Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas and Goodbye India

Happy almost New Year!

I write to you tonight having made an 8 hour trek across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  Leaving family after the holidays is never easy.  However, this year it was made easier by the fact that I had such a joyous time with them.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, but this year I went into it feeling less like a care free child and more like an aware adult.  The troubles of friends and loved ones weighed heavily and was matched by the dismal lack of snow.

It took a Christmasy day in New York City, two Christmas parties, and a baby shower to build the holiday spirit.

Diving into cookie baking, a huge Christmas meal with family, a traditional Christmas Eve, and a relaxing and festive Christmas day removed the last of the stressors and left me feeling grateful for God's blessings and ready to launch 2015.

More on that later.

Before the year ends, it seems necessary and appropriate that I post the final installment of my Mission2India journal.

This entry continues the same day as the one in my last post.  It is a travel day and a time of reflection.

8-23-14 and 8-24-14
Goodbye India
          Realizing that it was getting late, I scurried up to pack and shower.  Sleep would not be an option tonight.
          As it was, K and I were some of the last to arrive at the van at 1:05 a.m.  Meeting time was 1:00 a.m.  It seems we were the only two on Indian time.
          In my hurry to get ready, I had not had time to write my “story” about the trip to take back with me.  I tried to write it on the bus, but nothing flowed.  The stress of leading and the sadness of leaving weighed too heavily.
          I gave up and opted to take in all the final scenes streaking by my window.  My level of exhaustion was confirmed when I thought I saw three white tigers running across a rooftop.  In reality, they were just lights.  Apparently, I have a rare condition that makes me see animals everywhere when I am tired.  
            Don’t ask.
         We arrived at the airport and unloaded the luggage.  Numbness settled over me as I walked up to the line, counted the group, and made sure we had all the bags.  Mechanical movements to delay emotion.
            All too soon, it was time to say “goodbye” to M, P, S, and V. The tears began flowing and I moved to the last place in line.  The team filed past giving hugs and farewells.  Then, it was my turn.
            I hugged and cried and laughed when M took out her phone and took a video of me.  She wanted to show the girls how much I cried.  J
            Suddenly, the team called me to attention.  I had to show the officer the itinerary.  I finished blubbering and rushed to the front.  It took me a minute to retrieve the packet from my bag, but I had it.
            Inside the airport, we got down to business: check bags, goodbye to A and An, long/stressful security line.
            My “teacher field trip” mode kicked in as I nervously counted team members, checked my watch, and worried about the long line.  We got through after both Ki and Aa got their rocks taken away.  Then we headed for the gate, arriving with little time to spare.
            We boarded the plane and settled in.  I was so weary physically and emotionally.  On the flight, I finished Million Dollar Arm and watched Wreck it Ralph and Captain America.  Food came and went.  My feet became ever increasingly swollen and painful.  Sleep came and went.  Tears flowed as I wrestled with why I had even gone to India in the first place.
            Our layover in Doha passed in a haze of exhaustion.  The only productive thing I did was write a few encouragement cards for those I had missed doing.  The desperate desire for home kicked in full force.
            When we finally landed at JFK, I just wanted to curl up and be home with my parents.  Heading back to my own rented room did not sound like enough to soothe my weariness.  Leading had lost its shine.  Being a little girl with someone to care for her held a much greater appeal.
            I hobbled off the plane on my ginormous cankles.  Though I am used to swelling up on long flights, pain had not occurred before.  It must have been that my toe was already injured and swollen, so the standard swelling grew to more than my foot could handle.  Fortunately, by the time I limped through passport control the intensity had worn off.
            Just after customs, Aa was cruelly separated from us by a mean officer.  He had to rush off to his connecting flight before any of us could say a proper goodbye.
            Out in the lobby, many had family members to greet them, but I was just the extra.  Of course, T’s mom was welcoming, so that helped.  K’s mom’s cookie bars did too.  Mmmmmm.  Chocolate.
            The commotion died down as all left except for R, S, C, I, and me.  We slumped in uncomfortable chairs and waited almost two hours for S’s mom to arrive.
            Sleep came and took me through the final minutes of waiting.  When the van arrived, we hurried out, loaded up, squished in, and set off.  On the ride, we all shared bits about the trip, but no one was ready to say much.  Too much to process.
           When we got to Calvary, I hugged S, and headed for my car.  Opening the trunk revealed pumpkin plants!  The seeds we planted symbolically during prayer stations grew!  They were weak from the darkness, but gre apart from the U.S.  Symbolic?  For sure.  I pray that the seeds we planted in India and that India planted in us grow and bear fruit.
            When I arrived home, I lugged my bag upstairs and called mom and dad immediately.  I shared about the trip some and showed them my toe via Facetime.  Dad thought it was broken.
              The family I live with returned and I chatted with them for a bit.  It was hard though because all I felt like saying was negative.  I was so drained and needed to spend some serious time with the Lord to let go and move on.
Eventually, I got what I needed and dropped into bed.  Slept like the dead.

In the days after the trip, I found out my toe was NOT broken and began to process all that happened in India.  It took some prayer, some Bible reading, a meeting with my mentor, plenty of Netflix, and LOTS of sleep.  Never in my life have I spent that much time in bed doing nothing.  It was glorious and necessary.

My stupor wore off after about a week and I finally began to see all the amazing things God did through the trip.  Though I was not a perfect leader and there were many challenges, God had used me.  He used me as an instrument to bring 13 other people to India for the first time.  They experienced the work of World Orphans.  They built relationships with precious children and loving caretakers.  They will never be the same.  

Neither will I.  

Leading the trip stretched me in ways I have never been stretched, but I would not change a thing.  It was incredible to reconnect with those I love in India.  Most importantly, the whole experience of planning, leading, and processing the trip showed me over and over that IT'S NOT ABOUT ME.

None of the trip was about me.  Nothing I do is about me.  It's about God.

He deserves the glory.  He is doing the work.  He has the plan.  He chooses to use me because He loves me.

That's what it's about.  To Him be the glory.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Doubles Facts Plus Sightseeing, Shopping, and Sisters

Brrrrr!  It was a surprising 50 degrees outside today, but my room is always freezing.  Like sweatpants, two shirts, and a hoodie with the hood on cold.  I don't mind sleeping cold because snuggling up in a bundle of blankets is nice, but sitting at my desk doing work is a different story.  My hands are chilly just typing these few words.

I should not complain though.  I would rather be too cold than too hot.  Plus, it needs to snow!  Seeing green and feeling warmish breezes do not make it feel very Christmasy.

Though it doesn't look Christmasy outside, these cute Christmas-themed doubles facts pages helped me get in the holiday spirit.

I plan to use them with the girl I tutor this week as fun facts practice before the holiday.  I found them over at Rulin' The Roost.  Thanks to Angie for the adorable freebies.

Since I am tired after a long day on my feet at Panera, I don't have much else to say.  However, it's time for the second-to-last Mission2India journal entry.  Hope you enjoy!

Sightseeing, Shopping, and Sisters

            K and I awoke to T barging in announcing that it was 8:45.  We missed breakfast and were 15 minutes late for debrief.
            My immediate reaction was a mix of “Oh well, we needed sleep,” “I’m a terrible team leader,” and “Why didn’t they wake us sooner?”  I was also sad to miss hearing people share about their experiences on the farm during debrief.  After getting ready quickly, we only heard the last few minutes.
            After finishing our meeting, we dispersed for a few minutes before regrouping by the vans.
            As we loaded up, I shared that I could not find my money.  I stupidly stuck it into the “girl” bag (can you guess what that contained?) on the way to the farm and then lost track of the bag.  I got even more nervous when I learned that the red car where I had last seen the bag was back on the way to the farm. R generously offered to share his extra money with me, which was super nice. 
Turns out, the girl bag somehow ended up in the back of the little van we were riding in.  An answer to prayer!  I got my money out and felt much better.
Though my money was ready to go, our first stop was not the mall.  It was the Charminar, a palace gate in the middle of the city.
Walking through the streets down with the people, seeing the food and bangle stands, creating traffic jams by crossing the street was thrilling.  Everyone else found it exhilarating too.  J  
We arrived at the palace, which was built as a celebration of the end of a plague.  V helped pay our 100 rupee admission fee.  Indians only paid 5.  We could have pretended that Aa, T, and H were Indians to get a discount, but we decided to be honest.  I suppose that was the good Christian thing to do.  J
Inside the Charminar, we quickly found a windy, dark, narrow staircase.  My favorite!  Those always lead to cool things and great views.  Others found it claustrophobic, but my only problem was toe pain.  Ugh.  I had to figure out which foot to step with, so I didn’t roll weight through my whole foot. 
We made it to the top and began gasping at the expansive views of the rickshaw-dotted streets and buildings.
Though we were warned to stick as a group many of use ended up getting separated.  Oops.
A trip to the lake was next.  It was the same area of food and attractions that we went to on our first day last year. This year, it was bright and sunny and no one was crazy jet-lagged.  Instead of chai, we got ice cream.  I ordered chocolate choco chip. 
Before it arrived though, nature called.

When nature calls in India, you must answer immediately.

Sa led S and I down a long path through all the concessions and rides.  By the time we reached the bathroom, I did not care that it was squat.
To my surprise, the squat featured a working flusher.  How "high-tech!"
Back at the concessions area, we all slurped up our ice cream and headed back to the van.  
A few minutes down the road was Paradise Restaurant!  Time for lunch!  Yay!
After our tasty meal of chicken kabobs (too bland), amazing green chutney, and spicy mutton biryani that we unfortunately ate with a fork to be polite, it was time to shop.
H and K led singing as we wove through traffic.  We even called Sa in the other van, so we could sing/ask T and the others to “Stand up and tell me if you love my Jesus.”  Soon, we arrived at the craft  market, the same place as last year.
We didn’t have much time, so we split into groups, each with an Indian host to help us barter.  All of us in V's group were astounded by and grateful for his mad skills. Often we would walk away from stalls dissatisfied with the price offered, only to be called back to get the incredible deal that V proposed.
At one point, T and I split off to check for bangles in a separate area.  During that time, I indulged in strawberry ice cream before nature called again.  Hmm… Ice cream and nature seem to be friends…or enemies.
By the end of our time, I was tired and just wanted to see the orphan girls.  On the ride back, I started sitting in the back, but later meandered to the front of the van to check in with A.  I ended up staying there sitting on a cooler.  It seemed appropriate that I had a front row seat on our last night.  P was sitting in the front row.  I told him I didn’t want to leave.  He understood.
Back at the hotel, I announced the evening plans: KFC, packing, writing stories, showering, hanging out with the teenage orphan girls.
As soon as I stepped off the van, I saw the girls on the “sidewalk” waiting.  I welcomed them and we hurried inside.
For the first half of the visit, I rushed room to room taking KFC orders.  When the ordering appeared to be done, it really was not.  Once the team heard “brownie sundae” on someone’s order, everyone wanted one.
The food arrived about half an hour later, but we all agreed to wait to eat until after the girls left.  Who cared if the sundaes turned to soup?  It was totally worth it.
Once the KFC orders were taken care of, I spent the time with U  she and the other girls tied our wrists with white, woven friendship bracelets.  I thought that was one of the surprises.  It was not.
U came up to me with two skinny boxes wrapped in red, shiny paper.  One had a note taped to it.  The not began by saying she loved me and with me she never felt along.  She went on to say she was glad to have a mother love her.  She meant Mom.  Apparently, the hug I gave her on Mom’s behalf meant the world to her. 
I opened one box and discovered a nice pen.  Then, U told me the other box was for her “dear auntie,” my mom.  Tears came to my eyes for the first of many times that night.
The next surprise came when U brought out a bag.  Sa explained that U had begged to be able to make something for me.  I took the bag and pulled out a stunning dress.  Black velvet top.  Flowy, silk zebra print skirt.  Elegant and fun.
Sa and U explained that they made it together the night before right after Sa got back from Sarampet.  It took only 2.5 hours.  Incredible.

I had to try it on right away!

Fear gripped me as I slipped into the bathroom.  They hadn’t measured me, only guessed.

My first attempt to get the dress over my head confirmed my fears.  It wouldn’t go over my shoulders!  I tried again and again, but no luck.  Sa asked if I had unzipped it.  I check the zipper again.  It was all the way down.
Knowing the dress had to fit, I asked N for help.  She fought with the dress just as I had, but victoriously got it over my shoulders.  The waist hit my skinniest spot and the material fell into place.
A perfect fit.
Praising the Lord and thanking N, I headed out of the bathroom.
“It fits!” I announced with joy.
U beamed.  I felt gorgeous.
I thanked U a BILLION times and headed off to show everyone else.  When I walked into T's room, all the team members and the girls turned.  “Where did you get that?!?” T asked approvingly.
“U made it.” I replied.
Everyone was impressed.
Naturally, pictures began.  First, I pulled my bun out and flipped my wild hair.  Poses included just me, U and me, and various groups.
I had to ask the guys something and needed to stop by my room, so U and I headed up.
The moment I walked into the guys room, their jaws dropped. That felt good.
I didn’t stay long though, but headed back to 315.  There, U and Sa did my hair.  Her gentle fingers sent relaxing tingles down my scalp and spine.  One girl tenderly put her earrings in my ears.  These beautiful sisters always make me feel like a queen.
We went back to 310 and found Sa dancing.  Then the girls performed their dance from last year.  I showed U pictures of my mom and dad.
Sadness washed over  me because she does not have a mom anymore and her dad is absent.  Does she even have photos of them?
Things wound down and it was time to say “goodbye.”
We handed out team pictures and tons of hugs.  U said she would pray for me to come back.  I promised I would too.
After 4 hugs, U headed down the stairs with the other girls.  The tears hit the moment she was out of sight.
T laughed and said she wondered when I would cry.  I laughed.
After the goodbyes, we dug into our friend chicken and melty brownie sundaies.  I actually had two sundaes because no one claimed the extra.  That brought the count to 4 ice creams that day!  Perfect.

Monday, December 8, 2014

San Diego and a Scorching Day in India

December 8th?  How did you get here?  How did I forget about the Currently until just now?

The answer to the last question is: San Diego.

Yes, Thanksgiving was spent in sunny San Diego.  My sister and brother-in-law hosted my parents and me for a sunny, sandy, salty, six days.  Okay, so it was really more like 5 with travel, but that wouldn't work with my alliteration.  :-)
Highlights from the trip included a day in Mexico, a hike in the mountains, kayaking on the Pacific, surfing at sunset, and eating TONS of delicious food.  The foodie in me can't help but list the best noms of the week:
  • Tacos and ceviche tostada in Ensenda, Mexico: I chose fish and shrimp.  Both were battered.  My toppings of choice included cabbage, lime juice, and a smoky, hot, pepper sauce.
  • Cheese Plate Appetizer (composed by my brother-in-law): brie, gouda, blue cheese, honey from Mexico, three infused olive oils, smoked salt, homemade jam, walnuts, Granny Smith apple slices, homemade bread, dark chocolate triangles.
  • Thanksgiving favorites: sweet potatoes with a crunchy pecan topping, green beans in beschamel, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheesy biscuits, and of course turkey.
  • Fancy desserts from Azucar Cuban Style PatiesserieI had a Turron de Havana: a chocolate, caramel, hazelnut cake.
  • Local Apple Pie at the Apple Alley Bakery: My parents and I had Caramel Apple Pecan bathed in cinnamon ice cream.
  • Curry Chicken from Foods of East Africa: This heaping plate beat out a tight competition between many ethnic food vendors at the Hillside Farmers' Market.  Could have been spicier, but was still delicious.

  • Mix-and-Match Tacos at Puesto: My three were: Chicken Al Pastor, Potato Soy Chorizo, and Lobster.  Yummmmmmmmm!!!
Okay, now that I am done drooling all over my keyboard, I will move on.  Ugh.  I feel like a major pig after looking back at that list.  As I said though, we did get plenty of outdoor, active time to burn off a slim percentage of the calories.

 Also, the trip was definitely about more than food.  It was great to be with family, to see my puppy, and to most importantly, give thanks for all God has provided.  He has truly blessed me in so many ways: an amazing community of family and friends, current work at Panera, a future job with World Orphans, and way more "stuff" than I really need.

Though I went overboard on sharing about food from San Diego, please know that I try not to take the privilege of being able to eat out and enjoy healthy and/or indulgent food for granted.  I am grateful that God has provided me with such an abundance.  I know that can only lead to me giving back to those who do not have enough.  It is a blessing and a responsibility to live in this country with so much.

That being said, I want to share the journal entry from my second-to-last day in India.  I am almost done posting these!  Woot!  Hope you enjoy!

The Farm: Day 2
            I arose at 8:30 a.m. after most were already up due to not being able to sleep.  I wouldn’t have minded except that the chai was already gone.  I timidly asked a boy if there was any more.  He shook his head “no,” but then ran off.  Knowing he had gone to make more just for me, made me feel badly.  Still, chai was coming!
            Sitting under the few sparse trees in the courtyard, we could already tell the day was going to be hot.  Very hot.  Scorching. 
            M arrived with breakfast: white bread sandwiches with hard-boiled eggs and mayo with chips for a side, mixed fruit juice by Tropicana.  R thought it was regular U.S. Tropicana, but I showed him it was fresher and all natural.  Super delicious.
            The kids began arriving and I yelled “lopalea kirandi!” ("Come inside!").  On my way into the house, I grabbed some of the fresh chai.  Spicy, sweet, creamy.
            Inside, we arranged the kids in seated rows.  It was crowded, but fortunately not too hot.  During the singing, I snapped pictures and took a short video.  Seeing the kids and team members marching together declaring “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” warmed my heart.  Next, came the wave craft for the “Jesus Calms the Storm” story.  I helped a circle of four little boys and girls.  The pastor helped me too.  It is nice to see how involved he is compared to some of the other pastors who are hesitant to jump in with us.
            K led the story as A, An, S, C, and I acted it out.  A suggested bending our knees up and down as we walked to show the boat’s motion.  I couldn't help but laugh as we "bobbed" through the room.
           Next, A led the evangelism cube gospel presentation.  As he spoke and showed the cube, Ki, I, and S showed their cubes to smaller circles of children.  Such a neat way to show the gospel.  The pictures transcend the language barrier and the turning of the cube captures everyone’s attention.
            The program continued with the paper chain craft.  Children were supposed to write things that Jesus gives them, but many also wrote names or attributes.  My group wrote: “Jesus is love, Jesus is hope, Jesus is the door etc.”  C and A stapled the hundreds of strips together and the resulting chain was huge! 
Everyone was eager to stretch the chain out, but first it was time for S to dance.  I went out to get the pastors from their class, so they could come watch.  They were very excited to come.  Just before she went up, Sarah confessed her nerves to me.  I said a quick prayer with her and then she took her place in the front.  She danced beautifully!  It brings tears to my eyes see her body interpret the words to “Beautiful Things” by Gungor.  The lyrics perfectly represent God’s redemption of these orphans’ lives.  Dust of tragedy to beauty in Christ.
With the program over, it was time for the random fun to begin.  Many of the kids grabbed the chain and carried it proudly out to the yard.  Stretched out, it was probably 20 feet long (very loose estimate).
We had more time off than we planned before lunch, but I always enjoy the random times with kids.  I spent the time with S, Vi, Ar, and some others.  They shocked me by bringing out the team picture from last year.  Ar had it wrapped carefully in paper and showed it to me as if it was a prized possession.  Brought tears to my eyes.
Lunch arrived and many of us took it into my room because our fan worked.  It was not actually that much cooler, but getting out of the sun was nice.  C got a chicken kidney in his curry and immediately offered it to me.  I accepted and chomped right in to the chalky meat.  Not my favorite texture, but hey, might as well try it.
After lunch, I lay back and thought about taking a nap.  When R offered a game of volleyball, I changed my mind.  Volleyball was a highlight of last year, so I was eager to play.  P, R, Aa, M, C, Ki, and I set ourselves up on both sides of the net strewn across the dusty yard.  The direct sun blazed down on us making buckets of sweat stream down every inch of skin. 
I was set up near the net on the right.  Though others played well, nothing came to me.  I moved spots and got a few bumps in, but still felt useless.  I am not aggressive and others are, so I don’t go for shots and they steal ones that should be mine.  Sometimes I let it go, but with everything else going on, my mind couldn’t stay positive.  I called T in to replace me. 
Only a few minutes later, it was time to bid farewell and head over to the other farm area for a tour.  We walked back through the sweltering sun, loaded the van, and took a group picture.  The goodbyes began.  Though I still felt disconnected with the new kids, it was hard to say goodbye to my teenage guy pals.  Still find it funny that I connect with that demographic in India, but no where else.  Saying goodbye to Vi was the hardest.  He had been down about us leaving all morning despite me encouraging him to be happy while we were there.  As we said farewell, we repeated, “prana snee hitalu” (my best friend).  I feel torn hearing him call me that and saying it back, but I think he needs it.  He is my best friend in India.
As we drove away, he and others chased the car.  Staring out the rear window, revealed Vi’s dark chocolate face flickering from smile to frown, light to dark, and back again.  “Keep smiling, keep smiling.  Please just keep smiling” was my mantra.  “Be okay.”
I saw a bit more “light” in him this year that I hope will grow stronger each day.  The last glimpse I caught as the car turned the corner was a broad-white-toothed smile.  Hope.
At the other farm, we snapped a few pictures and checked out the new chicken coop.  I was excited to see how tall the papaya trees last year’s team planted had grown.  Due to the heat, the time, and my toe, M vetoed the idea of taking a hike.  Sad, but totally understandable.  People would have passed out for sure.
We hit the road back to Hyderabad.  On the bus, I chatted a bit, but soon passed out with my head against the hard window.  A heavy weight of leaving the farm and  our imminent departure from India washed over my sticky, dusty body.
Back at the hotel, everyone ran for the showers, while I made rounds taking Dominoes orders.  When the pizza arrived, it was a bit unsatisfying because the pies were smaller than expected.  Still, it was good to eat.  I split a spicy chicken pie with Aa.
It felt even better to shower and get into bed.  Before I went to sleep though, I decided to Facetime mom.  I had not talked to anyone back home like others on the team and had not planned to do so, but tonight, I just needed a mother’s listening ear.  I limped down the hall and sat in the dark while sharing all that had been going on with injuring my toe, trying to lead the team, and feeling out of place.  I wept as the questions bubbled out of me: “Why am I here?”  “What is my purpose?”  “Why do we have to leave so soon?”

Mom encouraged me to make the most of the time with the girls tomorrow night and to trust God.  Her words were a soothing balm as I went to sleep between the cool sheets.