Walking Across Sea World

Because yesterday was Father’s Day, I want to share with you a little (true) story I wrote for the Encouraging Dads Project. Those of you who follow my Facebook page might have seen it before, but I hadn’t shared it on the blog yet.

This story goes out with a big “Thank You!” to all the dads and father figures making positive differences in their children’s lives. Even the “little things” you’re doing mean more than you realize.

Me and Harpy in 2002

My father dislikes shopping of any kind. Gift shops are particularly pointless. We just paid how much to get in, and now they want us to buy overpriced junk just because it’s got their logo on it? I don’t think so!

I share that so you’ll understand how rare it was to have him inside a gift shop, let alone offering to buy something in it. The setting is Sea World Ohio, a well-nigh forgotten theme park along Geauga Lake near the city of Aurora. Summer sun beat down on the pavement, sending trickles of sweat down my dad’s back as he pulled two little princesses around in a red wagon. My sister and I had been treated to an orca show at Shamu Stadium, sent through a playground with a sea of ocean-colored plastic balls, and given the chance to pet stingrays. And now, we needed stuffed animals.

I’m not talking about just any stuffed animal. It was a pure white harp seal pup nearly as large as I was at 5 or 6 years old. He had big brown eyes and a friendly smile. He was perfect, except for one thing. The only one left in the gift shop had a big stain discoloring his side.

If there was one thing my father disliked more than buying overpriced promotional items, it was buying defective overpriced promotional items. But let me tell you what Daddy didn’t do. He didn’t tell me I was stupid for wanting that stuffed seal. He didn’t tell me I wasn’t worth getting the best seal Sea World had to offer. And he didn’t tell me to suck-it up and live without the seal either. Instead, he sent a message that has stuck with me my entire life.

Daddy walked to the opposite end of a 50-acre theme park to retrieve a better version of my baby seal. At the time, he probably just thought he was doing a nice, and rather inconvenient, thing for his little girl. But he was doing so much more than that. He told me I was valued. He told me that he listened when I talked about things I wanted. He told me he’d go above and beyond to make me happy. All by walking across a theme park to pick up a stuffed animal.

In the grand scheme of things, a stuffed seal isn’t the most impressive present a dad could buy for his daughter. But the love behind that gift solidified Harpy’s position as my favorite toy. He slept in my bed, went on vacations, and attended slumber parties with me for about ten years after Daddy walked across Sea World for him. Now, another 10+ years down the road he’s a bit fragile and has lost some of his fluffiness and most of his white color, but I’ll never get rid of him.

We remember the big moments with our dads because of the intangible things that go along with them. My dad gave me other gifts. But this one sticks in my memory because it was a visible reminder of the sort of things he did, and still does, every day in the many ways he took care of me and told me I was precious to him.

This article originally appeared on Encouraging Dads.com, January 2017.

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Be The “Anyone”

There are 3,310 pairs of socks in the men’s homeless shelter.

This past weekend, I attended a young adult service and enrichment weekend. After a Friday evening and Saturday of discussion questions, seminars, Shabbat services, and good fellowship we spent Sunday on a service project. Nearly 100 of us descended on a homeless shelter to help tackle some of their needs, including wall painting, deep cleaning, window washing, and sorting the donations room.

I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what my gifts are and how to use them effectively. That interest in personal growth and development is, in part, why this blog exists. But somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), this weekend’s focus on filling your role in the body of Christ barely touched on spiritual gifts and individual talents. Rather, the take-away was finding your identity as a servant of Christ and then following His example no matter what.

Photo: “Helping Hands” by Valerie Everett, CC BY-SA via Flickr

While I’m a staunch advocate for finding, developing, and using your gifts (that’s why you have them, after all), it doesn’t really take any particular gift to count socks. Perhaps someone with a gift for math could have worked more quickly, or a person with a gift for organization sorted them more efficiently. But really the only thing absolutely essential was showing up and doing the work.

In focusing on where we fit best, perhaps we sometimes close ourselves off to areas where anyone could serve. Maybe we think, “Anyone could do that, so I’ll focus on what I do best.” But that doesn’t mean “anyone” will actually step-up and do it.

During your quest to find the best way to use your gifts, don’t overlook the importance of being the “anyone” who will step in and fill needs. Move from theory to practice. Whether it’s in your family, your church, or your community, let’s look for opportunities to help and then actually take them.

Walking by Faith (and next e-book announcement)

I just got back yesterday from an incredible  service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).

I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …

… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.

It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.

Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.

That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.

This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.

  • If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:

Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.

My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.

 

Not Wanting To Write

It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon Sunday as I write this. Usually by this time I’m either proof-reading a completed post for Monday or wrapping-up my work on a finished idea. What’s worse, I don’t even I care that haven’t written a post yet. I mean, I’d probably care tomorrow when I wake up and realize I failed all of you readers, but at this point I’ve had too little sleep and too much Netflix to function as my normal self.

Well, perhaps not entirely. At least I’m writing about not wanting to write. It’s a start. I’ve been writing professionally long enough to know you can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike if you want to get a blog post, article, story or book written. People who do that aren’t writers.

Not Wanting To Write | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Content writer” by Ritesh Nayak, CC BY-SA via Flickr

If you aren’t a writer you can get away with not writing when you don’t want to. Hobbies and pastimes are voluntary. But when writing is what you do you don’t just stop. In fact, if you’re doing things right, most of the time it feels like you can’t stop writing. For writers, not-writing should feel stranger than writing.

There’s a myth out there that writing is easy (“Oh, so you’re a writer? That’s cool. I might write a novel in my spare time some day”). It’s not. Yes, there will be days when the words flow out and you’re convinced what you’re writing is pure genius and you just know these words have the power to touch people’s souls. But mostly you have to sit down everyday with your pen or your laptop or your typewriter and make the words move from brain to fingers.

 

Struggling to write is perfectly okay just so long as you don’t give up. I suppose it’s that way with most things, actually. Anything worth doing is going to be hard at some point. What’s important is that we don’t stop, at least not for long. By all means take a break, eat a little chocolate and watch some anime (my sister hooked me on Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood), but don’t stay there.

It’s about 7:30 in the afternoon as I finish writing this. Look at that — we’ve got a finished blog post, even with the distractions of searching for quotes about writing and playing Star Trek Online. And you know what? I think I just might keep writing. My short story collection needs one more story, and there’s a character named Taline just waiting to be discovered …

 

Dancing the Night Away

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me and my sister

This post will be a bit random. I’m writing on Sunday, after a few hours sleep following a dance we got back from just before 3:00 in the morning. And that was after staying up past midnight the evening before talking about Myers-Briggs with someone who just learned he’s an INFJ. Dancing and typology being two of my favorite things, I’m happy. Add the fact that many of my good friends were at the dance, and I’m delighted.

On the topic to typing people, sometimes people online ask me, “How do you find out the personality types of so many people?” It’s really not all that difficult to bring up in conversation. When people ask what are your hobbies/interests or how you spend your time, I often bring up this blog and/or mention psychology. Then I just ask people if they’re taken a Myers-Briggs test. People love to talk about themselves, so it’s not usually all that hard from there. If they’re a good enough friend and haven’t taken the test yet, just point them to Personality Hacker. If you’re really ambitious, guess their personality once they have the result but before they tell you (the reaction is great if you’re right).

Taking this in a different direction, I think I’ve hit a personal growth milestone. My shyness/social anxiety really only showed up once last night. Once! And a week ago I raised my hand and said something in church (this is accepted/encouraged at my Messianic congregation, but I haven’t done anything like that in the 3 years since I graduated college and there wasn’t mandatory class participation). I think I’m actually starting to conquer a fear that’s been a part of me for so long. For INFJs, this sort of personal growth usually involves tapping into your secondary function, Extroverted Feeling, and I feel like I’m doing that with more consistency and confidence. The dance was a a great place to realize this, since it’s a setting which could have made me intensely uncomfortable a few years ago.

What about you? have you attended any events or had any experiences lately that highlighted some area where you’ve grown as a person?