Sunday, May 6, 2018

When God calls....and I take eight years to answer

It’s time to let the cat out of the bag.  It hasn’t been a secret, but I also haven’t been openly sharing with everyone - especially with people outside this tiny peninsula of mine.  Friends, I made the decision almost a year ago to leave the teaching field - possibly for good.

    May 30th will be my last official day with students.  June 8 will be my last official day as a teacher. I am planning on making the rocky transition into the missional/humanitarian field, working with refugees in Europe.  I say rocky because the path is entirely uncertain. This is my “plan” - but we all know what God does with our plans. I only hope I am not too blind to see how He directs my next steps.  To say that I feel ‘called’ is an understatement. The idea has slowly rooted itself into my soul and lay dormant for years while living in Asia, before igniting into a fire that cannot be ignored or snuffed out.  I had often kidded that I would love to go into the humanitarian sector full time if only I had a husband who could support me financially in the process (we all know humanitarianism is not a cash cow).
    Well, God did not provide me with a husband.  He did, however, provide me with a purpose. A purpose that quickens my heart, keeps me up at night with anticipation and longing, and makes my current ‘purpose’ pale in comparison.  Two years ago I prayed in earnest that God allow me to be His hands and feet. It has been the prayer of my heart while living in Korea. I was scared of such a prayer in Thailand for the petty reason that He would take me seriously when I wasn’t sure how He’d use me.  This only highlights my insecurities when I’m not in control. Those inhibitions have long since fallen away. The excuses I made for why I wasn’t ready to be His hands and feet seem ridiculous in light of who my God is. If He is almighty, He will take care of me. He is a father that will not give stones when his child asks for bread.
    And so the true adventure of trust began when I released all hold on my future. I made the decision to leave teaching in August, 2017 with no plans of coming back.  I purposely did not look for teaching positions abroad or in the States when October/November rolled around. I did not try to renew my contract at my current school. I did begin a fevered search for NGOs working specifically with refugees.  I researched Christian organizations associated with refugees. I filled out an application to join UNHCR, despite being totally unqualified. Needless to say, I never heard back from them.  And I reluctantly began exploring the possibility of becoming a missionary.
I’ve shied away from that term my whole life.  I always thought missionaries were trained as missionaries. They attended seminary school, they had a deep theological background, and they were the equivalent of homeschool kids - just as adults.  Images of remote villages without running water, and the sound of languages I would never truly understand caused me both panic and despair at my own feeble limitations.  I consider myself an outdoors person, but I can only handle ‘roughing it’ for about a week. It is not a lifestyle choice I would willingly choose to make. But that’s not the life of a missionary, is it? Missionaries exist in urban settings  just as much as rural ones; first-world nations, as well as developing ones. Missionaries are both introverts and extroverts. Some have the ability to learn languages easily, others struggle for years just to have conversational capabilities.  Some work within a team, while others are called to minister alone.

Over the summer I had a list of questions God had asked me repeatedly that I always responded with a resounding NO.  But by the end of the summer, I ran out of excuses. God reassured me on every point that those don’t matter if He is looking out for me.
    - Am I okay with leaving the teaching field?
    - Am I okay with not making stable money?
    - Am I okay with not planning my future 8 months in advance?
    - Am I okay with going back to Oregon while I figure out the transition into humanitarian work?
    - Am I okay with an unpredictable future?

    For someone who craves control, God was ultimately asking if I was willing to allow Him total control of my life.  I ran out of excuses. I ran out of a life plan. The only place to look was Christ and His wondrous plan. He was still waiting for me.  Waiting to begin His work in my life. Waiting to launch me on the ultimate adventure of faith. And I finally said yes.
    So Oregon it is for the next six months (hopefully) as I do the one thing that missionaries have in common: raise financial support.  I’m partnering with a mission sending agency and beginning a one year mission with them as I sort out what it means to be the hands and feet of God.  How long will this venture last? I have no idea. But I know He has something incredible in store for me. Eight days in Lesvos was enough for Him to break through my excuses to ultimate surrender.  It wasn’t torturous. It was a relief to finally say yes.  Because it means I don’t have to control every step of my life anymore. As independent as I am, I get tired making life decisions, I truly do. Now He can make them for me, and I know there won’t be any wrong decisions this time.

Skala Sikaminas harbor, Lesvos, Greece
    I realize I never got to the moment that God turned my heart around - it was on a rocky beach in Lesvos - but I will share some of my experiences in my next post.  This is a huge step into the unknown for me. I am excited, cautious, and yet filled with peace. As though this was God’s plan all along, and I am just now realizing where I need to be.  These next several months of limbo may actually be the hardest part of transition; what with reverse culture shock, moving back into my childhood home, and figuring out support-raising. For now, I ask for prayer.  That is what will get me through everything.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trying to hold back the rain with a broom

I did not pick a good day to walk outside without an umbrella.  I had glanced up briefly as I opened the front door, decided the clouds would not fall, and locked the door firmly behind me.

Yet as I sat in my new favorite coffee haunt, aptly named Coffee Writer, I watched mist blanket the narrow strip of asphalt three feet from my open-air table.  Hmm, I wonder how long this will last?  I had watched it try to rain a couple times before, but in the end, the skies stayed white and the clouds floated by to fall on someone else.  I decided to wait it out, and read my book contentedly as the mist slowly became whole rain drops.  It was such a gradual process, that by the time I got up to to head  home, it was truly dreary weather.  Portland weather.  The kind of rain that was expected to stay all afternoon.  I couldn't sit at that open-air table all afternoon.
And so I set out into the steady rain with no umbrella, no newspaper, nothing to hold over my head.  I couldn't decide if I should walk straight home or run my errand -- either way I would be drenched by the time I made it up that colossal hill.
Hunching my shoulders, looking to all passersby like a pitiful farang (haven't learned the word for foreigner in Korean yet), I climbed the hills to the local shop and purchased a straw broom. Perhaps it was culturally taboo, but I still shielded my head with the light yellow broom; the resin smell wafting down.  I couldn't help but catch the eyes of the Koreans around me, huddled securely beneath colorful umbrellas, their thick-soled shoes stepping gingerly across the brick path.  Their brows furrowed, their eyes darted quizzically to mine, but they hurried along nonetheless.

Why is she using a broom as an umbrella?  I could almost hear their thoughts.  Silly foreigner.

I made it home, drenched, with no dignity in tact.  Be assured I know how to use a broom and an umbrella, but that day I had to be creative.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When my heart-language is English

*As I got ready to post another blog, I noticed this was still sitting here as a draft.  It's several months old, but relevant nonetheless.

Everyone has a heart-language; mine just happens to be English.

This phrase may be new to you, or perhaps you've never heard it before, but it's been used more and more in various circles I'm in.  Your 'heart-language' is simply your native tongue -- the language you are most familiar with and can use most adeptly.  Sometimes when I'm a part of group prayers, we ask everyone to speak in their heart-language.  This often means I get to hear people praying in Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, Tagalog, Korean, English and sometimes the odd European language thrown in the mix.  While I never understand the non-English languages, it tickles my ears listening to the sounds of them.  Everyone around me can speak English, but they are more proficient in their native tongue.
And that's where my admiration turns to envy.  And self-pitying.

You see, many of the people I know speak multiple languages.  They're not just bilingual.  They're trilingual.  They're multilingual. And yet they are still perfectly proficient in my language.

And I don't understand.

I don't understand how they can speak English so well.  Our conversations flow so smoothly that I take for granted that English isn't their first language.  I forget that they had to learn English as a foreign language the way I tried learning Spanish.  The way I tried learning Thai.  Only the difference between us is that they succeeded.  If I tried really hard and thought through what I wanted to say ahead of time, I could get through a conversation in Spanish.  I can't really say I know how to do that in Thai.  I've lived in Thailand for almost 6 years, and my language acquisition is abysmal.  Sure, I could use some pretty legit excuses like: I work in an English-speaking school, I go to an English-speaking church, I'm an English teacher so I have to train others in my native tongue, blah, blah, blah.  All that is true.  But even I don't buy these excuses.

I continue to compare myself to my students who learn my language.  I compare myself to my friends who grew up in a bilingual home.  I compare myself to friends who set out to learn a new language and succeed. And I fight back feelings of jealousy, frustration, self-pity, and resentment. A life of comparison is not a life at all.  I know this in my head, but I struggle living it in my day to day life in a foreign country.

I'll talk to fellow colleagues about how they learn Thai (yet another comparison technique), and some will say things like, "I learned a few phrases, then just went out and started talking to Thais and they helped me with the rest."  Another teacher told me he sat down with the Thai alphabet and Youtube and practiced writing the letters until he could read and write.

For someone like me, who struggles infinitely with language acquisition, hearing how it comes easily for others leaves me discouraged.

So I try to comfort myself with the fact that growing up speaking English is something millions of people world-wide wish they had the opportunity to do.  It's a shallow comfort at best.  I know my language is a commodity outside of English speaking countries -- I've lost count of how many random people have asked me to teach them English (taxi drivers, vendors, etc.) -- but that doesn't negate the value of their language, or how they can communicate with me in mine, but I can't in theirs.

Despite my efforts to speak a foreign language, I think I can firmly say that it is by and large lost on me. I've learned enough Thai to get by.  In my younger years, I felt comfortable enough to say my Spanish was decent (it's not anymore).  Clearly, neither one of these is a heart language of mine.

But English is.

As a teacher of the language, I've honed my craft.  Communication -- understanding others and being understood -- is something that I've worked on for years both in and out of the classroom.  So if you're ever wondering which language I will most likely use in order to be intelligible, try English.  I've tried other languages, and felt like an imposter the whole time.  So please forgive me if I stumble through your language; it isn't the first time, and I guarantee you it won't be the last.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The past year in review...

It's been a year to the day, and life has sure enough changed.  In no particular order...

1)  I'm a bit rusty at blogging -- it's embarrassing that I call myself a writer, teach writing, but don't take time to write.
2)  I've started my 6TH YEAR of teaching in Thailand
3)  Thailand is still under military rule -- and on a side note, a major bombing happened 5 days ago in central Bangkok, killing 19 and injuring 120+ people
4)  My grandpa died in May
5)  I took a 6-week adventure through Europe, hitting up Turkey, Croatia, Prague, and Spain.  Summer was life-changing.  It will take several blog posts to write about it, and if you're lucky, I actually will.  By Christmas. Or maybe before next summer.
6)  I'm renewing my teaching license yet again, and am taking another online course that I loathe.  Online classes stress me out.  I thrive in a classroom and would enjoy it much better if I was with others in class.
7)  My tita died a week ago, bringing me on an impromptu trip to the Philippines (where I am now)
8)  I've caught no less than a half dozen rats in my apartment -- and I've started at least that many blog posts about this very subject....and never published them, as is my habit apparently.
9)  A nephew has popped into my life, and so far I've only spent a few days with him as a new born. So that means making a miserable flight back to America in the winter.  The worst time to travel back.  But I want to be a good aunt and be there for his 1st birthday.  Ah, the sacrifices I make...
10)  I've been cooking a lot of pinterest recipes lately, and love it.  My latest kick: pureed soups.  I have a freezer full of soup.  Come by and eat some for me.  Seriously.  Just let me know so I can defrost it before you come.
11)  I joined the iPhone family a month ago and love it.  A little too much.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What do I have to do to get a phone plan around here??

*This post is a couple weeks old, but I started it, then got distracted with life.*

These last few days have been a bit frustrating in a few ways.  School starts on Tuesday (just 4 days away), and although I am teaching the same subjects again, I feel about as prepared as I did last year about this time.  My classroom is taking shape, but I haven't actually laid out my lesson plans for the first week yet, and that makes me mad at myself.  Sure, I could use a very real excuse -- I just got in 3 days ago and am still dealing with jet-lag.  Sure, I am still waking up at 4am and going to bed before 9pm.  But excuses only go so far -- especially when I'm making the excuses to myself.
Riding the curtails of work frustrations is the annoying factor of my phone (technology constantly plagues me).  I had purposely terminated my service with True the day I left Thailand for the summer so that I could begin fresh with AIS once I returned.  In theory, this was a sound plan -- I wouldn't have to pay a 2 month phone bill while State-side, I could just walk in to AIS and sign up once I got back, and I would be rid of True by June.  However, my first two attempts proved to be fruitless.  #1: I went to a mall that didn't even have an AIS store; #2: when I did go to the right mall, my phone chose that moment to die.  I even tried tracking down a new battery, but gave up my search after 3 different phone stores gave me the run-around.

Today I was going to cover all my bases -- I charged my battery last night and promptly turned it off so the battery would still be fresh by the afternoon, and I successfully made it to the right mall--with my passport and Thai residency card.  I waited in line until my number was called and walked up to the right counter when I heard soon-pbet-hok-si (0864), all the while praying that the woman would be able to understand my simplified English and halting Thai.  Thank God, she did! She walked me through the different plan options, then pointed out one that I had my eye on since my last fruitless venture to the store: the 399 baht plan that included unlimited 3G data and 100 minutes of talk time.  She even told me it was their 'special teacher discount' offer.  I smiled gratefully and said it was perfect. My last plan with True was twice that with only 2G data, so teacher discount or not, it was a much better deal.  She also assured me that I could keep my old phone number so I could avoid the task of emailing/facebooking everyone with new digits.

Things were starting to look up.  I felt my frantic heart slow down and I was able to smile at the very helpful rep without it being forced.  Even when she told me it would take 3 days for the plan to take effect, and I couldn't use my phone until Monday, I didn't sink into despair.  Because at least things were in the process of being done.  Patience is not a virtue I possess.  I hate waiting.  But two things made the thought of waiting bearable:  #1: I knew that my phone would work by Monday; this was just the process of the phone service; #2: after all the trouble I went through for this stupid phone service change, it was nice to see myself moving forward instead of standing still.  Now, I don't remember there being a 3-day wait when I was with True, but I'll take what I can get at this point.  And so I tucked my new SIM card into my wallet so I'd be ready to pop it in on Monday, thanked her profusely, and left the store feeling accomplished.

Monday came and went.

Nothing happened.

Tuesday came and the SIM card still wouldn't activate.  So with frustration mounting yet again, I marched back into the AIS store and showed them my defective phone.  The rep had to call over a manager who spoke decent English so we can work through the problem together.  As it turned out, because I had already cut my service with True before trying to set up an account with AIS, my old phone number was deactivated and was no longer usable by me.  I didn't think this would be such a big issue, but they had to call True and talk to them about my old number and the plan that I had with them.  So when all was said and done, I couldn't use my old number, and had to choose a new AIS number from their list.  Since I hate memorizing numbers, I told them to give me one with repeating digits.  They were quite accommodating, and as it turns out, I do like my number -- and I was able to use it immediately!  If I knew the 3-day wait was for them to transfer my number from True to AIS, I would have ditched it in a heartbeat!  So with my new service all set up, internet working, and phone able to receive calls, I left the store only slightly disheveled.

Needless to say, I did learn a lot about how phone companies and such work in Thailand, so if you are struggling with phone plan issues, let me know.  I probably experienced them too.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I hate running

I almost said I hate exercising, but that's not entirely true.  Some activities don't even feel like exercise, but I know I'm getting a good workout in.  For instance: salsa dancing, dance aerobics, hiking, yoga, mowing the lawn, and sometimes playing sports.  And by 'sometimes' I mean spontaneous pick-up games.
And then if we continue going down this scale of exercise we'll reach such activities as swimming, badminton, soccer, basketball (you get the picture), workout videos, core floor work -- all activities that are exercise by definition that they require workout clothes and tend to cause quite a sweat.  These are activities that need a lot of energy and usually a mental pep talk from me before even beginning.  But once I get started, I usually enjoy the workout.

But then we come to running at the very bottom of the totem pole.  Running I loathe.  Running doesn't just take effort and a pep talk.  It takes every breath out of me.  Gravity constantly reminds me that I'm not quick, that putting one foot in front of the other is more effort than its worth.  It reminds me that I am not a runner.  I feel like I'm carrying an extra ten pound sack in my hands.  I thought that running in the States, away from high humidity and unbearable heat, would be a breeze; instead it is undoubtedly worse.  I was able to run twice as long without stopping in Thailand, yet here in Oregon, with the 75* weather and continuous wind, I feel weighed down.  Instead of wiping sweat off my brow, I'm wiping tears from my eyes (because of the wind -- not because I'm sad).
I try varying up my exercising routine with workout videos and core floor work, but running always cycles back around and I have to face the mind-numbing exercise with resigned resentment.

And so tomorrow, running and I have an appointment.  And I'll be approaching it with unchecked fury.  Too bad that fury can't fuel the running fire.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Here's to the new year. Let's hope it's better than the last.

We're now a week into 2014, and it's been five months since my last post.  I'll admit it: I have been an awful blogger these last couple years. On the sidebar of the main page, I noticed that I only posted four times in both 2012 and 2013 -- embarrassing since I call myself a writer. This year I'm hoping to change that.  Actually I'm hoping to make a lot of changes, or rather improvements, in 2014.  Thinking about it has me teetering on the edge of excitement and anxiety.

You see, at the start of the school year back in August 2013, I shifted from being a middle school English teacher to an 11th grade American Literature/Creative Writing/Speech teacher.  I expected the change to be challenging, as all job adjustments are, but it's safe to say that I struggled just to keep my head above water.  Tripling my workload, in addition to the coaching duties I retained, as well as adding advising duties for the 3 service clubs I agreed to oversee had made the first semester of school overwhelmingly stressful.  I noticed it most in the interactions I had with people.  I couldn't enjoy social interactions because all I could think of was the school work I still had waiting for me when I got home.  I chose to hide at home or go out alone when I wasn't obligated to be with people -- even if I didn't grade papers or lesson plan, at least I could keep my stress, short temper, and self-pity to myself without bothering anyone.  I was too exhausted to engage in lively conversation with anyone.  After all, I chose to move up to high school.  I chose to take on new challenges to keep my teaching skills sharp and my brain actively engaged.  I chose to advise separate service clubs when students asked because I believe they want to make a difference in the community.
None of these were forced on me, but by agreeing to do them, I made a commitment to do them well.

 But I didn't do them well.

I hate it when people do things halfheartedly, and I loathe myself for doing anything halfheartedly because I strive for excellence.  That doesn't mean I'm the best, it just means that I'm doing the best I can.  However, my constant failure to do so this last semester left me feeling dejected and self-deprecated; no matter where I looked I couldn't find success.  There was no even hand-off -- doing poorly in one area only to succeed in another.  My students were disinterested in class, complained about the lack of 'fun projects', and were unwilling to engage in critical discussions of text.  I was getting 'gentle reminders' from administration that my students needed to be pushed more, yet also told my tests were too hard.  I had somehow made multiple girls cry because of grades (one girl ended up dropping my class).  Drama constantly ensued in service clubs when I chose to defer much of the responsibility to the student leader, and the members could not cooperate with the student leader.  And my varsity soccer team hit a new low by consistently having inconsistent attendance.  A team of 15 dwindled to 12 with 4 consistent players coming to practice regularly.  Then there were the personal goals that were set (and attainable) that were not reached.  And I felt ashamed.

This was my failure.  Failure to motivate and inspire my students in the classroom.  Failure to live up to administration's standards.  Failure to unite the service club members to be a driving force under one goal.  Failure to motivate my players on the field so that they would want to come to practice everyday and give 100%.  Failure to follow through with my goals.

I don't do well with failure.  It doesn't motivate me to try harder.  It makes me hang my head like a pound dog that wasn't chosen for adoption.  It makes me withdraw from everyone so at least they wouldn't see my faults and shortcomings.

But 2014 will be different.  I'm not usually one who 'needs' breaks, but Christmas break was desperately needed; not just to rest a weary soul and remind me that life isn't as gloomy as I sometimes think, but because I was able to get a new perspective on teaching.  No, I haven't come up with exciting new projects for my students.  I haven't devised easier tests because I expect students to rise to the challenge.  And soccer season will be over in two weeks, so there's not much I can do there.

However, there are always improvements to be made, and I will strive to do the following throughout the new year.  This is not a list of New Years resolutions.  It is a list of goals I hope to accomplish both professionally and personally.

  1. Remind students (and myself) why I expect so much out of them and encourage them to rise to the occasion for their own sake -- not mine
  2. Set clear guidelines before projects/papers and give examples of exemplary work so they know what to work towards
  3. Set up monthly meetings with all service clubs to organize things a bit better and demonstrate leadership for the student leaders
  4. Remind students of consequences (late work, tardies, behavior, etc) and enforce them
  5. Find a nearby fresh market to get produce and cook more (save money!)
  6. Clean out clothes not worn in a year and give away
  7. Blog regularly -- at least once a week
  8. Take Thai language lessons twice a week
  9. Do something active 5 times a week
  10. Pay off student loans!
  11. Revise book for publication
  12. This summer travel to:  NYC/NJ, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Seattle, Portland area, and home :)
  13. Most importantly:  Learn to let things go and not see life as a failure, but a change in direction.  I cannot constantly compare my life to the next person's -- it is in there that my shortcomings are most noticeable, and it doesn't matter because everyone falls short of perfection.
As you can see, there's a lot to accomplish in a year.  Now that they are written down, it might be easier to cross of as I complete them.  It also means that I am held accountable.  I think taking Thai lessons again will be the most humbling of experiences since language acquisition is not my forte and I tend to get discouraged easily with language obstacles.  With that in mind, I will try to preserver despite knowingly butchering a language. :)