Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Time of Transition

These last few months have brought a whirlwind of transitions to my life.  They have all been positive things, but they haven't all been easy to walk through.  These transitions look like leaving a college dorm, graduating and moving to a new state across country from everyone I know.  It also looks like the transition of dating/engagement to being married.  I am transitioning from full-time student to full-time work to support myself and my husband as he focuses on seminary.  Like I said - good things, but stretching and sometimes painful.

The hardest thing I have been walking through these past few months has been loneliness.  LONELY!?  How is it fair for me, a newly married woman, blessed with a loving and godly husband, to say that I have been lonely?  My husband is supportive and loving and sympathetic in all things, but it has been hard to deal with the loss of many girlfriends around me.  I am thankful that it is not a straight up loss of the girlfriends.  I still have the support of daily texts and skyping and the knowledge they are praying for me and with me.  However, the distance has been hard.

When I made the transitions to different schools in highschool there were people right there in classes and activities to become fast friends with.  When I made the new transition to college, there was the soccer team that became my family and best friends, making the transition easier.  Friendships were being made all around and sticking fast.  This transition has been different.  This time I don't have sports or clubs or classes to make friends in.  How do I go out and make new friends?

There have been many tears shed through this journey.  I am thankful for my time in Panama where I felt a little bit of this loneliness as well.  Being in a new country and staying with a family I hardly knew at all, it felt distant from all things sure and steady.  Now I walk a similar journey, thankful every day that I walk it with my husband by my side.  During that hard time in Panama I was able to cling tight to my Jesus as He filled that need.  My relationship with Him was strengthened and I was thankful for the pain as my faith grew.

Here, in Texas, I have a similar perspective.  I feel heavy and sad at times and it's hard to be positive through it, but I also am joyful in the thought that this time of heart-heaviness is going to produce a closeness with my Savior that is worth it all.  True, I don't smile through the promised joy and growth, I frown and pout and complain selfishly. But I know that God is the one who will carry me through despite my own weakness.

I was talking with my mother-in-law today.  She walked a similar journey not so long ago.  She understood my need in marriage for girlfriends to pray, laugh, talk and grow with.  But she was the one to remind me that though there is a need, God fulfills all my needs.  I was struck with the thought: what if I was far off, by myself, without promise of friendship or support for years, would God be enough?  What if I didn't have a loving husband by my side, and a new job around the corner... would God be enough?  God has answered the pain I've been facing with peace.  It is something I know He will continue to fill my life with as He uses this time to remove my close friends and family in terms of distance, and fills that hole with Himself.

This is not the end of the journey.  I am still walking through it.  However, at a seminary wives group I went to the other day I was handed this thought.  Sometimes we expect to walk with God and pump out the growth at a high-rate pace.  When considering the vine and the branches, those branches did not produce fruit at some supernaturally fast tempo, it is a natural process.  If we (the branches) are walking in closeness with our Savior (the vine) we will naturally be producing the fruit.  God works through and in us with His timing.  Yes I want to scream, GIVE ME FRIENDS, FILL MY NEEDS, BRING ME COMFORT... NOW!  But I can cling to the promise that God will sustain me, HE will fill my needs, bring friendships, bring comfort.  I know that I will look back at this time and see how God chose to walk me through this time and draw me closer to Himself.  And I can be thankful by God's grace.

This is not the end of the journey, but with the right perspective it is exciting to think where and how God is going to meet these needs.  God has been is and will be faithful.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Summer Project: Chair Affair

Wow, it has been a long time again since I've blogged.  I often consider blogging, but really just need to confidently go at it.  This summer has been a summer of change.  Graduating college, getting married and moving halfway across country to Texas.  I guess I do have a lot to share here, but we'll start with the little things.  I've had a lot of time since we moved to Texas to do some fun projects.  I also did some when I was home before the wedding.  We'll  start there.

My mom is famous for finding GREAT furniture in the trash, left outside people's houses.  She has a heart for saving them.  She also is very gifted at stripping/painting/rebuilding them to make them beautiful.  Probably 95 percent of the furniture in our house is from trash finds.  I have always wanted to have the same DIY fixing-up skills passed down to me.  Those skills are still being worked on. 

When I came home from college, my mom found these really gross '70's looking chairs in the trash.  If I had driven by them, I wouldn't have been inspired like she was.  But I'm thankful she was because she gave them to me to do what I wanted.  This was my first "big" project like this so I was very excited!  These are what the chairs looked like before:
I guess they aren't terrible.  Just not my favorite...  Anyways, I have wanted to have a blue and yellow kitchen for a while.  So I decided to make these chairs blue and yellow.  My mom and I went to Joann Fabrics.  We looked at some different materials to cover that terrible yellow cover.  I came up with blue and white polka-dots.  I like fun and bright. I set to work right away covering the chairs, simply using a nail gun.

Since I was going with a blue and yellow theme I decided to paint the chairs yellow.  We started with spray paint because of all the twists and turns on the chair.  However, that was a disaster. I used a white base and then went on to the yellow.  It took about 4 cans of yellow paint to even start covering the chairs...

 So, we decided to buy some yellow paint and by hand add the rest of the coats.  I really think it took about 7 coats.  My problem with DIY projects is that I expect everything to take no time at all and turn out perfect.  I have had to work hard at patience and being thankful for the time it takes when things turn out nice.  (My mom is good about that, so hopefully those genes will show up sometime too.)  After the effort I was excited about the turn out... here are my new kitchen colors chairs!  Too bad I have a burnt orange wall in my new apartment.  (figures)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

To Bocas and Back

I can't believe my spring break is already coming to an end!  It was something I had been looking forward to for so long!  Bethany and I had been planning on going on a fun vacation trip in Panama during it.  We went to Bocas (on the Caribbean side of Panama) for 4 days with our fellow student teacher Kayla.  It was such a nice time.  It had been a while since I had just been able to slow down, not worry about what to do the next day or have a check list of things to cross off.  I got all my lesson plans for the week after break done the week before so that I could really just relax and enjoy the time with the girls.  It was a week of first time experiences and many memories:

Day 1:  We left Panama City on Saturday night.  We were able to 'enjoy' a 10 hour bus trip to get to the mainland.  Sunday morning we took a water taxi over to the island of Bocas where we stayed in the main strip that was filled with hostels, hotels, restaurants and shops.  For our first day there we decided to stay and explore the main street there.  We went to many different shops looking at souvenirs and hand crafted bags and jewelry. 

We then went over to a beach that was on the same island.  It was not a super popular beach, but I thought it was beautiful!  We just laid out on the beach and read books.  I had started "The Hunger Games" on my plane flight here, and read the second and third books while on this vacation.  We went to dinner at a place called "Le Pirate" when we got back and crashed at the hostel we stayed at for that first night.

 Day 2:  The hostel was not our favorite.  That was one of those first experiences where we didn't know what to expect and it was good to be able to experience it, but we decided not to stay.  The place was very dirty and very open.  We checked into a hotel for a night (it was booked for the rest of the nights, but we were thankful to have one night to ourselves). 

 Then we went on to have an amazing day taking a boat tour.  The boat brought us to a place called "Dolphin Cove".  We saw a lot of dolphins swimming by, which was a very cool experience!  We then got to go snorkeling at two different spots.  By the time we got to the second one it had gotten a bit chilly out and I was in my sweatshirt debating whether I should go in.  Kayla and Bethany both told me I had to and I'm thankful they did!  The fish and coral were different in both spots.  I told Bethany and Kayla that I was thinking the whole time about how much of God's creation I haven't seen, and seeing this underwater world has just deepened my awe of how big and creative God is.  I had gone snorkeling before in St. Thomas and even compared to that time the fish and life I saw this time was completely different!  We had lunch on the boat, got pretty burned up, and went back to Bocas for the night.

 We ate at a very cool restaurant that had sand for a floor and was open air.  It had a big screen set up too where they played surf videos.  Some nights they had different entertainment like fire blowers or dancing.  We enjoyed our time there and then went back to our hotel room. 

 We had a tiny tv in the hotel room where Kayla and I were so excited to find the Kentucky championship game on as well as Harry Potter (The Half Blood Prince).  Both were in Spanish but who needs to know what commentators were saying, and we knew the story of Harry Potter well enough to still appreciate it.

Day 3:  We slept in!  That was a great feeling!  Then we got ready to go to the beach for the day.  We went over to another island to a beach called Red Frog Beach.  We just enjoyed being quiet and reading on the beach again.

 Kayla and I went for a short hike in the jungle and decided we wanted to go real hiking for our last day.  After staying at the beach for a while we took a water taxi back to Bocas.  We had to move into a third place to stay and this time it was another hostel.  This hostel was much nicer, cleaner, and had our own bathroom! 

As we were getting ready to go out the power went out all over the island.  We were hungry and wondered where we would find a place to eat.  There was a boat docked as a restaurant that had power, though, so we had a great dinner there while waiting for the power to come back on.  As we finished up our meal it did!  We then spent the night sharing a hostel room with a girl from Germany and two girls from Canada.  New experiences continued.

Day 4:  This was our hiking day.  We were so excited about it as we started off.  The sun was shining, we got sandwiches to take and got all ready to go.  The plan was to walk along Red Frog Beach until the shoreline disappeared.  We were told that at that point we could walk up into the jungle and there would be an unmarked trail.  We were warned it might be a little muddy but as it hadn't started raining much it wouldn't be too bad.  Well.... a little muddy was exactly opposite of what it was.  By the time we finished hiking through it had started pouring, our shoes, legs, shorts and shirts were soaked and caked with mud.  It was quite the adventure!  Kayla and I thought it was so funny, but poor Bethany who was trying to do it in flip flops didn't find it as funny until much later.  =) 

 When we got through the jungle to the next beach we sat in the pouring rain, eating soggy sandwiches and laughing at the turn of events.  We decided not to continue on, but to start going back to Red Frog Beach.  We went back and headed back to the main island since it was still pouring.  Once back we napped and read more in our room. We then went back to our favorite pizza place in the sand.  We had a good dinner, and enjoyed our last night in Bocas together. 

God has been continuing to grow me, as I have to slow myself down.  The culture here is so much less task oriented.  Whereas I am list focused and on-the-go, this time off was good for me to slow down, spend time in the Word and just settle my heart.  It has been testing to rely on people around me and to go with their schedules, waiting to get things done that I need to.  I know that through this test of patience God is using it to build Christ-likeness in me.  I am thankful for the time He is spending on my life, teaching me these new things and allowing me these new learning (and sight-seeing) experiences!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Faith Like a Child

I have begun transitioning into my new home here in Panama.  Now it is spring break!! I have been waiting for this since Christmas break! Really looking forward to some time off - at the beach/on an adventure!  I will be updating this blog about my week once it happens!

Today, though, rather than share new stories about Panama my heart was touched by the responses my students gave on their Bible tests.  There was a journal question that asked the students to write why being in God's family is so special to you. Now there are some students that probably do not fully understand what salvation is.  There are also others who have not made the choice to become a child of God yet.  And others wrote the 'sunday school answer' just to get a good grade.  All this being said, every single one made my heart smile because of the innocence and sweetness of these children.  The childlike faith shone through.  Here are some of the responses - I hope they encourage you too.

~ "Because I can be in a place where everything is good, and I can be with the best person ever... Jesus."
~ "Because I am going to heaven and be with Jesus and God."
~ "God made us.  We love God and God loves us and he sent His only son named Jesus."
~ "Because He is the Savior, and no body else is the Savior - He is the King."
~ "Being God's child is a big thing because it means that you don't have to go to hell."
~ "He is the last sacrifice so I put Him in my heart to obey Him.  So now and always I'm God's child.  And all of us are if we accept Him as our God."
~ "Because He created me."
~ "Because we can live eternal life and He is powerful."
~ "I think that it is really nice to be God's family because He promises that He protects you from evil and sin."
~ "Cause I can always be with Him"
~ "Because Jesus saved the whole world."
~ "Because being with God is so cool.  It is anything you could ever imagine, and so that I can tell other people about God so they can go to heaven."
~ "Because He is the miraculous God and He is holy - hasn't ever sinned ever.  I feel safe with God from the devil."
~ "Because God is very special."
~ "Because He died on the cross for our sins."
~ "Because it's to be with God.  God is the best reason you can imagine.  To be in God's family is to be God's child.

*Grammar and spelling edited ;-)

What a blessing to read these at the end of a long week!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prepared for this time

My time here in Panama has had it's challenges.  Being away from Gavin has been the hardest part by far.  I am learning a lot about perspective and trusting God.  I have been encouraged by the truth that God has prepared me for this very day here in Panama.  He has filled my life with peaks and trials up until this point.  He has shaped and molded me for the difficult things I am facing, as well as the joys I am experiencing.  2 Corinthians 5:5 has been a verse I have had to put in my mind daily.  "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge."  God, the one who loves me more than any other and who gives me my very life, has prepared me for this.
I also find myself partially at fault for the struggles I've been having... I prayed that God would teach me and grow me a lot while I was down here.  =)  I know that He is answering this prayer because I know that through struggles and fighting in my soul comes relief and peace in God.  It is Him that I am working on clinging to, and He is the one that is daily filling me with peace and strength even when I do not feel I have it.
I am very thankful for this opportunity and I'm thankful that God loves me enough to teach me.  I am learning both about my God and how to teach while I am here.  I have had sweet experiences with the students and this past weekend was able to spend some time with Bethany seeing around Panama.

Sweet Students
As roudy as my class is during this placement, they are just the sweetest kids one-on-one!  These are some cute conversations I had with some of them my first week here in Panama:

- I talked with one little girl on the first day, asking her what some of her favorite places are to see in Panama.  I was expecting some kind of neat Panamanian place, but instead the girl told me all about her favorite malls.  She was very concerned with my safety though and made sure to tell me with wide eyes, "Don't be lost though!"

- One little boy on the first day of school came up to me in the classroom and whispered to me, "They call me the origami master!"  He then proceeded to hand me a paper swan and heart.

- In the first family I stayed with they had triplet girls.  One night I was home with one of the girls and we were talking about how I was going to get married.  She asked me what my name was going to change to.  I told her, "Gromacki".  She responded, "Sandy Gromacki... yes that sounds good.   Not like Sandy Bilbau or something..."  Where that came from I don't know but I thought it was so funny!

- A little boy was answering a question about what we were talking about in Bible class.  We had been talking about the resurrection.  This little boy preferred to call it, "When Jesus got revived."

Ah, the sweet hearts of children. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Time to Trust

Week one in Panama

After struggling again with getting signed into my blog I finally figured it out so I could write about my first week here in Panama City, Panama!  I have been here now one week and one day.  The time has gone by fast already!  Bethany and I left last Saturday night and flew to Georgia and connected from there to Panama.  We got in late.  It is an hour earlier here so we were tired by the time we had arrived.  When we first got into NY to leave for GA, I got to be the lucky one selected for a screening!  I thought it was gonna be a whole long process then, but all they did was pull me to the side and wipe my hands with a wet napkin thing. 

And we were off.  Bet and I had some interesting people on the plane with us.  It was nice that we could sit together for both flights.  On our second flight there were some roudy people in the back of the plane with us.  One man laughed suuuuper loud the entire flight.  It just made me laugh every time.  There was also missions group on the same flight.  One man in front of us started witnessing to a Catholic lady as we were landing.  It was neat to hear their conversation.  While we didn't get to participate in the conversation, we were able to pray for the man as he shared with the lady.

We got in to Panama around 9:30/10.  It felt like 11 to us, so we were tired.  We probably could have napped on the plane, but I just read The Hunger Games the whole time.  I read about 90% of it on the trip down and finished it my first week here.  I have the second one to read too, but I'm saving it for our week off coming up!

My first couple of days transitioning to Panama were interesting.  My birthday was on Sunday - the first full day we were there.  I was with my host family the whole day and we went to breakfast in the morning.  They ordered for me really because I hardly know any Spanish.  I remember some things as we go because of the high school classes I took, but I don't know it conversationally.  They ordered me eggs with tomatoes they said.  It ended up being fried eggs with tomato sauce lathered allllll over it!  It was interesting and I liked it enough to eat it all, but I don't know that I'd order it again.  =)

After brunch we made our way to the mall.  The family owns a little gift shop in the mall.  We then went to the club they attend.  We went swimming, had lunch and I played with the girls a lot.  This family has triplet girls.  They are so sweet and funny.  It was a nice birthday, but very different.  I was a little homesick through it and because my student teaching ended in my first placement on Friday and I was starting in a new country on Monday I had a hard time with that quick transition period.

School during the week helped me though.  The students are so wonderful.  Granted my class is high on energy and quite... boisterous, I still enjoyed being with them.  The students are affectionate right away.  I got hugs the second they saw me.  They were the encouragement I needed to get me through the beginning of the week.  Now, don't get me wrong... I am so excited about this opportunity and so thankful for it!  I was just having a harder time transitioning right away.  I had internet issues at my host family home which was hard for me because that was my link home, as well as my way of finding tools and things for lessons to teach.  It took the whole week to work out the internet issue, as well as sort out other things.  I am going to be staying at a new home soon and will have the internet to use there.  

In spite of me missing home, struggling through the transitioning and finding my feet here in Panama, God already began teaching me, growing me and stretching me.  I am using a journal devotional book called Jesus Calling that a great friend of mine gave me.  The first day I was at the school, I read "Choose to trust me daily".  I have known for a long time that I rely on and am often around people too much.  I know that having friends and family who I can rely on is a great blessing that I am so thankful for.  However, the beginning of this semester I was around people 24-7 and had become burnt out from it.  I needed this trip.  I have found that being away from the comfortable things, having to cling only to my God, and seeing more and more my need for Him has already strengthened my faith.  If nothing else I am thankful that being here has grown me and will continue to grow me in that way.

I have such a great need for God.  He has given me immense peace in times when I have felt the most out of place.  He has answered prayers in the little things as well as the big since I have been here.  He has given me comfort and strength in my weakness.  He is ALL I need, and being here, He is often all I have.  I am grateful to be able to have this time with Him.  The pace here is also slower and I've had a lot more time on my own and alone with God, which was much needed in the craziness of my life schedule back home.

I pray as I continue the next 5 weeks here that God will continue to place challenges in my life that draw me tighter and tighter to Himself.  I pray that He gives me a way to impact the people here, students, parents and staff at the school.  I pray that He blesses the people I miss at home, and am so thankful to Him that He has allowed me to be here in a new world!