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Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Comfort Zone

I believe that personal growth comes from operating out of your comfort zone on occasion. I preach this often and I hear it being preached often. It’s the truth. In fact, I live most of my life outside of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert naturally which means I draw energy from being ALONE; yet, professionally, I manage a team of educated professionals, present in front of others often, provide input in meetings with other executives, sometimes tell people what they don’t want to hear, advocate for my team, etc. I’m drained when I come home. Becoming a Zumba fitness instructor was another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. Interestingly enough, I attribute my professional success to my alter ego as a Zumba fitness instructor. Keep in mind, I’m not teaching anywhere at the moment, but I practice in my garage “studio” as if I do.

Since I’m a person that is constantly challenging myself and love to help people, it’s not surprising that I decided to participate on a mission trip…another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. The original trip was supposed to occur in Haiti in July 2018. I wrote a blog post about the circumstances surrounding the change here: Haiti. Mission of Hope, the nonprofit that our church, LifeAustin, works with for the Haiti mission trips, is establishing their presence in the DR. My team was the first to participate at the Santiago location. I experienced many feelings (good and bad) on this trip including joy, irritation, frustration, silliness, sadness, elation, humility, awkwardness, boredom, and gratefulness. My patience and ability to relinquish control were definitely tested.

What people need to know is that there are risks to operating out of your comfort zone. It’s not all fun and games, however, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Keep an open mind. I certainly experienced some growing pains on this trip. I’m glad I can laugh at myself. Within the first 2 days, I fell 3 times. These were not dainty falls and there was no saving me from experiencing the fall in either scenario. The first fall resulted in a bloody knee. For two of the falls, people had to literally lift me off the ground. One night, unbeknownst to my roommates, I fell in the shower and landed on my butt, which hurt for the rest of the week. When we were out gifting water filters in a neighborhood, my arm scraped across some chicken wire and the medics had to mend me (see cover). The bandages look worse than the actual scar. It was a good thing that I got my Tetanus shot. Of course, every nurse that I shared the story with asked me if I had gotten the shot.

My battle scars (might be a little dramatic) remind me that I gained way more than I lost in comfort by participating on this trip.

More posts to come from my DR experience.

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Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Food

For my blog readers, my son, Caleb and I are finally on our mission trip in Santiago, DR. We arrived in the middle of the night to the Mission of Hope (MOH) Santiago Campus Sunday morning, June 2. I’ll be blogging about this experience while I can on the trip and for the next several weeks. I’ve shared pictures on my Facebook page, but I really want to unpack this experience through blogging. Update: This is the only blog post I’ve managed to type thus far. I intended to post more, but I think several things are at play: I’ve been more tired than usual, been getting settled into my normal routine, and still mentally and spiritually processing this trip.

This particular post is focused on the food. These almond butter packets I brought have saved me to a point.

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At the time that I posted this, I only had one left. So what have we been eating? Well, we’ve been roughing it, for sure, at least Caleb and I think so. MOH has many interns and most of them appear 19-25ish. They’re pretty thin and may not mind the food. Our mission group has a range of ages. I was worried about what the food would be on because I eat pretty healthy at home. We were allowed to bring our own snacks, so I brought a bunch of healthy items: Kashi cereal & cereal bars, kind bars, pistachios, organic applesauce, dried fruits, green energy packets & electrolytes, organic soups, peanut butter packets. I only ate a fraction of what I brought (electrolytes, pistachios, dried fruits, peanut butter packets) and ended up donating the remainder to the MOH interns and staff.

As a church group, we brought on the flight with us some items from the states since it would be cheaper: Peanut butter, jelly, cereal, powdered milk, condiments, etc. For every meal, there have been ample carbs. For example: white bread for sandwiches & macaroni salad. Dinner usually entailed rice and more bread. Neither Caleb nor I are particularly like sandwiches, but we’ve been making it work. Caleb was really hungry on the second or third day when he realized we would be eating the same foods and he said, “I’m going to have to make this work”. He made a macaroni salad SANDWICH!

Dinners was made by Haitian and Dominican cooks.

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Beef stew with rice/beans and cake

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Stewed chicken and peas with not just white rice, but also graten, which is a delicacy! Strawberry cake on the side.

Each night featured a different meal…all tasty. The pictures do not give the food justice. Although he acknowledged it was good, Caleb wasn’t too impressed because I make Haitian food at home along with many other types of food. I think he thought he was going to eat something he never had previously. I’m thankful that my mom taught me how to cook, even though I vividly remember not wanting to learn. I get to share that part of my heritage with my family.

One of the Haitian cooks has been working with MOH Haiti for a while. Her brother was sponsored by the organizer at our church for some years, then he was sponsored to attend college by someone else. He’s since graduated college. I introduced myself to her as she was serving our food, but hope to have a good conversation with her before I leave. Update: I didn’t get a chance to have a conversation with her with all of our activities. I hope we cross paths again one day….perhaps on another mission trip?

I didn’t eat much breakfast. I embraced my almond butter sandwiches for lunch, but I’ve especially looked forward to dinner. I’m surprised we’ve had fresh salads most evenings. I was told in Haiti there is rarely fresh greens so this is a treat. We’ve also had cake the last 2 nights. Our team lead managed to get us some avocados. They were huge. We also had mangos as there were several mango trees on the property where we stayed. It’s not everyday that I eat fruit that falls off a tree. I do remember growing up in Chicago, my aunt and uncle had a pear tree on their property. The pears never seemed to be ripe, even after they had fallen.

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Avocado

This trip isn’t about me having all the comfortable, familiar foods I want when I want it. It’s about sacrifice and service, so I can deal for a week. Speaking of service, each group was assigned dish duty, which we participated in as a group. Also, Friday was beach day and we got to eat some local food as noted in the cover photo: fried red snapper, rice, beans and plantains (not pictured). It was so good! My impression is that Dominican food is just about the same as Haitian food. Rice and beans, plantains, and protein. More stories to come from this experience.

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Say yes

Last week’s blog post was about learning to say “no”.  My focus this week will be on learning to say “yes” when you really want to say no. “Why the switch?”, you might be wondering.  I can best explain with a scenario that happened last week.  Now, I don’t discuss my current job much because as I’ve said before, I’m not sure how much I can divulge in this forum.  (I need to look into that soon.) I will say that I work in public mental health policy.  As such, a part of my many duties include making presentations to internal and external stakeholders.  I made a presentation last week about the proposed future of some of our projects to a group of stakeholders and it was well received.  What on earth does this have to do with saying “yes”? Well, my ability to say “yes” over and over again in situations that took me out of my comfort zone, landed me in my current professional position where I mostly operate out of my comfort zone.  Over the years, I have soaked in all of the uncomfortable experiences like a sponge, and as a result, have grown exponentially.

I am an introvert/extrovert (ambivert), leaning more toward introvert because I am best refueled in solitude and I constantly process internally.  I can also dance like nobody is watching in front of a crowd of people (Yes, I am also a licensed Zumba fitness instructor). Society nowadays values extroversion, especially in the business world, which is contrary to how a lot of people operate, including myself. I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet and it blew my mind because it resonated with me so much.  You can see Susan Cain‘s Ted Talk here.  I also met her for a book signing at a behavioral health conference last year and she gave me some sound advice (that may be another post).

Growing up, I didn’t know what “introverted” meant, and apparently neither did my family or anybody else I knew, so I was labeled as “shy” or timid.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that being “shy” indicated that there was something wrong with me because I was different.  That was just one of my problems.  I really didn’t fit in anywhere, which gave me a huge complex.  I’ve never been a clique-type person either, but I did have friends (some may argue that my friends were my clique).  I see all of this now as a gift, even though it didn’t feel that way for years, especially considering that people like to point out how different you are.  In a lot of ways, I was defiant too and liked being different, but it took some time to develop the courage to own my uniqueness and to own it without guilt.  I often pretended like it didn’t bother me that I didn’t fit in, but I knew the truth.

I think that not fitting in put me on a path to be able to do the internal, self-examining, work to figure out who I was without relying on other people’s opinion. I read an article today of a lady writing in asking for advise on a topic and she indicated that she was concerned about what her mother, her sisters and friends would think. That’s an example of something that I would not have a problem with because I listen to my inner voice, pray, do what’s best for me, and if I so choose, may share my decision with others later (unless it involves or impacts my husband and our children, in which case I consult with my husband).

I have developed the courage over time to say “yes” to trying things that take me out of my comfort zone.  Earlier on, starting with my family, I said “yes” to standing up for my identity and setting my own path, which definitely did not feel comfortable, but I did it.  I later moved to a different state, completed my degrees, worked at different agencies, met new people, joined a different church, and tried new things. I also said “yes” to going after my dreams and testing my limits.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that the presentation was well received.  I was not overly concerned with how I would present because I knew that I would be professional and confident.  I was concerned about the content itself, how I would convey the work that was done over the years, and how I would manage the backlash, if any.  I had support in the room in case I needed backup and they chimed in minimally.  The beauty of the whole thing is that all of the “yeses” I made in the past for my own betterment led me to that experience.  And don’t get me wrong, that experience was not the pinnacle of all experiences.  I will be facilitating more stakeholder meetings very soon, and for all I know, people may run out of the room screaming “bloody murder”. I am simply acknowledging what it took me to get to this place and know that I have the tools to manage different situations.

It does not feel good to make mistakes, but that’s how you grow, especially if you take the time to learn from them.  Believe me, I’ve made many, but you really don’t know what you’re made of until you get out there.  You have to do different things, hang around different types of people, and go to different places to grow. You have to pursue your dreams and goals. I hate it when Jillian Michaels says, in one of my workout DVDs, something to the effect of “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”.  That is not my natural inclination.  I love being comfortable in my own bed. In fact, when I have the blankets just right, I tell my husband that the bed has been transformed into “the cocoon” because it’s so comfortable.  As much as I love the warm, gooey, feeling of comfort, I really love how much richer my life has become because I’ve grown so much as a result of putting myself in situations where I’m uncomfortable.

So you now see that this week’s “yes” is a different vein from last week’s “no”, but I hope you find something you can use from each. It’s a balancing act for sure.