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Saturday, July 25, 2015

One Year Later

365 days ago I stepped off a plane onto a tiny island. 365 days ago I bravely said yes to God. 365 days ago I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

A lot has happened in 365 days. I started and finished my first year of teaching. I lived in community and learned how to support others and ask for support. I entered into a culture I have grown to love and cherish. I knew signing up for JVC that it wouldn't be easy. I signed up to be challenged, to be changed, to be stretched and molded into more of who God wants me to be. Has that happened? Definitely. Has it been easy? No, not for one second. Has it been good, am I glad I made the decision to come to Pohnpei? Absolutely.

Good and hard and beautiful and challenging and wild all walk hand-in-hand in this story, my story. 365 days have given me just that: stories, lessons, and humility. I wanted to share some of the most important with you today.

How do you find a church home? You go to church one Sunday and then you go (back to the same church) again the next week and the next and pretty soon you've been going for 20 Sundays, 30 Sundays, 40 Sundays. And pretty soon those strangers in the foyer are your friends, and they care about you and support you and encourage you, and you do the same for them. A church home is built on commitment and consistency, even if every element of the service isn't your "style."

How do you build community? In a million tiny moments. Card games and laughter and a million conversations where I can't remember what we talked about but I can remember how I felt: happy, free, at home. It's those small and nonchalant moments that I remember most. Playing Settlers and listening to the Serial podcast, endless games of Ticket to Ride, long conversations lying on the floor after dinner. I didn't know those would be my touchstone moments, the moments that I go back to in my head, but there they are, playing over and over with vivid recall.

How do you get to know a culture entirely different than your own? One moment at a time, one day at a time. Choosing to say hello to the woman you pass while walking to the grocery store, to go for a walk instead of stay inside, to ask questions and also to just sit and be, listen and absorb.

Each of these lessons has required action. Choosing to go to church. Choosing to engage in community. Choosing to immerse yourself in a new culture. Choosing the uncomfortable and the awkward knowing that you have to pay your dues there to get to the good stuff, the real stuff.

365 days have left me stronger, braver, a little bit wiser and very thankful.

"Your first year, you sink. Your second year you've learned how to swim and you have to force yourself to dive back down."

Here's to diving back down, to rolling up my sleeves for another year of hard, heart-changing work.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 3

"The relatives stayed for weeks and weeks. They helped us tend the garden and they fixed any broken things they could find." -The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

Change the word garden to classroom and you've described my parents visit to Pohnpei in a nutshell. Their stay didn't go 100% as planned, but they rolled with the punches and were true adventurers. First, a huge storm came through and we had 6 days of almost non-stop wind and rain. It was so cold (for my Pacific-adjusted body, not my parents) that I wore sweatpants, slipper socks, and a sweatshirt to bed all week. (My second years promised that I would eventually get cold here and I never believed them. Kay, you were right!) We had more rain in those 6 days than California has had all year. Then, my Mom got sick and had to stay in bed for two days, I got sick for a day, and there were no rental cars available on island. Despite it all, they were so excited to be in Pohnpei and be with me. My Dad took the opportunity to fix every broken thing he could find in our apartment, which meant almost daily trips to Ace Hardware. He also bravely took boxes full of junk outside, dumped them on the ground, and used the broom to whack all the cockroaches that ran out. Where brooms and cockroaches are concerned, that man is brilliant and hilarious. He came, he fixed, he killed cockroaches, he conquered. My sweet summer school students also enjoyed having 3 teachers instead of 1; everyday my parents would "report for duty" and do anything I asked of them.

All of my visitors this summer, but especially my parents, have reminded me that my commitment to Micronesia is not my own. I am here and I am learning, growing, and being challenged. But so are my parents, so is my brother and extended family, so are my friends. They have said 'yes' to Micronesia just as much as I have. They pray for me, they send packages, they listen to my stories, they write me letters, they cheer me on, they are my home team. 

One of the best parts of my parents visit was introducing them to everyone: my church family, my coworkers at PCS, my host family. Everyone was counting down the days until they would be here, always asking "When are they coming? When will they be here?" Everyone was excited, and I feel closer to my staff and host family thanks to their generosity and hospitality towards my parents. 

At this almost one year mark, having visitors this summer was exactly what I needed. It gave me confidence that I can welcome my two new first years (who come TOMORROW! WOO!) and guide them through how life is done here. It showed me how much I have learned about Pohnpeian and Pacific Island cultures. But mostly it encouraged me. It refilled my tank, helped me feel whole. I am ready to walk into year two, and my parents, Alex, and Myvy have played a huge role in that.

Thank you for your adventurous spirits, Mom and Dad. Thank you for helping me and laughing with me and doing life with me. Thank you for coming 5,416 miles to see me and for investing in the lives of so many Pohnpeians.

"When they finally had to leave, they were sad, but not for long. They all knew they would be together next summer." -The Relatives Came

We'll be together again next summer, on American soil, I promise.

Dad at Nan Madol

Getting shave ice on one of the few hot, non-rainy days!

Touring the US Navy Pacific Partnership Ship

Drinking coconuts!

Skirt shopping

Church uniforms!

Meeting my friends, the Japanese JICA volunteers!

Me with my real parents and host parents!

New racks up in the kitchen!
Thanks to my Dad, Ace Hardware, and a drill my borders will never come down!

The view from Cupid's Restaurant

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 2

This is Myvy Ngo.

She is outrageous and she is an organizer. Anyone in her life will tell you that she "loves like a linebacker." And she paid one of the most expensive single airplane tickets in the world to come out here and visit me. But not to be a tourist and see all the sights, oh no. Her main purpose of the trip? To help me teach summer school and help organize our apartment and be there for me. Who travels over 5,500 miles just to help someone clean and organize their apartment and kill cockroaches? 

Myvy Ngo did. She is a champ.

Normal people in life try to hide all their clutter in closets or the basement when visitors come, but not me, not this time. I knew I couldn't do it alone. So, in hard moments of vulnerability I said, "Help." And she didn't judge me. She gave me a hug when I needed to cry about my second years leaving and told me to relax while she worked her magic and organized what she deemed our "Clearance Aisle" shelf into a beautiful, organized shelf. We ate shave ice and cooked and did life together, Micronesian style, for a few weeks. 

There's nothing better than making a commitment and having a friend who will not only stand by and support you in that commitment, but who dives into it, too. Myvy sends me a package every month and has read more articles about Micronesia than I have. She sends letters and postcards and reminds me that I am loved and cared for. She even sent packages to my community mates! Having her in my corner this year has helped me through some of the hardest moments of my service. 

She's the crazy, fun sister that I always wish I had. You're the best, Myvs, and I can't wait to be reunited next summer!

Sometimes you hike and it starts pouring and you take a picture

Gaining some altitude while climbing Sokehs Rock

Baby pineapple on top of Sokehs Rock

Myvy made a cake to celebrate Mio's birthday!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 1

One of my favorite books as a child was The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, a book about a family that piles in their rainbow-colored station wagon to visit their relatives. Once they get there there's lots of hugging, eating, and fixing broken things until the relatives leave a few weeks later. 

My summer has been a Micronesian version of The Relatives Came. I count my blessings every day that so many people I love would travel over 5,500 miles just to see me. The visitors started with my brother flying in for a week before traveling on to spend the summer in Tokyo, Japan. He came during the last of my 2 weeks of vacation before summer school started, so we had the chance to visit my host family, hike, see some waterfalls, hang out with my second years before they left, and experience island living. It can be hard at times to put this experience into words, via skype or via blog writing. There are so many nuanced elements of culture, teaching abroad,  and living abroad that can only be experienced in that place. Now, my brother knows what I'm talking about when I say I went to Kitti over the weekend to visit my host family. He really understands what I mean when I tell him that the only thing I did on a Saturday was read and walk to get shave ice because it was too oppressively hot to do anything else. He understands, in ways that he wouldn't be able to had he not set foot on Micronesian soil himself. 

Alex, thanks for making it all the way over here to visit me. Thank you for treating me to good company and good food and being willing to do whatever I had planned for the day. You're the best, bro.

Our uniforms for church. We got so many compliments!

At Nan Madol

Myvy and I on one of the Nan Madol bridges

The view of Sokehs Rock right outside church.

The view from Cupid's Restaurant

Monday, July 13, 2015

Speed 2.0

            Three nights a week my church offers a ladies fitness class in the Sunday School room. We do a 25-minute workout video, chat about life and get very, very sweaty. There is a level of sweat here, working out in almost 100% humidity, that is out of this world. I thought I’d known sweat before coming to the FSM, but trust me, sweating here is on a whole other level. One of our hardest workouts is called Speed 2.0, 25-minutes of constant jumping, hopping, lunging, and moving. Your feet move fast and don’t stop until it’s over.

            My summer has felt exactly like that workout. I’ve sped from one responsibility to the next, one visitor to the next, one activity to the next. Teaching summer school, organizing and cleaning the apartment, saying good-bye to Meredith, Kristin, and Brittany, showing off Pohnpei via hikes and host family visits, playing tour guide, tutoring a Korean family in English, planning in country orientation for my two new volunteers, and welcoming many JV visitors from Chuuk. They’ve all been good responsibilities, things I have done happily and gratefully, things that have nourished me in ways I didn’t know I needed. But I’ve had my fair share of emotional and overwhelmed moments, too. You probably know the feeling. So much to do, too little time. And then, out of nowhere, those magic moments happen, like the other night when Annie and I were having dinner. When you sit with a friend and you talk about the things that have changed you this year, the things that have hurt you and the things that have healed you. It is those quiet moments that ground me. They remind me that God is doing a good work in me and in my service here, even when I can’t see it or feel it or believe it.