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...