Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New York City

On Tuesday I went to New York City with my family.

The weather was perfect - sunny, not too cold, and yet just cold enough to make me want to bundle up in fuzzy socks, scarf, and gloves.

I love New York. Although I've only been there at Christmas time so maybe I'm a little biased, especially since I love love love Christmas and everything about Christmas.

I got to see the Rockettes for the first time! And of course we saw the big Christmas tree and Time Square :) Enjoy these pictures of our trip!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas...

{Written on December 7th}

Well, right now I’m sitting in a cute little restaurant, Atlanta Bread, in the Atlanta airport, halfway home from Belize! And Christmas music is playing :) I still literally can’t comprehend that the semester is over and that in five hours I will be in Philly and hugging my family! And that it’s December and actually cold outside! What an amazing, incredible four months it has been!

It certainly has been very challenging, but in good, growing ways. Throughout the semester we learned a lot about social justice issues and environmental degradation and the complexity of both the problems and the solutions. We talked a lot about how we, in the US, are able to sustain our lifestyles at the cost of poorer countries, whose workers are grossly underpaid. Factory workers, banana farmers, and the like are being taken advantage of so that we can buy imported items and food at a cheap price. At times realizing the immensity of the problems was very overwhelming and I was tempted to harden my heart and block it all out of my mind, but my prayer is that God will continually work to soften my heart and use me to have compassion on those in need. Some of the changes I hope to enact are to reduce the amount I consume and also to shop locally. More importantly, I want to be informed, not just naively living and breathing. I want to live intentionally. I’m still working on figuring out in my own head everything I’ve heard and learned this semester and the exact reasons for doing certain things, such as shopping locally, but I trust that this is only the beginning of a longer journey that God has me on. So feel free to ask questions, but I can’t guarantee that I will be able to answer them!

One of my friends shared 1 Peter 1:13-16 in our last small group devotions, and it was a huge encouragement to me. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Another thing that God has been teaching me a lot about this semester is just how incomprehensible He is – and that it’s okay that I can’t wrap my mind around who He is. Seeing so many breathtaking aspects of creation – rainforests, kinkajous, fer-de-lances, spider monkeys, coral reefs, angelfish, octopuses, jellyfish, Caribbean islands and seas – and being surrounded by so many different views on exactly how God created the universe kind of overwhelmed me and I became aware of new aspects of who God is that I’d never been aware of before. At first I didn’t know what to do with this knowledge. But now God has assured me that He is incomprehensible and I shouldn’t be able to understand Him because He’s just too great to be understood by my human mind. So I just have to keep loving and trusting Him and seeking to discover who He is as much as I can.

I can’t forget all the adventures I’ve been on! From living in a jaguar preserve for a few days, to releasing baby sea turtles on a black sand beach, I did some seriously awesome things. I hope I’m not bored having a “normal life” again haha. I’ll try to list some of the highlights: tubing in the rain on the Macal River, exploring ancient Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, kayaking and snorkeling in the Caribbean off of Caye Caulker, a local homestay in the village of Succotz, multiple trips to Mountain Pine Ridge and the incredible streams and waterfalls there, ATM caves, playing with Garifuna children in the old fishing village of Hopkins, an entire week of adventures in Guatemala during travel week (highlights include hiking and roasting marshmallows on Volcan Pacaya, eating key lime pie by candlelight and starlight on a rooftop overlooking the gorgeous town of Antigua, releasing baby sea turtles on the black sand beach of Monterico, and an absolutely insane long day of travel to a beautiful location called Semuc Champey, which is a series of natural waterfalls and pools), several field trips to local farms, Vaca Dam, and Belize Natural Energy, ziplining in the rain through the rainforest, a two week internship in the local hospital, and five days having class and snorkeling in Glover’s Atoll. I probably forgot a few things, but take a look at all my pictures on Facebook and ask me about it – I’d love to share :)

But it wasn’t just the crazy one-time adventures that fill my mind with happy memories – the everyday things of living in a community of seventeen students near the town of San Ignacio are just as precious to me. Some of my favorite times were spent in local restaurants where we got to know the staff; my favorite restaurants were Hode’s and Greedy’s. All of the restaurants are open to the outside and so relaxing. I think a favorite of everyone includes our group trips to Cayo Twist, a soy ice cream shop, all shoved into Harvey, our beloved white van, jamming out to music and just laughing hysterically and enjoying each other. Movie nights were the best! We’d pop popcorn on the stove – butter & salt and kettle corn – and all curl up on the floor in front of the projector, leaning against our dining room tables turned on their sides. There were always games being played as well – “the bean game” was a particular favorite. And of course just spending time with all of the awesome students and staff. I have made some amazing friends. Let’s just say last night – our last night – I was up super late and ended up dragging my mattress into my friends’ room to have a sleepover :)

Leaving today was very emotional – for everyone. Like I said at the beginning, I really can’t believe that I’m in the airport on my way home. I’ve been waiting for this day for so long, but at the same time I’m sad to see this chapter of my life come to a close. Knowing that I might never see some of these people again is a sad thing. Waking up and not being immediately surrounded by all of my friends and getting ready for a new adventure each day might be kind of strange. But it’s definitely time to be coming home. Especially just in time for Christmas, my favorite time of year :)

So please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents under the tree ;)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

That Smile

That smile. I can’t get that smile out of my head, aged skin defying gravity as an entire face is lifted in a smile, weary eyes suddenly sparkling. I can’t stop hearing that soft and unexpectedly joyous voice responding “¡Hola!” My heart literally aches within me whenever that beautiful smile enters into my consciousness. Whose husband is he? Those weathered hands should be used to caress a wife’s cheek, not to hold out, barren, towards passersby in the hope of receiving a Quetzal, or maybe even two. Whose grandpa is he? That precious voice should be used to whisper words of love into a grandchild’s ear, not to so hopefully acknowledge a stranger who walks right on by – and yet never forgets that voice. With only one word, only one smile, my heart was broken for a petite Guatemalan man – and for all those who should’ve been loved by him. My heart yearns to do something, to somehow restore life to this husband, this grandpa. And yet my heart knows that a sip of cold water, a piece of bread – even a gallon of water and a loaf of bread – will only satiate a hungry stomach for a short time and do nothing to transform a broken life. And because of this, my heart searches for answers, for solutions. There has to be more than this, than just walking by and praying with all that I am. There has to be something that can be changed, something that can be done, to free the millions from this oppression of poverty. It’s going to have to be big – something much more than donating money every month or sending used clothes to Africa. It’s going to have to treat the cause, not just the symptoms. It’s going to have to look at the big picture, realizing that our American affluence and comfort is gained at the expense of an elderly man sitting bent over in the shade of a red stucco building, begging to survive. It’s going to have to change the way land is callously treated, leaving the soil too depleted for the poor to sustain themselves. Oh how I wish this were an easy fix, a weekend project! Oh how I wish someone could just tell me “live like this, and poverty will be ended in no time!” Oh how I wish I knew what to do to help these people, these husbands, these grandpas! The solution is so complex and unknown that I want to just close my eyes and turn my back. Yet my heart won’t let me forget that smile. That smile inspires me to keep searching, keep searching for a solution, keep seeking my God on my knees, acknowledging that I am completely clueless and completely incapable, but that He is oh so capable. So I will continue on, hand in hand with my God, that smile in my heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Welcome to Belize!

Hello and welcome to my crazy Belize adventure, where ants crawling on me are normal, my showers are cold, I wake up at 6 and go to bed at 10, my backyard is the rain forest, and I’ve gotten to do some crazy awesome things! I’ve been here in the country smaller than Massachusetts for about a month, and I’m a little over a quarter of the way through. So I’m a little behind on this whole blogging thing, but that’s okay. I’m going to try to explain on my blog the things which you can’t see from pictures on Facebook 
Here’s the link to my Facebook photos:
The program I’m with is Creation Care Study Program (CCSP).

There are two “houses” on campus: the red house and the blue house. The blue house has the girls’ rooms on the bottom floor and the classroom and the guys’ and professor’s rooms on the second floor. The red house has the staffs’ rooms on the bottom floor and the kitchen, dining room, student lounge, and staff office on the second floor. We always eat meals out on the veranda though, which has the most beautiful view on campus.

As for meals, we have a lot of Belizean food, and at least everything has at least a Belizean influence. Most of it is really good! I’m not a fan of papaya though. We eat a lot of watermelon and pineapple, and lots of rice and beans and flour tortillas, the Belizean staples.

There are 17 students total, and five staff members: Jeff is the director, Brindley, his wife, is the internship coordinator, Gellie and Mark are the student life coordinators (SLCs), Joelle is the office administrator and “nurse,” and Alex is the garden and food guy who plans all our meals. We have two Belizean cooks, Flora and Shelly. Oh, and we have two dogs… a super old one named Skippy that can hardly even walk, but when you come over to her she thumps her tail on the veranda and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. And then there’s Terra… who is about 5 or 6 months old, I think, and she is so insane and crazy, but I love her. She’s a mix of black lab, german shepherd, and some other type that I’ve never heard of before. I want a dog of my own so bad!

Our daily schedule:
8:00 breakfast
9-12 class
12:30 lunch
5:30 dinner
7-9 class
Although this week our class schedule was completely different because we took several field trips so we had class in the afternoon several times.

Every morning before breakfast, they read from the Book of Common Prayer, part of which we recite 3 different liturgies. The first one says, “Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet You, as the day rises to meet the sun. Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” The second is the Lord’s Prayer, and the third says, “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you. May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you. May he bring you home rejoicing once again unto our doors.” It’s still a little strange because I’m not used to liturgies, but they do stuff like that a lot here so I’m getting used to it.

On Sundays we have Community Night at 7:00pm. So far the staff has led them, but there will be four student-led community nights. It starts with town hall, where any announcements are made and they inform us of the coming week’s schedule. Then we get into smaller groups and share a high and low from our week. After that, whichever staff member is in charge leads a kind of service, with a few liturgies we do each time. Services are different each time; one time the staff washed our feet, another time we did this French Taize service where we sing very short songs (a line or two) over and over and then have times of silence and meditation, and another time we had communion. Mondays at 12:00 we have Music & Musings, where 2 students play a song for everyone and we talk about it a little. Tuesdays at 7:15am we have small group devotions. Wednesday at 12:00 we have noon-time news, where the SLCs give us the week’s news, including weather and sports from our schools back home. Thursdays is read-aloud at breakfast. And Friday is just Friday :)

Everyone is in a small group of four or five students and a staff member. My small group leader is Gellie, and in my group is me, Jenny, Nick, Carissa, and Danielle. For our devotions we’re doing a fruit of the spirit a week, and it’s been really good to just focus on one a week and really dive into it and look at all the times the Bible mentions it, and what it really means to have that fruit of the spirit. In addition to devotions, we do several “small group things;” for instance, we went out for lunch once, and sometime we’re going to go horseback riding! We also do chores with our small group, which are on a weekly rotating basis. Chores include dish washing, garden & compost, general cleaning, and garbage & car washing. Composting was super nasty because one time we had to move all the compost out of the container, and there were literally hundreds of maggots and about six of the giantest grubs I’ve ever seen in my life… no joke they were an inch around and 5 inches long. Eww.

I have two roommates, Mikayla and Connie. They’re both super nice, but we probably won’t be best friends by the end, which is totally okay. We get along perfectly fine though! There’s one bunk bed in the room and a single bed, which I sleep on. We have our own bathroom… well, unless you count the ants we share it with. The rooms are actually pretty nice because they were recently built; the program has only been on this campus for a year.

Campus is about a 20-30 minute walk from town, San Ignacio, which is actually the second largest town/city in Belize. But Belize has a total population of 300,000, so second largest is still pretty small. There are a few restaurants we go to in town to get internet (as we can’t get internet on campus): Hode’s, Flayva’s, the Belize Coffee Company, and Maya Walk. We’re starting to get to know the owners of most of them, which is fun. We normally just buy something to drink, like lime juice (most delicious stuff ever! It’s basically limeade). And Hode’s has really good ice cream, so that normally finds its way into my belly too, if I’m there. If we’re running behind or are feeling lazy, we’ll catch a collectivo back to campus, which is a type of taxi that is cheaper. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is, except that the true taxis say “taxi,” and the collectivos don’t, although both are official as their green license plate indicates.

Most Belizeans in this area speak Spanish and English; Spanish to each other, English to us gringos. And yes, I have spoken some Spanish; some to our cooks (not because they don’t know English) and also a fair bit on our homestay last weekend in the local village of Succotz. In Succotz they speak Spanish more than they do in the San Ignacio area.

Our first week here it was brutally hot, and we all had no idea how we were going to survive the semester. We then had a four day travel weekend, and we all decided to go to the Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, and when we got back from there the temperature was decidedly cooler. Still super hot and humid, but not quite as bad. Since then, we’ve had some really hot days that rival or surpass the first week, and some that aren’t too awful. I think the average temperature is 90 degrees, which doesn’t sound so bad, but when you add in the humidity and the sun it feels way hotter. It doesn’t rain too much; there’s only been one day where it rained for most of the day. A few other days it’s just been a quick downpour or rain shower and then it’s done. The best times of day are early in the morning before breakfast and dinner-time and later, because it’s usually actually comfortable, sometimes even cool.

So far we’ve had two classes: God & Nature and Stream Ecology. God & Nature was two weeks and Stream Ecology was just one week, but later we’ll have Forest and Marine Ecology. Our professor for God & Nature was Uko Zylstra, a retired dean of Calvin College. He was so nice and it was great getting to know him! He kind of felt like a grandpa to all of us. The first Friday he was here we went to a soy ice cream place called Cayo Twist, and the next Friday he asked if we could all go again and he paid for everyone! I was really kind of sad when he left the next morning.

But in the class we learned a lot about industrial agriculture versus agrarian agriculture, and how industrial agriculture is not only bad for the environment and completely unsustainable, but how the big corporations control the smaller farmers who barely get any money at all anyway. We watched a documentary for night class each night instead of having lecture, and those were all really eye opening. I remember one called Food, Inc. was especially. We also watched a movie about Wal-Mart, which exposed the truth about the company: how they treat their employees very poorly and actually advise their employees to use government health care instead of making their own health care more affordable, and how they put pretty much all small businesses out of business when they come to town, and the movie also showed the working conditions in a factory in China, which were absolutely horrific. The main take-away I got from that part of the class was to shop locally – shop at farmer’s markets, local bakeries, etc.

One class session Uko talked about his view on creation – basically that the seven days weren’t literal days, and that he believes in an old earth and in evolution. He stated that evolution and creation are compatible, and he described evolution as God’s unfolding of creation. I talked to him after class about it, and pointed out a few verses and questioned him on it, but he pointed out other verses that I hadn’t thought about before. For instance, he showed me that when God creates the animals, God says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of their kind.” But then when I read the next verse, Genesis 1:25, it says, “God made the beasts of the earth after their kind…” so I’m not sure if the first part actually changes my thoughts at all. The biggest reason that evolution doesn’t make sense to me is that Genesis relates that God made man out of the dirt and breathed life into him; sounds pretty different from an ape changing into a homo sapien. Our textbook and Uko both said that Genesis 1 and 2 should be read as a poem, rather than as a scientific, historical account. I’m definitely starting to agree with that, especially since there are many inconsistencies between the Genesis 1 and the Genesis 2 creation stories. However, I think if the Bible tells me that God made plants, animals, and people, it means God made them, and He didn’t make them through evolution, which was merely a man’s idea, wholly and completely. I don’t know enough science about it all, so I don’t know yet what I think about the idea that each day in the account isn’t a literal idea, but at this point in my mind the exact origin of the world and life on it is simply one of those things that I can’t and won’t know for sure until I’m face to face with the Creator Himself. All I know is that I am made in the image of God and that the world and the universe show the love and imagination of my God.

Stream ecology hasn’t been as intense of a class in regard to theology and mind-blowing things that I’d never even thought to think about before, but it’s certainly been very intense! Literally all I’ve done this week is class, field trips, study, take quizzes, research, and write a paper. I’ve learned way more than I ever want to know about different kinds of stream bugs haha. We had to do reports too, and I did mine on Protozoan Water-Borne Illnesses of Belize, two of which are Giardia and Entamoeba histolytica…which were kind of fun learning about since several students have already gotten those parasites! I got amoebas within the first two weeks of being here, although I didn’t realize what it was for over a week. But some medicine cleared it up real fast… and turned my pee fluorescent yellow/green. ;)

Alrighty, well, I hope all of this gives you at least some idea of what my life in Belize is like! Hopefully I’ll do a few more blog posts at some point with some fun stories, but if I don’t, I’m sure I’d love to tell you all about it when I come home – December 7th! :)

Oh, and if you’d like to send me some snail-mail love, my address is:
Stacie Martin
c/o Creation Care Study Program
Santa Elena Post Office
Santa Elena, Cayo
Central America

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jelly Fish

Soo our family vacation in the mountains of North Carolina turned into family vacation in Charlotte midway through the week because it was pouring rain in the mountains. Not so great for hiking and tubing and canoeing.

Today we went to The Discovery Place... a science-type museum. I got kinda bored so I started taking some pictures. :) The jelly fish were super fun and beautiful!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

strawberry picking

One of the best things about summer is freshly picked strawberries... and all the yummy things you can do with them :)

And of course all the pretty pictures you can take picking them ;)

I kept getting yelled at for taking pictures instead of picking, so here are some of the quick shots I was able to sneak in...