29 November 2009

my boyfriend sang for the queen today

i think i'm more of the subtle type, dropping hints and waiting for people to ask questions or catch on. but sometimes, it's nice also to be a bit over-dramatic - and just say something that you expect will raise a few eyebrows. and since the title of this blog entry is technically true, it seemed a lovely eyebrow-raising blog title.

and so you ask, how is it that he (Matthijs - for the non-dutch folks, you say it Ma-tie-us [emphasis on the tie]) sang for the queen? well, he sings in a choir that sings cantates in the Klooster Kerk in Den Haag. and the queen was in attendance [apparently she goes there more often - Matthijs had mentioned that it was a bit of a chique church; i just don't think it fully dawned on me how chique it was until he pointed out to me the queen's presence in the little side room drinking coffee with the choir and others involved with the service]. i have to admit, i'm a bit in awe of royalty and big names and so on [i think growing up in rural canada might explain a bit of that], so it made rather an impression on me.

but since the title was intended less to be a springboard for my musings about royalty and more for letting others know about Matthijs' presence in my life, i'll say a bit more about that. we've been dating awhile now (this is purposely vague - we talked today about how long we've been dating and not surprisingly, we both had different ideas/answers. as a side note, i've noticed a tendency [albeit unscientifically verified] that many couples have different stories about how and when they started dating (which also makes it an interesting question to ask)).
we met at an old testament conference the summer before last. we bumped into each other this past summer during the ordination service of a member of the community here. we were surprised to see each other in such a different context (he was there for choir and i because of the community), and we started talking. i gave him my email because he said he was interested in the community. and we mailed. and so on.

it's been good. yet, at the same it's been a bit odd: the whole dating thing took me by surprise, as i was expecting to be spending a lot of time this year working on my dissertation, an old thesis, and figuring out how i fit in the community - and there were enough questions and uncertainties and effort involved in those things without also adding dating alongside! and it's odd, because we're both a bit older and both have our own lives already - so how do we get to know each other with all of our different history and different plans and ideas - and also when we both now live in somewhat different worlds?
so i don't react to the whole situation like a giggly teenager who blushes when you ask her about the boy she likes. in fact, for the longest time, if you asked me about it, i would have smiled but also would have appeared less enthusiastic and more confused by it all (probably because i was puzzled - and still am a bit).

i've since gotten over a bit of my surprise about Matthijs' presence in my life - and have been generally enjoying dating him, and i'm thankful that i've also been stretched and challenged through this. but even as much as i'm glad about this whole situation, it's still new enough and i'm shy enough, that i'm not sure how much more i'll talk about it here. but i did at least want to give at least a glimpse of this part of my life.

23 November 2009

about faith and believing in the impossible (further reflections on OT stories)

we're still reading through the book of Kings in the morning chapels. we read through 2 Kings 4:8-37 quite awhile ago, but parts of the story have still stuck with me. and since it has to do with the impossibility of a barren woman becoming pregnant, wondering about Sara's laughter and the birth of Isaac has drawn my attention back to this story in Kings.

the story begins with Elisha receiving hospitality from a wealthy woman from Shunem (as a side note, neither her nor her husband is ever named in the story). Elisha wants to pay back her gracious hospitality, so her offers her better standing or help with the king. She says that she's quite happy, thanks. Elisha does not accept her answer although he doesn't seem to have much clue about what the woman might really want. and so he asks his servant for help - he gives the obvious answer: that the woman's husband is old and she has no son.

so Elijah calls the woman and promises her a son. up to this point in the story, Elisha has come across as being a bit clueless concerning women and motherhood, so i'm not exactly sure how he might have told her - or what reaction he might have been expecting. but the woman's reaction was clear. her immediate response was negative -
"No, my lord!""Please, man of God, don't mislead your servant!" (TNIV - v 16).

after her words of disbelief and denial, the next thing we read is that she conceived and bore a son, just like Elisha had said. i'm not sure whether you would say that God didn't listen to her - it seems more like He did listen; He just listened to the words she wasn't able to say - and the hope that she wasn't able to have.

and the story continues. the child grew up. one day the boy contracts heat stroke and dies in his mother's lap. his mother laid him in the prophet's room and left in a rush to see the prophet, all the while claiming that everything was just fine. when she met Elisha's servant, she still claimed that things were fine. but when Elisha saw her, he saw that she was very upset. and her words to Elisha were: "did i even ask you for a son? didn't i tell you not to mislead me?!!"

Elisha tries to send his servant to heal the boy but the woman refused to leave Elisha. for me, it's as if she was saying, 'you promised me the impossible once and i would not believe then - but now that you've gotten me into all this, i expect you to do everything you can, even the impossible.

so Elisha went to the child. the servant could not heal the boy. but Elisha went in to the dead boy, prayed, laid down on the boy, the boy grew warm, Elisha walked around a bit, laid down on the boy again, and the boy sneezed 7 times and opened his eyes. Elisha called for the mother and gave her her son back. the woman bowed down to Elisha and accepted the gift of her son.

and it's a fascinating story. and when i hear it, i wonder at the woman's faith - how she had such a hard time believing Elisha's promise of a son - as if she'd given up hope for ever having a son and couldn't believe that this impossibility could really happen. and then i wonder at her faith in going to Elisha when her son died - and how she attached herself to him, as if to say that he had to finish what he started - that if she was promised the impossible before, she now expects the impossible to happen again.

and i wonder about how my own faith relates - about how i sometimes stop expecting or hoping for things, so as to protect myself from experiencing the pain of being disappointed (again). and i also wish i had more of that blatant 'in your face' kind of faith that the woman shows at the end of the story - the whole "this was Your idea, God. You got me into this mess, God, so I am expecting You to do something about it." not that i don't expect to have to do something myself, but i'd still like more of that crazy faith and expectation.

21 November 2009

the 'rest of the story' concerning my house and apartment

when i think about things that go wrong in the community, i sometimes look at my house and think, hmm, something went wrong here. now that the new-ness has worn off, it's become more obvious to me that there's a lot of things that need fixing - and probably should have been fixed up a long time ago. and as much as i'm glad for the apartment, when i look at it honestly, i'm a bit embarassed by how shabby it is.

when i'm honest (and sometimes that's hard), i realize that part of that's my own fault. i could have put more time and effort into fixing up the place before moving in - the community provides paint and other resources, so long as i'm willing to do the work. but as soon as i knew i could move, i wanted to be there as soon as possible - and since i'm not exactly all that good at practical things, i wasn't really up for the amount of energy and time i would need to invest to learn how to do it decently (and most of my 'normal' helpers with moving/fixing network live in Canada - a bit too far to commute). so i moved in after some good cleaning and having a housemate paint a bit, and i did my best not to look too closely.

but now that i've been here awhile, i've seen more. and i've realized that i'm not the first person in this apartment who's not so good with practical things. and i'm not the only one who's tried not to look too closely. there's insulation sprayed into cracks but never fully cleaned up, the hot water tap wasn't working when i moved in, holes that have never been filled (papers filling some of those holes), a board and a cubby-hole that substitute for my kitchen cupboards (because i have none), a functional but shabby bathroom/shower, walls that are bubbling and cracking (my linen cupboard hides one and i'm hoping my cat either stops jumping against the other crack/dent or stays light enough not to make a difference), a ladder that's cracked enough not to be entirely safe, and so on. i feel like i'm moving in after people who chose not to make much initiative in the house - and that my house has been allowed to be neglected (after all, i have the only kitchen in the community which (still) has no cupboards whereas others are getting kitchen renovations).

but a bit of perspective helps a lot. when i put in a request for things, things get fixed up. my hot water works now. i know how to re-start the heating system. duct-tape has rendered my ladder safe - and there's a pending request for a new one (although it's probably good that i still have the old one since my cat uses it as his scratching pole).

and i discovered recently that all the big requests for fixing have been put on hold. the plans to renovate the bathroom have been in the works for awhile already but it just doesn't make sense to do it now. in about a year, the foundation of the house needs to be fixed up - the poles need to be replaced. so the plans to fix up the bathroom and installing kitchen cupboards will have to wait until that's done - and the house has re-adjusted. and hearing that news helped push away the nagging idea that my house/apartment has been neglected.

and i realize that if and where my house does bother me, i have an excuse for the big problems. and as for the little problems, i'm recognizing that i can still do something about them. i can still pick up a paintbrush or find some caulking or scrape away some of the remainders of the insulation. if i am planning on staying in the netherlands and the community, these are probably some helpful skills for me to learn.

19 November 2009

looking for the 'rest of the story'

one of the realities of living in a community (especially a large one) is that it's impossible to keep up with all the details of the community, whether it be the people or events or the physical space.

sometimes that's nice - after all, no one needs to know how messy my house can get and sometimes it's nice to know that i can still hide a few big secrets (like having a boyfriend) from the nosiest of my neighbours.

but sometimes, people and things can fall through the cracks. people can be sick or not doing well and no one notices. someone's birthday comes and no one seems to know or care. and in situations like that, it's hard not to feel neglected or frustrated. and it's hard not to make conclusions about how unconcerned and selfish others are. and it's hard to remember that there's almost always more to the story - like the fact i'm also selfish and i'm not the only struggling with things. the longer i live in community, the more i recognize the need to remember and look for the rest of the story. it's just sometimes hard to look beyond the easy answers, even as much as i'm learning that it's definitely worth the effort.

13 November 2009

why does everyone always remember that it is Sara who laughed?

i've always wondered why it is that everyone remembers that Sara (and not Abraham) laughed when she heard that she would bear a child. and even more so, why it is often seen as bad that she laughed. at least, that's what i expect a lot of people think - perhaps i have it wrong. it is what i often thought/remembered until awhile ago.

in Gen 18, Abraham gets some special visitors (Melchizedek and company) - and they tell them that within a year Sara, his wife, will have a son. Sara overheard them and laughed. when they asked her if she laughed, she lied about it (perhaps the lying was the bad part of the story - but i can imagine that lying was a lot more polite and hospitable to her guest than admitting that she laughed, which implied that she doubted not only the validity of the message and its source but might have even wondered if her guest was 'right in the head.')

prior to this story Abraham and Sara had tried to help God along with the promise of descendents - and Abraham bore a child by Hagar, Sara's maidservant (and those who know the story know that this was a bit of a disaster). but God promised again and again that Abraham would have children. and in Gen 17, the chapter before the one in which Sarah laughts, Abraham is told that Sarah would bear him a son. and Abraham laughs. and says, long live Ishmael (i.e. the son I already have). and God corrects him and says, no, Sarah will have a son, within a year. and the story ends with a list of blessings and promises and then Abraham goes home. the next thing we read in the story is the visitors to Abraham, the promise again of a son to Sarah and Abraham, and Sarah's laughter.

and it makes me wonder. did Abraham not tell Sarah about his talk with God and the promise? did Abraham not believe it himself (and did he believe it after it'd been confirmed by the messengers)? and why was Abraham not ashamed after he laughed but Sarah was? does it make a difference that Abraham already had one son and Sarah had none? how much pain had Sarah's childlessness already cost her? and did her laughter cover up her inability to dare hope anymore - she'd already spent years hoping and had nothing except Hagar and that son?

and it makes me wonder. perhaps some day i'll dig up some commentaries to see what they have to say, but for now it's enough just to look closely at the story and wonder. and i wonder what we miss when we only remember part of the story - or forget to see enough of the story that we stop wondering about the laughter - and why it is they named their child, Isaac, after laughter.

06 November 2009

on being a postulant

thus far, it feels kind of normal - in the sense that this is good now. i still have to think about making sure that i have my apron on/with when i go to the main house, that i put the cross on in the morning, and that i introduce myself as zr brenda (and write it that way). and i have a suspicion that,since i'm working so hard on the apron and zuster thing, i'll end up wearing my apron or introducing myself as zr brenda somewhere odd outside the house (i'm getting better with social awkwardwardness, so i'm sure it'll turn out alright :)). but even with this "making sure i remember" feeling, it feels kind of normal - i can even say that i am actually growing in appreciation for the apron - it's less ugly when it fits and the pouch is very convenient. i'll probably still complain about it but that's also normal :)

and when i talk about it feeling normal and good, it makes me think of two things that made last friday's service special for me. the first was the feeling of being welcomed - and that i could see and feel that others were generally delighted with me that i was making this step.

and the second has to do with being called zuster. as much as it feels kind of normal, i have to admit that i still have to smile when certain people call me zuster brenda. and others smile, too, when they say it (and we all smiled and even chuckled about it last friday). i feel like we're all sharing in this wonderful joke - that somehow i, who doesn't like to be the centre of attention and has never been somebody who was big on titles and acting important and so on, is now given this title of zuster - and it's good.

Photos from last friday can be seen on the website, along with a write-up (in dutch).

02 November 2009

making conversation

in the last few days i've been talking a lot - and to a lot of different people, many of whom i don't really know all that well. i'm not so used to that. and except for a few glitches, it's gone rather well.

moving to the community in Amsterdam has both helped and hindered my ability to make conversation. language has probably been the biggest hinderance. nothing quite hurts a conversation so much as not being to understand the other person. and well, if you often don't understand, you can get used to not listening so much or even trying to make conversation. and, when you finally do understand, you can talk all the time and never listen! so in some ways, it's felt like my ability to talk and listen well hasn't definitely decreased. and every so often i stop and think, "oh yeah, so how do i make conversation again?"

and yet, at the other time, living in community has taught me how to make better conversation. i've learned a wider range of questions to begin short conversations, and i've recognized that finding common interest or experiences helps move the conversation along. and i'm learning how to rescue conversations that are going downhill (the weather's almost always a good safe topic). and living with a wide range of people helps make me be aware of what could potentially lead to a problematic conversation.

but even with all this that i've learned, i still have conversations that make me shake my head. this morning i had one of those. as i was walking into the main house this morning, a former inhabitant walked in around me as i was picking up the newspaper. so i stopped her and asked her (in english) if she had an appointment to come in. she told me she spoke dutch. so i said sorry and then asked her again in dutch. she told me that she didn't like it when i touched her to stop her from going further. i said sorry (again) and then asked her if she had an appointment. she said she came to pick up her old stuff. and i said, but who do you have an appointment with. her lack of answer made it clear to me that she had no appointment, so i asked her to wait elsewhere while i found someone to help her. br Luc came upon this point and insisted that she leave since it was time for chapel and there was no reception available to help her - she could join us in chapel or wait until after it. i was glad for his rescuing (and i wished that i'd realized i could have justifiably insist that she leave).

and the conversation made me think, especially about what i could have done differently. looking back, i can see that this former inhabitant actually did a great job of manipulating the conversation towards getting what she wanted. several times she put me on the defensive, insinuating that i had done something wrong by stopping her unauthorized entry into the house. and she used a number of tactics to avoid answering the question about the appointment which would clearly have shown that she had no right to have walked in. and i wonder, should i have not simply ignored her complaints and/or gone into attacking mode myself? and perhaps that might have worked (and i think i'll have to try that tactic some other time), but i still don't know how effective it would have been. her avoidance of my question by trying to move to a different topic/issue makes me doubtful about whether it could ever have been a decent conversation. even if it's not always so easy to know what to say or how to say it, a conversation does, at the very minimum, require that both participants actually try to listen to the other.