Friday, February 27, 2009

Holiday, here I come!!!

Well, it's official. School's out for a WHOLE week! It's a bit odd to call it Spring Break, seeing as how it's not spring just yet, but I'm excited about it anyway. Tonight we're having another Winfield Pub Night. I'm a bit concerned that attendance will be down, seeing as how this is also the Ples time of year. For those not in the know, which I'm going to guess counts for most people who read these little updates, a Ples is a big fancy dance for "high school" seniors. It's kind of like part of their graduation. It's really hard to explain, but it's very important for them. They do a couple special class dances, and then have lots of entertainment. It's the big thing here. I haven't been to any this year with my hectic travel schedule. Actually, if I were to go to any this year, I'd want to go to the one tonight because one of my students from last year is graduating, but Winfield takes precedence. After all, it is where I teach. So I'm hoping there are some people who will show up to talk to me, instead of just going to the big fancy parties.
What I'm really excited about right now, besides the fact that I managed to teach all my classes this week, is the fact that I'm going to Berlin on Sunday. I can't wait! I'll be staying there with Ben and Sarah Vierra for about a week. It's going to be so much fun. I haven't seen them in a couple of years, so it'll be nice to catch up and also to see all the amazing things the city has to offer. I'm especially curious to see how Ben, the ultimate country boy, manages to survive in a metropolis. It's gonna be fun!
So that's pretty much where I'm at the moment. My cold is just about gone, and I finally have enough strength to be myself. I even managed to make it through my observation last night, and got at least a decent report on it from my head English teacher today. Actually, he told me he's really sad that I'm leaving, and if there was any way he could convince me to stick around for another year he would. I think he is right about how good it would be for the school. We'd have a pretty strong team for next year, and would be able to work really well together. When I pointed out to him that it had been a long time since I'd been home with my family and friends he just looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, "You can see them in the summer." I must admit that his confidence that I should come back, and that basically everything would be bright beautiful and magical next year, was rather compelling. If we'd had this little chat a month ago I might even have felt a bit swayed, but I really do feel as though I've made the right choice at the moment. We'll see what song I'm seeing four to six months from now, but it's basically set in stone as it is.
So now, here's to Berlin, and I'll be sure to come back with all sorts of new and exciting pictures after my holiday!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emerging from the pit...

Or, as Laura would call it, My new lease on life...

I suppose you could say I'm a pretty stubborn person. Yeah. I think that could be said of me. I most definitely know that I like to be in control. Anyone who has ever experienced my need to drive a car would understand that. Generally I feel myself to be competent, capable, and reliable. Especially as a student and an employee. I just don't miss days of work or class. Unless I am struck by the hand of God that is.
I'm not sure how early on I noticed that, whenever He decided He'd had about enough of me doing everything on my own God would strike me down. I'd call it a coincidence, or a normal occurrence that happens to everyone if I could. But it never really seems to be like that with me. And usually there is some lesson I should be learning. Whether that lesson is simply that I need to hold still every now and again, or something bigger, deeper, more severe like the fact that I need to accept my own inability to do EVERYTHING for myself. The latter seems to have been the case in my current moment of distress.
You might think I'm exaggerating when I say that I'm struck down by God. Maybe that even seems a bit proud. I'm so big and important that in order to stop me God must reach down and whack me up side the head. But if you look at the facts, you'll see that it makes some sense.
We can start with my high school trip to Italy for example. Here I was, on a mission trip, determined to work harder and better than anyone. I knew I could do it all after all. I was ready, willing and able to take on whatever task God set before me. I was determined to be a master builder and to carry the biggest bags of cement. Consequently, I pretty much had no voice for the entire trip. I'm not sure if it was exactly bronchitis, but it was definitely something of that variety. And no one else had a problem. Granted, most of the time I "suffered on" and still worked, until it would be so severe that I'd be quarantined by my leaders and forced to spend the day working on my team journal.
We move on now to my college years during which I developed a bizarre stomach problem. I'd wake up in the wee hours of the morning feeling like small needles were trying to explode out of the walls of my stomach. I'd then proceed to spend the next several days puking my guts out (sometimes even while attending class!) until whatever it was finally decided to leave my system.
Let me note here where my stubbornness and survival instincts kick in. There's this small part somewhere in your brain (some memory tells me its at the base, but not being a brain expert I won't try to give it a name as most recollection of science classes has merely become a blur in the distant and forgotten past) which controls your ability to keep pressing on despite all common sense. This part of my brain seems to be highly developed and tends to cause me to forget all reason. When normal people would accept the fact they are sick, and therefore would take it easy, I continue going to class or work until some higher power (teacher,boss,etc) tells me to "go home!" in no uncertain terms. Case in point, I was in the middle of a Geography test my sophomore year of college, leaving every few minutes to go to the bathroom and barf my guts up, when dear wise Professor Dummer came to me and said, "Sarah, what are you doing?" Naturally I responded with, "I'm taking a test. I just keep having to puke, but it's okay." Obviously it was NOT okay, and he told me to go home at once. I'll spare you any more details.
But when one spends a considerable amount of time on the cold bathroom floor curled up around the toilet it does make them examine their lives just a bit. And, as has often been the case, I've been left in such situations realizing that I am not in control ultimately. And I really can't do it all.
Hong Kong was filled with such moments of clarity. I got a concussion in the hospital, fell down slippery stairs and couldn't move my arm (which obviously meant no holding babies) for a week, and contracted the Chicken Pox without ever knowing anyone else who had the Chicken Pox. Let the record here state that getting the Chicken Pox when you're 25 is NOT a good plan.
I've come to accept the fact that, when I least expect it, God is likely to hole me up in a bed to think about my life and accept the fact that He is still God. Not me. Not in the slightest.
All this to say, last week God spoke in a rather loud voice. It started out with a cough that felt like icy fire burning through my chest on Tuesday afternoon. I'm well accustomed to coughing issues, and figured it would just go away. Wednesday morning, however, I felt as though I'd been run over by a truck. Still, I managed to drag myself to school to teach. Fortunately I only had two classes that day, and Jarmila quickly noticed that I was NOT doing okay.
Normally there really is no way to get a day off here at Winfield. We have a very small staff, and there just isn't anyone to cover. Somehow, however, that turned out not to be the case this week. On my busiest day of work, I was suddenly overwhelmed to discover that there were people to take every single one of my classes. I went from the prospect of teaching for 8 hours to not having to teach at all. And it was a good thing too, because just sending out texts to the people in question was enough to have my head spinning.
I really couldn't begin to tell you what sort of illness afflicted me last week. It wasn't exactly what I'd call the flu. It started with the cough, and turned into the inability to open my eyes, let alone get out of bed. I spent all day Thursday flat on my back in bed, unable to even focus on a movie at one sitting. I slept pretty much all day (I sort of like to blame this on Kelly, my ESI boss, who prayed last weekend that I'd be able to get some sleep). Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all found me curled up in my little pink cave of a bed.
It's amazing what 4 days in a bed can do to a person. By the end of it I felt frightened by the outside world, unsure if I would know how to deal with it when forced to emerge. I missed the 3rd movie/dinner party that was originally supposed to be held in my flat, and also the One Night Band show. I didn't even have the energy to walk downstairs. I really haven't been that sick since the Chicken Pox almost 5 years ago.
And during that time God did take His chance to speak. And what did He say? Well, basically He reminded me that I am small and weak and not really in control at all. Things that should seem like basic principles, but that seem to be incredibly difficult for me to grasp.
Monday rolled around surprisingly soon. There was no more hiding from the fact that I would have to go back to work. While things had almost magically fallen in place for me to have Thursday and Friday off, there was no escaping my responsibilities on Monday. After four days during which just taking a shower was enough to induce the need for a serious nap, the prospect of walking all the way up the square and to my office was hugely daunting. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would need God every step of the way. Without Him, it wouldn't be possible.
The thing is, that's the truth every day. And ultimately I think that's what He was getting at with this whole deathly ill business. So often I get caught up in my own abilities. He has, after all, made me a fairly capable person. I've managed to travel a considerable amount of the world and do a large number of different jobs, all requiring very different skills. But really, I couldn't do any of it without Him.
Surviving Monday was tough, but with His strength I managed. Tuesday was a little easier, and by yesterday I actually managed to stand up during class. Today I'm almost back to normal. I'm still not really up to eating much, and just thinking that I have to teach 8 hours today makes me want to take a nap a little bit, but I'll live after all. And joy of all joys, Spring Break is just a couple of days away, and with it comes my trip to Berlin!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Internet Woes

I have to say that not having the internet functioning at home really gets me down. Today, I could be snug and safe in my own little flat, typing away on all the business I need to get done, but instead I'm sitting in my office. It's so frustrating when it decides not to work. The past couple of days it has said that it is connected, but when I try to run firefox or safari, nothing happens. GRRR!!!
So this will just be a really brief update.
I spent most of this past weekend on a train. It takes about 8 hours to get to Ostrava from Cheb. They're basically on opposite sides of the country. You really can't get much farther apart in the Czech Republic. I was standing for about three of those hours, but I had plenty of space and I wasn't feeling sick, so it really wasn't a super big deal. I was still even able to read my book. Too bad the book wasn't much worth reading (it was Jurassic Park).
I was greeted by Lydia and Gina at the train station, and had a really nice dinner with them. The only bad part was that we were sitting right by the cook who seemed utterly fascinated by our use of English. We felt a bit like celebrities. Really not all it's cracked up to be. Then I was able to go out with Gina to talk about how things are going for her this year in Ostrava.
On Saturday it seemed as though Spring had suddenly decided to arrive. The sun made an appearance, and the weather outside was nearly 50 degrees. It was really quite spectacular. I'm beginning to think the weather there is always pleasant, seeing as how it was that way when I was there in October as well. I was able to meet with the other three girls, Lydia, Jonna, and Laura, to talk about life as well. It was such a great opportunity to get to know them all better, and I hope that I was able, at least in some small way, to be an encouragement to all of them at this half way point in the year.
Lydia and Gina made an amazing chicken taco salad dinner, and we had a great time visiting. We went to a movie that turned out not to be any good, but later the three of us played card games and had a lot of fun. Of course, as usual, it was extra fun because I ended up winning in the very last round. Perhaps it's because I'm the baby of the family, but I still don't like playing games when I have no chance of winning them whatsoever. Pathetic, I know, but the truth.
Sunday I was back on the train for another long ride. I made it safely and smoothly back to Cheb and had a good laugh with my compartment companion at a trio of people walking with a couple of dogs and two beautiful clean white sheep. It was bizarre, that's really all I can say about it.
Now the week is well underway and I'm gearing up for my trip to Prague this weekend. All these weekend engagements really do make the time fly. Can't believe February is already half way over!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A trip to Ceske Budejovice

It's a bit odd to type Czech words on a normal keyboard as you miss out on all the special diacritical marks that tell you how the words should be pronounced. So let me just say that it's kind of like Chesky Budehyovitzay if you want to try to pronounce it as an American.
Friday we had a day off as it was the end of the first term. That means that we're now halfway through the school year. Five months down, another five to go. Not wanting to miss any opportunity for travel, I was happy to have been able to arrange a trip to CB to visit my friend Cari and her family. I first learned that the Wendels were moving to Czech before I ever even looked into coming here with ESI, but I didn't remember this was where they were coming until after I had been accepted. Having a family to support, and being here as full time missionaries, it just took them a lot longer to raise the support to get them there. Be sure to check out their website which you can find as Wendels in my sidebar. Their job is to build relationships with people during the next couple of years as they do intensive language study before starting a church plant in nearby Cesky Krumlov. (I won't bother telling you how to say that one for the time being!)
The family arrived in Czech a little less than two months ago, right before Christmas. Since their intention is to be here long term, they shipped over a crate, so upon arrival at their flat - after a long train ride that involved two buses due to construction, and a very helpful babicka who made sure I got onto all the right transport without the use of any English :) - I was transported back to their house which is filled with such miraculous things as overstuffed leather furniture, fluffy towels, and a cat that understands English and disdains the title of kocka! Not only do they have a lovely house, they also have a lovely crew of children who speak English!
It's no secret that I have always loved children. It's amazing how much I can even manage to communicate with kids here without the use of words. But to have the chance to hang out with English speaking kids is an enormous blessing. This entire weekend was really a step out of the reality of living in the Czech Republic. I had an time of intensive child therapy, as well as the chance to reconnect with an old friend.
It was great to have the chance to hang out with Cari again. I hadn't seen her for 7 1/2 years, but the time just seemed to melt away. We reminisced about Hong Kong and college, we shared the joys and struggles of living in a new country, and the journeys that brought us to where we are at the moment. I enjoyed getting to know her husband Steve as well. While I knew who he was from school, I don't think I'd ever talked to him before, so it was nice to have the chance to learn a bit about him also.
I must confess, I enjoyed getting to play the Czech expert. They had questions about things, as well as just needing the chance to talk about things with someone who understands this side of life, as well as life at home. I was thankful I could be a listening ear for them, and hope that my presence was helpful to them. I'm sure it could in no way compare to how great the whole trip was for me though.
January tends to be a month where I end up in a slump. After the thrills of travel during the holidays, the month of January is a rather dull reminder that work is still work, and that winter still has a long way to go. (Amazingly, however, the sky is blue at the moment! Will wonders never cease.) I definitely needed the chance to get away from the daily grind, and this trip really did the trick.
So I spent a few days just basking in the joy of family life. Let me introduce you now to the crew. We have Erica who is 5 and a total cuddler, Claire who is 4 and has a very definite idea of how EVERYTHING should be done, Elisha who will be 3 this month and who has boundless energy, and Gavin who is seven months old and gloriously happy and squishy!

On Saturday Cari and I were able to spend a little time kid free. We went around the square, and in introduced her to the beauty of shopping at Kenvelo and Bat'a. Then we did a quick to go lunch from McDonalds. Steve really wanted us to eat in a restaurant so Cari would have a chance to practice ordering, but we just couldn't pass up the ease of McDonalds today. The rest of the day was spent playing with the kids, coloring pictures with the girls, and watching the Princess Bride. A true classic!
On Sunday I went with them to church. I enjoyed having a sermon in English as another one of the missionaries was preaching this week, but I must confess that I was more excited about getting to hold Gavin through the entire service. He's such a little cuddler, and after the songs were over he fell asleep and stayed that way til the end. If you've never had a baby sleep on you, you're definitely missing one of the most amazingly beautiful experiences in the world! Hands down!
After church we ran through the McDonald's drive through one more time. Probably had my Micky D's fix for a while now. Then we headed home for the last few minutes before it was time to catch the train home. Steve noted how interesting it was to see how much the kids have changed already in this short period of time overseas. Had I visited them in California they would have been shy and slow to warm up, but here, they were just so excited to have someone they could communicate with and who was happy to play with them, that they opened up to me immediately and Claire kept referring to me as her mommy's sister. Way too cute :) All in all it was a great weekend. These last couple pictures are just before I left. The first is me with Erica while Gavin sits happily on the floor, the second is Erica with Cari and the last is of Erica, smiley Gavin and Cari.