Best Reads in 2014

31 December 2014

This year, I read a lot of self-help and personality psychology books.  Not really any novels (except a John Grisham because he's always a delight).  Needless to say, it was a huge year of progression and self-discovery for me.  As such, I forego the awards for Best Discovered Novelist and Best Writing, and I just selected a couple Best New Mentors!

Best Discovered Novelist:  ----

Best Writing:   ----

Best New Mentor:  Andy Andrews and Brene Brown.

Below is my bookshelf of best reads in 2014:

Upward and onward,

The swing of our many hearts

28 December 2014

Sometimes the past beats inside like a second heart.  When the pendulum of my emotions needs to swing that way.

But I've been studying acceptance lately.  Accepting the pendulum to swing as it may. 

Then, I breathe in deep and put my primary heart back into focus.  Pulling my pendulum back in place. Allowing my thoughts and actions to become free of all previous fear, insecurity, or withholding.   Reigning from the power of accepting myself as a fresh new person in every moment that I need.  The feeling of total uninhibition and renewal.

Here's to quiet Sunday evenings, making mini collages, and using acceptance to be in control.

Upward and onward,

One Image Source

Too Crood to Remember

26 December 2014

Tonight after family games had been played and leftover Christmas dinner had been eaten, it was time to watch.... The Croods.  I honestly wasn't expecting much, but it was one of Brennan's Christmas gifts that he was eager to watch, and I wanted to hang out with him.  So I put my earlier Audrey Hepburn film on pause, and nestled into the couch with him and my parents to watch.

I loved the movie.  I'll get to that.

But mostly, I LOVED being with Brennan.  He was laughing SO much, as he always does.  It's so easy to get him laughing, and he just keeps going and going.  He's never anything but happy, calm, and easygoing.  And tonight I thought about how Brennan is one of the people I feel most happy around.  And when I see him experience any bad emotion, I can hardly handle it.  Is that what parenting feels like?  Feeling your child's emotions times 10?  Because if so, I don't think I could even handle watching my child eat a pea. For example, yesterday Trevor and Brennan were playing a video game upstairs.  I was sitting between them "meditating," which is what I tell Ryan is my Pinteresting time, ha!  But after a round of the game, Trevor started taunting Brennan - "why aren't you fighting better!" "how are you not better at this!"  The older brothers often tease Brennan.  But this time Brennan said, "Stop Trevor!  Stop teasing me!"  Which means business coming from the always-happy-calm boy.  So I stopped "meditating" and looked over at him.  His lip started quivering and his eyes welled up with tears.  It broke my heart.  Sometimes you just need someone in your corner.  So I flung my head the other way.  Protective sister mode.  "Trevor, encourage Brennan at what he does.  Do not bring him down.  Look at him, and then apologize."  Trevor looked over and Brennan was looking down at his controller with sad tears.  I saw Trevor look sad too.  "Sorry Bren."  Then I pulled Brennan close and just hugged him until he felt like playing again.  It made me feel SO sad to see him that deflated, though Trevor was noticeably uplifting towards him for the rest of the day. 

And then, earlier today, Brennan and I were downstairs just chatting.  I was asking him about school, who he hangs out with, who his friends are.  He didn't really have an answer.  "Who do you sit with at lunch?" I asked.  "I mostly just sit by myself."  "Do people come sit by you?  Are they your friends?"  "Yeah, people come sit by me and sometimes talk to me.  I don't know if they're my friends.  I don't really hang out with them."  He wasn't bothered by this, as it was just a fact to him, which is commendable that he's so comfortable and approving of himself during such a need-to-be-popular time.  And I can understand why he is this way, because we live outside of all the neighborhoods so there's really no kids around, and Brennan is so much younger than the rest of us siblings that he's used to not having people his age to connect with.  So probably at school, it feels normal to just be... more alone.

But that makes me feel so bad.

During the movie, as Brennan was laughing so hard next to me, and then as he grew tired, resting his head on my shoulder, I thought about this.  I thought what a tragedy it was for THEM, all those weirdo middle school kids.  Because of every kid at that place, I'd want to hang out with Brennan.  He's such a JOY to be around.  Move over zitty tweens!  Don't mind us laughing so hard about the caveman grandma who has nasty armpit hair.

I feel really really grateful that he is my brother and that I'm his "Best Friend."  Whether he means that truly, or because he's been coaxed all his older siblings for so long that he's primed in his answers.  But he is very much that role for me, as just being around him makes me SO happy.  Two goofy peas in a pod.

And as for those cavemen Croods, well, I was seriously impressed.  Nothing gets me like a feel-good movie with all these inspiring messages.  I mean, who knew a movie about CAVEMEN would make me feel so happy.  What I liked - besides Brennan hysterically laughing every time someone got punched in the face by a monkey or a rock, which was making it all equally hysterical for me - but I LOVED the following messages from the film:

-letting go of the way things have always been to allow for new ideas.
 (Guy being a risktaker, which kept fueling better and better innovations.  I believe in that!)

-find the differences in other people as a positive contribution.
 (Guy and the dad having a heart-to-heart in the tar, and they accept each other and note how each is offering benefit)

-moving beyond tragedy and still being a stellar person.
 (how Guy's family all died in a tar accident, and he never once let it hold him back)

-accepting ways you can be better and putting it straight to action.
 (the dad realizing he could be more open to new ideas and more loving to his daughter.  Changed the whole energy of his family.  I loved that!)

It was good.  It was all just so good.  And texting Ryan during the whole film was also fantastic :)

Here's to hilarious brothers, positive messages, and gratitude towards having just the people we need.

Upward and onward,


A simple night for myself

02 December 2014

Tonight I stole some solitudinal time for myself.

First I walked to the temple, just down the campus of my office, and did my favorite work of iniatories.  Worked with a woman who had a permanently deformed neck, and as she talked to me with her head completely cranked sideways, my own neck started to itch horribly in the same spot.  I thought of those movies that are like, "when we go in to see him, whatever you do, don't stare it his unibrow."  And then the scary guy turns around in his chair and all the main character can do is gape wide-eyed at his unibrow.  Stop itching neck.  

I recovered, felt an amazing calm while doing the temple work.  That was my first time doing initiatories in the Salt Lake temple. 

Then I came home and went for a run. Runs are few and far between these days.  It is always well passed dark, which makes me long for my sunshine evening runs.... ah gosh.  So I swaddled up and sprinted down to the city park and began running laps around the mile and a half loop, dodging from lamp post to lamp post, decompressing my mind.  A few laps in, I became aware of the one other runner in the park.  A young fellow, dressed in all black spandex, running in the same spot of the park as I was.  He was running sprints and walking the hills, and I ran steadily.  So we leapfrogged back and forth, back and forth, for many laps.  The park was entirely barren, except for the two of us running close by each other, so we grow to be somewhat of comforting companions.  Though we never spoke, or even acknowledged the other, it was really nice to not be alone.  I told myself that I would just keep running until he went home, and then I'd go home too.  So we kept going and going.  Always passing each other in the sames spots.  I reached mile 8, holding myself firm down a hill.  I reached the spot where he usually passed me, and I turned around to see if he was coming.  He was gone.

Well, that marks the end of my run too then.  So I walk-danced the last part of the loop to a Chris Brown song, which is my signature thing to do when I know no one is around to see.  And then I lollygaged the mile and a half back home, texting Ryan who was still working late.

Now I write in my "unds" on my bedroom floor.  That saying goes way back to grad school when I would blog in my underwear and Leslie would sit in the hallway and laugh with me.  Some things never change I suppose. 

Here's to calming nights.  The same things that make me feel peaceful time and time again.

Upward and onward,

And some happy pictures!!

A cute little house on my run!  CHRISTMAS IS COMING! 

Happy view from my room.  My favorite scripture next to my brothers.  My mangled vision board on the left and my new vision board on the right.  And of course my two house plants that are miraculously STILL ALIVE.  

And a visual for said writing location.  Everything just feels so cozy and right tonight.

Philippines Anniversary and release of PART ONE

28 November 2014

Exactly one year ago, I was in the Philippines.  As a matter-of-fact, my Thanksgiving last year was spent on a white sand Filipino beach with Mace and Preston. 

Well, I have news.  I finally posted PART ONE of my trip.  (I had to break it up into a few parts, because frankly, putting this together was far more work than I imagined.  God bless any human who has ever written a book). 

For your holiday reading pleasure:

Part One of my Philippines Journey

Chapter 1 - deciding to go
Chapter 2 - travel to the country
Chapter 3 - Walter joins and we arrive
Chapter 4 - assembling care packages
Chapter 5 - Preston and a miracle
Chapter 6 - meeting the team
Chapter 7 - the decision
Chapter 8 - grabbing hold of God

Additionally, our story is also featured in the video below.  I will forever hold these two men and this story in the most well-kept part of my heart.

Here's to now leaving my bedroom and interacting with humanity again. 

Upward and onward,

Part 8 - Philippines Journey: grabbing hold of God

You cannot calm a storm.  You can only calm yourself.

Mace and I board the boat, walking down a flight of stairs, and into a freezing indoor bunk room.  The team is already inside discussing where everyone will be sleeping for the several hours we have.  I need a moment to just be alone, so I let Mace go ahead of me, and I crawl out of sight into one of the lower bunks. 

After a few minutes, I grab my backpack and jump up, heading lightly towards the back of the room with everyone else.  Brylle shouts over at me, "Hey Chantel!  You'll be bunking right below me.  Between Mom Beth and Mace."

"Thanks."  And I crawl into my lower bunk, push my backpack against the wall, and lay down again.  As much as I'd fully like to just go to sleep, I can't get Leslie off my mind.  How could something so "noble" make me feel so sad?  Shouldn't courage feel better than this?

Mace lightly touches my back.  "Do you want a blessing?" he asks.  I roll over, and he and Preston are both looking at me from their lower bunks across from mine.  I nod.

Mace helps me up, and I follow him and Preston across the room.  I am thinking we are headed to a sideroom, as the bunk room is growing louder with more people packed in.  However, Mace stops and motions towards a cardboard box sitting between two bunks.  "Have a seat,"  he says.

I look at him quizzically, and then sit down.  Preston steps to the other side of the box, and they both place their hands on my head.  I can feel the boat rocking beneath me.  This moment is far too surreal.

The blessing reassures me that God supports the decision I have made, and I will receive a number of blessings as I continue on, even long after this trip is over.  That's the interesting thing about God - He never tells you what to do, even though He knows the path for your future.  He let's you choose for yourself and find out.

Well, I am on the boat.  I am going.

Afterwards, Mace asks if I would like to go upstairs and talk.  He ushers down the aisle of bunks towards the exit door, encouraging me to lead the way.  I thank Preston and he heads back to his bunk, while Mace and I walk quickly to the exit door of the bunk room.  There is no distinct handle on the door, so I push and pull one side, and then push and pull the other.  Mace reaches around me and pops the door open.  "Remember, doors are hard," he says, and we both laugh.

We go upstairs and walk around the landing until we find a private spot on the railing.  We lean over the side of the boat, looking out into the black ocean and the black starry night.  We stand in silence for awhile.  Then Mace asks, "What do you think about all this?"

I tell him that I feel okay.  I'm sad that I'm missing Leslie's wedding, but I'm okay.  I'm ready to move forward in our adventure and go to the island!

Mace smiles.  He tells me that he was trying to remain unbiased the whole time, and he was inspired by the loyalty I have towards my friends, but he is very happy that I chose to come.  He says, "I feel like our journey is at just the beginning.  We are only going to witness more miracles."

We continue looking out over the water.

Then Mace says, "Chantel, I want you to know that out of all the people I have met in my life, you are one of the top 3 that I respect the most."  He tells me that though I've been through a lot in my personal life, I come out fighting every time, and that's the type of person that is needed on a trip like this.

"Thank you.  That means a lot to me."  I tell him.

The horn above us blows a couple times, and we know that means we are sailing off.  Mace and I look at each other with raised eyebrows, and then I pull out my phone to text Leslie and tell her I'm going to Tacloban.  She immediately replies with her encouragement.

Then Mace and I head back downstairs to get in as much sleep as we can.  Though we first tell each other hushed jokes across our bunks and get each other laughing, before finally winding down for bed.

I can feel the boat rocking with the waves as it moves across the sea.  Unlike the waves that destroyed the island just days before.  Thunderous.  Violent.  Dangerous.  People running for cover.  Others being thrashed into the water.  The torrential waves demanding their remains.

Now the waves are are gentle and peaceful.  Rocking us slowly to sleep.  Calm.  Rhythmic. Bringing in arms ready to serve.  Goods ready to repair.  A ship full of courage.

We'll see which holds the greater power.

Upward and onward,

Image Source

Part 7 - Philippines Journey: the decision to go to Leyte

A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.

After grabbing dinner, the whole team heads back to ZEDRU's office to load up the relief goods and being driving to the port. 

I am consistently noting the time, waiting for 7:30 pm, when Leslie should be waking up in America.

We have divided up between the vehicles according Mom Beth's buddy system.  Mace and Preston are paired together, and I am paired with Mom Beth.

Mom Beth sits beside me in the van, and while we drive through the streets of Cebu, I keep my eye on the time.  I remember Mom Beth talking to me; I think she was sharing a story about another rescue operation when a different calamity hit the Philippines.  But I can't recall much as my mind is muddled, and my stomach clenches tighter with uncertainty.

As soon as the clock hits 7:30, I dial Leslie's number.  She answers groggily, though excited to hear from me, and I tell her the situation.  Leslie sympathizes with me, saying that is a really tough decision, but she isn't biased in either direction.  She really wants me at her wedding, but she really wants to support me in this cause.  She says she will pray for me as I make my choice, and we get off the phone.

We both know that ultimately the choice lies with me. Walter grabs my hand, and my eyes again well up with tears.

At this moment, we reach the boat dock, and without another quiet moment for me to think, Mom Beth flings open the van door, grabs me by the wrist, and pulls me out into the swarming crowd.  Hundreds of people are flooding the boat office to either get into the island, or camping out to wait for the loved ones to be saved from the island.  The noise of chatter is deafening, and the lights over the port are extremely bright against the black sky.

With Mom Beth's hand firmly grasping my wrist, she immediately begins yanking me through the crowd towards the boat office.  She finagles her way through the lines, showing her EMT badge, and getting special access to continue passed lines of people.  I scramble behind her, trying to just get one good breath from the overwhelming situation, my mind still foggy and my stomach still clenched.

I don't even have one moment to think about my decision as Mom Beth keeps tugging me further and further into the crowd.  I can't wrap my brain around anything, other than the fact that my arm was stuck in Mom Beth's pursuit, and thus, so is the rest of me. 

Finally, we reach the far side of the boat office, beyond the hundreds of people, Mom Beth flashes our tickets to a security officer, who opens the door behind her a tiny crack, and we are allowed to slip through.  We are outside behind the building, finally relieved of the noisy crowd.  Mom Beth guides us back up the port to where trucks are loading goods onto the boat.  We locate our truck with the rest of our team, and I see Mace immediately turn around and spot me.  For the first time since I was hauled out of the van, Mom Beth finally lets go of my wrist, and I walk over to him, rubbing the spot where Mom Beth's hand used to be.

Noting the look on my face, Mace asks me if he needs to arrange a driver to take me back to Cebu to stay with Apollo until my flight leaves for America.  I tell him that we'll finish loading the goods and then we can talk.  Though, I'm not much helping unloading much of anything, as I'm so distracted by what I should do.  The van driver approaches me.  "Ma'am, are you okay?"

I spin around.  "Yeah, yeah, I think I'm fine.  Well, I don't know."

Then he interjects in broken, but still very understandable English.  "Walter told me about your decisions.  Your friend's wedding.  Or your travels to Tacloban.  I just want to say that you coming to our country is very touching.  You come to help our people.  And that means a lot to us.  Your journey here means a lot to me.  Thank you, ma'am."  And then he walks away.  I stand even more numb than before.

The goods are loaded, and the team pauses for a picture.  I'm hardly present.

It's time for us to get on the boat. 

The team goes ahead, walking across the ramp and onto the boat, while Mace and I stay behind.  We both say nothing, just staring ahead into the black ocean.  "Whatever you want to do," he gently says.

And we stand for a moment longer before I turn to him.

"Let's go."  And I step onto the boat ramp, and he grins.

Upward and onward,


Image Source

Part 6 - Philippines Journey: meeting the ZEDRU team

It begins with faith.  A decision to act.

We load up our goods onto the back of several jeeps, driven by locals who agree to take us to the Cebu ZEDRU office.  After all the bags are loaded, Mace, Preston, Walter, and I climb on top of the tailgate, and the jeep takes off.

We cruise down the road, and while we're waiting to turn onto the main street, a giant bus is charging straight towards us.  The bus comes closer and closer, not slowing it's pace, though the jeep isn't budging.  We stare open-mouthed at the bus headed right for us, and just at the last second, the jeep pulls out onto the street, and the bus comes to a screeching halt on the corner.

We speed down the main road, opposing traffic whizzing by right at my elbows.  It's so exhilarating.  Each time the jeep speeds up, I grab the edge of the tailgate and push on Mace's leg to keep from sliding off.  Like a ride at the theme park, but no seatbelts.

We arrive at the office, finally able to breathe after our wild ride.   The ZEDRU team is waiting for us, and Preston introduces us one by one.  Fortunately for me, most of them are fluent in English.

After our goods our unloaded into the small room, with a little bathroom off to the side, we sit down and chat, while the two leaders of ZEDRU decide on the best travel arrangements.  Mace and I whisper to each other that we feel like we're in a movie, as each member of ZEDRU is physically distinct, and we can pick out their personality and role on the team.

Beth, referred to as "Mom Beth," is the only woman on the team, somewhere in her late 40's, and distinctly the team leader.  She holds all the information and is able to make decisions quickly.  She is the one who arranges cost and transportation.  Her hair is always kept in a tight bun, except for at night when she lets it down and it's so long and beautiful.

Willy, a father in probably his mid 30's, appears to be second in command.  He has a very playful and sarcastic side - the loud and always laughing type - and has a very big, distinct smile.  As soon as Mom Beth gives an instruction, Willy takes the lead and motivates the rest of the team to follow.  As one of the older men in the group, the younger men clearly respect him and follow his lead. I like watching the two of them work together and note how they make a good pair for planning and executing.

Then there is Brylle.  Brylle is the son of Mom Beth.  He is 23 and the jokester of the group, always goofing around and quoting American phrases that he learned from one of his American missionary companions, like "oh freak!"  Basically any phrase that endsin "freak."  I laugh every time he says it.  Brylle is a shorter member of the team, but he is notable for his hair.  Somehow he always keeps it styled in a perfect fohawk, ready for a photo at any time.

Then TJ.  TJ seems to be the bronze of the group.  He is a larger man, about Willy's size, and 28 years old.  I suspect he is the Filipino version of tall, dark, and handsome.  He speaks mostly only Tagalog, so it takes me awhile to catch onto his personality.  Mace keeps telling me that TJ is the witty one-liner man of the group.  Though he doesn't speak much, but when he does, everyone laughs.  Additionally, the more I observe TJ, the more I realize he has the biggest heart of gold. 

Arch is the next Filipino I meet in the group.  Arch is 25, right between Brylle and TJ.  Arch is a bit more reserved than the rest of the guys, as far as playful energy goes.  Arch seems a bit more introspective and observant.  Of all the group members, I become closest to him.  We talk a lot as he is curious about more of the world.  I learn he is raising a 5 year-old daughter on his own, as the mother was taken away to Australia by her father .

And finally, Jabar.  Jabar is 26, and he is about the height of Arch and Brylle, except a lot rounder.  He has small eyes and looks somewhat Asian.  Like TJ, he does not speak much English, so I don't get to know him as well either, but his personality is evident to me.  He is the easygoing, happy-go-lucky one of the group.  He seems to be the brunt of a lot of jokes, as the others always repeat his name in jest, "Jabar Jabar."  But Jabar just laughs.  He seems a bit like the kid outside of the "cool group."  Yet later in our trip, Jabar comes to pick up Mace, Preston, and I from the airport, and he pulls up in a low-rider, tinted window car.  To have your own car in the Philippines means you are doing very well for yourself.  His music is pumping, and he hops out of the car wearing sleek sunglasses.  He tells us that he earned his living as a former street racer.  Mace and I look at each other with raised eyebrows.  We were all taken aback at his "coolness."

Anyway, after Mom Beth and Willy had made some plans, she announces that we are going to buy our boat passes and head over to Tacloban tonight!

However, as Mace and I are calculating the time of transportation to the island and back, we'd only have less than a day to work before I have to return for my flight home.  As half of the team walks to the boat ticket office, Mace and I discuss what I should do.  Going to the island will not be possible for me, yet staying alone in Cebu hardly seems safe.  However, missing Leslie's wedding isn't an option.

We reach the ticket office at 4 in the afternoon.  Mom Beth, Brylle, and Walter go inside the office to negotiate prices.  Preston stands under the shade of the roof, wiping the sweat from his forehead.  And Mace and I stand on the curb of the street, in the beating sun, discussing what to do. 

Walter peers his head out of office and suggests we come inside until the pricing negotiation is done.  Only the bottom part of the door is open, so Preston, Mace, and I bend over and crawl inside.  Mom Beth and Brylle are on the other side of the counter, still discussing prices.  Mace informs the team of my dilemma, and Mom Beth secures a boat pass for me anyways and says I have until 9 pm, when we dock the boat, to decide.  Preston, Walter, Mace and I scrunch together on the other side of the counter and wait.

We are standing in front of a reflective glass.  I look at myself with Mace on one side, and Preston on the other.  Tall, white Americans.  Our determination is evident in our faces, we each look strong, confident, and ready to serve.  We came here on a mission and are ready to fulfill it.

We begin to discuss our miraculous day while we wait.  How each of our decisions to come had impacted the others - Mace wouldn't be here if I hadn't funded the trip.  If Mace hadn't come then Preston and Walter wouldn't have come.  If they hadn't come, we never would have met ZEDRU.  If we had never met ZEDRU, they would be unable to go to the island without any relief goods.  We talked about how all of our decisions to even come happened just days ago.  How people were so surprised in our haste to leave on this trip, how so many people were willing to donate, how the entire purpose and meaning behind our trip seemed far bigger than we were yet able to understand.

However, I just couldn't miss Leslie's wedding.  Leslie and I met our last year of graduate school when we moved into the same apartment without knowing each other beforehand.  I think we had exchanged one email prior to moving in, simply to introduce ourselves.  We lived with two other girls, and Leslie and I shared the back of the apartment, so we got to know each other really well when we stayed up late talking on the weekends.  However, after 8 months, we both graduated and moved away.  I moved to a city just north and got my own apartment, and she moved to Las Vegas for an internship.  After a year, she had been offered a job back at our university and contacted me to say she was moving back!  She told me that if I knew of any housing options to let her know.  I told her that my place had an extra bedroom, so she was welcome with me!  Within a couple months, she had moved in, and from there, we became inseparable.  We were there for each other through the hard, and we stayed up far too late on so many nights laughing ourselves to stomach pains.  We bought each other flowers whenever one went out of town.  We wrote notes on the mirror, made dinners together, and saw each other in and out of several relationships.  She became the greatest friend and roommate I had ever known.  We became closer to each other then we were to anyone else.  So missing her wedding just wouldn’t happen.

Finally the tickets are purchased, and we leave the office, back into the beating sun.  As we wait for a jeepney to take us back to the rest of the team, I put my hands around my eyes to block the sun and look up at Mace.  He looks at me, smiling kindly, knowing the weight of my decision.

"I'm going to call Leslie tonight."  I say.  "I'm not making a choice yet; I just need to talk with her."

He nods, and my eyes well up with tears.

Upward and onward,

Preston is found!  And the goods are loaded up.
 Mace playing with the children outside ZEDRU's office.
The ZEDRU team.  Arch, TJ, Jabar, Willy, and Mom Beth (Brylle not featured)

Image Source

Part 5 - Philippines Journey: Preston and a miracle

When God finds your working, He'll make your path far greater.

Monday morning, I awake before the boys and go downstairs and around the alleyway to the front door of Apollo's home.  I let myself inside, and Apollo's wife is sitting in the front room watching the morning news.  She speaks very little English, and I speak even less Cebuano.  Try none.  So our communication was basically just smiling at each other.

I motion towards the bathroom and say I'm going to shower.  She puts her hand up to hold me off for a second and goes to grab a pair of flip-flops from the bedroom.  She puts them in front of my feet and motions for me to wear them in the bathroom.  Granted, my feet hung off the ends by about two inches.

I proceed to shower with the small spout on the wall and a tiny bucket for water.  My dad always told me about showering with a bucket from his time on the mission.  But that story was so far removed from me that I never really took it in.  Well, here I was.  An ice cold bucket of water.

I showered as well as I could, watching geckos crawl in and out of the cracks above my head.  I emerge from the bathroom just as Mace and Walter come into the room.  Apollo has prepared all of us breakfast, and we sit down to eat.  Mangos, rice, and ulam, which is a blend of meats and vegetables to put over rice.

After breakfast, we quickly pack up our things and take off, heading for the church building where our goods are stored.  We plan to begin another hunt for Preston.  At the church, Mace makes several phone calls, and then takes off with Apollo's son to try more urgently to locate Preston.  Walter and I lay down on the church pews and fall asleep.  Awhile later, Mace comes into the room, accompanied with Preston!

They tell me they have an amazing story to share, and proceed to tell me about their conversation when first getting ahold of each other.  I sit up while Mace and Preston both share one of the greatest miracles I've ever witnessed

Preston begins by sharing that while waiting to get ahold of Mace and I yesterday, he attended a church service on a different side of Cebu.  As Preston is a trained EMT, he was wearing his shirt with medical insignia and standing at the back of the chapel.  A couple of Filipinos approached, dressed in similar medical clothes, and asked him what he was doing in Cebu.  Preston explained to them that he is a trained EMT and had come to help with typhoon relief.  However, he explained, he could not get ahold of his fellow travelers, so he was just attending church while he waited for contact.

The Filippino group introduced themselves as a small EMT group from Manilla.  They respond to emergency relief efforts all over the country, and call themselves ZEDRU, for Zion Emergency Disaster Relief Unit.  They are also on their way to help with typhoon relief and stopped in Cebu to attend church and wait for their supplies and relief goods to arrive.  They tell Preston that until their goods arrive from Manila, they are unable to secure boat tickets to get to the island of Tacloban.

Then Mace jumps into the story and shares how Mace, Walter, and I spent the entire prior day using our donation money to prepare hundreds of relief packages, and we were simply waiting for Preston so we could determine transportation to the island.

Then Preston and Mace tell us that we have agreed to join teams and travel together to the outskirting cities of Tacloban.  We have the relief goods to go to the island now, and now we have a medically trained team that will lead us in more effective efforts.  Later, we find out that ZEDRU normally travels in a group of 10.  However, 4 of their members were unable to join this emergency relief effort, but the remaining 6 decided to go anyways.  Then, the 4 of us miraculously came along to fill in the vacancies...

Now the slight delay in our journey makes sense; God had a mighty miracle up His sleeve that He had been working long before we even left for this trip.  We all smile at each other as we affirm the greater plan of our two small teams meeting and merging.

Immediately Mace, Walter, Preston, and I begin to load up our goods.  No time to waste in meeting our new team and getting over to the island.  Clearly there is a path prepared for us.

We depart more confident than ever that God will lead the way.

Upward and onward,

Preston meets ZEDRU at church.

Part 4 - Philippines Journey: assembling care packages

Not knowing what's around the corner, the best choice is just one foot in front of the other.

Mace, Walter, and I stand on the curb of the airport at 6 am on Sunday morning in Cebu, Philippines.

Walter has arranged for us to stay overnight with one of his family friends, and in the meantime, we are to find Preston and secure transportation to the destroyed island of Leyte. Walter's friends arrive and gather our bags to transport back to their home.  The father stays with us.  His name is Apollo, and he agrees to be our guide for the day.

We begin walking up the road to accomplish our goals for the day, as each day we decide to begin with a new plan.  Mace has purchased a cheap cell phone, and he attempts calling the local Mission President office to see if there's any word from Preston.  Nothing.  We try several internet shops, before finding one where Mace can email Preston to tell him we've arrived and the number he can reach us at.  In that short time it makes Mace to send an email, I've already fallen asleep behind him in a spare chair.  Mace puts his hand on my shoulder, and I wake up, immediately ready to get back to work.

Mace, Walter, Apollo, and I hop on a jeepney, deciding to use our donation money to load up on food staples and build as many care packages as our funds will allow.  We travel from grocery story to grocery store, determining how much rice is in stock to accommodate hundreds of care packages.  Mace does an exceptional job negotiating prices for bulk quantities of water, crackers, sardines, and rice, especially given the dialect barrier between what he knows of Tagalog and their language of Cebuano.

We spend hours traveling between stores and negotiating for supplies, and my energy is growing weak.  I find a spot on a bag of rice and just observe Mace talk with store owners.  Finally around 2 pm, our purchases are secure, and Mace has arranged delivery to a church building near Apollo's home.  Mace notes my weakening energy and comes to my side.  He suggests we retire to Apollo's home for lunch and take a quick rest before deciding on our next move.  We've still had no word from Preston.

We head back across town to Apollo's home, passing all the bustling people in the streets.  I see a child squatting over a pile of trash, digging for leftover food.  My stomach feels queasy as I remember my time in India and many similar impoverished sights.

After riding for awhile on a jeepney and then walking through a little village, we arrive at Apollo's humble concrete home, stacked amongst other concrete structures, some of which have clearly been burned down.  Later, one of the sons tells me about a fire that took his family's home just across the alleyway a few months ago.

As we enter Apollo's home, our bags are just inside the door.  While Apollo prepares lunch for us, he invites us to rest on his little bed.  Mace and I lay down, observing a little mouse and gecko running away from each other on the top of the wall.  Though even with our exhaustion, we are unable to sleep, as a rooster outside has a broken biological clock and won't stop squawking, and Mace and I would rather quietly talk and continue processing what we're experiencing.

After awhile, Walter comes in to grab us for lunch, and we all sit down for Apollo's generous meal.  Afterwards, we decide to head to the local church where Apollo's son is bishop and where we scheduled delivery of our goods.  Apollo's son had asked his ward members to stay after church and help us divide and package the food for families on Leyte. 

We arrive, and everyone is still in their Sunday dress, quickly forming a large assembly line in the chapel.  We proceed to bundle all the food and talk with each other until well into the evening.  Everyone was so friendly, and after we were done, I sat down with some of the girls my age to talk and share our lives.  Later, Mace sits down beside me and asks, "So just how many friends did you make today?"

Well after dark and after everyone has gone home, Mace and I run over to an internet shop across the street.  Still no word from Preston.

Mace, Walter, Apollo, and I jump on a jeepney and ride into town.  I love the bustling city at night, cruising through town with all the lights and smells, talking to all the people getting on and off the jeepney.  This is one of my happiest nights.  Mace notes how excited I am, and I continue to tell him how much I love this city.

We arrive at a large shopping center where we gather some food that we will ration out for our journey to the island, as we expect no other food to be available.  Then we head back to Apollo's home.

After riding the jeepney through town, and walking through the village for awhile, Mace, Walter, and I stop to try a chicken helmet.  Just a fried chicken head - beak, brain, and all.  With the first bite, I feel the head collapse.  Second bite, the beak crunches.  Third bite, the eyeball pops.  And at that point, I spew it out.  I look at Walter and he hasn't even gotten the helmet in his mouth yet.  Then Mace throws his up too.  I am laughing so hard that I trip over a stepping stone, and get clotheslined from a literal clothesline.  We pause our walk to let out all our laughter.

We finally arrive at Apollo's house just after 10 pm, and we are so tired that we can barely keep our eyes open.  Mace and I sit down on one of the little benches in Apollo's front room, and before Apollo even steps into the kitchen to begin dinner, we are fast asleep.  Walter wakes us up to eat, and though my fatigue overtakes my hunger, Mace encourages me to eat just a little before I head upstairs to crash.

Apollo's wife has prepared a small spare room for us to sleep.  The room is big enough to hold a mattress and small couch.  After dinner, I stumble around the side of the house, and up the stairs to the detached bedroom.  I lay down on the mattress, nearly instantly asleep.  Mace and Walter join me at some point in the night.  Still no word from Preston.

We will find our next step.  We always do.

Upward and onward,

Heading out into the city of Cebu, just after leaving the airport.  The true essence of backpacking through a country.

Passing a cock fight as we walked.  Can't say I'd ever witnessed one before.  So much squawking. 

Falling asleep after 10 seconds in an internet shop.

First experience with Taho.  Soy curd, sugary sauce, and jelly ball things.  It was pretty good.

While traveling around the city, we came across this lady and gave her some of the crackers we took from the plane.  She started snickering and chattering to herself.  It was cute - I couldn't stop laughing.  Also, pretty sure she's mangling that dog. 

 Driving through Cebu with my head out of the jeepney.  I LOVED riding in those things.

Apollo on the far right.

 Drinking pigs brains, blood, and guts.  Yep, super gross.

Mace negotiating.  I was so impressed.
Riding home in a trike.  LOVED riding in them.

 Apollo's home on the left.
Assembling care packages with the ward.

The chicken helmets we tried.

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