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.