Saturday, April 12, 2014


I slipped up this week.  Regressed to a nostalgic, YAGM-like state after seeing pictures of some YAGM friends gathered on Thursday for the interview event this weekend.  I let down the barriers I had so carefully constructed to focus on living in the present and started reading blogs, the stories of current YAGM serving, loving, learning, being awesome people.

And this Saturday morning, I continued, reading of the simple things, the hugs, the new foods, the school breaks, the new families that have embraced strangers, the struggle to burst from comfort zones, the slow transition to feeling comfortable and loved in new homes.

And I cried.  Sitting alone at my desk, hunched over the technical research articles I’m supposed to be reading, beside my window showcasing the spring sun and the beautiful day.  I cried for the life I lived and for the life I’m living, the one that is so different from anything I experienced last year.   The one that makes me forget that the world is bigger than choosing a PhD thesis lab, than this grant proposal I need to write for class, than the intricacies of relationships in America, where people don’t instantly shower you with love simply for being present.

I cried because sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost part of myself.  The part of myself that could sit on the hard living room floor for three hours and talk with friends, doing absolutely nothing, the part of myself who could receive love gracefully, the part of myself who was thankful for all the tiny love gifts of a day, especially the ones that came initially as frustration and misunderstanding. 

And I know my YAGM year was not the end of all good things but the beginning.  I know a large part of YAGM is sharing our stories, the stories of countries around the world, of love and grace and being uncomfortable but growing in and through that discomfort.  And I know that life doesn’t stop post YAGM.  I know that the potential for love and grace and growth is here, now in New Haven.  That I have friends, communities here that love and support me in very real ways.  That I can still be grateful for the small things that remind me of the presence of an incredible, loving God. 

In those tears, I remember the immense joy and blessings I’ve received through so many people in other places.  But also the goodness of God that I have been experiencing right here now.  They are the tears of experience, of growth and a deep sense of gratitude that continues to sustain me as New Haven becomes my home. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fires and Whispers

Elijah stepped forward and prayed:  "LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD are God and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD - he is God! The LORD - he is God!"

1 Kings 18: 36-39

What does it take for Your people, the ones You have already chosen and love, to believe in You?  What great acts must they see? What impossible things must happen?

Why do I believe?  What have been the fires in my life?  The ones that cause me to fall and cry, "Lord, You are God!"

Looking back, though, my moments of true belief haven't come from God starting a huge bonfire on a soggy mountain top.  My moments were smaller.

It was an impromptu worship session chilling on a screen porch as a storm rolled in over the mountains.  It was the moment of silence before an afternoon nap, laying on the tile floor, a sleeping Vivi's tiny hand clutching mine.  It was two calm and pleasant boat rides over normally choppy seas to a friend's isolated village.

Knowing the Lord is God is eating fresh caught crabs by the flickering glow of a single light bulb, as member of a family you just met.  Its heartbreak, pain and joy shared in close friendship.  Its meeting people in unexpected places.

I've never had a single fire moment that brought me to my knees in awe of the majesty of God.  Instead, I am continually humbled by the places and the people standing in my path.  The people who have walked with me around the globe, constantly showing me the LORD is God.

Some days its hard to be here, in another new place, trying to find another new community.  Searching for connections, while remaining at the appropriate distance for new friendships.  Its hard to not belong here among such similar people, when I belonged so completely in a place where I was so different.

And most of those hard days, there's a moment, a whisper.  A hopeless experiment finally gone right, a surprise deep conversation with a lab mate, an afternoon phone call with a close friend reminding me that its never easy at the beginning.  And though sometimes I wish for a fire of instantaneous connections and community,  the little whispers bring me peace and hope.  The LORD, he is God! What else could I possibly need?  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thanks and trust

I wasn’t going to write another blog.  I wasn’t going to come to happy conclusions about leaving, going “home,” because right now home is in two very different, far away places.  

But this morning, just now at my last weekly staff meeting, I led the devotion.  I had no idea what I was going to talk about last night.  This morning I woke up singing, “Trust, trust in the Lord, lean not on your own understanding,” which I remember singing when I was little.   Thanks God for being constantly present in so many ways. 

Coming here was hard.  Leaving here is going to be even harder.  Leaving people behind is never fun.  But trusting that God is present in the hurt, the excitement, the packing, the tears gives me a tiny bit of hope. 

I have learned a lot about trusting God this past year.  Trusting Him in relationships that seem to be going nowhere, trusting Him as kids seem to learn nothing, trusting Him as I started from scratch to make a life here that now I am preparing to leave.  And what does it say, that I don’t fully trust God as I prepare to go back to the people and the place that formed me?

There are so many things in my heart and my mind right now.  But most importantly, I worry how I can adequately say thank you.   Thank you to the thirty-five unique children I consider my precious siblings.  To the six staff that welcomed me completely, constantly providing for me in ways I could never repay. To the many Aunties and Uncles around Tuaran and KK who supported me in little ways that made an incredible difference.  To the family and friends back home that sent letters and packages that always arrived at the perfect time. To the members of the wider community who drove me to town for free, who taught me new words as I made copies or bought phone credits, who were able to take me home before I knew how to tell them where home was.   

We pray a lot here in groups, all speaking aloud at once.  Its one of my favorite things.  And since January, I have started every prayer with, “Father, thank you for this place and these people.”  Then I continue to thank Him for each of the kids and the staff, lifting up the struggles and joys they share with me everyday.   This morning as we prayed, I got stuck after, ‘Thank you for this place and these people,” completely overcome by the now seemingly constant flood of emotions.   I trust that God will find a way for this family to realize the depth of my gratitude.   And I trust that He will continue to provide for this place that has provided so much for me.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Meet the neighbors

The invitations to sit and eat were expected.  After all, it was the third time I walked through the middle of the wedding tent in twelve hours.  I continually said no, forcing myself to the sides, until one lady literally put a plate in my hands.  Yes, I guess I can sit and eat.

It turns out the woman was a neighbor   The same woman who drove me to town the first time I went by myself, stopping me on the side of the road and telling me to get in.  She wants to practice English but thinks its funny I speak Malay, so we use that instead.

The food is delicious.  It always is for weddings, when the family of the bride spends all night preparing the might before.  As I try to eat quickly, we talk.  Her excitement is infectious.  I find myself answering so many questions about myself, and asking just as many in return.  As we talk about siblings, I find myself explaining the difference between middle and center.  I am the middle child in my family, not the center child.  This is the center of the table.

The mother of the bride, the host, comes to join us.  She was a math teacher at the school who now works in administration.  I want to ask her about the Jireh Home kids that she taught last year.  Ask her about the school system.  Instead we talk about both of her daughters whose double wedding we are celebrating, and how beautiful the tents, decorations and of course brides are.  The woman's love for her daughters and her family is powerfully obvious.

Her husband joins us and I learn how to say eat in their tribe's language.  I try their favorite traditional kuih (cake/snack) and tell them I have to go.  Jireh Home has a function.  I have to shower.  I thank them in Malay and kirim salam, which is how people show respect.  I think I should press the woman's hand to my forehead, but don't know if culturally its okay.  Instead I touch my heart and give the most grateful smile I can manage.

After ten months here, I guess its never to late to meet the neighbors.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Big Move

 Sometimes I get stuck in my constant need for comfort.  And for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean having material things, it means that feeling that you know what’s going on.  I honestly have no idea what it means that I need comfort, but end up doing things like spending a year in Malaysia and planning to move to the east coast for grad school.  I guess that just goes to show how awesome God is, and how much bigger my life is than myself.

So.  I’ve been thinking about my need for comfort and stability lately, because of the big move.  Pastor and I moved from our little country houseto a big house down the street from Jireh Home.  And for me, the process was essentially the five stages of grief compressed into a week.  Once we finally got the keys, I assumed we would have a month – things move slowly here.  I didn’t pack until I absolutely had to, and made sure each of the staff knew how crabby and angsty I felt about the big move.

From my previous point of view, I was leaving my safe space for the past eight months.  The place I could do my really weird American things like watch lots of TV shows and laugh loudly to myself.  My walls were filled with cards, pictures and quality drawings from my non-artistic friends.  Our landlord updated my bed from a mattress on wood to two real twin beds.  IT HAD AIR CON.

Everyone kept telling me the big move was worth it because we would be closer to Jireh Home.  My angsty self was not so happy about that.  I absolutely love my kids, but if they have constant access to my house all the time (the Jireh Home library is on the ground floor and we live upstairs), where is my precious space?

As I was mopeing around, one of my friends told me to get it together because he was going to come help me move my stuff in the afternoon.  And after two weeks I will admit that I do in fact, love my new house.  Yeap.  I spent a week worrying, another week being angsty and a morning packing angrily and I love it.  Except the lack of the instant cool of the air con.  Memang panas (hot).

The big move was good for me.  As much as I love comfort and stability, the new house forced me to re-evaluate my habits and routines here.  It forced growth in a place I thought I had already grown into.  Why was I so crabby about the situation, so afraid to grow?  I don’t know.  I guess I like to rest in the things I know.  But maybe sometimes, those known things, the comfort of routines, air con and space, completely block out God.  Instead of resting in only God’s grace, I rested in the comfort of routines and organization, predictable children and good friends.  Through the big move, I’m learning that the real excitement comes from trusting in the unknown constant of grace and love.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rotten Bananas

Last weekend, I went to Tamu (the market) after church with two of my friends.  We had dropped two of the boys off to buy shoes, and while we waited for them, we walked through Tamu.  While there is a market everyday in town, the Sunday market is my favorite.  As we walked, we sipped fresh sugar cane juice and I asked questions.   We didn’t buy much, as we eat most of our meals at Jireh Home, but my housemate bought some really brown bananas.  I smiled and laughed to myself.  Sometimes people here do the strangest things. 

That afternoon, my housemate left to spend the night with her sister.  So the bananas sat, getting older and older by the second.  I was honestly a little afraid to touch them, assuming they were too soft to open.  I didn’t really want to deal with the mess of squished banana all over the table.  But come Monday morning, I knew I should at least eat one.  My housemate clearly intended to share the bananas, and I had clearly spent the last 12 hours not eating them.  

So I grabbed one off the bunch before walking to work.  And as I peeled back the nasty brown skin, there was not a single bruise on the inside.  Of course it was perfectly sweet and delicious.  This time I laughed out loud.  Who am I to question the local fruit? Since when do I know anything about buying fresh things from the market?  Of course my housemate knew what she was doing.

The rest of the day, I couldn’t help but contemplate the problem of the seemingly rotten bananas and my inability to trust my housemate’s judgment.   Easter has come and gone with little celebration.  Our Easter church service was nothing special.  Nobody dressed up.  There was no extra music, no extra food, no family gatherings.  While we didn’t celebrate, I have been thinking a lot about transformation.  About the transformation of death into life, of the hopeless people into people of hope, of all things ugly into unique beauty.  And I thought I understood.  I thought I was making progress.  The list of things I am thankful for grows daily, filling itself with the moments I smile and the moments I sigh with frustration.  I trust that God is using all things for his plan, and that His grace is in all things, especially the moments where I feel I am in over my head.

But then I avoided the bananas because they were ugly, because they looked bruised and brown, inedible.  Because I didn’t trust that my housemate would pick out good things for us to eat.  Sometimes reality checks come from unexpected places.  And I am thankful that as I continue to grow here, learning to trust in thanksgiving, I am walking with a community who constantly reminds me how valued I am and a God who always gives incredible gifts of grace.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bopping through Sabah

Mt. Kinabalu over the rice paddies in Kota Belud on the road north to Kudat

One of my favorite things to do here is ride along with my friends to go places.  In most places, you would say, “go for a drive.”  But here I like to think of it as bopping through Sabah.  For me, driving evokes images of mostly up-kept, two lane highways, and a consistent speed.   But even the main roads between major cities in Sabah, the roads are mostly two lanes of questionable condition through the mountains.    And the road is lined with little Kampungs (villages) every now and then, which means groups of school children walk home; pick up trucks full of people stop like buses; and large farm animals graze the grass next to the road.  But it also means that semi-trucks with gas, or other materials are trucking slowly up and down the hills.

And so yesterday, I bopped north through Sabah to take one of my friends and her niece and nephew to the boat launch in Kudat to return to Kampung for a funeral.  We were in a hurry, trying to get them there before the last ferry left.  But you can’t really bop through the mountains of Sabah quickly.  There was the jam at one major roundabout, the line of cars behind the semi attempting to make it up the mountain, the seemingly endless spots of broken road that forced us to slow down.  And at some points, Sufiana, one of our youngest girls, and I were literally bopping.  Sitting just in front of the back wheels, every time we hit any sort of pothole, we flew.   We didn't make the ferry, but some other family members where there to greet us and spend the night to wait for the next morning's early ferry. 

We took our time on our way home.  And sitting in the front seat, it was amazing how much smoother the ride was.  But part of the beauty of bopping through Sabah is the time spent together in the car.  It took us around 6 hours to get to Kudat and back, and sitting with the same people in the car for that long forces conversation.  I gained courage as time past, asking more meaningful questions, learning more and more about life here and sharing more and more about life in the States.   Perhaps there is something holy about time separated from the rest of the world?  Something holy about broken people driving along broken roads, healing together in real, honest and challenging conversations.