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.