Monday, November 24, 2014

In The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Although it's hard for me to believe that it is the week of Thanksgiving considering I am still wearing short sleeve T-shirts and sandals, my mind has been busy reflecting on what I am truly grateful for in my life, and I came up with two things:

1. I have amazing friends, both near and far. I have been blessed with so many amazing experiences in my lifetime. From Minnesota to Idaho, Hawaii to China, Cleveland to Utah, and finally Taiwan, I have met amazing people, and while I may have complained my way through far too many of my experiences, I am always left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for every person who has touched my life. Some may have just been in my life for a couple pages, and other people's stories might be interlaced throughout many chapters. In this season of gratitude my heart is overflowing with love for the people who have welcomed me with open arms and embraced me for who I am.  

I feel extremely blessed to have friends that have supported me while I have made this scary life decision to move to Taiwan. There is absolutely no way I would have made it through this year with out this girl. She is a rock and I love her like a sister. I miss her everyday. She will forever have a place in my heart. I am so grateful that she came into my life 5 years ago and hasn't left. 
I am also grateful for these guys. Ben and Adam have known me for 7 years and they still keep me around. I am grateful for their protectiveness and making sure that I am always taken care of, I wouldn't have made it through Salt Lake without them. I feel so blessed to have them in my life and I miss them dearly. 

2. Religion is not a topic I am often very vocal about. I have spent the last couple years trying to figure out what I truly believe and how I want to live my life in terms of religion. This self discovery manifested itself in many ways from rebelliousness to bitterness to acceptance. I finally feel like I understand what God wants and expects from me in my life. It is with this understanding that I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who has blessed me in so many countless ways. I know that He is mindful of me and the challenges I face on a daily basis. I am grateful for a Savior that endured a painful, excruciating crucifixion for a sinner like me. I am grateful the enabling power of the atonement, as the strength it gives me to endure the ups and downs in life. Most of all I am grateful for the love and comfort my Savior has given me as I have gone through many painful experiences and the blessings He has given me throughout my life. 

This photo by Liz Lemon Swindle and accompanying story of Peter walking on water is one of my favorite examples of the love the Savior has for each one of his children. I am so grateful for the gospel in my life and the knowledge I have of Heavenly Fathers plan of salvation. 

Here's to Another 233 Days

361 days ago I sat in Adam's car and talked about my future- whether i should go to grad school immediately or stay as the Director of Programs at Camp K for several years. I left the conversation believing that I would be in Utah for many years - and I was excited. I loved my life, I loved my job, I loved my friends, and I loved being close to Mel and Emmit. I thought I knew the direction my life would take. 

153 days ago, I tearfully said goodbye to some of my dearest friends and family. These are friends that I have known for over 7 years, our relationship is effortless. They are friends who know me inside and out. We laugh, we fight, we cry, we kiss, we make up, and then we laugh about our silly fights. I knew that my leaving meant nothing would ever be the same. My life would forever be changed by this decision. My friends would move on with their lives and our relationship would be nothing more than an occasional "good to see you on your way through town" get together. 

154 days ago I cried my eyes out in the basement of Ben's house because I was not ready to put my life on hold. I was not ready to leave Ashley, Adam, Ben, or Nick. I was not ready to give up my 3 bedroom townhouse with a private room for a "hostel-esque" living situation where I shared my bedroom with 3 other people and my bathroom included shower stalls and rows of toilets. I was not ready to give up my furniture, my car, or my big girl bed. I was not ready to give up the repitore I had built with my bishop. I was not ready to interrupt my eating and shopping habits. I was not ready to follow through with the consequences of choosing to move to Taiwan. 

I wanted just one more month with Ashley. I wanted to be woken up by Emmit calling me "his Tiff" just one more time.  I wanted just one more lunch date with Adam, where he is brutally honest about my weaknesses. I wanted one more night in my room, with my pictures on the wall, and my queen size bed I paid for all by myself. I wanted to stay in America, where I can read the labels at the supermarket and order food at the restaurant. I wanted to forget that I ever made the decision to sacrifice everything I had known and that was comfortable based on a feeling I had in my heart and a hatred I had for my co-workers. I wanted to keep the grown up life I had created for myself just a little bit longer. 

153 days ago I sobbed at 12 AM while Adam tried to keep me together and put things in perspective. We came up with these decisions - First: I could not step on the plane and stay in America. Second: I could go to Taiwan and come back in December. Or Third: I could absolutely love it and stay an entire year. After talking for over an hour I realized that my desire to run from a decision always comes when something great is about to happen. It happened on Spring Summit- to think I almost never went because I was afraid blows my mind. It happened when going to Changzhou- it was there that I grew closer to my Heavenly Father than I have ever been. It happened when I decided to postpone graduation to take recreation therapy classes, and that is the semester I met some of my closest friends- including Ashley. 
I am a runner. I run when things get hard. Adam helped me to see that this experience was no different. I was running because it was hard- and I very well could have a life changing experience. Plus he helped keep things in perspective by reminding me that I could come home if I hated it. I did not HAVE to stay here for a year. So with his support and the support of countless other people I boarded the plane, convincing myself I would be home in December. 

While I do feel like I have made tremendous growth by stepping out of my comfort zone, I don't feel like I have had one of those, "come to Jesus, life changing moments," like I had in Changzhou or Moab. There have been some really great moments where I didn't think I could be an happier, and then there have been really hard moments where my heart literally aches and I can't stop crying. When all I want to do is get a big bear hug from the guys and eat EL Fudge with Ashley on a Friday night. 

When faced with the decision to stay or go, my first instinct was to run- to go back to America in December and leave all of this behind. But I knew the euphoria of being home would only last a couple weeks and then I would always wonder "what if I would have stayed." These past 5 months haven't been too challenging in terms of what to expect- I knew what living in a foreign country meant, and the roller coaster of emotions that come with leaving your comfort zone. I have not been the least bit surprised with my emotions. However, I don't know what to expect these next 6 months. 

It is crazy to think that just 154 days ago I told myself I could go home in December. I could literally be home in 4 weeks. Enjoying Cafe Rio, embracing my friends, experiencing a winter (guess you can take the girl out of MN but you can't take MN out of the girl), and establishing a new comfort zone. 

I don't know how I am going to last another 6 months- I am still trying to dig deep and find the motivation to stay strong.  It is difficult when I get text messages from Ashley telling me to come home every time I cry about how much I miss her, or seeing Emmit on SKYPE and having him ask when he can see me again. Getting voice messages from Ben saying he hopes to see me in December and texts from Adam saying he misses me, make it challenging as well. 

I feel blessed to have such amazing, supportive friends (but more about that in the next post). It just makes it so hard to want to stay for another 233 days. But for better or worse I am here, who knows, maybe my "come to Jesus moment" is still to come. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I'll Be Home For Christmas... If Only In My Dreams

Missing the holiday season has been hitting me pretty hard lately. It comes at the most random and sometimes inopportune times. At times I can feel a literal ache in my heart and at other times it is just a fleeting memory of Christmas's past. I am trying my best to remind myself that it is only one Christmas. Next year I will be back in the states, I will have a Christmas tree filled with ornaments of all the places I have traveled, I will get to throw Christmas parties and have the opportunity to wear warm clothes and see snow again. In the longer scheme of life this one Christmas is a drop in the bucket. 
But sometimes those reminders don't always take the homesickness away. And when the reminders don't work I am grateful for my 6 friends here who help distract me with this Christmas photo shoot. 


I am not usually one to dress up for Halloween, but Taiwan made it too easy for me this year. I am not even sure where the idea for our Halloween costumes came from (well let's be honest, it was from Pinterest), but it all started with a flower crown- I really wanted to wear one and from there it snowballed into this:

For 15 dollars we got the costume, accessories, and these beautiful flower wreaths, with the added bonus of having an excuse to feel beautiful for the day!

Our morning class was so fun! All the kids came dressed up in costumes. And if there is one thing Asians love it is the opportunity to take pictures. So for your viewing pleasure here are are a few of my favorites!

After teaching we headed to Taichung to hang out with our friend's Peja and Elias. We started the evening off by taking to wrong BRT exit and arriving to dinner 30 minutes late. Luckily Peja and Elias patiently waited for us. During dinner I re-discovered my irrational fear of fake bugs. Ib put a fake centipede on me while I was chatting with Carolyn, Peja and Elias about squatter toilets. With the help of Cassidy's theatrics, I completely lost it. The sequence of events are all a blur- I do know there was an ear piercing scream, I may have jumped into Peja's lap, and then ran as far away from the table as I could. With a mixture of laughter and trying not to cry, it took about 5 minutes to compose myself before I could go sit back at the table. As a person who is usually reserved and composed this reaction shocked everyone, they had never seen me so panicked. 
P.S. Isn't Peja's costume legit? He made those merit badges by hand! 

After dinner we headed to a park and really just hung out. We played another one of Grant's silly games and ran around chasing lights. Peja was a trooper as we made him do all sorts of things like getting on Grant's shoulders and letting Ib and Cassidy stunt him. 

Finally at 2 am we headed back to Taichung- which seemed like a good idea at the time until I had to get up at 6 am to go to Tainan.