Mt. Kinabalu

Mt. Kinabalu

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Birthday Blog: On Turning 23

On an island in Pitas, Sabah celebrating friendships and time together before I leave Malaysia
(photo credit: teacher Nelson)

I know it’s been awhile since I have posted but I figured a birthday is as good a reason as ever to do some reflection. 

I have never liked the idea of growing up and this year is no different.  Turning 23 does not have quite the same ring to it as 22 (I mean there’s no Taylor Swift song for it yet…so it can’t be cool).  My students were asking my age today and I was stumbling all over it.  There’s just something nice sounding about dua puluh dua…..dua puluh tiga?  What is that?  I proceeded to tell my students I feel old and they rebuked with “Kamu masih mudah Teacher!”  (You’re still young Teacher!)  and in all kinds of ways I am.  However, I experienced so much growth this past year!  There are times when I even surprise myself with mature ideas or reactions.  Perhaps this is part of being a twenty something...still being quite young and immature while simultaneously experiencing exponential growth.  I read one of those blogs posted about a thirty something writing a letter to her twenty year old self and one part in particular stuck out to me.  I can’t quote it directly anymore but the idea was that as a twenty something we should be embracing the unknown.  Let me tell you a little something about the unknown.  It’s starting to scare me a little less.

A year ago today I was sitting in a small café in Assissi, Italy celebrating with friends and knowing I was headed to Malaysia in just a few months.  I had a location for the next year of my life but no idea what that would mean.  At that point I probably would have still had a hard time locating Malaysia on a map honestly.  This year I spent the day with friends and students in Malaysia and I have no idea where I’m going next.  There is just this big wall of misty gray ambiguity in my future staring back at me the same way a blank canvas just stares at me when I begin a painting.  Its daunting pale white skin dares me to make a wrong move and expects insurmountable perfection from its creator.  What’s the only way to overcome this fearsome obstacle?  Put some paint on that canvas.  When I finally make that ugly first mark and the serenity of white perfection is broken, suddenly I feel like it must get better from there and can continue working.

About a week ago I interviewed for what I thought was my dream job and could not believe the possibility of getting it in my first year teaching in the states.  Last night I found out I did not get the job.  It was disappointing and a little heartbreaking but it did not crush me the way disappointing things might have in the past.  I think this year has had enough unknowns and even disappointments that somewhere in the misty gray ambiguity of unknowing I stumbled upon deeper meanings of my values and a much deeper faith.  You could say there wasn’t a lot of constant in my life this year with moving to a new country, having three country coordinators, hearing we would be the last country group here for a while, having our program end early, and traveling all over in between.  However, I have realized along the way that even in the mist I have been walking alongside an incredible international support system including family, friends, all kinds of people who are part of the YAGM or global ELCA family, and sometimes even strangers.

With the help of this support system I have seemingly stumbled out on the other side of the mist and am looking at the beautiful creation that was this past year.  It wasn't all rainbows and sunshine nor was it all difficult and challenging.  However, somewhere in the great deal of both sadness and happiness great beauty was made.  I have found a place of "knowing" here and I am about to be leaving it.  Now that’s scary.  All of that hard work stumbling around in the gray and now I have to leave the safety of this little piece of knowing?  At this point I really cannot think about it too hard.  However, it is comforting knowing that amidst the gray unknown ahead there is something beautiful inside and a little piece of knowing waiting for me on the other side.  I could have never imagined all the beauty in store for me sitting in that café in Asssisi last year.  So I cannot imagine that sitting here in Malaysia I will ever be able to conceive the beauty awaiting me in this next year.  Only time and a lot more stumbling around in the unknown will tell. 

Those ugly first marks on next year's canvas were made probably before I even realized I had made them.  It’s time to start throwing color at this messy beautiful yet to be created future that is mine.  I wonder where I will be sitting this time next year when I turn 24.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Important News

This news has been coming down the line for awhile but I finally feel confident sharing publicly.  With a heavy heart I announce to my blog audience that YAGM Malaysia's program will be ending early this year.  Over the course of our YAGM year the visa situation has changed much more rapidly than we could have prepared for and after our Hong Kong retreat several YAGMs had issues returning to Malaysia.  Please know our safety has never been at risk and the decision to end the program early was made with our best interest at heart.  Our final day in country will be May 12th, after which we will hold our closing retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  While it breaks my heart to be leaving Malaysia early, I have been given the incredible opportunity to serve one more month in Medan, Indonesia.  I will likely be teaching English again and am excited for the opportunity to learn and serve in Southeast Asia a while longer.  After some time traveling along my way home, I will return to the United States on July 16th. 

While this decision certainly comes with a lot of heartbreak, it does not take away from the joy and blessings of this year in my life.  My infinitely wise mother in response to my panicked tears of grief asked me, "How much time is ever enough?"  It is a question I have spent considerable time thinking about and has given me immense comfort in this difficult time.  This journey is ending faster than I had planned but that doesn't mean it wasn't everything it was meant to be.  Perhaps as I have felt time being ripped from my grasp I have learned to treasure daily moments more deeply.  Time is a funny thing, and as William Blake's, "Auguries of Innocence" describes, sometimes an eternity can fit into an hour.  As I continue to discover what this year means for my story I am excited to see how the eternities I have lived here and the eternities awaiting me at home will create new ideas and opportunities. 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
-William Blake 

Please send prayers as we enjoy our final time in our communities and say our goodbyes to a place that has been home and people who have been family for the past year.

Please see the letter below from our program director for a more descriptive explanation of this difficult decision.  It is very much worth reading.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Celebrating International Day of Happiness with a video.  These images were taken with minimal prompting from my students and is pretty true to what a casual walk around Grace Center is like.  For a higher resolution video please visit:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2013 comes to a close and the year of the golden horse begins!

SELAMAT TAHUN BARU! (Happy New Year!  I still can say this because we are just starting to celebrate Chinese New Year here)

I know I have not posted much over the holiday season.  This is mostly due to the fact that Malaysia's largest school holiday is from mid-november until January 2!  That's about a month and a half I spent out of my regular routine and not so much around spaces with great wifi.  So how do I go about summarizing a month and a half of life full of new experiences?  I don't think I can.  New friendships were made, new experiences were had, I went jalan-jalan (traveling around), and continued living my life here in Malaysia.  However I would like to share some of my favorite stories and some of the observations I have been making recently.

Some of my favorite times over the holidays were spent caroling with my friends in their kampung (village) or in Kota Kinabalu with BCCM KK  (E).  In the kampung this familiar tradition sounded a little different with some new songs, most of which were in Bahasa Malaysia or in Dusun but it was truly lovely walking from house to house under palm trees and starry skies.  As we crossed over grassy paths by candlelight my friends and I enjoyed simple conversation.  They taught me the Bahasa Malaysia word for star was "bintang" and I cannot remember what it's name is in Murut but I learned it that night.  It still amazes me the way people here can so gracefully make use of several different languages at any given moment.  True to Malaysia's passion for food, we were given treats along the way and at the last house we enjoyed a feast.

The Kampung Lapasan Caroling Team

Over Christmas I spent precious time visiting my friend Lilian.  As much as Grace Center is a wonderful home for me in Malaysia, it was really great to be able to go "home for the holidays" with someone.  I spent time taking rehat (rest), eating my friend's fabulous cooking, and playing with her many animals (including the cutest puppies!).  Lilian took me with her to family celebrations, which meant great company, fun games, and more delicious food.  Teacher Ebeth's sister was getting married while I was in town so I got to help prepare for the day and attend the event too!  I was not a whole lot of help because I sliced my finger open pretty good cutting onions.  However, I did get to learn how to play a few of the traditional wedding gongs (more about that in a future post.)  Of course over the holiday time I missed my family (We did get to skype on Christmas though!  And my family did an awesome flat Delia project which let me know just how present I still was at home despite the distance).  However the second best to being with my own family was being able to spend it with such a good friend's family.

Family Christmas Photo- Skype was truly a Christmas miracle this year

School began again in early January and I was overjoyed to see my students again and begin classes.  It was also rejuvenating to be able to start at the beginning of the semester instead of jumping in somewhere in the middle of the end of one.  Recently the teachers took a retreat up to the mountains where we had important professional development and prayer time.  Discussions about upcoming changes at Grace Center left me feeling challenged in knowing my role because truthfully I will only be here six more months.  My greatest hope is that while I am still here I can have a positive presence and help ease transitions as big changes come our way.  We also had a YAGM retreat with Rev. Heidi Torgerson-Martinez (Program Director of YAGM) and Franklin Ishida (Area Program Director for Asia and the Pacific for the ELCA) in KK.  While it was energizing time for the YAGM Malaysia team to be reunited there was also a lot of processing with the many transitions our program has faced this year.  We stayed in a hotel tucked away in the midst of a bridal shop, ate steamboat, and had lots of meaningful conversation together.

Grace Center Teachers enjoying morning tea in front of Mt. Kinabalu

Up and coming is a visit from my parents...they are literally on a plane as I write this!  I am so thrilled for them to meet my Grace Center family and at least get a glimpse into my life here.  Right after that YAGM Malaysia will be headed to Hong Kong so you can expect more pictures, stories, and blogs coming your way!