Showing posts with label transitions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transitions. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The O'Chungs

Once upon a time, when he was about 13, the man I get to be married to now moved to Seattle, Washington from Seoul, South Korea to do a study abroad with his older brother. Besides learning the all-important lesson that no middle-schooler in America thinks a proper “How do you do?” with a handshake is an acceptable greeting, he also learned that his Korean name of Sang Hoon might be a bit difficult for some people to connect with. So when his family officially immigrated to Canada a few years later, and it was time to pick a technical name, he started going by Sang Mark (slightly easier but still confusing for those Westerners who weren’t used to two first names!).

At the same time, their family had to choose a proper, English-based translation of their last (or sur-) name. Since the people translating their birth certificates were also a bit confused, they settled on one popular spelling of Chung. (Turns out, Jung would have been a lot more phonemically accurate… but who goes for accurate when there’s a new culture to assimilate into?) And so, his name became Sang Hoon Chung… or Sang Mark Chung for every-day Westerner life.

Fast forward past college in Canada, a masters in Sweden, and a job in Singapore, to where this incredibly talented designer landed a job in a little unknown town called Holland, Michigan. After about six years he met this crazy American girl on an unknown blind date… then promptly watched her leave for Africa and ignore him for a couple of years. Then she started emailing… and dating… and finally agreed (much to his relief) to spend the rest of her life with him.

About this time, said crazy girl’s mom had the chance to make her daughter a cool 3-D printed key chain with her up-and-coming new last name! And so, she did.

And all of the middle-schoolers who had heard about this crazy African-based but now in America daughter of their teacher looked at her and asked, “Her new last name will be O’Chung?!”

Upon hearing this story (and receiving the keychain), we laughed, and realized it was the perfect blend of Sang Hoon-Mark’s Korean heritage and Crystal’s European but almost non-existent Irish heritage. And it just seemed to stick. And so, with that, we became the O’Chungs. (On the non-official documents… like when we use Sang Mark. Names and filling out forms have gotten a bit more confusing these days!)

As an extension of this unique last-nickname, O'Chung fits the mix of cultures that I – and the man I love – and our marriage encompass. While neither of us have much Irish in us, we do have a fabulous mix of Tanzanian, Ugandan, Korean, Bulgarian, French, English (the British variety), Australian, American, and several other inter-continentally-confused influences pervading out perspectives. And as I we continue to transition into “oneness” and are challenged in our journeys of faith, these world influences will lend to the people, places, and perspectives we grow in Christ along the way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Boot Camp

(It's been a bit of a hiatus since I last posted... but writing has continued along the way, and I'm excited to share a bit of it with you! This post was written July 7, 2015)

Some people say the first year of marriage is the biggest challenge.

I wouldn’t know. We haven’t started yet ;).

But for us, the challenge has been ongoing from the beginning. Not because we don’t fit well together – God is making it very clear that this is the direction of our relationship we should be taking! But because, well, He’s bringing us through some serious training before the actual marriage begins.

Yes, we come from two different cultures. We’ve lived in very different places. But somehow, God has used these experiences to bring us closer together. Our views on family, marriage, money, so many things are so similar it’s crazy.

At the same time, we’ve both been single for thirty-something years. We’ve both lived by ourselves, he longer than myself, and have developed ways of doing things that are particular to us as individuals and that haven’t necessarily been challenged by my multiple housemates along the way.

It’s easy to get selfish and self-focused as a single. Without even knowing it.

And so, when presented with how to do things in a home, how to make a meal together, how to do little and big things… conflicts discussions arise. Let’s just call them “bumps.”

And it’s been amazing. Can I just brag on my soon-to-be husband a bit? I’ve never met anyone so willing to work through hard stuff, get to the root of whatever issue we’re having, talk through it and figure out how we can do better next time. And then CHANGE. Make the changes himself, and support me in doing the same, changes that we need for a strong foundation for our future.

He’s willing to do the hard work of talking, praying, examining, letting the junk fall away as we seek to become more like Christ and more unified as we prepare for a life of marriage together.

So after all this hard work, it seems like we’d be doing pretty well. And we are! But then the last couple of months, God had some more training in store for us.

We got news that the campus where Sang Mark has worked for the past 8 years is closing down in September. He was given the offer of a transfer to Detroit, and GM started pursuing him as well. We were amazed at the opportunities before us and excited for what God might be doing – he would love to work at either of these places with the amazing people and projects and opportunities there! At the same time, we are entering our first year of marriage, I’ve not even been back in the States for a full year yet after years overseas, neither of us are big-city people per se, and he (we) have an incredible church and friend community that I’ve been adopted into here in Holland.

So the question, with 34 days till we get married, was is… do we add a move and new community to a new marriage and new job situation? Three of the biggest stresses in life all at once? And if so, where to go?

We checked out Detroit and found a couple of places we liked, but still struggled. We needed to make a decision by Monday, and then God granted an extension of a week. But pressure was still on. A potential job was in the works in Holland but not guaranteed (and still isn’t). Do we take what we know, the obvious amazing offer we have? Or do we do what we feel better about at this time of our lives?

In the weeks leading up to this, and as things changed with every passing hour of every day, God started making changes in us that showed the reason behind this difficult process. As we sorted through priorities and what is most important to us in our lives, our relationship, our marriage... we moved from being individuals to being united under one head - Christ. We pondered whether community and stability this first year were most important, especially since I’ve been through so much the past few years? Or was money and career opportunities what we valued most? And even more importantly, what exactly was God saying? Because that’s what we really wanted.

We learned to pray together – not just the happy-go-lucky prayers we’d started our relationship with, but the heart-cry for help and guidance and wisdom and surrender giving everything over to the Lord, no matter what He says, and telling Him we’ll follow Him prayers.

We learned to share what we thought God was saying. To pray for one another, to listen to what God might be telling the other person, and what they were processing themselves. We learned to be convicted by what God was saying through the other person and to change our habits, our minds, our attitudes.

Sang Mark learned that girls' tears are ok – and to comfort me when they came. We learned what it meant to be cheered on by a church of people who were rooting for us to stay, even when they hadn’t known me for very long yet – and the blessing of having them throw me a Bridal Shower just a few months after we’d all met. And give me a place to live the month before we got married when I needed a place to stay.

We learned that asking God to show us His path as soon as possible wouldn't come in our time - but definitely would happen in His sovereignty. We were some of the first people to know what the path ahead looked like job wise, which was a blessing leading up to our wedding for sure! And this difficult but precious Boot Camp time allowed us to face some of the issues and decisions that most couples go through over the first few years of marriage. Because, seriously? Why not just get it all out of the way before you even tie the knot? ;)

And in the end, 4 long, “we’re trusting in You to come through God!” days after turning down job offers with companies in Detroit, Sang Mark was offered a job on the other side of the same building where he’s worked the past 8 years. We get to stay in Holland! And we are so thankful, not only for this time of staying in one place and fewer transitions (and not trying to house hunt the month before the wedding!), but also for the ways God used this time to prepare us for whatever He has to come.

Monday, April 6, 2015

"So, there's this guy..." (the continuing story)

(This post is the second in a 2-part series. For the back story, click here.)

After a long and somewhat treacherous furlough, I prepared to go back to Tanzania. About this time I drove up to Holland to see and say goodbyes to some good friends from college. We were getting together with some friends for an evening, and as we headed out the door, my girl friend mentioned, “By the way, there’s this single guy coming tonight…” Wait, WHAT? I don’t know what I replied, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was, leaving in a week for TWO YEARS... and my friends were setting me up with someone!?

But I have to say, after a walk downtown and time spent at our friend’s house, I was pretty intrigued with this guy. I’d never been interested in an Asian guy before – ever. But this guy was pretty cute. And way more important to me than his looks was his character. He paid attention, was totally respectful, and he really loved the Lord. We spent over an hour talking about our passion for the Word of God and how God speaks to us, and I came away realizing not only his commitment to the Lord and steadfast faith, but also that he really wanted to hear my thoughts and listen to me as well. I could joke about things international – like why in the world German McDonald's have amazing potato wedges but they don’t have them in America – and he got it. And we talked… and talked… and I kept thinking, “What in the world am I doing? I’m leaving the country for two years in less than a week!” But man, I was definitely intrigued!

So when he asked a couple of days later if we could get together again before I left, I politely but firmly declined (with legitimate reasons – I really had three days left to pack and get ready! – but I also didn’t want to lead him on when I was headed to another continent for a good while.) I figured that was the end of that. Great conversations, but too weird of timing. He’d be gone before I got back.

And then, soon after arriving in Tanzania, I got a Facebook message from Sang Mark. Several, in fact. Pretty much every holiday (real or otherwise) I would get a thoughtful “How’s it going?” message. He was friendly and supportive, and I greatly appreciated it. But I was working through some crazy situations with language school and then transitions in the school where I taught, dealing with sickness and amoeba and everything else, and couldn’t let myself think too far ahead to when and where I’d be back in the States (or considering what was next). I was physically in Musoma – I needed my mind to be fully there too. And so, as Sang Mark would say now, I hardly responded at all.

I was feeling more at home and settled in Musoma than I had ever felt in my life. And yet, I also felt like maybe this time in Musoma was the end – if not forever, at least for a long while, of my time of teaching overseas. God had continued to change my heart since furlough and had drawn me towards being back in the States and supporting missions from there, but I still struggled to consider leaving a place I loved and a community that had supported me and become family. How could I do this?

As I wrestled with this decision, I got yet another message from this guy I had liked (and still did) from two years back. This time I shared a bit about a recent break-in we’d experienced, and he responded with encouragement from Scripture that had helped him in the past. I talked to a few people, prayed about it, and decided 6 months until I left Tanzania might be an OK time to start chatting a bit.

And chat, we did. Our messages quickly got too long for Facebook messenger and moved to email. And then they got longer still. And despite differences in background culture, we kept discovering our values, our focus, what meant the most to us in our lives individually was more the same than I could ever have imagined. To be clear, in the midst of preparing to leave my life in Tanzania after five years, selling everything but three bags worth of stuff, and moving back to way too many unknowns back in the States, I had a few freak-out moments when I was sure I should just stop talking to Sang Mark before either of us got hurt. And I almost did, except for the wisdom of a couple of dear, much-wiser friends that encouraged me to wait till I got back to the States to make any final decisions on this guy. But here was a guy (I later found out) that was spending hours writing the longest emails of his life to me… who willingly drove down to Kalamazoo to take me out to dinner two days after I got back to the States, along with bringing me some of my favorite cereal I’d been missing the past two years and German chocolate he’d gotten me on a business trip the month before that I’d said I liked. The guy who has learned to listen while I process (and of course tries to fix everything for me, contrary to what I usually need…), who turns me toward the Lord when I’m needlessly worriing (yet again) and continues to teach me by example how to really rest and balance life well. A guy who has an incredible group of international friends here in Holland that welcomed me in with open arms... and who had me over for an amazing homemade dinner and watching Frozen for the first time when I moved up to Holland. Who was willing to talk through differences and listen and work through the hard stuff and pray and come to appreciate me through it – and I him.  Whose church I would choose for my own even if he wasn’t going there, and who let me decorate his apartment for Christmas in the middle of my own move so I could feel like I was home. Who I could talk art with – and enjoy hearing the processes he went through in his own creations – and realize we both got excited for many of the same things. And who has already turned me into a bit of a snob of inadequately-designed cars.

So, to answer a few of the questions I’ve been getting from people… No, I did not move back to the States, nor resign from Wycliffe, because of this guy. Those were separate decisions I made as I sought the Lord without knowing the outcome of this potential relationship. Yes, he’s been in the picture for awhile, but I really wasn’t sure what God was doing with it all. I’d come to terms with the fact that God might not have someone for me, and while that made me sad, I knew that I would continue to have joy and peace and everything I needed through my Savior. And that was ok, too. God has brought me families and kids, both blood-related and non, wherever I went, and while I had hoped I could do the same for other singles someday, I also knew I’d never be completely alone or without people to turn to.

Yes, we’ll be getting married this summer. (It still doesn't seem quite real - he proposed on the first day of spring just two weeks ago!) We’re both learning a lot about the wedding planning process and are thankful for any suggestions or ideas, help or wisdom you might have to offer!

Yes, my fiancé goes by “Sang Mark.” It’s common for Koreans to have two first names. Yes, I’ve learned a whole lot more than I ever thought I’d know about Korean culture, and have oh so much more to learn. I'm thankful for an amazing teacher! :) No, I haven't learned a whole lot of Korean... yet. It's probably a good thing for this slow-language-learning girl that I have a lifetime to work on adding to my vocabulary! Yes, he lives in Holland, MI - he's been living here for 8 years now after living elsewhere in the States and around the world - and works as a designer of cars in a company while being a shining Light in the place where God's placed him.

No, I still don’t know what the future holds job-wise. I’m doing long-term subbing through the end of this school year and hoping to find something permanent for next fall, but we’ll see what God has planned. Because, when it comes down to it, though I’d love love love to know what’s coming, I absolutely have no doubt that what God has planned is better than I could ever imagine.

Through all the ups and downs and questions and peace, I have seen God’s hand in this story too many times to question whether I’ve made the right decision in starting the next chapter of my life with this guy. I’m excited for the path ahead and the story that will come with it, looking forward to learning to weather the storms I’m positive will come with this amazing guy God’s put beside me, and thankful for the ways He’s grown and changed me thus far along the way!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"So, there's this guy..."

I can’t tell you how many conversations and emails have started with these same words over the last year. But before I get to that, let me give you a bit of context for the story.

Once upon a time (about three years ago), I came home on furlough from Tanzania hoping and praying to go back. I’d been teaching at an international school, and was excited to fill a different need at a two-room school-house of sorts where 8 families were working with 9 language groups and needed a second teacher for their kids. (Things have changed a bit since then, but that was the idea!) I came home struggling with the beginnings of asthma from all the dust in Dar, to the point where a grad professor told me that if I went home and discovered I had TB, I should let her know and she’d extend my due dates for papers. Yep, I was coughing. A lot. I was pretty sure I knew what I was supposed to do (in going back to Musoma), but I had my doubts. I doubted as I went to NC and had plans for meetings with small groups and churches fall apart. And then I watched as God provided amazing communities for me to connect with anyway. I doubted as I got home after being on 4 continents in two months, and decided I could NEVER.MOVE. AGAIN. (haha… right.) I doubted as I tried to take 3 masters classes, substitute part time, AND raise support to go back… and didn’t see much of the support-raising thing happening! But the desire to go back was still strong in my heart, and I kept praying, and kept seeing little and big encouragements along the way that gave me hope. A family down the street that “adopted” me and encouraged me on my journey. An amazing connection with a family that was from Holland, MI that was headed to the same place as me in Musoma. Kids giving their missions’ box money to me to support me, and the chance to connect with kids at GraceSpring Church about missions. Watching said kids get excited and pray regularly for the language groups I’d soon (hopefully) be serving in Tanzania.

Throughout this time, we moved my “leave” date back a couple of times. Email conversations with my missions travel agent sounded something like, “Could we please change my ticket date again? I'd like to change it from the imaginary date of March 3 to another make-believe date of April 25... I don't care what airline you put me on for now since it's all going to change again anyway!"

Right. I’m sure they appreciated that. But then, I wasn’t overly thrilled at the situation either. I’d moved my leave date back three months already. And then about that time, my supervisor in America gave me an ultimatum. I had something like 5 weeks to raise the final $900/month I required to meet my budget, or I wouldn’t be able to get back to Tanzania in time for language school and starting to teach when they really needed me.

And that, as they say, was that. At least in my mind. I’d spent 9 months working hard trying to raise support and seeing almost nothing change. There was no way that I’d make it now. Maybe God was saying it was time to get a job in the States and stay here for a while. My mom can attest to the many drenching tears I shed on the couch the day I received the news, and the super-fast “walk” (she’d call it a jog) we took around the neighborhood a few times to help me de-stress. And through this time, I started to see God changing my heart. I was forced to open my eyes to new possibilities and what God might be doing in my life. I realized that helping kids at GraceSpring connect with missionary kids and life around the world had become just as dear to me as teaching kids overseas. I loved having opportunities to help kids see what they could be doing TODAY – not 25 years from now when they had a steady paycheck – to impact the Kingdom around the world. And then three weeks (or whatever the dates were) later, I sat at Panera watching text after text and email after email come in on the final date that my funds were due, all from people asking if they could still contribute to my ministry. At the beginning of the day, I was well-below what I needed. And by the end of the day, I had more than the minimum required! I was going!

…about which time I realized, I wasn’t sure I even WANTED to go back. (These are the things you can’t say, but oh so feel… I had spent so much time talking to people over the past year about how it seemed God was calling me back to Tanzania, and how I was needed there, that I hadn’t had time to let myself entertain any doubts myself. But when the support all came in, I suddenly realized that all the “funny” stories I’d shared about tarantulas on walls and jumping spiders, malaria and language issues were oh so much more funny when sitting in someone’s air-conditioned living room sipping on icy lemonade. It was a totally different story to live it, in hot, interesting but sometimes miserable places.
I think it was actually harder to go back to Tanzania the second time, in large part because I was “starting over” in a new place with a new community… so I didn’t have a support network to go back to. I didn’t know all the good things about the new place, but I did know about the hard stuff, the stresses, the exhaustion and sickness and spiders and everything else that I was sure were there waiting for me. I saw all of the negative, and none of the good. And I made my trips to Meijer to stock up on supplies, packed my suitcases, and prepared to go anyway.

(More to come... don't worry! It's hard to compact a three-year story into one blog post.
So just go get a drink, sit back down, and click here to learn more about "this guy"...)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Sequel

You know that magical moment, when you finish the last page of an incredible, epic story that made you laugh, cry, connect with incredible character-friends and wish and hope and pray for them (wait, am I the only one that ends up doing that?), and you sigh, wishing you could start the whole thing over again from the beginning? Except, you know without a doubt that a second reading, while good, would never be the same. Ever. You have already been changed. You know too much, the surprise will cease to catch your heart, and the story will be too easy to read from an outsiders’ view instead of being wrapped up in the midst of the moment.

And then there is the sequel. You know it’s coming, or is already out, yearning to be read… and you desperately hope for the best. And yet, I’m not a big fan of sequels. They always leave me… disappointed. The original story that I loved so much, the character’s ambitions and ideas, are all changed and different and they just.aren’t.the same as before. And it makes me sad.
This is pretty much where I am right now in life. I had a hunch when I left Tanzania, and realized more and more over the subsequent months, that not just a chapter, but a whole novel of my life was finished. I had turned the last page, said some final (and some not-so-final) goodbyes, and it broke my heart to let go of a story that had brought tears, laughter, runs in the rain with friends to in hot season, teachable moments with incredible children from who I see pictures of regularly on Facebook and just want to reach out to and give hugs and be a part of their lives again. Families that adopted me when I most needed a home and traditions created that will never resonate quite the same way again.

I realized recently that I would be more than willing to hop on a plane and go back to Musomaland again where they STILL NEED ANOTHER TEACHER. This is the reason I struggled so much with leaving this place that had become home in the first place – I knew there were elements of this life that I would carry with me and be changed by and forever recall and wish for again. The team I served with, the real, really-shared-on-all-levels prayer and Bible Study times, the kids and the laughter and the transitions and the understanding and deep bonds that form in hard places… these can’t just be recreated and reread and experienced in the same ways again. And while I’d love to pick up the story from those days in college when I yearned for Africa and had but am glad I did… I’m not there. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve been changed from the inside out over five or eight or ten incredible years. I know too much, and I know for a fact that I’m supposed to be in the States.

And so I hold memories and people in my heart and wonder hard about the sequel. One which can’t be a disappointment, because the writer of this story is way too Great for that. And I look forward to the next story, where I’ll go, what characters I’ll meet and cry and laugh with and pray for (legitimately, this time) and experience grace with all along the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Homes for the Holidays

I hesitate to even post this at the risk of offending or hurting feelings. I don't mean that in the least. I'm thankful for the amazing people who have surrounded me near and far, who have enabled me to do what I've been called to do and who love me no matter what. But truth be told, the last several months of "adjusting back" haven't been easy ones. And so, in a moment of potentially awkward transparency, here's a bit of what I've been learning.

I celebrated an über-early Thanksgiving with my extended family this past weekend, which was a huge blessing. It’s been ages since I got to join them for food-family-fun and I was glad I got to finally be there with everyone again. But as I drove to Kalamazoo and then Indiana to be with family for the weekend, I was also quite surprised to realize another set of emotions coming out – homesickness. 

Last Thanksgiving, 2013
Remember that verse about God providing family? Well, he does a really good of following through on His promises… go figure, I know. And I’m really thankful for that. But I’m also realizing I’ve established a “new normal” for holidays the past several years which looked a whole lot different than what happens here in America. Eating Thanksgiving with Australians, Dutch, Germans, Tanzanians and others over the years at tables outside with orange-dyed sweet potatoes and homemade marshmallows – this was normal. And as odd as it was sometimes, as much as I missed “home” during those times and had a love/hate relationship with the pictures my parents texted me from family gatherings… our team bonded close over these shared overseas times. We became family.

Homemade Marshmallow Making Adventures (2012)
It took a lot of perseverance (probably because the gelatin we had was very much expired)
but we were SOOO excited when it finally worked!
If I was just in the States for a short time, I’d be eating this time up. But as I know I’ll be here for a good awhile, and I know I’m not headed back to the “other” family God has generously provided… and as I know things there will go on without me (as they should) and I get to be here… sometimes I’m surprised at the amount of emotion and “missing-ness” I feel for the people in Musoma. 

I’m realizing that with all the changes, with all the “new normals” I’ve experienced and become used to, that with each event there are things I get to incorporate from my life overseas and my experiences there with my new, reestablishing life here in the States. The things that worked here, didn’t work there – so adjustments needed to be made.

Christmas 2012 and 2013

I know now how to celebrate Christmas when it doesn't feel like it. I know how to bond together with people and make it work, make it super-special, because that's the only way it will happen. I know how to go caroling with santa hats and scarves in 80 degree weather with a chance of lake fly flurries, and how to make sure all the singles have a family to spend Christmas morning with. Friday night advents with my whole community, culminating in a Christmas movie, are my new norm.

But now that I'm here, I'm surrounded by people busy doing their own things with their own families that have their own traditions, and I'm not sure how I fit in. Not that they don't want me around... but I'm certainly not "needed." I'll be moving house two weeks before Christmas, so even decorating is a bit tricky. And I'm suddenly trying to remember why these long-dreamed-for white flakes falling from the sky are so.insanely.cold. (Apparently my "fond memories of White Christmases" in Musomaland were dreamed in a bit warmer temps?) The most special memories and traditions I've created with others don't seem to have a place, and I'm not even sure what should be special this year. Besides, perhaps, a white Christmas, which will be far away yet again as I head to Florida to celebrate the season with family.

So as I go into this season, I’m thankful for the many homes – and families – God has provided in cities, states, and countries wide around the world. I am grateful for the experiences and cultures I’ve been a part of. But I’m also realizing just how confusing it is to take bits and pieces of cultures and traditions that have taken up residence in my heart, and make them work in a way here that makes sense. Especially when I’ve not been able to physically bring friends or family members on the journey with me there and back. And so I remember that it is an honor and privilege to cling to Jesus even more, as He has been with me all along the way and understands it all through the bigger picture… and promises peace for my transient soul.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Things that (Still) Scare Me

There are a few here in the States that still kind of scare me as I transition back to this place called Holland. er, Michigan. America. I'm slowly but surely getting less jumpy and feeling like my expectations actually match what I'll find outside my door... but it's definitely a process!
  • Using a credit card. I never know when or how to sign or what buttons to push. And you need my email address for what?
  • Pumping gas.
  • Plugging electronics of any kind into the wall without a surge protector. 
I literally brought one of these with me in my suitcase any time I traveled in East Africa...
partly for protection from power spikes, and partly because there was usually only one plug in the room!
  • Letting electronic batteries wear down to the end – what if the power goes out?
  • Leaving food – of any kind – on the counter without ant-attack-counter-tactics in place.
  • Driving fast on American roads – keep right, keep right, keep right!
  • Drinking water out of the faucet. Or eating fruits and vegetables after washed (without fully being dried) or wet utensils/plates, etc. Gotta remember I won’t get an amoeba!
  • Windows that don’t have full blinds (like the place I’m staying now). What if someone sees and reaches in the windows to take stuff? Is it really that safe around here?
  • No bars across the doors/windows, no grills to lock at night. 
  • The weather. At least in Musoma, I knew generally what would happen every day. Here it’s cold in the morning, MIGHT get hot during the day, air conditioners going everywhere… I’m never sure how to dress or what to wear! Or what is stylish and what’s just, well, weird… :P
  • Looking down and seeing an actually WHITE shirt that I'm wearing. Is that even possible? I still can't used to the white- and bright-ness of clothes here...
  • Automatic hand-dryers in public bathrooms. Those things are piercingly LOUD! Doesn’t anybody realize just how much hearing damage they could be causing!?
  • Shopping centers. (Just took on Walmart for the first time yesterday.) So. much. stuff! Did you know there are at least 12 different kinds of CHEERIOS – just cheerios, let alone anything else – in the cereal aisle to choose from?!
  • "Normal" tasks like setting up internet, or picking out a new bank when your old one closes all it's local branches. If I could manage this in East Africa, it seems like this should be easy! But apparently a lot has changed since I did it before in the States 5 years ago...
  • Calling people. as in, real voice-based discussions. (everyone only texts in Tanzania...)
  • I continue to hand-wash dishes, despite my dislike of the task, simply because I keep forgetting there’s another option…
  • ...and EVERYTHING is big! Except for the floor tiles ;)
    • I love books, but the library (even a small one) is sensory overload. 
    • Laundry machines (washers) are so big, you can do a huge load at once! (And what's that you say, I don't have to fill it by hand by lugging water from the sink?!) So what do you do if you’re a single person with a small load? 
    • “Small” couches can fit four people easily (ok, maybe I’m just used to a lack of personal space?). 
    • And every restaurant portion can feed me for three meals. Literally. 
So if you happen to see me from afar in a grocery store, and my face looks a bit like this...
don't worry. I probably just need a hug, some sleep...
and will be feeling right back to myself (or something like it, for a little bit anyway) in no time!
assuming, of course, that's hot chocolate or apple cider in that mug... ;)

Catching Up

It’s a little strange to realize my last blog post was made while I was still in Tanzania. Since then, I finished selling and packing all my things in Musoma, made my way through Nairobi, said goodbye to some dear friends, laid over with a friend in Italy, got stuck in London overnight, and eventually made it “home” to Kalamazoo. I got to connect with a dear friend who I taught with in Dar (now in Minnesota), meet my niece and spend time with my brother’s family, connect with friends new and old from around the world, move up to a place I’m staying in Zeeland, MI through December, and try to take a deep breath as I continue to acclimate to the world of America.

WAY too many people and places are missing from this picture...
these are just the ones I could find quickly :(

I feel that I'm not only continually catching up with people around me these days, but also catching up on all that has changed while I was gone - and the big and little ways that I changed along the way, too. I'm catching up with what's new in Holland, MI since I was a student here 8 years ago, catching up with how to cook from scratch when you can't just go buy 2 kilos of tomatoes, 3 carrots, one onion, and a fresh pineapple at the local market, and catching my breath a bit after "running hard" in serving for a long time without a lot of good breaks along the way.

This still feels way more normal to me than Meijer or Family Fare...

It's been interesting this time around to realize just how difficult the transition back has been for me. I don’t remember it being this difficult last furlough in a lot of ways. Perhaps I’m just more tired, emotionally and physically, after living in a place that I loved, but was often far from easy. Perhaps I've gotten so used to life in Tanzania that it became second nature, and the switch to the American system of, well, everything is just that much more difficult. Or perhaps actually selling everything and leaving East Africa/moving to the US this time has been more wearying than just leaving my stuff there to go back to. Whatever the reason, I’ve been pretty worn out, but ever-thankful for friends in the States and in Musoma for their continued prayers and support, and to family for “getting” that this whole reverse-culture shock thing is actually very real – and normal. And I’m thankful for a God who remains the same no matter what continent or country I find myself in.

The things that made the cut to come back to the States-
so glad it all arrived with me! At Chicago O'Hare
So today, as I begin my new online class, I think of a previous fall season 3 years ago where I was taking on a much-heavier load. I’m not sure I’m excited to jump back into student-mode again, but I’m thankful for the chance to renew my Michigan teaching license and to learn more about children’s literature. I’m thankful for the amazing ways God has provided, sustained, and encouraged me through His Body in community and through faithful friends and churches in the States over the past five years, and as I pray about what’s next, I’m growing in my ability to trust Him even in the midst of unknowns. And most importantly, I know that I’m not alone in the midst of any of this – thanks to incredible people surrounding me and an even more incredible God who will never let me go.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Always Changing

Things at the learning center—and on the mission field—are constantly changing. It’s a hard reality of life here—the friendships we gain grow quickly and deeply, but the frequent hellos and goodbyes tear at your heart just that much more.

Last term two families on our team returned to their home countries of America and New Zealand. Others in our community went to Australia and America on furloughs with plans to return. Recently, with the announcement of another family returning to the States soon, one of our students cried,

"Why does everyone we love have to leave?"

I feel it too! Couldn't resist taking a picture
with this shirt I found at the local market...
it describes our lives to a T!

Even my classroom changes a lot from month to month—and from day to day! Depending on parent volunteers at the learning center, I might have an American 3-year-old joining in, or a second-language 5-year-old Dutch student whose Swahili far surpasses mine (hmm... make that third language!?). My students here in Musoma come from New Zealand, America, Australia, and the Netherlands. We learn more about each country and culture all the time. We’ve been known to count in English, Swahili, Dutch, Spanish, German, and French for morning routines, and have to translate between American/British/Australian/New Zealand English (and vowel sounds!) on a regular basis.

I explain terms like “porch,” "gym," and “Easter Bunny” while my students familiarly use terms like amoeba and bilharzia, monitor lizard and dengue flour, know the potential issues with drinking (or touching) unclean water, and can quickly write the steps to how to get to Australia from Tanzania for their second grade sequential writing assignment. We read ABC books not just about super-heroes, but about countries where our parents come from. We celebrate not only Christmas but Australia Day, ANZAC Day, American Thanksgiving, the Queen’s Birthday, the other Queen’s Birthday, and have both Christian and Muslim holidays off from school according to the Tanzanian holiday schedule.

Lately I’ve been musing (a bit miserably, I'll admit); “Nobody ever told me I’d have to leave family twice!” (I knew I was leaving family, friends, etc when I came... I just didn't realize how hard it would be to leave here when heading back!) I do know how transition works, so the statement might not be exactly true! But on the flip side, as I am now the one preparing to go, I realize just how much God has provided “family” for me here in Tanzania – dear friends that I can go laugh or cry with at a moment’s notice, call early in the morning about a break-in, or commiserate over the abundance of malaria cases or lack of electricity as of late. Just as I’ve turned to Mark 10:29 for comfort so many times while missing family events in America, I now turn again to this Scripture for comfort as I leave the amazing family I’ve gained here, trusting God has great plans for me in whatever - and wherever - is next!

"I tell you the Truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age... and in the age to come, eternal life."
- Mark 10:29-31

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bloghopping Around the World

Sometimes a link on FB turns into bloghopping that touches my heart. I find a link to a blog about TCKs*, and click on another related blog, and another, and another, and start to realize and remember that my crazy transitional international experiences are normal, even in their oddities.

Saying goodbye from 2000 miles away? Yep, been there, done that. Thankful for skyped-goodbyes and friends who love me and helped me mourn my amazing grandfather last month in a memorial service here in Tanzania. Thankful for people who asked questions and wanted to listen and hear about this man that loved and supported me in so many incredible ways.

Photo Credit:
This picture? Yep, totally my heart right now as I sell everything I own, try to think about how much I want to bring back to the States and how it’ll fit into three action packers of 50lbs or less. Knowing “home” in the States is a myriad of places, and wondering how Holland, MI might refit into the picture this time. Remembering that my new niece whom I haven’t yet met is living in FL, half my supporting churches and friends are in NC, family in Kzoo and IN and elsewhere, friends everywhere. I think I have a lot of driving in my near future!

And driving? Come to think of It, I’m going to have to remember how to drive on the other side of the street. Hmm.

Blogs like this - TCKs - that don’t EXACTLY fit (I’m not a mom yet) but which I can totally relate to in many ways as a teacher of these amazing little people, wondering if I’m adequately helping prepare them for their various “home-away-from-foreign-home countries” by teaching money in three currencies, seasons in different hemispheres, time zones, the ins-and-outs of English languages, and praying for and loving on these kids that I struggle with leaving behind as I continue on the journey God’s laid out for me. On every continent I leave. Every.single.time.

Or blogs like this - Debunking 5 Myths about Expat Life - that explain bits and pieces of the good and sometimes difficult snapshots of life I can’t quite put into words, but wish people understood anyway.

I recently wrote a friend, saying: "I totally understand the feeling of missing and appreciating people who are far away... a missionary-friend wrote once: 
"At any given moment, I will always be missing someone, always be appreciating the presence of whoever I’m with, always dreading saying goodbye, and always anticipating a reunion with someone else on another continent." 
I saved it as I felt like it pretty much summed up my existence recently. I also found this quote online:

I realized something very similar to this when I was in the States for furlough, at Christmas, with family, and realizing that some of my "family" was overseas and elsewhere in the country/world. It dawned on me that everyone I know and love will never be in the same place with me all at once - it's the price I pay for getting to know so many wonderfully amazing people around the world!"

It's funny to read the thoughts of people scattered across the world - China, America, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Tanzania, Burundi, Ivory Coast, even America - and realize that though there are differences, we are all remarkably feeling and experiencing many of the same things as we seek to follow God on this journey. And it’s always nice to know that there are people in my life who totally “get” where I’m at – and many many more writing amazing blogs that share my heart and my thoughts and that I appreciate greatly though they’ll probably never know.

*TCK = Third Culture Kids