Lessons From Indonesia: Oh, Rats!

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Well, here we are.

Another Monday.

I’m determined to like Mondays, I really am. I have to admit that coffee helps them as coffee does generally improve my outlook each morning. 😉 (And I’ve probably had too much of it today, too…hello, Starbucks flat white. Where have you been all my life?!)

Ahem.

It wasn’t my intention to only blog on Mondays, either. It seems like life has gotten in the way a little…or, rather, life has needed to be lived not in front of a computer screen. Some weeks are like that, and I’m determined to be ok with that and not apologize for it. (Though I think that’s why you get a rather random intro every week…it’s my way of still writing out my thoughts a little.) 😉

I went back and forth with what to share with y’all this week. My hubby commented last week that my story sounded different from what I usually post. I was like, huh? I guess the difference is that last week was more serious instead of funny. (I do have a good mix of stories from both sides, but that’s not something I thought about.) I don’t want to lose readers or bore you to tears by being intense and serious all the time…it’s just that life in Indonesia wasn’t all giant puddles and falling in squatty potties. (No, no, not really…but that would have made an awesome story!)

So I’ll try to mix up the laughter and the tears. Thanks for sticking with me. :)

Aw, this one. It’s fun. (I say that a lot, don’t I?) 😉 One of the things we just had to deal with in Indonesia was rats. They flocked to us…or packed to us or whatever it is that rats do.

They could smell our foreign blood, particularly this girl’s, and they came running through grass and gutters and garbage piles just so they could give me good stories to tell. Funny enough, those stories have become precious pieces of my heart…ones I’d love to go back and live all over again. I guess I really loved Indonesia, didn’t I?

Yes. I REALLY did. And I still do. :)

I bring you…a tale of a rat and two dogs. It’s a doozy.

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37

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Along with cockroaches and snakes, one of the creatures I never got used to?

Rats.

*shudder*

My first interactions with them were from a distance…I’d often see them hanging out in the gutters or ditches, usually when we were on the bike.

Once in a while, if I was walking outside at night, I might hear one nearby, but it was kind of one of those things you don’t stick around to process too long. At least I never did. 😉

One time when we were driving, one ran in front of us, so close that we almost hit it.

But we made it through our first year in Indonesia, keeping our interactions with them to a minimum, and that was just fine with me.

I can do this. I can live here, I’d say to myself.

But sometime during our second year in that house, we started to hear the pitter-patter of little feet on what we thought was the roof.

We had our jaga (guard), who watched our house each night, do some checking for us. He couldn’t find evidence of anything, but we continued to hear the noises, and they were starting to make us nervous.

Eventually we figured out that there were, indeed, rats…but they were running between the floors of our house. The way our house was built, there was space between the floors, giving them just enough room to run through and around and play rat tag…and totally creep us out.

We were also very aware of the fact that, with two big dogs, it was only a matter of time before there was a nasty interaction.

Andre was the first to have a go at it.

For weeks…and I do mean weeks…we watched our golden retriever camp out by a certain spot in our yard. After he’d done his business, he would lie down on his belly, nose outstretched toward a little hole/crack in one of our gutters. (Concrete gutters are built into the ground in most places in Indonesia to deal with the copious amounts of rain we’d get during rainy season.) We were curious about what was so interesting down there, but we could never see anything until the night he “got it.”

Andre was a quick killer…one chomp and that rat was toast with minimal bloodshed.

Sammy was our more aggressive golden, though…he’s the one who gives us most of the good stories. His first “kill” was just a few weeks after Andre’s, and he caught this one in the kitchen. It had been hiding behind the washing machine, and he cornered it, chomped it…

And even though he could have just stopped there, he chose not to…shaking his head while holding the now-dead rat and, thus, spraying blood all over the kitchen walls.

Yes, it was a lovely mess to clean up since I know you’re all wondering.

We also said silent prayers, following that kill, that Andre would be the rat killer among the two in the future.

As the years went by, we really tried not to stress over the rats or the fact that they were becoming an inevitable aspect of life in Indonesia. And we were doing well…or so I thought.

When we made the move to the new campus and set up a new house, rats became a problem again almost immediately…I was starting to wonder if they could just sniff out expatriate blood and know who would be the most freaked out. 😉

Our pembantu (house helper) was living with us for several days each week, and one night she, my hubby, and our two killer doggies went down in history with possibly the most memorable rat-kill the world (or at least Bandung) has ever known.

I was sitting in the living room on the couch, prepping for my lessons the next day, when I heard a strange sound coming from the laundry area. Since both of the dogs were in the room with me, I connected what we were most likely dealing with…and so did Sammy, who immediately sprinted in there to survey the scene.

My feet had literally just hit the floor when I saw it come flying through the kitchen and into our family room.

I wasted no time…I took a flying leap, laptop still in my hands, and sprinted to another piece of furniture in the next room.

For the next few minutes that rat used our family room as his own, personal, obstacle course and sprinted over and under and – what seemed like – through furniture, constantly chased and nosed by two dogs who wanted a piece of him.

Literally.

Hearing the commotion, our pembantu came out of her room, saw what was happening, and grabbed a broom. (Just one of the many, many reasons I loved this woman…I don’t think she was afraid of anything.)

She expressed her idea to contain the rat by opening the door to the garage…and the rat eventually ran in there, followed closely by the dogs, herself, and my husband. (I stayed outside and listened.) 😉

It was one of those seriously hilarious scenes, even though I couldn’t actually see what was going on. There was noise, clatter, and even things falling over as four beings were in hot pursuit of this terrifying beast. I could hear her smacking at it with a broom, the dogs growling…it was really hysterical. (And I was totally laughing while I listened to it all.)

And then…quiet.

Pin-drop quiet.

The door opened, and Andre…ratless…emerged. The look on his face expressed all I needed to know.

He was extremely proud of his kill. (The one that our awesome pembantu was now picking up with a plastic bag and disposing.)

We were just breathing silent prayers of thanks that Andre had been the one to get the rat and not Sammy since many of our belongings were stored in the garage.

And that particular rat kill was over.

Oh, there were more…and they continued up until we left the country because, well, the rats continued.

There have been many times when this story has come up in conversation with friends…it was one of those that we’ll never forget. Yeah, it’s a little (or a lot) yucky, but may it was the proof we needed…

Proof that God can always give us the strength to survive some pretty unpleasant situations.

And laugh about them…and even cherish the memories of them…later.

_____________________

The stories I’m sharing are about a place and people who are in my heart forever…I never want to paint a negative image of them or their amazing country. Therefore, I ask for your grace over each word and story. I pray that I share these words well.

The above is an excerpt from Lessons From Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. All words and stories are my own and are copyrighted through Amazon publishing. Feel free to read them, but please ask for permission before sharing them. :) 

Thank you!

Sig

Lessons From Indonesia: Always There

sammy 600 final
Haha…I’m laughing to myself.

😀

SERIOUSLY.

The things I will do to put off posting on Mondays.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me, please…I want to share these stories.

But sometimes I have to get over myself first, and it takes random things like shoveling FEET of snow and wasting my brain on old NKOTB videos (thanks to my bloggy sister who posted that one) 😉 before I’m quite ready to go there.

The truth is that my Monday morning snark really has nothing to do with this chapter.

Right now I have a lot of words to choose from…of course, that will change as the weeks go by. Well, unless I write more chapters, which will probably happen…there are even a few more ideas saved in the notes section on my phone right now. :)

So I asked my hubby yesterday which one I should share…and he immediately said, Sammy.

He hasn’t read my book…in fact, there are only a handful of friends who have seen a few pieces of it and one friend who’s read the whole thing. Tobin is reading it right along with the rest of you, and yet, somehow he knew there would be a chapter about this.

He knows me and he knows the many things God used to shape me during our time in Indonesia. They weren’t always easy things…and this is definitely one of them that is still painful.

A slight disclaimer: this is oh-so-very-UNedited. And it made me laugh when I read the two scenarios that I managed to combine. But to me it makes sense. And even if it doesn’t to you, I hope the truth here will resonate.

It’s one I need today…and every day.

Thank you for being here. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

_____________________

20

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Deuteronomy 31:8

I haven’t made it a secret that Indonesia was not easy.

It wasn’t something I dwelled on as we lived the day-to-day, but there were definitely moments when it became a blunt, in-my-face reminder.

There were moments of homesickness that made me hide under a blanket, curl up into a ball, cry every tear inside me…and eventually bring myself to the point of realizing that since I couldn’t will myself “home” that I would have to crawl out of my cave of despair and face life again.

I always came out, and life always went on, and it even included smiles.

I will never forget a certain day in Decemeber of 2005.

We’d been in the country less than five months…definitely still members in good standing of the newbie group.

But we also wanted to break out of that somewhat and learn to live in this place that was our home and would be just that until God gave us a definitive calling for something else.

And as part of our “breaking out?”

We hopped on the motorbike, determined to find a certain restaurant I had eaten at once.

One. Time.

One time, a little restaurant, in a city of about three million people.

We had a vague idea of where it was, but compounding that very vagueness was a maze of one-way streets. A drive that should have taken us fifteen minutes left us still on the bike ninety minutes later, the sun beating down, the dreaded farmer tan forming on my arms, and our spirits sinking.

Oh, and we had a form of bike butt that I can’t even talk about. Because, for some reason, I remember the pain, and it still makes me cringe.

It was one of the worst feelings to be so lost and have no clue where we were going. (Or, if we were going to get there. Ever.)

Anyway, more and more and more wrong turns later, and after almost two hours of driving around (with a gas stop for a very empty tank), we finally arrived at the restaurant. Ate lunch. Did a little shopping at the outlet store next to it. And left.

Feeling a euphoria mixed with some form of what-on-earth-just happened-here.

Frustration could have ruled the day, but we were both in the same place, I think.

We were finally, really living in this place…finding our independence.

And it felt spectacular.

But was that day easy? Absolutely not. As much as it is etched in my mind for eternity, it is not a day I want to repeat. Ever. (Well, I would repeat the lunch-and-shopping part of it…those were definitely aspects I always enjoyed.) :)

There were so many days and even weeks like that…times when we were left to figure things out or trust that it would all work out even when we had no clue how that might happen. Things always did work out, but sometimes not without a lot of confusion, frustration…and tears.

Perhaps one of the hardest things we experienced was so much like this first account…and yet so different.

We’d just begun our third year of Indonesia life, and we were no longer the new kids in town. We were moving into the mentor role and had just spent the week prior with new staff, helping them set up their houses.

It was a good place to be…and we were truly enjoying life and where God had placed us. We were also coming off of a summer spent in Indonesia…the one summer we chose not to return to the U.S. It had been a difficult two months but was not without blessings, either…including a trip to Bali to celebrate our 5th anniversary.

We’d also had some transparent talks as a couple about our relationship with God and how we both felt there were areas we could improve, specifically with spending more time in His Word.

For the previous two weeks we’d been intentionally rising early to do this in the morning rather than late at night as our eyelids began to droop.

We were being intentional…and we were growing.

That’s why we were blindsided…We. Just. Didn’t. See. It. Coming.

It was a Wednesday morning, and I had just sent my fourth graders to their specials class. I was attempting to dig through the stack of grading that had somehow miraculously appeared on my desk, just two weeks into the new school year, when my husband walked into my room.

I took one look at his face and knew instantly that something was very, very wrong.

Sammy’s gone.

Those words still bring tears to my eyes as I, once again, see the image in my mind of my husband standing in front of me, tears in his own eyes.

Though our pembantu (house helper) was at our house and it was broad daylight, someone had stolen our precious golden retriever without anyone seeing.

To say that the days that followed were horrible is an understatement. We couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t function…and yet all of our school responsibilities went on as expected. My students became accustomed to a teacher who did all the things asked of her but did so with red, swollen eyes and a spirit that seemed to be sinking lower with each passing minute.

We spent every free moment combing the city, blanketing it with fliers, and taking locals with us who would translate for us as we explained to pet stores and the two “stolen” dog markets that there was a big reward, and we would not call the police. We just wanted our dog back.

And in between those things and teaching, we would just try to breathe…somehow.

But it almost felt like helpless floundering.

We felt so lost.

I remember the Sunday that followed because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The pain was too great, my heart was too heavy, and my God seemed too far away.

I found myself face-down to the floor, my forehead pressed against the ever-dusty tile, and wept to that God. The One Who had promised that He cared for His children, the One Who said He cared about the robins and sparrows, the One Who had promised He’d always walk by my side.

I don’t know how long I stayed in that position, but I know it was for a while because I had a pretty good mark on my forehead for a few days. And I can’t even tell you everything I said between my tears, but I do know that I told God, Sammy’s Yours. I want him back, but he’s Yours.

Two days later, Sammy was returned to us through a series of events that I know my Father orchestrated…but that one is deserving of its own chapter.

Again…that feeling of complete bliss but mixed with some wondering, too, of what on earth had just happened to us.

Having our precious doggy-boy returned to us was a day neither of us will ever forget, but is it a day or a week that we ever want to repeat?

I don’t think that question even bears the need for an answer.

And we’ve since revisited those emotions…emotions that can still be strong enough to bring tears. I’ve combed through the story in the past, searching for something deeper that God may be still trying to teach me, and I think I’ve finally found it in the midst of another season when I just don’t see.

It’s not earth-shattering, it’s not going to shock any of you.

But it is Truth.

There are times in life that are just hard. And while we cry and hurt and wonder, we must never, ever forget Him…He is always there, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Today my Sammy is still his crazy, loud, wonderful, golden-retriever self…and he is a living reminder of this Truth.

_____________________

The stories I’m sharing are about a place and people who are in my heart forever…I never want to paint a negative image of them or their amazing country. Therefore, I ask for your grace over each word and story. I pray that I share these words well.

The above is an excerpt from Lessons From Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. All words and stories are my own and are copyrighted through Amazon publishing. Feel free to read them, but please ask for permission before sharing them. :) 

Thank you!

Sig

Lessons From Indonesia: A Tale of a Really Big Puddle

rainy season finalMy deepest apologies for the lack of a puddle picture. This is what we have.
That’s mostly because, when we were in the middle of a downpour, the last thing we thought about doing was pulling out a camera.
😉

Hi there and happy Monday to you, friends. :)

So, clearly, there will be an introduction for every chapter if I continue this way.

I’m sorry about that, and if you don’t like the, here’s-what-I-think-about-this-chapter part, I’ll forgive you if you skip ahead.

So do you ever have a day when you just need a good smile, even a laugh? Today is one of those for me…and this story? Well, it’s one of my favorites. To be fair, I love them all, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t forget this one, even if I tried.

Some days I shake my head, and I seriously can’t believe we lived out some of the things we did. God has a sense of humor, and He also taught me to have one, too. I’m still working on it some days, but it is there.

So here’s to puddles…BIG ones…and the fact that, most days, I’d give anything to live this all over again.

Enjoy. (And laugh.) 😀

_____________________

30

So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter.
Gordon W. Allport

When I was little, I would puddle jump like most kids do when it’s raining. You know, in those little patches of water that would miraculously (well, at least to a toddler) appear in the most convenient places after a sudden downpour. The kind that made my mom grumpy when I jumped in them and got the bottom of my jeans wet.

Those tiny, Midwest puddles got nothin’ on Indonesia, rainy season puddles.

In fact, it wasn’t until moving there that I experienced a true puddle. (In my mind, anyway.) 😉

During our first rainy season, we owned a motorbike, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times we got caught in the rain. It would be a sunny day, and five minutes later, it would be pouring…so needless to say, we got used to being very wet a lot of the time.

But the puddles that were created by rainy season were a completely different story…and gave us some pretty interesting memories.

On one such occasion, we had gone to a shopping center at the other end of town on a Sunday afternoon. ­­Kings was one of the best places we could buy fabric in the city, so we spent a couple hours that day browsing and eventually buying what we needed. When we drove there, it had been a sunny, gorgeous day, but just chalk it up as something we had to learn by living in Indonesia longer than we had…

April afternoons = rain. Almost. Always. Rain.

And it was raining. Like, monsoon-ish rain.

We decided to wait it out for a while, found a nearby McDonald’s, and had some ice cream while we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually we realized that we would most likely be waiting for hours and decided to give in to getting wet. Tobin had a rain jacket with him, but I was in khakis and a jean jacket.

Smart ensemble, I know, for a tropical country.

However, in less than a minute I was so completely soaked that it didn’t matter anymore. Water is water.

But what we hadn’t counted on? Was the puddle.

THE. PUDDLE.

It was just like you see in the movies. Big puddle. Big bus. Motorbike carrying two bules approaches puddle. Bus drives through puddle creating tidal wave. Motorbike and its occupants have nowhere to go and, thus, are drenched by the nasty, dirty, wave of wet.

Never in my life had I felt so soggy and gross.

To make matters worse, once we got back up to our part of town, the sun was shining, and we? Looked like grimy, drowned rats who’d gone for a swim through the streets of Bandung.

And the even-funnier thing is that once we had a puddle experience, it seemed like we had so many more of them…because they’re just a common fact of life in a place like Indonesia. It was almost like God said, “Ok, they can handle as many as I can throw at them.” (Who knows? He probably did.) 😉

They became a strange type of normal in our ever-adventure-filled lives…and almost so normal that we stopped complaining about them pretty much altogether.

I remember the time that a friend and I had made a much-needed, after-school jaunt to the Starbucks down the hill. After some caffeine and a good heart-to-heart, we hopped on her bike to head back toward home. As we left, it started to sprinkle, so we were completely expecting to get wet.

That wasn’t the surprise. Like I said…wet equaled normal on most days.

But as we took a short detour into the kampung so she could show me her house for the next year, we unsuspectingly came upon it.

Another PUDDLE.

This one, we drove right into without even realizing it was there. Well obviously, we saw water…but not the depth.

It. Was. Deep.

SO. DEEP.

Like, up-to-our-thighs deep.

I still, to this day, cannot tell you how we managed to drive OUT of that puddle without toppling over, but we did.

And then? We just laughed and laughed and laughed. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my life.

And it was at that moment when I realized why God had made the rainy season puddles in Indonesia so massive.

Yes, there was another reason other than to get unsuspecting motorbike drivers completely drenched.

Maybe it was to give us more chances to laugh and create memories that will be etched in our minds forever.

As gross and nasty as those puddles were, I will never forget them.
Or the laughter that came along with them.

_____________________

The stories I’m sharing are about a place and people who are in my heart forever…I never want to paint a negative image of them or their amazing country. Therefore, I ask for your grace over each word and story. I pray that I share these words well.

The above is an excerpt from Lessons From Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. All words and stories are my own and are copyrighted through Amazon publishing. Feel free to read them, but please ask for permission before sharing them. :) 

Thank you!

Sig

Lessons From Indonesia: (3) On Getting Up Again

surfing final
So here I am on a Monday afternoon (or, evening…ahem…) and that’s because yours truly woke up with a monster migraine. Hello, beginning of the week and the inability to function and write a coherent sentence until the pounding-nails-into-my-temples feeling is gone.

I’ve mentioned this a time or two before, but I really am not a Monday fan. That was part of the reason I decided to share my chapters on Mondays…you know, to try to make Monday into a day I actually LOOK. FORWARD. TO.

But enough about the fact that it’s Monday. Almost Tuesday now. 😉

Also, you are not going crazy. I promise. I shared chapter one last week…this week, chapter three. I decided to jump around a little. That, and chapter two needs some revisions that my brain wasn’t up for over the weekend. And if I post chapter 26 next week, don’t be too alarmed. 😉

So today I bring you a different one, but this is one of my favorites. I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I hope you enjoy reading about the time this clumsy girl learned to surf and the lessons I’ve learned from the wipeouts…and from the getting up again part, too.

_____________________

3

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
Maya Angelou

Something I’d wanted to do since I was a little girl was learn to surf.

This is a particularly odd choice of goals since I grew up in small-town Iowa where large bodies of water were all but absent. Nevertheless it remained a dream…something I could see myself doing someday.

Before we moved to Indonesia, I only saw the ocean twice. The first time, we were in California for our first anniversary, and not getting killed by the waves? Was my goal. (Let’s just say I had a very unhealthy fear of death by large wave.)

The second time was when we were in South Africa, and the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean hovered in the 40’s, I’m sure. Just sticking my toes in was enough to freeze my entire body…no way was I going to submerge myself in that water!

I really didn’t even have a chance to learn to surf until we moved to Indonesia.

During our five years there, we made just three trips home, and we usually spent our Christmas breaks traveling. During that first Christmas in 2005, we took a two-week trip to Bali, where my love for all-things-ocean was kindled.

We swam, we bodysurfed, we boogie-boarded. We soaked up all that the glorious Indian Ocean had to offer us.

But I was afraid of that sport that required standing and riding a board propelled by ocean waves…surfing looked really, really scary.

So during our first trip, I didn’t try it, certain that I never would have been able to actually stand up on that board anyway.

During Spring Break of our second year in Indonesia, I went back to Bali with a few girlfriends. We spent our days between the beach and the pool, shopping, and eating all the yummy food we could never find in Bandung.

Our last morning there I had this nagging feeling. The whole week, I had psyched myself out of trying to surf, making excuses.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling.

So I hopped out of the pool, followed by two of my friends, marched right down to the beach (which was less than fifty meters away), and up to a guy renting out surfboards. Before I could chicken out, I hired myself a surf instructor and board for $5. (I love Indonesia prices.)

My instructor gave me a quick crash course in how to move from lying on the board to standing, all in Indonesian, of course. (I nodded my head and pretended to understand.)

Two minutes later we were out in the ocean, and as I stood in the chest-deep water for my first run, I felt like throwing up my breakfast. What on earth was I doing?

I carefully climbed onto the board, which my instructor was holding for me, and I watched the wave come up behind me. He let go…and I flew forward, hanging on for dear life.

But did I stand? No.

Did I even try to stand? Hmmm. Nope.

We laughed, he said something to me that I couldn’t translate, and I went back for another run, determined to at least move this time.

Again, I watched the wave come up behind me and felt my heart start to beat like crazy. As he let go of the board, I pushed myself up. I actually got one leg underneath me before I tumbled off the board.

Hey, it happens, and I’m pretty sure I scored graceful points for the somersault I did on the way down.

Third times the charm, right? I grabbed my board and faced the waves once again, determined to get it right.

Same story as before. As he let go of the board, I pushed up with everything I had, and I was standing!

The thing I forgot? Was that one must balance in order to stay ON the surfboard. I was so busy celebrating that I lost my balance, face-planted into the water, and came up sputtering after inhaling half of the ocean.

If you’ve ever gotten saltwater in your eyes, just multiply the pain times fifty or so.

It hurt.

I hurt.

And I was totally mortified that about a hundred people, give or take, had witnessed my thrashin’ wipeout. Sometimes there were just disadvantages to being the sometimes-uncoordinated-but-way-too-brave, white girl who thought she could surf.

Thankfully, I can laugh at myself in the midst of pain, which is probably what saved the day from being a total disaster…because on the next ride, I was determined to succeed.

My instructor had barely let go of the board when I popped up, steadied myself on both legs, and rode that board all the way in. A few feet from shore, I hopped off, looked up at a spectator who’d obviously witnessed the entire scene, and gave him a grin as if to say, You didn’t think I could do that, did you?

I spent the next hour riding wave after wave. Sometimes it would be a beautiful ride, sometimes I’d wobble, sometimes I’d completely wipe out…

But I couldn’t stop smiling…because I was following through on a dream I’d had for myself, and it was a beautiful one. There are few feelings I’ve had in my life that top what it’s like to ride a surfboard into shore.

There were several trips to Bali and other beaches over the next few years, and each chance I had, I’d rent a surfboard for a few rupiah, run out into the ocean, and ride the waves like they belonged to me.

Sure, there were wipeouts and face-plants. (Lots of them.) There were days when I fell more than I actually surfed. A couple times I probably came close to severely injuring myself when I took some hard falls.

But learning to surf taught me a lot about life…because there are going to be those days. Days when we feel victorious as we rise above everything…conquering the things that threaten to tear us down. There are also those days when, no matter what we do, the waves are just too much and they knock us down…sometimes harder than we were expecting.

But no matter what…I’ve learned to always get up and keep going.

We recently passed a shop that had a surfboard for sale, and I joked about buying it to use on Lake Michigan.

The truth is that the surfing part of my life is over, and I don’t know when (or if) I’ll ever hop on a surfboard again to face the waves.

But I know the lessons I learned from those rides…and they are worth every wipeout.

_____________________

The stories I’m sharing are about a place and people who are in my heart forever…I never want to paint a negative image of them or their amazing country. Therefore, I ask for your grace over each word and story. I pray that I share these words well.

The above is an excerpt from Lessons From Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. All words and stories are my own and are copyrighted through Amazon publishing. Feel free to read them, but please ask for permission before sharing them. :) 

Thank you!

Sig

Lessons From Indonesia: (1) Finding Beauty

indo green
I’m not sure if I’ll write an intro for every chapter or not, but today you get one. :)

I sort of had a freak out moment yesterday…the kind when I basically told my husband that I didn’t want to share my book with the world anymore.

But don’t leave. Keep reading. 😉

Why? he asked.

There were a lot of replies swirling around in my head.

For starters, I am SOOOOO imperfect. Like, more imperfect than any of you, at least it feels that way often. I tend toward the drama and the crazy and the exuberant, and I think I drive some people crazy a lot of the time because of those things. I don’t want my words or my stories OR ME to be annoying.

And also, in the more realistic realm of all of it, writing a biography-ish piece is…well, it’s a true story that’s been lived. I write the way I saw it and felt it and remember it, not the way others saw it. Does that make sense? I fear that my writing will be questioned.

Which might bring us to the final answer I gave to my husband. The truth of why I didn’t want to to do this? Fear.

It’s true that when we chase a dream, even if it looks so much different than we every could have anticipated, it’s just plain scary. Plus, I really think the devil is just having a heyday with all of this, too.

Oh, my book may never see the shelves of your local bookstore, but words are words, and they’re here just the same. In public for anyone to read and critique.

Fear. It’s creeping in.

It could win today, but I’m going to choose to kick it to the curb.

So here’s the first piece of my heart…the first piece of many. And it’s pretty fitting that it’s also about the first day we spent in Indonesia, too. :)

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1

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
Confucius

I can’t tell you a lot about the first day my husband and I spent in Indonesia. I do know that we arrived at the Jakarta airport sometime in the afternoon, and that it was hot.

Shirt-glued-to-my-back-in-two-minutes hot.

And by the time we’d stood and sweated our way through that way-too-long, visa-on-arrival line, I wanted only one thing…to go home. I’m not sure what I considered home to be at that very moment, but I knew it was calling my name.

It may have been that the single thing on my mind was a bed with a pillow.

Well, there was another thing, too…I also wanted my dog who had completed his mandatory quarantine in the country and was waiting for us at some obscure, out-of-the-way pet store/shipping company tucked somewhere in the bustling city of Jakarta.

Thankfully we found the friends we were supposed to meet quickly, and they led us (and our mountain of stuff) to a waiting van, and we were soon on our way.

With just a few wrong turns, our driver managed to find our dog, which provided a joyous reunion. We grabbed some McDonald’s and endured our quite-by-accident, first experience with sambal…Indonesian chili sauce.

And then we were really on our way.

I was jet lagged.

I was emotional.

I was dreading the inevitable of using a squatty potty.

And I forgot to look around me.

That first day in Indonesia remains such a fog of images, pieced together by what I imagine and what I’ve seen other times. But I can’t really visualize my first impressions.

And that makes me sad.

After an exhausted night’s sleep in a strange place, I woke (around 3:30 a.m.) to the sound of the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. We had known about the call to prayer from our previous interactions with people who worked at the school, and so it didn’t catch us completely by surprise. Nevertheless, I still let out a grumble, stuffed my head under my pillow, and tried to catch a few more winks.

It didn’t work.

I pulled out my husband’s laptop and popped in a movie to entertain myself instead.

Nowhere in that moment did I look for beauty…granted, I’m not sure exhausted scratched the surface of how I was feeling. Yet at that very moment hundreds, even thousands, of people around me were rising to spend time in prayer. Who they were praying to is not the issue here…but rather the idea of a commitment.

That’s beauty.

I took living in the mountains for granted.

The beautiful, green that surrounded us became our normal backdrop. What I should tell you? Is that I’m not sure there’s more beauty anywhere else on the planet.

And what I loved even more about the mountains is that God placed them in a country that I sometimes found sad. The vast majority of Indonesian people have little and live day-to-day. At first glance, the city of Bandung was not very beautiful…in some, or more-than-some, ways it looked quite dirty. (It actually won the Dirtiest City in Indonesia award one year, though I’m still looking for the proof on that one.) 😉

But the mountains that surrounded it?

Beautiful.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that living there was always easy. While I loved it a lot of the time, it was sometimes a hard place to live, and I never reached the point when I felt like I belonged completely.

I often became frustrated when I couldn’t effectively communicate in Indonesian. I would figuratively curse rainy season and the many days it ruined my plans as well as my clothes and my hair. I complained about traffic and not-so-silently wished that the masses descending on our city for a visit would just go home.

But I also grew to love the Indonesian people and found them to be some of the kindest, friendliest, most loving people I’ve ever had the privilege to live among.

They are beautiful.

Really, when we stop to look at our daily lives, there is beauty all around us.

It can be found in the form of a friend taking time from her day to call and chat for a few minutes. Or, in a just-because-you’re-important-to-me hug from a student. Or a stranger going out of his or her way to offer help to someone who is directionally impaired…and can’t speak a lick of the local language, either.

When I look back at the time we spent in Indonesia, I wish I had taken more opportunities to drink in the beauty that surrounded me…to stop and savor each and every moment.

For there is always beauty, no matter where you are. Take the time to look for it.

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The stories I’m sharing are about a place and people who are in my heart forever…I never want to paint a negative image of them or their amazing country. Therefore, I ask for your grace over each word and story. I pray that I share these words well.

The above is an excerpt from Lessons From Indonesia: On Life, Love, and Squatty Potties. All words and stories are my own and are copyrighted through Amazon publishing. Feel free to read them, but please ask for permission before sharing them. :) 

Thank you!

Sig

Lessons From Indonesia: I Wrote a Book (Sort Of)

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Hi, friends.

(Yes, I’m posting in the afternoon, which seems to be a new trend. But I’m sharing the following anyway because…well, because the morning was early once upon a time.) 😉

Well, here we are. Bright and early…and I do mean EARLY…on this Monday morning. And today is the day I begin this journey of sharing my Indonesia stories.

Feel free to do cartwheels…that is, if you feel so inclined at this early hour.

To begin, I need to apologize for a couple of things. First, it’s early. Early. (Have I mentioned that yet this morning?) I had to stumble blindly to the coffee maker because it was that. early. and my eyes? Well, they just refused to open. I’m not exactly sure what words are going to be written this early, and I’m not sure I can be held entirely responsible for them, either. 😉

Also, so many of you were crazy-sweet last week and expressed how excited you were to read my stories on Mondays. *total blush* Bless y’all from the bottom of my heart.

Today won’t exactly be a story, which is also why I sort of feel like I should have written a disclaimer. The actual stories will start next week. This morning, I’m just telling you a little bit about why I wrote the book, which I know isn’t nearly as fascinating as the time I was almost swept away by raging flood waters or the first time I tried durian and just about threw up the entire contents of my stomach on the side of the road.

Clearly at least the drama part is in my favor this morning. 😉

So when I look at the calendar and see 2015, it feels surreal that my husband and I are looking at being back in the U.S. almost five years. It truthfully seems like those years have flown, and there’s a part of me that wonders if we’ve been gone too long for me to tell my stories.

Is anyone going to care anymore?

Not gonna lie…that particular thought has crossed my mind many, many times.

There have been so many times in the last two years, especially, that I dreamed of seeing my book of Indo stories on a shelf, all printed, with the most beautiful cover the world has ever seen. I wanted it all so badly. 

And I will even confess that there is a tiny pinch in my heart over sharing them here instead of continuing to pursue publishing.

But it goes back to telling the stories and how much I just want to do that. I don’t so much care about making any money from this blog or even from the book…I never really did. That’s just not me. It may be you, and that is totally fine, and I will even jump up and down and cheer for you when it’s not quite so early in the morning. It’s simply not what God wants for me…and I’ll take that. :)

Over the next year, I’m going to be giving you glimpses into the life we had while living in Indonesia. These stories are told from the heart of a woman who loved her time there. It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies…in fact, many days it was more like rainstorms and cockroaches…but there was so much good. Yes, there were hard days, and I’ll talk about those, too.

But I want to remember our years there…forever. And this is my way of documenting it all. Just like I write here about life and what God is teaching me in this particular season, the book I wrote is very much the same…it’s just from a different time in life. A different place. Different circumstances.

Sharing it with you all is sort of my God-sized Dream all thrown out here in the open for everyone to read…but I think it’s time. And I jokingly said to a friend that in a year, I’m going to have a lot of fun writing a blog post titled, The Year I Wrote a Book in Public.

Hmmmm. 😉

So thank you…for being here. For reading. For laughing with me. For letting a tear drip here or there.

Here’s to a year of stories and lessons from a time in my life that still means the world.

I hope you enjoy it all.

Photo Credit: Florian Kreitmair

Sig

My Andre…

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It’s been three days.

It seems like so much longer, but that’s how hard days can seem. The way they stretch and linger is painful…heart-wrenching.

He and I, we sat on the couch together three days ago. He was resting, his chest rising and falling…my hand there with every breath. In between games of Sudoku…something to keep my mind off of it all…I’d look over at him.

Feel the tears well up.

Whisper a prayer that it was all a bad dream.

Breathe into his ear how much I loved him.

Repeat.

We knew it. The vet had confirmed it just the day before, but we knew. We knew it was almost over.

Eleven years that had made up a lifetime were about to end.

It was soul-crushing, the kind that leaves a hollow, painfully deep ache.

And even in the ache, I caught myself reflecting…

Reflecting on a life together that began on a beautiful September Saturday in 2003. He bounded toward us, and I almost said no because he was bigger than the cute, wiggly, 12 week-old puppy I really wanted. But there was something about him, and we just knew.

We knew this was our puppy. And so we took this almost-five-month-old, still wiggly, ball of fur home with us and named him Andre.

He was totally an Andre…always happy, a little goofy, and perfectly sweet. We were in love immediately.

He bounded into our lives, ready to take on any adventures that might come with it. And had he known what was coming, maybe he would have turned around…but he didn’t. He stayed, he boarded planes, he crossed cultures, he welcomed more family members, he followed us wherever we went…and he lived every single day with exuberance.

Every single day for eleven plus years…and those years passed by too quickly.

And we watched the calendar pages turn, wondering where it was going. The one consolation was that he was still so much a puppy…so playful, so full of love.

And it continued until the end. Only in his last weeks did he show signs of slowing down…and that was why my hubby decided he needed to be checked out.

It didn’t take long to hear the words tumors and a week or two…and those words broke our hearts to shards. He wasn’t in any pain…but we carried that pain.

Knowing that he could slip away at any moment made it hard to even breathe.

Just 24 hours after we knew, it was time. We watched through tears as he used up the last of his love on people…that was so Andre. And then, exhausted, he found a spot in the grass to breathe in some of his last moments. We carried him to the van, and Tobin and I went.

We drove in tears, we gave final hugs, we went into the room, the three of us together for the last time.

We held him and told him, over and over, what he already knew. We loved him so much…and he had been the best dog in the world.

And my arms were wrapped around him, my hand on his heart, when he went.

The tears fell…more than I’ve ever cried, I think…as we said goodbye and forced ourselves to leave the room and find our way home…a home that will never feel the same again.

It’s three days later, and the tears still pour.

I miss my boy. I miss the way he greeted me with a smile and a butt wiggle multiple times a day. I miss the way every second was a gift worthy to be lived with exuberance. I miss the cuddles and the snuggles and the endless amounts of dog hair all over me.

I miss it all so much.

I miss him. And I will forever.

And I sometimes wonder why we chose it when we knew it would come to an end. But, really, we know the answer to that…and it’s the same answer that helps us breathe through the moments that hurt so much.

It’s Love. He lived it so well.

And so we laugh through the tears and smile and talk about the Andre stories…about the times he went swimming in places he shouldn’t have, about the time he ran into a tree, about the millions of ways he filled our lives with love.

We go on. Because the best way for us to honor his life is to live ours like he did.

Goodbye, sweet, sweet boy. You were a gift to us in ways we can’t even describe. We thought we were making your life better when we brought you home, but you were the one who made us better. Blessed us. And gave us a life full of love that will stay with us forever.

To Andre. You are forever a part of us…and forever in our hearts.

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Sig

Pieces That Make a Story

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Fifteen years ago…and I can’t believe it’s been that long…I hopped a plane with some friends. Our destination was the country of Peru, a place that, at the time, seemed about as far from home as one could possibly be.

And it was great…it was three plus weeks of laughing, learning, memory making…and most of all, getting my first glimpses into the heart of my Father and how He was at work in another place.

I’d grown up with missions…at least from the perspective of missionaries who’d visited my church. I’d come to understand that missionaries were people who planted churches, preached sermons in another language, and started Bible colleges. Therefore, I knew I’d never be one.

But Peru changed that.

It was on that trip that my Father began speaking to me and opening doors in my heart that had always been closed. It was during those weeks God told me that if I was willing, He would give me a place. Somewhere.

Where that was, I didn’t know, but I was sure that God was calling me to be a teacher, and I made plans, almost immediately, to return to the place that had captured my heart.

Enter: a year and a half later and a boy. 😉

His name started with a T, he had an amazing smile, and I fell head over heels within minutes. (That’s kind of embarrassing to admit now.) He was settled, had a good job, and there was no way missions was even on the horizon for us. Oh, yeah…us. We became an us pretty quickly. 😉

There was a part of me that was devastated to give up Peru…but by then, well…love. I was heart-deep in it.

A ring followed, and then a house…before the wedding, even. Don’t worry…he was the one only who lived there. 😉

In the tiny part of my brain that is logical, I knew. His job was stable, we’d just bought a house…we were staying. Or so we thought. 

So we said our I-do’s, ate pie, and jetted off to Jamaica. We came home from our honeymoon, I started a new job as a nanny, and BAM. He called me on a Wednesday morning. Mel, I got laid off.

Total shock. We had not expected this…especially not to him. Tobin is good…and he’s good at what he does. And there’s a whole lot more to the story, and it has nothing to do with his abilities and talent and everything to do with his name being randomly chosen from a list in order to downsize.

But, really…that was the door we needed to close in order for more doors to open.

For the next nine months, he searched like crazy and interviewed like crazier. The job market was horrible, money was tight, and we started to wonder. More, if that’s even possible.

We prayed over it before emptying our bank account to purchase two plane tickets for Nicaragua and Honduras. Two weeks in March were spent with missionaries we knew. We were hoping…praying…wondering…was this it? Was God calling us to something else?

We came home from that grand adventure…and we were confused. There were no strong pulls for either of us to Central America, we were teetering on having about no money, and we were starting to lose faith.

And then came a job offer that would at least pay the bills. Buy us some time until we could figure this out.

But by then, we knew. We knew the call, and we knew that saying no wasn’t even an option.

And so…we prayed. And waited. Pushed on a few doors. Cried when they slammed back in our faces.

Finally, two years later…His answer. Indonesia.

Really, God? A country that really IS about as far from home as we can get?

After locating it on a map 😉 and praying it through, we knew our answer was an overwhelming YES. Less than six months later our house was sold, our cars about to be sold, most of our belongings were gone, we’d sent our dog on ahead to Jakarta (yes, yes we did…), our bags were packed, and the monsoon of goodbyes began.

And we went…and it was life-changing. It was the best and worst, it was life-altering and felt strangely like a piece home…it was His plan. I don’t paint a picture of Indonesia that is all sunsets and beauty…though the sunsets were spectacular and the green about as beautiful as anything can be.

Indonesia was a paradox of joy and struggle, of hope and heartbreak, of embracing and longing. It was all of those things, often all of them at the same time.

And like any good piece to the journey, it ended, and we said goodbye to people and a place that had embedded themselves so deeply into our hearts that we were forever changed.

And now we sit in the middle of what came next. Ok, ok, so maybe we’re not exactly sitting…who has time to sit with a toddler running around?! 😉 We’re doing our best to trust His plan and embrace each moment as it comes, knowing that our Father always, always has a far greater plan than we can ever imagine.

Tobin and I will celebrate twelve years in just a few weeks, and as I look back, I see so many pieces. I see pieces that didn’t always make sense…

And yet…He took them. He is still taking them. And He is writing our story with them.

And I might not know what He’s making out of the pieces of the now, either…but I know it’s going to be good.

Because He is good. And He writes some pretty incredible stories.

Photo Credit: Nomadic Lass

Sig

The Cost of a Dream

shore-final
I’ve talked here and there about the piece of my story that involves Indonesia.

The short version is that my husband and I spent five years there…serving, living, loving.

It was good, and it was full of lessons.

It was hard, and it was full of tears.

It was long, and at the same time, it went by too quickly.

I’ve been back in the States for about four years, and I mean it when I say not a day goes by that I don’t ache for Indonesia.

But something God has had to teach me is that the ache isn’t a bad thing.

Rather, it means that it meant something.

Nearly nine years ago we were selling off our lives…the tangible parts at least. Except for putting some things in storage and packing eight suitcases/containers, it was all going away…to friends and family, to strangers, some of it even to the curb.

It was what we had to do to follow the dream of Indonesia, and we were okay with that. Mostly.

But following a God-sized dream like Indonesia came at a price.

Today I’m over at God-sized Dreams, talking about the real of following a dream…and the beauty that He brings when we choose Him. Join me? :)

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Sig

Take Me Deeper

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There are moments in life when I wish I could go back.

Yes, I often ache to relive memories…but there is one in particular. And I want to go back so I can savor it a little more.

I wish I had known, at the time, the turning point in our lives that July 30, 2005, would mark. It was the day our Cathay Pacific flight touched down in Jakarta, and, for the first of many times, our weary feet met the soil of Indonesia.

Our feet were always weary at the end of that trip…30+ hours of cramped airplane space and crossing oceans will do that to just about anyone! 😉

We knew we were setting out on an adventure. Following a calling. That our lives were changing dramatically. All of that…plus more.

But I don’t think we understood just how much the two years we’d committed to, along with the extra three we signed up for later, would change us.

I’d like to go back now…to look at myself then versus now.

And maybe to also tell that 27-year-old girl it was all going to be okay…more than okay, because her Father had great plans in spite of the inadequacy she felt.

Today I’m over at God-sized Dreams, sharing more of my Indonesia story. Will you join me?

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Photo Credit: Emrys Roberts

Sig