羊年行大運: February Update, Lunar New Year-style

Standard

CNY 2015 - Goat Year of the Goat

 

February 19 has brought the Eastern world into the new lunar year, this year’s fate being domineered by the luck of the goat. 羊眉吐氣 (yang mei tu qi [“qi” is pronounced chee in the Roman Pinyin system]) means that if you have been plagued you with bad luck in the past, this is the year things turn around. On the evening of February 18, families gathered around a new year feast, gave each other red envelopes, and stayed up to welcome in the Year of the Goat. I celebrated the new year with my friend Afra and her family in a city outside of Taipei called Yilan.

IMG_7754

Afra picked me up from the bus station on her scooter.

Chinese New Year is a wonderful time because it means VACATION. For many foreigners working here, this can be an ideal time to travel outside of Taiwan and explore other parts of Asia. I’ve done that in the past. But as I was sitting around the Lazy Susan with a Taiwanese family enjoying a traditional and extremely chill meal of all kinds of foods and then watching Afra and her brother scratch away at lottery tickets and exchanging a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese words with the grandmother, I realized how FOREIGN so much of my experience here has been. And I was suddenly aware of how wide my knowledge gap of the local culture is. This gap is something I something I want to actively and intentionally narrow in years to come. Language is truly only the first layer, the door to a culture, but a door that you must open. 

And now for a visual update of the recent growth and happenings in my personal, missional, and communal world here in Taiwan!

a personal update

Below is a “videopis” of highlights from my year and a half at TPS, the English cram school I moved to after teaching at another cram school called BigByte for four years. 

A rather significant 5 1/2-year-chapter in my life here in Taiwan has just come to a close: being an English teacher. Coming to Taiwan, most of us Westerners on the team here initially taught English for the purposes of obtaining work visas and earning money. In addition to those practicalities, however, teaching English also became another sphere of ministry, a sphere where the world of ESL ends up teaching the inexperienced classroom teacher more about themselves than English teaching methods. For someone like me who loves kids and has the gift of teaching, I had the experience I had dreamed of since I was a little girl: teaching English in another country.

After my last day of teaching ended, I found myself in a puddle of unexpected emotions; I cried. Suddenly everything that ever annoyed me about my students was beautiful. I’m going to miss teaching them so much.

IMG_7691 IMG_7694 IMG_7701 IMG_7696

a missional update

Aroma did corporate 21-day fast as a church. Pastor Chris challenged everyone to fast from something for 3 weeks, whether it be food, TV, wearing make up, the internet. We wanted to empty ourselves so we could be filled with more of God. Sometimes, we don’t realize how much the other stuff gets in the way until we get rid of it. During those three weeks, AROMA’S VERY FIRST KOREAN CHURCH EXPERIENCE happened.

Coordinating a missions trip of Koreans is not the same as coordinating a group coming through from a church in the States. It was a learning experience for all of us involved, but at the end of the day the gospel was shared and presented in a way that we couldn’t have done ourselves. For me personally, I learned firsthand what it means to put aside communication differences, mistakes, frustration, and misinformed planning for the sake of the Gospel. As you can see from the video, these people came with love and passion in their hearts to see the Kingdom spread in Ximen. Many were blessed because of them.

The Aroma Church Community broke our fast together on Feb 15th with a meal, just in time for the Chinese New Year festivities (which include a lot of food!) that started that week. The regular church service was replaced with eating, testimony-sharing, and singing songs.

Aroma breakfast

a communal update

Team Max, my dragon boat team of the last 3 years, is like my second family here in Taiwan. I found them after I had already been here for a couple years and was absolutely dying to get on a dragon boat team after faithfully watching the boat races every time Dragon Boat Festival rolled around.

This year, since I’m no longer teaching English, I will actually be in the States for Dragon Boat Festival (which happens every June) as I want to take advantage of a FULL SUMMER (June, July and August) home. This means I won’t be able to compete with Team Max this year, but I’m still going to practices as I love rowing and still want to refine my skills though I won’t be competing in June. I am truly thankful for the connection I have with such a diverse group of people connected in so many different ways here in Taipei.

40k bike ride

It seriously benefits all parts of my life when I keep myself physically active; plus so much of the physical activity is done in community. Pictured above are the friends I biked 40km (about 25 miles) with on Saturday. 

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS UPDATE!

Now that I am no longer an English teacher and will be starting full-time Chinese study in March, I am officially living off of support. I plan to live mainly on support from now to the end of 2016, two years of focused ministry and study here in Taiwan, with 3 months in America this summer.

  • If you would like to make either a one-time contribution or start supporting me with a monthly gift, follow these simple instructions on how to send me a financial gift:  
    Write a check payable to “C&MA-Envision, Victoria Crowley” and send to:
    The Christian & Missionary Alliance-Envision Office
    8595 Explorer Drive
    Colorado Springs, CO 80920
    OR
    1. Click on https://secure.cmalliance.org/give/ and scroll down to “International Workers and Special Projects.” (I am considered an international worker.)
    2. Designate the amt of your gift, and then right below it type “ENV – Victoria Crowley” and hit the red GIVE NOW button that appears. My name will appear separately below with the amt you designated.
    3. Below is a checkbox labeled “Make this a recurring gift” if you would like your contribution to be monthly. Follow the prompts to fill out your contact and billing info and submit!
  • If you have any questions about my ministry and what I am doing out here, please free feel to email me at crowleyvictoria@gmail.com. I would love to connect with you!

Happy New Year! 新年快樂!

Advertisements

CHARGE! into 2015 (Dec/Jan Update)

Standard

The holidays have come and gone, book marking the end of yet another year. 2015 is officially upon us.

I’m keeping my New Year’s Resolutions simple this year, since I want to actually accomplish them: learn how to drive a stick and donate my hair to Locks of Love. It’s going to happen – and will happen in America! Stay tuned for details about my next visit home THIS SUMMER! (You can read more of my thoughts on 2014 in my blog post “2014 in 365 words.”)

Meanwhile, here’s a verbal and illustrated update about recent happenings these past several weeks. It’s been simultaneously both tumultuous and rewarding. 

super short chapter one: unconventional housewarming methods

I thoroughly warmed my house during the holidays. Due to the size of my new place, I decided against a house warming bash and hosted smaller group events instead.

SMALLER GROUP EVENT #1: The final small group of the church semester was a Christmas scavenger hunt through Ximen that ended at my house with hot tea and Christmas pancakes!

SMALLER GROUP EVENT #1: The final small group meeting of the church semester was a Christmas scavenger hunt through Ximen that ended at my house with hot tea and Christmas pancakes!

Then, in the spirit of the season, I hosted a festive “book club” gathering; a group of us had read the book Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, so I killed two birds with one stone by making our discussion a holiday-themed gathering. (Can you tell it was an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party?) This was SMALLER GROUP EVENT #2.

IMG_7274 IMG_7273 IMG_7272

SMALLER GROUP EVENT #3 happened on Christmas morning. I invited all my former roommates who happened to be in Taiwan (no joke, lol) over for breakfast. I woke up at 6am and started preparing our feast. It was a wonderful and fantastic reunion as we “pretended” to be living together again.

10494859_683377350340_5206428201621217425_n

Those were the holidays gatherings at my house! It’s been officially warmed.

super short chapter two: a christmas education and other christmas festivities

Since I didn’t go home for the holidays this year, I was actually around to teach my little kindergarteners a Christmas song & dance for the Christmas show! I did the song “Here Comes Santa” with my T2 class. They ROCKED it.

My friend Eli also invited me to the ORTV Christmas Show. (ORTV is the biggest Christian broadcasting company here in Taiwan. They do radio, TV, magazines, and a plethora of other activities and events that have literally been teaching the people of Taiwan English and spreading the Gospel in this country since 1960.) It was quite the production, this being my first time to see their Christmas show (I actually have a quite a few friends who work for ORTV, which stands for Overseas Radio & Television). I was impressed how Santa Claus and his Reindeer were not mentioned even ONCE and how directly they tied in the Gospel to every part of the performance. This is significant because of how unchurched Taiwan is; nobody walked away from that show without the impression that Jesus is a part of the meaning of Christmas. 

IMG_7239

Me & Eli. Eli got us the tickets for the show!

IMG_7254 IMG_7255

And of course we did our Aroma Christmas Service at church. I designed the fliers for them, and took care of some other details like a Christmas video and special Christmas contact cards.

Christmas Service

It was a beautiful gathering with quite a few other people who are part of the Aroma community but don’t normally attend church on Sunday. The children even did a story-telling and prayed a Christmas blessing for everyone. They were adorable. The service ended with the traditional candle-lit singing of “Holy Night.”

1508992_683669425020_8186358913433449112_n

super short chapter three: ushering in 2015

I had to work on Christmas Day for the first time ever in my English-teaching career here in Taiwan. (The school I previously worked at gave teachers Christmas day off.)  I completely compensated for this fact by

  • baking Christmas cookies and feeding them to my students and co-teachers, 
  • bringing in Christmas coloring sheets,
  • dancing and singing all the Christmas music that was the school’s Christmas CD,
  • telling my students the Christmas story through an advent calendar.

And there were some surprises for me as well. A student’s mom grows her own ginger and brought in a HUGE bag of it for the teachers. I came away with quite the supply of fresh ginger! Another student’s mom bought Japanese-style cheesecakes for all the teachers. Wow! Thank YOU! It was a Merry Christmas at school!

I had the day after christmas off. So, feeling inspired by various events and recent happenings during the Holiday season, I wrote this: “Twas the Day After Christmas.” Ironically, due to Taiwan’s Special Work Days, I had to go into work the next day, a Saturday.

All of Taiwan got a 4 day weekend for New Year’s since New Year’s Day fell on a Thursday. That’s why I went in to work on Saturday: to pay for my Friday off. I celebrated New Year’s with a small group of friends for a change; the 6 of us had dinner and drinks and watched the Taipei 101 fireworks from a field near their house.

IMG_7313

And then, on the first day of 2015, I went hiking with a big group of people.

IMG_7314

 On the second of 2015 (the day off I had paid for by working on the previous Saturday), I soaked in the hot springs and swam in the river of Wulai, one of my favorite places here in Taiwan and enjoyed the scenery with my friend Lauren, my Hump Day (Wednesdays) lunch date.

On the 3rd day of 2015, I went on another hike.

IMG_7337

The next day was Sunday, which for me is church day, not a play day. But that was fine; I had just played for 3 straight days to celebrate the opening of 2015! It was a fantastic start.

super short chapter four: the current situation

In between all of this playing, which is really fun to share with all of you, there have been other developments as well. I will briefly summarize them below in 3 bullet points.

  •  The Mission. (1) A new semester of small groups of started at the Aroma, and I am no longer a leader! This is exciting because I have felt for a very long time that it was time for me to step down and watch Taiwanese people become drivers of the spiritual growth of the community. I still attend the Wednesday night small group and help translate. (2) The Children’s Church Ministry is officially using Teach Us the Bible curriculum, and it’s very exciting for both students and teachers! (3) The Junior High Program has only one class left this month, and then won’t start up again until March. After a meeting with my pastor and our supporting local teachers, the class we do is going to undergo some exciting changes that will continue to advance the Kingdom in this public junior high school!
  • The Community. At the very beginning of my time here, it was the natural thing to do to make friends with all the Taiwanese people I met; we had no choice but to reach out since our community was still in the growing stages. Over time, it’s been easier to not reach out and make friends, especially when the community feels like it keeps growing on its own more and more everyday. Recently, however, I’ve been blessed with new friends and a reunion with one I have known for 5 years: my very first language exchange partner Dulcie. I spent an afternoon with her and Jessica catching up and sharing new experiences.
  • The Person. I have officially made some new goals for myself that will take me the next few years to accomplish. I feel called to continue doing ministry here for the time being, but I know longer feel called to a life of work and ministry, but to a life of school and ministry. This means that as I am serving at the Aroma, I will be pursuing serious study in Chinese and then my Master’s degree here in Taiwan. BIG CHANGE! I know! This is why I am moving into a more support-sustained lifestyle. I trust God will provide all I need!  If you are interested in supporting, below is all the information you need to know how. Also, feel free to contact me directly via email: crowleyvictoria@gmail.com

Envision Response Card_supportonlineEnvision Response Card_mailcheck

 

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS UPDATE! 🙂

2014 in 365 words

Standard

An unbearably rough start. An incredible 26-mile victory. Facing pain and beginning a journey of letting go. Creating new memories through celebrating the Lunar New Year the local way. An involuntary sabbath. Finding stability through maintaining physical strength. 8 weeks of counseling that changed my life. Rediscovering independence through shedding unhealthy layers of dependence. Rowing with my dragon boat team to the championship. Honesty; not just with the people close to me. The emotional phenomenon of simultaneous closeness and distance and coping with it. Emotions. Reopening up my heart. Rebuilding and re-establishing community between me and other people. Practicing thankfulness as a lifestyle and releasing my hopes and expectations. Crying all the time about everything – in a good way. Completely losing control simply to find the true meaning of happiness. Making plans, finally moving towards my future after almost 2 years of dormancy. Going home and finding healing, fostering connection, loving my family. Rediscovering myself. Saying good-bye to depression. Reaching new heights. Actually completing goals. Stepping into a radically different season: working less, studying more, moving into my own apartment, a new residency status. Launching new things. Getting completely knocked off balance in the storm of transition. Regaining balance through routine, relaxation, productivity, friendship, and rest. Sifting through thoughts in search for truth that has somehow been forgotten. Re-discovering contentment and personal fulfillment through independence, spirituality, and acceptance. Enduring the sea of transition and all the pain and victory that comes with it. Writing more. Reading books again. Reviving personal tradition and making new friends. Discovering the doorway of repentance, the only way that brings one closer to God. Accepting the constancy of change. Re-embracing progress. 

And as 2014 comes to a close and the eve of yet another year is upon all of us, I realize the only clean slate any of us get comes at birth. After that, a clean slate is a choice. So in 2015, I am saying no to self-pity, no to bitterness, and no to every distraction that has ever kept me from what I REALLY want. Because this is truly the only way I can start again.

To 2015! Happy New Year, everyone.

IMG_7312

Twas the Day After Christmas

Standard

IMG_7275 IMG_7250 IMG_7249

My own studio apartment to decorate, finding real potted Christmas trees at the grocery store, kindergarten Christmas program at school, Christmas pancakes for my small group, a weekend full of Christmas bustle at church, planning Aroma’s first “children’s Christmas program”, a Christmas-themed book club-like gathering, Christmas Eve treats, Christmas movies, Christmas Day, working on Christmas day for the first in Taiwan (!!!), making new Christmas playlists. Feeling a little more nostalgic since I got to be home for Christmas last year. Christmas can be a chaotic time of the year for a lot of people. 

Living in Taiwan has taught me that things like Christmas are truly a matter of the heart – and truth. Holidays are external things, but we must choose to let the true meaning of times like this to ignite our Christmas Spirit, especially when the world around you doesn’t feel like Christmas at all.

So I “re-wrote” a classic Christmas poem to express and describe my the feelings I experienced about Christmas this year, specifially here in Taiwan. Enjoy.

Twas the Day After Christmas, when all through the house
All the lights were still blinking, none of them put out.
The stockings still hung, and evergreen infused the air,
Pieces of gift wrap evidenced that St. Nicholas had been there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While they clutched their new toys and dreamed of what was ahead.
And family in America, and I in Taiwan
Were settled in front of screens to get our Xmas chat on

When out in the world people were scattered
Spreading Christmas cheer and getting fatter
I sat in my bed listening to the voices
That described my family’s Christmas gift choices

Outside on Taipei City the rain fell
Where the Christmas holiday was hard to tell
Christmas day had certainly appeared
But people don’t pay much attention to that here

Bus drivers, driving across the city precariously quick
Donned Santa hats to dress up as St. Nick
And store fronts put up trees and lights
So people could stroll about enjoying the sights:

Red and green and pink and purple
Festive hats glued to puppies and turtles
Christmas shows and Christmas songs
Were thrown and played to please the throngs
Ribbons and glitter manipulated for the season
Pictures were taken in front of fake trees for no apparent reason
Figures of reindeers, Santa and fake snow
All danced together in a synthetic holiday glow

I sat on my bed under the covers
Listening to the voices of my sister, father, and mother
My window of technology had been blurred
And for the poor video connection there was no cure

And so twas the day after Christmas, when I sat in my house
All the lights were still blinking, none of them put out
I wished my family a Merry Christmas and laid back down in bed
Visions of past holiday festivities danced in my head

And then I thought how the story of Christmas is indeed truly sad
The savior, a king is to be born, by a virgin to be had
When in accordance with Roman decree an inconvenient and long journey suddenly lies ahead
Upon reaching the destination, the expecting mother doesn’t even get a bed

Though a beautiful and mysterious star hangs in the sky to announce the baby king’s arrival
Only astrologers from a far away land follow the sign and unknowingly bring good news to a rival
This leads to the execution of babes all over the land
Because King Herod will not be replaced by an unknown man

But through the hardships that faced Joseph and Mary
The Angel Gabriel shone his golden light and bade them not to be wary
God in heaven, the father of the baby, could be trusted
He would protect them, the courage to believe they must muster

Choruses of angels singing of the Savior’s birth
Astrologers from the East gifting a child with frankincense, incense, and myrrh
An Israelite man raising a Son that would not carry on his line
All of this proving the prophet’s words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

And so I sat there, surrounded by a sea of modern Christmas noise
Another December 25th had come and gone, more money had been spent, children had more toys
But the true meaning of Christmas rose above all this
The meaning that all of the lights and music and presents so often miss

Thank you, Father in Heaven, that your Son was born
Thank you that He died so that the dividing curtain was torn
Thank you for the miracle of life that is every birth
And the resurrection that has made this miracle possibly for everyone here on earth.

Merry Christmas!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

Happy Thanksgiving! (a November update)

Standard

“The test of all happiness is gratitude.”

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

“Give thanks in all circumstances.”

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians

It’s been quite the month…many things have gone as planned, many things have not. Overall, it would be a lie to say that there is shortage of things to be thankful; and as I recount for you all of you the highlights of the last month, I am forever grateful for all the experiences, good & bad, that keep drawing us farther along in this thing called life. I’ve learned that even learning to be grateful for the BAD is key. 

I’m gonna break this update down in 3 fun, visual pieces: missional, personal, communal.

the missional piece. 

You just had a look at one of Aroma’s newer ministries that I’ve been leading this year. We just had our first successful month of classes this school year! Thanks to some incredible Christian teachers in the public junior high schools, we’ve been given an opportunity to go in and do English classes for the students, and at the same time hang out with and reach out to a group of kids who would otherwise have no time outside of class and homework to interact with foreigners. It’s also been a unique bridging opportunity between the local church and the students.

the personal piece.

I moved! And I didn’t just move; I officially have my own apartment. It’s small, but it fits both me and whoever I feel like having over. Living by myself feels different than I thought it would, but I definitely think it was time to finally get my own place, especially after almost 10 years of both negative and positive roommate experiences. Having my own place has seemed to usher me into the next step of adulthood. And not to mention financial responsibility.

I also switched schools. Long story short, there were some good times at Chinese Culture University, but at the end of the day (more specifically the end of a rather non-academically stimulating semester) their Chinese program was not for me and my language goals, so I won’t be continuing my studies at that specific Language Center. I’ll be researching my other options and making a decision at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I will keep studying on my own.

However, it was definitely an experience being in the classroom as a STUDENT again. (Quite a humbling one after being the teacher for 5 years, I might add!) Good times were still had. In the pictures below you can see that I got to enjoy quite the diverse set of classmates; students in my class were from Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, and Germany.

Experiencing the culture of Moon Festival

Experiencing the culture of Moon Festival

Last day of Class

Last day of Class

the communal piece. 

I had 3 different Thanksgiving dinners this year! One was with a smaller group of friends in our lovely neighborhood of Ximending on Thursday night, one was a special event for our regular Friday night Coffee Talk crew, and the other was hosted by a friend who does a big turkey day meal every year.

10441028_10152799667604299_7578697395236683334_n

Thursday night with some of the Ximen/Aroma Family

COFFEE TALK thanksgiving

Thanksgiving with our Friday Night Coffee Talk crew! This was a cool cultural experience for so many Taiwanese friends!

photo (28)

I’ve known Cory since I first moved to this country and met his (now) wife Rachel not long after she got to Taiwan. Rachel’s been hosting a Turkey Day Potluck every year, and this year was #3!

We also said goodbye to a friend who succeeded in getting an immigration visa back to the States. Tai has been a part of our Aroma community for a while. A small group of us also took trip to a railroad town called Shifen to hang out with him one last time.

There you have it, another brief and visual monthly update!  There’s a lot of be thankful for; alas, there’s always a lot to be thankful for. For more information on ways to support me, send me an email at crowleyvictoria@gmail.com. In the meantime, keep reading my blog! 

 

 

A Tribute of Thanks

Standard

Thank you, God, for all the big things and the little things, for all the successes and the failures, for the beautiful and the ugly, the frustrating and the fulfilling. Thank you for life and death and for dealing it out justly. Thank you for all the moments of color and the moments of dullness. Thank you for what each days reveals to us about ourselves, each other and you.

Thank you that even when we don’t see you, you’re there. Thank you for dreams and how they pull us forward, regardless of whether not they come true. Thank you for knowing us, for knowing the desires of our heart and not withholding them from us. Thank you for the pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Thank you for pain and comfort, for weakness and strength.

Thank you for granting us a multi-layered existence, for language and emotions and psychology and spirituality and sexuality and intellect and culture. Thank you for our physical forms that allow us to experience our world aesthetically and through our senses, forming a relationship with everything around us.

Thank you for the people who accompany us in life, thank you for the people who, most days, we take for granted. Thank you for the friendly faces and the mean faces, the quiet and the loud voices, the affectionate and the spartan. Thank you for putting in all of us a need for the other person.

Thank you for my conscience, for instilling in me a sense of when things are right and when things are wrong. Thank you for allowing peace when all is well but also allowing restlessness and sometimes anger when all is not. Thank you for the sense of justice you’ve impressed in our souls. Thank you for the ability to feel both the familiar and the unfamiliar and for what our reactions to these things teach us.

Thank you for the elated joy I felt when I learned how to ride a bike. Thank you for the anger I felt when I witnessed fellow students fighting. Thank you for the utter sadness I felt when my pet dog died. Thank you that there are always more opportunities to constantly learn and feel and then relearn all of it through another lens.

Thank you for weaving all of these together and giving us life, a living and breathing stream of existence in this universe, one day at a time.

Hello, 2013!

Standard

Happy New Year to all my friends and family, near and abroad! I trust that all of you had a wonderful  holiday season with the people closest to you, putting up and decorating Christmas trees, wrapping presents and stuffing stockings, planning parties and preparing meals, stringing lights and hanging mistletoe. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. It still is, although for the last 4 years it has looked extremely different all around me. In fact every year the celebration has been a completely different nontraditional Christmas.

Here’s a mini visual of my 2012 Christmas season:

Between all the parties, Christmas-caroling, and service preparation, there was hardly time to breathe. But alas, on Christmas day I found myself with the people closest to me, celebrating my favorite day of the year; and somehow, on that day, all was at peace.

All of you, near and far, were in my thoughts this Christmas season. I found myself quite astounded when I realized this was Christmas #4 away from home. I actually do plan on being home for Christmas 2013. Four Christmases ago, the lines “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams” became a reality in my life, and I’ve decided its time to change that.

And now for 2013.

New Year’s Eve was a Monday night, and what do we always do on Monday night? Play ultimate frisbee. So that’s what we did, followed by a barbecue up on the roof of my apartment, where we ushered in the new year, food and drinks in hand, watching the Taipei 101 fireworks display with everybody else up on the roof.

And after it was all over, life went on. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my dear ones. I think of all of you often.

HANGING IN THE BALANCE… between Christmas Day and the New Year

Standard

While we all hang here together, I thought I would share some of my Christmas video favorites from YouTube. I don’t have much time to simply browse these kinds of things these days, so I largely depend of what my friends post around facebook. I come across some good stuff! Here’s a few to enjoy as we bask in the after glow of Christmas and anticipate what is to come in 2012.

Went to an ugly sweater party this year, so this just felt appropriate.  

Classic in so many of the non-cheesy and non-stereotypical ways.

And finally, what our ministry did here for Christmas Eve. It is ALWAYS a privilege to share Christmas with the people here. People with no established or rooted Christmas tradition themselves seemed to be moved every time. Never gets old, NEVER.

Just in time for the holidays!

Standard

I did it AGAIN. I somehow survived another holiday season by working straight through it and planning events and other things with every other spare moment of my time. On my own personal calendar, my holiday season starts on Thanksgiving Day, an American holiday practically foreign to the culture here and is about to wrap up with the start of the New Year. So before 2012 begins, here’s a run down of the last month of 2011. 

November 24. We went to a restaurant called Grandma Nittis that serves a traditional Thanksgiving meal in ONE course. Can you imagine? It was a good time with good food and good friends. This is a literal snap shot of my family here in Taiwan. I am very thankful for every one of these faces. The two women to the right of me in the picture are my roommates. My “thankful” went out to them when we went around the table. I am extremely thankful the community I’m a part of here has become my family.

November 26. As a kick off to the holiday season, I hosted a holiday dessert and movie night at my place called Just in time for the Holidays! I invited a bunch of people, and a crowd of faces filled the living room, filling their stomachs with cranberry sauce, granola, sweet potato dip, croissants, beko (a Filipino coconut milk rice cake), chocolate-covered raisins, chocolate-covered pomegranates, grapes and cheese, and my new favorite holiday drink called Wassail. Afterwards, EVERYONE headed out into Ximen to catch the movie The Help. (We also put up our Christmas tree that day!)

December 3. What a better time for fancy birthday parties than the holidays? My precious Taiwanese friend Mark took this picture of all of us on the dance floor at his Fancy Birthday Party. Notice all of our fancy clothes.

December 10. BigByte, the English cram school where a few of us work, had the company’s annual Christmas dinner at the Regent Hotel this year. It was an excellent and festive time of AWESOME FOOD (the buffet at this place is supposed to be famous and is really expensive), fun prizes, and co-workers. I really enjoy the people I work with, so it was a pretty fabulous way to celebrate Christmas with all of them. One of my co-teachers won the MacBook Air our CEO decided to give away as the big gift. My team leader Chris won the “Manager’s Special,” aka a bike. Just for fun, a few of us females posed with Santa after dinner.

December 15. Celebrating birthdays is kind of a big part of the culture of my community here. December 15 happens to be the birthday of Michael (the super-surprised looking one in the middle), who just joined the team this last August. We successfully and thoroughly kicked him in the face with a two-tier surprise party that Thursday night. It was a blast and a complete and total surprise for him.

December 24. We had the greatest Christmas Eve event in Ximen Ding EVER. It was an incredible night of friends and coffee and cookies and Christmas cards and music and drama and Jesus. Over 80 people had come in and out of the doors by the time the night was over. We planned the event in two weeks with every spare moment of our team that wasn’t in the classroom, and it was held in our new coffee shop building. Christmas really has no place in the tradition of this culture, and that night reminded all of us all over again how important it is to bring the good news of Christmas to these people who need to know Jesus. So many hearts were moved and warmed by God’s love that night.

December 25. MERRY CHRISTMAS! I spent the morning baking carrot cake and skyping my family. We then headed over to the other apartment to eat a Christmas feast of hefty omelets, chocolate, cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pull-apart bread, carrot cake, more chocolate and home-made eggnog. Gifts were exchanged, Secret Santas were revealed, and the day ended with an “Ugly Sweater Party” and White Elephant gift exchange put on by some dear friends at their place.  That concluded my 2011 Taiwan Christmas on a note of international and festive merriment.

THERE YOU HAVE IT. Thanksgiving and Christmas 2011. Every year is different, and I think I’ve accepted that. Living abroad means you accept a more diverse lifestyle, and for every ache for the familiar, I’m awarded with love and friendship from a new and surprising source. After all, Christmas isn’t a place, a season, a food or event. Ever year, Christmas is always celebrated in our hearts. And that is exactly where all of you still are: in my heart. 

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year! Here’s to the craziest, wildest, most miraculous and adventurous 2012 yet.