30 January 2009

breakfast in community

some days i eat breakfast in bed - it's nice and warm, i can read the news while eating and my current phase of yogourt with granola tends not to make much mess.

but other days it's breakfast in community. getting showered and downstairs by 7:30 can be a bit difficult at times (mostly the showering, though - the water temperature and pressure is affected by how many people are also using the water - and where). and sometimes breakfasts are a bit of a chore. conversation barely grunts along. the bread supply has mysteriously disappeared, along with the milk or jam or butter. or somebody is super grouchy. those are the really bad mornings.

but most times, breakfast in community is a pleasant way to start the day: a mixture of some gentle teasing/sarcasm, a bit of laughter, choice of different breads, milk, coffee, tea, and a random conversation or two (without overwhelming amounts of noise or conversation). this morning we discussed when we have to move the clocks forward in the spring (no one knew for sure). several people asked for the hagel slag (chocolate hail), in its carton (this has to do with a recent threat to empty the bread basket before passing it to someone who only asked for the basket). and i learned that children under 7 aren't generally capable of putting their arms over their heads and touching their ears. it has to do with the size of the head and length of the arm. it was, of course, accompanied by several illustrations of how to touch one's ear with an arm over one's head by people much older than 7. odd - and a delightful way to begin the day.

29 January 2009

ending a time of busy-ness

yesterday's dutch tests marked the end of a time of busy-ness. a couple of big events are still coming up in the next two weeks - like giving a 2.5 hour class on the Old Testament Prophets (yay!), participating in a 3 day retreat with the community, and taking the official dutch as a second language assessment tests. but without the 15+ hours per week dedicated to my dutch classes, i feel like i can take a deep sigh of relief - i feel more like i really have enough time for everything.

i now have the feeling that i have more time to do those extra things that fill me with joy. those things that give me inspiration and challenge me and give me energy - and make it so that i am more excited to participate in life around me (instead of hiding from it). so there's some research i'm looking forward to getting back to, some blog entries and emails i've been meaning to write, some chatting/talking that i've been missing out on lately, more time going to chapels and sitting around drinking tea and coffee, and more time sitting snuggled up reading. and most of all, more laughing in general - just because i can :)

25 January 2009

not the expected response

reading Luke 5 the other day, i came across something that didn't quite fit (this happens more often when i'm paying attention to the Bible). the first part of the chapter is about Jesus calling the first disciples. Jesus borrows Simon Peter's boat to preach from and then asks him to go out fishing again. and even though they'd tried so hard before Jesus came (and clearly indicated that they thought him odd for asking, even after hearing him preach his message), they went out again to fish - just because Jesus asked. and they caught enough to almost sink the boats. and Simon "fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"...Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’" (Luke 5:8,10 NRSV).

and i thought, hey, wait a minute. Jesus' words not to be afraid can be seen as somewhat of an answer to Simon's request that he go away from him - his answer to Simon's acknowledgment that he is a sinner and not worthy to be so close to one so mighty as Jesus. but to say, "do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people" made me pause. it didn't sound particularly comforting. i find "catching people" (i.e. bringing people to God) rather scary, especially since i am sinful like Simon. and yet Jesus' answer reminds me that it's not about me really - that it's not about how worthy i feel i am or my ideas of what works. God says simply, "don't worry, i have plans for you." and i might just be surprised by what God does in and through and around me. and these plans and surprises do bring me comfort.

14 January 2009

on reading Christian fiction

having been in school for a very long time, i've come to recognize that the writing in most novels classified as Christian fiction is not that good. most people who've gone to university tend to look down on it, choosing instead the type of novels that are classics or [could] have received some kind of award.

nonetheless, every now and then i pick up a few Christian novels. i do so for a number of reasons: partially out of nostalgia since i grew up reading a lot of these kind of books. partially out of easy access (the libraries of most churches are pretty full of the typical christian novels and i have a good friend who works for a christian publisher so i have lots of possible material). and partially just because i want something to read (that is usually pretty quick).

i usually get a sense of being bloated by the time i'm done. i'm sure it's helped by the fact that i usually read about 4 novels in a week (i can finish a book in an evening). but there's something predictable about many christian fiction books, something that doesn't seem to fit the world i live in now. even recognizing that many are historical novels not set in my time does not change the sense that there is something unreal about them. the happy ending provided (usually marriage or a baby) does not seem to capture the painful messiness of my life that remains even as i've found joy in many ways - and besides the expected way of finding joy in a husband and children.

and yet, i still pick up the books now and then. perhaps it has to do with my desire to honour the (good) hopes and intentions of those who write and publish them. even as much as i often grimace through the "preach-y" sections of the book, i am thankful for the desire to share the gospel that permeates through the book. and even as much as i often find that the faith doesn't quite fit the messiness of my life, the faith pictured in the books (and given by those writing) can also be inspiring. there's a desire in the books for faith to be shared - and to be alive in our prayers and our words. and since i come from the type of tradition where faith is rarely talked about (except where you think/believe the right thing), this every day sharing of faith is refreshing - and i've noticed that my mom, who has picked up more Christian books in these last few years (and also been leading a Bible study at church that is more outreach focused), has changed in how she prays and talks about faith - reflecting more of that vividness that i do appreciate in these books.

and sometimes i pick up a Christian book simply with the hope of being surprised -not because being surprised is so unusual but because you never know what to expect or where the surprise will come - of having a delightful good laugh, of enjoying the characters, of hearing a story that makes me want to follow it, and/or of recognizing what i am either thankful for or hopeful of in my own life.

11 January 2009

a lovely winter sunday

to take advantage of the below zero temperatures here in the Netherlands, we spent the afternoon skating (in Museumplein). and it was lovely. the following are some pictures to share it with you:

me on my borrowed Nordic skates - i did really well, especially since it's been about 6 years since i last skated - and nordic skates are a lot longer than i'm used to. and i enjoyed it tons (and am only a bit sore).

a random close up as we paused on the ice.

enjoying the skating by dancing - i thought they were doing great!

and it ended with a fire, candles, cookies and hot chocolate in the Kajuit.

lovely, eh? just how winter should be enjoyed.

09 January 2009

when is it too cold to bike?

every day this week as i've biked to the university, i've been wondering about when it really is too cold to bike. monday, as my out-of-shape body grunted my way home, was probably when i wondered the hardest. is it too cold when i see my breath? when the canals start freezing over? when it's -10 Celsius? when the roads are too slippery?

and every time i get on my bike, i put on my hat, i put on the wool mittens, have a scarf on, my coat's done up, and sometimes i even have my long johns on. after about a minute on my bike, i'm cold. it takes about 10 minutes before i'm relatively warm again (although sometimes my hands and feet stay cold longer).

and then i think of the alternative: being cold in the subway system (the metro). the newspaper has been reporting that the heating systems on the subway haven't been doing so well lately - and even the free hot chocolate near the end of the line isn't really a decent compensation.

so, i bike. it saves me money, takes about the same amount of time as the subway, gives me exercise, and i have a bit more control over how cold i am. and it makes me feel stubborn and dutch - and i don't mind having an excuse to whine every once in awhile :)

05 January 2009

taking a dutch class

i am now halfway through an intensive (9 week) dutch class. it was a struggle at first, but things have improved.

part of the struggle involved how much time the class takes: class 3 days a week for 4 hours each day and at least 2 hours homework per class (and sometimes a lot more). this went on top of my regular 2.5 days working and time for the community - which translates into a lot less time to work on my own research stuff and/or do fun things with others.
and part of the struggle involved just getting used to the class - learning what the expectations are, how to get the most out of it, and determining what things were lacking in my dutch knowledge (as i jumped into the last level of the dutch class).

improving my dutch is one of my big goals for this year - knowing dutch at a mediocre level was getting in the way of being able to participate in the world around me and was thus a source of a lot of frustration in my life. and taking a class seemed to be the best way to improve it. although i've felt that i've been slow at learning dutch, i do know that i've always been good at learning language in a classroom - and i figured since i've often felt so dumb with dutch, getting a little boost to my ego from being in a classroom wouldn't hurt :)

about a week and a half into the class, i had come to a couple of insights that improved things tremendously. in the community's small group (Bible study), we were asked to read a couple of prayers and hymns and then share our thoughts/opinions on them (and whether they would be good for the new songbook). my first thought after hearing the instructions was "oh my, this is much harder than the things we have to do in my dutch class!" and i realised that my normal life was much more complicated (but also more fascinating and challenging) than my dutch class (so no wonder it doesn't fill with me great excitement every day). and the second insight was recognizing that i had begun to resent how much time the dutch class took, especially the extra homework/tasks the first 2 weeks. i had hoped that the class would help me participate more in my life around me, but with all the time and energy it was taking in my life i wasn't able to participate in anything else! so, i've gotten better about finding a reasonable amount of time for the class while still making sure that i have enough time to sit around and drink coffee (or wine) and just appreciate life.

and things continue to improve with the class as i've seen how my dutch has improved as a result of the extra attention and from the effort of noticing and putting in the extra time and energy towards fixing several significant (and continuous) problems with my dutch (like verbs, certain words i always mix up, and word order in sentences). i'll be glad for it to be done (i take the dutch as a second language test on Feb 11-12), so i have a bit more freedom with my time - but sometimes being a bit busy doesn't hurt either [after all, i can see that i've learned a lot and it has been worth it].