Sunday, September 25, 2016

Angry In Pink

I am angry. 
I have been looking forward to wearing this particular outfit this week. My role in worship today required me to wear a robe. So I said to myself, “If they can’t see my outfit, my shoes will be fabulous.” I have been waiting anxiously to wear these hot pink shoes as I processed down the aisle with incense and read the intercessions. This morning, Chelsey and I had the 8:30 service off, while Mathew had responsibilities, so she and I went to get some coffee. Mathew and I found this coffee shop last week—good atmosphere, good coffee, close to church. Last week, a group of 8 or so retired men were sitting in the shop. This week, when Chelsey and I walked in, the same men sat there, in their same spot, regulars apparently. 
We stood in line, talking. I was in my collar, Chelsey was not. I noticed the men all looking at me, talking, hearing one say, “I gotta get a picture of this.”
I was uncomfortable. One man approached me, the other man holding up his phone. He says, “So what are you, a nun?!” I want to engage him in conversation, yet I notice is friend is beside him taking pictures.
Distracted, I said, “I am actually in seminary to become a Lutheran pastor.”
I hear, “Can I get a picture?”
Hearing another one’s phone camera shutter and shout, “Welp! Too late!”

They walked back to their table, laughed, continued to talk about me, continued to take pictures of me. My initial thoughts were:
I can’t believe this just happened.
Maybe if I was wearing something a little more toned down, this wouldn’t have happened.
Maybe they meant it as a compliment.
I am so mad. This wasn’t a conversation; this was me being objectified by a group of men.
I want to say something, but I don’t even know what to say.
Maybe my anger isn’t justified; maybe I’m overreacting.

            Chelsey and I went to sit outside, clear from this group of men. We talked a lot about what happened, around our own responses to this encounter. I am deeply frustrated with myself. I deeply believe that sexism is wrong, that men have no right to objectify women. I believe that how those men behaved is wrong, mostly because of how it made me feel, and that no one, man or any other person, has the right to tell me that my feelings from that encounter are not real, or that I should not feel angry. Yet, in that moment, with those men, I was silent. I said nothing to them that indicated any of this. I am angry with myself that I did not speak up for myself, that I did not point out to these men that how they interacted with me was harassment. I am angry that just last week, Mathew and I sat right next to those men, Mathew was wearing a collar, I was wearing regular clothes, and those men didn’t blink an eye at Mathew. I am mad at feeling that if a man had been with me, those men probably would not have spoken to me or taken pictures of me in the same way.
            Yet I think there is a larger reason for why those men acted as they did, and why I responded as I did, and that is the sexism that is embedded deeply in our culture. I will speak mostly for myself, because I think, or I hope, that we can see how these men’s behavior was sexist, especially when put in contrast with their engagement (or lack of) with Mathew last week. As for myself, I am coming to learn that I have deeply internalized sexism. It is why I didn’t speak up. I have been conditioned by our society and culture to not trust any “bad” feelings that arise in myself; I have been conditioned to be nice to everyone always, even if that comes at a personal cost. I have been taught that anger is bad, and I should not use or acknowledge it. I have been taught that I need a man to speak up for me and protect me.
            Y’all these are lies. This simply is not true. Living in this way actually continues a cycle where men can speak and act as they want, and where women are expected to allow it, perhaps even encourage it, and take ownership of their actions as being "our fault". I “should” myself a lot. I should have spoken up. I should have worn something different. I should have just not gotten coffee. I should just see this as a compliment, laugh it off. But actually, the only thing I should do is expect others to treat me with respect and dignity of an equal human being. And the feelings that emerge when that does not happen are justified, not to be buried.
            So I walked from that coffee shop to church. I walked into the sanctuary as the choir was practicing. I noticed today the variety of people in this choir—people of all genders, people with tattoos and piercings, people wearing jeans, people wearing suits and dresses, old people and young people. From there, I went to robe up for worship. In that room, those of us serving were all women, three young girls, myself, a female assisting minister, and a female pastor. We named and celebrated that it was an all-women group. In the worship, the music, the liturgy, I reflected on the understanding in Lutheran theology of this time we live in now, the already and the not yet.  Christ has already come to the world, but we are still living in a time of waiting for Christ to return. This means that the world as it is now is not perfect, but we have a vision of what the world will be when Christ comes again. I think we get a glimpse of the world as it should be most clearly when we worship. When we gather at a table for all God’s people, in rich celebration of the variety of people God calls to that table, we see the world as it should be.
            Gathering with my siblings today gave me strength to continue to fight, to use this anger for change, to remember that there is an alternate way of living possible. Gathering today gave me the courage to continue to wear whatever shoes I want, confident that the person in those shoes is supposed to be here, that she is not less than, that she has a voice. My prayer for all of us is that we use our anger, that we stand up for what is right, that we speak up when we can, and have grace for ourselves when we cannot.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Where the Clergy Fashion Bloggers At?

It may seem a little silly, and I think it started that way.  We've all seen the fashion blogs and instagram accounts; I know I follow several.  I thought it would be hilarious to do something similar with the outfits I wore with my clerical collar.  Instead of #jcrew #bananarepublic #katespade, the hashtags that would go with these outfits would be #augsburgfortress #almy (for those of you non-clergy folk, that's where you buy clerical shirts and other stuff).  It seemed like a hilarious idea in my head, so I started it, with the tagline "saying 'yes' to the call doesn't mean saying 'no' to fashion."

And then, I went through a summer of clinical pastoral education where my goal was around articulating a pastoral identity.  In this summer, to make a long story short, I came to understand a little more that I, Sarah, am called to be a pastor.  My person, the person I have been, am, and will be is the person who is called to be a pastor.  My identity or essence won't change when, God-willing, I am ordained.  So then the reflection comes around who I am, have been, and one day will be.  What gifts are unique to me that then are unique to my pastoral identity?  I, Sarah, have unique gifts that I bring to the role of pastor.  Certainly, I will grow and learn and change throughout my life and throughout this work, but I think it is worth emphasizing to each of us, that the person we are right now is a gift to who and where we are called to be.  Especially as a young woman, I know I have internalized sexism that exists in this and many other lines of work.  Once I'm older, or if I was a man, my experience would be different, maybe easier.  But, what would it look like if I believed that I-- a young, single, female--actually was not only equally capable as my male, or middle-aged male counterparts, but also that with my identity comes unique gifts that equip me to answer this call in unique and necessary ways?  I believe that instead of waiting until I have enough knowledge or experience, or waiting until I'm recognized as equal, that I can begin to live in response to the conviction that I am called to this work.

So that brings us back to this instagram account.  @nofrumppastor is my own push to empower each of us, where we are, how we express ourselves, to live fully into the life God has called us to live.  This world asks us to conform in a lot of ways, and I just don't believe that this is always helpful.  Especially as I move through seminary, I have found liberation in learning that I have as much to bring to this work as my male colleagues, as my LGBTQ colleagues, as my colleagues of color.  God created us a diverse bunch, and I hope that this instagram can serve as a lighthearted reminder of this much deeper truth: that we all belong, we all are gifted, and we don't have to check our identity at the door when called to do God's work, whatever that may be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Orang Puti Saja

Recently, as you may have gathered from the influx of Facebook posts, I was in LA for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.  I was accompanying team Malaysia throughout the games.  In short, it was an incredible experience.  I was continuously in awe of how pieces of my life were coming together to equip me for these 2 weeks, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this event.

Welcoming people into your culture can be eye opening.  It is so interesting to hear the things that stick out as unique to those who are visiting.  I remember when my parents came to visit me in Malaysia, hearing their reactions to different parts of life in Malaysia that had grown to be insignificant to me.  So here I was, in LA (where I had never been before), welcoming 41 athletes, coaches, and leaders from Malaysia to the Special Olympics World Games.  Initially there were the expected reactions: huge serving sizes, where's the rice?, sexy advertisements… but there was one observation that continued to resurface.
Each time we arrived to a crosswalk, someone would make the statement, "orang puti saja boleh jalan". Basically saying, only the white man is allowed to cross the street.  This became the running joke of the week.  Sometimes saying, "oh just Sarah is allowed to cross."
It is funny that this is something that stuck out so much to my group, but this simple observation reveals a much larger truth in our society.  
I went late at night to pick up team Malaysia from the airport.  As I was introducing myself and learning everyone's names, a police man walked by.  One of the athletes looked at me and said, "I know white police like to hit people."  Just to put this in perspective for you, Malaysia is on the opposite side of the world.  However, news from the US does make its way across the ocean.  Here is a girl who just arrived to the US for the first time, and this is the first sentence that comes out of her mouth to me.  
Welcome to America. 
Only the white man is allowed to cross the street.  

In America, we have this understood and unspoken rule where brown and black bodies must stay in their respectively assigned neighborhoods.  Problems arise when brown and black bodies cross the street into areas that are understood and unspoken as only for white bodies.  White bodies can cross freely into any areas, but the dark bodies get into trouble when they are found to be in places it is believed by the white bodies they should not be.  

I wish this hadn't been a lesson on American culture for our Malaysian friends, but inevitably questions surrounding race relationships came up in the 2 weeks.  And I explained it as best as I could with the understanding I have, but the reality is that it is so complex and so intregated in our culture that it is hard to even recognize all the ways we have done this to ourselves.  The crossing signs are flashing our white privilege in our faces, for crying out loud, yet we don't see it because it has become a normal part of daily life.
You want to know one of the best resources we have for understanding ourselves?  Become an observer alongside other observers.  Listen to the observations and questions of those whose reality this isn't.  We have brothers and sisters who can help us put on a new lens of understanding, who have life experiences that can help inform where we find ourselves as a country.  Praise the Lord we have people who can point out to us some things that are really messed up that we have never thought about.  It's ok to not have all the answers, but it isn't ok to stop asking the really important questions.  And it is most important, in my opinion, to be vulnerable as a country.  To be able to admit that there is work to be done and that we don't have all the answers as a closed community of the United States.  If we can move to not only listen to the questions our brothers and sisters around the world have, but maybe even go to them for ideas and answers- that is when beautiful things will happen.  

Orang puti saja boleh jalan.  Bila orang lain boleh jalan?
Only the white man can walk.  When will others be able to walk?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nanti, la

I was tired.  I had traveled for over 24 hours.  I had slept in places that left my back aching and my eyes baggy.  I had crossed timezones to come to this place, and when I finally stepped off the plane, I could still somehow make out through the fatigue and heat that this was a place I had been called to come, even if only for a little while.

It is hard to know where to begin this story, but as I reflect, no matter where I start, the beginnings are almost identical.  Almost two years ago to the day, I set out on a journey to Southeast Asia with the Young Adults in Global Mission program to serve for a year in Malaysia.  I left Chicago on August 21, 2013 and nearly 24 hours later, I walked off the plane to arrive in my new home for the year, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.  To be honest, I wasn't sure why I was there.  I knew and trusted the global mission personnel of the ELCA to help discern where God was calling me in this world, but that did not mean that my human/Sarah-nature was not full of questions and concerns as I entered into this new reality.  Slowly, but very surely I grew to love my home in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.  I lived with Mrs. Soong, my Chinese grandmother.  She taught me more about what hospitality means than I had ever experienced before.  I had two site placements, a kindergarten and a home for adults with disabilities.  I had wonderful friends from church and my community.  I learned about what it means to live in a richly celebrated diverse community.  I was forced to rely on my faith and God's faithfulness in ways I hadn't before.  I ate amazing food.  I learned to live in the present.  I was taught to allow myself to be loved fiercely, and do everything I could to send that love back out.
Then it was time to leave.  Saying goodbye is the absolute worst.  But, I've done my best to remain in contact with family in friends in Malaysia, and if you've had conversations with me in the year I've been back, I hope you know that my experience there has forever changed the way I see myself and this world.  I did leave my English/Malay dictionary behind in Malaysia, because when would I need that again?

Nanti.  It is one of my favorite Malay words.  It doesn't have some deep, beautiful meaning.  I just like to say it.  It means "later".  Helpful to know, right?
So when would I need that dictionary again?  Nanti.

I had a friend who was also serving as a YAGM in Malaysia, Jenna B.  She is one of those people who has more connections than you see as being humanly possible.  It is beautiful, and I love that about her. Jenna also worked with people with disabilities in Malaysia.  She worked at a school for children with disabilities.  In that time, she met and fostered relationships with people who work with Special Olympics Malaysia.  And by that I mean, she climbed (one of) the tallest mountain(s) in Southeast Asia with the SO Malaysia team.  I'm serious when I say she's a star.  Earlier this year, Jenna was contacted by the SO Malaysia team to serve at the Special Olympics World Games in LA as their delegation liaison, meaning she was would be the one who helped host, problem solve, and help with language and logistics for the team.  Jenna was heading back to Asia to teach for two years in Hong Kong at the end of the summer, however, so she had to say "no".  But you know who has been pretty available for adventures since returning to America from Malaysia?  This girl.  So Jenna reached out to me, connected me to the appropriate people, and next thing I know, I'm heading to LA for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games!

It took longer than expected to get there, about 24 hours.  I was so tired when I arrived.  While I was excited for the adventure, I was a little anxious about what the next 2 weeks with the Malaysia team would look like, and incredibly anxious about my rusty Malay.  I was unsure of the specifics of this role I had said "yes" to, but having arrived a day late, I had to hit the ground running.  I was welcomed to LA by the other delegate liaison for Malaysia, Tiffany.  She is from Malaysia, but has lived in the US for about 10 years.  She picked me up, had water and granola bars for me in her car, and off we went together to begin our 2 week adventure.  This was the first of many times that Tiffany proved to be an incredible blessing during the LA games.
That evening, we welcomed team Malaysia to LA.  39 athletes and coaches made the long journey from Malaysia.  Suddenly I was surrounded by the Malay language, of course talking all about the food I loved and the athletes' favorite foods, we journeyed together to our host town for the first couple days, Culver City where we stayed to get acclimated to LA and take some time to prep for the games.
Once we moved from our host town into our respective lodging at USC and UCLA, the games began.  I spent my days accompanying the team and cheering at the track, pool, bowling alley, soccer field, equestrian center, golf course, and bocce court.  We dealt with questions and situations as they came up, but mostly my time was spent doing what I learned to do in Malaysia- being.  It was a busy "being", as in some days I didn't necessarily have time for all my meals, I woke up early and went to bed late, but those 2 weeks were full of such joy.  In our first days together, the Malaysia head of delegation, Mr. Jayasingh gave Tiffany and me a Special Olympics pin.  He said, "You're a part of this family. Whatever we do in the next 2 weeks, we do it together."  It's funny when you think you are called somewhere for one thing, only to learn that something a little different is in store.  I went to LA to help host the Malaysia team, but oddly enough I found myself being hosted and welcomed by team Malaysia, too.  Jesus is sneaky like that, I think.
The connections I found with this team were pretty incredible, too.  I was talking with one of the coaches one evening.  She was from my state in Malaysia, from the northern tip of Borneo.  I told her the church I belonged to while in KK, and she said, "Oh my cousin goes there."  Turns out, her cousin was my cell group leader at church.  Just casually finding incredibly close connections with people from my home halfway around the world.  One of the athlete's families had an apartment in the part of the city I lived in, so I could talk with them about the shops where I missed eating breakfast and dinner.
Two weeks passed so quickly.  Before I realized it, competitions were coming to an end, Malaysia was brining in medals everyday, and athletes were celebrating their incredible accomplishments as a team.  Malaysia brought home a total of 21 medals from the games.  It was an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of this worldwide event.  It was funny, most of the delegate liaisons had some ethnic/national connection with the team they were serving.  Then I would walk by with team Malaysia and people would give me a confused look.  "Its a long story," I'd say.  Because the road to this specific adventure is a little unique.  But being in LA, going to Malaysia in the first place, being a camp counselor… all of these experiences continue to affirm for me that God equips us for adventures and experiences we can't even begin to see coming.
Again, it was time to say goodbye.  And still, goodbyes are the absolute worst.  But leaving this experience, I'm a little more hesitant to say I'll never use my Malay again.  Nanti.  

My stories end similarly, too.
I left feeling full- full from good conversations, full from time spent with incredible, loving people, full from meeting Jesus in the faces and words of so many people.  And while I arrived feeling tired and a little scared, I left having found rest.  I was content and at peace in ways I hadn't been in so long.  The camp I worked at in college had a hashtag one summer after I was gone, #TotalKairosMoment, to describe times when God's time and our time meet.  I am one who finds myself looking to what's next often, almost always in a countdown mode of some sort.  But there are times when I am pushed away from the countdown. Nanti, what's next will come… later.  But now, be present and aware of the ways God is actively at work in your midst.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Quilt

I've thought long and hard about this post.  So to introduce it, I'll make my first request.  I request that you pull up One Republic's "I Lived" on youtube and have it playing in the background as you embark on reading this post.  You also have the slightly less desirable choice of Nickleback's "Photograph", in which you would then have to read this post in a very raspy, screamy tone, so I'll strongly encourage the first choice.

Great. You have your background music. Let's begin.
Somewhere along my YAGM journey, definitely early on, I had this bright idea (it's my personality, I get big ideas all the time… I'm a little dodgy on the followthrough, but more about my psych evaluation another day) to collect fabric throughout my year.  Little pieces here and there, and then once I was back state-side, enlist the help of my rockstar sewing goddess of an aunt to help me put together some sort of project.
It was a really helpful goal in the beginning.  I was at a huge loss for how to fill my time.  Coming off of 16 years of school, this was the first time in my life when I had to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing, no right or wrong answers, just figuring out what to do when I wasn't at work or church.  I started trekking into town on the weekends.  Saturday mornings, I would take the bus into the city center.  I would walk from my bus to get some roti and apple juice, then I would commence aimlessly wandering around.  I tried to pretend like this was a hugely important task, but like I said, I was at a loss for a lot of things, and this- this became my routine.  The place I usually got my roti and juice was nestled in the middle of a LOT of fabric shops.  So, I began wandering around those.  In my first weekend, I found a beautiful piece of fabric- lots of blues and purples.
This was my first purchase.  I went home and hung it in my room.  This became the backdrop of family pictures, cards, etc.  It brightened my room all year long.  Remember the wallpaper that hung in your room as a child?  I have similar feelings now when I look at this fabric.

Slowly, the pieces grew more and more.  I wouldn't always buy fabric when I went into town, but I would most definitely almost always look.  A few more pieces joined my collection from KK, my city in Malaysia- A red batik pattern, a blue polka dot with pink flowers.  These don't hold as many stories with them as they do emotions.  I can very clearly remember how I was feeling when I bought each piece in KK.  Some days I felt like I could conquer the world- I had just successfully navigated the bus system, or had managed to complete a week of work.  But other days I felt overwhelmed, probably a little hopeless, and very skeptical of this whole journey I had embarked on.  My year of service forced me to acknowledge all the emotions, and even celebrate them.  Finding ways to share it all was one of the most healing and empowering pieces of my year.  Which is a perfect transition into the next piece.

And then, there's this one… oh the minions.

You may have thought to yourself when you saw this quilt: "it would be so beautiful, but then there's minions…" But you see, this is where I think the beauty of a good story comes in.  Peter Harrits (our country coordinator), bless his soul.  I blame him.  When we got off the plane in Malaysia (which I honestly can say I remember basically nothing of that flight) Peter took a group photo to put on Facebook and inserted minions into the picture (yes, there's an app for that).

We quickly learned that minions were all the rage in Malaysia. We adopted them as our spirit-people (people? objects, animals…?) as a country group.  YAGM Malaysia became YAGMinions.  It works.  We had some programatic transitions with YAGM Malaysia, kicked off by none other than P. Harrits himself.  He took a new call a couple months into our YAGM year, making it definitely necessary to provide him with a parting gift from his people.  Delia and myself took it to the fabric shops.  Inside, we found the most perfect fabric of all: minion fabric.  We asked for a couple yards (in Malay… the first of many small victories) and headed for a tailor.  We walked into this really nice men's tailor shop.  (Mind you this conversation was taking place in Malay- Woot woot, Delia! We were 2 white girls. Holding minion fabric. In a nice men's tailor shop.)  We asked the tailor if he could make us a shirt.  He asked us what size.  It was then that we realized we did not know ol' Peter's sizes, so we looked at each other, shrugged, and said "ehh, about your size."
I went to pick it up a couple days later.  We gave it to Peter as a goodbye gift.  And it fit. Perfectly.
Though not technically a clerical shirt, the minion custom-made shirt proved to be a very versatile piece.
The minions represent the constant layer of support I had over the 9 months in Malaysia and 2ish months after.  They represent the people who have fielded my tear-filled phone calls about how everything and everyone is stupid since returning, and they have laughed really hard with me when I remember stories, characteristics, or words that only a small small group of people here in the US could ever understand.  They're my people.  And saying I am thankful is a huge understatement.  So while you may say "…but there's minions."  I say, "AND THERE'S MINIONS! Let me tell you about my friends."

So you want to talk about my friends, the minions?? Let's talk about one of the most eye-catching pieces of fabric on the quilt… for me at least.  The green and gold floral.
You know what that one is?  That's my hospital fabric.  Y'all may know I had a small stay in the orchid suite in Malaysia.  The orchid suite referring to the name of my room in the hospital.  I was in the hospital for reasons that are gross and weird, actually let's call it what it was: I had an abscess- an infection.  YAY tropical countries and growing things on your body! Alright- so we've mentioned it, let's move onto the bigger picture.  It was a 5 day stay in the orchid suite.  And you know what?  I was maybe alone for 5 hours those whole 5 days.  Friends stayed with me, watched movies with me, helped me laugh about the absurd situation I found myself in, spent the night.  And then my country coordinator (different one, his name is Chris) and his wife let me stay at their house with them for a week.  And he drove me to doctors visits.  And made me breakfast burritos.  There are a handful of times in my life when I remember being consciously aware that I was being taken care of by the Holy Spirit, and this is absolutely one of those times.  It was a beautiful, beautiful 5 days.  The way in which it came about is incredibly disgusting, but the hospitality, love and friendship still blows my mind.
When I got out of the hospital and was able to walk around semi-comfortably again, I recruited my pal Daniel (PC, Christian Ed, Lutheridge, YAGM, Malaysia, and soon-to-be-but-we-didn't-know-yet roomie in Thailand) to walk around Little India in KL with me to look for a piece of fabric to commemorate this incredibly strange milestone in my year.
As we were making the quilt, my aunt kept commenting on how difficult that particular piece of fabric was to work with.  And finally I had to tell her that its ironic that it was that piece that was giving her so much trouble- because that was my hospital fabric.

(Oh man, this is getting long.  And I'm nowhere near done.  Take a break if you need to, switch the song… might I suggest "Wake Me Up" by Avicii)

More and more, I gathered pieces for the quilt.  When Delia and I went to Kuching for school holiday, we may have gone a little crazy on the sarong shopping.  One of those made it onto the quilt.  I still have a bag full of sarongs, so maybe I should start gifting those to people.  One day, Katrina, Jenna and I had a little KK stay-cation as we called it.  We explored the city we had been living in for months.  That day I purchased the pink checkered fabric from the KK city mosque.

I got it for 2 reasons:
1.  The presence of mosques, the call to prayer, just religious diversity played a huge role in my year.  This fabric is what is worn for Friday prayer services- hence, it being sold at the mosque.
2. The more comical reason.  During orientation, I was told that if I needed a reference for where my bus stop was, that I could tell the driver "the Likas Giant".  Ok, so when I got off the bus that first time, I saw we were near the big city mosque.  Makes sense… Likas Giant, its a giant mosque.  Seemed like a kind of odd name for a place of worship, but who am I to judge?  It probably just translates weird.  MONTHS into my time in Malaysia, MONTHS of telling people that I live near the Likas Giant, that I want to go to the Likas Giant, that the Likas Giant is beautiful… I learn that the Likas Giant, is in fact, a large grocery store… like Wal-Mart.
So I had to get a little piece of the "Giant" to bring back with me.

The other piece from our stay-cation came from the Sabah State museum (I really am Mandy Derrick's daughter).  The visit to the museum wasn't so fun, and as per usual, the gift shop was my favorite part of the trip.  I bought a piece of batik.

Because it was later in my year, I could choose this piece with the understanding of what batik was and how batik is incredibly descriptive of Malaysian culture.  To me, this is the most "Malaysian" piece of fabric on the quilt, so I chose to bind the quilt with it as well.  

This quilt has more than just Malaysia stories, though.  It has stories from my travels during and after the year.  The beautiful oriental fabric came from Singapore.
I got a free calendar with the purchase because I just bought all that was left on the bolt… aka still have a ton left over of that one and have every intention of sitting next to Aunt Ann while she makes me a skirt out of it.

And then there's my Thailand fabrics.  There's one in particular I feel the need to point out.  Its a rough pink material, thicker than the others, and after I got it, I really didn't think it was that pretty.
I purchased it on the day I crossed into Burma for all of 3 minutes to renew my visa.  Y'all have probably picked up on the fact that my YAGM year had a lot of visa talk.  The whole reason I was in Thailand in the first place was because of visa complications in Malaysia.  So, I was finishing out my YAGM year in Bangkok, Thailand.  The tourist visa I received upon entering the country expired 2 weeks before I was supposed to leave Thailand for good.  Therefore, I had to leave the country and reenter to get my passport stamped.  I was up at the border with the office I worked with in Thailand, and while they went off to do a program with a local non-profit that day, I tried to make my way to the Thai-Burmese border.  Y'all I'm not even going to lie, it was absolutely one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling days of my YAGM year.  My Thai abilities are minimal.  So I was relying on a friend of my office to help me over the phone to direct the cab driver.  Once I arrived at the border, there were so many large police buses filled with people.  I don't know their stories, but I imagine it is one that isn't unfamiliar to many whose lives are very dependent upon which side of human-made boundaries they find themselves.  The cab driver took me to the immigration office at the border.  He dropped me off, but I realized I wasn't at quite the right place.  So I had to chase him down again.  Once we arrived at the border- it was ironically (to me) named the "Friendship Bridge", there was a long line of people- people who I could tell were very familiar with the system, who did this all the time- maybe daily.  The line was deep with Thai and Burmese people, there were no other tall people with fair skin.  My cab driver took me by the arm and pulled me to the front of the line, in front of all these people who had been waiting for so long.  I tried to tell him no, but he insisted.  I got my stamp out of the country, crossed the bridge into Burma (Myanmar), paid for my entrance stamp, got my exit stamp, and walked back across the bridge to reenter Thailand.  My cab was gone.  I sat down in a shop to have something to drink and figure out how the heck I was going to get back to where I was staying.  To kill time until I devised a plan, I wandered through shops.  I found a stack of fabrics, used as sarongs.  And I thought to myself, this experience absolutely warrants a piece of fabric for my quilt.  So I picked one.  And in looking at my quilt, it is my least favorite piece.  Which is fitting- immigration and visas are two words that will forever have a different meaning after my YAGM year.  It is a piece of my story that is rough, not too pretty, and doesn't feel so great to talk about and reflect upon, but exists nonetheless.

The other countries represented in the quilt are Indonesia by way of Bali and South Korea.
Bali in a sentence: Bali ate my money.
And the piece of fabric on the quilt represents just that.
Delia and I went to a beautiful temple one day. When we pulled up, there were shops lining the street that led to the temple with women selling sarongs, because you couldn't enter the temple without being properly covered.  Sure, we could have rented one before going in.  But the fabrics were beautiful.  Balinese pricing is super inflated because of all the tourism, so while I paid somewhere around 18 ringget in Malaysia (6USD) for a batik sarong, in Bali and at this temple, they were the equivalent of 30USD.  But I had to get one.  And really cool pants.  And a sash that matched the sarong.  That was the theme of our stay in Bali.  It was a fun several days, that included me learning to ride a motor bike from the top of a cliff (only one way to go… down), but it was definitely time to leave, heading to Hong Kong.
I have no proof I was ever in Hong Kong.  I didn't get a passport stamp, instead I just got a slip of paper inserted into my passport that was removed upon departure.  I took almost no pictures either time, and I didn't even buy any fabric.  But I did go… twice, and both times were incredibly filling.
Seoul was our final stop before heading back to the US.  I did manage to pick up a piece of fabric from Seoul, the fish fabric.

I went to the quilt shop a few weeks ago to get my backing before shipping the quilt off to be quilted.  When I opened it up, the ladies in the shop started asking me questions.  In that conversation, I realized that in the near year that I've been back in SC, I've grown shorter in my responses to questions about YAGM or Malaysia.  I've learned to pleasantly describe my experience in SE Asia in a neat, nondescript sentence or two.  Unfortunately for my sanity, this is often the end of the conversation, and we move on.  But with my quilt laying out raw on the cutting table, I shared a little bit more than I usually do, and it was eagerly listened to.  So I shared more.  It was so wonderfully filling to have a medium for sharing stories I hadn't verbalized maybe since I've been back in America.  Laying it all out there- beautiful stories as well as weird/disgusting/unsettling ones, are all parts of what make up my personal story as a YAGM.  Would this quilt be more aesthetically pleasing if I had left out the Minions, maybe gone with some sort of color scheme, maybe even used fabric that was all the same weight and texture?  Maybe.  But it wouldn't tell the whole story, and it certainly wouldn't be my story.  The minions, the rough pieces, the hard to work with patches (you can see I'm talking about more than just fabric here) are all necessary to understand the story in its fullest form.
We all have our quilts- the stories of our lives that have molded and shaped us, that have challenged us and brought us great joy.  And maybe we are the only ones who will ever fully understand who we are through our stories, but we have chances to take ownership of the stories that have molded us.  And hopefully through recognizing the complexity of our own stories, we can recognize and appreciate with grace the beautifully messy stories we encounter each day.

Name your pieces, even the ones that are ugly.  Find your table, find people who are eager to listen.  Lay it out there, raw and unfinished.  Laugh and cry when you need to.  Be unapologetic in claiming your story.

Listen to the stories.  Be ever aware of people who are seeking ears to listen.  Ask good questions.  Appreciate the journey.  Know that it is not your story, not your journey, but one that you have the privilege of knowing pieces and patches of.  Be open to recognizing beauty.

Share the stories.  Never stop sharing the stories.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pau Part 2

I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!  As I've shared, pau was one of my favorite things.  I ate it almost every morning for breakfast, to the point that my fellow kindergarten teachers got concerned that I ate it so much.  My love of pau was kind of a joke around school.  These little steamed buns can be filled with anything.  My favorite ones were sweet, filled with red bean paste.  So today, I set out for the second time to recreate my favorite morning/anytime Malaysian treat.

I owe it all to 2 things/people:
1. A kitchen scale.  After last time's fiasco, I went out to Target and got an inexpensive kitchen scale (literally for the sole purpose of making pau).  I realized that 500 grams of flour was not what my googling converted it to in cups.
2. My pal, David.  David is the one who gave me this recipe in the first place and has offered advice as I navigate the really confusing world of pau.

And this time, it worked!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grandma's Oatmeal Cookies

My grandma Derrick was serious when it came to all things baking.  Between her pies, cookies, and bread, there's a lot I have to learn from.  My mom just stumbled upon a stack of her recipe cards this week, which means I have some baking to do.  I LOVED grandma's oatmeal cookies, and I may have loved the process of making them even more.  Her secret trick was covering a glass with a wet handkerchief and pressing the dough flat.  This meant going and getting one of Papa's handkerchiefs and using it to press the cookies down.  One thing I like about this recipe is that the raisins are optional, so tonight I did half with and half without.  
Grandma taught me the importance of sifting flour and properly measuring flour (fluffing it before you scoop, not packing it in).  Also, greasing and flouring your pans as opposed to just greasing them makes ALL the difference.  Seriously. 
We aren't entirely sure who Aunt Jenny is (even my dad doesn't know), but this is Grandma's recipe card for her oatmeal cookies.

Tonight, there were no trips to Papa's drawer to get a handkerchief.  Instead I just wet a lightweight towel covering the glass.  

Grandma's ("Aunt Jenny") Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup crisco
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup regular sugar
Beat until fluffy.  Then add:
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups oats
1/2 cup rasins (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Mix 1 1/2 tsp baking soda into 3 cups sifted flour.
Add alternatively with 1/4 milk, ending with flour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Scoop 1 tsp scoops onto greased and floured baking sheet.  Cover juice glass with damp handkerchief, and press flat.  Bake 10-12 minutes.