Healing Heartbreak with Service

As I have seen over and over again in my life, and I am so fortunate to have learned this lesson early on, the very best way to heal from heartbreak, personal problems and pain, is to get OUT of yourself. How do you best accomplish that? Service.

Serving others takes the focus off of yourself, brings you out of whatever hole of hurting you are in, and lets you actually give something to others who need it, when you didn’t even think you had anything left to give. When you least expect it, when you are finally not being absorbed in your pain or problems or heartache, you receive even more back than you had ever imagined. You receive healing. Peace. Joy. Refuge from being wrapped in yourself. Release. All while contributing goodness into this world that only then grows exponentially.

These past few months, as amazing as they have been here in Guatemala, have thrown some hard blows at me. Thankfully God had already put in place ways for me to serve, to help and be healed by finding a respite outside of wallowing in my own pain. I had been heartbroken. I had been hurt so badly by a love I trusted in. I had a family member die while I was far away from my family. And I kept adding on things to feel sorry about. I was heading towards throwing a pity party, no, a pity-block-party-bash-o-thon. Then I remembered the most healing thing I could do: surrender up my hurting and trade it in for joy by working with others and giving something of myself. I had the most amazing opportunities to do this in Guatemala.

The San Hermano Pedro Hospital in Antigua is home to many mentally disabled and special needs people, and I was blessed with the opportunity to work with and serve them. My favorite was celebrating birthday parties with the children, playing ukulele for and with them, helping to feed and take care of these precious kids, and just spend time with those who really valued my presence. It was humbling. It was hard to see and have hope at times. But most of all, it was FUN.

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Mickey plays my ukulele like a rock star!

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Happy Birthday! Such Joy is best shared.

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Lupita and I having a silly day. These kids make me smile so much, even when I didn’t feel like smiling before.

When I was living in the mountain town of Magdalena, I was able to volunteer with a child sponsorship program which helps kids continue education and have the resources to be able to go to school and get an education. I delivered gifts from a proud sponsor in Seattle to her girl, Lurian, who had just decided to continue on past 6th grade, thanks to the contributions and belief her sponsor had. I played with the precious children of a woman that made such an impact on my life two years ago, Delia. Her beautiful baby, Raquel, was a twin but had lost her sister last year. Yet the joy and love and warmth of this family radiated and healed me, with my suddenly insignificant problems. Here I was trying to “do good” but having more good touch my life than I could have ever asked for.

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Lurian is so happy to get her special presents!

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The beautiful children of Delia: Raquel and Katarina.

Working in a health clinic helped me to be close to families really struggling with basic needs, the worry of keeping their family healthy, and the stark presence of child malnutrition. Once again, putting my self-absorbing problems into perspective, bringing my blessings to the surface of my mind. I really wasn’t even contributing that much, I weighed and measured children, sorted medical files, took blood pressure, and painted little girls’ nails. But just spending time with others and giving of my time and talents in any way I can, brought with it a tremendous and disproportional amount of joy and purpose.

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Playing nurse and beautician at the clinic.

This blog post isn’t at all to say, “oh look at me and all the good I am doing in the world”, but rather the opposite. It is to say how humbled I am when I, for a second, step away from my problems that may seem huge and insurmountable to me at the time, and start to give to others instead. To contrast my life and all its blessings with those who are struggling in their hurt as well. We can move through it together, I can serve where I can, and I can be blessed immensely by trying to be a blessing for others.

There is no quicker way to feel joy in the midst of pain than service. Service is a healer, and it works on a two way street. Give and you will get. Be selfless and you will receive. I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to serve, especially when I felt a lot of things crumbling around me. Peace enveloped me, and I grasp to that sense of purpose that comes from trying to bring any measure of good into this beautifully broken world.

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peace and blessings, and joy from giving be upon you all — Kira

Death and Response, Cross-Culturally

This week I experienced death in a few forms, in two different countries and cultures, and saw the beauty of embracing all of it — of making bridges for ourselves and for those who passed onward.

Last Wednesday evening, the 6th of November, in California, U.S., my Aunt Nancy slipped away from the pain and exhaustion of fighting against the cancer that had taken over her body. The same breast cancer that she had been battling for years, that same cancer that took to her brain, and wasn’t letting go of her body — no longer does she have to fight that beast. She went peacefully, thanks to her amazing family around her. Her daughter put on her favorite song of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” as artfully played on the ukulele by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and she let go of the breath that connected her to the struggle of this world. She was at rest, she was taken somewhere without struggle, she finally had peace and was no longer defined by cancer. What an amazing woman, Aunt, Mother, Sister and Daughter. Such selflessness and gentleness of spirit I would be hard-pressed to find again.

I am miles and countries away from my family here in the mountains of Guatemala. The thing that I am most saddened by is the fact that I cannot physically be there with and for my family, especially my cousins who lost their mother too soon. Of course, I will be there with them in spirit and in prayer, in emotional support and words of encouragement. There is not going to be a ceremony or memorial or funeral for Nancy; as per her wishes, since, according to her, she didn’t want to be too burdensome. There is no pressing need, then, for me to come home early from my job in Guatemala to attend a funeral. However these ceremonies are for the family to say goodbye, for celebrating the life, for sending the dead on their journey surrounded by prayers and love and support. Thankfully we will come together at Christmas as a whole family, supporting each other in this hard time, and commemorating her life and death.

But something else has happened this week that allowed me to deal with my aunt’s death in a very unique way. I experienced solidarity and connection in death in a mountain town in Guatemala, named Magdalena.

Late Thursday night of last week, November 7th, my host father’s aunt passed away. This woman, Cornelia, was also the host grandmother of three of my students. The day before, my host father was consoling me, hugging me, and encouraging me to be strong. One day later, I was given the opportunity to show him the same love and encouragement. We were there for each other, part of the same family for this small period of time, for this shared time of grief and support.

Then beauty and God came in the form of a funeral in Magdalena. I was graciously invited to the funeral of this woman, and went to the town’s cathedral for a Catholic service that respectfully framed her life and death, and impacted me beyond what I was expecting. Four students and I sat near the back of a packed church, I covered my head, prayed the liturgy, and took communion with the mourning family and community. The priest’s words were meant for the family of Cornelia and the Magdalena community, but they were delivered with such tenderness to my heart. Words of encouragement to be happy for the soul at rest of our loved one who is no longer with us. Words allowing us to grieve and cry because they are healthy good emotions. Words of appreciation for life and the love of God and one another that weaves us together.

I have to say a few words about the astounding community of Magdalena: they come together for each other. Without fail. Without hesitation or expectation of repayment. The town is one big family of caring members who have known each other all their lives, grown up together, and have experienced both joy and pain together. When a family member dies, a vigil is immediately set up at the house, members of the community come to help the family prepare the body, the funeral, and the food. People stay up all night to keep the vigil and help the family. The funeral is the next day, everyone packs the church to the brim, and after the ceremony and prayers and communion, family members lift the coffin onto their shoulders and lead the procession to the graveyard. It is such an impressive, striking sight to see the whole village walking behind the family and coffin to the graveyard, up hills, in complete silence and reverence.

Once we got to the graveyard, still colorful and decorated with flowers and streamers and kites from All Saints Day (November 1st), favorite hymns were sung (“Pescador de Hombres” sings the hauntingly beautiful words, “Junto a ti, buscaré otro mar” Together with you, I will look for other seas). After singing and praying together, the family burst into powerful wails and cries of “Adios, mama!” and truly grieved for their beloved Cornelia. But it doesn’t end on those painful notes of grieving. The family then invites the whole town to their home as they serve coffee, beans, tortillas, and hospitality. This is after staying up for nearly two days, working through their grief for all the preparations. That is why so many women of the community come together to cook and make ready the traditions. It is customary for the family to receive condolence gifts of rice, beans, sugar, salt, and corn. This signifies sustenance and helps support the family’s basic needs.

Just yesterday, Magdalena had another death. The mother of my neighbor, Carlos of Carlos and Thelma fame (they run an art school and I have never seen them unsmiling or not joking. Some of my friends lived in their home for our stay in Magdalena) passed away. My host parents stayed up last night for vigil and went to their second funeral this week. As I type, the house is open to all those who come by to pay respects and share hospitality and food together. I look out from the roof I am on and see the rows and rows of chairs and people bringing life to a home that had been burdened with death.

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As hard as death is, there is such a human beauty that comes with and surrounding it. I was blessed enough to get to experience its fullness here in Guatemala. All the traditions and customs I was invited to be a part of helped me deal with saying goodbye to my Aunt Nancy and face my grief with hope and a new perspective. Living in another culture teaches me so much and it is something I have valued since I first lived abroad as a teenager. But this bridging of understanding between cultures got straight to my heart and God used these sad circumstances to uplift me, teach me, and grow my understanding of cross-cultural views on life and death.

May peace and blessings be on you all,

Kira

A Window into Life: Incredible Experiences in Guatemala – Photo Story

These weeks working and living in Guatemala have been so full of life and experiences. Time seems to fly by, even as it carries the weight of so much life and all that has been happening, all that has been changing within me, and all that I have been able to impact while I have been here. My last post was over a month ago; but let’s be honest, I don’t have time to write internet updates when I am living in a mountain village, translating conversations in Spanish, and traveling all over the country with eleven college students.

But I do want to provide a window into some of the amazing blessings and even the hardships that have been defining my life this past month or so…

A while ago, I got to go to the Caribbean with my students to relax after a few weeks of intense classes. It was a relaxing and joyous trip — and just so happened to be where I was blessed to have my 24th birthday. As is tradition there, I was tossed into the Caribbean with all my clothes on to celebrate the new year ahead of me. I also got to hold an adorable baby sea otter, and climb around on some breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls.

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I have been so happy to have been living in Antigua for the majority of my time working here. It really is a second home for me — never have I felt so comfortable and assured that I belong somewhere. I have already posted about my Antigua community, my amazing host family, my love for the musical community here; but I am going to share a few of my favorite pictures from this wonderful city.

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Here is a sunset I was fortunate to watch from the roof of my homestay:

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Speaking of amazing sunsets, I traveled with the students about three weeks ago to Monterrico on the Pacific coast to have a weekend at the beach after living and working in the mountains for a few weeks. There are some incredible skies there. I also got to adopt a baby sea turtle from a near-by refuge and release it into the sea to start on its adventure.

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For a total of a month, I work with the students in Magdalena Milpas Altas in the mountains while they do internships in different areas of community development. I get to help out with medical clinics for childhood malnutrition, play ukulele for mentally disabled kids at the hospital, visit homes in El Gorrion to build relationships with the hard-working mothers there, and work with an amazing group of students learning so much about Guatemala and relational development.

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I have made some wonderful friends since I have been living here — sharing a house together, playing music together, and traveling together. I want to introduce you to a lovely new friend for life, Olivia: She works at the Pina, and supports me in my music and has listened to me rant about life and made some beautiful memories. Here she is holding a sweet baby:

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This is a picture that Olivia took of me playing at the Pina — one of my very favorite activities…

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I also had a few great Spanish teachers this trip, and wanted to introduce you to Yolanda (Yoli) who mentored me, taught me, comforted me, and helped me really express myself in another language.

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Some of the girls I live with came with my study abroad students and I to the All Saints Day celebration  at the cemetery in Sumpango for the Gigantic Kite festival. These larger than life tissue paper kites take more than 6 months to create and are stunning in their varied colors and forms. Such an amazing sight to see — and so many people all in one place! The tradition of flying kites for the day of the dead is something so touching, because it is believed that the kites are seen as messages from family and loved ones down here on the ground to those who have passed on into the skies.

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At Sumpango I was also privileged enough to see the Mayan Royalty. There is a Cultural Contest (instead of a Beauty Contest) held every year for the many diverse Mayan tribes to show their culture, traditional dress, and language. The winners are then the Mayan Princesses for the year and go to all the significant cultural traditions and celebrations. This is a picture of them watching over the kite flying contest the First of November.

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Our most recent group excursion was to Tikal in the Peten region of the Guatemala highlands. I have been to these ancient Mayan ruins before, but it was so good to see them again and share my knowledge with the students. This time, however, we got to stay on the amazingly beautiful island-city of Flores. It reminded me so much of Sardinia, the Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean – the colors, the quaint streets, the island life. This island took about 7 minutes to walk around, and it was surrounded by such green jungle and a beautiful lake full of life. I also learned how to walk on water….

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My thanks to all who took a browse through this post — a little photo story of what’s been going on in my life here in the amazing country of Guatemala. I am truly blessed, and that is solidified to me every time I go through these snapshots. I have a great community, friends, and opportunities to travel, grow and fully engage with life and all it brings.

Peace and Blessings,

–Kira

The Importance of Family: A Word or Two about Lucky and Jose

It’s been a rough week — hard, unexpected news; struggles with subjunctive; cancer attacking my family; tumultuous tug-of-war with my heart over a breakup.

You know you can always count on family to be there for you when life gets rocky. But what about the times when you are off in another country, far away from anything familiar, and hugs from loved ones? Thank God I have a family here in Antigua that, every day, is becoming more and more a family to me, and less of just a house in which I live.

Let me introduce you to two very special people: Lucky (Lucrecia) and Jose. They have graciously opened their home and hearts to fully welcome me into their lives, and arms, literally. This wonderful couple, happily in love and always laughing (that’s their secret to so many years of happy marriage through hardships) has become a blessing to me this past week or so by being an amazing support system.

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Jose and Lucky celebrating my birthday away from home — they got me a lovely cake!

Jose and Lucky both come from families FULL of children, each having 11 or 13 siblings. They have worked through so many hardships and trials to be where they are and to get what they have. Generous, full hearts reach out to people from all over the world as they house students here in Antigua (or ambassador’s wives, or rich European diplomats, or the regular returning community of Christmas in Antigua celebrators).

They have three children and have stressed the importance of education to all of them, somehow sacrificing everything for their daughters to go to college (something their own parents didn’t see the value in, and pushed back against). Now their daughters are dentists and doctors. They treat all their home-stay guests with such kindness and patience, but it’s when you really make that connection with them and spend the hours over meals talking with them about all subjects (ranging from earthquakes, to dance parties, to culture differences, to pop music and embarrassing stories) that they adopt you as a child of their own.

Lucky in front of her house with the altar for the procession of the seven pains of the virgin Mary.

Lucky in front of her house with the altar for the procession of the seven pains of the virgin Mary.

So when I break down over the simple question of “how was your day?” and cry, the first thing I encounter is two sets of open arms, the space to cry and talk, and hopeful words of advice and faith. I really couldn’t ask for more, and I am so pleasantly surprised that after just three weeks I feel like I have an extension of family in Guatemala. That’s the importance of family – and the importance of understanding that we can all be that to each other, to those we meet in our lives that need hugs, words of hope, or just simple, warm hospitality when far from home. I am always going to remember the kindness of Jose and Lucky, because no matter what hardships you have been through, you can always be kind and loving and family to those around you. I am also going to always remember them because never have I laughed so hard at every single meal – all things can be made better through sharing laughter, always remembering to smile through all parts of life. Even the hard weeks. Months. Years.

Thank you, Jose. Thank you, Lucky. I am blessed to have you in my life.

Community and Belonging: My Antigüeños

I Belong. That’s something people strive for anywhere they go: Community, Acceptance, a sense of belonging.

I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people, since I have that sense and that community here in Antigua, Guatemala. Let’s see, I’ve been here a little over a week, and already have had requests to play my ukulele at the cafe and the bar, been to a housewarming party of a couple I had known for two minutes before they invited me, and feel completely adopted into this family of amazing friends: my Antigüeños. It really does feel like a homecoming.

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The fact that I get to do this for my JOB is still incredible to me — I have the most amazing group of students, and I am so glad that I get to be a resource. Suddenly my limited knowledge about Guatemala and Antigua is valuable and coming in useful!

I am playing a set tonight at Café No Sé, despite my sore throat, because I just don’t want to say no to these people. I know already that so many people will come out to see me play, request songs, and just support me in everything. What more could I ask for from a group of friends? And especially one that I haven’t seen in about a year, and half of them I am just meeting this week. I am awe struck. And so very grateful.

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Can’t wait for the adventures, fun times, bonding, and craziness to come in the next few months with this amazing conglomerate of people.

Different is Hard; Hard is Rewarding

Back in Guatemala again, settling in to my international home of Antigua. Gearing up for another 3 months of growth and adventure in this most beautiful country. I must say though, that because I am comfortable here, doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges of all kinds this time around. In fact, my first lesson of the trip: it’s not going to be the same “this time around.” And that will be a GOOD thing.

I am at a different home-stay where things are done differently, I have no side-kick or person I experience all this newness with, Calvin isn’t in town, I have to forge my own way and do my job with only a clue of how to go about it. For the first day, that’s a lot of change to take on. But realization thankfully set in pretty quickly. No, I’m not housed with the students– maybe that’s a good thing, so I can have my own space and keep a professional friendship with all of them (and maybe escape every now and then!). Yes, I am in a different home-stay– that comes with whole new relationships, lots of new stories, different food, different perspectives on the families of Antigua, and so far, lots of laughs! No, there is not someone at my side to constantly do things with– how great is that?! I get to plan my days, am free to wander and explore what peaks my interest, and make a whole new community of friends in my fave town. And a new job? Bring it on. I am ready to be flexible, learn, and be a resource to the students.

Yesterday we did orientation here in Antigua and took them up to Magdalena so they can see the community with which we work, and the real rural Guatemala (not the Antigua bubble). I was asked so many questions, and I had many answers to give — I have been here before, know these people, can rattle off Guatemalan slang, and give confidence to those who are new to this all. But oh, how I am blessed with such an AMAZING group of students. World travelers, all competent and excited to learn and be here. And such fun! I can’t wait to see what adventure lie ahead for the next few months, if I am this happy with the first few days!

The view from my room; balcony included!

The view from my room; balcony included!

Speaking of adventures, last evening at around 6pm an earthquake, 6.5 on the Richter scale, hit near the coast and sent some amazing trembles and waves to us here in ‘Tigua. I was on the top floor of my house, and the whole world started pitching and swaying. It felt like I was surfing. At the time I was skyping with my parents in the states and my brother in China, and started shouting about the earthquake. They became concerned, until I stared laughing and getting WAY too excited. “This is so fun!” It was one of the biggest I have felt here in Guate, and for sure not the last this trip. Conversation at the dinner table turned to the bigger and more fatal earthquake of 1976, and my host dad, Jose, started telling us of the many bodies he had to carry out of the rubble in Antigua when he was only 16 years old. Guatemala is so prone to natural disasters and doesn’t have the infrastructure to really stand against it all. So when things hit– they hit hard, people loose their homes, loved ones, and everything they own. So even though I get a little too excited about the fun waves, it is sobering to know the history and continued struggle of Guatemala. Let’s pray for just the little ones from here on out!

Y Tu Pina Tambien!

Y Tu Pina Tambien!

B Boy Chicky, makin' some delicious cafe

B Boy Chicky, makin’ some delicious cafe

Here I sit, in my favorite coffee shop, Y Tu Pina Tambien, connecting with old friends, drinking great Guatemalan coffee, and feeling at home once again. But there is so much more yet to learn and experience and uncover in this amazing place. Come along the journey with me!!

Returning for More – Guatemalan Adventure

It’s a rainy morning in Seattle – something so familiar and comfortable about that. But I’m preparing once again to ditch my comfort zone for adventure abroad, and head back to the country that stole my heart: Guatemala.

It seems this blog is beginning to have a solely Guatemalan influence, and I am o.k. with that. The most interesting and exciting times of my life seem to blossom there! This time, I am taking on the challenge and blessing of being the On-Site Program Coordinator for Seattle Pacific University’s study abroad fall quarter in Guatemala. I am beyond thrilled to have landed a dream job (when I went two years ago, I was already planning on how I could get this position!) and have two days before I start my duties of being guide, friend, mentor, translator, and fellow traveler to eleven SPU students.

Excited? Heck yes. Prepared…uh, give me a bit. There have been SO many changes in my life and they all have cascaded upon me as I’m preparing to move to Guatemala for three months. New apartment, sub-letter for said apartment, new job, packing up all my things for storage or baggage, and letting go of tings dear to me for a bit. Changes are good though, and challenges are what I have been asking for throughout a stagnant and frustrating year. So bring it on!!

From the rooftops of Antigua

From the rooftops of Antigua

Guatemala — I am excited to live there again, grow there more, show this beautiful land to even more people, and be shaped once again by the people, language, culture and adventure it offers. Here I come!!! Join me?

Muse-lings – The Seedlings of Change

I suppose 2 am is a good a time as any to let in the tiny thoughts and seeds of change. Sure it invites a feeling of craziness, but that helps keep the harsh judgement of daylight to a small whisper. Newness begs to be drawn out, change is tired of waiting its turn in the corner of the room, and ideas seem plausible with freedom egging them on.

What I am getting at, is that the feelings of a person are validated. Whether that be at 2 am after quite an absence from writing, or whether its just another 20-something BA graduate with too many emotions to keep to herself. Its validated due to my humanity; my person-hood.

So, how much can a person change and in how much time? A solid friendship be stolen away by a disease that changes a person more rapidly than I had imagined possible– that’s change. But that is the kind of change I am aiming to avoid and deny. The change and 2 am ideas I am grasping at here lead to newness, to being shaken up, clean out, pumped up with passion, and revamped in a still, small way, with all the loudness of a soul at peace. I say grasping. Grasping will not work with something as intangible and vaporous as what I’m dreaming up.

What does the morning bring with it apart from the reliable pink horizon of another day? Resolve. A dream memory of the vapors and wishes of change and drive. Live into it. Deny comfort and see the results. Don’t like it? Don’t dwell, move on and journey on to shaking up the next part.

We are never broken. We are all ok, its the journey we must cling to.