A Beautiful Day

I’m sitting here with a dumb smile on my face, my room filled with the steady whir of my fan. (It’s not really necessary as the weather has cooled to a chill 79*, but I’ve become accustomed to the white noise.) Today was beautiful.

Not easy, mind you, but beautiful. Grace peeked out here and there- teaching Sunday School to some littles and the grace of a translator (thanks, Jasmine!), washing dishes after the meal together, playing prayers in the form of songs, sharing the pain of transition with a unified body, seeing Jesus in Micah 6:8, and an accidentally correct turn on the way home. Coffee and merienda and life-talk with Florence rounded out the day with delight.

It’s good to belong. What grace that in this Body, you don’t have to look the same/act the same/speak the same language/know the rules/have it all figured out to belong. The song says, “There’s a welcome here,” and it is true. It’s beautiful to belong even when you don’t “fit.”

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Introducing Dori!

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Meet Dori, my new-to-me (not new-to-this-world) car vehicle. I am soooo not an SUV person, but the whole flooding deal around here helped me in that direction. (SIdenote: it does seem like the most obnoxiously American, supersize everything decision I’ve made since I arrived to get a car that seats 10 for me. However, it was partially filled after church this afternoon with 6 friends. I plan to have company often!)

On Friday, Rich, Marla, and I went to pick her up. (Sidenote: They are basically amazing. Everyone should get a Rich and Marla but you can’t have mine unless you live around here. :P) When I got home, a miracle had occurred:

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Now I know this looks rather ordinary to you. But notice that there is NO JEEPNEY IN THIS PHOTO!!! The only problem with getting a car was parking. The street above us has open spaces most of the time, so it wasn’t a major issue. But the fact that several parking spaces right across from our house have been occupied by dead (tires-flat, obviously-not-moving) jeepneys since we moved in…and probably a few decades before that.

And miraculously, on the same day we needed another parking space, one opened up.

The other adventure Dori and I had this weekend was the product of my foolishness. I left my lights on when I got to church this morning (30 minutes quicker than taking public!), so it became a church/neighborhood project to get her going again.

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Many thanks to everyone who helped! What a blessing to be part of a community!

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So I didn’t make it home any earlier than I would normally, but I did stop for groceries on the way home and take advantage of the lower price of diesel. Dori now has a functional battery and a full fuel tank, ready for the adventures ahead!

Vacation makes me better. period.

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Shocking, I know.

But for me, it’s counterintuitive.

I want to work harder to be better. I may or may not have workaholic tendancies. I may be one who works, for a bit at least, most Saturdays. There may be some intertwined reasons for this, but the two main ones are:
1. I enjoy my job.
2. I enjoy being productive.

While I believe these facts are wonderful- I’m so grateful to do something I love, something with meaning, somewhere I enjoy, with people I admire- there is more to life than work. (Or so they say!) The journey toward balance started in earnest when I had stress-induced voice issues several years ago, continued with a reading of Boundaries, and entered a whole new phase with a move to the Philippines.

Enter vacation.

It’s a little crazy to live in on a (large) tropical island. Granted, it is a tropical island with terrible traffic (as evidenced by the 3-hour trip to go the ~9 miles from the airport to my house last night), but it is a tropical island surrounded by other tropical islands, complete with beautiful beaches, great snorkling, and relatively cheap vacations. So…10 of us got on a plane Monday, flew to Bohol, and spent a week relaxing.

The weekend before may have seen me almost falling apart…and sending a quick “please pray” email to my family…and trying to let go of work, for a bit at least, and truly relax. I really enjoy reflecting on my work as a teacher, thinking about what went well and what didn’t, making plans for the next steps. But sometimes, that habit is hard to pause, even for a vacation.

So I was grateful for the grace of getting away, the conversations with friends, the sitting/reading/sleeping on the beach, the incredible snorkling, and the long nights of sleep. What a gift this vacation was in so many ways.

And as I look forward to next week, I am ready. The almost-falling-apart feeling seems a long time ago, and the joy in my job is fresh again. Vacation seems more like an investment in the future than ever before and less like pointless frivolity.

Fueled up on vitamin D and sleep (and a lot of mango juice), a better teacher will enter LM-24 on Monday. A tiny-bit-wiser person will sit in this grace and let it stick like sand between my toes and be glad.

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Blame it on the chicken mummy.

They warn you about this when you come to be a missionary teacher.

They say, “You will be overwhelmed- don’t worry. It’s normal.”

They prepare you for a whole process of adjustment.

But they don’t prepare you for mummifying chickens. And the chicken mummies were the last straw today.

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With a few hours distance and the help of an awesome parent, I can now say that it was a great experience for my kids. Tomorrow, we’ll continue the learning as we compare and contrast our life experience with the non-fiction texts we are reading about the mummification process. 12 hours ago, though, it was all I could do to hold back tears during morning meeting.

Let me back up.

At Faith Academy, third grade mummifies chickens. Period. It’s tradition- kids talk and write about it for years to come. So in my mind, this was more than just a fun activity for our Egypt unit. It was my unsworn but serious duty to provide my students with this experience.

What was not my duty, however, was to schedule it three days before parent-teacher conferences, at quarter end when I am supposed to be stressing over things like progress reports. (Side note: my personal chicken drama makes grades look like a walk in the park. I’m being only slightly dramatic when I say that.) Nor was it my duty to add papyrus making and cartouche design to the same day. But…I did all that.

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(They probably did say something about not going crazy because of poor choices in training…perhaps I was out during that session.)

It didn’t help that the day started with 1) the realization that I left several packages in the grocery basket last night and 2) running out of cash at the cash-only store while picking up the item I forgot while at the grocery store last night and 3) running across the road to my sweetly waiting roommates to borrow a few hundred pesos. By the time I got to school, I was wound a little tightly (to put it nicely).

So bless their hearts, two colleagues stopped by, let me cry on their shoulders (I wish I was speaking figuratively), and prayed for me. Once I got through the residual sniffles (I’m a terrible crier) and my kiddos had been basically amazing, we had a great morning. Carol took my lunch duty so I could finish running around like a chicken on its way to mummification, and Amanda showed up to set up the papyrus making.

While it’s entirely possible that we are not completely following Faith Academy tradition in the way we are caring for the three deceased fowl in our care, they will make it to mummification, a sarcophagus, and proper burial in a few months. For now, they are happily ziplocked on the counter in my classroom, and the deodorizing power of salt/cinnamon/baking soda is amazing.

And I am home, considering the lessons of this day:
-This too, shall pass. Even chicken mummifying will come to an end.

-It wasn’t about the chickens, really. I’m pretty good at putting pressure on myself and making things bigger in my mind than they really are. This is a pretty good example of that.

-I’m surrounded by awesome people. From “good morning” and “I’ll pray” texts to a hug and a prayer to “How’s it going?” and hands-on-chicken so I could take pictures, I felt the love all day, especially when I didn’t feel so lovely.

So instead of blaming the chicken mummy, I think I’m ready to be thankful for the lessons I didn’t choose and a God who knows better than I do what this third grade teacher needs to learn.

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this Friday afternoon…

when the rain gets too loud for conversation
and a breeze blows through
I eat the last bite of papaya
and say thank you
because,

despite all the
little tiny,
normal, or
potentially life-changing
stressors
we face,

peace is sweet…and it’s Friday!

even when days off means
days to catch up,
it’s nice to have a chance
to breathe.

Less is More.

Simplicity. There are times when choosing simplicity requires all sorts of effort. And then, my friend, there are times when you are blessed with simplicity out of sheer grace.

That feels like now.

Simplicity is relative, too. Two suitcases is a pared-down version of stuff for me right now. There is a lovely freedom in wearing the same clothes, drinking from the same mug, and having very little mess because there’s not a lot of mess to make.

But I still have more stuff than many of the people who live in my municipality. That’s a humbling but odd feeling, too. The range of socio-economic status here is not so simple, and I don’t think I’ll ever have a simple answer for the questions it raises.

For now, I’m settling in less-is-more mode. Fewer solid relationships mean more culture learning and deeper understanding. Fewer commitments means more adjusting, wrestling with the questions, and seeing the more.

Less is more.

What traffic teaches

Traffic is a great teacher.

No, seriously! In the months of preparation to move to the Philippines, two things were common. One- I was encouraged to spend a lot of time thinking about how I function, my personality, and how I deal with stress. Two- I was warned about the traffic.

And then I got here. 🙂 I have done very little driving and even less driving in traffic, so I speak from hours riding on public transportation and in the cars of my awesome roommates. Even riding in traffic is a lesson, though, and here’s my latest observation:

Lack of predictability increases my stress level.

Traffic illustrates this well. You have:
-unpredictable where (Which lane will that truck be in? Where will that truck be, and how close to our mirrors will that jeepney be?
-unpredictable when (How long will it take to get there?)
-unpredictable what (What will conditions be? What will you find along the way? Will it flood?)

For some personality types, a lack of predictability is stressful. Maybe, though this is a little hard for me to understand, some people prefer some unpredictability as an antidote for boredom. I’m on the far side of preferring predictability, and have been since I was very young. It may have been true since before I was born. As a result, I have put coping strategies in place.

In my classroom, I try I decrease stress in my students by increasing predictability. I post the schedule for each day and give kids a chance to ask questions about the day during morning meeting. I give them an overview of a new project before breaking it down into pieces.

So how do I keep from going crazy in a less-predictable-than-ever life? I don’t know about you, but consciously remembering my need for flexibility helps me. “Flexico” is what my team called Mexico on many missions trips- it was a reminder that we needed to be consciously flexible in the midst of unpredictability. This translates into planning for things to take longer, planning for more decision-making conversation, and having a mental plan for several options.

Over the weekend, I listened as another teacher at school and mom to a 9 month old as she said, “If you fall asleep on the way home, that’s ok. And if you don’t fall asleep, that’s ok too.” She prepared herself for the possibilities and modeled flexible thinking for her daughter, even at a young age.

Another helpful piece for me is remembering what won’t change. When it comes down to it, the unchanging truths in my life are the foundation for everything else. I am ok because of Jesus; He knows everything I find unpredictable.

And the jeepneys help, too! Even in traffic, you may be reminded of:

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To those of you without built-in reminders, I offer my condolences.

Count Your Blessings Two by Two

Mentors near and far:
Having been down this road,
They share and listen and
laugh and love in
purposeful and practical ways.

Peers near and far:
Walking this road together,
Thankful lists around the table
Littles pop into the FaceTime screen
It’s so good to be together.

Emails short and sweet:
“I’m missing you. Love, Dad”
“Your box is coming! Love, Mom”

Ipad everyday, making my life so much easier!
Clipboard too- sometimes low-tech is best.

Pumpkin chocolate chip bread
Mango Coconut Ice Cream
Pinterest wins, thank-you-very-much!

Teaching a unit for the second time in a year
Learning how to mummify a chicken…I’m gonna call that a blessing in faith that I’ll survive the actual project…

So much grace,
so much peace,
so nice to settle in.
Ahhh…

And the firsts go on…

I wish I had photos for all of these, but I don’t. I do have a photo for the first one, though, and it’s a beauty!

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This is the inside of a dragon fruit. Yep, you read that right- dragon fruit! It was a gift from Florence’s parents, and it was yummy! It’s apparently full of antioxidants, and has tiny little seeds in it. It would make a great smoothie, and it colors everything purple (think beets!).

Speaking of food and Florence, Sunday was also the first time I didn’t eat something that was offered to me because (*gasp!*) I didn’t like it. Florence and I had previously discussed the food here, and I shared (because Florence is cool about such things) that I really don’t appreciate fully the glory flavor of bitter gourd. It’s just really…bitter. If there was some hint of other flavor to it, maybe I could warm up to it.

In any case, I have eaten it several times in the last few months, but when a sweet lady at church offered me a mug full of bitter gourd soup, Florence intervened and declined for me. I felt bad because I was raised to NEVER (except in cases of food allergies) refuse what is offered because you don’t like it! Everyone got a good laugh out of it, though, and I don’t think anyone was offended.

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This is a typical jeepney. (Photo from My Sari Sari Store photo blog, currently displaying tattoo photos.) I probably just haven’t been paying attention, but I noticed for the first time the other day that a plain, undecorated jeepney was next to me. No Mother Mary, no “God bless our trip!” No overdone photos of anyone. Weird!

Finally, I drove outside of a subdivision for the first time this week! Kelsie offered to let me drive to Bible study. Woo hoo! I know it doesn’t sound like much when you’ve been driving for over a decade, and the car operation wasn’t. Traffic here is legendary, though. If you’re looking for a peek into Manila, try the first few minutes of this video.

oh sweet Saturday…

Saturday delights…

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baking
clean dishes that mark
the end of the work and
the start of the yum
want a piece of magic cake?

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FaceTime
friends and mom and sisters giggling and making faces
sharing the good and the hard
praying the life and the love
tissues, anyone?

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Sara Groves
soft and melodic
deep and grateful
a deep praise comes up
keeps me company in the kitchen

Time to check on the magic cake…