Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Wooden Heart Inside this Iron Ship

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I have been super busy and working to figure out what’s next for me after I leave this place. I’ve had a couple of interviews with a few opportunities and one with City Year in Miami looks really promising. I have a second interview the day after I get back into the States, so I would appreciate prayer in that. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to follow God’s calling in my life, especially in this time of transition and making decisions about where my life is headed next. I just want to be where I’m supposed to be.

Yesterday morning I translated from Spanish into English for the first time in front of a group of like 50 people. It felt awesome! We have different staff members share their testimonies, or their stories each morning so that the American volunteers who come down can get to know them better and hopefully take something away from knowing what others have been through. Alberto is Dominican and knows a lot of English, but I understand full well how difficult it is to try to share your heart in a second language, so he spoke in Spanish and I translated for the volunteers. It was far from perfect, and I had to have him repeat a few things, but it felt so good knowing my Spanish is at least good enough to try. That was a huge accomplishment for me, though I didn’t even know I was working towards it.

Last weekend we only had one day off, because our last group is a one week team and they arrived on Sunday, instead of Monday like we have been used to. To relax on Sunday afternoon, we visited some friends who were staying at a hostel with a pool. It felt so great to be out in the sun and to be with new friends. I got a little sunburned (figures) but it was so nice to be able to relax with them.

On Saturday last weekend we went over to Vanesa’s house. She is the staff dentist here who runs her own clinic. She had a few of us over to teach us how to make a few Dominican drinks, including Morir Sonando (means “to die while dreaming”), pina coladas, and Dominican coffee made in a stovetop greca. Again for that day, it was great to get off base and do something other than what is scheduled into our normal routine. Vanesa’s husband Jose works at a Young Life camp on the other side of town and the recently installed a giant swing on their campus. Vanesa hadn’t done it before, so we decided to go over there to try the swing. SO FUN! I went up with Vanesa and another intern, Ellie. We couldn’t figure out how to pull the release cord so when we finally went, it was awesome. It also started to rain while we were up in the swing. It was actually super fun to get stuck in one of the trademark Caribbean downpours of rain.

This week I have a really cool opportunity to drive out to a tiny rural community to pick up volunteers early for some activities they are doing. The community is called Mata Gorda and while I was here in 2010, the drive out there was one of my favorites. It’s way out in the mountains and there is a 20 minute drive to get out to the preschool that SI has out there. I love driving on the ridiculous dirt roads and just being a spectator in the lives of those people, if only in passing. Yesterday while I was driving, I found myself wishing that my eyes could be cameras so that I could show all of you the beautiful life that these people live. I saw an older man shaving his face outside of his hut, children playing with cars made out of old oil bottles, cows resting in front of a house and the clouds rolling in over the mountains. Driving out there leaves me so in awe of this place, and of creation. I will miss this beauty. 

This morning while doing our morning routine I had a really cool opportunity to hear from some of the students about the things that they are learning and the experiences they’ve already had. Hearing some of those words helped me to know that what we are doing here matters, and that we are making a difference in the lives of other people. one of the students was really impacted by the way that people here living in poverty have found ways to be incredibly satisfied with their lives, regardless of the fact that they are materially in poverty. It reminds me of what I learned while I was here in 2010 about there being different types of poverty: material, poverty of spirit, emotional poverty, etc. Another student commented on how it is possible for two people to connect with little or no use of a shared language. I know this well having lived here with little Spanish experience, but a smile or other small gestures go a really long way and two people can change each other with something so small. It makes me think about the small ways I am being intentional with other people to show them that they are loved or that I care.

It’s been hard to know that the end of my time here is coming soon, because as a rule I’m pretty bad at saying goodbye and finding closure in my experiences. For two days next week we will be at a resort on a beach where we will do some debriefing activities that will hopefully help all of us to say goodbye to this place and this experience. I will dearly miss being a part of such a beautiful community. I will miss the sense of adventure here and knowing that each day will be different and full of something exciting. There is no such thing as monotony in this country or in this job, I will miss that. I will miss speaking Spanish, and meeting new people all of the time. I will miss feeling like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that I have purpose in being here. I will miss the way that deep and honest conversations just come up effortlessly and regularly. I have a feeling in my heart that when I leave the Dominican Republic next Wednesday that it will be the last time I am here. It will be sad to go, knowing the impact this place and these people have had on my life in my two experiences here. I am so thankful for the beautiful opportunities and memories I’ve had here, RD will forever be in my heart.

This is a song I’ve been stuck on the past few days, I hope you love it too J

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You're the Only One Who Brings me Peace.

So sorry I skipped out on posting last week. I’ve been researching nonstop to try to figure out what I’m doing after this summer.  My tentative plan is to have a gap-year of some sort (work, internship, discipleship program) and then go to graduate school in the fall of 2013. I feel like I’ve scoured the internet for programs that are interesting to me, and are paid for, and I’ve come up with some pretty good options. I’ve had two interviews over the phone and I still haven’t found the one that sounds perfect to me, but I’m praying that God will lead me to where I need to be. It’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time to feel like I have a lot of options, but I know that it will all work out.

This week will be our last full two week outreach, the final group for the summer is staying just for one week. After that we will go to the beach for a couple of days and then I’ll be on my way back to the states! Just three more weeks! I feel like this summer has absolutely flown by! The group that we have here is the biggest group we’ve had all summer, which is actually super fun. They are high school students, so I feel like they kind of just do their own thing and they’re really excited about everything, makes me job really easy!

Last weekend we went to a beach called Cabarete on the north side of the island. It’s so nice to be able to get away for just a day and be somewhere absolutely beautiful. We ate at an Irish Pub on the beach (kind of an oxy-moron) and I spent the afternoon walking and talking with Ellie, one of the beautiful interns here. The waves at that beach were a little bit bigger so it was really fun to play in them and sit on the beach. Cabarete is one of the more touristy beaches, which was actually really fun for us because there was just more stuff there. The beach we went to two weeks ago was more of a best-kept-secret kind of thing, this was nice because there was good food and some people did some shopping for their families at home.

Over the past couple of weeks I feel like I’ve really been able to have good quality time with people here. Vicki and I have found a few spaces of beautiful conversation and good time together. I’ve been sharing my story with a few of the interns here, it feels good to be known. Her beautiful little girl Julia, who was born the day after I got here is beautiful and growing quickly. It's been a while since I've been around an infant regularly, and I absolutely love it. She is so loved.

I made a list the other day of things that I love. I know it sounds cheesy, but I was feeling kind of down and it was just an exercise in thankfulness. Feeling known by other people is something I’ve realized is very important to me. I want to feel understood, as well as to understand others. As I’m looking towards my future, I know that this is something I need to keep in mind. My heart beats quickly for building community and getting to know other people’s hearts, and to have others know mine. Although this is not necessarily a job description, I know that I want to be able to drop roots somewhere and build honest relationships.

There’s a Dominican woman who works here at SI who has been an incredible encouragement in my life lately. Her name is Miriam and she is an older woman who works at the microfinance site. Her job includes processing micro-loans for women in poor communities so that they can start small businesses and support themselves. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gone with her a couple of times into the community, and she just has a special way about her when she is with people. She is soft spoken and kind, has an awesome sense of humor and she genuinely cares for people. She makes me feel safe and loved. If I have a mother-figure here at the base she is probably it.  One of the life-goals for many Dominicans is to move to the US and make more money than they could here, but I have heard Miriam say that she never wants to, that she is happy here, which is a huge testimony to the Dominican women she serves about being content where one is at. Last week she stopped me after a meeting and pulled me aside kind of awkwardly and simply said, “Margie, tu futuro está en la mano de Dios, no te preocupes in eso.” “Margie, your future is in God’s hand, don’t worry yourself about it.” afterwards she walked away, and I was left knowing that I will never forget that moment. I hadn’t talked to her about my worries about my future, she didn’t know that I have been struggling with knowing what’s next. She’s a special lady and I am honored to know her.

I’ve been extremely impacted by this song lately, my God is the only one who brings me peace in times of stress, trouble, exhaustion, frustration. So glad I have a hiding place, comfort. I feel like God has been asking me to simply wait and listen for his direction for my future, for the next year and this song has been super comforting. Listen for a minute if you have time. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

my DReams are these sails that i point toward my true north

What a long week!  It’s hard to think about what I’ve done each day because my days here are so long and so full! I’ve been getting up at about 6:25 each day and going strong until 10 at night.  Each day for me here looks different, sometimes I have more office work to do, other days I spend more time out in the community. The group that has been here has required a lot of extra care so that has been a big part of what I’ve been up to this week, driving people around and caring for people who are sick. The general consensus is that this team has been more needy than most, and we have had a lot of obstacles in the past two weeks. We had a break-in on campus followed by the trial, a girl had a seizure, a man broke his finger, most people have been sick and high-schoolers are just plain difficult to deal with sometimes. A big part of my job is to encourage others in their work, so I’ve felt especially drained in encouraging others in the face of such a difficult group.

Like I said, there was a robbery in one of the cabins of girls here on Saturday night while we were all in town. The 16-year-old boy was caught by our campus caretaker/guard and he was taken to trial in La Vega, which is kind of like the seat of the county. It was found out that he is from a financially stable family, he robbed the cabin as a kind of dare or gang initiation by some other young boys. Because he is so young, he was sentenced to return all stolen objects, and to work on our campus pay-free for 30 days. The girls whose cabin was broken into were able to meet the boy, talk to him, and forgive him in the end. Although I wouldn’t necessarily wish this experience on anyone, it is cool to see the way that God works all things for good. I hope that the girls have learned much about themselves and forgiveness through this, and that the young man benefits from his time here, both as a person and spiritually. It’s so cool to see when a bad situation is turned into a beneficial and helpful one, only by God’s grace.

Last Thursday afternoon I was able to go to my old house and see Denis and Channey, my Dominican mom and brother. I was nervous to go, but it was so perfect when I got there. My Spanish came to life and I was able to say (most of) what I wanted to. They made some more changes at the house, the floors and walls in the kitchen and bathroom are tiled now. The house is built on the edge of a steep hill and they are building an apartment underneath Denis’ house for her oldest son, Aneudys and his wife and kids. Although I have two mothers in the States, there was a feeling of coming home when Denis hugged me. I continue to be thankful for the time I spent here in 2010, and it continues to change me. Channey is walking again since his bad moto accident last summer. It’s good to see him more the way that I remember him. When I was here in February, he had just had the metal brace removed from his knee that he wore for 8 months which kept his leg completely straight. Denis showed me off to a few of the ladies on her street, she is so proud that she has an ‘American daughter’ and that I have returned to see her twice. I am constantly reminded of the blessing that they are in that they treat me as one of their own, I am completely accepted with open arms. I find joy in this, but also sadness as my heart longs for the time that I was completely theirs. It is a difficult thing to be back in this place where I had a completely different experience, and to not wish to be back in that space. I have had to adjust my expectations for my time here, because this time things are different, though not bad by any means. Looking back, I can see clearly that my time here was a turning point in my life in many ways, I am so blessed to be back in this place.

Last night I stayed up way too late with two of the male interns and they shared their stories, their testimonies of faith with me. I am blown away and so thankful for this on a number of levels. I am grateful on the most basic level that I am building trusting relationships with me, where they felt comfortable to share the hardest parts of their stories with me. I was also encouraged in my own faith in hearing what God has done for those two young men, the redemption, peace and forgiveness that they have found. Josh did an activity with the interns (there are 8, 5 girls, 3 guys) last night where each person wrote an encouraging note to all of the others. It’s so cool to see the relationship these young people have built in 6 short weeks and the trust they have in one another. It’s been beyond amazing to be a part of a Godly community of young people again, I didn’t realize how much my heart missed it after I left school. I miss being in relationship with people who push me and make me think. Dare I say that I miss assignments that cause me to question what I believe? It’s so nice to be part of a group of people who are loving and encouraging and fun and deep all at the same time. I am again reminded of the part of me that is created to live in community with other people. “Our hearts are a bridge, let’s build bridges to each other.”

I have been feeling drained in a lot of ways, every possible way really and these past few days I have found energy in my faith. A friend of mine sent me a link to a sermon series called “The Question” where the pastor talks about the lack of passion that is so common in American Evangelicalism. As I sat on my bed and listened to it, CONVICTION hit me like a brick wall. I want to act out of a passionate need for intimacy with my Creator. Like David wrote in Psalm 42 and 63, I want to be dependent and utterly broken without intimacy with my Abba. Some of this may not make sense those of you not inside my brain and heart, and I know it sounds backwards to desire to be in need, but I consistently fail by my own strength. “I want more than this world has to offer.”

Over the weekend I was able to acquire the motorcycle that I will call mine for the rest of the summer. It’s a 125cc scooter with no clutch and a heel and toe shifter – confusing! Also, it says “happy” on the side J I am so thankful I took the NIU motorcycle class before I left, getting on this was a breeze. It’s so fun and freeing to have my own transportation. Traffic patterns here are WAY different than in the US, so it’s been interesting learning to drive here, no problems though! On Tuesday this week, I took the day off during the daytime and I met up with my friend Courtney. She was here with me during my semester, and recently started working with another organization in the area. We got lunch, went to the river and visited Josh, Vicki and Julia. It was so good to see an old friend and to be able to talk with someone about the frustrations I have with my responsibilities here. I have been feeling a weight on my chest for the past two weeks, and being with Courtney helped a lot. The weight is that there is a desire in me (I would argue in everyone) to be known. It is so energizing for me to be around a person who knows me, knows my heart. I know that these kinds of relationships take time and require trust, so I have been feeling impatient and lonely in a sense in my relationships with the interns. All of that to say it was incredible to spend time with Courtney where I felt like less time was spent on telling the back story of things and were just able to connect. Also, I am proud to say that I had a passenger on my motorcycle for the first time ever, free of mishaps, though every single Dominican stared at us because BOTH of us were wearing helmets (they NEVER wear them here).

T his weekend, we will finally have TWO WHOLE DAYS OFF. Everyone is really excited about being able to relax and not have such a crazy schedule. On Saturday we are going to a beach on the north side of the island, where I believe we can go snorkeling. For Sunday we talked about going to the upper waterfall on the Jimenoa River to spend the day relaxing. When thinking about where I am, I have these moments of clarity that absolutely blow my mind. When I walk out of my house in the morning, I am greeted by the view of the mountains in the morning air. When I am outside on a clear night, above my head lies the most beautiful night sky. I am entirely amazed at the beauty of this country, praise God that I get to be here. So thankful.

My heart has found hope in these moments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Same Mind, Same Love

My experience thus far has been interesting to say the least. For the whole summer, we have groups come down for two week trips, and we had just seen the last group off on Saturday morning when we found out that one of teams here for the next 2 weeks came down 2 days early. 30 extra people to care for 2 days early, needless to say there was some small freak-outs, but everyone pitched it and we made it through the weekend. I am so impressed by the people, especially the interns, that I am working with. The staff here gets Saturday afternoon through Monday afternoon completely off every other weekend, and that is their only official time off during the summer. I am so impressed by the interns here who just jumped into action and said very few negative comments about missing out on their weekend off. I was glad for the timing of my arrival because I was still feeling pretty rested and fresh (not anymore!) for the weekend.

Since they are back in town, I have been able to meet with Josh a few times, which has been super helpful. Josh and Vicki are the missionary couple who I am helping this summer, and he is back (finally) from his week of baby leave. It’s nice to have someone to give me more direction and to let me know what I’m doing well and what things I need to work harder at. Josh and Vicki are super good at their jobs, and they’ve really created and developed the position they have, so there are a lot of things that they just do that others don’t exactly realize. This is okay, except for when both of them are out of town and I’m trying to learn the jobs that no one but they can teach me J Everyone here has been super helpful and encouraging though, so that’s good. I thought that for interest’s sake, I would post a typical schedule for myself if anyone was interested in reading it:

6:00 – wake up
6:35 – quiet time
7:20 – announcements, worship, staff testimony
8:00 – breakfast
8:45 – see teams off to their work sites for the day
9:00-4:00 – odd jobs including emailing and office work, binding books, preparing hostess gifts,  taking photos of volunteers at work, helping Josh and Vicki at home, etc.
4:00-6:00 – free time, spent with the volunteers or the interns
6:00 – dinner
7:00 – evening activity – culture night, team time, game night, dinner in the community, etc.
10:00ish – bed

I do most of the announcements for the groups, as well as some of the base orientation when they first arrive here. The job that I am helping with is really a catch-all kind of thing. I basically help with whatever needs to happen to make sure that the teams run smoothly and that people get the most out of their experience here. I answer a TON of questions, important ones and other not so seemingly important ones. It’s interesting to have arrived here so recently and to know that people are counting on me to know things about the base operations or the culture here, even the plant life on base J Another important part of my job is to be in relationship with people. I ask a lot of people how their days went, how they are feeling, or interesting things they saw that day. It’s been strange and exhausting for me sometimes to be outgoing all of the time, making me painfully aware of the fact that I am naturally an introvert. I think that I am being stretched and pushed in many ways already, and will continue to be all summer, making me (hopefully) a better person. I know already that this is incredible work experience and that I will be proud to put this experience on my resume, as I know that it is well worth mentioning.

I have had some beautiful moments with Dominicans here already, reminding me of the beautiful time I spent here in 2010. Roughly half of the staff here is Dominican, and I love being able to speak with them (in very broken) Spanish. I am still so amazed by the way that two hearts can connect even when we do not know all of the words to say to one another.

On Friday, I was able to spend the afternoon in El Callejon at the social work center where I worked when I was here for my semester. At the beginning of May, they were able to open up a new building for the women to meet in, and it brought tears to my eyes when I saw the new building in person for the first time. It is probably the nicest building in the whole neighborhood of El Callejon, and it makes me happy to know the beautiful things the women see, hear, make and talk about while within those walls. I saw some girls and one woman who I had worked with while I was here, and it brought me such joy that they remembered me, also that I could come up with the right names for them! I spent the day with Daisy and Kim there, helping them to make a craft and a lesson for the 11-12 year old girls. It was such a fun space of being with both new and old friends, passing a whole day together the way Dominicans are so good at doing.

I have been appreciating small things about the culture here, things that I have missed without even consciously knowing that I missed them. My heart is happy when I think of these things and remember my time here before. I love that I receive warm hugs often, which is so beautiful and encouraging (sorry Becky). I love the smell of the laundry I did today that I hung out on the line to dry in the sun and the breeze. It rained all of last weekend, which was a bummer except for the fact that I got to listen to it falling on the tin roof all of Friday afternoon. I love the food, rice and beans, chinola juice, coke in a glass bottle. The way that when I look out to the mountains in the morning, the beautiful colors are slightly muted in the morning mist.
My heart is happy and light J

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Here's to beginnings :)

Today is my first full day here in the Dominican Republic, and it's as beautiful as ever. My day of travel yesterday was pretty uneventful. I met a girl on my plane from O'hare who is also coming to Jarabacoa for the summer, but she is doing a 6-week study abroad program through her university. What are the chances of meeting her?! Talking with someone going to the same place was so encouraging to me as this is my first big adventure as an adult and without a big group of travelers with me.

The missionary couple I am helping this summer, Josh and Vicki, went to the hospital Tuesday morning to be induced into labor, so I haven't been able to see them yet. So looking forward to seeing them again and meeting their beautiful new daughter, Julia Marcela :) I got in last night around 9:30 and the caretakers here showed me to my apartment. I'm in a different place than they had planned on putting me, but it's actually better and more private where I'm at, which is awesome.

This morning I went with Brian, the program director here, to visit Los Higos, one of the mountain communities. The ride up that mountain is so worth all of the stress and energy and planning and money that it took to get here. Sorry I don't have a picture, but it is absolutely breathtaking. While Brian fixed the toilet at the social work center there, I talked with the girls and met the summer intern working there. We had lunch at a woman named Mary's house. She's incredible, one of those people who kind of holds the community together and knows and cares for everyone. There are no quick visits here in RD, but I am glad for it. It's nice to just sit and talk, and also to notice how lacking my Spanish skills are, though I'm sure they will come back quickly. I hope.

I got a list of some of my duties this morning. I have quite a bit of office work, stuff with applications and journals. But I think it's a good balance with time spent interacting with people. One of my jobs I'm most excited about is that for a few days each week I will be taking photos of the volunteers at their work sites. This means that I will be out in the community more than I thought I would, and I also like taking pictures. Win-win.

I'm so looking forward this summer to being able to build relationships with people. I know that this place and this experience will once again change me, making me more into the woman that God wants me to be. I can't wait to see what this experience has in store for me :)