Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Little did we know that when we drove off road that we wouldn’t see a real road for the next 24 hours.

In August of 2017 I took a short trip out of Ulaanbaatar with some friends and we heard that there was a waterfall 70 kilometers away from where we were staying.

We thought, 70 kilometers isn’t far (40 some miles), we should go find it!

Mongolia doesn’t have many places of water and waterfalls are one of my favorite things so I was all up for the adventure.

We were hoping to make it a day trip and end back in UB in the evening after a mini detour.

It wasn’t to be.

We had a GPS on a phone that gave the general direction of the waterfall but there were no roads; only a number of dirt paths spiraling through the hills and valley.

Our biggest obstacle was that the entire valley of our journey was covered in volcanic rocks (which we didn’t know about before we decided to embark on our adventure).

I know now that if I had told my other Mongolian friends where I was going they would have said that there was no way I could make it with my car. In hindsight it’s true that it wasn’t the best idea and we barely made it.

It’s difficult to show in words or even pictures how difficult it was to get across the valley.

At one point we were about 10 kilometers away according to the GPS (6 miles) and we needed to cross the river yet again. We couldn’t find a way that looked shallow enough and I think it was at this time that we thought we might not make it and that maybe we should turn back.

We asked a man herding his sheep if there was a bridge and the direct translation was, “There is a bit of space between here and the bridge.” What he actually meant was it was super far away.

Later on we stopped and asked two other ladies who responded, “We don’t know but can we come with?”
Our car was already at full capacity and my friend’s response was to quickly get in the car and demand that I, “Drive away quick! They want to join us!’

Somehow we found the bridge.
And somehow we found the waterfall after 4 or 5 hours weaving through the valley.

We couldn’t drive the whole way and had to walk the final short distance.

It was all totally worth it.

It was worth it even though we couldn’t leave until the next morning.

It was worth spending another cold night in a ger despite that the owners of the camp were drunk and not thrilled to have us.

It was worth it even though two of my friends had nightmares that night about large rocks and sheep blocking our way in the valley.

And even worth the damage done to my car.

The song “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” is totally true. You shouldn’t do it (in Mongolia at least).

But we did and I do not regret it.

It was an adventure with friends and probably the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen so I was alright with the (literal) bumps along the way.

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Tapestry

Before I returned to America I bought myself a gift.
I wanted to get something meaningful that would last and that I could display to remind myself of Mongolia (not that I could forget).

I chose a vintage tapestry from 1978.IMG_3124

It used to hang in a Kazakh family’s home and even though 40 years past is not that long ago, it represents a completely different era when Mongolia was much different then it is today.
During the 70s when Russia was in control of Mongolia, colored thread was difficult to find so the thread would often be take from old clothing.
I was researching these tapestries, usually given to daughters on their wedding day, and found that these tapestries would be worked on for years, from the time their daughters were small children. Years later this art piece would not only be beautiful to look at, but would also be filled with memories.

Maybe the cream colored thread was from she first learned to walk
The yellow from her pants when she learned to ride a horse
The navy from her first school dress
The green from the scarf she wore the day her older brother passed away

Her life and the life of the family was woven into these threads.
Threads of a beautiful tradition

When I look at it hanging by my bed I see minor flaws which are proof that it was made by hands and not by a machine.
Yet in my eyes, those things add to, rather than diminish the beauty, making it all the more captivating to look at.

I imagine stories of who this woman might be and who she was.
I look and see the threads as my own story, the people and events in my life that has made it what it is and remember how every stitch is important.
One part might have a different color than the rest, or a different type of stitch, but it all flows together to form the whole.

What I love the most about my tapestry is the Kazakh tradition of intentionally leaving each tapestry unfinished.
I’ve heard different theories as to why but my favorite is that it represents that
Life is in process and ongoing.
It isn’t finished yet.
Maybe we’ve been handed a thread that seems like it doesn’t belong.
Maybe we don’t see the space where it should go.
Maybe the thread holds a painful memory we would rather discard and try to forget about.

But for our lives, from the day we are born,
Through 2018,
And until we die,
No thread is wasted.

Our tapestry is never finished until we take our last breath.
And we will add our own threads and stitches to the tapestry of others until they take theirs.

The Final Adventure

Although getting on the plane to leave was the true final adventure
(I almost didn’t make it)
The week before was my final group adventure.

After the final team had left we went on a staff retreat.
We had a great time together and on the last full day decided to do some exploring.

Ben (our director) and 7 ladies piled into his van and set off.
All was well.

We flew through the Mongolian countryside in Ben’s Japanese car, listening to music in Spanish from the early 2000s that was preset in the van’s stereo system.
It was a crazy mix of cultures.

We turned off road, saw that it was muddy but confidently thought we could get through it.

We couldn’t.
We were instantly stuck.39207124_1806655316087772_8713303370049257472_o

Not to be discouraged, we (the 7 ladies) pushed and pushed with no result.
Amazingly their were a few extra pairs of rain boots in the car which were very helpful!

While Ben thought of a solution we went off for a walk.
I went in one direction to explore and the other girls went in another.

When I came back I found that the girls had gotten back before me and were now covered in mud because the latest idea was to try and dig the car out of the mud with sticks and hands.

It didn’t work.

Defeated we sat down and saw a car passing by on the main road.IMG_2708 3

The passengers asked if we needed help and we emphatically yelled
Yes!

The Prius drove down to us and 4 men piled out.

We were thrilled

Until we found out that they had been drinking.
One was especially drunk and especially obnoxious.

He was being rude to us girls so we left them.

Ben had an idea for a solution but the guys had other ideas that they thought were better.
This went on for a few hours.

We had a phone but no service so one of the girls climbed one of the mountains to get reception. She was gone for about an hour and we started to get worried so I went and found her.

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Our “helpers”

Thankfully she was able to get a hold of someone but it would take time for them to reach us.

We were sunburned, thirsty and swarmed by mosquitoes but we managed to stay out of the way and make the most of it.

We were elated when we saw the familiar micro van pull up filled with all the Flourishing Future men.
They were our saviors!
Our heroes!
I loved and appreciated them like never before.

It took awhile for our other “helpers” to leave.
The drunk one had decided to go swimming in a mud puddle and then decided that it was the opportune time to wash his clothes (that he was wearing) in that same mud puddle.

Finally they left and our guys were able to accomplish Ben’s original idea for getting the van out by using rocks for a makeshift road.

We all clapped and rejoiced when it was out.

Ben kept apologizing for the day
Saying it was our final retreat day and it was wasted.

But I wasn’t upset.
I was just happy to spend time in nature and with my friends.

And it gave me one final adventure to write about.

The Heart Grows Back

As there have been many emotions inside of me this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the heart.

Is there only so much of it to give?
Do you run out of heart after giving and giving?

We know that the heart heals in time after it’s been broken
But I also believe that the heart “grows back” so there is more to give away.

Most of my heart is away at our summer camp, reflecting on that heart shattering goodbye.
There are still a few chunks left to be given to a handful of others over these next two weeks.
But I’m afraid that my heart will be whittled down to only a few nubs by the end of this.

My heart cries for rest from it all.
I wonder if I will ever recover.
In many ways I don’t think I will.
But that’s okay.
I don’t want to ever fully recover from this.

I know that my heart will grow back
Not to protect and keep
But to give away again.

IMG_2577One day my heart may even look whole again
But I know that there will still be lines, scars from before showing the places where pieces were once broken off and given away.

These pieces won’t return with me when I go back to America
But will forever stay where I left them

In summer camp’s rickety buildings and beds of forget-me-nots
Under the canopy and at the bonfire
In dusty ger district roads and a cement children’s shelter
At the community centers and in the woods and hills of the countryside
Littered across Mongolia

My heart will need some rest when I return.
I might not be able to give away much of it for some time.IMG_2578
But it’s okay.

Be patient heart
Wait
For you will grow back.

When Your Birthday Doesn’t Quite Go as Planned

It was my 6th consecutive birthday in Mongolia.

We had a week off so I decided to go to the South Gobi desert with my friend and her parents.

It took us two days to get there because we got off to a late start.
On my birthday they decided to go to a canyon that I had never been to
(I had traveled to the Gobi once before over 3 years ago: see this blog)

It was going to be a 6 kilometer walk to the end and back (about 3 and a half miles)
It was a beautiful day- hot and sunny but not too hot.
We walked through tall cliffs on either side and at places there was a stream running through. There was wild mint, juniper and other wild flowers spread along the ground, all in alIMG_1337l making it a refreshing walk.

But about the time that we were going to turn around and head back I started to feel a bit odd.
I felt lightheaded and my stomach started to hurt.
Because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone or cause a fuss, I didn’t say anything though and thought that if I could make it back to the car and rest I would be fine.

I tried to walk in the shade as much as possible and stop to rest.
But I felt worse and worse and was worried that I might pass out.
Since I had a water bottle with me I didn’t think I was dehydrated
And even though it was hot I didn’t feel that the sun was too strong.

I felt more and more miserable until my stomach took a turn for the worse and I threw up.
The family didn’t notice because they were looking at something else. I thought about not saying anything but since I thought I might not make it back I finally did.
I felt somewhat relieved and thought the worst was over since it was out of my system.

The walk back was so difficult.
I was weak and my whole body felt heavy as we walked the final mile and a half back.
We almost made it back and we came to some shade where I rested awhile but instead of feeling better, my stomach continued to hurt and I couldn’t stay warm (even though it was probably in the 80s outside and I had a blanket to cover me).

After I had met the required rest time we started to walk back to the car.
But when I started to walk I felt more and more terrible and threw up again, not quite making it to the car.

The family decided that, rather than moving to the next destination, I should probably go to the hospital so we drove back to the city and found the city’s old Russian era cement hospital.
We found the emergency care area after a bit of searching and as I had suspected, the doctor decided that I either had food poisoning or heat exhaustion and needed an IV and some injections.

I wasn’t thrilled but I felt terrible enough to let them do it.

I squirmed a lot and was less nervous about getting the IV and more nervous because I was in Mongolia and didn’t know what they were putting into my body. The doctors were worried that I would pass out and gave me an oxygen tube and a bottle of something to smell to calm my nerves. I think the doctors were worried but probably also a tiny bit amused at my anxiety (after all, this is the treatment they use on everyone so what why was I worried?)

Thankfully I had already had my first two IVs several months ago in America before my foot surgeries, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have let them do it.
After the injections (which mad me feel even more woozy) they had me lay down for a couple of hours while the IV dripped.
Ideally I would have slept during that time but I was too stressed to fall asleep.

Of all the things that I would have chosen to do on my birthday, throwing up and lying in a Mongolian hospital with a needle in my wrist was not one of them.

Since my birthday is in the summer, ever since I was young, I’ve spend most ofIMG_2336 my birthdays in other countries having unique experiences.

Though it wasn’t an ideal situation, it definitely made the list of unique birthday experiences!

After the IV finished I was allowed to leave.
I still didn’t feel great but it was probably good to have the re-hydrating liquids in me and I was able to make it until the middle of the night before throwing up one final time.

The next day we went back home since my friend also started to become sick.
After I got back and became healthy again I received a whole range of answers from my Mongolian coworkers as to why I became sick

Maybe if I had only stuck my head in water for an hour or two it would have been better, one suggested.

Or maybe it happened because I was riding in a car without AC the past two days, was another.

The most common diagnoses was that the Gobi sun was exceptionally strong and because I didn’t wear a hat I became sick.

Though I may or may not believe that these were the reasons I’ll never know the answer.

What I do know, is that even though I’ll be back in America soon, the adventures aren’t over!
I never know what each final day will hold.

Even if some of my final adventures are less than pleasant, I will still try to see the good.

For example on this day:IMG_1345

-I had a new experience
-My fear of needles was conquered just a little bit more
-My sympathy for others who are sick increased
-And that I should tell others how I’m feeling rather until waiting until it’s too late

The Agitator

Two or three times a month I wash my clothes
(I know, it’s embarrassing how infrequent)

The reason why I do it so seldom is:
1. It’s a physical hassle
2. I’m suspicious of whether or not my clothes actually become cleaner

My friend referred to our washing machine once as “the clothing agitator.”

In America (or anywhere where there is running waters) most washing machines have a wash, rinse, spin and drain cycle.

Here there are 15 minutes of agitation.
No rinse, no drain and “spin” is in a separate compartment that you manually have to transfer everything to
Any rinsing has to be done manually in a separate bucket, though usually I just add a couple of scoops of water in before the spinning.

At the end the dirty water has to be drained and dumped into the toilet outside

Because there isn’t any rinse cycle I feel that I’m just adding soap to dirt and mixing it around Adding a fresh laundry smell to still dirty clothes.

The funniest thing is that usually I think I do a fairly good job of washing…
Until I visit America

Then I realize that my fresh smelling clothes don’t smell so fresh
(More like I rolled around at a petting zoo and then went to work at a coal mine)
And my white clothing isn’t quite so white as I thought it was

In my 4 years in Mongolia God has put me through the “agitator”
Getting the dirt to fall out

Sometimes I wonder, am I worse than I was before I came to Mongolia?
I’ve seen things come out of my heart that I never knew were inside

But the thing is, all of it was already inside.
It just took Mongolia to “agitate” it out

Like my clothes being shockingly dirtier than I thought
Inside my heart was also much worse than I thought

Doing laundry in America, I don’t get the “privilege” to see how dirty my clothes really are.
I put them in the machine, close the door, and 45 minutes later open the door to clean clothes

But here, I have to get my hands dirty, draining the murky water
Feeling its weight
Dumping it out

In America, I had the same stuff inside, I just wasn’t in circumstances where I could get a close view of my true condition

So take heart.
When it seems like you are far worse than you could have imagined

When it seems like you’re spinning in murky water
Have hope

It might mean that the agitation is a cleansing process
Removing the dirt
Even healing

If I want my clothes to be especially clean, I have to put new water in for each cycle
I usually don’t and reuse the same water for 2 or 3 loads because it uses so much water and requires more work of draining and dumping

And for us, if we really want to be healed of the muck inside
We will have to feel its weight
And dump it out
Away and irretrievable

IMG_2062

Over and over again

The final step is to hang my clothes up to dry
No dryer here except the sun

And sometimes after exhausting heart work, we too have to just wait
Wait and let the Son do the rest.

 

Why a New Road Makes Me Emotional

There have been many emotional happenings lately.
For example- a new road

There is now a real road going from the bus stop up to about 100-200 meters down from my home.

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What the roads nearby look like (before)

As weird as it sounds to be emotional about a road, bear with me.
I never thought
Never dreamed
Never hoped
To see a road in my ger district- complete with speed bumps, crosswalks and a potential bus stop.

It’s exciting
But weird
And oddly a little sad

It means that things do change
But it also means
Things change.

My ger district is developing but I won’t be here for the new era.
The work (on the roads and in the hearts) is never done, but it seems like just as the road construction is finishing up, it’s a visual representation that my own “building” is ending.

And how happy and sad it is!

It’s one road out of thousands in the ger districts of Mongolia- not even a mile’s worth of asphalt. The country’s infrastructure has not become anywhere near first world standards since its construction and as great as it is that my road was one of the chosen ones, many other roads may never become more than dusty flattened dirt.

But for my neighborhood
It mattered.
Our lives are now just the tiniest bit less inconvenienced now.
Our street looks a little bit less ger district, a little bit more city, and a lot more beautiful.

And the comparison is this:

My 4 years here- just a drop of asphalt amid thousands of roads

I didn’t solve Mongolia’s problems- or even those of my kids
Usually I wonder if I did enough, or enough of the right things

But to me,
And God willing, maybe to a fewIMG_1848 2

It was beautiful.
It mattered.

Each day that I’ll drive up and down the new road over the next 2 months and 3 weeks
I will be reminded that, even though I won’t be around to see the big changes,
How thankful I am to have seen my handful of small ones.
How thankful I am, to have been able to travel up and down that dusty and bumpy half excuse of a road
How thankful for the things I learned on that road
The things I learned over these years

But now,
Now the new thing.

Hope is a Thunderstorm and a Lost Mitten

Yesterday I lost my mitten.
It was only a mitten.
But
It was the warmest and my favorite.

I thought it had fallen between the seats of my car
I would look for it later

This morning was a morning to write about
Unfortunately not in a good way

I had a mini meltdown in front of my students.
It wasn’t a great moment.

I was trying to teach the past tense.
It wasn’t the most exciting lesson, I admit
If we could have gotten through some irregulars we would have played some games.

But we didn’t get through them
The interest level was at about 3%
4 out of 7 kids wouldn’t have noticed if I had turned pink and started to fly.

I’ve experienced worse
But today I felt especially helpless.

After 35 minutes of feeling invisible
The emotions started to well up
The class was supposed to go on for another 25 minutes
But I couldn’t do it

I stayed calm but told them that we would finish for today and that they could go.
I sat down and attempted to maintain composure.
Unsuccessfully.
They started to notice me then but it was too late.

They didn’t leave, but because my tears were at their breaking point
I excused myself and locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes

I wasn’t exactly angry with them.
I just felt helpless.
I want these final two months of classes to go well
But it’s the same problems I’ve always had.
Maybe it was my fault for not making class more interesting.
They were just kids after all.
I get it.
I was there not long ago.
But I still felt bad.

I had hoped that after returning and reestablishing some measure of composure they would be gone.
They were not.

It took some persuading for them to leave.
“We still have 15 minutes left”
“Are you sad?”
“Are you crying?”
Some stayed back to ask

I had discovered a way to get full silence and attention
But it was an awkward moment for all.

After classes were finished I was driving up the road to my home
When I spotted something in the middle of the road
There’s usually lots of trash in the roads so it wasn’t unusual
But this object looked familiar

“Is that my mitten?” I asked aloud as I drove past

I realized that it was indeed my mitten and turned around.
I was especially surprised because I thought it was somewhere hidden in my car
Evidently it was not and had spent the day and most likely the night in the middle of the road.
Miraculously it was still intact though very dusty!

I was going through an old sketchbook later on and saw a drawing from a few years ago
Titled “Hope Looks Like a Thunderstorm”

I thought of the title and drawing in light of today.

Thunderstorms aren’t usually a positive thing
They can be scary

But for my drawing
It was positive

The downpour was about to come on the dry cracked ground
All at once

So I thought
Maybe today was a thunderstorm
It was a downpour and we all got a little wet
It was uncomfortable

IMG_1130

But if God cares so much to preserve my favorite mitten in the middle of a dusty street

How much more does He care about the important things
Like when your day feels like a downpour of difficult
And you can’t keep it all together

Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that my students saw that I don’t always have a smile plastered on my face
Maybe it was ok that they saw me as a little vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Because hope looks like a thunderstorm
And a mitten in the middle of a street
And maybe somehow, a teacher crying in class

Into Our Deep Darkness

Nativity
The process of being born says the dictionary.
Reckless
Acting without caution regardless of the consequences

When we were at our lowest
At our weakest
God’s nativity

When we were the most difficult to be around
When we pushed Him away
His reckless love

I’ve had some low points this month after my second surgery.
I haven’t been pleasant to be around.
I haven’t rejoiced and celebrated the good.

I’ve thrown fits at God and at others because there is pain.
I’ve put unrealistic and misplaced expectations on others.
I haven’t clung to Christ.

But although I’ve complained that all this is happening during the holidays
I am thankful.

I’m thankful that, because of Christmas
I am reminded
I am surrounded by what’s true.

I’m reminded of the ramifications of God who will not give up on me
I’m astounded that even in our great darkness
He birthed Himself into humanity.
He didn’t turn His face away, sigh and claim,
I’ll come back another time after you’ve calmed down and pulled yourself together
Our neediness didn’t overwhelm Him.
I throw tantrums because, It’s just not fair
But nothing will turn Him away.

God’s nativity came recklessly into our deep darkness
My deep darkness
Your deep darkness

And today the ramifications 2,000 some years later are that
He will not let us go.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

 

Waiting in the Pain

Sometimes we have to sit in our pain.
There is no quick fix.

I had bunion surgery less than two weeks ago.
I’ve heard since that it’s one of the more painful surgeries to have.
-of course I only found that out post surgery.
The first 36 hours after the anesthesia wore off were the worst.
I had never experienced any surgeries or broken bones so I thought that after I took the medicine the pain would disappear.
It didn’t.
I’m sure it would’ve been even worse without the medicine but at the time I felt like it offered no relief.

Now over a week later I’m able to hobble around in a surgical boot and get out of the house a bit.
But it started with small, painful steps.

For the first couple days after the surgery I didn’t want to try to start walking and was content to hop on one foot to get to the bathroom- which at that point was the only place I was able to get to outside of my bed.

I was not happy when my mom called the nurse and confirmed that I had to start wearing the surgical boot.
No more hoping.
I was not excited to take those first difficult steps.

Sometimes we don’t want to take those first steps to healing.
It hurts.
It’s scary.
We’d rather cradle the painful thing, protect it, and hop around thinking- when it hurts less I’ll try.

But then healing, real healing can’t happen.

After lying in the same position for over a week I felt like I was about to go crazy.
I needed to do something.

But sometimes in pain we can’t do anything.
We can only wait.

It’s true that time heals.

After that painful conversation or revelation
After the news of some tragedy

Sometimes there is nothing to be done but to sit and wait.
Only after a little while can we take those first few difficult steps.

If I gave up because of the pain of those first few steps I would never be able to get healed.
My muscles would become weak and I wouldn’t be able to make them strong again.

These days I long to be back in Mongolia and three more months of waiting seems like an incredibly long time. There are many things that I value and am thankful for here but it would be untrue to say that, although I’ve built relationships and put down a few roots here, my heart isn’t still split.

But as painful as it is to not be where I want to be I know that it is God’s loving grace that He has given me these 4 months to wait.
I have no other option but to be still.

The key is, what is my mind dwelling on during those times that my body is still but my mind is fully active?

Am I dwelling on things that will heal my soul and give my heart peace?
Or am I dwelling on things that wound my soul and make 22812594_10214363493304258_551564941_omy heart ache?

I can choose.

We can choose to dwell on our disappointments
Or on God’s faithfulness.

To dwell on the pain
Or on the healing

And wait