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Good Choices . . . and Serendipity

I love the word serendipity . . . especially when it happens to me! On Friday morning I decided to start a “Good Choices” journal to motivate me toward more positive action and less stinkin’ thinkin’ (particularly about myself). I want to jot down small victories in making wise choices about everyday things and answers to my prayers for wisdom. So, of course, I needed to find a nice notebook to use.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I almost NEVER need to run to the store if I need any kind of stationery supplies. You could shop in my home office. Anyway, I looked at my stack of blank journals and notebooks and this is what jumped out at me. Could it be more perfect? I’ve been “saving” it for a few years, not knowing for what. Now I know. :)

Good Choices journal

And here’s a peek at the inside cover that I hand-lettered:

good choices

Never a Dull Moment…

Note: I started writing this post LAST Friday night and never finished it. A week later, I have more to write about but am determined to get this done! 

Glancing at the clock, I see that I have now been home exactly one week (almost to the hour) from my three-week mission trip to Armenia. So much has happened since our return that it seems like Armenia was weeks ago, and yet I can still almost smell the streets of Yerevan and feel the 35-40C heat blowing in my face as we quickly bump along the dusty, crowded streets.

Note: A week later, I definitely cannot feel the hot air anymore! It’s been downright cold in Montreal — We’re talking sweater and socks weather. But I love that, so no complaints!

The last several weeks gave me many opportunities to exercise faith, practice patience, extend compassion, receive grace and be humbled. There are things I appreciate about life in Armenia (everyone has the gift of hospitality) and things that make me miss Canada (life is more comfortable and stable here). I enjoyed meeting new people and seeing them light up whenever we shared the love of Jesus with them. At the same time, we witnessed a lot of pain and suffering that was difficult to process.

Okay, that’s as far as I got, so let me try to catch up now. . .

You can read all about my trip to Armenia on our mission trip blog (which I’m delighted to see people are still visiting!) so I won’t repeat the details here. When we returned, jet lag and fatigue (our journey home took about 24 hours) were not the only things to cope with:

  • I got home to discover my phone line was down. That was Thursday night. My line got repaired on Monday morning. Miraculously, I had Internet access.
  • The same night we got home, I blocked the toilet when the head of the toilet brush fell in and I thoughtlessly flushed so I would have clean water to fish it out of. Oops. I went to bed upset and feeling even more tired. Thankfully, my father was able to fix it the next day, but only after completely removing the toilet and then reinstalling it.
  • The day after our return, I noticed a recent dental filling had fallen out. The same thing had happened to my Dad toward the end of our trip! A call to the dentist revealed he was on vacation. We finally got our teeth fixed yesterday, almost two weeks later.
  • The day before I went to Armenia I received jury selection summons. Thankfully, it was only after we were back in town that I realized it was for the most high-profile and disturbing case currently going on in Canada. Suffice it to say, I am very grateful that I was among those exempted from jury duty. But you can imagine that the days leading up to my court appearance date (September 10) were quite stressful.

And then things started looking up!

  • TDDDThe same day I reported for jury selection, a FedEx truck pulled up to the house and dropped off four big boxes. My copies of Truth, Dare, Double Dare have arrived! In just another week and a half, my third devotional for tween girls should be showing up on store bookshelves. I’m almost giddy with excitement and can’t wait to start hearing feedback for this one. My publisher and I will be finalizing some promo and marketing details in the next little while.
  • Christian Retailing listed my book in its October 2014 Buyer’s Guide for youth books!
  • My new column in ChristianWeek, a Canadian newspaper, launched on September 1. My column is called “Faith that Follows” and my first piece is “Choosing What Is Better.”
  • I got a very flattering compliment about the “silver” in my hair while picking up a salad at a nearby bakery. Hey, don’t laugh. I like to celebrate the little joys in life! :)

It’s hard to believe we’ve been home two weeks already. Life got back to routine faster than I expected, though it did take about a week to completely shake off the jet lag. Now it’s busy, busy, busy again! But it’s all good stuff. I’ve got several exciting writing projects going on, which I look forward to sharing about. In two weeks I’ll be participating in our annual women’s retreat (not as the speaker but as one of the organizers and emcees). Canadian Thanksgiving is less than a month away and then we start thinking about Christmas. Whew! Wasn’t it January 1 just a few days ago? :)

I’ve already written most of my next blog post so I promise there won’t be such a big gap between posts this time. Have a great weekend and see you soon!

Long-overdue Update

Hello friends! We’re already past the mid-way point of our mission trip in Armenia and I feel bad that I haven’t updated this blog since before I left Montreal. I have, however, been reporting on our daily activities on our mission trip blog, which I welcome you to check out if you’d like to know what kind of ministries we’ve been involved in.

On a more personal note, this trip (my second to Armenia) has really challenged me to feel contentment and gratitude in the midst of challenges. Since we arrived on August 13, I’ve had several different health issues come up, I stayed overnight in a village for three days in a home with no running water (they have a well outside), the weather has been much hotter than I’m used to, etc. At the same time, we’ve visited numerous homes where the families (or, in a few cases, widows) can barely scrape together their rent money, let alone money for food or personal expenses. Or a family member is severely ill. Or the father and husband has left home to get a job elsewhere and broken ties with his family. The family I stayed with in Horom has to live without running water 365 days a year, not three days.

Of course, all of this has reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for that if I were to list my blessings one by one, I would still be writing that list in my old age.

I hope that my father and I have been an encouragement to the people we’ve met here, and that we will continue to encourage them until we leave on September 4, and I also hope that the experiences we are sharing will inspire those of you back home who are reading about them. You don’t necessarily have to leave the comfort of your home for three weeks to feel compassion for those around you who are struggling (although it can help — let me tell you!) but it is important to have an open heart and to allow God to move you, to challenge you and even to make you feel uncomfortable sometimes.

We can’t solve all the problems in the world, but we can bring one person a smile or some hope or a touch of grace. One person at a time, one day at a time, we can make a difference.

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If you’d like to see more photos from our trip, you can view the full photo album on our ministry’s Facebook page.

Armeni-what?

Earlier today, someone asked me how large Armenia was and I struggled to remember the population of the nation. I wanted to say 10 million but I was mistakenly thinking of the number of Armenians worldwide (which is closer to 11 million).

Armenia is a little-known country for the most part, which is a touch ironic considering its history and its contributions to so many realms of life. So here’s some not-so-trivial trivia about Armenia that I thought might interest those of you who are wondering about this country I’m going to on Tuesday:

  • Armenia is considered by some to be part of the Middle East, by some to be part of Asia and by some to be part of Europe (because of its modern and economic trends, which are similar to Georgia, now part of Europe). Officially, however, it is in Asia. It is the landlocked neighbour of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran, making it a gateway from Europe to the Middle East and Asia.
  • About 3 million people live in Armenia and 11 million Armenians live elsewhere, mostly in Russia (estimates are between 1 and 3 million) and the United States (between .5 and 1.5 million). Between 50,000 and 80,000 live in Canada. [My source is the-not-always-reliable Wikipedia.]
  • Just over one-third of Armenia’s population lives in the capital, Yerevan.
  • LadaThe two types of cars we saw the most of while we were in Armenia were old Russians Ladas or modern Mercedes.
  • Mount Ararat is a national symbol even though it is now within the political borders of Turkey.
  • Yerevan was founded 2,800 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.
  • Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion (at the start of the 4th century). No, not Italy. Not England. Armenia.
  • Armenia reportedly has the best apricots in the world. Too bad I don’t like apricots!
  • The currency of Armenia is the dram.
  • The longest non-stop two-way cable car system is in Armenia and it travels 1,000 feet over a gorge. No thanks!
  • Many of the older buildings were constructed with stone that has a pink tinge. This has given Yerevan the unofficial nickname of “The Pink City.”
  • Famous people you may not have known are Armenian (or part-Armenian) include singer/actress Cher, singer Charles Aznavour, tennis player Andre Agassi, actor Andy Serkis, director Atom Egoyan, comedian Andrea Martin, actor Mike Conners, actor Michael Vartan (yay!), and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (by adoption). There are many more, of course. In fact, Princess Diana was 1/64th Armenian!

In the next few weeks, as I post updates and photos from Armenia, you’ll learn more about Armenia than you even thought you wanted to. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. And inspiring. And moving. Stay tuned! :)

(Armenian friends reading this, feel free to add your own favourite interesting facts about Armenia in the comments section below!)

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140 Drams – A Glimpse of Armenia

This is a beautiful but heart-wrenching short film about life in Armenia. It’s not exaggerated. When we have visited Yerevan and some of its suburbs and surrounding villages, this is exactly the type of situation we encountered again and again. Of course, not all Armenians live in poverty, but a great many do. The condition of this apartment building is just like many of the homes we entered.

I don’t share this so that you will pity people in Armenia, but to challenge you to consider whether you take some of life’s comforts for granted. I certainly do. Can we shake off some of our materialism and take the time to appreciate the priceless things in life: each breath we take, each flower we see, each musical note we hear, each hug we receive, each moment we’re given?

Please visit my Mission Trips page to learn more about my involvement with Armenia. (We return next Tuesday for three weeks.)

Source: 140 Drams from Oksana Mirzoyan on Vimeo.

Fix It

I used to be a huge CSI fan (okay, okay, I’ll admit it—I was also a Nick Stokes fan). Several years ago, when a friend lent me a novel based on CSI, I was naturally eager to read it. What I didn’t expect was that it would hit me with a spiritual lesson!

In one scene, a junior criminalist admitted to his supervisor that he hadn’t handled a confrontation properly. The older man responded: “Don’t beat yourself up. Fix it.”

keepcalmandfixitSimple and direct, but very wise. This reminded me that when we sin or fall into unhealthy habits or cause harm to a relationship, it’s not enough to just feel bad about it. It’s not enough to merely admit we’re sinners. The Bible makes it clear that we need to make things right with God (and with others) and repent (Acts 3:19, 2 Cor. 7:10, Rev. 2:5). “Repent” means to turn away from sin. If we don’t repent, our remorse is about as useful as sitting in your car after it’s fallen into a ditch and crying: “If only I’d taken the other road! If only I’d driven slower!” Feeling bad won’t get you out of the mess you’re in.

Have you botched things up in your marriage, at work, with a friend? Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t give up. Don’t cover up. Fix it. God will help you!

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

The Other Side of Prayer

A calorie-conscious woman drove past a bakery and saw some delicious-looking cookies. She decided to pray about it: “Lord, if you want me to have some of those cookies, please let me have a parking place directly in front of the bakery.” Sure enough, the eighth time she drove around the block, there was the empty parking spot!

Sadly, this is how we sometimes approach prayer. We may pray about things we already know God will say “no” to, hoping that if we plead with a convincing enough argument He might relent, or we pray without being willing to listen to His answer, or we doubt that He will answer at all. Often, we foolishly take matters into our own hands without even praying.

When we do pray, we may talk, talk, talk to God as if Listeningwe’re trying to meet our quota for prayers for each day, without taking the time to quietly sit in His presence and allowing His Holy Spirit to speak to us, guide us and counsel us. We don’t stop to listen after we’re done with our talking. We pray, say “Amen!” and quickly get on with our day’s activities.

And then we wonder why we feel dissatisfied, empty, confused, stressed and powerless. The truth is, we simply have not connected with God in prayer. As the disciples pleaded with Jesus, my wish for all of us is that we would echo: “Lord, teach [me] to pray!” (Luke 11:1)

Leave the Furniture at Home

In exactly three weeks, I’ll be on my way to Armenia (see my Mission Trips page) so I’ve got travel-related thoughts swimming around in my head. As such, this seems like a good time to share this tidbit:

There’s an old tale about three travelers who heard of a wise and devoted elderly believer some distance from where they were staying. They went out of their way to find this man so they could talk to and learn from him. When they found his hut, they were surprised to see that all he owned was a cot, a chair, a table and an old stove for heat and cooking. One of them blurted out, “Where is your furniture?”

The old man responded by asking, “Where’s yours?” The visitor said, “Well, at home, of course! I am not carrying it with me. I’m traveling!”

“So am I,” said the old man. “So am I.”

furnitureWhat about you? Are you carrying your earthly possessions around with you, hanging on to them with tight fists? Or do you hold them loosely, filling your heart with spiritual things instead? The Apostle Peter has good advice for us:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles [emphasis mine], to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Jesus also said:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

We’re just travelers passing through this sinful, broken world. Let’s not get tied down to our “furniture”!