Serendipitous Friday

This past Friday was an amazing, serendipitous day. Not just because it was Friday. And not just because I got to leave work early. And, no, it wasn’t the glass of wine I had with dinner (it was a long week, okay?).

In a matter of 12 hours, God put in motion events that opened my eyes and restored my faith in humanity. Honestly, that is the only way I can describe what happened today.

I work as a paraprofessional/aide for a freshman girl, let’s call her Julia, with cerebral palsy in New York City and my day started like all others this week: wake up at 4:15 a.m. to catch the 5:05 train, and travel for almost 2 hours to get to work. Once off the subway, I got my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and bagel, got to school at 7:15, and relaxed with my breakfast and Netflix before Julia got to school and work actually began.

About an hour later, while in class, Julia got physically sick, so we went down to the nurse’s office so she could lay down and wait for her mom to pick her up. I felt bad that she wasn’t feeling well, but I was kind of excited that my weekend would be starting early.

Maybe I could take a nap today. After consecutively getting only 5 hours of sleep each night, that would be great! Oh, happy day.

While waiting for Julia’s mom, a couple of students came in and out of the office, complaining of sore throats, dizziness, or just feeling sad; it’s amazing how extremely life-altering the death of a guinea pig can be to a teenager.

I ended up talking to one of the students and found out how absolutely amazing she is. This girl, whom I had seen in the hallways and had a bunch of assumptions and preconceived notions about. This girl who was very talkative and was a distraction in class at times. This girl blew me away with her life story which included being adopted from Ethiopia at the age of 10 and having spent her last birthday in China helping orphans.

I didn’t ask for anything for my birthday this past year. I already have everything I’ve ever wanted – I’ve been adopted and I don’t live in an abusive family anymore – so I ask to do things to help others.

How amazing and selfless is she?! She also takes part in other foundations, one being charity: water, and has even been able to go back to Ethiopia to help her original community.

Not only that, but she talked about her celebrity friends like it was nothing; “Amy Poehler is so nice,” and, “Hugh Jackman’s wife, I call her Deb, wants to produce my movie.” Where I’m from, we consider Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills players celebrities. And we don’t hang out and go to parties with them. So I was starstruck just by hearing her stories of these events.

Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills
Snuggling with Brian Moorman, punter of the Buffalo Bills, circa 2008. Like, whoa.

So once Julia’s mom came, I had to figure out which train I would be able to take home. When I got on the train at Penn Station, I was surprised to find that it was already packed. We still had 20 minutes until the train was scheduled to leave – usually it isn’t packed until a couple minutes before. And that’s only during rush hour (before and after usual work hours), so it was odd that it was so full at noon.

And then I realized I had walked onto the wrong train. Shoot. I ride the train everyday, how did I manage this?!

I walked to the door, which was already closed, and started panicking a bit. I had no idea where this train’s destination was, but my train was across the platform. If only I could get the door open…

Some guy walked up to the door from the outside, wanting to get in, and by an amazing act of God, the door opened a bit. It opened just enough for the two of us, me on the inside and this guy on the outside, to pull it open the rest of the way so that we could trade places. That worked out really well.

LIRR train

I got on my (correct) train, which was now a bit packed since I had just wasted time on the wrong train. I sat in a 3-seater, me on one end and a middle-aged guy on the other, with all of his bags in between us. There was a guy in the seat in front of us that started muttering about finding a conductor. His speech was a bit odd, so I couldn’t tell whether he was mentally challenged or drunk or had a stroke or what.

Luckily, the guy I shared a seat with was very patient because Tyrone, the guy in front of us, had a lot of questions. He kept saying how he was trying to get to the Mineola mall; “I gotta go to the mall and get me a new pair of gloves because I lost mine last week. I wanna see how big that mall is.”

He sounded like a child in a 40-year old man’s body. We knew that something was wrong, but weren’t sure what to do about it. Should he be alone? Would the conductor do anything about it to help him? Would he get defensive or aggressive if we tried helping any more than just answering questions?

The guy next to me, whom I later found out is named Jimmy, talked to Tyrone whenever a question was asked, even though many questions were repeated multiple times. “My name is Tyrone. I want to thank you for helping me, sir,” Tyrone said. “I hope you never forget my name.”

Jimmy told Tyrone that he would need to take a bus to get to the mall from the train station, but Tyrone only had 75 cents on him. I gave him the $2 he would need for the bus, Jimmy wrote down the information so that Tyrone could get help from the bus driver, and we figured that was all we could really do.

The first train conductor came by, punching tickets, and Tyrone introduced himself and asked how he could get to the mall. The conductor was pretty patient with him and helped him as best he could, but ultimately walked away letting Tyrone continue his adventure to the mall. “I hope you never forget me,” Tyrone said to him before he walked away. “I won’t, Tyrone. You take care of yourself, okay buddy?” the conductor said, chuckling, before moving on to the next car full of tickets to punch.LIRR ticket punch

A little while later, a second conductor named Donna came through; Tyrone introduced himself and asked how to get to the bus to get to the mall. “Are you alone, honey? Have you made this trip before?” she asked. She ended up telling him not to get off the train at his planned stop, that she would be back for him and would escort him personally.

When we got close to the last stop (I had to transfer to another train to get home), Donna came back to Tyrone and asked him for ID and where he was going. He didn’t have ID but had some papers in his backpack with some information; apparently he was just discharged from a “hospital” earlier in the week, from what Donna read aloud from these papers. She asked again where he was going, to which he responded with his glove spiel.

All of a sudden, a guy comes up behind Donna and hands her a pair of red gloves. “They’re double insulated; he can have them.” Wow, that was so nice of him, I thought. Tyrone thanked the man, and as I looked around, a smile on my face, I noticed that everyone else was smiling too.

Pulling into the station, Jimmy asked Tyrone if he had eaten today. After Tyrone shook his head, Jimmy pulled out an apple and a banana and gave them to Tyrone. Then the girl behind us handed Tyrone half of a sandwich she had left over from lunch.

Oh my gosh. It was so wonderful seeing all of these strangers come together to help someone in need. Being in New York City (but I’m sure this applies to practically any city), everyone is so consumed with our own lives and problems that we forget to look at the needs of others. And even then, we see these needs but don’t know how to help because there are so many people that need help. And then there are times when we simply don’t want to help, so we look past those in need without a second thought.

Times Square - I took this back in 2011
Times Square, NYC

My heart was soaring and I couldn’t stop smiling. I mean, the fact that God placed all of us in the vicinity to help him was absolutely phenomenal. There could’ve been another, less patient man in Jimmy’s seat who wouldn’t have looked up bus fares or schedules for Tyrone to help him.

The man with the gloves could’ve simply kept them hidden in his pocket, reasoning that his hands were cold, or that they were his favorite pair, or whatever other excuse.

And if Donna hadn’t come down the aisle and taken Tyrone under her wing, who knows where he would have ended up if he got off the train at Mineola. Check out this article I found from April on nypost.com that features Donna as one of NYC’s most popular train conductors!

So during the rest of my commute home, I was hoping and praying for Tyrone’s safety and well-being, thanking God for putting us in the situation, and allowing me to help, albeit in such a minuscule way. I mean, $2 for bus fare is such a small thing. But I’m so glad I could be involved.

When I got off the train, waiting for the “railroad crossing” arms to go up, I ran into Jimmy! I introduced myself to him because we hadn’t throughout the whole ordeal earlier. He told me his name was Jimmy and said my name was beautiful. I thanked him for what he did on the train earlier, and he thanked me for my $2. We said good-bye and I threw in “I hope you never forget my name!” in memory of our friend Tyrone.

He assured me he wouldn’t. And I won’t forget what I witnessed today – my faith in humanity has been restored. And all because Julia got sick. And then I almost took the wrong train. But I ended up right where I was supposed to be; it was true serendipity.

2013 Reflections and 2014 Ambitions

With 2014 just around the corner (as in less than 12 hours away), I figured I would make a list of “resolutions” for the new year! Yeah!

Now I have some reservations about the idea of making New Year resolutions in January because

  1. I think we should reflect on our lives and have goals for the future all the time, not just when the clock strikes midnight on the 1st of the year.
  2. Being in school for the past 19 years, I guess I’ve been brainwashed in thinking of a “new year” as starting in September. In all those years as a student and future years as a teacher, I’m of the mindset that, “it’s only January; we still have a whole 6 months of the year left.”
  3. I think a lot of times people make these great resolutions with good intentions but without realizing how much they have to change their lifestyle or mindset in order to accomplish them. So as soon as they falter, they don’t have a plan B set in place or a way to get past the roadblock. They end up letting the feelings of defeat get the best of them and, soon after, they simply give up.

Not only did I include goals/resolutions for the upcoming year, I figured I would include regrets and accomplishments from the previous one. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

2013 Achievements:

√  Moved to and lived in New York City

√  Completed graduate school at Columbia University

TC ID

√  Kept my Crohn’s under control

√ Created and maintained a blog (except for the past 3 weeks…but with the holidays and work and completing grad school, I think I have a legitimate excuse)

√  Obtained 3 different jobs in NYC (TA at a private middle school, cashier at a small pharmacy, aide for a high school student)

√  Got engaged – I guess that’s more of an accomplishment for Tom (proposing and getting me to say yes)

Christmas ornaments!

2013 Regrets:

  • Stumbling in my spiritual life and thereby trying to control too many aspects of my life
  • Constantly worrying about what others think of me
  • Lack of self-worth/esteem/ambition/confidence
  • Not reading enough – about the world, about math, about teaching, about God
  • Watching too much YouTube (read about my addiction here) and Netflix (currently on season 5 of Gossip Girl)

2014 Goals:

  • Get married! (this one’s more of an event than a goal…woot!)
  • Get a teaching job (I miss being in the classroom – check me out student teaching back in 2011; I’m the one in purple, holding paper in the front. I know, I get mistaken for a student a lot.)Student Teaching - October 2011
  • Push through the premarital book we were recommended and started last month; I didn’t expect it to be this difficult! Let me give you an explanation:

You see, it’s not so much the discussions we end up having about our roles in the marriage or our expectations or whatever the exercises ask us to do or reflect on. The part I struggle with is the fact that we have to constantly reflect on our parents’ marriage, our relationships with our parents, and just our pasts in general.

These questions honestly make me question who I am because I can’t even rationalize some of my thoughts and thought processes. I end up so deflated after doing an exercise in the workbook that I honestly don’t want to do any more. But I know it’s helpful to look at myself and reflect on my past in order to set my sights on what I want in the future and in our marriage. It’s just tough when you didn’t grow up a cookie-cutter life of two healthy, married parents.

Tom has been a real trooper, coming up with ways to alter some of the exercises so that we don’t have to necessarily focus on those things that frustrate me. For example, one week we had to analyze our expected roles in our marriage. However, the book asked us to write down which of our parents were responsible for which household and/or professional responsibilities. Going through the list, I realized that after the age of 10, I did quite a few of the duties, my dad being absent and Mom’s health not so great. After the age of 15, I did most of them. Gee book, thanks for bringing that up.

Well, since Tom marches to the beat of his own drum and since my parents’ marriage ended when I was young and Mom’s MS made it difficult for her to do things, he suggested we just focus on our marriage because that’s all that really matters at this point. We ended up agreeing on most (with the exception of maybe 1 or 2) of the “roles” we plan to split or share in the book.

  • Buy a house
  • Find a church to attend consistently and become an active member in
  • Keep up with student loans
  • Survive the remaining 6 months of my current job, 4 hour daily commute and all
  • With said 4 hour commute (making for 12 hours out of the house every day), find time to run or go to the gym. Come on, you can’t honestly set resolutions without including health and fitness.
  • Create and use my own math/education blog (this is halfway done already…I created a blog, Chatting About Math, on edublogs.org, but feel like I have nothing to contribute since I am not in the classroom full-time yet)
  • Read more – about the world, about math, about teaching, about God. This should be made easier with my daily commute.
  • Write more – on this blog, on my math blog, maybe contribute to someone’s blog or something?
  • Learn how to argue/debate and stick to my ideas/decisions – this may sound like a weird one, but I tend to avoid arguments or debates because I suck at them. I don’t want to create arguments just for the sake of arguing, but I would like to become better and defending my position on topics.
  • Gain more self-confidence/esteem/ambition/worth and not be so dependent on what others say or think

So there you have it folks. Kind of a long list, I know, but I think there’s a good mix of small and large goals, some more easily obtained than others. What are you most proud of from 2013? What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year’s Eve as well as an amazing 2014! Cheers!Happy New Year

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” OR Happy Birthday to me!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9

5

This past Saturday, April 27, was the five-year anniversary of my being saved. I found myself thinking a lot that day about how things change in five years; how much we grow (physically, emotionally, mentally), how many decisions we make (whether right or wrong), the people that come and go. I think it is important to reflect on our lives often, not just to reminisce, wish for the past, or dwell on regrets, but to realize how far we have come in our lives and all the events and people that God has placed in our paths along the way.

April 26, 2008, I was in a car accident (ironically on my way to an event at church) that I came away with just some scrapes and bruises. I don’t know if I have any pictures of my car anymore – it was considered totaled after it flipped over, both of us upside down on the side of a country road. I rounded the curve too close to the outside, hit some gravel and overcorrected, then swerved violently before finally flipping over and landing upside down. My stomach still drops when cars make swerving motions, and I still feel anxious when I hear the sound of screeching tires. I called my mom sobbing because I didn’t know who else to call; she has Multiple Sclerosis, so there wasn’t much she could do for me other than making some more phone calls and worrying about me. Real smooth, Holliday. Real smooth.

The next 20 minutes were such a blur, but the people that I encountered are still pretty clear. A man drove by the scene shortly after and called 911 for me; I remember he had a verse of scripture on his shirt. I had been following my friends’ family so when they realized I was no longer behind them they came back for me; their hugs were so comforting at that moment. The police officer in the ambulance told me that God had a bigger plan for me that day. God certainly provided me with comforting people that day. How else could it be explained?

Later that day, my boyfriend at the time had asked me, “If things had turned out different [AKA if you had not made it out of this alive], do you know where you would be right now?” I had been attending church regularly for the past year. I volunteered for church events. Heck, I had been on my way to bond with a group of women from the church to make soup! I had never done drugs, I didn’t drink, I didn’t swear; I was a good person. But somehow I knew that these things weren’t enough.

So the following day, Sunday, I walked into Pastor’s office and prayed to God to save me and take hold of my life. I was baptized a couple months later; my testimony verse is Romans 5: 3-5, which says

More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Over the past five years, I have stumbled. I have looked to God for selfish reasons. I have tried doing things my own way. I have been impatient. But just as well, despite all of these things, God has never ceased to bless me. No matter how many times I fall, God has never failed to pick me back up. He has thrown things in my path that, at times, seemed insurmountable. But He has also blessed me immeasurably.

Five years ago today, if you asked me where I would be in five years, I would have never guessed where my life is today. I never would have thought I would get accepted into SUNY Geneseo, get involved with InterVarsity, meet so many wonderful, amazing people, and receive my Bachelors degree. I would never have guessed I would meet and fall for a tall, red-haired guy named Tom at a church event. Who knew I would be accepted into Teachers College, Columbia University, and move to New York City?

There are so many things that I never would have imagined for my life. But God is funny in that way; we think we know what we want, we think we know what is best for us, but God knows so much more and has so much more planned for us. Like Isaiah 55:8-9 says:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

These past five years have shown my how much deeper my testimony is; in the beginning, it was because I was afraid of dying and going to Hell. I realize that I was saved even though my reasoning may have been pretty shallow – I mean, being saved is being saved, we shouldn’t feel the need to compare our testimony with others.  Tim Hawkins is a Christian comedian and he has a short skit that addresses this need to compare testimonies and the desire to have a “good” testimony (watch it here). I have grown to realize that my whole life is a testimony to God; He has gotten me through pretty crappy stuff, sometimes without my consciously realizing it.

Who knows where I’ll be in five years? I sure as heck don’t! And I don’t really feel like limiting myself to who/what/where I think I’ll be in five years. Whatever I think, God’s plan is so much better than I could even imagine. Cheers, God. Here’s to another five.

Cotton Candy…in the bible?

Sometimes The Message makes me laugh. I usually cross-reference verses using BibleGateway between ESV (English Standard Version), NIV (New International Version), NLT (New Living Translation), AMP (Amplified Bible), MSG (The Message), and LOLBT (LOLcat Bible Translation). Granted the last one is just for a laugh.

So I was leisurely searching around in my ESV, found a passage in Isaiah, and wanted to see parallels from other translations. And The Message gave me this:

Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything’s free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? 

–Isaiah 55:1a, 2a (MSG)

cotton candy

I understand that this particular translation is meant for a more contemporary, new-age group of Christians looking for layman’s terms; no thous or shalts or cometh-ing. But some of the content, to me, sounds just plain silly. I mean, come on, you couldn’t come up with something other than cotton candy? I realize that the lolcat version includes cheezburgrz, but it is also not being sold and used in churches. Then again, I guess a pro of The Message is that you can read the bible as an infomercial and sound legit. Now we just need a ridiculous commercial to go with it.

Which reminds me: a couple of friends posted this on Facebook this week; it was a post on Mashable regarding infomercials. I laughed so much I was crying. True human beings in all our imperfect glory.