Kindness, Kiwis, and Kettles

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I slowly began to realize that I was no longer a YAV and that I had been transported back to school. The theme for LEAP  (An acronym that stands for Loving Every Amazing Person or something to that effect), a childrens’ program that is run by the Assembly of God Church in Chinook every Wednesday night,  has been the fruits of the spirit ever since the kids got back from Christmas break. The fruit for the evening was kindness. Therefore, the letter K featured prominently in the story about two boys in Ms. Kristiansen’s class. The upstairs auditorium was decorated with a giant banner reading “welcome to kindergarten” along with colorful signs featuring the names of Ms. Kristiansen’s fictitious students. For a half hour, we were all classmates together as we worked to identify pictures of various objects with the same beginning sound. However, we all became dismayed as our speaker from the Alliance Church informed us that some of the boys had been teasing our poor classmate Kurt when he incorrectly identified an image as a “pot” instead of a “kettle.” 

Fortunately, she had come prepared with ways that the kids in Chinook could show kindness not only at “King Elementary School” but also at their real school, Meadowlark Elementary. The most obvious principle is that of the golden rule; “treat others the way you would want to be treated.” That message has stuck with me this week as I go about my daily reflections. As I have tried my best to put kindness out into the universe, I have also begun to notice the ways others have treated me with kindess as well, and I have several examples. On Monday, I struck up the courage to go and audition for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I was a little late due to some difficulty finding the room, and as I sat there and watched everyone else stepping up to read their chosen monologues, I grew more and more anxious. It seemed as though everyone had been given their turn but me.

When it seemed as though the last person had gone, and before I had the chance to speak up,  the actor who has been cast in the role of Willy Wonka spoke first and said, “wait, there are some people who haven’t even gotten to do a thing yet!” I immediately breathed a small sigh of relief and briefly looked over my lines before heading onstage. After I had finished reading for the part of Violet, Willy Wonka himself thanked me for coming. I haven’t heard any news back about the cast list, but, regardless of what happens, it seems like he would be a neat guy to work with. Just as Willy Wonka is able to forgive Charlie and Grandpa Joe for stealing fizzy lifting drinks once he realizes that Charlie is the only kid who wasn’t willing to sell him out to Slugworth, the kids at both the preschool and at Meadowlark have shown me kindness if I happen to struggle with a task or if I accidentally spill an extra dash of food on their lunch tray. I will admit I’m not the best at arts and crafts, but the preschoolers and I were able to work together to create some pretty cool dragonflies! I have included a picture below. 

Speaking of the ways in which kids can show kindness to others, one of the things we talked about at LEAP that night was giving compliments. I have my long day at Meadowlark on Thursday, and one of the many things I get to do in the morning is go out to recess with the kids. I was standing on the blacktop eyeing the jump ropes when I noticed a solitary basketball sitting there in the snow. I have always been a basketball fan. My warm, loving host parents know this, and I am grateful to them for showing me kindness whether it’s baking brownies when I’m going through a tough time or being willing to turn on the Jazz game so I can bring a little touch of Utah into my Montana living room. I started out watching college basketball, specifically Georgia Tech and UNC (Go Heels!), and I was even able to see a Hawks game when I lived in Atlanta. But I started to become a true fan when I saw the smiling faces of all those Utah families on the jumbotron during Jazz games. 

Although I’ve been to my fair share of games at Vivint Smart Home Arena over the years, I haven’t actually played in a long time. One of my favorite outdoor activities when I was a little kid, besides swinging in the backyard and making up endless stories in my head as I did so, was shooting hoops in the driveway. My brother Luke and I would play a game that I made up where one of us would shoot the ball and the other would catch it as it came out of the net.  If the ball went through the hoop and never touched the ground, we would earn a continent and if we missed or if it hit the pavement we would lose a continent. The goal was to earn all seven, which would sometimes take us hours! I got a lot of practice, and, apparently I never lost my touch, because one of the students in my second grade told my I was “good at shooting hoops,” which was a compliment that made my day. My goal for the upcoming week, and, hopefully my goal for you, reader, is to give as many compliments as you can, because you never know whether or not being noticed could change, or even save, someone’s life. 

P.S. As an indication of how many times I watched “Willy Wonka” on the way to Holden Beach as a kid, the quote that comes after “You stole fizzy lifting drinks!” in the origianal film was an actual Jeopardy question in the GOAT tournament and both my brother and I got the answer correct when none of the contestants did! (The answer? “I said Good Day, Sir!”)

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Clothes don’t make a person, it’s what’s inside that counts. Now, I must admit that, when I was younger, I always was longing for the next new designer top or the coolest shoe in order to try and fit in with the other girls. Dressing was a means of conformity so that I didn’t stand out more than I already felt I did. On the contrary, the theater stage was one place where I wasn’t afraid to be myself. Yes, it was competitive, and yes there are aspects of those days, especially when I became a teenager, that hurt me deeply and that shook my confidence for a long time. Although learning choreography was frustrating and the rehearsals were sometimes tedious, it was all forgotten on show day. No matter how big or small my part was, I would stand backstage with butterflies filling my stomach waiting anxiously for the moment I lived for when my cue came and I got out there for the very first time.

It all flooded back to me when I had the opportunity to see the kids from Chinook perform in Missoula Childrens’ Theater’s latest production entitled The Emperor’s New Clothes. As I watched and listened I tried to take the show’s core message to heart. What I ended up with was the villain’s title song stuck in my head along with visions of the most adorable itty bitty silkworms known to man. In all seriousness, I watched as the Emperor abandoned his true friends in pursuit of frivolous material goods. I had to ask myself; had I ever gone to such an extreme? My answer is that my particular situation is complicated and, therefore, I don’t have a clear yes or no answer. However, I can think of one analogy that sums things up pretty nicely.

When I first moved to Utah in 2010, I wanted to make the best first impression at my new school. Back then, Ugg boots were all the rage. I broke them out during the winter months and grinned at how they looked in the mirror when paired with my crisp uniform. There were two major problems with this. The first was that these boots had little to no traction when placed on actual snow. The second was that all the girls, don’t ask me why, still wore our tights and plaid skirts in thirty degree weather. These two ingredients combined were a recipe for disaster.

I was walking out of the art building, which was the furthest building on campus, and was heading to lunch one icy day with my big binder in my arms. The minute my foot hit the ice, I skidded forward and fell on my knees. Loose papers went flying everywhere and were soon soaking wet with snow. Mortified, I scrambled to grab everything I could and hurried cautiously to the cafeteria. I glanced down at my tights in horror and noticed a muddy red stain on my knee. When I look back at this incident now, I regret that I had wanted to look extra cute that day and wear pink tights, which was definitely against the dress code. I wish I had had the courage to wear pants to school that would have been more appropriate for the weather, as well as a pair of actual snow boots.

I got a little misty-eyed watching those kids dancing and singing their hearts out up on stage. Although I haven’t done it in awhile, the old theater bug is still laying dormant somewhere inside me. Who knows? Perhaps one day, if I work really hard, I can find an audience and a tribe of people who love and accept me for who I am. After all, I enjoy the performing arts with all my heart and soul and that’s the most important thing. My challenge for you today, reader, is to look around you and see if the people you’re with bring the right kind of energy into your life. Meanwhile, I might start looking for a dance class.

Angels, Golf, and a Coffee Mug

I randomly reached for a mug to fill it up with my usual water instead of coffee, unaware of the image that would appear as I turned it around to face me. Lately, I have been trying my best to listen to God and to pay attention to how the signs and messages in the world around me may be speaking to my heart. Pastor Maggie’s sermon on Sunday posed the very question I’ve been wrestling with for the past several weeks; how exactly should I face my past so that I can learn and grow from it? I came away from church feeling conflicted and torn. Part of me desperately wanted to stay in Chinook despite all the ups and downs that have come with my first big journey away from home. However, there was perhaps an even bigger part that seemed to be calling me to seek answers elsewhere. I was beginning to give into those doubts when I received an unexpected phone call.

My Grandpa texted me on Sunday afternoon and we talked about how the new host home placement was going and about when my YAV year would end. I gave him the same response that I had been giving everyone, which was end of July, even though I wasn’t quite sure what to feel when people around town asked me whether or not I would be coming back after Christmas. I assured him that I would try my hardest to make it to our annual beach week. I awoke the following morning with my Grandparents on my mind. I felt an inexplicable urge to text them and to send them the video of my recent bells concert. Right as I was typing out the words, my phone buzzed with my Mom’s name on the screen. I was slightly confused as to the reason behind her reaching out to me, but as soon as I answered the phone and heard her voice thick with emotion, I knew in that instant that something was very wrong.

In the wake of my Grandpa’s sudden death, word traveled fast. Within an hour after I had announced the news, I had people coming up to me and giving me warm hugs. After that, I began to feel more at peace. It hasn’t always been easy for me, especially in a new place, to open up to people. A lot of that has to do with recently re-opened wounds of my past that haven’t fully healed. While it’s true that my past has been blocking me and that I will eventually give myself the chance to dig through it and revisit it, what I am sure of now is that I am part of a community that will love and support me during the most difficult times in my life. And that love is what I need in this moment.

Since having made up my mind to stay, I have been able to enjoy receiving the energy that I have put out into the universe. I can now say I am officially a part of my little group of friends at the Villa retirement community. I even got to be the line leader of my class at Meadowlark Elementary! I’ve been continuing to enjoy the bell choir and I have recently taken up yoga. I will certainly miss everyone while I’m gone on my extended vacation, including the preschooler who called my name in the grocery store. Those coffee hour chats have become important to me, even if its just “hanging out with a bunch of old ladies,” as they jokingly put it. And it was at Meadowlark and Coffee hour in the morning following my Grandpa’s death that I began to see signs of his continued presence.

The book I read with one of my second graders had a Grandpa as the main character. Then, even more incredibly, I turned the coffee mug around to see an image of a golfer with the caption underneath that read “Golf: because all the other four-letter words were taken.” Anyone who knew my Grandpa during his later years knew that he loved to golf, especially when it was with his wife, kids, and grandkids. I got chills as soon as I saw what had been on the other side all along, and I even said “Are you serious?” out loud! He is definitely still with me. My challenge for you today, readers, is to look for the special messages God may have for you. Perhaps even start by attending a service tomorrow morning and by listening closely! I know I will, especially with my Grandpa there to watch over me.

Hanging of the Greens

Happy December, everyone!

I have been blessed by sidewalk angels. Yesterday afternoon, when I was about to shovel a path through the snow in preparation to walk to the grocery store, the doorbell rang. A little girl stood there shyly and asked “Would you like your sidewalk shoveled?””Yes! That would be great! Thank you so much!” I replied. I sat there in the house listening to the happy giggles of her and her business partners and to the shovel scraping the concrete. Were they her friends? Siblings? I’m not exactly sure. I didn’t even recognize them from school, which is surprising since I serve in the cafeteria twice a week.
Unfortunately, although I was grateful for their assistance and the walk went smoothly, dinner did not quite go as planned. My rice absorbed too much liquid from the canned beans and corn and my frozen chicken was still pink in the middle when I cut into it. Luckily I noticed that fact before taking a bite! However, when I walked into the store after service this morning, I stopped in front of the meat aisle pondering whether or not I should give cooking another try. I had a pork recipe planned out and ready to go, but as I glanced down to find it, a ready made meal kit caught my eye . This is perfect! I thought, and the strange thing is that those kits had not been there the day before. I went home thanking God for the gift of a quick and easy nutritious dinner.
There are plenty of reasons to be joyful, especially during the Holiday season where ordinary things around me start to look like miracles. Today during church we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. The message in the children’s sermon, which I later relayed to residents at the nursing home during their Sunday afternoon worship, described the symbolism of this time of year. The Advent wreath is circular, meaning that it has no beginning and no end. Therefore, much like the wreath, our faith in Christ is continuous. The first candle lit today, which is purple, symbolizes hope. Seeing those children out there willing to give up their Saturday shoveling for strangers in 16 degree weather gives me hope for the future!
As John writes in this morning’s scripture reading, once a year we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who grew to be a man “full of grace and truth.” I am hopeful that I can begin to shine my light and speak my truth to everyone I meet. The residents at the nursing home commented on what a nice job I did with the message and praised my singing. It feels good to know that I have shared my gifts with others and that I have formed a connection with them. I will do my best to continue in this vein during my upcoming Christmas performances and at Meadowlark Elementary tomorrow.After all, I get to see the second grader who has called me her “best friend!” Who knows what’s going on in that little life? So that’s pretty amazing too.

My challenge for you, reader, over the next couple weeks, is to find ways to place your faith in the divine so that you may be led down the path you hope for. Perhaps it’s not even what you expect or even what you want to happen! But, if I have learned one thing since my arrival, it’s that God has a plan for every one of us. And as long as we continue to open our hearts and listen, we can become more attuned to it. It can be difficult sometimes to be vulnerable and to be in touch with our inner soul. But it’s only when we go to that place that healing happens. And from that healing springs hope, faith, love, joy, and peace.

Unlocking the reasons why names have power

  1. Two weeks ago, we began a six week bible study based on a series called The Chosen that depicts the lives of the Disciples. I was struck by the words the young Mary Magdalene’s father extends to her when she is frightened and cannot sleep. “Fear not, for I have called you by name. I am yours and you are mine.” I take great comfort in the fact that, no matter how rocky my path may become, God knows what is best for me and will allow me to bloom wherever I am planted. Names have power, because they define us. Therefore, one may wish to use their name in order to create a new identity and a new legacy for themselves. For me, I savor the meaning and the history behind my name, which comes from both sides of my family and means “Wisdom.” Being wise may often seem like a lofty goal; however, I try every day to make decisions based on who I am and on what I feel in my heart. While I think of my family and friends often, I’ve enjoyed being supported and accepted by Chinook, and I feel that God has led me here and wants me to make the most out of my year of working, learning, and growing. I enjoy the hospitality, whether it’s through good conversation or through people making sure I get home safely. One particular experience that comes to mind is the YAV fundraiser.
    At first, when I hopped in the car, I was pensive. It had been a long week, including teaching a successful lesson in Church School, which made my heart swell, but I was also drained.However, I put on my YAV shirt and was fully committed to showing the community my love and thanks. As soon as I stepped into the Eagles, I glanced around and smelled the brisket and enjoyed the company as we prepared to serve food. As I was there surrounded by everyone who had made this all possible and spooned out barbecue sauce, something clicked for me. I was standing alongside Chinook, and they were doing the same in return. My challenge for you all this week is to think about your own names. What might they signify about you? How are you growing where you are planted? What ways can you continue to grow?
    There is never a dull moment here! Whether it’s family, fun, or fellowship, I am never truly alone. Even when I feel sad or homesick, I remind myself that God may push us, but we are all right where we are supposed to be. I am grateful every day for this incredible opportunity!

March 23, 2019

Today, I woke up and got ready for the day. I headed home. I received a lovely handwritten note from the parents of my former Elementary school classmate who was killed in a shooting in Tallahassee, Florida in November. In it, they thanked me for donating to the research foundation they started in her honor. Mom made sweet rice with cashew butter, banana chips, and strawberry powder for breakfast. It was delicious! Cashew butter tastes almost exactly like peanut butter, by the way.

After breakfast, we completed our March madness brackets. We’re a little late this year, but we still have the chance to rack up some points. My bracket’s done pretty well today! Gonzaga won as well as Michigan. I was close to getting 21 points, but Wofford did not upset Kentucky.

We turned on the repeat of the mens’ free skate. I watched it on and off as I worked on my research paper for school. Uzuru Hanyu from Japan was incredible! I laughed as hundreds of Winnie the Poohs came raining down from the stands. Nathan Chen was also flawless. What a treat to watch them both! It’s too bad that Jason Brown had a rough free skate this time around.

Mom and I took Rosie for a walk when I took a study break. We walked by the sheep in our neighborhood. We counted about ten babies! The little black lambs were so adorable as they trailed clumsily behind their Mothers.

Later that afternoon, I stopped studying for good. Dad and I went down to Westminster to see the International Festival. I had never been before, and it was a lot of fun! I had bread from Mongolia, dumplings from Nepal, Sushi from Japan, another type of dumpling, cake from Somalia, Tapas from Spain, a Crepe from France, a beef dumpling from Afghanistan, empanadas from Colombia, and some kind of sandwich similar to a Chicken shawarma. We listened to performances by drums and by a bollywood dance group. At the end, we got to work off our feast by learning several dance steps.

Now I’m back home and getting ready for bed. Jazz won tonight! I’ve been sneezing all day. I think I might be coming down with a cold.

March 20, 2019

Today I woke up and went to help out in the level 1 ESL class. My friends were so excited to see me, since I had been gone the week before. We read our “Sam and Pat” story and did some exercises related to that with “ai” and “ee” sounds. After break, we watched a cute video about parent-teacher conferences. The topic of education was related to Sam and Pat’s fictional son Buddy and his bad grades. The teacher pointed out that there are numbers you can call if you ever need help with anything. You can always ask the school for an interpreter. I headed back to campus and worked out for a little bit in the gym. I had lunch. After lunch, I headed over to the graduation fair, where I received an Honors chord and purchased my cap and gown. Graduation is rapidly approaching! My next task, which I plan on motivating myself to knock out this weekend, is to write the final chapters of my research paper. I can do it! One last hurdle and it’s all downhill from there.

After the grad fair, I attempted to microwave popcorn, and it was an epic fail. I’m just glad none of the smoke alarms in my apartment went off! Some of the kernels were edible, but others were fused together in a black, mushy clump. I bought a movie with the red box code from my care package, but haven’t been able to watch it yet. I went over to Shaw and played grocery store bingo. I then went to the Honors showcase, which is like a talent show. There were poems, photography, and even songs and dances. It was a lot of fun! Afterwards, I retired to my dorm for the evening. Tomorrow brings a full day at my internship with the promise of march madness fun in the evening.