Friday, June 16, 2017

The Eye of the Storm

Perhaps it's because it's rainy season, but for the past couple of weeks (and I imagine for the next several... months... as well) a hurricane has seemed the best metaphor for my life. My beautiful life is a crazy storm of chaos right now, but at the center - the eye of the storm - is God. When I think about all the things on my "to-do" list right now, on any given day of the week, they include: teaching (and other work or extra-curricular related activities) and preparing for the end of the semester, studying Hungarian, working on my grad school class, preparing for a transcontinental move, and spending as much time as possible with the people I care about who I might not be seeing again for a very long time. This storm called life also comes brings with it a variety of emotions that cover the entire gamut: joy, thankfulness, contentment, peace, delight, worry, fear, doubt, frustration, uncertainty... The list goes on. Most days, I experience any number of those emotions, sometimes simultaneously. However, at the center of all of this - of all of this life, all of this seeming chaos that I am whirling about in - at the center is God. He is the eye of the storm, the calm.

God has placed an incredible number of people in my life who care. They care about Him, and they care about me. As I've had my last O.S.F. and my last F.N.B.S. this past week, amongst other things, the fact that people care has been highlighted, and so has the fact that God is in control. Our last O.S.F. of the semester was on Thursday. A surprising number of kids showed up, however many of them had heard rumor that there'd be ice cream (and there was). Jason, a student that has been attending O.S.F. for a couple of years now, also came. "I hear you will be moving to Europe," he said. "God brought you to Taiwan, and you brought happiness to many students here. Now, God is taking you to Hungary. You will bring much happiness to students there. God will bless your new work," Jason told me. "But, you are always welcome to come back to Concordia," he added. O.S.F. consisted of playing some mannequin charades (a game that Hannah's been saving up all year for when we had the right number of students), looking at some pictures from activities that have taken place over the past year, and finally ice cream. While the ice cream was being scooped and passed around, Jason added, "You should probably make an announcement that you're leaving. If you don't, many people will maybe wonder where you are next year. You have been here a long time." I hate good-byes, and as I shared with the students that this would, in fact, be my last O.S.F. I felt my eyes start to tear up. "Amanda," called out one of the A.F.L. girls, "Don't cry! Think about the ice cream and don't be sad!" After we were done eating ice cream with strawberries and chocolate sauce, slowly the students left in groups. At the end, there were two girls and a boy who hung around to talk. I will miss O.S.F. But I am thankful for my time with them! And, even this week, God used them to remind me that He called me to Taiwan just as He is now calling me to Hungary. I didn't know much about Taiwan before coming, but what a wonderful six years it's been! He has a plan for Hungary as well. "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21.

Tonight was my last Friday Night Bible Study, and God found some ways to bring that full circle too. Mark is in town. When we saw each other at Matt's wedding over the weekend, he asked, "Are you playing at Friday Night this week? Can I play too?!" Of course! And so, just like when I first played at Friday Night it was with Mark (and possibly a student or two?), my final evening of music at Friday Night had me on the piano and Mark on the guitar. Without actually thinking of it until tonight, the final song I had chosen for this week was "Trading My Sorrows." How true! Leaving Taiwan is bittersweet, but I would rather savor the time I have here and look forward to the time ahead in Hungary. I have many wonderful friends that I have met and grown to know through Friday Night Bible Study. I am thankful for my friends there, and, as a teacher of the childrens' class for going on six years, the students that I have watched grow up. "Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10. 

Finally, I have reticently started telling my students - current and a few former - that this is my final semester in Taiwan. One of my fifth grade girls today exclaimed, "But, you've been here as long as I've been at this school! Why do you want to leave?!" Perhaps that is the hardest question to answer, because it is so grounded in God (as another one of my friends, who is also leaving this year, pointed out) that if you don't have a firm foundation in Him, it's just hard to understand. It isn't exactly that I want to leave, although I am very excited about Hungary; God opened the door, pointed me in the direction and told me to walk. So, I walk. When I first started this blog - and when I first found out that I'd be coming to Taiwan - I grounded myself in the verse: "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'" Isaiah 6:8. This hasn't changed.

I hop on my bike on days like Sunday, where it is hotter than anywhere you can imagine - "insta-sweat" is at its finest - but the sky is a brilliant blue with layers of white clouds and dark green mountains in the background, and this is contrasted by the patchwork of yellow-green rice fields heavy with grain waiting to be harvested next to the golden hues of the already reaped fields. It is a spectacular sight to behold! I sit in the car on the way home from the wedding and exclaim, "I'm going to miss trees growing bags, or rather fruit that gets individually bagged while on the tree." I am so thankful, and feel so blessed, that I have been able to call this beautiful, open hearted, warm (and always humid) country home for the past six years. I can't help but smile. And although I'm not on the Mount at the transfiguration, I can't help but think to myself, "How good Lord to be here." 

My human self sometimes tries to grab the reins. It frets over things it can't control and worries about things it doesn't need too. My kindergarten students were learning two weeks ago about how God takes care of us and we don't need to worry: "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31. Life is complicated, and sometimes, it's chaos, but at the heart of it - in the very center - there is God. God is the eye in the storm, the rock, and my peace and portion. In Him, I believe.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Baking Outrageous Peanut Butter M&M Cookies with O.S.F.

It's that time of the semester: the final trip that O.S.F. takes to the kitchen before the end of the semester. Although C.E.L.A. and the kindergarten have class until June 30th, the middle and high school students finish June 23rd (with J3 and S3 students, basically, already being done).

This year, O.S.F. and Robotics Club share the same time slot on the same night so many of the boys who previously attended O.S.F. now only show up on special occasions, or nights without Robotics Club. Sometimes they'll stick they're head in when we're in the kitchen though, since the lab they use for Robotics Club is in the same building as the school kitchen.

Tonight, we had between 17-19 students show up to make cookies. A smaller group, but it had its perks. Hannah and I were the only two teachers who went. All the students, plus Hannah and myself, ended up gathering around one rather large metal table strewn with ingredients and one copy of the recipe (the students grabbed the bowls and measuring cups from their various starting tables but not their recipes). Hannah worked with the girls, while I worked with two groups of boys. And we all had a lot of fun! The boys really just wanted to eat the M&Ms (and who can blame them? Tasting is the best part of baking), and then they didn't want to wait for their cookies to cool before trying to grab them off the pipping hot baking sheets. None the less, everyone's cookies had plenty of M&Ms, and no one ended up being burned. All three groups' cookies turned out really well!

The two groups of boys hard at work measuring out their peanut butter. 

The girls mixing their cookie dough under the Hannah's watchful eye. 

Spooning out the dough onto baking sheets lined with tin foil

Trying to sneak a cookie off the sheet fresh from the oven. Caught in the act!

The final product with it's creators :) 

Another successful O.S.F. in the kitchen mission! 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Let's Meet in the Kitchen

Time spent in the kitchen, although something quite ordinary, has always been very special to me. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my Mom: watching her bake or cook, learning, conversing, laughing, and sometimes even helping. In college, a couple of my close friends and I shared a love of baking and cooking, and I have so many fond food adventure memories from the hours we spent in either my kitchen or theirs. Food brings people together. And for me, food - making it and sharing it - is a way that I show I care.

Life is so busy and days are so long that I don't spend as much time in the kitchen here in Taiwan as I'd like. But that doesn't mean that you can't still find me in there.

This past weekend (it was a long weekend) on Monday, a few friend from church, her daughter, and I met up to do some baking. In particular, baking in Taiwan is special, because most places don't have an oven (the things we take for granted!); however, the Practice Hotel at school has one in the kitchen there, and that's where we met. It's not an oven that as big as the standard oven in the States, but it gets the job done. Monday's baking was also special because I was sharing a few of my favorite gluten free recipes with friends who had recently found out that their daughter can't eat wheat. A little girl who wonders why she has to bring a special snack or lunch to school, instead of eating what all the other kids are eating.

On the agenda to make were: butterscotch bars and peanut butter bars. And although both ended up being a little brown on top (we were distracted talking and playing once the bars were in the oven), they didn't taste it.

No matter the culture, food brings people together. :)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Let Us Pray: J1 Chapel

"For the Father above, He is listening with love / And He wants to answer us, so let us pray"
Steven Curtis Chapman, Let Us Pray

This morning a handful of us (American teachers) met in the chapel around 7am to do a quick run through of our skit before the students would start arriving around 7:30am. Most weeks, J1 chapel is led by different Taiwanese teachers in Chinese, but every so often, the Americans are asked to help out. The theme this week was prayer.

As usual, we started out singing a couple of different songs. Often times, they're action songs because if nothing else, the students can follow along with the movement. It also helps to wake up the teachers and make sure the kids are paying attention. :)

Then it was time for the skit. It featured five different people talking to God. The first was a girl who understood that God is very important, so she hadn't prayed in awhile, because she was worried she wouldn't say the right thing. She went to the library and found a book that supposedly would teach her the right words to say. The second girl just wanted God to give her a bunch of stuff (like a new computer and cellphone). The third girl was upset because even though she believed in God, her life was still hard. A dog had stolen her lunch and bit her hand! And her parents were fighting, if her dad was at home, that is. The fourth, a boy, was trying to talk to God before bed, but ended up being really repetitive because he kept falling asleep. Although prayer is simply talking to God and there's no one correct way to do that, the one part of the conversation that the first four people missed was listening to what God had to say. The fifth person, a girl, started out talking a lot - she was worried - but she also listened to God.

After the skit, one of the teachers talked about the importance of prayer. It is important to talk with God. And, God wants to hear us. But talking with God is just that - with - and that means giving God a chance to talk too.

We had time for one more song before chapel was over. There was a short prayer, and the students were dismissed for the day.