Surprises

Good Morning From Hong Kong…Some Life Updates

Well, friends, it’s been a while, and some things have changed. For starters, I’m writing this sitting in the window of my 6th floor apartment in Hong Kong. Where I live now. As of Wednesday night. (Check out the “sea view.” Really, it’s there! I swear!)

Jonathan graduated with his MFA in Creative Writing at the beginning of May after completing and defending a brilliant novel that served as his Master’s thesis. He started a job search that included local options as well as international ones. At the end of May, we both accepted jobs with the Hong Kong office of a company called I Can Read.

To get some of the FAQ’s out of the way…

When did all of this happen?

It has been a whirlwind, which is why I didn’t do any writing about the process. We applied to the jobs we’re now working at the end of April. We found out we had an official offer at the end of May. I resigned from my job (which only entailed not signing a new contract), and we took a previously scheduled vacation to Ireland and Amsterdam (amazing, btw, but not the point).

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Casual Cliffs of Moher Pic

We came back to Columbia for one day, then Jonathan flew to Kansas City to grade AP Literature exams for a week, and I flew to Phoenix to visit my sister.

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We did goat yoga in Arizona. Like you do.

My sister and I drove together to Los Angeles to see my youngest sister graduate from fashion school. Then Jonathan and I both flew home, and four days later, he moved to Hong Kong.

I stayed behind for five weeks, wrapping up our lives in Columbia and running a couple of ESL camps at my school. Meanwhile, Jonathan went through training, started working, found an apartment for us, and did a million other things all on his own. Being apart for five weeks was not fun, and it gave me such respect and sympathy for people who regularly have to be away from their spouses.

Last weekend my parents, my sister, and my nephew flew up to Columbia to help me finish up packing and moving my things to a storage unit in town.

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Best Family in World. End of Story.

On Tuesday morning, they dropped me off at the airport in Charlotte, NC, and on Wednesday night Jonathan (and some people from ICR) picked me up in Hong Kong. I start job training today.

What exactly are you doing there?

We’ve been hired by a company called I Can Read that runs literacy centers throughout Southern Asia. We are both working as literacy teachers. This is not a regular school – the best thing I can liken it to is something like a Sylvan Learning Center or other specialized tutoring center. The classes are held in the afternoon and evenings and on Saturdays. The entire focus is teaching kids to read in English using the phonemic awareness program I Can Read has created. We teach reading lessons to small groups of students ages 3-12, or sometimes just to individual students.

The company was started in Singapore by some Australians and has now expanded into Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, and Myanmar. They have only been in Hong Kong for about two years, but they are growing rapidly. Jonathan and I work at two different centers in different locations in Hong Kong, but we are doing more or less the same thing.

Why did you move abroad again?

There is no simple answer to this question, and in fact, I think it warrants its own blog post. The short version is that Jonathan had finished his program, and it was a natural time of transition since he was looking for a job anyway. We have been interested in living abroad again ever since we returned from Korea, so when an opportunity came up for us in Hong Kong, we took a leap.

But what about your mental health?

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Need I say more?

Are you going to write about it?

Umm…heck yes. I am actually setting up a new website/instagram/twitter and possible youtube channel for all the living abroad and travel goodness. I will keep lilyellyn.com for writing about things like mental health, reading, and faith wrestling. I will post a big announcement here when the new site goes live, so be on the lookout!

For now, my goals are to get over jet lag, stay awake through training, and start devising a plan for how to make friends with the old ladies who do Tai Chi in the courtyard every morning. More to come!

 

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10,000 Followers Giveaway!

Yesterday something kind of amazing happened. This blog hit 10,000 followers. To some of you that may seem like a lot and to others it may seem like a little, but to me it is almost incomprehensible and completely humbling, especially since the majority of these followers have come within the last year. I know that not everyone who follows my blog reads every post, but I am still overwhelmed by how many people at some point clicked that “Follow” button to show a measure of support.

When I first started this blog almost five years ago, I was right out of college working as a full-time nanny and needed a creative outlet to keep me writing. I wrote sporadically and without much focus and only about five people even knew about my blog because I didn’t share my posts on social media or even tell my friends about them. As I moved into a season of wrestling with my faith, I started to explore some of my questions, my doubts, and my revelations through blogging. I occasionally shared these posts on Facebook, but my audience was still very small.

After moving to Korea, I had a wealth of strange and interesting life experiences to write about and process through. At the same time, I discovered the spiritual memoir genre and found that blogging about my faith helped me sort through my jumbled thoughts and feelings. I started to connect with other bloggers who wrote about similar topics – what it looks like when the faith you grew up with doesn’t quite fit anymore and how faith can change and grow over time. I had opportunities to guest post and invited others to share on my blog. As I grew into this community, I became more serious about blogging as a means of working out my own story and my own faith while connecting with other people. I sought to present my authentic self with my questions and doubts and problems, and hoped that through my vulnerability others could identify with me and feel less alone.  I started to hear from readers who told me that these little essays meant something to them and I started making real life friends with people who read my words.

I know that some of my you came here to read about my travel experiences, some came to read book reviews and recommendations, and some came to read about my faith-wrestling, but all of you have made my life richer and made my moments of vulnerability worth it.

To help express my gratitude to those of you who have joined me on this journey, I’m hosting a little giveaway. There will be two winners and those winners will each receive a book pack with 3 of my favorite books. One set is nonfiction books and the other is fiction. (It was SO HARD to choose just 3 books for each!)

The nonfiction book pack includes: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.

The fiction book pack includes: Peace Like a River by Lief Enger, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The rules are simple.

  1. You must be a follower or subscriber to this blog. (If you are not a follower all you have to do is scroll to the top of the page and look underneath the picture of a younger and svelter me with the little bio. There is a button right under that that says, “Click here if you’re awesome!” Click that button. All this means is that you will be notified when I post something new. )
  2. You must EITHER “like” my Facebook page, which I will link here. (Literally just click the “like” button) OR follow me on Twitter @lilyellyn. If you don’t have Facebook or Twitter just tell me that in the comment you leave.
  3. Finally, leave a comment below telling me either how you found this blog and why you started following OR what your favorite post has been. Be sure to include whether you are more interested in the fiction or nonfiction book pack if you have a preference.

This giveaway is open internationally so anyone can enter.Submissions are open for 1 week and will close on Wednesday, December 23rd at 11:59 PM EST. There is only one entry per person. At the end of the submission period I will collect the names of everyone who submitted and draw two names randomly. I will announce the winners here in a blog post on Christmas Day so be sure the check back.

You guys are seriously the best. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Giveaway banner image credit via StephanieHowell.com

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That (catching the anti-baby bug, or an update on the state of my uterus)

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mommy. Not only did I play with baby dolls from toddlerhood to embarrassingly far into my preteen years, but I also routinely made lists of the names I would give my children, updating them as my tastes matured.*

Not only did I want kids, I wanted a lot of them. Six! With a set of twins! Preferably redheaded! I said before I understood the dark realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. By the time I graduated from college I had bagged myself a red-headed sperm-donor husband and had brought my hopes down to the more reasonable goal of three to four biological children and at least one adopted child to break up all the little redheads.**

I wasn’t entirely naïve. I had done A LOT of babysitting in high school and college. Mostly with very young children. At one point my senior year I was getting up at 5:30 AM to watch kids for a few hours before school, heading to another family’s house from 10:30 – 3:30, and then finishing my day with a third family from 4:00-6:30. And after college I worked for a year as a full-time nanny, which I extensively chronicled earlier on this blog. I got burnt out and exhausted from working with small kids all the time, but no matter how tough it got, never once did I waver in my conviction that I wanted to have kids of my own someday.

About a year ago I got baby bug in the worst way. Everyone was getting pregnant and having babies and, being in a meaningless corporate job at the time, I found myself wishing for motherhood more than ever before. I knew that the timing wasn’t right. And I knew that the sudden, overwhelming urge to quit my job and grow a baby was not a good enough reason to bring a human into the world. But the logic of the situation did not stop me from hoping against hope that the baby fever was God’s way of preparing me for a surprise pregnancy. And even though I wasn’t trying to get pregnant (in fact, I was actively preventing) I still managed to feel disappointed every month when it became clear that God had not miraculously intervened and made my body defy science and logic to conceive anyway. Jonathan and I agreed that we would re-visit the topic of baby-having in a year or so and see how we felt about it then.

For several months I continued to have baby-on-the-brain. Then I decided that if getting pregnant in a year or so was a possibility, I should probably do all of the things I really wanted to do pre-baby. Hence the commencement of Operation Lily Runs a Marathon and Operation Lily Goes to Grad School. I really wanted to undertake Operation Lily Travels the World, but sometimes even I have to be an adult and realize that I can’t have everything, so I settled for last summer’s vacation to the Dominican Republic and my marathon trip to Disneyworld. I also decided that before I had kids I wanted to be healthier, which led me to a radical diet change where I cut all sugar and starch from my diet and started eating lean meats and vegetables. I lost 20 lbs in 7 weeks and have a lot more energy and much fewer health problems than I did before.

I’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of progress over the past year: I quit my job, started grad school, ran a marathon, changed my diet and lost weight, did some travel, grew out my hair, and stopped biting my fingernails. But something else changed too. Starting in about October and growing steadily ever since has been a strong feeling that I no longer want to have kids. Not just right now. Maybe not at all. Ever.

If you know me at all, you know how weird that is. Like I said before, all I have ever REALLY wanted in my life is to one day be a mommy. I mean, I’ve wanted to have a meaningful job and a good marriage and to write and help others and all of those things too, but even when some of those things have been unclear or I have felt directionless, I’ve always had this deep desire for motherhood someday to hold onto.

In fact, my desire to be a mother has driven me to the point of fear sometimes. Thinking of having a house full of kids has made me feel a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do career-wise as fast as possible because I don’t feel I will have the luxury of going back to school or trying to figure that out once I start having kids. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get these things figured out because, after all, I’m 25, and if I really want to have 4 kids, I’m going to have to get started on that in the next few years.

But for the last 4-5 months I’ve found myself wondering if I really want to have kids, and I’ve concluded that what I really want is to have babies, not children. In other words, I love the idea of carrying a baby and then having this tiny little creature who is part of Jonathan and part of me and part something all his own. But I don’t want to bring an 8-year-old to dance class or fight with a 10 year old about cleaning his room. And I certainly don’t ever want to have a teenaged son.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even understand what the point is of having children. I know most of you won’t get this, but sometimes I think, “I could spend most of my life raising these kids who may or may not turn out to be good people, regardless of how good of parents Jonathan and I are, and for what? So they can go out and have their children that they spend their lives raising those kids so that those kids can grow up and have their own families.” There’s just something inherently narcissistic about it to me. I mean, if we just wanted children out of a desire to give of ourselves and our love and raise great men and women to right the wrongs of the world, there would be no more orphans. We would look at these millions of parentless children and find exactly what we were looking for. But that’s not all. We might want those things, but we also want mini-me’s made in our own likenesses.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that there are parents in the world. After all, if my parents had felt this way, I would never have existed. And I like existing. I’m just not sure that, for me, the reasons above are good enough reasons to have children. I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and how, to do it correctly, it really does require you to sacrifice everything for the sake of your kids. I see the family I work for now where the parents aren’t willing to self-sacrifice for the kids, and how their kids suffer for it even though they have all the material wealth in the world.

And I look at my own family. I have two parents whom I respect and admire deeply. Not once in my life have I ever doubted that they loved my siblings and I and that every parenting decision they made was genuinely out of a desire to do the best for us. And yet, I look at my siblings and me – my brother who has wrestled with addiction for at least 10 years, my sister, whose entire understanding of her world has been rocked to its core since leaving home, and me, who has lived believing that my best would never be good enough and that no matter how good I was and how hard I worked, fault would be found in me. My youngest sister is on the brink of adulthood now and we have yet to see the things she carries.

My point in saying all of this is not to rag on my parents. It’s to point out that even having some of the hardest-working, most self-sacrificing, godly and loving parents in the world, we have reached adulthood deeply scarred. If this is the reality for a family so committed to raising their children well and loving them deeply, I am utterly terrified to think of what I, a much more selfish person than either of my parents, might do to my theoretical children.

When I started to articulate how I am feeling about all of this, it sort of freaked me out. I mean, I have ALWAYS been the one who loved kids and couldn’t wait to have a family. And more than that, I’m really good with kids, especially really little kids. It’s one of my main skills – something I pride myself on. Jonathan and other close friends are convinced that this is a phase I am going through and that I won’t feel like this forever.*** They might be right and that will be ok. It may be a phase I am going through that will last 6 months or a year and then it will fade away and I will go back to the way I was before. But for now, this is where I’m at and I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.

So what does the future look like for the girl who spent her whole life planning on being a mommy only to discover that she might not want to be one? Honestly, from right here it’s looking pretty unlimited.

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* If I had named my kids at age 11 they would have been called Chloe and Oliver. But then, of course, we named our dog Chloe so I couldn’t use that one anymore.
**Because I am convinced that all of our children will be redheaded, recessive genes be damned!
***At least, Jonathan is certainly hoping that’s the case. I can’t really blame him, I mean it’s sort of false advertising for him to pick a wife based on the fact that she wants to bear him 4 sons, only to find out after the deal is sealed that she really doesn’t want any. Bad form, Me. He has assured me that he will still love me if I do not bear said sons. But I can tell he still thinks the whole thing will blow over.

How Disney Helped Me Quit My Job

Well, I did it. I quit my job. Last Thursday I marched into the Managing Director’s office, plunked down my letter of resignation and said, “I am done with this! I cannot work in this toxic environment anymore! I am too smart and I have too much self-respect to work for the idiots who work here and think they are the most important people in the world and act like big children and go out and party all the time even though they have families and little children. You don’t pay me enough to deal with this kind of crap. So I quit!”

Alright, that’s not exactly what happened. What actually happened was I timidly sent over my letter of resignation with a lot of “I’m really sorrys” and “I really appreciate all the opportunities you’ve given me here” and then I cowered before the other girls on marketing staff and my boss and stammered out all the reasons why this was just an opportunity I had to take, etc. etc. etc. Those of you who know me well know how much I hate confrontation and never want anyone to be mad at me, even if I don’t like them. So maybe it wasn’t the most triumphant resignation of all time, but still…I did it.

And do you know what got me through it? This song which was playing in my head the whole time:

We can analyze later why my brain subconsciously believes that “I’ll Make a Man out of You” equates to “You are a brave and capable woman,” but I think the obvious takeaway is that Disney has once again pulled through and helped me in a time of crisis.

I’ve never quit a real job before. Most of the other office-type jobs I’ve had in the past were paid internships or temporary assignments that had an established ending date. I’ve never had to tell people who weren’t expecting it at all that I was just quitting. To make matters worse, the same week that I resigned, three other people in our office resigned. (Which I think says something about this office environment.) But I ripped off that Band-Aid and now it’s done and I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted. I still have to finish out my two weeks, next Friday will be my last day. But having the end in sight makes me feel ready to handle anything they throw at me (or, you know, ignore it since there aren’t really consequences at this point.)

So…here’s what I’m doing instead. For the last month or so I’ve been talking to a family on and off who are looking for a new nanny. Their old nanny had been with them for 8 years, but is having a baby in August and will be staying home afterwards. (Methinks they must be a good family to work for, or the old nanny would not have stayed with them for 8 years.) The mom of the family approached me about this job and initially, I had no interest in going back to nannying. After all, we all know how crazy that made me last time. But, after several weeks of talking and praying and the family having a hard time finding the right person, I’ve ended up with what I think is a pretty sweet deal. I’ve got two kiddos, Porter (9) and Spencer (6) who will be in school during the day for the regular school year. I will work full-time for the rest of the summer and then, beginning the last week of August, will only work in the afternoons-early evenings. I will manage the kids’ schedules, get them from school, help them with homework, take them to their activities, and make sure they have everything they need for school and activities. During the school year I will only have to work about 28 hrs/week with paid holidays and 1 week of paid vacation. And (this is the clincher) they have agreed to pay me enough that we’ll still be able to cover all of our expenses, etc.

Since I will have all of my mornings free (during school) this will give me some extra time to work on my classes that I will hopefully start taking online through Fuller Theological Seminary in September. The program I’m trying to do is an MA in Intercultural Studies with an emphasis on Children at Risk. I think I could really be good at and love ministering to at-risk kids around the world. Additionally, I will have more time to work on the small baking business I’ve started out of my home and hopefully promote that further. (More on that once I get my website up and running.)

Initially, I wasn’t attracted to the idea of nannying again. I certainly got burnt out the last time and it’s also sort of a pride issue for me. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to tell people that I’m a nanny or I feel like I’m hurting myself in the long-run by not doing a “real” job.  But some wise friends (and also my husband) pointed out to me that when you compare working another year or two doing something I hate versus doing something I enjoy more, part-time with a lot more day-to-day flexibility, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Sometimes you just can’t plan for all contingencies, as much as I’d like to, so you have to accept that all you can do is walk the path that God sets before you today, and make the best decision you can for that day.

And I’ll admit it, I may have seen Brave pretty recently. (If you haven’t seen it you, you definitely should.) So when the offer was officially made there may have been this Scottish voice playing in my head asking me: “If ya had the chance to change yer fate, would ya?” And my unquenchable sense of adventure said YES! Challenge accepted!

In gratitude to Disney* for being a constant in these tumultuous times, I have (very) tentatively decided to shoot for running the Disneyworld Marathon in January. That’s right, folks, a full 26.2 miles (please do not comment, you super-fit people who have run like three marathons and only trained for like a month. This is legitimately the most epic undertaking of my life.) I did my first training run yesterday – and immediately regretted even waking up that morning. So, we’ll see how that goes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

*Don’t worry, guys. I know it wasn’t really Disney who provided this opportunity for me and gave me courage to quit and gave me peace when I felt anxious. That was Jesus and I am so thankful to Him. But I do think he maybe used the familiar comfort of Disney to help me just a little. Probably.

Queen of Surprise (Rated “M” for Mature)

 I’m not a huge Hallmark holidays person. This past New Year’s Eve I went to bed at 11:30, on the Fourth of July I think I stayed home and maybe watched a movie?, and this past Halloween I ate chips and dip and watched a football game. But when it comes to holidays that involve celebrating with gifts or other gestures of affection (Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, Jonathan’s birthday, Christmas) I lose control. I will pretty much take advantage of any opportunity to plan surprises. I LOVE surprises. And I am generally more excited about doing the surprising than the person on the receiving end is to get the surprise. Not always. But often. Frankly, it’s just hard to match the level of enthusiasm I reach when planning a surprise. Sometimes I don’t sleep at night.

This is how I always imagine people will react to my surprises.

Just to give you an idea of how much I love surprises…

 I once flew home to Louisiana for Fall Break without my mom knowing I was coming and woke her up in the middle of the night where she promptly burst into tears because she was so disoriented. (It was actually really sweet.)

I also once flew home for my Lanise’s birthday and I was waiting in her room when she got home from work and I had twenty-one presents for her because it was her 21st birthday. (And that one was super fun because my Lanise is the best present/surprise-receiver in the whole wide world. She actually gets as excited about it as I do.)

I once made Jonathan a giant poster with a bunch of different candies that stood for different words of the message. I don’t remember the whole thing, but it ended with “You may not have 100Grand, but you will always be my Sugar Daddy” and I had his roommate sneak this giant poster into his room so he would get it on Valentine’s Day.

Mine was like this, except it said different things. Better things.

And once I got up at like 4:30 in the morning and hid presents for him all over his house/in his bag/in his classes, etc. I even contacted his professors (some of whom I didn’t even know) and had them give him some of them.

When we were apart one summer I made him cookies and overnight FedEx-ed them to him.

And the summer I went to England I wrote him a card for every week I would be gone and left them for him to open one a week.

This is how I think Jonathan really feels about all the surprises I give him. 🙂

I e-stalked and contacted a writer who lives across the country to get her to autograph a book for my sister’s birthday.

I made Jonathan spend two vacation days with me painting and finishing Christina’s dining room set so she would be surprised when she got back from her Christmas break. (Well, Jonathan volunteered, but I “made” him by having the urgent need to surprise her in the first place.)

Like I said, surprises are kind of my thing.

This Valentine’s Day is a little different, though. This year I decided to relax a little. Decided that I didn’t have to have the number one best surprise ever up my sleeve. That maybe one or two little things were enough. So for once I haven’t spent hours thinking of a perfect gift or experience or way to show my love. And yet, today I managed to give a surprise that surprised even me.

This morning I got dressed in what I thought was an appropriately festive Valentine’s Day outfit. Black and white patterned skirt, red top, black scarf, gorgeous, cherry red stilettos. I tried to do some black tights this morning, but couldn’t find them anywhere and so went without. No big deal because I have a desk job.

At lunch time I had the brilliant idea to use the Bruegger’s gift card my company gave me for my birthday to get a cup of soup to bring back and eat at my desk.  (There is a Bruegger’s right outside of my building.) So I go on my merry way in my cherry red heels and my bouncy little skirt. When I get outside I realize it is an exceptionally windy day that makes me feel like I’m back in Illinois. Luckily the Bruegger’s is just across the street.

I go in, order my delicious chicken spaetzle soup to go and on impulse decide to get a drink too since my giftcard has enough for both. My soup goes into a container and then into a paper bag which I am holding with my right hand, trying to keep the bottom steady so that they soup does not tip over. In my left hand I am holding my tasty diet coke. My purse keeps sliding off my shoulder into the crook of my right arm, messing with the precarious balance of the soup inside the bag. I take a couple of steps and my drink (although it has a lid) manages to slosh out and a few drops fall onto my gorgeous cherry red suede shoes. Now I have to concentrate on keeping my soup stable and not spilling any more drink on my shoes. I push open the door and take a few steps when a huge gust of wind comes up and starts lifting my perky little skirt into the air. I bend forward expertly keeping a grip on both my soup and my drink and pressing my forearms against my thighs to keep my skirt down. As I lean forward, this gust of wind swoops around and blows up the back of my skirt exposing my black-lace-covered bottom to anyone who happens to be in the parking lot or looking out the window. Surprise, everybody! Big surprise!

I am pretty sure this is EXACTLY what I looked like. But please excuse my slightly inappropriate picture.

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. That you are not subjected to any kind of indecent exposure. And that any surprises you give or receive are the good kind!