More Than Just Godliness

Today we are delighted to feature our second post from Alexa. In her first post this month, Alexa talked about the strength she sees in her mother’s face. Today, Alexa looks at how her travels, and her passion for  travel as a means of personal growth and self-fulfillment, have given her wider perspectives on the strength people can derive from faith and religion. Check out more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

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My First Communion

My mom has always said that if there were a gift that she could impart to me before she dies, it would be her faith in God. It is this faith that gives her strength and has kept her afloat throughout life’s tough moments. She believes that God works in mysterious ways, and though there are challenging moments in life, that pain and suffering isn’t pointless. It’s all for a reason. So perhaps when you are going through a rough moment, what you’ll learn from that experience will help make you a more compassionate person towards others in similar circumstances, or make you a better friend or parent in the future.

All of my life, I have seen and admired my moms’ faith for what it is, but for whatever reason it is something that I have just never felt in my being.
At this moment in my life, I would most aptly describe myself as an agnostic. Despite personally not feeling this faith in a higher power, I do recognize the strength that it can offer individuals when dealing with life’s many knocks.

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At the Blue Ridge Mountains with Different World Views

I don’t think; however, that this strengthening faith has to necessarily be constricted to the realms of godliness. I think that if you marvel at the mystery of life, nature the cosmos, the world, existence, and how the world works in cycles…you can see that nothing lasts forever, and whatever you are going through, it will change eventually.

I think there is solace in knowing that even with you lying perfectly still the world still revolves and life continues. Everything happens for a reason and faith in God, nature, and even other people’s faith is something that can be comforting and offer you added strength when you have none to spare.

Strength is My Mother’s Face

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Mother and daughter dolls made in Colombia 

Today’s post is from Alexa, and it is the first of two she has written for us this month. Alexa was born in Colombia, South America but raised in the States. Today’s post focuses on the strength Alexa finds in her mother, and how as she has traveled the world, she has come to appreciate her mother’s strength even more. You can read more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

Strength manifests itself in so many different ways. But for me, strength has always worn my mother’s face. Though it’s not a face I always recognized in the moment, as the years have gone by and my understanding of events has expounded, I have come to recognize this face more easily, and admire the woman who meets life’s challenges with grace and faith.

At five year’s old I boarded a plane only to arrive in the U.S. a couple of hours later. You can imagine my vast disappointment when I realized that the United States is not synonymous with Disney world, as I’d previously been led to believe.

The first few years in the U.S. were really difficult. I didn’t understand why my mom had to work so hard. We lived with roommates, sometimes I had to be left alone, and though I was with my mom all the time I really missed her. Those were the days when I would be the first person dropped off at daycare, and the last one to leave minutes before they officially closed.

I missed my dad and all of the family members we had left behind in Colombia.

Why had we left our country for this? In Colombia we belonged to a higher social class, had many luxuries, were comfortable, and had all of our family. Why would my mom leave all of that behind to come to a new country with her little daughter? Why had she come to this country whose language she didn’t speak very well? Her title in business administration hadn’t even carried over from one country to another, and for a while she worked as a waitress at restaurants.

Like many immigrants before her, my mom came to this country in the hopes of a brighter future. Though we did have many luxuries in Colombia my mom had the strength to leave those comforts behind and work for something better. She loved my father, but she had to leave him to his vices in the hopes that by creating distance I wouldn’t have to grow up exposed to such things.

The older I get the more I find myself asking, “How did she do it?”. When I lived in France and China, being an immigrant, even a temporary one, was so difficult. There’s a language barrier, and even when you know the language you don’t know exactly how to say the right things, there’s a different culture and way of doing things, figuring out healthcare and where to go in case of emergencies is a pain, and creating a support system takes time.

Waking Up

A Good Morning in Thailand

I’m tired of being tired. Not just the physical tired, but the emotional tired that comes with stress, living in another country, work, a busy life, and a multitude of other problems clamoring for my attention at any given moment. I’m tired of rolling out of bed and mechanically getting ready to hit the grind. I want to live my life, not just survive it.

So this week I am waking up saying, this morning is for ME. I will fill my own bucket with sunshine, peace and purpose before I go out and start filling the buckets around me.

I stretch. I put my arms over my head and breath deep enough my belly looks like a balloon. I take a moment to remember how incredible having life is, and how beautiful it is to take one breath, and then another.

I dance, sing, hum, or spend a minute listening to the birds or Spanish ballads. I put at least a moment of music in me because there’s something about having a song in your heart that brings joy.

I read. Right now it’s one or two verses from Ecclesiastes, or a poem by Dylan Thomas, or a moment with something I already know from my Chinese book to give me a little extra confidence. Words bring life, and I choose to put those words on my tongue like nourishing honey.

I soak in the sunshine. If there is no sunshine, I look at the trees and remember that they too are waiting for the sun to come back, and they do so with patience and grace. I try to stand tall like they do, and hope I will be as wise as they are some day.

I eventually get to work, have my breakfast, and drink my coffee. I try to remember to keep all the things from the morning in me, and to take another deep breath when needed.

Habits are hard to form. There will still be days when the thought of getting out of bed is painful in itself, when life seems too stressful to face, when the thought of doing it all again brings dread. But if I can breathe in and sing my blessings even one more time this week than last, I know I’m learning to wake up right.

You Are Not What You Do

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“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” — C.G. Jung

By: Jenni Taylor

I’m what you call goal oriented. I aim for a solid A in my life- not an A plus, mind you (silly overachievers) but I try to be pretty darn good at whatever I’m doing. Sometimes it comes easy, like when I’ve just rocked a class with my skills and spread the knowledge, strutting out of the classroom with some designer shades and a cardigan like the badass I am. Sometimes it’s not so easy, the days when I sit down to write a sentence in Chinese with characters I have practiced thousands of times and then draw a complete blank, staring at an empty page and feeling utterly useless.

I fill my life with goals because I like to feel important. I like to feel acknowledged. I like to feel accomplished. But I remember those days when I was younger, trekking through the woods, the camp days where mirrors didn’t exist and my muscles were tenuous and strong and I touched the bark of trees thinking, I could go my whole life without a name, as long as I am here, as long as I am loved.

It’s becoming surprisingly hard to get back to those moments, those pure moments of childlike faith in unconditional love and the everlasting power of hugging a tree. Opening my heart to the world used to be easy. Now, it takes sincere practice, which is more of a failure than a success these days. I am constantly having to reawaken myself.

I was always told you are not what you do, but it’s a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again. So here I am, ready to learn yet once again, to let go of the nonsense gripped so tightly in my fists and open myself again to being loved- just for me, little me looking out my window waiting for dreams to come.

I’m not what I do. Are you? Let’s live a life constant reawakening together.

On Being Awake

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By: Jenni Taylor

I want to be awake. Those neurons are firing in my brain, and I want to know the intricacy of each. I run and feel my heart pound and never want to forget how each beat is a gift. I breathe in that qi, that breath of life, that beautiful oxygen filling my belly and my back all the way down to my toes and I know my body is more amazing than I will ever be able to understand.

I want to feel amazed. I want to tell my students to draw pink trees or purple trees or green trees if they like but only if they want it to be green and not because they have to. I want to stop for that moment at night when I’m alone on the pavement looking at the sparkling city lights and feel that I am part of something so big and so beautiful and realize it’s not lonely at all, just quiet. It’s the quiet that comes before taking a leap of faith, and I wrap it around my heart like a promise.

I want to live bravely. I want to sing to the Chicago south side soulful church beat I grew up with, and stylize my oohs and ahhs with loud obnoxious ecstasy. I want to bravely learn to love myself on the days when all I see are flaws. I’d rather my heart be two sizes too big with enough room for tears instead of two sizes too small with no room for love.

I want to be wise. I want to embody Sophia, the wise woman, every day. I want to grow wrinkles that tell stories and laugh lines that show a life well lived. I want to ask the right questions, even if the right answers are hard to find.

I want so many things. It’s my time to get out of bed and live my life awake.

My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant, total amazement. -Meg Ryan as Patricia in Joe Versus the Volcano

Awakening to War

Hope of Life

“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” ― D.H. Lawrence

Today’s post again focuses on the conflict in Syria. Shaza Askar’s perceptive put a human face on the tragedy with wisdom and grace. Hopefully, this post will wake us all up to the realities of war, and guide us to work for peace.

Syria’s turmoil began with protests against the regime back in March 2011. A year and a half later it was formally declared a civil war. Three years later, the war has affected the world, even the international community has stepped in after accusations of chemical weapons use in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013.

The human cost is high and continues to climb as fighting rages. The death toll now exceeds 130,000 and more than eight million Syrians have fled their homes, seeking refuge either in neighboring countries or other parts of their troubled country.

I was living in my home city Homs during the outbreak of the war in 2011. The beginning of the war, or let us say revolution, was frightening because no one could guess where it might take us, or what my country’s future was going to be like.

Since my family house was near the Old City of Homs, a center of action, we had a greater share of tragedies. I can clearly remember how it all started, the protests, the first confrontations between the rebels and the government army, the deployments of tanks and soldiers down the streets, and the raids on the houses.

One June morning in 2011, I awoke to find seven tanks on my block. At that point I knew, a real war had started. There was one time that my sister and I were walking home and suddenly two groups were shooting all around us, we ran like crazy for almost 200 meters to reach to our relatives’ house. We stayed there until there was a break in the battle and we could finally go home.

The scary thing about Syria is that even if you are in an area that seems calm, there are still airstrikes. There isn’t a no-fly zone in place. And there are airstrikes all around the country. So at any moment the veneer of calm can be shattered with an airstrike or with an artillery round. Consequently, civilians were indiscriminately being killed, and who is the murderer? It is an unanswerable question since there are quite a number of armies, groups, and affiliations which are fighting in my country.

I awake every morning knowing war is ravaging my country, I awake every morning knowing people in Syria will die. I awake every morning knowing being alive is a blessing.

Awaken Your Spirit

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Welcome to Awakenings month!

In many parts of the world, plants are beginning to bloom, birds are chirping, everything is coming alive.

So in the spirit of this enlivening sense of the earth’s reawakening, we invite you to submit your posts on this month’s theme of Awakenings.

We would love to see your photos, lists of things that awaken your spirit, or posts about how your have been awakened on your spiritual journey!

Of course, we are also accepting posts for next month’s theme of strength too!

Hope to hear from you all soon!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni

P.S. A few days ago we marked the one year anniversary of Searching Sophia’s Pockets! Thanks for taking this journey with us!

 

The Choice of Leaving Syria

Today’s post comes from Shaza Askar, a young Syrian woman. Shaza’s brave words shed a new light on the theme of choices. Above all, Shaza’s post gives us a glimpse into the reality of war, and we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are exceedingly glad she is able and willing to share her story.  

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“A part of me is still there…” says Shaza of her room in Homs, Syria

From the outside, Syria looks like Armageddon. It just looks like full-on combat around every corner, but war-zones are never what they appear from the outside. There are always pockets of calm and neighborhoods where life goes on.

Around the end of the year 2011, I chose to move to the capital city of Damascus to pursue a Master’s degree there. You can never guess that life was almost normal in the neighborhoods inside Damascus. However, in the distance you could always hear artillery rounds landing, but it seemed like there were areas and pockets that were nearly calm except for some mortars and Grad Rockets falling every now and then, in addition to explosions taking place once in two or three weeks.

Despite choosing to move somewhere safer, I almost lost my sister in an explosion in summer 2013. More than twenty people were burned to death while they were riding a bus after it passed over planted explosives. People around the explosion were injured too. My sister was one of those injured by the explosion, of course but thankfully she survived it. The violence continued to escalate. Battles were surrounding the capital city; some of them even took place within the neighborhoods of Damascus. We had to make a choice.

Living in a situation like that, fleeing the country was the only choice for me. After the choice of leaving Syria was made, I, along with my sister, began the long and exhausting process of preparations. After a few months of working on our papers in such a complicated situation, and having to fly to Jordan or Lebanon whenever we had an appointment with the German Embassy, risking our lives with snipers who were readily placed on the way to the airport, my sister and I were finally accepted to study at German universities that were exceptionally supportive to us with regard to our special case.  I can’t be thankful enough for every person that showed real compassion during that time because it meant a lot.

Escaping Syria was my choice, but what of the people who are still there without the option to leave? What is their choice?

For the Love of Elephants

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By: Jenni Taylor

While visiting Thailand, a friend and I signed up for a day tour that seemed to offer it all: history museums, waterfalls, elephants, rafting, and tigers. Can’t get better than that, right?

The museums were informative, the waterfalls were beautiful, and the elephants- well, the elephants were chained, dirty, and beaten. A chain smoking “tour guide” pushed the tourists from the bus into a line to get them on the elephants, take a few circles around while they were directed with hooks, and then shuffle the group off to lunch on time.

We refused.

While standing to the side feeling guilty and unsure of what to do while the rest of the tourists took their pleasure ride, an elephant came right up to the fence and reached out her trunk to me. It was the same feeling you get when a toddler reaches out her little arms to you and you are sure all the love in the world is being directed at you in that moment.

We became friends.elephant 2

When I asked what her name was, another chain smoking worker said they called her “Lady Boy”, and laughed. Lady Boy’s baby and another older “grandpa” elephant soon joined us.

I decided to feed them bananas.

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I’m no elephant expert, but if eyes are windows to the soul, these elephants have spirit. They have life. They are capable of happiness, friendship, and love.

And when grandpa elephant was taken away to be ridden by tourists and smacked with a hook, my new friend turned sadly away and stood by herself.

Her eyes told me they were capable of pain and suffering, too.

Maybe we couldn’t have done much more than we did, refuse to ride and show as much love and care as we could in the few minutes we had. But I can’t get them out of my mind. So, I pray,

May the humans who have lost their kindness rediscover it.
May creatures in pain be given advocates of love.
May we learn to increase our empathy and our loving action,
and may we use the loudness of our voices
to speak out against wrongdoing towards all things, great and small.
May we see the world through the eyes of God and care for it in the same way.

Amen.

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Beginnings, Submissions and You!

A new year has begun, and we need your wisdom more than ever.

Our theme for January is Beginnings. So tell us…how did you begin your spiritual journey? How did you begin your creative work? How did you begin your travels? What are you beginning this year?

We want to hear from you, we want to see photos of what is new in your life, whether is is a photo of the newest member of your family, or your newest piece of artwork. We want to hear how it all started. You can send your submissions to Sophiaspockets@gmail.com anytime before Jan. 25th. So begin your posts now!

Happy New Year! We look forward to celebrating all that is beginning, and all that has already begun with you!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Jenni and Autumn