31 March 2009

seeing myself in the parable of the prodigal son

in reading further in Luke, we've heard the parable of the prodigal son.

the parable tells the story of two sons. the younger son decides that he's had enough of life at home and demands his inheritance (something he's not entitled to until his father dies). his father graciously gives it to him, and the son goes off and wastes his money on all sorts of questionable activities. when the money runs out, he ends up feeding pigs just to survive. when the food to the (unclean) pigs starts to seem a little too appealing, the son decides to return home and beg his father for mercy - that his father would be merciful enough to treat him like one of his servants. his father sees him returning, rushes out, embraces him, and throws a feast in order to celebrate his return. meanwhile the older son is working out in the field and seems not to pleased about his brother's return - nor his father's throwing a feast for him!

and when i see myself in the story, i see myself as the older son. the good, older son - the one who always did what he thought his father wanted. and who is begrudging the father's grace to the other son. he's not finding it fair that the younger son got more than he had ever received. and the father's words to the older son felt like words meant to make him feel guilty for judging and not being loving.

but this time i heard the words of the father to the older son a bit differently. they weren't the words of shame that he wasn't being nice. they were words of love - to say, silly child, don't you see that i love you? and don't you see how you've got things all mixed up? that love isn't related to the good you do or don't do? (and even being a good child by listening and coming with me now isn't the point of what i'm trying to say?) can you not know that all i have is yours? and that i would love to share everything i have with you, including this joy i have over how someone who matters to me (and also to you) has returned?

and being surprised by seeing myself in the story made me more aware of how i sometimes mix up how much good i do and being loved. or i miss half the story. and i'm thankful that the familiar words in the Bible aren't just familiar old words of comfort but are still living and breathing as part of my relationship with God.

29 March 2009

hours better with community

last night the clocks changed here in Europe (a bit later than in North America). and it also happened to be "Earth Hour" last evening.

i had breakfast with the community this morning. the only one missing was the boy who was still dreaming of the football game the night before. the rest of us were all there on time, with most of us awake enough to talk and tease each other a bit. it helps to have a community of people around to remind you of the change in clocks - and who will tease you if you're too sleepy at breakfast :)

and "Earth Hour" was something we also shared with the community. "Earth Hour" was on saturday evening from 8.30 to 9.30 - and the idea that you'd turn off all the non-essential lights (and electrical things), as a way of saving some electricity and raising awareness about the environment. because i do care about the environment, i had wanted to participate - but i figured i'd be in my room cosily reading a book by candlelight or downstairs drinking tea with my own lights technically off :). i ended up with both - downstairs drinking tea, by candlelight, and reading a children's book for a little while. the only things turned on were the bathroom lights (when needed) and the television (although you could probably guess what was happening in the football game based on the noise level on the street, for some it was pretty essential to watch the Netherlands beat Scotland). and it was gezellig with the candles on and others around, talking some, joking about not being able to wait to turn on the lights again so they could play Rummikub together but playing nonetheless (teasing each other about cheating - i'm not sure if it's harder or easier to cheat by candlelight). it was good to be part of a group of people willing to do something that was a bit inconvenient and not necessary to them because one or two people wanted to participate in Earth Hour. and i was glad to be able to be part of that with them.

28 March 2009

i generally like doing my taxes

i'm aware that i'm unusual in that i generally like filling in my tax returns.

that doesn't always mean that i've filled in as many tax returns over the years as i could have (if i ever move back to Canada i'll have to learn a lot very quickly about filing for previous years - and find out where i used to store all tax-related information).

but it's like a big puzzle, where you have to figure out what goes into all the little boxes. with computers and the invention of online filing, they do all the math for you and copy from one box to another - which is kind of handy (especially when it gives you error messages about technical impossibilities due to typing something in wrong). and even handier are the little info boxes that you can click on to tell you whether this line applies to you and exactly what should go in the box. and with online/computer filing, it's a lot easier to get to the end and see if you won. 'cause even if the best part of puzzles is the feeling of accomplishment, feeling like you won something helps out a lot, too.

and when it comes to taxes, i usually win. i don't make a lot of money, and when i do, it tends to be short, random and overtaxed (at the time). and i think it's important to give money away to others, so i try to do that a lot. and i live in countries that encourage giving and socialism. and thus, i've never filed taxes where i didn't at least get some money back. and this year looks to be a pretty good year for getting money back (and i haven't even attempted the US taxes yet - i think i'll ask for some help there). no wonder i like doing my taxes, eh? the question now is, what should i do with this tax return gift? me and God have been talking about it a bit - and besides the bottomless pit of my old student loans, seeing a bit more of Europe with people i enjoy being with sounds pretty good to me :)

18 March 2009

fighting busy

i feel busy. i know i'm less busy than i was more than a month ago (when i was taking the dutch class). then it was a matter of just doing one thing after another, with the main choices being what thing to do first, how much sleep to get, and/or how well to do something. and always there was a feeling of not having enough time, always thinking about what had to be done next. trying to keep sundays free of things that needed to be done helped somewhat, but being busy was still the dominant feeling overall.

and it's not that sort of rushing now. but i still often feel overwhelmed about what all has to be done and will i have time and energy for it. and i have questions about whether i'm using my time well - and not wasting the (extra) time that i now have. and even if i know that too busy is unhealthy, i'm a bit disappointed that i'm not being so good productive.

i feel like i'm fighting busy. fighting against feeling overwhelmed or anxious or rushed. fighting against finding my worth in what i do. i feels like i'm surrounded with the idea that the more i do, the better: answering "how are you?" with busy is often seen as an accomplishment, not something to be questioned. and the better Christians are usually seen as the ones who do the most for the church/others. and i have a sense that if i can do it, i should do it. but the question shouldn't be whether i can do it. it's about whether my doing it is really the best for me. and whether or not it really needs doing. and whether someone else should be allowed to do it. hard, eh? it's so much easier to receive the unspoken praise found in saying, "sure i'll do it" - and then pushing to do it and feeling proud of myself for my accomplishments, trying to hide the fact that i've become stressed and hurried - and that the things i have to do have become more important than having time and attention for those around me.

but i also don't want to be too careful with my time, guarding my time for myself because i'm scared that i'm doing something for the wrong reason. or that i'll become overwhelmed or stressed. in this way, my doing could still be a problem - i still wouldn't have time to delight in and/or share with others. nor would i have the freedom to stop and/or participate in things that i know will bring me joy.

uggh. do you see why it's so much easier just to be busy busy busy? and not have the time or energy to wonder about fighting busy? or what about really is good? or about re-learning how i see doing, so that it's not so much about how much i do but how i do?

for further thoughts on time and busyness, see a recent article from InterVarsity/Urbana.

16 March 2009

"weekenddienst" (weekend service)

once every 7 weeks, i have weekenddienst, and last weekend it was my turn again. i share the duties with 3 other people, and we take care of the meals, lead 3 chapels, hold open hours for the reception, buy groceries, pick up the bread, go with people to church, and do a couple of fun activities with the group. i enjoy being able to spend more time with the people in the house and doing fun things, but it makes me tired being with people so much of the time. and being in charge of the weekend gives me more responsibilities - it takes a lot of energy for me to be present and pay attention to what's going on with the activities and the people. and this weekend the house was completely full (with people often transitioning there's usually a couple of places here and there that are empty), so it was even more to pay attention to. and it's a bit difficult to know what would appeal to different people and what's fair and how do we make the weekend "gezellig" for everybody without fully knowing how much or little everyone'd like to participate.

so the plans for the weekend were soccer on saturday afternoon, a free music concert in the evening, sunday morning church and in the afternoon, the fair. it rained on saturday but we played anyways to get rid of some energy (it was good to have the children running around outside instead of through the house up and down the stairs - irritating everyone else). saturday evening's concert was well enjoyed - but unfortuantely only by a few. on sunday, we all got to go to our church of choice, and the fair was good.

but two of the children couldn't go to the fair even though they wanted to. as their mom wasn't willing to go with us, they couldn't go. the mom said she was sick, but her willingness to be responsible for someone else's child, her enthusiastic conversations earlier, and her attempts to take charge of other's meal preparations didn't fit with her claim to be sick. sometimes the weekend team does fun things with the children and gives the parent(s) a bit of a break, but the ideal (and the agreement) is that the parents are also around to share in the fun that their children are having. and it was better to highlight the importance for parents to be responsible for and delight in their children (and that the new family could see this) than it was for the children to have this fun, even if i was disappointed over the situation.

but the fair was still good. we walked around, ate chips, went on a few rides, and laughed. another weekend team member acknowledged that he couldn't stand all the noise and didn't like fairs, but was really glad that we could be doing these thing together. and i was glad to share in the enjoyment of the others - the best part was the sense of wonder that came from the young couple. the women told me that she'd never been on a ride like this before - and you could see on her face and how she talked that she'd really enjoyed it. and i was filled with a sense of deep joy that i get to help bring such enjoyment to someone else.

when i passed on our evaluations this morning, i was asked if anything unusual happened this weekend. and i answered, no, nothing really out of the ordinary. i have to laugh, though - since 'ordinary' here is just about everything! relatively speaking it was pretty quiet, no threatened violence, nobody missing the whole weekend (just a couple of people one night, which isn't so unusual), no major sickness or hospital visits (just an allergic reaction from a visitor), and no one decided to leave unexpectedly.

instead, i got to share in the lives of the people around me. i became more aware of the choices others make - when they can (or cannot) recognize their own busy-ness and need for space - and whether they're aware of how they interact with others and how their actions affect others. i saw/see trust growing between people. i saw good teasing. i noticed gentle concern expressed over another's absence. i had a cute 3 year-old fall asleep on me. i laughed (with others) as i cleaned up the mess of burnt rice and water that had ended up on the kitchen floor. and that i'm invited to share in the lives around me is something i find unusual enough in itself.

08 March 2009

a good saturday

i like the feeling of waking up and wondering what the day holds. and days when i have no specific plans often hold extra wonder - what sort of projects or studying/learning or fun things lie before me? and will i have the sense at the end of the day that i was just trying to fill up the hours until i returned to the regular planned events of most days or did i revel in the time to do whatever?

and saturday had the feeling of reveling in the freedom of the whatever. i got out of bed when i couldn't imagine staying in bed any longer; not beause i felt i had to get up. i went sailing (a bit of a last minute plan for me). i ate chocolate. i read. i biked through the park when the sun was shining. i spent good time with people i cared about. i laughed. i did some stuff on my computer. i had a long conversation with a friend back in canada. i went to chapel. i drank tea. and so on. and i delighted in the day, recognizing that there were other things that i could have done and even wanted to do but choosing to let those other things wait for another day and just enjoy what was.

the following are a couple of pictures of sailing.
me bundled up for the rather chilly sailing weather

the village/island Marken

More can be found via facebook and via the Oudezijds 100 website.

02 March 2009

differences and becoming closer

i recently went on retreat with Spe Gedauntes, the inner circle of Oudezijds 100. and it was good to be together, to get to know each other better and to get to talk more about our perspectives of the community.

as a tochtgenoot (companion) in Oudezijds 100, i am a little bit a part of the inner circle of Oudezijds 100. i have more responsibilities here and more understanding of what goes on, but i am also closed off from many of the responsibilities and decisions over how things should be here. and that fits with how i have made a temporary, limited commitment to Oudezijds 100 but have not made a long-term commitment to community living and working for the good of this community. but it still feels strange to be somewhat a part of and yet not part of Spe Gedauntes.

it is hard to know one's place and where one fits when one's place is somewhat flexible. at times, i question how much i should push to become more a part of carrying the responsibilities or concerns. i sometimes feel that my voice and gifts are not being heard or being used - and i could help! when i feel that i am being closed off from the inner circle, i see it as people being against me without also seeing that in some ways i am not qualified or called to carry the responsibilities, and that this being closed off can be a gift - to have time and energy for other things (like learning dutch) and other ways of serving (like developing relationships and/or doing Bible studies). a blog entry in august mentions already my struggle with this.

and i think being different makes it easier to feel closed out. for me, culture and language differences make it so that i don't always feel a part of things. and even though i know people are willing to help me (and do reach out to see if a translation would be helpful), i still feel a bit out of things. i'm not the same as everyone there - and thus i sometimes feel like i don't really belong. but then i am forgetting that "everyone" is hardly the same. my perspective gets all out of whack. and i forget to laugh about how we all don't really fit. we all have different personalities and backgrounds and experiences and sense of boundaries and understanding of how things should be. if we were all the same, how would that really be a community?

i saw in the weekend how i myself sometimes closed myself off as did others - with the hope, i think, of being able to participate more fully and get a better perspective. but how much is healthy to close myself off - when does my absence and lack of participation affect (negatively) the whole group?

the year theme is "closer." and i feel that i am becoming closer to the others here - and learning more and more the challenges involved in a community where people are different and yet still a close community. the best part, though, is that we get to walk together in these challenges - and i think that's what i was most thankful for in the retreat - being able to walk alongside Spe Gedauntes, sometimes beside her/them and sometimes in the midst.