December 2, 2012

Zoo-Time in Darjeeling

"We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo!
How about you, you, you?
You can come too, too, too.
Cause we're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo!"
That was my favorite song to sing at the top of my lungs, driving my brothers crazy, on our home-school trips to the zoo. We had a really great zoo only an hour or so drive from our house. There were quite a few years where we had season passes, and to take full advantage of those passes we would frequently make the trek down to Columbia, SC to hang out with some animals.
The whole group (minus Juhaa who was taking the photo) and a statue of Tenzing Norgay, the Shepa guide to Sir Edmund Hilary (the first men to reach the top of Mount Everest). 

Last week Lindy, Manju, Jeewan Loy, and I took a trip to Darjeeling to visit the zoo there. It is suppose to be the best zoo in India, but my expectations were pretty low. We were joined by the Finnish family  who live downstairs as well as another Finnish family who was visiting them. So we all got up before dawn, bundled up with tons of layers, and piled into two jeeps. There were 11 of us in our jeep, including 4 month old Joseh (pronounced yho-say)! Little Joseh was a champ and didn't cry or fuss all day long. On our way the road wound through the foggy hills, and through tea plantations. We stopped at a place about half way for momos. Momos are a staple here in north east India. They are like the dumplings you can get at Chinese  food places in the states but the ones here are SO much better. So we had momos and tea for breakfast in a little hole-in-the-wall roadside restaurant overlooking the tea plantations. It was so cold that we could see the steam from our mouths and rising of our food. BRRRR!
Heidi and I 
 The city of Darjeeling feels lot like Kalimpong but is much larger. It is situated on the rise of a hill and is at a higher elevation than K'pong so it was MUCH colder than K'pong is. It was really foggy the day we were there, but apparently there are so really beautiful views all over town when it is clear. There are many quaint old buildings on small inter-tangled roads and alleyways. We didn't get a chance to explore very much because our group was so large and there were so many kiddos. Heidi (the girl who is helping out the family downstairs) and I are thinking about coming back, just the two of us, to explore for a weekend. There is also a YWAM base somewhere too.
The Animals we brought with us:
Nelika, Sara, Lyydia, Manju, Jeewan Loy, Siiri, and Lyymila

So the zoo was a nice surprise (though they charge foreigners double just because they can). They had a nice selection of animals. I was sad they didn't have an elephant or camel, but I guess the climate here is too cold for them. There was also a mountaineering museum at the back of the zoo. It was a lot larger and better done than the one I visited in Uttarkashi. There was a whole bunch of exhibits about all of the people who have climbed (or attempted to climb) Mount Everest. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the museum but here are some pictures of the animals they had in the zoo:

Jeewan Loy checking out the tortoise with the girls.
Hey there bear!

Mountain Goats (this one is for you Chrissy) 

"Y" for yak

Pacing Panthers

but what if I just want to feed them?

The most colorful bird I have ever seen

Pretty Pheasant

Tiger or "Sher" in Hindi

Red Panda- such a cute face

Momma Monkeys and their Babies

Fishy Fish

Hungry for Honey
After the zoo we walked up to the center of town, which was quite a long walk. I was able to pick up a warm hat at the Hayden Hall shop which sells items handmade by local women to support their families. Before leaving we bought some Darjeeling oranges and stopped for coffee at CCD. At the coffee shop they played a song from a Bollywood movie that I have recently seen called Barffi, which takes place in Darjeeling. How wonderfully coincidental!
Cafe Coffee Day
The drive home was nice a cozy will all 11 of us packed in the jeep again. We shared oranges. Throwing the peels freely out the window "Indian-style." Mari (the mom from downstairs) shared stories in Finnish from her childhood with the kids. Even though I couldn't understand, it was precious to be a part of such a wonderful family moment. Winding through the dark hills with lights sparkling all over them was quite magical. It actually made me think of driving home from Grandma and Grandpa Swartz's in the Santa Cruz, CA hills. It was a day abundant in good things of which I am deeply thankful!
Siiri and Manju - silly best friends

December 1, 2012

Celebrations and Cold Nights

Manju, Lindy, and Jeewan Loy enjoying the Thanksgiving Feast
 Thanksgiving came not quite a week after Lindy got home from her trip to America to get a new visa. With her home safe with a new visa that will enable her to stay in country for five years without having to leave, we all had lots to be thankful for. There were lots of goodies from America to be thankful for too. We spent Thanksgiving day relaxing and praising the Lord for what he has done in our lives.

Baked Chicken with Stuffing (my favorite)

We also got to enjoy an American style dinner, with a whole baked chicken (can't find turkey here and even if we could it wouldn't fit in our oven), stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, and for dessert apple crisp and egg custard. We enjoyed all this yummy food in the sunshine on the terrace. It was glorious!
Half Eaten Thanksgiving Feast

On Saturday I woke up to Christmas music blaring through the house. After enjoying a cup of Pumpkin Spice Chai (thanks Sarahsdids) Manju, Jeewan Loy, Purnima, and I walked up to the football field above our house (it is at the top of the hill we live on and is where you can see the Himalayas on a clear day). We gathered evergreen branches, poinsettias and some daisies for good measure. We looked pretty comical tramping down the hill with a bundle of greens and handfuls of flowers. Once we got them back home we used them to decorate the house for Christmas. Lindy found a artificial Christmas tree in Kolkata a few years back, so we decorated that too.
Fresh Greenery
Each one of us has a stocking that we hung by the Christmas tree. Jeewan Loy checks everyday to see if someone has put anything in his yet. He also checks everyone else's and notifies us when there is something new. He is so precocious. We have all decided to wait until closer to Christmas to put anything in because of his prying eyes.
Christmas Tree
The days are still pretty warm, but as soon as the sun goes down it gets quite cold and windy. After dinner we each retreat to the warmth of our own beds and usually call it an early night. Before going to bed I will usually boil some ginger root in water to make fresh ginger tea. So warm and spicy! I have picked up yarn and kitting needles in town and have started knitting a scarf. Knitting, cold nights, and warm tea go together so well.

November 22, 2012

Quotes about Thankfulness

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.” 
― A.W. Tozer

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” 
― Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

“Rest and be thankful.” 
― William Wordsworth

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” 
― John Henry Jowett

“Here are the two best prayers I know: 'Help me, help me, help me' and 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.” 
― Anne Lamott

“Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.” 
― Elder Thaddeus of VitovnicaOur Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

November 21, 2012

Musings on Thankfulness

I have been thinking about God's love and finding myself unable to comprehend its magnitude, its depth, and its intimacy. I have been worried that I am not fully tapping into the love God has for me, and thinking that this might be keeping me from what God has for me.

Yesterday morning I came across this from Jesus Calling (This is a devotional written by Sarah Young as Jesus would speak directly to the reader):

“The Light of My Love shines on you continually, regardless of your feelings or behavior. Your responsibly is to be receptive to this unconditionally love. Thankfulness and trust are your primary receptors. Thank me for everything; trust Me at all times”

and today this is what I found when I woke up:

“It is impossible to spend too much time thanking and praising Me. I created you first and foremost to glorify Me. Thanksgiving and praise put you in proper relationship with Me, opening the way for My riches to flow into you. As you thank Me for my Presence and Peace, you appropriate My richest gifts.”

These word were so timely and spoke to me so deeply. It gives me such peace to know that simply living a life of thankfulness will open me up to more of God's love. I do not have to try harder to earn anything more, or try harder to be aware of God's love, or try harder to understand God's love. I just have to be thankful for the beautiful things God has placed in my life.

In this season I am especially surrounded by goodness from God. Living in a wonderful house in India with a precious family. Staying in Kalimpong, which has been rich with sisters and brothers in the Lord. I am becoming dear friends with Heidi (the Finnish girl just my age, who lives with the family downstairs). I get to eat Indian food everyday and also get American style foods and goodies too. I was blessed by an American family who lived up the street with a tiny little french press and coffee beans to go with it. So now I can have fresh coffee! I have warm clothes and goodies from America: pumpkin spice tea, Thanksgiving Blend Starbucks Coffee, ginger candies, books, and Christmas gifts (don't worry I haven't peaked yet). One of my  favorite things that came from America was a sweet note from my best friend and two fall leaves. I am thankful for a spacious schoolroom with plenty of books. I am thankful for the warm winter sun, the clear weather, the mountains always in the distance, the flowers everywhere and the butterflies.

Ephesians 3:17-19
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all of the fullness of God"

November 10, 2012

Playing in the Dirt and Learning to Love

Feeling a little weary this morning, a little frayed, a little worn. It sounds so simple, so easy: life is about loving and being loved. But the reality is so much more messy than that little phrase leads us to believe. 

Loving leaves us vulnerable. One cannot truly love from behind fortress walls. The walls need to come down and one needs to realize that their little world behind those walls was not reality. Reality is much brighter and more colorful, but more dangerous. Danger brings with it adventure, but also the possibility of pain. That is why the walls were erected in the first place: to keep danger out. But what is life without adventure? What is life without love?  

"The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed." Ernest Hemingway 
I  found this quote this morning. It was posted by a dear sister who is just a few steps ahead of me in this journey of life. I deeply value her wisdom and her vulnerability. The quote spoke just to what I was feeling and assured me that I am not alone on this journey. 

Another quote of encouragement came from Jesus Calling, a devotional written by Sarah Young. It is written as if Jesus is talking directly to you. November 10th begins with, 
"Focus your entire being on My living Presence. I am most assuredly with you, enveloping you in My Love and Peace.While you relax in My Presence, I am molding your mind and cleansing your heart. I am recreating you into the one I designed you to be." 
This is my desire, to let down my walls and learn how to love and be fully loved, first by the one who created me and created love. Then I can move on to loving others and being loved by others. 

Will I ever really know what love is? Probably not until I reach the other side of eternity, but I guess I cannot wait behind my walls until that day. What kind of life would that be? I guess I need to embrace the messiness, and remember how much fun it was to play in the dirt as a kid. Maybe that is why the Lord told us to come like little children, because children still know how to be messy and they are not put off by the messiness of love. 

I guess it is time I unlearn some things, let down my hair, and play in the dirt with Jesus. 

These two precious girls have both taught me so much about love. Brittany (Chorti Auntie) and Rajina: Asha Sisters

November 3, 2012

In the land of butterflies...

I have been here in Kalimpong for 30+ days and in India for 60+ days and I am so sorry that there has not been an update before this. I am not going to make any grand promises that I will blog everyday for the next 8 months to make up for it, but I do intend to keep you all better updated from here on out...
view of Kalimpong from our terrace 
One month ago I reached Kalimpong, West Bengal, India, after quite a few days of travel. The family I am staying with here had to make an emergency trip to Kolkata to visit the adoption agency that is working on the adoption paperwork for the two kids. Jeewan Loy (5) and Manju (10) have lived with Lindy for quite some time; Jeewan Loy since birth and Manju since she was 3 years old. Three years ago Lindy began the process to legally adopt her two kids, but as with most things in India it took much longer than anticipated. So after Lindy picked me up from the airport we took an overnight train to Kolkata, spent a day in Kolkata and took and "overnight" train back. The train back was suppose to just be 10 hours, but that turned into 20 hours. Two more hours in a taxi and we were finally all home in Kalimpong.
Manju, Jeewan Loy, and Burtrum (my travel companion elephant) 
The house here is so beautiful. It is on a really nice compound with a garden. It was actually built as the retirement home of the principle of the Christian school below. Lindy has rented it for quite some from the principle. For a while she used it as a pregnancy home for troubled girls. Parts of it has also been rented out to other foreign workers. This summer Lindy and her kids moved from living in just one of the rooms, to living in the upper flat. A Finnish family lives downstairs in the bottom flat. The rooms in the house are so much bigger and nicer than I was expecting. Because they are now upstairs Lindy was able to give me my own room and a separate schoolroom. It is quite a luxury to have my own room and bathroom.


I came to live with Lindy for 9 months to homeschool Manju and Jeewan Loy. Manju is in 5th grade and Jeewan Loy is in Kindergarden. Lindy is hoping to be able to take her children to the US after their adoption is finalized. It is my job to bring them up to speed with the American school system. The schoolroom they prepared for me is wonderful and spacious. They painted it a nice light sunny yellow color. We each have our own desk, and there is a white board, a bookshelf, and even a little tent to read in.
Red and brown furry caterpillar
Right now we are doing a study on insects. I decided to take advantage of all of the specimen readily available. There is alway some sort of interesting insect that has found its way inside the house. We don't even have to go outside to hunt bugs! Now every time anyone finds an insect I hear "MISS SARAH.... COME LOOK!" "Can we keep it?" We have caught a slug, a caterpillar, a ladybug, praying mantises, a dead wasp, and countless butterflies. I don't think I have ever seen this many butterflies in my life. They are always fluttering around the marigold or just floating in the breeze. They even find their way inside through the open windows. In the afternoons, or any other time Jeewan Loy can find to go outside, he is always hunting butterflies.
Dead Wasp
4 inch long slug

Pictures and words cannot quite articulate how beautiful this area is. There are not only butterflies everywhere, but there are flowers at every turn. Walking down to the bazaar through crowded streets and down smelly allies you can still be surprised by some green thing or flower that has found a little crevice to happily grow in. It is quite magical.
Manju, marigold, and butterfly

June 24, 2012

May 14, 2012

Your Normal is Not Really Normal

I think I am going through pre-culture shock.

There is something rising up in me that is saying "your normal is not really the goal. I am setting before you a new goal." 

I hate admitting this but there is something deep inside of me that expects and craves the American version of "normal:"
the sweet pretty wedding with all the family and friends there celebrating (and gifting),
the husband who goes off to work five days a week,
house full of kids with beds, toys, and cute clothes enough for all,
a place to craft and somewhere to buy supplies,
grocery stores down the street,
a vehicle to take the family places,
the library,
internet everywhere,
coffee every morning,
an oven to bake things in,
a couch in the living room,
carpet on the floor,
air-conditioning in the summer,
heat in the winter,
fall leaves,
spring flowers,
closest family and friends within 3000 miles.....
this might all be just a dream that I have to let go.

India is tugging at my heart. The Lord is calling my name.
It is impossible to say "no."

In September I am going to India. I will stay nine months (well that is the plan so far). This time I will not just be visiting: playing with the kids at Asha House, drinking tea with lepers, buying some pretty stuff, and leaving. This time I am going to have to set down some roots, continuing the journey of learning how to live in India.

There are many unknowns about what the next year holds for me. I know that I cannot approach them with fear but with faith, trusting that God really truly knows what I need better than I think I do, trusting that his way will lead to his glory and my good.

But this process is still a tearing. Tearing down the old "normal" replacing it with the Kingdom normal. Tearing down my expectations and replacing them with Kingdom expectations.

Oh but I am so selfish and full of pride. It is not easy. In fact it is really convenient to believe the lie that tells me that I will loose my true self in this process. But it is just a lie. The amazing truth is that I am finding my true self in giving myself over to The Lover of My Soul. The Author of Life, The Older (and so much wiser) Brother over All Creation.

I am going to India nothing can stop me. I am always going to say "yes!" to God no matter the cost, even if the cost is a little heartache.

May 5, 2012

Hey there....

I have been gone from this blogging scene for a while. I have missed you all. Hope you have missed me too.

Since October when I got home from my second trip to India I have been developing the social media for Back To The Roots, the backing organization for Asha House. It has been wonderful to blog about what I love and discover new social media avenues, but that has made me not want to blog personally since blogging has become my job. Who wants to spend their entire life blogging?

It has been growing on me. This feeling that I need to write, that I need to pick up blogging for myself again.
Well here I am.
I am back.

So what is God speaking to me about?

I spent quite some time this morning lamenting to him about all of my issues and problems, weaknesses and frustrations. The things that are pressing on my mind and spirit. His response to all my uncertainties and worries was this:
I want you to love me and to be loved by me. 
So simple. Almost too simple.

It is so easy to believe that I have to do things to win the Lord's love, or that I have to prove my love for him.

So powerful. Almost too powerful.

As we grasp the unconditional Love of the Abba Daddy, our response is immediately to love. We become love machines.

Satan does not like that. He wants to keep us trapped in our futile thinking that we need to meet God's and other people's exceptions. That we need to be "good little Christians." That we have to always be in fear that we might say or do the wrong thing.

The amazing truth is that we can never chase away the Love of God, nor can we screw-up the Lord's plans. He is chasing us with his sweet love and always working things together for the good of those who love him.  We cannot stop him or his love. It is impossible and prideful to think we can mess up God's plans.

The honest truth is that I have known this beautiful truth for quite some time. I have learned to dance and rejoice in it. I have learned to find freedom in it. The other honest truth is that is is so easy to get caught up in life and wander away from the rest I have found in the arms of love. Today I am learning to return... "to know and rely on the love God has for us." (1 John 4:16)