Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Travels, 2017 Style

Sometimes I feel like traveling across oceans is a bit like traveling between worlds.  Last week at this time, I was with my parents back in Auburn, probably watching the Tour de France and drinking our mandatory morning coffee.  Today, I'm sitting on my bed in Chengdu, feeling utterly exhausted after a day of sorting through the bins that have been hiding and collecting dust under my bed.

Several hours (and several garbage bags full of junk) later the floor is vacuumed, bins are cleaned and organized, and I'm feeling rather accomplished.  It's amazing to think that I've been here long enough to accumulate this much stuff.  Some of the treasures that I found today included notes from my students from my first birthday in China, my gym membership card from that first year, dozens of receipts for a plethora of things (they said to save receipts...they never said when I could throw them away...), and oh so many memories. I saved a few notes and all of the necessary supplies that I seem to hoard from trips to the US, but otherwise it's now in bags ready to go far far away.

Back to the between worlds idea...

My summer travels this year were once again a whirlwind.  I started the break with a week in Kansas City with my #roommateatadistance, Sarah, and her husband.  We talked the week away, reminiscing and thinking out loud, as we so often have in the past.  Being with them was a respite for me after a year of challenges and unknowns.  It was a great way to start the summer journeys.

From there, I went to New York for New Staff Orientation, an opportunity to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.  It's been 5 years since I was at NSO, and it was such a sweet time of thinking back to how much I've grown and changed, while being excited for the journey ahead of our new teammates and friends.  This was another quick trip, and after 3 days I was off, once again.

The next two weeks were spent at Liberty University in intensives classes for the Ed.S. program that I am in.  It may seem obvious to some, but intensives classes are...wait for it...intense.  I was in class from 8:30 to 5:30 each day (with a lunch break...don't worry!) and had projects and homework to hone in on each night.  I lived in the dorms and had a different roommate every week as well.  It was quite the experience.  My professors were incredible, though, and I connected with some classmates that I'm sure I will see again some day.  The weekend between classes, I was also able to spend some time with two friends from high school days.  It was a jam-packed, wonderful two weeks.

I flew back to Seattle that Friday night and my parents were at the airport to greet me.  It's been a while since we were back in the same state at the same time during a summer holiday, and I was so thankful for time with them without too much unnecessary craziness.  We shared at our home fellowship, drove across to see my Aunt and Uncle, and of course stopped at our favorite bakery along the way.  I wish we were in the same place more often, but I will take what I can get and am so grateful for it!

And now, it's back to business as usual, with days spent at school and evening spent watching the traffic go by from my 27th floor apartment.

My usual is so unusual, but I love it...although sometimes I forget just where I am or how long I'll be there.

I'm thankful to be home in the Du, where I can put my feet up and stay a while.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

One last hold out...

I've always had a problem with stuff.  I like it.  I accumulate it.  I hold onto it in the off chance that it might some day be useful.

One summer when we came back to the States for a few months.  I think it was 2002. We had been in Ethiopia for a few years, and in those years I had lost a considerable amount of weight. Everything was baggy, and while it may have been cool at some point in the 90s it wasn't quite so great in 2002.  Nevertheless, I felt the need to buy a belt for some of my older clothes, just in case (new clothes were also bought, don't worry).

I remember the hunt for the perfect belt.  Not too thick, not too thin..couldn't be colorful...had to go with everything.

And then I saw it.



Sure, it was in the men's section at Walmart, but it was simple and sturdy and just what I wanted.

I loved that it had all of these fancy little holes, so it would always be adjustable.


I'm pretty sure it was the most practical purchase I have ever made.

And I wore it, almost every day for a while there.

I would try out other belts, but they were not quite right.  Too colorful...too flashy...too thin. There was always something wrong with them.

And so, I stuck with old faithful.

In fact, I've worn it at least once a week since 2002. That's 15 years with the same belt.

Now at this point in the post, I'm sure you are completely and totally confused as to why the heck I would write such a long post about something so simple.

Well...

Today, old faithful has failed me. All the years of wear and tear and life on 3 continents finally did it in.


And I'm honestly a bit (maybe a bit more than a bit, but not too much more) sad.

I know, I know...it's just a belt.  But it's officially the last piece of clothing/accessory that I've had since I was in Ethiopia or Kenya.

The last hold out of little old high school me.

And you know that I'm someone that likes to grieve and hold on to memories.

I guess I need to add a belt to my summer shopping list.  That new belt has no idea what it's up against...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Slow down - Part 2 (Because I didn't actually listen to myself from Part 1...)

I had big plans for today. In fact, I even considered writing down my to-do list for the day so that I could have the satisfaction of checking off everything on it as I accomplished all that I needed to before flying out in the morning.

And then I was silly and decided to take out the trash on my way out the door to work...and my back did something and then decided it didn't like movement anymore.

I was sure that it would be fine in thirty minutes...then positive that in an hour all would be well.  Well, it's been 2 and all is not well.  Moving hurts. Staying still hurts.  Life hurts.

But I had a to-do list!  I have things to accomplish and people to see and places to go.

And yet here I sit/lay (depending on the 20 minute interval), annoyed and stuck and motionless.

All of you that know me well, you probably are shaking your head and saying "I told you you needed to take a break, Bek.  Here it is.  Enjoy it!"  Thank you for your sentiment, but I refuse (or at least I want to refuse)!

I'm not a sit still kind of person. I'm not a get hurt and don't move kind of person.  I have a list.  I have a place. I have things that need to be done.

And yet, here I sit/lay. Stuck.

Nothing deep or profound to add to that now (the meds are finally kicking in), but those of you that wanted me to get some rest, be happy...I'm getting it.  Now to try to be in one piece for my flights tomorrow...eek...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Staying

It's not as easy as it seems
To not pack
To not fly
To not leave

There is comfort in the familiar
Ease in the neighborhood
Beauty in the traffic
And even in the chaos

Yet there is emptiness
In the fullness of the suitcases
The rooms echo
And the treasures have new homes

And you live to see it
Because you stayed
It's not your time
The seasons haven't changed for you

The world keeps spinning
The coffee keeps dripping 
The students keep coming
But the new normal has yet to set in

And suddenly, it seems like it's been years
Like they've been gone for centuries
And people have forgotten their names
But you haven't

Staying. 
Not a permanent act
But for now its reality
And tears are accepted

Goodbyes seem easier when you get on a plane
When you escape to an alternate universe
Where no one knows their names
Only you

The streets sound different today
The clouds seem grayer
The mountains further away
And yet, you stayed

Friday, June 9, 2017

Last Day of School

Today marks the end of my 8th year in education.

8 years of first days of school and last days of school. Of lesson plans and grading and teaching and energizing.

8 years of crying on the last day as students leave...I'm just a wee bit sentimental and think about the goodbyes and the hellos and the paths in front of them.

Today also marks the end of a first year for me.  My first year as a principal. First year in administration. First year not having a classroom to call my own.

And the closing of the chapter that today marks feels unlike any closing before.

In teaching, the finals get marked, the yearbooks get signed, the students leave, and there's a massive sigh of relief.  You did it. You made it. It's over.  Bring on summer!

In admin, I'm still waiting for that sigh.

Sure, the year is over.  We made it, physically and emotionally, through what has been a year of high highs and oh so low lows. 2016-2017 is finished...

...and on Monday I have a meeting to start getting 2017-2018 ready to go.

I love that we are ready to get going with it, don't get me wrong. But my brain is already aware that it needs to get in gear for August 15th when new students will be on campus.

That's life in the principal's chair...check one year off the to-do list and get the new sticky-note out for the next.



The last two days have been filled with sweet times and celebrations of people that I love dearly, so bear with me as I celebrate some of them here...

Denise. She was there at the airport when I first landed in Chengdu five years ago and has been a friend and source of joy ever since. Her family is one of the coolest I've ever known and I'm so excited to see what lies around the next bend for them. They will be oh so missed.

Stephanie and her family lived in Chengdu for a good portion of my first two years here in Chengdu and I had the honor of teaching her oldest during that season. They've lived in the Chinese equivalent of Hawaii for the last few years and I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving there with them a few years ago. So neat having some time to catch up while they were in town for graduation.

These two.  Alison and Tammi. They are kind of the best. Alison and I will spend more time together than ever next year. Tammi and her family will be moving on to new adventures.  Oh how I will miss her unshakable love for the people around her...and her incredible family. They have the gift of grafting people in to their circle without batting an eyelash....they are amazing!

This girl, the one and only Chairwoman, Hannah. She is a lover of life and China and learning.  She's been an inspiration to me and I'm so thankful that I have been able to be a part of her educational journey. She is going to change the world...just you wait!

This team has been a rock for me this year. They are the place to bounce around crazy new ideas, to get perspective on tough situations, and to let loose every now and then when we are feeling the pressure of the positions. They have all taught me so much this year...I survived and thrived because of them!

And then there's Brian. High school principal extraordinaire. My brother and my friend. He used to be the one playing jokes on the world...this year his office has been a steady location of fake cockroaches, random items hidden in random places, and this scene (whatever it is...). It has also been the place where many a conversation has occurred, about life, thinking, endurance, and faith. He is someone who can snap me out of overthinking the tasks at hand and remind me that having fun is okay, too. We moved to China at the same time and stepped into leadership at the same time...it's been a great journey and he and his family will be missed deeply.


I'm grateful for the community that I am blessed to be a part of in Chengdu....they are kind of the best! Sure, we're not perfect, but somehow in all of our imperfection it all turns out alright. He is good!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June: Another Side of It

It's the last week of school, and I just threw out my March to-do list.

All year, we've been saying how quickly June would be here, and now it is.  And man oh man it's not a moment too soon, but oh how I wish it could be a few months away.

I've shared a few times how June (really May and June, I guess) is the worst month in the expat world...so many goodbyes and so many tears.

But let me share a few little fun realities that are also a part of my Junes in Chengdu...

1 - Gorgeous Weather
I love this time of year.  There's a bit of rain, a bit of smog, but oh so many more blue-sky days than normal.  On Monday morning, you could actually see the mountains!  (Which of course made my heart sing.

2 - Lots and lots and lots of goodbye/birthday/end-of-year parties


The weekend was filled with end of year parties, KTV nights, goodbye parties, and birthday parties. My friend Christine and I were at four parties together...on the same weekend!  We had to take a picture...of course it was at the very end of the fourth one on Sunday night, but we documented it!

3 - Amazing amounts of coffee


My favorite cold coffees have new packaging.  That means I'm drinking even more coffee than usual.  My favorite corner store also has new frozen coffee drinks.  I'm very quickly becoming addicted.  It's going to be a good summer.

4 - Intentional time with friends
Whether people are staying or going, June is about quality time.  I spend far more time out with friends in the last few weeks of school then I do contemplating the meaning of life on my couch.  I'm so thankful for amazing friends that build me up, make me think, and bring the laughter with them!

5 - My doorway looking like I'm having a party...
I get really indecisive in June when I'm on my way to school.  This is 2 days worth of shoe decisions.  Mornings have been rough, okay?

6 - Not being so organized...
I got the most organized award at our end of year banquet.  I found it comical that the award was placed on top of my wreck of a desk today.  *sigh* June is not the month where my organizational skills are very visible, but many a schedule is made :)


Only 2.5 days left before the year is over and summer begins.  We can do this...hopefully! :)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Silver Linings Do Exist


Today was a good day, and when a good day comes along I think I need to start writing something down, because Lord knows I need to be able to look back and be reminded of the good when the bad starts invading again. 

Unlike friends in the US, we had school today but won't tomorrow. (Memorial Day isn't a holiday here, but Dragon Boat Festival is and so we have that day off in a slightly different spot than our North American friends.) That meant modified schedules and a few unusual meetings for a Monday. It worked out okay...a normal, busy day in the office. 

Tonight, though, was that silver lining.

Some friends had a thank you fire with s'mores up on their rooftop. They invited all of their children's teachers and made an evening of it, with more sugar and conversation than I've had in a while. 

 

Of course dinner was necessary beforehand, and rather than go do my homework while eating noodles (my original plan) I wound up checking out a new restaurant with two friends before s'more time. (We also are addicted to frozen coffees at our corner store.  I've know about them for 4 days and so far have stayed steady at one a day.  No regrets there...)

 

It was such a beautiful evening, with random conversations and laughter and cuddles with  amazing kiddos.

 

Sure, things can be rough, but when you get to spend a half hour with a little one using you for a pillow, it's hard to get caught up in the negatives. 

 

It's going to be a hard few weeks of goodbyes and see you laters, but tonight was a perfect time of simply being. 

I'm thankful for my Chengdu tribe. These are good people to do life with. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The struggle: It's real.

I'm struggling.

There not really a way to sugarcoat it.  Not really a way to justify it.  It's just a fact.  I could blame my struggle on a busy year, or the hardship of loss, or transition.  And that's all a part of it.  It's all very real and heavy and hard.

And the fact is, I'm just struggling.

It's hard for me to admit weakness. I think that as a female/MK/leader/adult/type-A-personality/teacher/human, I want to be strong on my own: to know that I'm competent enough, strong enough, smart enough, experienced enough, or something enough to handle it.

And sometimes, I can't.

I'm not _____ (fill in the blank) enough to make it happen without help, usually followed or led into by a few tears.

Today,  I struggled to make it through. And it was only a half day so really there is no excuse.

The thing is, today turned into a really good day.

Maybe instead of the word struggle, I should say 'wrestle.'  I'm wrestling. Not physically of course (if you know me at all you know that that is so not one of my hobbies), but I'm emotionally wrestling with a lot of ideas, big and small.

Anyway, let me get back on topic and tell you why today was so good.  It started off really hard and I'm not going to get in to all that here, but it was bad.  Real bad. Rough, terrible, no good very bad day sort of material.  And then I cried. Oh how I cried. Oh how I mourned and grieved and hid (middle and high school were on spring trips so I had a plethora of hiding places to choose from). If I could have dug a hole and lived there for a while, I would have.

And then, after many tears, a few friends pulled me out of it.   I don't think that they knew that it would be the medicine I needed,  but it worked.

One came and spoke Truth that I needed to be reminded of. Being reminded of what God is doing and how I've been a part of it was a good start, but also the reality of the struggle that this year has been across the board. I'm not alone in it...we are all together. There is a comfort in that that really is so reassuring.

The next remedy took a little more time, but my goodness was it salve for the soul. It started with and invitation to sit with coffee, half a cookie, and a half a cinnamon roll. (My school has the best kitchen staff.  Seriously.  They are amazing. And food fixes everything...or at least it helps the process along.)  Then it was the recommendation to write a few thank you cards and focus on the silver linings to the clouds. Suddenly it was laughter and stories and memories and more tears, but these ones I didn't mind so much.

And while I'm still struggling, I didn't feel so alone in the pit by the end of it all. I had someone there with me, crying with me and passing the tissues.

Part of my struggle is that this friend and his family are leaving soon. But oh my goodness I'm so glad that they've been a part of my life here.  I'm going to miss so many things about each of them...too many to document here...but today I was reassured of the depth of friendship that is there. And a friendship that deep doesn't go away from a plane and a few thousand miles that might physically separate people. Five years of memories don't just vanish into thin air. They will always be a part of my China story, and a part of me.  One sixth of my life has been spent doing life with them. Five years of tears and triumphs. Of arguments and wrestling and growth. Five really really good years of being in community with these friends who are my China family.

I struggle.  But I'm thankful. So here I sit: struggling, thankful, and crying for all the right reasons. The day started with tears that weren't so great, but these ones are a bit sweeter.

Oh this life.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The big 3-0

Tomorrow, I'll be embarking on a new decade.

Interestingly enough, I will essentially miss my birthday this year because I’ll be in the air for all but 4 or 5 hours of it.  I’ve never missed my birthday before…it’s an interesting thing to think about.

But whether or not I am on land for my birthday, I’m entering a new decade this week.  I’m moving from my late 20s into my early 30s. I can no longer check the 20-29 (or 25-29) box.

And this got me thinking.

A whole heck of a lot happens in that box that 20-29 box, doesn’t it?

When I was 20, I was in the middle of my college experience in Michigan, finally figuring out what I wanted to do for a major and a career, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t teach middle school.  (I see what you did there, Lord.  Good one.) That year, I travelled to 8 countries and explored new corners of the world that I hadn’t thought to fall in love with before. Life was an adventure and it was slowly starting to unfold on the horizon.

At 21, I was starting my senior year of college. I moved into a house on campus with 6 friends, had incredible community, and never wanted the season I was in to end. It was the perfect end to a wonderful season of learning and growth.

The day after I turned 22, I graduated from college.  That year was spent relocating to another part of the country, loving almost every moment of it, and yet being a bit heartbroken that I didn’t have a clear indication of when I would leave the US or where I would eventually wind up.  I knew what I wanted, but it just wasn’t meant to be in that season. I was also dating someone that I was sure that I would marry, but kept being pulled toward places that didn’t line up with his plans.  (Sometimes I think back on the relational aspects of being 22 and wonder if I should have done things differently. It doesn’t take long for me to be very thankful that everything went just the way it did…)

At 23, I took two back-to-back long-term subs jobs, learned that I can handle classes of 35 gangly 7th graders, and ended up feeling so much more comfortable in my little class of 19 fifth graders. I discovered my distain for the way 10 year olds fawn over Justin Beiber and had to tell a student not to use the Force to complete his math homework. 23 was a good year.

At 24, I was finally making a home for myself in a town that I love.  I had friends, fellowship, a ministry that I loved, and finally felt content and comfortable. There were moments where it was abundantly clear that I didn’t belong in my surroundings, that I didn’t quite fit, but they weren’t the norm and I was thankful to be where I was. At 24, I started thinking that I might never live outside the US again, and I was okay with that.

At 25, I moved to China. That choice that I made at 25 changed the trajectory of my life…no doubt about it. I started off on a new adventure, telling friends that I would be there for 2 to 20 years, but hoping it would only be 2.  I learned how to speak 星巴克的中文(Starbucks Chinese), gained a roommate (who quickly became my best friend) who was the complete opposite of me in so many ways, and learned about a corner of the world that I had never dared to explore. 25 was a really good year.

At 26, I left the elementary classroom and moved into middle school with a class that I adored.  Something that I swore I would never do suddenly became my world, and I loved every minute of it. 26 was also a very difficult year, with a major school move, conflict around what seemed like every corner, and a growing distain for the g-word (grace), the m-word (mercy), and the f-word (flexible).  Don’t worry, I’m okay with all three of those words now…most of the time.

At 27, I committed to staying in my China home for two more years, sure that these would be my last there. I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, where I wanted to go…who I wanted to be. And yet, somewhere during that year, I discovered that I really was made for this life in Chengdu.

At 28, I started to think about my career and my future, wondering if it was time to take a big leap into yet another adventure. I wasn’t bored with teaching (something that I’m pretty sure is impossible to be), but I was getting comfortable, and when Bekah Teusink feels comfortable it’s time to shake things up a bit...

At 29, I became a principal, signed another two-year contract, and finally started referring to China as home without thoughts of anywhere else holding that title any time soon.  At 29 I discovered what stress was, starting having occasional heart palpitations/waves of anxiety, and learned how important rest is. At 29, I discovered that I am not invincible and, in the words of Aunt Bea, that I’m “no spring chicken anymore.”

And now, 30 is here. A new decade. A new reality. A new world of possibilities.

Here’s to a great year!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Don’t judge a book by its cover and other good advice

This has been a big week of thinking.

Thinking about life.  Thinking about work.  Thinking about stress.  Lots of thinking.

It’s been quite the year.  New job, new responsibilities, new challenges…all of them have combined to be a wonderful chaotic picture of my new reality. Joy has been a common thread, but it’s still been quite difficult.  And it’s not over yet.

But now, on to what I was referring to in the title…

I’m in the Chengdu airport, all checked in and ready to start the journey to the US for grandma’s funeral.  As I got in a taxi and headed towards the airport, the rain was impressive.  I haven’t seen that kind of downpour in quite some time.  The puddles on the roads were impossible to avoid, and I think my taxi driver was a bit frustrated and yet having a blast hitting them at full speed.  It was fun…made me want to wear rainboots and jump in them.  Don’t worry, I didn’t :)

But, because of all of the rain, the plane is delayed.  Shocker.  #thisishowweDuit

As I tried to understand the announcement that they made (apparently telling us to sit down and not line up, which is an unlikely outcome in a Chinese airport…come and visit and you’ll know what I’m talking about) I realized that I was not in a mental state to put together Chinese phrases that aren’t about getting to a certain location or a cup of coffee, so I went up to talk to the lady at the counter, who saw me and immediately got out her phone to use the translate app.  An older gentleman was standing at the counter, looking at me and smiling…and then he started translating for me.

So often here, I assume that people can’t understand.  I assume that I’ll be alone in my struggle for understanding. And so often, I’m pleasantly surprised.

The gentleman and I had a nice little conversation in English (his English was perfect…I should have asked him some questions), with him expressing his surprise that I’ve been in China for this long and that I’m a principal. He was surprised that I was traveling in the middle of the school year, and so sad when I told him why I was travelling.

I should have asked him how old he is…where he’s going…where he’s lived…I should have asked him so many things.

But I think God put him in my path (favorite quote from the Four Feathers…you should watch it) to be the help and encouragement that I needed this morning.

God’s been putting a lot of people in my path this week to be a shoulder to cry on, a voice of reason, and a reason to hope.

I don’t generally like season where I feel like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to admit that in this one I’m thankful for the village that surrounds me.


Update: When we landed in Beijing, my translator friend and his wife came and stood by me while we waited for baggage.  They were visiting Chengdu for the first time since he was 2…he was born there.  We talked about the tourist sides that they visited (the Pandas, JiuZhaiGou, JinLi Street, Leshan Giant Buddha, etc.), I learned that their daughter lives in Beijing and has for 8 years, but is moving home to New Jersey this summer to have their first grandchild, and that he is 73. I love the little opportunities that we get to follow up on conversations and fill in the details that we didn’t even think about learning before. A good end to phase 1 of my journey today.