27 December 2006

i´ve been published!

i´ve been published in the January edition of The Banner (the magazine of my church) concerning women in office. i was honoured to be asked and to get to share my thoughts. i hope that it might be a helpful addition to a somewhat difficult discussion in my church.

26 December 2006

Christmas in Amsterdam

every so often i have moments when i can´t quite really believe that i live in Amsterdam – and that i live in a house like the one you see in the pictures of here. and spending Christmas in Amsterdam feels a bit surreal.

for me, the weeks leading up to Christmas (i.e. Advent) were filled with a lot of longing for things to be different. i was homesick, wishing that i could share in the big events happening in my family´s life. the house/community was going through a bit of a difficult time living with each other. most of the volunteers were going away for Christmas. my Dutch is still poor enough that a lot has to be translated for me. in visiting Ukraine, i was reminded by how much of a struggle life there can be – and of the sadness of the church situation (and the resulting situation in my old school).
All of those events/memories mixed with the words and songs of Advent: the familiar passages of Isaiah and Luke, the songs in minor keys while speaking of hope and deliverance. Advent was time of being honest about the sadness of the broken world, while looking forward to things being different – looking forward to Christ coming again.

and then came Christmas Eve. and i got to celebrate it in the Oude Kerk – the same church i had been attending for most of Advent. and the church that had barely a hundred people in it on Sunday morning was packed with more than i could count. and as we participated in hearing and singing, the promise of Christ´s coming filled me. i had remembered the sadness/brokenness of the world around me for weeks. but now i remember that there is something greater than that sadness. as surely as Christ came to earth the first Christmas, He will surely come again and bring an end to the brokenness. so how can i not be overfilled with joy?

and the joy continued when i arrived back at the house around 11:30. the sign outside was being changed. we had hot chocolate and blue and white sprinkles on rusks (to celebrate the birth of a boy). we wished each other Merry Christmas. chatted about our church services and life in general. at 12:02 (the clock being a bit late in the common area), we sang happy birthday to Zr. Annemieke. and the joy of being with the family of God getting to celebrate the promise in Christ`s coming was the kind of joy that Christmas is made up of.

the next day (Christmas day) was a big breakfast, another church service, hearing the Christmas story (in half a dozen languages in honour of all of the languages present currently in the house). a restful afternoon of visiting people and going for a bike ride on relatively quiet streets. and then a phenomenal Christmas dinner for 32 with about eight courses – at least half a dozen people in the house had spent hours and hours on it. and the food was amazing – and there was laughter and fellowship. and it was good. but somehow the overwhelming joy and hope of the previous evening wasn´t quite as strong: it was harder to hold on to that hope while also loving family members who are struggling with belonging, with figuring out what to do with one´s life and who are thinking about other family members who don´t know the real joy of Christmas. and as much as this meal was amazing – and as much as i have the joy of knowing my ´family´ here and my family back home loves me, maybe i just missed helping out my sisters and mom in the kitchen back home – and our dinner table conversation mixed with laughter, people interrupting, and an inevitable discussion of some bodily function.

and on the second day of Christmas, i´ve taken some more time for quiet. i´ve been asked to look after the cats. and in so doing i think i´ve been given a bit of a Christmas present: full access for a week to an apartment/house with an out-of-tune piano, a bathtub (a rarity - only the third i´ve seen in four months!), a washing machine, and a television. so this morning started with reading e-mail, feeding the cats, taking a bath, playing some Christmas carols and then joining the house for a late breakfast. and the joy of Christmas has now settled into a quiet peacefulness. Jesus is come. He is the answer to the brokenness. how can my heart not sing for joy?

loving others

one of the best definitions of love that i remember is given by a monk i know. he says We mistakenly think that others who profess to love God and follow Jesus will do so only in ways that we understand and approve. We wrongly expect people to show their love for God and neighbor by behaving only in ways with which we are comfortable and that buttress our own beliefs, rather than causing us to question our assumptions. The life of Jesus teaches us how wrong we are. Jesus upset almost everyone at some point, and yet he loved them all. His example teaches us how to truly love by seeing people as they are and accepting them as they are, while expecting them to grow, hoping and praying for their growth, and joyfully respecting their ultimate maturity as images of God--all unique, beautiful images different from each other but still images of the infinite God."

if you asked me if i loved somebody, i would certainly say yes, but putting the kind of selfless love into practice every day is kind of hard. sometimes i find it difficult to answer how i`ve actually shown that love – especially to people different than me.

people different than me tend to be interested in different things than me (which would stand to reason on account of us being different). it follows that i´m not as naturally excited about certain things as they are. nonetheless, responding to these things with “i don´t care” or “i´m not really interested” is neither tactful or loving (as my sisters pointed out to me). i don´t need to point out my lack of interest in the subject as my lack knowledge on the subject when i open my mouth makes this already blatantly obvious. however, if i love somebody i choose to be interested in something outside of my natural interests because this interest is part of who he/she is.

awhile ago, i was sitting listening to somebody talk about something or other (i have no idea what now), and the thought crossed my mind that i really don´t care about what they´re talking about. and then i realized, i don´t get to make the choice not to care. if i truly love this person, as i would say i want to do, then that means i care about the things that they are interested in. (and thus, i`d better adjust my attitude.)

during my two years of teaching in Ukraine i was shown a lot of what it meant to love people. i was loved as i was - for being from Canada, for laughing a lot, for asking why too often, and for being a bit disorganized. and as i was discovering my love for teaching – and discovering how that provided a completely new way for me to be who God has me to be, i was also getting to be loved for being a teacher. their love was shown not only in their tremendous hospitality to me (what i know about hospitality has been taught me by my mother first and by these Hungarians second), but also in their interest in me, their willingness to learn, and their acceptance of the fact that i wasn´t like their other teachers. and i couldn´t help but love them back, trying to do that as fiercely as they loved me (not having a lot of personal space or privacy in the school in Ukraine made loving a hands-on experience. but we had a lot in common so that made it a bit easier. life was hard in Ukraine – and it was hard for everyone. we needed each other and loving each other was a bit of a survival mechanism.)

when i returned to America, i tried to keep ahold of what they had taught me about loving people – but it was easier to do it abstractly as everyone tends to keep a bit more distance. and i could live my own life doing what i wanted when i wanted most of the time.

living in the community in Amsterdam, some of my freedom and distance disappeared. and it became obvious that i was better at abstractly loving people than doing so in every day life. and that i tended to focus on what interested me (including myself) instead of appreciating what others were interested in.

with visiting Ukraine, there was the hope that i would better remember that unconditional love i had received and learnt to give. to receive the kind of hospitality that does not let me pay for anything, that rearranges one´s schedule just to meet together for awile, and that changes one´s language. and even to bend those rules of hospitality a bit because i have become a bit less of a guest and more like family. and to feel loved by that.

i hope i remember well – and am willing to participate in the hard work of loving people in reality, even if and when they choose to care about things different than i would, or when they invade my space, or when understanding each other is difficult. and that i might be willing to be surprised and blessed by how God shows Himself in others.

we made the papers!

n.b. the link in this is courtesy of Br. Luc´s scanning the article

last week, several journalists from Het Parool spent 24 hours visiting Oudezijds 100. the result was a 4 page article in Saturday`s paper (pages 1-2, pages 3-4). as the journalists arrived just as i was leaving for vacation, i didn`t make it into any of the pictures - but the pictures (and the article if you can read Dutch) give you a good idea of my regular life (and i made the holiday cooking schedule depicted there). and some day i´ll post a picture of one of us on our bikes coming home from the bakery carrying two bags of bread – the amount of bread needed to feed 20 people lunch and breakfast.

and some things don't (change)

returning to Ukraine, i expected to discover a few things about myself. although it is not always easy to see gradual changes, going back to an ´old place´ gave me the possibility of comparing who i was when i was last there to who i am now. (and getting to ask people how i´ve changed).

most of the people i asked didn´t think i had changed that much. which kind of disappointed me (after all, i must have grown somewhat in the last three and half years!) but when i think of how i´ve changed, i realize that the biggest change has been me becoming more comfortable with myself and the calling that God has for me. so this visit, i felt like i could laugh more, be more direct, communicate better, and be okay with ´sticking out´ a bit. those aren´t huge changes in who I am – just changes in how much of myself that I show – which i expect makes it harder to notice (or maybe people remember me better than they should).

and i realized this visit that Transcarpathia Ukraine is not where i´m supposed to be for the rest of my life. that as important a part of my life this place has been (and hopefully the people will continue to be), that this is not home for me. and it´s okay if i don´t fit or belong there – and that this doesn´t mean that i love the people there any less. nor does it make me want any less to help out those who do live there.

on tuesday i met with a group of friends, and we got into a theological discussion – about infant baptism. and i know the Heidelberg Catechism well enough and have studied the reasons for it at Seminary so that i could have participated in the discussion (although it would have had to be translated). but somebody else there had also studied to be a pastor, and he was more than able to answer the questions. and i could see that he was trying to answer in a way that helped the others grow in their faith and understanding of God, even if he wasn´t always sure of all the answers. and in that moment, my role was support for the pastor – praying and agreeing with him as much as i could. and it was good role/task for me - one i am very much content with – helping others to be pastors. and hope to continue to get to do in the future.

and the last evening in Budapest, i went with Istvan and Gyula to their church. and it was great that everything was translated from hungarian to english (or vice-versa). and i loved being able to sing praise songs in Hungarian (with the english translation/version on the screen at the same time). but the sermon was about the rapture. i believe that the idea of the rapture (Jesus coming to earth, taking all the Christians with him to heaven, and then those left on earth experiencing severe hardships) is based on a poor interpretation of two or three Bible verses. and you can´t say, like the pastor did, that the section in Numbers about the trumpets explains the rapture. there have to be stronger connections between the two passages, especially with the genre and purpose of the texts in order to interpret the one in light of the other. certainly a lot of what he said was good – about God´s love for his people and how important it is to look forward to Christ´s coming (something i had been remembering during Advent). but when it was mixed with poor logic and poor interpretation, it was hard to hear – especially when he was so adament that those who don´t believe in the rapture are living mediocre Christian lives - like they don´t expect Christ to come back.

i know what was wrong in what he was saying, but what about everyone there who wouldn´t know how to test his words? and so i was deeply frustrated that a pastor could teach something to people that could cause them to focus on something that it is not important (the rapture) instead of what is important (Christ´s return). or that could cause them to dismiss Christians who don´t believe in the rapture (which is most of the Church outside of the (mainly American) fundamentalists). and i realized once again that my theological training gives me a responsibility to help those who listen to pastors – as well as helping pastors not do the kind of damage to their hearers as this person potentially could have done.

i talked to Istvan and Gyula about it afterwords. and they assured me that they thought that one couldn´t quite interpret the Bible that way. and my hope was that many others would have seen the logical problems in what was being said, even as they also heard the good news of God´s grace and his return.
(and as a side note, the whole experience gives me a greater thankfulness that i don´t understand the sermons most of the time i attend church (the sermons are in dutch). that i understand the Bible passages – because they´re written down and usually fairly familiar and the liturgy i know is more than enough for me to meet God.)

so some things do change, both for the worse and for the better. but the desire to serve God faithfully in the tasks he has given me hopefully will never change, even as i pray that i might learn more and more how to use my gifts and be willing to use them.

22 December 2006

'home' again

i have many more stories and thoughts about my visit to Ukraine, but i need a couple of days to sort through them - and know what exactly to say.

and for now, it's just nice to be home again. to be welcomed home and told that i was missed. to sit around drinking coffee and tea with my huge 'family.' to bike to school in the balmy 43 °F / 6 °C Amsterdam cloudiness. to return to my tasks in the community - and feeling appreciated for that. to get back to being in more regular contact with family and friends. to attend chapel again.

And as i pray concerning the joys and challenges of those i love in Budapest and Ukraine, i am thankful to be in a place that celebrates the joy of Christ's coming mixed with the longing for Christ to come again to be an answer to the sadness of this world.

18 December 2006

some things change

On Thursday, as I stood in the Eindhoven airport gate area and all the busy-ness of getting myself to an unknown airport was ending, it finally hit me that i was going back to Ukraine. Back to the place that has been so much a part of shaping who I am. Back to visit people I love. The emotion of going back almost caused me to cry in the middle of the airport.

The closer i got to Budapest, the more I questioned whether too much had changed since last time i was there. I had changed. Things there had changed. Would it mean a lot of awkward conversations? Would i no longer feel like this was home? Would my old friends and students be disappointed in me? And i in them?

With these questions pressing upon me, i walked out of the gate. and Istvan met me. and my English was too fast (and not Indian enough – like the English he’s used to at work) and my Hungarian had too much Dutch mixed in. And so he didn’t understand sometimes – but was willing to nod and smile (and tell me that sometimes he did that even when he didn’t understand). And we laughed and we’d try again to understand each other. we were still laughing after a couple of hours. And there were no awkward silences.

i'm sure Istvan had no idea how much the first couple of hours of my being here mattered to me - nor would he have ever wanted the responsibility! within a couple of hours i started to believe that the changes weren't too much. Those who taught me what hospitality meant showed me again what it meant to make someone feel welcome. Istvan came to meet me. he didn't allow me to carry my bag. he had bought me tickets for the bus and the metro. he made me laugh. we talked about changing - and how going back some place that you haven't been for a long time makes it easier to see changes. and he took me out for supper, convinced that i looked hungry. i wasn't all that hungry so i asked him why he thought that. he answered because i'm thinner than i used to be - so i must be hungry. (and that comment especially made me smile - partly because every female likes to be told that she's thinner and partly because i knew Istvan wasn't saying it to flatter me but because he was generally concerned about my well-being.)

and being welcomed continued into supper. once Gyula could be dragged away from work he joined us. i had explained earlier to Istvan where i lived - and at supper, he explained it perfectly to Gyula (two people on my floor. two people above me. two people above them. two people beside - and a family here and another there - i had never thought of my house quite like that but it was exactly true). the laughter continued during supper and i was overwhelmed by the joy of being there. and Viki and Zoli came after the Nutcracker. and then they took me home to her dorm.

And Viki kept hugging me, as if to convince herself that i was really finally here. and she rearranged things in her busy life to make me feel welcome. as her sister, Csilla - and the whole family. and i feel welcomed and blessed. and am so glad to be here - and get to return to ordinary life here.

breakfasts (and most of the weekend) with Csilla and Viki and Zoli were filled with laughter and no awkward silences. i would say that it feels like there hasn`t been any distance between us - but it`s different than i remember. and maybe i remember poorly, but my memories aren`t as full of laughter and joy and comfortability as it feels like this trip has been. (it helps that Zoli reminds me of the other Brenda`s husband, Brian). i think it's because all of us have grown more comfortable with who we are - and even though i have been gone so long, it feels like we`re closer than we used to be. and i'm deeply thankful for that - it was beyond what i could have hoped for.

I have been tagging along with Csilla for a couple of days now - and what has surprised me most is how many ´normal´ things i get to participate in.
Viki and Csilla had visitors from the Netherlands this past weekend. i couldn´t help but remember how often that used to happen - and how delightful it was to have visitors from out of town. it, of course, was a lot more fun this time for me since i could understand at least a little bit of all the conversations.
and on Sunday i went to an advent concert/celebration. and as the performances went on for three hours (at least an hour of which was really, really good), i couldn't help but remember how sometimes it feels that things can't be good if they're not also very long.

and it has been good to be at the old school, although things have changed. much of it still looks the same as i remember - and much of the staff is the same (the cooks and guards and bookkeeper and some of the old teachers were all delighted to see me). but the director has changed - and so have a lot of teachers and so have all of the dorm parents. and i no longer know any of the students. and even if i am still welcome to take over a computer in the teacher`s room, and help out with an english class or drink coffee with it doesn`t quite feel the same. and there is a sadness in that. i did meet a couple of students with whom there were awkward silences. we had no longer had much in common. and there was something sad in that.

and the absence of the old director and teachers and dorm parents was because of the problems in the church here. and knowing their love for the students here - and their desire to help them, there is a deep sadness in that. even if i'm no longer sure how well we all helped prepare students for life outside of the school. for some of the former (and current) students are now 'trying to find themselves' - and find their place in the world - and aren't exactly sure where God fits in or even what is from God. and i hope to continue to talk to people about that in the few days i have left (and when i return in late January). please pray that i might have wisdom and be able to show God's love to the people here who still hold a special place in my heart.

17 December 2006

on vacation

as i write this, i'm sitting in my old school in Ukraine. and i have much to say about my time here already but i'm not sure how to start. it has been 3,5 years since i was last here, and it still seems a bit unreal that i am here. and yet some things feel like they've never changed (like i was here yesterday) - and some things feel like they've changed so much (like it's hard to remember how it used to be).

it has been a blessing to be back. but now it's time to go. and i will write more later.

06 December 2006

update on homesickness

after admitting that i was homesick, i heard back from a number of people - all of whom agreed that i seemed very homesick. which is kind of affirming - at least it means that i understand how i'm feeling :) or maybe it just means that people know me well :)

but after admitting my homesickness - and my being slightly annoyed at its existence - i realized something. being homesick shows how much i love my family and everyone 'back home.' since i love them, i should miss them - and that doesn't mean i love the people here any less.

and i'm learning that the internet is a wonderful way to miss people slightly less. with the demise of my laptop (it's now official), this is becoming slightly more complicated, but i still have email and blogs.

it seems appropriate to end this with a link to pictures from my dad's birthday party on Saturday (with thanks (again) to my Aunt Thea).

colours for advent

Ruth changed the colours of her blog in honour of advent, and I really liked that idea, so I thought I would copy her :) i know she won't mind.

Over the past few years, I have grown in appreciation for the liturgical church calendar. From the colours, to the words we say (or don't say - no 'glory's in Advent or Lent), to the words we use to celebrate the Lord's Supper - all of it is to help us 'remember' our faith. And now, in Advent, we're waiting to celebrate - honestly realizing that even as much as Jesus has already come, the world is not the way it should be. And that as we remember Jesus' first coming, we eagerly long for the second coming. And this anticipation helps us to be able to celebrate Christmas even in the midst of brokenness.

03 December 2006

i think i've been homesick

the last couple of days, i've been restless, very un-motivated, and not particularly desirous of other's company. as i do have things i should be doing, i like what i'm doing and where i'm living, and the people in my life have been treating me well, figuring out why i'm feeling a bit 'out-of-sorts' has been a bit difficult. and of course, because i couldn't immediately understand why i was feeling this way, it didn't help my feelings - it just made me annoyed at myself.

but sometime yesterday (which i spent reading C.S. Lewis's The horse and his boy" in Dutch), i suddenly realized how much i miss home. it's not that i don't want to spend time with the people here, i'd just much rather (at this moment) spend time with people i've known for years. i like my 'family' here (and today we celebrate Sinter Klaus together which should be fun) but i'd rather be at home with my family and participating in their celebrations. yesterday my parents threw a party for my father's 60th birthday. my brother just bought a house. my sister is just starting to look like she's pregnant. and the other sister has other adventures this fall/winter in being newly married, having a new(ish) job, and living in their new house.

so yeah, that's me these past few days. i wish i was 'at home' to celebrate, but i also know that i do love where i am now. i'm just having a difficult time reconciling missing home with enjoying and participating in life here.

29 November 2006

Returning to full-time Studies

Last week marked my official return to full-time studies. The irony is that it was also the first week that I wasn't using my laptop since I first got it almost a year ago (it is waiting for a visit to the Apple store but I've had too much homework to do to get there yet).

And on paper, I've been a full-time student since September 2005 but since sometime in July doing schoolwork has not exactly been the dominant task of each week. Last week, however, it was. And I'm glad to return to it, feeling that I've had a good break from studying. I'm disappointed that my Dutch is not better already (and doing more schoolwork means I do less Dutch - instead i look at French and German!), and I'll miss getting to spend as much time going to chapels and 'hanging out' in the common room but the fact that I've been contentedly reading and taking notes for school for much of my Friday and Saturday (days I tend to slack off) indicates that I've returned to something that I truly love.

And just like this break of a few months has reminded me again how much I love studying, learning Dutch and 'hanging out' will be delightful short breaks so that school doesn't become my entire life (like it was for most of last year). And hopefully I can get back to writing and finishing thesis one even as i'm progressing nicely on thesis two :)

23 November 2006

being where i know God wants me to be

Both I and my friend, Sharon, have had a lot in common lately. we've just moved to a new place (because that's where we felt God leading us) and have had a lot of crazy, wonderful experiences because of our moves. One of the things that has amazed us both is the sense of being where God wants us to be. Because of that, all of the crazy, wonderful things of this new place are seen as a blessing, even as they sometimes are also challenges.

Sharon writes a lot of great stories about her new life in Romania - and she's written more about our conversation in her blog, so if you want to read more, you'll just have to read what she says about our conversation and check out the rest of her blog.

21 November 2006

Traditions and Dam Square

on Sunday, Sinterklaas came to Amsterdam. and as Sinterklaas (and more importantly all the Zwarte Pieten) are a true Dutch tradition, there was no way i was going to miss out. well, once my 'family' started insisting that i go, i figured that whatever lack of enthusiasm i might originally have had wasn't worth the effort needed to convince them i wouldn't go.

when we got to Dam Square, there were tons of other families (ours was a bit bigger and older than most - it was usually one parent with one child - and we had about 6 kids and 12 adults). and we were greeted by familiar (at least to the Dutch) Sinterklaas songs with a predominantly techno beat. and i realized that i was glad i had come. after all, who would want to miss an event this big? (and miss the chance to dance a bit in the middle of Dam Square with friends?)

then off to find our place along the path where Sinterklaas and his parade would come. we bumped into quite a number of Zwarte Pieten - some climbing down from a building, others biking through the crowds. and even more came down the parade path, of different shapes and sizes and transportation. the best were those on rollerblades trying to avoid the rather large tram rails in the middle of the path (only one fell that we could see!). but the favourites were the Zwarte Pieten with bags - because they had candies (pepernoten) and we'd put out our hands and bags - and between all of us we me home with a pretty good stash.

Sinterklaas came (on his white horse), we hurrayed, begged the Zwarte Pieten for more candy, tried not to get wet from the 'typical Nederland rain,' and wandered back to Dam Square to catch the rest of the show. a bit more music, a cannon spitting out toys and food, watching the excitement of the kids, the rain finally stopping - and then it was over. and off we went back home for a warm cup of tea - and to eat what was left of our pepernoten.

it was fun to get to enjoy Sinterklaas with the family. all of the 'hoopla' would have been too much for me by myself but when it's shared - the dancing in the Square, envying the Zwarte Pieten coming down on ropes, helping the children get candies, laughing over the rain (and trying to fit 5 of us under my little umbrella), sharing the excitement of the children and so on - the sharing as part of a family is what makes the tradition even better.

maintenance update

the bike is fixable. perhaps i need to get a new inside tire for it, but that's not that difficult (it might not have been the right size for the outside tire, anyway, which might have explained the tire going flat after we'd fixed it).

and the computer, well, the news is not so good. it's not really turning on anymore. the last time it turned on was at the apple store. he couldn't find anything wrong with it, although after i told him what had happened, he said it was likely the mother board. which means my computer is dying. so, the computer will get another trip to the apple store and a bit more prayer, and hopefully something will work out.

17 November 2006


as i write this, my bike's tire is flat and my computer is 'sick'. and although i'm feeling somewhat positive about trying to fix both of those problems, i'm not all that enthusiastic about having to do maintenace on things that i own.

yesterday afternoon, one of the guys helped me fix my bike tire. getting the outside tire off was a bit difficult, but it looked like we had the inner tube fixed and all put together by the time we were done. however, this morning, the outside tire is not properly on my tire anymore - and it's definitely flat. so it warrants some more fixing. i'll do what i can myself when i get home (i'm at the University now) and then see if i need to ask for help. fortunately, i did borrow someone else's bike today (yesterday i took the metro - and although the ride here was great, the ride back was annoying (the train was late in coming and then it was packed) and i missed my daily exercise!).

and yesterday evening, my computer started malfunctioning. i call it sick because i'm hoping it will get better. but it got fuzzy and stopped working, which is definitely not a good sign. and hasn't returned to functioning yet today. so off i go with a prayer and hope to the apple store hoping someone will be able to tell me what's wrong and be able to fix it.

as much as this maintenance is probably necessary, it means my school work is once again not being worked on as much as it should be. so, hopefully things improve soon.

15 November 2006

St Martin's Day

on Saturday we celebrated St. Martin's Day. i'm still a bit foggy on the significance of St Martinus but i know it has a lot to do with light and helping others out (my dutch needs some work before i can tell you what exactly is going on all the time - and until then i'll have to look him up in our encyclopedia of saints in the library). on that day, children make a lantern and walk outside and ask candy of people. tradition has it that Br Luc lowers from his window a basket full of candy and mandarins from his window for the children. it's usually the last stop for the community children - and quite a highlight i'm told. unfortunately, this year, Br Luc was on vacation at that time. since i had the key, i thought that such a tradition ought to be continued - and it can't be that hard, so i could stand in for him. (of course, i really had no idea of what i was volunteering for when i volunteered :))

Br Luc lives almost at the top of the building. when i look out his window, i can see the tops of most of the other houses. you have to go up at least 4 flights of stairs to get to his place. so lowering a basket out of his window on a rope is slightly complicated. but as i got help in getting a rope and finding something as a basket (a small child's swing - i had to stuff the leg holes with a bag) and getting the candy (i did it while i was doing groceries Saturday morning), it felt good to know that i was helping carry on a tradition. and as i saw the children walk to the house across the street - there were about 20 children plus 10 adults so it was quite a group, it was fun to hear them. unfortunately for them no one was home. so they left proclaiming (somewhat loudly) that a greedy one lives there :)

and then they rang the doorbell to my apartment last. and i let down the candy (and the rope was barely long enough - so in order to get candy, i had to hang on to the top of the rope and the kids had to reach up a bit :))

and it was definitely a highlight. and i was glad to be part of something that was loud and entertaining and joyful in a way that much of what else that goes on in our street is not. and hopefully our neighbours will ask what is different about our house - and the community that brings its joy and its children and its traditions out into the midst of the streets and the tourists.

living in the centre (centrum)

i've been noticing the swans in the canal out front a lot lately. they're pristine white against the brownish-ness of our fairly narrow canal and bring a beauty and peaceful feeling to the neighbourhood. and they just seem so out of place at times. back 'home,' swans only appear in quiet parks and clean waters - and here they are in the midst of the busy-ness and messiness of life in the centre. and the juxtaposition of the peaceful beauty of the swans with the busy, restlessness of the tourists and neighbours has led me to think of other such juxtapositions.

tonight i'll be spending quite a bit of time in quiet - in my room trying to learn Dutch and doing homework, or in the chapel for evening prayers, or having tea with others. and on the street, the pubs are full and the streets are crowded and there is a couple of rows of police on the bridge down the street - and the yelling and shouting over tonight's football (soccer) game will provide the background 'noise' to another 'mostly quiet' evening here.

if i sit on a certain side of the table at supper time, i can't help but see a very thin, scantily clad (usually in pink) girl standing in a red lit window smiling and beckoning at the guys that walk by. and i wonder, as i often do, about her - about how young she is, about how happy and sad she is, and about why. the house beside hers is one of the communities, and on certain days/evenings, i can look in on people i know (people i'm learning to call family :)) doing their dishes, reading their mail, talking and just going about normal life the same way all of us do in many different places.

the other day i was walking down the street with an 8 year old girl. well, it was kind of walking - it turned into us laughing and running (over something other which i don't remember now). and it was the most ordinary thing in the world that you'd do with a girl that age, who loves playing tag and laughing and having adults appreciate her. and as we passed through the tourists and others on the street and by the windows of women, i wondered what people thought about my walking and laughing with a child through the Red Light District, with its drugs and prostitution. that perhaps they (and all good people in general) should avoid this place. and i wish my neighbourhood was different - but i am choosing not to allow the place i live define what is normal. what is normal is laughing and going about a joyful life - what is being sold here is not.

and so i will try to continue to live a joyful life here, even if at times it is a bit overwhelming (the last week was a bit tiring as i spent a lot more time with people than with my studies - which led to disappointment in myself for not studying as much as i should and needing to use a lot more energy as i'm trying to communicate in Dutch).

and normal-ness will be defined as biking to school 3-4 times a week (25 minutes each way - it's been great exercise (between that and the many stairs, i've lost weight, which i found out today is actually not normal for 'Americans' who come here)), eating with lots of people, going to chapel twice a day, praying for loved ones who are nearby and far away, wondering how best to serve those around me, struggling with Dutch, studying Jeremiah, and laughing a lot. for that is normal for me - for normal is to be faithful to God in how i live and what i do - and this is how i can joyfully do that now.

06 November 2006

just an ordinary monday

today is just an ordinary Monday. well, as ordinary as living here can be :)

the morning started with a shower followed by reading a couple of passages in the Bible (including reading the New Testament passage and psalm in Dutch), then breakfast at 7:30, then dishes and clean-up, then a quick conversation to figure out how to get a room ready for a new guest (which reminds me that i still need to get the bedding for that room later this afternoon or evening), then brushing my teeth and studying some dutch. chapel at 8:45, then coffee and chatting with 'the family' in Dutch and English, then the rest of the morning spent cleaning the kitchen. about half the house has been sick with some kind of stomach flu (thankfully i've not gotten sick thus far and hope it stays that way) - so we wanted to be extra sure to wipe everything down with soda. as my evening cooks are sick, i spent a few minutes with tonight's 'head cook' finding a replacement for her. and because part of the kitchen cleaning crew was sick, the cleaning took until after 12 (instead of 11:30). then i helped set up lunch.

and as i write this, i have a cat on my lap happily purring. i'm cat-sitting my mentor's cat while she and her husband are on vacation. and i can't decide if she's purring becaue she likes me or because she's lonely and i'm willing to pet her. eventually i'll have to go get my laundry to hang up and plug in my computer, so she'll have to move. but for now, it's nice to have a bit of company - and to remind me of the cats i miss from 'home'.

and lunch was at 12:30 - they were only 8 of us today. then dishes again. then a couple of conversations, starting my laundry, and cleaning up my room. and then trying to figure out what homework i need to do this afternoon. or whether the time would be better spent trying to learn German, writing on my blog and/or writing a few emails. by reading this, you can see what i decided :) i think a bit of that would be good although homework would also be good - last week's homework was summarizing a French article on Jeremiah 32 (it was good practice for the book i have to read in the next month or so concerning Jeremiah's confessions that is written in French - and i discovered that my French is not too bad and although it'll be a bit of work (i needed to look up at least a couple of words for each paragraph to understand well enough what was being said, it'll be do-able)). and i went downstairs for a few seconds to check on the cooks filling in - and ended up cutting vegetables for half an hour - i should know better by now not to visit the kitchen while supper is being made :) as this often happens.

and i've been thinking about the community and where i live a bit more lately. last week, the members of the Spe Gedentes community - those who are part of the inner community of Oudezijds 100 that organizes things and is considered a monastery - renewed their promise to live here and continue the work that they are doing. my mentor helped me understand a bit more the community's commitment to sharing the love of God in this place. and as i was learning more about this place, i was thankful for its ecumenicity that is still very much dedicated to the church as a whole and to individual churches. on Sundays we never have chapel - because every community member is expected to attend and participate in his/her own church. and the community members belong to different churches (Anglican, Catholic, Reformed). and no community member will be ever expected to do something that goes against the teaching of his/her church that she belongs to. the purpose of the community is not to be a church but to be one way of expressing how to live out one's faith - how to be church in the world that we live in. and i know things are not perfect here - and that the community continues to ask how they/we might better serve God as the body of Christ. yet even with the imperfections, i like how things have been set up in a way that promotes the ecumenical church but still respects the different ways that God reveals Himself in different churches and the deep love and commitment that different churches have for God.

30 October 2006

random thanksgivings

not having any particularly eventful stories from the past week, i thought i would share, in random order, some of the things i've been thankful for.

1. my sister (Emily) is having a baby!!! she's now made it to the three month mark, which is wonderfully exciting. so she joins my brother in having a child in the coming year. i won't get to be home to see her pregnant but hopefully i'll be home shortly after the babies are born :)

2. in my program at school, there is really only one other female, so she became the obvious person from school to be friends with. (her name is Jackie Wyse, and i've set up a link to blog on the side). the delightful thing is how we are similar enough (same personality types - ENFPs, studying Old Testament, and liking school) and yet different enough (e.g. different theological backgrounds, different biblical interests) that we've become quick friends. friendships often take months to get past the awkward getting to know each other phase into the really comfortable, i'm so thankful this person is in my life phase. i spent the day with her on Saturday, visiting her home in Almere, and i couldn't help but continue to give thanks to God for the friendship God has given us :)

3. yesterday i went to the dunes (in Sandport, I think) with some people from the community. it was two couples about my age, two small children from one of the couples, a nine-year old girl from another family in the community, two guys, and me. when we stopped for a break, the girl decided we should play tag. and i don't think any of us were all that particularly interested in playing but we did it anyway - and enjoyed ourselves. in the midst of watching out to see who was 'it,' we could enjoy the beautiful weather and place, the joy that playing tag brought to the kids, and just rejoice about being a family together - something that all of us have found in some degree in the midst of the community. and i was once again thankful to have been 'adopted' into this family - and to be challenged to be the 'family of God' to one another and to share our laughter and joy with people who don't know what it's like to be loved (as family).

4. in the last 100-praatjes, which is our newsletter that comes out every three weeks, there was a line about what Sr. Seraphim thought about me (Sr. Seraphim is an older Catholic nun who is also a member of the central group of the community). it said "zr Seraphim vindt dat 'brenda net een giechel-machine is'". i could figure out everything except for the last part. so i asked one of the guys what 'giechel-machine' was. he started laughing/gigling. and said that's what it is. Sr. Seraphim finds that i am a giggle-machine. and so what do you think my response to that was? uncontrollable laughter (perhaps even giggling). i'm thankful that my laughter has been noticed :)

5. some of the people i live with are not really people i would have generally become friends with - mostly because i wouldn't have ever met them since we live fairly different lives and 'travel in different circles.' because we're so different, i've learnt more about myself and about the world. but also because we're so different, friendships don't instantly arise (nor do they necessarily need to); yet, i still love the people i live with (sometimes that's a choice as opposed to something that comes naturally) and even if we're never the types to be best friends, i want to show them that i care about them and their lives. and this weekend, it felt a bit more like i got to do that. (and got to out dancing, too :)) and for this, too, i am thankful - and pray for the grace to know how to love those i live with - and be family.

and that's all for now. perhaps another day i'll share more thanksgivings :)

p.s. and another thanksgiving. i found out today that i received a student bursary! it's not a tremendous amount of money but pays for much of my housing costs - and helps out a lot with transportation.

25 October 2006

a poem about the goodness of being wrong

i received this poem from today's Writer's Almanacr and it made me smile, so i thought i'd share it. it captures the fact that you never entirely know the person you marry. and it also captures how sometimes God, despite and possibly because of our being wrong, allows things to be better than we could have expected.

"I Married You"
by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naïve ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been."

21 October 2006


i think about what home means a lot. it probably has to do with the fact that i move around quite a bit - and in each place, i try to make myself as much at home as possible. the logic is that: if i truly believe this is where God wants me to be now, then i ought to be participating in this place as much as i can. and i've been trying to do that lately (as much as my limited dutch has made it possible for me to do).

however, with participating in life as much as possible here, i've somewhat neglected a lot of what (and who) made up my life prior to the last 7 weeks. thankfully, we pray for loved ones daily, so i have hardly forgotten those people i love - but a short prayer does not exactly convey the same sense of love and concern as some kind of contact.

and so, as much as i might desire to have a place that i call home and fit in (something that is easier to do when you live with lots of different people and are forced to be yourself because you can't really hide from people who see and hear you all the time), i can't do that at the expense of the other places and people who have taught me what home means. as much as i want the simplicity of focusing only on here and now, i lose a lot if i do that. so i pray that i might have the grace to participate in life here while also holding on tightly to the home(s) that i left. after all, each of those places and each person i have left have shaped to be who i am now - and have taught me how to participate in life here - from the practical skills my parents taught me, from the biblical knowledge my professors taught me, to caring and listening that so many friends (and family) have shown me.

returning to the joy of learning

i haven't written much about school thus far. i know that school is the reason i'm in Amsterdam, but life in the community has taken up more of my time and my interest, so i've been writing a lot more about that. and my studies started off a bit on the dull side. i've had a couple of seminars, and my homework has consisted solely on putting together a research proposal for my master's degree (to be developed into my Ph.D dissertation). i had come here with the idea of working on the Confessions of Jeremiah (generally they're the parts in Jeremiah 11-20 where Jeremiah talks directly to God and God (sometimes) answers). so i've taken out a couple books on them, read parts of them, thought about my approach, drafted a couple variations of my proposal and it looks good. it's not that i find my dissertation topic boring - i find these texts in the Bible fascinating - and my proposed research is to see how they fit into the whole book of Jeremiah, as well as hopefully looking at how they are read - and i had better not find what i want to spend the next four years of my life studying boring! but the process of writing a proposal (and helping others with their proposals on equally obscure topics :)) without getting the go-ahead on doing serious research was not exactly something that filled me with overflowing excitement and joy. i realize it doesn't help that i have spent the last five years working on two other master degrees, i came here knowing what i want to do (it fits partially with what i'm writing another thesis on right now), and that last May in the midst of finishing a couple of papers, i had written the proposal for that thesis in about a week (albeit with some serious assistance from my thesis supervisor) so this seems a bit long.

but a little over a week ago, a group of us started an extra session with our Old Testament supervisor - learning about his computer program designed for syntactical analysis of texts. and we sat down with coffee together in his office and chatted and played with the computers. and we thought about whether this phrase/sentence fit better with the one right before it or one a little bit beforehand. and although i realize that might immediately sound a bit dull, when you start asking how things fit together in the text, you see what the biggest ideas in a passage are - and what the main point of is. So for example, when you look at Psalm 1 - verse four says, 'the wicked are not so' - the question is, are the wicked not prosperous (from the previous line) or not happy (from the first line)? and if you look at how it is written in Hebrew, the grammar seems to point to the wicked not being happy (although one could argue for not successful) - and then you see the difference between the righteous and the wicked a little differently.

And I love being able to look at a text in the Bible - and take what I know about Hebrew and grammar and how poetry works and be able to see something that we don't immediately see with a quick read in English - things that make you think differently about the world around and about God and serving Him. and so I got incredibly excited about being introduced to a tool that will help me to look closer at the text and know better how to see what the text is saying. i'm sure that the 'gezellig' atmosphere of the class (coffee, only a few students, some chatting about our lives intermixed with learning, and its interactive nature) helped with the excitement, too.

and overall, i am delighted to return to the joy of 'official' scholarly learning.

17 October 2006

pictures of my life here

finally, i'm posting pictures of my life here.

these are some pictures of my room here - it does still mostly look like this - it's a bit more cluttered as i've added more papers and books, but it generally is like that most of the time - i have limited space and fewer things so the potential mess is smaller. oh, and my bedspread is currently yellow with blue butterflies - with navy blue sheets. we'll see which ones i get this week.

and the other picture is the view from my window - it's of the courtyard between the buildings. if i drop something out my window, i can potentially hit some of the guys (most of them are male) smoking outside.

and sooner or later i'll take some pictures of our lopsided library...

16 October 2006

proof of my existence

i got an email from my mom today with the subject line, 'are you still alive?" - i did rather deserve her sarcastic question, as it's been two weeks since i posted on the blog - and i think i might have written her once since then, but i'm not entirely sure. and it's definitely been more than a week since i've written.

so, i'll write more sooner or later about what's kept me busy from blogging and writing my mom, but for now i just have some pictures to put on the blog which prove that i exist.
the pictures are from Saturday when i went to Belgium with several international students. the pictures were taken by my friend (and former neighbour), Tarcizio, who was more excited about making sure i had good pictures than that he got any (he's been waiting for his family's visa to get fully processed so they can move here - and life's been kind of gray without his wife and three kids).

we spent the day Saturday touring. and i dislike being a tourist. however, i love churches. and we saw a bunch of them - and i enjoyed spending time with the other students, espcially Tarcizio, so it was a good day. the couple of pictures here are of churches. The three steeples (the middle's actually a belfry and not a church) are taken in Gent and the Cathedral is in Antwerp.

The picture of me has some smoked ham (i.e. pig's legs) behind me and was taken in what used to be the meat market in Gent. The pork hind quarters reminded me of my dad and brought back lots of fond memories of our old butcher shop - and slicing bacon and more bacon and more bacon....

03 October 2006

life outside the community

contrary to appearances, i do actually have a life outside the community. however, that part of my life seems a bit dull - and thus has received limited blogging time.

but as most of my major errands in moving are done (bike bought, registered to live here, health insurance obtained, social number obtained, and student card received) and i'm adjusting to life in the community (i know most of the people here and i have a fairly regular schedule), my focus is returning to the primary reason i've moved to Amsterdam: to study.

thankfully, things have started off fairly slow. i only have two classes right now - both seminars. in both of them, i've had to write a research proposal concerning what i'd like to write my thesis/ dissertation on. as the proposal(s) have been fairly short, i've been thinking about my research for months already, and i've already written a proposal and parts of a thesis, it hasn't been that difficult to produce the proposals.

but things are moving forward. a friend (i've been here long enough to have friends from school now :)) and I have made plans to study German together (which I'm sure will do nasty things to my fledgling Dutch grammar). now that i have a library card, i've taken the key books on Jeremiah's confessions out of the library (and read parts of them). so i'm starting to actually do research again. and starting next week, i go to the VU (Vrije Universiteit) twice a week. I'm planning on doing outlines of the Confessions - and have been given freedom to use the computer program that will help me with that. i'm hoping to take a linguistics class soon. and i'm resuming work on my thesis.

i've been thankful for the slow start - and the quiet adjustment to a new place (and normal full-time studies). but i'm also glad to be starting back into it. i think i kind of miss doing Hebrew.

gender consciousness (or that female thing again!)

i realize that i talk about being female a lot. i haven't exactly figured out why yet - but perhaps it is my desire to increase gender consciousness in others :) or maybe i just sit and think too much. and there's been a number of things in my life lately that have brought the female thing to my attention.

for much of my time at University and Seminary, i spent a lot of time being one of the few females amongst guys (i studied math and theology, so it's not really surprising). the trend has continued here - not only in my classes but also in the community. at school, it's the same as always: my gender is generally not considered to be relevant, which i've adapted to, even if i don't entirely agree. but at home in the community, i have to be me. i laugh and smile a lot. i know how to clean and do laundry properly (thanks to my mom's good teaching). i tease and joke with others. for my responsibility here, it was between being the person in charge of the kitchen or the one in charge of laundry (i chose the kitchen). people see me in my 'grubby clothes'. i miss old friends. i think about guys. i receive random compliments - and every so often i get hit on. and not all of that has to do with being female - but my being female is part of that. and i'm adjusting to the change - from having my gender be generally irrelevant to having it be an important part of who i am. as i adjust, I sometimes wish for the easier situation of my gender being ignored - even if i don't think it was as healthy or as much fun.

a story to illustrate:
last week, i played ping pong with five guys. we played 'around the world' - you stand in two lines on either side of the table, hit the ball, and then go to the back of the line on the other side. once you miss, you're out. since there were only six people, we ran a lot. and i was usually out second or third. when i made it to the final two, the guys started cheering me on (which they didn't really do for anyone else). and then when i finally won a game, they all cheered and/or clapped (i'm sure it was partly because i'm not much better at ping pong than i am at pool). yet it was weird and delightful at the same time. weird - because i'm not that fond of sticking out. and delightful - because it felt like i had all these guys in my life who were there looking out for me and wanting me to do well.

there are a couple of other areas in which gender issues have been on my consciousness.

i have been asked by my church publication if i would be willing to write an article related to women in office in response to the church's taking the word male out of the church order. i am being asked to write from the 'conservative' side (i.e. those who are against women in office). and i've been thinking and praying about it a lot. i have an odd voice - a female trained as a pastor who sides more with those against women being pastors than those for it. but i don't want the article to be about me - i want to be part of what God's doing to help our church (who has been fighting about this issue for years) become reconciled and be better at serving God using the gifts of everyone in the church. your prayers would be appreciated as i continue to work on it.

and the last huge gender issue has been related to Calvin Seminary. Ruth Tucker, who taught missiology there, left at the end of the summer under negative circumstances. she has published a blog detailing what happened to her at the Seminary. one of the things that she mentions is gender discrimination. people have taken serious issue with that claim, arguing that the new administration has made it a priority to be hospitable to females. and on top of that, a lot of females (myself included ) found the Seminary to be a good place for them. we were encouraged and affirmed.

and i have known about Ruth's story for awhile. i found out in February she was leaving - and even then little was said about why. and since then i have pondered. i have asked questions. i have read Living on the Boundaries: Evangelical Women, Feminism and the Theological Academy by Nicola Hoggard Creegan and Christine D. Pohl (although i don't agree with all the theological conclusions of the book, the authors had a lot of insight into the lack of evangelical women in the academy, as well as raising questions about gender consciousness). i have noticed the emotional toll this has taken on many, including and espcially Ruth. i have talked some. i have cried. and i have prayed and prayed and prayed.

and i have chosen thus far to say little in public about it. my life is still connected to the Seminary. and i don't want to take sides. i am not 'for' Ruth Tucker any more than I am 'for' the Seminary. i want God's best and healing for all involved. i know that there is more to the story than what has been written by Ruth and others. and blogs are not always the best ways to tell stories - for much can be mis-heard.

and i have been trying to reconcile how the Seminary could have been such a blessed place for me and yet Ruth could have received so much hurt from her time there. and i don't really have the answer. but i know that my being blessed by my time at Seminary does not thereby invalidate Ruth's words. just because a lot of females have been blessed there - and blessed even more in recent years - does not mean her story can or should be dismissed. there is too much to her experience that speaks of something having gone terribly wrong. And just because the current administration is very much in favour of women in office does not automatically mean that the Seminary can not have problems with gender consciousness or hospitality (e.g. a number of those against women in office did not really feel like they were allowed to admit to that position. and my being female sometimes made things awkward or else it was ignored. only every once in awhile did i feel like i got to bring that part of me to our discussions). Nor does the blessing of those attending there mean that all are blessed - or as blessed as much they can and should be. Nor is Ruth's story only about gender.

and unless i am willing to believe that there is much ungodliness in Ruth's life and/or that she is mentally unstable (as I have heard hinted at), i cannot dismiss what she has said. i know that one side of a story is never the whole story, but i have heard enough to know that good Christian people have both sinned and been hurt. and so i pray. pray and wait. hoping for reconciliation and honesty and healing.

01 October 2006

"what do you know about [the] community?"

on the opening weekend, one of the get-to-know each other games was asking a series of people the same question. the question i chose was 'what do you know about gemeenschap (community)? [Gemeenschap is the name of where i live as well as in a broader way standing for community].

One of the older members of the community told me what he knew about me already (which was quite a lot - since he lived in Friesland and i had just arrived!). Others told me about what Oudezijds 100 meant to them or why they had come here. But the comment that stuck with me the most was from Br. Luc. He said that the community is always changing - and that it is different that I am here - in fact, it must be different with each new person that comes and goes - for we are all part of the community.

and i think i am beginning to understand what he meant by that. since coming a month ago, other new people have come and a few people have left. and each person brings something - and we adjust for each. and when one of our 'family' members is not there, a piece is missing. and we adjust - we have to. but i guess i never realized that's what community also meant: that the community is always shifting - and making space - and that sometimes making space leaves a disappointed emptiness. the emptiness is translated often into prayers but that doesn't necessarily take away the emptiness.

and i am learning once again that as much as community is changed by my presence, i am changed by being part of community. the others here, in varying ways and varying amounts, have nudged themselves into my space and my heart - which i am deeply thankful for but not always entirely sure what to do with...

24 September 2006

how did i get into this, anyway?

on my trip to Alaska last summer, we visited the sign post forest. my favourite sign was one with the words, "whose idea was this anyway?". it's currently set as the desktop of my computer as it seems that it fits my life - it's either that or "how did i get into this?". on the bright side, i usually end up with great stories - and a lot of laughter.

this weekend, i was on the weekend team here. which means that i helped make sure that there was food on a regular basis, chapel was held, and activities were planned (we ended up with a boat ride yesterday afternoon, pool yesterday evening, and church and the beach today). i'm not entirely sure how i got on it as i've only been here three and half weeks now - and the schedule was made awhile ago (probably somebody figured i wouldn't mind helping out - and they were right :)) anyway, that means that i shopped this weekend, spent a lot of time with a lot of people, cooked a bunch of times, led a chapel, and generally was busy. but i had a grand time. i laughed so hard so many times.

i'm bad at pool (so obviously this was not my choice of activity). i know where to hit the ball (most of the time) to make it go where i want it to go but i can't usually get the white ball to hit the other one in the right place or at the right speed. a bunch of us played half a dozen games last night. i had one really good game. and the rest weren't so good. after i completely missed a really easy shot, my opponents let me do it again from about the same place. and i completely missed again! (they decided that i probably didn't deserve a third try). it was so absolutely ridiculously horrible that my only response was to laugh and laugh and laugh. overall, i had decent partners, so it wasn't a complete disaster. we won sometimes. and we laughed more.

for church today, i figured since whatever one we chose it would be in Dutch (and my Dutch is pretty limited), it didn't matter to me where we were going. we went to a Salvation Army church that is around the corner. it's not a very big church - and the dozen of us kind of stuck out. after the first verse of the song (which we'd sung acapella) the person leading the singing asked if any of us from Oudezijds 100 played the piano. i didn't understand much of what he said - but i caught the question of whether any of us could play. i wasn't particularly enthusiastic about responding. but in response to the leader's question, most of my 'family' looked at me or said my name (they had, after all, all heard me playing the last couple of days). so, i went up to the piano and told both of the people leading the service that i didn't speak Dutch.

it went well for the most part, although there was one moment that was absolutely priceless. for one of the songs, the leader explained (i think) that she would read the first verse and then we'd sing it and then she'd read the second verse and then we'd sing it and so on. her explanation was in Dutch and i wasn't entirely paying attention because i was trying to look over the song to see if i could play it. so, after playing the first verse, i went right on to the second. the woman turned her head quickly around, told me to 'shh'. i stopped immediately (nearly jumped) and said sorry very quickly. and she went on with reading the passage - and when given some kind of cue, i started the next verse. i was on the stage/platform with the leaders so i had a great view of the faces of some of my family. the looks on their face were priceless. it was such a surprising, funny moment.

and the service describes well how things are going: sometimes i'm more aware of what's happening than people expect and sometimes i have absolutely no idea what's going on or what people expect of me (which leads to odd results at times). sometimes i ask how i get in the middle of some of the things - but i wouldn't change it. and it's been awhile since i've laughed so much and so hard as i have here. which seems to point to God's hand having something to do with how i got into this :)

22 September 2006

a few quirks of life here

when one lives in a place long enough one forgets the things that are odd about it, so i thought i'd write a few down at the beginning before they become normal (and i forget how much they make me smile). however, life here always seems to be full of surprises (and i have a tendency to have odd things happen to me), so maybe life here will continue to have its odd quirks.

- towels and sheets are provided here. i had assumed that they would just give me some at the beginning of the year - and i'd give them back at the end. actually i get new ones every week and i just return the dirty ones to the laundry room. the current dilemma is whether i keep my duvet cover for an extra week - as it's this lovely green plaid - or whether i use the nice clean flowered ones (i dislike flowered sheets - and i've given back the bedspread). and as the towels are generally little (like really little), i might try to hold onto the slightly larger towel that i just got. of course, if everyone thinks like i do (and is as picky as i am), it causes a bit of a logistical dilemma - so i'll get over it and give back the stuff i like (or else request laundry duty on a more permanent basis - or bribe the laundry person:))

- it's becoming second nature for me to look for how to receive a little number on a paper before i talk to anyone about anything official. maybe there's less people in Canada or we queue differently. but here in the Netherlands, we wait until your number comes up on the board and you get to go to 'ballie' number...

- i live with so many people that i don't know all their names. i know all the names of the people i regularly eat with - but i don't eat with everyone all the time (which is good). but i think there are a number of people connected to the community who i still haven't met after three weeks. there are about 9 buildings in the community, each of which has quite a number of rooms - i'm still trying to figure out where live the people i actually do know.

- somebody told me the other day that he was surprised at how normal people here were. and i had laughed - i guess i feel a bit of the same. it's not exactly what you'd call the most normal of neighbourhoods, after all. but people here are pretty normal. sure, none of us are perfect - and some of us have more quirks than others - and we all come here with a history. but other than some of the odd things (like cooking supper for 30, doing industrialized sized loads of just cleaning cloths, using soda to disinfect pretty much everything - yet still getting sick more often, aving slightly less personal space, and almost always having some kind of noise going on in the background), it's really delightfully low-key. even normal, most of the time.

- i don't know exactly where i am on a fairly regular basis (when i'm not home, that is!). it's gotten to the point that i at least have a vague sense and don't get completely lost anymore, but it's still kind of fuzzy (i've been going for walks in different directions lately just to figure out where i am). the problem is the canals. they're not exactly straight. and the roads follow them - or turn a bit and change names - or stop. i think if i could take a boat through it'd be easier - as the canals seem to stop a lot less than the roads.

- this really is the city of bikes. i can step out in front of a slow moving car (at one of the bridges or between side streets) and expect them to stop. but i have learned - never mess with the bikes. and never expect the bikes to stop. it'll be great to be biking on a regular basis (i now have an 'oma fiets' - a grandma bike - good and solid and old enough that it's not the first choice for stealing).

- my bathroom still makes me laugh. there's just so little non-shower room in it. i can't imagine how anyone significantly bigger than me would feel in it. and contrary to my negative opinions about never choosing to share a bathroom with guys (because they're annoying), i now share it with two guys (we'll see if one or two more people join us in the next while) and I'M the one who is probably the most annoying to share with (my hair gets stuck in the shower drain - and dat is vies)!

- i kill a lot of mosquitoes. much to my disappointment i discovered that the Netherlands has mosquitoes, too - which makes sense since Amsterdam is a former marsh and has a lot of water around (although the farm in Friesland was worse for mosquitoes). and there are no screens on the windows. but it's been such delightful weather all month that it'd be sad not to have my window open. so before i go to sleep, i scan the walls for lazy mosquitoes with the hope that i won't get bitten during the night.

- my tap, for no apparent reason, periodically spits out water when it's off. i imagine it has something to do with a big old house. the fire alarm also goes off randomly because it's a big old house. the drill is to make sure it's not my room going off (there's a signal over my door) and then do nothing. if it goes on again (or stays on for a few minutes), then i need to leave.

- and as i've said before, the sloping rooms and the many different levels of rooms and differing number of stairs for pretty much every set of stairs. and the funny part about the slope is that different levels have different slopes. certain windows and doors follow the shape of the slope - and are definitely not rectangular!

i'm sure there are more quirks but right now that's all i can think of :)

17 September 2006


this morning i worshipped at the Oude Kerk (the old church) that is just around the corner. it was in dutch, which made things a bit harder to follow (I don't think I caught anything of the sermon). but i still worshipped. and that is because i go to church more to feed my soul and my heart. it helps if my mind understands what is going on - and i could understand what we were doing most of the time as i can follow a standard service, I know quite a bit of the Bible (today's passages were Isaiah 56:1-7 (which i did a paper on last year), Ephesians 2, and John 2 (the part about the clearing of the temple)), and my Dutch knowledge has been focused on chapel/ prayer times and meal times.

the Oude Kerk celebrated 700 years today - and it was a celebration! There has been extra preparations and extra events all weekend.
And the Oude Kerk is very large, with the cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows and so on that one would expect of a church that old. And the music was soul-warming. and we had communion. and all of those things are good and helped me worship God, but the thing that stands out is the community there. when we prayed, we prayed for the world and for our community, including Amsterdam, which the church cannot help but see is not the Christian city that we would like it to be (red neon lights and red-lit windows are around the outside of the church) and even though i don't think most of the congregation lives around the corner like we do, they do hope and pray that the surrounding area might be more a place of God. Zr. Rosaliene was working on a display of boxes that had been filled with things (mostly by children) that display an important part of life in the church for them. And when the children came up front to have kind of a children's time, they were encouraged to speak - and there's quite a bit of laughter from everyone as he talked to them (i think about how long people had been in the church). and then when we were celebrating communion (we all went to the front of the church which had a large section for us to stand during the whole communion part), the children, who had left after the children's time, returned. And they returned with balloons and a bit of noise (as children tend to make). and combining the remembrance of what God had done for us in the body and blood with the joy of the children coming in carrying very obvious symbols of a party filled me with joy. and when one little boy's balloon popped, several people jumped, but we all chuckled somewhat. and all of it seemed to point to a community that wanted to be community - to share the gifts and joys of everyone present - and who took worshipping God seriously but not so seriously that they forget the joy and laughter involved in worshipping God together.

and so my heart and soul have been fed again. and a bit later i get to go back for Vespers.

13 September 2006

a description of my new home

sometimes it feels like I live with a hundred people. that, of course, is an exaggeration - as i have my own room and we have different addresses, i don't technically live with all of them. i just happen to share meals with about 20 at a time (more at supper), share chores, and share a lot of common space with all these people - at least 20 of which are kids. Lest that sounds a bit overwhelming, the community is made up of at least 8 different buildings (most of which contain a number of floors and quite a number of apartments and/or common rooms) plus a farm (with a couple of buildings) in Friesland.

Last weekend, a lot of us went up to the farm for openingweekend - which is the name used to talk about all of us camping out together (in tents and buildings), doing some work together, playing games together, eating together, and just getting to know each other. Pictures have been posted at the community website. So if you'd like to see the people who have become a regular part of my life now (and a few pictures of me), then check out the Gemeenschap Foto album i'm pretty sure i haven't met everybody yet - nor have i even been in half the buildings!

but let me tell you about the buildings i do know about.

i have my own room. it's a decent size, with a bed, a chair, shelf, one wall that's mostly window, a desk, a cupboard, and a sink (so i don't have to bring my toothbrush anywhere).

i share a bathroom with a couple of others on my floor. the bathroom is kind of small. when you open the door (towards you) and walk in, you have to be careful not to hit the toilet. the toilet takes up most of the non-shower space of the bathroom (there's no sink - which is why i have one in my room). the toilet's against the back wall, and if i stand in front of it, i can touch one wall with my palm and the door with my elbow and if i lean back ever so slightly i bump into the shower curtain. on the bright side, though, the shower is more than half the size of the bathroom so there's lots of elbow room there. it's just kind of awkward to do anything other than shower in there.

i live on the second floor (of 5). As Achterburgwal 100, 102, and 104 have all been connected (along with 127 Voorburgwal from the back) and as the houses are slightly different, the floors are at different levels in each house, so there's a few flights in a few different buildings to get to the second floor. I now finally understand how families could have been hidden during WWII - there are so many strange doors, stairways and nooks and crannies (and i think i've only seen half the building - maybe even only half the hallways!)

one of my favourite parts of the house is the library. on the down side most of the books are in Dutch and German. on the up side, at least half of the books are theology related and i'm learning Dutch and planning on learning German. and the computer with internet is in there. and the floor is crooked. the house, like a number of old Dutch houses, has shifted somewhat so that in some places you can drop a ball on the floor and it would roll quite easily. it's a bit disconcerting (at least in the stairwall when you recognize it) but apparently it's quite nice for Muriel who's learning to walk with a stroller - except of course for the downhill slant :)

the other places i spend a lot of time are in the basements of 100, 102, and 104. one is the common room where anyone is allowed to come in during the mornings and evenings for a cup of coffee or tea. another is the kitchen area. and the last is the chapel. and each of these is a place for ministry.

if you go out the outside door, there's kind of a sidewalk (it's sometimes taken over by stairs coming out of the houses), then a one-way street, then enough space to parallel park (although much of the parking area is taken up by bikes and a tree every once in awhile). and then there's a canal (usually with ducks on it), with the same pattern on the other side of the canal. the numerous bridges and the great tall Dutch buildings (all at least 4 stories) add to the mostly picturesque view. the Oude Kerk is around the corner - and I can easily hear the bells in my room.

but it is only mostly picturesque - for the hemp museum is barely a two minute walk down the street, and the red lights and red curtains (and often the scantily-dressed women) can be seen from the front door. we live in De Wallen because we live on Achterburgwal (the middle street of the three parallel streets ending with -wal). De Wallen is Red Light District.

and for obvious reasons, it's not really a nice place to live. which is why the community is there. the streets are often filled with people coming by checking out what's happening - and the hope is that they will see something different in how we live and what we do.
- we ring the chapel bell, calling the community to prayer, twice a day. and the prayers go up for the church, for ourselves, and for the world that we cannot pretend to ignore.
- we've been eating dinner with the windows wide open to the street (although they're only about hip-level) and i wonder what people think as they walk by 25 people (including about 10 kids) eating and laughing and sharing a meal together in a place where you don't quite expect that much joy.
- we open the doors to anyone to come in for coffee and tea - and maybe a conversation. and answer the phone to talk with whoever calls - and open the doors to people who need a place to live for awhile or start new again.
- and each of these places and each of these apartments is one less place for an x-rated theatre (which is what the chapel used to be), one less place for another red lit window, and one less place for someone to sell drugs from.

and we pray that God might use the work we do and the doors we open so that we - and those around might love God more and love others more.

10 September 2006

learning to be okay with being incompetent

i'm generally good at most things i do. i'll admit that i tend to shy away from things i'm bad at (i.e. bowling and baseball), so i haven't spent that much time being incompetent. lately, however things have changed.

i had forgotten how dumb it feels not to understand what people are saying around you. to not how the system works. to not know the patterns of life. to know what the expectations are.

most of the people who surround me are people i met less than 2 weeks ago. with a few there was email contact, but with most it's been a surprise. and when i think about them, i am thankful. people have been as good as i had hoped. and in many cases, even better than i had dared to hope. they are very willing to translate for me, to help me learn dutch (i currently have some strange song in my head about forward and after, and left and right), to answer my questions, to show me what to do, to listen to my concerns, and to try to help me use my gifts and to be able to study.

but it is hard to ask for help a lot. and i'm not even entirely sure why - because i know people are helpful - and i even hear their encouragement of it. i just get tired of doing it all the time. and feeling dumb for asking about things that i feel should be obvious - like how do you make coffee here, or where do i get a bike, and so on.

and it is hard to feel so incompetent. no matter how much i ask, no matter how much i watch, i will never learn as quick as I want to (whether it be about life here or with Dutch).
and it is strange to go from being the one that people would ask lots of different questions to being the person who is likely not to know the answer. or even be able to understand the question.

as much as i realize that this is leaning toward being whine-y, i am saying this because i know that this is good for me. i just wish it was easier on my ego. or that it didn't take so much energy. my constant prayer seems to be, "i have so much to learn, God. help me to see and listen."

and already He has answered. even if i don't understand all that is going on around me, i have been able to see different people's gifts - from the gift of storytelling, to singing, to a gentle spirit, to a gracious heart, to a willingness to help out with tasks, to making space for people who are new and different.

and i do not think that i would have seen all that (i would have been too busy being in the know to notice) if i were not so incompetent right now. and for that i am thankful even as i struggle to live with it.

03 September 2006

at home in Amsterdam

The title sums up things here well. I have been adopted into the community where I'm living - and it has been good (although a little tiring - I have been trying to understand Dutch, speaking in English, and also speaking in Hungarian (I had no idea that there were this many Hungarian volunteers helping out in Amsterdam - i would have never guessed that my knowledge of hungarian would be helpful here!!))

but it is good. today i was in Friesland and Drenthe, and we drove through Groningen and another are (nieuwe land?) yesterday i got to bike a bit in the city (which was much easier than people tell me it is). and i had a canal tour of the centre. i've been to the airport twice (the second time to collect somebody who was new to the community), i've helped with dishes a lot, helped cook one night, attended 3 morning and evening prayers, watched a baptism, talked a lot, played Cranium in Dutch (even though they translated, i was quite horrible at it), i've been to the Vrije to register, and am officially over my jetlag. not bad for coming here on Thursday. oh, and one of the people in the community here works for a CRC church plant here, and another couple people who study theology at the VU.

so, all in all life is good. and i am more than content. it is as good here as i hoped it would be.

tomorrow, hopefully the people at the VU will be able to tell me what they expect from me this year - things have not been so clear so far...

22 August 2006


this summer has been a mixture of moving, preparing for next year, visiting friends, trying to write a thesis, organizing, and vacation. but mostly it's been a lot of vacation. certainly vacation has included a lot of visiting and a lot of organizing but my real job this summer (that of finishing my thesis) has been rather neglected (unfortunately). and that means that i go to the Netherlands with a bit of work still left from my previous program. yet, as much as that is a nuisance, the organizing and relaxing and time with friends was worth the nuisance (i hope). it has been a good summer, even in the midst of the sadness of saying good-bye, and i am feeling ready and excited and energized for next year (which starts in a week or so!!)

and one of the highlights of the summer was last week - 4 full days of camping in Algonquin Park. i was with a few of my closest friends (Dave, Crystle and Judith) who had done a great job of organizing things - so we had amazing food and everything that we needed. we spent a lot of time relaxing - just talking or reading or walking - and i was surrounded by water (including a beach), trees, and rocks (and i just love the rocks in the Canadian Shield). except for the lack of mountains and the high number of mosquitoes, it was pretty close to perfect.

and i have pictures but I can't seem to post them today - so they will have to wait for another time...

21 August 2006

St Stephen's Day Tragedy

Today (August 20th) is/was St. Stephen's Day. To celebrate the occasion, fireworks are held in Budapest. Unfortunately, while the hundreds of thousands of people were there, winds of up to 100 km/hour came through the area. Trees were uprooted, tents over thrown, and a couple of boats collided. Although several news agencies currently carry the story, The Turkish Press currently has the most updated version of what happened.

Several friends of mine were there - and close to where people were seriously injured. I'm thankful that they're okay. But please pray for all those who were there and who are not okay and/or are worried about those that they love who were there.

11 August 2006

moving, sharing, and God's timing

on the evening i moved out, i had two good friends (thanks Walter and Deb!) help me move stuff out and pack up my stuff. since my parents didn't really need my food and most of the stuff wasn't originally mine anyways, a lot of it was given away. some my friends took and some went to the schools' food pantry, clothing bank and other odds and ends. As the school closed by 10 getting that stuff out was the first priority. around 11, we started figuring out how to get rid of the furniture. as i was walking out to the garbage area with a chair (we didn't know where else to put it and figured people could scavenge there if they wanted to), i bumped into my neighbour helping another Korean couple into the apartment next door. the couple were bringing in huge suitcases - and as i glanced into the apartment, i saw it was empty. so i asked if they wanted my furniture. and so we moved my two couches, a table, some chairs, and some lamps. and i told them about the dishes and microwave we'd put in the food pantry. and i was delighted by God's timing - only God could turn my moving at a late hour into an opportunity to show hospitality - something that i had received so often from so many people.

and later on, as i was doing a final cleaning of the kitchen, it occurred to me that this was a good reminder of the way God surprises us with his timing. and it was a good way to end my time in Grand Rapids. it was time to leave. but overall it had been good. sure, sometimes it was hard - i'd lived with 7 different people over the 5 years, i'd been hard up for money way too often, living in a foreign country is always a bit of a hassle, and good friends would move away every year. but each year i had kept a few friends and made more. and this time it was me who was moving away from friends. and as much i knew ahead of time that i would learn lots (that is, after all, what one does in school) and that i'd make new (and good) friends, the extent of it still surprised me. i wasn't expecting to realize that as much as i love academics and talking about school stuff, i love the ordinary conversations that have nothing to do with school - and i love being from my very non-academic, practical, and caring family. and i wasn't expecting how much i enjoyed spending time with staff and faculty. and i wasn't expecting the different people that i'd become friends with - and how the friendships just got better with time (it helps that when you all work for the CRC, you keep bumping into old friends) - even the ones that i didn't make until the last couple of years. and i wasn't expecting to be able to minister so much to others - from tutoring to mentoring to teaching to just helping out wherever i could (the best part is getting to watch how people grow in Christ - and getting to see them flourish).
i'm thankful that God surprised me - and made it better than i expected.

i expect that these next couple years will also be full of God's unexpected surprises. and i look forward to them.
in fact, i've already bumped into a couple of surprises. a number of people i've talked to have heard of where i'm going to live. and a couple from my church are on my flight from Toronto to Amsterdam. i can't help but feel that God's taking care of me.

08 August 2006

thoughts on New York

although three days is hardly enough to develop a well-balanced opinion of a place, in my processing our trip to New York a couple of things about New York struck me.

i loved the busy-ness of it. and that it's a city that's not built around cars. i love all the people on the streets, using the subway (although it'd have been easier if we'd had a slightly better subway map and the subway system was slightly more obvious about how and where things were going), and the fact that cars often had to wait for people. i could definitely get used to that part of life there (and am hoping that Amsterdam has a lot of that pedestrian busy-ness to it - and hopefully i'll learn the biking rules quickly.)

but the thing i didn't really know what to do with was all the focus on material things. it feels like you're supposed to spend lots of money there. and spend hours looking at and appreciating things (or maybe i just spent too much time in museums). but housing costs a crazy amount out there so salaries have to be big. and there's a lot of focus on buying the right things, of having and eating the best, and of making the most. and i know that this isn't the focus of many people's lives, but it stuck out to me - as someone who has lived amongst people with little and lived on very little for years (my car's 12 years old, my computer's almost 5 years old, and the most expensive thing i have is my collection of books), i didn't exactly know what to do with that focus. it, of course, doesn't help that i'm trying to limit the amount of stuff i'm taking with me to Europe to 100 lbs.

but i'm glad to have gone. and see things a bit differently again. even if i have no desire to go back there any time soon. i like my freedom too much - and although it's sometimes inconvenient i like living on very little. i don't ever want to become someone who needs so much (although it would definitely be fun to have more money to give away :))

02 August 2006

i have a great dad

on our way back from New York, we went to Concord, Mass. to visit Walden Pond (which, incidentally, is a lovely pond to swim in). on our way to our campsite in New York State, we got a flat tire. i theoretically know how to change the tires on Deb's car (and she has a full-size spare) so other than it being a nuisance (her tire jack is horrible), it was manageable. a Mass. state cop pulled up shortly after we stopped, asked if we needed help, and within 15 minutes someone (with much better equipment) came and helped us change the tire. the spare tire we put on there didn't look that great but we figured it would get us back to Grand Rapids where Deb made a tire appointment early Wednesday morning.

the next day, we got another flat. this was not so manageable. who, after all, has two spare tires?!? and we were hot and sticky and tired and ready to go home (the previous night had been hot and mosquito-filled so none of us got a great night sleep). the only bright side of the situation was that we were close to Hamilton, Ontario where i have friends and a few relatives. and my dad often drives his semi along that route. so quite a number of phone calls on Deb's cell phone later, we'd found one of my friends who would have been willing to drive down with a spare so we could get to the next town, and figured out that my dad was only an hour away coming in our direction. eventually a cop showed up (definitely not as quick as in Mass. but definitely faster than for my brother-in-law who'd spent a night on the 401/3 highway with car trouble). he let us know we were much closer to the next city than we thought. Deb remembered that she might have towing insurance on her car (one of the precautions she'd taken when we'd driven to Alaska - like the full-size spare), so she called her insurance company (we did have it!) and we called a tow-truck. when the tow-truck arrived, he looked at the three of us and said he'd have to call another truck cause no one told us that it was more than one person. it being 4:30 (almost closing time), my dad being only 15 minutes away in his truck, we told the tow truck driver to take Deb and the car, tell us exactly where they were going, and we'd come with my dad in his truck. so Deb and the tow truck guys left Kristin and I along the side of the road. my dad showed up fairly quickly (i've been hitching rides with my dad in his truck for years so this really wasn't that unusual), and we went off to find Deb and tire place.

by the time we showed up, it was almost closing time. the tow truck driver was demanding cash (Canadian - which Deb had little of), the tire place was trying to get her decide what to do immediately (and she wasn't sure exactly what to do since she had a tire appointment in Grand Rapids the next morning as well - and the tires weren't very old). when we showed up, my dad helped Deb out with the tire guys, and I had enough cash to pay the tow truck guys. my dad helped Deb make a good decision (he's got a lot more experience with tires and cars than she does), and it felt so nice to have somebody around who knew what he was talking about - and could take away some of the pressure the tire guys were putting on Deb. they couldn't tell what was wrong with our first flat tire - so they inflated it and put it back on the car. the second one might have been due to low air pressure. but maybe that damage happened when it was flat (and as a my dad graciously said, even he (who drives truck for a living) doesn't check the air pressure as often as he probably should)).

and by 5:30 we were off again. with an extra tire in the car (some of my stuff went to my dad's truck to go to my parents' so we'd have room). feeling somewhat better although still a little nervous about the tires. (Kristin and I both decided that if we had got a third flat before we got home we'd both have had a meltdown. (thankfully, we didn't. and Deb got her tires fixed up on Wednesday morning and made it safe back to Saskatoon this past weekend.))

by that time we were definitely ready to be home. and we were all thankful to have had my dad come rescue us - to give us a helping hand and have somebody around who knew what he was talking about and we could trust completely. having him around made us feel so much better. and as much as it was not an experience i'd wish on anyone else, it reminded me how glad i am for the practical, down-to-earth (and definitely helpful) family that i have.