Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Blank Pages of My Story


I can’t help but marvel at the absurdity of my life. I’m a young guy, and a year or so ago I thought I had it all figured out. How comical that thought is now. I entered university with a beautiful girlfriend, a goal of getting my degree in 4 years, and the plan of being a pastor the rest of my life.

I started feeling different my sophomore year of college. My friends were different, and I wasn’t enjoying school nearly as much as I had the previous year. Then my mind started churning with new ideas, my old, simple views crumbling to pieces. My girlfriend and I broke up. It was sad, and I decided I was done with emotions.

I needed something different so I signed up to teach English as a missionary in Kazakhstan from January to June. That’s where this blog begins and ends. I learned more on my own overseas that I ever will in a classroom. I didn’t know where Kazakhstan was or what it was like, but it sounded like a good chance to “get away from it all.” The real kicker to the whole story was when I went to Barnes and Noble before getting on the plane to fly half way around the world—after all, I needed some reading material for my 6 months abroad. I grabbed a few books that I had been leafing through for months, and then I grabbed this yellow book that one of my best friends recommended. She was a big Donald Miller fan, but to be honest, I didn’t quite trust him. I was scared he might just be another one of those hopeless liberals, so I wrote him off—that is, until this yellow book made it with me to the checkout counter. I exhausted my Christmas gift cards, loaded my suitcase full of books and went out on a new adventure. When I got to Kazakhstan the first book I pulled out was this yellow book—A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. My first thoughts were that the title was too long, but I dove in and got lost in this man’s ideas. At the beginning of the book he talks about how we don’t remember most of our lives. This freaked me out and I wanted to make sure my Kazakhstan trip was well documented. This blog and the 5,500+ pictures and videos on my computer wouldn’t exist had I not read this book. I can honestly say that this book changed my life. I make everyone close to me read it, because I feel they’ll understand me better. That same best friend also sent me off with another Donald Miller book and I appreciate his work more than any other author at this point, but enough with the flattery. I don’t want Don to get big head or think I’m trying to sucker my way into winning a contest or anything.

As my trip was nearing the end and I was hugging all of my students goodbye I began to be afraid—afraid of my unknown future, afraid that my story would become boring in going back to my regular life in America. But, Kazakhstan changed me. Reading Million Miles changed me. Now I’m a character and I want all the good stuff like rainbows, happiness, and true love, but I’m trying to take life one day at a time. Right now, I’m working towards completing my college degree, but not in theology as I had previously planned. I respect pastors to the utmost and think they have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. I think I could be a pastor someday, but right now I just want to get some more experience before I start trying to relate to the general population. When I was in Kazakhstan I realized I was arrogant, and I hate arrogance. So now, I am pressing on trying to be humble. Freshly back on American soil, I am taking a break from my expensive, private, out-of-state university, and doing some time at a local community college. Instead of working in a rare job that nobody understands, I’ve applied at the local BestBuy and In-N-Out Burger. My goal is to meet new people, to really invest myself in building relationships and to see the beauty in God’s kids. The whole putting others first thing—I’d like to be more like Jesus, and Jesus put others first.

As for the next few pages in the story of my life, well, like I said, I’m looking to get this college degree so people think I’m legit. I want to travel and become more ‘international’ while making a difference in different individual’s lives. While I still don’t know exactly what I want to do when I grow up, I’m getting a better idea. Looking into publishing, business communications, and who knows—maybe even writing. I’m learning that I’m just as lost as all the other teenagers out there and I’m okay with that.

I’m almost done here, but I have to take a moment to talk about a specific part of my story. One of the best parts of my Kazakhstan experience was before I ever left America. I got stranded in Tennessee because of visa complications and ended up staying with this friend of mine who had recently adopted 6 kids. They were all brothers and sisters who would have been split up had my friend not stepped in. His wife and him also had one little girl of their own and one that will enter the world in about a month from now. So, for a little over a week I lived in this house where there was never a dull moment. I fell in love with these kids who called me “Uncle Kyle” and truly discovered the joy of children. I experienced pushing them all on the swings and running with them through the park. So if you ask me how I want to live a better story this is the first thing that comes to mind—I want to adopt kids! And lots of them! Who knows, maybe someday I could even work for/with an orphanage.

When I got home I told my parents (I made them read Million Miles) about this conference http://donmilleris.com/conference/. They told me to go, but I knew there was no way. (My Dad has been out of a job, and I had been volunteering for the past 6 months.) However, I had about 400 bucks left to my name, and my mom told me that if this is something I really want to do, then I should buy the ticket. She said that it was all part of living a better story; that if I spent the money on the ticket then I would be forced to find my way to Portland. (My parents are so awesome!) So, I decided to hop online and buy the ticket before the logical part of my brain turned on. I have my ticket to the conference, but still have no idea how I’m going to get to Portland or where I will stay when I get there, but the main thing is—I will get there! (I looked at it as a birthday present to myself—I’ll be turning 20 on September 28th!) Hopefully Don will have some compassion on me, and fly me out to his beautiful city! I am really hoping to get some clearer direction for my life and learn some amazing pointers on how to make the story of my life be the story I want, and a story worth reading.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

When I view my life as a story, I get very excited, because I love movies and books. I can’t wait to fill up these blank pages with excitement. I’m on an adventure with the God of the universe—nothing could be more exciting!

I realize that I’ve been pretty vague and very wordy so let me sum this up:

Kyle Stiemsma is a well-known author and speaker who runs several orphanages around the world, but what he is most successful at is loving his ginormous family. At least that is his dream. In order to get there he is going to have to plow through this broken world filled with uncertainty, embrace his emotions, humble himself, and intimately connect with the God of the universe. He’s going to have to get through school and educate himself while making connections with the right people. He's going to need to practice and refine his skills, learn to take harsh criticism, and make a buttload of money. Winning the lottery certainly would help. As he travels the world and makes new friends, he'll see the value in each human being. The blank pages of his life intimidate him, but he is determined to fill them with tear-jerking victories of a world that is a better place because he lived.

The End.


It all happened so fast. Sitting on a plane bound for Phoenix, Arizona I honestly don’t know what to say, or think, or feel. I suppose I am feeling a wave of many different emotions so my mind has just shut them all down. It is almost like I feel nothing. Yes, I am very excited to see my parents in a few hours, but I just don’t know what to feel. The night before I left, I felt like I should feel sad, but it was like I couldn’t feel sad. Now I feel like I should be excited, but I can’t. I just can’t feel anything right now. Right now (I don’t know if it is all the in-flight movies, or the C.S. Lewis book I’ve been reading) I feel as though Kazakhstan was just a dream. Like these last 6 months never really happened. I feel as though I’m going home after being gone just a short while. The feeling of not feeling is very peculiar.

In other news, I decided to go horseback riding on Sunday. All the trotting made my butt very sore and since I have been sitting on a plane for the past 20 hours, you can imagine how it is feeling now. I can’t wait to be out of a plane. The process of traveling used to really bother me. I used to hate long car rides and flights, but now they don’t really bother me. I can see myself in the future sitting on a plane like I am now, typing away at my computer. The future... Now that is something that I have been trying to put out of my mind. Never before in my life have I been so unsure about my future plans. Now, however, I look forward to discussing them in depths with some close friends and my parents.

I feel like I should go out with a bang, like my final blog should say something super profound or have a heartwarming story. But, I am honestly at a loss for words. I feel like it shouldn’t be over, yet it is. I don’t know if I’m ready to get back into the monotony of school, yet I am. I feel like how I felt on my flight to Kazakhstan—completely uncertain about what was ahead of me, but holding onto the hand of Jesus and diving into the adventure.

Earlier I was fearing that I would forget Kazakhstan. That since these past 6 months have felt like a dream, I would soon forget all of my experiences. When I really think about it though, I know this is not true. I have over a thousand pictures and these 150 pages of blogs reminding me of all my experiences. I have changed.

Steven and I decided to put on the same clothes to go home as we had on when we left to Kazakhstan (that is, except for Kazakhstan t-shirts) and we were joking in the taxi on the way to the airport that we are going back as we came. Yelena smiled as she told us we are going back completely different. She’s right. I’m going back the same on the outside (also save the hair) as I came, but on the inside I am different. How have I changed? What is different about me? I honestly am not sure. I think it will take some time to find out. Once I’m back in my “natural habitat” the people who used to know me well will call out all the differences and I will be able to see my “new” self more clearly.

So what about Kazakhstan? I could write a lengthy book on all my experiences, on all the things I learned, and the wonderful people I met. But in the great picture of life, Kazakhstan is like one page in my book. However, it will be a treasured page—a glowing page that I will go back and read frequently. I made friends there that I will have for the rest of my life and experienced things that I will be talking about until the day I die. As for you. Whether you read a few blogs, or you were a faithful follower, I want to say thanks. I told you straight out that this blog was more for me than it was for you, but I hope you enjoyed the ride and were able to get something out of it. I really enjoyed sharing all of this with you. I suppose now I will make a new blog, for a new adventure. It’s time to turn the page.

Waves of Emotions


As I sit here typing my thoughts I am truly lost in a sea of emotion. Ok, I’m really not that emotional, I’m just trying to be poetic. But, I do have many feelings right now, all of them knocking me from side to side. Feelings of excitement for going home, feelings of sadness for saying goodbye to my students and friends, feelings of fear for the unknown future, feelings of anxiety for going back to a life that has now become foreign, and feelings of ecstasy for being able to see my parents and loved ones back home in just a few days.

All of these emotions are bubbling up like a fountain and each drop is fighting to get higher than the other.

Kid's Camp


I am constantly kicking myself for not keeping a better record of all that went on during the 2 weeks of kids camp. Steven, Veronica and I put on a program for a kids summer camp at a local Kazakh public school. We got to feel what it would be like to teach 5-7 graders. We did this for two weeks. We had to start at 10, which required us to wake up and be out the door by 9 (something that we are certainly not used to in Kazakhstan. All of this was followed by teaching classes as usual at night. Mondays and Wednesdays were especially bad because we had classes from 3:30-9:00pm including this early morning program. I suppose this sudden surge of busyness, and the fact that I couldn’t connect to my blog is the reason that I am writing about this now.

Most of these kids were lower level English speakers, but pretty good for their age. Like in every class we had our smarty pants kids who communicated at an Upper-Intermediate level while other kids had no interest in learning new languages barely communicated at all. We split the group of about 40 kids into 3 groups; each of us teachers leading one. In just two weeks I really connected with these kids. Being a teacher is fun and rewarding, but it is also the hardest job in the world. Coming home from teaching, you feel completely warn out, beaten, and exhausted, but you don’t get to relax. You’re job is not over because you have papers to grade, lessons to plan, on top of assignments and tests to create.

God bless teachers!