31 January 2007

grace for today

i'm not naturally inclined to worry. i like the excitement and challenge brought on by the unexpected. and being a rather pragmatic person, i know that worrying doesn't make the problems go away (and usually actually makes the problems worse!)

but i've been anxious lately: so often lately i've been halfway through the day and i feel like i've used up for the day all my energy (especially concerning relating well to people) and i have no idea how i'm going to make it through the rest of the day or tomorrow or the next day. and it's here (teaching in my old school in Ukraine) that i'm recognizing this as anxiety.

i could blame this feeling on the challenges of living with lots of different people - all of us with different struggles. but the anxiety has followed me here - showing me that it is something that has become part of me and not just a result of my environment.

i taught six classes on Monday. and i remembered why i'd rather not teach at the high school level (i rather dislike disciplining) and why i'd rather not teach a second language (having people not understand me is frustrating). the classes were a struggle for me to get the students actually to speak in English and not translate for each other so that half the class doesn't have to pay attention to what i've said in English. teaching was made more challenging since the classes were mostly speaking and listening practice (and not using any books or other material). and i know that it is much easier to keep a class focused when you know students' names and can call on someone who has a nasty habit of not listening (or you can move students who like to be disruptive with their neighbour).

teaching was thus more disappointing and more draining than i had expected. by the time afternoon came and i had to prepare for the next day's classes (5 more), i wasn't sure how i was going to get through the day let alone be able to minister to the students, which is what i had hoped to do in coming here.

but then i had a walk, i confessed to my friend (who is the English teacher here) that i couldn't teach as much this week as i had thought i could, i chatted online with a friend (desperately asking for help and she encouraged me), and i figured out a way to encourage the students to talk in english class (in english, of course!). and as i was watching a movie in the evening with the students (Take the Lead - a delightful film about how a ballroom dance teacher affects the lives of innercity kids in New York), i realized that i would receive grace enough for the day. the movie made me laugh, it showed hope and a different world, and the students loved it. and i knew the grace wasn't really about the movie or the day. i realized that i would receive enough grace for every day - that God would provide people to encourage me, to help me to laugh, and to see Him working.

and yesterday, the english classes went better. for part of the class, each student had to talk about a picture - saying as many sentences, no matter how simple, about the picture as they could (in english, of course). and it was delightful not only to hear them enthusiastically using english but also to see the surprise and delight on one girl's face who was convinced that she couldn't speak in english but somehow managed to produce about 25 sentences in one minute (the goal of the task was quantity not quality). one of my 'famous' lines that my old students remember is 'you can do it.'

and even though i was exhausted last night after teaching (and doing a bit of shouting in the english competition - ever tried to lead 90 people in games in a small room?), it had been a good day. and the students and dorm parents loved the competition. and i had enough time to process what i learned and prepare for today.

i am deeply thankful for the realization that God will provide enough grace for each day (but just this day - the grace and energy for tomorrow will come when i need them tomorrow). even when i am tired, He will provide me with enough energy to do what I ought to. certainly i ought to participate in not getting overwhelemed by resting appropriately, not forcing people to put with me when i'm grouchy, and making sure that i have a good balance of people in my life who i regularly see God's grace through and help me to laugh at myself. but in those days when all my efforts to be emotionally healthy, joyful, and have enough energy are not nearly enough for the day, then i can rest assured that God will provide the grace i need. and when i don't accept that grace well (or haven't really participated in trying to be ready for the day), i can also rest assured that God's grace extends over my mistakes of today and yesterday.

i'll end with part of the poem from the Writer's Almanac for today, which says a bit about grace for yesterdays.

Thanks, Robert Frost
Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...

written by David Ray, from Music of Time: Selected and New Poems.
the rest of the poem can be found on the Writer's Almanac's website

29 January 2007

in the media again

Not only have we made the papers but we were also recently on Dutch television. If you’d like to see more about life here (and hear about us in Dutch), then go to PREMtime and click on the grey box on the left side (and hopefully it will work).

We’re the first people he visits, so we’re in the first five minutes of the program. The person in the blue apron who first appears is Br. Luc and the second blue aproned person is Br. Sjoerd. The other two people who speak also live in the main house (Vaderhuis) like me. After the first five minutes the show doesn’t say anymore about us, so you’ll probably want to stop when they get to the hairdressing salon unless you really want to be exposed to Dutch television...

28 January 2007

vacation: getting a different perspective

This week my vacation gets busy with the joy of teaching English, having tea, chatting, organizing games, and eating hagel slag on bread and sharing drop with the students (I am cheating with some of the foods – so many people in the Netherlands speak English that I figure knowing English opens up more than just the obvious English countries).

It has been good to be back here visiting. The first couple of days were quieter this time, as I have brought homework with me and my friends have had to run errands. But I’ve still managed to have a bit of excitement and a bit of change. I’ve spent a couple of days in a college dormitory. I’ve eaten out again (Chinese and Turkish). And I’ve had the joy and challenge of trying to function in yet another language (I now know how to play Clue in Hungarian - and UNO (but it has different rules – at least, I think it does. The instruction sheet had half a dozen languages but still managed to have no English or French or Dutch – and I was too tired to properly skim the Hungarian).

And of course, there’s always at least one adventure. on Saturday I spent hours in a car with people I’d never met before as we travelled from Budapest to Karpatalja, Ukraine – and I have no idea if any of them spoke more than a couple of words of English – and I did okay though I misunderstand a question once and now they think I have relatives here (but not close enough for a grandma) – I’d have said that I had misunderstood the question and hadn’t meant to say that but the verb tenses were beyond me and I didn’t think it mattered that much.

And as I ponder whether I need to make different choices (so as to spend more time doing homework and to be less emotionally exhausted) when I return to Amsterdam, it is good to receive a different perspective on things here. My friends here are hospitable beyond measure – and they do their best to provide me with everything they might want if they were to visit. And everyone is interested in my life in Amsterdam – and where I live. And as I share about life there, i remember again and again why i am so thankful to be there. and it's a blessing that people here seem intuitively to understand the challenges and joys of life there in community. they both understand how amazing it is to watch people grow in faith and mature as individuals. And they understand how overwhelming it can be sharing close space with people as they flail around learning how to grow and become a part of community. Especially as we are not all coming from or going in the same directions.

but it shouldn't surprise me that much that my friends here understand. after all, life here has its challenges. living 8 people in one dorm room. receiving salaries late because of the government and somebody not doing the paperwork properly. wondering about immigration issues – and whether getting married earlier than planned is really the answer to receiving adequate health care. living in a 1 room apartment with dad and sister, each of whom gets up and goes to bed at different times – with the result that sometimes in the morning no one is all that refreshed - but it is no use thinking or complaining too much about it - because there's no opportunity to change it and family is to be loved, even if the situation isn’t exactly ideal.

And as a highlight, it snowed on Saturday. Being from Canada, I rather miss snow so I’m thrilled to see it :)

24 January 2007

vacation time again

tomorrow i fly to Budapest again. and i don't come back here until 8 feb. i'm looking forward to the vacation.

it's a bit of a 'working vacation,' though. i'm helping out with an english week at my old high school. and i'm taking schoolwork with me, as i have so much to do in the next couple of months that i can't really afford to take too much more time off.

things are going better with the house, but my level of patience with other people still isn't as high as it should be. i'm hoping the opportunity to visit with old friends, eat different foods, and just have a change of venue and pace will help restore my level of joy and grace to better levels. i'm tired of being annoyed so much of the time. and i'm even more tired of hearing myself be annoyed so much!!

so i leave with the hope of being restored - and of remembering my sense of humour - so that i can laugh at the absurdities of life with so many people. and i can spend less time focusing on how much further we all have to grow in becoming more aware of those around us and instead rejoice in the (small steps of) growth i amazingly get to witness on such a regular basis.

20 January 2007

flight ´home´

i just purchased my tickets home (and home again)!

i got the tickets from United (their online site) - and although i´m stuck in Chicago airport for hours on the 10th (and so don´t get into Detroit until 11 at night), the only airline that could compare with their price was a charter flight out of Toronto (and Detroit is much closer to my parents´ house). and so the minor inconvenience of a long layover (where i´ll probably just want to sleep anyway and/or get ready for seeing everybody again) is pretty minor compared to my delight in getting a decent priced ticket (under 600 US) for such a long stay and a flight during the summer busy season.

i´m to leave here on 10 May and leave there on 16 July - which means i´ll be home for Mother´s Day (and hopefully my sister will have just become a new mother), and be able to stay through until my other sister´s birthday. and then be excited and ready to come back to Amsterdam, with school, languages, some kind of work, the community and the various programmes that the community is hoping to try out this summer.

18 January 2007

i choose

it´s been a rough week. like most people, i choose to avoid those kind of weeks as much as possible. but sometimes, certain choices mean that i leave myself open to things i wouldn´t normally choose. these are some of those choices in my life now.

i choose to write much about the joy and learning of life in a community. and i choose to write little about the people who i find difficult to live with - or the moments i just want to get as far away as possible (by bike preferably so i can get rid of my frustration).

i choose to focus on the amazing delight of having family here - of having a two year old ask me to pick her up, of having cats without having to clean up their litter box, of being teased about how to cut the cheese at breakfast, of having people to share chores with, of celebrating milestones together, and of rejoicing when a daughter turns back to God. and i choose not to focus so much on how the ´family´ here (like most families) is filled with dysfunctional people who don´t always get along. even though i choose to mourn over how broken we all are.

i choose to live in this community that helps people become more independent. but that means that i have also chosen to live in a community that never stays the same - not only because all of us are discovering things (good and bad) about ourself by being stuck with different people but also because people who we´ve grown to care about leave and unknown people come and all of us must figure out how the community changes with each loss and growth.

i choose to live in community instead of by myself, which i means that i choose to open myself to tohers and let others affect me on a very regular basis. and i don´t always get to choose whether they affect me in a good way or a bad way - nor how often a certain person might bring joy into my life nor how much energy a person will demand in relating to them. and even if they treat me poorly, i don´t get to treat them poorly in return (although i do choose to avoid them when that seems the healthiest thing for me to do).

i choose to live in this community - with people very different than myself - culturally, religiously, experientially and age-wise. the hope is that i learn how to get beyond myself - and appreciate the rest of the world better. but it also means that i have thus chosen to experience cultural clashes and to learn to function in at least one other different language.

i choose to be a responsible part of this community. i choose to organize the kitchen things and make sure the bathroom gets cleaned, even if doing so has meant several arguments (including a rather nasty one with me being yelled at). i am learning to choose not to be overly responsible (things will continue without me making sure that everything in the kitchen is perfect) and to ask someone to take care of my responsibilities when i feel too overwhelmed to do them.

i choose to combine my studying with living in a community. with the hope that the community will help me understand how to live the Word of God i´m studying. and that i´ll get to share that Word through what i say and what i do. yet, as sometimes the life in the community becomes all-encompassing, that means that i sometimes choose not to study as much as i feel i ought to - and that as my studies are becoming more intense in the next few months that i might have to make different choices.

i choose to live thousands of miles from my immediate family and from my friends and all that was once familiar to me. and i choose to love this city and my studies and the people here. and i think i do - not only because there is much that brings me joy and delight but because this is where i think God wants me to be - so that i might learn how better to serve Him.

and some days it doesn´t feel like the choices are worth it. this week had a couple of days like that. the language and culture things got overwhelming. i witnessed what i would consider disrespectful behaviour and was accused of inappropriate behaviour. my Christianity was questioned. i heard a lot of complaints. and most of all i felt the general unease of everyone in the house as we struggled with two people we cared about leaving us - and the coming of four ´unknown´ people (two of whom have managed to fight with almost everyone here). and i am/ was emotionally exhausted.

and today, after morning chapel, i chose not to participate in life here. i chose not to join in community meals or prayers. i handed over whatever responsibilities i still had. i chose not to reach out to others in any way, but instead to rest, read, and do some homework. and i chose this so that i would have time to remember the One who chose me first. To reconnect to the One who gives me all the courage and energy to make choices. and without whose grace, care and love, i would not be able to love others - which includes the hard choices that make up every-day practical love.

14 January 2007

loving: affection

C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves says the following:

"The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not [´made for each other´]; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other. If Affction grows out of this their eyes begin to open. Growing fond of "old so-and-so", at first simply because he happens to be there, I presently begin to see that there is "something in him" after all. The moment when one first says, really meaning it, that though he is not "my sort of man" he is a very good man "in his own way" is one of liberation. It does not feel like that; we may feel only tolerant and indulgent. But really we have crossed a frontier. That "in his own way" means that we are getting beyond our own idiosyncracies, that we are learning to appreciate goodness or intelligence in themselves, not merely goodness or intelligence flavoured and served to suit our own palate....The truly wide taste in humanity will find something to appreciate in the cross-section of humanity whom one has to meet every day. In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who "happen to be there". Made for us? Thank God, no. They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed." (Pages 37-38 of the 1981 Fount Paperbacks edition)

And I have included it because it describes life here well - especially the last line :) And it describes my growing process of learning to delight in the people around me, who, if not for our both being present here, I would never have been blessed to know.

13 January 2007


This poem by St. Augustine is a copy of a blog written on 11 September 2003 from Jackie. And I´ve included it just because I like dancing - and because with life here you have to learn how to dance amongst the others who are sharing your space.

I praise the dance, for it frees people
from the heaviness of matter and binds
the isolated to community.

I praise the dance, which demands everything:
health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.

Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people,
who are in constant danger of becoming all brain,
will, or feeling.

Dancing demands a whole person, one who is
firmly anchored in the center of her life, who is
not obsessed by lust for people and things
and the demon of isolation in her own ego.

Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates
with the equipoise of all her powers.

I praise the dance.

O woman, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven
will not know what to do with you.

Note (from Jackie): The original version of this poem speaks of "he" rather than "she" and "man" rather than "woman."

Note (from Brenda): The poem is written by St. Augustine (A.D. 354 - 430) but I couldn´t find where exactly he had written it.

pictures of Sinterklaas

there are now pictures of our Sinterklaas celebration on the Oudezijds 100 website. Go to the Foto album and then click on Sinterklaas 2006. I´m on page 4 :)

10 January 2007

on turning thirty

last weekend, i was preparing myself for the big event of turning thirty. and i realized that i have no house, no husband, no car, no computer, no job, and no kids. my monetary possessions (of note) consist of a bike, an old piano, and a lot of books. my reaction was a bit like: golly, i sound like a loser!!

but, of course, i say that with a bit of a laugh. when i was a teenager and asked what i expected of myself at thirty, i think that who i am now would have been considered pretty ´lame´. yet when i was a teenager, i was unhappy, unsure, and didn´t like myself. and now, i am filled with joy, peace, and generally like who God has shaped me to be. so the fact that i would now disappoint my teenage expections of thirty is probably a good thing :)

even though this wasn´t what i expected of thirty (and this is not where i expected to be - and what i expected to be doing), now that i am here, i wouldn´t want it any different. for i am generally content. i am doing what i love (studying the Bible). and have had quite a number of opportunities to teach (which i know is what God wants me to do with my life), and am in the middle of dialoguing for more such opportunities. i have a family who loves me - and who i love back. and that family is not only my immediate family (which keeps getting bigger and who i have grown to love more and more as i get older) but also the family of God in many different places.

and life is never dull. as i strive to be faithful to God, each day brings its own challenges and surprises and blessings.

today, my dissertation proposal got the go-ahead, so i can do a ´pilot´ with my master´s thesis (yay!). i acknowledged to my supervisor that not only was i going to be writing that thesis in the next 4 months, i would also be doing significant work on a previous thesis (which is not quite in the ideal challenge category). i used half a dozen languages today - too much English, Hungarian at breakfast and supper, German to order a book off Amazon, Hebrew as I translated Hosea 5:8-6:3, Dutch to communicate and find a flight home, and I received a late birthday card in Spanish (which i got a friend to translate). i biked home in the rain and got soaked. and i asked myself again and again what it means to love others - trying to be honest and gracious, encouraging, asking about others´ lives, and listening. and for all the love that i gave, i was more than loved and encouraged in return.

so how do i feel now about being thirty? i can´t thank God enough for how thankful I am for how He has worked in my life and continues to do so.

05 January 2007

what i've been reading

being fascinated about what others are reading, i thought i'd share what i've been reading (in case others share that fascination).

some of the stuff i read is devotional/spiritual, some for general interest, some for fun (i.e. novels), and a lot for school. And although i won't claim to have always read all of a book, i'll make comments off and on about the books - and why i'm reading them.

and this way, i'll hopefully share more about what I've been studying.

the link is at the side of the page (Brenda's recent reading), and the address is a copy of the one for this blog (http://brendahey2.blogspot.com)

04 January 2007

some things are worth doing poorly

Although this seems like a bit of a strange idea, especially people like me who want to do their best in everything, some things are worth doing poorly. Firstly, by doing poorly a certain thing that is not all that important, it gives me time and energy to do something that is more important. And secondly, there are some things that are so important to do that even if i can´t do them well, it still ought to be done. A blog that Deb connected me to puts it well:

"As G. K. Chesterton once put it, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Chesterton of all people was not interested in encouraging bad work. He knew though that the worst work is that which is not done at all and any work, done with heart, soul and prayer has the potential to be good work."
Quoted from the blog, Notes from a Hillside Farm .

and since i tend to be an overachiever, learning that some things are worth doing poorly has been a struggle but a rather significant step in my spiritual growth.

01 January 2007

New Years in Amsterdam

about the best description for New Years in Amsterdam is loud. which one would expect from the thousands of people and hundreds of fireworks.

i greeted the New Year with the ´family´ here. we spent the evening playing games and chatting. and then at 11:30, we ended the old year with a chapel service. and hurried immediately afterward to the kitchen to get the champagne ready in the last few minutes before the countdown. after wishes of Happy New Year (gelukkig nieuwe jaar) with kisses and handshakes, we hurried outside for fireworks.

in anticipation of New Years, people have been practicing setting off fireworks for the last couple of days. so i was slightly prepared for the noise involved.

when we went outside for the fireworks, it was to join hundreds of others in the neighbourhood to set off our own fireworks. the light was phenomenally bright and the noise a bit deafening. but there is great joy in getting to watch people i know wave back and forth a blinding light, to watch a string of firecrackers go off where we usually park the van, and to see fireworks in the sky in every different direction.

and then we went out the back door to see the neighbours across the street/canal set off a whole series of fireworks from a barge. i was so close, i had to look directly up to see them. when they had finished we went for a walk in the neighbourhood to wish a few others Happy New Year and check out the excitement in Dam Square.

then clean-up and bedtime. and amidst the noise of at least a thousand people in the neighbourhood – and fireworks still going off at regular intervals, i fell asleep. which proves again that i really can sleep through anything 

"Christmas camp"

Between Christmas and New Years, the house has been having Christmas camp. almost everybody is on vacation - and we´ve been doing extra things to celebrate. We´ve taken a break from cleaning (and my nose is starting to notice a smell coming from our overstuffed fridge which might need taking care of soon). We´ve rearranged the furniture to provide a cozy area for the people who live here. We´ve limited drop-in hours so that we can do extra activities and spend more time together. We´ve watched a couple of movies together. We´ve gone on excursions - so in the last week I´ve been to Den Haag, to the shipping museum, and to a large indoor swimming pool. I´ve played four rounds of Settlers of Catan. And it´s been fun overall.

Because I decided to stay in Amsterdam for the holidays, I volunteered to help out Zr Annemieke and Br Luc who are in charge of Christmas camp (it´s a lot of work for just two people). In a house like this, we have a number of different schedules (kitchen, cleaning, chapel, drop-in, etc.) - and most of the people completing those tasks were on vacation, so we were in charge of getting things done - like cooking, getting bread, getting breakfast and lunch ready, planning and leading chapels, holding reception for the drop-in centre, organizing excursions, etc. I´ve helped do that for a weekend, but a week is a bit different. i´m not sure i knew exactly what i was getting into when i volunteered!

one of the things that i´ve noticed this week is how much i like the freedom of doing what i want when i want. and having volunteered meant that i had less freedom this week - i was expected to be there for most of the events and be with others for much of the day. (although I was daily given time to spend by myself doing errands and having down-time. and if I had been overwhelmed by everything, I know that I would have been more than free to leave for a longer period of time.) that my time was not entirely my own and my choices not entirely my own (even if i had made the original choice to do this!) was good for me (even if i didn´t always like it). part of my being a Christian means giving up my freedom - and my wilfulness to do only what i want. giving up my freedom for this week is a very concrete reminder that all of my time is about doing God´s will - and that i´m not entitled to certain things.

and as i learned more and more to give over my will (and time) to God, i was blessed and encouraged. my family has banned the word sorry all week (i think because i say it all the time) - and i´m only supposed to communicate in Dutch (which i´ve cheated on a bit). and i led a chapel half in English and half in Dutch (the Dutch was mostly the order of service which is written down) - and was encouraged by others afterwards. i´ve seen how much work and energy and joy that Br Luc and Zr Annemieke have done this week - and i have been deeply appreciative and look forward to getting to learn more from both of them.i´ve been able to get to know everyone here a bit better - and look forward to spending more time with them. i saw and heard the appreciation when a group of us showed up at a mutual friend´s birthday party (i was reminded when i came back the next day with ollie bollen - about 30 balls of the 320 that had been donated to us - and we needed to get rid of!). i got to carve our donated turkey (which was dubbed the rolls-royce of turkeys) for dinner the other night since i get to do at my parent´s house. i danced with a two year old to Johnny Cash (whose music reminds me of my dad). and i have laughed and drank tea and learned better how to love people.

and about once a day, i look at the group of people i am with - and am deeply thankful that i get to be part of this crazy wonderful ´family.´