12 May 2012

I had another life once

Today I had the delightful chance to spend time with an old student of mine from Ukraine. She'd asked to see the things that I loved about the city and so we wondered around, looking for adventure. We bumped into a wedding celebration, saw a drawbridge rise (as we were standing next to it), ate Falafels for lunch, saw lots of flowers, visited a community house (Timon woongroep), drank cappucino, and walked by/through the tourist highlights of the centre of Amsterdam. It was a wonderful day - I enjoy showing hospitality to visitors, and we had the chance to talk together and catch up.

As we talked, I was reminded of how far away and different life in the gymnasium and rural Ukraine was (e.g., another student's visit last summer). And in the midst of that, how can I really explain my life here? Here I am, a good Reformed Christian girl, married to a Catholic and living in the Red Light District. I have Christian friends that are gay, and I talk to prostitutes and homeless people regularly. This is so different from the life I had growing up in Canada, or my experiences while in university, or my time at Seminary, or my years teaching in Ukraine.

Even as I struggled today to explain my life now to someone who knew me when I had a completely different life, I realize the same would be true if I tried to explain the "lives" I had before moving to Amsterdam. In some ways, I am not confronted so often with this difficulty - in the community, we focus more on todays and tomorrows as some of those who come to live here have painful and difficult histories. Even though I think this is good, I wonder sometimes how much we forget that each of us have had another life once - I even think I sometimes forget that I had another life (or two or three) once!

And yet, these different parts of my life, even the parts that don't seem to fit so well with each other or my life now, are part of what have shaped me: the love of laughter and fun I learned from my family; the delight in learning and friendships from both university and seminary; and the many challenges, needs and extremes of life in both Ukraine and Amsterdam. And I don't want to forget those things - as they have been part of my journey in faith and my growing more to be who God has made me to be.

And perhaps that remembering was the best part of the visit today - that and the hope that God continues to work among the students for whom I moved to another country both to teach English and show God's love to them. When I moved there at twenty-two I hadn't yet realized how hard that could be. I could not imagine that people could make Christianity so lifeless: for me, being a Christian meant comfort and peace and joy and delight (see Philippians 4:4-7). Yet, instead of hearing comfort and joy and grace, the students heard guilt and the need always to work hard and be serious. I tried to provide a different, more balanced example but my laughter and delight in life was often considered silly and irresponsible. I have prayed often that the damage done by this warped message would not to too great: that the students in rejecting this false gospel would not also reject God. And it was good today to be reminded again that God continues to work among those I care about.

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