Saturday, December 20, 2008

a Christmas tradition

yesterday we celebrated Christmas with our kids at Steps of Hope. (hey - shameless self-promotion! i helped make this website possible! it's mostly the program i used .. but still. there's a site where there wasn't one before :) and a big part of that celebration was going caroling. to various families who wanted us to come. we met at the office first for some games and playing and rehearsing and eating cookies (the kids mixed them up and i baked them) .. and then we started by singing to the school principal. we had 4 songs that we'd practiced (the only one i knew before this month was 'away in a manger' with 'slightly' different words :) and we sung all four of them at almost every place we went.

we left the office about 3.30, and by my count, we visited 7 families. with a total of about 18 kids and 4 adults, with our feet as transportation. i'd guess that the average walk between homes was more than 15 minutes. partially because we weren't speed walking, but also because of where people live and who got home from work when. we finished at the 7th home about 7pm .. so 3 and a half hours or so. personally, i think i only sat down at one of the homes, so the bulk of that was on my feet (even those who sat only did so for a few minutes here and there). i would say we walked at least 5 miles. maybe more .. after the 7th home, about half the kids went home and the other half (the older ones) got on a tram to head to one of the kids' homes about 35 minutes away (by tram!).. i personally opted out of this last one because it would have meant arriving home after 9, and i was already tired (and homesick) at that point. and .. before i even arrived at the office, i had already walked at least 3 miles and had to walk another 1.5 to get home. which means that i probably walked about 10 miles .. and my body certainly felt it last night!

at almost every home we visited, the door was opened and as many as could crowded into their hallway/small foyer (most romanian apartments have foyers where shoes are taken off and coats are hung). we sang our four carols (with two girls alternating 'giving the tone' meaning they sang the first line of the song. this is typical for how a tone is given here.) and then the family invited us to sit down in their living room, again not quite all fitting. they had some sort of sweet for us (often more than one kind of cookie) and something to drink, typically coke or another soda. and if you don't eat, sometimes they get offended. hospitality is culturally very important .. so it is polite to both offer (a few times if it's not received at first) and also to accept what is given. which means that by the end of the night, even though we only went to 7 houses, we were sugared out! a couple of the houses gave us fruit in addition to or instead of sweets, which was very nice! i had heard about this tradition but hadn't been able to experience it for myself, so this was quite a treat.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


"A maturing friendship with God means knowing more and more what pleases him. Like a football coach who knows that he and his quarterback are in sync, he increasingly trusts you to make the call." (p181, Can You Hear Me, by Brad Jersak)
i read this yesterday and the image has stayed in my brain. i do believe that God cares about our day to day lives -- how we choose to spend our days, how we respond to various situations and who we seek out. but when i ask God simple questions, i don't always get answers. sometimes .. but not always. and i do have to choose. so reading this put words to something i've been feeling for a while .. that when a person has been steeped in the Word, steeped in relationship with God, steeped in the community of God .. some ways of being become more natural. good habits, as it were. not that a person stops sinning (ha!) .. but some of the characteristics of God begin to be reflected more clearly.

not to say that "i have arrived" or "i know God's plan so well i don't need to talk to Him anymore" or "i always know what's best" or "i always do what i believe is best" .. none of these are even close to true. but the idea of God trusting me (although often this is laughable and absurd to me) fits with the God i have come to know in the Word. a God who chooses to use broken people. people who make huge mistakes. (seriously .. murder, adultery, lying, jealousy, anger, dishonoring God, following false idols, disobedience .. you name it. it can be found in the Bible .. and often (to one degree or another) from those whom God used to lead His people.) so it's okay that i'm not perfect yet. He still chooses to let me be part of His Kingdom work. He chooses to let me mess up, to let me decide, to be present with me and show His mercy and grace. over and over and over again. glad we have a coach who knows how to discipline .. but also how to cheer us on when we've made a good play :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

caroling rehearsal

tonight we had our first practice for Christmas caroling. we're going as a group from church, and i'm pretty excited. although it will be hard to be away from family during this season, it feels right and good for me to be here .. in this culture i am learning to call home, experiencing their traditions, eating their food (yummy!), speaking with my presence that i value them enough to stay. so we had our first practice tonight, and about 15 people or so showed up. turns out we can sound pretty good. and with a few more rehearsals .. we'll be good to go!

somehow my heart hadn't made the connection that i wouldn't be singing carols i know. one of the three we practiced tonight was a tune i know .. but when i think of Christmas caroling and all the wonderful memories that go with it .. it is indelibly tied to the melodies and words i have grown up with. maybe i can convince my teammates to have a carol-singing night? the familiar ones? in english? we'll see. but .. i get to choose to start a set of new memories .. learning new words, new melodies, new traditions. with the Family that God has provided for me here. and although the music and sense i have are very different .. the amazing truth that God came to earth as a little baby has not and will never changed. and that is comfort enough for tonight.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

clear associations..

last week, for thanksgiving, i found myself making three double batches of cookies and two pumpkin pies -- for various people and events. good thing i had lots of practice while i was growing up cooking these important foods!

at the office, we were preparing for the month of december, and the staff turned to me and asked when i would make cookies with our kids. i wasn't quite sure what to make of this, since there isn't an oven at the office.. but they told me the kids made it clear they wanted to make cookies, and one of the staff told me that if it has to do with cookies, my name comes to mind. so .. we decided on a day and i'm already thinking about what kinds of cookies to make and how i'm going to get them from the office to my place so i can cook them all.

when we celebrated thanksgiving, one of the girls found out that i had made the cookies. when i walked by her seat, she stopped me and said 'i'm going to invite you over to my house so that you can make cookies for me.' and then yesterday at the office, one of the kids was there early and we were talking. after saying 'hello' and 'how are you' .. the first question she asked was 'did you bring more cookies?' this made the staff laugh .. apparently more than one person has now associated me with cookies.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

glimpses of beauty!

i'm not quite sure how all of these things fit together .. except that they are all things i want to remember and which brought a smile to my face recently.

- drinking starbucks coffee! (there are 3 starbucks in bucharest, so the only time i get to drink their coffee is when i'm there or traveling elsewhere in the world .. which doesn't happen all that often..)

- sitting with some dear friends at a mall in front of a fountain. it was built in a circle with water spouts on the edge (10 or 12?), and a circle of spouts in the middle. and the water danced! leaping from the edge in thin clear lines toward the middle only to reappear on the edge moments later. some wonderful synchronization and patterns. we could have sat there for hours, but after 10 or 15 minutes decided to do a bit of window shopping.

- the fact that 5 of us were together to see one of us off on a long journey. the saying 'goodbye' part is never my favorite .. but the fact that all of us were together and were willing to get up early in the morning to go to the airport together .. that is pretty amazing. (and when i say early, i mean leaving the hotel at 3.30 early! and i'm very grateful that we could return to our beds at the hotel for a few more hours of sleep.)

- knowing that said friend who is flying far away is in the hands of a very capable, loving Father.

- discovering that two of these friends (they happen to be teammates, as well :) enjoy playing cribbage. it can require a bit of thinking, so not everyone enjoys it .. but they both do. hurrah!

- in conversation with these same two friends, being able to switch between romanian and english at will. not that my romanian is perfect yet .. but we can communicate well in either language. this is something i've always wanted to do .. and it's happening!

- finally being able to read 'godric' by frederick buechner. i've heard good things about it, and now that i'm halfway through it .. i'm beginning to understand. buechner's writing has a depth and wisdom about it, and being able to read that in story form is good for the soul.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

reflection of the Father

people who spend their lives seeking God and seeking His Kingdom are pretty amazing.

getting to spend time with them .. also amazing. you might not be able to pick them out of a crowd (although CS Lewis writes about a recognition of God's children between one another..). you might not be impressed by their appearance. you might not choose to sit next to them at the airport.

but if you get a chance to sit down and hear a story, you would be surprised at the depth you hear. you might hear questions that grasp more than you'd expect. you might hear stories of great pain told without bitterness or anger. you might find your soul suddenly finding room to breathe. you might wish you could spend a few months living and learning from them (or a lifetime!). you would be able to say like the religious rulers of the day "they knew they had been with Jesus." only by His grace is that possible .. may you continue to evidence yourself in your beloved children, Father.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


i've felt the call in a number of areas in my life to know myself. to know who i am made to be, to know want i want, what i am called to. at this point many of my answers are 'i don't know' or 'i'm not sure yet' or 'maybe..' .. in some ways i think that's okay. God is the one who knows and it's okay for me to just be His child. but there are conversations coming my way (i can think of 4 off the top of my head that will probably happen in the next two weeks) where it would be really good if i knew at least something.

so what do i know? God is good. God is love. God calls each of us to become more like Him. God has created all of His children to reflect Him a way that is uniquely beautiful. God delights when we choose to obey. God cannot love me more .. even if i'm really good today. God cannot love me less .. even if i do horrible things today.

that seems like a pretty good place to start :)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"i'd like to thank..."

'i'm winning, i'm winning!' (recognize the quote? anyone?)

i (and another woman who was given this award by amy) "write thought-provoking posts that challenge me to reassess my own understanding of my world, my faith, and my relationships. Thank you, ladies. You inspire me."

that's enough to make anybody smile!

and not i'm supposed to give it to someone else, i think. there are a number of blogs that i follow .. but one i've been enjoying recently is sarah she's a friend who happens to be living in india at the moment. so there are some interesting cultural insights and comments, as well as thoughts that i identify with easily because i'm also living in another culture.

Friday, October 10, 2008

some reasons i know i'm back in romania..

-- sometimes i turn on the hot water and it just isn't there. guess i'll shower tomorrow..

-- regardless of how cold or wet it is, there are always people out walking

-- my brain is overwhelmed often with a language i didn't know two words in a few years ago

-- cars and people don't get as much space here .. small streets have cars parked, cars coming down them, and pedestrians on one or both sides. people are still safe .. but i must be very attentive as i cross the street

-- seeing men 'using the facilities' on the edges of public space has again become a common occurrence

-- i spend at least half an hour each day walking. the average is probably closer to an hour per day. and that's considered fairly normal :)

-- trams and buses are again easily accessible and useful modes of transportation

-- the market full of fresh produce is just about ten minutes from my place. on foot. and it's open every day!

-- it is the season to prepare for winter, so the smell of roasting red peppers (that will be frozen and eaten when fresh produce isn't so accessible) is everywhere. it's a wonderful smell .. and a good reminder that the seasons are changing

Sunday, October 05, 2008

am urcat ceahlaul!

last friday afternoon i received a phone call from a friend. asking if i wanted to climb a mountain the next day. with some people from church. i thought about it for a few seconds and said 'yes'. and then i discovered that we were leaving at 5am saturday morning. aka very early!

i slept over at my friends' place (to make sure that i actually woke up that early!) and we were indeed leaving shortly after 5. there were 8 of us total. and the drive took about 3 hours (since mountains aren't exactly close to the city where we live). we arrived (after a stop for some breakfast and hot coffee!) and were on our way shortly before 9am. it was chilly, so all of us were in some sort of coat (and some in winter hats, too!) .. but with the exertion of climbing a mountain we quickly warmed up. it was wonderful to be outdoors without out a cement building in sight!

sometimes when i've gone hiking in the past, those who are more fit are way ahead and get frustrated at those who are slower. that didn't happen this time. those who were ahead just waited periodically. and even though i was slower i didn't get left behind. somebody was always close enough to help if need be and to encourage too :) i felt very cared for .. part of the reason i really enjoy the church i get to be part of. by the time we neared the top, it was so foggy that we couldn't see more than 100 feet (that's my guess, at least). but we were easily able to stay on the path and arrive to the chalet at the top where we got some wonderfully warm tea! from there we walked the ridge up to another peak that is pretty abrupt. when we got there, it was so foggy that we could have been anywhere. it was just the eight of us, the rocks that we stood on, some monument-type thing that was on the top of the peak, and fog. surreal.

beauty is something that God uses to speak to me and bless me. (as is true for many of us, if we stop to acknowledge it, i suspect.) near the top of the mountain, somehow the wind and cold temperatures and humidity had combined to make beautiful ice sculptures. the tall grasses and pine trees and various flowers had icicles. that were horizontal. all in one direction. something i'd never seen before and not thought particularly plausible. but there it was. gorgeous and stunning and other-worldly.

with all the fog, we didn't have much of a view. but after we had enjoyed our warm tea and came back outside into the 'brisk cold' .. we had a view. the fog had cleared away in one direction, so we could see a nearby lake and the surrounding mountains. it was astounding! fog on three sides with a clear view in one direction. after a few minutes (maybe ten?) the fog rolled back in and it was just us, the crazy horizontal icicles, rocks, a few green plants, and two dogs who hang around the chalet at the top of the mountain and decided to accompany us to the other peak. pretty amazing. and such a picture of how life can be with God .. sometimes we get a glimpse of where we are, where we have come from, what we have done .. and other times we simply keep walking and moving forward on the few feet of path that we can see. trusting that Somebody knows what's ahead.

oh yeah. the title of the post. it's romanian for 'i climbed ceahlaul!' aka the name of the mountain. sounds sorta like chay-ah-low-ool. sorta :) hope to post picture soon. sorry i can't today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

an awaited visitor!

today the sun appeared.
he's been on vacation for a week and half
at least.
so i haven't felt sun on my face
since i arrived in romania.
but today i did.
ah, such sweetness!
a gift.. not to be taken lightly
a few hours without socks
or a sweater.
grateful for warmth
thanks, Papa.

Monday, September 22, 2008


sunday afternoon, i had the privilege of being invited to my romanian grandmother's house for lunch. turns out, there were 8 of us total. my 'grandmother' and her grandson, a woman who helps her out around the house, and 4 of her dear friends. all of whom she has known for at least 40 years, a couple upwards of 50.

we arrived about 1.30pm, and there was the dining room table, already set. plates around, glasses and smaller glasses (similar to shot glasses, but smaller), utensils, flowers (mostly from the guests, i believe), and the food. oh, the food .. too much to be eaten, but so lovingly prepared! what i remember being on the table for the first course included:
-- meat, cheese and olives
-- fish egg salad
-- something similar to potato salad with eggs and a few other veggies
-- veggie salad (roasted vegetables mixed and blended to be very small size)
-- small pieces of fish
-- breaded cauliflower and mushrooms
-- and bread, of course .. something that few meals are complete without!

we ate and talked, and ate and talked, and then our hostess brought out
-- mici. these are sort of like sausage, but prepared on a grill, typically. if romanians are going to a barbeque, these will always be brought along (somewhat comparable to american hamburgers in usage? and taste, although these have many more spices and are usually eaten with mustard)

a bit later, she brought out a large platter which contained
-- a cooked fish, artistically covered with a few kinds of vegetables

and then ..
-- cooked chicken
-- cabbage salad

finally, we had reached the last course. dessert.
-- yellow 2 layer cake with rich, creamy chocolate frosting

and one musn't forget the drinks. we began with some form of liquor (i'm not sure which variety, exactly) .. served in the very small glasses. we toasted the grandson because it was his birthday, and then drank. made for a nice sort of 'burning' sensation in the back of my throat. i wasn't quite sure what to expect, which didn't help. but i've been told that such drinks to help to keep one warm :) then we were offered either beer or mineral water. all but one person took the beer, which happened to go quite nicely with a number of tastes. between the fish and the chicken, we were also offered espresso, which more than half of us enjoyed.

and there's also the feast of conversation. because most of those there have known each other for years and years, there was a great freedom of topics and opinions. a few of the ideas touched upon include: tv shows, how they had met, politics, present-day education, travel, children and grandchildren, best kind of coffee, locations and how things have changed over time in this city, religions and beliefs, foreigners, telling jokes, languages (and that the most beautiful is, of course, romanian :), what i am doing here and why i was at lunch, and also many compliments about the food and a couple requests for recipes.

i was one of the first to leave, and it was almost 5 by that time. so we ate and talked together for three and a half hours. i say again.. feast!

what a gift .. to be included in such a gathering.
and even to understand most of what was said.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

one of those old commandments

today at church, my pastor talked about the first two commandments in exodus 20 (there are 10 total commandments, you know :) .. and the second one is about how the children of Israel were not to have idols. then we looked in deuteronomy 18.9-13 .. where we read that they were not to make idols or sacrifice to them or practice witchcraft or any of that. in those days, one practice was to sacrifice children to a god named molech, burning them on an altar. this is utterly detestable. really.

our pastor said he is deeply saddened that so often our children are still sacrificed. i hadn't ever quite used those words before, but it's true. they can be sacrificed to the idols of power .. money .. convenience .. selfishness .. career .. family .. relationships .. entertainment .. the list goes on. some of these are actually good things. but when we choose them over God, they become bad. really bad. our God has given us some wonderful things, but when we choose to honor ourselves or these good things in place of Him .. everyone suffers. and children most certainly suffer. this plays out in all different ways, but it's pretty easy to think of somebody we know who this might apply to. may we have eyes to see the idols we are placing before God in our own lives, and courage to ask Him to tear down the idols that God, and God only may have first place in our lives.

Friday, July 11, 2008

reasons i'm grateful today

i have no plans until 6pm tonight! (in contrast with most of the days in recent past and days to come in the near future)

there is a beach and beautiful lake just a short four blocks away

the number of amazing people who i've been able to meet with in the past week, be encouraged by, share stories (and often food!) with, reconnect with

the fact that i don't have to commute everyday to work (because my typical 'commute' includes a 5-10 minute walk :)

having friends who lent me a vehicle for a week .. no questions asked, no worried phone calls .. just keys and 'see you in a week'

experiencing chicago traffic (plus construction plus rush-hour) .. and being oh so grateful that when i go somewhere and expect it to take an hour, it usually does .. not the three hours that such a 'one-hour' drive took yesterday

my God really does provide all that i need.

stories stories stories!

that the friends i'm staying with let me do their dishes. (really. it took a bit of convincing .. but somehow i relate being able to do dishes with whether or not i'm a 'guest' or can really feel at home.)

having friends who let me hug them and who hug me back

a new journal with pages and pages of white waiting to be filled and written on and drawn on in any and every direction in a variety of colors (and perhaps a couple of languages?!)

a breakfast of yogurt and granola and blueberries and two mugs of coffee

did i say friends yet? :)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

at the frankfurt airport

i spent about 4 hours in frankfurt yesterday, about halfway through my 26 hours of travel from iasi (in northeastern romania) to atlanta (in southeastern america). living in romania, i miss having a wide diversity of race, ethnicity, language. sure, there are people who come to iasi to study medicine from africa and the middle east, and a few other foreigners - but the majority of people are romanian or gypsy, and generally pretty homogeneous. so .. i spent at least an hour of my time just standing and people watching. and then took some time to write down some of my thoughts.

and i saw people from china, japan, korea .. from the middle east .. from india .. from africa .. from northern europe .. and even from america :)

i am pretty sure that i heard german, romanian, english, russian, chinese, arabic, and italian. and those are just the ones that i recognized!

a strange euphony of images --
a nun wearing the clothes of the order mother teresa started, as well as one in regular black habit
a man in a blue striped shirt with a matching blue striped bag
random employees on bicycles
piercing sunlight through the sunroof for a short five minutes
wealthy westerners eating at a fancy restaurant
thirty young africans sitting on the floor waiting hours for their flight
parents with children wandering up and past and around and over and behind and through
beautiful women in indian saris
a sunburned traffic controller with a fluorescent yellow vest
american girls in immodestly short shorts
a man sprinting to catch his plane
the easy coherence of european fashion
english being heard from every race and ethnicity and age

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

3 rather unconnected thoughts

e vremea lalelelor!
meaning .. it's the season for tulips! (that's romanian, if you weren't sure :) they are all over the city. in the garden we have in front of our center, in all the middle of the big roundabouts, in many yards, in almost all the parks around the city. bunches and bunches of them. all sorts of different colors. beautiful!

a rainy day
there was storm last night and it hasn't really stopped raining since then. when much of the population walks, it makes for some interesting interactions. probably about 50% of the people outside have umbrellas, and when a number of umbrellas suddenly become close, there's the quick adjustment of some lifting higher or lower or moving slightly one direction or another, or tilting this way or that. like a game. and some people aren't very good at playing.. :) but fun to watch and be aware of.

i'm 'fascinating'
okay. this sounds really proud to say. but there's a story behind it. so .. i went to visit my language teacher (aka romanian grandmother) today, and a good friend of hers also came to visit. who is also a grandmother. and she was recently helping her granddaughter with homework, and she's supposed to think of a person who is fascinating to her. she said most people will pick an actor or actress but she didn't want to. so she asked her grandmother. and her grandmother said, 'well i know this young woman who could be out at all the discotheques with boys and having fun in life, but instead she chose to leave her parents and come to romania to help people. that's fascinating to me.' wow. i'm praying and hoping that somehow as i stand out to her as 'strange' and 'interesting', i can point to Someone bigger and much more fascinating and Good. made me smile, anyway.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

what can you get for 9.60 lei*?

*equivalent to about $4.25

well, this last sunday, it was worth the following:

2 hours of beautiful music at the philharmonic

a chance to hear a stradivarius violin (aka the most expensive kind of violin, because of the maker and because they make such beautiful sounds)

a reminder of all sorts of words i learned when i was studying the violin .. pizzicato, not having a swan wrist, double stops ..

getting to watch a violinist who loves playing the violin (and let it show!)

watching his facial expressions as a way to understand the music better .. and a way to see what is a bit more difficult and what is just fun to play (i find that violinists (and other musicians?) often have very expressive eyebrows and lips when they are in the midst of deep concentration to play something they love)

three encores .. if the audience hadn't been so antsy, they might have kept at it for a few more hours

a refreshment for my soul, and a good way to celebrate beauty on the Sabbath

Friday, March 28, 2008

you know you're reading war and peace when..

you have been reading a book for almost 4 months and aren't done yet

you recently read a page with a palindromic number .. that had four numbers (1001)

you are more than two thirds finished, and what's left is still longer than your typical entire book

you read a name like "bezukhov" and you have a mental picture in your head, and know how he grew up and how he came into money, and who he's married to, and what sorts of questions he regularly asks of life

you know more about the russian wars in the early 1800s (and Napolean and Russian life) than you ever learned in high school history class

you are enjoying the book, and recently thought .. oh no! there are only 400 pages left (in that you aren't sure if you want the story to end or not)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

yesterday was a good day

things i enjoyed yesterday:

waking up before my alarm went off

drinking good coffee while still in my comfy pajamas

getting a surprise call from a friend in the States

a brisk walk to and from the grocery store

finding zucchini at the grocery store

reading a good chunk of a book

making a new dish, and it actually turning out alright

having the team over for dinner together

eating something both healthy and tasty

sharing fresh cookies with the team

praying together .. listening to God together

warm tea on a chilly night

a surprise call from my family

wearing a bright green new-ish shirt

Thursday, March 13, 2008

scenes from thursday

-- on the tram --
this particular morning on the tram there aren't too many people - some grandmothers and grandfathers who were just at the market getting fresh produce, some high school kids going to school, some professionals who start their day a bit later. people are still wearing coats because it's march and that's the way it's supposed to be - but they are thinner than a month ago. everyone is staring out the window or carefully past one another, not making eye contact unless absolutely necessary. at the next stop, a couple climb the steps and walk down the aisle. they are from the country, with hands and bodies that have clearly known hard work. the man has lines on his weathered face that emanate sadness. they sit down in the middle of the tram and begin to talk. this man has a voice like no other. it's a deep bass, and a bit nasal. at first it's hard to tell if he is talking or simply mumbling to himself in sounds that don't make coherent sense. but the woman answers back, and as time goes on those on the tram begin to understand his speech. somehow it has changed the atmosphere of the tram. this voice that seems to come from his bowels and rattles the chests of those around him has had its effect.

-- teasing children --
four elementary school boys walk down the street. they've clearly just gotten out of school, and with the warm weather, their coats hang at odd angles from their backpacks. they were all walking forward down the sidewalk, but turned backward and making some kind of noise. as they get closer, it becomes apparent they are making kissing noises. as the corner comes into view, there is a boy talking to a girl. in third or fourth grade, this is still an awkward behavior and his friends are making sure he knows it. the faces of the two are bright red, but have big smiles on them. ah .. boys of any age ..

-- getting older --
a woman, in her mid-20s walks into her apartment building and pulls out her keys to check her mailbox in the entryway. she pulls out her mail and closes the box, and a man enters behind her. he says "mrs." and hands her a bill for the electricity, and then proceeds to put them in other boxes. she holds her mail in one hand and opens her door with the other, reflecting to herself that she has never been called 'mrs.' before.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

me? running?!

about a month ago i started working out with one of my teammates. and it had been a while. but i've wanted to work on my running, because really -- it's generally more like huffing and puffing for a minute or two and then walking and trying to catch my breath. at this gym there are treadmills. the first time, i actually was able to run (jog is probably a much better word) for 12 minutes. granted, one is only supposed to be on the treadmill for 15 minutes at this particular gym (and many in this country. strange!), but i ran as much as i could and then walked the rest. it's been encouraging. every day when i go, i run for 15 minutes (or walk/run) and then do abs, lift some weights, use some machines. and i've been going twice a week for 4 weeks now.

yesterday, when i went, i ran for 20 minutes. (i know, it's only supposed to be 15, but everybody else was using some other machine and i figured.. i could do an extra five.) i'm pretty sure that never in my life have i run for that long. and i was doing 7 miles an hour speed, which means that i ran a bit more than 2 miles. wow!! (okay, now i'm having doubts. it might be in kilometers .. which would mean i did much much less, but i'm hoping that it's in mph?) anyway, i ran for 20 minutes without stopping. which is quite exciting. hopefully as i keep going in the morning (when there are fewer people at the gym) i can run a bit longer and a bit faster and we'll see what happens!

makes me feel healthy - this working out. and running. and actually doing some ab-work. not that it means i'll necessarily lose weight, but hopefully i will become healthier as well as more in-shape and able to do daily activities without working at it. that's the plan, anyway!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


"the role of stories: we live our lives by stories we tell about ourselves and that others tell about us. these stories actually shape reality in that they construct and constitute what we see, feel, and do." -- gerald corey

i love stories. about almost anything. especially if they are about people. getting to sit down and hear someone's story, what their life has been like, what their dreams are ... mmm. makes me happy. we've been having a dialog group once a month for the past 4 (or so) months, with both romanians and americans. one of my teammates is working on a long-distance degree in human development so is reading and encountering all sorts of interesting information. he's wanted to take this information and create dialog (with both americans and romanians .. especially those who work with and among the poor), and last week we talked about stories. not only personal stories, but also cultural stories. national stories.

for instance, there is the 'american dream' and talk about equality, independence, freedom. these are ideals and therefore aren't always practiced, but they are some examples of how americans seen themselves .. and how others see them too. this is a relatively positive national story. other nations might have a more negative story. take romania, for instance .. where corruption & submission to someone more powerful have been and still are part of the story, in many ways. (one is too positive and the other is too negative. both forms of pride, in their own ways. neither country is perfect or realistic.)

if i view my nation and culture a certain way, the way i view myself is also affected. and probably i fit into that story, one way or another. what would it mean to change the story? to believe that i could be someone who doesn't need to seek money and security first of all (vs. the american dream)? or to believe that i could be a person who loves others and doesn't always choose my own interests over the interests of another? it seems like believing the story can have a different ending (or even a different middle) takes hope. is a way to hope .. rewriting the story and aiming for change is a tangible way to counteract the lies we are told.

and clearly, i think the best way to change the story is to make it more like the Story. the Story that has a good God, and a Son who chose to come to earth as a frail human to save humans from their sinful selves, and grace and forgiveness that don't make sense, and a cross and an empty tomb, and the sun coming up tomorrow. how much do we actually believe the Story that we are told in the Letter from our Father? how far we all have to go .. and yet, there is somehow enough grace to fill the space from here to Home.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

all that from a regular piece of paper?!

someone recently sent me an email with some wonderful one-page pieces of artwork. and somehow that led me to a website for a man named peter callesen.

if you have a few minutes, you might enjoy taking a look at his sight. enjoying some art. taking in pieces of beauty. being amazed that out of a simple piece of paper can come things so intricate. laughing to think about taking a pair of scissors yourself to a similar regular 8.5 x 11 (or 8.2 x 11.5, as the case may be..?) sheet of paper and coming up with anything remotely similar. i guess lots and lots of practice might be involved. (i haven't yet looked at all his varieties of art work, but hope to slowly take them in during the next few days.)

something to enjoy.
peace to you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

some real dancing!

wednesday i got to teach dance to our girls. which is quite a landmark. for that to make sense, a bit of background. i grew up dancing. once or twice a week since i was 4. then in high school, it became 3-5 times a week. at least. and i loved it. some people do varsity sports -- i did dance company and children's dance theater. two good programs. all of which to say, dance is something that comes rather naturally to me, and which i love to do. but i forget that sometimes. i forget how free i can feel when i dance. and how excited i can get about moving. and trying to figure out how to share my love for movement and physical expression (and the beauty of good dance) with others.

so wednesday, i had an hour and a half or so with 4 teenage girls and one other staff person. i didn't know this would happen for sure until tuesday afternoon, and was busy tuesday night. so wednesday morning found me in my apartment trying to find music and exercises to do with them. thinking back to my time at CDT, and the internship that i did senior year of college teaching a number of friends about my style of dance. doing some warm-ups, creating a short pattern, thinking about how to teach them about time, space, and energy (three elements of dance)...

it went pretty well. i showed them a short video, and there were mixed reactions. but 4 of the 6 girls were ready to try it. and they did put themselves into it, working to understand how i moved and move in a similar way. my pattern wasn't particularly easy (which i will fix next time i do this) but they tried it and even wanted to add one of the warm-up exercises to it from the beginning of 'class'. so they got involved in it, and participated, and would do so again (i asked to make sure).

good signs:
-- my brain is already going, thinking about what i'd most like to teach them and what might be ways to do so. interesting ways that involve creative thinking and movement that is 'outside the box'.
-- i was sore yesterday (and a bit today) .. what with my practicing beforehand and then actually doing, i did quite a bit of movement. and apparently haven't been doing enough recently.
-- while we were ice skating today (we took all our kids for a treat, and they enjoyed themselves), i was dancing to the music a bit and being reminded how much i like to use my body
-- did i mention being sore? it hurts, but it also makes me happy because it means i actually worked

Saturday, January 26, 2008

adjusting. again.

it's official. i have now traveled around the world. in less than 80 days (planes do make it a bit easier :) quite amazing. still hard to believe that i got to do something i've talked about and thought about .. and that it's finished. weird. but i'm not opposed to doing it again. should the opportunity present itself! and the time and the money and all that...

as i return to life in romania, there are a variety of things to become re-adjusted to. particularly since my last three weeks were in cambodia. here are a few that spring to mind:
- taking showers with warm water
- being cold .. one isn't cold much when the temperature is always above 80
- wearing socks again. and long sleeve shirts. and sweaters. and hats. and...
- not getting to ride any more motos :(
- sleeping in the same place for more than 4 days (and even more than a week!)
- not getting to ride any more planes for a while
- actually understanding the 'strange language' i hear around me (some of it, at least)
- washing my own laundry and cooking my own food
- not eating yummy fresh fruit every day (at least such a large variety)
- being able to brush my teeth and not worry about the water
- no more squattie potties :(

well .. that's all i can think of at the moment. lots of adjusting. but it's good to be 'home' in romania. and there are good things here. getting to be present again in another place.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

some 'stats'

we thought that some numbers would be fun .. as a way to do a bit of summary. so ..

20 - days we spent in cambodia (+1 for abi)
9 - different beds that we slept in
133 - bugbites on abi on the worst day
7 - modes of transportation (airplane, car, moto wagon aka tuk tuk, moto, bus, boat, walking)
0 - bad meals eaten
2 - dollars spent on a cambodian skirt (similar to a sarong)
6 - dollars to get an hour massage
3 - varieties of bananas (that actually tasted like banana is supposed to taste!)
6 - new fruits eaten (jackfruit, dragonfruit, mien, sapadilla, milkfruit, and green oranges)
8 - average hours of sleep a night (just a guess)
85 - average temperature (F) during our visit as a guess

all around ..
very wonderful to be here.
in southeast asia.
with amazing people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

oh Asia, how loved by your true self company is

In honor of my last night in Cambodia, I thought I'd write a brief post about what I find most amusing here: memorable use of the English language on signs and merchandise. Up the road from us there's a sign for the "organization to help the miserable corpses." None of our friends know exactly what they do, but it sounds quite compassionate. We shared a good chuckle in a stationary store today, taking in the array of notebooks and journals. I picked up a few...

Trendy journal #1 says (A little like 2 Peter 1:5-7 but without the divine inspiration):
"If the change in heart, with
your attitude change;
Attitudes change, and you
change with the habit;
Habits change, and you
change with the character;
Personality changes your
life with change; In good
times Thanksgiving, in the
face of adversity still feel joy,
seriously live in the present."

The second journal has bubbly anime-like characters on the cover.
How beautiful
you are
my beloved,
how beautiful!
Your eyes are
soft like doves
My fair one,
and come away
I'm in love
with you
We can have fun in this woods!"

Song of Solomon, anyone?

(aside by abi .. if shelly's current life plans don't work out, there is always the option of writing ads and inspirational poems such as these. also .. there's always karaoke...)

Easily amused as always and forever, fill your souls soul with good thots and dreams,

(Another thing we love here: bubble tea... mmm...)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

a bit of the arts in cambodia

last night we had the pleasure of going to a shadow puppets performance. which is a tradition in cambodia. there was a story .. about a man who falls in love with a woman and chases after her. there is a battle (or two?), flying monkeys, and a couple of people who fall. all told with cambodian music, big puppets (maybe 3 feet tall and 2 feet across or so?), lights on both sides of a screen, a bit of dialog (in khmer), and traditional dance. wonderful!!

i haven't been to a real dance performance in a long time. a very long time. there have been a few 'amateur dance' things that i've seen, but last night something in my soul went "aahhh." something forgotten and ignored given room to breathe. makes me want to dance more (which is a good thing, as long as i don't ignore it again).

so the dance and shadow puppets ..
- the dancing is all very controlled
- slow and precise
- practiced since they were 8 or 9 (and i'd guess that most of the dancers were in their 20s and 30s)
- flexed feet and hands (so it looks like they curve backwards)
- exact movements with each finger and elbow going the right direction
- women with smaller motions, feet close together (although turned out), and most things close to their core
- men with larger motions, wide stance, loud feet periodically, climbing on each others' shoulders once or twice
- shadow puppets with the light behind the scrim (so they were silhouettes) getting bigger and smaller, sometimes being large enough that the whole screen became almost black
- the uniqeness and intricacy of the puppets -- they are made of leather, with beautiful coloring that was visible even on stage, let alone after the performance with the lights on full blast. almost like a relief print

what a gift .. arts in another culture. and people to enjoy them with. thanks, God, for color and beauty and dance and bodies that can express ideas and truth and relationship. and understanding even though the words were incomprehensible!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Exotic beach or ancient ruins?

I'm writing from an internet cafe in Sihanouk Ville. If it were daylight, I could catch a glimmer of the ocean from the storefront windows. Ahhh. A trip to the beach was not in our original plans, but our host graciously suggested it as an alternative to Angkor Wat. I know, I know, we're in Cambodia and we're not going to see the temple ruins. Sorry if that's grossly disappointing to any of you. I suppose it's comparable to going to Egypt without visiting the pyramids. But, after a week FULL of travel, new culture & experiences, having some space to process has been helpful...

The beach we're staying next to is rather busy. Vendors selling fruit, bracelets, offering to give manicures are prevalent, so it's not exactly a quiet place... but it is beautiful. The ocean water is clear and warm. The sun is hot, the breeze is cool. There are quite a few tourists from Europe and Australia... but it still feels distinctly, distinctly like we're in Cambodia and unlike any other "tourist zone" I've visited.

Praise God for good health and the companionship of Matt and Heather Allen, a young couple that joined the InnerCHANGE team a few months ago. We're heading back to the big city tomorrow and will travel to Kampong Cham this week as well. Someone is shooting fireworks off in the distance. Anyway, thanks for reading, more to come.

Peace! Shelly

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

photos and more

for two days we stayed in a very poor part of the city. it's on the edge of a lake and most (if not all?) of the houses are built over the lake. this lake looks somewhat swamp-like in places because there are lots of plants in it, as well as a wide variety of garbage. most of the people seem to use it for their dump. which isn't horrible .. except that during the rainy season, the water level rises so much that to get to their houses people must walk through the water .. and with all the garbage and small living things mixed in, that isn't a very healthy thing for them or their feet. they have a word for it, in fact, translating to "water eats feet". being in our friend's house, the floor was built directly over the water. it was a bit surreal to walk around and see water moving beneath us. but we didn't fall through!

This is a view from the porch at our friend's house. He has a nice porch, maybe 12 feet by 6 feet? Both nights we stayed in his neighborhood, we ate dinner with our host family (who are also his landlords and live next door to him) on the porch, with thin pillows to sit on, bamboo mats under us, and yummy cambodian food. It has been rather warm during the days, but in the morning and evening, it is marvelous! With a gentle breeze off the lake and the sun setting it's just about perfect. In this neighborhood poverty is very present, so there are a number of things that are harder to look at and to see. But there are also beautiful things -- colorful sunsets, children with welcoming smiles, people who really care about their neighbors, hardworking and resourceful women, chubby men shamelessly bathing in the streets (wearing a skirt, of course!).

one wonderful thing about cambodia .. the food! last night we were treated to a meal with a family of eight that live and work here. the mother does a wonderful job of taking care of her six kids, including cooking healthy food for them. we got to help cut up vegetables, including carrots, cucumber, tomato, onion, green onion, mushroom, garlic and eggplant. there was also meat, of course! the final product was just the right way to end our day together. some common things in cambodian food are rice, garlic, fish sauce, and wide variety of vegetables. with the warm weather they have fresh produce all year round (i think) .. which is reflected in their stir fry and "amok" (yes. that is one of the kind of dishes they serve here. seriously.) and loc lak. mmm... everything so far is tasty. the best new fruit that we've eaten is called "dragon fruit". it is a kind of purple pink color, on the inside it's white with lots of seeds, with the same consistency as a kiwi and a similar flavor, although not quite as strong. very very good!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Funny questions

We've been warned to expect being asked silly questions when shopping in the market place. (Not that we're going to understand them...) Foreigners are intriguing and strange here, so possible questions include:
How old are you?
How much do you weigh?
What size shoe do you wear?
Why aren't you married yet?!
How much did that shirt cost you?

Last night, missionary Kent asked Shelly, "What's your favorite creative expression?" Missionary Hayden responded, "That's like asking a parent, 'Which is your favorite child?'" Hear, hear.

There are probably a lot of funny questions that people in the community were asking about us... but sometimes it's nice not understanding everything. Or anything.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

in cambodia. for real!

i am in cambodia! in phnom penh, the capital. it's winter here, so during the day it's only in the 80s. it promises to be even warmer before the three weeks i'm spending here will be up. especially after temps in the 20s and 30s being the norm for the past few weeks or longer. but, for now it's nice to wear sandals and not worry about bringing a coat anywhere. i can't describe all that i have seen and experienced, even though i only arrived late last night. one major blessing is that the whole time i am here, my friend and colleague, shelly, is here. we communicate with each other pretty well, and are both artists and introverts. so it is a gift to be here together, experiencing this together! here are a few snapshots in words. (for the next few weeks, both shelly and i will be sharing our thoughts here. one possible way to differentiate between us might be the use of caps... :)

- one of the teammates lives in a very poor part of town, on the north edge. it turns out that most of the houses are built over the small lake. as we walked through his house and were able to rest a bit, we looked down and could see water through the floorboards. there are open windows and nice breezes, although the lake isn't the cleanest water i've seen...

- traffic flows pretty well. lots of motos (like small motorcycles), a few cars, some motos pulling small covered wagons that will seat 4-6 people easily, and a few bicycles and pedestrians. if it's hard to make a left turn, one might pull into oncoming traffic and slowly work one's way onto right into the correct side of the street. there are lights, but apparently they are fairly new and also somewhat optional. but .. no accidents so far. people seem pretty adept at avoiding others and knowing exactly how big their vehicle is.

- Dave Everitt's thoughtful words to ponder, spoken over breakfast: "Compelled is when my heart can't say no." (This refers to his compelling sense of call to the rural people of Cambodia.)

- Here's something else we've learned. Having a long nose and light skin makes you beautiful here. Who knew. Strange how different people develop ideals of beauty. From our end, (speaking for Abi too), we have seen many BEAUTIFUL people. Kind smiles, warm big brown eyes. Curious and gracious.

- squatty potties. woo hoo!!

Cheers and God's peace!
Abigail and Shelly