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

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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.

From Classroom Books to Caribbean Beaches; Life is Good

It’s all downhill from here. I did it – the last, hard push through of the mountains of homework and credits, and my last classes as an undergraduate student at SPU. Now I look forward to weeks of Spanish language school and my internship with Students International working with rural community development in the nearby villages of Magdalena and El Gorrión.

However this weekend was a time of transition – from the full force of intensive classes (fitting in an 18 credit senior quarter into two weeks) to the more Guatemalan pace of language school and community building. What better place for a relaxing, get away weekend than the Caribbean shore? No better place, is what I say.

Thursday morning, all fifteen of us students piled  into a van headed for the capital, Guatemala City, where we then loaded onto a double-decker bus headed all the way across the country to the small section of the Caribbean that Guatemala claims: Puerto Barrios. After the 6 hour journey, we head in a smaller, sweatier bus to our next mode of transportation: a boat. There are no roads that connect with the Christian retreat center we are headed to. We skim up on the water to the palm leaf covered dock of “El Faro”, The Lighthouse (no lighthouse in sight, by the way, it’s more the idea of Christ being the guiding light, etc., etc.). I am instantly in heaven. This bright, humid shore steals my heart as I unload and walk straight into the 80 degree water. The sand is soft and welcoming under my feet and I have to let out a squeal of pure delight (or two, or five…). It had been one of my life goals to swim in naturally warm water, where at night its warmer then the air around me. Goal status: Check.

The whole weekend that followed was blissful: air conditioned apartments, meals cooked for us, hammocks in the shade, beautiful tropical forest all around us, fireflies in the evening lighting up the grass, parrots greeting us with “Hola” in the mornings, and hours and hours of nothing planned other than to be in and enjoy nature. I held a monkey for the first time, learned how to machete open a fresh coconut, drink the milk, and scrape out the sweetest meat I had ever tasted, and laid in the close, bright, hot Caribbean sun. It was a dream sharing this all with my friends, practicing my Spanish, playing ukulele in the palm trees, singing praise by a bonfire under a star-filled night, and swimming in clear, crisp pools of water fed by slowly cascading waterfalls. Butterflies the size of my face were commonplace. Shrieks of joy were heard loudly and often as we flew skyward off the water trampoline and blob. Sunrises at 5:20am set the morning clouds ablaze with passion. An evening rainstorm pounded on the dried leaf roofs and robed us of electricity for the night, letting us see more clearly the fireflies, and hear more clearly the jungle insects and birds.

As you can imagine, it was hard to leave. Yet coming back to Antigua made this cobblestoned old city feel even more like home. I loved walking in the door to hug a hello to Doña Christi and excitedly tell her about my weekend adventures. Today started the first week of Spanish classes, one on one teacher conversations that are fit specifically to the areas I need to address and practice. This is one of the best ways to learn a language: focus on the areas you know you need help in, study, and be able to walk out the door and immediately use it around the city and in the house I live in. Immersion and study complementing each other perfectly. I am excited to see how much I grow in my language ability, and even more excited to use that knowledge to work with the internally displaced people of El Gorrión in just two weeks’ time. I just know my next two months here will fly by, filled with learning and new experiences. Like tomorrow’s adventure: watching a futbol match between the Guatemala “Cremas” and the Seattle Sounders in the Capital. I can whole-heartedly say, “Life is Good.”

Celebrations, Learning, and Garbage

Of all the times to be in Guatemala — this is a pretty great time to be here. Elections, Independence Day, Dia de los Muertos, and the start of the sunny spring season.

Yesterday was the Dia de La Independencia for not only Guatemala, but all of Central America. It started on Wednesday night with runners from central park here in Antigua running a lit torch to the pueblos around the city, with boys running ahead blowing on whistles to “ring in” the Independence day. All day on the 15th were parades of students from the many different schools playing more drums than I have ever seen in my life. Marimbas (the national instrument) were abundant in the square as the people celebrated their freedom and showed their patriotism. Blue and white flags graced the city, and everyone had a sense of excitement and alegria.

Independence Day Parade in Antigua

My roommate and I, however, spent most of this joyous day doing research for our capstone paper which is due very very soon. This stress has been the worst part of this trip, because we want to go out and really See Guatemala and experience the culture; which is difficult to do when we are having to assign every hour to class or homework or writing. But soon it will all be over! This time next week I will be laying out on the Caribbean beach, celebrating being done with University and ready to move onto Spanish language school and my internship. Until then: writing and cramming information into my head faster than it can hold it. Yet I am still having one of the greatest experiences I could have hoped for–I get to be a part of  great things going on here. It was a blessing to see one of those things today.

Today was an amazing experience. The Global Development class took a trip into the capital, Guatemala City, in the morning to visit Compassion International and a church that is partnering with them to help the children and families who live in the trash heaps of the city. We visited the city dump and got to see the community of people who live and work there, recycling anything they find for pathetic amounts of money (about 30 Quetzals a day, which is only about 5 dollars a day). With this money they have to buy the “clean” water brought in every once in a while by a truck. Here is a picture of the tubs of water that cost about 6 of their Queztals:

I loved seeing h0w the kids of this community are still being kids, playing (even if it is around garbage and in polluted water) and laughing. The church and the people who do development in the community try to emphasize that the kids are not allowed to work, but sometimes they want to help their parents.

I got to chat a lot with the wife of the pastor, who also serves as the main doctor of the medical team that gives services to this community and the homeless around Guatemala City. Her name is Laylah, and she was so happy to answer all the questions I had. It was such a blessing to be able to translate for my other classmates and to talk about complicated issues with Laylah in Spanish. Thankfully my time translating at Agros International in Seattle has taught me pretty useful vocabulary, like human development, maternal health, and governmental support. The program in the trash community has been running for about two years, and Laylah described to me how much progress and improvement she has seen since they first started. She remembers going to the dump and seeing the people wrapping themselves in nylon fabrics and sleeping in the piles of garbage. Now there are dirt paths, less garbage, shanties of metal, and they are starting to put in concrete floors for many of the families to improve health.

So a good way to sum up my time in Guatemala so far? Learning. Sure it’s a fatiguing experience, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. I am so blessed to be able to learn in a place like this, and see what I have been studying for years first-hand. Tomorrow? I am going to hike a volcano. No joke. As part of my earth science class, we decided it would be pretty applicable if we got to see actual lava flows. I’ll be sure to take pictures and post as soon as I find a spare moment! Thanks to all who read this horribly long post, and to all of my new SPU readers out there! Many blessings on you all —

Namaste, –Kira

 

Soak it in

Guatemala, Antigua, and the beautiful people who live and work here have been teaching me wonderful things in the past couple of days. I am so content to be in another culture and to be able to really put my Spanish to work. I feel as if the many bits and pieces of the Spanish that I know, the vocabulary, the random ideas of grammar, and the sounds of the letters, are all weaving themselves together and are finally being gathered into one place in my brain. just after a few days, I am comfortable holding conversations and kick starting my brain into processing this amazing language.

I suppose I should share a bit about my situation: with the 12 other Seattle Pacific University students, we arrived in Antigua in a very shaky van on the cobblestone streets, we shown where we would start our language courses in two weeks, and then delivered to our various home-stays. My friend Kjersti and I are rooming together at a home which is run by an amazing 85 year old woman affectionately called “Doña Christi” who is super sweet, has a great sense of humor, and has been hosting international language students for 50 years…wonderful lady. I love waking up in the morning and drinking local Guatemalan coffee, chatting in Spanish, and seeing the sun stream in through the open courtyard.

The weather here is phenomenal — bright and clear in the mornings, hot around lunchtime, and then the clouds roll in for the afternoon rains. Right now I am listening to the evening downpour on the tin roof and thanking God for how blessed I am. This is truly going to be an amazing quarter. We started classes today, beginning with the class I am mentoring (Intro to Global Development) in the morning, and the Earth Sciences class in the afternoons. Lots of learning going on.

Today I was able to walk around the city and explore as part of my morning class, and my favorite part for sure was the crowded, bustling, loud market. So many fruits and vegetables, lots of colorful craftworks and fabrics, women with chickens on their heads, and me trying to squeeze through the short Mayan people. I wish I had a picture to show, but I have not been good at taking pictures so far…or at all yet. I am hoping to soak in a bit more, and feel my way around the city. This is definitely a tourist center, and I guess that thing in me that tells me to blend in and be a part of the culture is stopping me from taking pictures “like a tourist.” But really–there is too much color and life and nature here not to want to capture as much as I can. So tomorrow (amid the piles of homework I already must accomplish) I am going on a photo journey, reading at a cafe, and soaking in as much as I can of Guatemala.

I couldn’t be happier — this is what I thrive on: living in other cultures, meeting new people, and of course speaking other languages. Thanks to all who read my blog! I hope to keep up with all the amazing adventures that are going on down here. including the nation-wide elections that are going on tomorrow. I have had the great opportunity to learn more about this process and how Guatemala is dealing with the transition. Many blessings and joy on all of you,

Namaste,

–Kira

Gasworks [I could see for miles, miles, miles…]

Machines, culture, peace, urban, green, unique, steam, yoga, sunshine, sidewalk seas, view, retreat, home. Gasworks Park; Officially my favorite place in all of Seattle.

When you first walk in, you see the Dr. Seuss-esque hill, with its winding sidewalk trail to the top. Then you are distracted by the monumental, rusty structures that were once the gas refinery machines, towering above the park and hiding under structures, inviting you to explore, climb and scramble around them. As you crest the top of the hill, your breath is taken by the beauty of the view: Seattle at its best, laid out like a deck of cards for you to take in every detail of the shimmering buildings (whether by glinting sunlight or the shining city night-lights), the space needle reminding you where you are, the trees and the water refusing to be overcome by concrete and man. The trails lead you haphazardly around the nooks and crannies of the park; from the edge of the lake with its joyful houseboats, to the steps leading to the steam-punk structures, or through the trees to the ducks and flowers and secret swinging bench.

This place holds my heart– I have always loved the look and feel of it, and now I am happy to fully live my life in it, after three years of calling Seattle my home.

Evenings of Sunset Yoga outside, with fellow park lovers, feeling the grass beneath our feet and the breeze off the water, looking up to the painted clouds and being thankful for exactly where we are. Focusing on balance when dancers from many cultures practice around me, with the sound of drum circles and cloggers in my ears.

Initiations of Student Ministry Coordinators at early sunrise hours, dressed in capes and love of the people with us. Dancing our hearts out at the top of the hill, cheering on the early morning runners through the park, praying and ‘breaking  bread’ with coffee and doughnuts.

Finding my nook on the edge of the lake, tucked in a wall, soaking up the spring sunshine and actually feeling warm. Bringing out my ukulele, writing songs, playing for children, singing to my city. This is where I can remember to be happy for my blessings and the precious days of sun there are.

Running around the steam-punk structures with friends and loved ones– racing and climbing and allowing the child-like curiosity of my seven-and-a-half-year-old-self to come to the surface and define me for an afternoon. Hiding out under the shelters from the rain outside, watching martial art drills, taking pictures, pointing at the many kites being flown in celebration of life.

My heart brimming with love and hope as I stand at the top of the hill, taking in my city-scape, holding hands, hugging friends, watching the moonrise, seeing the romance. This park has seen me at many stages of growth over the past three years, and I know it will continue to do so. It’s become a magical place to me; an escape, while at the same time a place I want to take all the people I care about, so they too can share my wonder for this unique, solid, quirky, piece of home.

Namaste —

Kira

I love my fingers!

I needed to post this picture in order to remind myself of who I am, and how awesome my life at this moment in time really is.

I am pretty powerful, just as I am, I would say.

This Thank You note is just one of many awesome thanks given by Leah Dieterich on her amazing website http://thxthxthx.com/ which reminds me to be thankful to so many things…the unexpected, the seemingly mundane, and the ideas in our lives that make us who we are.

Yes, I am excited for that ring finger to be graced with a symbol of love I share with the right man. But you know what else I am excited for? MY LIFE! Going to Guatemala for an internship in development. Living life in Seattle with my friends. Loving and discovering myself just as I am: Powerful.

I am not lacking because my finger is naked. I am free to express me as exactly how I am. I am a forward looking person who relishes in the now. Thank you, Leah, for reminding me to give thanks. God has given me MUCH to be thankful for…and I have the strongest of hope in continuing to give thanks for all the blessings yet to come– jewelry or no!

And all you singles ladies (yes, sing it out if it’s now in your head…) I hope you are with me on this one. You are loved, powerful, and appreciated and NOT just in a state of waiting. You are fully you, now. Just as you are. Just as God made you. Thanks for reading,

Blessings and Peace be on you all, as you look at all things you can be thankful for. Even the not so obvious blessings in our lives.

Namaste– Kira