Running with Reckless Abandon

I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T, do you know what that means?

In one word, that’s me.  However this past year has revealed to me more than ever my own lack of self-sufficiency and need for others.

As I was reading The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken, I was struck by one part which described the author’s interviews of Muslim Background Believers in regards to a certain missionary.  He asked several different ones, “What makes a good missionary?”  None were able to answer the question yet all said the same name of a missionary they loved.  When pressed to explain why they loved him so much, they said “because he needs us.  The others don’t.”

I think of how during my internship in Guam I was reliant on others for assistance getting groceries, seeing beautiful sights that were further than my little bike could take me, and for any sort of social life.  How thankful I was to all of those who went of their way for me!

Here in China my apparent need has been even greater.  Sometimes I feel like a two-year-old trapped in the body of an adult.  Basic tasks like getting groceries, going to the bank, ordering food, and doing online shopping all require help.  Yet as one Chinese student said who has given so much time to all of the American teachers, “It feels good being needed.  Chinese people don’t need me but you do.”

Ultimately, these needs reflect my much greater need for Christ every day, every hour, every minute.  Could I have survived in Guam and now in China without those people that so graciously helped me?  Yes.  But, oh what sweet blessings I would miss and how much extra trouble I would bear.  Can I survive on small doses of Jesus?  Yes.  But like the old hymn says, “Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”  Why wander in the wilderness like the Israelites surviving on manna yet never completely satisfied when we have a sweet Savior, a man of sorrows, who has died so we might daily walk in a new life with Him?

As my need is ever before me, I am reminded of God’s words to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

As humans we were never created to be independent, self-reliant, self-sufficient creatures.  That is a result of the fall.  We were created to have needs, or rather a need for the One who made us.  A need for the rest and satisfaction that can only come from total reliance and humble dependence on our Savior and His finished work.   Our needs are designed to point us to Him, the only one who can fully sustain and satisfy.  They are meant to demonstrate that no good can come apart from God because as branches dependent upon upon His vine for nourishment we “can do nothing” without Him (John 15:5) and “power is perfected in weaknesses.”  Our great need is meant as a way to glorify our greater God as we humbly admit our weakness and seek Him.    As children of God, what a privilege it is to stand ransomed and redeemed before our Father, made righteous by Jesus’ blood giving all praise and glory to Him whose hands knit us together!

Along with my realization of my need for others and Jesus this year, I have also come to see that the amount of service for the Lord is dependent upon the amount of surrender to the Lord.  He can only use what is freely given back to Him, the giver of all good gifts.  Surrender is daily and it is unconditional.  Like cliff jumping or sky diving, the hardest part is the initial letting go.

I must confess that I strongly dislike trust falls- an activity where you stand on object, a group of people link arms behind you and you fall back with straight legs into their arms.  Nearly every time I fail to fall.  It’s not because I think that the people who are supposed to catch me aren’t there.  Even though I can’t see them, I fully believe that they are behind me.  It’s not because I don’t believe they have the strength to catch me.  I know they can.  Rather it is my natural instinct to trust no one but myself that prevents me every time from falling.

My relationship with my heavenly Father has been like my experience with trust falls.    As with trust falls, I don’t struggle with it because I doubt the Lord’s presence or His strength.  Rather it is my natural, Adam-like, sinful self that rebels against trusting Him completely.  Paul writes in Romans 7:18-19, “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.  For the desire to do what is good is with me,  but there is no ability to do it.  For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”

My desire to trust God fully in order to fully surrender and walk in obedience is there, yet it rages with my natural flesh.  Like Paul, I have cried out, “What a wretched [woman] I am!”  How I want to trust and surrender and yet at the last second my natural self jumps in preventing me from doing the very thing I desire.

I have so very much to learn but this year has taught me a lot.

I have prayed to learn how to walk humbly with the Lord and have been taught that learning to walk in the way of true humility does not come with a gentle touch but with a hot, searing knife.

In fear and trembling I have approached our King and asked Him to teach me to listen to Him and like Elijah, I have learned that the Lord comes in a “soft whisper,” not the the mighty wind or the earthquake or the fire that I so dreaded (1 Kings 19:11-12).

I have learned that if I am to be able to sing praises to my King from the darkest days in the midst of storms and affliction and grief and sorrow, my relationship with Him and delight in Him cannot be rooted in the gifts He gives me but in Himself, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

This has been a year of tears mixed with laughter.  A year of pain intermingled with joy raining down.

This year the  frantic, frenzy rush of my college days has been replaced by unusual stillness.  The silence and solitude that once seemed so lonely and barren has now become beautiful.  As with any intimate human relationship, I am growing to see how the most precious, intimate times with my Bridegroom happen behind closed doors where none but myself and Him can be present.

I am reminded that being a Christian is not about what we do but about who we are.  We are the Bride of Christ.  We are His love and His desire.  May our lives reflect the beauty of this relationship!

Here’s to 2016: a year to run with reckless abandon after my Savior and to spend in careful preparation for the testing that is sure to come.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+wound+gospel+whiskey+runners

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Mishaps and Miscellaneous Adventures

G.K Chesterton once said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  An inconvenience wrongly considered.”   There have been so many funny mishaps and inconveniences turned into adventures in China.  Here are few of my favorites.

Some Chinese students in an English club invited us to spend the afternoon with them.  As we were strolling around the campus, we came to the spot where they said they “scream English” in the morning.  Having no idea what they meant by that, we asked them to demonstrate.  I braced myself for the worst thinking perhaps they scream English obscenities as an emotional vent.  However, I was completely unprepared for the full volume, “AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” that resounded for great length across the campus.  Apparently they practice singing vowel sounds in the mornings.

This demonstration naturally inspired Andrew, Kathryn, and I to teach the Chinese students “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music.  Just picture three American English teachers singing “do a deer” to Chinese students with the students repeating it back.  “So, a needle pulling thread” caused quite a bit of confusion and laughter.  Thank you Julie Andrews for giving us inspiration for an impromptu English lesson.

Another group of English students showed us around the third campus one day and then took us to dinner.  As we were trying some street food, I held up a stick with some mysterious substance on it and asked what it was.  “A snake,” is what I heard so I promptly screamed and dropped the food.  I don’t mess around with snakes whether they be alive, dead, fried, baked, broiled, or dipped in chocolate.  What the student had actually said was “a snack.”  Oops.

I appreciate the different things I can rely on the American teachers for: Andrew for directions, Kathryn for a shoulder to cry on, and Jacky to watch my little kitten when I’m gone for the day.  A couple of days ago I headed out in the early a.m. for a full day bike ride and gave my apartment key to Jacky so he could feed Oliver, my cat, for the day.  To quote him, Jacky was “tickled pink” that I would trust him with Oliver and I was tickled pink that I could leave and not worry about him.  Jacky went out to dinner around the time I was supposed to arrive back, so he considerately left my key hanging on the door…..with “KEY IN BAG” written on said bag.  Good thing everybody else in the building speaks Chinese.

Last Wednesday I was enjoying a leisurely morning when I received a call at 10:30 asking if I had a class at 10:10.  Nope, not me I said, hung up, and then went to double check the schedule to see which poor teacher had forgotten about their class.  That poor teacher was me.  Turned out my class was NOT at 3 p.m. like I had thought.  Flustered and nearly an hour late for my own class, I had my students finish their introductions.  One student introduced himself as Qwerty, like the keyboard, and gave quite a thorough introduction.  When he had finished, Qwerty informed me he wasn’t in the class he had just dropped in.  Thank you, Qwerty.

The blood moon must have affected my brain because the day before this incident I spent nearly an hour combing my entire apartment for my keys (the door automatically locks so I knew I had to have had them to get inside).  Kathryn even came to aid me in my search but finally I had to admit defeat.  I went to go knock on another teacher’s door and then saw my keys hanging from my lock where I had accidentally left them the night before.  Later that afternoon, I was going to teach my class and couldn’t find the campus let alone my classroom.  When I finally did arrive, I discovered that my class started an hour later than I thought.  I soon faced 25 expectant faces all with their Spoken English textbook out and ready on their desks-something which I somehow never received.  Hungry and tired after class, I went and quickly ordered street food only to discover after they had prepared the food that I had about the equivalent of two cents.  Awkward.

These are but a few of my China adventures.  Life here is never dull especially when you stand out from the crowd like we do.  The other day, Kathryn went to go play guitar in a park and ended up being hooked up to a microphone and asked to play “Jingle Bells.”  In the middle of October.  In China.  Only in China.

To Room 405

Hello dear ones, come with me to room 405 and take a glimpse into this China life.

Room 405 has been a place of bended knee and bowed head, a place of laughter, a place of dreams, a place of hope, a place of fellowship, a place of longing, a place of meeting.  More than one set of doors were opened when I crossed the threshold into 405 by a Hand mightier than mine.

When you open the door, the first thing you’ll notice is the bathroom and if you look even closer you’ll spy the shower.

There's a shower in there too, I promise!
There’s a shower in there too, I promise!

The kitchen has no chairs or table but it offers a perfect spot to sit on the counter, duck your head beneath the cabinets, prop your feet up next the stove, and observe the scenes of people coming and going as you eat your morning breakfast.  You’ll find a delightful bookshelf in the living room and the firmest mattress you’ve ever slept on in the bedroom.

Diet staple
Diet staple

As far as food goes, I’m on a green diet here.  In other words, I make sure to eat green tea ice-cream nearly every day.  That’s pretty much like I’m eating broccoli and spinach, right?  Despite numerous tutorials, I haven’t quite succeeded in the art of the chopstick usage.  My rate of speed with noodles and chopsticks is about one noodle every three minutes, but I’m hoping to improve to a nice one to one ratio in the near future.

You might be wondering how my navigational abilities are coming along in this small, third-class city of a mere 11 million people.  My prowess on the bicycle has greatly improved.  Now as I weave in and out of the mass of scooters, walkers, and fellow bicyclers trying to avoid being hit by oncoming cars, I only shriek a few times instead of at every intersection.

With regards to my job teaching, the load is light and talk about an ego boost!  American students are not inclined to tell you that you are beautiful, they love you, and stay after class until you have to tell them to go.  Chinese students combine respect for authority and a desire for friendship.  It is not at all strange for students to ask for your number and to want to spend time together outside of class, which is a wonderful way to get to know them and more of the culture yet also an adjustment from the American public school student/teacher relationship.

Notice the stares. #typical
Notice the stares. #typical

“Do you think you’ll get used to life here,” is a question that I have been asked several times by Chinese people.

It’s a difficult question to answer.  Yes, life here is different but I didn’t come expecting it to be the same as what I have been used to.  Transitions are a part of life.

I miss putting on my running shoes, plugging in my ear buds, and escaping down the road.  Even when I’ve gone up to the rooftop to retreat and think there is the constant noise of honking horns and people’s voices.  But I love that on my walk around the well-used, populated track, a 71 year-old Chinese man will join me for loop after loop not speaking a word of English or wanting my wechat number but merely for the quiet companionship of another.  I miss a view of nature right outside my window, but I love observing the daily life scenes as apartment lights flicker on at night and the solitary man at work is illuminated.  I miss the structure and routine that my life developed over the past year but love the spontaneous conversations and mystery of the unexpected each day.

Before I go, let me introduce you to our cast of characters in this China story.

First, we have Jacky.  You might catch him working on his novel and if you ride a bike next to him, watch out!  He has experienced a head-on collision but fortunately there were no fatalities.  You never know what he might say next but he has a heart of gold.

Then we have Andrew.  You might catch him watching some Shakespeare plays in his room or listening to an audio book at 3x speed or off on an adventure.

Next we have Omar.  He may arrive late because he is practicing a monologue in preparation for his acting career, but he’ll always be polished and presentable.

Now we come to David.  You might find him playing a sonnet or two on the piano or walking down the road waving his hands in the air.  Don’t be alarmed, he is only practicing writing Chinese characters.

And last we have Kat and what can I say?  She could be anywhere from the music room to the basketball court.  She brings a sense of humor to any situation and a caring ear to any conversation.

We are an eclectic group all brought together this year to teach English and how I love the laughter we can share.

There is so much more to be said of life here from a physical examination that included an ultrasound, EKG, chest x-ray, blood test and eye test, babies that don’t wear diapers, live fish in the supermarket, underground shopping, constant stares, and games of throwing extra large bean bags with old men in the park, but I will leave you now with this peek into room 405.

“Stare into my eyes.”  One of the most awkward posed pictures I’ve ever taken haha.

China Bound: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

Ni hao friends!

With my upcoming year long adventure to China quickly approaching on the horizon,  I thought I would resurrect my blog.  My goal is for it to serve as a link to friends and family in other parts of the world and to ultimately point to Christ and His work.

I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power.

Ephesians 3:7

  Since I came across this verse a couple months ago this verse has became such a treasure to me as I have meditated on Paul’s word and the Holy Spirit has revealed several truths to me.

  • Who I am: I am a servant of the gospel-the good news that God sent His only Son Jesus to the earth to die on the for our sins and to be raised again to new life.  My identity is found in my sweet Savior calling me His own and my joy is found in sharing this good news.
  • What happened:  God showed incredible unearned favor (the gift of grace) through not only forgiving my sins but clothing me in the perfect righteousness of Christ and giving me an incredible inheritance!  Oh what a precious gift of salvation!
  • How this happened:  I have no power of my own.  I desperately wanted to believe and know Christ, not just know about Him, but I could not snap my fingers and do so on my own.  I sought God through His Word as an act of  my free will but it was HIS power working in me that transformed my heart.

This verse is a guide to me as I embark on this both terrifying and exciting journey to China.  My emotions will change constantly but my identity and the good news of Christ and God’s power remain forever.

Here is one key truth that the Lord has been teaching me during this season.

  • Surrender and sacrifice is PAINFUL but necessary to purify my heart.

I love this season of flexibility and the ease of going where doors open, yet my heart also yearns for stable roots and a place to call my own.   I want everything to be on my time table and at my convenience.

The Lord has been teaching me the art of surrender and laying my desires and plans at the alter of the cross.    In the Old Testament,  the alter was a continual place of bloody sacrifice that first had to be purified for the Lord.  It was not pretty nor was it painless and neither is the act of daily giving up my desires and my will and saying THY will be done. I have been learning that walking in obedience does not mean perfect understanding.  I will never know why the job in New York that I was so sure I was going to get this summer didn’t work out or why the doors to Japan were so clearly closed, but I do know that my life is not my own.

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Dear ones, a few prayer requests for China include the following:

1.  Pray that I may remain firmly rooted in Christ Jesus and that my love for Him continues to grow and supersede all else.

Remain in Me, and I in You.  Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.  

John 15:4

I can do nothing on my own strength (and this is something I have to be reminded of constantly).  Pray that my gaze never turns from Christ. In Revelation three, John praises the church at Ephesus for its works, labor, endurance, intolerance of evil, and testing of apostles; however, John severely rebukes them for abandoning their first love.  I know that my tendency is to fall into a works based pattern.  Anything that replaces my love for Christ is an idol, even if it is the study of His Word or sharing the gospel.  These spring out of a love for Him.

I have no idea what this season holds.  Perhaps God will abundantly bless me friends or perhaps He will draw me to the quiet lonely places .  Perhaps He will place a Godly mentor in my life or perhaps He will choose to say, “My child, look at me and me alone.”  Perhaps He will provide many willing ears and open hearts to receive His good news of salvation or perhaps He will instead say “persevere and hold fast, my child, in this fight of faith.”   Perhaps He will guard me physically and shield me with His power, or perhaps He will refine me through fire.  Whatever He does, my prayer is that I may be obedient to Him, faithful until He calls me home, securely grounded in His love and Word with my eyes fixed on what is to come.

I love the comparison in Psalm 1 of a man who meditates and delights in the Lord’s instruction as one who

… is like a tree planted beside streams of water

that bears its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Psalm 1:3 

2. Pray for a love of the Chinese people and culture.

In some ways I feel as if China is an arranged marriage:  I committed to go out of a desire to explore more of the world not because of a deep love for the place.  Whether my season there is to last for a year or for twenty, my prayer is that for that time the Lord will fill my heart with a love for the culture and people.

3. Pray that my path will cross with other believers in Jesus Christ and that we may encourage each other.

4.  Pray for a spirit of boldness and opportunities to share the gospel so that it might take root.

Just one thing: live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.

Philippians 1:27;29

If you’ve read this far, dear one, read that verse again.  Suffer for Him.  Wow!  In my comfortable world, I can’t say that I’ve even come close to suffering.  Living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ is a high calling indeed and certainly not one to be taken lightly.  If anybody says the Christian life is a road paved with sunshine, success, and happiness then he is speaking lies.

I am seeing with increasing clarity that this temporary life as a Christ-follower is an unnatural one.  Suffering on behalf of the gospel springs fountains of joy; complete freedom is found in being a slave to Christ; death of self produces life in Christ; a loss of worldly desires means a gain of an eternal inheritance.  And as the Holy Spirit reveals more truths to me, what I am anxious about in going to China is turning into what I am excited about. My lack of language skills, my complete inexperience as a teacher, my unfamiliarity with the culture will all serve to cause me to daily rely on the Lord’s strength.  Indeed, His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pib13aveIKU

When the midnight meets the morning, may I love you even more.  

~Getty Music.

What is Cuba?

Annatations

I’m already bracing myself for the inevitable questions of “How was Cuba?” or “Did you have a good time?”  when I return.  While the questions are understandable and perfectly natural to ask, I am always frustrated by my inability to adequately answer them.  How can you possibly convey the sights, the smells, the sounds, the people, and the feelings that come with living in a different culture for nearly two weeks?  It is like reading the SparkNote version of a classic novel.  By summarizing time spent in a place, the experience loses much of its flavor.

                Perhaps it is the stage of life I am as I stand poised on the brink of adulthood, a complete lack of knowledge about Cuba before coming here, or a combination of factors, but this trip has caused me to think more than deeply than any other previous study abroad experience.  In some…

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Blown by the Wind

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;

He pulled me out of deep waters…

He brought me out to a wide-open place;

He rescued me because He delighted in me.

Psalm 18:16;19


Bound by chains

Blown by the wind

A slave to my sin

Until Christ entered in

Now freed by His blood

Overwhelmed by His grace

I’m lost in His love

Finding mercy from above


You reveal the path of life to me;

in Your presence is abundant joy;

in Your right hand are 

eternal pleasures.

Psalm 16:11

 I wrote these lines months ago while living in Guam and have loved seeing how the psalmists have so eloquently echoed my own sentiments of joy found Christ.  So thankful for a Father who rescued me from the darkness and uncertainty I was living in a year ago.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Hi.  My name is Anna and I am addicted to chocolate.

You see, it first started out small.  One Ferrero Rocher for an afternoon snack perhaps.  Then I moved to Germany and it turned into three or four or five pieces of chocolate for an afternoon snack with my cup of tea.  Now I’m eating chocolate before noon and in the afternoon and creeping out of my bed in the middle of the night for more chocolate.  I can’t seem to stop.

I’m ready for a chocolate purge.  Never thought I’d be saying that!  I have absolutely loved being in Germany this month, but I am ready to go home and away from the endless supply of chocolate, cheese, and bread.  One of the best parts of traveling is that it makes you appreciate what you would take for granted otherwise.

Oh what a month it has been!  I have learned and experienced and laughed so much.  I have been more uncomfortable than I ever have been before due to the fact that I have about the same ability as a small infant to communicate and am not nearly as adorable.    Many people asked me about the language barrier when they found out I was heading to Germany for a month.  Hah! I am completely capable of handling it, I confidently thought.  However, a semester spent studying in England and other trips in Spanish-speaking countries where I had some background of the language had in no way prepared me.  Working and living in a small town is completely different than being a tourist in a different country.  In the end, I can only look back and laugh at some of situations, frustrating as they might have been.

I apparently created my own bus route home.  I wondered why I was literally the only person on the bus for the last ten minutes.  When the bus driver spoke to me I just kept saying Nordkirchen and nodding my head.  This happened multiple times until it was finally communicated to me that I should go to the other bus stop.   Ah ha!

My taxi bus driver and I would have conversations in the morning where he spoke only in German and I spoke only in English and we think we understand each other.  For example:

Driver: “This ticket is not good for this week.”

Me:  “The family I’m staying with got this ticket for me.  I’m pretty sure it is good.”

Driver:  “No, look it ended last week.  You need a new ticket.”

Me:  “Oh, I see.  Well can I fix this tomorrow?  I really need to get to school.”

Driver:  “Sure, bring a new ticket tomorrow.”

Me: “Ok, cool thanks.”

One day, I was riding my bike and a man passed me saying, “It’s cold here!”

Oh my gosh, I understand what he said!  Somehow he knows I speak English just from seeing me on my bike. How cool!

“Yeah, it is,” I responded.

 I later told this story to a group of American and German teachers and discovered that “Es ist kalt hier” is really what the man said in German, which happens to sound very similar to “It’s cold here” in English.  Darn.  .

Just today I was shopping at the local store in my town.  I had a basket full of Spekulatius cookies (they are kind of like crunchy gingerbread cookies-I love them!) and a lady came up and asked, “Where did you get those biscuits?” looking at my basket.  Did she just speak in English to me or is this like the cold business, I wondered.  Nervous to open my mouth and prove myself the German fraud that I am, I jabbed my finger in the general direction and said “there” hoping I wasn’t coming across as too rude.

I am looking forward to coming back to a land of English where I will be able to laugh when other people laugh instead of sitting and blankly smiling.  This experience has given me such an appreciation for the ESL kids in school.  Probably most of the international student teachers put something like, “I want to see what it must feel like for the ESL students in school” when explaining their reasons for wanting to teach abroad.  It’s not possible to understand the level of discomfort that comes from being completely immersed in a different culture and language and until you experience it (and I was other English speaking teachers and student teacher!).  There are parts of this experience I will miss in a weird way.

I will miss my awkward climb into bed as I tilt my body in order to not hit my head on the slanted wall.

I will miss my runs to the castle where I would always see the same old man in the wheelchair doing exercises by the moat.

I will miss riding my bike despite the battles we fought.

I will miss the Christmas markets with all of their holiday festivity.

I will miss working with the other teachers, Sarah, in particular.

I will miss the perfect, dainty sized cups of coffee.

Nevertheless, independent Anna who can drive her own car and communicate with a cell phone and hold conversations is ready to be back!  Hallo, good ole’ USA!

My host sister, Anna, and her friend with cookies they brought up for me .  :)
My host sister, Anna, and her friend with cookies they brought up for me . 🙂

Hey, I just met you and this is crazy. But, here’s my profile, and can I stay with you maybe?

An Ode to Brussels:

So this is the story from A to Z of how Kathryn and I missed our first train, you see.

I’d love to keep this poem going, but this is a little difficult, just like disc throwing.

Ok, definitely time to stop now!

The trip to Brussels was eventful to say the least.  I learned the importance of checking tickets thoroughly, packing warm clothes, carefully reading station names, oh, and yeah, stayed at a stranger’s apartment (never fear, I’ll explain later!).

After enjoying a leisurely lunch after our first train ride, Kathryn and I go to the station to find where our train to Brussels departs.  The train leaves at 11:36, I am sure.  I pull out the ticket.  The train leaves at 11:17.  I look at my watch.  It reads 11:15.  We look at the confusing signs and take off running.  We stand there just as our train chugs away.

Finally, oh finally, after a series of sprints to buses and trains trying to navigate our way around Germany’s confusing transportation system (for example, we thought we had train tickets, but really it was train and bus tickets), we see the beautiful sign of Bruxelles.

Kathryn and I eagerly hop off the train into magical the land of waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer.

Hmm….Brussels is a little more ethnic than I was expecting.  The streets are crowded and dirty.  Doner Kebab places line the road.  Where is the chocolate and waffles?  Kathryn and I head in the general direction of a cathedral knowing that our train station is close to the Grand Place-the heart of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We turn a corner and look up at a store window.  There is a scantily clad, voluptuous woman sitting there illuminated.  I look at the other side and down the street and window after window contains a live woman displayed for all to see.  I grab Kathryn’s arm, “Oh my gosh, Kat, we’re in the red light district!”  

It was shocking, it was sickening, and it was incredibly saddening.  I was not prepared for it.

We panic and try to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

We go to a hotel and ask the man working to show us where we are on the map.  He points to a spot.  “You’re here, next to  Brussels Nord Station.”

Uhh, oops!  Everything clicks together.  In (mainly mine) zealousness to not miss another stop, we had gotten off our train to soon.  We head back to the train station, wander around like the lost tourist that we are, and eventually make it to the right stop.

The day was not nearly over though.  We still had to meet Sarah and go to our hotel-which happened to be a stranger’s apartment.

Now I should probably explain before dear family and friends begin to question my sanity.  For this trip, I thought it would be fun to check out couchsurfing.  It is basically a network for travelers to host and be hosted by others, typically on their couch.  Couchsurfers create a profile about themselves and people can provide positive, neutral, or negative references of them as a guest or host.  Couchsurfing is not limited to only sleeping on somebody’s couch, but there are also many events for couchsurfers in the area.

Since there were three of us, I felt pretty confident about trying it, created a profile, and sent out my request.  Singapore raised, unicycling, juggling, UNO playing, swing dancing, Erbin responded and said that he could host Kathryn, Sarah, and me.  Better yet, he said that this was his girlfriend’s first time to ever host.  I messaged my couchsurfing expert friend, Kelly, for protocol tips, and accepted his couch.

Erbin and his German girlfriend, Andrea, were so incredibly kind to us and such talented, unique individuals.  Both nights Andrea made us tea and served as homemade German cookies as we talked and laughed and learned.  Erbin has a Ph.D. in computer science, for a hobby he has created an app for electronic sports (didn’t even know such a thing existed), is very involved in the dancing community (he showed us a video of somebody boogieing which made him decide that he wanted to play and dance like that), regularly plays the piano at a local bar, juggles, and can speak several languages.  Andrea discovered a passion for learning languages as a teenager and is fluent in many.  She met Erbin at a couchsurfing event where she asked to ride his unicycle and crashed.  Talk about a unique “this is how me met” story!  They dance together and Erbin even spent time looking up swing dancing places near me as they shared their love of dancing.

How enriching life is to meet and talk with different people and to learn about their passions!  I am reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White and Merlyn’s words to the future King Arthur struck me when he says, “You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then–to learn….That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

The experience reminded me of how much I love traveling, not so much for the places, although they are incredible, but for the people.  In Brussels, my favorite chocolate shop was one that sold the smallest pieces of chocolate because I could try an assortment of different flavors.  In Spain, I always hunted for tapas bars to try a variety of samples of local cuisine.  I realized that I love the little tastes of life that comes from brief encounters.  In one of my college English classes, we talked about the “catalog technique.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson use this in their writing, and it is when an author gives a list to create a whole picture instead of deeply looking at one subject.    That is my love-snapshots of life.

Last year at this time, I realized a deep appreciation for the constant change and beauty that comes from backpacking.  This year I discovered an interest in couchsurfing.  There is something about briefly sharing life with a person that satisfies the wandering writer within me.

As for the rest of Brussels, it was a successful trip!  Kathryn and I were able to meet Sarah at her station with relatively little difficulty, and it was delightful to explore a culturally and architecturally rich city like Brussels.  Also, I’ll never forget walking down the road to Erbin and Andrea’s apartment the first night in Brussels and hearing Anna yelled from above.  Erbin happened to look out the window just as we walked past his place.  And the food,  oh heavens! At every street corner, you are assaulted by delicious smells (if you are in the right part of Brussles, that is).

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Buurrrrrrlin and More

This past weekend in Berlin was quite educational….almost too much so.  Feeling the urge to dance one night, I asked the man at the hotel for recommendations to good clubs within walking distance.  He directed me to Club 77 and off Kathryn, Jennifer and I went.  Unbeknownst to us, Club 77 is a strip club  as the other student teachers discovered when they Googled it.  Thanks to our navigational ability we never made it there, but I’m still confused about the miscommunication.  I said I wanted to save money not make money!  For goodness sake, I was wearing glasses because I’d forgotten my contacts at home.  Not your typical strip club attire I would think.

Berlin was cold and windy and an extremely interesting city to see.  In some ways it is very young.  Most of the buildings are modern due to the destruction during World War II.  The turbulent history of the city is also very recent as well.  My host family told me that they were there when the Berlin Wall was torn down and they even left a message on it for a friend one time.  Seeing the faces of people who were killed trying to get over the wall brought history alive in a way that textbooks never can and also brought tears to my eyes.  Most of them were young-around my age-and had so much life to live.

Next to the Berlin wall.
Next to the Berlin wall.

Some highlights of Germany so far include the following:

-Monday was my first day to teach an “official” lesson that I had planned and prepared on the train coming back from Berlin with only a few hours of sleep.  In my haste to get to the bus station along with my first time teacher nerves, I tried to jump from the road to the sidewalk to park my bike and ended up face-planting in front of the bus.  I got to teach my first lesson with skinned knees and scuffed up boots.  Am I really old enough for this?  Every time I careen down the road on my bike (the first time I road it on the sidewalk, a big no-no, and on the wrong side at that), I feel like I should wear a big sign that says “CAUTION: AMERICAN ON BICYCLE.”

-Kathryn and I took a trip into Dortmund last week.  Somehow neither one of us had calculated how much money we should bring and thus were left with a very difficult decision at the mall:  should we spend the two euros and 28 cents we had between the two of us to use the bathroom at 50 cents a person and split a euro ice cream cone OR forego the bathroom and each have our own cone?  Mother Nature called and we split the ice cream just solidifying our unintentional “couple” status.  It was also the first day for the Christmas market to be open and let me tell you it is no lie that the Germans love Christmas.  In our eternal quest for directions to the market and Germany’s tallest Christmas tree, we accidentally gained an Indian admirer.  “Come,” he said.  We went and he never left.  I told him that we were very religious and needed to go to the church and pray, yet still he followed.

Our shared cone
Our shared cone

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-I pretty much live next to a grand castle complete with a moat and swans and ducks.   I have been running on the trails behind it every chance that I get.  Sometimes I have to wonder if it real life.

Schloss Nordkirchen
Schloss Nordkirchen

-Finally, I think I might be turning into a loaf of bread.  I mean I like bread, but we literally eat it at every meal.

6 Differences Between the German and American Educational Systems

1.  Teachers do not have a set classroom like the do in the US.  German teachers instead travel around from class to class.  Their home base is a teacher’s lounge.

2.  Teachers dress much more informally in Germany.  The standard outfit of a teacher is the American version of a causla Friday dress of jeans and a t-shirt.

3. The class schedule is crazy!  Instead of the same class at the same time everyday of the week, the same classes are taught at different times and on different days.

4.  Breaks between classes are much longer in Germany than in the US.  While in the US a high school teacher may typically have one planning period with five minute hall breaks in between, in Germany the teachers have no planning period but there is around twenty minutes between each classes.  Keep in mind that the classes sometimes last an hour and a half though.

5.  Teachers can teach only a few classes or they can teach multiple classes.  Sometimes their last class might end at 1 and they are free to leave or sometimes it might end at four.  This is different from the US where each teacher has the set amount of classes.

6.  There is far less access to technology in Germany than in the US.  Most teachers only have chalkboards to write on and there are only a few computers in the whole school.

On the surface, Germany and the United States’ have very different educational systems.  However, I have been more amazed at the similarities.  I went to Germany expecting teaching strategies along with the teachers and students themselves to be completely different.  What I have discovered is that good teaching equals good teaching anywhere in the world.  Good teachers care about their students and about their material.  Good teachers are constantly seeking to find strategies to engage and connect with their students.  Good teachers collaborate with other teachers and steal ideas from many resources.  The conversations that I have had with the German teachers have been identical to conversations with American teachers.  The teachers have discussed ways to hold all students accountable for learning, they have sighed over multiple classes to prepare for with little time, and they have talked about different effective teaching strategies.  A constant flow of money along with a flood of paperwork for teacher accountability can be pumped into the educational system, yet what makes for good education is simply good teaching and good teaching comes from good teachers who care for their students and their work.