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. 

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.


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… 


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. 



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.

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.


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 just be. My take away? happy, be kind, be generous, be grateful. Thank you Abs, for allowing me the opportunity to grow in gratitude. Love you girlie!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

25 Things to Do Before You're 25; Whether You're Married or Not!

I think we all know that I spend a decent amount of time on the interwebs. There are some advantages to this; one being that I am able to voraciously read a lot of articles/ blogs that my friends post on Facebook. I have always been an avid reader and I like reading about things that interest my friends and family. Blogs and news articles are less of a commitment than a book, so I'm able to be pretty free with my time in reading new things.

On December 30th, a blog surfaced entitled 23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You're 23. I immediately read it and laughed/ amen'ed my way through it. In case you were unaware, I'm basically as single as a human being can be, and I'm 23. My news feed has been chock full of engagements lately, so this article struck a lot of positive chords with me. However, I didn't share it immediately. Obviously, a great many of my friends (my age and younger) are getting engaged/ married. I would never want to offend any of these friends, so I held back. Ultimately, I decided to share it, knowing/ hoping people would share the benefits of marriage before 25 with me. I was right.

Soon after sharing, I stumbled upon My First Blog: The Result of a Closed-Minded 23 Year Old. Yeesh. Not exactly a light and fluffy name. The premise though was 23 things you can do with your husband regardless of age. I knew that one was coming. Her post was good and equally as valid. There are always two sides to a coin, y'all. I understand going on the defensive when it feels like someone is attacking your marriage (which the OP kind of was, so). Her snark was fairly warranted.

Finally, I found the winner! This one was it. 24 Things to Do Instead of Getting Married Before You're 24. This is my favorite by far. I definitely have the same sense of humor as this writer, so it seemed perfect. Here's my favorite quote from her response:
"The crux of the argument centers on the idea that “you owe it to yourself”…to find yourself, make out with a stranger, not ruin the sanctity of marriage by marrying young, to do whatever you want because you want to do it. I don’t know where we got the idea that we owe ourselves anything. We literally did nothing to be on this earth. For the first years of our lives we were completely helpless. In fact, we’re still pretty helpless and dependent on others for life or even just to breathe. Case in point, let’s all give a shout-out to the Ozone for remaining in tact (mostly) so we don’t fry to death today. Also, does anyone else get annoyed with constantly reminding your heart to keep beating? I mean, really, 100,000 beats per day – too bad our hearts don’t beat without us thinking about it. Oh wait. 
Instead of finding ourselves, thinking that “Millennials deserve the opportunity to develop ourselves, alone,” perhaps we should think and develop outside of ourselves and ponder deep questions – like who created us and this world we live in. What privilege do we have that we can take time to find ourselves while 12 year old girls in Afghanistan are being forced to marry middle age men and find themselves enduring a lifetime of abuse and suffering?"
AMEN, SISTA.  The main point of this final blog post I found was to have compassion for others (especially the less fortunate), which is something I can always get behind. It also reminded me of an article I saw about the Pope's "New Years Resolutions." I love this Pope, AND the article was written in the Philippines. Win-win. Highly recommended reading.

Still, after reading all of the above (more than once), they all left something to be desired. My friend Catherine said it perfectly: "I'm hoping to see the next one titled "25 things to do before you're 25 whether or not you're married, because you can be happy either way!" Catherine, your wish is my command!

Now, on the off chance this goes viral (here's hoping!), I am fully aware of the irony in 23 year olds offering anyone advice. I can say for myself that I have approximately 0% of my life figured out. I'm offering these tips up based on the experiences I've had so far, and the ones I hope to have in the future. I could never claim to be all-encompassing (which is something I found fault with in the original 2 blog posts), because everyone has a different story. My story is not, and should not be, yours. If you find something of value in the next 25 tidbits, use it! If not, write me and tell me what yours are! I want to hear your story too.

The following "things to do" are a compilation of the three aforementioned blog posts, Pope Francis' New Years Resolutions, and my own additions.

1) Get a passport, and use it!

2) Bake/ cook for someone. Could be your partner, could be your parents (but definitely for your parents cause they dealt with a lot of your annoying garbage for the last 20-something years), could be your best friend. Even if you aren't a fantastic cook, people who love you will say "oh, Abby, this incredibly dry chicken and these still-frozen vegetables are delicious!" Ask me how I know.

3) Explore a new religion. I'll be the first to tell you that Buddhism is fascinating. I studied religion extensively in high school and college, and it is always interesting to learn what other people believe. I also think this helps us to be better human beings. If you're married, it could be fun for you to each learn about a different religion and then teach each other!

4) Spend time alone. This is something I've been doing a lot of in my 4 months so far in the Philippines. Semi-inadvertently, but it has been a great gift. When you spend time alone without anyone to talk to or anything to distract you, it forces you to take in your surroundings. For me, it also forces me to do some serious self-reflection. Being self-aware is a must, no matter how old you are, or if you're married. It's probably especially important if you're married.

5) Work hard at a job. This was my favorite from Taylor's post! Working hard at a job- any job- is a necessary life skill. It doesn't matter if it's at Starbucks, being a student, babysitting, or making copies at some corporate firm. Just work hard. Copy those papers like your life depends on it, y'all!

6) Be selfless. THIS, Y'ALL. The original post mentioned being selfish. While I think sometimes it's necessary to be selfish, selfish is our norm. We are all inherently selfish. Being selfish doesn't take too much effort. But being selfless REALLY does. It's hard, but it's worth it.

7) Travel to a new country/ new state. (I find it important to mention that all 3 of the aforementioned articles said this. If these 3 ladies can all agree on something, suffice it to say it's good advice.)

8) Meet the poor "in the flesh." This one is a Pope Francis quote, and it's crucial. One of my must-haves on every 20-somethings list is to volunteer your time. Not just your money, but your time. When you look someone in the eye who is down on their luck or was just born into a different situation than you, it forces you to remember that they are just like you. We are all cut from the same cloth. We are all human. When you volunteer your time, you get to know people with different backgrounds, and it teaches love and compassion for all.

Which brings me to...

9) Befriend those who disagree. This is another from the Pope Francis article, but I wanted to elaborate on it a bit. I am a very opinionated person. I'm quite open about my political and religious beliefs. This can bring on incredibly heated debates. Sometimes when this happens, it's difficult for me to remember that the people I'm arguing with are people just like me. I'd challenge you to fight this! Find someone who you know has entirely different beliefs from you. Invite them to dinner, and don't talk about your differing beliefs. Talk about something else. Anything else. You could still end up arguing, but you could also figure out that you have more in common than you thought. We have to remember, too, that people are a product of their raisin'. We all have reasons for being passionate about the things we're passionate about. Remember that next time you want to jump down someone's throat because of what they think of the Duck Dynasty debacle.

10) Be happy. I know this one isn't always easy. I suffer from the big "D" Depression and Anxiety. Happy is kind of hard for me. But I've found in my brief 23 years that I am happiest when I am grateful. Grateful for the sun rising on a new day. Grateful for a meal that I have enough money to eat. Grateful for the smile of a stranger. When we are grateful for little things, it's harder to be unhappy, and not-unhappy is a step in the right direction towards happy.

11) Learn sign language. Or karate. Join a choir. Learn a new instrument. Take a cooking class. Learn to knit. Find a new hobby, and don't quit!

12) Read a classic! You know those books we were supposed to read in high school that most of us just read the Sparknotes for? You guys, some of them are really good! I promise! Try it out.

13) Visit a retirement home. This is self explanatory. DO IT. That's where the real stories are. They can list off 25 things you should do with your life faster than you can eat a whole jar of Nutella. ;)

14) Hike the Appalachian Trail. I was going to say "or something near you," but I'm not gonna say that. I think everyone should hike the Appalachian Trail. Pro tip: it could knock off a couple things on this list all in one fell swoop!

15) Keep a blog or journal. Obviously as a writer, I'm biased here, but writing is a vital part of being self-aware. It's cathartic, and strangely enough, people really do read what you have to say. Don't ask me why!

16) Skydive. Hang glide. Zipline. Do something that scares the absolute crap out of you. This is especially fun with a spouse or a best friend; it's a perfect bonding experience! Just make sure it's someone that won't tell everyone you know when you peed your pants a little on the way down.

17) Listen to live music. Really listen. Don't take a video. Don't take pictures. Don't text your friend to tell them how amazing it is. Just listen. Be present.

18) Surprise someone. Plan a surprise party for someone you care about. Take an impromptu road trip to go visit an old friend. Buy a friend flowers on a random Tuesday. Have dinner ready for your spouse when they get home from work. Sometimes this can even serve to surprise you too. Our own kindness is sometimes hard to see amongst all our natural selfishness.

19) Be healthy. Mentally and physically. Like I said, I'm only 23, but I do (sometimes) listen to people that are older than me. I can't tell you how many of them have told me they wished they'd started caring about their bodies when they were younger. Do you have to join Crossfit? Nope. Do you have to eat only organic foods? Nope. But you should take care of the one body you were given. Be aware of what you put in it.

20) Take a high school kid out to dinner. This might sound strange at first, but do you remember how much high school sucked?? Maybe it didn't suck for you, but it sucks for many. Take a kid out to dinner. Remind them that it does indeed get better. Invest your time, money, and energy in them. Be a role model for them. A lot of them are actually pretty darn funny and smart. I'd be willing to bet they can teach you something too.

21) Learn to apologize. Sometimes we do dumb stuff. Own up to it. Stubbornness never got anyone anywhere. (This does not mean apologize for who you are, or for life choices you have made that you're proud of.)

22) Go to a museum. Read historical nonfiction. Learn about something you have absolutely no idea about. (For example, I know absolutely nothing about the Cold War. If you have a book for me, send it my way!) Learn to appreciate things that are simultaneously new and old.

23) Learn to dance. Since you're 20-something, you're presumably headed to some weddings in the near future. Dancing at them is fun, especially if you know what you're doing. If you're already hitched, take dance classes with your significant other! If not, grab a friend and get to groovin'. This Southern girl highly recommends learning to shag, but that's just a personal preference.

24) Take risks. Life is scary. It really is. Change is hard. But beauty comes from taking risks. When we go out on a limb for someone, or something, we can fall flat on our faces. But we learn from that. And sometimes… sometimes you don't fall flat on your face. Sometimes you end up living across the globe from your home and knowing with every fiber of your being that the risk you took was completely worth it.

25) Fall in love. Yes, this applies to "whether you're married or not." You can fall in love with a person, but you can also fall in love with one of your new hobbies. You can also fall in love with a child. You can also fall in love with a puppy. You can fall in love with the ocean. You can fall in love with a sunset. You can fall in love with the new city, state, or country you decided to visit or move to. What all these things have in common is that you have to be present to fall in love with these things. You have to be appreciative of the things that are right in front of you. See things in a new light, and fall in love with them. Maybe you'll fall in love with yourself too. I hope so.

One of my favorite pieces of advice is the song Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann. This song is chock full of fantastic words of wisdom, but this is my favorite bit and the most relevant right now:
Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half-chance. So are everybody else's.
Really what it comes down to is this.

Do more of what makes YOU happy. Get married, or don't. Do some of the things on this list (or any of the others), or don't. But make a decision about what YOU want, and own that decision. Be proud of who you are. And understand that when people say things that offend you or seem like they're a personal attack on you, they're really just being proud of who they are. They're different, and that's okay. Love them anyway.

Til next time, y'all.