Cheering Them On

Performance night is my favorite night of the week. fullsizeoutput_2d66.jpeg
It always makes me feel a bit emotional.

I feel like my heart might burst with pride for the kids.
I admire how they’ve grown.
Taller- yes
But I also remember the other ways that they’ve grown
How they’ve matured

During the year I’m their teacher.
I try to give advice, to teach, and sometimes I have to scold.

But here at camp
These evenings when I am in the audience I get to simply be their biggest fan.

On these nights they have a whole audience of biggest fans.

They have a crowd full of admirers from around the world cheering them on in the summer so they can make it through the rest of the year.

When we yell and clap, we are not just impressed because of their excellent singing and dancing.
It’s an applause saying,
“I’m so proud of who you are becoming!”
It’s, “I see you and you are known and cared for.”
“You are loved.”

And I think my throat might give out from the cheering and my hands grow numb from clapping.

How easy it is for me to watch- but how hard it is to put myself in their place.
How difficult it is for me to believe that my audience- of only One that really matters feels the same and much more.

It’s hard to accept that in my life- performing one way or another or just living day to day
He is applauding
He is captivated by me!
He is not impressed by my works but applauds saying,
“I’m so proud of who you are becoming!”
“I see you and you are known and cared for.”
You are loved.”

And what a beautiful thing if only we could accept this truth.

Three Years

Sometimes I feel like I’ve aged 10 years since coming to Mongolia instead of 3.

I look at this picture from the day I left.10469684_10204455412373347_3897149755265944682_n
June 24th 2014
The room I would never return to.
The home I would never return to.
The me I would never return to.

Maybe I was more carefree.
Naive- yes.

I’m still joyful, still can laugh uncontrollably and easily break out into song.
But everything has more depth.

I had never experienced suffering.
Sadness yes.
But I had never walked with a person who had truly suffered- at least not that I knew of.

I had seen brief snapshots
But it was never passed out in front of me lying on the street.

I had never looked into the eyes of someone who had been broken over and over again yet still walked on.

And it has changed me.
God has changed me.

I don’t think I’ve changed anyone in these three years to the extent that God has changed me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many times those suffering don’t know they are suffering-especially children.

They may look normal- beautiful and talented.
Only sometimes you see tiny cracks show
A story leaks unexpectedly
A reaction a bit too strong

And you remember.

Some days are just unpleasant.

You can do the right planning
But it can still all go wrong.
Fighting same battles even after three years

Those are the days when, not only do I wonder what strange body part of what strange animal am I eating for my lunch,
But also what in the world is this thing that God has given me?

What does He want me to do with these ashes?

But then there are days full of joy.
– The big win of finding blueberries for the first time at the store
– The victory of driving across town with car and sanity in tact.
– The excitement of my garden growing
– Completing 3 levels of language study

And the true victories.
-When the kid I baptized is now bringing others to church and still going strong today.
-Words of hope I’ve been allowed to speak
-God bringing dark places in my own heart to light.

I know for many missionaries 3 years is merely a walk around the block but for me each year has been so FULL- full of immense growth, of joy, of sadness, of hopes.

If someone told me in 2012 during my first visit to Mongolia that I would be living at Flourishing Future’s community center and working with the kids at LET I would not have believed them.
But here I am and I realize that I really have put down some roots.

Some days my roots feel shallow like I could pluck them up at any moment and travel back.
The days when my relationships don’t feel close or numerous and my work seems less than meaningful. But when I stop and think of how far I’ve come it’s amazing.

I made a list of all the things I have experienced as a result of these 3 years in Mongolia and it’s quite long.

But the most important experiences are the wonderful Mongolians and other foreigners that I have met these three years and have had the privilege to call friends family and neighbors.

That and knowing God in a way that He couldn’t have taught me from another place.

These years I have laughed.
I have loved.
I have cried.
My heart has broken.
I have hoped and have been disappointed.
I have struggled and have thrived.
I have hurt and been hurt.
I have dreamed.
I have failed and I have succeeded.
I have made mistakes but I have learned.
I have grown.

And so here’s to one more year
Of thankfulness and experiencing more of God’s faithfulness
Whatever may come.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Currently there are about 7 things that I’m trying to grow.
I started in small separated containers.
Hopefully in a week or so I will transplant them to the real garden behind my house.

God might also be trying to grow about 7 things in my heart.
Patience and perseverance among other things.

I’ve been through a few transplants.
He started small.
A weekfullsizeoutput_2b6a
Months
A year
And now it’s been nearly 3

Transplanted to bigger plots of land

Do my tiny sprouts try to jump out?
Wanting bigger space to grow?
Once they are placed in the garden will they want to go back to their tiny containers?

I imagine my tiny carrot sprouts growing legs and sneaking away to the garden plot while I’m asleep.
Or once they’ve developed I imagine them trying to sneak back and fit into the now cramped containers.
I laugh.
Both are funny things to imagine.

But they would die either way.
They would go before they are ready- and freeze.
Or they would be too cramped in their old space and their growth would be stilted.
Sometimes I want bigger space.
I try to force myself into God’s mind.
What would I do with me if I were God?
Where should He transplant me next?

Sometimes I want to jump back to those comfortable places I used to be at.
I decide that I’m not ready for this new spacious area.
I liked my warm safe container near my friends.

The saying goes, “bloom where you’re planted.”
Because where you are planted is actually the best place for you to be
Whether you are enjoying that particular soil or not

Don’t rush the process one way or another.
When it’s time you will be transplanted.

In the meantime we just have to do what we have always been supposed to do.
Live.

The Day I Lost My Car

It was our last outing before summer.
We decided to get Korean food and found a good parking spot not too far away.
We had a really good time together and would have continued to talk on and on but we needed to return for our small group.

We walked back to the small parking lot.
But where my car had been there was only an empty space.

First I was annoyed.
This would have been the third time that my car got towed.
We would have to somehow get to the other side of the city and pay the fine.

But there was no reason to tow it.
There were no signs to tell me I couldn’t park.
It was clearly a parking lot with true parking spaces (which can be hard to find).
I didn’t do anything wrong.

But if no one towed it away…

Someone must have stolen it!
(Less than a week ago someone had attempted to steal my puppy so theft was fresh in my mind.)

Why?
How?
When??

We questioned the security guard who had appeared in our absence.
He said it was impossible but that if we wanted we could check the security camera.
He may have said it was impossible but I know that in Mongolia anything can happen.

We went into the security room and watched an hour’s worth of playback on the screen but there was nothing.
The security men kept saying it wasn’t possible.
“Maybe you parked somewhere else?”

But the three of us were certain.
We knew that we parked exactly here and now there is no car.
What else could have happened?

My translator went outside with one of the guards to look around.

By this time nearly all of our staff had heard the news.

Some time later I got a phone call.
“I found it!” my friend yelled.

“It was in a completely different parking lot!”
I didn’t see but I’m pretty sure the security guard rolled his eyes.
“This isn’t America!” he grumbled, “People don’t just randomly take cars.”

We were so embarrassed.
We were absolutely certain that we were right.

That evening I learned 3 important things.

First- It’s essential that you remember where you park.
Second- What you think is catastrophic might only be a minor problem.
Third- Even if you know that you are 100% right… you could be wrong.

(And fourth- That I’ve been watching too many Korean crime dramas 😉 )

Home Is

home sweet homeWe were at a cozy restaurant after church.
It was our last night to hang out.

We talked and found that we had lots to say and lots in common.
We talked of coming and going
And both the blessing and curse of our transient lives.

What is home? we asked.
The idea swirled around in our heads.

I think home is people, I said.
A collection of memories and events.

We finished the evening and the bittersweet goodbye.
But I thought of the idea of home more that week.

The cliche is that ‘home is where your heart is.’
It’s true.

You can have multiple homes or none at all.
But home is also tangible.

It’s tangible in
Places
People
Memories

But often you find it unexpectedly
In a stranger
Or a new place
A crossroads of you and them passing through

You are going about your life and suddenly
You are there
Home

In a conversation over dinner
A hike up a mountain
Sipping tea together
Getting lost
Laughing until your face hurts

Home is family
Your best friend since 3rd grade
Church
The traveler passing by
Those you haven’t seen for ages yet can pick right back up with

Home is late night talks
Coffee outings
Long talks in the car
Letters
Conversations around the world

Home is
A moment
A week
A season

As travelers we pass by
Longing for a place to be

Home has a hundred faces
And is a collection of a thousand memories

Out on a Limb

The first thing I do when I wake up is layer up and get coal from the shed.
The other morning as I was returning to the house, two heavy buckets of coal in hand, something caused me to turn around and look up.

There against the dusty morning sky was a man leaning against his chimney on a ladder.

I admired his bravery and reappreciated this culture that does whatever it needs to do in order to get the job done- to survive, and I am constantly amused at the creativity I see to get things accomplished.

That man was out on a limb that morning (and I assume he made it down safely!).

And I was thinking… fullsizeoutput_2990
I know that feeling.
The feeling of
I could fall at anytime and break something
Maybe not bones but definitely my pride!
Which maybe wouldn’t be such a bad thing…

Sometimes we choose to go out on a limb.

We interview for the job
We take initiative with a new friend
We go on that long awaited trip
We say the words that we have been meaning to say

Other times we don’t have a choice

Sometimes going out on a limb is an exhilarating experience.
There is fresh perspective and a rush of adrenaline as everything is miniature size below.

Other times it’s not so fun. Everything is unknown. You wonder, how did I get up here in the first place? What was wrong with my life down below?

Life in Mongolia is just that
Life anywhere is just that
If we choose.

Both satisfying and disheartening

Sometimes you want to yell,
“How great it is to be here! I’m alive!”

Other times,
“Get me down from here!
Why did I choose to put myself out here?”

And what if we put ourselves out there and it makes no difference?
What if time and time again those we seek out and those we go out on a limb for get worse instead of better?

Sometimes we go out on a limb and we can’t climb safely down.
We fall.
We shatter.
We are like broken pieces of glass scattered on the ground.
And we ask,
For what purpose does broken glass have?
It draws no attention
It is only the evidence of something broken.

We lay on the ground wondering
Did God bring me here only to break me into a thousand pieces?

Or did he bring me here for something else?
For in the daytime the glass, it reflects the sun
And at night it shows that there is more to the darkness
It shows the light

And we are the shattered and scattered
And will do the same.

Sometimes They Have Happy Endings

She was beaming today.

We met her at the bus stop and when she saw us she ran towards us and gave me a big hug.

She has become so confident in the last 4 years since I’ve known her.

After 10 years of living at the shelter she is finally home.
Home to where she belongs.
“You’re not a shelter kid anymore,” her dad told her.

She kept saying how spoiled she has become.

And isn’t this what we ultimately wish for?

For the kids to go back to loving homes where they will be provided for?
If this happened times 100, the shelter would close and I would be out of a job.
But how beautiful that would be.

We always hear about the deaths, the drinking, the runaways…
But this. This is something to treasure.

I met her for the first time during my internship in 2013.
She was shy but when we met with her there was something about her that caused me to dream.
What if I could take her out to coffee, to be her friend, to really get to know her?
How great would that be?

In a way, she was the inspiration for these “one on one outings” as we call them.
My colleague and I each take responsibility for about 5 girls.
We take them out once a month to talk, to listen, to have fun, and to show that we care for them specifically.

My first summer after moving to Mongolia I wrote about her in my journal.
I called her the “Soft-Hearted Helper”

“She is a beautiful tall 14 year old girl but she doesn’t think she is beautiful. She wears her hair long in front to hide a scar from when she was little and wishes she could have surgery to remove it… Both parents are living and it seems like the reason she is at the shelter is because her parents don’t have the resources to take care of her… She dreams of traveling the world and helping orphans in other countries… She likes to spend time alone and some of her traits remind me of myself…”

She went from hiding her scars to dreaming to be a fashion model.

Even that first year before we began to meet with the girls individually I prayed for God to give me opportunities to spend more time with her.

Within a year that prayer was answered.

During our second time meeting she told me,
“Except that we speak a different language, I think you and I are the same.”
As a foreigner new to these meetings, it was refreshing to be reminded of our sameness instead of our differences.

Fast forward another year and a half and here we are.
I am so thankful that I was able to get to know her.
I don’t know how often we will be able to meet now that she is out of the shelter.
We will try but things change once they leave.

Life at home won’t be easy
The adjustment from 10 years away will be difficult
But it’s a really good thing.
A needed thing.

I’m a bit sad but mostly I’m happy.
I’m happy that God restores.
And brings back the orphan to their home
Even after 10 years away.

Fighting my Battles

He fights my battles.
How true.

For about 10 weeks while I was in America I studied the book of Joshua.
I learned many things
And was reminded of many things
Specifically- God fights our battles
He speaks of victory in the past tense even if the battle is in the future.

Sometimes the victory is won by our active battle
Sometimes it’s won because He alone fights

There were some challenging times in those weeks home.
One night I was especially discouraged and I had no words for God except
I can’t.
You have to fight this for me.

He did.

I always think of God fighting for us when things are
Impossible
Discouraging
Out of our control

When I can’t.

But when things are good?

He hasn’t stopped fighting.

How easy it is for me to rely on myself when things are good and
Him when they are less than.

We remember to fight when we feel the personal effects of the battle
Forget when things go well.
The battle seems so far away.

But maybe the battle is being fought just as much
And we are tasting it’s victories
Yet forgetting how they were won
That the battle never stopped

This week I have been battling with fire.
(No that’s not a metaphor)

I literally have never struggled so much to keep my house
A.) Warm
or
B.) From the chaotic effects of a fire that’s too hot

The other night I came home late to find that water had leaked everywhere in the entrance room.

Oops.

I knew I was going to be gone for hours so I had made a nice warm blazing fire right before I left.
And blaze it did
It had heated the water so much while I was gone that the water had boiled over and there was no water left to run through the pipes.

Thankfully I have a friend/coworker that lives a street over and him and another Mongolian guy came over to help. For the next 3 hours until it was past midnight they helped haul water onto the roof and do a million other things to fix the many problems I had created.

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The daily struggle…

It was my problem but they were the fighters.
I just watched.

Oh I tried.
I asked many times
How can I help?
What can I do?
Anything?
Something?
Please?

And usually my friend replied,
Just watch and learn.

It was my problem yet they fixed it
They were generous to give their time on a late Sunday night and I had nothing to give back except some leftover Chinese food.

And I do this all the time
I make some big mess and I’m helpless.
Usually I don’t know how to fix it

And God comes and patches me up
Cleans the mess I created

And I’m helpless as God helps me.
And I ask-
What can I do? 
What can I give?

Just accept my help
Watch and learn
He says

I’ll fight this for you.

Except for my fire making deficiencies, this week I’ve been thriving.
My personal battles seem far away.
The sounds of battle are so faint in the distance that I forget there is a war.

But may I not rejoice because the battle is over
But rejoice because He continues to fight for me

And maybe the reason that things are so good
Is because He is fighting for me all the more.

 

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exalt over you with loud singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

The Gift of Inconvenience

Exactly one week ago I left America.
One week ago I returned to Mongolia.

It’s been a bittersweet week.
But that’s not what this blog is about.

This is about the gift of not having a car.
I didn’t think it was a gift at first.
An annoyance
Yes
An inconvenience
Yes

But a gift?
Well…

My Mongolian driver’s license expired while I was in America.
Although my teammates tried to renew it while I was gone, they couldn’t without my real identification card.
So for two weeks while I wait for it to be processed I’m unable to drive
(I could drive and hope I don’t get pulled over- but I did that last year and learned the hard way what not to do).

As a result of this inconvenience I found 6 gifts.

1. The gift of not being in control
One of the first days back I needed to get groceries and one of my Mongolian co-workers drove me to the store. I was quickly reminded of how crazy Mongolian drivers are (not her- others) as multiple times I was shocked that we didn’t get into an accident, missing other cars by centimeters. For me, being behind the wheel is stressful but not as stressful as letting someone else (who is a new driver) take control. It probably doesn’t sound like a gift but it is. It’s a gift to be reminded that sometimes you can’t be in control and you just have to go with the flow. Since I wasn’t behind the wheel I didn’t have a chance to get angry or impatient at other drivers and that was definitely a gift!

2. The gift of letting others give
When it comes to driving I am usually the one who gives. I don’t mean that in a “I’m so awesome” way- it’s just that I’m one of the few who has a license, car, and isn’t afraid to drive. After hours I often become team taxi- which I don’t mind, but it has been a true gift to let others drive me around and make sure I get where I need to be. Sometimes I’ve focused too much on being independent that I don’t let others help me. But I’ve learned this year that letting others help you- that is a gift.

3. The gift of noticing
When I drive, I’m so focused on not getting hit that I can’t notice beauty around me. I won’t pretend that UB (Ulaanbaatar) is a beautiful place in February- it’s not. Think gray. Everything- even the air is smokey dirty gray. But there are beautiful things if you focus and look hard enough.
Hundreds of birds in flight
Long shadows
The sun ready to set
And I actually saw
Students filing out of school
Taxi drivers yelling out their routes
Men and woman selling nuts, candy, and other trinkets by the road
Beautiful faces

4. The gift of being noticed
I’ve written many time about how I hate the attention. Sometimes my greatest wish is to look Asian. I hate the stares and the whispers. But today I was thankful to be noticed. I was taking a very crowded bus home from language school and an older man caught my eye and motioned for me to take his seat. I was surprised because usually the bus rules are as follows:
The oldest gets to sit first
The pregnant get to sit first
Everyone else- fend for yourself
Since I am neither (I’m going to assume that my puffy coat wasn’t making me look pregnant) and there were many others older than me who would have loved the gift of a seat I can only imagine the reason for his kindness was because I was the foreigner on the bus and looked like I needed some extra encouragement

5.The gift of remembering
While I was enjoying my seat I was reminded of that first year. It’s not quite been three but sometimes it feels like each year equals 10. The first year when I didn’t have a car I took the bus a lot. I was brought back to those days and those first year feelings came back- the worry, excitement, and the sense of accomplishment at knowing the bus routes and speaking those first simple phrases. I reminisced and was thankful for those days.

6. The gift of exerciseimg_4141
I enjoy walking but with a car I don’t see a reason why I would choose to walk nearly a mile uphill on icy roads only to find that I can’t feel my face by the time I get home because it’s so cold. But today I got that opportunity! It was actually pretty refreshing and although my face was numb when I got home I enjoyed the out of breath feeling I had and sweet victory of arriving in one piece.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that I’ve decided to get rid of my car. But I did learn that sometimes doing things the hard way can be rewarding and that inconvenience- in all the opportunities it has to show itself, can be a gift.
If we let it be.

From the Gobi

The simple truth is that He loves me.
I knew this but it took a trip out to the Gobi Desert for me to remember this.
An essential truth that I had perhaps forgotten about.

“Therefore I am going to persuade her, 11312625_10206611089539009_4361940469835612180_o
lead her to the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.”
Hosea 2:14

In the desert I was captivated again.
I had forgotten what that felt like.

Words or pictures can’t describe the beautiful things that I saw in the wilderness of the desert.

Desert roses in the wilderness
Brilliant blue skies against sand dunes
The night sky filled with an unfathomable amount of stars
A rare phenomenon- singing sands- literally humming praise
A rainbow circled around the sun
Mountains dusted with snow

And the most beautiful view I have ever seen.

There were these sand dunes- the singing ones
I had joked about the the 3 of us climbing to the top but wasn’t planning on actually doing it
Until I did
I saw my friend taking the brave climb and I thought- If he can do it, so can I!

So I did.
It was one the hardest things I’ve done (physically that is).
The last part was extremely steep and the sand was soft so whenever I took a step up (which by this time was on all fours) I slide half of the step down- thus making double the work.

I thought- Is it worth it?
I could stop now…
But after seeing the rainbow circled around the sun above me I thought-
No. I need to do this.
So I did.
Step by arduous step

I told myself that it was like this year.
Difficult but nearing the end
I can finish with God’s strength and maybe at the end there would be something beautiful.

There sure was.
As I shakily took the last crawl up the sand came to a perfect ridge at the top- just like you see in pictures. I wobbled to my feet and though I can’t begin to describe the view, climbing to the top was the best choice I’ve made in a long time.
It was breathtaking
And totally worth it

As we traveled back to the city the next 2 days I reflected on all the things that I saw and did during those few days in the Gobi.
I had wanted God to speak to me in some big way. img_1557
But really what he did for me was love me.
He showed me beauty and reminded me to breath
To relax and soak in his beauty and love for me

Not to feel guilty or anxious because I was missing work
But to relax because he had it all under control- Since He is the one doing the work anyways

I didn’t need to be in control.

And so He persuaded me to go to the wilderness.
And spoke tenderly to me there.