Wednesday, December 20, 2006

leaving, on a jet plane ..

my usual packing plans look something like beginning the process about 7 or 8 the night before i leave. a large number of unnecessary things get done, as well as most of the necessary ones. i stay up later than usual (much later sometimes), and then get to bed. only to wake up early because usually my plane (or other mode of transportation) leaves early in the morning.

this trip? my plane still leaves early, and i'm not sure just exactly how late i'll get to bed .. but the bulk of my packing was done yesterday evening. what's that, you ask? done early? me? indeed, it's true. and i'm taking it as a sign that i'm particularly ready to go on this particular trip. ready for rest, for family, for english, for being in a culture that is somewhat familiar, for being away from the heaviness and despair that seem so evident and common in this city where i live.

i'm hoping that i do get to rest. and then i'll also be ready to come back. not so sure about this part, but it's possible at least. and i do have some things to return to. slowly growing relationships, language which is beginning to make sense, cold weather and possibly snow! (which for me would be a very good thing, oddly enough), and God's wanting me to be here. maybe not quite as exciting as family and the other reasons above .. but enough to get me back. i think...

Friday, December 15, 2006

dancers in my head

i'm a bit of an artist. well .. maybe i should just call myself an artist. i see the world differently. sometimes..
when i hear music i get pictures in my head of dancers in motion.
when i walk down the street i play with my walk, trying to match my stance, rhythm, movement, emotions with someone else near me.
when i see something particularly beautiful i wonder what medium could best imitate it.
when i touch an old book or teddy bear or bench, i listen for its stories.

on good days, my senses are open for beauty and art and God's voice however He might choose to be present. on other days .. i ignore as much as possible of the world around me because there's just too much pain and despair in the people, advertising, interactions, and atmosphere around me.

but yesterday while i was walking home, i got ideas for dances. two particular places that i pass at least 3 or 4 times a week that are interesting spaces. spaces that give me questions i'd like to dialog about physically. glimpses of motion. couldn't stop myself from grinning (although that is strange behavior here if one's alone .. people wonder what one has to smile about). then i thought about what reactions would be if somehow i did actually have a group of dancers to do something crazy in this park or on this road .. i'm not sure people are ready for something so radical yet. but there must be other venues for dance. i'm still waiting for God to show me. but the simple fact that dance came into my mind .. that gives me hope. the artist eyes and heart i've been given aren't sleeping or gone .. but just need some time and space to breathe.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


part of being a missionary is learning to fit in. if i want to be able to communicate something that my neighbors, friends at church, and others will actually respect and hear -- i need to understand their culture on at least an elementary level. know what things to say and what not to say, know generally how to dress, know what attitudes and actions are acceptable .. (there's a whole lot more, but this is just the basic idea.) which could be classified as "fitting in".

wait a minute ...

i don't even really "fit in" in my own culture. i'm usually an outsider. not that i particularly want to be an insider .. [okay. let me say that i don't think american culture is bad. but there are some aspects of it that are not Christ-like. and if i'm truly seeking to follow Christ, it means not just following culture but following Truth. seeking truth. daring to be different in certain worthwhile cases. daring to push boundaries and ask healthy questions.]

realization: i do know how to be a cultural insider in my own culture. basically. i choose not to. i want to become able to be a cultural insider here too. not that i will suddenly be romanian or forget my own culture -- but to know and accept the culture. then -- i will have freedom to push boundaries and ask questions and wonder about what's cultural and what's Christ-like. once i know how to be 'normal' -- i can help others become 'weird'. if that makes sense.

fitting in. being normal. being weird. asking questions. being accepted. feeling at home. feeling uneasy. any thoughts, readers?

Monday, December 04, 2006

a 'gift' of time ..

so, sunday was an adventure ....
here's how i spent my day.
(all times are approximate.)

08.15 wake up in moldova (another country!) without an alarm. like doing that. wander around the apartment where we (my teammate and i) stayed with friends, find everyone else asleep. read Bible. wash face and hair. dry hair. iron skirt. eat breakfast of tea, bread, butter, and good cheese.

09.30 leave for church. walk about half an hour in a marvelously foggy town.

10.00 2 hour church service. all in romanian with beautiful songs, a choir in robes, women in skirts, and married women wearing scarves. some of the friends we stayed with work with deaf people, and they translate the service. really enjoy observing that. since i know a bit of american sign language, it is fun to notice similarities and get to match romanian words with physical signs. (since i am somewhat of a kinesthetic learner ..)

12.00 deaf service downstairs. able to communicate a little bit with the sign that i know (some who are there understand my asl). enjoy their prayers, music (some with heavy/felt beat and others in silence) - and seeing God worshiped physically. it is cool and encouraging.

13.15 take taxi to the bus station. buses and maxi-taxis (15 passenger vans, sorta) gather here and travel all over the country and to a couple other neighboring countries. including romania.

13.30 discover the bus that leaves at 2 is full and the next bus does not leave until 6.30 pm. purchase tickets for this bus at 6.30. have 5 hours to spend .. we go into a little cafe there which is warm and drink tea and eat pastries. have to leave when we're done because they need the table. go back into the large foyer of the station. mind you - it's foggy and cold outside, probably 25F or so, and there's not much heating inside - although it's much warmer inside, maybe 50 or so, because of the bodies and doors being shut etc. .. we read, listen to my mp3 player, think, talk a bit .. go into a bistro for some more warm tea, have to leave after a long while because of full tables again .. more reading, etc.

18.30 bus leaves the station and we're on it. (not a bus built for comfort or space..) along with one of the friends we stayed with who was surprised we hadn't called them or gone back to their place. didn't know how to get back, and it was just easier to stay, and .. bus drives slowly because of the thick fog. and roads here (and there) don't go straight. they sort of meander around.

22.00 bus arrives at moldova customs. officer comes to take all our passports (all 50 people or so on the bus). everyone gathers all their belongings. we go inside to go through customs. two men are there to question and check our stuff. so this takes a while.. then we're allowed to leave moldova. a kilometer later we arrive in romania. they too take all our passports and stamp them and ask a few people questions..

00.30 bus leaves romania customs. yes it's true. 2.5 hours basically sitting still. this is something abi loves. sitting still. yes....

00.45 bus arrives in iasi. we say goodbye to our friend. get off the bus, and grab a taxi to get home. this happens quickly and as normal. i even remember how to tell the taxi driver where i live. very glad for this - even in my state of tiredness..

01.00 abi arrives at home

so -- an adventure. and now i find it rather funny. and very cultural. because nobody else on the bus seemed particularly worried by it. like this was normal. it's a fairly cheap way to travel and gets you where you need to go. just takes more time than one might like. (i suspect the trip could be made in about 2.5 hours if customs didn't take too long and you were in a car.) but .. i did enjoy having some time to think and wonder and read (probably 250 pages or so) and talk to God. and be glad this isn't something i have to do often. the end.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

missing coffee shops

salt lake roasting company, la spiaza, starbucks -- all places i miss. coffee shops. american coffee shops. places where i understand what's on the menu and what size it is, atmospheres i know and feel comfortable in, cultures that are familiar. until a few weeks ago, i had forgotten how important coffee shops are to me. were to me? places to get good things to drink, listen to (mostly) nice music, have good conversations with friends, journal, have my own space.

coffee is different here in romania. portions are much smaller (and often stronger, of course). to go is very rare (unless it's espresso, which sometimes comes in little plastic cups from which the contents are rapidly drained and then the cup is disposed of quickly as well). and people always go with friends to drink coffee, tea, etc. together and talk. which i like. i enjoy talking. but, i also enjoy the coffee shop as a place to be alone. if that makes sense.

last year, i lived about 5 minutes from a starbucks. when i needed to journal or get away from the apartment, i usually went to starbucks. would grab something caffeinated (no matter the hour) and a comfortable seat. you knows the soft cushy ones that are in all starbucks? much better than a straight-backed chair, especially for curling up to read or journal. sometimes i'd just be there for 45 minutes, and sometimes for a few hours. just knowing i could go anytime -- marvelous. and knowing that nobody would stare at me for being there alone -- marvelous. and being able to get a grande (medium) coffee that actually fills me up -- also marvelous.

but .. in the last ten days, i've been to 'sage' three times. with three different friends. one (who spent six months in america) said it's the closest thing to starbucks around. which made me smile. they have pages and pages of different varieties of coffees and teas -- lots to try! the sad thing about sage is that it's rather small and there's always somebody smoking. so the whole time i'm inside, i'm smelling smoke and my clothes smell like smoke when i leave. but that's a fairly small price to pay. and the company's good! and it might even be a place i can wander into with my journal. we'll see about that ..

Friday, November 17, 2006

(a few of the) questions i asked myself today

normal life --
what's the word for spoon?
is there going to be hot water for my shower this morning?
was that shopkeeper being unusually rude?
did that shopkeeper think i was being rude?
will i ever own any clothes which are so pink?
will i really fit onto this crowded bus?
do i have a sign written on me somewhere that says 'american'?
what would i do if that policeman suddenly started talking to me?
does that one-year old baby know more romanian than i do?

during our afternoon with the kids (and various games) --
what objects will fit in that water bottle that begin with the letter "o"?
how do i answer that question without saying "no"?
did he mean to hit the ball that hard?
is our downstairs neighbor at home?
is she mad at all the noise we're making?
do remember this volunteer's name?
how far can i shoot this wet pumpkin seed with my fingers?

deep significance --
am i supposed to be a missionary long-term?
why am i so blessed with the gift of an amazing unexpected friend here?
am i really called to live among the poor and marginalized?
where are the lines between 'me', 'american', 'child of God' .. ?
can i belong somewhere in this society?
do i really belong anywhere?
is it normal for life to be so challenging?
do i remember how to be a real friend?
what does God have to speak to this culture?
are there people God wants to affect through me right now?
how do i follow God in a place so foreign?

Monday, November 13, 2006

lack and/or abundance

these last few weeks i've been savoring a book called the cloister walk by kathleen norris. a book i've read before, but is well worth a second reading. (and many more, i suspect.) it includes many thoughts on monastic living and the challenges and blessings that come with it -- from the perspective from someone who is outside but included in some ways. here are two quotes (and ideas) that are still echoing around in my soul.

"if scarcity makes things more precious, what does it mean to choose the spare world over one in which we are sated with abundance? ... who will i be, when loss or crisis or the depredations of time take away the trappings of success, of self-importance, even personality itself?" (p294 & 295)

"it is the aim of contemplative living, at least in the Christian mode, that you learn to recognize a blessing when you see one, and are able to respond to it with words that God has given you." (p 352)

in a conversation with a friend who is also a missionary, i was told that perhaps in the lack of what seems 'necessary' we find something else in abundance. before that conversation i was starting to notice something but couldn't put words to it. this friend did so (as she often does..). when i don't have many deep conversations for days, when i finally get to have one i savor it so much more. when i don't eat all that well for a few days, and then have a real meal with a friend, how wonderful it tastes! and spiritually, i'm lacking a lot things i've had accessible for most of my life. but God is not lacking.

this is becoming a time to work on my listening, in all sorts of ways. lots of listening to language. listening to (and watching) how people interact. listening for God to speak. and since i don't have others speaking truth into my life as often as 'usual', i am listening more carefully for God. enjoying knowing He's with me. enjoying with Him the beautiful sunset He made, praying for the beggars i pass on the streets and knowing He loves them intimately. in the lack of human friendships, i get to know God as Friend more deeply. which is pretty amazing.

and that question kathleen norris asks about 'who will i be when .. ?'
i'm beginning to find out.
ask me in a couple years.

who will you be when .. ?
who are you when .. ?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

artistic leaves

i like beauty. i need it. my soul needs it. and -- when i live in a city composed largely of big blocks of cement .. i have to look for it. recently i've been enjoying the fall leaves. the colors, the shapes, the sizes (i've seen some that are bigger than my two hands together!), and the sound they make when they're dry and i walk on them. that's the sound of autumn!

of course, God keeps teaching me things. so the leaves have become highly symbolic. and i've been collecting them left and right. and pressing them flat under my large journal so they don't break and crumble on me. at least not as fast. and today i took about an hour to be artistic -- with black construction paper, lots of collected leaves, and my camera. took a few pictures (actually .. about 60..) and really enjoyed myself. finding beauty in the 'mundane' and capturing some of it too! i took this one on the left all by myself!

notice all the colors of the leaves? nerd that i am, with all this thinking about leaves and autumn and death .. i did some searching online to find out what is behind leaves changing color. and here are some interesting facts (at least for me!) ...
-- trees can tell the seasons are changing because the daylight period gets shorter
-- trees prepare for dormancy, and take all the nutrients from leaves back into trunk and roots
-- without daylight, less chlorophyll (which causes the green in leaves) is produced
-- other colors (yellows, oranges, browns, and reds if there's lots of sunlight) which have been present the whole time can be seen more clearly
-- instead of making chlorophyll, plants make sugars and amino acids that serve as a sort of antifreeze to get them alive through the winter

now the spiritual dimension. seasons are a normal part of life. and we often savor the amazing colors of fall and the leaves. but -- they fall off because they died. the tree had to lose them to stay alive and healthy (otherwise the tree might not make it through the winter with its resources spread too thinly). in our own lives we don't celebrate loss or death. not that i'm saying we shouldn't mourn, but maybe there is also something to rejoice over? the leaves are beautiful! they are part of the tree but the tree is still there and solid. in the spring new growth will have particular places to start. as humans we can only do so many things. and sometimes that means we can only do one or two things really well. other things must 'die' or 'be lost' -- and in God's time they might return with new life and energy. sometimes our dreams have to be given to God and set aside so we can concentrate on being 'the Beloved' of God and not on accomplishing and doing -- but just being with our Daddy.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

daunting solitude

new everything. new language. new culture. new people. new transportation. new weather. new food. new .. you name it. to stay sane i've been spending quite a bit of time by myself with God. which can be as intimidating and scary as forging ahead into this newness. because there are all sorts of truths to discover about myself, my habits, my desires, my addictions, my needs -- and what i think are the above, and what they were meant to be. a friend emailed this quote to me and it gives me hope for the journey still ahead of me.

"in solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. in solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. it is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. in solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared." -- henri nouwen in 'out of solitude'

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

high school?

today we had an english class with some of our kids (ages 12-14) at the association. it's fun to be part of the english classes because i get to learn some romanian vocabulary and grammar 'on the sly'. one of the activities today included putting words into sentences. for example, they had 'goes church she to' which becomes 'she goes to church.' another set of words was 'go school to high they' which should become 'they go to high school.' but -- one boy was in a hurry (and doesn't know english that well yet) and for a few moments his sentence read 'they go high to school'. the other adults and i found that really funny -- but the kids don't yet know what that means, so they didn't get it. still cracks me up. they go high to school. also true sometimes..

Monday, October 23, 2006

things i've enjoyed the past few days --

amazingly colored leaves littering the sidewalks .. and the looks people give me when i stop to pick up said leaves

listening to worship music in english

waiting for my teammate near church (a location i hadn't been to before so needed help to get the last leg of the journey), and having 2 people who passed ask me if i wanted to walk with them. they knew my face and stopped to ask. was somehow very encouraging

seeing the names in my email inbox

the chaos of the weather. dark by 6.30 pm. warm enough this afternoon i would have been comfortable in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals. humid enough it takes my jeans at least 3 days dry. cold enough in the evenings i sometimes wear wool socks and a couple layers including a sweatshirt. drinking lots of tea to keep warm in the apartment (since they haven't turned on the central heating yet.) seeing my breath most mornings -- even sometimes in the late morning ..

the look on a friend's face when i said i was walking home. an hour at a comfortable pace. seems usual to me, but he thinks i'm a bit crazy.

the lentil soup i made all by myself. found the recipe online. bought the ingredients. chopped the vegetables. cooked everything. and am eating it once a day or so. tastes good, and has the extra flavor of self-accomplishment. or something like that.. -- if anyone wants to share yummy recipes with me, i'd enjoy that (as long as i can find the ingredients here ..)

drinking coffee every morning as i sit in the same chair with my Bible and breakfast. even know how to describe my ritual in romanian! but mostly enjoy the peace and comfort of sitting down with a yummy drink and God's Word.

learning how to read psalm 27 in romanian. so far i'm to verse 8 and can read it without making romanians cringe. that's the goal at least. and perhaps some memorization as well, since i'm repeating it so much (and have it memorized in english).

kathleen norris' book "the cloister walk". makes me think. in a really good way.

Monday, October 16, 2006

a deep breath

taking a breath from life can be life-giving. i don't just mean sitting down at the computer and playing games, or going to bed early. sometimes we need to get away and out of our normal routine. i had the opportunity to do that this past weekend. what a gift! i went with my teammate, our executive director, and another wonderful woman who loves God -- and we got to spend three full days near brasov in central romania. in low mountains/high hills. it was marvelous. it felt like a fairy tale in some ways. this is a picture i took while we were there. doesn't it feel like it should be in a story book? not everything looked like this, but there were plenty of places to rest, to look at the beautiful hills and trees and changing colors around us, to breathe and take in beauty. and -- it looked like it might rain at the beginning of the weekend, but we had beautiful weather. a bit chilly with plenty of sunshine. and plenty of good food!

we didn't have a schedule. some vague ideas, like 'let's go into brasov today and wander around the old town' or 'let's wander into the hills and see what we find'. no task lists. being together, getting to ask for what we needed whether it be a meal, a good laugh, time to just sit still, space to ask questions. the four of us have never been together just by ourselves before, but we got along grandly. and all of us got a retreat. even the two older and wiser women who came to lead (sort of) were able to rest and be refreshed, which was another blessing. (and there was plenty of laughing and being ourselves freely -- even if it meant doing handstands or dancing in the middle of a field of flowers .. !)

and after getting that chance to breathe deeply out in nature with different kinds of noise and space -- it's right back into the city. but with some fresh energy to re-engage language, relationships, challenges of being here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

a bridal shower...

i'm gonna paint a mental picture for you. imagine -- a living room probably 10 feet by 20 feet (if that), with a couple of couches, a computer desk, a bookshelf, and a cabinet. this room is also my room and contains my bed. (foldout couch)
sunday night
15 women
a bridal shower
4 or 5 hours
excited women
telling stories
asking questions
everyone talking at once
- - - -
all in romanian!!

as an introvert, this situation would have been overwhelming for me even if it were all in english with people i knew well. too many people for too long in too small a space. and then adding the extra factor of only understanding every fifteenth word "...boys .. internet (same word in both languages) .. talking .. kitchen .. school .. bus .. seven .. " not a very good story, you know?

and after three or four hours (with a couple of translations periodically), my brain just couldn't take anymore active listening. so i found other things to do. without leaving the room (not really anywhere else to go..). without being too obnoxious. i was wearing seven bracelets around my wrist with little beads. and lets just say .. the average number of beads on one bracelet is about 112.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

traveling by foot

one thing i've been enjoying about my time here is the walking. it's common to walk relatively long distances, like 30 or 45 minutes to get somewhere. you can take public transportation, but sometimes with the wait (and in busy times of the day, the number of people), it is easier to just walk. so probably at least half of the days that i've been here so far, i've walked more than 2 miles a day. and it's not that unusual. it's nice to have some exercise included in regular days. which means -- it's important to have comfortable shoes!

as it gets colder, i will need to stay resolute in my desire to be walk and be outside, but that seems possible at the moment. the temperatures have been fluctuating the last few days -- rainy and cool one day, than hot and sunny the next. but it is fall here! the leaves are turning beautiful colors and falling off trees. reminds me of the four or five friends i've had who are leaf-kleptomaniacs! not that you can really steal leaves, but they pick them up all fall. and i've started doing the same, so there are a couple marking pages in my journal. i'm glad God made color! and that sometimes He reminds me to see the beauty around me, especially colors. when the day is challenging -- just to accomplish simple tasks, i forget to see what is around me and to look at what God is doing and where He is present.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

words and communication

since i'm spending a fair amount of time working on romanian, language is on my brain. which is a good thing if i actually want to learn the language. but can be frustrating. since sometimes it would be nice to be aware of other things. oh well. i have this assumption that because i am in romania, i will hear romanian. so when i hear something else it surprises me. like when teenagers get on the bus and are 'practicing their english' (and probably being 'cool' too). or when i actually listen to the words of the music that is played everywhere. often it's english. or spanish. and sometimes it's romanian. since i'm trying to listen to the romanian around me, hearing english throws me off guard. weird.

another thought about language. europeans often take opportunities (as they come) to visit other countries and other places. i assume they learn some of the language, but you can't be prepared for every situation unless you do a thorough, intensive study. so, i wonder if europeans are more accustomed to hearing various languages than americans. if i was working in a store and somebody came in who didn't speak a word of english (or maybe only two words), it would surprise me. in large cities this is less true with the immigrants from all over the world. but -- in europe it seems like people are more willing to try and communicate. pointing and using cashiers instead of just saying numbers. and since i've heard a few different languages, i can sometimes guess at least general areas people are from, which is fun. but growing accustomed to hearing a variety of languages and not always understanding will take some time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


so, i've been in romania for almost two weeks now. and i'm beginning to feel a little bit settled. the layout of iasi is nothing like what i'm used to. the roads curve different directions and there are no mountains to tell me which way is north. but -- today i rode a bus and knew where it was coming from, where it was going, and what it passed. so the map in my brain is getting less fuzzy, which is exciting. because i have been so unsettled recently, i've been (re)discovering things i value -- knowing where i am physically in space, my own space, deep conversations. mostly these and others have come to mind because i haven't had them. but my roots are getting enough nourishment to grow now, so i just get to be patient.

about a week ago, i wrote various words in my journal about how i was feeling. and most of them are still true at one point or another each day. (the last two months or so have been marked by my fluctuating emotions -- strange since i usually am even keeled and readily able to find things to smile about.) the words are ... overwhelmed - excitement - frustration - sadness - (un)prepared - fear - impatience - unbalanced - joy - rightness - wonder - anxiety - carried - readiness - heavy - sure - out of place - uneasy - aware - questions - missing - exhausted - hungry - lonliness.

on the more practical side of things, i've been told people wonder what i'm actually doing. getting settled is a big piece. walking around the city until things are familiar and i have a guess where to go when i need fresh fruit, batteries, water, cash, notebooks... looking at signs and being glad when i know a word or two. and -- language is my main focus. so i meet with a language helper three times a week for about two hours and we do various projects. i prepare before and then review what we did (and listen to the recordings i made) afterwords. as i fall asleep at night, i've been having random phrases or words in romanian wander around in my brain. which is exciting -- that i'm remembering some. but not so good for calming down and sleeping. on a good note, though -- i've been sleeping between 8 and 10 hours a night, which is recommended for intense language learning. and gives me emotional energy to face the challenges each day brings.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

one day left...

so, i leave for romania tomorrow morning. and have all sorts of tasks to accomplish today before that. (granted, some of my tasks include calling a few more friends, visiting with a neighbor, and spending time with my parents -- and if i'm not careful they become simply tasks instead of time to savor.) and i am getting more excited about actually being in romania. it's been a long time in coming (since i have been thinking and aiming toward romania on some level since october two years ago), and in some senses i'm very ready to be there.

in the process of leaving, i've had opportunity to say goodbye to all sorts of people. family, close friends, church family, neighbors. and a couple people reminded me of a c.s. lewis quote which goes something like 'Christians never say goodbye, but only see you later'. which is true. but ... as a human, when i say goodbye to someone, i say goodbye to the person they are at this specific moment and goodbye to the possibilities of physically being with them for the next little while (for a day, a week, a couple of years..). so, as i mourn all this leave-taking i must do, i get to simultaneously look ahead to what is to come, which is more exciting than i can possibly imagine. but, for now i must hold the tension of saying goodbye and yet being together in God's Body.