Let me start by saying that I didn’t want to get up this morning. I signed up for the prayer group in church, and today was my turn to lead. Thankfully, duty trumped grief, so I got up and took a shower.

In the past, I would pray for guidance on what to pray about. But these past few days have been difficult. I can’t pray. I have no words, at least, nothing proper. Nothing that I think, with my limited mind–and believe me, it is limited–nothing that I think God would want to hear.

The only story that kept popping into my head was Lazarus’s death. So with bible app on hand, I went to the meeting devoid of prayer points. All I had was this story in which I could fully empathize with Mary.

Mary had a relationship with Jesus and everyone knew it.–verse 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)

It’s very difficult for me to understand these verses. Why did Jesus wait?–verses 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days — Why didn’t He save Lazarus? Pachimoo? (Russian for why, currently my favorite word.)

This is me blaming God for death.–verse 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I know that Jesus is with me through grief. — verse 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 35 Jesus wept.

And then there is the ugly beast of shame. I want people around me to know that my God is real, not some delusion I created to make me feel better. — verse 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

J, is our prayer group leader in church. He is a simple African man. Today, God used him to speak into my heart. I told him I couldn’t pray. All I had was this story. He started praying for me and his words breathed life into my heart. The fog of grief I woke up with, literally lifted. He also told me to praise God for the grief I was in. What praise God for this?? Are you kidding??, would be my normal reaction, and there is no way that I would be able to in an authentic manner. But I’m doing this Christ who strengthens me. I see things from the perspective of eternity, not my self-centered emotions.

So now that I’m done with my looong prelude, here are 7 things that I am thankful for in 2012.

1. My relationship with Christ.

10_fountain square

Ritual is so much easier than relationship. Relationship involves time, prayer and letting God into every area of my life. Relationship means doing life with someone. Sometimes it means giving up things that are not aligned to His will because I love Him more than anyone and anything. I’m thankful that through the ups and downs He is there and I know in my heart He is good all the time and wants what is best for me. God is awesome. Thank you, God, for never giving up on me in spite of my shortcomings.

2. I’m thankful for my relationship with my Dad and Mom.

03_cafe ysabel


It’s also been a roller-coaster ride with my parents. But in spite of everything, I would say that my parents and I have a very authentic relationship. We are so honest with each other. We can say anything we want and know that at the end of the day we will still be here for each other. Our relationship, our family, is more important than our pain. I believe that we are designed to always have a connection with our parents. Sometimes it’s painful, and it involves a lot of forgiveness and letting go of “being right”. I’m glad that my parents and I have a solid relationship no matter what the circumstances are.

3. I’m grateful for the death of someone I love.


I’ve accepted that I’ll never see this person’s buck-tooth smile again. I’ll never hug this person or hear their voice or receive another email. I’m grateful that this death is not the end. I will see this person again in heaven. This is where I go back to Lazarus’s Death. At the end of the story, Lazarus lives again. I’m looking forward to that day.

I’m also not going to let death define something that was full of happiness, joy and love. I’m not going to ask pachimoo anymore because the reality is, there is no answer. Only hope. Only resurrection in Christ.

4. I’m grateful for friends everywhere. In the Philippines, US, India and now, Azerbaijan.


I love my friends. They have been a great blessing to me all of my life. Real friends stick together no matter what.

5. I’m grateful for my first grade class.

My beautiful first graders.

My beautiful first graders.

I love my little angels.

6. I’m thankful for my India experience!

The children of the Adivasi tribal community.

The children of the Adivasi tribal community.

I loved the teachers I worked with and just being immersed in a diverse culture.

7. I’m grateful for living in beautiful Baku.

Icherisheher metro station

Icherisheher metro station

And I’m looking forward to more open blue skies.

Thank you, 2012. You were a difficult year but I survived you. Thank you for the ups and downs. One more day and it’s 2013! I can’t wait!

My beautiful first graders.

My beautiful first graders minus one. (He was absent during our Christmas play.)

When I’m with them, time stops.
Our class is filled with learning, laughter, a complicated web of relationships.
Our classroom is filled with love and fighting, and all those things that we can’t extricate from this thing called life.
We have tears and tickling and “nine minus five. what is nine minus five? what is nine minus five?” J screeches in frustration.

They say that children are a blessing from God.
After 4 years of not having a homeroom,
and being blessed with these twelve precious little ones,
twelve little ones who are learning my language,
twelve precious ones who are learning how to love and care for each other,
in a way that five, six, seven year olds can,
I know that I am truly blessed.

Thank you, G, for the twelve irreplaceable jewels you’ve set on my fingers.

Count your blessings. Be grateful. It’s become a cliche, a form of self-brainwashing, a colleague reminded me the other day. How can you be happy when the ________________ (fill in the situation) is like this?

But as I don my social scientist hat, and observe the happy and depressed, the only deciding factor I can come up with is–it boils down to making a thought choice. This is a choice we make in our heads. When we feel that we are starting to slide down the slippery slope of pessimism, will we continue to slide? Or will we stop ourselves, take a deep breath, and choose to view problems as growth opportunities? Can we begin to see people who rub us the wrong way as an opportunity to develop the attributes patience and self-control? Can we begin to see conflict as a way to come to better understandings which can take the collective to another level?

A few days back, my friend L posted this Ted Talk on Facebook. He had a message that I needed to re-listen to–Happiness is not dependent on external factors. It’s a mindset you can choose in the here and now.


Following Shawn Achor’s advise, I’d like to list down some things I am grateful for today–

1. B. He understands me, loves me and makes me laugh all the time. He brings so much joy into my life.

2. Traveling. Every time I travel, I live out my dream.

3. A very thought-provoking meeting today, where I learned about authentically sharing perspectives and coming to new understandings.

4. The sun setting over Mumbai. The sun was orange, the sun was huge, the sun was beautiful.

Thank you, Lord, for such a beautiful day!

What is your perspective on happiness? What are you grateful for today?

Bucket list, (subheading) Tours, #1: Reality Tours and Travel — 1 Day Village Tour. Cross.

It’s my last three and an half months in Mumbai. I’m counting my last days, and pushing myself to explore, travel, photograph and write. Yesterday, I took the Chinchonea one-day village tour with Krishna, Assam, Christine and Matthew. This coincided with the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, where the assignment is to share photos that mean down to us.

Special thanks to Krishna, our faithful guide who was very knowledgeable about Chinchoea because he has a close relationship with the community and is giving back to them. Krishna is also part owner of Reality Tours and Travels, which I highly recommend for travelers who want to get to know Mumbai and its outskirts.

Without further ado, this is my journey to Chinchoea from the down perspective.

Caught the 6:28 train from Goregaon East to Churchgate. My ratty Mizunos are still red from the Matheran soil.

Heading out of the Churchgate station.

Quick bathroom stop at the Taj Mahal Hotel. There are only squat loos in the village.

Waiting for Assam by the Gateway of India ferry ticket stalls.

Boarded the ferry.

Visited a public high school where many villagers send their children.

The rickshaw dropped us by the Chinchoea faucet, which the community relies on for water.

A lady fed us lunch in her home. It's an Indian custom to leave your shoes outside before entering a home.

Lunch was served on the floor made out of soil and dung.

The villagers sundry rice. Then they grind it into powder to make rice roti, which is called "bakri".

Papad, an Indian appetizer made from ground lentils, is being dried under the sun.

Chinchoea means "tamarind" in the villagers' native language. Tamarind trees abloom proliferate the land.

We walked through rice paddies. It's now the dry season in Maharashtra. The paddies will be water-filled again during the monsoon season, which starts in June.

Many of the rice fields are strategically burnt. The villagers believe that ash acts an organic fertilizer which can be mixed with the soil. Afterwards, other crops can be grown in the field.

View from the Chinchoea fields.

Krishna and Kulpi catch fish from a mini-pond.

Brickmakers from the Adivasi tribal community, travel down from their community to Chinchoea. They mold bricks from mud and water under the unforgiving rays of the sun.

We took a rickshaw up the hill to visit the Adivasi tribal community. We weren't sure if they would welcome us or not. But we walked around the village, smiled and tried to initiate play with the children. These are cashew nuts, a staple in their diet.

The children of the Adivasi tribal community.

This was a powerful trip for me. I’m struggling for time and energy, but I sincerely want to write a travel piece about this experience. For now, let it suffice to say that this trip has given me perspective. I have no right to complain about my petty little issues. I have everything I need and more.

Gratitude, forgiveness and peace is a choice I will make everyday.

A year and a half ago, I scribbled this tweet–

I had only worked for five months in my current school that September, and my goals as a curriculum coordinator were very clear: to invest in the professional development of teachers and to obtain international school accreditation.

We got our accreditation (PYP authorization) last December! And I promise to tell that story in another entry.

So going back to that late September in 2010, right before our pre-consultation visit from the IBO, I remember thinking that I can’t rush this process. Together, as a school team, we needed to break the soil and build a good foundation. By that I mean we needed to be clear on our educational philosophy and what practices we would use to live out that philosophy. So much of our hard work for the past years have been to unpack key words from the International Baccalaureate mission statement, the guiding principle of our school. Here are two paragraphs from that statement–

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

As a leader, I always believed that the best way to teach is to model. I’m hoping that those are the seeds I’ve planted with the people I work with. I strongly believe in the IBO mission statement, and I hope I have modeled being an inquirer, knowledgeable and caring. I hope that I’ve respected the culture of the people I work with as well as shared a little bit of my own. I hope that it is apparent that I don’t know everything and I am still learning along with everyone else. I also hope that I have at the very least, listened to various perspectives, and shown that I’ve valued them.

These are the seeds I hope I have planted, my investment, not through my words, but through my actions.

My latest line which I know makes me sound like a broken record when I speak to the teachers I work with is–That’s why my investment is in you!

Many of them already live out the IB philosophy and I’m hoping that they continue to collaborate and be inquirers, knowledgeable, caring, open-minded and authentic, not just to the students but to each other. That’s how I’ll know that I’ve been successful as a leader.

So, it’s my last six months in Mumbai, and writing is definitely helping me transition to the next chapter in my life. It is also the end of a season, and I remember Pastor Joey saying–Never fight the seasons. Embrace them.

Here’s a poem from Ecclesiastes 3 that helps me embrace whatever season I go through–

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

That September in 2010, that was the time to plant.

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