Friday, July 12, 2013

Those Insane Moments...

Ok, so it's been a while since I last wrote, but I have to say that my last days in Tenom have really run away from me and it's hard to believe it's been a month since choir tour.  I've been saying a lot of good-byes and experiencing a lot of 'lasts' that haven't been easy.  There have been a lot of tears as I've said farewell to friends and a lot of happiness as we celebrate the relationships that have been made over the year.  So naturally, these times have made me think of the year as a whole.  There have been ups and downs, some insane moments, and some deep God moments. 

I think one of the things that has stuck out to me this year is how insane my life has seemed at times.  Last August, over 50 young adults willingly left behind everything they knew to go to places they had never been to live for a year.  My first week in Tenom, I found myself wondering, "What was I thinking!?!"  I was in a country that I had not even heard of until just a few months before, I had no idea what people were saying, and I had no idea what was going to happen next.  I was starting to think I was a little insane for coming. 

But that changed.  Over time, Tenom didn't seem like such an insane place to be.  It began to feel more like a place where I could work and live and it was a place where I had begun to recognize the love of those around me.  But in these last days in Sabah, I'm encountering something that also feels equally insane as when I came here: leaving.  I knew it was coming and everyone I lived with knew it was coming, but it always seemed so far off.  Now it's insanely close.  I've been a part of Tenom and built relationships with people over a year and have come to love all those people.  It's time to leave Tenom and that just seems insane. 

If you're reading this, looking at this and thinking it sounds awful, I wouldn't blame you.  But it hasn't been.  My year has been filled with insanity.  But it's also been full of something else.  In all these crazy times when I was filled with anxiety, I came to recognize God at work.  When I was anxious about leaving home, I realized there were people I had not even met praying for me.  When I struggled to find my way in a new place, God was working through those people who welcomed me in.  Though I struggle to say good-bye, I know that the reason I will miss everyone so much is because the relationships that I've had with them so far have been such a huge gifts in my life.  And even now, I'm anxious about going back to the US.  I'm a different person than when I left.  The people I left behind have lived their own lives this year and have changed as well.  What will it be like to get reacquainted with home?  Even then, people have shared with me that they will be praying for me as I make this transition back to the US.  God continues to work in my life.

So yes, my life has been crazy, insane, and at times a bit overwhelming this year.  But life has been amazing and full as well.  It's been in those insane moments that I think I've been blessed to experience God the most.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Praise in Our Hearts...Choir Tour 2013

For ten days, I had the opportunity to join the Tenom/Keningau Children's Choir as we went on tour in Taiwan.  In resting up after a very FULL schedule, I've had some time to reflect on the time there, the people we met, the relationships that were formed and the ways we as a choir not only shared our faith through music, but also the ways we grew and learned from those around us. 

The aim of our tour was not for sightseeing or shopping (though there was quite a bit of that.) It wasn't just so that people could hear our music.  Sharing music was just a means for something more.  As my site supervisor put it, God gives us these gifts and talents to use.  We can use them to give praise to him.  In giving praise, we can share with others.  We put in the hard work and the preparation and we go and give our best, but it's really God who takes all that and does something with it.  So in a sense, every concert, every performance could be a time of worship and we were inviting people far and wide to be a part of it.  

And many people were a part of that worship.  We went to churches and were welcomed with smiles and meals.  We went to schools where we also connected with children and enjoyed their presentations as well.  There was the industrial science center where we gave a concert for scientists who were mostly non-Christian, but many of whom shared how touched they were by the music.  But at the end of it all we didn't take credit, it was always a God thing.  As much as we saw how others got something out of the music, there was still something for us to learn and experience as well.

During tour we talked about how God could take what we had to offer with the right intentions and turn it into something great.  We were a part of that process as we blended our voices together and offered our best.  I think this experience is something that we could look at as a source of strength in our faith.  We witnessed how God can work through a choir and we can start to ask ourselves, "Where else is God working?"  I honestly can't say how much our tour meant to the people we met.  It's one of those things that leaves an impression long after we're gone.  But, we can leave it up to God what kind of impact is left.  But these lessons can stretch outside choir and music into anything that we do in our lives.  We can always ask ourselves, how can we serve others today?  How can the things we do give praise to God?  We don't always know what the things we do will mean to those around us, but we can leave that part to God.  Perhaps if we see the way we live our lives as a form of worship it can cause us to see things differently and it can open us up to experiencing how God works in amazing ways. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

For all those Mothers

Celebrating Mother's Day of course has gotten me thinking about my mom, but also the mother figures in my life.  Growing up, my mom and I also talked about how I had many mothers in my life, women who served as examples for me and reached out to care for me.  I would always tell my mom that there was no one like her, but I always remembered my other mothers.  Even though I'm an adult now, coming to the other side of the world put me in a place where I was very vulnerable, but this provided an opportunity for me to find other mothers who saw an opportunity to share and serve.  So this mother's day has gotten me thinking not only about my mom and the ways she's raised me, but also about the other mothers out there I've found in the last few months. 

Many women in my community have been mothers to me in various ways.  Some have been there to provide food and ask if I have everything I need.  This was particularly helpful early on when I didn't know how to get everything that I needed for myself.  But they still continue to provide and help out.  I've realized just how thoughtful these women have been in always considering ways that I may need help.  The fact that they are so thoughtful and attentive to detail means the world to me.  There are mothers who have welcomed me into their own families.  They realize that I'm too far away from my own family and they help fulfill that need for belonging.  Many holidays have gone by when I thought I may be lonely without my family, but someone was thinking ahead and welcomed me to their family with open arms.  But this isn't just during holidays.  I've been invited to spend Sunday afternoons with families and share in family meals.  Other mothers have been there to instruct me on the ins and outs of culture in Malaysia.  I guess it comes from mothers always teaching their kids about the importance of manners, but there have always been mothers there telling me how things are done and proper way for everything from greeting guests to cleaning house (yes, it can be a bit different in Malaysia) to doing laundry.  Yes, I'm a foreigner, but they don't want me to remain an ignorant foreigner.  By learning from these mothers, I've been able to discover more about culture and values here. 

Just as mothers raise their children to one day become productive members of society, I realize that many mothers here have come along and fulfilled so many needs in order for me to be able to function here in Malaysia and find a place in my community.  Words really cannot express the deep gratitude I have for the women who have treated me as one of their own children.  I also realize that these mothers have also taught me how to serve through their examples.  They've taught me about the thoughtfulness to go the extra mile for someone in need since they went the extra mile for me.  These mothers were some of the first people to step forward and share with me.  Their example has taught me how I can step forward and share what I have with others.  They share bit by bit and day by day.  I've learned that the biggest differences are not made all at once, but consistently, over time with whatever we have to give.  So while I spent Mother's day thinking about my mom and the ways that she has shaped my life and made me the person I am today, I also celebrate the mothers who have come along in my life and taught me so many valuable lessons about the kind of person I want to be to others. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's the little things that count...

This weekend as the YAGM volunteers for 2013-2014 gathered to discern and find out where they would be placed for the next year, I found myself reflecting on where I've been in the past year.   I remember being a ball of nerves anxiously waiting to find out which country I would be going to (unfortunately, our names were called in alphabetical order so I had to sweat it out).  I remember that weekend as we learned more about the theme of accompaniment and attempting to wrap my head around a concept that has become the theme of my life for the past few months.

The difference between where I was and where I am now feels enormous, but if I look back at my YAGM year so far, there's no singular point where all this took place.  Change and learning has taken place in small increments in each passing day.   In terms of language, I used to only be able to catch a couple of words in a conversation.  Now I find that I can follow most of what's being said and participate.  I've had some pretty crazy food adventures and would have never imagined myself eating, let alone enjoying, half of the foods that have become my favorite dishes.  The people in my community have become more than just hosts, they've become a family.  I miss them when I leave Tenom and rejoice when I'm back in town.  I look back at when I first arrived here and remember feeling extremely anxious because I had no idea what my role would be.  But now I find myself as a part of the work of the church as a teacher, friend, musician, and fellow worker in the body of Christ.

What I now realize has been a dramatic change took place at the hands of a very patient God.  It's the everyday kindness and guidance that has shaped me here.  From the smiles to the invitations, to the meals, each interaction has helped me become part of the family here.  It's also been in the everyday opportunities that I've had for small acts of service that I've realized where my gifts and talents can be used.  There have been walks with friends, afternoon visits, extra patience, and a willingness to be open that have let me share a bit of myself here.  Alone, these acts are small, but they add up and build relationships as well as shape the walks we take with people.  In these small acts, God brings out the very best. 

As I look back at where I've been so far, I realize just how many chances the day holds for these small acts.  My time here has been filled with these small acts.  I realize that time will race by and my time will be winding down all too soon.  But if each and every day is filled with these moments of love, these sacred moments that gradually transform, I realize there is still a whole lot to look forward to.  There is still a whole lot to experience and be a part of and I look forward to every minute of it. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sabahan Easter

Yes, I know that Easter was over a week ago, but there was a great deal that I felt I needed to process and think about before I posted about celebrating in Sabah.  You see, celebrations were so different than anything I’d experienced that all I could do was really observe before coming to any conclusions.  This year made me realize the things that I really value about the way I’ve celebrated Easter in the past, but I gave me a great deal of insight into the faith and beliefs of those in my community. 

Most noticeable was the absence of the observance of Lent.  I do know many people who do not observe Lent in the US, but growing up Lutheran, this is something that has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.  There’s always been that emphasis to reflect on the need for forgiveness and follow Jesus’ journey to the cross.  In Sabah, many people didn’t know what Lent was and those who had heard of it said it was ‘a Catholic thing.’  Ok, so I didn’t give it too much thought early on and decided to see what would happen.

As Holy Week rolled around we didn’t observe Palm Sunday or Maundy Thursday.  And though we had a prayer service on Good Friday, but there was still no recognition or emphasis on Jesus’ journey to the cross and his death.  This seemed to bother me more than I thought it would.  If Jesus didn’t die on the cross, there would be no Easter miracle to celebrate. All my life observing this meant being able to appreciate Easter more deeply.  I was still perplexed, but decided to just keep watching and try to keep an open mind.  More importantly, I tried to remind myself that just because I was really missing the observances back home, I really didn’t need to let that influence what I thought about Sabahan Easter.

So Easter came and aside from having communion and a baptism, it was really like every other church service.  There really wasn’t much extra celebration.  Again, very different from what I was used to.  For about a week the questions still swirled in my head, why wasn’t there more.  But as I continued to go about the week, I started realizing why.  Here in Sabah, it seems that how people share what they have, help one another, and live out their Christian faith is more important than how they celebrate it.  Living every day is a response to Jesus’ death and resurrection and therefore is an Easter Celebrations.  There have been moments, little Easters you could say, throughout all my days.  There have been those times when things look doubtful and I don’t know how I’m going to get through, but someone comes along to help make the seemingly impossible possible and in the end, it’s a miracle.   So if Easter seems a little everyday-ish here, maybe that’s ok.  Why not celebrate every day?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just Go With It...

This is probably my leading mantra while I've been in Sabah.  It's even drawn a couple of jokes from some people since they know it's how I'll react to most situations.  But what can I say?  If there's nothing you really can do and you don't know how things are going to go, why not decide to go with the flow and approach situations with the most open mind set possible?  An example of this would be my crazy weekend.  Saturdays for me are a non-stop sprint of English lessons, choir rehearsals, and any other work that's on my plate.  So by the time I get to youth group on Saturday nights, I'm extremely tired.  That week, the youth decided to have a sleepover at the Theodora house.  Since all I wanted to do after youth was fall into bed, I wasn't up to hosting youth late into the night at the house.  But one of the leaders would be there as well.  So I told myself, just go with it.  Turns out that night was actually really great and I ended up being able to talk with the other youth leader about his plans for seminary and he shared how he was feeling about heading off on the path to becoming a pastor. 

I get up the next morning for Sunday worship and we have English afterwards.  This is one of my less formal classes since it's based on having discussion.  The youth come to class with questions about English phrases and what to say in different situations.  In turn, I can ask them about how to say things in Malay.  It's actually a great way to work together and learn purely based on everyone's interests.  It's a discussion where everyone can have input and learn exactly what they want to know.  It's also a way for me to find out more about what youth here are interested in and what's on their minds.  Despite the fact that I was feeling a bit tired between church and English, I catch another bit of energy out of being able to spend time with the youth. 

After English, some of us go to a kampung outside of Tenom for weekly church service with the people there.  Again, I start to feel tired as the afternoon goes on and wonder if I'll be able to keep awake during church.  But once we get to church, it's good to catch up with the people and see how they're doing.  I'm a bit excited to find that some of the words that we talked about in class earlier turn up in church and I'm a bit more alert. 

After church, the youth want to go and play futsal and invite me to come along.  I'm really feeling tired, but they have invited me and I don't want to turn down the invitation.  "Just go with it," I tell myself. "Don't think about being tired.  This is futsal!  You've missed futsal so much."  Once we start playing, I forget about being tired and everyone gets totally wrapped up in the game.  Afterwards we sit down together, cooling off and talking about the game.  We're not quite ready to go our separate ways and we go back to the church together to practice some music we'll be singing on Friday.  I find it hard to believe that it's already evening and despite the fact that I thought I would be exhausted, I've been carried through another day.

Just go with it.  It's become my mantra when I'm starting to feel a bit negative or weary about a particular situation.  It's become my mantra because things tend to turn out far better than expected and I am able to deepen my relationships with those around me in a ways that would not have been possible if I had just stopped at no.  So it's not a "just go with it" that said in some sort of exasperated tone that says I'm fed up.  It's a reminder to myself to stay open and see what God will do in the day.  And I find that God gives so much for me to not only get through the day, but to thrive and find gifts in situations. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Melodies

I'm walking with my friends and one of them comments on the fact that it's such a beautiful day.  Suddenly we start singing "Beautiful, beautiful..." and then sing the song complete with harmony.  It brings back an inside joke from the first time we started this. 

One of the youth leaders finishes praying at youth group and I start humming "Amin, Amin, Amin" to myself since that's what we sing in church after we pray and now it just seems natural to add that to the end of prayers nowadays.  But I hear someone else humming it too and look up to see that one of the other youth was thinking the exact same thing.  We laugh over the moment. 

I'm with some of the choir members after practice and we still have the songs we've been rehearsing on our minds.  This leads to a medley of pieces well after we've left church. 

These are only a few of the musical moments in my day.  It's probably fair to say that the whole day is filled with one song or another.  My site supervisor is not only a pastor, but a piano teacher and choir director.  Anytime I'm at her house during the day, there are students in and out practicing on one of the many pianos in her house.  There's always music to arrange for choir or pieces to practice for church on Sunday.  Her daughters are also very musically talented and if they aren't playing music themselves, there's always music playing.  There's a common tie, a common understanding since we're all musicians.  We've heard or performed many of the same pieces and we enjoy sharing pieces that are new to someone. 

In choir, I found the rehearsal routine familiar and comforting when I was just getting acquainted with Tenom.  Despite the fact that I was in a choir on the other side of the world or the fact that all the instructions are in Chinese, there was still something comforting that I understood.  Even though I don't know Chinese (there are some wonderful people who translate and many of the choir members understand English) I can still share and join in with music.  There's still ways to demonstrate and help with pieces that don't require knowing Chinese (although my friends think I should add that to learning Malay).  There's also ways to join in with the choir and meet them in singing along with them and being with them during all the work it takes to perfect a song.  It's in that hard work that we all become one choir.  In the end, we end up mutually helping each other in the midst of working to be a better choir. 

Even in everyday interaction with friends around church, I look back and realize that I most strongly connected with them first through music.  Whether it was in becoming familiar with hymns at church, singing at youth group, or just bursting out in the latest pop song, there were many connections made.  I think it's because in music, everyone can join in to some degree or another.  Some people clap along, others hum to the melody (some get fancy and go for the harmony), eventually the "new kid" learns the words, and at some point they learn what those words mean to them.  But there's something for everyone in that music because there's a way for everyone to join in praising God together.  Those times were when I felt the strongest connection to the people around me.  Eventually, those songs made a collection of memories and many times my friends and I can refer back to them just by humming a song.  It's become a language of our own.  So as I reflect on my time so far, I'm thankful for the music.  It's been a way for me to share with others.  I'm thankful for the music in my community.  It's been something that I can grab a hold of and understand.