I Never Met You But I Miss You

I don’t usually write poetry, but today, I just needed to share my thoughts in a different way. -E.D.C.

 

Denise

More than a name placed on a birth and death

certificate.

Your name is something that rings so sweetly

in my ear and brings so many tears to my eyes.

I didn’t believe I could love someone who I’ve never

met in person, but you’re the exception.

It’s like our spirits cross in another place, and they meet

each time a smile is drawn out across my face, or each time

I need to be extra strong in the face of adversity.

It’s you.

Your birth, not your death, is the most important

event in my life. Without you, there would be

no me. My heart would be less beautiful, and

even if your absence didn’t break it, something or someone

else would.

Tia, aunt, friend.

More  than a name given to a woman of

relation.

I have never met you, but I miss you.

 

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Part Five: Delay

Before you read this post, check out Part Four: Love.

My friend Ricky (and many others) said leaving Naboutini, Fiji was bittersweet, and I completely agreed. All the people in the village and their visitors during the holidays–extended family members, friends, neighbors–helped us usher in the new year in an unforgettable way. The atmosphere that last night was so sweet and I wanted more of those nights. I was not really ready to leave the next morning, but after a few deep breaths, I accepted the bitter taste of goodbye. 

Ironically, Shauna Niequist said it best in her book “Bittersweet” describing her own story about a vacation in Fiji. I cried while listening to her describe the islands, but this was wht resonated with me the most.

“Sometimes we have to leave home in order to find out what we
left there, and why it matters so much.”

Through conversation with friends from this trip, I am able to travel 5,000 miles to the vanua (the land) and the South Pacific Ocean. The bond is a strange and as authentic as the bread fruit we ate with many of our meals.

We can never really go back. I learned this in a conversation with Jes Therkelsen, a multimedia professor at Fresno State. Any of us can return to the village, but we won’t be the same person when we return and we won’t experience Fiji in the same way.

Prior experience provides context, but it does not guarantee a repeat.


 

Thank you to all who prayed for me during this trip, and to my family and friends who supported financially. I don’t know how to repay you, but I at least can give you my report of what happened.

This recent series of blog posts cannot fully convey the amazing time I had in Fiji, but I have tried my best. It is less of a highlight reel, and more of a flashback sequence.

The construction of a kitchen, medical outreach, and a documentary were the main projects we set out to accomplish there in the village. Even if our service there didn’t feel complete, we at least set the foundation and we built relationships with the people–from near and far.

I would have posted these a long time ago, but school, work, and the many other things I do pushed the blogs to the end of my to-do list. It seems like this time of the semester isn’t the most convenient time to write, but when you need to write, you just do it.

A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

While in Fiji, I expected to immediately stumble upon something meaningful and transforming, but that didn’t happen until much later. It didn’t occur during the talk with Navmit, or in while talking to Evelyn in Nadi, and or even in the airport before departing to Los Angeles. 

My thoughts were caught in a long flight delay.

I have so many other stories colored by the Fijian people and their culture. I could have just shared directly from my journal, but those entries–records of what I did and how I felt–are private (for now at least).

Because this was my first international travel experience, I believe I have permission to be a bit more introspective than normal. It provided a fresh world-lens on who I was, who I am, and who I will become. I have been more motivated to serve in my church and at school, and to set a new foundation for the next generation of leaders to build upon.

Fiji didn’t change me as much as it helped me uncover my true self, the one who feels deeply, and encourages others with a gentle smile to remind them that someone sees them.

I learned that if I could just cast my worries aside, then I would begin to see life as full and vibrant.

I returned home to Fresno three months ago, but every now and then, I find myself at the waterfall with someone asking me to dive in or at the bench crying out to God searching for answers beyond the superficial.

Some things require a risk while others are a call to be still. Tension comes with both, but no decision is ever final.

Except maybe one.

 I am returning to Fiji next winter as a student-leader with a friend from this last trip and two new professors. My goals: to be determined.

Stay connected!

Twitter @errikadenise55

Instagram @errikadenise

 

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Part Four: Love

Before you read, check out Part Three: Peace.

Back in the village, I sat on the beach with Navmit that night to reflect. We spent an hour or more just talking about how I might have been looking at everything from a narrow perspective, like the assumed purpose of the trip: service. I only thought of service in terms of giving and not receiving, but after a week in Naboutini, I received a whole lot more than I had anticipated.

What I failed to mention in previous posts, but what may have been the most important goal of the entire trip, was to love others well.

I think someone what might have asked me what that looks like, and I couldn’t give them a concise answer.

Hindsight is 20/20.

I read “Design Your Day” by Claire Diaz-Ortiz in early January-February. The author suggests you do very important things (among others): keep a journal with you wherever you go and pick a word or phrase of the year. It was a good way to direct my ideas and thoughts about what I have learned so far as a young adult in light of recent service experiences.

I thought to myself, Perfect! I have a brand new journal small enough to carry in all my bags.* However, I am a woman of many words and phrases. I don’t think I can pick only one to live by this year.

*As an aside, this journal was recently subjected to the condensation and sauce from my Panda Express bowl, which I foolishly placed in my cross body bag. Not entirely ruined, but is now marked by a weird discoloring. What a day.

While my goal before heading trip to Fiji was to learn to love others well, I was not sure if ‘love’ would be a catchall or if would simply be too cliche to continue throughout 2016. I figured it would be a one time thing, and then I could go back to just casual kindness.

Hold the phone.

I was recently listening to another episode of The Liturgists podcast, and I can’t remember the exact episode or even topic, but someone mentioned the apostle Paul and his letters to the church of Corinth. Yes, the chapter that everyone knows and loves to quote.

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I won’t interpret all of this passage, but I have found my phrase or word of the year.

Love above all else. 

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Pic Credit: Jes Therkelsen
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Vere in her green sulu and I in my baby blue chamba.

On the last day in the village, I allowed others in and allowed them to love me the way they know how. In the morning, Diala helped me wash the last of my clothes at her house before I had to pack. In the afternoon, I learned to weave part of a mat with Lina (like the one you see in the photo), young Paula dragged me to sea as part of the New Year ritual , and I taught Vere part of otea moana, a Tahitian dance about the ocean. Almost our entire group stayed in the ocean for two hours or more. In the evening, I sang and danced with the band until the early morning and managed to stay in my chamba, the formal dress for women, the entire time.

These blissful moments on the island filled my soul beyond its capacity. I felt loved. And I hope to make others feel loved, too. 

Service isn’t about you or me. It is not about looking for glory, recognition, or acceptance. It’s not just a project nor a time where you give just for the sake of giving without considering the actual need. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to connect with humanity, to be together in a shared space accomplishing a common goal, and to learn from people who know how to love well through service.

There was no casual kindness in Fiji, and that sort of culture was refreshing. It was a humbling, reciprocal experience that was so radically different than any service I have been apart of before.

I am so thankful. 

 

Continue reading Part Five: Delay.

Photos March 26, 2016

Thank you to my talented friend Tania Gonzalez for these wonderful photographs! Check out her collection of work out at T92photography.com. Her confidence with the camera has made me strive for confidence, both in myself and my work.

Photos, in a way, are manipulated reality.  I needed to see myself for who I have become, and give the lens over to someone else. My last head shots were taken before I graduated high school. It was time for something new. I wanted to update my social networking profiles. Profile–even that word suggests a created version of myself. Nonetheless, I had been holding on to what I used to look like with the old photos I used on my profiles.

2016-01-09 09.17.13Paula and I KHONE

I started changing my profile picture to what you see above as soon as I came back from Fiji, and it was good to have all these “unedited” versions of myself. I looked truly happy. Even in these photos, I managed to look more like the girl from the past.

But the few months following these photos have taken a toll on my physical body, and I was not comfortable seeing myself in a photo because I felt ashamed of the weight I had gained back. Yes, I am still struggling to stick to what I wrote in this apology note to my body last year and consequently, my health has been at the bottom of my priority list.

I can’t make any promises, but I will make an effort to look beyond my past and into the future to better care for my body, mind and soul. I will make an effort to remind myself daily that I am enough and that my beauty comes from within. These photos are not posted to be vain, but to extend myself grace online and offline. I wanted to share because I for once see myself the way many of you me, and most importantly, the way God sees me.

-E.D.C.

Part Three: Peace

Before you read this post, check out Part Two: No.

Celeste came and sat next to me on the bench, showing me the pictures she had taken around the island. I saw her face, full of wonder. Celeste was my roommate at the hotel in Savusavu, the small resort town we stayed in on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2016 before arriving in the village. We had a class together last spring, but didn’t know much about each other before traveling together.

Savusavu HotSprings 

I was fearful of being vulnerable with others, to let people see the ugly. I swallowed the last of my tears and wiped the sad snots from my nose, and tried to say something intelligent about why I was sitting alone. I couldn’t. 

Celeste saw the best of me at the beginning of the trip–excited and anxious eyes illuminated by the possibilities. She now saw me at my worst, but she assured me that I was not being a baby nor unreasonable. 

“We won’t be here for much longer,” she said. 

She had intervened at the perfect time. 


As I was writing this, I had just read about Jesus with the twelve disciples after he explains the parable of the sower. Again, I am still in awe that these men stuck around with Jesus for so long.  He never tried to save face–as in protecting the reputation others expected of him–but always did the will of his Father. But the disciples didn’t always know him as the Son of God.

Mark 4 beginning at verse 35: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I could see a bit of my own reaction (saying no to the present moment) in the reaction of the disciples (speaking with disbelief in awe).
This trip was bound to be different because New Year’s Eve was spent in a cyclone. I trusted that Jesus was with me. We made it to the village just a few hours later than what was scheduled, but we all made it alive.
I trusted that Jesus was with me when I jumped off the rocks down from the waterfall. I left the village with only a few scratches.
On this island, I woke up Jesus to ask “Do you not care that I am not enjoying myself on this trip? I don’t think we are doing anything related to service and I am not learning anything. Do something!”
And he awoke, and calmed the storm–a fear I had never experienced– inside of me. He asked me “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
I had little faith and failed to see that God was already doing something.

I was worn out trying to save face that week, and it challenged me to step outside of myself.

This self was one that lived by her calendar, tried to be perfect, and wanted to do everything and be everything to everyone, and expected the same of others even though I would never admit it.

I gave up those expectations, and entered the eye of the storm, a newfound place of indescribable peace.


We walked down the steps to the pizza oven out on the deck, where I could hear the music. A few guitars and ukeleles accompanied the loud, gentle voices. I entered the circle on the mat, and I listened intently. Our group left the island just a few minutes later, one boat after the other. We began our trek home just as the stars began to peek through the darkness.

I smiled, though no one could see it.

 

Continue reading Part Four: Love.

 

Part Two: No

Before you read this post, check out Part One: Yes.

The next day, there was an unexpected trip to a private island. It was rather humid that morning and afternoon, and we had pretty limited access to fresh water. Everyone was anticipating this brief respite from the village to enjoy a few cold drinks and snacks, and a new setting. We gathered our bags, towels, and money and headed to the truck for a short
drive through the lush green mountains down to the other side of the island. We boarded two small boats and I spotted the new territory from the distance.

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It was picturesque, everything that comes to your mind when you think about Fiji.

I walked off the boat into the shallow water and rocks, and I spotted a canopy with a table, hammock, and a few rocking chairs at the top of the hill. My friend Navmit climbed the steps with me, and we sat and talked about the village and ate Goldfish and Cheez-Its. Our friend Toushu joined us. We walked away for a bit to find the rest of the group, but as we were walking down a steep side of the mountain, I tripped. No injuries. Awesome.

I returned to the table and chairs at the top of the hill as everyone else scattered. By this time, the pizza was ready.

One more day in Naboutini. 

I was thinking about the end of the trip, when our plane would touch ground in Los Angeles. I grew increasingly sad as I watched people around me indulge themselves, not understanding why they were so happy.

I walked down to a bench overlooking the Pacific as soon as people cleared the way; I just wanted solitude, not solace. Salty tears rolled down my cheeks, and I implored God for answers.

What was the purpose of this trip?!

Why didn’t we stay in the village?  I want to go home to the village.

This is too nice, and I am uncomfortable with this privilege. I do not need a getaway right now. I can wait for pizza and Fiji Gold once we return to the big island.

God, am I just being a brat? But I feel like I don’t even deserve to be in Fiji right now!

I am not ready to go back to Fresno.

I am falling apart on this bench while everyone else is exploring the cliffs overseeing the Pacific Ocean, laughing and sitting by the pizza oven.

What is wrong with me? 

God, why am I here?

I was homesick. This place felt like an entirely different world even though we were just a few hours away.

I was familiar and comfortable with a certain kind of Fiji, but not with this paradise.

 I did not enjoy myself. I tried to go along with it, but I really had no desire to be with my friends down in the water, sitting on the hammock next to the professors, or listening to the owner of the island share his story.

I gave up on my say yes attitude and I said no to the present moment.

There were no immediate answers to my questions. I cannot blame my feelings or my experience on anyone or any one thing, but I have never felt such deep dissonance before.

As a perfectionist, I have a hard time letting myself off the hook when I don’t do something correctly or the way I had hoped to. Instead, I allow myself to be overcome by fear and frustration.

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My friend Celeste sent this picture to me when we arrived back home to the states. She said I looked peaceful, but she could not see the internal conflict until she came and sat beside me.

Continue to read Part Three: Peace.

Part One: Yes

My skin was neither dry or moist at the end of our hike to the top of the falls in Waningandru. I pushed my unruly mane of hair out of my face, and slipped my feet back into my water shoes. 

I looked down at the deep blue-green water from the rock I perched upon.

“Your turn,” said Jonah, chuckling as he stared back at the other boy.

Rope swing

I could not determine if he was excited for me or if this statement was tinged with a bit of impatience. I had taken the longest to walk back down the falls, and I was the last American left on that side of the rocks. We were supposed to be back in Naboutini, a 20-25 minute walk from this village, for our next meal.

But since everyone ran on Fiji time, we weren’t really in a hurry. He probably sensed my hesitation and just wanted me to loosen up and have fun.

At one point in time, I was fearless. No one had to motivate me to do something risky. My dad speaks with terror when he recalls the day I climbed up the last step of the ladder on to the roof of our house. I was only four, so I have no recollection of the event.

I put my glasses back on so I would be able to see with certainty the path to take on the rocks alongside the water, which was the alternative to jumping. I didn’t want to take my glasses off again. Everyone was already in the pool, or on the grass gathering their belongings.

Ok, I’ll jump.

I steadied myself, and handed my glasses to a friend down in the water below.

One..two…three.

When you are in a foreign country for the first time, especially a tropical oasis like Fiji , you have this appetite for adventure and for new experiences. You are brave, and fear is temporarily suspended. 

I have always lived life somewhere between being up for whatever and
acting on impulse, and methodically planning out everything to calculate and assess the risks or rewards of even the most insignificant situations. I am fairly rational, but in this moment, I had no time to over think the jump.

I just said yes.

I shared with others at our reflection that night that one of my goals
for this service-learning trip to Fiji was to have a say yes attitude,
and I believed whole heartedly that I was following through on this
goal.

Until I said no.

 

Continue to read Part Two: No.