Amurrica.

August 23, 2013

I have been back in the United States for nearly one month. Although I’ve been jetting around and haven’t exactly settled in San Diego yet, there are a few things I have observed about my readjustment so far.

1. I cannot cross the street properly. Cars waiting to turn right on red hate me for my nervous indecision, because I still assume anything with four wheels WILL hit me.

2. I cannot flush the toilet properly. I keep panicking when I actually drop my toilet paper in the toilet for fear that those four squares will clog the entire city’s plumbing.

3. Picking produce at the grocery store is revelatory. I am used to scouring endless land mines of rotten tomatoes and repulsively bruised mangoes that unsuspectingly ooze fermented juice all over my hand only to come away with nothing because everything is spoiled.

4. No matter how safe the city (seriously, Fremont and Cambridge?), I still walk around on survival/attack mode. My code red cynicism is still alive and burning.

5. Speaking of attack mode, orderly lining up has become a foreign concept to me. Any time a queue is formed, my instinct is to rush forward, elbows out. Apologies to the grandma at the grocery store yesterday…

6. Taking showers and lying in bed may be commonplace routines, but for me, they have become awe-inspiring highlights of my days. I am pretty sure I have thanked the Lord for shower curtains, water heaters, H2O that doesn’t smell like sewage, and real mattresses more than anything else…even time with B.

7. I heard this one from many a Peace Corps returnee, but I am still shocked by the excess of choices and options and how easy it is to spend money here. The credit card may be America’s greatest weapon.

8. Last Sunday was my first week back at Existence Church, and I hit culture shock so hard. More on this to come, but, GEEZ, money everywhere.

9. The more I travel, the more I LOVE San Diego. What kind of crazy person would ever leave this paradise heaven-land?!

10. Food is delicious.

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OANSA and iPraise 046Two years of my life.

For the month of July, I will be running Mi Esperanza’s OANSA program located at another site. After July, well, I will be returning to the States. Last week, my loving army of small hooligans and fellow leaders threw me a surprise farewell party on my final Saturday OANSA in Primero de Marzo, complete with ham and cheese sandwiches, frosting and sprinkles, presents, and adorable overload.

It was a wonderful morning of celebrating two years worth of ministry and two years worth of invaluable lessons learned about myself and life in general. The cherry on top was getting to share such a special day with a team from my home church in San Diego. Writing home about the things the Lord has been doing is one thing; being able to show them and match faces to stories is something else entirely.

But even more than this, it was a morning reflecting on the trust gained, rapport established, and friendships formed with the kids, and for me, that was really what made the celebration. Recognizing the Lord’s goodness in the way these kids have allowed me into the inner rooms of their lives was humbling and, yes, I’ll say it, fulfilling. There have been hard times in Paraguay, but these moments overshadow the valleys of anguish a million fold.

Words of affirmation is already my dominant love language, but I am sure letters of this quality and caliber would make even an ice queen’s heart melt.

Take a look at these precious nuggets (and get the tissues ready):

oansa 012Eight years old and ValeNtina still can’t spell her name correctly. I love her anyway.

oansa 008“ILY. I’m Raquel. Loren, the best mentor I have ever known. Thank you for advising me in OANSA. Thank you for everything.”

oansa 011“Thank you Laurren [sic] for teaching me how to cook and to play the guitar. And for everything you taught me and all the advice you gave me. I love you very much. You are one of my best friends. Never forget me. By: Teresa. THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING.”

oansa 004“Hello Loren. Thank you for being in OANSA. We love you very much. May God and Jesus bless you always and protect you in every moment and may your trip be an adventure. And we will always remember you. We will all miss you. Signed: Evelin and siblings.”

And then the best letter ever from Tara:oansa 003“Loren, you were the best cooking teacher and I wanted to say I hope you have a good trip. I know you love us all the same and us you, but I want to tell you that I love you more than all the others. You are the best friend, mentor, and cooking teacher. We all love you soooooo much, but I love you the most. I hope you have a wonderful trip. ILY, Loren!”

Bah.

Dinosaur Love: Croce’s.

April 30, 2013

B wordlessly appeared in my doorway gallantly holding a bright bouquet of yellow roses and looking like he had just stepped off a movie set. He was dressed in crisp black slacks, a perfectly tailored button-up shirt, sleek aviators, and his classic million dollar smile.

Uh, helloooo.

This was a big date. After a whirlwind two months of raw food, parking tickets, a whole lotta whispering, and a teensy bit of hand-holding, this was finally where things came to a head. We were about to face the elephant in the room and look the interminably awkward “Define the Relationship” monster (otherwise known as DTR) right in the eye.

But not quite yet. We had to leave the apartment first.

Despite B’s dapper getup, I myself was inexplicably attired in faded blue jeans, a snorefest of a casual blue sweater, and beat up brown flats. I had not a lick of makeup on and I think I still did not own a hairbrush at this time in my life. In an even more perplexing turn of events, I opted not to change before heading out–a stubborn decision I will question to my grave. Sigh. I have always been a late bloomer. (But that is why I have my relentlessly sparkling personality, right? Heh.)

And so we continued on. We rolled our way downtown in the hatchback Subaru, and B proceeded to exhuberantly belt his way through every song that came on the radio. I really did not feel like I knew this guy well enough to be in the presence of a such unabashed freedom, so I mainly rode in embarrassed silence (though I did quite admire his severe lack of shame). At the time, I thought his flamboyant histrionics were perhaps inspired by nerves or over-compensation of self-confidence, but I know now it is just…normal.

Maybe he got himself too riled up after his riveting vocal performances, but after we arrived, I stood and watched in confusion as B made multiple attempts to feed cash through the credit card slot of the parking meter. When he finally realized his error, he wordlessly submitted the correct form of payment and herded me along.

We strolled up a to glittering seafood establishment, and while I gawked, B with his trademark confidence, coolly stated his full name and reservation time. The hostess scanned her list. And then began flipping through the pages of her appointment book. And then scanned her list again. After several minutes of strangely prolonged searching, she offered, “I…don’t see your name anywhere. Are you sure you’re not Frederick?”

I guffawed and then before I knew it, B had grabbed my hand was briskly dragging me through a blinking crosswalk. It was not until we reached the other side of the street and had traversed a few blocks that I realized B had accidentally stopped at the wrong restaurant.

It seemed terribly wicked to laugh in that hilariously disoriented moment for B, but I was, in all honesty, very amused. This guy’s feathers were impossible to ruffle and his measures of self-assurance were always brimming. Yet here he was bumbling about (ah, young love). Still, ever the consummate smooth fellow, at least by appearance, he played it off like it ain’t no thing, and before long, we appeared at the intended eatery, an equally fancy restaurant with its own sleek exterior.

“I know you like live jazz (such a stalker), so I thought Croce’s would be a great place to enjoy some tonight,” B revealed. Except, as it turned, we were underage and not actually allowed to sit in the live music lounge.

So there we were, relegated to a table in the corner of the restaurant, B in his finest, me in what was decidedly not my finest, listening to soft tinklings of far-off piano stylings, and enjoying what was theoretically a milestone dinner that was panning out to be much more like a comedy of errors.

I recently read that Croce’s will be closing at the end of the year and permanently leaving its long-held post in the Gaslamp. I am sure so many of the multitudes that have floated in and out over the decades have a wide array of memories—stories of romance and light-hearted laughs like ours even—attached to such a historic locale, B and myself included. There will always be a sense of comical charm, so reflective of what our relationship continues to embody today, evoked by the quintessential jazz bar lounge. Just as quaint memories of old times past live on to bring nostalgic delight far into the present and the future, so too will the legendary Croce’s establishment.

And hopefully B and my history as well. Six years and counting.

(If that also tells you how the DTR went. Ahem.)

MS Walk Asuncion 2013.

April 21, 2013

MS Walk 2013 004Woohoo!

This is our family and friends’ thirteenth year of walking together as TEAM ANA in honor of my mom at the annual MS Walk in San Diego. Since I obviously am not able to join the rest of the crew, I decided to form an extension of the entourage here in Asuncion by sponsoring a makeshift MS Walk.

I hoped for a basic turnout and instead was blown away by the incredible presence of my Paraguayan community, who helped make the event not only a reality but a smashing success. They even surprised me by having purple TEAM ANA shirts made and showed up en masse and in uniform.

I am so humbled by the goodness and support of people all over the world, working together (and so enthusiastically) to further the cause of finding a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

Watch out, MS! We are gaining ground.

MS Walk 2013 007MS Walk 2013 016MS Walk 2013 017MS Walk 2013 015MS Walk 2013 011MS Walk 2013 010MS Walk 2013 013MS Walk 2013 009MS Walk 2013 006MS Walk 2013 008MS Walk 2013 012[We walked 5K too. I just did not carry my camera with me then. ;) ]