Posts Tagged ‘summer vacation’

21st July
written by Michelle

After an incredibly long day of traveling involving all forms of public transportation (planes, taxis, chicken buses, the back of a pick-up truck and yes, even a boat) Jen and I made it to our first destination and this creative, handmade sign sat on our table: La Dulce Vida.

I ordered a liquado con fresa (Guatemala’s version of a strawberry smoothie) and sighed with contentment. Sitting in this quaint open air patio next to the lake, I realized yes, this is the sweet life. Traveling in Guatemala is not exactly convenient or easy. Life is not catered to tourists. There is no posted bus schedule. The bus “system” (If I can even call it that is in question) still remains a mystery to me. Sometimes there are big spiders in the rooms. And hot water remains a luxury that only some families have. I know I am not doing a great job at “selling” the high points of Guatemala to you, but I guess my point is that even with these modern inconveniences, some part of me just loves it here. When I am in Guatemala my best self comes out.

I believe there are certain people and places that bring out our “best selves”- you know, the person you wish you were all the time, but often gets buried somewhere between the stress of work or piles of laundry or waiting in line at the grocery store. ugh. Those situations do not always bring out the best parts of me. But something about life in Guatemala brings out my best self- the self that is patient when things don’t go according to plan; the self that is just as eager to listen as to talk; the self that is willing to try something new. It brings out the self that is content to just sit and smile and meet someone new, and maybe most noteworthy, I find that this self is filled with gratitude.

Guatemala reminds me that the process is just as important and maybe even more important than the product. I am not even sure what “product” I am referring to per se, maybe its the abstract feeling that is always sitting restlessly inside of me, longing and searching and wondering whats next. It’s this internal and maybe external feeling that once I get there (wherever there is) then I’ll be content, or happy or _________ (fill in whatever adjective you choose) But something about being in Guatemala, reminds me that I am exactly where I need to be.

Traveling with one of my best friends, meeting new people, visiting old friends, learning about a coffee farm and seeing kids from the schools where I worked last year would have made the trip worthwhile. But there is something deeper, far more significant that happens in my heart while I am in Guatemala. Somewhere between the laughing and exploring and resting and waiting and dancing and learning is this deep sense of fulfillment. Life is Good*

*more to come.

13th July
written by Michelle

I tend to be someone who makes decisions with my head- I think about and analyze and sometimes over-analyze what I should do. Or I weigh my decisions on the scale of efficiency- what’s the most practical or efficient way to get this done. And not that those are inherently bad ways to make decisions, but sometimes I can neglect or overlook my emotions or my heart.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about learning to follow. And part of that means learning to listen to and follow my heart. So as the end of summer school was near I realized I had two free weeks before my one of my best friend’s weddings and I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had a complete list of what I should do and what I could get done if stayed in Santa Barbara, but some part of my heart just felt this tug to go back. To go back to a country that I love. To visit dear friends and enjoy a simpler and slower pace of life. To wander around cities without a map and sit in coffee shops and soak up more Spanish. To go back to a place that for the past two years has shaped part of who I am and forced me to see things with a different perspective.

So I am following my heart…back to Guatemala. And the best part is that my roommate, Jen is coming with me. I am SO SO excited. Can you tell? I am excited. I leave in T-3 hours and I cannot wait.

More posts to come from Guatemala…

10th July
written by Michelle

I spent a view days this past week up at a summer camp with 21 kids from our Westside Kids Club. For many of them it was their FIRST camp experience of any kind and it was such a joy to watch them soak up each and every part of camp. I wish you could have seen their faces as they hauled their duffel bags down the dirt road and literally ran to their cabins where they found six individual bunk beds. One little boy was astonished—“You mean no one is going to sleep next to me? (Most of these kids share beds with their siblings in their apartments so this was a luxury.) And it’s funny, most kids complain about the dull, kinda blah camp food that often gets a bad wrap, but not these kids. They ate with enthusiasm at every meal and piled their plates with 8 pieces of garlic bread because they’re used to meals that are limited by whatever the cafeteria size tray can old.

For those of you have been to some kind of summer camp you know that there is just something unique that happens when kids (and adults) enter the world of camp. Our sense of time literally changes. Daily routines are organized around shared meals and games and free time. There is open space and few distractions and endless opportunities to soak up nature. Camp takes kids out of their ordinary lives and hopefully gives them a chance to experience something extraordinary.

I have known many of these kids for the past two years. I have spent time learning about their lives and meeting their families. It doesn’t seem fair that many of these kids have known more pain and abuse and brokenness than most adults will experience in their lifetime. They carry their pasts with them—all of their hurts, fears and memories are stored somewhere deep within. And sometimes its both heartbreaking and frustrating because it’s hard to see change and growth when these kids’ lives have been shaped and influenced by circumstances out of their control.

I am learning that when you chose to care and love and build relationships with people (especially kids) its no about seeing immediate change. I long and pray for transformation. I want to see these kids grow up to be compassionate, caring and competent adults who know deep down that they are valued and cherished. I want them to come to know a Heavenly Father who loves them so much, even when many live with no earthly fathers. I love these kids and pray for them and learn from them, but sometimes I also feel stuck because I am short-sighted. I don’t see the big picture.

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me this prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero and I just found it buried under a pile of papers. Archbishop was an incredibly wise and courageous man who served the people of El Salvador. He was assassinated in 1980 while he was saying mass in San Salvador. He offers these words to us:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view…

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders.


I realize that if I take a long view it means that I may never see the end result, and maybe that’s the point. We are sometimes called to love people and be present with them in this moment. And perhaps admitting that it’s only by some element of grace and humility that the master builder uses people like me and you.

28th June
written by Michelle

I absolutely hate being sick. Usually I will do everything in my power to convince myself and others that I am just fine. I have found homemade remedies that I swear cure 99% of all sickness- usually some combination of 2 shots of wheat grass, sitting in the steam room at the gym and drinking emergen-c will take care of most ailments. Even when I was little I was the kid who would beg my parents to let me go to school so I wouldn’t miss out- even if I was sniffling and coughing. (I know not so great for those parents who were trying to protect their little ones from germs. oops)

But, today none of my remedies worked. I am home sick. Blah.

The kind of fever sickness where I am simultaneously hot and cold and my whole body aches. My head strangely feels like its 4 lbs heavier and I get dizzy whenever I stand up. I slept for 13 hours last night and was hoping that I would just magically feel better in the morning. I love Saturday mornings in this sleepy beachside town. So I convinced myself to get up and enjoy it. Probably against better judgment I decided that I would battle my sickness. I browsed through a few garage sales, got breakfast from my favorite local bagel shop and then my friend and I tried to go surfing. Well, in case you didn’t guess my sickness beat me. I lost.

And now I’ve spent the whole day in bed - napping, watching re-runs of The Office on my computer and drinking lots and lots of tea. On days like this I wish I had super telepathic powers like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I mean she could sit on her bed and simply with a look of her eyes move the box of Kleenex from the bathroom to her bedroom or bring a cup of hot tea from the kitchen to her bedside. Aw, man…that’s what I need right now. It feels like someone came by and zapped the life out of me. Like some kind of mean trick on this gorgeous summer day. Wow, you know you’re really sick when you’re idolizing Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

But I guess lying in bed for 12 hours will keep you humble. And remind me that yes, I too get sick. And no, I can’t make myself get better. (although I’ll probably keep trying.)

17th June
written by Michelle

At beginning of every school year my elementary school teachers would assign class jobs. There were the usual jobs inducing paper passer outer, calendar duty, feeding the class fish, etc, but my favorite job by far was when it was my turn to be the class line leader.

I don’t know why I liked being the class line leader so much? Maybe it was the appeal of leading the class and being the first one to the cafeteria or the first one to recess or maybe it was just my way of being a selfish seven year old who wanted to be in front. Sometimes I think I haven’t changed too much. I am embarrassed to admit that sometimes I still like being the “line leader.” On my defense, it’s not like I am consciously thinking, “ooh, I want to be in front”- but it just happens. Sometimes I end up walking two feet in front of the group, until a good friend points out how annoying it is to everyone else. And every so often when I find myself to be the first car at a stoplight I get this childish glee because I realize that I am the “car line leader” and that means I’ll be the first one down the street. I know it sounds odd, maybe even worrisome, but heck, I’m just being honest. I am sure I can blame part of this on the combination of being the first born in my family and being someone who likes to “be in charge”, but there is also some truth to be told about growing up in a culture that trains and values leaders. I look back on my junior high and high school days and vividly remember teachers, mentors and speakers who instructed us to be leaders at school and in our community. There was this implicit message that good, responsible, successful citizens grow up to be leaders. Even in youth group we were encouraged to be student leaders, and once I got to college there were entire classes on leadership and how to make a difference in our world.

Leaderships is a buzzword now days. You can find books, curriculum, conferences, etc., all promising how to make you a better leader. It seems that we empower and teach our youth that they can and should be leaders. (This is certainly the message I heard growing up). We encourage students to plan and organize and bring about change and to essentially, become LEADERS. Which on one hand is not inherently a bad thing, but what happens when we live in a culture that emphasizes leading and not following?

These past few months I have been wrestling with what it looks like to follow. You don’t hear a lot of talk about following. For one, the idea of following doesn’t sound as glamorous and courageous as the word leadership. The notion of “following” doesn’t sell books and curriculum and get people excited and passionate. There are plenty of community awards for having great leadership skills, but when is the last time you heard of someone getting a “dedicated follower” award? Umm, never.

I find it ironic that the Jesus I read about in the New Testament says, “Follow me” almost twenty times. He does not say, “Become great leaders” or “Lead on”… No, instead he says, follow me. What would this world look like if men and women really, truly followed Jesus? How would my life look different if I sincerely started to follow Him?

Following implies listening, waiting, and sacrificing. It requires a letting go and giving-up. This past year I have spent a large chunk of time leading-leading meetings, planning events, organizing projects, and teaching students, but very little time following. This summer I want to learn how to be a better follower.

26th June
written by Michelle

1. summer vacation (let’s be honest…who isn’t excited about 9 weeks off!)
2. i am never bored
3. my students ask me ridiculous questions like “Is your hair fake?” or “how much do you have to pay to rent the classroom?”
4. i get to re-learn all the grammar skills that I missed when I was in school (affect vs. effect and lay vs lie)
5. the bell schedule can bring an odd kind of consistency and routine, who doesn’t like 4-min bathroom breaks and 28-min lunches
6. the rare and meaningful moments when a student comes back to say “thank you”
7. ever changing educational policy to be updated on (read: more paperwork and additional testing)
8. occasional FREE food and random stuff in the staff lounge
9. i am always learning something new
10. did I mention SUMMER VACATION???

Although there are numerous reasons why I love my job, having a built in vacation time is such a welcomed break. For one, it allows me to pursue other areas of my life that I don’t have as much time for during the school year-such as GUATEMALA!

I leave in 9 days!

The first 2 weeks I will be living and working at Proximos Pasos, an all girls school near Antigua. Our team of 16 high school students and 4 adults will be learning from the local leaders about the culture and needs of each community, while building, training and serving the people. This trip is as much about sharing and serving the people of Guatemala as it is about learning from them. Even though 75% of Guatemalans live below the poverty level and there continues to be incredible corruption and injustice in a county still recovering from the 30-year war, there is also a rich spirit of generosity that is unknown to most wealthy, over-resourced, North Americans. I was amazed and humbled at the hospitality and joy that I encountered last year, often in stark contrast to my own greed and self-centeredness.

After our groups’ time in Antigua I will be heading up to Queztaltenango, more commonly, referred to as Xela (shay-la), where I lived last year. I am excited to return to a city, with friends and people that I love. I hope to do some volunteering here, travel a bit and hang out with friends, but we’ll see. I have learned (or maybe better said, I am still learning) to travel with loose plans and high hopes…knowing that what comes, will come.

asi es la vida en guatemala.