Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Story

It's getting close to the time when I have to go back and tell my story.

I think a lot about stories. I read a lot. I watch a lot of movies. I took a storytelling class for my major last year.


My friend John, a YAV alum (YAVA, as we affectionately call them), told me maybe my story is about being a stranger and experiencing hospitality. "Bridging cultural barriers," he said. But I haven't really had that much trouble with cultural barriers.


Maybe my story is just that people are just people. Maybe my story is that we are all just intrinsically human.


I've learned that I know so very little. Everyone you meet has something to teach you. 





A year ago, I was receiving floods of encouragement and prayers from friends and family telling me that they were so proud of me. They admired my courage. The people of the Philippines and the children I was going to work with would be so blessed to have me. I was doing such a good thing.

These words came from a genuine place, and I truly appreciate and appreciated them. But they also made the assumption that a) I was going to be successful at what I (thought I) came here to do and b) that I had anything of validity to offer.


The more I spent time volunteering here in the Philippines, the more I realized this wasn't true. The last time I wrote about this, several people said "oh but you do have so much to offer!" Perhaps this is true, but not in the way it was intended.

I think what I've learned more than anything is that what I can offer people is my true and honest self. For the last few months, I've been focusing on building relationships with people in the Dumaguete community. All I have been doing is making friends. I've been in the business of people, you could say. An extrovert's dream come true, to be honest.

My friend Davey told me that the day we met, he was in awe of how everyone knew who I was and that I greeted everyone with a smile and a hug and made them feel welcome. I was so touched, because that is exactly what I have been trying to do.


I have always loved people, but this practice is new to me. I have begun to view every person I meet as a learning opportunity. Humans all have such vastly different experiences from one another. But when you sit down with someone you think is different from you, you learn from their experiences. You also (generally) figure out that you have more in common than you'd have thought.


...

I've been thinking a lot about the six degrees of separation theory. Basically, it implies that everything and everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction. In the world of social media, we're probably getting closer to four or so degrees of separation, but I digress. When I was in the States, I'd have thought I was a million steps away from knowing a "street kid" in the Philippines. Here, I see them every day.

THAT got me to thinking about how #blessed (har har) I am to have been born into a loving, hardworking, middle-ish class family in the States. I have been awarded so many opportunities because of this privilege. I am here in this beautiful country because of that privilege. But coming face to face with very different realities from my own has humbled me.


It has taught me most of all to never pity "poor" people. Poor is a state of mind, as far as I'm concerned. "Some people are so poor, all they have is money."-Patrick Meagher... While I may have thought I would, I did not come to the Philippines and "save" any poor children. I did not pull a Katie Davis and fall in love with dozens of orphans and adopt them all and love them as my own. I didn't live in a tiny village and squatty potty for a year.


...

…but I DID fall in love with the people of the Philippines. I did find myself here. I did learn that I am better than absolutely zero people on earth. I did learn that "in the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." (Buddha)


I did learn that every single person on earth has value. Beauty. Love. They may be broken. They may be dirty. But like I've said before, we are all just a product of our raisin'. We are all victims of circumstance. I am no more and no less human than the little girl who sells me peanuts at escaño. Her name is Charmain. She's awesome. We are all human.


… 

I've learned that life is too short to not say true things. I've learned that being apart from your loved ones doesn't make you love them any less, it just means you have to show your love differently. I've learned that any day could be the day you meet someone important, so get out of bed and go do something!

I've learned that saying "yes" is sometimes really really hard, but always worth it. I've learned that doing the thing that makes you the most uncomfortable is often the most beneficial. I've learned that some of the best friendships come from the most unexpected places. I've learned to never ever judge a book by it's cover. Ever.

...

There are so many stories I want to tell when I get back to the States. But I also have to think about the story I'm leaving here in Dumaguete. What will be remembered of me?


My friend Kris told me the other day that he had no idea I was a missionary and that I was the "coolest %$@*ing missionary EVER!" I have to admit, that's one of my favorite sentences ever. I've written before about my negative experiences with the church, and I try really really hard to represent myself accurately within all contexts.


I truly believe, deep in my heart of hearts, that Jesus would (and does) totally love my friends. All of 'em. The atheists, the stoners, the tattooed, the hippies, the church goers, the Jesus-followers that don't go to church, the cynics, the assholes. Even me- and I'm at least half of that list! ;)


What I meant earlier when I said that what I can offer people is my true and honest self is exactly that. I think we all know I'm not your typical missionary. 8 piercings, a tattoo, liberal, liberated, El Amigo's number one customer, the reason you should buy stock in Red Horse, I could go on for days… But that's the way I want it. I have never been, nor do I ever aspire to be, typical.


I'm a lover. I really am. I do my best to see the beauty in everyone, even the ones that make you squint really really really hard. I hope that's what my friends here remember of me. I hope you remember that I am trying REALLY hard to speak Bisaya and that's because I want you to be your true and honest self too. I hope you remember how deeply, deeply happy you made me. I hope you remember how full my heart was just to be in Dumaguete.

I hope you remember that I am unapologetically and unequivocally myself. I hope you remember that I want you to be too. I hope you remember how much I appreciate your love and acceptance of me. You have truly helped me find myself, and I will never ever forget it. I miss you already.


Mubalik ra ko. I promise.

...
This is the hardest part. </3

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Complicated…

No, I'm not talking about my current relationship status. (That is very un-complicated. It doesn't exist.)

Before you read on, you should know that there are several blog posts I plan to reference throughout this post. All of them have been weighing heavily on my heart lately and have at least partially led to me writing/ feeling this. I'd love if you would read them all, but if you choose not to… I'll quote them and hope you click to read more.

The first is entitled The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys) by Pippa Biddle. The second was written by one of my favorite bloggers, Jamie Wright, better known as Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. Her blog post Using Your Poor Kid to Teach My Rich Kid a Lesson really struck a chord with me. My brilliant roommate Mallory wrote a poignant and beautiful (pun intended) blog post 3 weeks ago called Hello, Beautiful. Finally, Amanda, an American blogger living in Rwanda, wrote a piece about international adoption: Let's Get Real
… 

There's a Red Hot Chili Peppers song that says "the more I see, the less I know." That's how I've been feeling about my experience here "serving" in the Philippines. The more I learn about this country and international service, the less I know. 

I think all volunteers begin with ideas of grandeur. "I'm going to save the world!" My friend Jim semi-joked that before his year of service in India, he had every intention of eradicating the caste system. Somewhere in the middle of his year, he got incredibly discouraged with the realization that he was nowhere near this goal. Obviously, this is an exaggeration of what volunteers believe.

But is it really? Of course we don't really believe that we are going to change the world or eradicate the caste system/ pork barrel/ corrupt governments, etc. But we really do believe that we are going to make lasting change. We believe we owe it to these "poor people" to serve them. We believe we are doing more good than we are harm. But are we really?


… 

Pippa tells a story about a short-term missions trip she took in high school to Tanzania. She and several other high school girls went to an orphanage with the intention of building a library. Who could possibly find fault with that? Of course orphans in Tanzania need a library! Unfortunately, a bunch of high school girls are probably not the best people for the job. They tried their darndest, but found out later that despite their hard work, several men would come in at night once the girls fell asleep and "fix" the work the girls had done during the day.
Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.
Jamie shares a similar sentiment. One of the many arguments for short-term missions is that it teaches us to be grateful for what we have. But, she argues, should missions really be about us at all?
When we descend upon the impoverished to improve our family's perspective, we may as well be saying to the mothers of these children, “Pardon me, I'm just gonna use your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson for a minute. I'll be out of the way in no time – Oh, and I'll leave you some shoes.... and a toothbrush.”
The not-so-hidden lesson there, the lesson we're teaching kids worldwide, from the suburbs to the ghettos, is that “The rich are Blessed”  - which, of course, means that the poor... can suck it. 
Obviously, that's not true. But that's the unintended message that we share with the world when we altruistically say "Look how Blessed I am, I drive a new car." 
… 

This is a hard topic for me to write about. I am here in the Philippines because of a short-term missions trip I took to Uganda and Kenya last year. I consider this a good thing. For me. I have changed so drastically in the last year and a half, which is arguably the point. The YAV program that I work for has a tagline: a year of service for a lifetime of change. The hope is that my year of service will change me so deeply that it affects the way I live the rest of my life. I can assure you this has already happened. And it's only April! 

So what's the problem? Well, there was a whole lot of "me" in that last paragraph. There has been a whole lot of me all year. I'm uncomfortable. I hate spiders. I love the Philippines. I can't wait to see what God does in my life with all the amazing lessons I've learned this year! Where are the people I'm "serving"? Where do they fit in that equation?

And while we're at it, am I really "serving" anyone? Pippa brings up 2 very important points. 1) Do you (I) have marketable/ necessary skills to participate in international aid? 2) The white savior complex is a VERY real, VERY problematic issue in the developing world.
Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world... consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches…
Mallory's blog post was about our "whiteness" as well. Mallory and I both get called "beautiful" on a daily basis. Children that we work with yearn after our skin tone. Products are sold on every corner advertising a whitening agent to make dark skin lighter. I am constantly asked for input on things I have no business talking about… by older Filipinos. It is assumed that I am knowledgeable and intelligent simply because of the color of my skin.
The bigger question is why can’t Filipina women in particular, see how beautiful they are? How is it that the colonial myth that European features are somehow superior to the native phenotype has persisted to present day?
The worst was spending time with a sick 10 year old that I know. I observed that she looked a lot better than the last time I saw her, she was much less pale. “But Ate Mallory, I want to be pale” she responded.
…  

You see how it's complicated? Jamie commented on one of her blog posts and said: "it's complicated and the more you pick away at the layers, the more confusing it becomes." Exactly. And there are SO many layers to pick away at. Not the least of which is the oft-skewed definition of poverty. Amanda writes about this challenging topic in relation to international adoptions: 
Poverty. Here’s where we rich white Americans miss the mark so badly, so often. We see poverty when children don’t get an education, live in homes with dirt floors, and eat only rice and beans. But we don’t often see the poverty in a child who grows up lacking the connection to her biological family.
In a perfect world, all children would live with the parents God gave them through birth, live in a house in a gated suburb on a quiet street, go to school, and eat ice cream sandwiches every day [ok that's my perfect world]. But alas, we don’t. Living in America ain’t perfect, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. Many people in the developing world believe that it is, that there are no problems in America. But they are dead wrong, and we shouldn’t lie to them and say that it will be perfect for their kids in America. 
Complicated. 
… 

In a conversation with my dear friend and pastor's wife a few weeks ago, I shared that "this is just my life now. I'm not doing anything differently than I would be in the States. I just live here. I'm not really helping anybody because these people don't need my help." That may sound negative to you (this all may sound negative to you), but I am speaking my truth. 

I truly feel that I may very well be doing less good here than I could be in the States. At home, I speak the same language as the children that I work with. I live right down the road from them. I look like their friends, neighbors, aunts, teachers, etc. I don't just look like a celebrity out of a Hollywood movie. I don't look like a "savior" swooping down to "save" them. And that simple fact may actually make it easier for me to make a difference in their lives. Just the other day I told our site coordinator, Dessa, that I don't really want people to see me. I want people to see God through me, and that's pretty difficult when people can't see past the color of my skin. 

Pippa summed up my feelings pretty concisely in this paragraph:
I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning. 
When I told my friend that I didn't feel like I was really helping anyone here (because they don't need my help), she responded: "That in and of itself might be what you are supposed to experience and bring back to us." 

Maybe it is. I don't know. What I do know is that like JVM said, the more you pick away at it, the more confusing it becomes. It's complicated. The more I see, the less I know. 

I don't pretend to have it all figured out. My ever-wise daddy once told me, "the older I get, the less I have figured out." Maybe I'm just growing up. But I don't think I'm going to save the world anymore.  

That's not my job.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Not Her ~ My Messy Beautiful

She was that girl.

You know the one. You hear people say love your neighbor and you think, "well, surely Jesus couldn't have meant that neighbor." We all have one. That one person that really gets under your skin. You're utterly convinced that they exist on this planet just to make your life miserable. You stalk them on social media just so you can hate them more adequately.

She was that girl.

She married my ex. Obviously, she did this just to spite me. There is no way that they could actually be happy and in love. She exists just to irk me.

I told myself all these things for years. The first time I met her, I don't even remember what I said. I "tried" to be nice, but I'm pretty sure it didn't come off that way. It was awkward. I was awkward.

...

You see, I'm still friends with my ex. I don't really believe in cutting ties. If someone was once important to me, they are (generally) still a part of my life.

I was talking to him one day and I made a snide comment about her. He responded with the usual, "Abby, you can't talk about my wife that way." I rolled my eyes, but what he said next felt like a punch to the stomach. "You know, it's not very Christlike of you to harbor such hatred for someone."

WHAT?! Do you know who you're talking about?! I'm ALLOWED to hate her! Jesus understands!

Except… wait. Not really. What was that Jesus said? Love your enemies… do good to those who hate you… something like that.


I let his comment simmer for a few days. It wasn't sitting well. It wasn't the usual scolding. It stung. It made my heart heavy. I was starting to think that Jesus really might not "understand" as much as I wanted him to.

It was her birthday. I LOVE birthdays. I decided to swallow my pride. I sent her a brief message wishing her a happy birthday and said I thought it was pretty cool that she shares a birthday with the Pope. (That is pretty cool, by the way) That was it. No apology. Just a teeny-tiny little olive branch. Happy birthday.

It took her a panic-inducing 24 hours to respond. 

"Oh God, what have I done? Why did I do this? Obviously she hates me. I am such an idiot. I should never have tried to be nice. Can you un-send messages?"

When she did respond, though, her message left me speechless. To say this is a rarity would be a gross understatement. I cried. Probably got a little nauseous. I am SURE I wasn't far off from a panic attack. But it wasn't because she said "please do not ever contact me again you crazy psycho person."

It was because she extended a much bigger olive branch. She said we'd gotten off on the wrong foot. She said she was sorry if she had ever made me uncomfortable. "I just couldn't get past the feeling that you didn't want to talk to me," she said. "But maybe you thought the same thing about me."

These niceties went back and forth for a little while, and there are truly no words to express how cathartic they were. We talked about hard things. I admitted that I had spent so much time thinking about how I felt that I had honestly never even considered how she felt. 

… 

You want to know the weirdest part? We actually laughed. She's actually funny! And nice. And wise. I mean, don't tell her I said any of that. ;) But she is all of that and more. Maybe I should have listened all those times when our mutual friends said "you two would actually probably get along."

It has been almost four months since we extended our respective olive branches. We have done a lot of laughing since then. She has helped me deal with some of my very own hard things. She has given me so much grace. She has showed me what it really looks like to love your neighbor, even when every fiber of your being desperately wants to hate them.

It hasn't been all rainbows and butterflies. We have had some tense conversations. Our theologies differ pretty drastically. There are still days when we feel asdfhjaweouf towards each other. But instead of silently grumbling and hating each other, we talk it out. It's not always easy, but it's always worth it.

I even taught her our favorite Monkee word- brutiful. My friendship with Paige has been exactly that. Brutal at times, but so, so beautiful. The word "redemptive" comes to mind.

Thank you for helping me see what this crazy life is really all about. Thank you for loving me even when you don't like me. Thank you for being you. 

Together, we can do hard things. 

Isn't she beautiful?
… 

This essay and I are a part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project- to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE. 



Thursday, March 27, 2014

My New Normal

I got off the plane in Dumaguete a couple weeks ago and it smelled like home. No, it didn't smell like Beaufort. (Well, it kind of smells like Beaufort, but that's beside the point.) It smelled like Dumaguete. Home. It smelled like damp, hot summer. It smelled like diesel fuel. It smelled like barefooted children and Johnson & Johnson's baby lotion. It smelled like all the bad days of the last 6 months, but especially all the good ones.

This isn't some fun crazy new adventure anymore. It's just my life. This is my new normal. Although it's definitely still fun and crazy.

… 

It's normal for me to exclaim "ayy halaaaa" instead of "oh my gosh" when something startles me.

It's normal for me to live half my life in one language and half in another.

It's normal for me to recall that my friends and family back home are just waking up when I'm going to sleep.

It's normal for me to hop in a pedicab and pay exactly 9 pesos to get anywhere I need to go in town.

It's normal for me to walk into my favorite coffee shops to be greeted by: "hi, ate! The usual?"

It's normal for me to have bumps and bruises from getting in and out of pedicabs.

It's normal for me to take freezing cold bucket baths every day. (Hot showers are a rare and beautiful gift from the baby Jesus himself)

It's normal for me to carry toilet paper with me everywhere I go, because public restrooms do NOT store it.

It's normal for me to not flush toilet paper because the plumbing system here just can't handle it.

It's normal for me to hear roosters crowing 24 hours a day.

It's normal for me to see chickens, goats, cows, and carabao on the side of the road.

I CONSIDER THIS A MOST EXCELLENT THING.

It's normal for me to hang out at places with the "best" (that's a relative word) WiFi because I don't have 3g and can't get online at any time. 


It's normal for me to sleep with a fan blowing directly on me and still waking up sweaty because LOL NO I do not have air-conditioning at my house.

It is normal for me to eat chicken on a stick with rice (with my hands) on a pretty daily basis. I'm an addict, what can I say.

It is normal for me to eat rice with 80% of my meals, although if my Filipino friends had it their way it would be 100% of them. 

It is normal for me to sweat ALL. THE. TIME. 

It is normal for me to walk into oncoming traffic and just hope that they don't hit me. It's pretty much the only way to cross the street.

It is normal for me to speak my English the way Filipinos speak English, with a slight accent and LOTS of inflection. You'll have to call me if you want to hear this, it's pretty funny. 

It is normal for me to see babies on motorcycles. 

It is normal for me to pray with a large group of people before every single event. Movies, boat rides, a normal weekday morning… anything. To quote my sweet friend Kim Statler, "I don't know about y'all, but this [Presbyterian] is gonna pray!"

It is normal for me to text my friends from my 1992 Samsung phone. 

Really. This is my actual phone.
It is normal for me to see people begging in the streets for me to give them money.

It is normal for me to be stared at constantly because of the color of my skin. (Try as I may, I'm just not *that* tan.) 

It is normal for me to be a minority (especially as a white woman).

It is normal for me to have a life that feels a bit like a musical. Cafe-wide singalongs are a pretty regular occurrence. And yes, it's awesome. 

It is normal for me to be surrounded by the world's cutest babies. I mean this. Filipino babies are the ACTUAL CUTEST CHILDREN ON EARTH. Sorry, everybody else. 

This is Cielo. She's 3. I'm going to eat her one day. Very very soon… 

I MEAN REALLY? 

My nuggets Jana and Roswell.

And the Holy Grail of cute, my goddaughter, Neka.
It is normal for me to count down the days until I get back to my "old" normal. (137 days, FYI)

(BUT) It is (ALSO) normal for me to be completely and utterly terrified about going "home" and what on earth that might look like.

It is normal for me to wonder if anywhere will really ever feel like "home" again.


All of these things are normal for me now. I'm in a weird sort of limbo with half my life in the US and half of it here. (Arguably, much of it is also in Uganda and Kenya)

I just want you to know that this is okay. 

We're all just stumbling through this crazy life together. I'd be willing to bet not a one of us has a damn clue what we're doing. The ones asserting that they do probably have even less of a clue what they're doing. We're all just doing the best we can. 

We're creating stories. You all- every single one of you- are helping me create my story. I hope I'm helping you create yours.

Just remember… in these stories…  not everybody is having a happy chapter. Sometimes people have really sucky chapters. Or LOTS of really sucky chapters. And remember, before you criticize someone, that they're really just a product of their past chapters. Let's try to give out helping hands more often than we push others down.

We're all just doing the best we can.

And that's normal.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

No words...

Words are kind of my thing. I really love words. I love to learn new words. I love to teach words to others. If I need to express something, chances are I'll use words to do so. If I don't have the words to explain something, it's either a wonderful thing or a terrible thing. 

Fortunately for me, in this instance, my lack of words is a wonderful thing.

The last week has been incredible. Life-changing. Beautiful. Redemptive. Overwhelming. Blessed. Joyful. Those are just a fraction of the words I could use to explain it, and yet, I feel as though I haven't given it it's due.

For some background information, on Christmas day, I moved down to Dumaguete City. Dumaguete is a small city (just a tad smaller than Charleston population wise) with a few universities. This means it is very young, fun, and connected, which has been really great for me. I have loved every moment of living here and have already made great new friends and had fun experiences.

Lots of things have made me quite certain that this move was the right decision for me, but this last week has solidified that for me.

… 

A couple months ago, I got an email from the Associate Dean for Vocations at San Francisco Theological Seminary. This isn't unusual; she and I connected at the beginning of my YAV year to talk about my interest in SFTS. We email back and forth about once a month and she has become a good friend (Hi, Elizabeth!). This particular email was unusual only because it said this:

The President, Dean, and the trustee I mentioned are going to be at Silliman University in Dumaguete in February.  When I told the trustee that you weren't too far from there (at least as I look on a map), he wondered if you'd be interested in attending a reception or something while they are there.  I know Jim (the President), Jana (the Dean), and Adlai (the Trustee) would love to meet you.  Jim is both President and Professor of Public Life.  He worked at Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobbying organization, before coming to SFTS.  I also found out when the Tuscon YAVs visited that he was instrumental in helping to found Borderlinks in Tuscon.  Adlai currently works for Bread for the World himself.  Jana is both Dean and our homiletics prof.  One of her books is called "Birthing the Sermon," which does my feminist heart good.  :-)

Umm, yes?! Invite me to ALL of the receptions! Oh, and PS… I live in Dumaguete now! Casual. I have been over the moon about this opportunity since Elizabeth told me about it, and it has finally happened. I can't stop shaking my head at the "coincidence" that people from SFTS are in the Philippines (much less the city I just moved to) while I am here. God's time… not mine.

My thoughts after the fact...
In another amazing not-so-coincidence, there is a delegation from the PC(USA) (my church) in the Philippines right now as well. Three of the phenomenal women I got to meet and spend time with are Emily Miller (Mission Associate for Recruitment and Relations, YAV), Mienda Uriarte (Area Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific), and Laurie Kraus (Coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance).

Again, I am lacking words adequate enough to describe how blessed I was to spend time with these women. I shared with them that meeting and getting to know them has been beyond inspirational. To see all of these women in power positions, making lasting change in the world… it's unreal. They each have really amazing stories and have all devoted their lives to making this world a better place. Seeing on a global scale all the things that PC(USA) does really solidified for me the desire to go to seminary and join their ministry as soon as possible.

Snorkeling and chatting with Laurie Kraus, Coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Mallory and me with YAV recruiter, Emily Miller after a beautiful day on Apo Island!
I didn't get a picture with Mienda Uriarte (Asia/Pacific PC(USA) coordinator), but she is so adorable I had to include a picture of her anyway.
Church with Dr. Jana Childers this morning (Dean of SFTS)!
Mallory and me with Dr. Jana Childers, Dr. Jim McDonald, and Mr. Adlai Amor, from left to right.
Dean, President, and a Trustee of SFTS, respectively. 
For me, this epitomizes the PC(USA) and all of the social justice work they do in the world. Emily and I both took pictures of it and claimed it for Facebook cover photos, teehee. It's too perfect!
I can't thank y'all enough for your constant love, prayers, and support you're sending from across the globe! This week has been unparalleled and beautiful. I couldn't have gotten here without all of you back home and the people I've met along the way. Thank you for being you, and thank you most of all for caring. 

XO,

abs
… 

I know I have talked about a lot of different people, programs, and organizations in this post. All of them are equally amazing and I wanted to give you an opportunity to check each of them out! Just click on the highlighted words of whatever you're interested in checking out.








Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program. (<< The program I am serving with!)




And for good measure, a short bio of my sweet friend and penpal Rev. Elizabeth McCord is at the bottom of this page. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Things My Little Girl Gets Me Into: A Guest Post from John

I’ve never blogged before. Of course, as of a few months ago, I’d never jumped out of a plane either. Oh the things my little girl gets me into. Forgive me as I offer up a few more examples.

I never once thought that I would father a missionary. But I did. And she moved to the other side of the planet.

Amy and I had travelled for what seemed a lifetime. We had taken a number of  flights, spent a night in Manila, and somewhat uncomfortably took in the sights of an unfamiliar world and humanity. To have this moment though would make everything right. To see my little girl at Christmas.

The local airport had one runway in and the same one out. Nothing too shocking here. It was similar to airports in Jamaica and Costa Rica. And indeed, departing the plane was much the same. Hot. We were excited to see our baby though and a little sweat couldn’t spoil this moment. We would spend Christmas together. Very cool. We were tired beyond tired but over the moon excited. We stood in that awkward  moment when the plane stops and everyone stands and no one moves. This was it. Anxious.  Nervous. Finally. Here we come…

She wasn’t there.


In her place, a young woman completely in her element welcoming us to her home, her country and her life. I could’ve been hurt. I could’ve been mad. I was neither. I surprised myself and I was proud. I had come to accept a lot of things about my daughter. This independence and true maturity was perhaps the most difficult. To be clear though, my acceptance was immediate. She had become more than I could have ever imagined.

In some inexplicable way I was ready for this. I was not, however ready for the Philippines. The people were poor by our standards. It was plain to see. Garbage on the street. Babies as a third or fourth passenger on motorcycles. It was sad and shocking. But perhaps more surprising was the visible obvious joy that everyone seemed to have. These people were genuinely happy. It was evident throughout our entire visit. Apparently, money does not buy happiness. Go figure! The country is beautiful, stunning and powerful in its expression love and nature. The people are its equal.

With all this joy it was easy to laugh. perhaps a little more so after the fact. Christmas Eve we rode a bus to Mabinay. Abby’s town. Abby was dismayed that the bus wasn’t open air as it was her intent to give us the REAL filipino experience. I preferred the fake one-with AC. We arrived at her house and of course, after three hours on a bus, needed to use the facilities-the comfort room. Suffice it to say there is nothing comfortable about this room.  Tales of spiders. Moist concrete floor. 80 degrees inside and out. No reading Runners World in there. Living without AC is uncomfortable at best. Oh well, in for a penny…We quickly were directed to church where there was a dedication for the playground that Abby raised money to build. Welllllll….apparently, due to the cultural understanding of the importance of family, the kind folks of the church believed that Amy and I had something to do with the fundraising. A banner was made and we were greeted like royalty. I cannot begin to explain our embarrassment. It was comical really. The minister must have mentioned our names as benefactors a dozen times. It was incredibly sweet and completely undeserved. We loved it though and were truly bursting with pride for Abby. The playground and her legacy are amazing.

Walking to Abby's host mother's house in Mabinay.
The BANNER!

Playground.
And then came Christmas Eve service. It was three hours long. I was sick. Amy was tired. We were sick and tired. I had agreed to play guitar while Abby sang Silent Night. This was about 2 ½ hours in. Sometimes a dad just can’t say no. Again, comical. I couldn’t stand, sit or hold my head up. I almost gave up. I trudged through the song and even managed a smile. Abby was fantastic. A moment forever captured in my mind. I never would have pictured this. And yet, there are indeed pictures. Photos that don’t come near telling the whole story.


We enjoyed our visit immensely. Leaving Abby at the airport to leave the Philippines was perhaps the most gut wrenching moment of my life. Understand that I do not share Abby’s enthusiasm for colorful exaggeration. (Editor's note: I NEVER exaggerate!!!!!!! I am however quite colorful.) This was in fact, gut wrenching like nothing else. I don’t know why this was harder than saying goodbye in August. But it was. Exponentially.

I love my daughter. I love my little girl. I love the woman that she has become. Abby, I love you.

Thanks for everything.

Daddy


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lessons of a Turtle: Guest Post by Amy

As I pondered making the guest entry for Abby's blog, I received a hint of inspiration from a small book which sits in our window sill in our kitchen. 'lessons of a turtle' by Sandy Gingras. This is a small book of small life lessons. Little snippets of goodness in one place. I truly have no idea who gifted the book to us. But now that it's been discovered by me, I shall pick it up frequently to remind me of what is important… and what is not.


Traveling to the other side of earth to visit Abby for Christmas was also a reminder of what is important: Family, traditions, compassion, and love. What is not important: air conditioning, flushing toilets, electricity, traffic rules, child-safety laws. Abs was a fantastic tour guide, both in the city of Dumaguete and in the mountain village of Mabinay. She showed us the way to address people, the way they eat and how important family and kindness are. So instead of being stupid Americans, we had a small sense of how we should behave. She told us ahead of time that we were going to be representing her, 1st Presbyterian Church, PCUSA and Jesus. No pressure. 


We arrived to the airport terminal in Dumaguete after many, many hours and many flights to get there. We left on a Friday morning and didn't see Abby until Sunday. It was SO, so wonderful to see her!! To say that we were exhausted was a true understatement. To say that I was confident in how to use a 'comfort room' would be a lie. One needs to carry ones own toilet paper. And "don't flush the paper". I'm sorry...whaaat? There aren't signs that make this directive, however, we had the "how-to" guide via Abigail prior to our arrival. I think I wish I hadn't known. Anyway....moving on. We drive to our resort. Which by even American standards was extremely nice! I could tell right away that even though Abby would enjoy this stay, she would also be feeling guilty about being there. We spent that afternoon enjoying the food and sunshine that the resort offered. 


The next day we were treated to a tour of "the city" of Dumaguete. It was noisy. There were motorcycles and pedi-cabs and buses and cars and jeepneys. We visited the local market (wow! that was some funk!) We drank coke out of a plastic bag with a straw and tried the local delicacy of budbud. No thank you, I would not like any more of that - ever. 


"everyone is soft inside" - lessons of a turtle. 

As we were having lunch that afternoon, I noticed a little girl outside of our restaurant. She was dirty and had matted hair upon her head. She was hungry. She longingly looked up at the people who were dining outside near her. She was silently asking them to give her some food. They completely ignored her. I did not. I got up with some food from our table that I rapidly placed into a napkin and ran outside. Abby gave me quick instructions on how to address her so that she wouldn't be afraid. She graciously accepted the food that I had offered and within seconds of my departure, she lifted her arms up triumphantly and smiled. This, of course, reminded me of my kindergarteners. They need food, comfort and the assurance that they needn't be afraid. We are all just humans trying to get by in this thing called life. We are the same in that we have basic needs. We all need love and affection. The culture differences meant nothing at that moment. 


"the slower you go, the more you see" - lessons of a turtle. 

On Christmas Day we took a walking tour of the village on the mountain- Mabinay. We went down the dirt road, smelling the smells of Christmas in the Philippines. Cows and goats in the middle of the road. Roosters making their noises - constantly. Walking in the heat. Thankful for the clouds. We walked to the springs where the locals go to cool off and have fun. We walked to the public school and peeked into some classrooms. They looked the same as classrooms in the US. Just no air-conditioning or windows with screens. We ventured across the hanging bridge that looked to be older than my 102 year old grandmother. We watched some boys getting their water from a well pump by the school. We bought a water from the storefront of someone's home. It was water in a plastic bag. We had hoped to catch a pedi-cab by this point since my feet and back are no longer made for walking. We kept walking. Through a rice paddy and a sugar cane field. There was someone approaching us from behind ringing a bell. I could not figure out why he was ringing a bell. As he passed us, I realized that he was the ice cream man! He was carrying a cooler filled with ice cream. He would be delivering to the folks in the village from his cooler on his shoulder. Have YOU ever seen an ice cream man in between a rice paddy and a sugar cane field? We kept walking. We walked down a long road. I was barefoot. We saw children playing in their yards. We saw folks working in their garden. We saw women doing their laundry in a bowl. Had we taken the pedi-cab, we'd have never seen these gems. We would have missed the snapshot into the daily lives of these people. We went slow..and took it all in.


we are more the same than we are different - lessons of a turtle. 

We just wanted to see our little girl at Christmas time! I was not counting on the transformation and humility that I would experience. The filipinos were truly the nicest folks I've ever encountered. Genuine and kind, Gracious and giving. Thoughtful and happy. They were just happy people. In what WE consider to be circumstances that are sub-par, they smile. They take care of those whom they care about. They take time to be...to just be. My take away?...be happy, be kind, be generous, be grateful. Thank you Abs, for allowing me the opportunity to grow in gratitude. Love you girlie!


Mom