Wednesday, November 30, 2011

sing along

I was tutoring the older sister of the siblings when I heard a noise coming from the other side of the room where the little brother was playing on the computer. I turned around and saw him wearing big headphones and singing along to an obscure song. I couldn't make out the words or the melody, but he was clearly enjoying himself and having a good time with the music.

Heart melted.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This is the first Thanksgiving I'm spending away from family. But I've often felt that Thanksgiving at our house has never been the hallmark of home and comfort, because it is largely an American holiday, just adapted for our own family situation of being far away from extended relatives anyway. Now as our family is growing, our traditions are changing as well. This year I will be missing two dinners, one with B's family and one with mine. But B will be there to fill in for me. And I am excited for Thanksgiving here--plans are in order for a nice girl's night with some other single ladies--cooking and baking--then heading up to Taipei for the weekend. To borrow the colloquialism, "Taipei is the shiz." haha.

I have so much to be thankful for. Usually we make lists of these things, but I just want to highlight a few that really mean a lot to me especially this year.

1. Parents
wow, this picture is from 2009!
As I get older, I am realizing more and more that I have great parents. I am not just saying that. My neighbor lady always has much praise to speak of for my parents because even though she's never met them, she says they've done a great job in raising me. I won't say much for myself, but I can really say that the godly influence of my parents, their unconditional support and encouragement, and their desire for my greatest good and overall happiness has brought me to further lengths than I have realized. From a culture where it is common for parents to criticize, berate, and be overbearing to their children, my parents have encouraged, supported, and let me be free to go and do what God has called me to do. They are open to new possibilities, forgiving, and very very helpful. Their belief in me and their faithfulness in praying for me is always a source of amazement.

2. Being in Taiwan this year
Happy Birthday, Taiwan!
I think back to last year and how I had no idea what was going to happen after I graduated. For sure I knew I wanted to go overseas, but the question of where and how was still rolling around in my mind. The whole process of getting to Taiwan is a story in itself (I should write it and post it up someday)--but truly, truly God's fingerprints were all over it, and I am so grateful to be here. One thing is that this year is Taiwan's 100th birthday. What a special time! Taiwan continues have its mysterious, strong but subtle pull over me. It's an awesome privilege to spend 11 months here, to see what God is doing, both in me and in this country. It's already been 3 months and I know that the next 8 will be a time full of personal growth and learning. There will be hard, stretching times and joyful, good times, but for all of them I am thankful.

3. Working at MAK
my beginning strings class is so cute!

I couldn't ask for a better environment to start my first year of teaching. Granted, there are some frustrations that come with being only part-time and therefore being out of the loop, but I couldn't ask for nicer coworkers or a more supportive principal. I have been so encouraged by the work environment here and the way that other teachers have reached out to help me or even just to give a friendly greeting. Our ladies Bible study has given me so many opportunities to thank God for fellowship and mutual encouragement. It has been such a blessing.

4. His Hands Taiwan
When I first heard about His Hands, the idea of it sounded so amazing that I didn't even dare to hope that I could get involved. But God knew that there was a place for me there, and my heart has been so incredibly blessed by getting to spend time with these precious little ones, as well as the young mothers that live in the House of Hope. Every little life is a miracle, and every brave mother who comes to reside there is a reflection of the grace of God. Witnessing their transformation from scared little girls to helpful, happy, trusting young women gives me so much hope for one ray of light to penetrate this dark world. God is powerful, and His heart is for the weak and helpless. That's why whenever I am there, I feel close to His heart.

5. Fiance
As I am getting older I look around and realize that the predicament of good men becoming more and more scarce these days is quite alarming. The issue is something I feel very strongly about (with the world so blatantly off balance--at least from where I can see it), but would never be able to articulate my thoughts on it. However, B has shown me more in his walk than his talk what it really takes to be a man. I often marvel at how God has brought us both from very different paths of life and still taken us to the same page - it shows how powerful He is and how much He really cares about each one of us. One thing that I appreciate most about B is his heart for obeying the call of God--even if it means defying norms and countering what most people think of as a successful life. He doesn't look for comfort and security here but strives to take action to reflect God and further His kingdom, no matter where it takes him, or what it costs. This is what I have prayed for, and what I desire for my life as well. I don't think God could have picked a better match. :) <3

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! <3
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." --G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crossing the Divide

DaZhi Bridge in Taipei. *Photo Credit

One of my mom's close friends came to visit me today. She took a special trip from Taichung on the HSR just to see how things were going. It was really sweet of her and I hope in my heart that one day I will have a friendship long-lasting and close enough to merit visits with the their children when they get older. I just thought of how my mom and her friend have known each other for so long and  even though they don't talk often, they have kept in touch through all these years and have helped take care of each others' kids when their journeys happened to take them overseas.

I really appreciated Ah-yi's* visit because she made me feel like an equal--never once did she make me feel like she was mothering or patronizing me. She even exclaimed that my Chinese has improved--which says a lot for what it used to be. Although, I wouldn't really say my Chinese has improved so much that I am more willing now to speak it, being set in the environment. And being in the environment, I was glad that I knew what to do when they came into my house: apologize for not having slippers, give them water to drink even though they told me not to, and offer them some snacks. I always knew that the culturally-appropriate manners my mother tried to teach me would come in useful one day. I still lack a lot of them, but I felt that I am beginning to make the first steps to crossing the cultural gap. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I wanted to come back to Taiwan.

I feel a special connection with this Ah-yi because she was a schoolteacher and her husband is a doctor--models of what B and I aspire to be someday, when we grow up. Mom has alluded to me on several occasions that even though it wasn't easy for them in the beginning, through the strength and selflessness of Ah-yi, she kept her family together and running strong. I have a lot of respect for a woman like that. A lady who would stay up waiting to greet her husband with love and homey comforts after a long night shift, a lady who would not complain about the difficulties of being a doctor's wife, but look for the best in every situation.

It struck me today that I have caught a glimpse of the very kind of attitude it takes to really OWN one's life. Yesterday I went to a Chinese wedding banquet with my aunt (yes, I was a wedding crasher) and she told me how in the early days of her own marriage she and her husband were so busy working, her firstborn daughter didn't even recognizer her daddy because he was gone so much. As she was telling me the sad story of the difficulty that the majority of Taiwanese families face (long separations for the sake of earning money), the ache was triggered at the back of my heart and I wondered how they could have lived like that. But then later she told me stories of when their second-born came along and grew a little and they were able to take weekend trips to the south and have picnic lunches and let the kids play in the meadows.
It sounded so beautiful and happy.
I realized later that my aunt and Ah-yi both have one thing in common--an unquenchable zest for life, love for people, and a knack for seeing the bright side of things. They choose to make the most of what they have, where they've been...and it shows to me that happiness is really your own choice. Will I take ownership of my own happiness? Because I can, and if I don't, then no one else will.

Ah-yi and her husband took me to GuanYinShan, a scenic area at the nearest mountain where, on weekends, a little market is set up by the side of the road filled with food, trinkets, produce, and other odd items. I am always curious as to what the people are selling there, but being with people who know how to read Chinese and speak Taiwanese adds a whole nother dimension. I saw things that I've never seen before...seeds to make 愛玉 jello, seeds that work as soap when you crack them open, mountain-grown tree fungus, and a root known for its healing and cleansing powers. Walking along that mountain road next to all those vendors spoke to me somewhere--as if I felt the call of the mountain whose shadow I live under, and the people around it. There is so much more to learn and take in and experience here, and I am only standing on the tip of the iceburg.

After Ah-yi left I took my customary walk around the neighborhood. As I passed an old grandma shuffling along, she sensed my presence and turned to me to nod. I nodded back, knowing the shortcut to the customary bow. But I didn't expect her to speak to me. "Jia ba be?" She asked me, and without missing a beat I replied "Jia ba le," with a smile. Then it hit me that I just had my first exchange in Taiwanese with stranger. The traditional grandma had asked me the traditional greeting, "have you eaten?" And of course I told her I had. Somehow my heart glowed as I walked on.

With every step, I am getting closer.

*Chinese for auntie, the common title we use to address ladies in the same generation as our parents.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When you're looking at the right angle

On my way home from tutoring tonight I rode past the giant ferris wheel landmarking E-Da World in this vast expanse of back-country hills. I thought about how strange I thought this place was, with its huge, blatantly extravagant shopping mall, luxurious hotels, amusement rides, and overpriced food. Not strange that it existed, but strange that it would be here. This is the middle of nowhere. In a forest. On some hills. And yet rich people come all the way from Taipei (also from Japan and China) to blow their money and revel in the lavish lifestyle. Apparently, I hear that it's the #1 "it" spot to be in Taiwan. I have my doubts.

While I do think it is strange to erect this fortress of consumerism in the middle of this forest, I remembered the first time I came to visit--a night out with some new-found friends, wondering what we should do after dinner. We decided to come to E-Da World to take a look around. I will admit it was worth looking.

My friends inside the mall at E-Da
What I didn't know was that a few months later I would be asked to tutor right at E-Da World. The developers of this utopia thought it would be good to put in a few schools, and include neighborhoods to house the students. As I spoke on the phone with my contact for this tutoring job, when she said "E-Da World" and its school, I knew exactly where it was. It's easy to get to from where I live. It was good for me to know that as I agreed to meet with them. God knew that it would give me the peace of mind I needed to take on this job.

"Everything happens for a reason," was my thought as I rode my scooter home. God puts people and situations and personalities and needs together into one huge storybook of life...but the amazing thing is, even the little things are mini sub-stories in themselves. God knew I needed a talkative coworker who would speak up for me about my classroom management troubles, because He knew I would be slow in speaking up for myself in asking for help. I am sure there is more to her being here than that, of course there is. But her talkativeness was something I had been struggling with (personality clash), and seeing God work through that to help me absolutely floored me. Everything is for a reason.

There was a reason why, at the beginning of this year, the principal spoke with this one teacher about the music position at MAK, and that that teacher was the one a sister from church knew and put me in contact with. That one teacher was one of the only ones at MAK who knew about the opening, and she was the one I emailed. And now she is one of my closest friends here. That is such a God thing.

Everything has a reason ... including "bad" things. There may be situations that I don't want to be in, but if God put me in them, it's going to be good. This week has seen one of the lowest points of my time here as B and I realized the long-distance and the new time change was putting an eroding strain on our communication and ultimately, our relationship. I found myself shutting down, emotionally, mentally, and verbally as I felt the gulf widen--not just with B, but with others as well. I just didn't want to deal anymore.
The reason? I find it ironic that just a couple weeks ago we were studying the armor of God. Doesn't Satan really know how to get to us? He gets us vulnerable as we build walls around our hearts, trying to stop ourselves from getting hurt even more, and we don't realize WE are the ones hurting ourselves. Discouragement and frustration can be crippling, especially when Satan catches you at your weak spot. Seems like mine was right out there in the open. Of course he wants to discourage and frustrate me.
What am I here for in Taiwan?

A lot could be said in response to that question. But it helps me to see what I am being distracted away from...that I cannot stay walled in and must release myself to the greater Good that He has planned for me. Because I trust that there will be good--rather, that He is Good.

Because He cannot be anything other than Good.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rain Week

(This picture was taken 3 years ago in NYC. Even though I am indoors and dry, sometimes I still feel like this)

It has been raining all week. Starting on Monday, the rain came in and washed our part of the world in a subtle, drizzling, grey tint. On Wednesday it turned darker. I was up at seven in the morning but it felt like 7pm it was so dark. Looking on the forecast, it predicted that it wouldn't let up until Saturday. But this morning it didn't seem to be coming down too hard when I left for school, so I left my blue plastic-bag-like poncho in the scooter.
Big mistake. I was soon pelted all over with big raindrops and the whole way down I contemplated how fast I could drive to try to get the least wet...although in my opinion, it's the same amount of wetness whether you drive fast or not. I did have a light, waterproof jacket, but it was only good for the top half of my body. The lower hem of my shirt and my pants were completely soaked through.

I got a lot of sympathy comments walking around at school all wet, and I decided after lunch that I had time to go home and change. This time I used my blue poncho. My roommate gave it to me from her trip to Niagra Falls this summer. It still says "Maid of the Mist" in the front. Probably a little tacky to be scootering in, but hey, it keeps me dry and I am not complaining. Maybe one of these days I'll get a real poncho.

I think one of the most comforting things in the world is being warm and dry after spending some time being cold and wet. Funny how you have to experience the one to know the other. Life is like that.

Coming out of the school I noticed the world was tinged with a color I had never seen before. It was kind of like I was standing inside a photo that had been splashed with melted butter. The clouds were still heavy and dripping, but the sun was still out there somewhere behind them, trying to sneak a few last rays in before the evening tide overcame him with its enveloping pull. The result was a diffused, dull glow, the color you'd imagine yourself to see in an old vintage movie or something. It was actually quite beautiful, the kind of atmosphere in which you'd like to take a leisurely stroll, arm-in-arm with your lover under an umbrella big enough for two.

I usually don't like when it rains. But lately the lack of rain has caused the city to choke on its own fumes--the smog growing thicker by the day. We are hoping all the rain will wash and cleanse, although we hide under our hoods and umbrellas from it so our hair doesn't fall out if we get rained on. (Because of the pollution, the rain is acidic.)

Rain washes...

reminds me of when I wash my hands in the bright, clean one-person bathroom sink at school upstairs in the ELL wing. I love the smell of the soap--it smells so lemony and juicy and yellow. If yellow were a smell, it would smell like that soap.
It makes me happy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kending Retreat, part 2: Light and Life

After soaking into the story of Creation, we were given the chance to create something within 5 minutes from the images we saw in our minds. Because I knew I could not do my images justice with the lack of drawing talent I have and would feel very disappointed with them, I decided to use words. This is the outflow.

Before, there was nothing -- just space. Emptiness. 
Nothing -- formless. 
There was not even death, because there had been no life.

God spoke and light came forth.
Out of His mouth, His voice, floods forth glorious, illuminating, warm, rich, scintillating light. And Darkness flees.

Light                to fill the emptiness, to chase away the darkness

God is a God of light and life.

Life           where before, there was nothing.

        Life in so many different forms. GOD shows His creativity, His vast power and ability with everything He makes...
             Trees, flowers, land, sea, creatures...
             Everything is filled with life, vitality, exuberance, glorious LIFE.

And the angels sang for joy because they could not contain themselves from seeing the glory of God displayed!

Around the beautiful earth He created, which was filled with life and light, that they would not lack for warmth or beauty or wonder as the earth and her inhabitants looked out beyond, He set galaxies in motion and hung the sun and moon and planets in place.
So that the earth and her inhabitants would know that He is GOD.

And God said it was good.

All creation sang for praise of His glory.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kending Retreat, part 1: little fires

I just noticed that this year is one of those years. Not really sure how to explain it, but the way the days of the month fall into the weeks and all the times I catch 11:11 on the clock. This year, Thanksgiving is on the 24th and my birthday is on a Thursday. Christmas Eve is on a Saturday...and so is New Year's Eve. Everything is as it should be.

But sometimes I feel like it's a different kind of "one of those years." It snowed back at home for the end of October. I'm missing the celebration of Fall with my fiance once again. And every time I come back from a trip, there is an uncanny feeling that this is not home.

But of course, a year is a year, and with years come seasons. For everything there is a season.

These last couple days I spent in Kending on a church retreat. The area we stayed at reminded me a bit of Mambuaya, Philippines...a place where I learned to love a different landscape and embrace a different lifestyle with open arms. I learned through this trip that 1) Taiwan highway signs are extremely confusing, and 2) the beach is one of my happy places.

Through our small group time and discussions I saw visions of the greatness of God shown through the story of creation. A well-known story, yes, but one that scintillates with wonder and glory, depth and meaning.

Something else that stands out to me during our reflection/discussion time was on community. I listed people in my circle whom I trust and whom I let know the deeper parts of me, and realized that I am blessed with good friends that I often take for granted. But knowing they are often far away from me, I also realized that God is inviting me to open myself up to community right where I am as well.

Last night a group of us went to a natural attraction--the first I've heard or seen of anything like it.  We trekked down a dark path in the middle of what seemed like a forest until we came to a clearing. There was a wide circle, fenced around with a low chain, enclosing a space where natural bonfires were burning. Scattered around the fires were little licks of flame spurting out of the ground. Apparently, under the ground there exists a natural gas that causes the fire to appear. I kept wondering if fire would come out if I dug a hole. What made the little flames join together to become a big flame?

In retrospect I keep thinking about how each one of us (of God's children) is like a little flame--we all have the hidden Power Source of the Holy Spirit inside of us. We all have been given a mandate to shine amidst the darkness, but in order to be effective we must join forces to maximize our offense against the powers of evil. One little flame can do much in pitch black, but a blaze will give warmth, fend off wild creatures, and throw off the shroud of darkness. In our study of Ephesians, B and I are meditating on the last part about God's armor. The last piece that Paul mentions that cannot be had while standing alone is prayer. We must pray for each other. And in our praying for each other become bound together in stronger, fiercer ways that we otherwise never would be.

During the retreat one of our sisters was experiencing numbness and increasing pain in her right limbs which has become a gradual impairment to her daily work and life. I felt a burden to pray for my sister as she went through the uncertainty of not knowing the cause and fearing the worst. This morning we prayed for her as a church as well, calling on the name of Jesus as Healer and Creator to intervene, trusting in His Divine Sovereignty to work all things for good. And thus we are brought together in the sharing of our struggles and the claiming of victory in the work of Christ. And thus the darkness-- the fear, anxiety, depression, the discouragement-- will flee away. Satan and his henchmen cannot stand in the midst of our blaze.

Lord, set us ablaze together into Your raging inferno.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

small victories, today

These next few days I am subbing for the other music teacher as she is on the 7th grade cultural trip to Taipei as a sponsor. I wish I could go on a cultural trip. But anyhow, she left me with some private lessons to supervise, the younger elementary music classes, and middle school strings. I had a great time today. The best thing about it was that I loved middle school strings. Maybe because I had experience with it from last year.
 I loved it because the other music teacher had told me they are terrible with rhythm and you have to keep yelling counts at them and work slowly. No, that's not the real reason. I loved it because after hearing that, I was super encouraged by their ability to play the right notes and the right rhythms with me simply tapping out the beat. And of course, the occasional miracle-working demonstration.

Teaching is all about modeling. I am a model. Yes, you didn't know? I am a model because I am a teacher. I don't model clothes (although I have done that before...), I model technique. The cool thing is, the kids can do it back.

I also liked the fact that I have the air of novelty as the new teacher and the kids will be more interested in what I will do in class because of it. I know it's not something I can count on, but it's nice while it lasts.

 I wish I taught middle school.
 Not really.
 Just strings.