Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lesons in Humility

       "So I think, though, that as much as you're doing with them, this is an ongoing problem that we face every year, and I think it needs to come from me, not you.  So, I'll just organize the lessons and you can tell me when fits into your schedule.  And, you can go relax, get a coffee.  I'll take care of this."
       This year has been beyond challenging.  Another new school.  Another new grade level.  Change.  Change. Change.  Stress.  Pressure.  Overload.  I feel like people often throw around quotes that refer to things getting better or easier over time.  I question that one.  I've been teaching now for almost 5 years and with the exception of that first, crazy, whirlwind, lost year that is first year teaching, I disagree.  Instead, I think each year has been more difficult and challenging than the last.  
       I've been struggling a lot at school this year, but more than that I've been struggling with myself.  Struggling to understand and make sense of these challenges.  Trying to solve problems and answer the questions that invade my mind.  One such question that I try to focus on is, "God, what am I supposed to learn from this new challenge?"  
      I've been grappling with the answer to that question since the beginning of the year.  I've tried piecing together this year's particular hurdles into patterns.  I came back to this question more intensely when contemplating my New Year's Resolutions for 2014.  I thought if I could sort of pinpoint a common thread through the obstacles I face, then I could devise a plan that allows me to be more accepting of the challenge.  As stressed out and uptight as I get about challenge, I am also a thrill-seeker and I thrive on challenge.  My comfort zone, however, with challenges is rather narrow.  I like to enter into the challenge with a purpose and a plan to face it, learn, fail, and hopefully grow.
               This year's challenges have really taken me outside of my comfort zone as I struggled to find something specific that I could work on to face these challenges with a better mindset.  And then, I had this particular conversation and I began to piece things together for myself.
          I can be rather stubborn, strong-willed, and protective, especially when it comes to my teaching.  I spend a lot of time planning, grading, worrying, tutoring, discussing, and the list goes on for my classroom.  I'm by no means perfect, in fact i often feel incredibly inadequate as a teacher.  But, I do take my craft very seriously.  I give my all, all the time.  In fact, I take it way too seriously.
        Which, at first, was harshly pointed out to me during this conversation, because my first reaction was to take offense at it.  I'm not good enough?  I can't do this on my own? (I hate asking for help)  The problems in my class have escalated so far, that I need someone else to combat them for me?  Most specifically the dislike of me in my classroom has increased so much that a series of lessons need to be taught to me class about how to not gossip about me.
          At first, I saw it as a major WHAM!  An insult, even.  How come I'm not enough?  Why can't I be a apart of the lessons?  Why am I not making a positive difference in their lives?  I need help?
          Humility.  I can't do everything flying solo.  I need help.  Yeah sure I may spend hours laboring over this craft, but that will never be enough.  I'm not perfect, never will be, never want to be.  It's a dose of much needed humility.  People are given as gifts from God for the very purpose of being a supportive community.  You don't have to do everything alone.  It's not an insult.  It's not looking down on you.  It's a simple reminder that we're all merely human--weak, sinful, lost, small, and insignificant.
      Reflecting back over the course of this year, I am now more aware of hints and signs to a need for increased humility.  You see, while this has been a difficult year, it's also the first year in my teaching career that I am supported.  In the past, I was working in environments that provided me with no back-up, guidance, help, nothing.  So I had to do it all and do it all on my own.  In four years, that's what I've become accustomed to, but I don't have to be anymore.  I've got the most supportive administration.  Now I've just got to let them in, let them do their job, let myself reach out to the help that's willingly there.
      So all in one swoop I got a crushing blow with an answer to my prayer.  I got served and I got a focus to my challenge.  I got a new lens through which I can tackle each day, and it's through humility.  I don't have it today, won't have it tomorrow.  But I can promise to attempt to be open to its presence in my life.  I can promise to commit to learning more about humility.  I can promise to try to be a more humble servant.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Hurricane Sandy has really hit home for me in this faraway spot.  With so many friends, students, and family members up and down the East Coast, since the first news of Sandy hit, I've been worrying about who is safe, who has power, and what this storm will do to so many people that I love.  

Well, Sandy hit, and sure hit hard (understatement).  And listening to the stories and looking at footage it's devastating.  To talk to friends that have just completely lost everything, I'm heartbroken for them.  And then to see snow coming and to know so many still don't have power.  I feel helpless and powerless when so much help and aid and support is needed.

Trust in the power of prayer.  

A friend of a close friend of mine wrote this article about Sandy:

In the middle of such disaster and the feeling lost, but hopeful that my aid of prayers can do something and bring some light to a dark time for others, I came across another article about bikes.  Obvi, peaks my interest to read about bikes.  I'm happiest when I'm on my bike.  In fact, the other day as I rode home from one of the worst days of school and I was venting in my mind, I apparently still had a huge smile on my face, because as I rode past a girl walking on the path she said, "That's the biggest smile I've ever seen."  

Anyways, sorry for the digression, but bikes just really are the best.  They bring happiness and joy.  They help the environment.  They protect, promote health, and bring love.  They can also help.  What an amazing group of people to use bikes to help the hurricane victims.

"I was struck again by the power of the bicycle. It is a machine that is uniquely able to leverage and amplify human effort. . . The humble work of individual people, harnessed to simple mechanisms, can gain strength exponentially. And move a city forward."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Love You

Each year teaching I have had one child in particular that stands out for various reasons behavior-wise in my classroom.  Teaching is incredibly difficult and to be honest I struggle with it daily.  Each year I've had one student in particular that chooses to challenge and test my faith, my patience, and my ability to be a teacher.   Often as a teacher, I feel I am the "bad guy."  I'm the one who has to tactfully approach parents about testing, special needs, or counseling  I'm the one who has to give consequences, follow through on them, contact parents, and take away activities.  I'm the one who has to setup meetings, share stories, seek help, and get advice.  And often times it's difficult.  Communication is difficult.  More precious time is lost.   My schedule fills.  I feel lost and unsupported.

But, I can't give up.  I fight for my students.  There isn't a part of me that has ever felt like giving up on one of them.

I question things a lot.  Like, why does a child behave this way?  Am I a terrible teacher?  Am I bad person?  Why do these situations always seem to find me?  Do I have to follow through on a consequence again?  Or, oh no, what happened now?  How can I escape this impending battle?  And mostly, I question myself.

And so Thursday, after one of the most challenging weeks I've ever faced, as I was busy tying knots to dreamcatchers, encouraging students to work more quickly, and running around my classroom to quickly get our activities done, a student, who often challenges me and sees me as the bad guy, came up and whispered in my ear, "I love you."  The student ran back to his/her desk to continue his/her work, and I shocked, sat there and thought, but you always say you don't like me.  After all that, and all we go through as teachers, that one "I love you" is what I choose to hold onto.  

And, I, love you too.

Monday, October 15, 2012


This past week I was on Fall Break.  I debated staying in Denver or heading home for awhile.  Home won.  The week was fantastic and incredibly perfect (I wonder how that happened ;)

I saw my family, best friend since Jr. High, my closest family friends, my college friends, UCTC friends, college professors and a Honduran friend.  How is it that all those people could be present for my one week home, not sure, but I know it was one of the best miracles I've ever received!

In addition to all those incredible miracles, I learned that Joe Mattingly and the Newman Singers would be performing at my home church, St. Raphael's, another reason why St. Raphael's is still the best parish around!  Joe Mattingly wrote and composed one of my all-time favorite songs, "On That Holy Mountain."  I was also blessed because they performed at mass, which was kind of surprising considering it's often played around Christmas . . . more miracles.

I wish I had a beautiful recording of this song, youtube, is wonderful, but lacks in the church song department.  This song ever since it was sung by one of my fave cantors, Seth growing up, and then at Lessons and Carols at SMC, and always at St. Raphael's, moves me to tears.

And boy, when I returned to my mountains this morning, and admired the brightening blue sky glowing above the peaks with stars twinkling above, I couldn't help but smile and thank God.  And, as I drove to school, only half ready for the return to reality,  I couldn't help but repeat the line "led by all the children . . . "

Thanks for the miracles and the mountains.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith

Well, I'm back.  And with a vengeance!

Not really, about the vengeance part.  But the blog, yes, is back.

I was lounging around today, still in my pj's, cup of tea in hand, embracing the calm peace that is Fall Break, when I started pondering on the importance of today- the beginning of the Year of Faith.  

I knew that this “Year of Faith” was approaching, but in the chaos of life, I kept on putting off my research into why this is the Year of Faith and what the means for me.  So I got out Esperanza (trusty computer) and began google-ing.  One of the purposes of this year is to engage in a deeper and more profound faith.  Sounds like a call and a challenge to me (something I've never shied away from), so I began to ask myself, "What am I to do?"  

Cue new searches of "what to do for the Year of Faith."  There are lots of ideas.  Pray the rosary more, attend adoration, watch videos, read this and that, get more involved in church, read a blog, share your faith, evangelize, go to mass, go to confession, practice gratitude/trust/humility/forgiveness.  Fantastic ideas!  And all are areas in which I need to grow.  But, what shall I do.  I thought and prayed about it all day and then it came to me—return to my blog!

Why make my Year of Faith project a return to blogging?  Well, the reasons abound.  This may have begun as a blog about Honduran adventures, but hey life itself is an adventure, why limit my blogging life!  Since leaving Honduras I've received a few requests to continue the blogging, but I gave myself a myriad of excuses and put it off.

Over the past few (very challenging) weeks, though this nagging often arose: "If only I could blog about that . . . or that."  Why?  Well for one, I love to write.  I always have.  My writing may be exceptionally wordy, but I do enjoy it.  Shockingly, journaling was never been a part of my life until two years ago.  Now I do it almost daily and crave more.  Two, sometimes things are easier for me to say in words.  I'm not a phone talker.  I get nervous and anxious and never say the things I really want to say and when I hang up I think...Gee why didn't I or if only I said...  Three, there's something encouraging, hopeful, and inspiring about writing to a community.  Sometimes writing in my journal for just myself doesn't cut it.  I don't always receive comments on my posts and I don't need them (although *hint* I do love them :-) nor do I know if anybody is actually reading this, but the thought that I'm sharing with some sort of community inspires me to keep writing, sharing, growing, serving, loving, yadda yadda yadda.  Four, life since moving to Denver is HARD.  It's lonely, challenging, overwhelming, busy, and frustrating.  It’s filled with joy, laughter, adventure, and love, too—just like Honduras.  So, I ask myself, why not share it? 

Five, something that has been "missing" (or better put developing and growing) since moving to Denver is community life.  The past three years of my life I've spent living in intentional community with others.  And I LOVE it!  I love everything there is to eat, sleep, live, and breathe about community.  And having known that life for 3 years, I miss it.  A LOT.  I'm incredibly grateful for my small and growing community in Denver, but I miss having spirituality as a built in part of my day and an intentional group of people to come home to. Since moving to Denver, I've had to shift a lot of my practices from community-oriented to internally oriented, which is incredibly difficult for an extroverted person like myself to do!  It was easy for me to deepen my faith and learn and grow and challenge myself when others were around to push me, teach me, grow with me, and hold me accountable.  And while I'm the luckiest because I still have those people praying for me and pushing me from afar, it's different.  I find myself becoming increasingly lazy about things when I'm my only physically present "pusher."  So, again, the blog seemed necessary.  I know that if I have a community (albeit an unknown cyberspace one) I'll be more inspired to read and learn and grow and have people to share it with.

So here it is a new twist on my blog.  Daily life, photos, joys, sorrows, and adventures with some additional faith-filled musings thrown in.  No expectations, no requirements, but an outlet to share with a blogging community my life, my adventures, and my year of faith.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spanish Language Week

My last week in Honduras, of course, wasn't an average week of school.  Gotta go out with a bang, I suppose.  As such my last week in Juti was a wonderful week dedicated to celebrating the Spanish language.  Just to add to the craziness of figuring out how to try and wrap up my last week as best as I could under the circumstances and to find someway to say goodbye to my kiddos, my days at school were full of events, kids getting pulled out of class for this that and the other thing, and just general craziness.  But, like any Honduran event, it was over the top, engaging, a celebration of love and learning, and soooo fun.

Tuesday we celebrated the Spanish language with a spelling bee.  The spelling bee was first vs. second grade.  Rosita is very competitive and doesn't like to lose.  She was so nervous for the competition because last year her first graders beat the second graders, but now they were second graders so she thought she was going to lose.  Rosita prepared those kids so well though and first grade prevailed.  Hector was the spelling bee champ!  

Wednesday we celebrated the Spanish language with an oral language competition.  I'm not exactly sure how it differs from a talent show, but apparently it does.  For this competition we competed first, second, and third grade.  There was a drama/skit competition, poetry reciting, joke telling, and more.  True to Honduran fashion, it was long, with intense costuming and over the top decorations.  Most of my kiddos got bored and took advantage of the time to play around with my camera.  I'm not even sure which categories we won and which we didn't.  I was pretty distracted with my kiddos too, ooops :-)
Thursday we had the writing contest.  It was more like a spelling contest than anything.  First grade faced off against second again. Each kid had a dry erase board and would have to write the word correctly.  In some senses spelling is easier in Spanish because of how phonetic it is, but then there are all the accents and everything.  I thought some of the words were pretty tricky myself.  I was so proud of my ninos, we got first and third place in the contest.  I was especially proud of my dear Alexa who won the contest.  Alexa is a phenomenal student (and neighbor), but she is often plagued by extreme shyness/timidness and she does not like pressure at all.  Rosita and I worked with her all year, as she consistently was a top performed in both of our classes, but she didn't have confidence, she hates messing up or making a "mistake" and just didn't like to participate.  She grew soooo much this year in terms of all of that.  When I found out she was in the writing contest, I knew she was smart enough to win it, but I kind of thought her fears would overcome her intelligence...I was wrong!  So proud of that one.

Friday was the big day.  Last day, tear, and the culminating talent show for language week.  It was an awesome day, but a lot was going on for it to be my last with my kiddos.  I would have preferred a quieter, more intentional, non-stressful way, but sometime you just gotta roll with it.  I pretty much just spend the day showering as much love as possible as I could on my kiddos and enjoying every last minute I could with them.  We danced, sang, and played around.  We played splish splish splash! and took pictures.  I wanted to make sure I had class pictures with each class.  And after each picture Miss Fanny yelled "Hug!"  So I had 25 kids tackle me with a hug, I'd gotten used to this over the year, but this one was extra strong and they ended up toppling me over until i was on the ground covered with 25 kiddos.  To which one of them shouted (in Spanish) "If we just stay on top of her, she can't leave!"  bwahahaa.  It was wonderful to just soak up all the time I could with them.  

Then we had the talent show.  Which, true to Honduran fashion, was incredibly long, well costumed, intense, and full of talent.  Each grade level did a dance, poetry contest, joke contest, drama/skit, and more.  It was crazy.  The kids were sooooo good.  Man can those preschooler punta!  And Edward and Rolando were amazing at working the crowds as they told their jokes.  There was some great talent.  
I had the brilliant idea that since this was our last day and we were given the gift of a talent show, we needed to go out with a bang and just enjoy our last day.  So we came up with a plan to do a surprise act in the talent show.  We decided to do a punta, which is the traditional Honduran dance.  So we all wore mini skirts, Honduran jerseys, and punta'd our butts off in front of the school.  Wendy had come over the night before and we literally practiced like 3 times.  Luckily Wendy stood in the back reminding us what to do.  I must say, for how difficult punta is and how little we practiced, we were good.  Most importantly, however, my kids LOVED IT.  When we finished, my first graders got up and decided to rush the stage.  Oh how I love them sooo.

Unfortunately as Honduran events tend to go, this one went a little long, so the end of the day and goodbyes became a little rushed.  The school honored each of us with a certificate at the end of the talent show which lead to a school-wide waterworks session.  I kid you not, I've never been apart of something like this before.  It was kind of awful.  They tried to honor us, but Peggy was crying, we each started crying, soon all of our kids were crying, and then the whole school was crying.  What a way to end a talent show :-/  But, we all headed out went back to my classroom.  We had like ten minutes left in the school day and Rosita wanted us to all get together as first graders.  Rosita, Fanny, and Flor all spoke way too kindly about me and then Rosita asked the kids if they had any words they would like to share with me.  Since my kids don't really speak English yet, they mostly just said "I love you." "I miss you"  "You best teacher."  Some of them said some beautiful words in Spanish as well, which just kept the waterworks going.  They gave me cards and hugs.  I reminded them how much I loved them and gave them some special treats as we said our last goodbyes.  Afterwards, Rostia and Fanny made me lunch and brought me cake.  It was quite the despedida.  For all the tears and emotional heartache of the week, Santa Clara did not disappoint on the goodbye front and it truly was a wonderful celebration of all this school offers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
-Langston Hughes

I had a dream in 4th grade--join the Peace Corps.  I decided in my own slightly altered way to live out that dream, didn't want it to dry out, you know?  And so that lead me to Honduras, to Juti, to 50 wonderful students, and a life changing experience.

And shoooot...I've learned a lot this year--the precise angle upon which to dump a bucket of water on my head for a shower; the most effective stomp, pickup, garbage, raid cockroach killing method; how to drink water from a bag; how to teach more with my body than my words; that I should arrive approximately 3 hours late to any Honduran activity--and that's just to name a few of, course.  When you're living out your dreams, you're sure to learn a lot.  Above all that, however, I think I can safely say that one thing I've experienced a lot of and learned a lot more about this year is that...

God is a God of surprises.  Full of surprises.
Unexpected, unbelievable, life giving, challenging surprises.  Surprises, I've learned, that always come directly from God although we may not initially (or for a long time) understand why.

While I may have learned this, however, nothing could have prepared me for the latest surprise that Sunday evening.

Speaking of surprises, it's surprising how everything always unfolds.  Surprising that I came home that Sunday evening from a conversation discussing life and the future.  I left the meeting with a myriad of thoughts, questions, and bursting with excitement to share my new knowledge with my "my people" to really once and for all discern a 2nd year in my Honduran dream.

That all changed when Laura entered the house that night.  She may have said hi and Mario and Lalo may have appeared bubbly, but I knew from one look at Laura that something awful had happened.

And so the abridged version of the story enfolds:  Laura was with Mario and Lalo and a group of 10ish volunteers from the US travelling to a community in which they served for several years.  After a lovely visit, the group headed back to San Fran. 5 or so of them walked and the rest followed directly behind in Mario's truck.  That's when 4 masked men came out of the bushes and assaulted the group.  Laura was face down in the ground, gun in her back, praying for hers and the lives of the other volunteers to be saved.  And praise the Lord they were and nobody was hurt.

Like, I said--surprises.  It sure is surprising how this could happen and surprising how it happened right when I was discerning year 2.  Totally unexpected, hard to believe, terrifying, maddening and worrisome surprises. 

It also always surprises me how we never actually realize how blessed and lucky we are until the end or something bad happens.  It went without saying that we would all move our mattresses into the living area of our small colonia house to be near each other, comfort one another, freak out and work this out together.  As we lay there we managed a laugh, among the tears and worry about the future, realizing that at some point over the course of the year we had truly formed one amazing community.  And in same community fashion we all sat by one another, held hands, and one-by-one called home and listened to the almost desperate pleas of our families to come home sooner rather than later.

We'd been through this before, it was a dilemma we'd come to know so well: Stay or go?  Stay or go?  But, always in the end, leaving was NEVER an option one of the 5 of us considered seriously.  I knew deep down for me that if there was ever an inkling of a way for me to stay, hands down I would.  Honduras is home to me.  In a lot of ways I feel more at peace and more myself living there.  I have 50 students that I could never abandon midway through the year, friends that I was growing closer to each day, an unfinished bucket list of adventures, I had lessons to learn, a faith to nourish, goals to achieve, and more experiences to have.  Until this point, Carlos, our fearless director, willingly would donate his right arm (he did donate his car) if it meant keeping us here to help us live out those dreams.  Carlos eventually always had a plan, a glimmer of hope.

But then came the next surprise.  Carlos.  He hadn't even made it all the way through the doorway of our house as he came over to discuss the latest situation, when we asked him, "Carlos, what do we do?"  And he immediately responded "Plan B."  What is "Plan B" we wondered?  It means we go home.


And so the final word was spoken.  We were going home.  Going home.  Home.  H.O.M.E.

But, I wanted to cry out, I don't understand.  How can I go home when I AM home?
And so we did.  But what about our students?  What about the school?  What about our home, our lives, the foundation, the mission?  You mean you don't have an alternative for us?  It's only 5 weeks. I'll live school-home-school-home.  I always said I'd do anything for my students, I can't leave?!?!

Honduras is my home, my life, as I know it for the present time--everything I have, need, and want.

I have a community of 5 volunteers—each of us different, each of us with beautiful gifts.  Gifts that I was still learning about and learning from.  I wasn't ready to give that up yet.  The 5 of us had been secluded in our tiny, but wonderful,  home for months and in that time we learned, we grew, we laughed, and we cried.  We shared, we taught, and we listened to one another.  We faced challenges everyday and yet I knew that I could go home, share it honestly, and be supported, loved, and comforted.  We were a community community committed to living the fullest life in Honduras, a brave community that never stopped listening, learning, and growing, a courageous community that persevered in the face of challenges that no other volunteer group ever saw.

I have friends and family in Honduras.  I like to play soccer when I can on Fridays and go out dancing when possible.  I meet with Wendy to intercambio and share stories.  Together we cook meals and dance zumba.  She brought me in and made me part of her family.  Even her daughter, little Ana Valeria (just 2), on our last night together, "I love you." "Miss Sarah, Miss Sarah." "Love." "No te vayas." (Don't go).  Then there's Carlos and my OAF family.  I was the luckiest to be Andree's teacher and am so grateful for the enormous hug I received without fail every time him and dad came to the house.  Then there's Tin, Yessica, and Fanny.  Our weekly intercambio friends whom we could sit with for HOURS just chatting away, English or Spanish no importa.  We could go on crazy adventures *cough*cabra negra*cough* or drink horsehair-tree liquor or play Kings in Spanglish or make pizza and sit at the table for hours losing track of the time in quality conversation.  And there's Mario, more than willing to go to the moon and back for us.  Always loving and taking care of us, willing to help us and make things happen--trips to San Fran, cooking nights, walks around the circle, soccer games, family visits, the Hogar, and so much more.

I have a life in Honduras.  I wake up at 5:00.  Get on the Pancho's crazy bus at 6, ride for 50 minutes through roads, dirt, and fields surrounded by students and bachata.  I teach.  I come home.  I work out, have hammock time, read, and catch up with community.  I cook dinner.  I go to Wendy's house or hang out with Tin.  Carlos comes over for a check-in.  We go on some new and exciting OAF adventure.  I play soccer and visit with the neighborhood kids.  I clean the house and wash the clothes.  I go to the orphanage.  The orphanage.  Every Sunday usually after attending Padre Celios (?) life-giving mass at St. Gertrudis and after pan de banana from the nuns’ bakery, Deirdre and I head to the orphanage for arguably the best part of our week.  Our afternoons are thus filled with the love that only one of the Maria's can give (Maria Jose, Maria Isabel, Maria de los Santos), the smiley Jose David, the pouty Walter, an always entertaining Alberto, the bundle of joy Gilian, and the ever-growing and strengthening little Dina--to name a few of my orphanage faves :-)  Maybe we'll spend Saturday with Caesar and Day Star friends at the BoquerĂ³n pool or we'll head to the rio for a hike and to cool off.  We may lose power and water may be an issue, but I'm used to it.  I know to a "T" my Saturday routine with and without power and the subtle changes from tea to iced coffee, planning to chores/reading it brings.  It's a rico life, it really, honestly, and truly is.

I have students, a school, and teacher friends in Honduras.  I was blessed into the BEST team of first grade teachers at Santa Clara--Fanny (my aide), Rosita (1st grade Spanish), and Flor (Spanish aide).  Fanny and Rosita especially have welcomed me into their friendship, homes, and life with the warmest and most open arms.  We adventure together in Catacamas on the weekends and share lunches on a daily basis.  Fanny is the creative genius behind so many of first grade's projects and takes care of every little detail I'm too busy or overwhelmed to remember.  Rosita pushes and challenges me to be a better teacher and person.  Her joyful spirit, dedication, and faith have consoled me, pushed me, and encouraged me.  We work together, both of us compassionate and desiring to create the safest, most loving environment possible to meet the needs of all our students.  We laugh together, tell jokes, play jokes, and goof around.  Then there's Sylvia, Yohely, Claudia, Karol, Dora, Wendy, Jeimy, Bessy, Liseth, Ana, Stefany, Flavia, Lupita, Milsa, Gloria, Michell, Claudia, Brenda, and Ela to name a few.  Women who have modeled Honduran life, perseverance, courage, strength, resilience, and dedication to life, the students, and Honduras.  Women from whom I've learned so much.  Women whom I've laughed with and spent time with.

And then there's the 50 reasons why I absolutely cannot go through with leaving--my students.  When I stepped into 1st grade 8 months ago in August, I wanted to pull my hair out.  I spent my day in front of 50 kids who understood nothing.  I spent my day like a broken record and trying to maintain composure as I struggled to completely change the norms of the classroom and my students slowly learned that with the Miss they would actually need to sit in their chairs, raise hands, listen quietly, participate when called upon, and get permission to leave the classroom.  We started by learning to say, "How are you? I'm fine thank you." and we learned what our shapes were and we drew pictures to answer questions.  We ended the year saying "(S) he’s bothering me." and adding/subtracting 2-digit numbers, and writing complete sentences in English (I like to play soccer.).  I always have high expectations for my students, but this year my 50 bundles of joy sure taught me that when you have no expectation for English, you get to have a mini-party every time your kiddos choose English.  And I can proudly say a few of them did adopt an English-only mentality.  Each of my 50 students has given me reasons to love more, hope more, live more, laugh more, learn more, experience more, and grow more.  They've taught me the beauty of a hug, they've showered me with love and kindness, they've challenged me in new ways, and they've welcomed me into their precious lives.

I have Honduras, which contrary to what the media says is a fantastic country--a country that has taught me so much about true and pure rico living.  Sure it's struggling--it's the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Sure it's violent.  It's a Third World country.  But, it's got so much more than that.  It's got beauty from oceans to rivers, palm trees to plantains, mountains to fields.  It's got community from the deep sense of family and pride for community.  It's got simplicity, where you learn to enjoy and hardly mind power outages and lack of water because you've got people to be around, time to share, stories to hear, hammocks to be used, soccer to be played, and laughs to be had.  It has food, culture, adventure, love, and hope.  It has all of that NOT despite the struggles and challenges it faces but alongside those struggles and challenges because Hondurans are always "aprovechar-ing" (making the best of) with "animo" (cheer, energy, and spirit) too.  And unfortunately many of those struggles and challenges come from the drug violence that plagues Honduras.  A drug violence that is tearing apart a country and hindering it from improving, that in my opinion is mostly America's fault (I can get into that later).  In a country that struggles to create an identity because of the pain and poverty it experiences, it flip-flops constantly between trying to be more like America (why, I ask?) and maintaining their original way of life.

I came to Honduras to serve in the classroom and to learn.  I didn't come to Honduras to change it.  I didn't come to Honduras to be treated as a white volunteer here to impose culture or make changes.  Sure I'd love to make a difference and impact on someone or something, but more than that I came to learn, to serve, and to grow. I'm not better than anyone else and I don't want any more privilege than the next person, but I have some and I wanted to use it to share, to experience, and to learn.  Yes, I came as a volunteer, but I didn’t want special treatment or exceptions.  I'm not special.  I just want to live and serve and learn and grow.

So how can I leave that?   How can I leave ALL of that?!?! How can I look at 50 sad first grade faces and say to them, so for whatever reason I was born into a different life situation than you and it's unsafe for me here and so I get to leave and I get to go back to the comfort and security and you, well you have to stay here in an “unsafe” environment and now you're without the teachers that are attempting to help change that "unsafe-ness" through education?  How do I look at my Honduran friends and say, I get to leave, that this life is an option for me, that I can say the magic words and hop on an airplane and be back in a life of security and comfort?  And how do I look into the faces of my students' parents as they APOLOGIZE for what their country has done to me?  I don't want an apology; I should be the one apologizing for leaving!  How do I make them understand that I don't hate their country, that I don't want to leave, that I love it here, that I wish it wasn't this way, and that I haveWONDERFUL memories?

It seems unfair, premature, and it's heartbreaking.  I've never cried or shared the amount of tears that I shared that week.  Because I had to be obedient and I had to go "home." And I'm left wondering, questioning, pondering: WHY, WHY, WHY?

And so I did it, the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  It's hard to even type out the word, but I left.  I sobbed, I shook, I practically had to be dragged onto the Viktor bus as we all said a VERY sad, tearful goodbye to our home and life.  All the time wondering, but why? And I don't know why and in the short week I was given to say my goodbyes and attempt to find some closure and peace to my Honduran life, there wasn't time to begin grappling with the whys because this was a surprise.  And, as I said, I've learned a lot about surprises this year.  I know they always come from God and because of that I trust that someday I will find peace and begin to grapple with the whys. 

There's always a reason and a plan.  I know that--it still sucks.  I've never given up or left something unfinished before.  Surely there will be a lesson in that.  Coming to Honduras was and still is a dream—a dream that arose in the heart of a young, dreaming 4th grader and a dream that I considered living out for a 2nd Honduran year.  A dream I wanted so desperately to achieve and now it seems as if it's a dream deferred.  I’m left wondering as Hughes says "Maybe it just sags/ like a heavy load. //Or does it explode?"

As time has passed (I'll  blog more about coming home later), part of me sort of feels like in a twisted sort of way I got what I wanted (at the worst and higest price)--to not be considered a "volunteer."  My Honduran life wasn't sheltered or protected simply because I was a volunteer, I made sure of that.  In doing so I got to truly know and experience the rico life.  I gave my all into ever lesson, every encounter, and jumped at ever opportunity.  But I also had to face and experience the very real and often scary realities of Honduran life.  I learned a lot during my 8 months in Honduras--A LOT.  I was challenged in ways I never thought possible.  I experienced so much and I've grown in ways that I don't even know yet.  I'm BEYOND grateful for the opportunity I had, the people and students I met, and this experience.  But in throwing myself 100% into my Honduran life, I ultimately had to face the choice of staying or going.  My heart BREAKS every time I hear of a family that has to leave his or her own country to come to the US for safety.  I dream and hope for a world in which everyone can be safe in their respective country.  And I NEVER wanted to have to be someone that made that choice, but it was made for me and I was obedient to that trusting again that God is always guiding me.

So I don't know where that leaves my dream.  As I sit in the comforts of my American home it sure feels like a sagging, heavy load on my heart.  The return home has been difficult, I can honestly say I've never felt this sad, down, or heart broken before.  But I can also feel it exploding within me and hopefully around me.  I don't know why all this happened yet, I have a feeling I'll be asking that question for years to come.  But I also know that with every surprise God has given me in this life, I always find hope, meaning, and resiliency.  So maybe it will explode and explode in a way that will create positive changes and differences in the lives of my Honduran friends and students or in those in the US making choices that often directly and negatively affect Honduras.  I don't know yet what it means or why, but I know someday it will become clearer.  Until then, I hold Honduras, my friends, my students, and my life there in my prayers, my thoughts, and in my heart.  Knowing that I will be back and I will use this life experience for some good somehow.  And I know that wherever all this leads next will surely be another one of God’s unexpected, unbelievable, life giving, challenging surprises.