May 29, 2011

Making Memories

 "He has made everything beautiful in its time..." Ecclesiastes 3:11

Aaron stoking our last bon fire
It was our last Sunday all together as a group. Kim was going to be leaving the next day, and the goodbyes would start. I felt like I'd poured my soul into this place, these people this life. And soon it would all be gone.

Pastor Marc and the AY had planned a bon fire for us on the beach. So after darkness had fallen and the stars had come out, our whole group of SMs and AYs grabbed firewood and wandered down the road to the beach. Once the fire was going, we gathered into a circle and we all went around and spoke.

"Filipinos, you know, aren't like Americans," Pastor Marc said. "We're not very good at expressing ourselves, not as good as you are." But they expressed their thanks quite well, I thought. They told us how we'd helped them and thanked us for our sacrifices. "We will remember you always," one friend said. "You're worth remembering."

"It's hard to say goodbye," Kristel said, "but time is saying you need to go." And we all knew she was right.

After we finished our bon fire time, we decided to wander back to the pavilion to eat snacks and just hang out with one another. I stood to go after many had already left, and as I turned my back to the beach I saw Carina waiting for me. We walked and talked and were a little sad together. As we neared the church again, she asked me what we were going to do the rest of the night. I shrugged. "Just talk and eat. Maybe play some games. You're coming over right?"

"No," she said in that tone I'd learned to never take seriously.

"Apay?" I looked at her with a smirk and asked why.

"We shouldn't make any more happy memories, Katelyn. That way we'll have less to look back on and be sad about."

I laughed and said, "So should we just get into a fight so we don't talk the rest of the time?"

"Yes!" She said with a smile.

She came, of course, and we all enjoyed the evening together. But I understood her words and her concern. The more attached you get to a place or person, the harder it is to part.

Wonderful Friends!

But I like to flip it the other way around: the more painful or sad it is to leave, that means there has been a greater connection. And the greater the connection, well, the more there is to be happy about. No matter how we feel when we come to the end of something good, there's comfort in knowing that it was just that--good.

We can give a sigh of contentment at the memory of its beauty.

May 22, 2011

"No, It's Okay!"

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" Matthew 7:9

I don't like discussing money.

During our stay in Pagudpud, several of the student missionaries decided to help some members of the AY go back to college. I too planned to help two of my friends return to their studies, which had been halted due to finances. However, before they could be enrolled, both girls had to complete some forms and requirements. This led to several long and costly bus rides to Laoag where the school was located.

One day I decided it would probably be wise for me to check out their school. By this point Kristel had been cleared to return, but Carina had still not been completely accepted. So the three of us caught an early bus to Laoag with the intent of a tour and an attempt at setting Carina's readmittance in stone.

The Girls' College

And so began my frustrating experience with the college. For various absence and beaurocratic-related reasons, we were required to make that trip four times. Each bus ride ate up two hours and 60 pesos per person, one way. Round trip cost about $3 each, which may not sound like much for America, but for the Philippines it was a decent expense. Of course there was no way I was going to force this expense on the very girls I was hoping to help. But I met an issue.

The week before our first trip, I was checking in with Carina.
"So it's okay if we go Tuesday? Oh and don't worry about the bus fare."
"Katelyn, I can pay for it."
"No, it's okay, I got it."
"No, it's okay, it's okay!"
"I guess we'll cross this bridge when we get to it."

On Tuesday, when the man came to collect our bus money, I quickly jumped to my wallet before my friend could stop me. She didn't say anything and she made no move to stop me, but I could feel a tension in the air.

When we got off the bus, we hailed a trike and told the driver where we wanted to go. After a quick ride, we arrived at the school. I stepped out and looked around at the campus. "Manu, manong?" I heard behind me. "24." I turned and opened my wallet to pay the 24 pesos, but my eyes caught Carina swiftly slip the man some money. I smiled to myself, and we walked inside.

The same thing happened again for lunch. Before I could pay for the pansit, my two friends had already covered it. "Come on!" I laughed, still feeling that awkward sensation that always seems to accompany matters of money. I really wished they would just let me pay for things and leave it at that.

Over the next several trips, Carina kept slipping in whenever she could to pay the numerous little expenses. At first I kept trying to argue with her. Still, each time I thanked her.

"Thanks for covering the trike." We were loading back onto the bus to go back to Pagudpud. Carina was in front of me and said with a laugh, "That was the last of my allowance."

Carina and Kristel
"Wow. Thank you!" I said again. I sat down in my seat, floored.

She spent all her money for these trips, for our transportation and food. She'd paid for me. What kind of a sponsor was I?

I felt awed with her consideration while at the same time slightly upset at her for not letting me take care of things. But on that ride back, a thought started forming in my mind until I was hit with a realization.

Had I seriously been so insensitive?

No one likes to feel helpless, like you have nothing to contribute. Part of the maturation process involves taking care and reponsibility of oneself. To be able to provide for oneself and not be dependant on others is something most people strive for. To take that away isn't an act of bruising an ego--it's dehumanizing. And this whole time I'd been attempting just that, trying to convince someone to relinquish her own self-sufficiency. I'd been trying to give her something of mine while taking away something of hers which was much more valuable. What sort of aspiring psychologist was I?!

I had to go into Laoag one final time with just Carina and I. This time I kept my eye out better, waiting for cues. When she wanted to pay, I let my friend pay, and when she couldn't, she let me.

And when it was all said and done, I thanked her sincerely for her sacrifice, humbled with a lesson learned.

May 18, 2011

A Time for Everything

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 
a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 
a time to search and a time to give up, 
a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
a time to tear and a time to mend, 
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate, 
a time for war and a time for peace."
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 

I woke up at my usual time, grabbed my Bible, and slipped out the door. Dave and Zernan were sleeping in the common area and a step onto the balcony showed that it was raining. So I decided to head downstairs where I pulled up a chair to one of the tables and set down my things. It was going to be an early morning for all of us, but I needed to get time with God before we caught the 7:00am bus.

We were heading into Laoag to visit a hospital patient. Her name was Chita, and she was also the mother of one of the AY, Cliff. Chita had had breast cancer for years, but had never gotten treatment for it. The last few weeks things had been going from bad to worse and now she was in the hospital with severe pain. We were going to pray with her and the family, sing songs, and simply be as supportive as we could be.

"Good morning." Pastor Marc walked up and sat down beside me. He leaned back in his chair and stretched--he looked tired.

"Cliff was calling and texting me all night," he told me. "She's not doing well. I guided him through praying with her and the last time he called I could hear everyone singing. The last time he texted me, he said they were coming home to Gaoa."

"When was that?"
"So we'll go straight to Gaoa at 7:00?"
"Are we still going?"
"Well, we're all planning on it. I think it would be good." It seemed like there was greater need than ever to go see Chita. We knew there wasn't much time left.

When everyone else had gotten up and had come together for our morning worship, I told them what had been happening through the night. We all solemnly agreed that we needed to go to Cliff's home, soon. So we went about grabbing breakfast and brushing our teeth, all in a dark sort of urgency. I darted through the rain to the church to check if Pastor Marc was ready. I met him as he was walking out the church door. As he walked passed me he said quietly, "Cliff texted again: 'she's gone.'"

I closed my eyes and stood frozen, my heart sinking as tears filled my eyes. She's gone.

Our hurried efforts were too late. She's gone.

I walked slowly back to the pavilion, not caring about how wet I was getting. I sat on a table and let my eyes stare straight ahead as tears slipped down my cheeks. Pastor Marc sat quietly in a chair and informed the other SMs as they appeared. She's gone.

We took trikes to the bus stop at Mawini and waited for an eastbound bus to pass. We waited and waited under our shelter as the rain poured down around us. No one said a word the whole time. We just sat and stood in silence, watching and thinking.

Tears continued to fall from my eyes as I turned my gaze towards the rice fields. Big white birds like egrets were wandering through the crops, the dark sky a significant contrast behind them. They're so majestic and beautiful birds, but on that day they just seemed--mournful.

I watched one take to the sky, and was filled with grief for the world.

And there's nothing you can do and there's nothing you can say that makes these things okay. Sometimes you just need to feel the pain because it's time to feel it.

There's a time for everything. And this time won't last much longer.

May 6, 2011

Under the Kubo Kubo Hut

"Winter warmth and light and a shady place in summer:
He's ever over me."

It was a beautiful day for a boat race.

We all ended up at the beach that morning. Kim was leaving soon and was working on saying his goodbyes, so I went with him to visit Uncle Elias. As we walked up to his front porch, his daughter-in-law came outside and told us he had already gone to his kubo kubo hut. We thanked her and walked passed the house, onto the beach. Sure enough, there he was, under the kubo kubo hut.

It's that classic hut. Usually made from bamboo or coconut palms, you can find them all over the Philippines, or at least all over Pagudpud. They're open air with benches or low platforms inside. Their purpose? Shade. And that's one thing Kim and I were happy to step into that morning.

"Hello Uncle Elias!" We shook his hand and sat next to him on the creaking platform. His eyes brightened behind his lopsided glasses and he turned to start speaking to us in his slurred Tagalog. Elias has had several debilitating strokes. The last one happened about two years ago, and at the time it had left him nearly paralyzed. But he had recovered tremendously since then, having a lot greater range of motion. He still used a walker to slowly get places, and he couldn't quite articulate all the way, but again--major improvement.

Kim listened intently. He speaks Tagalog fairly fluently, and so while Elias's first language is the local Ilocano dialect, he also speaks Tagalog so that the two of them can communicate. Kim, as always, was kind enough to translate for me.

"He says the boat races haven't started yet, but this is the best spot to see them. The finish line is right out here." He pointed down the beach to the water nearby. I looked around the sandy shoreline: lots of people had come out to watch. Down next to the water Emily and Aaron were playing volleyball with some friends. Rainey was walking Pastor Marc's dog with another friend. Heather was splashing in the waves with a group of the neighborhood kids. The sun was high and hot, and a small cool breeze swept along, bringing a little relief.

We watched in silence for a little while, hoping to see the long, pontooned fishing boats start cutting through the water. I leaned back, drinking in the whole scene. It was so beautiful. So peaceful. So wonderful. I looked at Uncle Elias. This was what he did all day, everyday. He walked from his house to the beach and he sat under his kubo kubo hut and watched paradise sighing around him. What a life.

We talked some more, about us leaving, about Dr. Mitz coming back in September, about the future. "I'm ready to die. There's no point to living any longer," Uncle Elias stated at one point. He's said this before and it's always bothered me. When people talk about death here, it's usually said as a joke, a laugh, even if they're actually serious. They talk about it so lightly and it always stirs me up inside. "I can't walk," he said.

"You can walk," I remind him for the hundredth time. "It's still walking even if you use a walker. And soon I'm sure you won't even need that." He doesn't seem to hear me. "I used to be able to walk..." He's said this so much, and the scene was so beautiful. I wondered what this paradise looked like through his eyes.

We were quiet again. I shifted myself and scanned the beach again, letting out a sigh. We choose how we see life. I thought about how soon I would think back on this beach as a memory, trying to recall each little detail about it's magnificence. When something's always there, sometimes it begins to seem mundane, ordinary. I'd let this scene become ordinary throughout my 6 months. But it was nice to sit and drink it in again.

The forests of home are pretty ordinary. But lately I've been drinking them in again, too.

Beauty is everywhere, all around us. God has painted tapestries for us wherever we go, hoping that we'll open our eyes to see the wonders He's made. He's made life beautiful, too, if we choose to see its beauty,

and I think that's what makes the difference.

May 4, 2011


"Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

I'm home now. Been  home for several days. Life is sort of a haze right now, but reality is starting to sink in. I can't believe it's been over a week since I left Pagudpud. Part of me feels like it was just yesterday, but part of me feels like it was a lifetime ago. And I guess in a way it was a lifetime ago: I've passed into a whole different life since then. But I remain the same person.

I hope.

Perhaps I'll explore that more another day, another entry.

I had my 20th birthday in the Philippines. It was Easter Sunday and also our last Sunday in Pagudpud. When I woke up at 5, I decided to change my venue of morning worship. I walked down to the beach, the stars still shining above but the light of dawn brightening up the horizon. I sat on the sand and watched the boats push off into the sea. I had brought my journal, and as the sky lightened up, I flipped it open to the first page, the entry I had written during the outgoing SM retreat last May. I read through it, and one line caught my attention:

"God, I don't feel comfortable to lead, to be regarded as an adult."

I laughed as I read it. I had felt like an adult my whole time there. Turning 20 sounded too young--I felt so much older. I had experienced too much to just be 20: the things I had been asked to do, the things I had witnessed, the stories I had heard, the people I had met, the words I had said, the decisions I'd had to make, and the actions that had come so naturally over time--they did not belong in the life of someone my biological age. When people asked my age, they were usually surprised. But then they would say, "Still young!"

And I would agree. That number that used to sound so big as a child felt so small now, so young. It felt even younger than me.

One night I was talking with a dear friend of mine. At the time I was 19 and she was 21. She was thanking me for the kindness I had shown her. "You've been more of a help to me than even my relatives." I smiled at that and asked, "Well, can you consider me like one of your relatives?"

She looked at me with a serious expression on her face. "You're more than a relative, Katelyn."

"Then what am I?"

"A sister."

A lump formed in my throat as she looked away and said, "I always wanted an older sister." I laughed. "But I'm younger than you." She assured me that I was too mature to be considered her younger sister. I found that amusing.

I think people are ageless when they're working for God. I've certainly felt ageless. And if you think about it, that kind of makes sense. If we get our guidance and direction, our very words even, from a timeless God, doesn't that kind of make us--timeless too? If we're truly partnering ourselves with God, we relinquish our youthful fears and gain wisdom beyond our years. I find it quite amazing, quite fascinating, and quite perplexing.

And it makes me wonder how old I'll feel next year.