Sunday, November 30, 2014

Giving Thanks For The Simple Things In Life

Living and working abroad comes with so many perks-- exposure to a new culture, meeting new people, eating new foods, seeing new things. It also comes with it's fair share of downfalls-- homesickness, missing the life milestones of family and friends, spending holidays thousands of miles away.

Since leaving Ohio almost three years ago, I've spent every holiday (except Christmas) abroad at least once. I haven't attended an Easter service in English in three years and I forget what it's like to be cold on Halloween. Despite the fact that I've now spent Thanksgiving away from home three times, it hasn't gotten any easier. 

Part of the struggle is that neither Honduras nor Brazil actually celebrates Thanksgiving. It's hard to feel like a holiday is approaching when the majority of the people around you don't know or care that it's approaching. 

Part of the struggle is that Thanksgiving is such a family oriented holiday, and yet I find myself far, far away from my family.

But the good news is that I'm not alone here in Rio and I wasn't alone in Honduras. I made incredible friends in both countries-- some of them North Americans, some of them Hondurans or Brazilians. People who understand the difficulties of being away from your family and friends for so long and during such meaningful times. People who have taken me under the wing and welcomed me into their country.

So while my Thanksgivings have been less than traditional, they've become more and more reflective of the lifestyle I've come to love-- a blending of cultures coming together to celebrate the differences and similarities in all of us. 

This year our table was adorned with the typical turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc, but placed right a long side the traditional dishes were Brazilian risoles and palha italiana. Last year, in Honduras, we had the typical Thanksgiving trimmings, but we also had Canadian Swiss Chalet sauce and Honduran baleadas. And when I looked around the tables, I didn't see a family that I was blood related to, but I saw a family that I had built for myself. 

Thanksgiving hasn't looked the same for me in years, but the feeling of Thanksgiving has always been present. The gratitude you feel for the people in your life, the happiness and laughter shared, the exhaustion yet pride that comes with cooking a Thanksgiving meal, the contentment you feel when you look around your crowded house and see the faces of people you care about it-- these feelings are universal. 

Thanksgiving may be an American holiday, but the sentiments are felt everywhere.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

If you are not obsessed with the life you are living...

change it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Is The Time.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What If...?

What if the only Christ they see, is the Christ in me?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Let Me Take You To Rio

Has it really only been three weeks since I boarded a plane in Cleveland headed to Rio de Janeiro? Yes. Yes, it has. 

A lot has happened in the three short weeks that I have been here. Mentally, emotionally, physically, professionally-- it has been quite a roller coaster.

When first studying abroad, I was shown this cultural adjustment curve model and have since seen it many times. Every time I have encountered this model, two points have been heavily stressed. The first being that this model isn't linear. A person can go from the surface adaptation, back to the honeymoon stage, to confronting deeper cultural and personal issues over and over and over again. The second point is that there is no set amount of time to be in a given stage. Adjusting to a new culture, as with life, doesn't come with a nice recipe. There's no guarantee that an individual will ever leave the honeymoon stage, just as there's no guarantee that the frustration and annoyance with every day differences will disappear if you can just last the allotted thirty days. Each country, each individual, each experience is different.

I spent the entirety of my twelve weeks in Rio living in the honeymoon stage. Everything was great; Rio was great, I was great, life was great. This time around, I started this trip smack dab in the middle of confronting deeper cultural and personal issues. Which isn't a great place to start, honestly, but hey, that's life sometimes. Since arriving, I've definitely spent the majority of my time confronting deeper cultural and personal issues, but I've been spending more time in surface adjustment and a little bit of time in the honeymoon stage. Like I said, each country, each individual, each experience is different.

Phew. Now that all that heavy stuff is out of the way-- what have I been doing for the past three weeks? Think about what a teacher does in the States. I do all that except I do it in Rio. Honestly. My day to day life isn't all the exciting. I grade papers, administer tests, attend meetings, decorate bulletin boards, learn way more than I ever wanted about how the mind of 4th graders works, and enforce rules that are completely preposterous (Really. I don't let kids just get up and leave the classroom whenever they want. I'm the worst). 

As far as non-teaching life in Rio? Well, let me quote Ester Dean-- "Let me take you to Rio. Show you all around de Janeiro."

NBA Global Games
My dad and I were talking to one of the ushers at the Cleveland Indians games before I left and we got to talking about how I was moving to Rio. He mentioned that the Cavs would be playing in Rio sometime in October and I should look into it. All right, I don't LOVE basketball, but I do love Cleveland. So I looked into tickets and they were so far out of my price range that I just wrote the whole thing off. Turns out that Dad knows someone who knows someone and next thing I knew, I had two tickets to watch the Cavs play the Heat in Rio de Janeiro. Who ever would have guessed? 

Kadu and I went to the game together and it was so funny to listen to him tell everyone around us that he was cheering for Cleveland. He told me that if the Cavs scored at least 100 points, he would be up all night from excitement. Well, they did, and from what I've been told, he was up all night. Oops. Our seats were excellent and it was so, so wonderful to be surrounded by people from Ohio. 

Praia da Joatinga
It's spring in Rio which means it's cloudy and overcast kind of a lot. Unfortunately, this makes for less than ideal beach conditions. Does that stop us from going? No. Does it keep me from swimming? Absolutely. David, one of the other American teachers at OLM, took Caitlin and I to this lesser known beach one weekend. It was beautiful, despite the fact that it was cold. Which I do love the touristy aspects of Rio and will never turn down a trip to Copacabana or Ipanema, it's kind of cool to go "off the beaten path" every once in awhile. 

You kind of have to hike down a cliff to get down to the beach. Easy. No problem. On our way back up, we stopped to take pictures and I told Caitlin to sit on the side of the cliff and I would take her picture. Cool, all smiles. Then we switched and I was all of a sudden NOT smiling. All I could imagine was the rock breaking off from the cliff and me tumbling into the ocean below. Positive vibes, right? The good news is that we all survived. 

Cachoerias do Mendanha
The art teacher, Thais, took us to the Cachoerias do Mendanha in Campos Grande to celebrate Teacher's Day. She lured us in with the promise of a waterfall that had a pool at the bottom where we could swim, but we conveniently ignored the part about how we had to hike to get there. We took two buses to get to Campos Grande, walked up the road for about 30-45 minutes before actually starting the hike which took us SO. LONG. Hiking is so hard. Not to mention the fact that I wore shoes that were too small and ended up hiking the whole thing in sandals. Once we made it to the waterfall, it was so worth. There were two pools we could swim in and a natural waterslide that we spent some time sliding down. Bonus points for being the only ones there.

The best part of our Teacher's Day hike was that it totally reminded me of Honduras. I started the day with a video of some of my Grade 2s jumping around like crazy monkeys and screaming "MEEEEEES!!!" The hike took us into the country side of Brazil which could have been easily mistaken for driving on the highway in Honduras. The mountains, the trees, everything. Honduras. On the way home, we had a bus driver who, I am certain, learned how to drive in Honduras. He was passing on the curves, speeding up and braking unnecessarily, and generally driving without too much concern for safety. While it was slightly nauseating, it also made me feel like I had been transported right back to Honduras. 

Honduras? Or Brazil? You tell me.
Jardim Botanico
Ever been to a botanical garden in the States? Okay. Same idea, Except this one has sidewalks lined with giant palm trees that I'm positively obsessed with and monkeys and toucans just doing their thing. Seriously, it's really beautiful.

Pao de Acucar
Like I said, we've had a lot of overcast days here in Rio. So when we had a sunny afternoon, we jumped at the chance to go to the Sugarloaf. We got there in the early evening and stayed until after sunset. Also managed to snag ourselves a super spot to take sunset pictures, so there's no being mad about that. Last time I was here we didn't ride the cable cars, nor did we go up to the Sugarloaf (we only hiked up the Morro da Urca). Both were beautiful experiences, but both were very different experiences. The views were breath taking and it was such a powerful reminder of how beautiful this city is.

Girls Weekend
A couple of the other teachers at the school and I had a bit of a girls weekend this weekend which is totally what I needed. We ate pizza, drank (and made) caipirinhas, and shoved our faces full of gelato. Pair that with great friendships and you've got yourselves a solid girls weekend.

Phew. Rio. I'm here. I made it. Let's do this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Make A Plan. Live The Plan.

"Here's what I really believe. You can create a plan for your life, and then maybe crazy things get thrown at you. And that, by the way, is the closest thing that I have to a plan. So maybe it's crazy to talk about being an intergalactic truck driver, but what I think is crazier is trying to plan every single detail of our future."
-- the accidental wisdom of Nick Miller
New Girl, Season 3 Episode 20

I've learned a lot about others, and myself, since living abroad. I've learned new languages and met new people. I've tried new foods and experienced new places.  I've learned how to make the most out of airline weight limits and I've stupidly fumbled around countless airports trying to find a water fountain that worked.

Regardless of what country I've found myself in, people are constantly asking me what is coming next. Where I'll be living, where I'll be moving, how long I'm staying. I find MYSELF asking these questions.

And honestly, I don't even know.

I used to feel ashamed in not knowing. I used to feel ashamed in not having a plan for my life. I used to feel ashamed in not living like a "real adult." I used to feel ashamed in living my life year to year as opposed to committing to a city.

Each morning I try to make the conscious decision to not be ashamed any more. Each morning I try to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with living the way that I am living.

I never planned to live in Honduras, I never planned to move to Rio. But I did and I am. And I might not have anything planned further in the future than my lesson tomorrow morning, but things have always had a way of working out. 

What I am doing, how I am living, might not be the most conventional way. But I'm tired of fretting about it. I'm tired of worrying about what other people might think. I'm tired of making plans just to have them be ruined. And I'm tired of worrying that my time is running out.

Like Nick Miller says, the closet thing I have to a plan is to have no plan at all. And I'm finally okay with that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

You Don't Understand What I'm Doing Now...

...but someday you will.

In around November of 2013, I began thinking of where life would take me for the 2014-2015 school year. Would I be staying in Honduras? Would I be returning to the States? If I was to go back to the States, where would I go? For the briefest of seconds, I considered staying abroad, but going somewhere other than Honduras. And when I say that I considered it, I considered it about as seriously as I consider how good of a movie star I would make. Which isn't that seriously.

Throughout my search, I was presented with the opportunity to return to OLM in Brazil. In the midst of a particularly awful bout of homesickness, I brushed it off. My mind was made up, I was going back to the States.

Ha. Guess where I'm not going to be teaching during the 2014-2015 school year.

You're right. The States.

Guess where I will be teaching during the 2014-2015 school year.

Right again. Brazil.

I officially accepted the job in March and have been steadily working on obtaining my visa ever since. I've chatted with the Honduran embassy, I've been in constant contact with the US embassy (which included receiving an email addressed 'madam'!), and I'm positively chummy with the Brazilian embassy.

It was such a LONG, exhausting process and I actually thought that I would never make it to Brazil. I cannot tell you how many tears were cried throughout the entire process. But throughout the entire thing, despite all of the stress, I felt at peace knowing that it was what God wanted for my life. I knew that despite all of the road blocks, He was sending me to Rio de Janeiro.

So here I am. Living and working in Rio de Janeiro. Finally. And, truth be told, I still don't understand what God is doing with my life. I don't know why He wants me here when I so desperately want to be in Honduras.

But one day I will understand.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's All the Hardest Part.

The longer that I'm in the States, the more I find myself saying "The hardest part about being away from Honduras is ..." And you can fill in the blank. It changes every day.

It's knowing that everyone has moved back to Honduras for another school year, but I didn't.

It's realizing that there are new teachers to love my kids.

It's seeing how much STUFF I have that I don't need.

It's not being able to adequately communicate my feelings to anyone.

It's missing my friends and the life we had all created together.

It's knowing that I'm hurting my friends and family here when I only talk about how much I miss my friends from Honduras.

It's trying to realize that it's okay to love Honduras and the States at the same time.

It's not being there to walk with my kids in the parades or to play with them at recess.

It's everything.

Everything about moving back is hard.

The only people I want to talk to are the people who experienced Honduras with me. The hardest people to talk to are the people who experienced Honduras with me. The only pictures I want to look at are the ones I took in Honduras. The hardest pictures to look at are the ones I took in Honduras.

When trying to explain exactly what it is about being out of Honduras that is so difficult, I came across an article titled "The Hardest Part of Travel No One Talks About". And while I don't exactly agree with every sentence of the article, there was one part that I knew was written for me.

But the sad part is once you've done your obligatory visits for being away for a year; you're sitting in your childhood bedroom and realize nothing has changed. You're glad everyone is happy and healthy and yes, people have gotten new jobs, boyfriends, engagements, etc., but part of you is screaming don't you understand how much I have changed? And I don't mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what's going on inside your head. The way your dreams have changed, the way you perceive people differently, the habits you're happy you lost, the new things that are important to you. You want everyone to recognize this and you want to share and discuss it, but there's no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind and force yourself to use your brain in a real capacity, not on a written test in school.

Things are, more or less, the same as when I left. The same clothes are hanging in my closet, the same blankets are on my bed, the same food is still stocking the fridge, the same television shows are playing on TV, my family's routines are pretty much the same.


I'm so different than when I left.

The differences are hard to explain. They aren't visible differences (unless you count my new found affinity for wedges), but they are REAL differences. How can I expect others to understand my differences when I can't even fully understand them myself?

As we worked so hard to learn in Grade 1 and 2-- differences aren't bad, differences are just different. And sometimes they can be hard to learn to live with.

Right now they're really hard to live with.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Two Years.

Two years. 104 weeks. 730 days.

It's been two years since I first stepped on a plane to Honduras. Actually, that's not true. It's been two years since I've stepped on a plane to Honduras with the intention of moving there.

As I think back to myself at this time, two years ago, I can't even believe all of the changes that have taken places. All of the people I have met, all of the things I have experienced. All of the ways I've fallen in love.

Two years ago, I had no idea my world was about to be rocked in the most challenging, most rewarding ways possible.

Two years ago, I was scared. Scared I wasn't going to make friends. Scared I couldn't hack it as a teacher. Scared of speaking Spanish. Just plain scared.

Two years ago, I was excited. Excited to be setting out on a new journey all on my own. Excited to finally be a teacher after so many years dreaming about it. Excited to be returning to a country I had fallen in love with four years earlier.

Two years ago, I was devastated. Devastated to be leaving my family and friends. Devastated to be leaving American soil. Devastated to know I wouldn't see my cat or eat Taco Bell again until Christmas.

Two years ago, I was at peace. At peace with picking up and moving a couple thousand miles to a place where I knew no one.

There's so much that I know now that I wish I knew then. So many things I wish I could tell myself, two years ago. In honor of taking the leap two years ago-- a letter to my younger self.

Dear Caitlin circa 2012,

I know you. I know how you feel right now. I know you're staring out the airplane window mindlessly watching the clouds pass because anything else seems too overwhelming. I know you're walking through the airport desperately wanting to call your mom and hear her voice one more time from American soil. I know that at the same time you're wanting to be independent and do this without crying. I know that you're sitting at your gate silently debating whether or not you want to talk to the old lady next to you who keeps shooting you compassionate looks as tears roll down your cheeks. I know you're initially irritated with the seven year old chatterbox next to you on the plane because you just wanted one more cry in peace, but I also know that you've realized you haven't thought about how scared you are in the three hours you've been talking with him. Trust me, I know. I've been there.

What you're doing is about to change your life. It's going to be hard, it's going to be messy. And I know you don't believe me now, but you'll be crying harder than you are at this moment when you have to say goodbye to Honduras in just two short years.

Over the next two years, you will cry-- a lot. You'll miss home. You'll be ready to leave on the next plane. You'll lose friends. You'll miss events at home and hurt people who are close to you. You'll be given a class who pushes you, who defies anything you've ever learned. You'll be asked to do things that you think are completely ridiculous. You'll work hard and not be praised. Your values will be tested and you'll have to stand up for yourself. You'll be exhausted. You'll be mad at God. You'll get sick and not know why. You'll miss how convenient everything is in the States. You'll dig in your heels and resist falling in love with Honduras.

But guess what. You will anyways.

When you leave Honduras for the final time, you will be closer to God than you ever have been, you will have built deep and lasting friendships, you will be well on your way to becoming an incredible teacher, you'll have changed students' lives, and yes, you will have fallen in love with a country and a culture vastly different from the one in which you grew up.

It's not going to be easy. The most worthwhile things in life rarely are. Enjoy every day, every moment, you are given. Accept every hug that's given to you and try every food at least once. Never say no to a new opportunity. Step out of your comfort zone-- some of your best friends are waiting to meet you. Ask for help when you need it. Call home. Spend time with your students-- they're the reason you're there. Make mistakes. Understand you aren't perfect. Take a deep breath. Laugh. Watch the sunsets. Trust God. Pray.

It will all be okay.

How do I know?

I lived it.

Friday, June 6, 2014


As I've learned more and more about myself throughout my time in Honduras, I've found myself using words to describe me that I would have NEVER expected. Missionary. Introverted. Bilingual. Expat. While they've each had their own fair share of difficulties, I find myself focusing more and more on the "expat" part of me.

An article called "Leaving Well: 10 Tips for Repatriating with Dignity" popped up on my Facebook NewsFeed the other week and was soon followed by "Landing Well: 10 More Tips for Repatriating with Dignity" and "Staying Well: 10 Tips for Expats Who are Left Behind".

I knew that I would immediately understand the Leaving Well and Landing Well articles. And I did. So well that I cried. Both times. But I hadn't expected to understand the "Staying Well" article at all. I'm leaving Honduras, I'm NOT the one staying behind. So how did that article make me cry as well?

While the past month has been full of me trying to leave well and preparing to land well, I also had to say good-bye to Cristian. Although I'm not experiencing staying well for long, it has been a huge shock to my system. A huge change that I couldn't have prepared myself for, no matter how hard I tried.

I really loved "Tip #2: Flip the Manual Override Switch" because I watched it happen between Cristian and I. We fought more in his last week in Honduras than we ever had over the past two years. Everything caused a fight. A simple phone call to make dinner plans always ended up in one of us shouting nasty things at the other and hanging up the phone. Me getting out of the car from said dinner always included slamming of the car door and sarcastically yelling "BYE!!" We both knew it was happening, but neither one of us were capable of making it stop. So, a few days later, when I read how to Stay Well and saw this "When your departing bestie makes up a reason to be mad at you so it won't hurt so bad to say goodbye. Give her some grace.", I knew what was happening.

Saying good-bye wouldn't hurt as bad if we didn't care as much. It was easier to pick fights and be mad at each other than to acknowledge the fact that there were some big changes up ahead.

I'd expected to deal with the hardships of leaving and landing, I hadn't expected the hardships of staying. One of the biggest hardships might have been preparing to leave well without my biggest support system.

All of Leaving Well hit a little too close to home, but, as with Staying Well, there was one tip that has been the most comfort to me in these uncomfortable times.

Tip #7: Don't Fret the Tears or Lack Thereof
Know what's really common as you pack up to shift every piece of your life to a different part of the planet and say good-bye to people and places you have grown to love deeply? Emotion. Know what else is common? Lack of emotion. Strange, I know, but people are different. Crying makes sense. There is plenty to cry about. However, wanting to cry and not being able to is every bit as normal. Maybe it's because you've already cried yourself out. Maybe it's because the hard part for you was the process of deciding to leave and you spent all your emotion there. Maybe you just can't wait to get out. Whatever the reason-- don't feel guilty for weeping like a baby... or for not.

And while there have been moments/ hours/ days where I have been found weeping like a baby, there are an equal number of highly emotional moments/ hours/ days where I have not been weeping like a baby. Not because I don't feel like crying, but because I physically can't cry anymore. If I was able to, I can guarantee that I would've had tears rolling down my face 24/7 from the time school let out until now. It doesn't mean that I don't feel sadness though. Oh, I feel it. I feel it every second of every day.

Staying Well and Leaving Well have been part of my every day routine. Every day I need to remind myself to give a little more grace that I would normally show and every day I have to ask for more grace from those closest to me. All of this is preparing me for next weekend-- Landing Well.

Landing Well is something I have never done well. NEVER. I typically spend days holed up in my room alone crying about how I miss my friends and baleadas and my moped and my mosquito infected house and nights on Facebook chatting with my roommates. This continues the entire time I am home until I return to Honduras and proceed to miss everything and everyone in the States. To say that I'm dreading this process would be an understatement.

But Tip #6 of Staying Well says 'It's OK to Love Two Places'.
"Man, I don't know how you lived over there. I bet you're glad to be home." I think this (frequently shared) statement can be more internally conflicting and frankly hard to respond to than any other. I am so glad to be home, but I was so glad to be there as well. There were some hard parts about living there, but there are some parts of living here, too. There were lots of days "over there" that I missed home, but there are days here when I feel something remarkably similar. Loving where you lived as an expat doesn't mean you love your homeland even the slightest bit less. Don't feel guilty when you feel homesick at home.

And I do. I do love two places at once. From now on, for the rest of my life, I will love two places at once. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The underlying message of Staying Well, Leaving Well, and Landing Well is grace. I need to be giving more grace than I'm used to and I will require more grace than I have in the past. Transitions are HARD, leaving is HARD. But it's also hard for the family and friends who I continually leave behind and who are hurt because I miss my friends in Honduras who I saw last week, but haven't seen them in six months.




Staying Well, Leaving Well, Landing Well. Here we go.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Real Reason I'm So Afraid to Leave

May is graduation season. People worldwide are graduating from Kindergarten, from high school, from college. No matter what level of schooling a person is leaving behind, it's always a highly emotional time. There's nerves, there's sadness, there's excitement, there's elation. During this season of graduation, someone had posted an article titled "The Real Reason You're So Afraid to Graduate"  which really resonated with me in the current season of MY life. Not only in terms of leaving Ashland two years ago, but also in terms of leaving Honduras in a couple of weeks.

I've been obsessing over how hard it is to say good-bye to everyone in Honduras. But it's also hard to say good-bye to this stage of my life. Honduras will always exist, my friends will always be part of my life, I will have my memories forever. But no matter how soon or how often I return to Honduras, it will never be the same as when I leave. I will never be able to recreate the life that I've been living these past two years.

That's a hard pill to swallow. That's a harsh reality to accept.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Graduates, especially college graduates, everywhere are feeling the same way.

As the article says: "What you weren’t prepared for was this unshakable feeling that you don’t belong anywhere. At some point in the past four years, while you were busy giggling from exhaustion as you and your best friends ordered pizza to the library at 2am, this place became your home. Not just because you live here, but because every corner of campus has a different memory attached to it. Because you don’t have to look at the menus of your favorite breakfast spots to know you’re going to get the waffles, because oh my God, the waffles. Because you know which cafeteria lady won’t charge you for guacamole. But mostly because the people here –the faces you see every day– make you feel absolutely at peace. And you’re just now realizing that when you cross that graduation stage, you’re not just leaving your home. It ceases to exist. The people you know are leaving. Your friends. Your roommates. The acquaintances you are stoked to see at the bar. The exes you’re constantly looking over your shoulder in fear of. The familiar faces of random people on the way to class. Everyone who made this place home. They won’t be here anymore. The storefronts will change. New restaurants will open. New buildings will go up. And a fresh new batch of students will arrive. Your home is constantly changing. You can never go back to it, just as it was. Your friends will move to different places. Some will move back home. Some will move to new and exciting cities. Some will be just an hour away. Some will be a flight away. Some will be close enough for regular happy hours and nights out. But you know for certain that it will never be the same. You’ll never all live in the same place again. For the rest of your life, you’ll have to travel further than across the hall to see the people you call family. You’ll have get togethers, and brunches, and weekend getaways, but you can never go back “home.” And that leaves you feeling…kind of homeless. You know it will get better. You know you’ll eventually be happy in your new life. You’ll have close friendships and relationships. You’ll get that dream job. And you’ll fall in love. And even though it seems impossible, you know you’ll find a new home some day. But that doesn’t make it better. That almost makes it worse. It scares you. It scares you, because you’ll miss your life so much it hurts. But mostly, it scares you that someday you might not miss it any more at all. There's nothing anyone can say to make that feeling go away. And it’s okay to be sad. It feels truly unfair –cruel, even– that you were given the most amazing experience of your life, just to have it taken all away. I know it’s hard. I know it hurts, but remember this: you are one of the lucky ones. You were lucky enough to have something in your life that was wonderful enough to make it this difficult to leave it behind."

Those last couple paragraphs hit the closet to home for me. Because the idea of not being this in love with Honduras one day terrifies me. The idea of loving something more than I love Honduras right now is devastating to me.

And throughout all of my crying, I've said "Why would God let me come here and meet such wonderful people and make such wonderful friends, if I just have to say good-bye to them!?" at least fifty times.

But when it comes down to it, I am one of the lucky ones. I was blessed with this opportunity, these kids, these friends, this adventurous life in a beautiful country. And it's so hard to say good-bye to the life that I've been living, but thank goodness I have something so amazing to say good-bye to.

I truly am one of the lucky ones.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

See You When I See You

Let's don't say goodbye; I hate the way it sounds. So if you don't mind, let's just say for now, "See you when I see you, another place,some other time." If I ever get down your way or you're ever up around mine, we'll laugh about the old days and catch up on the new. Yeah see you when I see you and I hope it's some day soon.

The end of the school year this year looks so very different than the end of the school year last year. Last year the end of the school year was filled with hugs and smiles, promises to "see you in six weeks!" and plans to meet each other at the beach. Cleaning my classroom meant organizing things the way I wanted to find them when I returned and writing plans meant figuring out what I wanted to teach this school year.

This year the end of the school year has been filled with tear stained faces and choked up goodbyes, hugs that say "I love you more than I know how to put into words" and whispers of "I'll never forget you." Cleaning my classroom means handing my things over to person that I've never met and writing plans means handing over my babies to a person I've never met.

Up until Friday no one at the school had seen me cry; I'd become very good at holding it in until I could sob in my own bed. But then Friday hit and I had to say goodbye to my students. All of a sudden all of my students and the entire staff at the school has seen me sob. Not just a few tears rolling down my cheeks, but full blown sobbing. 

Saying goodbye to my munchkins was hard. Harder than I could have ever expected. The day passed as it normally would with nothing out of the ordinary except hugs that lasted a little longer and a slightly higher than normal number of "I love you"s exchanged. I even made it through saying goodbye and hugging each and every one of my Grade Twos without tears or a lump in my throat. Grade One and I were another story. Our tears started almost instantly and did not stop for a loooooong time. 

Have you ever seen a puppy wandering around like it's lost with a sad, forlorn look upon it's face? That's what I looked like after school on Friday. I would walk a couple of steps, hug a child, and cry. Walk a couple of more steps, hug a different child, and cry some more. And repeat. For thirty minutes before I finally shut myself in the house and cried on the couch. 

Made it three days without tears, which, during this season of my life, is pretty impressive. But then I woke up this morning ALREADY CRYING. And the tears continued while I cleaned my classroom. While I met with parents. While I organized materials that will be used by a teacher who isn't me in a classroom that won't be mine anymore. And though they stopped for a little while, they continued again the moment that Cristian walked out of our house for the last time.

I thought that saying goodbye to my students was hard, but saying goodbye to my best friend was even harder. While I know that all the changes taking place are exciting and necessary for all of us, I still resist them with everything inside of me. I'm happy here. With my life exactly the way it is. And I don't want it to change. 

Logically, I know that it has to. Emotionally, I'm holding on to this life with two hands.

I never knew that I wanted a Honduran brother, I never knew that I needed another best friend. In Cristian I found both of these things. And saying goodbye, or, rather, see you when I see you, was a lot harder than I ever could have imagined.

So the tears continued. They continued as I wrote recuperation exams and they continued throughout our all staff luncheon. They continued until I walked into the library and was greeted by two of my student running at me for a hug and yelling "Meeees Kay-leeeen!" 

I know that I have been beyond blessed here in Honduras. I've made incredible friends, I've taught amazing students. But having all of these life-changing experiences and knowing all of these wonderful people makes goodbyes that much harder. It would be easy to say adios to a place that I don't have any connection to. Here I am, though, in a country that I have completely fallen in love with and with people who mean the world to me. Saying goodbye to them might actually kill me. 

While I'm excited for the adventures that lie ahead, I much prefer the end of last year to the end of this year. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I'm Torn And It's Tearing Me Apart

Being a teacher is hard. Hard. Difficult. Difícil.

I'm not talking about the content. I'm really awesome at adjectives and my rendition of the alphabet is on point. I can properly punctuate a sentence with the best of them. But I am in charge of shaping young minds. Young minds that are going to grow into doctors, teachers, lawyers, professionals.

And they've been given to ME.

The content lessons are easy. Pinterest has lots of activities to make learning blends memorable or games to aide in letter sound acquisition. The character building, the tending to their precious hearts, is the hard part.

We've tackled bullying, we've fought against tattling, we've explored how to express our anger in a positive way. These past few weeks we've been working through something I had never expected-- how to express our emotions when we don't possess the language nor do we completely understand what is happening.

I leave this country in 34 short days. But our last day of school is on FRIDAY. Friday. As in, three days from now. In three days, I have to say good-bye to the 45 smiling faces who have weaseled their way into my hearts and refuse to let go.

This is challenging enough for me as a 23 year old adult who can grasp what is happening and who made this decision. It's exponentially harder for those 45 smiling faces.

They understand that something is happening. They understand that Miss Caitlin is going back to the United States.

But that's about where their understanding stops.And that's about all they can express. They don't have the language to delve deeper into their feelings nor can they really even comprehend why they're feeling the way that they do.

But they're hurting. I'm hurting. And I'm hurting even more when I watch them hurting. My heart breaks to know that they're feeling this way and that I'm the one who has caused it. We've been doing devotionals throughout the year and this time of hurting has provided us with many opportunities to talk about how sometimes God calls people to do things that they don't want to do and hurts their hearts, but God always knows what is best for them. Jonah was called to Ninevah, Miss Caitlin is called out of Honduras.

Grade Two and I have been together since day one. Together we've been to hell and back. I'm not kidding. They're tough and I'm stubborn. We've seen the worst of each other and we've seen the best of each other. There's 23 kids in that class and each one of them has an incredibly vibrant personality. Each one of them craves personal attention ALL THE TIME. The boys in Grade Two are ALL boy. 100% boy. They live and breathe sports and interact with each other using violence. It's not uncommon to have at least two boys fist fighting on the floor. And that's normal.

Out of all the things that Grade Two and I have done together, we have NEVER taken a good class picture. Someone is always moving, someone is always pouting, someone is always missing, someone is always blocking someone else's face. For whatever reason, taking pictures with Grade Two is like pulling teeth.

But today Grade Two and I took a class picture and I was almost moved to tears. Sarah came in to take a picture with the students and then Tony and I stepped in to take a class picture. In Sarah's picture the kids were in one long line with a couple jolly students sitting in front-- more like what you would expect a typical class picture to look like. The second Tony and I stepped in, they climbed on top of us. Every single kid wanted to be by Miss Caitlin and Mr. Tony. Some of them didn't surprise me. The fact that they girls wanted to hug us was no shocker. But two of my BOYS wanted to be next to me. Two of the boys who haven't shown much interest in Miss Caitlin. Ever. And then after taking our picture, they each gave me a hug. Before they realized that they were boys and hugging the teacher isn't cool and went right back to punching each other.

Their precious, tender hearts. After all this time together and I'm still surprised at the things they say and do.

Being a teacher is hard. Character building has been hard-- on all of us. But it's been worth it. Getting glimpses into their precious, tender hearts is so worth it. They've grown, I've grown, we've grown together.

In the same way we've gone through hell and back together, we'll get through this difficult season of good-byes and transitions together. We'll all come out stronger on the other side.

And just to lighten up a pretty heavy post, here are all the class pictures that Grade Two and I have taken together over the past two years. Crazy, hectic photos. Precious, wonderful memories.

While they were in Grade 1-- ice cream party
While they were in Grade 1-- with Mr. Carl
While they were in Grade 1-- the Science Fair
While they were in Grade 1-- One Day Without Shoes
Now that they're in Grade 2-- supporting La H
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Cultural Day
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Thanksgiving
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Christmas
Now that they're in Grade 2-- with Mr. Carl
Now that they're in Grade 2-- February 27th
Now that they're in Grade 2-- the 100th Day of School
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Language Coffeehouse
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Mini-Olympics
Now that they're in Grade 2-- Mini-Olympics
Now that they're in Grade 2-- One Day Without Shoes
Now that they're in Grade 2-- their official school picture
Now that they're in Grade 2-- the picture that nearly broke my heart
Being a teacher is hard. Hard. Difficult. Difícil. Being a teacher is worth it. Worth it. Vale la pena.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

One Day Without Shoes-- 2014 Edition

If I had to rank my favorite holidays, TOMS One Day Without Shoes would fall somewhere between my birthday and Thanksgiving. Probably right around the 4th of July, truthfully.

Every year TOMS hosts One Day Without Shoes to help raise awareness of the hardships faced by others throughout the world. What started as a campaign to fight against the lack of shoes has grown into a company that aides in providing shoes, glasses, and water to many people throughout the world. Their website, One for One, shows how help is distributed and in what capacities.

In my short career as I teacher, I have now facilitated One Day Without Shoes three times. I would like to say that each time has gotten better and better. This year my students and I spent exponentially more time taking about social injustices and how they can help than we have in the past. I also showed them a One Day Without Shoes promotional video and they begged me to watch it at least 10 times. Slowly but surely, thdse kiddos are learning.

As well as going without shoes for a day, the students were encouraged to bring in gently used shoes and/ or school supplies to donate to one of the local schools in town. I'm a firm believer in the notion that even the smallest person can make a difference in the life of someone else and I am desperately trying to help my kids learn this as well.

Grade Two takes their shoes off.

Grade One takes their shoes off.

 CEE takes their shoes off.

Next year will you join us? The premise is simple, the effects are profound.

One Day Without Shoes: 2013 Edition and One Day Without Shoes: 2012 Edition

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Am The Greatest Version Of Myself...

...while laughing in the passenger seat of your car.

The majority of my friendship with Karen can be summed up by me riding shotgun in her car while listening to teen pop music, telling ridiculous stories, and laughing just a little bit too loudly.

But the tables were turned just a little bit this Spring Break when SHE CAME TO SPEND THE WEEK WITH ME IN HONDURAS!! I still get excited thinking about it. I cannot stress it enough; it is so, so great having people from home come visit me.

We actually hadn't even planned this trip until it come up in conversation that we had the same Spring Break. Two hours upon having this realization, tickets were bought. Two short weeks later, Karen would be on her way to Honduras. And let me tell you, there are few things greater than thinking you might not see your best friend for at least three months but all of a sudden realizing that you will see her in fourteen days.
I couldn't contain my elation. I was SOOOO happy!
I was so anxious to see Karen. I didn't sleep the night before. All morning I was smiling and screaming about how happy I was. I was in a fantastic mood until I realized that we were running late and she was going to be waiting for us at the airport. At which point I became very cranky. But then I screamed the whole way down the road leading to the airport and jumped out of Cristian's car before it came to a complete stop. And then screamed in the airport when I actually saw her. I regret nothing.

We started off Karen's Honduran adventure with a trip to Denny's. A real Honduran meal, ya know? But then on the way home we go roadside fruit and stopped at my favorite Honduran chair before picking up everyone else and riding in the back of a pickup truck to go get pupusas. Which is far more Honduran than Denny's.

The essence of Honduras.
I'm obsessed with this chair. I'm obsessed with these people.
When in Honduras, do as Honduran do.
Las Cabanas-- a true Honduran meal. 
Day Two was spent at Water Island. Where we ate some of the best fried chicken I have ever consumed. Going to the pool in April will never get old. Going to the pool with my best friend in April will never get old.

We ventured to Comayagua and the creepy playground on Day Three. The church was just as beautiful as always and the town was just as hot. Unfortunately, the playground equipment at the playground is all breaking (shocker, I know), so it's just being more and more of a disappointment. The rickety, old wooden bridge never disappoints though.

My really photogenic friends.
Things you don't see in Ohio. Ever.

We drove to La Ceiba for the end of the week and spent a day in Cayos Cochinos. It. Was. Beautiful. The 45 minute boat ride was all sorts of painful, but we could not stop laughing. Held some snakes, snorkeled a little, ate some fish, gathered some shells. General beach things. The words "It's so beautiful here" were said no less than 50 times that day.

The two people who know me better than anyone else.
My people.
Welcome to Cayos!

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. I love being in Honduras, but it is SO HARD to be away from everyone in the States. It meant the world to me to have Karen here and show her what my life has been like for the past two years. And, just like it was with my family, saying goodbye was so much harder than I could have imagined. I am so, so grateful for my family and the friends who have stuck with me despite the physical distance I insist on putting between us.

The time together is always wonderful and better than I could ever hope. The goodbyes always bring me to tears. Please come back. :(