn’t have much hope for finding a church community, I didn’t think my coach would be a nice person, and I definitely didn’t think I’d get to be so involved with so many amazing kids. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more false preconception. My experience in Cyprus was the complete opposite of all of that. I left that place having friendships that will last me a lifetime. I now have people that I can’t wait to get back to see, and people that I miss every day. There were a group of 4 girls that begged their mom to drive them to the airport to come and see me off. Bracelets and notes in hand for me to enjoy on the plane. Coach’s family, fighting (friendly fire only) with Neil and Angela for rights to drive me to the airport, which makes me so thankful for that first sunday that Neil and Angela picked me up from the bakery in our village to drive me to church. They stayed with me all the way until I was through security and out of sight. Airports always do weird things to me. They make me overly emotional in a good situation. There is so much about this profession that is unknown. I’ve never had to leave a place I felt so attached to, without knowing when I would be back. I’ve walked through airport security with tears in my eyes before, but this time was different. Cyprus you surpassed my every expectation. You surprised me beyond belief. You made me feel loved beyond reason. I don’t know if I’ll be back for another volleyball season or not, but I can’t imagine I’ll be able to resist the urge to visit your lovely beaches and your amazing people for too long…

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Layers

It’s been a while, but that doesn’t have anything to do with lack of things to share. My eyes are being opened and my heart is being moved and shaped by the humbling signs that God is in everything. Eh-Vreee-Thing. I don’t just think it because that’s what you’re supposed to say when you believe, but I say it because he has revealed himself in ways that have woken up my mind from dark depths of a routine life. The one where you can’t tell the difference between Monday and Thursday because its all mushed into one-and-the-same. He is, at the moment gripping my heart with His hands so that I might stop turning from Him and begin to open my eyes to the beauty that is Him among my every simple day.

My art class is full of people, mostly women who gather on tuesday mornings to let their creativity expand into the limitless world of imagination. Then ceramics class on wednesday nights, where your age, gender, or cultural background doesn’t seem to matter, as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and leaving the class with bits of it under your fingernails, or smeared on your face.

Be it paintbrush or clay, the lessons are the same. Not just art lessons, but life lessons. It’s all about Layers.

I sat there with a big lump of clay in front of me. “today we’re making masks”, she said. “Pick your design and just go for it”. Uhh, what? Right, somewhere inside this messy grey brick there is a mask waiting to come out. if only I could find it… “So you start with a base”, she says. “And after that you can add more clay on top”, you can always add and take away. The photo I had in front of me was textured and complex, and the base of my creation was flat as the Manitoba farm land. Overwhelmed and lacking the much-needed patience I trudged on, literally dragging my fingers through the clay every step of the way.

If Cyprus has taught me one thing that I will forever carry in my soul, it is “siga siga” – slowly slowly. Piece by piece I started to add clay. Layer by layer, never all at once. I didn’t realize until I was about half way through that the project is manageable only if and when it is taken step by step. My eyes can only see so much at a time, and even then, my hands can handle even less while they are still learning to crawl.

So, one by one, first the left cheek, then the right. The mouth, the nose, and the teeth. Layer by layer my creation was turning into something that resembled the image I saw on the page in front of me. And it wasn’t until the very end of the project, when all of the layers began to form a whole, that I started to fall in love with my mask. It is a mediocre mask at best, but it was frustrating to make and I honestly didn’t feel like I would ever be able to finish it based on the large amounts of anxiety I felt every time I sat back down in my chair after giving myself a 30 second “be-patient-with-yourself” pep talk, and tried to tackle the overwhelming task once more.

What came out of the fire was the awesome face of a goofy monster that I am totally and completely in love with. Could I sell it for money? Maybe to my grandma, because even though there are cracks all over it due my lack of ceramic understanding and ability, grandmas are always willing to love the stuff you make just as much as they love you.

Then there are the layer that come in the paint. We moved on from pastels and started working with oil paints. What I’ve learned is the thing that makes ‘pictures’ look real, is the amount of shading and contrast that is used. You are never allowed to just use pink. There MUST be four different kinds of pink, or else your painting just looks flat. The same thing happened when I started my last painting. I had been working for about 20 minutes, pulling colours from every which way, adding white, then more orange, but it’s still not quite right, needs more yellow… there. Got it. 1/16th of the way done. Yikes. Even then, I finished my painting, all the blending done and the colours mixed just how I wanted them, only to hear my teacher say “great, now you’ve just gotta do it all again and then you’re finished. The second layer of oil paints is what really makes it come alive.” -Face Palm- Do it again? You’re joking right? I just spent a freaking week meticulously blending all of the colours together, and now I’m just supposed to paint over top of them and do it the exact same way?

But that’s the beauty of the art I guess. It’s up to me how I want my painting to look. If I want it to be a nice painting with pretty colours, I can leave it how it is. But if I want to give it life, if I want it to achieve the beauty that it is capable of, well honestly that is a beauty that is more than one layer deep.

Any mask moulded with only one layer of clay lacks texture, lacks detail, lacks any sort of depth. Any painting blended with only one layer of paint is just scratching the surface of beauty. There is no breath of life inside, it’s missing the mark on it’s true potential.

The most amazing thing about all of this is Jesus works in the exact same way. It’s easy enough to know God on the surface, one layer deep. Maybe you have some friends like this. The ones you like being around but you don’t really let them in past what you made for dinner last night. But the thing is, God doesn’t just want the surface you. He.Wants.It.All. Sometimes it is scary to think about letting anything get beneath our protective shells. The twists and turns of life that leave us bruised and scarred make us think twice before letting anyone see what’s really going on in there. But the beauty of this comes in the healing that Jesus brings, and He heals, and it’s real. But the process is slow. Piece by piece. One layer at a time. As we peel back one layer- give it up to God, and please oh please just let Him love you. That person that always takes, and never gives, one layer off. That lie that satan told you about not being good enough, the one you’ve believed for far too long, one more layer deep. There is nothing that you could show God that He hasn’t already seen. You want to talk about pain, well man he’s already felt it. In every muscle, in every pore, he felt the pain because He didn’t want you to have to feel it alone. Let Him get to know the real you, so that you can get to know the real Him. One layer deeper, but another one exposed in the process, because this stuff is deep, and it doesn’t really ever stop. But the deeper we go, the more depth we find. And just like those oil paints, more layers means more life. As we let God go deeper we start to be beautiful from the inside out. That surface beauty that we cling to so dearly will start to fade away, and maybe, just maybe, out of the rubble will come a person who knows they are the perfect creation of a potter that moulded His clay exactly the way He intended to.

Happy Birthday

Birthday week has officially come to a close, and what a crazy, emotional, unpredictable week it has been. My Birthday was awesome. I think officially it was celebrated about four times this week, starting the saturday before at coach’s house.

IMG_0324 This thing, I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a mix between a                                                         pomello and a graperfruit, and it’s literally the size of my face… IMG_0325And this is the first piece of birthday cake I was lucky enough to enjoy. go ahead, lick your screen. It was unreal.

I started out my birthday morning by going to art class, and this week Adri decided to join me. Sure enough now she’s hooked! It is so much fun when you have someone beside you to just sit with, to admire others art work around you with, and to bring to each others attention the laughable state of your own work. We went from art class to Tracy’s for a girls only birthday brunch with Kendra and almost all of the kids! There was banana bread, cinnamon scones, a breakfast casserole-thing, and chocolate covered strawberriesssss (everything was AMAZING).

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I was feeling special and spoiled, just the way I like my birthday to be. After that Adri and I went for a coffee, and to the post office to pick up the package that was waiting for me from home before we met up with Ev for more food at Lia’s. Inside the package were my volleyball shoes that I left in the back seat of my car… A skipping rope that is long enough for me because I can’t find one out here to save my life, letters from Tanner Maddie, Aime and Izac, all wishing me a happy birthday, and a rainbow loom with a million different coloured elastics to start teaching people out here what the craze is all about. Getting that package on my birthday was perfect in every way. I loved reading all of the little notes and going through it finding all of the little gems hidden inside.
As always the food at Lia’s was perfect, and I was completely stuffed before heading home to rest up before our match that evening. Our village was on the way to where our game was, so the plan was that the bus would stop to pick us up en-route. I stepped into the bus and was greeted with the bright lights of birthday sparklers in my face and the loudest version of Happy Birthday I’ve ever heard. It was amazing.

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Not to mention the Birthday cake was probably the coolest birthday cake I’ve ever had. Topped with a slightly creepy figurine of myself (I didn’t taste very good).

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Then my heart kicked in, forgive me for being so honest, this next part isn’t the happiest bit, (if you choose not to read on I won’t know the difference) but it wouldn’t be fair of me to give you a false sense that my life out here is perfect. Because I know that out of the sorrow that I feel now, in this moment, will come something far more beautiful that I can imagine right now, and it would be a unfair of me to hide the beauty of God’s amazing grace from all of you back home in order to save a little face. For the most part it has been unbelievably great, but with birthday week came an insatiable longing for home. The whole day I felt so loved, but all the while I felt like something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t figure it out until the text came from my mom. The text message that, in it’s sincere simplicity, sent me straight to tears.

“Happy birthday Kelci,
We love you so much”

Those two little words at the end. I could just hear them straight from her mouth. So Much. I had absolutely no idea that I was homesick. That I just wanted my mom, that I just wanted to see my family. I have always enjoyed that my birthday falls so closely to Christmas and comes right after new years. This gives me a few excuses right in a row to reflect on the year before; enjoy the memories I made, and learn from the mistakes that hopefully doubled as life lessons. I had no idea or anticipation that having a birthday would make me long for home. But it turns out that living outside of my home country for the first time, also means celebrating the holidays I would usually spend with family, away from home, for the first time.
This time of year usually becomes a bit of a grind for me. With my birthday being at the end of January, and my Dad’s birthday being at the beginning of February, I am often faced with the cold hard reality that losing him is a part of my ‘story’ in a larger way than I care to admit. Every year, I get older. Every year on my birthday, I look back and see the things I am accomplishing, and the things I am failing miserably at, either way the year gone by was another year that I had no choice but to live life without him. Often times my desire to remain in gratefulness to Christ for everything he has given me is overrun by the bitterness that taunts my heart. It is all too easy to fall into a place of ‘why?’ To give into the anger that is so easy to sit in. The thing that frustrates me most is that losing my dad never ever got easier. I guess a part of me expected that I would be over it by now, that I would be used to it, that I wouldn’t care so much. But the truth is, the thought of living my life without him still breaks my heart. It’s almost been 8 years and at times I still find myself tricked into thinking for a split second that I should give him a call.

It is the weeks like these where I am truly thankful to God for all of the resources He has provided me with. People like Tracy who happens to live right beside the sports hall where we practice. Perfectly placed for that time I couldn’t bring myself to make that left turn into the parking lot for the practice that started in 10 minutes and kept driving to her house instead. I showed up unexpected, and even though she had 5 kids at home and a husband out of town, I was fully welcomed with open arms – allowed to just sit and cry without shame because she understood all too well what it feels like to miss home.

People like Gisele who constantly blesses my life and shows me every day what it feels like to be loved like Jesus does. Without fail, without condition. She always shows me how to turn all things back to Christ. Being still fairly new in my faith, my heart has a lot to learn, but she has shown me the most important thing. She has taught me what the love of Christ truly looks like, and she has shown me how to turn to Him with every struggle, every heartache, and taught me how to let Him heal me with His love and compassion. Having her and her family in my life is a blessing straight from God. I am so, so lucky because there are so many people that I could give examples of similar situations, where God has just brought people into my life at the exact right moment.

So with a heavy heart I tried to figure out how to turn the rock inside my chest back into a big warm mess that drives me crazy sometimes, but at least it doesn’t weigh me down. I knew I needed to find a way to let it go. But my human heart has a need for understanding before it gains ability to move on. I’m such a feeler. The only thing I could think of to do was just to listen. So I grabbed my bible, my Redeemer app, and my headphones, and headed to the first cafe I could find in search of escape from my muddy emotions and freedom in the clarity of God’s words. What I found was perfect. A sermon by Tim Keller entitled Praying Your Tears. Now, the first part was all about letting yourself cry, and knowing that it’s ok. We should come to expect to cry more as we grow in grace, because Jesus’ heart was perfect, and Jesus’ heart was always weeping. That part, I’m already really good at it. I cry a lot, not because I’m sad all the time, but because God gave me a really sensitive heart. It took me a while to get used to it, but now I’m thankful for it. You can bet your bottom that I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
He then took my attention to Psalm 126:5&6 Those who sew with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sew, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

He talked about how Religion tells us to ‘stuff’ our feelings, while on the other hand secular society has a need to express feelings, but do little more than that. But by the word of God, through his grace, as followers of Christ we are encouraged to sew our tears. He explained it like this – Imagine yourself as the farmer. If you just ‘stuff’ your seed, and you don’t plant it anywhere, you won’t have a crop to harvest later on, in the same regard, if you just went out into the field, and dumped all of your seed into a big pile on the field, again, nothing would grow. But, if you plant your seed, if you do the work, when the time comes your harvest will be plentiful and you will have joy. We need to plant our tears. We need to see them as an opportunity for fruitfulness and growth. Even though being sad is not something we want to experience more often than we have to, he emphasized that it is so important we don’t waste our sorrows.

Then Sunday morning rolled around, and Fred gave a sermon titled Tragedy to Triumph that paralleled that easter story. Jesus died on Good Friday – so did my Dad. Not that my Dad’s story is the same as the story of Jesus, but I could see what God was doing, and he had my full attention. So here we had, the tragedy happened on Friday, Jesus was crucified. The triumph on Sunday when he rose from the dead. But what about the Saturday? What happened in between? He talked about the apostle John, and how no one really knows what he did on saturday, where he went or who he saw. But what we do know is that when Mary saw Jesus on that sunday after He had risen from the tomb, John was somewhere nearby. That since the crucifixion and death of Jesus, until he had risen on Sunday, John chose to remain close to Jesus.

I know that I don’t need to worry about what the rest of this week will be like. I already know that it’s going to be hard. I’m at the point now where I do my best to fight back the tears that don’t seem to have any merit or reason for being, besides the fact that my heart feels sad. Nothing more. So I will work my way through it. I’ll cry when I need to cry, and I’ll take joy in the moments of laughter when they arise, and I will let Jesus hold my hand every step of the way because He loves me more than I can imagine, and all I need is just to feel that. To let His love enter into my heart and take all of the mess, the ache, and the broken pieces that only He can put back together.

I didn’t write this post to make you sad, or to make you feel sorry for me. Please don’t interpret this the wrong way. Yes I wish my dad was still here, all the time I wish that he could still be there to watch me play, to yell at the ref for every call made against my team (even if it was the right call), and to try and talk to me with tips and pointers between every play. But at the very same time, I have everything that I need because I believe in Jesus, and nothing can take that away from me. I just hope that this weeks post finds someone who is in need of some inspiration, or some encouragement, and can relate to what I’m going through over here in the beautiful mediterranean. I know that after I work my way through this mess of emotion, and press into Jesus for all that I need, my joy on the other end will be bigger than any heartache I am feeling now. Just know that whatever it is you’re dealing with, no matter how big your mountain looks, you are loved so much by someone that He was willing to lay down His life for you. All you need to do is ask.

Athletes Abroad – 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Overseas To Play

I know what you’re thinking: Two posts in one week? How lucky are we? Don’t fear, this post isn’t solely being written in an attempt to keep my thoughts straight and document my life here in Cyprus. This last week I was lucky enough to stumble across a blog called Athletes Abroad. Their tag line – “Following and connecting professional athletes playing overseas”. I think this is such a cool idea. They started up a pen pal program and I really wanted to be a part of it, so I got in touch with them and they quickly sent me an e mail back with some info about their program and what they are trying to accomplish. It’s pretty cool and since following their blog they have posted some pretty awesome stuff that I can: A) empathize with and understand, and B) use as a tool by hearing other athletes experiences and apply them to my situation here in Cyprus. If you are an athletes overseas, or if you like hearing funny stories about the differences between Europen and North American culture, I definitely recommend you check them out – http://athletesabroad.wordpress.com/

So today I’m focusing on a feature that will hopefully be of interest/of use to another athlete playing somewhere in the world…

3 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE GOING OVERSEAS TO PLAY

#3 – What items I will or will not be able to find at the grocery store.
This might not sound like such a huge deal, but sometimes it is a pretty big inconvenience. When I came to Cyprus, I really had no idea what to expect about the food. I didn’t know if the tap water was drinkable, I didn’t know if I would be able to find peanut butter (this seems to be one of the Athletes Overseas most wanted items), or most importantly, do they have maple syrup over here? I am lucky enough to have an American woman here in Cyprus who is always, always willing to help me out, especially when it comes to making me feel more at home. Whenever I am trying to fill a craving for a little piece of home, I shoot her a text and ask her, “do you know where I can get… (insert food item here)”. In Cyprus, it’s pretty difficult to find everything you need for one recipe at one store. Often times you need to make two or three stops at the or three different grocery stores before everything on your list can be crossed off. She either responds with the name of grocery store I will most likely find what I’m looking for, or something like, “umm… Canada?” That’s when I know I’m out of luck.

Things that I have needed and successfully found here:
-Peanut Butter (but good luck finding the the 20 lb. glass jar of Adam’s 100% natural)
-Chocolate Chips
-Maple Syrup (Only a whopping 8 Euros for a jug smaller than my hand; width and height)
– A million chocolate bars that I didn’t even know existed and can’t believe I have been missing out on my entire life
-Gluten Free Flour

Things that I had hoped to find, and still need imported from home:
-Adam’s 100% natural peanut butter (the crunchy kind)
-Kraft Caramels (the individually wrapped ones)
-The marshmallow stuff that comes in a jar
-Access to all fruit, all year (although it has made me wonder how good it is for my body to be eating watermelon that magically grows in December)
-Almond milk that is drinkable

In short, as much information you can gather about the food you will or will not have access to wherever you are going, will help you either mentally prepare before hand and say goodbye to the food you love for the next 8 months, or help you get organized and gather your mass quantities and fill your extra baggage with the foods you don’t dare part with, for your sanity and the sake of those that will have to live with you.

#2 – What the weather is really going to be like
Cyprus has a climate that I can confidently say is coveted by almost the entire world; except maybe the Eskimos. Because of it’s reputation of tropical weather, and -when compared to Canada- no winter at all, I came to this country under that false impression that I would never ever be cold. I brought with me no winter jacket, one zip-up sweater, and a few light button up cardigans for all of the hot summer nights I would be encountering. Now in my defence, the average weather forecast for the coldest time of year sits somewhere between 12 and 20 degrees. This is what is called winter. I saw that and I thought, “man, I’m gonna be sweating all year”. Little did I know, or even think to expect, that Cyprus still gets wind chills, and those winds come from the mountains. Because this country is so small, the mountains are close to everything. The houses are not built to keep the heat in because the summers here are deathly hot, and often times the inside of my house is colder than the air outside. When the sun is out, everything is amazing, but just like every other country, Cyprus still gets clouds that hide the sun from time to time. Good thing my team gave everyone a winter jacket that keeps me incredibly warm, and I was able to go home at christmas and stock up on fuzzy sweaters and fleece pajama pants.

#1 – The first two weeks will be incredibly hard, but it will. get. better.
Before I came out here, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In fact, we talked about that in my bible study this week, the feelings you felt when you made that commitment and signed your first contract. For me the main feeling was fear, along with uncertainty and some anxiety as well. The excitement was mostly overshadowed with doubt and worry and I didn’t have much time to get my head on straight before I left. I arrived here in Cyprus, and the first couple days were ok, I slept all the time and didn’t have to deal with my jumble of emotions. Day three kicked in and then so did the tears. I felt completely overwhelmed. I had lost every ounce of independence I ever had. I didn’t know my way around, and even if I did, the thought of attempting to drive on the left hand side of the road left with visions of causing a ten-car-pile-up. When I did finally learn how to drive I was too afraid to go anywhere by myself because I knew I would get lost, and I didn’t know the name of my village so I couldn’t even stop to ask someone how to get home. I felt completely overwhelmed. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, tears blurred my vision instead. The only thought that my brain could process was “I’ll never make it through 7 months of this”. I have never felt to anxious in my life, and that is not a feeling that I ever wish anyone to have to go through. I relied on every person, every resource I had to help keep me sane, to calm me down, to tell me that I was going to be ok and that I only needed to take it one day at a time. In Cyprus they have a saying, in English it translates as ‘slowly, slowly’. Sure enough- slowly slowy -I started making some connections out here. I met new people. I got to know the girls on my team. My routine had been flipped upside down, and inside out, so I made a new one. I am making my way into the community through art lasses and teaching music lessons, and now there are days when I feel like I could live here forever. My situation had turned a complete one hundred and eighty degrees, and I am starting to get nervous about the day that I will have to say goodbye to everyone here and head back home for the summer. In the past four months, I have grown in ways I didn’t even know I needed. My soul has been stretched and my heart has been strengthened. If you ever have the opportunity to take a pro contract somewhere overseas, I highly recommend that you do it. I realize that I have been incredibly blessed in my situation here in Cyprus, and not every pro season is similar to the one I am experiencing. People have their share of horror stories. But if you never try, you’ll never know. Up until now, if there was a situation that I didn’t feel was 100% healthy for me, I never had any trouble walking away from it. This wasn’t necessarily an unhealthy situation, but I definitely didn’t feel like myself. But I had committed, and so, decided to push through for a little while and at least give it a fair chance. Now I can’t believe that I ever had thoughts of letting this opportunity pass me by, and I will always have Cyprus to come back to if I ever need to escape one of those winters we Canadians choose to put up with year after year. That in itself is worth it to me.

24

Well, as promised in last weeks post, I’ll spill the beans
on the developments in my newest relationship here in Cyprus.
Basically it’s like this,

He patiently waits downstairs for me
while I get ready in the morning.
I don’t get to spend much time with him
because my schedule is getting pretty busy,
but on the mornings where my only task is
to hit the weights, we enjoy a ride to the gym together,
then out to lunch, and back home again.
The time we spend together can be difficult at times.
We don’t always see eye to eye.
He always demands my best, he pushes me to be better,
and challenges me in my fitness.
Amidst all of the fighting, and the push back I dish out,
our time together is always peaceful and refreshing.
It always seems to be just what I needed that day.
He gives me time to sort out my thoughts, to talk to Jesus,
enjoy the sunshine, whatever I need.
Although I have to wake up a little bit earlier in the
day to feel like I have enough time to
fully commit myself, it’s always worth it in the end.
I am so thankful that I have met him and
I hope that our relationship continues to
grow during my time here in Cyprus.
His name?

Blue… (except it doesn’t actually belong to me so he might already have been named something else.)

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All jokes aside, I really have started to enjoy the mornings I am able to ride my bike into the city and home. Looks like I should be able to consistently get in two rides a week! The ride to the gym is lovely in the crisp morning air. The uphill trek through the village after I’ve just eaten lunch when he noon-hour sun is high in the sky…is a little bit hell-ish at times, but it gets easier every time I do it so I think I’ll survive. I’ve gotten the time down to a solid 35 minutes, not sure if I’ll be able to shave any more off of that considering my body doesn’t actually wake up until I’m about half way there. But the ‘traffic’ in Cyprus (five cars in a row at the busiest time of day) makes riding stress-free, and I’m hoping that this new-years-post-christmas motivation isn’t a temporary thing.

Team Canada has set out a list of fitness requirements for when we get home, and right now I’ve accomplished one out of four. I’ve been doing my best to get my butt back in shape, and so far it’s been paying off. I’ve been able to consistently make it to the gym four mornings a week for some solid workouts. Yes my butt is always sore, my hips are tight, and my triceps are on fire, but I am determined to pull off at least one full tricep push up before the end of the month, and then hopefully make my way up to 30 from there… Yikes. The rest of the requirements are a slow going process, including squats, skipping and planks. Not like the planking the cool kids are doing in the photos, but the ones that actually burn in your abs and make your whole body shake.

Our game on Tuesday was another easy match-up. One more week and then the games start to get tougher. It’s a little bit difficult to get excited when you sweat more in the warm-up than during the actual game itself. Good news is, with the exception of one team, each game gradually gets harder from here, and then we start playoffs, where the top four and the bottom four teams and separated completely and we don’t have to play anymore games where we win 25-5.

Last Tuesday morning I went to my first art class. Lia helped me get in touch with the instructor, and Polivios is in the same one so he met me in the morning and graciously showed me where to go. When we got inside, he pulled out a sketch book and a case with all the pencils I would need, an sharpener and an eraser. The girls and I have concluded that between Lia and Polivios, they can get you whatever you need just based on personal connections alone. Knowing these two people connects you to every single kind of person you might need to get in touch with, and it has been a life saver and a blessing that they are always both so willing to help us out. My first lesson was on reproducing a drawing using only pencils. My teacher, Andri, taught me how to measure the drawing on the page, and make it larger in my own sketch book. Then she showed me how to shade using the different numbered pencils and to blend them together. My first masterpiece, complete!

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I was in the studio for about 3 hours and it felt like 20 minutes. Something about drawing, creating, focusing my attention on fine details enabled me to get lost completely and drown everything else out. It was so refreshing to be able to forget about everything and just enjoy myself wholeheartedly for almost an entire morning. Not once did I think about volleyball, not once did I think about how sore my muscles were, not once did I even think about anything except the exact moment I was in. If only I could apply that skill to every moment of my life. At the same time as I was getting lost in the shades on my page, I was also surrounded by other arists that were busy creating their own masterpieces. Some of the things I saw were AMAZING. One day I might gather up the courage and ask permission to take a photo to share with you all. For now, you’ll just have to imagine: (my favourite painting from the morning) a dark, foggy, and shadowy pathway in a park, lined with trees that were literally popping out of the canvas. The pathway lit with glowing yellow lights, a couple arm in arm him with a suit, her in a little black dress. One lone red umbrella top-down on the concrete that drew your eyes so hard I felt like they would be stuck there forever. If I only went to this studio on tuesday morning to take in and enjoy the expressions of the others working in there, I would be completely satisfied. Something about the arts is just so amazing to witness, especially when it is something the person is creating from their own thoughts and creativity. Perhaps it’s because they are literally putting a part of them down on canvas, or paper for everyone else to see. Everyones idea of beauty is different, everyones thoughts on ‘what looks right’ does not always align, but in the end it really doesn’t matter because when you are the creator of your own work, you can make it look just the way you want it to.

Word of my musical abilities has officially been found out, and I now have four music students. One voice, two piano, and one that does both. I needed some books for the students, so I headed to what I’m pretty sure is the only music store in Larnaca. I was hoping with all fingers crossed that they would have a certain book that I think is really good for teaching beginners. I walked in, and guess which book was the only one they had? Yep, the one I wanted. Hey God, that was pretty cool. So I bought all three and I was on my way. I’ve been teaching most lessons on saturdays because that’s the day that works best, and this was week two for most of the kids. Being able to teach these girls has definitely solidified my belief that this is what I want to do when I grow up. Their enthusiasm for music, their excitement and their improvement in as little as a week, has reminded me so much of why I love music the way that I do. I am so excited that I have the opportunity the pass on the gift of music to these young girls that may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. The economy in Cyprus is having it’s difficulties, I could be wrong but I don’t think that every elementary school, junior high or high school offers music classes as part of their regular curriculum. Being a country that is so small, it isn’t easy to find teachers, and I am just so happy to have kids that want to learn and that share my excitement for something that has brought so much joy to my life.

Saturday evening after just before I started my last lesson of the day, I came down the stairs (a little more slowly than I usually would as per instructed by the Loizou family) and was greeted with a birthday cake; candles and all. It’s the little gestures like these that continue to make my life here in Cyprus so amazing. I haven’t felt home sick in WEEKS – no offence to all of you back home. I really do love you, and Canada, but Cyprus is taking my heart and delighting it in ways that are inescapable.

Today marks the official start of birthday week. Ya that’s right, I said week. Usually at home I claim the entire month, but I don’t need the people here thinking I’m some sort of nut job. So here’s to experiencing what it feels like to be 24 (I’m still waiting for Taylor Swift to write a song about it…) and don’t forget, whoevers birthday it is gets to do whatever they want.

Joy In Serving

As I reflect back on my week, I see a mish-mash of up, down and all around. Our game on Tuesday was against a team that I can’t pronounce the name of. We won in three without much trouble and were spoiled with souvlaki after the game by the members of the board for our club. It might be my favourite part of the week, stopping at the local souvlaki house with the bus to pick up our order on the way out of town as we reflect on our victory. It has become the taste of satisfaction. The stamp of approval from the board members that they are proud of what we accomplished; a little reward for our hard work, if you will.

This week there were some exciting ‘firsts’ for me, a tradition I hope to keep up throughout the rest of my time here. Before christmas I sent my coach a message asking if he knew of somewhere I could find a bike. So far in Cyprus we have not presented a problem that he did not fix or a need the he could not fill (including that time there was a huge spider in my room). So, true to form he showed up to practice that night with a bike in the back of his truck and told me I could use it while I was here. How pumped was I? This week the weather was sunny and I was feeling ambitious so I rode it to the gym we workout at, then to Lia’s for lunch, then back home again. At the end of it all I felt pretty tired, but I have never felt so energized either. I think something about soaking up so much sun, and the endorphins it took to get me from place to place to place did my body well. I’ll keep you updated on how the bike-riding goes for the remainder of my contract.

I tried Schnitzel for the first time. For the most part I can now read the greek menu we get at lunch, but then this German word showed up and really threw me for a loop. I have heard of Schnitzel before but I never really knew exactly what it was. So, after the shock wore off and the girls were able to pull their chins up off the table after hearing that I had never tried it, they explained to me what it was and I figured I’d better try it while I had the chance. As you can see from the picture below, it was massive. I couldn’t finish it all, but it was delicious. I am so thankful for the fact that I don’t have to prepare my own lunch, and that I am so spoiled to have access to the best food in Larnaca to eat every day.

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There isn’t much option for the equivalent of a ‘natural foods store’ like vita health of whole foods out here in Cyprus, but at the same time, there isn’t really much need for it either, because most of the food is grown locally and naturally anyways. But I am in search of a protein powder to help my muscles grow big and strong; popeye spinach just isn’t quite doing the trick, and so I was on the hunt. I dedicated my thursday afternoon to finding this store that they told me was “downtown on the main road”. That is about the extent of directions people give here in Cyprus. The streets aren’t really labeled, and unless you know about landmarks and where everything in the city already is, good luck following someone’s explanation of how to get here or there (especially when you don’t speak greek). By the grace of God I ran into Polivios -the man who has dedicated his life to helping the children of his city, and the man who knows everyone and everything in Larnaca. He took me to the store and made sure that the worker wasn’t trying to sell me something that would cause me any trouble. God has been so great to me out here and has just provided me with person after person to take care of me and help me as I helplessly attempt to navigate my way around my new-found life out here. We started talking as we walked and we somehow ended up on the topic of art classes. I was planning on taking a painting class on wednesday afternoons, but Polivios (because he knows everyone) told me that he knew someone else that could give me lessons for a better price than what I was going to pay. I start on Tuesday and I couldn’t be more excited! After that, we got a coffee, headed over to the marina where the boy-scouts meet, and I got a history lesson from him about Larnaca and all of it’s secrets. 4000 years worth of things people know about this country and we just nicked the surface. There will be an everything-cyprus-blog-post to come, because this country is so fascinating I want to make sure I do the facts justice when I share them with you. I got another tour of the marina and he showed me the improvements the kids have been making to their clubhouse.

They made a Cat Restaurant so the cats would stay off of their boats
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They painted their boat


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This little guy is one tough kitty. Missing his left eye but still kickin’

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That little boat on the left belongs to Polivios. It fits three normal-sized people.

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This is the map he made of the road trips we are going on. We’ve already visited the portion in pink. The big blue one on the left is next!

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It’s a new years tradition here in Cyprus to eat what they call coin-cake. I had heard of this before but had seen it only at birthday parties. The idea is that there is a coin baked into the cake, and if you get the piece then you are the lucky person of the year. So we went for dinner as a team at one of the cafés that sponsors our club, and celebrated the new year with a coin cake and lots of food.

Friday rolled on by and then it was Saturday! We had practice in the morning and then I headed out to coach’s house to get some good family time in. I think that it’s safe to say that winter has ended and it is now summer again… ok, maybe spring, but still. That was THE shortest, LEAST painful winter I have ever experienced in my life. The last few days have been 18 and sunny all over. Part of me wonders if I will ever survive a Canadian winter again. We spent the day relaxing at the house, went for a walk around the neighbourhood with the girls, and to top off what was an already amazing day, we watched The Princess Bride before we went to bed. After the movie finished, Eleni (coach’s 7 year old daughter) and I headed to my room to start our girls sleepover night. First we played the Best Friend’s Sleepover Game, complete with running around the room imitating all sorts of animal, we painted out finger nails in matching colours- light blue with dark blue spots on the right hand, and light pink with purple spots on the left- and then we decided it was time for bed and we were asleep by 11.

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Despite the church bells ringing loud and clear calling everyone to church at 6:30 the next morning, I managed to stay in bed until 9. We had an awesome Sunday morning spending time with Jesus at the house, and then helped the girls get ready for a birthday party (because there isn’t a weekend that goes by without someone they know having a birthday).

A little later in the day Mary and her Mom came and picked me up and we headed into Agia Napa to meet Her Dad. Ev and Adri came with Denzel to join in the fun and do a little sight seeing. Agia Napa has some of the nicest beaches around, white sandy beaches and some of the blues water I’ve seen. Being in the city during the winter feels a bit weird because 90% of all of the shops close. Apparently in the summer the area is so packed that you can’t even find a place to lay your towel down, but the winter turns the place into a ghost town, and you’re hard-pressed to find a restaurant to eat at or a coffee shop to sit at. There were still boats in the marina and sun was still shining so we had nothing to complain about.

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These lovely birds of a feather were on display at the ‘Pelican Park’. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a real Pelican, and I sure didn’t think they would be pink. Their cage was equipped with a sign that read ‘keep back 3 meters, they bite!” They weren’t the friendliest of birds, especially when they saw our little Denzel, but man were they cool.

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This tree is planted in front of the Monastery. It is 700, or 600, or 500 years old…

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The cats at the monastery are the first street cats that actually wanted to be cuddled and played with. All of the other million cats in Cyprus are too scared to come close or only want you for your food. But these cats, man I almost brought one home. This experience convinced me that I might just skip the family and go straight to crazy-cat-lady. After I got my fix of fleas, we hopped in the car and headed back home. It was such an awesome day and it is so cool that we have people like Mary and her family here that are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to show us their amazing country.

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A full-packed weekend and I felt more refreshed than ever to start off the new week. Our AIA skypelship is going really well (shout out to our awesome leader Dave Johns who celebrated a Birthday yesterday!) and it is really opening my eyes and challenging me to find new ways to keep my focus on God and grow closer to Him every chance I get. Our devotion last sunday morning at the house with the kids was about service, and then in our skypleship talk last week we talked about the importance of serving others. There seems to be a bit of a theme recurring in my life at the moment… Hey God, I get it… We read through Matthew 20: 20-28. In the last three verses it says, 26…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as ransom for many.

Something about this verse really hit home for me. I always understood that Jesus coming to earth and dying for me was an incredible act of love, among so many other things. But somehow the fact that what Jesus came for, was to serve all of human kind escaped my understanding. Now, at the same time our group had been challenged to spend a week focused on finding ways to serve those around us, I started reading a book that Kendra passed on to me to read. Book 1 of the Mark Of The Lion series by Francine Rivers, A Voice In The Wind. This is an amazing book, and the main character, a young girl named Hadassah, is a Christian girl from Jerusalem who has ended up a slave in the Roman empire (I won’t spoil the story, don’t worry). One chapter in the book, the older brother of the family she is serving catches her praying in the garden at night. He is intrigued at her devotion to a God that no one can see, because romans worshipped statues of Gods for different things, ie. money, love, wisdom, etc. He asked her why she worships a God that has deserted her, one that has let her city become nothing but rubble and let people that she loves be overcome with death. She explains that she doesn’t feel deserted, because God has kept her alive, given her shelter, and food to eat. He asks her, “why do you suppose your God granted you such bounteous favor?” and she responds with,”That I might serve.” They speak a little more and the conversation turns to the purpose of life. He argues that the purpose of life is to pursue every happiness. Again she responds with, “I don’t believe the purpose of life is to be happy. It’s to serve. It’s to be useful” Now, along with this amazing perspective, that we are meant to be servants of the God that created us, something has also gone unsaid within this conversation that I have had the joy of experiencing. God graciously answered my prayers and presented me with many opportunities to serve this week, and it has been the best week I have had since I moved here to Cyprus. Something about being able to give back to those that have given so much to me, something about being able to love those that have shown me so much compassion has brought me more happiness than I expected. I challenge you to give it a try. Is there someone in your community that could use some extra help, or even just a bit of acknowledgement for all that they do? Actively seek out ways to serve others this week, while keeping in mind that when we serve, not only are we serving that person directly, but we are serving our God who feels so much joy when we give to others. Our God that so selflessly came down to earth to lay down his own life, the ultimate act of service.

Love you guys, thanks for reading, and thanks for all of the support you constantly give me from wherever you are.

Home For Christmas

My time at home was full of family, snow, all things ‘Canadian’, and finally, completed with the 24-hour-flu. Most of my time was spent with family but I did have the chance to see a few friends along the way. I think the last 4 times I have needed to either be dropped off or picked up at the airport, Ryan Bass has come to my rescue. Mostly because it’s a good excuse to hang out, and also because he usually works all hours of the day so when my flight got in from London at 1am, he was just getting ready to go to work after dropping me off at my sister’s house. Before I came home I decided that I really wanted to go to Peter’s because I was craving one of the world’s best milkshakes. Unfortunately, I missed my connecting flight in London, and by the time I got home Peter’s was closed, so we opted for Denny’s instead. Delicious night time breakfast and then off to bed for me.
Saturday morning was booked off for a girls breakfast with Carly, Lauren, and Kristen (some of the girls from my team back home at Trinity), and man was it good to see them. We went to a little place called Dairy Lane. If you live in Calgary and have never been there, GO. Go now. Egg nog french toast was my choice for the morning. I have never really been a fan of eggnog, but the fact that they don’t have it here in Cyprus made me a little crazy and I had as much of it as I could while I was home. After breakfast and catching up, naturally we migrated to the mall for some shopping. It was so good just to hang out, it felt like nothing had changed. It is so good to know that even though we might not talk as often as we feel we should, although we live in completely different parts of the world, we can still keep a friendship that feels easy and comfortable.

I stayed with Renae in Calgary for the first few nights. She runs a day home, and I tell you I don’t know how she does it. All my life I was convinced that I wanted at least 4 kids, and I spent a lot of my time wishing that I could just skip to the part where I was older so I could start my family now. Well, now I have been exposed more closely to children and what it actually means to be a parent through watching my sisters start their own families. I never quite understood how much work it actually was until I saw it first hand. The sleepless nights, the fact that you can’t take a break even when you feel like you have no energy left to lift another finger, because when baby cries, baby needs, and usually the only one who can fix it is mom. So for now I’m happy living my single life away in Cyprus, while enjoying the company of kids whenever I can. While I was spending time with the day home kids I had the privilege of: being quizzed on my addition skills (apples, oranges and finger counting all included), being the cool older girl that the younger girls wanted to follow everywhere, and fitting as many kids on my ‘laps’ as possible at one time because… “we can all fit because you have two laps, see? One (points to one leg) Two (points to the other) -Aime Gogo.

We made our way down to Mom’s house and there we stayed for most of my time at home. One day at Mom’s and then boom. The Christmas flu. The one that you think (or at least I did) will get to everyone but you. One by one. Started with the little ones and slowly made it’s way through every person in the house. Nothing like a little Christmas virus to complete your holiday. But nothing could stop Taylor from being her quirky weird self. I love it when this happens…

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Every time I see Tanner and Maddie I swear they look two years older than the last time I saw them. Tanner is into his usual boy things that I don’t fully understand. He’s way better at Call of Duty than I could ever be, and he’s 11. Is there something genetic that just automatically makes boys better at video games than girls? Apparently while I was away, these new bracelets that you make out of rubber bands and a loom became the new craze, so Maddie and I spent a good chunk of our time making those, and we shared a bed while I was home which was also a ton of fun. Tanner and Aime slept on the floor in our room as well for a few nights which made the party even better.

One thing I love about southern Alberta is all of the small towns. and when I say small, I mean smallll. I coached a volleyball camp at the High School in Cardston which was a lot of fun. I really am starting to enjoy coaching and it give me something to look forward to after my days as a player are over. I took Tanner and Maddie into town with me the night before and we spent the night at Jewel’s house. Later that day we hit up the public skate time at the skating rink, and as luck would have it, we were the only ones that showed up! The whole rink to ourselves. I almost forgot how much skates hurt my feet…

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Christmas Eve was as exciting as always. Maddie was the first was to see everything because she woke up sick at 2am. But she managed to pull herself back into bed and sleep for 5 more hours until waking everyone up for the 7am Christmas morning routine. Always exciting, especially when there are little kids around to enjoy all of the exciting things that Santa brought, never quite knowing how he knew EXACTLY what they wanted. Mom was too sick to get out of bed for all of the festivities, and it wasn’t quite the same without her.
When it came time to open my christmas present from Zack (backed by Taylor) I was pretty excited to see what was inside. A box complete with the movie “Howl’s Moving Castle”, a sweet comic book about a volleyball player (I wanna be her), and AMAZING moccasin slippers to keep my perma-cold feet warm 🙂 The afternoon consisted of too much food at the Hardy’s for Christmas dinner visiting and catching up with family, then over to the French’s for some more visiting and catching up. Although the living room, and the basement, and every other room of the houses are always packed to the brim with people and kids running around, it is always so good to get out to Grandma’s house for some good family time.

Christmas day came and went and boxing day marked the day I became a true Canadian. Being away from home must have made me realize how much I have been missing out on in my own backyard because this Christmas I did TWO things that are known ‘canadian’ activities that I had never done before. Grandpa Hardy rented the curling rink in Magrath for everyone to go play on. We had enough people to make 5 teams with the parents of the little ones switching in and out. Now, I had always heard that it was a really fun sport to play, but I never ever believed it. Like, all you do is throw some stones down the ice and hope they stop inside that little red circle, how much fun could that be?? Turns out throwing stones is only half the fun. The other half comes in the form of brooms for sweeping ice, stepping onto the ice with a slider on your foot and falling flat on your butt, and watching your mother try to balance herself while sliding on one foot and pushing a rock down the ice and laughing her head off.
Also this…

All Star Curlers
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IMG_0552 Italian Sodas

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On the 27th we headed down to the cabin in Montana, and there I crossed another Canadian item off my bucket list. I am a little ashamed to admit that it took me 23 years to gain the courage to skate on a frozen lake. Now, I remember when I was younger, Grandpa Hardy  did the coolest thing known to any kid and turned his entire backyard into an ice rink. I will never forget that, but something about knowing that the weather had been entirely cold enough to freeze the surface of the lake, enough for you to skate on it seems like a pretty cool thing to me. Blake and Doug drilled a hole in the ice and hauled out the water pump in an attempt to smooth out the surface of the ice. We spent part of the next day shoveling and we were eventually left with this.

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Being at the cabin always gives a bit of a mixed feeling, because you are out amidst the trees and God’s amazing creation, everything is beautiful. When all of it is covered in snow, it brings a different sort of peace and quiet that you don’t get in the summer time. Maybe because more people are inside avoiding the cold weather, or maybe it’s the way the grey sky blends in with the snow covered ground. Well outside all is peaceful, inside sometimes brings that stir-crazy feeling. When people get cabin fever, things like this start to happen…

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Aside from the crazy moments, and the one day spent in bed due to sickness, we took full advantage of our winter wonderland.

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We headed back home for New Years and had a nice quiet night completed with discounted Christmas crackers, the NYC count down, and all of the grown ups struggling to stay awake past midnight.

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The next day it was time to say goodbye and make my way back to my second home in Cyprus. I convinced myself to walk out the front door of the house and made it to the car door before I burst into tears. I turned around and went back up to the house for a second try. Momma met me at the door and assured me that ‘big girls don’t cry’ which made us laugh given the fact that we are both supposed to be ‘big girls’. It only took me an hour down the road to realize that I had left my volleyball shoes in the back seat of my car in Lethbridge, but it was too late to turn back now so I just had to make do. Never once in my life have I left my mother’s house without leaving something behind, so why start now? You’re welcome mom.

Ryan and I attempted to stop at Peter’s Drive-In on our way up to the airport. Much to our dismay we had forgotten the fact that it was New Year’s Day, and naturally it was closed. So began my journey through the airports and across the ocean back to Cyprus. Seeing as I was playing Santa Claus for some of the girls on my team bringing volleyball shoes and victoria secret sprays back with me, I had weighed my options between packing an extra bag or packing an overweight bag, and the overweight bag was going to be cheaper so we went with that. Now, here’s where the story of how God’s hand of favour guided my journey back to Cyprus starts.

I tried to check in online before i went to the airport, but for some reason the ‘stupid website’ kept telling me that my reservation code was invalid. I was pissed. I got inside the doors of the airport and there was a HUGE line-up for the bag-drop. This made me nervous because usually, the bag drop line is shorter than the check-in-the-old-fashioned-way line. I nervously made my way to the line that answered ‘no’ to the question, “do you have your boarding pass?” Empty. Completely empty. I was called up right away! THEN I got up to the desk, “I know that my bag is definitely over weight, I’m really sorry, but I will pay the fee” guy checks me in, “I’m gonna give you a pass on the bag this time, just don’t do it again”… WHAT? FYI my bag is over weight every time I fly… so I got to keep my $60 and be on my way. I got onto the airplane and was sitting in a middle seat (result of not being able to check in online before hand) The seat to my left was still empty when I sat down so I was secretly hoping that no one would show and I’d have some space to stretch my legs. A couple walked down the aisle and the guy stopped at my row. He said to his girlfriend, “I’m here in row 35”, she sighed and said “I’m in 37 so I guess I’ll see you later.” I thought dang, that sucks, I should offer her my seat. So I asked them if they wanted to trade and they were so happy and very grateful. In return I got her seat, an Aisle seat! The rest of the trip was seamless and easy. The security terminals weren’t busy, and the flights were easy to get through. It’s moments like these that God teaches me to not be such a scrooge about any given situation. This is my real-life example of why having a good attitude and choosing kindness and grace over anger and a quick-temper always make life more enjoyable, not only for myself, but also for everyone around me.

The tough part happened the day after I got back, and the jet-lag kicked in. I arrived at 9pm on thursday night. I got a few solid hours in and enjoyed catching up with Ev and Adri in the morning in my room amongst all of my crap. The next night was a bit rougher and I didn’t end up falling asleep until 7am, and was awake at 10. The next night was by far the worst and I didn’t sleep at all, only to get out of my bed completely irritated and frustrated on sunday morning to get ready for church. All I could think of was, “Now I think I understand a little bit how Aunty Jewel must feel when she has to work a night shift.” Monday was a holiday and I finally slept for a full 12 hours from 1am until 1pm. I have never felt more tired in my life, and the most frustrating part was there was nothing I could do to control what time of the day I began to feel tired. My entire world felt upside down, and it was such a bizarre, annoying, and completely hilarious thing to experience.
Although not being able to sleep had mostly negative side affects, it did give me the opportunity to watch this unfold…

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Being back in Cyprus has posed a bit of a challenge in my walk with God. As I am coming to learn and understand the true meaning of the Gospel, and all of the amazing things that come along with it, my heart continues to be tested and my mind continues to be blown. I have been finding it more and more difficult to set aside time for Jesus, and extremely easy to give my time up to everything else. The trouble with this is, these things began to build walls between me and God, but in a manner of brick-by-brick so the building was almost unnoticeable. Lately I am finding that the older I get, the more I discover; the more life reveals to me and unfolds before me. Sometimes the things I learn are satisfying and liberating, and sometimes they are a little bit heart-breaking and debilitating, though only for a while if I choose to remedy them correctly. But that’s just it. My struggle as of late comes in the form of not feeling deserving of the love of Christ, and finding other things to put in between myself and God so I didn’t have to deal with it. God blessed me with some much needed alone time this past sunday, and I was able to find a cafe that was empty and quiet to just go sit and be in. I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller and my heart had been waiting to hear these words for weeks.

Christ wins our salvation through losing
He achieves power through weakness and service
He comes to wealth by giving everything away
Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and the accomplished,
but those who admit they are weak and are lost

Slowly I am learning to deal with myself when I stumble, because I am always my own worst critic; quick to forgive others but slow to forgive myself. The fact of the matter is, (as Kendra wisely put it) my knees will probably be dirty for the better portion of my life. The difference is after we stumble and often fall to the ways of this world, those who are alive in Christ continue to pick themselves back up in light of His saving grace. So here’s to making a change. Next time I won’t run away from His love when I fall. I won’t build a wall of things or tasks or people in an attempt to keep Jesus from seeing what is actually happening inside my heart. I am happy to embrace it all for what it is. My weakness is not something that should pull me farther from Christ, but something that amazingly enables me to draw nearer. Now I see that in my moments of weakness, there are beautiful opportunities for me to experience the strength of Christ. So this time, I won’t be afraid of a little bit of dirt, because the blood that has cleansed me is cleaner than anything I could ever imagine.

This song says it all.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZowdfOApyEc