Thursday, July 28, 2016

Martha, Martha

"Now it happened as they went that He [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." 
Luke 10:38-42

This is one of my K1 students favorite stories. As we read it out of the BIG book "Sit Down", they can repeat with me: sweep, sweep, sweep, yum, yum, yum, and work, work, work. We also have actions that go with each of the phrases: sweeping with an imaginary broom, rubbing a satisfied tummy, and wiping a hot brow. The BIG book version of the story also has a little mouse that the kids like to try to find in each of the pictures. When we learn the story in K1, we talk about how Jesus wants to be our friend. 

And this is true, Jesus does want to be our friend. But God has been using this story this year to also teach me another lesson: Serving Him is good, but listening to Him is better. 

This has been a long lesson that God has been working on me with, continually finding new ways to drive the point home, or sneaking it in when I least expect it. As a teacher and a Christian, and just as a girl who likes to be busy and help others, it doesn't take very long for my schedule to fill up - tutoring, teaching, leading Bible studies or other activities both on and off of campus, spending time with friends, exploring, practicing my Chinese - the list could go on forever. And none of those activities are bad in themselves. In fact, they are all good things (which is why it's so hard to say "No"), but when I start doing them for the wrong reasons and they start taking my eyes off God because I'm too worried about all the things I have to accomplish, they are no longer serving Him. 

My schedule is full. There's nothing wrong with that until it gets in the way of me being able to listen to God. Because when that happens, I start to get stressed out, and then I'm no longer trusting in Him and serving Him, I'm trying to trust in myself. And, much like Martha, then when I go running to God saying, "God, I can't do all of this stuff by myself!" He quietly says to me, "Amanda, Amanda, you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Come and listen to me. Talk with me." And as I focus on Him, I notice the worry melting away.

Going hand in hand with this, because of my busy schedule and my American independent nature, I often want to be the one in charge. I trust God, but I find it hard to let go of the reins. This has been another lesson that He has been working with me on this year. And as I lead a discussion group on the book "Kisses for Katie" by Katie Davis and came across this quote, it made me stop and think:

“Sometimes I still think what I do with my life should be my decision. God asks, and reasons, and encourages. He gently explains that I do not know what is best for me and that I do not always get what I want. And I just look at Him, not understanding at all what He’s trying to say. Sometimes, I even whine and sob and shriek, just like a tired, angry three-year-old. So, God picks me up, exhausted from struggling, and plops me in the center of His will for my life. And then a funny thing happens. As I kick and scream and struggle, I remember: I like being in the center of God’s will for my life. God’s plan is usually pretty great. It is a whole lot better than mine anyway. I am so glad that He does not allow me to win.” 
How often am I the same way? (If you haven't read "Kisses for Katie," I highly recommend it). When I let go and let God lead, when I listen to Him, that's when I get things done and am not stressed out or worried. 

Throughout the school year, this lesson, these verses came to mind. And whenever I was feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I'd remind myself that "This is the day that the LORD has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24), and then start listing the things that I was thankful for. And I have MANY things to be thankful for! :) But it's a lesson that I'm continuing to work on learning even this summer as there are many things that are out of my control, and I have to turn to God and say, "It's in Your hands. I trust that You have a plan." And the more I let go, the more I am able to find peace. That doesn't mean that every day is easy, but Jesus continues to patiently walk with me, encouraging me along the way.


Friday, June 17, 2016

"As You Like It" - A Day Trip to Taipei

Stephanie, who used to be a Concordia Middle School student and along with regularly attending Friday Night Bible Study, is now a college student at National Taiwan University studying theater. While back visiting, she shared with us that she was helping with costumes for a rendition of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Being an avid Shakespeare fan and also wanting to support my friend, I asked the other American teachers if they'd be interested in taking a day trip up to Taipei to see the show, and I had several takers.

Stephanie and I at FNBS
The play was only running one weekend, and because the C.E.L.A. teachers had school on that Saturday, we decided to go up on Sunday to see it. There were five of us heading up total. The C.M.S. teachers ended up going up to Taipei on Saturday, and then Sunday around lunch time we all met at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Those of us who took the bus Sunday morning ended up getting in a little early, which worked out nicely because it allowed the new people to explore the memorial. We were even there to catch the changing of the guard! Once Matt and Emily arrived, we wandered around looking for lunch. (The theater wasn't far from the memorial).

Changing of the guard
It took us awhile to find a place that was open, but we finally found lunch. Then it was off to the theater.

Outside of the theater

"As You Like It" was being performed in Chinese. The set and costumes were both really interesting too. The beginning of the play took place in a traditional Japan setting, whereas most of the rest of it happened in a more Bohemian compound. When the set changed, foam pads were tossed down for scaffolding in the back so as to create layers of squish on the stage. There were a variety of uses for the foam, from allowing actors to faint on the stage without bumps or bruises, to acting a means of hiding props, etc. during a scene. All in all, it was really well done and a very enjoyable show!

Before catching the H.S.R. back to Chiayi that night, we stopped at our favorite Macho Taco for dinner. :)

It was a full day, but a fun one!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Baking Cookies in O.S.F.

Baking cookies with 25 junior and senior high school students is always an adventure. To be sure, since this is my fourth year leading this activity, some adjustments have been made to make it less exciting - for example, I pre-measure out the vanilla now (no coffee cups of vanilla going into any cookies these days!). But since each year's students are different, so are the experiences. And even though it's loud, and the kitchen is hot because there's no air-conditioning, and everyone is sweaty (because there's no air-conditioning), I wouldn't stop baking with the kids.

The students broke themselves into four groups: two groups of boys and two groups of girls. We had enough ingredients for a fifth group, but everyone wanted to work with the people in their groups... so we only had four groups. I explained the recipe. This year, I even remembered how to explain "1/2 an egg." And as usual, the kids did a pretty good job sharing, taking turns, and helping clean up at the end. That was after we were able to actually get into the kitchen. Usually, on nights when O.S.F. is baking in the school kitchen, it's left open for us, and we lock it up when we're done. But tonight, when Rachel, Hannah and I arrived, it was locked tight. After a few phone calls, someone came and let us into the building. By that point all the students were waiting outside with us, but that's alright.

The girls tend to be quieter and more focused. Tonight, they were the first ones to be scooping out their dough onto the cookie sheets.

On the other hand, the boys take different approaches to getting their cookies done. Usually, a few boys will emerge as the leaders and they will rally the other boys to their cause. Tonight was no different. I had to remind the boys, as they were mercilessly pounding the butter and sugars together, that "the best cookies are made with love, not aggression." I received the standard response, "Okay. Okay" with some minor alteration of behavior. But their cookies turned out alright in the end.

I'm always amused because in spite of following the same recipes and using the same ingredients, every batch of cookies turns out looking different. :) '

They all enjoyed eating the fruits of their labors, along with taking some cookies back to the dorms (either to eat later or share with their friends). So, I'd say tonight was a success!

Something Old, Something New

For me, Taiwan will always be a combination of something different and new, along with (especially Chiayi) something comfortable and familiar. After living several different places, I find this quality of cities to be something both comforting and exciting. Although my life in Chiayi certainly has it's patterns and routines, and many of them have become commonplace to me, recently the city has also been reminding me of my wonder for her.

I have always been fascinated with how the colors in Taiwan seem so different from the colors in the Midwest where I grew up. And lately, because of the combination of rain and sun, the colors of Taiwan have been at their finest: the vibrant greens and golds of the rice fields, the dazzling blue of the sky contrasted with the billowy white and grey clouds drifting across, and the various view of the mountains - sometimes purple and hazy, other times stark greens, browns, and blacks. And every time I see the mountains, I reminded of the verse in Pslams:

I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from?
Psalm 121:1

God put a rainbow in the sky to remind Noah of His promise to never flood the earth again. Every time I see the mountains, I am reminded of God's promise to be with me always. 
I can never quite capture this view the way I want to with a camera: the mountains framed by the gate.
The mountains are much clearer in this picture.
 But along with reminding me of her beauty, Chiayi has also reminded me that even after five years of living here, there is still much to be explored. Since my tutor-ee asked to reschedule tutoring this week, I took the opportunity to hop on my bike Tuesday night and ride up (and down) Daya Road looking for dinner. Daya Road is up in the LanTan area of Chiayi. It's a little pricey by Taiwan's standards, but it was fun, because the menus were all posted outside the restaurants, so I could peruse what each place had to offer without really committing to it. Because I wanted a place I could also sit and read for a bit, I settled on a coffee shop/restaurant called: Oasis. Come to find out, it was also dog friendly, as in there were dogs in the cafe. I ordered a gratin rice for dinner, and was surprised to discover that it also came with soup! And not some sort of Taiwanese soup... Western soup. And even though it was a really hot day and I'd just been out biking, I savored that thick, creamy soup. The gratin rice itself was really well executed too. It had a basil cream sauce (which was delicious!) and loads of seafood. There was also an ample amount of cheese (which is important to a Wisconsin girl) that was browned and crisp at the edges. Overall, I was delighted with my dinner and the overall feel of the place. 

Mmmmm. Soup!

God continues to remind not only how much I love about Taiwan and where I live, and how blessed I am to be here, but also all the things still out there for me to discover. :) What a wonderful world He has created!