Thursday, January 11, 2018

Christmas Adventures

This year, my good friend Bekah (not to be confused with me...also Bekah...) and I decided to go on a bit of a non-traditional (for us at least) Christmas adventure.  Way back in August or September, we found a deal on round-trip tickets to Phuket and bought them, securing 8ish days for ourselves on the beaches of Thailand.  We took a risk on a hotel that seemed decent and spent months excited and simultaneously second-guessing our decision, hoping that this trip would be refreshing and wonderful...just what we've been needing.

It really was a marvelous trip, filled with delicious food, sunshine, and sand. Unfortunately, I spent a good 2 or so days sick as a dog and not too keen on leaving the hotel room, but even with that snag in the plans we had such a wonderful time. Christmas Day was spent on remote island beaches, we found a delicious Indian restaurant that we may or may not have eaten at more than 3 times, and elephant riding was also part of the agenda.

I won't write in detail about all of our adventures (although pictures are here for you to peruse and enjoy), but I will say I'm thankful. Thankful for such a good friend to adventure with, a family that understands when I spend a holiday in a random corner of the world, and this amazing continent that I call home having so many nooks and crannies of greatness to explore.

Christmas Morning Sunrise


Christmas Day on the Beach




Lunch buffet on the beach for Christmas?  Why not :)

And of course we had to go see the new Star Wars while we could (it didn't come out in China until last week)!

Smoothie time!

Why did the elephant cross the road?

For the amazing view!!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Oh rest...

A few years ago, I started choosing a word each year to marinate on. For 2017, that word was rest.  Honestly, I mostly forgot about it being a part of my year until New Year's Day when the obligatory reflections on the last 365 days started. At the start of 2017, I thought a lot about rest.  What does rest look like in my life? Do I rest well? How can I build true rest into my life on a regular basis?

As bad as I can sometimes be at really resting, I think that I actually found myself in pockets of rest this past year. I've discovered that for me to truly rest, it has to be intentional. It might mean saying no to things I enjoy. it might mean coming across as slightly selfish in order to protect it. It might involve a fair amount of Netflix. And cross-stitching. And coffee. It might not.

I've found that rest is more selective that I thought it would be.  It's not possible for me to feel truly rested just anywhere or with just anyone,  but that doesn't mean it has to be a solitary verb.  What I do know is that the rest I have discovered this year was free of worry and fear and agendas.  In that sense, it was rather empty, and yet oh so filling.

Rest is peaceful...and it requires a fair measure of trust.

Trust is a funny thing. 2016 was filled with meditating on that word for me and finding a renewed meaning of it in my life. Funny because true rest seems to require immense levels of trust. To be at rest, one has to feel safe, trusting that all will be well.  Trusting that God knows you and loves you and has it covered.

This year, rest took many forms. It came in weeks of babysitting and being an Auntie for so many of my favorite kiddos. It came in vacations void of heavy class schedules and long to-do lists. It involved planning trips that I was excited to plan...or not plan as the case may be. It came in seasons of being okay with the unknown and things beyond my control. It came from being okay with standing up for me and sometimes jumping into the trenches for others.

2016 grew my understanding and application of trust. 2017 stretched my cultivation of rest.

In 2018, my goal is to lean. Lean in and lean on. This will require a bit of falling every now and then, but taking the risk and leaning despite the risk.

As always, I'm sure it'll be another interesting year...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advocate

I've been marinating on this word quite a bit lately: advocate.

It all started when someone told me that the word for avocado was the same as the word for lawyer in French.  I didn't believe them.  Sure enough, 'avocat' is both in French.  (Thank you Google Translate!)  Still not sure why, but hey...I'll take it.

Anyway, that was just what got me marinating on it.  My actual thoughts have nothing to do with avocados...or lawyers...

But anyway: advocate.

What does it actually mean?

How does look in my context?

Who do I do it for?

Who does it for me?

We all advocate for something, don't we?  Let's look at the definition before I saunter on...

advocate
noun
ˈadvəkət/
  1. 1.
    a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

    "he was an untiring advocate of economic reform"
    synonyms:champion, upholder, supporterbackerpromoterproponentexponentprotectorpatronMore
  2. 2.
    a person who puts a case on someone else's behalf.

    "care managers can become advocates for their clients"
(Thanks, again, Google for making looking up words so insanely easy...)

I feel like so much of my job is as an advocate....a champion....a backer....a supporter....a protector.  Sometimes by advocating for someone I'm helping them learn how they can advocate for themselves.  Sometimes I am standing in the gap for them...fighting for them...building a wall that they can find a bit of reprieve behind.

As a principal, I want to be an advocate for students.  There is nothing that makes me angrier in the realm of education then when parents don't do this for their children.  (That is a whole other topic for another day, that I probably will never post about because it makes my blood boil and I tend to get a bit preachy and angry rather than trying to help someone peacefully see what I'm saying.  I pray a lot before some parent meetings...and that's all I'm going to say about that.)  As adults, we are blessed with the opportunity to stand in the gap for the next generation....to hoist them up on our shoulders to see and do more than we ever can or could.  What a privilege...and overwhelming responsibility at times.

Anyway, that's not the path I started this post to walk down...

Lately, my big wondering has been: who advocates for me?  Who stands in the gap for me when I need it?

To be perfectly honest, I'm pretty fortunate.

Although I am single and often sometimes wish that the Lord had already brought that soulmate that I hope that he has in store for me along, I know that I'm not alone in my journey.

I have family that stands in that gap for me.  They will go to bat for me and be safety nets for me when I need to go to bat for myself.  Sure, they're spread around the world and I may or may not always choose to listen to them, but they are there and solid.  I never doubt that they care and will raise a voice if I have none.

And I have friends.  Oh my goodness do I have friends.  I am honored to go to the mat for them and don't doubt that they would go to the mat for me.  They are amazing, and so many of them are so much more than friends.  They fight for (and sometimes with) me when my strength is failing and I don't want to press forward.  They speak up for me when I have no voice.  They are my brothers and my sisters.  There aren't words to go into just how much I adore tribe that God has given me, but just know that they are splendid. 

What seem to I find myself most blessed by in this season, though, is the group I have at work.  If you have known me in this season of growth in my life that being a principal is, you've probably heard me talk about the admin team that I work with and just how blessed I am to learn and work alongside them. I also have an incredible group of teachers that I lead that I can be a pillar for and who can also be a pillar for me.

I know that I am blessed.

And yet sometimes I still wonder, who is my advocate?  Or better yet, who should I be advocating for that is currently slipping through the cracks.

No real answer today...just words.  Story of my life.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Where in the world is Bekah, Fall 2017 Edition

It's been a while since I had (or took, really) the time to write.  To say that it's been a busy month would be the understatement of the decade.

What exactly have I been doing?

Well, the last full week of October I watched some kiddos for a few days while their parents were busy welcoming the newest member of their family into the world.

At the end of that week I went to Thailand for a conference for four days.

The next week I was at school Monday through Wednesday and then flew to Hong Kong Thursday morning for a much needed weekend of unplugging from life and enjoying just being with a dear friend.

The following week I was in another city in China doing a teacher training and sharing my passion for Middle School with new to Middle School educators.

Then I was home for five nights before flying to yet another city in China for yet another conference, which really is more like a China-family reunion because there are so many people there that I adore.

Now I'm at home for a...wait for it...7 night stretch!! Woot woot!

Tomorrow, I move to a friends house for 10ish days to hang out with their kids while they are at a conference in another part of the world.

Unfortunately, I haven't been so great at keeping up on laundry.  It might be a late night of trying to get that sorted out...

Oh...ya...I forgot.  On top of all of the travel, I'm taking a class right now on school finance that is kicking my butt.

And I'm attempting to crochet snowflakes for Christmas gifts for our entire staff.

Okay, I need a nap.

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The 30 year streak is over...

Today was not a normal day.

The start of it should have tipped me off.  I struggled getting out of bed, puttered around the apartment longer than usual doing nothing of consequence, and left my apartment later than I usually try to.  I grabbed the first Mobike that I saw when I got out of my complex, already running late and not wanting to be picky about which bike to ride for a change.

I wasn’t speeding along, but I was going to a brisk pace. I never worry about my surroundings when I’m biking to school (except for traffic, of course…don’t worry dad!). I try not to stop too much and keep a good pace. On a good day, it takes me about 6 minutes to get to school…yesterday it was 4. Today, not so much.

Anyways, I rode along and at one point thought “Hm, that scooter is awfully close to me.  I should yell at him to back off.” But then I thought “You sure do yell at people on scooters a lot. Give him a break…”

I should have yelled.

A minute or so later, a van comes honking up to me yelling out the window. I wanted to ignore him, but he cut me off.  My Chinese is not so good, but what I caught of what he was saying was “Back there…two men…your phone…two men…back there.”

Oh crap.

Sure enough, my phone wasn’t in my backpack pocket anymore.

And it wasn’t on the ground on the corner…

…or along the road…

…or where I got the mobike in the first place.

Turns out I should have yelled at that scooter.  The one time I had a right to be angry.  The one time I could let go and let them have it…and I didn’t even know.

(And right next to that anger that I could have let out, I’m honestly a bit impressed that they took it while I was moving along quickly without me realizing it.  That takes skill.  Skill used for evil, but still skill…)

My day may have started on a sour note, but it ended with dinner at a fish hotpot restaurant with two dear Chinese friends, talking about life and family and schooling and hope.

And so I’m ticked because I have no phone…and I just sold off the last of my electronics that the phone replaced…

And I’m a bit put off because this is my first experience of being pick-pocketed in 30 years of living and doing life in random corners of the world…

And I’m annoyed because I don’t have the money in reserves to replace the iPhone that I was so excited to finally own earlier this year…

But despite frustration and irritation at the circumstances of a day that had a rough start, there is hope. Tomorrow is a new day. The sky this morning was a perfect blue. I can afford to go out with friends for a meal, and I have friends to go out with.

I’m sure there are many lessons that the Father is going to be teaching me in the next few weeks of frustration with the world not quite at my fingertips, but I’m excited to use my eyes and ears to learn them.

Today was not normal day, but at least it ended well. J 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Forever Foreigner

(For "A Forever Foreigner" post by a good friend of mine, check out http://millerbrian.com/stories-n-stuff/a-forever-foreigner)

Ferengi.

Mzungu.

Waiguoren.

It’s interesting the words we almost understand as synonymous with our names after a while in a place that we call home.

Traveling in the Bible-belt of the US this past summer, I got very used to being called ma’am.  I didn’t necessarily like it (I mean, come on…my mother is ma’am…), but I got used to it.  There is a level of respect that comes with it.  A level of courtesy and kindness.  But not every cultural phrase has that same connotation.

I still remember the kids running up to the car in the countryside of Ethiopia when I was in middle and high school, pounding on the windows of the car chanting ferengi and money in the hopes of getting a little something from the out-of-towners.  (Oddly enough, now when I am in Ethiopia they call me China…if only they knew…)

Or in Kenya, riding on the roof of the Land Cruiser while kids playfully said mzungu and pointed from the side of the road.  I don’t know why, but in Kenya it always felt a bit more loving, being pointed out as an outsider.

Or who can forget that one time in my complex here in Chengdu, when a biker gang (multiple ten year olds on bikes…the title fits…) circled around me chanting wei-guo-ren, wei-guo-ren. It has a ring to it, sure.

But isn’t it obvious?

Of course I’m a foreigner.  Of course I don’t fit. Of course I will always be an outsider.

I get it, I do.  I understand the tendency to focus on the differences.  But it still cuts a little…

Just a little, though.

What cuts deepest is when I’m back in the United States and I blend in.  I’m merely a face in an eclectic sea of faces that don’t at all look the same and yet all seem to be at home. People have their routines, their plans, their lives…and they belong.

And when I’m there, there is something inside me that is screaming YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!  YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!!!  And I smile, sometimes through grated teeth, because that voice can get very, very loud inside my head.

It gets loud when I think I’ve finally figured out a cultural custom (after four years in college and 3 year working Stateside I certainly should have a few customs down) and then realize that I am more foreign than ever. 
It gets loud when I’ve just had a conversation with someone from a different place and a friend wonders why they don’t head back ‘home’ if they’re having such a hard time in their new surroundings. 
It gets loud when someone asks why I haven’t moved back ‘home’ yet. 
It gets loud when I’m in my current home and have a not-so-great-China day.

So why is it that the loud voice in my head on those occasions is the voice that I so often am tempted to listen to, but the loud voices of reality in so many places barely scrape the surface?

Sure, the names get annoying. And, of course, I’d rather have all of my people in one place.

But I am at home.

I am comfortable in the discomfort. I’m at peace in the chaos.

This being a foreigner is, in some strange way, home.  Being a foreigner is simply who I am.

A forever foreigner.  Always a waiguoren. Forever a mzungu.  Permanently a ferengi.

Wherever I am, I’m likely to stick out just a bit, whether it’s because of how I look or the sometimes quirky things that I say or think.

And yet, somehow, there is always at least one person who understands me, in all of my foreign uniqueness.  It’s taken a lifetime to become the tapestry of cultures and ideas and places that I am.

And, believe it or not, even on the worst of days, I really wouldn’t change a thing.



“This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Avocados and Wonderings

I used to love buying avocados.  Whenever I went to the grocery store in the States (before my China days), I would check the price and if they were around a dollar a piece, I would buy a handful and have a dinner that revolved around something guacamole based.  Chips and guac, guac sandwiches, guac on crackers...anything would do.

In China, I haven't indulged in avocados quite so much.  I've had a few good experiences, sure, but the bad generally outweigh the positive outcomes.  I've spent over $10 on a few avocados before and had only one be edible.  Pretty heartbreaking.

The other day, I took a chance.  I went shopping and decided to check the avocado prices.  I paid a little over $8 for three seemingly ripe pieces, but fretted a little on the way home that my senses were wrong and I'd be bitterly disappointed.

But I wasn't.  They were perfect and my stomach is oh so happy.

My mind automatically goes from that place of bliss to fretting over next time.  I have I used up my avocado luck?  Will next time not turn out so well?  Should I just give up all together?

I worry too much.

The past few weeks I've gotten into a podcast on personality and the enneagram, which of course has be analyzing myself and those closest to me.  With every episode, I relate fully and thing that that might actually be the box that I belong in.  Let's face it, though, one box isn't going to fit all of my crazy.

With all of the worry about avocados and personality, you'd think my brain couldn't take on another layer, but of course I find a way to fit in a bit more.  I'll spare you the details (you're welcome, friend)...but my worries are something it's time to work through.

So, as I finish up my latte and not so wonderful sandwich at a coffee shop I don't enjoy but isn't crowded, I'm determined to buy another avocado and take the leap.

Vacations leave entirely too much time to wonder...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

I'm out of snappy titles...so this will have to do...

There are so many things that I see on a weekly basis that make me want to write a quick blog, but then life gets away from me and busy days happen and suddenly another month has gone by and you've heard nothing from me.  It's amazing to me how many wonderful and beautiful things I see that I don't share, but give me a whopper of a bad day and the words just flow.  Apparently I use this blog as a sort of therapy.  Great.  Sorry world!

Today, I'm not writing from that place of frustration or processing, though. I'm just writing.

The school year is officially in full swing, with mid-quarter reports emailed home and parent meetings sprinkled throughout my schedule.  It's the season of figuring out if we started well and actually having time to write (and maybe even check off a few items on) a to-do list.  It's the season of going deep with students and tackling issues that seem to be on a theme and variations loop. And it's the season of people beginning to think about next year and change and options.

Don't worry, I'm not thinking about change.  I'm actually really thinking about consistency.

That's a word that I've been marinating on quite a bit lately.

Consistent
  • unchanging in nature, standard, or effect over time.
  • compatible or in agreement with something.
  • (Thank you Google!)

What does it mean for me, Bekah, to be consistent?  How does that look? Is it possible?  For the past five years, I've been a consistent resident of Chengdu.  Compatible.  Unchanging over time. I've consistently gotten up each morning and gone to work (save a few sick days sprinkled here and there). I've consistently chatted with students and gotten to know their families.  My life here somehow shifted from an experiment of sorts in consistency to an actual constant in my life.  The variable is no longer if this is home. It's home (well, one of them). I've had a consistent view from my living room window for more than three years.  I've had consistent places that I go to think or enjoy the world around me. Chengdu and I are compatible, in agreement, and [relatively] unchanging over time.

How on earth did that happen?!?!?

Okay, this so wasn't where I thought my thoughts would take me.  Go figure...

...squirrel...

Anywhosiers, another word I've been marinating on quite a bit lately is 'why.' When a students is acting out at school, I want to know why. When a friend is seeming more distant (or more engaged) than usual, I want to know why. When things aren't going quite right, I want to know why. When I'm in a funk, I want to know why.

We don't always get to know the answer to that, though.

But still I want to know.

I like knowing.  It feels somehow...safer? ...more comfortable?

Consistency and why don't always go hand in hand, but today I'm going to leave you with that and call it a night.

Besides, my pizza just got here. :)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Busyness vs. Pondering

I'm finding that while being busy can sometimes be overwhelming, that's not where my biggest issues shine through. I tend to thrive on busy. Chaos drives me crazy and yet invigorates me. Let's face it, I like to be needed. (My friends who try to work themselves out of a job are operating so far from my comfort zone...if that was my plan I would have to have a new job lined up to eventually work myself out of before even considering working myself out of a current job.) This is a flaw and a shortcoming that I am very aware of. Jesus and I are having some talks...all will be well...I guess...

My problem (apart from all of the above...) is that when I'm not busy I think. And thinking makes me remember. And remembering makes me break. I can spend an evening surrounded by friends and so thankful for the people that I do have, and as soon as they are gone I crumble into a puddle of tears because of who is missing.

A favorite children's book of mine has always been "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. If you haven't read it and have an upper elementary kid that you love, read it together and get lost in the land that Juster created. I used to want to move there...but I digress.  Today, I was chatting with one of my 7th graders about how you can tell a lot about a book by the first page, and then I proceeded to read her the first page of The Phantom Tollbooth. (Bear with me...I swear I have a point.) As I finished reading, she asked if she could go to the library to check it out.  I love hooking kids on books that I've been hooked on...sharing worlds with them that I love.  Let me share that first page with you here:

Chapter 1. Milo
There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.
When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him — least of all the things that should have.
"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.
"And worst of all," he continued sadly, "there's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.
Until today, I've never read the book thinking that I could at all relate to Milo. I've always thought that I am more like Tock or the Mathemagician or the Which Witch...someone who was a part of the story to help him learn because they already had been through it. I always thought of myself as somewhat who is guiding others through to the other side of the doldrums, making like exciting and helping them see the hope.

But right now, I feel more like Milo.

"As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty."

Thankfully I'm not in a 24/7 Milo state, but there are days (or really more like moments) where I get lost in the emptiness and frustration. Times where I don't care to know where somewhere is or why it is the way it is.

And maybe this is why I've allowed myself to get back so comfortably into the rut of busyness. When I'm busy I forget that I'm in the doldrums...I work myself up to a speed where I can plaster back on my happy face and go about business as expected.  And there are benefits to this, for sure.

But maybe it's time to slow down. To let some of the sorrow out. To mourn. To cry. To let some new ideas form and new joys materialize.

That said, I also don't want to be someone who is known to let out "such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family." May that never be said of me...

For now, I'm going to reread an old favorite...I'll let my brain process tomorrow...maybe...

Friday, July 28, 2017

When the city's away...

We've been talking a lot in the last few days about TV streaming.  I know, it's strange...bear with me for a minute while I take you down the progression that is internet in China.

This is the land of technology.  I use my cell phone to pay for everything.  The doctor, the pizza delivery, the eggs and flour at the corner store for cookies, Starbucks, fruit from the fruit cart outside the gate....everything.  When I went on a walk the other day, I almost forgot my keys because I knew I had my cell phone with me and that was everything I needed. (WRONG! I do need keys. Important life lesson, friends.)

Buses have wifi, cell signals work in the metro...life here is all about technology.

But the internet, it is slow.  Sooooo slow. Not dial-up-connections-from-2005-in-Ethiopia slow, but certainly not as fast as we've become accustomed to in 2017.

This week, however, it has been fast.

And I have been making the MOST of it.

Now that basically means I've been watching a lot of TV, but come on...it's summer.  Give a girl a break.

Tonight a few friends came over for pizza from our favorite delivery place and games. Goodness gracious it was a good time.  We laughed, oh how we laughed...we talked...we played...and we laughed some more.

And somehow we got on the topic of how fast the internet has been.  It's been so fast that we've been able to watch TV shows without much buffering.  So fast that you can watch said TV shows at any time, day or night.

And that just doesn't usually happen.

But everyone is on vacation...at least the people with kids seem to be since school is out for July and August.  Our theory is that each building/neighborhood gets a certain amount of bandwidth for the interweb (Corner Gas, anyone?), and if everyone is using it, it is s-l-o-w.  So slow.  But right now, with people gone, there's more for my streaming pleasure...and it's quick as lightening.  When they all come back for school to start, I have a feeling we won't be so lucky...

I know, I know...I'm rambling.  And what's worse, I'm rambling about nothing of consequence.

Just wanted to justify still being up at midnight.  There, I did it.  Now I shall sleep...or watch another episode...or sleep. The internet will still be fast tomorrow.  Hopefully...