Stuff Worth Sharing: Hong Kong

Stuff Worth Sharing: Hong Kong

One of the perks of living in the Philippines is the seat sales on Cebu Pacific. Not the most on-time airline unless you fly out early in the morning, but it gets you where you need to go and at a great price. Last month we found a couple of round trip tickets to Hong Kong and jumped at the chance to get a little vacation and explore another city.

Hong Kong is just a two hour flight from Manila but drastically different. Less traffic, more trees, and a beautiful mix of east and west – it was my first time to explore this city and I found a few things I think are worth sharing.

Octopus Card

I heard about this helpful piece of plastic before we arrived, but I didn’t realize how convenient it actually would be. The Octopus Card is a reusable card used for payment on public transit around Hong Kong and it’s also so much more. It’s accepted at most restaurants and stores like 7-Eleven, leaving you more worry free about needing to carry so much cash. The public transportation system feels flawless (especially coming from Manila) and we never waiting more than 5 minutes for a train. You can buy the card at any train station (we got ours as soon as we arrived), loading up the minimum amount of $100 HK. You also pay a $50 HK deposit which you can get back when you return the card at the end of your trip in addition to cashing out any left over money on the card (we returned ours at the train station where you catch the airport train). Simple, convenient, and looks cool too.

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Mingle by the Park

We watch HGTV and we saw the common theme for Hong Kong dwellings: small. Even still, finding an affordable place to stay wasn’t hard (Trent did a lot of online research). With the expectation that wherever we stay in the city would be tight quarters, we weren’t disappointed with what we found at Mingle by the Park. Located just a few blocks from the Wan Chai MTR station on Hong Kong Island, it was convenient for walking and transit. We found a close by market with fruits we bought for breakfast each day (cherries!) and multiple nearby coffee shops (see below) to choose from. Rooms were clean, bed was comfortable, price affordable, and I liked drinking the complimentary tea while standing on the balcony each morning.

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McDonald’s Next 

This. Blew. My. Mind. McDonald’s is most notable for convenience – with their drive throughs and literal fast food. In Manila we often order for delivery and have it come right to our condo door (dangerous ability, I know). But here in Hong Kong (and I’m told in Singapore too), they have leveled up their game.

Touch screens to place your order, cell phone charging stations at each table, staff who deliver your food to you in a presentation which rivals any Chili’s or TGI Friday’s I’ve experienced. More than a place to grab a quick bite to eat, this McDonald’s is an experience – and one I hope is just a glimpse of what we’ll see from them in the future.

For coffee enthusiasts, their espressos are made on a McDonald’s-yellow Victoria Arduino Black Eagle (the machines used at the World Barista Competition). Don’t expect light roasted coffee, but this is definitely a giant leap above other McCafes.

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McDonald’s Next is located just off of the Admiralty MTR station.


Coffee

Filters Lane  (111 Caine Road, SoHo) – We stayed here the longest – partly for the coffee, and mostly for the friendly service and connection we made with the owner and barista. We loved hearing the stories of the Hong Kong coffee scene and getting business advice from the owner of this well designed cafe with delicious coffee. Another favourite part: these cups that are served on a wooden tray that holds them upright. But set it down on the table and it also won’t tip, leaning on the handle of the cup in a perfect weight design.

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The Cupping Room (32 Swallow Street, Wan Chai) – A speciality chain with the best tasting Americano I’ve had in my life: smooth and sweet, a blend of coffee from South America. They champion their 2nd place win in the World’s Barista Competition a few years ago and they deserve it: well designed spaces and well presented beverages. We were impressed by how they elevate their barista position as well, explaining to us that certain beverages couldn’t be made that day because their barista was at a different shop at the moment.

Omotesando Koffee (this is Trent’s favourite website of all time, be sure to click!) – INTERIOR DESIGN HEAVEN. Minimalist. Quiet. Light. Oh, and the coffee is just as delicious. The customer flow is notable as well – as soon as you walk in the front door, you’re greeted by a person behind the counter who is ready to take your order and answer any questions. He inputs your order to a computer and hands you a printed ticket that you take up the stairs to hand to the barista. While your coffee is being made, you can watch and chat with the barista who’s attire resembles a mad scientist. Taking your drink to an empty table, you swing a stool out from beneath the table top and have a seat to drink the beverage and relax in the quiet surroundings.

Hazel & Hershey (Shop 3, 69 Peel, Central) – If you need to know where to get coffee gear in Hong Kong: this is your place! Here you’ll find helpful staff who advise on the perfect brew method and and an entire wall filled with your heart’s desire in home brew equipment and espresso machine accessories. If you’re there to drink some coffee, I recommend ordering the nitrous cold brew. We also may have geeked out a little over the fact that they sell coffee from Project Origin, World Barista Champion Sasa Sestic’s coffee distribution company.

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Tea

As she brewed us a remarkable aged puerh tea, the woman at Gong Fu Teahouse explained that while their company has been around for a while, they are trying to brand themselves now in such a way that appeals to the younger generation. Our friend at Filters Lane also told us that tea, it seems, is more for the older generation while the millennials are gravitating toward coffee. We’d love to highlight both of these delicious beverages at Narrative Coffee Company, so we’re always up for exploring both worlds!

Bonus HK Tip: Try the duck and egg tarts from any restaurant where you can’t read the menu.

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Nothing to Prove

It was only a dream.

But it was the kind of dream that wakes you up feeling like you need to stare at the scrolling credits of a movie long enough to process what just happened.

None of it was real.

But the truths were all to real.

I was me: same person, different back story. I lived with my mom and siblings in a split level condo. From the living room, there’s a narrow set of L-shaped stairs that lead up to a platform which receives the front door. There is a doormat.

I don’t have a father. I mean, I know I do, but I don’t know him. I don’t know what he looks like. I don’t know his name. I wonder if he knows mine.

Here’s where the narrative of the dream begins – my father is coming over.

I scurry around, cleaning and preparing. I’m distracting myself from the fear and anxiety that grips my heart. “What if he doesn’t like me? What if he leaves again? What if I’m not good enough?” I’ll carry the burden for my siblings, I’ll face him first. I’ll protect them.

I consider the fact that he’s missed out on over two decades of my life. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished. There is no basis for his approval.

I fold a blanket and put away a dish. There’s a knock at the door. I look around at my family; we freeze.

I walk up the stairs to the landing. Opening the door slowly, I peak out as soon as I’m able to glimpse the man whose genes are a part of mine.

He looks kind.

I open the door wider and he walks in slowly.

He looks at me, carefully. Then he sighs. “My daughter, you’re beautiful.”

I’m stunned. My brain races to make sense of this. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I am. And yet…

“You’re mine. You’re beautiful.”

I wake up.

My mind is alert and my eyes still closed. I am loved simply because I am his daughter. I think of my own dad, the man who loves me more than I know. The man who gave me his curly hair and taught me how to fly a kite. He loves me just because I am his daughter.

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In The Message‘s translation of Psalm 5, verse seven says: “And here I am, your invited guest – it’s incredible!” I read it and I’m that girl again, the girl from my dream. Now I’m in the banquet hall, looking around at the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I catch a glimpse of my Father and I know that I belong. I’m His invited guest. And I’m here not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who He is and who He says that I am. I’m not an impostor trying to prove my worth. I belong.

But I spend many days trying to prove myself. I feel the burden it in subtle ways: when I compare my life to others’, when shame cripples me from trying to speak this new language, when I struggle to say no to things that aren’t mine to do and I thinking my value depends on it.

In those days I’m not living as the girl in the end the dream or the girl in the banquet hall. I’m missing out on the joy of the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I’m missing out on the freedom to embrace what I have, to fail, and to say no. And I’m not able to truly extend that grace, that truth, to those around me as my energies are spent on striving toward worthiness myself.

During a season filled with those days, the dream comes to mind. The words of the father – not my earthy father, though I know he would say the same, but what if, instead, those words came straight from my Heavenly Father.

It’s been years since I woke up with those images fresh from the dream, with joy and a heaviness from another world. I’m reminded of the words spoken and the freedom felt. I’m reminded on the days I forget it, when I need to hear it, when I need to remember that my worth isn’t based off of how I compare to others. And that the worth of others isn’t based off of how they compare to me.

…when I need to remember that my worth isn’t determined by how well I accomplish something or how many times I fail or don’t measure up. And that the worth of those around me isn’t based off of how they succeed or fail either.

…when I need to remember that I can say no to things, since my value isn’t determined by what I do for others. And that the people around me can say no too, because their value is based on what they do for me.

While I may keep these truths in my head (though they’re so easily forgotten), how they take root in my heart? How can I live from them rather than striving to them? How can my first response be grace to myself and to others?

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The first step, I think, is to try.

To accept and offer grace, without fully understanding it.

To offer forgiveness, to someone I don’t feel completely deserves it.

To write about it, to create something from it, when I don’t adequately live it myself.

And to live fully now, in the banquet hall, practicing gratitude for who I am, Whose I am, and leaning to live in the freedom that comes from knowing that I don’t have to prove anything.

Enter Into the Unknown

Enter your heart into the unknown.
Ask Jesus to go with you,
His spirit to comfort you and give peace.
Let the world around you shake;
Let yourself feel the movement.
Acknowledge the fear
The panic
The unsettledness
Enter in.
He’s there too.
He’s holding you, inviting you.
There’s something deeper waiting,
Something unknown and beautiful.
The waves may be crashing around your little boat
And His is the voice that calms the storm.

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Subic, Philippines. Photo by my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Susie Schuelke

30 Secrets for Your 20s

Today’s guest writer is my sister. She wouldn’t call herself a writer, and I wouldn’t dare limit her creativity to that either. My sister is the kind of person who makes cardboard ukuleles for her entire preschool class. When she met Trent for the first time, she decorated the guest room in American flags (he’s Canadian) and left a Constitution on the bedside table. She never ceases to make me laugh or challenge my views of the world and she’s going to be really embarrassed that I’m bragging about her so much.

Seven years younger than me, Hannah’s the sister I always wanted and had to endure a brother between us to get to (jk, I love you, Eric). Now that we sit in the same decade, I love our growing friendship and how we get to learn from each other.

Recently, Hannah wrote a list of 101 secrets for your twenties, as a gift to a friend. She saw a book by the title online and decided that she could come up with a list herself, and it would save her $10. That’s my sister, creative and thrifty.

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This year I’m going to turn thirty. So in honor of my exit from this decade that binds us (I’m still in my 20s for two more months!), I want to share with you THIRTY secrets my sister has discovered to make your twenties awesome.

Note: The book never said they were helpful tips, so she’s not promising that either.

  1.  Have your parents do you taxes for as long as they are willing to.
  2. They say to separate your whites and dark clothes, but if you put both together in cold water it will probably be okay.
  3. You need sunglasses in the winter.
  4. If you ever feel bad for spending too much money, remember that you’re pouring into the economy and making a real difference.
  5. Don’t pretend you understand politics to someone who understands politics.
  6. Find a hobby, even if it’s rock collecting.
  7. Don’t be an idiot, use sunscreen.
  8. Dont always trust spellcheck.
  9. Learn another language. Or just get really good at English.
  10. Don’t kid yourself. Only kids can tell knock-knock jokes.
  11. Orange you glad I told you to eat bananas.
  12. Remember to save your documents periodically. Word doesn’t care how long you took to write something.
  13. Learn to make at least one meal well. Like Kraft Mac & Cheese!
  14. Valentine’s Day is stupid but don’t be a jerk about it.
  15. Ketchup isn’t a replacement for tomatoes.
  16. You probably shouldn’t take real advice from Buzzfeed.
  17. Marrying rich is life’s only cheat code.
  18. Flossing is probably more important than it seems.
  19. Have stickers on hand in case you need to cheer someone up.
  20. You’re allowed to still count with your fingers. Math is hard.
  21. Invest in real popcorn kernels. Microwave popcorn is beneath you.
  22. Don’t judge someone else’s music taste. Unless they listen to Nickelback.
  23. If you’re bad at lying, don’t lie.
  24. Always carry a water bottle with you.
  25. Make friends, but not too many friends. One friend is sufficient.
  26. Always have a case on your phone. We all know you’re going to drop it.
  27. Pizza is acceptable to eat for any meal, unless you’re lactose intolerant (the struggle is too real).
  28. Hug your parents!
  29. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone. If it’s embarrassing though, you should probably just sneak away and google it. Probably incognito.
  30. Don’t invest in a timeshare. Wait until your thirties to do that.

Excuse me while I go and research timeshares. Thanks, Hannah.

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Ukes by Hannah. Photo by Trinity Preschool.

Loving the Frizz

We played on the swing set determining just how we would do it. We could just switch our hair, right? Easy as that. My cousin didn’t like her straight hair. I didn’t like my curly hair. We thought anything was possible.

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That’s my head of hair sitting there on the rock.
The first time I came for a visit in the tropics, a quarter of my suitcase weight was in hair care products. Daily, I’d mousse my hair after loading it with anti-frizz serum and finishing it off with some extra-strength hair spray. You know what that got me? Frizzy hair with a lot of product.

It took a long time, I’ve come along way from that kid on the swing set, but I like my curly hair now, so I’ll take the frizz with it.

When I moved here this time, for the long haul, I knew that I’d have to find an easier hair solution here or else I’d always be transporting my hair mouse, serum, and spray back with me. That gets heavy, especially when you also like to read books and drink good coffee.  I packed a few bottles of mousse and decided that I could forgo the other product and learn to love the frizz.

To my surprise, it hasn’t been as bad as I expected. Here are some of the things I’ve decided to do to keep my frizz tamed and learn to love it:

I don’t wash my hair everyday.

I don’t know the chemical research to this and honestly, for it it started because I was running low on my favorite kind of conditioner and I wanted to save some money. But what I’m finding is, the more oil in my hair, the better the curls hold together and the better the curls hold together, the less it frizzes out. WHO KNEW.

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So … like, everyday?
I brush my hair.

WHAT!? Curly girls rise up and protest! I know, I spent nearly ten years never brushing my hair. Here’s how this one started – our shower drain is bad at catching hair. And I shed, especially while I’m washing my hair, so by the end of our first two weeks living in this new condo, our drain was clogged. I realized that if I brushed my hair in the shower, my hair would come out into the brush rather than go down the drain. So voila! For some reason, my hair seems healthier because of it and my scalp feels really nice too.

Minimal product.

This feels so counterintuitive for me, but it’s true, and again, it saves money. I went back and forth with 3 or 4 brands of hair mousse and I actually settled back on the one I’ve been using for years. (I’m well stocked for now.) It surprised me how much of a difference product can make – but with the mousse I use now, my hair feels soft and has good volume. I keep hearing things about coconut oil too, but for now I’m using that in my dog’s food so I’ll just hold off until I really need it.

Scarves.

My husband and I travel mostly on his motorbike unless it’s raining when we take a cab. Helmets + curly hair = a frizzy mess, even though I feel pretty awesome cruising through the city. One day in traffic I saw another woman on the back of a bike with a scarf covering her hair, under her helmet. GENIUS! I tried it once – pulling my hair back under the scarf and tying them together under my helmet and so far, so good. It keeps my hair in place, keeps it out of the wind, and keeps it from getting rustled by and caught in the helmet padding. Thanks, lady on the bike. You looked pretty awesome too.

Do all the updos!

I searched Pinterest for “quick and easy updos for curly hair.” If it took longer than three minutes, it did not get a re-pin. If I know that during the day ahead, I’ll be on public transportation, the hair must go up. I may risk a down-look if I’m heading to church or the mall, but there’s always a hair tie around my wrist. I found a handful of sites that had helpful tutorials on really easy ways to pull your hair back and keep it that way. Like I said, I also travel with a helmet on my head and my updo needs to stay for that too.

The first few months we lived here, I struggled with insecurity when my hair looked like I just woke up after it dried. But I started noticing something – on the days when I felt most un-beautiful, one of the guards in our building would say to me quietly, while I walked by, “Ma’am, you look beautiful today.” I’m learning that my idea that “frizzy hair = not beautiful” is just that, an idea. It’s not truth. So the other day during a business meeting, when I looked in my reflection in a window and saw what I thought was a disheveled mess on top of my head, I reminded myself that it’s just my perception and that I’m more than my frizzy hair, and I can certainly own it while I’ve got it.

What I Really Need

How can I prepare for reentry?

We’d gone just an hour outside of the city to a hotel with the view of the skyline. Looking out the window we could almost make out our building, almost. I wasn’t looking too hard because to me, it didn’t matter. We were far enough away to see how big the city really is, how many skyscrapers and how much smog. The day before I’d physically felt stress leave my body as we rolled onto the express way and away from the metro area.

I forget how much subconscious stress I carry just from living in close quarters with 20 million people.

We soaked in each moment of our getaway – no emails to answer, no urgent decisions to make – just books to read, food to eat, and long, hot baths to draw.

The day before we made the journey back on the long, elevated highway back into the city, I was determined to create a plan for reentry. I had come to this break limping, gasping for fresh air and a new perspective. How can I build more space into my daily routine, I wondered, so this doesn’t happen again.

I made lists.

I love lists.

I made categories for my responsibilities and numerous bullet points under each heading. I took the  thoughts and concepts swirling around in my head and gave them letters and words and put those on paper where they could stay and where I could see them. I made a weekly schedule, plugging in the responsibilities to numeric points on each day.

And I didn’t feel any better.

I still didn’t feel prepared to enter back into the city, swirling with pollution and people and priorities.

I’d made lists before. I’d tried plotting out my monthly schedules in a planner and keeping a weekly routine. It even worked for a couple of months.

But in a place where plans are made just as quickly as others are cancelled, where traffic can make you two hours late (or keep you from an event altogether), and where energy gets sucked by the heat alone, I can’t live in such a programmed manner.

I felt sad by this. Hopeless, even. How can I keep myself from coming to the point of exhaustion again? How can I guard myself from over committing?

I wrote my prayer in my journal, after my realization that making lists wouldn’t make it better. I asked God to help me see this from His eyes, to stay open and willing, and for Him to teach me how to keep margin.

breathe

These past few weeks have been heavy with unknowns, decisions, and an incredible amount of questions. We’ve been seeking advice and asking for wisdom and are learning and being stretched in the process. I haven’t gotten great sleep. My heart tightens when I wake up in the morning. I’d rather watch a show or scroll through Facebook with my free time because it feels like a break for my mind and heart.This morning I read the second chapter of the book of Proverbs.

“My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commands with you,
making your hear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding,
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek for it like silver
and search for it like hidden treasures…”

“Yes, yes!” I thought as I read, “Tell me what happens! I’m seeking! I’m asking! I’m calling out! What does it look like when it comes?”

“…then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.” (2:1-5)

Fear of the Lord. Understanding the fear of the Lord, that’s what comes first. This made me realize – when I seek wisdom and all out for insight, it’s not my questions that are answered immediately – God’s presence, His very self is the answer. He provides Himself and through Him, we find His knowledge.

When we wait for the things our hearts long for, we wait on God.

When we seek for wisdom and answers to questions, we seek God.

He promises to provide His Presence.

I didn’t come back into the city with a game plan, and honestly, it made me a little uncomfortable. But I did come back with an overwhelming sense of what I need, of who I need. I can’t rely on lists and schedules. But I can rely on God Himself.

Waiting and Arriving

One year ago today we landed at NAIA in Manila, Philippines. Our pug, Gordon, made it through immigration, as did we. Johann picked us up from the airport and drove us to the guesthouse where we spent our first week.

It feels like a blur, to think of it now. Scary and exciting and very much high on adrenaline and low due to jet lag.

We brought coffee from Canada which we brewed in our room. Trent looked for condos online while I tried to sleep. We explored a little and ate as much as we could and I grasped, only as much as I could, how my world was changing.

We’d spent those last few months in Canada raising the support to go. We’d spent the last few weeks waiting for the green light to book our flights. We’d spent the last few days finishing our packing and spending time with family.

Arriving in Manila, we’d reached the time and place we planned and waited for; the time we’d spoken and dreamed of from the time we were dating – we were together in the Philippines.

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Photo: @trentrollings, Instagram

One of those early mornings I sat on the guesthouse balcony with my cup of coffee, grateful for its flavor and familiarity, and reflected on this transition and this new season through writing. The words ring true and powerful in my heart, even still, as God testifies through it that He’s at work in us and is faithful to provide and to show us glimpses of what He’s doing as we follow Him. Here are those words, typed close to a year ago today:

I know this feeling, I’ve experienced it before – once, though it only lasted a year or so. I had just started my job as a mobilizer. I just moved into my apartment and finally had things unpacked, settled, and semi-decorated. I was stable. There was no more support to raise, no more classes to take, and no more “So what next?” questions from friends and strangers. I was where I was. I had a job, a place to live, and a decent amount of student loans tethering me there for at least a few years.

I had gone through elementary school to get to middle school, middle school to get to high school, high school to college and college to a career. Now what? The feeling was uncomfortable for about four seconds and then it was freeing – no more “next.” I learned to paint a room, to manage money, and to get upgraded to first class on domestic flights – but only on Saturdays.

But the feeling only lasted a year (and the first-class upgrades along with it). There was this lingering sense that this wasn’t it forever, the desire was still present and growing stronger – I wanted to be married and I wanted to live overseas. Those two things, at the time extremely out of my control, drew me closer to God as I began to ask the One who guides my life for what His plan was in all of this.

One Advent, the season of waiting, I did a word study on the word “waiting” in the Bible. What I found intrigued me – throughout the Old Testament, it wasn’t a particular thing that people were waiting for – they were waiting on God. And while, for most, their longings targeted a specific thing – a home, a child, a spouse – the object of their waiting was God Himself.

So while I sat and began to wait on God for my future, He used the waiting to tether me to His heart. What I thought was waiting for a spouse or an opportunity to travel, was really waiting on God as He drew me closer to Himself.

When Trent and I started dating in late 2012 and when the doors started opening for me to move with him to the Philippines, the waiting took a different shape. No longer was I waiting for something intangible – but for something that seemed more possible, more comprehendible. The waiting then drew me to Jesus in a deeper way – as Trent and I dated from across the world and as I began learning more about a country I’d only visited for a couple of weeks.

Then once we were married, waiting continued as we traveled from state to state, from the U.S. to Canada and from providence to providence, raising support to return to the Philippines. We waited on God to provide our needed support and prayed with faith that we would be able to leave by the time my visa in Canada expired.

My visa would have run out in the middle of April and now I sit on a balcony at a guesthouse in Quezon City. We’re here – barely into our second day and about to go look at some condo units, our first stable place of our own in seven months of marriage.

So the thought strikes me – we’re done. We’re done waiting. We’re married and here and may have a condo by the end of the week. God provided our support and God provided each other and favor at the check-in counter so that all our bags and our pug arrived safely. But there’s a thought that immediately follows – we’re never done waiting on God. We may be entering a season where what we’re waiting for is not tangible, but that has never been the foundation of our waiting. We wait on God daily for provision, whether we can see that or not. We wait on God daily for each breath we take – which would feel clichĂ© if it weren’t for Abby’s story of waiting on God for her daughter to be healthy and have her lungs and heart do what they’re supposed to do. We wait on God daily for grace toward each other, in sickness and in health, when waiting for something tangible or waiting on God Himself directly.

And so in this season, we continue to wait on God with expectation for Himself, His provision, His life, and His grace. We also wait to overcoming jet-lag, but that’s another story.

(March 2015)
Waiting looks different now. Sometimes I consider these thoughts when I wait for the train or in traffic or in line for the toilet. (I laugh at myself – “Waiting? We live in the Manila, we’re never done waiting!”) I think of it also when I wonder God’s timing for the coffee shop and when I’ll feel comfortable speaking Tagalog. We have our condo now, and life is more stable than it used to be, but we’re still waiting for tangible things and for God Himself, who continues to draw us while we wait.