Friday, February 24, 2017

The whole pain thing...

Pain is an interesting thing, isn't it? There are so many forms of it, so many vastly different causes of it, and so many ways that we react to it.

This week I was in pain. Some of it physical, some emotional, but all frustrating.

With the weather constantly changing here, from almost spring back to winter awfulness, joints get confused and stop working. I'm not 30 yet, there isn't supposed to be weather-related joint pain, right? Wrong. But physical pain I can handle. It is frustrating, but you learn to adapt and cope and do what you have to do to get things done.

It's the heart pain that gets me.

I'm still processing, trying to figure out what exactly is going on and why I'm hurting, but I am.

Maybe it's because I feel like I'm totally unprepared to do what I do each day, and definitely not smart enough or wise enough or old enough to help my students figure out what they are meant to be doing and how they need to change some of their habits now.  I'm not perfect...and they're not perfect...and sometimes I feel like there is just this unperfect mess of us trying to figure it out.

But I love my job, and I am learning and growing and figuring it by day and prayer by prayer.

And then there is friendship pain. The pain that comes with us all being human and messing up and inadvertently causing pain to people that we love. For some reason this pain gets me on a level that I can't put words to. The thought of being the source of someone's pain broke me this week.  It was the straw on top of an already precariously stacked Jenga pile that came crashing down.

And you know how competitive I can be. The reality of the pieces falling down around me while I sit in shock that I've failed...that's the pain that may be the worst of them all because there's a shock factor that goes with it.

Sometimes I wish I could do it on my own. That I could retreat to some oasis and just get it done and not need anyone or have anyone that needs me. But alas, community and relationships are key (especially to an extrovert like me).

And so I'm working on sorting out the pieces, waking up each morning and remembering to breathe in and out.

It's been a rough week, but a new one is right around the bend.

So if you've been having a rough week, too, I'm with you.  We'll make it out of this.  We can get through it.

And if you don't know how, maybe a good start would be watching this panda video :)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Have you ever gone through a season that was so busy that you kept having “If I make it to _______, I’ll make it through” moments? When around every corner was something else keeping you up at night and causing your suitcase never to quite be unpacked?

'When we've made it through September, we'll know if we're doing okay.'
'Once I get back from the US, things will get back to normal.'
'If I can survive January, I can survive anything.'

That has been the last...hmmm...six months for me.  Six months of something else just around the corner to not necessarily be worried about, but to be thinking of and planning for. The school year is far from over and there are so many things I probably should be doing right now, but taking the time to reflect on six months of crazy seems more important right now...

...and I have a cup of chai made out of Indian tea and Kenyan masala within reach, so that of course makes thinking all the more exciting.

The first semester of school as a principal was so much better than I could have imagined and so much more exhausting than I thought possible. It was filled with new challenges and adventures, trying to find enough time each day to get everything (or just something) on my to do list done, and redefining relationships as I transitioned from teacher to principal and from colleague to boss. Not everything changed, but so many of the "normal" aspects of my life were totally abnormal all of a sudden, and that transition was so much harder than I thought it would be.  It wasn't bad, it was just different and a wee bit difficult.

And then there was the travel.

Every month from September to January I was away from home for at least 5 days, sometimes more. As I packed for my trip to India over the Chinese New Year break back in January, I discovered a suitcase from my October trip to the US that I had never bothered to unpack. October! What on earth! My carry-on was never empty and my passport didn't get a break. Usually I have 4 or so stamps next to my Chinese visa in my passport (which is renewed each spring). Right now I have 10...and that just represents the trips out of the country from May to January this year.

Now don't get me wrong, I love traveling. Since returning to China last July, I've explored southern France with my parents and brother, wandered around Hong Kong twice, prepared for transitions in Beijing with our seniors, gotten caught in a downpour on a coffee plantation in India, and so much more. I've slept through two 7+ hour flights (thank you Jesus for making me someone who can sleep anywhere) and taken one too many of my 'traditional' Starbucks airport pictures. After years of trying and failing, I've gotten to the point where I can actually pack for a week in a small carry-on suitcase. If that isn't a life goal achieved, I don't know what is.

And now, like the calm before a storm, I wait patiently for normal to finally become a reality. My hope is that in February I will cook at home more and worry about what is not getting done less.

And I hope that I can rest.

My word for 2016 was trust, and boy oh boy was that a doozy to meditate on. I was stretched and poked and prodded with that word and the heaviness of actually doing it time and time again, and I think that sometimes I forgot that I can take a deep breath and trust even while doing nothing.

So my word for 2017 is rest, and besides taking more naps, I hope that I can learn to turn off all of the noise around me figure out what rest really is...

And with that, I should probably get back to my homework and lesson planning so that I can get some rest. :)

Friday, September 16, 2016


Do you ever reach a point and find yourself hitting pause to look at the world around you, wondering how on earth time has flown so quickly and what younger you would think of where you are now?  I find myself doing that an extra heap these days as I get into a rhythm with this school year, my fifth school year living in Chengdu and calling China home.

Five years?!?!  Goodness gracious how can this be the start of five years in a part of the world that I never intended to do more than visit.

Five years.

That's one sixth of my life.

That's three years longer than I lived in Kenya.

Or 2 years longer than I lived full-time in Ethiopia.

A year longer than I lived in Michigan.

A year longer than I lived in Rwanda.

Only two years less than the time I spent in Washington state between countries as a child.

And by the end of this contract, I will have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere.

And so, as this fifth year starts, I find myself wanting to go back to how I saw the world around me when I first arrived, taking pictures of every strange thing at Walmart, amazed by public transportation, and in awe of waking up every morning in a city that is larger than the State where I grew up.

I'm hoping that this year can be a reset.  Resetting any frustration that I find with my surroundings.  Resetting my abysmal language abilities and trying to learn again.  Resetting expectations on myself or the world around me.  Resetting opinions that were foraged in a season of stress.

Sometimes it's just time for a fresh start.

What triggered this line of thinking? Well, last night I went out to dinner with a dear friend and her parents and I found myself in awe.  We sat at a table on a crowded sidewalk where restaurants have taken over the walking space.  Around me, families and friends were reconnecting after a busy week on a holiday weekend.  They were laughing, drinking, eating, sitting back, and just enjoying each other.  On our way to meet another friend, we walked past neighborhood squabbles, street cleaners, fruit stands, and so many other pieces of life that are a beautiful part of this place that I have grown to love.

I realized that it's been a long time since I sat back and enjoyed watching life here happen.

And so, let the reset begin.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Always an Adventure

How is it that every time I blog it seems as though two (or three....:/) months has passed?  While there may be dull moments in this crazy adventure of a life that I live, they never seem to last long enough for me to get them written down.  I have a few minutes this morning (which is in itself a bit of a doozy of a story), so I thought it might be time to catch the world up on what has been happening since June when I last got on here and spilled.

The summer was spent in North America and it was wonderful.  There is something so beautiful about getting on a plane and going to a totally different part of the world, stepping back into a different life of mine.  Seeing friends and family, catching up on the last few years, and being able to share my heart and carry burdens for dear friends makes for precious times.  I won't go into detail on every twist and turn of my summer wanderings, but they were full (never more than a week at a time in one place) and memorable.  The highlights were wedding reunions, precious moments with both of my grandmothers, walking my cousin's daughters to the bus stop as they finished up Kindergarten, giggling with almost all of my cousins' daughters at some point in the summer, crying with friends (over the good and the not so good), and savoring moments over meals with people that I love and wish I could see on a more regular basis.  Loving people and places on multiple continents is oh so hard when you have to leave one to return to the other.

But return I did.  Coming back to Chengdu this time around was good and stressful, but oh so worth it.  My brother came for a week or so and was incredibly patient with me as I worked more than I should have to prepare for this new school year and job.  I wish I could have (or would have) dropped everything and done more with him while he was here, but I'm still so glad that he came and did life with for a bit.

Then school started.  Goodness gracious is it different to be out of the classroom and to have my main place in the building be behind a desk.  I'm learning to love what I do again, but it certainly is a different angle to approach it all from.  I'm sure that I'll have more stories at tales at some point, but for now I'll just say that I am content and learning a whole lot along the way.

This last week has been an adventure in itself as I've been able to pop over to another city in this fine country where I live and lend a helping hand to some friends.  Again, details will remain sparse here, but having the ability to drop everything and go is such an odd and marvelous position to be in.  Being the hands and feet, whenever and wherever possible, is such a beautiful part of being part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

And now, as I gear up to head home, I can't help but wonder what adventure is laying in wait around the next bend.  Oh boy...should be a good one...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Changing Seasons

Written back in August, incomplete, but still it seems like it's time to get this posted...

Seasons of change are a tricky thing, aren't they?

I feel as though the last few months have been so overwhelmed by the change on the horizon that every conversation, plan, and thought was sent through a tainted lens.

At the end of the school year, the lens was one of lasts...last day as a homeroom teacher, last math lesson I taught, last exam to grade.  For some reason this was more bitter-sweet and difficult than I expected, and yet at the same time I didn't have nearly as much time to wallow in my mourning as I thought I would, which was of course a good thing.

Throughout the summer back in the US, the lens was one of uncertainty...knowing that I am where I'm supposed to be and yet not really knowing how to talk about it.  "What do you do?" How was I supposed to answer, "Well, for the last four years I've been teaching in China, but this fall I'm transitioning out of the classroom and into an office.  No, no, no, I love teaching...of course I'll miss the I'm not trying to brag...of course I know it'll be hard...I know I'm young..." Half the time, I said I teach overseas, the other half I paused long enough to make the asker question my sanity.  Neither one was quite accurate (although both had a hint of truth mixed in).

And now, as the school year has begun, the extra lenses that I found myself looking through seem to be coming off and reality can settle back in at last.  Every day is an adventure and every experience is new, but I have confidence that it is all working together for good.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the past 4 years in China.  How do I know this?  Well, I had a dream (or maybe we should just call it a nightmare) my first night back in the US this summer that I had to move out of my apartment in 24 hours.  I woke up in a frenzy, wanting to jump on a plane and sort through the junk ASAP.

I so desperately wish that I was a minimalist.

But alas, I'm not.

Fast forward a week and I'm back in the town that I lived in pre-China, standing at the entrance to my storage unit, completely overwhelmed by how much stuff I own.  Stuff.  Junk.  Things.  Memories.  Treasures.  Keepsakes.

If I were to go through one tote a day, I think it would still take me a month to feel like I had gone through it well.  And I've got one day.  Today.

My goal is to go to a unit half the size.  24 hours ago, my goal was to get rid of it all.

How does all of this stuff accumulate so quickly?  And even worse, how do I let it sit for so incredibly long, ignored and useless?

Time to roll up my sleeves, sip my latte, and get to it.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Speeding by...

I've had an amazing number of thoughts running through my lately, and I think it's time to get them down on paper....or rather screen.

This spring was a blur.  If you want details on anything that happened, I really don't have them for you because I feel like I was in a fog of busyness, followed by the storm of change that is June in the expat community.  I honestly don't know how I survived all of the plates that I was juggling and fires I was trying to keep lit.

A friend of mine uses the analogy of a glass of water to describe life overseas, so whenever I see him, he asks where my cup is at.  If it's full, I'm at the brink of craziness.  If it's empty, I have so much more that I could (or maybe should) be doing.  This spring when I saw him, I told him that I had solved my problem...I just picked up an extra cup.  Why try to keep one very full glass from spilling over when you can just carry two.  #storyofmylife

What kept me so busy?  Just life, really.  Well, life the way I live it.  Teaching full time, taking post-grad classes, learning the ropes of administration, preparing for a summer at "home", saying see-you-later to so many friends and especially my best friend who is starting a new chapter in a new land...  Any of those things on their own or in combination with one or two others would be perfectly fine, but all of them combined to cause me to go on autopilot and just get things done.  No time for tears (until the last few days of school, of course), and no time to think about the reality of change that was just over the horizon...just autopilot.

A student of mine made me into a Picasso-esque creation. An accurate depiction...sometimes I feel that jumbled.

I packed up my classroom during those last few days of school, and it didn't hit me until I was in JoAnn's the other day that I don't have to decorate any bulletin boards in the fall.  No, wait...I said that wrong...I don't get to.  The things that have always been in my classroom in the past won't be in my classroom now because I won't have a classroom.  That one lesson on parabolas that I always have wanted to try out?  Too late now.  That one bulletin board that I thought about putting up last fall? Not happening any time soon.  I'm thrilled to be moving into a new position and experiencing new challenges, but there is something about the finality of this chapter closing that is just too much.

This has been the #viewfrommyclassroom for the past three years

Saying goodbye to my classroom was nothing compared to saying goodbye to Sarah, though.  I've been blessed throughout my life to have friends that get me, that love me despite my quirks, and that make me a better person.  I'm very very lucky and oh so thankful to have people on every continent that I love and that love me.   There is something about the experiences that Sarah and I have had in Chengdu that have bonded us in a way that I didn't think possible.  We are opposites, and yet we gel.  Life over the past four years has been filled with high highs and oh so very low lows, and yet we have always had each other to lean on.  Bad day? Call Sarah.  Good day? Call Sarah. Nothing to do this weekend? Call Sarah.  Saw a funny Jimmy Fallon bit? Call Sarah.  Need someone to wander a new corner of the city with? Call Sarah.  She has been my go-to for almost everything for four years, and now she is moving.  I'm oh so happy for her and the next chapter that the Lord is writing in her life, but I would be lying if I didn't wish that chapter was a little closer to the 'Du and not so very far away.  Goodbyes are hard for people that I barely know, but for a heart-friend like her they are brutal.  A few months ago I heard a woman crying in the airport waiting for a flight and I didn't understand why she couldn't pull it together in public.  The day that Sarah and I said our final Chengdu goodbye on a metro stop and then went our separate ways home, I finally understood that poor woman's plight.  FYI, crying on the metro makes people VERY uncomfortable.  Very.  Don't try it.  Just trust me.

Our last picture as friends living in the same city. #roommatesatadistance

And now, I'm in the US, so far removed from the realities of Chengdu life that I don't quite know how to talk about it.

How do I wish I could respond...well, sort of like a school kid who doesn't tell their parents a whole lot when they get off the bus: "How was your year?" "Fine."    "What are you going to do next year?" "Cool stuff." "Learn anything cool about life?" "Yep."

It's either that or dive into stories that I don't quite know how to explain of a life that I wish you would just come and see for yourself.  If you came, you would understand why I love it so much.

But it's okay if you don't.  Just be kind as I talk about my crazy kiddos, explain why I only buy sunglasses on walls in China, and complain about the assorted bacon options in the US.  I know I'm weird...I know I don't fit...just humor me for a little while.

But seriously, who needs this many options???

Sorry, this post was all over the place.  Welcome to the currently jumbled mess that is my mind :)