Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

I'll start out by saying my birthday here was great. More people than I could have thought remembered, and I felt fully loved. Thanks to everyone who made it special.. Being woken up by singing, two birthday cakes, many text messages, many wall posts, and a skype date home. Who could ask for more?
Birthdays are days to feel loved. And usually, at least for me, it's a day to reflect on life and it's progression. I'm 24, and that's pretty young by most standards. That said, it's a year more than 23, and it's 10 years older than 14. I am getting older. Every one is, and it makes you think about how fast life happens.
I've never been afraid of death and I didn't understand why people would be. It's a moment of pain and then that's it. It's not like dying (usually) takes a really long time. There are some injuries that are more painful than some deaths. But anymore I don't think that's what people mean by saying they're afraid of death. I think fear of death goes beyond the fear of pain involved with the finishing of life. I think it's the not existing that gets to people. No one cheats death forever, and while there is technology for so much now days, we still have not invented something that will give us eternal life on earth. It's the inevitability of the day that we will finish actively effecting the world. Even for religious people who have strong beliefs about the afterlife, there's no experiencing it before it happens. There are ideas and there are words in sacred texts and there are stories of people who are dead for moments but return, but those are so subjective. We can't put our hand through to death and bring it back and see what it looks like. And we can't reach our hand into death and pull out ones who have gone before us. There's no going and coming. There's only going. And there's no sending reports back to people. Our consciously effecting the world is finished.
Even if you are not a deep thinker, not very philosophical, not into morbidity.. You have thought about it. Everyone has.
One side comment. My sister died 7 years ago, and this does effect my view on the end of life as we know it. This is from a poem by John White Chadwick.
"More home-like feels the vast unkown,
Since they have entered there;
To follow them were not so hard,
Wherever they may fare."
The thought of death is easier when someone that you love a lot has passed through before you.

That said, it's still hard. And there's no way out of it but accept it. Cause living a life in constant fear of it's ending is no way to live. It's a life of constant death.
Living life as if there was always a tomorrow is no way to live either. Because then you get to the end and you're like, "Wait, what?! It's done?! I'm not ready!" How awful and devastating that thought is. I think the right balance is keeping in mind how old you are. Living so that your life is full whatever age you are: keeping your relationships strong, letting go of those relationships that are empty and not life-giving to either of you, being at peace with God, doing those things you love without fear. And also, living so that your future, your next year, will be better. Doing a bit of planning. Improving yourself, gaining experience that you can add on to the next year, and make your next 5 years more full.
The best thing would be to get to the end of your life, be on your death bed, and be able to say "Wow, what a life! I'm so tired! I'm ready to go. A full life that will keep effecting the world for years to come. Kids that will contribute positively to the world. People who will miss me and feel there is a hole in the world because I'm gone. A community that is changed. People who love God more because I affected their lives. Full." To be ready to let our life speak for itself without our bodies to speak for it. What I mean is, our lives will echo once we're gone, and to let that echoing start. To be ready...

I realize that this post is a bit of a downer, but that's life for you. There's a time to be very present in the moment and be lost in the activity around you, and there is a time to step back and be a bit more philosophical and check and make sure that in those moments of being present and engaged in the activities of the day that you're living out your philosophy of life that you develop when you're thinking your deeper thoughts.

I think to be ready for death also involves being at peace with God.
My faith is only legit BECAUSE I will die. It would be stupid to be a Christian if we lived forever.

"If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are all people most to be pitied."


"But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ."
I Corinthians 15

So yeah. Anyways regardless of religion we don't know exactly what it's going to be like over there. On the "other side". Such an image of crossing over, and the bridge only goes one way!
But I like the end of Chadwick's poem. It's honest about the fact that we know nothing about the next life, except one thing.

"They cannot be where God is not,
On any sea or shore."

I know nothing about what's next after death. Except that I will be with God. And whatever that looks like, whatever "sea or shore", He can worry about. I'm satisfied knowing wherever I will be, God will be there. Created meets Creator and never looks back.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I bought an oven. Basically it's a tin box that sits on top of the stove, but I have some great Christmas-cookie-expectations for it.
Except for the occasional memory that hits me about Christmases at home, I'm really doing ok being here for the Holidays.
But I'm not passing over the season. I'm definitely embracing it. I play Christmas music on itunes a lot, and have started plucking them out on the guitar. This years song of obsession is "It's Christmas" by Coconut Records. Something about it's 70's music feel, it's simplicity.. I play it constantly. Also, Zooey Deschanel's "Baby It's Cold Outside"... I just love her voice. So classic.
I haven't understood yet what Indonesian Christians do for Christmas yet. My family has yet to set up a Christmas tree or any decorations at all, for that matter. It may have to do with the fact that my host mom had a bad seizure a couple of weeks ago and has been going to the hospital for therapy every other day since. Some of the neighbors in the hood have Christmas trees up. They're little though, and there are only about 3 neighbors in the area that are Christians, so it's not like the place is lit up.
I've been to two church Christmas celebrations. Well, one of them was a church birthday with some Christmas songs thrown in. The other was in Semarang and the church group took a bus from Kudus and met up with a church there. It was like a Christmas service would be in the US, with a candle lighting, but then there were also some non-church songs which I thought was interesting. Not bad, just interesting. Like "Oh Christmas Tree" and some Santa songs. It didn't make me homesick like I thought it would. Maybe because a fellow SALTer showed up to the event and we sat together and we were able to snicker and exchange observations.
Homesickness hits me at weird times. Once in October I was at a church play and they played a praise song in English and I lost it. Just started crying. I was alone in a big congregation and didn't have anyone I knew sitting with me. Maybe that was it. Other than that, there have been no times of pit-of-the-stomach homesickness. Just, missings.
Sometimes, to be honest, I miss the food from home more than the people.
There, I said it.
But I do miss the people too.
My Christmas plans are as follows:
-Bake Christmas cookies and not burn down the house (having the cookies actually turn out and not burn would be an added bonus. Low expectations is the way to go.)
- My mother sent me some Christmas decorations and I have put them up. They include a gold glitter star, a huge plastic door hanging, and window clings. The tacky (ok Mom, it IS tacky and you know it. I do love it though, and I play the little music and the flashy lights at least once a day.) door hanging is up (It's a full length plastic sheet with a manger scene and some lights that blink and sing when you press a button) and the gold star in on my computer desk. The clings are yet to be put up.
- On the 20th I will take Christmas cookies to the school for teachers and students. This will serve two purposes: The 20th is my Birthday, and it is customary here for people to treat others on their birthday, and I want to share with the school my culture and part of that is Christmas and it's cookies.
-On the 22nd I will travel to Salatiga for the annual office Christmas party. Cookie decorations, a dinner, and a white elephant gift exchange will be involved.
The next day I will either stay in Salatiga and do some more baking and festiviting or I will head to Semarang and see some of the Christmas lights at the mall there. And buy a peppermint mocha from Starbucks.
-I will spend the 25th at my host families home in Kudus. There are several Christmas day church services I will probably attend. I may or may not be in one of them. Communication here is weird. Because it just doesn't happen sometimes. So sometimes you just have to go with it. Better that than get your panties all up in a ball and try to get information that will just change in the next couple of days anyway, which leads to a lot of frustration and unnecessary mental stress.
-Then Jerica and Amanda arrive the 28th and 29th and we head for a week of discovering and adventuring and relaxing on Lombok, the island next to Bali.

I'm excited for these things.
But mostly I'm really, really thankful for God-incarnate, Jesus. Christmas is critical to the Christian belief. God becoming man, coming to the earth to teach us how to live and to die so that we can be with him after we leave the earth. I can't find that kind of beauty and love in any other religion. It wins me over to the religion of Jesus.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Indo Wedding

Most of my students are between the ages of 18 and 23 but I'm sure this kid sitting in front of me is at most 16. But no, she's 18, and she just told me she is getting married.
Pang in the stomach. But you're so young! She's cute and she giggles behind her hand. Here in Indonesia it's rude for a girl to show too much teeth when she laughs, so the girls are always laughing behind their hands. This is a little bit sad to me because I love seeing a huge smile and to think it's rude is just so.... culturally different. That's all it is. You know, living in another culture for 3 months has shown me really just how culturally prideful I am and I've had to check myself in the way I describe some of the aspects of culture that clash with my own. Some differences in culture are soft and aside from a "Oh, well that's interesting!" they're not too mind blowing but some cultural differences are really hard for me to not judge. Like getting married young.
I want to say that there's no way it can be alright and be a good thing for anyone, but I can't say say that. To see things without passing judgement is so hard, but it's a good lesson in grace and learning. I'm learning about a culture and giving it grace when it offends my own culture. And different is not bad. Different is interesting and different is challenging. It's ok, and I'm learning to embrace it.
But A.'s just so young and she's my student.... Not just a stranger pictured in the National Geographic or a population statistic or a vague idea in a Cross Cultural Understanding class... And here she is giving me a wedding invitation, giggling. Her light blue head scarf complements her dark features and her eyes are so bright.. How can I say no?! She looks so happy- of course I'll go. But I do express to her that I think that she's a very young girl to be getting married. S., our mutual friend sitting next to her across my desk, explains that in the villages people tend to get married younger. Well that makes sense, I've read that places. But her? Couldn't she break the trend? I ask her if she'll continue studying in the university after her marriage. Of course! And she has. I've seen her several times in my classroom since her wedding and not only is she present but she radiates happiness. How can I in turn not be happy for her? She's a rock star. Getting married young but staying in school, and based on her mega intelligent questions in class, she is still learning just as much as before.

I've been to a wedding in Indonesia before but I didn't know who was getting married and I just came, took a picture with the bride, eat a lot of delicious food, and left. This wedding was totally different- I got behind the scenes access and they let me take pictures even though I broke the rules and took some during the ceremony. It was amazing, and such a unique experience.

I arrive early- I think it was 7am. S and I eat some rice treats and drank a bottle of tea while we waited inside, sitting alone on the colorful carpet in the living room area of the house. Soon I am ushered in and got to see A. getting ready. She tells me she's been up since 5am getting ready. The evening before she sent me a text explaining that she was in the 3rd phase of a traditional, day-before-the-wedding cleansing process. I can hardly recognize her now! Her face is powdered and heavily made up. She's beautiful though, see for yourself.

After I snap a few shots and talk to her some I leave the tiny bedroom and sit outside with her classmates in a small area between the front living room and the kitchen. We eat Soto and talk about school. Many of them have been in a class of mine but I can't remember their names. We get re-introduced but my mind wanders and I forget their names again in seconds. All the names sound the same, and I can only say that because they say the same thing about American names.

She comes out and hangs out with us for a bit. "Hangs out" is not quite right.. She sits stiffly on a plastic chair and doesn't move a muscle because her head piece is pinching her face and she has a delicate flower sash draped across her that could fall off in a second. Her shiny silver head piece starts falling out so we have to readjust it. She's hungry, so a friend spoon feeds her some Soto. It dribbles down her chin and we scramble crazily to not let it mess up her make up. Finally it's action time and her classmates and I huddle in the middle room while she, her father, her fiance, and some religious and government men sit in the front living room. The ceremony begins. There are some prayers that happen between the legal proceedings and while I don't know what all is going on, A and her fiance are signing papers and the main man preceding over the ceremony explains to them their legal rights and roles. I'm still peeking from the middle room, not sure if it's proper for me to go into the other room or not. This is when I get in trouble for taking pictures at the wrong time.

After this ceremony A changes her clothes and her new husband disappears to his house. The wedding is happening at her house. She sits outside in a decorated wooden seat on a platform with a heavily flowered background as we all sit on plastic chairs around tables of food and glass bottles of tea. The MC jokes around with the guests and we wait for the husband to arrive. When he does, a long and traditional ceremony takes place where different symbolic actions happen such as the bride and groom bowing at each set of their parents, the husband stepping on an egg and A cleaning his feet, money is transferred somewhere along the way, all the while the MC is speaking in very traditional Javanese explaining what is going on (later I find out almost no one knows what he is saying because there are several levels of Javanese and he's speaking the one least people know. I'm told this happens at every wedding.)

Finally it's picture time and after several pictures with A, her husband, and then classmates, I take off with S. In total I was here about 4 hours I believe. What an experience... I loved being a part of A's day and I'm glad she's still coming to school and this is not the end of her life- it's just another fase in it. We're having breakfast next Thursday and I'm excited to hear about how she's doing.